Let’s talk about the clock starting to tick on Mark Scheifele…grumbling in Chitown…Dubas and Burke saying the same thing…sports scribes put on their grumpy pants…and Rafa Nadal uses the Joker for a pinata

A special Turkey Day smorgas-bored…and if you can’t hop on the gravy train at least pass the gravy boat…

Okay, kids, let’s talk turkey about the Winnipeg Jets.

Rink Rat Scheifele on draft day 2011.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there were 27 candles on Mark Scheifele’s last birthday cake, and he’ll turn 28 early into the next National Hockey League crusade.

Doesn’t seem possible, does it?

I mean, was it really that long ago when the Rink Rat arrived in Good Ol’ Hometown, all spindly and Bambi-like in body and aw-shucks in personality? Yup. He’s grown up before our eyes and now he’s firmly into his prime performing years, with only a brief whiff of glory to show for his time in Jets linen.

Which leaves me to wonder this: While Kevin Cheveldayoff, the general manager, dithers and tinkers and moves bit pieces instead of making the big play necessary to upgrade a deficiency on defence, is Rink Rat Scheifele wasting away?

I had similar thoughts about Blake Wheeler in spring 2016, when he was 29.

The captain turns 35 next August and, like Scheifele, he’s had no more than a brief flirtation with success, when the Jets extended their crusade deep into May 2018 before bowing out in the Western Conference final of the Stanley Cup tournament.

Wheeler was part of the core that rolled into River City with the Atlanta caravan in 2011. He’s the last man standing, the sole survivor of that group. The underappreciated Bryan Little is finished through no fault of his own. Dustin Byfuglien lost his lust for the game and quit. Others like Andrew Ladd and Ondrej Pavelec and Evander Kane and Toby Enstrom left the building long ago, for a variety of reasons.

Blake Wheeler

The current core, which still includes Wheeler dressed up as a first-line player in spite of his second-line talent, is headed by Scheifele and goaler Connor Hellebuyck, also 27 and soon to be 28. They have officially entered their window of opportunity.

Josh Morrissey, Patrik Laine, Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Dylan DeMelo, Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry provide a strong supporting cast today and, all things equal, tomorrow.

Yet we know this team isn’t good enough to genuinely contest for the Stanley Cup, let alone bring it to the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, mainly because Chevy has yet to suitably revamp a blueline that was dismantled in one foul swoop last off-season.

The GM has replaced Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Ben Chiarot and Tyler Myers with Neal Pionk, Dylan DeMelo and a handful of doodads on defence. He continues to fiddle-fart in that area, rather than make the right and necessary move, which would be a meaningful trade involving one or more of his young assets to enhance the back end with a top-four, preferably top-two defender.

This isn’t an easy fix, but it isn’t rocket science either. Anyone who knows a hockey puck from a urinal puck recognizes the Jets’ greatest shortcoming, and I don’t think anyone expects Chevy to land a stud rearguard of the Victor Hedman or Roman Josi or Alex Pietrangelo level. But he has to do better than Neal Pionk, who received top-pairing minutes by default last season.

Bryan Little

If Chevy is unwilling or incapable of providing a remedy, then he needs to be replaced.

In the meantime, the clock has begun to tick on Rink Rat Scheifele, just as it did on Wheeler, Little and Byfuglien.

I’ll close by reminding you of something Little said: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now.”

That was in March 2017, after the Jets had been eliminated from playoff contention. Little was 29. His “right now” has passed him by. His window has already been closed.

It would be a shame if the same thing happened to Scheifele simply because Chevy doesn’t have the brass to do the right thing.

According to Mark Lazerus of The Athletic, there’s grumbling and unrest in Chitown, where the Blackhawks have shifted into rebuild mode. The veteran core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, each in his 30s, are unamused because the see they opportunity for another Stanley Cup title disappearing.

When GM Kyle Dubas says he wants to make the Tranna Maple Leafs “harder to play against,” isn’t he simply parroting former GM and current Sportsnet gasbag Brian Burke, who prattled on endlessly about more “truculence” from les Leafs under his watch? Seems to me they’re both speaking out of the same side of their mouths. So why was Burke’s message often met with mocking and ridicule from fans and news snoops, but not so much with Dubas?

Les Lazaruk

I don’t expect a call from Kelly Moore or Knuckles Irving asking me for input on their hiring of a play-by-play voice for Jets radio broadcasts on 680 CJOB, but I hope they consider old friend Lester Lazaruk, one of my all-time favorite people. I’m not sure what it would take to pry Ronnie out of Saskatoon, where he has a great gig as squawkbox of the Blades and other responsibilities, but I think it would be worth a phone call. And if it were to work out, they could all thank me later.

I must say, the boys on the beat had their grumpy pants on last week, and it made for some interesting to-and-fro on Twitter.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, for example, was positively mortified that one follower had the bad manners to suggest he’s “always playing the heal (sic).”

“Not playing anything,” Simmons responded. “I write my opinions. Most people don’t. I haven’t changed in 40 years doing this.”

Simmons is right. He played the heel in the early 1980s and he’s still embracing the role today. He’s every bad-guy wrestler you can think of, only he whacks people with a keyboard instead of a folding chair or some other “foreign object.”

Next up was Damien Cox of the Toronto Star, asked this by a follower: “Does someone piss in your cereal every morning? What’s gone so wrong in your life that you’re this negative so many times a day?”

“Having people like you follow me is no picnic,” was Cox’s juvenile return volley. He also mocked another follower for having just 25 followers, as if that’s a measure of talent or importance.

Finally, there was Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab. He engaged in an exchange with a couple among the rabble who had the nerve to suggest Winnipeg news snoops, including Mad Mike, are less than eager to take a heavy hand with Jets management/coaching for their failings.

“And yet you follow me,” Mad Mike barked. “And read my work. And Tweet at me (and others you seemingly hate) constantly, ranting and raving. About a silly game. Why? I’d never block you. Haven’t done to anyone ever. But for your own sanity, maybe unfollow me then? I suspect you’ll be happier.”

My oh my. Someone certainly was ranting and raving.

Mad Mike ended the hissing contest with this: “I’m done with this silly shit. Enjoy the weekend and Happy Thanksgiving. Wear a damn mask!”

Rafa Nadal, the King of Clay

What Rafa Nadal did to Novak Djokovic on Sunday should be illegal. I mean, you aren’t supposed to beat the world No. 1 6-0, 6-2, 7-5. Not in the championship match of the French Open. That’s like taking a chain saw to a pinata. And, surely, there were bits of Djokovic strewn all over the red clay of Court Philippe Chatrier when it was over. More astonishing, though, is Rafa’s record at Roland Garros—100-2. That’s insane. That’s Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes by 51 lengths, not 31. It’s Tiger Woods winning the U.S. Open by 35 strokes, not 15. Rafa now has 13 French Open and 20 Grand Slam tennis titles, and if there are signs of decline in his game, they weren’t noticeable in the past two weeks. Which means Generation Next remains on hold in the men’s draw.

There were 35 fines issued at the French Open, with a breakdown of 20 to men and 15 to women. The lads were ticketed mainly for equipment abuse and their potty mouths, while the women had their pay docked mostly for coaching violations.

It occurred to me yesterday that The Athletic hasn’t posted an article on women’s hockey since July 29. I realize the women have been idle, but does that mean there aren’t any stories to tell?

And, finally, I didn’t think it possible to dislike a baseball team more than the New York Yankees, but I’ve developed a special level of contempt for the Houston Astros. Go Tampa Bay Rays!

Let’s talk about the Puck Pontiff and Chevy needing to cowboy up…the Lightning boat parade, watered-down beer and kicking asterisk…robot curling…Shapo serves up Canadian whine…foul-mouthed parrots and a parroting columnist…a good read on Smitty…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored..and it’s foggy where I live and you might find some fog here too…

It’s beef-on-the-hoof time in the National Hockey League, albeit three months and change later than originally planned, and I find myself wondering where the Winnipeg Jets are in their “process.”

From the get-go, of course, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff have preached draft-and-develop, a tried-and-true template for so many successful outfits, the most recent example being the Tampa Bay Lightning, newly minted Stanley Cup champions with a roster featuring 11 players plucked from the entry draft.

The thing is, the NHL’s annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers is usually a crap shoot once past the first half dozen names called out, and there are a lot more misses than hits.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

That said, there’s ample evidence to support the notion that Chevy and his bird dogs have profited by the draft since setting up shop in Good Ol’ Hometown—Connor Hellebuyck, Rink Rat Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Twig Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, Kyle Connor, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp. And that’s not to forget Jacob Trouba, the dearly departed defender whose yearnings unfortunately did not include a lifetime in Jets linen.

Those are quality core players who ought to have kept Winnipeg HC in the playoff mix for many years to come.

Except that’s not how Planet Puck Pontiff/Chevy is spinning.

The Jets failed to qualify for the playoffs in the just-concluded crusade, that after an optimism-inducing surge to the 2018 Western Conference final and a hasty retreat from the Stanley Cup tournament last year.

Which is why I wonder where the Jets are in their “process.”

Draft-and-develop will never end. It’s every team’s oxygen. There’s no quarrel with that approach. But, after the ransacking of the roster due to the miscalculations of bean counters and the discontent of Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien, it seems to me that Winnipeg HC has retreated to the wait-and-hope part of the “process.”

Sami Niku

The Puck Pontiff and Chevy are waiting and hoping on Sami Niku. They’re waiting and hoping on Dylan Samberg. They’re waiting and hoping on Ville Heinola. They’re waiting and hoping on David Gustafsson. Hell, they’re still waiting and hoping on Jack Roslovic, and they drafted him in 2015. And, apparently, they’ll wait and hope on Logan Stanley forever.

Trouble is, they’ve been at it since 2011 and this should be a time for filling in the blanks on a contending roster, not still relying on a crap shoot.

Yet here we are.

Chevy has the 10th shoutout overall at the auction on Tuesday. Hands up anyone who believes he’ll land an immediate difference-maker. I agree, good luck with that. His newest chattel will be of limited or no use in the short-term.

It’s also unlikely that Chevy will attract any high-profile free agents to Good Ol’ Hometown on Friday, even though his jeans will be full of jingle and he can afford to shop for upscale goods. Most likely, he’ll reel in a Grade C player, or two, then follow that up with some dumpster diving on the waiver wire, which has never been a solution.

So how do the Jets return to the post-season frolic and make noise next year?

Well, short of their Central Division foes going for a group pratfall, there’s just one avenue—trade. And that means bold strokes. Something brassy.

Jacob Trouba

That’s not Chevy’s style, though. He only lets go when he’s backed himself into a corner (see Trouba, Jacob; Ladd, Andrew) or someone’s clothing has been soaked in an ice tub (see Kane, Evander), but quality centre-ice men and stud blueliners (his most pressing needs) don’t fall off the turnip truck. There’s a price to pay.

I’m on record as saying there should be no untouchables on this Jets roster, and there’s certainly a number of shiny trinkets to entice dance partners, not the least of which is Chevy’s first shoutout on Tuesday. At No. 10, he’s already in crap shoot territory.

And, really, the time for dithering is past. The Puck Pontiff and Chevy need to cowboy up and move one of their top-six forwards. Or some of the blue-chip prospects. It’s the right thing to do.

