Let’s talk about the challenges of the Bombers and Jets…Big Buff is done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC…Doug Brown wondering if the Canadian Mafia has tapped out…when in doubt call Pinball…is Coach Grunge destined for The ROT?…a Rhapsody in Ramble On…and Ponytail Puck

A hump day smorgas-bored…and let’s hope this is the only hump in your week…

These are fretsome times on the playgrounds of Good Ol’ Hometown.

I mean, there’s still plenty of grass to grab, but many among the rabble have already stuck a fork in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, whose 29th annual rebuilding year is beginning to resemble the first 28.

Oh, sure, our football heroes have secured a ticket to next month’s post-season frolic, but recent developments (three-game skid, flat-lining offence) indicate they’ll earn nothing more than a participation badge and, soon enough, we’ll hear much talk of backing up the truck to load and haul away Kyle Walters’ belongings. And Mike O’Shea’s. And Richie Hall’s. And Paul LaPolice’s.

Wade Miller

That would make CEO Wade Miller the last man standing, and some of us had it figured to be that way all along.

But maybe we should let this thing play out before calling the moving company, no?

Like many of you, I don’t think Chris Streveler is a Grey Cup-quality quarterback, but I didn’t think Sean Salisbury was either, and he has a Grey Cup ring. The fact that the Bombers copped the 1988 Canadian Football League crown in spite of Salisbury, not because of him, might win you an argument in a pub, but it doesn’t mean he has to return the jewelry. A title is a title is a title.

So if Salisbury can win a Coupe de Grey, why not Tim Tebow In A Toque?

I know, I know. Streveler isn’t much for throwing the football. He tosses the rock like it’s…well, a rock. But, then, Salisbury wasn’t the second coming of Dieter Brock, either. More than half his passes landed on the ground or in the wrong hands (26 picks before being kicked off the team in 1989), but he benefited from a take-no-prisoners defensive dozen that arrived at the ball yard in a bad mood and stayed in snarl mode for three hours.

“We didn’t have what you would call a traditional quarterback in Sean Salisbury who might have looked like he couldn’t get it done, but we realized as long as he didn’t jack it up, we would still win,” rollicking linebacker James (Wild) West once told Ed Tait of bluebombers.com.

Chris Streveler

The same goes for Streveler. Just don’t “jack it up” like he did last Saturday v. the Saskatchewan Roughriders (two picks, one spilled ball) on the Flattest of Lands, and there’s hope, albeit faint.

Go ahead and accuse me of typing with rose-tinted glasses, and maybe I am, but I believe the CFL West Division remains a crap shoot and the Bombers aren’t completely out of the discussion.

All the same, it might be an idea to have the moving company keep the trucks on standby. Parked near the loading dock, of course.

Meantime, it’s about the Winnipeg Jets who, unlike the Bombers, can score, but perhaps not frequently enough once they get into the deep grind of the National Hockey League season.

The local shinny side, now 2-2 after a unexpected and admirable 4-1 victory over the Penguins on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, features a blueline corps that has no business calling itself an NHL defence, and it doesn’t help that Dustin Byfuglien remains in limbo.

Or does Big Buff’s absence really matter, other than his wage impacting the salary cap?

Big Buff

Don’t run off with the notion that Byfuglien will provide a quick fix on the blueline if and when he returns from his personal Tour de Navel. Big Buff does his best work when the puck is on his stick, not when the guys on the other side have it and he’s scrambling to make up for his latest gaffe.

That’s not to say the second coming of Buff wouldn’t provide some benefit, but, given that he can’t possibly be in game trim (as if anything about Buff is ever trim), he might add nothing more than comic relief.

There is, of course, a school of thought that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff should declare a state of urgency and instruct Byfuglien to fish or cut bait. That is, if he’s going to retire, fine. Sign the papers and they can free up $7.6 million in cap space. If he’s going to return, get his big butt back on the blueline. Pronto.

