About no fear…the “experts” being wrong…Winnipeg Jets go from Team Bicker to Team Good Ship Lollipop?…getting paid to be wrong…and other Stanley Cup things on my mind

A mid-week smorgas-bored…and I might wear white tonight but I won’t be anywhere near downtown Pegtown…

So, how do you like the Winnipeg Jets now, kids?

More to the point, do you see an outfit still standing in the Stanley Cup tournament that the local hockey heroes should fear? I don’t either.

Oh, sure, the Vegas Golden Knights are an imposing group. Big, strong, swift, superb in goal. Washington? No, you wouldn’t want to wager a large wad of paper money against the Capitals successfully defending their championship and spending another summer engaged in liquor-fueled hijinks. Boston? Tranna? Calgary? Columbus? Colorado? The Islanders? Nashville? Meh.

Naturally, the St. Louis Blues still have something to say about les Jets’ shelf life in the National Hockey League annual spring runoff, and we wouldn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. However, after what we witnessed in two skirmishes in the Show Me State, it should be apparent that the lads from St. Loo can match Winnipeg HC’s work ethic but not its skill.

Connor Hellebuyck

And that includes the boys in the blue paint, now that Connor Hellebuyck is turning away pucks as adeptly as he rejects objectionable questions and any suggestion that his stuff stinks.

In leveling their best-of-seven playoff series with a 2-1 W—on the strength of Kyle Connor’s OT tally and Hellebuyck’s gaffe-free goaltending on Tuesday night at the Enterprise Center—les Jets absorbed the best of the Blues and didn’t flinch. They just kind of shrugged and went about their business. And they now return to the Little Hockey House On The Prairie for tonight’s Game 5, confident that they’ve found their stride and convinced that Jordan Binnington is no longer the boogyman everyone made him out to be.

But, yes, it’s fair to wonder where these guys have been all year, and to ask if the phantom turn-off, turn-on switch that we keep hearing about really does exist.

I mean, going into this fray, les Jets had more skeptics than Christ in his heyday and, after dropping the first two jousts vs. the Blues, the bandwagon was emptying faster than a classroom on the last day of school.

Gord Stellick

Craig Button of TSN, for example, described Winnipeg HC as “the weakest team going into the playoffs.”

Over at Sportsnet, 10 of 16 “experts” in a preseason poll predicted a Western Conference crown for les Jets, but that number was reduced to just one—Gord Stellick—when 22 “experts” sifted through the tea leaves in a playoff poll.

Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, meanwhile, cited “multiple sources” to inform us that les Jets were “rotten to the core,” with discontent spreading through the changing room like a flesh-eating malignancy.

Yet here we are today with this “rotten” and “weakest” and “dysfunctional” team coming home with swagger after imposing its will on the Blues in St. Loo.

Shows you what the “experts” know.

Exactly what do the “experts” really know? No more than you and I or most lumps on bar stools. In the Sportsnet playoff poll, here’s how 22 “experts” saw the first round of the Stanley Cup tournament:

Tampa Bay vs. Columbus: 22-0 for TB. D’oh!
Pittsburgh vs. Islanders: 16-6 for Pitt. D’oh!
Boston vs. Tranna: 16-6 for the Bs.
Washington vs. Carolina: 21-1 for the Caps.
Calgary vs. Colorado: 22-0 for Cowtown.
Vegas vs. San Jose: 16-6 for Glitter Gulch.
Nashville vs. Dallas: 13-9 for Twang Town.
St. Loo vs. Winnipeg: 14-8 for the U.S. gateway.

Meanwhile, 21 of 22 had Tampa Bay winning the Eastern Conference and 18 of 22 predicted the Stanley Cup being paraded through the streets of Tampa in June. Only Kristina Rutherford (Boston), Stellick (Winnipeg), David Amber (Calgary) and Nick Kypreos (St. Louis) chose other outfits.

In short, they know squat.

Interesting that Drab Slab “expert” McIntyre is singing from a different songbook today, suggesting les Jets now are one big happy family.

Here’s what he told us on April 5: “Things appear to be rotten to the core with this team in a way that goes beyond the often lethargic, uninspired play we’ve seen on the ice far too many nights lately.” Mike M added that “multiple sources” informed him and fellow beat writer Jason Bell that “things are anything but rosy” and “there’s no joy to be found.”

