Let’s talk about the aging of the Winnipeg Jets…to Tokyo in denim…Aaron Rodgers’ sticky notes…MLB grappling with lack of sizzle…old friend Big Jim takes a paddywhacking…Canadian Football Hall of Fame gets it right…what about Tricky Dick Thornton?…nightmare on TSN…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and still no word on the if and when of a CFL season, but here’s something else that’s real iffy…

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:

“I believe we’re close to having a team that has a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup, and I’m really looking forward to that…we’re a lot closer than some people will give us credit for…I look forward to these next five years.”

Sound familiar? It should.

Blake Wheeler said much the same as Adam Lowry scant seconds after scratching his John Hancock on a six-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets.

Blake Wheeler

“I believe in people like (owner) Mark Chipman and Chevy, what everyone stands for and especially in my teammates. I have believed since I got here that we have what it takes to get to the next level, so this is just a part of that process. I truly believe that great things are in store for this group,” the then-future captain told news snoops.

Wheels was 26 at the time. There will be 35 candles on his birthday cake in August.

Lend an ear to Rink Rat Scheifele who, upon agreeing to an eight-year contract in 2016, expressed a robust belief in “the organization, in the players on the team, in the future prospects.”

The Rink Rat was 23. He’s now 28.

Connor Hellebuyck, the Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, locked in for six years and said, “The tools are in this locker room to be a championship team. I love it here and I want to be here and I really believe this team has what it takes.”

Hellebuyck was 25. He turns 28 next month.

Adam Lowry

And now we have another long-hauler, Lowry, parroting his teammates’ faith in a process that began in 2011 and has delivered the grand sum of two post-season series victories, both in the spring of 2018.

Lowry is 28. The freshly minted contract he signed on Friday will take him to 33.

So what’s my point? Just this: Unless your name is Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine or Jack Roslovic, the Jets have all gulped down the Kool-Aid in a cultish-like obedience. They believe. And that’s the reason what went down at last week’s National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline rankles.

We know Kevin Cheveldayoff kicked some tires on top-four defencemen, and we know the sticker price sent the Jets general manager running like a guy trying to stay two steps ahead of a loan shark.

We can assume his contemporaries were eager to fleece him and take Ville Heinola, Cole Perfetti and other shiny objects off his hands in exchange for their lame, halting and hard of seeing, but that was never going to happen because Chevy places premium value on his young studs. You might have a better chance of prying his bride, Janet, and their two kids away from him.

Chevy

So it was no sale. Chevy allowed the NHL trade window to close with a whimper, and the Jets are no closer to the Stanley Cup today than a week ago, unless you consider a bottom-end, plug-in blueliner (hello, Jordie Benn) a shiny object.

Oddly enough, many among the rabble, also some news snoops, have given Chevy a tip of the chapeau and a slap on the back for his do-little day, because he “protected assets,” meaning he clung to young wannabes Heinola, Perfetti and others like gum to the bottom of a shoe.

Well let me tell you something about assets: They don’t stay forever young.

Chevy is protecting the future when most of the parts are in place for today’s Jets team. Add the right top-four defender and we might be talking about a parade route. But the Jets GM chose to stand still, even as time refuses to stand still for his significant core workers.

Wheeler’s prime years have been wasted. Scheifele and Hellebuyck are into prime time. Same with Lowry, Andrew Copp and Dylan DeMelo. And don’t look now, but Josh Morrissey is 26.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Which begs this question: If the Jets GM was unwilling to go all-in now, when?

This was the time for derring-do, an opportunity for Chevy to orchestrate what could have become his signature moment, lifting the Jets to that “next level” Wheeler spoke of all those years ago.

Well, here’s something else the captain said, when he re-upped in September 2018: “It kind of looks like that (Stanley Cup) window is opening up.”

Apparently Chevy missed the memo.

I don’t know if the GM will reflect on this crusade five years from now and view it as the one that got away, but Blake Wheeler might. Rink Rat Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and others like Lowry who’ve committed long term might, as well.

Chevy should be kicking himself. Right in the assets.

Something Bryan Little said when the Jets’ playoff aspirations had been dashed in March 2017 is haunting: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now. That’s the thinking going into next year.” Little was 29. He’s now 33, wounded beyond repair, and there is no next year. Not for him. But why must it always be “next year” for Scheifele, Hellebuyck, Lowry et al?

As I was saying last week, I don’t buy into the Jack Campbell hype that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna have been spreading like thick, gooey peanut butter. He’s been a career backup goaltender for a reason, and Maple Leafs loyalists are beginning to see why. For all their talent, the Leafs are vulnerable in the blue paint, whereas Hellebuyck gives the Jets the best puck stopping in the Hoser Division (yes, including Carey Price). And we all know what that means when the boys begin to play for keeps, which is the very reason Chevy shouldn’t have dithered last week.

