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

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

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

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

Blanket Boy John Tavares

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

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

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

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

But is Good Ol’ Hometown really an armpit?

Evander Kane

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

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

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

Jacob Trouba

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kyle Connor

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

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

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

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

Patrik Laine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dugie, the legend.

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

Let’s talk about Auston Matthews’ moonwalk…sports scribes losing the plot…Cammi Granato’s new job…Puck Finn Unplugged no more…welcome back Connor…the Tranna Maple Leafs’ bonus babies…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers air defence…Keith Urban, JLo and Shakira…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and autumn leaves are falling and so are the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…

It’s no surprise, really, that the flowers of jock journalism in this country have basically ignored Fayola Dozithee in L’Affaire Matthews.

They are, after all, men.

And because they’re men, they can’t relate to the sudden surge of fear a woman feels when riding in an elevator late at night and two men with booze on their breath and lust in their loins walk in. You…are…trapped. There is no escape. Anxiety swallows you.

They can’t relate to the discomfort and uncertainty of walking past a work crew on a city street and listening to lewd, crude comments about body parts and “wanting a piece of that ass,” all to the accompaniment of frat boy laughter. It feels like 1,000 spiders and worms are crawling over you.

They can’t relate to the sound of quickening footsteps on pavement or the sight of darting shadows while walking to a parked car after the last cocktail has been poured. Even once inside your vehicle, there is a slight paralysis of the heart and shortness of breath. You nervously glance into the rear-view mirror, holding your breath, during your entire drive home.

They can’t relate to being followed home by two shadowy dudes in a pickup truck after leaving work at 3:30 in the morning, and I doubt they’ve ever felt the need to carry pepper spray to ward off predators.

So why would they care about Fayola Dozithee?

Auston Matthews

It’s much more convenient to write and talk about the Toronto Maple Leafs captaincy, and whether or not someone should stitch the letter ‘C’ on Auston Matthews’ blue-and-white uniform top.

That, of course, has been the central narrative since we learned that Matthews was (allegedly) caught, on camera, with his pants down in the small hours of a May morning in Scottsdale, Ariz., after a bout of frat boy frolic and beer swilling that (allegedly) included the intimidation and mooning of Dozithee, a security guard.

Observing her alone in a parked car at 2 a.m., Auston and pals (allegedly) took to the notion of attempting to pile into the back seat of the vehicle. Hey, boys, wouldn’t it be some kind of fun to scare the bejeebers out of a lone woman at 2 o’clock in the morning? You know, just for some late-night giggles?

They were “drunk out of their frickin’ minds,” Dozithee told the cop who took her statement on the incident, adding that she asked them to “leave me the hell alone and they still thought it was funny.”

Ya, it’s a real knee-slapper.

Let me tell you something: There sure as hell is nothing funny about a police report that includes the terms “sex crime” and “public sexual indecency.”

Matthews wasn’t charged with either, but he is facing a disorderly conduct-disruptive behavior rap and, late next month, a judge will hear all about how the Maple Leafs golden boy (allegedly) dropped his trousers, bent over, and grabbed his butt cheeks just to let Dozithee know exactly what he thought of her roadside manner. After his moonwalk, he toddled off, presumably to sleep it off, with his trousers bunched about his ankles.

It’s been stressed that Matthews never dropped his drawers to show Dozithee the surface of his full moon. Well, how gallant of him. (Somehow I doubt that morsel of discretion will earn him brownie points with the good judge.)

In the meantime, the male jock journos pound away at Matthews, tsk-tsking him for his loutishness, his immaturity, his entitlement and his stupidity, and they make sport of the notion that he now has the most talked-about butt this side of Kim Kardashian’s oversized caboose (cue the butt jokes, Captain Underpants). But they make no more than token acknowledgement that, hey, the target of his hoorawing was a very vulnerable woman.

Steve Simmons

“More than anything,” writes Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, “the real crime here is both stupidity and entitlement.”

Like hell it is.

Being a doofus isn’t a crime. Neither is the advantage of talent and wealth.

The crime is intimidating and frightening a woman. It’s trying to force your way into her locked car at any hour of the day, let alone at 2 o’clock in the morning. It’s ignoring her pleas to desist and depart. It’s a misogynistic and sexist culture so ingrained that you believe you can use a woman as a late-night play thing and still get to be captain of the hockey team.

If the jock journos really want to know what this is about, they should go home and ask their mothers or wives or daughters or sisters how they’d feel if it happened to them.

Then they might begin to grasp what the “real crime” is.

Cathal Kelly and Bruce Arthur.

The pundits have devoted many words to Matthews’ age, as if to excuse his “prank” as the product of youth. You know, boys will be boys and all that rot. “It’s the kind of dumb, entitled, thoughtless thing that young men are prone to do,” wrote Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star. Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail provided this echo: “We all do stupid things. We are all especially likely to do stupid things when it is late, when we are drunk and when we are 22.” South of the Great Divide, Kevin Allen of USA Today made it a menage-a-parrots, writing, “His alleged behavior reads like a testimony to his immaturity.” Nice try fellas, but this kind of behavior isn’t age specific. Police rap sheets are full of names of men who have choked on their wild oats by assaulting, harassing and intimidating women, and a large percentage of them are older than 22. It’s a cultural shame, not the province of college-age scamps, so stop using a birth certificate as an excuse.

