Let’s talk about the NHL’s COVID boogie…what they’re saying about the Winnipeg Jets…one Mike drops the mic and another Mike picks it up…Citizen Kane’s latest woes…the value of a good copy editor…and no mulligans for Trump

An early-week smorgas-bored…and happy hockeying everybody…

And so it begins Wednesday night, a modified National Hockey League crusade featuring fewer games, expanded rosters, a Hoser Division, and a killer pandemic.

Make no mistake, this NHL do-si-do shall boogie along to the whims and cadence of COVID-19, which has already put the Dallas Stars in drydock and isn’t likely to play favorites. We can expect more of same, and you can only hope the coronavirus doesn’t take its biggest bite out of your hockey heroes.

We’ve seen how it works, of course, thanks to other leagues.

Every quarterback with a pulse on the Denver Broncos roster was sacked. The Cleveland Browns lost three coaches and four players in advance of their National Football League playoff skirmish v. the Pittsburgh Steelers. It took Tony Romo out of the CBS Sports blurt box. Etcetera, etcetera.

In short, COVID-19 has taken down more NFL players than Michael Strahan, Mean Joe Greene, Reggie White and Dick Butkus in their best years. Combined.

Over in the National Basketball Association, the Boston Celtics-Miami Heat joust was called off Sunday when there weren’t enough healthy bodies to put a team on the hardwood. Two games were called off Monday. The Philly 76ers had the minimum of eight players available for their match v. the Denver Nuggets. The Dallas Mavericks closed their practice facility. Etcetera, etcetera.

So, really, all bets should be off before they drop the puck on the 2021 NHL season, even as Vegas bookies are offering odds on a Stanley Cup champion (the Winnipeg Jets, for those so inclined, were listed at 40/1 on Bodog last time I looked).

Similarly, it’s folly to engage in the reading of tea leaves and/or tarot cards.

That’s Gordie Tumilson, middle front row, beside Bobby Hull.

I mean, go ahead and toss out pre-play predictions if you like, but if COVID-19 were to slay Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit, I don’t like the Jets playoff chances with a Zamboni driver in the blue paint and Gordie Tumilson as backup.

That’s no rap against old friend and former teammate Gordie, by the way. He’s one of my favorite people, but I’m guessing the reflexes aren’t quite as rapier-like as when he stopped rubber for the West Kildonan North Stars in 1969-70 and the Jets a few years later.

Thus, there shall be no prognostications from moi, except to say I expect the Toronto Maple Leafs to top the Hoser Division. (Then, as is their custom, they’ll be excused in the opening round of Beard Season.) Otherwise, it’s a complete crap shoot that, again, shall follow the dictates of COVID, whether we like it or not.

Let’s just call it the COVID19-2021 season.

The gang at NHL.com wasn’t shy about delivering predictions, and six of 15 observers believe the Jets have the right stuff to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Adam Kimelman has the local lads finishing third, while Dave Stubbs, Shawn P. Roarke, Bill Price, Mike G. Morreale and Tracey Myers slot them in at fourth. USA Today, meanwhile, has the Jets penciled in for a sixth-place finish, ahead of only the Ottawa Senators.

Ray Ferraro

Here’s what they’re saying about the Jets hither and yon…

Ray Ferraro, TSN: “Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver, I’ve got those three kind of together (after Toronto, Montreal and Calgary). I’m not blown away by Winnipeg’s defence. That’s the one thing that gives me pause. But maybe one of those young guys is more ready than you think. Maybe you can climb a spot. Maybe you can put yourself in a different place. I don’t know, is Hellebuyck gonna do that again this year, ’cause, man, he was the best goalie in the league last year. If he can, great. That erases a lot of the shortcomings perhaps of that defence.”

Sean McIndoe, The Athletic: “The optimist’s take on the Jets is that they were pretty good last year despite lots of doom and gloom about their thin blueline, then looked like a playoff team and only lost in the qualifying round because everyone got hurt. The pessimist would point out that ‘pretty good’ isn’t all that great when you have a Vezina winner in goal, and the blueline isn’t significantly better. If Connor Hellebuyck stands on his head again, cool. If he does like a lot of Vezina winners and regresses to the mean even a little, they might fall out of the playoff hunt. I realize ‘they need their goalie to play well’ is an insight that would apply to every team in the league, but it really applies to the Jets.”

