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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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MILLIONS: Sutter is the old war horse the Flames need

“Some self-proclaimed experts have already predicted failure; that he is a dinosaur and that the game has passed him by. I think those experts may be in for a rude awakening.”

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There have been four coaches in seven years for Flames under GM Brad Treliving, but brother, did he leave the big kahuna for now.

Darryl Sutter returns for his second head coaching stint in Calgary. He’s won two Stanley Cups and arguably should have won another in Calgary back in 2004. He’s won. He knows what it takes. He gets the best out of people, immediately. Whether he can maintain that for the long term is up for debate by some.

Any country club atmosphere within the Calgary Flames locker room has come to an immediate and abrupt end. It’s about time.

Watching this year’s addition of the Flames has been – with the exception of about 3 or 4 games – downright painful. Dreadfully inconsistent, easily satisfied, and at times playing with entitlement, watching the Flames was at times perplexing.

These things can be cleared up with a very simple but hard to achieve message: clarity. If you have had the pleasure of getting to know Darryl Sutter as I have, clarity is insisted. In fact, it’s demanded.

That’s not to say Sutter will be herding his players like cattle. It simply means that he will demand of everyone in the Flames organization the same that he demands of himself: everything. The best you can be each and every day. Perhaps that’s too much to ask of a lot of young people these days – but like it or not – that’s exactly what’s on the menu for the Calgary Flames. 

Like everyone, the man has some flaws. They will no doubt be well defined by today’s touchy-feely media. There will be hurt feelings – and for those not willing to suffer that indignation – some time to contemplate their future. 

But for those Flames that choose to learn and discover what those demands can bring them, it’s a chance to grow. If you are a young man looking to achieve the very best, why wouldn’t you welcome that?

I think that’s exactly why Darryl Sutter has been hired by Treliving. He is going to find out what the organization has. They have more than half a season to dissect the team, and no time to waste. Rest assured, Sutter has no patience for wasting time. 

Some self-proclaimed experts have already predicted failure; that he is a dinosaur and that the game has passed him by. I think those experts may be in for a rude awakening.

Perhaps I’m biased. Out of the 17 years I had the good fortune of working with the Flames while at Sportsnet, five of them were with Darryl in his roles of coach and GM. They were the most fulfilling and interesting years of my career, for a variety of reasons.  

His demeanour and attitude was indicative of people that raised me. The Darryl Sutter I know is both professional and personal. I respect his professional approach. I like the man as a friend. 

His return is indeed fascinating. I can’t wait to see what becomes of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Both are fine young men, but to this point in their careers, they have never played for Darryl Sutter. It won’t be easy for them either. It could very well lead to both moving on to other franchises. But if they listen and learn with respect, it could be a turning point that will propel them both to higher levels.

There are no guarantees, but is that not what intrigues you the most?

Welcome back Darryl. Whether people like it or not.

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard

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MILLIONS: What’s in a Name? To the (former) Eskimos bosses, not a hell of a lot

Consultations about the name to date have only been able to turn up woke white liberals offended on their behalf.

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The Edmonton Football Club Board of Governors and its new president have opened a can of worms, and now they have to eat it.

By electing to drop the name ‘Eskimos’, the governing body of the football team sent their strongest possible virtue signal that that are in touch with woke culture. They are all too aware of the past, but they would appear to be asleep at the wheel when it comes to the future.

The seven names that are going forward for consideration include the: Elk, Elkhounds, Evergolds, Evergreens, Eclipse, Eagles and Elements. Riveting stuff.

The Washington Football Club dropped their longstanding nickname of “Redskins” a year ago and went without a lame replacement moniker. It worked well. The NFL – with its limitless marketing power – found a way to proceed and it was good enough.

The CFL is not in the same league. Heck I’m not even sure the CFL will be back on the field in the long run. 

Sure, teams are signing and re-signing players for an anticipated season, but the CFL is a fan-driven league. So much so, that anything less than about 60 percent capacity at stadiums won’t work. With the way governments are handling the COVID-19 dilemma, it’s not a good bet.

How important is renaming the Edmonton Football Club? It’s not. The woke crowd do not watch football in significant numbers. The people who actually watch the Eskimos, don’t see much wrong with the name.

The whole process is a shambolic embarrassment. 

