I know, I know. You’ve probably had it up to your chin whiskers with chatter about Puck Finn, what with those pesky boys at TSN putting him near the top of their trade bait board, and every other pundit with a basement and a keyboard sending him to Philly or Carolina or Buffalo or Montreal or New Jersey or Minnyhaha or the Rocky Mountain foothills.
I swear, Dr. Richard Kimble didn’t move around this much on The Fugitive. The kid has been traded more often than a 1960s bubble gum card.
Except he hasn’t gone anywhere, has he Chevy? You brought him into the National Hockey League as a Winnipeg Jet, and he remains a Jet today.
Question is, will you be giving him a new postal code?
Just so you know, I don’t think pulling the trigger on a trade involving Puck Finn would be the biggest gaffe since the Edsel rolled off the assembly line, even if there’d be considerable hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing among the rabble. Hell, the “you can’t ever, ever, ever trade Laine” mob is already in full squawk, invoking the name of Teemu Selanne.
You remember Teemu, of course, Chevy. The Finnish Flash. Wowed ’em with 76 goals in his first NHL crusade. Record still stands. Probably forever.
I’m guessing you remember John Paddock too, Chevy. Very nice man. A real salt-of-the-earth product by way of Oak River, and they don’t come much more honest and sincere than folks from rural Manitoba. But John’s name will go down in infamy as the man who sent Teemu to Disneyland. Memories are long and easily stirred, Chevy. They don’t want you making the same mistake.
But it isn’t wrong to part with Laine and his 138 goals. It’s only wrong if you don’t do it right.
I shouldn’t have to remind you that the Edmonton Oilers won the Stanley Cup less than two years after sending Wayne Gretzky to Tinseltown. Yes, Chevy, I realize the Oil hasn’t done much of anything since, but their Stanley Cup drought isn’t due to the Gretzky deal. It’s because Slats Sather also parted company with Mark Messier and Jari Kurri and Kevin Lowe and Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr. And that’s not to forget Paul Coffey, who skipped town before Gretzky. Unload that many Hockey Hall of Famers and it’s a long road back.
In your case, Chevy, it’s not like you have a boatload of can’t-miss hall of famers, even if your head coach, Paul Maurice, believes there’ll be a statue of Rink Rat Scheifele outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie some day, right next to a likeness of Ducky Hawerchuk.
Fact is, Chevy, Laine might be the closest thing you have to a hall of famer, which explains the angst among the rabble.
Since he’s still a sprig in hockey terms, we can assume that Puck Finn’s most productive and finest playing days are in front of him. What that means is uncertain. Will it be a steady diet of 35-goal seasons? I’m sure 31 other NHL GMs would settle for that. The fear, though, is that Laine will go all-Ovi and put together a string of 40-plus, or even 50-plus, crusades in another locale. There’s no one else on your roster with that potential, Chevy. Not Scheifele, not Twig Ehlers, not Kyle Connor. And certainly not the captain, Blake Wheeler.
Wheels is one of your mistakes, Chevy. You should have sent him packing instead of signing him to a ridiculous five-year contract extension, and now he’s dug in like a tick in an Alabama dog’s ear. He’s 34 with four more seasons and a no-movement clause in his deal and, because Coach PoMo insists on blessing him with first-line minutes, Laine’s been required to skate alongside a hodge-podge of plug-and-play centre-ice men.
That 2C dilemma might become your undoing as Jets GM, Chevy. You’ve had three years to solve it and the best you’ve done is a couple of rent-a-centres in Paul Stastny and Kevin Hayes. Now it’s strongly suggested that dealing Puck Finn might be your only solution.
It’s a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into, Chevy.
I realize we’re suppose to wash our hands a lot these days, but I must say it’s discomforting to think you might feel obliged to wash your hands of a 22-year-old right winger with 40/50-goal potential, simply because you and the coach harbor the misguided belief that an aging, sloth-like Wheeler is a better bet at right wing. Now and down the road.
But, again, trading Laine is only the wrong thing to do if it isn’t done right.
We await your next move with anticipation, Chevy. Have a nice day.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored..and I love autumn, especially when there are no leaves for me to rake…
Sam Katz is no longer in politics, but he’s still playing politics.
Oh, yes, the former mayor of Good Ol’ Hometown has grown weary of waiting for city council to give the okie-dokie on a new lease for his Winnipeg Goldeyes’ downtown digs so, while the civil servants at 510 Main St. dither, Sammy thought it would be a swell idea to cast his gaze upon the landscape and find someone willing to play ball with him. By his rules, of course.
Lo and behold, he found an empty ballyard in Ottawa, also politicos anxious to take down the for-rent sign. What a happy coincidence.
Thus, Sammy signed a 10-year lease at Ottawa Baseball Stadium, where he’ll field a starting nine in the Frontier League, and he’ll happily pay $473,000 in arrears plus $125,000 in annual rent, which is exactly $124,999 more than he shells out each year to have his Goldeyes frolic in Winnipeg’s lovely One Buck Ballpark near The Forks.
And that’s the rub.
Buck-a-Year Sammy’s sweetheart deal expires on July 27, 2023, and the Scrooges on Main Street have had the bad manners to request more than $15 from the Goldeyes owner on a new 15-year lease. They expect him to pony up $75,000 in each of the first five years, then $85,000 per in the middle five, and $95,000 per on the back end.
The nerve. Have they forgotten all that Buck-a-Year Sammy has done for Good Ol’ Hometown?
If so, he isn’t shy about reminding them of his magnificence.
“It’s not the fact that what they’re looking for is outrageous,” he told Global News in July. “It’s just hard to swallow the fact that you spend $13 million to build this (ballpark) for the city and they give you absolutely zero credit or acknowledgement for it.”
If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of the world’s smallest violin playing in the background.
But, hey, if it’s only a pat on the back that Sammy’s looking for to get a deal done and soothe his bruised ego, that should be an easy fix. How about an annual Saint Sammy Day parade and picnic at Assiniboine Park? Maybe replace the Golden Boy atop the Legislative building with a statue of Sammy (clothing not optional). Name a street after him, or at the very least a cul-de-sac.
Don’t be fooled, though. Sammy isn’t looking for a pat on the back any more than Donald Trump is looking for another scandal.
He’s a businessman angling for the best possible deal to improve his bottom line, and no one can blame him for that, but his method is as greasy as a pan fry. Sammy’s believable like the back of a garbage truck is an all-you-can-eat buffet. He swears on a stack of Street & Smith’s Baseball Yearbooks that his intention was/is to keep the Goldeyes in Good Ol’ Hometown “forever and ever,” yet earlier this year he made it very clear that he might be inclined to haul ass out of town. He cautions that without a ballpark lease there can be no renewed tie-in with the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.
“If we don’t have an affiliation agreement, we don’t play—there’s no Goldeyes, there’s no baseball in Winnipeg,” he said.
And he must have that agreement pronto. Like next month. Talk about a squeeze play.
Sammy insists that he doesn’t “threaten, never threaten” people, but that sure sounds like a threat to me and, not surprisingly, he’s already set up the gang on Main Street as the bad guys if he feels obliged to bug out.
“Ultimately, that will be in the hands of Winnipeg city council,” he told Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.
He repeated that mantra two more times in the natter with Wyman and once to Taylor Allen of the Drab Slab, adding this: “In Winnipeg, we pay property taxes and business taxes. In Ottawa, there’s no property taxes, no business taxes. In Winnipeg, we pay all the utilities. In Ottawa, they pay all the utilities. In Winnipeg, we take care of the field maintenance. In Ottawa, they take care of the field maintenance. And we don’t have to put up $13 million to build a park like we did here in Winnipeg. So, you can compare apples with apples.”
Yup, sure can, and some apples are just plain rotten.
Look, Sammy hasn’t come up with a unique strategy here. Sports entrepreneurs have been putting the squeeze on government since mortar was lathered onto stone to build the Coliseum in Rome.
It just sounds greasier when Sammy says it.
Connor Hellebuyck has been anointed top goaltender in the National Hockey League, but two boys on the beat believe he was stiffed. Murat Ates of The Athletic and Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun are convinced Bucky was worthy of a second laurel—the Hart Memorial Trophy, as most valuable player. They might have a valid argument. I mean, let’s face it, where would the Winnipeg Jets have been without him? Up Schitt’s Creek. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Loved seeing the Canadian cast and creators of Schitt’s Creek win all those Emmy Awards last Sunday. Seven in total. Now if we could only crack that Stanley Cup code.
Enjoyed Emmy host Jimmy Kimmel’s jab at us and our Stanley Cup drought that dates back to 1993. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of this Canadian stuff,” the honorary mayor of Dildo, NL, said. “Canadians have won all the Emmys tonight. Canada has, like, 200 people in it. As of tonight, one out of every four living Canadians has an Emmy Award. Schitt’s Creek won seven of them…oh, they fell just short—this is a killer—if they’d won one more Emmy, they would have been able to trade them in for this…a Stanley Cup. But they didn’t, so we’re gonna keep it here for another 27 years.” Good burn. There’s just one thing Jimmy ought to know, though. That Stanley Cup propped up beside him? It’s like a lot of female orgasms—fake.
I keep hearing hockey people say the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy in sports to win. They might want to ask Phil Mickelson about that. He’s 0-for-life at the U.S. Open. How long has Lefty been banging his head against the wall at the Open? Well, Tiger Woods was a scrawny high school freshman when he first teed it up. Papa George Bush was president of the U.S. Lefty has whiffed 29 times in total, and it should be obvious that it’s never going to happen. But he’s in good company. Hall of fame golfers Sam Snead, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros never hoisted the U.S. Open Trophy, either.
Hoops legend Michael Jordan, owner of the always awful Charlotte Hornets of the NBA, has gone into the fast car business as part-owner of a NASCAR team. How fitting. Now he can spin his wheels in two sports.
Speaking of NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports was fined $100,000 recently for spending too much time in a wind tunnel. Curt Menefee can relate. He has to sit beside Terry Bradshaw for five hours every weekend on Fox NFL Sunday.
Here’s yet another example of our upside-down, inside-out 2020: The Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders are 2-0.
What did Chris Streveler say when he heard that Finnish squints had discovered a cure for the hangover? “I’ll drink to that!”
Good guy Dallas Stars head coach Rick Bowness says life inside the NHL’s Edmonton playoff bubble has been a mental challenge, mainly because players and coaches are confined to quarters. “Man, I haven’t walked on grass in over eight weeks,” he mused last week. Hmmm. Just a thought, but maybe Bones should try smoking some grass to chill out between games. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
I don’t know about you, but I find the Tranna Blue Jays a rather intriguing ball club. The Tranna Nine certainly won’t win the World Series this autumn, but I wouldn’t be anxious to bet against them two years from now.
It’s about Tranna Nine newbe catcher Alejandro Kirk: He’s the classic big league talent, beer league body. The guy’s listed at 265 pounds, but someone forgot to give him a pair of legs. They shortchanged him on the arms, too. An alligator has a longer reach. Two hundred and 65 pounds isn’t supposed to work on a 5-feet-8 frame. It’s like trying to stuff Dustin Byfuglien into your kid’s backpack. So what’s he doing on a Major League Baseball roster? Well, apparently he can hit. And they say he’s adequate behind the plate. But what about the body? Ya, the Blue Jays are concerned, because that’s a load of heft to be hauling around on a fire-hydrant frame, but it’s likely the reason so many are root, root, rooting for the kid. He’s one of those against-all-odds stories that gives us the warm and fuzzies.
