About Beastmo Bighill and the Blue Bombers…Kyle Walters’ sales pitch…that Jones boy in Saskatchewan…coloring Marc Trestman and Mike Reilly green…the CFL head count…and what about Coach LaPo?

A midweek smorgas-bored…because stuff happens…

Adam Bighill. Three years. That’s big. It’s big like Chris Walby’s appetite. Big like Duron Carter’s ego.

Why, this is the biggest football news in River City since the last time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers signed Beastmo Bighill as a free agent. That was less than a year ago, when the great middle linebacker parachuted in on the cusp of training camp.

It’s different this time around, though.

Adam Bighill

This time, Winnipeg FC has the Canadian Football League’s most outstanding defensive player locked up for three years. Yup. A small amount of arm-twisting convinced Beastmo’s bride, Kristina, that Good Ol’ Hometown is the place to be for them and their two little ones, frigid winters and all.

But, hey, $250,000 will buy a lot of firewood to keep three-year-old A.J. and his little sister, 20-month-old Leah, warm and cozy.

This, understand, isn’t just a field-good story for the Bombers, whose quest to end a 28-year championship drought is enhanced considerably by Bighill’s presence as the centrepiece of the defensive dozen. It’s also glad tidings for the CFL.

At a time when there’s been a jail break of quality players fleeing south to the National Football League—and when CFL strategists kowtow to commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s rose-colored world vision and dutifully sift through the riff-raff of a semi-pro league in Mexico—it’s encouraging to know that we’re keeping one of our best at home.

Mind you, it’s not like Bighill had an urge to scoot south, because he’s scratched that itch. The NFL became a been-there, done-that, got-the-t-shirt thing in 2017 when, after six seasons with the B.C. Lions, Beastmo gave it a go in New Orleans and appeared in three skirmishes with the Saints. Didn’t work out. Thus he returned to our side of the great U.S.-Canada divide and found his way to Winnipeg. To stay, as it turns out.

Kyle Walters

No doubt his signing Tuesday turned heads across the CFL landscape, because Bighill could have shopped himself on the open market come Feb. 12. He would have fielded more come-ons than Brad Pitt in a singles bar.

I mean, to say this guy is a difference-maker is to say Donald Trump is fond of fast food.

So the fact that Bighill chose to forego possibly greater riches and at least one much warmer locale (Vancouver) speaks volumes for Winnipeg FC general manager Kyle Walters. And it isn’t just Bighill that he’s lured back. Last week he sweet-talked punter/placekicker Justin Medlock into another two-year gig.

Apparently some people really can sell ice cream at the North Pole. Well done, Kyle Walters.

Biggest smile in town after the re-signing of Bighill? Defensive coordinator Richie Hall, who went from tar and feathers to flavor of the month as the 2018 progressed, thanks largely to Beastmo’s play.

It ain’t Mexico, amigos.

Walters claimed an Ortiz, a Reyes and a Pérez in the CFL’s auction of Mexican talent on Monday, and I can only imagine how his sales pitch will go with the fresh recruits from Liga de Futbol Ay Chihuahua: “Listen, guys, I don’t want to scare you off, but I ain’t gonna lie to you. We never win and Winnipeg ain’t Shangi-La. This Blue-and-Gold outfit has done nothing but lose, like, forever. Last time we won the Grey Cup, your ancestors were taking care of business at the Alamo. That’s right, amigos, it’s been that long. Then there’s our weather. It gets so cold during the winter that it’ll freeze the brass monkeys off a brass monkey. You don’t know shrinkage until you’ve stood at Portage and Main in January. But you can always go underground. That’s how we get from Point A to Point B here in the Peg. We become moles. But, hey, here’s the most important thing to remember about Winnipeg, amigos—it ain’t Regina.”

Apparently Commish Randy’s Mexican adventure that has included a combine and a draft does not include the CFL Players Association. “We’re not in a position to be able to explain what the league is doing, because we don’t know,” is what CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay told Scott Stinson of Postmedia. If you find it odd that the league has left the players on the outside looking in, so do I.

Marc Trestman

That’s a fine mess Chris Jones has left the Saskatchewan Roughriders to mop up. No general manager. No head coach. No defensive coordinator. No quarterback. So is he a scoundrel for defecting to the Cleveland Browns as a defensive specialist a week after signing an extension with Gang Green? Some see it that way. But it’s nothing that signing Marc Trestman and Mike Reilly wouldn’t cure. Do that and folks on the Flatlands will be asking, “Chris who?”

Chris Jones

Let’s be clear: Jones’ move is bad for the CFL because you never like to see talent get away, inside or outside the sidelines. But the 2018 coach-of-the-year has done nothing wrong. Jones had an escape clause in his contract. The NFL and the Browns provided the escape route. He took it. At worst it’s a bad optic. Moralists in the media inclined to tsk-tsk Jones and label him a Benedict Arnold first must look in the mirror, because I know very few veteran sports scribes who have worked for only one newspaper.

If I told you that the Republic of Tranna and Vancouver were the only CFL markets to show a hike in attendance last season would you believe me? Of course not. But it’s true. Trouble is, the situation is so bad in The ROT and Lotus Land that the minimal gains are meaningless. According to the number crunchers at CFLdb, the league lost 63,864 customers in 2018, and almost one-third of the defectors (19,708) were folks in Montreal who abandoned the Alouettes. Attendance continues to be boffo on the Prairies and in Ottawa and Hamilton. Here are the details:

And, finally, I find myself wondering if the Roughriders will look at Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice to fill the head coaching vacancy on the Flatlands. It would be a tough sell to the melon-headed faithful, given that Coach LaPo’s offence failed to score a touchdown in the West Division final last November.

