Let’s talk about Patrik Laine the happy camper…Puck Finn still playing second fiddle…pooping and the puckstopper…glorifying goon hockey on Sportsnet…brain farts and tripe-bogeys…Ponytail Puck set for a faceoff in Lake Placid…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and you’re advised to read this blog with an abundance of caution…

Kevin Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have one task. Just one: Put a happy face on Patrik Laine.

Do whatever it takes.

If that means putting Puck Finn first in the pay queue, back up the Brinks truck. If he wants to skate alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, tell Paul Maurice to join them at the hip. If he wants to challenge Twig Ehlers to a rousing game of Fortnite between shifts, set up a PlayStation gizmo at the end of the bench.

Just get it done.

Unless, of course, it’s irreparably undone

Maybe there’s no longer a way for Chevy and the Puck Pontiff to sell Laine on the merits of Winnipeg and the Jets. Maybe the Tour de Finn we witnessed last Thursday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie—two goals, OT winner, one assist, one scuffle in a 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames—was a prelude to what the faithful will be missing once the big winger swans off down the road.

Whatever the case, this is a crossroads moment for the Winnipeg franchise.

Chevy and the Puck Pontiff

Make no mistake, short of a Stanley Cup parade, how Chevy and team co-bankroll Chipman handle L’Affaire Laine will be the defining moment for the tallest thinkers in the National Hockey League’s smallest market, and time is already an adversary.

Puck Finn is a restricted free agent this summer, and if he and Chevy/Puck Pontiff can’t find common financial ground, an arbitrator will do it for them and that’s an exercise that seldom lends itself to warm-and-fuzzy pillow talk. Laine will listen while someone in an expensive suit informs him of his many misgivings, at the same time emphasizing that his goal totals (36, 44, 30, 28) are already in decline. And whatever he delivers this season will be dismissed as the sketchy product of a runted crusade due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the kid wants out now, imagine how he’ll feel after hearing from a team rep that he’s barely a beer-leaguer, so I’m assuming that’s a path the Jets aren’t anxious to travel.

In the meantime, pundits hither and yon continue to laud Chevy for the deliberate, slow-moving manner in which he generally manages the Jets.

And it’s true. Chevy has the patience of a man who genuinely believes the cheque is in the mail.

Players march into his office and inform him they desire a new postal code, or an agent beaks off to news snoops about a client’s dissatisfaction and the need for a fresh start, but Chevy doesn’t flinch. His knees never jerk. Oh, they might twitch a mite, but not so you’d notice.

He waits and waits and waits, patiently, refusing to be bullied.

But then someone tosses a track suit into a tub of ice water and Chevy budges, recognizing he has no option but to tell a 30-goal scorer to leave the building. Evander Kane is then shuffled off to Buffalo. Similarly, Chevy took a measured tactic with Jacob Trouba, not moving his top-pair defender to Gotham until the free-agency clock was soon to strike midnight.

Now we have the only GM in Jets 2.0 history confronted with the stiffest challenge of his watch, and all I can see is Chevy standing in a corner with a can of paint and a brush, looking for a way out.

And that’s not to ignore Jack Roslovic’s pout.

Chevy’s allowing Roslovic to rot at home in Columbus, with no inclination toward granting his young forward’s wish for opportunity elsewhere. Chevy can move him on a whim, on his terms and on his timetable, and the longer the Roslovic Rot lasts the more likely it is that he becomes a forgotten man. Few among the faithful will be bent out of shape at the loss of a player who might fit in as a top-six forward in other colors, but not in Jets linen.

It’s different with Laine.

Puck Finn is their signature selection through a decade of draft-and-develop. He’s a star performer, a game-changer who, were he to commit long term, would become the face of the franchise.

Chevy and the Puck Pontiff are already 0-for-2 with young studs who’ve demanded a one-way ticket out of Dodge, and Laine’s performance v. the Flames was a not-so-subtle hint that they should move mountains to prevent it from being 0-for-3.

What will it take to put a happy face on Puck Finn? None of us knows. But, surely, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff have an idea, and that begs one question: Why aren’t they doing it?

Puck Finn

Got a giggle out of pundits suggesting Laine’s show-stopper v. the Flames snuffed out swap talk. “Laine silences the trade rumors” and “Laine mutes trade talk for now” were the headlines in the Winnipeg Sun. Ya, good luck with that. If anything, it ramped up speculation. I mean, what was Eric Duhatschek scribbling about in The Athletic the following morning? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. What were Gino Reda and Craig Button nattering about on TSN two days later? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. What were David Amber and Brian Burke prattling on about on Hockey Night in Canada last night? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. Trust me, L’Affaire Laine will linger until one of two things happens: 1) Puck Finn commits to Good Ol’ Hometown for the long haul; 2) Chevy and the Puck Pontiff tell him to pack his bags. I’m still betting on the latter scenario—and we’ll know for certain if he signs another bridge deal this summer—so don’t expect the whispers to go away anytime soon.

So, you’re Paul Maurice, the Jets potty-mouth head coach. You have a 22-year-old right-winger, Laine, who shredded the Flames, and you have a 34-year-old right winger, Blake Wheeler, who’s doing his best to keep up with the pace of play. Who you gonna call on? I agree, it should be Laine. But Coach PottyMo still had Puck Finn playing second fiddle to the aging Wheeler, on the ice for a whopping 21:27, including 4:50 on the powerplay, in the opener. Laine was limited to 16:20 and 2:53. Any wonder why Puck Finn’s agents believe it would be “mutually beneficial” for him to move on? Curses to you, Coach Potty Mouth.

Took a dive into James Duthie’s book Beauties last week, and I was giggling four paragraphs into Roberto Luongo’s forward, whereby the former Vancouver Canucks goaltender describes an in-game bout of poopy pants. “I never get stomach aches during a game,” he writes. “Before the game is a different story. I go to the bathroom five times on game day. I’m talking number two here. I may have been a number one goalie most of my career, but I’m all about number two on game days. I go once in the morning when I get up, once at the morning skate, once after I wake up from my nap, once after the pre-game meeting, and once after warm-up, just in case. I don’t want any accidents during the game. It’s a skill. The guys on my team all know about it. They see my big-ass toes sticking out from under the stall door and say, ‘Lui’s goin’ again.’” That probably falls under the category ‘too much information,’ but Luongo goes on to explain missing the start of overtime in a playoff series v. Anaheim due to the runs, and it’s more than a one-yuk-per-page read. I’m 68 pages into the book and only the Paul Bissonnette yarn is a yawn. Overall, a highly recommended read.

The more things change, the more things stay the same. An example would be Anthony Stewart’s analysis of last week’s Montreal Canadiens-Toronto Maple Leafs skirmish on Sportsnet. Stewart, of course, is the least insightful among the natterbugs on Hockey Night In Canada and, like Brian Burke, he tends to glorify goon hockey. Thus it was no surprise to hear him cite Wayne Simmonds as the difference-maker in the Leafs’ 5-4 victory, simply because he exchanged bare knuckles with Ben Chiarot of the Habs. It was 3-1 Montreal when the lads dropped the mitts, and Stewart informed us that the Leafs scored “right after” the tiff. Wrong. The game turned when the Habs took three consecutive penalties and the Leafs scored twice with the man advantage—7½ minutes after the Simmonds scrap. But, hey, why let facts get in the way of a false narrative? Meanwhile, over at TSN, Craig Button was asked what shifted the game toward the Leafs. “Power play,” he said. Two nights later, he added, “the Leafs’ skill bailed them out.” Correct.

The search was on for Bryson DeChambeau’s ball.

So now we know why Bryson DeChambeau was feeling woozy and bombed out at The Masters in November: Brain fart. “The frontal lobe in my brain was working really, really hard,” the bulked-up golfer explains, adding a combination of things “escalated my brain, overworking and just giving out.” And here I thought it was that lost ball and a triple-bogey seven on the third hole at Augusta that made him sick. Silly me.

Interesting that quarterback Aaron Rodgers is among the notables to land a gig as celeb host on Jeopardy! once the Green Bay Packers are finished playing football. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t hire ESPN squawker Stephen A. Smith. He believes he has all the answers.

Bill Murray

Speaking of celebrities, the Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament will have no pro-am component this year. Which makes it what? The Pebble Beach Bill Murray Has To Go Somewhere Else To Act Like A Complete Jackass Open?

Quitter James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets described himself as “an elite leader” at his introductory natter with New York news snoops the other day, just scant hours after mailing it in one more time and informing his former Houston Rockets teammates that they’re a bunch of scrubs. Ya, that’s an “elite leader” like Kareem Adbul Jabbar is a jockey.

Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer are now Club de Foot Montreal. Seriously? A soccer side with “club foot” in the name. They might want to send that one back to the marketing department. It’s like a brewery branding its newest product Flat Warm Beer.

On the subject of peddling product, if you’re scoring at home—and I’m sure you aren’t—a Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association team wrapped up a six-game series v. teenage boys in Florida the other day, and they left the Tampa hub with a 2-4 record. All but two games (5-0, 7-2 losses) were competitive, but I fail to see how losing to teenage boys advances the cause of Ponytail Puck.

Speaking of which, Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star found room for Ponytail Puck in his Pucks In Depth notebook on Friday, which is a good thing. If only he wasn’t so thin on facts and short on insight.

Women’s professional hockey ramps up this month,” he wrote. “The NWHL, with its Toronto expansion team The Six (I like the nickname, but I have been programmed by our Olympians not to root for the NWHL) will play its entire season, playoffs and championship in a bubble in Lake Placid, N.Y., with some games televised (and most streamable if you know how to do that). There’s something coming out of the ashes of the CWHL, with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (which I’m programmed to root for since it’s basically the national teams of Canada and the United States). The women now represent cities, and have big sponsors. So that sounds positive. I believe COVID is getting in the way of their plans, which leads to some confusion. Are they a league? Is it tournament-based? Weekend exhibitions with grassroots ourtreach?”

A few things to peel away here:

  1. The National Women’s Hockey League’s Isobel Cup tournament runs from Jan. 23-Feb. 5 in Lake Placid, with the semifinals and final to be broadcast live on NBCSN. Why McGran chose not to share those pertinent details with readers is a mystery.

  2. I don’t know if he was writing tongue-in-cheek when admitting he’s been “programmed by our Olympians not to root for the NWHL,” but, if true, shame on them and him. (Given that PWHPA membership spent its first year of existence trash talking the NWHL, I’m guessing it’s true.)

  3. The PWHPA and its Dream Gappers emerged from the ashes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2019, so it’s not new. The makeup is different, in that there are now five hubs—Calgary, the Republic of Tranna, Montreal, New Hampshire, Minnesota—but there’s no “confusion.” It is not a league. The people at Secret Deodorant have diverted a portion of their attention and dollars from smelly armpits to Ponytail Puck, sponsoring a 2021 Dream Gap Tour to the merry tune of $1 million. The plan is a series of six weekend showcase tournaments (dates and sites to be determined), and the players will share prize money and award the Secret Cup to the top team at the conclusion of their barnstorming frolics.

All that information is readily available if you know where to look, or pick up a phone. Mind you, not a word has been posted to the PWHPA website since before Christmas, so a visit there is a waste of time. If you’re interested in all things Ponytail Puck, check out The Ice Garden, the Women’s Hockey Tribune or The Victory Press.