What’s the point of that, though? You want a guy who’s not physically/mentally NHL-ready in your lineup? There are enough of them already.

Fact is, retire or return, Byfuglien has excused himself from the Jets’ future. I mean, if he lacks the jam to join them for this crusade, I can’t imagine he’ll feel any differently a year from now. Let’s face it, he’s done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC. Even if he chooses to return a week or a month from now, they should trade him at that point and get on with it. Look, the Jets would be iffy to qualify for Beard Season with Buff in harness, so it’s not like he’s the difference between a Stanley Cup parade or just another day in late June.

The Canadian Mafia: Mike O’Shea, Wade Miller, Kyle Walters.

Interesting take on the Bombers from Doug Brown in the Drab Slab. Noting management’s failure to land a seasoned QB to prop up Streveler for the final playoff push, the former D-lineman wondered if Miller, Walters and O’Shea had waved the surrender cloth. “So with Matt Nichols done for the year, and a guaranteed playoff game, has this management team that has always attacked issues and problems at a fever pitch, decided this is as good as it gets at the most critical position on the field?” he wrote earlier this week of Winnipeg FC going all-in with Streveler. He then suggested remaining status quo “makes you think the team is ok with using the Matt Nichols injury as the reason the season went off the rails.” As much as I applaud Doug’s calling out the Canadian Mafia, numerous reports indicated Winnipeg FC had, in fact, pitched woo only to find no takers in a QB hunt that didn’t end until they took brittle Zach Collaros hostage from the Tranna Argonauts, at the 11th hour on trade deadline Wednesday. But, trust me, even had they lured Kevin Glenn off his couch, he was never going to be the answer, and I have my doubts about Collaros and his squishy grey matter. The Bombers didn’t tap out, but they brought in an insurance policy that will last no longer than the first blindside hit. Sad to say, Collaros is Buck Pierce II.

Pinball Clemons

When there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Pinball Clemons, naturally. That at least seems to be the reflex move in the Republic of Tranna whenever the Bottomless Boatmen go glub, glub, glub, which they’ve done this CFL season with a 2-12 record. Pinball (his mama named him Michael) has been a player, the head coach (twice), the team president, the CEO, the vice-chair and, as of Tuesday morning, the little man with the mega-watt smile and glistening teeth is occupant of the GM’s office vacated by Jim Popp. There’s no official record of it, but he’s probably washed socks and jocks and cooked some pre-game pasta, too. So I suppose if any GM hiring can put seats in the stands at BMO Field in The ROT, it would be the wildly popular Pinball, but I fail to see how his extreme likability will translate into Ws on the field when he has zero experience. It’ll help, of course, that the Pinster has longtime CFL skills sleuth John Murphy at his beck and call to turn over stones in search of talent, and I suspect Corey Chamblin is in his finals days as head coach of the Argos. Still, Pinball’s appointment comes across as a bowl of comfort food more than something that’ll stick to your ribs long term.

Here’s a thought: If the Bombers’ season continues to go south and they back up the trucks at Winnipeg FC headquarters in Fort Garry next month, the hiring of Clemons might provide O’Shea with a soft place to land. Coach Grunge played with and for Pinball in The ROT, and they won Grey Cups together, so I’d have to think he’d be a candidate for the head coaching gig once Chamblin is obliged to leave. But would he take LaPolice along as his O-coordinator?

Don Cherry

A couple of questions about Don Cherry and his rambling sermons on Hockey Night in Canada: 1) Does anybody really listen—I mean really listen—to what the fossil has to say? 2) Never mind that he treats the language like a pit bull on a pork chop, why hasn’t anyone in the ivory tower at Rogers noticed that he long ago became borderline incoherent? Here’s a sample of his Rhapsody in Ramble On from this past Saturday:

“Ya know, the Leafs, ya know, the Leafs…highly skilled team. I will say highly skilled team, but they’re regular-season game. You cannot win unless you’re tough in the, in the (closes eyes, shakes head)…the playoffs have proven by St. Louis. Sixteen Canadians, Canadian coach, Canadian GM, tough. Look what they did to San Jose, they put…now I know a lot of guys, we know a lot of guys that don’t like this…they put out Hertl, Pavelski and Karlsson. They put out…and, uh…I like what Berube said. Berube said, ‘Don’t worry about the penalties.’ SIXTEEN CANADIANS! You CANNOT WIN unless you’re tough.”

