Let’s talk about L’Affaire Laine…Winnipeg the armpit…a Jumbo fossil in the ROT…Chelsea’s the best free agent available…Jennifer Jones and the ‘Notables’ of Manitoba’s Pebble People…’ear ye, ‘ear ye, Mike Tyson is trying to speak…the Dodgers’ two K men…a Bird named Sue…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and someone told me that I really should quit while I’m ahead, but I’ve never been able to get ahead…

So, according to the pundits, the acquisition of Paul Stastny was supposed to accomplish two things for the Winnipeg Jets:

1. Fill the long-standing need for a second-line centre.

2. Put a happy face on Patrik Laine and put the skids on the galloping gossip that has hounded Puck Finn for more than a year.

Chevy and Puck Finn in happier times.

Well, insofar as the first point of the equation, we can continue to debate the pros and cons of the Jets reeling in the aging Stastny—and I’m squarely on the con side of the discussion—but it’s probably best that we allow his play in Winnipeg HC’s next National Hockey League crusade to settle the argument.

As for point No. 2, good luck with that.

It took less than a week for one of TSN’s hockey “insiders” to fan the flames of L’Affaire Laine once again, and this time it isn’t a campfire. It’s a bonfire with possible gusts up to a five-alarm inferno.

Here’s what LeBrun told host James Duthie last Thursday:

“There’s been some scuttlebutt around the National Hockey League of late that Patrik Laine may not show up at camp if he’s not dealt by the Winnipeg Jets.

“I reached out to his representation agents, Andy Scott and Mike Liut, to get some clarity and they absolutely deny that. That Laine has not asked for a trade, he’s not threatening to not be at camp if he’s not dealt.

Pierre LeBrun

“Having said that, his agents also made clear that it’s fair to say that given that Laine knows his name has been in trade discussions as we’ve talked about here, and given that his usage in the lineup the last couple of years has been a constant topic of conversation, the fact that he doesn’t get consistent first-line minutes, his agents Mike Liut and Andy Scott do confirm that it probably would be mutually beneficial to both the player and to the team if Patrik Laine is traded and that there is clear communication between them and Kevin Cheveldayoff, the GM of the Winnipeg Jets, about this.

“Now I spoke to Kevin Cheveldayoff on this day. And he reiterated that he’s looking at all options when it comes to trade and that Patrik Laine remains a big part of the organization.

“What I would say, not Cheveldayoff, is that he’s not going to just trade Patrik Laine for the sake of it, that it’s going to have to be something that makes sense for the Winnipeg Jets. But I will say this, as Andy Scott, the agent for Patrik Laine, said to me, there is a clear understanding between both sides about where this is probably headed.”

Now, you can pooh-pooh LeBrun’s bona fides as an “insider” if you like, but one thing should be abundantly clear by now: Patrik Laine will remain the centrepiece of trade rumors until a) Chevy hands him a one-way ticket out of town or b) Puck Finn signs long term. Nothing else will dim the natter.

I’m just surprised that so many among the rabble and in mainstream media are surprised that it’s come to this.

I mean, I don’t have my feet on the ground in Good Ol’ Hometown, but this is how I read the room 16 months ago: “You think Patrik Laine’s agent hasn’t noticed how the (Jacob) Trouba saga played out? If it’s true that Puck Finn’s nose is out of joint, all he has to do is sign a two-year bridge deal, take les Jets to arbitration down the road, then force a trade.”

So how has it played out to date? Laine signed a two-year bridge deal, he’s eligible for arbitration after next season, and already his two mouthpieces sound like they’re trying to force a trade.

Evander Kane

Yet I keep hearing and reading that the Jets are in control of this game of chicken. To a point, that’s true. But they can only delay Puck Finn’s departure if that’s his intent. They can’t stop him. Just like they couldn’t stop Evander Kane and they couldn’t stop Trouba.