Between Alejandro and Vlad the Gifted Guerrero, the Blue Jays certainly have given new meaning to the term “a well-rounded team.”
Blake Wheeler thinks everyone in Manitoba should be mandated to wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fair opinion. But here’s another opinion that I think is fair: Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice should be mandated to drop Wheeler to the second line if the captain’s on-ice bromance with Rink Rat Scheifele means losing Patrik Laine.
According to NHL insider Darren Dreger, putting Laine on the TSN trade bait board “isn’t just eye candy,” and he informs us that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been fielding phone calls about the Jets right winger. Well, duh. Any hint that Puck Finn might be available in barter should activate a GM’s spidey sense. It’s all about the return, though. It’s always about the return. So let’s not get our knickers in a knot over a Laine adios until we know who and what is coming the other way to compensate for the loss of his 30-plus goals.
Strange commentary on Chevy from Ken Wiebe of Sportsnet: “During nine-plus years as the GM, Cheveldayoff hasn’t been backed into a corner by a player, even when that individual has asked for a trade—sometimes multiple times.” Say what? That’s total bunk. We know of two players who requested relocation—Evander Kane and Jacob Trouba. Chevy dithered, but eventually caved each time, first because Kane decided to act like an intolerable dink and, second, Trouba was headed for free agency and the Jets would have received squat in return. What part of those scenarios does Ken not understand?
Selected news snoops aretasked with the duty of choosing the winners of various NHL year-end trinkets—Hart, Norris, Lady Byng, Calder, Selke and Masterton trophies—plus the all-star and all-rookie teams. This year, ballots were sent to 174 members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and that included four of the boys on the beat in Good Ol’ Hometown. Here’s how Ates, Billeck, Mad Mike McIntyre (Drab Slab) and Wiebe voted:
Hart Trophy: Ates, Hellebuyck; Billeck Hellebuyck; Mad Mike, Nathan MacKinnon; Ken Wiebe, MacKinnon.
Norris Trophy: Ates, Roman Josi; Billeck, Josi; Mad Mike, John Carlson; Wiebe, Josi.
Calder Trophy: Ates, Adam Fox; Billeck, Cale Makar; Mad Mike, Cale Makar; Wiebe, Quinn Hughes.
Selke Trophy: Ates, Ryan O’Reilly; Billeck, Phillip Danault; Mad Mike, Patrice Bergeron, Wiebe, Sean Couturier.
Lady Byng Trophy: Ates, Jacob Slavin; Billeck, Nathan MacKinnon; Mad Mike, MacKinnon; Wiebe, Jacob Slavin.
Masterton Trophy: Ates, Oskar Lindblom; Billeck, Bobby Ryan; Mad Mike, Connor McDavid; Wiebe, Ryan.
Had to laugh (rudely) at a Damien Cox tweet after the PHWA had exposed its final ballots for scrutiny last week. “Any possible reason why the HHOF can’t be this transparent?” he asked in an unveiled cheap shot at the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee. Hypocrisy, thy name is Damien Cox. It just so happens that the Toronto Star columnist is executive director of the mystery group that chooses the Lou Marsh Trophy winner as our country’s top jock each year. He does not reveal the names of the voters, he does not reveal the names of all the nominees, he does not reveal the voting totals. That’s as transparent as a jar of peanut butter. Area 51 is less secretive. But, sure, go ahead and call out the HHOF. Talk about pots and kettles.
While lauding our current crop of athletes on the world stage, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna made this statement: “Once upon a time in Canadian sport, there was Ferguson Jenkins and just about no one else on the highest pedestal of sport that wasn’t hockey.” That’s both wrong and ignorant. Fergie pitched from 1965-83. His peak years were 1967-74, when he had seven 20-win seasons, and he was still winning a lot of ball games at the back end of the 1970s (18 in ’78). Meanwhile, there was a steady stream of our “no one else” athletes reaching the “highest pedestal” in their sports at the same time:
Canada won five world curling championships, including two by our guys from the Granite—Dugie, Bryan Wood, Jim Pettapiece and the Arrow, Rod Hunter—and one by the Big O, Orest Meleschuk.
Sandra Post won the LPGA championship.
George Knudson won five PGA Tour events and a World Cup title with Al Balding.
Karen Magnussen won a world figure skating championship and a silver medal at the 1972 Olympic Games.
Nancy Greene was the 1968 Olympic champion in giant slalom and world champion in 1967. She won seven of 16 World Cup races in ’67 and became the first non-European to win the WC. She had 16 WC victories total.
Kathy Kreiner won ski gold at the 1976 Olympics.
George Chuvalo was ranked No. 4 among the world’s heavyweight fist fighters in 1968, No. 7 in 1970.
Elaine Tanner won three swimming medals at the 1968 Olympics.
Roy Gerela was a Pro Bowl kicker in the NFL and a three-time Super Bowl champion.
Bruce Robertson was the world 100-metre butterfly champion and a two-time medalist at 1972 Olympics.
Jim Elder, Jim Day and Tom Gayford won 1968 gold medal in equestrian team jumping.
Gilles Villeneuve claimed his first F1 victory in 1978.
Susan Nattrass won five world trap shooting championships during the 1970s.
Etcetera, etcetera and blah, blah, blah.
Like I said, to suggest it was Fergie Jenkins and “just about no one else” is wrong and ignorant.
And, finally, Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun reports that Winnipeg Blue Bombers bird dogs are wandering hither and yon to unearth talent on their own dime. That’s just wrong, but it speaks to how bleak the times have become in the Canadian Football League.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and I saw the sky yesterday for the first time in more than a week…
Evander Kane wanted out. Gone. Age 23.
Jacob Trouba wanted out. Gone. Age 25.
Patrik Laine…well, we don’t really know what notions swirl about in Puck Finn’s grey matter, but if he wants a new postal code there won’t be anything the Winnipeg Jets can do to prevent him from escaping Good Ol’ Hometown.
For now, the Finnish winger is on lockdown for the 2020-21 National Hockey League crusade, whenever that might begin and end, but then he becomes a restricted free agent with the right to plead his case before an arbitrator should the Jets refuse to drive a Brinks truck up to his doorway. You know, just like Trouba before him, and I doubt Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff are keen on retracing those footsteps.
Which means the pundits need not look for a pot to stir. They’ve got it.
Laine’s shelf life with the Jets has been a matter of conjecture dating back to July 2019, when Elliotte Friedman went on his 31 Thoughts podcast and word-painted the Finnish winger as pouting Patty.
“Laine is a whole big discussion, right?” he said. “He didn’t leave happy last year. Some of that was his own fault. He wasn’t as good as he could be, and I think he chafed under some of the leadership there. Like, the guys at the top of that food chain are hard-driving guys. They expect you to buy into the program, and I think that they felt he didn’t buy in enough, and I think he felt that some of the things they wanted were ridiculous. So you gotta bridge that, too.”
A month later, Chris Johnston of Sportsnet was in Lahti, Finland, for a natter with Puck Finn, who said, “You never know where you’re going to play next year, so I’m just prepared for anything.” Then along came Pekka Jalonen of the Finnish publication Iltalehti, suggesting Laine’s nose was out of joint because he was required to skate alongside the NHL’s equivalent of beer-leaguers.
And now, Friedman has his hand on the stirring stick once again, saying this on 630 CHED in Edmonton last week:
“I think the thing about Winnipeg that’s gonna be interesting is gonna be Laine. There’s something going on there. I don’t know if Laine’s not happy or whatever it is. I think he wants to play with Scheifele, I’m not sure that that’s what Winnipeg is looking at right now. You know, there’s something there. And I think that Winnipeg realizes that it’s not gonna be easy to sign him when the time comes, and they’re gonna have to…they might have to trade him before they want to trade him. It’s possible. It’s certainly out there, it’s possible.
“I don’t think…you know, what they did with Trouba, is they kept on extending him until they had to make the deal, right? I don’t know that that’s going to be their plan for Laine, but I think they realize that the closer this gets to unrestricted free agency, you know, the more likely that they’re gonna have to make a move. If you’re trading that guy, the return has to be enormous. You’re talking about a market that saw them trade Teemu Selanne, so you don’t want to see that again.”
So what is the rabble to make of that? Same as we did a year ago. Not much.
Note how Friedman framed his comments: “I think” and “I don’t know” and “I think” and “I’m not sure” and “I think” and “I don’t think” and “I don’t know” and “I think.”
In other words, “I think” he’s spitballing again, but “I’m not sure.”
The thing is, that’s what news snoops do. They speculate. Sometimes some of what they say and/or write sticks, and I guess that’s how a guy like Friedman comes to be known as an insider and gets to sit and schmooze with the retired players on the Hockey Night in Canada panel.
I’m not saying he’s wrong about Laine, because I doubt the big Finn will be wearing Jets linen for the duration. Few do. If any of the local hockey heroes goes start to finish in Good Ol’ Hometown, my guess is it’ll be Rink Rat Scheifele, but I wouldn’t want to wager more than the price of a pint on it.
It’s usually a matter of when, not if, even for a 22-year-old who’s scored 36, 44, 30 and 28 goals in his four NHL crusades.
I wrote something very similar about Evander Kane for Arctic Ice Hockey in December 2012. Said Kane and Winnipeg weren’t a happy mix, and suggested he’d stomp into Chevy’s office one day and demand to be put on the next stage out of Dodge. We now know that’s exactly what happened every off-season, and they parted company in February 2015. The same thing is apt to happen with Laine if head coach Paul Maurice insists on having him line up alongside third- and fourth-rate centres. There won’t be a tub of ice water involved, but he’ll be gone.
Friedman described the recent Eric Staal-Marcus Johansson trade as “a Zeus-like thunderbolt.” So that’s what passes for a major deal in the NHL these days? A 35-year-old guy who’s already building a retirement home in barter for a 29-year-old 40-point guy? Head for the storm shelter and batten the hatches if the Jets deal Puck Finn or Twig Ehlers.
Bill Johnson has agreed to generally manage the Arizona Coyotes. Hey, I can think of worse jobs. Cleaning up after the circus elephants comes to mind.
Speaking of circus acts, no need to send in the clowns—they’re already here and they’re pitching for the Tranna Blue Jays. The New York Yankees played T-Ball with Jays hurlers last week, scoring 43 runs and swatting 19 dingers in a three-game series. Only the Venus de Milo has worse arms.
If you watched the first two rounds of the U.S. Open, you’ll know that Tiger Woods’ universe didn’t unfold as he would have liked, thus he won’t be around to wear a red shirt today. But expecting Tiger to win the U.S. Open is kind of like handing Michelangelo a box of crayons and telling him to redo the Sistine Chapel. It was painful to watch the great golfer hack his way around Winged Foot. The thing is, I wouldn’t be too hasty in writing him off for the Masters in November. Augusta National won’t be as punitive as Winged Foot, where the rough is thicker than a tub of tar, and the Masters has a history of being kind to golfers in their forties (seven 40-plus champions, including Tiger last year).
