Let’s talk about empty seats in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie after COVID-19…what’s on my book shelf?…tee times…horrible takes on Ponytail Puck…a bull session with Chris Streveler in the Drab Slab…and other things on my mind

There’s been much natter about National Hockey League millionaires returning this summer to perform in front of empty seats in four select cities, none of which will be named Winnipeg (reportedly).

That’s a deep concern because the NHL is a gate-driven enterprise.

There is, however, a greater fret and threat looming. Try this: How many of those empty seats will remain unoccupied once the faithful have been given the okie-dokie to gather in groups and return to rinks hither and yon?

The Jets have made due with 15,000 and change at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie since 2011 and, once they’ve finished feeding at the public trough, it’s believed there’s black ink on the bottom line of the balance sheet. The profit is likely minimal, but we don’t know for certain because True North Sports+Entertainment has never been eager to open its books, even as it smugly expects the rabble to continue opening their wallets.

Unfortunately, the scourge that is COVID-19 has many thousands of workers also feeding from the public trough, and some of them won’t have a job at the far end of the pandemic.

It’s tough to part with thousands of dollars in support of the players’ millionaire lifestyles when you’re on pogey.

So let’s say the Jets lose 1,000 customers post-COVID-19 and can’t replace them. Is the NHL doable in Good Ol’ Hometown with just 14K in the pews? Well, when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, I seem to recall NHL commish Gary Bettman saying something about sellouts and SRO audiences being the absolute, no-margin-for-error requirement.

If so, 14,000 customers won’t cut it.

Oh, sure, the Jets boast of a robust wait list, so any available tickets would be scooped up faster than toilet paper at the start of the pandemic. But whoa Nellie. That was pre-COVID-19. The game has changed. It costs $100 (non-refundable) per annum to stay on that list, and $50 (non-refundable) to get on that list. Know anyone with a spare C-note or 50-dollar bill lying around these days, just in the hope of spending in excess of $1,000 to watch the millionaires frolic on the local freeze?

This isn’t meant to be a doomsday essay. It’s simply a cautionary note that once there’s a vaccine and the NHL arrives at its “new normal,” crowd concern might not be limited to warm-weather locales like Sunrise, Fla, and Glendale, Ariz. It might hit hard at the frost-bitten heart of the continent as well.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been catching up on my reading during the COVID-19 lockdown. So far, these have been my favorite books:

  • My Pants Were Always Lower Than My Score: The Sex Scandal That Sank Tiger Woods, In His Own Words.

  • If It’s Too Late for a Prenup, I’m Totally Screwed: The Tiger Woods Tell-All About Infidelity and Divorce (with special forward by Elin Nordegren).

  • I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew: Mike Tyson Recounts the Night He Made a Snack Out of Evander Holyfield’s Ear.

  • D’oh Canada! The Duping of a Dope: The Rise and Fall of Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympics.

  • Deflated: Who Really Let the Air Out of Tom Brady’s Balls (with special forward by Gisele Bundchen)?

  • The Dead Speak Scrolls: Complete Transcripts of Everything Bill Belichick has Ever Said that the Media Understood (Total number of pages-2).

  • Serena Williams

    I’ll Shove This %$#% Ball Down Your *%$#% Throat: Memoirs of Serena Williams at the U.S. Open.

  • Grey Cup and the Groupie: E! News Canada Takes A Deep Dive Into the Glen Suitor-Keith Urban Broadcast Booth Bromance (with special forward by Nicole Kidman).

  • You People: The Official Don Cherry Code of Conduct for Wannabe Canadians, where the former star of Coach’s Corner explains Milk & Honey & Poppies & EVERYTHINK LIKE THAT!

  • Still Searching In A White Ford Bronco After All These Years: O.J. Simpson Takes Us to Various Golf Courses In His Hunt for the Real Killers.

Speaking of golf, it looks like some courses across the land will be opening next month (a few in my neck of the woods never closed). I haven’t swung the sticks in more than 12 years, but I’ve been thinking about my ideal foursome were I ever to tee it up again. This is it: Moi, Alison Krauss, Babs Streisand and, of course, Jesus, because I figure that walk-on-water thing might come in handy given my skill level.

Oh drat. The Scripps National Spelling Bee in the U.S. has fallen victim to COVID-19, canceled for the first time since World War II. Such a shame. I was really looking forward to watching 10-year-old kids make me feel like a complete doofus again. Or is that spelled d-u-f-u-s? Or d-o-o-f-a-s? Or d-u-f-is? Or d-u-f-f-a-s? Geez, where’s a 10-year-old whiz kid when you really need one?

I note that Scotiabank Arena in the Republic of Tranna is now a kitchen, where they’re cooking 10,000 meals a day for front-line health workers, their families and the needy. Just wondering: How will the Tranna media make that feel-good story about Drake?

So, the National Women’s Hockey League has added an expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna and, not surprisingly, at least one of the Dream Gappers (Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association) couldn’t resist the urge to take a cheap shot at the team to be named later. That would be Liz Knox, who attempted to paint NWHL execs as uncaring, tone-deaf oafs for conducting business during the pandemic. “It’s difficult to imagine expansion being at the forefront of many business strategies,” she snarked in a text message. Oh, for sure, Liz. No businesses should look ahead to the day COVID-19 is behind us. The NHL shouldn’t make plans to finish its season or begin the 2020-21 crusade. The National Football League shouldn’t have conducted its draft last week. And, hey, Roger Federer has no business talking about a marriage between the women’s and men’s pro tennis tours. All sports operations should just sit and twiddle their thumbs. What a pathetic take, but totally in line with the PWHPA hate-on for the NWHL, which refuses to get out of the Dream Gappers’ way.

Tim & Sid granted air time on Sportsnet to another Dream Gapper, Natalie Spooner, who informed the boys that the PWHPA will “keep fighting for what we deserve.” Part of what they claim they “deserve” is a living wage, but none of the Dream Gappers has ever explained how anyone can pay for it.

Second worst take on the NWHL franchise in The ROT came from (who else?) Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna.

“It has been officially announced that Toronto has been awarded an expansion team in the National Women’s Hockey League,” he scribbled without allowing his grey matter and fingers to connect. “What hasn’t been announced: the team’s name; the team’s logo; the team’s venue. And some of those things, if not all of them, can make an outsider rather skeptical and troubled about the future of this kind of endeavour. You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play, and no big-name players. 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.”

Really? There’s no credibility without a team name, a team logo or big-name players? Like the NHL’s expansion franchise in Seattle? The one that was announced in December 2018 and, 16 months later, remains without a team name, a team logo or any players. Or like the NHL Las Vegas expansion franchise that was announced in June 2016 without a team name, a team logo or any players? Or like the Jets, who arrived in Winnipeg sans a team name or a team logo in 2011?

Or does that lack of “credibility” only apply to female shinny outfits with no name, no logo and no big-name players at startup?

Simmons is on record as saying Ponytail Puck is a “charade,” so he’d be wise to concentrate on Golden Boy Auston Matthews’ mustache, Phil Kessel’s hot dog stand and Drake’s clown act, and leave the women’s game to news snoops who actually care and know something about it.

This week in jock journalism…

Jason Bell of the Drab Slab wins the prize for best off-beat yarn, with his piece on a Charolais bull named after Chris Streveler, former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback and party boy. Streveler the bull is 1,499 pounds of pure Western Manitoba beef on the hoof—about the same as the entire Bombers O-line—and the brute recently sold for a whopping $45,000 at the Nykoliation family auction. The way Jason tells the story, 50 bulls were sold that day for $335,000, or about the value of a Tier-II starting QB in the Canadian Football League…I monitored bylines in the Winnipeg Sun from last Sunday through Saturday, and here’s the scorecard: Postmedia bylines 32; Toronto bylines 21; Winnipeg bylines 15; lady rassler bylines (Natalya Neidhart) 1. I swear, if I ever win Lotto Max, I’ll offer Postmedia the $1 Cdn. that the tabloid is worth today and convert it back to a local newspaper with local stories and enough scribes to actually cover the city…The NFL’s remote draft received favorable reviews from Bombers play-by-play guy Knuckles Irving and Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab. Here’s Knuckles on Twitter: “Watching the NFL draft and once again it’s completely apparent that no sports entity in the world can deliver elaborately choreographed, brilliantly produced, dragged out, mind-numbing TV hype like the NFL. Man are they good at it. Gotta be impressed.” And here’s Mad Mike: “You’ve got to hand it to the National Football League. Real life handed the league a lemon—in this case, the COVID-19 pandemic—but they showed why they’re the world’s most popular and successful sports operation by turning it into glorious, refreshing lemonade.” I never watched one second of the production, so I’ll just have to take their word for it…Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star misses sports and feels guilty about it. I don’t miss sports and feel guilty about it. Hmmm. I never thought of COVID-19 as a guilt trip, but apparently that’s what it is.

Jesse Stone and Thelma, one of his many female admirers.

And, finally, I went on a Jesse Stone movie binge last week. Watched all nine of the made-for-TV flicks. Jesse, played by Tom Selleck, is a scotch-swilling, non-smiling wreck of a cop so hung up on his ex-wife that he talks to her long distance every night. Between benders, sessions with his ex-wife’s shrink, and trying to figure out how to work a cellphone, Jesse always catches the bad guys in Paradise, Mass. He probably drinks too much caffeine, but Jesse’s coffee breath isn’t a turnoff to the ladies in Paradise. Apparently the woman who can resist his dimples has yet to be born. Jesse always gets the girl. And I do mean always. Tall, short, black, white, young, old…every woman falls prey to Jesse’s dimples and must dine or do lunch with him. Even a nun, Sister Mary John! It’s quite silly stuff, really. So why do I like it so much?

Let’s talk about the Legend of Big Buff and a few other things on my mind

Yes, Dustin Byfuglien was a trip.

Whether the rogue rearguard was rag-dolling foes, or simply having a rollicking good time playing unharnessed pond hockey rather than the rigid north-south style preferred by coaches who frowned on freelancing, Big Buff was the whole nine yards.

Many years from now, folks will gather around the campfire and talk about him as some mythical creature, if they aren’t already.

They’ll speak in hushed tones, describing a man-beast on blades, untamed and as tall as a grain silo, as wide as the Canadian Prairies, hairy and swift and capable of Paul Bunyanesque feats of strength. And they’ll talk about his habitat, how he roamed from one fishing hole to the next, catching muskellunge and walleye and trout while the smaller and less adventurous of his hockey species grazed on golf courses or took root in front of their PlayStations.

“I was there the night Big Buff rag-dolled those two Vegas Golden Knights,” someone will whisper with due reverence. “Took one of ’em in each of his big paws and yanked ’em right out of a scrum. Shook ’em and dragged ’em around like they were pom-poms.”

“Same thing one night against Nashville,” another will say, nodding. “Took two Predators by the scruff of the neck, one in each hand, and shook ’em like salt-and-pepper shakers.”

