Let’s talk about the clock starting to tick on Mark Scheifele…grumbling in Chitown…Dubas and Burke saying the same thing…sports scribes put on their grumpy pants…and Rafa Nadal uses the Joker for a pinata

A special Turkey Day smorgas-bored…and if you can’t hop on the gravy train at least pass the gravy boat…

Okay, kids, let’s talk turkey about the Winnipeg Jets.

Rink Rat Scheifele on draft day 2011.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there were 27 candles on Mark Scheifele’s last birthday cake, and he’ll turn 28 early into the next National Hockey League crusade.

Doesn’t seem possible, does it?

I mean, was it really that long ago when the Rink Rat arrived in Good Ol’ Hometown, all spindly and Bambi-like in body and aw-shucks in personality? Yup. He’s grown up before our eyes and now he’s firmly into his prime performing years, with only a brief whiff of glory to show for his time in Jets linen.

Which leaves me to wonder this: While Kevin Cheveldayoff, the general manager, dithers and tinkers and moves bit pieces instead of making the big play necessary to upgrade a deficiency on defence, is Rink Rat Scheifele wasting away?

I had similar thoughts about Blake Wheeler in spring 2016, when he was 29.

The captain turns 35 next August and, like Scheifele, he’s had no more than a brief flirtation with success, when the Jets extended their crusade deep into May 2018 before bowing out in the Western Conference final of the Stanley Cup tournament.

Wheeler was part of the core that rolled into River City with the Atlanta caravan in 2011. He’s the last man standing, the sole survivor of that group. The underappreciated Bryan Little is finished through no fault of his own. Dustin Byfuglien lost his lust for the game and quit. Others like Andrew Ladd and Ondrej Pavelec and Evander Kane and Toby Enstrom left the building long ago, for a variety of reasons.

Blake Wheeler

The current core, which still includes Wheeler dressed up as a first-line player in spite of his second-line talent, is headed by Scheifele and goaler Connor Hellebuyck, also 27 and soon to be 28. They have officially entered their window of opportunity.

Josh Morrissey, Patrik Laine, Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Dylan DeMelo, Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry provide a strong supporting cast today and, all things equal, tomorrow.

Yet we know this team isn’t good enough to genuinely contest for the Stanley Cup, let alone bring it to the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, mainly because Chevy has yet to suitably revamp a blueline that was dismantled in one foul swoop last off-season.

The GM has replaced Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Ben Chiarot and Tyler Myers with Neal Pionk, Dylan DeMelo and a handful of doodads on defence. He continues to fiddle-fart in that area, rather than make the right and necessary move, which would be a meaningful trade involving one or more of his young assets to enhance the back end with a top-four, preferably top-two defender.

This isn’t an easy fix, but it isn’t rocket science either. Anyone who knows a hockey puck from a urinal puck recognizes the Jets’ greatest shortcoming, and I don’t think anyone expects Chevy to land a stud rearguard of the Victor Hedman or Roman Josi or Alex Pietrangelo level. But he has to do better than Neal Pionk, who received top-pairing minutes by default last season.

Bryan Little

If Chevy is unwilling or incapable of providing a remedy, then he needs to be replaced.

In the meantime, the clock has begun to tick on Rink Rat Scheifele, just as it did on Wheeler, Little and Byfuglien.

I’ll close by reminding you of something Little said: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now.”

That was in March 2017, after the Jets had been eliminated from playoff contention. Little was 29. His “right now” has passed him by. His window has already been closed.

It would be a shame if the same thing happened to Scheifele simply because Chevy doesn’t have the brass to do the right thing.

According to Mark Lazerus of The Athletic, there’s grumbling and unrest in Chitown, where the Blackhawks have shifted into rebuild mode. The veteran core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, each in his 30s, are unamused because the see they opportunity for another Stanley Cup title disappearing.

When GM Kyle Dubas says he wants to make the Tranna Maple Leafs “harder to play against,” isn’t he simply parroting former GM and current Sportsnet gasbag Brian Burke, who prattled on endlessly about more “truculence” from les Leafs under his watch? Seems to me they’re both speaking out of the same side of their mouths. So why was Burke’s message often met with mocking and ridicule from fans and news snoops, but not so much with Dubas?