Translation: The Tranna Maple Leafs aren’t tough enough to win the Stanley Cup.

Dani Rylan

In case you didn’t notice (which probably means most of you), Dani Rylan’s National Women’s Hockey League dropped the puck on its fifth season last weekend, while boycotting members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association took their hissy fit to New Hampshire and staged glorified scrimmages for the benefit of friends and family. None of which furthered the cause of Ponytail Puck. “When the boycott happened, it refragmented the market,” NWHL commissioner Rylan said recently. “I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to quantify the opportunity lost this offseason, and how maybe the game has slowed because of the boycott.” I agree with Rylan. The boycotters’ main goal is to put her NWHL out of business in the belief that Gary Bettman and the NHL will swoop in to pick up the pieces, forming a WNHL that offers $50,000 to $100,000 wages. Talk about unicorns and fairy dust.

Members of the boycotting PWHPA, by the way, played a young men’s team from André-Laurendeau College in Quebec last month and were beaten 4-3 in OT. Not sure how the best female players in the world losing to a band of fuzzy-cheeked lads advances their quest for the “living wage” salaries they believe they “deserve.”

Sandy Koufax

Every time I see Clayton Kershaw cough up a hairball in the Major League Playoffs or World Series, I can’t believe some people still compare him favorably to Los Angeles Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax. They’re both lefties and their last names begin with the letter K, but that’s where the comparisons end for me.

And, finally, I gave ponder to watching the federal leaders election debate the other night, but I heard enough lies and double talk during 30 years in jock journalism to last what’s left of my lifetime, thus I gave it a pass. I’m told, however, that Justin Trudeau showed up without shoe polish on his face, which was thoughtful of him, and Andrew Scheer is still an anti-abortion American who prefers to wade into the name-calling swamp rather than debate issues and platforms. Some choice.

About Paul Friesen peeing on Corn Flakes…is it 2021 already?…what does Brooke Henderson have to do?…goofy stuff from the Globe and Mail…Argonauts’ 44th head coach is back-page news…the myth of Tranna bias at Sportsnet…and Bob Cole is no Sinatra

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…because I couldn’t find anything better to do at 2 o’clock this a.m….

Got a giggle out of the reaction to a recent column by old friend Paul Friesen, whose refusal to wave pom-poms while writing essays about the Winnipeg Jets tends to put many knickers in many knots.

If you missed it, the Winnipeg Sun columnist had the (apparent) bad manners to inform his readers that the local shinny lads have been feasting on National Hockey League bottom feeders this crusade. Friesen even supplied concrete evidence (they’re known as facts in his business) to support the notion that les Jets have been kicking sand in the faces of 98-lb. weaklings.

Well, don’t you just know that a segment of the rabble was aghast. Facts be damned!

“So you have to pee in our Corn Flakes,” wrote one Twitter follower, no doubt guzzling a gallon of official Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid as he typed.

“Shocker! Paul Friesen concentrated on the cloud as opposed to the silver lining,” wrote another who made no mention of Paul piddling on anything resembling breakfast cereal.

“Do you ever say anything good about the Jets?” a third wondered.

It reminded me of the been-there, done-that bad ol’ days. Only tamer.

Paul Friesen

Like Friesen, apparently I had bad manners. I declined to write about les Jets while wearing rose-tinted glasses and, upon their entry into the NHL in 1979, I refused to gloss over the reality that Winnipg HC was a talent-challenged outfit.

