About a bummer night for the Winnipeg Jets…an amber alert for Puck Finn…Twig snaps his goal drought…Republic of Tranna media getting it wrong again…and much ado about nothing for NBC

If the Jets and Leafs are playing, it’s worth writing about…

Top o’ the morning to you, Paul Maurice.

Paul Maurice

Bummer, eh? A 4-2 loss to the Tranna Maple Leafs wasn’t what you, your hired hands or the rabble were looking for on Wednesday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. But, hey, sometimes life bites.

Like, it must really bite for Puck Finn right now. I mean, Patrik Laine looks as lost as a guy trying to find a crosswalk at Portage and Main. He plays five-on-five hockey like a milking cow plays the piano. Clumsy? It’s like he’s skating with a sawed-off peg leg he borrowed from Long John Silver. If he doesn’t find his game soon, you’ll have to issue an amber alert for the kid.

What’s that you say, Coach PoMo? You really don’t know what to do with Puck Finn?

Puck Finn

Well, here’s a thought: Don’t ever, under any circumstances, play him on the left flank again. Except on the powerplay, of course. I’m not sure what you were thinking when you had him skate with the Winnipeg Jets big dogs—Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler—vs. les Leafs, but a card-carrying democrat would be a better fit at a Trump rally.

The good news is, you and Puck Finn have ample time to figure this thing out. You’re only 10 games into the National Hockey League crusade, so eventually the light will go on, figuratively and literally.

You know, like it finally did for Twig Ehlers.

I don’t know what you told the boys after two periods on Wednesday night, Coach PoMo, but I have a hunch you went all potty mouth on them. That’s what a hockey coach did back in the day, you realize. If his team was soiling the sheets—which your Jets surely had done through 40 minutes—he’d blister them and peel some paint off some walls with language not suitable for the dinner table or mixed company. They’d have first-degree burns to their egos.

Twig Ehlers

What’s that? What do I know about back in the day? Listen, Coach PoMo, I was watching hockey 10 years before your mama wrapped you in your first diaper. Hey, I’m an old lady. Old enough to share my apartment with two dozen cats and not notice. Trust me, I’ve seen some things, including hockey when bodychecking was allowed.

But I digress. It’s about Twig Ehlers.

Whatever message you conveyed to the fellas in those gawdawful aviator blue unis during their second recess apparently registered with Twig. It wasn’t just that he scored for the first time in 27 assignments, he played like he was a bit PO’d.

I think Laine needs to play like he’s a bit (or a lot) PO’d, Coach PoMo.

Anyway, Twig’s goal was the sole positive takeaway from a bummer of a night. But, hey, you get another crack at les Leafs in the Republic of Tranna on Saturday night.

You know what we called Saturday night back in the day, Coach PoMo? Bath night. Yup, we’d get ourselves freshly scrubbed behind the ears, then hunker down to watch les Leafs or the Montreal Canadiens on our black-and-white TV screens. The Habs and Leafs usually cleaned up in those days, too. Won the Stanley Cup 13 times in 14 springs (1956-69).

They’re thinking that way in The ROT again, Coach PoMo. Silly people. You and I both know that your Jets are the best bet to hold a Stanley Cup parade in Canada.

It would help, of course, if you could do something to spruce up Puck Finn’s game. But, like I said, there’s ample time. And I don’t think anyone’s prepared to throw the kid out with the bath water just yet.

Just to refresh, Twig Ehlers and Puck Finn combined for 73 goals last season. Today they have four, all three of Laine’s coming on the powerplay. Thus, they’ll need to average a goal a game between them to match their 2017-18 total. Tall order but doable.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.

I think it’s swell that folks hither and yawn have noticed les Jets, but I wish wordsmiths and natterbugs in The Republic of Tranna would get their facts in order before spewing nonsense about Good Ol’ Home Team.

Consider, for example, old friend and genuinely good guy Lance Hornby’s recent take on Winnipeg HC:

“Bobby Hull’s record $1-million deal in their second season of 1972-73 angered the NHL establishment—led by Harold Ballard—and got the Golden Jet booted off Team Canada while truly stirring anti-Eastern sentiment,” the Postmedia Tranna scribe scribbles. “Hull inspired two other 100-point players, Christian Bordeleau and Norm Beaudin, but the big bang was a year later, when the Nordic invasion of Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, Velli Pekka-Ketola and Heikki Riihiranta occurred.”

Wrong. The 1972-73 crusade was the Jets’ first, not their second, in the World Hockey Association. The “big bang” of the Swedes and Finns, meanwhile, followed two seasons later, not one.

Nick Kypreos

Next we had Nick Kypreos weighing in on les Jets:

“Kyle Connor. Nobody’s really mentioned the fact that this guy is quietly gonna lead them in scoring—again,” he crowed on Hockey Central @ Noon on Sportsnet.

Wrong. Connor has never led the Jets in scoring.

Here’s Kypreos on Laine: “When it’s all said and done, this guy’s gonna end up with 30 goals again, easy. He’s not been used in Winnipeg as a No. 1 guy. Think about that for a second. If you really go and study his numbers…he’s been a second-line kinda guy his whole career, short career in Winnipeg. You kind of look at him and go “What happens if he was on another team and they use him like Ovechkin?’ So, maybe he only ends up with 28 or 30 goals this year. Maybe he does have that kind of secondary result off of that type of ice time. There’s some nights he’s played 13-14 minutes. He’s not an 18-to-20-minute guy and probably won’t be. He’ll always be in that kind of secondary…he’s a powerplay guy but he’s also secondary, you know, Ehlers, Little.”