And, finally, nice off-the-beaten-path piece on Kerri Einarson from Jason Bell of the Drab Slab last week. Jason caught up with the reigning Canadian curling champion on the planet’s largest curling rink—Lake Winnipeg—where she and rinkmate Shannon Birchard have been working out the kinks in preparation for defence of their title, Feb. 19-28 in a Calgary bubble.

Let’s talk about L’Affaire Laine…Winnipeg the armpit…a Jumbo fossil in the ROT…Chelsea’s the best free agent available…Jennifer Jones and the ‘Notables’ of Manitoba’s Pebble People…’ear ye, ‘ear ye, Mike Tyson is trying to speak…the Dodgers’ two K men…a Bird named Sue…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and someone told me that I really should quit while I’m ahead, but I’ve never been able to get ahead…

So, according to the pundits, the acquisition of Paul Stastny was supposed to accomplish two things for the Winnipeg Jets:

1. Fill the long-standing need for a second-line centre.

2. Put a happy face on Patrik Laine and put the skids on the galloping gossip that has hounded Puck Finn for more than a year.

Chevy and Puck Finn in happier times.

Well, insofar as the first point of the equation, we can continue to debate the pros and cons of the Jets reeling in the aging Stastny—and I’m squarely on the con side of the discussion—but it’s probably best that we allow his play in Winnipeg HC’s next National Hockey League crusade to settle the argument.

As for point No. 2, good luck with that.

It took less than a week for one of TSN’s hockey “insiders” to fan the flames of L’Affaire Laine once again, and this time it isn’t a campfire. It’s a bonfire with possible gusts up to a five-alarm inferno.

Here’s what LeBrun told host James Duthie last Thursday:

“There’s been some scuttlebutt around the National Hockey League of late that Patrik Laine may not show up at camp if he’s not dealt by the Winnipeg Jets.

“I reached out to his representation agents, Andy Scott and Mike Liut, to get some clarity and they absolutely deny that. That Laine has not asked for a trade, he’s not threatening to not be at camp if he’s not dealt.

Pierre LeBrun

“Having said that, his agents also made clear that it’s fair to say that given that Laine knows his name has been in trade discussions as we’ve talked about here, and given that his usage in the lineup the last couple of years has been a constant topic of conversation, the fact that he doesn’t get consistent first-line minutes, his agents Mike Liut and Andy Scott do confirm that it probably would be mutually beneficial to both the player and to the team if Patrik Laine is traded and that there is clear communication between them and Kevin Cheveldayoff, the GM of the Winnipeg Jets, about this.

“Now I spoke to Kevin Cheveldayoff on this day. And he reiterated that he’s looking at all options when it comes to trade and that Patrik Laine remains a big part of the organization.

“What I would say, not Cheveldayoff, is that he’s not going to just trade Patrik Laine for the sake of it, that it’s going to have to be something that makes sense for the Winnipeg Jets. But I will say this, as Andy Scott, the agent for Patrik Laine, said to me, there is a clear understanding between both sides about where this is probably headed.”

Now, you can pooh-pooh LeBrun’s bona fides as an “insider” if you like, but one thing should be abundantly clear by now: Patrik Laine will remain the centrepiece of trade rumors until a) Chevy hands him a one-way ticket out of town or b) Puck Finn signs long term. Nothing else will dim the natter.

I’m just surprised that so many among the rabble and in mainstream media are surprised that it’s come to this.

I mean, I don’t have my feet on the ground in Good Ol’ Hometown, but this is how I read the room 16 months ago: “You think Patrik Laine’s agent hasn’t noticed how the (Jacob) Trouba saga played out? If it’s true that Puck Finn’s nose is out of joint, all he has to do is sign a two-year bridge deal, take les Jets to arbitration down the road, then force a trade.”

So how has it played out to date? Laine signed a two-year bridge deal, he’s eligible for arbitration after next season, and already his two mouthpieces sound like they’re trying to force a trade.

Evander Kane

Yet I keep hearing and reading that the Jets are in control of this game of chicken. To a point, that’s true. But they can only delay Puck Finn’s departure if that’s his intent. They can’t stop him. Just like they couldn’t stop Evander Kane and they couldn’t stop Trouba.

We don’t know who or what is up Laine’s nose. His beef could be with the captain, Blake Wheeler, or the head coach, Paul Maurice, or maybe he’s bought into the silly “Winnipeg has lousy WiFi” nonsense. If it’s Wheeler, it wouldn’t be the first time two teammates refused to exchange Christmas cards. If it’s Coach PoMo, it’s not like there’s never been conflict between a bench boss and a worker (for evidence see: Bowman, Scotty). If it’s the city, he isn’t the first guy who’s wanted out of Dodge.

Whomever or whatever, I repeat what I wrote in February 2019: “I doubt Puck Finn will finish his career in Jets linen.”

But, hey, what do I know? Like I said, I don’t have feet on the ground. Except I predicted in 2012 that Evander Kane would one day walk into Chevy’s office and demand a new postal code. He did that very thing—repeatedly—and Chevy obliged, in 2015. In September 2018, I peered into the tea leaves and predicted Trouba would be gone in less than two years. He left the building nine months later. So tell me I’m wrong about Laine.

Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull

Interesting read from Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun on the challenges Chevy faces in attempting to lure top-drawer free agents to Good Ol’ Hometown, and also navigate his way around no-trade clauses. “There’s no happy ending for this,” he writes. “It’s an ongoing problem for the Jets. What it does underscore is the need to ensure the team is a winner, by whatever means possible, and in spite of unfavorable geography. And it means the organization needs to be that much more creative when it comes to recruitment. Getting players in the door begins with a pitch that centres around winning the Cup. For most, that’s the dream. If you can show a pathway to that dream, you can probably get folks into the house. And that’s when perceptions die and new ones are made, and the word spreads. Winnipeg’s advertising comes via word of mouth. There just has to be something enticing other than frigid winters. And it may be as simple—and as difficult—as putting a winning product on the ice.” That’s fair analysis, but it’s worth remembering that the original Winnipeg Jets lineup was crafted 100 per cent on guys who chose to play in Good Ol’ Hometown, including the most significant free agent signing in pro hockey history—Bobby Hull, at the time the game’s glamour guy. Every player on that team came to River City without kicking and screaming. So can anyone tell me exactly when Winnipeg became the armpit of hockey? I’d really like to know.

When I hear the San Jose Sharks have signed Patrick Marleau, it tells me that they’ve already tapped out on next season.

Jumbo Joe

And what is Kyle Dubas trying to prove in the Republic of Tranna? The Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967, so the kid GM thought it would be a swell idea to sign Marleau’s former running mate Jumbo Joe Thornton who, coincidentally, broke into the NHL that same year. Okay, okay. Jumbo hasn’t been around quite that long. But Dubas seems to be setting up a Fossil Factory in the ROT, with Jumbo Joe, 41, and Jason Spezza, 37, on board.

Scant seconds after becoming one of the newest Maple Leafs, Wayne Simmonds did the Zoom thing with news snoops and warned foes that “I can punch your head off if need be.” He calls what he does on a hockey rink “functional toughness.” Back it the day we called it “goon.”

I keep hearing about all the free agents still available in the NHL, but the top free agent in sports right now is Chelsea Carey, champion curler without a team to call her own. We don’t know how this season will shake down for our Pebble People, but it’s hard to imagine a two-time Scotties queen being stuck on the outside looking in with her nose pressed against the window.

Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen.

On the subject of our fab provincial Pebble People, the deep thinkers at the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame want to know what you think. They’re looking to name the Most Notable Team in local lore, and that’s where you come in. The MCHF is accepting votes until Dec. 5 for its 25 Most Notable Teams and, really, this should be a no-brainer. I mean, it doesn’t get more “notable” than winning Olympic Games gold, so Jennifer Jones and her gal pals Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen have to be at the top of the heap. It doesn’t hurt that they were also Canadian and world champions, and they had longer sustained success than any foursome I can recall. Next in line would be the Digit, Don Duguid, and his gang from the Granite—Bryan Wood, Jim Pettapiece and the Arrow, Rod Hunter—who went 17-0 to win back-to-back world titles in 1970 and ’71. Completing my top three would be Bronco Braunstein and his team of brother Ron, Moose Turnbull and Jack Van Hellemond. Still just school kids, the teenagers copped the Manitoba men’s title then fell one game shy of winning the 1958 Brier in Victoria, losing to Matt Baldwin of Alberta in a one-game showdown.

Mike Tyson

Fans of fist fighting were shocked to hear Mike Tyson on Good Morning Britain last week. In a natter with hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid, the former heavyweight boxing champion was muttering unintelligibly and slurring his words badly. Hey, cut the guy some slack. It can’t be easy to talk with your mouth full of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Sticking with boxing, I stayed up well past my bedtime Saturday to watch Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko chuck knuckles in a lightweight title bout. At the end of the night, Lopez had four belts. Hmmm. Four belts—sounds like the Rat Pack at closing time.

So, the Houston Astros have been drummed out of the Major League Baseball playoffs (karma, baby). Some teams run out of pitching, some teams run out of hitting. Some teams run out of time. I guess the Astros ran out of trash cans.

Clayton Kershaw, Sandy Koufax

Is there a Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher with a worse post-season record than Clayton Kershaw of my Los Angeles Dodgers? Kershaw will be in Cooperstown one day, but it won’t be due to anything he’s done in the World Series or playoffs. The guy’s 175-75, .697, 2.43 ERA in the hum-drum of spring and summer ball, but a dismal 11-12, .478, 4.31 ERA when it matters most. And, to think, some people have compared him favorably to Sandy Koufax. Ya, like a box of Timbits is fine dining.

Some good reads in the past week: Paul Friesen’s series on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ journey to the Grey Cup; Freezer’s running mate at the Winnipeg Sun, Ted Wyman, dishes on Hockey Hall of Famer Serge Savard; Luke Fox’s Q&A with Brian Burke on the Sportsnet website.

When the National Women’s Hockey League restructured its business model and assigned founder and commissioner Dani Rylan Kearney to a lesser role last week, shouldn’t it have been a big deal in the media? No women would be drawing pay to play shinny if not for Dani, who gave the NWHL its jump start in 2015, but her removal from the big office was a blip at best in most newspapers, websites and on air. Seems to me the story, and Dani, warranted better play than that.

Sue Bird

Speaking of not getting their due, it’s about Sue Bird: Not many hoopsters can boast of her bona fides. When Seattle Storm won the Women’s National Basketball Association title recently, it was her fourth. You know, the same number as LeBron James has won in his NBA career. Sue also has four Olympic gold medals, four FIBA World Cup titles, five EuroLeague titles, two NCAA titles, one national high school title, five Russian National League titles, two Europe Super Cup titles, she’s the all-time WNBA assists leader, she’s started the most games in WNBA history, she’s an 11-time WNBA all-star, a two-time EuroLeague all-star and a former Naismith college player of the year. She’s the High Priestess of the Hardwood, but somehow manages to fly under the radar of most mainstream media. Shame that.

And, finally, this is the 50th anniversary season for the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, and I’d say that calls for some sort of special feature piece in either or both of the Winnipeg dailies. So why hasn’t either the Sun or Drab Slab done something about it?

