Midweek musings on the edge of a fresh National Hockey League season…
There was good news and bad news at the NHL’s roster cut-down deadline this week. The bad news is that Joe Thornton’s chin whiskers became a casualty. That’s right, the San Jose Sharks forward had his mountain-man beard hacked off. The good news is that they discovered Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart’s airplane and a golf ball that Tiger Woods lost at last summer’s U.S. Open under all that scruff.
Looks like Seattle will be awarded an expansion franchise for the 2020 NHL season. Reaction to the news in Ottawa was swift: “Can we get one, too?”
You know that tired lament about how no one notices the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown? About how anyone who works and plays in River City flies under the radar? About how life sucks because everyone in the eastern time zone is tucked snugly into bed by the time they drop the puck out in the colonies?
Well, you wanted recognition for the Winnipeg Jets? You’ve got it.
Les Jets de Winnipeg have been in more headlines this week than anyone not being considered for a seat on the United States Supreme Court. They’re getting buzz from one of our two national newspapers, the Globe and Mail. They’re getting buzz from Yahoo! Sports. The “insiders” at Sportsnet are buzzing about our local hockey heroes. ESPN is boffo on les Jets. NBC/NBCSN will feature les Jets five times on Wednesday nights. Online and sports books in Las Vegas are bullish on Winnipeg HC.
Cripes, man, there’s even Jets buzz on TSN, where they could be found on the main page of the website on Tuesday morning. In three different headlines.
When I saw that, I immediately called up the Weather Channel.
“Is it true?” I asked a young woman who answered the phone.
“Is what true?” she replied.
“Has Hell frozen over?”
“By Hell, do you mean Ottawa and the Senators?”
“No. I mean Hell as in Hell. You know…Satan, hissing, misery, suffering, eternal inferno. That wretched place.”
“Sounds like Ottawa and the Senators to me. But if you mean the biblical Hell, the usual warm front persists and remains parked over most of it. Why do you ask?”
“Because TSN has three mentions about the Winnipeg Jets on the main page of the website and there’s nada—bupkus!—about TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. They can’t possibly start a day without slobbering over Johnny Rotten, so I figure it can only be one of two things: 1) I overslept and it’s late November; 2) hell has frozen over.”
“No,” she assured me, “you didn’t sleep in and snowballs still don’t have a hope in Hell. Trust me, you and everyone else will know when Hell has frozen over.”
“There’ll be a Stanley Cup parade on Yonge Street in Toronto.”
According to the pundits hither and yon, Winnipeg HC, while not everyone’s flavor of the month, figures to be a very prominent player in its eighth crusade since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011.
Les Jets, who commence their 2018-19 journey vs. the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night, are listed at No. 2 on the TSN power rankings, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Those ratings, by the way, are determined by five talking heads—Ray Ferraro, O’Dog Jeff O’Neill, Craig Button, Jamie McLennan and Darren Dreger.) For its part, Yahoo! Sports ranks Winnipeg HC fifth, behind Tampa Bay, Nashville Predators, San Jose and the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.
Over at Sportsnet, meanwhile, 16 “insiders” are gaga for les Jets. * 9 pick them to win Stanley Cup;
* 10 pick them to win Western Division;
* 11 pick them as the Canadian outfit with highest points total;
* 1 (Kristina Rutherford) picks Blake Wheeler to win Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player;
* 5 pick Connor Hellebuyck to win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.
At The Athletic, 47 scribes/editors weighed in on the upcoming season and les Jets are the second favorite to cop the Cup; Puck Finn is the overwhelming pick to win the Rocket Richard Trophy; Connor Hellebuyck is the second choice for the Vezina; and even the head coach, Paul Maurice, is feeling the love as co-favorite to be named coach of the year (with Peter DeBoer of San Jose).
Not since the World Hockey Association have we witnessed such pre-season hype for Winnipeg HC. Those WHA outfits delivered the goods. We’ll know about these Jets in about nine months.
Interesting take on les Jets from Dave Shoalts of the Globe and Mail:
“Everybody has fallen in love with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the team to break Canada’s 25-year Stanley Cup drought. But it might just be the Winnipeg Jets who accomplish that. The Maple Leafs may be the darlings of the oddsmakers, but the Jets are big, fast, skilled and better than the team that went to last spring’s Western Conference final.
“With that experience under their belts, the Jets are now poised to take the next step. Their top line of centre Mark Scheifele and wingers Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor is one of the best in the league. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck played his way into the top tier of goaltenders with his work in the playoffs. At 25 years of age he, like his teammates, is only getting better.”
A couple things to peel away here:
I’m not convinced this Jets outfit is “better than the team” that lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final. The departure of Paul Stastny tells me it isn’t. Unless Bryan Little has a bounce-back season or Jack Roslovic is a revelation, Winnipeg HC is weaker at centre ice.
Hellebuyck, meantime, was terrific during a burdensome regular season and early in the playoffs. He did not, however, play admirably in the five-game ouster vs. Vegas. He was sketchy and Marc-André Fleury outperformed him by a wide margin, despite his repeated mantra that “luck” was Fleury’s greatest ally.
Another Monday morning and more weekend leftovers…
I don’t know about you, but I find the takes from jock journos covering the same event interesting and, often, humorous due to their conflicting content.
Consider, for example, the much-anticipated introduction of Kawhi Leonard to those who detail the goings-on of the Toronto Raptors. News snoops and opinionists in the Republic of Tranna waited 68 days to lend an ear to this reportedly reclusive man with the guarded thoughts and numerous National Basketball Association citations on his resumé, so there was considerable anticipation when he was trotted out as their main chew toy on media day last week.
And what did we learn about Leonard, who sat at a table with teammate Danny Green and Raptors bossman Masai Ujiri? Well, I’ll let the scribes tell it in their own words.
Here’s Michael Grange of Sportsnet: “In less than 30 seconds much of the myth around Leonard as the NBA’s icy Howard Hughes was put to rest. Leonard’s words struck exactly the right tone. He didn’t deflect, nor did he pretend, he stated the facts plainly and clearly.”
Here’s Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “He said as little as possible, as quickly as possible, without facial expression, mostly looking down, without a whole lot of warmth. At Leonard’s introductory media availability he scored as the third-least interesting person at a desk of three people. Leonard was available because he had to be there and with no real hint of what next season will bring.”
Here’s Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star: “Kawhi Leonard was finally unveiled as a Toronto Raptor on Monday. He smiled, did you see? He actually smiled. And that laugh! That creaking, awkward, charming laugh. On the other hand, sometimes he was expressionless, and Kawhi Leonard’s resting face mostly looks like that of a man contemplating the sea on the horizon, wondering whether he will ever escape this cursed island, or whether he is doomed. (He gave) reasonable answers to questions that can’t really be answered right now.”
Here’s Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “The first words out of his mouth—“I’m a fun guy”—were said in such a dreary monotone that there were a few titters in the audience. Then people realized he was serious. Leonard’s affect was so wooden, verging on pained, that Green jumped in to say, apropos of nothing: “He’s having a good time up here.” Leonard stared at Green like he’d only just realized he was speaking English.”
