About the absence of a women’s game for Hockey Day on Planet Puckhead…nobody does it better than Ron MacLean…the Great Wall of Oil…the NHL salary cap hell…Espo didn’t ‘move his feet’…a QB in Lotus Land…a menage-a-gridiron in the CFL…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I don’t see my name on TSN’s Trade Bait Board, so I guess I’m not going anywhere…

How can you tell that Hockey Day on Planet Puckhead is a big deal?

Because it isn’t every weekend that Sportsnet dispatches octogenarian gasbag Donald S. Cherry and his setup man, punster Ron MacLean, to the frigid flatlands.

Normally, of course, the Yin and Yang of Saturday shinny are confined to quarters, which is to say they’re tucked away in a cozy, modest Hockey Night in Canada studio in the Republic of Tranna, far removed from the frost-bitten colonies.

But there they were Saturday on location in Speedy Creek, which, according to the tiny town’s tourism spin meisters, is “where life makes sense.”

It certainly made sense that Saskatchewan and, specifically, Speedy Creek would serve as the centrepiece for Hockey Day, because it doesn’t get much more Canadiana than pucks, prairie and a wind chill reading of minus-30.

Speedy Creek is Prairie-speak for the wonderfully named Swift Current, a welcoming, convenient stopping-off point just a hop, skip and a slapshot west of Pile O’ Bones (that’s Prairie-speak for Regina) and east of the wonderfully named Medicine Hat. It has been the breeding ground for numerous National Hockey League luminaries, such as Patrick Marleau, Adam Lowry, Bryan Trottier, Tiger Williams, Joe Sakic, Terry Ruskowski, Sheldon Kennedy, Geoff Sanderson and Dave (The Hammer) Schultz.

Don and Ron

So, ya, it was a great fit and Hockey Day seemingly had it all, including the on-site star power of Don and Ron, Canadian television’s longest-running bromance since Wayne and Shuster.

There was, however, one notable exception—the package did not include our best women in action. And that made no sense on a show from a town “where life makes sense.”

Oh, sure, there were numerous references and interviews about the distaff side of our great game during the 12-hours marathon on CBC and Sportsnet, and they parachuted Olympian Cassie Campbell-Pascall into Speedy Creek for some glad-handing and chin-wagging during the four-day festival. But that carried the waft of forced tokenism and nothing more.

Hockey Day is supposed to be our annual celebration of all things puck, and the women’s game is supposed to be a happening “thing,” especially given the upbeat chatter since Kendall Coyne Schofield’s jaw-dropping skedaddle a fortnight ago at the NHL all-star showcase. So how could they leave the Canadian Women’s Hockey League out in the cold, figuratively if not literally?

It was a glaring, inexcusable omission. Kind of like organizers of the Grammy Awards telling female singers they’re welcome to attend the show but they can’t perform. Stay in your lane, ladies.

I don’t know what, if any, obstacles prevented Sportsnet from including the Tranna Furies-Montreal Canadiennes afternoon skirmish, but I do know they should have moved mountains to get that game on air.

Dick Irvin

That snub aside, Hockey Day delivered some truly wonderful, Kleenex-worthy stories, and it reminded us how good Ron MacLean is. I’m quite uncertain how he isn’t anointed our country’s top broadcaster every year, because nobody does it better. Not even James Duthie. It was also nice to hear the legendary Dick Irvin’s voice. I’ll go to my urn convinced that Irvin and Danny Gallivan were the best hockey broadcasting tandem ever.

Tough viewing choice for the afternoon game, Habs vs. Leafs or Connor McDavid flying solo vs. the San Jose Sharks. I started with McDavid, but quickly switched to Montreal-Toronto because the Edmonton Oilers are a total fire drill.

The Great Wall of China has been a work in progress for more than 2,000 years, only a week or two longer than the Oilers rebuild.

There’s nothing wrong with the Oil that someone like David Poile or the Winnipeg Jets’ scouting staff couldn’t cure. Trouble is, Poile already has a job. Ditto les Jets bird dogs. So the Oilers are stuck with Bob Nicholson and Keith Gretzky. Good luck with that.

