Let’s talk about the aging of the Winnipeg Jets…to Tokyo in denim…Aaron Rodgers’ sticky notes…MLB grappling with lack of sizzle…old friend Big Jim takes a paddywhacking…Canadian Football Hall of Fame gets it right…what about Tricky Dick Thornton?…nightmare on TSN…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and still no word on the if and when of a CFL season, but here’s something else that’s real iffy…

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:

“I believe we’re close to having a team that has a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup, and I’m really looking forward to that…we’re a lot closer than some people will give us credit for…I look forward to these next five years.”

Sound familiar? It should.

Blake Wheeler said much the same as Adam Lowry scant seconds after scratching his John Hancock on a six-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets.

Blake Wheeler

“I believe in people like (owner) Mark Chipman and Chevy, what everyone stands for and especially in my teammates. I have believed since I got here that we have what it takes to get to the next level, so this is just a part of that process. I truly believe that great things are in store for this group,” the then-future captain told news snoops.

Wheels was 26 at the time. There will be 35 candles on his birthday cake in August.

Lend an ear to Rink Rat Scheifele who, upon agreeing to an eight-year contract in 2016, expressed a robust belief in “the organization, in the players on the team, in the future prospects.”

The Rink Rat was 23. He’s now 28.

Connor Hellebuyck, the Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, locked in for six years and said, “The tools are in this locker room to be a championship team. I love it here and I want to be here and I really believe this team has what it takes.”

Hellebuyck was 25. He turns 28 next month.

Adam Lowry

And now we have another long-hauler, Lowry, parroting his teammates’ faith in a process that began in 2011 and has delivered the grand sum of two post-season series victories, both in the spring of 2018.

Lowry is 28. The freshly minted contract he signed on Friday will take him to 33.

So what’s my point? Just this: Unless your name is Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine or Jack Roslovic, the Jets have all gulped down the Kool-Aid in a cultish-like obedience. They believe. And that’s the reason what went down at last week’s National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline rankles.

We know Kevin Cheveldayoff kicked some tires on top-four defencemen, and we know the sticker price sent the Jets general manager running like a guy trying to stay two steps ahead of a loan shark.

We can assume his contemporaries were eager to fleece him and take Ville Heinola, Cole Perfetti and other shiny objects off his hands in exchange for their lame, halting and hard of seeing, but that was never going to happen because Chevy places premium value on his young studs. You might have a better chance of prying his bride, Janet, and their two kids away from him.

Chevy

So it was no sale. Chevy allowed the NHL trade window to close with a whimper, and the Jets are no closer to the Stanley Cup today than a week ago, unless you consider a bottom-end, plug-in blueliner (hello, Jordie Benn) a shiny object.

Oddly enough, many among the rabble, also some news snoops, have given Chevy a tip of the chapeau and a slap on the back for his do-little day, because he “protected assets,” meaning he clung to young wannabes Heinola, Perfetti and others like gum to the bottom of a shoe.

Well let me tell you something about assets: They don’t stay forever young.

Chevy is protecting the future when most of the parts are in place for today’s Jets team. Add the right top-four defender and we might be talking about a parade route. But the Jets GM chose to stand still, even as time refuses to stand still for his significant core workers.

Wheeler’s prime years have been wasted. Scheifele and Hellebuyck are into prime time. Same with Lowry, Andrew Copp and Dylan DeMelo. And don’t look now, but Josh Morrissey is 26.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Which begs this question: If the Jets GM was unwilling to go all-in now, when?

This was the time for derring-do, an opportunity for Chevy to orchestrate what could have become his signature moment, lifting the Jets to that “next level” Wheeler spoke of all those years ago.

Well, here’s something else the captain said, when he re-upped in September 2018: “It kind of looks like that (Stanley Cup) window is opening up.”

Apparently Chevy missed the memo.

I don’t know if the GM will reflect on this crusade five years from now and view it as the one that got away, but Blake Wheeler might. Rink Rat Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and others like Lowry who’ve committed long term might, as well.