I don’t know about you, but I’m digging the threads our Canadian athletes will be wearing for the closing ceremonies at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, if there is a Tokyo Olympics, that is. Ya, sure, you can say the denim jacket looks like a teenage graffiti artist had a moment of madness, but I look at it more as a stroke of genius. There’s a youth-cool vibe to the kit, something you might wear on a pub crawl, or wherever it is that our young people go these days. It’s totally boffo compared to the get-ups that noted needle-and-thread guy Ralph Lauren designed for our American friends. I can’t tell if he’s dressed the U.S. team for the next space shuttle mission or an expedition to the South Pole.

I’ll take nose-pickers for $2,000, Alex. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed his gig as guest host on Jeopardy!, and he let us in on a little secret about the sticky notes he used to aid his performance. One of them read: “Don’t pick your butt/nose.” Seriously. He needs a sticky note to remind himself not to pick his nose on camera? And the Packers trust Rodgers to call audibles in the red zone?

Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy.

Apparently, producers of Fox NFL Sunday were so impressed with Rodgers’ work on Jeopardy! that they plan to equip Terry Bradshaw with sticky notes to improve his work:
1. “Remember, this ain’t Hee Haw.”
2. “Powder shiny head during every commercial break.”
3. “Do not mention gap in Michael’s teeth.”
4. “Do not laugh at Howie’s 1950s haircut because at least he has hair.”
5. “Resist all urges to muss up Jimmy’s hair.”
6. “Do not tell Rob Riggle he isn’t as funny as Frank Caliendo.”
7. “Remember, guy sitting beside you is Curt, not James.”
8. “Jay Glazer is human, he just looks like a garden gnome.”
9. “Mention four Super Bowl rings whenever Jimmy mentions two Super Bowl rings.”
10. “When in doubt, always refer to sticky note No. 1.”

Favorite headline of the week was delivered by the New York Post: “How Yankees can address their crappiness.” Anything that combines New York Yankees and “crappiness” is right by me, although I’m sure George Steinbrenner’s son Hal wouldn’t agree.

If your product needs to add some sizzle and pizzazz, who you gonna call? Well, Major League Baseball has called Brian Stedman, now responsible for strategy and development. That would be the same Brian Stedman who, for the past seven years, carried the sizzle-and-pizzazz portfolio for Vince McMahon’s cast of characters in World Wrestling Entertainment. That will be quite an adjustment for Stedman. I mean, the play actors in wrestling are allowed to hit each other with everything including the kitchen sink, but the Yankees can’t hit anything.

Old friend Big Jim Bender took a bit of a paddywhacking on Twitter last week, after he made a flippant remark about the Brendan Bottcher foursome failing to win a trinket at the world curling championship but securing an Olympic berth for Canada. “Was the very least they could do,” Big Jim wrote. The Pebble People pounced. Darren Moulding, third on the Bottcher team, called the former Winnipeg Sun scribe “a joke,” adding, “You’re a stain on our country, not me.” Harsh. Olympian and TSN talking head Cheryl Bernard weighed in, describing Bender’s comment as “crap.” Oh my. Who knew the delightful Cheryl could be so undelightful? Anyway, not that he plans to call me to the stand as a character witness, but let the record show that Big Jim is a friend of curler’s everywhere. He’s spent more time in chilly two-sheeters than most people I know, so, as Strother Martin told Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Rachel Homan

Speaking of Pebble People, Rachel Homan played in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title match on the final day of February while eight months pregnant. She then went home to bring daughter Bowyn into the world, and now the former Canadian/world champ has returned to the fray, skipping her team in the Humpty’s Champions Cup just three weeks after giving birth. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard won’t be available to the L.A. Clippers today because he needs a rest—after sitting the last four games. I swear, if men could get pregnant and give birth, there would be no male sports.

Nobody asked me, but I’d say the selection committee for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame got it right when they chose Marv Levy, Nik Lewis, Will Johnson, Mike Walker, Orlondo Steinauer, Don Wilson and Doug Mitchell as this year’s inductees. These things are always ripe for debate, of course, and we usually hear some squawking whenever a sports body salutes the best of the best, but I don’t hear any arguments about the class of 2021, nor should there be.

And that’s not to ignore broadcasters Bernie Pascall and Bob Hooper, who got the nod from the Football Reporters of Canada and will go into the CFHF media wing. Hooper was a long-time Hamilton Tabbies play-by-play voice, and Pascall’s career chatting about Rouge Football on radio and TV spans decades. Unfortunately, Bob’s not around to enjoy the honor, but Bernie’s still with us, so he has something fresh to talk about with the neighbors on beautiful Vancouver Island.