With so many NHL outfits about to enter salary cap hell, I’m inclined to suggest they ought to scrap the thing. I mean, why should a club like les Jets be penalized just because they have better talent snoops than most? Alas, there’d be no franchise in Good Ol’ Hometown without a salary ceiling, so it stays.

Eugene Melnyk

Bytown Senators bankroll Eugene Melnyk vows to spend close to the cap between 2021 and ’25. Until then, he’ll continue to squeeze nickels, tell fibs and order his players to stay away from Uber.

Anyone still believe there’s a goaltending controversy with Winnipeg HC? Didn’t think so. After watching Laurent Brossoit give the royal wave at pucks with his left hand in les Jets’ 5-2 loss to the bottom-feeding Senators in Bytown, I’m convinced he has a hole in his catching mitt. Apparently the Senators are, too.

There’s no danger of les Jets missing the Stanley Cup runoff, but there is a danger of them failing to secure home-ice advantage. And I don’t see them going the distance without an extra game at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in every playoff series.

Mike McIntyre and the Drab Slab’s obsession with Patrik Laine continues without any signs of a retreat. In the past two weeks, Mike M. and Jason Bell have combined to scribble seven stories on the Jets bewitched, bothered and bewildered winger, none of which told us anything we don’t already know. Yo! Boys! It’s no longer news that Puck Finn isn’t scoring. It’s only news the next time he makes the red light flash.

Mike M. described Puck Finn’s playmaking skills vs. the Senators as “impressive.” I must have nodded off when that happened. I mean, other than a nifty pass to set up Bryan Little for a score, Laine handled the biscuit like it had cooties.

Puck Finn

Some deep, penetrating analysis (not!) on Laine’s struggles from Donald S. Cherry and Mike Johnson. The Lord of Loud used his HNIC pulpit on Saturday to tell us this: “Somebody better give Laine a smack. This is his contract year. Get going kid! I know ya got 25 goals, but he’s done nothing. Give him a smack.” Earlier in the week, TSN’s Johnson advised us that Puck Finn has to start “moving his feet.” Oh, please. “Moving his feet” has become the worst cliché since “our backs are against the wall.” Phil Esposito scored 76 goals one season without moving his feet. Difference is, Espo was willing to go into the dirty area in front of the net and gobble up Bobby Orr’s leftovers. Laine, meanwhile, plays on the periphery and Dustin Byfuglien is no Bobby Orr.

Alexander Ovechkin is now the highest-scoring Russian in NHL history with 1,182 points, which works out to a 1.119 per-game average for the Washington Capitals captain. Coincidentally, 1.119 was also Ovie’s blood-alcohol reading during his summer-long Stanley Cup celebration.

Mike Reilly

I don’t know if Mike Reilly is an adventurous guy, but if he’s looking for a challenge—and if he doesn’t mind playing in front of empty seats—he’ll sign with the Tranna Argonauts when the Canadian Football League livestock auction begins on Tuesday. But word from the left flank of the nation suggests the Edmonton Eskimos quarterback is heading for Lotus Land and all those empty seats in B.C. Place Stadium. If true, it isn’t surprising on a number of levels, not the least of which is Vancouver’s proximity to Reilly’s offseason home in Seattle. It is, however, shocking that GM Ed Hervey has convinced Leos skinflint bankroll David Braley to part with $700,000. It must have taken the jaws of life to pry Braley’s wallet that wide open.

Will Reilly’s return to B.C. translate into ticket sales in the Great Wet West? I have my doubts. I live in Leos Land and I hear more chatter about the Seattle Seahawks than three-down football.

Randy Ambrosie

Another busy week of global hobnobbing for CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who now has signed more treaties than the Sioux Nation. For those of you scoring at home, Commish Randy has crawled into bed with Mexico, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, France and Finland, and it’s believed his menage-a-gridiron will soon include Dutch Holland and the gang that organizes the annual New Year’s Day Toilet Bowl at Blossom Park in River Heights. Those boys are in their 80s now, but Commish Randy expects them to attend the Foreign Flag Combine in March.

So what do we call three-down football now? The CMGASND2FFL? And if gay guy Michael Sam makes a comeback with the Gentille Alouettes, does it become the CMGASND2FLGBTQFL?

