About drinking the Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid…a pity party…size doesn’t really matter…beer-league hockey and a bean counter…a losing MVP…Nathan MacKinnon for MVP…Shaq’s still PO’d about Steve Nash…women in the broadcast booth…and Le Grand Orange bids adieu

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

I didn’t think anyone would buy the “everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” bunk that Jets captain Blake Wheeler was selling last week. Other than the gullible, fawning faithful, that is.

But along comes Paul Wiecek and he’s actually swallowing that cup of Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid.

Right to the very last drop.

Here’s what the Winnipeg Free Press columnist wrote about Wheeler’s “under the radar” malarkey: “That might have been true before this season. In fact, it almost certainly was true.”

In fact, it almost certainly was not true.

Which National Hockey League outfit, the Jets (versions 1.0 and 2.0) or the mega-market Tranna Maple Leafs, do you suppose has produced more individual regular-season award winners and more all-stars since River City was invited to join the fun for the 1979-80 season (excluding, of course, the years when Winnipeg was dark)? I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t the team that skates in the shadow of the CN Tower.

Here are the facts, ma’am…just the facts (they aren’t hard to find):

Winnipeg Jets 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17

Calder Trophy: Dale Hawerchuk 1981-82, Teemu Selanne 1992-93
Jack Adams Trophy: Tom Watt 1981-82, Bob Murdoch 1989-90
King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Kris King 1995-96
All-star teams (1st or 2nd): Hawerchuk 1984-85, Selanne 1992-93, Keith Tkachuk 1994-95, Phil Housley 1991-92, Alexei Zhamnov 1994-95
Rookie all-star team: Selanne 1992-93, Bob Essensa 1989-90, Iain Duncan 1987-88, Boris Mironov 1993-94, Patrik Laine 2016-17
Total: 5 individual awards, 5 all-star teams, 5 rookie all-stars15.

Tranna Maple Leafs 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17

Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews 2016-17
Frank Selke Trophy: Doug Gilmour 1992-93
Jack Adams Trophy: Pat Burns 1992-93
All-star teams: Borje Salming 1979-80
Rookie all-star team: Felix Potvin 1992-93, Wendel Clark 1985-86, Dan Daoust 1982-83, Kenny Jonsson 1994-95, Jake Gardiner 2011-12, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews 2016-17
Total: 3 individual awards, 1 all-star team, 7 rookie all-stars—11.

We all know les Leafs fly “under the radar” like Donald Trump is subtle on Twitter, yet voters have ignored them season after season after season.

Teemu Selanne and the Calder Trophy

Consider the Calder Trophy as an e.g. Until Auston Matthews was anointed the NHL’s leading freshman last spring, do you know how long it had been since a member of les Leafs won the top frosh bauble? Fifty-one freaking years! Half a century! When Brit Selby accepted the trinket, Lester Pearson was Prime Minister of Canada. Neil Young had just joined Buffalo Springfield. Hockey Night in Canada was still televised in black and white.

But two Jets—Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne—copped the Calder after Selby and before Mathews. And a third, Patrik Laine, was runnerup last year.

Go figure.

This whole Winnipeg is “under the radar” thing is a total copout. It’s such a lame lament. It sounds like the theme of an “Oh, woe are we” pity party. I can hear Leslie Gore singing “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” as I type. Rodney Dangerfield should be their poster boy. No respect, I’ll tell ya…no respect. Look, I get the drill. Winnipeg is mocked, maligned and ridiculed as a backwater burg. It’s so remote, you have to drive 500 miles just to get to the Middle of Nowhere, also known as Regina. But I invite anyone to provide evidence in support of the notion that a Jets player or coach has been cheated out of an award due to locale.

