Say What?! is an email conversation between sports editor Steve Lyons and sports columnist Paul Wiecek. Look for us regularly but intermittently on the Free Press website.
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/3/2018 (1119 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Hello. How’s it going? It’s been awhile since we did one of these — the last time, you were in Korea covering the Olympics. And then of course you needed another vacation after that, so you wound up spending five weeks in Asia — how’s the jet lag?
The big story here before you left; while you were away; and now that you’re back is the local NHL team. The Jets continue to win, despite some impactful injuries, and looked solidly entrenched in second place in the Central, meaning they will open their first-round playoff series at home against either the Wild; the Avs; or the Stars.
Of course the biggest news of late on the team will come in the next 90 minutes or so, when we find out the status of Patrik Laine, who took an Alec Martinez shot to the inside of his left foot — or leg — the other night against the Kings.
Just seconds after the play, while the team’s super sophomore sniper was limping to the bench, I made a note asking under any circumstance should Laine even be in the way of a shot, let alone trying to block one? I guess you could say the same for Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele blocking shots while killing penalties.
I understand getting in the shooting lanes has become a big part of the modern defensive scheme, but having your stars risk serious injury trying to get in the way of blasts from the point doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. Wonder if they could teach them to get in the way, but also to bail out once the shot is taken — especially when the shooter gets into a full windup.
That was a long time away from home, but I was delighted to return and find nothing had changed in Winnipeg. My backlane is still impassable, only now it's nine-inch snow ruts instead of nine-inch potholes that have trapped my car in the garage.
The problem the other night wasn't that Laine blocked a shot — it was that he blocked it badly. There is a right way and a wrong way to block a shot and Laine's effort was a seminar on the wrong way — twisting sideways and exposing all the least-padded part of his body to the shot.
I don't care who you are — there's no way in today's NHL that you could be an effective player without also blocking a shot whenever you can. And there's also no player in the NHL who wouldn't rather take one in the actual manhood than have his manhood questioned by jumping out of the way of a shot or pulling a flamingo. You'd be crucified in your own dressing room, never mind what you'd hear from every opponent and their fans.
It's the omnipresent threat of taking a slapshot in the teeth that makes hockey the game it is.
I’m not sure I ever recall Dave Schultz or Bob Nystrom or Terry O’Reilly or Mike Bossy blocking shots. I certainly don’t remember Phil Esposito doing it — except in front of the opposition net. They left that kind of thing to the Bob Baun’s of the world. It’s different now, I guess.
Just heard: No Laine at practice today.
Ya know, for a guy who has ragged on me for paying someone to have my snow removal done — by the way, I fired my guy back in January — you sure have done a lot of complaining this week about the snow in your back lane and on your sidewalk. The ruts in my lane have been annoying as well — you just need all-wheel drive my friend. You know as well that if the city did scrape your lane, you’d then just have a pile of ice windrow in front of your garage. I’m for waiting it out — it’s all going to melt by the end of this week.
The issue isn't whether the city should plow now or not. Of course, it's pointless at this point. The issue is that if the back lanes were plowed properly in the first place, there wouldn't be so much snow back there that ruts like this would form.
Maybe if Winnipeggers paid the highest property taxes in the world, instead of just Canada, we could live in a city capable of providing even the most basic of services?
On another note, there has been a two-foot snowbank slowly melting at the corner of Sargent Avenue and Spruce Street, directly across from Clifton School, for the past two weeks, which has forced the kids to stand in the street while they wait to cross.
So just to review: The safety of our children is paramount when the city is handing out $500 photo radar tickets in school zones, but no so much when it comes to actually doing the most basic of snow clearing to make those school zones safe.
I have an indirect path to work — and most other places I travel to on a daily basis — that circumvents all school zones. It’s genius.
I’ve got to share an email exchange I had earlier this week with a CFL employee. The league is holding CFL Week here in Winnipeg this week — in case those of you at home missed it. So on Monday, I get a note from Lucas Barrett, who is manager of communications and public affairs. He wants to know if the Free Press would like to write a preview of the event in Tuesday’s paper. He says he has commissioner Randy Ambrosie in town and they’re doing a bit of a tour. I tell Lucas thanks, but we did a story on CFL Week coming to town back in February. In his response, he asks ‘Don’t you want an update with Randy?’ to which I respond ‘What kind of update?’ Lucas tells me he can have Randy tell us ‘what he expects for this week at his first Mark’s CFL Week in his hometown.. could be a good kickoff story. Depending where the WFP office is, we could swing by and bring the Grey Cup.’
Oh wow, the Grey Cup — will we get to touch it?! Seriously dude, we’re a newspaper — not a TV station.
I tell Lucas the Free Press is not interested in promotional-type stories, but if Randy would like to meet with us to update us on where the league stands on the concussion situation in light of last week’s Supreme Court ruling on the Arland Bruce case; or would like to update us on whether or not the league is looking at improving its employee vetting procedures so it doesn’t have teams signing players to contracts that have pending criminal charges against them, well then we would be happy to have an ‘update’ from Randy.