The folklore will include tales of derring-do, rink-length dashes by this hulking figure of few words, a force the likes of which had never been seen on a National Hockey League freeze. There’ll be mention of an ice tub and Evander Kane’s clothing, and the sonic boom of a slapshot that served the Winnipeg Jets so well for eight winters.

And it’ll all be true, even if delivered with a side order of embellishment.

Big Buff truly was unique. He didn’t have a pregame meal like the rest of the Jets. They simply tossed him a salt lick. That’s what you do when a guy is 6-feet-8 (on skates) and 260 pounds, give or take a late-night snack.

I always thought the whole Big Buff shtick would have made for a great sitcom. He could have played himself, except he’d have had to speak, and we all know Big Buff has less to say than a street mime with a mouth full of cotton. It’s kind of tough to do a talkie when the leading man won’t talk. Still, he’s got that impish grin and his peculiar ways, which certainly became more peculiar in the past eight months.

Big Buff’s divorce from the Jets, official on Friday, is the part of the legend that didn’t produce any yuks.

More to the point, Byfuglien was robustly villainized by many among the rabble and some news snoops when he took a powder on the eve of training camp last September. The Jets wanted and expected Big Buff to play hockey, but his druthers were to gaze at his navel while squatting in an ice-fishing hut. His adios left Winnipeg HC in a penny pinch, in that his $7.6 million cap hit was still on the books, and he put them in an on-ice pickle, with a hole the size of his appetite on the right side of the defence. For that he was branded “selfish” and an ingrate.

Well guess what? Life happens. Flames flicker out.

If we are to believe the way Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff tells the tale, Big Buff’s passion for banging heads, quarterbacking the powerplay and goofing around with the guys had run its course. To paraphrase a Yogi Berraism: Buff came to a fork in the road and he took it. Family and fishing won out over Winnipeg HC and shinny.

Was the most popular of the Jets guilty of bad timing? I don’t think Buff was guilty of anything. His life, his timetable. But, sure, from the club and fan perspective he could have picked a better time to bug out. No doubt there would have been a different twist to Chevy’s off-season tactics had he known about Buff’s Tour de Navel before September, except the universe doesn’t always unfold as an NHL GM would like it to.

I don’t know if Buff plans to confirm or deny Chevy’s version of events now that the divorce is a fait accompli, but I’m guessing the big defender will let us inside his head about the same time Lake Winnipeg runs dry.

And, really, he doesn’t owe us the skinny on everything that went down since September. Nor is there any obligation for him to convince us that he isn’t a complete numbskull for walking away when there was a sizable chunk of change ($14 million) still on the table for his taking.

He leaves on his own terms (some of us can relate to that) at age 35, and we should just let it be part of the folklore.

I don’t really like to say I told you so, but sometimes I can’t resist the urge. So, I’ll remind you that this is what I wrote on Oct. 9 last year: “Retire or return, Byfuglien has excused himself from the Jets’ future. I mean, if he lacks the jam to join them for this crusade, I can’t imagine he’ll feel any differently a year from now. Let’s face it, he’s done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC.” So there, I told you so.

Byfuglien has been called a riddle. An enigma. A puzzle. But is he really that hard to figure out? Okay, he’s a hockey hybrid. He has ox-like strength and no one his size has any business looking so light on his feet while skating on two blades barely wider than a butter knife. But that made him unique, not complicated. He also did a lot of freelancing, which led to crippling brain farts that resulted in pucks in the wrong net. But that made him a defensive liability, and there’s an abundance of those players in the NHL. So what is it about Big Buff that’s so confounding? Well, he seemed to play the game with a wink and a nod and, often, with a kid-like glee. He shunned news snoops like they’d give him cooties, but he was aw shucks and warm and fuzzy with a fawning faithful. It’s been oft written and said that he marched to the beat of his own drum, and hockey players aren’t programmed to go their own way. But the only truly unusual thing he’s done is turn his back on $14 million. That doesn’t make him an enigma. It makes him real.

Quick question: Will the rabble think differently about Big Buff if he takes his eroding talents to another NHL outfit? Seems to me they might. The storyline will go from “he didn’t want to play hockey anymore” to “he still wanted to play hockey, just not for the Jets.” Which means some might add another descriptive to the big man: Phony. But I don’t see him playing again.

Over at the Drab Slab, there seems to be some confusion about Big Buff’s legacy, at least that’s the way I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s take on the matter. Here’s what he’s written:

Feb. 3: “A re-charged and rehabilitated Byfuglien was expected to be a pillar on the back end. Instead, his selfish actions created nothing but chaos and uncertainty. Unfortunately for Byfuglien, the entire soap opera has tarnished the legacy of one of the most unique athletes we’ve ever seen in the city.”

April 17: “Forgive me if I have a hard time painting anyone who willingly walks away from US $14 million as selfish,” and “In my eyes, no legacy has been tarnished here, nor should it be.”

So he’s selfish, but he isn’t selfish. He’s tarnished, but he isn’t tarnished. Mr. Flip, meet Mr. Flop.

Frankly, I doubt Big Buff gives a damn what jock journos think or write about him. Just like they don’t give a damn what he thinks about them or their scribblings. It’s a mutual Don’t Give A Damn Society.

Hey, check it out. My man young Eddie Tait has a book out, For the W, the story of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ gallop to the Grey Cup last year. If young Eddie’s doing the scribbling, you know it’s a top-drawer product, and I’m told he has a boffo editor in Rheanne Marcoux. Winnipeg FC radio voice Knuckles Irving of CJOB says the book is “sensational,” and that’s good enough for me. It sells for $54.99 and you can grab a copy at the Canadian Football League club’s shop or online.

This week in jock journalism…

I make an early-morning tour of newspapers and sports websites hither and yon, always searching for something fresh and different, and I found it in a Rob Tychkowski column. Rob’s with Postmedia E-Town, and he did a parody on the recent conference call between Donald Trump and various pro sports leaders. It’s laugh-out-loud funny…I never know what to expect when I call up the Winnipeg Sun, but some issues are more disappointing than others. Today, for example, there are eight pages of sports. Total number of local stories: 0. Total number of local bylines: 0. Total number of bylines from the Republic of Tranna: 4…No, I don’t think sports is important while COVID-19 has us in lockdown, but if you insist on doing it, do it right for gawd’s sake…Not sure what the dumbest story of the week was, but here are the candidates, all from the Drab Slab: 1) Andrew Berkshire’s graphs and numbers-crunching on the Jets’ odd-man rushes and counter-attack plays last season; 2) Mad Mike McIntyre’s top-10 goals in Jets 2.0 history; 3) Mad Mike’s suggestion that the entire NHL (all 31 teams) gather in Good Ol’ Hometown to complete the 2019-20 season sometime this summer. My vote goes to article No. 3. It’s just stupid.

And, finally, Scott Billeck went from the toy department to newsside for the Winnipeg Sun when COVID-19 took grip, and his work has been boffo. Bruce Arthur has done the same thing for the Toronto Star. I’m not sure how many sports scribes could pull that off, but Scott and Bruce are getting it done.

Let’s talk about the fallout from Sportsnet’s all-female broadcast…insecure men…Larry Walker in the blue paint…the Winnipeg Jets and the Ink Stained Wretch Virus…and keeping the rouge in Rouge Football

A rare midweek smorgas-bored…and it would be hump day if I was still working, but I’m too old and wonky to be working so it’s not hump day…

Danny Gallivan

The rabble has spoken and apparently Sportsnet’s all-female National Hockey League broadcast was the best thing since someone was wise enough to hand Danny Gallivan a microphone.

“Didn’t miss a beat.”

“A once a week all woman broadcast would be awesome.”

“Absolute HOME RUN.”

“Fantastic.”

“Hell of a job.”

“You all hit it out of the ballpark”.

But wait.

It seems that having three female voices in the Tower of Babble On was also the worst thing since Don Cherry looked at his grandmother’s kitchen curtains and decided they’d make a great sports jacket.

“Uggh—why can’t anyone speak the truth? It was not even close to the quality of the regular male broadcasters. It was not good.”

“They were downright boring.”

“Great idea, but I had to turn it off. Low, low quality.”

“I was going to watch but I would rather put a needle in my eye.”

“When and why did NHL become SJWs for all the progressive causes? Really sick of having politics invade every form of entertainment in this country. You all did a nice job, but is forced equality truly equal.”

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that the talking-head troika of Leah Hextall (play-by-play), Cassie Campbell-Pascall (color commentary) and Christine Simpson (rinkside) has received both high hosannas and the royal raspberry for their work on the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Sunday, because that’s the way it is in the gab game.

Foster Hewitt

I mean, Danny Gallivan is a legend for his expansive vocabulary and scintillating delivery, yet many among the masses decided he was too pro-Montreal Canadiens. The Hewitt men, Foster and Bill, were praised as pioneers and scorned for waving the blue-and-white pom-poms of the Tranna Maple Leafs. Bob Cole earned praise for his pipes and, toward the end, he was ridiculed and maligned for an inability to keep up with the pace of play and incorrectly identifying players.

Some think Jim Hughson to be spot on with his play call, but a bore, also pro-Vancouver Canucks. Chris Cuthbert? One viewer says he’s knowledgeable, enthusiastic, another says his voice sometimes reaches too high a pitch. Greg Millen? Well, he might be the exception to the rule. It’s unanimous: He’s nails on a chalkboard.

So, ya, the rabble will critique Hextall, Simpson and Campbell-Pascall, and thumbs will be both up and down.

Here’s the deal, though: Just because a man pooh-poohs a woman’s work, it doesn’t necessarily mean the guy is an oinker who drags his hairy knuckles along the ground and lives in his mother’s basement. Not every guy believes women should be barefoot, pregnant and lose their voting privileges, so it’s wrong, also unfair, to assume a critique is rooted in sexism.

Jim Hughson

If the boys can rag on Hughson, Cuthbert, Millen et al, then Hextall, Simpson and Campbell-Pascall are also fair game.

Now, no doubt, there are dudes among the rabble who simply cannot handle a shrill voice delivering their play-by-play, but that’s no different than a guy who zones out Hughson because there’s too much of a deliberate, flat-line delivery in his game call.

It can be suggested, of course, that Hextall, Simpson and Campbell-Pascall are being held to a higher standard because they’re female. They simply can’t be as good as the boys, they have to be better, and perhaps there’s some truth to that. After all, that’s the way it often is whenever a Jill invades a Jack’s world.

Bob Cole

The thing is, Simpson and Campbell-Pascall aren’t new to the game. We’ve been listening to them for many years. Hextall was the only newby, working her first NHL game with a live mic, and that made her the headliner on Sportnet’s first all-female broadcast. It put her under a microscope. But only a fool expected her to be Danny Gallivan or Bob Cole. Or even Friar Nicolson or Sod Keilback.

I don’t know if we’ll ever hear Hextall do an NHL game again, but I do know she’ll always have her critics. It comes with the territory. Same as the dudes.

A thought occurred while listening to Campbell-Pascall, who suffers from a severe case of chronic verbaldiarrhea-itis: What if Sportsnet put her and Greg Millen together to work the same game? I don’t think my ears would ever stop bleeding.