So, to sum up: Kawhi Leonard is a wooden, dreary, emotionless, cold, uninteresting, reclusive man, except when he’s being a reasonable, charming, laughing, available good-time Charlie, and he says all the right things, except when he isn’t saying all the right things.
It’s like these four guys went to the same John Wayne western and couldn’t decide if he was the bad guy or the good guy (for the record, the Duke is always the good guy, even when he’s the bad guy).
Whatever the case, it should make for fun times on the hoops beat in The ROT this winter.
Most conflicting, yet accurate, comment following the Leonard presser was delivered by Simmons, who wrote: “In the big picture, the basketball picture, none of this means anything. Podium performances don’t win basketball games.” True that. So why crank out 1,000 words to crap all over Leonard if it all meant nothing?
Actually, Simmons seems to have a serious issue with athletes who don’t deliver what he considers boffo sound bites. Here’s what he wrote about Connor McDavid in late August: “He is all genius on the ice—and the best person on earth, as Sherry Bassin calls him—but a little tight and a touch uncomfortable when confronted by cameras and lights and microphones and anyone who wants to know his opinion of anything that is hockey. He is still just 21 years old, still a kid in many ways, still playing the part of the robotic, say-nothing hockey player. It’s a safe place to be. But really, wouldn’t you like to know what he thinks about his team and about anything else in hockey? He is bright and opinionated and thoughtful until the cameras come on.” For the record, jocks don’t owe news snoops a damn thing.
I can’t be certain, but I’m thinking old friend Rod Black had an orgasm while describing Johnny Manziel’s play Sunday afternoon in Montreal. He probably had a cigarette when it was all over. Seriously. I think Blackie out-Suitored Glen Suitor, heretofore the main groupie in TSN’s Cult of Johnny. More than once he excitedly referred to the Alouettes starting quarterback as “Johnny Canadian Football!” He informed us that this was Johnny Rotten’s “breakout!” game. Based on what? He made two extraordinary plays. In the entire match. Only nine of his 16 wobbly passes were caught. For a paltry 138 yards. There were eight starting QBs in the Canadian Football League this weekend: Seven of them completed more passes. For more yardage. And he’s still Johnny 0-Fer, meaning he’s yet to win in four starts (the guy he replaced, Antonio Pipkin, was 2-2). But because two of his completions went for TDs, it was all Johnny this and all Johnny that with Blackie. My ears wanted to get up and walk out of the room. It was awful and painful.
Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…
1. Calgary (11-2): Business as usual.
2. Saskatchewan (9-5): Big day for QB Zach Collaros.
3. Ottawa (8-5): One of the many Jekyll and Hyde teams.
4. Hamilton (7-7): No dumb coaching this time.
5. Winnipeg (7-7): Where’d that D come from?
6. Edmonton (7-7): Wrong time for a trip south.
7. B.C. (6-7): Really, really bad.
8. Toronto (3-10): Playing out the string now.
9. Montreal (3-11): Awful in both official languages.
I took five minutes to check out Alessia Cara on Google. Nice voice, nice singer, serious set of eyebrows. I’m sure the youngsters in the audience will enjoy her performance during recess time at the Grey Cup game next month.
Stumbled upon this incredible exchange between a chap named Tim Monteith and Damien Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star on Twitter:
Monteith: “Hey Damien what’s the reasoning behind no coaching in a tennis match? Just seems silly to me?”
Cox: “Individual sport. The challenge is being out there on your own without a coach. Like track. Like golf. Like boxing. Like swimming. Figure it out yourself.”
Is Cox for real? Boxers don’t get advice from their corners during a bout? Golfers never consult with their caddies about which club to use? About yardage? They never assist them in reading a putt?
In the words of John McEnroe: You cannot be serious!
Overheard this exchange during my once-a-week visit to my local watering hole: Guy 1: “Everyone wants Tiger Woods to win one more tournament.”
Guy 2: “He’s as good as the older guy, what’s his name?”
Guy 1: “Arnold Palmer?”
Guy 2: “No, not a dead guy. An older guy.”
Yes, the National Hockey League should throw the book at Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals for his dangerous head shot on St. Louis Blues Oskar Sundqvist. Unfortunately, the NHL “book” on discipline is the size of a pamphlet.
And, finally, with the 2018-19 curling season nicely underway, you might want to check out Jason Bell’s piece in the Winnipeg Free Press on the revamped landscape in Manitoba. It’s good, informative stuff.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
There’s something you all should know about Dave Shoalts. He’s a funny guy. Has a standup comedy gig on the side when he isn’t scribbling essays for the Globe and Mail or writing books. Did I mention he also has brain farts? Yup. Big, bold, brutal brain farts.
I mean, voting Taylor Hall as the best centre-ice man in the National Hockey League this past season? And the best left winger? There you have it, kids. A big, bold, brutal brain fart.
Like, what part of C and LW do you not understand, Shoaltsy?
If only Shoalts’s stinker was a one-off in NHL awards voting by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. But no. It was among many.
I direct your attention to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Yo! Jimbo! What did you do, pull a Rip Van Winkle and sleep from October through April? I mean, are you really trying to tell us that Clayton Keller and Alex DeBrincat had better freshman years than Mathew Barzal? That’s like saying Messi is having a better World Cup than Ronaldo.
And what’s your excuse, Gann Matsuda? Was the shinny season nap time for you, too? Seriously. Yanni Gourde is your idea of the top rookie in the NHL? Yanni freaking Gourde?
And here I thought Yanni was that Greek guy who makes the music we listen to while stretched out in a dentist’s chair.
It’s not as if the rabble needed another reason to think of jock journalists as free-loading, poorly dressed, overweight, overpaid, know-nothing nincompoops, but Shoalts, Thomas, Matsuda, John Dietz, Roy MacGregor and a few others surely have given it to them with their bizarro-world NHL awards balloting.
The boys and girls in the PHWA had one simple job to do this past NHL season: Stay awake and pay attention. It’s not like anyone was asking them to solve the mystery of the Caramilk chocolate bar. Or to make sense of Donald Trump. Their assignment: Watch hockey games for approximately seventh months; take note of special performers and their numbers; when one of them (Barzal as an e.g.) operates in a higher orbit than his peers, vote for him when you receive your year-end awards ballot.
In the case of Barzal, his 85 points for the New York Islanders, when stacked against the tally of any other frosh, look like Zdeno Chara standing beside Brad Marchand. Thus, voting for him as rookie-of-the-year was your basic no-brainer. Unless your name is Jim Thomas, Gann Matsuda (Frozen Royalty), John Dietz (Arlington Daily Herald) or Roy MacGregor (Globe and Mail).
Those four saw it another way. Somehow, they were of the belief that Barzal’s season was like the tree falling in the forest. It didn’t really happen.