Dinosaur and great defender of hockey culture Don Cherry also played the youth card, telling Joe Warmington of the Toronto Sun that Matthews is “just a kid,” as if that makes it acceptable to disrespect, frighten and intimidate a woman doing her job. The Lord of Loud took it further, saying he’s “flabbergasted” that Dozithee had the bad manners to call the cops on Matthews and his accomplices. That’s typical of someone who has never been a woman sitting alone in a car at 2 o’clock in the a.m. Typical and pathetic.

Cammi Granato

How ironic that we learn about Matthews and his moonwalk the same week the Seattle expansion team struck a blow for inclusiveness by hiring Cammi Granato as a bird dog. Cammi, who’ll work in the pro department for the unnamed outfit (bet on Kraken), becomes the first female scout in National Hockey League history, so the culture is shifting. It’s just that it’s at a glacial pace. The NHL still has a long way to go in playing catch-up to the National Basketball Association, which now features 11 female assistant coaches, Teresa Weatherspoon of the New Orleans Pelicans being the latest to join that rank and file.

Puck Finn

I can’t say for certain because neither the Winnipeg Jets or Mike Liut asked me to proofread the contract Patrik Laine put his signature on the other day, but I’m pretty sure if we were to read the fine print we’d find this clause: “For gawd’s sake, shut the hell up!” Laine’s loose lips caused a bit of a stink a little more than a week ago, you’ll recall, when he muttered something about being saddled with a bunch of beer-leaguers as linemates. Little surprise, therefore, that Puck Finn’s initial sound bites after agreeing to a two-year, $13.5 million deal were rather muted. “What I can say is that this was a relief,” he told a Finnish news scavenger. “They already said that I cannot say more. They want me to speak on Monday (in Winnipeg).” Of course they do. That way the Jets can have a PR flack lurking nearby to monitor the filter between his grey matter and his mouth. They prefer a scripted Puck Finn to Puck Finn Unplugged.

Well, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and their bean counters got the job done, reeling in both Laine and Kyle Connor, although it took a bridge deal for Puck Finn to keep them under the salary cap. That isn’t the Jets normal way of doing business with their core players, you realize. The MO is to sweet talk the workers into accepting long-term, team-favorable contracts (see Scheifele, Mark; Ehlers, Twig, etc.), but, with the salary cap squeezing them tighter than a tourniquet, that wasn’t possible for both of their restricted free agents. Still, they managed to show their two prodigal 30-goal men the way home, and it’s game on, pending Dustin Byfuglien’s status. Winnipeg HC is a bubble playoff team with Big Buff, not so much without him.

I really didn’t think Connor or Laine would settle for less than the $7.15 AAV Arizona Coyotes have agreed to pay 14-goal scorer Clayton Keller, so in that sense both of the Jets wingers are bargains at $7,142,867 (Connor) and $6.75 (Puck Finn). I also didn’t imagine either guy would step in front of Rink Rat Scheifele at the pay window. Go figure.

So what month do you think Puck Finn will score 18 of his 30-plus goals this crusade? I’m thinking December.

There’s the Tranna Maple Leafs way of doing business and there’s the Jets way of doing business. When it comes to signing bonuses, Leafs GM Kyle Dubas tosses money around like rice at a wedding. It’s more like manhole covers for the Puck Pontiff and Chevy. Consider the salary bonuses for this season (from CapFriendly):

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe I’m done talking about millionaires’ pay envelopes.

I have something to say about that Winnipeg Blue Bombers-Hamilton Tabbies skirmish on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry: On second thought, forget about it. Doesn’t Hamilton 33, Winnipeg 13 say it all?

On third thought, let me say this about that: If the Winnipeg FC air defence gets any worse, CEO Wade Miller will have to climb down from his ivory tower and place D-coordinator Richie Hall in a witness protection program. If he hasn’t already. In the past five quarters of football, the Bombers D has looked about as Grey Cup ready as Gwyneth Paltrow looks fat. I mean, Tabbies runny-nose quarterback Dane Evans has shown he knows his way around the pocket, but he isn’t my idea of Bernie Faloney, Joe Zuger or Danny Mac, so the Bombers D has no business allowing him to behave like those Ticat legends.

So, the Canadian Football League gets g’day guy Keith Urban for a halftime act at the Grey Cup game in Calgary, and the National Football League recruits JLo and Shakira for the Super Bowl in Miami Gardens. Based on hair, they win.

Keith Urban

I don’t know about you, but I have no problem with Randy Ambrosie ignoring all our fine Canadian talent and importing an Aussie to lip sync his way through the halftime gig. I just assume it’s part of Commish Randy’s global outreach program, something he likes to call CFL 2.0. Come to think of it, 2.0 is the number of Keith Urban songs I can name.

What’s the difference between Urban and all those foreigners that Commish Randy ordered every CFL team to sign under his 2.0 initiative? Urban’s the only one who’ll actually get to play this year.

I think Mr. Nicole Kidman is a talented guy. Plucks a mean banjo (but, no, he doesn’t wear a watermelon on his head) and I’m obliged to like him because there’s a little lady named Ashley in Keremeos, B.C., who’ll never talk to me again if I toss shade at her boy Keith. So get after it, Aussie boy.

In case you missed it, FIFA’s top female footballer of the year is a lesbian, Megan Rapinoe, and so is the top female coach, Jill Ellis, both of the World Cup champion U.S. National side. Their sexual preference shouldn’t matter, but as long as homophobia exists, it does matter. And Megan targeted that very topic, also racism, in a terrific acceptance speech.