Unless, of course, they truly have retreated to wait-and-hope mode and are content with icing a bubble team. In that case, I am once again reminded of something old friend Joe Pascucci tweeted in April 2019: “Another concern, of many, I have about the Jets and the changes sure to come this off-season is that they’ll become a team that is 2 years away from being 2 years away.”

Astute guy, old friend Joe.

Puck Finn and Blake Wheeler.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet continues to lean hard into the disgruntled Patrik Laine narrative, again suggesting that Puck Finn insists on first-line minutes alongside Scheifele, whereas Chevy and bench puppeteer Paul Maurice refuse to budge on Blake Wheeler. They won’t surgically remove the captain from the Rink Rat’s hip and, if true, it’s a stupid impasse and an easy fix: Inform Wheeler that he’s now a second-line forward. If they aren’t willing to tell a declining 34-year-old he must make room for a 22-year-old sniper, it’s time for new management/coaching.

Look, I think Wheeler is still a useful player, but a year from now he’ll be slower than a sports writer reaching for the bar tab.

When a woman learned that her flight would be landing in Winnipeg last week, she became unruly and belligerent and had to be forced off the airplane kicking and screaming. You know, just like any player traded to the Jets.

The Lightning gave Stanley Cup championship hijinks a fresh twist with a boat parade on the Hillsborough River, rather than a motorcade in sporty, top-down automobiles on the streets of Tampa. In keeping with the water theme, coaches and players drank American beer.

On the subject of suds, apparently Canadians are drinking less beer. Hey, don’t look at me. I’m still doing my part every Saturday.

Yes, I agree, it’s impressive that the NHL pulled off its made-for-TV, bubble Stanley Cup tournament without a hitch. No positive COVID-19 results in more than 60 days. No scandal, other than Mike Milbury’s ouster from the NBC Sports blurt box for telling us that women are a distraction. No asterisk. Most surprising, none of the young studs bugged out of the Edmonton and Republic of Tranna man caves for a little nookie on the side. Mark me down as gobsmacked.

It’s about slapping an asterisk on the Lightning tour de force: Don’t go there. Sure it was different, with the lads zip-locked in their man caves for two months, but only someone who’s been there, done that and wears the T-shirt can compare this Stanley Cup runoff to tournaments of the past. If the players and coaches say it was equally burdensome and challenging, I’m good with that.

It’s often been suggested that the NHL is a copy-cat operation, and teams now will attempt to mimic the champion Lightning. Well, good luck with that. I mean, Chevy will turn water into Molson Canadian before he’ll ever turn Neal Pionk into Victor Hedman.

Apparently Manny Pacquiao and Conor McGregor will go dukes up next year, but no one is saying where or when the fist fight will be held. I think we should keep it that way.

Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain has been selling his collection of sports memorabilia that dates back to the 1930s, and the thousands of items available are said to include license plates. Nice to know Denny put his time in prison to good use.

Clever people in South Korea and Germany have created a curling robot named Curly, capable of beating human beings on the pebble. So what’s the big deal? Canada developed a curling robot last century. His name is Kevin Martin.

I’d really be impressed if the geniuses in South Korea and Germany could invent a robot capable of beating Rafa Nadal at clay courts tennis, specifically the French Open.

Shapo

Yes, now that you mention it, our guy Denis Shapovalov held quite the pity party following his ouster from Roland Garros. “These conditions were as tough as possible for me to play against here, with the balls being so heavy and it being really cold,” he whinged after twice gagging while serving for the match v. Roberto Carballes Baena, the world No. 101. “These conditions were completely stacked against me. It’s impossible to hit a winner with these balls.” He also muttered something about Paris clay being different than Rome clay. Oh, boo flipping hoo. The balls were just as heavy for Baena, a 7-5, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 8-6 winner, and I’m guessing the Paris chill was the same on both sides of the court. As for it being “impossible to hit a winner with these balls,” Shapo hit 65 of them, more than double Baena’s 31. He also had 106 unforced errors compared to just 42 by Baena, and you don’t chalk that up to heavy balls and unfavorable weather.

Shapo had a legit beef about line calls, one of which might have cost him the match, and his plea for the use of HawkEye at Roland Garros has merit. The rest of it was nothing but a petulant, stomp-my-feet temper tantrum, and I’m hoping it was a one-off. Tennis doesn’t really need another spoiled brat, and certainly not one from Canada.

I sometimes wonder if anyone at the Drab Slab knows the Winnipeg Sun exists. I say that because of recent essays by Scott Billeck of the tabloid and Drab Slab columnist Mad Mike McIntyre.

Here’s Billeck on Sept. 5, under the headline A Bolt of bravado—Jets Cheveldayoff could benefit from a little ruthlessness this off-season by offer-sheeting young Lightning centre Anthony Cerelli: “(Kevin) Cheveldayoff taking a tyrannical approach to this coming off-season might serve him rather well. How does one become ruthless, you ask? In hockey terms, and during the free-agency window of a particular off-season: Offer sheet. But who do you offer one to? Anthony Cirelli, currently with the Tampa Bay Lightning.”

He then outlines, in detail, what the addition of Cirelli would mean to GM Chevy and the Winnipeg Jets.

Anthony Cirelli

Now here’s Mad Mike on Sept. 29, under the headline Jets need to chase after Cirelli—Lightning forward would solve Winnipeg’s second-line conundrum: “It may not be the equivalent of Christopher Columbus discovering America or Thomas Edison’s bright idea about the light bulb, but while covering bubble hockey in Edmonton I do believe I’ve come across the solution to some of what plagues the Winnipeg Jets. Eureka! I found it—the second-line centre they’ve long been searching for. Meet Anthony Cirelli, who is currently filling that role for Tampa Bay Lightning.”

He then outlines, in detail, the benefits of inserting Cirelli to the Jets roster, even though Billeck had told Sun readers that very thing 24 days earlier.

I don’t know if that’s arrogance or ignorance, but “Eureka!” my ass. Parroting the other guy’s column and making it out to be a fresh thought is totally bad form. Mad Mike’s essay should have been spiked.

Speaking of parrots, a quintet of the birds in a British wildlife park had to be separated because their language was more colorful than their plumage. Seems the five foul-beaked feathered friends took to dropping F-bombs and spewing other very salty language, none of which was suitable for young, tender ears. Hmmm. Reminds me of some press boxes I’ve been in.

And, finally, fantastic piece by Murat Ates of The Athletic on former vagabond goaltender Gary Smith, who backstopped the Jets to their third and final World Hockey Association title. It’s full of fun stuff from Smitty and totally worth the read.

Let’s talk about Burkie being Burkie…the watered-down U.S. Open…an openly gay hockey player…a sports editor who doesn’t watch sports…no women’s golf on TV…and here’s smoke in your eyes

A Monday morning smorgas-bored..and we should hear about Connor Hellebuyck and the Vezina Trophy any day now…

Brian Burke has spoken and many knickers are in many knots.

Brian Burke

This is nothing new, of course, because much of what Burkie spews on Sportnet and Hockey Night in Canada is highly offensive to the many easily bruised psyches on Planet Puckhead.

Seriously, the man has been up more noses than a COVID tester.

So you had to know that his pot-stirring tete-a-tete with David Amber on Saturday night would set gums to flapping, even before his own gums went into motion.

The question asked and answered was this: Which Canadian-based outfit is most likely to end a Stanley Cup drought that dates back to 1993? A nation turned its lonely eyes to Burkie, and here’s what he had to say:

1. Toronto Maple Leafs
2. Edmonton Oilers.
3. Vancouver Canucks.
4. Calgary Flames/Winnipeg Jets.
5. Montreal Canadiens.
6. Ottawa Senators.

Cue the outrage.

How dare he lump the Jets in with the Flames. The Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup? Ya, talk to me about it in another 53 years. The Oilers? Only if Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can play up front, on the blueline and in goal—at the same time.

So let me say this about that: I can think of more important things to talk about, like the burning in my eyes and throat from wildfires in Washington state.

I mean, on the silly metre, the Amber-Burke natter rates a 10.

The Jets he’s talking about won’t be the Jets in December, or whenever it is that the National Hockey League decides to drop the puck on a 2020-21 crusade. The Oilers of today won’t be the Oilers of tomorrow. The Canucks won’t be the Canucks who made an admirable run in the current Stanley Cup runoff. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

There’s swapping to be done. There’s the annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers yet to come. There’s free agent frenzy, with or without Bob McKenzie on TSN.

Connor Hellebuyck

As it stands, only three defencemen who skated with the Jets in their qualifying go-round last month v. Calgary—Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, Tucker Poolman—are under contract. They have one goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck. They have dead weight up front to be replaced—Matty Perreault and the most unfortunate Bryan Little.

The current lineup couldn’t win a dinky-toy-sized Stanley Cup in a table hockey tournament, let alone the real thing.

So, let’s face it, Burke was spitballing, and he knows it.

It’s a dumb discussion and you shouldn’t get sucked into it. Let’s see how Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff plays his dominos in the next two month, then we’ll talk.

For the record, here’s how Burke assessed the Jets: “They’ve gotta solve a goaltending problem, the No. 2 goaltender. They’ve got a great No. 1. They’ve gotta rebuild their defence. Most of their defence are unrestricted free agents. They’re gonna have to rebuild their defence, same as Calgary. I think Travis Hamonic might end up in Winnipeg. He’s a Winnipeg boy, but they’ve got to upgrade their defence is No. 1, and they don’t have enough secondary scoring.” I’d say he’s spot on.

Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem

Interesting men’s final at the U.S. Open on Sunday. Interesting, but certainly not high quality tennis. Dominic Thiem, the winner in five sets, and Alexander Zverev took turns self-destructing in the four-hour match, and it was only gripping theatre at the end because there appeared to be a very real danger of Thiem collapsing from leg cramping. The guy’s a gamer, I’ll give him that, but no way he beats Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic with the level of tennis he played v. Zverev.

Kind of surprised to see Thiem and Zverev shake hands and hug at the conclusion of their match, because it’s considered a no-no during the COVID pandemic, but it was a nice touch. Gave me the warm-and-fuzzies.

Natually, the squawkers on ESPN tried to convince us that it would have been a Thiem-Zverev championship match, even had Nadal and Federer been in the draw and Djokovic hadn’t been defaulted. “There’s no asterisk on this tournament, none whatsover,” Brad Gilbert said pre-match. “If everybody was here, (Thiem) would probably still be (in the final).” Chris Evert said the same thing about the women’s draw, which was minus six of the world’s top eight players. Even the normally blunt John McEnroe fudged on the notion of an asterisk earlier in the tournament, suggesting it would be a “positive” asterisk. Such tripe. It was a watered-down event, on both sides of the draw.

I’ll be watching the progress of Yanic Duplessis with considerable interest, now that the 17-year-old from New Brunswick has come out as gay. Young Yanic was drafted by Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and I just hope they look past his sexual identity and provide him equal opportunity. After all, hockey is for everyone. Well, isn’t it?

