Let’s talk about Pebble People getting a raw deal…McDavid, Draisaitl and who are those other guys?…dirty rotten scoundrels…no room in Cooperstown for cheats and Schilling…the Babe, booze and babes…Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and in honor of Groundhog Day, I’ll pop my head out of the ground on Tuesday and let you know if there’ll be six more weeks of bad blogging…

Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Briane Meilleur, Shannon Birchard (clockwise from top left) from Gimli are the defending Scotties Tournament of Hearts champions.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight:

National Hockey League players traipse willy-nilly across the COVID-infected tundra, and they’re granted a quarantine exemption from Manitoba’s top docs and politicos. Meanwhile, our curlers plan to shelter themselves in a Calgary bubble for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Brier and the mixed nationals, yet they’re told they must go into isolation for the full 14 days once they return home from two weeks of hijinks in February/March. No quarantine exemption for you!

This is fair how?

Oh, wait. Silly me. I forgot that the millionaire hockey players provide an “essential” service (as if the Ottawa Senators are “essential” to anyone), while bunking down in five-star hotels and being whisked about in charter or private aircraft. The curlers? Apparently, hurrying hard is not an “essential” service. Pebble People are just everyday working stiffs blessed with good draw weight, so it doesn’t matter that they might have to carpool their way to and from Calgary. Or that they might be out of pocket if away from the salt mines for an additional 14 days. It only matters that the millionaire hockey players are happy.

That is so wrong.

Hey, I’ve never thought of hockey players as coddled and pampered. They have a special skill that means they take in rarified oxygen, but the same has to be said of our curlers, who are among the best on the planet. And Pebble People are the salt of the earth.

If hockey players deserve a quarantine concession, the curlers do too.

Quick thought on the Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane has an oversized personality. Gone. Patrik Laine has an oversized personality. Gone. Dustin Byfuglien has an oversized personality. Gone. What are we to make of that?

We need to discuss the Edmonton Oilers, because they annoy me. The Oilers are Jesse James, Billy the Kid and 18 guys with water pistols. Seriously, they have more no-names than the Witness Protection Program. I watch the Oilers play and, 60 minutes later, it’s like Butch and Sundance: “Who are those guys?” They’re as memorable as the second man to leave a footprint on the moon. You know, Ol’ What’shisname.

That bothers me.

It shouldn’t, of course, because the Oilers became the Evil Empire in Good Ol’ Hometown during the 1980s, when they made paddywhacking the Jets a spring ritual during their Stanley Cup binge. It’s been a pox on the E-Town house ever since. But I can’t help it. I want Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to succeed. So sue me.

I just don’t think the Oilers should stink. Just like the Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, New York Yankees and Green Bay Packers should never stink. It’s okay to root, root, root against any or all of those storied franchises, but you shouldn’t want them to stink.

Oh, I know, many among the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown can’t get past that 1980s thing, and they’re probably still sticking pins in their old Slats Sather, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier voodoo dolls.

Well, hocus-pocus rituals aren’t necessary these days. The Oilers stink on their own merit.

Yes, I realize they managed to muster up a victory on Saturday night, nudging the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in OT, but they’re 4-6 and that’s no way to behave when your lineup features McDavid and Draisaitl.

Fashion note: Those reverse retro unis that the Oilers wore on Saturday night looked like poorly designed Orange Crush bottles, and the Leafs’ threads were absolutely ghastly. Seriously. Dark blue numbers on dark blue sweaters? The ghost of Humpty Harold Ballard lives on.

The Tkachuk boys, Brady, top, and Matthew.

Random observations two weeks into the 2021 NHL crusade: There’s a very good reason why so many players in the Hoser Division are at or near the top of the NHL scoring table: Nobody plays defence. There are no big, ugly, nasty teams that lean on you, just a bunch of fly boys. That works now, but not so much once they’re down to the final four in Beard Season and the Canadian survivor is required to deal with big bodies that try to slow them down…You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t join the chorus and rave about the entertainment level of COVID hockey. Much of the activity I’ve seen has been, to borrow a Danny Gallivanism, “as shabby as an old hobo’s coat.”…The Tkachuk brothers are soooo smarmy. Both Matthew and Brady are more irritating than a bad case of fanny fungus. They’re the dirty, rotten scoundrels who like to sit at the back of the class and fire spitballs at the nerds. They probably stole enough lunch money to prop up a third-world country. But, yes, I’d take either one of them on my team…The Ottawa Senators are an embarrassment best kept off prime time TV…It’s obvious the Hoser Division playoff positions will come down to this: The two teams that piddle away the most points v. the Senators will be on the outside looking in. That means the next week is pivotal to the Oilers’ post-season aspirations. They’ll be fed a steady diet of the Sens, meeting them four times…Yes, I still think a Hoser Division is a boffo idea, but I’m not sold on the baseball-style schedule. I understand the reasoning behind it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it…Hands up anyone who knows what teams are leading the other three divisions. Actually, hands up anyone who can name the other three divisions…I was wrong about the Montreal Canadiens. They look legit. I was wrong about the Senators. I thought youthful enthusiasm would serve them well. I was right about the Calgary Flames. Their win over the Habs on Saturday notwithstanding, the Flames are a false bill of goods, and will continue to be as long as they have Milan Lucic dragging his knuckles up and down the freeze…Shouldn’t Sportsnet lift their regional blackouts and give us the full menu each night in this special season? If it’s all the same to them, I’d much rather watch the Jets-Habs than Canucks-Senators.

