Let’s talk about the Legend of Big Buff and a few other things on my mind

Yes, Dustin Byfuglien was a trip.

Whether the rogue rearguard was rag-dolling foes, or simply having a rollicking good time playing unharnessed pond hockey rather than the rigid north-south style preferred by coaches who frowned on freelancing, Big Buff was the whole nine yards.

Many years from now, folks will gather around the campfire and talk about him as some mythical creature, if they aren’t already.

They’ll speak in hushed tones, describing a man-beast on blades, untamed and as tall as a grain silo, as wide as the Canadian Prairies, hairy and swift and capable of Paul Bunyanesque feats of strength. And they’ll talk about his habitat, how he roamed from one fishing hole to the next, catching muskellunge and walleye and trout while the smaller and less adventurous of his hockey species grazed on golf courses or took root in front of their PlayStations.

“I was there the night Big Buff rag-dolled those two Vegas Golden Knights,” someone will whisper with due reverence. “Took one of ’em in each of his big paws and yanked ’em right out of a scrum. Shook ’em and dragged ’em around like they were pom-poms.”

“Same thing one night against Nashville,” another will say, nodding. “Took two Predators by the scruff of the neck, one in each hand, and shook ’em like salt-and-pepper shakers.”

The folklore will include tales of derring-do, rink-length dashes by this hulking figure of few words, a force the likes of which had never been seen on a National Hockey League freeze. There’ll be mention of an ice tub and Evander Kane’s clothing, and the sonic boom of a slapshot that served the Winnipeg Jets so well for eight winters.

And it’ll all be true, even if delivered with a side order of embellishment.

Big Buff truly was unique. He didn’t have a pregame meal like the rest of the Jets. They simply tossed him a salt lick. That’s what you do when a guy is 6-feet-8 (on skates) and 260 pounds, give or take a late-night snack.

I always thought the whole Big Buff shtick would have made for a great sitcom. He could have played himself, except he’d have had to speak, and we all know Big Buff has less to say than a street mime with a mouth full of cotton. It’s kind of tough to do a talkie when the leading man won’t talk. Still, he’s got that impish grin and his peculiar ways, which certainly became more peculiar in the past eight months.

Big Buff’s divorce from the Jets, official on Friday, is the part of the legend that didn’t produce any yuks.

More to the point, Byfuglien was robustly villainized by many among the rabble and some news snoops when he took a powder on the eve of training camp last September. The Jets wanted and expected Big Buff to play hockey, but his druthers were to gaze at his navel while squatting in an ice-fishing hut. His adios left Winnipeg HC in a penny pinch, in that his $7.6 million cap hit was still on the books, and he put them in an on-ice pickle, with a hole the size of his appetite on the right side of the defence. For that he was branded “selfish” and an ingrate.

Well guess what? Life happens. Flames flicker out.

If we are to believe the way Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff tells the tale, Big Buff’s passion for banging heads, quarterbacking the powerplay and goofing around with the guys had run its course. To paraphrase a Yogi Berraism: Buff came to a fork in the road and he took it. Family and fishing won out over Winnipeg HC and shinny.

Was the most popular of the Jets guilty of bad timing? I don’t think Buff was guilty of anything. His life, his timetable. But, sure, from the club and fan perspective he could have picked a better time to bug out. No doubt there would have been a different twist to Chevy’s off-season tactics had he known about Buff’s Tour de Navel before September, except the universe doesn’t always unfold as an NHL GM would like it to.

I don’t know if Buff plans to confirm or deny Chevy’s version of events now that the divorce is a fait accompli, but I’m guessing the big defender will let us inside his head about the same time Lake Winnipeg runs dry.

And, really, he doesn’t owe us the skinny on everything that went down since September. Nor is there any obligation for him to convince us that he isn’t a complete numbskull for walking away when there was a sizable chunk of change ($14 million) still on the table for his taking.

He leaves on his own terms (some of us can relate to that) at age 35, and we should just let it be part of the folklore.

I don’t really like to say I told you so, but sometimes I can’t resist the urge. So, I’ll remind you that this is what I wrote on Oct. 9 last year: “Retire or return, Byfuglien has excused himself from the Jets’ future. I mean, if he lacks the jam to join them for this crusade, I can’t imagine he’ll feel any differently a year from now. Let’s face it, he’s done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC.” So there, I told you so.

