Quick takeaways from Day 1 of the National Hockey League’s annual grab bag of free agents…
It’s true what the pundits are saying: Because the bean counters couldn’t rob Peter to pay Paul Stastny, the Winnipeg Jets aren’t as good today as they were on May 20, the night the Vegas Golden Knights ushered them out of the Stanley Cup spring runoff.
Fortunately for the rabble, they don’t have to be as good today.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has until October to ferret out a reasonable facsimile of Stastny, an efficient and productive, albeit aging centre-ice man who has taken the money and skedaddled to Glitter Gulch, leaving les Jets with a significant vacancy in the middle of the rink.
Stastny, of course, was les Jets main person of interest when the National Hockey League opened its grab bag of free agents on Sunday, but keeping him in the fold was always an iffy proposition.
This was always going to be about salary cap, and it wasn’t enough that Cheveldayoff shipped hard-luck, backup goaltender Steve Mason and his burdensome $4.1-million sticker price to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday to clear space. With a list of restricted free agents as long as a Winnipeg winter, the bean counters determined there simply wasn’t enough spare change in the piggy bank, otherwise Stastny would be returning to River City next autumn to help les Jets finish what was left undone in May.
It doesn’t really matter if the Golden Knights, at $6.5 million for each of the next three crusades, overpaid to lure the 32-year-old Stastny away from Portage and Main to the Vegas Strip. At issue is the hole he leaves down the middle.
Jack Roslovic would be my choice to slide between Twig Ehlers and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine on the No. 2 forward unit, at least when the local lads gather for training exercises in September. He’s no Stastny—not yet—but Roslovic plays with tempo and imagination. I think he’d be a suitable fit in what could become les Jets version of the Kid Line.
If Roslovic doesn’t work out, Bryan Little come on down! Again, Little is no Stastny, but, hey, it’s not like he’s Milan Lucic bad.
The point is, Cheveldayoff and the bean counters have all summer and September to figure this out. If neither Roslovic or Little is the answer, they can do something at the trade deadline, same as last season when they brought Stastny on board.
Brian Burke was part of the all-gab gang on Sportsnet’s coverage of free agent day, and he mentioned something about Cheveldayoff doing “too good a job,” hence the GM’s challenge of fitting financial square pegs into round holes. There’s certainly some truth to that. But here’s the real sticking point for Chevy: Rink Rat Scheifele’s team-friendly, steal-of-a-deal contract. Les Jets could have matched the Vegas offer of $6.5 million annually to keep Stastny on board, but they can’t have their aging, No. 2 centre ahead of their young, productive No. 1 centre at the pay window. Scheifele’s annual take is $6.125 million. So that’s the ceiling for Jets forwards. They could not have offered Stastny a penny more.
That ceiling will, of course,rise when Chevy re-ups his captain and best player, Blake Wheeler, about to enter the final year of a contract that makes him the third-highest wage earner among forwards at $5.6 million. Only Scheifele and Twig Ehlers ($6M) earn more, which, given Wheeler’s performance and importance to the team, is ridiculous. He should be rewarded as the highest-paid player. The real mystery is what they do when it’s time for Chevy and the bean counters to re-up Puck Finn, who comes out of his entry level deal next summer.
The oddsmakers at BetOnline like what they see in les Jets, even sans Stastny. After the Tranna Maple Leafs (+600) and Nashville Predators (+900), the local lads and Tampa Bay Lightning were listed on Sunday at +1000 to win the Stanley Cup. It’s a bet I wouldn’t make today, not with the iffiness of the No. 2 centre slot, but I might want to make it next spring. (Surprisingly, the Detroit Red Wings were the longest shot on the BetOnline board, at +10000. Are they really that bad?)
The gab gang on Sportsnet suggested John Tavares left money on the table when he chose to abandon the New York Islanders and accept $77 million to join the Maple Leafs. In other words, it was a hometown discount because his childhood dream was to play in the Republic of Tranna. Well, excuse me, but in whose universe is $77 million a discount?
The Leafs get Tavares and his 84 points, the Islanders get Leo Komarov and his 19 points. Do the math. And will the last person to leave Long Island please turn out the lights?
It’s fine that the rabble in the Republic of Tranna are going ga-ga over Tavares, but here’s something they should keep in mind: He doesn’t make Jake Gardiner or Ron Hainsey better defencemen.
So, add Tavares to the Leafs roster and take Stastny from les Jets roster and who has the better team? Still the Jets, mainly because of the blueline and in goal.
Do the Los Angeles Kings have anyone under age 30 on their roster?
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Her name is Colleen Crowley. Johnny Manziel dragged her by the hair. Rag-dolled her. He beat her up. He threatened to kill her. She felt obliged to file a restraining order against him. It was granted. Charges were filed, then disappeared when Manziel (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) promised to be a good boy.
“I was lucky to have survived. I fought for my life,” Crowley has said of her relationship with Manziel.
And that’s the man who would be starting quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The Ticats added Johnny Rotten to their stable of bad-boy QBs on Saturday, and they did so with the blessing of the Canadian Football League, an organization that likes to include itself among the angels in the fight against domestic violence but, in reality, is more aligned with the dark forces if it means getting a former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback on its wider and longer fields.
The Tabbies and CFL don’t want to hear chatter about Manziel beating up women when there are games to win and over-priced merchandise to peddle.
Indeed, Drew Edwards of the Hamilton Spectator attempted to discuss the elephant in the room during Manziel’s meet-and-greet on Saturday, but the Ticats head coach, June Jones, sitting beside his freshly minted QB like a big, scary guard dog, would have none of it.
“There’s a time for that,” he harrumphed, intercepting the question like a cornerback jumping on a Jeremiah Masoli wobbler. “We’re talking football right now. Ask us about football stuff. That other stuff, we’ve done everything we can to appease the protocol.”
Well, actually you haven’t done “everything” about that “other stuff,” June.
According to an excellent article written by Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press, at no time in the vetting of Manziel did anyone with the Tiger-Cats or the CFL seek an impact statement from the woman who was on the receiving end of his anger and the back of his hand—Colleen Crowley. Apparently, a woman being beaten up and fearing for her life isn’t worth a visit or a phone call from anyone in the CFL’s ivory tower.
So, if they’re unwilling to discuss Manziel’s history of thumping women with his victim, why would they have any desire to wash his dirty laundry in public?
The CFL and Ticats are turning the calendar back to the 20th century, when pro sports leagues pretended “that stuff” never happened. So trust them, kids. Johnny Football is a really, really, really good guy. A humble guy (just ask him). All that Colleen Crowley “stuff?” Not to worry. She’s moved on with her life. She has a boyfriend who doesn’t beat her up. Nothing to see here, kids. So just get out there and buy all those Johnny Manziel jerseys and everyone will live happily ever after.
Well, it’s sad and the CFL looks pathetic.
