About Auston Matthews and Puck Finn, who ya gonna take now?…hockey goals and soccer goals on TSN…a swing and a miss for the Hockey Hall of Fame…no gay curling champion…Tiger, Tiger burning bright…and a “golden standard” that ain’t so golden

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

Puck Finn, Patrik Laine

Okay, let’s ask the Tranna Maple Leafs if they’d like a do-over.

That is, given the opportunity to revisit the 2016 National Hockey League entry draft, would les Leafs still use their first shout-out to select Auston Matthews? Or would they choose Puck Finn, more commonly known as Patrik Laine?

Matthews and Laine went one-two, respectively, in the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers in ’16 and, almost two complete crusades into their NHL careers, a case can be made that the Leafs chose the wrong guy. Laine, after all, has lit more lamps this winter than anyone other than Alex Ovechkin and a Kentucky coal miner. He’s just 10 shy of a 50-goal season as a sophomore. Only two players in history, Jimmy Carson and Dale Hawerchuk, scored more often as NHL teens.

In short, Puck Finn has come as advertised.

Auston Matthews

Matthews has as well, though, and going by the numbers the difference between the Leafs centre and the Winnipeg Jets winger is just six games, eight goals and a horrible mess of scraggly chin whiskers that make Laine look like an Amish bread, butter and egg man (worst…beard…ever). Matthews is 135-68-51-119; Laine is 141-76-51-127.

So, would the Leafs do things differently? Nope. Would the Jets want them to do things differently? Hell no.

I recall being puzzled by the results of a Postmedia preseason poll, whereby 25 NHL players were asked to read the tea leaves and predict the winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy, which goes to the league’s top sniper. Eight players were mentioned, not one of them named Patrik Laine. They were, in order, Sidney Crosby, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Ovechkin, Tyler Seguin, Steven Stamkos, Vladimir Tarasenko, Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel. (Seriously, Jack Eichel?) What is it, I wondered, that the players didn’t see in Laine? I mean, they’re on the ice with him. They have intimate knowledge of the shot that Puck Finn snaps off faster and is more lethal than a Donald Trump tweet. Surely they know more about pure talent than us lumps on bar stools. Guess not.

Lionel Messi

Speaking of lumps on stools, I direct your attention to The Quiz boys on TSN—Jeff O’Dog, Dave Poulin and Bob McKenzie. Quiz master James Duthie asked the three wise men to choose between Ovechkin (598 hockey goals) and Lionel Messi (600 soccer goals) as the greatest sniper of this generation.

O’Dog: “I’m going to pick Alex Ovechkin due to the fact I’ve never seen Messi play one second of a competitive soccer match…is that what they call it, the match?”

McKenzie: “I will go with Ovechkin. I’ve gotta go with the hockey answer simply because, as O said, I don’t have the context to provide for soccer. Don’t follow it close enough, so, I realize how great Messi is, but…”

Duthie: “You’re basically saying that you’re both ignorant to soccer.”

McKenzie: “That’s correct.”

O’Dog: “Don’t care about it either.”

Only Poulin got it right.

Six hundred goals in soccer is like two million goals in hockey,” he advised the two blockheads sitting to his left.

Poulin’s point is well taken, even if his math is suspect. The difference between soccer snipes and hockey goals is probably more like dog years to human years—seven to one. Thus, Messi’s 600 is the equivalent of 4,200 hockey goals. You’d think someone named O’Dog would know about dog years.

Pierre McGuire

There must be some Arctic air flowing into hell, because I’m going to agree with Damien Cox. The Toronto Star scribe is calling out the Hockey Hall of Fame for appointing “another older, white male” to replace legendary coach Scotty Bowman on its selection committee. “What was the hall thinking?” he asks. “What was (chairman Lanny) McDonald thinking?” They “blew it.” Cox figures the HHOF would be more in tune to the times had it chosen a woman or “person of color” to fill the vacancy, rather than broadcaster Pierre McGuire. He believes diversity and gender equality are “critical issues.” Hard to disagree. It is, mind you, odd to hear a Canadian sports scribe calling for “diversity” when his own business is largely old, white, male and exclusively heterosexual.

In acknowledgement of International Women’s Day, Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet had a panel chin-wag with three female jock journalists—Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star, Rachel Brady of the Globe and Mail, and Christine Simpson of Sportsnet. I’d like to report that the women provided considerable anecdotal insight about the challenges they face in what remains very much a man’s world, but it wasn’t much more than bland generalities. That to-and-fro came on the heels of Bennett’s gab fest with David Amber, Morgan Campbell, Eric Thomas and Rosey Edeh in recognition of Black History Month. It leaves me to wonder if he’ll gather together three or four gay sports writers during Pride Month in June. Oh wait. Scratch that thought. There are no gay sports scribes in Canada.

