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 you? No shortage of sports news in River City these days — you keeping up?
Fresh storylines make my job a whole lot easier!
The Bombers beat the Stamps in Calgary in a playoff game — that my friend is a very new storyline.
There’s no telling what a loss would have meant to the future of the Kyle Walters / Mike O’Shea tandem, but I’d suggest the win dispels any notion the pair will be cut loose. The question now will be, will O’Shea decide to come back?
It’s been my contention that the coaching has been better than the managing, but I think both were on full display on Sunday.
O’Shea and his staff put together a stellar game plan to beat the Stamps and the players went out an executed it — to near perfection in the second half. For my money, that was one of the most well-coached games I’ve seen from the Bombers in a long time.
O’Shea has instilled in this franchise a certain identity — they play in-your-face football like he did as a player. We’ll see whether or not they can repeat the performance against the Riders this Sunday, but I like their chances.
I actually like the Bombers chances against the Riders better than I liked their chances against the Stamps — and we all know how that turned out.
And yes, I agree O’Shea saved his job with what was a very impressive game plan against a Stamps team that seemed to have no answers for the Bombers — on offense or defense — after the first quarter.
I think O’Shea was as good as gone if the Bombers had lost. He was the captain of a ship that had been sinking for months. Some of that was attributable to Matt Nichols going down, of course. But I also think that had the Bombers lost in Calgary, O’Shea would have had to wear the late season skid mark, the two 20-point-plus leads his team blew this season and their miserable 2-4 record in games decided by four points or less.
But winning fixes everything and whatever happens in Regina, I think O’Shea and company live to fight another season.
But I note with interest your caveat — ‘Will O’Shea decide to come back?’ I caught Jeff Hamilton’s piece awhile back that suggested O’Shea might have turned down a contract extension from the Bombers earlier this season.
What — if anything — do you read into that?
The buzz is that perhaps he’ll be lured back to Toronto by Pinball Clemons, who has been tasked with trying to right the Argos ship. Maybe Pinball would even let O’Shea be the GM and coach. They threw a lot of money at Marc Trestman — perhaps they will do the same with O’Shea, who was lots of ties to southern Ontario.
I don’t know why anyone would want to work for the Argos, unless they toss millions of dollars at you — it would then be awfully hard to resist.
If he did decide to head to the Argos, I’ve got no problem with the team maintaining a sense of continuity and promoting Paul Lapolice to head coach — you’d think sooner or later someone is going to snag Lapo as their head coach.
I was thinking the other day how Lapo would almost certainly be the Riders head coach already if the Bombers had let him interview for the job last winter when Chris Jones quit on Saskatchewan just before the opening of free agency.
Lapo was the Riders first choice for that job and they only hired Craig Dickenson after the Bombers wouldn’t make Lapo available. That’s obviously worked out well for Dickenson and the Riders, but it could be the Bombers and Lapo who get the last laugh if Winnipeg wins on Sunday.
I covered the Bombers the last time Lapo was a head coach and there was a reason he was fired by the Bombers in his first go-around. His offense was terrible and he’d basically lost the room by the time he got canned midway through the 2012 season.
I don’t recall too many players shedding any tears at the time when he got punted.
But the time away from the CFL in the ensuing years obviously did Lapo some good — personally and professionally — and I’m not sure you’ll find a better offensive mind in the game today than him.
As for Toronto, it might be the most dysfunctional organization in the league, which is saying something when you consider the league has owned and operated the Montreal Alouettes the entire 2019 season.
Throw in the sinking ship that is the BC Lions and the CFL teams in the three biggest cities are all in trouble.
And what is commissioner Randy Ambrosie doing about? He’s pushing an expansion franchise in Halifax and signing partnership agreements with, wait for it, Mexico. How about we stabilize the nine teams we already have.
It’s shocking sometimes how the CFL has survived despite itself. I think it’s mostly been due to the television stations needing content — oh, and the amazing fans who continue to support this crazy league.
Sound like we’re both picking the Bombers to win Sunday — how about a Winnipeg/Edmonton Grey Cup in Calgary; now, that would be whacky.
The Jets got whacked Tuesday night by Colorado. Man, GM Joe Sakic has done a terrific job with the Avs. They are legitimate Cup contenders this season. Even without star forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Mikka Rantanen and defeceman Nikita Zadorov in the lineup, the Avs are rolling along. They seem to have a real good mix of solid veteran players like Nazem Kadri and Matt Calvert; spectacular young players like Cale Makar and Sam Girard; and stars like Rantanen and all-world Nathan MacKinnon.
