Let’s talk about Puck Finn and the Gospel According to Friedge…still no smoking gun…putting a happy face on Neal Pionk…the Blue Bombers Boogie…Speedy B and Lucky…a ring for Punter Bob…on the book shelf…soccer’s diving diva and the Tooth Fairy…Grapes venting his wrath…and bailing out in B.C.

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I prefer mustard and relish with my dog days of summer, thank you…

Oh, boy. Here we go again.

Someone said something about Patrik Laine, someone else tossed that grist into the gossip mill known as Twitter, someone else took it as gospel, and now much of the rabble is convinced that Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien and Rink Rat Scheifele spent last winter giving Puck Finn wedgies and swirlies.

Where to begin? Well, let’s start with Elliotte Friedman.

Why is everyone smiling except Puck Finn?

The Hockey Night in Canada gab guy got together for a natter with Jeff Marek on Sportsnet’s 31 Thoughts podcast last week and, while gnawing on numerous National Hockey League topics including restricted free agents, Friedman placed his focus on Laine.

Here’s his hot take (it’s 37 minutes into the chin-wag):

“Laine is a whole big discussion, because he’s the one guy who seems to want a short bridge of all these guys,” he said. “And he didn’t leave happy last year. Some of that was his own fault. He wasn’t as good as he could be, and I think he chafed under some of the leadership there. Like, the guys at the top of that food chain are hard-driving guys. They expect you to buy into the program, and I think that they felt he didn’t buy in enough, and I think he felt that some of the things they wanted were ridiculous. So you gotta bridge that, too.”

Friedman, of course, is what’s known in his trade as an “insider.” You know, someone who delivers the skinny to those of us who don’t have Gary Bettman’s private number on speed dial. Many among the rabble buy into that “insider” business and swallow the Gospel According to Friedge, hook, line and innuendo. Thus he has rink cred.

Well, let me say this about that: There’s a whole lot of “I think” in what Friedge said re Laine.

Friedman thinks the Winnipeg Jets winger wants a bridge deal.

Friedman thinks the big dogs in the changing room used poor Patty for a chew toy.

Friedman thinks the bullying ruffled Puck Finn’s feathers.

Puck Finn and Blake Wheeler.

In other words, Friedman is spitballing. Guessing, if you will. He quotes no source. He doesn’t even mention an anonymous source. He doesn’t say he talked to someone who talked to someone who talked to the cleaning staff in the Jets’ inner sanctum. No credible source told Friedman that Puck Finn left in a huff after les Jets’ premature ouster from the spring Stanley Cup runoff.

If Friedman had concrete insider intel on Puck Finn and les Jets, he would have prefaced his comments with “a source told me” or “I talked to so-and-so” and “this is what happened.” He would have provided anecdotal evidence, while protecting his source(s).

Instead, it was “I think, I think, I think” and “it seems.”

Well, here’s what I “think:” It seems that Friedman should know better than to spew groundless gossip that leads to galloping speculation.

If you’ve got the goods, Friedge, by all means let ‘er rip. If not, clam up until you do.

Ben Chiarot

Let’s suppose, for the sake of discussion, what Friedman said is true. He does, after all, have “insider” chops. But ask yourself this: Why hasn’t he, or anyone else (hello, Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab) produced a smoking gun? You’d think someone would have let the kitty out of the burlap by now? Like one of the players who’ve skated out of Dodge. Nope. Jacob Trouba left les Jets with nary a discouraging word. Ditto Tyler Myers, Brandon Tanev and Ben Chiarot. Matt Hendricks, reclaimed to join the leadership group at the shop-and-swap deadline in February and now retired, had this to say at trail’s end: “The room was as strong as when I left (in 2018), without a doubt.” Did they all sign a non-disclosure agreement before parting? Or is there nothing to talk about?

Neal Pionk

Got a kick out of Mad Mike’s attempt to put a fancy face on the trade that sent Jets top-pair defender Trouba to Gotham in barter for Neal Pionk. The Drab Slab scribe tells us that Pionk’s “got size.” As in big. As if. Big Buff has larger late-night snacks. Only scrawny Sami Niku is smaller among les Jets blueliners. Meanwhile, Mad Mike adds this: “Trouba and his agent Kurt Overhardt are said to have given the Jets an extremely small list of teams he’d be willing to sign a long-term extension with, the Rangers being one of them. That means very limited options.” That’s totally bogus. According to CapFriendly, there’s never been a no-movement or no-trade clause in a Trouba contract. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s hands were not tied. He could have shipped Trouba anywhere at any time. Chevy made a lousy trade. Period.

Milt Stegall

Yes, now that you mention it, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers did boffo business in their 48-21 paddywhacking of the Tranna Argos on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and only a Debbie Downer would pounce on the notion that “it was only the bottomless Boatmen” that they whupped. Sure the Argos are the free space on the Canadian Football League bingo card (one corny cliché allowed per essay, kids), and sure the Argos bring a handful of confetti to a knife fight (okay, make that two horrid clichés per essay), and sure the large lads in blue and gold seemed to lose interest in the second half, but let there be no picking of nits. Winnipeg FC is doing the Blue Bombers Boogie. They’re 4-nada. Best start since Milt Stegall was playing catch with Khari Jones. That is all. For now.

After observing Lucky Whitehead skedaddle 104 yards for a touchdown on the opening kickoff v. Tranna, the aforementioned Mad Mike McIntyre described the Bombers giddyup-and-go guy as “the most exciting player in the league.” I’d be inclined to agree with Mad Mike, except there’s that Speedy B guy in the Hammer who always seems to have something to say about it. Like on Saturday night, when he scored three TDs, including a 115-yard scamper on a wayward field goal attempt. On the Excite-O-Metre, I still like Speedy B.

Readers have told Pencil Neck Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun that Bob Cameron, a punter, should be the next player added to the Winnipeg FC Ring of Honour. All those in favor, say aye. “Aye!”

Punter Bob was a beauty. Always enjoyed talking to him. His longtime kicking partner, Troy Westwood, once told me a story about the Bombers’ two boot boys driving to practice one day in the mid-1990s. They had stopped for a red light, with Cameron behind the wheel and covered in drywall dust from his latest home reno project. He suddenly became very pensive and silent, slipping into a trance-like state as if searching for the meaning of life.

“Man,” he finally said, “I can’t believe the 1970s are over.”

Like I said, the guy’s a beauty.

Former Major League Baseball hurler and author Jim Bouton died last week, and it brought to mind his terrific book, Ball Four. Bouton’s tell-all tale tore the cover off America’s national pastime, with yarns of womanizing and boozing and drug abuse and naming names (hello, Mickey Mantle). It isn’t my favorite sports book, though. The Dodgers were still in Brooklyn when I first took a notion that baseball was the most beautiful of all games, so nothing can top The Boys of Summer for moi. These are my Fab Five sports books:
1. The Boys of Summer—Roger Kahn
2. I Am Third—Gale Sayers
3. Instant Replay—Jerry Kramer
4. Ball Four—Jim Bouton
5. The Bronx Zoo—Sparky Lyle

No surprise that the U.S. National women’s soccer side was anointed team of the year at the ESPY Awards gala the other night. The Yankee Doodle Damsels’ triumphant crusade at the World Cup in France was still fresh in most minds and, really, everyone not named Donald Trump probably agreed with the choice. And, sure, give American striker Alex Morgan the nod as Best Female Athlete while you’re at it. I was only surprised that Morgan made it from her seat to the stage—twice!—without taking a dive.