Kudos to the Spec’s Edwards for attempting to address the domestic violence issue, but it appears his brethren in mainstream media, like the Ticats and CFL, are prepared to give Manziel a free pass. No surprise, really, since none of the news snoops are women who’ve been rag-dolled by men. Some samples from the welcoming committee:
Chris Cuthbert, CFL play-by-play voice on TSN: “Looking forward to seeing Johnny Manziel play in the CFL. Win-Win for the CFL.”
Matthew Scianitti, TSN: “Whatever you think of Johnny Manziel, the attention he’ll bring to the CFL won’t hurt.”
Dan Barnes, Postmedia Edmonton: “It will be fun for everyone to watch.”
Steve Simmons, Postmedia Tranna: “Welcome to Canada, Johnny Football. Johnny Football is coming to Canada. And where do I sign up?”
I don’t know about you, but when I hear someone describe themselves as “humble,” which Manziel did on Saturday, I’m convinced he’s humble like a football has four corners and a handle. Humble people don’t brag about being humble. They allow others to make that call. Manziel, to be sure, struck all the right notes during his meet-and-greet with news snoops, but beneath all the puffery you know he believes a move to the CFL is slumming.
Some rat’s ass took a terrible beating last week. I mean, first Joey Votto said he doesn’t give a “rat’s ass” about baseball in Canada. Then, upon further review, he said he does, indeed, give a rat’s ass about baseball in Canada, and the Cincinnati Reds first sacker delivered a mea culpa that, to me, sounded sincere. Others bought in, too. Richard Giffin, baseball columnist at Toronto Star, described Votto’s apology as “thorough and heartfelt.” Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail wrote, “Votto’s apology was that true rarity—one that not only showed contrition, but also made sense.” Then there was our favorite glass-is-half-empty scribe Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, who cannot resist finding dark clouds in silver linings. The apology “rings hollow for me,” he tweeted. Something tells me that Votto doesn’t give a rat’s ass what Simmons thinks of his mea culpa.
Tip of the bonnet to Kevin Cheveldayoff, one of the finalists in voting for the National Hockey League’s top general manager. By my count, Chevy makes it three members of the Winnipeg Jets who’ve been nominated to collect a trinket at the NHL awards soiree next month in Vegas—captain Blake Wheeler is up for Mark Messier Leadership Award and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is up for Vezina. Perhaps the scribes at the Winnipeg Free Press can tell us once again how everything flies “under the radar” in Pegtown.
Interesting that many among the rabble in Jets Nation had their fall guy even before the local hockey heroes came up short in their Stanley Cup crusade—the aforementioned Hellebuyck. Is that fair? Perhaps not. Is it an accurate analysis? Absolutely. Goaltending was the critical difference between the Jets and Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Western Conference final, which wrapped up Sunday afternoon at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. Hellebuyck wasn’t horrible, but a couple of iffy moments (some would call them total blunders) vs. Vegas represented the fine line between success and failure. At the other end of the rink, Marc-André Fleury was, as they say, lights out in four of the five games it took Vegas to oust les Jets in the best-of-seven series. He was one save from perfect in the clincher on Sunday, a 2-1 Vegas win, and you wouldn’t want to bet against him in the Stanley Cup final vs. either Tampa Bay Lightning or Washington Capitals.
Chris Johnston of Sportsnet writes this of the NHL: “There are simply no quick fixes in this league anymore.” Really? Tell that to the Golden Knights, who went from non-existent to a 109-point season and the Western Conference final in less than 12 months. Tell it to the Tranna Maple Leafs, who went from a 69-point outfit to a 105-point club in the three seasons since Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock set up shop. Tell that to the Colorado Avalanche, who went from 48 to 95 points in one season. Quick fixes are doable. You just need the right people working the wheel.
Francoise Abanda is probably correct—she’ll never receive the exposure provided Canadian tennis diva Genie Bouchard. But she loses the plot in her reasoning.
“(It’s) because I am black. It’s the truth,” she says, which is her way of calling Tennis Canada and/or the media racist.
Here’s some truth for young Francoise: The top money-earner among all female athletes on this planet is Serena Williams, a black woman. According to Forbes, she collected $27 million between June 2016 and June 2017, $19 million of her haul accumulated off-court. Her sister Venus, also unmistakably a black woman, was No. 5 on the Forbes list in overall earnings ($10.5 million) and No. 2 in off-court income ($7 million).
Now, it’s also a truth that news snoops and advertising agencies are, of course, fools for pretty, blonde, white female athletes with cover girl looks, whether they’re successful or not (see: Bouchard, Genie; Kournikova, Anna), and the media remain guilty of fawning over Bouchard even as she’s in free fall in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings and has accomplished little of note in the past two years, other than to remove most of her clothing for Sports Illustrated. So, yes, being a pretty, white girl comes with benefits. Maria Sharapova, for example, wasn’t the top-earning female athlete 11 years running because she was superior to Serena Williams on the tennis court. Although a multiple Grand Slam champion, her income was mostly about blonde hair, long legs and marketability.
Abanda can’t count on that for greater exposure. She’ll first need a signature moment. Like what Denis Shapovalov delivered at the Rogers Cup last summer. People didn’t notice Shapo because he’s white. It’s because he beat Rafael Nadal.
At present, Abanda is the world No. 128, top-ranked among Canadian women, and other than giving Jelena Ostapenko a bit of a scare last summer at Wimbledon, her body of work on the WTA main circuit is non-descript. Nothing she’s done screams 150-point headline. It’s that black and white.
If you’re curious, behind the Williams sisters at the 2016-17 endorsement/special fees pay window were all the pretty white girls (Forbes 2017 list).
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 1): “Don’t know what’s more disappointing—the Jets losing tonight or the Jets not selling out in the smallest arena in the NHL.” That from a guy who lives in the Republic of Tranna—population 6.4 million—where they can’t scrounge up more than 14,000 to watch the Tranna Argonauts play football. Where they had to give away 2016 Grey Cup game tickets with pizza to fill the pews at BMO Field. Where employees at TSN and Bell were offered free tickets. Where they had to slash ticket prices. And where they still couldn’t fill the joint, with the lowest head count for the CFL title match in 41 years.
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 2): “Been a Winnipeg supporter going back to 99 Pan Am Games. Enjoyed Grey Cups there.” Really? Here’s what Simmons wrote in November 2015: “My report card of Grey Cup Week in Winnipeg: Just so-so. Not as much fun as Winnipeg usually is at Grey Cup time. A touch disappointing.”
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 3): “Forgot how much fun it is to cover boxing. Have really enjoyed the past few days.” Ya, wouldn’t we all just love to hang out with that fun bunch at the light-heavyweight title fight on Saturday in The ROT? The champion, Adonis Stevenson, once was jailed for pimping out women; the challenger’s promoter, Floyd Mayweather Jr., is a convicted wife beater who beat up the mother of his children before their very eyes. Fun for the entire family.