Here’s what he’s telling us now: “Another positive to emerge for the Jets is the increased talk of unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice. Having been around this team all season, you get a pretty good sense of where the mood is at on a daily basis. Without question, players are as laser focused and locked in as they’ve been all season.”

Imagine that. All that alleged friction (“chaos”), all that alleged animosity (“infighting”), all that alleged rot (“dysfunction”) vanished faster than summer wages. Team Bicker has morphed into Team Good Ship Lollipop. Why, it’s a tap water-into-Molson Canadian miracle. Which one of the guys in that room wears sandals and walks on water? Blake Wheeler? Rink Rat Scheifele? Big Buff? Josh Morrissey?

It’ll make for a boffo story if les Jets pull this thing off. Except former cops-and-robbers reporter McIntyre apparently has the innuendo but not the facts, ma’am.

Puck Finn

Quickie question 1: Does the regular season bore Patrik Laine? I mean, the Puck Finn I’ve been watching in Beard Season isn’t the same Puck Finn I watched from October to April. Maybe the mystery Miracle Worker in les Jets changing room sprinkled him with happy dust. Or threatened to huck his track suit into the ice tub.

Just for the record, I’m not wearing a pair of Hindsight Goggles when I say les Jets will get by the Blues. I remind you of something I scribbled on Feb. 26, one day after the NHL shop-and-swap deadline: “What about the St. Louis Blues, you ask? What about them? Don’t be fooled by their run of good fortune. Once the puck stops hitting Jordan Binnington, they’ll be back to run-of-the-mill.” I also mentioned something about a Nashville-Winnipeg skirmish in the second round. And, as recently as last week, I wrote that the local lads were not “a writeoff” even though they were in a 0-2 hole vs. the Blues at the time. But, hey, what do I know? I mean, I’ve never seen the inside of of their changing room to monitor the “mood” and I don’t have “multiple sources” like Mike M at the Drab Slab. I do it the old-fashioned way. I examine the rosters, watch the games, listen to some of the players wag their chins, then call it as I see it. The difference between the “experts” and me? They get paid to be wrong, I don’t.

Nazem Kadri

Quickie question 2: If Nazem Kadri is made available by the Tranna Maple Leafs once this Stanley Cup business is out of the way, should les Jets put in a bid on the loose cannon? No. Too much of a wingnut.

Check out the top three point-producers in the Stanley Cup tournament: Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny, all added to the Vegas Golden Knights roster by general manager George McPhee in the past 10 months. Can you say GM of the year, kids?

Mitch Marner

Quickie question 3: When the time comes to talk turkey, how can les Leafs possibly argue that Mitch Marner doesn’t deserve as much coin as Auston Matthews? Unless they pay by the chin whisker, there’s no measure by which Matthews is worth more than Marner.

Headline in the Globe and Mail after Game 3 of Leafs-Bruins series: “Auston Matthews grabs the playoff spotlight for Maple Leafs.” Good grief. Marner and John Tavares were les Leafs best players, not Matthews.

And, finally, rumor has it that there’ll be a gathering in late May to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of les Jets third and final World Hockey Association championship. Will the current Jets still be in business by then? Yes. Absolutely. But remember, I’m no expert.

About Pierre McGuire’s gob and the hockey culture…the obsession with Puck Finn’s scoring drought…the Duck, Duck, Gooseicanes…hall-of-fame talking heads and a meathead…and so long to Pick

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I saw my shadow when I woke up Saturday morning, so it looks like another 48 weeks of bad writing coming up…

So, what should we be calling Pierre McGuire today? Pontius Pierre? Lee Harvey McGuire?

I mean, reading and hearing the opinionists in mainstream and social media go off on the NBC hockey gab guy last week, you’d swear he either crucified Christ or gunned down JFK. Maybe both. Could be that he also had a hand in breaking up the Beatles, so let’s stop blaming Yoko.

Pierre and Kendall

Poor Pierre. If only he’d keep his gob shut.

But he can’t do that. Pierre’s paid to flap his gums, and sometimes the filter between his grey matter and his lips is on the fritz. Like the time he gazed creepily into Darren Dutchyshen’s eyes and told the TSN talker that he was “an announcer with a long stick from time to time.” Trust me, that registered 10 on the wince-o-metre and likely stands today as the most-cringeworthy comment one man has made to another man on a sports broadcast. Ever.