And, finally, a tip of the bonnet to one of my longtime favorite reads, Kirk Penton, this year’s inductee to the Manitoba Sports Media Roll of Honour. Kirk, who earned his chops at the Brandon Sun and as the Bombers beat writer at the Winnipeg Sun, is now cranking out the good stuff on the CFL for The Athletic, and I’d say the Roll of Honour voters made a boffo choice.

Let’s talk about the Chevy/Puck Pontiff voodoo vibe…Drab Slab still flogging their fake news…Zen Master PoMo and the true meaning of ruffled feathers…Blake Wheeler calls out fake news and fake news snoops…Puck Finn on Swiss time…Rink Rat Rags…the Winnironto Sun…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I hope no black cats crossed your path while you were walking under a ladder on Friday the 13th

So here’s what I’m thinking: Kevin Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have a voodoo vibe going.

No kidding.

The Puck Pontiff and Chevy.

They get a player and his agent in a spooky, candle-lit, incense-filled room cluttered with occultish nick-nacks, and Chevy starts chanting and dancing and shaking chicken bones while the Puck Pontiff feeds them a mysterious concoction that looks like Red Rose tea but is actually a blend of special ingredients from the Cheech & Chong Collection of brain-bending herbs.

The player’s mind turns to mush and he suddenly believes Winnipeg is Shangri-la. Or, better yet, Woodstock. Soon he’s on his feet, chanting and dancing and singing In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida with Chevy, while his agent slumps in a smoky corner, spaced out and giggling like the town fool as he fiddles with love beads hanging from his neck. He becomes most agreeable.

“Like, man, you can’t ever leave this place,” the agent tells the player in a dreamy voice. “Like, look at all those beautiful palm trees and those white, sandy beaches and the ocean and all those topless girls with flowers in their hair.”

“Like, I see them too, man,” the player replies. “Like, where’d Portage and Main go, man?”

The agent then looks at the Puck Pontiff and asks, “Where do we sign, Cheech?”

That voodoo pitch worked on Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Connor Hellebuyck, Blake Wheeler, Big Buff, Bryan Little and now Josh Morrissey, who’s agreed to spend the next nine winters in Good Ol’ Hometown, tall snow banks, square tires, frozen car batteries and all.

Cheech & Chong

Only Evander Kane and Jacob Trouba have been strong-minded enough to ward off the Cheech and Chong approach to contract negotiations, and I suspect Patrik Laine will continue to be a hard sell.

But we can probably expect an announcement any day now that Kyle Connor has fallen under the Chevy/Puck Pontiff spell, and he’ll be scoring his 30 goals in Winnipeg Jets livery for the next six National Hockey League seasons.

Chances are they’ll also get Connor at a wholesale price, just like Morrissey, because it’s Winnipeg and that’s what we do.

And, yes, $50 million with an AAV of $6.25M is wholesale in the hockey market for a defender of Morrissey’s level, especially given that he likely hasn’t arrived at peak performance. It would be for Connor, too, because you don’t find 30-goal men at the bottom of a Crackjack box and Kyle’s already made a habit of it.

Having said that, it’s hard to imagine Connor accepting a nickel less than the $7.15 AAV the Arizona Coyotes have agreed to pay their 14-goal man, Clayton Keller. But, hey, Kyle and his agent have yet to sample the chanting, dancing and funny tea in the Chevy/Puck Pontiff voodoo den.

The Morrissey signing tells us a number of things, including this: All that noise we’ve been hearing about the Jets changing room being as toxic as a buffalo’s breath? Ya, the air in there is so rancid that young Josh will only put up with it for another 3,285 days.

No surprise that the boys at the Drab Slab, Mad Mike McIntyre and Jason Bell, continue to flail away with their “rotten to the core” and “fractured locker room” narrative.

“(Head coach Paul) Maurice raised some eyebrows last spring in his exit meeting with the media when he mentioned there were some ‘ruffled feathers’ within the room that will need to be smoothed out going forward,” they wrote in a training camp preview. “Couple that with a late-season collapse, closed-door players’-only meeting a week before the playoffs and a quick first-round exit and it’s clear all was not right in Jetsville. These were teammates that needed a break from each other.”

Really? Here’s what Mad Mike had to say just three days before les Jets’ playoff ouster vs. the St. Louis Blues: “Another positive to emerge for the Jets is the increased talk of unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice.”

So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: He told us the Jets felt incredible warm and fuzzies for each other, on and off the freeze, like never before on April 17 but they couldn’t stand the sight of each other on April 20. Apparently Mad Mike doesn’t realize how stupid that sounds.

Pterodactyl

Welcome to Camp Grasshopper, where today you shall discover the inner meaning of “ruffled feathers” from venerable Zen Master PoMo, who arrives with bird in hand. “I’m picturing this bird with a couple little feathers out, and you just kinda slide your hand and they’re gone,” Zen Master PoMo says. “You seemed to be thinking more pterodactyl where I was thinking more sparrow at the time. It wasn’t that big a deal. Bad analogy, I guess. When you lose, when you think that ya got a chance—not that you should win, because I don’t think that happens in the NHL; when you get to the playoffs, all these teams are good—when you think you got a chance and you lose, there’s a lot of emotion that goes into that, right? A lot of anger and frustration. So, ya, you want some pissed off guys at the end of the year. You’re grumpy. That’s a really intense environment, right? Lose the last game, walk in ‘Boy, that was fun.’ That didn’t happen. Ya…all the sparrows are fine.” It is with the sound of two hands clapping that the lesson ends.

Here’s what I found myself wondering after listening to Maurice go all zen master in translating, once again, his original “ruffled feathers” comment for news snoops: How many of the scribes had to dig out their dictionary and look up the correct spelling of p-t-e-r-o-d-a-c-t-y-l? I’m guessing 100 per cent of them.

