Let’s talk about Pebble People getting a raw deal…McDavid, Draisaitl and who are those other guys?…dirty rotten scoundrels…no room in Cooperstown for cheats and Schilling…the Babe, booze and babes…Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and in honor of Groundhog Day, I’ll pop my head out of the ground on Tuesday and let you know if there’ll be six more weeks of bad blogging…

Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Briane Meilleur, Shannon Birchard (clockwise from top left) from Gimli are the defending Scotties Tournament of Hearts champions.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight:

National Hockey League players traipse willy-nilly across the COVID-infected tundra, and they’re granted a quarantine exemption from Manitoba’s top docs and politicos. Meanwhile, our curlers plan to shelter themselves in a Calgary bubble for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Brier and the mixed nationals, yet they’re told they must go into isolation for the full 14 days once they return home from two weeks of hijinks in February/March. No quarantine exemption for you!

This is fair how?

Oh, wait. Silly me. I forgot that the millionaire hockey players provide an “essential” service (as if the Ottawa Senators are “essential” to anyone), while bunking down in five-star hotels and being whisked about in charter or private aircraft. The curlers? Apparently, hurrying hard is not an “essential” service. Pebble People are just everyday working stiffs blessed with good draw weight, so it doesn’t matter that they might have to carpool their way to and from Calgary. Or that they might be out of pocket if away from the salt mines for an additional 14 days. It only matters that the millionaire hockey players are happy.

That is so wrong.

Hey, I’ve never thought of hockey players as coddled and pampered. They have a special skill that means they take in rarified oxygen, but the same has to be said of our curlers, who are among the best on the planet. And Pebble People are the salt of the earth.

If hockey players deserve a quarantine concession, the curlers do too.

Quick thought on the Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane has an oversized personality. Gone. Patrik Laine has an oversized personality. Gone. Dustin Byfuglien has an oversized personality. Gone. What are we to make of that?

We need to discuss the Edmonton Oilers, because they annoy me. The Oilers are Jesse James, Billy the Kid and 18 guys with water pistols. Seriously, they have more no-names than the Witness Protection Program. I watch the Oilers play and, 60 minutes later, it’s like Butch and Sundance: “Who are those guys?” They’re as memorable as the second man to leave a footprint on the moon. You know, Ol’ What’shisname.

That bothers me.

It shouldn’t, of course, because the Oilers became the Evil Empire in Good Ol’ Hometown during the 1980s, when they made paddywhacking the Jets a spring ritual during their Stanley Cup binge. It’s been a pox on the E-Town house ever since. But I can’t help it. I want Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to succeed. So sue me.

I just don’t think the Oilers should stink. Just like the Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, New York Yankees and Green Bay Packers should never stink. It’s okay to root, root, root against any or all of those storied franchises, but you shouldn’t want them to stink.

Oh, I know, many among the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown can’t get past that 1980s thing, and they’re probably still sticking pins in their old Slats Sather, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier voodoo dolls.

Well, hocus-pocus rituals aren’t necessary these days. The Oilers stink on their own merit.

Yes, I realize they managed to muster up a victory on Saturday night, nudging the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in OT, but they’re 4-6 and that’s no way to behave when your lineup features McDavid and Draisaitl.

Fashion note: Those reverse retro unis that the Oilers wore on Saturday night looked like poorly designed Orange Crush bottles, and the Leafs’ threads were absolutely ghastly. Seriously. Dark blue numbers on dark blue sweaters? The ghost of Humpty Harold Ballard lives on.

The Tkachuk boys, Brady, top, and Matthew.

Random observations two weeks into the 2021 NHL crusade: There’s a very good reason why so many players in the Hoser Division are at or near the top of the NHL scoring table: Nobody plays defence. There are no big, ugly, nasty teams that lean on you, just a bunch of fly boys. That works now, but not so much once they’re down to the final four in Beard Season and the Canadian survivor is required to deal with big bodies that try to slow them down…You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t join the chorus and rave about the entertainment level of COVID hockey. Much of the activity I’ve seen has been, to borrow a Danny Gallivanism, “as shabby as an old hobo’s coat.”…The Tkachuk brothers are soooo smarmy. Both Matthew and Brady are more irritating than a bad case of fanny fungus. They’re the dirty, rotten scoundrels who like to sit at the back of the class and fire spitballs at the nerds. They probably stole enough lunch money to prop up a third-world country. But, yes, I’d take either one of them on my team…The Ottawa Senators are an embarrassment best kept off prime time TV…It’s obvious the Hoser Division playoff positions will come down to this: The two teams that piddle away the most points v. the Senators will be on the outside looking in. That means the next week is pivotal to the Oilers’ post-season aspirations. They’ll be fed a steady diet of the Sens, meeting them four times…Yes, I still think a Hoser Division is a boffo idea, but I’m not sold on the baseball-style schedule. I understand the reasoning behind it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it…Hands up anyone who knows what teams are leading the other three divisions. Actually, hands up anyone who can name the other three divisions…I was wrong about the Montreal Canadiens. They look legit. I was wrong about the Senators. I thought youthful enthusiasm would serve them well. I was right about the Calgary Flames. Their win over the Habs on Saturday notwithstanding, the Flames are a false bill of goods, and will continue to be as long as they have Milan Lucic dragging his knuckles up and down the freeze…Shouldn’t Sportsnet lift their regional blackouts and give us the full menu each night in this special season? If it’s all the same to them, I’d much rather watch the Jets-Habs than Canucks-Senators.

Part of Curt Schilling’s Nazi memorabilia.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will go 0-for-2021, with no players receiving the required 75 per cent of the vote for enshrinement to Cooperstown, and that means “integrity, sportsmanship, character” won out over stats. Noted steroids cheats Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens struck out in this year’s balloting, as did Curt Schilling, who collects Nazi SS memorabilia and isn’t fond of anyone unless they wear a MAGA hat and attend Toby Keith concerts. It’s the ninth time Schilling has been snubbed by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and now he wants his name erased from the ballot. “I’ll defer to the veterans committee and men whose opinions actually matter and who are in a position to actually judge a player,” he wrote in a self-indulgent, 1,200-word whinge on Facebook. He also labeled Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy a “morally decrepit” man, and accused scribes of lining up to “destroy my character.” I don’t know about that. Seems to me Schilling has assassinated his own character on social media, with transphobic tweets, a posting that suggested lynching journalists is “so much awesome,” calling Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones a liar for accusing fans at Fenway Park in Boston of dropping N-bombs in his direction, and giving thumbs up to the recent riot at the U.S. Capitol. Bottom line on Schilling’s NBHOF candidacy: “I don’t think I’m a hall of famer,” he said. Fine. Case closed.

The Babe and the babes.

Most peculiar take on the latest NBHOF voting was delivered by TSN analyst Steve Phillips. The former Major League Baseball exec drew a parallel between segregation and ‘roid cheaters Bonds and Clemens sticking needles in their butts. “There’s been performance enhancement in every era of baseball,” Phillips said. “Babe Ruth didn’t play against some of the best Negro League players of the time, players went to war, players stayed home, the mound was lowered, the DH was entered, ballparks have changed. So it’s been in every era.” Hmmm. I thought the Babe hit all those home runs (714) because he was a rare breed, but now I find out it was only because he never saw the spin on a Satchel Paige slider. Who knew? Actually, I have a different theory, and it has nothing to do with Jim Crow-era baseball or the boys of summer marching off to kick Hitler’s ass. To wit: Had the Babe laid off the booze, the babes and the speakeasies, and had he not missed playing time due to STDs, he would have swatted 914 dingers.

In his first natter with news snoops after signing with Toronto, slugger George Springer compared the Blue Jays to his Houston Astros outfit that cheated its way to a World Series title. “This (Jays) lineup reminds me a lot of them,” he said. Great. Vlad the Gifted gets a trash can. Bo Bichette gets a trash can. Cavan Biggio gets a trash can. Everybody gets a trash can. Bang the can slowly, boys.

Nice to see Sportsnet and, on a more subdued level, TSN have discovered the National Women’s Hockey League. Until last week, any talk of Ponytail Puck at Sportsnet was reserved for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and it was mostly pathetic pandering from Tara Slone and Ron MacLean. Now Sportsnet Central is delivering nightly updates/highlights on the Isobel Cup season/tournament in Lake Placid, and there are numerous articles on the website. It’s fabulous.

An outfit from the Republic of Tranna is in Lake Placid. It’s called the Six. It has a 3-1-1 record, and stands atop the NWHL tables. Someone might want to clue in the geniuses at the Toronto Sun. I look daily but, unless I missed it, the tabloid has given its home team less ink than Bernie Sanders’ mittens. TorSun trumpets itself as the top sports sheet in the nation, but I call BS on that if they can’t squeeze in a few paragraphs about Ponytail Puck.

It’s puzzling that the aforementioned PWHPA has gone radio silent on its website since Dec. 21. Not a peep. The propaganda peddlers have stopped telling us that they “deserve” a living wage, that they “deserve” an affiliation with the NHL, that they “deserve” our undivided attention, and there have been no photo-ops with Billie Jean King. The Dream Gappers have $1 million of funding from Secret, and they’ve said they’ll stage a series of barnstorming showcase tournaments, but they still aren’t telling us where or when they’ll drop the puck. Silence is a peculiar way to sell your product.

Speaking of product, the Argos need all the help they can get to make the rabble in the Republic of Tranna sit up, take notice and find their way to BMO Field, so what do they do? That’s right, they sign a repeat offender of the National Football League drug policy. Martavis Bryant was first banished for four games in 2015, then sent to his room for the entire 2016 crusade, then punted indefinitely in 2018. The Canadian Football League needs guys like Bryant the way Bill Gates needs my spare change.

It was a double whammy of bad tidings for Rouge Football last week. Aside from the Bryant hiring, Scott Milanovich took his three Grey Cup rings and walked away from the E-Town E-Somethings before ever stepping onto the sideline at Commonwealth Stadium, and can anyone really blame him? Coaches gotta coach, and since we don’t know if there’ll be three-downs football this year, Milanovich opted for the sure thing as quarterbacks guru with the Indianapolis Colts. I just wonder if this means the second coming of Chris Jones to the E-Somethings.

Pam Shriver, left, and Martina Navratilova.

So, TSN ran a feature discussing the greatest athlete of all time in North American “team sports.” Names tossed about were Tom Brady, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. SportsCentre co-anchor Kayla Grey immediately added this to the debate: “Ask Serena Williams about all that,” she said smugly. Just wondering: What part of “team sports” does Grey not understand? Last time I looked, Williams is a tennis player. Her specialty is singles play. If, however, we were to consider her form chart in doubles, which certainly is a team sport, Williams isn’t the GOAT in the women’s game. It’s Martina Navratilova, who once partnered with Pam Shriver to win 109 consecutive matches and went more than two years without a loss. Check it out:

Grand Slam Doubles Titles
Navratilova 41 Williams 16

Doubles Match Victories
Navratilova 747 Williams 190

Doubles Titles
Navratilova 187 Williams 25

There are at least 37 women and 55 men with more doubles titles than Williams, including our guy Daniel Nestor with 95. Do the math. Williams’ 25 doesn’t spell G-O-A-T in “team sports” to me.

Really, it’s time for Serena-ites like Grey to cease with the GOAT narrative. She isn’t the greatest tennis player of all time (hello Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic—take your pick), ergo she cannot possibly be the finest athlete in history. So do us all a favor and clam up.

The January numbers are in for coverage of female athletes in the two local rags (30 publishing days):

Sports front
Winnipeg Free Press-4.
Winnipeg Sun-1.

Total number of articles
Winnipeg Free Press-29 (plus 12 briefs).
Winnipeg Sun-3 (plus 4 briefs).

Number of days with female-centric copy
Winnipeg Free Press-21 of 30.
Winnipeg Sun-6 of 30.

