Hens in the Hockey House: Big deals on Wheels for the Winnipeg Jets

My two Hens in the Hockey House have surfaced from their summer hibernation, just in time to deliver some blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda on the Blake Wheeler signing. The Winnipeg Jets captain has agreed to a five-year contract extension that will average $8.25 million per season, at which time he will be into his hockey dotage at age 37.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, girlfriend, what’s your take on the Deal on Wheels? Too much money? Too much term? Too little money? Too little term?

Answer Lady: The question isn’t whether or not the Jets gave Wheeler too much of this or too little of that. It’s this: When does the captain go into the inevitable decline?

Blake Wheeler

Question Lady: What makes you so sure his game’s heading south?

Answer Lady: Oh, honey, everything heads south. Just take a look at what gravity has done to our bodies. We know Wheeler’s skills will decay and no tummy tuck is going to change or fix that. As sure as there’s wind at Portage and Main, he’ll experience a drop in productivity. What we don’t know and can’t predict is when, and how rapid, the retreat will be.

Question Lady: We’re pretty confident that his game won’t take a detour south this winter, are we not?

Answer Lady: I’d say that’s a safe bet. I mean, it might not be another 91-point season, but as long as he has Rink Rat Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Big Buff, Twig Ehlers and Puck Finn as playmates he ought to deliver a point a game by accident. Here’s something we must keep in mind, though: Wheeler will be working on his existing contract in the 2018-19 National Hockey League season. At $5.6 million, he’s a bargain. Maybe the best bargain in the game. But he won’t be so much of a bargain if it’s 55 points and $8.25 million four years from now. Guaranteed the rabble will be bitching a blue streak about his contract being an anchor if that happens. I already hear grumbling about the term on this extension.

Question Lady: Are you surprised that the Jets gave a 32-year-old forward an extra five years?

Answer Lady: To be honest, two years ago I was convinced that Wheeler would play out his current contract then vamoose out of Dodge in pursuit of a championship. That changed last spring when the Jets advanced to the Western Conference final in the Stanley Cup runoff. But an additional five years? Ya, totally unexpected. I was thinking three tops.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Question Lady: Do you think Wheeler left money on the table for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and the bean counters to divvy up between Puck Finn, Kyle Connor, Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba?

Answer Lady: Since I wasn’t invited to join Wheeler and Chevy for the cup of coffee that led to this deal, I can’t answer that. But I think an argument can be made that he’d have gotten more coin on the open market next summer. So, in those terms, ya, he sold himself short. But, hey, how much is enough? If a guy can’t get by on $8.25 million per annum, he’s got issues that we probably don’t want to know about.

Question Lady: Doesn’t Wheeler strike you as the kind of guy who would take one for the team, so to speak?

Answer Lady: Ya, he does. Never met him, but the guy’s a pro’s pro by all accounts. About the only negative thing I could say about the captain is that he is sometimes—too often—prickly with news snoops. But dealing with jock journos is part of the package when you wear the C, so get over it.

Question Lady: Best-case scenario, of course, is that Wheeler hoists the Stanley Cup next spring or the year after that. What’s the worst-case scenario?

Answer Lady: That he turns into the Looch—Milan Lucic, owner of the most-onerous contract in the NHL. I mean, the Edmonton McDavids are paying the Looch $6 million a year to lurch up and down the left wing like a guy dragging an ATM machine, and he’ll be on their books until 2023. He’ll be the world’s oldest 34-year-old by then, likely scoring five goals a season instead of the 10 he had last winter. How happy do you think they’ll be paying that ball-and-chain $1.2 million per goal? I don’t see that ever happening to Wheeler and the Jets, though. He still has plenty of game. At least three, perhaps four more years as a top-flight forward. But you asked me for the worst-case scenario and I can’t think of anything more grim than him morphing into a right-wing version of the Looch.

Question Lady: The Wheeler signing means much of the heavy lifting is done and, really, there’s only Morrissey without a contract. What’s the holdup there?

Answer Lady: It has to be term. I’m only spitballing, but Chevy’s track record suggests that length of service is the sticking point. He has some kind of cult-leader sway with these guys. He serves them the Kool-Aid and before you can say Pokey and the Bandit they’re locked in for six years or more at a team-friendly rate. It worked with Rink Rat Scheifele and Twig Ehlers and Hellebuyck, so it’s my guess that he’s attempting similar powers of persuasion with Morrissey.

Question Lady: And if Josh doesn’t swallow the Kool-Aid?

Answer Lady: Then he’ll do what Trouba did—sign for two years and carry on carrying on until such time as he’s in a more favorable bargaining position.

Question Lady: Let’s end it with a question about Trouba. What’s his shelf life with the Jets?

Answer Lady: Two years tops, then adios, amigos.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go and enjoy what’s left of summer. Any plans for you?

Answer Lady: At my age, I don’t make plans or buy green bananas.

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About Winnipeg Blue Bombers coaches Tar & Feather…Matt Nichols, game manager…counting heads in the CFL…Johnny Rotten, American beer and more TSN gushing…the morphing of Josh Morrissey…a nightmare on Donald Street…homeless in Detroit…the great Gretzky getaway to La La Land…dial Mark Stone for “exhausted”…and a Christmas Day “snub”

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

I think I know what some of you were thinking.

You were thinking that Richie Hall’s defence would become Richie Hall’s defence. Oh yes you were.

Richie Hall

As the Hamilton Tiger-Cats gnawed away at a substantial deficit Friday, you were convinced that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen was about to fall back on bad habits and, thus, a hot, steamy evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry would conclude with the local lads squandering 19-7 and 26-10 leads like a teenage kid with his first summer wages. I was thinking the same thing.

Not this time, though.

On a night when quarterback Matt Nichols kept flinging the football to empty spaces instead of willing hands, the oft-crucified Hall and his oft-crucified group secured the Bombers’ fifth W in their eight skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade, and their 29-23 success means the defensive coordinator is good to flit about town this week sans disguise.

Same goes for the head coach, Mike O’Shea, who today is a .500 head coach.

Mike O’Shea

How long has it been since the oft-skewered O’Shea last saw anything other than the dark side of the moon? Well, Sam Katz was still the mayor. Jeff Stoughton was still king of Manitoba’s curlers. Evander Kane was still dining and dashing. It was Sept. 13, 2014. The Bombers were 6-6 and soon to be 6-7. That pit eventually grew so deep that O’Shea had to carry a canary to work. He’s finally come up for air. His record, once 13-28, now stands at 40-40. The canary’s work is done.

Yup, life is good for coaches Tar & Feather. For now. There’s another game in five days. The jackals are forever crouching at their door.

Make no mistake, much of the criticism heaped on whipping boys O’Shea and Hall has been warranted, most notably on those occasions when the head man was guilty of mind-numbing buffoonery. Like attempting a season-halting, no-chance-in-hell, 61-yard field goal in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium. Coach Mikey will wear that particular moment of madness until he actually wins a playoff game, but, in the meantime, shouldn’t the rabble—and all knights of the keyboard—acknowledge that he and Hall are getting the job done?

Matt Nichols

What’s up with Matt Nichols? I mean, the guy missed more long-range targets on Friday night than an Iraqi scud missile. His receivers would have required arms longer than Pinocchio’s nose to latch onto some of his passes. It brought to mind something a CFL coach or GM told Kirk Penton of The Athletic when discussing the league’s premier QBs: “Nichols is just a game manager.” And that’s the best you can say about his work against the Tabbies—he managed to win the game. But isn’t that the bottom line for quarterbacks?

Commonwealth Stadium

This from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet: “There was a great deal of chest-thumping last week when Edmonton announced a crowd of 35,623 for a game against Saskatchewan, the CFL’s biggest live audience of the season. Given that Commonwealth Stadium was still 40 per cent empty, you might wonder what all the celebrating was about. Twenty years ago, nobody would have got excited about that kind of crowd.”

A couple layers to peel here: First, I didn’t read or hear about anyone dancing in the streets of The Chuck because of that head count. If there was a celebration, I missed it. Second, what a mook. I mean, had Cox taken five minutes for research, he’d know that seven of the eight CFL franchises averaged less than 30,000 customers per home date “20 years ago.” Half the league (Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal and B.C.) averaged less than 20,000. Thus, I submit that every club, save possibly for the Eskimos, would have been very “excited” about an audience of 35,623. More to the point, they’d have been shouting about it from the rooftops if it happened the first week of August, which is not exactly prime time for spending an evening sitting at the 55-yard line.