We don’t know who or what is up Laine’s nose. His beef could be with the captain, Blake Wheeler, or the head coach, Paul Maurice, or maybe he’s bought into the silly “Winnipeg has lousy WiFi” nonsense. If it’s Wheeler, it wouldn’t be the first time two teammates refused to exchange Christmas cards. If it’s Coach PoMo, it’s not like there’s never been conflict between a bench boss and a worker (for evidence see: Bowman, Scotty). If it’s the city, he isn’t the first guy who’s wanted out of Dodge.

Whomever or whatever, I repeat what I wrote in February 2019: “I doubt Puck Finn will finish his career in Jets linen.”

But, hey, what do I know? Like I said, I don’t have feet on the ground. Except I predicted in 2012 that Evander Kane would one day walk into Chevy’s office and demand a new postal code. He did that very thing—repeatedly—and Chevy obliged, in 2015. In September 2018, I peered into the tea leaves and predicted Trouba would be gone in less than two years. He left the building nine months later. So tell me I’m wrong about Laine.

Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull

Interesting read from Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun on the challenges Chevy faces in attempting to lure top-drawer free agents to Good Ol’ Hometown, and also navigate his way around no-trade clauses. “There’s no happy ending for this,” he writes. “It’s an ongoing problem for the Jets. What it does underscore is the need to ensure the team is a winner, by whatever means possible, and in spite of unfavorable geography. And it means the organization needs to be that much more creative when it comes to recruitment. Getting players in the door begins with a pitch that centres around winning the Cup. For most, that’s the dream. If you can show a pathway to that dream, you can probably get folks into the house. And that’s when perceptions die and new ones are made, and the word spreads. Winnipeg’s advertising comes via word of mouth. There just has to be something enticing other than frigid winters. And it may be as simple—and as difficult—as putting a winning product on the ice.” That’s fair analysis, but it’s worth remembering that the original Winnipeg Jets lineup was crafted 100 per cent on guys who chose to play in Good Ol’ Hometown, including the most significant free agent signing in pro hockey history—Bobby Hull, at the time the game’s glamour guy. Every player on that team came to River City without kicking and screaming. So can anyone tell me exactly when Winnipeg became the armpit of hockey? I’d really like to know.

When I hear the San Jose Sharks have signed Patrick Marleau, it tells me that they’ve already tapped out on next season.

Jumbo Joe

And what is Kyle Dubas trying to prove in the Republic of Tranna? The Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967, so the kid GM thought it would be a swell idea to sign Marleau’s former running mate Jumbo Joe Thornton who, coincidentally, broke into the NHL that same year. Okay, okay. Jumbo hasn’t been around quite that long. But Dubas seems to be setting up a Fossil Factory in the ROT, with Jumbo Joe, 41, and Jason Spezza, 37, on board.

Scant seconds after becoming one of the newest Maple Leafs, Wayne Simmonds did the Zoom thing with news snoops and warned foes that “I can punch your head off if need be.” He calls what he does on a hockey rink “functional toughness.” Back it the day we called it “goon.”

I keep hearing about all the free agents still available in the NHL, but the top free agent in sports right now is Chelsea Carey, champion curler without a team to call her own. We don’t know how this season will shake down for our Pebble People, but it’s hard to imagine a two-time Scotties queen being stuck on the outside looking in with her nose pressed against the window.

Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen.

On the subject of our fab provincial Pebble People, the deep thinkers at the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame want to know what you think. They’re looking to name the Most Notable Team in local lore, and that’s where you come in. The MCHF is accepting votes until Dec. 5 for its 25 Most Notable Teams and, really, this should be a no-brainer. I mean, it doesn’t get more “notable” than winning Olympic Games gold, so Jennifer Jones and her gal pals Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen have to be at the top of the heap. It doesn’t hurt that they were also Canadian and world champions, and they had longer sustained success than any foursome I can recall. Next in line would be the Digit, Don Duguid, and his gang from the Granite—Bryan Wood, Jim Pettapiece and the Arrow, Rod Hunter—who went 17-0 to win back-to-back world titles in 1970 and ’71. Completing my top three would be Bronco Braunstein and his team of brother Ron, Moose Turnbull and Jack Van Hellemond. Still just school kids, the teenagers copped the Manitoba men’s title then fell one game shy of winning the 1958 Brier in Victoria, losing to Matt Baldwin of Alberta in a one-game showdown.

