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.

About $6 million worth of beans and wieners for the Winnipeg Jets…blame Ray Charles for Jimmy Mann…the Shoe fits…hockey teams and their value…hot-buttered takes from The ROT…the missing Munster son…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and don’t think for a minute that I’ve given much thought to any of this…

Fergy

It was mid-June 1979 and John Bowie Ferguson had just examined the list of players available to him in the National Hockey League expansion draft.

He winced. Then scowled.

Fergy rose to his feet and trudged across the main room of his 13th-floor suite in the fabulous Queen Elizabeth Hotel. He stopped in front of a large window, stared at the splendor that is Montreal, and noted that Mary Queen of the World Cathedral was directly across the street.

“Well,” I said, “I guess you have two choices, Fergy: You can go across the street and do some serious praying, or you can jump.”

The Winnipeg Jets general manager did neither. He just grunted.

Tom McVie

Head coach Tom McVie, sitting in a nearby chair, smiled and cracked wise: “You know,” he said, “there’s enough talent available for us to win the Allan Cup. It might be seven games, but if we get home ice in the seventh game, we could win.”

He was joking, but not far from accurate.

I don’t know what $650 million will buy the Seattle Whatsits two years hence when the new kids on the block piece together their expansion roster of rejects, but I do know what $6 million bought Fergy and the Jets in mid-June 1979—sweet petite.

The NHL’s existing 17 outfits, be advised, did not lean toward benevolence when they grudgingly agreed to accept les Jets, the Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques and Hartford Whalers into their shinny cartel. The plan was to first plunder the rosters of the World Hockey Association survivors—Winnipeg HC suffered the worst body count—then allow them to go on a dumpster dive for dregs.

Bobby Orr

Some interesting names were there for the choosing. Like Bobby Orr. Except the great No. 4 was crippled and retired. The Big M, Frank Mahovlich, was available, except he was 41 and, like Orr, finished. Fergy could have had former Jets head coach Larry Hillman, except Morley was 42 and hadn’t played in three years. Yvan Cournoyer? The Roadrunner was out of gas. I seem to recall there also being a dead guy on the list.

It was so bad that Fergy didn’t even bother to call out names on his final shout on draft day.

“Okay,” he muttered in a tone that suggested both protest and resignation, like a kid being force-fed one more mouthful of Brussels sprouts before dessert, “Winnipeg Jets take the last two players.”

Gene Carr and Hilliard Graves thus were added to a collection of misfits, mostly guys with marginal or diminished skills. Also some undesirable contracts. In sum, Fergy plucked 17 players that day: Peter Marsh, Lindsay Middlebrook, Bobby Hull, Al Cameron, Dave Hoyda, Jim Roberts, Lorne Stamler, Mark Heaslip, Pierre Hamel, Gord McTavish, Gord Smith, Clark Hamilton, Jim Cunningham, Dennis Abgrall, Bill Riley, Carr and Graves.

Still, combined with holdovers from the Jets 1979 WHA championship roster, that bunch easily could have won senior hockey’s Allan Cup, but they failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. They won 20 of 80 games, and just nine in their sophomore season.

We know the NHL has no plan to be similarly punitive with Seattle, because a $650 million sticker price demands that they get some sizzle with their steak. For the Jets, though, it was $6 million worth of beans and wieners.

The plundering of rosters and a player pool of ragged retreads weren’t the only indiginities inflicted upon the Jets and their WHA brethren. In a penalizing departure from established practice, the NHL ruled that the four expansion teams would choose last, rather than first, in the amateur draft. By the time Fergy used the No. 19 shout-out to pluck Jimmy Mann (talk about cruel and unusual punishment), guys like Ray Bourque, Rob Ramage, Mike Gartner, Craig Hartsburg, Paul Reinhart and Mike Foligno had already been snatched up. Ahead of the draft, Fergy had said, “Let’s face it, Ray Charles could pick the first-round drafts. We all know who they’re going to be.” So let’s all blame Ray Charles for Jimmy Mann.

Being bad had its benefits for Fergy and les Jets. Their names were Dave Babych and Dale Hawerchuk, plucked in the 1980 and ’81 entry drafts, respectively. With Babs and Ducky on board, les Jets soared from a nine-wins, 32-points season to 33 Ws and 80 points.

The Shoe

Nice to see Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Ab McDonald get the nod as the next inductees to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame. Sadly, both have left us, but I’m sure there’ll be a celebratory mood when some of the old boys gather to salute the two former captains on Feb. 26 at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

According to Forbes magazine, the Winnipeg HC franchise is now valued at $415 million, 27th among NHL clubs. Considering that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and co-bankroll David Thomson paid $170 million for their play thing, that’s a handsome hike. Mind you, it’s expected they’ll also be required to fork over $170M to Patrik Laine by the time he’s finished.

If you missed it, here’s how Forbes lists the value of each Canadian franchise: Tranna Maple Leafs $1.35 billion, Montreal Canadiens $1.3B, Vancouver Canucks $735 million, Edmonton Oilers $540M, Calgary Flames $450M, Ottawa Senators $435M, Winnipeg HC $415M. And, yes, now that you mention it, I don’t see how in the name of Cyclone Taylor the Jets can be worth less than the dysfunctional Senators. That’s like saying a pack of smokes is a better buy than gym membership.

This from Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star: “Not to overreact, but Auston Matthews is probably the best goal-scorer in the world. This isn’t a hot take; it’s maybe a take that you left in the microwave for like 15 seconds, long enough to soften butter but not melt it.” Sorry, Bruce, but that’s a totally hot-buttered Tranna take.

John Torotorella

Interesting to see loose cannon head coach John Tortorella adorned in a hoodie rather than a suit and tie behind the Columbus Blue Jackets bench last week. Apparently he was fit to be tied after the game, though.

When did women’s curling become more interesting and more entertaining that the men’s side? And does the curling season really begin before Vic, Cheryl and Russ are in the booth? No knock against Sportsnet’s coverage of Grand Slam events, but it just sounds right when Vic Rauter, Cheryl Bernard and Russ Howard are making the calls on TSN.

Robin Munster

Is it just me, or does anyone else find TSN’s UFC gab guy Robin Black kind of creepy? I think he might be related to the Munsters. Maybe a distant cousin to Herman or Lily. Or separated from Eddie Munster at birth. Black might know his stuff (although anyone who picked Conor McGregor to whup Floyd Mayweather is suspect), but do we really need to see him rolling around inside the octagon? I know I don’t.

Paul LaPolice

Interesting that Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice took his name from the Tranna Argonauts head-coaching hunt. Not surprising, though. I mean, working in The Republic of Tranna is the Canadian Football League equivalent of a witness protection program. The 50/50 draw is larger at a backyard barbeque in Fort Garry than at BMO Field in The ROT. I could see Coach LaPo defecting to B.C., but Tranna? Only on a dare.

And, finally, forestry and lands people have discovered a hole the size of a CFL field in a remote B.C. park. It’s believed to be the biggest opening in North America now that Ondrej Pavelec has taken his five-hole back to the Czech Republic.