A Tuesday morning smorgas-bored…and I’m an unrestricted free agent but my phone still ain’t ringing…
As I was saying not so long ago, if a young player wants out of Dodge, he simply has to bide his time and the Trade Fairy shall grant his wish.
Evander Kane did it. Jacob Trouba did it.
One is now earning top dollar in San Jose, the other will reap his financial reward in Gotham or another National Hockey League locale.
And that, kids, is the main flaw in your draft-and-develop blueprint.
Now, I realize that Kane wasn’t among general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s prize catches in the NHL’s annual garage sale of acne-plagued teens, because he arrived with the Atlanta caravan that rolled into River City in 2011. But Kane was just a sprig of 20 years and, with 30 goals in his first whirl with the Winnipeg Jets, perhaps the shiniest part of the draft-and-develop plan.
Alas, Kane and Good Ol’ Hometown went together like a vegan and a 20-ounce T-bone.
Kane filed a trade request every summer and, 3½ years and one sopping-wet track suit later, Chevy and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman cried uncle, shipping their controversial conversation piece to the Buffalo Sabres, who passed the problem on to the San Jose Sharks.
Trouba, meanwhile, went looking for a way over the wall in May 2016, skipping training exercises and the first two months of the season that autumn, then signing a bridge deal. He ignored whatever woo Chevy pitched at him last summer, instead calling in an arbitrator to settle a salary stalemate. And now, three years after his original ask for a new postal code, the Trade Fairy has touched his shoulder with her magic dust.
The Jets top-pair defender became a member of the New York Rangers on Monday, and you can be sure that his escape won’t go unnoticed by others in les Jets changing room.
You want out of Dodge, kid? You say you don’t fancy minus-40 temps? The bright lights of the city aren’t bright enough? The WiFi doesn’t cut it? Paul Maurice is feeding you a steady diet of press box popcorn? The guy sitting in the changing room stall next to you is teacher’s pet and collects more coin? Not to worry. Give it 3-3½ years, kid. The Trade Fairy will pay you a visit.
Again, that’s the irritating fly in the draft-and-develop ointment. The club only controls the player for X number of years and there’s nada Chevy or the Puck Pontiff can do to prevent him from bolting.
The trick, of course, is to receive a favorable divorce settlement.
To assess Chevy’s latest bit of handiwork, we must look at it in four-part measure. That is:
* Brendan Lemieux and the 20th shout-out in this Friday’s entry draft went to N.Y. for rental centre Kevin Hayes at the NHL shop-and-swap deadline in late February.
* Negotiation rights to Hayes were transferred to the Philly Flyers in barter for a fifth-round shout-out.
* Trouba went to N.Y. for Neal Pionk and the 20th shout-out that Chevy originally surrendered to N.Y.
* Bottom line: Trouba and Lemieux for Pionka and a fifth-rounder.
I believe there’s a word for that—fleeced.
I mean, when Chevy shook hands with Rangers GM Jeff Gorton to complete the deal, I hope he checked to see if he still had all his fingers.
Oh, there have been worse decisions. Decca records signing The Tremeloes and telling The Beatles to pound pavement leaps to mind. And Manhattan in barter for an assortment of tools will forever serve as the standard for “D’oh!” moves. But shipping out a top-pair defender as payment for a handful of hope named Neal Pionk certainly doesn’t set the heart racing.
Naturally, some among the rabble stress that Chevy has freed up that most valuable of commodities in today’s NHL: Cap Space. The difference between signing Trouba and Pionk is anywhere from $4 million to $5 million. Fine. But I’ll remind you of that next season when Cap Space is losing one-v-one puck battles or trying to shut down Nathan MacKinnon.
Other Chevy apologists suggest that the GM had little option but to accept a lowball offer. Trouba wanted out. He’d be an unrestricted free agent a year from now. Everybody in hockey knew it, thus offers were scant. Chevy’s hands were tied.
But that’s my point.
We know for certain that two players—Kane and Trouba—asked to be moved and they were, at ages 23 and 25. That’s more like a draft-develop-and-depart program.
Just spitballing here, but let’s say Patrik Laine is the next young stud to pull on a pair of grumpy pants. He wants a fresh start. He’s seen how it worked out for Kane and Trouba. So Puck Finn signs a bridge deal, puts in his time like a good soldier, then forces Chevy’s hand. And what do the Jets receive in return? A checking forward?
The adios of Trouba is not a good look on the Jets or Chevy. They lost. And now any young player with an axe to grind knows how to beat them.
