Let’s talk about Jacob Trouba and Kurt Overhardt…playing a game of chicken with Chevy and the Winnipeg Jets…the sticker price for a bottom-six forward…Mum’s the word for Mitch…swapping clunkers in Alberta…faux football a tough sell…going to beat ’60…working the CFL beat…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and while munching on cold pizza and watching the Open Championship, I wondered if I could break 200 playing Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland…

To all those among the rabble who told us that Jacob Trouba was the class dunce for listening to the wrong people (read: Kurt Overhardt), what say you now?

Still think he’s stupid? Misguided? Gullible? Easily duped?

Jacob Trouba

You’ll recall, I’m sure, that those were among the words used to describe the young Winnipeg Jets defender when he a) asked for a ticket on the first stage out of Dodge, b) refused to report to training camp, c) stayed home the first two months of one season, d) signed a bridge deal instead of a long-term contract, e) took the club to arbitration.

Here are more less-than-flattering insults hurled Trouba’s way: Immature. Greedy. Big loser. Idiot. Petulant. Fool. Malcontent. Problem child. Liar.

One of his teammates, Mathieu Perreault, joined the braying chorus and called Trouba “selfish.”

And, of course, there were those with quill-and-notebook and/or microphone, their critical essays and rants ranging from a benign tsk-tsking to thunderous accusations, with gusts up to poisonous. Former Drab Slab columnist Paul Wiecek, in particular, conducted a shameful, bitter crusade to discredit the top-pairing rearguard.

“Trouba, for one, has a long track record of doing what’s right for Trouba, even when it’s been what’s wrong for Trouba,” Wiecek wrote, apparently mistaking himself for Dr. Phil. “Trouba is a problem again.”

Kurt Overhardt

So, basically, it was the opinion of the masses that Trouba and Homer Simpson shared a brain, because he blindly allowed his greedy, no-goodnik agent Overhardt to lead him down the garden path (“Look at all the money that douchebag is costing the kid! Oh, the humanity!”)

Well, agent Overhardt led Trouba down the garden path, all right—to Madison Square Garden in Gotham and a $56 million windfall.

The New York Rangers have agreed to compensate Trouba to the merry tune of $8M (average) for the next seven National Hockey League seasons, and $22M of that comes in signing bonuses to be collected in the first three years. So, if there’s a soundtrack to Trouba’s life, it goes something like this: Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Ka-ching!

We should all be so stupid, misguided, gullible and easily duped.

Go ahead and pooh-pooh the Rangers for an overpay the size of Manhattan if you like, but the fact is Overhardt/Trouba played chicken with Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff for three years, and they won. Trouba wanted a zip code instead of a postal code. He got it. He wanted more coin than the $4 million the Jets offered in arbitration a year ago. He’ll get double that on Broadway. And what did the Jets get? Neal Pionk.

Andrew Copp

You think Patrik Laine’s agent hasn’t noticed how the Trouba saga played out? If it’s true that Puck Finn’s nose is out of joint, all he has to do is sign a two-year bridge deal, take les Jets to arbitration down the road, then force a trade. Josh Morrissey, about to enter the second year of his bridge deal, might be doing that very thing. Kyle Connor could do the same. Ditto Andrew Copp, who has the aforementioned Kurt Overhardt whispering sweet nothings in his ear as they begin a stroll down the garden path. Overhardt/Copp say they’ll be happy with $2.9 million per season. Chipman/Chevy have countered with $1.5M per for two years. Barring an 11th-hour agreement, an arbitrator will decide. Do the Jets really want or need to engage in another game of chicken they can’t win?

Bobby Hull and clan.