I note that the Drab Slab will be dispatching Mad Mike McIntyre back to the Edmonton bubble for what’s left of the Stanley Cup tournament. One question: Why? Well, okay, if Dallas Stars advance to the final, he has two built-in stories—good guy head coach Rick Bowness and good guy GM Jim Nill, both of whom have strong ties to Jets 1.0. But, unless Mad Mike is a super sleuth, he’ll only have Zoom access to them, same as every other news snoop with feet on the ground. If he’s being sent to E-Town just to say the Drab Slab is there, that’s as silly as the David Amber-Brian Burke natter.

Steve Lyons

Quiz me this, kids: Should the sports editor of a major daily newspaper watch sports? I ask that because SE Steve Lyons of the Drab Slab made this confession in his daily Playbook last week: “I have not watched a single moment of sports since Aug. 6. The closest thing to athletics I’ve watch was Eco-Challenge Fiji on Amazon Prime. I keep up to speed by reading about sports, watching video highlights on a couple of apps and chatting with Mike McIntyre every week during our Jetcetera podcast.” Interesting. I read the Drab Slab before the actual paper lands on doorsteps every morning, and I can’t say that the product suffers because Steve pulled the plug on TV sports viewing. In general, he has the right stories in the appropriate places. That being said, I can’t help but wonder what storylines he might be missing by cutting off TV sports cold turkey.

Hey, I can relate to what Lyons is talking about. My time watching sports on the flatscreen has been greatly reduced. Difference is, I do this blogger thing as a hobby and I’ve only got five or six readers, not fifty or sixty thousand.

I sure wish TSN or Sportsnet would arrange to broadcast LPGA Tour events, at least the majors. Sure would have been nice to watch our Brooke Henderson in the ANA Inspiration tournament on the weekend, even if she did come up one swing shy of a win.

Looking for a good read? Check out young Eddie Tait’s piece on the oral history of the Banjo Bowl. It’s boffo stuff.

And, finally, the only parts of the West Coast of North America that aren’t on fire are under a thick shroud of smoke, and I can report that it isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. It’s very apocalyptic and I’m having trouble breathing.

Let’s talk about panhandling on Parliament Hill…a new CFL might look like the (really) old CFL…the PWHPA pity party…a tip of the bonnet to Melissa Martin…the week in jock journalism…dead weight and dead horses…and other things on my mind

Hey, buddy, can you spare a dime?

How about 300 million of them? Do I hear 1,500,000,000?

Commish Randy

Apparently Randy Ambrosie doesn’t think that’s too much of an ask, because he’s panhandling on Parliament Hill these days, hoping that Prime Minister Trudeau the Younger is a fan of three-downs football and has a spare $30 million to $150 million stashed in his couch at Rideau Cottage.

If not…well, that’s the part of the big beg that Ambrosie has yet to spell out, but it suggests the end could be nigh for the Canadian Football League. Final score: COVID-19, CFL-0.

And, no, now that you’ve asked, I don’t think that’s being alarmist or extremist.

Look, I realize the CFL already has had more sticks of Acme dynamite blow up in its face than Wile E. Coyote, but the COVID-19 pandemic is a different kind of beast. The sports world will be harder to put together than a broken egg, and our quirky game requires a special kind of fix.

Rouge Football, you see, isn’t doable without fannies in the pews, even if the Argonauts and the dismissive citizenry in the Republic of Tranna do their best to prove otherwise. It can’t work. Not in The ROT, not in Good Ol’ Hometown, not on the Left Flank, where the locals won’t even come in from the rain to watch the Lions.

Thus, if turnstiles aren’t turning, it’s folly to discuss a Coles Notes version of a 2020 CFL crusade commencing on the Labor Day weekend.

PM Trudeau the Younger

Which means, yes, short of Trudeau the Younger morphing into PM Pigskin and tossing $30M into Commish Randy’s begging cap immediately (and another $120M if this season is a no-go), the CFL as we know it is likely a done deal.

“What would happen if that $30 million assistance was denied?” TSN’s Dave Naylor asked Randy the Panhandler the other day.

“I’m not indulging in the question what happens if it doesn’t work because I believe we’re going to find a way to make it work,” came the answer.

No surprise that Commish Randy would decline to engage in doomsday talk. He’s one of those dudes who’ll tell you his watch can’t possibly be broken because it shows the correct time twice a day. He’s never seen a half-empty stadium. Not even BMO Field in The ROT. Always half full. He knows what an empty piggy bank looks like, though, and he recognizes that saving the CFL will take more than a GoFundMe page.

And that’s a very grim reckoning for many of my vintage.

I remember when the CFL was the big dog in town, because we didn’t have National Hockey League outfits to call our own out in the colonies. But we had Kenny Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Bud Grant and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Saskatchewan had the Little General, George, Gluey Huey and the Roughriders. Calgary had Eagle Day, Earl the Earthquake, Ham Hands and the Stampeders. Edmonton had Spaghetti Legs, the China Clipper, Johnny Bright and the Eskimos. B.C. had Peanut Butter Joe, Willie the Wisp, Nub and the Lions.

So a Canada without Rouge Football? Sorry, that’s not my Canada.

It would be like a pub without pints. A church without prayer. The McKenzie Brothers without brown pops, toques, earmuffs and a “beauty day, eh.”

But that’s my take, owing to the fact I was weaned on the game when single-bar face masks were still in vogue, and east was east and west was west and never the twain did meet until the Grey Grail was up for grabs.

Mike Reilly, down again.

Others, however, won’t be swayed by notions of nostalgia and Canadiana culture. They don’t want their tax dollars used to pay Mike Reilly’s and Bo Levi Mitchells’ $700,000 salaries, and certainly not Commish Randy’s reported annual stipend of half a million loonies. That’s an impossible sell when many thousands among the rabble are forced to feed at the public trough due to COVID-19, and going-out-of-business signs are popping up like dandelions.

I’ve heard the CFL described as a mom-and-pop operation and, in the grand scheme of things, I suppose it is. It’s dwarfed by the goliath that is the National Football League, and robust broadcasting contracts allow the other main players (National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer) to re-enter the fray sans customers. At least temporarily.

Not so Rouge Football.

Pundits suggest Commish Randy’s beg is a Hail Mary pass, and I’m inclined to agree. But, hey, Trudeau the Younger is a good Catholic boy, so he probably owns a rosary and might have an “in” when it comes to answered prayers.

If not, I fear there’s a very real possibility the CFL will run out of downs.

Bo Levi Mitchell

I don’t want to pay Bo Levi Mitchell’s wage anymore than the next person but, for the record, I have no problem with the CFL panhandling on Parliament Hill. I’d do the same thing. That doesn’t make it the right thing, but it doesn’t make it wrong, either.

The hardest part of Commish Randy’s sales pitch? Convincing the feds that people hither and yon actually give a damn about Rouge Football. He can wax poetic about the beauty of the three-downs game, how it’s a significant and historic thread in the country’s fabric, but he can’t sugar coat the head counts in our three largest markets—the Republic of Tranna, Montreal, Vancouver. I’ve seen more people at a neighborhood flea market than the Argos attract to BMO Field. The Lions are a rumor in B.C. Montreal showed a pulse late last season, but it was faint. So never mind the odious notion of bailing out millionaire and billionaire owners, how does Commish Randy sell the feds on a product that most of the rabble is meh about?

No matter how this all shakes down, I’m convinced we’ll see someone ride a horse into a big-city hotel lobby on the final Sunday in November once again. But not this year. A post-pandemic CFL won’t look the same, at least not initially. I see reduced rosters, more Canadians and fewer imports on game-day rosters, wage shrinkage (on and off the field), and two leagues under the CFL banner: The Western Football League and the Eastern Football Union. No more interlocking play. Just West v. West/East v. East until the Grey Cup game. You know, like it was in the 1950s and into the ’60s. And road trips on the bus (except to B.C.) to lower costs. That’s what the tea leaves are telling me, so remember where you read it first. Or not.

Liz Knox

What a surprise—the CFL asks for money from the feds and we hear squawking from other athletes, notably Liz Knox, one of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association mouthpieces. “We’re asking for peanuts compared to a $150-million ask,” she bleated, recalling the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League last spring. “When the CWHL was folding, we were talking in the hundreds of thousands to get us in the clear so the league didn’t have to fold. We’re talking two or three CFL salaries. That would (have) made the difference of us literally surviving or not. Women’s sport is often seen as a charity, but that’s not the narrative that we’re hearing about the CFL and their situation right now.” Well, actually, that’s exactly what many among the rabble are calling the CFL these days—a charity case. Liz might want to try a different narrative.

Why is it that members of the PWHPA seem to be caught in a never-ending pity party, constantly griping about the sorry lot in life that they’ve created for themselves and demanding what they “deserve,” yet we never hear similar grumbling from the National Women’s Hockey League? NWHL leaders simply go about their business, adding an expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna, conducting a player draft, and prepping for the 2020 crusade. At last report, 26 women are already on board for the NWHL’s sixth season, and none of them are bitching about “deserving” a living wage. That’s what they’re building toward—a better tomorrow for Ponytail Puck—and I’d say they’re going about it the right way.

Melissa Martin

In the winter of 2015, I was having a discussion with friend/former colleague Judy Owen about sports scribes at Winnipeg’s two dailies, and I directed her attention to a young writer still trying to find her way in the rag trade. “I really like Melissa Martin’s stuff,” I told Jude. “She doesn’t cover things the same old, same old way. She has a different style, and I like different. She’s the best pure writer they have at the Freep.” Jude didn’t disagree, but she seemed genuinely surprised, if not mildly amused, that I harbored such high regard for Melissa. Well, fast forward to spring 2020: Melissa won her second National Newspaper Award the other night, as top columnist in the country. Like I was saying five years ago, she’s the best they’ve got at the Drab Slab. Still. Too bad she only makes cameo appearances in the toy department.

Kate Beirness

The week in jock journalism…

Really nice read from Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab on Ralph Wild, a 101-year-old who’s been root, root, rooting for the Blue Bombers since Buddy Tinsley almost drowned during the Mud Bowl at Varsity Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. If you’re scoring at home, that was in 1950, so Ralph has seen some football…Shrinkage alert: The Winnipeg Sun sports section was reduced to just four pages three days last week. And, get this: They managed to fill those pages mostly with local copy. Imagine that. Running local copy by local scribes instead of all the usual flapdoodle from the Republic of Tranna. What a concept…Mind you, it was back to normal for today’s edition, with a Toronto-centric piece on the sports front and more on the inside…Made a point of watching the Her Mark show on TSN, but I’m afraid it totally missed the mark. The guest list included Christine Sinclair, Tessa Virtue, Marie-Philip Poulin, Kia Nurse, Natalie Spooner and Hayley Wickenheiser, and host Kate Beirness said, “I hope the stories they share will be as uplifting to viewers as they have been to me.” Excuse me? What stories? It was a series of public service announcements. So let’s just call it an opportunity lost for female athletes…Why does TSN, or anyone for that matter, think Will Ferrell is funny? He isn’t. Ferrell pranked the Seattle Seahawks on a Zoom gathering the other day, expressing his “love” for quarterback Russell Wilson and saying “let’s make a baby.” Beirness described the bit as “fantastic.” No. It was totally lame, just like Ferrell’s gig in the TSN curling booth…Sad news out of Calgary: Longtime broadcaster Russ Peake died at age 80. You’d have to look long and hard to find a nicer man than Russ.