I don’t know about you, but I’d feel a whole lot better about Commish Randy’s off-season handiwork if it included the letters CBA, as in Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Mike Riley

Old friend Mike Riley is coaching San Antonio Commanders of the Alliance of American Football, and Dan Barnes tells us all about the former Winnipeg Blue Bombers sideline steward in an excellent piece for Postmedia. Mikey says he “loved” Good Ol’ Hometown, but that didn’t stop him from abandoning the Bombers after their most-recent Grey Cup conquest (if you can call more than a quarter of a century ago “recent”). Those 29 years without a CFL title? I blame it all on Mikey for getting out of Dodge.

And, finally, I note that the jersey toss is once again in vogue in Edmonton Oilers country. Wouldn’t white towels be more appropriate?

About the Winnipeg Jets at the halfway mark…Acts II and III of the NHL season…Chevy’s next move…trading Puck Finn for Matthew Tkachuk…the awfulness of Twitter and NFL replays…’oddly compelling’…Yahoo searches…and sharing oxygen with the giants

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if NFL replay guys don’t know a catch from a fumble or where to place the football, how are we supposed to know?

These Winnipeg Jets are an interesting study.

They have arrived at the midway mark of their regular-season crusade where many of us figured them to be—atop the Western Conference table—but they seem to be something of a tease.

Clearly among the National Hockey League elite, they go about their business in a very workmanlike manner, determined and purposeful, yet it’s as if they’re holding something in reserve, offering only hints of what might be.

They have strut, but they fall noticeably short of cock-of-the-walk arrogance, which is a good thing. It’s as if they know they’re damn good, but they also seem to know they aren’t damn near good enough.

Perhaps that’s the lesson learned from their dizzying ascent and subsequent comeuppance in last spring’s Stanley Cup runoff, when they were found to be a brick or two short of a load and eventually bowed to the upstarts from Las Vegas in the tournament semifinals.

Let’s face it, the NHL season is a three-part play: Act I is October-November-December hockey, Act II is January-February-March hockey, Act III is the beast known as the playoffs. You can get by with good in Act I. You need to up your game in Act II. Only great is acceptable in Act III.

And lest there be any doubt, it has become all about Act III for Winnipeg HC, not the regular season.

Puck Finn

Given that our hockey heroes have stared into the maw of the playoff beast, it follows that they surely recognize what lies in front of them will be contested at a higher in-your-face intensity. The grit quotient required to achieve the most favorable playoff seeding is amped up. It takes Blake Wheeler kind of grit. Does Winnipeg HC have enough of it? Well, every time I see Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine floating aimlessly about the freeze, I think not. Then I see Mathieu Perreault busting his hump along the wall and I think, “Ya, man, that’s how it’s done. Puck Finn take note.” Never thought I’d say it, but les Jets need more Perreault and less Puck Finn.

Chevy

Forty-one games in, I harbor the same concerns that I had in early October—centre ice and defence. I didn’t expect general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to tinker with his roster pre-Christmas, but, as I wrote before they dropped the puck, he’ll have to do something before crunch time. I don’t think this Jets outfit is as good as the group that bowed out vs. the Vegas Golden Knights last spring. Mind you, at least one pundit begs to differ. “I think it is. (They’re) very much as good as last year,” says TSN talking head Mike Johnson. Except he then mentions the need for an upgrade at—you guessed it—centre ice. “Ideally” Bryan Little would be on the third line and Chevy would go out and grab someone to slide into the No. 2 slot. “That’s the one spot the Jets might want to try and address,” Johnson suggests. So if I’m hearing him correctly, Johnson figures les Jets are as good as before, except they aren’t. Sure. And Milan Lucic is the same beast he was in 2011, except he isn’t.

Blake Wheeler and Rink Rat Scheifele

Hightlight of les Jets’ first 41 skirmishes for me? Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. They just keep getting it done. And, unlike a lot of folks, I’m not convinced that Scheifele is the most valuable player on the Jets. I still say it’s Wheeler.