Let’s talk about the clock starting to tick on Mark Scheifele…grumbling in Chitown…Dubas and Burke saying the same thing…sports scribes put on their grumpy pants…and Rafa Nadal uses the Joker for a pinata

A special Turkey Day smorgas-bored…and if you can’t hop on the gravy train at least pass the gravy boat…

Okay, kids, let’s talk turkey about the Winnipeg Jets.

Rink Rat Scheifele on draft day 2011.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there were 27 candles on Mark Scheifele’s last birthday cake, and he’ll turn 28 early into the next National Hockey League crusade.

Doesn’t seem possible, does it?

I mean, was it really that long ago when the Rink Rat arrived in Good Ol’ Hometown, all spindly and Bambi-like in body and aw-shucks in personality? Yup. He’s grown up before our eyes and now he’s firmly into his prime performing years, with only a brief whiff of glory to show for his time in Jets linen.

Which leaves me to wonder this: While Kevin Cheveldayoff, the general manager, dithers and tinkers and moves bit pieces instead of making the big play necessary to upgrade a deficiency on defence, is Rink Rat Scheifele wasting away?

I had similar thoughts about Blake Wheeler in spring 2016, when he was 29.

The captain turns 35 next August and, like Scheifele, he’s had no more than a brief flirtation with success, when the Jets extended their crusade deep into May 2018 before bowing out in the Western Conference final of the Stanley Cup tournament.

Wheeler was part of the core that rolled into River City with the Atlanta caravan in 2011. He’s the last man standing, the sole survivor of that group. The underappreciated Bryan Little is finished through no fault of his own. Dustin Byfuglien lost his lust for the game and quit. Others like Andrew Ladd and Ondrej Pavelec and Evander Kane and Toby Enstrom left the building long ago, for a variety of reasons.

Blake Wheeler

The current core, which still includes Wheeler dressed up as a first-line player in spite of his second-line talent, is headed by Scheifele and goaler Connor Hellebuyck, also 27 and soon to be 28. They have officially entered their window of opportunity.

Josh Morrissey, Patrik Laine, Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Dylan DeMelo, Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry provide a strong supporting cast today and, all things equal, tomorrow.

Yet we know this team isn’t good enough to genuinely contest for the Stanley Cup, let alone bring it to the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, mainly because Chevy has yet to suitably revamp a blueline that was dismantled in one foul swoop last off-season.

The GM has replaced Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Ben Chiarot and Tyler Myers with Neal Pionk, Dylan DeMelo and a handful of doodads on defence. He continues to fiddle-fart in that area, rather than make the right and necessary move, which would be a meaningful trade involving one or more of his young assets to enhance the back end with a top-four, preferably top-two defender.

This isn’t an easy fix, but it isn’t rocket science either. Anyone who knows a hockey puck from a urinal puck recognizes the Jets’ greatest shortcoming, and I don’t think anyone expects Chevy to land a stud rearguard of the Victor Hedman or Roman Josi or Alex Pietrangelo level. But he has to do better than Neal Pionk, who received top-pairing minutes by default last season.

Bryan Little

If Chevy is unwilling or incapable of providing a remedy, then he needs to be replaced.

In the meantime, the clock has begun to tick on Rink Rat Scheifele, just as it did on Wheeler, Little and Byfuglien.

I’ll close by reminding you of something Little said: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now.”

That was in March 2017, after the Jets had been eliminated from playoff contention. Little was 29. His “right now” has passed him by. His window has already been closed.

It would be a shame if the same thing happened to Scheifele simply because Chevy doesn’t have the brass to do the right thing.

According to Mark Lazerus of The Athletic, there’s grumbling and unrest in Chitown, where the Blackhawks have shifted into rebuild mode. The veteran core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, each in his 30s, are unamused because they see the opportunity for another Stanley Cup title disappearing.

When GM Kyle Dubas says he wants to make the Tranna Maple Leafs “harder to play against,” isn’t he simply parroting former GM and current Sportsnet gasbag Brian Burke, who prattled on endlessly about more “truculence” from les Leafs under his watch? Seems to me they’re both speaking out of the same side of their mouths. So why was Burke’s message often met with mocking and ridicule from fans and news snoops, but not so much with Dubas?

Les Lazaruk

I don’t expect a call from Kelly Moore or Knuckles Irving asking me for input on their hiring of a play-by-play voice for Jets radio broadcasts on 680 CJOB, but I hope they consider old friend Lester Lazaruk, one of my all-time favorite people. I’m not sure what it would take to pry Ronnie out of Saskatoon, where he has a great gig as squawkbox of the Blades and other responsibilities, but I think it would be worth a phone call. And if it were to work out, they could all thank me later.

I must say, the boys on the beat had their grumpy pants on last week, and it made for some interesting to-and-fro on Twitter.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, for example, was positively mortified that one follower had the bad manners to suggest he’s “always playing the heal (sic).”

“Not playing anything,” Simmons responded. “I write my opinions. Most people don’t. I haven’t changed in 40 years doing this.”

Simmons is right. He played the heel in the early 1980s and he’s still embracing the role today. He’s every bad-guy wrestler you can think of, only he whacks people with a keyboard instead of a folding chair or some other “foreign object.”

Next up was Damien Cox of the Toronto Star, asked this by a follower: “Does someone piss in your cereal every morning? What’s gone so wrong in your life that you’re this negative so many times a day?”

“Having people like you follow me is no picnic,” was Cox’s juvenile return volley. He also mocked another follower for having just 25 followers, as if that’s a measure of talent or importance.

Finally, there was Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab. He engaged in an exchange with a couple among the rabble who had the nerve to suggest Winnipeg news snoops, including Mad Mike, are less than eager to take a heavy hand with Jets management/coaching for their failings.

“And yet you follow me,” Mad Mike barked. “And read my work. And Tweet at me (and others you seemingly hate) constantly, ranting and raving. About a silly game. Why? I’d never block you. Haven’t done to anyone ever. But for your own sanity, maybe unfollow me then? I suspect you’ll be happier.”

My oh my. Someone certainly was ranting and raving.

Mad Mike ended the hissing contest with this: “I’m done with this silly shit. Enjoy the weekend and Happy Thanksgiving. Wear a damn mask!”

Rafa Nadal, the King of Clay

What Rafa Nadal did to Novak Djokovic on Sunday should be illegal. I mean, you aren’t supposed to beat the world No. 1 6-0, 6-2, 7-5. Not in the championship match of the French Open. That’s like taking a chain saw to a pinata. And, surely, there were bits of Djokovic strewn all over the red clay of Court Philippe Chatrier when it was over. More astonishing, though, is Rafa’s record at Roland Garros—100-2. That’s insane. That’s Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes by 51 lengths, not 31. It’s Tiger Woods winning the U.S. Open by 35 strokes, not 15. Rafa now has 13 French Open and 20 Grand Slam tennis titles, and if there are signs of decline in his game, they weren’t noticeable in the past two weeks. Which means Generation Next remains on hold in the men’s draw.

There were 35 fines issued at the French Open, with a breakdown of 20 to men and 15 to women. The lads were ticketed mainly for equipment abuse and their potty mouths, while the women had their pay docked mostly for coaching violations.

It occurred to me yesterday that The Athletic hasn’t posted an article on women’s hockey since July 29. I realize the women have been idle, but does that mean there aren’t any stories to tell?

And, finally, I didn’t think it possible to dislike a baseball team more than the New York Yankees, but I’ve developed a special level of contempt for the Houston Astros. Go Tampa Bay Rays!

Yanic Duplessis and the final frontier of mainstream sports—hockey and the gay male player

There are three stages to the coming-out process for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

To wit:

Discovering yourself is the interesting part, accepting yourself is the hard part, revealing yourself is the frightening part that goes bump in the night.

Yanic Duplessis has arrived at Stage 3.

Young Yanic came out publicly earlier this month and, no, it didn’t qualify as news with an uppercase N because no one is talking about him as a hockey prodigy. He’s still a kid, just 17, and he’s trying to find his way in life and on the ice, where he might one day suit up with Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and possibly beyond.

That’s a big if.

Les Voltigeurs selected the product of Saint-Antoine, N.B., in the ninth round of the Q’s entry draft in 2019, but he was not among the 34 participants in training exercises that began last month. He also declined an invitation to join Campbellton Tigers of the Maritime Junior Hockey League for their pre-season frolic. He’s chosen to stick close to home and play high school hockey.

That isn’t the preferred path to a professional career.

Yanic Duplessis

Still, Yanic’s coming out caused something of a stir because homosexuality is a taboo topic in male hockey. Except, of course, when anti-gay slurs are used as weaponry.

“It should be a non-event, and some day it will be a non-event, but it’s not a non-event now,” Brian Burke said of Duplessis from his Hockey Night in Canada lectern the other night.

Burke is correct.

A teenage hockey player’s sexuality shouldn’t be news, front or back page. But it grabs the attention of the CBC and HNIC because the National Hockey League has never known an openly gay player. Active or retired. Nor have any of its affiliated minor leagues and its main breeding ground, the Canadian Hockey League. There have been more confirmed sightings of Sasquatch than the gay male hockey player. At least one woman, Manon Rheaume, has appeared in an NHL game (preseason), but never an openly gay man. There are female scouts and coaches. But gay guys? They need not apply.

Many wonder why Yanic Duplessis is news. So he’s gay, they say. Why make a fuss out of his sexuality? Nobody cares, right?

Oh, but they do care.

Consider:

  • There were three anti-gay incidents in Airdrie, Alta., this summer, including a rainbow crosswalk that was tarred and feathered.

  • Would-be Conservative party leadership candidate Richard Décarie believes being gay is “a choice,” and marriage should be exclusive to men and women.

  • Tennessee governor Bill Lee recently signed into law an anti-gay adoption bill. Nine other states have similar laws.

  • A student at the University of Louisville entered an LGBT studies course and distributed anti-gay pamphlets.

  • Last month an employee of a Catholic fringe group in Detroit ordered a cake from the lesbian-owned Good Cakes and Bakes and requested that this message be written on the icing: “Homosexual acts are gravely evil.”

  • LGBT hate crimes in England and Wales went from 5,807 in 2014-15 to 13,530 in 2018-19.

  • According to a 2017 report, 60 per cent of LGBT students across the U.S. feel unsafe at school due to sexual orientation and 40 per cent feel unsafe due to gender.

Then there was the recent raising of a Pride flag outside city hall in Minot, N.D., the very heartland of the U.S.A. Mayor Shaun Sipma and council invited the citizenry to share their thoughts on the matter. Here are some of their natterings:

“Today it’s LGBQ. What’s next? BLM? Antifa? White supremacy? You opened up a can of worms Mr. Mayor, and I pray that lunacy does not prevail on the streets of our fine city due to a poor decision brought to us by you. I’m not here to judge. Judgement belongs to a higher power than all of us here.”

“We can pull down the 10 Commandments out of our court yards, out of our schools, we can slap God in the face, mock God. His word says he will not be mocked, just so you know, you ain’t getting away with it, and then raise up a flag praising something that God’s word speaks against. Now I’m gonna tell you a warning, I’m gonna warn you, that’s why I’m here…not about physical violence…I’m here to warn you of God’s judgement. God will…not…let…this…go.”

