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MILLIONS: Winnipeg Jets have most – but not all – the pieces in place for a strong season

Roger Millions breaks down the Jet’s lineup as the 2021 season gets ready to go

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NHL training camps are scheduled to open on January 3, if things remain on schedule, despite COVID-19 restrictions. Before January 16, the beginning of the season, I will look at the four Western Canadian teams and do my best to project their near futures.

Let’s start with the Winnipeg Jets. 

I remember being assigned by Sportsnet to go to Atlanta, the day the franchise was officially awarded to Winnipeg. It was stiflingly hot that day, but not nearly as uncomfortable as the lack of interest in hockey. Few cared about the sport, and I was happy the team was Manitoba bound.

I grew up farming in Manitoba. My late father and his friends drove 3.5 hours from the south west corner of the province to watch their beloved Jets from the late 1990’s on. Their passion for the franchise and what it means to the province will never leave me. 

Throw in the small market accomplishments and they have my respect. A small city (by NHL standard) along with a not so densely populated province will always make financial challenges even more difficult. Toss in MTS Centre and its 15,000-plus capacity and dollars are hard to come by. Especially, with no projected cap space left at this time.

That said, the Jets have some very good pieces in place and a history of overachieving. They will need to do it again.

Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is one of the game’s best netminders. His $6 million-plus price tag is not bad considering his ability. Like every team in the NHL without good goaltending, your chances are slim. Hellebuyck gives the Jets the opportunity to win each and every game unless another part of the team falls apart.

That leads us to the biggest question mark on the Jets; their defence. Calgarian Josh Morrisey is a very good player and is considered a star in many eyes. He is paid a handsome $6 million-plus and is required to do a great deal of heavy lifting. Unfortunately, the likes of Neal Pionk, Nathan Beaulieu, Dylan DeMelo, Derek Forbert, Luca Sbisa and Tucker Poolman do not put a much fear into other teams. While they may hold their own, they can be exploited. Other than Morrisey, this group must be considered the team’s weakest area.

Up front is a different story, led by Team Captain Blake Wheeler. Age 34, Wheeler is a very good player, but age has a way of catching up to you and I wonder how much he has left. $8 million a season is a hefty price tag, so Jets fans need to hope he has some left in the tank.

Same goes for recently acquired Paul Stastny, who is now 35. How will he perform? It’s too soon to say much of Stastny’s addition.

One of my favorite Jets is Mark Scheifele, now in his prime at age 27. Reasonably paid, you just have to love his two-way game. The question is, can he come back from the knee injury picked up in last fall’s years COVID-19 playoff against the Flames? It was a tough break. He will break in against the Flames’ forward Matthew Tkachuk, who was involved in the incident that injured him. Nothing like a little opening day drama is there?

Youthful stars Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Nicolai Ehlers should provide excitement and much needed offense; provided Laine continues to score and doesn’t tail off like he has shown some signs of last year. The Jets will need him to be the threat he was in the past.

Adam Lowry is a very good player and now has his dad Dave on the bench as the Jets’ Assistant Coach. Lowry is big, strong and mean enough to be a force. That will make his father proud. 

Throw in the remainder of third and fourth-line players and its clear the Jets have the capability of causing some damage in the newly constructed North or Canadian Division. 

To do so, injuries will have to be at a minimum and the overall team defensive group will have to make some progress. 

There is a rumor Winnipeg is dangling young Jack Roslovic to others in an attempt to shore up their defensive group. If they can get that move done, I say do it. 

The Jets have the potential for a great season, but they will need to make it happen and not simply hope for it.

Next up: the Vancouver Canucks. 

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard. He was a broadcaster for the Calgary Flames for 39 years.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Mars Hill

    December 31, 2020 at 10:39 pm

    NHL lost me and I suspect many others to varying degrees because of their “wokeness”

  2. That's Dr. #SAND to you...

    December 30, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    Yabbut, are they ‘woke’ enough?
    Not for me.
    They don’t meet my high standards of virtue signalling.

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Sports

HARDING: The Oilers glory days are set to return

Gretzky told McDavid it’s just a matter of time.

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The 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers were the greatest NHL team of all time, led by Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, and Paul Coffey. No team since had the top two leaders in points overall and the top defenceman – until now. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Tyson Barrie just repeated the feat, spawning hopes the Oilers could at long last reclaim the Stanley Cup.

For the second year in a row, McDavid and Draisaitl have been 1-2 in league scoring. McDavid’s 105 points and Draisaitl’s 84 were well ahead of Boston’s Brad Marchand at 69. This year’s surprise was Tyson Barrie whose 48 points were top for defensemen. The missing ingredient of a marquee offensive defenceman had finally arrived.

In 2015, a poll of ten leading NHL agents named Edmonton the least desirable place to play, but that was before McDavid and a new arena were part of the mix. After Barrie had a mediocre year with Toronto, a one-year contract in Edmonton made perfect sense.

“For me, it’s a no-brainer,” Barrie said when he signed last October. “It just wasn’t about money this year, [but] coming in to re-establish myself and show the league that I’m still a pretty good player.”

Barrie has been stellar. His 8 goals and 40 assists gave him 48 points, one more than the Rangers’ Adam Fox.  To boot, Barrie did it logging just 21:24 minutes per game, the lowest total of the top 30 defensive scorers. Then again, he had McDavid and Draisaitl to pass to, plus his defensive partner, Darnell Nurse. Nurse’s 16 goals were second-best among NHL blue liners, while his 36 points were 12th best.