Ryan O’Reilly

Best performance in delivering an ESPY acceptance speech had to be Ryan O’Reilly. The good Canadian boy yanked out one of his front teeth before thanking an assortment of folks for the St. Louis Blues’ nod as Best Comeback story. The Tooth Fairy was so impressed, she awarded O’Reilly a pack of Polygrip and a dentist to be named later.

Still mourning the adios of Kawhi Leonard from the Tranna Jurassics to the L.A. Clippers? No need for long faces according to team mucky-muck Masai Ujiri. “Don’t lose one day of sleep, one second of sleep,” he says. I hope Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna got the memo. He’s been typing from the fetal position ever since news of Kawhi’s departure dropped.

Don Cherry

Speaking of Simmons, he rattled Don Cherry’s cage with a throw-away comment in his Sunday collection of odds and sods (read: hot takes). “One thing that hasn’t been confirmed for the next season of Hockey Night in Canada: the return of Don Cherry and Coach’s Corner,” he wrote. “Rogers is cutting all over the place, which included the removal of Bob McCown on radio and television and Doug MacLean doing the same. Cherry is handsomely compensated for his work. Not sure if this is a place they want to go with the 85-year-old.” To which Grapes responded: “I was told a week after the playoffs I would be back. The question I ask is this…why didn’t my friend Steve phone me and ask.” Curiously, Simmons’ weekly hot-takes column has been put on hold. Hmmm. Coincidence? Punishment? The plot thickens. But, hey, I don’t want to be starting any rumors. I’ll leave that up to “insiders” like Friedge.

And, finally, you’re David Braley, bankroll of the B.C. Lions. You’ve committed $2.9 million dollars to a quarterback who’s 1-4 this CFL crusade. Your head count at B.C. Place Stadium is down 4,639 from a year ago. What’s your next move? I imagine crying “Uncle!” seems like a reasonable option right about now.

Let’s talk about the Finnipeg Jets and the Central Red Jets…lay off Jacob Trouba…NHL awards follies…bobbleheads, the Boatmen and Kawhi…and burning down the (White) House

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and life is a pitch sometimes, especially when our soccer ladies are playing…

One Canadian. The Cherry-ites must be choking on their maple syrup.

But should the rest of us care that Kevin Cheveldayoff and his Winnipeg Jets bird dogs basically ignored their own back yard during the weekend grab bag of teen hockey talent in Vancouver?

Not really.

Comrade Mikhail

I mean, it’s not exactly a throwback to the days of Mikhail Smith, who attempted to morph the late-1980s/early-1990s Winnipeg HC into the Central Red Jets with his failed make-work-for-Russians project.

If you weren’t around to scratch your head over Comrade Mikhail’s handiwork, be advised that he fancied Russkies the way a farmer likes good weather. A rumpled man with a Doctorate in Russian Studies, the Jets general manager surrounded himself with more Ivans, Viktors, Vladimirs and Sergeis than Leonid Brezhnev. If your last name ended with the letters ‘ov’, there was a very good chance he’d stand up at the National Hockey League entry draft and give you a shout-out.

Oh, it began innocently enough, and some of us thought it mildly amusing when Mikhail commenced to collecting comrades the way some kids collect bubble gum cards. First he grabbed two. Then two more. Then four. But in 1992, he went completely coocoo, using his one dozen shout-outs to land half the Russian politburo. He took nine of them—count ’em, nine! When he snatched up five more in ’93, we wondered if the team’s marketing department would add the hammer and sickle to the logo. Russian was about to become the official language of the changing room.

Alas, Mikhail’s master plan crumbled like both the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union when he was asked to leave in January 1994, freeing les Jets bird dogs from Red Square and allowing them to return home to the Red River Valley.

In sum, Mikhail recruited 22 Russkies in his five years as overlord of les Jets’ draft table, and only six of them played more than 100 NHL games.

Chevy

So now we have Kevin Cheveldayoff in the GM’s chair, and you might be asking yourself is he and his scouts have developed a fondness for Finns, Swedes and Americans. Or, more to the point, do they harbor an aversion to good Canadian boys?

In Chevy’s first three summers at the wheel, 15 of his 23 shout-outs at the NHL entry draft were homebrews. Since then, it’s 12 of 40.

Chevy returns home from this weekend’s fun in Vancouver with a pair of Finns (Ville Heinola, Henri Nikkanen), a Swede (Simon Lundmark), an American (Logan Neaton) and a kid born in Britain but raised in Regina (Harrison Blaisdell). Not since 2013 has he claimed more than three homebrews at the garage sale of freshly scrubbed teens. That was also the last time he used his No. 1 shout-out to claim a hoser, Josh Morrissey.

Ville Heinola

Add to that his last two free-agent signings—a Finn, Joona Luoto, and a Russkie, Andrei Chibisov—and I think we can see a trend.

Do you have a problem with that?

I don’t.

The Cherry-ites, of course, bellow about the necessity of good, bent-nosed Canadian boys. Can’t win without them. That’s true and the St. Louis Blues would be Exhibit A in that argument. The St. Loo roster that just won the Stanley Cup had more Canadian passports than any one of our overseas embassies.

But…the Boston Bruins reached the final with just a handful of Canucks. When the Washington Capitals copped the Cup a year ago, their top six scorers were Euros and Americans.

So, no, I don’t think Chevy and his bid dogs have gone off their nut and adopted an anti-Canadian bias like the aforementioned Comrade Mikhail Smith. You need a happy mixture and, in case you haven’t noticed, the Finns are bloody good at hockey.

River City is the last place I’d expect to hear yelps of protest about an abundance of Finnish and/or Swedish players. Anyone who was around in the 1970s will tell you that les Jets’ rise to shinny prominence was the product of a Scandinavian invasion, with Anders and Ulf and the Shoe and Veli-Pekka and Hexi and Willy and Kenta, among others, coming on board to claim three World Hockey Association titles. That winning legacy should be enough to silence the most leather-lunged of critics.

Jacob Trouba: No warm and fuzzies.

A quick aside to the anti-Jacob Trouba element among the rabble: Give it a rest. Trouba didn’t do anything to warrant the high level of hostility that accompanied him on his way out of town. Asking for a trade? Happens all the time (see Zaitsev, Nikita; Puljujarvi, Jesse; Kane, Evander). His holdout three years ago? He was exercising his rights. Signing a bridge deal? Again, his right. Going to arbitration? Yup, his legally bargained-for right. Did he ever say anything nasty about Good Ol’ Hometown, like the zoo sucks. Not that I heard or read. Did he lie about his reasons for wanting out of Dodge? Perhaps. But everybody in hockey lies. Trouba served les Jets well, so the anger is misplaced.

Dave Poulin

One of the many knows-everything natterbugs on TSN, Dave Poulin, continues to confound and confuse. Last year, he left NHL scoring champion Connor McDavid off his all-star ballot. This year, when McDavid didn’t win the scoring title, he voted him the all-star centre. Go figure. Poulin also told us in February that “there’s not going to be eight-year deals anymore.” Mark Stone, Jeff Skinner and Erik Karlsson have since inked eight-year deals, with William Karlsson on the way. I believe it’s time to remove the ear buds whenever Dave Poulin begins to talk.

