L’Affaire Laine: Are Paul Maurice and Blake Wheeler chasing Puck Finn out of town?

Top o’ the morning to you, Patrik Laine, or as I call you, Puck Finn.

So much for that gag order, eh kid?

Patrik Laine

I mean, the Winnipeg Jets wanted you to stuff a sock in it on Day One of their training exercises, but there you were on the witness stand on Monday, with news snoops poking and probing and expecting you to confess, like a shifty-eyed scofflaw crumbling under a withering Perry Mason cross-examination.

“Okay! Okay! I admit it! I admit it! I want out of this hellhole of a town!” they expected you to say.

Then, again, perhaps some of them were looking for the exact opposite.

“You’ve got it all wrong! You’ve got it all wrong! I love this city! I love the Jets! There’s no place I’d rather be! Don’t you remember what I said about Winnipeg in The Players’ Tribune?”

Either way, you didn’t crumble, did you, Patty?

Oh, there were moments when you had the look of a fidgety guy battling a fresh batch of hemorrhoids, rocking from one butt cheek to the other in considerable discomfort, but you gave them nothing more than a pocketful of hem and haw. Three times your interrogators demanded to know if you desire a new postal code, and three times you answered like a politician trying to justify a Christmas vacation on foreign soil during a pandemic.

“I’m here, aren’t I?” was your dismissive parry to their initial thrust.

Wayne Gretzky

You then went on to invoke the name Wayne Gretzky, reminding all assembled for the Zoom natter that even the Great One was not so great that he went the distance in one locale. And, hey, if the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers could learn to live without No. 99, surely the Winnipeg Jets would get along without you and your 30-plus goals, right Patty?

That’s not to say the Jets are anxious to peddle you to the highest bidder, but it sure sounds like you’re giving them no choice, just like Evander Kane and Jacob Trouba before you. It might not happen this year, but, as sure as Paul Maurice has a potty mouth, what’s left of your shelf life in the Manitoba capital appears to be shorter than Brian Pallister’s.

So never mind if you do or don’t want out of Dodge. Here’s the real question: Why, Patty, why?

All of us remember the cheery, lanky, freshly scrubbed kid from Finland who arrived in River City in 2016 and put goaltenders on notice with 36 snipes as a National Hockey League freshman. You followed that up with 44 and joined the Rocket Richard Trophy discussion, along with Auston Matthews and Ovi.

You were the darling of the rabble, Patty (give or take Big Buff), and they loved your gosh-darned innocence and quirky quips. Heck, the flock even forgave you your unfortunate bread-butter-and-eggman chin whiskers. The same could be said of news snoops. You were their gift from Sound Bites ‘R’ Us.

Yet something has soured you and, since you aren’t prone to full disclosure, we’re left to wonder what or whom has gotten so far up your nose that the jaws of life can’t pry it out.

Blake Wheeler and Rink Rat Scheifele

Here’s my guess: Head coach Paul Maurice and captain Blake Wheeler, with perhaps a small side order of Rink Rat Scheifele.

I’m just spitballing here, Patty, but I’m thinking that you just might be thinking what I’m thinking about Coach PoMo and Wheeler: Their bromance is kind of creepy. As far as I can tell, albeit from a distance, it’s the only thing keeping you relegated to second-line duty, skating on greybeard Paul Stastny’s right flank rather than beside the in-his-prime Scheifele.

I’m no Toe Blake, but I’d want my potential 50-goal winger (that’s you, Patty) collaborating with my top centre-ice man (that’s the Rink Rat), and I wouldn’t be doing it just to keep you happy. I’d be doing it because I want to win hockey games.

I could be wrong, of course. Maybe everything’s cool between Coach PoMo, Wheeler and yourself, Patty.

I just shudder to think they might be chasing you out of town.

Winnipeg Sports 1970-present: The top-50 movers and shakers

Something a little different today, kids.

Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.

This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.

And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.

So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.

One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.

Ben Hatskin, the day he signed Bobby Hull at Portage and Main.

1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.

2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?

3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.

Michael Gobuty

4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979.  As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.

Cal Murphy

5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.

6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.

Anders Hedberg, agent Don Baizley and Ulf Nilsson.

7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.

8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.

John Ferguson and Ducky at the 1981 NHL entry draft.

9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.

10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.

11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.

12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.

13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.

Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer

14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.

15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.

Teemu Selanne and the Calder Trophy

16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.

17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.

Moosie Turnbull

18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.

19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.

20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.

21. Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.

Coleen Dufresne and Garth Pischke.

22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.

23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.

Brian Dobie

24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.

25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.

Tom Kendall and his U of W Lady Wesmen

26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.

27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.

Jennifer Botterill

28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.

29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.

Harvey Warner

30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.

31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.

Milt Stegall

32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.

33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.

Andy Van Hellemond

34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.

35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.

36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.

Gold medalists Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris.

37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.

38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.

39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.

40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.

Sandy Riley

41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.

43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.

44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.

46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.

47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.

Friar Nicolson and his former sidekick Sod Keilback.

48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.

49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.

50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.

Let’s talk about Hal Johnson outing TSN…Where’s Waldo’s Sister?…Beep! Beep! There goes Alphonso!…Rouge Football takes a knee…Yippee for Youpii!…big bucks, baseball and bickering…the best of the Blue Bombers…Herb Carnegie gave the New York Rangers a pass…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and Happy Summer to you all…

Now that Hal Johnson has ‘outed’ TSN for racist hiring practices that included a limit on the number of Black reporters (one maximum) in 1988, here’s a question that needs to be answered:

What is the Black quota in 2020?

We know it’s more than one, because Farhan Lalji, Jermain Franklin and Kayla Grey are part of Team Yakety-Yak at TSN, but, in offering a lame mea culpa to Johnson the other day, the network’s spin doctors neglected to confirm or deny that a ceiling on the number of minority hires remains in place.

“There is still much work to do to improve our commitment to on-air and editorial diversity,” was part of a pre-fab statement on Twitter.

So, is what happened to fitness guru Johnson in 1988 still happening today?

Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod

If you missed it, here’s the Coles Notes version of Johnson’s TSN tale: Hired in the morning. Fired in the afternoon. By a suit in the ivory tower who believed adding a second Black news snoop was bad for business. So thanks for dropping in, Hal, and you can pick up your parting gifts on the way out. Oh, and by the way, we’d be happy to air your boffo Body Break fitness show with Joanne McLeod, but only if you hire a white actor to replace yourself because we can’t have an interracial couple exercising and having fun together on TV.

The spin doctors describe that as “a shameful part of our past,” (ya think?) but 32 years later TSN remains almost as white as a bowl of rice. It’s a sea of bleached faces, with a few former football players, Grey and John Lu in the mix.

All of which has provided pause for ponder.

The popular thing to do today is discuss diversity, also all the isms and phobias that are a pox on society. Suddenly, everyone has a tale to tell, and the great unwashed nod in enthusiastic agreement whenever it’s mentioned that discrimination, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and bullying are bad manners.

Many have been drawn into the conversation out of genuine concern, a yearning to understand and a will to effect change, while others have felt obliged to participate for fear of a tsk-tsking. Even though mistreatment of the marginalized is older than the ink on the Dead Sea Scrolls, only now are they gazing into the looking glass.

It will be interesting to learn what they discover and, more important, what they’ll do about it.

Be certain that TSN isn’t flying solo here. Denise Balkissoon has written an essay for Chatelaine on racism at the Globe and Mail, and Morgan Campbell hasn’t been shy about detailing his experience with racism at the Toronto Star.

Meanwhile, I’ve been squawking about the lack of diversity in jock journalism for much of this 21st century, and when I look at the sports landscape in the rag trade I see that it’s still whiter than a box of Titleist golf balls. Not only that, finding a female face among jock journos at our daily newspapers is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo’s Sister?

So what’s the scoop? Is there a restriction on hiring females? Or is it a hesitancy owing to the horse-and-buggy notion that women can’t possibly know sports?

The last time there was an opening in the toy department of the Winnipeg Sun, more than 30 wannabes applied. Four of them were women. Scott Billeck landed the gig. It’s proven to be a beneficial hire, even as he’s become the tabloid’s Virus Boy, but it’s worth noting that the Sun’s stable of sports scribes hasn’t included a female since the turn of the century, when Judy Owen discovered better things to occupy her time and left the building.

As for gay jock journos, I know of two in this country’s mainstream—the terrific curling writer Devin Heroux of CBC, and Scott MacArthur of Sportsnet 590 The Fan.

It terms of diversity, it’s a rather bleak scorecard.

Our guy Alphonso Davies set gums a-flapping with his eye-popping lickety-split in a recent Bundesliga soccer match, dashing up the pitch at a dazzling 36.5 km/h. Not sure what the big deal is, though. I mean, I know sports writers who run a lot faster than that every time the bar tab arrives.