Well, okay, they all had Barzal’s name on their Calder Trophy ballots. I’ll give them that much. But they must have thought his 85 points paled in comparison to Keller’s 65. Or Yanni’s 64. Or Brock Boeser’s 55. Or DeBrincat’s 52.
Yo! Kids! A lower number is good in golf, Hearts and at your bail hearing, but not so much for hockey players whose job it is to score.
Let’s try and stay awake next season, mooks.
Back in the early 1970s, Stealers Wheel had a great hit,Stuck in the Middle with You, which included the lyrics, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right.” Hmmmm. Sounds like some of the PHWA membership. Sure, the majority of them got it right in voting for the season-end awards, but the Bozo quotient is too high when 43 news snoops—forty-freaking-three!—think someone other than Connor McDavid is the premier centre-ice man in the NHL. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but did McDavid’s peers not award him the Ted Lindsay trinket (for the second time) as the premier player on the planet last Wednesday? Yup, they sure did. Yet a sizable chunk of PHWA voters believe they know more than NHL players. Forty-three of them did not—repeat, did not—vote for the league scoring champion as the all-star centre. Worse, seven of them, including the aforementioned Dave Shoalts and the regrettable Gann Matsuda, failed to include the Edmonton Oilers captain on their all-star ballot. That’s like leaving the Pope off an all-Catholic list. It’s like leaving Pinocchio and Sarah Huckabee Sanders off an all-fibbers list. Once again—mooks!
Sports scribes are quick to call out athletes/coaches/managers/owners and even fans for the slightest misstep, peppering their targets with insults and catty condemnation. They’ll dismiss bloggers as talent-challenged oafs, with stereotypical references to mom’s basement. But…they seldom call each other out. They won’t eat their own. Thus, we shouldn’t expect to hear a print hit man like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna hurling nasties at his good friend and former roomie Shoalts for his blundering in PHWA voting. Fortunately, we have bloggers and the social media mob to carry out public floggings, and Shoalts has taken a deserved paddywhacking.
Quick takeaways from the NHL awards gala at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Glitter Gulch on Wednesday: That was easily a two-dozen-Kleenex show, and I’m quite uncertain how Christina Haugan got through her speech without weeping, because she had me bawling like a baby. Christina is the wife of Darcy Haugan, the Humboldt Broncos head coach who perished along with 15 others in April’s bus tragedy. Standing on stage in front of 10 of the crash survivors, Christina accepted the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award on behalf of her husband, and her words and message were beautiful…The tributes to victims, survivors and first responders of the Parkland, Fla., and Las Vegas shootings were also moving and tear-inducing moments, as was Masterton Award-winner Brian Boyle’s speech. All tastefully done…
Was it just me, or did anyone else think Boyle looked like a 1970s lounge lizard with his slicked-back hair, mustache and shiny suit? Or maybe he looked like a bad TV game show host. I can’t decide…Are those two doofuses who introduced P.K. Subban as cover boy of NHL 19 supposed to be funny? Apparently known as On the Bench and something of a hit on YouTube, if they’re hockey’s version of the McKenzie Brothers it doesn’t work for me…Nice touch to trot out Scott Foster, accountant by day and emergency goaltender by night. He played seven minutes for the Chicago Black Hawks one evening in Chitown last season and shut out the Winnipeg Jets…Hockey Hall of Famer Eric Lindros hasn’t missed many meals in retirement. He’s a big boy. Same can be said for Jim Belushi, presenter and teller of bad jokes…Kind of strange watching Pekka Rinne accept the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender, given how he struggled in the playoffs…Illusionist Darcy Oake was hit and miss. His Lady Byng Trophy card trick flopped, but his knife-throwing card trick was boffo.
So, this is what passes for a big trade in the NHL these days: A 19-goal forward for a nine-goal forward. Be still, my beating heart. I don’t know if the Montreal Canadiens or Arizona Coyotes got the better of the deal that has Max Domi swapping a zip code for a postal code and Alex Galchenyuk doing the reverse, but I wonder if les Canadiens have a clue. Shouldn’t they be adding size to their roster, not garden gnomes?
This from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “When he was a kid, Max Domi wore the number 13 in minor hockey in honour of Mats Sundin. Then, after being diagnosed with diabetes, he changed to number 16, as a tribute to Bobby Clarke. Now that he’s in Montreal, he couldn’t wear 16 because it’s retired for Henri Richard and Dickie Moore.” Wrong. Once again Simmons displays a lack of knowledge of 1950s and ’60s-era hockey. Dickie Moore wore No. 12, not 16, for les Canadiens. No. 16 is retired in honor of Pocket Rocket Richard and Elmer Lach, not Moore. Like his buddy Shoaltsy, I suppose Simmons will write off his gaffe as just another brain fart.
Mike Hoffman called Ottawa, San Jose and Sunrise home in less than 24 hours last week, with the Senators shipping the toxic forward across the continent to the Sharks and the Sharks flipping him back across the continent to the Florida Panthers, but here’s what I want to know: Is there any truth to the rumor that Hoffman’s fiancé, Monika Caryk, has a no-movement clause and must stay in Ottawa?
Barry Trotz walking away from his Stanley Cup-winning gig in Washington was a ballsy move. I mean, people said the former Capitals coach would land a job before Alex Ovechkin stopped partying, but it’s not like the NHL is Motel 6 when it comes to vacancies behind the bench. There was exactly one job opening for a head man. Had Lou Lamoriello of the New York Islanders not reached out to rope him in with a four-year contract, Trotz would have been SOL. His next coaching gig might have been a year from now, or he might have appeared on our flatscreens next autumn. So, like I said, ballsy move by the Dauphin native.
Apparently, Egypt scored its first World Cup goal since 1990 on Tuesday. Not to be outdone, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have discovered their first quarterback since 1990. Yes, for the second successive start, rookie Chris Streveler did boffo business behind centre in Winnipeg FC’s 56-10 rag dolling of the Montreal Alouettes on Friday night. So, memo to Darian Durant: Stay home, keep the money.The Bombers are doing just fine without you, thanks.
I have become convinced that only three things are forever open: Heaven, hell and Duron Carter’s mouth. My goodness, the man never gives his gums a rest. They flap more than goose wings in migration season. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but if I have a notebook or a microphone and I’m on the football beat in Saskatchewan, I’m sticking close to the Roughriders receiver/cornerback.
Milt Stegall, TSN talking head, on Carter moving from receiver to cornerback against the Ottawa RedBlacks on Thursday night: “I would be very surprised if Duron Carter is beaten by some big plays. I’d be more surprised if he doesn’t make any big plays.” D’oh! Diontae Spencer scorched Carter for a 56-yard touchdown, and his pass interference and illegal contact penalties led to another Ottawa TD. On the plus side, Carter had a pick six.