Part of Curt Schilling’s Nazi memorabilia.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will go 0-for-2021, with no players receiving the required 75 per cent of the vote for enshrinement to Cooperstown, and that means “integrity, sportsmanship, character” won out over stats. Noted steroids cheats Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens struck out in this year’s balloting, as did Curt Schilling, who collects Nazi SS memorabilia and isn’t fond of anyone unless they wear a MAGA hat and attend Toby Keith concerts. It’s the ninth time Schilling has been snubbed by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and now he wants his name erased from the ballot. “I’ll defer to the veterans committee and men whose opinions actually matter and who are in a position to actually judge a player,” he wrote in a self-indulgent, 1,200-word whinge on Facebook. He also labeled Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy a “morally decrepit” man, and accused scribes of lining up to “destroy my character.” I don’t know about that. Seems to me Schilling has assassinated his own character on social media, with transphobic tweets, a posting that suggested lynching journalists is “so much awesome,” calling Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones a liar for accusing fans at Fenway Park in Boston of dropping N-bombs in his direction, and giving thumbs up to the recent riot at the U.S. Capitol. Bottom line on Schilling’s NBHOF candidacy: “I don’t think I’m a hall of famer,” he said. Fine. Case closed.

The Babe and the babes.

Most peculiar take on the latest NBHOF voting was delivered by TSN analyst Steve Phillips. The former Major League Baseball exec drew a parallel between segregation and ‘roid cheaters Bonds and Clemens sticking needles in their butts. “There’s been performance enhancement in every era of baseball,” Phillips said. “Babe Ruth didn’t play against some of the best Negro League players of the time, players went to war, players stayed home, the mound was lowered, the DH was entered, ballparks have changed. So it’s been in every era.” Hmmm. I thought the Babe hit all those home runs (714) because he was a rare breed, but now I find out it was only because he never saw the spin on a Satchel Paige slider. Who knew? Actually, I have a different theory, and it has nothing to do with Jim Crow-era baseball or the boys of summer marching off to kick Hitler’s ass. To wit: Had the Babe laid off the booze, the babes and the speakeasies, and had he not missed playing time due to STDs, he would have swatted 914 dingers.

In his first natter with news snoops after signing with Toronto, slugger George Springer compared the Blue Jays to his Houston Astros outfit that cheated its way to a World Series title. “This (Jays) lineup reminds me a lot of them,” he said. Great. Vlad the Gifted gets a trash can. Bo Bichette gets a trash can. Cavan Biggio gets a trash can. Everybody gets a trash can. Bang the can slowly, boys.

Nice to see Sportsnet and, on a more subdued level, TSN have discovered the National Women’s Hockey League. Until last week, any talk of Ponytail Puck at Sportsnet was reserved for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and it was mostly pathetic pandering from Tara Slone and Ron MacLean. Now Sportsnet Central is delivering nightly updates/highlights on the Isobel Cup season/tournament in Lake Placid, and there are numerous articles on the website. It’s fabulous.

An outfit from the Republic of Tranna is in Lake Placid. It’s called the Six. It has a 3-1-1 record, and stands atop the NWHL tables. Someone might want to clue in the geniuses at the Toronto Sun. I look daily but, unless I missed it, the tabloid has given its home team less ink than Bernie Sanders’ mittens. TorSun trumpets itself as the top sports sheet in the nation, but I call BS on that if they can’t squeeze in a few paragraphs about Ponytail Puck.

