Showing posts with label Winnipeg Jets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Winnipeg Jets. Show all posts

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Winnipeg Jets Ready to Explode

Winnipeg Jets logo
The fuse was lit in the Winnipeg Jets organization before the start of the 2022-23 season when head coach Rick Bowness stripped Blake Wheeler of the team’s captaincy. Wheeler’s post-castration reaction made it clear, if not in words then in tone and the barely concealed contempt that came off him in waves: this would not soon be forgotten. But the words, too, were important. Parse them and you find some odd contradictions.

The  Jets had an up and down season, culminating in a late-season collapse that has become a tradition for the team. They snuck into the playoffs, had one good game in their series against the Vegas Golden Knights, and then promptly curled into the fetal position and begged to be kicked into submission. Vegas obliged.

When Bowness ripped into the team after they were eliminated by the Knights, Wheeler had his opening. At the Jets’ end-of-year media availability, Wheeler’s smugness was palpable. He lectured Bowness on etiquette and gave fans and reporters a lesson in the gleeful serving of cold dishes. In years gone by, it would have been called insubordination. Some of Wheeler’s millionaire team-mates suggested that their tender sensibilities had also been offended by Bowness’s blunt comments about their lack of effort in their first-round series against the Knights. And maybe they truly did believe what they were saying.

But after years of rumours and odd incidents, it’s more likely that one or more individuals in the locker room are pushing buttons and setting the tone. And in any situation in which a core group of manipulators operates, someone can always be identified as the leader. It’s clear that other Jets players understand the importance of the lead ape’s words and actions, demonstrated by the fact they lined up and pointed to the supposed grievance that Bowness dared to share his feelings after the Jets were eliminated. And it was notable that the most recent player to arrive on the Jets’ roster chose not to ape the lead ape.

The sudden departure of Dustin Byfuglien in 2019, the resignation of Paul Maurice in December, 2021, and Pierre-Luc Dubois’s recent request to be traded by the Jets can all be explained away by other factors. But the behind-the-scenes weirdness probably comes under the ‘it makes it easier to leave’ category. And a player has to feel remarkably comfortable in his hold over the team to be able to tell a group of reporters to ‘fuck off,’ as Wheeler did at the conclusion of the Jets’ 2018-19 season.

And so we come to that topic which always accompanies any discussion of the Jets, especially when signings and trades are the focus. Yes, we get it. Winnipeg may not be the most glamorous city on the NHL circuit. Vicious winters, mosquitoes in the summer, and nothing for hundreds of miles in any direction are part of the reality. (And I grew up in Winnipeg, so I’ve got immunity to rip the place while sprinkling in the requisite bits of whimsical nostalgia.) But I have the sense that those unpleasant aspects of life in Winnipeg have been weaponized by some current players. As if to say, ‘We’ve deigned to come and play here, therefore we have granted ourselves a licence to manipulate, sulk, run people out of town and pitch a gutless effort or two whenever the mood strikes. And you better not call us on it!’

Enough of this garbage. Connor Hellebuyck clearly wants out. Get the biggest haul you can for him, knowing full well any trade partner has the leverage. Wheeler will be more difficult to unload. He’ll be 37 before the start of next season and carries a sizeable cap hit. Get creative and do whatever it takes. Clear out the rest of the petulant dead weight and get on with it. This doesn’t have to be, and almost certainly won’t be, the beginning of a rebuild. But big changes are coming.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are creating a template for small-market teams. Bring in people who want to play, regardless of their baggage or even because of it. Another ingredient the Jets might want to add to the mix: get some vicious players who are willing to leave everything on the ice and brutalize opponents. Get angry about the sneering contempt from other fan-bases and the legion of players who would never play in Winnipeg. Bowness seems like the right coach, at least in the short term, to lead such a team into battle. He rightfully doesn’t give a damn about coddling overpaid millionaires. The perennial disappointment in Winnipeg has to end. Start the garbage removal, hoist the black flag, and give Jets fans something to cheer about.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Rick Rypien Dead at Age 27

Sad news: Rick Rypien has passed away at the age of 27.

Rypien had recently signed to play with the Winnipeg Jets for the 2011/12 season.

True North Sports & Entertainment (TNSE), which owns the Winnipeg Jets, has already released a statement. From the Winnipeg Jets website:
True North Sports & Entertainment and the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club would like to issue the following statement in regards to the passing of Rick Rypien:

“We are deeply saddened to confirm Rick’s passing. As many people are aware, he had strong ties to True North Sports & Entertainment, the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club, the former Manitoba Moose Hockey Club and the Vancouver Canucks. We would like to express our sincere sympathies to the Rypien family as well as Rick’s friends. We also appreciate all of the support that has come pouring in from Rick’s fans. Rick was a talented player with an extremely bright future. His hunger for the game made him a valued team member both on and off the ice. This loss has impacted us as more than just a hockey team.”

The organization will have no further comment at this time. We kindly ask the privacy of Rick’s family and friends be respected during this difficult period.
People will of course speculate about what happened before there is any official confirmation, and the Wikipedia page for Rypien is already fueling the discussion.

Whatever the reason, it is tragic and sad news. Rest in peace and condolences to his family and friends. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Winnipeg Jets' Alternate Logo: Another Logo Released

Winnipeg Jets Alternate Logo
The Winnipeg Jets have unveiled another alternate logo.