Ashley Prest

The CFHF media wing is the ultimate boys’ club. By my scorecard, there are now 101 members, all men. Yup, 101-0. I realize there haven’t been a lot of women on the beat, but in my 19 years covering the Canadian Football League in three cities (Winnipeg, Calgary, Republic of Tranna), I can recall sharing a press box at Grey Cup games with Ashley Prest of the Drab Slab and Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal. Ashley also knew her way around the University of Manitoba campus to cover coach Brian Dobie’s Bisons, and there might be some high school grid in her resumé, too, because that’s what most of us did back in the day. We started at the bottom and worked our way up. So it seems to me that the boys on the beat should find room for trailblazers like Ashley or Joanne.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna has made his annual plea for Dick Thornton’s induction to the CFHF, and I can’t disagree with Sy. Tricky Dick certainly has the bona fides, including two Grey Cup victories with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and multiple all-star salutes, and he also happens to be one of the more colorful characters in CFL lore. Legendary Bombers coach Bud Grant once said this of his defensive back/wannabe quarterback/kick returner/kicker: “When most players arrive in a new town, the first thing they do is phone a girl. When Dick Thornton arrives, he phones a sports writer.”

Tricky Dick had an ego the size of a football field, and here’s how the great columnist Jack Matheson once described him in the Winnipeg Tribune: “The writers and broadcasters treat No. 14 with considerable respect because he’s hot copy, in or out of uniform. His eccentricities are always guaranteed to liven a dull scene and for conversation Thornton holds all records for Blue Bombers of the modern era. The conversation always seems to revolve around Dick Thornton, but he has a magnetism and I’ve never seen anybody walk away from Dick Thornton when his mouth was open.” Another time, Matty wrote this of Thornton: “An incurable extrovert who played harder with his larynx than his limbs.”

Final note on Dick Thornton: The Bombers traded him to the Toronto Argos the same day the Maple Leafs cleared the track and sent Eddie Shack to the Boston Bruins. I guess the Republic of Tranna just wasn’t big enough for two clown acts.

Gino Button and James McKenzie, or is it Craig Reda and Bob Duthie? Either way, it’s scary, kids.

Still getting creepy vibes from those face mashups TSN featured on its NHL trade deadline coverage. It’s clever work by Matty Go Sens, but morphing the faces of Gino Reda and Craig Button into one is the kind of stuff that will keep kids awake at night. Ditto the James Duthie/Bob McKenzie blending. I haven’t been so frightened since Alfred Hitchcock had all those nasty birds attack Tippi Hedren.

This from Steve Simmons: “The top four goaltenders in all-time wins are Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo and now Marc-Andre Fleury. All of them Quebecois. And there’s not a single Quebec goalie of consequence (apologies to Jonathan Bernier) playing in today’s NHL.” Hmmm. Last time I checked, Marc-Andre Fleury was still a Quebecois and leading the NHL in shutouts.

Patrick Marleau will lace ’em up for his 1,768th NHL skirmish on Monday night, moving past Gordie Howe for most games played. It’s a terrific achievement. Worth noting, however, are their birth certificates. Howe was 52 when he finally shut down, Marleau is 41. And, at 52, Howe was a significant contributor for the Hartford Whalers, scoring 15 goals and 41 points in 80 games, plus another two points in three playoff jousts. Marleau is 4-4-8 in what looks to be another lost season for the San Jose Sharks.

And, finally, on the subject of legendary performers, I discovered a DVD of Tony Bennett: An American Classic at a local video story the other day, and I snapped it up immediately. Fan-freaking-tastic. Tony’s duets with Barbra Streisand and our Canadian songbird k.d. lang brought on the water works (sheer brilliance renders me very emotional), and there was only one sour note struck—the November 2006 TV special was far too short, just 42 minutes. I wanted at least an hour more.

Let’s talk about Prodigal Paul…Chevy’s case for the defence…CJOB, the Winnipeg Jets and comfort food…an ol’ Sod back in the booth?…moon shots…shoo fly, shoo fly…Cole Perfetti and those big-brained Winnipeg Jets…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored..and in this free agency period, I must let it be known that I’m always open to offer sheets…

If you could see me right now, you’d know I’m shaking my head. Side to side, not up and down.

I mean, seriously? Paul Stastny? That’s Kevin Cheveldayoff’s solution for solving the Winnipeg Jets’ gaping hole down the middle?

Paul Stastny

Hell’s bells, why doesn’t he try to lure Paul’s pop, Peter, out of retirement, too? And, hey, maybe Paul’s uncle Marian would like another go-round in the National Hockey League. The Jets could market them as Peter, Paul and Marian. They wouldn’t be much good as a forward line, but they could sing a mean folk song between losses.

Don’t get me wrong. Luring Paul Stastny to Good Ol’ Hometown was a master stroke by Chevy—in 20-freaking-18!

Not so much for 2021, which is when we’ll next see the Jets frolic.