Wrong. I don’t know what numbers Kypreos was talking about but, prior to the engagement with les Leafs, Laine spent an average of 16-plus minutes on the ice in the Jets first nine assignments, not 13-14. His low-water mark was 15:25. He topped out at 21:20. He was averaging 19 shifts per game. Against les Leafs, it was 22:23 and two dozen shifts.

You’ll have to forgive me if I fail to understand why some mainstream media made a large deal about NBC coming to River City to broadcast the Leafs-Jets joust. At best, it’s a footnote. Yet the Winnipeg Free Press came across like the Country Bumpkin Times by splashing it on the sports front, with a feature article by Mike McIntyre. The Winnipeg Sun, on the other hand, devoted exactly one sentence to The Peacock Network’s presence. The tabloid gave it appropriate play. The broadsheet lost the plot.

Department of Irony: On its website, the Freep trumpeted the McIntyre NBC piece as one of its Above the Fold features, yet in the actual print newspaper it ran the story below the fold. Go figure.

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About crunch time for Winnipeg FC…no witness protection program for Matt Nichols…Johnny Meh-ziel and Glen Suitor’s groupie-like gushing…the Puck Pontiff speaks…numbers crunching at the Drab Slab…Son of Cement Head…Tyrannosaurus Kipper stuck in the 1970s…lesbians in the owners suite of baseball…and other things on my mind

A smorgasbord on the first Sunday in autumn

And, so, the serious heave-ho of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ crusade is about to commence, and not much of what transpired on Friday night is apt to convince many among the rabble that their football heroes are up for the task.

More to the point, the fourth-quarter iffiness of the Bombers’ 31-14 victory over the inept Montreal Alouettes at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry perhaps confirms that this will not be the year the local lads win the final three-down game in November for the first time since Bill Norrie wore the chain of office at City Hall in Good Ol’ Hometown.

I mean, these were the now 3-10 Alouettes with their now 0-3, all hat-no cattle quarterback and his unearned sense of entitlement.

The Als are Charlie Brown in shoulder pads. Their night normally ends with an oomph and a thud as Lucy yanks the ball away yet again. Three months ago, the Bombers whupped the lowly Larks by 46 points. With a QB as green as St. Patty’s Day. So defeat at the mitts of these Sad Sacks was not an option Friday. Yet the end result remained in question until Marcus Sayles plucked an ill-thrown Johnny Manziel pass a minute and 57 ticks from time, thus halting a four-game skid that had taken Winnipeg FC to the bottom of the Canadian Football League’s West Division mosh pit.

The Bombers remain there today, because the B.C. Lions are proving to be an unco-operative bunch, even as they function without their starting quarterback. (The Leos found a rabbit in a hat on Saturday night, beating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in overtime and, at 6-6, have played one game less than 6-7 Winnipeg.)

The sketchiness of the Bombers’ latest skirmish is unnerving if you count yourself among the faithful who do not wear rose-tinted glasses. That is, Winnipeg FC was tooth-and-toenail to best the lowly Larks, so what horrors await them with the Edmonton Eskimos (twice), Calgary Stampeders, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Bytown RedBlacks lying in wait to close out the crusade?

As I said at the top, the serious heave-ho is at hand, and the Bombers will require better play and coaching if they’re to wrestle third place or a crossover playoff spot from the Lions or Eskimos.

Buckle up, kids.

Matt Nichols

Okay, that was the jar-half-full take on the events of Friday night. The positive? Matt Nichols won’t be entering a witness protection program this week. The Bombers starting quarterback played a mistake-free, boo-free game. When I say mistake-free, I mean major gaffes that go the other way for six points. None of us knows where Nichols’ head has been the past few weeks, but I’m guessing he could see his pancreas from there. Nothing but brain farts. He kept his wits about him vs. les Larks, though, and that ought to silence the blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda about changing QBs for a few days.

TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, J. Manziel, wasn’t awful vs. the Bombers. He was Johnny Meh-ziel. Fact is, he’s done nothing extraordinary in his three starts, unless you consider four interceptions in one half special. He has yet to win a game. He has yet to hurl a touchdown pass. He has yet to score a TD. Still, Glen Suitor and others at TSN talk as if he’s turned the water he walks on into wine. Manziel’s apologists are swift to point accusing fingers at the Larks woeful offensive line and receivers who couldn’t catch a cold standing naked in a meat cooler. Well, if Johnny Meh is as mobile as they say, he wouldn’t have been sacked five times Friday (a sixth was overturned by penalty), and every QB in the CFL has pass-catchers who drop the football. Fact is, Antonio Pipkin had better numbers than Manziel in three of his four starts.

Glen Suitor: Gush, gush, gush.