Byfuglien has been called a riddle. An enigma. A puzzle. But is he really that hard to figure out? Okay, he’s a hockey hybrid. He has ox-like strength and no one his size has any business looking so light on his feet while skating on two blades barely wider than a butter knife. But that made him unique, not complicated. He also did a lot of freelancing, which led to crippling brain farts that resulted in pucks in the wrong net. But that made him a defensive liability, and there’s an abundance of those players in the NHL. So what is it about Big Buff that’s so confounding? Well, he seemed to play the game with a wink and a nod and, often, with a kid-like glee. He shunned news snoops like they’d give him cooties, but he was aw shucks and warm and fuzzy with a fawning faithful. It’s been oft written and said that he marched to the beat of his own drum, and hockey players aren’t programmed to go their own way. But the only truly unusual thing he’s done is turn his back on $14 million. That doesn’t make him an enigma. It makes him real.

Quick question: Will the rabble think differently about Big Buff if he takes his eroding talents to another NHL outfit? Seems to me they might. The storyline will go from “he didn’t want to play hockey anymore” to “he still wanted to play hockey, just not for the Jets.” Which means some might add another descriptive to the big man: Phony. But I don’t see him playing again.

Over at the Drab Slab, there seems to be some confusion about Big Buff’s legacy, at least that’s the way I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s take on the matter. Here’s what he’s written:

Feb. 3: “A re-charged and rehabilitated Byfuglien was expected to be a pillar on the back end. Instead, his selfish actions created nothing but chaos and uncertainty. Unfortunately for Byfuglien, the entire soap opera has tarnished the legacy of one of the most unique athletes we’ve ever seen in the city.”

April 17: “Forgive me if I have a hard time painting anyone who willingly walks away from US $14 million as selfish,” and “In my eyes, no legacy has been tarnished here, nor should it be.”

So he’s selfish, but he isn’t selfish. He’s tarnished, but he isn’t tarnished. Mr. Flip, meet Mr. Flop.

Frankly, I doubt Big Buff gives a damn what jock journos think or write about him. Just like they don’t give a damn what he thinks about them or their scribblings. It’s a mutual Don’t Give A Damn Society.

Hey, check it out. My man young Eddie Tait has a book out, For the W, the story of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ gallop to the Grey Cup last year. If young Eddie’s doing the scribbling, you know it’s a top-drawer product, and I’m told he has a boffo editor in Rheanne Marcoux. Winnipeg FC radio voice Knuckles Irving of CJOB says the book is “sensational,” and that’s good enough for me. It sells for $54.99 and you can grab a copy at the Canadian Football League club’s shop or online.

This week in jock journalism…

I make an early-morning tour of newspapers and sports websites hither and yon, always searching for something fresh and different, and I found it in a Rob Tychkowski column. Rob’s with Postmedia E-Town, and he did a parody on the recent conference call between Donald Trump and various pro sports leaders. It’s laugh-out-loud funny…I never know what to expect when I call up the Winnipeg Sun, but some issues are more disappointing than others. Today, for example, there are eight pages of sports. Total number of local stories: 0. Total number of local bylines: 0. Total number of bylines from the Republic of Tranna: 4…No, I don’t think sports is important while COVID-19 has us in lockdown, but if you insist on doing it, do it right for gawd’s sake…Not sure what the dumbest story of the week was, but here are the candidates, all from the Drab Slab: 1) Andrew Berkshire’s graphs and numbers-crunching on the Jets’ odd-man rushes and counter-attack plays last season; 2) Mad Mike McIntyre’s top-10 goals in Jets 2.0 history; 3) Mad Mike’s suggestion that the entire NHL (all 31 teams) gather in Good Ol’ Hometown to complete the 2019-20 season sometime this summer. My vote goes to article No. 3. It’s just stupid.

And, finally, Scott Billeck went from the toy department to newsside for the Winnipeg Sun when COVID-19 took grip, and his work has been boffo. Bruce Arthur has done the same thing for the Toronto Star. I’m not sure how many sports scribes could pull that off, but Scott and Bruce are getting it done.

About the Winnipeg Jets at the NHL trade deadline…Dustin Byfuglien’s ice tub…the bullying and harassment of Puck Finn…Sportsnet’s meathead gets his wish…news snoops in E-Town have a pity party…the Buffalo Girls stink it up in Sydney…Jennifer Jones at the top of the heap…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I have a no-trade, no-movement clause, so don’t even think about telling me to get lost…

Who wrote the script for the Winnipeg Jets last week? Charles Dickens?

I mean, the past few days definitely were the worst of times and the best of times for the local hockey heroes.