The first guy to wear sweater No. 9 with les Jets, Robert Marvin Hull, came at a cost of $1.75 million spread over 10 years, plus a $1 million signing bonus. Total sticker price for the Golden Jet: $2.75 million. The guy now wearing sweater No. 9, Copp, reckons he’s worth $2.9 million. Or at least his agent believes that’s the going rate for a bottom-six forward. I agree, it’s absurd, if not flat-out insane. But what if we convert the dollars? Hull’s $2.75M in 1972 is worth $16,851,513.16 in today’s U.S. coin, which would make him the most handsomely compensated player on Planet Puckhead, just as he was when Benny Hatskin and his renegade pals in the World Hockey Association lured the Golden Jet away from the Chicago Blackhawks. Meanwhile, Copp’s $2.9M today would be $473,420.16 in 1972 pay. Guaranteed no bottom-sixer with les Jets was pulling down more than $400K in ’72. So, in either era, that’s an overpay.

Worst new cliché: “He’s betting on himself.” That’s quickly become most tiresome and scribes and natterbugs should lose it faster than their per diem on a road trip to Las Vegas. Look, pro athletes bet on themselves every time they step into the arena. Cripes, man, we all bet on ourselves every morning when we decide to crawl out of the sack. Like, I’m betting I’ll annoy someone with this essay, if I haven’t already.

Mitch Marner

Got a kick out of the Sportsnet website front page in the small hours of Friday morning, after various news snoops had attempted to pry nuggets of insight from Tranna Maple Leafs restricted free agent Mitch Marner:

“Marner mum on contract talks with Maple Leafs at charity event.”
“Marner’s contract talks with Leafs a roller-coaster of anticipation.”
“Maple Leafs’ Marner talks contract, charity on Tim and Sid.”
“Marner wants to be in Maple Leafs uniform at camp, won’t go without deal.”

Hmmm. Four stories. Apparently, Marner had a helluva lot to say for a guy who was “mum.”

The Edsel

Interesting goings-on in Wild Rose Country, where the Oilers and Flames swapped an Edsel for a Gremlin. And it spawned more silliness on Sportsnet, this time from Eric Francis, who delivered this analysis of the transaction that sent seven-goal scorer James Neal wheeling up Highway 402 from Calgary to Edmonton and six-goal scorer Milan Lucic boogying south from Edmonton to Calgary:

“Few would disagree that Lucic is the toughest guy in the NHL.”
“Lucic’s speed is still much better than many would think and his fitness levels are beyond repute.”
“Lucic provides something few players left in the league can. In fact, he may still be the very best at what he’s being brought in to do.”
“Although Lucic has fought very little in the last couple, few players dared to mess with Connor McDavid during Lucic’s watch.”

Good grief. Is it too late to reopen the legalize marijuana debate? Seriously, Eric, take another toke. Looch has the urgency of a filibuster. Only an income tax return moves slower. As for his work as a guard dog, if Looch did such a boffo job why did McDavid become Connor McMugged last season?

Dear friend Judy Owen of The Canadian Press reports that ticket sales to the Green Bay Packers-Oakland Raiders dress rehearsal at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry next month aren’t exactly brisk. Matter of fact, they’re slower than a sports writer reaching for a bar tab. Should we be surprised? Not really. Asking a Winnipegger to pay upwards of $400 to watch faux football is like asking Chris Walby to pass on second helpings.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Pegtowners are penny-pinchers. After all, I’m one of them and it’s not by coincidence that I do all my shopping at thrift stores. But I believe the Ojibway words for Portage and Main are “Cheap and Chintzy.” We only pay asking price if you toss in a free Slurpee.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s Chevy’s problem. He keeps trying to buy his hockey players wholesale.

So, after their 31-1 curb-stomping of the Bytown RedBlacks on Friday night, our Winnipeg Blue Bombers are 5-nada. First time since 1960. Would you call me a Debbie Downer if I pointed out that the 5-0 outfit in ’60 did a playoff faceplant? Yup. Didn’t even get to the big dance. Lost to the E-Town Eskimos in a best-of-three Western final, dropping the deciding game 4-2. It was the only season from 1958 to 1962 that our football heroes failed to bring the Grey Cup home to River City. Thus, the less we talk about 1960 the better.