This one is in addition to the primary logo and two secondary logos that were introduced to the public on Friday, July 22nd, 2011.

Speculation is that new team slogans are due for release in the near future as well, among them, "Laying Waste to Our Opponents."

And the buzz is already building around the soon-to-be announced cheer-leading squad for the Jets, tentatively called "The Collaterals."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Winnipeg Jets' New Logo: Verdict and Review

Leading up to the release of the new Winnipeg Jets logo, talk of creating a design reminiscent of and/or that paid tribute to the Canadian Forces Air Command was rampant. I wasn't sure what to think of any potential logo that went down that path.

However, the new logos have now been released, and the tacit association with the military has been confirmed.

new Winnipeg Jets logoAn incredibly short-sighted decision in my opinion. A logo can exist and be part of a team's identity for years or decades to come. But the new militarism that is currently popular in Canada is only a recent phenomenon.

No, I do not mean to suggest that Canadians do not have a proud history connected to our military nor that we have not always supported the work that has been done in the past to defend our country. We have and will continue to do so. But the jingoistic, chest-thumping brand of support is something that has only been imported from the US since 9/11.

Consider how imbecilic the Toronto Raptors name sounds years after they anointed their team with an identity based on the fact that a wildly popular movie at the time had made dinosaurs all the rage. Of course, a country's military is far more likely to stay relevant but it is still not the best choice.

The quietly proud, get-the-job-done-and-don't-waste-time-congratulating-yourselves brand of patriotism appeals to most people in Canada, at least in my experience. To design a professional hockey team's logo with the aim of paying tribute to the air force goes against that.

While the majority of Canadians support their country's military, political considerations often surround the actions that a particular government takes and how they may use or misuse military force. Most people want to leave behind any real-world divisive issues when they go to see a hockey game.

True North Sports and Entertainment (TNSE) has ensured that is no longer the case. Sure, the connection is not official, but the logo automatically creates the sense that the team owners are boosters of whatever military action the Canadian government takes.

The current federal government in Canada has announced that it will spend billions on new fighter jets. The government has also been criticized for failing to take steps to support veterans in a more comprehensive way (something that past governments have not adequately addressed as well). How long before the government reaches out to TNSE to try and gain an advantage by associating themselves with a team that has made their support of the military so clear?

The Blowhards Will Love It

The new militarism in Canada has a few unique features. The people who shriek the loudest and try to associate themselves with this new militarism often seem to be in it to boost their own profile as much as to pay tribute to the military. To me, "support" means not just letting everyone know that you consider yourself honourable for supporting the people who take the risks, but actually giving money or time to help those people.

And most of those individuals are hard-core black-and-whiters. To criticize a logo that has that indirect relationship to the military, of course means to the blowhards that you are criticizing the military. It just adds a permanent angle to the identity of the team that I feel is inappropriate. Keep the tributes to individual games and/or pre-game ceremonies. The intentions of TNSE are no doubt good with regard to the logo, but I believe it wasn't the best decision.

The Verdict

But enough of that. How does the new logo rate in terms of its design?

First, the colour combination of blue, silver and red is slick and looks very good.

new Winnipeg Jets logo mainThe main logo features a fighter jet over a red maple leaf on a white circle surrounded by a blue inner ring and a silver outer ring.

Some people may claim that the red maple leaf is not an accurate depiction of a maple leaf as the stem is made to look like a thrust from the overlapping jet.

But, you might say, who cares? It doesn't have to emulate a real-life maple leaf. True, but it may look a bit off to some people.

Also, for most hockey fans, the maple leaf is part of the Toronto Maple Leafs logo and identity. But who says one team has a monopoly on a symbol that is so important to so many Canadians?

Overall, this logo reminds me of a bottle cap. A tie-in with a local brewery could be in the works.

new Winnipeg Jets logo secondaryAs has been pointed out by others, one of the secondary logos looks like a military medal.

It features a military-type insignia that is shaped like wings, over which are imposed two crossed hockey sticks (that also look vaguely like two splayed feet), a red maple leaf and "Winnipeg Jets" in two white banners. It will likely be a shoulder patch.

new Winnipeg Jets logo secondary twoFinally, the other secondary logo features mainly script, and is weak, in my view. The font just does not look very good.

While nothing is ever final, the look of the new Winnipeg Jets is set, at least for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Winnipeg Jets' New Logo

Winnipeg Jets logoA sports team's logo is very important for its fans. The team logo represents in a single image all the hopes, memories and frustrations that a fan has experienced in his relationship with the team. The logo is a call to arms. An image that the fan can use to advertise his commitment to the team. An unspoken challenge to opposing teams and their supporters.

A team logo that has existed for decades becomes iconic and fans could not imagine it being otherwise. All six of the original NHL teams have logos that are instantly recognizable and elicit numerous emotions for fans of the teams and hockey fans in general. Their logos are classic, relatively simple and memorable.

Does this assessment come from an objective analysis of the logo designs or because the logos have existed for so long and become so much a part of each team's history? Probably a bit of both. And it is important to note that even the original six logos have been tweaked somewhat over the years though all have maintained their essential original look.

Winnipeg Jets Fans Await Team's New Logo

After the outpouring of opinions from fans in Winnipeg made it overwhelmingly clear that they wanted their city's new NHL team to be named the Jets, the team owners did the smart thing and acceded.