Hens in the Hockey House: Big deals on Wheels for the Winnipeg Jets

My two Hens in the Hockey House have surfaced from their summer hibernation, just in time to deliver some blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda on the Blake Wheeler signing. The Winnipeg Jets captain has agreed to a five-year contract extension that will average $8.25 million per season, at which time he will be into his hockey dotage at age 37.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, girlfriend, what’s your take on the Deal on Wheels? Too much money? Too much term? Too little money? Too little term?

Answer Lady: The question isn’t whether or not the Jets gave Wheeler too much of this or too little of that. It’s this: When does the captain go into the inevitable decline?

Blake Wheeler

Question Lady: What makes you so sure his game’s heading south?

Answer Lady: Oh, honey, everything heads south. Just take a look at what gravity has done to our bodies. We know Wheeler’s skills will decay and no tummy tuck is going to change or fix that. As sure as there’s wind at Portage and Main, he’ll experience a drop in productivity. What we don’t know and can’t predict is when, and how rapid, the retreat will be.

Question Lady: We’re pretty confident that his game won’t take a detour south this winter, are we not?

Answer Lady: I’d say that’s a safe bet. I mean, it might not be another 91-point season, but as long as he has Rink Rat Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Big Buff, Twig Ehlers and Puck Finn as playmates he ought to deliver a point a game by accident. Here’s something we must keep in mind, though: Wheeler will be working on his existing contract in the 2018-19 National Hockey League season. At $5.6 million, he’s a bargain. Maybe the best bargain in the game. But he won’t be so much of a bargain if it’s 55 points and $8.25 million four years from now. Guaranteed the rabble will be bitching a blue streak about his contract being an anchor if that happens. I already hear grumbling about the term on this extension.

Question Lady: Are you surprised that the Jets gave a 32-year-old forward an extra five years?

Answer Lady: To be honest, two years ago I was convinced that Wheeler would play out his current contract then vamoose out of Dodge in pursuit of a championship. That changed last spring when the Jets advanced to the Western Conference final in the Stanley Cup runoff. But an additional five years? Ya, totally unexpected. I was thinking three tops.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Question Lady: Do you think Wheeler left money on the table for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and the bean counters to divvy up between Puck Finn, Kyle Connor, Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba?

Answer Lady: Since I wasn’t invited to join Wheeler and Chevy for the cup of coffee that led to this deal, I can’t answer that. But I think an argument can be made that he’d have gotten more coin on the open market next summer. So, in those terms, ya, he sold himself short. But, hey, how much is enough? If a guy can’t get by on $8.25 million per annum, he’s got issues that we probably don’t want to know about.

Question Lady: Doesn’t Wheeler strike you as the kind of guy who would take one for the team, so to speak?

Answer Lady: Ya, he does. Never met him, but the guy’s a pro’s pro by all accounts. About the only negative thing I could say about the captain is that he is sometimes—too often—prickly with news snoops. But dealing with jock journos is part of the package when you wear the C, so get over it.

Question Lady: Best-case scenario, of course, is that Wheeler hoists the Stanley Cup next spring or the year after that. What’s the worst-case scenario?

Answer Lady: That he turns into the Looch—Milan Lucic, owner of the most-onerous contract in the NHL. I mean, the Edmonton McDavids are paying the Looch $6 million a year to lurch up and down the left wing like a guy dragging an ATM machine, and he’ll be on their books until 2023. He’ll be the world’s oldest 34-year-old by then, likely scoring five goals a season instead of the 10 he had last winter. How happy do you think they’ll be paying that ball-and-chain $1.2 million per goal? I don’t see that ever happening to Wheeler and the Jets, though. He still has plenty of game. At least three, perhaps four more years as a top-flight forward. But you asked me for the worst-case scenario and I can’t think of anything more grim than him morphing into a right-wing version of the Looch.

Question Lady: The Wheeler signing means much of the heavy lifting is done and, really, there’s only Morrissey without a contract. What’s the holdup there?

Answer Lady: It has to be term. I’m only spitballing, but Chevy’s track record suggests that length of service is the sticking point. He has some kind of cult-leader sway with these guys. He serves them the Kool-Aid and before you can say Pokey and the Bandit they’re locked in for six years or more at a team-friendly rate. It worked with Rink Rat Scheifele and Twig Ehlers and Hellebuyck, so it’s my guess that he’s attempting similar powers of persuasion with Morrissey.

Question Lady: And if Josh doesn’t swallow the Kool-Aid?

Answer Lady: Then he’ll do what Trouba did—sign for two years and carry on carrying on until such time as he’s in a more favorable bargaining position.

Question Lady: Let’s end it with a question about Trouba. What’s his shelf life with the Jets?

Answer Lady: Two years tops, then adios, amigos.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go and enjoy what’s left of summer. Any plans for you?

Answer Lady: At my age, I don’t make plans or buy green bananas.

About Public Enemy No. 1 in Winnipeg…Trouba’s gone…the Summer of Chevy…Johnny Rotten and Crescent Street in Montreal…Tiger, Tiger burning bright…and other things on my mind

Two eggs overeasy, toast and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

Kurt Overhardt

Tough to tell who’s Public Enemy No. 1 in Good Ol’ Hometown today, Jacob Trouba or his paid mouthpiece, Kurt Overhardt.

I do believe, however, that Overhardt is ahead by a nose.

Here’s a small sampling of what the rabble has been saying since a National Hockey League arbitrator advised the Winnipeg Jets that they must compensate Trouba to the tune of $5.5 million in their next crusade, a pay bump of $2.5 million.

With a different agent Trouba could have had a much happier outcome.”

“Trouba has an overinflated sense of self worth.”

“Mistake by Trouba. He is back to arbitration in one year. He could have gotten a big signing bonus plus long-term contract. His agent may need to be replaced.”

“He could have taken a (Matt) Dumba-type contract. Seems like he feels like he is worth more than he is.”

“Are we sure his known douchebag agent isn’t the problem?”

“Overhardt is overpricing him and giving him more bad advice.”

“He’s a bald-faced liar, a poor teammate, and not that great a player. Oh, and did I mention fragile?”