Just wondering: Did Suitor ask Manziel for a date after the game? Seriously. It’s quite clear that Suitor has replaced Kate Beirness as the No. 1 groupie in TSN’s Cult of Johnny, and his game-long gushing about the Als quarterback was totally teeny-bopper stuff. And kind of creepy. Early in the skirmish, after Johnny Meh had scrambled for a first down, Suitor gasped, “There’s the magic!” It was as if Johnny Rotten was the first QB to ever escape a pass rush. Suitor also made an asinine comparison between Manziel and Doug Flutie. I don’t know if Suitor reviews his work, but he should be embarrassed by his celebrity-crush natterings on Friday.

I keep hearing that Manziel sells tickets. Ya, and I’ll be selling acorns to squirrels this month. The Bombers and Als performed in front of the smallest audience of 2018 at Football Follies Field, with only 24,349 in the pews. Compare that to the 25,931 head count when the Johnny Rotten-less Als visited last season, and it’s a dip of 1,582 customers. Mind you, the Bombers aren’t much of a sell this year. Through seven home dates, the body count is down 6,981.

I’m sorry, but every time I see a guy wearing a Manziel jersey, I see someone who supports a man who beat up a woman. And when I see a woman with that guy, I wonder about her. Like, why would she keep company with someone who supports a man who beat up a woman? Seems to me that would be a deal breaker. Just saying.

Terry Jones of Postmedia Edmonton will be a marshal for this year’s Grey Cup parade in E-Town. I’ve often wondered what a parade marshal does. Other than sit in a car and wave, that is. Whatever his duties, I’m sure Large will be a boffo parade marshal.

Mark Chipman

Well, this is interesting: Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman talks to local news snoops on the record about as often as it snows in August, yet he found time for a recent chin-wag with Calgary scribe Eric Francis. Nothing the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll told Francis was enlightening, but the fact he granted an out-of-towner an audience says something. I don’t know if it says Chipman has a low regard for jock journos in River City, or if they’d rather not talk to him, but I strongly suspect it’s the former.

So now we know why the Winnipeg Free Press dumped Scott Campbell as its freelance columnist on all things Jets—to make room for Andrew Berkshire. And that means advanced stats, charts and graphics up the ying-yang. Spare me. I mean, my eyes glaze over when I attempt to read a Murat Ates offering in The Athletic. He crunches more numbers than a nerdy kid with a slide rule. So, if it’s all the same to you, I’ll pass on Berkshire in the Drab Slab. I don’t want to make my brain hurt and my eyes bleed any more than necessary. But I wish him well.

Max Domi

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Max (Son of Cement Head) Domi of the Montreal Canadiens shakes the hockey glove off his right hand, he forms a fist with that hand, he punches Florida Panthers defender Aaron Ekblad flush on the nose, then says, “By no means did I want to hurt him. Obviously, I was not trying to hurt him.” In whose universe are you not trying to wound someone when you punch him in the beak? Talk about a slab of concrete not falling far from the cement mixer.

The National Hockey League suspended Domi for the remainder of the Habs pre-season exercises. Is that supposed to be punishment or a reward?

Nick Kyrpeos

If Domi acting like a cement head doesn’t take the prize for stupidity, surely Nick Kypeos’s take on the incident does. Speaking on 590 The Fan in the Republic of Tranna, Tyrannosaurus Kipper basically blamed the victim, saying Ekblad chose “not to protect himself.” Wrong. Ekblad chose not to fight. Someone at Sportsnet ought to inform Kypreos that it’s safe to leave the 1970s behind.

There’s only one way to describe the new look on the Sportsnet website: Dog’s breakfast.

Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss

Well, I now have a reason to once again root, root, root for the Los Angeles Dodgers: Billie Jean King and longtime partner Ilana Kloss have become minority owners. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s now three lesbians in the owners suite of Major League Baseball, the other being Laura Ricketts of the Chicago Cubs.

And, finally, Tiger Woods won a golf tournament Sunday afternoon. Who knew that to be possible? Not me.

About Josh Morrissey doing a Jacob Trouba…the fashion police weigh in on Winnipeg Jets third uni…the hair on hockey players’ chinny-chin-chins…pants on fire in Montreal…Johnny Rotten’s bruised ego…fighting fossils…tennis brats…and other things on my mind

It occurs to me

Now that Josh Morrissey is back on board, here’s what I’m curious about: Will the rabble—and at least one prominent jock journo—speak and write the same evil about him as they did Jacob Trouba during the past two years?

Trouba, you’ll recall, failed to surface for Winnipeg Jets training exercises in 2016 and he’s been Darth Skater ever since. It’s as if he’s responsible for all that raw sewage pouring into the city’s river system.

Morrissey was MIA for the first three days of Camp PoMo. Does that make him Darth Skater Lite?

Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba

I mean, from what I can determine there’s just one difference between the two young National Hockey League defenders: Trouba declared a desire to get out of Dodge prior to his contract impasse, which stretched into November of ’16, and his hankering for a new postal/zip code became a matter of public record. Morrissey, meanwhile, has expressed no such yearning. The only comments he delivered for public consumption during his prolonged contract discussions sounded like a 1960s love-in: Love the Jets. Love my teammates. Love River City. Want to be on board for the long haul. We’ll get a deal done.

Well, now that the deal is done (two years, $6.3 million), I’m hoping that Morrissey will be spared the unharnessed hostility heaped upon his blueline accomplice, and that’s as it should be.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

Like Trouba before him, Morrissey has done nothing wrong.