Some folks aren’t convinced that the Bombers are the real deal and point to namby-pamby foes—E-Town, Bytown, Tranna Argos, B.C. Lions—and their combined record of 6-15 as evidence of phony superiority. Sorry, but I’m not buying what those people are selling. Who is Winnipeg FC supposed to play? The New England Patriots? The Bombers can only follow the dictates of the Canadian Football League schedule-maker, and if that means whacking 98-pound weaklings, so be it.

Kirk Penton

More good CFL stuff from Kirk Penton in The Athletic, including these nuggets in his insiders segment that features unvarnished comments from team management, coaches and executives:

“The Simoni (Lawrence) decision was more than fair. Probably one of the dirtiest plays I’ve seen in the CFL. The fact he lies about not doing it deliberately makes it worse. At least Kyries Hebert took his medicine for his dirty plays and didn’t bullshit saying it was accidental.”

“When Joe Mack was our GM we could have traded for Ricky Ray. He said we didn’t need him. Same year we drafted Tyson Pencer in the first round. But when (the team was) struggling, he fired (Paul LaPolice) in August. Look, I’ve heard both sides of the Ray debate. Great player who couldn’t stay healthy, but at that point, Buck’s (Pierce) injury history was worse.”

What are the odds of Mike Reilly finishing this CFL season in one piece? He’s not a quarterback, he’s a pinata. Reilly was basically wearing D-lineman Charleston Hughes on Saturday night in Regina, and that’s never anyone’s idea of a good time. If Leos GM Ed Hervey doesn’t get Reilly some protection, it isn’t going to end well for the CFL’s best QB.

Matty

And, finally, when I started in the rag trade, the Bombers were the big dog in Good Ol’ Hometown.

The Jets and the World Hockey Association weren’t even a talking point at that time, so great swaths of forest were felled to provide enough newsprint for coverage of our CFL outfit in both the Winnipeg Tribune and Drab Slab

The boys on the beat were the great Jack Matheson and Don Blanchard, and they worked the Bombers every which way but loose, establishing what I considered the standard to which other football scribes should strive. The measuring stick, if you will.

So how are the boys on the beat doing today? I’d say the torch is in reliable hands with Jeff Hamilton and Ted Wyman.

Ted Wyman

It’s been that way for quite some time, actually, and I could make an argument that no sheet in the country has done a better job at chronicling a CFL outfit than the two River City rags. Young Eddie Tait was the best in the biz before going over the wall, and I’d say the aforementioned Kirk Penton was right there with him, scoop for scoop and feature for feature. Ashley Prest, Judy Owen, Big Jim Bender, Dave Supleve, Granny Granger and others did wonderful work, and it helped that they truly cared about the football club.

Matty and Blanch would be pleased.

About homophobia and the NHL…a Nobel Prize for Kyle Dubas?…no gay voices on Canadian sports TV…Fozzy Armstrong on Hockey Central…a Guinness for the all-St. Patty’s Day team and a lineup for Assiniboia Downs…WHA Jets were the real road warriors…a players share for Uecker…Wheels and Jumbo Joe…taking note of the WHL…and so long to a Twitter maestro

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy St. Patty’s Day to the Irish and Irish wannabes (and I plan on keeping my lifetime record of never drinking green beer intact)…

Morgan Rielly knew he didn’t say what he didn’t say. Others remain convinced that he did say what he didn’t say.

And, as social media exploded like a fourth of July sky, a mystery voice at a National Hockey League game last Monday became the most talked-about sound bite since Timothy Leary told kids in the 1960s to “turn on, tune in, drop out.”

So was l’affaire Rielly much ado about nada?

Well, like most questions in life that don’t include a simple 1+1=2 answer, it depends on who you ask.

Morgan Rielly and Kyle Dubas

Many took to Twitter to suggest (rather dismissively, abruptly and rudely) that it matters not if Rielly or any player/fan shouted “faggot” or “rag it” or “maggot” during a Toronto Maple Leafs-Tampa Bay Lightning skirmish at Scotiabank Arena in the Republic of Tranna. “They’re just words. Don’t be such a snowflake. Get over it, you annoying SJWs. Move on.”

