Top o’ the morning to you, Patrik Laine, or as I call you, Puck Finn.
So much for that gag order, eh kid?
I mean, the Winnipeg Jets wanted you to stuff a sock in it on Day One of their training exercises, but there you were on the witness stand on Monday, with news snoops poking and probing and expecting you to confess, like a shifty-eyed scofflaw crumbling under a withering Perry Mason cross-examination.
“Okay! Okay! I admit it! I admit it! I want out of this hellhole of a town!” they expected you to say.
Then, again, perhaps some of them were looking for the exact opposite.
“You’ve got it all wrong! You’ve got it all wrong! I love this city! I love the Jets! There’s no place I’d rather be! Don’t you remember what I said about Winnipeg in The Players’ Tribune?”
Either way, you didn’t crumble, did you, Patty?
Oh, there were moments when you had the look of a fidgety guy battling a fresh batch of hemorrhoids, rocking from one butt cheek to the other in considerable discomfort, but you gave them nothing more than a pocketful of hem and haw. Three times your interrogators demanded to know if you desire a new postal code, and three times you answered like a politician trying to justify a Christmas vacation on foreign soil during a pandemic.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” was your dismissive parry to their initial thrust.
You then went on to invoke the name Wayne Gretzky, reminding all assembled for the Zoom natter that even the Great One was not so great that he went the distance in one locale. And, hey, if the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers could learn to live without No. 99, surely the Winnipeg Jets would get along without you and your 30-plus goals, right Patty?
That’s not to say the Jets are anxious to peddle you to the highest bidder, but it sure sounds like you’re giving them no choice, just like Evander Kane and Jacob Trouba before you. It might not happen this year, but, as sure as Paul Maurice has a potty mouth, what’s left of your shelf life in the Manitoba capital appears to be shorter than Brian Pallister’s.
So never mind if you do or don’t want out of Dodge. Here’s the real question: Why, Patty, why?
All of us remember the cheery, lanky, freshly scrubbed kid from Finland who arrived in River City in 2016 and put goaltenders on notice with 36 snipes as a National Hockey League freshman. You followed that up with 44 and joined the Rocket Richard Trophy discussion, along with Auston Matthews and Ovi.
You were the darling of the rabble, Patty (give or take Big Buff), and they loved your gosh-darned innocence and quirky quips. Heck, the flock even forgave you your unfortunate bread-butter-and-eggman chin whiskers. The same could be said of news snoops. You were their gift from Sound Bites ‘R’ Us.
Yet something has soured you and, since you aren’t prone to full disclosure, we’re left to wonder what or whom has gotten so far up your nose that the jaws of life can’t pry it out.
Here’s my guess: Head coach Paul Maurice and captain Blake Wheeler, with perhaps a small side order of Rink Rat Scheifele.
I’m just spitballing here, Patty, but I’m thinking that you just might be thinking what I’m thinking about Coach PoMo and Wheeler: Their bromance is kind of creepy. As far as I can tell, albeit from a distance, it’s the only thing keeping you relegated to second-line duty, skating on greybeard Paul Stastny’s right flank rather than beside the in-his-prime Scheifele.
I’m no Toe Blake, but I’d want my potential 50-goal winger (that’s you, Patty) collaborating with my top centre-ice man (that’s the Rink Rat), and I wouldn’t be doing it just to keep you happy. I’d be doing it because I want to win hockey games.
I could be wrong, of course. Maybe everything’s cool between Coach PoMo, Wheeler and yourself, Patty.
I just shudder to think they might be chasing you out of town.
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?
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I understood some of what Don Cherry said on Saturday night, so I’ve made an appointment with my shrink…
Okay, kids, time to bust open the piggy banks and empty the coin jars.
And, hey, is it too soon to send an S.O.S. to Peter Warren, asking him to fire up the flatbed Ford and start tooting around town to prod senior citizens into turning over their pension cheques?
I know. Sounds crazy.
I mean, just because our hockey heroes recently performed in front of (unsold) empty seats for the first time (officially) since 2011, there’s no cause to declare a state of emergency. The Winnipeg Jets aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so let’s have no talk of Houston or Cleveland or San Diego or Ville de Quebec.
Still, for those of us who recall dire times and more than one Save The Jets campaign that really did include kids and piggy banks—and Warren turning his CJOB Action Line into a Jerry Lewis-style telethon—it feels like deja vu all over again.
We remember Warren’s pleas from the lobby of the Marlborough Hotel in June 1974, and on downtown streets in May 1995. The legendary broadcaster who always got “right down to business” did more groveling than a dude whose wife found the wrong shade of lipstick on his collar.
It worked in ’74. Not so much 21 years later.
Benny Hatskin, noticing too many empty seats in the Winnipeg Arena and weary of writing cheques in red ink in 1974, turned his then-World Hockey Association franchise over—lock, stock and Bobby Hull’s hairpiece—to civic leaders with all the right intentions, but only after the rabble had ponied up in excess of $600,000 in nickels, dimes and cashier’s cheques not made of rubber.
One of the many who helped save the Jets that year was Margaret-Ann Farr, a 76-year-old who had earmarked $500 in savings for a trip to her homeland in Scotland. Instead, she gave it to the Jets, even though she had never seen them play. No, I can’t tell you if Maggie eventually found her way home to the ol’ sod, but I can tell you that your favorite hockey team was once owned by a dog, because one guy donated $25 on behalf of his pooch, Lady Jet.
And so it went.
It was much the same in 1995—not enough customers in the old barn on Maroons Road, amped-up salaries ($13 million player payroll), lousy Canadian dollar and, most important, no one with deep pockets interested in frittering away what remained in their deep pockets. Again, they went hat in hand to the people and raised more than $13 million in a bid to preserve their National Hockey League outfit. Trouble was, they needed $32 million, thus the Jets swanned off to Arizona.
And now we’re noticing reminders of the way it was.
The Jets were 561 people short of a sellout at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie last Tuesday with the Arizona Coyotes in town. Two nights later, they were 262 shy of a full barn for a visit from the New York Islanders. The Jets payroll is now $75 million, with gusts up to $83 million depending on Dustin Byfuglien’s mood du jour, the dollar is about as strong as the Jets penalty-kill, True North is charging more for a beer and a hot dog than what a ticket cost back in the day, and some folks are taking out second mortgages to pay for their season packages.
The difference, of course, is in ownership.
This time around, the dude with the deepest pockets in the country, David Thomson, is part of the package, and you’re never going to see him standing at the corner of Portage and Main asking little, old ladies to nix a trip to Scotland so he and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman can keep Blake Wheeler and Rick Rat Scheifele in champagne and caviar.
A 4,000-person waiting list for season subscriptions suggests there’s plenty of shelf life left in these Winnipeg Jets, but I’m guessing some of you would probably feel a lot better if you were hearing that from Chipman instead of me.
Bottom line: You can tell your kids to keep what’s in their piggy banks. Once they’ve grown up, they can use it for college tuition or a mortgage on a nice house.
They just won’t be able to afford Jets season tickets.
Both main columnists with the daily rags weighed in on the head counts at last week’s Jets jousts, with Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab pointing to Good Ol’ Hometown’s “saturated” sports/shinny market as one possible reason for the non-sellouts. He added, “While there’s no sign a divorce is on the horizon, it seems the (fan/team) relationship is a lot more complicated than it used to be.” It isn’t complicated at all. As Paul Friesen pointed out in the Winnipeg Sun, it’s all about costs. The Jets, according to numerous folks who contacted Friesen, are pricing themselves out of their own market. As for a “saturated” market, what, they don’t have sports entertainment options in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver? As if.
