About dumb stuff from “D’oh!” boys in the press box…Peter Chiarelli’s grey matter…this girl’s got game…Blue Bombers boss lady Dayna Spiring…Naomi Osaka gets to celebrate Aussie title…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I’m no all-star so I won’t be taking an all-star break…

This past week in jock journalism was brought to us by the word “D’oh!”

Seriously. News snoops must have been passing the Homer Simpson stupid pills around the press box and the newsroom, because much of what I read and heard was really, really dumb.

Examples:

Nazem Kadri

* The struggling Tranna Maple Leafs got the best of the struggling Washington Capitals on Wednesday night, winning 6-3. Nazem Kadri tallied three times and added an assist. His linemates, Willy Boy Nylander and Connor Brown, contributed three and two assists, respectively. That’s nine points total from that troika. Yet this was the main headline on the Leafs blog known as Sportsnet:

“Matthews-Marner combo pays immediate dividends for Maple Leafs.”

Say what? Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner contributed a goal apiece, one on the powerplay and one into an empty net. The “combo” collaborated on zero scores.

So that headline is really, really dumb.

* Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab went off on Professional Hockey Writers Association midseason polling, whereby more than 125 scribes determined the top three leading candidates to collect National Hockey League year-end trinkets.

The freshly minted sports columnist described Winnipeg Jets capitano Blake Wheeler as the club’s “heart and soul,” which is fine. Also accurate. But wait. He then confessed that, if allowed to vote for more than three people in each category, he would have “given Mark Scheifele some Hart Trophy consideration as most valuable to his team.” So Wheeler is the “heart and soul” of les Jets, but his linemate Rink Rat Scheifele is more valuable?

That’s really, really dumb.

John Shannon

* John Shannon, the sometimes smug gab guy on Sportsnet, delivered what was labeled his Power 25—the top movers and shakers in the NHL—and he listed wet-eared Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks the sixth most-powerful person.

What Shannon failed to do was explain exactly what makes Pettersson more of a power broker than, say, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, co-bankroll and governor of les Jets and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee. Perhaps Shannon will also tell us that a parish priest in Moose Jaw holds more sway with Catholics than the Pope. Or that Adam Sandler makes better movies than Steven Spielberg.

That’s really, really dumb.

* Luke Fox (Sportsnet seems to have an over-abundance of ”D’oh!” boys) wrote: “(Nikita) Kucherov is running away with the (NHL) scoring race.”

Hmmm. Last time I looked, Kucherov was four points ahead of Mikka Rantanen. Johnny Gaudreau and Connor McDavid are a mere five in arrears. Any one of those guys could erase that deficit in 20 minutes of hockey. That’s a runaway like Lady Gaga is a lumberjack.

So that’s really, really dumb.

Bobby Orr

* Apparently Ken Campbell was napping during Bobby Orr’s career. I say that because of this click-bait the senior writer at The Hockey News posted on Twitter:

“Former NHLer Mathieu Schneider, now with the NHLPA just referred to Nicklas Lidstrom ‘as the greatest defenceman of all time.’ Bold statement. And it’s a worthy debate.”

Sure, and maybe Campbell would also have us debate who’s taller, Zdeno Chara or Johnny Gaudreau. Or what’s whiter, freshly fallen snow or coal.

That’s really, really dumb.

Brian Burke

Okay, that’s enough dumbing down for one day. But staying on the subject of grey matter, best comment in the wake of Peter Chiarelli’s dismissal as general manager of the Edmonton Oilers was delivered by Brian Burke of Sportsnet: “He didn’t become terminally stupid overnight.” Actually, he did. Chiarelli went to bed one night, then woke up the next morning and signed Milan Lucic to a seven-year, $42-million contract.

Hey, the Oilers have finally found someone who can keep up with Connor McDavid—Kendall Coyne Schofield, the young lass who dropped jaws with her dash in the fastest skater segment of the NHL all-star skills competition in San Jose. There is, however, no truth to the rumor that Kendell will replace Lucic in the Oil lineup.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

Coyne Schofield was a revelation. Her long, blonde ponytail flapping and her short legs (she’s 5-feet-2) churning like pistons, she finished her lap in 14.346 seconds, a heartbeat behind McDavid’s winning lickety-split of 13.378 and a blink-of-an-eye better than Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes. It was the “wow” moment of the all-star hijinx, and here’s what I’m wondering: Will people (read: media/men) now view women’s hockey in a more favorable light? I doubt it. It’ll be same old, same old. News snoops will continue to ignore the women except in Olympic years.

