About a bummer night for the Winnipeg Jets…an amber alert for Puck Finn…Twig snaps his goal drought…Republic of Tranna media getting it wrong again…and much ado about nothing for NBC

If the Jets and Leafs are playing, it’s worth writing about…

Top o’ the morning to you, Paul Maurice.

Paul Maurice

Bummer, eh? A 4-2 loss to the Tranna Maple Leafs wasn’t what you, your hired hands or the rabble were looking for on Wednesday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. But, hey, sometimes life bites.

Like, it must really bite for Puck Finn right now. I mean, Patrik Laine looks as lost as a guy trying to find a crosswalk at Portage and Main. He plays five-on-five hockey like a milking cow plays the piano. Clumsy? It’s like he’s skating with a sawed-off peg leg he borrowed from Long John Silver. If he doesn’t find his game soon, you’ll have to issue an amber alert for the kid.

What’s that you say, Coach PoMo? You really don’t know what to do with Puck Finn?

Puck Finn

Well, here’s a thought: Don’t ever, under any circumstances, play him on the left flank again. Except on the powerplay, of course. I’m not sure what you were thinking when you had him skate with the Winnipeg Jets big dogs—Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler—vs. les Leafs, but a card-carrying democrat would be a better fit at a Trump rally.

The good news is, you and Puck Finn have ample time to figure this thing out. You’re only 10 games into the National Hockey League crusade, so eventually the light will go on, figuratively and literally.

You know, like it finally did for Twig Ehlers.

I don’t know what you told the boys after two periods on Wednesday night, Coach PoMo, but I have a hunch you went all potty mouth on them. That’s what a hockey coach did back in the day, you realize. If his team was soiling the sheets—which your Jets surely had done through 40 minutes—he’d blister them and peel some paint off some walls with language not suitable for the dinner table or mixed company. They’d have first-degree burns to their egos.

Twig Ehlers

What’s that? What do I know about back in the day? Listen, Coach PoMo, I was watching hockey 10 years before your mama wrapped you in your first diaper. Hey, I’m an old lady. Old enough to share my apartment with two dozen cats and not notice. Trust me, I’ve seen some things, including hockey when bodychecking was allowed.

But I digress. It’s about Twig Ehlers.

Whatever message you conveyed to the fellas in those gawdawful aviator blue unis during their second recess apparently registered with Twig. It wasn’t just that he scored for the first time in 27 assignments, he played like he was a bit PO’d.

I think Laine needs to play like he’s a bit (or a lot) PO’d, Coach PoMo.

Anyway, Twig’s goal was the sole positive takeaway from a bummer of a night. But, hey, you get another crack at les Leafs in the Republic of Tranna on Saturday night.

You know what we called Saturday night back in the day, Coach PoMo? Bath night. Yup, we’d get ourselves freshly scrubbed behind the ears, then hunker down to watch les Leafs or the Montreal Canadiens on our black-and-white TV screens. The Habs and Leafs usually cleaned up in those days, too. Won the Stanley Cup 13 times in 14 springs (1956-69).

They’re thinking that way in The ROT again, Coach PoMo. Silly people. You and I both know that your Jets are the best bet to hold a Stanley Cup parade in Canada.

It would help, of course, if you could do something to spruce up Puck Finn’s game. But, like I said, there’s ample time. And I don’t think anyone’s prepared to throw the kid out with the bath water just yet.

Just to refresh, Twig Ehlers and Puck Finn combined for 73 goals last season. Today they have four, all three of Laine’s coming on the powerplay. Thus, they’ll need to average a goal a game between them to match their 2017-18 total. Tall order but doable.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.

I think it’s swell that folks hither and yawn have noticed les Jets, but I wish wordsmiths and natterbugs in The Republic of Tranna would get their facts in order before spewing nonsense about Good Ol’ Home Team.

Consider, for example, old friend and genuinely good guy Lance Hornby’s recent take on Winnipeg HC:

“Bobby Hull’s record $1-million deal in their second season of 1972-73 angered the NHL establishment—led by Harold Ballard—and got the Golden Jet booted off Team Canada while truly stirring anti-Eastern sentiment,” the Postmedia Tranna scribe scribbles. “Hull inspired two other 100-point players, Christian Bordeleau and Norm Beaudin, but the big bang was a year later, when the Nordic invasion of Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, Velli Pekka-Ketola and Heikki Riihiranta occurred.”

Wrong. The 1972-73 crusade was the Jets’ first, not their second, in the World Hockey Association. The “big bang” of the Swedes and Finns, meanwhile, followed two seasons later, not one.

Nick Kypreos

Next we had Nick Kypreos weighing in on les Jets:

“Kyle Connor. Nobody’s really mentioned the fact that this guy is quietly gonna lead them in scoring—again,” he crowed on Hockey Central @ Noon on Sportsnet.

Wrong. Connor has never led the Jets in scoring.

