Let’s talk about the NHL’s COVID boogie…what they’re saying about the Winnipeg Jets…one Mike drops the mic and another Mike picks it up…Citizen Kane’s latest woes…the value of a good copy editor…and no mulligans for Trump

An early-week smorgas-bored…and happy hockeying everybody…

And so it begins Wednesday night, a modified National Hockey League crusade featuring fewer games, expanded rosters, a Hoser Division, and a killer pandemic.

Make no mistake, this NHL do-si-do shall boogie along to the whims and cadence of COVID-19, which has already put the Dallas Stars in drydock and isn’t likely to play favorites. We can expect more of same, and you can only hope the coronavirus doesn’t take its biggest bite out of your hockey heroes.

We’ve seen how it works, of course, thanks to other leagues.

Every quarterback with a pulse on the Denver Broncos roster was sacked. The Cleveland Browns lost three coaches and four players in advance of their National Football League playoff skirmish v. the Pittsburgh Steelers. It took Tony Romo out of the CBS Sports blurt box. Etcetera, etcetera.

In short, COVID-19 has taken down more NFL players than Michael Strahan, Mean Joe Greene, Reggie White and Dick Butkus in their best years. Combined.

Over in the National Basketball Association, the Boston Celtics-Miami Heat joust was called off Sunday when there weren’t enough healthy bodies to put a team on the hardwood. Two games were called off Monday. The Philly 76ers had the minimum of eight players available for their match v. the Denver Nuggets. The Dallas Mavericks closed their practice facility. Etcetera, etcetera.

So, really, all bets should be off before they drop the puck on the 2021 NHL season, even as Vegas bookies are offering odds on a Stanley Cup champion (the Winnipeg Jets, for those so inclined, were listed at 40/1 on Bodog last time I looked).

Similarly, it’s folly to engage in the reading of tea leaves and/or tarot cards.

That’s Gordie Tumilson, middle front row, beside Bobby Hull.

I mean, go ahead and toss out pre-play predictions if you like, but if COVID-19 were to slay Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit, I don’t like the Jets playoff chances with a Zamboni driver in the blue paint and Gordie Tumilson as backup.

That’s no rap against old friend and former teammate Gordie, by the way. He’s one of my favorite people, but I’m guessing the reflexes aren’t quite as rapier-like as when he stopped rubber for the West Kildonan North Stars in 1969-70 and the Jets a few years later.

Thus, there shall be no prognostications from moi, except to say I expect the Toronto Maple Leafs to top the Hoser Division. (Then, as is their custom, they’ll be excused in the opening round of Beard Season.) Otherwise, it’s a complete crap shoot that, again, shall follow the dictates of COVID, whether we like it or not.

Let’s just call it the COVID19-2021 season.

The gang at NHL.com wasn’t shy about delivering predictions, and six of 15 observers believe the Jets have the right stuff to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Adam Kimelman has the local lads finishing third, while Dave Stubbs, Shawn P. Roarke, Bill Price, Mike G. Morreale and Tracey Myers slot them in at fourth. USA Today, meanwhile, has the Jets penciled in for a sixth-place finish, ahead of only the Ottawa Senators.

Ray Ferraro

Here’s what they’re saying about the Jets hither and yon…

Ray Ferraro, TSN: “Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver, I’ve got those three kind of together (after Toronto, Montreal and Calgary). I’m not blown away by Winnipeg’s defence. That’s the one thing that gives me pause. But maybe one of those young guys is more ready than you think. Maybe you can climb a spot. Maybe you can put yourself in a different place. I don’t know, is Hellebuyck gonna do that again this year, ’cause, man, he was the best goalie in the league last year. If he can, great. That erases a lot of the shortcomings perhaps of that defence.”

Sean McIndoe, The Athletic: “The optimist’s take on the Jets is that they were pretty good last year despite lots of doom and gloom about their thin blueline, then looked like a playoff team and only lost in the qualifying round because everyone got hurt. The pessimist would point out that ‘pretty good’ isn’t all that great when you have a Vezina winner in goal, and the blueline isn’t significantly better. If Connor Hellebuyck stands on his head again, cool. If he does like a lot of Vezina winners and regresses to the mean even a little, they might fall out of the playoff hunt. I realize ‘they need their goalie to play well’ is an insight that would apply to every team in the league, but it really applies to the Jets.”