Is Stastny totally spent? Not quite. But if he was an American buck three years ago, he’s about the price of a phone call now. The guy who delivered 15 points in 17 skirmishes during the Jets march to the Western Conference final in 2018 won’t be the Prodigal Paul we’ll be watching next year. He’ll be 35 when they drop the puck, optimistically on Jan. 1, and nudging 36 by the close of business (assuming it’s an 82-game crusade).

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any NHL centre-ice men who became more nimble, quicker, jauntier and less brittle once Father Time had put them on notice.

Patrik Laine

But, hey, the pundits are saying the second coming of Stastny is meant to appease Patrik Laine and, supposedly, all natter about a pouting Puck Finn being peddled to the highest bidder shall be silenced. Except it will be replaced by grumbling once the rabble recognizes that Prodigal Paul doesn’t have the lickety-split to keep pace with Twig Ehlers and Laine. He’ll look slower than a sloth with a limp. They’ll be skating in different postal codes.

Think not? Answer this question: Did you notice Stastny during the Vegas Golden Knights’ playoff run in the Edmonton bubble this past summer? Neither did I. For the record, he had nine points in 18 games, but you could have fooled me. I didn’t think he had nine shifts.

Apparently, that escaped Chevy’s attention.

No surprise, I suppose, because the Jets general manager is wearing those 2018 goggles.

Meanwhile, it’s about Nate Thompson, another reclamation project brought on board by Chevy on Saturday. He’s 36. Sigh.

Chevy can turn back the clock but, try as he might, he can’t turn back time. The Jets didn’t get better in the past few days, they just got older.

When the Stastny trade was just a rumor on Thursday, some among the rabble were hopelessly giddy and immediately began trumpeting Laine as front-runner to win the Rocket Richard Trophy (top goal scorer). Come on, people. Don’t be like Chevy. Take off your 2018 goggles. Puck Finn will be playing with Paul Stastny, age 35, not Ducky Hawerchuk, age 25.

Andrew Copp

So you’re Andrew Copp. It’s just been confirmed that you’ll never be anything more than a third/fourth-line centre with the Jets. You’re paid less than eight forwards, three defencemen and one goaltender, and you only received your thin slice of the pie after listening to management tell an arbitrator that you’re about as useful as a pub without beer. Chances are there’ll be a repeat performance in 2021 and you’ll hear the same put-downs. So, any reason why you’d want to stick around?

Let’s be clear about something: Chevy re-upping Dylan DeMelo was a favorable development for the Jets. He’s a useful, legit top-four defender. But he does not improve a roster that failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. DeMelo was there at the close of business in August, remember? Ditto Nathan Beaulieu and Luca Sbisa. Yet Chevy has determined that the latter two players are spare parts that his Jets simply cannot do without going forward, so he re-upped them as well. Good grief. The man’s task is to improve a wonky blueline group, not maintain status quo.

I get a kick out of pundits who suggest the Jets are in win-now mode. Not with that blueline, they aren’t.

These truly are curious times. The Calgary Flames will be wearing a retro-jersey next season and the Jets will be icing a retro-roster.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Stastny, a Vegas salary dump, comes with a cap hit of $6.5 million, fourth highest among the Jets, and it underscores the value Chevy got when he signed Rink Rat Scheifele long-term in 2016. The Rink Rat’s cap hit is $6.125M for the 2021 crusade, and his actual salary is $5.5M, same as Stastny’s. Seems to me your No. 1 centre should be in front of the No. 2 guy at the pay window. (All figures re CapFriendly).

Some things are meant to go together: Salt and vinegar on fries; Fred and Ginger on the dance floor; and the Jets on CJOB. The Jets on ‘OB is like a steamy, hot bowl of chicken noodle soup on a crisp, stay-inside winter day—comfort food. It’s pulling on your favorite pair of faded jeans. So it’s only right that the station that gave rise to the legend of cat lady Bertha Rand has won the Jets radio broadcast rights, a development that rendered Knuckles Irving teary-eyed. “I’d hoped that I would live to see the day when the Jets were back on CJOB, and the good news is I have lived to see the day when the Jets are back on 680 CJOB,” said Knuckles, who’s been part of the furniture at ‘OB since the early 1970s and remains the play-by-play voice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “I think it’s fair to say, without sounding arrogant, the Jets are back where they belong.” Agreed.

Paul Edmonds

No word on who’ll score the P-by-P gig on the ‘OB broadcasts, but it’s no surprise that the name of old friend Sod Keilback quickly entered the conversation. I’d be surprised if sports director Kelly Moore did the retro thing and hired Sod, even if nostalgia seems to be in vogue in Jets Nation these days. I’m more inclined to think Kelly will attempt to poach Paul Edmonds from TSN 1290, and it probably wouldn’t require much arm-twisting.