If you have a spare 50 minutes in your day (and who doesn’t?), grab a beer or a glass of vino and check out Road to the Grey Cup, a documentary on the Bombers’ journey to their three-downs title last November. It’s the handiwork of Rheanne Marcoux (creative director), Riley Marra (producer, editor, videographer), Jeremy Derochers and Sam Calvert (videographers) and it’s boffo stuff.

Hafthor Bjornsson

There was considerable ballyhoo on Saturday when an extremely large Icelandic lad named Hafthor Bjornsson established a world record for dead-lifting 1,104 pounds. What’s the big deal? The Cleveland Browns have been carrying that much dead weight since the 1960s.

There’s also been much natter about the incomparable Secretariat winning NBC’s virtual running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Big Red out-galloped a field that included 12 other Triple Crown champions, including 1919 winner Sir Barton, who finished last by about 15 lengths. Talk about flogging a dead horse.

The talented Murat Ates of The Athletic has scanned the Winnipeg Jets roster and determined that there are five untouchables: Connor Hellebuyck, Rink Rat Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk. That’s right, he’ll trade away Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor or Puck Finn, but not Neal Pionk, whose only a top-pairing defenceman by default. I admire Murat’s way with words, but I’m not hiring him as GM of my hockey team.

And, finally, if the last month and a half has seemed more like an entire year, and if you can’t tell one day from the next, you’ve got an idea what life is like for a lot of seniors. Isolation can be very numbing, physically and mentally.

Let’s talk about kids’ piggy banks, Peter Warren and empty seats…the Winnipeg Jets D…Tiger’s tell-all tome…a coverup in Tinseltown…dumb stuff at Sportsnet…St. Louis Blues visit the Trumps…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I understood some of what Don Cherry said on Saturday night, so I’ve made an appointment with my shrink…

Okay, kids, time to bust open the piggy banks and empty the coin jars.

And, hey, is it too soon to send an S.O.S. to Peter Warren, asking him to fire up the flatbed Ford and start tooting around town to prod senior citizens into turning over their pension cheques?

I know. Sounds crazy.

Bobby Hull and Peter Warren.

I mean, just because our hockey heroes recently performed in front of (unsold) empty seats for the first time (officially) since 2011, there’s no cause to declare a state of emergency. The Winnipeg Jets aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so let’s have no talk of Houston or Cleveland or San Diego or Ville de Quebec.

Still, for those of us who recall dire times and more than one Save The Jets campaign that really did include kids and piggy banks—and Warren turning his CJOB Action Line into a Jerry Lewis-style telethon—it feels like deja vu all over again.

We remember Warren’s pleas from the lobby of the Marlborough Hotel in June 1974, and on downtown streets in May 1995. The legendary broadcaster who always got “right down to business” did more groveling than a dude whose wife found the wrong shade of lipstick on his collar.

It worked in ’74. Not so much 21 years later.

Benny Hatskin

Benny Hatskin, noticing too many empty seats in the Winnipeg Arena and weary of writing cheques in red ink in 1974, turned his then-World Hockey Association franchise over—lock, stock and Bobby Hull’s hairpiece—to civic leaders with all the right intentions, but only after the rabble had ponied up in excess of $600,000 in nickels, dimes and cashier’s cheques not made of rubber.

One of the many who helped save the Jets that year was Margaret-Ann Farr, a 76-year-old who had earmarked $500 in savings for a trip to her homeland in Scotland. Instead, she gave it to the Jets, even though she had never seen them play. No, I can’t tell you if Maggie eventually found her way home to the ol’ sod, but I can tell you that your favorite hockey team was once owned by a dog, because one guy donated $25 on behalf of his pooch, Lady Jet.

And so it went.

The old barn on Maroons Road.

It was much the same in 1995—not enough customers in the old barn on Maroons Road, amped-up salaries ($13 million player payroll), lousy Canadian dollar and, most important, no one with deep pockets interested in frittering away what remained in their deep pockets. Again, they went hat in hand to the people and raised more than $13 million in a bid to preserve their National Hockey League outfit. Trouble was, they needed $32 million, thus the Jets swanned off to Arizona.

And now we’re noticing reminders of the way it was.

The Jets were 561 people short of a sellout at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie last Tuesday with the Arizona Coyotes in town. Two nights later, they were 262 shy of a full barn for a visit from the New York Islanders. The Jets payroll is now $75 million, with gusts up to $83 million depending on Dustin Byfuglien’s mood du jour, the dollar is about as strong as the Jets penalty-kill, True North is charging more for a beer and a hot dog than what a ticket cost back in the day, and some folks are taking out second mortgages to pay for their season packages.

The difference, of course, is in ownership.

David Thomson

This time around, the dude with the deepest pockets in the country, David Thomson, is part of the package, and you’re never going to see him standing at the corner of Portage and Main asking little, old ladies to nix a trip to Scotland so he and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman can keep Blake Wheeler and Rick Rat Scheifele in champagne and caviar.

A 4,000-person waiting list for season subscriptions suggests there’s plenty of shelf life left in these Winnipeg Jets, but I’m guessing some of you would probably feel a lot better if you were hearing that from Chipman instead of me.

Bottom line: You can tell your kids to keep what’s in their piggy banks. Once they’ve grown up, they can use it for college tuition or a mortgage on a nice house.

They just won’t be able to afford Jets season tickets.

Both main columnists with the daily rags weighed in on the head counts at last week’s Jets jousts, with Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab pointing to Good Ol’ Hometown’s “saturated” sports/shinny market as one possible reason for the non-sellouts. He added, “While there’s no sign a divorce is on the horizon, it seems the (fan/team) relationship is a lot more complicated than it used to be.” It isn’t complicated at all. As Paul Friesen pointed out in the Winnipeg Sun, it’s all about costs. The Jets, according to numerous folks who contacted Friesen, are pricing themselves out of their own market. As for a “saturated” market, what, they don’t have sports entertainment options in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver? As if.

If you’re wondering, the highest average head count for Jets 1.0 was 13,620 in 1985-96. That’s only 1,144 customers fewer than last week with the Coyotes in town, and they weren’t paying anyone $8.25 million per annum (hello, Blake Wheeler). In their final whirl at the old barn on Maroons Road, Jets 1.0 attracted an average of 11,316.

Tiger Woods has taken up the quill and will write a memoir to tell the “definitive story” of his life as a golf prodigy and icon. So we’ll finally get the answer to that burning question: “When Elin found out about all the blonde cocktail waitresses and escorts that Tiger was shagging, did she attack him with a nine-iron or a pitching wedge?”

HarperCollins Publishers considered several titles for Tiger’s tell-all tome before settling on Back, and it’s believed these were among the rejected suggestions:
1) Birdies, Bogeys, Bunkers & Bimbos.
2) That’s Not A Putter In My Pants…I’m Just Happy To See You.
3) T&A at the R&A (Tits & Ass at the Royal & Ancient).
4) Pin High & Horny.
5) Tiger Woods: My Pants Were Always Lower Than My Score.

News item: The NHL tells Valentin Zykov of the Vegas Golden Knights to get lost for 20 games because he either stuck a needle in his butt or swallowed a PED. Imagine that, a Russian using illegal drugs. Who would have thought?

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that young Ville Heinola has become the darling of the local media. The Finnish kid can do no wrong with news snoops, even when he’s doing something wrong on the Jets blueline. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just saying.

The more I watch the NHL, with its limited fisticuffs and greatly reduced body belting, the more I think of former Jets centre Peter Sullivan. Today’s game was made for the man we called Silky.

Stupid headline of the week No. 1, from Sportsnet: “Why the Maple Leafs need a statement game against struggling Wild.” Oh, c’mon man. No one makes a statement game against the Minnesota Wild, the worst team in the NHL. Beating a team with a pulse, like the Boston Bruins, is a statement game.

Stupid headline of the week No. 2, from the Drab Slab: “Pionk steadies young D.” Good grief, Charlie Brown. Two days earlier, the Jets surrendered seven—count ’em seven!—goals v. Sid and his Pittsburgh pals. Then they gave up a four-spot v. Arizona. Then three v. the Islanders. Fourteen goals in three games. That’s steady like the back of a garbage truck is a salad bar. The accompanying Taylor Allen article was no better. It read like a puff piece hot off the True North propaganda printing press. Look, it’s time the Drab Slab told the truth, which is this: Neal Pionk is a top pairing defenceman for one reason—everyone who can skate and chew gum at the same time left Dodge long ago, Josh Morrissey being the exception.

Oh, wait, now I’m really confused. Just four days after Allen’s puff piece on Pionk and the “steady” blueline, along comes Mad Mike McIntyre to tell us this about the Jets: “The needs are many, with two major areas of concern—the blue-line and the penalty kill.” I see. The steady defence actually sucks. Methinks the boys on the beat might want to exchange notes before hitting the send button.

Los Angeles Kings fans decided that Taylor Swift had a curse on their team, so a banner saluting the pop singer’s record number of sellouts at Staples Center is now blotted out by a large black cloth at each game. It’s the most talked-about coverup in Tinseltown since the O.J. Trial.

Stupid tweet of the week, from Kristina Rutherford of Sportsnet: “The NHL season is underway and MLB playoffs are happening and the #1 article on @sportsnet yesterday was about the @nwhl and pro women’s hockey. So I guess all y’all that say ‘nobody cares!’ about women’s hockey can go fly a kite.” That smacks of Grade 5 schoolyard na, na, na, na, na-ism. Yes, it’s juvenile. The placement of Rutherford’s article at the top of the main page on the Sportsnet website means just one thing—they did something dumb again. You know, like on Saturday morning after a Major League Baseball playoff game, numerous NHL games including the Edmonton McDavids, two CFL games, Brooke Henderson firing a hole-in-one and leading an LPGA tournament, Sportsnet’s main story was an exhibition basketball game. Like I said, dumb.

On the matter of Pontytail Puck, I wonder why it is that the National Women’s Hockey League refuses to include attendance figures in its game summaries. I asked but didn’t receive a reply. So I can only assume they’re embarrassed by the modest head counts.

I also find myself wondering why no one in mainstream media is challenging the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association on their true mission, which is to put the NWHL out of business. They can talk all they like about building a better future for little girls, but I’ll believe that fairy tale the day they actually sit down with NWHL commish Dani Rylan and look for ways to make the women’s game work. As it is, the PWHPA refuses to engage in meaningful dialogue, instead serving up a sham called the Dream Gap Tour.

Interesting take from Cathal Kelly on the St. Louis Blues’ visit to the Trump household last week. The Globe and Mail columnist had no problem with the Stanley Cup champions’ Tour de Oval Office, and he managed to squeeze in a swipe at National Basketball Association stars. “NBA players often make a bit of a deal announcing they will not set one foot in the White House while Trump remains in office, always to great cheers,” he wrote. “These are occasionally the same players who don’t know anything about China, won’t take questions about China and couldn’t find China on a map, all while they are in China.” Here’s my question: Why would NBA players need to find China on a map when they’re already in China?

