Let’s talk about Pebble People getting a raw deal…McDavid, Draisaitl and who are those other guys?…dirty rotten scoundrels…no room in Cooperstown for cheats and Schilling…the Babe, booze and babes…Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and in honor of Groundhog Day, I’ll pop my head out of the ground on Tuesday and let you know if there’ll be six more weeks of bad blogging…

Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Briane Meilleur, Shannon Birchard (clockwise from top left) from Gimli are the defending Scotties Tournament of Hearts champions.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight:

National Hockey League players traipse willy-nilly across the COVID-infected tundra, and they’re granted a quarantine exemption from Manitoba’s top docs and politicos. Meanwhile, our curlers plan to shelter themselves in a Calgary bubble for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Brier and the mixed nationals, yet they’re told they must go into isolation for the full 14 days once they return home from two weeks of hijinks in February/March. No quarantine exemption for you!

This is fair how?

Oh, wait. Silly me. I forgot that the millionaire hockey players provide an “essential” service (as if the Ottawa Senators are “essential” to anyone), while bunking down in five-star hotels and being whisked about in charter or private aircraft. The curlers? Apparently, hurrying hard is not an “essential” service. Pebble People are just everyday working stiffs blessed with good draw weight, so it doesn’t matter that they might have to carpool their way to and from Calgary. Or that they might be out of pocket if away from the salt mines for an additional 14 days. It only matters that the millionaire hockey players are happy.

That is so wrong.

Hey, I’ve never thought of hockey players as coddled and pampered. They have a special skill that means they take in rarified oxygen, but the same has to be said of our curlers, who are among the best on the planet. And Pebble People are the salt of the earth.

If hockey players deserve a quarantine concession, the curlers do too.

Quick thought on the Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane has an oversized personality. Gone. Patrik Laine has an oversized personality. Gone. Dustin Byfuglien has an oversized personality. Gone. What are we to make of that?

We need to discuss the Edmonton Oilers, because they annoy me. The Oilers are Jesse James, Billy the Kid and 18 guys with water pistols. Seriously, they have more no-names than the Witness Protection Program. I watch the Oilers play and, 60 minutes later, it’s like Butch and Sundance: “Who are those guys?” They’re as memorable as the second man to leave a footprint on the moon. You know, Ol’ What’shisname.

That bothers me.

It shouldn’t, of course, because the Oilers became the Evil Empire in Good Ol’ Hometown during the 1980s, when they made paddywhacking the Jets a spring ritual during their Stanley Cup binge. It’s been a pox on the E-Town house ever since. But I can’t help it. I want Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to succeed. So sue me.

I just don’t think the Oilers should stink. Just like the Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, New York Yankees and Green Bay Packers should never stink. It’s okay to root, root, root against any or all of those storied franchises, but you shouldn’t want them to stink.

Oh, I know, many among the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown can’t get past that 1980s thing, and they’re probably still sticking pins in their old Slats Sather, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier voodoo dolls.

Well, hocus-pocus rituals aren’t necessary these days. The Oilers stink on their own merit.

Yes, I realize they managed to muster up a victory on Saturday night, nudging the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in OT, but they’re 4-6 and that’s no way to behave when your lineup features McDavid and Draisaitl.

Fashion note: Those reverse retro unis that the Oilers wore on Saturday night looked like poorly designed Orange Crush bottles, and the Leafs’ threads were absolutely ghastly. Seriously. Dark blue numbers on dark blue sweaters? The ghost of Humpty Harold Ballard lives on.

The Tkachuk boys, Brady, top, and Matthew.

Random observations two weeks into the 2021 NHL crusade: There’s a very good reason why so many players in the Hoser Division are at or near the top of the NHL scoring table: Nobody plays defence. There are no big, ugly, nasty teams that lean on you, just a bunch of fly boys. That works now, but not so much once they’re down to the final four in Beard Season and the Canadian survivor is required to deal with big bodies that try to slow them down…You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t join the chorus and rave about the entertainment level of COVID hockey. Much of the activity I’ve seen has been, to borrow a Danny Gallivanism, “as shabby as an old hobo’s coat.”…The Tkachuk brothers are soooo smarmy. Both Matthew and Brady are more irritating than a bad case of fanny fungus. They’re the dirty, rotten scoundrels who like to sit at the back of the class and fire spitballs at the nerds. They probably stole enough lunch money to prop up a third-world country. But, yes, I’d take either one of them on my team…The Ottawa Senators are an embarrassment best kept off prime time TV…It’s obvious the Hoser Division playoff positions will come down to this: The two teams that piddle away the most points v. the Senators will be on the outside looking in. That means the next week is pivotal to the Oilers’ post-season aspirations. They’ll be fed a steady diet of the Sens, meeting them four times…Yes, I still think a Hoser Division is a boffo idea, but I’m not sold on the baseball-style schedule. I understand the reasoning behind it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it…Hands up anyone who knows what teams are leading the other three divisions. Actually, hands up anyone who can name the other three divisions…I was wrong about the Montreal Canadiens. They look legit. I was wrong about the Senators. I thought youthful enthusiasm would serve them well. I was right about the Calgary Flames. Their win over the Habs on Saturday notwithstanding, the Flames are a false bill of goods, and will continue to be as long as they have Milan Lucic dragging his knuckles up and down the freeze…Shouldn’t Sportsnet lift their regional blackouts and give us the full menu each night in this special season? If it’s all the same to them, I’d much rather watch the Jets-Habs than Canucks-Senators.