The Professional Hockey Writers Association mostly gets it right in balloting for various NHL trinkets and all-star honors, but some among the rank and file lose the plot along the way. The news snoops listed below were the most heinous of offenders this year, and all are accused of the same crime: ‘Abuse of Voting Privilege’:

Nikita Kucherov and his hardware.

* Bill Hoppe, Olean Times Herald (New York): Apparently, the name should be Rip Van Hoppe, because he slept through the entire season. How else to explain voting for Patrick Kane as the all-star right winger instead of Nikita Kucherov, who performed well enough to win the Ted Lindsey Award (most outstanding player), the Hart Trophy (most valuable player) and the Art Ross Trophy (scoring leader)? Hoppe doubled and tripled down on his sleep-induced voting by giving Johnny Gaudreau the nod as league MVP and Rasmus Dahlin as top rookie. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Voting privilege revoked.
* Arthur Staple, The Athletic: He voted Rink Rat Scheifele of les Jets as the all-star centre. Yup. Staple reckons our guy Rink Rat had a better season than McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Nathan McKinnon et al. Staple also voted Miro Heiskanen the top rookie. No surprise, though. Last year, Staple left McDavid completely off his all-star centre ballot. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: As a repeat offender, his voting privilege is revoked. For-freaking-ever.

The Looch is no Barbara Ann Scott.

* John Vogl, The Athletic Buffalo: Nick Bonino the best defensive forward in the NHL? Seriously? Ya, and Looch Lucic is Barbara Ann Scott. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Vogl can keep his voting privilege. Living and working in Buffalo is punishment enough.
* Lance Lysowski, Buffalo News: Voted Patrick Kane the all-star left winger. Kane is a right winger.
Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must attend a summer-long series of lectures on right wingers and left wing pinkos delivered by Don Cherry.
* Seth Rorabaugh, The Athletic: Voted Johnny Gaudreau as MVP and Marc-Andre Fleury the all-star goaltender. Wrong, just wrong.
Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must undergo thorough eye examination.
* Iain MacIntyre, Sportsnet Vancouver: Gave Roberto Luongo a vote for Lady Byng Trophy. Luongo is a goaltender. Voting for a goalie in this category isn’t just wrong, it’s stupid. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must spend a year at hard labor—covering the Canucks.
* Russ Cohen, Sportsology: He must have been drinking the Kool-Aid they were serving in the Republic of Tranna, because his first-team all-star centre was John Tavares of les Leafs.
Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must wear Tavares’ Maple Leafs pajamas in public.
* Eric Engels, Sportsnet Montreal: He voted Carey Price as first-team all-star goalie, even though les Canadiens keeper was outside the top 10 in save percentage and goals-against average and 10th in shutouts.
Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must take mandatory course in Journalism 101—No Cheering In the Press Box.

On the subject of D’oh! Boys, it’s about the Tranna Argonauts. Here’s what the Canadian Football League club served up in an effort to wins friends and influence people at their home opener on the weekend: 7,000 Derel Walker bobblehead dolls, $5 beer and $3 hot dogs. Then they trundled onto BMO Field and promptly soiled the sheets, dropping a 64-14 squeaker to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Won’t that make for boffo box office in the future. The head count was 16,734 on Saturday, so I’m thinking the over-under for their next home date should be 10,000. And I’ll take the under.

The Argos want to sell more tickets? Simple. Have a Kawhi Leonard bobblehead doll night. And have the man himself attend the game.

And, finally, if the Tranna Jurassics truly are “Canada’s team,” why would the hoops champions even contemplate the notion of a visit to the Trump household at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.? The only connection Canada has to the White House is the torch job the British did on it in 1814.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Jets and skipping town…it wasn’t always Ducky for Trouba…who’s the bad guy?…the Golden Blotto…bigger than The Beatles?

A Tuesday morning smorgas-bored…and I’m an unrestricted free agent but my phone still ain’t ringing…

As I was saying not so long ago, if a young player wants out of Dodge, he simply has to bide his time and the Trade Fairy shall grant his wish.

Evander Kane did it. Jacob Trouba did it.

Jacob Trouba

One is now earning top dollar in San Jose, the other will reap his financial reward in Gotham or another National Hockey League locale.

And that, kids, is the main flaw in your draft-and-develop blueprint.

Now, I realize that Kane wasn’t among general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s prize catches in the NHL’s annual garage sale of acne-plagued teens, because he arrived with the Atlanta caravan that rolled into River City in 2011. But Kane was just a sprig of 20 years and, with 30 goals in his first whirl with the Winnipeg Jets, perhaps the shiniest part of the draft-and-develop plan.

Alas, Kane and Good Ol’ Hometown went together like a vegan and a 20-ounce T-bone.

Evander Kane

Kane filed a trade request every summer and, 3½ years and one sopping-wet track suit later, Chevy and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman cried uncle, shipping their controversial conversation piece to the Buffalo Sabres, who passed the problem on to the San Jose Sharks.

Trouba, meanwhile, went looking for a way over the wall in May 2016, skipping training exercises and the first two months of the season that autumn, then signing a bridge deal. He ignored whatever woo Chevy pitched at him last summer, instead calling in an arbitrator to settle a salary stalemate. And now, three years after his original ask for a new postal code, the Trade Fairy has touched his shoulder with her magic dust.

Chevy

The Jets top-pair defender became a member of the New York Rangers on Monday, and you can be sure that his escape won’t go unnoticed by others in les Jets changing room.

You want out of Dodge, kid? You say you don’t fancy minus-40 temps? The bright lights of the city aren’t bright enough? The WiFi doesn’t cut it? Paul Maurice is feeding you a steady diet of press box popcorn? The guy sitting in the changing room stall next to you is teacher’s pet and collects more coin? Not to worry. Give it 3-3½ years, kid. The Trade Fairy will pay you a visit.

Again, that’s the irritating fly in the draft-and-develop ointment. The club only controls the player for X number of years and there’s nada Chevy or the Puck Pontiff can do to prevent him from bolting.

Kevin Hayes

The trick, of course, is to receive a favorable divorce settlement.

To assess Chevy’s latest bit of handiwork, we must look at it in four-part measure. That is:

* Brendan Lemieux and the 20th shout-out in this Friday’s entry draft went to N.Y. for rental centre Kevin Hayes at the NHL shop-and-swap deadline in late February.
* Negotiation rights to Hayes were transferred to the Philly Flyers in barter for a fifth-round shout-out.
* Trouba went to N.Y. for Neal Pionk and the 20th shout-out that Chevy originally surrendered to N.Y.
* Bottom line: Trouba and Lemieux for Pionka and a fifth-rounder.

I believe there’s a word for that—fleeced.

I mean, when Chevy shook hands with Rangers GM Jeff Gorton to complete the deal, I hope he checked to see if he still had all his fingers.

The Beatles

Oh, there have been worse decisions. Decca records signing The Tremeloes and telling The Beatles to pound pavement leaps to mind. And Manhattan in barter for an assortment of tools will forever serve as the standard for “D’oh!” moves. But shipping out a top-pair defender as payment for a handful of hope named Neal Pionk certainly doesn’t set the heart racing.