Mike Tyson

Fans of fist fighting were shocked to hear Mike Tyson on Good Morning Britain last week. In a natter with hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid, the former heavyweight boxing champion was muttering unintelligibly and slurring his words badly. Hey, cut the guy some slack. It can’t be easy to talk with your mouth full of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Sticking with boxing, I stayed up well past my bedtime Saturday to watch Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko chuck knuckles in a lightweight title bout. At the end of the night, Lopez had four belts. Hmmm. Four belts—sounds like the Rat Pack at closing time.

So, the Houston Astros have been drummed out of the Major League Baseball playoffs (karma, baby). Some teams run out of pitching, some teams run out of hitting. Some teams run out of time. I guess the Astros ran out of trash cans.

Clayton Kershaw, Sandy Koufax

Is there a Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher with a worse post-season record than Clayton Kershaw of my Los Angeles Dodgers? Kershaw will be in Cooperstown one day, but it won’t be due to anything he’s done in the World Series or playoffs. The guy’s 175-75, .697, 2.43 ERA in the hum-drum of spring and summer ball, but a dismal 11-12, .478, 4.31 ERA when it matters most. And, to think, some people have compared him favorably to Sandy Koufax. Ya, like a box of Timbits is fine dining.

Some good reads in the past week: Paul Friesen’s series on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ journey to the Grey Cup; Freezer’s running mate at the Winnipeg Sun, Ted Wyman, dishes on Hockey Hall of Famer Serge Savard; Luke Fox’s Q&A with Brian Burke on the Sportsnet website.

When the National Women’s Hockey League restructured its business model and assigned founder and commissioner Dani Rylan Kearney to a lesser role last week, shouldn’t it have been a big deal in the media? No women would be drawing pay to play shinny if not for Dani, who gave the NWHL its jump start in 2015, but her removal from the big office was a blip at best in most newspapers, websites and on air. Seems to me the story, and Dani, warranted better play than that.

Sue Bird

Speaking of not getting their due, it’s about Sue Bird: Not many hoopsters can boast of her bona fides. When Seattle Storm won the Women’s National Basketball Association title recently, it was her fourth. You know, the same number as LeBron James has won in his NBA career. Sue also has four Olympic gold medals, four FIBA World Cup titles, five EuroLeague titles, two NCAA titles, one national high school title, five Russian National League titles, two Europe Super Cup titles, she’s the all-time WNBA assists leader, she’s started the most games in WNBA history, she’s an 11-time WNBA all-star, a two-time EuroLeague all-star and a former Naismith college player of the year. She’s the High Priestess of the Hardwood, but somehow manages to fly under the radar of most mainstream media. Shame that.

And, finally, this is the 50th anniversary season for the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, and I’d say that calls for some sort of special feature piece in either or both of the Winnipeg dailies. So why hasn’t either the Sun or Drab Slab done something about it?

Let’s talk about Megan Rapinoe and the gay Yankee Doodle Damsels…turn down the volume, Kate…a death watch in The ROT?…the rouge…Mike Reilly’s panic attacks…Kawhi and Shane, please don’t go…and les Habs by the numbers

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and the best female soccer player in the world is a lesbian…imagine that…

A lot of people don’t like Megan Rapinoe because she’s loud, proud and gay.

I like her because she’s loud, proud and gay.

It isn’t easy being part of the LGBTQ(etc.) alphabet. Yes, even in 2019. Too many among the rabble still believe being gay is sinful and unnatural and as wholly contemptible as child porn, and it makes them blanch and climb atop soap boxes to hurl fire-and-brimstone condemnations and dire warnings of an eternal inferno.

Which means the spectacle that was Rapinoe in France likely had the homophobes choking on their Cheerios.