Greg Wyshynski, ESPN: “The Winnipeg Jets will ice another competitive team, backstopped by one of the league’s elite netminders in Connor Hellebuyck. But as the team looks to push for another long playoff run, dark storm clouds are overhead, as trade rumors persist involving goal-scoring wizard Patrik Laine. (Paul) Stastny can’t recapture the magic. On a contending team, Stastny is a valuable asset. He does a lot of the little things right that can make the difference in a playoff series. But the last time he was in Winnipeg, he was 32 years old and had a 0.65 points-per-game average between the Jets and Blues. Last season, in 71 games, that average dipped down to 0.54, the lowest of his career. Not a liability as a player, but maybe no longer the guy you want as your No. 2 centre. Then again, he did have impressive chemistry with (Nikolaj) Ehlers and Laine, so we could be wrong.”

Joe Thornton

Random observations: I’m not convinced it’s a given that the Ottawa Senators are destined to be Hoser Division bottom-feeders. Is it likely? Sure. Especially if bankroll Eugene Melnyk sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong. Just don’t sleep on them…The Montreal Canadiens are overrated. Ditto the Calgary Flames…When I submit that I expect the Maple Leafs to top the Hoser Division, it’s based on a belief that aligning greybeard Joe Thornton with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the top line is a gimmick with a shelf life of about one week…How many people in the True North will pay attention to the standings south of the border? What the American teams do is irrelevant until the Stanley Cup tournament is down to the final four. So why tune in?…Just a reminder, the Jets were the last homebrew outfit to make it to the SC semifinals, in 2018. Seems like a decade ago, doesn’t it?

The What Was Your First Clue Sherlock Award goes to the Drab Slab for this headline on the Jets playing in an empty Little Hockey House On The Prairie this season: “Bell MTS Place won’t be same without fans.” Ya think?

Mike Milbury

So, the other shoe has finally dropped for Mike Milbury, the former player, coach and GM most noted for clubbing a New York Rangers fan on the head with his footwear. NBC Sports has decided it can get along without Milbury’s mumbled musings in the broadcast booth and/or studio this season, and they’ll hand his mic to another defrocked NHL coach, Mike Babcock. No word on what Milbury plans to do with his free time, but apparently he’ll begin a search for the real Space Needle. Hopefully, there’ll be no women on site to “disrupt” his concentration.

Evander Kane and the infamous money phone.

Remember that money phone pic Evander Kane posted from Las Vegas during the 2012-13 NHL lockout? You know, the one with the stacks of American 100 dollar bills? Well, today old friend Evander is $26.8 million in the glue, and hands up anyone who’s surprised to learn that he’s in trouble again? Didn’t think so. Kane, of course, isn’t the first high-salaried athlete to squander a fortune, and he won’t be the last. It’s just that it’s a particularly bad look for him, since a lot of the Jets faithful recall Kane flaunting his wealth with that money phone pic. Today he’d have to borrow a quarter to call someone who cares in Winnipeg, and that’s sad.

Hayley Moore

Say, here’s some good news: Add the name Hayley Moore to the growing list of women stepping into prominent positions in men’s professional sports. The American Hockey League has recruited Hayley as its Vice President of Hockey Operations, and she’ll be on the job early next month, once the National Women’s Hockey League Isobel Cup tournament wraps up in Lake Placid. At present, she’s president of the Boston Pride, after serving as team GM and deputy commissioner and director of player development for the NWHL.

There’s a very good reason why copy editors exist: They can save a writer’s bacon. Unfortunately, they were asleep on the rim when Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna filed this copy last weekend: “Yes, American hockey is pretty darn good,” he wrote. “And no, that’s not necessarily new. Twenty years ago, Sidney Crosby scored the Golden Goal in overtime. The opponent: Team USA, winner of the 1986 World Cup.” D’oh! Twenty years ago, Crosby was in Junior High and the World Cup of Hockey didn’t exist in 1986.