Well, the Winnipeg Jets have laid waste to the Nashville Predators, winning 5-1 in Game 7 of their National Hockey League playoff series, so it’s time to check in with my two Hens in the Hockey House, who’ve come out of hibernation to join the rabid rabble as the Jets continue on their Stanley Cup crusade.
Take it away, ladies…
Question Lady: Oh, happy day! I’m so giddy! It’s the merry month of May and the Jets are still playing hockey! Round 3 of the playoffs coming up! Can you believe it, girlfriend?
Answer Lady: Yes, I’m a believer. I also now officially believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, that Donald Trump really is president of the United States, and there are now skating rinks in hell. For sure, hell has frozen over.
Question Lady: Is that the best you can do? Sarcasm? Can’t you at least show some enthusiasm for the city and the Jets?
Answer Lady: Hey, I’m as happy as a cottage owner on the May long weekend. The Jets paddywhacking the Predators is the best thing to happen to Good, Ol’ Hometown since the Guess Who did that Pan-Am Games gig in 1999. Which reminds me: I still can’t believe those boys aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Question Lady: Oh, I know. Totally criminal. I mean, Bon Jovi…Journey…Isaac Hayes…those slugs are in the Rock Hall and it’s still on Randy, Burton, Jimmy and Garry’s bucket list? That’s like leaving the meat out of a Sals cheese nip. Do you think it’s true what Jets captain Blake Wheeler was saying last month: Everything flies under the radar when you play in Winnipeg?
Answer Lady: That’s total bunk if you’re talking about the Jets. But apparently it applies to rock bands.
Question Lady: Okay, enough of the Guess Who. We’re here to talk NHL playoffs. Who and what has impressed you during the Jets’ march to the third round of the NHL’s spring runoff?
Answer Lady: Start with Stacey Nattrass. Sorry to keep it on a music theme, but she kicked some high-priced country bumpkin butt as an anthem warbler during the Nashville-Winnipeg series. Can you believe Lady Antebellum gagging on the words to the American anthem down there in Twang Town last week? Talk about your Star-Spangled Bummers. Tells me all I need to know about today’s crop of country crooners. Brutal. But I digress. I’ll answer your question with a question: What’s not to like about the local hockey heroes?
Question Lady: Nice to finally hear you singing from a different page in the song book.
Answer Lady: What’s that supposed to mean?
Question Lady: Let me refresh your memory, girlfriend…one year ago, I made this bold prediction for the Jets—and I quote: “I think they’ll have a clear path to the playoffs next year. What’s to stop them?” You rejected me like an overcooked steak at 529 Wellington. Your answer was—and, again, I quote: “One, coaching. Two, goaltending.” You wanted Paul Maurice canned. You called him Coach Potty-Mouth and a snake oil salesman. You also submitted that Connor Hellebuyck was a backup goalie at best. As I recall, you said Bucky was to goaltending what Homer Simpson is to quality parenting. You also wanted Dustin Byfuglien traded. What say you now? Other than “D’oh?”
Answer Lady: Just my luck. I’ve got a girlfriend with a memory like an elephant and she takes great glee in pointing out that I’m Dumbo the elephant. We’ll have to rethink our living arrangement. Anyway, I’ll tell you who made Maurice a better head coach—Pekka Rinne.
Question Lady: Are you off your nut? Did somebody spike your latté? I mean, how in the name of Georges Vezina did the Predators goaltender make Maurice a better bench boss?
Answer Lady: Were you not paying attention? Rinne sprung more leaks than Wiki. He got the hook not once, not twice, but three times. In seven starts vs. the Jets. That has to be a first. NHL general managers are going to have a four-egg omelette on their faces when he’s handed the Vezina Trophy next month in Las Vegas.
Question Lady: So you still aren’t sold on Maurice?
Answer Lady: I’ll give him this: He somehow convinced Byfuglien and the others to stop playing dumb-dumb hockey vis-a-vis undisciplined penalties. That’s huge. This Jets outfit plays with, as Brian Burke describes it, anger and hostility. They can be very belligerent. They’re tough. They’re defiant. They have a subtle arrogance that I really like. They swarm. They’re the go-go gang. They win the one-on-one skirmishes. Skill overrides all else, and they seldom come mentally unhinged. Very impressive. That, and Hellebuyck’s emergence as an elite goaler, are the reasons why there’ll be another meaningful match at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Saturday night.
Question Lady: That’s it? Discipline and goaltending?
Answer Lady: No, major tip of the bonnet to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. And his bird dogs—especially his bird dogs. Chevy has talked, ad nauseum, about the draft-and-develop blueprint, and his amateur scouts have done boffo business from the day they told him to select Rink Rat Scheifele with their first shoutout at the entry draft in 2011. But it’s Chevy’s bartering that has rounded off this roster. Look who scored in the 5-1 win over Nashville in Game 7 on Thursday night: Tyler Myers, reeled in as a major piece in the Evander Kane trade; Paul Stastny, two goals, brought in on deadline day. Chevy worked at a glacial pace, which was frustrating, but when he was motivated to make bold strokes they were the right strokes.
Question Lady: What do you see for the Jets going forward?
Answer Lady: A Stanley Cup parade.
Question Lady: Really? You’re saying the Jets will win the Stanley Cup?
Answer Lady: Oh ya, baby. As sure as Puck Finn has a really, really bad beard, it’s a done deal. Like Eddie Olczyk said about Stanley on the Day of the Long Faces in 1996—“It’s coming back to Winnipeg!” Nashville was the big nut to crack. Now the Jets have home-fans advantage the rest of the way. The Little Hockey House On The Prairie will be a graveyard for the Vegas Golden Knights and the Eastern Conference survivor.
Question Lady: You’re not convinced that Vegas is the real deal?
Answer Lady: Sure they are. They’re jitter-bugs on ice. But the local lads will overwhelm them. The Jets are too fast on the puck, too hard on the puck, they bring too much back pressure, they’re too hostile, they’re too much of everything. And they’ll have a better anthem singer.
Question Lady: I’m not so sure about that. Apparently country crooner Carrie Underwood has offered to sing the anthems at one of the games in Las Vegas. Can’t beat that, can you?
Answer Lady: Ha! Fat lot of good she was for the Predators. The Golden Knights can have her. We’ll stick with Stacey…or maybe drag Burton Cummings and the Guess Who out of mothballs. Maybe Neil Young. Maybe Bif Naked. Maybe Chantal Kreviazuk. Maybe Jennifer Hanson in her little red dress!
Question Lady: So how many games will it take the Jets to give Vegas a paddywhacking in the Western Conference final?
Answer Lady: Six. Jets in six. Then you and I will party at Portage and Main.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
I opened a newspaper the other day and a Dr. Phil show broke out.
Seriously. I went directly to Section D of the Winnipeg Free Press to read Paul Wiecek’s column, figuring the oft-snarky scribe might have something contentious to say about the Winnipeg Jets-Nashville Predators engagement in the National Hockey League playoffs, and instead I found 1,200 words devoted to the optics of a hostile, white-skinned, white-clad mob numbering 15,000-plus raining boos, obscenities and taunts upon a black man.