Kate Beirness and her big hair made their debut as host of Thursday Night Football on TSN, with resident natterbugs Hank Burris, Matt Dunigan and Stegall providing the backup vocals, and I’m not sure if it’s still a football show or bad vaudeville. I mean, the pre-game shtick included Brodie Lawson doing grunt work in the gym; the same Brodie Lawson as a wannabe lumberjack wielding a chain saw; Beirness and Kate McKenna dancing and discussing naked men on the football field; and a silly feature on the President of Touchdowns, Naaman Roosevelt. At halftime, Beirness was shaking her bones on the dance floor again (this time with the boys), and an unremarkable band sang two unremarkable songs. I was left to wonder why Hank, Matty and Milt were there. Hey, I’m all for fun and off-beat stuff, but this was simply lame.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
It’s easy to examine Winnipeg FC’s first frolic of this fresh football crusade and file it under ‘same old, same old’ because, let’s face it, Richie Hall’s defence looked like Richie Hall’s defence.
Which is to say, the Blue Bombers D-men couldn’t stop a sniffle, let alone Mike Reilly.
I mean, when it came down to the short strokes on Friday morning at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, Reilly and his Edmonton Eskimos offensive accomplices gobbled up land like Homer Simpson working on a box of Timbits. They covered more real estate than the first settlers to bring their ox carts to the Red River Valley. You know, just like last November, when they turned a spirited argument into a rout by rag dolling the Bombers defensive dozen to the tune of 28 points in fewer than 15 minutes.
So, ya, when the Eskimos seized victory in the final grunting of the 2018 Canadian Football League curtain-raiser, it was like a recurring nightmare.
This was no ordinary skirmish. The game began on Thursday and ended in the small hours of Friday. It took them five hours and 40 minutes to complete 60 minutes of football. There were two lengthy, thunder-and-lightning delays that kept the large lads in their changing rooms, nibbling on munchies and chilling, for just shy of three hours. By the time the boys gathered to grab grass and growl for a third time, there was no grass to grab. The field looked like the Lake of the Woods. They could have sold cottage lots.
Thus, I’m reluctant to measure this match in any substantial way. Except one: Rookie Chris Streveler can play.
Although on the south side of a 33-30 score, Streveler provided ample evidence to suggest the longest manhunt this side of D.B. Cooper is over. The Bombers have found a quarterback.
Hey, I’m not prepared to say Streveler will make anyone forget about Kenny Ploen or Dieter Brock, but three touchdown tosses and some serious lickety-split in his stride are a noteworthy start. He could become the first in-house discovery to put his footprint on the CFL landscape since the Bombers brought Danny McManus north of the border in 1990.
Let’s just hope Streveler has more patience than McManus.
Danny Mac, remember, grew weary of holding a clipboard for Tom Burgess and Matt Dunigan, so he felt obliged to get out of Dodge and take his talents to the B.C. Lions after three seasons of mop-up duty in River City. Similarly, Streveler retreats to the backup role once the main man, Matt Nichols, returns from the repair shop in about a month. Nichols isn’t going anywhere. He’s only 31 and locked in through 2019. So, barring owies to Nichols, where is Streveler’s opportunity to start?
I’m not saying it will be deja Danny, but I’m guessing that Streveler is inclined to become something more than a career backup QB.
Where did everybody go? Aside from the weather, the sourest note struckat the Bombers-Eskimos to-and-fro was the official head count at Football Follies Field—just 25,458. That’s less than all but two home dates last season and 4,707 fewer than the 2017 home opener. It’s also down 5,096 from the Eskimos’ visit last August. Not sure if that downsizing has resulted in fretful, furrowed foreheads in the Winnipeg FC ivory tower, but it should. That’s a lot of lost revenue.
I always find media takes on Bombers games interesting. A case in point would be the scribblings of Paul Friesen and Paul Wiecek in the aftermath of the Bombers-Eskimos joust that droned on for five-plus hours.
Here’s Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun: “There was enough good in the marathon, 33-30 loss to Mike Reilly and the Edmonton Eskimos that it strangely felt like something of a moral victory for the Big Blue. The most important thing we learned is the loss of starter Matt Nichols for the first month might be survivable. With real victories. Not just moral ones.”
Here’s Wiecek of the Drab Slab: “How can a defence this good on paper still be that lousy on the field? The answer, of course, is that for all the changes made to the defence in the off-season—an upgraded secondary, defensive line and the addition of maybe the best middle linebacker in the game, Adam Bighill—the guys at the top remain the same, head coach Mike O’Shea and defensive coordinator Richie Hall. At some point, someone in authority down at Investors Group Field is going to have to figure out that the problem with this Bombers defence isn’t the players, it’s the scheme. It’s a long season and there is still plenty of time for redemption. But at some point, if Hall cannot figure out a way to make a defence this good on paper play a lot better than that on the field, he has to go. And if O’Shea cannot figure that out, then he should be the one to go.”
My take on those two takes? One game into an 18-game season and Wiecek is already writing about heads rolling? Tough crowd.
So, I’m watching the the Calgary Stampeders double down on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 28-14, on Saturday and I’m thinking, “Okay, how in the name of Joe Theismann is TSN going to make this about Johnny Manziel?” I mean, the Tabbies starting QB, Jeremiah Masoli, put up some handsome numbers before his singular d’oh moment sealed the deal. Johnny Rotten, meanwhile, never set a cleated foot on the playing field at McMahon Stadium. He was an observer, just like any lump sitting on a bar stool. Manziel was a non-story. Totally. Except TSN decided he was a story, with three headlines on the website main page and two videos, one of which featured Milt Stegall in a barking-dog role:
Manziel sits in Tiger-Cats’ opening loss.
Masoli shines in Tiger-Cats’ loss, keeps Manziel at bay.
What does Mazoli’s performance mean for Manziel?
Sigh. I believe Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said it best in a chin-wag with Eric Francis of Postmedia Cowtown: “Any guy in the league that has already earned that respect is probably tired of hearing about him. That’s just truthful.”
So nice to see Kirk Penton’s byline appearing in The Athletic. When he was among the small stable of sports scribes at the Winnipeg Sun, Kirk became the best football beat writer in Canada, give or take young Eddie Tait, who went from the Sun to the Winnipeg Free Press to his role today as scribbler of quality stuff at bluebombers.com. The rag trade lost two very good people when they defected.
Phil Mickelson cheated, like a petulant, weekend hack. He should have be turfed from the U.S. Open on Saturday. Instead, he was allowed to soldier on after deliberately striking his moving ball lest it should roll off the 13th green at Shinnecock Hills in New York and add to the embarrassment of his inflated score. He then laughed, smirked and basically gave tournament officials and critics the finger, telling them to “toughen up.” He confessed that he’d thought of doing this very thing on numerous occasions, even at the Masters. One can only imagine how the humorless men in the ugly green jackets at Augusta National would have dealt with Mickelson had he pulled his sophomoric, unsportsmanlike stunt on their pristine, hallowed grounds. I’m guessing he’d have been on his way home faster than you could say, “Y’all never did see Arnie or Jack doing that.”
