About Jumbo Thornton’s chin whiskers…an expansion team in Seattle…and they’re buzzing about the Winnipeg Jets

Midweek musings on the edge of a fresh National Hockey League season…

Jumbo Joe Thornton and the here and after.

There was good news and bad news at the NHL’s roster cut-down deadline this week. The bad news is that Joe Thornton’s chin whiskers became a casualty. That’s right, the San Jose Sharks forward had his mountain-man beard hacked off. The good news is that they discovered Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart’s airplane and a golf ball that Tiger Woods lost at last summer’s U.S. Open under all that scruff.

Looks like Seattle will be awarded an expansion franchise for the 2020 NHL season. Reaction to the news in Ottawa was swift: “Can we get one, too?”

You know that tired lament about how no one notices the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown? About how anyone who works and plays in River City flies under the radar? About how life sucks because everyone in the eastern time zone is tucked snugly into bed by the time they drop the puck out in the colonies?

Well, you wanted recognition for the Winnipeg Jets? You’ve got it.

Les Jets de Winnipeg have been in more headlines this week than anyone not being considered for a seat on the United States Supreme Court. They’re getting buzz from one of our two national newspapers, the Globe and Mail. They’re getting buzz from Yahoo! Sports. The “insiders” at Sportsnet are buzzing about our local hockey heroes. ESPN is boffo on les Jets. NBC/NBCSN will feature les Jets five times on Wednesday nights. Online and sports books in Las Vegas are bullish on Winnipeg HC.

Cripes, man, there’s even Jets buzz on TSN, where they could be found on the main page of the website on Tuesday morning. In three different headlines.

When I saw that, I immediately called up the Weather Channel.

“Is it true?” I asked a young woman who answered the phone.

“Is what true?” she replied.

“Has Hell frozen over?”

“By Hell, do you mean Ottawa and the Senators?”

“No. I mean Hell as in Hell. You know…Satan, hissing, misery, suffering, eternal inferno. That wretched place.”

“Sounds like Ottawa and the Senators to me. But if you mean the biblical Hell, the usual warm front persists and remains parked over most of it. Why do you ask?”

“Because TSN has three mentions about the Winnipeg Jets on the main page of the website and there’s nada—bupkus!—about TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. They can’t possibly start a day without slobbering over Johnny Rotten, so I figure it can only be one of two things: 1) I overslept and it’s late November; 2) hell has frozen over.”

“No,” she assured me, “you didn’t sleep in and snowballs still don’t have a hope in Hell. Trust me, you and everyone else will know when Hell has frozen over.”

“How so?”

“There’ll be a Stanley Cup parade on Yonge Street in Toronto.”

Blake Wheeler

According to the pundits hither and yon, Winnipeg HC, while not everyone’s flavor of the month, figures to be a very prominent player in its eighth crusade since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011.

Les Jets, who commence their 2018-19 journey vs. the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night, are listed at No. 2 on the TSN power rankings, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Those ratings, by the way, are determined by five talking heads—Ray Ferraro, O’Dog Jeff O’Neill, Craig Button, Jamie McLennan and Darren Dreger.) For its part, Yahoo! Sports ranks Winnipeg HC fifth, behind Tampa Bay, Nashville Predators, San Jose and the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

Over at Sportsnet, meanwhile, 16 “insiders” are gaga for les Jets.
* 9 pick them to win Stanley Cup;
* 10 pick them to win Western Division;
* 11 pick them as the Canadian outfit with highest points total;
* 1 (Kristina Rutherford) picks Blake Wheeler to win Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player;
* 5 pick Connor Hellebuyck to win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.

Connor Hellebuyck

At The Athletic, 47 scribes/editors weighed in on the upcoming season and les Jets are the second favorite to cop the Cup; Puck Finn is the overwhelming pick to win the Rocket Richard Trophy; Connor Hellebuyck is the second choice for the Vezina; and even the head coach, Paul Maurice, is feeling the love as co-favorite to be named coach of the year (with Peter DeBoer of San Jose).

Not since the World Hockey Association have we witnessed such pre-season hype for Winnipeg HC. Those WHA outfits delivered the goods. We’ll know about these Jets in about nine months.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Interesting take on les Jets from Dave Shoalts of the Globe and Mail:

“Everybody has fallen in love with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the team to break Canada’s 25-year Stanley Cup drought. But it might just be the Winnipeg Jets who accomplish that. The Maple Leafs may be the darlings of the oddsmakers, but the Jets are big, fast, skilled and better than the team that went to last spring’s Western Conference final.

“With that experience under their belts, the Jets are now poised to take the next step. Their top line of centre Mark Scheifele and wingers Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor is one of the best in the league. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck played his way into the top tier of goaltenders with his work in the playoffs. At 25 years of age he, like his teammates, is only getting better.”

