About Jumbo Thornton’s chin whiskers…an expansion team in Seattle…and they’re buzzing about the Winnipeg Jets

Midweek musings on the edge of a fresh National Hockey League season…

Jumbo Joe Thornton and the here and after.

There was good news and bad news at the NHL’s roster cut-down deadline this week. The bad news is that Joe Thornton’s chin whiskers became a casualty. That’s right, the San Jose Sharks forward had his mountain-man beard hacked off. The good news is that they discovered Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart’s airplane and a golf ball that Tiger Woods lost at last summer’s U.S. Open under all that scruff.

Looks like Seattle will be awarded an expansion franchise for the 2020 NHL season. Reaction to the news in Ottawa was swift: “Can we get one, too?”

You know that tired lament about how no one notices the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown? About how anyone who works and plays in River City flies under the radar? About how life sucks because everyone in the eastern time zone is tucked snugly into bed by the time they drop the puck out in the colonies?

Well, you wanted recognition for the Winnipeg Jets? You’ve got it.

Les Jets de Winnipeg have been in more headlines this week than anyone not being considered for a seat on the United States Supreme Court. They’re getting buzz from one of our two national newspapers, the Globe and Mail. They’re getting buzz from Yahoo! Sports. The “insiders” at Sportsnet are buzzing about our local hockey heroes. ESPN is boffo on les Jets. NBC/NBCSN will feature les Jets five times on Wednesday nights. Online and sports books in Las Vegas are bullish on Winnipeg HC.

Cripes, man, there’s even Jets buzz on TSN, where they could be found on the main page of the website on Tuesday morning. In three different headlines.

When I saw that, I immediately called up the Weather Channel.

“Is it true?” I asked a young woman who answered the phone.

“Is what true?” she replied.

“Has Hell frozen over?”

“By Hell, do you mean Ottawa and the Senators?”

“No. I mean Hell as in Hell. You know…Satan, hissing, misery, suffering, eternal inferno. That wretched place.”

“Sounds like Ottawa and the Senators to me. But if you mean the biblical Hell, the usual warm front persists and remains parked over most of it. Why do you ask?”

“Because TSN has three mentions about the Winnipeg Jets on the main page of the website and there’s nada—bupkus!—about TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. They can’t possibly start a day without slobbering over Johnny Rotten, so I figure it can only be one of two things: 1) I overslept and it’s late November; 2) hell has frozen over.”

“No,” she assured me, “you didn’t sleep in and snowballs still don’t have a hope in Hell. Trust me, you and everyone else will know when Hell has frozen over.”

“How so?”

“There’ll be a Stanley Cup parade on Yonge Street in Toronto.”

Blake Wheeler

According to the pundits hither and yon, Winnipeg HC, while not everyone’s flavor of the month, figures to be a very prominent player in its eighth crusade since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011.

Les Jets, who commence their 2018-19 journey vs. the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night, are listed at No. 2 on the TSN power rankings, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Those ratings, by the way, are determined by five talking heads—Ray Ferraro, O’Dog Jeff O’Neill, Craig Button, Jamie McLennan and Darren Dreger.) For its part, Yahoo! Sports ranks Winnipeg HC fifth, behind Tampa Bay, Nashville Predators, San Jose and the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

Over at Sportsnet, meanwhile, 16 “insiders” are gaga for les Jets.
* 9 pick them to win Stanley Cup;
* 10 pick them to win Western Division;
* 11 pick them as the Canadian outfit with highest points total;
* 1 (Kristina Rutherford) picks Blake Wheeler to win Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player;
* 5 pick Connor Hellebuyck to win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.

Connor Hellebuyck

At The Athletic, 47 scribes/editors weighed in on the upcoming season and les Jets are the second favorite to cop the Cup; Puck Finn is the overwhelming pick to win the Rocket Richard Trophy; Connor Hellebuyck is the second choice for the Vezina; and even the head coach, Paul Maurice, is feeling the love as co-favorite to be named coach of the year (with Peter DeBoer of San Jose).

Not since the World Hockey Association have we witnessed such pre-season hype for Winnipeg HC. Those WHA outfits delivered the goods. We’ll know about these Jets in about nine months.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Interesting take on les Jets from Dave Shoalts of the Globe and Mail:

“Everybody has fallen in love with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the team to break Canada’s 25-year Stanley Cup drought. But it might just be the Winnipeg Jets who accomplish that. The Maple Leafs may be the darlings of the oddsmakers, but the Jets are big, fast, skilled and better than the team that went to last spring’s Western Conference final.

“With that experience under their belts, the Jets are now poised to take the next step. Their top line of centre Mark Scheifele and wingers Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor is one of the best in the league. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck played his way into the top tier of goaltenders with his work in the playoffs. At 25 years of age he, like his teammates, is only getting better.”

A couple things to peel away here:

Bryan Little

I’m not convinced this Jets outfit is “better than the team” that lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final. The departure of Paul Stastny tells me it isn’t. Unless Bryan Little has a bounce-back season or Jack Roslovic is a revelation, Winnipeg HC is weaker at centre ice.

Hellebuyck, meantime, was terrific during a burdensome regular season and early in the playoffs. He did not, however, play admirably in the five-game ouster vs. Vegas. He was sketchy and Marc-André Fleury outperformed him by a wide margin, despite his repeated mantra that “luck” was Fleury’s greatest ally.

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Hens in the Hockey House: Big deals on Wheels for the Winnipeg Jets

My two Hens in the Hockey House have surfaced from their summer hibernation, just in time to deliver some blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda on the Blake Wheeler signing. The Winnipeg Jets captain has agreed to a five-year contract extension that will average $8.25 million per season, at which time he will be into his hockey dotage at age 37.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, girlfriend, what’s your take on the Deal on Wheels? Too much money? Too much term? Too little money? Too little term?

Answer Lady: The question isn’t whether or not the Jets gave Wheeler too much of this or too little of that. It’s this: When does the captain go into the inevitable decline?

Blake Wheeler

Question Lady: What makes you so sure his game’s heading south?

Answer Lady: Oh, honey, everything heads south. Just take a look at what gravity has done to our bodies. We know Wheeler’s skills will decay and no tummy tuck is going to change or fix that. As sure as there’s wind at Portage and Main, he’ll experience a drop in productivity. What we don’t know and can’t predict is when, and how rapid, the retreat will be.

Question Lady: We’re pretty confident that his game won’t take a detour south this winter, are we not?