So when Pierre spoke to Kendall Coyne Schofield like she was a six-year-girl who wouldn’t know a hockey puck from a urinal puck, it’s not like he was digging a shovel into unbroken ground.

Pierre and Kendall

If you missed it, Coyne Schofield joined McGuire on Wednesday for NBCSN’s telecast of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Tampa Bay Lightning skirmish. Her bona fides are impressive: Olympic champion, five-time world champion, winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, member of the Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League. And, of course, she became the first woman to compete against the boys in the National Hockey League all-star skills competition, finishing seventh in the lickety-split skating discipline.

All of that was lost on McGuire in welcoming Coyne Schofield to his ice-level roost between the players perches. He used emphatic arm gestures to deliver last-minute counsel, much like a Grade 1 teacher instructing her students to take out their copies of Dick and Jane—and no whispering while you’re reading, children!

Pierre and Kendall

“Tampa’s gonna be on your left, Pittsburgh’s gonna be on your right,” McGuire advised her.

It reminded me of the lyrics from a Stealers Wheel classic: “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am…” And there was Kendall, stuck in the middle with Pierre.

McGuire then added, “We’re paying you to be an analyst, not to be a fan tonight,” as if he feared Coyne Schofield would melt into a tittering, starry-eyed schoolgirl at the sight of all those dreamy NHL players swirling about the freeze in front of her.

It all begged this commentary from Emma Teitel, national columnist with the Toronto Star: “Would he have made a point to indicate, in elaborate fashion, hand gestures and all, which bench was where to a male pro? No. And that’s the problem.”

Kendall Coyne Schofield

Actually, McGuire likely would have done that very thing. He’s an excitable guy. And part groupie. He gets all gushy and fusses and fawns over players (see: recent interview with Jonathan Toews), and I’m reasonably certain that he has a man crush on Sidney Crosby.

That’s not to excuse his interaction with Coyne Schofield. It was terribly awkward, condescending and flat-out wrong. You know, the kind of crap every woman has dealt with at some point in her life.

Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune, presuming to speak “on behalf of women everywhere,” had this take on McGuire: “His unprofessional and sexist comments didn’t help the hockey world, which has been met with criticism for its unfair treatment of female players.”

I think that brings us closer to the nub of the matter.

McGuire is a product of the hockey culture, long a misogynistic old-boys club. Only recently have women begun to make significant inroads, on and off the freeze, but a fresh way of thinking and doing things is coming at a glacial pace. The women still are largely looked upon as second-class citizens, and their game is ignored by mainstream media until someone strikes a match and lights the Olympic torch.

Auston Matthews

If you think that’s going to change anytime soon, consider what Auston Matthews of the Tranna Maple Leafs had to say after Coyne Schofield put up a better time than Clayton Keller in the fastest-skater event at the NHL all-star game: “I was giving Keller a hard time because she beat him.”

Matthews didn’t give Keller a hard time because he got beat by six men, understand. The barbs came out only because he got beat by a girl. Seems to me that’s more sexist than anything McGuire spewed.

But apparently that’s the way the boys in the lockerroom think. Still.

Which tells you the issue runs much deeper than Pierre McGuire’s gob.

McGuire has long been an advocate and promoter of the women’s game. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been paying attention.

It’s fine for news snoops to tsk-tsk McGuire and squawk about “unfair treatment,” but what are they going to do about distaff shinny? Will the Toronto Star, for example, put a scribe on the Tranna Furies or Markham Thunder beats? As if. What about Michael Traikos of Postmedia Tranna? He’s on record as saying women should be more than a novelty act at the NHL all-star hijinx—they should participate in the actual game. But I wonder if he could name five members of the Furies or Thunder without doing a Google search. Talk’s cheap.

Winnipeg Jets 9, Disney Ducks 3, Patrik Laine 0. If Puck Finn goes much longer without a goal, we’ll have to call him Sahara and buy him a camel. I mean, two thirds of the world is covered by water. The other third is Laine’s dry spell.

Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab has taken the obsession with Laine’s follies to a ridiculous extreme. He actually performed an autopsy on the young winger’s work vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets—a laborious, shift-by-shift breakdown. All 17 of them. As legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg was wont to say, “Oh my.” And what conclusion did Mike M. reach? Don’t know. Don’t care. Anyone who took the time to plow through that piece really ought to get out more often.

