Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and while munching on cold pizza and watching the Open Championship, I wondered if I could break 200 playing Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland…
To all those among the rabble who told us that Jacob Trouba was the class dunce for listening to the wrong people (read: Kurt Overhardt), what say you now?
Still think he’s stupid? Misguided? Gullible? Easily duped?
You’ll recall, I’m sure, that those were among the words used to describe the young Winnipeg Jets defender when he a) asked for a ticket on the first stage out of Dodge, b) refused to report to training camp, c) stayed home the first two months of one season, d) signed a bridge deal instead of a long-term contract, e) took the club to arbitration.
Here are more less-than-flattering insults hurled Trouba’s way: Immature. Greedy. Big loser. Idiot. Petulant. Fool. Malcontent. Problem child. Liar.
One of his teammates, Mathieu Perreault, joined the braying chorus and called Trouba “selfish.”
And, of course, there were those with quill-and-notebook and/or microphone, their critical essays and rants ranging from a benign tsk-tsking to thunderous accusations, with gusts up to poisonous. Former Drab Slab columnist Paul Wiecek, in particular, conducted a shameful, bitter crusade to discredit the top-pairing rearguard.
“Trouba, for one, has a long track record of doing what’s right for Trouba, even when it’s been what’s wrong for Trouba,” Wiecek wrote, apparently mistaking himself for Dr. Phil. “Trouba is a problem again.”
So, basically, it was the opinion of the masses that Trouba and Homer Simpson shared a brain, because he blindly allowed his greedy, no-goodnik agent Overhardt to lead him down the garden path (“Look at all the money that douchebag is costing the kid! Oh, the humanity!”)
Well, agent Overhardt led Trouba down the garden path, all right—to Madison Square Garden in Gotham and a $56 million windfall.
The New York Rangers have agreed to compensate Trouba to the merry tune of $8M (average) for the next seven National Hockey League seasons, and $22M of that comes in signing bonuses to be collected in the first three years. So, if there’s a soundtrack to Trouba’s life, it goes something like this: Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Ka-ching!
We should all be so stupid, misguided, gullible and easily duped.
Go ahead and pooh-pooh the Rangers for an overpay the size of Manhattan if you like, but the fact is Overhardt/Trouba played chicken with Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff for three years, and they won. Trouba wanted a zip code instead of a postal code. He got it. He wanted more coin than the $4 million the Jets offered in arbitration a year ago. He’ll get double that on Broadway. And what did the Jets get? Neal Pionk.
You think Patrik Laine’s agent hasn’t noticed how the Trouba saga played out? If it’s true that Puck Finn’s nose is out of joint, all he has to do is sign a two-year bridge deal, take les Jets to arbitration down the road, then force a trade. Josh Morrissey, about to enter the second year of his bridge deal, might be doing that very thing. Kyle Connor could do the same. Ditto Andrew Copp, who has the aforementioned Kurt Overhardt whispering sweet nothings in his ear as they begin a stroll down the garden path. Overhardt/Copp say they’ll be happy with $2.9 million per season. Chipman/Chevy have countered with $1.5M per for two years. Barring an 11th-hour agreement, an arbitrator will decide. Do the Jets really want or need to engage in another game of chicken they can’t win?
The first guy to wear sweater No. 9 with les Jets, Robert Marvin Hull, came at a cost of $1.75 million spread over 10 years, plus a $1 million signing bonus. Total sticker price for the Golden Jet: $2.75 million. The guy now wearing sweater No. 9, Copp, reckons he’s worth $2.9 million. Or at least his agent believes that’s the going rate for a bottom-six forward. I agree, it’s absurd, if not flat-out insane. But what if we convert the dollars? Hull’s $2.75M in 1972 is worth $16,851,513.16 in today’s U.S. coin, which would make him the most handsomely compensated player on Planet Puckhead, just as he was when Benny Hatskin and his renegade pals in the World Hockey Association lured the Golden Jet away from the Chicago Blackhawks. Meanwhile, Copp’s $2.9M today would be $473,420.16 in 1972 pay. Guaranteed no bottom-sixer with les Jets was pulling down more than $400K in ’72. So, in either era, that’s an overpay.