“Jets will win no more than 20 games this season,” I wrote in the Winnipeg Tribune.

I used some of those pesky facts to prop up my position, and predicted a last-place finish. Wouldn’t you know it? Les Jets collected exactly 20 Ws (good call) and 51 points to finish 18 shy of the playoffs.

Between their NHL baptism against the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Oct. 10 and their final assignment vs. the Colorado Rockies on April 6 at the old barn on Maroons Road, I continued to write the truth and was called “a sawed-off little runt,” “a weasel,” “a scumbag” and “a child molester.” (Yes, they were that charming.) One reader threatened to put me in the hospital and another offered to ram a newspaper down my throat. (That surely would have required a hospital visit or, at the very least, the Heimlich maneuver from John Ferguson). Not surpisingly, I wasn’t invited to the Jets Booster Club picnic.

All of that was, of course, pre-Twitter, and I shudder to think what names they’d call me today. I’m pretty sure it would have something to do with female body parts.

John Shannon

Speaking of boobs, John Shannon of Sportsnet isn’t normally a “D’oh!” boy, but he totally lost the plot while delivering a hossana to Josh Morrissey, the Jets’ terrific young defender who scored in overtime last week. Morrissey “did what they expected him to do after signing that new, long-term deal,” Shannon said. To which all of Jets Nation says, “If only.” Morrissey, unfortunately, is on a two-year bridge contract.

I don’t think I’d enjoy working the Jets beat today. From what I understand, it’s very restrictive in terms of accessibility to players and management. We had open access back in the day. Rode the bus and planes with them. It wasn’t uncommon to call at player, coach or GM at home. It was a fun gig, especially in the World Hockey Association.

Did I pull a Rip Van Patti and fall asleep for 2 1/2 years? I mean, is this actually June 2021? I ask that because Murat Ates of The Athletic Winnipeg has delivered a yawn-a-thon of a piece projecting les Jets’ protected list in advance of the 2021 Seattle expansion draft. Seriously? You want to have that discussion today? C’mon, man. Call me 24 months from now and we’ll talk.

Brooke Henderson

Quiz me this, kids: If a Canadian male golfer had won the Canadian Open and one other stop on the PGA Tour this year—and finished second in the season-long points race—would he be anointed our country’s top jock? As sure as Tiger Woods likes pretty blondes he would. There wouldn’t even be a discussion. Yet when Brooke Henderson does that very thing on the LPGA Tour, it isn’t good enough for the collection of unidentified news mooks who choose our country’s athlete of the year. She loses the vote for the Lou Marsh Trophy to Mikael Kingsbury, a guy from the niche world of moguls skiing. Two years ago, Henderson won twice—including the Women’s PGA Championship, which is an LPGA major—and lost the vote to a swimmer, Penny Oleksiak. So I ask this: How many tournaments must Brooke Henderson win before she warrants their approval?

Daniel Nestor

Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail provides some interesting insight into the goings-on of the Lou Marsh voting process, and mentions that he “stumped” for doubles tennis player Daniel Nestor. I don’t know if that was a revelation or a confession. Either way, what a total mook. I mean, thanks for dropping by, Cathal, but you cannot be serious, man. Nestor did one noteworthy thing this year. He quit. Otherwise, he was 8-21 with zero tournament titles. And he’s Kelly’s idea of our top jock? Up next: Kelly stumps for Adam Sandler as an Oscar winner.

Not to be out-dumbed, G&M sports editor Shawna Richer had herself a little hissy fit and left her ballot blank in protest over the decision to rule fancy skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir ineligible. So if you’re scoring at home, the main sports columnist at our national newspaper believes a guy who accomplished squat in the past 12 months is our top jock, and the sports editor at our national newspaper didn’t get her way so she (boo hoo) took her ball and went home. And we’re supposed to take this award seriously? (Just wondering: If the Globe and Mail has a sports editor, shouldn’t it also have a sports section?)