“Trouba has been wrongly directed by his controversial agent Overcharge.”

“Trouba has a fool for an agent and should have fired this doofus a long time ago.”

“He is not a Peg kind of guy.”

I’m quite uncertain what a “Peg kind of guy” is, except to suggest he likely has a cottage, shops wholesale, sucks on Slurpees and caves to the whims and desires of his employer. Apparently that ain’t Trouba.

Thus, the horse opera between the 24-year-old defenceman and les Jets continues, with guys in black hats and guys in white hats and no end in sight.

No palm trees here.

I must confess that I missed my guess on the Trouba-Jets dance. I thought they’d agree to a six-year partnership, then he’d ship out as an unrestricted free agent still at the peak of his powers. But I stand by what I wrote in early November 2016: “There’s as much chance of Jacob Trouba finishing his career in Jets livery as there is of palm trees sprouting at Portage and Main in January. He’s gone. It’s just a matter of when.”

Consider this, then cringe: It’s quite possible that les Jets will enter their 2018-19 crusade with a third defence pairing (Tyler Myers/Dmitry Kulikov) that earns more coin ($9.83 million) than its top pairing of Trouba/Josh Morrissey. This is good management of money how?

Paul Stastny

The Summer of Chevy has been hit-and-miss. Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s preference was to keep Paul Stastny in the fold, but he wasn’t willing to pay the veteran centre’s sticker price. He wanted to lock up Trouba long term, but he wasn’t willing to pay the sticker price. He did, however, manage to find the coin to keep goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, defenceman Tucker Poolman, press box squatter Marko Dano, and forwards Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev happy. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a happy Stastny and Trouba than Lowry and Poolman.

If you’re scoring at home, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen surrendered just four points in a 38-20 romp over the Argonauts on Saturday in the Republic of Tranna. A week earlier, it was 20 points, which will win you 97 per cent of Canadian Football League matches. So, do we still want to fire defensive coordinator Richie Hall?

Mix some things together and they don’t always end well: Gasoline and fire; drinking and driving; Johnny Manziel and Crescent Street in Montreal. Not predicting that the Alouettes newly minted quarterback will go bonkers in Ville-Marie, but there’s great temptation in them thar streets, especially for a frat boy.

Since the CFL insists on allowing the woman-beating Johnny Rotten to play the three-down game, the ideal landing spot for the former Heisman Trophy winner would have been the Republic of Tranna, where the Argonauts need fans as desperately as Donald Trump needs approval. Only 10,844 sets of eyes were in BMO Field on Saturday to watch the Bombers rout the Boatmen, prompting this tweet from Troy Westwood of TSN 1290 in Pegtown: “Bombers 14, Attendance 12.” That’s funny.

While most followers of three-down football are still wondering if Johnny Rotten has what it takes to make a go of it in the CFL, at least one pundit, Dan Barnes of Postmedia Edmonton, has already given him the seal of approval. “In Johnny Football, Montreal gets a legit quarterback,” he writes, “the crucial piece of the puzzle that it hadn’t been unable to unearth in the wake of Anthony Calvillo’s retirement four years ago.” There’s zero evidence to support Barnes’s belief, but whatever.

Manziel has yet to take his first official snap on Canadian soil and already his first CFL jersey is a collector’s item. Saw one on ebay this morning for $129.99—or best offer.

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (5-0): The juggernaut continues to roll.
2. Winnipeg (3-3): That’s more like it.
3. Edmonton (3-2): Took the week off, no damage done.
4. Saskatchewan (3-2): Brandon Bridge looking better at QB.
5. Ottawa (3-2): Hard to get a good read on these guys.
6. Hamilton (2-3): Suddenly, oh woe are the Tabbies.
7. B.C. (2-3): Tough way to go out for Wally Buono.
8. Toronto (1-4): Nothing without Ricky Ray.
9. Montreal (1-4): Still awful in either official language.

Tiger Woods

Quick takeaways from the Open Championship at Carnoustie in Scotland: I honestly thought I would never again see the name Tiger Woods atop the leaderboard of a golf major, but there it was on Sunday morning. Then came the 11th and 12th holes and reality for the 14-time Grand Slam winner. Too bad. A Tiger win would have been a terrific story. Mind you, he likely would have been a bit of a dink about it and whinged about all the naysayers who’ve written him off…Clearly, the one thing that helped power Woods during his heyday—intimidation—no longer exists. Nobody cowered once he took the lead…The champion, Francesco Molinari of Italy, has the kind of golf game we all should have—steady, risk-free. But, geez, it’s bloody boring…The Carnoustie course looks like a cow pasture with green spots…Is it my imagination, or was there an unsually large number of commercials during the broadcast? It seemed like there was 10 minutes of ads for every five minutes of golf…I no longer golf, but I can relate to something NBC gab guy Johnny Miller said during the final round Sunday: “Golf seduces you into trying things you have no business trying.”

And, finally, it’s about those fans who stood and cheered at Miller Park in Milwaukee when Brewers relief pitcher Josh Hader took the mound: Seriously? A standing O for a guy exposed as a racist, a bigot, misogynist and homophobic just days earlier? I won’t get into the gory details because the things Hader tweeted six years ago are vile, but saluting him as some sort of conquering hero is every bit as disgusting. It’s a bad look, Milwaukee.

About the Winnipeg Jets being built on free agents…the ice fishing is great, right Big Buff?…Richie’s a Hall of a coach this week…pigging out in the (hot) dog days of summer…media friendly Vic Peters…Caroline Cameron gives Tim & Sid a fresh voice and look…those wacky Wimbledon women…don’t diss Ronaldo…and a sports scribe who preaches one thing but writes about another

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

Welcome to Winnipeg, armpit of the National Hockey League.