Here’s Kypreos on Laine: “When it’s all said and done, this guy’s gonna end up with 30 goals again, easy. He’s not been used in Winnipeg as a No. 1 guy. Think about that for a second. If you really go and study his numbers…he’s been a second-line kinda guy his whole career, short career in Winnipeg. You kind of look at him and go “What happens if he was on another team and they use him like Ovechkin?’ So, maybe he only ends up with 28 or 30 goals this year. Maybe he does have that kind of secondary result off of that type of ice time. There’s some nights he’s played 13-14 minutes. He’s not an 18-to-20-minute guy and probably won’t be. He’ll always be in that kind of secondary…he’s a powerplay guy but he’s also secondary, you know, Ehlers, Little.”

Wrong. I don’t know what numbers Kypreos was talking about but, prior to the engagement with les Leafs, Laine spent an average of 16-plus minutes on the ice in the Jets first nine assignments, not 13-14. His low-water mark was 15:25. He topped out at 21:20. He was averaging 19 shifts per game. Against les Leafs, it was 22:23 and two dozen shifts.

You’ll have to forgive me if I fail to understand why some mainstream media made a large deal about NBC coming to River City to broadcast the Leafs-Jets joust. At best, it’s a footnote. Yet the Winnipeg Free Press came across like the Country Bumpkin Times by splashing it on the sports front, with a feature article by Mike McIntyre. The Winnipeg Sun, on the other hand, devoted exactly one sentence to The Peacock Network’s presence. The tabloid gave it appropriate play. The broadsheet lost the plot.

Department of Irony: On its website, the Freep trumpeted the McIntyre NBC piece as one of its Above the Fold features, yet in the actual print newspaper it ran the story below the fold. Go figure.

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Two Hens in the Hockey House: All about Sir Paul, the Rink Rat, Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and how much the Winnipeg Jets will miss Paul Stastny

Let the games begin!

The Winnipeg Jets open their 2018-19 National Hockey League crusade tonight against the Blues in St. Louis, and they have a tough act to follow. After advancing to the Western Conference final last spring, it has to be Stanley Cup final or bust for the locals.

Do they have it in them to take that next step? The Two Hens in the Hockey House have the answer. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, the quest is about to begin and I haven’t been this jacked up about anything since Paul McCartney stepped back on stage for a rousing encore the other night at the local hockey palace. How about you?

Answer Lady: You went to see Sir Paul in concert?

Question Lady: You bet your Beatles bubble gum cards I did. He’s been my main man since the lads first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. The guy’s a rock ‘n’ roll legend and can still get after it at 76 years of age. You don’t like Macca?

Answer Lady: Meh. His best post-Beatles work was Band On the Run. That was released in 1973. He’s been in a slump ever since. You know, kind of like the Jets since the World Hockey Association days.

WHA champion Jets, circa 1978-79.

Question Lady: Will you old farts ever let go of that Jets/WHA nonsense?

Answer Lady: Nonsense? You call it nonsense? Wash your mouth out with granny’s lye soap, girlfriend! Those were the glory days—three championships, five trips to the final in seven seasons, kicked the Russian Bear’s butt, best forward line in all of hockey…neither version of the NHL Jets has accomplished anything to compare. It’ll be 40 years next spring since the last victory parade rolled down Portage Avenue, and we haven’t had a whiff of glory since.

Question Lady: Which brings us to the current edition of the Jets. Plenty of buzz about these boys. They’re among the morning-line favorites to win le Coupe Stanley. Do you think the hype is warranted?

Answer Lady: Absolutely. All the ingredients seem to be in place. I believe they’ll romp through the regular season, maybe even win the President’s Trophy, and then, hopefully, they’ll borrow on the experience gained and lessons learned from last spring and get the job done next April, May and June.

Question Lady: Any chance of the Jets doing a face plant like the Edmonton McDavids performed last season?

Answer Lady: Sir Paul will be back in town with Ringo, John and George in tow before that happens, and since two of the Fab Four are pushing up daisies it ain’t gonna happen. There’s too much depth, too much talent. There aren’t any Looch’s in the Jets’ lineup to drag everybody else down. There’s no one like that anchor Milan Lucic in E-Town.

Question Lady: So this season will be a cake walk?

Answer Lady: Not at all. It’s not like the other outfits on this side of the continent have been twiddling their thumbs. The St. Louis Blues ought to be better. Ditto the Dallas Stars. San Jose Sharks upped their game with Erik Karlsson. The Nashville Predators are still nasty. But, ya, the Jets are the best of the bunch.

Bryan Little

Question Lady: Any weaknesses?

Answer Lady: Yup. Down the middle. Maybe. Rink Rat Scheifele is a legit No. 1 centre, but it’s iffy after that. I’ve long been a Bryan Little fan and I believe he’ll suitably fill the second slot. But what if his best-before date has already passed? Is Jack Roslovic a ready-for-prime-time centre? We don’t know. We can only guess. It could be a repeat of last season when general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff felt obliged to seek help from beyond. We might be looking at another Paul Stastny scenario.

Paul Stastny

Question Lady: What you’re saying is that this Jets team isn’t as good as the one that reached the Western Conference final last May?

Answer Lady: Do the math. Stastny gave the Jets 13 points in 19 regular-season games and, more significant, 15 points in the Stanley Cup tournament. Can either Little or Roslovic deliver that kind of production? From October through March? Sure. April-May-June I’m not convinced. And remember, it isn’t about the regular season for the Jets anymore. It’s about what goes down in the tournament. The playoffs, that’s their measuring stick. Everything else is window dressing.