Answer Lady: I’d say that’s a safe bet. I mean, it might not be another 91-point season, but as long as he has Rink Rat Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Big Buff, Twig Ehlers and Puck Finn as playmates he ought to deliver a point a game by accident. Here’s something we must keep in mind, though: Wheeler will be working on his existing contract in the 2018-19 National Hockey League season. At $5.6 million, he’s a bargain. Maybe the best bargain in the game. But he won’t be so much of a bargain if it’s 55 points and $8.25 million four years from now. Guaranteed the rabble will be bitching a blue streak about his contract being an anchor if that happens. I already hear grumbling about the term on this extension.

Question Lady: Are you surprised that the Jets gave a 32-year-old forward an extra five years?

Answer Lady: To be honest, two years ago I was convinced that Wheeler would play out his current contract then vamoose out of Dodge in pursuit of a championship. That changed last spring when the Jets advanced to the Western Conference final in the Stanley Cup runoff. But an additional five years? Ya, totally unexpected. I was thinking three tops.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Question Lady: Do you think Wheeler left money on the table for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and the bean counters to divvy up between Puck Finn, Kyle Connor, Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba?

Answer Lady: Since I wasn’t invited to join Wheeler and Chevy for the cup of coffee that led to this deal, I can’t answer that. But I think an argument can be made that he’d have gotten more coin on the open market next summer. So, in those terms, ya, he sold himself short. But, hey, how much is enough? If a guy can’t get by on $8.25 million per annum, he’s got issues that we probably don’t want to know about.

Question Lady: Doesn’t Wheeler strike you as the kind of guy who would take one for the team, so to speak?

Answer Lady: Ya, he does. Never met him, but the guy’s a pro’s pro by all accounts. About the only negative thing I could say about the captain is that he is sometimes—too often—prickly with news snoops. But dealing with jock journos is part of the package when you wear the C, so get over it.

Question Lady: Best-case scenario, of course, is that Wheeler hoists the Stanley Cup next spring or the year after that. What’s the worst-case scenario?

Answer Lady: That he turns into the Looch—Milan Lucic, owner of the most-onerous contract in the NHL. I mean, the Edmonton McDavids are paying the Looch $6 million a year to lurch up and down the left wing like a guy dragging an ATM machine, and he’ll be on their books until 2023. He’ll be the world’s oldest 34-year-old by then, likely scoring five goals a season instead of the 10 he had last winter. How happy do you think they’ll be paying that ball-and-chain $1.2 million per goal? I don’t see that ever happening to Wheeler and the Jets, though. He still has plenty of game. At least three, perhaps four more years as a top-flight forward. But you asked me for the worst-case scenario and I can’t think of anything more grim than him morphing into a right-wing version of the Looch.

Question Lady: The Wheeler signing means much of the heavy lifting is done and, really, there’s only Morrissey without a contract. What’s the holdup there?

Answer Lady: It has to be term. I’m only spitballing, but Chevy’s track record suggests that length of service is the sticking point. He has some kind of cult-leader sway with these guys. He serves them the Kool-Aid and before you can say Pokey and the Bandit they’re locked in for six years or more at a team-friendly rate. It worked with Rink Rat Scheifele and Twig Ehlers and Hellebuyck, so it’s my guess that he’s attempting similar powers of persuasion with Morrissey.

Question Lady: And if Josh doesn’t swallow the Kool-Aid?

Answer Lady: Then he’ll do what Trouba did—sign for two years and carry on carrying on until such time as he’s in a more favorable bargaining position.

Question Lady: Let’s end it with a question about Trouba. What’s his shelf life with the Jets?

Answer Lady: Two years tops, then adios, amigos.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go and enjoy what’s left of summer. Any plans for you?

Answer Lady: At my age, I don’t make plans or buy green bananas.

About Johnny TMZ and jock journos going ga-ga over a backup QB…Matty gushing on TSN…the Anna Kournikova of car racing departs…mom’s the word for Serena in France…ultra-hyper Shapo…put some clothes on, Celine…Chevy and Coach Potty-Mouth don’t have much to say…Jacob Trouba’s pants are on fire…the “second-rate” Jets…a novelty act in Tranna…and standing for the anthem in pubs

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

Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football. Johnny Magic. Johnny Be Good. Johnny Rotten. Johnny Backup. Johnny TMZ.

By any name, it’s all Johnny all of the time, and even media giants in the Republic of Trump are taking notice of our quirky brand of football now that Johnny Manziel is using his hands for something other than providing fingerprints for police, hoisting shot glasses and hitting women.

Indeed, ESPN and USA Today dispatched news snoops to Timbits Field for Manziel’s debut with the home-standing Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night, while other outlets—Dallas Morning News, NBC Sports, New York Daily News, New York Post, etc.—have been dutifully recording his every move since he became the Canadian Football League’s latest American reclamation project.

Johnny TMZ

Manziel, of course, was a total washout with the Cleveland Browns in the National Football League. He was even more of a washout as a human being. Drugs. Booze. Bar brawls. Beating up women. Arrests. A grand jury. Court appearances. We need not go into the gory details. Suffice to say, he was Prince Charming like Roseanne Barr is Miss Manners. He was, by numerous accounts, a snot-nose rich kid.

So now that someone has tidied him up, Manziel is on our side of the great U.S.-Canadian divide, at his Last Chance Saloon, and the media are on a feeding frenzy.

Manziel did nothing extraordinary as a backup quarterback in the Tiger-Cats loss to the Toronto Argonauts on Friday night. He flung the football 11 times, with nine completions for 80 yards and zero points on the board, but Johnny Ordinary still appeared at the top of the page on the TSN website—with nine freaking videos! Sportsnet had him at the top as well, with two videos. He made the ESPN front page. Ditto USA Today. Also the Dallas Morning News. He was the lead football story on the New York Post website. Etcetera.

And let’s be clear here: This was a flipping exhibition football game, the most mind-numbing, sleep-inducing exercise in sports! Manziel was the backup QB! In a flipping exhibition game!

The sports media has lost whatever was left of its mind.

I don’t think Manziel should be in the CFL. You beat up a woman, you don’t qualify. But, hey, I didn’t get a vote. Just like I didn’t get a vote when they allowed bad actors Dexter Manley, Lawrence Phillips and Ricky Williams to cross the border back in the day. Is the CFL really so desperate that any player with a salable name is welcome, regardless what it says on his rap sheet? And are jock journos so desperate for a story that they gleefully play along with the CFL’s folly?

Matt Dunigan

Totally dumbest comment about Manziel was delivered by Matt Dunigan, the CFL on TSN gab guy who talks like he’s still in a locker room. After Manziel’s do-nothing performance, Dunigan absolutely gushed, saying, “On the off-script plays, boy, it’s magic, it’s Flutie-esque.” Oh FFS. He actually compared a backup QB to Doug Flutie, arguably the best player in CFL history. Shut the hell up, Matty. At least Milt Stegall was honest in his assessment of Manziel. “Not bad,” the Hall of Fame receiver said.