Hey, I’m not saying jock journos are cheap, but there’s a reason why Canada took the penny out of circulation—sports scribes had them all squirreled away.

I must confess that I can do without all the fuzzballs that romp around sports facilities, but I’ve always liked Youppi!, one-time mascot of the Montreal Expos and now the official furball of les Canadiens. Youppi! has been inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame (yes, there really is such a thing, in Whiting, Indiana), and I suppose that makes him this country’s best two-sport big-league star since Gerry James, aka Kid Dynamite. For those of you who haven’t been introduced, Kid Dynamite played for both the Tranna Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, sometimes in the same year. He also won hockey’s Memorial Cup and football’s Grey Cup. Youppi! won neither, but kids really like him and that has to count for something.

I’ve been writing about the Canadian Football League since 1980—Toronto Sun, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and now as a blogger—so I must report that, yes, not having anything but Commish Randy Ambrosie’s awkward mutterings to opine about these days is a total bummer. Like all who follow the goings-on of Rouge Football, I would rather be discussing passers and pass rushers than Commish Randy’s panhandling on Parliament Hill, but it should be obvious to all that the large lads in pads will not be grabbing grass and growling this year. And that truly is a shame.

North American professional team sports in 2020: An unhealthy scratch.

Take a knee, Donald.

Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 1: Donald Trump vows he won’t watch soccer or National Football League games if players are allowed to kneel during the U.S. national anthem. Hmmm. Something tells me they’ll all be watching when he takes a knee in November.

While in ponder of diversity, equality and inclusiveness, I found myself wondering if the Football Reporters of Canada will make this the year they finally vote a female into the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. At present, it’s the ultimate boys’ club, with 100 per cent male membership, and that’s something that needs correcting.

By golly, I do believe TSN nailed it with its all-time Blue Bombers team. As long as Bud Grant is the coach, Kenny Ploen is the quarterback, and Leo Lewis is one of the running backs, you can’t go wrong. If I have a slight quibble (of course I do), it’s the absence of Ernie (Zazu) Pitts among the receivers. Pitts is on my team before Rick House every time, but I’m not going to sue TSN for giving Houser the nod.

Just curious: Is baseball still a thing? Seriously. By the time Major League Baseball’s millionaire players and billionaire owners have finished bickering over who deserves how many bucks for playing however many games, nobody will give a damn. Maybe they’ve already arrived at that point.

Dr. Cheryl MacDonald

Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 2: In a chin wag last week with Ron MacLean of Sportsnet, sports sociologist Dr. Cheryl MacDonald claimed to have interviewed “openly gay men’s hockey players who’ve played at elite levels.” Hmmm. We shouldn’t be surprised that Doc MacDonald didn’t name names, but I found myself wondering if she meant National Hockey League players. That seemed the logical next query to me, but MacLean declined to pursue that line of questioning. Frankly, his natters have become long on fluff and short on substance.

The lady doctor also suggested that the lack of out gay men in major team sports “might be even a masculinity thing.” Might be? What was her first clue?

It’s incredible how many people are just now discovering that hockey is not for everyone. The latest example of this ‘awakening’ is an essay on the Colored Hockey League by Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star. “Canadians call hockey ‘our game.’ But history tells us it hasn’t been everybody’s,” he scribbles. It’s a well-written, informative piece, but we don’t have to go back 100 years to realize that men’s hockey isn’t an inclusive enterprise. Its lack of acceptance is right in front of us today.

I’m a doctor of absolutely nothing, so COVID-19 is a mystery. I do, however, know that I’d prefer NHL players to be as far removed from me as possible during this pandemic, which means Vancouver is too close for my comfort. We haven’t had an active case of COVID-19 on Vancouver Island in more than a month, so I’m fine with the NHL choosing Edmonton or the Republic of Tranna as hub bubbles for the Stanley Cup tournament, thank you very much.

I like Murat Ates. A lot. He does boffo work for The Athletic. I like Sara Orlesky. A lot. She does boffo work for TSN’s Winnipeg bureau. But I believe Murat’s recent Q&A with Sara is a sure signal that he’s struggling for story ideas this deep into the pandemic.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a jock columnist? Well, let’s have Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna tell us: “Life as a columnist. On Thursday, I write about my dad and Father’s Day and everybody loves me and thinks I’m great. On Friday, I break the (Auston) Matthews (COVID-19) story and I get called every name in the book and some that haven’t gotten there yet. On Saturday, I’m putting this notes column together, which is next to impossible with no games going on. On Sunday, thankfully, I exhale. And now on to next week.” The poor dear. I wonder if he’d like some cheese with that whine.

True, the gig can be a grind, but it isn’t “next to impossible” to churn out a notes column “with no games going on.” I do it every Sunday. I just do it in a different format and, unlike Simmons, I don’t get paid for it.

Simmons also continues to present himself as a hockey historian, even though his lived experience with the game doesn’t predate the 1960s. Commenting on Herb Carnegie, he writes: “Carnegie was more than good enough to play in the National Hockey League in the late 1940s, early ’50s. The Maple Leafs and the rest of the NHL wouldn’t sign him. He never got the chance to play at the highest level because he was black.” Actually, Carnegie did have the chance, even though he was Black. According to Cecil Harris’ book, Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey, the New York Rangers invited him to their 1948 training camp, and he stayed for 11 days, during which time the club presented three contract bids that would have had him begin the season in the minor leagues— $2,700 to play in Tacoma, $3,700 to play in St. Paul, $4,700 to play with the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate in New Haven. In other words, Carnegie was offered the same path to the big leagues that Jackie Robinson took with baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers. Start in the minors, graduate to the show. But Carnegie rejected each of the Rangers’ bids for his services, preferring to earn $5,100 with the Sherbrooke Saint-Francois of the Quebec Senior Hockey League. His choice.

And, finally, I note that Paul McCartney turned 78 last week. It seems like only Yesterday that I was watching him and the other three Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. They were fab…yeah, yeah, yeah.

Let’s talk about Connor Hellebuyck’s puck allergy…the Oilers and pond hockey…a good read from Teddy Football…drama queens at the Drab Slab…Burkie hops on his fighting soap box…old whisky and Grapes speaking in tongues…slobber-knocking football and Chris Streveler…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and here’s a turkey a week before Thanksgiving Day…

There aren’t a whole lot of goaltenders who’ll stand up and tell the world “my stuff don’t stink” after surrendering five goals.

I don’t care what level of shinny you’re talking about. Beer league, big league…doesn’t matter. A keeper whose net looks like a coal bin at the end of the night generally accepts and acknowledges that he wasn’t quite up to snuff, and maybe the team’s loss is on him.

“My bad. I owe the boys one,” he might say.

Connor Hellebuyck

Not Connor Hellebuyck, though. No sir. The Winnipeg Jets ‘tender falls in a manure pile and he believes he smells like a rose garden.

“I liked a lot of my game,” he says.

“I felt like I earned better,” he says.

“I felt like I played a lot better than five goals against,” he says.

“I don’t know, it just seemed like the puck was always in the wrong spot for me,” he says.

Ya, you could say the biscuit was in the wrong spot—the back of the freaking net.

I don’t know if Hellebuyck is ballsy, arrogant or just flat-out ignorant, but he’s definitely delusional if he believes the puck-stopping he delivered in a 6-4 loss the other night in Gotham will serve the Jets well in the grand scheme of things. Thirty-one shots, five goals.

You know how often Winnipeg HC won last season when surrendering a five-spot? Once. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success to me.

Paul Maurice

But, sure, let’s play some good, old-fashioned pond hockey. I’m all for it. It’s a hoot, and I don’t really care if it turns Paul Maurice into a doddering old man before his time. It certainly worked for the Edmonton Oilers circa 1980s, didn’t it? Unfortunately, Blake Wheeler, Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Puck Finn Laine and Josh Morrissey ain’t Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Paul Coffey. And Hellebuyck definitely is no Grant Fuhr.

As boffo as these Jets are on the attack, I think it’s asking too much of them to score five times every night to negate Hellebuyck’s marginal to stink-out-the-joint goaltending. You know, the kind that he “liked” v. the New York Rangers.

“Five is unacceptable,” Hellebuyck conceded after losing to the Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden.

Terrific. He’s nailed down that part of the plot. Alas, upon further review, he submitted, “I probably won’t do a whole lot different” in his next start.

Oh joy. We can expect more of the same.

The guy not only needs to up his game, he needs a mental reboot. Calling Dr. Phil! Calling Dr. Phil!

Marc-Andre Fleury, Connor Hellebuyck

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, though, because Hellebuyck showed us this particular strain of arrogance and delusion when the Jets reached the high-water mark of their National Hockey League existence, advancing to the Western Conference final in spring 2018. Although outperformed by a considerable margin by the remarkable Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights, he was having none of it. Hellebuyck wrote it off as the product of four-leaf clovers and horse shoes, saying things like “I like my game. I like it a lot more (than Fleury’s).”And: “I think it’s bad luck. The stars are aligning for them.” And: “Maybe it was just the luck. They got some lucky bounces on me. And that’s the truth.”