It took Michelangelo four years to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or about the same amount of time it takes for a Bryson DeChambeau tee shot to land. I swear, there hasn’t been this much talk about air time since Howard Stern arrived on radio.
I don’t know about you, but I really miss the Pre-Pandemic Era of pro sports. You know, a time when all those mega-millionaire athletes lived in a vacuum instead of a bubble.
On the subject of bubbles, when, oh when, will sports scribes clue in to the reality that the rabble simply isn’t interested in their petty gripes and grievances?
The latest example of jock journo whinging came from Mark Spector of Sportsnet, who delivered this tweet from the NHL bubble in Edmonton: “Biggest challenge for writers by far in Zoom era: Putting together a cogent piece when you get just one question per Zoom. No follow-ups, no working your way to the money question. Just a bunch of quotes that have little to do with each other, and a deadline. Go!”
Oh, the humanity.
Predictably, response from the rabble was swift, harsh and lathered in sarcasm. To wit:
“This sounds difficult, a little too difficult if you ask me. I think it’s best that you retire, it’s just too difficult.”
“Wah wah wah. MSM bitching and moaning again. Health care workers. Teachers, Police. They are facing real challenges.”
I trust that’s cogent enough for Spector.
You know you’re getting long in tooth (if you have any teeth left) when you see someone of your vintage trending on Twitter and you assume she or he has died. Mind you, it can work the other way, too. On Friday morning, for example, I noted that Jimi Hendrix was trending and thought, “What? Jimi’s alive?” Nope. Still toes up.
I don’t know about you, but I could use a Canadian Football League fix right about now. Grew up with Rouge Football. Love Rouge Football. Autumn just isn’t the same without Rouge Football. And now I fear the worst. I mean, if I’m this bummed out about no three-downs football, how am I going to feel if there’s no Scotties Tournament of Hearts or Brier? I’ll be needing me some Chelsea Carey and Kerri Einarson and Jen Jones and Tracy Fleury and Mike McEwen before long.
A landing spot for Chelsea Carey was the main mystery in advance of the 2020-21 curling season. The two-time Scotties Tournament of Hearts champion lost her entire team last spring, and there were whispers that she would be returning to her home in Manitoba, already the bully on the block. Throw Chelsea into the mix with Einarson, Jones and Fleury and you’d have a draw that’s tougher to get out of than the rough at Winged Foot. It’d be the most difficult task on Canadian pebble, although I’m sure some near-sighted scribes in Alberta would be more than happy to argue the point. And that’s okay, just as long as they know they’re wrong.
Nobody covers curling as well or with as much depth as the girls and boys on the beat in Good Ol’ Hometown, so I’m surprised none of them have picked up a phone and asked Chelsea about her plans.
Had to laugh at Josh Donaldson getting ejected from a game last week for kicking dirt on home plate at the completion of his home run trot. Reminded me of Jimmy Piersall, noted for all sorts of oddball antics during his Major League Baseball career, like running the bases backwards after hitting his 100th dinger and wearing a Beatles wig during an at-bat.
No surprise that mainstream sports media (print division) mostly ignored the Yanic Duplessis coming-out story. As I’ve emphasized numerous times, jock journalism in Canadian newspapers is a white, male and heterosexual enterprise, thus they’re unable to deliver lived-experience accounting of social issues like homophobia. The rag trade is marginally more diverse today than when I broke into the business in 1969, and it hasn’t progressed since I left in 1999. If anything, it’s become less diverse, with fewer female sports scribes.
I believe the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab have now talked to every current and former member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers about life during a pandemic. They’re free to move on to a fresh topic any time.
Based on the early returns, there can be just one reason why the Drab Slab dispatched Mad Mike McIntyre to the Jason Kenney Mountain Retreat in Edmonton for the short strokes of the Stanley Cup runoff—to say they’re there, as if it’s a feather in their cap. I mean, they’re spending oodles of coin for what? A feature on Derek Laxdal that drones on to the point of inducing extreme drowsiness? A natter with Scott Oake? (Hey, there’s nothing but high respect and admiration for Scotty in this corner, but I can do without his take on the E-Town bubble.) Worst of all, play-by-play game stories? Seriously. Play-by-play gamers? Sigh. There are no words, except to say that style of coverage is older than everything that’s older than old school. How’s Mad Mike filing his copy? Pony Express? Carrier pigeon? Telegraph?
It isn’t enough anymore to tell readers what they’ve already seen on TV/online or read on the Internet. A sports section should be as much a conversation pit as the gab fests on our flatscreens, meaning analysis, opinion, in-depth features (not fluff) and interpretation of the news, not just the listing of scores and delivering dreary, same old-same old game stories with the predictable cookie-cutter quotes. Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I read a game story.
For the record, I’m not telling the bean-counters at the Drab Slab how to spend their money—or, in this case, how to waste their money—but the next time publisher Bob Cox goes hat in hand to the feds, demanding subsidies for his newspaper, remind him that he’s squandered thousands of dollars on Stanley Cup copy that could have been written from Good Ol’ Hometown.
And, finally, put a major sports event in Edmonton and you just know it’ll be done right. Commonwealth Games, World Cup soccer, the Brier, the Grey Cup, Stanley Cup bubble, you name it, E-Towners get ‘er done. But they still don’t curl as well as Winnipeggers.
A Monday morning smorgas-bored..and we should hear about Connor Hellebuyck and the Vezina Trophy any day now…
Brian Burke has spoken and many knickers are in many knots.
This is nothing new, of course, because much of what Burkie spews on Sportnet and Hockey Night in Canada is highly offensive to the many easily bruised psyches on Planet Puckhead.
Seriously, the man has been up more noses than a COVID tester.
So you had to know that his pot-stirring tete-a-tete with David Amber on Saturday night would set gums to flapping, even before his own gums went into motion.
The question asked and answered was this: Which Canadian-based outfit is most likely to end a Stanley Cup drought that dates back to 1993? A nation turned its lonely eyes to Burkie, and here’s what he had to say:
1. Toronto Maple Leafs
2. Edmonton Oilers.
3. Vancouver Canucks.
4. Calgary Flames/Winnipeg Jets.
5. Montreal Canadiens.
6. Ottawa Senators.
Cue the outrage.
How dare he lump the Jets in with the Flames. The Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup? Ya, talk to me about it in another 53 years. The Oilers? Only if Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can play up front, on the blueline and in goal—at the same time.
So let me say this about that: I can think of more important things to talk about, like the burning in my eyes and throat from wildfires in Washington state.
I mean, on the silly metre, the Amber-Burke natter rates a 10.
The Jets he’s talking about won’t be the Jets in December, or whenever it is that the National Hockey League decides to drop the puck on a 2020-21 crusade. The Oilers of today won’t be the Oilers of tomorrow. The Canucks won’t be the Canucks who made an admirable run in the current Stanley Cup runoff. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
There’s swapping to be done. There’s the annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers yet to come. There’s free agent frenzy, with or without Bob McKenzie on TSN.
As it stands, only three defencemen who skated with the Jets in their qualifying go-round last month v. Calgary—Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, Tucker Poolman—are under contract. They have one goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck. They have dead weight up front to be replaced—Matty Perreault and the most unfortunate Bryan Little.
The current lineup couldn’t win a dinky-toy-sized Stanley Cup in a table hockey tournament, let alone the real thing.
So, let’s face it, Burke was spitballing, and he knows it.
It’s a dumb discussion and you shouldn’t get sucked into it. Let’s see how Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff plays his dominos in the next two month, then we’ll talk.
For the record, here’s how Burke assessed the Jets: “They’ve gotta solve a goaltending problem, the No. 2 goaltender. They’ve got a great No. 1. They’ve gotta rebuild their defence. Most of their defence are unrestricted free agents. They’re gonna have to rebuild their defence, same as Calgary. I think Travis Hamonic might end up in Winnipeg. He’s a Winnipeg boy, but they’ve got to upgrade their defence is No. 1, and they don’t have enough secondary scoring.” I’d say he’s spot on.
Interesting men’s final at the U.S. Open on Sunday. Interesting, but certainly not high quality tennis. Dominic Thiem, the winner in five sets, and Alexander Zverev took turns self-destructing in the four-hour match, and it was only gripping theatre at the end because there appeared to be a very real danger of Thiem collapsing from leg cramping. The guy’s a gamer, I’ll give him that, but no way he beats Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic with the level of tennis he played v. Zverev.
Kind of surprised to see Thiem and Zverev shake hands and hug at the conclusion of their match, because it’s considered a no-no during the COVID pandemic, but it was a nice touch. Gave me the warm-and-fuzzies.
Natually, the squawkers on ESPN tried to convince us that it would have been a Thiem-Zverev championship match, even had Nadal and Federer been in the draw and Djokovic hadn’t been defaulted. “There’s no asterisk on this tournament, none whatsover,” Brad Gilbert said pre-match. “If everybody was here, (Thiem) would probably still be (in the final).” Chris Evert said the same thing about the women’s draw, which was minus six of the world’s top eight players. Even the normally blunt John McEnroe fudged on the notion of an asterisk earlier in the tournament, suggesting it would be a “positive” asterisk. Such tripe. It was a watered-down event, on both sides of the draw.
I’ll be watching the progress of Yanic Duplessis with considerable interest, now that the 17-year-old from New Brunswick has come out as gay. Young Yanic was drafted by Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and I just hope they look past his sexual identity and provide him equal opportunity. After all, hockey is for everyone. Well, isn’t it?
I note that the Drab Slab will be dispatching Mad Mike McIntyre back to the Edmonton bubble for what’s left of the Stanley Cup tournament. One question: Why? Well, okay, if Dallas Stars advance to the final, he has two built-in stories—good guy head coach Rick Bowness and good guy GM Jim Nill, both of whom have strong ties to Jets 1.0. But, unless Mad Mike is a super sleuth, he’ll only have Zoom access to them, same as every other news snoop with feet on the ground. If he’s being sent to E-Town just to say the Drab Slab is there, that’s as silly as the David Amber-Brian Burke natter.
Quiz me this, kids: Should the sports editor of a major daily newspaper watch sports? I ask that because SE Steve Lyons of the Drab Slab made this confession in his daily Playbook last week: “I have not watched a single moment of sports since Aug. 6. The closest thing to athletics I’ve watch was Eco-Challenge Fiji on Amazon Prime. I keep up to speed by reading about sports, watching video highlights on a couple of apps and chatting with Mike McIntyre every week during our Jetcetera podcast.” Interesting. I read the Drab Slab before the actual paper lands on doorsteps every morning, and I can’t say that the product suffers because Steve pulled the plug on TV sports viewing. In general, he has the right stories in the appropriate places. That being said, I can’t help but wonder what storylines he might be missing by cutting off TV sports cold turkey.
Hey, I can relate to what Lyons is talking about. My time watching sports on the flatscreen has been greatly reduced. Difference is, I do this blogger thing as a hobby and I’ve only got five or six readers, not fifty or sixty thousand.
I sure wish TSN or Sportsnet would arrange to broadcast LPGA Tour events, at least the majors. Sure would have been nice to watch our Brooke Henderson in the ANA Inspiration tournament on the weekend, even if she did come up one swing shy of a win.