Now fans of the new Winnipeg Jets await the unveiling of the new Jets logo. The general consensus seems to be that the new logo will vary quite a bit from the Jets logo that was apparently resigned to history when Winnipeg's first NHL team moved to Phoenix in 1996. Of course, some image of a jet is likely to be there in the new design, but beyond that, there will possibly not be much similarity to the old logo.

Most fans seem to be going along with this notion. It's almost as if, strange as it seems, that fans are willing to accept this as a sop to the owners. While no one seems to know for certain, it is likely that the first choice of the owners was not to name the new team the Jets.

So once fans let their feelings be known and True North Sports and Entertainment (TNSE) rewarded the prevailing sentiment with the return of the Jets name, the current thinking has become, "well, they deserve to bring in new colours and a significantly new logo for the merchandising potential and because they want to make the team their own."

Honour Tradition

I disagree. I say, retain the old colours and tweak the old logo somewhat. If you are going to (rightly) honour tradition, why not go all the way?

Regardless of what logo the Jets unveil in the next few weeks, I believe the time pressure is a good thing. Too much time, too many consultants and gobs of money involved in coming up with a logo often lead to over-thinking the design. A desperate need to provide an adequate back-story for the logo can be another consequence. The result can sometimes be ridiculous.

Let's hope that the new Jets logo is an instant classic without too much reliance on fancy computer graphics programs that cause some designers to go over the top simply because they can. Regardless, in due time, any logo they come up with will become part of the Winnipeg Jets and will be accepted by even the most critical fans as time passes.

History of Winnipeg Jets NHL Logos

Winnipeg Jets NHL logo original

1979 to 1990

Winnipeg Jets NHL logo 90s

1990 to 1996

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Return of the Winnipeg Jets

Winnipeg Jets logoAfter 15 years, the NHL returns to Winnipeg.

Only a few years ago, this seemed unlikely. But thanks to the insistence of Gary Bettman to encourage and authorize franchises in the most absurd locations possible, a good number of teams in the past few years have been ripe for relocation. And of course, let's not forget the hard work of Winnipegers and the new ownership group in securing the team.

Having served up a team for Calgary in 1980, Atlanta has once again provided a franchise for a city in western Canada.

But now that the team is in Winnipeg, the dynamics will instantly change and will continue changing as the years pass. When you're desperately chasing a goal, you often convince yourself that everything will be all right if you just make it happen. But after you reach the goal, familiarity is right behind and almost as fast you start to take for granted that which you once thought was so important.

Numerous conditions seemed to stand in the way of Winnipeg ever seeing a return of the NHL. The relatively inadequate old Winnipeg arena and its limited seating capacity of 15 393, together with the size of the city and the population from which ticket buyers could be drawn were always pointed to as obstacles.

But the new arena where the Jets will play has only 15 015 seats for hockey. And the population of Winnipeg has essentially remained static since the first Jets team scarpered to Phoenix.

Yet, we are assured by those who wanted the team back in Winnipeg the most that things have changed enough to make an NHL franchise viable over the long term. More luxury boxes in the new arena and more head offices in Winnipeg (hence, all those new, well-paid employees are going to spend their disposable income on hockey tickets?) are two reasons commonly mentioned.

Back then, with some tickets costing as little as 10 dollars each, many games were not sold out. In some post-seasons, you could walk up on game night and buy a ticket. Now the cheapest ticket will be much more—about 39 dollars. And Jets tickets overall currently rank as the second most expensive of NHL teams in Canada.

The city from which Winnipeg purchased the current Jets team is a two-time loser in the NHL department. And it is safe to say that if the Jets ever skipped town again, there would be no third chance. Beyond the honeymoon period of three to five seasons, what is the likelihood that the new Jets will be in Winnipeg for the long term? A few important factors will decide their fate.


The most obvious way to assure a long and happy stay in Winnipeg is to put together a winning team. A long standing lament of fans of the old Jets team was that it was tough to have any post-season success in the Smythe division with the great Oilers teams around. But today's NHL with 30 teams can be even more difficult. In the 21-team league, a team rarely missed the playoffs for multiple years in a row. Now, teams with 5, 6 or as many as 10 years out of the playoffs are not uncommon.

Ride out the Tough Times

The new owners have deep pockets and have expressed the desire to keep the team in Winnipeg as long as possible. Talk is cheap. If the time comes when the team is hemorrhaging cash on a yearly basis and the novelty of having a team is long gone, will the new owners take multi-million dollar losses on an annual basis without considering moving or selling? Who knows?

The Economy

Closely related is the economy. In the late 1980s and early 90s, it was difficult for most NHL teams in Canada. The weak Canadian dollar and the fact that many players had contracts that paid them in US dollars always made things tough. While economic times are relatively good in Canada at the moment, and the dollar is a lot stronger, there is no guarantee that will continue over the long haul.


Having lost one NHL team and knowing that a second team leaving town would likely spell the end for many decades to come, will fans be willing to support the team through thick and thin? And by support, I mean coughing up the money for tickets if the team goes through a period of horrid play and seasons out of the playoffs.

I hope to see the Jets in Winnipeg for many years to come. The new Jets need to establish themselves as a consistently competitive team within the next three to four seasons to help make that a reality.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

NHL Player Profiles: Teemu Selanne

Heading into the NHL's Hockey Hall of Fame weekend, it's a good time for many fans to look back at their favourite retired players of all time. Joe Pelletier at Greatest Hockey Legends came up with the idea to get as many hockey bloggers onside in posting profiles and memories of NHL players from the past.