John Epping

I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been had John Epping and his Ontario team won the Canadian men’s curling championship on Sunday. Epping is the only openly gay man to skip in the Brier, and many kudos to TSN for acknowledging his husband, Thomas Shipton, during Ontario’s semifinal loss to Brendan Bottcher of Alberta. That recognition might seem trivial to most, but it carries considerable significant to many in the LGBT community.

Interesting gimmick the Southern Professional Hockey League is adopting for its playoffs this year. The first-, second- and third-place teams get to choose their opening-round foes. Yup. Disregard the standings. The top dog decides if it wants to face off against team No. 5, 6, 7 or 8. Then the next two outfits sift through the leftovers and choose. Seems to me that it’s a risky bit of business for the teams making the call. Totally insulting and the ultimate bulletin board material. Can’t see that ever working in the NHL. But, then, I never thought I’d see the day when an NHL player would be given a minor penalty for scoring a goal (hello Brian Dumoulin). So all bets are off.

So, Tiger Woods didn’t win another golf tournament. Same old, same old. Except, this time, Woods only missed it by that much. One less swing and he’d have been in a playoff with eventual winner Paul Casey at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla., on Sunday. Both Woods’ game and his body appear to be in fine fettle as we near the first tee at Augusta National. Ditto his attitude. I mean, is it my imagination or is Tiger smiling more? Is he interacting with his playing companions and the rabble more? It’s as if he’s adopted a “just happy to be here” mindset. He certainly seems less angry. It’s a good look.

Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard

And, finally, our Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. This week we find our man Steve wondering where Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin fit in among the NHL’s all-time best middlemen combos.

Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier have been the gold standard for 1-2 punches playing centre for the same NHL team,” he writes.

Oh, there have been other great combinations down the middle over the years. Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg in Colorado. Mario Lemieux and Ron Francis in Pittsburgh. Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov in Detroit. Stan Mikita and Phil Esposito in Chicago. Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard in Montreal.

Gretzky and Messier won four (Stanley) Cups together in Edmonton. Should Crosby and Malkin pick up a fourth Cup—and maybe more than that—they will slide neatly right behind Gretzky and Messier in a very special place in hockey history.”

Excuse me? Gretzky and Messier are the “gold standard” because they helped the Oilers win the Stanley Cup four times? As if. Believeau and Richard hoisted hockey’s holy grail 10 times together. They were winning the thing before Simmons was in his mother’s womb. They’d won it five times before he was out of diapers. The “gold standard” is 10, not freaking four.

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Postmedia’s top-100 NHL players: If you never saw them play, how can you rate them?

I recall lying on our living room floor, watching a playoff game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs in the late 1950s.

The red light behind the Leafs goal was flashing (in black and white, of course) and, not surprisingly, Doug Harvey, who breathed the rarefied air that only the National Hockey League elite enjoyed, had been the mastermind behind the Habs’ successful venture.

doug-harvey2I hate Doug Harvey,” I muttered to my dad scant seconds after les Glorieux had secured a victory, which was the rule rather than the exception in Stanley Cup skirmishing back then.

Why do you hate Doug Harvey?” he wondered.

Because he always has the puck.”

Like most Canadian kids in the ’50s, my eyes would be glued to a black-and-white TV screen every Saturday night during the winter, and every second night during the Stanley Cup tournament, which did not drone on into June. In the case of this particular Habs-Leafs joust, I would have been seven or eight years old at the time. I root, root, rooted for the Leafs. Disliked les Canadiens with an irrational intensity.

At that age, my hockey knowledge was limited mostly to the players’ names and sweater numbers. In terms of grading the skill level of those players, the eye test was far from fully developed. How could it be at such a young age? Oh, I knew Doug Harvey was supreme because, as I lamented, he was loath to share the puck with the other team. Every time he hopped over the boards, the game unfolded at Harvey’s whim and tempo. He was the maestro. He was doing the Savardian spinorama when Serge Savard was still in middle school.

There were others whose skills I recognized and admired. I delighted in the daring of Habs goaltender Jacques Plante, who didn’t glue himself to the goal crease, and the Leafs’ young Big M, Frank Mahovlich, was something to behold, his skating stride longer than a Winnipeg winter. Gordie Howe always seemed to have his way with everyone, even the tough hombres, and I remember Maurice Richard as a dashing sort, but he was in his hockey dotage and always seemed grumpy. So I didn’t like him.