Then, again, perhaps it was Robert Louis Stevenson with pen in hand, because this was strictly Jekyll-and-Hyde stuff—The Strange Case of the Mile-High Keystone Kops in Denver and the Rat Pack in Glitter Gulch.

Twig Ehlers

Whatever the case, we are left to ponder a Jets outfit that didn’t merely lay an egg vs. the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, it served up a 12-egg omelette in the form of a 7-1 paddywhacking. To confound matters, Winnipeg HC followed by delivering an emphatic 6-3 wedgie to the Golden Knights 48 hours later in Las Vegas, a success that included significant contributions from glam-and-glitz guys Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine, the prodigal goal-scorer who’d been wandering the wasteland for the better part of three months.

So what do we say about Team Topsy-Turvy with the National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline upon us? The same as some of us said back in October: Help!

Les Jets were found wanting in last spring’s Stanley Cup runoff, falling seven bricks short of a full load, and that was with Paul Stastny on board. I’m uncertain what part of replacing Stastny that Kevin Cheveldayoff doesn’t understand, but it ought to be Priority One when the Jets general manager and his accomplices assemble in the Winnipeg HC trade war room on the morrow.

Chevy

Those same deep-thinkers might also be inclined to do something about their team’s Keystone Kopish defensive play. But, again, we said these things in October, so I’m at a loss to explain why we’ve arrived at the 11th hour and we’re still waiting for Chevy to take out his tinkering tools.

As assembled, I believe les Jets can get out of the Central Division if they secure home-ice advantage, but I don’t see them getting the best of the Calgary Flames or San Jose Sharks. My guess is that Chevy stands pat tomorrow. If so and les Jets fall short in their Stanley Cup quest, the lost opportunity is on him.

How do les Jets notify a player that he’s been traded? Dustin Byfuglien tells him he can find his track suit in the ice tub.

Best line about the NHL trade deadline was delivered by Brian Burke on Hockey Night in Canada: “It’s a four-aspirin headache for the general manager.”

Puck Finn

Now that Laine has freed himself from an epic goal-scoring funk, perhaps the leather-lungs in Jets Nation can turn down the volume on the trade-him, ship-him-to-the-farm, give-him-a-box-of-pressbox-popcorn blah, blah, blah. The noise in the past 2½ months has been as loud as it’s been irrational, confirming that Puck Finn is the victim of his own success. He lit more lamps than a Kentucky coal miner as an NHL freshman and sophomore, and nothing shy of 44 snipes is going to sate the rabble. At the least, his two goals in Glitter Gulch should shush the crowd. Until the next time, of course.

What’s this? Some among the rabble believe Puck Finn has been the target of bullying and harassment from news snoops and fans? Oh please. It’s professional sports. Criticism comes with the gig. Besides, it’s only bullying or harassment if you hear it, and I doubt Laine leaves his PlayStation gadgets long enough to stick his nose in a newspaper or lend an ear to yadda, yadda, yadda sports radio.

Nick Kypreos

Well, Nick Kypreos got his wish and I can only assume he’s pleased that Connor McDavid has been told to go away for a couple of games.

It wasn’t so long ago, you might recall, when the resident meathead on Sportsnet/Hockey Night in Canada suggested that McDavid forget about scoring highlight-reel goals and, instead, morph into a fellow meathead.

“I would have loved Connor McDavid to turn around and two-hand Lindholm,” Meathead growled on Hockey Central at Noon after the Edmonton Oilers captain had been sent careening into the boards by Hampus Lindholm in an early-January game vs. the Disney Ducks. “I don’t care. If Connor gets suspended a couple of games, so be it. Send a message. Send a message that I’m not taking this, okay? And Connor doesn’t have to fight, but pull the Mark Messier, pull a couple of old-time guys and say, ‘Listen, you wanna shove me into the boards? I’m gonna take my stick and I’m gonna jam it down your throat. I don’t care if I get two games, 10 games, I’ll make a hundred and 50, two hundred million dollars by the end of my career, I’ll spend 50 grand, I’ll spend a hundred grand just to send a message to you and everybody else. I ain’t taking this.’”

So McDavid lays Nick Leddy low with a shoulder to the head, and Sheriff George of the player safety department sends the Oilers captain to his room for two games. Plus, the kid is out $134,408.60 in pay. Just as Kypreos wanted.

Well, I’m sorry, but I fail to see the benefit of having the game’s most dynamic offensive performer sitting in stir. Just as I fail to see the benefit of having Kypreos spew rubbish on Sportsnet.

