Let’s talk about the NHL’s COVID boogie…what they’re saying about the Winnipeg Jets…one Mike drops the mic and another Mike picks it up…Citizen Kane’s latest woes…the value of a good copy editor…and no mulligans for Trump

An early-week smorgas-bored…and happy hockeying everybody…

And so it begins Wednesday night, a modified National Hockey League crusade featuring fewer games, expanded rosters, a Hoser Division, and a killer pandemic.

Make no mistake, this NHL do-si-do shall boogie along to the whims and cadence of COVID-19, which has already put the Dallas Stars in drydock and isn’t likely to play favorites. We can expect more of same, and you can only hope the coronavirus doesn’t take its biggest bite out of your hockey heroes.

We’ve seen how it works, of course, thanks to other leagues.

Every quarterback with a pulse on the Denver Broncos roster was sacked. The Cleveland Browns lost three coaches and four players in advance of their National Football League playoff skirmish v. the Pittsburgh Steelers. It took Tony Romo out of the CBS Sports blurt box. Etcetera, etcetera.

In short, COVID-19 has taken down more NFL players than Michael Strahan, Mean Joe Greene, Reggie White and Dick Butkus in their best years. Combined.

Over in the National Basketball Association, the Boston Celtics-Miami Heat joust was called off Sunday when there weren’t enough healthy bodies to put a team on the hardwood. Two games were called off Monday. The Philly 76ers had the minimum of eight players available for their match v. the Denver Nuggets. The Dallas Mavericks closed their practice facility. Etcetera, etcetera.

So, really, all bets should be off before they drop the puck on the 2021 NHL season, even as Vegas bookies are offering odds on a Stanley Cup champion (the Winnipeg Jets, for those so inclined, were listed at 40/1 on Bodog last time I looked).

Similarly, it’s folly to engage in the reading of tea leaves and/or tarot cards.

That’s Gordie Tumilson, middle front row, beside Bobby Hull.

I mean, go ahead and toss out pre-play predictions if you like, but if COVID-19 were to slay Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit, I don’t like the Jets playoff chances with a Zamboni driver in the blue paint and Gordie Tumilson as backup.

That’s no rap against old friend and former teammate Gordie, by the way. He’s one of my favorite people, but I’m guessing the reflexes aren’t quite as rapier-like as when he stopped rubber for the West Kildonan North Stars in 1969-70 and the Jets a few years later.

Thus, there shall be no prognostications from moi, except to say I expect the Toronto Maple Leafs to top the Hoser Division. (Then, as is their custom, they’ll be excused in the opening round of Beard Season.) Otherwise, it’s a complete crap shoot that, again, shall follow the dictates of COVID, whether we like it or not.

Let’s just call it the COVID19-2021 season.

The gang at NHL.com wasn’t shy about delivering predictions, and six of 15 observers believe the Jets have the right stuff to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Adam Kimelman has the local lads finishing third, while Dave Stubbs, Shawn P. Roarke, Bill Price, Mike G. Morreale and Tracey Myers slot them in at fourth. USA Today, meanwhile, has the Jets penciled in for a sixth-place finish, ahead of only the Ottawa Senators.

Ray Ferraro

Here’s what they’re saying about the Jets hither and yon…

Ray Ferraro, TSN: “Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver, I’ve got those three kind of together (after Toronto, Montreal and Calgary). I’m not blown away by Winnipeg’s defence. That’s the one thing that gives me pause. But maybe one of those young guys is more ready than you think. Maybe you can climb a spot. Maybe you can put yourself in a different place. I don’t know, is Hellebuyck gonna do that again this year, ’cause, man, he was the best goalie in the league last year. If he can, great. That erases a lot of the shortcomings perhaps of that defence.”

Sean McIndoe, The Athletic: “The optimist’s take on the Jets is that they were pretty good last year despite lots of doom and gloom about their thin blueline, then looked like a playoff team and only lost in the qualifying round because everyone got hurt. The pessimist would point out that ‘pretty good’ isn’t all that great when you have a Vezina winner in goal, and the blueline isn’t significantly better. If Connor Hellebuyck stands on his head again, cool. If he does like a lot of Vezina winners and regresses to the mean even a little, they might fall out of the playoff hunt. I realize ‘they need their goalie to play well’ is an insight that would apply to every team in the league, but it really applies to the Jets.”

Greg Wyshynski, ESPN: “The Winnipeg Jets will ice another competitive team, backstopped by one of the league’s elite netminders in Connor Hellebuyck. But as the team looks to push for another long playoff run, dark storm clouds are overhead, as trade rumors persist involving goal-scoring wizard Patrik Laine. (Paul) Stastny can’t recapture the magic. On a contending team, Stastny is a valuable asset. He does a lot of the little things right that can make the difference in a playoff series. But the last time he was in Winnipeg, he was 32 years old and had a 0.65 points-per-game average between the Jets and Blues. Last season, in 71 games, that average dipped down to 0.54, the lowest of his career. Not a liability as a player, but maybe no longer the guy you want as your No. 2 centre. Then again, he did have impressive chemistry with (Nikolaj) Ehlers and Laine, so we could be wrong.”

Joe Thornton

Random observations: I’m not convinced it’s a given that the Ottawa Senators are destined to be Hoser Division bottom-feeders. Is it likely? Sure. Especially if bankroll Eugene Melnyk sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong. Just don’t sleep on them…The Montreal Canadiens are overrated. Ditto the Calgary Flames…When I submit that I expect the Maple Leafs to top the Hoser Division, it’s based on a belief that aligning greybeard Joe Thornton with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the top line is a gimmick with a shelf life of about one week…How many people in the True North will pay attention to the standings south of the border? What the American teams do is irrelevant until the Stanley Cup tournament is down to the final four. So why tune in?…Just a reminder, the Jets were the last homebrew outfit to make it to the SC semifinals, in 2018. Seems like a decade ago, doesn’t it?

The What Was Your First Clue Sherlock Award goes to the Drab Slab for this headline on the Jets playing in an empty Little Hockey House On The Prairie this season: “Bell MTS Place won’t be same without fans.” Ya think?

Mike Milbury

So, the other shoe has finally dropped for Mike Milbury, the former player, coach and GM most noted for clubbing a New York Rangers fan on the head with his footwear. NBC Sports has decided it can get along without Milbury’s mumbled musings in the broadcast booth and/or studio this season, and they’ll hand his mic to another defrocked NHL coach, Mike Babcock. No word on what Milbury plans to do with his free time, but apparently he’ll begin a search for the real Space Needle. Hopefully, there’ll be no women on site to “disrupt” his concentration.

Evander Kane and the infamous money phone.

Remember that money phone pic Evander Kane posted from Las Vegas during the 2012-13 NHL lockout? You know, the one with the stacks of American 100 dollar bills? Well, today old friend Evander is $26.8 million in the glue, and hands up anyone who’s surprised to learn that he’s in trouble again? Didn’t think so. Kane, of course, isn’t the first high-salaried athlete to squander a fortune, and he won’t be the last. It’s just that it’s a particularly bad look for him, since a lot of the Jets faithful recall Kane flaunting his wealth with that money phone pic. Today he’d have to borrow a quarter to call someone who cares in Winnipeg, and that’s sad.

Hayley Moore

Say, here’s some good news: Add the name Hayley Moore to the growing list of women stepping into prominent positions in men’s professional sports. The American Hockey League has recruited Hayley as its Vice President of Hockey Operations, and she’ll be on the job early next month, once the National Women’s Hockey League Isobel Cup tournament wraps up in Lake Placid. At present, she’s president of the Boston Pride, after serving as team GM and deputy commissioner and director of player development for the NWHL.

There’s a very good reason why copy editors exist: They can save a writer’s bacon. Unfortunately, they were asleep on the rim when Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna filed this copy last weekend: “Yes, American hockey is pretty darn good,” he wrote. “And no, that’s not necessarily new. Twenty years ago, Sidney Crosby scored the Golden Goal in overtime. The opponent: Team USA, winner of the 1986 World Cup.” D’oh! Twenty years ago, Crosby was in Junior High and the World Cup of Hockey didn’t exist in 1986.

That reminds me of one of my worst gaffes, although not in a byline article. I referred to the Major League Baseball all-star game in July as the “annual Fall Classic.” Gus Collins was on the sports desk that night at the Winnipeg Tribune, and he didn’t catch the mistake. I noticed it at first light the following morning while eating breakfast. Scant seconds later, Gus was on the blower. “Did you see it?” he asked. To which I replied, “Sorry, Gus, I can’t talk right now. I just choked on my Cheerios.”

Donald Trump: No mulligans for you!

According to Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, Donald Trump is “gutted” over the PGA of America voting to remove its 2022 signature tournament from his Trump National golf course in Bedminster, N.J. Not to worry, Trumpsters. Apparently Rudy Giuliana is already on the case, arranging a press conference at a convenient Four Seasons Greenskeeper Shed, whereupon he will demand a mulligan for Trump and vow to challenge the vote in the highest Kangaroo Court he can find.

And, finally, golfers Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump last week, but New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, a one-time Trumpite, wants no part of the trinket. To get even for the betrayal, it’s believed Trump stomped his feet, shook his tiny fists, and demanded his MAGA hat back.

Let’s talk about Winnipeg Jets young studs skipping town and training camp tardiness…fresh Chevy-speak and what it means…Tiz the Stud…a Twitter hissing contest…no radio/TV in the colonies…heavenly baseball…where’s the money?…and other things on my mind

The first Sunday morning smorgas-bored of 2021…and I can’t say how many more are to follow…

Puck Finn

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed a trend with the Winnipeg Jets? Consider:

Evander Kane wanted out.

Jacob Trouba wanted out/tardy to training camp.

Josh Morrissey tardy to training camp.

Patrik Laine tardy to training camp.

Kyle Connor tardy to training camp.

Jack Roslovic wants out/tardy to training camp.

All young. All first-round draft picks.

Josh Morrissey

Of that bunch, only Morrissey and Connor are locked in longterm with the National Hockey League club. Kane and Trouba vamoosed. Laine’s agents believe it would be “mutually beneficial” for Puck Finn and the Jets to part company, and if they’re saying it we can assume Laine put the notion in their noggins. Roslovic, meanwhile, will likely sign, then bide his time playing third- or fourth-line minutes—or eating popcorn in the press box—for a very modest wage until his wish for a new postal code is granted.

Losing four young studs isn’t how draft-and-develop is supposed to work. But when—yes, I said when—Laine and Roslovic are gone, it will have become the Winnipeg way. That’s not a good look.

But, hey, Blake Wheeler will still be there to ride shotgun for Rink Rat Scheifele, and I sometimes think that’s all that matters to the Holy Trinity of Jets co-bankroll Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice.

That’s not a good look, either.

Just a thought: Would the Holy Trinity ever part company with captain Wheeler the way the Boston Bruins discarded Zdeno Chara, the greybeard who wore the C for so many years? Not bloody likely. I say it’s even money that Wheeler is still captain of Winnipeg HC—and playing right wing on the first line if Maurice is still behind the bench—when he’s 43.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Always get a giggle out of Chevy’s gum-flappers, and he was in peak form last week during 40-plus minutes of to-and-fro with news snoops. The thing is, Chevy-speak usually requires de-coding because, when asked the time of day, the GM is apt to tell you how to build a watch. But that’s why I’m here. To translate his natter.