My first red card of the World Cup goes to John Doyle. Straight-shooting TV critic at the Globe and Mail, Doyle tends to stray from his comfort zone and join the kids in the sandbox whenever he sees Ronaldo or Messi playing footy. And so it was that he offered this nugget of nonsense last week: “Christine Sinclair is the best soccer player, male or female, this country has produced.” On a stupid scale of 1-to-10, that hits tilt! It’s like saying Nickelback is Canada’s greatest musical export. An argument can be made that Sinclair is our best-known soccer player, but to submit that she’s our finest player is an insult to Dwayne De Rosario, Owen Hargreaves, Craig Forest, Jason De Vos, Alphonso Davies, Atiba Hutchinson, Alex Bunbury, Brian Budd, Bob Lenarduzzi and so many others who would dribble circles around her. Back to your flatscreen, John.
I keep hearing that some dude named Robbie Williams flipped the bird to a global TV audience while performing “a slew of his hits” at the World Cup opening ceremony. Should I apologize if I have to ask who Robbie Williams is? Seriously. Never heard of him until he extended his middle digit, so I Googled him and discovered that he looks like the personification of middle-age crisis.
Did you know that you have Donald Trump to thank for bringing the World Cup to a North American stadium near you in 2026? Yup. President Tarrif tweets: “Thank you for all the compliments on getting the World Cup to come to the U.S.A., Mexico and Canada. I worked hard on this, along with a Great Team of talented people.” In related news, Trump also claims to have coached the Washington Capitals, played quarterback for the New England Patriots and will caddy for the winner of Sunday’s U.S. Open golf tournament.
Once again, I wonder if Steve Simmons reads the alphabet farts he produces for Postmedia Tranna before he hits the send button. I say that because of a tweet he posted on Friday after the Ottawa Senators suspended assistant manager Randy Lee, who, after an early-June incident, faces a charge of second-degree harassment for allegedly making lewd comments and rubbing the shoulders of a 19-year-old shuttle driver at the National Hockey League combine in Buffalo. “What took so long?” Simmons asked. Yet, when the CFL punted Euclid Cummings of the B.C. Lions after it was revealed that he’d been charged with two counts of sexual assault, one count of assault and one count of uttering a threat to cause death or bodily harm, Simmons wrote this: “Don’t like the fact the CFL voids contracts after players are charged with a crime. Being charged is one thing. Being convicted is another. CFL shouldn’t play judge and jury here with people’s lives.” So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Simmons believes a guy who allegedly touched another man’s shoulders and made lewd remarks should be out of work immediately, but a guy who sexually assaulted a woman and threatened her with death should still be working. Wow, just wow.
Interesting discussion on Hockey Central at Noon last week, whereby the natterbugs went off on the nasty social media spat featuring Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman of the Senators and their main squeezes, Melinda Karlsson and Monika Caryk.
The Karlssons have been subjected to the most vile bullying, including death wishes and accusations of drug use by Melinda and hopes for a career-ending injuries for Erik.
John Shannon wanted no part of the to-and-fro, but host Daren Millard and Damien Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star had at it. Not surprisingly, Cox made an ass-clown of himself, basically blaming victims of cyber bullying.
“I think the one thing about social media that we’re learning more and more and I think all of us have experienced, you can only be cyber bullied to some extent if you allow yourself to be,” he said. “If you go on social media, if you participate in social media, if it’s something that’s important to you, then you are vulnerable to that. If you say, ‘I’m not gonna have anything to do with that,’ then you’re not as vulnerable.”
In other words, if you step outside your house and get hit by one of the many stoned or drunk drivers on our roads it’s your fault because you stepped outside your house.
“Erik and Melinda (Karlsson) are a brand, they have the right to be on social media,” Millard said.
“They also have to recognize the dangers of social media,” Cox countered.
And yet Sportsnet, which trumpets its anti-bullying/harassment police and recently dismissed baseball gab guy Gregg Zaun for that very thing, keeps putting Cox on their air. Wow, just wow.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
It’s Darian Durant’s fault. A pox on his house for taking the money and running to retirement!
It’s Joe Mack’s fault.
The statute of limitations hasn’t run out on Sleepy-Eye Joe’s stupidity, has it? Nope. So, whenever the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ universe isn’t unfolding as it should, the former general manager and everyone’s favorite whipping boy is still fair game for blame. He’s the reason the Big Blue will begin their 2018 Canadian Football League crusade with a starting quarterback on training wheels.
I mean, think about it.
Had Sleepy-Eye Joe reeled in Mike Reilly in 2013, we wouldn’t be talking about Matt Nichols’ wonky wheels and a QB pool that has all the depth of an Archie-Jughead plot line. Well, would we? Reilly, after all, is Marlboro Man rugged, even when he’s wearing one of his funny, little hats. He’s voted annually by his peers as the toughest hombre in the three-down game, and he hasn’t missed a beat due to an owie since the first week of September 2015.
The sad thing is, Mack could have had Reilly for a song.
The sticker price the B.C. Lions listed for Reilly was a swap of second-round picks in the 2013 CFL college draft, plus a second-rounder in ’14. The Edmonton Eskimos were willing to pay it. Mack didn’t even want to kick the tires. Sleepy-Eye Joe remained convinced and confident that Buck Pierce was the answer at quarterback, and his backup plan was putting the legendary Justin Goltz behind centre. Or Max Hall.
As history records, that worked out about as well as New Coke.
To say Pierce was injury prone is to say Bill Gates has a bit of money. When fit enough to actually start a game, they didn’t strap a play chart to Brittle Buck’s left wrist. It was an IV needle. He didn’t survive the first month of the ’13 season, leaving various body parts and what was left of his marbles strewn on the field.
That QB fiasco, among other things, cost Mack his job generally mismanaging the Bombers, and Pierce finished that season in B.C., from whence he came. He’s now an assistant coach in Pegtown. No word on the whereabouts of Goltz and Hall, but I suspect they’re asking customers if they’d like fries with their Big Macs and Quarter Pounders.
As for Reilly, well, I’m sure you’re familiar with his story after the Eskimos lured him away from the Lions: Grey Cup champion and Grey Cup game most valuable player in ’15; CFL’s most outstanding player in ’17; two-time West Division all-star; one-time league all-star. And, perhaps most significant, Reilly is still with the Eskimos. No drive-thru orders for him. He’ll be barking signals and gutting it out on Thursday night when the Green-and-Gold engage the Bombers in a season-opening frolic at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.
Reilly remains the ‘what could have been’ and ‘what should have been’ for the Bombers. That’s Sleepy-Eye Joe’s legacy.