Part of Curt Schilling’s Nazi memorabilia.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will go 0-for-2021, with no players receiving the required 75 per cent of the vote for enshrinement to Cooperstown, and that means “integrity, sportsmanship, character” won out over stats. Noted steroids cheats Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens struck out in this year’s balloting, as did Curt Schilling, who collects Nazi SS memorabilia and isn’t fond of anyone unless they wear a MAGA hat and attend Toby Keith concerts. It’s the ninth time Schilling has been snubbed by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and now he wants his name erased from the ballot. “I’ll defer to the veterans committee and men whose opinions actually matter and who are in a position to actually judge a player,” he wrote in a self-indulgent, 1,200-word whinge on Facebook. He also labeled Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy a “morally decrepit” man, and accused scribes of lining up to “destroy my character.” I don’t know about that. Seems to me Schilling has assassinated his own character on social media, with transphobic tweets, a posting that suggested lynching journalists is “so much awesome,” calling Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones a liar for accusing fans at Fenway Park in Boston of dropping N-bombs in his direction, and giving thumbs up to the recent riot at the U.S. Capitol. Bottom line on Schilling’s NBHOF candidacy: “I don’t think I’m a hall of famer,” he said. Fine. Case closed.

The Babe and the babes.

Most peculiar take on the latest NBHOF voting was delivered by TSN analyst Steve Phillips. The former Major League Baseball exec drew a parallel between segregation and ‘roid cheaters Bonds and Clemens sticking needles in their butts. “There’s been performance enhancement in every era of baseball,” Phillips said. “Babe Ruth didn’t play against some of the best Negro League players of the time, players went to war, players stayed home, the mound was lowered, the DH was entered, ballparks have changed. So it’s been in every era.” Hmmm. I thought the Babe hit all those home runs (714) because he was a rare breed, but now I find out it was only because he never saw the spin on a Satchel Paige slider. Who knew? Actually, I have a different theory, and it has nothing to do with Jim Crow-era baseball or the boys of summer marching off to kick Hitler’s ass. To wit: Had the Babe laid off the booze, the babes and the speakeasies, and had he not missed playing time due to STDs, he would have swatted 914 dingers.

In his first natter with news snoops after signing with Toronto, slugger George Springer compared the Blue Jays to his Houston Astros outfit that cheated its way to a World Series title. “This (Jays) lineup reminds me a lot of them,” he said. Great. Vlad the Gifted gets a trash can. Bo Bichette gets a trash can. Cavan Biggio gets a trash can. Everybody gets a trash can. Bang the can slowly, boys.

Nice to see Sportsnet and, on a more subdued level, TSN have discovered the National Women’s Hockey League. Until last week, any talk of Ponytail Puck at Sportsnet was reserved for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and it was mostly pathetic pandering from Tara Slone and Ron MacLean. Now Sportsnet Central is delivering nightly updates/highlights on the Isobel Cup season/tournament in Lake Placid, and there are numerous articles on the website. It’s fabulous.

An outfit from the Republic of Tranna is in Lake Placid. It’s called the Six. It has a 3-1-1 record, and stands atop the NWHL tables. Someone might want to clue in the geniuses at the Toronto Sun. I look daily but, unless I missed it, the tabloid has given its home team less ink than Bernie Sanders’ mittens. TorSun trumpets itself as the top sports sheet in the nation, but I call BS on that if they can’t squeeze in a few paragraphs about Ponytail Puck.

It’s puzzling that the aforementioned PWHPA has gone radio silent on its website since Dec. 21. Not a peep. The propaganda peddlers have stopped telling us that they “deserve” a living wage, that they “deserve” an affiliation with the NHL, that they “deserve” our undivided attention, and there have been no photo-ops with Billie Jean King. The Dream Gappers have $1 million of funding from Secret, and they’ve said they’ll stage a series of barnstorming showcase tournaments, but they still aren’t telling us where or when they’ll drop the puck. Silence is a peculiar way to sell your product.

Speaking of product, the Argos need all the help they can get to make the rabble in the Republic of Tranna sit up, take notice and find their way to BMO Field, so what do they do? That’s right, they sign a repeat offender of the National Football League drug policy. Martavis Bryant was first banished for four games in 2015, then sent to his room for the entire 2016 crusade, then punted indefinitely in 2018. The Canadian Football League needs guys like Bryant the way Bill Gates needs my spare change.