If you’re wondering, the highest average head count for Jets 1.0 was 13,620 in 1985-96. That’s only 1,144 customers fewer than last week with the Coyotes in town, and they weren’t paying anyone $8.25 million per annum (hello, Blake Wheeler). In their final whirl at the old barn on Maroons Road, Jets 1.0 attracted an average of 11,316.
Tiger Woods has taken up the quill and will write a memoir to tell the “definitive story” of his life as a golf prodigy and icon. So we’ll finally get the answer to that burning question: “When Elin found out about all the blonde cocktail waitresses and escorts that Tiger was shagging, did she attack him with a nine-iron or a pitching wedge?”
HarperCollins Publishers considered several titles for Tiger’s tell-all tome before settling on Back, and it’s believed these were among the rejected suggestions:
1) Birdies, Bogeys, Bunkers & Bimbos.
2) That’s Not A Putter In My Pants…I’m Just Happy To See You.
3) T&A at the R&A (Tits & Ass at the Royal & Ancient).
4) Pin High & Horny.
5) Tiger Woods: My Pants Were Always Lower Than My Score.
News item: The NHL tells Valentin Zykov of the Vegas Golden Knights to get lost for 20 games because he either stuck a needle in his butt or swallowed a PED. Imagine that, a Russian using illegal drugs. Who would have thought?
I could be wrong, but it seems to me that young Ville Heinola has become the darling of the local media. The Finnish kid can do no wrong with news snoops, even when he’s doing something wrong on the Jets blueline. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just saying.
The more I watch the NHL, with its limited fisticuffs and greatly reduced body belting, the more I think of former Jets centre Peter Sullivan. Today’s game was made for the man we called Silky.
Stupid headline of the week No. 1, from Sportsnet: “Why the Maple Leafs need a statement game against struggling Wild.” Oh, c’mon man. No one makes a statement game against the Minnesota Wild, the worst team in the NHL. Beating a team with a pulse, like the Boston Bruins, is a statement game.
Stupid headline of the week No. 2, from the Drab Slab: “Pionk steadies young D.” Good grief, Charlie Brown. Two days earlier, the Jets surrendered seven—count ’em seven!—goals v. Sid and his Pittsburgh pals. Then they gave up a four-spot v. Arizona. Then three v. the Islanders. Fourteen goals in three games. That’s steady like the back of a garbage truck is a salad bar. The accompanying Taylor Allen article was no better. It read like a puff piece hot off the True North propaganda printing press. Look, it’s time the Drab Slab told the truth, which is this: Neal Pionk is a top pairing defenceman for one reason—everyone who can skate and chew gum at the same time left Dodge long ago, Josh Morrissey being the exception.
Oh, wait, now I’m really confused. Just four days after Allen’s puff piece on Pionk and the “steady” blueline, along comes Mad Mike McIntyre to tell us this about the Jets: “The needs are many, with two major areas of concern—the blue-line and the penalty kill.” I see. The steady defence actually sucks. Methinks the boys on the beat might want to exchange notes before hitting the send button.
Los Angeles Kings fans decided that Taylor Swift had a curse on their team, so a banner saluting the pop singer’s record number of sellouts at Staples Center is now blotted out by a large black cloth at each game. It’s the most talked-about coverup in Tinseltown since the O.J. Trial.
Stupid tweet of the week, from Kristina Rutherford of Sportsnet: “The NHL season is underway and MLB playoffs are happening and the #1 article on @sportsnet yesterday was about the @nwhl and pro women’s hockey. So I guess all y’all that say ‘nobody cares!’ about women’s hockey can go fly a kite.” That smacks of Grade 5 schoolyard na, na, na, na, na-ism. Yes, it’s juvenile. The placement of Rutherford’s article at the top of the main page on the Sportsnet website means just one thing—they did something dumb again. You know, like on Saturday morning after a Major League Baseball playoff game, numerous NHL games including the Edmonton McDavids, two CFL games, Brooke Henderson firing a hole-in-one and leading an LPGA tournament, Sportsnet’s main story was an exhibition basketball game. Like I said, dumb.
On the matter of Pontytail Puck, I wonder why it is that the National Women’s Hockey League refuses to include attendance figures in its game summaries. I asked but didn’t receive a reply. So I can only assume they’re embarrassed by the modest head counts.
I also find myself wondering why no one in mainstream media is challenging the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association on their true mission, which is to put the NWHL out of business. They can talk all they like about building a better future for little girls, but I’ll believe that fairy tale the day they actually sit down with NWHL commish Dani Rylan and look for ways to make the women’s game work. As it is, the PWHPA refuses to engage in meaningful dialogue, instead serving up a sham called the Dream Gap Tour.
Interesting take from Cathal Kelly on the St. Louis Blues’ visit to the Trump household last week. The Globe and Mail columnist had no problem with the Stanley Cup champions’ Tour de Oval Office, and he managed to squeeze in a swipe at National Basketball Association stars. “NBA players often make a bit of a deal announcing they will not set one foot in the White House while Trump remains in office, always to great cheers,” he wrote. “These are occasionally the same players who don’t know anything about China, won’t take questions about China and couldn’t find China on a map, all while they are in China.” Here’s my question: Why would NBA players need to find China on a map when they’re already in China?
Got a kick out of a couple tweets from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Apparently, he’s “still walking on air” after being elected to the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, and he’s “still walking on air” about the Tranna Jurassics hoops title. I know the air is thick in the Republic of Tranna, but unless Steve has dropped a few pounds since I last saw him, it ain’t that thick.
And, finally, the Drab Slab devoted an entire page to curling in its Saturday edition. Nice. The three-part package included a sidebar from Taylor Allen on new mom Rachel Homan’s balancing act of mother-curler. Good stuff.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and there’s only one NBA final (not finals) but I’ve got more than one item on my menu…
Top o’ the morning to you, Kevin Cheveldayoff.
Well, you sure fooled me, didn’t you? I thought you were doing the Rip Van Chevy thing (read: snoozing) when—poof—you convince Laurent Brossoit that being a millionaire caddie in Winnipeg beats being a backup keeper elsewhere in the National Hockey League.
The question now is this, Chevy: When do the other three, four, five shoes drop?
Soon I hope, because I’ve had it up to my eyeliner with the free-wheeling speculation swirling around Jacob Trouba. The boys on the beat (hello Ken Wiebe, Murat Ates) were tripping over their dangling participles and run-on sentences last week trying to determine your next gambit for the top-pair defender, and I really wish you’d give them something juicy to write about.
I mean, both Wiebe at the Winnipeg Sun and Ates at The Athletic delivered chapters 4,375 and 4,376 in the Trouba Saga, and you know what I call that, Chevy? I call it a slow news day. Sloth slow.
Same thing with Mad Mike McIntyre over at the Drab Slab. He’s become so bored with your thumb-twiddling that he decided the cluster climb and body count on Mount Everest (120 reached the peak on Thursday, 15 dead or missing this year) are more interesting than Mount NHL, which you’ve been trying to scale for eight years. So he went Sherpa-speak on us with a yarn about a local dude who lived to talk about surviving the ultimate uphill trudge.