On Laine’s status and trade rumors lingering into the season…

What Chevy said: “I think, again, everybody is a professional and certainly, you know, I was a professional trying to do my job this summer in looking at all the different options, you know, to improve our team, and I think, you know, we have done that. As far as, you know, with Patrik, you know, again, I assume he’s probably gonna have one of the best years of his career, you know, given the group of players that we have and the professionalism that is there and the maturity level that, you know, that all players gain, you know, year over year over year, I think just, you know, helps us move forward.”

What Chevy really meant: “Sure other clubs called and asked if Patty’s available, but do the names Teemu Selanne and John Paddock mean anything to you? What do people remember John for? That’s right, for trading Teemu. You think I want them remembering me as the doofus who traded Patty for a couple of used jock straps? If he’s gonna score 50 goals, it’s gonna be here, not in Philly or Carolina.”

Sami Niku

On the Jets maligned blueline, which has added only Derek Forbort…

What Chevy said (take a deep breath, kids): “Well, you know, again, we’re excited, you know, the opportunity to have him. You know, he’s someone that when he was in L.A., he put up some top minutes before he had an injury, put up some, you know, really good years playing against some good players, playing, you know, some shutdown roles, you know, he relishes the penalty kill, which is, you know, something that we, you know, look at improving. Obviously we’re excited that Dylan DeMelo, you know, chose to stay with us, you know, from a free agent standpoint. I’m sure there was…I know there’d be lots of opportunity for him elsewhere, you know, judging by the phone calls I got after, you know, we got him signed, so, you know, again, excited about having that. Really excited about, you know, again, just the continuity of, you know, Josh taking another step and Neal Pionk taking another step. Tucker Poolman, you know, now got a year, you know, under his belt, Sami Niku, just, you know, really hope that he can, you know, just take, you know, use training camp as an opportunity to springboard because there’s so much I think more, you know, in his game that unfortunately through, you know, injuries and the like…I guess we just have to make sure he doesn’t drive to training camp so he doesn’t get in a car accident and, you know, to kick things off. And then, you know, we’ve got some young players that, you know, looking forward to seeing. Dylan Samberg has not had the benefit of coming to an NHL training camp yet, so we really have, you know, we’ve kind of been frothing at the mouth for a couple years to get him into the pro ranks and, you know, now the time is here. Ville Heinola has had the benefit of playing over in Finland, you know, so his game, you know, hopefully will be at a level that will, you know, turn heads here, you know, right away. Obviously he had a great training camp last year and, you know, we’re just looking for, you know, obviously for him to come in and have matured that much more, you know, over the course of time. And a player like Logan Stanley, who’s had the opportunity to play two years of pro, you’re looking for that development and you’re looking for those guys to take that next step. We think we’ve got great depth and we’ve got a couple of guys that we think there’s a lot of room to grow with.”

What Chevy really meant: “Fingers and toes crossed. It’s all on Connor Hellebuyck to, you know, give us Vezina Trophy goaltending again or, you know, we’re up Schitt’s Creek without a paddle.”

Why are news snoops referring to it as the 2020-21 NHL season when all games will be played in 2021?

Zdeno Chara

I agree, after his lengthy tenure with the Bruins, it’s going to be weird seeing Zdeno Chara in Washington Capitals garb this winter. It’ll be kind of like Pope Francis holding mass in Wrangler jeans, Tony Lama snake skin boots and a Stetson instead of his robe and pointy hat.

Is it too much for Sportsnet to tell Elliotte Friedman to drag a hair brush across his scalp? The man looks absolutely disgraceful and, again, there’s no chance a female broadcaster would be permitted to appear on camera looking like she spent the night sleeping in a back-alley dumpster.

Social note: Lindsey Vonn and P.K. Subban won’t be exchanging wedding vows after all. Engaged in 2019, the sports power couple called the whole thing off last week, and it’s hard to figure. After all, P.K. is one of the NHL’s most notorious divers. And now he’s not willing to take the plunge? Go figure.

Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law is now Tiz the Stud, and if you want the great bay stallion to service your mare the price tag is $40,000. Imagine that, $40,000 for sex. Tom Brady must feel ripped off. I mean, he screwed the New England Patriots and never got a dime for it.

Stevie Van Zandt

This is rich: In a Twitter hissing contest, Damien Cox of the Toronto Star scolded musician/actor Stevie Van Zandt, who had the (apparent) bad manners to trash talk news snoops for the lame questions they ask athletes. “Don’t criticize things you’ve never done,” the pompous Cox harrumphed. That just might be the dumbest tweet…by anyone… ever. It’s a hot, steamy pile of stupid. Unless, of course, I was sleeping during those years when Cox played in the NHL, MLB, NBA, NFL and MLS. Seriously. The guy’s made a career of crapping on athletes, coaches, managers, owners and officials. He’s a recreational golfer and wannabe tennis player who pooh-poohs pros of all stripes. He’s never spent five seconds in the White House, let alone presided over an entire nation, but he’s spent the past four years crucifying Donald Trump. But, hey, don’t you dare trash talk Cox or other news snoops unless you’ve held a notebook or microphone in a post-game scrum. As if. Like I said, a hot, steamy pile of stupid, and the Star continues to publish his alphabet farts.

Speaking of TorStar, it’s added former NHLer and current TSN gab guy Dave Poulin to its stable of sports scribes. That would be the same Dave Poulin who, in 2018, left Connor McDavid off his all-star ballot, even though the Edmonton Oilers captain was the NHL scoring champion and winner of the Ted Lindsay Award as the best player in the world. Note to self: Cancel Toronto Star subscription first thing on Monday.

Becky the bench boss.

It’s about Becky Hammon: Rock on, girl. Becky became the first female to coach a National Basketball Association team last week, taking the wheel of the San Antonio Spurs after bossman Gregg Popovich was told to leave the building in the second quarter of a skirmish v. the Los Angeles LeBrons. She joins a list of impressive “first” ladies in sports that includes Kim Ng, Katie Sowers, Kathryn Nesbitt, Callie Brownson and Alyssa Nakken, so don’t tell me that nothing good happened in 2020.

I don’t know about you, but I get a kick out of jock journos and others in the rag trade listing their top 10 or 20 articles/columns from 2020. Never mind that it’s a rather arrogant exercise in ego-stroking, it seems to me that it’s the readers who should decide something like that.

I can’t remember 10 of my posts from last year, let alone 20, and I doubt the five or six people who read this blog can either. So I’ll spare one and all my greatest hits.

Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic lists his “top 10 Canadian sports media stories of 2020.” Nos. 9 and 10 are strictly about radio in the Republic of Tranna. Sigh. Only someone from The ROT would presume to believe those of us who live/work in the colonies actually give a damn. Oh, and apparently we haven’t been introduced to radio and TV, because not one of the “top 10” stories targets a Western Canada market. Or anywhere east of The ROT, for that matter. Double sigh.

There’s an old Righteous Brothers song with the lyrics “If there’s a rock and roll heaven, well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.” Well, we can say the same about baseball, because the Big Ballpark In The Sky gained a helluva team last year. Included among the legends leaving our mortal coil were Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Whitey Ford and Phil Niekro, and how would you like to go into a World Series with those four as your starting rotation? Backing them up would be an infield of Bob Watson at first, Joe Morgan at second, Tony Fernandez at shortstop and Dick Allen at third, with Al Kaline, Lou Brock and Claudell Washington patrolling the outfield. The only position the Grim Reaper didn’t tap on the shoulder was catcher.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Canadian Football League outfits are busy getting signatures on contracts for a 2021 season, and that’s good news. The not-so-good news is that nobody has explained how Rouge Football works without people in the pews. As you know, commish Randy Ambrosie went panhandling on Parliament Hill last year, hoping for a pogey cheque to cover the costs of an abbreviated season, but the CFL fell off the grid when Trudeau the Younger and the feds rejected the beg. So how can it be doable this year? Even with a COVID vaccine available, head counts will be limited. Every skirmish will look like a Toronto Argos home game. And what’s left of rainy day funds can’t possibly cover operating costs of a full season, especially for community-run franchises like our Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Some players across the dominion have rejigged their contracts, but where’s the revenue to pay Bo Levi Mitchell $541,000, Mike Reilly $525,000 and Cody Fajardo $405,000, to name just three high-salaried quarterbacks?

Count me as shocked when I called up the Winnipeg Sun this morning to see an article about girls high school volleyball on the sports front. The tabloid doesn’t do local, other than the pro teams and curling. It doesn’t do women’s sports. So it was a pleasant surprise. Having said that, the Drab Slab continues to wallop the Sun in female sports coverage. Here are the numbers for exclusively female content in the 30 publishing days of December:

Free Press
Sports front: 7
Articles/briefs: 32/11
Days with female sports coverage: 27 of 30.

Sun
Sports front: 1
Articles/briefs: 8/2 (plus one sentence on Sarah Fuller)
Days with female sports coverage: 10 of 30.

And finally, I keep reading and hearing people write and say if 2020 has taught us anything it’s to be kind to one another. Seriously? You needed a killer pandemic to learn that?

Let’s talk about goals and lumps of coal in the toy department

Sports Santa arrives on the morrow and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he has tucked inside his bag, so let’s see if it’s Goal or a Lump o’ Coal for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department of life…

GOAL: If at first you don’t succeed…get it right in an extra end. And that’s what Kerri Einarson and her Buffalo girls—Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Mielleur, Jennifer Clark-Rouire, coach Patti Wuthrich—did to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw. Kerri had a chance to end it all in the 10th end of the title match vs. Rachel Homan and her Ontario group, but she was heavy with her last-rock draw to the four-foot. She got the job done in the 11th, though, sliding her final stone to the button for an 8-7 victory and the Canadian women’s curling championship.

LUMP O’ COAL: The year 2020. Seriously. Someone needs to give it a good, swift kick to the groin, and it’s not too late.

GOAL: Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender in the National Hockey League, putting a bit of shine on an otherwise empty season for the Winnipeg Jets.

LUMP O’ COAL: Sportsnet was guilty of a blatant double standard when it allowed Elliotte Friedman to repeatedly appear on Hockey Night in Canada with a ghastly, unruly beard that made him look like he’d been sleeping under a bridge for three months. No chance a female broadcaster would be allowed on camera with a head of hair that looks like a cluster of dead animals.

GOAL: The Winnipeg Sun celebrated its 40th anniversary, not bad for a sheet that wasn’t supposed to last much longer than a pint of beer in front of Chris Walby.

LUMP O’ COAL: 50 Below Sports + Entertainment ignored provincial health rules and allowed Winnipeg Freeze and Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League to practice outside the city. So make that two lumps o’ coal, one for 50 Below bossman Greg Fettes and the other for bossman Matt Cockell.

GOAL: The good ol’ boys in NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag from race sites. Full sets of teeth, corn squeezin’s and MAGA caps remained optional.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mike Milbury, Brendan Leipsic, Thom Brennaman, Cris Collinsworth, Brett Hull, Evander Kane spewed sexist, racist and/or homophobic slurs. Come on, guys. We’re 21 years into the 21st century, and that language just doesn’t cut it.