Leave it to smarmy Damien Cox of the Toronto Star to make an ass-clown comment about Coyne Schofield’s performance. “The only surprise is so many men didn’t realize female hockey players are great skaters. Geez, people, it’s 2019,” he tweeted. Apparently Cox believes he’s the only penis person on the planet who has the skinny on women’s shinny. He saw this coming, don’t you know. The rest of you guys, including the NHL all-stars who were totally gobsmacked by Kendall’s giddyup? Ignorant louts. Cox truly is a doofus.

Boys being oinkers, do you think the boys will let Keller forget about the night he “got beat by a girl?” No. Not ever, ever, ever.

Dayna Spiring

On the subject of women doing wonderful things, Dayna Spiring is the freshly minted chair of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers board of directors, and it seems to me that both the Winnipeg Sun and the Drab Slab were out to lunch on her story. Becoming the first female chair in the club’s 89-year history is worth more than a few paragraphs that read like a boring club press release. I’d like to know Dayna’s thoughts on Winnipeg FC. On the Canadian Football League. On Commish Randy. On breaking into the old boys’ club. Is it too much to ask a news snoop at either of the River City rags to pick up a phone and have a chat with the Bombers boss lady?

Will someone please give me a wakeup call when men’s tennis becomes interesting again? I mean, where are all those hot-shot, Next Gen players who were supposed to shove Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer to the curb? MIA. All of them. Mind you, Nadal was also MIA in the Australian Open championship match vs. Djokovic on Sunday. Can you say complete dud, kids?

Naomi Osaka

The best part of Naomi Osaka’s win in the women’s singles final Down Under? Poor sport Serena Williams wasn’t there to soil the moment with her brattish behavior. Osaka seems like a delightful, humble young woman who, at age 21, is already halfway to a career Grand Slam. Now the world No. 1, her emergence speaks favorably for the quality and intrigue of the women’s game, which has produced eight different champions in the past nine Grand Slam events. On the men’s side, there hasn’t been a Slam winner not named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic since 2016.

I don’t know what you make of the PHWA midseason NHL awards polling, but it seems to me that it’s very self-serving. That is, news snoops give themselves something to write and gab about during the all-star lull, but in reality it’s a non-story. It doesn’t even tell us which way the wind is blowing, because last year half of the midway leaders failed to pick up a trinket at the awards gala in June. So, I’m sorry, but I fail to see the purpose of the exercise.

And, finally, I think if I was a kid today, my favorite NHL player would be Mitch Marner. Always liked the small, zippity-do-da, water bug guys.

Postmedia’s top-100 NHL players: If you never saw them play, how can you rate them?

I recall lying on our living room floor, watching a playoff game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs in the late 1950s.

The red light behind the Leafs goal was flashing (in black and white, of course) and, not surprisingly, Doug Harvey, who breathed the rarefied air that only the National Hockey League elite enjoyed, had been the mastermind behind the Habs’ successful venture.

doug-harvey2I hate Doug Harvey,” I muttered to my dad scant seconds after les Glorieux had secured a victory, which was the rule rather than the exception in Stanley Cup skirmishing back then.

Why do you hate Doug Harvey?” he wondered.

Because he always has the puck.”

Like most Canadian kids in the ’50s, my eyes would be glued to a black-and-white TV screen every Saturday night during the winter, and every second night during the Stanley Cup tournament, which did not drone on into June. In the case of this particular Habs-Leafs joust, I would have been seven or eight years old at the time. I root, root, rooted for the Leafs. Disliked les Canadiens with an irrational intensity.

At that age, my hockey knowledge was limited mostly to the players’ names and sweater numbers. In terms of grading the skill level of those players, the eye test was far from fully developed. How could it be at such a young age? Oh, I knew Doug Harvey was supreme because, as I lamented, he was loath to share the puck with the other team. Every time he hopped over the boards, the game unfolded at Harvey’s whim and tempo. He was the maestro. He was doing the Savardian spinorama when Serge Savard was still in middle school.

There were others whose skills I recognized and admired. I delighted in the daring of Habs goaltender Jacques Plante, who didn’t glue himself to the goal crease, and the Leafs’ young Big M, Frank Mahovlich, was something to behold, his skating stride longer than a Winnipeg winter. Gordie Howe always seemed to have his way with everyone, even the tough hombres, and I remember Maurice Richard as a dashing sort, but he was in his hockey dotage and always seemed grumpy. So I didn’t like him.

The point is, I can say I’ve been watching hockey since the 1950s, but as much as I witnessed the great Rocket Richard, I didn’t witness his greatness. His signature 50-goal season was in the rear-view mirror when Hockey Night in Canada became a ritual for me on what many kids also knew as bath night. Thus, I cannot possibly rate him as a player. I was too young and he was too old.

