Say What?! is an email conversation between sports editor Steve Lyons and retired sports columnist Paul Wiecek. Look for us regularly — but intermittently — on the Free Press website.
Hello there. How are things? I know we’ve both been away, so plenty to catch up on. I wanna hear about your trip to the coast, but let’s get some of this sports stuff out of the way first.
I hate to sound all negative today — it’s my birthday, so lasting another year has me feeling grateful. Plus, I usually leave the Mr. Negative stuff to you.. ask anyone haha. But gotta say two things right off the hop — there’s no way the current roster of the Winnipeg Jets gets them to the playoffs let alone a Stanley Cup victory, and I’m afraid to say this but the Bombers Grey Cup drought will continue at least one more season.
First the Jets. The loss of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and now Dustin Byfuglien from last year’s defence has decimated the team’s lineup. And if I was a Jets fan, I’d be saying ‘Thanks a lot Big Buff.’ How about making a decision to bail on your team and your career in June when the team can make other plans? Perhaps use the money from his contract to sign someone else like Jake Gardiner or something. Listen, everyone has a right to retire whenever they wish, but I plan to give my boss a fair amount of advance notice so he’s not left in the lurch. By the way, thanks for doing that when you retired.
Buff has always been an enigma wrapped in a riddle but this one is very puzzling.
Welcome back! A man who just survived cycling on the roads of Greece is a man I want to hear from.
Lots to unpack from what you’ve just said. But one thing we are in complete agreement about is that Dustin Byfuglien — and his (former?) hockey team — owe the fans that pay the bills for this team an explanation that goes a lot deeper than the meaningless platitudes we’ve been served up to this point.
The Jets party line to this point has been ‘the man deserves his privacy so we’re not talking about why one of our few remaining defenseman of any quality suddenly walked away from his team and $14 million in salary just a couple weeks before the season starts.’
What a joke. If Dustin Byfuglien wanted privacy, then he could have retired as you said — back in June when the Jets still had a chance to replace him. But to walk away and sell out his team at this point demands some kind of meaningful explanation from either the man or the team.
Jets fans deserve better, but then they always have. This has been the Jets approach to their fans since Day 1 — ‘Just pay the bills, shut the hell up and in the unlikely event that we want to hear your opinion, we will tell you what it is.’ It’s disgraceful and if I was a season ticket holder right now, I’d be on the phone to the Jets offices every day, demanding either an explanation or my money back.
As for the Jets generally, I half agree with you — this is definitely not a team that is going to be at Portage and Main next June. But I’m not as pessimistic as you about their prospects of at least squeaking into the playoffs. Yeah, their blue line is a sieve at this point and goalie Connor Hellebuyck looks nothing like the man who almost won a Vezina two years ago. But they’re still going to score a ton of goals, I think.
It won’t be pretty many nights — 6-5 and 5-4 will be the kind of games this team wins this year. But they don’t take pretty into account when they’re tabulating points in the standings. Another first round playoff exit is my bold prediction.
As for the Bombers, the less said the better at this point. How long, oh lord, how long?
There was a point in the Bombers season, where I said to my boss I thought the team looked so well coached that no matter who was in the lineup, it would win. Hope he doesn’t judge all my work by that assessment. I got a text from my sister while I was in Greece. Her and my two nephews were in Montreal running a race. ‘Went to the Bombers game tonight. Total sh-t show.’ That about sums it up. I didn’t see that collapse against the Als, but by all accounts that sounded like rock bottom. Well, until the egg they laid against the Ticats. Yikes, things have come off the rails.
Losing your starting QB can cause problems with a lot of teams. Oh, except if you’re every other team in the league. The Ticats lost Jeremiah Massoli if you recall.
Chris Streveler is not the best young QB since Matt Dunigan to play in the CFL. He’s not even the best young QB to play in the CFL this season.
The stubbornness of both Mike O’Shea and Kyle Walters to hang the season on the hopes that Streveler gets better is beyond me. I don’t care what the price would have been — this team needed to get itself a proven veteran QB when Nichols went down.
In the words of our football writer Jeff Hamilton ‘where is Walters anyway?'
Hamilton nailed it with that line. And it seemed to work — a couple of days later, I saw Walters finally emerged from his underground bunker to give a rare interview to Jeff explaining the situation as he sees it.
Sometimes that’s all you can do as a beat writer in this town — shame these guys into talking.
I don’t understand why anyone seems to be surprised that Streveler is struggling. He couldn’t throw in high school, he couldn’t throw in his previous professional appearances and he still can’t throw. As a quarterback, he’s a really good running back.
Walters advanced the notion that there’s no one out there right now that the Bombers could bring in who would give them a better chance to win than Streveler and that’s probably true. But man, if Streveler gets hurt, whatever tiny chance the Bombers still have to salvage this once promising season completely goes up in smoke without a competent backup in town.
I spent a lot of time at the track over the years and I love to gamble. But betting your entire season on your quarterback not getting hurt is just reckless. Just ask Matt Nichols.
That explanation by Walters sounded sketchy to me. In all my years of covering the CFL, there’s always a veteran QB of some sort to be found. He said at one point the price to trade for one was going to be too steep. Other than Andrew Harris or Willie Jefferson, I’d give up anyone on this roster for a competent veteran QB. The window to win with the core guys here is closing.
While we’re on the window to win subject, I had a thought recent; that 10 years from now Jets fans will still be lamenting Marc-Andre Fleury. The way things have unfolded last season and now this season, it may have been the many miraculous saves Fleury made two seasons ago in the Western Conference final against Vegas that robbed the Jets of their best chance to win a Cup.
Yes, we both had quite an eventful month.
Erika and I got married on a beach in Tofino on Sept. 18. It was a beautiful sunny day — a rarity in those parts — and the tide started to come just as we were signing the license. We actually had to run for high ground to finish the paperwork.