And, finally, I think it’s great that so many people are willing to share their mental health challenges on Bell’s Let’s Talk day, but it would be even better if we did it more than once a year. I’ve always thought of mental health as an every-day thing.

Let’s talk about Patrik Laine the happy camper…Puck Finn still playing second fiddle…pooping and the puckstopper…glorifying goon hockey on Sportsnet…brain farts and tripe-bogeys…Ponytail Puck set for a faceoff in Lake Placid…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and you’re advised to read this blog with an abundance of caution…

Kevin Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have one task. Just one: Put a happy face on Patrik Laine.

Do whatever it takes.

If that means putting Puck Finn first in the pay queue, back up the Brinks truck. If he wants to skate alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, tell Paul Maurice to join them at the hip. If he wants to challenge Twig Ehlers to a rousing game of Fortnite between shifts, set up a PlayStation gizmo at the end of the bench.

Just get it done.

Unless, of course, it’s irreparably undone

Maybe there’s no longer a way for Chevy and the Puck Pontiff to sell Laine on the merits of Winnipeg and the Jets. Maybe the Tour de Finn we witnessed last Thursday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie—two goals, OT winner, one assist, one scuffle in a 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames—was a prelude to what the faithful will be missing once the big winger swans off down the road.

Whatever the case, this is a crossroads moment for the Winnipeg franchise.

Chevy and the Puck Pontiff

Make no mistake, short of a Stanley Cup parade, how Chevy and team co-bankroll Chipman handle L’Affaire Laine will be the defining moment for the tallest thinkers in the National Hockey League’s smallest market, and time is already an adversary.

Puck Finn is a restricted free agent this summer, and if he and Chevy/Puck Pontiff can’t find common financial ground, an arbitrator will do it for them and that’s an exercise that seldom lends itself to warm-and-fuzzy pillow talk. Laine will listen while someone in an expensive suit informs him of his many misgivings, at the same time emphasizing that his goal totals (36, 44, 30, 28) are already in decline. And whatever he delivers this season will be dismissed as the sketchy product of a runted crusade due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the kid wants out now, imagine how he’ll feel after hearing from a team rep that he’s barely a beer-leaguer, so I’m assuming that’s a path the Jets aren’t anxious to travel.

In the meantime, pundits hither and yon continue to laud Chevy for the deliberate, slow-moving manner in which he generally manages the Jets.

And it’s true. Chevy has the patience of a man who genuinely believes the cheque is in the mail.

Players march into his office and inform him they desire a new postal code, or an agent beaks off to news snoops about a client’s dissatisfaction and the need for a fresh start, but Chevy doesn’t flinch. His knees never jerk. Oh, they might twitch a mite, but not so you’d notice.

He waits and waits and waits, patiently, refusing to be bullied.

But then someone tosses a track suit into a tub of ice water and Chevy budges, recognizing he has no option but to tell a 30-goal scorer to leave the building. Evander Kane is then shuffled off to Buffalo. Similarly, Chevy took a measured tactic with Jacob Trouba, not moving his top-pair defender to Gotham until the free-agency clock was soon to strike midnight.

Now we have the only GM in Jets 2.0 history confronted with the stiffest challenge of his watch, and all I can see is Chevy standing in a corner with a can of paint and a brush, looking for a way out.

And that’s not to ignore Jack Roslovic’s pout.

Chevy’s allowing Roslovic to rot at home in Columbus, with no inclination toward granting his young forward’s wish for opportunity elsewhere. Chevy can move him on a whim, on his terms and on his timetable, and the longer the Roslovic Rot lasts the more likely it is that he becomes a forgotten man. Few among the faithful will be bent out of shape at the loss of a player who might fit in as a top-six forward in other colors, but not in Jets linen.

It’s different with Laine.

Puck Finn is their signature selection through a decade of draft-and-develop. He’s a star performer, a game-changer who, were he to commit long term, would become the face of the franchise.

Chevy and the Puck Pontiff are already 0-for-2 with young studs who’ve demanded a one-way ticket out of Dodge, and Laine’s performance v. the Flames was a not-so-subtle hint that they should move mountains to prevent it from being 0-for-3.

What will it take to put a happy face on Puck Finn? None of us knows. But, surely, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff have an idea, and that begs one question: Why aren’t they doing it?

Puck Finn

Got a giggle out of pundits suggesting Laine’s show-stopper v. the Flames snuffed out swap talk. “Laine silences the trade rumors” and “Laine mutes trade talk for now” were the headlines in the Winnipeg Sun. Ya, good luck with that. If anything, it ramped up speculation. I mean, what was Eric Duhatschek scribbling about in The Athletic the following morning? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. What were Gino Reda and Craig Button nattering about on TSN two days later? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. What were David Amber and Brian Burke prattling on about on Hockey Night in Canada last night? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. Trust me, L’Affaire Laine will linger until one of two things happens: 1) Puck Finn commits to Good Ol’ Hometown for the long haul; 2) Chevy and the Puck Pontiff tell him to pack his bags. I’m still betting on the latter scenario—and we’ll know for certain if he signs another bridge deal this summer—so don’t expect the whispers to go away anytime soon.

So, you’re Paul Maurice, the Jets potty-mouth head coach. You have a 22-year-old right-winger, Laine, who shredded the Flames, and you have a 34-year-old right winger, Blake Wheeler, who’s doing his best to keep up with the pace of play. Who you gonna call on? I agree, it should be Laine. But Coach PottyMo still had Puck Finn playing second fiddle to the aging Wheeler, on the ice for a whopping 21:27, including 4:50 on the powerplay, in the opener. Laine was limited to 16:20 and 2:53. Any wonder why Puck Finn’s agents believe it would be “mutually beneficial” for him to move on? Curses to you, Coach Potty Mouth.

Took a dive into James Duthie’s book Beauties last week, and I was giggling four paragraphs into Roberto Luongo’s forward, whereby the former Vancouver Canucks goaltender describes an in-game bout of poopy pants. “I never get stomach aches during a game,” he writes. “Before the game is a different story. I go to the bathroom five times on game day. I’m talking number two here. I may have been a number one goalie most of my career, but I’m all about number two on game days. I go once in the morning when I get up, once at the morning skate, once after I wake up from my nap, once after the pre-game meeting, and once after warm-up, just in case. I don’t want any accidents during the game. It’s a skill. The guys on my team all know about it. They see my big-ass toes sticking out from under the stall door and say, ‘Lui’s goin’ again.’” That probably falls under the category ‘too much information,’ but Luongo goes on to explain missing the start of overtime in a playoff series v. Anaheim due to the runs, and it’s more than a one-yuk-per-page read. I’m 68 pages into the book and only the Paul Bissonnette yarn is a yawn. Overall, a highly recommended read.

The more things change, the more things stay the same. An example would be Anthony Stewart’s analysis of last week’s Montreal Canadiens-Toronto Maple Leafs skirmish on Sportsnet. Stewart, of course, is the least insightful among the natterbugs on Hockey Night In Canada and, like Brian Burke, he tends to glorify goon hockey. Thus it was no surprise to hear him cite Wayne Simmonds as the difference-maker in the Leafs’ 5-4 victory, simply because he exchanged bare knuckles with Ben Chiarot of the Habs. It was 3-1 Montreal when the lads dropped the mitts, and Stewart informed us that the Leafs scored “right after” the tiff. Wrong. The game turned when the Habs took three consecutive penalties and the Leafs scored twice with the man advantage—7½ minutes after the Simmonds scrap. But, hey, why let facts get in the way of a false narrative? Meanwhile, over at TSN, Craig Button was asked what shifted the game toward the Leafs. “Power play,” he said. Two nights later, he added, “the Leafs’ skill bailed them out.” Correct.

The search was on for Bryson DeChambeau’s ball.

So now we know why Bryson DeChambeau was feeling woozy and bombed out at The Masters in November: Brain fart. “The frontal lobe in my brain was working really, really hard,” the bulked-up golfer explains, adding a combination of things “escalated my brain, overworking and just giving out.” And here I thought it was that lost ball and a triple-bogey seven on the third hole at Augusta that made him sick. Silly me.

Interesting that quarterback Aaron Rodgers is among the notables to land a gig as celeb host on Jeopardy! once the Green Bay Packers are finished playing football. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t hire ESPN squawker Stephen A. Smith. He believes he has all the answers.

Bill Murray

Speaking of celebrities, the Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament will have no pro-am component this year. Which makes it what? The Pebble Beach Bill Murray Has To Go Somewhere Else To Act Like A Complete Jackass Open?

Quitter James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets described himself as “an elite leader” at his introductory natter with New York news snoops the other day, just scant hours after mailing it in one more time and informing his former Houston Rockets teammates that they’re a bunch of scrubs. Ya, that’s an “elite leader” like Kareem Adbul Jabbar is a jockey.

Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer are now Club de Foot Montreal. Seriously? A soccer side with “club foot” in the name. They might want to send that one back to the marketing department. It’s like a brewery branding its newest product Flat Warm Beer.

On the subject of peddling product, if you’re scoring at home—and I’m sure you aren’t—a Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association team wrapped up a six-game series v. teenage boys in Florida the other day, and they left the Tampa hub with a 2-4 record. All but two games (5-0, 7-2 losses) were competitive, but I fail to see how losing to teenage boys advances the cause of Ponytail Puck.

Speaking of which, Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star found room for Ponytail Puck in his Pucks In Depth notebook on Friday, which is a good thing. If only he wasn’t so thin on facts and short on insight.

Women’s professional hockey ramps up this month,” he wrote. “The NWHL, with its Toronto expansion team The Six (I like the nickname, but I have been programmed by our Olympians not to root for the NWHL) will play its entire season, playoffs and championship in a bubble in Lake Placid, N.Y., with some games televised (and most streamable if you know how to do that). There’s something coming out of the ashes of the CWHL, with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (which I’m programmed to root for since it’s basically the national teams of Canada and the United States). The women now represent cities, and have big sponsors. So that sounds positive. I believe COVID is getting in the way of their plans, which leads to some confusion. Are they a league? Is it tournament-based? Weekend exhibitions with grassroots ourtreach?”

A few things to peel away here:

  1. The National Women’s Hockey League’s Isobel Cup tournament runs from Jan. 23-Feb. 5 in Lake Placid, with the semifinals and final to be broadcast live on NBCSN. Why McGran chose not to share those pertinent details with readers is a mystery.

  2. I don’t know if he was writing tongue-in-cheek when admitting he’s been “programmed by our Olympians not to root for the NWHL,” but, if true, shame on them and him. (Given that PWHPA membership spent its first year of existence trash talking the NWHL, I’m guessing it’s true.)

  3. The PWHPA and its Dream Gappers emerged from the ashes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2019, so it’s not new. The makeup is different, in that there are now five hubs—Calgary, the Republic of Tranna, Montreal, New Hampshire, Minnesota—but there’s no “confusion.” It is not a league. The people at Secret Deodorant have diverted a portion of their attention and dollars from smelly armpits to Ponytail Puck, sponsoring a 2021 Dream Gap Tour to the merry tune of $1 million. The plan is a series of six weekend showcase tournaments (dates and sites to be determined), and the players will share prize money and award the Secret Cup to the top team at the conclusion of their barnstorming frolics.

All that information is readily available if you know where to look, or pick up a phone. Mind you, not a word has been posted to the PWHPA website since before Christmas, so a visit there is a waste of time. If you’re interested in all things Ponytail Puck, check out The Ice Garden, the Women’s Hockey Tribune or The Victory Press.

And, finally, nice off-the-beaten-path piece on Kerri Einarson from Jason Bell of the Drab Slab last week. Jason caught up with the reigning Canadian curling champion on the planet’s largest curling rink—Lake Winnipeg—where she and rinkmate Shannon Birchard have been working out the kinks in preparation for defence of their title, Feb. 19-28 in a Calgary bubble.

Blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda and the flapping of gums in 2020

Aren’t we all happy that 2020 is coming to a close? You bet your sweet bippy, we are.

I mean, to say the year has been over, under, sideways, down and inside-out would be the biggest understatement since Rip Van Winkle said, “I think I’ll take a wee nap.” All sports fell off the grid due to COVID-19, and those that returned certainly didn’t look the same.

In this strangest of years, the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, became the second leg, and the second leg, the Preakness Stakes, became the third leg, and the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, became the first leg. The Masters golf tournament was played in November instead of April, and the Open Championship and Wimbledon weren’t played at all.

Major team sports went into bubbles and performed in mostly empty buildings, with fans replaced by cardboard cutouts of actual people and the soccer side FC Seoul using sex dolls to occupy the pews. The bad news: The faux fans were hell on beer sales. The good news: No long lineups at the washrooms.

There was, mind you, one constant: Athletes, coaches, managers, owners, talking heads and sports scribes continued to flap their gums, or write, often for the better but sometimes not so much.

And with that in mind, I give you the second annual RCR Awards, presented to those who delivered interesting sound bites in 2020.

Sean Payton

The QB Conundrum Cup: To New Orleans head coach Sean Payton, whose NFL club benefited from a COVID outbreak that put all three Denver Broncos quarterbacks in sick bay and ineligible to play his Saints. The Broncos were forced to use practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton at QB and the Saints whupped ’em easily, 31-3.

“I felt bad for the cardboard fans,” Payton said.

The Sign Of The Times Shield: To comedy writer Brad Dickson, for his take on life in 2020.

“On the news tonight all they talked about were boycotts, protests, riots, violence, dissension, disease, lawsuits and court cases. And that was just the sportscast.”

The Empty Nest Nick-Nack: To longtime Canadian national team goaltender Shannon Szabados, geeked up about the National Hockey League’s return from a COVID shutdown for a summer playoff tournament in fan-free rinks in Edmonton and the Republic of Tranna.

“Happy the NHL will be back,” she tweeted, “but without fans how do we expect players to know when to shoot the puck? How will opposing goalies know they suck?”

The Nothing Runs Like A Deere Diploma: To RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com, who’s apparently familiar with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and their green-clad faithful on the Flattest of Lands.

“The Nebraska State Fair broke a record for the longest parade of old tractors when over 1,100 showed up. In Canada, that’s just part of the last-minute Labour Day crowd at Mosaic Stadium.”

The Jailhouse Rock Trophy: To Ryan Brown of WJOX Radio in Birmingham, not impressed after watching six straight quarters of Kentucky football.

“Hoping if I’m ever convicted of a major crime this will count as time served.”

Mitch Marner

The Give Your Head A Shake Goblet: To Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner who, after observing the women’s 3-on-3 game during NHL all-star novelty events, offered this analysis of the Ponytail Pucksters: “I think a lot of these players can play in (the NHL).”

Sure, Mitch. And some of Snow White’s seven dwarfs can play O-line for the Green Bay Packers.

The Flip Him The Bird Bauble: To Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times, for his observation after Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler was scratched from a scheduled start because he tore the nail on his right middle finger while putting on his pants.

“As any good Philadelphian knows, what good is a guy if he can’t use his middle finger?”

The Scripps Spelling Bee Shield: We have co-winners in this category. First to Craig Calcaterra of NBCsports.com, after Tres Barrera of the Washington Nationals was slapped with an 80-game ban following a positive test for the drug Dehydrochlormethyltestosterone.

“If he can spell it on the first try, they should reduce his suspension to 40 games.”

And now to RJ Currie for this observation after the Toronto Blue Jays had released relief pitcher Marc Rzepczynski: “He was hampered by a high pitch count and a low vowel count.”

Steve Nash

The White Guys Can’t Coach Hoops Cup: To Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, for his incredibly tone-deaf attempt to shout down anyone with the (apparent) bad manners to suggest the appointment of Steve Nash as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets was a classic case of white privilege.

Simmons on Sept. 6: “Two words that never, ever, should be attached to Steve Nash: White privilege.”

Nash on Sept. 9: “I have benefited from white privilege.”

D’oh!

The Hot Air Honorarium: To RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com, for this observation: “A Chinese man reportedly invented a car that can run on wind. A tentative name was Feng Chezi, which roughly translates to Don Cherry.”

The Where’s The Beef Bauble: To New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton, who doesn’t eat anything that had four legs, hooves and lived in a barn yard or pasture.

“Just because I’m vegan doesn’t mean I just go outside and pick up grass and, you know, put ranch on it. I still love good food.”

The Tube Steak Trinket: To Bob Molinaro of pilotonline.com, noting that Nathan’s annual pigout would go ahead as planned, even as COVID-19 raged in the U.S. “Social distancing will not interrupt the gluttony and star-spangled grossness of Nathan’s July 4th Hot Dog Eating Contest. Contestants will be at least six foot-longs apart as they set out to determine who will be this year’s wiener.”

The Don’t Give A Rat’s Ass Award: To Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle, for her take on the NCAA kicking off its football season during the killer COVID pandemic.

“The Power 5 conferences like to use the phrase ‘student athlete’,” she wrote. “Maybe ‘lab rat’ is more appropriate.”

Billie Jean King

The Show Me The Money Medallion: To tennis legend and social activist Billie Jean King, who hopped on the Ponytail Puck bandwagon and urged the NHL to create a full-time women’s professional league, because it would be “good business.”

“They can do this. They can do this,” she said. “Why can’t we have 700 girls or a thousand girls playing in a league?”

What Billie Jean didn’t do was explain where the NHL—or anyone—would find 700-1,000 elite-level female hockey players.

O.J. will find the real killers first.

The Allied Van Lines Award: To former Major League Baseball pitcher C.J. Nitkowski for this tweet: “My wife had an odd way of comforting my son after a rough pitching outing yesterday. ‘Well, at least you still get to live in our house. When dad pitched bad, we usually had to move.’”

Brett Hull

The Boys Will Be Boys Peeler Pole Plaque: To former NHLer Brett Hull, for his moronic comments after Brendan Leipsic of the Washington Capitals was booted out of the NHL for disgusting, degrading, disturbing and sexist language about women.

“We did the same things, we said the same things, but there was no way to get caught,” said Hull, fondly recalling his playing days and confirming that he continues to live in another century. “We can go out after games, we can go to strip clubs, we can go to bars, and we could do whatever we wanted, and it would all be hearsay. The fun is gone. The game is not fun anymore to me.”

Sigh.

The Will They Ever Grow Up Goblet: To Melissa Martin of the Winnipeg Free Press, reacting to oinker Leipsic’s attack on women.

“To be honest,” she tweeted, “I’m super burned out on writing about shitty men in sports.”

The DUI Diploma: To Greg Cote of the Miami Herald, noting a NASCAR race in Homestead is called the Dixie Vodka 400.

“Hmmm. Should a bunch of guys driving 180 mph in heavy traffic be sponsored by vodka?”

The Divorce Lawyer Laurel: To syndicated columnist Norman Chad, who offered a unique pre-game analysis of a Green Bay Packers-Indianapolis Colts skirmish.

“Bettors love that the Colts are well rested. I was well-rested before my second marriage, and it didn’t help.”

The Treadmill Trophy: To Nick Canepa of the San Diego Union Tribune, who, like many sports writers, apparently doesn’t spend a whole lot of time in the gym. When the 2020 American Fitness Index listed San Diego as the 11th-fittest city in the U.S., he wrote: “I’m thankful they didn’t go house-to-house.”

The Let’s Play Hooky Honorarium: To comedy writer Alex Kaseberg, noting USC football players were part of a fraud investigation.

“The penalties could be stiff. Some of the players may be forced to attend classes.”

The Centre Of The Universe Crock Pot: To Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. Musing on the challenges of a global pandemic that had shut down 99.9 per cent of the sports world, Kelly took quill in hand and scribbled a thought that could only come from a jock journo in the Republic of Tranna.

“When I think of the very best of sports in the city I live in, I remember that night last May when the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA’s Eastern Conference title. A lot of Canadians hadn’t cared until that moment. Suddenly, every single one of us did.”

Right. Except for the 30 million of us Canadians who were too busy that night to care.

The search was on for Bryson DeChambeau’s ball.

The Finders Keepers Cup: To Bryson DeChambeau, the PGA Tour’s Frankengolfer who apparently doesn’t believe the rules of the game apply to him. After his tee shot on the 13th hole in the opening round of the Masters went wayward, a search party failed to find his ball in the allotted three minutes. At one point, the frustrated DeChambeau turned to a tournament rules official and asked: “So you’re saying if we can’t find it, it’s a lost ball?” Well, duh. And if you don’t shoot the lowest score, you don’t get the green jacket and visit the Butler Cabin, either.

The Bare Face Bauble: To comedy writer Brad Dickson, for his take on Nebraska Cornhusker football fans.

“There’s something seriously wrong with people who will wear a rubber corncob head on their noggin but won’t be seen in public in a COVID mask.”

The Greybeard Geezer Goblet: To rapper Snoop Dogg, who handled commentary for the fossil fist fight between fiftysomething boxers Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr.

“Like two of my uncles fighting at a barbeque.”

Muppet heads Fozzy Bear and Colby Armstrong.

And, finally, the Born With A Silver Spoon(er) In His Mouth Medallion: To Sportsnet gab guy and muppet head Colby Armstrong, who went positively ga-ga in a truly embarrassing and butt-kissing blah, blah, blah session with Canadian national women’s hockey team member Natalie Spooner.

“Thanks for joining us,” he began. “Great seeing you as always and…we see you a lot, like we really get to see you a lot, and especially through (COVID) we get to see you out there a lot advocating for women’s hockey. I have three little girls and you know they love you. They’re big fans. What’s it like being a role model? I’ve been able to watch you and see you deal with a lot of people and fans and little girls, and I think you have a great personality for it, so I think it’s worked out. You’re a very social person, like, fun to be around, high energy, probably the, you know, the person in the room or in the gym that keeps it bumping. You love singing, you love dancing…people follow Natalie Spooner on her, what do you have, Instagram? I don’t have it. I tell my wife, we watch your stuff all the time. You found a way to entertain. Ya, very entertaining.”

At last report, Armstrong remains in recovery following emergency surgery to have his lips removed from Spooner’s butt cheeks.

Let’s talk about goals and lumps of coal in the toy department

Sports Santa arrives on the morrow and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he has tucked inside his bag, so let’s see if it’s Goal or a Lump o’ Coal for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department of life…

GOAL: If at first you don’t succeed…get it right in an extra end. And that’s what Kerri Einarson and her Buffalo girls—Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Mielleur, Jennifer Clark-Rouire, coach Patti Wuthrich—did to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw. Kerri had a chance to end it all in the 10th end of the title match vs. Rachel Homan and her Ontario group, but she was heavy with her last-rock draw to the four-foot. She got the job done in the 11th, though, sliding her final stone to the button for an 8-7 victory and the Canadian women’s curling championship.

LUMP O’ COAL: The year 2020. Seriously. Someone needs to give it a good, swift kick to the groin, and it’s not too late.

GOAL: Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender in the National Hockey League, putting a bit of shine on an otherwise empty season for the Winnipeg Jets.

LUMP O’ COAL: Sportsnet was guilty of a blatant double standard when it allowed Elliotte Friedman to repeatedly appear on Hockey Night in Canada with a ghastly, unruly beard that made him look like he’d been sleeping under a bridge for three months. No chance a female broadcaster would be allowed on camera with a head of hair that looks like a cluster of dead animals.

GOAL: The Winnipeg Sun celebrated its 40th anniversary, not bad for a sheet that wasn’t supposed to last much longer than a pint of beer in front of Chris Walby.