He was wrong then, he’s wrong now.

Apparently it hasn’t registered with Hellebuyck that he’s playing behind a patchwork defence cobbled together out of necessity, not by design, and it figures that he’ll be caught in the middle of a fire drill a lot of nights. Thus, Vezina Trophy-calibre goaltending is necessary to keep this boat afloat over the long haul, not some guy who has an apparent allergy to frozen rubber.

Unless, of course, these Jets really are the second coming of the 1980s Oilers. In that case, next goal wins.

To remind you of the Oilers pond hockey style, consider the 1983-84 crusade: The Gretzkys finished with a goal differential of +132. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your computer screen. They had five or more snipes in 53 of their 80 skirmishes, and surrendered five or more in 23 games (13-8-2). Their 446 total still stands as an NHL record. They won games by ridiculous scores like 12-8, 10-5, 10-7, 8-6, 7-5, etc., and the average score was 5.5-3.9. Oh, one more thing: They won the Stanley Cup. If the Jets can duplicate that, there’ll be no more bitching about Hellebuyck’s allergy to pucks.

Ted Wyman, the guy I like to call Teddy Football, left the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat to dog the Jets on their lid-lifting eastern swing, and I’m glad he did because his piece on best buds and now on-ice foes Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba is boffo. Or, as they say in his trade, it’s damn good stuff.

Big Buff

I seem to recall Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff saying something last spring about giving the Winnipeg HC leadership group a makeover, which led the fiction writers at the Drab Slab to read between all sorts of lines and see all sorts of boogeymen in the dressing room. So here’s your makeover: Wheeler still has the ‘C’, Rink Rat Scheifele still has his ‘A’, and Josh Morrissey has the ‘A’ Dustin Byfuglien left behind when he departed to stare at his belly button. Clearly, then, Wheeler and Rink Rat weren’t the “problem,” which means…yup, Big Buff must have been the rotten apple in that barrel. I’m sure the fiction writers will eventually tell us all about it. As if.

The Drab Slab’s other resident drama queens, sports editor Steve Lyons and once-upon-a-time columnist Paul Wiecek, are aghast—aghast, I say!—that Big Buff removed himself from the fray without their okie-dokie. Why, they’re taking his retreat as if he kicked one of their dogs. “To walk away and sell out his team at this point demands some kind of explanation from either the man or the team.” harrumphed Wiecek. He also described True North’s tight-lips posture as “a joke” and the way the Jets treat the rabble is “disgraceful. If I was a season-ticket holder right now, I’d be on the phone to the Jets offices every day, demanding either an explanation or my money back.” Well, isn’t that a special little hissy fit. I hope he didn’t hurt himself while stamping his feet and holding his breath. Look, Big Buff’s leave of absence is a curious bit of business, to be sure. And, yes, the timing sucks. But he’s under no obligation to give us the skinny. If Buff retires, I’m guessing he’ll have something to say, but we shouldn’t expect the Gettysburg Address, which was only 272 words. If he returns to the Jets blueline, he’ll probably have even less to say. Meantime, the Jets are keeping it on the QT because there’s nothing to say, other than they’ll respect Buff’s privacy. I’m good with that.

Brian Burke

Speaking of boys in grumpy pants, nice to see Brian Burke is already in mid-season form. Not! They hadn’t even begun to play for keeps in this new NHL crusade when Burkie went into dinosaur mode on Sportsnet, scolding linesman Kiel Murchison for having the bad manners to prevent an exchange of bare knuckles between Evander Kane and Derek Engelland. “Where in the rule book does it say fighting is prohibited?” he belched. “What it says is fighting is assessed a five-minute penalty. So let them fight.” Yes, by all means, let the boys throw down. And, while we’re at it, perhaps we can go back to using Eaton’s catalogs for shin pads.

No surprise, therefore, that Burke would applaud Sidney Crosby for getting into a scuffle on Saturday night. “I thought it was great,” he said on Hockey Night in Canada. “I thought it was great, and they got a lift out of it. They scored a couple goals right after the fight.” I don’t know about you, but I’d rather watch Crosby play hockey than sit in the penalty box icing his bruised knuckles.

Bob McKenzie

Bob McKenzie has signed a five-year extension to be TSN’s main blah, blah, blah guy on Planet Puckhead, and I’m sure that suits his 1.6 million Twitter followers just fine. Details of the contract were not released, but it’s believed it does not include an eight-figure signing bonus, prompting Tranna Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas to gasp, “Huh? You mean you don’t have to pay everybody $15 million up front?”

J.P. Wiser’s is producing an Alumni Whisky Series that features former NHL notables like Mark Messier (“Bold & tenacious. Aged for 11 years.”), Dave Keon (“Well-rounded. Aged for 14 years.”), and Yvan Cournoyer “Smooth & complex. Aged for 12 years.”). Apparently, the people at Wiser’s also had plans for a Don Cherry whisky (“Loud, curmudgeonly & obnoxious.”), but they discovered his best-before date expired sometime last century.

Andrew Ference and his finger.

Cherry, of course, was back in his HNIC bully pulpit on Saturday night, doing his usual shtick that’s part fashion show, part fight promoter, and a complete butchering of the language. My favorite segment arrived at the end, when Grapes went off topic and chastised Orlando Arcia of the Milwaukee Brewers for sticking his tongue out at Washington Nationals fans during a Major League Baseball playoff skirmish.

“Other sports, they might do stuff like that,” he growled in a sermon for the benefit of the kids. “In football, hockey, you can go on, the whole thing…in hockey we do not do that.”

Cherry’s right. Hockey players don’t stick their tongues out at the customers—they scale the glass and beat the hell out of them in the stands (hello, Boston Bruins, circa 1979). Or they punch them out at the bench (hello, Rob Ray). Or they fight them in the penalty box (hello, Tie Domi). Or they give them the finger (hello, Andrew Ference). But, ya, they keep their tongues to themselves. Except Brad Marchand, of course. He uses his to lick other players.

In the case of the 1979 Bruins, 18 of them piled into the stands at Madison Square Garden one December night, with tough guy Terry O’Reilly leading the charge. Even the normally docile Peter McNab waded into the fracas and roughed up a patron (“I was quite proud of him,” said Cherry), but the highlight was defenceman Mike Milbury yanking a shoe off one fan, then whacking him with it. All 18 Bruins were fined and three received suspensions. But, hey, not one of them stuck out his tongue, so everything was cool. (For the record, goaltender Gerry Cheevers was the only Boston player not involved. He was in the dressing room drinking post-game beer.)

I note with interest that the St. Louis Blues have locked down Brayden Schenn for the next eight years. Hmmm. That’s three max-length contracts signed in the past month. Perhaps Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab and Dave Poulin of TSN can tell us one more time how we won’t see NHL players signing for eight years anymore.

Chris Streveler

My oh my. That was some kind of slobber-knocking football the large lads in pads showed us Saturday on the Flattest of Lands. Nasty, nasty. There was much to like about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, even if they were on the short end of a 21-6 score, but the work of neophyte quarterback Chris Streveler wasn’t included in the good-vibe mix. He tossed one pass to the wrong guys in the end zone. He tossed another pass to the wrong guys at the goal line. He spilled and lost the ball in the score zone. And his offence put just half a dozen points on the board against a very stingy Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive dozen. What if it had been much-maligned QB Matt Nichols screwing up like that? What would the reaction be? That’s right. Pitchforks and torches. So hands up anyone who still believes the Bombers have a better chance of winning with Streveler at QB. Hmmm. I don’t see any hands.

Streveler after soiling the sheets: “I’ve got to be better.” Connor Hellebuyck after soiling the sheets: “I liked a lot of my game.” Discuss among yourselves.

Corn Dog Cody Fajardo

This has been the year of the backup QB in the Canadian Football League, with all but the B.C. Lions being forced to turn to their No. 2 gunslinger. So where does Streveler fit into the mix? Here’s how I would rank the backups-turned-starters:
1) Corn Dog Cody Fajardo
2) Dane Evans
3) Vernon Adams Jr.
4) Nick Arbuckle
5) McLeod Bethel-Thompson
6) Chris Streveler
7/8) Logan Kilgore/Jonathon Jennings.

And, finally, that was a serious paddywhacking the New Zealand All Blacks delivered to our gnarly Canadian lads at the Rugby World Cup. I mean, 63-0. Winnipeg Jets fans have decided that it’s Connor Hellebuyck’s fault.