My entry is in the de facto retired category. While Teemu Selanne may still end up returning to the NHL, he is already considered one of the game's great players.


Teemu Selanne exploded into the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets in the 1992-93 season at the age of 22. Though a 10th overall pick by the Jets in the 1988 entry draft, he played in his native Finland for four seasons after being selected by Winnipeg.

SelanneHis record setting year was something to behold for fans in Winnipeg. Playing on a line with Alexei Zhamnov and Keith Tkachuk, Selanne started filling the net early on and just kept scoring as the season progressed. He was also helped out by the play-making ability of defenseman Phil Housley.

I took in a handful of regular season games that year in Winnipeg. The one that stands out for me was a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs late in the season.

My room-mate at the time was a student from Ontario who had reluctantly come to Winnipeg to study at the only law school in the country that would accept him. He was a rabid Leafs fan and so we bought tickets for the game, one of two they played against the Jets in Winnipeg that year.

One thing that resonated for me during Selanne's rookie season was not only his speed and scoring but his ability to, on occasion, lay some crushing body checks against opponents. Though I was unable to watch him during most of his post-Winnipeg NHL career, I doubt that trend continued beyond his first few years in the league.

Selanne had a serious injury early on in his career and scoring was of course his real strength but boy did he hammer some opposing players in that first season.

During that game against Toronto, Selanne leveled two Leafs players in a single shift, sending most of the fans into a frenzy. As we looked down on the action in the Jets' end, Selanne took out a Toronto skater just as he sent the puck around the boards and behind the net to another Leafs player on the opposite side of the rink. Selanne flashed across the ice to crush the unlucky player as he touched the puck. The Jets went on to win the game 5-3.

The Winnipeg media seemed as thrilled as anyone that this good-natured, instant NHL superstar in the midst of setting a rookie scoring record was also willing to get involved in the physical side of the game. I still remember Selanne, who spoke with slightly accented English at the time, responding to a post-game question from a reporter who asked about his hitting. With his usual big smile and understated tone, Selanne responded that "when they kick you, sometimes you have to kick back."

Despite a great season for Selanne personally, the Jets were mediocre as usual and exited the playoffs in the first round. Selanne wouldn't see post-season action again in Winnipeg and not for another five years until he was playing with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Nor would he play another complete slate while with the Jets due to a torn achilles tendon in his second season, the lockout shortened 1994-95 campaign and the trade near the end of '95-96.

SelanneSelanne is probably the most talented NHL player ever to be dealt in two separate such lopsided trades. The first time was when he was shipped out of Winnipeg to Anaheim with Marc Chouinard and a fourth round pick in exchange for Chad Kilger, Oleg Tverdovsky and a third round pick.

Panned as one of the worst NHL trades ever, it was near the end of the Jets' last season in Winnipeg in 1996 before moving to Phoenix. Perhaps a colossal snub to the new owners who would take over the following year or more probably just a panic move from a group that was struggling financially and trying to lessen some of the damage.

Selanne had some hugely productive years in Anaheim playing alongside Paul Kariya. In 2001 when it appeared as though his career was on the decline, he was shipped out to the San Jose Sharks for Steve Shields, Jeff Friesen and a draft pick. With the Sharks he had some steady seasons, if unspectacular compared to his earlier efforts.

Teemu was being bothered by a wonky knee and that contributed to his worst output in 2003-04 while playing with the Colorado Avalanche, who he had signed with as a free agent before the start of the season.

He underwent knee surgery in the off-season and didn't play any professional hockey during the lockout 2004-05 season, which he had initially planned to spend with Jokerit Helsinki in Finland. He re-signed with the Mighty Ducks for the 2005-06 season and that marked the beginning of possibly the most impressive late career resurgence ever by an NHL player.

After that stunning rookie season, Selanne tallied 100 points or more on three other occasions, all coming during his first six season stretch with the Mighty Ducks (most of the '96 campaign spent with the Jets.)

He came the closest to reaching that level again in his final two seasons with Anaheim. The surgery, a year spent recovering and practicing hard and the effects of the league trying to eliminate interference in the NHL resulted in point totals for Selanne that were near his peak years.

SelanneIt would be hard to script a better finish for the Finnish Flash than the 2006-07 season. The newly christened Anaheim Ducks (no more "Mighty") won the Stanley Cup and Selanne was 11th overall in regular season points at the age of 36 and third in goals with 48.

The Winnipeg Jets had no real playoff success during their existence as a franchise. They made it to the second round of the playoffs only twice and never beyond that stage. A handful of good seasons, well played games and series and great players are the memories that fans of the former team hold on to.

The history of the Jets is also absent any major player awards with the exception of two Calder trophies for the NHL rookie of the year, presented to Dale Hawerchuk in 1982 and Selanne in '93.

So that rookie season by Selanne is without a doubt one of the highlights in the history of an ultimately disappointing and failed organization. His relentlessly upbeat and positive personality and his on-ice performance will have Jets fans reminiscing for years to come.

While already having financial difficulties and trying to look forward to ways to keep the team in Winnipeg, many fans probably saw that great season by Selanne as a sign of good things to come for the club but of course it wasn't to be.

Though still pondering a return to the NHL, if Selanne never plays another game in the world's premier league, he would be one of the few who went out at the very top.