The absurdity of the Manziel fixation reached its peak when Matthew Scianitti of TSN took to Twitter last week and posted a play-by-play account of the backup QB’s performance—complete with passing statistics—in practice. Seriously? Play-by-play and passing stats from a training exercise with the Ticats second team offence and defence? You might want to think about getting a life, Matthew.

Danica Patrick

Speaking of overhyped athletes, Danica Patrick has taken her leave from the world of fast car racing, and she did so, perhaps appropriately, in a mangled wreck on the 68th lap of the Indianapolis 500. The bottom line on her exaggerated, 13-year career behind the wheel: 307 starts, one victory (1-for-116 in IndyCar, her sole victory coming in a skeletal, 18-car field in 2008; 0-for 191 in NASCAR with zero top-five finishes and only seven top-10s). If she led either series in anything, it was self-indulgence and hissy fits. She was never involved in an accident that she couldn’t blame on another driver. “More than anything I just hope they remember me as a great driver,” Patrick said prior to the Indy 500. Nope. Doesn’t work that way. Many framed the GoDaddy girl as a pioneer who would lead other women to the race track, but it simply hasn’t happened. Unfortunately, she was Anna Kournikova with Quaker State motor oil under her fingernails.

Evonne Goolagong Cawley

Had Serena Williams won the French Open, she wouldn’t have broken new ground as a Grand Slam-winning mama, but she would have been in select company. Margaret Court became the first mother to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament in the open era, claiming the Australian, French and U.S. Opens in 1973, a year after giving birth to her first child. Another Aussie, the graceful and delightful Evonne Goolagong Cawley, won the Aussie Open the same year (1977) she gave birth to her first child. And Kim Clijsters gave birth to the first of her three children in 2008 and won the U.S. Open the following two years and the Australia Open in 2011.

I suppose this is treasonous to say, but I have great difficulty watching our guy Denis Shapovalov play tennis. Bouncing the ball between his legs and bouncing on the balls of his feet before every serve is mildly annoying, but his fist-pumping after every winning point is too much. I swear, that boy is going to suffer a nervous breakdown right on court.

Celine Dion

Canada’s gift to Glitter Gulch, songstress Celine Dion, is so excited about the Vegas Golden Knights being in the Stanley Cup final that she wore a team jersey during a recent performance. Trouble is, she forgot to put on the rest of her clothes. Nice legs, though.

Is anyone actually watching the National Hockey League championship series between the Golden Knights and the Washington Ovies? I must confess that I tuned out the moment les Jets de Winnipeg were ushered out of the Stanley Cup runoff. Haven’t watched a minute of the final. If I had any rooting interest, it would be behind the Washington bench, where Barry Trotz paces. He’s a homebrew who cut his coaching teeth at the University of Manitoba and with Dauphin Kings in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

How do we know the Jets had a successful season? Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice had less to say at their exit chin-wags with news snoops. Last year, general manager Chevy and Coach Potty-Mouth held separate gab sessions and flapped their gums for a total of one hour, 14 minutes and 22 seconds. This year, they sat side-by-each. Total chin-wag time: 0:32:20.

Jacob Trouba

Jets very capable defenceman Jacob Trouba tells the rabble that his desire is to remain in Good Ol’ Hometown for the long haul. “The quicker the better,” he told news snoops when asked about signing a long-term deal before they drop the puck next autumn. Paul Wiecek says he’s a liar. Yup. Says Trouba’s pants are on fire. Says he’s a regular Pinocchio. “I was struck how excited everyone was that Trouba told reporters he really wants to stay in Winnipeg and play for the Jets,” Wiecek wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press. “For the record, that is the exact same thing Trouba told me at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in 2016—a week before his agent announced he wanted out and Trouba proceeded to hold out for four weeks of the 2016-17 season. Trouba told reporters what they wanted to hear this week—his agent will be telling Chevy something very different, which is that if the Jets want to lock down Trouba for years to come it is going to cost them, big time.” Little wonder the relationship between athletes and scribes is often adversarial.

Worth repeating: “We have some good young players,” Chevy said in April 2017. “We will make the necessary steps and necessary decisions to keep those good young players. That’s been our promise, that’s been our mandate, that’s been something we’ve said since day one. And that day is coming.” That day is here, Chevy.

There was nothing “second rate” about the WHA Jets.

Someone might want to give Dan Lett a lesson in local hockey lore. The political scribe at the Freep, Lett had this to say in a recent siss-boom-bah, rah-rah-rah piece about the Jets and Winnipeg “Before they bolted for Arizona, the previous incarnation of the Jets was a source of frustration and, at times, embarrassment. There were some good teams, but they always fell to teams from cities that seemed larger, more successful, more complete. Our second-rate team seemed to reinforce the idea that Winnipeg was a second-rate community.” Yo! Danny boy! That “second-rate team” won three World Hockey Association titles. I suppose Lett can be forgiven, though. He’s from the Republic of Tranna. What could he possibly know about championship hockey?

Evander Kane

Seriously? Evander Kane signs with the San Jose Sharks for $49 million over seven seasons? For real? He’s never had a 60-point season. He’s scored 30 goals once. He’s.never played an entire 82-game schedule. Kane, now 27, just completed his most productive season, with 57 points. By way of comparison, Kyle Connor of the Jets ( 31-26-57) did that as a 20-year-old rookie. Twig Ehlers, 22, already has two 60-point seasons and two 82-game seasons. Puck Finn has had 64- (36 goals) and 70-point (44 goals) seasons as a teenager. Rink Rat Scheifele, 25, has had three 60-point seasons and a 32-goal season. They all collect less coin than Kane. Either Chevy is a genius or Sharks GM Doug Wilson is a fool.

Okay, officially the Tranna Blue Jays are no longer a baseball team. They’re a novelty act. I mean, Russell Martin playing shortstop? Kendrys Morales pitching? “We really don’t have a true shortstop on the team,” says beleaguered manager John Gibbons. That’s a fine job Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins have done since since defecting from Cleveland to take the wheel of our country’s Major League Baseball outfit. They’ve turned an American League East Division champion into a clunker in less than three seasons.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump tells National Football League players who kneel during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner that “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. Or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” I’ll agree that kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful only when I see people in pubs put down their pint mugs and stand when they’re watching a game on TV. And how many guys haul their big butts off the sofa to stand for the anthem at home? None that I know.