Mad Mike did, mind you, scribble a token piece on your Jets last week, a yawn-inducing recitation of Paul Maurice’s head coaching resume, confirming that a) Coach Potty Mouth remains the seventh-winningest bench jockey in National Hockey League history, b) he is also the losingest bench jockey in NHL history, c) you won’t find his name etched on the Stanley Cup, and d) he’s 52 years old.
You and Stevie Y in Detroit exchanging bubble gum cards would be more interesting than that, Chevy.
I suppose we should be thankful, though. After all, Mad Mike finally managed to get through an entire week without another installment in his whodunit novel Scandal, Jets Wrote.
Hey, maybe that’s what you can do, Chevy. Tell us what Mad Mike hasn’t been able to dig up. Give us the skinny on what went down in the changing room of that team you generally manage. That ought to generate some juicy, 72-point headlines and spice up an off-season that began at least a month too soon. But no. Don Cherry will turn his back on Bobby Orr before Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman allows you to hang out Winnipeg HC’s dirty laundry in public. If, that is, there’s dirty laundry to hang out.
That’s right, Chevy, I still insist on concrete evidence before I’m convinced that your players’ lair was as “rotten to the core” as Mad Mike and some among the rabble speculate.
The point is, news snoops need you, Chevy. Like Connor McDavid needs an escape route. Only you can save them from themselves. They’ve flat-lined. They’re like a 1960s, grooved-out DJ still spinning Monkees and Herman’s Hermits tunes as if they’re relevant.
You need to toss the boys on the beat a bone, Chevy, and it wouldn’t take much to arrest their attention. Trust me, news snoops like nothing more than shiny objects right out of the box. So give them something new to gnaw on between now and the NHL’s annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers next month in Lotus Land.
You’d be doing them, and us, a real large if you could see your way to handing them something that goes ka-boom. Like an upgrade at centre ice or on the blueline.
Anyway, Chevy, it’s good to know you still have a pulse. But the Brossoit signing is mostly meh. It was barely enough to bring Mad Mike home from the Himalayas. And it doesn’t change anything with your Jets, who were found wanting this spring. Improvements are mandatory. Get on with it. The news cycle is depending on you, Chevy. A 72-point headline awaits.
If you’re keeping score at home, Chevy heads to Lotus Land for the NHL entry auction in Vancouver (June 21-22) with just three shout-outs—second, fourth and fifth rounders. So much for that draft-and-develop mantra, I guess. More like draft-develop-and D’oh!
Not to worry, though. The only outfits still standing in this spring’s Stanley Cup runoff, the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues, are convenient reminders that there’s more to piecing together a championship-calibre squad than a GM’s handiwork on the draft floor. Here’s how the two finalists were built:
Boston: 9 drafted, 10 free agents, 4 trades.
St. Louis: 12 drafted, 3 free agents, 8 trades.
Since you asked, no, I don’t want to see wife-beater Slava Voynov back in the NHL. The Los Angeles Kings have already issued a communiqué stating he’s persona non grata in Tinseltown, but it’s guaranteed he’ll find suitors before his suspension is lifted midway through the 2019-20 crusade. Are les Jets interested in the rancid Russian rearguard? Seems to me that would be a good question to ask Puck Pontiff Chipman, so why aren’t local news snoops asking?
Our little ray of sunshine at Postmedia Tranna, Steve Simmons, posits that any NHL club signing Voynov will “sully their ethics.” Interesting. I mean, when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats brought the woman-beating Johnny Manziel on board, Simmons didn’t view it as a sullying of ethics. More to the point, he was so excited he basically piddled himself in print, gushing: “Johnny Football is coming to Canada. And where do I sign up?” He suggested that the Tabbies signing a guy who thumped out—and threatened to kill—his girlfriend would make the Canadian Football League “maybe more fun, possibly more fan-appealing.”
I’m not a hoops freak, so I haven’t watched five seconds of the Tranna Raptors’ push to the National Basketball Association final. But it’s my understanding that Kawhi Leonard and Drake are the leading candidates for playoff MVP. What’s that you say? Drake doesn’t play for the Raptors? He must. I mean, c’mon man, every time I call up the Sportsnet website I’m looking at pics of Drake and reading headlines about him. When I turn on my flatscreen to catch the latest highlights, there’s Drake running around on court like the escapee from a village that just lost its idiot. I hear the Sportsnet anchors flapping their gums about him. Ditto Tim and Sid. Alas, the rapper dude is nothing more than a greasy groupie, or, as Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star describes him, “a jacked-up fan,” “spectacularly un-cool” and “the barnacle of blingy acolytes.” Rosie also mentioned something about Drake the Courtside Drip’s “mortifying buffoonery,” and I’m totally onside with her when she writes it’s “time for a Dear Drake kiss-off.” Somehow I doubt the geniuses at Sportsnet will get the memo, though.
So, the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders are good to go for a National Football League dress rehearsal at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry in August. Any chance the Raiders will pull a Cher? You know, a no-show? We can only hope.
I wasn’t surprised to hear Cher cancelled her concert in Good Ol’ Hometown last week. What surprised me is that she’s still on tour. And that people still pay money to stare at her glitzy costumes and whatever potted plant she’s wearing on her head. Sorry, Cher fans, but your girl lost me when Sonny lost her.
So how’s that boycott thing working for female shinny stars? Well, the signing season for Dani Rylan’s National Women’s Hockey League has been upon us since May 15, and the grand sum of six players have checked in to buck the boycott. They are:
Boston Pride— Tori Sullivan ($5,000), Kaleigh Fratkin ($11,000), Christina Putigna ($5,000).
Connecticut Whalers—Shannon Doyle (undisclosed).
Metropolitan Riveters—Madison Packer ($12,000).
Minnesota Whitecaps—Allie Thunstrom (undisclosed).
At this rate, there’ll be no need for team buses. Cooper Minis will do.
My oh my, so much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing in the Republic of Tranna last week, all because Blue Jays skipper Charlie Montoyo told Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to sit a spell. That is, Charlie failed to pencil Vlad the Gifted into his starting lineup on Victoria Day. Horrors! Some samples of the hue and cry:
I swear, there hasn’t been this much fuss over a day of rest since God slacked off on the original Sabbath.
My favorite comment was delivered by Steve Phillips of TSN: “This was an organizational failure. Bad input leads to bad output. Montoyo didn’t understand what Victoria Day means to Canadians.”
Yo! Steve! You know what Victoria Day means to most Canadians? It means a day off. Vlad the Gifted got one. So give it a rest (pun intended).
And, finally, hard to believe that the Drab Slab ignored the 40th anniversary of the last pro shinny championship in Good Ol’ Hometown. I realize they don’t have anyone on staff who was there to witness the Winnipeg Jets’ third and final World Hockey Association triumph, but there’s a reason we have archives. And what, no one at the Freep knows how to work a phone? I guess it was more convenient to fill an entire page with the nonsensical natterings of the resident pen pals, Steve Lyons and Paul Wiecek, whose Say What?! shtick reached its best-before date about two years ago. Shame, shame.
And who better to do that than Madame Redneck, my bony recluse friend who lives above the timber line with 12 cats and grants me an audience once a year as long as I bring along a case of Kokanee and a carton of smokes?