Worst new cliché: “He’s betting on himself.” That’s quickly become most tiresome and scribes and natterbugs should lose it faster than their per diem on a road trip to Las Vegas. Look, pro athletes bet on themselves every time they step into the arena. Cripes, man, we all bet on ourselves every morning when we decide to crawl out of the sack. Like, I’m betting I’ll annoy someone with this essay, if I haven’t already.
Got a kick out of the Sportsnet website front page in the small hours of Friday morning, after various news snoops had attempted to pry nuggets of insight from Tranna Maple Leafs restricted free agent Mitch Marner:
“Marner mum on contract talks with Maple Leafs at charity event.”
“Marner’s contract talks with Leafs a roller-coaster of anticipation.”
“Maple Leafs’ Marner talks contract, charity on Tim and Sid.”
“Marner wants to be in Maple Leafs uniform at camp, won’t go without deal.”
Hmmm. Four stories. Apparently, Marner had a helluva lot to say for a guy who was “mum.”
Interesting goings-on in Wild Rose Country, where the Oilers and Flames swapped an Edsel for a Gremlin. And it spawned more silliness on Sportsnet, this time from Eric Francis, who delivered this analysis of the transaction that sent seven-goal scorer James Neal wheeling up Highway 402 from Calgary to Edmonton and six-goal scorer Milan Lucic boogying south from Edmonton to Calgary:
“Few would disagree that Lucic is the toughest guy in the NHL.”
“Lucic’s speed is still much better than many would think and his fitness levels are beyond repute.”
“Lucic provides something few players left in the league can. In fact, he may still be the very best at what he’s being brought in to do.”
“Although Lucic has fought very little in the last couple, few players dared to mess with Connor McDavid during Lucic’s watch.”
Good grief. Is it too late to reopen the legalize marijuana debate? Seriously, Eric, take another toke. Looch has the urgency of a filibuster. Only an income tax return moves slower. As for his work as a guard dog, if Looch did such a boffo job why did McDavid become Connor McMugged last season?
Dear friend Judy Owen of The Canadian Press reports that ticket sales to the Green Bay Packers-Oakland Raiders dress rehearsal at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry next month aren’t exactly brisk. Matter of fact, they’re slower than a sports writer reaching for a bar tab. Should we be surprised? Not really. Asking a Winnipegger to pay upwards of $400 to watch faux football is like asking Chris Walby to pass on second helpings.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Pegtowners are penny-pinchers. After all, I’m one of them and it’s not by coincidence that I do all my shopping at thrift stores. But I believe the Ojibway words for Portage and Main are “Cheap and Chintzy.” We only pay asking price if you toss in a free Slurpee.
Come to think of it, maybe that’s Chevy’s problem. He keeps trying to buy his hockey players wholesale.
So, after their 31-1 curb-stomping of the Bytown RedBlacks on Friday night, our Winnipeg Blue Bombers are 5-nada.First time since 1960. Would you call me a Debbie Downer if I pointed out that the 5-0 outfit in ’60 did a playoff faceplant? Yup. Didn’t even get to the big dance. Lost to the E-Town Eskimos in a best-of-three Western final, dropping the deciding game 4-2. It was the only season from 1958 to 1962 that our football heroes failed to bring the Grey Cup home to River City. Thus, the less we talk about 1960 the better.
Some folks aren’t convinced that the Bombers are the real deal and point to namby-pamby foes—E-Town, Bytown, Tranna Argos, B.C. Lions—and their combined record of 6-15 as evidence of phony superiority. Sorry, but I’m not buying what those people are selling. Who is Winnipeg FC supposed to play? The New England Patriots? The Bombers can only follow the dictates of the Canadian Football League schedule-maker, and if that means whacking 98-pound weaklings, so be it.
More good CFL stuff from Kirk Penton in The Athletic, including these nuggets in his insiders segment that features unvarnished comments from team management, coaches and executives:
“The Simoni (Lawrence) decision was more than fair. Probably one of the dirtiest plays I’ve seen in the CFL. The fact he lies about not doing it deliberately makes it worse. At least Kyries Hebert took his medicine for his dirty plays and didn’t bullshit saying it was accidental.”
“When Joe Mack was our GM we could have traded for Ricky Ray. He said we didn’t need him. Same year we drafted Tyson Pencer in the first round. But when (the team was) struggling, he fired (Paul LaPolice) in August. Look, I’ve heard both sides of the Ray debate. Great player who couldn’t stay healthy, but at that point, Buck’s (Pierce) injury history was worse.”