“You make your decision and you stand up for what you believe in and I wouldn’t expect him to take anything less that what he feels he’s worth,” Trouba was saying the other day, not long after the local lads had assembled for their initial pre-season frolic.

Exactly.

The notion that these players should happily lap up whatever Kool-Aid that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his main bidder, Kevin Cheveldayoff, are serving is absurd.

Let’s be clear: Morrissey and les Jets had agreed to disagree until Sunday. That doesn’t make him a malcontent or a bad guy.

Mark Scheifele in Jets beer league jersey.

Here’s my thought on those third jerseys les Jets unveiled on Friday: That’s the biggest swing and a miss since mighty Casey struck out for the Mudville Nine. Seriously. Has a beer league team reported a set of stolen sweaters?

Here’s my thought on Tyler Myers playing on the left side of les Jets defence: Egads.

Much has been made of the fact that Jets goal-scoring maestro Puck Finn shed 14 pounds and the worst set of chin whiskers in hockey history during the summer. Here’s betting that if the puck isn’t going in early and often for Patrik Laine, the bread-butter-and-eggman beard grows back.

Mitch Marner

Speaking of facial foliage, I note that the Tranna Maple Leafs have scrapped their ban on beards. Yup, players can now sprout chin whiskers. Most excited about the new directive is forward Mitch Marner. It gives him something to look forward to when he finally reaches puberty.

I find it interesting that les Leafs and Air Canada would lift their respective restrictions on beards at the same time. As for extra baggage, Air Canada is still charging a fee and Ron Hainsey is still with the Leafs.

Max Pacioretti

It’s a given that everyone in sports lives on Planet Pinocchio, which is to say they tell fibs. It’s part of their DNA. But it’s difficult to determine whose pants were on fire in Montreal recently, when les Canadiens ownership/management and former captain Max Pacioretty engaged in a “he said/he said/no I didn’t” peeing contest.

Geoff Molson, team bankroll: “We’re just going to focus on telling the truth, and that’s that a (trade) request was made. When the request was made to look at making a trade, we started to actively go after that.”

Marc Bergevin, general manager: “Last season, he asked for a trade. I will not go into details. But that’s a fact.”

Pacioretty: “There’s no truth to that. And I can confidently say that.”

Pacioretty is now with the Vegas Golden Knights. No one is denying it.

If you’re looking for some good reading (and you know you won’t find it here), check out Dan Myers’ nhl.com piece on Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Broudreau and the 9/11 tragedy, and New York Islander goaltender Robin Lehner’s first-person account in The Athletic on his winning battle with the bottle, depression and suicidal notions. As my first sports editor, Jack Matheson, would tell us whenever we wrote something that caught his fancy, it’s “damn good” stuff. Very powerful.

Johnny Rotten

Is it mere coincidence that Antonio Pipkin had his worst day at the office scant hours after TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, shot off at the mouth about losing his job as the Montreal Alouettes starter?

Pipkin was beyond dismal in the Larks’ 32-14 loss to the B.C. Lions on Friday night, throwing for less than 100 yards and four interceptions, including a pair of late Pick Sixes. What I found myself wondering while watching the carnage was whether or not Johnny Rotten’s rant during the leadup to the skirmish impacted on Pipkin’s performance.

They traded half of an organization I feel like in terms of what they gave up to get me here,” Manziel had told news snoops. “I would think I would get a chance to come in and still play. That’s where maybe it’s a little bit lost on me. Missing the game because of the concussion and then not getting to play once I was back, it’s been frustrating for sure. Because I felt like there was a lot of hope and a lot of faith in me being the guy here and how quickly that’s changed in two weeks is tough.”

Sounds to me like the bleating of an entitled, me-first rich kid.

To recap, Manziel started two games behind centre for Montreal. He was gawdawful in his Canadian Football League debut, and only marginally better the next time out, when he suffered a concussion. He was 0-2. In his absence, Pipkin won two of three assignments, pumping oxygen into the lifeless Larks and establishing himself as the No. 1. Apparently, none of that registered with Johnny College. Despite missing three days of practice with the flu, he’s convinced he should have been at the wheel vs. B.C.

It’s believe he’ll miss the next month of the season due to hurt feelings.

Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao

Oh, joy, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are going to exchange punches again for a gazillion dollars in December. How will they bill the fist fight between the two boxing fossils, The Wife Beater vs. The Homophobe? And how many suckers will actually pay to watch it?

The is too funny: Last week, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna wrote, “I really hope the Maple Leafs pick a captain soon—so everybody can just shut up about it. The captain stuff: Relatively meaningless.” So what’s the first snippet in Simmons’ latest notes column about? You guessed it. The Leafs “relatively meaningless” captaincy. Does he even read his own stuff before hitting the send button?

John McEnroe and Serena Williams

I began covering tennis in 1971, when the premier players in the country made the first of their annual summer pilgrimages to the har-tru courts of the Winnipeg Canoe Club for the Canadian National tournament. In the ensuing years, I witnessed no small amount of brattish behaviour, perhaps the most memorable being a classic hissy fit from the tightly strung Dale Power, who, after an unexpected loss, hucked all his racquets and other paraphernalia into an open construction pit that was to become the badminton wing of WCC. In tennis, the men were the divas (hello John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase). McEnroe became a pathetic caricature of himself. Connors was a narcissistic boor. Nastase was a lewd, crude oinker. So where does the great self-promoting female crusader Serena Williams fit in with the bad-ass boys? I’d say she’s a combination of McEnroe and Connors—a narcissistic caricature.