Twig Ehlers

Question Lady: Any other misgivings?

Answer Lady: Twig Ehlers. The guy’s dynamic, but he’s a 35/40-goal scorer dressed up as a 25/29-goal scorer. His retreats into the twilight zone are mysterious and frustrating. Maybe it’s that whole PlayStation thing. Maybe the Vancouver Canucks are on to something by banning PlayStation and Fortnite on road trips.

Question Lady: Are you serious? You think Ehlers’ trips to la la land are linked to an obsession with video games? That’s crazy talk, girlfriend. Patrik Laine is one of those PlayStation goomers and he scored 44 goals last season.

Answer Lady: I’m just spitballing, girlfriend. If Puck Finn scores 44 goals every winter they’ll let him play Fortnite until his thumbs fall off. But there must be a reason why Twig vamooses for chunks of time. I mean, four goals after March? Zero in 15 playoff games? And people thought Howard Hughes disappeared. Maybe that’s what I should call Ehlers instead of Twig—Howard.

Blake Wheeler

Question Lady: You’re being kind of hard on the kid, don’t you think?

Answer Lady: All I’m saying is he has 35-goal talent (or more) and his Invisible Man routine is beginning to wear thin. On the plus side, he’s young and can learn about the mental side of the game from a guy like captain Blake Wheeler.

Question Lady: Speaking of Wheeler, do you see another 91-point crusade out of him?

Answer Lady: I don’t see why not. Playing with Rink Rat Scheifele and Kyle Connor, he ought to get a point a game by accident. The guy’s a stud.

Question Lady: Any bold predictions?

Patrik Laine

Answer Lady: Yup. Puck Finn will win the Rocket Richard Trophy with 57 goals. The Rink Rat will reach the 100-point plateau and finish second to Connor McDavid in scoring. Connor Hellebuyck will win the Vezina Trophy. Paul Maurice will be a finalist for coach of the year.

Question Lady: What about the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Can’t say. Too much can change by then, and I expect it will. Chevy will do something at, or just before, the trade deadline. It’ll involve centres and defencemen.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go. I’d say let’s do lunch, but I’m going home for a soak and to listen to the latest McCartney album. How about you?

Answer Lady: I think I’ll just watch old film of the Jets’ last WHA championship.

 

 

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.

About Philadelphia North…what QB controversy?…the stuff hitting the fan in Bomberville…the Banjo Bowl revisited…Colin Kaepernik’s “sacrifice”…the anti-Nike slogan: Just Burn It…no C in the Republic of Tranna…political noses out of joint over Genie’s tax escape…creative broadcasting…Serena’s ugly hissy fit…and a gay guy in the hoops hall

It occurs to me

You know you aren’t teacher’s pet when you appear in a public service announcement about the evils of drinking and driving and the rabble boos.

What did Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans do after Saturday’s football game? Go to the airport and boo bad landings?

I mean, welcome to Philadelphia North, kids.

Matt Nichols

I don’t know if Matt Nichols is a drinking man, but what transpired at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Saturday afternoon might be enough to drive him to it. The guy had a bad day at the office and it’s like he kicked a Girl Guide off his front porch. After stealing her cookies.

But this is what happens when you’re the starting quarterback for the Blue Bombers and you keep throwing the football to the wrong people, which Nichols did early and often in Winnipeg FC’s latest face plant, a 32-27 loss to a Saskatchewan Roughriders outfit that failed to find the end zone on offence.

You normally win in the Canadian Football League if you limit the other guys to field goals, which the Bombers defensive dozen did in this annual renewal of the Banjo Bowl. It was a job well done.

Alas, Nichols was so inept that even his biggest booster finally noticed. That would be head coach Mike O’Shea, who’d rather pull out his back teeth with a pair of rusty pliers than pull his starting QB. This day, however, the coach had seen enough of Nichols by the time the large lads broke for recess, so he instructed him to stand on the sideline and observe while understudy Chris Streveler attempted to undo the mess he’d created.

Shortly thereafter, the drinking-and-driving PSA popped up on the big screen at Football Follies Field and down rained the boos on Nichols.

He couldn’t be less popular if he made rabbit stew out of the Easter Bunny.

But seriously. Booing a guy during a PSA for drunk driving? Get a grip, people.

Mike O’Shea

Here’s the deal: There is no quarterback controversy in the Bombers coaching bunker. Unless there’s intervention from on high (hello, Wade Miller), Nichols, not Streveler, will be behind centre when Winnipeg FC returns to the fray against the Montreal Alouttes two weeks hence.

“Matt deserves another chance to play and lead this team to victory because he’s done it so many times. Matt’s won a helluva lot of games for us,” O’Shea said, not long after watching Nichols implode with five first-half interceptions (two were nullified due to Saskatchewan infractions) that included a pair of Pick Sixes.

He also mumbled something about reviewing film and allowing the sour taste of a fourth straight misstep to disappear before making a “rash” decision because “that wouldn’t be good for anybody.”