What are the odds of Mike Reilly finishing this CFL season in one piece? He’s not a quarterback, he’s a pinata. Reilly was basically wearing D-lineman Charleston Hughes on Saturday night in Regina, and that’s never anyone’s idea of a good time. If Leos GM Ed Hervey doesn’t get Reilly some protection, it isn’t going to end well for the CFL’s best QB.
And, finally, when I started in the rag trade, the Bombers were the big dog in Good Ol’ Hometown.
The Jets and the World Hockey Association weren’t even a talking point at that time, so great swaths of forest were felled to provide enough newsprint for coverage of our CFL outfit in both the Winnipeg Tribune and Drab Slab
The boys on the beat were the great Jack Matheson and Don Blanchard, and they worked the Bombers every which way but loose, establishing what I considered the standard to which other football scribes should strive. The measuring stick, if you will.
So how are the boys on the beat doing today? I’d say the torch is in reliable hands with Jeff Hamilton and Ted Wyman.
It’s been that way for quite some time, actually, and I could make an argument that no sheet in the country has done a better job at chronicling a CFL outfit than the two River City rags. Young Eddie Tait was the best in the biz before going over the wall, and I’d say the aforementioned Kirk Penton was right there with him, scoop for scoop and feature for feature. Ashley Prest, Judy Owen, Big Jim Bender, Dave Supleve, Granny Granger and others did wonderful work, and it helped that they truly cared about the football club.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and life is a pitch sometimes, especially when our soccer ladies are playing…
One Canadian. The Cherry-ites must be choking on their maple syrup.
But should the rest of us care that Kevin Cheveldayoff and his Winnipeg Jets bird dogs basically ignored their own back yard during the weekend grab bag of teen hockey talent in Vancouver?
I mean, it’s not exactly a throwback to the days of Mikhail Smith, who attempted to morph the late-1980s/early-1990s Winnipeg HC into the Central Red Jets with his failed make-work-for-Russians project.
If you weren’t around to scratch your head over Comrade Mikhail’s handiwork, be advised that he fancied Russkies the way a farmer likes good weather. A rumpled man with a Doctorate in Russian Studies, the Jets general manager surrounded himself with more Ivans, Viktors, Vladimirs and Sergeis than Leonid Brezhnev. If your last name ended with the letters ‘ov’, there was a very good chance he’d stand up at the National Hockey League entry draft and give you a shout-out.
Oh, it began innocently enough, and some of us thought it mildly amusing when Mikhail commenced to collecting comrades the way some kids collect bubble gum cards. First he grabbed two. Then two more. Then four. But in 1992, he went completely coocoo, using his one dozen shout-outs to land half the Russian politburo. He took nine of them—count ’em, nine! When he snatched up five more in ’93, we wondered if the team’s marketing department would add the hammer and sickle to the logo. Russian was about to become the official language of the changing room.
Alas, Mikhail’s master plan crumbled like both the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union when he was asked to leave in January 1994, freeing les Jets bird dogs from Red Square and allowing them to return home to the Red River Valley.
In sum, Mikhail recruited 22 Russkies in his five years as overlord of les Jets’ draft table, and only six of them played more than 100 NHL games.
So now we have Kevin Cheveldayoff in the GM’s chair, and you might be asking yourself is he and his scouts have developed a fondness for Finns, Swedes and Americans. Or, more to the point, do they harbor an aversion to good Canadian boys?
In Chevy’s first three summers at the wheel, 15 of his 23 shout-outs at the NHL entry draft were homebrews. Since then, it’s 12 of 40.
Chevy returns home from this weekend’s fun in Vancouver with a pair of Finns (Ville Heinola, Henri Nikkanen), a Swede (Simon Lundmark), an American (Logan Neaton) and a kid born in Britain but raised in Regina (Harrison Blaisdell). Not since 2013 has he claimed more than three homebrews at the garage sale of freshly scrubbed teens. That was also the last time he used his No. 1 shout-out to claim a hoser, Josh Morrissey.
Add to that his last two free-agent signings—a Finn, Joona Luoto, and a Russkie, Andrei Chibisov—and I think we can see a trend.