Got a kick out of a couple tweets from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Apparently, he’s “still walking on air” after being elected to the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, and he’s “still walking on air” about the Tranna Jurassics hoops title. I know the air is thick in the Republic of Tranna, but unless Steve has dropped a few pounds since I last saw him, it ain’t that thick.

And, finally, the Drab Slab devoted an entire page to curling in its Saturday edition. Nice. The three-part package included a sidebar from Taylor Allen on new mom Rachel Homan’s balancing act of mother-curler. Good stuff.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Jets keeping the boys at home…a 1960s-style love-in…Evander’s being Evander again…Ponytail Puck…champagne and caviar in baseball…those Yankee Doodle Damsels…and old fried Dugie is a street person

A Monday smorgas-bored…and farewell to September; we hardly knew ye…

There’s a ring of truth to the insulting mantra “no one wants to go to Winnipeg,” although it has nothing to do with wonky wifi and it doesn’t exactly make Good Ol’ Hometown unique.

I mean, I haven’t noticed a squadron of high-profile free agent jocks galloping to Edmonton or Ottawa, and the mighty Republic of Tranna is such a desired destination that Kawhi Leonard hopped on the first stagecoach out of Dodge, despite the deity status bestowed upon him by the rabble and his rapper groupie.

Blanket Boy John Tavares

Oh, sure, the Tranna Maple Leafs landed John Tavares last year, and that was a good get. But it was more about pajamas and bed linen than The ROT being hockey heaven, and I’m guessing that if little Johnny had tucked himself under a San Jose blankie as a sprig he’d be a Shark today.

So, there are a myriad of reasons why jocks do and don’t want to work in specific locales and, as much as River City is often cited as a no-play zone, it’s important to remember that the most significant free-agent signing in hockey history occurred at the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street. That’s where Robert Marvin Hull became Clarence Campbell’s worst nightmare, by fleeing the Chicago Blackhawks and the National Hockey League for an upstart operation flying by the seat of its pants and propped up by overextended credit cards.

I’ve often wondered what Hull truly felt about Good Ol’ Hometown, because he was slick in front of microphones and notepads and always gave the rabble what they wanted to hear. Fact is, though, the Winnipeg Jets lured the NHL’s main glam guy (give or take Bobby Orr) to the World Hockey Association in 1972, and he stuck around for six of our cold, harsh winters, only leaving because he had heavy off-ice issues and he didn’t appreciate John Ferguson’s bedside manner.

It’s dreaming in technicolor to think that the present-day Jets would ever land a fish the size of Hull (fresh from his fifth 50-goal season when he arrived at Portage and Main) because an armpit-of-the-NHL stigma exists.

But is Good Ol’ Hometown really an armpit?

Evander Kane

Well, Evander Kane certainly thought so. He began looking for an escape route the moment he arrived with the Atlanta caravan in 2011 and, over time, he decided that any hostility he felt from the rabble was all about the color of his skin and not his inability to produce 30-goal seasons.

We all know Jacob Trouba wanted out, and it doesn’t matter if you buy his reasons or not. He’s gone.

Even the great Dale Hawerchuk got itchy feet, although it had nothing to do with locale. He simply grew weary of GM Mikhail Smith’s hair-brained, make-work-for-Russians scheme, also the naysaying of news snoops, so Ducky begged for a new postal/zip code.

Jacob Trouba

Basically, though, once the lads spend a proper amount of time in the city, Good Ol’ Hometown becomes much like Sally Field at the Oscars: “You like me. Right now, you like me.”

Evidence of that can be found in the recent signings of Josh Morrissey and Kyle Connor. If Winnipeg is such a hellhole, why would they choose to lock in for eight and seven years, respectively, rather than vamoose at the earliest opportunity?

Why would any of the Jets? But they do. Here’s what they’ve reupped for:

Josh Morrissey:              8 years.
Rink Rat Scheifele:        8 years.
Kyle Connor:                 7 years.
Twig Ehlers:                  7 years.
Connor Hellebuyck:      6 years.
Blake Wheeler:              5 years.
Bryan Little:                  5 years.
Dustin Byfuglien:          5 years.

Really, the only core players Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff haven’t locked down for the long haul are Patrik Laine, Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp, but that appears to be more about salary cap restraints than River City.

So, like I said, there’s a ring of truth to the “no one wants to go to Winnipeg” mantra, but it’s also true that those who land on the frozen tundra tend to like the lay of the land.

Kyle Connor

Now that all the boys are back on board, perhaps someone at the Drab Slab can tell us once again how the Jets dressing room was/is “rotten to the core.” As if. Chevy, Connor and Puck Finn had gab sessions with news snoops Monday morning, and it was a 1960s love-in:

Chevy: “Signing (Connor, Laine) is a high point, and signing Josh to the contract he did really shows the commitments that these players have and the belief that they have in this room.”

Connor: “I couldn’t be more excited to join this team. Long term was definitely my preference, wanted to be here, love this team.”

Laine: “Super excited and happy to be here. My summer’s way too long.”

Patrik Laine

Asked if someone had to squirt a bit of air freshener in the dressing room, Laine added, “I don’t think so. I’m happy to be here and I think everybody seems to be happy that I’m here, so that’s it. New season…it’s awesome to be here, see my teammates, coaches, staff, everybody, you guys…ya, right.”

And this is what Morrissey had to say after agreeing to his new contract at the start of training sessions: “I love playing here. The term excited me. To be here and playing in Winnipeg from day one is kinda what I’ve always said I wanted to do.”

If that’s a team in turmoil, then I pranced down the Yellow Brick Road with Judy Garland.

Speaking of the Drab Slab and its fiction writers, here’s a Sunday tweet from Mad Mike McIntyre: “Question for #NHLJets fans: Does the Jacob Trouba trade, which seemed to be instantly panned by many as terrible for Winnipeg, look different now that you’ve seen Neal Pionk and Ville Heinola (the return) play and what Trouba ultimately signed for (7 years, $56-million)?” He cannot be serious. He’s asking that based on a handful of dress rehearsals against AHL-quality foes? The mind boggles.

Good grief. Will the Maple Leafs put a ‘C’ on someone’s sweater already? Not since E.J. Smith rammed his big boat into an iceberg has so much been said and written about a captaincy.

I see old friend Evander Kane is acting out again, shoving a linesman and getting punted from a San Jose-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish. Anyone in River City miss him at all? Didn’t think so.

This isn’t good: In a recent match, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers paddywhacked Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League 5-1, and they outshot the pros—wait for it—57-12. Allegedly, that is not a typo. As much as I hesitate to put a negative spin on women’s shinny, it isn’t exactly a selling point for Ponytail Puck when the defending NWHL champions are rag-dolled by a bunch of college kids. It doesn’t do much, if anything, to attract fans or sponsors in their quest to earn a “living wage.”

Remember how a lot of us tsk-tsked the Yankee Doodle Damsels for their excessive celebrating in a 13-0 romp over Thailand at the women’s World Cup in June? Well, that wasn’t nearly as odious as Major League Baseball outfits busting out the bubbly to celebrate a wild-card playoff berth. Seriously, champagne and caviar because you’re the fourth or fifth qualifier in a bloated post-season structure? Will the survivors of the wild-card games have another champagne shower? Honestly, I can’t think of anything dumber in sports. Well, okay, most everything that falls out of Don Cherry’s gob is dumber, but that’s about it. Put a cork in it, boys. Literally.

Now that I’ve mentioned the Yankee Doodle Damsels, if you’re wondering what they’re up to, they’re still scoring goals, celebrating and doing boffo business at the box office. Not that anyone would notice. Like most female sports, they’re out of sight, out of mind for mainstream media, but the American women have been attracting large numbers for their Victory Tour kick-abouts. Here are the head counts:
37,040 v. Ireland at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (3-0 win);
49,504 v. Portugal at Lincoln Field in Philly (4-0 win);
19,600 (sellout) v. Portugal at Allianz Field in St. Paul (3-0 win).

Dugie, the legend.

And, finally, look who’s become a street person—the Digit, Don Duguid. Dugie’s always been one of my favorite people, and it’s nice to know that folks in high places haven’t forgotten the guy who brought two world curling championships home to roost at the Mother Club at One Granite Way. A portion of the road will be known as Honorary Don Duguid Way for the next five years, and I only hope city workers in Good Ol’ Hometown fill all and any potholes before the official unveiling. I’d hate like heck for the little guy to get lost in one of them.

Let’s talk about If Season in the NHL…PoMo’s seat hot or cold…the great cod kissoff for the Leafs…one final kick for Bob Cameron…oh woe are the Leos…burgers and Greens…Bianca’s pinch-me world…Justify the galloping junkie…Jen Jones still winning after all these years…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and no ifs, and or buts about it, this is an iffy post…

It’s an untruth that there are four seasons. There are five, the fifth being the If Season.

It’s a time of unharnessed blah, blah, blah, of great optimism and of exaggerated worth, when pundits hither and yon and fore and aft squint into the autumn-colored tea leaves and see Neal Pionk not only leaping over tall buildings, but also winning the Norris Trophy as the National Hockey League’s finest defender.

Connor Hellebuyck

Connor Hellebuyck, they’ll inform us, isn’t really as iffy a goalkeeper as last winter, and Eric Comrie has a shot at the backup job if either Hellebuyck or Laurent Brossoit fall down an elevator shaft. Bryan Little will fill that No. 2 centre slot for the Winnipeg Jets just fine, thank you, if he becomes his former 28-year-old self instead of his soon-to-be 32-year-old self. And, hey, what about that large broth of a lad Logan Stanley? He’d be a prize catch, if only he didn’t have two left feet.

If Season has already begun, in case you hadn’t noticed, with Murat Ates of The Athletic delivering a snippet that has more ifs than the Kardashians have K girls.

“If Laine and Connor sign in time for the start of the season and if a young defenceman like Pionk or (Sami) Niku has a breakout season and if Bryan Little or Adam Lowry can provide a second line centre solution and if Hellebuyck returns to the top tier of NHL goaltending, Winnipeg is a formidable team,” he writes.

Yes, and if Jacob Trouba wasn’t sweet on Kelly Tyson he’d be skating beside Josh Morrissey today.

Kyle Connor

The thing you have to remember, kids, is that these people are not experts. They’re paid to fill space and air (much of it hot) during the Jets’ month-long training exercises, but they really don’t know much more than a lot of the lumps sitting on bar stools. Or me, for that matter. I’m just not as loud, drunk and obnoxious as the lumps on bar stools. Well, okay, maybe I’m every ounce as obnoxious. Point being, the basic difference between news snoops and the rabble is this: They get to ask players, coaches, etc. dumb questions and we don’t.

Other than that, your (bad) guess is as good as theirs.

For evidence, consider their exhaustive natterings and jottings on Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, who remain in shinny limbo. It’s mostly been pure conjecture and iffy speculation, because GMs and player agents don’t make a habit of inviting news snoops into their private tete-a-tetes, and they also clear the room of any flies they find on the wall.

So my advice is to take what the scribes scribble and talking heads say during training camp with a grain of salt.