Well, okay, that’s not exactly how shinny scribes Scott Burnside and Sean McIndoe worded it when Paul Stastny chose Glitter Gulch over Good Ol’ Hometown, but that was the sentiment of each pundit’s analysis—River City sucks. Still. Otherwise Stastny wouldn’t have vamoosed from the Winnipeg Jets to the Vegas Golden Knights scant seconds after the NHL opened its grab bag of free agents a week ago this very morning.

Here’s Burnside of The Athletic:

“While he did choose to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Jets at the trade deadline, Stastny’s departure as an unrestricted free agent merely reinforces the idea that, as good as the Jets are—and they are really good—they still aren’t at the stage where they are a destination for free agents. Not yet at least.”

Here’s McIndoe of Sportsnet:

“They were a darn good team before Stastny arrived, and they’ll be a good one with him gone. But seeing a top UFA walk away will reinforce the old idea that the Jets are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting top players.”

Paul Stastny

Both scribes stopped short of stereotypical jabs about the dark, the cold, the crappy WiFi, the pothole-to-person ratio, and summer skeeters the size of a Zamboni in River City, but the gist of their analysis is unmistakable, and this Winnipeg-as-NHL armpit narrative is oh so dog-eared. Also wearisome.

I mean, I’d buy it if Stastny had gone on record saying he defected to Sin City because “Winnipeg is a garbage dump with a lousy zoo and an ugly museum.” But no.

“In the end,” the 32-year-old centre-ice man told the Las Vegas Sun, “sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling. Sometimes it’s just one of those things that is the best fit, hockey-wise, family-wise and everything in between.”

Doesn’t sound damning to me.

Yet those of the Burnside/McIndoe ilk trot out the woe-is-Winnipeg refrain every time someone gives Good Ol’ Hometown the cold shoulder, mainly because it’s a convenient and lazy plot line that plays to the ill-informed among the rabble and, at the same time, ignores history. Yes, history.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.

Go ahead, kids. Name the most significant free-agent signing—ever—in professional hockey. That’s right, the name is Hull, Bobby Hull. And where did that game-shaping event take place? At the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street, where a flock of thousands gathered to witness Robert Marvin Hull, fresh off his fifth 50-goal season for the Chicago Blackhawks, scrawl his John Hancock on a Winnipeg Jets contract on June 27, 1972. This was the NHL’s glam guy, choosing Pegtown over Chitown. The sport and salaries were forever altered by one free-agent signing.

More to the point, the very foundation of the Winnipeg Jets was built exclusively on free agents, guys who willingly came to River City to form the World Hockey Association’s flagship franchise.

Ab Mcdonald, Joe Daley, Sudsy Sutherland, Ernie Wakely and others from the ‘hood came home from hither and yon to wear Jets linen. Anders Hedberg chose Winnipeg over Toronto. Kent Nilsson chose Winnipeg over Toronto and Atlanta. Willy Lindstrom could have played anywhere in North America. He chose Winnipeg. Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg chose Winnipeg. Peter Sullivan chose Winnipeg. Etcetera, etcetera and blah, blah, blah.

So enough of the tired, old refrain about Pegtown being a shinny leper colony.

Big Buff

Are there guys who’d rather not play in River City? Absolutely. We’re told Good Ol’ Hometown makes most no-trade lists. Just ask Ilya Bryzgalov. But, hey, John Tavares rejected 30 cities just last week, so it’s not like Winnipeg is unique. Look, players talk about three main things when wrestling with free-agency options: 1) Money; 2) the opportunity to win; 3) location. Well, Ben Hatskin wasn’t paying Hull $2.7 million in Monopoly or Canadian Tire money in 1972, and David Thomson and Mark Chipman aren’t paying Dustin Byfuglien $7.6 million per annum in food stamps with the present-day Jets. Competitively, les Jets were a final four team in this past spring’s Stanley Cup runoff. As for location, the ice fishing is boffo, thank you. Just ask Big Buff. So what’s not to like?

Just wondering: Are we still calling for Richie Hall’s head to roll? Probably not. Hall is the much-maligned man tasked with mapping out strategy for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen, whose deficiencies were exposed like a porn star’s privates in two of their first three skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade. Then along came the B.C. Lions with a benign offence designed to heal whatever ails a wonky defence. So I assume Winnipeg FC’s 41-19 victory over the Leos on Saturday evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry means it’s safe for Hall to go grocery shopping and pump his own gas this week. Just to be safe, though, he should have Adam Bighill tag along.

Joey Chestnut

Here’s something to chew on: Joey Chestnut celebrated the dog days of summer by successfully defending his Nathan’s hot dog eating title, scarfing down 74 tube steaks in 10 minutes. It’s believed that no one has ever gone through that many dogs. Except the Edmonton Oilers, of course.

Richard Deitsch of The Athletic asked this question of jock journos on Twitter: “Who is the most media-friendly athlete you have dealt with?” For me, that’s a no-brainer: The late Vic Peters, with about 100 other curlers tied in second. Vic, in the grand scheme of jockdom, was a smooth-edged gem on a beach full of sharp stones. A most obliging, engaging man, he had time for us all. Always.

Sid Seixeiro and Caroline Cameron

Loved the new look and sound on the Tim & Sid show last week. Unfortunately, it’s only temporary. Caroline Cameron has been sitting in for the vacationing Sid Seixeiro on the Sportsnet gabfest, and they’re as different as a pit bull and a kitten. I mean, Sid’s shtick is to talk tough. He dresses the part, too. He looks like he belongs on the set of a gangster movie, skulking around with Luca Brasi and nervously glancing over his shoulder to see if Eliot Ness is on his tail. He wears his sneer on his sleeve. He’s prone to prop humor and theatrical orations that would earn him a failing grade in a high school drama class, and his rants are usually about as sincere as a Neymar dive-writhe-and-roll. Caroline, on the other hand…we’re talking Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Polished, professional, knowledgeable, smiling, impeccable, pretty, a girl making her way and succeeding in a guy’s world. A lot of viewers (read: guys) pooh-pooh women on sports talk TV as empty heads. Well, Caroline Cameron is compelling evidence that there should be more female voices in the jock gab game. She’s very good.

