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

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

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

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

Brian Burke

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

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

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

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

Auston Matthews

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

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

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

Edmonton or Vancouver?

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

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

Dr. Bonnie Henry

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

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

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

Theo Fleury

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

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

Lou Marsh Trophy

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

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

Megan Rapinoe

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk about Janine Beckie and Christine Sinclair kicking it…a soccer swan song?…girl talk on TSN…all hail Hayley…CFL turnstile troubles…the sports menu in River City…the cost of hockey dreams…and Mike Reilly’s chin whiskers

A mid-week smorgas-bored…and I’ve only been red-carded twice this week…

Right off the hop, a few words about Janine Beckie: Classy, classy, classy.

Janine, of course, lost a 1-v-1 showdown with Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl on Monday in France, and that squandered opportunity was the centrepiece of a 1-0 loss that ushered Canada out of the women’s soccer World Cup. Crushing. Yet there she was scant seconds later, explaining her failed penalty kick to a nation that had hoped for so much more.

“I thought I hit it well, I thought she made a really good save,” Beckie told Laura Daikun of TSN.

Her eyes were red and damp, her wound and emotions naked and raw. She fought off tears, the way the Swedish side held off the wave of Canadians who forged forward in search of an equalizing score in the frantic final thrusts of the skirmish.

“You know, it’s the big moments, it’s the moments that you live for and you get all the glory if it goes in and you take the blame, it feels like, when you miss, so that’ll stay with me for a long time,” she continued. “Christine asked me if I wanted to take it, and that’s a big moment for me and, ya, it’s gonna be hard for a while.”

I wanted to reach into my flatscreen and give her a big hug.

Janine Beckie didn’t have to agree to that interrogation while still munching on such a bitter pill. She could have acted like some of our millionaire athletes and taken refuge in the showers, or, at the least, begged off for an appropriate cool-down to arrest her emotions before facing the music. So, yes…classy, classy, classy.

Should captain Christine Sinclair have ceded the critical spot kick to Beckie? Well, she either had supreme confidence in Beckie or not enough in herself, otherwise Sinclair wouldn’t have thought to yield. So, yes, if the second most-prolific goal-scorer in women’s soccer had a twinge of self-doubt, she did the right thing in bowing to Beckie’s boot.

Christine Sinclair

The haunting for Beckie and our women’s soccer side will continue until next summer, when redemption is available at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, but it remains uncertain if the journey will include Sinclair, the grand dame of Canadian soccer. At age 36, she certainly wasn’t a dominant force in France, and it seemed to me that Father Time was calling for a substitute, even as coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller didn’t. But if this was her swan song on the world stage, what a wonderful career. She’s a national treasure and we won’t see another like her for many years.

Things you won’t hear discussed by a male broadcast panel during the next men’s World Cup (or any major men’s event): Broken nails, hot-pink nail polish, lipstick shades and braided hair. That’s what Kaylyn Kyle, Diana Matheson, Clare Rustad and host Kate Beirness brought to the TSN talk table the other day. Inappropriate? Not at all. It was a fun exchange. But if they’re going to talk about their appearance, they become fair game for others to do the same. I’m not sure that’s what female talking heads want.

Hayley Wickenheiser

So nice to see Hayley Wickenheiser take her rightful place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and I find it interesting that so many male essayists are tripping over their run-on sentences to praise the former captain of Canada’s national shinny side. As if they actually give a damn. Many of the boys wouldn’t walk across the street to watch women’s hockey. It’s their version of slumming it. Unless, of course, an Olympic gold medal is part of the package. Then they’ll hold their noses and do it. But if they believe Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford, Angela James, Danielle Goyette, Geraldine Heany, Cammi Granato and Angela Ruggiero are Hall of Fame worthy, isn’t the girls’ game worth covering? Just asking.

On that subject, The Ice Garden reports that 30 women plan to buck the boycott and are on board for the 2019-20 National Women’s Hockey League crusade. Here’s the up-to-date scorecard: Boston Pride 11, Minnesota Whitecaps 6, Metropolitan Riveters 4, Connecticut Whale 6, Buffalo Beauts 3. That tally includes seven Canadians and the highest disclosed salary is Lexi Bender’s $13,000 with the Pride.

As the large lads in pads prep for their third week of three-down slobber-knocking, I am reminded of a Yogi-ism:

“If the people don’t want to come out to the ball park, nobody’s going to make them.”

Yogi Berra wasn’t talking about the Canadian Football League, but head counts soon could become a major talking point among those who, like myself, prefer three downs and the rouge over four downs and the fair catch.

I wouldn’t label early numbers from turnstile counts across the land in this freshly minted season alarming, but they are concerning, most notably in Edmonton where, compared to last season, the faithful are staying away in droves. Year v. year, the Eskimos have performed in front of 11,995 fewer fans through their first two assignments at Commonwealth Stadium, and that included a marketing department’s dream game last week featuring the return of the prodigal quarterback, Mike Reilly. Just 24,016 checked in to watch the $2.9-million QB receive a serious rag-dolling.

League-wide, the head count is down 13,461, although we’ve yet to hear from the two outfits that occupy the flattest of lands—Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Oddly enough, the Tranna Argonauts are one of two clubs to show an increase in attendance from their 2018 home opener. The Boatmen really put on the ritz in an attempt to woo customers, with an adios salute to retired QB Ricky Ray, a Derel Walker bobblehead doll giveaway, $5 beer and $3 hot dogs. That brought a whopping increase of 284 customers to BMO Field. It won’t help, however, that the Argos were whupped, 64-14, by the dreaded Hamilton Tabbies. But, hey, I’m thinking if they reduce the price of beer to $2 and hot dogs to .50 cents and wear Raptors jerseys, the Argos might crack that coveted 17,000 head count.

Old friend Peter Young offers this tweet in explaining any decline in attendance: “Sadly we’ve entered an era where 25,000 at CFL game is a luxury (except Tranna where 15,000 will have to do). Too much else to do. See it better on TV (see NASCAR down 50%). Oh, and even adults have discovered Netflix and HBO.” I could be cheeky and ask: What else is there to do in Winnipeg? But that would be rude and I don’t need the rabble in River City to red card me. Fact is, Peter is right, there’s plenty on the sports entertainment menu in Good Ol’ Hometown, and they don’t normally need $3 beer and .50 cent hot dogs to sell it.

Individual ticket prices in Winnipeg (taken from team websites):

Jets:              $68-$301
Bombers:     $18-$175
Moose:         $22-$32 (plus fees)
Valour FC:  $16.27-$57.57
Ice:               $16.15-$19.97 (based on $549-$679 season ticket pricing/34 home games)
Goldeyes:     $14-$26
Ass. Downs: Free admission

Your best buy might be a day watching the ponies run at Assiniboia Downs, because you can walk out with more jingle in your jeans than when you walked in. Then, again, you can leave without your shirt. That iffyness is part of the attraction, though, and I can say that I’ve never spent an afternoon or evening at the Downs that I didn’t enjoy.

Speaking of costs, can it really be true that parents are required to pony up $12,000 for their 17- and 18-year-old kids to skate with Winnipeg Blues in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League? That, according to an article by Taylor Allen in the Drab Slab, is up from $3,000 last season. I don’t make a habit of telling folks how to spend their money, but in this case I will: Are you people nuts? That’s a lot of coin for a handful of hope. I mean, if the goal for your boy is the National Hockey League, you might be better off buying $12,000 worth of lottery tickets. I don’t blame parents for dreaming, though. The bad guys here are the mucky-mucks at 50 Below Sports + Entertainment. That $12,000 price tag is just wrong.

Mike Reilly

And, finally, B.C. Lions quarterback Mike Reilly has shaved off his heavy growth of facial hair. Two things about that: 1) There was a handsome man hidden under all that thick scruff; 2) if the Lions offence goes into the tank, is Reilly guilty of a points-shaving scandal? (I agree, that’s a real groaner.)