Of course, some were offended with the Eskimos name. A friend of mine who has spent four decades in the Edmonton Sports Media told me two years ago that the team asked those who actually matter in this conversation. That is, Canadians of northern indigenous heritage. According to him, the vast majority had no problem with it.

Consultations about the name to date have only been able to turn up woke white liberals offended on their behalf.

It all comes back to this new Board of Governors. The board showed the same weakness that has permeated not just sport, but academia, the media, the political class, and entertainment.

The big question is if the creep of radical political correctness will be satisfied with their victory over the Eskimos. Not likely.

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard

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MILLIONS: Pierre-Luc Dubois is an opportunity for the Flames or Oilers

“Should either team think about making a move to acquire the talented young Columbus centre Pierre-Luc Dubois?”

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The COVID-19 world of NHL Hockey is underway. Lord knows what kind of financial and player movement gymnastics will be necessary going forward. From self-isolation, to out-and-out skullduggery in terms of roster moves, the next few months will be fascinating to say the least.

That aside, I’m wondering if either the Edmonton Oilers or Calgary Flames should consider a move of great boldness. Should either team think about making a move to acquire the talented young Columbus centre Pierre-Luc Dubois?

Blue Jackets Head Coach John Tortorella has tormented – and in the minds of some observers – tortured many young players in his wild days behind the bench. It now it appears Dubois is the latest.

Tortorella has publicly stated that Dubois would like out of Columbus. He is unhappy with his current situation and in a round-about way, has requested a trade out of Ohio. It seems a little odd coming from a player aged just 22 and who seems to be getting better and better. I suspect it has a lot to do with Tortorella, who has a reputation as a master craftsman when it comes to mind games.

Dubois is slated to be paid $5 million over the next two seasons. In the two seasons past, he amassed 27 goals and 61 points. In last year’s COVID-19 shortened season, his numbers were 18 goals and 31 assists. He stands to be even better. At 6’3” 215 pounds, he has the size every NHL team would covet.

Either the Oilers and Flames would have to do some COVID-19 hurdles. Be it a 14-day quarantine or some other fantasy whim conjured up by any government unwilling to admit they have no clue about what they are doing. Either team would have to comply. That’s a risk for sure – and in a 56-game schedule  – who can say either Brad Treliving or Ken Holland would be willing to do so.

What the hell? Let’s say they do.

If you are the Oilers, the likely candidate in my mind would be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Coming off 69 and then 61 point seasons, Nugent-Hopkins has the offensive numbers the Blue Jackets would relish. He is also well accounted for in his own end, meaning his defensive game is quite good. 

The sticking point is his contract. He is in the final year of his 7-year deal paying $6 million a season. Meaning he – like all players – would be seeking a raise in pay. That likely means $7 million plus, and with McDavid and Draisaitl already chewing up $21 million of their cap, the prospects seem highly unlikely. It also means Columbus would need something more. No doubt, the ability to negotiate a new contract with Nugent-Hopkins and a trade sweetener like a second or third round draft pick. 

As for the Flames, I am wondering about Sean Monahan. Monahan has been more than serviceable for Calgary over the years. Monahan who is 26, had an impressive 82 points in 2018-19. He has teamed up with Johnny Gaudreau very well now in his 8th season as a Flame. He makes $6.4 million over the next two seasons.

Monahan is perhaps not as accomplished defensively as Nugent-Hopkins. He is obviously working on that. His offensive upside would seem to be greater than the Oilers player. 

Yet after 8 years, the Flames seem to not be getting any closer to a Stanley Cup appearance. Gaudreau with two years remaining on his $6.8 million-dollar contract, will soon become an unrestricted free agent. He hails from south New Jersey just outside Philadelphia. I find it a little hard to believe he will want to stay in Calgary over the long haul. Especially since his recent engagement to his long-time gal who is a nurse in Philly.

Monahan and Gaudreau have seemingly been tied at the hip. It is hard to believe that is not coming to an end. Perhaps a proactive move might be in order. However, I doubt a one-for-one player trade would work. Calgary would likely have to offer a tantalizing addition. Be it a draft choice or a long talented prospect.

Same goes for Holland and the Oilers. They can keep their cap aspirations in line for a little while with Dubois. Something not likely with Nugent-Hopkins.

Realistically, the COVID hurdle may be too difficult for either the Flames or Oilers to overcome. Yet, it does make one wonder with such a fine young talent supposedly available.

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard

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