Leah Hextall

This from Ian Mendes of TSN 1200 in Ottawa on Sportsnet’s all-female broadcast: “Reminder: The only people who think this is a gimmick are insecure men.” Hmmm. Is there anything more insecure than a man so insecure that he has to engage in male-bashing to earn brownie points with women? Sad. Fact is, it’s understandable that anyone, male or female, would think of this as a gimmick. I mean, it didn’t happen on International Women’s Day by accident. Sportsnet didn’t spend more than a week tub-thumping the event as “historic” by accident. And I suppose Mendes would have us believe that it was just a coincidence that Hextall was given her NHL play-by-play baptism on International Women’s Day. Really, unless Leah, Christine and Cassie become part of Sportsnet’s regular rotation, it’s hard to see this as anything but a once-a-year gimmick.

For the record, I thought Hextall did a good job and I hope it wasn’t a ratings-seeking one-off. I’d like to see her get more gigs.

Ron and Tara

So, as I wrote the other morning, I thought the intermission chin-wag between Hometown Hockey host Tara Slone and tennis legend/equal rights activist Billie Jean King was lame. Not so Pierre LeBrun of TSN/The Athletic.

“It was a wonderful interview, Tara,” he tweeted.

Wrong.

When the interviewer leads by saying, “Well, Billie Jean, this is a huge honor for us I have to say,” and, at the same time, blushes like a schoolgirl who just got asked to the prom by the football team’s quarterback, you know it’s going to be pure pablum.

By my count, Slone asked a total of two questions:

1) “What does feminism mean?”

2) “I want to know how you stay positive. Your energy is so infectious, your movement is always forward, even though you reference history and history is so important, but this stuff is taking a long time. It’s taking longer than it should. So how do you retain your forward momentum?”

When King claimed an NHL-owned women’s professional league would be “good business,” Slone failed to ask how losing money would be beneficial to NHL owners. When King asked “Why can’t we have 700 girls, a thousand girls playing in a league?” Slone failed to serve up the obvious question: “Where on earth would anyone find 700 to 1,000 elite-level female players?”

There were a lot of things Slone could have asked King, an adviser to the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. But Tara and her accomplice, Ron MacLean, have become shills for the PWHPA, so hard questions were out of the question.

I interviewed dozens of famous people during my 30-year tour of duty in the rag trade, and I can report with absolute certainty that not one of them made me blush. Not even Muhammad Ali.

Larry Walker

What’s this? Incoming Baseball Hall of Famer Larry Walker will serve as emergency backup goaltender in Denver on Sunday when the Colorado Rockies play the Golden Knights? C’mon, man. He’s 53. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Walker anywhere near the blue paint unless he’s driving a Zamboni.

Interesting that news snoops have been barred from the Winnipeg Jets changing room for fear that one of the young millionaire shinny meisters might be stricken with the dreaded Ink-Stained Wretch Virus. Oh dear. How will the boys and girls on the beat get on without all those insightful quotes from a dressing-room scrum? It just won’t be the same now that the players have to talk about “moving our feet” and “playing the right way” from a podium instead of a sweat box. Everyone will get the same standard cookie-cutter blah, blah, blah. Oh, wait. I guess it will be business as usual after all.

Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler

Actually, Jets captain Blake Wheeler and linemate Rink Rat Scheifele delivered a bit of banter on Tuesday that wouldn’t have been possible if not for the dressing-room ban. According to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun, the boys arrived at the podium together for the first time since their exit chin-wag with news snoops last April, and had this to say:
Wheeler: “Last time we sat in this room, you didn’t talk enough, so let’s do some talkin’ today.”
Rink Rat: “Ya, I think I answered one question and got in trouble for it.”
Scheifele then answered exactly one question on Tuesday, and I must say I like his cheek.

I didn’t realize that the rouge had become a hot-button issue in the Canadian Football League, but it seems that Matthew Cauz and Jamie Nye at cfl.ca have people talking because of their to-and-fro about the single point. I’m all for the rouge, except on failed field goal attempts. If you can’t hit a FG from 18 yards out, you don’t deserve anything other than your house being pelted by eggs and manure dumped on your lawn, and you can ask Paul McCallum all about that.

And, finally, if the Jets make the playoffs and there’s no one there to see it, will it really happen?

Let’s talk about girl power on Sportsnet…Billie Jean King doesn’t have a clue…snubbing the NWHL…and bust goes the Brier

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I don’t know if I gained or lost an hour on the weekend…

Oh, baby. They pulled it off.

Yup, Sportsnet delivered its first 99.9 per cent estrogen-fueled broadcast of a National Hockey League joust on Sunday night, so a few words are in order:

Christine Simpson, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Leah Hextall.

a) Leah Hextall is more than adequate on play-by-play.

b) Christine Simpson is a real pro.

c) Cassie Campbell-Pascall doesn’t know when to put a sock in it.

d) Billie Jean King needs to pop a reality pill.

e) Ron MacLean makes for a rather subdued token male (he calls himself an “ally”).

f) Tara Slone has the groupie gene.

g) Apparently no one involved with the production of Hometown Hockey knows the National Women’s Hockey League exists.

That’s the Coles Notes version of what transpired during the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Sunday, and if you’re wondering if the women did boffo work just ask them. They’ll assure you that they were absolutely fabulous, darling.

I mean, this was a 3½-hour exercise in excessive back-patting, and I believe they paid tribute to every woman on earth except Karla Homolka. Well, okay, that’s a stretch. But they did manage to squeeze Cher and Beyonce into the conversation, and we all know that no hockey broadcast is complete without mentioning Cher and Beyonce—not!

Curious name-dropping aside, full marks to Sportsnet for pushing the envelope. I just wish the main players hadn’t spent so much time kissing up to one another.

Don’t they realize you can catch coronavirus that way?

Leah Hextall

Among the women, Hextall had the most to gain/lose in this experiment. We’ve been listening to the empty squawkings of colorless commentator Campbell-Pascall for years now, and we’ve grown accustomed to Simpson’s smooth interview skills. But Hextall’s game call was something new, and I give her a passing grade.

I actually learned a new phrase from her: “He loses the boot.” Translation: A player lost his footing. Never heard that one before.

Hextall delivered another good line in the third period when two Golden Knights collided violently inside the blueline, describing it as “A bit of a Three Stooges moment.” I laughed out loud.

Hextall stumbled at times, though. She seemed caught by surprise when Nick Holden scored the second Vegas goal, also when Milan Lucic put the Flames on the board. “Lucic holds, fires and Lehner…oh, hang on, he scores,” she said. And she was flat out wrong on the Golden Knights winning tally, asking, “Is it in? Is it in? It looked in. From an angle shot, Max Pacioretty with the goal.” It was actually Shea Theodore who scored.

But, hey, other play-by-play people have made bigger blunders.

Is if fair to compare Hextall to male game-callers? Absolutely. After all, they’re the only measuring sticks available. So let’s just say she’s no Danny Gallivan, but who is? Like I said, she gets a passing grade.

I’m not sure what it is about Campbell-Pascall that gets up my nose, but I find her to be a total irritant, the same way skin rash is. She talked over Hextall too often, and she rudely hijacked the conversation when the two women were signing off. She also delivered the dumbest comment of the night when, as Ryan Reaves and Lucic lined up, she advised us that “the physicality on the ice right now is epic.” That would have been fine except for one small detail—they hadn’t even dropped the puck for the opening faceoff yet.

Ron and Tara

As expected, Slone and MacLean cooed and gushed during their taped first-intermission sit-down with Billie Jean King. MacLean was so dazzled to be in the presence of tennis royalty that he had Kendall Coyne Schofield winning the fastest skater competition at the NHL all-star game (she finished second last) and, when corrected by King, he mostly sat in slumped silence while Slone lathered the equal rights activist in praise.

Billie Jean King

No surprise that King called on the NHL to create hockey’s version of an adopt-a-pet program and subsidize a women’s professional league. “It’s the right thing to do and I think it’ll be good business,” she said. “They can do this. They can do this. Why can’t we have 700 girls or a thousand girls playing in a league?” Earth to Billie Jean! Earth to Billie Jean! If it’ll be such “good business,” why don’t you peel off some of your personal bankroll and help fund a WNHL? And where’s your business plan? As for a women’s league with 700-1,000 players, that’s shocking naiveté. There are approximately 200 members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and another 120 suiting up with the five NWHL clubs. Where does King propose they scare up another 380-680 elite-level female players? She’d have better luck trying to find a virgin in a brothel.

During the game, Campbell-Pascall lauded King for her work on behalf of the PWHPA, telling us she’s “moved women’s hockey forward.” Rubbish. Ponytail Puck has never been in a worse mess.

Dani Rylan

In 3½ hours, the talking heads made numerous mentions of the PWHPA, but not once did they talk about the NWHL. And that’s shameful. Sportsnet is supposed to be a news-gathering and news-distributing operation yet, on International Women’s Day, it chose to completely ignore a hockey league that has a female commissioner, a female director of its players association, female general managers, a female head coach, female broadcasters, and the only operation in North America that pays females to play shinny. At some point, they should have advised us that the Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps had won their semifinal matches on Sunday and advanced to the Isobel Cup final, scheduled for puck drop on Friday in Beantown. They didn’t, and that’s just wrong.

Sportsnet’s snub of the NWHL is particularly puzzling given that Kristina Rutherford’s in-depth look at commish Dani Rylan popped up on its website Sunday. It’s a terrific read on the woman who started the NWHL from scratch and is already planning for a sixth season.

And, finally, it’s about the Brier. After nine days of incredible shot-making and last-gasp dramatics, the boys delivered a dud in the Canadian men’s curling championship final in Kingston. It was like seeing Sinatra in concert all week, then getting Nickelback for a closing act. Brad Gushue and his pals from the Rock put on a clinic in a 7-3 win, while Brendan Bottcher and his bunch from Wild Rose Country coughed up a hair ball (many of them, actually). It was all over except for the muffled celebration after three ends, and that’s not the finish this exceptional bonspiel deserved.

Let’s talk about women’s sports and the media…tough times for Ponytail Puck…pigging out on Big Macs…the Barnum and Bailey Brier…Chevy’s sales pitch to free agents…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I sprung forward this morning and brought some random thoughts along with me…

I think TSN and Sportsnet are trying to fool us into believing they actually give a damn about women’s sports.

Sportsnet’s Christine Simpson and Kim Davis.

I mean, both of our national jock networks have devoted copious air to the distaff portion of the playground in the past week, featuring interviews with movers and shakers like Stacey Allaster, Kim Davis, Kim Ng, Cammi Granato and Kendall Coyne Schofield, and they’ve also given us retro peeks at moments of girl glory delivered by Brooke Henderson, Bianca Andreescu and others.

It’s been boffo stuff.

And tonight we’ll hear the all-female broadcast crew of Leah Hextall, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Christine Simpson work the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hometown Hockey, something that—dare I say?—smacks of gimmickry and likely will have numerous men squirming and pressing the mute button on their remotes.