About the myth of (un)fairness in sports…no No. 1 for the Oilers (yay!)…licking the Leafs…Nick Kypreos fanning flames of a family feud in The ROT…sloth-like defencemen…it’s a “fine” mess you’ve gotten the Leafs into, Jake Gardiner…Damien Cox and Steve Simmons: separated at birth……Keith Gretzky no draft-day genius…hopping on the Canada’s (Only) Team bandwagon…and other things on my mind

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

There’s been considerable teeth gnashing, hand wringing and chin wagging devoted to the flawed National Hockey League playoff schematic in the past week, all of it an echo of the squawking we heard during the spring runoff a year ago.

The Tranna Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins meeting in Round 1? Stupid.

The Winnipeg Jets, henceforth known as Canada’s (Only) Team, and the Nashville Predators obliged to engage in hostilities in Round 2. Also stupid.

Apparently, it isn’t “fair” either.

Well, excuse me, but I must have missed the memo that says sports is supposed to be fair.

Spud Webb and Manute Bol: Is this fair?

Is it fair that Connor McDavid is stuck in Edmonton? Is it fair that Brent Burns has that magnificent beard and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine has the world’s worst collection of chin whiskers? Is it fair that Michael Phelps has flippers instead of feet? Is it fair that Secretariat had a heart the size of a keg of beer while most other race horses have hearts the size of a shot glass. Is it fair that 5-feet-7 Spud Webb had to climb a stepladder to look 7-feet-7 Manute Bol in the eye?

Expecting fairness in sports is a fanciful notion.

Ask New York Islanders fans about fair. If sports was meant to be fair, someone not named Garth Snow would be generally managing their NHL club. Instead, they’re still saddled with him, 12 years in.

Ask Jets Nation about fair. Every time Dale Hawerchuk and the boys were feeling their oats in the 1980s, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and pals were eating their lunch. (Les Jets and Edmonton Oilers played 19 games across five series in the ’80s. Final tally: Edmonton 18 Ws, Winnipeg 1.)

Elin Nordegren

I think the last truly “fair” thing in sports was Elin Nordegren’s divorce settlement with Tiger Woods.

In an ideal world, sure, the Preds and Canada’s (Only) Team wouldn’t meet until Round 3 of the Stanley Cup tournament. They, after all, collected the most points in the regular season, finishing 1-2, respectively. But, hey, it’s not like the NHL has a monopoly on stupid. The National Football League, Canadian Football League, Major League baseball…all dumb.

The NFL has been known to reward sub-standard outfits with home playoff dates simply because they had the good fortune of competing in a turtle division. The CFL is worse. The East Division has been without a plus-.500 team since 2015, but the Ottawa RedBlacks and Tranna Argonauts won the past two Grey Cup games in large part because they were granted a bye and home field in the playoffs. In Major League Baseball, both the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates had more Ws than two of the three National League division champions in 2015, yet they were required to compete in a wild-card game.

None of that’s fair. Sports was never meant to be fair.

Rasmus Dahlin

You want to talk about fairness in sports? Any club other than the Oilers winning the right to choose Rasmus Dahlin at the NHL entry draft in June…that’s fairness in sports. I mean, what was the most oft-heard conversation once the ping-pong balls stopped bouncing at the draft lottery on Saturday in The Republic of Tranna? Try this:

Thank gawd those messed-up, misfit SOBs in Edmonton don’t get another first pick overall.”

You got that right, man. ABO—anybody but the Oilers.”

It’s bad enough that the Oil Drop gets the 10th shoutout in June (it’ll be their eighth top-10 pick this decade if you’re keeping score at home), but a fifth No. 1 would have brought serious calls for entry draft reform. As it turns out, the Buffalo Sabres will get Dahlin (not wild about that; was hoping for the Vancouver Canucks).

Did the NHL Department of Tsk-Tsking really call the Boston Bruins and instruct them to instruct Brad Marchand to stop licking opposing players? Marchand, you’ll recall, was observed licking Leo Komarov of the Tranna Maple Leafs on the neck during their just-concluded Stanley Cup series. What’s the big deal? Everybody’s been licking the Leafs since 1967.

Nick Kypreos

Interesting times in the 6ix, which, I’m told, is what the happening people who hang out with Drake call The Republic of Tranna. Les Leafs, of course, have put away the pucks in favor of more seasonal pursuits, but they couldn’t retreat from The ROT without Nick Kypreos tossing a lit match into the dumpster of another crusade that ended in wanting. “Babcock lost Matthews,” he told the boys on Sportsnet 590’s Starting Lineup. “I don’t know what happened, but he lost him. There was no trust anymore. For whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews.” Kypreos failed to offer a shred of evidence to support his thesis that head coach Mike Babcock and his main stud, Auston Matthews, were/are at odds, except to mutter something about “body language.” Lame, lame, lame. This story will lose some of its giddyup over the summer, but it’ll be a fresh brush fire when les Leafs reconvene in autumn, with the possibility of gusts up to an inferno. Simply because Kypreos opened his gob and out fell innuendo, then reporters and opinionists chased after it.

Three-toed sloth

What’s the difference between a sloth and Zdeno Chara? Two toes on each foot. I mean, to say that Chara is sloth slow would be an insult to dawdling mammals everywhere. I swear, if a fire alarm went off, a sloth would beat Chara out the door. Incredibly, the Bruins captain continues to get the job done and, at age 41, he gobbles up more minutes for head coach Bruce Cassidy than the mere mortals on the B’s blueline. I just wonder if it’s sustainable through three more rounds of the Stanley Cup tournament. I don’t see it happening, but more power to him if he can pull it off.

A rough night for Jake Gardiner.

I sometimes think Damien Cox of the Toronto Sun/Sportsnet and Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna/TSN were separated at birth. Seriously. They must be blood related. How else do we explain their shared penchant for the absurd? Last week, for example, Cox wrote: “The (Nashville Predators) have always been competitive under the only GM they’ve ever had, David Poile.” Apparently, “always competitive” means missing the playoffs eight times. “Always competitive” means missing the playoffs in the first five years of the franchise’s existence. “Always competitive” means missing the playoffs as recently as both 2013 and ’14. Cox then doubled down on his “D’oh!” boy hockey analysis by submitting that the Maple Leafs defence was “fine” in a 7-4 Game 7 loss to the Bruins on Wednesday. Fine? Jake Gardiner was totally inept. His game was like a spring day in Winnipeg—minus-5. It was biblical in its awfulness. The puck was a live grenade on his stick. He wanted no part of it. (Neither, for that matter, did his equally inept goaltender, Frederik Andersen.) It’s hard to imagine any player inflicting so much damage on his own side during 24 minutes of ice time, but, according to Cox, a defence that featured Gardiner was “fine.” At the end, I found myself wondering what the Leafs could possibly fetch in barter for Gardiner during the off-season. Certainly no one who’s breathing.