Blake Wheeler

Wiecek didn’t stop at one swig of the Jets Kool-Aid. He doubled down on the conspiracy theory in a follow-up essay: “There has been some loose talk in recent weeks about Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler having an outside shot at taking down this season’s Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player,” he wrote. “That’s not going to happen for a lot of reasons, beginning with the fact the Hart Trophy is voted upon by the media and Wheeler plays in the smallest media market in the entire NHL.” He wants to talk about size? Like size matters? Okay, let’s talk size. If Winnipeg is the nail on your little toe, Edmonton is the nail on your pinky finger. Yet the Oilers won 30—count ’em, 30—individual awards that are voted on (mostly by the media), 10 of them going to players not named Wayne Gretzky (in the years Winnipeg wasn’t dark). There were also 32 first- or second-team all-star selections, including six chosen to the rookie team. In the National Football League, tinytown Green Bay can boast of eight Associated Press MVP awards from five players, dating back to the early 1960s. The Goliath known as New York City, with two teams since 1970, has had just two NFL MVPs. Size doesn’t matter, performance does.

Scott Foster shuts the door on Paul Stastny.

So, the mighty Jets juggernaut couldn’t put a puck past a bean counter who plays goal in a beer league at Johnny’s Ice House West in Chicago. They tried for 14 minutes and one second. They tested him seven times. Nada. Scott Foster, the Blackhawks backup goaltender to the backup goaltender, was perfect on Thursday night at the United Center. His NHL career goals-against average is 0.00. I swear, there hasn’t been a better emergency replacement story in sports since Lou Gehrig took over at first base for Wally Pipp and the New York Yankees. Difference is, Gehrig hung in there for another 2,130 consecutive games. Bean Counter Foster didn’t quit his day job. He went back to his spreadsheets the following morning, knowing he’s the NHL’s feel-good story of the year. Brilliant stuff.

Al Rollins

Speaking of Chitown goaltenders, does the name Al Rollins mean anything to you? Didn’t think so. Well, he tended goal for Chicago in 1953-54. The Blackhawks occupied the cellar in the NHL that season. They won just 12 of 70 assignments, missing the playoffs by a whopping 43 points. Rollins’ 3.23 goals-against average was worst in the league. Guess who was NHL MVP. Yup, Al Rollins. So don’t tell me Connor McDavid shouldn’t be considered for the Hart Trophy simply because his Oilers teammates suck and didn’t qualify for this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. History records that numerous outriders have been MVP, in all leagues. Andre (Hawk) Dawson, for example, was MVP on a Major League Baseball bottom-feeder. Ditto Alex Rodriguez. Here’s a partial list of non-playoff MVPs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers,1975-76; Larry Walker, Colorado Rockies, 1997; Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, 2001, 2004; Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers, 2003; Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, 2006; Albert Puhols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2008; O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills, 1973; Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts, 1967; Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs, 1987; Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, 2015; Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, 2017; Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2016; Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers, 1989; Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles, 1991; Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs, 1958-59; Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1987-88; Andy Bathgate, New York Rangers, 1958-59.

If I had a vote, I’d be inclined to give serious consideration to Brad Marchand as MVP in the NHL, because the Boston Bruins would be in Nowheresville without him. But I’d have to hold my nose if I included him on my ballot, because he’s a skunk. A total dweeb. People say Marchand plays “with an edge,” but I disagree. He plays dirty. He’s also a diver. Ultimately, I’d have his name on my ballot, but not at the top. I’d put Nathan MacKinnon and his 93 points/11 game-winning goals for the Colorado Avalanche first, followed by McDavid. Yup, possibly two non-playoff participants one-two. I’d have Blake Wheeler of les Jets third (he plays an honest game as opposed to Marchand’s shenanigans), then Sidney Crosby (Evgeni Malkin has marginally better numbers, but Sid the Kid still makes the Pittsburgh Penguins tick) and Marchand.

I’m not a hoops fan. Never have been. But it’s boffo that Victoria’s Steve Nash will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, in part because he was a two-time National Basketball Association most valuable player. Mind you, his former sidekick with the Phoenix Suns, Shaquille O’Neal, figures Nash’s two MVP awards were a rob job. “(I should have won) three, easily. (I should have won) the two that Steve Nash got over me. It pisses me off. (Nash) knows,” Shaq once told SI.com. Get over it, Shaq.