It was a double whammy of bad tidings for Rouge Football last week. Aside from the Bryant hiring, Scott Milanovich took his three Grey Cup rings and walked away from the E-Town E-Somethings before ever stepping onto the sideline at Commonwealth Stadium, and can anyone really blame him? Coaches gotta coach, and since we don’t know if there’ll be three-downs football this year, Milanovich opted for the sure thing as quarterbacks guru with the Indianapolis Colts. I just wonder if this means the second coming of Chris Jones to the E-Somethings.

Pam Shriver, left, and Martina Navratilova.

So, TSN ran a feature discussing the greatest athlete of all time in North American “team sports.” Names tossed about were Tom Brady, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. SportsCentre co-anchor Kayla Grey immediately added this to the debate: “Ask Serena Williams about all that,” she said smugly. Just wondering: What part of “team sports” does Grey not understand? Last time I looked, Williams is a tennis player. Her specialty is singles play. If, however, we were to consider her form chart in doubles, which certainly is a team sport, Williams isn’t the GOAT in the women’s game. It’s Martina Navratilova, who once partnered with Pam Shriver to win 109 consecutive matches and went more than two years without a loss. Check it out:

Grand Slam Doubles Titles
Navratilova 41 Williams 16

Doubles Match Victories
Navratilova 747 Williams 190

Doubles Titles
Navratilova 187 Williams 25

There are at least 37 women and 55 men with more doubles titles than Williams, including our guy Daniel Nestor with 95. Do the math. Williams’ 25 doesn’t spell G-O-A-T in “team sports” to me.

Really, it’s time for Serena-ites like Grey to cease with the GOAT narrative. She isn’t the greatest tennis player of all time (hello Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic—take your pick), ergo she cannot possibly be the finest athlete in history. So do us all a favor and clam up.

The January numbers are in for coverage of female athletes in the two local rags (30 publishing days):

Sports front
Winnipeg Free Press-4.
Winnipeg Sun-1.

Total number of articles
Winnipeg Free Press-29 (plus 12 briefs).
Winnipeg Sun-3 (plus 4 briefs).

Number of days with female-centric copy
Winnipeg Free Press-21 of 30.
Winnipeg Sun-6 of 30.

And, finally, I think it’s great that so many people are willing to share their mental health challenges on Bell’s Let’s Talk day, but it would be even better if we did it more than once a year. I’ve always thought of mental health as an every-day thing.

Let’s talk about Patrik Laine the happy camper…Puck Finn still playing second fiddle…pooping and the puckstopper…glorifying goon hockey on Sportsnet…brain farts and tripe-bogeys…Ponytail Puck set for a faceoff in Lake Placid…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and you’re advised to read this blog with an abundance of caution…

Kevin Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have one task. Just one: Put a happy face on Patrik Laine.

Do whatever it takes.

If that means putting Puck Finn first in the pay queue, back up the Brinks truck. If he wants to skate alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, tell Paul Maurice to join them at the hip. If he wants to challenge Twig Ehlers to a rousing game of Fortnite between shifts, set up a PlayStation gizmo at the end of the bench.

Just get it done.

Unless, of course, it’s irreparably undone

Maybe there’s no longer a way for Chevy and the Puck Pontiff to sell Laine on the merits of Winnipeg and the Jets. Maybe the Tour de Finn we witnessed last Thursday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie—two goals, OT winner, one assist, one scuffle in a 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames—was a prelude to what the faithful will be missing once the big winger swans off down the road.

Whatever the case, this is a crossroads moment for the Winnipeg franchise.

Chevy and the Puck Pontiff

Make no mistake, short of a Stanley Cup parade, how Chevy and team co-bankroll Chipman handle L’Affaire Laine will be the defining moment for the tallest thinkers in the National Hockey League’s smallest market, and time is already an adversary.

Puck Finn is a restricted free agent this summer, and if he and Chevy/Puck Pontiff can’t find common financial ground, an arbitrator will do it for them and that’s an exercise that seldom lends itself to warm-and-fuzzy pillow talk. Laine will listen while someone in an expensive suit informs him of his many misgivings, at the same time emphasizing that his goal totals (36, 44, 30, 28) are already in decline. And whatever he delivers this season will be dismissed as the sketchy product of a runted crusade due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the kid wants out now, imagine how he’ll feel after hearing from a team rep that he’s barely a beer-leaguer, so I’m assuming that’s a path the Jets aren’t anxious to travel.

In the meantime, pundits hither and yon continue to laud Chevy for the deliberate, slow-moving manner in which he generally manages the Jets.

And it’s true. Chevy has the patience of a man who genuinely believes the cheque is in the mail.

Players march into his office and inform him they desire a new postal code, or an agent beaks off to news snoops about a client’s dissatisfaction and the need for a fresh start, but Chevy doesn’t flinch. His knees never jerk. Oh, they might twitch a mite, but not so you’d notice.

He waits and waits and waits, patiently, refusing to be bullied.