I once played on a club with a kid named Sparrow in goal, but I don’t recall being teammates with anyone named Pterodactyl.

The Drab Slab’s two ace sleuths, Mad Mike and Bell, have had 5½ months to gather and produce evidence of infighting among the Jets, and what have they unearthed? Nada. Squat. Diddly. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson they ain’t. And no, a players-only meeting outside earshot of news snoops doesn’t cut it as verification. Athletes muttering and barking at one another behind closed doors is as commonplace as jock rash, and an absence of proof makes it fiction, the kind of stuff Mad Mike wouldn’t have been allowed to write while on the cops-and-robbers beat. Question is, why does jock boss Steve Lyons let him get away with it in the toy department?

Blake Wheeler

Perhaps Jets captain Blake Wheeler was talking about Lyons when he went off on shoddy journalism during a frank and revealing natter with TSN’s Sara Orlesky last week.

“I think there was just, unfortunately, a lot of incorrect stuff coming out about our team after last year,” he told Sara, who struck all the appropriate notes in her nine-minute probe. “I think the media has a certain accountability that has to be held, and it was lost after last year. There was a lot of stuff written that just simply wasn’t true. You know, I mean, things were written about Scheif after the year about our exit interview…I was in the room, you know, people were upset that he didn’t talk. They asked him one question. So what, is he just gonna stop people and make a statement? So that disappointed me.

Sara Orlesky

“You know, write whatever you want about me, I know what I am, I’m pretty comfortable where I’m at. If you think I’m the problem…I might be. I don’t think I am, but I know that after you fail to meet expectations, you’re gonna write about me, and that’s fine, I know that’s the position I’m in. But at least be accurate, at least, you know, do enough work and be in the room enough to get a sense of what you’re talking about. People are writing stuff that, they’re in the room once or twice a year. I’ve met these guys maybe twice and I’ve been here nine years. So that upset me a little bit. But, like I said, it was just in the sense of you totally missed the boat. Write about how bad we played in Game 6, that would be accurate. We didn’t show up. And if you think that’s because of bad leadership, then maybe that’s a conversation to be had. But you can’t have it both ways. So let’s kinda get back on track a bit.”

I’m not a fan of the way Wheeler sometimes interacts with news snoops. I think he’s a boor. But his remarks are spot on. And that was boffo work by Sara, who got the captain to speak with sledgehammer bluntness.

Lyons and his paid pen pal, retired columnist Paul Wiecek, authored a nasty hit piece on Wheeler in the fallout of the Jets playoff ouster last April with this headline: “Jets problems begin with Wheeler.” Unless I’m mistaken, Lyons and Wiecek saw the inside of the Winnipeg HC boudoir last season about as often as Donald Trump sees the inside of a gym, but Lyons supposedly “asked around” and was advised that Wheeler had “lost the room.” What, he “asked around” by texting Mad Mike and Bell? Oh, wait, Lyons is probably too old for texting. He likely phoned his beat boys. Whatever, from the top of the Drab Slab food chain to the bottom, the reporting has been reckless, irresponsible and totally mockable gossip mongering.

The boys on the beat at the Winnipeg Sun also touched on the matter of team disunity (very briefly), and it went like this:
Ted Wyman: “If they did have some issues last season, they have to make sure that’s resolved.”
Scott Billeck: “The strife in the locker room, we don’t know for sure, for certain. I mean, if that was the case, often times when teams kinda go down people will just start saying things, and there’s been a lot of rumors this summer that are completely unfounded. There’s just no proof to them.”
Correct. So let’s turn to another page in the songbook, shall we Grasshopper?

Patrik Laine

Voter turnout in the Manitoba provincial election was a low 50 per cent. The other 50 per cent formed a search party and went looking for Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor.

Turns out Puck Finn put away his Fortnite gizmos and has been located in Switzerland, which is as good a place as any to sit out a war. I’ve never met Puck Finn, but he strikes me as a different head of lettuce who listens to the beat of his own drum, and I can see him hooking up with his old pal, Jesse Puljujarvi, and spending the winter in Finland. Just guessing, of course, but he might be the last of the NHL’s bumper crop of unsigned restricted free agents still standing when most of the dust settles.

To be clear, neither Puck Finn or Connor are “holding out” as a Drab Slab headline incorrectly informed us. They aren’t under contract.

Those who know Rink Rat Scheifele tell us he’s the kind of guy who’d give you the shirt off his back, so we shouldn’t be surprised that the Jets centre arranged to outfit teen members of the Winnipeg Ice with new Sunday-go-to-meeting duds for their Western Hockey League crusade. Solid gesture. Solid guy. And I think it would make for a boffo fashion label: Rink Rat Rags.

Good grief. Wednesday’s edition of the Winnipeg Sun looked like the Tranna Sun. Yes, again. The first two pages were devoted to Auston Matthews’ ghastly Cuban lounge lizard mustache, with news on the Jets buried inside. I don’t know if sports editor Teddy Football, columnist Pencil Neck Friesen and Scott Newby are embarrassed by the repeated Torontofication of their product, but I would be and I’d probably raise a stink about the Winnironto Sun.

Headline in the National Post: “Ken Holland’s layer cake is ready for the oven, but will it rise?” Yikes! Who’s working the NatPo sports desk? Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart?

Harry Potter doppelganger Kyle Dubas said he wouldn’t talk about Mitch Marner’s contract until it had become a fait accomplis. “Radio silence,” the Tranna Maple Leafs GM called it. As if anyone still listens to the radio.