Yes, now that you mention it, the goings-on in London are very strange, most notably on the women’s side of Wimbledon. They’re spitting out seeds like it’s a baseball dugout. Gone are nine of the top 10 seeds and 25 of 32 overall. Wimbledon has never seen such carnage. Serena Williams will have to break both legs and carry her baby on her back to lose this tournament. Even at that, she could probably win the thing and claim her 24th tennis Grand Slam title on crutches.

Ronaldo and Messi

A lot of British accents on our flatscreens during the World Cup, one of them belonging to Danny Dichio, former forward in the English Premier League. Sportsnet trotted him out as an analyst during the group stage of the event, and he had this exchange with Jesse Fuchs…

Fuchs: “People love to compare Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo…Messi missed a penalty earlier in the tournament, now so has Ronaldo. And it ends up costly, as Portugal are held to a draw. Is it fair at all to criticize CR7?”

Dichio: “No. Not at all fair.”

So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: The president of the United States, the Pope, Queen Liz, the Beatles, any journalist you care to name, and Jesus Christ himself are fair game for a roasting when they cough up a hairball, but Ronaldo, a guy who’s supposedly god’s gift to soccer, is untouchable when he gags on a shot from the 12-yard spot? As if. Dichio gets a red card for being a nincompoop.

Kaitlyn Lawes and Jennifer Jones

And, finally, based on his scribblings over the years, it’s apparent that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press does not harbour a healthy fondness for professional athletes. He often writes of them with resentment, contempt and scorn, painting them with one broad brush stroke—they’re all money-grubbing elitists who look down on the rabble from their perch of privilege.

“A tiny cadre of coddled millionaires,” is how he described the Jets players in one of his tamer remarks.

Therefore it wasn’t out of character that he assailed play-for-pay jocks—defrocked Jets goaltender Steve Mason in particular—while making the case that the amateur athletes in our great nation are underfunded by the feds and underappreciated by the unwashed masses.

“Such is the deification that we accord professional hockey players in this country that we think nothing of paying the washouts millions not to play, while at the same time throwing chump change at our amateur athletes and then scolding them if they dare return home without Olympic medals every four years when we remember again that they exist,” he writes.

He calls financial support for our top amateurs “laughable” and “a complete joke.”

Mike O’Shea

Actually, the joke is a sports columnist prattling on about underfunding and underappreciation for amateurs when 95 per cent of his yearly material is devoted to his personal hot-button issues like Jacob Trouba’s attitude, Mike O’Shea’s “goofy” short pants, and Mark Chipman’s past life as a used-car salesman. His own newspaper treats amateur athletes like they have the cooties. Unless, of course, they’re holding a curling rock in one hand and a broom or sliding apparatus in the other. Kaitlyn Lawes, Jennifer Jones, Mike McEwen, Reid Carruthers and other pebble people get the jock star treatment from the Freep. The rest? Basically bupkus.

Here’s the professional/amateur story scorecard from the past seven editions of the Drab Slab: 140-13. Granted, seven days of sports sections is a small sample size, but just 8.5 per cent of all articles was devoted to amateurs.

In that same seven-paper time frame, Wiecek wrote three columns: his apples-to-oranges argument about amateur funding vs. greedy professional jocks getting too much coin for not enough work; the Blue Bombers lousy defence and firing lousy coaches O’Shea and Hall; and, once again, greedy pro athletes.

What’s that you say? Some sports scribes must be overpaid, underworked and coddled, too? Who knew?

The Stanley Cup: “It’s coming back to Winnipeg!”

Well, the Winnipeg Jets have laid waste to the Nashville Predators, winning 5-1 in Game 7 of their National Hockey League playoff series, so it’s time to check in with my two Hens in the Hockey House, who’ve come out of hibernation to join the rabid rabble as the Jets continue on their Stanley Cup crusade.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Oh, happy day! I’m so giddy! It’s the merry month of May and the Jets are still playing hockey! Round 3 of the playoffs coming up! Can you believe it, girlfriend?

Answer Lady: Yes, I’m a believer. I also now officially believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, that Donald Trump really is president of the United States, and there are now skating rinks in hell. For sure, hell has frozen over.

Question Lady: Is that the best you can do? Sarcasm? Can’t you at least show some enthusiasm for the city and the Jets?

Answer Lady: Hey, I’m as happy as a cottage owner on the May long weekend. The Jets paddywhacking the Predators is the best thing to happen to Good, Ol’ Hometown since the Guess Who did that Pan-Am Games gig in 1999. Which reminds me: I still can’t believe those boys aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Question Lady: Oh, I know. Totally criminal. I mean, Bon Jovi…Journey…Isaac Hayes…those slugs are in the Rock Hall and it’s still on Randy, Burton, Jimmy and Garry’s bucket list? That’s like leaving the meat out of a Sals cheese nip. Do you think it’s true what Jets captain Blake Wheeler was saying last month: Everything flies under the radar when you play in Winnipeg?

Answer Lady: That’s total bunk if you’re talking about the Jets. But apparently it applies to rock bands.

Question Lady: Okay, enough of the Guess Who. We’re here to talk NHL playoffs. Who and what has impressed you during the Jets’ march to the third round of the NHL’s spring runoff?

Stacey Nattrass

Answer Lady: Start with Stacey Nattrass. Sorry to keep it on a music theme, but she kicked some high-priced country bumpkin butt as an anthem warbler during the Nashville-Winnipeg series. Can you believe Lady Antebellum gagging on the words to the American anthem down there in Twang Town last week? Talk about your Star-Spangled Bummers. Tells me all I need to know about today’s crop of country crooners. Brutal. But I digress. I’ll answer your question with a question: What’s not to like about the local hockey heroes?

Question Lady: Nice to finally hear you singing from a different page in the song book.

Answer Lady: What’s that supposed to mean?