It’s puzzling that the aforementioned PWHPA has gone radio silent on its website since Dec. 21. Not a peep. The propaganda peddlers have stopped telling us that they “deserve” a living wage, that they “deserve” an affiliation with the NHL, that they “deserve” our undivided attention, and there have been no photo-ops with Billie Jean King. The Dream Gappers have $1 million of funding from Secret, and they’ve said they’ll stage a series of barnstorming showcase tournaments, but they still aren’t telling us where or when they’ll drop the puck. Silence is a peculiar way to sell your product.

Speaking of product, the Argos need all the help they can get to make the rabble in the Republic of Tranna sit up, take notice and find their way to BMO Field, so what do they do? That’s right, they sign a repeat offender of the National Football League drug policy. Martavis Bryant was first banished for four games in 2015, then sent to his room for the entire 2016 crusade, then punted indefinitely in 2018. The Canadian Football League needs guys like Bryant the way Bill Gates needs my spare change.

It was a double whammy of bad tidings for Rouge Football last week. Aside from the Bryant hiring, Scott Milanovich took his three Grey Cup rings and walked away from the E-Town E-Somethings before ever stepping onto the sideline at Commonwealth Stadium, and can anyone really blame him? Coaches gotta coach, and since we don’t know if there’ll be three-downs football this year, Milanovich opted for the sure thing as quarterbacks guru with the Indianapolis Colts. I just wonder if this means the second coming of Chris Jones to the E-Somethings.

Pam Shriver, left, and Martina Navratilova.

So, TSN ran a feature discussing the greatest athlete of all time in North American “team sports.” Names tossed about were Tom Brady, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. SportsCentre co-anchor Kayla Grey immediately added this to the debate: “Ask Serena Williams about all that,” she said smugly. Just wondering: What part of “team sports” does Grey not understand? Last time I looked, Williams is a tennis player. Her specialty is singles play. If, however, we were to consider her form chart in doubles, which certainly is a team sport, Williams isn’t the GOAT in the women’s game. It’s Martina Navratilova, who once partnered with Pam Shriver to win 109 consecutive matches and went more than two years without a loss. Check it out:

Grand Slam Doubles Titles
Navratilova 41 Williams 16

Doubles Match Victories
Navratilova 747 Williams 190

Doubles Titles
Navratilova 187 Williams 25

There are at least 37 women and 55 men with more doubles titles than Williams, including our guy Daniel Nestor with 95. Do the math. Williams’ 25 doesn’t spell G-O-A-T in “team sports” to me.

Really, it’s time for Serena-ites like Grey to cease with the GOAT narrative. She isn’t the greatest tennis player of all time (hello Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic—take your pick), ergo she cannot possibly be the finest athlete in history. So do us all a favor and clam up.

The January numbers are in for coverage of female athletes in the two local rags (30 publishing days):

Sports front
Winnipeg Free Press-4.
Winnipeg Sun-1.

Total number of articles
Winnipeg Free Press-29 (plus 12 briefs).
Winnipeg Sun-3 (plus 4 briefs).

Number of days with female-centric copy
Winnipeg Free Press-21 of 30.
Winnipeg Sun-6 of 30.

And, finally, I think it’s great that so many people are willing to share their mental health challenges on Bell’s Let’s Talk day, but it would be even better if we did it more than once a year. I’ve always thought of mental health as an every-day thing.

Let’s talk about Howie Meeker and raccoon droppings for $2,000, Alex…fake news and Leavenworth…Vlad the Gifted and Ball Park Franks…Sid and Connor say it’s okay to be gay…and other things on my mind

A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and I never realized how little I knew until Alex Trebek showed up on TV…

In honor of Canadian TV icon Alex Trebek, who left us at age 80 on Sunday, let’s play Jeopardy!

CLUE: Golly gee and Jiminy Crickets, this man was a National Hockey League rookie-of-the-year who scored five goals in one game, a four-times Stanley Cup champion, an all-star, a Member of Parliament, and a broadcasting icon on Hockey Night in Canada.

ANSWER: Who is Howie Meeker?

CLUE: Howie died at the age of 97 on Sunday, meaning this man is now the oldest living Toronto Maple Leaf.

ANSWER: Who is Joe Thornton?

Howie Meeker and Dave Hodge

I remember sitting in the media room of the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver one night many winters ago, gnoshing on a plate of free food while having a pre-game natter with either Friar Nicolson or Sod Keilback.

Actually, it might have been both of the Winnipeg Jets radio guys. No matter.

At some point, Meeker joined us at our table and the chin-wag focused on Dale Hawerchuk, the captain and centrepiece of a decent Jets outfit. I suggested that Ducky had been off his game a bit, but Howie would have none of it.

“Ah, you don’t know a hockey puck from a pinch of coon shit,” he informed me.