“The American flag represents the hearts of Americans, and the LGBT flag represents the genitals of certain Americans. Now, I’ve always thought the genitals were kind of a sacred thing, in the sense that, for one, what you do with them is your business and not mine. In terms of the numbers game here, there’s probably a larger Star Wars fan base here than there is LGBT community, and where’s the Star Wars flag being raised? Or Vikings fans? Since we’re next door to Minnesota, let’s raise a Vikings flag. As long as we’re on that page, how about a heterosexual flag and a Confederate flag and the list goes on and on. You opened a can of worms, and do you want all those worms?”

“You can’t even look at the small little things that can turn into a bombshell. I already see our guns coming. It’s coming next. Our freedoms are being taken away. I’ve never been so pissed off in my entire life and so disappointed in our mayor, ’cause you’re bringing war to the city of Minot.”

“I’ve got relatives that were ex-homosexuals, I got friends that are homosexuals. I love ’em all, but here’s the choice: We gotta make a choice for life and not for death.”

“I was raised under the 10 Commandments, and that’s also a law, it’s the law of God. I hope you have the nerve to back up our police department when this city starts seeing the kind of garbage that’s been going on around the country, when people start coming in rioting and tearing things down because of the door you’ve opened.”

“That flag is called an abomination to God. We love God and must stand for truth. When the righteous rule, the people rejoice. When the wicked rule, the people mourn.”

“(The Pride flag) identifies Satan.”

“If that letter P (pedophile) is added to LGBTQ a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now, are you still gonna fly that flag?”

Lunacy. Rioting and looting. Worms. Loss of freedoms. Guns. War. Death. Satan. Pedophilia. All that hostility and holier-than-thou condemnation (and there was much, much more) simply because a flag was raised to recognize support for the gay community. Remind me to cancel that weekend trip to Minot.

Homophobia isn’t going to disappear any time soon, and certainly not during what remains of my lifetime. Gays are still too often considered lesser-thans, and men’s hockey represents the final frontier in mainstream sports, even as it trumpets itself as a game that “is for everyone.”

If hockey truly was “for everyone,” Yanic Duplessis coming out wouldn’t even be a blip on the news radar screen.

I don’t know if there’s a God but, if so, I like to think she or he is looking down on young Yanic with favor. Those things that go bump in the night can be mean and nasty and frightening for any 17-year-old kid who’s come out, let alone a hockey player, and they/he need all the positive reinforcement and acceptance they can get.

I know how toxic a hockey changing room can be, so godspeed to him.

Let’s talk about Burkie being Burkie…the watered-down U.S. Open…an openly gay hockey player…a sports editor who doesn’t watch sports…no women’s golf on TV…and here’s smoke in your eyes

A Monday morning smorgas-bored..and we should hear about Connor Hellebuyck and the Vezina Trophy any day now…

Brian Burke has spoken and many knickers are in many knots.

Brian Burke

This is nothing new, of course, because much of what Burkie spews on Sportnet and Hockey Night in Canada is highly offensive to the many easily bruised psyches on Planet Puckhead.

Seriously, the man has been up more noses than a COVID tester.

So you had to know that his pot-stirring tete-a-tete with David Amber on Saturday night would set gums to flapping, even before his own gums went into motion.

The question asked and answered was this: Which Canadian-based outfit is most likely to end a Stanley Cup drought that dates back to 1993? A nation turned its lonely eyes to Burkie, and here’s what he had to say:

1. Toronto Maple Leafs
2. Edmonton Oilers.
3. Vancouver Canucks.
4. Calgary Flames/Winnipeg Jets.
5. Montreal Canadiens.
6. Ottawa Senators.

Cue the outrage.

How dare he lump the Jets in with the Flames. The Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup? Ya, talk to me about it in another 53 years. The Oilers? Only if Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can play up front, on the blueline and in goal—at the same time.

So let me say this about that: I can think of more important things to talk about, like the burning in my eyes and throat from wildfires in Washington state.

I mean, on the silly metre, the Amber-Burke natter rates a 10.

The Jets he’s talking about won’t be the Jets in December, or whenever it is that the National Hockey League decides to drop the puck on a 2020-21 crusade. The Oilers of today won’t be the Oilers of tomorrow. The Canucks won’t be the Canucks who made an admirable run in the current Stanley Cup runoff. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

There’s swapping to be done. There’s the annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers yet to come. There’s free agent frenzy, with or without Bob McKenzie on TSN.

Connor Hellebuyck

As it stands, only three defencemen who skated with the Jets in their qualifying go-round last month v. Calgary—Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, Tucker Poolman—are under contract. They have one goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck. They have dead weight up front to be replaced—Matty Perreault and the most unfortunate Bryan Little.

The current lineup couldn’t win a dinky-toy-sized Stanley Cup in a table hockey tournament, let alone the real thing.

So, let’s face it, Burke was spitballing, and he knows it.

It’s a dumb discussion and you shouldn’t get sucked into it. Let’s see how Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff plays his dominos in the next two month, then we’ll talk.

For the record, here’s how Burke assessed the Jets: “They’ve gotta solve a goaltending problem, the No. 2 goaltender. They’ve got a great No. 1. They’ve gotta rebuild their defence. Most of their defence are unrestricted free agents. They’re gonna have to rebuild their defence, same as Calgary. I think Travis Hamonic might end up in Winnipeg. He’s a Winnipeg boy, but they’ve got to upgrade their defence is No. 1, and they don’t have enough secondary scoring.” I’d say he’s spot on.

Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem

Interesting men’s final at the U.S. Open on Sunday. Interesting, but certainly not high quality tennis. Dominic Thiem, the winner in five sets, and Alexander Zverev took turns self-destructing in the four-hour match, and it was only gripping theatre at the end because there appeared to be a very real danger of Thiem collapsing from leg cramping. The guy’s a gamer, I’ll give him that, but no way he beats Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic with the level of tennis he played v. Zverev.

Kind of surprised to see Thiem and Zverev shake hands and hug at the conclusion of their match, because it’s considered a no-no during the COVID pandemic, but it was a nice touch. Gave me the warm-and-fuzzies.

Natually, the squawkers on ESPN tried to convince us that it would have been a Thiem-Zverev championship match, even had Nadal and Federer been in the draw and Djokovic hadn’t been defaulted. “There’s no asterisk on this tournament, none whatsover,” Brad Gilbert said pre-match. “If everybody was here, (Thiem) would probably still be (in the final).” Chris Evert said the same thing about the women’s draw, which was minus six of the world’s top eight players. Even the normally blunt John McEnroe fudged on the notion of an asterisk earlier in the tournament, suggesting it would be a “positive” asterisk. Such tripe. It was a watered-down event, on both sides of the draw.

I’ll be watching the progress of Yanic Duplessis with considerable interest, now that the 17-year-old from New Brunswick has come out as gay. Young Yanic was drafted by Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and I just hope they look past his sexual identity and provide him equal opportunity. After all, hockey is for everyone. Well, isn’t it?

I note that the Drab Slab will be dispatching Mad Mike McIntyre back to the Edmonton bubble for what’s left of the Stanley Cup tournament. One question: Why? Well, okay, if Dallas Stars advance to the final, he has two built-in stories—good guy head coach Rick Bowness and good guy GM Jim Nill, both of whom have strong ties to Jets 1.0. But, unless Mad Mike is a super sleuth, he’ll only have Zoom access to them, same as every other news snoop with feet on the ground. If he’s being sent to E-Town just to say the Drab Slab is there, that’s as silly as the David Amber-Brian Burke natter.

Steve Lyons

Quiz me this, kids: Should the sports editor of a major daily newspaper watch sports? I ask that because SE Steve Lyons of the Drab Slab made this confession in his daily Playbook last week: “I have not watched a single moment of sports since Aug. 6. The closest thing to athletics I’ve watch was Eco-Challenge Fiji on Amazon Prime. I keep up to speed by reading about sports, watching video highlights on a couple of apps and chatting with Mike McIntyre every week during our Jetcetera podcast.” Interesting. I read the Drab Slab before the actual paper lands on doorsteps every morning, and I can’t say that the product suffers because Steve pulled the plug on TV sports viewing. In general, he has the right stories in the appropriate places. That being said, I can’t help but wonder what storylines he might be missing by cutting off TV sports cold turkey.

Hey, I can relate to what Lyons is talking about. My time watching sports on the flatscreen has been greatly reduced. Difference is, I do this blogger thing as a hobby and I’ve only got five or six readers, not fifty or sixty thousand.

I sure wish TSN or Sportsnet would arrange to broadcast LPGA Tour events, at least the majors. Sure would have been nice to watch our Brooke Henderson in the ANA Inspiration tournament on the weekend, even if she did come up one swing shy of a win.

Looking for a good read? Check out young Eddie Tait’s piece on the oral history of the Banjo Bowl. It’s boffo stuff.

And, finally, the only parts of the West Coast of North America that aren’t on fire are under a thick shroud of smoke, and I can report that it isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. It’s very apocalyptic and I’m having trouble breathing.

Let’s talk about the Jets and Canucks…craziness with the Yotes…another reason for Chris Streveler to celebrate…Ducky makes a kid’s day…sinking ships…a new kid on the MJHL block…the Joker goes wild at U.S. Open…Journalism 101…and other things on my mind

A bonus, Labor Day smorgas-bored…and it’s mostly short snappers because there’s tennis to watch and maybe some golf if Dustin Johnson hasn’t lapped the field…

Stop me if you’ve heard this before from two noted hockey observers:

“There’s a lot to be excited about.”

“This team is going to be a force for awhile in the West. Great young players.”

Sounds like they’re talking about the Winnipeg Jets, circa spring 2018, doesn’t it?

Brian Burke

But, no. Brian Burke and John Shannon were directing their hosannas toward the Vancouver Canucks, who recently vacated the National Hockey League bubble in Edmonton after coming up one shot/save short in a Stanley Cup skirmish v. the Dallas Stars.

And, sure enough, there’s reason for the jar-half-full gushing. The Canucks look to be an outfit on a favorable trajectory. You know, just like two years ago when the local hockey heroes went deep, advancing to the Western Conference final before receiving a paddywhacking from the upstart Vegas Golden Knights. The Jets haven’t been the same since, in large part due to the mismanagement of assets and a cap crunch that squeezed general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff into a corner.

Chevy lost half his blueline (Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, Dustin Byfuglien) in one foul swoop, and only the retreat of Big Buff was not of his own authorship. He also couldn’t or wouldn’t keep rent-a-centres Paul Stastny or Kevin Hayes, either of whom would have been more than adequate playing second fiddle to Mark Scheifele.

Jim Benning

So that’s the cautionary tale for GM Jim Benning in Lotus Land. It can unravel very rapidly.

Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson and Alex Edler will be looking for new deals whenever the next NHL crusade ends and, as Burke emphasized on Hockey Night in Canada, “they’re gonna need a math professor from Harvard to figure this out.”

Chevy hasn’t been able to figure it out in Good Ol’ Hometown. The hope on the Left Flank has to be that Benning has better bean counters.

Pierre McGuire

I’ve long wondered what it would take to pry Jets 1.0 out of the Arizona desert, and anointing Pierre McGuire GM of the Coyotes just might be the thing to do it. If we’re to believe Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, Yotes ownership has been pitching woo to Pierre as a replacement for defrocked GM John Chayka, and that sounds like a recipe for disaster. Pierre has spent the past 20 years rinkside or in the studio for TSN and NBC, and I can’t see how sucking up to players and mansplaining the game to Kendall Coyne Schofield makes him GM worthy.