Monday, October 29, 2007

New Jersey Devils New NHL Arena: The Prudential Center aka The Rock

Devils logoThis is the first example in the history of corporate sponsored arenas that I can remember, in which the rights holder (the insurance giant Prudential) has attached their famous tag-line (in this case, "The Rock") to the official name. Quite possibly it has been done before, but none could have been so appropriate and memorable as the one for the new home of the New Jersey Devils.

Some good reviews of The Rock around the hockey blogosphere. Over at AOL Fan House, there's a photo of a Devils' logo that appears atop the flushing mechanism in the arena bogs. Not sure if it's on top of a urinal or inside a stall. I would guess it's inside a stall, as my memories of using the facilities at the old Winnipeg Arena are of long troughs with po-faced, drunken schlepps emptying their beer-filled bladders between periods.

I've heard that the trough set-up is standard equipment in most other NHL barns. The logistics just wouldn't be feasible for any other type of arrangement. Thousands of mouth-breathing lunatics jacked up on alcohol and the excitement of the game they've been watching wouldn't work quite as well with individual urinals. The added waiting would be the main problem. And no doubt the porcelain would seem like an appropriate receptacle not just for rancid punter discharge but also for a good kicking on occasion.

The troughs always turned my guts mainly for the wretched miasma hanging over the whole spectacle and also because of the sickening potential for bacteria. I always made the effort to wait the extra few minutes for a private stall.

Years later while traveling through some of the nastiest back-waters on the planet, I wondered why anyone would ever use any kind of urinal in a public toilet. Standing vulnerable staring at a wall, just begging someone to bash your face into the concrete and steal your wallet. Add in the fact that leering and brazen deviants seem far more prevalent in some parts of the world and it's not worth the hassle.

I've slipped up a few times while in Thailand and opted for the urinal in what appeared to be a deserted restaurant toilet. There is a particular type of eating establishment in Thailand. Not in tourist areas, it's the kind that appeals to middle class Thais. It usually has outdoor tables with an attached bar and offers barbecue, seafood and a constant flow of pitchers of draught beer served up by sullen, underpaid staff. These kinds of restaurants often have a bathroom attendant.

The first time one of those loose-limbed, whistling little freaks ambled up behind me as I was standing at the pisser and started massaging the back of my neck in hopes of scoring a tip, I nearly flattened him with an elbow.

Just one more reason to avoid the urinals and head straight for a stall.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

NHL 2007-08 Week Three: Results, Changes and Stats

Habs logoOilers logoFlames logoYotes logoJets logoThrashers logoLeafs logo50 years since Maurice Richard became the first player in the NHL to score 500 goals. And with the commemoration comes that inevitable parlour game: would he have fared as well in the current NHL? Such discussions are interesting and yet another way for fans to rank their knowledge against one another.

Of course, it's totally hypothetical and rather meaningless. But because of the passion some invest in these "what if" scenarios, I'm always surprised that the most obvious qualifier of all is rarely mentioned.

If Richard were to have played in this era as opposed to in the past, he also would have come up at a different time and thus benefited from better conditioning, nutrition, coaching and competition. So, all other things being equal, he probably could have been a very good player in today's NHL.


The first battle of Alberta is in the books and it wasn't even close. Apparently the two teams are headed in the opposite direction with the Flames overcoming some early season collapses and the Oilers dropping most of their recent games except against other bottom feeders like the Phoenix Coyotes.

"It's still early yet," but Dustin Penner hasn't produced much offense during the first eight games. Which generally goes to show that most players are not of the impact variety and instead see their fortunes rise and fall depending on who they are playing alongside.

On the bright side, if Penner does become the largest and most expensive pylon ever, at least those dire predictions of overpriced offer sheets for restricted free agents might not come to pass.


Speaking of the Coyotes, has there ever been an NHL team that has experienced so many years of futility, first as the Winnipeg Jets and now in their current existence?

It's a bit ironic for Wayne Gretzky, considering the amount of regular season and playoff misery he inflicted on the team when they were located in Winnipeg.

Who would have believed it all those year ago? Imagine if someone had approached Gretzky in the visiting team's dressing room at the Winnipeg Arena after the Oilers had once again eliminated the Jets from the playoffs and said to the Great One,

"Hey, this is all well and good but one day you will be saddled with the very team that you've just beaten. While they are currently mired in this northern wasteland, at that distant point in the future they will be located in a desert."

Gretzky: "You don't say? That's interesting...Hey Mess! Ya got an extra bar of soap?!"

Strange how things play out in life. With Gretzky's partial ownership of the Coyotes and his iconic status in the hockey world, he has stayed on far longer as head coach than most others would have.

Kind of a conundrum for Gretzky since he essentially can decide for himself how long he remains as coach. Remove himself and some will label him a quitter. Stay on and the frustration mounts. Fair play to him for sticking with it.

Looks like another painful season of "rebuilding" ahead for him and the Yotes. I’m sure he’s not taking bets on his team making the playoffs…


The Atlanta Thrashers sacked their coach Bob Hartley and then quickly got their first win of the season against the Rangers the next evening with GM Don Waddell behind the bench. A coaching change often results in at least a temporary jolt of momentum, though as Atlanta demonstrated following their lone win of the year when they got back to their losing ways against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, it often takes far more to turn a season around.