I’m not sure why, but hearing Howie Meeker pooh-pooh my hockey know-how somehow made me feel good. I mean, the Squeaker was already a legend of the Hockey Night in Canada blurt box by then, so it was an absolute honor to have him break bread with a stray scribe from the flatlands and, at the same time, confirm that my grasp of the game was no better than a pinch of raccoon droppings. Never before had someone so famous told me I was full of crap.

I thought perhaps Howie was going to pull out his telestrator and draw some squiggly lines to emphasize his point, or maybe even whack me upside the head with the thing.

But no. Howie wasn’t being mean. He was being Howie. Blunt.

That was my only inter-action with Meeker, so I never got to know him in any depth. But, like so many others, I knew him from his HNIC gig, where he’d break down a play and instruct one of the boys in the truck to “Stop it right there!” or to “Back it up!” or, when a defenceman was beaten badly, he’d show the replay and, in a scolding tone, squawk, “What’s he doing down on his knees looking for nickels?”

Howie wasn’t into tap dancing, and his tell-it-like-it-isms surely livened up HNIC intermissions. He gave the show juice and made it fun.

My mom, mind you, thought Howie to be quite the noisy and annoying know-it-all, and I’m sure she would have been horrified by his table manners. But I got a kick out of the guy, coon droppings and all.

Speaking of former HNIC squawkers, Dave Hodge made me giggle with this tweet after jock legends Bobby Orr, Jack Nicklaus and Brett Favre had raised their voices in support of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election: “Thanks to Orr, Nicklaus and Favre, Donald Trump says the only channel that doesn’t broadcast fake news is ESPN.”

Donald Trump

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star describes Trump as a “distinctly unpopular politician.” Ya, he’s so unpopular that only 70,903,094 Americans voted for him. That’s more than Barack Obama tallied in 2008 and ’12. It beats Hilary Clinton’s total in 2016. It’s more than double what JFK received in 1960. We should all be so “distinctly unpopular.”

The Washington Nationals want president-elect Joe Biden to toss the ceremonial first pitch at their Major League Baseball home opener in 2021. To which former broadcaster Peter Young tweets: “Trump counters with claim he’ll throw out the first pitch at Leavenworth.” That made me laugh.

Just wondering: Does Trump’s election loss mean Mexico doesn’t have to pay for his invisible wall?

Speaking of money, I read something the other day about Microsoft dude Bill Gates saying his three children would inherit only $10 million each from his $100 billion-plus fortune, because giving them “massive amounts of money is not a favor to them.” Excuse me? Ten million bucks isn’t a massive amount of money? C’mon, man, that’s like saying Babe Ruth was a singles hitter.

In the past MLB season, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. couldn’t hit his own weight. Literally. He arrived at Summer Camp a whopping 282 pounds, was promptly shifted from third to first base, and hit .262. But word out of Toronto Blue Jays Nation is that Vlad the Gifted is no longer Vlad the Bloated. That’s right, Vladdy’s lost 32 pounds of blubber and now tips the Toledo at 250, give or take a side order of Nathan’s Ball Park Franks. He also wants his old job back with the Tranna Nine, at third base. That would be quite a trip: From the hot dog stand to the hot corner.

Bayne Pettinger

I’m not convinced that the outing of player agent Bayne Pettinger moves the needle toward acceptance of an openly gay performer in the National Hockey League, but the enthusiastic support from Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid might carry some sway with a young, closeted gay kid who’s thinking of quitting the game. Both Crosby and McDavid are fully behind Pettinger, a former Hockey Canada operations manager now with CAA Hockey, and if the game’s greatest players say it’s okay to be gay, then it’s okay.

If the day dawns when an NHL player chooses to come out, he’d be wise to follow the Pettinger blueprint: Find a trusted news snoop to tell the story, which Pettinger did in Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, and do it during down time, which is to say the off-season. That way, the fuss and muss and circus is dispensed with long before training exercises commence, and he can simply get on with getting on.

Like most newspaper sports editors, Steve Lyons of the Drab Slab is expected to find room in his section for female sports. “It’s not always easy,” he wrote on Nov. 5. “The reality is there are less women participating in sports and there are less women’s pro leagues. That adds up—or I guess doesn’t add up to an equal number of stories to be written and published. We can’t control how many wire stories we get each day on women’s sports, so our solution to moving the needle in this area has always been to focus on being as equitable as possible on local sports. While I did once win a national award for a series on gender equity in sports, I’m a guy—and slow sometimes—so, I admit to needing to be poked and kept aware on this subject.” Toward that end, Lyons is bringing Andrea Katz on board, and she’ll be writing about the distaff side of the playground “once or twice a month.” That’s a good thing.