That reminds me of one of my worst gaffes, although not in a byline article. I referred to the Major League Baseball all-star game in July as the “annual Fall Classic.” Gus Collins was on the sports desk that night at the Winnipeg Tribune, and he didn’t catch the mistake. I noticed it at first light the following morning while eating breakfast. Scant seconds later, Gus was on the blower. “Did you see it?” he asked. To which I replied, “Sorry, Gus, I can’t talk right now. I just choked on my Cheerios.”

Donald Trump: No mulligans for you!

According to Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, Donald Trump is “gutted” over the PGA of America voting to remove its 2022 signature tournament from his Trump National golf course in Bedminster, N.J. Not to worry, Trumpsters. Apparently Rudy Giuliana is already on the case, arranging a press conference at a convenient Four Seasons Greenskeeper Shed, whereupon he will demand a mulligan for Trump and vow to challenge the vote in the highest Kangaroo Court he can find.

And, finally, golfers Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump last week, but New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, a one-time Trumpite, wants no part of the trinket. To get even for the betrayal, it’s believed Trump stomped his feet, shook his tiny fists, and demanded his MAGA hat back.

About party time in Zamboniville…no Big Bad Wolf waiting for the Winnipeg Jets this time…revisionist history…Josh Morrissey’s ‘accident’…English and History lessons from Don Cherry…the NHL’s top-sellers…’guts all over the place’…Roger Federer refuses to be Rafa’s clay pigeon…put that Genie back in the bottle…a hate Tranna campaign in the Republic of Tranna…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…

It’s easy to get ahead of yourself today if you’re among the white-clad rabble of Giddy Town, heretofore known as Winnipeg, River City or the Peg (or the less-flattering Winterpeg, Win-a-Pig, Zamboniville, Tundra Town and the Town That Summer Forgot).

I mean, you just watched your hockey heroes open a big, ol’ can of whup-ass on the Minnesota Wild. The Jets were ruthless, like a kid pulling the wings off a housefly ruthless. They brought a bayonet to a knife fight. The Wild brought a handful of confetti. It was more one-sided than a father-son talk about the teenage boy’s pregnant girlfriend. So now that the Jets have disposed of Minny in five matches, you’re calling out the Nashville Predators. Bring ’em on, right? Then bring on the San Jose Sharks or Vegas Golden Knights, and whichever outfit has the misfortune of emerging from the east in the National Hockey League battle of attrition known as the Stanley Cup tournament.

It’s all good. Plan the parade route. Now. We’ll all meet at Portage and Main, right where Ben Hatskin started it all by signing Robert Marvin Hull 46 years ago come June.

Well, here’s what I have to say about that: You go, kids! Party hardy!

The Big Bad Wolf, in the form of Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky.

Yes, I realize the NHL Jets have been here before. Twice, in fact. But what did advancing to the second round get them? The Big Bad Wolf in the form of the Edmonton Gretzkys. Those parties were over faster than John Bowie Ferguson could finish one of his stinky stogies. But this one has a different feel to it, doesn’t it? There’s a sense of genuine optimism for a lengthy playoff run that didn’t exist in 1985 and ’87. Oh, sure, some among the rabble back then believed the impossible to be possible, but once they stepped outside the rose-colored tea room and removed their rose-tinted glasses, they saw stark reality in a blue-orange-and-white tidal wave of hall-of-fame talent. There is no Big Bad Wolf for these Jets, though. As they await their foe for Round 2 of the Stanley Cup tournament, I see no outfit they cannot conquer. That they should not conquer. This could last a while.

For those of you keeping score at home (and I really hope you aren’t), I was 36 years old when the Jets last won a playoff series. Do the math. On second thought, please don’t. Suffice to say, I was young and in my prime and, according to Howie Meeker, I didn’t know moonshine from racoon crap. Howie was correct, of course, but he could have been a tad more subtle in his criticism of my scribblings.

Kent Nilsson, Joe Daley, Silky Sullivan and Glenn Hicks celebrate another WHA title.