GOAL: Katie Sowers became the first female to coach in the Super Bowl, albeit in a losing role with the San Francisco 49ers, Kim Ng became the first female GM of a Major League Baseball team, Alyssa Nakken became the first uniformed female to coach on-field in MLB, Kathryn Nesbitt became the first female to referee in a Major League Soccer championship match, and Sarah Fuller became the first female to play in an NCAA Power 5 men’s football game.

LUMP O’ COAL: Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie went panhandling on Parliament Hill, asking PM Trudeau the Younger for anywhere from $30 million to $150 million in welfare to get Rouge Football on the field during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trouble was, he failed to receive input from the Players Association, and the feds were not amused. Commish Cap-in-Hand was spurned repeatedly, and the CFL finally fell off the grid when Trudeau the Younger batted away his final Hail Mary beg in early August. Thus, there was no season, no Grey Cup week. Just a whole lot of radio silence from the commish.

GOAL: Kid curlers Jacques Gauthier and Mackenzie Zacharias joined Einarson in bringing more glory to Manitoba with their world junior championship wins in Russia.

LUMP O’ COAL: Damien Cox and the Exalted Guardians of the Lou Marsh Trophy at the Toronto Star. The Marsh trinket is supposed to honor Canada’s athlete-of-the-year, except Cox and Co. don’t invite jock journos west of the Republic of Tranna to the top-jock party. Well, okay, that’s not quite true. They granted a voice and a vote to four news snoops from the colonies. That would be four out of 37 voices and votes. How gracious of them.

GOAL: O-lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif walked away from the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and millions of American dollars to fight the good fight against COVID in long-term care homes.

LUMP O’ COAL: TSN named its all-time Winnipeg Jets roster and didn’t include the great Lars-Erik Sjoberg among the top six defencemen. But wait. The geniuses declared The Shoe to be the franchise’s “foundational” player. Sigh. That’s like telling Jesus he has to sit at the kids’ table for the Last Supper. Neither the original Jets franchise nor the second coming knew a better blueliner than The Shoe.

GOAL: Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab showed us their fab journalistic chops with fab features. Freezer relived the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2019 Grey Cup championship with a nine-part series, while young Jeff took a deep, deep dive into the dark and sordid world of disgraced sexual predator and former hockey coach Graham James.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mainstream jock journos, shinny division, held a group pity party when the NHL revealed it wouldn’t make public the various owies suffered by players during the summer made-for-TV playoff tournament. It was as if they’d been ordered to gather in a small room to watch an Adam Sandler movie marathon, or listen to Barry Manilow’s greatest hits 24/7.

GOAL: Various sports franchises played the name game, including the CFL team formerly known as the Edmonton Eskimos, the NFL team formerly known as the Washington Redskins, and the MLB team to be named something other than Cleveland Indians. We still don’t know what any of them will be called, but it’s believed the animal kingdom has the inside track and they can only hope the people at PETA don’t have a beef with any new names.

LUMP O’ COAL: Former NBC Sports hockey gab guy Jeremy Roenick went on a podcast to declare his admiration for a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and mentioned something about three-way sex with his wife and the co-worker. He was promptly punted. But wait. There’s more. Rather than go quietly into the night, Roenick decided to kick up a legal fuss and sued NBC Sports for wrongful dismissal, claiming discrimination based on his sexual orientation. His argument: If he was a gay man and said the things he said, he’d still have a job. But because he’s a straight man, he’s out of work. Ya, good luck with that, hetero boy.

GOAL: Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm won her fourth WNBA title and became engaged to soccer diva Megan Rapinoe, while another gay woman, triple jumper Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela, was named female athlete-of-the-year by World Athletics.

LUMP O’ COAL: Bryson DeChambeau spouted off about Augusta National prior to the Masters in November, boasting that it would be a pitch-and-putt course for him while the mere mortals on the PGA Tour would be playing to par-72. “I’m looking at it as a par-67 for me,” he said. In that case, DeChambeau shot 18-over par with rounds of 70-74-69-73, which left him tied for 34th, 18 swings behind winner Dustin Johnson and one behind 63-year-old Bernhard Langer.

GOAL: It was girl power on Sportsnet in March, when an all-female broadcast crew worked a Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hockey Night in Canada. Leah Hextall handled the play-by-play call, Cassie Campbell-Pascall delivered color commentary and Christine Simpson was rinkside. Question is: Was it a one-off, or will they be back?

LUMP O’ COAL: Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers was yanked from the deciding game of the World Series due to a positive COVID test, but he returned to join his teammates in an on-field celebration and removed his mask. MLB chose not to punish Turner for allowing his bare face to hang out and expose L.A. players and hangers-on to the virus, so it gets a lump o’ coal, too.

GOAL: Zamboni driver David Ayres took over the blue paint for the Carolina Hurricanes one night in the Republic of Tranna, and the emergency goaltender beat the Maple Leafs. Not since Sid Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon pulled into the Tim Hortons drive-thru has a Zamboni driver received so much attention.

LUMP O’ COAL: Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz thought COVID-19 was a big joke, so he mocked news snoops about the virus at a press session. A couple days later, he tested positive and the kibitzing stopped. As did the NBA and the rest of the sports world.

GOAL: Our leading lady of soccer, Christine Sinclair, became the top goal-scorer of all time in international fitba. She finishes the year with 186, and there might be more to come if the women get back on the pitch in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.

LUMP O’ COAL: Novak Djokovic, who wears a tin-foil hat and might lead the sports world in hissy fits, ignored scientific and medical advice and staged a mini-tennis tour when almost all sports had shut down due to the COVID pandemic. Social distancing was ignored by players and fans, and the Joker was one of four players to test positive. The final tourney was canceled. Later, he was ushered out of the U.S. Open tennis tournament for whacking a lines judge in the face with a ball. What a doofus.

GOAL: Rafael Nadal won his 13th French Open title and his 20th tennis Gran Slam, at the same time running his career record at Roland Garros to 100-2.

LUMP O’ COAL: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Toronto spent much of the year shaking his fists and shouting at clouds, as is his wont, and he reserved his most ignorant hit pieces for PM Trudeau the Younger and the National Women’s Hockey League expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna. He claimed Trudeau had “let us down again” by permitting the Blue Jays “to play their home games this summer in Toronto. That is beyond stupid.” He later doubled down, calling the decision “beyond ridiculous.” Except Trudeau and the feds never gave the Jays the okie-dokie to play in the Republic of Tranna. In fact, he told them to pack their bats and balls and find a home in the U.S., which they did in Buffalo. Meantime, Simmons assailed the NWHL when it would add a team in The ROT. “You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play and no big-name players,” he harrumphed. He also noted there was no team logo. “When you have all that in place, then make the announcement. The press release referred to the expansion team as a ‘first-class team of professionals.’ Time will answer that, but the new Toronto Whatevers are not off to a great start.” Except he had no such harsh words for the NHL when it introduced expansion franchises in Las Vegas and Seattle. They were introduced without team names, without team logos, and without big-name players. They were the Vegas and Seattle Whatevers for two years. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: If women do it, bad; if men do it, cool. I believe we can file that under subtle sexism.

And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by visiting the River City Renegade. We’ve topped 57,000 views this year, and that’s a new high-water mark for the third successive year. So thanks. Happy Christmas.

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!

Let’s talk about the Puck Pontiff and Chevy needing to cowboy up…the Lightning boat parade, watered-down beer and kicking asterisk…robot curling…Shapo serves up Canadian whine…foul-mouthed parrots and a parroting columnist…a good read on Smitty…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored..and it’s foggy where I live and you might find some fog here too…

It’s beef-on-the-hoof time in the National Hockey League, albeit three months and change later than originally planned, and I find myself wondering where the Winnipeg Jets are in their “process.”

From the get-go, of course, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff have preached draft-and-develop, a tried-and-true template for so many successful outfits, the most recent example being the Tampa Bay Lightning, newly minted Stanley Cup champions with a roster featuring 11 players plucked from the entry draft.

The thing is, the NHL’s annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers is usually a crap shoot once past the first half dozen names called out, and there are a lot more misses than hits.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

That said, there’s ample evidence to support the notion that Chevy and his bird dogs have profited by the draft since setting up shop in Good Ol’ Hometown—Connor Hellebuyck, Rink Rat Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Twig Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, Kyle Connor, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp. And that’s not to forget Jacob Trouba, the dearly departed defender whose yearnings unfortunately did not include a lifetime in Jets linen.

Those are quality core players who ought to have kept Winnipeg HC in the playoff mix for many years to come.

Except that’s not how Planet Puck Pontiff/Chevy is spinning.

The Jets failed to qualify for the playoffs in the just-concluded crusade, that after an optimism-inducing surge to the 2018 Western Conference final and a hasty retreat from the Stanley Cup tournament last year.

Which is why I wonder where the Jets are in their “process.”

Draft-and-develop will never end. It’s every team’s oxygen. There’s no quarrel with that approach. But, after the ransacking of the roster due to the miscalculations of bean counters and the discontent of Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien, it seems to me that Winnipeg HC has retreated to the wait-and-hope part of the “process.”

Sami Niku

The Puck Pontiff and Chevy are waiting and hoping on Sami Niku. They’re waiting and hoping on Dylan Samberg. They’re waiting and hoping on Ville Heinola. They’re waiting and hoping on David Gustafsson. Hell, they’re still waiting and hoping on Jack Roslovic, and they drafted him in 2015. And, apparently, they’ll wait and hope on Logan Stanley forever.

Trouble is, they’ve been at it since 2011 and this should be a time for filling in the blanks on a contending roster, not still relying on a crap shoot.

Yet here we are.

Chevy has the 10th shoutout overall at the auction on Tuesday. Hands up anyone who believes he’ll land an immediate difference-maker. I agree, good luck with that. His newest chattel will be of limited or no use in the short-term.

It’s also unlikely that Chevy will attract any high-profile free agents to Good Ol’ Hometown on Friday, even though his jeans will be full of jingle and he can afford to shop for upscale goods. Most likely, he’ll reel in a Grade C player, or two, then follow that up with some dumpster diving on the waiver wire, which has never been a solution.

So how do the Jets return to the post-season frolic and make noise next year?

Well, short of their Central Division foes going for a group pratfall, there’s just one avenue—trade. And that means bold strokes. Something brassy.

Jacob Trouba

That’s not Chevy’s style, though. He only lets go when he’s backed himself into a corner (see Trouba, Jacob; Ladd, Andrew) or someone’s clothing has been soaked in an ice tub (see Kane, Evander), but quality centre-ice men and stud blueliners (his most pressing needs) don’t fall off the turnip truck. There’s a price to pay.

I’m on record as saying there should be no untouchables on this Jets roster, and there’s certainly a number of shiny trinkets to entice dance partners, not the least of which is Chevy’s first shoutout on Tuesday. At No. 10, he’s already in crap shoot territory.

And, really, the time for dithering is past. The Puck Pontiff and Chevy need to cowboy up and move one of their top-six forwards. Or some of the blue-chip prospects. It’s the right thing to do.

Unless, of course, they truly have retreated to wait-and-hope mode and are content with icing a bubble team. In that case, I am once again reminded of something old friend Joe Pascucci tweeted in April 2019: “Another concern, of many, I have about the Jets and the changes sure to come this off-season is that they’ll become a team that is 2 years away from being 2 years away.”

Astute guy, old friend Joe.