Looking for a good read? Check out young Eddie Tait’s piece on the oral history of the Banjo Bowl. It’s boffo stuff.
And, finally, the only parts of the West Coast of North America that aren’t on fire are under a thick shroud of smoke, and I can report that it isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. It’s very apocalyptic and I’m having trouble breathing.
A bonus, Labor Day smorgas-bored…and it’s mostly short snappers because there’s tennis to watch and maybe some golf if Dustin Johnson hasn’t lapped the field…
Stop me if you’ve heard this before from two noted hockey observers:
“There’s a lot to be excited about.”
“This team is going to be a force for awhile in the West. Great young players.”
Sounds like they’re talking about the Winnipeg Jets, circa spring 2018, doesn’t it?
But, no. Brian Burke and John Shannon were directing their hosannas toward the Vancouver Canucks, who recently vacated the National Hockey League bubble in Edmonton after coming up one shot/save short in a Stanley Cup skirmish v. the Dallas Stars.
And, sure enough, there’s reason for the jar-half-full gushing. The Canucks look to be an outfit on a favorable trajectory. You know, just like two years ago when the local hockey heroes went deep, advancing to the Western Conference final before receiving a paddywhacking from the upstart Vegas Golden Knights. The Jets haven’t been the same since, in large part due to the mismanagement of assets and a cap crunch that squeezed general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff into a corner.
Chevy lost half his blueline (Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, Dustin Byfuglien) in one foul swoop, and only the retreat of Big Buff was not of his own authorship. He also couldn’t or wouldn’t keep rent-a-centres Paul Stastny or Kevin Hayes, either of whom would have been more than adequate playing second fiddle to Mark Scheifele.
So that’s the cautionary tale for GM Jim Benning in Lotus Land. It can unravel very rapidly.
Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson and Alex Edler will be looking for new deals whenever the next NHL crusade ends and, as Burke emphasized on Hockey Night in Canada, “they’re gonna need a math professor from Harvard to figure this out.”
Chevy hasn’t been able to figure it out in Good Ol’ Hometown. The hope on the Left Flank has to be that Benning has better bean counters.
I’ve long wondered what it would take to pry Jets 1.0 out of the Arizona desert, and anointing Pierre McGuire GM of the Coyotes just might be the thing to do it. If we’re to believe Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, Yotes ownership has been pitching woo to Pierre as a replacement for defrocked GM John Chayka, and that sounds like a recipe for disaster. Pierre has spent the past 20 years rinkside or in the studio for TSN and NBC, and I can’t see how sucking up to players and mansplaining the game to Kendall Coyne Schofield makes him GM worthy.
So, another year without a Stanley Cup champion for the True North, and did you know that’s “humiliating?” That, at least, is Cathal Kelly’s take on Canada’s drought, which dates back to the spring of 1993. “The hockey of Canadian hockey? That is not working out so well,” he writes in the Globe and Mail. “It’s beginning to seem as though the building of an NHL winner is planting it somewhere in the United States where no one cares. Then you have happy employees and the luxury of a free hand to shuffle them around.” Ya, that’s worked out soooo well for the Winnipeg Jets-cum-Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes.
Speaking of Arizona, I note that Chris Streveler has survived final cuts with the Arizona Cardinals. The former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback and party boy is listed third on the depth chart, so Lord help them if they win the Super Bowl. There won’t be enough beer in the entire state to handle that celebration.
On the subject of booze, did you hear the one about the big, black bear that strolled into a liquor store in Revelstoke, B.C., last month? True story. Apparently he was looking for some hair of the dog.
Just wondering: What was the first thing Alain Vigneault read or watched after his Philly Flyers were ushered out of the NHL bubble in the Republic of Tranna? Do you think he knows that Black Lives Matter yet?
Did you know that it takes eight to 10 hours to deep clean each hotel room once they’ve been vacated in the Edmonton and ROT bubbles? Hmmm. Wonder how long it will take Randy Ambrosie to clean up the mess he’s made.
The Montreal Canadiens now have $15 million tied up in two goaltenders, Carey Price and Jake Allen. Hmmm. That would pay for half a Canadian Football League shortened-season.
Enjoyed this tweet from Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town: “If I ever own a race horse I might name him ‘Pink Fred’. That’s what Hugh Campbell called Pink Floyd when he announced a change in the Edmonton EE schedule to accommodate the then very hot act.”
Coolest recent tweet was delivered by Rob Vanstone of Postmedia Flatlands: “How amazing was Dale Hawerchuk? I wrote to him c/o Winnipeg Jets in 1982, requesting an autograph. Yes, I got the autograph—and so much more! He must have been deluged with fan mail, but he still made time to go above and beyond.” What made the tweet so special was the pic that Rob attached. It helps explain why there were so many long faces the day Ducky died.
Rob’s tweet brought to mind my first experience as an autograph seeker. I was a sprig of no more than 10 years, living on Melbourne Avenue in Good Ol’ Hometown. One day I took pic of broadcasting pioneer Foster Hewitt from a hockey magazine and mailed it to his radio station in the Repblic of Tranna, asking for a signature. Two weeks later, a brown envelope arrive in the mail box, and there it was…Foster Hewitt’s autograph. He called me “a real hockey fan.” I don’t know what became of that autographed pic, but Foster’s gesture made me want to get into sports journalism.
Mark Spector of Sportsnet E-Town is confused: “It’s official: the term ‘learning lesson’ has replaced ‘irregardless’ as my pet peeve,” he tweets. “Can someone define a ‘lesson’ from which the recipient did NOT ‘learn?’ Are their ‘non-learning lessons’ out there?” Yo! Mark! As the venerable Zen master Dalai Jocklama tells us, “A lesson taught is not always a lesson learned.” As my mom was wont to say, I hope you’ve learned your lesson.
According to Donald Trump, canned soup is now the weapon of choice for bad guys because bricks are too heavy to throw. I can just hear it next time I’m in my local market: “Clean up on the ammunition aisle! Clean up on the ammunition aisle!”.
They held a Lake Travis Trump Boat Parade off the shore of Auston, Texas, the other day and at least four craft went glub, glub, glub to a watery grave. There’s no truth to the rumor that the Milwaukee Bucks were among the sunken ships, but they have sent out a Mayday signal.
Cathal Kelly likes to write about tennis, but I’m not sure how much tennis he actually watches. I mean, he claims that our guy Felix Auger-Aliassime put “an end to the whole idea of the Big Four in men’s tennis” when he whupped Andy Murray at the U.S. Open last week. Apparently, Kelly hadn’t noticed that there’s only been a Big Three—Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic—for the past three years. Andy Murray last won a Grand Slam tournament in 2016. He hasn’t been a top-10 player since 2017, when he was world No. 3 in October. He hasn’t been in the top 100 for more than two years. He’s beaten just one top-10 player since 2017. He’s part of a Big Four like Miley Cyrus is one of the Beatles. What part of all that does Kelly not understand? Furthermore, he listed Djokovic as the “reigning champion” at Flushing Meadows. That will come as news to Rafa Nadal.
Djokovic’s departure from the U.S. Open on Sunday was sudden and deserved. Tennis players can be a right petulant lot, few more so than the Serb. He’s long been prone to bouts of pique, and it caught up to him when, in another hissy fit, he whacked a ball that struck a female line judge in the throat. Automatic ouster. Even if it wasn’t deliberate. Why it took officials 10 minutes to convince Djokovic that he wouldn’t be allowed to play on is a mystery, but I’m sure he’ll put his tin foil hat back on and figure it out in time for the French Open later this month.
ESPN certainly had the perfect guy in the blurt box to talk about poor on-court manners Sunday—John McEnroe. The one-time brat of tennis called Djovik’s hissy fit “bone-headed,” and Johnny Mac ought to know more about that than most.
Hey, there’s a new kid in town. The Manitoba Junior Hockey League has added a second Winnipeg-based franchise for its 2020-21 crusade, and that’s interesting news for those of us who can remember an MJHL that included four outfits in Good Ol’ Hometown. 50 Below Sports + Entertainment is the money behind the freshly minted outfit, to be dubbed the Freeze according to Mike Sawatzky of the Drab Slab, and I can only hope they aren’t hitting parents with a $12,000 tab to have their kids play Junior shinny.
The appointment of Steve Nash as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets stirred up considerable controversy, given that his experience as a bossman totals zip and, significantly, he’s a White man in the very Black National Basketball Association. “Two words that never, ever, should be attached to Steve Nash: White privilege,” Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna harrumphed in his always-pompous weekly alphabet soup column of odds and ends. “But there they were, the screamers of black and white, somehow insisting that Nash’s surprising hiring as coach of the Brooklyn Nets was yet another example of white privilege in North American professional sports.” What that is, folks, is “another example” of shoddy journalism. Simmons failed to identify the “screamers of black and white,” nor did he tell us what they said or what they’re saying. We’re talking Journalism 101 here, folks: Who, what, when, where and why. Apparently that doesn’t apply to big-shot columnists who refuse to burden themselves with the pesky details.
I have often lamented the lack of lower-level local sports coverage in the two Winnipeg dailies, most notably the Sun, which has been ransacked by Postmedia. To underscore how woeful it has become, I monitored the amount of ink devoted to outfits not named Jets, Blue Bombers, Moose, Goldeyes and Valour FC in August. The results are discouraging, but not surprising:
Drab Slab (31 editions)—32 articles, 6 briefs (Assiniboia Downs, amateur hockey, junior hockey, amateur golf, university volleyball, curling, junior football, junior baseball, tennis, sports books).
Winnipeg Sun (30 editions)—1 article (junior football).
At least sports editor Steve Lyons and his boys on the beat at the Drab Slab are trying, but the Sun surrendered to the whims and dictates of Postmedia suits in the Republic of Tranna long ago. I mean, one local story in an entire month? That isn’t just sad, it’s wrong. Amateur Sports Matters, dammit.
And, finally, I’ll conclude this holiday edition of the RCR with a Matty-ism from my first sports editor Jack Matheson: “You don’t have to be strange to live in B.C., but it helps.” Hey, I resemble that remark.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s another long weekend until the next long weekend…
Okay, let’s get this out of the way right off the hop:
Babe Ruth was sold. Wayne Gretzky was traded. The New York Mets told Nolan Ryan to get lost. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanted out of the U.S. Midwest and the Milwaukee Bucks obliged. Three husbands dumped Marilyn Monroe.
So don’t talk to me about untouchables with the Winnipeg Jets.
I mean, untouchables? You’re talking untouchables? Tell that to Peter Pocklington.
Peter Puck’s the dude who dispatched Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings, then sat in a flashy convertible during a Stanley Cup parade in downtown Edmonton less than two years later.
It doesn’t always work out that way, of course, and we need look no further than Fenway Park in Boston for evidence. The Red Sox peddled the Bambino to the dreaded Evil Empire in New York for the kingly sum of $100,000, the first of four $25,000 payments made on Dec. 19, 1919.
“I do not wish to detract one iota from Ruth’s ability as a ballplayer nor from his value as an attraction, but there is no getting away from the fact that despite his 29 home runs, the Red Sox finished sixth in the race last season,” Bosox bankroll Harry Frazee harrumphed. “What the Boston fans want, I take it, and what I want because they want it, is a winning team, rather than a one-man team which finishes in sixth place.”