Just the facts, ma’am. They aren’t hard to find.

I note that a record number of our friends south of the great U.S.-Canada divide tuned in to witness TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, make his CFL debut on Aug. 3. Yup, 406,000 sets of peepers watched in wonder as Johnny Rotten fell flat on his face in his three-down baptism. Best ever ESPN2 audience for a CFL skirmish. Confirming, of course, that American football fans’ taste in quarterbacks is much like their taste in beer—watered down.

Trevor Harris

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Trevor Harris of the Ottawa RedBlacks flung the football 54 times on Saturday night. Forty-four of those passes—44!—landed in the right hands. That’s the second highest, single-game completion total in CFL history. Those passes/catches covered 487 of terrain, and one went for a touchdown in Ottawa’s 24-17 victory over the Montreal Alouettes. And yet, once the dust had settled, we had Rod Smith and Davis Sanchez of TSN flapping their gums about Johnny freaking Manziel, the losing quarterback whose performance was noteworthy only for the fact he didn’t toss four interceptions? “On a night where Trevor Harris throws for nearly 500 yards, it seems kind of crazy to be talking about the other quarterback, but that’s the Manziel world now in the CFL,” said Smith. No, Rod, it isn’t “kind of crazy.” It’s stupid and insulting, and TSN’s credibility is taking a big hit with its relentless and shameful gushing over a National Football League washout.

Josh Morrissey

For two years, Jacob Trouba has been so far up Paul Wiecek’s nose that a team of U.S. Navy SEALs wouldn’t be able to rescue him. Now we find Josh Morrissey up the other nostril.

Oh, yes, if Trouba is Darth Defenceman, Morrissey is Darth Lite.

And what heinous trespass has the young defender committed? Well, in a plot-thickening essay seemingly plucked out of River City’s hazy, sticky summer air and primarily designed to get tongues wagging, Wiecek informs us that Morrissey, like Trouba before him, is playing by the rules. The nerve.

Morrissey, to date, has declined to accept whatever hometown discount the Winnipeg Jets have asked him to accept in contract discussions, and thus he remains listed among the National Hockey League’s unsigned restricted free agents. That simply won’t do. Never mind that he’s merely exercising his bargained-for rights. Playing by the rules, in the world according to Wiecek, is bad manners, especially if it means you might upend a cart of apples.

Moreover, the Winnipeg Free Press scribe tells us that Morrissey is displaying a “darker side.” He’s morphed from Ned Flanders into Mr. Burns. Surely, Wiecek hints, there’s something foul afoot. “It’s no accident we’ve reached this point,” is his cryptic conclusion.

Good grief. The heat certainly affects people in peculiar ways, doesn’t it?

Look, there’s no story here. Not unless Wiecek has inside intel that he isn’t sharing, which I doubt. If Morrissey remains unsigned by the time the local lads assemble next month for their training sessions, then sure, let’s talk. Until then, let’s dispense with the flights of fantasy (read: fake news) and try to keep it real.

Jacob Trouba

Naturally, Wiecek couldn’t pen a piece about the Jets without skewering Trouba. Referencing the 24-year-old defenceman’s recent contract negotiations, which resulted in an arbitrator-awarded salary of $5.5 million, he wrote: “You knew that was going to be a nightmare.” So let’s recap. Trouba became a restricted free agent. He filed for arbitration, as is his right under the terms of the NHL-NHL Players Association contract. When his agent, Kurt Overhardt, and Jets ownership/management agreed to disagree on wage/term, it went to an arbitrator. Both parties signed the awarded one-year deal. Trouba will report to training camp and be a significant contributor to the group on its next Stanley Cup crusade. Exactly what part of that is a “nightmare?”

Hey, check out what Craig Custance of The Athletic Detroit has to say about our local hockey heroes. “If I had to bet the mortgage on a team right now to win the Stanley Cup, it’d be Winnipeg,” he writes. I’d take that bet in a heart beat, except I don’t want to live in Detroit and I’d hate to see Custance out on the street.

Weeping Wayne

Geez, it’s been 30 years since the Los Angeles Kings landed the biggest fish of them all, reeling in Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers. Where were you the day No. 99 broke down and wept when informed he’d be neighbors in La La Land with Tom Hanks, Michael Douglas and Jodie Foster? I was in my late 30s and vacationing at a cottage somewhere in the wilds of the Whiteshell, but I interrupted my hiatus long enough to take my toes out of the water and scribble a column for the Winnipeg Sun. It was probably a lousy essay that offered little insight, but, hey, I had other fish to fry that day. Literally.

Mark Stone

Some interesting thoughts on contract negotiations from homeboy Mark Stone, who recently settled on a one-year, $7.35 million pact with the Ottawa Senators to avoid arbitration at the 11th hour. “It’s lots of hours, you’re spending a lot of time on the phone and you’re thinking about what you should do and how you should approach things. It’s actually mentally exhausting,” said Stone. Ya, such a hardship. I once worked the phones for 7 1/2 hours a day, five days a week for a year and a half in the Cordova Bay Golf Course pro shop. I think they paid me 12 bucks an hour. Stone spent a few days on the phone and his NHL club will pay him about $30,000 an hour. And he’s exhausted?

And, finally, I don’t get it. Why are some people on our side of the border bent out of shape, saying and writing that the NBA has “snubbed” the Tranna Raptors by not including them on the Christmas Day TV menu? Seriously. That’s what people do on Christmas now? They watch a bunch of multi-millionaire stringbeans play bouncy-bouncy on the hardwood when there’s probably a feel-good Jimmy Stewart or Bing Crosby movie on TV? I shudder. And if that makes me sound old, it’s because I am old.

About the Winnipeg Jets being built on free agents…the ice fishing is great, right Big Buff?…Richie’s a Hall of a coach this week…pigging out in the (hot) dog days of summer…media friendly Vic Peters…Caroline Cameron gives Tim & Sid a fresh voice and look…those wacky Wimbledon women…don’t diss Ronaldo…and a sports scribe who preaches one thing but writes about another

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Welcome to Winnipeg, armpit of the National Hockey League.

Well, okay, that’s not exactly how shinny scribes Scott Burnside and Sean McIndoe worded it when Paul Stastny chose Glitter Gulch over Good Ol’ Hometown, but that was the sentiment of each pundit’s analysis—River City sucks. Still. Otherwise Stastny wouldn’t have vamoosed from the Winnipeg Jets to the Vegas Golden Knights scant seconds after the NHL opened its grab bag of free agents a week ago this very morning.

Here’s Burnside of The Athletic:

“While he did choose to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Jets at the trade deadline, Stastny’s departure as an unrestricted free agent merely reinforces the idea that, as good as the Jets are—and they are really good—they still aren’t at the stage where they are a destination for free agents. Not yet at least.”

Here’s McIndoe of Sportsnet:

“They were a darn good team before Stastny arrived, and they’ll be a good one with him gone. But seeing a top UFA walk away will reinforce the old idea that the Jets are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting top players.”

Paul Stastny

Both scribes stopped short of stereotypical jabs about the dark, the cold, the crappy WiFi, the pothole-to-person ratio, and summer skeeters the size of a Zamboni in River City, but the gist of their analysis is unmistakable, and this Winnipeg-as-NHL armpit narrative is oh so dog-eared. Also wearisome.

I mean, I’d buy it if Stastny had gone on record saying he defected to Sin City because “Winnipeg is a garbage dump with a lousy zoo and an ugly museum.” But no.

“In the end,” the 32-year-old centre-ice man told the Las Vegas Sun, “sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling. Sometimes it’s just one of those things that is the best fit, hockey-wise, family-wise and everything in between.”

Doesn’t sound damning to me.

Yet those of the Burnside/McIndoe ilk trot out the woe-is-Winnipeg refrain every time someone gives Good Ol’ Hometown the cold shoulder, mainly because it’s a convenient and lazy plot line that plays to the ill-informed among the rabble and, at the same time, ignores history. Yes, history.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.

Go ahead, kids. Name the most significant free-agent signing—ever—in professional hockey. That’s right, the name is Hull, Bobby Hull. And where did that game-shaping event take place? At the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street, where a flock of thousands gathered to witness Robert Marvin Hull, fresh off his fifth 50-goal season for the Chicago Blackhawks, scrawl his John Hancock on a Winnipeg Jets contract on June 27, 1972. This was the NHL’s glam guy, choosing Pegtown over Chitown. The sport and salaries were forever altered by one free-agent signing.