I used to enjoy listening to the boys banter on Hockey Central at Noon, but it has become a chore now that Cox seems to have secured a regular seat on the soup-and-sandwich-time gabfest. The man is an interruptive, insufferable, eye-rolling, lip-licking, fact-fudging, ego-driven, know-it-all squawkbox who talks down to people and gets agitated at the slightest suggestion that his might not be a persuasive or prevailing opinion. Other than that, Cox is “fine.”

Jailbird Slava Voynov

Word out of Russia is that disgraced wife-beater Slava Voynov will seek re-entry to North America and the NHL, and his wish list includes the Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and—horrors—Winnipeg. I think maybe Slava might want to scratch the Jets off his list. They took heat for inducting Bobby Hull into their Hall of Fame, so I can’t see them flopping down the welcome mat for the former Los Angeles Kings defenceman who spent two months in the brig and was deported from the U.S. for kicking the crap out of his wife.

Keith Gretzky

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “The brother you don’t hear about, Keith Gretzky, left the Boston Bruins after the 2016 season to join his friend, Peter Chiarelli in Edmonton. But here’s what Gretzky left behind as scouting director: Future Norris Trophy winner Charlie McAvoy, David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo. He passed on Mathew Barzal. Stuff happens. Name another team that’s drafted better?”

Okay. I’ll name another team: The Winnipeg Jets—Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Connor Hellebuyck, Adam Lowry, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Jack Roslovic, Tucker Poolman, Sami Niku, Kristian Vesalainen.

Second, Gretzky’s work in the first round of the 2015 entry draft can’t be written off as “stuff happens.” Ya, he got the B’s a keeper in Jake DeBrusk, but he used picks 13-14-15 to claim Jakub Zboril, DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn when Mathew Barzal (16th) Kyle Connor (17th), Brock Boeser (23rd), Travis Konecny (24th) and Jack Roslovic (25th) were there for the taking.

Third, Gretzky didn’t draft Grzelyck for the Bruins. He was taken in 2012, two years before the Great One’s brother became the B’s top amateur bird dog.

Just the facts, ma’am. They aren’t hard to find.

Party time at Portage and Main in 1972.

And, finally, it’s about Canada’s (Only) Team: Peggers are already partying like it’s the 1970s again—when Ben Hatskin was hijacking Bobby Hull and the Jets were riding in championship parades as a regular routine—but will the cross-country rabble rally ’round the flag and adopt an outfit from little, ol’, out-of-the-way Winnipeg as Canada’s team as the NHL playoffs lurch along? I have my doubts. I mean, sure, there’ll be pockets of hosers across our vast land whose patriotic pangs will inspire them to root, root, root for Tinytown North, because beating the beasts of the south and returning Hockey’s Holy Grail to its rightful home is a compelling, warm-and-fuzzy narrative. But I can’t imagine les Jets catching the fancy of the masses in The Republic of Tranna, Ottawa and all points east. Nor on the far side of the Rocky Mountains, where locals mourned the passing of the Sedin twins with much reverence for a respectful 48 hours then returned to the shade of their palm trees and regularly scheduled patio lattés. I’m thinking nothing shy of a trip to the Stanley Cup final will stir up national fervour for Canada’s (Only) Team. But it’s never too early or too late for outriders to hop on the bandwagon.

The Hellebuyck stops here: Winnipeg Jets are a win away from moving on

Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 4 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on Tuesday night…

Connor Hellebuyck

Pregame blah, blah, blah: Okay, took an afternoon nap. Should be good to go and actually make it through three periods of shinny without nodding off. Of course, that depends on the Jets and Wild. Their third period in Game 3 put me to sleep, literally, and I have a feeling this game might feature plodding, cautious hockey, given what’s at stake…Wonder if Twig Ehlers will do more than skate in pretty circles tonight. I like the kid. A lot. So much speed. But I like him a whole lot better when he makes red lights flash…Ben Chiarot predicts the Jets “will come out hot” in Game 4. Wonder if by that he means: “I won’t take any stupid penalties and bitch about it all night.”…No Tyler Myers for les Jets, but Wild have been without Ryan Suter the entire series, and now Zach Parise is in the repair shop for the duration, so I’d rather not hear any whinging from Jets Nation about owies…I suppose Marcus Foligno has become Public Enemy No. 1 in Winnipeg for taking out Myers, but, hey, every good story needs a bad guy. So why not a big, rambunctious, effective forward as the villain?…Got a kick out of some of the Jets rabble suggesting Foligno wouldn’t have been racing around the rink uncontested in Game 3 had Anthony Peluso still been in the Winnipeg lineup. Spare me. If Peluso still wore Jets linen, they’d be on a golf course in a warm-weather locale today. Except Dustin Byfuglien. Big Buff would be ice fishing somewhere…After all these years, I still don’t understand why Byfuglien is pronounced Buff-lin instead of By-foo-glee-en…Connor Hellebuyk didn’t like some of the questions tossed his way after he’d surrendered six goals in two periods on Sunday night. That makes us even: I didn’t like his goaltending…Hellebuyck’s one of the finalists for the Vezina Trophy. Nice rags-to-riches story…

Rink Rat Scheifele

First Period: You know it’s playoff hockey when the finesse players are tossing their frames around, and Eric Staal drills Blake Wheeler to hopefully set a tone for the Wild…Badger Bob Johnson used to talk about “jump” whenever his Calgary Flames were on top of their game, and the Jets definitely have “jump” tonight. I guess I was wrong about plodding, cautious hockey. This is lickety-split hockey…Twig Ehlers is skating in pretty circles and not much else. He reminds me of an up-tempo Alexander Burmistrov…Could be more bad news for the Wild. Matt Dumba leaves the ice and heads down the tunnel toward the repair shop…Not to worry, he’s back…Hellebuyck is stone-cold brilliant against Staal, keeping it zip-zip. Best chance by either team so far…Josh Morrissey gets away with a vicious cross-check to Staal’s neck during a Wild powerplay. Should have been a major penalty, no question. Wild have every right to feel totally ripped off. They should have a two-man advantage…Sportsnet gab guy Paul Romanuk says, “The referees get most of them right. They’re the best in the world.” Oh, shut the front door. The zebras were too involved in Game 3, and if the Jets score now after gagging on the Morrissey cross-check it’s a game-changer…Sure enough, Rink Rat Scheifele gives the Jets a 1-zip lead with less than a minute to play. Heady play by Scheifele, Wheeler and Kyle Connor to keep the play onside…If the zebras watch a replay of the Morrissey cross-check during intermission and realize they blew it, they might want to punish the Jets with a makeup call. I wouldn’t rule it out.