Puck Finn

There’s good news during Parched Patty’s drought (four goals in 28 games since Dec. 1)—les Jets don’t miss his scoring touch. They were five points in arrears of the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche (11th overall in the NHL) when Laine’s hockey stick turned into a noodle. They’ve gone 20-8 since, and only two outfits—Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames—have more points today. So perhaps there’s been too much focus on what Laine isn’t doing and not enough on what’s making the glass half full.

Jacob Trouba

In case the Jacob Trouba critics among the rabble haven’t noticed, les Jets young defender is quietly delivering his most-productive season offensively. Five more points and he matches his career best 33. More points, more money. Ka-ching!

When I turn on a National Basketball Association game panel, I see hall-of-famers Shaq and Sir Charles flapping their gums. When I turn on a National Football League game panel, I see hall-of-famers Terry Bradshaw, Michael Strahan and Howie Long flapping their gums. When I turn on a Canadian Football League game panel, I see hall-of-famers Matt Dunigan and Milt Stegall flapping their gums. When I turn on Hockey Night in Canada, I see Nick Kypreos. Seriously. That’s the best HNIC can do. A former meathead hockey player?

If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it must be the Carolina Hurricanes. I agree with Brian Burke: The Hurricanes’ post-match shenanigans are corny. They were playing something called Duck, Duck, Goose the other night, and it was every bit as cringeworthy as anything Pierre McGuire said to Kendall Coyne Schofield.

And, finally, it’s farewell to Bob Picken, a wonderful man and a legendary broadcaster. Pick lost his argument with cancer last week, and it’s a huge loss for the community. They don’t make them any better than Pick.

About the great escape of CFL stars to the NFL…Mexico, Commish Randy and Martha Stewart…chasing Mr. Reilly…lady power in the NFL playoffs…backup goalies and backup QBs…and so long to Jim Taylor

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I wonder how many Corona CFL execs sucked back during their dog-and-pony show in Mexico…

Will the last all-star to leave the Canadian Football League please turn out the lights.

Already among the dearly departed are Alex Singleton, Bryant Mitchell, Duke Williams, Marken Michel, Diontae Spencer, Jameer Thurman, James Vaughters and Samuel Eguavoen. Most oustanding player Bo Levi Mitchell soon may follow.

I swear, we haven’t seen this many good men flee since the disciples abandoned Christ.

At least those guys had a legit excuse. It was either leave Christ to fend for himself or become a starving lion’s lunch. That’s kind of a no-brainer.

This southbound exodus of quality CFL talent is another matter. The large lads are skipping town because they want to compete with the best of the best, plus they’re tired of bashing their brains for chump change. And collecting it in Canadian coin. Up here, signing bonuses are paid in Canuck Tire money and wages in Monopoly money. At least that’s how the American import might see it.

Randy Ambrosie

But, hey, make a National Football League roster and he collects Dead Presidents and Founding Fathers. Scads of them.

A practice squad shlep, for example, earns $7,600 per week in four-down football. That’s $129,200 per season. For doing squat. Minimum wage for an NFL freshman in 2019 will be $495,000. A two-year guy can’t earn less than $645,000, even if he does nothing more than spend an entire Sunday afternoon standing on the sideline staring at a Microsoft tablet.

In comparison, the CFL minimum last season was $54,000. That isn’t a typo. Do not add a zero. And it’s only $40,559.40 on the U.S. exchange. That makes staying home in Alabama to offer Big Macs and large fries to drive-thru customers a viable option. Especially if it means you don’t have to leave a bride and kids behind.

Bo Levi Mitchell, MOP.

We won’t know the 2019 CFL salary structure until the league and the Players Association agree on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but we do know the bottom feeders won’t see more than five figures on their pay stubs.

So, ya, head south young man.

What puzzles me is that CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie is cool with the high volume of defectors.

“The NFL thing is just evidence of how fundamentally close the talent level in our league is to the talent level in the NFL,” he told news snoops last week at the winter meetings in Mont-Tremblant, Que. “That’s been a long and important story as it relates to our football. Our guys are world-class athletes and I’m always happy for them when they get a chance to take a shot at the NFL.”

Dave Dickenson

Oh, sure, let’s all paste on our happy faces like Commish Randy. Losing quality people to the NFL is a meh issue. Why, we can replace all those lost all-stars with any scrawny Mexican who can crawl under, climb over, or run around Donald Trump’s wall and make his way to Canada. So not to worry.