Rafa Nadal

Rafael Nadal didn’t triumph at the Paris Masters tennis tournament, but much was made of the fact Rafa joined the 1,000-win club and trails only Jimmy Connors (1,274), Roger Federer (1,242) and Ivan Lendl (1068) in career singles victories during the Open Era. Not true. Rafa and everyone else is still chasing the great Martina Navratilova and her 1,442 singles match victories. And before they catch Martina, they have to catch Chrissie Evert (1,309 Ws). Just saying.

And, finally, another example of the shameful Torontofication of the Winnipeg Sun could be found on the sports front Nov. 3. It was a piece on Jeffrey Knox Jr., and don’t feel bad if you’re not familiar with the name. A vagabond football player last seen in frolic with the Ottawa RedBlacks, Knox Jr. signed to join the Toronto Argos for a 2020 Canadian Football League crusade that never happened, and now he’s facing an attempted homicide rap, among other things, in the U.S. He never played in Winnipeg for the Blue Bombers. Yet one of the geniuses on the Postmedia sports desk decided that his tale of woe was what sports fans in Good Ol’ Hometown wanted to read first and foremost on Nov. 3, rather than Ted Wyman’s real-news piece on local sports facilities and rec leagues going dark for two weeks due to COVID-19. They tucked Ted’s article on Page 4. Sigh.

About wedgies, swirlys and the trying times of Connor McMugged…advice from a meathead…drinking partners…a Finlandectomy for what ails Puck Finn…team values and Torts…ROT Syndrome strikes again…and it happened 40 years ago

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and we’re into the dog days of the NHL season but not the dog days of blogging…

Anyone in Good Ol’ Hometown shedding crocodile tears for the Edmonton Oilers as they attempt to scratch and claw their way to the Stanley Cup runoff?

Didn’t think so.

I mean, if you count yourself among the rabble who root, root, root for the Winnipeg Jets and you remember the 1980s, feeling even a twinge of compassion for the Oil and their faithful is as daft as starting a GoFundMe campaign to pay O.J. Simpson’s legal fees.

Dave Semenko

How often did Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, Anderson, Fuhr and the lads give les Jets a wedgie? I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count that high. But I do know our guys were usually skating with their tighty whiteys hiked up to their ears. And the Oil repeatedly shoved the Jets’ heads in a toilet and flushed. Yup, wedgies and swirlys. The Boys On the Bus made an art form of hazing and schoolyard bullying. If our guys tried to fight back, Dave Semenko would duct tape one of them to a goal post and that would be the end of it.

So, sorry, there’s no sympathy for the devil. At least there’s not supposed to be. But I can’t help myself.

I like Connor McDavid, you see. A lot. He’s magnificent. No hockey player has captivated me like this since Bobby Orr. Trouble is, he’s surrounded by rubes.

Sinatra got to sing with Count Basie and his orchestra. Astaire got to dance with Ginger Rogers. Lennon and McCartney got to run ideas by one another. And McDavid gets to play with a bunch of guys who have more left feet than a lineup of Vegas show girls.

It’s like watching a John Wayne duster with the Duke riding out to catch the bad guys, only he’s got Larry, Curly, Moe and Shemp for a posse.

It’s slapstick shinny.

Worse yet, the Oilers captain has become Connor McMugged, the National Hockey League’s most talented pinata. A Drew Doughty elbow to the chops here, a nasty Hampus Lindholm shove/crosscheck into the wall there…meh. Nothing to see according to Sheriff George of the player safety committee. Play on. Or, in this case, mug on.

Between Oilers management and the league’s blind eye, I don’t know which is worse. But I do know I feel cheated by both.

That’s why I root for the Oilers to find their way to the playoffs. You don’t like that? Well, as my first sports editor Jack Matheson used to say, sue me.

Andrea Bocelli

Some misguided pundits (I’m looking right at you, Nick Kypreos) urge McDavid to fight back. You know, take the law into his own hands when the ruffians attack.

“I would have loved Connor McDavid to turn around and two-hand Lindholm,” Kypreos said last week on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon. “I don’t care. If Connor gets suspended a couple of games, so be it. Send a message. Send a message that I’m not taking this, okay? And Connor doesn’t have to fight, but pull the Mark Messier, pull a couple of old-time guys and say ‘Listen, you wanna shove me into the boards? I’m gonna take my stick and I’m gonna jam it down your throat. I don’t care if I get two games, 10 games, I’ll make a hundred and 50, two hundred million dollars by the end of my career, I’ll spend 50 grand, I’ll spend a hundred grand just to send a message to you and everybody else. I ain’t taking this.’ ”

Oh, sure. That’s the ticket. Turn the gooned into the goon. And, while we’re at it, let’s turn Andrea Bocelli into a common street busker. Perhaps we can persuade him to sing backup vocals for Nickelback. Let’s also tell Bill Gates to give up his life of philanthropy and start robbing banks. Maybe tell Stephen King to knock it off with the creepy stuff and start writing fluffy Harlequin romances about blonde bimbos.