And, finally, chair umpire Carlos Ramos, he of the Serena Williams foofaraw at the U.S. Open, dinged Marin Cilic of Croatia with a code violation for racquet abuse in his Davis Cup match vs. Sam Querrey of the U.S. today. Cilic did not call Ramos a “liar” or a “thief,” nor did he mention anything about parenting or fighting for equal rights. Apparently, he simply played on. What a concept.

So long to Ab McDonald, the original Winnipeg Jets captain and a dear man

There are good guys in hockey, there are great guys in hockey, then there are the absolute best guys in hockey.

Alvin Brian McDonald, known to family, friends and on-ice foes as Ab, was among the latter.

If there was a nicer man in the game than Ab, I never met him, and that takes in 30 years worth of time and people on frozen ponds and in puck palaces across our vast nation.

From scrubs on skates to National Hockey League players, Ab had time for everyone, including news snoops who’d call him at home to pick his brain about anything from playing alongside Jean Beliveau to getting the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association off the ground in October 1972.

The return phone call was among the measuring sticks we would use in the rag trade. If they called you back, they were good guys. Ab unfailingly returned calls. Didn’t matter what time of day or night, he’d get back to you. In time for you to make deadline.

Frank McKinnon and Don Baizley were like that. The old goalie, Joe Daley, is too.

Frank and Baiz are gone, and now Abbie is, too. The Jets original captain died at age 82 on Tuesday night, and you know a pall has spread across the hockey community, most notably in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Ab was, in many ways, like the aforementioned Beliveau—a kind, gentle, engaging and obliging man. Respected and admired, he was a proud Winnipegger who left home to play hockey hither and yon but returned to River City each summer. There was a regalness about him, yet, at the same time, he had the carriage and touch of an aw shucks common man.

You’ll find that’s what folks will talk about today when they learn of Ab’s passing.

Oh, sure, they’ll also mention the Stanley Cup rings with the Montreal Canadiens (three) and Chicago Blackhawks (one), the Cup-winning tally against the Detroit Red Wings in 1961, his playing alongside Stan Mikita and Kenny Wharram to form one version of the Blackhawks fabled Scooter Line, and scoring the first goal in Jets history in New York (on the same night the youngest of his five children, Kristina, was born). They might also mention that the past two years have not been kind to the Scooters—Wharram passed away in 2017, while Mikita and Ab left us this year.

But there will be one common theme in all reflections—Ab the man.

Daley, in conversation with The Canadian Press, remembered his former teammate as “just a super nice guy who mentored a lot of the young guys, including me.” Ab was “very humble.”

“I’ve had a weepy day today,” Daley added.

Most likely, he wasn’t alone. In fact, I know he wasn’t alone. Abbie was a dear, dear man.

About the Toronto Argonauts being no laughing matter…CFL shrinkage…a mad hatter at bluebombers.com…pigskin prayer power…when Michael Sam was the man…CFL power rankings…greybeard golf…and other things on my mind

One fried egg-and-cheese sandwich on whole wheat toast and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

It has occurred to me, and many others, that we might be witnessing the death throes of the Toronto Argonauts—the franchise, if not this year’s on-field product.

BMO Field when Toronto FC is playing.

I mean, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s motto is “Bringing The World To Its Feet,” but very few of those feet are parading to BMO Field. Unless, of course, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and friends are having a kick-about.

Oh, yes, they love their footy in the Republic of Tranna. Red-clad, scarf-wearing locals traipse to BMO Field whenever Toronto FC is in frolic, and it matters little that the level of play in Major League Soccer isn’t a match for the English Premier League, the Bundesliga in Germany, Serie A in Italy, or Spain’s La Liga. Fitba is a “happening” in the ROT, and the Reds are averaging 26,591 customers this year, marginally down from a 27,647 head count in 2017.

The Argos, on the other hand, they’re a “happening” like the Don River is the Pacific Ocean.

BMO Field when the Argos are playing.

How sparse are the audiences when the Boatmen are grabbing the real and fake grass at BMO Field? I’ve seen more circus clowns squeeze into a Volkswagen Beetle. The winner of the 50/50 draw at the last home game was later seen asking Yonge Street panhandlers for spare change.

We tend to joke about stuff like that because, let’s face it, cracking wise about The 6ix is what those of us who dwell in the colonies do. The ROT is always good for cheap laughs, whether it’s Drake making an ass clown of himself at a Raptors game, Premier Buck-a-Beer promising cheap suds, or the Maple Leafs’ 51st annual retooling season.

This Argos business, however, isn’t yuk-it-up material. Not if you’re a fan of the Canadian Football League.

I started following three-down football in the 1950s. Most of my heroes wore the blue-and-gold linen of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but Dick Shatto, adorned in the double blue of the Boatmen, was among my favorite players. He was so smooth, and an impossibly handsome man. I remember reading about Tobin Rote, the gunslinger of a quarterback, and Cookie Gilchrist, the fierce and feared running back. I watched them intently, and with much admiration and awe, whenever the Argos appeared on the black-and-white screen of our rabbit-eared TV.