Paul Maurice

Question Lady: Let me refresh your memory, girlfriend…one year ago, I made this bold prediction for the Jets—and I quote: “I think they’ll have a clear path to the playoffs next year. What’s to stop them?” You rejected me like an overcooked steak at 529 Wellington. Your answer was—and, again, I quote: “One, coaching. Two, goaltending.” You wanted Paul Maurice canned. You called him Coach Potty-Mouth and a snake oil salesman. You also submitted that Connor Hellebuyck was a backup goalie at best. As I recall, you said Bucky was to goaltending what Homer Simpson is to quality parenting. You also wanted Dustin Byfuglien traded. What say you now? Other than “D’oh?”

Pekka Rinne

Answer Lady: Just my luck. I’ve got a girlfriend with a memory like an elephant and she takes great glee in pointing out that I’m Dumbo the elephant. We’ll have to rethink our living arrangement. Anyway, I’ll tell you who made Maurice a better head coach—Pekka Rinne.

Question Lady: Are you off your nut? Did somebody spike your latté? I mean, how in the name of Georges Vezina did the Predators goaltender make Maurice a better bench boss?

Answer Lady: Were you not paying attention? Rinne sprung more leaks than Wiki. He got the hook not once, not twice, but three times. In seven starts vs. the Jets. That has to be a first. NHL general managers are going to have a four-egg omelette on their faces when he’s handed the Vezina Trophy next month in Las Vegas.

Question Lady: So you still aren’t sold on Maurice?

Answer Lady: I’ll give him this: He somehow convinced Byfuglien and the others to stop playing dumb-dumb hockey vis-a-vis undisciplined penalties. That’s huge. This Jets outfit plays with, as Brian Burke describes it, anger and hostility. They can be very belligerent. They’re tough. They’re defiant. They have a subtle arrogance that I really like. They swarm. They’re the go-go gang. They win the one-on-one skirmishes. Skill overrides all else, and they seldom come mentally unhinged. Very impressive. That, and Hellebuyck’s emergence as an elite goaler, are the reasons why there’ll be another meaningful match at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Saturday night.

Question Lady: That’s it? Discipline and goaltending?

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Answer Lady: No, major tip of the bonnet to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. And his bird dogs—especially his bird dogs. Chevy has talked, ad nauseum, about the draft-and-develop blueprint, and his amateur scouts have done boffo business from the day they told him to select Rink Rat Scheifele with their first shoutout at the entry draft in 2011. But it’s Chevy’s bartering that has rounded off this roster. Look who scored in the 5-1 win over Nashville in Game 7 on Thursday night: Tyler Myers, reeled in as a major piece in the Evander Kane trade; Paul Stastny, two goals, brought in on deadline day. Chevy worked at a glacial pace, which was frustrating, but when he was motivated to make bold strokes they were the right strokes.

Question Lady: What do you see for the Jets going forward?

Answer Lady: A Stanley Cup parade.

Question Lady: Really? You’re saying the Jets will win the Stanley Cup?

Ed Olczyk

Answer Lady: Oh ya, baby. As sure as Puck Finn has a really, really bad beard, it’s a done deal. Like Eddie Olczyk said about Stanley on the Day of the Long Faces in 1996—“It’s coming back to Winnipeg!” Nashville was the big nut to crack. Now the Jets have home-fans advantage the rest of the way. The Little Hockey House On The Prairie will be a graveyard for the Vegas Golden Knights and the Eastern Conference survivor.

Question Lady: You’re not convinced that Vegas is the real deal?

Answer Lady: Sure they are. They’re jitter-bugs on ice. But the local lads will overwhelm them. The Jets are too fast on the puck, too hard on the puck, they bring too much back pressure, they’re too hostile, they’re too much of everything. And they’ll have a better anthem singer.

Carrie Underwood

Question Lady: I’m not so sure about that. Apparently country crooner Carrie Underwood has offered to sing the anthems at one of the games in Las Vegas. Can’t beat that, can you?

Answer Lady: Ha! Fat lot of good she was for the Predators. The Golden Knights can have her. We’ll stick with Stacey…or maybe drag Burton Cummings and the Guess Who out of mothballs. Maybe Neil Young. Maybe Bif Naked. Maybe Chantal Kreviazuk. Maybe Jennifer Hanson in her little red dress!

Question Lady: So how many games will it take the Jets to give Vegas a paddywhacking in the Western Conference final?

Answer Lady: Six. Jets in six. Then you and I will party at Portage and Main.

About the Winnipeg Jets landing a big fish…mortgaging the future…adios to curling great Jill Officer…a media hissing contest…Damien’s “shitty” tweet…dumb talk on TSN…a tear-jerker in Yankee pinstripes…and other things on my mind

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

Paul Stastny. For real?

The Winnipeg Jets actually pried Paul Stastny away from the St. Louis Blues? And they didn’t have to twist his arm? No fuss, no muss, no whinging about mosquitoes, spring flooding, crime, potholes, brown tap water and the Arctic winds at Portage and Main?

Something doesn’t add up here.

I mean, nobody goes to Winnipeg. Except on a dare. Or unless they’ve lost a bet. Cripes, man, even the premier of the province, Brian Pallister, gets out of Dodge as often as he can.

Winnipeg circa 1950s.

I think Billy Mosienko was the last hockey player who went to Winnipeg voluntarily. That was in 1955, when the locals were still riding around in streetcars. Mosie had an excuse, though. Pegtown was his ‘hood. He knew all about the potholes, Arctic winds and skeeters the size of a Zamboni, so they weren’t going to scare him away.

But there’s no explaining this Stastny thing. Except to say he must have missed the memo. You know the one. Certain members of the San Jose Sharks sent it out earlier this National Hockey League season. River City is cold. River City is dark. And don’t even think about WiFi service. You want to text a friend? Here’s your carrier pigeon, kid.