The Hens in the Hockey House talk about the brooding of Big Buff…the Zen of the Winnipeg Jets…Le Tour de Ruffled Feathers…and NHL life on the bubble

After a long summer apart, the two Hens in the Hockey House are back together to discuss all matters Winnipeg Jets and their fresh National Hockey League crusade, which commences this very night at Madison Square Garden in Gotham v. old friend Jacob Trouba and the New York Rangers. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: “Well, girlfriend, time to write your How I Spent My Summer Vacation essay. What have you been up to?”

Answer Lady: “What is this? Grade 5? You become a school marm when I wasn’t looking?”

Question Lady: “Of course not. It’s just that we haven’t talked to each other since the Jets took a powder last April. Sooooo…I’m curious what you’ve been up to. Care to talk the talk?”

Answer Lady: “Do people still talk to each other? What an antiquated concept. I thought they just tweeted, sent text messages or posted on Instagram.”

The Forks

Question Lady: “I think it’s kind of like a newspaper. Nobody under the age of 50 actually picks up a newspaper, and no one under the age of 50 actually has conversations. It’s the All Thumbs Generation. Whenever they have something to say, they pull a smart phone out of their pocket or purse and let their thumbs do the talking. Anyway, what’s been shaking besides the leaves on the trees and the Jets defence, girlfriend?”

Answer Lady: “I spent a lot of quality time at The Forks, just sipping cocktails, schmoozing and watching the world go by.”

Question Lady: “Did you see Dustin Byfuglien there?”

Answer Lady: “No. Apparently, Big Buff was doing his navel gazing at other pubs. Still is.”

Question Lady: “Think he’ll be back on the Jets blueline, or is he going to retire?”

Answer Lady: “Hard to say. Chevy tells us it’s status quo, but if I were a betting girl I’d say Big Buff is done. Even if he were to come back, I can’t imagine his heart would be in it. We’d be getting Buff Lite. That would be a great name for a beer, but it would probably be as watered down as the Jets blueline.”

Question Lady: “You don’t think another $8 million in the bank account won’t whet Buff’s appetite for more?”

Big Buff

Answer Lady: “The guy’s made north of $50 million in his career, girlfriend. I’m sure he’s got enough bait and tackle to last a lifetime of fishing ponds, frozen or otherwise. So, unless he has as many holes in his pockets as there is on the Jets defence, he needs another paycheque like Don Cherry needs another bad suit.”

Question Lady: “You’ve mentioned the Jets blueline brigade twice already. You don’t like it?”

Answer Lady: “Does Donald Trump like Democrats?”

Question Lady: “Well, it’s true that they’ve had more defections than a Cuban baseball team. Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, Buff…all gone. But isn’t there some hope for the newbies GM Kevin Cheveldayoff brought in to replace them?”

Answer Lady: “Hope sometimes goes missing, but it is never lost.”

Question Lady: “Wow. That’s heavy, girlfriend. They have a zen garden at The Forks?”

Answer Lady: “Not sure, grasshopper, but after coach Paul Maurice went all Zen Master PoMo on us during training camp, I visited the Bodhisattva Guanyin and she spoke of the many pundits who look at the Jets defence and see darkness and no light.”

Question Lady: “And what did the lama lady have to say?”

Answer Lady: “She said, ‘Even the optimist accepts that the glass must become half empty when her lips are parched; even the pessimist accepts the glass as half full when her lips are parched.’”

Question Lady: “What in the name of Siddhartha Gautama does that mean?”

Answer Lady: “Either way you look at it, the Jets defence is half of what it once was, but perhaps not half as bad.”

Question Lady: “This new kid, Ville Heinola, isn’t he something special based on his play in the exhibition games?”

Answer Lady: “Do you measure the climber by his first two steps at the bottom of the mountain, or his last two steps at the summit?”

Question Lady: “Am I supposed to answer that?”

Answer Lady: “No. I am the Answer Lady.”

Question Lady: “Good. I thought for a minute we were doing some kind of role reversal thing and, lord knows, I don’t have the answers. I just make it up as I go along, kind of like some of the reporters in River City. Speaking of which, what do you make of those ruffled feathers we kept hearing about all summer and during training camp? Any substance to all that blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda? Were the Jets a house divided?”

Answer Lady: “Show me the smoking gun.”

Question Lady: “I heard some wild and wacky rumors about what went on last spring. Really crazy stuff about fights in the parking lot and girlfriends. None of that true?”

Answer Lady: “Look, I heard and read so much rumor during the summer that I thought Hearsay was some guy they got in the Trouba trade. Again, show me the smoking gun. If you can’t, you can probably get a job at the Free Press.”

Patrik Laine

Question Lady: “Well, Patrik Laine said some things that weren’t so flattering. He didn’t name names, but it sure sounded like he was taking pot shots at Maurice, Bryan Little and other teammates. They all shrugged it off as a meh issue, but why did Coach PoMo go all the way to Finland to chat with Laine if it was no big deal?”

Answer Lady: “Oh, good grief. The way the boys and girls on the beat have been telling it, you’d think it was Moses coming down from the mountain with a pair of stone tablets clutched in his arms. According to Chevy, Laine was just one of numerous players the coach made a social visit to. Call it Le Tour de Ruffled Feathers. OR NOT! C’mon, girlfriend, show me a player who doesn’t lust for more ice time and I’ll show you a player who doesn’t give a damn. Show me a team that doesn’t bicker and have closed-door meetings and I’ll show you a team that doesn’t give a damn. Show me someone who’s never bitched about their boss and I’ll show you someone whose pants are on fire. It’s no biggie.”

Question Lady:Do you think Coach PoMo is sitting on a hot seat?”

Answer Lady: “Ya, it’s hot like Portage and Main in January. Mark Chipman and Chevy will part ways with Maurice when the Dalai Lama punches out the Pope.”

Question Lady:Saaaaay. That would be an interesting fight. One guy would be hitting with Buddhist beads and the other guy would be hitting with a Rosary. Who do you think would win?”

The Dalai Lama and Pope Francis.

Answer Lady: “I’d bet on Dalai, but those Catholic guys fight dirty and Pope Francis would likely crack the Lama lad on the noggin with a crucifix. Or poke him in the eye with his pointy hat. But let’s get serious, there’s no fighting in the NHL anymore and those guys are too old to be scrapping.”

Question Lady: “On the subject of age, does Blake Wheeler have another 91-point season in him at 33?”

Answer Lady: “I don’t see it happening. We all slow down, so Wheeler’s wheels won’t be churning any faster. I think we’ll see a dip in production from both him and Mark Scheifele.”

Question Lady: “What about Laine?”

Answer Lady: “Forty goals exactly.”

Question Lady: “Connor and Ehlers?”

Answer Lady: “Thirty-one and 29.”

Question Lady: “Is this a playoff team?”

Answer Lady: “On the bubble. It’ll take 40 regulation/overtime wins to get the job done, and I’m not convinced the Jets have that in them. But the Colorado Avalanche got in last spring with just 36, so there’s that. We’re probably looking at a wild card spot, because I really don’t see Chicago, Arizona or Minny squeezing them out.”

Question Lady: “Do you see Chevy making a deadline deal for either a playoff push or to get into the Stanley Cup tournament?”

Answer Lady: “If he does, it bloody well better not be for a first-round pick.”

Question Lady: “What are the odds of a Stanley Cup parade in River City next June?”

Answer Lady: “About the same as Justin Trudeau showing up at his next campaign stop in black face.”

Question Lady: “I guess that covers it, girlfriend. What are your plans for the rest of the day?”

Answer Lady: “I’m off to The Forks. Maybe I’ll look for a zen garden and do some raking.”

Question Lady: “Sounds peaceful. If you see Buff, say hi.”

Answer Lady: “Will do. Good talk. Enjoy the season. Ommmmm.

Let’s talk about Jacob Trouba and Kurt Overhardt…playing a game of chicken with Chevy and the Winnipeg Jets…the sticker price for a bottom-six forward…Mum’s the word for Mitch…swapping clunkers in Alberta…faux football a tough sell…going to beat ’60…working the CFL beat…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and while munching on cold pizza and watching the Open Championship, I wondered if I could break 200 playing Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland…

To all those among the rabble who told us that Jacob Trouba was the class dunce for listening to the wrong people (read: Kurt Overhardt), what say you now?

Still think he’s stupid? Misguided? Gullible? Easily duped?

Jacob Trouba

You’ll recall, I’m sure, that those were among the words used to describe the young Winnipeg Jets defender when he a) asked for a ticket on the first stage out of Dodge, b) refused to report to training camp, c) stayed home the first two months of one season, d) signed a bridge deal instead of a long-term contract, e) took the club to arbitration.

Here are more less-than-flattering insults hurled Trouba’s way: Immature. Greedy. Big loser. Idiot. Petulant. Fool. Malcontent. Problem child. Liar.

One of his teammates, Mathieu Perreault, joined the braying chorus and called Trouba “selfish.”