Chevy should be kicking himself. Right in the assets.

Something Bryan Little said when the Jets’ playoff aspirations had been dashed in March 2017 is haunting: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now. That’s the thinking going into next year.” Little was 29. He’s now 33, wounded beyond repair, and there is no next year. Not for him. But why must it always be “next year” for Scheifele, Hellebuyck, Lowry et al?

As I was saying last week, I don’t buy into the Jack Campbell hype that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna have been spreading like thick, gooey peanut butter. He’s been a career backup goaltender for a reason, and Maple Leafs loyalists are beginning to see why. For all their talent, the Leafs are vulnerable in the blue paint, whereas Hellebuyck gives the Jets the best puck stopping in the Hoser Division (yes, including Carey Price). And we all know what that means when the boys begin to play for keeps, which is the very reason Chevy shouldn’t have dithered last week.

I don’t know about you, but I’m digging the threads our Canadian athletes will be wearing for the closing ceremonies at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, if there is a Tokyo Olympics, that is. Ya, sure, you can say the denim jacket looks like a teenage graffiti artist had a moment of madness, but I look at it more as a stroke of genius. There’s a youth-cool vibe to the kit, something you might wear on a pub crawl, or wherever it is that our young people go these days. It’s totally boffo compared to the get-ups that noted needle-and-thread guy Ralph Lauren designed for our American friends. I can’t tell if he’s dressed the U.S. team for the next space shuttle mission or an expedition to the South Pole.

I’ll take nose-pickers for $2,000, Alex. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed his gig as guest host on Jeopardy!, and he let us in on a little secret about the sticky notes he used to aid his performance. One of them read: “Don’t pick your butt/nose.” Seriously. He needs a sticky note to remind himself not to pick his nose on camera? And the Packers trust Rodgers to call audibles in the red zone?

Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy.

Apparently, producers of Fox NFL Sunday were so impressed with Rodgers’ work on Jeopardy! that they plan to equip Terry Bradshaw with sticky notes to improve his work:
1. “Remember, this ain’t Hee Haw.”
2. “Powder shiny head during every commercial break.”
3. “Do not mention gap in Michael’s teeth.”
4. “Do not laugh at Howie’s 1950s haircut because at least he has hair.”
5. “Resist all urges to muss up Jimmy’s hair.”
6. “Do not tell Rob Riggle he isn’t as funny as Frank Caliendo.”
7. “Remember, guy sitting beside you is Curt, not James.”
8. “Jay Glazer is human, he just looks like a garden gnome.”
9. “Mention four Super Bowl rings whenever Jimmy mentions two Super Bowl rings.”
10. “When in doubt, always refer to sticky note No. 1.”

Favorite headline of the week was delivered by the New York Post: “How Yankees can address their crappiness.” Anything that combines New York Yankees and “crappiness” is right by me, although I’m sure George Steinbrenner’s son Hal wouldn’t agree.

If your product needs to add some sizzle and pizzazz, who you gonna call? Well, Major League Baseball has called Brian Stedman, now responsible for strategy and development. That would be the same Brian Stedman who, for the past seven years, carried the sizzle-and-pizzazz portfolio for Vince McMahon’s cast of characters in World Wrestling Entertainment. That will be quite an adjustment for Stedman. I mean, the play actors in wrestling are allowed to hit each other with everything including the kitchen sink, but the Yankees can’t hit anything.