A good portion of the Jets constituency is telling Trouba not to let the door smack him on the ass as he leaves Good Ol’ Hometown, but I’m not among their number. Ya he wanted out, but so did Dale Hawerchuk, and Ducky is revered in River City. So the anti-Trouba sentiment makes no sense to me.
If the Rangers can nail down Trouba long term, who was the problem in the ongoing contract saga in River City, Chevy or Kurt Overhardt, the defenceman’s hard-ass agent? Either way, the failure to convince Trouba that Good Ol’ Hometown is the place to be stands as Chevy’s major fail as Jets GM. Then again, you can’t convince a cattle rancher to buy sheep.
Clearly, les Jets are not as good a team today as they were Monday morning. The good news is, Chevy’s only just begun the makeover. Or, based on the Trouba trade, maybe that’s the bad news.
So what’s the scoop on Brett Hull? Is he trying to drink all of Missouri dry? Is he trying to one-up Ovie in Stanley Cup hoorawing? The Golden Brett has become the Golden Blotto, and I wonder why the St. Louis Blues let him anywhere near a microphone.
And, finally, I think Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail is a terrific wordsmith, but, like most scribes, he has a tendency to lose the plot. His recent piece on the National Basketball Association champion Tranna Jurassics would be an e.g. “They’re bigger than the Beatles,” he wrote. Right. A guy who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s would know what it was like when John, Paul, George and Ringo touched down in the 1960s. I don’t think it’s the dumbest thing I’ll read this year, but it has the clubhouse lead right now.
The past does not tell us where we have been, it tells us where we are.
So where are LGBT athletes today as Pride Month 2019 kicks off, half a century after the Stonewall Riots in Gotham’s Greenwich Village?
The answer, I suppose, depends on which scorecard you use.
Certainly there has been considerable advancement in the inclusion file, both on and off the playing fields of North America and, indeed, in global frolics like the Olympic Games.
Here are some of the notations you’ll find on that particular scorecard:
* Lesbian tennis legend Billie Jean King and longtime partner Ilana Kloss are part of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ownership group.
* Out lesbian Laura Ricketts is co-owner of the Chicago Cubs.
* Golden State Warriors out gay president and chief operating officer Rick Welts was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last year.
* Out lesbian Caroline Ouillette is assistant coach with Canada’s national women’s hockey team (she’s married to former Team U.S.A. captain Julie Chu and they have a daughter together).
* Out lesbians Jayna Hefford and Angela James have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
* 56 LGBT athletes competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
* 15 LGBT athletes competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
* 16 out lesbians were on rosters at the 2015 women’s World Cup of soccer.
* The leading goal-scorer in the history of women’s international soccer, Abby Wambach, is an out lesbian.
* 7 players in the 2018 Women’s National Basketball Association all-star game were out lesbians.
* Both the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and National Women’s Hockey League have featured transgender players—Harrison Browne and Jessica Platt—and numerous out lesbians.
* U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe became the first out lesbian to be featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
* Rapinoe and hoops star Sue Bird became the first LGBT couple to be featured in ESPN The Magazine body issue.
* Out lesbian Katie Sowers is an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League.
That acceptance is terrific, for the LGBT collective and society as a whole.
Unfortunately, there’s a second scorecard:
* Number of out gay men in the National Hockey League: 0
* Number of out gay men in the National Football League: 0
* Number of out gay men in the National Basketball Association: 0
* Number of out gay men in Major League Baseball: 0
* Number of out gay men in Major League Soccer: 0
Cite another segment of society in which the bottom-line number in 2019 is the same as the bottom-line number in 1969. I can’t think of one.
Thus, the motion of life moves everything forward with the exception of the cultural phenomenon that is professional male team sports, an unbudging, frat-boy enterprise still stuck in the mud fifty years after all hell broke loose in and outside the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan.
Are there gay men among the approximately 4,300 players on current NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB and MLS rosters? Here’s an easier question: Does Donald Trump tell fibs?
Gay male athletes have always existed. It’s just that 99.999999 per cent of them remained hidden in a closet, earnestly avoiding the most taboo of talking points until the final whistle had sounded on careers spent in fear of being outed as lesser-thans.
Women and men with framed diplomas that indicate intellectual loft have given ponder to the curious case of the closeted male jock, and the eggheads advance numerous theories in an effort to explain the refusal to identify as gay. But, really, it isn’t a Cadbury chocolate bar mystery. It can be cataloged under the ‘fear’ file. It’s the fear of loss—loss of family/friends; loss of career; loss of income; loss of credibility; loss of status.