The purple-haired U.S.A. co-captain became the face of women’s soccer during the 31 days of the World Cup, in part because she kept hoofing balls into the back of the net (six of them), but also because she kept getting in everyone’s face. Sometimes intentionally, other times not so much.

Donald Trump, for example, tried to pick a fight with her on Twitter.

“Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag,” the Bully-in-Chief harrumphed.

Megan Rapinoe

Piffle. As if a scornful tsk-tsking from the resident in the big, white house on Pennsylvania Avenue would convince her to sing along and place a hand over her heart during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. In your face, el presidente. Megan remained mute, hands clasped behind her back, in silent/loud protest against social injustice in America. Besides, she had another use for her hands—to reach out and collect trinkets.

Give that girl the Golden Boot.

And the Golden Ball.

And the Women’s World Cup Trophy.

Rapinoe won them all in France. Top goal-scorer. Top player. Top of the world.

She scored five times in knockout tests, including the only goal the Yankee Doodle Damsels required in a 2-nil dispatching of a game-yet-overmatched Netherlands side in Sunday’s final, and along the way Piers Morgan made note of Megan’s “stupendous ego” and called her “smug, arrogant, entitled and annoying.” The British broadcasting blabbermouth and confirmed Trumpite was just warming up. “I don’t like footballers being extreme activists. Just play football. Seriously…nobody wants to hear it,” is how the second verse went.

Well, he certainly didn’t want to hear Megan say, “Go gays. You can’t win a championship without gays on your team. It’s never been done before.”

Yes you can,” Morgan begged to differ on Twitter. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, Ms Rapinoe…football competence isn’t linked to sexuality.”

No, but that might have been the ultimate “in your face.”

Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe.

Rapinoe, you see, isn’t the only out lesbian among these Yankee Doodle Damsels. Jill Ellis, the coach, is married to Betsy Stephenson and they have a daughter, Lily. Five other playersTierna Davidson, Adrianna Franch, Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger and Kelley O’Hara—are out gays. Harris and Krieger are engaged and will exchange vows later this year. After the final, O’Hara sought her girlfriend and they exchanged a kiss at the edge of the stands at Parc Olympique Lyonnais. Ditto Rapinoe and girlfriend Sue Bird.

Oh, and five of the conquered Dutch are lesbians.

So, ya, if Megan Rapinoe tells me no women’s side has ever won the World Cup without lesbians on the pitch, I’ll take her word for it and Piers Morgan can talk to the hand.

Kelley O’Hara and girlfriend.

Should any of that matter? No, it shouldn’t. But it does matter—and will continue to matter—as long as those under the LGBTQ(etc.) banner are discriminated against due only to their choice of romantic/sexual partners and are considered lesser-thans.

Megan Rapinoe is no lesser-than. She might not be your cup of tea. Too brash. Too cocky. Too arrogant. To full of herself. Too defiant. Too aggressive. Too political. Too gay.

Fine. But she’s also almost too good to be true for a community still struggling for acceptance. The most visible, most talked-about footballer on the planet today is an out lesbian. Imagine that.

As Megan said after a quarterfinal victory over the French: Go gays!

Best quote, by far, during the post-match revelry was delivered by play-by-play broadcaster Steve Wilson, who, upon seeing Rapinoe greeted warmly by French leader Emmanuel Macron, said: “There is a president she’s happy to meet.”

Kate Beirness, Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson.

I didn’t think anyone on TV could talk louder than James Corden, the late-night gab guy who’s forever yelling, but Kate Beirness makes him sound like a street mime. Host of TSN’s excellent all-female soccer panel featuring Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson, Kate’s high-volume delivery is an assault on the ear drums and the sole negative note struck during coverage. Tone it down, girl. We get it. It’s a big event.

BMO Field

So this is how bad it’s gotten for the Argonauts and the Canadian Football League in the Republic of Tranna: They refuse to reveal the head count at BMO Field. The best I could dig up for the Boatmen’s skirmish vs. B.C. Lions on Saturday night was “sparse.” That could mean 10,000 or fewer fans. It could mean between 10,000 and 12,000. Whatever, given the shockingly low quality of play it’s safe to assume that much of the “sparse” audience won’t be back for more on Aug. 1, when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers trot into town. If, that is, the Argos are still in business.