Naturally, some among the rabble stress that Chevy has freed up that most valuable of commodities in today’s NHL: Cap Space. The difference between signing Trouba and Pionk is anywhere from $4 million to $5 million. Fine. But I’ll remind you of that next season when Cap Space is losing one-v-one puck battles or trying to shut down Nathan MacKinnon.

Patrik Laine

Other Chevy apologists suggest that the GM had little option but to accept a lowball offer. Trouba wanted out. He’d be an unrestricted free agent a year from now. Everybody in hockey knew it, thus offers were scant. Chevy’s hands were tied.

But that’s my point.

We know for certain that two players—Kane and Trouba—asked to be moved and they were, at ages 23 and 25. That’s more like a draft-develop-and-depart program.

Just spitballing here, but let’s say Patrik Laine is the next young stud to pull on a pair of grumpy pants. He wants a fresh start. He’s seen how it worked out for Kane and Trouba. So Puck Finn signs a bridge deal, puts in his time like a good soldier, then forces Chevy’s hand. And what do the Jets receive in return? A checking forward?

The adios of Trouba is not a good look on the Jets or Chevy. They lost. And now any young player with an axe to grind knows how to beat them.

Ducky

A good portion of the Jets constituency is telling Trouba not to let the door smack him on the ass as he leaves Good Ol’ Hometown, but I’m not among their number. Ya he wanted out, but so did Dale Hawerchuk, and Ducky is revered in River City. So the anti-Trouba sentiment makes no sense to me.

If the Rangers can nail down Trouba long term, who was the problem in the ongoing contract saga in River City, Chevy or Kurt Overhardt, the defenceman’s hard-ass agent? Either way, the failure to convince Trouba that Good Ol’ Hometown is the place to be stands as Chevy’s major fail as Jets GM. Then again, you can’t convince a cattle rancher to buy sheep.

Clearly, les Jets are not as good a team today as they were Monday morning. The good news is, Chevy’s only just begun the makeover. Or, based on the Trouba trade, maybe that’s the bad news.

The Golden Blotto

So what’s the scoop on Brett Hull? Is he trying to drink all of Missouri dry? Is he trying to one-up Ovie in Stanley Cup hoorawing? The Golden Brett has become the Golden Blotto, and I wonder why the St. Louis Blues let him anywhere near a microphone.

And, finally, I think Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail is a terrific wordsmith, but, like most scribes, he has a tendency to lose the plot. His recent piece on the National Basketball Association champion Tranna Jurassics would be an e.g. “They’re bigger than the Beatles,” he wrote. Right. A guy who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s would know what it was like when John, Paul, George and Ringo touched down in the 1960s. I don’t think it’s the dumbest thing I’ll read this year, but it has the clubhouse lead right now.

Let’s talk about no respect for fitba…girl power on TSN’s World Cup coverage…Kaylyn Kyle blowing the whistle on refs…hair of the dog…Rafa and Big Red…and go Raptors

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you don’t like reading about soccer, you’d be wise to move to another blog right about now…

The women’s World Cup is comfortably underway in France, and I sometimes wonder why we in North America have been so slow on the uptake in embracing the beautiful game known around the globe as football but soccer here at home.

True, fitba can be slow, tedious and boring. And, of course, there are the play-actors and their near-death experiences, a dodgy bit of business that is shame-worthy but never Oscar-worthy.

Neymar

Perhaps it’s the theatrics of the soccer elite—almost exclusive to the men’s side of the pitch—that keeps us at arm’s length. I mean, watching Neymar and other faux thespians flopping and twitching and gasping for their last breath, like so many trout out of water, provides comic relief but it’s also a total turnoff. If I want to see bad acting, I can turn on Mama’s Family any night on MeTV.

But, hey, even with fake injury time added to each half of a soccer match, it’s over in less than two hours.

Cripes, man, the halftime show at the Super Bowl lasts longer than that, especially if Janet Jackson has to put her clothes back on. And yet the National Football League and its Super Bowl is a colossus, even when halftime entertainers aren’t flashing flesh.

The NFL, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League are John, Paul, George and Ringo. Major League Soccer is George Martin or Brian Epstein or Billy Preston. You know, the so-called Fifth Beatle. Or worse—Yoko Ono.

Many myopic mainstream jock journalists are reluctant, or refuse, to acknowledge MLS as a major-league sport.

Steve Simmons in the Republic of Tranna, for example, recently posted this item to his Twitter feed:

Toronto big league championships in my lifetime (with apologies to Argos, Rock and TFC)
62 Leafs
63 Leafs
64 Leafs (have no memory of 62-63-64)
67 Leafs
92 Blue Jays
93 Blue Jays.

Toronto FC’s 2017 MLS title fails to register on the Steve-O-Meter.

Yet MLS qualifies on most measuring sticks as “big league.” Million-dollar player salaries? Check. Global reach? Check. Multi-million-dollar national TV contract? Check. Franchises worth mega-millions? Check. Healthy attendance? Check.

Atlanta United, in fact, has a better average head count (52,000-plus) than every team in Major League Baseball. Toronto FC outdraws the Blue Jays. Seattle Sounders outdraw the Mariners. Cripes, man, as of June 2, Portland Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League had better attendance than nine MLB outfits. See for yourself:

I see a lot of “big league” head counts in there.

Meanwhile, here are a few other points of interest about MLS:

Atlanta United fans

* Forbes valued four franchises at more than $300 million last year (Atlanta United $330M, L.A. Galaxy $320M; Seattle Sounders $310M; LAFC $305M) and Toronto FC at $290M. Again, that spells “big league” to me.
* In 2018, 53 MLS players collected $1,000,000 or more at the pay window, while both Zoltan Stieber of DC United and Andreu Fontas of Sporting Kansas City came in at one dollar less. If those aren’t “big league” wages, Pele was a punk rocker.
* Among all global leagues, only Poland’s First Division has had a faster growth spurt in the past five years, and MLS average attendance between 2013 and 2018 was eighth in the world.

Atlanta packs ’em in.

* Atlanta United puts more people in the pews than Manchester United, Newcastle United, Liverpool, Benfica and Atletico Madrid, among many others, while Seattle Sounders have a larger per-game following than outfits like Chelsea and AC Milan.

Is MLS the premier fitba operation on the planet? Of course not. But it doesn’t have to be on par with the English Premier League, Serie A Italy, La Liga or the Bundesliga to make it a member in good standing of the Big Five—and not the Fifth Beatle—in North America.

No surprise, really, that Simmons would pooh-pooh the MLS as a hamlet-sized dot on our sports landscape. Here’s what he had to say about fitba on the Toronto Mike’d podcast during Toronto FC’s championship run: “I’m almost embarrassed to be at the soccer games, because my knowledge of the game and my interest in the game is so limited. I don’t know the ABCs. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you all the positions. I don’t know how many players are on the field. Honestly, I have no connection to this game at all. I didn’t grow up with it, I didn’t play it, I never watched it, I didn’t care about it.” That’s an astonishing confession from a sports columnist with a nation-wide platform. Let’s hope it means he’ll leave the writing on the women’s World Cup to scribes who actually know how many players are on the pitch.