Les Lazaruk

I don’t expect a call from Kelly Moore or Knuckles Irving asking me for input on their hiring of a play-by-play voice for Jets radio broadcasts on 680 CJOB, but I hope they consider old friend Lester Lazaruk, one of my all-time favorite people. I’m not sure what it would take to pry Ronnie out of Saskatoon, where he has a great gig as squawkbox of the Blades and other responsibilities, but I think it would be worth a phone call. And if it were to work out, they could all thank me later.

I must say, the boys on the beat had their grumpy pants on last week, and it made for some interesting to-and-fro on Twitter.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, for example, was positively mortified that one follower had the bad manners to suggest he’s “always playing the heal (sic).”

“Not playing anything,” Simmons responded. “I write my opinions. Most people don’t. I haven’t changed in 40 years doing this.”

Simmons is right. He played the heel in the early 1980s and he’s still embracing the role today. He’s every bad-guy wrestler you can think of, only he whacks people with a keyboard instead of a folding chair or some other “foreign object.”

Next up was Damien Cox of the Toronto Star, asked this by a follower: “Does someone piss in your cereal every morning? What’s gone so wrong in your life that you’re this negative so many times a day?”

“Having people like you follow me is no picnic,” was Cox’s juvenile return volley. He also mocked another follower for having just 25 followers, as if that’s a measure of talent or importance.

Finally, there was Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab. He engaged in an exchange with a couple among the rabble who had the nerve to suggest Winnipeg news snoops, including Mad Mike, are less than eager to take a heavy hand with Jets management/coaching for their failings.

“And yet you follow me,” Mad Mike barked. “And read my work. And Tweet at me (and others you seemingly hate) constantly, ranting and raving. About a silly game. Why? I’d never block you. Haven’t done to anyone ever. But for your own sanity, maybe unfollow me then? I suspect you’ll be happier.”

My oh my. Someone certainly was ranting and raving.

Mad Mike ended the hissing contest with this: “I’m done with this silly shit. Enjoy the weekend and Happy Thanksgiving. Wear a damn mask!”

Rafa Nadal, the King of Clay

What Rafa Nadal did to Novak Djokovic on Sunday should be illegal. I mean, you aren’t supposed to beat the world No. 1 6-0, 6-2, 7-5. Not in the championship match of the French Open. That’s like taking a chain saw to a pinata. And, surely, there were bits of Djokovic strewn all over the red clay of Court Philippe Chatrier when it was over. More astonishing, though, is Rafa’s record at Roland Garros—100-2. That’s insane. That’s Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes by 51 lengths, not 31. It’s Tiger Woods winning the U.S. Open by 35 strokes, not 15. Rafa now has 13 French Open and 20 Grand Slam tennis titles, and if there are signs of decline in his game, they weren’t noticeable in the past two weeks. Which means Generation Next remains on hold in the men’s draw.

There were 35 fines issued at the French Open, with a breakdown of 20 to men and 15 to women. The lads were ticketed mainly for equipment abuse and their potty mouths, while the women had their pay docked mostly for coaching violations.

It occurred to me yesterday that The Athletic hasn’t posted an article on women’s hockey since July 29. I realize the women have been idle, but does that mean there aren’t any stories to tell?

And, finally, I didn’t think it possible to dislike a baseball team more than the New York Yankees, but I’ve developed a special level of contempt for the Houston Astros. Go Tampa Bay Rays!

John Gibbons: What the frock was the Toronto Blue Jays manager thinking?

Given that I have never met John Gibbons, anything I know about him is based entirely on what I have read and heard or witnessed on my flatscreen.

By most accounts, the Toronto Blue Jays manager is a “man’s man,” which I believe is guy-talk meaning he likes his beer cold, his woman warm and, lord knows, he’s the last fella you’d ever catch wearing a dress.

Born on the northern Great Plains and under the big sky of Montana, but mostly raised in the shadow of the Alamo in the Texas Triangle, Gibbons has the swagger of a trail boss when he ambles out to the mound to remove his starting hurler or a beleaguered member of his bullpen. His body language is saying, “Why can’t this horse’s ass throw strikes?” even if that isn’t exactly what he’s saying when retrieving the baseball from the poor wretch’s failing right or left pitching hand.

