Top o’ the morning to you, Gary Bettman.
Well, looks like there’s not much fight left in your desert dogs, although I’m sure there’s still some fight left in you.
If we know anything about you, Gary, it’s that you’ve got a stubborn streak as wide as the Grand Canyon and as long as the Gila River, and you won’t give up on the Arizona Coyotes until there’s no more cacti in the Sonoran Desert.
But the good people of Tempe have given up on the Yotes, turning thumbs down to a proposal for a fancy schmancy entertainment district that would have featured a swanky, new barn for everyone’s favorite National Hockey League punch line.
So what’s your next move, Gary? You’re the NHL commissioner. Are you prepared to let Coyotes ownership cry uncle and flee the desert, or do you want to throw another dart at a map of Arizona and find another loser home for your skating vagabonds? You’ve already tried Phoenix and Glendale and Tempe. I swear, you’ve covered more ground in Arizona than Geronimo. So how about Yuma? Casa Grande? Flagstaff? Tombstone?
Hey, maybe that’s the ticket, Commish Gary. You can have them set up shop in Tombstone, next door to the OK Corral. You can track down one of Wyatt Earp’s ancestors and have him drive the Zamboni. You can reenact the shootout between the Earp brothers/Doc Holliday and the Clantin and McLaury boys during intermission. That was 30 seconds of bullets flying but mostly missing the target, kind of like the Winnipeg Jets offence.
Now that I’ve mentioned the Jets, Gary, I probably don’t have to remind you that you still wear the black hat in Good Ol’ Hometown.
Oh, yes, many among the rabble remain properly PO’d because you allowed their beloved hockey team to skip town and pitch tent in Arizona in 1996. Since then they’ve watched you grant the Coyotes more second chances than a Catholic in a confessional, and they don’t understand why you failed to show the same heels-dug-in zeal for Winnipeg. Not even the arrival of Jets 2.0 in 2011 soothed all souls. You’re the bad guy. Forever.
I don’t share their anger, Gary. At least not totally.
I remember what it was like back in the day when little, old ladies were signing their pension cheques over to Save the Jets funds and, at the same time, school urchins were busting up piggy banks and donating their nickels and dimes in the hope of keeping Keith Tkachuk and Teppo Numminen in town.
I also remember that the Ol’ Barn On Maroons Road was as shabby as a playoff beard, the Canadian dollar was worth about 15 cents US, and Barry Shenkarow couldn’t find any local business tycoons willing to pony up and take a lost cause off his hands.
What choice did you have, Gary, except to help orchestrate a sale to outside interests who believed there was more appetite for hockey in the Arizona desert than hockey on Our Frozen Tundra? I understood, but was it necessary to cackle like a nincompoop while the moving vans rolled out of River City. That was harsh, man. Bad optics. And it’s the reason you’re a pariah in Pegtown.
Anyway, here’s what I’m thinking now, Commish: You can do the right thing and end the buffoonery, but you won’t. You’ll continue to permit the Coyotes to frolic in rinky-dink Mulletthead Arena, a college rink that accommodates fewer than 5,000 customers, and you’ll turn over every desert stone in search of a new Arizona home before you tap out.
In the final reckoning, though, you’ll cry uncle. You’ll convince team bankroll Alex Meruelo that there are more suitable locales for your vagabonds.
All the usual suspects have been mentioned, Gary—Houston, Kansas City, Salt Lake City, Atlanta (seriously?), Southern Ontario and, of course, Quebec City, which has the kind of rink you were looking for in Tempe. But I think we all know you aren’t interested in a Ville de Quebec redo and we know the reason why—too close to the North Pole.
You know, once upon a time a return of the Yotes to Good Ol’ Hometown was a romantic notion, and we’re told it almost came to be before Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and Jets co-bankroll David Thomson settled on Door No. 2 in 2011, the Atlanta Thrashers. It would have been poetic.
Alas, it’s all part of the “what if?” lore of the Jets-Coyotes franchise, and we’re left to wonder where the lineage goes from here.
I just hope you find a proper zip/postal code for the Coyotes, Gary.
Oh, there’s one more thing: For gawd’s sake, get them a rink that isn’t named after a bad haircut.
I lowered my eyelids long before Matthew Tkachuk’s 4OT goal in Game 1 of the Florida Panthers-Carolina Hurricanes Stanley Cup skirmish the other night, but I understand Ron MacLean spent part of one intermission talking about Blackbeard and pirates. Sigh. Apparently his history lesson tonight will be Circus Clowns: Weary Willie’s Influence On Don Cherry’s Wardrobe.
When I was a kid, I thought OT games sucked because I wasn’t allowed to stay up late and watch. Now I think OT games are boffo because I’m in bed long before Ron MacLean starts talking about pirates.
How long was the Game 1 Florida-Carolina overtime? Well, by the time Tkachuk scored the winning goal, I’d woken up six times to take a pee.
You know we’re fully into the silly season when news snoops are playing pretend GM and proposing trades that are about as likely as finding Wayne Gretzky’s rookie card in a Crackerjack box.
Take Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star, as an e.g. He figures it would be a swell idea for the Jets to ship Connor Hellebuyck, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Twig Ehlers to The Republic of Tranna for Mitch Marner and Ilya Samsonov.
“Hellebuyck is a Vezina-worthy goalie who could teach Joseph Woll a lot, while Dubois—a restricted free agent with arbitration right —is the closest player to Matthew Tkachuk on the trade market,” he fanticizes. “The risk for the Leafs is extensive. Hellebuyck ($6.166 million) has one year left on his deal and Dubois is an RFA hoping for a trade to the Montreal Canadiens. If not, he’ll sign there as an unrestricted free agent in 2024-25. So they’d be loading up for one year only, although Ehlers—drafted one spot behind Nylander—is the long-term play. The Jets are looking not so much to rebuild but to recalibrate. Samsonov is a restricted free agent who can be a No. 1 goalie. Getting him to sign an extension with the Jets would be the only way this works. The Jets might also look for one or two NHL-quality young players who are far from unrestricted free agency. Think Timothy Liljegren or Pontus Holmberg.”