And, of course, there were those with quill-and-notebook and/or microphone, their critical essays and rants ranging from a benign tsk-tsking to thunderous accusations, with gusts up to poisonous. Former Drab Slab columnist Paul Wiecek, in particular, conducted a shameful, bitter crusade to discredit the top-pairing rearguard.

“Trouba, for one, has a long track record of doing what’s right for Trouba, even when it’s been what’s wrong for Trouba,” Wiecek wrote, apparently mistaking himself for Dr. Phil. “Trouba is a problem again.”

Kurt Overhardt

So, basically, it was the opinion of the masses that Trouba and Homer Simpson shared a brain, because he blindly allowed his greedy, no-goodnik agent Overhardt to lead him down the garden path (“Look at all the money that douchebag is costing the kid! Oh, the humanity!”)

Well, agent Overhardt led Trouba down the garden path, all right—to Madison Square Garden in Gotham and a $56 million windfall.

The New York Rangers have agreed to compensate Trouba to the merry tune of $8M (average) for the next seven National Hockey League seasons, and $22M of that comes in signing bonuses to be collected in the first three years. So, if there’s a soundtrack to Trouba’s life, it goes something like this: Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Ka-ching!

We should all be so stupid, misguided, gullible and easily duped.

Go ahead and pooh-pooh the Rangers for an overpay the size of Manhattan if you like, but the fact is Overhardt/Trouba played chicken with Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff for three years, and they won. Trouba wanted a zip code instead of a postal code. He got it. He wanted more coin than the $4 million the Jets offered in arbitration a year ago. He’ll get double that on Broadway. And what did the Jets get? Neal Pionk.

Andrew Copp

You think Patrik Laine’s agent hasn’t noticed how the Trouba saga played out? If it’s true that Puck Finn’s nose is out of joint, all he has to do is sign a two-year bridge deal, take les Jets to arbitration down the road, then force a trade. Josh Morrissey, about to enter the second year of his bridge deal, might be doing that very thing. Kyle Connor could do the same. Ditto Andrew Copp, who has the aforementioned Kurt Overhardt whispering sweet nothings in his ear as they begin a stroll down the garden path. Overhardt/Copp say they’ll be happy with $2.9 million per season. Chipman/Chevy have countered with $1.5M per for two years. Barring an 11th-hour agreement, an arbitrator will decide. Do the Jets really want or need to engage in another game of chicken they can’t win?

Bobby Hull and clan.

The first guy to wear sweater No. 9 with les Jets, Robert Marvin Hull, came at a cost of $1.75 million spread over 10 years, plus a $1 million signing bonus. Total sticker price for the Golden Jet: $2.75 million. The guy now wearing sweater No. 9, Copp, reckons he’s worth $2.9 million. Or at least his agent believes that’s the going rate for a bottom-six forward. I agree, it’s absurd, if not flat-out insane. But what if we convert the dollars? Hull’s $2.75M in 1972 is worth $16,851,513.16 in today’s U.S. coin, which would make him the most handsomely compensated player on Planet Puckhead, just as he was when Benny Hatskin and his renegade pals in the World Hockey Association lured the Golden Jet away from the Chicago Blackhawks. Meanwhile, Copp’s $2.9M today would be $473,420.16 in 1972 pay. Guaranteed no bottom-sixer with les Jets was pulling down more than $400K in ’72. So, in either era, that’s an overpay.

Worst new cliché: “He’s betting on himself.” That’s quickly become most tiresome and scribes and natterbugs should lose it faster than their per diem on a road trip to Las Vegas. Look, pro athletes bet on themselves every time they step into the arena. Cripes, man, we all bet on ourselves every morning when we decide to crawl out of the sack. Like, I’m betting I’ll annoy someone with this essay, if I haven’t already.

Mitch Marner

Got a kick out of the Sportsnet website front page in the small hours of Friday morning, after various news snoops had attempted to pry nuggets of insight from Tranna Maple Leafs restricted free agent Mitch Marner:

“Marner mum on contract talks with Maple Leafs at charity event.”
“Marner’s contract talks with Leafs a roller-coaster of anticipation.”
“Maple Leafs’ Marner talks contract, charity on Tim and Sid.”
“Marner wants to be in Maple Leafs uniform at camp, won’t go without deal.”

Hmmm. Four stories. Apparently, Marner had a helluva lot to say for a guy who was “mum.”

The Edsel

Interesting goings-on in Wild Rose Country, where the Oilers and Flames swapped an Edsel for a Gremlin. And it spawned more silliness on Sportsnet, this time from Eric Francis, who delivered this analysis of the transaction that sent seven-goal scorer James Neal wheeling up Highway 402 from Calgary to Edmonton and six-goal scorer Milan Lucic boogying south from Edmonton to Calgary:

“Few would disagree that Lucic is the toughest guy in the NHL.”
“Lucic’s speed is still much better than many would think and his fitness levels are beyond repute.”
“Lucic provides something few players left in the league can. In fact, he may still be the very best at what he’s being brought in to do.”
“Although Lucic has fought very little in the last couple, few players dared to mess with Connor McDavid during Lucic’s watch.”

Good grief. Is it too late to reopen the legalize marijuana debate? Seriously, Eric, take another toke. Looch has the urgency of a filibuster. Only an income tax return moves slower. As for his work as a guard dog, if Looch did such a boffo job why did McDavid become Connor McMugged last season?

Dear friend Judy Owen of The Canadian Press reports that ticket sales to the Green Bay Packers-Oakland Raiders dress rehearsal at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry next month aren’t exactly brisk. Matter of fact, they’re slower than a sports writer reaching for a bar tab. Should we be surprised? Not really. Asking a Winnipegger to pay upwards of $400 to watch faux football is like asking Chris Walby to pass on second helpings.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Pegtowners are penny-pinchers. After all, I’m one of them and it’s not by coincidence that I do all my shopping at thrift stores. But I believe the Ojibwe words for Portage and Main are “Cheap and Chintzy.” We only pay asking price if you toss in a free Slurpee.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s Chevy’s problem. He keeps trying to buy his hockey players wholesale.

So, after their 31-1 curb-stomping of the Bytown RedBlacks on Friday night, our Winnipeg Blue Bombers are 5-nada. First time since 1960. Would you call me a Debbie Downer if I pointed out that the 5-0 outfit in ’60 did a playoff faceplant? Yup. Didn’t even get to the big dance. Lost to the E-Town Eskimos in a best-of-three Western final, dropping the deciding game 4-2. It was the only season from 1958 to 1962 that our football heroes failed to bring the Grey Cup home to River City. Thus, the less we talk about 1960 the better.

Some folks aren’t convinced that the Bombers are the real deal and point to namby-pamby foes—E-Town, Bytown, Tranna Argos, B.C. Lions—and their combined record of 6-15 as evidence of phony superiority. Sorry, but I’m not buying what those people are selling. Who is Winnipeg FC supposed to play? The New England Patriots? The Bombers can only follow the dictates of the Canadian Football League schedule-maker, and if that means whacking 98-pound weaklings, so be it.

Kirk Penton

More good CFL stuff from Kirk Penton in The Athletic, including these nuggets in his insiders segment that features unvarnished comments from team management, coaches and executives:

“The Simoni (Lawrence) decision was more than fair. Probably one of the dirtiest plays I’ve seen in the CFL. The fact he lies about not doing it deliberately makes it worse. At least Kyries Hebert took his medicine for his dirty plays and didn’t bullshit saying it was accidental.”

“When Joe Mack was our GM we could have traded for Ricky Ray. He said we didn’t need him. Same year we drafted Tyson Pencer in the first round. But when (the team was) struggling, he fired (Paul LaPolice) in August. Look, I’ve heard both sides of the Ray debate. Great player who couldn’t stay healthy, but at that point, Buck’s (Pierce) injury history was worse.”

What are the odds of Mike Reilly finishing this CFL season in one piece? He’s not a quarterback, he’s a pinata. Reilly was basically wearing D-lineman Charleston Hughes on Saturday night in Regina, and that’s never anyone’s idea of a good time. If Leos GM Ed Hervey doesn’t get Reilly some protection, it isn’t going to end well for the CFL’s best QB.

Matty

And, finally, when I started in the rag trade, the Bombers were the big dog in Good Ol’ Hometown.

The Jets and the World Hockey Association weren’t even a talking point at that time, so great swaths of forest were felled to provide enough newsprint for coverage of our CFL outfit in both the Winnipeg Tribune and Drab Slab

The boys on the beat were the great Jack Matheson and Don Blanchard, and they worked the Bombers every which way but loose, establishing what I considered the standard to which other football scribes should strive. The measuring stick, if you will.

So how are the boys on the beat doing today? I’d say the torch is in reliable hands with Jeff Hamilton and Ted Wyman.