Canadian Football League outfits are dumping coaches, scouts and management at an alarming rate. We haven’t seen this kind of cost cutting since the suits at Postmedia lost their minds. I don’t know if the CFL is still a professional sports league or a thrift store.

Corey Chamblin

The United States has had 45 presidents in 229 years. The Tranna Argonauts have had 44 head coaches in 101 years. I’m not sure what that means, but I find it interesting.

If you want to know where the Argos rate on the pecking order with media in the Republic of Tranna, consider this: The day after Corey Chamblin was anointed the 44th sideline steward of the Boatmen, it was shoved back to Pages 9-10 in the Toronto Sun sports section. If that happened at either the Winnipeg Sun or Winnipeg Free Press after a head coach hiring with the Blue Bombers, someone would be fired.

So I turn on Sportsnet in the small hours of Wednesday morning to catch the NHL highlights, knowing six of the seven Canadian outfits were on the ice the night before. But what’s their top story? The Tranna Raptors. And here I thought this was a hockey country. Silly me. Anyway, I moved to the Sportsnet website to check out Jets coverage. Nothing. Not one word. On the entire main page. Nothing on the Ottawa Senators either. There were 32 articles/videos on the Raptors, Maple Leafs and Blue Jays, and just 18 for the rest of the country’s clubs combined. Here’s the story/video count:

Blue Jays  13
Leafs        10
Raptors      9
Oilers         9
Canucks     5
Habs          2
Flames       2
Senators     0
Jets             0

And, to think, some eastern scribes (I’m looking at you, Damien Cox) actually believe Tranna bias is like Sasquatch, the mythical creation of insecure western news snoops.

Danny Gallivan

And, finally, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna calls Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play fossil Bob Cole the “voice of a lifetime” and “the Hockey Sinatra.” Oh, please. Apparently he never heard Danny Gallivan call a game. No one did it like Gallivan. His voice was electric. His vocabulary immense. I still get chills when I hear his call of Guy Lafleur’s tying goal in Game 7 of the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinal. “Lafleur, coming out rather gingerly on the right side…” Rather gingerly. Who says that? Only Gallivan. Bob Cole is the Hockey Sinatra like I’m Celine Dion.

Winnipeg Jets never had a five-year plan…smoking weed…rewarding failure…and a lame-duck coach

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

When, oh when, will people stop prattling on about the Winnipeg Jets’ five-year plan?

The latest to trot out this mouthful of mystical misinformation is Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist Paul Wiecek, who writes: “What was originally a five-year plan now looks more like a 10-year plan…”

fish wrapI challenge Wiecek, or anyone for that matter, to produce a documented sound bite from either Jets co-bankroll Mark Chipman or his right-hand man, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, that confirms they had a self-imposed mandate of five years to develop a roster that would qualify for the Stanley Cup derby on an annual basis.

Sorry, but said sound bite does not exist. It is as fictional as Peter Pan, Harry Potter and Ondrej Pavelec’s Vezina Trophy-winning season (bet you never thought you’d see the names Ondrej Pavelec and Vezina Trophy in the same sentence).

Here’s what Chipman told Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun in September 2013, scant seconds after he had bestowed a two-year contract extension on his GM, one year for each of Chevy’s first two failed seasons as steward of the National Hockey League club:

We will have success. I’m convinced of that. I wish I could give you a date and a definition of what that is exactly, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

That was then. This is what he told Tim Campbell of the Freep on Friday:

I believe the path we’re on is the correct one. It’s difficult but I’m more than happy to be patient.”

So there. Don’t hold your breath, because Chipman isn’t.

As for Cheveldayoff, the best anyone has gotten out of him is, “We have a plan. It’s a process. We’re on the right path.”

So here’s the Jets’ plan in its simplest form: They will draft and develop, all the while hoping they draft and develop better than 29 other NHL outfits. They will arrive as a bonifide contender when they arrive, not a moment sooner.