We took the plunge alright. Almost literally.
So — what’s cycling in Greece like? It sounds equal parts beautiful and dangerous.
That’s funny — I was chatting with a Greek woman in Athens prior to the cycling portion of my trip and she was telling me I was crazy to be risking my life on the roads of Greece. Breaking news: the drivers there aren’t any worse than here. I know, it’s a low bar.
I did two significant rides. One circled the entire Sardonic Island of Spetes and the other was a coastline ride from Nafplio to Astros and back n the Peloponnese, near the north end of the Argolic Gulf.
Cars are mostly banned in the town of Spetses — you have to leave your car at the Kosta port and take a ferry over — so, that makes riding a bike quite pleasurable.
The Napflio ride was 70k return and almost entirely on the coastline. The views were spectacular, especially at the various lookouts at the top of hills. Best bike ride ever and super challenging. A shout out to Richard Burr, who always pushes me to go harder in my training. Over about 120 km of Greece biking, the hills only beat me once where I had to get off and walk the bike up.
You'll be able to read all about it in a story I'm doing for our Travel section.
There’s no better way to really experience a country than to get out of the car and on to a bike.
But man, as a guy who grew up on the prairies, I sure do suck at riding up hills.
You get a delusional sense of self confidence riding a bike in the prairies, just because everything is so flat. I’ve learned the hard way on a few trips in some hilly countries that I’m not nearly the cyclist I like to think I am.
Some of those grades were steep. Down to the lowest gear and then slowly pedal. I actually found that part of the cycling super relaxing and rewarding. I get more nervous at the speed of going downhill.
Also, spent a week in London. Man, is there a better city to visit. You both will be happy to know I went to the Tate Modern and actually quite enjoyed it. The Southbank walk in London is just the best — so much to see and do from the Eye to Tower Bridge. And it still astounds me that you can go to these great museums of the world for free.
Best theatre experience ever on the trip, seeing Clive Owen perform in Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana at the Noel Coward Theatre. Got a front row ticket in the Royal Circle on the day of the show for $68 Cdn.
Back to the grumpy old man for a second. Flew WestJet overnight to London from Toronto. No meals; no pillows; no blankets. Again, Say What?!
Don’t get me started on the airlines in this country. Just because we have two of them doesn’t mean either is any good. Discount service at premium prices — it’s been the motto of airlines in Canada for as long as I’ve been flying.
I have a winning election platform for any federal party with the cojones to propose it: open up the airline industry to foreign competition.
Southwest and JetBlue would be up here in a heartbeat and one of two things would immediately happen: either Air Canada and WestJet would finally learn to compete on price or Air Canada and WestJet would cease to exist.
I am very comfortable with either scenario.
Guess we should chat a bit more about sports. I did have a thought while I was away — I’m going to pitch to the boss that we do a Say What?! The Travel Edition. Lots of people say we know squat about sports, but we both have pretty good travel insights. We could have done one while you were in Tofino and I was in Greece.
The MLB playoffs start tonight. Have to admit, I watched very little baseball this summer — too much biking haha
They’re calling it Juicy October because of all the home runs that are expected.
Four teams this season bypassed the previous season record for homers, with the Twins (307) and Yankees (306) becoming the first clubs to reach 300.
Could be quite a dinger derby in that ALDS series.
How do you like your team’s chances?
The Yankees exist at this point to disappoint me. This month will be no different. Dig up The Boss.
To me, the baseball post-season is the easiest to predict. Year after year it comes down to one thing and one thing only: the team with the best starting pitching wins. And yes, that still holds true in the era of analytics.
By that measure, the Houston Astros will win for fun. Justin Verlander is capable of winning three games himself in a seven-game series. Throw in Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke and I don’t see how anyone beats them in a series.
How about your team? You got any hope for the Jays next season?
What little of the Jays that I watched this season, I actually enjoyed.
I did not miss the whining despite less winning.
Oh sure they lost 95 games, but how can you not like the youthful enthusiasm of Bo Bichette, Vlad Guerrero Jr and Cavan Biggio?
All three had fathers who were great players and all three play the game the right way. They say players will run through walls to follow Biggio.
I also have confidence in Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, presuming they stick around. Both are solid baseball guys who did a lot of great things in Cleveland.
There was a time I liked Jose Bautista et al but man I’d grown tired of them as well.
I agree. That old Jays team won more, but they were profoundly unlikeable, beginning with Bautista.
I’m not sure, though, that I agree with you about Atkins and Shapiro. You’re right they did a heck of a job in Cleveland, but I’ve yet to see any evidence of a plan in Toronto, other than cutting costs.
Those kids will be fun to watch for sure. But where’s the supporting cast? And, especially, where’s the pitching?
That stuff costs money. And the defining characteristic of these Jays is they don’t like spending it anymore.
They’re spending approximately $40 million on a facelift to Dunedin Stadium and the Bobby Mattick Training Center in Florida. They’re also making plans to spend significantly on a Rogers Centre upgrade. So, it looks to me like they will pinch pennies at least until that new wave of talent looks ready to chase an AL East title. I personally can live with that, but then I don’t pay $$ to see the games.
They’ve got a stud in Nate Pearson coming along on the mound, but yeah starting pitching is always the key so we will see how that shakes out.
Gotta wrap this up bud — the web folks want me to get it over to them by 3:30.
Always great to chat. Talk soon.
Enjoy the October baseball.
Playoff baseball. NFL. CFL wrapping up the regular season. And hockey drops the puck.
It’s a great time of year to own a television.
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.
As a young boy in the 1960s, Steve would plead with his mother to let him watch Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights. And CFL football. And baseball. And PGA golf. And… well, you get the picture.