And, finally, just wondering: If you could climb into anyone’s head, whose would it be? For me, it’s Bob Dylan. The man’s a lyrics genius, and I’d like to wander around his attic to find out exactly what the hell goes on up there. Speaking of Bob, he supplied the official soundtrack to this post—Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits on Spotify.

Let’s talk about the Uproar Over the Rodent…Chevy’s smarts and the Winnipeg Jets jail break…Ben Chiarot hearing boo birds en francais…Aho’s contract and other RFAs…the Yankee Doodle Damsels go Dutch…macho Matt Nichols’ head games…Pencil Neck Paul…and dining with Matt Dunigan

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and there’s a whole lotta shakin’ going on out here on the Left Coast… 

I try not to obsess on things, other than breathing which, at my age, is a worthy obsession.

I mean, the way I have it figured, the longer I can keep breathing, the longer I can continue to draw enjoyment from the obsessions of sports fans whose every breath is linked to their favorite clubs. And, depending on the locale in our vast land, those obsessions greatly differ.

Old Gainer, new Gainer.

In Good Ol’ Hometown, for example, it’s Chevy and all things Jets

In the Republic of Tranna, it’s been Kawhi Leonard 24/7 and now it’ll be Mitch Marner 24/7 until he puts pen to paper.

In Montreal, it’s Marc Bergevin and his silly offer sheet.

In Bytown, it’s whatever toxic goop that spews from Eugene Melnyk’s mouth.

In Calgary, it’s Bo Levi Mitchell’s wonky throwing wing.

In E-Town, it’s the never-ending search for someone to skate alongside Connor McWasted.

On the West Coast, it’s…well, I live on the Left Flank and the rabble doesn’t obsess over anything but the weather and annoying tourists. (There is, mind you, a strong constituency that frets over every breath that Jim Benning takes, because it usually means another lousy player has been given a Canucks jersey.)

Meanwhile, on the Flattest of Lands, it’s the Uproar Over the Rodent.

Oh, yes, a rodent.

Summer swathing and happy banjo plucking came to a halt on the Flattest of Lands last week, after Gainer the Gopher went missing and was feared to be lost in a corn maze or abducted by body-snatching aliens. Left behind was a hairball that looked like Chucky’s pet rodent.

The new Gainer was introduced to Flatlanders on Canada Day, and he definitely was not their grandmother’s gopher. The beloved fuzzball of the Saskatchewan Roughriders had been given the most abrupt makeover since Bruce became Caitlyn. I don’t know who Gainer’s plastic surgeon is, but I’m thinking Alfred Hitchcock. Or the guy who played nip-tuck-and-yank with Joan Rivers’ face seven or eight times. And what of Gainer’s Kardashian-sized caboose? Has the once-pleasantly plump rodent been sharing Nutrisystem shakes with Marie Osmond? We haven’t seen that big a weight loss since Angie dumped Brad. 

As for his peepers, we’re talking psycho rodent (seriously, Hitchcock had a hand in this). Clearly Gainer was off his meds, and there was a chainsaw and a massacre in his future.

Not surprisingly, up went a hue, also a cry. Free the real Rodent! There hadn’t been that much commotion on the Flattest of Lands since someone discovered a crop circle near Langenburg in 1974. Everyone from radio gab guys to former premiers weighed in on the maniacal-looking muppet, while Mothers shielded their children’s eyes to spare the urchins nightmares and many years of costly psychiatric treatment for gopheraphobia.

Alas, the story has a happy ending. Plow jockeys can climb back aboard their swathers and combines, folks can break out the banjos, and it’s safe to let the kiddies out of the house again—Gainer has had yet another facelift. Gone are the psycho, green eyes. He no longer looks like the neighborhood peeping Tom. Life on the Flattest of Lands is good. 

Meanwhile, on the field, the rabble’s favorite football team lost another game on Saturday night, and hardly anyone noticed.

Chevy

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Because Kevin Cheveldayoff didn’t swallow a stupid pill, many among the rabble—and a few news snoops—are showering him with hosannas. It doesn’t matter that we’ve witnessed the equivalent of a jail break since the close of business in April, with Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, Brandon Tanev, Kevin Hayes and Par Lindholm going over the wall to chase dreams and fortune, if not fame. The Chevy fan boys and girls instead point to all the coin the Winnipeg Jets GM hasn’t spent since the National Hockey League free agent market opened.

He didn’t spend $50 million on Hayes. Bravo!
He didn’t spend $30 million on Myers. Atta boy, Chevy!
He didn’t spend $21 million on Tanev. Pure genius!
He didn’t spend $10.5 million on Chariot. Smooth move!
He didn’t spend $1.7 million on Lindholm. Beauty, eh!

Add it up and Chevy didn’t spend $113.2 million, or an AAV of $20,992,857, for next season and, apparently, that’s a feather in his cap. Never before has doing nothing been so widely applauded. Why, our man is the Einstein of Puck. Well, spare me.

There was nothing clever or intelligent in Chevy’s (in)activity during the initial week of the NHL free agent frolic. He didn’t shell out all those big bucks for one basic reason: Whatever loose change he has left is earmarked for bank accounts belonging to Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Andrew Copp and Neal Pionk. Even a mathematical midget, and some sports scribes, could see that. So why the serenade to his genius?

The measure of Chevy’s smarts comes this summer as he attempts to rebuild a back end that has lost Trouba, Myers and Chiarot. That will take savvy. He pulls it off, let the hosannas rain down.