Apparently, that’s not a good look. Apparently, it conjures KKK imagery of torch-bearing men adorned in white bed sheets and pillow cases, and burning crosses in a remote setting. And the people on Twitter who actually believe this are “laughably stupid,” as Wiecek accurately describes them.
Well, let me say this about all that: There are times when I read or hear something that makes me say, “Stop the world, I want to get off!” Most Jimmy Fallon monologues do that to me. Most Donald Trump tweets do that to me. And so did that Wiecek column. Made me want to call up Oprah and ask her to haul her couch out of storage so we could have a sit-down.
I mean, really? Some among the Twitter rabble cringe at the thought of outriders viewing Good, Ol’ Hometown as racist should the faithful in The Little Hockey House On The Prairie boo P.K. Subban of the Predators? This is Mississippi Burning visits Manitoba?
Sorry, but that’s a bigger stretch than the waistband on a pair of Charles Barkley’s old pants.
Wiecek writes “in the normal course of events, stupid things get said on Twitter all the time.” He’s correct. He adds that he is “loathe to give any of it further oxygen.” Yet he gives this racist “optics” nonsense 1,200 words worth of oxygen in a post-game column.
I wouldn’t describe that as “laughably stupid,” but it is stupid.
We now know that Brad Marchand is a serial licker. He has the most famous tongue this side of a Rolling Stones album or a KISS concert. And I can’t stop laughing about it. Don’t get me wrong. Uninvited licking is icky. I wouldn’t want Marchand’s tongue anywhere near me. He creeps me out. Totally. I’d rather have Roseanne slip me the tongue (trust me, I’m cringing at that thought). It’s just that this entire Boston Licker thing is so gob-smackingly absurd that my warped sense of humor keeps kicking in. I mean, think about it. When Marchand’s kid says, “My dad can lick your dad!” to another kid in the playground, he really means it. Literally.
The NHL, of course, has been in full howl since Marchand used Ryan Callahan’s face for a lollipop on Friday night (that after laying a licking on Leo Komarov’s neck in an earlier playoff game), and it’s been an outrage normally reserved for truly heinous crimes. The Boston Licker has become Beantown’s most notorious no-goodnik since Albert DeSalvo copped to the Boston Strangler slayings. The thing is, licking is such an unspeakable atrocity that NHL mucky-mucks didn’t think to include it in the 218 pages of their rule book. Spitting is in there. Hair-pulling is. Biting is. Cussing is. But not licking. Which only confirms what many of us have been saying during the mayhem that is the current Stanley Cup tournament—the NHL rule book ain’t worth a lick.
Apparently, it’s unanimous: Marchand should stop licking people. Even that Boston Bruins-loving blowhard on Hockey Night in Canada, Don Cherry, agrees. “Kids, you never do this,” was his sermon from the bully pit on Saturday night. “Gotta stop that nonsense. A kiss is all right, but…” No, Grapes, a kiss is not “all right.” Marchand needs to keep his lips and tongue to himself.
So, let me see if I’ve got this straight: When P.K. Subban breaks into dance after scoring a goal in the Jets-Preds NHL playoff skirmish, he’s a self-serving showboat. A hot dog dripping with mustard. But when Dustin Byfuglien of Club de Hockey Winnipeg does a post-goal jig, it’s just so gosh-darned cute because, hey, that’s just big, warm-and-fuzzy Buff being big, warm-and-fuzzy Buff. Sorry, folks, you can’t have it both ways. Hey, I’m no fan of Subban’s theatrics. As a Shakesperean actor, he makes a fine hockey player. But I don’t see how anyone can condemn him for having fun.
Hockey Central at Noon last Thursday was boffo. Best episode. Ever. Joining host Daren Millard on the panel were Brian Burke and Doug MacLean, two been-there, done-that former NHL general managers who engaged in banter that was humorous, insightful, revealing, raw and sincere. Basically, it was Millard lending an ear to two crusty, ol’ boys spinning yarns. Man, this was some kind of good chatter. So much more enjoyable than the pontifical natterings of Damien Cox and the gatling-gun prattling of Todd Hlushko (stop and take a breath once in a while, man). It reminded me of the old days, sitting in the bowels of the Winnipeg Arena and listening to local bird dogs like Bruce Cheatley, Billy Robinson, Dino Ball and Jimmy Walker talk hockey and swap lies. Good times.
Bringing “Burkie” on board as a talking head was a thumbs-up move by Sportsnet, and I have to believe it’s driving Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna bonkers. “I get disappointed when I see Bill Parcells or Jim Rice or John Tortorella or others who have treated the media with a certain disdain winding up in media positions on television or radio,” he wrote not so long ago when crapping on Marc Savard’s appearance as a gab guy on Sportsnet. “If you don’t care for media, I’ve always thought, don’t be part of it.” Well, okay. Except Simmons treats many of the athletes/coaches (e.g. Kevin Durant, John Farrell, Venus Williams) and sports (e.g. curling, figure skating, women’s hockey, 3-on-3 hoops) he writes about with complete disdain. If you don’t care about the athletes/coaches and sports you write about, Steve, don’t be part of it.
So, the International Ice Hockey Federation has suspended five players and three coaches with Sweden’s national Junior side for the dastardly deed of displaying frustration. Oh, yes, the Swedes had the bad manners to remove silver trinkets from their necks at the most-recent world junior championships, and captain Lias Andersson, who hucked his medal into the stands in Buffalo, received the harshest slap on the wrist. The IIHF has grounded him for four games. “To be ‘frustrated’ by the loss of a game is not the right attitude,” some mucky-muck in a suit said in a statement. I suppose that’s tough love. But I can’t help but wonder what the punishment might have been had young Lias licked someone’s face.
I say the King Clancy Memorial Trophy would be a lovely, also fitting, parting gift for Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and I’d also say you can make book on the Swedish twins walking off stage with the bauble at the NHL awards shindig in Glitter Gulch next month. P.K. Subban and Jason Zucker are the other finalists for the Clancy trinket, which salutes leadership qualities on and off the ice and humanitarian contribution to community, but I have to think the Sedins’ retirement swayed voters.
Stephanie Labbé has been told by the Premier Development League to take her soccer ball and go home. The reason? She’s a she. One of our national women’s team keepers with 49 caps, the 31-year-old Labbé is good enough to earn a spot on the Calgary Foothills FC roster, but the PDL will have none of it. No penis, no play. So I ask: What year is this? 2018 or 1918?
But wait. It must be 2018,at least in basketball, because the Milwaukee Bucks plan to interview Becky Hammon for their vacant head coaching position. She, like Labbé, is a she. The Bucks apparently don’t care. They’re only interested in ability. Hammon has been apprenticing as an assistant coach with Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs since 2014, and that’s good enough for the Bucks to take a look-see at her resumé and have a chin-wag. Good on them.