The Thrashers will slump into Toronto on Tuesday for a game against the struggling Maple Leafs. If the Leafs can't put up a win against Atlanta or are listless and offer up another abysmal 3rd period, the winds of change are going to be blowing a lot stronger in the Big Smoke.

The Leafs 3rd period collapses only eight games into 2007-08 have been shocking. It's a carry-over from last season where they had one of the worst 3rd period team plus/minus records. Many people point to potential conditioning problems when such late game fades become a trend. But if you look at this season's 3rd period stats for the Leafs, it's probably more because of discipline than anything else.

So far this year the Leafs have a 3rd period team plus-minus rating of minus 2. But more importantly, they have taken 21 third period penalties that have resulted in six power play goals for their opponents. Add in another four overtime penalties with one game winner scored with a man advantage for the opposing team and it's not surprising Toronto are 1-2 in the extra frame.

Losing to the worst team in the league on Tuesday would not bode well for the fortunes of either GM John Ferguson Jr. or head coach Paul Maurice.

Monday, October 8, 2007

A Ticket to Boo

Jets logoLeafs logoWhat an odd word and an even stranger way to express your displeasure at something. To actually yell "Boooooooo!!!!" Sure, booing often incorporates more than just choruses of that sound, but many times, that's it.

Years ago while attending Winnipeg Jets games, I can remember getting into the action as the entire arena rained down abuse on opposing teams. There seemed to be particular type of play or penalty committed by an enemy player that elicited the genuine and spontaneous boos. It's that essence of gutlessness that isn't always easy to articulate but when you see it, it's visceral and at once enrages and motivates.

The habitual booing of a certain player is something different and is almost surreal when the arena is otherwise sullen and detached. The off/on switch of the puck on the hated player's stick has got to have some kind of effect, though I've got to think it could be more of a motivator than anything. To know that you've got 18, 000 baboons watching your every move and waiting to utter a moronic sound in unison has to induce a certain amount of glee in many players who have been targeted. Hammer one home and shut the primates down, make them hoarse with your possession and enjoy the fact that they respect your ability and are utterly helpless to do anything else. Individual players may be tagged for a game, playoff series or their entire careers.

To boo an individual player on your own team is something I've never fully understood. I can understand letting the entire team have it on occasion but to target a player for a period of bad play is counterproductive in my opinion. What is the rationale? Obviously, the fans who engage in such behaviour must loathe the player to such a degree that they would like to see him hounded off the club.

The practice has got a nasty air of unfairness about it and I've no doubt it turns into nothing more than a habit for many of the lunatics who haven't got their fill of nastiness at a particular game. I've often thought that such behaviour is partly because of the thrill people get from letting others know how far they're willing to go. Part of the appeal of being a sports fan is the tribalistic aspect of of living and dying with your team. But within the fan base there are of course divisions and cliques just as there are in any group. The "I'm a better, nastier, more dedicated etc. fan than you because..." is something that occurs amongst fans, though usually never so brazen as to be stated directly like that.

It's even further beyond comprehension that the new Leafs' goalie Vesa Toskala would get booed in his first game (albeit preseason) in nets in Toronto. In such a situation it's beyond the play of Toskala, who hasn't even been given a whiff of a chance to show what he's got. It's more from the frustration of missed playoffs, years of poor management and the thought that "here we go again."

I guess fans who are willing to boo one of their own players at the first sign of less than stellar play should ask themselves what they really hope to accomplish. Clear away the usual (and completely legitimate) lines about "paid for my ticket," "when they play well enough not to get booed," "want to send a message" etc. and consider that the net effect is to produce some gut-churning anxiety for someone like Toskala whenever he may let in a soft goal. Do you really want any of his mind space devoted to the angst related to the expectation of the first wave of derision? Or do you want him to focus completely on the task at hand?

If that's irrelevant in what you consider the world of the hockey fan, then carry on...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Let's Stay in Touch...

NHL logoYotes logoJets logoThe Toronto Maple Leafs and the Phoenix Coyotes played a pre-season game in Winnipeg yesterday, with the Leafs coming out on top 3-2.

The Jets slumped out of town in 1996 never to...oops, they do keep returning in their Coyotes incarnation for exhibition games and I believe they even played a regular season game there a couple of years back.

I doubt there is any other example of an NHL team that departed a city and then kept coming back for the sake of nostalgia. It's great for hockey fans in Winnipeg and decent of the Yotes owners to oblige them (of course the dollars have to be there to make it happen , but still) but I've got to believe at some point Phoenix will decide to bypass any further match-ups in the Peg.

For any Phoenix fans who are really passionate about their team, such games have got to have a slightly less than appealing odour to them. Kind of like former girlfriends who want to "keep in touch" if only for the possibility it provides to keep having a good sniff around to confirm that they made the right decision to leave in the first place.

With each subsequent return of the team formerly known as the perennial Smythe division chumps, the lobby for bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg gets a bit hornier than usual and starts rolling out what they consider are their undeniably sound arguments. These have been bolstered recently by what they believe is their new trump card...the salary cap and the apparent boon this is for small market teams. It definitely would be an added help to whatever pro team may eventually get a shot back in Manitoba's capital city but it would be no guarantee of long-term success.

Even the apparently pro-return columnists in Winnipeg, who have got to add at least a bit of nuance to their arguments compared to the core of rabid fans, aren't overly enthusiastic. Here is the less than blinding endorsement from a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press: "modest stability may be more financially attractive than sinking another drill into unfamiliar territory only to discover more dirt."