Greg Wyshynski, ESPN: “The Winnipeg Jets will ice another competitive team, backstopped by one of the league’s elite netminders in Connor Hellebuyck. But as the team looks to push for another long playoff run, dark storm clouds are overhead, as trade rumors persist involving goal-scoring wizard Patrik Laine. (Paul) Stastny can’t recapture the magic. On a contending team, Stastny is a valuable asset. He does a lot of the little things right that can make the difference in a playoff series. But the last time he was in Winnipeg, he was 32 years old and had a 0.65 points-per-game average between the Jets and Blues. Last season, in 71 games, that average dipped down to 0.54, the lowest of his career. Not a liability as a player, but maybe no longer the guy you want as your No. 2 centre. Then again, he did have impressive chemistry with (Nikolaj) Ehlers and Laine, so we could be wrong.”

Joe Thornton

Random observations: I’m not convinced it’s a given that the Ottawa Senators are destined to be Hoser Division bottom-feeders. Is it likely? Sure. Especially if bankroll Eugene Melnyk sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong. Just don’t sleep on them…The Montreal Canadiens are overrated. Ditto the Calgary Flames…When I submit that I expect the Maple Leafs to top the Hoser Division, it’s based on a belief that aligning greybeard Joe Thornton with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the top line is a gimmick with a shelf life of about one week…How many people in the True North will pay attention to the standings south of the border? What the American teams do is irrelevant until the Stanley Cup tournament is down to the final four. So why tune in?…Just a reminder, the Jets were the last homebrew outfit to make it to the SC semifinals, in 2018. Seems like a decade ago, doesn’t it?

The What Was Your First Clue Sherlock Award goes to the Drab Slab for this headline on the Jets playing in an empty Little Hockey House On The Prairie this season: “Bell MTS Place won’t be same without fans.” Ya think?

Mike Milbury

So, the other shoe has finally dropped for Mike Milbury, the former player, coach and GM most noted for clubbing a New York Rangers fan on the head with his footwear. NBC Sports has decided it can get along without Milbury’s mumbled musings in the broadcast booth and/or studio this season, and they’ll hand his mic to another defrocked NHL coach, Mike Babcock. No word on what Milbury plans to do with his free time, but apparently he’ll begin a search for the real Space Needle. Hopefully, there’ll be no women on site to “disrupt” his concentration.

Evander Kane and the infamous money phone.

Remember that money phone pic Evander Kane posted from Las Vegas during the 2012-13 NHL lockout? You know, the one with the stacks of American 100 dollar bills? Well, today old friend Evander is $26.8 million in the glue, and hands up anyone who’s surprised to learn that he’s in trouble again? Didn’t think so. Kane, of course, isn’t the first high-salaried athlete to squander a fortune, and he won’t be the last. It’s just that it’s a particularly bad look for him, since a lot of the Jets faithful recall Kane flaunting his wealth with that money phone pic. Today he’d have to borrow a quarter to call someone who cares in Winnipeg, and that’s sad.

Hayley Moore

Say, here’s some good news: Add the name Hayley Moore to the growing list of women stepping into prominent positions in men’s professional sports. The American Hockey League has recruited Hayley as its Vice President of Hockey Operations, and she’ll be on the job early next month, once the National Women’s Hockey League Isobel Cup tournament wraps up in Lake Placid. At present, she’s president of the Boston Pride, after serving as team GM and deputy commissioner and director of player development for the NWHL.

There’s a very good reason why copy editors exist: They can save a writer’s bacon. Unfortunately, they were asleep on the rim when Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna filed this copy last weekend: “Yes, American hockey is pretty darn good,” he wrote. “And no, that’s not necessarily new. Twenty years ago, Sidney Crosby scored the Golden Goal in overtime. The opponent: Team USA, winner of the 1986 World Cup.” D’oh! Twenty years ago, Crosby was in Junior High and the World Cup of Hockey didn’t exist in 1986.

That reminds me of one of my worst gaffes, although not in a byline article. I referred to the Major League Baseball all-star game in July as the “annual Fall Classic.” Gus Collins was on the sports desk that night at the Winnipeg Tribune, and he didn’t catch the mistake. I noticed it at first light the following morning while eating breakfast. Scant seconds later, Gus was on the blower. “Did you see it?” he asked. To which I replied, “Sorry, Gus, I can’t talk right now. I just choked on my Cheerios.”

Donald Trump: No mulligans for you!