None of the above is meant to disparage Nichols. Hey, he’s a tough dude, too. And he’s a keeper. Trouble is, he’s developed a most curious habit of falling down without being touched. His left leg caved on him in a game last October, and his right leg collapsed in a training session last week. Officially, he’s run out of legs that work properly. This, of course, is where Durant was expected to fit in. The Bombers paid the veteran QB $70,000 up front to serve as a safety net, thus, with Nichols in the repair shop for as few as four weeks and as many as six, it would have been his show. Alas, instead of playing catch with an interesting array of receivers, Durant is at home changing his new-born daughter’s dirty diapers, and the Bombers are unlikely to grovel at the feet of man who jilted them on the eve of training camp and trolled them on Twitter. Would Durant be an upgrade on Alex Ross, Bryan Bennett or Chris Streveler, the three lads who auditioned for the starter’s role on Friday night against the Lions in Vancouver? Naw. When last seen, which is to say with the Montreal Alouettes in 2017, Durant seldom delivered a pass without the football bouncing once or twice before landing at a receiver’s feet. He’s spent.
Welcome to TJMN—The Johnny Manziel Network, formerly known as The Sports Network. Seriously. TSN has gone loopy over Manziel. Last week, following a CFL debut that consisted of nine completed passes and zero points, TSN featured nine—count ’em, nine!—Johnny Rotten videos. One video per completion. Sunday morning, after he was good on a dozen of 20 pass attempts (including a TD toss), there were five more Johnny Rotten videos on the main TSN web page. They also featured something called Johnny Football Watch. All that for a guy who won’t start a game for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats unless Jeremiah Masoli is wounded or implodes.
Can you say undécima, kids? Rafael Nadal can. His 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 paddywhacking of Dominic Thiem in the men’s singles final Sunday was his 11th French Open title, and I can’t think of an athlete—in any sport—who is more dominant than the muscular Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros. What the Spanish maestro has accomplished in Paris is insane. He’s 86-2. Eighty-freaking-six and two! Nobody goes 86-2. Except the Harlem Globetrotters, and their games are as rigged as a Vegas slot machine. Nadal on clay is a one-off. Never seen anything like him. Never will. (By the way, here’s the answer to the trivia question: Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic are the only two men to have beaten Nadal at Roland Garros.)
The Big Four in men’s tennis is no more, but the Big Two remains. While Andy Murray is MIA and Djokovic is trying to sort out things in his head, if not other parts of his body, the younger generation of hot-shot racqueteers can’t kick Nadal or Roger Federer to the curb. Each of the 30somethings has won three of the past six Grand Slam championships and, Federer’s allergy to red clay notwithstanding, there’s no sign of surrender in either man. One suspects Wimbledon will be another episode in the Rafa-and-Roger show. All of which means the distaff side of tennis is much more intriguing. Check it out: In the past six GS tournaments, there have been six different champions—Serena Williams, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep. Wimbledon will be another complete crapshoot, even if a healthy Williams joins the field.
On the subject of great champions, 45 years to the day that Secretariat completed horse racing’s Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes, Justify romped wire-to-wire at Belmont to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. But let’s provide some perspective. Justify ran the mile and a half in 2:28.18 on Saturday. Secretariat did it in 2:24.0 in 1973. In other words, Secretariat would have beaten Justify by more than 20 lengths. Big Red’s Belmont victory (he won by 31 lengths) remains the single greatest sporting achievement I have witnessed.
Starring in the role of grumpy grandpa this week is Toronto Star and Sportsnet gasbag Damien Cox. On the heels of the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup conquest of the Vegas Golden Knights, Alex Ovechkin and the boys have been tooting about in full celebratory mode, carousing and fussing and sharing the moment with the rabble on the streets of D.C. Oh, they’ve also been drinking. How positively scandalous. And that just won’t do in Damien’s delicate, little world. There’s no room for random, unharnessed merriment. Or booze. “Rafael Nadal won his ELEVENTH French Open today,” Cox tweeted in a pious, tsk-tsking tone Sunday morning. “No video yet of him drunkenly rolling around in a public fountain because apparently some believe that’s how champions should behave.” Well, excuuuuuse the Capitals for having fun. I wonder if Damien Cox awakens some mornings and regrets being Damien Cox.
Social Note: It must be spring because sports power couples keep popping up. Not so long ago, noted flinger of footballs Aaron Rodgers and fast-car driver Danica Patrick were observed canoodling in public, and now it’s hockey’s diving diva, P.K. Subban, and Lindsey Vonn, glam gal of the ski slopes and one-time main squeeze of golfer Tiger Woods. Don’t know if going from putters to pucks is a dating step up or a step down for Vonn, but she probably won’t get any late-night calls from P.K. asking for bail money. (For the record, my fave sports power couple is Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe, with Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi a close second.)
I note that a Connor McDavid rookie card recently sold at auction for $55,655. That’s a lot of coin for a small hunk of cardboard. But it made me wonder if kids still stick trading cards in the spokes of their bike wheels. Better question: Do kids still ride bikes, or are they too busy texting each other?
Zero female athletes appeared on the Forbes list of the top 100 money-makers in sports for the first time, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The annual Forbes 100 is based on earnings from June to June, a period of almost total inactivity in 2017-18 for Serena Williams, who slotted in at No. 51 a year ago with total income of $27 million. Her haul this time around was $18M, all via endorsement deals. Maria Sharapova, meanwhile, once was a regular on the Forbes 100, but, after being caught with her hand in the illegal-drug jar, some sponsors abandoned her and she has yet to return to championship form. Sharapova is hardly a pauper, though. Her estimated worth is well in excess of $100 million.
And, finally, an interesting albeit indelicate quote from the elegant Garbine Muguruza, who, after routing the equally elegant Sharapova, 6-2, 6-1, in the French Open, described the five-time Grand Slam champion as “an old-time player.” Ouch. Sharapova just turned 31.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football. Johnny Magic. Johnny Be Good. Johnny Rotten. Johnny Backup. Johnny TMZ.
By any name, it’s all Johnny all of the time, and even media giants in the Republic of Trump are taking notice of our quirky brand of football now that Johnny Manziel is using his hands for something other than providing fingerprints for police, hoisting shot glasses and hitting women.
Indeed, ESPN and USA Today dispatched news snoops to Timbits Field for Manziel’s debut with the home-standing Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night, while other outlets—Dallas Morning News, NBC Sports, New York Daily News, New York Post, etc.—have been dutifully recording his every move since he became the Canadian Football League’s latest American reclamation project.
Manziel, of course, was a total washout with the Cleveland Browns in the National Football League. He was even more of a washout as a human being. Drugs. Booze. Bar brawls. Beating up women. Arrests. A grand jury. Court appearances. We need not go into the gory details. Suffice to say, he was Prince Charming like Roseanne Barr is Miss Manners. He was, by numerous accounts, a snot-nose rich kid.
So now that someone has tidied him up, Manziel is on our side of the great U.S.-Canadian divide, at his Last Chance Saloon, and the media are on a feeding frenzy.
Manziel did nothing extraordinary as a backup quarterback in the Tiger-Cats loss to the Toronto Argonauts on Friday night. He flung the football 11 times, with nine completions for 80 yards and zero points on the board, but Johnny Ordinary still appeared at the top of the page on the TSN website—with nine freaking videos! Sportsnet had him at the top as well, with two videos. He made the ESPN front page. Ditto USA Today. Also the Dallas Morning News. He was the lead football story on the New York Post website. Etcetera.