Ted Wyman

It’s been that way for quite some time, actually, and I could make an argument that no sheet in the country has done a better job at chronicling a CFL outfit than the two River City rags. Young Eddie Tait was the best in the biz before going over the wall, and I’d say the aforementioned Kirk Penton was right there with him, scoop for scoop and feature for feature. Ashley Prest, Judy Owen, Big Jim Bender, Dave Supleve, Granny Granger and others did wonderful work, and it helped that they truly cared about the football club.

Matty and Blanch would be pleased.

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.

Let’s talk about Paul Maurice’s ruffled feathers…passing on Perry…get a grip, Coach Pollyanna…the Bettman boo birds…NHL awards night…Connor McDavid’s shoe-string budget…back up the Brinks truck for Mitch…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy third day of summertime, when the livin’ is easy…

This just in, kids: Those “ruffled feathers” that Paul Maurice was talking about at the close of business in April? They’ve been downgraded to “growly” and “sour.”

More to the point, when the Winnipeg Jets head coach mentioned there were “ruffled feathers” that he needed to “flatten out” before the boys reconvene in autumn for their National Hockey League preseason training exercises, it was “maybe a poor choice of words.”

Meaning? Well, we have two schools of thought here.

First, we can consider what Coach Potty Mouth said at his exit chin-wag with news snoops on the heels of Winnipeg HC’s one-and-done ouster from the Stanley Cup runoff. To refresh: “We’ve got a few ruffled feathers in there that we’re gonna have to flatten out.” Many among the rabble and at least one news snoop, Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, took that as confirmation that les Jets changing room was a house divided. “Rotten to the core,” is how Mad Mike described it, and he’s been flogging that narrative for more than two months. Without, I emphasize, a shred of hard, cold evidence to support the notion of in-fighting.

But now along comes Maurice to give his gums a workout on Friday in Vancouver, and he was reading from a different script during a half-hour natter session with news snoops. Here’s a portion of that palaver:

Mad Mike: “That ruffled feathers comment on the exit day, any more thought on that?”

Maurice (totally puzzled): “Which one was that?”

Mad Mike: “Well, you talked about ruffled feathers we need to smooth out when we come back in the fall which some people, you know, took to mean a number of things.”

Maurice (finally clued in): “Oh, it was at the end of the year…”

Mad Mike: “Ya.”

Maurice: “What’s the bigger context on that?”

Mad Mike: “Everybody didn’t like how the season ended, right?”

Maurice: “We’re all growly.”

Mad Mike: “Does time just heal all wounds in that case?”

Maurice: “You don’t want them all healed. You want to bring a little bit of that pain back. You want to keep some of that. Sour is a better word. Whether you’re right or wrong, but if you think you’re in that mix of teams that are good enough to win and you don’t win, it hurts like hell. The last thing you want is everybody coming back happy the next year. It was good enough. The golf season was longer. That’s the exact opposite mindset of what you want. Maybe I just made a poor choice of words.”

Coach PottyMo also said: “I like our room and I like the people that are building that next layer of leadership we’ve got coming in.”

Doesn’t sound dark and dire to me. Just some gibberish about a bunch of “growly” and “sour” guys really and truly PO’d because their hockey season turned into a pumpkin prematurely.

Coach PottyMo

Naturally, I wouldn’t expect Coach PottyMo to air out any dirty laundry in public, but, quite frankly, he didn’t have a clue what the hell Mad Mike was talking about when he referenced “ruffled feathers.” It was as if he’d been asked to explain why B.C. gets mountains, ocean and mild temps while Manitoba gets mosquitoes, potholes and frozen car batteries.

Still, Mad Mike insists “it’s no secret that the Jets were a fractured bunch by the end of last season.”

If there was even a sniff of substance to this “rotten to the core” narrative, I thought perhaps Jacob Trouba might let the kitty out of the burlap on his way out the door. But no. The now-departed defender talked of his fiancée, his friendships and a fresh start in Gotham, but he uttered nary a discouraging word about management, his teammates or toxicity in les Jets changing room. That’s right, crickets.

So maybe there’s no sinister story to tell. Unless someone produces a smoking gun, it’s time to move on from that narrative.

Corey Perry

Noted NHL irritant Corey Perry soon will be available to the highest bidder. Would les Jets be interested in the one-time MVP? If they sign him, consider my feathers officially ruffled.

So, if you’re a Jets loyalist, here’s what you might find bothersome, if not positively frightening: Maurice likes what he sees in the mirror. That is, he’s pushing the right buttons and don’t even think about asking him to do it any other way. “I’m not going to change the grip,” he said in Friday’s natter. “We hit the ball down the fairway an awful lot. We had one go in the water on us in the playoffs, but I’m not sure that I’m changing my clubs or my grip yet. We’ve got a pretty good hockey team.” Well, thanks for that, Coach Pollyanna. But what you’ve been doing hasn’t worked and, in case you missed the memo, you just lost one half of your top defence pairing, with Trouba swanning off to the New York Rangers. Coach Pollyanna doesn’t just need to change his grip, he needs to get a grip.

Why are so many among the rabble surprised that they don’t hear the name Blake Wheeler in trade rumors? The reason is quite simple: His bromance with Maurice. Wheeler is teacher’s pet and he isn’t going anywhere as long as Coach PottyMo is behind the pine.

Still with Maurice, a yet-to-be-identified broadcaster gave him a first-place vote in balloting for the Jack Adams Trophy as NHL coach-of-the-year. True story, that. The rest of us know that Coach PottyMo was the top bench jockey like I’m Carrie Underwood’s twin sister, so I’m guessing the culprit shall remain anonymous forever more because you don’t wet the bed then brag about it.

Commish Bettman and the Sedins.

Say this for Gary Bettman: The guy wears the villain’s robe well.

The NHL commish, naturally, was booed at the launch of Friday night’s entry draft in Vancouver, because that’s become a ritual anytime the little man with the bobbing head and needle nose steps out in public. But in this case, he turned it into a skit that was funnier than anything I saw or heard at the awards gala last week in Las Vegas.

“Wait, I have something for you which I think will change the mood,” he announced devilishly as the boos poured down like April showers.

He then walked off stage at Rogers Arena, only to resurface with a couple of fan favorites in tow—Vancouver Canucks legends Daniel and Henrik Sedin. It was good fun.

Shortly thereafter, of course, the boos resumed, and it became boorish and just bloody rude.

Oh, well, I suppose we should be grateful that Vancouverites didn’t try to burn down the town this time.

What I like most about the NHL’s annual garage sale of freshly-scrubbed teenagers: Those young men are so gosh-darn, aw-shucks polite and boy-next-door respectful during their intro interviews with Tara Slone. They’re what every mother’s son should be. If only they didn’t have to grow up and learn hockey-speak.

Anderson Whitehead and hero Carey Price.

NHL Awards Night I (the good): There are a lot of terrific people in hockey, but I can’t imagine anyone registers higher on the Nice-O-Metre than Carey Price. I mean, you don’t get many better feel-good or warm-and-fuzzy moments than the goaltender’s cameo appearance on stage to present little Anderson Whitehead with a Montreal Canadiens jersey, not to mention a trip to the all-star game. If you know the back story (Anderson lost his mom to cancer), try and watch that without getting teary-eyed. I dare you…There were three noteworthy acceptance speeches. 1. Elias Pettersson, the Canucks hot-shot frosh who copped the Calder Trophy, acknowledged the passing of Postmedia Vancouver scribe Jason Botchford. Total class from the kid. 2. Masterton Award winner Robin Lehner of the New York Islanders spoke of his struggle with addiction and mental illness, recognizing his “amazing” bride Donya, head coach Barry Trotz “for thinking of the human first,” and his medical support staff. “I’m not ashamed to say I’m mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean mentally weak,” he said in closing. Powerful stuff. 3. In accepting the Lady Byng trinket, Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers took a cheeky, irreverent shot at his team’s sparse fan base, noting, “We have more fans from Finland than from Florida here.” Ouch…Aside from little Anderson Whitehead, the big winners on the night were Jason Zucker (King Clancy Trophy for humanitarian work) and Rico Phillips (Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award)…Let’s play Jeopardy! Category: “I’ll take NICE TOUCH for $2,000 please.” Answer: “What was bringing Alex Trebek on stage to present the Hart Trophy to Nikita Kucherov?”