How unusual, also refreshing, to hear an all-female broadcast team work a hockey game. Sportsnet pulled it off with Leah Hextall handling the play-by-play, Cassie Campbell-Pascall providing the backup vocals in the booth, and Nikki Reyes standing at rink-side for the Clarkson Cup, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title match between the Markham Thunder and Kunlun Red Star. Wonder how long it will be before we hear three women working an NHL game? No doubt the very thought will make a lot of men cringe and feel like they’ve been gelded. Well, it’ll happen one day. Deal with it, boys.

Le Grand Orange

Le Grand Orange has left the building. That would be Rusty Staub, who died Thursday, three days before his 74th birthday. I have one vivid memory of Staub—he stole a base in the first Major League Baseball game I witnessed live. An original member of the Montreal Expos, Staub was with the Detroit Tigers at the time and I was sitting in the first base bleachers at old Exhibition Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. Because he had the foot speed of an ATM, the Blue Jays thought it unlikely that Staub would bolt. Yet away he went. It was like watching a man pull a milk wagon. I could have poured back three pints by the time he arrived at second base. But he got there safely. Standing up, no less. Staub stood there, smiling, like a schoolboy who’d pulled the perfect prank. A nice memory.

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: Not so long ago, he described the induction of Pedro Martinez to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a “ridiculous choice. He spent four seasons in Montreal. That’s all.” Apparently, that made the Hall “look cheap.” And “Do you honestly believe a player with four years service belongs in a Hall of Fame? Any Hall of Fame?” Ah, but now he writes glowingly of Staub as “the baseball player in Canada so many of us cared about. The first who mattered across the country.” Staub actually spent less time with the Expos than Martinez, just 3 ½ season with the Expos, but he was inducted into the CBHF in 2012 and I don’t hear Grandpa Simmons shouting that it was a “ridiculous choice.” Nor should he. So shut up about Pedro, Steve.

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About open season on NHL goaltenders…no news is still news for Johnny Manziel…the write stuff from Jeff Hamilton…Box Car Bill Belichick’s biceps…the return of Mr. Carrie Underwood…routs at the Scotties…the PC Police…Grandpa Simmons shaking his fist at clouds again…fresh Stanley Cup odds…and a whine and cheese party in South Korea

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

The scene of the crime.

It was Groundhog Day on Friday. I woke up, stared at my TV screen and saw 4 1/2 more months of bad goaltender interference calls ahead.

Seriously. There are three things in life that I do not understand: 1) goaltender interference in hockey; 2) goaltender interference in hockey; 3) goaltender interference in hockey.

Well, okay, there are more than three things I don’t understand. Pass interference in football is another. And exactly where do socks disappear to when you’re doing laundry? (The socks thing I’ve remedied. I no longer wear them. I don’t even own a pair. For the record, I wear tights in winter and go barefoot in summer.) But this goaltender interference thing is more baffling than the National Hockey League hiring Kid Rock to sing.

I mean, I swear I saw James Neal of the Vegas Golden Knights go all lumberjack the other night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in Winnipeg, breaking his twig in two with a Paul Bunyanesque wallop to the masked face of Jets ‘tender Connor Hellebuyck. It wasn’t ruled goaltender interference. Not even after a coach’s challenge and video review that, in the opinions of the two men wearing orange arm bands, validated a Vegas score.

Huh?

You whack a goaltender across the face with a two-hander and that isn’t interference? If not, it surely is a slashing penalty (like, five minutes and a game). Whistle blows. No goal. But not in today’s NHL, where reason has fled the building and logic is only a step behind.

The good news is, NHL deep-thinkers have time to put this part of their house in order before it corrupts the Stanley Cup tournament. The bad news is, they’re the same deep-thinkers who hired Kid Rock to sing.

Charlize Theron

Aside from Michael Sam, who became famous for being gay, has any football player generated more headlines by not playing football on this side of the north-south divide than Johnny Manziel?

The Canadian Football League remains a Manziel-free zone (for now), yet this frat boy who would play quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats very much remains a hot-button topic. According to TSN, Manziel and the Tabbies are further apart on money than Bill Gates and a panhandler. His reported sticker price is half a million bucks. The Tabbies are offering in the neighborhood of $150,000.