More to the point, the very foundation of the Winnipeg Jets was built exclusively on free agents, guys who willingly came to River City to form the World Hockey Association’s flagship franchise.

Ab Mcdonald, Joe Daley, Sudsy Sutherland, Ernie Wakely and others from the ‘hood came home from hither and yon to wear Jets linen. Anders Hedberg chose Winnipeg over Toronto. Kent Nilsson chose Winnipeg over Toronto and Atlanta. Willy Lindstrom could have played anywhere in North America. He chose Winnipeg. Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg chose Winnipeg. Peter Sullivan chose Winnipeg. Etcetera, etcetera and blah, blah, blah.

So enough of the tired, old refrain about Pegtown being a shinny leper colony.

Big Buff

Are there guys who’d rather not play in River City? Absolutely. We’re told Good Ol’ Hometown makes most no-trade lists. Just ask Ilya Bryzgalov. But, hey, John Tavares rejected 30 cities just last week, so it’s not like Winnipeg is unique. Look, players talk about three main things when wrestling with free-agency options: 1) Money; 2) the opportunity to win; 3) location. Well, Ben Hatskin wasn’t paying Hull $2.7 million in Monopoly or Canadian Tire money in 1972, and David Thomson and Mark Chipman aren’t paying Dustin Byfuglien $7.6 million per annum in food stamps with the present-day Jets. Competitively, les Jets were a final four team in this past spring’s Stanley Cup runoff. As for location, the ice fishing is boffo, thank you. Just ask Big Buff. So what’s not to like?

Just wondering: Are we still calling for Richie Hall’s head to roll? Probably not. Hall is the much-maligned man tasked with mapping out strategy for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen, whose deficiencies were exposed like a porn star’s privates in two of their first three skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade. Then along came the B.C. Lions with a benign offence designed to heal whatever ails a wonky defence. So I assume Winnipeg FC’s 41-19 victory over the Leos on Saturday evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry means it’s safe for Hall to go grocery shopping and pump his own gas this week. Just to be safe, though, he should have Adam Bighill tag along.

Joey Chestnut

Here’s something to chew on: Joey Chestnut celebrated the dog days of summer by successfully defending his Nathan’s hot dog eating title, scarfing down 74 tube steaks in 10 minutes. It’s believed that no one has ever gone through that many dogs. Except the Edmonton Oilers, of course.

Richard Deitsch of The Athletic asked this question of jock journos on Twitter: “Who is the most media-friendly athlete you have dealt with?” For me, that’s a no-brainer: The late Vic Peters, with about 100 other curlers tied in second. Vic, in the grand scheme of jockdom, was a smooth-edged gem on a beach full of sharp stones. A most obliging, engaging man, he had time for us all. Always.

Sid Seixeiro and Caroline Cameron

Loved the new look and sound on the Tim & Sid show last week. Unfortunately, it’s only temporary. Caroline Cameron has been sitting in for the vacationing Sid Seixeiro on the Sportsnet gabfest, and they’re as different as a pit bull and a kitten. I mean, Sid’s shtick is to talk tough. He dresses the part, too. He looks like he belongs on the set of a gangster movie, skulking around with Luca Brasi and nervously glancing over his shoulder to see if Eliot Ness is on his tail. He wears his sneer on his sleeve. He’s prone to prop humor and theatrical orations that would earn him a failing grade in a high school drama class, and his rants are usually about as sincere as a Neymar dive-writhe-and-roll. Caroline, on the other hand…we’re talking Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Polished, professional, knowledgeable, smiling, impeccable, pretty, a girl making her way and succeeding in a guy’s world. A lot of viewers (read: guys) pooh-pooh women on sports talk TV as empty heads. Well, Caroline Cameron is compelling evidence that there should be more female voices in the jock gab game. She’s very good.

Yes, now that you mention it, the goings-on in London are very strange, most notably on the women’s side of Wimbledon. They’re spitting out seeds like it’s a baseball dugout. Gone are nine of the top 10 seeds and 25 of 32 overall. Wimbledon has never seen such carnage. Serena Williams will have to break both legs and carry her baby on her back to lose this tournament. Even at that, she could probably win the thing and claim her 24th tennis Grand Slam title on crutches.

Ronaldo and Messi

A lot of British accents on our flatscreens during the World Cup, one of them belonging to Danny Dichio, former forward in the English Premier League. Sportsnet trotted him out as an analyst during the group stage of the event, and he had this exchange with Jesse Fuchs…

Fuchs: “People love to compare Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo…Messi missed a penalty earlier in the tournament, now so has Ronaldo. And it ends up costly, as Portugal are held to a draw. Is it fair at all to criticize CR7?”

Dichio: “No. Not at all fair.”

So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: The president of the United States, the Pope, Queen Liz, the Beatles, any journalist you care to name, and Jesus Christ himself are fair game for a roasting when they cough up a hairball, but Ronaldo, a guy who’s supposedly god’s gift to soccer, is untouchable when he gags on a shot from the 12-yard spot? As if. Dichio gets a red card for being a nincompoop.

Kaitlyn Lawes and Jennifer Jones

And, finally, based on his scribblings over the years, it’s apparent that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press does not harbour a healthy fondness for professional athletes. He often writes of them with resentment, contempt and scorn, painting them with one broad brush stroke—they’re all money-grubbing elitists who look down on the rabble from their perch of privilege.

“A tiny cadre of coddled millionaires,” is how he described the Jets players in one of his tamer remarks.

Therefore it wasn’t out of character that he assailed play-for-pay jocks—defrocked Jets goaltender Steve Mason in particular—while making the case that the amateur athletes in our great nation are underfunded by the feds and underappreciated by the unwashed masses.

“Such is the deification that we accord professional hockey players in this country that we think nothing of paying the washouts millions not to play, while at the same time throwing chump change at our amateur athletes and then scolding them if they dare return home without Olympic medals every four years when we remember again that they exist,” he writes.

He calls financial support for our top amateurs “laughable” and “a complete joke.”

Mike O’Shea

Actually, the joke is a sports columnist prattling on about underfunding and underappreciation for amateurs when 95 per cent of his yearly material is devoted to his personal hot-button issues like Jacob Trouba’s attitude, Mike O’Shea’s “goofy” short pants, and Mark Chipman’s past life as a used-car salesman. His own newspaper treats amateur athletes like they have the cooties. Unless, of course, they’re holding a curling rock in one hand and a broom or sliding apparatus in the other. Kaitlyn Lawes, Jennifer Jones, Mike McEwen, Reid Carruthers and other pebble people get the jock star treatment from the Freep. The rest? Basically bupkus.

Here’s the professional/amateur story scorecard from the past seven editions of the Drab Slab: 140-13. Granted, seven days of sports sections is a small sample size, but just 8.5 per cent of all articles was devoted to amateurs.

In that same seven-paper time frame, Wiecek wrote three columns: his apples-to-oranges argument about amateur funding vs. greedy professional jocks getting too much coin for not enough work; the Blue Bombers lousy defence and firing lousy coaches O’Shea and Hall; and, once again, greedy pro athletes.

What’s that you say? Some sports scribes must be overpaid, underworked and coddled, too? Who knew?

About brutal brain farts by a Globe and Mail funny guy…clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right in the NHL media…quick takeaways from a tear-jerker of an NHL awards show…getting it wrong on retired numbers…a ballsy move by Barry Trotz…stay home, Darian…the mouth that roars…Milt Stegall’s d’oh moment…and TSN’s Thursday Night Football goes vaudeville

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Funny man Dave Shoalts

There’s something you all should know about Dave Shoalts. He’s a funny guy. Has a standup comedy gig on the side when he isn’t scribbling essays for the Globe and Mail or writing books. Did I mention he also has brain farts? Yup. Big, bold, brutal brain farts.

I mean, voting Taylor Hall as the best centre-ice man in the National Hockey League this past season? And the best left winger? There you have it, kids. A big, bold, brutal brain fart.

Like, what part of C and LW do you not understand, Shoaltsy?

Mathew Barzal

If only Shoalts’s stinker was a one-off in NHL awards voting by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. But no. It was among many.

I direct your attention to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Yo! Jimbo! What did you do, pull a Rip Van Winkle and sleep from October through April? I mean, are you really trying to tell us that Clayton Keller and Alex DeBrincat had better freshman years than Mathew Barzal? That’s like saying Messi is having a better World Cup than Ronaldo.