But then someone tosses a track suit into a tub of ice water and Chevy budges, recognizing he has no option but to tell a 30-goal scorer to leave the building. Evander Kane is then shuffled off to Buffalo. Similarly, Chevy took a measured tactic with Jacob Trouba, not moving his top-pair defender to Gotham until the free-agency clock was soon to strike midnight.

Now we have the only GM in Jets 2.0 history confronted with the stiffest challenge of his watch, and all I can see is Chevy standing in a corner with a can of paint and a brush, looking for a way out.

And that’s not to ignore Jack Roslovic’s pout.

Chevy’s allowing Roslovic to rot at home in Columbus, with no inclination toward granting his young forward’s wish for opportunity elsewhere. Chevy can move him on a whim, on his terms and on his timetable, and the longer the Roslovic Rot lasts the more likely it is that he becomes a forgotten man. Few among the faithful will be bent out of shape at the loss of a player who might fit in as a top-six forward in other colors, but not in Jets linen.

It’s different with Laine.

Puck Finn is their signature selection through a decade of draft-and-develop. He’s a star performer, a game-changer who, were he to commit long term, would become the face of the franchise.

Chevy and the Puck Pontiff are already 0-for-2 with young studs who’ve demanded a one-way ticket out of Dodge, and Laine’s performance v. the Flames was a not-so-subtle hint that they should move mountains to prevent it from being 0-for-3.

What will it take to put a happy face on Puck Finn? None of us knows. But, surely, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff have an idea, and that begs one question: Why aren’t they doing it?

Puck Finn

Got a giggle out of pundits suggesting Laine’s show-stopper v. the Flames snuffed out swap talk. “Laine silences the trade rumors” and “Laine mutes trade talk for now” were the headlines in the Winnipeg Sun. Ya, good luck with that. If anything, it ramped up speculation. I mean, what was Eric Duhatschek scribbling about in The Athletic the following morning? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. What were Gino Reda and Craig Button nattering about on TSN two days later? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. What were David Amber and Brian Burke prattling on about on Hockey Night in Canada last night? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. Trust me, L’Affaire Laine will linger until one of two things happens: 1) Puck Finn commits to Good Ol’ Hometown for the long haul; 2) Chevy and the Puck Pontiff tell him to pack his bags. I’m still betting on the latter scenario—and we’ll know for certain if he signs another bridge deal this summer—so don’t expect the whispers to go away anytime soon.

So, you’re Paul Maurice, the Jets potty-mouth head coach. You have a 22-year-old right-winger, Laine, who shredded the Flames, and you have a 34-year-old right winger, Blake Wheeler, who’s doing his best to keep up with the pace of play. Who you gonna call on? I agree, it should be Laine. But Coach PottyMo still had Puck Finn playing second fiddle to the aging Wheeler, on the ice for a whopping 21:27, including 4:50 on the powerplay, in the opener. Laine was limited to 16:20 and 2:53. Any wonder why Puck Finn’s agents believe it would be “mutually beneficial” for him to move on? Curses to you, Coach Potty Mouth.

Took a dive into James Duthie’s book Beauties last week, and I was giggling four paragraphs into Roberto Luongo’s forward, whereby the former Vancouver Canucks goaltender describes an in-game bout of poopy pants. “I never get stomach aches during a game,” he writes. “Before the game is a different story. I go to the bathroom five times on game day. I’m talking number two here. I may have been a number one goalie most of my career, but I’m all about number two on game days. I go once in the morning when I get up, once at the morning skate, once after I wake up from my nap, once after the pre-game meeting, and once after warm-up, just in case. I don’t want any accidents during the game. It’s a skill. The guys on my team all know about it. They see my big-ass toes sticking out from under the stall door and say, ‘Lui’s goin’ again.’” That probably falls under the category ‘too much information,’ but Luongo goes on to explain missing the start of overtime in a playoff series v. Anaheim due to the runs, and it’s more than a one-yuk-per-page read. I’m 68 pages into the book and only the Paul Bissonnette yarn is a yawn. Overall, a highly recommended read.

The more things change, the more things stay the same. An example would be Anthony Stewart’s analysis of last week’s Montreal Canadiens-Toronto Maple Leafs skirmish on Sportsnet. Stewart, of course, is the least insightful among the natterbugs on Hockey Night In Canada and, like Brian Burke, he tends to glorify goon hockey. Thus it was no surprise to hear him cite Wayne Simmonds as the difference-maker in the Leafs’ 5-4 victory, simply because he exchanged bare knuckles with Ben Chiarot of the Habs. It was 3-1 Montreal when the lads dropped the mitts, and Stewart informed us that the Leafs scored “right after” the tiff. Wrong. The game turned when the Habs took three consecutive penalties and the Leafs scored twice with the man advantage—7½ minutes after the Simmonds scrap. But, hey, why let facts get in the way of a false narrative? Meanwhile, over at TSN, Craig Button was asked what shifted the game toward the Leafs. “Power play,” he said. Two nights later, he added, “the Leafs’ skill bailed them out.” Correct.