Do you have a problem with that?
The Cherry-ites, of course, bellow about the necessity of good, bent-nosed Canadian boys. Can’t win without them. That’s true and the St. Louis Blues would be Exhibit A in that argument. The St. Loo roster that just won the Stanley Cup had more Canadian passports than any one of our overseas embassies.
But…the Boston Bruins reached the final with just a handful of Canucks. When the Washington Capitals copped the Cup a year ago, their top six scorers were Euros and Americans.
So, no, I don’t think Chevy and his bid dogs have gone off their nut and adopted an anti-Canadian bias like the aforementioned Comrade Mikhail Smith. You need a happy mixture and, in case you haven’t noticed, the Finns are bloody good at hockey.
River City is the last place I’d expect to hear yelps of protest about an abundance of Finnish and/or Swedish players. Anyone who was around in the 1970s will tell you that les Jets’ rise to shinny prominence was the product of a Scandinavian invasion, with Anders and Ulf and the Shoe and Veli-Pekka and Hexi and Willy and Kenta, among others, coming on board to claim three World Hockey Association titles. That winning legacy should be enough to silence the most leather-lunged of critics.
A quick aside to the anti-Jacob Trouba element among the rabble: Give it a rest. Trouba didn’t do anything to warrant the high level of hostility that accompanied him on his way out of town. Asking for a trade? Happens all the time (see Zaitsev, Nikita; Puljujarvi, Jesse; Kane, Evander). His holdout three years ago? He was exercising his rights. Signing a bridge deal? Again, his right. Going to arbitration? Yup, his legally bargained-for right. Did he ever say anything nasty about Good Ol’ Hometown, like the zoo sucks. Not that I heard or read. Did he lie about his reasons for wanting out of Dodge? Perhaps. But everybody in hockey lies. Trouba served les Jets well, so the anger is misplaced.
One of the many knows-everything natterbugs on TSN, Dave Poulin, continues to confound and confuse. Last year, he left NHL scoring champion Connor McDavid off his all-star ballot. This year, when McDavid didn’t win the scoring title, he voted him the all-star centre. Go figure. Poulin also told us in February that “there’s not going to be eight-year deals anymore.” Mark Stone, Jeff Skinner and Erik Karlsson have since inked eight-year deals, with William Karlsson on the way. I believe it’s time to remove the ear buds whenever Dave Poulin begins to talk.
The Professional Hockey Writers Association mostly gets it right in balloting for various NHL trinkets and all-star honors, but some among the rank and file lose the plot along the way. The news snoops listed below were the most heinous of offenders this year, and all are accused of the same crime: ‘Abuse of Voting Privilege’:
* Bill Hoppe, Olean Times Herald (New York): Apparently, the name should be Rip Van Hoppe, because he slept through the entire season. How else to explain voting for Patrick Kane as the all-star right winger instead of Nikita Kucherov, who performed well enough to win the Ted Lindsey Award (most outstanding player), the Hart Trophy (most valuable player) and the Art Ross Trophy (scoring leader)? Hoppe doubled and tripled down on his sleep-induced voting by giving Johnny Gaudreau the nod as league MVP and Rasmus Dahlin as top rookie. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Voting privilege revoked. * Arthur Staple, The Athletic: He voted Rink Rat Scheifele of les Jets as the all-star centre. Yup. Staple reckons our guy Rink Rat had a better season than McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Nathan McKinnon et al. Staple also voted Miro Heiskanen the top rookie. No surprise, though. Last year, Staple left McDavid completely off his all-star centre ballot. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: As a repeat offender, his voting privilege is revoked. For-freaking-ever.
* John Vogl, The Athletic Buffalo: Nick Bonino the best defensive forward in the NHL? Seriously? Ya, and Looch Lucic is Barbara Ann Scott. Verdict: Guilty as charged.Sentence: Vogl can keep his voting privilege. Living and working in Buffalo is punishment enough.
* Lance Lysowski, Buffalo News: Voted Patrick Kane the all-star left winger. Kane is a right winger. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must attend a summer-long series of lectures on right wingers and left wing pinkos delivered by Don Cherry.