And what’s your excuse, Gann Matsuda? Was the shinny season nap time for you, too? Seriously. Yanni Gourde is your idea of the top rookie in the NHL? Yanni freaking Gourde?

And here I thought Yanni was that Greek guy who makes the music we listen to while stretched out in a dentist’s chair.

It’s not as if the rabble needed another reason to think of jock journalists as free-loading, poorly dressed, overweight, overpaid, know-nothing nincompoops, but Shoalts, Thomas, Matsuda, John Dietz, Roy MacGregor and a few others surely have given it to them with their bizarro-world NHL awards balloting.

The boys and girls in the PHWA had one simple job to do this past NHL season: Stay awake and pay attention. It’s not like anyone was asking them to solve the mystery of the Caramilk chocolate bar. Or to make sense of Donald Trump. Their assignment: Watch hockey games for approximately seventh months; take note of special performers and their numbers; when one of them (Barzal as an e.g.) operates in a higher orbit than his peers, vote for him when you receive your year-end awards ballot.

Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara

In the case of Barzal, his 85 points for the New York Islanders, when stacked against the tally of any other frosh, look like Zdeno Chara standing beside Brad Marchand. Thus, voting for him as rookie-of-the-year was your basic no-brainer. Unless your name is Jim Thomas, Gann Matsuda (Frozen Royalty), John Dietz (Arlington Daily Herald) or Roy MacGregor (Globe and Mail).

Those four saw it another way. Somehow, they were of the belief that Barzal’s season was like the tree falling in the forest. It didn’t really happen.

Well, okay, they all had Barzal’s name on their Calder Trophy ballots. I’ll give them that much. But they must have thought his 85 points paled in comparison to Keller’s 65. Or Yanni’s 64. Or Brock Boeser’s 55. Or DeBrincat’s 52.

Yo! Kids! A lower number is good in golf, Hearts and at your bail hearing, but not so much for hockey players whose job it is to score.

Let’s try and stay awake next season, mooks.

Back in the early 1970s, Stealers Wheel had a great hit, Stuck in the Middle with You, which included the lyrics, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right.” Hmmmm. Sounds like some of the PHWA membership. Sure, the majority of them got it right in voting for the season-end awards, but the Bozo quotient is too high when 43 news snoops—forty-freaking-three!—think someone other than Connor McDavid is the premier centre-ice man in the NHL. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but did McDavid’s peers not award him the Ted Lindsay trinket (for the second time) as the premier player on the planet last Wednesday? Yup, they sure did. Yet a sizable chunk of PHWA voters believe they know more than NHL players. Forty-three of them did not—repeat, did not—vote for the league scoring champion as the all-star centre. Worse, seven of them, including the aforementioned Dave Shoalts and the regrettable Gann Matsuda, failed to include the Edmonton Oilers captain on their all-star ballot. That’s like leaving the Pope off an all-Catholic list. It’s like leaving Pinocchio and Sarah Huckabee Sanders off an all-fibbers list. Once again—mooks!

Sports scribes are quick to call out athletes/coaches/managers/owners and even fans for the slightest misstep, peppering their targets with insults and catty condemnation. They’ll dismiss bloggers as talent-challenged oafs, with stereotypical references to mom’s basement. But…they seldom call each other out. They won’t eat their own. Thus, we shouldn’t expect to hear a print hit man like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna hurling nasties at his good friend and former roomie Shoalts for his blundering in PHWA voting. Fortunately, we have bloggers and the social media mob to carry out public floggings, and Shoalts has taken a deserved paddywhacking.

Quick takeaways from the NHL awards gala at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Glitter Gulch on Wednesday: That was easily a two-dozen-Kleenex show, and I’m quite uncertain how Christina Haugan got through her speech without weeping, because she had me bawling like a baby. Christina is the wife of Darcy Haugan, the Humboldt Broncos head coach who perished along with 15 others in April’s bus tragedy. Standing on stage in front of 10 of the crash survivors, Christina accepted the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award on behalf of her husband, and her words and message were beautiful…The tributes to victims, survivors and first responders of the Parkland, Fla., and Las Vegas shootings were also moving and tear-inducing moments, as was Masterton Award-winner Brian Boyle’s speech. All tastefully done…

Brian Boyle

Was it just me, or did anyone else think Boyle looked like a 1970s lounge lizard with his slicked-back hair, mustache and shiny suit? Or maybe he looked like a bad TV game show host. I can’t decide…Are those two doofuses who introduced P.K. Subban as cover boy of NHL 19 supposed to be funny? Apparently known as On the Bench and something of a hit on YouTube, if they’re hockey’s version of the McKenzie Brothers it doesn’t work for me…Nice touch to trot out Scott Foster, accountant by day and emergency goaltender by night. He played seven minutes for the Chicago Black Hawks one evening in Chitown last season and shut out the Winnipeg Jets…Hockey Hall of Famer Eric Lindros hasn’t missed many meals in retirement. He’s a big boy. Same can be said for Jim Belushi, presenter and teller of bad jokes…Kind of strange watching Pekka Rinne accept the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender, given how he struggled in the playoffs…Illusionist Darcy Oake was hit and miss. His Lady Byng Trophy card trick flopped, but his knife-throwing card trick was boffo.

So, this is what passes for a big trade in the NHL these days: A 19-goal forward for a nine-goal forward. Be still, my beating heart. I don’t know if the Montreal Canadiens or Arizona Coyotes got the better of the deal that has Max Domi swapping a zip code for a postal code and Alex Galchenyuk doing the reverse, but I wonder if les Canadiens have a clue. Shouldn’t they be adding size to their roster, not garden gnomes?

This from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “When he was a kid, Max Domi wore the number 13 in minor hockey in honour of Mats Sundin. Then, after being diagnosed with diabetes, he changed to number 16, as a tribute to Bobby Clarke. Now that he’s in Montreal, he couldn’t wear 16 because it’s retired for Henri Richard and Dickie Moore.” Wrong. Once again Simmons displays a lack of knowledge of 1950s and ’60s-era hockey. Dickie Moore wore No. 12, not 16, for les Canadiens. No. 16 is retired in honor of Pocket Rocket Richard and Elmer Lach, not Moore. Like his buddy Shoaltsy, I suppose Simmons will write off his gaffe as just another brain fart.

Mike Hoffman called Ottawa, San Jose and Sunrise home in less than 24 hours last week, with the Senators shipping the toxic forward across the continent to the Sharks and the Sharks flipping him back across the continent to the Florida Panthers, but here’s what I want to know: Is there any truth to the rumor that Hoffman’s fiancé, Monika Caryk, has a no-movement clause and must stay in Ottawa?

Barry Trotz and his friend Stanley.

Barry Trotz walking away from his Stanley Cup-winning gig in Washington was a ballsy move. I mean, people said the former Capitals coach would land a job before Alex Ovechkin stopped partying, but it’s not like the NHL is Motel 6 when it comes to vacancies behind the bench. There was exactly one job opening for a head man. Had Lou Lamoriello of the New York Islanders not reached out to rope him in with a four-year contract, Trotz would have been SOL. His next coaching gig might have been a year from now, or he might have appeared on our flatscreens next autumn. So, like I said, ballsy move by the Dauphin native.

Apparently, Egypt scored its first World Cup goal since 1990 on Tuesday. Not to be outdone, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have discovered their first quarterback since 1990. Yes, for the second successive start, rookie Chris Streveler did boffo business behind centre in Winnipeg FC’s 56-10 rag dolling of the Montreal Alouettes on Friday night. So, memo to Darian Durant: Stay home, keep the money. The Bombers are doing just fine without you, thanks.

Duron Carter

I have become convinced that only three things are forever open: Heaven, hell and Duron Carter’s mouth. My goodness, the man never gives his gums a rest. They flap more than goose wings in migration season. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but if I have a notebook or a microphone and I’m on the football beat in Saskatchewan, I’m sticking close to the Roughriders receiver/cornerback.

Milt Stegall, TSN talking head, on Carter moving from receiver to cornerback against the Ottawa RedBlacks on Thursday night: “I would be very surprised if Duron Carter is beaten by some big plays. I’d be more surprised if he doesn’t make any big plays.” D’oh! Diontae Spencer scorched Carter for a 56-yard touchdown, and his pass interference and illegal contact penalties led to another Ottawa TD. On the plus side, Carter had a pick six.