The search was on for Bryson DeChambeau’s ball.

So now we know why Bryson DeChambeau was feeling woozy and bombed out at The Masters in November: Brain fart. “The frontal lobe in my brain was working really, really hard,” the bulked-up golfer explains, adding a combination of things “escalated my brain, overworking and just giving out.” And here I thought it was that lost ball and a triple-bogey seven on the third hole at Augusta that made him sick. Silly me.

Interesting that quarterback Aaron Rodgers is among the notables to land a gig as celeb host on Jeopardy! once the Green Bay Packers are finished playing football. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t hire ESPN squawker Stephen A. Smith. He believes he has all the answers.

Bill Murray

Speaking of celebrities, the Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament will have no pro-am component this year. Which makes it what? The Pebble Beach Bill Murray Has To Go Somewhere Else To Act Like A Complete Jackass Open?

Quitter James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets described himself as “an elite leader” at his introductory natter with New York news snoops the other day, just scant hours after mailing it in one more time and informing his former Houston Rockets teammates that they’re a bunch of scrubs. Ya, that’s an “elite leader” like Kareem Adbul Jabbar is a jockey.

Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer are now Club de Foot Montreal. Seriously? A soccer side with “club foot” in the name. They might want to send that one back to the marketing department. It’s like a brewery branding its newest product Flat Warm Beer.

On the subject of peddling product, if you’re scoring at home—and I’m sure you aren’t—a Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association team wrapped up a six-game series v. teenage boys in Florida the other day, and they left the Tampa hub with a 2-4 record. All but two games (5-0, 7-2 losses) were competitive, but I fail to see how losing to teenage boys advances the cause of Ponytail Puck.

Speaking of which, Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star found room for Ponytail Puck in his Pucks In Depth notebook on Friday, which is a good thing. If only he wasn’t so thin on facts and short on insight.

Women’s professional hockey ramps up this month,” he wrote. “The NWHL, with its Toronto expansion team The Six (I like the nickname, but I have been programmed by our Olympians not to root for the NWHL) will play its entire season, playoffs and championship in a bubble in Lake Placid, N.Y., with some games televised (and most streamable if you know how to do that). There’s something coming out of the ashes of the CWHL, with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (which I’m programmed to root for since it’s basically the national teams of Canada and the United States). The women now represent cities, and have big sponsors. So that sounds positive. I believe COVID is getting in the way of their plans, which leads to some confusion. Are they a league? Is it tournament-based? Weekend exhibitions with grassroots ourtreach?”

A few things to peel away here:

  1. The National Women’s Hockey League’s Isobel Cup tournament runs from Jan. 23-Feb. 5 in Lake Placid, with the semifinals and final to be broadcast live on NBCSN. Why McGran chose not to share those pertinent details with readers is a mystery.

  2. I don’t know if he was writing tongue-in-cheek when admitting he’s been “programmed by our Olympians not to root for the NWHL,” but, if true, shame on them and him. (Given that PWHPA membership spent its first year of existence trash talking the NWHL, I’m guessing it’s true.)

  3. The PWHPA and its Dream Gappers emerged from the ashes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2019, so it’s not new. The makeup is different, in that there are now five hubs—Calgary, the Republic of Tranna, Montreal, New Hampshire, Minnesota—but there’s no “confusion.” It is not a league. The people at Secret Deodorant have diverted a portion of their attention and dollars from smelly armpits to Ponytail Puck, sponsoring a 2021 Dream Gap Tour to the merry tune of $1 million. The plan is a series of six weekend showcase tournaments (dates and sites to be determined), and the players will share prize money and award the Secret Cup to the top team at the conclusion of their barnstorming frolics.

All that information is readily available if you know where to look, or pick up a phone. Mind you, not a word has been posted to the PWHPA website since before Christmas, so a visit there is a waste of time. If you’re interested in all things Ponytail Puck, check out The Ice Garden, the Women’s Hockey Tribune or The Victory Press.

And, finally, nice off-the-beaten-path piece on Kerri Einarson from Jason Bell of the Drab Slab last week. Jason caught up with the reigning Canadian curling champion on the planet’s largest curling rink—Lake Winnipeg—where she and rinkmate Shannon Birchard have been working out the kinks in preparation for defence of their title, Feb. 19-28 in a Calgary bubble.

Let’s talk about the NHL’s COVID boogie…what they’re saying about the Winnipeg Jets…one Mike drops the mic and another Mike picks it up…Citizen Kane’s latest woes…the value of a good copy editor…and no mulligans for Trump

An early-week smorgas-bored…and happy hockeying everybody…

And so it begins Wednesday night, a modified National Hockey League crusade featuring fewer games, expanded rosters, a Hoser Division, and a killer pandemic.