So, another year without a Stanley Cup champion for the True North, and did you know that’s “humiliating?” That, at least, is Cathal Kelly’s take on Canada’s drought, which dates back to the spring of 1993. “The hockey of Canadian hockey? That is not working out so well,” he writes in the Globe and Mail. “It’s beginning to seem as though the building of an NHL winner is planting it somewhere in the United States where no one cares. Then you have happy employees and the luxury of a free hand to shuffle them around.” Ya, that’s worked out soooo well for the Winnipeg Jets-cum-Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes.

Chris Streveler

Speaking of Arizona, I note that Chris Streveler has survived final cuts with the Arizona Cardinals. The former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback and party boy is listed third on the depth chart, so Lord help them if they win the Super Bowl. There won’t be enough beer in the entire state to handle that celebration.

Just wondering: What was the first thing Alain Vigneault read or watched after his Philly Flyers were ushered out of the NHL bubble in the Republic of Tranna? Do you think he knows that Black Lives Matter yet?

Randy Ambrosie

Did you know that it takes eight to 10 hours to deep clean each hotel room once they’ve been vacated in the Edmonton and ROT bubbles? Hmmm. Wonder how long it will take Randy Ambrosie to clean up the mess he’s made.

The Montreal Canadiens now have $15 million tied up in two goaltenders, Carey Price and Jake Allen. Hmmm. That would pay for half a Canadian Football League shortened-season.

Enjoyed this tweet from Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town: “If I ever own a race horse I might name him ‘Pink Fred’. That’s what Hugh Campbell called Pink Floyd when he announced a change in the Edmonton EE schedule to accommodate the then very hot act.”

Coolest recent tweet was delivered by Rob Vanstone of Postmedia Flatlands: “How amazing was Dale Hawerchuk? I wrote to him c/o Winnipeg Jets in 1982, requesting an autograph. Yes, I got the autograph—and so much more! He must have been deluged with fan mail, but he still made time to go above and beyond.” What made the tweet so special was the pic that Rob attached. It helps explain why there were so many long faces the day Ducky died.

Rob’s tweet brought to mind my first experience as an autograph seeker. I was a sprig of no more than 10 years, living on Melbourne Avenue in Good Ol’ Hometown. One day I took pic of broadcasting pioneer Foster Hewitt from a hockey magazine and mailed it to his radio station in the Repblic of Tranna, asking for a signature. Two weeks later, a brown envelope arrive in the mail box, and there it was…Foster Hewitt’s autograph. He called me “a real hockey fan.” I don’t know what became of that autographed pic, but Foster’s gesture made me want to get into sports journalism.

Mark Spector

Mark Spector of Sportsnet E-Town is confused: “It’s official: the term ‘learning lesson’ has replaced ‘irregardless’ as my pet peeve,” he tweets. “Can someone define a ‘lesson’ from which the recipient did NOT ‘learn?’ Are their ‘non-learning lessons’ out there?” Yo! Mark! As the venerable Zen master Dalai Jocklama tells us, “A lesson taught is not always a lesson learned.” As my mom was wont to say, I hope you’ve learned your lesson.

According to Donald Trump, canned soup is now the weapon of choice for bad guys because bricks are too heavy to throw. I can just hear it next time I’m in my local market: “Clean up on the ammunition aisle! Clean up on the ammunition aisle!”.

They held a Lake Travis Trump Boat Parade off the shore of Auston, Texas, the other day and at least four craft went glub, glub, glub to a watery grave. There’s no truth to the rumor that the Milwaukee Bucks were among the sunken ships, but they have sent out a Mayday signal.

Andy Murray

Cathal Kelly likes to write about tennis, but I’m not sure how much tennis he actually watches. I mean, he claims that our guy Felix Auger-Aliassime put “an end to the whole idea of the Big Four in men’s tennis” when he whupped Andy Murray at the U.S. Open last week. Apparently, Kelly hadn’t noticed that there’s only been a Big Three—Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic—for the past three years. Andy Murray last won a Grand Slam tournament in 2016. He hasn’t been a top-10 player since 2017, when he was world No. 3 in October. He hasn’t been in the top 100 for more than two years. He’s beaten just one top-10 player since 2017. He’s part of a Big Four like Miley Cyrus is one of the Beatles. What part of all that does Kelly not understand? Furthermore, he listed Djokovic as the “reigning champion” at Flushing Meadows. That will come as news to Rafa Nadal.

A wounded lines judge gives Novak Djokovic the stink eye.

Djokovic’s departure from the U.S. Open on Sunday was sudden and deserved. Tennis players can be a right petulant lot, few more so than the Serb. He’s long been prone to bouts of pique, and it caught up to him when, in another hissy fit, he whacked a ball that struck a female line judge in the throat. Automatic ouster. Even if it wasn’t deliberate. Why it took officials 10 minutes to convince Djokovic that he wouldn’t be allowed to play on is a mystery, but I’m sure he’ll put his tin foil hat back on and figure it out in time for the French Open later this month.

ESPN certainly had the perfect guy in the blurt box to talk about poor on-court manners Sunday—John McEnroe. The one-time brat of tennis called Djovik’s hissy fit “bone-headed,” and Johnny Mac ought to know more about that than most.

Hey, there’s a new kid in town. The Manitoba Junior Hockey League has added a second Winnipeg-based franchise for its 2020-21 crusade, and that’s interesting news for those of us who can remember an MJHL that included four outfits in Good Ol’ Hometown. 50 Below Sports + Entertainment is the money behind the freshly minted outfit, to be dubbed the Freeze according to Mike Sawatzky of the Drab Slab, and I can only hope they aren’t hitting parents with a $12,000 tab to have their kids play Junior shinny.

Steve Nash

The appointment of Steve Nash as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets stirred up considerable controversy, given that his experience as a bossman totals zip and, significantly, he’s a White man in the very Black National Basketball Association. “Two words that never, ever, should be attached to Steve Nash: White privilege,” Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna harrumphed in his always-pompous weekly alphabet soup column of odds and ends. “But there they were, the screamers of black and white, somehow insisting that Nash’s surprising hiring as coach of the Brooklyn Nets was yet another example of white privilege in North American professional sports.” What that is, folks, is “another example” of shoddy journalism. Simmons failed to identify the “screamers of black and white,” nor did he tell us what they said or what they’re saying. We’re talking Journalism 101 here, folks: Who, what, when, where and why. Apparently that doesn’t apply to big-shot columnists who refuse to burden themselves with the pesky details.

I have often lamented the lack of lower-level local sports coverage in the two Winnipeg dailies, most notably the Sun, which has been ransacked by Postmedia. To underscore how woeful it has become, I monitored the amount of ink devoted to outfits not named Jets, Blue Bombers, Moose, Goldeyes and Valour FC in August. The results are discouraging, but not surprising:
Drab Slab (31 editions)—32 articles, 6 briefs (Assiniboia Downs, amateur hockey, junior hockey, amateur golf, university volleyball, curling, junior football, junior baseball, tennis, sports books).
Winnipeg Sun (30 editions)—1 article (junior football).

At least sports editor Steve Lyons and his boys on the beat at the Drab Slab are trying, but the Sun surrendered to the whims and dictates of Postmedia suits in the Republic of Tranna long ago. I mean, one local story in an entire month? That isn’t just sad, it’s wrong. Amateur Sports Matters, dammit.

And, finally, I’ll conclude this holiday edition of the RCR with a Matty-ism from my first sports editor Jack Matheson: “You don’t have to be strange to live in B.C., but it helps.” Hey, I resemble that remark.

Let’s talk about a ruckus on press row…flush that scrum lurker…Burkie’s still blunt but making no sense…and other things on my mind

A long weekend, Monday morning short version of the smorgas-bored…and I wonder how many people will spend the day on the couch watching hockey…

Auston Matthews pulled his pants down to his ankles and mooned a female security guard at 2 o’clock in the morning.

Now he’s delivering lectures on ethics.

I agree, that takes balls.

I mean, what’s next? Tiger Woods touring the countryside to preach fidelity? Adam Sandler telling Martin Scorsese how to make a good movie? One of the Kardashians explaining what it’s like to have a real job?

Morgan Rielly and Auston Matthews

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t blame Matthews for going off on Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, scant moments after the initial volley in an argument between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets. That, after all, would be the same Simmons who, in mid-June, outed the Leafs centre as a COVID-19 victim and, to this day, cannot grasp the concept of personal health information remaining private unless the afflicted choose to release the details.

So there was Matthews on Sunday night, sitting alongside teammate Morgan Rielly in one of those awkward Zoom chin-wags with news snoops, their side having just been stifled, 2-0, by the Blue Jackets in the opening go-round of the National Hockey League’s quirky playoffs before the playoffs.

Simmons identified himself, then asked Matthews for his thoughts on the suffocating defensive tendencies of his foes.

Steve Simmons

“Well, first of all, it’s unfortunate that I’m getting a question from you at this point, Steve,” the Leafs wonder boy began in a tone about as warm as a Winnipeg winter. “I just wanted to say I didn’t really appreciate the article you wrote about me a couple months ago. I thought it was a bit unethical to be honest.”

There you have it. Mr. Drop My Drawers goes Miss Manners.

Naturally, it didn’t end there. Twitter does not allow for the natural death of hissing contests. It inflames them. Thus the rabble threw down, mostly on Simmons, although some thought that perhaps Matthews might have had other things on his mind, like the 0-1 hole les Leafs have dug themselves in the best-of-five skirmish v. the Ohioans.

Oddly enough, Simmons seized the moment to drag James Mirtle into the fray.

James Mirtle

“This would never happen to James Mirtle,” he tweeted about The Athletic editor-in-chief. “He never asks a question. Never. But he uses everybody else’s quotes. He was asked the other day on radio who the best player at Leaf camp was. He answered without hesitating. Never mind that he hadn’t been at Leaf camp once.”

Scott Wheeler of The Athletic would not have his boss be bullied.

“The Leafs’ best player spoke candidly in a scrum,” he roared back at Simmons. “James transcribed it. It was already widely reported, clipped, and shared before and after James did. For you to respond like this and make it personal is unprofessional, Steve.”

Others weighed in.

Simmons’ buddy at Postmedia Tranna, Steve Buffery, described the original COVID-19 story as “good reporting.”

Not true says Greg Wyshynski of ESPN.

“There was no justification for its publication,” he tweeted. “It was trivia. Nothing about how it affected travel, his status with the Leafs, his ability to attend training camp, long-term health effects. That’s on top of the debate about the ethics of reporting a positive test in a pandemic.”

Bruce Arthur

Meanwhile another of Simmons’ buddies and a TSN colleague, Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, had a go at Matthews, tweeting, “I would’ve liked him to explain why he thought it was unethical.”

Arthur is an intelligent guy and a terrific scribe, so playing the D’Oh Boy doesn’t suit him. He knows exactly why Matthews was offended.

Then there was Rosie DiManno of the Star, chiming in with this: “There are scrum lurkers who never ask questions. Even worse, they immediately tweet the answers.”

Oh, the horror. The nerve of those scrum lurkers. They’re the worst. Why, they have no business using the same cookie-cutter, “move-our-feet” quotes as everyone else if they aren’t prepared to wade in and ask the same dumb, cookie-cutter questions as everyone else.