Murat Ates

Just to be clear, I think Murat Ates does a terrific job covering Winnipeg HC (see his excellent piece on the Andrew Copp arbitration as an e.g.), even if he has an annoying habit of letting pie charts, numbers and graphs clutter up his fine way with words. And, to be fair and for the record, he views les Jets as a “wild-card team capable of swinging wildly in either direction instead of a legitimate contender…the Jets are on the playoff bubble.” No ifs there, and I’m inclined to agree with him. A lot of the lumps likely do, too.

Murat’s revealing yarn on Copp’s experience with the NHL arbitration process is an example of what The Athletic brings to the table. It’s something you won’t see in either of the two dailies in Good Ol’ Hometown, because they’re stuck in the 20th century. And, yes, that probably reads like a sales pitch for The Athletic. So sue me.

I empathize with the boys and girls on the hockey beat. I truly do. Training camp can be a total drag. It’s long days of trying to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, because there are a limited number of interesting storylines and, in the case of the Jets, they’ve already been exhausted. Big Buff’s taken leave. Blake Wheeler had his say. Paul Maurice went zen master about his “sparrows.” Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are in RFA limbo. What’s left to write and talk about? Line combinations, blueline pairings and depth forwards don’t do it for me, nor does head coach Paul Maurice trying to convince us that Logan Stanley doesn’t really have two left feet. That’s not what I’d call must-read material.

Coach Potty Mouth

There’s been some talk about the temperature of the seat Maurice is sitting on, but, again, it’s nothing but iffy yadda, yadda, yadda. As in, if les Jets soil the sheets in the early skirmishing, is Coach Potty Mouth’s job in jeopardy? Don’t even go there, because Maurice ain’t going anywhere. I don’t care if Pauly has one, five or 10 years remaining on his contract, you don’t fire the coach when the two main puppeteers, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, hurl half of his blueline into the dumpster. And we can’t forget that Coach PottyMo has 34 goals sitting in Michigan (Kyle Connor) and another 30 in Switzerland (Patrik Laine). He can’t take the rap for that, either.

Auston Mathews puckering up.

The Tranna Maple Leafs are in St. John’s for their training exercises, and a few of the boys were Screeched In on the weekend, a ritual on the Rock that includes puckering up and planting a kiss on a cod. This is noteworthy because it usually isn’t until the first-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs when the Leafs get the ol’ kiss off.

When the Winnipeg Blue Bombers salute Bob Cameron by adding his name to their Ring of Honour on Sept. 27, it will be only right if Ma Nature is in full bluster. I mean, outside of those weather whackadoos who run around chasing tornadoes, I can’t think of anyone who’s spent more time and did better work in the wind than the Acadia Rifle, so I think a robust breeze is the ticket. I don’t know how many J5Vs and Wilsons he launched into a stiff Winnipeg breeze during his 23 years with the home side, but I do know Bob kept doing it until age 48 and he only quit because numerous renovation projects needed his attention a lot more than the Bombers needed his right leg. And, from a media perspective, he was one of the great go-to guys for a usable sound bite.

If you’re interested in a retro look at punter Bob’s time kicking hither and yon in the Canadian Football League, you’ll want to check out Ed Tait’s yarn at bluebombers.com. Young Eddie’s got all the good stuff, and Cameron’s trip in the wayback machine makes for a fun read.

Terrific joust between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Montreal Larks on Saturday. It was especially thoughtful of the CFL to let them actually play all 60 minutes this time around.

The official head count for the Bytown RedBlacks-B.C. Leos skirmish on Friday night in Vancity was 15,000 and 52 stragglers who wanted to come in from the rain, prompting this tweet from former Canadian Press scribe Jim Morris: “It’s raining outside. So far the crowd inside at BC Place could fit under one umbrella.” Ouch.

Old friend Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancity writes this of the Leos: “Whatever else they are, the Lions have been a vital part of this city’s and this province’s sporting life for 65 years. They deserve more support.” A 2-10 record says otherwise, but I’m on the same page as Willes. I was born four years before the Leos and grew up watching Willie The Wisp, Peanut Butter Joe Kapp, By Bailey, Nub Beamer, Norm Fieldgate, Sonny Homer et al, so it pains me that they’ve become an after-thought on the Left Flank. Commish Randy Ambrosie tells news snoops that there are people willing to take the Leos off bankroll David Braley’s hands, and maybe someone, or a group of someones, can create a buzz and renewed interest in the Leos. But 2-10, 15,000 fans and a $2.9 million quarterback is like trying to sell another week of rain on the Wet Coast.

Elizabeth May

Those Harvey’s commercials during CFL broadcasts make me want to run out and buy a (real meat) cheeseburger with mustard, relish, tomato and pickle, but those ads the Conservative Party has been running don’t make me want to run out and vote for Harper Lite, otherwise known as shifty-eyed mama’s boy Andrew Scheer. Mind you, I’m not keen on Trudeau Lite, either. Could be we’ll see a breakthrough for the Green Party next month. Especially if leader Elizabeth May plops a watermelon on her head. That would guarantee her the Saskatchewan vote, no? (I’m patti dawn swansson, and I approve this message).

We now return to regularly scheduled sports natter, and I must say there are many reasons to like our tennis darling Bianca Andreescu, this being one of them: When asked a question, she doesn’t read from a script. Bianca is so wide-eyed refreshing in her new, pinch-me world that everything gushing from her is totally unrehearsed and genuine. Pity if some PR hack gets hold of her and trains her in robospeak.

Kim Clijsters and daughter Jada.

Kim Clijsters is returning to the women’s tennis tour at age 36, and I say good for her. Kim’s one of only three women to win a Grand Slam tournament as a mother, and she’s done it thrice. That includes a win over neighborhood bully Serena Williams, who had one of her epic temper tantrums and came completely undone in their 2009 U.S. Open semifinal. Kim’s also the only mom to reach world No. 1, so bet against her claiming another major title at your own risk.

The great galloping Justify failed a drug test prior to winning horse racing’s 2018 Triple Crown, which explains all those ‘wired’-to-wire wins.

This was one case where the winning jockey, Mike Smith, really did have to get down off his high horse.

Like everyone in sports caught cheating, Justify the Junkie’s trainer Bob Baffert has gone into denial mode. Swears on a stack of Daily Racing Forms that he never sprinkled performance enhancing oats into the champion thoroughbred’s feedbag. Must have been a contaminated hay bale, says he. So I guess authorities are now looking for a needle in a haystack. Literally.

Jen Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman, Dawn McEwen.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the curling season is upon us and our Jennifer Jones has yet to lose. Jen and gal pals Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman and Dawn McEwen went 7-0 to win the Shorty Jenkins Classic in Cornwall, Ont., on the weekend, and I’d say that’s serving official notice to all other female Pebble People that there’s no letup in the great skip’s game. I realize some folks are tired of seeing Jen win, but many among the rabble grew weary of Meryl Streep winning Oscars and Golden Globes every year. So deal with it.

So, unless I’m missing something, this is the blueprint for creating one viable women’s professional hockey operation: 1) The Canadian Women’s Hockey League ceases operation; 2) approximately 200 of the world’s elite players boycott the National Women’s Hockey League; 3) members of the Swedish national side refuse to play; 4) the Swedish Ice Hockey Association cancels the Four Nations Cup; 5) a group of players band together and make plans for faux exhibition matches. Ya, that’ll get the rabble rushing to the box office and earn the women a living wage. Not.

This is comical in its absurdity: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna calls Mitch Marner “the winner by knockout or unanimous decision” in his contract throwdown with Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas. “The deal is done and Marner will be paid $65+ million over the next six years.” Well, okay, young Mitch wins big. Agreed. But then Simmons craps all over Marner’s dad and agent. “For his next act of magic, Dubas will make Paul Marner disappear,” he writes. Then this: “How did a star like Marner end up with a less-than-star player agent like Darren Ferris? Cut rates, I’m told.” So, Marner wins by “knockout or decision” and becomes the NHL’s highest-salary player because he listened to his dad and/or agent, but one needs to be punted and the other isn’t worthy of quality clients. Does that make sense to anyone other than Simmons?

While we’re on the subject of my favorite “D’oh!” boys in the media, Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab wrote this about the NHL’s changing contract landscape on Sept. 11: “Good luck signing a star player for the maximum team-friendly term of eight years.” Apparently Mad Mike didn’t notice that Clayton Keller signed one of those maximum team-friendly eight-year contracts on Sept. 4. And Josh Morrissey did the same on Sept. 12. Sigh.

And, finally, the official soundtrack of today’s post was provided by The Beatles and featured the classic albums Rubber Soul and Revolver, a collection of 28 tunes recorded and released when the lads were really starting to hit their creative stride. Tomorrow Never Knows is an astonishing song for the era.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and hold the tar and feathers…QB Matt Meh…mirror, mirror on the wall…The ROT’s big secret…TSN’s cleavage is showing…ugly on ugly…Button’s not down on Jets…big loss for the Dub…the Blue Jays dog-and-phony show…and others things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and you know these are the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer when you’re walking downtown and see a naked woman sitting on a blanket in the middle of a four-lane street (true story)

Coach O’Grunge

Looking for symbolism, kids?

Try this: Mike O’Shea was wearing a tattered ball cap during a natter with news snoops on Thursday night.

That pretty much describes Winnipeg FC: Tattered.

But, no, not in ruins.

True, the suddenly shabby Blue Bombers limped home after a faceplant, a pratfall and perhaps too much down time for Tom foolery in Southern Ontario, but when I checked the tables this morning Coach O’Grunge’s group was joint leader in the West Division of a Canadian Football League crusade that’s become a crap shoot. And I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t be cool with that.

What’s that you say? I’ve got the rose-tinted goggles on?

Not really.

Matt Nichols, whipping boy.

It’s just that I don’t get all bent out of shape in early August over a first-place outfit that grew accustomed to having its own way, only to discover that the other kids in the schoolyard aren’t quite so eager to turn over their lunch money anymore.

Trust me, I saw the flaws, first when the Bombers stumbled v. the Tabbies in the Hammer, then on Thursday night v. the previously laughable and mockable Arrrrrrgoos at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna, where Winnipeg FC piddled away a 20-point advantage like it was summer wages.

Matt Nichols, the starting quarterback who’s become the rabble’s favorite whipping boy again, was gawdawful in the opening act of the Bombers’ pilgrimage to the Golden Horseshoe, and the best he could do for an encore was upgrade to meh in a 28-27 loss to the Boatmen. Matt Meh would be wise to keep the ear plugs close by, because he’s sure to hear it from the peanut gallery when the Calgary Stampeders trot onto Football Follies Field in Fort Garry later this week.

Coach LaPo

The rabble might want to save a hoot and a holler for the guy who plots offensive strategy, though.

Unless there’s something about Nichols’ pitching wing that Winnipeg FC medics aren’t sharing with us, Paul LaPolice apparently has forgotten that a Canadian football field is 110 yards in length. I mean, Willie Jefferson can probably toss manhole covers farther than Nichols is allowed to fling the football. How often did Coach LaPo instruct his QB to stretch the field v. the Argos? Here’s a hint: It’s the same number of Grey Cup victories for the Bombers since 1990.

So, barring a Nichols owie that’s being kept on the QT, LaPolice’s play selection is dismal.

And now let’s talk about Richie Hall’s defensive dozen.