I give ponder to such matters this morning because Steve Simmons of Postmedia has compiled a top-100 list in recognition of the NHL’s centennial, which arrives in 2017.

Bobby Orr
Bobby Orr

While an admirable undertaking, his is a fool’s errand.

The most obvious and greatest flaw in someone picking the top 100 players in NHL history is not in choosing Bobby Orr over Wayne Gretzky, or vice versa, atop the list. Or anointing Dominik Hasek the greatest goaltender of all time. Or including only three Russians among the fab 100. The flaw, as I see it, is in the person doing the ranking. Precious few are qualified to do it. Simmons does not walk among those precious few. Age disqualifies him.

Simmons was born in 1957. He’s seven years my junior. As little as I can recall from the 1950s NHL, he cannot possibly have any first-hand knowledge of hockey from that era. Zero. Bupkus. Unless he was some sort of child hockey savant, which I doubt, his ability to grade players with any acceptable level of expertise wouldn’t have kicked in until the latter part of the 1960s, and I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt there.

Yet, by his own accounting, he has listed two dozen players from the 1950s and beyond. He never saw 25 per cent of his personal top 100 play hockey. Forty of his players are pre-1967, when he was 10 years or younger. Or not yet drawing oxygen.

I’m not prepared to pan Simmons for any of his choices. That’s a mug’s play. I’ll leave it to the Twitter trolls to pummel him (many have; others not so much). I do, however, submit that he doesn’t have the chops to compile such a list, based on his age. Indeed, his comment on Maple Leafs legend Syl Apps, whom he slid into the No. 36 slot, underscores his lack of expertise: “My dad told me he was the greatest Leaf he ever saw.”

Well, my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles told me stories, too. Look, I need not have seen Babe Ruth swing a Louisville Slugger to know that he was among the greatest hitters of a baseball. But, for me, it’s all about the eye test when it comes to hockey rankings. It isn’t what I read about a player in the record book, or what I see on grainy, black-and-white film on YouTube that has three or four different speeds, or what mom and pop told me. It’s what I’ve seen.

My point of reference is 1957—the year Simmons was born. I didn’t realize you could watch hockey from the womb. Apparently, that’s what he did.

As I said, admirable undertaking, fool’s errand.

***

I find it interesting that, on his Twitter page, Simmons gets snooty about age vis-a-vis his overall top pick, advising dissenting followers that “If you’re not 45-50, you never saw (Bobby) Orr play. If you’re not over 50, you didn’t see him at his most dominant.” In other words, how dare the younger generations question his judgement about Orr being No. 1? He’s seen both Orr and Gretzky, don’t you know? You young whippersnappers haven’t. So no one under 50 can make an educated, first-hand comparison between Orr and Wayne Gretzky.

rocketFine. But by that reasoning, if you’re not over 65 you didn’t see Doug Harvey at his most dominant. If Simmons saw Harvey play, he was a 44/45-year-old, dog-eared defenceman whom the expansion St. Louis Blues had dug out of moth balls when Simmons was in Grade 6.

Yet that didn’t prevent a 59-year-old Simmons from ranking Harvey No. 8 on his all-time list, second among defencemen behind only Orr. How can he possibly compare Harvey to Orr or, say, Nicklas Lidstrom? Meanwhile, he ranked the Rocket at No. 6. Never once saw him play. So how can he compare him to Guy Lafleur or Teemu Selanne?

***

My grandfather would tell us Rocket Richard was the greatest player ever. My dad would say Gordie Howe. I’d say Bobby Orr. My eldest son would likely say Wayne Gretzky. His kids are apt to say Sidney Crosby. It’s a generational thing that we should acknowledge and respect, not pooh-pooh or dismiss with a pompous grunt.

***

Simmons writes this of Joe Sakic: “Top five wrist shot in history.” He would know this how? Bernie Geoffrion popularized the slap shot in the 1950s. Prior to Boom Boom, most everyone used the wrister. Since Simmons never saw hockey in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, how can he compare Sakic’s wrist shot to all those old-time players? He can’t rate what he’s never seen. But he does and condemns others for doing that very thing. Go figure.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

About hockey greats…self-indulgent, unnecessary sports writing…Lebron James’s legacy…Kerry Fraser’s gaffe…Jimmy Hoffa…and other things on my mind

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

No. 4, Bobby Orr
No. 4, Bobby Orr

I witnessed my first live professional hockey game in the mid-1950s at the old barn on Maroons Road in Winnipeg, which was razed to rubble five decades later.

I watched my first televised hockey game in the 1950s, when our TVs had rabbit ears (sometimes with tin foil wrapping on the tips to enhance the quality of our black-and-white reception) and we would join a game originating from Toronto or Montreal already in progress (most often in the second period). That’s when I learned to truly dislike Rocket Richard.