No male athlete wishes to be known by friend, foe or fan as a lesser-than. A Nancy boy, if you will. So he plays on, keeping his choice of romantic interests on the hush-hush.
Lesbian athletes, on the other hand, are far ahead on the social curve. They are less inclined to hide from themselves or anyone else. Elena Delle Donne and Sue Bird are not thought of as lesser-thans. Ditto Abby Wambach or Megan Rapinoe. Billie Jean King is greatly admired. The same could be said for Martina Navratilova until she recently went off on transgender athletes. Caroline Ouillette and Julie Chu proudly post pics of their daughter on Instagram. Former hockey stars Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan do the same with their wedding photos.
When Canada’s gold medal-winning goaltender Charline Labonté came out in 2014, she provided insight to the culture of the national women’s hockey club.
“Just like everywhere else our team had gays and straights, just like we had brunettes and redheads,” she wrote in an article for the LGBT website Outsports. “Everyone on my team has known I’m gay since I can remember and I never felt degraded for it. On the contrary, my sport and my team are the two environments where I feel most comfortable. The subject of homosexuality was never taboo with us. We talk and laugh about it like everything else. I feel privileged to live and be myself in an environment like this because I know that just a few years ago this topic was never part of the conversations in the locker room.”
Lesbians in sports has become a meh issue, and it’s only when a zealot like tennis legend Margaret Court turns the air toxic with illogical, wingnut rantings about same-sex marriage destroying Easter and Christmas that people give it any consideration.
Will men ever catch up to the women? Certainly not in my lifetime.
It is a peculiar business, indeed, when the San Francisco 49ers will happily hire a lesbian to tutor pass-catchers, yet there are no gay men in the NFL to catch passes.
Forty-seven years. That’s how long it has been, to the day, since I began a newspaper career that brought neither fame nor fortune but provided a fair bit of fun.
That’s why I still scribble about sports to this day, 17 years removed from mainstream media—it’s a hoot.
The pay as a freelancer/blogger isn’t nearly as good, mind you. It’s mice nuts. It isn’t enough to keep me well watered and fed. I mean, I can’t afford to make spaghetti and meatballs anymore. It’s one or the other. But, hey, the payoff is the giggles I get by poking the bear, tipping sacred cows or tilting at windmills (I promise, no more cliches for today).
One would think that I’d have gotten the Winnipeg Jets out of my system by now. But no. Some habits are hard to kick, if not impossible. I just can’t let the Jets go. And, to a lesser degree, the Blue Bombers.
I don’t know how many hours I spent in the old barn on Maroons Road, but I do know that Winnipeg Arena was my home away from home for a good number of years. As were various other shinny shacks throughout North America, from the story-studded Montreal Forum to Jack Kent Cooke’s Fabulous Forum in Tinseltown to the rickety Corral in Calgary to frost-bitten wooden huts that passed for hockey rinks in numerous Western Canada outposts.
And that’s what I am remembering this morning…
I remember Frank McKinnon, a remarkable, special man and the person I interviewed for my first Winnipeg Tribune byline story in 1971. Frank, president of the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association at the time, was one of those people I always thought I should address as “Mister,” because he commanded such respect. But he would have none of it. “I’m Frank,” he told me early in our initial conversation, “and I want you to know that you can call me any time.” Frank and I talked often, but probably not as often as I would have liked.
I remember the night in Atlanta when Winnipeg Jets coach Tom McVie attempted to scale the glass partition separating the two benches so he could fight his counterpart with the Flames, Al MacNeil. Tommy took off his sports coat, took off his necktie, took off his wrist watch, partially unbuttoned his shirt—then took out his teeth! “When he took his teeth out and started undressing,” said MacNeil, “I knew he was serious.”
I remember riding a bus with coach Muzz MacPherson and his Portage Terriers during their successful 1973 Centennial Cup crusade. Muzz liked his hockey with an edge and there was nothing sissified about the way his lads played. So physical were the Terriers that Humboldt Broncos’ coach Dr. Terry Henning took his puck and went home after five games rather than finish their playoff series with Muzz’s Manitoba Junior Hockey League champions. “Can you believe it?” Muzz asked me. “They quit. The good doctor said my guys are too dirty. He says we’re too mean and nasty. So he quit. I sure as hell wouldn’t want him doing open-heart surgery on me—he’d walk out in the middle of the operation!”