A couple things to peel away here:

Bryan Little

I’m not convinced this Jets outfit is “better than the team” that lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final. The departure of Paul Stastny tells me it isn’t. Unless Bryan Little has a bounce-back season or Jack Roslovic is a revelation, Winnipeg HC is weaker at centre ice.

Hellebuyck, meantime, was terrific during a burdensome regular season and early in the playoffs. He did not, however, play admirably in the five-game ouster vs. Vegas. He was sketchy and Marc-André Fleury outperformed him by a wide margin, despite his repeated mantra that “luck” was Fleury’s greatest ally.

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About guts, glory and a civil rights icon peddling pickup trucks…warm-and-fuzzy Olympic Games…a fool at Fox News…fools at Postmedia…telling it like it is on NBC…a gay skip for the Brier…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Guts, glory…Martin Luther King Jr.

Guts, glory…and Martin Luther King Jr.?

That was my main takeaway from the Super Bowl last Sabbath—the disturbing reality of Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice telling me to run out and purchase a Dodge Ram pickup truck. I mean, when I think of Martin Luther King Jr., I think “I have a dream,” not heavy pay loads with guts and glory. But there was the great civil rights icon/turned huckster, peddling pickups.

Given that this often is a copy-cat world, I suppose we ought to brace ourselves for the voices of other dead icons that rise from the other side and serve as product shills in the future. For example…

JFK: “Ask not what your Chevy Silverado pickup can do for you, ask what you can do for your Chevy Silverado pickup.”

Buddha: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment—and, at this present moment, nothing would go better at your Super Bowl party than a family bucket of finger-lickin’ good KFC and a case of cold Bud Light.”

Jeus Christ

Jesus Christ: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me—and trust in Trojan Bareskin lubricated condoms.”

Albert Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world—so imagine yourself encircling the world on a Royal Caribbean International cruise.”

Winston Churchill: “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, it’s also what it takes to sit down and listen—and when E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.”

Mahatma Gandhi: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind—so visit your nearest Pearle Vision location for your prescription lenses and frames.”

Eleanor Roosevelt: “A woman is like a tea bag, you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water—and there’s nothing like a cup of Red Rose tea to soothe the soul after a challenging day at the office, even offices that aren’t oval shaped.”

Amelia Earhart: “Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others—and, girls, when I became the first female pilot to make a solo flight across the Atlantic, I had my Stayfree Ultra Thin Overnight panty liners—with wings, of course—to get me through the turbulent times.”

Andy Warhol: “In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes—and when your 15 minutes of fame arrives, you don’t want to show the world your worst side. Use Clearasil to chase away those pesky blackheads and zits.”

Abraham Lincoln: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal—but, ladies, if you find your man isn’t equal to the task, have him try Viagra!”

Super Bowl LII Takeaway II: I heard three players and one coach with the Philadelphia Eagles give “all thanks” to God and/or Jesus Christ scant seconds after besting the New England Patriots for the first Super Bowl title in franchise history. And here’s what I was thinking at the time: “If I’m an Eagles fans, I’m not thanking God or Jesus for the win, I’m asking them, “Where the hell have you two dudes been hiding for the last 51 years?”

Left to right: South Korean President Moon Jae-in, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam, and Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

I must say, there are so many warm-and-fuzzy stories coming out of the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, I can’t watch them without my Teddy bear. Exhibit A would be the debut of the Korean women’s hockey side, which featured a trio of North Koreans in the lineup. I haven’t root, root, rooted so hard for a team to score since 1972. Alas, Korea got the collar, losing 8-zip to Switzerland. But the image of South Korean president Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s leading lady, Kim Yo-jong, sitting three seats apart—plus more than 200 choreographed North Korean cheerleaders—was poweful stuff.

Either Cassie Campbell-Pascall thinks we’re dense or she’s guilty of extremely bad timing. As the Swiss were putting the finished touches to their victory over Korea, the CBC talking head began prattling on about “parity” in women’s hockey. “If the Koreans can keep it at eight, it shows you just how far the game has come,” she said. “I know it’s an 8-0 game, but it’s not the 15-0 scores, the 18-0 scores that you used to see against these types of teams playing in their first Olympics.” C’mon, Cassie, don’t talk to us like we don’t know a puck from pasta. We’re Canadians. We live on Planet Puckhead. I’ve watched two games thus far: Swiss 8-Korea 0; Canada 5-Russia 0. Shots on goal: Swiss 52-Korea 8; Canada 42-Russia 18. That’s parity like a bag of hockey pucks is a plate of pasta.

John Moody

The Olympic Games aren’t even a week old and we already have a winner in the Complete Ass Clown event. Congratulations to John Moody, executive editor/executive vice president and spewer of vile commentary at Fox News, aka the Faux News Network.