As if.

Look, Kypreos was a meathead when he played in the NHL. He spent so much time in stir he should have worn an orange jump suit, not a hockey uniform. He got hit in the head once too often and had to quit because of it. And this meathead is advising McDavid to grow a pair? That’s like Mike Tyson advising Miss Manners how to behave during high tea.

Stay in your lane, Kipper.

Connor McDavid and Aaron Ekblad

Could this be true? When McDavid ran over Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers the other night, apparently it was the 16th time this season that he’s used his body for anything other than making foes look foolish. That’s it? Just 16 bodychecks in 43 skirmishes? Cripes, man, I hit more people than that in the first five minutes of a Boxing Day shoe sale. There’s more body contact in most seniors homes. (I don’t speak from personal experience, but I understand those old folks can be quite randy. Something to look forward to perhaps.) But, again, McDavid is wired for flash, dash and daring, not thump and bump. He’s a swashbuckler, not a shlep. And I don’t want him to change his game any more than I want McDonald’s to cook my next meal.

Enjoyed this nugget from Terry Jones of Postmedia Edmonton: “I’ve never been a referee-baiter. Indeed, I used to spend a lot of nights on the road drinking with them after games. Hockey writers have similar jobs as officials. We call them as we see them. And sometimes we’re wrong.” There’s a very good reason why refs and writers drink together—nobody else will drink with them.

Patrik Laine

The injury bug has taken a big bite out of the Winnipeg Jets lineup. MIA are Dustin Byfuglien (lower body), Twig Ehlers (upper body), Tyler Myers (lower body) and, of course, Patrik Laine (between the ears). Someone once said that Laine could score 40 goals “in his sleep.” Apparently that’s exactly what Puck Finn is trying to do this season. Seriously. Three goals since Dec. 1? Who stole Patrik Laine and stuck Chris Thorburn in his uniform?

Interesting question posed by Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab: Are expectations too high for Puck Finn? Well, Laine has delivered 36- and 44-goal seasons to les Jets, so 35 or more is his standard. Anything less and there’s bound to be much grumbling among the rabble and, likely, some jock journos. No, that isn’t fair, but the kid gave himself two tough acts to follow.

Truthfully, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Puck Finn that an emergency Finlandectomy wouldn’t fix. Hey, it worked earlier during the crusade, didn’t it? I mean, Winnipeg HC toddled off to Finland for a couple of games and the kid responded with an 18-goal November. So send him home for some of mom’s home cooking during the all-star break.

Interesting that the Columbus Blue Jackets disciplined goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky for his failure to meet what an official described as the club’s “expectations and values.” Doesn’t head coach John Tortorella do that every time he opens his gob for a to-and-fro with news snoops?

Mark Giordano

ROT Syndrome definition: “A hallucinatory affliction particular to keyboard jockeys who believe if it doesn’t happen in the Republic of Tranna it doesn’t happen.” Sad to report that Damien Cox continues to show symptoms of advanced ROT Syndrome. We know this because the Toronto Star columnist delivered this tweet last week: “For most, Morgan Rielly is the leading candidate to win the Norris (Trophy).” Who are these mysterious “most” people he mentions? His children? The guys he golfs with? The guys who tune up his car? After all, I doubt “most” of the Flames faithful in Calgary believe Tranna Maple Leafs defenceman Rielly is a more suitable candidate for the Norris than their guy Mark Giordano. What of the rabble in San Jose? Wouldn’t “most” of them be inclined to consider Brent Burns the frontrunner for the top rearguard trinket? Only a news snoop in The ROT would presume that “most” people who watch hockey are convinced Rielly is the cream of the crop. Unfortunately, there’s no known cure for ROT Syndrome, but there is temporary relief: Take two aspirin and actually watch a game outside the eastern time zone.

And, finally, if you’re into milestones, circle May 20 and Oct. 10 on your calendars. Those dates mark the 40th anniversaries of les Jets’ final World Hockey Association title and Winnipeg HC’s baptism in the NHL. I don’t know what I should celebrate—having witnessed those historic moments or still being able to remember them.