The lads went from swagger to sleepwalking v. the Argos in less time than it takes a Democrat to call out Donald Trump for one of his hot-take tweets. I don’t know if the Boatmen were boring them, but I’m guessing it was by Hall’s design that the Blue and Gold laid down like a picnic blanket as time expired in the first half. Thus, 20-nada begat 20-3 begat 20-10 and the Scullers had wind in their sales.

Anyone can see that’s dumb coaching—on both sides of scrimmage—but I’m still not prepared to pick up and run with the “off with their heads” mob. Not yet.

As much as losing to the CFL Sad Sack is an irksome bit of business, I can think of worse places for Winnipeg FC to be than atop the tables, so let’s save any talk of pitchforks and torches because we all know the season doesn’t really begin until the Labour Day weekend and, of course, when they break out the banjos a week later.

If Coach O’Grunge and his chief lieutenants haven’t figured it out by then, I’ll supply the tar and you can bring the feathers.

These are words I didn’t want to hear: Quizzed about Nichols’ play, Coach O’Grunge went all wishy-washy, saying, “That’s a question that has to be answered after we, unfortunately, look at the film.” I don’t know about you, kids, but I don’t need to see the film. The QB has quickly become Matt Meh, and we’ll be hearing the name Chris Streveler mentioned frequently between now and the Stampeders’ visit on Thursday. But I suggest you save your breath. It will take the jaws of life pry the football away from Nichols.

Andrew Harris

Another disturbing remark was delivered by running back Andrew Harris, whose otherwise boffo performance was scarred by a fumble that cost the Bombers points: “They wanted it more tonight obviously.” Really? Getting a W meant more to the bottom-feeding Boatmen than it did to a top-dog club looking to keep ground between itself and a closing posse? If that’s true, Bombers brass needs to pass out mirrors with this week’s paycheques.

During the E-Town Eskimos/Cowtown Stampeders clash on Saturday, TSN sideline talker Sara Orlesky reported that wounded QB Bo Levi Mitchell tossed 50 passes the other day, all of them 10 yards or less. Hmmm. Sounds like Coach LaPo’s game plan.

CFL commish Randy Ambrosie has been known to puff out his ample chest and gab about transparency. So how about ordering the Argos to release the head count at BMO Field, Commish Randy. We know it’s as bad as a bear’s breath, but why is the number a secret?

We might have to call the folks at Guinness, because I swear TSN directors/cameramen set a world record for most closeup shots of young ladies wearing tank tops and other tight, skimpy summer attire during the Bombers-Boatmen telecast. Seriously. You’ll see less cleavage on an episode of the Kardashians. (Not that I watch Kim K and the girls as a rule, you understand, but it can be a hazard of channel surfing.) I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, though. All those attractive girls simply got in the way of the camera.

Chez

More honesty in broadcasting: A week ago, TSN natterbug Duane Forde described the Calgary Stampeders-Bytown RedBlacks joust as “remarkably ugly,” and Davis Sanchez was similarly unimpressed with the RedBlacks-Montreal Larks on Friday night, telling us, “I can’t lie to you, that was ugly, really it was.” I should point out that Chez was talking about the offensive play, not the Gizmo/Pinball-like kick returning of Devonte Dedmon that had breathless Rod Black gasping for superlatives.

Every time I see Dave Dickenson, I think of a yappy, little lap dog. Coach Chihuahua, the Calgary Stampeders sideline steward, is forever tugging on game officials’ pant cuffs and you just want to slap him on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. But in today’s CFL that’s definitely a 15-yard penalty and probably a fine.

Craig Button

Shortly after the National Hockey League grab bag of awe-shucks teens and the initial free-agent frenzy expired, I went on a manhunt for a pundit who saw silver linings in the Summer of Chevy. Turned out that man or woman didn’t exist. But now along comes Craig Button, the self-proclaimed TSN opinionista, and he’s pumping Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s tires.

Button analyzed a five-item Chevy-to-do list:

1) Sign Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor: Hasn’t done it.
2) Trade Jacob Trouba: Been there, done that, received Neal Pionk in barter and that was a “really good move. Neal Pionk plays 22 minutes a night, he’s a good, solid player. Kevin Cheveldayoff did what was necessary.”
3) Get the names of tier II RFAs Pionk, Andrew Copp and Laurent Brossoit on contracts: Been there, done that, which was “very important.”
4) Improve forward depth: There are some “very good depth forwards”
5) Sign Josh Morrissey long term: Hasn’t done it.

Button summarized by gushing like an overflowing toilet: “To me this is still a very, very good team. This is still a very good team. This is still a very good team.”

I don’t know if Craig was trying to convince us or himself, but he’s mightily impressed that Chevy has managed to check off two of the five boxes, three if you consider Mark Letestu, Andrei Chibisov and Kristian Vesalainen “very good depth forwards.”

I beg to differ with Button, and I don’t care if hockey is the bread and butter on his dinner table and just a hobby for moi. The Jets, as of today, are not “a very good team.” There’s been a substantial downgrade on the blueline, and why are we still growing worry lines because of the iffy No. 2 centre slot? The good news, of course, is there’s plenty of time for Chevy to check off the most important box (Laine/Connor), plus amend his roster with player movement, before the puck is dropped in October.

The ol’ Greaser

Well, this is not good news for followers of the Dub: The best blog on all matters Western Hockey League is no more. Gregg Drinnan, the ol’ Greaser, is shifting gears from shinny to kidneys, and I really don’t know where we’ll find indepth intel on the WHL now. Greaser was the go-to guy and he leaves a big, empty space. But, hey, it’s all about priorities, and I know Gregg’s bride Dorothy had a kidney transplant a few years ago. He assures me that she’s A-okay, and that’s really what I wanted to hear after I caught wind of his change in direction. As someone with Stage 4 chronic kidney disease, I can relate, so nothing but kind thoughts to both of them. Meanwhile, Gregg has pulled the plug on his WHL blog, but not his Taking Note bit, whereby he does some good, old-fashioned scattershooting on Sundays. It’s good stuff.

Just an observation: Brooks Koepka is the alpha dog of golf, but I can’t recall anyone looking so bored while being so great. I sometimes wonder if he’ll need a wakeup call to play the back nine.

Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez

What do you call what’s left of the Tranna Blue Jays roster and management sugar-coating the value of trades that sent hurlers Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and others down the road? A dog-and-phony show.

What do you call what’s left of the Blue Jays pitching staff any time they face the Yankees or Red Sox? A three-dog night.

Cutting comment from baseball columnist Gregor Chisholm of the Toronto Star on Jays management: “The lies that get told around this place sometimes just have to make you laugh.”

Seriously, can anyone tell me why it’s so important that the Tranna Jurassics play on Christmas day? An even better question: Why is anyone playing hoops on Christmas day?

Similarly, why are our teenage boys playing high-level hockey tournaments during the dog days of August? Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky weren’t on the ice 12 months a year. Why should these kids be?

And, finally, the ladies will be bringing on the glam with their fancy bonnets and summer frocks for the 71st running of the Manitoba Derby at Assiniboia Downs on Monday afternoon. It’s always a highlight on the River City sports calendar, and the ponies break from the starting gate at 1:45, with the Derby scheduled as the final gallop on a seven-race card.

Let’s talk about the Irish and Guinness…money matters and the Winnipeg Jets…the Canadian Mafia and the Blue Bombers’ faithful…a gay voice in mainstream sports media…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we’ve got nothing but short snappers today…

How many pints of Guinness do you suppose our Irish friends swilled in celebration of Shane Lowry’s victory in the Open Championship on Sunday? It must have been St. Patty’s Day in July. I’m thinking those Irish eyes are a bit blurry this morning.

Sometimes I wish we weren’t allowed to peek into a player’s pay envelope. That way, we wouldn’t know about Neal Pionk’s salary bump and that he and Josh Morrissey now live in the same financial neighborhood. And if I’m Morrissey I’m thinking “WTF is up with that?” I mean, Morrissey has been one-half of Winnipeg Jets top defensive pairing the past two National Hockey League crusades, and I suspect it will be status quo in October. For that he collects $3.15 million. Meanwhile, what Pionk brings to the party is a question mark as big as Dustin Byfuglien’s appetite. Could be he’s a steal at $3 million per year. Then, again, this could be the worst guess since Tiger Woods assumed his bride wouldn’t find out about all the cocktail waitresses and porn stars.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

It’s not like GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to be so frivolous with Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s money. He’s never spent foolishly. Unless, of course, you count Dmitry Kulikov and Steve Mason and Ondrej Pavelec and Connor Hellebuyck.

I should add the Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little contracts to Chevy’s foolish pile, although the major flaw in those two deals is term. If captain Wheeler delivers another 91-point season, then $8.25 million is fine. But we know that won’t be happening three, four, five years from now. As for Little, he’s already looking as worn out as a dance floor, but he’s just starting a fresh five-year hitch. Not good.

Here’s the irony of the Pionk deal: Many among the rabble and some news snoops hail Chevy for his refusal to go on a drunken-sailor spending spree, the most recent hosanna offered by Murat Ates of The Athletic. “Kevin Cheveldayoff has done well on that front simply by letting other teams give big money and term to Tyler Myers, Brandon Tanev and Ben Chiarot,” he writes. Yet Chevy’s first significant signing of this off-season is a gross overpay when measured against Morrissey’s wage.

Fact is, Chevy couldn’t give “big money and term” to Myers, Tanev and Chiarot, because it’s already committed to 30somethings Wheeler, Little, Byfuglien and Mathieu Perreault. That greying quartet will take a $25,266,666 slice of the pie, and they’ll all be on board for another two crusades, minimum, with gusts up to five years.

If Chevy is convinced that Pionk is the man to replace Jacob Trouba, wouldn’t he go all-in rather than settle for a piddling two-year agreement?

The Canadian Mafia

Okay, the Canadian Mafia—CEO Wade Miller, GM Kyle Walters, Coach Mike O’Grunge—have done their part by putting a boffo, 5-nada outfit on the field. Alas, that doesn’t translate to boffo box office for our beloved Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The head count at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry is down more than 4,000 against the first three home assignments last year, so even if you build it (a winning team) there’s no guarantee they’ll come. I’m not sure why that is. I’ve read and heard theories, some of which centre on cash and others on cottage country, chronic failure and a mixed bag of entertainment options. But, hey, they’ve got an inferior product down the road on the Flattest of Lands, yet the Saskatchewan faithful flock to rally ’round their Roughriders in huge numbers. What, they have more disposal income once they climb down from their combines?

True, attendance on the Flattest of Lands is also in decline, but Gang Green attracts more than 30,000 per game, easily the best in the Canadian Football League and 5,000 better than the Bombers. You can make all the rude jokes you like about banjo plucking and inbreeding, but our Prairie neighbors are where it’s at when it comes to supporting the local football heroes.

Some make the argument that the dip in attendance at Football Follies Field is linked to the visiting team, meaning the weaklings from the East Division are a tough sell. Well, it’s a losing argument. Here are the figures for the Bombers’ home dates in 2018:
Saskatchewan:   33,134
Ottawa:              27,602
Toronto:             27,116
B.C.:                  26,567
Hamilton:          26,454
Saskatchewan:  26,070
Edmonton:        25,458
Calgary:            25,173
Montreal:          24,349

Khari Jones

The Montreal Alouettes three-game W streak is a good look on freshman head coach Khari Jones. I wasn’t around when Khari arrived in River City to play catch with Mitch Stegall, but I’m told he was a right-on dude.