The thing is, what’s good for O’Shea might not be good for Miller, chief cook and bottle washer with Winnipeg FC.

Wade Miller

It’s worth noting a comment a CFL coach or general manager delivered recently to Kirk Penton of The Athletic: “I wouldn’t want to be around Wade Miller if the Bombers lose on Saturday. He’s a guy who loves the Bombers, wants to win a championship and when he isn’t happy everyone (bleeping) knows it. Heads are going to roll over there if things don’t change fast. Wade’s not going to put up with bull shit excuses.”

Just curious: Did Andrew Harris actually play in Saturday’s skirmish? The official stats sheet indicates the Bombers running back had 10 carries and one reception. I must have been making lunch at the time.

Old friend Troy Westwood started it all when, as the left foot of the Bombers in 2004, he called our prairie neighbors “a bunch of banjo-pickin’ inbreds.” Thus, the Banjo Bowl was born. Seemed like good-natured, harmless banter at the time, but what about today? Well, Roughriders radio gab guy Rod Pedersen asked this on Twitter: “Are you offended by the term Banjo Bowl?”

Results: 3,451 votes;
92 per cent “No;”
8 per cent “Yes.”

Wow. Eight per cent offended by the term Banjo Bowl. Guess that shoots down the theory that everyone in Saskatchewan dances to Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys the day they marry their cousins.

I’ve always been on Colin Kaepernick’s side in the Great American Kneeling Debate, but the slogan for the 30th anniversary of Nike’s Just Do It campaign baffles me a bit: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Are they telling us Kaepernick sacrificed “everything” by taking a knee during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at National Football League games? Okay, he’s been blackballed by NFL team owners, but, according to Business Insider, the now-out-of-work quarterback collected $39.4 million on the three-year contract he signed with the San Francisco 49ers in 2014. Overall in a short NFL career, he made in excess of $43 million. Numerous sources place his net worth at $20 million or more. He bought a New York City condo for $3.21 million in 2016. He sold his home in San Jose last year for $3.075 million. And you know Nike isn’t paying him mice nuts to be its pitch man. Try eight figures. This is not a man who sacrificed “everything” and is getting by on food stamps and whatever spare change he can collect on a Manhattan street corner.

I don’t own any Nike sports gear or clothing, so I won’t be joining the Just Burn It protest of Nike apparel for the sweat shop giant’s new ad campaign featuring Kaepernick, who’s brought more people to their knees than the Pope. But I wouldn’t put a match to it if I did. If I’m going to light something on fire, it’ll be the Blue Bombers playbook, not the Nike swoosh.

The Tranna Maple Leafs plan to enter their 2018-19 National Hockey League crusade sans the letter C stitched on any player’s sweater. Officially, which is to say according to general manager Kyle Dubas, that’s because they’ve yet to determine who’s “best suited to handle” the heft that comes with wearing a patch of cloth that weighs about an ouce. Unofficially, it’s because they don’t want to put John Tavares’s nose out of joint. Ditto Auston Matthews’ beak.

Genie Bouchard

Speaking of noses out of joint, some Quebec politicos are having a proper hissy fit now that tennis diva Genie Bouchard has become an official resident of the Bahamas, where she won’t be taxed on all that money she collects for losing tennis tournaments and posing half naked in fashion mags and Sports Illustrated. “I think we should live where we were born, where we learned to play tennis and pay taxes in our country,” whinges Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec. Well, let me say this about that: I was born and learned to play tennis in Winnipeg. If it’s all the same to Mssr. Legault, I’ll stay in Victoria, which is not a haven from taxes but a haven from Winnipeg winters.

Dave Poulin

So, Blake Wheeler signs and extension with the Winnipeg Jets and TSN props up Dave Poulin to tell us what it means. Why do they insist on trotting Poulin out as a hockey expert/analyst when he was among seven people who didn’t believe Connor McDavid was the NHL’s top centre-ice man last season. The Edmonton Oilers captain was the scoring champion for cripes sake. His peers awarded him the Ted Lindsay Award as the game’s premier player. Yet Poulin saw something different. He voted McDavid off the island and listed Nathan MacKinnon, Anze Kopitar and Evgeni Malkin on his all-star ballot. It’s believed he also voted Mrs. Howell as the hottest babe on Gilligan’s Island, ahead of both Ginger and Mary Ann.

This from Kate Beirness of TSN on Steve Nash, inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday: “A playmaker who was more creative on the floor than anyone we had seen before.” Anyone? She would know this how? I mean, she’s 34 years old. Why do these young people insist on talking like they were there back in the day? It’s irksome. She never saw Bob Cousy. Oscar Robertson. If she saw Magic in his prime, it was from her crib or playpen. It’s fair for Beirness to talk about the traffic in her lane, but don’t talk about the traffic in my lane.