A chap named Simeon Rusnak put together a nice package on the Winnipeg Whiteout for Sportsnet last week. I just wish these interlopers would do some simple fact-checking before letting their fingers do the walking on a keyboard. “The Whiteout hit the Manitoba capital with the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the first-round matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild,” Rusnak writes. “Bell MTS Place is the epicentre of the storm, with 15,321 fans at every home game draped in white—a tradition that began in 1987 in the old Winnipeg Arena when the original Jets went to their first post-season.” Sigh. The spring of 1987 was the Jets’ sixth NHL post-season crusade, not the first. They had qualified in ’82, ’83, ’84, ’85 and ’86. And, of course, the “original pro Jets” had six playoff runs and three titles in the World Hockey Association. People like Rusnak can take a crash course on the Jets’ beginnings by checking out Joe Pascucci’s excellent Legacy of Greatness feature on YouTube, or Curtis Walker’s Memorial Site.

Claude Noel: Fault No. 1.

Winnipeg Sun city side/political columnist Tom Brodbeck has also weighed in on the Jets, trumpeting the genius of ownership/management for turning a “battered and bruised” Atlanta franchise into a Stanley Cup contender “in just seven short years.” Say again? Seven short years? Cripes, man, George McPhee put together a Stanley Cup contender in Las Vegas in less than seven months. Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock did it in the Republic of Tranna in three years. Brodbeck also scribbles: “It’s very difficult to find fault with almost anything this franchise has done.” Really? I’ve got two names for you: Claude and Noel. That was the first “fault,” but certainly not their last (hello, Evander Kane). But, hey, revisionist history seems to be trendy during these heady days of the Whiteout.

Josh Morrissey’s ‘accident’.

Got a giggle out of Josh Morrissey’s take on the cross-check that took him out of les Jets lineup for Game 5 vs. Minny. “I watched the video afterward, and we’re battling in front of the net on the penalty kill, and I’m actually looking at the puck on the wall, trying to box him out,” he said. “I got my stick up too high on him. It was a complete accident. I would never try to do that.” If I’m ever on trial for a heinous crime, I won’t be calling young Josh as an eye witness for the defence. I mean, I watched the video, too. Morrissey and Eric Staal of the Wild were not “battling.” Staal laid neither a stick nor a gloved hand on Morrissey, who was not “looking at the puck along the wall.” He looked directly at Staal when he laid the lumber to the Wild centre’s neck. And to call it an “accident?” As if. Spilling a cup of java is an accident. What Morrissey did to Staal gets you locked up. But I admire the kid’s chutzpah.

Don Cherry

Don Cherry isn’t fond of the NHL playoff format. It “sucks,” he said from his bully pulpit on Hockey Night in Canada during the Tranna Maple Leafs-Boston Bruins tiff on Thursday night. I won’t quarrel with Grapes. He’s absolutely correct about the NHL post-season setup. I just wish he’d have made his case in English. I mean, listen to him: “It sucks as far as I’m concerned…guess ya can’t say that. Anyhow, it’s not good an’ I’ll tell ya why. These, one of these two teams, they should not, one of them should not be out—gone!—one of them will be GONE. It’s too good a too good a teams to be gone. It should be one an’ eight—top team I think against New Jersey—that’s the way it should be. Some day when it is, when it ain’t, you cannot have one of these two good teams OUT.” Yikes! And he’s been getting paid to talk for almost 40 years? That’s as daft as paying Sarah Huckabee Sanders to tell jokes.

Boston Bruins coach Don Cherry

Grapes has been on something or a roll lately. After Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins gave the Philly Flyers a 7-0 wedgie in the opening salvo of their series, the Lord of Loud told “you kids out there” that it’s bad manners to run up the score like that. “He (Crosby) should not be on when it’s 6-0. I always kept the score down.” Out of curiosity, I went on a fact-finding mission to determine if coach Cherry had, indeed, called off the hounds once a game was well in hand during his watch (1974-79) as bench steward of the Boston Bruins. I can report that not only is his nose growing, his pants are also on fire. Yes, Grapes stands guilty of a blatant Trumpism (read: big, fat fib). His Bruins were cutthroat. Check out some of their scores:

1974-75: 8-2 playoff win vs. Chicago
(regular season wins: 10-1, 10-4, 8-1, 12-1, 11-3, 8-0, 9-4, 8-0, 7-2, 8-2).
1975-76: 7-1 playoff win vs. L.A.
(regular season wins: 7-0, 8-1, 6-0).
1976-77: 8-3 playoff win vs. L.A.
(regular season wins: 8-1, 7-3, 7-3, 10-3, 6-0, 7-4).
1977-78: 6-1 playoff win vs. Chicago
(regular season wins: 7-3, 6-0, 8-2, 7-0, 6-1, 6-1, 7-1, 8-2, 8-1, 7-3, 7-2, 9-3, 7-2, 7-0, 8-3)
1978-79: 6-2 playoff win vs. Pittsburgh
(regular season wins: 8-2, 7-2, 7-3, 7-3, 6-1, 6-1, 7-4)…

So here’s some unpaid advice for “you kids out there”: Go to the kitchen and make a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich as soon as Uncle Grapes opens his gob, because if you listen to him you’re apt to receive failing grades in both English and History.