Puck Finn and Blake Wheeler.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet continues to lean hard into the disgruntled Patrik Laine narrative, again suggesting that Puck Finn insists on first-line minutes alongside Scheifele, whereas Chevy and bench puppeteer Paul Maurice refuse to budge on Blake Wheeler. They won’t surgically remove the captain from the Rink Rat’s hip and, if true, it’s a stupid impasse and an easy fix: Inform Wheeler that he’s now a second-line forward. If they aren’t willing to tell a declining 34-year-old he must make room for a 22-year-old sniper, it’s time for new management/coaching.

Look, I think Wheeler is still a useful player, but a year from now he’ll be slower than a sports writer reaching for the bar tab.

When a woman learned that her flight would be landing in Winnipeg last week, she became unruly and belligerent and had to be forced off the airplane kicking and screaming. You know, just like any player traded to the Jets.

The Lightning gave Stanley Cup championship hijinks a fresh twist with a boat parade on the Hillsborough River, rather than a motorcade in sporty, top-down automobiles on the streets of Tampa. In keeping with the water theme, coaches and players drank American beer.

On the subject of suds, apparently Canadians are drinking less beer. Hey, don’t look at me. I’m still doing my part every Saturday.

Yes, I agree, it’s impressive that the NHL pulled off its made-for-TV, bubble Stanley Cup tournament without a hitch. No positive COVID-19 results in more than 60 days. No scandal, other than Mike Milbury’s ouster from the NBC Sports blurt box for telling us that women are a distraction. No asterisk. Most surprising, none of the young studs bugged out of the Edmonton and Republic of Tranna man caves for a little nookie on the side. Mark me down as gobsmacked.

It’s about slapping an asterisk on the Lightning tour de force: Don’t go there. Sure it was different, with the lads zip-locked in their man caves for two months, but only someone who’s been there, done that and wears the T-shirt can compare this Stanley Cup runoff to tournaments of the past. If the players and coaches say it was equally burdensome and challenging, I’m good with that.

It’s often been suggested that the NHL is a copy-cat operation, and teams now will attempt to mimic the champion Lightning. Well, good luck with that. I mean, Chevy will turn water into Molson Canadian before he’ll ever turn Neal Pionk into Victor Hedman.

Apparently Manny Pacquiao and Conor McGregor will go dukes up next year, but no one is saying where or when the fist fight will be held. I think we should keep it that way.

Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain has been selling his collection of sports memorabilia that dates back to the 1930s, and the thousands of items available are said to include license plates. Nice to know Denny put his time in prison to good use.

Clever people in South Korea and Germany have created a curling robot named Curly, capable of beating human beings on the pebble. So what’s the big deal? Canada developed a curling robot last century. His name is Kevin Martin.

I’d really be impressed if the geniuses in South Korea and Germany could invent a robot capable of beating Rafa Nadal at clay courts tennis, specifically the French Open.

Shapo

Yes, now that you mention it, our guy Denis Shapovalov held quite the pity party following his ouster from Roland Garros. “These conditions were as tough as possible for me to play against here, with the balls being so heavy and it being really cold,” he whinged after twice gagging while serving for the match v. Roberto Carballes Baena, the world No. 101. “These conditions were completely stacked against me. It’s impossible to hit a winner with these balls.” He also muttered something about Paris clay being different than Rome clay. Oh, boo flipping hoo. The balls were just as heavy for Baena, a 7-5, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 8-6 winner, and I’m guessing the Paris chill was the same on both sides of the court. As for it being “impossible to hit a winner with these balls,” Shapo hit 65 of them, more than double Baena’s 31. He also had 106 unforced errors compared to just 42 by Baena, and you don’t chalk that up to heavy balls and unfavorable weather.

Shapo had a legit beef about line calls, one of which might have cost him the match, and his plea for the use of HawkEye at Roland Garros has merit. The rest of it was nothing but a petulant, stomp-my-feet temper tantrum, and I’m hoping it was a one-off. Tennis doesn’t really need another spoiled brat, and certainly not one from Canada.

I sometimes wonder if anyone at the Drab Slab knows the Winnipeg Sun exists. I say that because of recent essays by Scott Billeck of the tabloid and Drab Slab columnist Mad Mike McIntyre.

Here’s Billeck on Sept. 5, under the headline A Bolt of bravado—Jets Cheveldayoff could benefit from a little ruthlessness this off-season by offer-sheeting young Lightning centre Anthony Cerelli: “(Kevin) Cheveldayoff taking a tyrannical approach to this coming off-season might serve him rather well. How does one become ruthless, you ask? In hockey terms, and during the free-agency window of a particular off-season: Offer sheet. But who do you offer one to? Anthony Cirelli, currently with the Tampa Bay Lightning.”

He then outlines, in detail, what the addition of Cirelli would mean to GM Chevy and the Winnipeg Jets.

Anthony Cirelli

Now here’s Mad Mike on Sept. 29, under the headline Jets need to chase after Cirelli—Lightning forward would solve Winnipeg’s second-line conundrum: “It may not be the equivalent of Christopher Columbus discovering America or Thomas Edison’s bright idea about the light bulb, but while covering bubble hockey in Edmonton I do believe I’ve come across the solution to some of what plagues the Winnipeg Jets. Eureka! I found it—the second-line centre they’ve long been searching for. Meet Anthony Cirelli, who is currently filling that role for Tampa Bay Lightning.”

He then outlines, in detail, the benefits of inserting Cirelli to the Jets roster, even though Billeck had told Sun readers that very thing 24 days earlier.

I don’t know if that’s arrogance or ignorance, but “Eureka!” my ass. Parroting the other guy’s column and making it out to be a fresh thought is totally bad form. Mad Mike’s essay should have been spiked.

Speaking of parrots, a quintet of the birds in a British wildlife park had to be separated because their language was more colorful than their plumage. Seems the five foul-beaked feathered friends took to dropping F-bombs and spewing other very salty language, none of which was suitable for young, tender ears. Hmmm. Reminds me of some press boxes I’ve been in.

And, finally, fantastic piece by Murat Ates of The Athletic on former vagabond goaltender Gary Smith, who backstopped the Jets to their third and final World Hockey Association title. It’s full of fun stuff from Smitty and totally worth the read.

Let’s talk about Buck-a-Year Sammy and One Buck Ballpark…Up Schitt’s Creek without a Bucky…0-for-life Lefty…Bones and grass…the well-rounded Blue Jays…hockey scribes have spoken…Canada on the world stage…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored..and I love autumn, especially when there are no leaves for me to rake…

Sam Katz is no longer in politics, but he’s still playing politics.

Oh, yes, the former mayor of Good Ol’ Hometown has grown weary of waiting for city council to give the okie-dokie on a new lease for his Winnipeg Goldeyes’ downtown digs so, while the civil servants at 510 Main St. dither, Sammy thought it would be a swell idea to cast his gaze upon the landscape and find someone willing to play ball with him. By his rules, of course.

Ottawa Baseball Stadium

Lo and behold, he found an empty ballyard in Ottawa, also politicos anxious to take down the for-rent sign. What a happy coincidence.

Thus, Sammy signed a 10-year lease at Ottawa Baseball Stadium, where he’ll field a starting nine in the Frontier League, and he’ll happily pay $473,000 in arrears plus $125,000 in annual rent, which is exactly $124,999 more than he shells out each year to have his Goldeyes frolic in Winnipeg’s lovely One Buck Ballpark near The Forks.

And that’s the rub.

Buck-a-Year Sammy’s sweetheart deal expires on July 27, 2023, and the Scrooges on Main Street have had the bad manners to request more than $15 from the Goldeyes owner on a new 15-year lease. They expect him to pony up $75,000 in each of the first five years, then $85,000 per in the middle five, and $95,000 per on the back end.

The nerve. Have they forgotten all that Buck-a-Year Sammy has done for Good Ol’ Hometown?

If so, he isn’t shy about reminding them of his magnificence.

“It’s not the fact that what they’re looking for is outrageous,” he told Global News in July. “It’s just hard to swallow the fact that you spend $13 million to build this (ballpark) for the city and they give you absolutely zero credit or acknowledgement for it.”

If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of the world’s smallest violin playing in the background.

But, hey, if it’s only a pat on the back that Sammy’s looking for to get a deal done and soothe his bruised ego, that should be an easy fix. How about an annual Saint Sammy Day parade and picnic at Assiniboine Park? Maybe replace the Golden Boy atop the Legislative building with a statue of Sammy (clothing not optional). Name a street after him, or at the very least a cul-de-sac.

Don’t be fooled, though. Sammy isn’t looking for a pat on the back any more than Donald Trump is looking for another scandal.

He’s a businessman angling for the best possible deal to improve his bottom line, and no one can blame him for that, but his method is as greasy as a pan fry. Sammy’s believable like the back of a garbage truck is an all-you-can-eat buffet. He swears on a stack of Street & Smith’s Baseball Yearbooks that his intention was/is to keep the Goldeyes in Good Ol’ Hometown “forever and ever,” yet earlier this year he made it very clear that he might be inclined to haul ass out of town. He cautions that without a ballpark lease there can be no renewed tie-in with the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.

“If we don’t have an affiliation agreement, we don’t play—there’s no Goldeyes, there’s no baseball in Winnipeg,” he said.

And he must have that agreement pronto. Like next month. Talk about a squeeze play.

Sammy insists that he doesn’t “threaten, never threaten” people, but that sure sounds like a threat to me and, not surprisingly, he’s already set up the gang on Main Street as the bad guys if he feels obliged to bug out.

“Ultimately, that will be in the hands of Winnipeg city council,” he told Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.

Lovely One Buck Ballpark

He repeated that mantra two more times in the natter with Wyman and once to Taylor Allen of the Drab Slab, adding this: “In Winnipeg, we pay property taxes and business taxes. In Ottawa, there’s no property taxes, no business taxes. In Winnipeg, we pay all the utilities. In Ottawa, they pay all the utilities. In Winnipeg, we take care of the field maintenance. In Ottawa, they take care of the field maintenance. And we don’t have to put up $13 million to build a park like we did here in Winnipeg. So, you can compare apples with apples.”

Yup, sure can, and some apples are just plain rotten.

Look, Sammy hasn’t come up with a unique strategy here. Sports entrepreneurs have been putting the squeeze on government since mortar was lathered onto stone to build the Coliseum in Rome.

It just sounds greasier when Sammy says it.

Hart Trophy

Connor Hellebuyck has been anointed top goaltender in the National Hockey League, but two boys on the beat believe he was stiffed. Murat Ates of The Athletic and Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun are convinced Bucky was worthy of a second laurel—the Hart Memorial Trophy, as most valuable player. They might have a valid argument. I mean, let’s face it, where would the Winnipeg Jets have been without him? Up Schitt’s Creek. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Loved seeing the Canadian cast and creators of Schitt’s Creek win all those Emmy Awards last Sunday. Seven in total. Now if we could only crack that Stanley Cup code.

Fake Stanley and Jimmy

Enjoyed Emmy host Jimmy Kimmel’s jab at us and our Stanley Cup drought that dates back to 1993. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of this Canadian stuff,” the honorary mayor of Dildo, NL, said. “Canadians have won all the Emmys tonight. Canada has, like, 200 people in it. As of tonight, one out of every four living Canadians has an Emmy Award. Schitt’s Creek won seven of them…oh, they fell just short—this is a killer—if they’d won one more Emmy, they would have been able to trade them in for this…a Stanley Cup. But they didn’t, so we’re gonna keep it here for another 27 years.” Good burn. There’s just one thing Jimmy ought to know, though. That Stanley Cup propped up beside him? It’s like a lot of female orgasms—fake.