“Wonderful, young players,” Commish Randy said of Mexican talent while laying out his global scheme during a fireside chat with Dave Naylor of TSN. “It’s a brand new world, a brave new world out there.”

Sure is. But if Bo Levi Mitchell bolts to the NFL, I doubt John Hufnagel and Dave Dickenson of the Calgary Stampeders will be “brave” enough to replace their starting quarterback with Juan Valdez.

Sorry, but the CFL climbing into bed with Liga de Futbol Ay Chihuahua isn’t the feel-good story Commish Randy makes it out to be. Not when we’re witnessing the football equivalent of a jail break by our premier performers.

Seems to me his time would be better spent working on a CBA that doesn’t pay in Canuck Tire money.

Martha Stewart

In another fireside chat at the CFL winter meetings, Commish Randy channeled his inner Betty Crocker and advised Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun that he wants to “build the mother of all pies. We want to build a big pie.” Terrific. Martha Stewart can succeed him as commissioner when his world vision falls flatter than a sad soufflé.

Commish Randy began building his pie at Estadio Azul in Mexico City on Sunday, with cooks and bottle washers from the nine CFL teams assembling for the inaugural Look Under Every Rock Talent Tour. After observing 50 aspirants run, jump, pass, catch and kick, the consensus seemed to be there were a “couple of guys” who “wouldn’t embarrass themselves” at a training camp. I say we let the Tranna Argonauts have all 50 players. If they fail to make the team, maybe they’ll stay and buy season tickets. That would double attendance at BMO Field from last season.

According to Commish Randy and others, this Mexico’s Got Talent dog-and-pony show is all about growing the game globally. How about growing the game in the Republic of Tranna, Montreal and B.C. first.

Sarah Thomas

The CFL prides itself on diversity, but the NFL one-upped our league this weekend when Sarah Thomas and Terri Valenti worked playoff matches. Thomas became the first woman to officiate a post-season game, serving as the down judge in the American Football Conference division skirmish between the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Brady-Belichicks, while Valenti was the replay official for the Kansas City Chiefs-Indianapolis Colts joust. Awesome.

Moving to a more seasonal topic, I don’t understand why so many people are saying and writing that Rink Rat Scheifele is the engine that drives the Winnipeg Jets. Seems to me that it’s captain Blake Wheeler. Still.

In my next life I want to be a backup goalie or a backup quarterback. They’re always the most popular player with the rabble. A case in point would be Laurent Brossoit, currently Connor Hellebuyck’s caddie with les Jets. Listening to the faithful, Brossoit is boffo and Hellebuyck sucks. And the numbers suggest that. But, no, you don’t want to turn the blue paint over to Brossoit. It’s that old nugget about not fixing what ain’t broke. The Jets sit atop the National Hockey League Central Division leaderboard. They ain’t broke.

Jim Taylor

The West Coast said goodbye to one of Canada’s jock journo legends when Jim Taylor cashed out at age 82 last week on Vancouver Island. There was much to admire about Skull’s scribblings, but what I liked most was his approach to writing sports: Taylor recognized that the games people play aren’t really all that important in the grand scheme of things—hence the term ‘toy department’—so he went about it with a wink and a nod. Taylor used wit and sarcasm, irreverence and cheek to deliver his message of the day to Vancouver Sun and Province readers for 30 years. Sometimes he did it with the bite of a bulldog, other times the purr of a kitten. The main ingredient, however, was humor. He was a funny guy who poked fun and had fun. If there were any sacred cows in his world, no one noticed it in his writing. That’s why he was among my favorites.

Taylor had a quirk: He would run his one-liners by you before he’d ship his copy off to his editors. It was his idea of a test drive. He didn’t have to do that, though. They were all funny and made you laugh. Out loud. And you’d laugh again the next morning when you saw the same line in print.

Taylor’s passing provided pause for ponder on the state of sports writing in our vast nation. There are some fine wordsmiths, people who can spin a yarn and turn a phrase, but I don’t find much cheekiness and humor in most scribblings. The scribes all seem to take themselves so bloody seriously, and I often wonder what some of them are so angry about. It’s probably why I rag on guys like Steve Simmons and Damien Cox so much. They just don’t appear to be having any fun with the gig.

And, finally, is the Drab Slab known as the Winnipeg Free Press ever going to hire a sports columnist? It’s been more than three months since the last guy left the building. Get on with it already.