If you tune in to World Cup coverage on TSN, you’ll see something as rare as a Monday morning without a Donald Trump tweet—an all-female natterbug panel. Instead of simply looking all gussied up and pretty, they’re letting Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson analyze teams, break down plays and—oh…my…gawd—deliver opinion. You know, like they actually know what they’re talking about. Imagine that. Women with functioning brains on sports TV. What a concept.

Kaylyn Kyle

I really enjoyed the lively and spirited banter between Rustad, Kyle and Matheson at halftime of the England-Scotland skirmish. Kyle and Rustad disagreed sharply on what should and shouldn’t be a hand ball penalty, and host Kate Beirness knew enough to zip her lips and let the two former Canadian national team members have at it. Kyle was, to say the least, animated and agitated after the Video Assistant Referee awarded England a penalty kick due to an unintentional hand ball by the Scots. Kyle was emphatic: The game referee and VAR room should ignore one of the most fundamental rules of the game and let the women play on. Which, of course, is total nonsense. Do you know what we’d have if officials stopped calling games by the rule book? The Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fashion note: The aforementioned Kyle has the most magnificent head of hair on TV. I know several drag queens who would give their first-born to have that mane.

Speaking of hair, what are the chances that Brett Hull is looking for some hair of the dog this morning? If Hull wasn’t five sheets to the wind on Sunday night in St. Loo, he was off his meds because he looked and sounded totally wasted prior to puck drop for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final between the St. Loo Blues and Boston Bruins. I’m guessing his head is exploding right about now.

Someone hurled a can of beer onto the ice surface late in the Game 6 skirmish. I’d point to Hull as the most likely suspect, except he didn’t appear to be in the mood to let a good can of beer go to waste.

Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes.

I never thought I’d see dominance in sports like Secretariat at the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Big Red romped to horse racing’s Triple Crown with a 31-length victory in a world-record time that stands unchallenged to this day, and watching film of that gallop still gives me a shiver and has me reaching for the Kleenex.

Rafa Nadal

Even after the passage of so much time, it seems so unreal. Like a fairytale about a wonder horse that us old folks like to tell our grandkids. But it happened, and so did a different kind of thoroughbred—Rafael Nadal. If anything comes close to Secretariat at the Belmont, it’s Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros in Paris. In winning his 12th French Open title and 18th tennis Grand Slam on Sunday, Rafa is running neck-and-neck with Big Red on my personal scorecard of belief-challenging accomplishments. He’s 93-2 in France. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your screen. The King of Clay has lost twice—in 15 years! Against the absolute best players on the planet. That’s insane.

Number of different women winning the past 10 tennis Grand Slam tournaments: 9. Naomi Osaka has been the only repeat champion. Number of men not named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic winning the past 10 tennis Grand Slam tournaments: 0.

Kawhi Leonard

Fun tweet from Gord Stellick of Sportsnet: “Taking attendance first day of JK at Toronto schools in 2024: Kawhi Smith, Kawhi Jones, Kawhi Murphy, Kawhi Watson…”

And, finally, it’s my understanding that they’ll be playing a rather significant basketball game tonight in the Republic of Tranna. Like the majority of Canadians, I won’t be watching, but I hope Kawhi Leonard and the Jurassics get the job done against the Golden State Juggernaut. I love it whenever we beat the Americans at our own game.

Let’s talk about Kevin Cheveldayoff and slow news days…Winnipeg Jets draft-develop-and-D’oh!…just say no to Voynov…Drake the Courtside Drip…Raiders pulling a Cher?…bucking the boycott…Vlad the Gifted gets a day of rest…and the Drab Slab ignores a 40th anniversary

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and there’s only one NBA final (not finals) but I’ve got more than one item on my menu…

Top o’ the morning to you, Kevin Cheveldayoff.

Well, you sure fooled me, didn’t you? I thought you were doing the Rip Van Chevy thing (read: snoozing) when—poof—you convince Laurent Brossoit that being a millionaire caddie in Winnipeg beats being a backup keeper elsewhere in the National Hockey League.

Chevy

The question now is this, Chevy: When do the other three, four, five shoes drop?

Soon I hope, because I’ve had it up to my eyeliner with the free-wheeling speculation swirling around Jacob Trouba. The boys on the beat (hello Ken Wiebe, Murat Ates) were tripping over their dangling participles and run-on sentences last week trying to determine your next gambit for the top-pair defender, and I really wish you’d give them something juicy to write about.

I mean, both Wiebe at the Winnipeg Sun and Ates at The Athletic delivered chapters 4,375 and 4,376 in the Trouba Saga, and you know what I call that, Chevy? I call it a slow news day. Sloth slow.

Same thing with Mad Mike McIntyre over at the Drab Slab. He’s become so bored with your thumb-twiddling that he decided the cluster climb and body count on Mount Everest (120 reached the peak on Thursday, 15 dead or missing this year) are more interesting than Mount NHL, which you’ve been trying to scale for eight years. So he went Sherpa-speak on us with a yarn about a local dude who lived to talk about surviving the ultimate uphill trudge.

Mad Mike did, mind you, scribble a token piece on your Jets last week, a yawn-inducing recitation of Paul Maurice’s head coaching resume, confirming that a) Coach Potty Mouth remains the seventh-winningest bench jockey in National Hockey League history, b) he is also the losingest bench jockey in NHL history, c) you won’t find his name etched on the Stanley Cup, and d) he’s 52 years old.

You and Stevie Y in Detroit exchanging bubble gum cards would be more interesting than that, Chevy.

I suppose we should be thankful, though. After all, Mad Mike finally managed to get through an entire week without another installment in his whodunit novel Scandal, Jets Wrote.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

Hey, maybe that’s what you can do, Chevy. Tell us what Mad Mike hasn’t been able to dig up. Give us the skinny on what went down in the changing room of that team you generally manage. That ought to generate some juicy, 72-point headlines and spice up an off-season that began at least a month too soon. But no. Don Cherry will turn his back on Bobby Orr before Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman allows you to hang out Winnipeg HC’s dirty laundry in public. If, that is, there’s dirty laundry to hang out.

That’s right, Chevy, I still insist on concrete evidence before I’m convinced that your players’ lair was as “rotten to the core” as Mad Mike and some among the rabble speculate.

The point is, news snoops need you, Chevy. Like Connor McDavid needs an escape route. Only you can save them from themselves. They’ve flat-lined. They’re like a 1960s, grooved-out DJ still spinning Monkees and Herman’s Hermits tunes as if they’re relevant.

Laurent Brossoit

You need to toss the boys on the beat a bone, Chevy, and it wouldn’t take much to arrest their attention. Trust me, news snoops like nothing more than shiny objects right out of the box. So give them something new to gnaw on between now and the NHL’s annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers next month in Lotus Land.

You’d be doing them, and us, a real large if you could see your way to handing them something that goes ka-boom. Like an upgrade at centre ice or on the blueline.

Anyway, Chevy, it’s good to know you still have a pulse. But the Brossoit signing is mostly meh. It was barely enough to bring Mad Mike home from the Himalayas. And it doesn’t change anything with your Jets, who were found wanting this spring. Improvements are mandatory. Get on with it. The news cycle is depending on you, Chevy. A 72-point headline awaits.