But here’s my question in the midst of all this rah, rah, rah about ponytail sports: Where are TSN and Sportsnet when it really matters?

You know, like when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was in business. Like during the women’s Under-18 world hockey championship. TSN covering competition like the world shinny tourney or World Cup soccer are no-brainers, but to the best of my recollection Sportsnet broadcast the grand sum of two CWHL games before the operation bolted its doors last spring. I could be wrong. It might have been three. Meanwhile, TSN completely ignored the U18 event.

The National Women’s Hockey League, meanwhile, dropped the puck on its playoffs Friday night, but I haven’t heard a whisper about it on either network.

In the small hours of Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings, I counted 136 news-related videos on the TSN website. The male sports v. female sports scorecard read 133-3 in favor of the dudes, and that included Justin Bieber practicing his shootout skills.

None of that’s surprising, of course, because numerous studies advise us that female jocks receive just two to six per cent of air time on sportscasts in the True North and U.S. The amount of space allotted to female sports in our daily newspapers would be similar. Maybe even less.

So, ya, it’s great that TSN and Sportsnet have been saluting women the past few days, but what’s their excuse for the other 51 weeks of the year?

According to a 2016 report, a study of sports coverage on our national networks (French and English) in 2014 showed that female athletes were featured in just four per cent of 35,000 hours of programming. More than half of that four per cent allotment showed women’s events at the Sochi Olympics and/or women’s tennis. Which means, of course, all other female activity received less than two per cent air time.

Whenever I contemplate the minimalist coverage female sports receives on air and in print, I think of comments from noted jock journos Steve Simmons and Bruce Dowbiggin.

“I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports,” Postmedia’s Simmons told the Ryerson Review of Journalism in 2002. He also advocated for the removal of women’s hockey from the Olympic Games in 2010, calling it a “charade.”

Dowbiggin, meanwhile, wrote last year that ponytail sports was “second-tier entertainment” and, in another piece, added, “You can’t swing a cat without hitting a lesbian in a women’s sport.”

I’m quite uncertain why Dowbiggin would want to swing a cat and hit a lesbian, or any woman for that matter, but I believe his indelicate and disturbingly crass remark about felines and females was an attempt at cutesy humor. If so, he failed. Miserably.

Point is, those are two loud voices in jock journalism completely dismissing female athletes.

Steve Simmons

Dowbiggin once was an award-winning jock journo and a main player on the national stage, twice winning a Gemini Award for sports reporting and broadcasting. He now cranks out opinion essays for Troy Media and his own Not The Public Broadcaster. Simmons is a high-profile columnist whose scribblings appear in Postmedia rags across the country.

As much as I wish it was otherwise, I’m afraid theirs is the prevailing attitude in our jock media.

It’s worth noting that neither of the Winnipeg dailies has a female in its stable of full-time sports scribes. The Drab Slab allows the talented and very readable Melissa Martin to make guest appearances for the provincial and national Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but the Sun hasn’t had a Jill writing jock stuff since Judy Owen left the building. Judy is one of only four female scribes with whom I worked during 30 years in the rag trade, the others being Peggy Stewart (Winnipeg Tribune), the lovely Rita Mingo (Trib) and Mary Ormsby (Toronto Sun). It’s been more than 50 years since I started at the Trib, and in that time I’ve known just five female sports writers in Good Ol’ Hometown—Judy, Peggy, Rita, Barb Huck and Ashley Prest. I know some women applied the last time the Sun had an opening, but Scott Billeck got the gig.

Billie Jean King

What a truly dreadful time it’s been for Ponytail Puck. First the CWHL ceased operations last spring, then close to 200 of the planet’s best players had a hissy fit and decided to boycott and trash talk the NWHL, and now the world championship in Nova Scotia has been cancelled due to the coronavirus. Tough to grow the game when all you have at the end of the day is a bunch of photo-ops with Billie Jean King.

Speaking of Billie Jean, she’ll be part of the Hometown Hockey telecast tonight on Sportsnet, but we shouldn’t expect any hard-hitting questions from either Ron MacLean or Tara Slone. My guess is MacLean will serve the tennis legend and women’s rights activist nothing but softball questions, while Tara swoons.

Sportsnet won’t be the only network featuring an all-female broadcast crew tonight. Kate Scott, Kendall Coyne Schofield and AJ Mleczko will be the voices for NBCSN’s telecast of the St. Louis Blues-Chicago Blackhawks skirmish, and I just hope they realize that criticism is part of the gig because they’ll be hearing it from the yahoos.

The PWHPA—also the talking heads on Sportsnet—would like the five-team NWHL to disappear at the conclusion of its fifth season, so they’ll be disappointed to hear this sound bite from NWHLPA director Anya Packer: “I’m excited to watch the growth. I think there’s going to be a lot of growth in the off-season. There’s a lot of conversations hosted today that will affect tomorrow. There’s a lot of conversations that happened before the season began that are going to make some major strides and changes as we move into season six. I’m excited for season six.” If they want to play serious shinny next winter, the PWHPA might want to rethink that boycott thing.

The rapidly spreading coronavirus has a number of sports teams/leagues talking about playing in empty stadiums. In other words, just like a Toronto Argonauts home game.

Chevy

Ya, I think it’s great that the National Hockey League salary cap is going up and Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will have a boatload of Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s cash to spend on free agents this summer, but that won’t make it any easier for Chevy to sell Good Ol’ Hometown to high-profile players. River City remains No. 1 on most NHLers’ no-go lists, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

I don’t know about you, but every time I see the Nashville Predators play, I have the same thought: “How do these guys beat anybody?”

Does this make sense to anyone other than Tranna Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas?
William Nylander: 30-goal seasons—1; salary—$9 million ($8.3 million bonus).
Kyle Connor:         30-goal seasons—3; salary—$7.5 million ($0 bonus).

People poke fun at the Canadian Football League for rewarding failure by giving a single point on a missed field goal. Well, excuse me, but the NHL does that very thing almost nightly with its ridiculous loser point.

Watched Sports Central on Sportsnet on Friday morning and I didn’t hear one word about the Brier. Nada. They managed to squeeze in highlights of Joey Chestnut pigging out on Big Macs, but the Canadian men’s curling championship wasn’t worthy of their attention. Canada’s #1 Sports Network my ass.

There’ve been so many incredible circus shots during this year’s Brier, I expected to see Barnum and Bailey meeting in today’s final.

So I call up the Globe and Mail on Saturday and note that Cathal Kelly is writing about the Brier. I roll my eyes, because Kelly doesn’t know a hog line from Hog Town. Well, surprise, surprise. It’s an excellent, entertaining read. And honest. “Don’t look for curling expertise here,” he writes. “You won’t find any.”

Did Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs look like he was having any fun before being ushered out of the Brier? I swear, the’s more serious than a tax audit, and it isn’t a good look.

WTF? During the first two Brier matches I watched on TSN last weekend, I heard three F-bombs and one goddamn. I heard zero F-bombs and zero goddamns during the entire week of watching the Scotties on TSN. Just saying.

Actually, I’d like to know why male curlers feel a need to go all potty mouth, yet the women don’t. I mean, they’re playing the same game, playing for the same stakes, making the same shots, feeling the same pressure. It would make for an interesting social study.

Big headlines all over the Internet last week about movie guy Spike Lee having a hissy fit and refusing to attend any more New York Knicks games this season. Hmmm. I must have missed the memo that informed us we’re supposed to give a damn what Spike Lee does.

Gotta say, TSN’s man on UFC, Robin Black, is the creepiest guy on sports TV.

Joey Chestnut

The aforementioned Joey Chestnut set some sort of world record for gluttony last week when he scarfed down 32 Big Macs in 38 minutes. We haven’t seen a pigout like that since Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offence ate the San Francisco 49ers’ lunch in the Super Bowl.

The Winnipeg Jets are in the grip of an intense playoff battle, two Manitoba teams were running hot at the Brier, and what was featured on the sports front of the Winnipeg Sun last Monday morning? Toronto Blue Jays wannabe pitcher Nate Pearson. Good gawd, man, who makes those horrible decisions?

Wilma Rudolph

And, finally, in a salute to International Women’s Day, these are my five fave female athletes of all time: Wilma Rudolph, Martina Navratilova, Tessa Virtue, Nancy Greene and Evonne Goolagong. (Honorable mentions go to to Katarina Witt, Steffi Graf and Jennifer Jones.)

Let’s talk about kids’ piggy banks, Peter Warren and empty seats…the Winnipeg Jets D…Tiger’s tell-all tome…a coverup in Tinseltown…dumb stuff at Sportsnet…St. Louis Blues visit the Trumps…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I understood some of what Don Cherry said on Saturday night, so I’ve made an appointment with my shrink…

Okay, kids, time to bust open the piggy banks and empty the coin jars.

And, hey, is it too soon to send an S.O.S. to Peter Warren, asking him to fire up the flatbed Ford and start tooting around town to prod senior citizens into turning over their pension cheques?

I know. Sounds crazy.

Bobby Hull and Peter Warren.

I mean, just because our hockey heroes recently performed in front of (unsold) empty seats for the first time (officially) since 2011, there’s no cause to declare a state of emergency. The Winnipeg Jets aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so let’s have no talk of Houston or Cleveland or San Diego or Ville de Quebec.

Still, for those of us who recall dire times and more than one Save The Jets campaign that really did include kids and piggy banks—and Warren turning his CJOB Action Line into a Jerry Lewis-style telethon—it feels like deja vu all over again.

We remember Warren’s pleas from the lobby of the Marlborough Hotel in June 1974, and on downtown streets in May 1995. The legendary broadcaster who always got “right down to business” did more groveling than a dude whose wife found the wrong shade of lipstick on his collar.

It worked in ’74. Not so much 21 years later.

Benny Hatskin

Benny Hatskin, noticing too many empty seats in the Winnipeg Arena and weary of writing cheques in red ink in 1974, turned his then-World Hockey Association franchise over—lock, stock and Bobby Hull’s hairpiece—to civic leaders with all the right intentions, but only after the rabble had ponied up in excess of $600,000 in nickels, dimes and cashier’s cheques not made of rubber.

One of the many who helped save the Jets that year was Margaret-Ann Farr, a 76-year-old who had earmarked $500 in savings for a trip to her homeland in Scotland. Instead, she gave it to the Jets, even though she had never seen them play. No, I can’t tell you if Maggie eventually found her way home to the ol’ sod, but I can tell you that your favorite hockey team was once owned by a dog, because one guy donated $25 on behalf of his pooch, Lady Jet.

And so it went.

The old barn on Maroons Road.

It was much the same in 1995—not enough customers in the old barn on Maroons Road, amped-up salaries ($13 million player payroll), lousy Canadian dollar and, most important, no one with deep pockets interested in frittering away what remained in their deep pockets. Again, they went hat in hand to the people and raised more than $13 million in a bid to preserve their National Hockey League outfit. Trouble was, they needed $32 million, thus the Jets swanned off to Arizona.

And now we’re noticing reminders of the way it was.