Hey, I get it. Speculation can be a fun part of the jock journo gig. It gets tongues flapping. But it would help if it involved at least a teaspoon of logic rather than a bucket full of fairy dust and unicorns. I mean, why would the Jets want Marner? They already have enough guys who don’t score in the playoffs.
Some interesting stuff from Murat Ates in his two–part survey of the Jets faithful for The Athletic. For example, 78.4 per cent of nearly 1,000 respondents are convinced Winnipeg’s latest crusade was “a success.” Say what? Crawling into the Stanley Cup tournament as the eighth seed and surrendering meekly to the Vegas Golden Knights warrants an “atta boy” from the faithful? Meantime, 81.4 per cent gave them a passing grade of either B or C. Apparently those fans nodded off in class, because they missed the part about the Jets being a .579 outfit on the season. According to the Manitoba provincial report card, that’s a D+ grade, meaning, “limited understanding and application of concepts and skills.” That sounds about right to me, so I give the Jets faithful an F for their Bs and Cs.
Also of note in Murat’s findings: 77 per cent want Rink Rat Scheifele on the next stage coach out of Dodge, 68 per cent want a new postal/zip code for Blake Wheeler, and 60 per cent want to see the back of Dubois’ head. Tough crowd.
A 55-year-old professor at the University of South Florida, Joseph Dituri, has established a world record for living under water, passing the old mark of 73 consecutive days, and he plans to stay submerged at the bottom of a lagoon in the Florida Keys until Day 100 on June 9. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I mean, the Maple Leafs have been treading water for 56 years.
Kidding aside, Dr. Deep Sea’s mission is a serious bit of business. Every breath he takes, every step he takes and every move he makes under water is being monitored and put under a microscope. You know, kind of like being GM of the Maple Leafs.
Things that make me go hmmm, Vol. 2,155: Cops have collared the cad who allegedly stole two of the ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. The shoes were pilfered in 2005 and recovered in a 2018 FBI sting operation, but no culprits were identified until last week. When swiped, the slippers were insured for $1 million, but today they’re valued at about $3.5 million. Hmmm. A pair of stinky sneakers worn by NBA star Michael Jordan in the 1998 NBA final sold at auction for a record $2.2 million last month. Does that make him the Wizard of Odour Eaters?
Rafa Nadal won’t play Paris later this month, and that saddens me. Rarely have we seen dominance in any sport greater than Nadal on the red clay of Roland Garros. He won 14 French Open titles and the only men to better tennis’ King of Clay in 115 matches were Novak Djokovic, twice, and Robin Soderling. That’s right, Rafa was 112-3. The only comparable I can think of is Secretariat’s gallop in the 1973 Belmont Stakes, which was a beast of another kind.
So, I turned on the Toronto Blue Jays-New York Yankees skirmish the other night just as the Go Yard Yankee, Aaron Judge, gave a sideways glance toward his first base coach, or the dugout, during an at-bat against Jay Jackson. To my shock, that prompted Blue Jays natterbugs Buck Martinez and Dan Shulman to suggest something fishing was going on—i.e. cheating. “You don’t wanna go throwing allegations around without knowing, but…” said Shulman. But nothing. Shulman and Martinez implied that Judge, who now has 13 dingers on the season, was cheating, even though no evidence existed to support such a claim against Major League Baseball’s reigning home run king. The commentary was as shoddy as Jackson’s next pitch, which Judge whacked 431 feet for another stroll around the bases.
Take me out to the ball game! Yes, the Winnipeg Goldeyes are back doing their thing at the beautiful Ball Yard By The Forks, and 5,736 ball fans were there Friday night to see the Local Nine whup Lake Country DockHounds 10-4 in the home opener. But it wasn’t just winning baseball on the menu—apparently there’s also something called a Grand Slamwich at Goldie’s Grill, and it’s Code Blue waiting to happen. Not to be confused with Denny’s Grand Slamwich (scrambled eggs, crumbled sausage, bacon, shaved ham and Canadian cheese on potato bread grilled with a maple spice spread and served with hash browns for $16.29), the Goldie’s Slam consists of four meat patties, four slabs of cheese, four chicken fingers, four strips of bacon, two butterflied hot dogs, nacho cheese, crispy onions, spicy ketchup, all served on garlic bread for $60. Defibrillator paddles and paramedics with a working stomach pump are extra.
It’s about fans booing Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka at the PGA championship yesterday: What’s the big deal? Athletes hear catcalls in every sport, so why should golfers be exempt?
There are numerous reports that James Harden wants out of Philly to play hoops for an NBA team with “a competitive roster and the basketball freedom for the star to be himself.” Translation: “My ego is too big to share the floor with MVP Joel Embiid, so I’m going to stomp my feet and take my ball and beard back to Houston.”
So, they packed ’em in at Wembley Stadium for the Manchester United-Chelsea women’s FA Cup final, with a head count of 77,390. That’s a world futbol record for a female domestic club match. Meantime, in The Republic of Tranna, 19,923 folks crammed into Scotiabank Arena for a WNBA friendly between Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx. Makes me wonder what the Premier Hockey Federation and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association are doing wrong, since their games attract only friends and family. Oh wait. I remember now. They’re too busy fighting each other to do what’s right for Ponytail Puck.
And, finally, Reba McEntire will replace Blake Shelton as a coach on The Voice next season. And I can’t believe I mentioned those two in the same sentence. One is a legendary country singer, the other has fooled a whole lot of people.