And let’s be clear here: This was a flipping exhibition football game, the most mind-numbing, sleep-inducing exercise in sports! Manziel was the backup QB! In a flipping exhibition game!
The sports media has lost whatever was left of its mind.
I don’t think Manziel should be in the CFL. You beat up a woman, you don’t qualify. But, hey, I didn’t get a vote. Just like I didn’t get a vote when they allowed bad actors Dexter Manley, Lawrence Phillips and Ricky Williams to cross the border back in the day. Is the CFL really so desperate that any player with a salable name is welcome, regardless what it says on his rap sheet? And are jock journos so desperate for a story that they gleefully play along with the CFL’s folly?
Totally dumbest comment about Manziel was delivered by Matt Dunigan, the CFL on TSN gab guy who talks like he’s still in a locker room. After Manziel’s do-nothing performance, Dunigan absolutely gushed, saying, “On the off-script plays, boy, it’s magic, it’s Flutie-esque.” Oh FFS. He actually compared a backup QB to Doug Flutie, arguably the best player in CFL history. Shut the hell up, Matty. At least Milt Stegall was honest in his assessment of Manziel. “Not bad,” the Hall of Fame receiver said.
The absurdity of the Manziel fixation reached its peak when Matthew Scianitti of TSN took to Twitter last week and posted a play-by-play account of the backup QB’s performance—complete with passing statistics—in practice. Seriously? Play-by-play and passing stats from a training exercise with the Ticats second team offence and defence? You might want to think about getting a life, Matthew.
Speaking of overhyped athletes, Danica Patrick has taken her leave from the world of fast car racing, and she did so, perhaps appropriately, in a mangled wreck on the 68th lap of the Indianapolis 500. The bottom line on her exaggerated, 13-year career behind the wheel: 307 starts, one victory (1-for-116 in IndyCar, her sole victory coming in a skeletal, 18-car field in 2008; 0-for 191 in NASCAR with zero top-five finishes and only seven top-10s). If she led either series in anything, it was self-indulgence and hissy fits. She was never involved in an accident that she couldn’t blame on another driver. “More than anything I just hope they remember me as a great driver,” Patrick said prior to the Indy 500. Nope. Doesn’t work that way. Many framed the GoDaddy girl as a pioneer who would lead other women to the race track, but it simply hasn’t happened. Unfortunately, she was Anna Kournikova with Quaker State motor oil under her fingernails.
Had Serena Williams won the French Open, she wouldn’t have broken new ground as a Grand Slam-winning mama, but she would have been in select company. Margaret Court became the first mother to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament in the open era, claiming the Australian, French and U.S. Opens in 1973, a year after giving birth to her first child. Another Aussie, the graceful and delightful Evonne Goolagong Cawley, won the Aussie Open the same year (1977) she gave birth to her first child. And Kim Clijsters gave birth to the first of her three children in 2008 and won the U.S. Open the following two years and the Australia Open in 2011.
I suppose this is treasonous to say, but I have great difficulty watching our guy Denis Shapovalov play tennis. Bouncing the ball between his legs and bouncing on the balls of his feet before every serve is mildly annoying, but his fist-pumping after every winning point is too much. I swear, that boy is going to suffer a nervous breakdown right on court.
Canada’s gift to Glitter Gulch, songstress Celine Dion, is so excited about the Vegas Golden Knights being in the Stanley Cup final that she wore a team jersey during a recent performance. Trouble is, she forgot to put on the rest of her clothes. Nice legs, though.
Is anyone actually watching the National Hockey League championship series between the Golden Knights and the Washington Ovies? I must confess that I tuned out the moment les Jets de Winnipeg were ushered out of the Stanley Cup runoff. Haven’t watched a minute of the final. If I had any rooting interest, it would be behind the Washington bench, where Barry Trotz paces. He’s a homebrew who cut his coaching teeth at the University of Manitoba and with Dauphin Kings in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
How do we know the Jets had a successful season? Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice had less to say at their exit chin-wags with news snoops. Last year, general manager Chevy and Coach Potty-Mouth held separate gab sessions and flapped their gums for a total of one hour, 14 minutes and 22 seconds. This year, they sat side-by-each. Total chin-wag time: 0:32:20.
Jets very capable defenceman Jacob Trouba tells the rabble that his desire is to remain in Good Ol’ Hometown for the long haul. “The quicker the better,” he told news snoops when asked about signing a long-term deal before they drop the puck next autumn. Paul Wiecek says he’s a liar. Yup. Says Trouba’s pants are on fire. Says he’s a regular Pinocchio. “I was struck how excited everyone was that Trouba told reporters he really wants to stay in Winnipeg and play for the Jets,” Wiecek wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press. “For the record, that is the exact same thing Trouba told me at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in 2016—a week before his agent announced he wanted out and Trouba proceeded to hold out for four weeks of the 2016-17 season. Trouba told reporters what they wanted to hear this week—his agent will be telling Chevy something very different, which is that if the Jets want to lock down Trouba for years to come it is going to cost them, big time.” Little wonder the relationship between athletes and scribes is often adversarial.
Worth repeating: “We have some good young players,” Chevy said in April 2017. “We will make the necessary steps and necessary decisions to keep those good young players. That’s been our promise, that’s been our mandate, that’s been something we’ve said since day one. And that day is coming.” That day is here, Chevy.
Someone might want to give Dan Lett a lesson in local hockey lore. The political scribe at the Freep, Lett had this to say in a recent siss-boom-bah, rah-rah-rah piece about the Jets and Winnipeg “Before they bolted for Arizona, the previous incarnation of the Jets was a source of frustration and, at times, embarrassment. There were some good teams, but they always fell to teams from cities that seemed larger, more successful, more complete. Our second-rate team seemed to reinforce the idea that Winnipeg was a second-rate community.” Yo! Danny boy! That “second-rate team” won three World Hockey Association titles. I suppose Lett can be forgiven, though. He’s from the Republic of Tranna. What could he possibly know about championship hockey?
Seriously? Evander Kane signs with the San Jose Sharks for $49 million over seven seasons? For real? He’s never had a 60-point season. He’s scored 30 goals once. He’s.never played an entire 82-game schedule. Kane, now 27, just completed his most productive season, with 57 points. By way of comparison, Kyle Connor of the Jets ( 31-26-57) did that as a 20-year-old rookie. Twig Ehlers, 22, already has two 60-point seasons and two 82-game seasons. Puck Finn has had 64- (36 goals) and 70-point (44 goals) seasons as a teenager. Rink Rat Scheifele, 25, has had three 60-point seasons and a 32-goal season. They all collect less coin than Kane. Either Chevy is a genius or Sharks GM Doug Wilson is a fool.