“It’s pretty incredible, the skill we have on this team. It’s world class – as good as it gets,” Barrie told Sportsnet’s Mark Spector in March. Oilers coach Dave Tippett said Barrie was an important part of the McDavid-Draisaitl magic.

“He’s an elite puck-mover and offensive player. We’ve had some solid defenders, but nobody with the instincts with the puck that he has,” Tippett said. “The top offensive players, they love it when they’ve got a defenceman who can make creative plays to find you with the puck. That’s why he’s fit in so well.”

In some ways Barrie is the Coffey of the current team, though Sportsnet’s Ron McLean says McDavid is in others.

“What you know about him [Coffey] is that he can stand at the goal line and be at the blue line in two strides,” McLean said. “McDavid has that same power. It’s just [an] other-worldly first step.”

Even Gretzky says McDavid just keeps getting better. “The maturity that he’s shown this year, he’s gone to an even higher level. And I don’t just mean in points. His physical play is a lot higher than it’s been in the past. His body language is that he doesn’t want to lose,” Gretzky told The Athletic.

“His work ethic has been the most important part of what’s been infectious throughout the hockey club and bringing a young hockey team to another level.”

Last year, Gretzky said he saw other parallels with the current Oiler team and those of the 1980s, since Mark Messier kept him sharp in practice the same way Draisaitl does for McDavid.

“They’ve become better players because they’re competing every single day with each other and not even really realizing it. And obviously those two guys are driving the train in Edmonton and they’ve done a wonderful job.”

Oilers goalie Mike Smith honoured ‘85 legends Grant Fuhr and late trainer Joey Moss on his mask this year, and Gretzky has praise for Smith.

“I’ve played with a lot of great goaltenders. Andy Moog. Grant Fuhr. Curtis Joseph. Kelly Hrudey. Mike Smith is the first goaltender I’ve seen really energize a hockey club from being in goal. Whether it’s his feistiness on the ice, whether it’s how he handles the puck and moves the puck, how he battles every game.”

In 1985, the Oilers went 49-20-11 in the regular season then dominated the playoffs. They swept L.A. and Winnipeg, beat Chicago in 6 games and Philadelphia in 5. Gretzky’s 47 points and Kurri’s 19 goals remain records, as do Coffey’s 37 points as a defenseman.

With a record of 35-19-2 this Oilers team is not the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup. In fact, Edmonton has only the tenth-best odds to win it all. Even so, Gretzky told McDavid it’s just a matter of time.

“So when you guys do win — and you will win a Stanley Cup — the feeling is just over the top. You work your whole life to do that,” Gretzky said. “You will lift it one day, you’re too good.”

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Political Columnist for the Western Standard

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Canucks’ star Vertanen benched after sex assault allegation

NEWS 1130 tweeted an Instagram account dedicated to sharing stories of sexual assault posted allegations from a woman who claims Virtanen sexually assaulted her in a Vancouver hotel in 2017.

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The Vancouver Canucks have put star Jake Virtanen on “leave” after allegations he sexually assaulted a woman in a hotel room came to light.

“Our organization does not accept sexual misconduct of any kind and the claim as reported are being treated very seriously,” the Canucks said in a statement.

“We have engaged external expertise to assist in an independent investigation and we have placed [Virtanen] on leave as we await more information.”

Canucks’ tweet

NEWS 1130 tweeted an Instagram account dedicated to sharing stories of sexual assault posted allegations from a woman who claims Virtanen sexually assaulted her in a Vancouver hotel in 2017. 

Nicknamed “Shotgun Jake” by Canucks fans, right winger Virtanen, 24, was drafted by the Canucks sixth overall in the 2014 draft.

In 38 games this year he has five goals and no assists.

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard
dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com
TWITTER: Twitter.com/nobby7694

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The Rock writes: ‘Calgary Stampeders changed my life; I love the CFL’

“I was still grateful to a man who would eventually become a mentor and friend, Wally Buono, for even giving me the opportunity.”

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The CFL changed my life.

When you have nothing and you’re scratching and clawing for everything you can get – all in the spirit of making your football dreams come true. You become the hardest worker in the room. You will not be denied.

I knew in my heart I was going to make it in the CFL – and parlay that into a very successful career in the NFL. Maybe even win a Super Bowl…But neither of those dreams came close to coming true.

Truth is, I just wasn’t good enough and it wasn’t my time.

The CFL sent me home. I was still grateful to a man who would eventually become a mentor and friend, Wally Buono, for even giving me the opportunity.

Wally Buono. Courtesy Wikipedia

I had $7 bucks.

But it’s funny how sometimes life comes full circle. Now I’m back. Same hungry kid, but much different man.

As an owner of the XFL, our discussions with the CFL have been very exciting. There’s a real pulse here because you can feel the unique opportunity we can potentially create together.

Wherever it all leads, I can tell you this one is personal to me and is driven by all my passion – because me being cut by the CFL was the greatest thing that happened.

It set me on a path that years later would lead me right back to the league. To help create even greater and bigger opportunities for all our players and all our fans.

As an owner who’s had his hands in the dirt – my loyalty will always lie with the players and fans.

I’ll keep you posted as our XFL/CFL discussions unfold. Got your back. So yes, the CFL changed my life, in ways I could’ve never imagined

🙏🏾🇨🇦🏈#gratitude

#legacy

#respect

#pulse

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tried for the Calgary Stampeders in 1995. He was cut during training camp. He went on to become a wrestling superstar and movie action hero. He wrote about his experiences on his Facebook page

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We the undersigned call on the Canadian government to immediately cease all payouts to media companies.

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