What does a sportswriter call it when he’s assigned to work an Argos home game? The graveyard shift. Seriously, that’s a death watch.

The Argos-Lions joust ended on a rouge. I love the rouge. It’s as Canadian as a Gordon Lightfoot concert, a Pierre Berton book, or the Littlest Hobo eating poutine. But I don’t like it on a wayward field goal attempt. Rewarding failure is just wrong.

Mike Reilly

Bravo to Mike Reilly, the Lions quarterback who’s stepped forward to discuss his battle with mental health issues. It’s a powerful, enlightening story that, hopefully, will help others gripped by anxiety and panic attacks, and Reilly isn’t shy about sharing the gory details.

“It hit me as soon as my head hit the pillow,” he tells Chris O’Leary of his first panic attack. “The only way I can describe it is a full-blown panic attack.

“I can’t even say that my heart was racing. It was like it was trying to beat its way out of my chest. It was racing faster than I’d ever felt before. It felt like everything was kind of closing in around me. I couldn’t breathe. I honestly in that moment thought I was going to die. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever felt in my entire life.

“I felt frozen, like I was stuck in my bed. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t do anything and I thought that was going to be it. I thought I was going to die.

“Emily (his wife) came in from the bathroom and I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know what caused that, I’m still feeling the effects of it and I don’t want to close my eyes. If it happens again I’m going to die.’ I remember telling her, ‘Let’s turn the TV on and let’s pick a show and just watch it.’ I remember thinking, ‘I just don’t want to lay back down. If I lay back down and close my eyes, I will die right there.’”

Been there, felt that and I don’t wish it on anyone.

So, Kawhi Leonard is taking his ball and going home, and the mourning continues in The ROT, where no one—not even the impossible groupie Drake—is feeling it more than Steve Simmons, the Postmedia columnist who long ago showed signs of a serious man-crush on the hoopster.

It began with an open love letter: “I’m writing this with the hope you’ll consider remaining with the Raptors after this season, making Toronto your basketball home, because in many ways, it makes sense—for you, for the city, for the basketball team, for Canada.”

Shane, come back…and bring Kawhi with you.

Later, there was this: “If this is it for Kawhi Leonard, one season of mystery, magic and memories in Toronto, one year and one unexpected and exhilarating NBA championship, then, really, all you can say is thanks. Thanks and you’ll never be forgotten.”

And the latest: “You can’t dislike anything about what Leonard brought in one calendar year to the Raptors and to basketball across this country. We will be walking on air, living with this, celebrating the championship, for years. Maybe our whole lives.”

Oh, my. Walking on air our whole lives. We haven’t read or heard that much melodrama since teary-eyed little Joey Starrett begged his hero not to go in the final scene of the western classic Shane. “We want you Shane, Shaaaaane!…Come back! And bring Kawhi with you!”

Minnesota Whitecaps have signed just seven players for the 2019-20 National Women’s Hockey League crusade, but season tickets are already available for, get this, $420 (between the bluelines), $315 (inside the bluelines) and $210 (standing room). That’s for 12 games and it breaks down to $35, $26.25 and $17.50 per. I’m a fan of female shinny, but 35 bucks a pop is excessive. Actually, it’s crazy. Or maybe not. The Whitecaps sold out every date at the 1,200-seat TRIA Rink last season and, with those non-refundable sticker prices, it’s little wonder they were the first NWHL outfit to show a profit.

And, finally, terrific Montreal Canadiens story from longtime shinny scribe Dave Stubbs: “Roman Hamrlik asked for No. 4, his Calgary number, when he signed in 2007,” Stubbs tweeted. “Equipment mgr Pierre Gervais: ‘I’ll give you Mr. Béliveau’s phone number. If he agrees, I’ll give you a long ladder and you can take down his banner.’ Hamrlik opted for 44.”