* Seth Rorabaugh, The Athletic: Voted Johnny Gaudreau as MVP and Marc-Andre Fleury the all-star goaltender. Wrong, just wrong. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must undergo thorough eye examination. * Iain MacIntyre, Sportsnet Vancouver: Gave Roberto Luongo a vote for Lady Byng Trophy. Luongo is a goaltender. Voting for a goalie in this category isn’t just wrong, it’s stupid. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must spend a year at hard labor—covering the Canucks.
* Russ Cohen, Sportsology: He must have been drinking the Kool-Aid they were serving in the Republic of Tranna, because his first-team all-star centre was John Tavares of les Leafs. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must wear Tavares’ Maple Leafs pajamas in public.
* Eric Engels, Sportsnet Montreal: He voted Carey Price as first-team all-star goalie, even though les Canadiens keeper was outside the top 10 in save percentage and goals-against average and 10th in shutouts. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must take mandatory course in Journalism 101—No Cheering In the Press Box.
On the subject of D’oh! Boys, it’s about the Tranna Argonauts. Here’s what the Canadian Football League club served up in an effort to wins friends and influence people at their home opener on the weekend: 7,000 Derel Walker bobblehead dolls, $5 beer and $3 hot dogs. Then they trundled onto BMO Field and promptly soiled the sheets, dropping a 64-14 squeaker to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Won’t that make for boffo box office in the future. The head count was 16,734 on Saturday, so I’m thinking the over-under for their next home date should be 10,000. And I’ll take the under.
The Argos want to sell more tickets? Simple. Have a Kawhi Leonard bobblehead doll night. And have the man himself attend the game.
And, finally, if the Tranna Jurassics truly are “Canada’s team,” why would the hoops champions even contemplate the notion of a visit to the Trump household at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.? The only connection Canada has to the White House is the torch job the British did on it in 1814.
A mid-week, media-centric smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and a happy hump day to all you working stiffs…
A couple of weekends back, I mentioned something about cheering in the press box and entered a guilty plea on the charge of silently root, root, rooting for the 1978-79 Winnipeg Jets in the final waltz of the final World Hockey Association playoff gala.
The key word is “silently.”
I totally understood the ‘no cheering in the press box’ mantra and I subscribed to it without reservation during my 30 years in the rag trade. More to the point, I was inclined to cast the stink eye at anyone who betrayed the precious, unwritten code that dates back to the first chisel striking a stone tablet following David’s epic upset win over Goliath.
Thus it was with interest that I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s thoughts on the matter at the conclusion of his recent hoops safari to the Republic of Tranna at the behest of the Drab Slab.
While the Jurassics and the Golden State Juggernaut had at it on the hardwood, Mad Mike found himself somewhat discomforted by the presence of the most scorned and tut-tutted of press box inhabitants—he/she who waves pom-poms.
“That’s just gross,” he opined. “To be clear, I didn’t witness this from any of the mainstream press—who I expect would know better—but from a handful of fringe online writers who managed to score access. A big no-no, but the kind of thing that is happening in this rapidly growing media world where ‘fan-friendly’ copy can score you easy clicks and likes.
“Let me say this as loudly as I can: I don’t cheer for any team I cover. And I would hope my copy, not to mention 24-year journalism career in this city, would reflect that. The only things I root for are good storylines and quick-moving games that leave plenty of time for deadline to file. And Diet Pepsi in the press box, instead of Diet Coke.”
Well, let me say this about that (without being too loud) once again: Any news snoop who tells you that he/she doesn’t have favorites, trust me, he/she is lying. And because they have favorites, they want those people and/or teams to succeed. That isn’t wrong, nor does it make them sellouts to a sacred trust. It makes them human.
Imagine that. Sports scribes as humans. What a concept. It’s true, though. Especially among the women. I’ve yet to meet a female jock journo who isn’t human. The men, not so much.
But even the men are suckers for a good story from good people.
You think there wasn’t silent cheering in the press box at the old barn on Maroons Road when Teemu Selanne was about to shatter Mike Bossy’s rookie record for goal scoring in 1993? Teemu wasn’t just a fan favorite in Good Ol’ Hometown. He was a media darling. Scribes and talking heads loved the obliging, aw-shucks kid with the flashy nickname from Finland. They couldn’t get enough of him. So when Selanne passed Bossy, you wanted to stand up and damn well cheer.