I’m not sure how this will play out, but jock journos eating their own is as rare as spectators at these pre-playoff playoffs, so I’m loving it.

Frank Orr, right, with Don Cherry.

The mention of scrum lurkers brings to mind a playoff game back in the day. The precise details are lost on me, but a gaggle of us news snoops had gathered in the washroom area of a team man chamber, interrogating some poor sap about the night’s events. Included in our group was a tall, awkward and loud guy from New York City, Norm MacLean, who always toted a tape recorder the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Some found him somewhat scattered and annoying, because he had a habit of wedging himself into the front of the pack, also asking questions longer than a Sunday sermon. Not this night, though. No one was budging. So Norm skirted the scrum and stepped inside one of the stalls, standing on the toilet and draping his right arm and tape recorder microphone over the wall, directly behind the player’s head. Noting Norm’s iffy perch atop the toilet, Frank Orr of the Toronto Star announced, “If anyone hears a splash, flush!”

Brian Burke

When Brian Burke hired on as one of Sportsnet’s talking heads, I thought he was terrific. He was blunt, insightful and colorful. And now? Not so much. Oh, he’s still blunt, but that’s only good if it makes sense. Here’s Burkie’s take on Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice calling Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames a dirty, rotten rat: “I think he crossed the line here. He’s questioning the character of a character player. Matthew Tkachuk is not a dirty player. He crosses the line and thank gawd we still have players that cross the line in our league. This is an unfortunate result but it wasn’t a dirty play and it’s really crossed the line for me.” So, in sum, it’s boffo stuff when Tkachuk crosses the line but distasteful if Maurice crosses the line. Okay, got it.

The Rock is part of a group that’s purchased the XFL. Apparently their next buy will be deck seats on the Titanic.

I’ve been watching Happy Days lately, and I find myself wondering why it was such a popular show. It isn’t particularly funny, and what’s with the Fonz? He’s a high school dropout in his late 20s who has nothing better to do than hang out with teenage girls and boys.

And, finally, as a folo to Sunday’s post on sports coverage in the two Winnipeg dailies, here’s the tally for the Drab Slab this long weekend, excluding professional teams: Saturday, 1 local article (Assiniboia Downs), Sunday 0, Monday 0. That’s correct. Just one read on local sports other than the Jets or Blue Bombers. In 17 pages. At the Sun, the total was zero in two days and 11 pages. I realize we’re in the grip of a pandemic, but you’ll never convince me there’s nothing to write about other than the Jets, Bombers and Goldeyes.

Let’s talk about the NHL lottery and Mickey Mouse…privacy vs. public figure…Edmonton’s Rocky Mountains…B.C.’s Rock Star Doc…Theo’s Hockey Hall of Fame snub…secret ballots…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and, like the National Hockey League draft lottery, a lot of this probably won’t make sense to anyone…

I once saw a monkey figure out a Rubik’s Cube, but I’ll wager that the same smart-ass monkey couldn’t figure out the NHL draft lottery process.

Ideally, the first shout-out at the annual auction of teen talent would go to the NHL’s Sad Sack outfit, the Detroit Red Wings, who gave new meaning to the term “bottom feeder” in a season never completed. But no. The ping-pong balls didn’t bounce the Winged Wheel’s way in Phase 1 of the lottery on Friday night, and a Team To Be Named Later will pluck can’t-miss-kid Alex Lafreniere from the pool of NHL wannabes. The TTBNL might actually be named Pittsburgh Penguins, who narrowly edged the Red Wings in the Eastern Conference standings by a mere 47 points, and, as Brian Burke emphasized on Sportsnet, that’s “nothing short of a disgrace.”

Brian Burke

Burkie was in full-throated rant mode post-lottery, and he went off on the NHL in a natter with David Amber. The former NHL general manager and league exec said: “I think it makes our league look really bad. I think it makes our league look Mickey Mouse, and we’re not Mickey Mouse.” Perhaps not, but Goofy and Dopey come to mind.

So, after Phase 1 of the lottery, the Edmonton Oilers have a chance to win the No. 1 pick and land Lafreniere. Of course they do.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: In March, one basketball player tested positive for COVID-19, putting the brakes on the entire sports world and, at the same time, launching a stampede to the toilet paper aisles that resembled the California gold rush of the mid-1800s. Yet now, with many dozens of athletes in many sports testing positive, it’s go-time for the NHL, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball? What part of “deadly virus” do they not understand?

Just between you and me, I’m more excited to see toilet paper back on the shelves than shinny on the ice, hoops on the hardwood, and rounders in the ballyard.

Auston Matthews

It’s an old debate: Public figure vs. private citizen. Does the rabble have the right to know that Auston Matthews has tested positive for COVID-19? Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna thinks so, thus he wrote the story even though Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs preferred to keep it on the QT. Others, like TSN and Sportsnet, ignored it. Why? Because they’re part of the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment structure, and they don’t think an employee’s personal health information is any of our business. Seems to me it should be up to the athlete. If Matthews had chosen to disclose his “upper body injury,” fine. If not, you can’t convince me we’re better off knowing about it. Unless he’s going to be sitting next to me at the pub, it’s none of my bee’s wax.

Old friend Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancouver took a big-picture look at the Matthews situation, and he doesn’t like what he sees vis-a-vis the pro sports team-media dynamic, in terms of controlling the message. He laments “a landscape where every attempt is made to manage availability in order to create homogeneous storylines,” and adds this: “Maybe you don’t find this outrageous. But this comes at a time when both the business and the soul of traditional media is fighting to survive. We used to be an unbiased filter between the established order and the public. Sometimes we still are. But we’re losing our strong, independent voices. We’re losing our place and the public is losing something in the bargain. You can understand why teams and leagues, to say nothing of political parties and their leaders, like this arrangement. But you shouldn’t.” If he thinks sports teams are controlling the message now, he ain’t seen nothing yet. It’ll be worse on the other side of the pandemic. That genie is out of the bottle, and she’s not going back in.

Longtime Sports Illustrated scribe S.L. Price had this take on the Willes essay: “This is more important than it seems, a canary in the ever-darkening journalism coalmine.” A tad dramatic, perhaps, but likely true.

Edmonton or Vancouver?

That was quite a sales pitch Alberta Premier Jason Kenney delivered in attempting to convince NHL Commish Gary Bettman that he’d be wise to set up shop in Edmonton for the Stanley Cup runoff. I mean, mountain vistas. Mountain resorts. Mountain lakes. Mountain waterfalls. Mustangs roaming wild and free. Who knew? Last time I was in downtown Edmonton, it looked a lot like downtown Winnipeg, only without the inferiority complex. But, hey, that was a couple of decades ago. Perhaps climate change means the Rocky Mountains have crept closer to the Taj West Edmonton Mahal. Does Greta Thunberg know and does she approve?

The Kenney video tweet supposedly was aimed at families of NHL players. While hubby/dad is busy playing hockey and living in a downtown hub bubble, mom and the kids can scatter hither and yon for fun and frolic. In other words: Come to Edmonton, but you probably won’t want to stay.

Dr. Bonnie Henry

Vancouver, which actually features mountain vistas and oceanfront property for real rather than on propaganda material, is out as an NHL playoff hub bubble, and I’m not hearing a big squawk from anyone on the Left Flank of the land. That’s because B.C.’s top doc, Dr. Bonnie Henry, managed to get a handle on the COVID-19 count from the get-go, and no one’s in the mood for a backslide by bending quarantine rules for an NHL invasion. “We are doing very well, we have a good balance,” says the Rock Star Doc. “But under no circumstances was I going to compromise in any way the health of people here in British Columbia.” She’d have put a series on hold if players tested positive, and that wouldn’t work in Commish Gary’s world. Some suggest a hub bubble in Vancity would have meant $19 million in found money during a financially crippling pandemic, but what’s the cost of lives?

Loved Scott Campbell’s fun tweet about the Hockey Hall of Fame’s latest list of inductees, which includes former Oilers defender Kevin Lowe: “Another tough year for me not making HHOF, but nobody cares. How many Avco Cups did Lowe win, huh?!!” You tell ’em, Scotty. Your one World Hockey Association champion ring is worth all six of Lowe’s Stanley Cup rings. Or maybe not.

Quick now, name all eight female players elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Heck, name five of the eight. Betcha can’t do it. For answer, see below.

Theo Fleury

Now that you ask, yes, I believe Theo Fleury belongs in the HHOF based on the numbers he put up in the NHL and his success while wearing Team Canada linen. But, no, I’m not surprised that he’s been snubbed again. His on-ice bona fides are beyond challenge, but, as he wrote in his book Playing with Fire, “Hockey wants to be known as the school’s good-looking, clean-cut jock,” and that ain’t Theo Fleury. Confessions of off-ice antics that included excessive boozing, heavy drug abuse, womanizing, gambling and barroom brawling tend to be a turnoff to the purists.

Got a kick out of Mad Mike McIntyre’s take on the HHOF election process, which remains a deep, dark secret. “Because vote totals aren’t released, we have no idea how close Fleury came, who may have lobbied for his inclusion and who was against it,” he writes in the Drab Slab. “Compare that with how the NHL’s annual awards work, in which a couple hundred members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association reveal our ballots every year in the name of accountability and transparency, which is how it should be.” Every year? Spare us the back-patting, Mad Mike. The PHWA was a secret society for 49 years and didn’t play show-and-tell with its ballots until 2018, so pots shouldn’t be calling kettles black.

Lou Marsh Trophy

On the subject of pots and kettles, Damien Cox of the Toronto Star also took a run at the HHOF, asking this question: “Can anybody offer a plausible rationale for the secrecy?” Right. The guy who serves as executive director of the Lou Marsh Trophy voting committee is calling out the HHOF for a lack of transparency. That’s like Lance Armstrong trashing A-Rod for taking drugs. We’re never told exactly who and how many people are on Cox’s Lou Marsh selection panel, nor which jocks receive how many votes in Canada’s athlete-of-the-year balloting. We just know that a bunch of news snoops gather around a big boardroom table in the Republic of Tranna for snacks (presumably) and to bicker for a couple of hours. After that, they send up a puff of white smoke to alert the rabble that they’ve anointed the country’s top jock. That’s transparent like a jar of peanut butter.

Something only a news snoop from the Republic of Tranna would say, Vol. 3,692: “Everyone loves Vince Carter in Canada,” TSN gab guy Jay Onrait declared last week after the former Tranna Jurassics star retired. Well, speaking only for moi and not the entire nation, I’ve never understood the Vince Carter as God thing, and I think about him as often as I watch Friends reruns. Which is never. (Loved Phoebe Buffay, though.)

Megan Rapinoe

Kudos to Sportsnet, which has been featuring stories and video in support of gay athletes during Pride month, whereas TSN basically ignored the issue. “There’s a lot more out athletes who have made names of themselves in the media—people like Megan Rapinoe, Adam Rippon or Gus Kenworthy—so…the media are collectively much more aware of LGBTQ people in sports,” says Jim Buzinski, co-founder of the gay website Outsports. “But also, at some level, I think they get a little bit bored of it if there’s not a big name coming out.” So that explains it. TSN is bored. Or boring. (Seriously, have you been watching SportsCentre lately?)