Well, the Red Sox didn’t celebrate another World Series championship until 2004. Ruth and the Yankees, meanwhile, sprayed each other with bubbly after seven American League pennants and four WS victories by the time the Sultan of Swat bid adieu to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium in 1934.
So, ya, parting ways with a young blue-chipper can blow up in your face like a Wile E. Coyote scheme gone wrong, but the value is in the return. Always.
Frazee accepted paper money in barter for Babe Ruth. Poor return. Pocklington, on the other hand, insisted on live bodies (Jimmy Carson and Martin Gelinas) in exchange for Gretzky, plus first-round picks in 1989, ’91, ’93, plus $15 million of Bruce McNall’s bankroll. The Oilers won a title sans No. 99, the Kings had a sniff in 1993 but never won with him.
Which brings us back to the Jets and untouchables.
Let’s suppose, for the sake of discussion, that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff answers the phone one day and it’s Joe Sakic on the line. The Colorado Avalanche GM is offering Cale Makar. He wants Patrick Laine in return. Is Chevy supposed to say “Sorry Joe, but Patty’s an untouchable,” and hang up? Maybe Jim Benning will call and offer up Quinn Hughes, asking for Nikolaj Ehlers in barter. You don’t really believe Chevy would decline because “Nik is an untouchable” do you?
Sorry, kids, but there hasn’t been an Untouchable since Eliot Ness and accomplices went after Al Capone’s booze dens in Chicago.
Certainly there are players you’d like to keep in Jets linen, but if the right offer falls onto Chevy’s lap, damn straight he has to pull the trigger. (Assuming, of course, that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, gives it the official okie-dokie from on high.)
This, remember, is an outfit that failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. A side that hasn’t won a post-season skirmish since skating to the National Hockey League’s final four more than two years ago. So it doesn’t matter if we’re talking Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Puck Finn, Josh Morrissey or Kyle Connor.
If the right deal comes along, you do it.
What about goalkeeper Connor Hellebuyck, you ask? Same thing. In case you haven’t noticed, with the exception of Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, teams still alive in the current Stanley Cup runoff are doing it without Vezina Trophy-winning puck stoppers. The Colorado Avalanche were one Michael Hutchinson save away from advancing to the final four. Ditto the Vancouver Canucks and Thatcher Demko. The New York Islanders won Game 7 vs. the Philly Flyers with backup Thomas Greiss in the blue paint. And don’t get me started on Anton Khudobin. So repeat after me: There should be no untouchables with the Winnipeg Jets.
In this, the strangest of years, the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, became the second leg, and the second leg, the Preakness Stakes, will be the third leg, and the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, became the first leg. I swear, there hasn’t been this much confusion about legs since Joe Namath did that pantyhose commercial in the 1970s.
No horse had better legs than Authentic on Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Kentucky-bred bay colt showed 14 other ponies his heels in the Run for the Roses, which means his four legs now have one leg. And if that sounds like some kind of a Zen koan, blame it on the Dalai Jocklama.
Normally, of course, the Kentucky Derby goes to the post the first Saturday in May, and the pews at Churchill Downs are full of fashionable ladies trying not to spill their mint juleps while bumping into one another with their big hats. Not so on the first Saturday in September 2020. The grandstand was basically barren before and after Authentic stuck his nose under the wire, and it just didn’t feel right without the Derby day buzz. Then again, is there anything about 2-aught-20 that feels right?
Come to think of it, were I a horse breeder, I’d have named my first foal this year Bizarro World. You know, as a salute to a time in history when up is down, over is under, right is left, and Terry Bradshaw gets his own reality TV show.
For real. Bradshaw has a show on the telly to call his own. The concept for The Bradshaw Bunch on E! Channel seems simple enough: The former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback surrounds himself with a bevy of beauties (his wife and three daughters), and cameras follow them about the ranch in Oklahoma while they discuss such urgent family matters as one of the girls getting a boob job. In other words, it’s the Kardashians do Hee Haw.
Hey, it’s the Labor Day weekend. The Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers should be grabbing grass and growling this very afternoon in the annual Labor Day Weekend Classic on the Flattest of Lands. Not happening, though, because Canadian Football League coffers are as empty as a politician’s promise and its line of credit is worse than the COVID curve stateside. But that doesn’t mean the true tradition need end—taking cheap shots at Flatlanders and their football team. Which brings to mind a Matty-ism from a Jack Matheson column in the Winnipeg Tribune after a trade sent Tom Clements from the Ottawa Rough Riders to Saskatchewan in 1979: “Mrs. Tom Clements is said to have been the push behind her QB husband’s recent move because she felt ‘Ottawa’s a hick town,’ so you have to wonder how Regina will grab her.”
Premier Scott Moe has declared this Saskatchewan Roughriders Day on the Flattest of Lands, and he’s encouraged the rabble to adorn themselves in green-and-white garb. To which every citizen in the province said: “Huh? Ya means to tell us they makes tank tops and ball caps in other colors?” Seriously, a melonhead needs urging to wear green and white like a priest needs a reminder to say prayers on Sunday.
I haven’t watched a great portion of the NHL’s made-for-TV frolic in the Edmonton and Republic of Tranna bubbles, but my sampling has been sufficient enough to know that Sportsnet’s Chris Cuthbert calls a terrific game. He’s going to be missed in the TSN blurt box once the CFL is back in business, whenever that is.
I agree, the hiring of Steve Nash as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets is a peculiar bit of business. I mean, he’s a scrawny white guy in a league full of large Black men, he’s Canadian in a league of mostly Americans, and he has zero experience. We haven’t seen anyone that miscast since a movie mogul put Kevin Costner in a pair of tights and told him he was Robin Hood.
Speaking of media, cheering in the press box is supposed to be taboo, but news snoops in the Republic of Tranna must have missed the memo. Just watch the sports highlights shows on TSN and Sportsnet and you’ll hear them openly swooning and unabashedly root, root, rooting for the Toronto Jurassics in the National Basketball Association playoffs, and the same must be said of the boys on the beat at the daily newspapers. They don’t give the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Tranna FC or Argonauts a similar amount of sugar, which leaves me to wonder what it is about the Jurassics that has won over such a normally hard-scrabble lot.
Got a kick out of Gregg Drinnan’s piece on his time at the Winnipeg Tribune, a tour of duty that included a case of mistaken identity. No spoilers here, though. I’ll let Gregg tell the story. I’ll just say it involved the Greaser (that’s Gregg), Knuckles Irving, Cactus Jack, Kenny Ploen, Blue Bombers GM Earl Lunsford and a fancy, shmancy hotel suite in Calgary (don’t worry, it’s not X-rated). Gregg also confirms that some of the Trib tales I told last week might actually contain a morsel of truth.
One of the things I didn’t mention in my remembrances of the Trib folding 40 years ago was Strat-O-Matic Baseball, a board game based on the actual stats of Major League players. We’d play it during our down time, waiting for late copy or phone calls to come in, and the death of Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver last week reminded me of the year we held a Strat-O-Matic player draft. Seaver was among my starting hurlers, and one night he spun a no-hitter against the Ian (Caveman) Dutton Nine. A few years later while with the Calgary Sun, I had occasion to interview Tom Terrific and, as an ice-breaker, I mentioned the no-no he had hurled v. the Dutton Nine. He looked at me like I was speaking Casey Stengelese, but chuckled. “Don’t laugh,” I told him, “that board game no-hitter will probably be the deciding factor that gets you to Cooperstown some day. The Hall of Fame voters won’t be able to ignore it.” Sure enough, the great New York Mets righthander was elected in 1992, and you can only imagine my disappointment when he failed to mention that Strat-O-Matic perfect game in his acceptance speech.
I’m not sure if Ed Willes left the building by choice or if he’s the latest victim of Postmedia buffoonery, but he’s done after 38 years in the rag trade, the last 22 at the Vancouver Province. Some of you might remember Ed’s time with the Winnipeg Sun, where he detailed the daily goings-on of the Jets and wrote a column during the 1990s. It was always high-end stuff. The guy can flat-out scribble. Ed turns 65 in November, so perhaps this was the end game all along, but I’m always suspicious whenever quality writers walk away from Postmedia, which has destroyed newspaper competition everywhere west of Winnipeg. If it was his call, good on him. He’s earned his warm corner. If he was nudged by the suits in the Republic of Tranna, shame on Postmedia.
The Willes adios brings to mind a quote from Trent Frayne, the finest jock essayist in my lifetime: “It is an axiom of sports that the legs go first. For sportswriters, it’s the enthusiasm.”
Once upon a time, I officiated kids sports, so I speak from lived experience when I tell you it can be a thankless, often intimidating experience. Some coaches, parents and officials are at odds with acceptable behavior in mixed company, which is putting it politely. So what in the name of Pele was the Manitoba Soccer Association thinking when it instructed its game referees to play the role of rat fink and virtually red card fans who fail to observe physical distancing protocol at kids’ matches? Expecting whistle blowers to be, well, whistle blowers isn’t just unfair, it’s stupid.
Last week we mentioned that Jennifer Lopez and her main squeeze, Alex Rodriguez, had failed in their bid to buy the New York Mets. If successful, JLo would have joined a short list of female owners in Major League Baseball. The first was Helene Britton, who inherited the St. Louis Cardinals from her uncle, Stanley Robison, in 1911, when women still hadn’t won the right to vote in the U.S. This is how the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described the Redbirds’ new lady owner: “She is small and round and trim, with decided chic. Her mourning costume (for her uncle) failed to subdue certain lively touches that indicate a love of life and gayety…her attitude is ever alert.” Other National League owners, all men, tried to bully the small, round and trim Helene into selling the Cardinals “for the good of the game,” but she held out until 1917, finally accepting $350,000 for the club and ballpark. Among other things while bankrolling the Redbirds, she introduced Ladies Day providing free attendance to women. But only if accompanied by a male escort.
And, finally, today marks the 20th anniversary of Major League Baseball’s first Pride-themed night. It took place at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, mainly because a lesbian couple had been escorted out of the ballpark a week earlier by eight heavy-handed security guards. The crime? The women shared a smooch in the bleachers. Who could imagine back then that two lesbians, Billie Jean King and partner Ilana Kloss, would be part-owners of the Dodgers today?
Whether the rogue rearguard was rag-dolling foes, or simply having a rollicking good time playing unharnessed pond hockey rather than the rigid north-south style preferred by coaches who frowned on freelancing, Big Buff was the whole nine yards.
Many years from now, folks will gather around the campfire and talk about him as some mythical creature, if they aren’t already.
They’ll speak in hushed tones, describing a man-beast on blades, untamed and as tall as a grain silo, as wide as the Canadian Prairies, hairy and swift and capable of Paul Bunyanesque feats of strength. And they’ll talk about his habitat, how he roamed from one fishing hole to the next, catching muskellunge and walleye and trout while the smaller and less adventurous of his hockey species grazed on golf courses or took root in front of their PlayStations.
“I was there the night Big Buff rag-dolled those two Vegas Golden Knights,” someone will whisper with due reverence. “Took one of ’em in each of his big paws and yanked ’em right out of a scrum. Shook ’em and dragged ’em around like they were pom-poms.”