Serena Williams went all John McEnroe on chair umpire Carlos Ramos in the U.S. Open women’s final on Saturday in Gotham, and it was ugly. She was ugly. Williams turned her 6-2, 6-4 loss to Naomi Osaka into an unhinged crusade for motherhood (“I have a daughter and I stand what’s right for her!”) and women’s rights. Ramos is “sexist” (also a thief for giving her two code violations and penalizing her a game). “This is not fair,” she whinged. “This has happened to me too many times. This is not fair. This is not fair. It’s not fair, it’s really not. Do you know how many other men do things, that do much worse than that? It’s just not fair.” Williams’ pity party hijacked what should have been a night of celebration for Osaka, a first-time tennis grand slam champion. Osaka was full of grace. Williams was a complete disgrace.

Rick Welts

And, finally, something you never thought you’d see: An openly gay man referencing his partner in a hoops hall of fame induction speech. That would be Rick Welts, chief operating officer of the Golden State Warriors, who spoke lovingly of his partner, Todd Gage, on Friday night. It was a beautiful thing.

Hens in the Hockey House: Big deals on Wheels for the Winnipeg Jets

My two Hens in the Hockey House have surfaced from their summer hibernation, just in time to deliver some blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda on the Blake Wheeler signing. The Winnipeg Jets captain has agreed to a five-year contract extension that will average $8.25 million per season, at which time he will be into his hockey dotage at age 37.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, girlfriend, what’s your take on the Deal on Wheels? Too much money? Too much term? Too little money? Too little term?

Answer Lady: The question isn’t whether or not the Jets gave Wheeler too much of this or too little of that. It’s this: When does the captain go into the inevitable decline?

Blake Wheeler

Question Lady: What makes you so sure his game’s heading south?

Answer Lady: Oh, honey, everything heads south. Just take a look at what gravity has done to our bodies. We know Wheeler’s skills will decay and no tummy tuck is going to change or fix that. As sure as there’s wind at Portage and Main, he’ll experience a drop in productivity. What we don’t know and can’t predict is when, and how rapid, the retreat will be.

Question Lady: We’re pretty confident that his game won’t take a detour south this winter, are we not?

Answer Lady: I’d say that’s a safe bet. I mean, it might not be another 91-point season, but as long as he has Rink Rat Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Big Buff, Twig Ehlers and Puck Finn as playmates he ought to deliver a point a game by accident. Here’s something we must keep in mind, though: Wheeler will be working on his existing contract in the 2018-19 National Hockey League season. At $5.6 million, he’s a bargain. Maybe the best bargain in the game. But he won’t be so much of a bargain if it’s 55 points and $8.25 million four years from now. Guaranteed the rabble will be bitching a blue streak about his contract being an anchor if that happens. I already hear grumbling about the term on this extension.

Question Lady: Are you surprised that the Jets gave a 32-year-old forward an extra five years?

Answer Lady: To be honest, two years ago I was convinced that Wheeler would play out his current contract then vamoose out of Dodge in pursuit of a championship. That changed last spring when the Jets advanced to the Western Conference final in the Stanley Cup runoff. But an additional five years? Ya, totally unexpected. I was thinking three tops.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Question Lady: Do you think Wheeler left money on the table for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and the bean counters to divvy up between Puck Finn, Kyle Connor, Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba?

Answer Lady: Since I wasn’t invited to join Wheeler and Chevy for the cup of coffee that led to this deal, I can’t answer that. But I think an argument can be made that he’d have gotten more coin on the open market next summer. So, in those terms, ya, he sold himself short. But, hey, how much is enough? If a guy can’t get by on $8.25 million per annum, he’s got issues that we probably don’t want to know about.

Question Lady: Doesn’t Wheeler strike you as the kind of guy who would take one for the team, so to speak?

Answer Lady: Ya, he does. Never met him, but the guy’s a pro’s pro by all accounts. About the only negative thing I could say about the captain is that he is sometimes—too often—prickly with news snoops. But dealing with jock journos is part of the package when you wear the C, so get over it.

Question Lady: Best-case scenario, of course, is that Wheeler hoists the Stanley Cup next spring or the year after that. What’s the worst-case scenario?

Answer Lady: That he turns into the Looch—Milan Lucic, owner of the most-onerous contract in the NHL. I mean, the Edmonton McDavids are paying the Looch $6 million a year to lurch up and down the left wing like a guy dragging an ATM machine, and he’ll be on their books until 2023. He’ll be the world’s oldest 34-year-old by then, likely scoring five goals a season instead of the 10 he had last winter. How happy do you think they’ll be paying that ball-and-chain $1.2 million per goal? I don’t see that ever happening to Wheeler and the Jets, though. He still has plenty of game. At least three, perhaps four more years as a top-flight forward. But you asked me for the worst-case scenario and I can’t think of anything more grim than him morphing into a right-wing version of the Looch.

Question Lady: The Wheeler signing means much of the heavy lifting is done and, really, there’s only Morrissey without a contract. What’s the holdup there?

Answer Lady: It has to be term. I’m only spitballing, but Chevy’s track record suggests that length of service is the sticking point. He has some kind of cult-leader sway with these guys. He serves them the Kool-Aid and before you can say Pokey and the Bandit they’re locked in for six years or more at a team-friendly rate. It worked with Rink Rat Scheifele and Twig Ehlers and Hellebuyck, so it’s my guess that he’s attempting similar powers of persuasion with Morrissey.

Question Lady: And if Josh doesn’t swallow the Kool-Aid?