One argument against such a return is the impossible to deny fact that the Jets never enjoyed consistent fan support in terms of sell-outs, both in the regular season and playoffs. I went to many a game that was not sold out and never had problems getting tickets for playoff games. Often those regular season tickets were bought for 10 dollars each through a promotion at 7-elevens (hey, I was a university student) and even the seats in those sections were often not full. Remember too that there were some very good Jets teams during those years.

Winnipeg is a medium sized city of about 700, 000 people whose population has been almost stagnant for the past 25 years. There just aren't that many people who can be tapped to become new fans. I know, I know...there are thousands of people who are huge fans and likely many saw every Jets game ever played in Winnipeg. But it's more about money than ever before and to keep the beast fed there must be a wide swath of people who can slurp up tickets, blow money on merchandise and make advertisers and media outlets salivate.

It's also important to note that the city is notorious for producing some of the tightest bastards around. There was an urban myth that used to circulate in town. Usually delivered with a knowing sneer, it was said that market research companies regularly tested products in Winnipeg under the premise that if they could flog something there, they could sell it anywhere.

The price at which tickets would have to be sold to sustain a team compared to how much they cost when the Jets were around, would be far greater than the rate of inflation over that time span (7-eleven 40 dollar student tickets somehow don't seem likely.)

I would be the first one to cheer on such a move and would hope for their success. However, while the people of Winnipeg have been conditioned to deal with nasty soul-destroying winters, it would still be a bitter wind that would blow through town if they ever became two-time NHL losers.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Player/Fan Relationship

Habs logokingslogo.gifJets logoI recently found this well-written blog by a minor league baseball pitcher. Even the self-deprecating title, "Non-Prospect Diary" gives you an idea that he is not your average professional athlete. Some great insights and angles in this entry in which he muses on the relationship between fans and athletes:

"I can't explain to you what its like to avoid someone on purpose. When I write about the concept it just seems too rude and heartless. Maybe it is, but I still do it all the time. In my line of work, sometimes you have to ignore people. You have to tune out the noise of the game. There is no shortage of kids who want balls just because some other kid got one. No shortage of folks who want scraps signed with illegible autographs because everyone else is doing it. No shortage of begging, and pleading for stuff they don't really need, just want because someone else has. "

This brought back some memories I have related to the brief interactions that some fans crave with their favourite players. I never gave this aspect much consideration while growing up and the few instances of meeting hockey players were of the incidental nature.

Years ago while attending Winnipeg Jets games, we would occasionally amble into the lower level after the game where the entrances to the team dressing rooms were located. There was little security and no one seemed to mind that a small crowd would gather and politely wait for players to emerge. There wasn't any aggressive behaviour from fans as I recall and many of the players would stop and provide a few signatures before moving on.

One day after a game as we loitered outside the Montreal Canadiens' dressing room, Guy Lafleur strode out, walked past a group of fans, carried on down the concourse and disappeared through another door. Apparently no one considered pestering him for his autograph. Even at that age I was struck by his relatively small stature and the jarring sight of a pack of DuMaurier cigarettes hanging out of his shirt pocket.

On another occasion, the fact that others were getting signatures from a group of receptive Jets players prompted us to get in the spirit of things. Unfortunately we didn't have anything for the players to write on. Some discarded cigarette packets in the corner solved the problem (the inside sleeve of those 25 pack Canadian brands were perfect for the situation) and we promptly braced Dave Babych for his pen stroke. My friend at the time incorrectly addressed him as Dave Christian which is odd considering Babych's trademark handlebar mustache made him one of the more recognizable players. Babych didn't correct the slip-up, smiled, scribbled his name and carried on.

At a game between the Jets and the Los Angeles Kings, we were at ice level about an hour before the game as players were warming up. Wayne Gretzky was a few feet from us, leaning over with his stick on his knees and awaiting his turn as players took shots on the goalie. Next to us on the other side of the glass was a middle-aged doughy looking oaf with the stereotypical look of arrested development. He started haranguing Gretzky in a steady, monotonous, insanely annoying voice: "Wayne, can I have your stick Wayne. Wayne, please can I have your stick, Wayne...Wayne..."

The shamelessness and nothing-to-lose sense of desperation was cringe-worthy to witness. Gretzky was no doubt used to such bizarre situations and didn't even glance in the oaf's direction. There was also a little kid of about 7 years old near us, pasted up against the glass, staring at Gretzky's iconic mug. As the oaf's absurd pleading continued on, Gretzky turned and looked at the kid, smiled and nodded in that universal style of recognition that even a child understands.

If I remember such a simple gesture all these years later, I'm sure that kid, now long since grown, also remembers.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Years in the Wilderness

Bruins logoLeafs logoJets logoCanucks logo

Years in the wilderness…I’ve always liked that phrase as it relates to sports. It evokes the notion of a team that hasn’t won anything for years but keeps on persevering. It has a nostalgic feel to it. Images of beleaguered players with the thousand-yard stare, half empty barns and the significance of lesser things that otherwise get swept away when a winning aura surrounds a team. For the fans especially, it means someone who loves the game and rides out the storm no matter if it’s 4 seasons or forty.

The hardcore fans make a virtue out of losing. With the requisite rage, disappointment and heart break that goes with losing, they somehow grasp some remnants of enjoyment and pride from the depths of the accompanying shame and embarrassment. They learn to live with the possibility that they might die without ever seeing their team win it all.