She’s a crazy, old girl—I suppose in polite company we’d call her eccentric—but she possesses the best psychic powers this side of Nostradamus. She’s my personal Nostra Damn-Miss.
I spent an afternoon with her last week, and here’s what she saw in her crystal ball for 2019…
Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will dazzle ’em prior to the National Hockey League trade deadline, acquiring Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings and prying potential unrestricted free agent and noted Uber enthusiast Matt Duchene away from the Ottawa Senators.
“We’ll do whatever it takes to sign Duchene long term,” says Chevy. “We’ll get him his personal Uber driver if that’s what it takes to make him happy.”
Weary of watching Connor McDavid being abused and fouled by skill-challenged ruffians, Edmonton Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock convinces GM Peter Chiarelli to buy out the sloth-like Milan (Looch) Lucic and drag 55-year-old Marty McSorley out of mothballs to ride shotgun for McMagnifique. Not to be outdone, the Calgary Flames counter with the signing of Tim Hunter and the Vancouver Canucks add Harold Snepsts.
“My first choice was Semenko,” Chiarelli explains, “but Sammy’s dead so that was out of the question. Marty’s a great second choice, though. He did boffo work as Gretzky’s guard dog back in the day, both in Edmonton and L.A. No one even breathed on Wiener when Marty was nearby.”
Asked if there’s concern about McSorley’s age and inactivity, Chiarelli scoffs: “Age shmage. Ya, he’s a fossil, but we’re confident there’s still bite in whatever teeth he has left. What’s Looch got this year? Two goals? Marty will score two goals just with the puck bouncing in off his walker.”
Meanwhile, in Winnipeg, GM Chevy considers hiring his own goon to counter the moves in E-Town, Cowtown and Lotus Land.
“I called Jimmy Mann, but he doesn’t want any part of Harold Snepsts,” he says. “Cronin the Barbarian is on standby, though.”
The Canadian Mafia will be disbanded after the Bombers soil the sheets for the 29th successive Canadian Football League season. Head coach Mike O’Shea and general manager Kyle Walters will be the fall guys, and they’ll be replaced by Marc Trestman and Eric Tillman.
“We’re pleased to have both these quality men on board,” says the sole survivor of the Canadian Mafia, CEO Wade (Whacker) Miller. “The Grey Cup follows them around like scandal dogs Johnny Manziel. Coach Trestman promises to wear nothing but long pants and also promises he won’t have Justin Medlock attempt any 61-yard field goals in B.C. Place. That’s good enough for me. And GM Tillman promises to keep his hands off everyone’s baby sitter. It’s all good.”
Bombers starting QB Matt Nichols goes down with a season-ending leg injury, so Walters pries noted frat boy Manziel away from the don’t-have-a-hope-in-hell Montreal Alouettes in a final attempt to save his job.
“I don’t want to talk about Johnny’s sordid past of drunken debauchery,” says Walters. “I mean, c’mon, man. This is Winnipeg. It’s not like there’s a night life here.”
Matt Dunigan is kicked off the CFL on TSN panel for breaking the Golden Rule by mentioning Manziel’s history of domestic violence.
“Matty knows the rules,” says a TSN spokesperson. “All our groupies—oops, I mean all our guys— in the broadcast booth and on the panel know the rules for the Cult of Johnny—kiss his ass. We don’t care how many women he’s beaten up. We don’t care how lousy a quarterback he is. He’s still our favorite lousy quarterback. So pucker up and smooch his backside, boys.”
CFL commish Randy Ambrosie’s player exchange with the Mexico football league runs into a potential roadblock when Donald Trump begins to build his border wall.
“Hey,” says Ambrosie, “Trump’s actually doing us a favor. I mean, any Mexican players who can’t climb over a simple wall sure as hell aren’t in good enough shape to play in the CFL. It’ll save us the time and expense of working them out on our dime.”
Jennifer Jones’ reign as queen of Canadian curling will come to an end at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Sydney, N.S., where she, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman and Dawn McEwen are ousted by Kerri Einarson and her all-skip team that plays out of Gimli.
“Gimli? Really? We play out of Gimli?” asks Val Sweeting, the team’s import third who lives and works in Vegreville, Alta. “Nobody said anything about Gimli when I signed on. I don’t actually have to go there, do I? That wasn’t part of the deal.”
Advised that Gimli is the home of Crown Royal whiskey, Sweeting is puzzled: “Why should I care about that? Everyone knows curlers don’t drink.”
Tennis diva Genie Bouchard will continue her climb up the women’s world rankings, reaching the top 20 by late August. As a result, sponsors who had abandoned her during her four-year freefall will come back on board.
“Ya, my poor play cost me,” she admits, “but now there’s oodles of sponsorship money coming in again. Maybe this year I won’t have to take my clothes off for Sports Illustrated just to pay the bills.”
Serena Williams will win the Australian Open to capture her 24th Grand Slam tennis title, thus tying homophobe Margaret Court atop the all-time leaderboard.
“I’m so glad to finally get this out of the way,” says Williams. “I thought I was going to lose this final, but the match seemed to turn my way after I threatened to ram an effing tennis ball down the cheating, thieving chair umpire’s effing male chauvinist pig throat. Let that be a lessen to all you moms out there: If your kid is misbehaving, scare the hell out of her or him. Works for me.”
Meanwhile, Court was unimpressed with Williams equaling her record: “She’s a lesbian. I don’t care if she had a baby. She’s a lesbian, just like the rest of them.”
The Western Hockey League will return to River City when the Kootenay Ice abandons Cranbrook, B.C., and sets up shop at the University of Manitoba. The new entry will be known as the Winnipeg Falcons.
“Why Falcons?” says owner Greg Fettes. “Because they’re birds and this really is a bird-brained scheme. Like, can I really compete against the Jets and Manitoba Moose for the hockey dollar? What the hell was I thinking, man? I guess I wasn’t thinking.”
The Drab Slab known as the Winnipeg Free Press will promote from within and give Mike McIntyre the sports columnist gig.
“All those years working the crime beat are finally going to pay off,” says Mike Mac. “Only difference now is that I get to interview the criminals in the arena or at the football field instead of in a courtroom or behind bars.”
A Christmas eve smorgas-bored…and, baby, it’s not cold outside where I live but it sure has been windy and wet…
Now that the Winnipeg Jets have arrived at their Christmas recess, I believe a few random observations are in order, starting with the rabble.
I read a lot of copy on les Jets, usually scanning the comment section of each article as well, and it occurs to me that many among the faithful aren’t entirely satisfied with our local hockey heroes. Apparently, they ought to be doing better. Interesting. I mean, the lads are top of the table in the Central Division of the National Hockey League. They’re top of the table in the Western Conference. Two skaters—Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler—are top 10 in scoring. Two—Scheifele and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine—are top 10 in goals. They have a backup goaltender—Laurent Brossoit—who’s lost just once and is capable of pitching shutouts. Yet after most skirmishes, there’s much grumbling. Talk about a tough crowd.
Puck Finn lit the lamp 18 times in November. Apparently he decided to take December off to allow Rink Rat Scheifele to catch up.
Hocus pocus: Twig Ehlers takes two shots and scores three goals vs. the San Jose Sharks. For his next magic trick, Twig will make Gary Bettman disappear.
Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that les Jets top defensive pairing is third in line at the pay window? It’s true. Josh Morrissey/Jacob Trouba collect less coin than Tyler Myers/Dmitri Kulikov and Dustin Byfuglien/Ben Chiarot. I don’t know if that makes Kevin Cheveldayoff a genius general manager or a complete doofus.
Mathieu Perreault needs to sit in a barber’s chair, and Puck Finn needs to grow his bread-butter-and-egg man beard again. Which, I suppose, would make him Puck Amish.
Bryan Little is on pace for a 40-to-50-point season. Is that enough from a No. 2 centre? Since les Jets are in first place, apparently it is.
Yes, Puck Finn is a one-trick pony. I’m fine with that (for now) as long as he looks and plays like he’s actually more interested in hockey than Fortnite.
Nothing about keeper Connor Hellebuyck’s play bothers me. Today. If he’s still iffy in April, that will bother me.
Can we all agree that Paul Maurice is the right coach for this outfit? Nope. But if the boys in the room perform like they have Coach Potty Mouth’s back, I guess what we think doesn’t carry any weight.
Are the Jets as good as the group that reached the Western Conference final last spring? Ask me that once the trade deadline has passed.
I’ve long held that Rink Rat Scheifele is the top bargain in the NHL at $6.125 million a year, but, upon further review, Mikko Rantanen has to be the best buy today. The league’s leading point collector has a base salary of $832,500 and a cap hit of $894,167 according to CapFriendly. A day of reckoning awaits Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic.
Had to chuckle at Mike McIntyre’s piece on Cheveldayoff in the Drab Slab known as the Winnipeg Free Press. McIntyre conceded that Chevy has mastered “the political art of saying plenty without saying a lot,” yet that didn’t prevent the Freep scribe from writing 2,119 words in an Ode to Hot Air. Never have so many words said so little. Over at the Winnipeg Sun, Ken Wiebe provided the Coles Notes version of the Gospel According to Chevy—969 words of nothingness. And this is my version: Chevy flaps gums, wags tongue, hot air seeps out. So here’s the deal, boys: When Chevy speaks, listen…but when he says nothing (which is almost always), close your notebook and erase the tape.
Department of Bad Timing: This headline on an Andrew Berkshire piece in the Drab Slab: “Kings too old, too slow to compete in high-tempo NHL.” D’oh! Those sloth-like Los Angeles Kings beat les Jets 4-1 that night.
I don’t know how much the Freep is paying Berkshire, but it’s too much. His charts, graphs and numbers haven’t told me anything that my eyes can’t see. I mean, I don’t need fancy stats and pie charts to advise me that the Kings are old and slow, or that les Jets could use an upgrade on the blueline. I wrote that stuff before they dropped the puck on October. As did others.
When did NHL players become such wimps? Seriously. No one can absorb a legal bodycheck without chucking knuckles anymore? What went on in Vancouver last Tuesday between the Canucks and Tampa Bay Lightning was just stupid. I saw one reckless, nasty fender bender. The rest were meh moments. Yet the entire second period was a scuffle. I’m all for going after cheap-shot scoundrels like Tom Wilson and the dearly departed Matt Cooke, but breathing too heavily on Elias Petterson shouldn’t be cause for a ruckus.
So the Women’s Tennis Association no longer will penalize players who take time off to have babies. Welcome to the 21st century, ladies.
Got a kick out of this line from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “Torontonians like going out to see things. Anything. Except the World Cup of Hockey.” Really? Tell that to the Argonauts. The Boatmen couldn’t draw a crowd if the Radio City Rockettes promised to high-step the length of BMO Field naked.
It’s not all bad news for the Argos and their attendance woes. I mean, they’re guaranteed one sellout in 2019. Trouble is, they have to get out of Dodge to do it. They’ve farmed out a game to Halifax, where fans want the Canadian Football League in the worst way. Given that it’s Argos vs. Montreal Alouettes, that’s exactly what they’ll get—football in the worst way.
Kelly also writes that Canada is a “one-sport country.” Which is like saying the Republic of Tranna is the only city in the country. Come to think of it, that’s what some folks in The ROT believe.
What’s this? Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star and Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna sniping at each other on Twitter? They sure were. Too bad they didn’t do any of that hissing when TSN’s The Reporters was on the air.
This from Simmons in his weekly three-dot column: “Unless their name is Walter Gretzky, hockey dads should basically keep their opinions to themselves.” That’s rich. I mean, a guy who makes his living by spewing opinion doesn’t want to hear other opinion. Unless it’s from Wayne’s dad Wally. Where the hell does that come from? I mean, Scotty Bowman is a hockey dad. Ditto Ray Bourque, Louie DeBrusk, Keith Tkachuk, Ray Ferraro, Cliff Fletcher, Dave Gagner, Dave Lowry, Sami Kapanen, Dave Manson, Michael Nylander, Paul Reinhart, Peter Stastny, Mike Foligno, etc., etc., etc. Millions of everyday men across the globe are good hockey dads. And they shouldn’t be allowed a voice in their daughters’ or sons’ activity? And what about hockey moms? Are they supposed to shut the hell up, too?
And, finally, I remember finding a tiny, blue Tranna Maple Leafs sweater under the tree one Christmas morning many, many years ago. It didn’t have a name or number on the back. Just that classic Leafs logo on the front. I don’t ever wonder what happened to that sweater, but I’ve often wondered what happened to the Leafs.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
I think I know what some of you were thinking.
You were thinking that Richie Hall’s defence would become Richie Hall’s defence. Oh yes you were.
As the Hamilton Tiger-Cats gnawed away at a substantial deficit Friday, you were convinced that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen was about to fall back on bad habits and, thus, a hot, steamy evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry would conclude with the local lads squandering 19-7 and 26-10 leads like a teenage kid with his first summer wages. I was thinking the same thing.
Not this time, though.
On a night when quarterback Matt Nichols kept flinging the football to empty spaces instead of willing hands, the oft-crucified Hall and his oft-crucified group secured the Bombers’ fifth W in their eight skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade, and their 29-23 success means the defensive coordinator is good to flit about town this week sans disguise.
Same goes for the head coach, Mike O’Shea, who today is a .500 head coach.
How long has it been since the oft-skewered O’Shea last saw anything other than the dark side of the moon? Well, Sam Katz was still the mayor. Jeff Stoughton was still king of Manitoba’s curlers. Evander Kane was still dining and dashing. It was Sept. 13, 2014. The Bombers were 6-6 and soon to be 6-7. That pit eventually grew so deep that O’Shea had to carry a canary to work. He’s finally come up for air. His record, once 13-28, now stands at 40-40. The canary’s work is done.
Yup, life is good for coaches Tar & Feather. For now. There’s another game in five days. The jackals are forever crouching at their door.
Make no mistake, much of the criticism heaped on whipping boys O’Shea and Hall has been warranted, most notably on those occasions when the head man was guilty of mind-numbing buffoonery. Like attempting a season-halting, no-chance-in-hell, 61-yard field goal in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium. Coach Mikey will wear that particular moment of madness until he actually wins a playoff game, but, in the meantime, shouldn’t the rabble—and all knights of the keyboard—acknowledge that he and Hall are getting the job done?