I’m not really into hoops and haven’t harbored a rooting interest since my main man Kareem dropped his final sky hook for the Los Angeles Lakers, so I truly don’t give a damn how much of an ass clown the hip-hop artist/rapper known as Drake makes of himself as the Tranna Raptors’ unofficial court jester.
I mean, to me, the high-profile groupie’s hissing contest with Kendrick Perkins during and after Game 1 of the Raptors-Cleveland LeBrons playoff joust was a meh moment. Nothing to see here, folks. Just another puffed-up, self-inflated celebrity who’s entranced by himself and believes it’s all about him. Ignore him.
Except that’s not how media in the Republic of Tranna play it with the National Basketball Association’s celeb buffoon. To them, Drake is very much a “thing.” They can’t ignore him. They are the flies to his cow paddy.
Like, never mind DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and the Raptors’ collective faceplant in Game 1, followed by their total surrender in Game 2. Drake was in the house, don’t you know? Got into a gob-knocker with Kendrick Perkins. Talked smack. Huffed and puffed. Nasty stuff. He then received a tsk-tsking from the NBA and was told to go to his room. By the time he slinked back into the Air Canada Centre for the second Raps-Cavaliers go-round, Drake was as quiet as a church mouse tippy-toeing on cotton. All of which inspired Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, and Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star to make Drake the central point of their off-day analysis.
Here’s a portion of Simmons’ alphabet fart: “The Raptors’ global ambassador is becoming a global embarrassment. This isn’t Drake’s time or place to get in the way. He has become an annoyance, even by his own rather distinguished annoying standards, even if the Raptors don’t necessarily view it that way. This is his time to sit down, shut up, stop posing for the cameras and acting like you’re part of the show.”
Here’s Feschuk: “Beginning with Game 2, (the Raptors) need to play with a lot less ‘we’re-not-worthy’ self-doubt and a lot more Drake-esque ‘we-own-the-place’ swagger. They’re better off inhabiting the spirit of a hip-hop god than playing like they’re haunted by the ghosts of LeBron-induced failures past. This team doesn’t need to ban Drake. It needs to be a bit more like him.”
And now Kelly (in mournful muse): “Among the many sad and disappointing things about Thursday’s basketball game in Toronto—basketball among them—Drake stood out. He arrived later than normal, flanked by bodyguards. He came out of the tunnel laughing a little too hard and slapped more hands than usual. Over on the Cavaliers bench, his recent sparring partner, Kendrick Perkins, pretended not to notice. Drake sat down and angled his body toward the Toronto Raptors bench. And that was it. Where he would normally have stood up and started shouting, getting in Dwane Casey’s way as the coach stalked the sideline, he just sat there. No jawing with the opponents, no encouragement, no nothing. This was Toronto’s first citizen tamed. As bad a week as the Raptors had, Drake’s was more terrible in factors. Seeing him brought low for the sin of caring too much, of embarrassing the rest of us by showing it, of being so damned Canadian pains me.”
Talk about people making ass clowns of themselves.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
There’s been considerable teeth gnashing, hand wringing and chin wagging devoted to the flawed National Hockey League playoff schematic in the past week, all of it an echo of the squawking we heard during the spring runoff a year ago.
The Tranna Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins meeting in Round 1? Stupid.
The Winnipeg Jets, henceforth known as Canada’s (Only) Team, and the Nashville Predators obliged to engage in hostilities in Round 2. Also stupid.
Apparently, it isn’t “fair” either.
Well, excuse me, but I must have missed the memo that says sports is supposed to be fair.
Is it fair that Connor McDavid is stuck in Edmonton? Is it fair that Brent Burns has that magnificent beard and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine has the world’s worst collection of chin whiskers? Is it fair that Michael Phelps has flippers instead of feet? Is it fair that Secretariat had a heart the size of a keg of beer while most other race horses have hearts the size of a shot glass. Is it fair that 5-feet-7 Spud Webb had to climb a stepladder to look 7-feet-7 Manute Bol in the eye?
Expecting fairness in sports is a fanciful notion.
Ask New York Islanders fans about fair. If sports was meant to be fair, someone not named Garth Snow would be generally managing their NHL club. Instead, they’re still saddled with him, 12 years in.
Ask Jets Nation about fair. Every time Dale Hawerchuk and the boys were feeling their oats in the 1980s, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and pals were eating their lunch. (Les Jets and Edmonton Oilers played 19 games across five series in the ’80s. Final tally: Edmonton 18 Ws, Winnipeg 1.)
I think the last truly “fair” thing in sports was Elin Nordegren’s divorce settlement with Tiger Woods.
In an ideal world, sure, the Preds and Canada’s (Only) Team wouldn’t meet until Round 3 of the Stanley Cup tournament. They, after all, collected the most points in the regular season, finishing 1-2, respectively. But, hey, it’s not like the NHL has a monopoly on stupid. The National Football League, Canadian Football League, Major League baseball…all dumb.
The NFL has been known to reward sub-standard outfits with home playoff dates simply because they had the good fortune of competing in a turtle division. The CFL is worse. The East Division has been without a plus-.500 team since 2015, but the Ottawa RedBlacks and Tranna Argonauts won the past two Grey Cup games in large part because they were granted a bye and home field in the playoffs. In Major League Baseball, both the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates had more Ws than two of the three National League division champions in 2015, yet they were required to compete in a wild-card game.
None of that’s fair. Sports was never meant to be fair.
You want to talk about fairness in sports? Any club other than the Oilers winning the right to choose Rasmus Dahlin at the NHL entry draft in June…that’s fairness in sports. I mean, what was the most oft-heard conversation once the ping-pong balls stopped bouncing at the draft lottery on Saturday in The Republic of Tranna? Try this:
“Thank gawd those messed-up, misfit SOBs in Edmonton don’t get another first pick overall.”
“You got that right, man. ABO—anybody but the Oilers.”
It’s bad enough that the Oil Drop gets the 10th shoutout in June (it’ll be their eighth top-10 pick this decade if you’re keeping score at home), but a fifth No. 1 would have brought serious calls for entry draft reform. As it turns out, the Buffalo Sabres will get Dahlin (not wild about that; was hoping for the Vancouver Canucks).
Did the NHL Department of Tsk-Tsking really call the Boston Bruins and instruct them to instruct Brad Marchand to stop licking opposing players? Marchand, you’ll recall, was observed licking Leo Komarov of the Tranna Maple Leafs on the neck during their just-concluded Stanley Cup series. What’s the big deal? Everybody’s been licking the Leafs since 1967.