If you’re keeping score at home, Chevy heads to Lotus Land for the NHL entry auction in Vancouver (June 21-22) with just three shout-outs—second, fourth and fifth rounders. So much for that draft-and-develop mantra, I guess. More like draft-develop-and D’oh!

Not to worry, though. The only outfits still standing in this spring’s Stanley Cup runoff, the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues, are convenient reminders that there’s more to piecing together a championship-calibre squad than a GM’s handiwork on the draft floor. Here’s how the two finalists were built:
Boston:      9 drafted, 10 free agents, 4 trades.
St. Louis: 12 drafted,   3 free agents, 8 trades.

Slava Voynov

Since you asked, no, I don’t want to see wife-beater Slava Voynov back in the NHL. The Los Angeles Kings have already issued a communiqué stating he’s persona non grata in Tinseltown, but it’s guaranteed he’ll find suitors before his suspension is lifted midway through the 2019-20 crusade. Are les Jets interested in the rancid Russian rearguard? Seems to me that would be a good question to ask Puck Pontiff Chipman, so why aren’t local news snoops asking?

Our little ray of sunshine at Postmedia Tranna, Steve Simmons, posits that any NHL club signing Voynov will “sully their ethics.” Interesting. I mean, when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats brought the woman-beating Johnny Manziel on board, Simmons didn’t view it as a sullying of ethics. More to the point, he was so excited he basically piddled himself in print, gushing: “Johnny Football is coming to Canada. And where do I sign up?” He suggested that the Tabbies signing a guy who thumped out—and threatened to kill—his girlfriend would make the Canadian Football League “maybe more fun, possibly more fan-appealing.”

Drake the a hands-on groupie.

I’m not a hoops freak, so I haven’t watched five seconds of the Tranna Raptors’ push to the National Basketball Association final. But it’s my understanding that Kawhi Leonard and Drake are the leading candidates for playoff MVP. What’s that you say? Drake doesn’t play for the Raptors? He must. I mean, c’mon man, every time I call up the Sportsnet website I’m looking at pics of Drake and reading headlines about him. When I turn on my flatscreen to catch the latest highlights, there’s Drake running around on court like the escapee from a village that just lost its idiot. I hear the Sportsnet anchors flapping their gums about him. Ditto Tim and Sid. Alas, the rapper dude is nothing more than a greasy groupie, or, as Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star describes him, “a jacked-up fan,” “spectacularly un-cool” and “the barnacle of blingy acolytes.” Rosie also mentioned something about Drake the Courtside Drip’s “mortifying buffoonery,” and I’m totally onside with her when she writes it’s “time for a Dear Drake kiss-off.” Somehow I doubt the geniuses at Sportsnet will get the memo, though.

So, the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders are good to go for a National Football League dress rehearsal at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry in August. Any chance the Raiders will pull a Cher? You know, a no-show? We can only hope.

I wasn’t surprised to hear Cher cancelled her concert in Good Ol’ Hometown last week. What surprised me is that she’s still on tour. And that people still pay money to stare at her glitzy costumes and whatever potted plant she’s wearing on her head. Sorry, Cher fans, but your girl lost me when Sonny lost her.

So how’s that boycott thing working for female shinny stars? Well, the signing season for Dani Rylan’s National Women’s Hockey League has been upon us since May 15, and the grand sum of six players have checked in to buck the boycott. They are:
Boston Pride— Tori Sullivan ($5,000), Kaleigh Fratkin ($11,000), Christina Putigna ($5,000).
Connecticut Whalers—Shannon Doyle (undisclosed).
Metropolitan Riveters—Madison Packer ($12,000).
Minnesota Whitecaps—Allie Thunstrom (undisclosed).
At this rate, there’ll be no need for team buses. Cooper Minis will do.

Vlad the Gifted

My oh my, so much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing in the Republic of Tranna last week, all because Blue Jays skipper Charlie Montoyo told Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to sit a spell. That is, Charlie failed to pencil Vlad the Gifted into his starting lineup on Victoria Day. Horrors! Some samples of the hue and cry:

Rosie DiManno, Toronto Star: “There’s just no measuring the tonedeafness of this franchise in the Shapiro era.”
Terry Koshan, Postmedia Tranna: “Dumb and short-sighted.”
Steve Simmons, Postmedia Tranna: “Does Mark Shapiro go out of his way to be obtuse and distant from Toronto? Sitting Vladdy Guerrero on a holiday Monday is just one thing—stupid.”
Rob Longley, Postmedia Tranna: “Sitting red-hot Vlad Guerrero Jr. on a national holiday is a big middle finger to fans with tickets and those watching on TV.”
Scott Mitchell, TSN: “Another example of a tone-deaf group running this team as strictly a business and a kinesiology exercise, regularly forgetting fans and the entertainment aspect.”

I swear, there hasn’t been this much fuss over a day of rest since God slacked off on the original Sabbath.

My favorite comment was delivered by Steve Phillips of TSN: “This was an organizational failure. Bad input leads to bad output. Montoyo didn’t understand what Victoria Day means to Canadians.”

Yo! Steve! You know what Victoria Day means to most Canadians? It means a day off. Vlad the Gifted got one. So give it a rest (pun intended).

And, finally, hard to believe that the Drab Slab ignored the 40th anniversary of the last pro shinny championship in Good Ol’ Hometown. I realize they don’t have anyone on staff who was there to witness the Winnipeg Jets’ third and final World Hockey Association triumph, but there’s a reason we have archives. And what, no one at the Freep knows how to work a phone? I guess it was more convenient to fill an entire page with the nonsensical natterings of the resident pen pals, Steve Lyons and Paul Wiecek, whose Say What?! shtick reached its best-before date about two years ago. Shame, shame.

Let’s talk about Carolina Cornball…Grandpa Grapes…snack time for the Winnipeg Jets…clock ticking on CFL-CFLPA talking…no living wage overseas…Trump trumps Vlad the Bad’s eight goals…the Big One in tennis…baseball a yawn-a-thon?…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we’ll have fun, fun, fun until daddy takes the T-Bird away…

Contrary to popular belief, if you look up the word ‘fun’ in the dictionary, you won’t find a team photo of the Carolina Hurricanes.

No, the Bunch of Jerks and their “front-running fans” didn’t invent merriment and crazy hijinks, but we’re led to believe that they’ve cornered the market on mirth, what with their Storm Surge and their admirable, albeit stalled, push in the current Stanley Cup tournament.

I mean, consider these headlines I stumbled upon during a Google surf on the weekend:

  • The Guardian: “How the Carolina Hurricanes hit back on the NHL’s war on fun.”

  • YouTube: “Carolina Hurricanes/The Importance of Fun.”

  • For the Win/USAToday: “Rooting for the Carolina Hurricanes is rooting for fun.”

  • NHL.com: “Hurricanes embrace fun, victory celebrations.”

  • Boston Globe: “Are Carolina Hurricanes jerks or just having fun?”

I imagine the Boston Bruins (especially), the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks are also having themselves a royal hoot since they, along with the Hurricanes, remain standing in the National Hockey League spring runoff. It’s just that, unlike the Bunch of Jerks, none of those outfits spent the entire winter playing post-match parlor games like Duck, Duck Goose, so we don’t really know for certain that they’re having fun.