Okay, officially the Tranna Blue Jays are no longer a baseball team. They’re a novelty act. I mean, Russell Martin playing shortstop? Kendrys Morales pitching? “We really don’t have a true shortstop on the team,” says beleaguered manager John Gibbons. That’s a fine job Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins have done since since defecting from Cleveland to take the wheel of our country’s Major League Baseball outfit. They’ve turned an American League East Division champion into a clunker in less than three seasons.
Donald Trump tells National Football League players who kneel during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner that “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. Or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” I’ll agree that kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful only when I see people in pubs put down their pint mugs and stand when they’re watching a game on TV. And how many guys haul their big butts off the sofa to stand for the anthem at home? None that I know.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
When the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, purchased his new play thing in 2011, he turned his eyes due south, directly toward Twang Town U.S.A., and found himself a role model for his team to be named later.
“The Nashville Predators,” he mused. “I wanna be just like those pesky Predators.”
Now, it’s quite unlikely that the Puck Pontiff spilled those exact words, but he did confirm that the plan for the outfit he later named Winnipeg Jets was (still is?) to follow the blueprint laid out by Nashville, now in its 18th National Hockey League season and still winners of exactly nothing.
“That may sound strange to people in Winnipeg,” he supposed.
Yup. Strange like hiring Justin Bieber as a life coach strange. Strange like wanting to dress like Don Cherry strange. I mean, Nashville is like that Dwight Yoakam song—guitars, Cadillacs and hillbilly music. With a whole lot of Hee Haw and the Grand Ole Opry tossed into the mix. But hockey? Come on, man.
“They’ve done it methodically,” the Puck Pontiff advised news snoops in springtime 2012, “they’ve done it by developing their players and they’ve done it with a consistency in management and philosophy…I think but for a couple of bounces that team could have a Stanley Cup banner hanging under their rafters.”
“That team” he spoke of so fondly failed to qualify for the next two Stanley Cup tournaments, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a misguided notion.
The point is, the Puck Pontiff likes to think of his fiefdom as Nashville North sans Dolly, Carrie and Little Big Town, so, with the Predators awaiting a dance partner in the Western Conference final for the first time in club history, let’s take a look at them to see if they tell us anything about the Jets.
The Predators were built from scratch, as a 1998 expansion team. They missed the playoffs their first five crusades.
The Jets were a pre-fab outfit built in Atlanta, but the Puck Pontiff operated it like an expansion franchise, gutting the management side down to the studs. They’ve missed the playoffs in five of their six seasons.
The Predators have known just one general manager, David Poile, who learned at the knee of Cliff Fletcher in Calgary then earned his chops as GM of the Washington Capitals for 15 years.
The Jets have known just one (official) general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, who apprenticed under Stan Bowman in Chicago and has done the Puck Pontiff’s bidding for six years.
The Predators have had two head coaches, Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette. Poile didn’t ask Trotz to leave the building until 15 years had passed.
The Jets have had two head coaches, Claude Noel and Paul Maurice. It only took about 15 months before Noel was asked to leave the building, but it’s apparent that the Puck Pontiff is prepared to stay the course with Coach Potty-Mouth for 15 years.
The Predators, under Poile’s direction, preached the draft-and-develop mantra from the outset.
The Jets talk about nothing but draft-and-develop.
The Predators can be found in the lower third of the pay scale.
The Jets can be found in the lower third of the pay scale (if not at the bottom).
So there are your commonalities: Methodical, consistent, patient, steady-as-she-goes, loyal (to a fault for the Jets) and frugal.
Where do the Predators and Jets part company? In the GM’s office.
Poile is unafraid to deliver bold strokes. He dared to send a first-round draft pick, defenceman Seth Jones, packing in barter for Ryan Johansen, the top-level centre he required. He shipped his captain, Shea Weber, to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for flamboyant P.K. Subban. He somehow pried Filip Forsberg out of Washington in exchange for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. His captain, Mr. Carrie Underwood, and James Neal came via trade. Yannick Weber is a free-agent signing.
By contrast, Cheveldayoff is only allowed to make significant troop movements when backed into a corner (see: Kane, Evander; Ladd, Andrew).
So what do the Predators teach us about the Jets? Well, if the locals follow the Nashville Model to the letter, we can expect to see meaningful springtime shinny at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie as early as next season. As for arriving in the Western Conference final, put in a wakeup call for 2030.
In rooting through archives, I stumbled upon a most interesting discovery: Once upon a time, the Puck Pontiff spoke to his loyal subjects. Honest. Chipman actually stood at a podium and did the season-over, chin-wag thing with news snoops in April 2012, at which time the city was still in swoon and the rabble didn’t much care that there’d be no playoffs. He has since become Howard Hughes, hiding himself in a room somewhere, no doubt eating nothing but chocolate bars and drinking milk. I found one remark he made at the 2012 presser to be rather troubling: “I don’t want to give the impression that I’m managing our hockey team, ’cause I’m not. That’s what our professionals do.” I wish I could believe that he allows the hockey people to make the important hockey decisions, but I can’t.
I note the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are looking to branch out into another sport and secure a franchise in a proposed Canadian pro soccer league. Ya, that’s just what Winnipeg needs—more dives.
Carolina Hurricanes have had goaltending issues. Ditto the Dallas Stars. Double ditto the Jets. So ‘Canes GM Ron Francis uses a third-round draft choice to acquire the rights to Scott Darling, then signs him to a four-year contract. Stars GM Jim Nill uses a fourth-round pick to secure the rights to Ben Bishop, then lock him in for six years. The Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, do nothing. Don’t you just hate the sound of crickets?
I look at the Ottawa Senators, who ousted the New York Rangers from the Stanley Cup derby on Tuesday night, and I mostly see smoke and mirrors. Yes, they have Erik Karlsson, the premier player on the planet at the moment, and Craig Anderson often provides the Sens with stud goaltending. But beyond that, it’s largely a ho-hum roster. Where is the stud centre? You don’t win championships without a stud centre. At least not since the New Jersey Devils. My guess is that the Senators’ fun is soon to end.
Here’s one way of looking at this year’s Stanley Cup tournament:
Genie Bouchard proved nothing with her win over Maria Sharapova at the Madrid Open this week, except that she can beat a player who had been away from elite tennis for almost a year and a half. And that she can’t win gracefully. I don’t like rooting against Canadian athletes, but our Genie has become increasingly difficult to embrace. Branding Sharapova a “cheater” and suggesting she ought to be banned for life due to a drug violation is good copy, but surviving a second-round match and acting like you’ve just won Wimbledon because you have a hate-on for your opponent is bad form.
Bouchard claims that a number of players on the Women’s Tennis Association tour approached her on the QT prior to her match with Sharapova, wishing her bonne chance. Simona Halep of Romania was not among those women. “I didn’t wish good luck to Bouchard because we don’t speak, actually,” Halep advised news snoops. “She’s different, I can say. I cannot judge her for being this. I cannot admire her for being this. I have nothing to say about her person.” Ouch.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, whichmeans she is old and probably should think about getting a life.