LUMP O’ COAL: 50 Below Sports + Entertainment ignored provincial health rules and allowed Winnipeg Freeze and Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League to practice outside the city. So make that two lumps o’ coal, one for 50 Below bossman Greg Fettes and the other for bossman Matt Cockell.

GOAL: The good ol’ boys in NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag from race sites. Full sets of teeth, corn squeezin’s and MAGA caps remained optional.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mike Milbury, Brendan Leipsic, Thom Brennaman, Cris Collinsworth, Brett Hull, Evander Kane spewed sexist, racist and/or homophobic slurs. Come on, guys. We’re 21 years into the 21st century, and that language just doesn’t cut it.

GOAL: Katie Sowers became the first female to coach in the Super Bowl, albeit in a losing role with the San Francisco 49ers, Kim Ng became the first female GM of a Major League Baseball team, Alyssa Nakken became the first uniformed female to coach on-field in MLB, Kathryn Nesbitt became the first female to referee in a Major League Soccer championship match, and Sarah Fuller became the first female to play in an NCAA Power 5 men’s football game.

LUMP O’ COAL: Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie went panhandling on Parliament Hill, asking PM Trudeau the Younger for anywhere from $30 million to $150 million in welfare to get Rouge Football on the field during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trouble was, he failed to receive input from the Players Association, and the feds were not amused. Commish Cap-in-Hand was spurned repeatedly, and the CFL finally fell off the grid when Trudeau the Younger batted away his final Hail Mary beg in early August. Thus, there was no season, no Grey Cup week. Just a whole lot of radio silence from the commish.

GOAL: Kid curlers Jacques Gauthier and Mackenzie Zacharias joined Einarson in bringing more glory to Manitoba with their world junior championship wins in Russia.

LUMP O’ COAL: Damien Cox and the Exalted Guardians of the Lou Marsh Trophy at the Toronto Star. The Marsh trinket is supposed to honor Canada’s athlete-of-the-year, except Cox and Co. don’t invite jock journos west of the Republic of Tranna to the top-jock party. Well, okay, that’s not quite true. They granted a voice and a vote to four news snoops from the colonies. That would be four out of 37 voices and votes. How gracious of them.

GOAL: O-lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif walked away from the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and millions of American dollars to fight the good fight against COVID in long-term care homes.

LUMP O’ COAL: TSN named its all-time Winnipeg Jets roster and didn’t include the great Lars-Erik Sjoberg among the top six defencemen. But wait. The geniuses declared The Shoe to be the franchise’s “foundational” player. Sigh. That’s like telling Jesus he has to sit at the kids’ table for the Last Supper. Neither the original Jets franchise nor the second coming knew a better blueliner than The Shoe.

GOAL: Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab showed us their fab journalistic chops with fab features. Freezer relived the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2019 Grey Cup championship with a nine-part series, while young Jeff took a deep, deep dive into the dark and sordid world of disgraced sexual predator and former hockey coach Graham James.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mainstream jock journos, shinny division, held a group pity party when the NHL revealed it wouldn’t make public the various owies suffered by players during the summer made-for-TV playoff tournament. It was as if they’d been ordered to gather in a small room to watch an Adam Sandler movie marathon, or listen to Barry Manilow’s greatest hits 24/7.

GOAL: Various sports franchises played the name game, including the CFL team formerly known as the Edmonton Eskimos, the NFL team formerly known as the Washington Redskins, and the MLB team to be named something other than Cleveland Indians. We still don’t know what any of them will be called, but it’s believed the animal kingdom has the inside track and they can only hope the people at PETA don’t have a beef with any new names.

LUMP O’ COAL: Former NBC Sports hockey gab guy Jeremy Roenick went on a podcast to declare his admiration for a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and mentioned something about three-way sex with his wife and the co-worker. He was promptly punted. But wait. There’s more. Rather than go quietly into the night, Roenick decided to kick up a legal fuss and sued NBC Sports for wrongful dismissal, claiming discrimination based on his sexual orientation. His argument: If he was a gay man and said the things he said, he’d still have a job. But because he’s a straight man, he’s out of work. Ya, good luck with that, hetero boy.

GOAL: Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm won her fourth WNBA title and became engaged to soccer diva Megan Rapinoe, while another gay woman, triple jumper Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela, was named female athlete-of-the-year by World Athletics.

LUMP O’ COAL: Bryson DeChambeau spouted off about Augusta National prior to the Masters in November, boasting that it would be a pitch-and-putt course for him while the mere mortals on the PGA Tour would be playing to par-72. “I’m looking at it as a par-67 for me,” he said. In that case, DeChambeau shot 18-over par with rounds of 70-74-69-73, which left him tied for 34th, 18 swings behind winner Dustin Johnson and one behind 63-year-old Bernhard Langer.

GOAL: It was girl power on Sportsnet in March, when an all-female broadcast crew worked a Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hockey Night in Canada. Leah Hextall handled the play-by-play call, Cassie Campbell-Pascall delivered color commentary and Christine Simpson was rinkside. Question is: Was it a one-off, or will they be back?

LUMP O’ COAL: Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers was yanked from the deciding game of the World Series due to a positive COVID test, but he returned to join his teammates in an on-field celebration and removed his mask. MLB chose not to punish Turner for allowing his bare face to hang out and expose L.A. players and hangers-on to the virus, so it gets a lump o’ coal, too.

GOAL: Zamboni driver David Ayres took over the blue paint for the Carolina Hurricanes one night in the Republic of Tranna, and the emergency goaltender beat the Maple Leafs. Not since Sid Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon pulled into the Tim Hortons drive-thru has a Zamboni driver received so much attention.

LUMP O’ COAL: Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz thought COVID-19 was a big joke, so he mocked news snoops about the virus at a press session. A couple days later, he tested positive and the kibitzing stopped. As did the NBA and the rest of the sports world.

GOAL: Our leading lady of soccer, Christine Sinclair, became the top goal-scorer of all time in international fitba. She finishes the year with 186, and there might be more to come if the women get back on the pitch in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.

LUMP O’ COAL: Novak Djokovic, who wears a tin-foil hat and might lead the sports world in hissy fits, ignored scientific and medical advice and staged a mini-tennis tour when almost all sports had shut down due to the COVID pandemic. Social distancing was ignored by players and fans, and the Joker was one of four players to test positive. The final tourney was canceled. Later, he was ushered out of the U.S. Open tennis tournament for whacking a lines judge in the face with a ball. What a doofus.

GOAL: Rafael Nadal won his 13th French Open title and his 20th tennis Gran Slam, at the same time running his career record at Roland Garros to 100-2.

LUMP O’ COAL: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Toronto spent much of the year shaking his fists and shouting at clouds, as is his wont, and he reserved his most ignorant hit pieces for PM Trudeau the Younger and the National Women’s Hockey League expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna. He claimed Trudeau had “let us down again” by permitting the Blue Jays “to play their home games this summer in Toronto. That is beyond stupid.” He later doubled down, calling the decision “beyond ridiculous.” Except Trudeau and the feds never gave the Jays the okie-dokie to play in the Republic of Tranna. In fact, he told them to pack their bats and balls and find a home in the U.S., which they did in Buffalo. Meantime, Simmons assailed the NWHL when it would add a team in The ROT. “You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play and no big-name players,” he harrumphed. He also noted there was no team logo. “When you have all that in place, then make the announcement. The press release referred to the expansion team as a ‘first-class team of professionals.’ Time will answer that, but the new Toronto Whatevers are not off to a great start.” Except he had no such harsh words for the NHL when it introduced expansion franchises in Las Vegas and Seattle. They were introduced without team names, without team logos, and without big-name players. They were the Vegas and Seattle Whatevers for two years. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: If women do it, bad; if men do it, cool. I believe we can file that under subtle sexism.

And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by visiting the River City Renegade. We’ve topped 57,000 views this year, and that’s a new high-water mark for the third successive year. So thanks. Happy Christmas.

Let’s talk about Rob the Rube and the Exalted Guardians of the Lou Marsh Trophy…LP records and bubble gum card regrets…the $405 million Winnipeg Jets…the Drama in Bahama…hits and misses in the rag trade…mum’s the word for Kyrie…and Johnny Rotten’s on his way back

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and something tells me that Sarah Fuller’s 15 minutes of fame is about to end now that she’s kicked two converts…

There are a couple of things you need to know about the Lou Marsh Trophy.

Lou Marsh Trophy

First, it’s a Toronto Star in-house trinket, named after a former sports editor at One Yonge Street in the Republic of Tranna and voted on by a cadre of news snoops mostly living and working within spitting distance of the CN Tower.

Second, here’s what those big-city Tranna folk think of us out here in the colonies—hee haw!

That’s right, country bumpkins.

We’re the red-haired, freckle-faced, adopted daughters and sons of Confederation, all spread out in the wide-open sprawl of an oft-frozen tundra and hunkered down in a bunch of itty-bitty, backwater burgs named after animals and their body parts. Moose Jaw. Elkhorn. Pelican Narrows. Porcupine Plain.

Basically, they see us as Mayberry. You know, Andy, Barney, Goober, Floyd the Barber and Aunt Bee. Except we wear toques.

They think our idea of a high time is the Saturday night barn dance. Right after the big tractor pull. (That’s only partially true. Sometimes we save the tractor pull until Sunday afternoon, right after we’ve collected all the eggs and milked the cows.)

They also know they’ve got the tall, imposing CN Tower and powerful Bay Street, while we have grain silos and Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump.

Alphonso Davies

Little wonder, therefore, that the Exalted Guardians of the Marsh trinket limited the number of colonials in last week’s discussion/vote to determine the finest athlete in our vast land during the past 12 months. Wouldn’t want to give too many of the western rubes too loud a voice, right? Why, you get a whole passel of those hayseeds together and they’re apt to organize a Western Bloc vote and choose Troy Dorchester, or some little, ol’ gal who raised herself a prize-winning heifer at the Oxbow County Fair.

Next thing you know, One Yonge Street would be trying to explain to the world how a chuckwagon racer out of Westerose, Alta., came to be Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. Or—eeks!—a pig-tailed 4H-clubber with a cow. Can’t have that, now can we?

So the Exalted Guardians, headed by Damien Cox of the Star, played a game of eeny-meeny-miny-moe and plucked a fortunate four from the entire pool of jock journos who live and work west of Falcon Lake, which is just a hoot and a holler down the road from the Manitoba-Ontario divide.

“There’s more rep from the West now than for the first 60 years of the award,” Cox boasted in a tweet, as if he’d brought peace to the Middle East.

Oh my, what a dear, magnanimous man, permitting four among the great unwashed wretches of Western Canadian jock journalism to share his oxygen, albeit virtually. Alert the Vatican. Surely sainthood must be the reward for such unprecedented charity.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

The thing is, the overwhelming majority of voices at last week’s virtual point-and-counterpoint—37 in number—belonged to news snoops who wouldn’t know a silo from a swather, and the final head count was East 33, West 4.

But, hey, can we really blame the Exalted Guardians for putting a quota on country bumpkins?

I mean, they really pushed the envelop by giving four western rubes a voice and a vote. It was high risk, like letting Mike Tyson loose in a sorority house. And, sure enough, just look at what Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post did. He brought a banjo to the symphony.

Eighteen news snoops voted for Alphonso Davies and 18 voted for Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. But not our boy Rob. He delivered his shoutout to breakout basketball star Jamal Murray. (By gosh, that means he must have watched some hoops. On TV. Who knew they had electricity on the Flattest of Lands? Must have got it the same day as the indoor plumbing.)

Those who know him say Rob is an all-timer on the roll call of good guys, but he had some serious ‘splaining to do. The Twitter hounds demanded answers. How could this sodbuster not possibly see what everyone else saw in Davies and Duvernay-Tardif?