Media pundits, meanwhile, have lauded les Leafs Harry Potter doppelganger GM, Kyle Dubas, and Rielly for stepping forward to confirm the young defenceman’s innocence, rather than push the mute button and allow the tempest to expire of natural causes. They insist that the hastily organized Dubas-Rielly joint session of meet-the-news-snoops was a “teaching moment.”

If so, I’m having trouble determining what lesson was learned.

As a member of the LGBTQ collective, you see, I lean a keen and attentive ear toward any dialogue dealing with gays and homophobia in sports. Call it my “queer” ear, if you will. And it’s often what I don’t hear that catches my notice because, yes, words are important.

The one word I didn’t hear from Dubas in his more than 16 minutes of chin wagging was “accept.”

Make no mistake, the GM scored when he talked sincerely about providing a “safe” and “welcome” environment for gay, bisexual and transgender fans at les Leafs’ lair. He added that any player grappling with his sexual orientation can “feel safe here, they can be themselves here.”

Dubas did not, however, say a gay player would be universally “accepted” in les Leafs boudoir. He couldn’t.

Dubas, you see, cannot get inside the heads and souls of the men who occupy the changing room, any more than Geoff Molson could get inside the heads and souls of his Montreal Canadiens when he issued similar sentiments in 2014.

“Not only with our team, but also with our fans,” the Habs bankroll told news snoops when asked if his storied franchise was prepared to embrace a gay player. “Everyone and everybody is welcome in the Montreal Canadiens organization. Any opportunity to be inclusive is a good one, and that starts from the top down.”

Nice thought, but a Habs skater with anti-gay leanings might not be so keen to share the bunker with a guy who shares his bed with another dude.

That said, it’s apparent by Rielly’s thoughtful responses to queries last week, also his documented support of the LGBTQ collective, that he would “accept” a gay teammate without condition. But what of his fellows in the blue-and-white linen of les Leafs?

Consider:

  • In autumn 2015, USA Today asked 35 NHL players if they would accept an openly gay teammate in the changing room. One said no. Small sample size, I know, but if we do the math that means there were at least 21 anti-gay members of the NHL Players Association. I’d submit the true number is higher. Even if not, how many sit in les Leafs’ lockerroom?

  • In January 2014, TSN ran a terrific documentary on the NHL and gays. They reached out to 12 teams across a nine-month time frame, seeking players willing to discuss gays and hockey on the record. In the end, only three were willing to be interviewed on camera. That’s it. Just three of 750 players were comfortable discussing the gay issue and homophobia. If they can’t even talk about gay men, how can they accept them?

Again, Dubas gets full marks for initiating the discussion last week, but if it was a “teachable moment” I’m still uncertain what I supposedly learned. Given that Molson said the same thing five years ago and nothing has changed, it was same old, same old.

I’m always fascinated when straight male sports scribes and talking heads weigh in on the gay/homophobia issue. They really can’t offer anything of substance because, well, they aren’t gay. So they simply recite the standard blah, blah, blah about offensive words, often punctuating their commentary with “this is 2019,” as if that proves they know where it’s at. Which explains why many of them inverted the Rielly situation, turning it into a testimonial to the Maple Leafs’ rapid response rather than the likelihood that someone shouted “faggot” during an NHL game. Dubas was lathered in lavish praise, and I’m surprised the talking heads and essayists stopped short of nominating him for a Nobel Prize. But, hey, Nobel nomination forms aren’t distributed until September, so there’s plenty of time to get his name out there.

Unless I missed it, neither TSN nor Sportsnet brought an LGBTQ voice on air to discuss the developments in l’affaire Rielly. They’ll recruit “experts” to dissect everything from Auston Matthews’ bowel movements to Mitch Marner’s eating habits, but they aren’t interested in a gay voice when homophobia is the hot-button topic. What, they don’t know any gay male athletes who’ve been in homophobic dressing rooms? Or do they think gay guys don’t speak English? Trust me, when the subject is homophobia in hockey, the last people I want to hear from are meatheads like Nick Kypreos and Colby Armstrong, who delivered about five minutes of total gobbledygook on Hockey Central At Noon.