Paul Stastny

The thing is, a lot of us know Winnipeg isn’t the backwater burg most folks make it out to be. It’s a boffo place. And the winters don’t seem quite so long, dark and cold when les Jets are putting on the ritz at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

Will Stastny’s willingness to disregard his no-trade clause influence others to regard Good Ol’ Hometown as a favorable destination? Perhaps not, but it’s worth revisiting something general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said last summer, scant seconds after convincing goaltender Steve Mason and defenceman Dmitry Kulikov that River City is an NHL hot spot.

Ultimately,” he said, “when it comes to free agency, the players want to know that they have a chance to win.”

Yup.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Prior to last Monday’s NHL trade deadline, TSN natterbug Jamie McLennan had this caution for Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman: “You never want to mortgage the future. There’s no weaknesses whatsoever in this lineup. All you can ask for really is health. You want Adam Lowry back. You want Jacob Trouba back. I believe this team is built to go on a Stanley Cup run. They’re that good. But, if you want to tinker at the deadline, add some depth, add a little Stanley Cup experience, absolutely, but do not mortgage the future with those young players.” So, the Puck Pontiff and Chevy surrendered college kid Erik Foley, their first-round pick in the 2018 entry draft and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2020 for Stastny, plus a fourth-rounder this year for rearguard Joe Morrow. Did they mortgage the future? Nope.

Now that the Buffalo Sabres have rid themselves of the headache known as Evander Kane, what do they have to show for the original deal with les Jets that sent the sometimes wacky winger to upstate New York? Not much. If my math is accurate, here’s how the February 2015 trade now shakes down: Winnipeg has Tyler Myers, Joel Armia, Jack Roslovic, Brendan Lemieux and a sixth-round pick in the NHL entry draft this summer (for Drew Stafford); Buffalo has Zach Bogosian, Danny O’Regan, Jason Kasdorf, a conditional pick in 2019 (first or second round) and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2020. It’s still a total fleece job by Cheveldayoff.

With the exception of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, I can’t think of a partnership that’s lasted as long as Jill Officer and Jennifer Jones. What’s it been? Twenty-three years? Twenty-four? Thus, when Officer announced her intention to retreat from full-time competition next season, it was a big deal. She’s one of the most-decorated curlers in Manitoba history, with nine provincial titles (two in Junior), seven Canadian titles (one in Junior), one Olympic Games gold medal, and one world championship. Only six women have played in more games at the Canadian Scotties than Officer. And there’s a park named in her honor in North Kildonan. All that and, unless I missed it, the Winnipeg Sun completely ignored the story. Shame, shame.

The Sun’s snub of Officer is the latest example of the tabloid’s near-total abandonment of curling coverage by local scribes. The Sun didn’t have a reporter on the scene at last month’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton, nor does it have feet on the ground in Regina for this week’s Brier. Coverage is being handled by Terry Jones of Postmedia Edmonton and Murray McCormick of the Regina Leader-Post. By way of comparison, the Winnipeg Free Press continues to do it the right way. Melissa Martin was in Penticton and Jason Bell is in Regina. And the Freep posted the Officer story on its website at 11:05 a.m. Friday, and followed with a video interview in the afternoon. That’s how it’s supposed to be done.

Elliotte Friedman

Holy hissing contest, Batman! Broadcaster Elliotte Friedman, whose home base is the Republic of Tranna, went on Sportsnet 650 last week to discuss the steaming mess of dog hooey that is the Vancouver Canucks, and it turns out that it’s the media’s fault. Also the fans’ fault. Everybody’s to blame except the team president, Trevor Linden, and the GM, Jim Benning.

“I see your market right now and I think it’s a really brutal place to be,” Friedman said. “These guys feel like they are under siege…like they’re getting torn apart by wild dogs.”

He described the situation in Vancity as “toxic” and “edgy” and “nasty” because of the media.

Ed Willes

Not surprisingly, Vancouver news scavengers and opinionist sprung into action, including old friend Ed Willes of Postmedia.

“Why would Elliotte Frickin’ Friedman care so passionately about the Vancouver market, and why would he launch such an impassioned defence of Linden and Benning from The Big Smoke?” Willes asked. “Fair questions, yes? As for the answers, we’d suggest they lie somewhere in the towering arrogance of Toronto’s media titans and the uncomfortable relationship that exists between ‘insiders’ and their sources. Friedman is a made man in that world but his information sometimes comes at a cost. Consider his radio diatribe a down payment on his next scoop.”

Ouch.

Totally dumb tweet of the week comes from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star and Sportsnet: “Remember the old days when independent media used to ask serious, critical questions when NHL expanded. Now there’s mostly just cheerleading. Yay, Seattle, look how many tix you sold. Yay, more shitty teams, more diluted NHL hockey. It’s a sad thing.” Ya, those Vegas Golden Knights are a real “shitty” team, Damien. But, hey, if it makes you happy, perhaps we can go all the way back to the six-team days when goaltenders played with their bare faces hanging out and Charlie Burns was the only NHL player who wore a helmet.

Urban Bowman

Sad to hear of the passing of former Winnipeg Blue Bombers (interim) head coach Urban Bowman. Had many enjoyable chin-wags with Bowman during his time subbing for Cal Murphy, who was away getting a new heart. Urban had a folksy, cowboy charm that made him the Bum Phillips of the Canadian Football League, and it wasn’t uncommon to hear him talk of chickens, cattle and such instead of Xs and Os. He did, mind you, have one memorable quote about football. “We’re going to breathe our nasty breath on those folks,” he said prior to a playoff game. “Yes, sir, we’re going to breathe our nasty, bad breath on those folks.” Urban was a good man…with bad breath.