Answer Lady: Then he’ll do what Trouba did—sign for two years and carry on carrying on until such time as he’s in a more favorable bargaining position.

Question Lady: Let’s end it with a question about Trouba. What’s his shelf life with the Jets?

Answer Lady: Two years tops, then adios, amigos.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go and enjoy what’s left of summer. Any plans for you?

Answer Lady: At my age, I don’t make plans or buy green bananas.

About the Gang Green joke book…honk if you like Knuckles…Pip-Pip to Johnny Rotten…Rink Rat Scheifele better than Blake Wheeler?…playing shirts-and-skins tennis…tsk-tsk and tut-tut to Serena’s tutu…gospel singing…and other things on my mind

A Sunday morning smorgasbord on a lazy Labor Day weekend

In advance of this afternoon’s Pile O’ Bones Bowl betwixt the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Mosaic Stadium in (rhymes with vagina), we share with you a few snippets from the official Gang Green Joke Book.

Q: How do you know when you’ve arrived in Regina?
A: The highway sign says “Paved Road Ends Here.”

  • The teacher couldn’t understand why Little Johnny wasn’t all geeked up about the Labor Day Classic between the Riders and Bombers.
    “It’s the biggest football game of the year,” she said. “Why aren’t you excited, Little Johnny?”
    “I’m not a football fan. My parents like curling, so I like curling, too,” Little Johnny replied.
    “That’s not a very good reason. What if your parents were morons?”
    “Then I’d definitely be a Roughriders fan.”

Q: What does a Riders fan call his tattered, old couch and living room chair?
A: Brand new lawn furniture.

  • Two Riders fans arrived at the big game and one said to the other, “I wish I’d brought my piano with me.”
    “Why would you bring a piano to the football game?” his friend asked.
    “Because that’s where I left the tickets.”

Q: What’s the biggest problem for Riders fans at a pie-eating contest?
A: The cows keep stepping on them.

  • Two buddies were walking in downtown Regina when one spotted a pair of Roughriders season tickets nailed to a telephone pole.
    “I think I’ll have me some of that!” one said to the other.
    “I can’t believe your good fortune!” his friend said excitedly.
    “I’ll say…I’ve been looking for a nail just like this for months now.”

Q: What did the Roughriders fan say when his wife gave birth to twins?
A: “Okay, cousin Doreen, who’s the other father?”

  • Five things you’ll never hear a Riders fan say:
    “I’ll meet you at the library.”
    “I’ll take classic literature for $1,000, please Alex.”
    “I feel
    soooooo underdressed in this John Deere t-shirt and ball cap.”
    “Johnny Cash! Johnny Cash! Is that all you can play on that damned jukebox?”
    “No pork rinds for me, thanks. I’m watching my waist.”

Knuckles Irving

I must join the Atta Boy Chorus and present today’s Happy Honker Award (apologies to Cactus Jack Wells) to Bob (Knuckles) Irving, who celebrates 45 years with CJOB by calling the play-by-play for the Riders-Bombers skirmish. Not only is Knuckles unequaled among Canadian Football League broadcast voices, he’s a lovely lad. One of the finest people I met during 30 years in mainstream jock journalism.

The Montreal Alouettes have now won two successive matches with Antonio Pipkin at quarterback. Would they seriously consider sending him back to the sideline and trotting out Johnny Manziel when they return from a bye two weeks hence? Only if ownership sticks its snoot into head coach Mike Sherman’s business and orders it. If so, shame on them.

Mike O’Shea

Some terrific stuff, as always, on the CFL from Kirk Penton of The Athletic. Among the insider (coaches/general managers) comments was this gem: “I took my daughters to see the movie Dumb and Dumber. Felt like I was watching it again when the Bombers were down by 20 points, with one minute left, and they still had (Andrew) Harris and (Matt) Nichols in the game (vs. Ottawa). What were Mike (O’Shea) and Paul (LaPolice) thinking?” Short answer: They weren’t.

One of the coaches/GMs also gave the talking heads on TSN a slap: “We all hear the guys on the panel because we have games on in the office, but we tune them out. If we do say something about what they’ve said, it’s seldom positive. It’s surprising how little some of them know but present as fact.” I think he’s looking at you, Milt Stegall.

Rink Rat Scheifele

So, the gab guys and scribes at Sportsnet put their noggins together and compiled a list of the top 100 National Hockey League players heading into the 2018-19 crusade. They had our guy, Rink Rat Scheifele, slotted in at No. 13, which is an odd bit of business given that he isn’t even the best player with the Winnipeg Jets. That would be the captain, Blake Wheeler, who came in at No. 19. Other local lads to crack the Sportsnet 100 were Puck Finn, No. 27, Big Buff, No. 38, Connor Hellebuyck, No. 64, and Twig Ehlers, No. 84.

Captain Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Curtis Lazar and Sam Bennett of the Flames marched in the Calgary Pride parade on Saturday. Good on them.