Kate Beirness

Kate Beirness and her big hair made their debut as host of Thursday Night Football on TSN, with resident natterbugs Hank Burris, Matt Dunigan and Stegall providing the backup vocals, and I’m not sure if it’s still a football show or bad vaudeville. I mean, the pre-game shtick included Brodie Lawson doing grunt work in the gym; the same Brodie Lawson as a wannabe lumberjack wielding a chain saw; Beirness and Kate McKenna dancing and discussing naked men on the football field; and a silly feature on the President of Touchdowns, Naaman Roosevelt. At halftime, Beirness was shaking her bones on the dance floor again (this time with the boys), and an unremarkable band sang two unremarkable songs. I was left to wonder why Hank, Matty and Milt were there. Hey, I’m all for fun and off-beat stuff, but this was simply lame.

About the WHA Jets vs. les Canadiens…B. Hull still ragging on Fergy…remember Benny and the Jets…a roster of rejects isn’t fair?…newspaper wars…meet the new Leafs GM, Harry Potter…Kypreos has ‘no idea’…Daren Millard and a smarmy guy on Hockey Central…Evander Kane’s wish list…dirty, rotten Darian Durant…fashionista Phil…boxing’s jail break…the greatest cheater…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

The boys are back in town, so let’s settle this Habs-Jets thing once and for all.

Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson

Let me begin by saying that I stand second to few people in admiration for the Winnipeg Jets, circa Hedberg-Nilsson-Sjoberg-Hull-et al. They played hybrid hockey. Canadian grit met Scandinavian swirl to form a swashbuckling brand of shinny not seen on this side of the great waters until the two cultures dovetailed in the mid-to-late 1970s.

If we are to believe Slats Sather, those Jets provided the blueprint for his rollicking Edmonton Oilers outfits that ruled the frozen ponds of the National Hockey League a decade later.

So, ya, the Jets were good. Good enough to give the mighty Soviet Union national side a 5-3 paddywhacking one January night in 1978.

But…were they Montreal Canadiens good? That is, how might the World Hockey Association’s signature team have measured up against the Habs juggernaut that featured a Hockey Hall of Fame head coach and nine HHOF players who produced Stanley Cup parades in four successive springs, 1976-79? Well, let’s ask three people who ought to know—Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull.

Peter Young, Ulf Nilsson, Kathy Kennedy, Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Sod Keilback.

The three members of the legendary Hot Line were in Good, Ol’ Hometown this weekend for a gathering of the players who conspired to win the club’s second WHA title 40 years ago this month, and Kathy Kennedy summoned them to her CJOB studio for a gab session. Also sitting in for the 40-minute chin-wag were veteran broadcasters Peter Young and Sod Keilback, who steered the chatter in the direction of les Canadiens.

Keiback: “Would you have beaten the Montreal Canadiens?”

Hull: “No, but it would have been a great game.”

Keilback: “I want to ask this to Ulf, because Friar Nicolson told me the most honest man he ever met in his life—the guy couldn’t lie—was Ulf Nilsson. Ulf, would you have been able to win the Stanley Cup with the WHA Jets?”

Nilsson: “No, I don’t think so. I agree with both Bobby and Anders. We were short maybe a few defencemen. Goaltending was good, though, and I think we had enough good forwards, but defence, we could have used one or two more.”

Hedberg: “We could have reached the final, no question.”

So, there you have it. While hundreds (thousands?) of locals to this day remain convinced the Jets could have given the Habs a wedgie, three of the WHA club’s four most influential players (defenceman Lars-Erik Sjoberg was the fourth) insist it’s a notion built on fantasy.

It would have been a boffo series, though.

Bobby Hull and John Ferguson in the good, ol’ days.

Former Jets general manager John Ferguson has been bones in the ground since 2007, but Hull won’t let his feud with Fergy go to the grave. Proudly talking about the open-door policy the Jets had with fans during the WHA days, Hull said this during the ‘OB gabfest: “They wanted me to take over the team, and they brought in a guy by the name of Ferguson and Tommy McVie, and that was all the goodwill we’d built up in all those years from 1972 to 1979 or ’80, or whenever it was that they joined with the NHL, went out the window. Doors were closed, there was rippin’ and cursin’ and kickin’ buckets and throwin’ oranges.” When host Kathy Kennedy relayed a story about an angry Fergy once kicking a hole through the Jets’ dressing room door, Hull said, “He not only had the foot in the door lots of times, he had that size 13 in his mouth.”

Ben Hatskin

As the present-day Jets continue their Stanley Cup crusade vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, give a thought to the WHA Jets, because they’re the reason what’s happening today is happening today. Had original owner Ben Hatskin folded his tent, the NHL wouldn’t have given River City a second glance. Edmonton and Ottawa probably wouldn’t have franchises either.

Interesting take from Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun on the Jets-Golden Knights skirmish for bragging rights in the NHL Western Conference. “I get that Vegas being good is beneficial for the league, but it still doesn’t seem fair that an expansion team can come in and contend for a Stanley Cup right away.” Fair? You tell me what’s fair. I mean, the Golden Knights entered the fray last October with a roster of rejects. Nobody thought it was unfair back then. So now that same roster of rejects is eight wins from hoisting the holy grail in Glitter Gulch and it isn’t fair? As if.

It occurs to me that it isn’t just the clubs competing in the NHL’s annual spring runoff. It’s also the daily rags. And, two series and one game deep into the playoffs, I’d say the Sun has opened a big, ol’ can of whupass on the Winnipeg Free Press. The tabloid troika of Wyman, Paul Friesen and Ken Wiebe have been cranking out the good stuff daily since the puck dropped on the Jets-Minnesota Wild series. Over at the Drab Slab, Mike McIntyre, Jason Bell and Mike Sawatzky are doing boffo business, but it doesn’t help that the Freep’s Sunday edition is an after-thought and the sports columnist seems to be MIA every second day.

kyle dubas3
Harry Potter lookalike Kyle Dubas

I turned on the TV the other day to watch the coronation of Kyle Dubas as GM of the Tranna Maple Leafs and they introduced Harry Potter instead. Seriously. If Dubas isn’t Harry Potter, he’s Harry’s big brother. The question now is this: Can he do anything about the boggarts on the Leafs blueline?

Nick Kypreos has come clean about running off at the mouth. Sort of. If you’ll recall, our man Kipper implied that Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and his star player, Auston Matthews, have been giving each other the ol’ stink eye. “Babcock lost Matthews. There was no trust anymore. For whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews,” he said after les Leafs had bowed out of the Stanley Cup tournament. Kipper offered zero evidence to support his suggestion of a spat. And now? “It is based purely on my instincts following a 12-year professional career,” the Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada gab guy tells us. “It is nothing more, nothing less. To my knowledge, there is no major rift between Babcock and Matthews. There is no conspiracy, but trust me, it isn’t fake news either. I have no idea how Matthews feels about his coach.” I think that last sentence sums it up: Kypreos has no idea.

Daren Millard

Loved the chatter between Daren Millard and “smarmy” Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon last Wednesday, when they engaged in a to-and-fro about ice time for elite NHL performers.

Cox: “Good teams don’t give their best players 23 minutes. Or, if they do it’s very rare. Or they’re coached by John Tortorella.”

Millard: “Barkov plays…Sasha Barkov plays 23 minutes.”

Cox: “Oh, Connor McDavid plays more than 22 minutes and they’re horrible. So, that’s what you want? The idea is to have a well-balanced team. Now…”

Millard: “You’re so smarmy sometimes.”

Cox: “Why is that smarmy?”

Millard: “You just…you are. You’re just…”

Cox: “I was giving you an example.”

Millard: “It’s the way you say it. ‘No, they’re terrible. Is that what you want?‘”

Cox: “That is not smarmy. You can say it’s overcritical, but it’s not smarmy.”

Well, let’s see. Smarmy is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “Of low sleazy taste or quality; revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness.” The urban dictionary describes smarmy as: “A certain attitude often accompanied by a squinty look and a superior smile that makes you instantly hate a person.” It’s settled then: Millard is correct—Cox is smarmy.

Evander Kane

Old friend Evander Kane, soon eligible for free agency, has revealed his needs-and-wants list for re-signing with the San Jose Sharks or moving to another NHL club: “Common sense tells you there are three priorities that you look for as a player: money, chance to win and lifestyle. Those are the three priorities and it just depends on how you rank them.” In Kane’s case, considerations of lifestyle would have to include proximity to Las Vegas, a private jet and, of course, comfy jail cells. Okay, okay. That was a cheap shop. I mean, it’s been at least a year since cops have had to slap the handcuffs on Kane in public. Shame on me.