Connor McDavid

NHL Awards Night II (the grim): Let’s play Jeopardy! again. Category: “I’ll take LAME for $2,000 please.” Answer: “What were the jokes at the NHL awards night?”…Apparently I’m in the minority, but I thought host Kenan Thompson’s numerous attempts at giggles missed the mark. His opening monologue: Lame. His skits: Lame. His impersonations: Lame. Unfortunately, Thompson had (bad) company. The nattering blonde woman prattling on about the various nominees: Lame. The Good Burger guy: Totally lame. The Tony Babcock character (a takeoff on the unfunny Ron Bergundy): Insufferably lame (although he believed himself to be quite the cut-up, because he kept laughing at his own jokes). Overall entertainment grade: F…Just wondering, do NHL players no longer wear socks?…Every time the camera focused on Connor McDavid, he looked like a guy in search of the nearest exit. I swear, he hasn’t looked that sad since the day the Edmonton Oilers won the lottery in his draft year…You’d think that with an annual wage of $12.5 million, McDavid could afford a belt to hold up his trousers. I mean, really. An old skate lace? Talk about a shoe-string budget…I’m surprised P.K. Subban doesn’t have an endorsement deal with French’s mustard. He is, after all, the biggest hot dog in hockey…Is it just me, or does former Jeopardy! champion James Holzhauer seem really geeky and stiff? But, hey, I guess when you have more than $2 million worth of trivial information stored in your brain pan, it’s cool to be geeky and stiff.

If Kevin Hayes is worth $7.14 million per annum, Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs might as well park the Brinks truck at Mitch Marner’s front door and leave the keys. Seriously. Hayes has never produced more than 55 points in an NHL crusade. Marner has that many by Christmas. By my count, 44 centre-ice men had more points than Hayes last season, but he’ll be ahead of about 40 of them in the pay queue. I never thought of Philly Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher as a sucker before, but another signing like Hayes and they’ll be calling him Lollipop.

And, finally, nothing GM Kevin Cheveldayoff did this weekend in Vancouver improved the Jets. Does anyone expect anything different once the free agent season opens?

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Jets and skipping town…it wasn’t always Ducky for Trouba…who’s the bad guy?…the Golden Blotto…bigger than The Beatles?

A Tuesday morning smorgas-bored…and I’m an unrestricted free agent but my phone still ain’t ringing…

As I was saying not so long ago, if a young player wants out of Dodge, he simply has to bide his time and the Trade Fairy shall grant his wish.

Evander Kane did it. Jacob Trouba did it.

Jacob Trouba

One is now earning top dollar in San Jose, the other will reap his financial reward in Gotham or another National Hockey League locale.

And that, kids, is the main flaw in your draft-and-develop blueprint.

Now, I realize that Kane wasn’t among general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s prize catches in the NHL’s annual garage sale of acne-plagued teens, because he arrived with the Atlanta caravan that rolled into River City in 2011. But Kane was just a sprig of 20 years and, with 30 goals in his first whirl with the Winnipeg Jets, perhaps the shiniest part of the draft-and-develop plan.

Alas, Kane and Good Ol’ Hometown went together like a vegan and a 20-ounce T-bone.

Evander Kane

Kane filed a trade request every summer and, 3½ years and one sopping-wet track suit later, Chevy and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman cried uncle, shipping their controversial conversation piece to the Buffalo Sabres, who passed the problem on to the San Jose Sharks.

Trouba, meanwhile, went looking for a way over the wall in May 2016, skipping training exercises and the first two months of the season that autumn, then signing a bridge deal. He ignored whatever woo Chevy pitched at him last summer, instead calling in an arbitrator to settle a salary stalemate. And now, three years after his original ask for a new postal code, the Trade Fairy has touched his shoulder with her magic dust.

Chevy

The Jets top-pair defender became a member of the New York Rangers on Monday, and you can be sure that his escape won’t go unnoticed by others in les Jets changing room.

You want out of Dodge, kid? You say you don’t fancy minus-40 temps? The bright lights of the city aren’t bright enough? The WiFi doesn’t cut it? Paul Maurice is feeding you a steady diet of press box popcorn? The guy sitting in the changing room stall next to you is teacher’s pet and collects more coin? Not to worry. Give it 3-3½ years, kid. The Trade Fairy will pay you a visit.

Again, that’s the irritating fly in the draft-and-develop ointment. The club only controls the player for X number of years and there’s nada Chevy or the Puck Pontiff can do to prevent him from bolting.

Kevin Hayes

The trick, of course, is to receive a favorable divorce settlement.

To assess Chevy’s latest bit of handiwork, we must look at it in four-part measure. That is:

* Brendan Lemieux and the 20th shout-out in this Friday’s entry draft went to N.Y. for rental centre Kevin Hayes at the NHL shop-and-swap deadline in late February.
* Negotiation rights to Hayes were transferred to the Philly Flyers in barter for a fifth-round shout-out.
* Trouba went to N.Y. for Neal Pionk and the 20th shout-out that Chevy originally surrendered to N.Y.
* Bottom line: Trouba and Lemieux for Pionk and a fifth-rounder.

I believe there’s a word for that—fleeced.

I mean, when Chevy shook hands with Rangers GM Jeff Gorton to complete the deal, I hope he checked to see if he still had all his fingers.

The Beatles

Oh, there have been worse decisions. Decca records signing The Tremeloes and telling The Beatles to pound pavement leaps to mind. And Manhattan in barter for an assortment of tools will forever serve as the standard for “D’oh!” moves. But shipping out a top-pair defender as payment for a handful of hope named Neal Pionk certainly doesn’t set the heart racing.

Naturally, some among the rabble stress that Chevy has freed up that most valuable of commodities in today’s NHL: Cap Space. The difference between signing Trouba and Pionk is anywhere from $4 million to $5 million. Fine. But I’ll remind you of that next season when Cap Space is losing one-v-one puck battles or trying to shut down Nathan MacKinnon.

Patrik Laine

Other Chevy apologists suggest that the GM had little option but to accept a lowball offer. Trouba wanted out. He’d be an unrestricted free agent a year from now. Everybody in hockey knew it, thus offers were scant. Chevy’s hands were tied.

But that’s my point.

We know for certain that two players—Kane and Trouba—asked to be moved and they were, at ages 23 and 25. That’s more like a draft-develop-and-depart program.

Just spitballing here, but let’s say Patrik Laine is the next young stud to pull on a pair of grumpy pants. He wants a fresh start. He’s seen how it worked out for Kane and Trouba. So Puck Finn signs a bridge deal, puts in his time like a good soldier, then forces Chevy’s hand. And what do the Jets receive in return? A checking forward?

The adios of Trouba is not a good look on the Jets or Chevy. They lost. And now any young player with an axe to grind knows how to beat them.

Ducky

A good portion of the Jets constituency is telling Trouba not to let the door smack him on the ass as he leaves Good Ol’ Hometown, but I’m not among their number. Ya he wanted out, but so did Dale Hawerchuk, and Ducky is revered in River City. So the anti-Trouba sentiment makes no sense to me.

If the Rangers can nail down Trouba long term, who was the problem in the ongoing contract saga in River City, Chevy or Kurt Overhardt, the defenceman’s hard-ass agent? Either way, the failure to convince Trouba that Good Ol’ Hometown is the place to be stands as Chevy’s major fail as Jets GM. Then again, you can’t convince a cattle rancher to buy sheep.

Clearly, les Jets are not as good a team today as they were Monday morning. The good news is, Chevy’s only just begun the makeover. Or, based on the Trouba trade, maybe that’s the bad news.

The Golden Blotto

So what’s the scoop on Brett Hull? Is he trying to drink all of Missouri dry? Is he trying to one-up Ovie in Stanley Cup hoorawing? The Golden Brett has become the Golden Blotto, and I wonder why the St. Louis Blues let him anywhere near a microphone.

And, finally, I think Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail is a terrific wordsmith, but, like most scribes, he has a tendency to lose the plot. His recent piece on the National Basketball Association champion Tranna Jurassics would be an e.g. “They’re bigger than the Beatles,” he wrote. Right. A guy who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s would know what it was like when John, Paul, George and Ringo touched down in the 1960s. I don’t think it’s the dumbest thing I’ll read this year, but it has the clubhouse lead right now.

About the myth of (un)fairness in sports…no No. 1 for the Oilers (yay!)…licking the Leafs…Nick Kypreos fanning flames of a family feud in The ROT…sloth-like defencemen…it’s a “fine” mess you’ve gotten the Leafs into, Jake Gardiner…Damien Cox and Steve Simmons: separated at birth……Keith Gretzky no draft-day genius…hopping on the Canada’s (Only) Team bandwagon…and other things on my mind

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

There’s been considerable teeth gnashing, hand wringing and chin wagging devoted to the flawed National Hockey League playoff schematic in the past week, all of it an echo of the squawking we heard during the spring runoff a year ago.

The Tranna Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins meeting in Round 1? Stupid.

The Winnipeg Jets, henceforth known as Canada’s (Only) Team, and the Nashville Predators obliged to engage in hostilities in Round 2. Also stupid.

Apparently, it isn’t “fair” either.

Well, excuse me, but I must have missed the memo that says sports is supposed to be fair.

Spud Webb and Manute Bol: Is this fair?

Is it fair that Connor McDavid is stuck in Edmonton? Is it fair that Brent Burns has that magnificent beard and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine has the world’s worst collection of chin whiskers? Is it fair that Michael Phelps has flippers instead of feet? Is it fair that Secretariat had a heart the size of a keg of beer while most other race horses have hearts the size of a shot glass. Is it fair that 5-feet-7 Spud Webb had to climb a stepladder to look 7-feet-7 Manute Bol in the eye?