Rob Vanstone

“My rationale: Murray had two 50-point games in the 2020 NBA playoffs, during which he helped the Denver Nuggets rally from 3-1 series deficits against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers (see ya, Kawhi Leonard),” he wrote. “In 19 post-season games, the 6-foot-4 Murray averaged 26.5 points, 6.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds. That was after posting averages of 17.7 points, 4.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds during the regular season. Murray, from Kitchener, Ont., elevated his already impressive play when the games were most meaningful.”

Rob also tweeted something about it being “a coin flip” between Murray and Davies, but he didn’t really have to explain himself. In reality, he did everyone a favor. His vote meant joint top jocks, rather than one.

Atta boy, Rob the Rube. You’ve got a boffo story to tell at the next Saturday night barn dance. Hee Haw!

I have no quibble with Davies and Duvernay-Tardif sharing the Lou Marsh Trophy. For all I care, they can slice the thing in half or melt it down and make baubles, bangles and buckshot out of it. If not, I’m guessing it would make for a fabulous door stop or a paper weight. No matter, because this isn’t about footy phenom Phonsie or the good doctor, who chose to save lives this year rather than protect Patrick Mahomes’ backside in the Kansas City Chiefs’ bid to repeat as rulers of the National Football League. They’re champions and worthy winners, both of them, even if Phonsie did his thing on footy pitches on the other side of the world and Duvernay-Tardif did his thing in long-term care homes after collecting a Super Bowl ring. My issue is with the process. Is it truly a national award if half the country isn’t given a voice? Hell no, it ain’t. It’s total BS. Until the Exalted Guardians allow everyone to play, it’s a sham.

Something to ponder: For all the success we’ve had in Ponytail Puck, no female hockey player has ever won the Lou Marsh trinket. For all the success our Pebble People have had, no curler has ever won the Lou Marsh trinket. For all her accomplishments on the LPGA Tour, Brooke Henderson has never won the Lou Marsh trinket. Just saying.

A Wayne Gretzky rookie card fetched $1.29 million at auction last week. Every time I read a story like that, I cringe. How so? Because there was a bubble gum card in the back wheel of the Raleigh bike I sold to Dougie Cox for $10 while in high school in the 1960s. I don’t recall whose pic was on that tiny piece of cardboard, but it might have been Bobby Orr, and one of No. 4’s rookie cards sold for $204,000 last year. What did I do with the 10 bucks Dougie gave me for my bike? Bought the newest Beatles album, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. I still have the LP and bubble gum card regrets. I doubt Dougie has the bike.

Please don’t tell me you’re surprised that the Winnipeg Jets have been given preferential treatment from provincial politicos and Manitoba’s top docs in their quest to play hockey during a pandemic. You should know by now that there’s one rule book for the regular rabble and another for the filthy rich and fabulous.

Let me go on record and say any member of our national women’s hockey/soccer teams can call dibs and jump ahead of me in the vaccine queue if they feel so inclined. But the millionaire hockey players? Wait your turn, boys.

The Puck Pontiff

On the subject of wealth, the money crunchers at Forbes tell us the value of the Jets has dipped from US$420 million a year ago to $405M today. Put in perspective, the sticker price was $170M when co-bankrolls Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and David Thomson purchased the National Hockey League franchise in 2011. Still, there’s cause for concern. Assuming the NHL drops the puck next month, an empty Little Hockey House On The Prairie means no game-day revenue and staggering losses for Winnipeg HC and all NHL outfits. We know no one in the country has deeper pockets than Thomson, and there’ll be no tag days for the Puck Pontiff, but hearing the New York Islanders dropped $39M in 2020 makes me a bit skittish.

Here’s the Forbes breakdown on valuation for the NHL’s Canadian-based franchises (year-over-year change in parenthesis):
2. Toronto Maple Leafs-$1.5 billion (0%)
3. Montreal $1.34B (0%)
10. Vancouver $725 million (-2%)
14. Edmonton $550M (-4%)
20. Calgary $480M (-4%)
26. Ottawa $430M (-3%)
27. Winnipeg $405M (-4%)

Interesting that Bill Foley of the Vegas Golden Knights felt obliged to snuff out trade talk involving forward Max Pacioretty. “We’re not shopping Patches,” the Knights bankroll told news snoops. “We do have cap issues, and so some of those things have to be resolved as we go forward, we started getting into the season. But he definitely is not being shopped.” Is it just me, or does anyone else think that’s exactly the kind of language we should be hearing from the Puck Pontiff re Patrik Laine?

Trevor Berbick and Muhammad Ali.

Thirty-nine years ago Friday, I sat ringside and watched Trevor Berbick box Muhammad Ali’s ears for 10 rounds on a parched patch of earth on Paradise Island in The Bahamas. The great Ali was pathetic and Berbick, a Canadian by way of Jamaica, wasn’t much better. It was a sordid affair that involved criminals, con men and the many human barnacles and leeches who clung to Ali, still convinced there was a buck to be made off the aging and bloated man. I didn’t enjoy what I witnessed and heard that night, and thought it disturbing that Ali’s fist-fighting career should end in such an undignified manner. It was like watching royalty carted off in a compost cart. The Drama in Bahama never should have happened but, oddly enough, I’m glad I was there for Ali’s final bout.

It’s official: Donald Trump and his wackadoo legal team headed by Rudy Giuliani has now suffered more losses than the Washington Generals. The Generals, of course, were the longtime patsy and loser of more than 17,000 games to the Harlem Globetrotters.

Jeff Hamilton

Hit and Misses in the local rag trade…

Hit: Call off the search party. Bring back the bloodhounds. The Drab Slab’s fine, young scribe Jeff Hamilton is safe and scribbling again. We haven’t seen Jeff’s byline much this year, in large part due to the Canadian Football League falling off the grid, but he’s back with a six-part epic on Graham James, the sexual predator former hockey coach. Do we need to read more about creepy James and his criminal acts? Probably not. But if his victims are talking, they deserve to be heard. Some of Part 1 is painful to read, because what James did to teenage boys was horrific and the coverup was unforgivable, but it’s fabulous journalism from Jeff. Parts 2-6 in the series run online Monday-Friday and in print Tuesday-Saturday.

Miss: The Drab Slab couldn’t find room on its sports pages for this year’s list of inductees to the Manitoba Golf Hall of Fame—Rhonda Orr, 1967 junior men’s interprovincial team champions Steve Bannatyne, Dave Hill, Ken Redfern, Dwight Parkinson, Manfred Broavac, and builders Brian Gilhuly and Tom Kinsman—but there was ample space for articles on Northern Ontario canceling its curling championships, breakdancing becoming an Olympic sport, COVID-19 and the Tranna Jurassics, new co-GMs for the B.C. Lions, the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC, and two NFL game stories. That’s just wrong.

Miss: The Winnipeg Sun ran a brief on the golf hall-of-famers, but it should have been on the sports front rather than another bland, boring article on the Tranna Blue Jays written by a Tranna scribe. Seriously, what happened to putting local copy first and foremost?

Hit: Ted Wyman’s two-parter on the state of curling in Canada and the changes Pebble People would like to see at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.

Kyrie Irving

So, Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets says he won’t be talking to news snoops (he calls them “pawns”) before, during or after the National Basketball Association season. Give me a quarter and I’ll call someone who might actually give a damn.

The NBA has fined Irving $25,000 for his cone of silence. Ya, like that’s going to unzip his lips. The guy’s due to collect $33 million for bouncing a ball in 2020-21.

And finally, according to TMZ, Johnny Manziel is about to sign a contract with the Zappers in something called Fan Controlled Football. Isn’t there a vaccine to make him go away permanently?

Let’s talk about the sexism gene in sports coverage…Sarah Fuller getting her kicks…the Drab Slab and moth balls…bravo Dugie…fabulous Friesen and his Bombers epic…fiftysomething fossils fighting, plus Big Angie and Peanut Butter Joe…our greatest Olympians…and other things on my mind

A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and adios to November and let those sleighbells ring…

I have sometimes wondered if sports editors and scribes consciously ignore female sports, or if it’s simply because they’re wired that way.

You know, like it’s a sexism gene that carries a built-in bias.

I mean, because it’s scientifically accepted that male athletes are bigger, stronger and faster—as are the major pro sports leagues—it seems to me that there’s an automatic reflex to play a guys’ story at the front of the sports section and relegate the women’s article to the back pages, if not spike the thing.

Consider hockey as a prime e.g.

The Canadian Women’s Hockey League was ignored out of business. There was scant game-day, or off-day coverage, in print or on air. Only when the CWHL turned out the lights did mainstream media sit up and take notice. Basically, they attended a total stranger’s funeral and gasped, “Oh, what a shame.”

When the Toronto Six of the National Women’s Hockey League anointed Digit Murphy head coach, it was like a tree falling in the forest. No one there to hear it? Guess it didn’t happen.

When the NWHL outlined its blueprint for a 2021 crusade last week, trumpeting a six-team tournament Jan. 23-Feb. 5 in a Lake Placid, N.Y., fan-free bubble, it was a three-paragraph brief on the last page of a 12-page sports section in the Toronto Sun. I found no mention of it on the Toronto Star website. That, even though there’s a franchise in the Republic of Tranna.

When was the last time we read anything about the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association and its Dream Gap Tour?

Let’s face it, unless it’s Canada v. U.S.A., Ponytail Puck is an afterthought in mainstream media. Why is that? Is it because the decision-makers know the finest female players in the world strain mightily to beat teenage boys at the Midget AAA or prep school level? And since they don’t cover Midget AAA or prep school level shinny, the women don’t warrant coverage either? Or is it the sexism gene?

Whatever the case, if Canadian newspapers aren’t prepared to write about the best female shinny players on the planet, what hope is there for other sports?

Oh, sure, female Olympic athletes are granted their due every two years, but none of the boys on the beat cover rhythmic gymnastics or synchronized swimming by choice. They hold their noses and do so because it’s a small, inconvenient price to pay for an all-expenses-paid trip to Greece or Tokyo or London or Rio.

Olympic Games aside, it’s almost as if a female athlete or women’s event must include a circus side-show element to attract serious attention.

Sarah Fuller and her one and only kick.

We’ve seen plenty of the novelty acts, like the Kendall Coyne Schofield skedaddle and the 3-on-3 game during National Hockey League all-star hijinks, and Phil Esposito using Manon Rheaume as a publicity stunt in goal. And, of course, most recently we watched Sarah Fuller become the first female to participate in an NCAA Power 5 football game on Saturday.

It was as if Sarah had discovered a fool-proof vaccine for COVID-19, the way folks carried on, but she didn’t actually do anything other than breathe, unless one considers a 30-yard pooch kickoff and walking off the field without touching a foe a remarkable athletic accomplishment. But, hey, there were 21 male football players on the field and one female soccer player, so her presence certainly warranted ink and air time, and Sarah received more of each than any female footy player in a non-World Cup or Olympic year. Eat your heart out, Megan Rapinoe.

But, sans the carnival-barker component, mainstream media doesn’t seem interested, and it’s a sticking point they struggle to get past.

Early last month, SE Steve Lyons of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote about “being as equitable as possible” in terms of female/male coverage. So how is he doing since then?

Let’s just say that, to date, he talks a good game.

His Freep published 30 times in November. Copy/pics strictly about female athletes were featured on the front page of the section just five times—curler Kerri Einarson, retired volleyball player Tammy Mahon, WNBA, a pic of Kim Ng (the story was on the inside pages), and an Andrea Katz column. Total stories/briefs devoted to women in 30 days: 13/7.

That’s equitable like an Archie comic is deep reading material.

Over at the Winnipeg Sun, the picture is much more bleak. Females (curlers) found their way to the sports front once—repeat, once—in 29 editions. Total stories/briefs devoted to women: 9/1.

Pick up a daily newspaper—any newspaper—across our vast land and it’s the same.

Andrea Katz

Lyons has taken a step toward correcting the imbalance of sports coverage in the Drab Slab, bringing Katz on board to focus on the distaff side of the playground, and she made her first appearance on Saturday. The actual column failed to tell us anything many of us didn’t already know, but one assumes (hopes) it will become more informative and shine a light on our fabulous female athletes.