That’s why it pains me to see an ocean of unoccupied seats at BMO Field on Argos game nights/days.

In their 2017 crusade, the Boatmen attracted an average of 13,913 customers. This year the head count is worse—12,836 average, with a low-water mark of 10,844 for a visit from the Bombers. That’s cringeworthy, also alarming, and the hit to MLSE’s bottom line must be substantial.

I’ve never completely bought into the argument that the CFL absolutely needs the ROT to survive, and I’m confident that western football can exist without it. I will, however, submit that the three-down enterprise is much better with a robust Argos franchise in the mix. It would be a shame if MLSE chose to tap out.

After all, if not for the Argos, what would we have to laugh about in the summer and autumn? Oh, that’s right…there’s always the Blue Jays.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet posted this tweet last week after 35,623 folks showed up at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton for a showdown between the Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders: “A crowd of less than 36,000 is the biggest in the CFL this season and is considered a big success. My goodness, this league has shrunk.” Well, yes and no. Toronto and Montreal certainly have shrunk significantly, both in attendance and size of facility. The rest of the CFL, not so much. High tide for CFL attendance arrived in 1978, when the league averaged 31,879. The Montreal Alouettes and Argos led the way with 54,471 and 46,545, respectively. This year, they’re down to 17,861 and 12,836. That’s 36,610 customers lost in Montreal and 33,709 in the ROT. That’s what you call shrinkage.

Matt Nichols and mad hatter Ed Tait.

Good bit on Bombers QB Matt Nichols by young Eddie Tait of bluebombers.com. I’m not sure if the highlight of the piece is the tale Nichols tells about almost being stuck with a huge restaurant tab while a member of the Dallas Cowboys, or young Eddie’s lid. He’s really rockin’ the funny hat. You might want to check it out.

Kirk Penton continues to crank out the good CFL stuff for The Athletic, and last week one of his insiders (a coach or GM) had this to say about the Argos switching from James Franklin to McLeod Bethel-Thompson at starting quarterback: “I have no idea if this played a role in it or not, but Franklin has a different personality. He’s not your average guy. It makes me wonder if the players have adopted him or not. He’s hugely religious.” Why would religion be part of the equation? The great Pinball Clemons is a man of deep faith, and I don’t ever recall it being a problem in his time as a player or coach with the Boatmen.

Michael Sam

It’s three years ago tomorrow that Michael Sam became the only openly gay man to perform in a CFL game. Playing rush end for the Montreal Alouettes against the Ottawa RedBlacks, he was on the field for just 12 plays, making no tackles and, quite frankly, looking as out of place as the Pope in a pub. One week later, the former St. Louis Rams draft pick walked out on the Als, citing mental health issues, and never played another down on either side of the border.

The morning after Johnny Manziel made his disastrous CFL debut, TSN had nine videos of the Alouettes QB on its main web page. Sportsnet had one. But, hey, who’s counting?

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (7-0): The beat goes on.
2. Edmonton (5-2): Three wins vs. West outfits.
3. Winnipeg (4-3): Three wins vs. East outfits.
4. Saskatchewan (3-4): Terrell Owens anyone?
5. Hamilton (3-4): Alouettes were just what the doctor ordered.
6. Ottawa (4-3): Talk about coughing up an ugly hairball.
7. B.C. (2-4): Got screwed by a zebra, but still not good enough.
8. Toronto (2-5): What a comeback. Too bad no one cares in the Republic of Tranna.
9. Montreal (1-6): Getting worse in either official language.

Phil and Tiger

Apparently, the hokey Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson mano-a-mano, greybeard golf challenge will take place on American Thanksgiving weekend. Just what everyone will need. Another turkey.

Max Domi says the Montreal Canadiens have the “pieces it takes to win,” in the upcoming National Hockey League crusade. And he would know this how? He spent the past three seasons playing in the Arizona desert, where the Coyotes did nothing but lose.

Mark Stone

In the WTF department, the Ottawa Senators have agreed to pay Mark Stone $7.35 million to play right wing in 2018-19. That’s $1.75 million more than captain Blake Wheeler earns with the Winnipeg Jets. It’s $1.225 million more than les Jets pay Rink Rat Scheifele. How does Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff convince his players to sign on the cheap? Is he Reveen, the great hypnotist? Does he have damning photos? To date, only one player, Jacob Trouba, has had the strength to ward off Chevy’s mystic powers. Hard to figure.

Just wondering: Is it possible for Murat Ates of The Athletic Winnipeg to write an article on the Jets without mentioning salaries and advanced stats?

And, finally, I notice I have 312 followers on Twitter, a revelation that begat this simple question: Why? I mean, I wouldn’t follow me. But if you’re one of the 312, merci beaucoup. If you aren’t one of the 312, I don’t blame you.

About filling a hole up front for the Winnipeg Jets…Scheifele’s salary the ceiling…oddsmakers like the Leafs, Preds, Jets and Lightning…a $77 million hometown discount…Canada’s best team…and an old folks home in L.A.

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.

Paul Stastny

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

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.

Rink Rat Scheifele

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?

John Tavares

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?

