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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.