Credit to Lyons. It’s a starting point, which is a whole lot more than I can say for the lord and masters at Postmedia.

Here’s a prime example of the sexism gene at play: On Nov. 20, the Drab Slab ran golf stories on Tiger Woods and his son Charlie, the RSM Classic in Georgia and a brief on the Joburg Classic in Johannesburg. Meanwhile, there wasn’t a single word on the LPGA event that featured Canadians Brooke Henderson and Alena Sharp. Two days later, there was a full story on each of the men’s tournaments, while the Pelican Women’s Championship was a sports brief.

Initial reaction to Sarah Fuller suiting up to handle kicking chores for Vanderbilt on Saturday: Seriously? Vanderbilt has a football team?

Jason Whitlock

As much as Sarah’s participation in a major men’s college football game was newsworthy and hailed as a significant moment, many on social media dismissed the occasion as Tom-foolery and at least one prominent American jock journo, Jason Whitlock of Outkick the Coverage, gave it a long, hard crapping-on. “I don’t believe she played football,” wrote Whitlock, who’s scribbled for the Kansas City Star, ESPN and Fox Sports, among others. “She scored a point in the culture war. The people who believe the only difference between men and women is in how they choose to identify consider Fuller a poor woman’s Jackie Robinson. She broke big time football’s gender barrier. But did she? Sarah Fuller received a standing ovation for kicking the ball 30 yards or so and high-tailing it to the sidelines to be greeted by the winless head coach using her to save his job. This wasn’t Jackie Robinson 2.0. It was Make A Wish. Treating Sara Fuller like she’s a special-needs kid does not uplift the cause of equality.” Harsh, but not entirely inaccurate.

By the way, if you’re wondering why Vanderbilt recruited Sarah’s right leg rather than someone from the school’s men’s soccer side, there is no men’s soccer side. It was shut down in 2006.

It was a bit of the old, a bit of the new for the Drab Slab last week, with SE Lyons pulling his buddy and former columnist Paul Wiecek out of moth balls and introducing Katz on the same day. Nothing wrong with bringing Wiecek back for a cameo appearance. The guy can write. And he actually managed to scribble an entire essay without taking a cheap shot at Jacob Trouba, so I guess he’s mellowed since walking away from the columnist gig a couple of years ago.

Paul Friesen

Fabulous series from Paul Friesen of the Sun on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ journey to their 2019 Grey Cup win. It was a very readable, insightful, nine-part epic, even if there was no rhyme nor reason to the way the geniuses at Postmedia handled it. I believe they published Part One at the start of the pandemic and delivered the final installment this past Friday. Seriously, it took less time to film all the Rocky and Godfather movies combined. In reality, the Friesen series began on Oct. 9 and concluded on Nov. 27, and we had to guess on which days it would appear. Sometimes it was one day between installments, other times it was eight or nine days. Shabby. But oh so Postmedia.

A huge tip of the bonnet to home boy Don Duguid, one of my favorite people. The former world curling champ and longtime gab guy for the People’s Network has been appointed to the Order of Canada, and I trust that meets with everyone’s approval.

Just wondering, when the Winnipeg Jets brought Dave Lowry on board last week, did they hire their next head coach at the same time?

I saw highlights (if you want to call it that) of Charles Barkley playing golf the other day, and I’m lost to find an accurate description for Sir Charles’ swing. But a milking cow trying to climb a tree comes to mind.

Roy Jones Jr. and Mike Tyson.

Mike Tyson informed news snoops that he smoked a joint or two prior to his fiftysomethings fist-fight v. Roy Jones Jr. on Saturday night. It’s also been reported and confirmed that anyone who actually paid to watch the two boxing fossils fight was also on drugs.

Loved this tweet from Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post on the Tyson-Jones Jr. tiff: “This fight will be scored by using the 10-point rust system.”

Peanut Joe and Big Angie.

I didn’t watch Tyson-Jones Jr., but you’ll never convince me that it was a more entertaining old geezer dust-up than Joe Kapp v. Angelo Mosca, two Canadian Football League legends who’ve never exchanged Christmas cards. If you missed it, Peanut Butter Joe offered Big Angie a flower; Big Angie told him to “stick it up your ass.” Big Angie attempted to cocobonk Peanut Butter Joe with his metal cane; Peanut Butter Joe lashed out with a right fist to the jaw. Down goes Big Angie! Down goes Big Angie! A Grey Cup week classic.

December arrives on the morrow, so I grant permission to one and all to begin playing Christmas tunes.

Clara Hughes

This from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: Former lickety-split champion of the track, Donovan Bailey, is “Canada’s greatest modern Olympian.” Really? Let me count the ways Bailey, a two-time gold medalist, falls short:

Clara Hughes: Only Olympian in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games—1 gold, 1 silver, 4 bronze.
Cindy Klassen: Six medals—1 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze.
Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford: Five medals—4 gold, 1 silver.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir: Five medals—3 gold, 2 silver.
Charles Hamelin: Five medals— 3 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.
Marc Gagnon: Five medals—3 gold, 2 bronze.
Francois-Louis Tremblay: Five medals—2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze.
Lesley Thompson: Five medals—1 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze.
Caroline Ouillette: Four medals—4 gold.
Jennifer Botterill, Becky Kellar, Meghan Agosta: Four medals—3 gold, 1 silver.
Kathleen Heddle, Marnie McBean: Four medals—3 gold, bronze.
Gaetan Boucher: Four medals—2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.
Eric Bedard: Four medals—2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze.
Victor Davis: Four medals—1 gold, 3 silver.
Denny Morrison: Four medals—1 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze.
Adam van Koeverden: Four medals—1 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze.
Penny Oleksiak: Four medals—1 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze
Kim St-Pierre, Cherie Piper, Colleen Sostorics, Gillian Apps, Charline Labonte: Three medals—3 gold.
Danielle Goyette: Three medals—2 gold, 1 silver.
Carolyn Waldo: Three medals—2 gold, 1 silver.
Rosie MacLennan: Two medals—2 gold.

Either Simmons doesn’t consider any of the above to be “modern” Olympians, or he can’t count.

Why the Winnipeg Sun continues to run Simmons’ Tranna-centric copy is an ongoing mystery, and it continues to get up my nose. In his most recent alphabet fart, he prattled on about attendance at Blue Jays games, the Maple Leafs payroll, Auston Matthews, Blue Jays play-by-play guy Mike Wilner, the Blue Jays pursuit of free agents, Terence Davis of the Tranna Jurassics, Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster contract situations with the Jurassics, the Toronto FC payroll, sports gambling in Ontario, Serge Ibaka leaving the Jurassics, a new ballpark for the Republic of Tranna, and the Argos losing the 1971 Grey Cup game. This is what Postmedia believes people in Good Ol’ Hometown want to read on a Sunday morning? The Winnironto Sun? Spare me.

And, finally, the RCR has topped the 50,000 mark in views for the year, which is my cue to retreat for a spell. I shall return Christmas week and not a day sooner. Unless, of course, stupid happens before Santa touches down. In the meantime, thanks for dropping by.

Let’s talk about survival and the Winnipeg Jets…Hoser Hockey and the NHL’s Hoser Division…Dustin Johnson’s swagger…the Incredible Bulk…Alex Trebek’s hairy lip…the lady is a GM…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s the rainy season where I live, so here’s a downpouring of some watered-down notions…

During a pandemic that shows no inclination toward surrender, men with tall foreheads and bulked-up bankrolls plot strategy, concocting ways to make a 2021 National Hockey League crusade doable.

And, by doable, that means as minimal a financial wallop as possible.

Mark Chipman

In the most-desired timeline, they’ll drop the first puck on a runt of a season on New Year’s Day, on both sides of our closed border. Alas, they’ll do so in empty buildings, which means zero gate revenue, zero concessions revenue, zero game-day merchandise revenue, and zero parking revenue. Meanwhile, the millionaire players expect at least 72 per cent of their pay from the billionaire owners.

In a best-case scenario, squints in lab coats will discover a vaccine that brings COVID-19 to heel early in 2021, allowing the faithful a safe return to the rink and a revenue stream, however weak, for the owners as they complete a season of no fewer than 48 games and no more than 72.

But all of that is as iffy as Donald Trump’s quest to overturn the will of 78,662,167 people who voted him out of the Oval Office.

It’s a guessing game. I mean, if Moses were to trundle down from Mount Sinai during this pandemic with an updated edition of the 10 Commandments, it would be written in pencil on a paper napkin, not etched in big, stone tablets, because what’s gospel today won’t necessarily be gospel tomorrow.

Which brings me to the point of this essay: Survival and the Winnipeg Jets.

David Thomson

Good Ol’ Hometown is the smallest market in the NHL and the Jets frolic in the smallest barn, with room for 15,321 rumps in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. Co-bankrolls Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and David Thomson haven’t seen any game-day revenue since March, when the coronavirus put sports on lockdown, and there doesn’t figure to be any ka-ching in their immediate future.

Therefore, I remind you of something NHL commish Gary Bettman muttered on May 31, 2011, the day the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City and officially became the Winnipeg Jets:

“To be candid, this isn’t going to work very well unless this building is sold out every night.”

We know not every game at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie was SRO during the 2019-20 crusade, and it’s a certainty that there’ll be zero customers to begin a shortened 2021 season, even as the Puck Pontiff and/or Thomson cut six- and seven-figure cheques for their on-ice work force. So what’s the financial breaking point?

Yes, of course, I realize Thomson is the wealthiest man in Canada, with a net worth of $35.7 billion. But he didn’t build that bankroll by being stupid.

And here’s something else to consider:

In the Winnipeg Sun annual survey of the Jets faithful, readers were asked if they’ll attend games once health officials give the okie-dokie to return. Of the approximately 1,200 respondents, 38.2 per cent will be back, 36.5 per cent will return only once there’s a COVID-19 vaccine, while 25.2 per cent are done with the Jets.

Do the math: Even after the squints in lab coats have done their job, Winnipeg HC is looking at a post-pandemic audience of 75 per cent capacity, or 11,490 customers per game.

Sources have told Larry Brooks of the New York Post that there are three to five owners who insist their franchises won’t survive a makeshift season, not if it means empty or near-empty buildings and paying players 72 per cent of their contracts. I’d like to think that doomsday scenario doesn’t apply to the Jets, but we can’t be certain because the Puck Pontiff has less to say than a street mime.

It’s also important to note that, even at the best of times, he’s bringing in Canadian dollars and paying out American greenbacks, so can he make a go of it at 75 per cent capacity? Commish Bettman says no.

The question, therefore, is this: How much of a bath are the Puck Pontiff and Thomson prepared to take?

Chevy

Nobody asked me, but I say there’s nothing about an all-Canadian division in the NHL that should keep the Jets awake at night. Oh, sure, the Toronto Maple Leafs look boffo on paper, but we all know what happens to the multi-millionaires in blue-and-white when the games really matter. That’s right, pratfall. The Leafs are paper tigers until they prove otherwise, but I’ll concede them first place in a runted season of 48 games, or thereabouts. After that, it’s a crap shoot in Hoser Hockey. Seriously. Edmonton has Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and a bunch of spare parts. Vancouver has lost its goaltender. Marc Bergevin has given the Montreal Canadiens an interesting makeover, but I wonder what’s left in Shea Weber’s tank. Ottawa is on training wheels. What about Calgary? Can you say Milan Lucic, kids? Having said all that, I’d like the Jets a whole lot better if GM Kevin Cheveldayoff would give his head a shake and do something about his blueline. Chevy’s dithering in that area is rather disturbing, also extremely negligent.