Marc Moser

Play-by-play call of the week, if not forever, was delivered by Colorado radio guy Marc Moser on Friday night after Sven Andrighetto scored to keep the Avalanche alive with a 2-1 win over Nashville: “I can’t believe it! This has gotta be one of the gutsiest clubs in the National Hockey League! Pure guts! They got nothing but guts! Every guy with three big, ol’ cow hearts, two pancreases and five stomachs! Guts all over the place!” There’s nothing to say after that, except someone please call maintenance for a cleanup on Aisle 5—there’s guts all over the place!

Auston Matthews

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (after the Maple Leafs had been beaten 3-1 by the Bruins in Game 4 of their playoff series): “This was the night when the future of the Leafs—building around Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander—didn’t seem to be a very sound approach.” Good grief. Who would Grandpa Simmons prefer they build around? Borje Salming, Darryl Sittler and Rocky Saganiuk?

I note that Auston Matthews’ jersey was the top-seller in the NHL this season. Simmons demands to know the name of the imposter wearing Matthews’ No. 34 in Game 4. (Just so you know, after the Leafs centre on the top-seller top five were Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Marc-Andre Fleury and King Henrik Lundqvist.)

Roger Federer

No doubt Roger Federer has earned the right to pick and choose when and where he plays his tennis, but still…skipping the entire clay courts season? Again? How much of Federer’s allergy to red clay is about preserving his 36-year-old body for Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and how much of it is about his competitive juices? It seems to me that the 20-time Grand Slam champion has conceded he’ll never win at Roland Garros again—not with nemesis Rafa Nadal in the French Open field and healthy—so why waste time and energy on preliminary events on the red clay of Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome? Can’t win, won’t play. I’m sorry, but it’s not a good look for the “greatest of all time.” Again, Federer gets the benefit of the doubt, but it still smacks of surrender. He prefers not to be Rafa’s clay pigeon.

Genie Bouchard

Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Genie Bouchard is taking time out from her many photo shoots to help Canada in its Federation Cup tie vs. Ukraine this weekend in Montreal, and it seems our tennis diva hasn’t let her world 117 ranking bring her down a peg or two. In a presser prior to the event, a foreign reporter led into his question by telling Genie it was “a privilege” to share the same oxygen as the one-time Grand Slam finalist. To which she replied: “It’s nice of you to say that. It would be nice if our local press said that to me as well.” Someone needs to put that Genie back in the bottle.

So, there was a hole in roof at Rogers Centre, home of the surprisingly adept Blue Jays in the Republic of Tranna. Hearing that, I immediately thought of the Beatles tune Fixing a Hole, which is one of the tracks on their second-best album, Sgt. Peppers. Then I learned there were between 200 and 300 holes in the roof, which brought to mind a lyric from A Day In the Life: “Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.” It’s also from Sgt. Peppers, the Fab Four’s best work next to the incomparable Revolver.

Mike O’Shea and his short pants.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers showed an operating profit of $5.1 million last year. There’s no truth to the rumor that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press is insisting that the Canadian Football League club use a chunk of the surplus to purchase head coach Mike O’Shea a pair of long pants.

So, after attracting less than 14,000 people per game during the 2017 CFL season, the Tranna Argonauts are convinced they now know the secret to getting more fannies in the pews at BMO Field—a hate Tranna campaign. “We want to create a sense of rivalry,” says Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment guru Jerry Ferguson. “If you’re from here, you love us and if you’re not from here, you hate us.” That’s it? That’s all you’ve got? Yo! Jerry! You’ve got it butt backwards, man. The rest of the country has had a hate-on for the Republic of Tranna since the beginning of time. How do you think we market our games?