According to Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, Donald Trump is “gutted” over the PGA of America voting to remove its 2022 signature tournament from his Trump National golf course in Bedminster, N.J. Not to worry, Trumpsters. Apparently Rudy Giuliana is already on the case, arranging a press conference at a convenient Four Seasons Greenskeeper Shed, whereupon he will demand a mulligan for Trump and vow to challenge the vote in the highest Kangaroo Court he can find.

And, finally, golfers Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump last week, but New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, a one-time Trumpite, wants no part of the trinket. To get even for the betrayal, it’s believed Trump stomped his feet, shook his tiny fists, and demanded his MAGA hat back.

About those first-place Winnipeg Jets…the NHL’s bargain basement…the Gospel According to Chevy (or an Ode to Hot Air)…eyes vs. pies…bodychecking stirs up a ruckus…strange scribblings from The ROT…the WTA’s pregnant pause…and a Leafs sweater under the tree

A Christmas eve smorgas-bored…and, baby, it’s not cold outside where I live but it sure has been windy and wet…

Blake Wheeler and Rink Rat Scheifele

Now that the Winnipeg Jets have arrived at their Christmas recess, I believe a few random observations are in order, starting with the rabble.

  • I read a lot of copy on les Jets, usually scanning the comment section of each article as well, and it occurs to me that many among the faithful aren’t entirely satisfied with our local hockey heroes. Apparently, they ought to be doing better. Interesting. I mean, the lads are top of the table in the Central Division of the National Hockey League. They’re top of the table in the Western Conference. Two skaters—Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler—are top 10 in scoring. Two—Scheifele and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine—are top 10 in goals. They have a backup goaltender—Laurent Brossoit—who’s lost just once and is capable of pitching shutouts. Yet after most skirmishes, there’s much grumbling. Talk about a tough crowd.

  • Puck Finn lit the lamp 18 times in November. Apparently he decided to take December off to allow Rink Rat Scheifele to catch up.

  • Hocus pocus: Twig Ehlers takes two shots and scores three goals vs. the San Jose Sharks. For his next magic trick, Twig will make Gary Bettman disappear.

  • Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba

    Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that les Jets top defensive pairing is third in line at the pay window? It’s true. Josh Morrissey/Jacob Trouba collect less coin than Tyler Myers/Dmitri Kulikov and Dustin Byfuglien/Ben Chiarot. I don’t know if that makes Kevin Cheveldayoff a genius general manager or a complete doofus.

Myers/Kulikov:           $5.5 million/$4.3 million-$9.8 million.
Byfuglien/Chiarot:    
  $7.6 million/$1.4 million-$9.0 million.
Trouba/Morrissey:   $5.5 million/$3.15 million-$8.65 million.

  • Mathieu Perreault

    Mathieu Perreault needs to sit in a barber’s chair, and Puck Finn needs to grow his bread-butter-and-egg man beard again. Which, I suppose, would make him Puck Amish.

  • Bryan Little is on pace for a 40-to-50-point season. Is that enough from a No. 2 centre? Since les Jets are in first place, apparently it is.

  • Yes, Puck Finn is a one-trick pony. I’m fine with that (for now) as long as he looks and plays like he’s actually more interested in hockey than Fortnite.

  • Nothing about keeper Connor Hellebuyck’s play bothers me. Today. If he’s still iffy in April, that will bother me.

  • Coach PoMo

    Can we all agree that Paul Maurice is the right coach for this outfit? Nope. But if the boys in the room perform like they have Coach Potty Mouth’s back, I guess what we think doesn’t carry any weight.

  • Are the Jets as good as the group that reached the Western Conference final last spring? Ask me that once the trade deadline has passed.

I’ve long held that Rink Rat Scheifele is the top bargain in the NHL at $6.125 million a year, but, upon further review, Mikko Rantanen has to be the best buy today. The league’s leading point collector has a base salary of $832,500 and a cap hit of $894,167 according to CapFriendly. A day of reckoning awaits Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic.

Chevy

Had to chuckle at Mike McIntyre’s piece on Cheveldayoff in the Drab Slab known as the Winnipeg Free Press. McIntyre conceded that Chevy has mastered “the political art of saying plenty without saying a lot,” yet that didn’t prevent the Freep scribe from writing 2,119 words in an Ode to Hot Air. Never have so many words said so little. Over at the Winnipeg Sun, Ken Wiebe provided the Coles Notes version of the Gospel According to Chevy—969 words of nothingness. And this is my version: Chevy flaps gums, wags tongue, hot air seeps out. So here’s the deal, boys: When Chevy speaks, listen…but when he says nothing (which is almost always), close your notebook and erase the tape.