Interesting times in the 6ix, which, I’m told, is what the happening people who hang out with Drake call The Republic of Tranna. Les Leafs, of course, have put away the pucks in favor of more seasonal pursuits, but they couldn’t retreat from The ROT without Nick Kypreos tossing a lit match into the dumpster of another crusade that ended in wanting. “Babcock lost Matthews,” he told the boys on Sportsnet 590’s Starting Lineup. “I don’t know what happened, but he lost him. There was no trust anymore. For whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews.” Kypreos failed to offer a shred of evidence to support his thesis that head coach Mike Babcock and his main stud, Auston Matthews, were/are at odds, except to mutter something about “body language.” Lame, lame, lame. This story will lose some of its giddyup over the summer, but it’ll be a fresh brush fire when les Leafs reconvene in autumn, with the possibility of gusts up to an inferno. Simply because Kypreos opened his gob and out fell innuendo, then reporters and opinionists chased after it.
What’s the difference between a sloth and Zdeno Chara? Two toes on each foot. I mean, to say that Chara is sloth slow would be an insult to dawdling mammals everywhere. I swear, if a fire alarm went off, a sloth would beat Chara out the door. Incredibly, the Bruins captain continues to get the job done and, at age 41, he gobbles up more minutes for head coach Bruce Cassidy than the mere mortals on the B’s blueline. I just wonder if it’s sustainable through three more rounds of the Stanley Cup tournament. I don’t see it happening, but more power to him if he can pull it off.
I sometimes think Damien Cox of the Toronto Sun/Sportsnet and Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna/TSN were separated at birth. Seriously. They must be blood related. How else do we explain their shared penchant for the absurd? Last week, for example, Cox wrote: “The (Nashville Predators) have always been competitive under the only GM they’ve ever had, David Poile.” Apparently, “always competitive” means missing the playoffs eight times. “Always competitive” means missing the playoffs in the first five years of the franchise’s existence. “Always competitive” means missing the playoffs as recently as both 2013 and ’14. Cox then doubled down on his “D’oh!” boy hockey analysis by submitting that the Maple Leafs defence was “fine” in a 7-4 Game 7 loss to the Bruins on Wednesday. Fine? Jake Gardiner was totally inept. His game was like a spring day in Winnipeg—minus-5. It was biblical in its awfulness. The puck was a live grenade on his stick. He wanted no part of it. (Neither, for that matter, did his equally inept goaltender, Frederik Andersen.) It’s hard to imagine any player inflicting so much damage on his own side during 24 minutes of ice time, but, according to Cox, a defence that featured Gardiner was “fine.” At the end, I found myself wondering what the Leafs could possibly fetch in barter for Gardiner during the off-season. Certainly no one who’s breathing.
I used to enjoy listening to the boys banter on Hockey Central at Noon, but it has become a chore now that Cox seems to have secured a regular seat on the soup-and-sandwich-time gabfest. The man is an interruptive, insufferable, eye-rolling, lip-licking, fact-fudging, ego-driven, know-it-all squawkbox who talks down to people and gets agitated at the slightest suggestion that his might not be a persuasive or prevailing opinion. Other than that, Cox is “fine.”
Word out of Russia is that disgraced wife-beater Slava Voynov will seek re-entry to North America and the NHL, and his wish list includes the Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and—horrors—Winnipeg. I think maybe Slava might want to scratch the Jets off his list. They took heat for inducting Bobby Hull into their Hall of Fame, so I can’t see them flopping down the welcome mat for the former Los Angeles Kings defenceman who spent two months in the brig and was deported from the U.S. for kicking the crap out of his wife.
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “The brother you don’t hear about, Keith Gretzky, left the Boston Bruins after the 2016 season to join his friend, Peter Chiarelli in Edmonton. But here’s what Gretzky left behind as scouting director: Future Norris Trophy winner Charlie McAvoy, David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo. He passed on Mathew Barzal. Stuff happens. Name another team that’s drafted better?”
Okay. I’ll name another team: The Winnipeg Jets—Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Connor Hellebuyck, Adam Lowry, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Jack Roslovic, Tucker Poolman, Sami Niku, Kristian Vesalainen.
Second, Gretzky’s work in the first round of the 2015 entry draft can’t be written off as “stuff happens.” Ya, he got the B’s a keeper in Jake DeBrusk, but he used picks 13-14-15 to claim Jakub Zboril, DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn when Mathew Barzal (16th) Kyle Connor (17th), Brock Boeser (23rd), Travis Konecny (24th) and Jack Roslovic (25th) were there for the taking.
Third, Gretzky didn’t draft Grzelyck for the Bruins. He was taken in 2012, two years before the Great One’s brother became the B’s top amateur bird dog.
Just the facts, ma’am. They aren’t hard to find.
And, finally, it’s about Canada’s (Only) Team: Peggers are already partying like it’s the 1970s again—when Ben Hatskin was hijacking Bobby Hull and the Jets were riding in championship parades as a regular routine—but will the cross-country rabble rally ’round the flag and adopt an outfit from little, ol’, out-of-the-way Winnipeg as Canada’s team as the NHL playoffs lurch along? I have my doubts. I mean, sure, there’ll be pockets of hosers across our vast land whose patriotic pangs will inspire them to root, root, root for Tinytown North, because beating the beasts of the south and returning Hockey’s Holy Grail to its rightful home is a compelling, warm-and-fuzzy narrative. But I can’t imagine les Jets catching the fancy of the masses in The Republic of Tranna, Ottawa and all points east. Nor on the far side of the Rocky Mountains, where locals mourned the passing of the Sedin twins with much reverence for a respectful 48 hours then returned to the shade of their palm trees and regularly scheduled patio lattés. I’m thinking nothing shy of a trip to the Stanley Cup final will stir up national fervour for Canada’s (Only) Team. But it’s never too early or too late for outriders to hop on the bandwagon.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
It’s easy to get ahead of yourself today if you’re among the white-clad rabble of Giddy Town, heretofore known as Winnipeg, River City or the Peg (or the less-flattering Winterpeg, Win-a-Pig, Zamboniville, Tundra Town and the Town That Summer Forgot).
I mean, you just watched your hockey heroes open a big, ol’ can of whup-ass on the Minnesota Wild. The Jets were ruthless, like a kid pulling the wings off a housefly ruthless. They brought a bayonet to a knife fight. The Wild brought a handful of confetti. It was more one-sided than a father-son talk about the teenage boy’s pregnant girlfriend. So now that the Jets have disposed of Minny in five matches, you’re calling out the Nashville Predators. Bring ’em on, right? Then bring on the San Jose Sharks or Vegas Golden Knights, and whichever outfit has the misfortune of emerging from the east in the National Hockey League battle of attrition known as the Stanley Cup tournament.
It’s all good. Plan the parade route. Now. We’ll all meet at Portage and Main, right where Ben Hatskin started it all by signing Robert Marvin Hull 46 years ago come June.
Well, here’s what I have to say about that: You go, kids! Party hardy!