Josh Morrissey

Second Period: As the late, great play-by-play voice Danny Gallivan (best ever) used to say, “an enormous save” by Hellebuyck on Dumba on a Wild 3-on-1 rush. Astonishing. Got the glove hand on it. He should win the Vezina just for that save alone. Color commentator Garry Galley calls it a “good save.” Geez, tough crowd. I mean, that’s like saying Meryl Streep is a “good” actor…Josh Morrissey, his nasty cross-check aside, is the best player on the ice, either side…Is it just me or does anyone else think Rink Rat Scheifele takes too much crap during after-whistle scrums? I understand discipline. Don’t want to take stupid penalties. But I wonder if he’s going to snap at some point…Watching that commercial featuring Connor McDavid, I can’t help but think he’d best not quit his day job…Hellebuyck takes a penalty, then stones Jonas Brodin. Brilliant bounce-back game from the Jets keeper…Big Buff fills in Jordan Greenway to close the period….Still 1-zip Jets…Terrific game. Do I hear overtime?

Badger Bob Johnson

Third Period: Something tells me that if Jets get their second goal, it’ll be on a counter attack, because at some point the Wild will have to open up…You think they could use Parise right now?…Blake Wheeler is a beast. He’s tossing people around…What in the name of Claude Noel are Puck Finn Laine and Jacob Trouba doing? They’re delivering “free pizzas” across the middle of the ice! Brings to mind Johnny Oduya.Yo! Boys! You’ve got a 1-zip lead. Everything to the outside. Everything to the outside in the defensive and neutral zones…Kyle Connor needs to eat some meat and potatoes. Maybe some dumplings with gravy, too…Garry Galley has upgraded Hellebuyck’s larcenous second-period save on Dumba from “good” to “brilliant.”…Scheifele finds iron from the slot, then Devan Dubnyk dumbfounds Brandon Tanev and Puck Finn (with a classic Johnny Bower poke check) to keep it 1-zip Jets. Elite goaltending at both ends…Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau beckons Dubnyk, but Wild just don’t have the firepower to square the score, even with the extra attacker…Scheifele slides the puck into the empty net. Jets 2, Wild 0…This one is down to Hellebuyck (first playoff shutout in franchise history), who definitely was in Vezina form and submitted that the guys in front of him had “extra jump.” Just like Badger Bob would have said…Have to wonder what Boudreau has to say about the missed cross-check on Staal. Wait. Here he is to talk about it. “Cost us the game,” he says. Not surprised to hear that. He should be bitter. It was a major gaffe by the men in the armbands…Jets lead this best-of-seven skirmish 3-1 and can send the Wild on vacation Friday night at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. Thirteen wins away from a Stanley Cup parade.

About an Officer and a world champion…thank you notes from Jill Officer and Vic Peters…dumb hockey prophets…no Calder for Connor…transparency from hockey scribes…an Irishman and booze…Mac and Martina…what about Tricky Dick and Leo the Lip?…and other things on my mind

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

Jill Officer has yet to utter the R-word. Retirement. She insists she’s just taking “a step back.”

Well, okay. If she says so.

I mean, Officer can define her retreat from elite curling with the terminology of her choosing, but she wept openly last month after going public with her decision. You don’t cry if you’re staying. You cry when you’re leaving.

Thus, there’s no escaping the fact that we have arrived at the end of an era. An unparalleled era.

Thelma and Louise

Officer, of course, has been playing Thelma to Jennifer Jones’s Louise since…well, since about the same time the fictional Thelma and Louise were on the lam, leading cops on a catch-us-if-you-can romp across America. That classic chick flick arrived on the big screen in May 1991. Curling’s two J Girls united shortly thereafter, and foes and friends have been chasing them ever since.

A quarter century. Who stays together that long? The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Homer and Marge. Mick and Keith. Fish and chips. That’s about it.

Here’s some time perspective: One of the J Girls’ teammates on the Canadian rep at the world women’s championship in North Bay the past week, fifth Shannon Birchard, wasn’t even in her mama’s womb when Officer and Jones first joined forces. The outfit’s third, Kaitlyn Lawes, had yet to begin grade school.

Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer

And it’s been quite the trip that skip Jen and second Jill have taken us on since that day in the early ’90s when the teenage Jones pulled the teenage Officer aside for a chit-chat by a Coke machine at the Highlander Curling Club in Winnipeg, whereupon they forged a partnership that has produced provincial (nine), Canadian (seven), Grand Slam (15), world (two) and Olympic titles. (Did I mention it was an unparalleled era among Manitoba curlers?)

Following Canada’s drama-drenched 7-6, extra-end victory over Sweden (brilliant game) on Sunday, there’ll be two curtain calls for the 42-year-old Officer in Grand Slam of Curling competition, then she’ll ease away, making only cameo appearances for the world-champion Jones team, which includes lead Dawn McEwen and will add Jocelyn Peterman to throw second stones next season.

This world title was the ideal, also appropriate, way for Officer to leave the big stage. One final run for glory. One final crown. And a perfect (14-0) storybook ending.

It was a beautiful thing.

Vic Peters

Terrific Jill Officer story from Paul Wiecek, longtime curling scribe and now columnist with the Winnipeg Free Press: “For the longest time, she would come to every major curling event the Jones team was competing in with these little chocolate curling rocks she’d buy at Morden’s in Winnipeg before she left. She’d tie a little ribbon around those chocolate rocks and attach a thank you card. And then, win or lose, Officer, who was a TV reporter back in the day, would come up to the media bench at the end of those curling events and hand those cards and chocolates to the reporters who’d been covering her team, just to thank us for the coverage. You know who else I covered over the last three decades who gave me a thank you card? Nobody.” I can relate. After covering the 1997 Brier in Calgary, I received a thank you card in the mail. It was from the late, great Vic Peters, his bride Deb, and their kids, Elisabeth, Kassie and Daley. That card sits atop my bookcase, 21 years after the fact. Curlers are wonderful and Peters, who left us almost exactly two years ago to this very day, was a total treat.

Doug Flutie

This is an equal-opportunity blog, folks. That is, any and all who do, say or write something stupid in sports are fair game for scorn, ridicule, rude laughter and no-insults-barred cheap shots. No exceptions. Sacred cows do not exist. Unless, of course, I harbor a special fondness for someone (hello, Tessa Virtue), in which case nary a discouraging word shall be written.

With that in mind, it’s only fair that I direct your attention to an analysis delivered prior to the first puck drop of the Winnipeg Jets current National Hockey League crusade. To wit:

It appears that the Western Conference road to the Stanley Cup is likely to go through Northern Alberta. If not, it’ll be Southern Alberta, where the Calgary Flames are shaping up to be a force. The trouble with the Jets—aside from the people behind the bench—is geography. Until they prove otherwise, they’re still the third best outfit on the Canadian Prairies.”