Department of Bad Timing: This headline on an Andrew Berkshire piece in the Drab Slab: “Kings too old, too slow to compete in high-tempo NHL.” D’oh! Those sloth-like Los Angeles Kings beat les Jets 4-1 that night.

I don’t know how much the Freep is paying Berkshire, but it’s too much. His charts, graphs and numbers haven’t told me anything that my eyes can’t see. I mean, I don’t need fancy stats and pie charts to advise me that the Kings are old and slow, or that les Jets could use an upgrade on the blueline. I wrote that stuff before they dropped the puck on October. As did others.

When did NHL players become such wimps? Seriously. No one can absorb a legal bodycheck without chucking knuckles anymore? What went on in Vancouver last Tuesday between the Canucks and Tampa Bay Lightning was just stupid. I saw one reckless, nasty fender bender. The rest were meh moments. Yet the entire second period was a scuffle. I’m all for going after cheap-shot scoundrels like Tom Wilson and the dearly departed Matt Cooke, but breathing too heavily on Elias Petterson shouldn’t be cause for a ruckus.

So the Women’s Tennis Association no longer will penalize players who take time off to have babies. Welcome to the 21st century, ladies.

The Radio City Rockettes

Got a kick out of this line from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “Torontonians like going out to see things. Anything. Except the World Cup of Hockey.” Really? Tell that to the Argonauts. The Boatmen couldn’t draw a crowd if the Radio City Rockettes promised to high-step the length of BMO Field naked.

It’s not all bad news for the Argos and their attendance woes. I mean, they’re guaranteed one sellout in 2019. Trouble is, they have to get out of Dodge to do it. They’ve farmed out a game to Halifax, where fans want the Canadian Football League in the worst way. Given that it’s Argos vs. Montreal Alouettes, that’s exactly what they’ll get—football in the worst way.

Kelly also writes that Canada is a “one-sport country.” Which is like saying the Republic of Tranna is the only city in the country. Come to think of it, that’s what some folks in The ROT believe.

What’s this? Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star and Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna sniping at each other on Twitter? They sure were. Too bad they didn’t do any of that hissing when TSN’s The Reporters was on the air.

Walter and Wayne Gretzky

This from Simmons in his weekly three-dot column: “Unless their name is Walter Gretzky, hockey dads should basically keep their opinions to themselves.” That’s rich. I mean, a guy who makes his living by spewing opinion doesn’t want to hear other opinion. Unless it’s from Wayne’s dad Wally. Where the hell does that come from? I mean, Scotty Bowman is a hockey dad. Ditto Ray Bourque, Louie DeBrusk, Keith Tkachuk, Ray Ferraro, Cliff Fletcher, Dave Gagner, Dave Lowry, Sami Kapanen, Dave Manson, Michael Nylander, Paul Reinhart, Peter Stastny, Mike Foligno, etc., etc., etc. Millions of everyday men across the globe are good hockey dads. And they shouldn’t be allowed a voice in their daughters’ or sons’ activity? And what about hockey moms? Are they supposed to shut the hell up, too?

And, finally, I remember finding a tiny, blue Tranna Maple Leafs sweater under the tree one Christmas morning many, many years ago. It didn’t have a name or number on the back. Just that classic Leafs logo on the front. I don’t ever wonder what happened to that sweater, but I’ve often wondered what happened to the Leafs.

About Jumbo Thornton’s chin whiskers…an expansion team in Seattle…and they’re buzzing about the Winnipeg Jets

Midweek musings on the edge of a fresh National Hockey League season…

Jumbo Joe Thornton and the here and after.

There was good news and bad news at the NHL’s roster cut-down deadline this week. The bad news is that Joe Thornton’s chin whiskers became a casualty. That’s right, the San Jose Sharks forward had his mountain-man beard hacked off. The good news is that they discovered Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart’s airplane and a golf ball that Tiger Woods lost at last summer’s U.S. Open under all that scruff.

Looks like Seattle will be awarded an expansion franchise for the 2020 NHL season. Reaction to the news in Ottawa was swift: “Can we get one, too?”

You know that tired lament about how no one notices the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown? About how anyone who works and plays in River City flies under the radar? About how life sucks because everyone in the eastern time zone is tucked snugly into bed by the time they drop the puck out in the colonies?