Expecting fairness in sports is a fanciful notion.

Ask New York Islanders fans about fair. If sports was meant to be fair, someone not named Garth Snow would be generally managing their NHL club. Instead, they’re still saddled with him, 12 years in.

Ask Jets Nation about fair. Every time Dale Hawerchuk and the boys were feeling their oats in the 1980s, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and pals were eating their lunch. (Les Jets and Edmonton Oilers played 19 games across five series in the ’80s. Final tally: Edmonton 18 Ws, Winnipeg 1.)

Elin Nordegren

I think the last truly “fair” thing in sports was Elin Nordegren’s divorce settlement with Tiger Woods.

In an ideal world, sure, the Preds and Canada’s (Only) Team wouldn’t meet until Round 3 of the Stanley Cup tournament. They, after all, collected the most points in the regular season, finishing 1-2, respectively. But, hey, it’s not like the NHL has a monopoly on stupid. The National Football League, Canadian Football League, Major League baseball…all dumb.

The NFL has been known to reward sub-standard outfits with home playoff dates simply because they had the good fortune of competing in a turtle division. The CFL is worse. The East Division has been without a plus-.500 team since 2015, but the Ottawa RedBlacks and Tranna Argonauts won the past two Grey Cup games in large part because they were granted a bye and home field in the playoffs. In Major League Baseball, both the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates had more Ws than two of the three National League division champions in 2015, yet they were required to compete in a wild-card game.

None of that’s fair. Sports was never meant to be fair.

Rasmus Dahlin

You want to talk about fairness in sports? Any club other than the Oilers winning the right to choose Rasmus Dahlin at the NHL entry draft in June…that’s fairness in sports. I mean, what was the most oft-heard conversation once the ping-pong balls stopped bouncing at the draft lottery on Saturday in The Republic of Tranna? Try this:

Thank gawd those messed-up, misfit SOBs in Edmonton don’t get another first pick overall.”

You got that right, man. ABO—anybody but the Oilers.”

It’s bad enough that the Oil Drop gets the 10th shoutout in June (it’ll be their eighth top-10 pick this decade if you’re keeping score at home), but a fifth No. 1 would have brought serious calls for entry draft reform. As it turns out, the Buffalo Sabres will get Dahlin (not wild about that; was hoping for the Vancouver Canucks).

Did the NHL Department of Tsk-Tsking really call the Boston Bruins and instruct them to instruct Brad Marchand to stop licking opposing players? Marchand, you’ll recall, was observed licking Leo Komarov of the Tranna Maple Leafs on the neck during their just-concluded Stanley Cup series. What’s the big deal? Everybody’s been licking the Leafs since 1967.

Nick Kypreos

Interesting times in the 6ix, which, I’m told, is what the happening people who hang out with Drake call The Republic of Tranna. Les Leafs, of course, have put away the pucks in favor of more seasonal pursuits, but they couldn’t retreat from The ROT without Nick Kypreos tossing a lit match into the dumpster of another crusade that ended in wanting. “Babcock lost Matthews,” he told the boys on Sportsnet 590’s Starting Lineup. “I don’t know what happened, but he lost him. There was no trust anymore. For whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews.” Kypreos failed to offer a shred of evidence to support his thesis that head coach Mike Babcock and his main stud, Auston Matthews, were/are at odds, except to mutter something about “body language.” Lame, lame, lame. This story will lose some of its giddyup over the summer, but it’ll be a fresh brush fire when les Leafs reconvene in autumn, with the possibility of gusts up to an inferno. Simply because Kypreos opened his gob and out fell innuendo, then reporters and opinionists chased after it.

Three-toed sloth

What’s the difference between a sloth and Zdeno Chara? Two toes on each foot. I mean, to say that Chara is sloth slow would be an insult to dawdling mammals everywhere. I swear, if a fire alarm went off, a sloth would beat Chara out the door. Incredibly, the Bruins captain continues to get the job done and, at age 41, he gobbles up more minutes for head coach Bruce Cassidy than the mere mortals on the B’s blueline. I just wonder if it’s sustainable through three more rounds of the Stanley Cup tournament. I don’t see it happening, but more power to him if he can pull it off.

A rough night for Jake Gardiner.

I sometimes think Damien Cox of the Toronto Sun/Sportsnet and Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna/TSN were separated at birth. Seriously. They must be blood related. How else do we explain their shared penchant for the absurd? Last week, for example, Cox wrote: “The (Nashville Predators) have always been competitive under the only GM they’ve ever had, David Poile.” Apparently, “always competitive” means missing the playoffs eight times. “Always competitive” means missing the playoffs in the first five years of the franchise’s existence. “Always competitive” means missing the playoffs as recently as both 2013 and ’14. Cox then doubled down on his “D’oh!” boy hockey analysis by submitting that the Maple Leafs defence was “fine” in a 7-4 Game 7 loss to the Bruins on Wednesday. Fine? Jake Gardiner was totally inept. His game was like a spring day in Winnipeg—minus-5. It was biblical in its awfulness. The puck was a live grenade on his stick. He wanted no part of it. (Neither, for that matter, did his equally inept goaltender, Frederik Andersen.) It’s hard to imagine any player inflicting so much damage on his own side during 24 minutes of ice time, but, according to Cox, a defence that featured Gardiner was “fine.” At the end, I found myself wondering what the Leafs could possibly fetch in barter for Gardiner during the off-season. Certainly no one who’s breathing.

I used to enjoy listening to the boys banter on Hockey Central at Noon, but it has become a chore now that Cox seems to have secured a regular seat on the soup-and-sandwich-time gabfest. The man is an interruptive, insufferable, eye-rolling, lip-licking, fact-fudging, ego-driven, know-it-all squawkbox who talks down to people and gets agitated at the slightest suggestion that his might not be a persuasive or prevailing opinion. Other than that, Cox is “fine.”

Jailbird Slava Voynov

Word out of Russia is that disgraced wife-beater Slava Voynov will seek re-entry to North America and the NHL, and his wish list includes the Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and—horrors—Winnipeg. I think maybe Slava might want to scratch the Jets off his list. They took heat for inducting Bobby Hull into their Hall of Fame, so I can’t see them flopping down the welcome mat for the former Los Angeles Kings defenceman who spent two months in the brig and was deported from the U.S. for kicking the crap out of his wife.

Keith Gretzky

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “The brother you don’t hear about, Keith Gretzky, left the Boston Bruins after the 2016 season to join his friend, Peter Chiarelli in Edmonton. But here’s what Gretzky left behind as scouting director: Future Norris Trophy winner Charlie McAvoy, David Pastrnak, Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo. He passed on Mathew Barzal. Stuff happens. Name another team that’s drafted better?”

Okay. I’ll name another team: The Winnipeg Jets—Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Connor Hellebuyck, Adam Lowry, Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Jack Roslovic, Tucker Poolman, Sami Niku, Kristian Vesalainen.

Second, Gretzky’s work in the first round of the 2015 entry draft can’t be written off as “stuff happens.” Ya, he got the B’s a keeper in Jake DeBrusk, but he used picks 13-14-15 to claim Jakub Zboril, DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn when Mathew Barzal (16th) Kyle Connor (17th), Brock Boeser (23rd), Travis Konecny (24th) and Jack Roslovic (25th) were there for the taking.

Third, Gretzky didn’t draft Grzelyck for the Bruins. He was taken in 2012, two years before the Great One’s brother became the B’s top amateur bird dog.

Just the facts, ma’am. They aren’t hard to find.

Party time at Portage and Main in 1972.

And, finally, it’s about Canada’s (Only) Team: Peggers are already partying like it’s the 1970s again—when Ben Hatskin was hijacking Bobby Hull and the Jets were riding in championship parades as a regular routine—but will the cross-country rabble rally ’round the flag and adopt an outfit from little, ol’, out-of-the-way Winnipeg as Canada’s team as the NHL playoffs lurch along? I have my doubts. I mean, sure, there’ll be pockets of hosers across our vast land whose patriotic pangs will inspire them to root, root, root for Tinytown North, because beating the beasts of the south and returning Hockey’s Holy Grail to its rightful home is a compelling, warm-and-fuzzy narrative. But I can’t imagine les Jets catching the fancy of the masses in The Republic of Tranna, Ottawa and all points east. Nor on the far side of the Rocky Mountains, where locals mourned the passing of the Sedin twins with much reverence for a respectful 48 hours then returned to the shade of their palm trees and regularly scheduled patio lattés. I’m thinking nothing shy of a trip to the Stanley Cup final will stir up national fervour for Canada’s (Only) Team. But it’s never too early or too late for outriders to hop on the bandwagon.