“Nahhh,” tweets Manziel. “We asked for a fair deal, that’s it.” But then he added: “Has there ever been a rookie that will sell more money in jersey sales and season tickets than his entire two-year contract would be worth? OK good talk…Humble as can be. Just stating FACTS sorry you don’t agree.”

Yo! Johnny! The Ticats played to 97 per cent capacity at Timbits Field in The Hammer last season. They need a woman-beater like you to sell tickets and garments like Charlize Theron needs a makeover.

Johnny Manziel and Colleen Crowley

Lengthy but excellent read from Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press on domestic violence as it relates to Manziel and the CFL. The most startling revelation in the article: In performing their “due diligence” on Manziel, no one from the CFL or the Tiger-Cats contacted Colleen Crowley. She’s the young woman the former Cleveland Browns QB beat up a couple of years ago, leading her to file for, and be granted, a restraining order against him. You’d think seeking a victim impact statement would be a no-brainer.

Some quality journalism last week about mental illness, and I never saw or read anything better than Darren Dreger’s TSN feature on Paul Ranger, whose battle with inner demons cost him his NHL career. It was a gripping, touching piece. Boffo work.

All power to Ricky Ray, who, at age 38, will give it another whirl as starting QB with the Tranna Argonauts. The worry, of course, is that he’ll end his Canadian Football Hall of Fame career on the back of a Gator cart, because he has all the mobility of an ATM and he’s as brittle as a piece of burnt toast. Fingers (and toes) crossed for him.

Howard Stern

You wonder why so many people believe journalists are lower than the bowels of hell? Alex Reimer is a reason. Howard Stern is a reason.

Reimer, a gab guy with WEEI in Boston, established new standards for tacky when, commenting on the Tom Brady Facebook feature Tom vs Time, he described the quarterback’s five-year-old daughter Vivian as “an annoying little pissant.” Hey, take shots and Brady and his New England Patriots if you like. That seems to be a national pastime on either side of the U.S.-Canada border. Just leave his kids alone, right?

But wait. Let’s let another juror weigh in.

I’ve got to stick up for radio guys, because number one, you’re on the air and it’s not like there’s a script,” Serius XM radio gasbag Howard Stern huffs and puffs. “But for godsakes—Tom Brady should know better. If you’re going to put your young child on a TV show, on the Internet, you’re putting her out there for comment.

It’s really Tom’s fault. And I don’t know Tom—I’m a great admirer of his physical prowess and his football ability—but don’t put your kid up on an Internet show and then get pissed when people comment on her behavior. You’re putting it out there for people to comment on. That’s what a TV show is.”

Instant analysis: Who knew Howard Stern was still a thing?

Box Car Bill Belichick

This week’s notable quotable is from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, on New England Patriots head coach Box Car Willie Belichick: “(He) has a thing for wearing sleeveless shirts, which is a serious problem that does not get enough attention.” Either Kelly’s tongue was in his cheek, or he’s totally lost the plot. I mean, I can think of a number of “serious problems” with the National Football League (like, when is a catch a catch; when is a concussion a concussion?), but Box Car Belichick’s bare arms are not among them. Would Kelly have him drag a brush through his hair as well? Maybe ask him to spray on some cologne? C’mon man.

Mr. Carrie Underwood and his bride, Carrie Underwood.

Interesting that Mike Fisher is ending his retirement to rejoin the Nashville Predators for their Stanley Cup push. Guess being Mr. Carrie Underwood and a stay-at-home papa isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Whatever, the well-seasoned centre’s return makes a hard-to-play-against Predators outfit harder to play against.