About brutal brain farts by a Globe and Mail funny guy…clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right in the NHL media…quick takeaways from a tear-jerker of an NHL awards show…getting it wrong on retired numbers…a ballsy move by Barry Trotz…stay home, Darian…the mouth that roars…Milt Stegall’s d’oh moment…and TSN’s Thursday Night Football goes vaudeville

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

Funny man Dave Shoalts

There’s something you all should know about Dave Shoalts. He’s a funny guy. Has a standup comedy gig on the side when he isn’t scribbling essays for the Globe and Mail or writing books. Did I mention he also has brain farts? Yup. Big, bold, brutal brain farts.

I mean, voting Taylor Hall as the best centre-ice man in the National Hockey League this past season? And the best left winger? There you have it, kids. A big, bold, brutal brain fart.

Like, what part of C and LW do you not understand, Shoaltsy?

Mathew Barzal

If only Shoalts’s stinker was a one-off in NHL awards voting by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. But no. It was among many.

I direct your attention to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Yo! Jimbo! What did you do, pull a Rip Van Winkle and sleep from October through April? I mean, are you really trying to tell us that Clayton Keller and Alex DeBrincat had better freshman years than Mathew Barzal? That’s like saying Messi is having a better World Cup than Ronaldo.

And what’s your excuse, Gann Matsuda? Was the shinny season nap time for you, too? Seriously. Yanni Gourde is your idea of the top rookie in the NHL? Yanni freaking Gourde?

And here I thought Yanni was that Greek guy who makes the music we listen to while stretched out in a dentist’s chair.

It’s not as if the rabble needed another reason to think of jock journalists as free-loading, poorly dressed, overweight, overpaid, know-nothing nincompoops, but Shoalts, Thomas, Matsuda, John Dietz, Roy MacGregor and a few others surely have given it to them with their bizarro-world NHL awards balloting.

The boys and girls in the PHWA had one simple job to do this past NHL season: Stay awake and pay attention. It’s not like anyone was asking them to solve the mystery of the Caramilk chocolate bar. Or to make sense of Donald Trump. Their assignment: Watch hockey games for approximately seventh months; take note of special performers and their numbers; when one of them (Barzal as an e.g.) operates in a higher orbit than his peers, vote for him when you receive your year-end awards ballot.

Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara

In the case of Barzal, his 85 points for the New York Islanders, when stacked against the tally of any other frosh, look like Zdeno Chara standing beside Brad Marchand. Thus, voting for him as rookie-of-the-year was your basic no-brainer. Unless your name is Jim Thomas, Gann Matsuda (Frozen Royalty), John Dietz (Arlington Daily Herald) or Roy MacGregor (Globe and Mail).

Those four saw it another way. Somehow, they were of the belief that Barzal’s season was like the tree falling in the forest. It didn’t really happen.

Well, okay, they all had Barzal’s name on their Calder Trophy ballots. I’ll give them that much. But they must have thought his 85 points paled in comparison to Keller’s 65. Or Yanni’s 64. Or Brock Boeser’s 55. Or DeBrincat’s 52.

Yo! Kids! A lower number is good in golf, Hearts and at your bail hearing, but not so much for hockey players whose job it is to score.

Let’s try and stay awake next season, mooks.

Back in the early 1970s, Stealers Wheel had a great hit, Stuck in the Middle with You, which included the lyrics, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right.” Hmmmm. Sounds like some of the PHWA membership. Sure, the majority of them got it right in voting for the season-end awards, but the Bozo quotient is too high when 43 news snoops—forty-freaking-three!—think someone other than Connor McDavid is the premier centre-ice man in the NHL. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but did McDavid’s peers not award him the Ted Lindsay trinket (for the second time) as the premier player on the planet last Wednesday? Yup, they sure did. Yet a sizable chunk of PHWA voters believe they know more than NHL players. Forty-three of them did not—repeat, did not—vote for the league scoring champion as the all-star centre. Worse, seven of them, including the aforementioned Dave Shoalts and the regrettable Gann Matsuda, failed to include the Edmonton Oilers captain on their all-star ballot. That’s like leaving the Pope off an all-Catholic list. It’s like leaving Pinocchio and Sarah Huckabee Sanders off an all-fibbers list. Once again—mooks!

Sports scribes are quick to call out athletes/coaches/managers/owners and even fans for the slightest misstep, peppering their targets with insults and catty condemnation. They’ll dismiss bloggers as talent-challenged oafs, with stereotypical references to mom’s basement. But…they seldom call each other out. They won’t eat their own. Thus, we shouldn’t expect to hear a print hit man like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna hurling nasties at his good friend and former roomie Shoalts for his blundering in PHWA voting. Fortunately, we have bloggers and the social media mob to carry out public floggings, and Shoalts has taken a deserved paddywhacking.