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Tranna Blue Jays have asked Trudeau The Younger for permission to play their MLB season at home. If that request is granted by the feds, perhaps they’ll also explain why the Winnipeg Goldeyes are calling Fargo, N.D., home this summer.

Funny how we develop a rooting interest for different sports outfits. My team in the English Premier League is freshly crowned champion Liverpool FC, and it has nothing to do with footy skill. I like them because of the Beatles and the team theme song, You’ll Never Walk Alone by another Liverpool band, Gerry and the Pacemakers. I couldn’t name three members of the LFC starting 11, but, hey, I know the names of all four lads in the Beatles’ starting lineup, and one who didn’t make the final cut (hello, Pete Best). You’re right, it’s probably a silly reason to root, root, root for LFC, so sue me.

And, finally, the eight female players in the Hockey Hall of Fame are Kim St-Pierre, Angela James, Cammi Granato, Hayley Wickenheiser, Geraldine Heaney, Angela Ruggiero, Danielle Goyette and Jayna Hefford. If you named them all without going to Google, I’m guessing you wear your hair in a ponytail.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and a rout…the Sun ragdolls the Drab Slab…helmet to helmet…Kap’s dog-and-pony and clown show…Grapes really has left the building…Alpo barks back…Planet Puckhead has non-hockey regions?…Ponytail Puck…ugly Americans…and Rafa calls a news snoop on his B.S

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s grey, cloudy and wet where I live, a good day to stay inside and watch three-down football…

Bombers by 17.

There. I said it. Not going to change it.

A few hours from now, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will have booked themselves a trip to Calgary for the Grey Cup skirmish on Nov. 24, and it won’t be close, not even if Corn Dog Cody Fajardo makes a side trip to Lourdes between now and this afternoon’s kickoff at Mosaic Stadium on the Flattest of Lands.

And, no, this isn’t the rambling of a Jenny-come-lately swayed by the Bombers paddywhacking of the Calgary Stampeders a week ago

Zach Collaros

I’ll remind you that I’ve been telling anyone willing to listen for more than a month that Winnipeg FC wasn’t a fool’s bet to be grabbing grass at McMahon Stadium in the final frolic of Rouge Football 2019. Just to refresh:

Oct. 9 (before the Bombers brought Zach Collaros on board): “Go ahead and accuse me of typing with rose-tinted glasses, and maybe I am, but I believe the CFL West Division remains a crap shoot and the Bombers aren’t completely out of the discussion.”

Oct. 27: “Playing on the final Sunday in November is doable.”

Nov. 3: “After watching the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Flatlanders struggle mightily against inferior foes in the final thrusts of the Canadian Football League regular season on Saturday, who’s prepared to write off the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the chase for the Grey Cup? I’m not. Ya, sure, they’ll have to win twice on foreign soil to get the job done, but there isn’t anything about either team that should keep the Bombers awake at night. My pre-season prediction was a Winnipeg-Hamilton Tabbies Grey Cup game, and I’m sticking with that.”

So now here we are, Winnipeg v. Saskatchewan Roughriders for bragging rights of the West Division and Prairie pigskin, and when I hear Gang Green plans to use everyone from Corn Dog Cody to Premier Scott Moe at quarterback this afternoon, well, that seals the deal for me.

Corn Dog Cody

They tell us that Fajardo is good to go, but the guy’s nursing an upper-body owie that prevents him from airing it out, which means sideline steward Craig Dickenson will also trot out wet-eared Isaac Harker and Winnipeg FC washout Bryan Bennett, and maybe Scott Moe in a pinch. Well, QB by committee seldom works, and it certainly won’t get the job done against that nasty Bombers defensive dozen.

Add to that the iffy fettle of praise-worthy pass-catcher Shaq Evans, and the Flatlanders enter the fray with one hand tied behind their back and one foot in the gridiron grave.

I could be wrong, of course. Been there, done that. But I just don’t see the Bombers D surrendering anything but three-point scores, and it will take at least seven of them to make this an interesting disagreement. That ain’t going to happen.

So, make the final: Winnipeg 29, Saskatchewan 12.

Speaking of routs, the boys at the Winnipeg Sun—Paul Friesen, Teddy Football and friends in the Postmedia chain—gave the Drab Slab a thorough and proper ragdolling in local newspaper wars the past two playoff Sundays. Today, the Sun delivered an 8 1/2-page package on the Bombers-Riders, with 11 articles and stats. A week ago it was eight pages, eight stories and stats for Bombers-Stamps. The Drab Slab, meanwhile, gave us one Jeff Hamilton story and one Mad Mike McIntyre column today, and that’s actually a step up compared to a week ago when the broadsheet didn’t consider the West Division semifinal significant enough to dispatch Mad Mike to Cowtown. Hamilton wrote one piece on the weather, and they also ran wire copy (also on the weather). So, if you’re keeping score at home (and I know you aren’t), the final tally is: Sun, 16½ pages, 19 articles; Drab Slab, 4 pages, 4 articles. We haven’t seen that big a rout since Tiger Woods’ divorce settlement.

I don’t know if anyone at the Drab Slab is embarrassed by the paddywhacking they’ve taken on Bombers coverage, but the tall foreheads there have always been an arrogant, smug bunch, so I doubt it.

Moving back to reading tea leaves, the Hamilton Tabbies aren’t about to waste the best season in franchise history by coughing up a hairball v. the Edmonton Eskimos in the East Division final at Timbits Field in the Hammer today. They’ll tip a canoe, though, with five lead changes. Tabbies 36, Eskimos 34.

Does this make sense to anyone? Rip the helmet off a foe’s head and cocabonk him with it in the National Football League and you’re slapped with an indefinite suspension, minimum six games. Do the same thing in the CFL (hello, Vernon Adams Jr.) and it earns you a one-game slap on the wrist. Is there some sort of U.S.-Canada exchange rate on criminal activity that I’m unaware of? Or is Commish Randy Ambrosie too busy making nice with Mexico and Europe to give a damn about CFL player safety.

What do you get when a dog-and-pony show is missing the dog and pony? Just the clown (hello, Colin Kaepernick). Seriously. What was that Kaepernick-NFL showcase all about on Saturday? His 1970s hair style?

Ron MacLean

Is it true? Has Don Cherry really left the building? Of course he has. Coach’s Corner is Coachless Corner after close to four decades on Hockey Night in Canada. But, hey, not to worry. Grapes’ former straight man, Ron MacLean, still managed to work in two token Bobby Orr references during four minutes, 44 seconds worth of groveling on Saturday night. He just did it without insulting Francophones, Russians, Europeans, pinkos, women, immigrants and men who prefer to play hockey rather than fight.

I keep hearing that Brian Burke is the curmudgeon-in-waiting at HNIC, but that’s too same old, same old for me. I like much of Burke’s work since he joined Sportsnet, but, even though 21 years younger than the 85-year-old Cherry, he preaches from the same horse-and-buggy hockey bible. That is, he’s still a fists first, finesse second advocate, and that’s not the way the game is played today. For evidence, see Milan Lucic and his three points in 20 games.

Alpo Suhonen

The most biting snarl directed toward the now-defrocked Grapes came from Alpo Suhonen, long-time Finnish coach and a former Winnipeg Jets assistant once mocked by Cherry for having a name that sounded like “some kind of dog food.” Following Cherry’s ouster from HNIC, Suhonen launched this missile in an interview with Postmedia: “I found him to be a nationalistic, chauvinistic, narcissistic, toxic man…I know a lot of Canadians love his style, but his opinions about Europeans and their hockey, and the style he’s speaking, I find it very narrow-minded.” Ouch..

Jacques Cartier

In the fallout since the Don Cherry dismissal on Remembrance Day, the most curious comment was delivered by Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. “If America has blue states and red states, Canada has hockey regions and non-hockey regions,” he wrote. Say what? I’ve been drawing breath for 69 years (99.9 per cent of it “good Canadian” oxygen), I’ve spent time in burgs coast to coast, and I’ve yet to discover any of these “non-hockey regions” that Kelly scribbles about. Where are these mysterious locales? Are they lost civilizations? If not hockey, what goes on there? And how did John Cabot, Samuel de Champlain, Jacques Cartier, James Cook and George Vancouver all miss these “non-hockey regions?” Inquiring minds need to know.

Before the puck was dropped in October, I had the Winnipeg Jets pegged for a bubble team, with a wild card playoff spot their best-case scenario. But here they are today, running with the big dogs in the National Hockey League Central Division, just four points out of top spot. Trouble is, they’re also only three points away from falling out of the post-season picture. Yup, sounds like a bubble team to me. But they’re a good-news story one-quarter of the way through this crusade, and I’d say both Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit are making Paul Maurice look like a darned good coach.

Frank Seravalli

TSN squawk box/scribe Frank Seravalli is cruising out of his lane again. It wasn’t enough that he once made the laughable and totally fraudulent suggestion that Daniel and Henrik Sedin were “the faces of hockey in Western Canada for much of the 21st century,” this American born, American raised, American schooled, American resident is now sticking his star-spangled snoot into our global puck affairs. “Hayley Wickenheiser has been called the Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey,” he writes. “It would be fitting then to bestow an honour on her that has only been given to Gretzky at the NHL level: Wickenheiser’s No. 22 should never be worn again by a Canadian woman on the international stage. It’s time for Hockey Canada to officially make that the case.” Well, excuse us all to hell, Frankie boy, but if you promise not to tell us how to dress our female hockey players, we’ll promise not to tell your female soccer players how to behave in a 13-0 rout.

Megan Rapinoe

On second thought, forget that. We’ll mention ugly Americans and Megan Rapinoe’s big mouth every chance we get. But Seravalli still has no business telling us how to dress our Ponytail Pucksters.

I note that the National Women’s Hockey League has had an infusion of funding and there’s talk of expansion to the Republic of Tranna next autumn, which means the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association crusade to put Commish Dani Rylan and her operation out of business is failing. The PWHPA boycotters can continue to stage glorified scrimmages and photo-ops with Billie Jean King, but Ponytail Puck won’t move forward until they sit down and have a chat with Rylan. I’m not sure what part of that they don’t understand.

Rafael Nadal and his bride, Xisca.

Got a kick out of Rafael Nadal’s reaction to the dumbest of dumb comments the other day at the ATP tennis event in London. The world No. 1 had just been beaten by Alexander Zverev, and Italian news snoop Ubaldo Scanagatta wondered aloud if Rafa’s stumble was due, in part, to his recent exchange of “I do’s” with longtime squeeze Xisca Perello.

“I’d like to know, for many people to get married is a very important distracted thing,” said Scanagatta. “Before the marriage, during the marriage, after the marriage. Your concentration on tennis life has been bit different even if you were going out with the same girl for many, many years.”

“Honestly, are you asking me this?” Rafa responded. “Is this a serious question or a joke? Is it serious? Ya?”

Nadal then engaged in a bit of a to-and-fro before finally saying, “Okay, we move to Spanish, because that’s bull shit.”

And, finally, on the matter of bull leavings, it has come to my attention that this is post No. 500 for the River City Renegade blog. All I can say is that’s a whole lot of BS. Probably way too much, in fact.