The Jets were 561 people short of a sellout at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie last Tuesday with the Arizona Coyotes in town. Two nights later, they were 262 shy of a full barn for a visit from the New York Islanders. The Jets payroll is now $75 million, with gusts up to $83 million depending on Dustin Byfuglien’s mood du jour, the dollar is about as strong as the Jets penalty-kill, True North is charging more for a beer and a hot dog than what a ticket cost back in the day, and some folks are taking out second mortgages to pay for their season packages.

The difference, of course, is in ownership.

David Thomson

This time around, the dude with the deepest pockets in the country, David Thomson, is part of the package, and you’re never going to see him standing at the corner of Portage and Main asking little, old ladies to nix a trip to Scotland so he and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman can keep Blake Wheeler and Rick Rat Scheifele in champagne and caviar.

A 4,000-person waiting list for season subscriptions suggests there’s plenty of shelf life left in these Winnipeg Jets, but I’m guessing some of you would probably feel a lot better if you were hearing that from Chipman instead of me.

Bottom line: You can tell your kids to keep what’s in their piggy banks. Once they’ve grown up, they can use it for college tuition or a mortgage on a nice house.

They just won’t be able to afford Jets season tickets.

Both main columnists with the daily rags weighed in on the head counts at last week’s Jets jousts, with Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab pointing to Good Ol’ Hometown’s “saturated” sports/shinny market as one possible reason for the non-sellouts. He added, “While there’s no sign a divorce is on the horizon, it seems the (fan/team) relationship is a lot more complicated than it used to be.” It isn’t complicated at all. As Paul Friesen pointed out in the Winnipeg Sun, it’s all about costs. The Jets, according to numerous folks who contacted Friesen, are pricing themselves out of their own market. As for a “saturated” market, what, they don’t have sports entertainment options in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver? As if.

If you’re wondering, the highest average head count for Jets 1.0 was 13,620 in 1985-96. That’s only 1,144 customers fewer than last week with the Coyotes in town, and they weren’t paying anyone $8.25 million per annum (hello, Blake Wheeler). In their final whirl at the old barn on Maroons Road, Jets 1.0 attracted an average of 11,316.

Tiger Woods has taken up the quill and will write a memoir to tell the “definitive story” of his life as a golf prodigy and icon. So we’ll finally get the answer to that burning question: “When Elin found out about all the blonde cocktail waitresses and escorts that Tiger was shagging, did she attack him with a nine-iron or a pitching wedge?”

HarperCollins Publishers considered several titles for Tiger’s tell-all tome before settling on Back, and it’s believed these were among the rejected suggestions:
1) Birdies, Bogeys, Bunkers & Bimbos.
2) That’s Not A Putter In My Pants…I’m Just Happy To See You.
3) T&A at the R&A (Tits & Ass at the Royal & Ancient).
4) Pin High & Horny.
5) Tiger Woods: My Pants Were Always Lower Than My Score.

News item: The NHL tells Valentin Zykov of the Vegas Golden Knights to get lost for 20 games because he either stuck a needle in his butt or swallowed a PED. Imagine that, a Russian using illegal drugs. Who would have thought?

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that young Ville Heinola has become the darling of the local media. The Finnish kid can do no wrong with news snoops, even when he’s doing something wrong on the Jets blueline. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just saying.

The more I watch the NHL, with its limited fisticuffs and greatly reduced body belting, the more I think of former Jets centre Peter Sullivan. Today’s game was made for the man we called Silky.

Stupid headline of the week No. 1, from Sportsnet: “Why the Maple Leafs need a statement game against struggling Wild.” Oh, c’mon man. No one makes a statement game against the Minnesota Wild, the worst team in the NHL. Beating a team with a pulse, like the Boston Bruins, is a statement game.

Stupid headline of the week No. 2, from the Drab Slab: “Pionk steadies young D.” Good grief, Charlie Brown. Two days earlier, the Jets surrendered seven—count ’em seven!—goals v. Sid and his Pittsburgh pals. Then they gave up a four-spot v. Arizona. Then three v. the Islanders. Fourteen goals in three games. That’s steady like the back of a garbage truck is a salad bar. The accompanying Taylor Allen article was no better. It read like a puff piece hot off the True North propaganda printing press. Look, it’s time the Drab Slab told the truth, which is this: Neal Pionk is a top pairing defenceman for one reason—everyone who can skate and chew gum at the same time left Dodge long ago, Josh Morrissey being the exception.

Oh, wait, now I’m really confused. Just four days after Allen’s puff piece on Pionk and the “steady” blueline, along comes Mad Mike McIntyre to tell us this about the Jets: “The needs are many, with two major areas of concern—the blue-line and the penalty kill.” I see. The steady defence actually sucks. Methinks the boys on the beat might want to exchange notes before hitting the send button.

Los Angeles Kings fans decided that Taylor Swift had a curse on their team, so a banner saluting the pop singer’s record number of sellouts at Staples Center is now blotted out by a large black cloth at each game. It’s the most talked-about coverup in Tinseltown since the O.J. Trial.

Stupid tweet of the week, from Kristina Rutherford of Sportsnet: “The NHL season is underway and MLB playoffs are happening and the #1 article on @sportsnet yesterday was about the @nwhl and pro women’s hockey. So I guess all y’all that say ‘nobody cares!’ about women’s hockey can go fly a kite.” That smacks of Grade 5 schoolyard na, na, na, na, na-ism. Yes, it’s juvenile. The placement of Rutherford’s article at the top of the main page on the Sportsnet website means just one thing—they did something dumb again. You know, like on Saturday morning after a Major League Baseball playoff game, numerous NHL games including the Edmonton McDavids, two CFL games, Brooke Henderson firing a hole-in-one and leading an LPGA tournament, Sportsnet’s main story was an exhibition basketball game. Like I said, dumb.

On the matter of Pontytail Puck, I wonder why it is that the National Women’s Hockey League refuses to include attendance figures in its game summaries. I asked but didn’t receive a reply. So I can only assume they’re embarrassed by the modest head counts.

I also find myself wondering why no one in mainstream media is challenging the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association on their true mission, which is to put the NWHL out of business. They can talk all they like about building a better future for little girls, but I’ll believe that fairy tale the day they actually sit down with NWHL commish Dani Rylan and look for ways to make the women’s game work. As it is, the PWHPA refuses to engage in meaningful dialogue, instead serving up a sham called the Dream Gap Tour.

Interesting take from Cathal Kelly on the St. Louis Blues’ visit to the Trump household last week. The Globe and Mail columnist had no problem with the Stanley Cup champions’ Tour de Oval Office, and he managed to squeeze in a swipe at National Basketball Association stars. “NBA players often make a bit of a deal announcing they will not set one foot in the White House while Trump remains in office, always to great cheers,” he wrote. “These are occasionally the same players who don’t know anything about China, won’t take questions about China and couldn’t find China on a map, all while they are in China.” Here’s my question: Why would NBA players need to find China on a map when they’re already in China?

Got a kick out of a couple tweets from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Apparently, he’s “still walking on air” after being elected to the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, and he’s “still walking on air” about the Tranna Jurassics hoops title. I know the air is thick in the Republic of Tranna, but unless Steve has dropped a few pounds since I last saw him, it ain’t that thick.

And, finally, the Drab Slab devoted an entire page to curling in its Saturday edition. Nice. The three-part package included a sidebar from Taylor Allen on new mom Rachel Homan’s balancing act of mother-curler. Good stuff.

Let’s talk about Connor Hellebuyck’s puck allergy…the Oilers and pond hockey…a good read from Teddy Football…drama queens at the Drab Slab…Burkie hops on his fighting soap box…old whisky and Grapes speaking in tongues…slobber-knocking football and Chris Streveler…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and here’s a turkey a week before Thanksgiving Day…

There aren’t a whole lot of goaltenders who’ll stand up and tell the world “my stuff don’t stink” after surrendering five goals.

I don’t care what level of shinny you’re talking about. Beer league, big league…doesn’t matter. A keeper whose net looks like a coal bin at the end of the night generally accepts and acknowledges that he wasn’t quite up to snuff, and maybe the team’s loss is on him.

“My bad. I owe the boys one,” he might say.

Connor Hellebuyck

Not Connor Hellebuyck, though. No sir. The Winnipeg Jets ‘tender falls in a manure pile and he believes he smells like a rose garden.

“I liked a lot of my game,” he says.

“I felt like I earned better,” he says.

“I felt like I played a lot better than five goals against,” he says.

“I don’t know, it just seemed like the puck was always in the wrong spot for me,” he says.

Ya, you could say the biscuit was in the wrong spot—the back of the freaking net.

I don’t know if Hellebuyck is ballsy, arrogant or just flat-out ignorant, but he’s definitely delusional if he believes the puck-stopping he delivered in a 6-4 loss the other night in Gotham will serve the Jets well in the grand scheme of things. Thirty-one shots, five goals.

You know how often Winnipeg HC won last season when surrendering a five-spot? Once. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success to me.

Paul Maurice

But, sure, let’s play some good, old-fashioned pond hockey. I’m all for it. It’s a hoot, and I don’t really care if it turns Paul Maurice into a doddering old man before his time. It certainly worked for the Edmonton Oilers circa 1980s, didn’t it? Unfortunately, Blake Wheeler, Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Puck Finn Laine and Josh Morrissey ain’t Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Paul Coffey. And Hellebuyck definitely is no Grant Fuhr.

As boffo as these Jets are on the attack, I think it’s asking too much of them to score five times every night to negate Hellebuyck’s marginal to stink-out-the-joint goaltending. You know, the kind that he “liked” v. the New York Rangers.

“Five is unacceptable,” Hellebuyck conceded after losing to the Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden.

Terrific. He’s nailed down that part of the plot. Alas, upon further review, he submitted, “I probably won’t do a whole lot different” in his next start.

Oh joy. We can expect more of the same.

The guy not only needs to up his game, he needs a mental reboot. Calling Dr. Phil! Calling Dr. Phil!

Marc-Andre Fleury, Connor Hellebuyck

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, though, because Hellebuyck showed us this particular strain of arrogance and delusion when the Jets reached the high-water mark of their National Hockey League existence, advancing to the Western Conference final in spring 2018. Although outperformed by a considerable margin by the remarkable Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights, he was having none of it. Hellebuyck wrote it off as the product of four-leaf clovers and horse shoes, saying things like “I like my game. I like it a lot more (than Fleury’s).”And: “I think it’s bad luck. The stars are aligning for them.” And: “Maybe it was just the luck. They got some lucky bounces on me. And that’s the truth.”

He was wrong then, he’s wrong now.

Apparently it hasn’t registered with Hellebuyck that he’s playing behind a patchwork defence cobbled together out of necessity, not by design, and it figures that he’ll be caught in the middle of a fire drill a lot of nights. Thus, Vezina Trophy-calibre goaltending is necessary to keep this boat afloat over the long haul, not some guy who has an apparent allergy to frozen rubber.

Unless, of course, these Jets really are the second coming of the 1980s Oilers. In that case, next goal wins.