Quote of the week comes from the Boston Licker, Brad Marchand, whose filthy habit of licking opposition players commandeered much of the chatter during Round 2 of Stanley Cup skirmishing: “I have to cut that shit out,” he said. Ya think? What was your first clue, Inspector Clouseau?

Darian Durant

I’d like to feel sorry for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers today. I really would. I mean, they got stiffed. That dirty, no-good, rotten scoundrel and noted green guy Darian Durant took their money and ran. Paid him $70,000 and he flat out quit. Didn’t even have the good manners to bid a polite adieu. And now the Canadian Football League club is left without its security blanket for starting quarterback Matt Nichols, a week before the large lads in pads gather to grab grass and growl at their 2018 training sessions. Well, here’s a thought: Stop relying on other outfits to do your dirty work. That is, find and develop your own damn QBs instead of this decades-long dependency on others’ retreads. I think Dieter Brock was the last in-house starter of note, and the Bombers haven’t groomed a backup who could toss a spiral since Hal Ledyard rode shotgun for Kenny Ploen.

Having said that, Durant’s departure was totally lame. Really bad form. You want to quit, fine, quit. That’s cool. Get on with your life. But, good gawd, have the gonads to tell the people who invested $70,000 in you. Pick up a phone and call them. Don’t let them find out on social media.

Phil Mickelson

Meet Phil Mickelson, fashionista. Who knew? If you missed it, the normally frumpy and flabby Phil has taken to wearing button-up dress shirts on the golf course, complete with starched collars and cuffs. What, no cufflinks, Lefty? No ascot? Not sure if Lefty is caught in a middle-age crisis, but this is a good look like Hair In A Can was a good idea. It’s Giorgio Armani bogies the back nine.

The good news is, Drake has been eliminated from the National Basketball Association playoffs. The bad news is, jock journos in the Republic of Tranna will have to scramble to find another groupie to fawn over. Are there any rapper/hip-hop stars who like the Blue Jays? If not, I’m sure they’ll settle for a B-list celeb like Dave Foley or Steven Page.

Boxing is on the menu in The ROT next Saturday, with champion Adonis Stevenson defending his WBC light-heavyweight title against Badou Jack. It’s quite the seedy main event: Stevenson has spent time behind bars for pimping out women; Jack is known as The Ripper, an obvious reference to Jack the Ripper, serial killer of prostitutes; and the challenger is among the stable of boxers promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr., himself a convicted woman-beater. That’s not a sports event, it’s a jail break. And yet people will part with their money to watch. Go figure.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 1): “The greatest Toronto athletes in my time: Donovan Bailey, Ben Johnson. @De6rasse has a chance to surpass both.” Can you say hypocrite, kids? I mean, Simmons sits on a horse named Morality and refuses to vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in Baseball Hall of Fame balloting because they flunked his smell test. That is, they stuck needles in their butts. They cheated. Yet he lists this country’s most-disgraced cheater, druggie Ben Johnson, as one of the two greatest Tranna athletes during his 61 years drawing oxygen. A freaking cheat! Can you say zero credibility, kids? Zero!

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 2): “The Leafs can’t beat Boston three straight. Probably no team in hockey can.” Tell that to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who just beat the Bruins four straight.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 3): “It’s entirely possible that all four conference finalists in the NHL will be teams that have never won the Stanley Cup before.” No, it was not possible. Tampa and Boston, who met in the eastern semifinal, have both won the Stanley Cup. Simmons explained his gaffe by saying he was soooooo “tired,” then deleted the tweet.

 

About the myth of (un)fairness in sports…no No. 1 for the Oilers (yay!)…licking the Leafs…Nick Kypreos fanning flames of a family feud in The ROT…sloth-like defencemen…it’s a “fine” mess you’ve gotten the Leafs into, Jake Gardiner…Damien Cox and Steve Simmons: separated at birth……Keith Gretzky no draft-day genius…hopping on the Canada’s (Only) Team bandwagon…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

There’s been considerable teeth gnashing, hand wringing and chin wagging devoted to the flawed National Hockey League playoff schematic in the past week, all of it an echo of the squawking we heard during the spring runoff a year ago.

The Tranna Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins meeting in Round 1? Stupid.

The Winnipeg Jets, henceforth known as Canada’s (Only) Team, and the Nashville Predators obliged to engage in hostilities in Round 2. Also stupid.

Apparently, it isn’t “fair” either.

Well, excuse me, but I must have missed the memo that says sports is supposed to be fair.

Spud Webb and Manute Bol: Is this fair?

Is it fair that Connor McDavid is stuck in Edmonton? Is it fair that Brent Burns has that magnificent beard and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine has the world’s worst collection of chin whiskers? Is it fair that Michael Phelps has flippers instead of feet? Is it fair that Secretariat had a heart the size of a keg of beer while most other race horses have hearts the size of a shot glass. Is it fair that 5-feet-7 Spud Webb had to climb a stepladder to look 7-feet-7 Manute Bol in the eye?

Expecting fairness in sports is a fanciful notion.

Ask New York Islanders fans about fair. If sports was meant to be fair, someone not named Garth Snow would be generally managing their NHL club. Instead, they’re still saddled with him, 12 years in.

Ask Jets Nation about fair. Every time Dale Hawerchuk and the boys were feeling their oats in the 1980s, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and pals were eating their lunch. (Les Jets and Edmonton Oilers played 19 games across five series in the ’80s. Final tally: Edmonton 18 Ws, Winnipeg 1.)

Elin Nordegren

I think the last truly “fair” thing in sports was Elin Nordegren’s divorce settlement with Tiger Woods.

In an ideal world, sure, the Preds and Canada’s (Only) Team wouldn’t meet until Round 3 of the Stanley Cup tournament. They, after all, collected the most points in the regular season, finishing 1-2, respectively. But, hey, it’s not like the NHL has a monopoly on stupid. The National Football League, Canadian Football League, Major League baseball…all dumb.

The NFL has been known to reward sub-standard outfits with home playoff dates simply because they had the good fortune of competing in a turtle division. The CFL is worse. The East Division has been without a plus-.500 team since 2015, but the Ottawa RedBlacks and Tranna Argonauts won the past two Grey Cup games in large part because they were granted a bye and home field in the playoffs. In Major League Baseball, both the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates had more Ws than two of the three National League division champions in 2015, yet they were required to compete in a wild-card game.

None of that’s fair. Sports was never meant to be fair.

Rasmus Dahlin

You want to talk about fairness in sports? Any club other than the Oilers winning the right to choose Rasmus Dahlin at the NHL entry draft in June…that’s fairness in sports. I mean, what was the most oft-heard conversation once the ping-pong balls stopped bouncing at the draft lottery on Saturday in The Republic of Tranna? Try this:

Thank gawd those messed-up, misfit SOBs in Edmonton don’t get another first pick overall.”

You got that right, man. ABO—anybody but the Oilers.”

It’s bad enough that the Oil Drop gets the 10th shoutout in June (it’ll be their eighth top-10 pick this decade if you’re keeping score at home), but a fifth No. 1 would have brought serious calls for entry draft reform. As it turns out, the Buffalo Sabres will get Dahlin (not wild about that; was hoping for the Vancouver Canucks).

Did the NHL Department of Tsk-Tsking really call the Boston Bruins and instruct them to instruct Brad Marchand to stop licking opposing players? Marchand, you’ll recall, was observed licking Leo Komarov of the Tranna Maple Leafs on the neck during their just-concluded Stanley Cup series. What’s the big deal? Everybody’s been licking the Leafs since 1967.

Nick Kypreos

Interesting times in the 6ix, which, I’m told, is what the happening people who hang out with Drake call The Republic of Tranna. Les Leafs, of course, have put away the pucks in favor of more seasonal pursuits, but they couldn’t retreat from The ROT without Nick Kypreos tossing a lit match into the dumpster of another crusade that ended in wanting. “Babcock lost Matthews,” he told the boys on Sportsnet 590’s Starting Lineup. “I don’t know what happened, but he lost him. There was no trust anymore. For whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews.” Kypreos failed to offer a shred of evidence to support his thesis that head coach Mike Babcock and his main stud, Auston Matthews, were/are at odds, except to mutter something about “body language.” Lame, lame, lame. This story will lose some of its giddyup over the summer, but it’ll be a fresh brush fire when les Leafs reconvene in autumn, with the possibility of gusts up to an inferno. Simply because Kypreos opened his gob and out fell innuendo, then reporters and opinionists chased after it.