I’m not sure if Cole Perfetti belongs in the NHL or on Big Bang Theory. I also find myself wondering if Chevy and his bird dogs are putting together a hockey team or a think tank.

I mean, to read about this kid Perfetti and listen to people heap hosannas on him, I’m convinced he’ll one day score 100 points in a season and also one-up Albert Einstein, although not necessarily in that order.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Chevy using the 10th overall shoutout at last week’s NHL entry draft to recruit a brainiac capable of solving a Rubik’s Cube puzzle in less than 60 seconds. High functioning grey matter is always an admirable quality, especially if it translates to fewer dumb penalties in the offensive zone, and it seems that Chevy puts as much stock in grades as goals.

Perfetti was the Canadian Hockey League scholastic player of the year last season, and two others in Jets livery—Josh Morrissey, Adam Lowry—are former top scholars in the Western Hockey League.

Chevy

Oh, and let’s not forget the man himself—Chevy was the WHL’s top student player in 1988.

Why, if those four put their big brains together they could likely discover a cure for COVID-19 or curb the planet’s climate crisis, although I’m sure the hard-core hockey faithful in Good Ol’ Hometown would rather they use all that fertile grey matter to devise a way back into the Stanley Cup tournament.

Whatever the case, Chevy probably qualifies for frequent-shopper points at the local Brainiacs ‘R’ Us store, and you’ll never convince me that’s a bad thing.

Is it by design or happenstance that Chevy keeps reeling in kids with serious smarts? Not sure. But I hear the asking price in any deal for Patrik Laine is a top-six forward, a top-four defenceman, and an egghead to be named later.

Perfetti vows he’ll arrive at Jets training camp (whenever that is) with a chip the size of Dustin Byfuglien’s dinner plate on his shoulder, because “there were nine teams that passed on me.” Nope, just eight outfits snubbed him. So much for the kid being a regular Einstein.

Spaceman Lee

Speaking of rocket scientists, there’s been renewed talk about establishing a colony of humans on the moon by 2024. That’s welcomed news for Bill (Spaceman) Lee. He’ll finally have some next-door neighbors.

Apparently the going rate for four people to live on the moon for one year is $36,000,000,000, or the same as New York Knicks season tickets in 2024.

The ideal all-athlete moon colony: Spaceman Lee, Blue Moon Odom, Andre (Bad Moon) Rison, Wally Moon, Warren Moon, Rocket Richard, the Pocket Rocket and, of course, Randy Moss for once mooning Green Bay Packers fans.

I agree, having Crystal Hawerchuk make the announcement that Perfetti was the Jets’ first choice in the entry draft was classy. The appearance of Ducky’s bride was one of two reach-for-the-Kleenex moments during the evening, the other being when Doug Wilson Jr. used sign language to claim Ozzy Wiesblatt for the San Jose Sharks. Ozzy’s mom is deaf, so you know that Wilson Sr., the Sharks GM, raised himself a very thoughtful lad.

Love this tweet from good guy Scott Campbell: “Times in the NHL have changed once again with Covid but still more than my time, when I was drafted 9th overall by St. Louis Blues. Mom called me in from playing road hockey with friends. ‘Scott, get in here. There’s a Mr. Francis on the phone from St. Louis who wants to speak to you.’” As it happened, Scotty spurned Emile (The Cat) Francis’ overtures and hooked up with Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association, then joined the Jets for their final championship crusade.

According to the Toronto Star, the NHL might open the 2021 season with a little pond hockey—an outdoor skirmish at Lake Louise, most likely featuring the Calgary Flames. What a cool idea. I just pity the poor guy who has to drive the Zamboni up and down the side of a mountain.

So much natter about a fly landing on Mike Pence’s head during last week’s U.S. vice-presidential debate. Haven’t heard that much talk about a fly since Tiger Woods got caught with his down.

Even though there’s no Rouge Football this year, I find myself wondering if the Football Reporters of Canada will make their annual nominations to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. More to the point, will the jock journos induct a female reporter for the first time? There were only a handful of women on the beat during my 30 years writing about everything from high school/university grid to the Canadian Football League and National Football League, but surely there should be room for pioneers like Joanne Ireland, Ashley Prest, Judy Owen and Robin Brown. Hell, Brown should get in just for her battle with Kindly Cal Murphy over female access to CFL man caves.

So here’s a question I found myself asking recently: With the NHL in limbo and no Manitoba Moose to write about, would either of the local dailies in Good Ol’ Hometown give the Manitoba Junior Hockey League big-time treatment? Pleased to report that sports editor Steve Lyons of the Drab Slab has Mike Sawatzky on the beat and he delivered copy four days running, including pre-season packages and a game report. I’d like to think Winnipeg Ice would warrant similar coverage once (if?) the WHL drops the puck. The Winnipeg Sun, meanwhile, devoted one page to the MJHL on Oct. 3 and has ignored it since. That’s lame. I don’t want to hear any whinging about supporting local news outlets if they aren’t going to cover local news other than the pro teams.