To remind you of the Oilers pond hockey style, consider the 1983-84 crusade: The Gretzkys finished with a goal differential of +132. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your computer screen. They had five or more snipes in 53 of their 80 skirmishes, and surrendered five or more in 23 games (13-8-2). Their 446 total still stands as an NHL record. They won games by ridiculous scores like 12-8, 10-5, 10-7, 8-6, 7-5, etc., and the average score was 5.5-3.9. Oh, one more thing: They won the Stanley Cup. If the Jets can duplicate that, there’ll be no more bitching about Hellebuyck’s allergy to pucks.

Ted Wyman, the guy I like to call Teddy Football, left the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat to dog the Jets on their lid-lifting eastern swing, and I’m glad he did because his piece on best buds and now on-ice foes Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba is boffo. Or, as they say in his trade, it’s damn good stuff.

Big Buff

I seem to recall Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff saying something last spring about giving the Winnipeg HC leadership group a makeover, which led the fiction writers at the Drab Slab to read between all sorts of lines and see all sorts of boogeymen in the dressing room. So here’s your makeover: Wheeler still has the ‘C’, Rink Rat Scheifele still has his ‘A’, and Josh Morrissey has the ‘A’ Dustin Byfuglien left behind when he departed to stare at his belly button. Clearly, then, Wheeler and Rink Rat weren’t the “problem,” which means…yup, Big Buff must have been the rotten apple in that barrel. I’m sure the fiction writers will eventually tell us all about it. As if.

The Drab Slab’s other resident drama queens, sports editor Steve Lyons and once-upon-a-time columnist Paul Wiecek, are aghast—aghast, I say!—that Big Buff removed himself from the fray without their okie-dokie. Why, they’re taking his retreat as if he kicked one of their dogs. “To walk away and sell out his team at this point demands some kind of explanation from either the man or the team.” harrumphed Wiecek. He also described True North’s tight-lips posture as “a joke” and the way the Jets treat the rabble is “disgraceful. If I was a season-ticket holder right now, I’d be on the phone to the Jets offices every day, demanding either an explanation or my money back.” Well, isn’t that a special little hissy fit. I hope he didn’t hurt himself while stamping his feet and holding his breath. Look, Big Buff’s leave of absence is a curious bit of business, to be sure. And, yes, the timing sucks. But he’s under no obligation to give us the skinny. If Buff retires, I’m guessing he’ll have something to say, but we shouldn’t expect the Gettysburg Address, which was only 272 words. If he returns to the Jets blueline, he’ll probably have even less to say. Meantime, the Jets are keeping it on the QT because there’s nothing to say, other than they’ll respect Buff’s privacy. I’m good with that.

Brian Burke

Speaking of boys in grumpy pants, nice to see Brian Burke is already in mid-season form. Not! They hadn’t even begun to play for keeps in this new NHL crusade when Burkie went into dinosaur mode on Sportsnet, scolding linesman Kiel Murchison for having the bad manners to prevent an exchange of bare knuckles between Evander Kane and Derek Engelland. “Where in the rule book does it say fighting is prohibited?” he belched. “What it says is fighting is assessed a five-minute penalty. So let them fight.” Yes, by all means, let the boys throw down. And, while we’re at it, perhaps we can go back to using Eaton’s catalogs for shin pads.

No surprise, therefore, that Burke would applaud Sidney Crosby for getting into a scuffle on Saturday night. “I thought it was great,” he said on Hockey Night in Canada. “I thought it was great, and they got a lift out of it. They scored a couple goals right after the fight.” I don’t know about you, but I’d rather watch Crosby play hockey than sit in the penalty box icing his bruised knuckles.

Bob McKenzie

Bob McKenzie has signed a five-year extension to be TSN’s main blah, blah, blah guy on Planet Puckhead, and I’m sure that suits his 1.6 million Twitter followers just fine. Details of the contract were not released, but it’s believed it does not include an eight-figure signing bonus, prompting Tranna Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas to gasp, “Huh? You mean you don’t have to pay everybody $15 million up front?”

J.P. Wiser’s is producing an Alumni Whisky Series that features former NHL notables like Mark Messier (“Bold & tenacious. Aged for 11 years.”), Dave Keon (“Well-rounded. Aged for 14 years.”), and Yvan Cournoyer “Smooth & complex. Aged for 12 years.”). Apparently, the people at Wiser’s also had plans for a Don Cherry whisky (“Loud, curmudgeonly & obnoxious.”), but they discovered his best-before date expired sometime last century.

Andrew Ference and his finger.

Cherry, of course, was back in his HNIC bully pulpit on Saturday night, doing his usual shtick that’s part fashion show, part fight promoter, and a complete butchering of the language. My favorite segment arrived at the end, when Grapes went off topic and chastised Orlando Arcia of the Milwaukee Brewers for sticking his tongue out at Washington Nationals fans during a Major League Baseball playoff skirmish.

“Other sports, they might do stuff like that,” he growled in a sermon for the benefit of the kids. “In football, hockey, you can go on, the whole thing…in hockey we do not do that.”

Cherry’s right. Hockey players don’t stick their tongues out at the customers—they scale the glass and beat the hell out of them in the stands (hello, Boston Bruins, circa 1979). Or they punch them out at the bench (hello, Rob Ray). Or they fight them in the penalty box (hello, Tie Domi). Or they give them the finger (hello, Andrew Ference). But, ya, they keep their tongues to themselves. Except Brad Marchand, of course. He uses his to lick other players.

In the case of the 1979 Bruins, 18 of them piled into the stands at Madison Square Garden one December night, with tough guy Terry O’Reilly leading the charge. Even the normally docile Peter McNab waded into the fracas and roughed up a patron (“I was quite proud of him,” said Cherry), but the highlight was defenceman Mike Milbury yanking a shoe off one fan, then whacking him with it. All 18 Bruins were fined and three received suspensions. But, hey, not one of them stuck out his tongue, so everything was cool. (For the record, goaltender Gerry Cheevers was the only Boston player not involved. He was in the dressing room drinking post-game beer.)

I note with interest that the St. Louis Blues have locked down Brayden Schenn for the next eight years. Hmmm. That’s three max-length contracts signed in the past month. Perhaps Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab and Dave Poulin of TSN can tell us one more time how we won’t see NHL players signing for eight years anymore.

Chris Streveler

My oh my. That was some kind of slobber-knocking football the large lads in pads showed us Saturday on the Flattest of Lands. Nasty, nasty. There was much to like about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, even if they were on the short end of a 21-6 score, but the work of neophyte quarterback Chris Streveler wasn’t included in the good-vibe mix. He tossed one pass to the wrong guys in the end zone. He tossed another pass to the wrong guys at the goal line. He spilled and lost the ball in the score zone. And his offence put just half a dozen points on the board against a very stingy Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive dozen. What if it had been much-maligned QB Matt Nichols screwing up like that? What would the reaction be? That’s right. Pitchforks and torches. So hands up anyone who still believes the Bombers have a better chance of winning with Streveler at QB. Hmmm. I don’t see any hands.

Streveler after soiling the sheets: “I’ve got to be better.” Connor Hellebuyck after soiling the sheets: “I liked a lot of my game.” Discuss among yourselves.

Corn Dog Cody Fajardo

This has been the year of the backup QB in the Canadian Football League, with all but the B.C. Lions being forced to turn to their No. 2 gunslinger. So where does Streveler fit into the mix? Here’s how I would rank the backups-turned-starters:
1) Corn Dog Cody Fajardo
2) Dane Evans
3) Vernon Adams Jr.
4) Nick Arbuckle
5) McLeod Bethel-Thompson
6) Chris Streveler
7/8) Logan Kilgore/Jonathon Jennings.

And, finally, that was a serious paddywhacking the New Zealand All Blacks delivered to our gnarly Canadian lads at the Rugby World Cup. I mean, 63-0. Winnipeg Jets fans have decided that it’s Connor Hellebuyck’s fault.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Jets keeping the boys at home…a 1960s-style love-in…Evander’s being Evander again…Ponytail Puck…champagne and caviar in baseball…those Yankee Doodle Damsels…and old fried Dugie is a street person

A Monday smorgas-bored…and farewell to September; we hardly knew ye…

There’s a ring of truth to the insulting mantra “no one wants to go to Winnipeg,” although it has nothing to do with wonky wifi and it doesn’t exactly make Good Ol’ Hometown unique.

I mean, I haven’t noticed a squadron of high-profile free agent jocks galloping to Edmonton or Ottawa, and the mighty Republic of Tranna is such a desired destination that Kawhi Leonard hopped on the first stagecoach out of Dodge, despite the deity status bestowed upon him by the rabble and his rapper groupie.

Blanket Boy John Tavares

Oh, sure, the Tranna Maple Leafs landed John Tavares last year, and that was a good get. But it was more about pajamas and bed linen than The ROT being hockey heaven, and I’m guessing that if little Johnny had tucked himself under a San Jose blankie as a sprig he’d be a Shark today.

So, there are a myriad of reasons why jocks do and don’t want to work in specific locales and, as much as River City is often cited as a no-play zone, it’s important to remember that the most significant free-agent signing in hockey history occurred at the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street. That’s where Robert Marvin Hull became Clarence Campbell’s worst nightmare, by fleeing the Chicago Blackhawks and the National Hockey League for an upstart operation flying by the seat of its pants and propped up by overextended credit cards.

I’ve often wondered what Hull truly felt about Good Ol’ Hometown, because he was slick in front of microphones and notepads and always gave the rabble what they wanted to hear. Fact is, though, the Winnipeg Jets lured the NHL’s main glam guy (give or take Bobby Orr) to the World Hockey Association in 1972, and he stuck around for six of our cold, harsh winters, only leaving because he had heavy off-ice issues and he didn’t appreciate John Ferguson’s bedside manner.

It’s dreaming in technicolor to think that the present-day Jets would ever land a fish the size of Hull (fresh from his fifth 50-goal season when he arrived at Portage and Main) because an armpit-of-the-NHL stigma exists.

But is Good Ol’ Hometown really an armpit?

Evander Kane

Well, Evander Kane certainly thought so. He began looking for an escape route the moment he arrived with the Atlanta caravan in 2011 and, over time, he decided that any hostility he felt from the rabble was all about the color of his skin and not his inability to produce 30-goal seasons.

We all know Jacob Trouba wanted out, and it doesn’t matter if you buy his reasons or not. He’s gone.

Even the great Dale Hawerchuk got itchy feet, although it had nothing to do with locale. He simply grew weary of GM Mikhail Smith’s hair-brained, make-work-for-Russians scheme, also the naysaying of news snoops, so Ducky begged for a new postal/zip code.

Jacob Trouba

Basically, though, once the lads spend a proper amount of time in the city, Good Ol’ Hometown becomes much like Sally Field at the Oscars: “You like me. Right now, you like me.”

Evidence of that can be found in the recent signings of Josh Morrissey and Kyle Connor. If Winnipeg is such a hellhole, why would they choose to lock in for eight and seven years, respectively, rather than vamoose at the earliest opportunity?