Make no mistake, this NHL do-si-do shall boogie along to the whims and cadence of COVID-19, which has already put the Dallas Stars in drydock and isn’t likely to play favorites. We can expect more of same, and you can only hope the coronavirus doesn’t take its biggest bite out of your hockey heroes.

We’ve seen how it works, of course, thanks to other leagues.

Every quarterback with a pulse on the Denver Broncos roster was sacked. The Cleveland Browns lost three coaches and four players in advance of their National Football League playoff skirmish v. the Pittsburgh Steelers. It took Tony Romo out of the CBS Sports blurt box. Etcetera, etcetera.

In short, COVID-19 has taken down more NFL players than Michael Strahan, Mean Joe Greene, Reggie White and Dick Butkus in their best years. Combined.

Over in the National Basketball Association, the Boston Celtics-Miami Heat joust was called off Sunday when there weren’t enough healthy bodies to put a team on the hardwood. Two games were called off Monday. The Philly 76ers had the minimum of eight players available for their match v. the Denver Nuggets. The Dallas Mavericks closed their practice facility. Etcetera, etcetera.

So, really, all bets should be off before they drop the puck on the 2021 NHL season, even as Vegas bookies are offering odds on a Stanley Cup champion (the Winnipeg Jets, for those so inclined, were listed at 40/1 on Bodog last time I looked).

Similarly, it’s folly to engage in the reading of tea leaves and/or tarot cards.

That’s Gordie Tumilson, middle front row, beside Bobby Hull.

I mean, go ahead and toss out pre-play predictions if you like, but if COVID-19 were to slay Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit, I don’t like the Jets playoff chances with a Zamboni driver in the blue paint and Gordie Tumilson as backup.

That’s no rap against old friend and former teammate Gordie, by the way. He’s one of my favorite people, but I’m guessing the reflexes aren’t quite as rapier-like as when he stopped rubber for the West Kildonan North Stars in 1969-70 and the Jets a few years later.

Thus, there shall be no prognostications from moi, except to say I expect the Toronto Maple Leafs to top the Hoser Division. (Then, as is their custom, they’ll be excused in the opening round of Beard Season.) Otherwise, it’s a complete crap shoot that, again, shall follow the dictates of COVID, whether we like it or not.

Let’s just call it the COVID19-2021 season.

The gang at NHL.com wasn’t shy about delivering predictions, and six of 15 observers believe the Jets have the right stuff to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Adam Kimelman has the local lads finishing third, while Dave Stubbs, Shawn P. Roarke, Bill Price, Mike G. Morreale and Tracey Myers slot them in at fourth. USA Today, meanwhile, has the Jets penciled in for a sixth-place finish, ahead of only the Ottawa Senators.

Ray Ferraro

Here’s what they’re saying about the Jets hither and yon…

Ray Ferraro, TSN: “Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver, I’ve got those three kind of together (after Toronto, Montreal and Calgary). I’m not blown away by Winnipeg’s defence. That’s the one thing that gives me pause. But maybe one of those young guys is more ready than you think. Maybe you can climb a spot. Maybe you can put yourself in a different place. I don’t know, is Hellebuyck gonna do that again this year, ’cause, man, he was the best goalie in the league last year. If he can, great. That erases a lot of the shortcomings perhaps of that defence.”

Sean McIndoe, The Athletic: “The optimist’s take on the Jets is that they were pretty good last year despite lots of doom and gloom about their thin blueline, then looked like a playoff team and only lost in the qualifying round because everyone got hurt. The pessimist would point out that ‘pretty good’ isn’t all that great when you have a Vezina winner in goal, and the blueline isn’t significantly better. If Connor Hellebuyck stands on his head again, cool. If he does like a lot of Vezina winners and regresses to the mean even a little, they might fall out of the playoff hunt. I realize ‘they need their goalie to play well’ is an insight that would apply to every team in the league, but it really applies to the Jets.”

Greg Wyshynski, ESPN: “The Winnipeg Jets will ice another competitive team, backstopped by one of the league’s elite netminders in Connor Hellebuyck. But as the team looks to push for another long playoff run, dark storm clouds are overhead, as trade rumors persist involving goal-scoring wizard Patrik Laine. (Paul) Stastny can’t recapture the magic. On a contending team, Stastny is a valuable asset. He does a lot of the little things right that can make the difference in a playoff series. But the last time he was in Winnipeg, he was 32 years old and had a 0.65 points-per-game average between the Jets and Blues. Last season, in 71 games, that average dipped down to 0.54, the lowest of his career. Not a liability as a player, but maybe no longer the guy you want as your No. 2 centre. Then again, he did have impressive chemistry with (Nikolaj) Ehlers and Laine, so we could be wrong.”