With the Avs, the Blue and the Predators in front of them, the Jets will be battling for a wild card spot at best this season.
The Jets were tied for the second wild-card spot the last time I checked and that seems about where I figured they’d be at the start of the season. Remember the U.S. Thanksgiving rule — over the last six seasons, NHL teams holding down a playoff spot on U.S. Thanksgiving have gone on to make the playoffs just under 80 percent of the time.
U.S. Thanksgiving is on Nov. 28 this year. As long as Connor Hellebuyck continues to stand on his head the way he has been, I like the Jets chances to be in a playoff spot come the end of the month — and the end of the season.
I think the Bombers will play Hamilton in the Grey Cup — and lose. Because that’s what Bomber teams do: Winnipeg has been to the big game five times since the Bombers last won the Grey Cup in 1990 — and lost all five times.
A very, very good Hamilton team will run that unfortunate Bombers streak to 0-6.
The Jets play seven of their next eight games on the road, which will take us to that U.S. Thanksgiving line. Even with Hellebuyck playing the way he has been, I don’t see the Jets holding down that spot then or at the end of the season.
There are just way too many question marks with this team:
● They are basically deploying an AHL defense corps; Tucker Poolman is playing in the No. 1 pair with Josh Morrissey and Luca Sbisa is still playing period;
● Blake Wheeler has 10 points in 19 games and shows no sign of snapping out of his season-long funk;
● Patrik Laine has four goals and while I hear he is feeling looser on his stick, he’s not putting the puck in the net;
● Bryan Little is on the shelf and there’s no indication when he will return;
● and, who even knows what’s going to happen next with the Dustin Byfuglien saga.
What I will say, is this team has accomplished way more than I thought they would have given those conditions. But that really should be attributed mostly to one player — Hellebuyck.
What should be of bigger concern to Jets fans than making the playoffs this season, is what GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has planned to get this team back to being the Cup contenders they were just 18 months ago — or is that even possible?
Yeah, we’re in complete agreement on part of that — this Jets team is not getting anywhere near a Stanley Cup.
But I still think they’re a playoff team, mostly because that’s what they are today, despite that long list of troubles you’ve so helpfully enumerated.
Literally everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for this team and yet when I checked this morning, they were the second hottest team in the Western Conference over the last 10 games with a record of 6-3-1.
If they’re playing like that in the present circumstances, imagine what this Jets team could do if something, anything, ever went right?
Regardless, your point is well taken and I don’t think there’s much difference between your thinking — the Jets don’t make the playoffs — and my thinking — the Jets make the playoffs and are a quick first-round exit.
Either way, this team is a long way from the juggernaut that just two years ago had nothing standing between them and the Stanley Cup final except for the Vegas Golden Knights. And no, I don’t see any easy answers to get them back there anytime soon.
Wheeler is a problem. Little is a problem. Their contracts are huge problems. The blue line is a joke. And the Jets are a Hellebuyck injury or regression away from being a laughingstock.
As for Byfuglien, I’d love to know what will happen next. But that would require Jets management to stop lying about the situation, which is what they’ve been doing since Day 1.
And yes, I mean lying. It’s one thing to obfuscate or decline comment — pro sports teams do that all the time. But from the start, the Jets have willfully distorted the truth to their fans about what’s going on with their most popular player.
There would be no point in doing this exchange if we were in complete agreement on things haha
It’s time for this team to move on from Buff. Let the arbitration take place and then trade his rights.
The would mean Buff, Trouba, Myers and Chiarot are gone from that juggernaut — and the replacements are...
Sami Niku? Ville Heinola? Logan Stanley?
Not good my friend.
Couple of years ago, we saw how then-Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli tried to solve a similar problem when he shipped Taylor Hall to the Devils for stay-at-home defenceman Adam Larsson. I didn’t mind the philosophy behind that trade and I’m not a huge Hall fan — he still hasn’t won anything — but Larsson has mostly been a bust in Edmonton and Chiarelli was shown the door.