More to the point, would they even know how to be good time Charlies?

Fun, after all, is not historically an NHL thing. Except, of course, when the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup and Alexander Ovechkin goes swimming in a public fountain. But even Ovie and the Caps stopped short of playing Duck, Duck Goose in the fountain, perhaps owing to the fact they were too tipsy with gusts up to flat-out legless

At any rate, the NHL has never been known as a knee-slapping, belly-laughs enterprise, something an opinionist at The Guardian felt obliged to emphasize in an ode to Carolina Cornball:

“The NHL can’t really take a joke. Which is maybe all the more reason to laugh at it sometimes, like a bunch of jerks.”

Certainly the Hurricanes’ marketing department is having fun, also generating scads of American greenbacks with its Bunch of Jerks and Bunch of Front Running Jerks t-shirts. It’s a merchandising windfall and, yes, now that you mention it, Donald S. Cherry likely deserves royalties on sales, since it was the Hockey Night in Canada curmudgeon who inserted the phrase(s) into the hockey lexicon.

Here’s the thing, though: Sixteen outfits qualified for the Stanley Cup tournament. Fifteen of them did not play post-match parlor games during the regular season. We are now down to the NHL final four, and even the Hurricanes long ago abandoned the Storm Surge and its accompanying shenanigans.

So are we still having fun?

Perhaps the Canes will re-introduce Carolina Cornball now that they’re down 2-nada and heading home for the next two skirmishes in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final vs. the Bruins. Whatever works, right?

I doubt they’ll resort to parlor games, though, because there’s a time and place for everything and Ring Around the Rosie won’t help them out of their hole. Mind you, they could try Pin the Tail On the Donkey—seeing someone stick it to Brad Marchand is always fun.

This whole Hurricanes-and-fun thing has inspired considerable pro-and-con dialogue, and my favorite line was delivered by the Charlotte Observer editorial board. Noting that it was Cherry who fanned the flames by describing the Canes as a “bunch of jerks” and Carolina fans as “front runners,” the Observer wrote: “Front-runners, if you haven’t figured it out, is Canadian for bandwagon fans. Don Cherry is Canadian for ‘get off my lawn.’” That, kids, is a classic burn. Also true.

Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab dipped his pen into the Carolina Cornball discussion, offering this: “At their practice Monday in Raleigh, players gathered at centre ice in a big circle and took turns sharing their weekend activities, which included a couple of well-deserved days away from the rink. From Storm Surges, the team’s cheeky Twitter account and merchandise, it’s obvious they’ve got a good thing going on, which is translating to their spirited play on the ice, and in a copycat league, perhaps the (Winnipeg) Jets might want to try and emulate some of the good vibes going forward. Maybe they can start by sitting everyone in the circle at the start of training camp and talking about how they spent their off-season.” Oh, for sure. And maybe they can bring snacks, too. Blake Wheeler is in charge of the crab cakes, Rink Rat Scheifele the nutribars, Jacob Trouba the beef stew, Big Buff the catfish, and Twig Ehlers the Danish for dessert. Sorry, but if there was anything to Carolina Cornball, all 31 NHL clubs would be playing Pictionary and Parcheesi between periods.

Nice to see Paul Friesen and Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun do some day tripping down memory lane, revisiting the last of les Jets World Hockey Association glory days. Paul had a chin-wag with funnyman coach Tom McVie, while Ted checked in with lickety-split left winger Morris Lukowich, and it’s all good stuff. Next Monday marks the 40th anniversary of Winnipeg HC’s third and final WHA championship run, and I’m glad the two Sun boys are reminding youngsters in the audience that there was a time when victory parades were routine in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Yes, now that you ask, I think it’s boffo that Chris Matthews is back where it all started for him in the Canadian Football League, which is to say as part of the pass-catching ensemble with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I just wish I could be confident he’ll have a league to play in for his second go-round in blue-and-gold.

Apparently, negotiations between the CFL and the CFL Players Association has been reduced to an exchange of notes on cocktail napkins. That’s not to say the two sides aren’t working in good faith on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but with training exercises due to begin in less than a week it’s awful close to last call. And I’m getting a tad antsy.

Dani Rylan

On the subject of work stoppages, next time you hear someone say women who play pro shinny “deserve” a living wage, remind them that the average head count across the National Women’s Hockey League last season was 954. Sorry, but no one— expect perhaps founder/commish Dani Rylan and her second in command, Hayley Moore—makes a living wage based on those numbers.

It’s important to note that the 200 women who say they won’t be playing hockey next winter have limited their boycott to North America. There’s nothing to stop some of them from suiting up with an outfit in either Finland’s Naisten Liiga or the SDHL in Sweden. Trouble is, no one watches distaff shinny on that side of the pond, either, so they still wouldn’t be earning a living wage.

So, John Daly has been given the okie-dokie to ride a cart in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black Course on Long Island this week. Hmmm. I thought every golf course in America already had a beer cart.

Vlad the Bad

Russian dictator Vlad the Bad Putin scored eight goals in an exhibition hockey match last week. Not to be outdone, Donald Trump claims to have scored eight holes-in-one on the weekend and has already declared himself winner of the PGA Championship. A victory lap in John Daly’s beer cart is scheduled for the White House rose garden next week.

Trump’s paid Pinocchio, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, hopes to be remembered as “transparent and honest” once she’s no longer telling lies for the president. Ya, and I hope to be remembered as a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.

Is it game, set and match for the Big Three in men’s tennis? Might be that it’s been reduced to the Big One, Novak Djokovic. The Joker laid claim to the year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, and he won the Madrid Open on Sunday, beating upstart Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. But the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, hasn’t won on his favorite surface this year and Roger Federer couldn’t get past the quarterfinals in Madrid. Still, I’ll reserve judgment until Rafa is beaten at Roland Garros and Roger falls on Centre Court Wimbledon.

Interesting take on baseball by Mad Mike McIntyre. He reckons the rounders game is losing traction among the rabble because sitting through three hours of sputtering action is “asking a lot of spectators to endure, especially when you factor in time to travel to and from the stadium.” (I’m not convinced travel time to the ball park is greater than to any other sports venue, so that’s a silly comment.) Mad Mike cites statistics from the Wall Street Journal to support his theory, but does a ball game actually take longer to complete than other sports? Nope. It’s middle of the pack. Here are some event times:

And, finally, the dreaded Grip Reaper has come to collect another old friend and colleague, Marten Falcon. A good man, Marten and I started in the rag trade together, working as copy runners at the Winnipeg Tribune, and he spent his newspaper career as one of those necessary behind-the-scenes people who put the sheet together at both the Trib and Sun. Lost contact with Marten after I left the tabloid, and that’s going on 20 years, but I won’t forget him.

About Captain F-Bomb and Paul F-riesen…fabulous is also an F-word, and that’s Brooke Henderson…Commish Randy’s street buskers…of Drake and Burt…annoying commercials…Pebble People ahead of the trend…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and—language advisory—today’s essay is brought to you by the letter F…

Let’s talk F-bombs, kids.

Should Blake Wheeler be telling a news snoop to “fuck off” just because he doesn’t like the tone or substance of a question?

Of course not. It’s unprofessional and rude in the extreme.

