Let’s talk about the Irish and Guinness…money matters and the Winnipeg Jets…the Canadian Mafia and the Blue Bombers’ faithful…a gay voice in mainstream sports media…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we’ve got nothing but short snappers today…

How many pints of Guinness do you suppose our Irish friends swilled in celebration of Shane Lowry’s victory in the Open Championship on Sunday? It must have been St. Patty’s Day in July. I’m thinking those Irish eyes are a bit blurry this morning.

Sometimes I wish we weren’t allowed to peek into a player’s pay envelope. That way, we wouldn’t know about Neal Pionk’s salary bump and that he and Josh Morrissey now live in the same financial neighborhood. And if I’m Morrissey I’m thinking “WTF is up with that?” I mean, Morrissey has been one-half of Winnipeg Jets top defensive pairing the past two National Hockey League crusades, and I suspect it will be status quo in October. For that he collects $3.15 million. Meanwhile, what Pionk brings to the party is a question mark as big as Dustin Byfuglien’s appetite. Could be he’s a steal at $3 million per year. Then, again, this could be the worst guess since Tiger Woods assumed his bride wouldn’t find out about all the cocktail waitresses and porn stars.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

It’s not like GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to be so frivolous with Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s money. He’s never spent foolishly. Unless, of course, you count Dmitry Kulikov and Steve Mason and Ondrej Pavelec and Connor Hellebuyck.

I should add the Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little contracts to Chevy’s foolish pile, although the major flaw in those two deals is term. If captain Wheeler delivers another 91-point season, then $8.25 million is fine. But we know that won’t be happening three, four, five years from now. As for Little, he’s already looking as worn out as a dance floor, but he’s just starting a fresh five-year hitch. Not good.

Here’s the irony of the Pionk deal: Many among the rabble and some news snoops hail Chevy for his refusal to go on a drunken-sailor spending spree, the most recent hosanna offered by Murat Ates of The Athletic. “Kevin Cheveldayoff has done well on that front simply by letting other teams give big money and term to Tyler Myers, Brandon Tanev and Ben Chiarot,” he writes. Yet Chevy’s first significant signing of this off-season is a gross overpay when measured against Morrissey’s wage. I say to hail that.

Fact is, Chevy couldn’t give “big money and term” to Myers, Tanev and Chiarot, because it’s already committed to 30somethings Wheeler, Little, Byfuglien and Mathieu Perreault. That greying quartet will take a $25,266,666 slice of the pie, and they’ll all be on board for another two crusades, minimum, with gusts up to five years.

If Chevy is convinced that Pionk is the man to replace Jacob Trouba, wouldn’t he go all-in rather than settle for a piddling two-year agreement?

The Canadian Mafia

Okay, the Canadian Mafia—CEO Wade Miller, GM Kyle Walters, Coach Mike O’Grunge—have done their part by putting a boffo, 5-nada outfit on the field. Alas, that doesn’t translate to boffo box office for our beloved Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The head count at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry is down more than 4,000 against the first three home assignments last year, so even if you build it (a winning team) there’s no guarantee they’ll come. I’m not sure why that is. I’ve read and heard theories, some of which centre on cash and others on cottage country, chronic failure and a mixed bag of entertainment options. But, hey, they’ve got an inferior product down the road on the Flattest of Lands, yet the Saskatchewan faithful flock to rally ’round their Roughriders in unmatched numbers. What, they have more disposal income once they climb down from their combines?

True, attendance on the Flattest of Lands is also in decline, but Gang Green attracts more than 30,000 per game, easily the best in the Canadian Football League and 5,000 better than the Bombers. You can make all the rude jokes you like about banjo plucking and inbreeding, but our Prairie neighbors are where it’s at when it comes to supporting the local football heroes.

Some make the argument that the dip in attendance at Football Follies Field is linked to the visiting team, meaning the weaklings from the East Division are a tough sell. Well, it’s a losing argument. Here are the figures for the Bombers’ home dates in 2018:
Saskatchewan:   33,134
Ottawa:              27,602
Toronto:             27,116
B.C.:                  26,567
Hamilton:          26,454
Saskatchewan:  26,070
Edmonton:        25,458
Calgary:            25,173
Montreal:          24,349

Khari Jones

The Montreal Alouettes three-game W streak is a good look on freshman head coach Khari Jones. I wasn’t around when Khari arrived in River City to play catch with Mitch Stegall, but I’m told he was a right-on dude.

That was quite a shift Mad Mike McIntyre put in for the Drab Slab on Saturday—a column on the Bombers, a feature on Winnipeg Goldeyes batsman Reggie Abercrombie, and an update on Andrew Copp’s contract impasse with the Jets. Very impressive. Truly.