Free Connor McDavid! Pull the plug on Meathead!

Connor McDavid

You’ve got the Edmonton Oilers and you’ve got the Edmonton Wailers, otherwise known as the biased news snoops in E-Town. Many of them are crying foul on the NHL and Sheriff George for grounding their hockey hero. Some samples (reader advisory: Kleenex optional)…

Terry Jones, Postmedia: “The National Hockey League, repeatedly and consistently, punishes Connor McDavid for being Connor McDavid. Players are allowed to treat arguably the world’s greatest hockey player with all manner of spit and abuse with a minimal number of trips to the penalty box. But have McDavid, a first-time offender, create an unintentional hit to the head of New York Islanders’ Nick Leddy and he’s suspended for two games? This looks and smells like the NHL announcing to one and all that it treats its superstar player with the same rules of justice as all others. And that would be fine, if it were true and it worked both ways, but it doesn’t.”

Rob Tychkowski, Postmedia: “I never had much faith in George Parros. He has a tendency to overcompensate in these situations, ask Andrew Cogliano. But a multiple repeat offender who whacks someone on the head with a stick, that’s the guy who gets the break…if the NHL wants to treat him equally when it comes to infractions he commits, which it should, then maybe the NHL should treat him equally when it comes to the infractions he receives. That would be fair.”

Bob Stauffer, Oilers broadcaster: “Pretty ironic that a superstar player who doesn’t get protected by the officials gets no benefit of the doubt on a first-time infraction. There is a reason why the NBA kicks the NHL’s ass in the U.S. The NBA respects their stars, the NHL doesn’t!”

Wah, wah, wah.

Briane Meilleur, Shannon Birchard, Val Sweeting, Kerri Einarson.

If I had told you that Kerri Einarson and her all-skip outfit would fail to qualify for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, and that the Tracy Fleury foursome would fail to make the championship round, and that Jennifer Jones would fail to execute a simple draw to the rings and her world championship crew would fail to make the playoffs—horror of horrors!—you would have called for the men in the white coats, right? I mean, no one of sound mind would have forecast such calamity for the Buffalo Girls at the Canadian women’s curling shindig in Sydney. So how do we explain what went down at Centre 200? Manitoba is supposed to be a powerhouse. No province does curling better. And we went 0-fer. Go figure. But, hey, we still lay claim to Chelsea Carey, don’t we? Damn straight, we do. Doesn’t matter that she curls out of Saudi Alberta. She’s one of us. So a win in today’s Canadian women’s curling final vs. Rachel Homan and her gal pals from Ottawa is a win for good, ol’ Toba.

Chelsea Carey

Speaking of Chelsea, if you’re looking for a good read, check out Melissa Martin’s feature on the Alberta skip and her pop, Dan Carey, in the Drab Slab. Melissa doesn’t mention that Dan is an old neighbor of mine from way back in the day (we’re talking the 1950s), but I won’t hold that against her. It’s a terrific piece.

One of the curlers detected a foul odor at Centre 200 in Sydney during Thursday’s play. She’s right. Something did stink. It was Tracy Fleury’s draw weight. Seriously. The Manitoba champ lost her touch somewhere between Gimli and the Maritimes, and it was painful to watch. I felt sorry for her.

Kaitlyn Lawes

In the department of Things That Don’t Make Sense: TSN assembled a panel of 31 “experts” to determine the greatest female curlers in history, and they voted Jan Betker the best to ever throw third stones. So far, so good. But those same 31 “experts” rated both Cathy Overton-Clapham (No. 6) and Kaitlyn Lawes (No. 7) among the top 10 players in history, regardless of position. Betker was nowhere to be found on that list. So how does it figure that two thirds, Cathy O and Lawes, are better players than Betker but not better thirds? I’d say the 31 “experts” have some explaining to do, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for their reasoning.

Jennifer Jones

Congrats to the fabulous Jennifer Jones, now the winningest skip in Scotties history, with 141 Ws. Even though she came up empty in Sydney and isn’t getting any younger, I doubt we’ve seen or heard the last of the great champion. I certainly hope not.

And, finally, Les (Ronny) Lazaruk and Joe Daley were blowing out prairie fires last week. Ronny had 60 candles on his birthday cake and the Holy Goalie had 76, so it was a three-alarm day for both. Ronny and Joe are genuinely good guys and two of my favorite people in sports. Belated happy birthday, boys.