Photo Credit: Bruce Fedyck/USA TODAY Sports
From dampened tracksuits to potentially disastrous predatory offer sheets that failed to account for a pretty important CBA article, Sportsnet reporter Chris Johnston has broken all kinds of colourful, interesting, and controversial stories in his career.
This month Johnston has got a new sort of challenge though: tour the country and host four live hockey-talk shows in four different cities in four nights. It’s called Puck Talks Live and it’s coming to Winnipeg! The event will take place at your favourite watering hole (the Pint, duh) on Tuesday, Sept. 15th and you can buy tickets here!
Anyway we caught up with Chris to talk about why culture matters so much to the Winnipeg Jets, and also about the upcoming Puck Talks Live event.
Jets Nation: In Winnipeg the Jets have cast a lot of veterans aside – Lee Stempniak, Jiri Tlusty and the like this summer, in order to give younger players more of an opportunity. Do you think the shadow of the Evander Kane saga – where a younger player clearly didn’t fit into the culture of that locker room – should be a concern as the organization looks to integrate younger players?
Chris Johnston: I don’t think it’s a concern.
We know they’re not going to be a team that spends to the cap, they’re going to have to do things a different sort of way. I know the Nashville Predators, for example, are an organization the Jets have studied extensively for how you can get the most out of a team that isn’t spending as much money as its competitors and how do you build a team where you can take some key parts out and still have a moderate amount of success and be a playoff team. And I think almost for the Jets having people who can fit into that environment is maybe more important than it is in other places because they have less ability to turn things over and just buy themselves out of mistakes. They have to be sure of the players they have.
I think you’re going to see an organization that over time – and they’re still relatively new in Winnipeg – plays almost exclusively with players that were drafted as Jets. And they’ll be far less of a player in the trade market and the free agent market. And they’re really trying to establish an idea of what it is to be a Jet, and in some ways I think that can be a really positive environment for young players that are coming in
CA: Chris, what do you like about the Puck Talks format?
CJ: The best thing about it is that you never really know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what the questions will be, and obviously we involve the audience a lot and that’s made for some funny moments in the ones I’ve been part of so far.
To me what it does is that, pretty much everyone who is a serious hockey fan or who is involved in the industry in some way (whether it’s media or players or whatever) – we all have to deal with Twitter. Twitter has a lot of benefits but some of it is a little bit cynical, even hateful, whereas I find by actually getting together and having these events, you strip away some of that.
You have opportunities for actual discussion from people who come from different backgrounds – whether you get the pro-analytics crowd, or some more traditional reporters, or some former players as part of the panels. To me it allows for more free discussion about hockey. It’s a really authentic experience. It has kind of taken on a life of its own with the ones we’ve done in Toronto and now we’re taking it across the country.
CA: How did you get roped into accompanying Puck Talks on its first cross-Canada tour?
CJ: I guess I’m the first loser or something!
I’m not sure what happened there, actually. I did the second Puck Talks show that they did, and then I did the third and the fourth. It seemed to work well, and I got to meet the owner Kevin Kennedy. I guess he liked what I brought to the format, and he asked if I’d do it and I said yes. That was before I realized it was going on on four nights in four cities, kind of like a touring rock band.
Now that we’re getting close to it I’m getting pretty excited…
CA: What are you most looking forward to about the trip?
CJ: Being yelled at by different people in different cities!
What’s perfect about it to me is that it falls on the first week that training camp opens in each city. I think that for a lot of us we’re just getting beyond the summer cobwebs, but the excitement is going to be back in each of those markets. To be in Edmonton the day that the Oilers break camp with Connor McDavid, I think that there will be an energy in that show in particular. But everywhere we’re going, people will be naturally excited about what’s going on with their hockey team and it’s an opportunity to exchange ideas that evening, and drink some beers together, and celebrate our sport.
CA: What’s your favourite puck talks moment so far?
CJ: My favourite moment is probably Ken Campbell losing his mind in the last show. Ken might have had a few adult beverages before taking the stage, I’m not sure. He actually made some good points, but he made them quite passionately, including one point after which he dropped the mic as if he were some rapper who had made his point sufficiently or something.
— Ryan Dixon (@Dixononsports) February 26, 2015
That to me is what the whole thing is about. It’s about people who are excited about this thing and there’s room for some healthy debate about various topics, and you really don’t know, even when you put panels together, what side of people’s personality is going to come out when you put them on stage.
That was something that makes me chuckle months later, and at the time it was downright hilarious.
Chris and Puck Talks roll into Winnipeg on Tuesday, Sept. 15! Buy tickets here!