Why would any of the Jets? But they do. Here’s what they’ve reupped for:

Josh Morrissey:              8 years.
Rink Rat Scheifele:        8 years.
Kyle Connor:                 7 years.
Twig Ehlers:                  7 years.
Connor Hellebuyck:      6 years.
Blake Wheeler:              5 years.
Bryan Little:                  5 years.
Dustin Byfuglien:          5 years.

Really, the only core players Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff haven’t locked down for the long haul are Patrik Laine, Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp, but that appears to be more about salary cap restraints than River City.

So, like I said, there’s a ring of truth to the “no one wants to go to Winnipeg” mantra, but it’s also true that those who land on the frozen tundra tend to like the lay of the land.

Kyle Connor

Now that all the boys are back on board, perhaps someone at the Drab Slab can tell us once again how the Jets dressing room was/is “rotten to the core.” As if. Chevy, Connor and Puck Finn had gab sessions with news snoops Monday morning, and it was a 1960s love-in:

Chevy: “Signing (Connor, Laine) is a high point, and signing Josh to the contract he did really shows the commitments that these players have and the belief that they have in this room.”

Connor: “I couldn’t be more excited to join this team. Long term was definitely my preference, wanted to be here, love this team.”

Laine: “Super excited and happy to be here. My summer’s way too long.”

Patrik Laine

Asked if someone had to squirt a bit of air freshener in the dressing room, Laine added, “I don’t think so. I’m happy to be here and I think everybody seems to be happy that I’m here, so that’s it. New season…it’s awesome to be here, see my teammates, coaches, staff, everybody, you guys…ya, right.”

And this is what Morrissey had to say after agreeing to his new contract at the start of training sessions: “I love playing here. The term excited me. To be here and playing in Winnipeg from day one is kinda what I’ve always said I wanted to do.”

Ya, that’s a team in turmoil, and I pranced down the Yellow Brick Road with Judy Garland.

Speaking of the Drab Slab and its fiction writers, here’s a Sunday tweet from Mad Mike McIntyre: “Question for #NHLJets fans: Does the Jacob Trouba trade, which seemed to be instantly panned by many as terrible for Winnipeg, look different now that you’ve seen Neal Pionk and Ville Heinola (the return) play and what Trouba ultimately signed for (7 years, $56-million)?” He cannot be serious. He’s asking that based on a handful of dress rehearsals against AHL-quality foes? The mind boggles.

Good grief. Will the Maple Leafs put a ‘C’ on someone’s sweater already? Not since E.J. Smith rammed his big boat into an iceberg has so much been said and written about a captaincy.

I see old friend Evander Kane is acting out again, shoving a linesman and getting punted from a San Jose-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish. Anyone in River City miss him at all? Didn’t think so.

This isn’t good: In a recent match, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers paddywhacked Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League 5-1, and they outshot the pros—wait for it—57-12. Allegedly, that is not a typo. As much as I hesitate to put a negative spin on women’s shinny, it isn’t exactly a selling point for Ponytail Puck when the defending NWHL champions are rag-dolled by a bunch of college kids. It doesn’t do much, if anything, to attract fans or sponsors in their quest to earn a “living wage.”

Remember how a lot of us tsk-tsked the Yankee Doodle Damsels for their excessive celebrating in a 13-0 romp over Thailand at the women’s World Cup in June? Well, that wasn’t nearly as odious as Major League Baseball outfits busting out the bubbly to celebrate a wild-card playoff berth. Seriously, champagne and caviar because you’re the fourth or fifth qualifier in a bloated post-season structure? Will the survivors of the wild-card games have another champagne shower? Honestly, I can’t think of anything dumber in sports. Well, okay, most everything that falls out of Don Cherry’s gob is dumber, but that’s about it. Put a cork in it, boys. Literally.

Now that I’ve mentioned the Yankee Doodle Damsels, if you’re wondering what they’re up to, they’re still scoring goals, celebrating and doing boffo business at the box office. Not that anyone would notice. Like most female sports, they’re out of sight, out of mind for mainstream media, but the American women have been attracting large numbers for their Victory Tour kick-abouts. Here are the head counts:
37,040 v. Ireland at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (3-0 win);
49,504 v. Portugal at Lincoln Field in Philly (4-0 win);
19,600 (sellout) v. Portugal at Allianz Field in St. Paul (3-0 win).

Dugie, the legend.

And, finally, look who’s become a street person—the Digit, Don Duguid. Dugie’s always been one of my favorite people, and it’s nice to know that folks in high places haven’t forgotten the guy who brought two world curling championships home to roost at the Mother Club at One Granite Way. A portion of the road will be known as Honorary Don Duguid Way for the next five years, and I only hope city workers in Good Ol’ Hometown fill all and any potholes before the official unveiling. I’d hate like heck for the little guy to get lost in one of them.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Jets and their Sideshow Bobs…someone told someone something about Big Buff…Buffpubry…a Big Blue hair ball…the life of Reilly…Andrew Harris and the MOP Award…little green men in Area 51…Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s out with summer and in with autumn colors…

Coach PoMo and Sideshow Bob

Now playing for the Winnipeg Jets, Sideshow Bob and Bob and Bob and Bob.

Seriously, I was sooooo wrong about the Winnipeg HC training sessions.

I mean, this is what I scribbled last week: “There are a limited number of interesting storylines and, in the case of the Jets, they’ve already been exhausted. Big Buff’s taken leave. Blake Wheeler had his say. Paul Maurice went zen master about his ‘sparrows.’ Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are in RFA limbo. What’s left to write and talk about?”

D’oh! Double d’oh! Triple d’oh!

But, hey, how was I to know Puck Finn would decide to skip stones across the Atlantic Ocean and one of them would whack Bryan Little in the privates? How was I to know Big Buff’s retreat might have reached the point of no return and the club would put him on the suspended list? How was I to know that Puck Finn and Little would kiss and make up via text/phone, even though there really wasn’t anything to kiss and make up about? How was I to know that Big Buff would search for the meaning of life in a pub?

Who’s the producer of this drama, Jerry Bruckheimer? And who’s writing Coach PoMo’s material? Matt Groening?

It’s become a cross between CSI: Jets and Big Buff Does Moe’s Tavern.

Here’s the deal, though: The Sideshow Bobs have turned this into the most interesting Jets camp. Ever. Tis a shame they have to interrupt all the shenanigans by playing meaningless games on the ice.

Big Buff and his buddies engaging in Buffpubry.

On the matter of Dustin Byfuglien and his navel gazing at the crossroads of life, we’ve had confirmed sightings of the will-he-or-won’t-he rearguard in watering holes/eateries about town, and he’s been hobnobbing and making nice with the rabble. One of the minions who observed Big Buff in his at-ease habitat swears on a stack of empties that No. 33 isn’t ready for last call on his National Hockey League career, and his 260 pounds of girth will return to the Jets blueline as soon as they start playing for keeps. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a more reliable source than someone who heard someone say something to someone in a gin joint.

The folks at Merriam-Webster added 533 words and meanings to their dictionary this month. One of them is “Buffpubry.” It means “to drink beer and schmooze during the deliberate avoidance of NHL training camp.”

What’s that you say? I shouldn’t make light of Big Buff’s play-or-quit quandary? I suppose you’re right. Retirement is a serious bit of business. Plenty to ponder for a 34-year-old man who’s already earned north of $50 million and has an additional $14 million on the table. If I was Buff, I know exactly what I’d do—go to a pub and drink about it.

The Toad In The Hole

You think I’m kidding? That’s exactly what I did when it came time to fish or cut bait in 1999. I found the answer I was looking for while sitting in solitude one afternoon in the Toad In The Hole Pub & Eatery in Osborne Village. Left the rag trade shortly thereafter and, just shy of age 49, moved to Victoria, as poor as Second Hand Rosie with holes in her pocketbook. If anyone noticed my adios, they didn’t give a damn. Big Buff won’t be able to sneak away to count his millions so quietly.

Coach Grunge

So, here’s what disturbed me after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hacked up a hair ball the size of a mule’s arse on Saturday afternoon in Montreal: Head coach Mike O’Shea suggested his large lads “maybe underestimated” the Alouettes. Excuse me? The boys in blue-and-gold linen believe they’re so high and mighty that they looked at les Larks as pushovers? Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the dumbest of them all?

Coach Grunge was right about one thing, though: The Bombers gagging on a 24-point lead in a shocking 38-37 loss was “sickening.” And I’m not sure a visit by the Hamilton Tabbies on Friday is the cure they’re looking for.

Andrew Harris

Yes, now that you mention it, I detected an extra helping of oomph in Andrew Harris’ giddyup v. les Larks. He certainly seemed to have a serious grouch on.

“Pissed off” is how Coach Grunge described his tainted tailback in advance of the skirmish at Percival Molson Stadium, and I suppose you and I would be wearing our grumpy pants too if squints in lab coats called us cheaters and told us to get lost for a few weeks.

So Harris returned to the fray with a chip the size of a totem pole on his shoulder pads and toted the pointy ball for 188 combined yards in Winnipeg FC’s losing effort, and he did so, presumably, without the benefit of anything that will attract the attention of lab techs tasked with the chore of squinting into a microscope in search of squiggly, little nasties in his pee.

The thing is, we have yet to determine the full and final fallout from L’affaire Harris.

He committed the crime (a trace amount of an illegal somethingorother was discovered in his pee in July) and he’s done the time (a two-game suspension), but the matter of the Canadian Football League’s year-end trinkets and whether Harris is now considered a pigskin pariah is yet to be determined.

This is normally an interesting debate and, as the leading lugger of mail in Rouge Football, Harris certainly has the bona fides to warrant consideration for the Most Outstanding Player bauble. In fact, I’d say he was the leading candidate BBP (before bad pee) and was likely heading to a landslide victory at the polls.

That all changed when the lab rats confirmed the Bombers tailback was (officially) a drug cheat.

A-Roid

Sounds so cruddy, doesn’t it? Drug cheat. Puts Harris in the same sinister sphere as Big Ben, A-Roid, Lance Armstrong and all the other needle jockeys. Difference is, a lot of people like me want to believe Harris when he swears there was something fishy in the supplement he took. It wasn’t poison fruit; someone poisoned the fruit.

Alas, that’s what they all say when caught with their hand in the juice jar, and I can’t imagine all the boys and girls on the beat are buying his denial. Surely a number of them will consider his yardage total ill-gotten. Question is, how many?

News snoops in Good Ol’ Hometown will be the first to pass judgment on Harris and, although we won’t hear from them until late October, I’m guessing some have already discussed/debated the merits and optics of choosing a guy branded a drug cheat as the Bombers MOP and/or most outstanding Canadian.

I don’t think it’s a tough call, though.

Forget that it would be a horrible optic. Awarding the highest individual honor to a player forced to sit down midway through the season due to a drug rap is just wrong.

This isn’t a moral dilemma about the ayes and nays of performance-boosting drugs. I think most people are guided by the same compass in that area, and they’re straightforward against. Thus, it’s a matter of belief. Do news snoops believe Harris’ story about a contaminated supplement? If so, they can vote him MOP with a clear conscience. If not, to vote him MOP is to excuse, if not endorse, performance-enhancing drugs.