What’s up with Matt Nichols? I mean, the guy missed more long-range targets on Friday night than an Iraqi scud missile. His receivers would have required arms longer than Pinocchio’s nose to latch onto some of his passes. It brought to mind something a CFL coach or GM told Kirk Penton of The Athletic when discussing the league’s premier QBs: “Nichols is just a game manager.” And that’s the best you can say about his work against the Tabbies—he managed to win the game. But isn’t that the bottom line for quarterbacks?
This from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet: “There was a great deal of chest-thumping last week when Edmonton announced a crowd of 35,623 for a game against Saskatchewan, the CFL’s biggest live audience of the season. Given that Commonwealth Stadium was still 40 per cent empty, you might wonder what all the celebrating was about. Twenty years ago, nobody would have got excited about that kind of crowd.”
A couple layers to peel here: First, I didn’t read or hear about anyone dancing in the streets of The Chuck because of that head count. If there was a celebration, I missed it. Second, what a mook. I mean, had Cox taken five minutes for research, he’d know that seven of the eight CFL franchises averaged less than 30,000 customers per home date “20 years ago.” Half the league (Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal and B.C.) averaged less than 20,000. Thus, I submit that every club, save possibly for the Eskimos, would have been very “excited” about an audience of 35,623 “20 years ago.” More to the point, they’d have been shouting about it from the rooftops if it happened the first week of August, which is not exactly prime time for spending an evening sitting at the 55-yard line.
Just the facts, ma’am. They aren’t hard to find.
I note that a record number of our friends south of the great U.S.-Canada divide tuned in to witness TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, make his CFL debut on Aug. 3. Yup, 406,000 sets of peepers watched in wonder as Johnny Rotten fell flat on his face in his three-down baptism. Best ever ESPN2 audience for a CFL skirmish. Confirming, of course, that American football fans’ taste in quarterbacks is much like their taste in beer—watered down.
Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Trevor Harris of the Ottawa RedBlacks flung the football 54 times on Saturday night. Forty-four of those passes—44!—landed in the right hands. That’s the second highest, single-game completion total in CFL history. Those passes/catches covered 487 of terrain, and one went for a touchdown in Ottawa’s 24-17 victory over the Montreal Alouettes. And yet, once the dust had settled, we had Rod Smith and Davis Sanchez of TSN flapping their gums about Johnny freaking Manziel, the losing quarterback whose performance was noteworthy only for the fact he didn’t toss four interceptions? “On a night where Trevor Harris throws for nearly 500 yards, it seems kind of crazy to be talking about the other quarterback, but that’s the Manziel world now in the CFL,” said Smith. No, Rod, it isn’t “kind of crazy.” It’s stupid and insulting, and TSN’s credibility is taking a big hit with its relentless and shameful gushing over a National Football League washout.
For two years, Jacob Trouba has been so far up Paul Wiecek’s nose that a team of U.S. Navy SEALs wouldn’t be able to rescue him. Now we find Josh Morrissey up the other nostril.
Oh, yes, if Trouba is Darth Defenceman, Morrissey is Darth Lite.
And what heinous trespass has the young defender committed? Well, in a plot-thickening essay seemingly plucked out of River City’s hazy, sticky summer air and primarily designed to get tongues wagging, Wiecek informs us that Morrissey, like Trouba before him, is playing by the rules. The nerve.
Morrissey, to date, has declined to accept whatever hometown discount the Winnipeg Jets have asked him to accept in contract discussions, and thus he remains listed among the National Hockey League’s unsigned restricted free agents. That simply won’t do. Never mind that he’s merely exercising his bargained-for rights. Playing by the rules, in the world according to Wiecek, is bad manners, especially if it means you might upend a cart of apples.
Moreover, the Winnipeg Free Press scribe tells us that Morrissey is displaying a “darker side.” He’s morphed from Ned Flanders into Mr. Burns. Surely, Wiecek hints, there’s something foul afoot. “It’s no accident we’ve reached this point,” is his cryptic conclusion.
Good grief. The heat certainly affects people in peculiar ways, doesn’t it?
Look, there’s no story here. Not unless Wiecek has inside intel that he isn’t sharing, which I doubt. If Morrissey remains unsigned by the time the local lads assemble next month for their training sessions, then sure, let’s talk. Until then, let’s dispense with the flights of fantasy (read: fake news) and try to keep it real.
Naturally, Wiecek couldn’t pen a piece about the Jets without skewering Trouba. Referencing the 24-year-old defenceman’s recent contract negotiations, which resulted in an arbitrator-awarded salary of $5.5 million, he wrote: “You knew that was going to be a nightmare.” So let’s recap. Trouba became a restricted free agent. He filed for arbitration, as is his right under the terms of the NHL-NHL Players Association contract. When his agent, Kurt Overhardt, and Jets ownership/management agreed to disagree on wage/term, it went to an arbitrator. Both parties signed the awarded one-year deal. Trouba will report to training camp and be a significant contributor to the group on its next Stanley Cup crusade. Exactly what part of that is a “nightmare?”
Hey, check out what Craig Custance of The Athletic Detroit has to say about our local hockey heroes. “If I had to bet the mortgage on a team right now to win the Stanley Cup, it’d be Winnipeg,” he writes. I’d take that bet in a heart beat, except I don’t want to live in Detroit and I’d hate to see Custance out on the street.
Geez, it’s been 30 years since the Los Angeles Kings landed the biggest fish of them all, reeling in Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers. Where were you the day No. 99 broke down and wept when informed he’d be neighbors in La La Land with Tom Hanks, Michael Douglas and Jodie Foster? I was in my late 30s and vacationing at a cottage somewhere in the wilds of the Whiteshell, but I interrupted my hiatus long enough to take my toes out of the water and scribble a column for the Winnipeg Sun. It was probably a lousy essay that offered little insight, but, hey, I had other fish to fry that day. Literally.
Some interesting thoughts on contract negotiations from homeboy Mark Stone, who recently settled on a one-year, $7.35 million pact with the Ottawa Senators to avoid arbitration at the 11th hour. “It’s lots of hours, you’re spending a lot of time on the phone and you’re thinking about what you should do and how you should approach things. It’s actually mentally exhausting,” said Stone. Ya, such a hardship. I once worked the phones for 7 1/2 hours a day, five days a week for a year and a half in the Cordova Bay Golf Course pro shop. I think they paid me 12 bucks an hour. Stone spent a few days on the phone and his NHL club will pay him about $30,000 an hour. And he’s exhausted?
And, finally, I don’t get it.Why are some people on our side of the border bent out of shape, sayingand writing that the NBA has “snubbed” the Tranna Raptors by not including them on the Christmas Day TV menu? Seriously. That’s what people do on Christmas now? They watch a bunch of multi-millionaire stringbeans play bouncy-bouncy on the hardwood when there’s probably a feel-good Jimmy Stewart or Bing Crosby movie on TV? I shudder. And if that makes me sound old, it’s because I am old.
Quick takeaways from Day 1 of the National Hockey League’s annual grab bag of free agents…
It’s true what the pundits are saying: Because the bean counters couldn’t rob Peter to pay Paul Stastny, the Winnipeg Jets aren’t as good today as they were on May 20, the night the Vegas Golden Knights ushered them out of the Stanley Cup spring runoff.
Fortunately for the rabble, they don’t have to be as good today.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has until October to ferret out a reasonable facsimile of Stastny, an efficient and productive, albeit aging centre-ice man who has taken the money and skedaddled to Glitter Gulch, leaving les Jets with a significant vacancy in the middle of the rink.