I remember interviewing Vladislav Tretiak at a house on Elm Street in River Heights. I don’t recall who owned the house or why I had to meet the great Soviet goaltender there, but he was in town to promote his book and we gabbed for about an hour at a kitchen table (rather, the interpreter and I chin-wagged for an hour). When we parted, Tretiak said something to the interpreter, who relayed to me that “Vladimir thinks you are a hockey expert.” As photographer Jon Thordarson and I walked toward our vehicle, I said, “Imagine that, Tretiak thinks I’m a hockey expert…sure fooled him, didn’t I?”
I remember being in Indianapolis with the Jets on American Thanksgiving Day and Racers coach Pat (Whitey) Stapleton inviting myself, play-by-play legend Friar Nicolson and Winnipeg Free Press hockey writer Reyn Davis to turkey dinner with his family. It was such a thoughtful gesture, but that’s the kind of relationship media and hockey people sometimes had back then, especially in the World Hockey Association.
I remember Aime Allaire and his never-ending quest to bring Senior hockey’s Allan Cup home to Winnipeg. Alas, Aime’s St. Boniface Mohawks could never get the job done.
I remember the Jets’ first visit to New York City, to play the Rangers. Friar, Reyn, Sod Keilback and I went for a stroll of Manhattan on game-day afternoon and we ducked into magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a look-see. “I’m going to light a candle for the Jets,” I said. “They’re going to need all the help they can get against the Rangers.” Sod greeted that notion with rude laughter. The Jets beat the Rangers that night, 6-4.
I remember another trip to Manhattan. Our bus driver wanted to make a detour down a side street, but he couldn’t navigate the turn because a Volkswagen Beetle was parked too close to the corner. General manager John Ferguson and the driver stepped outside to investigate. Fergy came back on the bus and shouted, “Jimmy! You and a few other guys come with me. We’ve gotta move this car.” Fergy, Jimmy Mann and three or four other players lifted half the Volkswagen on to the sidewalk and away we went.
I remember Muzz MacPherson refusing to talk to me after a Winnipeg Clubs’ game. “I’m too upset,” the gravel-voice coach barked. “I don’t want to talk. Just make up the quotes. You know me well enough by now that you know what I’ll say.” So, for the only time in my career, I made up quotes. The following day, Muzz called me and he was frothing at the mouth. “What are you trying to do to me?” he yelped. “I wouldn’t have said all those things you said I said—I would have done a lot more swearing.”
I remember talking to Ulf Nilsson the night the Jets whupped the Soviet national team, 5-3, and the great Swedish centre saying, “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”
I remember Friar Nicolson allowing me to do five minutes of play-by-play one night when Dave Keon and the New England Whalers were in town. It was a classical gas.
I remember watching the 1973 Belmont Stakes with Muzz and various hockey sorts who had assembled at the Viscount Gort for an annual chin wag. As the great Secretariat romped down the home stretch, about 30 lengths in front of the field, Muzz stared at the TV and shouted, “Don’t break a leg! Don’t break a leg!” Big Red didn’t even break stride and became horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948.
I remember Teddy Green’s headaches. I often wondered how a man could be in such crippling pain and still go out and perform so admirably on the Jets blueline.
I remember riding the iron lung with Gerry Brisson and his Winnipeg Clubs on a junket that took us to Brandon, Regina, Swift Current, Calgary and Kamloops and back. Kevin McCarthy was on that team. He was the most-talented Junior I ever covered.
I remember covering an MJHL that included four Winnipeg teams—the Winnipeg Monarchs, St. James Canadians, St. Boniface Saints and my alma mater, the West Kildonan North Stars. (That’s right, I played in the MJHL and covered it. I believe Doug Lunney is the only other person to do so.)
I remember taking pride in the championship work of Barry Bonni with his River East Royal Knights of the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, because his team represented my old ‘hood.
I remember Morris Lukowich barking at me after the Jets’ initial NHL game, in Pittsburgh. Luke had been credited with the team’s first NHL goal, tipping in a Peter Marsh shot. “Where did that shot hit you?” I asked him. “Friar and I never saw it change direction.” He shot me with a stone-cold stare and said, “Are you calling me a liar?” I was doing nothing of the sort, of course. “No, Luke, I’m not calling you a liar,” I said. “I have a game story to write and I need to know where the puck hit you so I can describe the goal accurately.”
I remember being part of a media team for Schmockey Night. Ray Jauch was our coach and Eddie (Clear the Track) Shack, the clown prince of the National Hockey League, was my left winger. Jauch, head coach with the Blue Bombers at the time, wouldn’t let Shack or I come off the ice in the final five minutes because we needed a goal to tie the game. Neither of us scored.