“Same thing one night against Nashville,” another will say, nodding. “Took two Predators by the scruff of the neck, one in each hand, and shook ’em like salt-and-pepper shakers.”
The folklore will include tales of derring-do, rink-length dashes by this hulking figure of few words, a force the likes of which had never been seen on a National Hockey League freeze. There’ll be mention of an ice tub and Evander Kane’s clothing, and the sonic boom of a slapshot that served the Winnipeg Jets so well for eight winters.
And it’ll all be true, even if delivered with a side order of embellishment.
Big Buff truly was unique. He didn’t have a pregame meal like the rest of the Jets. They simply tossed him a salt lick. That’s what you do when a guy is 6-feet-8 (on skates) and 260 pounds, give or take a late-night snack.
I always thought the whole Big Buff shtick would have made for a great sitcom. He could have played himself, except he’d have had to speak, and we all know Big Buff has less to say than a street mime with a mouth full of cotton. It’s kind of tough to do a talkie when the leading man won’t talk. Still, he’s got that impish grin and his peculiar ways, which certainly became more peculiar in the past eight months.
Big Buff’s divorce from the Jets, official on Friday, is the part of the legend that didn’t produce any yuks.
More to the point, Byfuglien was robustly villainized by many among the rabble and some news snoops when he took a powder on the eve of training camp last September. The Jets wanted and expected Big Buff to play hockey, but his druthers were to gaze at his navel while squatting in an ice-fishing hut. His adios left Winnipeg HC in a penny pinch, in that his $7.6 million cap hit was still on the books, and he put them in an on-ice pickle, with a hole the size of his appetite on the right side of the defence. For that he was branded “selfish” and an ingrate.
Well guess what? Life happens. Flames flicker out.
If we are to believe the way Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff tells the tale, Big Buff’s passion for banging heads, quarterbacking the powerplay and goofing around with the guys had run its course. To paraphrase a Yogi Berraism: Buff came to a fork in the road and he took it. Family and fishing won out over Winnipeg HC and shinny.
Was the most popular of the Jets guilty of bad timing? I don’t think Buff was guilty of anything. His life, his timetable. But, sure, from the club and fan perspective he could have picked a better time to bug out. No doubt there would have been a different twist to Chevy’s off-season tactics had he known about Buff’s Tour de Navel before September, except the universe doesn’t always unfold as an NHL GM would like it to.
I don’t know if Buff plans to confirm or deny Chevy’s version of events now that the divorce is a fait accompli, but I’m guessing the big defender will let us inside his head about the same time Lake Winnipeg runs dry.
And, really, he doesn’t owe us the skinny on everything that went down since September. Nor is there any obligation for him to convince us that he isn’t a complete numbskull for walking away when there was a sizable chunk of change ($14 million) still on the table for his taking.
He leaves on his own terms (some of us can relate to that) at age 35, and we should just let it be part of the folklore.
I don’t really like to say I told you so, but sometimes I can’t resist the urge. So, I’ll remind you that this is what I wrote on Oct. 9 last year: “Retire or return, Byfuglien has excused himself from the Jets’ future. I mean, if he lacks the jam to join them for this crusade, I can’t imagine he’ll feel any differently a year from now. Let’s face it, he’s done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC.” So there, I told you so.
Byfuglien has been called a riddle. An enigma. A puzzle. But is he really that hard to figure out? Okay, he’s a hockey hybrid. He has ox-like strength and no one his size has any business looking so light on his feet while skating on two blades barely wider than a butter knife. But that made him unique, not complicated. He also did a lot of freelancing, which led to crippling brain farts that resulted in pucks in the wrong net. But that made him a defensive liability, and there’s an abundance of those players in the NHL. So what is it about Big Buff that’s so confounding? Well, he seemed to play the game with a wink and a nod and, often, with a kid-like glee. He shunned news snoops like they’d give him cooties, but he was aw shucks and warm and fuzzy with a fawning faithful. It’s been oft written and said that he marched to the beat of his own drum, and hockey players aren’t programmed to go their own way. But the only truly unusual thing he’s done is turn his back on $14 million. That doesn’t make him an enigma. It makes him real.
Quick question: Will the rabble think differently about Big Buff if he takes his eroding talents to another NHL outfit? Seems to me they might. The storyline will go from “he didn’t want to play hockey anymore” to “he still wanted to play hockey, just not for the Jets.” Which means some might add another descriptive to the big man: Phony. But I don’t see him playing again.
Over at the Drab Slab, there seems to be some confusion about Big Buff’s legacy, at least that’s the way I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s take on the matter. Here’s what he’s written:
Feb. 3: “A re-charged and rehabilitated Byfuglien was expected to be a pillar on the back end. Instead, his selfish actions created nothing but chaos and uncertainty. Unfortunately for Byfuglien, the entire soap opera has tarnished the legacy of one of the most unique athletes we’ve ever seen in the city.”
April 17: “Forgive me if I have a hard time painting anyone who willingly walks away from US $14 million as selfish,” and “In my eyes, no legacy has been tarnished here, nor should it be.”
So he’s selfish, but he isn’t selfish. He’s tarnished, but he isn’t tarnished. Mr. Flip, meet Mr. Flop.
Frankly, I doubt Big Buff gives a damn what jock journos think or write about him. Just like they don’t give a damn what he thinks about them or their scribblings. It’s a mutual Don’t Give A Damn Society.
Hey, check it out. My man young Eddie Tait has a book out, For the W, the story of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ gallop to the Grey Cup last year. If young Eddie’s doing the scribbling, you know it’s a top-drawer product, and I’m told he has a boffo editor in Rheanne Marcoux. Winnipeg FC radio voice Knuckles Irving of CJOB says the book is “sensational,” and that’s good enough for me. It sells for $54.99 and you can grab a copy at the Canadian Football League club’s shop or online.
This week in jock journalism…
I make an early-morning tour of newspapers and sports websites hither and yon, always searching for something fresh and different, and I found it in a Rob Tychkowski column. Rob’s with Postmedia E-Town, and he did a parody on the recent conference call between Donald Trump and various pro sports leaders. It’s laugh-out-loud funny…I never know what to expect when I call up the Winnipeg Sun, but some issues are more disappointing than others. Today, for example, there are eight pages of sports. Total number of local stories: 0. Total number of local bylines: 0. Total number of bylines from the Republic of Tranna: 4…No, I don’t think sports is important while COVID-19 has us in lockdown, but if you insist on doing it, do it right for gawd’s sake…Not sure what the dumbest story of the week was, but here are the candidates, all from the Drab Slab: 1) Andrew Berkshire’s graphs and numbers-crunching on the Jets’ odd-man rushes and counter-attack plays last season; 2) Mad Mike McIntyre’s top-10 goals in Jets 2.0 history; 3) Mad Mike’s suggestion that the entire NHL (all 31 teams) gather in Good Ol’ Hometown to complete the 2019-20 season sometime this summer. My vote goes to article No. 3. It’s just stupid.
And, finally, Scott Billeck went from the toy department to newsside for the Winnipeg Sun when COVID-19 took grip, and his work has been boffo. Bruce Arthur has done the same thing for the Toronto Star. I’m not sure how many sports scribes could pull that off, but Scott and Bruce are getting it done.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I sprung forward this morning and brought some random thoughts along with me…
I think TSN and Sportsnet are trying to fool us into believing they actually give a damn about women’s sports.
I mean, both of our national jock networks have devoted copious air to the distaff portion of the playground in the past week, featuring interviews with movers and shakers like Stacey Allaster, Kim Davis, Kim Ng, Cammi Granato and Kendall Coyne Schofield, and they’ve also given us retro peeks at moments of girl glory delivered by Brooke Henderson, Bianca Andreescu and others.
It’s been boffo stuff.
And tonight we’ll hear the all-female broadcast crew of Leah Hextall, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Christine Simpson work the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hometown Hockey, something that—dare I say?—smacks of gimmickry and likely will have numerous men squirming and pressing the mute button on their remotes.
But here’s my question in the midst of all this rah, rah, rah about ponytail sports: Where are TSN and Sportsnet when it really matters?
You know, like when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was in business. Like during the women’s Under-18 world hockey championship. TSN covering competition like the world shinny tourney or World Cup soccer are no-brainers, but to the best of my recollection Sportsnet broadcast the grand sum of two CWHL games before the operation bolted its doors last spring. I could be wrong. It might have been three. Meanwhile, TSN completely ignored the U18 event.
The National Women’s Hockey League, meanwhile, dropped the puck on its playoffs Friday night, but I haven’t heard a whisper about it on either network.
In the small hours of Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings, I counted 136 news-related videos on the TSN website. The male sports v. female sports scorecard read 133-3 in favor of the dudes, and that included Justin Bieber practicing his shootout skills.
None of that’s surprising, of course, because numerous studies advise us that female jocks receive just two to six per cent of air time on sportscasts in the True North and U.S. The amount of space allotted to female sports in our daily newspapers would be similar. Maybe even less.
So, ya, it’s great that TSN and Sportsnet have been saluting women the past few days, but what’s their excuse for the other 51 weeks of the year?
According to a 2016 report, a study of sports coverage on our national networks (French and English) in 2014 showed that female athletes were featured in just four per cent of 35,000 hours of programming. More than half of that four per cent allotment showed women’s events at the Sochi Olympics and/or women’s tennis. Which means, of course, all other female activity received less than two per cent air time.
Whenever I contemplate the minimalist coverage female sports receives on air and in print, I think of comments from noted jock journos Steve Simmons and Bruce Dowbiggin.
“I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports,” Postmedia’s Simmons told the Ryerson Review of Journalism in 2002. He also advocated for the removal of women’s hockey from the Olympic Games in 2010, calling it a “charade.”
Dowbiggin, meanwhile, wrote last year that ponytail sports was “second-tier entertainment” and, in another piece, added, “You can’t swing a cat without hitting a lesbian in a women’s sport.”
I’m quite uncertain why Dowbiggin would want to swing a cat and hit a lesbian, or any woman for that matter, but I believe his indelicate and disturbingly crass remark about felines and females was an attempt at cutesy humor. If so, he failed. Miserably.
Point is, those are two loud voices in jock journalism completely dismissing female athletes.
Dowbiggin once was an award-winning jock journo and a main player on the national stage, twice winning a Gemini Award for sports reporting and broadcasting. He now cranks out opinion essays for Troy Media and his own Not The Public Broadcaster. Simmons is a high-profile columnist whose scribblings appear in Postmedia rags across the country.
As much as I wish it was otherwise, I’m afraid theirs is the prevailing attitude in our jock media.
It’s worth noting that neither of the Winnipeg dailies has a female in its stable of full-time sports scribes. The Drab Slab allows the talented and very readable Melissa Martin to make guest appearances for the provincial and national Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but the Sun hasn’t had a Jill writing jock stuff since Judy Owen left the building. Judy is one of only four female scribes with whom I worked during 30 years in the rag trade, the others being Peggy Stewart (Winnipeg Tribune), the lovely Rita Mingo (Trib) and Mary Ormsby (Toronto Sun). It’s been more than 50 years since I started at the Trib, and in that time I’ve known just five female sports writers in Good Ol’ Hometown—Judy, Peggy, Rita, Barb Huck and Ashley Prest. I know some women applied the last time the Sun had an opening, but Scott Billeck got the gig.