Joe Thornton

Random observations: I’m not convinced it’s a given that the Ottawa Senators are destined to be Hoser Division bottom-feeders. Is it likely? Sure. Especially if bankroll Eugene Melnyk sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong. Just don’t sleep on them…The Montreal Canadiens are overrated. Ditto the Calgary Flames…When I submit that I expect the Maple Leafs to top the Hoser Division, it’s based on a belief that aligning greybeard Joe Thornton with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the top line is a gimmick with a shelf life of about one week…How many people in the True North will pay attention to the standings south of the border? What the American teams do is irrelevant until the Stanley Cup tournament is down to the final four. So why tune in?…Just a reminder, the Jets were the last homebrew outfit to make it to the SC semifinals, in 2018. Seems like a decade ago, doesn’t it?

The What Was Your First Clue Sherlock Award goes to the Drab Slab for this headline on the Jets playing in an empty Little Hockey House On The Prairie this season: “Bell MTS Place won’t be same without fans.” Ya think?

Mike Milbury

So, the other shoe has finally dropped for Mike Milbury, the former player, coach and GM most noted for clubbing a New York Rangers fan on the head with his footwear. NBC Sports has decided it can get along without Milbury’s mumbled musings in the broadcast booth and/or studio this season, and they’ll hand his mic to another defrocked NHL coach, Mike Babcock. No word on what Milbury plans to do with his free time, but apparently he’ll begin a search for the real Space Needle. Hopefully, there’ll be no women on site to “disrupt” his concentration.

Evander Kane and the infamous money phone.

Remember that money phone pic Evander Kane posted from Las Vegas during the 2012-13 NHL lockout? You know, the one with the stacks of American 100 dollar bills? Well, today old friend Evander is $26.8 million in the glue, and hands up anyone who’s surprised to learn that he’s in trouble again? Didn’t think so. Kane, of course, isn’t the first high-salaried athlete to squander a fortune, and he won’t be the last. It’s just that it’s a particularly bad look for him, since a lot of the Jets faithful recall Kane flaunting his wealth with that money phone pic. Today he’d have to borrow a quarter to call someone who cares in Winnipeg, and that’s sad.

Hayley Moore

Say, here’s some good news: Add the name Hayley Moore to the growing list of women stepping into prominent positions in men’s professional sports. The American Hockey League has recruited Hayley as its Vice President of Hockey Operations, and she’ll be on the job early next month, once the National Women’s Hockey League Isobel Cup tournament wraps up in Lake Placid. At present, she’s president of the Boston Pride, after serving as team GM and deputy commissioner and director of player development for the NWHL.

There’s a very good reason why copy editors exist: They can save a writer’s bacon. Unfortunately, they were asleep on the rim when Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna filed this copy last weekend: “Yes, American hockey is pretty darn good,” he wrote. “And no, that’s not necessarily new. Twenty years ago, Sidney Crosby scored the Golden Goal in overtime. The opponent: Team USA, winner of the 1986 World Cup.” D’oh! Twenty years ago, Crosby was in Junior High and the World Cup of Hockey didn’t exist in 1986.

That reminds me of one of my worst gaffes, although not in a byline article. I referred to the Major League Baseball all-star game in July as the “annual Fall Classic.” Gus Collins was on the sports desk that night at the Winnipeg Tribune, and he didn’t catch the mistake. I noticed it at first light the following morning while eating breakfast. Scant seconds later, Gus was on the blower. “Did you see it?” he asked. To which I replied, “Sorry, Gus, I can’t talk right now. I just choked on my Cheerios.”

Donald Trump: No mulligans for you!

According to Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, Donald Trump is “gutted” over the PGA of America voting to remove its 2022 signature tournament from his Trump National golf course in Bedminster, N.J. Not to worry, Trumpsters. Apparently Rudy Giuliana is already on the case, arranging a press conference at a convenient Four Seasons Greenskeeper Shed, whereupon he will demand a mulligan for Trump and vow to challenge the vote in the highest Kangaroo Court he can find.

And, finally, golfers Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump last week, but New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, a one-time Trumpite, wants no part of the trinket. To get even for the betrayal, it’s believed Trump stomped his feet, shook his tiny fists, and demanded his MAGA hat back.

Let’s talk about girl power on Sportsnet…Billie Jean King doesn’t have a clue…snubbing the NWHL…and bust goes the Brier

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I don’t know if I gained or lost an hour on the weekend…

Oh, baby. They pulled it off.

Yup, Sportsnet delivered its first 99.9 per cent estrogen-fueled broadcast of a National Hockey League joust on Sunday night, so a few words are in order:

Christine Simpson, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Leah Hextall.

a) Leah Hextall is more than adequate on play-by-play.

b) Christine Simpson is a real pro.

c) Cassie Campbell-Pascall doesn’t know when to put a sock in it.

d) Billie Jean King needs to pop a reality pill.

e) Ron MacLean makes for a rather subdued token male (he calls himself an “ally”).

f) Tara Slone has the groupie gene.

g) Apparently no one involved with the production of Hometown Hockey knows the National Women’s Hockey League exists.

That’s the Coles Notes version of what transpired during the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Sunday, and if you’re wondering if the women did boffo work just ask them. They’ll assure you that they were absolutely fabulous, darling.