And, finally, today’s must-see TV: Our girl Brooke Henderson is just two shots off the lead going into today’s final round of the Women’s PGA Championship, a ladies’ major. Shame that neither of our two national sports networks care about women’s golf, but we can watch Brooke on NBC.

Let’s talk about the Unholy Trinity’s snub of Andrew Harris…no crying after this World Series…and the curious case of Dustin Byfuglien

A farewell to October smorgas-bored…and be kind to the little kiddies tonight…

I agree, news snoops shouldn’t be part of the story.

It’s just that sometimes it’s unavoidable.

It happens, for example, every time Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or Mark McGwire fail to win a ticket to a tiny burg in central New York State. By the numbers, all three certainly belong in Cooperstown, but they’re known needle-pushers and the jock journos who hold sway in these matters tend to frown on drug cheats.

They have decided that sticking needles in your butt and fixing games are the most egregious crimes in the rounders game. You can choke a woman or thump out a disabled fan, as Ty Cobb did; you can start a barroom brawl, as Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and other 1957 New York Yankees did; you can spit at the paying customers and call them “buffoons,” as Ted Williams did; and they’ll make room for you in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. But any player guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs or betting on ball games need not apply for residency.

Perhaps one day, but not now.

Which makes news snoops part of the story each year they take a pass on Messrs. Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and others from baseball’s steroid era.

Andrew Harris

And so it is with Andrew Harris and the Football Reporters of Canada.

When it came time to vote for regional Canadian Football League year-end trinket nominees, the boys on the beat—Ted Wyman, Jeff Hamilton, Darrin Bauming and Knuckles Irving—had their say and the ayes outnumbered the nays in judgement of Harris, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ tainted tailback exiled for two games mid-season on a drug rap.

It doesn’t matter that Harris has lugged the rock farther than any other ball carrier in Rouge Football this season. Squints in white lab coats discovered something iffy in his pee, and that was enough for Wyman, Hamilton and Bauming to bypass No. 33 in the most outstanding player and most outstanding Canadian categories.

Here it is in their own words:

Bauming, TSN 1290: “I thought long and hard on this. It weighed on my conscious quite heavily and, at the end of the day, I have to be comfortable with myself to make a decision I feel is best and just. I’m not comfortable with the precedent that it would set.”

Ted Wyman

Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “As a voter for the local nominations, I chose not to vote for Harris because of his positive drug test. How would it be fair to all the other players in the CFL who did not test positive if I cast a vote for Harris? What would it say to athletes around the country if a player who is known to have tested positive for a performance enhancer during the season wins one or two major awards? I’m certainly not trying to be high and mighty here and I did not take this decision at all lightly. It comes after months of thought, discussion, and research and in the end, I simply could not see casting my vote in any other way.”

Hamilton, Winnipeg Free Press: “Though I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit agonizing over this decision, the truth is, the choice was an easy one. Simply put, my personal feelings towards Harris, someone who I have great respect for and have enjoyed my professional relationship with, doesn’t outweigh my journalistic integrity. Voting for him would be sending the wrong message, while also setting a new precedent in professional sports: it doesn’t matter if you test positive for a performance-enhancing drug, so long as your stats are good enough.”

Harris, of course, has repeatedly denied using PEDs, but don’t all the culprits once caught? Yes, they do. Still, Knuckles Irving of CJOB and the longtime play-by-play voice of Winnipeg FC is of a mind that Harris has already paid the piper.

Knuckles Irving

“To set the record straight, SOME Winnipeg voters, not all, decided that Andrew Harris should be further punished for his positive drug test,” he tweeted. “I believe that a 2-game suspension, 2 missed game cheques and public embarrassment in July was punishment enough—I proudly voted for him.”

It must be pointed out that a fifth vote was cast, and we can assume that Mike O’Shea wrote the name Andrew Harris on his ballot, since the Bombers head coach declared his tainted tailback “absolutely innocent” when the dude’s world began to fall apart in July and August.

So Willie Jefferson and Mike Miller are the Winnipeg FC nominees in the MOP and MOC categories, and the snub of Harris makes news snoops a large part of the story.

That isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, but that’s the way it is.

Not surprisingly, many among the rabble consider Wyman, Hamilton and Bauming an Unholy Trinity for a couple of reasons: 1) The fawning faithful believe Harris to be innocent; 2) they believe news snoops to be a bunch of wonks. Well, Harris isn’t innocent. Squints found an illegal somethingorother in his piddle, both the A and B samples. As for jock journos, some of them are wonks, but I don’t think these three guys got it wrong. You can’t have a player who’s been banished on a drug rap propped up as the grandest performer in three-down football.