It’s my understanding that Harris is a media favorite because he’s accessible, obliging and delivers quality sound bites. But how much does likability come into play in MOP voting? And should favoritism forgive him his sin?

John Bowman and Andrew Harris

Harris tells Ed Tait of bluebombers.com to “look at the facts” in his illegal drug case. “It wasn’t like they found a massive amount. I got tested earlier in the season and there was nothing and then 10 days later there’s a small trace. I’ll be tested for the rest of the season and there’s not going to be anything. It was one game where I had this trace in my system and it was probably my worst game of the year, too.” Harris repeated his “look at the facts” mantra to news snoops in Montreal after Larks D-lineman John Bowman called him a “cheater,” but he seems to be missing the point, which is this: Lab squints found a no-no substance in his pee. That’s the fact. It doesn’t matter if it was a “small trace” or a “massive amount.” Metandieonone was in there. It’s a banned substance. He got caught. Henceforth, suspicion and doubt will dog Harris the remainder of his CFL days, and it won’t be just John Bowman who’s skeptical of his achievements. That, not the two-game suspension, is the real punishment.

Mike Reilly, down again.

How in the name of Jackie Parker and Kenny Ploen has Mike Reilly made it through this CFL crusade in once piece? Angry large lads with malice in mind have beaten the poor man like a rug during spring cleaning, but the B.C. signal-barker is the last of the original starting QBs still standing. He really is the toughest dude in Rouge Football.

That was quite the crowd the Argonauts attracted to BMO Field for their skirmish with the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night: 9,819. Apparently the guy who won the 50/50 draw doesn’t know what to do with his $8.40 windfall.

Just wondering: Why is Mad Mike McIntyre selling subscriptions to the Drab Slab on his Twitter feed? Things must be grim at the broadsheet if they’ve got the scribes peddling papers.

Here’s the kind of stuff I like to see in a newspaper: Justin Emerson of the Las Vegas Sun asked members of the Golden Knights if they believe the U.S. government is hiding E.T. and some of his little green friends at secretive Area 51 in Nevada. Some of the answers are classic.
Head coach Gerard Gallant: “Ya, for sure. I’ve seen a couple in the stands.”
Alex Tuch: “I think we should be more working side-by-side with them instead of keeping them captive.”
Nate Schmidt: “There’s no live ones. Ever see Independence Day? That’s a factual movie.”

According to scientists, there’s been a dramatic decline in the North American bird population in the past 50 years, with a loss of 2.9 billion of our feather friends. If only something could be done to get rid of the Baltimore Orioles.

Talk to the ‘stache.

Some women are playing exhibition shinny in the Republic of Tranna this weekend. Apparently all the major media outlets planned to be there, except Auston Matthews scored a goal on Friday night so they had to interview his mustache.

Actually, Dave Feschuk of Toronto Star scribbled a piece on the women’s Dream Gap Tour a couple of days ago, and he only managed to squeeze three Drake references into his article. I’m quite uncertain what the Tranna Jurassics groupie has to do with women’s shinny, but apparently it’s compulsory for scribes in The ROT to mention Drake in every essay.

And, finally, I don’t think any of us expected Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to be pitching faux woo to one another at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, but the finest of our fancy skaters made their retirement official last week, and that’s sad. What a trip, though. For us.

Let’s talk about the Puck Pontiff not talking…the Winnipeg Jets rumor mill…“ruffled feathers” around the NHL…Vlad the Gifted arrives in The ROT…Harry Potter falling on his sword…those tree-hugging Leafs…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and be advised that this essay is under video review for goaltender interference…

The players (some), the head coach and the general manager have had their say—and the pundits with keyboards and microphones have chewed on the morsels served up—but the voice that matters most has yet to be heard.

That, of course, would belong to Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, co-bankroll of the Winnipeg Jets.

Mark Chipman

It’s a given that change is on its way this summer, and it won’t be as minimal in volume as last year when the GM, Kevin Cheveldayoff, lost Paul Stastny to the Vegas Golden Knights and Toby Enstrom to Sweden before going radio silent. Those two departures left Chevy with a group inferior to the outfit that barnstormed its way to the National Hockey League final four in spring 2018, but, given that eight months passed before he was of a mind to address his needs, it didn’t appear to bother him.

Well, today Chevy has ample bother.

Start with the free agents. He has more of them than Don Cherry has ugly suits. Can’t keep them all, unless Chevy’s bean counters are miracle-working mathematicians, and those he retains won’t come at bargain-bin pricing. Thirty-goal men Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine, along with top-pair defender Jacob Trouba, will line up like oinkers at a feed trough. Snort, snort snort…munch, munch, munch. There goes the salary cap.

Jacob Trouba

Trouba’s iffy status, meanwhile, is a serious challenge. Assuming he refuses to sign long term, do you trade him or risk losing him for nada a year from now? And what do you accept in barter?

Then there are the “ruffled feathers” that head coach Paul Maurice (or someone higher up on the food chain) needs to “flatten out” before autumn. And what of the sourpuss team captain, Blake Wheeler, a belligerent man who emphasizes his shocking distaste for news snoops by telling them to eff off?

Add it all up and Chevy has a plateful of worry, not to mention the potential for an off-season of sweeping, dramatic change.

Before the GM can make a move, however, he requires the okie-dokie from Puck Pontiff Chipman.

Lest there be doubt, I remind you of a remark Chipman made during a Hockey Night In Canada tete-a-tete a few years back.

Patrik Laine

“Chevy and I talk pretty much daily,” he said. “Those are his calls to make, but it would depend on the extent of the term or the quantum of the contract you’re talking about (that) would, to a certain degree, determine the level of involvement that he would require me. The lengthier the deal or the more impactful the deal, the more I would be involved on a consultant basis.”

I’d say signing Puck Finn and Connor to lucrative contracts belongs in the “impactful” file. Ditto any trade involving Trouba. Thus, Chipman has the final say, and that means veto power.

I’m guessing the Puck Pontiff might also have some interesting things to say about “ruffled feathers” and Wheeler’s foul mouth, but none of the boys on the beat have sought his thoughts for the record, or he’s declined to go public. Either way, it’s his voice that matters most and it would be nice to hear it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad Chipman doesn’t do the wingnut thing like that Humpty Harold Ballard wannabe in Ottawa, Eugene Melnyk. But there are times when the Howard Hughes recluse routine doesn’t play well. Like at the end of a season gone wrong. Seems to me that Chipman would want to get in front of the rumors and boorish behavior that are rubbing the squeaky clean off his franchise.

Puck Finn and Adam Lowry: A dustup?

Speaking of gossip, another week and still no hard evidence of a fractured Jets changing room, just friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend rumor of a parking lot dustup between Puck Finn and Adam Lowry, and other alpha male skirmishes.

Don’t run off with the notion that les Jets are the sole NHL outfit wrestling with “ruffled feathers.” For evidence, see James Neal in Calgary. Also see Nazem Kadri, Mike Babcock, Kyle Dubas and Auston Matthews in the Republic of Tranna.

Big Buff

For the record, I don’t have a problem with Dustin Byfuglien and other Jets skipping out on the season-over chin-wag with news snoops. Big Buff, who only mutters something when the moon is full, seldom has anything interesting to offer, and the same can be said for goaler Connor Hellebuyck, who mostly talks about the opponent’s “luck.” Having said that, if Buff is going to wear an ‘A’ on his jersey, he ought to be available.

I don’t know about you, but I got real creepy vibes from the Rink Rat Scheifele-Wheeler segment of the farewell pressers. Not that Rink Rat was asked a lot of questions, but he was in another world, almost to the point of being the alpha dog’s lap dog. It was a bad optic and might have said more than any words that were spoken.

Of all the post-season blah, blah, blah that I’ve read or heard about Winnipeg HC, I found this tweet from former TV guy Joe Pascucci most interesting: “Another concern, of many, I have about the Jets and the changes sure to come this off season is that they’ll become a team that is 2 years away from being 2 years away.”

There was only one thing worse than the horrible cross-checking call on Cody Eakin in Game 7 of the San Jose Sharks-Vegas playoff series—the Golden Knights penalty killing. The Knights can squawk as loud and as long as they like about rot-your-socks reffing, but you can’t surrender four powerplay goals in four minutes.

This is rich. Anthony Stewart, one of the talking meatheads on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central At Noon, thinks Stanley Cup matches on the West Coast should wrap up no later than 9:30 p.m. ET. That way, fans in the Republic of Tranna wouldn’t have to go nighty-night before the finish. Sigh. That would require a 3:30 p.m. opening faceoff on the Left Flank, at which time most folks are still at work or in school. Only someone in The ROT would be obnoxious enough to suggest the rest of us alter our day to satisfy their needs.

So, how did the 22 Sportsnet experts score on their predictions for Round 1 of the Stanley Cup tournament? Can you say F for failure, kids? Here’s the final tally:

Vlad the Gifted

Apparently the Tranna Blue Jays have a new player. What was my first clue? The 11 stories/videos featuring Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on the Sportsnet website main page Saturday morning. I swear, the last time there was this much ballyhoo about a new kid, three wise dudes riding camels showed up bearing gifts. There was no gold, frankincense or myrrh for Vlad the Gifted at his Major League Baseball baptism on Friday night in the Republic of Tranna, but a fawning media showered him with slobber, hype and extreme overkill.

How could I tell the arrival of Vlad the Gifted was a really big deal for news snoops in The ROT? They actually stopped writing and talking about Drake for an entire day.

So who gets the first statue, Vlad the Gifted or Auston Matthews? Inquiring sculptors would like to start their chisels.

Kyle Dubas

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval rating is now lower than Donald Trump’s. Apparently Kyle Dubas will hold a press conference and take the blame for it.

Seriously, has a sports executive ever fallen on as many swords as Dubas did during his season-over gab session with news snoops? I think he took the rap for everything but the rising flood waters in Eastern Canada. Among other things, the Harry Potter lookalike GM of the Tranna Maple Leafs pled guilty to botching the prolonged Willy Boy Nylander contract negotiations, the Game 7 playoff ouster vs. the Boston Bruins, and les Leafs’ wretched penalty-killing units. It’s noteworthy that head coach Mike Babcock did not disagree with any of that.

Initially, I thought it was admirable of Dubas to repeatedly perform harakiri, but his buck-stops-here mantra rang as phony as a politician’s promise when he accepted blame for les Leafs’ penalty killing woes. You could see his nose growing as his lips moved, and I’m pretty certain that his pants were also on fire.

Brian Burke

Loved Brian Burke’s take on the Dubas-Babcock tandem: “They’re both Greenpeace guys. They don’t like rough hockey, they don’t like tough hockey, they don’t like mean hockey, they want skating, skilled guys.” I don’t know about you, but I think it only fitting and proper that a team named Leafs should be run by tree huggers.

And, finally, when does Burke replace Don Cherry on Curmudgeon’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada? We all know it’s going to happen, so get on with it.