Alizé Cornet

Sometimes you have to give your head a shake and wonder if this is 2018 or 1958. I mean, Alizé Cornet was assessed a code violation the other day at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, New York. Her heinous crime? Revealing an unrevealing sports bra. Oh, yes, after realizing she had put her top on backwards during a heat recess, Cornet stepped toward the shadows at the back of the court and, in two bats of an eyelash, she stripped the garment on and off. It took all of 10 seconds. If that. Chair umpire Christian Rask was having none of it. He slapped her with the code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct. Either he’s no fan of sports bras, or he didn’t get a good enough look. Whatever the case, he’s a fool. Male players peel off their shirts courtside as often as Genie Bouchard double faults, and nothing is said, even when they sit topless during the entirety of an end change. We have to get the fashion police off the tennis courts.

Genie Bouchard: No code violation, just plenty of money.

Alizé Cornet takes her top off at the U.S. Open and earns a reprimand. Genie Bouchard takes her clothes off for Sports Illustrated and earns thousands of dollars. Go figure.

Dumb headline of the week was found on the TSN website: “Bouchard is reviving her career.” Ya, Canada’s tennis diva Genie Bouchard made it all the way to the second round in Gotham, whereupon she bowed out to Marketa Vondrousova. Such a revival. Meanwhile, Mark Roe of TSN had a chin-wag with Sport Illustrated‘s Jon Wertheim, who informed us that “The tennis world, no question, is taking notice of her.” Basically, no one notices Bouchard unless she’s taking her clothing off for the SI swimsuit issue.

Serena Williams

I only have this to say about the tutu look that Serena Williams has been rocking at the U.S. Open—tut-tut and tsk-tsk. Sorry, the tutu is not my favorite look unless I’m at the Nutcracker or Swan Lake.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Larry Nassar sexually abused hundreds of female student athletes during 20 years as a doctor at Michigan State University, yet the NCAA has ruled that no one at MSU did anything wrong? There were zero violations? It gets a clean bill of health, so to speak? Ya, and Donald Trump has never told a fib.

Joe McCarthy

This why some jock journos should definitely stick to sports: Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet tweets, “This is an extraordinary time in US history. More than half a decade after McCarthyism, Russia controls the White House.” Half a decade? Try more than half a century. U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy went on his commie witch hunt in the 1950s and died in 1957, four years before Cox drew his first breath.

The results are in on amateur sports coverage in the Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Sun for the month of August: Drab Slab 11.3 per cent of all articles were devoted to amateurs; Sun 1.5 per cent. Meanwhile, Drab Slab opinionist Paul Wiecek, who scribbled an essay in early July expressing his dismay and considerable umbrage over the nation’s unappreciation of amateur athletes vs. play-for-pay jocks, wrote 11 columns in 30 publishing days. The closest he came to acknowledging amateurs was a rant about rich parents. Combined in July and August, he penned 24 pieces in 59 sports sections. Zero were on amateur athletes or their teams. So I guess he’s right: Amateur athletes are unappreciated, especially by newspapers and sports scribes.

The Queen of Soul

And, finally, this has nothing to do with sports, but I must say that they really got after the gospel music at the Aretha Franklin memorial on Friday in Detroit. Mmm, mmm, that was some kind of fiiiiine singing. Haven’t heard anything that uplifting since the Barack Obama inauguration, where the Queen of Soul sang My Country ‘Tis of Thee. Wept then, wept Friday.

About the Toronto Argonauts being no laughing matter…CFL shrinkage…a mad hatter at bluebombers.com…pigskin prayer power…when Michael Sam was the man…CFL power rankings…greybeard golf…and other things on my mind

One fried egg-and-cheese sandwich on whole wheat toast and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

It has occurred to me, and many others, that we might be witnessing the death throes of the Toronto Argonauts—the franchise, if not this year’s on-field product.

BMO Field when Toronto FC is playing.

I mean, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s motto is “Bringing The World To Its Feet,” but very few of those feet are parading to BMO Field. Unless, of course, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and friends are having a kick-about.

Oh, yes, they love their footy in the Republic of Tranna. Red-clad, scarf-wearing locals traipse to BMO Field whenever Toronto FC is in frolic, and it matters little that the level of play in Major League Soccer isn’t a match for the English Premier League, the Bundesliga in Germany, Serie A in Italy, or Spain’s La Liga. Fitba is a “happening” in the ROT, and the Reds are averaging 26,591 customers this year, marginally down from a 27,647 head count in 2017.

The Argos, on the other hand, they’re a “happening” like the Don River is the Pacific Ocean.

BMO Field when the Argos are playing.

How sparse are the audiences when the Boatmen are grabbing the real and fake grass at BMO Field? I’ve seen more circus clowns squeeze into a Volkswagen Beetle. The winner of the 50/50 draw at the last home game was later seen asking Yonge Street panhandlers for spare change.

We tend to joke about stuff like that because, let’s face it, cracking wise about The 6ix is what those of us who dwell in the colonies do. The ROT is always good for cheap laughs, whether it’s Drake making an ass clown of himself at a Raptors game, Premier Buck-a-Beer promising cheap suds, or the Maple Leafs’ 51st annual retooling season.

This Argos business, however, isn’t yuk-it-up material. Not if you’re a fan of the Canadian Football League.