The point is, I can say I’ve been watching hockey since the 1950s, but as much as I witnessed the great Rocket Richard, I didn’t witness his greatness. His signature 50-goal season was in the rear-view mirror when Hockey Night in Canada became a ritual for me on what many kids also knew as bath night. Thus, I cannot possibly rate him as a player. I was too young and he was too old.

I give ponder to such matters this morning because Steve Simmons of Postmedia has compiled a top-100 list in recognition of the NHL’s centennial, which arrives in 2017.

Bobby Orr
Bobby Orr

While an admirable undertaking, his is a fool’s errand.

The most obvious and greatest flaw in someone picking the top 100 players in NHL history is not in choosing Bobby Orr over Wayne Gretzky, or vice versa, atop the list. Or anointing Dominik Hasek the greatest goaltender of all time. Or including only three Russians among the fab 100. The flaw, as I see it, is in the person doing the ranking. Precious few are qualified to do it. Simmons does not walk among those precious few. Age disqualifies him.

Simmons was born in 1957. He’s seven years my junior. As little as I can recall from the 1950s NHL, he cannot possibly have any first-hand knowledge of hockey from that era. Zero. Bupkus. Unless he was some sort of child hockey savant, which I doubt, his ability to grade players with any acceptable level of expertise wouldn’t have kicked in until the latter part of the 1960s, and I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt there.

Yet, by his own accounting, he has listed two dozen players from the 1950s and beyond. He never saw 25 per cent of his personal top 100 play hockey. Forty of his players are pre-1967, when he was 10 years or younger. Or not yet drawing oxygen.

I’m not prepared to pan Simmons for any of his choices. That’s a mug’s play. I’ll leave it to the Twitter trolls to pummel him (many have; others not so much). I do, however, submit that he doesn’t have the chops to compile such a list, based on his age. Indeed, his comment on Maple Leafs legend Syl Apps, whom he slid into the No. 36 slot, underscores his lack of expertise: “My dad told me he was the greatest Leaf he ever saw.”

Well, my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles told me stories, too. Look, I need not have seen Babe Ruth swing a Louisville Slugger to know that he was among the greatest hitters of a baseball. But, for me, it’s all about the eye test when it comes to hockey rankings. It isn’t what I read about a player in the record book, or what I see on grainy, black-and-white film on YouTube that has three or four different speeds, or what mom and pop told me. It’s what I’ve seen.

My point of reference is 1957—the year Simmons was born. I didn’t realize you could watch hockey from the womb. Apparently, that’s what he did.

As I said, admirable undertaking, fool’s errand.

***

I find it interesting that, on his Twitter page, Simmons gets snooty about age vis-a-vis his overall top pick, advising dissenting followers that “If you’re not 45-50, you never saw (Bobby) Orr play. If you’re not over 50, you didn’t see him at his most dominant.” In other words, how dare the younger generations question his judgement about Orr being No. 1? He’s seen both Orr and Gretzky, don’t you know? You young whippersnappers haven’t. So no one under 50 can make an educated, first-hand comparison between Orr and Wayne Gretzky.

rocketFine. But by that reasoning, if you’re not over 65 you didn’t see Doug Harvey at his most dominant. If Simmons saw Harvey play, he was a 44/45-year-old, dog-eared defenceman whom the expansion St. Louis Blues had dug out of moth balls when Simmons was in Grade 6.

Yet that didn’t prevent a 59-year-old Simmons from ranking Harvey No. 8 on his all-time list, second among defencemen behind only Orr. How can he possibly compare Harvey to Orr or, say, Nicklas Lidstrom? Meanwhile, he ranked the Rocket at No. 6. Never once saw him play. So how can he compare him to Guy Lafleur or Teemu Selanne?

***

My grandfather would tell us Rocket Richard was the greatest player ever. My dad would say Gordie Howe. I’d say Bobby Orr. My eldest son would likely say Wayne Gretzky. His kids are apt to say Sidney Crosby. It’s a generational thing that we should acknowledge and respect, not pooh-pooh or dismiss with a pompous grunt.

***

Simmons writes this of Joe Sakic: “Top five wrist shot in history.” He would know this how? Bernie Geoffrion popularized the slap shot in the 1950s. Prior to Boom Boom, most everyone used the wrister. Since Simmons never saw hockey in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, how can he compare Sakic’s wrist shot to all those old-time players? He can’t rate what he’s never seen. But he does and condemns others for doing that very thing. Go figure.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

Say what? Here’s what the jocks were saying and what they should have been saying

This is a little segment I like to call: What they said/what they should have said.

In it, we consider the breathless sound bites delivered by sportsmen/women hither and yon and ponder what they should have said, or, in some instances, what I wish they had said.