The Fozzy Bros.

Speaking of Colby Armstrong, I must confess that he’s begun to grow on me, perhaps because I like the Muppets and he’s got a Muppets kind of head—you know, really thin-to-no lips, goofy grin, interesting nose, eyes that seem to spin and rotate. I think perhaps Colby and Fozzy Bear were separated at birth. That’s the ticket—Fozzy Armstrong.

Sir Alec Guinness

My personal all-St. Patty’s Day team: Kathy Ireland, St. Patrick Roy, Patrick Ewing, Danica Patrick and Patrik O’Laine. Oh, and Sir Alec Guinness, of course. No St. Patty’s Day is complete without a Guinness.

If the ponies were running at Assiniboia Downs, the ideal St. Patty’s Day card this afternoon would include a Pot O’ Gold Stakes race with this field: Lookin At Lucky, Lucky Debonair, Irish War Cry, Smokinpaddylassie, I’ll Have Another and Flat Drunk. And, yes, those are the names of actual race horses.

So, the Winnipeg Jets recently completed their longest junket of the NHL season—10 days, four games. Drab Slab scribe Mike McIntyre described it as a “doozy.” Well, Mike Mac doesn’t know from doozy. During their 1978-79 World Hockey Association championship crusade, the Jets had a tour of duty in February that had them play 10 games in 16 days (eight on the road, including five in a row). Now that, my friends, is a doozy.

Bob Uecker

Interesting to note that the Milwaukee Brewers voted play-by-play broadcaster and funny guy Bob Uecker a full players share ($123,000) after the Major League Baseball playoffs last October. Hmmm. For the record, the Jets did not vote me a full players share after their final WHA title in 1979. No problem, though. I didn’t need the $57.48 at the time. Mind you, I could use it today now that I’m a pauper. (By the way, Ueck donated his $123,000 windfall to four different charities.)

Ryan Dixon of Sportsnet tells us that Blake Wheeler’s contract extension, which kicks in next season at $8.25 million, is “money well spent by the Winnipeg Jets.” He knows this how? Well, because of Joe Thornton. Dixon figures if Jumbo Joe can score 82 points as a 36-year-old, so can Wheels. Good luck with that. I’m a big fan of Blake Wheeler (the player, not the boor who believes news snoops are pond scum), but if he’s an 82-point guy at the butt end of his five-year deal, I’ll eat a hockey puck and wash it down with raw sewage from the Red River.

The Kootenay Ice play their final game in Cranbrook this afternoon, then they become the Winnipeg Ice (please, change that name). So if anyone in Good Ol’ Hometown is looking for the skinny on the Western Hockey League, take note: The go-to website is old friend Gregg Drinnan’s blog Taking Note. Nobody does the WHL better than the Greaser, who earned his nickname while writing about fast cars, Bison Dragways and people like Big Daddy Garlits for the Winnipeg Tribune.

And, finally, sad to hear of the passing of Randy Turner, longtime scribe at the Winnipeg Free Press. Never got to spend much time with Randy (different newspapers, different beats, I skipped town), but I do know he was one of the good guys. And a funny guy. He was a Twitter maestro. Ashley Prest wrote a wonderful tribute piece on Randy in the Drab Slab.

Winnipeg sports media: Only half a dozen female sports writers in almost half a century

There are guy things and there are girl things.

Girls, for example, like shoes. Lots of shoes. We collect shoes like Adam Sandler collects bad reviews (does anyone other than 14-year-old boys actually think he’s funny?). Guys, on the other hand, are loath to discard their underwear.

Seriously. I know some guys with gitch older than a Bob Hope joke. Why, just last week, a friend of mine touched on that very topic. She had noticed that her hubby’s boxers were as tattered as Roger Goodell’s reputation, so she went on a shopping safari and, after bagging half a dozen pair of shoes, she made a pit stop in the men’s wear department.