I mean, this was a 3½-hour exercise in excessive back-patting, and I believe they paid tribute to every woman on earth except Karla Homolka. Well, okay, that’s a stretch. But they did manage to squeeze Cher and Beyonce into the conversation, and we all know that no hockey broadcast is complete without mentioning Cher and Beyonce—not!

Curious name-dropping aside, full marks to Sportsnet for pushing the envelope. I just wish the main players hadn’t spent so much time kissing up to one another.

Don’t they realize you can catch coronavirus that way?

Leah Hextall

Among the women, Hextall had the most to gain/lose in this experiment. We’ve been listening to the empty squawkings of colorless commentator Campbell-Pascall for years now, and we’ve grown accustomed to Simpson’s smooth interview skills. But Hextall’s game call was something new, and I give her a passing grade.

I actually learned a new phrase from her: “He loses the boot.” Translation: A player lost his footing. Never heard that one before.

Hextall delivered another good line in the third period when two Golden Knights collided violently inside the blueline, describing it as “A bit of a Three Stooges moment.” I laughed out loud.

Hextall stumbled at times, though. She seemed caught by surprise when Nick Holden scored the second Vegas goal, also when Milan Lucic put the Flames on the board. “Lucic holds, fires and Lehner…oh, hang on, he scores,” she said. And she was flat out wrong on the Golden Knights winning tally, asking, “Is it in? Is it in? It looked in. From an angle shot, Max Pacioretty with the goal.” It was actually Shea Theodore who scored.

But, hey, other play-by-play people have made bigger blunders.

Is if fair to compare Hextall to male game-callers? Absolutely. After all, they’re the only measuring sticks available. So let’s just say she’s no Danny Gallivan, but who is? Like I said, she gets a passing grade.

I’m not sure what it is about Campbell-Pascall that gets up my nose, but I find her to be a total irritant, the same way skin rash is. She talked over Hextall too often, and she rudely hijacked the conversation when the two women were signing off. She also delivered the dumbest comment of the night when, as Ryan Reaves and Lucic lined up, she advised us that “the physicality on the ice right now is epic.” That would have been fine except for one small detail—they hadn’t even dropped the puck for the opening faceoff yet.

Ron and Tara

As expected, Slone and MacLean cooed and gushed during their taped first-intermission sit-down with Billie Jean King. MacLean was so dazzled to be in the presence of tennis royalty that he had Kendall Coyne Schofield winning the fastest skater competition at the NHL all-star game (she finished second last) and, when corrected by King, he mostly sat in slumped silence while Slone lathered the equal rights activist in praise.

Billie Jean King

No surprise that King called on the NHL to create hockey’s version of an adopt-a-pet program and subsidize a women’s professional league. “It’s the right thing to do and I think it’ll be good business,” she said. “They can do this. They can do this. Why can’t we have 700 girls or a thousand girls playing in a league?” Earth to Billie Jean! Earth to Billie Jean! If it’ll be such “good business,” why don’t you peel off some of your personal bankroll and help fund a WNHL? And where’s your business plan? As for a women’s league with 700-1,000 players, that’s shocking naiveté. There are approximately 200 members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and another 120 suiting up with the five NWHL clubs. Where does King propose they scare up another 380-680 elite-level female players? She’d have better luck trying to find a virgin in a brothel.

During the game, Campbell-Pascall lauded King for her work on behalf of the PWHPA, telling us she’s “moved women’s hockey forward.” Rubbish. Ponytail Puck has never been in a worse mess.

Dani Rylan

In 3½ hours, the talking heads made numerous mentions of the PWHPA, but not once did they talk about the NWHL. And that’s shameful. Sportsnet is supposed to be a news-gathering and news-distributing operation yet, on International Women’s Day, it chose to completely ignore a hockey league that has a female commissioner, a female director of its players association, female general managers, a female head coach, female broadcasters, and the only operation in North America that pays females to play shinny. At some point, they should have advised us that the Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps had won their semifinal matches on Sunday and advanced to the Isobel Cup final, scheduled for puck drop on Friday in Beantown. They didn’t, and that’s just wrong.

Sportsnet’s snub of the NWHL is particularly puzzling given that Kristina Rutherford’s in-depth look at commish Dani Rylan popped up on its website Sunday. It’s a terrific read on the woman who started the NWHL from scratch and is already planning for a sixth season.

And, finally, it’s about the Brier. After nine days of incredible shot-making and last-gasp dramatics, the boys delivered a dud in the Canadian men’s curling championship final in Kingston. It was like seeing Sinatra in concert all week, then getting Nickelback for a closing act. Brad Gushue and his pals from the Rock put on a clinic in a 7-3 win, while Brendan Bottcher and his bunch from Wild Rose Country coughed up a hair ball (many of them, actually). It was all over except for the muffled celebration after three ends, and that’s not the finish this exceptional bonspiel deserved.