I started following three-down football in the 1950s. Most of my heroes wore the blue-and-gold linen of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but Dick Shatto, adorned in the double blue of the Boatmen, was among my favorite players. He was so smooth, and an impossibly handsome man. I remember reading about Tobin Rote, the gunslinger of a quarterback, and Cookie Gilchrist, the fierce and feared running back. I watched them intently, and with much admiration and awe, whenever the Argos appeared on the black-and-white screen of our rabbit-eared TV.

That’s why it pains me to see an ocean of unoccupied seats at BMO Field on Argos game nights/days.

In their 2017 crusade, the Boatmen attracted an average of 13,913 customers. This year the head count is worse—12,836 average, with a low-water mark of 10,844 for a visit from the Bombers. That’s cringeworthy, also alarming, and the hit to MLSE’s bottom line must be substantial.

I’ve never completely bought into the argument that the CFL absolutely needs the ROT to survive, and I’m confident that western football can exist without it. I will, however, submit that the three-down enterprise is much better with a robust Argos franchise in the mix. It would be a shame if MLSE chose to tap out.

After all, if not for the Argos, what would we have to laugh about in the summer and autumn? Oh, that’s right…there’s always the Blue Jays.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet posted this tweet last week after 35,623 folks showed up at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton for a showdown between the Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders: “A crowd of less than 36,000 is the biggest in the CFL this season and is considered a big success. My goodness, this league has shrunk.” Well, yes and no. Toronto and Montreal certainly have shrunk significantly, both in attendance and size of facility. The rest of the CFL, not so much. High tide for CFL attendance arrived in 1978, when the league averaged 31,879. The Montreal Alouettes and Argos led the way with 54,471 and 46,545, respectively. This year, they’re down to 17,861 and 12,836. That’s 36,610 customers lost in Montreal and 33,709 in the ROT. That’s what you call shrinkage.

Matt Nichols and mad hatter Ed Tait.

Good bit on Bombers QB Matt Nichols by young Eddie Tait of bluebombers.com. I’m not sure if the highlight of the piece is the tale Nichols tells about almost being stuck with a huge restaurant tab while a member of the Dallas Cowboys, or young Eddie’s lid. He’s really rockin’ the funny hat. You might want to check it out.

Kirk Penton continues to crank out the good CFL stuff for The Athletic, and last week one of his insiders (a coach or GM) had this to say about the Argos switching from James Franklin to McLeod Bethel-Thompson at starting quarterback: “I have no idea if this played a role in it or not, but Franklin has a different personality. He’s not your average guy. It makes me wonder if the players have adopted him or not. He’s hugely religious.” Why would religion be part of the equation? The great Pinball Clemons is a man of deep faith, and I don’t ever recall it being a problem in his time as a player or coach with the Boatmen.

Michael Sam

It’s three years ago tomorrow that Michael Sam became the only openly gay man to perform in a CFL game. Playing rush end for the Montreal Alouettes against the Ottawa RedBlacks, he was on the field for just 12 plays, making no tackles and, quite frankly, looking as out of place as the Pope in a pub. One week later, the former St. Louis Rams draft pick walked out on the Als, citing mental health issues, and never played another down on either side of the border.

The morning after Johnny Manziel made his disastrous CFL debut, TSN had nine videos of the Alouettes QB on its main web page. Sportsnet had one. But, hey, who’s counting?

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (7-0): The beat goes on.
2. Edmonton (5-2): Three wins vs. West outfits.
3. Winnipeg (4-3): Three wins vs. East outfits.
4. Saskatchewan (3-4): Terrell Owens anyone?
5. Hamilton (3-4): Alouettes were just what the doctor ordered.
6. Ottawa (4-3): Talk about coughing up an ugly hairball.
7. B.C. (2-4): Got screwed by a zebra, but still not good enough.
8. Toronto (2-5): What a comeback. Too bad no one cares in the Republic of Tranna.
9. Montreal (1-6): Getting worse in either official language.

Phil and Tiger

Apparently, the hokey Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson mano-a-mano, greybeard golf challenge will take place on American Thanksgiving weekend. Just what everyone will need. Another turkey.

Max Domi says the Montreal Canadiens have the “pieces it takes to win,” in the upcoming National Hockey League crusade. And he would know this how? He spent the past three seasons playing in the Arizona desert, where the Coyotes did nothing but lose.

Mark Stone

In the WTF department, the Ottawa Senators have agreed to pay Mark Stone $7.35 million to play right wing in 2018-19. That’s $1.75 million more than captain Blake Wheeler earns with the Winnipeg Jets. It’s $1.225 million more than les Jets pay Rink Rat Scheifele. How does Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff convince his players to sign on the cheap? Is he Reveen, the great hypnotist? Does he have damning photos? To date, only one player, Jacob Trouba, has had the strength to ward off Chevy’s mystic powers. Hard to figure.

Just wondering: Is it possible for Murat Ates of The Athletic Winnipeg to write an article on the Jets without mentioning salaries and advanced stats?

And, finally, I notice I have 312 followers on Twitter, a revelation that begat this simple question: Why? I mean, I wouldn’t follow me. But if you’re one of the 312, merci beaucoup. If you aren’t one of the 312, I don’t blame you.