TORONTO – Paul Maurice is taking a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook: Can’t accomplish what you need to accomplish? Found wanting? Try to deflect attention elsewhere.
I thought he was better than that.
Look, Mike Babcock needs nobody to stick up for him. Not with that contract, not with that resume (mostly, though, not with that contract.) But when Maurice, the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets, decided to drag his counterpart with the Leafs into a defence of his lack of progress with the Jets – Maurice suggested that “spinning” wins and losses was beneath him because, unlike Babcock, he went into each season wanting to win the Stanley Cup – it was a little much even for those of us who enjoy a little coach-on-coach crime.
It was OK for Maurice to remind everyone that his team is the second-youngest team in the NHL (behind you-know-who). He might also have acknowledged that since taking over from Claude Noel in the 2014-2015 season he had Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Tyler Myers and Bryan Little before Babcock landed his best player, Auston Matthews.
Maurice was, in fact, given Patrik Laine to add to a team that should be good enough to be a playoff regular. Babcock added Matthews to a team that was awful. Plus, Maurice had half a season to throw some of the garbage out.
It is, of course, a play on the tiresome ‘Toronto thinks it’s the centre of the Canadian sports universe’ thing, which, for someone who grew up in southern Manitoba and worked in Calgary and Montreal … well, it is the only Canadian city with an NBA and MLB franchise, and the Leafs do drive TV ratings, and it’s where TV networks are headquartered. So yeah, it kind of is the centre of the Canadian sports universe.
Even the CFL, loved every place else but Toronto, has its head office here. Apologies.
But in the meantime, if I’m the Jets I’m pretty much keeping my organizational mouth shut and trying to find a goaltender who will help me decide whether or not I have the right man to coach my team. Or, at least make sure the team finishes with more points than the only team in the league younger than mine.
QUIBBLES AND BITS
• Brett Lawrie’s release by the Chicago White Sox didn’t shock a couple of scouts who work Arizona during spring training. Both said it was common knowledge the organization wanted more at-bats for its prospects and White Sox general manager Rick Hahn admitted to reporters that Lawrie’s days were effectively numbered when the club didn’t trade third baseman Todd Frazier.
“We envisioned transactions that would have opened up more playing time for him, whether it was at second or third. None of those deals came to fruition,” said Hahn.
The Tampa Bay Rays appear to have the most interest in the native of Langley, B.C.
• The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook failed Sunday in his bid to put together a fifth-consecutive 40-point game and is still one triple-double away from tying Wilt Chamberlain’s single-season mark of 31 set in 1967-68 – 11 away from Oscar Robertson’s 41 in 1961-62.
• The Chicago Blackhawks head into a four-day break riding a club-record eight-game road winning streak, breaking the previous mark of seven set from Dec. 19-29, 1964.
• Last spring, a few folks around the Blue Jays thought Marcus Stroman was getting too cute with the manner in which he was working on “alternative deliveries,” incorporating hesitation or quick pitching. He’s doing it again this spring, but it seems with more of a plan.
• Don’t look now but the New York Mets are said to be calling up Tim Tebow from minor-league camp for games Wednesday against the Boston Red Sox and Friday against the Houston Astros. I don’t much like the guy’s politics, but I can’t say I’m cheering against him the way some baseball people seem to be doing.
• Every time people in our industry whine about how boring trade deadlines are in the leagues they cover I’m reminded of something Dan Duquette told me when he was GM of the Montreal Expos: If you do your job right as a GM you shouldn’t necessarily need to make a big deal just because the calendar says there’s a deadline. Trades aren’t a divine right.
A LOOK AHEAD
NHL: Boston Bruins at Ottawa Senators – Alex Burrows and his ‘eye-for-an-eye’ approach was acquired for games like this. His addition by the Senators single-handedly changed the tone within the division.
UEFA Champions League: Down 5-1 to Bayern Munich, Arsenal has no chance of advancing out of the Round of 16. A bigger question is whether fan anger (Warning: Explicit language in the link) at the tired regime of manager Arsene Wenger will manifest itself in the stands at the Emirates or whether Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez – who didn’t start Saturday’s Premier League loss to Liverpool – throws his toys out of the crib again.
NBA: Toronto Raptors at New Orleans Pelicans – The Raptors’ first look at DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis together on the same team comes on the same day that the Boston Celtics play the Golden State Warriors and the Washington Wizards continue a west coast swing of their own.
NCAA Hoops: No. 6 ranked Oregon – regular-season winners of the PAC-10 – will be led by Mississauga’s Dillon Brooks into its first game of the PAC-10 tournament against the winner of Stanford and Arizona State University.
World Baseball Classic: Canada vs. the Dominican Republic in Miami, followed by Colombia on Saturday and the U.S. on Sunday. Be still my pounding heart.
NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Edmonton Oilers – Sid vs. Connor. ‘Nuff said.
NBA: Toronto Raptors at Atlanta Hawks – A potential first-round playoff matchup to see who gets eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round. The Raptors hold the tiebreaker against the second-place Celtics and the third-place Washington Wizards, by virtue of winning two of the three-regular season meetings between the two. The season’s series with fifth-place Atlanta is tied 1-1. The game is huge.
World Baseball Classic: U.S. vs. the Dominican Republic. Every WBC, the same question gets asked: Is this the year the U.S. takes it seriously? We’ll find out in this one.
NHL: Minnesota Wild at Chicago Blackhawks – Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville told reporters two weeks ago that they might as well forget about his team catching the Minnesota Wild. Uh, sure: The Blackhawks are now just a point behind the Wild in the Western Conference.
“All of a sudden … you move up,” Quenneville says now.
Funny how that happens, eh?
Love this story from the excellent Michael Russo of the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis: Chuck Fletcher, the general manager of the Wild, will continue to call his amateur scouts this week to essentially apologize in person for trading away so many draft picks at the NHL trade deadline to get Martin Hanzal and Ryan White from the Arizona Coyotes – not because he has buyer’s remorse, but because he understands the personal sacrifices scouts make to do their job (http://www.prosportsdaily.com/Headlines/ExternalArticle?articleId=456972).
As someone lucky enough to have spent time around his father, Cliff Fletcher, this comes as no surprise, but still terrific to hear.
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-Noon ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN.