Let’s talk about the way it was on the beat 40 years ago…hello Bobby…playing favorites…championship droughts…TSN and Johnny Rotten…calling St. Patrick…scandal on the links…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we called Victoria Day “firecracker day” when I was a sprig growing up in Winnipeg…us kids actually got to play with firecrackers and none of my friends ever lost an eye…

On the matter of lighting a fuse, it’s about the Winnipeg Jets.

While recounting the events of les Jets’ oft-turbulent run to their final World Hockey Association title on this very day 40 years ago, it occurred to me how obliging and honest the players were with their thoughts back in the day.

Kim Clackson, for example, pulled no punches when asked about the head coach, Larry Hillman.

“I can’t play for that guy anymore,” Clacker growled. “I’m tired of all the bull.”

Big Buff

You wouldn’t hear a guy like, say, Dustin Byfuglien go off like that on the current puppet master behind les Jets’ bench, Paul Maurice. Big Buff talks less than an Amazon parrot. On those rare occasions when the Winnipeg HC defender actually grunts something that passes for a complete sentence, it’s usually as bland as dried toast.

From what I can gather, it’s much the same with many of Buff’s accomplices in les Jets’ changing room. Listening to them preach the party line is like a day at the laundromat—all wishy-washy.

They don’t talk. They recite. Play the right way, move our feet, play a 200-foot game, blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda.

It’s all cookie-cutter quotes from young guys schooled in the art of moving their lips while saying squat, and I’ve often wondered why news snoops even bother collecting the artificial bon mots the players deliver pre- and post-game, not to mention during down time.

Chevy

Mind you, the players are mostly muzzled by an organization that believes the daily weather forecast should be kept top secret, and they follow the lead of a general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, who’s a practitioner of bafflegab. Ask Chevy for the time of day and he’ll explain the Julian and Gregorian calendars to you, but you still won’t know if it’s half past noon or half past happy hour.

Be advised that news snoops don’t get lousy quotes because they ask lousy question, so let’s reject that notion. They get lousy quotes because they get lousy, limited and rush-rush access to guys who a) would rather be sitting in a dentist’s chair, and b) usually have a PR flack hovering nearby to censor or cut short any interview that travels to close to the truth.

We had no such restrictions.

Friar Nicolson and sidekick Sod Keilback.

First of all, we traveled with the team. That is correct. The WHA Jets didn’t fly charter. The players mingled with the rabble on commercial flights, with assistant coach Sudsy Sutherland distributing the boarding passes, and that meant they sometimes were required to sit beside one of us news snoops, meaning myself, Friar Nicolson or Reyn Davis. As I recall, the players regarded that as cruel and unusual treatment, and I often suspected Sudsy of using his boarding-pass powers as punishment.

But, ya, we were part of the traveling party, and practical joker Willy Lindstrom would prank us with his stink bombs and sneezing powder as often as he would a teammate.

Tom McVie

We also rode the team bus to and from the airport, to and from the rink. I normally sat in either of the front two seats, right side, across the aisle from Hillman, his successor Tom McVie, John Ferguson and Sudsy. There was an unwritten code: What happens on the bus stays on the bus.

It sometimes became frosty, depending on what Reyn or I had written that day or what Friar had said on air the night before, and we would be blunt in our critiques of the team.

Some examples of my scribblings…

  • “Jets return from their week-long road trip this afternoon, and if they travel the same way they play hockey, they’ll all come home on different planes.”

  • “There are too many passengers on this team and the list gets longer every day. There are players more interested in getting an aisle seat on an airplane than digging a puck out of a corner.”

  • “Winnipeg management doesn’t like to hear references to Houston, but the players who came from the Aeros are the blood and guts of this team and the Winnipeg holdovers are living off them.”

You think any players wanted to sit beside me on the bus or flight home after reading that?

Reyn Davis

In general terms, however, it was an agreeable arrangement, in part because I like to think that Friar, Reyn and myself recognized we were in the players’ space, so we didn’t tell tales out of school.

In terms of dealing with the players post-game, post-practice, again, we had open access. I don’t recall any player hiding in the showers. And we weren’t required to go through a PR flack to get an audience. We just sat down beside them in the changing room.

By way of comparison, if you want any insight into today’s players you don’t go to the dressing room or grovel to a PR guy—you log in on Twitter, Instagram or another social media platform.

Pity that.

B. Hull

I still recall the first time I stepped inside les Jets’ lair. It was the season of 1977-78, and Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Bobby Hull, both with towels wrapped around their mid-sections, stood nearby. This was their conversation as they sized me up:

Sjoberg: “It looks like we’ve got a new reporter with the team.”

Hull: “Just another asshole to try and stir up shit.”

Nice to meet you, too, Bobby.

I’ve made this confession once or twice, but I’ll repeat it again: You aren’t supposed to cheer in the press box, but I was silently root, root, rooting for the 1978-79 Jets to win the final WHA title. They were a real good bunch of guys, and I was partial to the players who’d come over from Houston. If a news snoop tells you he/she doesn’t have favorites, trust me, he/she is lying.

Yes, it was 40 years ago this very day when les Jets won the Avco World Trophy to bring the curtain down on the WHA. And it’s been almost 30 years since the Winnipeg Blue Bombers brought the Grey Cup home. Thank goodness for our curlers, the Goldeyes, our university athletes and other amateurs who’ve delivered the goods.

Good grief. Did Matthew Scianitti and Marshall Ferguson of TSN actually spend a portion of their first chin-wag from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats training camp talking about Johnny Manziel? As sure as the great Ticat Garney Henley played two ways, they did. “How good does Jeremiah Masoli’s body language look now that we are a year removed, thankfully, from the Johnny Manziel saga?” Scianitti asked Ferguson. Sigh. Will the TSN talking heads ever get past Johnny Rotten? Apparently not.

If the Ottawa Senators can do something stupid, bet on them doing it. And hiring Patrick Roy as head coach would qualify as stupid.

I don’t know which I’ve seen more often, Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer beater in the NBA playoffs or Vlad the Gifted’s first two dingers with the Tranna Blue Jays. Either way, TSN and Sportsnet can stop showing those replays any time now.

Brooks Koepka

Fashion note: Apparently Brooks Koepka isn’t going to let success go to his clothes. I mean, that NIKE cap that Koepka wore while successfully defending his PGA Championship on Sunday looks like something he picked up in a thrift shop. We’re talking butt ugly.

And, finally, this is what passes for scandal in golf these days: A chain-smoking John Daly rides a cart instead of walking, Brooks Koepka refuses to kiss his lingerie model girlfriend Jena Sims (twice), and Jordan Spieth zips his lips when the Associated Press comes calling for an interview. Whatever happened to the good old days when it wasn’t a scandal until it involved sex, drugs and a club-wielding bride (hello, Tiger Woods)?

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Let’s talk about Carolina Cornball…Grandpa Grapes…snack time for the Winnipeg Jets…clock ticking on CFL-CFLPA talking…no living wage overseas…Trump trumps Vlad the Bad’s eight goals…the Big One in tennis…baseball a yawn-a-thon?…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we’ll have fun, fun, fun until daddy takes the T-Bird away…

Contrary to popular belief, if you look up the word ‘fun’ in the dictionary, you won’t find a team photo of the Carolina Hurricanes.

No, the Bunch of Jerks and their “front-running fans” didn’t invent merriment and crazy hijinks, but we’re led to believe that they’ve cornered the market on mirth, what with their Storm Surge and their admirable, albeit stalled, push in the current Stanley Cup tournament.

I mean, consider these headlines I stumbled upon during a Google surf on the weekend:

  • The Guardian: “How the Carolina Hurricanes hit back on the NHL’s war on fun.”

  • YouTube: “Carolina Hurricanes/The Importance of Fun.”

  • For the Win/USAToday: “Rooting for the Carolina Hurricanes is rooting for fun.”

  • NHL.com: “Hurricanes embrace fun, victory celebrations.”

  • Boston Globe: “Are Carolina Hurricanes jerks or just having fun?”

I imagine the Boston Bruins (especially), the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks are also having themselves a royal hoot since they, along with the Hurricanes, remain standing in the National Hockey League spring runoff. It’s just that, unlike the Bunch of Jerks, none of those outfits spent the entire winter playing post-match parlor games like Duck, Duck Goose, so we don’t really know for certain that they’re having fun.

More to the point, would they even know how to be good time Charlies?

Fun, after all, is not historically an NHL thing. Except, of course, when the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup and Alexander Ovechkin goes swimming in a public fountain. But even Ovie and the Caps stopped short of playing Duck, Duck Goose in the fountain, perhaps owing to the fact they were too tipsy with gusts up to flat-out legless

At any rate, the NHL has never been known as a knee-slapping, belly-laughs enterprise, something an opinionist at The Guardian felt obliged to emphasize in an ode to Carolina Cornball:

“The NHL can’t really take a joke. Which is maybe all the more reason to laugh at it sometimes, like a bunch of jerks.”

Certainly the Hurricanes’ marketing department is having fun, also generating scads of American greenbacks with its Bunch of Jerks and Bunch of Front Running Jerks t-shirts. It’s a merchandising windfall and, yes, now that you mention it, Donald S. Cherry likely deserves royalties on sales, since it was the Hockey Night in Canada curmudgeon who inserted the phrase(s) into the hockey lexicon.

Here’s the thing, though: Sixteen outfits qualified for the Stanley Cup tournament. Fifteen of them did not play post-match parlor games during the regular season. We are now down to the NHL final four, and even the Hurricanes long ago abandoned the Storm Surge and its accompanying shenanigans.

So are we still having fun?

Perhaps the Canes will re-introduce Carolina Cornball now that they’re down 2-nada and heading home for the next two skirmishes in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final vs. the Bruins. Whatever works, right?

I doubt they’ll resort to parlor games, though, because there’s a time and place for everything and Ring Around the Rosie won’t help them out of their hole. Mind you, they could try Pin the Tail On the Donkey—seeing someone stick it to Brad Marchand is always fun.

This whole Hurricanes-and-fun thing has inspired considerable pro-and-con dialogue, and my favorite line was delivered by the Charlotte Observer editorial board. Noting that it was Cherry who fanned the flames by describing the Canes as a “bunch of jerks” and Carolina fans as “front runners,” the Observer wrote: “Front-runners, if you haven’t figured it out, is Canadian for bandwagon fans. Don Cherry is Canadian for ‘get off my lawn.’” That, kids, is a classic burn. Also true.

Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab dipped his pen into the Carolina Cornball discussion, offering this: “At their practice Monday in Raleigh, players gathered at centre ice in a big circle and took turns sharing their weekend activities, which included a couple of well-deserved days away from the rink. From Storm Surges, the team’s cheeky Twitter account and merchandise, it’s obvious they’ve got a good thing going on, which is translating to their spirited play on the ice, and in a copycat league, perhaps the (Winnipeg) Jets might want to try and emulate some of the good vibes going forward. Maybe they can start by sitting everyone in the circle at the start of training camp and talking about how they spent their off-season.” Oh, for sure. And maybe they can bring snacks, too. Blake Wheeler is in charge of the crab cakes, Rink Rat Scheifele the nutribars, Jacob Trouba the beef stew, Big Buff the catfish, and Twig Ehlers the Danish for dessert. Sorry, but if there was anything to Carolina Cornball, all 31 NHL clubs would be playing Pictionary and Parcheesi between periods.

Nice to see Paul Friesen and Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun do some day tripping down memory lane, revisiting the last of les Jets World Hockey Association glory days. Paul had a chin-wag with funnyman coach Tom McVie, while Ted checked in with lickety-split left winger Morris Lukowich, and it’s all good stuff. Next Monday marks the 40th anniversary of Winnipeg HC’s third and final WHA championship run, and I’m glad the two Sun boys are reminding youngsters in the audience that there was a time when victory parades were routine in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Yes, now that you ask, I think it’s boffo that Chris Matthews is back where it all started for him in the Canadian Football League, which is to say as part of the pass-catching ensemble with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I just wish I could be confident he’ll have a league to play in for his second go-round in blue-and-gold.

Apparently, negotiations between the CFL and the CFL Players Association has been reduced to an exchange of notes on cocktail napkins. That’s not to say the two sides aren’t working in good faith on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but with training exercises due to begin in less than a week it’s awful close to last call. And I’m getting a tad antsy.

Dani Rylan

On the subject of work stoppages, next time you hear someone say women who play pro shinny “deserve” a living wage, remind them that the average head count across the National Women’s Hockey League last season was 954. Sorry, but no one— expect perhaps founder/commish Dani Rylan and her second in command, Hayley Moore—makes a living wage based on those numbers.

It’s important to note that the 200 women who say they won’t be playing hockey next winter have limited their boycott to North America. There’s nothing to stop some of them from suiting up with an outfit in either Finland’s Naisten Liiga or the SDHL in Sweden. Trouble is, no one watches distaff shinny on that side of the pond, either, so they still wouldn’t be earning a living wage.

So, John Daly has been given the okie-dokie to ride a cart in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black Course on Long Island this week. Hmmm. I thought every golf course in America already had a beer cart.

Vlad the Bad

Russian dictator Vlad the Bad Putin scored eight goals in an exhibition hockey match last week. Not to be outdone, Donald Trump claims to have scored eight holes-in-one on the weekend and has already declared himself winner of the PGA Championship. A victory lap in John Daly’s beer cart is scheduled for the White House rose garden next week.

Trump’s paid Pinocchio, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, hopes to be remembered as “transparent and honest” once she’s no longer telling lies for the president. Ya, and I hope to be remembered as a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.

Is it game, set and match for the Big Three in men’s tennis? Might be that it’s been reduced to the Big One, Novak Djokovic. The Joker laid claim to the year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, and he won the Madrid Open on Sunday, beating upstart Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. But the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, hasn’t won on his favorite surface this year and Roger Federer couldn’t get past the quarterfinals in Madrid. Still, I’ll reserve judgment until Rafa is beaten at Roland Garros and Roger falls on Centre Court Wimbledon.

Interesting take on baseball by Mad Mike McIntyre. He reckons the rounders game is losing traction among the rabble because sitting through three hours of sputtering action is “asking a lot of spectators to endure, especially when you factor in time to travel to and from the stadium.” (I’m not convinced travel time to the ball park is greater than to any other sports venue, so that’s a silly comment.) Mad Mike cites statistics from the Wall Street Journal to support his theory, but does a ball game actually take longer to complete than other sports? Nope. It’s middle of the pack. Here are some event times:

And, finally, the dreaded Grip Reaper has come to collect another old friend and colleague, Marten Falcon. A good man, Marten and I started in the rag trade together, working as copy runners at the Winnipeg Tribune, and he spent his newspaper career as one of those necessary behind-the-scenes people who put the sheet together at both the Trib and Sun. Lost contact with Marten after I left the tabloid, and that’s going on 20 years, but I won’t forget him.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Jets, the media and bull droppings

Today, kids, we offer a crash course in Gossip 101 as it relates to the Winnipeg Jets and the many (unfounded) rumors swirling around the National Hockey League outfit.

We call this lesson Friend Of A Friend Of A Friend Syndrome, subtitle Anatomy of a Rumor.

You are about to learn how gossip is born, how it grows legs, and what the media does with it. Before we start, though, please open your copies of the Winnipeg Free Press sports section and pay close attention to articles about the Jets’ “rotten to the core” and “fractured” dressing room. Also see a piece written by two old men in grumpy pants, one of whom is a retired journalist and now the paid pen pal of the other. (Quick aside: Neither man was seen in the vicinity of the Winnipeg HC boudoir during the recently concluded NHL crusade, but one of them has “asked around” about the Jets and confirms that—egads!— “eye-rolling” has been observed.)

Note that there is an absence of verified anecdotal evidence in each article, but there is an abundance of innuendo that has ignited rampant speculation of fist fights, bruised egos, galloping jealousy, special treatment for teacher’s pet, and parlor games with the wrong girl.

Many of you have asked how such rumors get started, and that’s why we’re here today. Okay, class, let’s begin Friend Of A Friend Of A Friend Syndrome, Anatomy of a Rumor

“Hey, have you heard the latest on the Winnipeg Jets? They’re fighting in the locker room.”

“Where’d you hear that?”

“My neighbor’s kid. He delivers the newspaper to a friend down the street.”

“And?”

“Well, that friend down the street has a friend whose kid serves as an altar boy for the parish priest.”

“And?”

“Well, the parish priest heard confession from a guy whose friend is my third cousin by marriage to a cop.”

“And?”

“Well, that’s the same cop who gave Evander Kane a traffic ticket four years ago.”

“And?”

“Well, a passerby heard Kane being rude to the cop, and he mentioned it to a friend whose barber now cuts Mark Scheifele’s hair.”

“And?”

“Well, the last time Scheifele sat in that barber’s chair, the barber said he’d really like to get his scissors and clippers on Mathieu Perreault’s unruly hair and scruffy beard.”

“And?”

Mathieu Perreault

“Well, company man Scheifele agreed with the barber. He said Perreault is a total slob and an embarrassment to squeaky clean True North Sports & Entertainment. Worst of all, Scheifele said Perreault looks like a terrorist, and the players are always delayed by airport security because of his appearance.”

“And?”

“Well, don’t you see? Scheifele and Perreault are feuding. They hate each other.”

“Are those the ruffled feathers that head coach Paul Maurice was talking about last week?”

“Well, of course they are. Most people think it’s about Adam Lowry and Patrik Laine chucking knuckles, or push coming to shove between Big Buff and Blake Wheeler, or someone dating someone’s ex. But it’s none of the above. It’s all about Perreault’s scruffy appearance. Scheifele ordered him to get a shave and a haircut, but Perreault refused. Their dispute created a fracture right down the middle of the dressing room—chin whiskers on one side, freshly scrubbed faces on the other.”

“The Jets came undone because of hair? I find that hard to believe.”

“Weren’t you listening to me, man? I got the scoop from the neighbor’s kid whose dad has a friend who knows the altar boy who knows the parish priest who knows the cousin who knows the cop who knows the barber.”

“What are you gonna do with your scoop?”

“Well, I’m gonna talk to my neighbor’s kid whose dad has a friend who knows the altar boy who knows the parish priest who knows the cousin who knows the cop who knows the barber. Maybe that kid has an aunt or uncle who knows someone on the Free Press loading dock who knows someone in the circulation department who knows someone in advertising who knows someone in the newsroom who knows someone in the sports department who’s been asking around.”

“No legitimate journalist is going to listen to that cockamamie story about a friend of a friend of a friend and run with it.”

“Are you kidding me? This is gold. They won’t name names. They’ll just cite ‘multiple sources’ and leave it for the rabble to guess why the dressing room is rotten to the core.”

“Nope. They’ll laugh at you and roll their eyes.”

“Well, even if they do, I have a backup story for them.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, you know the traffic cop who ticketed Evander Kane? He told the barber who told the cousin who told the friend who told the parish priest who told the altar boy who told the friend who told the neighbor’s kid who told his dad that Kane still hasn’t paid the fine. Evander Kane screwing up is still worth a 72-point headline in the Freep every day of the week.”

Class dismissed.

Let’s talk about the Puck Pontiff not talking…the Winnipeg Jets rumor mill…“ruffled feathers” around the NHL…Vlad the Gifted arrives in The ROT…Harry Potter falling on his sword…those tree-hugging Leafs…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and be advised that this essay is under video review for goaltender interference…

The players (some), the head coach and the general manager have had their say—and the pundits with keyboards and microphones have chewed on the morsels served up—but the voice that matters most has yet to be heard.

That, of course, would belong to Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, co-bankroll of the Winnipeg Jets.

Mark Chipman

It’s a given that change is on its way this summer, and it won’t be as minimal in volume as last year when the GM, Kevin Cheveldayoff, lost Paul Stastny to the Vegas Golden Knights and Toby Enstrom to Sweden before going radio silent. Those two departures left Chevy with a group inferior to the outfit that barnstormed its way to the National Hockey League final four in spring 2018, but, given that eight months passed before he was of a mind to address his needs, it didn’t appear to bother him.

Well, today Chevy has ample bother.

Start with the free agents. He has more of them than Don Cherry has ugly suits. Can’t keep them all, unless Chevy’s bean counters are miracle-working mathematicians, and those he retains won’t come at bargain-bin pricing. Thirty-goal men Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine, along with top-pair defender Jacob Trouba, will line up like oinkers at a feed trough. Snort, snort snort…munch, munch, munch. There goes the salary cap.

Jacob Trouba

Trouba’s iffy status, meanwhile, is a serious challenge. Assuming he refuses to sign long term, do you trade him or risk losing him for nada a year from now? And what do you accept in barter?

Then there are the “ruffled feathers” that head coach Paul Maurice (or someone higher up on the food chain) needs to “flatten out” before autumn. And what of the sourpuss team captain, Blake Wheeler, a belligerent man who emphasizes his shocking distaste for news snoops by telling them to eff off?

Add it all up and Chevy has a plateful of worry, not to mention the potential for an off-season of sweeping, dramatic change.

Before the GM can make a move, however, he requires the okie-dokie from Puck Pontiff Chipman.

Lest there be doubt, I remind you of a remark Chipman made during a Hockey Night In Canada tete-a-tete a few years back.

Patrik Laine

“Chevy and I talk pretty much daily,” he said. “Those are his calls to make, but it would depend on the extent of the term or the quantum of the contract you’re talking about (that) would, to a certain degree, determine the level of involvement that he would require me. The lengthier the deal or the more impactful the deal, the more I would be involved on a consultant basis.”

I’d say signing Puck Finn and Connor to lucrative contracts belongs in the “impactful” file. Ditto any trade involving Trouba. Thus, Chipman has the final say, and that means veto power.

I’m guessing the Puck Pontiff might also have some interesting things to say about “ruffled feathers” and Wheeler’s foul mouth, but none of the boys on the beat have sought his thoughts for the record, or he’s declined to go public. Either way, it’s his voice that matters most and it would be nice to hear it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad Chipman doesn’t do the wingnut thing like that Humpty Harold Ballard wannabe in Ottawa, Eugene Melnyk. But there are times when the Howard Hughes recluse routine doesn’t play well. Like at the end of a season gone wrong. Seems to me that Chipman would want to get in front of the rumors and boorish behavior that are rubbing the squeaky clean off his franchise.

Puck Finn and Adam Lowry: A dustup?

Speaking of gossip, another week and still no hard evidence of a fractured Jets changing room, just friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend rumor of a parking lot dustup between Puck Finn and Adam Lowry, and other alpha male skirmishes.

Don’t run off with the notion that les Jets are the sole NHL outfit wrestling with “ruffled feathers.” For evidence, see James Neal in Calgary. Also see Nazem Kadri, Mike Babcock, Kyle Dubas and Auston Matthews in the Republic of Tranna.

Big Buff

For the record, I don’t have a problem with Dustin Byfuglien and other Jets skipping out on the season-over chin-wag with news snoops. Big Buff, who only mutters something when the moon is full, seldom has anything interesting to offer, and the same can be said for goaler Connor Hellebuyck, who mostly talks about the opponent’s “luck.” Having said that, if Buff is going to wear an ‘A’ on his jersey, he ought to be available.

I don’t know about you, but I got real creepy vibes from the Rink Rat Scheifele-Wheeler segment of the farewell pressers. Scheifele came across as totally subservient, like he was the captain’s lap dog. Not that Rink Rat was asked a lot of questions, but it was an extremely bad optic and might have said more than any words that were spoken.

Of all the post-season blah, blah, blah that I’ve read or heard about Winnipeg HC, I found this tweet from former TV guy Joe Pascucci most interesting: “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.”

There was only one thing worse than the horrible cross-checking call on Cody Eakin in Game 7 of the San Jose Sharks-Vegas playoff series—the Golden Knights penalty killing. The Knights can squawk as loud and as long as they like about rot-your-socks reffing, but you can’t surrender four powerplay goals in four minutes.

This is rich. Anthony Stewart, one of the talking meatheads on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central At Noon, thinks Stanley Cup matches on the West Coast should wrap up no later than 9:30 p.m. ET. That way, fans in the Republic of Tranna wouldn’t have to go nighty-night before the finish. Sigh. That would require a 3:30 p.m. opening faceoff on the Left Flank, at which time most folks are still at work or in school. Only someone in The ROT would be obnoxious enough to suggest the rest of us alter our day to satisfy their needs.

So, how did the 22 Sportsnet experts score on their predictions for Round 1 of the Stanley Cup tournament? Can you say F for failure, kids? Here’s the final tally:

Vlad the Gifted

Apparently the Tranna Blue Jays have a new player. What was my first clue? The 11 stories/videos featuring Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on the Sportsnet website main page Saturday morning. I swear, the last time there was this much ballyhoo about a new kid, three wise dudes riding camels showed up bearing gifts. There was no gold, frankincense or myrrh for Vlad the Gifted at his Major League Baseball baptism on Friday night in the Republic of Tranna, but a fawning media showered him with slobber, hype and extreme overkill.

How could I tell the arrival of Vlad the Gifted was a really big deal for news snoops in The ROT? They actually stopped writing and talking about Drake for an entire day.

So who gets the first statue, Vlad the Gifted or Auston Matthews? Inquiring sculptors would like to start their chisels.

Kyle Dubas

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval rating is now lower than Donald Trump’s. Apparently Kyle Dubas will hold a press conference and take the blame for it.

Seriously, has a sports executive ever fallen on as many swords as Dubas did during his season-over gab session with news snoops? I think he took the rap for everything but the rising flood waters in Eastern Canada. Among other things, the Harry Potter lookalike GM of the Tranna Maple Leafs pled guilty to botching the prolonged Willy Boy Nylander contract negotiations, the Game 7 playoff ouster vs. the Boston Bruins, and les Leafs’ wretched penalty-killing units. It’s noteworthy that head coach Mike Babcock did not disagree with any of that.

Initially, I thought it was admirable of Dubas to repeatedly perform harakiri, but his buck-stops-here mantra rang as phony as a politician’s promise when he accepted blame for les Leafs’ penalty killing woes. You could see his nose growing as his lips moved, and I’m pretty certain that his pants were also on fire.

Brian Burke

Loved Brian Burke’s take on the Dubas-Babcock tandem: “They’re both Greenpeace guys. They don’t like rough hockey, they don’t like tough hockey, they don’t like mean hockey, they want skating, skilled guys.” I don’t know about you, but I think it only fitting and proper that a team named Leafs should be run by tree huggers.

And, finally, when does Burke replace Don Cherry on Curmudgeon’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada? We all know it’s going to happen, so get on with it.

About the Winnipeg Jets group no-show…questions going forward…pie charts and Twig Ehlers’ fancy skating…Jacob Trouba had plenty of bad company…the Auston Matthews shrine…blind video replay judges…E-Town still likes the Looch…and scapegoats for the Jets fallen crusade

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and that Jets loss really knocked the frills off my Easter bonnet…

Well, there is no joy in Mudville today. The mighty Winnipeg Jets have struck out. Without really taking a final swing.

I mean, six shots through 40 minutes? One in the second period?

That’s the best you can do when it’s win or go to the beach? Talk about throwing a handful of confetti in a knife fight.

Oh, sure, you can say the St. Louis Blues had something to do with that. You know, suffocating defensive scheme and all. But, c’mon man. No team, not even the Montreal Canadiens circa 1970s, should be able to limit les Jets to one measly shot on goal. There’s too much talent.

Connor Hellebuyck

I’d accuse les Jets of mailing it in, except I’ve mellowed over the years. I can’t be that cruel. So let’s just say I believe some of them tried in their 3-2 loss Saturday night in St. Loo. They just didn’t try hard enough, goaler Connor Hellebuyck being the notable exception, and the local hockey heroes’ premature ouster from the Stanley Cup tournament isn’t how a whole lot of folks, myself included, had Beard Season scripted. I was confident that there would be boisterous Whiteout parties in and outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie well into May, if not June.

Alas, the Blues’ series-concluding cakewalk at the Enterprise Center put an end to all the fun, and there’s little point in wondering what might have been for les Jets had their playoff push advanced beyond the sixth game of this best-of-seven skirmish.

Certainly the window of opportunity had been pushed wide open, with top seeds falling like April rain, and I liked their chances in this Stanley Cup crap shoot. Based on their disgraceful group no-show in St. Loo, though, it’s apparent that les Jets had less belief in themselves than much of the rabble. Again, including myself.

The inclination, of course, is to play the Blame Game for this wasted opportunity, but I’m not prepared to go there this morning. I’ll leave that to the “experts.”

I’m more interested in what this face plant does for les Jets moving forward and, as the local lads went through the final throes of another National Hockey League crusade gone wrong, I found myself asking these question:

  • Blake Wheeler

    Does Blake Wheeler have any more 91-point seasons in him? No.

They’ll be paying their 33-year-old captain $8.25 million next autumn, and the only guarantee is that his production will begin to drop faster than Justin Trudeau’s approval ratings.

  • Is Dustin Byfuglien going to get any younger or any smarter? No.

Big Buff has always marched to his own drummer, and that old dog isn’t about to learn new tricks at age 34. As much as he can hold sway in a game, he’s prone to massive brain farts and, frankly, he’s 260 pounds worth of liability.

  • Paul Maurice

    Is Paul Maurice going to become a better coach? No.

I’ve said it before: Coach Potty Mouth is not the right man to take this young outfit to the next level. He’s reached his level of (in)competence, and it’s time for him to do what he does best—talk. That is, a career in either the TSN or Sportsnet studio awaits him.

  • Does Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have the coconuts or desire to punt Coach Potty Mouth? No.

Many among the rabble are crying out for Maurice’s ouster, but they can save their breath. Both the Puck Pontiff and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff are on record as saying Maurice is here “for the long haul,” so you can bitch about him all you like. He isn’t going anywhere.

  • Is Jacob Trouba prepared to sign long term? Good luck with that.

On a scale of 1-to-10, I’d say there’s less than zero chance the still-young defender keeps a River City postal code beyond next winter. Actually, I suspect he’ll be out of Dodge before they drop the puck again. Chevy might feel obliged to move him this summer.

  • Twig Ehlers

    Is Twig Ehlers capable of doing anything more than skate pretty? No.

Don’t talk to me about Ehlers’ wonderful zone entries. I really don’t care what the pie charts tell you. He’s paid to score. Instead, he’s doing triple salchows and sit spins, like he’s auditioning for Ice Capades. Perhaps he can partner with Tessa Virtue and they can tour with a fancy skating company. Seriously. Zero goals and seven points in 21 playoff assignments? There’s just no game in his game.

  • Is Kevin Hayes worth keeping around? No.

Turns out that the lanky centre was Stastny Lite, with minimal impact after joining les Jets at the NHL shop-and-swap deadline. He had his moments. Just not enough of them. Acquiring Hayes was a right thing to do that didn’t work out.

  • Chevy

    Will Chevy put together a package to retrieve the first-round draft pick he surrendered in barter for Hayes? Unlikely.

I doubt the other 30 league GMs have any appetite for helping Chevy.

  • Is Chevy prepared to enter another crusade with Bryan Little in the second centre slot? No choice.

Chevy, by his activity at the last two trade deadlines, has told Little that he’s not a No. 2 centre. Trouble is, the Atlanta holdover has a no-movement clause, so Chevy is stuck with him. The No. 2 centre slot was an issue heading into this season and, unfortunately, Hayes wasn’t the solution. Chevy’s mistake was waiting until the 11th hour to attempt to fix it.

  • If rumors of infighting among the players are true, will the toxic elements be discarded? Hard to say.

We only have Mike McIntyre’s word for it that les Jets changing room was a pit full of bickering sourpusses with self-serving interests, so unless the Drab Slab beat guy is prepared to give us the skinny we won’t know the true story.

Jacob Trouba

Let’s make something quite clear: Jacob Trouba wasn’t solely responsible for the goal that did in les Jets in their stunning Game 5 loss to the Blues last Thursday. Yes, he made a poor decision to attempt to freeze the puck on the end boards. A real D’oh! Boy move with about 25 ticks left on the clock. But what of his defensive partner, Josh Morrissey? He was working in concert with Trouba, trying to free the puck vs. Alex Steen and Jaden Schwartz of St. Loo. When it came loose, Rink Rat Scheifele promptly handed it to the Blues Tyler Bozak. Kyle Connor then made a pathetic one-handed poke check attempt, but refused to engage Bozak. Both Trouba and Wheeler then ignored Schwartz, standing unmarked in front of the net to redirect a Bozak feed past Hellebuyck. It was, in short, a 10-second, total team collapse.

If the Tranna Maple Leafs beat the Boston Bruins in their Game 7 showdown on Tuesday to advance along the Stanley Cup trail, I sure hope Sportsnet and TSN will clear some air time and web space to finally give some coverage to the Buds.

Auston Matthews

Let’s put the shrine to Auston Matthews on hold, shall we? I mean, if not for some replay goomer who failed to see what the rest of us saw, Matthews’ goal in les Leafs’ 2-1 victory over the Bruins on Friday night in Beantown would have been waved off for goaltender interference and, for all we know, they’d still be playing.

That’s twice in less than a week that a hockey outfit has been royally ripped off by a video replay judge. First the Finnish women were denied the world title they had earned, and now the Bruins. What are the requirements for that job? A white cane? I think we all knew this replay business would be iffy, but, c’mon man, no amount of official bafflegab from the IIHF or NHL can justify this level of stooge-ism.

Milan Lucic

Postmedia Edmonton allowed readers to have their say on their favorite hockey team, and this was among the many questions asked: “Assuming no team would trade for him given his salary and term remaining on his contract, what should the Oilers do with Milan Lucic?” Shockingly, 3,857 (42 per cent) people who apparently had their eyes shut when the Looch was on the ice answered “Keep him.” Each of those 3,857 Sad Sacks is now qualified to work as an IIHF and NHL video replay judge.

I assume the Winnipeg Sun will run a similar You Be The Boss survey now that garbage bag day has arrived for les Jets, because it’s a tabloid kind of thing to do. Who will the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown fit for the biggest pair of goat horns? I predict there’ll be three main fall guys: Head coach Paul Maurice, assistant coach Charlie Huddy, and head-strong defender Jacob Trouba, although not necessarily in that order.

And, finally, I don’t know about you, but I feel no obligation to root, root, root for the Maple Leafs simply because they’re the only Canadian outfit still standing in Beard Season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connor Hellebuyck

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

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

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

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

Gord Stellick

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

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

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

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

Shows you what the “experts” know.

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

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

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

In short, they know squat.

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

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

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

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

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

Puck Finn

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

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

Nazem Kadri

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

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

Mitch Marner

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

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

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

About the Winnipeg Jets playing keep-away vs. the St. Loo Blues…what a ripoff in the women’s world hockey final…Tiger, Tiger burning bright, but not the greatest comeback…and what’s up with Tampa Bay?

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I’d make a comeback just like Tiger Woods, except no one is dumb enough to hire me…

Two main takeaways from Game 3 of the Winnipeg Jets-St. Loo Blues skirmish on Sunday night in the Show Me State:

1) Now we know what happens when the puck stops hitting Jordan Binnington.

2) Les Jets discovered a rather unique, yet simple, tactic to remedy Connor Hellebuyck’s leaky goaltending—refuse to let the Blues have the puck.

Big Buff: Let me rag-doll you.

Oh, sure, there were other reasons why les Jets got off the schneid with a 6-3 W on a night when losing was not an option. Like, Kyle Connor and Kevin Hayes grew weary of being bystanders and decided it would be a swell idea to join the fray. And Dustin Byfuglien was in one of his I’m-gonna-rag-doll-someone moods.

But, let’s face it, it’s usually about the guys in the blue paint once the lads start sprouting chin whiskers.

Goaltending won Game 1 for St. Loo and lost Game 2 for Winnipeg HC, and les Jets were determined to reverse that before it became a disturbing trend that scuttled their Stanley Cup aspirations. They did so by playing keep-away with the puck, spending most of their time with it in the offensive zone at Enterprise Center, and it was a superb example of damage control. The less Hellebuyck saw of the little, round disc, the better their chances.

It also helped, of course, that Binnington was in an obliging mood at the opposite end of the freeze. Although magnificent in the initial 20 minutes, we now know the National Hockey League rookie with the Midas touch isn’t actually the reincarnation of Georges Vezina. Or the second coming of Mike Liut.

That’s not to say the kid’s a fraud, but les Jets made him look awful ordinary on Sunday night, and I didn’t see any of them shaking their heads in frustration and disbelief at the final bell.

Maybe it was a one-off and Binnington will return to form in Game 4 of this best-of-seven skirmish on Tuesday, but at least les Jets know the formula for success and a way out of their 1-2 deficit—keep the puck away from the Blues. And Connor Hellebuyck.

Even with limited work, Hellebuyck couldn’t get through the game without a colossal gaffe. He continues to handle the puck like he’s afraid of catching the cooties from the thing, and he almost coughed up the biggest hair ball of them all in the third period. Fortunately for les Jets, Patrick Maroon of St. Loo is lacking in the lickety-split department, so damage was avoided.

Ref signals it’s a goal for Finland in OT.

I began watching hockey in the mid-1950s. I haven’t seen everything, but I’ve seen a lot—brilliant stuff, lousy stuff, strange stuff, questionable stuff, stupid stuff, nasty stuff, idiotic stuff, zany stuff. But I don’t recall ever seeing anything so totally messed up as the call on what should have been Finland’s winning goal in the Women’s World Hockey Championship on Sunday.

To provide the Cole’s Notes version of events, Petra Nieminen scored in sudden-death overtime. The referee nearest the swirl of activity indicated it was a good goal. Game over. The Finnish players, coaches, support staff and fans in Espoo lost their minds, believing they had beaten the mighty United States, 2-1, for the first world title in the country’s history.

But wait…someone hiding in a video room wanted a second look at the winning tally. He or she determined that Jenni Hiirikoski of Finland had interfered with American goaltender Alex Rigsby. Thus, the goal was voided. Play on, girls. Except the U.S. was required to play on shorthanded because Rigsby was penalized for tripping Hiirikoski, who supposedly had interfered with the U.S. keeper as she scrambled to secure a loose puck outside the blue paint. Huh? Confused? Weren’t we all.

Bottom line: Finland was ripped off by a video judge who had no business over-ruling the on-ice officials, and a historic moment for women’s hockey was dashed.

While confusion reigned in Finland, I kept wondering why the two TSN voices on site, Rod Black and Cheryl Pounder, refused to tell the truth. Finland got royally screwed. Say it. In those words.

Tiger Woods and his fifth ugly green jacket.

Yes, now that you mention it, I was among the numerous naysayers who insisted that Tiger Woods would never win another golf major. Thanks for reminding me. But on the heels of Tiger’s fifth Masters title, I was hoping I wouldn’t hear too many over-the-top platitudes. Sigh. Too late.

The moment I clicked on the Internet in the small hours this morning, I was reading headlines about Tiger’s victory being the “greatest comeback in sports history.”

Look, I was caught up in the drama of Tiger’s victory at Augusta National on Sunday, and I admire his talent and stick-to-itness as it relates to golf. It’s just that I don’t think 30something-year-old sports scribes like Jon McCarthy of Postmedia are positioned to determine the best of anything, except perhaps Justin Bieber’s greatest hits.

You want to talk about comebacks? Okay.

  • Try golfer Ben Hogan, who lost an argument with a Greyhound bus in 1949 and suffered a double fracture to his pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a fractured left ankle, a chipped rib, near-fatal blood clots, lifelong circulation problems, and required blood transfusions. He won the U.S. Open the following year, and another five Grand Slam tournaments after that.
  • Try Muhammad Ali, banned from boxing for 3½ years due to the political climate of the day, then returning to win the heavyweight title.

  • Try Monica Seles, stabbed in the back with a nine-inch knife by a crazed Steffi Graf fan during a tennis match, disappearing for more than two years due to depression and the fear of another attack by a man who never spent a day in jail, then returning to win the Australian Open.

  • Try Mario Lemieux, who won a battle with cancer and returned to the NHL to win multiple scoring titles.

  • Try driver Niki Lauda, hauled out of a fire-engulfed car and his head and face burnt to a crisp, then returning to win the Formula 1 driving title one year later and again five years after his first retirement.

Woods battled back from self-inflicted public humiliation and numerous physical challenges that could have ended his career, but nothing life-threatening. His is a terrific story, to be sure. But the greatest comeback ever? Not even close.

And, finally, if the Tampa Bay Lightning don’t win a playoff game vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets, did their record-breaking season really happen?