Oh woe is Lefty.

I keep hearing hockey people say the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy in sports to win. They might want to ask Phil Mickelson about that. He’s 0-for-life at the U.S. Open. How long has Lefty been banging his head against the wall at the Open? Well, Tiger Woods was a scrawny high school freshman when he first teed it up. Papa George Bush was president of the U.S. Lefty has whiffed 29 times in total, and it should be obvious that it’s never going to happen. But he’s in good company. Hall of fame golfers Sam Snead, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros never hoisted the U.S. Open Trophy, either.

Hoops legend Michael Jordan, owner of the always awful Charlotte Hornets of the NBA, has gone into the fast car business as part-owner of a NASCAR team. How fitting. Now he can spin his wheels in two sports.

Speaking of NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports was fined $100,000 recently for spending too much time in a wind tunnel. Curt Menefee can relate. He has to sit beside Terry Bradshaw for five hours every weekend on Fox NFL Sunday.

Here’s yet another example of our upside-down, inside-out 2020: The Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders are 2-0.

What did Chris Streveler say when he heard that Finnish squints had discovered a cure for the hangover? “I’ll drink to that!”

Good guy Dallas Stars head coach Rick Bowness says life inside the NHL’s Edmonton playoff bubble has been a mental challenge, mainly because players and coaches are confined to quarters. “Man, I haven’t walked on grass in over eight weeks,” he mused last week. Hmmm. Just a thought, but maybe Bones should try smoking some grass to chill out between games. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

I don’t know about you, but I find the Tranna Blue Jays a rather intriguing ball club. The Tranna Nine certainly won’t win the World Series this autumn, but I wouldn’t be anxious to bet against them two years from now.

Alejandro Kirk

It’s about Tranna Nine newbe catcher Alejandro Kirk: He’s the classic big league talent, beer league body. The guy’s listed at 265 pounds, but someone forgot to give him a pair of legs. They shortchanged him on the arms, too. An alligator has a longer reach. Two hundred and 65 pounds isn’t supposed to work on a 5-feet-8 frame. It’s like trying to stuff Dustin Byfuglien into your kid’s backpack. So what’s he doing on a Major League Baseball roster? Well, apparently he can hit. And they say he’s adequate behind the plate. But what about the body? Ya, the Blue Jays are concerned, because that’s a load of heft to be hauling around on a fire-hydrant frame, but it’s likely the reason so many are root, root, rooting for the kid. He’s one of those against-all-odds stories that gives us the warm and fuzzies.

Between Alejandro and Vlad the Gifted Guerrero, the Blue Jays certainly have given new meaning to the term “a well-rounded team.”

Blake Wheeler thinks everyone in Manitoba should be mandated to wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fair opinion. But here’s another opinion that I think is fair: Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice should be mandated to drop Wheeler to the second line if the captain’s on-ice bromance with Rink Rat Scheifele means losing Patrik Laine.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

According to NHL insider Darren Dreger, putting Laine on the TSN trade bait board “isn’t just eye candy,” and he informs us that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been fielding phone calls about the Jets right winger. Well, duh. Any hint that Puck Finn might be available in barter should activate a GM’s spidey sense. It’s all about the return, though. It’s always about the return. So let’s not get our knickers in a knot over a Laine adios until we know who and what is coming the other way to compensate for the loss of his 30-plus goals.

Strange commentary on Chevy from Ken Wiebe of Sportsnet: “During nine-plus years as the GM, Cheveldayoff hasn’t been backed into a corner by a player, even when that individual has asked for a trade—sometimes multiple times.” Say what? That’s total bunk. We know of two players who requested relocation—Evander Kane and Jacob Trouba. Chevy dithered, but eventually caved each time, first because Kane decided to act like an intolerable dink and, second, Trouba was headed for free agency and the Jets would have received squat in return. What part of those scenarios does Ken not understand?

Selected news snoops are tasked with the duty of choosing the winners of various NHL year-end trinkets—Hart, Norris, Lady Byng, Calder, Selke and Masterton trophies—plus the all-star and all-rookie teams. This year, ballots were sent to 174 members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and that included four of the boys on the beat in Good Ol’ Hometown. Here’s how Ates, Billeck, Mad Mike McIntyre (Drab Slab) and Wiebe voted:
Hart Trophy: Ates, Hellebuyck; Billeck Hellebuyck; Mad Mike, Nathan MacKinnon; Ken Wiebe, MacKinnon.
Norris Trophy: Ates, Roman Josi; Billeck, Josi; Mad Mike, John Carlson; Wiebe, Josi.
Calder Trophy: Ates, Adam Fox; Billeck, Cale Makar; Mad Mike, Cale Makar; Wiebe, Quinn Hughes.
Selke Trophy: Ates, Ryan O’Reilly; Billeck, Phillip Danault; Mad Mike, Patrice Bergeron, Wiebe, Sean Couturier.
Lady Byng Trophy: Ates, Jacob Slavin; Billeck, Nathan MacKinnon; Mad Mike, MacKinnon; Wiebe, Jacob Slavin.
Masterton Trophy: Ates, Oskar Lindblom; Billeck, Bobby Ryan; Mad Mike, Connor McDavid; Wiebe, Ryan.

Lou Marsh Trophy

Had to laugh (rudely) at a Damien Cox tweet after the PHWA had exposed its final ballots for scrutiny last week. “Any possible reason why the HHOF can’t be this transparent?” he asked in an unveiled cheap shot at the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee. Hypocrisy, thy name is Damien Cox. It just so happens that the Toronto Star columnist is executive director of the mystery group that chooses the Lou Marsh Trophy winner as our country’s top jock each year. He does not reveal the names of the voters, he does not reveal the names of all the nominees, he does not reveal the voting totals. That’s as transparent as a jar of peanut butter. Area 51 is less secretive. But, sure, go ahead and call out the HHOF. Talk about pots and kettles.

Fergie Jenkins

While lauding our current crop of athletes on the world stage, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna made this statement: “Once upon a time in Canadian sport, there was Ferguson Jenkins and just about no one else on the highest pedestal of sport that wasn’t hockey.” That’s both wrong and ignorant. Fergie pitched from 1965-83. His peak years were 1967-74, when he had seven 20-win seasons, and he was still winning a lot of ball games at the back end of the 1970s (18 in ’78). Meanwhile, there was a steady stream of our “no one else” athletes reaching the “highest pedestal” in their sports at the same time:

  • Canada won five world curling championships, including two by our guys from the Granite—Dugie, Bryan Wood, Jim Pettapiece and the Arrow, Rod Hunter—and one by the Big O, Orest Meleschuk.

  • Sandra Post won the LPGA championship.

  • George Knudson

    George Knudson won five PGA Tour events and a World Cup title with Al Balding.

  • Karen Magnussen won a world figure skating championship and a silver medal at the 1972 Olympic Games.

  • Nancy Greene was the 1968 Olympic champion in giant slalom and world champion in 1967. She won seven of 16 World Cup races in ’67 and became the first non-European to win the WC. She had 16 WC victories total.

  • Kathy Kreiner won ski gold at the 1976 Olympics.

  • George Chuvalo was ranked No. 4 among the world’s heavyweight fist fighters in 1968, No. 7 in 1970.

  • Elaine Tanner won three swimming medals at the 1968 Olympics.

  • Roy Gerela

    Roy Gerela was a Pro Bowl kicker in the NFL and a three-time Super Bowl champion.

  • Bruce Robertson was the world 100-metre butterfly champion and a two-time medalist at 1972 Olympics.

  • Jim Elder, Jim Day and Tom Gayford won 1968 gold medal in equestrian team jumping.

  • Gilles Villeneuve claimed his first F1 victory in 1978.

  • Susan Nattrass won five world trap shooting championships during the 1970s.

Etcetera, etcetera and blah, blah, blah.

Like I said, to suggest it was Fergie Jenkins and “just about no one else” is wrong and ignorant.

And, finally, Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun reports that Winnipeg Blue Bombers bird dogs are wandering hither and yon to unearth talent on their own dime. That’s just wrong, but it speaks to how bleak the times have become in the Canadian Football League.

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 Untouchables and Winnipeg Jets…horse racing in a Bizarro World…Hee! Haw! It’s the Bradshaw Bunch…open season on anything wearing green-and-white…Steve Nash and Robin Hood…Strat-O-Matic Baseball…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s another long weekend until the next long weekend…

Okay, let’s get this out of the way right off the hop:

Peter Puck and Wayne Gretzky

Babe Ruth was sold. Wayne Gretzky was traded. The New York Mets told Nolan Ryan to get lost. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanted out of the U.S. Midwest and the Milwaukee Bucks obliged. Three husbands dumped Marilyn Monroe.

So don’t talk to me about untouchables with the Winnipeg Jets.

I mean, untouchables? You’re talking untouchables? Tell that to Peter Pocklington.

Peter Puck’s the dude who dispatched Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings, then sat in a flashy convertible during a Stanley Cup parade in downtown Edmonton less than two years later.

It doesn’t always work out that way, of course, and we need look no further than Fenway Park in Boston for evidence. The Red Sox peddled the Bambino to the dreaded Evil Empire in New York for the kingly sum of $100,000, the first of four $25,000 payments made on Dec. 19, 1919.

The Bambino

“I do not wish to detract one iota from Ruth’s ability as a ballplayer nor from his value as an attraction, but there is no getting away from the fact that despite his 29 home runs, the Red Sox finished sixth in the race last season,” Bosox bankroll Harry Frazee harrumphed. “What the Boston fans want, I take it, and what I want because they want it, is a winning team, rather than a one-man team which finishes in sixth place.”

Well, the Red Sox didn’t celebrate another World Series championship until 2004. Ruth and the Yankees, meanwhile, sprayed each other with bubbly after seven American League pennants and four WS victories by the time the Sultan of Swat bid adieu to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium in 1934.

So, ya, parting ways with a young blue-chipper can blow up in your face like a Wile E. Coyote scheme gone wrong, but the value is in the return. Always.

Frazee accepted paper money in barter for Babe Ruth. Poor return. Pocklington, on the other hand, insisted on live bodies (Jimmy Carson and Martin Gelinas) in exchange for Gretzky, plus first-round picks in 1989, ’91, ’93, plus $15 million of Bruce McNall’s bankroll. The Oilers won a title sans No. 99, the Kings had a sniff in 1993 but never won with him.

Which brings us back to the Jets and untouchables.

Chevy

Let’s suppose, for the sake of discussion, that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff answers the phone one day and it’s Joe Sakic on the line. The Colorado Avalanche GM is offering Cale Makar. He wants Patrick Laine in return. Is Chevy supposed to say “Sorry Joe, but Patty’s an untouchable,” and hang up? Maybe Jim Benning will call and offer up Quinn Hughes, asking for Nikolaj Ehlers in barter. You don’t really believe Chevy would decline because “Nik is an untouchable” do you?

Sorry, kids, but there hasn’t been an Untouchable since Eliot Ness and accomplices went after Al Capone’s booze dens in Chicago.