I agree with Michelle Englot, the Team Canada skip at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton: People should “chill out” about the new format. True, no one wants to see the Canadian women’s curling championship reduced to an ant-squishing competition, but lopsided scores are commonplace at the Scotties. Consider these results:

2018: 12-2, 11-1, 12-5, 10-4, 14-1, 10-3, 11-5, 13-4, 10-4, 12-4.
2017: 11-6, 10-5, 10-5, 12-6, 11-5, 10-2, 11-5, 10-4, 10-4, 11-5.
2016: 12-5, 10-2, 10-4, 11-5, 10-3, 10-3, 11-4, 9-3, 9-4, 8-2.
2015: 10-5, 10-2, 10-5, 11-5, 10-4, 11-2, 9-1, 9-4, 9-3, 9-3, 8-1.
2014: 15-3, 12-2, 10-3, 10-3, 12-2, 10-5, 10-3, 10-4, 10-5.
2013: 11-5, 12-5, 10-5, 10-4, 12-2, 11-4, 10-3, 10-2, 9-1, 9-2.

Michelle Englot

In other words, it’s been same old, same old at this year’s Scotties and the new format isn’t the reason for blowouts in Penticton—it’s the have and have-not dynamic. You have Grand Slam curlers sharing the same pebble as club curlers. That usually won’t end well.

And don’t run off with the notion that routs are an element particular to curling. It happens in both women’s and men’s hockey as well.

2016/17 women’s world hockey championship: 7-0, 8-0, 11-0, 8-0, 8-1, 8-0, 9-0.
2016/17 men’s world hockey championship: 7-2, 10-1, 8-1, 7-2, 7-2, 6-0, 7-0, 10-1, 7-1, 8-0, 7-2, 6-0.

So there.

Pedro Martinez

This week’s nasty Stevie-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna is directed at Pedro Martinez, one of this year’s inductees to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. According to Grandpa Simmons, the Martinez appointment is “ridiculous” because he only spent four seasons with the Expos in Montreal. “Pedro Martinez does not belong here. Makes the Hall look cheap,” Simmons tweets angrily. “Do you honestly believe a player with four years service belongs in the Hall of Fame? Any Hall of Fame?” Well, let’s see: Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson spent only four winters in Winnipeg, yet they’re in both the Jets and Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. Do they belong? Absolutely. Doug Flutie spent only two seasons quarterbacking the Toronto Argonauts, yet he’s in the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. Does he belong? Two Grey Cup titles says yes. Gale Sayers played the equivalent of 4.25 seasons (just 68 games) for the Chicago Bears, yet he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Does he belong? Ya think? I wish people would stop dropping Grandpa Simmons on his head.

Sifting through The River City Renegade archives, I note that on Sept. 14, 2017, I provided odds on each Canadian team ending the Great White North Stanley Cup drought. Here was my morning line:

Edmonton McDavids: 3/1
Winnipeg Jets: 5/1
Calgary Flames: 5/1
Tranna Maple Leafs: 10/1
Montreal Canadiens: 20/1
Ottawa Senators: Fuhgeddaboudit.
Vancouver Canucks: You’re kidding, right?

February update! February update! February update!

Winnipeg Jets: 1/1
Calgary Flames: 5/1
Tranna Maple Leafs: 10/1
Edmonton McDavids: 25/1
Montreal Canadiens: Not in my lifetime.
Ottawa Senators: Not in my grandchildren’s lifetime.
Vancouver Canucks: Not even when the Sedin twins are playing on a forward line with one of their grandchildren.

No more Walk-On Girls at darts events in the U.K.

Does anyone remember what sports was like before the Politically Correct Police mobilized? I mean, Chief Wahoo soon will be gone from the Cleveland Indians unis. Formula 1’s Grid Girls are gone. The U.K.’s professional darts Walk-On Girls are gone. Next thing you know, Postmedia’s tabloid newspapers across the land will be ordering their Sunshine Girls to cover up the cleavage.

Get ready, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the bitch-a-thon is about to commence. That is to say, the flowers of Canadian sports journalism are on their way to South Korea for the Winter Olympic Games, and the moment they touch down in PyeongChang they shall commence to feeding us a steady diet of whine with their cheesey commentary about poor facilities, poor food, poor shuttle service, poor accommodations, poor travel connections, and poor port-o-potties. Trust me, they’ll deliver more complaints than a Republican watching CNN.