And what goomer wrote that tripe? Guilty, yer honor. Yup, it was little ol’ moi. D’oh! D’oh! D’oh!

But, hey, it’s not the dumbest thing I’ve ever scribbled. I once referred to the Major League Baseball all-star game as the “annual Fall Classic,” even though it’s played in July. And, of course, there was the time I mentioned something about Doug Flutie being nothing more than a fair-weather quarterback, only to then watch him win a Grey Cup game in a blizzard.

So, ya, Brain Cramps ‘R’ Me.

Connor McDavid

I find little or no consolation in the knowledge that the Edmonton McDavids and Flames fooled the majority of those who observe the goings-on of the NHL. I mean, seven of 16 “experts” at Sportsnet picked the McDavids to win the West. Fifteen of 16 forecast either the McDavids or Flames to finish with the highest points total among the seven Canadian clubs. Over at USA Today, the boys and girls on the beat had the McDavids finishing first in the Pacific Division, with Calgary in third. Yet, once the Stanley Cup tournament commences next month, the McDavids and Flames will have their noses pressed to the window, watching the fun from the outside. Sigh. The difference between me and the scribes/talking heads at Sportsnet and USA Today? They get paid to be dumb. I don’t. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna dates back to a Dec. 12 tweet, in which he wrote: “With four points tonight, @cmcdavid97 moves into 3rd in NHL scoring behind Steve Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. McDavid be back in the scoring lead within 10 days, I figure, maybe sooner.” Connor McDavid moved atop the scoring chart on Saturday night, meaning Simmons missed the mark by 92 days, or three months. Yup, another guy getting paid to be dumb.

Kyle Connor

Going from dumb to dumber, we give you this headline from the Winnipeg Sun last week: “Jets Connor for Calder?” Oh, shut the front door! I like Kyle Connor. He’s been the second-best contributor named Connor on the Jets roster this crusade. So, I agree, the kid’s boffo. But the NHL’s leading freshman? As if. Donald Trump will give up golf, Playmates and porn stars before that happens. Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders is your top frosh. No debate. After that, it’s Brock Boeser and the rest. And it won’t have anything to do with Connor doing his thing in out-of-the-way Winnipeg. “Everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” says Jets captain Blake Wheeler. Road apples! Dale Hawerchuk didn’t go under the radar. Teemu Selanne didn’t go under the radar. Barzal will win because he’s had the better rookie season, to date by 29 points.

Sweeney Odd

Lest we forget, the Jets have Don Sweeney to thank for Connor’s 28 goals, because the Boston Bruins general manager passed on the University of Michigan winger on three consecutive shout-outs during the first round of the 2015 NHL entry draft. Odd bit of business, that. Sweeney Odd, we hasten to add, also overlooked Barzal and Brock Boeser to instead claim Jake DeBrusk, Jakub Zboril and Zachary Senyshyn. So let’s do the math: The trio of Connor, Barzal and Boeser have combined for 77 goals and 178 points this season. The three guys the Boston GM swooped in on have contributed 14 goals and 39 points to the Bruins’ cause. Difference: 63 goals, 139 points. Sweeney Odd gets to keep his day job, though, because his club is already selling playoff tickets.

Humpty Harold Ballard

So, it only took the Professional Hockey Writers Association half a century to do what they’ve been demanding of everyone from Clarence Campbell to Harold Ballard’s parole officer since forever—full disclosure. Oh, yes, in recent balloting, 81.3 per cent of the jewels of puck journalism agreed that voting on the NHL’s annual year-end trinkets ought to be made public. PHWA vice-president Frank Seravalli of TSN declared this “a big moment.” I hope he didn’t pull a muscle patting himself on the back. I mean, if 81.3 per cent were in favor of complete transparency, 18.7 per cent still prefer the process be kept hush-hush. In other words, they don’t have the balls to defend their choices for the Hart, Norris, Lady Byng, Masterton, Calder, Selke and Smythe nick-nacks. If ever there was a vote that should have been unanimous, that was it.

Best lip service of the week comes from Tranna Blue Jays manager John Gibbons: “My experience in this game is that sometimes it’s better to be smart than stupid.” Sometimes? You only want to be unstupid sometimes? Tells me it’s gonna be another long baseball season for the Tranna Nine.

Rory McIlroy

If Rory McIlroy had his druthers, the ‘P’ in PGA Tour would stand for Prohibition. Yup, McIlroar wants them to turn off the taps at golf tournaments. “I think they need to limit alcohol sales on the course,” he said after the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last weekend. Imagine that. An Irishman calling for a ban on booze. St. Patty is spinning. But McIlroar is serious. By his measure, too man fans are getting banjo’d, Magooed, gee-eyed and jarred at PGA events. “It used to be you bring beers on the course, but not liquor,” he went on. “And now it seems like everyone is walking around with a cocktail. So I don’t know if it’s just people walking around with beers in their hand, that’s fine.” Ya, we all know that no guy drinking beer has ever gotten loud, obnoxious and blethered. Slainte, Rory.

Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe

So, Martina Navratilova is having herself a proper, little hissy fit after learning how much the BBC stuffs into John McEnroe’s pay envelope ($210,000-$280,000) for flapping his gums during the Wimbledon fortnight. The tennis legend is “not happy” and “it’s shocking” that Johnny Mac earns 10 times the $27,000 she collects. “It’s still the good old boys’ network,” she says. “The bottom line is that male voices are valued more than women’s voices.” Get a grip, girl. You’re both getting paid by the word, and McEnroe never shuts the hell up.

Seriously, although the BBC is guilty of gender pay inequity, the McEnroe-Navratilova situation isn’t a he-she thing. It’s a talent thing. He’s the best tennis talker. Is he 10 times better than her? That can’t be measured, but I’ll submit he’s superior by a considerable margin. His work load is also considerably heavier. Look, Al Michaels reportedly earns $5 million per year to talk football on NBC. His sidekick, Cris Collinsworth, collects $1 million, or thereabouts. They sit in the same broadcast booth, for the same length of time; they watch the same players and the same game. Yet one hauls in $5 mill and the other $1 mill. It’s the same 5-1 ratio with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman over at Fox Sports. Nothing to do with gender.

And, finally, I’ve heard little quarrel about the Canadian Football Hall of Fame class of 2018—Hank Ilesic, Scott Flory, Baron Miles, Brent Johnson, Frank Cosentino, Paul Brule and Tom Hugo.

One dissenting voice, however, comes from Steve Simmons (I know, what a surprise). He wonders why Tricky Dick Thornton, the all-purpose player with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Tranna Argonauts in the 1960s and early ’70s, and Leo (The Lip) Cahill, former head coach and general manager of the Boatmen, continue to be snubbed.