Puck Finn

Certainly there are players you’d like to keep in Jets linen, but if the right offer falls onto Chevy’s lap, damn straight he has to pull the trigger. (Assuming, of course, that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, gives it the official okie-dokie from on high.)

This, remember, is an outfit that failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. A side that hasn’t won a post-season skirmish since skating to the National Hockey League’s final four more than two years ago. So it doesn’t matter if we’re talking Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Puck Finn, Josh Morrissey or Kyle Connor.

If the right deal comes along, you do it.

What about goalkeeper Connor Hellebuyck, you ask? Same thing. In case you haven’t noticed, with the exception of Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, teams still alive in the current Stanley Cup runoff are doing it without Vezina Trophy-winning puck stoppers. The Colorado Avalanche were one Michael Hutchinson save away from advancing to the final four. Ditto the Vancouver Canucks and Thatcher Demko. The New York Islanders won Game 7 vs. the Philly Flyers with backup Thomas Greiss in the blue paint. And don’t get me started on Anton Khudobin. So repeat after me: There should be no untouchables with the Winnipeg Jets.

The Kentucky Derby: Big hats and mint juleps.

In this, the strangest of years, the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, became the second leg, and the second leg, the Preakness Stakes, will be the third leg, and the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, became the first leg. I swear, there hasn’t been this much confusion about legs since Joe Namath did that pantyhose commercial in the 1970s.

No horse had better legs than Authentic on Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Kentucky-bred bay colt showed 14 other ponies his heels in the Run for the Roses, which means his four legs now have one leg. And if that sounds like some kind of a Zen koan, blame it on the Dalai Jocklama.

Normally, of course, the Kentucky Derby goes to the post the first Saturday in May, and the pews at Churchill Downs are full of fashionable ladies trying not to spill their mint juleps while bumping into one another with their big hats. Not so on the first Saturday in September 2020. The grandstand was basically barren before and after Authentic stuck his nose under the wire, and it just didn’t feel right without the Derby day buzz. Then again, is there anything about 2-aught-20 that feels right?

Come to think of it, were I a horse breeder, I’d have named my first foal this year Bizarro World. You know, as a salute to a time in history when up is down, over is under, right is left, and Terry Bradshaw gets his own reality TV show.

For real. Bradshaw has a show on the telly to call his own. The concept for The Bradshaw Bunch on E! Channel seems simple enough: The former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback surrounds himself with a bevy of beauties (his wife and three daughters), and cameras follow them about the ranch in Oklahoma while they discuss such urgent family matters as one of the girls getting a boob job. In other words, it’s the Kardashians do Hee Haw.

Hey, it’s the Labor Day weekend. The Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers should be grabbing grass and growling this very afternoon in the annual Labor Day Weekend Classic on the Flattest of Lands. Not happening, though, because Canadian Football League coffers are as empty as a politician’s promise and its line of credit is worse than the COVID curve stateside. But that doesn’t mean the true tradition need end—taking cheap shots at Flatlanders and their football team. Which brings to mind a Matty-ism from a Jack Matheson column in the Winnipeg Tribune after a trade sent Tom Clements from the Ottawa Rough Riders to Saskatchewan in 1979: “Mrs. Tom Clements is said to have been the push behind her QB husband’s recent move because she felt ‘Ottawa’s a hick town,’ so you have to wonder how Regina will grab her.”

A typical day in Regina.

Premier Scott Moe has declared this Saskatchewan Roughriders Day on the Flattest of Lands, and he’s encouraged the rabble to adorn themselves in green-and-white garb. To which every citizen in the province said: “Huh? Ya means to tell us they makes tank tops and ball caps in other colors?” Seriously, a melonhead needs urging to wear green and white like a priest needs a reminder to say prayers on Sunday.

I haven’t watched a great portion of the NHL’s made-for-TV frolic in the Edmonton and Republic of Tranna bubbles, but my sampling has been sufficient enough to know that Sportsnet’s Chris Cuthbert calls a terrific game. He’s going to be missed in the TSN blurt box once the CFL is back in business, whenever that is.

Steve Nash

I agree, the hiring of Steve Nash as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets is a peculiar bit of business. I mean, he’s a scrawny white guy in a league full of large Black men, he’s Canadian in a league of mostly Americans, and he has zero experience. We haven’t seen anyone that miscast since a movie mogul put Kevin Costner in a pair of tights and told him he was Robin Hood.

Speaking of media, cheering in the press box is supposed to be taboo, but news snoops in the Republic of Tranna must have missed the memo. Just watch the sports highlights shows on TSN and Sportsnet and you’ll hear them openly swooning and unabashedly root, root, rooting for the Toronto Jurassics in the National Basketball Association playoffs, and the same must be said of the boys on the beat at the daily newspapers. They don’t give the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Tranna FC or Argonauts a similar amount of sugar, which leaves me to wonder what it is about the Jurassics that has won over such a normally hard-scrabble lot.

Got a kick out of Gregg Drinnan’s piece on his time at the Winnipeg Tribune, a tour of duty that included a case of mistaken identity. No spoilers here, though. I’ll let Gregg tell the story. I’ll just say it involved the Greaser (that’s Gregg), Knuckles Irving, Cactus Jack, Kenny Ploen, Blue Bombers GM Earl Lunsford and a fancy, shmancy hotel suite in Calgary (don’t worry, it’s not X-rated). Gregg also confirms that some of the Trib tales I told last week might actually contain a morsel of truth.

One of the things I didn’t mention in my remembrances of the Trib folding 40 years ago was Strat-O-Matic Baseball, a board game based on the actual stats of Major League players. We’d play it during our down time, waiting for late copy or phone calls to come in, and the death of Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver last week reminded me of the year we held a Strat-O-Matic player draft. Seaver was among my starting hurlers, and one night he spun a no-hitter against the Ian (Caveman) Dutton Nine. A few years later while with the Calgary Sun, I had occasion to interview Tom Terrific and, as an ice-breaker, I mentioned the no-no he had hurled v. the Dutton Nine. He looked at me like I was speaking Casey Stengelese, but chuckled. “Don’t laugh,” I told him, “that board game no-hitter will probably be the deciding factor that gets you to Cooperstown some day. The Hall of Fame voters won’t be able to ignore it.” Sure enough, the great New York Mets righthander was elected in 1992, and you can only imagine my disappointment when he failed to mention that Strat-O-Matic perfect game in his acceptance speech.

Ed Willes

I’m not sure if Ed Willes left the building by choice or if he’s the latest victim of Postmedia buffoonery, but he’s done after 38 years in the rag trade, the last 22 at the Vancouver Province. Some of you might remember Ed’s time with the Winnipeg Sun, where he detailed the daily goings-on of the Jets and wrote a column during the 1990s. It was always high-end stuff. The guy can flat-out scribble. Ed turns 65 in November, so perhaps this was the end game all along, but I’m always suspicious whenever quality writers walk away from Postmedia, which has destroyed newspaper competition everywhere west of Winnipeg. If it was his call, good on him. He’s earned his warm corner. If he was nudged by the suits in the Republic of Tranna, shame on Postmedia.

The Willes adios brings to mind a quote from Trent Frayne, the finest jock essayist in my lifetime: “It is an axiom of sports that the legs go first. For sportswriters, it’s the enthusiasm.”

Once upon a time, I officiated kids sports, so I speak from lived experience when I tell you it can be a thankless, often intimidating experience. Some coaches, parents and officials are at odds with acceptable behavior in mixed company, which is putting it politely. So what in the name of Pele was the Manitoba Soccer Association thinking when it instructed its game referees to play the role of rat fink and virtually red card fans who fail to observe physical distancing protocol at kids’ matches? Expecting whistle blowers to be, well, whistle blowers isn’t just unfair, it’s stupid.

Helene Britton and the boys club.

Last week we mentioned that Jennifer Lopez and her main squeeze, Alex Rodriguez, had failed in their bid to buy the New York Mets. If successful, JLo would have joined a short list of female owners in Major League Baseball. The first was Helene Britton, who inherited the St. Louis Cardinals from her uncle, Stanley Robison, in 1911, when women still hadn’t won the right to vote in the U.S. This is how the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described the Redbirds’ new lady owner: “She is small and round and trim, with decided chic. Her mourning costume (for her uncle) failed to subdue certain lively touches that indicate a love of life and gayety…her attitude is ever alert.” Other National League owners, all men, tried to bully the small, round and trim Helene into selling the Cardinals “for the good of the game,” but she held out until 1917, finally accepting $350,000 for the club and ballpark. Among other things while bankrolling the Redbirds, she introduced Ladies Day providing free attendance to women. But only if accompanied by a male escort.

Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss.

And, finally, today marks the 20th anniversary of Major League Baseball’s first Pride-themed night. It took place at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, mainly because a lesbian couple had been escorted out of the ballpark a week earlier by eight heavy-handed security guards. The crime? The women shared a smooch in the bleachers. Who could imagine back then that two lesbians, Billie Jean King and partner Ilana Kloss, would be part-owners of the Dodgers today?

Let’s talk about sexism and homophobia in the blurt box…taps on the CFL season…some good reads on Ducky…Coach Potty Mouth believes he’s still the man…a participation badge for the Winnipeg Jets?…the hair on Friedman’s chinny, chin-chin…greybeard boxing…and other things on my mind

A return of the Sunday morning smorgas-bored after a pause that was supposed to last a month…and you’ll have to forgive me if I play a bit of catch-up…

Whenever I see the name Mike Milbury trending on Twitter, it tells me that he’s said something stupid and has undergone an emergency footectomy, whereby one of his large feet has been surgically removed from his even larger yap. Yet again.

It also prompts me to check my calendar to confirm that this is 2020, not 1960.

Mike Milbury

Whenever I hear someone like Thom Brennaman spew an anti-gay slur on-air and then, in delivering a mea culpa, he assures us that “this is not who I am, it never has been,” I sigh, then wait for my eyeballs to roll back into their sockets.

And, again, I glance at the calendar to confirm that we are post-Stonewall, not stuck in the ’60s.

Sadly, it was a messy week in the sports blurt box, and it’s frustrating and wearisome in the extreme that we’re still listening to the “did he really say that?” natterings of dinosaurish men unable to drag their hairy knuckles into the 21st century.

One of them, Milbury, is a product of the 1950s. The other, Brennaman, is circa ’60s.

Milbury is a former National Hockey League player of plodding mediocrity, his career noteworthy only because he one night clambered into the seating area of Madison Square Garden and whacked a paying patron on the head with a shoe. In terms of shinny theory, he’s a direct descendant of rock ’em, sock ’em Don Cherry, a lineage that failed him miserably as an NHL general manager and has racked up similarly unfavorable results in the NBC Sports broadcast booth.

Milbury, is a serial sexist, with strong leanings toward homophobia.

Mike Milbury would have us believe women’s college hockey is played in empty rinks, like this one in Minnesota.