Stastny, of course, was les Jets main person of interest when the National Hockey League opened its grab bag of free agents on Sunday, but keeping him in the fold was always an iffy proposition.
This was always going to be about salary cap, and it wasn’t enough that Cheveldayoff shipped hard-luck, backup goaltender Steve Mason and his burdensome $4.1-million sticker price to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday to clear space. With a list of restricted free agents as long as a Winnipeg winter, the bean counters determined there simply wasn’t enough spare change in the piggy bank, otherwise Stastny would be returning to River City next autumn to help les Jets finish what was left undone in May.
It doesn’t really matter if the Golden Knights, at $6.5 million for each of the next three crusades, overpaid to lure the 32-year-old Stastny away from Portage and Main to the Vegas Strip. At issue is the hole he leaves down the middle.
Jack Roslovic would be my choice to slide between Twig Ehlers and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine on the No. 2 forward unit, at least when the local lads gather for training exercises in September. He’s no Stastny—not yet—but Roslovic plays with tempo and imagination. I think he’d be a suitable fit in what could become les Jets version of the Kid Line.
If Roslovic doesn’t work out, Bryan Little come on down! Again, Little is no Stastny, but, hey, it’s not like he’s Milan Lucic bad.
The point is, Cheveldayoff and the bean counters have all summer and September to figure this out. If neither Roslovic or Little is the answer, they can do something at the trade deadline, same as last season when they brought Stastny on board.
Brian Burke was part of the all-gab gang on Sportsnet’s coverage of free agent day, and he mentioned something about Cheveldayoff doing “too good a job,” hence the GM’s challenge of fitting financial square pegs into round holes. There’s certainly some truth to that. But here’s the real sticking point for Chevy: Rink Rat Scheifele’s team-friendly, steal-of-a-deal contract. Les Jets could have matched the Vegas offer of $6.5 million annually to keep Stastny on board, but they can’t have their aging, No. 2 centre ahead of their young, productive No. 1 centre at the pay window. Scheifele’s annual take is $6.125 million. So that’s the ceiling for Jets forwards. They could not have offered Stastny a penny more.
That ceiling will, of course,rise when Chevy re-ups his captain and best player, Blake Wheeler, about to enter the final year of a contract that makes him the third-highest wage earner among forwards at $5.6 million. Only Scheifele and Twig Ehlers ($6M) earn more, which, given Wheeler’s performance and importance to the team, is ridiculous. He should be rewarded as the highest-paid player. The real mystery is what they do when it’s time for Chevy and the bean counters to re-up Puck Finn, who comes out of his entry level deal next summer.
The oddsmakers at BetOnline like what they see in les Jets, even sans Stastny. After the Tranna Maple Leafs (+600) and Nashville Predators (+900), the local lads and Tampa Bay Lightning were listed on Sunday at +1000 to win the Stanley Cup. It’s a bet I wouldn’t make today, not with the iffiness of the No. 2 centre slot, but I might want to make it next spring. (Surprisingly, the Detroit Red Wings were the longest shot on the BetOnline board, at +10000. Are they really that bad?)
The gab gang on Sportsnet suggested John Tavares left money on the table when he chose to abandon the New York Islanders and accept $77 million to join the Maple Leafs. In other words, it was a hometown discount because his childhood dream was to play in the Republic of Tranna. Well, excuse me, but in whose universe is $77 million a discount?
The Leafs get Tavares and his 84 points, the Islanders get Leo Komarov and his 19 points. Do the math. And will the last person to leave Long Island please turn out the lights?
It’s fine that the rabble in the Republic of Tranna are going ga-ga over Tavares, but here’s something they should keep in mind: He doesn’t make Jake Gardiner or Ron Hainsey better defencemen.
So, add Tavares to the Leafs roster and take Stastny from les Jets roster and who has the better team? Still the Jets, mainly because of the blueline and in goal.
Do the Los Angeles Kings have anyone under age 30 on their roster?
Yes, my Hens in the Hockey House are back and one of them is in rather foul humor, not surprising given that the Winnipeg Jets have frittered away another National Hockey League season.
Take it away, ladies…
Question Lady: My oh my, it seems like forever since we last got together to discuss our favorite hockey team. Where have you been, girlfriend?
Answer Lady: Suffering from PTS—Post Trump Syndrome. I had a bad reaction to the Donald moving into the White House. I think I’m over it now, though. The eye-twitching has finally stopped and I should be off my meds long before he’s impeached. Anyway, so much has happened since our last gabfest. Or perhaps I should say so much hasn’t happened since then.
Question Lady: What do you mean by that?
Answer Lady: Well, this entire Jets season seems like an old TV rerun to me. I mean, stop me if you’ve seen this show before: The local hockey heroes are in the playoff conversation for about five months, Kevin Cheveldayoff does nothing to enhance their prospects of joining the Stanley Cup tournament, they fade, they’re eliminated, then they do boffo business in garbage time. I’d change the channel, but it’s like a car wreck…I just have to look.
Question Lady: What did you expect Chevy to do?
Answer Lady: That’s the trouble. I expected him to do nothing, because nothing is what he does best. He does nothing during the season—unless Dustin Byfuglien hurls someone’s clothing into a tub of ice—and he does nothing during the off-season. Except, of course, at the NHL’s annual crap shoot of teenagers.
Question Lady: Ya, but you have to admire his handiwork at the entry draft, no?
Answer Lady: What, you think choosing Patrik Laine with the second overall pick last year was a stroke of genius? As if. It wasn’t Chevy who plucked Puck Finn from the pool of available talent. It was a bunch of ping pong balls. If the ping pong balls bounce the right way for him again this year, he might land Nolan Patrick in June.
Question Lady: Oh, come on. Chevy’s track record at the draft is superb. All the evidence you need can be found on the Jets’ roster—Puck Finn, Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Jacob Trouba, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, Connor Hellebuyck. All Chevy picks. Can you not give credit where it’s due?
Answer Lady: Who do you think made those picks? It wasn’t Chevy. It was his scouts. And I’m not convinced all those guys belong in the NHL.
Question Lady: Who doesn’t belong?
Answer Lady: Andrew Copp is a borderline NHLer and if Connor Hellebuyck is a legit starting goaltender then I’m the U.S. First Lady. And nobody’s called me Mrs. Trump lately. I could be real mean and say Hellebuyck has one thing in common with the late Michael Jackson—Jacko wore a glove on one hand for no apparent reason, and so does Hellebuyck. I mean, really, he might as well wear a dainty evening glove on his catching hand. But I’m not going to blame the kid for being fast-forwarded when he wasn’t ready for prime time. That’s down to the Fiddle-Farters Three in the ivory tower.
Question Lady: Wow, you’ve sure got the growl on this morning. What’s gotten up your pretty, little nose?
Answer Lady: Well, unlike a lot of the faithful who continue to drink the True North Kool-Aid and genuflect at the sight of Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, I’ve grown weary of the Little Hockey House on the Prairie being a no-playoff zone. I’ve grown weary of a meddlesome owner, the GM’s management by paralysis, and a head coach who allows Dustin Byfuglien to run the show. I mean, the Edmonton McDavids rebuilt in two years. Ditto the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Question Lady: No they didn’t. The Oilers missed the playoffs for 10 seasons. The Leafs have been in the playoffs once since 2006. And you’re telling me they rebuilt in two years?