Three-toed sloth

What’s the difference between a sloth and Zdeno Chara? Two toes on each foot. I mean, to say that Chara is sloth slow would be an insult to dawdling mammals everywhere. I swear, if a fire alarm went off, a sloth would beat Chara out the door. Incredibly, the Bruins captain continues to get the job done and, at age 41, he gobbles up more minutes for head coach Bruce Cassidy than the mere mortals on the B’s blueline. I just wonder if it’s sustainable through three more rounds of the Stanley Cup tournament. I don’t see it happening, but more power to him if he can pull it off.

A rough night for Jake Gardiner.

I sometimes think Damien Cox of the Toronto Sun/Sportsnet and Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna/TSN were separated at birth. Seriously. They must be blood related. How else do we explain their shared penchant for the absurd? Last week, for example, Cox wrote: “The (Nashville Predators) have always been competitive under the only GM they’ve ever had, David Poile.” Apparently, “always competitive” means missing the playoffs eight times. “Always competitive” means missing the playoffs in the first five years of the franchise’s existence. “Always competitive” means missing the playoffs as recently as both 2013 and ’14. Cox then doubled down on his “D’oh!” boy hockey analysis by submitting that the Maple Leafs defence was “fine” in a 7-4 Game 7 loss to the Bruins on Wednesday. Fine? Jake Gardiner was totally inept. His game was like a spring day in Winnipeg—minus-5. It was biblical in its awfulness. The puck was a live grenade on his stick. He wanted no part of it. (Neither, for that matter, did his equally inept goaltender, Frederik Andersen.) It’s hard to imagine any player inflicting so much damage on his own side during 24 minutes of ice time, but, according to Cox, a defence that featured Gardiner was “fine.” At the end, I found myself wondering what the Leafs could possibly fetch in barter for Gardiner during the off-season. Certainly no one who’s breathing.

I used to enjoy listening to the boys banter on Hockey Central at Noon, but it has become a chore now that Cox seems to have secured a regular seat on the soup-and-sandwich-time gabfest. The man is an interruptive, insufferable, eye-rolling, lip-licking, fact-fudging, ego-driven, know-it-all squawkbox who talks down to people and gets agitated at the slightest suggestion that his might not be a persuasive or prevailing opinion. Other than that, Cox is “fine.”

Jailbird Slava Voynov

Word out of Russia is that disgraced wife-beater Slava Voynov will seek re-entry to North America and the NHL, and his wish list includes the Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and—horrors—Winnipeg. I think maybe Slava might want to scratch the Jets off his list. They took heat for inducting Bobby Hull into their Hall of Fame, so I can’t see them flopping down the welcome mat for the former Los Angeles Kings defenceman who spent two months in the brig and was deported from the U.S. for kicking the crap out of his wife.

Keith Gretzky

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “The brother you don’t hear about, Keith Gretzky, left the Boston Bruins after the 2016 season to join his friend, Peter Chiarelli in Edmonton. But here’s what Gretzky left behind as scouting director: Future Norris Trophy winner Charlie McAvoy, David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo. He passed on Mathew Barzal. Stuff happens. Name another team that’s drafted better?”

Okay. I’ll name another team: The Winnipeg Jets—Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Connor Hellebuyck, Adam Lowry, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Jack Roslovic, Tucker Poolman, Sami Niku, Kristian Vesalainen.

Second, Gretzky’s work in the first round of the 2015 entry draft can’t be written off as “stuff happens.” Ya, he got the B’s a keeper in Jake DeBrusk, but he used picks 13-14-15 to claim Jakub Zboril, DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn when Mathew Barzal (16th) Kyle Connor (17th), Brock Boeser (23rd), Travis Konecny (24th) and Jack Roslovic (25th) were there for the taking.

Third, Gretzky didn’t draft Grzelyck for the Bruins. He was taken in 2012, two years before the Great One’s brother became the B’s top amateur bird dog.

Just the facts, ma’am. They aren’t hard to find.

Party time at Portage and Main in 1972.

And, finally, it’s about Canada’s (Only) Team: Peggers are already partying like it’s the 1970s again—when Ben Hatskin was hijacking Bobby Hull and the Jets were riding in championship parades as a regular routine—but will the cross-country rabble rally ’round the flag and adopt an outfit from little, ol’, out-of-the-way Winnipeg as Canada’s team as the NHL playoffs lurch along? I have my doubts. I mean, sure, there’ll be pockets of hosers across our vast land whose patriotic pangs will inspire them to root, root, root for Tinytown North, because beating the beasts of the south and returning Hockey’s Holy Grail to its rightful home is a compelling, warm-and-fuzzy narrative. But I can’t imagine les Jets catching the fancy of the masses in The Republic of Tranna, Ottawa and all points east. Nor on the far side of the Rocky Mountains, where locals mourned the passing of the Sedin twins with much reverence for a respectful 48 hours then returned to the shade of their palm trees and regularly scheduled patio lattés. I’m thinking nothing shy of a trip to the Stanley Cup final will stir up national fervour for Canada’s (Only) Team. But it’s never too early or too late for outriders to hop on the bandwagon.

About party time in Zamboniville…no Big Bad Wolf waiting for the Winnipeg Jets this time…revisionist history…Josh Morrissey’s ‘accident’…English and History lessons from Don Cherry…the NHL’s top-sellers…’guts all over the place’…Roger Federer refuses to be Rafa’s clay pigeon…put that Genie back in the bottle…a hate Tranna campaign in the Republic of Tranna…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

It’s easy to get ahead of yourself today if you’re among the white-clad rabble of Giddy Town, heretofore known as Winnipeg, River City or the Peg (or the less-flattering Winterpeg, Win-a-Pig, Zamboniville, Tundra Town and the Town That Summer Forgot).

I mean, you just watched your hockey heroes open a big, ol’ can of whup-ass on the Minnesota Wild. The Jets were ruthless, like a kid pulling the wings off a housefly ruthless. They brought a bayonet to a knife fight. The Wild brought a handful of confetti. It was more one-sided than a father-son talk about the teenage boy’s pregnant girlfriend. So now that the Jets have disposed of Minny in five matches, you’re calling out the Nashville Predators. Bring ’em on, right? Then bring on the San Jose Sharks or Vegas Golden Knights, and whichever outfit has the misfortune of emerging from the east in the National Hockey League battle of attrition known as the Stanley Cup tournament.

It’s all good. Plan the parade route. Now. We’ll all meet at Portage and Main, right where Ben Hatskin started it all by signing Robert Marvin Hull 46 years ago come June.

Well, here’s what I have to say about that: You go, kids! Party hardy!

The Big Bad Wolf, in the form of Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky.

Yes, I realize the NHL Jets have been here before. Twice, in fact. But what did advancing to the second round get them? The Big Bad Wolf in the form of the Edmonton Gretzkys. Those parties were over faster than John Bowie Ferguson could finish one of his stinky stogies. But this one has a different feel to it, doesn’t it? There’s a sense of genuine optimism for a lengthy playoff run that didn’t exist in 1985 and ’87. Oh, sure, some among the rabble back then believed the impossible to be possible, but once they stepped outside the rose-colored tea room and removed their rose-tinted glasses, they saw stark reality in a blue-orange-and-white tidal wave of hall-of-fame talent. There is no Big Bad Wolf for these Jets, though. As they await their foe for Round 2 of the Stanley Cup tournament, I see no outfit they cannot conquer. That they should not conquer. This could last a while.

For those of you keeping score at home (and I really hope you aren’t), I was 36 years old when the Jets last won a playoff series. Do the math. On second thought, please don’t. Suffice to say, I was young and in my prime and, according to Howie Meeker, I didn’t know moonshine from racoon crap. Howie was correct, of course, but he could have been a tad more subtle in his criticism of my scribblings.

Kent Nilsson, Joe Daley, Silky Sullivan and Glenn Hicks celebrate another WHA title.