Question to ask yourself, Part I: Would you trade les Jets roster even up for the Golden Knights roster? I wouldn’t either, so why did Vegas get to the Stanley Cup final last spring and why does it have more wins and points than Winnipeg HC today (after a horrendous start to the season)? Could the reason be found behind the bench? Just asking.

Matthew Tkachuk

Question to ask yourself, Part II: Would you trade Laine even up for Matthew Tkachuk? I think I might. All that glitters with Puck Finn is goals. The rest of his game? Meh to disastrous. Tkachuk, on the other hand, brings a more complete package, including serious snark. Just turned 21, he’s already an assistant captain with the Calgary Flames, and I don’t think Keith’s kid takes a shift off, let alone a month. He has the kind of jam you need in the post-season, and his 49 points tower over Puck Finn’s 32. Nobody’s saying Chevy coughed up a hairball in choosing Puck Finn second overall in the 2016 NHL auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers, but, based on career growth to date, Tkachuk might have been the better choice. I wouldn’t have said that a year ago.

Latest sign that the world has gone stark-raving mad: Cody Parkey flubs a field goal attempt that eliminates the Chicago Bears from the National Football League playoffs, and he receives death threats on Twitter. That’s some kind of scary stuff.

I’m a big fan of replay in sports. I’m not a big fan of replay officials. I mean, some of the decision-making in Sunday’s NFL wild-card skirmishing was as ridiculous as the gown Lady Gaga wore to the Golden Globe Awards gala. (Seriously. The train on that thing was longer than most of the passes Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson tossed.)

Kawhi Leonard

This from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “After only four months in the country, Kawhi Leonard has become the most oddly compelling athlete in the country.” I really wish sports scribes working in the Republic of Tranna would stop telling those of us who live in the colonies what we’re thinking. It’s rude and offensive. I read all of Canada’s major dailies, and I don’t see any of our flowers of jock journalism (outside The ROT) writing about Leonard or the Raptors. Leonard and the Tranna Raptors are not a topic of conversation where I live. Of the athletes most searched on Yahoo! Canada in 2018, Leonard is nowhere to be found. Genie Bouchard is there. Brooke Henderson is there. Erik Karlsson is there. But not Kawhi Leonard. Among the top 10 sports searches, the Raptors fell into the seventh slot, behind soccer’s World Cup, the Tranna Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens. Leonard and the Raptors are a “thing” in The ROT. Nowhere else.

Genie Bouchard

If we do have a most “oddly compelling” athlete, it has to be tennis diva Bouchard. I mean, aside from flashing a great amount of flesh in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, she did nothing of note in 2018. She’s short on charisma and seemingly long on sourpuss-ism. So how is it that she was the second most-searched athlete on Yahoo! Canada, behind only Tiger Woods? I guess it’s not how many tennis matches you win that counts, it’s how many pieces of clothing you remove. Here are the Yahoo! Canada search lists for ’18:

Overall
Donald Trump
Tranna Blue Jays
Tranna Maple Leafs
Justin Trudeau
Meghan Markle
The Canadian dollar
Doug Ford
Melania Trump
World Cup
Winnipeg Jets

Athletes
Tiger Woods
Eugenie Bouchard
Serena Williams
LeBron James
Cristiano Ronaldo
Brooke Henderson
Erik Karlsson
Conor McGregor
Ronda Rousey
Roger Federer

Sports
Word Cup
Tranna Blue Jays
Tranna Maple Leafs
Winnipeg Jets
Edmonton Oilers
Montreal Canadiens
Tranna Raptors
Vancouver Canucks
Australian Open
U.S. Open (tennis)

matty
Matty

And, finally, as a follow-up to comments I made Sunday about old friend Paul Friesen’s superb, thoughtful and touching piece on legendary broadcaster Bob Picken in the Winnipeg Sun, I must mention how fortunate and blessed I was to have worked with, and against, some of the men from what Paul F. described as the “golden age” of sports media in Good Ol’ Hometown. It was a treat and privilege to rub shoulders with Pick, Jack Matheson, Don Wittman, John Robertson, Hal Sigurdson, Jack Wells, Don Wittman et al. I certainly didn’t belong in their class, but it was kind of them to share the classroom with me.