Why does Irving have to keep reminding people that he works for CJOB, not the Bombers? He voted for Harris because he believes the guy’s been punished enough and he’s been Winnipeg FC’s best performer. That doesn’t make Knuckles a PR flack for the team. Got it?

You know who’s delighted that the Unholy Trinity snubbed Harris? Football reporters across the land. Had Harris made it through the initial stage of the voting process, he’d have fallen into their laps, and I’m not sure many of them would have had the stomach for it. The dean of football scribes, Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town, probably put it best with this tweet: “Whoa. There you have it. Winnipeg media saves national voters a headache by not nominating Andrew Harris for CFL Awards after his failed drug test.”

Gotta agree with Ol’ Lefty, Troy Westwood of TSN 1290, when he and others suggest Harris’ suspension should have rendered him ineligible for any individual trinket. “The CFL shouldn’t leave it in the hands of the media to decide if someone qualifies for the player awards,” Westwood tweeted. “The league would do itself a favor to attach to a positive PED test that you no longer qualify for the CFL player awards. End the debate and project best to the public.” Your move, commish Randy Ambrosie.

Donald Trump

So here are my two takeaways from this year’s World Series: 1) There’s no crying in baseball and, even if there was, I can’t imagine anyone outside of Houston is weeping over the Astros Game 7 loss. The Astros, from the head down, are cads. 2) Will the champion Washington Nationals go to Washington to visit the Trumps at the White House?

And, finally, the curious case of Dustin Byfuglien just gets curiouser and curiouser, doesn’t it? I mean, Big Buff arrives in Good Ol’ Hometown but doesn’t show up for Winnipeg Jets training exercises. Then we’re told he’s gone away for some navel gazing, to determine his future in life and the National Hockey League. Now we find out that he’s had ankle surgery, without input from the club, and he won’t be available until early 2020. Unless, of course, he retires, which remains a possibility. I recall head coach Paul Maurice saying “there’s nothing sinister to this” when Buff took a powder, but I’d say it’s become totally messed up. I’m inclined to suggest Byfuglien is playing the Jets for a bunch of mooks.

About three Sundays in November…the CFL playoff format…the Prairie Football League…news snoops snubbing Mike Reilly…the Gott Guzzle…the Golden Boy and Sugar Ray…the high price of Looch’s one goal…passing on $300 million…and bravo to Paul Edmonds

The usual Sunday smorgas-bored…with an extra-large helping of three-down football…

Okay, right off the top, let’s read the tea leaves and see how it’s all going to shake down when the large lads grab grass and growl in today’s two Canadian Football League playoff skirmishes.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Saskatchewan Roughriders: Gang Green will require at least two touchdowns from its defence and/or return teams, plus five field goals to have any hope of beating Winnipeg FC. That isn’t going to happen. The rout is on. Blue Bombers by 17 (or more).

B.C. Lions at Hamilton Tiger-Cats: The better quarterback wins, and that’s Jeremiah Masoli, even if he won’t be playing catch with Speedy B. Travis Lulay will start for the Leos, but he won’t finish. Tabbies by 14.

Is there anything more compelling in Canadian sports than three-down football’s fall frolic? I think not. Fifteen days, five sudden-death games. It doesn’t get any better than what the CFL delivers for three successive Sundays in November.

As if on cue, Messrs. Hue & Cry have been in full voice since the close of the CFL’s regular-season business, demanding a dismantling of the current playoff format in favor of something more equitable.

They note, correctly, that the 8-10 Tiger-Cats have been rewarded with a home game at Timbits Field in the Hammer, even though the Lions were 9-9. The Edmonton Eskimos, meanwhile, also finished the regular session with a 9-9 record, yet there they are with their noses pressed against the window, peeking in at all the fun that’s about to begin in the runoff to the Grey Cup.

They’re right. It doesn’t seem fair.

One of the pundits, Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun, suggests the CFL toss the West-East division structure onto the scrap heap. Lump all nine outfits into one group, top six advance to the playoffs. Well, okay, let’s do that. Here’s how it looked at the finish of the 2018 season:

Calgary 13-5
Saskatchewan 12-6
Ottawa 11-7
Winnipeg 10-8
B.C. 9-9
Edmonton 9-9

So, the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders would earn first-round byes, leaving these two games: Edmonton vs. Ottawa; B.C. vs. Winnipeg.

Let’s take it one step further and say the Eskimos were to eliminate the Bytown RedBlacks. That would leave Calgary, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and Edmonton. Welcome to the Prairie Football League.

You think anyone in the Republic of Tranna would be watching? Anyone in Bytown or Steeltown? Anyone in Quebec? Anyone east of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary?