Let’s begin…

Patrick Roy losing it.
Patrick Roy losing it, as usual.

Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic had been hesitant to confirm the return of head coach Patrick Roy, but he made it official on this National Hockey League season’s final weekend that the ever-combustible St. Patrick will, indeed, be stamping his feet and blowing gaskets behind the bench as he guides the Avalanche through another non-playoff journey next year.

What Sakic said: “Yes, he will (be back). We’re in this thing together.”

What he should have said: “Are you kidding me? Have you seen what this guy’s like when he doesn’t get his way? He’s as loonie as a Canadian dollar. I had no choice but to bring him back as coach. You think I want to wake up and find a horse’s head at the foot of my bed one morning?”

  • Mark Scheifele, sitting on a career high 27 goals with just three matches remaining in a long lost NHL crusade, was doing the chin-wag thing with news scavengers when someone mentioned the possibility of a 30-goal season for the Winnipeg Jets centre, who no longer resembles Bambi on ice.

What Scheifele said: “It would definitely be huge. I’m definitely trying to push for it, but the most important part is to continue to play the right way and if they go in, they go in. And if not, I want to be happy with the effort I give each and every night and with a full 200-foot game. I’m definitely going to be going for it. But I’ve got to play the right way first.”

What I wish he had said: “Dude, you must be mistaking me for Evander Kane. I don’t give a shit about personal numbers. Don’t talk to me about 30 goals when we’re not going to the playoffs.”

  • Kevin Lowe, the former Edmonton Oilers defenceman, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, vice-president and president, is generally viewed as the guy wearing the black hat in The Chuck, because the once-mighty NHL franchise became a running joke under his watch. But that didn’t stop him from standing before a full house and pandering to the faithful post-game when the Edmonton Oilers bid farewell to their old barn, Rexall Place, last week.

What Lowe said: “(Edmonton has) the greatest fans in all of hockey.”

What he should have said: “It was nice of you dipsticks to actually get through another entire season of losing without tossing your Oilers’ jersey on the ice.”

Vladislav Tretiak
Vladislav Tretiak telling lies.
  • Mother Russia backed up the truck and loaded on the entire roster for the world Under-18 hockey championship in North Dakota, replacing it at the 11th hour with the entire Under-17 squad. Speculation, not surprisingly, ran at a full gallop, with most observers believing the Russkies pulled the switcheroo because all of the Under-18s have been on the now-banned drug meldonium, thus they would not have passed drug testing. This left legendary goaltender and Russian Hockey Federation president Vladislav Tretiak with some ‘splaining to do.

What Vlad said: “(This was) a tactical decision by the coaching staff. I ask you not to give in to rumor and to speculate about what has happened.”

What he should have said: “Hands up anyone who believes there are still some clean athletes in the Motherland! But seriously, after Maria Sharipova got caught using meldonium, we knew the jig was up with these kids. It’s not like 1972 when we used all the illegal drugs we could get our commie hands on before we played Team Canada. They would have blown us out if we weren’t on the juice. Now if you’ll excuse me, my presence is requested in President Putin’s chamber and I understand he isn’t very pleased with me.”

  • Major League Baseball players and managers are struggling with the enforcement of a rule that prohibits a base runner from sliding hard into second base with the express purpose of breaking up a double play. Toronto Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons believes it cost his club a win and he used a sexist comment to express his distaste for the ruling.

What Gibby said: “It’s a joke. Maybe we’ll come out wearing dresses tomorrow. Maybe that’s what everybody’s looking for.”

What he should have said: “Ty Cobb will be spinning like a lathe in his grave. The game’s become a joke. I guess we’ll just have to take off our big-boy pants and play with our little-boy pants from now on.”

Ernie Els
Ernie Els just puttering along.
  • Golf great Ernie Els lived the worst possible nightmare on the first hole in the opening round of The Masters, taking six putts from inside three feet before his ball found the bottom of the hole. Upon arrival at the practice tee the next morning, Els was met with stony silence.

What Els said: “The players and caddies looked at me like I didn’t have any pants on.”

What I wish he had said: “My golf game sounds just like that broken-down jalopy my dad bought me when I turned 16—putt, putt, putt, putt, putt, putt.

  • The Winnipeg Jets finished the season on an impressive run, winning their final four matches, including a California sweep of the playoff-bound Disney Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. Still, it left the Jets in the Central Division cellar at close of business and swimming with all the other bottom feeders in advance of the NHL draft lottery. So what say you, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec?

What Pavelec said: “I don’t think you can be too excited about it because we are where we are.”

What he should have said and what I wish he had said: “I don’t think you can be too excited about it because we are where we are.”

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.