Moody, displaying an astonishing level of ignorance as to the devotion, sacrifice, skill and qualifying process required to become an Olympic athlete, believes Uncle Sam’s reps in PyeongChang, South Korea, are a tad too dark, too gay and too inclusive. Thus, he’s cloaked the United States Olympic Committee in complete contempt, accusing it of operating a make-work-for minorities program masquerading as a sports organization that employs a quota system. You know, gather up any blacks, Asians and gays who can strap a skate, ski or snowboard to their feet and let ’em play! Talent and medal totals be damned!

Unless it’s changed overnight, the motto of the Olympics, since 1894, has been ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger.’ It appears the U.S. Olympic Committee would like to change that to ‘Darker, Gayer, Different.’ If your goal is to win medals, that won’t work,” Moody wrote in an appalling, vicious, hostile op-ed piece.

A USOC official was quoted this week expressing pride (what else?) about taking the most diverse U.S. squad ever to the Winter Olympics. That was followed by a, frankly, embarrassing laundry list of how many African-Americans, Asians and openly gay athletes are on this year’s U.S. team. No sport that we are aware of awards points—or medals—for skin color or sexual orientation.

For the current USOC, a dream team should look more like the general population. So, while uncomfortable, the question probably needs to be asked: were our Olympians selected because they’re the best at what they do, or because they’re the best publicity for our current obsession with having one each from Column A, B and C?”

A list of African-American, Asian and gay athletes as an example of diversity is embarrassing? If Moody ever quits his day job, I’m guessing they’ll find room for him at the Trump White House.

John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes

Second Complete Ass Clown of the Olympics Award goes to (who else?) Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, who, 38 years into his career, remains too thick to understand the difference between a mean-spirited cheap shot and fair comment. The most recent example of this is his gratuitous broadside at mixed doubles curling. “Mixed curling, which is a fine event on Wednesday nights for husbands and wives at the Club, makes its Olympic debut this morning: and it just feels wrong to me,” he tweets. So he’s telling us that our Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris are faux Olympians. That they don’t belong with the real Olympians. Well, I have an idea. Let’s leave Lawes and Morris in PyeongChang to hopefully collect a curling gold medal and enjoy the experience, and Postmedia can haul Grandpa Simmons’s butt back home. His need to skewer well-intentioned athletes and their endeavours is seemingly addictive, incurable and speaks to a very significant character deficit. It’s a terrible look for a sports columnist with a national profile.

Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir

Tough start for the male fancy skaters in the team competition in South Korea. I swear, I haven’t seen that many men fall without being touched since the last Italian soccer game I watched. Tough crowd, too. Especially in the NBC broadcast booth, where former fancy skaters Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski held court. After Nathan Chen completed a flaw-filled performance, Weir went for the jugular, describing the American teen’s spin-stumble-and-ad lib routine as “a disaster. That was the worst short program I’ve ever seen from Nathan Chen.”

By way of comparison, CBC’s Brenda Irving, Carol Lane and Kurt Browning put on the kid’s gloves after our guy, Patrick Chan, hit the deck twice. “Unfortunately for Canadian fans,” said Irving, “not vintage Patrick today.” Browning mentioned Chan’s bravery for returning to a different “landscape” in figure skating and added, “I feel for him right now, tremendously, because I know his heart’s pretty broken.” Lane, meanwhile, served up apologies about a coaching change. How positively Canadian of her.

John Epping

John Moody and Fox News won’t like this—John Epping is going to the Brier next month (March 3-11) in Regina. And he’ll be skipping a team. Not only that, he’s gay. Openly gay. Must be part of some hidden agenda whereby Curling Canada has a “laundry list” that includes a gay quota. Seriously, it’s nice to see Epping finally get the better of nemesis Glenn Howard, who, until last weekend, had used the Peterborough skip as his personal pinata in Ontario for the past decade. Good guy Epping thus becomes the first openly gay man to skip at the Canadian men’s curling championship.

Scotties champs (left to right) Dawn McEwen, Shannon Birchard, Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer.

Once upon a time, Winnipeg newspapers covered curling like no other sheets in the country. It was wall-to-wall. Couldn’t get enough “hurry hard” on the sports pages. Now? You can’t even find curling on the menu of the Sun website. As if that isn’t bad enough, the tabloid was MIA for the recent Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton, allowing Melissa Martin of the Winnipeg Free Press to cover the Canadian women’s championship uncontested (she nailed it, of course). It didn’t matter that the field included three—count ’em, three—River City outfits (six-time champ Jennifer Jones, runner-up Kerri Einarson, Team Canada’s Michelle Englot). Some suit at Postmedia decided that the Winnipeg Sun would best be served at a Winnipeg-centric event by a guy (Murray McCormick) from Regina. Sigh.

Given the revelations and developments at the White House last week, does anyone out there still think a woman-beater like Johnny Manziel ought to be making a living in the Canadian Football League? If so, ask yourself this question: “What would my reaction be if my daughter brought Manziel home for dinner?”