It’s being suggested there are a number of teams looking for a Top 6 forward, who would be willing to part with a Top 4 defenseman and the Jets may have an extra one or two of the former to try and acquire one of the latter. Heck, it might come down to trading someone like Laine or Ehlers — would that really be that terrible if Chevy was able to land in return someone to replace the gaping holes left by Trouba’s trade and Buff’s, um, whatever you want to call it.
When I covered the Manitoba Moose, I sat down with GM Craig Heisinger one day and he explained to me how his philosophy was you build hockey teams up the middle — goaltender, defensemen and center. The wings are an add-on, after you’ve got the middle you want.
If that’s still the philosophy in the True North offices —- and make no mistake, Heisinger still has huge influence — then you’ve got to figure they’re looking at exactly the same possibilities you mention, trading some wings for some defensemen.
But the devil is, of course, in the details. Heisinger’s philosophy on building up the middle isn’t exactly unique to him and so there’s not going to be a lot of GMs out there eager to trade one of their key middle pieces — a Top 4 defensemen — for one of the Jets many talented wingers.
Also, how good would Edmonton be right now if they had that roster and Taylor Hall?
Like I said — not a fan. The Oilers seem pretty good how they are.
Hey, so the last time we did one of these we chatted quite a bit about our recent travels — you to Tofino to get married and me to London and Greece. Did you see I mentioned you in my story on London?
Anyways, had a couple of folks mention to me how they loved that part of this thing we do and a couple of others who said we should stick to sports and do a Say What in travel if we wanna talk about travel. The boss gave the go-ahead on that and so lets plan to do a Say What in December chatting about our travels in 2019.
I’ve got a couple of possibilities in 2020 — Scottsdale, Oregon and Australia; how about you?
I did see you took me up on a recommendation to see the Tate Modern. Glad you enjoyed it as much as I always do. Next up for you — the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It’d be a great time to go — they’re restoring Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch right now and they’ve set up the whole operation in a huge glass case so you can watch that fascinating process live and in person.
I’m thrilled to hear we’re going to take Say What?! on the road. The only thing I like more than traveling is talking about traveling and my experience is many Manitobans feel the same way. There’s nothing quite like a Manitoba winter to give you the travel bug.
Erika and I are off to Bonaire for a few weeks in February. If you’re unfamiliar, Bonaire is neighbors with Aruba and Curaçao, 100 kms off the coast of South America. And what makes Bonaire special is the entire island is a reef, making it the undisputed home of the best shore diving in the world. Erika got her PADI ticket last winter in Nevis and I picked up mine about 10 years ago on the Great Barrier Reef, but this will be our first chance to dive together. Can’t wait.
Beyond that, we’re going to be a road show next year. We picked up a nice little RV a couple weeks ago and we’re planning on an epic trip this spring through Eastern Canada and the Maritimes, then down through South Carolina to meet my new daughter-in-law’s parents and then back up through Kentucky, where I will finally tick a Churchill Downs visit off my bucket list.
Portland, Oregon and Sydney, Australia are two of my favorite cities in the world. You will have a great year in 2020 if you get to both of those places.
I have heard of Bonaire — sounds like a great trip. That RV road trip sounds challenging — for Erika lol
Just kidding buddy.
Let’s end with what I guess was the biggest news of the week; and since we never like to edit these dialogues, please be careful what you say here haha — any thoughts on the Don Cherry firing?
I see they’re thinking about Brian Burke replacing him. He’s boring from what I’ve seen, but maybe they want that after Grapes.
Time to let it go I think. Plenty of other things that can be done at intermission — let Coach’s Corner be a fading memory. I’d forgotten about it a long time ago.
Don Cherry should’ve been fired years ago. It’s been at least a decade since the man could finish a thought, much less finish a sentence. I actually find it kind of amusing that in the end it was Cherry’s occasional intolerance, rather than his constant incoherence, that did him in.
But what I’m waiting for now is Ron MacLean’s resignation. That guy was Cherry’s enabler for decades — including last weekend when he did nothing to call out Cherry on his ‘you people’ rant. MacLean’s gotten just as rich off Cherry’s intolerance as Cherry did and I don’t understand how you fire one but keep the other.
That whole Hockey Night in Canada enterprise is a sinking ship and the biggest loser in all this is Sportsnet, who paid $5.2 billion to broadcast a product that this week became just another flashpoint in the culture wars.
Time to get back to real work — well, me anyways. Talk soon.
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.
Updated on Wednesday, November 13, 2019 at 9:59 PM CST: Fixes several typos.