Captain F-Bomb

Yet that’s the route Wheeler, captain of the Winnipeg Jets, chose to travel scant seconds after he and his mates were issued their ouster from the National Hockey League Stanley Cup tournament on Saturday night in St. Loo.

Early in a post-skirmish scrum, he had this exchange with Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun.

Friesen: “In an elimination game, you guys probably expected your best. What happened?”

Wheeler: “Fuck off.”

How utterly offensive. Clearly, the ‘C’ on Wheeler’s jersey doesn’t stand for ‘classy’ or ‘charming,’ and it leaves me to wonder if that’s how all the workers in Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s squeaky-clean True North Sports & Entertainment fiefdom talk to guests. I mean, is there a section in the TSNE employee manual that instructs them to be foul and vulgar?

Paul Friesen

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, though, because Captain F-Bomb has a history of being a dink with news snoops. Mind you, Wheeler always stopped short of telling anyone to “fuck off” until Friesen had the (apparent) bad manners to toss the potty-mouth capitano a totally reasonable question on the heels of a totally unreasonable performance.

Fact: Les Jets soiled the sheets in an elimination joust vs. St. Loo, dropping a 3-2 verdict that looked a lot more like 7-2. Rather than deliver their best, it was their worst effort in six games.

So, ya, I wanted to hear the captain’s thoughts on the pratfall.

“Fuck off,” Captain F-Bomb snarled. “Please, come on, man. This is a tough trophy to win and, um, you know, maybe our best just wasn’t good enough today and, you know, their best was pretty darn good. Um, you know, in situations like that you look for the resolve in your group, you look for how guys fight and, um, we played to the last whistle, so…you know, that’s the way I see it.”

He couldn’t have said that without telling Friesen to “fuck off?”

Look, I understand sports and athletes. Been there, done that. So I realize that Wheeler was dealing with a raw wound. He was PO’d. But, hey, we all have bad days at the office. That doesn’t grant us license to tell the butcher, the baker and the babysitter to “fuck off.”

I don’t want to hear anything about an inappropriate question at an inappropriate time, either. That was the right time and the right place for Friesen to ask Captain F-Bomb, and others, for an explanation. It’s part of the captain’s gig to man up to the media, and if the surly Wheeler isn’t comfortable with the duty he can hand the ‘C’ to someone with a civil tongue in his head.

Paul Maurice

That’s quite the collection of salty-tongue leaders the Puck Pontiff has assembled. Paul Maurice is Coach Potty Mouth (“I can make you cry in that fucking room;” the players are “horse shit.”) and Wheeler is Captain F-Bomb. Charming men.

I know Friesen. If you don’t appreciate his scribblings, I’m partly to blame, because I spearheaded a move to pry him away from CJOB and join us at the Sun, and when we last saw each other he wasn’t holding it against me. He’s a terrific guy and terrific at his job. A lot better than Wheeler was at his job on Saturday in St. Loo. I can also assure you that being on the receiving end of Captain F-Bomb’s f-bomb won’t give Paul a moment of bother. Guarantee he’s heard worse, like from readers suggesting he perform physical acts that are impossible. So he doesn’t need me to defend him. He’s a big boy. I’m simply calling out Wheeler for what he is—a Grade A boor.

Unless I miss my guess, Friesen will make light of his exchange with Wheeler, and that’s fine. But it doesn’t address the larger picture. News snoops should be allowed to conduct their business without being bullied by boors.

Brooke Henderson

Moving on from the churlish to the charming, give or take a Kaitlyn Lawes or Tessa Virtue is there anyone on the Canadian sports landscape more totally fab than Brooke Henderson? Fabulous—now there’s an F-word worth speaking. Our girl Brooke topped the leaderboard at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii on the weekend, bringing her win tally on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour to eight, and no homebrew has ever done it better. Or with a brighter smile. Brooke’s only 21, so it’s a cinch she’ll pass Sandra Post, Mike Weir and River City’s George Knudson on the hoser all-time wins list, but I like her because she’s a delight and appears to be everything that’s right with our youth.

Annoying TV Commercial 1: Is there a rule in advertising that men must come across as total tools? I realize men can be real goomers, but seriously. The guy in the ad for a Hyundai Santa Fe is made out to be the all-time nincompoop, driving his very pregnant, very in-labor wife and her mother to the hospital, and he forgets they’re in the car when he hops out and races solo to the emergency entrance. As if that’s going to happen. Well, okay, a guy might be dense enough to forget his pregnant wife is sitting in the back seat, but there’s no chance in hell he’d ever get away with leaving the dragon lady mother-in-law behind.

Commish Randy

Canadian Football League players say they’ll stay home and twiddle their thumbs if there’s no Collective Bargaining Agreement in place by May 18, when the large lads in pads are scheduled to begin grabbing grass and growling. Not to worry. Commish Randy Ambrosie, remember, spent the off-season galloping the globe and slapping palms with folks who don’t know a rouge from Rihanna, and I’m sure he’s convinced league owners that he’s discovered enough Mexicans, Germans, Austrians, Italians, Scandinavians and Frenchmen to fill their rosters. If not, he’ll just go back to Europe and round up every street busker with a valid passport.

Sarcasm aside, I’m getting bad vibes about the CFL-CFL Players Association negotiations, now on hold until the end of the month. Not sure what little games Commish Randy and the bankrolls are playing, but I don’t like it. Our home and native football needs a shutdown like Winnipeg needs another pothole.

Can you imagine the reaction across the land if there’s a CFL work stoppage? It’d be huge, front-page news in eight of the nine CFL cities. Meanwhile, in the Republic of Tranna, they’d be too busy gabbing about Auston Matthews’ chin whiskers, John Tavares’ pajamas, and the Drake Curse to notice.

That’s right, rapper Drake is now a two-sport groupie, giving news snoops in The ROT the opportunity to fawn over him at Raptors and Leafs games. But, hey, maybe that’s what we need in Good Ol’ Hometown—a celebrity groupie to attend Jets and Blue Bombers outings. Do you think we can pry Burton Cummings out of Moose Jaw? Better question: Why is a rock and roll legend living in Moose Jaw?

Annoying Commercial 2: I really wish that very angry guy in the white bath robe would quit pouting about the lady in his life sharing his Old Spice body wash. Every time I see it (which is far too often), I get the feeling they’re heading for divorce court to squabble over custody of soap or, worse, he’s about to give her the back of his hand upside the head. The ad has a sinister tone.

Linda Moore was in the booth in the 1980s.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet notes the number of female voices we now hear drifting from the Tower of Babble in men’s sports. “Cassie Campbell, AJ Mleczko in the (NHL) playoff booth, Dottie Pepper’s analysis at The Masters, Doris Burke calling NBA games, Jessica Mendoza at the ballpark, Beth Mowins calling NFL play by play,” he tweets. “The era of female sports broadcasters in more prominent roles is upon us.” Interesting, but not surprising, that Cox would ignore curling. Pebble People were about four decades ahead of the trend, that’s all. Vera Pezer and Linda Moore worked men’s games for TSN beginning in the 1980s, and now we have Cheryl Bernard on TSN and Joan McCusker with Sportsnet/CBC.

And, finally, it’s hard to believe that the Winnipeg Jets are done before Jennifer Jones, Kerri Einarson and Mike McEwen. When did curling become a 12-month sport?