Noodles McLennan

I looked long and hard in search of someone beyond the boundary of River City who endorses Chevy’s handiwork, but I’m afraid that person doesn’t exist. Pierre McGuire of TSN/NBC cited the Jets as the biggest “loser” on Day 1 of free agency. Noodles McLennan, another TSN natterbug, chimed in with this: “Winnipeg Jets, I can’t give them a grade because they haven’t done anything yet. Incomplete work so far. Now, that’s Kevin Cheveldayoff. He works methodically, at his own pace. Now they got Nathan Beaulieu, brought him back, other than that did nothing.” Scott Burnside of The Athletic gave Chevy a C-plus: “This is a deep, well-built team that just happens to be a little bit less than what it was.” If I discover an outrider who actually embraces what Chevy has done, you’ll be the first to know.

Ben Chiarot

I don’t know about you, but I found some of Ben Chiarot’s comments interesting, also curious, after he checked in with les Habitants, at $10.5 million for three years. “The opportunity to play for the Montreal Canadiens and be in a city like that on a team that is up-and-coming like the Canadiens was hard to turn down,” the useful blueliner said. So what’s big Ben telling us? That Good Ol’ Hometown isn’t “a city like that?” That he doesn’t view Winnipeg HC as an up-and-coming outfit? The nerve. I mean, Pegtown’s streets can match les rues de Montreal pothole-for-pothole, and les Jets can match les Habs prospect-for-prospect. He added: “The Bell Centre has been my favorite place to play since I came into the NHL. To me, it’s not like playing in any other building in the league. In Montreal on a Saturday night is something special. There’s nothing better in hockey. So to get to experience that every week now is a dream come true.” C’mon, Benny. What does the Bell Centre have that the Little Hockey House On The Prairie doesn’t? Oh, that’s right—24 Stanley Cup banners and 15 retired jersey numbers in the rafters. Ya, I guess that trumps a Winnipeg Whiteout.

The arrival of Chiarot did not meet with unanimous approval among the rabble in Montreal. It was, in fact, quite bitter and did not escape the notice of Postmedia columnist Jack Todd. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the appalling reaction to the Ben Chiarot signing. It’s Montreal, it’s Marc Bergevin—so of course they hate it. Why do a silly thing like wait and see how it goes when you can start with the hate NOW?” he tweeted. Sounds like our boy Benny already has a bull’s-eye on his back. Wonder how much he’ll enjoy getting the raspberry in both official languages. Les oiseaux boo can be very loud en francais.

Puck Finn

So, how will the Sebastian Aho contract ($8.454 million AAV/five years) impact on the way Winnipeg HC conducts business with blue-chip restricted free agents Laine and Connor? It won’t. Prevailing wisdom suggests it was dumb of Montreal to tender such a faint-hearted offer sheet to the Carolina Hurricanes centre, so agents won’t use it as a guideline. Frankly, I’ll be shocked if Puck Finn gets Blake Wheeler money ($8.25 million), or even if he’s in the Rink Rat Scheifele neighborhood (($6.125M). As for Connor, he won’t make as much as Scheifele. He can’t. He won’t get a penny more than Twig Ehlers ($6M).

Happy American soccer players.

I find myself wondering if the Netherlands will actually attempt to score in their winner-take-all skirmish v. the Yankee Doodle Damsels today in France, or will they play for a stalemate and take their chances on penalty kicks to determine a champion in the women’s World Cup? I’m guessing the Dutch will play 11 back. Final score: U.S.A. 4, Netherlands nil, Alex Morgan 4 (fake injuries/dives).

Alex Morgan: A spot of tea before a dive.

I’ve watched a lot of the World Cup and truly enjoyed the mostly dive-free soccer. But Morgan cranked the theatrics up a notch in the Americans’ semifinal victory over England, and I’m not talking about her mockish, tea-sipping goal celebration. That was cute, even if cocky. But she came across as a graduate of the Neymar Academy of Faux Faceplants, and it wasn’t her most charming look. With global supremacy at issue today, I’m thinking as little as a menacing stare from one of the Dutch will have her twitching and writhing in make-believe distress and adding to fake injury time. Too bad. The Yankee Doodle Damsels are better than that.

Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird.

If it’s a different kind of read you’re looking for, check out Sue Bird’s piece in The Players’ Tribune. Sue, for those of you who haven’t been formally introduced, is the main squeeze of Donald Trump’s favorite Yankee Doodle Damsel (not!), Megan Rapinoe. After the Trumpster had a little hissy fit over Megan’s (apparent) bad manners, girlfriend Sue sprung to the nearest keyboard and assailed the Rude Man on Twitter. “O.K. I’ll answer The Question. The one that’s probably most on your mind,” she scribbled. “And by that I mean: What’s it like to have the literal President of the literal United States (of literal America) go Full Adolescent Boy on your girlfriend? Hmm. Well…it’s WEIRD. And I’d say I actually had a pretty standard reaction to it: which was to freak out a little.” Sue has an interesting writing style, but she gets her point across: She loves her soccer star girlfriend, and a menage-a-president is out of the question.

Matt Nichols

Memo to Matt Nichols: You don’t have to prove to us that you’re a tough guy. We’ll take your word for it. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback didn’t finish what he started on Friday night in Bytown because, well, he did the macho thing instead of the smart thing. As a result, the Canadian Football League lost its fifth starting QB in four weeks. Observing him in civvies on the sideline while Chris Streveler mopped up in a 29-14 W over the RedBlacks, Nichols seemed fine. He said he felt “great.” But blows to the head have a way of their own. He might find himself in a room with the drapes closed tight and all the lights turned out in a day or two. Next time you see the whites of a linebacker’s eyes, Matt, make like Neymar—dive, dive, dive.