About Sleepy-Eye Joe Mack passing on Mike Reilly…TSN’s continuing love affair with Johnny Rotten…the King of Clay…intrigue in women’s tennis…Secretariat still the greatest…a Capital way to party…the skier and the hockey player…expensive cardboard…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 Darian Durant’s fault. A pox on his house for taking the money and running to retirement!

No. Wait.

It’s Joe Mack’s fault.

The statute of limitations hasn’t run out on Sleepy-Eye Joe’s stupidity, has it? Nope. So, whenever the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ universe isn’t unfolding as it should, the former general manager and everyone’s favorite whipping boy is still fair game for blame. He’s the reason the Big Blue will begin their 2018 Canadian Football League crusade with a starting quarterback on training wheels.

I mean, think about it.

Mike Reilly

Had Sleepy-Eye Joe reeled in Mike Reilly in 2013, we wouldn’t be talking about Matt Nichols’ wonky wheels and a QB pool that has all the depth of an Archie-Jughead plot line. Well, would we? Reilly, after all, is Marlboro Man rugged, even when he’s wearing one of his funny, little hats. He’s voted annually by his peers as the toughest hombre in the three-down game, and he hasn’t missed a beat due to an owie since the first week of September 2015.

The sad thing is, Mack could have had Reilly for a song.

The sticker price the B.C. Lions listed for Reilly was a swap of second-round picks in the 2013 CFL college draft, plus a second-rounder in ’14. The Edmonton Eskimos were willing to pay it. Mack didn’t even want to kick the tires. Sleepy-Eye Joe remained convinced and confident that Buck Pierce was the answer at quarterback, and his backup plan was putting the legendary Justin Goltz behind centre. Or Max Hall.

As history records, that worked out about as well as New Coke.

To say Pierce was injury prone is to say Bill Gates has a bit of money. When fit enough to actually start a game, they didn’t strap a play chart to Brittle Buck’s left wrist. It was an IV needle. He didn’t survive the first month of the ’13 season, leaving various body parts and what was left of his marbles strewn on the field.

Sleepy-Eye Joe

That QB fiasco, among other things, cost Mack his job generally mismanaging the Bombers, and Pierce finished that season in B.C., from whence he came. He’s now an assistant coach in Pegtown. No word on the whereabouts of Goltz and Hall, but I suspect they’re asking customers if they’d like fries with their Big Macs and Quarter Pounders.

As for Reilly, well, I’m sure you’re familiar with his story after the Eskimos lured him away from the Lions: Grey Cup champion and Grey Cup game most valuable player in ’15; CFL’s most outstanding player in ’17; two-time West Division all-star; one-time league all-star. And, perhaps most significant, Reilly is still with the Eskimos. No drive-thru orders for him. He’ll be barking signals and gutting it out on Thursday night when the Green-and-Gold engage the Bombers in a season-opening frolic at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Reilly remains the ‘what could have been’ and ‘what should have been’ for the Bombers. That’s Sleepy-Eye Joe’s legacy.

Matt Nichols and Mike Reilly

None of the above is meant to disparage Nichols. Hey, he’s a tough dude, too. And he’s a keeper. Trouble is, he’s developed a most curious habit of falling down without being touched. His left leg caved on him in a game last October, and his right leg collapsed in a training session last week. Officially, he’s run out of legs that work properly. This, of course, is where Durant was expected to fit in. The Bombers paid the veteran QB $70,000 up front to serve as a safety net, thus, with Nichols in the repair shop for as few as four weeks and as many as six, it would have been his show. Alas, instead of playing catch with an interesting array of receivers, Durant is at home changing his new-born daughter’s dirty diapers, and the Bombers are unlikely to grovel at the feet of man who jilted them on the eve of training camp and trolled them on Twitter. Would Durant be an upgrade on Alex Ross, Bryan Bennett or Chris Streveler, the three lads who auditioned for the starter’s role on Friday night against the Lions in Vancouver? Naw. When last seen, which is to say with the Montreal Alouettes in 2017, Durant seldom delivered a pass without the football bouncing once or twice before landing at a receiver’s feet. He’s spent.

Welcome to TJMN—The Johnny Manziel Network, formerly known as The Sports Network. Seriously. TSN has gone loopy over Manziel. Last week, following a CFL debut that consisted of nine completed passes and zero points, TSN featured nine—count ’em, nine!—Johnny Rotten videos. One video per completion. Sunday morning, after he was good on a dozen of 20 pass attempts (including a TD toss), there were five more Johnny Rotten videos on the main TSN web page. They also featured something called Johnny Football Watch. All that for a guy who won’t start a game for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats unless Jeremiah Masoli is wounded or implodes.

