WINNIPEG - You’ve got to hand it to Mark Chipman. That sly devil sure pulled a fast one, back in May.
When Winnipeg’s white knight bought the Atlanta Thrashers, nobody knew he was actually getting two teams for the price of one.
Forty-six games into the season, it’s become plain as day: there are the good Jets, and the bad Jets.
And they’re playing a sneaky little game of now-you-see-them, now-you-don’t.
There’s no denying which is which, though.
The good Jets don’t have a big payroll, but everybody works their tails off, plays smart team defence and wins close, tight-checking games.
Their goalies make key saves when they need to, their head coach is as encouraging as a first-year, grade school teacher and players are all on the same page, from the goal-scoring stars to the fourth-line pluggers.
With the good Jets, it doesn’t seem to matter if a few good players are hurt — it’s all for one, one for all.
The good Jets are home bodies, occasionally venturing out on the road, but, by and large, preferring their own beds and home cooking.
Then there are the bad Jets.
These guys don’t have a big payroll, either — and a work ethic to match. To them, team defence is a foreign concept, too many players seem to be reading from their own page and the head coach is wont to deliver tongue-lashings in public.
The bad Jets are often on the road, although they have made the odd appearance in downtown Winnipeg, much to the chagrin of hockey fans who came out expecting to see the other version.
Which team shows up on which night is hard to predict, but you should be able to bat .500 without breaking too much of a sweat. All you need is an NHL schedule.
Start by checking the area code of the next game. If it’s not 204, there’s a good chance the bad Jets will show up.
Then look at the previous game. If it was just one day earlier, you’re guaranteed to see the bad Jets. That’s a slam dunk.
Another clue that you’ll get the lousy team is if it’s coming off a road trip. The bad Jets often take that first game back home. In fact, the good Jets haven’t shown up for a game like that since October.
If it’s an extended home stand, though, chances are they’ll take over the dressing room for a good chunk of it.
Nobody seems to know where the good Jets go when they disappear.
Nobody knows where the bad Jets go, either, but then nobody really cares.
When the good Jets go missing, though, people tend to ask questions, and sometimes the coach doesn’t like that. The coach of the bad Jets, that is.
The coach of the good Jets doesn’t seem to mind tough questions.
Which brings us to Thursday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres.
The Sabres’ advance scouting staff is no doubt examining the evidence to see which Jets team it’ll have to deal with.
This is a tricky one.
It’s at home, which would suggest it might be the good Jets’ turn.
But it’s the first game after a two-game road trip, so the bad Jets are probably raring to go.
Interestingly, the trip saw one appearance by each, and how the organization flew one team into Ottawa, Monday, then switched it for the other in New Jersey, Tuesday, is beyond me. I guess with charters these things are possible.
No wonder it costs so much to run an NHL franchise.
Looking at what happens right after the bad Jets are really bad, like they were in New Jersey, doesn’t tell the Sabres much, either.
The eight previous times the Jets lost by three goals or more, in the next game the good Jets showed up half the time, the bad Jets the other half.
So who knows what team we’ll see, Thursday.
You’ve got to hand it to the Jets for one thing, though.
They’ve got the advance scouts guessing.
Both of them.