Interesting survey of 21 NHL player agents in The Athletic. Asked to name a high-profile player most likely to change work clothes in the next year, our guy Patrik Laine and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres topped the list with four votes each. I’m okay with Chevy dealing Puck Finn, but he better receive a package that includes a legit top-pair defenceman in barter, otherwise he’ll never be able to go grocery shopping in Good Ol’ Hometown again.

Dustin Johnson

So, I’m watching Dustin Johnson bring Augusta National to its knees in the first three rounds of The Masters, and I’m wondering if he has a pulse. I mean, he golfs with all the enthusiasm and urgency of a guy whose wife has asked him to get off the couch and change a light bulb.

Johnson strikes me as the kind of guy who’ll take one look at The Masters champion’s green jacket and ask, “Does it come in different colors?”

I don’t know if Johnson walks with a strut or a swagger, but I’m pretty sure the Earp boys and Doc Holliday were walking with the exact same stride when they headed toward the O.K. Corral.

I can’t explain why the Incredible Bulk, Bryson DeChambeau, bugs me so much, but he really gets up my nose. Maybe it’s the deformed body. Maybe it’s the uppity attitude and him pooh-poohing Augusta National as a par-67 golf course when everybody else is playing to par-72. Maybe it was him asking a marshal if his lost ball would be declared a lost ball on third hole Friday, as if a different set of rules applies to him. Whatever the case, I don’t normally root for athletes to fail, but I didn’t mind watching him implode at The Masters.

Phil Mickelson at The Masters: “I’m driving like a stallion.” Ya, and putting like a donkey.

For some reason, the talking heads on ESPN and CBS golf insist on telling us that Tiger Woods made the “greatest comeback in sports history” by winning The Masters last year. I have two words for them: Ben Hogan. The great Hogan lost an argument with a Greyhound bus in 1949 and suffered a double fracture to his pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a fractured left ankle, a chipped rib, lifelong circulation difficulties, and he required blood transfusions. Oh, and did I mention that he almost died due to blood clots? He won the U.S. Open the following year, and another five Grand Slam tournaments after that. Tiger battled back from self-inflicted public humiliation and numerous physical challenges, but nothing life-threatening. The talking heads know all this, so why do they continue to prop Tiger up as a mythical creature?

Apparently Tokyo officials are toying with idea of a no-cheering policy at the Olympic Games next summer. That’s right, fans will be instructed to refrain from rowdy behavior and not allowed to cheer, although muttering is acceptable. Hmmm, muttering but no cheering. Sounds like a New York Jets home game.

What’s up with Tony La Russa? The Chicago White Sox manager was pulled over last week and slapped with a DUI charge, his second, after wheeling his vehicle into a curb and then becoming uppity and belligerent with cops. “Do you see my ring?” he asked. “I’m a Hall of Famer baseball person. I’m legit. I’m a Hall of Famer, brother. You’re trying to embarrass me.” That’s so lame. The only guy who can use the “Do you see my ring?” defence wears a pointy hat and rides in the Popemobile, and he can only get away with it if the arresting cop is Catholic.

Kim Ng

Yes, I agree, it’s fantastic that Kim Ng has been anointed GM of the Miami Marlins, the first female to hold that lofty position with a Major League Baseball team. But let’s not get carried away with comparisons to Jackie Robinson. Ng’s is a signature appointment, to be sure, and hopefully it’ll open a door for other women, but she’s been in the game, and accepted, for 30 years. Numerous women have owned MLB franchises. Others have served in different administration roles, and on coaching staffs, and in the broadcast booth. This is nothing like a Black man entering MLB in 1947.

Murat Ates of The Athletic has pulled away from the keyboard to clear his head after suffering a third concussion. He won’t be sharing his fine prose with us until December, and I can only hope he recovers fully. Concussions can be a tricky bit of business and, yes, I speak from lived experience. I’ve had 10 of them. So nothing but good wishes for Murat.

A young Alex Trebek

Love this Alex Trebek story from Ken Campbell of The Hockey News:

“The year was 1971 and Hockey Night in Canada had just fired Ward Cornell and was looking for a younger and more dynamic replacement. The way former executive producer Ralph Mellanby tells it, five candidates made the short list. One of them was Dave Hodge, who ultimately got the job and hosted the show for 16 years. Another was Trebek, who had joined the CBC after graduating from the University of Ottawa and was best known for hosting a high school game show called Reach for the Top. He had also hosted broadcasts of horse racing and figure skating. ‘We wanted to get younger and more vibrant,’ Mellanby said. ‘And one of the guys I got from Ottawa was Alex Trebek. He was doing some sports and other things. I really liked Trebek.’ Mellanby said he was in the office of his boss, Ted Hough, the former president of the Canadian Sports Network, which produced Hockey Night. As Hough and Mellanby watched the audition tapes of the five finalists, the more Mellanby wanted Trebek to fill the chair. But he was overruled by his boss, who had a strict rule that immediately eliminated Trebek from the running. ‘We’re watching (Trebek’s) audition and I said, ‘Ted, that’s the guy I really want,’ Mellanby said. ‘And he said, ‘We’re not hiring him. We don’t hire guys with moustaches!’ So I hired Dave Hodge.’”

I note that Neil Young turned 75 last week. Many of us from Good Ol’ Hometown lay claim to Neil as one of our own, because he went to high school at Kelvin and he began his music career at our teen dances. My favorite Neil Young tune: Harvest Moon. Favorite Neil Young album: Old Ways.

And, finally, I think it’s only fair to warn you that the shelf life of the River City Renegade has almost expired. I turn 70 at the end of the month, and I think that’s as good a time as any to cut back on my peculiar brand of silliness. I won’t be quitting cold turkey, but the end is nigh.

Let’s talk about Howie Meeker and raccoon droppings for $2,000, Alex…fake news and Leavenworth…Vlad the Gifted and Ball Park Franks…Sid and Connor say it’s okay to be gay…and other things on my mind

A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and I never realized how little I knew until Alex Trebek showed up on TV…

In honor of Canadian TV icon Alex Trebek, who left us at age 80 on Sunday, let’s play Jeopardy!

CLUE: Golly gee and Jiminy Crickets, this man was a National Hockey League rookie-of-the-year who scored five goals in one game, a four-times Stanley Cup champion, an all-star, a Member of Parliament, and a broadcasting icon on Hockey Night in Canada.

ANSWER: Who is Howie Meeker?

CLUE: Howie died at the age of 97 on Sunday, meaning this man is now the oldest living Toronto Maple Leaf.

ANSWER: Who is Joe Thornton?

Howie Meeker and Dave Hodge

I remember sitting in the media room of the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver one night many winters ago, gnoshing on a plate of free food while having a pre-game natter with either Friar Nicolson or Sod Keilback.

Actually, it might have been both of the Winnipeg Jets radio guys. No matter.

At some point, Meeker joined us at our table and the chin-wag focused on Dale Hawerchuk, the captain and centrepiece of a decent Jets outfit. I suggested that Ducky had been off his game a bit, but Howie would have none of it.

“Ah, you don’t know a hockey puck from a pinch of coon shit,” he informed me.

I’m not sure why, but hearing Howie Meeker pooh-pooh my hockey know-how somehow made me feel good. I mean, the Squeaker was already a legend of the Hockey Night in Canada blurt box by then, so it was an absolute honor to have him break bread with a stray scribe from the flatlands and, at the same time, confirm that my grasp of the game was no better than a pinch of raccoon droppings. Never before had someone so famous told me I was full of crap.

I thought perhaps Howie was going to pull out his telestrator and draw some squiggly lines to emphasize his point, or maybe even whack me upside the head with the thing.

But no. Howie wasn’t being mean. He was being Howie. Blunt.

That was my only inter-action with Meeker, so I never got to know him in any depth. But, like so many others, I knew him from his HNIC gig, where he’d break down a play and instruct one of the boys in the truck to “Stop it right there!” or to “Back it up!” or, when a defenceman was beaten badly, he’d show the replay and, in a scolding tone, squawk, “What’s he doing down on his knees looking for nickels?”

Howie wasn’t into tap dancing, and his tell-it-like-it-isms surely livened up HNIC intermissions. He gave the show juice and made it fun.

My mom, mind you, thought Howie to be quite the noisy and annoying know-it-all, and I’m sure she would have been horrified by his table manners. But I got a kick out of the guy, coon droppings and all.

Speaking of former HNIC squawkers, Dave Hodge made me giggle with this tweet after jock legends Bobby Orr, Jack Nicklaus and Brett Favre had raised their voices in support of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election: “Thanks to Orr, Nicklaus and Favre, Donald Trump says the only channel that doesn’t broadcast fake news is ESPN.”

Donald Trump

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star describes Trump as a “distinctly unpopular politician.” Ya, he’s so unpopular that only 70,903,094 Americans voted for him. That’s more than Barack Obama tallied in 2008 and ’12. It beats Hilary Clinton’s total in 2016. It’s more than double what JFK received in 1960. We should all be so “distinctly unpopular.”

The Washington Nationals want president-elect Joe Biden to toss the ceremonial first pitch at their Major League Baseball home opener in 2021. To which former broadcaster Peter Young tweets: “Trump counters with claim he’ll throw out the first pitch at Leavenworth.” That made me laugh.

Just wondering: Does Trump’s election loss mean Mexico doesn’t have to pay for his invisible wall?

Speaking of money, I read something the other day about Microsoft dude Bill Gates saying his three children would inherit only $10 million each from his $100 billion-plus fortune, because giving them “massive amounts of money is not a favor to them.” Excuse me? Ten million bucks isn’t a massive amount of money? C’mon, man, that’s like saying Babe Ruth was a singles hitter.

In the past MLB season, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. couldn’t hit his own weight. Literally. He arrived at Summer Camp a whopping 282 pounds, was promptly shifted from third to first base, and hit .262. But word out of Toronto Blue Jays Nation is that Vlad the Gifted is no longer Vlad the Bloated. That’s right, Vladdy’s lost 32 pounds of blubber and now tips the Toledo at 250, give or take a side order of Nathan’s Ball Park Franks. He also wants his old job back with the Tranna Nine, at third base. That would be quite a trip: From the hot dog stand to the hot corner.

Bayne Pettinger

I’m not convinced that the outing of player agent Bayne Pettinger moves the needle toward acceptance of an openly gay performer in the National Hockey League, but the enthusiastic support from Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid might carry some sway with a young, closeted gay kid who’s thinking of quitting the game. Both Crosby and McDavid are fully behind Pettinger, a former Hockey Canada operations manager now with CAA Hockey, and if the game’s greatest players say it’s okay to be gay, then it’s okay.

If the day dawns when an NHL player chooses to come out, he’d be wise to follow the Pettinger blueprint: Find a trusted news snoop to tell the story, which Pettinger did in Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, and do it during down time, which is to say the off-season. That way, the fuss and muss and circus is dispensed with long before training exercises commence, and he can simply get on with getting on.

Like most newspaper sports editors, Steve Lyons of the Drab Slab is expected to find room in his section for female sports. “It’s not always easy,” he wrote on Nov. 5. “The reality is there are less women participating in sports and there are less women’s pro leagues. That adds up—or I guess doesn’t add up to an equal number of stories to be written and published. We can’t control how many wire stories we get each day on women’s sports, so our solution to moving the needle in this area has always been to focus on being as equitable as possible on local sports. While I did once win a national award for a series on gender equity in sports, I’m a guy—and slow sometimes—so, I admit to needing to be poked and kept aware on this subject.” Toward that end, Lyons is bringing Andrea Katz on board, and she’ll be writing about the distaff side of the playground “once or twice a month.” That’s a good thing.

Rafa Nadal

Rafael Nadal didn’t triumph at the Paris Masters tennis tournament, but much was made of the fact Rafa joined the 1,000-win club and trails only Jimmy Connors (1,274), Roger Federer (1,242) and Ivan Lendl (1068) in career singles victories during the Open Era. Not true. Rafa and everyone else is still chasing the great Martina Navratilova and her 1,442 singles match victories. And before they catch Martina, they have to catch Chrissie Evert (1,309 Ws). Just saying.