What a truly dreadful time it’s been for Ponytail Puck. First the CWHL ceased operations last spring, then close to 200 of the planet’s best players had a hissy fit and decided to boycott and trash talk the NWHL, and now the world championship in Nova Scotia has been cancelled due to the coronavirus. Tough to grow the game when all you have at the end of the day is a bunch of photo-ops with Billie Jean King.
Speaking of Billie Jean, she’ll be part of the Hometown Hockey telecast tonight on Sportsnet, but we shouldn’t expect any hard-hitting questions from either Ron MacLean or Tara Slone. My guess is MacLean will serve the tennis legend and women’s rights activist nothing but softball questions, while Tara swoons.
Sportsnet won’t be the only network featuring an all-female broadcast crew tonight. Kate Scott, Kendall Coyne Schofield and AJ Mleczko will be the voices for NBCSN’s telecast of the St. Louis Blues-Chicago Blackhawks skirmish, and I just hope they realize that criticism is part of the gig because they’ll be hearing it from the yahoos.
The PWHPA—also the talking heads on Sportsnet—would like the five-team NWHL to disappear at the conclusion of its fifth season, so they’ll be disappointed to hear this sound bite from NWHLPA director Anya Packer: “I’m excited to watch the growth. I think there’s going to be a lot of growth in the off-season. There’s a lot of conversations hosted today that will affect tomorrow. There’s a lot of conversations that happened before the season began that are going to make some major strides and changes as we move into season six. I’m excited for season six.” If they want to play serious shinny next winter, the PWHPA might want to rethink that boycott thing.
The rapidly spreading coronavirus has a number of sports teams/leagues talking about playing in empty stadiums. In other words, just like a Toronto Argonauts home game.
Ya, I think it’s great that the National Hockey League salary cap is going up and Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will have a boatload of Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s cash to spend on free agents this summer, but that won’t make it any easier for Chevy to sell Good Ol’ Hometown to high-profile players. River City remains No. 1 on most NHLers’ no-go lists, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
I don’t know about you, but every time I see the Nashville Predators play, I have the same thought: “How do these guys beat anybody?”
Does this make sense to anyone other than Tranna Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas?
William Nylander: 30-goal seasons—1; salary—$9 million ($8.3 million bonus).
Kyle Connor: 30-goal seasons—3; salary—$7.5 million ($0 bonus).
People poke fun at the Canadian Football League for rewarding failure by giving a single point on a missed field goal. Well, excuse me, but the NHL does that very thing almost nightly with its ridiculous loser point.
Watched Sports Central on Sportsnet on Friday morning and I didn’t hear one word about the Brier. Nada. They managed to squeeze in highlights of Joey Chestnut pigging out on Big Macs, but the Canadian men’s curling championship wasn’t worthy of their attention. Canada’s #1 Sports Network my ass.
There’ve been so many incredible circus shots during this year’s Brier, I expected to see Barnum and Bailey meeting in today’s final.
So I call up the Globe and Mail on Saturday and note that Cathal Kelly is writing about the Brier. I roll my eyes, because Kelly doesn’t know a hog line from Hog Town. Well, surprise, surprise. It’s an excellent, entertaining read. And honest. “Don’t look for curling expertise here,” he writes. “You won’t find any.”
Did Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs look like he was having any fun before being ushered out of the Brier? I swear, the’s more serious than a tax audit, and it isn’t a good look.
WTF? During the first two Brier matches I watched on TSN last weekend, I heard three F-bombs and one goddamn. I heard zero F-bombs and zero goddamns during the entire week of watching the Scotties on TSN. Just saying.
Actually, I’d like to know why male curlers feel a need to go all potty mouth, yet the women don’t. I mean, they’re playing the same game, playing for the same stakes, making the same shots, feeling the same pressure. It would make for an interesting social study.
Big headlines all over the Internet last week about movie guy Spike Lee having a hissy fit and refusing to attend any more New York Knicks games this season. Hmmm. I must have missed the memo that informed us we’re supposed to give a damn what Spike Lee does.
Gotta say, TSN’s man on UFC, Robin Black, is the creepiest guy on sports TV.
The aforementioned Joey Chestnut set some sort of world record for gluttony last week when he scarfed down 32 Big Macs in 38 minutes. We haven’t seen a pigout like that since Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offence ate the San Francisco 49ers’ lunch in the Super Bowl.
The Winnipeg Jets are in the grip of an intense playoff battle, two Manitoba teams were running hot at the Brier, and what was featured on the sports front of the Winnipeg Sun last Monday morning? Toronto Blue Jays wannabe pitcher Nate Pearson. Good gawd, man, who makes those horrible decisions?
And, finally, in a salute to International Women’s Day, these are my five fave female athletes of all time: Wilma Rudolph, Martina Navratilova, Tessa Virtue, Nancy Greene and Evonne Goolagong. (Honorable mentions go to to Katarina Witt, Steffi Graf and Jennifer Jones.)
Another National Hockey League trade deadline has come and gone, so what you see is what you get with the Winnipeg Jets. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, who better to sort out general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s handiwork than our all-knowing Two Hens In The Hockey House.
Take it away, ladies…
Question Lady: You sure you want to natter about the Jets this morning, girlfriend? Shouldn’t we be talking about Kerri Einarson and her gal pals instead?
Answer Lady: You might have a point. Kerri, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur did boffo business in Al Capone’s old hangout—that’s Moose Jaw, girlfriend—and you have to go a long, long way back to find a Manitoba skip not named Jennifer Jones or Connie Laliberte who won the Canadian women’s curling title.
Question Lady: Any idea how long ago it was?
Answer Lady: I’ll give you some hints: You and I were both in training bras. Papa Pierre Trudeau was PM. The Winnipeg Tribune was still publishing. The Bee Gees had the No. 1 hit, Stayin’ Alive. The event wasn’t called the Scotties Tournament of Hearts back then. It was the Macdonald Lassie and the sponsor was a tobacco company.
Question Lady: So who was the skip?
Answer Lady: Cathy Pidzarko. She and her twin sister Chris got together with Iris Armstrong and Patti Vandekerckhove to win the Lassie in The Soo. And here’s what’s noteworthy: Patti Vandekerckhove became Patti Vande, then became Patti Wuthrich and she was coach of the Einarson team in Moose Jaw last week. Talk about coming full circle. Oh, one more thing: The Pidzarko twins and I went to the same high school—good, ol’ Miles Mac Collegiate in East Kildonan.
Question Lady: Well, we’re just full of trivia this morning, aren’t we?
Answer Lady: Many people have told me that I’m full of something or other, and it was never meant as a compliment.
Question Lady: Fine. But can we talk about the Jets now?
Answer Lady: Fire away, girlfriend.
Question Lady: Are you giving GM Chevy thumbs up or thumbs down for his tinkering at the NHL trade deadline?
Answer Lady: It’s more like the sound of one hand clapping. I mean, it’s not like I expected Chevy to go out and trade one of his young, blue-chip forwards in exchange for a top-four defenceman and a Zamboni driver to be named later. He knew one more piece wasn’t going to make his club Stanley Cup worthy.
If we’re being honest, the Jets are playing with house money. They probably have no business being in the playoff discussion today, not when you consider the numerous nights during the first five months of the fray when head coach Paul Maurice’s blueline had the hand-me-down look and feel of an old hobo’s coat. It hasn’t been “next man up” for Coach PoMo, it’s been Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk and “eeny, meeny, miney, moe.”
Mind you, it figured to be this way after the defections of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and Dustin Byfuglien. But still. Does any combination of Anthony Bitteto, Nathan Beaulieu, Luca Sbisa, Dmitry Kulikov, Ville Heinola, Sami Niku, Tucker Poolman and Carl Dahlstrom scream out “playoff defence” to you? Didn’t think so.
Yet here they are this morning, just a chin whisker away from qualifying for Beard Season.
Question Lady: Can a guy like Dylan DeMelo be the difference between the playoffs and an early tee time?
Answer Lady: You mean Coach PoMo’s porn star? Actually, Dylan DeMelo is kind of a porn star-sounding name, isn’t it? It’s not quite Long John Holmes quality, but I think it has marquee value.
Question Lady: Can you believe that PoMo said watching DeMelo play hockey is coach’s porn?
Answer Lady: Makes you wonder what goes on at a coaches’ bachelor party, doesn’t it? What do they do, sit around watching old film of Denis Potvin and Larry Robinson breaking up two-on-one rushes? Or maybe they get their jollies by watching raunchy film of Nick Lidstrom poke check the puck off Brett Hull’s stick. They sound like a real fun bunch.
Question Lady: Ya, but as long as Coach PoMo keeps delivering those kind of quotes, the scribes and talking heads will continue to be completely hornswaggled. They love the guy, and they’ll be loving him for another three years. Was his contract extension warranted?
Answer Lady: Well, we both knew that Coach Sound Bite was safe this year, even if some of the meatheads in the media thought his seat was a bonfire. But just because a guy signs for three years, it doesn’t mean he gets to coach for three years. I doubt Coach PoMo makes it to the end of his freshly minted deal. I’d almost wager that we’ll be listening to his sound bites on TSN Trade Centre two years from now.
Question Lady: Which brings us back on topic. Chevy made two moves just before the deadline, bringing in DeMelo and Cody Eakin. Is that enough to guarantee there’ll be meaningful matches played at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in April?
Answer Lady: I already had the Jets pegged for a wild card team, and they’re better with those two guys. So, ya, I don’t see Nashville, Minny or Chicago squeezing them out.
Question Lady: What about the Calgary Flames?
Answer Lady: Have you been paying attention this season, girlfriend? Those young millionaires look like they’re already on the first tee at the hoity-toity Calgary Golf & Country Club.
Question Lady: Question is, are the Jets good enough to make some noise in the Stanley Cup runoff, or will it earn Winnipeg HC nothing more than a third one-and-done participation pin?
Answer Lady: Ideally, this is how it would shake down for the Jets: They secure the first wild-card spot, which means they’d avoid either St. Loo or Colorado in the opening round of Beard Season and meet the Pacific Division winner. Is there anything to fear in the Vancouver Canucks? Nada. How about the Edmonton Oilers? Connor McDavid, Leon D. and a whole lot of McNothing. The Vegas Golden Knights would be problematic, but if either the Canucks or Oilers can hold up their end of the bargain, I can see the Jets getting through to the second round. That might sound crazy, but I believe it’s doable.
Question Lady: Gotta say, girlfriend, that does sound a bit nutso. You’re really convinced the Jets can beat the Canucks or Oilers in a seven-game series?
Answer Lady: As sure as Donald Trump likes Twitter.
Question Lady: If you say so. But I’d feel more comfortable if Chevy had landed a top-four defenceman at the deadline. And if that meant sacrificing one of his young, blue-chip studs, don’t you think he should have done it?
Answer Lady: Unlike many among the rabble, I don’t squirm at the thought of Chevy tossing Jack Roslovic or even Twig Ehlers into the pot, but this wasn’t the right time to do it. It wasn’t going to push them over the top.
Question Lady: So we’re supposed to be satisfied that it’s status quo?