I remember wonderful conversations with hockey lifers Bruce Cheatley, Ed Sweeney, Bill Addison, Julian Klymkiw, Aggie Kukulowicz and Billy Robinson, who, along with Dr. Gerry Wilson, was responsible for bringing the first wave of Swedes to North America and transorming the Jets into a WHA power.
I remember defenceman Tim Watters buying Friar and I beer when he came in after curfew one night in Vancouver. “You don’t have to do that, Tim,” Friar told him. “We’re not going to rat you out. You’re good people.” I never ratted out any of the Jets. Neither did Friar. What they did on their time was their business.
I remember covering the Jets rookie training camp in Sainte Agathe, Que., in 1979 for the Winnipeg Tribune, and Fergy asking me to play in the final exhibition game because Patrick Daley had pulled a groin during the morning skate. “Are you serious? You want me to play tonight?” I asked him. He did. So I did. Assisted on the first goal, too. All the players at Sainte Agathe moved on to the Jets main training camp in Winnipeg, then some were assinged to the Tulsa Oilers. I went back to the Trib with a grand total of one assist in my only pro game. And I never got paid.
I remember the Jets first visit to the Montreal Forum. Friar and I walked in with Fergy, who was still a hero in Quebec, and he directed us to the concession stands. “Troi chien chauds,” Fergy ordered. He looked at us and said, “These will be the best hot dogs you’ll ever eat.” They were. To this day.
I remember bringing beer to former Soviet referee Anatoli Segelin, who was part of the U.S.S.R. traveling party for the 1981 Canada Cup. Upon his arrival at the Viscount Gort, Anatoli, who loved Canadian journalists, begged me to bring some beer up to his room on the second floor. I asked Stew MacPherson if he could spare a couple of 12-packs from the media hospitality room for Anatoli and comrades, and he agreed. Upon seeing me at his door with 24 beer, Anatoli flashed a smile as wide as Mother Russia and said, “Canada! Come! Come! We drink!” Segelin, myself and two other comrades did just that.
I remember Willy Lindstrom’s pranksterism. Every time the Jets’ travels would take us to Quebec City, Willy would visit a joke shop not far from the Chateau Frontenac and load up on stink bombs and sneezing powder. He would then unleash them on our airplanes. Go to sleep during a flight and it was guaranteed you’d wake up in a sneezing fit, because Willy would sneak up from behind and sprinkle powder on you. And the stink bombs were absolutely paralyzing.
I remember sitting in an airport, listening to Mike Smith deliver a 10-minute oration on the methodology of the Richter Scale after an earthquake hit the West Coast. As he spoke, I thought, “Man, this guy is a different head of lettuce.” I didn’t realize exactly how different Smith was until the day he drafted Sergei Bautin.
I remember going to the draft in Montreal the year Fergy chose defenceman David Babych second overall, ahead of Denis Savard and Paul Coffey. More interesting, however, was the fact Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran were next door, prepping for the Brawl in Montreal, the first fight in their boxing trilogy.
I remember feeling sorry for Ray Neufeld, a truly nice, young man who came to the Jets from Hartford in exchange for David Babych. It was recognized as Fergy’s worst transaction and fans took out their frustrations on poor Ray. That wasn’t fair.
I remember the first time I ever saw Peter Sullivan play hockey and asking, “How is this guy not playing in the NHL?”
I remember Jimmy Mann trying to convince me that he was “not an animal” after his sucker punch had shattered Paul Gardner’s jaw into a dozen pieces. It wasn’t me Jimmy had to convince…it was everyone else in hockey.
I remember Laurie Boschman’s on- and off-ice personalities. He was such a nasty bit of business when they dropped the puck, yet so soft-spoken, sincere and genuinely nice once the final buzzer sounded.
I remember a pilot delaying takeoff from Atlanta when we realized rookie broadcaster Sod Keilback was AWOL. Turns out the big lug had gotten lost in the airport, which was larger than his hometown of Yorkton, Sask., and he heard some serious braying once Friar Nicolson had located him and brought him on board. Sod made a feeble attempt to explain his wandering ways, but we were having none of it. “You’re just a big sodbuster,” I said. The name stuck. He was known as Sod thereafter.
I remember my traveling partners in the WHA, Friar and Reyn Davis, two terrific guys. Both of them are in the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, and rightly so. Sadly, both of them are also dead. I’m neither in the Hall of Fame nor dead, but it’s only a matter of time before I arrive at the Pearly Gates (I probably haven’t been good enough to get in there either).
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.