John Gibbons
John Gibbons

Jock journalistis in the Republic of Tranna seem to impart favor on the square-jawed Gibbons, no doubt because he’s up-front, a straight-shooter who isn’t afraid to call a steer a longhorn, and, I suspect, in part because he’s old-school.

Some sports scribes, it should be pointed out, delight in the ways of the old-school operatives, if for no reason other than the reality that they themselves are old-school. Trouble is, there’s old-school in the ways of Major League Baseball and there’s horse-and-buggy thinking in the ways of the 21st century.

Gibbons, it would seem, has earned his degree in both schools.

If you missed it, the Blue Jays lost a game they believed they were positioned to win the other night against the Rays in Tampa, the nub of the matter being a ninth-inning development by which Jose Bautista’s slide into second base was ruled illegal. The Jays rightfielder slid across the bag, but reached out with his left arm and made contact with the right leg of Rays second sacker Logan Forsythe, whose errant throw to first allowed the go-ahead run to cross home plate. It was a harmless play. You’ll see more meaningful contact in a kindergarten class. In today’s baseball, however, to touch is taboo. Thus, after video review of the play, Tampa was awarded a game-ending doubleplay.

While much of Jays Nation rose up in a “We wuz robbed!” rallying bleat, Gibbons took the dialogue in another direction, going all Ty Cobb during his post-match chin-wag with news scavengers. He talked about baseball being a “hard-nosed game” and barreling into second base “is good baseball. That’s been baseball forever.” And he’s right. The Georgia Peach would slide into second with freshly sharpened spikes flashing knee high. And, hey, Charlie Hustle didn’t get that nickname by arriving at second base or home plate like Fred Astaire in a tux.

“It turned the game into a joke,” Gibbons muttered. “That’s embarrassing. It’s a joke.”

If only his gums had stopped flapping there.

“Maybe,” Gibbons added, “we’ll come out wearing dresses tomorrow. Maybe that’s what everybody’s looking for.”

For the record, nary a member of the Blue Jays Nine was adorned in a spring frock when they lost another game on Wednesday, but here’s what I found astonishing in the fallout of the manager’s comments, deemed sexist by the many who delivered him a stern tsk-tsking on social and in mainstream media: Gibbons was surprised to learn the politically correct police had been mobilized.

“My mom, my wife, my daughter found it kind of funny,” he said. “They know me. I do think the world needs to lighten up a bit. I cannot understand how that would offend anybody, to be honest with you, if it doesn’t offend my mother, my daughter and my wife, who have a great understanding of life. Honestly, I didn’t expect that. I understand there’s an uproar, I don’t get that.”

So there’s something else about Gibbons that I now know: Apparently, he’s prone to flashes of naivete.

I’m not prepared to hop on a high horse and throw down on our man from Montana/Texas for his misguided attempt at sexist humor, but I am shocked that he’s shocked his comments ruffled some female feathers, not to ignore the plumage of some male members of the media who either were genuinely affronted or merely put 700 words together in an effort to earn some valuable brownie points with the missus on the home front. Whatever the case, I would ask this of Gibbons: “What the frock were you thinking, man?

Arnold Palmer, the King
Arnold Palmer, the King

I mean, thirty-one years ago this wouldn’t have caused a ripple of controversy. It would have been nothing more than a baseball guy talking about baseball. We know this because we can draw a parallel to something similar the great Arnold Palmer uttered at the MONY Tournament of Champions in May 1985, when 36 professional golfers, including nine seniors, teed it up.

As a concession to the older players, the policy board on the seniors tour voted to allow them to hit from the front tees on certain holes.

“I’ll tell you what, it’s embarrassing,” a bitter Arnie barked. “You walk past the regular tees up to those blue tees. I’ll wear my dress tomorrow.”

So there. The King had spoken. And no one said boo, because social media didn’t exist and the politically correct police had yet to marshall all of their forces.

But now, 31 years after the fact, old-school Gibby surely ought to recognize that, his mother, wife and daughter notwithstanding, his choice of words is quite offensive to numerous women who don’t know him and harbor a “great understanding of life.”

I’m all for old-school baseball (get rid of the designated hitter and let’s have more day games), but horse-and-buggy banter I can do without.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.