The true, the proud and the never say die-ers who make the best of losing and standing by their team. The ragged warriors who cheer each little victory, whether it’s a hard-earned win, a thumping laid on an opposing team’s goon in a loss or simply limping into the playoffs only to be eliminated in the first round.

The phrase is part of the tradition of romanticizing the teams you follow and the path your own life has taken. It definitely reflects on my life for the past number of years as I’ve been in a position that has made it quite difficult to follow hockey with any degree of meaning. My own journey regarding hockey that brought me to this point started over 30 years ago.

That was the year I received my first Boston Bruins jersey, and for no other reason they became the first team I cheered for. The thin material and the stiff, felt logo stitched on the front had a far less authentic feel than the replicas of today but it was luxury to me. Even as a 7 year-old I considered it a special day when I donned my Bruins sweater in the morning before heading off to school. I continued to acquire various Bruins garb over my childhood years, including pyjamas, bedspreads and numerous jerseys.

A few years later, our family moved to Winnipeg and with the proximity and thrill of attending the occasional game, the Jets became my primary team. I still wore my Bruins jersey with pride and cheered for them once the Jets were eliminated in the playoffs (which was early and every year.)

At the same time, the Toronto Maple Leafs had drifted onto my horizon as a team with some kind of special attraction and mystique. We made the trip to southern Ontario to spend Christmas at my grandfather’s farm every few years. The atmosphere and surroundings helped those few Leafs games televised over the holidays take on a significance in my mind. In the lead-up to Christmas or in those few days before New Year’s, there was usually one or two games shown on television. The seriousness with which my grandfather would sit in his chair and watch the game while others were sure to remain silent or stay in another part of the house added to the mystery of this team with the royal blue jerseys that contrasted so starkly against the ice. I never became a Leafs fan in any sense of the word but those fleeting images are still burned in my brain.

I continued to follow the Jets through the years they iced some truly competitive teams but had the misfortune of sharing the Smythe division with the Oilers. Hawerchuk came and went and then Selanne arrived and with him a new sense of hope. I left Winnipeg in 1994 and have never been back since with the exception of a brief few days almost 10 years ago. I watched from a distance as the Jets packed up and left town for good as well.

I was living outside of Canada and had little opportunity to follow hockey. I worked in Switzerland for a few winters during that time, lacing up the skates on one occasion as the employees from the mountain where I worked played another group of workers from a neighbouring town. I witnessed a great international game played between the Swiss team and Slovenia one evening in Chur, a medium sized town in Switzerland. Those were my only connections to the game at that time.

The internet wasn’t in full swing yet so no real outlets existed for the overseas fan, especially one not remaining in the same place for any length of time. Together with the departure of the Jets I told myself that I wasn’t really interested anyway. I mouthed the usual platitudes about the game changing, “it’s all about the money,” etc. but it was probably just a way to deal with something that I actually did miss.

In 2000 I returned to Canada and lived in Vancouver. With the hassle of getting settled and finding a job, funds were tight and during my 2 years there I failed to see a game at GM place where the Canucks play. I watched NHL games on the big screen at a few pubs I frequented but it was hard to feel the passion I once had for the game. A few years later I left Canada and haven’t been back since.

This past season I started to take a renewed interest in big league hockey. Watching games online and the wide availability of quality websites and discussion boards devoted to the game helped things along. In the interim, during the time when I first left Canada almost 15 years ago until now, other things that were once important to me have fallen by the wayside.

I haven’t looked forward to a hockey season with this much interest for a long time.

It’s good to be back.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

You Never Know How Good You Have it...

Leafs logoJets logo

Until it's gone.

That's what I'm thinking this year as NHL training camps are only a few weeks away.

Years ago when I lived in Winnipeg and the Jets were still alive, I went to an open training camp at the now non-existent Winnipeg Arena. It was free to watch yet there were only 100 fans at the most in the seats at that early morning session.

It was a chance to see and hear the veterans, rookies, no-hopers and coaches in a relatively intimate setting as they went through drills and then scrimmaged. The lack of crowd noise gave the whole experience an unreal feeling. I remember 2 players who were trying to make the team squaring off and engaging in a fight during the scrimmage. The dull smack of fists against flesh echoed throughout the nearly empty arena.

In all those years I only attended one such training camp open house, though there were numerous others. I suppose I had other plans, or it was too early in the morning or it didn't have the cachet of a real season game with all the glitz, spectacle and relevance in the standings.

If you live in an NHL city and have an opportunity to watch your team prepare for the upcoming season, make the effort. You'll have a chance to see things in a more informal atmosphere, hear the banter between players, get a look at how the coaches work the players and how they address them with commands, praise and the good natured insults many teammates and their drill-masters engage in. You might even be able to get involved in a few impromptu conversations with some of the players.


On a related note, though normally the Globe and Mail has some of the best hockey writers and coverage around, this article mocking the Toronto media for spotlighting the upcoming Leafs training camp came across as strangely petty. Not sure what point he was trying to make except that a core of fans definitely are interested in such events.

There are far more positive things Maki could have written about in relation to training camp and the desire of fans to get a glimpse of the action. As I mentioned above, not only is it an interesting outing but probably the only chance many Toronto area fans will ever get to see Leafs players up close in a hockey setting.