I covered my first hockey game for a newspaper in 1970 and my byline first appeared on a hockey article in June 1971.

I wrote about, and commented on, hockey in mainstream media for 30 years and have written freelance articles and blogged on hockey for the past 17 years.

Do the math: I have been watching hockey for 60 of my 65 years and writing about it going on 47 years, long enough to draw conclusions.

So, were I to start a National Hockey League franchise, drawing from players I have witnessed—either in person or from my living room floor/sofa—which player would I choose to build around? No. 4, Bobby Orr.

Orr is the best hockey player I’ve ever seen. Still. Probably always.

Here’s my all-time dream team…

GOAL: Glenn Hall, Dominik Hasek

DEFENCE: Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Viacheslav Fetisov, Ray Bourque, Valery Vasiliev.

FORWARDS: Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Peter Forsberg, Bobby Hull, Mario Lemieux, Alexander Maltsev, Valeri Kharlamov, Jean Beliveau, Stan Mikita, Anatoli Firsov, Sergei Makarov.

Interesting take from Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press on the death of Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. “You’re going to be reading lots of ‘Here’s what Gordie Howe means to me’ stories over the next week,” he writes. “Most will be self-indulgent and unnecessary.” Let’s face it, much of what sports scribes scribble is self-indulgent and unnecessary, but the storytelling is neither. When someone of Howe’s or Muhammad Ali’s loft goes to the other side, the storytelling is essential to the narrative, otherwise all we’d have are lists of statistics to describe and define them. Without the storytelling, we know the athlete but not the person. Wiecek spun a terrific yarn about Howe that was far more interesting and insightful than spewing career scoring numbers.

Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe
Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe

Speaking of self-indulgent, one of the first columns I wrote for the Calgary Sun was about Gordie Howe. He was in town for a minor hockey promotion, the details of which now escape me, and we met at the CTV studios and spent the better part of an hour wagging our chins about all things shinny. The following morning, our editor-in-chief, Lester Pyette, approached me in the newsroom and said, “Great piece on Gordie Howe. Loved it. I’m a big Gordie Howe fan. But the publisher didn’t like it. He wants me to tell you that we brought you here to write about the Flames and Stampeders, not kids hockey and retired players.” I was gobsmacked. “Lester,” I told him, “if I find out that Mr. Hockey is in town, I’m writing about Mr. Hockey.” So I did. As mean and as ruthless as he was on the ice, Gordie Howe was as gracious and down-to-earth off the freeze. Wonderful man.

The notion that Lebron James needs to add a third National Basketball Association title to his resume before being granted all-time-great status is beyond absurd. How many World Series championships did Major League Baseball legend Ted Williams win? Or Carl Yastrzemski? Zero. Jim Brown, arguably the greatest running back in National Football League history, was 1-2 in championship games. How many times has the name Bobby Hull been inscribed on the Stanley Cup? Once. The great hoopster Jerry West was 1-8 in NBA championship series. James doesn’t need to set foot on the hardwood ever again. He’s already and all-timer.

Okay, Kerry Fraser has ‘fessed up. The former National Hockey League referee admits in The Players’ Tribune that he blew the call when he failed to banish Wayne Gretzky to the brig for slicing and dicing Doug Gilmour’s chinny-chin-chin in Game 6 of the 1993 Western Conference final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings. It should have been a major penalty. “It was missed. Period,” is how Fraser puts it. Now, can Leafs Nation finally stop whining about something that happened 23 years ago?

If Connor McDavid’s name isn’t called when the NHL announces its top rookie for the 2015-16 season, he shouldn’t lose any sleep. Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Guy Lafleur, Marcel Dionne, Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Borje Salming, Stan Mikita and Patrick Roy weren’t at the head of their respective freshman classes, and each is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?
Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?

So, legendary flying Frenchman Guy Lafleur isn’t fond of facial foliage. He looks at the unruly shrubs sprouting from the cheeks and chins of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks and declares them “a disgrace for hockey.” This from a guy who went through two packs of cigarettes a day and actually smoked in the dressing room between periods when he played for the Montreal Canadiens.

Just wondering, when the Stanley Cup tournament concludes and Thornton and Burns finally reach for the razors, what are the chances of Jimmy Hoffa falling out of one of those beards?

Aside to Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: You’ve cranked out some quality copy re the deaths of Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe, but do yourself a favor—stop writing about Phil Kessel. We get it already. You weren’t a fan of his game or his eating habits during his tour of duty in the Republic of Tranna. Let it go, man. Move along.

Just for the record, this entire article has been self-indulgent and unnecessary. But I had nothing better to do when I awoke at 2:30 this ayem, so I started typing.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.