You know what the response was? Crickets. That’s right, nothing. So the deal is, if you wanna do a story telling readers how great we are as a league, we’ll bend over backwards and even let you see the Grey Cup. But if you want to do a real news story, um later pal.
There's a scene in the movie The Big Short in which celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain explains how he takes a bunch of three-day-old seafood he can no longer sell and combines it into a seafood stew, which he can sell. The filmmakers use Bourdain's bit as a way to explain mortgage derivatives, but they just as easily could be talking about the contrivance that is CFL Week.
Basically, what the CFL did with CFL Week was take a couple of off-season events nobody in the media paid much attention to — the national combine and the annual hall of fame induction announcement — and combined with them with an annual off-season photo-op TSN does with the league's top players and sold it as this brand new thing.
Predictably, it worked great last year in its debut in Regina because, well, have you ever been to Regina in March? Anything that will take your mind off that hellscape is worth checking out. But my sense this year in Winnipeg, where there's a 1000-pound gorilla called the Winnipeg Jets sucking all the air out of the room, is that most people see this thing for what it is — old fish dressed up in a new package.
But that's not stopping TSN from pretending like this week is the Grey Cup, Super Bowl and Academy Awards all rolled into one. While there are nine independently run teams in the CFL, the $40 million a year in rights fees TSN pays the league every year makes them the defacto owner of the CFL. Predictably, they are only too happy to give the league all the fluff pieces they want — because basically they are the league.
And so yeah, I guess it would come as a disappointment to the league that someone actually wanted to do some journalism this week.
And then the CFLPA goes and crashes the party filing a grievance for the league’s reluctance to act on an obligation to care for its players, particularly those who suffer from long-term injuries. Someone in that office did not get the memo from Lucas.
I was thinking: how great would the PR be for this league if it came out and admitted its wrongs and proposed a legitimate plan to make good going forward.
TSN actually had the audacity to air a promo spot for CFL Week — Sara Orlesky interviewing Mo Leggett — during the intermission of Tuesday night’s Jets telecast. Say What?!
So, I’m going to try and be very very sensitive to how I word this next salvo...
Earlier this week, the Ottawa Senators announced the unborn son of defenceman Erik Karlsson had died. Several weeks ago, it was announced the child of Carolina Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal had died. Obvious tragedies to the families involved, but is this the type of thing that needs to be reported and splashed across all forms of media? It also seems incongruent with the privacy stance most teams in the league take these days when it comes to players’ personal matters. We chatted a bit about this last year when there was numerous stories and a lot of coverage on the fact that the wife of Senators goalie Craig Anderson had cancer.
Hmmm. I can only speak for myself when I say that if I was going through a personal tragedy or challenge like that, I would do everything I could to not have that play out publicly.
But I'm not sure how else they could have handled that Karlsson thing this week. The Senators had to abruptly pull him out of the lineup and the fans — if not necessarily also the media — deserved a meaningful explanation for his absence. Personally, I thought the team and the Karlssons handled an impossible situation as well as they could have. To the degree it became a media circus this week, I think that's more on us than it is them.
But seeing as we're on this subject, I pose this separate but related question for you: Whatever happened to suffering in silence? It used to be a virtue — it was called stoicism — and we used to celebrate it in people.
Sadly, I think it's a virtue that is going to die out with the generation that saved us from Hitler and then came home and simply got on with the job.
The Jets have had a couple of family-health situations over the last couple of years — I’m not always a big fan of the team’s secrecy on things, but in those cases and up against how some others like them in recent times have been handled, perhaps they have had the right approach.
Just had a call from an effusive Melissa Martin — she’s in North Bay covering the women’s world curling championship for us. She’s jacked to tell the story of Jill Officer’s final big tourney with the team. Got a good memory to share on Jones and Officer?
That's the thing — every Officer memory is a Jones memory because those two have been almost inseparable for decades now.
For all the personnel changes Jones made over the years — some of them controversial — Officer has been, for lack of a better word, her rock.
Here's an Officer story: For the longest time, she would come to every major curling event the Jones team was competing in with these little chocolate curling rocks she'd buy at Morden's in Winnipeg before she left. She'd tie a little ribbon around those chocolate rocks and attach a thank you card. And then, win or lose, Officer, who was a TV reporter back in the day, would come up to the media bench at the end of those curling events and hand those cards and chocolates to the reporters who'd been covering her team, just to thank us for our coverage.
You know who else I covered over the last three decades who gave me a thank you card? Nobody. It says something — although probably more about me than her.
Which reminds me. While you were away in Asia, we launched a new feature here at the Free Press — it’s called Uplift: Seeing the forest for the trees. The weekly newsletter, compiled by Kevin Rollason, curates some good news stories from the previous week. So, the first day it comes out, one of our readers comments something like ‘This is great, but did you guys notify Wiecek about this.’ Made me howl. I replied that we had managed to shield you from the memo because you were out of the country.
Time to get back to work. Take care of yourself — watch the ice in the sidewalks, I don’t need a columnist out with an upper-body injury. Although some folks might disagree ;)
You have to admire the symmetry of a league that refuses to meaningfully address concussions holding its annual off-season celebration in a city where the neglected sidewalks cause so many of them.
A match made in heaven.
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.