It would, of course, be folly for Cheveldayoff to start his own clock, because he would be setting himself up for failure. That aside, though, this ongoing belief that there was a five-year plan is nothing but pink ponies and flying pigs, and a quality jock journalist like Wiecek ought to know better than to perpetuate the myth.

A fixation for Chris Thorburn.
A fixation for Chris Thorburn.

I suppose some found the chin-wag between the Official Paper of the Winnipeg Jets and Chipman interesting, but I thought it to be an exercise in blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda. That’s because Tim Campbell of the Freep was playing lob ball instead of hard ball. Why he didn’t ask His Holy Hockeyness to articulate the depth of his involvement in roster decisions (trades, contract negotiations, team captaincy, etc.) is as much a mystery as Paul Maurice’s fixation for Chris Thorburn. Campbell didn’t have to go all Mike Wallace on Chipman, because they were, after all, talking hockey not ISIS, but it isn’t a provocative question. It’s a fair question. So ask it already.

I’ll say this for Paul Wiecek: He doesn’t shy from adopting an unpopular posture. It’s one of the reasons he’s among my favorite sports scribes. But to submit that Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea warrant rewards as GM and head coach, respectively, of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is, shall I say, ballsy in the extreme. As a tandem, they are 12-24 over two Canadian Football League seasons. It is a results-driven business, the sole measuring stick being wins-losses. You win, you stay. You lose, you get a new postal code. Yet here’s Wiecek on the not-so-dynamic duo: “The Bombers should also extend the contracts of general manager Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea—and they should do it before the new season begins. (You read that right: a duo who missed the playoffs in their first two seasons should get contract extensions before we even get to see what they’ve put together for 2016. Yes, marijuana is basically legal at this point. No, I’m not smoking it by the bale.)” He might not be smoking weed by the bale, but Wiecek’s advocating that the Bombers reward colossal failure suggests he is, at the very least, sprinkling something more mind adjusting than sugar on his Corn Flakes.

Cal Murphy
Cal Murphy

In supporting his argument, Wiecek directs our attention to “long-term academic studies of college football, the NHL, and Italian soccer” that conclude switching coaches “does not measurably improve a team’s performance, it frequently makes it worse.” Really? Well, let’s see:

  • In 1957, the Bombers changed coaches (Bud Grant) and went to the Grey Cup game that year, then won the CFL title four of the next five seasons.
  • In 1983, the Bombers changed coaches (Cal Murphy) and won the Grey Cup in ’84.
  • In 1987, the Bombers changed coaches (Mike Riley) and won the Grey Cup in ’88 and ’90.
  • In 2007, the Saskatchewan Roughriders changed coaches (Kent Austin) and won the Grey Cup.
  • In 2008, the Calgary Stampeders changed coaches (John Hufnagel) and won the Grey Cup.
  • In 2008, the Montreal Alouettes changed coaches (Marc Trestman) and went to the Grey Cup game, then won the title in ’09 and ’10.
  • In 2012, the Toronto Argonauts changed coaches (Scott Milanovich) and won the Grey Cup.
  • In 2012, the Roughriders changed coaches (Corey Chamblin) and won the Grey Cup in 2013.
  • In 2013, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats changed coaches (Kent Austin) and advanced to the Grey Cup game that season and the next two.
  • In 2014, the Edmonton Eskimos changed coaches (Chris Jones) and reached the West Division final that year, then won the Grey Cup in 2015.

What does it all mean? Constantly changing coaches isn’t the reason the Bombers haven’t held a Grey Cup parade since 1990. It’s due to the fact they’re constantly hiring the wrong person.

Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun did the chin-wag thing with Kyle Walters, who, among other things, said: “I believe in Mike (O’Shea) wholeheartedly.” Apparently, wholeheartedly means letting O’Shea walk into the 2016 CFL season as a lame-duck coach.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.