Alienation of Eastern Canada, most notably the large Southern Ontario TV market, is the risk the CFL takes if it eliminates its traditional geographic makeup. Two consecutive November Sundays of football played only on the frozen tundra of the Prairies would be a ratings doomsday.

If the game isn’t already dead in The ROT, that would surely kill it.

The CFL has featured two all-Prairie Grey Cup games in the past 17 years—Winnipeg and Calgary in 2001, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan in 2007. Where do those two matches rank for TV ratings this century? You guessed it—at the bottom of the heap. Here are the gory details.

2009 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6.1 million average (English and French TV)
2010 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6M
2012 Calgary-Toronto 5.8M
2002 Montreal-Edmonton 5.2M
2011 B.C.-Winnipeg 4.6M
2013 Hamilton-Saskatchewan 4.5M
2003 Edmonton-Montreal 4.4M
2015 Ottawa-Edmonton 4.3M
2017 Toronto-Calgary 4.3M
2014 Hamilton-Calgary 4.1M
2006 B.C.-Montreal 4M
2005 Edmonton-Montreal 4M
2004 Toronto-B.C. 4M
2016 Calgary-Ottawa 3.9M
2008 Calgary-Montreal 3.65M
2007 Winnipeg-Saskatchewan 3.5M
2018 Calgary-Ottawa 3.1M
2001 Calgary-Winnipeg 2.7M

(Note: The 2012 game had a 5.5 million average audience on TSN, making it the most-watched Grey Cup ever on English TV.)

The most-compelling argument against a revision of the playoff format is, of course, the end result. Supposedly inferior outfits from the East Division have won the large game the past two Novembers, so let’s not talk about it until a western club actually proves it’s best when it really matters.

Mike Reilly

Question in Double Jeopardy: In whose universe does the guy with the best numbers not rate as the most outstanding player in the CFL? Answer: What is the Football Reporters of Canada, Alex?

Oh, yes, the boys and girls on the beat snubbed Mike Reilly, instead giving the West-East MOP nominations to quarterbacks Bo Levi Mitchell of the Stampeders and Jeremiah Masoli of the Ticats. That despite the fact the most basic of stats indicate the news snoops are misguided.

Head-to-head-to-head, here’s how the three QBs stack up:

If you were to base that on a 3-2-1 point system, the final scorecard would read: Reilly 16, Mitchell 11, Masoli 10.

I don’t know about you, but I’d say the news snoops have some explaining to do.

So, O-lineman Jon Gott of the Bytown RedBlacks turned a football game into a tailgate party by chug-a-lugging a tall can of beer after a touchdown, and now the CFL has banned booze from TD celebrations. The new get-tough, anti-debauchery policy also includes drugs. Players are not permitted to light up a joint and pass it around in the end zone. Apparently that would be one toke over the line.

Sugar Ray and the Golden Boy

Has it really been 30 years since Donny Lalonde and Sugar Ray Leonard exchanged haymakers at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas? Yup. Sugar Ray scored a ninth-round KO over Winnipeg’s Golden Boy on Nov. 7, 1988, but our guy got in some good licks before biting canvas. Lalonde floored Leonard in the fourth round and was actually ahead on one judge’s scorecard when they got off their stools to begin the ninth. I covered that tiff for the Winnipeg Sun alongside my favorite boxing scribe, Tom Brennan, and my most vivid recollection is of Sylvester Stallone’s annoying voice rising above 13,000 others. “First Vinnie! First Vinnie!” was his ringside plea/instruction to Vinny Pazienza every time Roger Mayweather boxed one of his ears in a bout on the undercard. Alas, Rocky Balboa’s pleas went unrewarded. His guy Vinny lost on a decision. Bob Dylan was also on site, but I never heard or saw him. I sometimes wonder if he saw me.

Just wondering: When are the New York Islanders supposed to start missing John Tavares? Do they even notice that he’s gone?

The Looch

Also wondering how that Milan Lucic thing is working out for the Edmonton McDavids. Isn’t $6 million a season supposed to buy you more than one goal and four points in 16 games? The lumbering Looch’s contract is by far the worst in the National Hockey League.

So this is the world we now live in: A guy who plays a kid’s game for a living feels comfortable turning down $300 million and no one bats an eyelash. I don’t know what’s worse, Bryce Harper snubbing his nose at the $300 million the Washington Nationals had put on the table, or the fact another Major League Baseball outfit will offer him more money.

Good guy Paul Edmonds

And, finally, a big tip of the bonnet to good guy Paul Edmonds, among the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame inductees for 2019. The radio play-by-play voice of the Winnipeg Jets on TSN 1290, Paul earned his chops by trudging across the tundra with baseball’s Winnipeg Goldeyes for 19 years. That’s a lot of lonely hours on the lonely road. Now he flies hither and yon with les Jets. So, yes, he’s definitely earned his wings.