Winner and still champion on clay, Rafa Nadal.

Can you say undécima, kids? Rafael Nadal can. His 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 paddywhacking of Dominic Thiem in the men’s singles final Sunday was his 11th French Open title, and I can’t think of an athlete—in any sport—who is more dominant than the muscular Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros. What the Spanish maestro has accomplished in Paris is insane. He’s 86-2. Eighty-freaking-six and two! Nobody goes 86-2. Except the Harlem Globetrotters, and their games are as rigged as a Vegas slot machine. Nadal on clay is a one-off. Never seen anything like him. Never will. (By the way, here’s the answer to the trivia question: Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic are the only two men to have beaten Nadal at Roland Garros.)

Simona Halep

The Big Three in men’s tennis is no more, but the Big Two remains. While Djokovic is trying to sort out things in his head, if not other parts of his body, the younger generation of hot-shot racqueteers can’t kick Nadal or Roger Federer to the curb. Each of the 30somethings has won three of the past six Grand Slam championships and, Federer’s allergy to red clay notwithstanding, there’s no sign of surrender in either man. One suspects Wimbledon will be another episode in the Rafa-and-Roger show. All of which means the distaff side of tennis is much more intriguing. Check it out: In the past six GS tournaments, there have been six different champions—Serena Williams, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep. Wimbledon will be another complete crapshoot, even if a healthy Williams joins the field.

Secretariat romping to the wire in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

On the subject of great champions, 45 years to the day that Secretariat completed horse racing’s Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes, Justify romped wire-to-wire at Belmont to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. But let’s provide some perspective. Justify ran the mile and a half in 2:28.18 on Saturday. Secretariat did it in 2:24.0 in 1973. In other words, Secretariat would have beaten Justify by more than 20 lengths. Big Red’s Belmont victory (he won by 31 lengths) remains the single greatest sporting achievement I have witnessed.

Perhaps Damien Cox would prefer it if the Washington Capitals partied like Canadian women.

Starring in the role of grumpy grandpa this week is Toronto Star and Sportsnet gasbag Damien Cox. On the heels of the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup conquest of the Vegas Golden Knights, Alex Ovechkin and the boys have been tooting about in full celebratory mode, carousing and fussing and sharing the moment with the rabble on the streets of D.C. Oh, they’ve also been drinking. How positively scandalous. And that just won’t do in Damien’s delicate, little world. There’s no room for random, unharnessed merriment. Or booze. “Rafael Nadal won his ELEVENTH French Open today,” Cox tweeted in a pious, tsk-tsking tone Sunday morning. “No video yet of him drunkenly rolling around in a public fountain because apparently some believe that’s how champions should behave.” Well, excuuuuuse the Capitals for having fun. I wonder if Damien Cox awakens some mornings and regrets being Damien Cox.

P.K. Subban and Lindsey Vonn

Social Note: It must be spring because sports power couples keep popping up. Not so long ago, noted flinger of footballs Aaron Rodgers and fast-car driver Danica Patrick were observed canoodling in public, and now it’s hockey’s diving diva, P.K. Subban, and Lindsey Vonn, glam gal of the ski slopes and one-time main squeeze of golfer Tiger Woods. Don’t know if going from putters to pucks is a dating step up or a step down for Vonn, but she probably won’t get any late-night calls from P.K. asking for bail money. (For the record, my fave sports power couple is Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe, with Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi a close second.)

I note that a Connor McDavid rookie card recently sold at auction for $55,655. That’s a lot of coin for a small hunk of cardboard. But it made me wonder if kids still stick trading cards in the spokes of their bike wheels. Better question: Do kids still ride bikes, or are they too busy texting each other?

Serena Williams

Zero female athletes appeared on the Forbes list of the top 100 money-makers in sports for the first time, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The annual Forbes 100 is based on earnings from June to June, a period of almost total inactivity in 2017-18 for Serena Williams, who slotted in at No. 51 a year ago with total income of $27 million. Her haul this time around was $18M, all via endorsement deals. Maria Sharapova, meanwhile, once was a regular on the Forbes 100, but, after being caught with her hand in the illegal-drug jar, some sponsors abandoned her and she has yet to return to championship form. Sharapova is hardly a pauper, though. Her estimated worth is well in excess of $100 million.

And, finally, an interesting albeit indelicate quote from the elegant Garbine Muguruza, who, after routing the equally elegant Sharapova, 6-2, 6-1, in the French Open, described the five-time Grand Slam champion as “an old-time player.” Ouch. Sharapova just turned 31.