Answer Lady: Hell no. You should be properly PO’d at Chevy and Mark Chipman, because it didn’t have to be this way. When the entire right side of your defence and a quality guy from the left side disappear in one foul swoop, that’s totally on the GM/owner. Just like they’ve known for more than two years that they don’t have a No. 2 centre, they’ve known since last July that they needed an upgrade on the blueline. Waiting until the trade deadline to acquire Coach PoMo’s porn star doesn’t quite cut it as proactive management. That dithering is the reason the Jets weren’t ever going to be anything better than a wild card outfit.
Question Lady: And what do they do with Dustin Byfuglien?
Answer Lady: That’s a discussion for another day, girlfriend. For now, let’s see how this season plays out, then we’ll talk about Big Buff.
Question Lady: Fair enough. What’s up next for you?
Answer Lady: More curling. The Brier’s on deck. If either Mike McEwen or Jason Gunnlaugson can get the job done next week in Kingston, that means Manitoba runs the table this season—world mixed, two world Junior, Scotties and Brier champions. It doesn’t get better than that.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and a restful Louis Riel Long Weekend to you all…
So, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers re-up Mike O’Shea because he brought home the Grey Cup, and the Winnipeg Jets re-up Paul Maurice because…well, some of us are still trying to work our way through that.
I mean, Coach Potty Mouth hasn’t brought anything home, except the bacon, and at a reported $3 million per year that’s a whole lot of pork rinds and BLTs. I’m sure his bride and kids appreciate it, even if many among the rabble don’t like what he brings to the table, and O’Shea can only wish his championship-calibre coaching paid as handsomely as Coach PoMo’s six years of mostly mediocrity.
But, hey, this isn’t meant to be a hit piece on Maurice.
Everybody loves Coach PoMo. Well, okay, not everybody. But the people who matter the most do—Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, the lads in the changing room. Why, listening to them gush about their bench puppeteer after locking him down for the next three winters, I was convinced he’d discovered a cure for the Coronavirus while helping little old ladies cross busy streets. Who knew winning just two playoff rounds in half a dozen crusades was such a laudable achievement?
But, again, this isn’t meant to be a hit piece on Coach PoMo.
The moral of today’s story, kids, is this: Stand By Your Man (and I make no apologies for riffing on the title of a country classic by the legendary Tammy Wynette).
The Jets and Bombers, you see, stand by their men like no other National Hockey League/Canadian Football League combo in Canada, although it hasn’t always been that way for our gridiron Goliaths.
Once upon a time not so long ago, Winnipeg FC went through head coaches like Kleenex during a chick flick, but the revolving-door strategy ended on Dec. 4, 2013, when CEO Wade Miller brought in O’Shea as sideline steward. It took Coach Grunge six seasons to get the job done, but nobody’s complaining today, except perhaps city workers still burdened with the task of cleaning up the mess Chris Streveler left behind at the Grey Cup parade.
The point is, the Grey Grail is back in Good Ol’ Hometown due to the stick-to-itness of the Canadian Mafia, which includes GM Kyle Walters, and O’Shea has been rewarded with a fresh set of downs (three-year contract).
There’s been no such success for the Jets, of course, just some warm-and-fuzzies from a series of downtown whiteout parties during a deep Beard Season run two springs back. Still, the Puck Pontiff has chosen to stay the course with the man he recruited a month after O’Shea arrived in town, extending Maurice’s gig for another three winters, whether we think he’s earned it or not.
So, since December 2013, the Bombers have known one head coach. Ditto the Jets since January 2014.
Now gaze upon the Canadian pro sports landscape (read: CFL, NHL). What do you see? That’s right, coaching chaos. There’ve been eight head knocks in the Republic of Tranna. Same in Montreal, E-Town and Lotus Land. Bytown has had seven. Calgary six. All since both Coach Grunge and Coach PoMo took root in River City.
What does it all mean?
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a steady hand over a knee-jerking gong show anytime, so long as it delivers favorable results in a results-driven business, and stability got the Bombers a CFL title, to be sure. It’s done squat for the Jets, though. Other than stir up the anti-PoMo mob, that is.
It really doesn’t matter that I think Maurice is something of a snake charmer the way he hypnotizes news snoops and fans with his smooth sound bites. As mentioned, it’s about results, and his numbers just don’t add up to the unflinching faith the Puck Pontiff has in PoMo’s coaching ability. Let’s, for example, stack his numbers against those of Bruce Boudreau, the recently defrocked head coach of the Minnesota Wild.
Since the 2014-15 season: Maurice: 246-175-48 (11-16 in playoffs), one conference final, missed playoffs twice.
Boudreau: 255-159-53 (16-17 in playoffs), one conference final, missed playoffs once.
For that, Boudreau received a pink slip. Twice (in Anaheim and Minny). Yet, for doing less with more, Maurice received a three-year reward and a $9 million windfall. Go figure.
More than once, Jets capitano Blake Wheeler has said he’d “go through a brick wall” for Maurice. At least now Coach PoMo can afford to fix the wall.
Remember those Maurice-to-Seattle whispers? Well, actually they weren’t just whispers. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet first mentioned it on his 31 Thoughts podcast with Jeff Marek in early December. When asked who might be the first head coach of Seattle’s NHL Team To Be Named Later, Friedge said, “I’ll tell you this, I’ve got some guys who think it’s going to be Paul Maurice.” Well, don’t you just know that Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, although “loathe to play the role of gossip monger,” took that sound bite the very next day and gossip-mongered it into a froth. “Could the delay in getting Maurice extended be less about Winnipeg’s desire to take a wait-and-see approach—which, at this point, wouldn’t make much sense—and more about the 52-year-old wanting to hold off and perhaps eventually test the waters?” he asked in a bout of reckless speculation that was cloak-and-dagger in tone and offered zero substance. He also informed readers that Maurice and Seattle GM Ron Francis have a bit of a bromance, as if to thicken the plot. I don’t know if Friedman and Mad Mike feel like damn fools today, but I doubt it.
Some of us, of course, knew from the get-go that Coach PoMo was in Good Ol’ Hometown to stay, and modesty doesn’t prevent me from reminding you of that fact. Here’s what I wrote on Sept. 16: “Maurice ain’t going anywhere. You don’t fire the coach when the two main puppeteers, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, hurl half of his blueline into the dumpster.” And this is what my Two Hens In The Hockey House added on Oct. 3: “Mark Chipman and Chevy will part ways with Maurice when the Dalai Lama punches out the Pope.” But, hey, what do we know? We don’t have our feet on the ground like the all-knowing (not!) boys on the beat.
Yes, now that Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun has mentioned it, I thought it was rather cringeworthy that the Jets would salute Bobby Hull the same night they celebrated Thomas Steen as one of the two latest inductees to the club’s Hall of Fame. Hull has a well-documented history of domestic abuse/violence. Ditto Steen.
If nothing else, the Jets lead the league in Hall of Fame scofflaws, and this was part of Friesen’s take:
“Given how far we’ve come as a society in recognizing the horrors of abuse of women, the shadow victims are forced to live in because they’re afraid to come forward, the price the victim often pays, particularly with a popular or powerful public figure—given all that, how can organizations still celebrate a man with such a history? Hockey’s culture is supposed to be changing. Physical abuse and racially or gender-motivated verbal abuse is no longer tolerated, but rather vigorously investigated, with perpetrators held accountable. It’s supposed to be an inclusive, respectful environment, for all races, genders and sexual orientations. So what message does it send when a team trots out Hull for a special occasion, asking its fans to applaud him?”
Seriously. What part of domestic violence do the Jets not understand?
No surprise there was a bit of pushback to my recent post about the 1977-78 Jets holding the record for most consecutive wins by a Canadian pro sports franchise. Some have pooh-poohed the Jets’ 15 straight Ws as the product of a watered-down, tier-II World Hockey Association. Well, let me just say this about that: WHA outfits faced off against NHL sides 63 times and the final tally was 34-22-7 in favor of the WHA. The Jets were 7-5-2. Meantime, two of the top five scorers (Wayne Gretzky, Mike Rogers) and four of the top 10 (Blaine Stoughton, Blair MacDonald) in the first season after the merger were WHA grads. And Mark Howe, also a WHA product, was the top scoring defenceman. So there.
Some truly terrific scribbling in the Drab Slab last week, first from Mike Sawatzky and then Melissa Martin. Mike filled us in on the back-from-the-dead experience of Rick St. Croix, goaltending guru of the Manitoba Moose. Rick, one of the nicest, most-decent men you’ll ever meet, almost left us when his ticker kicked up a fuss at the airport in December, but he’s now in full recovery and back at work. Melissa, meanwhile, took a road trip to Drumheller, Alta., where she had a natter with Steve Vogelsang, the sportscaster-turned teacher-turned back robber-turned jail bird. It’s gripping stuff for those of us who remember Steve as the glib guy on the CKY sports desk.
I stayed up past my normal bedtime to watch the Oscars last Sunday. Just wondering: Have Renée Zellweger and Joaquin Phoenix finished their speeches yet?
I find myself wondering this, too: Between Skip The Dishes, UberEats and DoorDash, does anyone still actually cook dinner at home?
Major League Baseball is talking about expanding its playoffs and, the way I hear it, the post-season soon shall include everyone but the Little League World Series champions. Oh for the days when only two teams qualified for the rounders championship and they settled the debate when the sun was high and kids could listen to the weekday games in school. And, no, that doesn’t mean I’m living in the past. It means the MLB post-season shouldn’t be like a day at the beach. You know, “Everybody in!”
Some very strange blah, blah, blah in the playground last week. Start with Jim Crane, dismissive owner of the Houston Astros, who cheated their way to a MLB title with an elorate sign-stealing scheme. Asked if his club’s chicanery was the difference in its 2017 World Series win, Crane said, “this didn’t impact the game.” When challenged by a news snoop to explain how blatant cheating didn’t influence the outcome, he said, “I didn’t say it didn’t impact the game.”
I believe Crane’s pants are still on fire.
Meanwhile, Mark Spector of Sportsnet delivered a head-scratching analysis of the Zack Kassian kicking incident, whereby the Edmonton Oilers forward put the bladed boots to Erik Cernak of the Tampa Bay Lightning while they were tangled in an on-ice heap. Spector said Cernak took “what appeared to be a skate sort of across the chest, got up, skated away like it was nothing. Didn’t even give a second look to Kassian. So, yes, it looked like it happened.”
There are no words to describe how dumb that sounds.
The Boston Red Sox might have cheated their way to the 2018 World Series title, and the New England Patriots apparently cheated their way to a couple of Super Bowl championships. Thus I asked Beantown booster Jack the Bartender how the Boston Bruins are cheating in their latest quest for a Stanley Cup. “Zdeno Chara is a robot,” he answered. “He actually died four years ago.”
And, finally, I wouldn’t still be scribbling these musings if not for my doctor and Brian Adam, a former radio guy who insists I keep cranking it out. Brian is a Montreal Canadiens booster, although I don’t hold that against him, and he has a radio voice that makes him sound like one of the Bee Gees, and I definitely take issue with that. At any rate, if you don’t like what you’re reading, direct all complaints to Bee Gee Brian, not moi. You’ll find him in Bart’s Pub.