So, the Bombers are 3-nada on the season, the CFL’s only unbeaten outfit. Richie Hall’s defensive dozen has surrendered 12 field goals and exactly one touchdown in those three skirmishes. Any more complaints? Didn’t think so.

Just wondering: Did TSN place its cameras for the Winnipeg-Bytown skirmish on the Quebec side of the border? I shouldn’t need the Hubble Telescope to watch a football game on a flatscreen 10 feet away in my living room.

Did TSN newboy panelist Mike Benevides really call Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun “some pencil neck” during the pregame natter? As a matter of fact he did, without naming him. Well, just who does Benevides think he is? A journalist? You just talk football, Benny, and leave the cheap shots to the experts.

Speaking of experts, no surprise that Paul would have the perfect comeback: “My ears are burning. You know, the ones above my pencil neck.” So we add Pencil Neck to some of the all-time nicknames in River City jock journalism: Cactus Jack, Coconut Willie, Friar, Knuckles, Knobby, Doc, Sod, etc. 

And, finally, I don’t know if TSN squawker Matt Dunigan has an endorsement deal with Fatboys Southern Smokehouse in Bytown, but I have to think anything he eats and drinks is on the house next time he’s in the nation’s capital. How many free plugs did he give Fatboys during the Bombers-RedBlacks broadcast? Four? Five? Made me want to pick up the phone and order a side of beef and some fries, except I doubt they could have delivered in 30 minutes or less.

Let’s talk about the Summer of Chevy…the Atlanta cartel’s greybeards…rose-colored glasses on press row…winners and losers…Bogo-for-Roslo…grading the wannabes…the Winnipeg Jets road show…an ace for John Paddock…CFL stuff…gay power…and garbage

A Tuesday morning smorgas-bored…and I’m still a free agent but my phone still ain’t ringing and there ain’t no offer sheets on the way

Let me guess. You’re underwhelmed.

I mean, the National Hockey League annual grab bag of teenage talent has come and gone, the frenzy that is Day 1 of free agency is behind us, Tyler Myers and Brandon Tanev are memories, the return on Jacob Trouba was scant, and there’s a hole the size of Don Cherry’s ego on the right side of the Winnipeg Jets’ defence.

Chevy

In other words, the Summer of Chevy is unfolding as expected.

Kevin Cheveldayoff is paid to generally manage les Jets, but what we have here is an example of the tail wagging the dog. The system now dictates his every move. He was forced to deal Trouba. He was forced to watch Myers and Tanev skate away as UFAs on Monday. He’ll be forced to make Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Andrew Copp mega-millionaires. He might be forced to unload useful workers and, perhaps, elite talent. And, unless he can find a sucker or two, he’s stuck with some contracts that will grow old in a hurry, if they haven’t already (read: Byfuglien, Dustin; Wheeler, Blake; Little, Bryan).

In short, it’s a fine mess Chevy and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have gotten themselves into.

Bryan Little

Granted, there’s still much heavy lifting in front of Chevy, and the rabble can always hope that he has a bit of Harry Houdini in him. Or that he can find some hats with rabbits inside. For now, though, it looks like the third defence pairing in October will be a couple of guys named Wing and A Prayer.

And to think, a year ago Winnipeg HC was viewed as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Today they’d be lucky to win a cup of soup.

Chevy and the Puck Pontif (on the rare occasions when he’s spoken) have used up considerable oxygen reciting and trumpeting their draft-and-develop mantra. Which is fine. Except for all the good work their bird dogs have done identifying blue-chip kids, the braintrust is doing everything else all wrong.

Big Buff

That is, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff haven’t been building around Rink Rat Scheifele, Josh Morrissey, Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and the departed Jacob Trouba. They’ve been building around the aforementioned Byfuglien, Wheeler and Little. They still are. And that’s totally bass ackwards.

Let’s forget for a moment what’s in their pay envelopes. Think term. Do you realize that Twig Ehlers is the only player—that’s right, just one!—with a longer-term contract than Wheeler and Little (both five years)? They’re 33 and 32 years old. No defender has more term than Big Buff (two more years). He’s 34. Those are the deals that Chevy and the Puck Pontiff continue to build around. And, now that it’s time to pay the piper in the form of re-ups for Puck Finn, Connor and Copp, those ill-advised contracts with their no-movement and no-trade addendums are in the way.

Blake Wheeler

Wheeler, of course, is fresh off repeat 91-point seasons, so he isn’t spent, but if he keeps producing at that level into his shinny dotage someone will demand he pee in a bottle. That is to say, at some point his numbers have to drop faster than F-bombs at a stag. Big Buff, meanwhile, is a necessary evil now that Trouba and Myers have skipped town, and we all know Little is no longer a No.-2 centre. It’s just that Chevy ignores that obvious flaw until he gets his annual wakeup call before the NHL shop-and-swap deadline, at which time he’s moved to squander a first-round draft choice for a two-month rental.

Look, I concede there’s value to thirtysomething hockey players. I just don’t think a guy should be at the front end of a five-year term once his chin whiskers turn grey. And they certainly can’t be considered building blocks.

Like I said, it’s bass ackwards.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find it interesting that Wheeler, Little and Big Buff are the only remnants of the Atlanta cartel that arrived in 2011. I’m not sure what that means, but it occurs to me that they’ve been coddled from the get-go. Just saying.