Old friend Big Jim Bender took a bit of a paddywhacking on Twitter last week, after he made a flippant remark about the Brendan Bottcher foursome failing to win a trinket at the world curling championship but securing an Olympic berth for Canada. “Was the very least they could do,” Big Jim wrote. The Pebble People pounced. Darren Moulding, third on the Bottcher team, called the former Winnipeg Sun scribe “a joke,” adding, “You’re a stain on our country, not me.” Harsh. Olympian and TSN talking head Cheryl Bernard weighed in, describing Bender’s comment as “crap.” Oh my. Who knew the delightful Cheryl could be so undelightful? Anyway, not that he plans to call me to the stand as a character witness, but let the record show that Big Jim is a friend of curler’s everywhere. He’s spent more time in chilly two-sheeters than most people I know, so, as Strother Martin told Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Rachel Homan

Speaking of Pebble People, Rachel Homan played in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title match on the final day of February while eight months pregnant. She then went home to bring daughter Bowyn into the world, and now the former Canadian/world champ has returned to the fray, skipping her team in the Humpty’s Champions Cup just three weeks after giving birth. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard won’t be available to the L.A. Clippers today because he needs a rest—after sitting the last four games. I swear, if men could get pregnant and give birth, there would be no male sports.

Nobody asked me, but I’d say the selection committee for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame got it right when they chose Marv Levy, Nik Lewis, Will Johnson, Mike Walker, Orlondo Steinauer, Don Wilson and Doug Mitchell as this year’s inductees. These things are always ripe for debate, of course, and we usually hear some squawking whenever a sports body salutes the best of the best, but I don’t hear any arguments about the class of 2021, nor should there be.

And that’s not to ignore broadcasters Bernie Pascall and Bob Hooper, who got the nod from the Football Reporters of Canada and will go into the CFHF media wing. Hooper was a long-time Hamilton Tabbies play-by-play voice, and Pascall’s career chatting about Rouge Football on radio and TV spans decades. Unfortunately, Bob’s not around to enjoy the honor, but Bernie’s still with us, so he has something fresh to talk about with the neighbors on beautiful Vancouver Island.

Ashley Prest

The CFHF media wing is the ultimate boys’ club. By my scorecard, there are now 101 members, all men. Yup, 101-0. I realize there haven’t been a lot of women on the beat, but in my 19 years covering the Canadian Football League in three cities (Winnipeg, Calgary, Republic of Tranna), I can recall sharing a press box at Grey Cup games with Ashley Prest of the Drab Slab and Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal. Ashley also knew her way around the University of Manitoba campus to cover coach Brian Dobie’s Bisons, and there might be some high school grid in her resumé, too, because that’s what most of us did back in the day. We started at the bottom and worked our way up. So it seems to me that the boys on the beat should find room for trailblazers like Ashley or Joanne.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna has made his annual plea for Dick Thornton’s induction to the CFHF, and I can’t disagree with Sy. Tricky Dick certainly has the bona fides, including two Grey Cup victories with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and multiple all-star salutes, and he also happens to be one of the more colorful characters in CFL lore. Legendary Bombers coach Bud Grant once said this of his defensive back/wannabe quarterback/kick returner/kicker: “When most players arrive in a new town, the first thing they do is phone a girl. When Dick Thornton arrives, he phones a sports writer.”

Tricky Dick had an ego the size of a football field, and here’s how the great columnist Jack Matheson once described him in the Winnipeg Tribune: “The writers and broadcasters treat No. 14 with considerable respect because he’s hot copy, in or out of uniform. His eccentricities are always guaranteed to liven a dull scene and for conversation Thornton holds all records for Blue Bombers of the modern era. The conversation always seems to revolve around Dick Thornton, but he has a magnetism and I’ve never seen anybody walk away from Dick Thornton when his mouth was open.” Another time, Matty wrote this of Thornton: “An incurable extrovert who played harder with his larynx than his limbs.”

Final note on Dick Thornton: The Bombers traded him to the Toronto Argos the same day the Maple Leafs cleared the track and sent Eddie Shack to the Boston Bruins. I guess the Republic of Tranna just wasn’t big enough for two clown acts.

Gino Button and James McKenzie, or is it Craig Reda and Bob Duthie? Either way, it’s scary, kids.