That was quite a shift Mad Mike McIntyre put in for the Drab Slab on Saturday—a column on the Bombers, a feature on Winnipeg Goldeyes batsman Reggie Abercrombie, and an update on Andrew Copp’s contract impasse with the Jets. Very impressive. Truly.

Having said that, Mad Mike lost me with his tweet about what he called a “sports journalism hat trick.” He described it as “about 6,000 words covering all three pro teams in town.” I’m guessing it’s news to the Manitoba Moose and Valour FC that there are only “three pro teams in town.”

Brandon Wheat Kings have brought in Dave Lowry as bench boss. Good hire. Adam’s pop did a crackerjack job as head coach of the Victoria Royals (209-124-27) before a one-season whistlestop in Los Angeles with the Kings. And, yes, now that you mention it, it’ll be nice to have the Western Hockey League’s Brandon-Winnipeg rivalry renewed in autumn. It takes me back.

The women’s World Cup is over. Someone at TSN needs to tell Kate Beirness that she can stop yelling anytime now.

It’s about TSN’s split screen during CFL matches: Still very annoying.

Scott MacArthur

And, finally, I’ve never met Scott MacArthur, but I know his struggles. Scott is one of the natterbugs on Sportsnet 590 The FAN in the Republic of Tranna, and he’s gay. He came out on the weekend and, yes, that takes coLGBThones when you’re dealing with an oft-homophobic culture. Scott, I’m sure, won’t do anything different, but some folks will look at him and listen to him with a different set of eyes and ears. (“Can’t have no gay dude telling us about our macho sports, man! But it’s okay if the Nancy Boy covers figure skating and baton twirling!”) As far as I know, his is the only LGBT(etc.) voice in Canadian sports broadcasting, so go get ’em, Scotty.

Let’s talk about Puck Finn and the Gospel According to Friedge…still no smoking gun…putting a happy face on Neal Pionk…the Blue Bombers Boogie…Speedy B and Lucky…a ring for Punter Bob…on the book shelf…soccer’s diving diva and the Tooth Fairy…Grapes venting his wrath…and bailing out in B.C.

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I prefer mustard and relish with my dog days of summer, thank you…

Oh, boy. Here we go again.

Someone said something about Patrik Laine, someone else tossed that grist into the gossip mill known as Twitter, someone else took it as gospel, and now much of the rabble is convinced that Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien and Rink Rat Scheifele spent last winter giving Puck Finn wedgies and swirlies.

Where to begin? Well, let’s start with Elliotte Friedman.

Why is everyone smiling except Puck Finn?

The Hockey Night in Canada gab guy got together for a natter with Jeff Marek on Sportsnet’s 31 Thoughts podcast last week and, while gnawing on numerous National Hockey League topics including restricted free agents, Friedman placed his focus on Laine.

Here’s his hot take (it’s 37 minutes into the chin-wag):

“Laine is a whole big discussion, because he’s the one guy who seems to want a short bridge of all these guys,” he said. “And he didn’t leave happy last year. Some of that was his own fault. He wasn’t as good as he could be, and I think he chafed under some of the leadership there. Like, the guys at the top of that food chain are hard-driving guys. They expect you to buy into the program, and I think that they felt he didn’t buy in enough, and I think he felt that some of the things they wanted were ridiculous. So you gotta bridge that, too.”

Friedman, of course, is what’s known in his trade as an “insider.” You know, someone who delivers the skinny to those of us who don’t have Gary Bettman’s private number on speed dial. Many among the rabble buy into that “insider” business and swallow the Gospel According to Friedge, hook, line and innuendo. Thus he has rink cred.

Well, let me say this about that: There’s a whole lot of “I think” in what Friedge said re Laine.

Friedman thinks the Winnipeg Jets winger wants a bridge deal.

Friedman thinks the big dogs in the changing room used poor Patty for a chew toy.

Friedman thinks the bullying ruffled Puck Finn’s feathers.

Puck Finn and Blake Wheeler.

In other words, Friedman is spitballing. Guessing, if you will. He quotes no source. He doesn’t even mention an anonymous source. He doesn’t say he talked to someone who talked to someone who talked to the cleaning staff in the Jets’ inner sanctum. No credible source told Friedman that Puck Finn left in a huff after les Jets’ premature ouster from the spring Stanley Cup runoff.

If Friedman had concrete insider intel on Puck Finn and les Jets, he would have prefaced his comments with “a source told me” or “I talked to so-and-so” and “this is what happened.” He would have provided anecdotal evidence, while protecting his source(s).

Instead, it was “I think, I think, I think” and “it seems.”

Well, here’s what I “think:” It seems that Friedman should know better than to spew groundless gossip that leads to galloping speculation.

If you’ve got the goods, Friedge, by all means let ‘er rip. If not, clam up until you do.

Ben Chiarot

Let’s suppose, for the sake of discussion, what Friedman said is true. He does, after all, have “insider” chops. But ask yourself this: Why hasn’t he, or anyone else (hello, Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab) produced a smoking gun? You’d think someone would have let the kitty out of the burlap by now? Like one of the players who’ve skated out of Dodge. Nope. Jacob Trouba left les Jets with nary a discouraging word. Ditto Tyler Myers, Brandon Tanev and Ben Chiarot. Matt Hendricks, reclaimed to join the leadership group at the shop-and-swap deadline in February and now retired, had this to say at trail’s end: “The room was as strong as when I left (in 2018), without a doubt.” Did they all sign a non-disclosure agreement before parting? Or is there nothing to talk about?

Neal Pionk

Got a kick out of Mad Mike’s attempt to put a fancy face on the trade that sent Jets top-pair defender Trouba to Gotham in barter for Neal Pionk. The Drab Slab scribe tells us that Pionk’s “got size.” As in big. As if. Big Buff has larger late-night snacks. Only scrawny Sami Niku is smaller among les Jets blueliners. Meanwhile, Mad Mike adds this: “Trouba and his agent Kurt Overhardt are said to have given the Jets an extremely small list of teams he’d be willing to sign a long-term extension with, the Rangers being one of them. That means very limited options.” That’s totally bogus. According to CapFriendly, there’s never been a no-movement or no-trade clause in a Trouba contract. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s hands were not tied. He could have shipped Trouba anywhere at any time. Chevy made a lousy trade. Period.

Milt Stegall

Yes, now that you mention it, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers did boffo business in their 48-21 paddywhacking of the Tranna Argos on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and only a Debbie Downer would pounce on the notion that “it was only the bottomless Boatmen” that they whupped. Sure the Argos are the free space on the Canadian Football League bingo card (one corny cliché allowed per essay, kids), and sure the Argos bring a handful of confetti to a knife fight (okay, make that two horrid clichés per essay), and sure the large lads in blue and gold seemed to lose interest in the second half, but let there be no picking of nits. Winnipeg FC is doing the Blue Bombers Boogie. They’re 4-nada. Best start since Milt Stegall was playing catch with Khari Jones. That is all. For now.

After observing Lucky Whitehead skedaddle 104 yards for a touchdown on the opening kickoff v. Tranna, the aforementioned Mad Mike McIntyre described the Bombers giddyup-and-go guy as “the most exciting player in the league.” I’d be inclined to agree with Mad Mike, except there’s that Speedy B guy in the Hammer who always seems to have something to say about it. Like on Saturday night, when he scored three TDs, including a 115-yard scamper on a wayward field goal attempt. On the Excite-O-Metre, I still like Speedy B.

Readers have told Pencil Neck Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun that Bob Cameron, a punter, should be the next player added to the Winnipeg FC Ring of Honour. All those in favor, say aye. “Aye!”

Punter Bob was a beauty. Always enjoyed talking to him. His longtime kicking partner, Troy Westwood, once told me a story about the Bombers’ two boot boys driving to practice one day in the mid-1990s. They had stopped for a red light, with Cameron behind the wheel and covered in drywall dust from his latest home reno project. He suddenly became very pensive and silent, slipping into a trance-like state as if searching for the meaning of life.

“Man,” he finally said, “I can’t believe the 1970s are over.”

Like I said, the guy’s a beauty.

Former Major League Baseball hurler and author Jim Bouton died last week, and it brought to mind his terrific book, Ball Four. Bouton’s tell-all tale tore the cover off America’s national pastime, with yarns of womanizing and boozing and drug abuse and naming names (hello, Mickey Mantle). It isn’t my favorite sports book, though. The Dodgers were still in Brooklyn when I first took a notion that baseball was the most beautiful of all games, so nothing can top The Boys of Summer for moi. These are my Fab Five sports books:
1. The Boys of Summer—Roger Kahn
2. I Am Third—Gale Sayers
3. Instant Replay—Jerry Kramer
4. Ball Four—Jim Bouton
5. The Bronx Zoo—Sparky Lyle

No surprise that the U.S. National women’s soccer side was anointed team of the year at the ESPY Awards gala the other night. The Yankee Doodle Damsels’ triumphant crusade at the World Cup in France was still fresh in most minds and, really, everyone not named Donald Trump probably agreed with the choice. And, sure, give American striker Alex Morgan the nod as Best Female Athlete while you’re at it. I was only surprised that Morgan made it from her seat to the stage—twice!—without taking a dive.

Ryan O’Reilly

Best performance in delivering an ESPY acceptance speech had to be Ryan O’Reilly. The good Canadian boy yanked out one of his front teeth before thanking an assortment of folks for the St. Louis Blues’ nod as Best Comeback story. The Tooth Fairy was so impressed, she awarded O’Reilly a pack of Polygrip and a dentist to be named later.

Still mourning the adios of Kawhi Leonard from the Tranna Jurassics to the L.A. Clippers? No need for long faces according to team mucky-muck Masai Ujiri. “Don’t lose one day of sleep, one second of sleep,” he says. I hope Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna got the memo. He’s been typing from the fetal position ever since news of Kawhi’s departure dropped.

Don Cherry

Speaking of Simmons, he rattled Don Cherry’s cage with a throw-away comment in his Sunday collection of odds and sods (read: hot takes). “One thing that hasn’t been confirmed for the next season of Hockey Night in Canada: the return of Don Cherry and Coach’s Corner,” he wrote. “Rogers is cutting all over the place, which included the removal of Bob McCown on radio and television and Doug MacLean doing the same. Cherry is handsomely compensated for his work. Not sure if this is a place they want to go with the 85-year-old.” To which Grapes responded: “I was told a week after the playoffs I would be back. The question I ask is this…why didn’t my friend Steve phone me and ask.” Curiously, Simmons’ weekly hot-takes column has been put on hold. Hmmm. Coincidence? Punishment? The plot thickens. But, hey, I don’t want to be starting any rumors. I’ll leave that up to “insiders” like Friedge.

And, finally, you’re David Braley, bankroll of the B.C. Lions. You’ve committed $2.9 million dollars to a quarterback who’s 1-4 this CFL crusade. Your head count at B.C. Place Stadium is down 4,639 from a year ago. What’s your next move? I imagine crying “Uncle!” seems like a reasonable option right about now.