Yes, I realize the NHL Jets have been here before. Twice, in fact. But what did advancing to the second round get them? The Big Bad Wolf in the form of the Edmonton Gretzkys. Those parties were over faster than John Bowie Ferguson could finish one of his stinky stogies. But this one has a different feel to it, doesn’t it? There’s a sense of genuine optimism for a lengthy playoff run that didn’t exist in 1985 and ’87. Oh, sure, some among the rabble back then believed the impossible to be possible, but once they stepped outside the rose-colored tea room and removed their rose-tinted glasses, they saw stark reality in a blue-orange-and-white tidal wave of hall-of-fame talent. There is no Big Bad Wolf for these Jets, though. As they await their foe for Round 2 of the Stanley Cup tournament, I see no outfit they cannot conquer. That they should not conquer. This could last a while.
For those of you keeping score at home (and I really hope you aren’t), I was 36 years old when the Jets last won a playoff series. Do the math. On second thought, please don’t. Suffice to say, I was young and in my prime and, according to Howie Meeker, I didn’t know moonshine from racoon crap. Howie was correct, of course, but he could have been a tad more subtle in his criticism of my scribblings.
A chap named Simeon Rusnak put together a nice package on the Winnipeg Whiteout for Sportsnet last week. I just wish these interlopers would do some simple fact-checking before letting their fingers do the walking on a keyboard. “The Whiteout hit the Manitoba capital with the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the first-round matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild,” Rusnak writes. “Bell MTS Place is the epicentre of the storm, with 15,321 fans at every home game draped in white—a tradition that began in 1987 in the old Winnipeg Arena when the original Jets went to their first post-season.” Sigh. The spring of 1987 was the Jets’ sixth NHL post-season crusade, not the first. They had qualified in ’82, ’83, ’84, ’85 and ’86. And, of course, the “original pro Jets” had six playoff runs and three titles in the World Hockey Association. People like Rusnak can take a crash course on the Jets’ beginnings by checking out Joe Pascucci’s excellent Legacy of Greatness feature on YouTube, or Curtis Walker’s Memorial Site.
Winnipeg Sun city side/political columnist Tom Brodbeck has also weighed in on the Jets, trumpeting the genius of ownership/management for turning a “battered and bruised” Atlanta franchise into a Stanley Cup contender “in just seven short years.” Say again? Seven short years? Cripes, man, George McPhee put together a Stanley Cup contender in Las Vegas in less than seven months. Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock did it in the Republic of Tranna in three years. Brodbeck also scribbles: “It’s very difficult to find fault with almost anything this franchise has done.” Really? I’ve got two names for you: Claude and Noel. That was the first “fault,” but certainly not their last (hello, Evander Kane). But, hey, revisionist history seems to be trendy during these heady days of the Whiteout.
Got a giggle out of Josh Morrissey’s take on the cross-check that took him out of les Jets lineup for Game 5 vs. Minny. “I watched the video afterward, and we’re battling in front of the net on the penalty kill, and I’m actually looking at the puck on the wall, trying to box him out,” he said. “I got my stick up too high on him. It was a complete accident. I would never try to do that.” If I’m ever on trial for a heinous crime, I won’t be calling young Josh as an eye witness for the defence. I mean, I watched the video, too. Morrissey and Eric Staal of the Wild were not “battling.” Staal laid neither a stick nor a gloved hand on Morrissey, who was not “looking at the puck along the wall.” He looked directly at Staal when he laid the lumber to the Wild centre’s neck. And to call it an “accident?” As if. Spilling a cup of java is an accident. What Morrissey did to Staal gets you locked up. But I admire the kid’s chutzpah.
Don Cherry isn’t fond of the NHL playoff format. It “sucks,” he said from his bully pulpit on Hockey Night in Canada during the Tranna Maple Leafs-Boston Bruins tiff on Thursday night. I won’t quarrel with Grapes. He’s absolutely correct about the NHL post-season setup. I just wish he’d have made his case in English. I mean, listen to him: “It sucks as far as I’m concerned…guess ya can’t say that. Anyhow, it’s not good an’ I’ll tell ya why. These, one of these two teams, they should not, one of them should not be out—gone!—one of them will be GONE. It’s too good a too good a teams to be gone. It should be one an’ eight—top team I think against New Jersey—that’s the way it should be. Some day when it is, when it ain’t, you cannot have one of these two good teams OUT.” Yikes! And he’s been getting paid to talk for almost 40 years? That’s as daft as paying Sarah Huckabee Sanders to tell jokes.
Grapes has been on something or a roll lately. After Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins gave the Philly Flyers a 7-0 wedgie in the opening salvo of their series, the Lord of Loud told “you kids out there” that it’s bad manners to run up the score like that. “He (Crosby) should not be on when it’s 6-0. I always kept the score down.” Out of curiosity, I went on a fact-finding mission to determine if coach Cherry had, indeed, called off the hounds once a game was well in hand during his watch (1974-79) as bench steward of the Boston Bruins. I can report that not only is his nose growing, his pants are also on fire. Yes, Grapes stands guilty of a blatant Trumpism (read: big, fat fib). His Bruins were cutthroat. Check out some of their scores:
1974-75: 8-2 playoff win vs. Chicago
(regular season wins: 10-1, 10-4, 8-1, 12-1, 11-3, 8-0, 9-4, 8-0, 7-2, 8-2). 1975-76: 7-1 playoff win vs. L.A.
(regular season wins: 7-0, 8-1, 6-0). 1976-77: 8-3 playoff win vs. L.A.
(regular season wins: 8-1, 7-3, 7-3, 10-3, 6-0, 7-4). 1977-78: 6-1 playoff win vs. Chicago
(regular season wins: 7-3, 6-0, 8-2, 7-0, 6-1, 6-1, 7-1, 8-2, 8-1, 7-3, 7-2, 9-3, 7-2, 7-0, 8-3) 1978-79: 6-2 playoff win vs. Pittsburgh
(regular season wins: 8-2, 7-2, 7-3, 7-3, 6-1, 6-1, 7-4)…
So here’s some unpaid advice for “you kids out there”: Go to the kitchen and make a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich as soon as Uncle Grapes opens his gob, because if you listen to him you’re apt to receive failing grades in both English and History.
Play-by-play call of the week, if not forever, was delivered by Colorado radio guy Marc Moser on Friday night after Sven Andrighetto scored to keep the Avalanche alive with a 2-1 win over Nashville: “I can’t believe it! This has gotta be one of the gutsiest clubs in the National Hockey League! Pure guts! They got nothing but guts! Every guy with three big, ol’ cow hearts, two pancreases and five stomachs! Guts all over the place!” There’s nothing to say after that, except someone please call maintenance for a cleanup on Aisle 5—there’s guts all over the place!
This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (after the Maple Leafs had been beaten 3-1 by the Bruins in Game 4 of their playoff series): “This was the night when the future of the Leafs—building around Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander—didn’t seem to be a very sound approach.” Good grief. Who would Grandpa Simmons prefer they build around? Borje Salming, Darryl Sittler and Rocky Saganiuk?
I note that Auston Matthews’ jersey was the top-seller in the NHL this season. Simmons demands to know the name of the imposter wearing Matthews’ No. 34 in Game 4. (Just so you know, after the Leafs centre on the top-seller top five were Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Marc-Andre Fleury and King Henrik Lundqvist.)