Quick takeaways from the NHL awards gala at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Glitter Gulch on Wednesday: That was easily a two-dozen-Kleenex show, and I’m quite uncertain how Christina Haugan got through her speech without weeping, because she had me bawling like a baby. Christina is the wife of Darcy Haugan, the Humboldt Broncos head coach who perished along with 15 others in April’s bus tragedy. Standing on stage in front of 10 of the crash survivors, Christina accepted the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award on behalf of her husband, and her words and message were beautiful…The tributes to victims, survivors and first responders of the Parkland, Fla., and Las Vegas shootings were also moving and tear-inducing moments, as was Masterton Award-winner Brian Boyle’s speech. All tastefully done…

Brian Boyle

Was it just me, or did anyone else think Boyle looked like a 1970s lounge lizard with his slicked-back hair, mustache and shiny suit? Or maybe he looked like a bad TV game show host. I can’t decide…Are those two doofuses who introduced P.K. Subban as cover boy of NHL 19 supposed to be funny? Apparently known as On the Bench and something of a hit on YouTube, if they’re hockey’s version of the McKenzie Brothers it doesn’t work for me…Nice touch to trot out Scott Foster, accountant by day and emergency goaltender by night. He played seven minutes for the Chicago Black Hawks one evening in Chitown last season and shut out the Winnipeg Jets…Hockey Hall of Famer Eric Lindros hasn’t missed many meals in retirement. He’s a big boy. Same can be said for Jim Belushi, presenter and teller of bad jokes…Kind of strange watching Pekka Rinne accept the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender, given how he struggled in the playoffs…Illusionist Darcy Oake was hit and miss. His Lady Byng Trophy card trick flopped, but his knife-throwing card trick was boffo.

So, this is what passes for a big trade in the NHL these days: A 19-goal forward for a nine-goal forward. Be still, my beating heart. I don’t know if the Montreal Canadiens or Arizona Coyotes got the better of the deal that has Max Domi swapping a zip code for a postal code and Alex Galchenyuk doing the reverse, but I wonder if les Canadiens have a clue. Shouldn’t they be adding size to their roster, not garden gnomes?

This from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “When he was a kid, Max Domi wore the number 13 in minor hockey in honour of Mats Sundin. Then, after being diagnosed with diabetes, he changed to number 16, as a tribute to Bobby Clarke. Now that he’s in Montreal, he couldn’t wear 16 because it’s retired for Henri Richard and Dickie Moore.” Wrong. Once again Simmons displays a lack of knowledge of 1950s and ’60s-era hockey. Dickie Moore wore No. 12, not 16, for les Canadiens. No. 16 is retired in honor of Pocket Rocket Richard and Elmer Lach, not Moore. Like his buddy Shoaltsy, I suppose Simmons will write off his gaffe as just another brain fart.

Mike Hoffman called Ottawa, San Jose and Sunrise home in less than 24 hours last week, with the Senators shipping the toxic forward across the continent to the Sharks and the Sharks flipping him back across the continent to the Florida Panthers, but here’s what I want to know: Is there any truth to the rumor that Hoffman’s fiancé, Monika Caryk, has a no-movement clause and must stay in Ottawa?

Barry Trotz and his friend Stanley.

Barry Trotz walking away from his Stanley Cup-winning gig in Washington was a ballsy move. I mean, people said the former Capitals coach would land a job before Alex Ovechkin stopped partying, but it’s not like the NHL is Motel 6 when it comes to vacancies behind the bench. There was exactly one job opening for a head man. Had Lou Lamoriello of the New York Islanders not reached out to rope him in with a four-year contract, Trotz would have been SOL. His next coaching gig might have been a year from now, or he might have appeared on our flatscreens next autumn. So, like I said, ballsy move by the Dauphin native.

Apparently, Egypt scored its first World Cup goal since 1990 on Tuesday. Not to be outdone, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have discovered their first quarterback since 1990. Yes, for the second successive start, rookie Chris Streveler did boffo business behind centre in Winnipeg FC’s 56-10 rag dolling of the Montreal Alouettes on Friday night. So, memo to Darian Durant: Stay home, keep the money. The Bombers are doing just fine without you, thanks.

Duron Carter

I have become convinced that only three things are forever open: Heaven, hell and Duron Carter’s mouth. My goodness, the man never gives his gums a rest. They flap more than goose wings in migration season. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but if I have a notebook or a microphone and I’m on the football beat in Saskatchewan, I’m sticking close to the Roughriders receiver/cornerback.

Milt Stegall, TSN talking head, on Carter moving from receiver to cornerback against the Ottawa RedBlacks on Thursday night: “I would be very surprised if Duron Carter is beaten by some big plays. I’d be more surprised if he doesn’t make any big plays.” D’oh! Diontae Spencer scorched Carter for a 56-yard touchdown, and his pass interference and illegal contact penalties led to another Ottawa TD. On the plus side, Carter had a pick six.

Kate Beirness

Kate Beirness and her big hair made their debut as host of Thursday Night Football on TSN, with resident natterbugs Hank Burris, Matt Dunigan and Stegall providing the backup vocals, and I’m not sure if it’s still a football show or bad vaudeville. I mean, the pre-game shtick included Brodie Lawson doing grunt work in the gym; the same Brodie Lawson as a wannabe lumberjack wielding a chain saw; Beirness and Kate McKenna dancing and discussing naked men on the football field; and a silly feature on the President of Touchdowns, Naaman Roosevelt. At halftime, Beirness was shaking her bones on the dance floor again (this time with the boys), and an unremarkable band sang two unremarkable songs. I was left to wonder why Hank, Matty and Milt were there. Hey, I’m all for fun and off-beat stuff, but this was simply lame.