Having said that, Mad Mike lost me with his tweet about what he called a “sports journalism hat trick.” He described it as “about 6,000 words covering all three pro teams in town.” I’m guessing it’s news to the Manitoba Moose and Valour FC that there are only “three pro teams in town.”

Brandon Wheat Kings have brought in Dave Lowry as bench boss. Good hire. Adam’s pop did a crackerjack job as head coach of the Victoria Royals (209-124-27) before a one-season whistlestop in Los Angeles with the Kings. And, yes, now that you mention it, it’ll be nice to have the Western Hockey League’s Brandon-Winnipeg rivalry renewed in autumn. It takes me back.

The women’s World Cup is over. Someone at TSN needs to tell Kate Beirness that she can stop yelling anytime now.

It’s about TSN’s split screen during CFL matches: Still very annoying.

Scott MacArthur

And, finally, I’ve never met Scott MacArthur, but I know his struggles. Scott is one of the natterbugs on Sportsnet 590 The FAN in the Republic of Tranna, and he’s gay. He came out on the weekend and, yes, that takes coLGBThones when you’re dealing with an oft-homophobic culture. Scott, I’m sure, won’t do anything different, but some folks will look at him and listen to him with a different set of eyes and ears. (“Can’t have no gay dude telling us about our macho sports, man! But it’s okay if the Nancy Boy covers figure skating and baton twirling!”) As far as I know, his is the only LGBT(etc.) voice in Canadian sports broadcasting, so go get ’em, Scotty.

About the Winnipeg Jets betting their scouts got it right…the Buck and Hutch Show…Nolan Patrick…and the boys skate down memory lane at The Pint

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

Patrik Laine
Patrik Laine

Be careful what you wish for, Jets Nation. You might get it.

Actually, you’ve already got it. Connor Hellebuyck is in goal. Josh Morrissey is on defence. Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Brandon Tanev and Nikolaj Ehlers are up front. The first five are National Hockey League rookies. The latter is a sophomore who can’t order a beer in the United States until February.

The Jets are greener than a nauseous Kermit the Frog on St. Patty’s Day.

That’s okay, though. That’s what you wanted. That’s the new NHL order and you wouldn’t want your hockey heroes to be left behind, right? And they won’t be. Not as long as general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s bird dogs have flushed out more blue-chippers than scouts with the other 29 outfits in a league where fewer and fewer players are old enough to grow a respectable playoff beard.

That’s really what the Jets are betting on, isn’t it? Their talent sleuths. The guys who roam the terrain like so many truffle hogs seeking to unearth hidden treasure.

I mean, it’s not like the Jets invented the light bulb, sliced bread or the dot.com. The draft-and-develop blueprint is older than the back of Jaromir Jagr’s head. The trick, therefore, is to do it better than the other guy(s), and we like to think the Jets’ scouts have assembled a glittering collection of raw, untapped talent. Better than most, if not all. Ah, but loyalists of the Edmonton Oilers likely thought much the same thing at different times during the past decade.

If the Jets bird dogs did their job, the kids will be alright. Perhaps not this season, but eventually.

I like what the Jets have done. I don’t see it as risky business. Not even in goal. Technically, Hellebuyck isn’t a rookie. He stood in the blue paint 26 times during a Jets crusade that fell off the rails last winter, so he won’t be eligible for the Calder Trophy. But let’s face it, he’s a freshman. Michael Hutchinson isn’t, but he’s no one’s idea of a No. 1. He was given ample opportunity to supplant everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Ondrej Pavelec, and he couldn’t do it, which probably should tell you all you need to know about him. But, really, the Buck and Hutch Show doesn’t need to be all-world. Anything above average is an upgrade.

Nolan Patrick
Nolan Patrick

Can you say Nolan Patrick, kids? The Jets can. Unless I miss my guess, the local shinny side will finish closer to the back end rather than the front of the pack this winter and, given another stroke of good fortune when the NHL makes the numbered ping-pong balls go bouncy-bouncy at the draft lottery next spring, Patrick might be the Jets’ reward. The bonus, of course, is that the Brandon Wheat Kings forward is a homebrew.

Oh, the good times (not to mention the brown pop) will be flowing at The Pint on Fort Street next Thursday night (Oct. 20) when yesterday’s heroes gather to tell tall tales and swap fibs at the Heritage Classic Launch Party. A great number of former Jets dating to the World Hockey Association glory days shall be on site, as will the Avco World Trophy. At the same time, it’s a sad reminder that we’ve lost some people along the way. I hope they take a moment to remember CBC voice Don Wittman, Jets radio legend Friar Nicolson and former Winnipeg Free Press hockey scribe Reyn Davis. Friar, Reyn and I were the only three news scavengers to work the Jets beat, home and away, during the final WHA season. It was a hoot. The Jets were a real good bunch of guys, too. They made my job enjoyable. It was a privilege and a pleasure to cover that team.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.