No doubt Roger Federer has earned the right to pick and choose when and where he plays his tennis, but still…skipping the entire clay courts season? Again? How much of Federer’s allergy to red clay is about preserving his 36-year-old body for Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and how much of it is about his competitive juices? It seems to me that the 20-time Grand Slam champion has conceded he’ll never win at Roland Garros again—not with nemesis Rafa Nadal in the French Open field and healthy—so why waste time and energy on preliminary events on the red clay of Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome? Can’t win, won’t play. I’m sorry, but it’s not a good look for the “greatest of all time.” Again, Federer gets the benefit of the doubt, but it still smacks of surrender. He prefers not to be Rafa’s clay pigeon.
Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Genie Bouchard is taking time out from her many photo shoots to help Canada in its Federation Cup tie vs. Ukraine this weekend in Montreal, and it seems our tennis diva hasn’t let her world 117 ranking bring her down a peg or two. In a presser prior to the event, a foreign reporter led into his question by telling Genie it was “a privilege” to share the same oxygen as the one-time Grand Slam finalist. To which she replied: “It’s nice of you to say that. It would be nice if our local press said that to me as well.” Someone needs to put that Genie back in the bottle.
So, there was a hole in roof at Rogers Centre, home of the surprisingly adept Blue Jays in the Republic of Tranna. Hearing that, I immediately thought of the Beatles tune Fixing a Hole, which is one of the tracks on their second-best album, Sgt. Peppers. Then I learned there were between 200 and 300 holes in the roof, which brought to mind a lyric from A Day In the Life: “Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.” It’s also from Sgt. Peppers, the Fab Four’s best work next to the incomparable Revolver.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers showed an operating profit of $5.1 million last year. There’s no truth to the rumor that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press is insisting that the Canadian Football League club use a chunk of the surplus to purchase head coach Mike O’Shea a pair of long pants.
So, after attracting less than 14,000 people per game during the 2017 CFL season, the Tranna Argonauts are convinced they now know the secret to getting more fannies in the pews at BMO Field—a hate Tranna campaign. “We want to create a sense of rivalry,” says Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment guru Jerry Ferguson. “If you’re from here, you love us and if you’re not from here, you hate us.” That’s it? That’s all you’ve got? Yo! Jerry! You’ve got it butt backwards, man. The rest of the country has had a hate-on for the Republic of Tranna since the beginning of time. How do you think we market our games?
Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 5 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on Friday night…
Pregame blah, blah, blah: At the outset, I wrote: “No way this series goes past five games if the Jets are going to pour 40 shots on goal every game. It might even be a sweep.” Well, I was wrong about the sweep, but here we are at Game 5 and there’s no Ryan Suter, no Zach Parise and no hope for the Wild…I note that good guy Scott Campbell is also writing off the Wild. “The Wild can make it interesting when they play their best game—when they’re not, you’re just counting down the time until the next Jets goal,” the former Jets defenceman scribbles in his Winnipeg Free Press column. “With their season on the line and a hurting Jets blue line, I expect we’ll see everything they’ve got Friday night. I just don’t think it’s enough.”…Jets, of course, enter the fray sans one defender who was in his work clothing when the best-of-seven skirmish commenced—the suspended Josh Morrissey. Also still unavailable are blueliners Toby Enstrom and Dmitry Kulikov. Tyler Myers returns, though, so it isn’t as bleak as it might have been. Good thing. I was beginning to wonder if perhaps les Jets would have to send out an SOS to Perry Miller. Last time I saw Percy, he was still in game shape. Mind you, that was in the 1990s and the game was mixed slo-pitch…Winnipeg and its indoor/outdoor Whiteouts continue to get considerable play from national media outlets. Wonder if anyone at the Free Press has noticed, or are they still whinging about River City being ignored beyond the borders of the Keystone province?…Breaking News: Twig Ehlers has been lost to les Jets due to a mystery owie. So who’ll skate in pretty circles? Certainly not Matt Hendricks, who replaces Twig in the locals’ lineup. He’s more of a north-south guy…We’ve got Stacey Nattrass to sing the anthems at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, so I’m wondering what country crooners they’ll trot out in Twang Town when the Jets and Nashville Predators hook up in the next round of this Stanley Cup tournament. Mike Fisher’s bride, Carrie Underwood, has her groove back, so perhaps we’ll hear her Star Spangled Bannering.
First Period: I really like seeing those vintage Jets jerseys in the stands. Classic. Wish they were still on the players’ backs, too…Jacob Trouba scores 31 seconds into the joust. Jets 1, Wild 0. Stop this senseless slaughter!…Now Bryan Little scores on a Dustin Byfuglien missile. Jets 2, Wild 0. This is going to be an embarrassment for the Wild…Hey, moneybags David Thomson is in the house. And why not? Without his bankroll, the Little Hockey House On The Prairie wouldn’t exist. Neither would les Jets…Geez, Louise, is it the Minnesota Wild or the Keystone Kops? The Minny players are tripping over each other and they’re almost scoring own goals. Total disarray…Now Brandon Tanev scores on a Minny turnover. Devan Dubnyk whiffed on it. Jets 3, Wild 0…And now Joel Armia gets in the way of a Big Buff shot and it goes past Dubnyk. Once again, the Evander Kane trade pays off for the home side. Jets 4, Wild 0…Head coach Bruce Boudreau is a compassionate man. He gives Dubie, Dubie Dubnyk the rest of the night off.
Second Period: What are the odds of les Jets keeping the pedal to the metal? Zero. It’s going to be a boring 20 minutes…Armia is gone with an upper back owie. No biggie…Yup, this is boring. Les Jets have decided to take the period off, except for the keeper, Connor Hellebuyck…Most exciting discovery is that A&W teenburgers are on sale for $3.50 until April 29. Those are my fave burgers, but only because there’s no Harvey’s in downtown Victoria…Actually, I could go for a Sals cheese nip right about now. Drat. We don’t have the Sals in Victoria either…When did the Wild last score a goal? Seems to me it was sometime in March. Still 4-zip Jets.
Third Period: Rink Rat Scheifele scores on the powerplay, just to rub salt into the wound, I guess. Jets 5, Wild done like dinner…Like I said, no more than five games. Good call…My memory isn’t shot, but there are some significant gaps and, try as I might, I can’t recall the 1987 series when les Jets took out the Calgary Flames. Don’t remember a thing, but the boys in the booth and between the benches assure me that it was the last time les Jets won a playoff series…Here’s the good news for the home side (aside from advancing to the second round): A bunch of guys named Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, Fuhr, Anderson et al aren’t laying in wait…Garry Galley asks, “Do these fans deserve this?” Yup, they do. Have to be happy for Good Ol’ Hometown. When I make my once-a-week visit to my favorite watering hole Saturday, people will talk about les Jets instead of “Winterpeg.” Nice.