“I bought him two packages of new underwear,” she advised me. “You would have thought I’d bought him tickets to the opera. He grunted something about his underwear being ‘perfectly fine.’ Good gawd! He’s still wearing the same skivvies he had in high school, and that was 50 years ago. I want to burn the bloody things, but I’m afraid I’d be breaking some kind of city ordinance against air pollution. What is it with men and their underwear?”

So, yes, there are guy things and there are girl things. Which is probably a good thing (ratty, old undies notwithstanding).

I am, however, curious about one thing that apparently is not a girl thing but should be a girl thing: sports writing, whether it be in newspapers or blogging.

It has been 45 years since I received my baptism in journalism. In that time, how many female sports scribes did I work with, or against, at the three Winnipeg dailies (Tribune, Free Press, Sun)?

a) 0
b) 5
c) 8
d) 12

The correct answer is b)—five. In close to half a century! Jack Matheson brought Peggy Stewart on board at the Trib during the 1970s and she was followed by Rita Mingo. The Freep, meanwhile, hired Barb Huck in the ’70s and Ashley Prest arrived on the scene in the late 1980s. Judy Owen worked the Blue Bombers beat, among others, for the Sun in the 1990s.

It can be said that, of the five, only Peggy Stewart was out of her element. The others were quality reporters, quality writers, quality people. Three of them—Barb, Ashley and Judy—have been inducted into the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Roll of Honor.

So why just a handful of damsels?

I mean, women are cops, firefighters, business leaders, religious leaders, political leaders, education leaders, astronauts, boxers, blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda. Yet, in River City, a Jill writing about jocks is as rare as a full set of natural teeth in an old folks home. Today, there is just Melissa Martin at the Freep.

The scarcity of distaff sports scribes extends to the blogosphere, as well.

I scrolled through five Winnipeg Jets sites and found the grand total of two female names—Cara and my own. We both contribute to Arctic Ice Hockey. There was no evidence of female authorship at Illegal Curve, Jets Nation, Winnipeg Hockey Talk or Winnipeg Whiteout.

I surely can understand a reluctancy on the part of women to join in the blogosphere fun, because it is very much a boys bastion and the lads can get rather raunchy. Also rude, crude and flat-out disgusting.

Once upon a time, for example, I contributed to Bleacher Report, but bailed for two reasons: 1) I wasn’t allowed to write satire (apparently, their readership is quite limited in scope and has difficulty distinguishing hard news from parody; 2) the comments were too often personal attacks about my gender and/or body parts as opposed to the issue at hand. (Go ahead and call me a boob if you like, but my boobs are off limits.)

Why would a woman wish to expose herself (no pun intended) to lewd language and the pitiable come-hithers of mysogynistic trolls?

Sara Orlesky
Sara Orlesky

There is also the issue of cred. Many men still harbor the notion that women don’t, and can’t, know sports. That, of course, is horse-and-buggy thinking, yet it remains a prime example of perception being reality. Many men don’t want a woman feeding them their sports information/opinion unless she looks like Sara Orlesky, who’s very good at what she does. Even at that, apparently it’s more important that Sara Orlesky look like Sara Orlesky than what she has to say.

That’s why Sara and all the women we see on TSN look like they just came in from a Glamour mag or Cosmo photo shoot. (The guys on TSN? Bridge trolls. I mean, have you ever watched The Reporters with Dave Hodge? It’s been suggested that Steve Simmons looks like a hamster with glasses. Nuff said about that.)

A girl doesn’t have to be Cosmo cover-worthy to write sports, though. She doesn’t have to be J.K. Rowling, either. As long as she knows her stuff and has a nice turn of phrase, she can look like Rosie O’Donnell and pull it off.

I have theories to explain why there aren’t more Jills writing about jocks in River City, but I don’t have an answer. Perhaps they aren’t given the opportunity. Perhaps it’s an anti-female bias. Perhaps they don’t want to put up with the BS from a boy-centric readership. Or perhaps they simply have better things to do, like shop for shoes.

I do know this, however: Half a dozen female sports writers in slightly less than half a century and two female bloggers is not a glowing example or endorsement of equality.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.