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This article was published 3/6/2019 (509 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
TORONTO — A few random thoughts and musings from Pearson International Airport, waiting to board a flight home after five wild days covering the spectacle that is the NBA Finals.
Raise your hand if you had Laurent Brossoit, Logan Shaw and C.J. Suess going first, second and third, respectively, when it came to Kevin Cheveldayoff's off-season to-do list. Yeah, I didn't think so.
The architect of the Winnipeg Jets appears to be trying to clear some relatively easy paperwork off his desk before he gets down to brass tacks — namely, figuring out what to do with Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Jacob Trouba.
No offence to the Jets backup goalie and a couple of depth forwards on the Moose, but Laine, Connor and Trouba are the true "big three" restricted free agents when it comes to dollars and common sense. I'm on record of being in the camp that believes Trouba is going to be traded before the NHL draft later this month, Laine is likely to sign a short-term bridge deal and Connor will likely put his name to a long-term extension before all is said and done.
Trade rumours surrounding Trouba are apparently heating up. That's to be expected, of course, with the draft just over two weeks away. Cheveldayoff needs to get clarity on this situation as quickly as possible, so he can figure out what he's dealing with when it comes to the rest of his roster and how to make it all fit under the salary cap in advance of July 1 free agency, including a few of his own UFAs in Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and Brandon Tanev.
Unless Trouba does a complete 180 and decides to sign long term, the time is now to move him. It would be pointless to just sign another one-year deal and allow him to walk for nothing next summer. Find the best offer you can, right now, and pull the trigger.
One burning question: could the Jets be trying to get back into the first round of the draft? I suspect they are, with a pretty rich talent pool this year and the fact they shipped their first-round pick to the New York Rangers (20th overall) in the Kevin Hayes deal. For a draft-and-development franchise, restocking the prospect shelves has to be a big priority right now.
There's also been some rumblings out there that Laine is unhappy and wants out, but I would caution against reading too much into that. Like a lot of players on the team, the Finnish sniper didn't like how the season ended and likely left for a longer-than-expected summer vacation with a bitter taste in his mouth. Not to mention pains in both his groin and back, which were giving him troubles down the stretch.
But I don't believe Laine is looking for the nearest exit sign. Does that mean he's going to sign the first offer that comes his way from Cheveldayoff? Of course not. I'm sure he and his camp will try to squeeze maximum value out of the Jets, as he should. But I wouldn't mistake that for suddenly being sour on Winnipeg. Besides, Laine has really no say in the matter, as the Jets control his status for the next four seasons, at minimum, before he would become an unrestricted free agent and have the power to look elsewhere.
As for Connor, I'm genuinely curious to see how that works out. It reminds me a bit of the Josh Morrissey situation from last summer, which most people thought would be quick and painless given the easy-going nature of the player. And it turned out to be anything but, with Morrissey holding out from the start of training camp until a deal could get done.
I'm not saying that will happen here, but I suspect there will be some bumps along the way when it comes to Connor. As for Cheveldayoff, he's whittled his list of RFA's down from 14 to 11, but obviously still has most of his heavy lifting still to come.
Back to basketball, where it appears fatigue from players, coaches and even the media is setting in, thanks to the NBA's practice of scheduling two days between games. That's a lot of time, with a lot of space to fill, and it can lead to some truly bizarre questions.
It's also exposing some so-called journalists as being nothing more than fans in disguise. I witnessed it first-hand for both games, with a few of the 400 or so accredited folks committing the cardinal sin of actually cheering in the Scotiabank Arena press box. And yes, it was for the Raptors.
I'm talking full-blown fist pumps and shouts of "yes!" when things would go well, and slamming hands on the desktop when they weren't.
That's just gross. To be clear, I didn't witness this from any of the mainstream press — who I expect would know better — but from a handful of fringe online writers who managed to score access. A big no-no, but the kind of thing that is happening in this rapidly growing media world where "fan-friendly" copy can score you easy clicks and likes.
Let me say this as loudly as I can: I don't cheer for any team I cover. And I would hope my copy, not to mention 24-year journalism career in this city, would reflect that. The only things I root for are good storylines and quick-moving games that leave plenty of time before deadline to file. And Diet Pepsi in the press box, instead of Diet Coke.
For the record, this isn't just a Toronto thing, either. I had some website blogger sitting beside me in St. Louis during the Stanley Cup playoffs, living and dying with everything the Blues did against the Winnipeg Jets.
And for the icing on the cake, check out this actual question somebody put to Golden State's Steph Curry after their victory Sunday night.
"Steph, I hope you will be Finals MVP, but if you will not be, are you going to be upset or you'll be still happy?"
Curry handled it well, responding: "I want to win a championship and that's all that matters, my man. Appreciate it though."
Curry may have, but I can tell you the rest of us impartial scribes certainly don't.
Is the NBA more popular in Canada than the CFL? How about the NHL? Right here, right now, it would appear the answer to both questions is yes.
Just look at the Game 1 ratings on Sportsnet, in which an average of 3.3 million Canadians tuned in to watch the Raptors beat the Warriors 118-109. That set a record basketball viewership for this country, and Sunday night's Game 2 ratings were even higher with 4.3 million viewers in Canada.
Compare that to last November's Grey Cup, in which 3.1 million folks watched Calgary beat Ottawa 27-16. That's the lowest audience for the national championship since 2001, and a 23 per cent drop from the previous year.
Last year's Stanley Cup Final between Washington and Vegas drew an average of 2.7 million Canadian viewers. This year's numbers involving two more American foes, Boston and St. Louis, are likely to be similar, meaning the NBA will beat them for eyeballs north of the border.
Now, this no doubt has almost everything to do with Canadian content, as the Raptors look to end a 26-year championship drought in this country when it comes to the major sports leagues. (Consider that the last Stanley Cup Final to feature a Canadian team, in 2011, drew huge numbers with an average of 5.6 million Canadians).
Still, there's no doubt the Raptors have won plenty of new fans across the country this spring, and these numbers are bound to raise some eyebrows even though I suspect a majority of their viewers are coming from Ontario, whereas the Grey Cup and Stanley Cup are likely much more spread out from coast-to-coast.
Interesting times, indeed.
Updated on Monday, June 3, 2019 at 5:48 PM CDT: Updates viewership numbers in basketball item.
8:58 PM: Fixes typo.
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