So, I’m watching Pardon the Interruption on TSN the other day and the boys, Keith Olbermann and Tony Kornheiser, are gasbagging about Johnny Manziel potentially getting a second chance in the National Football League. “Why not?” asks Olbermann, who’s all in on the return of Johnny Football. “He’s a misdemeanor case.” That’s what we’re calling woman beaters these days? A misdemeanor case? Is there some sort of TV rule that says you must be a complete goomer to talk sports? I mean, two weeks ago NBC gab guy Mike Milbury referred to former Los Angeles Kings defenceman Slava Voynov’s brutal assault on his wife as an “unfortunate incident.” Now a man putting the boots to a woman is a “misdemeanor case.” Clearly, the culture of misogyny extends from the clubhouse to the old men in the press box.

Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig

Watched Pride of the Yankees the other day. A total tear-jerker. But I got a kick out of the “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech Gary Cooper delivered at the end of the movie. “I have been given fame and undeserved praise by the boys up there behind the wire in the press box, my friends, the sportswriters,” Coop said in his role as New York Yankees legendary first baseman Lou Gehrig. An athlete’s “friends?” Sportswriters? That has to be the biggest fib on the face of the earth.

Let’s give Rosie DiManno big points for honesty. In her wrap from South Korea, the Toronto Star columnist admits that the Olympic Games of Snow and Ice Sports is about “sports some of us only cover every four years but, of course, feign instant expertise at.” Totally true. And it showed, especially with the guys who attempted to cover curling. Dave Feschuk of the Star, for example, wrote about curling guru “Russ” Turnbull, but the late Moosie’s actual name was Ray. And Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail prattled on about Rachel Homan burning a rock when it was actually one of the Canadian skip’s opponents who inadvertently touched a stone while sweeping it into the rings.

Clara Hughes

And, finally, this week’s Stevie-ism from the ever-bombastic Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “The list of all-time Canadian Olympic greats is not particularly long. In summer, you start with Percy Williams and Donovan Bailey and turn somewhere to Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle and lately Penny Oleksiak. In winter, there is a place for Cindy Klassen and Catriona Le May Doan and Marc Gagnon and Hayley Wickenheiser and a few others.” Excuse me? Clara Hughes, the only Olympic athlete to earn multiple medals in both Winter and Summer Games, doesn’t qualify? Her two cycling (bronze) and four speed skating (gold, silver, two bronze) medals aren’t enough? Sorry, Stevie, but any list of Canada’s great Olympians has to begin with the smiling redhead from Winnipeg.

 

 

 

Winnipeg Jets: Kevin Cheveldayoff is the life of this post-season party

Let’s make something abundantly clear: This is down to Kevin Cheveldayoff.

Yes, the much maligned man who generally managed the Winnipeg Jets from the fetal position for the first 3 1/2 years of his stewardship is the main reason there shall be meaningful matches played post-April 11 at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie.

If not for Cheveldayoff’s sleight-of-hand prior to the National Hockey League trade deadline, you see, fans would not have flocked to the intersection of Portage and Main on Thursday night for an impromptu whoop-it-up in celebration of the Jets securing the Western Conference second wild-card position and a ticket to the Stanley Cup tournament. They would have been drowning their sorrows. Again.

Other explanations will, of course, be advanced in any analysis of the Jets transformation from perennial Sad Sack to playoff participant. You will find, for example, head coach Paul Maurice’s finger prints all over the product. Ondrej Pavelec, the oft-scorned, ridiculed and overpaid goaltender who spent much of the season serving as upstart Michael Hutchinson’s caddy, magically morphed into an all-world puck-stopper in the past two weeks and is earning his handsome stipend. Dustin Byfuglien emerged as a hybrid force. Evander Kane had the bad manners to wear a track suit to work one day in Vancouver.

All valid points.

But no. As I said, this one is down to Cheveldayoff, who, until two months ago, gave little indication that he actually had a pulse. The Jets GM has had more critics than Phil Kessel. He has been tsk-tsked for being reclusive. For being gun shy. For saying a whole lot of nothing whenever he actually pulled his head out of the sand. For doing diddley, other than stockpiling draft choices and preaching patience. He’s taken more of a beating than a rented mule.

Then along came the Kane Mutiny and we discovered exactly how daring and decisive Cheveldayoff can be.

We still don’t know all the gory details of L’Affaire Kane. Perhaps we never will. It’s one of those “what happens in the room, stays in the room” things. Suffice to say, Evander Kane screwed up at a team gathering in Vancouver, his mates were unamused, one or more of them thought it would be a swell idea to administer a dose of frontier justice, and the flamboyant, mercurial winger never wore Jets linen again.

In an era when the salary cap makes it difficult to trade bubble gum cards, never mind live bodies, Cheveldayoff managed to take his damaged goods (Kane) and shuffle him off to Buffalo, along with Zach Bogosian, in barter for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford and an assortment of intriguing add-ons that include one of the Sabres’ first-round selections in this summer’s NHL entry draft.

To say Myers and Stafford have been useful is to say Jets team co-bankroll David Thomson has a few bucks in the bank. Both ex-Sabres have been impactful, gobbling up considerable minutes each night and delivering timely offence.

The deal with Buffalo was a master stroke. And Cheveldayoff didn’t stop there. He later added Jiri Tlusty. Then Lee Stempniak.

Subtract Stafford, Stempniak, Tlusty and Myers from the lineup and ask yourself if the Jets would be positioned to face off vs. either the St. Louis Blues or Disney Ducks in the opening skirmish of the NHL’s second season next week. Would we be talking about celebrations at Portage and Main and whiteouts and turning the Little Hockey House on the Prairie into the Den of Din on Donald?

The answer is an emphatic “No, no, no. A thousand times no.”

Yet here we are, discussing those very topics.

Here’s something else for you to chew on: Given a favorable set of circumstances, the Jets, although the eighth seed in the western portion of the tournament, could be in for a deep run in their first post-season crusade since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011. If, for example, the locals were to meet the very beatable Ducks in the first round and survive, they would then hook up with the winner of the Vancouver Canucks-Calgary Flames series.

Can you say conference final, kids? I knew you could.

So, it’s hats and bonnets off to Kevin Cheveldayoff, master manipulator. Who knew?

 

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.