Looks like a couple of boys on the beat have been swilling the Jets Kool-Aid. Both Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun and Murat Ates of The Athletic used the same word to describe how we should view Chevy’s do-nothing handiwork—patience. Wiebe acknowledged that Winnipeg HC is in retreat mode, but he managed to find a silver lining in that cloud: “Reclaiming some semblance of underdog status probably suits the Jets just fine.” (I don’t even know what the hell that means.) He then stressed “the importance of patience for a small-market organization like the Jets.” Ates provided the backup vocals, opining, “I believe Cheveldayoff’s best play is to show patience.” Wow. I’ve gotta get me a pair of those rose-tinted glasses.

What say you, Pierre McGuire? Give us your take on the Summer of Chevy. “This pains me to say this, ’cause I think Kevin Cheveldayoff and all the people in Winnipeg have done a phenomenal job with their group,” the TSN natterbug said when asked to identify a “loser” on Day 1 of NHL free agency. “That being said, James (Duthie) talked about losing people, when you lose Jacob Trouba for nothing, basically, when you lose Tyler Myers for nothing, when you lose Tanev for nothing, you lose Kevin Hayes for a fifth-round pick, you’re losing a lot. That hasn’t even addressed Ben Chiarot yet. So that could be a lot of losses. Winnipeg is not as good. They’re not as good as they were a year ago.” Some of us feel your pain, Pierre.

Evander Kane

Remember old friend Evander Kane? Of course you do. Chevy shipped out the young winger in February 2015 (along with Zach Bogosian and Jason Kasdorf) and received a handful of live bodies in barter with the Buffalo Sabres—Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Brendan Lemieux, Joel Armia—plus a draft pick he turned into Jack Roslovic. Myers is now a member of the Vancouver Canucks, which means Chevy has Roslovic to show for that transaction and Buffalo has Bogo. Would any of us take Roslo for Bogo today? I would.

Craig Button

TSN scout-in-residence, Craig Button, isn’t as high on les Jets top prospects as you might be. Naming Ville Heinola, Dylan Samberg, Kristian Vesalainen, Mason Appleton, Logan Stanley, David Gustafsson, Simon Lundmark, Mikhail Berdin, Declan Chisholm and Santeri Vertanen as the top-10 wannabes, he gives Chevy’s bird dogs a B-minus for their work, worse than every Canadian club except the Calgary Flames, also a B-minus.

“Winnipeg’s list is populated by prospects projected to be middle-six, bottom-half-of-the-lineup NHLers,” he says.

Here’s how Button rates them:

Montreal:    A+
Edmonton:  B+
Ottawa:       B+
Vancouver:  B
Toronto:      B
Calgary:      B-
Winnipeg:   B-.

This is interesting: According to NBC, the Edmonton McDavids, your Winnipeg Jets and the Tranna Maple Leafs are the top road draws in the NHL, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philly Flyers rounding out the top five. And here I thought the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was the best road show out of River City.

Hey, check it out. Old friend John Paddock scored a hole-in-one on the 12th at Clear Lake on the weekend. You’ll remember good, ol’ John as a terrific guy, but also the man who had the bad manners to ship Teemu Selanne to the Disney Ducks back in the day. The former Jets GM accepted Oleg Tverdovsky, Chad Kilger and a third-round draft pick in barter for Teemu, Marc Chouinard and a fourth-rounder. “In hindsight would you do it differently? Of course you would,” Paddock, now GM of the Regina Pats, told ESPN a few years ago. “But that’s hindsight. The owners talked about budget and contracts and trying to get a defenceman…and there was a health concern with Teemu…there were different factors.” Some of us were concerned for John’s health after that trade.

Mike Reilly

Let’s play Jeopardy! Your category: The Canadian Football League after Week 3.

Clue: This is what $2.9 million buys you these days. Answer: What is a zero-3 record?
B.C. Lions bankroll David Braley coughed up large coin for starting QB Mike Reilly, and I’m guessing he’s given more than a fleeting thought to a do-over. A donut in the W column and a 2,124 drop in attendance for the home opener can’t be what he had in mind.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Clue: Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in an ice tub. Answer: Who are Zach Collaros, Antonio Pipkin and Bo Levi Mitchell?
Three starting quarterbacks down due to owies, six to go. At this rate, we can expect to see TSN natterbugs Matt Dunigan and Hank Burris back in pads and flinging the football by mid-August.

Clue: Seen mostly in B.C., Toronto, Montreal and, now, Edmonton. Answer: What are empty seats?
If the Eskimos didn’t perform in such a monstrosity of a stadium, the optics wouldn’t be so bad. But when you put 23,639 into a 60,081 facility, there’s more empty space than in Homer Simpson’s head. That’s not what Prairie football is supposed to look like.

Got a kick out of Megan Rapinoe’s comments after the Americans’ 2-1 women’s World Cup quarterfinal win v. France: “Go gays. You can’t win a championship without gays on your team, it’s never been done before, ever. That’s science right there.” Seems ridiculous, but Megan makes a valid point as it relates to the World Cup. The website Outsports advises us that there are 40 out lesbians/bisexuals playing, coaching or on team support staff in France, and 19 of them are on sides that reached the last four—U.S. (6), England (3), the Netherlands (5) and Sweden (5). So it’s a fact: You can’t win without gays.

And, finally, a ship carrying 1,500 tons of Canadian garbage arrived on our shores last week, but there’s no truth to the rumor that Chevy was there to meet it and look for defencemen.