Still getting creepy vibes from those face mashups TSN featured on its NHL trade deadline coverage. It’s clever work by Matty Go Sens, but morphing the faces of Gino Reda and Craig Button into one is the kind of stuff that will keep kids awake at night. Ditto the James Duthie/Bob McKenzie blending. I haven’t been so frightened since Alfred Hitchcock had all those nasty birds attack Tippi Hedren.

This from Steve Simmons: “The top four goaltenders in all-time wins are Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo and now Marc-Andre Fleury. All of them Quebecois. And there’s not a single Quebec goalie of consequence (apologies to Jonathan Bernier) playing in today’s NHL.” Hmmm. Last time I checked, Marc-Andre Fleury was still a Quebecois and leading the NHL in shutouts.

Patrick Marleau will lace ’em up for his 1,768th NHL skirmish on Monday night, moving past Gordie Howe for most games played. It’s a terrific achievement. Worth noting, however, are their birth certificates. Howe was 52 when he finally shut down, Marleau is 41. And, at 52, Howe was a significant contributor for the Hartford Whalers, scoring 15 goals and 41 points in 80 games, plus another two points in three playoff jousts. Marleau is 4-4-8 in what looks to be another lost season for the San Jose Sharks.

And, finally, on the subject of legendary performers, I discovered a DVD of Tony Bennett: An American Classic at a local video story the other day, and I snapped it up immediately. Fan-freaking-tastic. Tony’s duets with Barbra Streisand and our Canadian songbird k.d. lang brought on the water works (sheer brilliance renders me very emotional), and there was only one sour note struck—the November 2006 TV special was far too short, just 42 minutes. I wanted at least an hour more.

About bah-humbugish people and things that have gotten up my nose…

A different kind of Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s only fair to warn you that I’ve got a bad case of the bah-humbugs today because the PC Police are ruining Christmas songs for me. Seriously, Baby It’s Cold Outside is a banned song? What next, they haul Rudolph and his red nose off the air because he was bullied by the other reindeer and he drinks too much? Anyway, Robert Mueller is up Donald Trump’s nose (still) and here are some people and things that have crawled up my nose:

  • Brooke Henderson

    News snoops who vote on the Lou Marsh Trophy get up my nose, because they don’t have a clue about curling and curlers. Their snub of Rachel Homan last year was ghastly, so you can be sure that our girl Jennifer Jones won’t get a whiff of consideration this week when the girls and boys on the beat(s) put their little heads together to declare Canada’s top jock for 2018. I’m not saying Jones deserves the honor. Brooke Henderson does. But it would be nice if the world champion curler is at least in the conversation. Trouble is, few jock journos in the east know a hogline from Hog Town. Some of them still consider curling a social activity rather than a sport. (True story: When I joined the Toronto Sun sports staff, I was dispatched to London, Ont., for the 1981 world curling championships because, as sports editor George Gross informed me, “You’re from Western Canada, so you must know curling. No one else on our staff knows anything about it.”)

  • The national sports media (Sportsnet, TSN, Globe and Mail, National Post) are up my nose for their groupie-like gushing over the Tranna Maple Leafs. The Auston Matthews adulation is painfully over the top, and the Willy Boy Nylander contract saga received more coverage than the JFK assassination. Daily updates on Willy Boy’s whereabouts and activity while he played hooky instead of hockey included everything from the brushing of his teeth to the clipping of his toenails. There were 15—count ’em, 15!—breathless articles/videos about him on the Sportsnet website last Monday morning. The second coming of Christ won’t get that much play. Unless, of course, Jesus signs with the Maple Leafs and plays on a line with Matthews.

  • Connor McDavid

    The Edmonton Oilers are up my nose because, their current run of decent play notwithstanding, they’ve been a mess of steaming, hot hooey for too long. Normally I wouldn’t care, except they have this kid named Connor McDavid who deserves so much more than a supporting cast full of invalids. McDavid was too ill to play last Monday. Little wonder. The Oilers make me sick, too.