Answer Lady: Do the math. In the past two years, the Oilers have added a new general manager, Peter Chiarelli, a new head coach, Todd McLellan, plus Connor McDavid, Cam Talbot, Patrick Maroon, Looch Lucic and other significant pieces. The Leafs added a new GM, Lou Lamoriello, a new head coach, Mike Babcock, plus players Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Nikita Zaitsev, Frederik Andersen and other significant pieces. And they didn’t do it by drafting alone. The Oilers needed an upgrade in the blue ice and on defence, so they went out and got Talbot and Adam Larsson. The Leafs needed an upgrade in the blue ice and on defence, so they went out and got Andersen and Zaitsev. And what has Chevy done to upgrade the Jets most-glaring shortcoming, goaltending? Squat. In six years.
Question Lady: Do you expect him to acquire a true No. 1 goalie this summer?
Answer Lady: Ya, like I expect Donald Trump to stop using Twitter. Like, hellooooo. Not going to happen. First of all, Chevy knows goaltending like I know quantum physics. Second, Chevy only makes bold strokes when someone puts the proverbial gun to his head—see: Kane, Evander; Ladd, Andrew. I’m afraid we are about to embark on Chevy’s seventh annual Summer of Nothing.
Question Lady: You’re convinced of that?
Answer Lady: Absolutely. Chevy can’t lick his lips without the Puck Pontiff’s official okie-dokie and, let’s face it, Mark Chipman is a hockey expert like a glass of raw sewage is lemonade. He’s in Chevy’s ear every day—every day!—and he’s got him convinced that there’s only one way to build a perennial playoff team or a Stanley Cup champion—draft and develop. Period. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not make trades.
Question Lady: But isn’t draft and develop how teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks got it done?
Answer Lady: It was 50/50, my dear friend. The Pittsburgh outfit that won the Stanley Cup tournament last June was basically equal parts draftee (12) and castoffs from other clubs (13). It was pretty much the same half-and-half balance for the Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings when they were top dog. Draft and develop has to be the central component of the process, but that can’t be all you do. Anyone who knows a hockey puck from a pastrami sandwich can tell you that.
Question Lady: Speaking of food, I’m feeling a bit peckish. Shall we do brekky, darling?
Answer Lady: By all means. But we’re not finished this discussion. Later we’ll talk about Paul Maurice, and if you think the Puck Pontiff and Chevy have gotten up my pretty, little nose, you ain’t heard nothing yet.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, whichmeans she is old and probably should think about getting a life.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Oh woe is Blake Wheeler.
Those pesky news scavengers keep squirting in his Corn Flakes, causing the frowning, scowling il capitano no end of grief at the south end of yet another National Hockey League crusade that has found his Winnipeg Jets wanting.
There he stood in the Jets boudoir Thursday night, scant moments after the local lads had aroused the rabble at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie with a stirring, come-from-behind, 4-3 extra-time victory over the Disney Ducks. One seeker of sound bites had the bad manners (at least to Wheeler’s way of thinking) to wonder aloud how the Jets might “bottle up” their late-game magic and use it going forward in what remains of garbage time.
“Well…um…you know, it’s probably hard for you to understand how difficult it is to go through this again at a time like this,” began Wheeler, who now has failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby in five of his six seasons in River City. “You know, the fact we’re winning hockey games this time of year with nothing to play for says a lot about the group that we have, the guys that we have…um…you know, how we bottle that up…you know, we’ve won three in a row and six of our last eight with nothing to play for, so it’s a little frustrating you ask a question like that, to be honest with you. I’m proud of our group, to play a team like that who’s trying to win a Stanley Cup, to be down 3-1 with nothing to play for, come back and win 4-3, you know, I’d expect a little more positive line of questioning next time.”
He glared hard at his interrogator.
“Maybe you weren’t being too negative,” Wheeler continued, softening but still combative. “It’s just…you know, it’s just a little bit…I don’t know, a little bit undertone there, dude. Do you not agree?”
“No,” came the reply from Kevin Olszewski of CTV sports. “I wasn’t trying to be negative at all.”
“You asked me how do we bottle that up more consistently, which insinuates we don’t do that consistently. Am I making that up?”
“No, you’re not making that up. I think it might be miscommunication, though.”
“That’s fine. That’s fine. I want the message from tonight to be positive. I think our group deserves that.”
“That’s the way you guys need to play. That’s what you can do. That’s what I’m saying, you can prove that you can do that to those teams, right? So how do you guys, as a group, manufacture that night in, night out on a consistence basis where you can be where teams like the Ducks are?”
“Well, I think that was great. That was perfect. That was a perfect way to ask that question.”
Well, thank you Blake Wheeler for that crash course in Creative Communications 101. Perhaps you can land a teaching gig at Red River College while the rest of your teammates tee it up in another week or so.
Here’s what Wheeler fails to grasp: Few fans or media appear to have any quarrel with the team captain and his accomplices wearing Jets linen (the notable exceptions being whipping boys Chris Thorburn, Mark Stuart and anyone who has stood in the blue ice). Their beef is with the Fiddle-Farters Three—Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice, whose glacier-like pace in piecing together a playoff-worthy outfit has the rabble in a fit of pique. The faithful see outfits in Edmonton and Toronto rebuilt in two years while, in Winnipeg, the Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff have been trying to get this thing right for six years, without success. That’s the rub.
Here’s something else Wheeler would be wise to bear in mind: This is garbage time for the girls and boys on the beat, too. They’re expected to make these meaningless games—and the days between—sound interesting and significant, which these games most assuredly are not. News snoops aren’t paid to wave pom-poms and report at the same time, but most of what I’ve read—about the players—in the past few weeks of a lost season has been ultra-positive. Wheeler ought to find another tree to bark up.
Let me make something perfectly clear: I’m a Blake Wheeler fan. He’s very good at hockey. Love his intensity and determination. And, hey, any 30-year-old who can name all four of the Beatles is okay in my book. I just wish he would back off on the angry-young-man shtick. It’s an ugly look.
Veteran centre Bryan Little delivered a most-telling statement once the Jets had been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now.” I wonder if the Fiddle-Farters Three are listening.
What’s the over/under on Dustin Byfuglien’s fat-cat contract becoming an anchor to the Jets? One year? Two? If the Jets are in the same position next season, they have to unload him. If, that is, someone is willing to pick up the $7.6-million tab for a rogue rearguard with little to no regard for structure.
Will the long-suffering wretches in the Republic of Tranna ever get over the Missed Call? Apparently not. TSN this week ran a nine-minute, 15-second feature on Wayne Gretzky high sticking Doug Gilmour in Game 6 of the 1993 Campbell Conference final between the Los Angeles Kings and Maple Leafs, with former player Jeff O’Neill interviewing the culprit, the victim and the guy who missed it all, referee Kerry Fraser. According to TSN, O Dog O’Neill “solved the mystery of what really happened the night of May 27, 1993.” Excuse me, but there was no mystery to solve. Fraser copped a plea to blowing the call in an article he wrote for the Players Tribune last summer. Time to move on, Tranna.
It was a year ago this week (March 27) that we lost one of the all-time great people, curler Vic Peters. I still think of Vic whenever I watch curling. He truly was a lovely man.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, whichmeans she is old and probably should think about getting a life.