A chap named Simeon Rusnak put together a nice package on the Winnipeg Whiteout for Sportsnet last week. I just wish these interlopers would do some simple fact-checking before letting their fingers do the walking on a keyboard. “The Whiteout hit the Manitoba capital with the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the first-round matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild,” Rusnak writes. “Bell MTS Place is the epicentre of the storm, with 15,321 fans at every home game draped in white—a tradition that began in 1987 in the old Winnipeg Arena when the original Jets went to their first post-season.” Sigh. The spring of 1987 was the Jets’ sixth NHL post-season crusade, not the first. They had qualified in ’82, ’83, ’84, ’85 and ’86. And, of course, the “original pro Jets” had six playoff runs and three titles in the World Hockey Association. People like Rusnak can take a crash course on the Jets’ beginnings by checking out Joe Pascucci’s excellent Legacy of Greatness feature on YouTube, or Curtis Walker’s Memorial Site.

Claude Noel: Fault No. 1.

Winnipeg Sun city side/political columnist Tom Brodbeck has also weighed in on the Jets, trumpeting the genius of ownership/management for turning a “battered and bruised” Atlanta franchise into a Stanley Cup contender “in just seven short years.” Say again? Seven short years? Cripes, man, George McPhee put together a Stanley Cup contender in Las Vegas in less than seven months. Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock did it in the Republic of Tranna in three years. Brodbeck also scribbles: “It’s very difficult to find fault with almost anything this franchise has done.” Really? I’ve got two names for you: Claude and Noel. That was the first “fault,” but certainly not their last (hello, Evander Kane). But, hey, revisionist history seems to be trendy during these heady days of the Whiteout.

Josh Morrissey’s ‘accident’.

Got a giggle out of Josh Morrissey’s take on the cross-check that took him out of les Jets lineup for Game 5 vs. Minny. “I watched the video afterward, and we’re battling in front of the net on the penalty kill, and I’m actually looking at the puck on the wall, trying to box him out,” he said. “I got my stick up too high on him. It was a complete accident. I would never try to do that.” If I’m ever on trial for a heinous crime, I won’t be calling young Josh as an eye witness for the defence. I mean, I watched the video, too. Morrissey and Eric Staal of the Wild were not “battling.” Staal laid neither a stick nor a gloved hand on Morrissey, who was not “looking at the puck along the wall.” He looked directly at Staal when he laid the lumber to the Wild centre’s neck. And to call it an “accident?” As if. Spilling a cup of java is an accident. What Morrissey did to Staal gets you locked up. But I admire the kid’s chutzpah.

Don Cherry

Don Cherry isn’t fond of the NHL playoff format. It “sucks,” he said from his bully pulpit on Hockey Night in Canada during the Tranna Maple Leafs-Boston Bruins tiff on Thursday night. I won’t quarrel with Grapes. He’s absolutely correct about the NHL post-season setup. I just wish he’d have made his case in English. I mean, listen to him: “It sucks as far as I’m concerned…guess ya can’t say that. Anyhow, it’s not good an’ I’ll tell ya why. These, one of these two teams, they should not, one of them should not be out—gone!—one of them will be GONE. It’s too good a too good a teams to be gone. It should be one an’ eight—top team I think against New Jersey—that’s the way it should be. Some day when it is, when it ain’t, you cannot have one of these two good teams OUT.” Yikes! And he’s been getting paid to talk for almost 40 years? That’s as daft as paying Sarah Huckabee Sanders to tell jokes.

Boston Bruins coach Don Cherry

Grapes has been on something or a roll lately. After Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins gave the Philly Flyers a 7-0 wedgie in the opening salvo of their series, the Lord of Loud told “you kids out there” that it’s bad manners to run up the score like that. “He (Crosby) should not be on when it’s 6-0. I always kept the score down.” Out of curiosity, I went on a fact-finding mission to determine if coach Cherry had, indeed, called off the hounds once a game was well in hand during his watch (1974-79) as bench steward of the Boston Bruins. I can report that not only is his nose growing, his pants are also on fire. Yes, Grapes stands guilty of a blatant Trumpism (read: big, fat fib). His Bruins were cutthroat. Check out some of their scores:

1974-75: 8-2 playoff win vs. Chicago
(regular season wins: 10-1, 10-4, 8-1, 12-1, 11-3, 8-0, 9-4, 8-0, 7-2, 8-2).
1975-76: 7-1 playoff win vs. L.A.
(regular season wins: 7-0, 8-1, 6-0).
1976-77: 8-3 playoff win vs. L.A.
(regular season wins: 8-1, 7-3, 7-3, 10-3, 6-0, 7-4).
1977-78: 6-1 playoff win vs. Chicago
(regular season wins: 7-3, 6-0, 8-2, 7-0, 6-1, 6-1, 7-1, 8-2, 8-1, 7-3, 7-2, 9-3, 7-2, 7-0, 8-3)
1978-79: 6-2 playoff win vs. Pittsburgh
(regular season wins: 8-2, 7-2, 7-3, 7-3, 6-1, 6-1, 7-4)…

So here’s some unpaid advice for “you kids out there”: Go to the kitchen and make a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich as soon as Uncle Grapes opens his gob, because if you listen to him you’re apt to receive failing grades in both English and History.

Marc Moser

Play-by-play call of the week, if not forever, was delivered by Colorado radio guy Marc Moser on Friday night after Sven Andrighetto scored to keep the Avalanche alive with a 2-1 win over Nashville: “I can’t believe it! This has gotta be one of the gutsiest clubs in the National Hockey League! Pure guts! They got nothing but guts! Every guy with three big, ol’ cow hearts, two pancreases and five stomachs! Guts all over the place!” There’s nothing to say after that, except someone please call maintenance for a cleanup on Aisle 5—there’s guts all over the place!

Auston Matthews

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (after the Maple Leafs had been beaten 3-1 by the Bruins in Game 4 of their playoff series): “This was the night when the future of the Leafs—building around Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander—didn’t seem to be a very sound approach.” Good grief. Who would Grandpa Simmons prefer they build around? Borje Salming, Darryl Sittler and Rocky Saganiuk?

I note that Auston Matthews’ jersey was the top-seller in the NHL this season. Simmons demands to know the name of the imposter wearing Matthews’ No. 34 in Game 4. (Just so you know, after the Leafs centre on the top-seller top five were Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Marc-Andre Fleury and King Henrik Lundqvist.)

Roger Federer

No doubt Roger Federer has earned the right to pick and choose when and where he plays his tennis, but still…skipping the entire clay courts season? Again? How much of Federer’s allergy to red clay is about preserving his 36-year-old body for Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and how much of it is about his competitive juices? It seems to me that the 20-time Grand Slam champion has conceded he’ll never win at Roland Garros again—not with nemesis Rafa Nadal in the French Open field and healthy—so why waste time and energy on preliminary events on the red clay of Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome? Can’t win, won’t play. I’m sorry, but it’s not a good look for the “greatest of all time.” Again, Federer gets the benefit of the doubt, but it still smacks of surrender. He prefers not to be Rafa’s clay pigeon.

Genie Bouchard

Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Genie Bouchard is taking time out from her many photo shoots to help Canada in its Federation Cup tie vs. Ukraine this weekend in Montreal, and it seems our tennis diva hasn’t let her world 117 ranking bring her down a peg or two. In a presser prior to the event, a foreign reporter led into his question by telling Genie it was “a privilege” to share the same oxygen as the one-time Grand Slam finalist. To which she replied: “It’s nice of you to say that. It would be nice if our local press said that to me as well.” Someone needs to put that Genie back in the bottle.

So, there was a hole in roof at Rogers Centre, home of the surprisingly adept Blue Jays in the Republic of Tranna. Hearing that, I immediately thought of the Beatles tune Fixing a Hole, which is one of the tracks on their second-best album, Sgt. Peppers. Then I learned there were between 200 and 300 holes in the roof, which brought to mind a lyric from A Day In the Life: “Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.” It’s also from Sgt. Peppers, the Fab Four’s best work next to the incomparable Revolver.

Mike O’Shea and his short pants.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers showed an operating profit of $5.1 million last year. There’s no truth to the rumor that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press is insisting that the Canadian Football League club use a chunk of the surplus to purchase head coach Mike O’Shea a pair of long pants.

So, after attracting less than 14,000 people per game during the 2017 CFL season, the Tranna Argonauts are convinced they now know the secret to getting more fannies in the pews at BMO Field—a hate Tranna campaign. “We want to create a sense of rivalry,” says Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment guru Jerry Ferguson. “If you’re from here, you love us and if you’re not from here, you hate us.” That’s it? That’s all you’ve got? Yo! Jerry! You’ve got it butt backwards, man. The rest of the country has had a hate-on for the Republic of Tranna since the beginning of time. How do you think we market our games?