He laments the “pansification” of hockey. He once observed the play of NHL scoring champions Henrik and Daniel Sedin and called the supremely talented twins “Thelma and Louise.” Years after Slava Voynov was sent to jail and deported to Russia for thumping the crap out of his bride, Milbury described the wife-

And another empty rink for women’s college hockey in Wisconsin.

beating as an “unfortunate incident.” He called fellow talking head Pierre McGuire a “soccer mom.” More recently, he drew a parallel between empty NHL rinks and women’s college hockey, even though numerous American female college teams attract robust audiences. And, of course, there’s his latest bit of sexist misspeak during a New York Islanders-Washington Capitals skirmish the other night. Discussing the impenetrable playoff bubble the NHL has established in the Republic of Tranna, he noted, “Not even any women here to disrupt your concentration.”

Apparently, it has escaped Milbury’s notice that each year, scant seconds after the Stanley Cup has been awarded, the smiling, giddy victors are joined on the freeze and at rinkside by smiling, giddy wives and girlfriends.

Imagine that. Winning a championship with all those pesky women on site to “disrupt” their concentration. How is that even possible?

Zdeno Chara

But, hey, maybe this explains why Milbury was such a colossal flop as GM of the Islanders: The poor sap went home to a woman every night. She was such a disruption to his concentration that he traded away Zdeno Chara and Roberto Luongo.

Brennaman, meanwhile, was raised by baseball broadcasting royalty, his dad Marty the voice of the Cincinnati Reds for nearly half a century. He insists he isn’t homophobic (he’s a “man of faith,” don’t you know), except the evidence supports the notion that he’s very much anti-gay. He was heard, on-air, calling an unidentified locale “one of the fag capitals of the world” during a bit of banter with co-workers, and his emphasis on the word “fag” carried an unmistakable tone of contempt.

“That is not who I am. It never has been,” Brennaman said while apologizing “for the people who sign my paycheque, for the Reds, for Fox Sports Ohio, for the people I work with.”

Notably, he did not apologize to the very people he thinks he might have offended—the LGBT(etc.) collective.

It was an “I’ve gotta save my ass,” clichéd mea culpa. At no point did he mention the word gay. Or homosexual. Or the LGBT(etc.) community. Worse, he followed the next day with Part 2 of his exercise in ass-saving: “I had no idea it was so rooted in hate and violence,” he said of his slur.

Oh, shut the hell up, man. Nobody’s that thick.

Thom Brennaman

Brennaman believed his mic was dead when he uttered the offensive word, which suggests he’s quite comfortable using anti-gay language in his work space, and only the most naive among us would conclude that this was a one-off.

Look, there’s no crime in growing old. It happens to most of us. But there is something terribly wrong with networks hiring wrinkled men who can’t adjust to the motion of life. Some of what was acceptable in the 20th century doesn’t cut it anymore. That’s not hard to figure out.

Those who can’t—or refuse—are the true disruption. And a great many of us are tired of it.

Turns out the boys in the NBC Sports blurt box will have to get along without Milbury’s mangled mutterings for the remainder of the Stanley Cup runoff, because he’s retreated from the Republic of Tranna bubble. No word on how he plans to spend his downtime, but perhaps he’ll go on a search for the real Seattle Space Needle.

Honest, I hadn’t planned on returning to the keyboard until the Labor Day weekend. You know, the same time the Canadian Football League was supposed to kick off its Coles Notes version of a 2020 crusade. But here I am. Back early, even if Rouge Football isn’t and won’t be.

The cancellation of the CFL season brought to mind an incident a few years ago while I was walking to my home on the hem of downtown Victoria.

I passed a pair of panhandlers and tossed two toonies into their begging cap.

One of the men politely thanked me. The other made a crude comment about my skirt. I reached down, withdrew both toonies from the cap and handed one to the fellow who had expressed his gratitude for the offered alms. The guy with the potty mouth squawked mightily, but there would be no toonie for him.

Moral of the story: Panhandlers cannot afford to be dumb.

Commish Randy

And so it was with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and his three-downs overlords, who thought it would be a swell idea to put the squeeze on Trudeau the Younger for a COVID-19 handout. We’re told the ask was $150 million in early May. Then $30 million. Then $42.5 million. Then $30 million again, interest free.

Considering Trudeau the Younger and his pals on Parliament Hill have earmarked many billions of dollars for at-risk businesses and salary-strapped working stiffs since spring, the CFL beg was chump change.

Alas, the buck stopped with Rouge Football. No funds for you!

Trudeau the Younger

Thus the three-downs overlords—some of them (hello, Wade Miller) absolutely aghast that the feds had no appetite for propping up an enterprise that took a $20 million bath in red ink a year ago—put the kibosh on the 2020 crusade. No hub in Good Ol’ Hometown, no six-game season, and no swilling of bubbly from the Grey Cup for the first time since Prohibition. (The very thought must send shivers up and down Chris Streveler’s spine.)

Many accusing fingers, not surprisingly, have been pointed in the direction of Commish Randy, for proper reason.

Aside from apparently finding his business plan at the bottom of a box of Flutie Flakes, he had the bad manners to do his Parliamentary panhandling sans the input and allyship of the very people who, in non-COVID times, attract customers to all those fancy-shmancy, government-subsidized facilities that dot the landscape—the players.

That was dumb, and we’ve already established that panhandlers cannot afford to be dumb.

Worth noting: Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez just forked out $40 million for new digs. Maybe Commish Randy should have hit up JLo and ARod instead of Trudeau the Younger for the $30 million.

Hey, we aren’t here to flog Commish Randy this morning. We’ll leave it to the three-downs overlords to determine if his work warrants a few whacks of the lash, or if they’d be wise to look for someone else to do their bidding as they proceed toward a 2021 season that surely must include patrons in the pews. Whichever route they take, the best starting point in the reworking of the CFL would be for the overlords to cozy up to the players association.

As much as I miss our quirky three-downs game, I remind you of an Angus Reid poll conducted in May, whereby the citizenry was asked if they would be “disappointed” should the CFL season be scuttled. Only in Manitoba (63 per cent) and Saskatchewan (61 per cent) did the majority respond with a “hell ya!” The rest of the land? Just a shrug of the shoulders. Here are the numbers: Alberta 45 per cent, B.C. 34 per cent, Quebec 31 per cent, Ontario 28 per cent, Atlantic Canada 17 per cent.

Interesting how sports sheets across the land played the big CFL story. It was front page news in every rag on the Prairies. It was inside filler in the Toronto Sun (pages 8-9), the Montreal Gazette (page 2) and the Vancouver Sun (pages 6-7). The National Post, meanwhile, ran Scott Stinson’s column on a news page, beside a piece on Peter Nygard and rape. Little wonder that those are Rouge Football’s three worst markets.

Ducky

Let’s see, what else went down during my time away from the keyboard? Well, Dale Hawerchuk left us, so we lost one of the good guys. I never got to know Ducky well. Unlike other news snoops, I kept my relationships with jocks strictly professional, and I always found Ducky to be obliging and authentic. He was seldom shy about sharing his feelings re my scribblings (he thought them to be complete “crap”), but that didn’t prevent me from defending him in print when the Drab Slab stirred the pot with a story on a deep rift between Ducky and Dan Maloney, then head coach of the Winnipeg Jets. It was pure fiction, and both Friar Nicolson and I reported it that way.

Ducky was sports royalty in Good Ol’ Hometown, and I can’t imagine many, if any, among the rabble objecting to Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s plan to plop a statue of No. 10 outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

I still say there should be a likeness of Ben Hatskin somewhere in the vicinity of the Little Hockey House, because there’d be no Jets today if not for the original bankroll. But I doubt I’ll ever see that happen.

Read a couple of truly wonderful essays on Ducky after his death, one by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and the other by the Drab Slab’s Mad Mike McIntyre. Both are worth the read if you missed them.

Coach Potty Mouth

The Winnipeg Jets’ frolic at the Jason Kenney Mountain Resort in downtown Edmonton came to a rather inglorious conclusion earlier this month, and the farewell natter between news snoops and head coach Paul Maurice delivered one terrific sound bite.

Jason Bell of the Drab Slab: “Why are you still the right man for the job in this organization?”

Maurice: “We would say off the start that the first playoff round that we won two years ago was the first playoff round this franchise won, so it’s the right guy then. You know, I’ve been to the conference final three times, Stanley Cup final. This year I’m gonna rate as top three years that I’ve had in this league, and I’ll include my staff on that. We did a fantastic job surviving what we went through.”

Coach Potty Mouth added some other mindless blah, blah, blah about going forward, but he chose to ignore the facts. The Jets were not in a playoff position when the NHL shut down in March. They failed to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in four years, ousted by the Calgary Flames in four games. Maurice has missed the playoffs four times in his seven seasons as the Jets bench jockey. He has won the grand sum of two playoff series and is 12-19 post-season, including this month’s failed qualifier. They have regressed. But, sure, he’s the right man for the job.

Some interesting, also poor, analysis on the Jets season from news snoops. Mad Mike McIntyre glorified the local lads because they tried really, really hard, don’t you know. We should think of them with “pride” he tells us, because “they busted their tails right to the bitter end.” Oh joy. Let’s give them a participation badge. Over at the tabloid, Scott Billeck mentioned something about “what the Jets did achieve.” Good grief. They achieved squat. Bupkis.

The only honest breakdown on the Jets was provided by Ted Wyman who, following their ouster from the Stanley Cup qualifying tournament, wrote this in the Sun: “The Flames had better scoring, better defence, better goaltending, better special teams, better physicality and better production from their very best players. If you were picking the five best performers in the series, they’d all be Calgary players—including goaltender Cam Talbot, who outplayed Jets Vezina Trophy favourite Connor Hellebuyck by a wide margin.” That’s telling it like it is, Teddy boy.

Bench boss Bones

Nice to see Rick Bowness has his Dallas Stars running hot in the Stanley Cup tournament. Bench boss Bones is a former Jets player/coach and one of the truly good guys in the game.

I must confess that I had my doubts about the NHL successfully pulling off their playoffs in the two bubbles, one in E-Town and the other in the Republic of Tranna, but it’s working. And what is it proving? Just this: The NHL doesn’t need in-rink fans and it doesn’t need independent media to send out the message. Makes you wonder what it’s all going to look like on the other side of COVID-19, doesn’t it? Daily newspapers should fear the worst.

Elliotte Friedman

So, Elliotte Friedman has hacked off his mangled chin whiskers. That’s a good thing. The Hockey Night in Canada gabber looked like a guy who’d spent too much time stranded on an island, talking to a volleyball with Tom Hanks. And there’s not a chance that a female broadcaster would be allowed to appear on camera looking that unkempt, which is what we call a double standard.

Steve Simmons is in a stew because the Vancouver Canucks are the last hoser team standing in the Stanley Cup tournament, and the NHL/Sportsnet are disturbing his bedtime sked. “One team left in Canada and the NHL can’t figure out how to schedule them at a time when the country can be awake to watch? Dumb of Sportsnet, dumb of the NHL. That’s an 11:30 pm start in Nova Scotia, midnight in NFLD,” the Postmedia Tranna scribe whinges. Yes, by all means, let’s televise the Canucks games when all their faithful followers on the West Coast are still at work, just so easterners who don’t give a damn can ignore them in prime time. Just put on your jammies, Steve, and watch the game.

And, finally, the greybeard boxing match between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. has been pushed back from mid-September to the end of November. Apparently scientists require the extra time to complete carbon testing on the ancient pugs.