It’s a shame and overdue because both were significant to the success of the Canadian Football League and for reasons I’ve never ascertained, have been pushed aside on an annual basis,” he writes.

I agree with Simmons on Thornton. Makes no sense. Ya, sure, he was a non-conformist. He wore his hair long, he wore an earring, he had a Fu Manchu mustache, he wrote poetry and sucked up to the media. But he also played every position but percussion in the symphony orchestra. And played them all exceptionally well.

As for Cahill, he was a charming, colorful character but a career .500 head coach. He never won the Grey Cup.

About a 1980s redux for the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers…a Little good news from Bryan…pollywaddle from the Republic of Tranna…odds of bringing Stanley Cup home…playoffs or bust in Pegtown…and the Sedins love letter

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

Rink Rat Scheifele

So here’s what I’m thinking as the Winnipeg Jets embark on their seventh crusade: This might be a 1980s redux. You know, deja vu all over again.

The Jets, you see, have some nice pieces in place. Very nice pieces, actually. Hard to go wrong with Rink Rat Scheifele, Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and a few others. Even a carnival barker like potty-mouth head coach Paul Maurice ought to be able to coax a playoff-worthy campaign out of that group, and the fact they were found wanting last season says more about him than them.

But let’s suppose the Jets’ universe unfolds as it should in 2017-18. Let’s say Steve Mason is the answer in goal—even though Coach Potty-Mo refuses to commit to him as No. 1 in the blue ice as the local lads open training camp—and Scheifele is top-five in scoring, Wheeler is top-10, Patrik Laine leads the National Hockey League in snipes, Jacob Trouba is in the Norris Trophy conversation, Kyle Connor is the top freshman, and Maurice learns that there’s life after Chris Thorburn. Then what? A playoff date with the Edmonton McDavids? Oh joy. It’s the ghosts of playoffs past—Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Anderson, Kurri et al revisited.

There are grown men who still wake up in the middle of the night—yowling like banshees—at the nightmarish horrors that the Edmonton Oilers imposed on the Jets during the 1980s. Seven times the locals qualified for the Stanley Cup derby. Five times, the Oilers put them out of their misery. They did it again in the spring of 1990. Sadists.

Jets fans saw too much of this in the 1980s.

And now, 27 years later, it appears that, once again, the Western Conference road to the Stanley Cup is likely to go through Northern Alberta. If not, it’ll be Southern Alberta, where the Calgary Flames are shaping up to be a force, even as ownership squabbles with politicos and beats the drums about relocation should the city refuse to pony up substantial coin for a new shinny palace.

The trouble with the Jets—aside from the people behind the bench—is geography. Until they prove otherwise, they’re still the third best outfit on the Canadian prairies.

I have a suspicion the Winnipegs soon shall be able to handle the Flames. But the McDavids? Different deal. I mean, Scheifele is a delight. He’s got that boy-next-door thing going, the kind of guy you want your daughter bringing home for dinner. And he’s very good at hockey. But let’s face it, the Rink Rat is to Connor McDavid what Dale Hawerchuk was to Wayne Gretzky.

So it could be curses, foiled again.

Bryan Little isn’t going anywhere. Nice. The Jets have locked up their No. 2 centre and, although I’m surprised at the length of term (six-year extension), it’s a very good move because the 29-year-old Edmonton native is a very good player. Little was on board when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, and I don’t think he’s ever disappointed. Solid guy who operates under the radar.

Ignore the pure pollywaddle drifting from the Republic of Tranna, where the hockey club’s bandwagon is overbooked with keyboard blowhards who insist on using the words “Stanley Cup” and “Maple Leafs” in the same sentence, something that hasn’t been done since 1967. If a Canadian outfit is going to bring the Stanley Cup home for the first time in a quarter century, it will be the Edmonton McDavids. I’d even be inclined to suggest the Jets will win the NHL title before the Tranna Maple Leafs. Does that mean I’m now drinking the True North Sports & Entertainment Kool-Aid? That I’ve bought into the Secret Society’s propaganda? Negative. Not prepared to go there. But I do believe general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs have assembled better young talent than the Leafs, who have the benefit of playing in a soft division.

Today’s list: Odds on each Canadian team ending the Great White North Stanley Cup drought…
1. Edmonton McDavids: 3-1
2. Winnipeg Jets: 5-1
3. Calgary Flames: 5-1
4. Tranna Maple Leafs: 10-1
5. Montreal Canadiens: 20-1
6. Ottawa Senators: Fuhgeddaboudit.
7. Vancouver Canucks: You’re kidding, right?

I’ll say this for the Leafs, they have a couple of pains in the ass who can also play. Nazem Kadri and Leo Komarov are gooey chewing gum stuck to the bottom of your shoes. The Jets need to add some of that to their makeup.

Interesting how the two Pauls—Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press—interpreted the party line delivered by Jets ownership/management last week.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

Friesen wrote: “For really the first time since buying the moribund Atlanta Thrashers and moving them lock, stock and Evander Kane to this Canadian prairie burg six years ago, the people in charge aren’t ducking expectation. Instead, they’re almost embracing it. From the new slogan inscribed on the team’s interview backdrop—Rise Together—to the words of the team captain, the GM and even the man who shelled out a good portion of the $180-million franchise price tag, it’s playoffs or bust.”

Wiecek, meanwhile, tells us that Jets ownership/management remains wishy-washy in terms of expectations. They’re sending a message “that says that the 2017-18 Jets ‘can be’ a playoff team, but hey, these things take time and it’s still not a deal breaker if they don’t,” he writes.

Me? I’m with Friesen. I thought Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman made his thoughts absolutely clear the day he announced the re-upping of both his GM and head coach, saying, “Our expectation this year is to take a step forward in a meaningful way.” I don’t know how you can take that to mean anything other than he expects a playoff berth. There can be no other interpretation. Furthermore, in a conversation with John Shannon of Sportsnet at the draft lottery in May, Cheveldayoff stated flatly that “I’m not coming back” next year. Meaning, he doesn’t expect the Jets to be a lottery team in 2018.

The Sedin twins

That was so sweet of the Sedin twins to express their fondness and unwavering devotion to Vancouver in a love letter to The Players’ Tribune, but I just don’t see how warm and fuzzies advance the Canucks so-called youth movement. Say what you will about two players who prefer to stay in Vancity and loiter with the NHL also-rans rather than pursue the Stanley Cup elsewhere (for the record, I admire their stick-to-itness), but should Henrik and Daniel still be driving the bus? Some very dark and rainy days (years?) ahead on the West Coast.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.