Well, you wanted recognition for the Winnipeg Jets? You’ve got it.

Les Jets de Winnipeg have been in more headlines this week than anyone not being considered for a seat on the United States Supreme Court. They’re getting buzz from one of our two national newspapers, the Globe and Mail. They’re getting buzz from Yahoo! Sports. The “insiders” at Sportsnet are buzzing about our local hockey heroes. ESPN is boffo on les Jets. NBC/NBCSN will feature les Jets five times on Wednesday nights. Online and sports books in Las Vegas are bullish on Winnipeg HC.

Cripes, man, there’s even Jets buzz on TSN, where they could be found on the main page of the website on Tuesday morning. In three different headlines.

When I saw that, I immediately called up the Weather Channel.

“Is it true?” I asked a young woman who answered the phone.

“Is what true?” she replied.

“Has Hell frozen over?”

“By Hell, do you mean Ottawa and the Senators?”

“No. I mean Hell as in Hell. You know…Satan, hissing, misery, suffering, eternal inferno. That wretched place.”

“Sounds like Ottawa and the Senators to me. But if you mean the biblical Hell, the usual warm front persists and remains parked over most of it. Why do you ask?”

“Because TSN has three mentions about the Winnipeg Jets on the main page of the website and there’s nada—bupkus!—about TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. They can’t possibly start a day without slobbering over Johnny Rotten, so I figure it can only be one of two things: 1) I overslept and it’s late November; 2) hell has frozen over.”

“No,” she assured me, “you didn’t sleep in and snowballs still don’t have a hope in Hell. Trust me, you and everyone else will know when Hell has frozen over.”

“How so?”

“There’ll be a Stanley Cup parade on Yonge Street in Toronto.”

Blake Wheeler

According to the pundits hither and yon, Winnipeg HC, while not everyone’s flavor of the month, figures to be a very prominent player in its eighth crusade since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011.

Les Jets, who commence their 2018-19 journey vs. the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night, are listed at No. 2 on the TSN power rankings, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Those ratings, by the way, are determined by five talking heads—Ray Ferraro, O’Dog Jeff O’Neill, Craig Button, Jamie McLennan and Darren Dreger.) For its part, Yahoo! Sports ranks Winnipeg HC fifth, behind Tampa Bay, Nashville Predators, San Jose and the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

Over at Sportsnet, meanwhile, 16 “insiders” are gaga for les Jets.
* 9 pick them to win Stanley Cup;
* 10 pick them to win Western Division;
* 11 pick them as the Canadian outfit with highest points total;
* 1 (Kristina Rutherford) picks Blake Wheeler to win Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player;
* 5 pick Connor Hellebuyck to win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.

Connor Hellebuyck

At The Athletic, 47 scribes/editors weighed in on the upcoming season and les Jets are the second favorite to cop the Cup; Puck Finn is the overwhelming pick to win the Rocket Richard Trophy; Connor Hellebuyck is the second choice for the Vezina; and even the head coach, Paul Maurice, is feeling the love as co-favorite to be named coach of the year (with Peter DeBoer of San Jose).

Not since the World Hockey Association have we witnessed such pre-season hype for Winnipeg HC. Those WHA outfits delivered the goods. We’ll know about these Jets in about nine months.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Interesting take on les Jets from Dave Shoalts of the Globe and Mail:

“Everybody has fallen in love with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the team to break Canada’s 25-year Stanley Cup drought. But it might just be the Winnipeg Jets who accomplish that. The Maple Leafs may be the darlings of the oddsmakers, but the Jets are big, fast, skilled and better than the team that went to last spring’s Western Conference final.

“With that experience under their belts, the Jets are now poised to take the next step. Their top line of centre Mark Scheifele and wingers Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor is one of the best in the league. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck played his way into the top tier of goaltenders with his work in the playoffs. At 25 years of age he, like his teammates, is only getting better.”

A couple things to peel away here:

Bryan Little

I’m not convinced this Jets outfit is “better than the team” that lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final. The departure of Paul Stastny tells me it isn’t. Unless Bryan Little has a bounce-back season or Jack Roslovic is a revelation, Winnipeg HC is weaker at centre ice.

Hellebuyck, meantime, was terrific during a burdensome regular season and early in the playoffs. He did not, however, play admirably in the five-game ouster vs. Vegas. He was sketchy and Marc-André Fleury outperformed him by a wide margin, despite his repeated mantra that “luck” was Fleury’s greatest ally.