Let’s talk about little green men in River City…greybeard boxing…baseball orphans shuffle off to Buffalo…Jeremy Roenick’s ungay legal gambit…a 1964 prophecy…jock journos whinge and whinge…the Big M was “unfit to practice”…and many other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and today’s post is dedicated to my lovely friend Beverley, who died earlier this month and always appreciated my quirky sense of humor…

According to those who like to track the whereabouts of little green men, UFO sightings were up in Manitoba last year, with folks in Winnipeg observing the third most in the entire country.

Says local Ufology researcher Chris Rutkowski: “People are seeing things for the first time that they may not have noticed before.”

Ya, it’s called the Grey Cup.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister dug into his slush fund and came up with $2.5 million in support of Good Ol’ Hometown as the Canadian Football League’s official hub city should there be a 2020 season. Hmmm. That ought to take care of Chris Walby’s bar tab, but it won’t leave much for COVID-19 testing.

Greybeard Mike Tyson

Greybeard boxers Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. have signed to go dukes up sometime in September, and they’ve agreed to wear head protection. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Two fiftysomething guys with a combined 133 fights behind them think it’s a swell idea to exchange punches for another eight rounds. Seems to me it’s a little too late to be thinking about head protection.

So, the orphaned Tranna Blue Jays have finally found a home for their 2020 Major League Baseball crusade. They had hoped to play in the Republic of Tranna, of course, but when that notion was nixed by Trudeau the Younger, the Tranna Nine sought Pittsburgh as a playground, then Baltimore, before landing in Buffalo. That’s kind of like trying to book John Lennon or Paul McCartney or George Harrison to play your birthday gig, but settling for Ringo.

Big league ball players are kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner. Hoops stars are kneeling. Fitba’s best are kneeling. NFL players have vowed to kneel. I feel a Donald Trump Twitter rant coming down in 3, 2, 1.

Seriously. Why are they even playing the national anthem at fan-free sporting events? Come to think of it, why do they play it when patrons are in the pews?

Dr. Fauci—D’oh!

Nice ceremonial first pitch by America’s favorite doc, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the other night at the Washington Nationals-New York Yankees opener in DC. Flame-Thrower Fauci he ain’t. The ball never made it halfway to home plate and dribbled into foul territory on the first base side of the field. It was the worst. You know, like Donald Trump’s COVID strategy.

Former NBC gab guy Jeremy Roenick is suing the Peacock Network for wrongful dismissal, claiming his lewd comments about lusting after a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and having sex with a male co-worker had nothing to do with his ouster. He was punted because he’s an ungay guy, don’t you know. It’s an interesting gambit. I don’t know if Roenick’s “I’m a straight man” case will ever get to court, but I have a pretty good idea what Judge Judy would tell him to do with it.

Roenick also claims his removal was due, in part, to his support of Donald Trump. Again, more about an ass and a boob.

Fanless, TV-only sports has arrived, which makes the following comment eerily prophetic: “I’m fully prepared to hear not more than 10 years from now that a hockey game, for instance, will be played behind the locked doors of an arena. The only people in the place will be the players, two cameramen, a floor director, a script assistant, a sound technician, a play-by-play man, a color man and two guards on the door. The guards will have a simple duty. They’ll intercept loiterers and old-fashioned hockey fans and put them to flight. The vagrants will be advised they have exactly 15 minutes to get to the nearest television set.” That, girls and boys, is a passage from a column written by the great Jack Matheson for the Winnipeg Tribune on Nov. 14, 1964. Today it’s so very real.

Gary Bettman

Kevin McGran has a gripe. The Toronto Star shinny scribe is miffed because Commish Gary Bettman has ruled mainstream news snoops persona non grata in the National Hockey League’s two playoff hub bubbles, Edmonton and the Republic of Tranna. Only in-house scribes need apply. In a lengthy grumble, McGran grouses that there will be “no colour from inside the room.” Right, we’re all going to miss those emotional renderings from players reminding each other to “keep our feet moving.” McGran closes with this: “Don’t get me wrong. This access isn’t about us. It’s about you. The reader. We do this for our readers. We want to do it the best we can, and now the NHL is not letting. They are shortchanging you, the fans.” If McGran listens closely enough, he’ll hear the sound of readers not giving a damn.

Some of us saw this day coming quite some time ago, it’s just that the COVID-19 pandemic hastened its arrival. This is what I wrote in January 2017: “Pro sports franchises will find fresh ways to increase the disconnect between press row and their inner sanctums, thus making it more difficult for news scavengers to perform their duties. What must newspapers do to combat this? Well, bitching won’t help. They can caterwaul about lack of access as much as Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice whinges about the National Hockey League schedule, but that doesn’t solve anything. They have to be innovative. Newspapers must stop choking on their indignation and feeling sorry for themselves. It isn’t up to pro sports franchises to revert to the old ways of doing business, it’s up to the newspapers to discover new and better ways of doing business.” So there.

It’s rather ironic, don’t you think, that news snoops have their boxers in a bunch because the NHL will control the message during its Stanley Cup runoff when, in fact, no enterprise this side of Vlad (The Bad) Putin controls the message more than media?

The Big M

I am an unfamous person, therefore there is no interest in my health chart.

If I catch the sniffles or develop a mild case of fanny fungus, it’s my business. If my kidneys go kaput, you could squeeze the number of people who’d actually give a damn into a phone booth, and there’d still be enough room for a couple of circus clowns.

But pro athletes are not unfamous. Well, okay, some are. But, in general, the faithful like to know everything about their sports heroes, from their fave brand of toothpaste to whether or not they hoarded toilet paper at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rabble is keen on knowing about owies, too, especially if it impacts their fantasy leagues or office pools. But usually they’re satisfied to learn how long Sidney Crosby or David Pastrnak will be on the shelf.

Jock journos, meanwhile, demand to know the details, as if it’s a birthright.

Crosby and Pastrnak are “unfit to practice?” Sports scribes demand to know if it’s cancer, a canker sore or COVID-19. Except the NHL is shy on health specifics these days, a policy that continues to put so many knickers into so many knots. Numerous news snoops like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna and Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab have flailed at Commish Bettman for his don’t-ask, don’t-tell directive on absenteeism during the attempted reboot of the paused 2020 crusade. Basically, they’d like him to take his hush-hush dictate and shove it where you won’t find any daylight.

The thing is, the NHL and its member clubs are under no obligation to make jock journos, or the rabble, privy to the personal health information of workers. It’s no different today than in the 1960s, when Frank Mahovlich went from the hockey rink to the hospital.

The Big M

The Big M’s disappearance from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup on Nov. 12, 1964, was sudden and mysterious. Officially, he was in sick bay for “constant fatigue,” which, in today’s parlance, translates to “unfit to practice.”

“If you want any information on my condition you will have to talk to Dr. Smythe,” he told news snoops.

So that’s what they did, only to discover that Dr. Hugh Smythe was no more forthcoming when prodded by the pen-and-paper pack.

“Without discussing the diagnosis, I can say there’ll be no embarrassment to Mr. Mahovlich or myself when the nature of it is known,” he explained.

The specifics of what ailed Mahovlich remained shrouded in secrecy by the time he returned to the fray on Dec. 9, yet somehow the media mob managed to file their daily copy. If privy to the particulars, they kept it on the QT.

Similarly, in the small hours of the morning on Nov. 2, 1967, the Big M walked off a sleeper car at Union Station in the Republic of Tranna and went directly to hospital, while his teammates departed for Detroit.

“I realize this is a difficult thing to request, but the less said by the press, radio and TV people about the reason he is in hospital, the better it would be for Frank,” Dr. Smythe informed news snoops.

Turns out Mahovlich had suffered a nervous breakdown, and the boys on the beat were informed that he might be hors de combat for two weeks, two months or for the duration of the season. He was “unfit to practice.” Case closed. Nothing more to see.

Fast forward to the present, and we have had many mysterious disappearances. Or mysterious no-shows. All explained as “unfit to practice.”

Well, that’s all anyone need know until such time as the athlete and/or team choose to come clean. What part of that do news snoops not understand?

Commish Randy

Simmons’ pout on the NHL’s posture re players deemed “unfit to practice” was truly silly, and I had to laugh at Mad Mike’s take. In a 1,000-word whinge, he suggests that the cone of silence is ill-conceived because it leads to “speculation.” Oh, the horror! Stop the presses! Sports scribes forced to speculate! That, my friends, is a wholly bogus take. What does Mad Mike think he and the rest of them have been doing for the past four months? They’ve speculated about hub cities. They’ve speculated about playoff formats. They’ve speculated about life in a bubble. They’ve speculated about a Canadian Football League season. They’ve speculated about Trudeau the Younger tossing CFL Commish Randy Ambrosie some spare change. They’ve speculated about a roost for the orphaned Blue Jays. They’ve speculated about Donald Trump’s head exploding if one more athlete takes a knee. Sports is, if nothing else, speculation, and so is sports scribbling. It’s a large, and fun, part of the gig. Get a grip, man.

Geez, that last item included my third mention of Donald Trump this morning. This makes it four. I promise that the remainder of this post will be a Trump-free (five) zone.

To all the sports scribes who insist there’s no stigma attached to a positive COVID-19 test, tell that to Hutterites in Manitoba.

Say, those Seattle Kraken unis are spiffy. Love the logo, love the design, love the colors, love the name. Now we wait for some self-interest group like PETA to bellyache about cruelty to sea monsters and demand a name change.

On the subject of fashion, who’s responsible for dressing the women on Sportsnet Central, which returned to air last week? I swear, Carly Agro looked like a giant, upholstered chocolate bar, while Martine Gaillard and Danielle Michaud wore outfits that someone must have dug out of the freebe box at a thrift store. Either that or they’ve hired Don Cherry’s former tailor.

Doc Holliday

A tip of the bonnet to Scott Oake of Hockey Night in Canada and old friend and colleague Bob (Doc) Holliday. Scotty’s one of the truly good guys among jock journos, so it’s no surprise that he’s included in this year’s inductees to the Order of Manitoba, while Doc, one of my all-time favorite people, has had a street in St. Vital named in his honor—Bob Holliday Way. I’m not sure where you’d find Bob Holliday Way in St. Vital, but it’s probably the first stop on a Streetcar Named Retire, just past the Red Top Drive-In.

Both Bob and Scotty, by the way, are also members of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, so their trophy rooms are getting cluttered.

I once dreamed of being in the MHHofF, but my dad ran off with my hockey equipment one day and I never played another game.

Nice to see the Winnipeg Sun back to publishing on Mondays, and I must say that the Winnipeg Free Press package on Saturdays is first rate. I’m not just talking about sports in the Drab Slab. It’s the entire Saturday sheet, from front to back. Terrific stuff.

Alyssa Nakken

Kudos to Alyssa Nakken, who became the first female to coach on-field in a Major League Baseball game. Alyssa worked first base for the San Francisco Giants v. the Oakland A’s last week, and I think that’s fantastic.

Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun is convinced that Connor Hellebuyck was snubbed in Hart Trophy balloting for the NHL’s most valuable performer. Scotty submits that being a goaltender worked against the Winnipeg Jets keeper, opining, “if your name isn’t Dominik Hasek, it’s not an easy code to crack.” Wrong. Carey Price cracked the code in 2015.

And, finally, as we approach the back end of July and I look out my window to gaze upon the Olympic Mountains in the United States, I note that there’s still snow on the peaks. What’s up with that? Is it something I should be telling Greta Thunberg about?