  • The National Hockey League is up my nose because it continues to snub Québec City, my favorite burg in North America. Okay, it didn’t work first time around for Ville de Québec, but the same must also be said for Winnipeg. And just look at what’s happening in River City now.
  • A portion of the rabble in River City are up my nose for the constant whinging about a perceived anti-Jets bias among NHL referees. As conspiracy theories go, it ranks right up there with the moon landing and whatever boogymen Donald Trump is spooked by these days. Nobody wearing arm bands is out to get the locals. Missed calls happen. Bad calls happen. That’s because some NHL refs are lousy. So there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

  • Former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt is up my nose because he’s apologized to everyone for shoving and kicking a woman except the woman he shoved and kicked while she was on the ground.

  • The Drab Slab known as the Winnipeg Free Press is up my nose for providing retired sports columnist Paul Wiecek with a platform to spew scandalous gossip about elite curlers being a bunch of “swingers” who spend their weekends cheating on their spouses with other curlers who are cheating on their spouses. Infidelity is newsworthy if an athlete’s name is Tiger Woods, but the everyday Janes and Joes who curl don’t deserve to be branded as adulterous sexaholics by a former jock journo with too much free time on his hands. The sexual hijinx of curlers is nobody’s business. It’s the sort of careless gossip you tell the boys at the bar, but a responsible newspaper wouldn’t print such trash. It serves no purpose other than to titillate and cast the “cheater” cloud of suspicion over everyone.

  • Postmedia is up my nose because of the way it has destroyed the Winnipeg Sun sports pages. I don’t recognize it as a Winnipeg newspaper anymore.

  • Jeff Blair of Sportsnet is up my nose for writing that no general manager in the Republic of Tranna has “won anything of significance for years, going back to 1992-93.” Figures. Let’s ignore the Argonauts. Typical Tranna, where the Canadian Football League is less significant than Drake’s bowel movements. The Boatmen have brought the Grey Cup home five times since 1993. Apparently Blair considers those meh moments. So only the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays and Raptors matter in The ROT. Sounds about right. And that’s a shame.

  • Mike Benevides

    The CFL is up my nose for its football operations salary cap. It’s the dumbest cap since someone put that pointy thing on the Pope’s head. Do we really care if the Saskatchewan Roughriders have 15 coaches and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers only 10? Or how much or how little they’re paid? The Montreal Alouettes just fired a mittful of coaches/scouts because of this new cap. And did Mike Benevides and the Edmonton Eskimos part ways because of the new cap? Losing quality coaches and scouts makes the on-field product better how?

  • Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna is up my nose for his sanctimonious scribblings re Baseball Hall of Fame balloting. Citing Rule 5 of qualifications for induction to Cooperstown, he focuses on “integrity, sportsmanship and character” in explaining his steadfast refusal to vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez or any other ballplayer who stuck a needle in their butt. But this holier-than-thou Simmons is the same guy who glorifies woman-beater Floyd Mayweather, writing about his “dignity,” and he also expresses how much “fun” it is to have woman-beater Johnny Manziel in the CFL. Can you say fake piety, kids?

  • Tyson Fury

    Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail is up my nose for his pungent description of heavyweight boxer and oinker Tyson Fury. The British pug is a “delightful and often tortured oddball,” according to Kelly. Well, yes, he’s tortured. He’s battled the bottle, drugs, depression and suicide ideation. He also spews sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and transphobic venom. A woman’s place is “in the kitchen and on her back” would be one of his tamer comments. He once said he would hang his sister were he to discover she’d been promiscuous. He compares homosexuality to pedophilia. Jews and Zionists own all the banks, newspapers and TV stations and have us all “brainwashed.” This is Kelly’s idea of a delightful human being?

  • I’ve probably gotten up some noses with this series of bah-humbugish mini-rants, but I’m sure the spirit of the season shall fa-la-la-la-la all over me once again on the morrow. Unless, of course, I find out about more Christmas carols that the PC Police won’t let me listen to.