Let’s talk about Connor Hellebuyck’s puck allergy…the Oilers and pond hockey…a good read from Teddy Football…drama queens at the Drab Slab…Burkie hops on his fighting soap box…old whisky and Grapes speaking in tongues…slobber-knocking football and Chris Streveler…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and here’s a turkey a week before Thanksgiving Day…

There aren’t a whole lot of goaltenders who’ll stand up and tell the world “my stuff don’t stink” after surrendering five goals.

I don’t care what level of shinny you’re talking about. Beer league, big league…doesn’t matter. A keeper whose net looks like a coal bin at the end of the night generally accepts and acknowledges that he wasn’t quite up to snuff, and maybe the team’s loss is on him.

“My bad. I owe the boys one,” he might say.

Connor Hellebuyck

Not Connor Hellebuyck, though. No sir. The Winnipeg Jets ‘tender falls in a manure pile and he believes he smells like a rose garden.

“I liked a lot of my game,” he says.

“I felt like I earned better,” he says.

“I felt like I played a lot better than five goals against,” he says.

“I don’t know, it just seemed like the puck was always in the wrong spot for me,” he says.

Ya, you could say the biscuit was in the wrong spot—the back of the freaking net.

I don’t know if Hellebuyck is ballsy, arrogant or just flat-out ignorant, but he’s definitely delusional if he believes the puck-stopping he delivered in a 6-4 loss the other night in Gotham will serve the Jets well in the grand scheme of things. Thirty-one shots, five goals.

You know how often Winnipeg HC won last season when surrendering a five-spot? Once. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success to me.

Paul Maurice

But, sure, let’s play some good, old-fashioned pond hockey. I’m all for it. It’s a hoot, and I don’t really care if it turns Paul Maurice into a doddering old man before his time. It certainly worked for the Edmonton Oilers circa 1980s, didn’t it? Unfortunately, Blake Wheeler, Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Puck Finn Laine and Josh Morrissey ain’t Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Paul Coffey. And Hellebuyck definitely is no Grant Fuhr.

As boffo as these Jets are on the attack, I think it’s asking too much of them to score five times every night to negate Hellebuyck’s marginal to stink-out-the-joint goaltending. You know, the kind that he “liked” v. the New York Rangers.

“Five is unacceptable,” Hellebuyck conceded after losing to the Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden.

Terrific. He’s nailed down that part of the plot. Alas, upon further review, he submitted, “I probably won’t do a whole lot different” in his next start.

Oh joy. We can expect more of the same.

The guy not only needs to up his game, he needs a mental reboot. Calling Dr. Phil! Calling Dr. Phil!

Marc-Andre Fleury, Connor Hellebuyck

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, though, because Hellebuyck showed us this particular strain of arrogance and delusion when the Jets reached the high-water mark of their National Hockey League existence, advancing to the Western Conference final in spring 2018. Although outperformed by a considerable margin by the remarkable Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights, he was having none of it. Hellebuyck wrote it off as the product of four-leaf clovers and horse shoes, saying things like “I like my game. I like it a lot more (than Fleury’s).”And: “I think it’s bad luck. The stars are aligning for them.” And: “Maybe it was just the luck. They got some lucky bounces on me. And that’s the truth.”

He was wrong then, he’s wrong now.

Apparently it hasn’t registered with Hellebuyck that he’s playing behind a patchwork defence cobbled together out of necessity, not by design, and it figures that he’ll be caught in the middle of a fire drill a lot of nights. Thus, Vezina Trophy-calibre goaltending is necessary to keep this boat afloat over the long haul, not some guy who has an apparent allergy to frozen rubber.

Unless, of course, these Jets really are the second coming of the 1980s Oilers. In that case, next goal wins.

To remind you of the Oilers pond hockey style, consider the 1983-84 crusade: The Gretzkys finished with a goal differential of +132. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your computer screen. They had five or more snipes in 53 of their 80 skirmishes, and surrendered five or more in 23 games (13-8-2). Their 446 total still stands as an NHL record. They won games by ridiculous scores like 12-8, 10-5, 10-7, 8-6, 7-5, etc., and the average score was 5.5-3.9. Oh, one more thing: They won the Stanley Cup. If the Jets can duplicate that, there’ll be no more bitching about Hellebuyck’s allergy to pucks.

Ted Wyman, the guy I like to call Teddy Football, left the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat to dog the Jets on their lid-lifting eastern swing, and I’m glad he did because his piece on best buds and now on-ice foes Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba is boffo. Or, as they say in his trade, it’s damn good stuff.

Big Buff

I seem to recall Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff saying something last spring about giving the Winnipeg HC leadership group a makeover, which led the fiction writers at the Drab Slab to read between all sorts of lines and see all sorts of boogeymen in the dressing room. So here’s your makeover: Wheeler still has the ‘C’, Rink Rat Scheifele still has his ‘A’, and Josh Morrissey has the ‘A’ Dustin Byfuglien left behind when he departed to stare at his belly button. Clearly, then, Wheeler and Rink Rat weren’t the “problem,” which means…yup, Big Buff must have been the rotten apple in that barrel. I’m sure the fiction writers will eventually tell us all about it. As if.

The Drab Slab’s other resident drama queens, sports editor Steve Lyons and once-upon-a-time columnist Paul Wiecek, are aghast—aghast, I say!—that Big Buff removed himself from the fray without their okie-dokie. Why, they’re taking his retreat as if he kicked one of their dogs. “To walk away and sell out his team at this point demands some kind of explanation from either the man or the team.” harrumphed Wiecek. He also described True North’s tight-lips posture as “a joke” and the way the Jets treat the rabble is “disgraceful. If I was a season-ticket holder right now, I’d be on the phone to the Jets offices every day, demanding either an explanation or my money back.” Well, isn’t that a special little hissy fit. I hope he didn’t hurt himself while stamping his feet and holding his breath. Look, Big Buff’s leave of absence is a curious bit of business, to be sure. And, yes, the timing sucks. But he’s under no obligation to give us the skinny. If Buff retires, I’m guessing he’ll have something to say, but we shouldn’t expect the Gettysburg Address, which was only 272 words. If he returns to the Jets blueline, he’ll probably have even less to say. Meantime, the Jets are keeping it on the QT because there’s nothing to say, other than they’ll respect Buff’s privacy. I’m good with that.

Brian Burke

Speaking of boys in grumpy pants, nice to see Brian Burke is already in mid-season form. Not! They hadn’t even begun to play for keeps in this new NHL crusade when Burkie went into dinosaur mode on Sportsnet, scolding linesman Kiel Murchison for having the bad manners to prevent an exchange of bare knuckles between Evander Kane and Derek Engelland. “Where in the rule book does it say fighting is prohibited?” he belched. “What it says is fighting is assessed a five-minute penalty. So let them fight.” Yes, by all means, let the boys throw down. And, while we’re at it, perhaps we can go back to using Eaton’s catalogs for shin pads.

No surprise, therefore, that Burke would applaud Sidney Crosby for getting into a scuffle on Saturday night. “I thought it was great,” he said on Hockey Night in Canada. “I thought it was great, and they got a lift out of it. They scored a couple goals right after the fight.” I don’t know about you, but I’d rather watch Crosby play hockey than sit in the penalty box icing his bruised knuckles.

Bob McKenzie

Bob McKenzie has signed a five-year extension to be TSN’s main blah, blah, blah guy on Planet Puckhead, and I’m sure that suits his 1.6 million Twitter followers just fine. Details of the contract were not released, but it’s believed it does not include an eight-figure signing bonus, prompting Tranna Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas to gasp, “Huh? You mean you don’t have to pay everybody $15 million up front?”

J.P. Wiser’s is producing an Alumni Whisky Series that features former NHL notables like Mark Messier (“Bold & tenacious. Aged for 11 years.”), Dave Keon (“Well-rounded. Aged for 14 years.”), and Yvan Cournoyer “Smooth & complex. Aged for 12 years.”). Apparently, the people at Wiser’s also had plans for a Don Cherry whisky (“Loud, curmudgeonly & obnoxious.”), but they discovered his best-before date expired sometime last century.

Andrew Ference and his finger.

Cherry, of course, was back in his HNIC bully pulpit on Saturday night, doing his usual shtick that’s part fashion show, part fight promoter, and a complete butchering of the language. My favorite segment arrived at the end, when Grapes went off topic and chastised Orlando Arcia of the Milwaukee Brewers for sticking his tongue out at Washington Nationals fans during a Major League Baseball playoff skirmish.

“Other sports, they might do stuff like that,” he growled in a sermon for the benefit of the kids. “In football, hockey, you can go on, the whole thing…in hockey we do not do that.”

Cherry’s right. Hockey players don’t stick their tongues out at the customers—they scale the glass and beat the hell out of them in the stands (hello, Boston Bruins, circa 1979). Or they punch them out at the bench (hello, Rob Ray). Or they fight them in the penalty box (hello, Tie Domi). Or they give them the finger (hello, Andrew Ference). But, ya, they keep their tongues to themselves. Except Brad Marchand, of course. He uses his to lick other players.

In the case of the 1979 Bruins, 18 of them piled into the stands at Madison Square Garden one December night, with tough guy Terry O’Reilly leading the charge. Even the normally docile Peter McNab waded into the fracas and roughed up a patron (“I was quite proud of him,” said Cherry), but the highlight was defenceman Mike Milbury yanking a shoe off one fan, then whacking him with it. All 18 Bruins were fined and three received suspensions. But, hey, not one of them stuck out his tongue, so everything was cool. (For the record, goaltender Gerry Cheevers was the only Boston player not involved. He was in the dressing room drinking post-game beer.)

I note with interest that the St. Louis Blues have locked down Brayden Schenn for the next eight years. Hmmm. That’s three max-length contracts signed in the past month. Perhaps Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab and Dave Poulin of TSN can tell us one more time how we won’t see NHL players signing for eight years anymore.

Chris Streveler

My oh my. That was some kind of slobber-knocking football the large lads in pads showed us Saturday on the Flattest of Lands. Nasty, nasty. There was much to like about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, even if they were on the short end of a 21-6 score, but the work of neophyte quarterback Chris Streveler wasn’t included in the good-vibe mix. He tossed one pass to the wrong guys in the end zone. He tossed another pass to the wrong guys at the goal line. He spilled and lost the ball in the score zone. And his offence put just half a dozen points on the board against a very stingy Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive dozen. What if it had been much-maligned QB Matt Nichols screwing up like that? What would the reaction be? That’s right. Pitchforks and torches. So hands up anyone who still believes the Bombers have a better chance of winning with Streveler at QB. Hmmm. I don’t see any hands.

Streveler after soiling the sheets: “I’ve got to be better.” Connor Hellebuyck after soiling the sheets: “I liked a lot of my game.” Discuss among yourselves.

Corn Dog Cody Fajardo

This has been the year of the backup QB in the Canadian Football League, with all but the B.C. Lions being forced to turn to their No. 2 gunslinger. So where does Streveler fit into the mix? Here’s how I would rank the backups-turned-starters:
1) Corn Dog Cody Fajardo
2) Dane Evans
3) Vernon Adams Jr.
4) Nick Arbuckle
5) McLeod Bethel-Thompson
6) Chris Streveler
7/8) Logan Kilgore/Jonathon Jennings.

And, finally, that was a serious paddywhacking the New Zealand All Blacks delivered to our gnarly Canadian lads at the Rugby World Cup. I mean, 63-0. Winnipeg Jets fans have decided that it’s Connor Hellebuyck’s fault.