And, finally, another example of the shameful Torontofication of the Winnipeg Sun could be found on the sports front Nov. 3. It was a piece on Jeffrey Knox Jr., and don’t feel bad if you’re not familiar with the name. A vagabond football player last seen in frolic with the Ottawa RedBlacks, Knox Jr. signed to join the Toronto Argos for a 2020 Canadian Football League crusade that never happened, and now he’s facing an attempted homicide rap, among other things, in the U.S. He never played in Winnipeg for the Blue Bombers. Yet one of the geniuses on the Postmedia sports desk decided that his tale of woe was what sports fans in Good Ol’ Hometown wanted to read first and foremost on Nov. 3, rather than Ted Wyman’s real-news piece on local sports facilities and rec leagues going dark for two weeks due to COVID-19. They tucked Ted’s article on Page 4. Sigh.

Let’s talk about L’Affaire Laine…Winnipeg the armpit…a Jumbo fossil in the ROT…Chelsea’s the best free agent available…Jennifer Jones and the ‘Notables’ of Manitoba’s Pebble People…’ear ye, ‘ear ye, Mike Tyson is trying to speak…the Dodgers’ two K men…a Bird named Sue…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and someone told me that I really should quit while I’m ahead, but I’ve never been able to get ahead…

So, according to the pundits, the acquisition of Paul Stastny was supposed to accomplish two things for the Winnipeg Jets:

1. Fill the long-standing need for a second-line centre.

2. Put a happy face on Patrik Laine and put the skids on the galloping gossip that has hounded Puck Finn for more than a year.

Chevy and Puck Finn in happier times.

Well, insofar as the first point of the equation, we can continue to debate the pros and cons of the Jets reeling in the aging Stastny—and I’m squarely on the con side of the discussion—but it’s probably best that we allow his play in Winnipeg HC’s next National Hockey League crusade to settle the argument.

As for point No. 2, good luck with that.

It took less than a week for one of TSN’s hockey “insiders” to fan the flames of L’Affaire Laine once again, and this time it isn’t a campfire. It’s a bonfire with possible gusts up to a five-alarm inferno.

Here’s what LeBrun told host James Duthie last Thursday:

“There’s been some scuttlebutt around the National Hockey League of late that Patrik Laine may not show up at camp if he’s not dealt by the Winnipeg Jets.

“I reached out to his representation agents, Andy Scott and Mike Liut, to get some clarity and they absolutely deny that. That Laine has not asked for a trade, he’s not threatening to not be at camp if he’s not dealt.

Pierre LeBrun

“Having said that, his agents also made clear that it’s fair to say that given that Laine knows his name has been in trade discussions as we’ve talked about here, and given that his usage in the lineup the last couple of years has been a constant topic of conversation, the fact that he doesn’t get consistent first-line minutes, his agents Mike Liut and Andy Scott do confirm that it probably would be mutually beneficial to both the player and to the team if Patrik Laine is traded and that there is clear communication between them and Kevin Cheveldayoff, the GM of the Winnipeg Jets, about this.

“Now I spoke to Kevin Cheveldayoff on this day. And he reiterated that he’s looking at all options when it comes to trade and that Patrik Laine remains a big part of the organization.

“What I would say, not Cheveldayoff, is that he’s not going to just trade Patrik Laine for the sake of it, that it’s going to have to be something that makes sense for the Winnipeg Jets. But I will say this, as Andy Scott, the agent for Patrik Laine, said to me, there is a clear understanding between both sides about where this is probably headed.”

Now, you can pooh-pooh LeBrun’s bona fides as an “insider” if you like, but one thing should be abundantly clear by now: Patrik Laine will remain the centrepiece of trade rumors until a) Chevy hands him a one-way ticket out of town or b) Puck Finn signs long term. Nothing else will dim the natter.

I’m just surprised that so many among the rabble and in mainstream media are surprised that it’s come to this.

I mean, I don’t have my feet on the ground in Good Ol’ Hometown, but this is how I read the room 16 months ago: “You think Patrik Laine’s agent hasn’t noticed how the (Jacob) Trouba saga played out? If it’s true that Puck Finn’s nose is out of joint, all he has to do is sign a two-year bridge deal, take les Jets to arbitration down the road, then force a trade.”

So how has it played out to date? Laine signed a two-year bridge deal, he’s eligible for arbitration after next season, and already his two mouthpieces sound like they’re trying to force a trade.

Evander Kane

Yet I keep hearing and reading that the Jets are in control of this game of chicken. To a point, that’s true. But they can only delay Puck Finn’s departure if that’s his intent. They can’t stop him. Just like they couldn’t stop Evander Kane and they couldn’t stop Trouba.

We don’t know who or what is up Laine’s nose. His beef could be with the captain, Blake Wheeler, or the head coach, Paul Maurice, or maybe he’s bought into the silly “Winnipeg has lousy WiFi” nonsense. If it’s Wheeler, it wouldn’t be the first time two teammates refused to exchange Christmas cards. If it’s Coach PoMo, it’s not like there’s never been conflict between a bench boss and a worker (for evidence see: Bowman, Scotty). If it’s the city, he isn’t the first guy who’s wanted out of Dodge.

Whomever or whatever, I repeat what I wrote in February 2019: “I doubt Puck Finn will finish his career in Jets linen.”

But, hey, what do I know? Like I said, I don’t have feet on the ground. Except I predicted in 2012 that Evander Kane would one day walk into Chevy’s office and demand a new postal code. He did that very thing—repeatedly—and Chevy obliged, in 2015. In September 2018, I peered into the tea leaves and predicted Trouba would be gone in less than two years. He left the building nine months later. So tell me I’m wrong about Laine.

Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull

Interesting read from Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun on the challenges Chevy faces in attempting to lure top-drawer free agents to Good Ol’ Hometown, and also navigate his way around no-trade clauses. “There’s no happy ending for this,” he writes. “It’s an ongoing problem for the Jets. What it does underscore is the need to ensure the team is a winner, by whatever means possible, and in spite of unfavorable geography. And it means the organization needs to be that much more creative when it comes to recruitment. Getting players in the door begins with a pitch that centres around winning the Cup. For most, that’s the dream. If you can show a pathway to that dream, you can probably get folks into the house. And that’s when perceptions die and new ones are made, and the word spreads. Winnipeg’s advertising comes via word of mouth. There just has to be something enticing other than frigid winters. And it may be as simple—and as difficult—as putting a winning product on the ice.” That’s fair analysis, but it’s worth remembering that the original Winnipeg Jets lineup was crafted 100 per cent on guys who chose to play in Good Ol’ Hometown, including the most significant free agent signing in pro hockey history—Bobby Hull, at the time the game’s glamour guy. Every player on that team came to River City without kicking and screaming. So can anyone tell me exactly when Winnipeg became the armpit of hockey? I’d really like to know.

When I hear the San Jose Sharks have signed Patrick Marleau, it tells me that they’ve already tapped out on next season.

Jumbo Joe

And what is Kyle Dubas trying to prove in the Republic of Tranna? The Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967, so the kid GM thought it would be a swell idea to sign Marleau’s former running mate Jumbo Joe Thornton who, coincidentally, broke into the NHL that same year. Okay, okay. Jumbo hasn’t been around quite that long. But Dubas seems to be setting up a Fossil Factory in the ROT, with Jumbo Joe, 41, and Jason Spezza, 37, on board.

Scant seconds after becoming one of the newest Maple Leafs, Wayne Simmonds did the Zoom thing with news snoops and warned foes that “I can punch your head off if need be.” He calls what he does on a hockey rink “functional toughness.” Back it the day we called it “goon.”

I keep hearing about all the free agents still available in the NHL, but the top free agent in sports right now is Chelsea Carey, champion curler without a team to call her own. We don’t know how this season will shake down for our Pebble People, but it’s hard to imagine a two-time Scotties queen being stuck on the outside looking in with her nose pressed against the window.

Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen.

On the subject of our fab provincial Pebble People, the deep thinkers at the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame want to know what you think. They’re looking to name the Most Notable Team in local lore, and that’s where you come in. The MCHF is accepting votes until Dec. 5 for its 25 Most Notable Teams and, really, this should be a no-brainer. I mean, it doesn’t get more “notable” than winning Olympic Games gold, so Jennifer Jones and her gal pals Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen have to be at the top of the heap. It doesn’t hurt that they were also Canadian and world champions, and they had longer sustained success than any foursome I can recall. Next in line would be the Digit, Don Duguid, and his gang from the Granite—Bryan Wood, Jim Pettapiece and the Arrow, Rod Hunter—who went 17-0 to win back-to-back world titles in 1970 and ’71. Completing my top three would be Bronco Braunstein and his team of brother Ron, Moose Turnbull and Jack Van Hellemond. Still just school kids, the teenagers copped the Manitoba men’s title then fell one game shy of winning the 1958 Brier in Victoria, losing to Matt Baldwin of Alberta in a one-game showdown.

Mike Tyson

Fans of fist fighting were shocked to hear Mike Tyson on Good Morning Britain last week. In a natter with hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid, the former heavyweight boxing champion was muttering unintelligibly and slurring his words badly. Hey, cut the guy some slack. It can’t be easy to talk with your mouth full of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Sticking with boxing, I stayed up well past my bedtime Saturday to watch Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko chuck knuckles in a lightweight title bout. At the end of the night, Lopez had four belts. Hmmm. Four belts—sounds like the Rat Pack at closing time.

So, the Houston Astros have been drummed out of the Major League Baseball playoffs (karma, baby). Some teams run out of pitching, some teams run out of hitting. Some teams run out of time. I guess the Astros ran out of trash cans.

Clayton Kershaw, Sandy Koufax

Is there a Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher with a worse post-season record than Clayton Kershaw of my Los Angeles Dodgers? Kershaw will be in Cooperstown one day, but it won’t be due to anything he’s done in the World Series or playoffs. The guy’s 175-75, .697, 2.43 ERA in the hum-drum of spring and summer ball, but a dismal 11-12, .478, 4.31 ERA when it matters most. And, to think, some people have compared him favorably to Sandy Koufax. Ya, like a box of Timbits is fine dining.

Some good reads in the past week: Paul Friesen’s series on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ journey to the Grey Cup; Freezer’s running mate at the Winnipeg Sun, Ted Wyman, dishes on Hockey Hall of Famer Serge Savard; Luke Fox’s Q&A with Brian Burke on the Sportsnet website.

When the National Women’s Hockey League restructured its business model and assigned founder and commissioner Dani Rylan Kearney to a lesser role last week, shouldn’t it have been a big deal in the media? No women would be drawing pay to play shinny if not for Dani, who gave the NWHL its jump start in 2015, but her removal from the big office was a blip at best in most newspapers, websites and on air. Seems to me the story, and Dani, warranted better play than that.

Sue Bird

Speaking of not getting their due, it’s about Sue Bird: Not many hoopsters can boast of her bona fides. When Seattle Storm won the Women’s National Basketball Association title recently, it was her fourth. You know, the same number as LeBron James has won in his NBA career. Sue also has four Olympic gold medals, four FIBA World Cup titles, five EuroLeague titles, two NCAA titles, one national high school title, five Russian National League titles, two Europe Super Cup titles, she’s the all-time WNBA assists leader, she’s started the most games in WNBA history, she’s an 11-time WNBA all-star, a two-time EuroLeague all-star and a former Naismith college player of the year. She’s the High Priestess of the Hardwood, but somehow manages to fly under the radar of most mainstream media. Shame that.

And, finally, this is the 50th anniversary season for the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, and I’d say that calls for some sort of special feature piece in either or both of the Winnipeg dailies. So why hasn’t either the Sun or Drab Slab done something about it?

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 they see the 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!