Other things made you want to break down and bloody well cry, like a spring afternoon in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets bid farewell to the faithful and bolted for the Arizona desert. (I know, for certain, there were news snoops with tears in their eyes that day.)
The trick, of course, is to keep any bias on the down low while perched in the press box and, most imperative, prevent it from creeping into your copy.
To date, Mad Mike has managed to do that while sucking back his Diet Pepsi. But Big Sister is watching and reading.
Prejudice, you realize, can cut both ways. The most recent example of negative bias I can think of was the extreme and shameful hate-on former Drab Slab columnist Paul Wiecek had for Jacob Trouba. The young Jets defender (allegedly) lied to Wiecek about a desire to play in Winnipeg, and the Freep scribe went into attack mode, never squandering an opportunity to discredit Trouba’s character, if not his play. It became an obsession, very personal, nasty and uncomfortable. That is as much a betrayal to the trade as standing up and cheering in the press box.
Here’s how legendary American columnist Red Smith handled a run-in with an athlete back in the day (from the book No Cheering in the Press Box by Jerome Holtzman):
“Over the years, of course, all sports writers, especially those assigned to and traveling with ball clubs, have difficulty with a ball player, or ball players. I never had anything as crucial as an actual fist fight, but I did have some differences with Bill Werber. This was when I was in Philadelphia and he was traded or sold. The A’s sent him to the Cincinnati Reds, and when the deal was announced I probably wrote something to the general effect of ‘Good riddance.’ I’m not sure. I didn’t care deeply for Bill. I thought he paraded his formal education. He was out of Duke, you know, and he used to correct the grammar of other ball players. There were things about Bill that didn’t enchant me.
“In 1939 the Reds were in the World Series. When we got to Cincinnati for the third game I went down to the bench before the game, and my old friend Paul Derringer said, ‘Hello, Red, you know Bill Werber don’t you?’ And Werber said, ‘Yes, I know the sonofabitch.’
“It went on, a tiny few exchanges like that, and then he said, ‘Get off this bench! Get out of the dugout!’
“I said, ‘No, I’m a guest here.’
“And he got up and shouldered me out of the dugout, just kind of strongarmed me out. I had my portable and I was strongly tempted to let him have it—with the typewriter. But I somehow didn’t feel like doing that on the field before the first World Series game in Cincinnati and so I left.
“I remember Charlie Dexter coming along behind me and he said, ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to protest to the Baseball Writers Association?’
“I said, ‘No, Charlie, the player doesn’t like me.’
“I didn’t speak to him again.”
Another interesting entry from Doug Brown on the pages of the Drab Slab. Despite evidence to the contrary in the 2018 Canadian Football League crusade, Doug’s not convinced that Chris Streveler is a suitable backup quarterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “It can take a lot more time to develop a pocket-passing acumen than a couple of starts, a year of practice and some preseason games. Call it a hunch, a best guess, but I’m not sure he eventually will.” Brown adds that Streveler’s “habits, and affinity for contact, aren’t sustainable for the long-term in the CFL.” Like I said, interesting. Brown, of course, saw some QBs during his time on D-lines in both the CFL and National Football League, but I’m saying he misses his “guess” on Streveler.
So, some dude named David Pagnotta from a blog called The Fourth Period cites “multiple sources close to the situation” and tells us that restricted free agent Patrik Laine plans to “explore” all his options. That, in turn, leads to rampant rumor that Puck Finn wants out of River City if les Jets don’t pony up to the tune of $10 million per season on a new contract. That’s where Tim & Sid weighed in on Sportsnet.
Tim Micallef: “Laine is an elite goal scorer.”
Sid Seixeiro: “But here’s the thing. Laine…there are some red flags on Laine a little bit. Would you not acknowledge? He’s extremely hard on himself, he’ll go in that slump…there are parts of Laine, when he’s scoring 45-plus you kind of ignore, but when he had a year like he had last year…look, they’re gonna pay him, they’re gonna keep him, I’m not saying they’re not. But his rep isn’t what it was 18 months ago.”
Tim: “But even then, so what do you drop to, a Phil Kessel? Like, honestly, the guy can score in his sleep, right?”
Sid: “When he’s scoring.”
Tim: “But when he’s scoring he ends up with 40, in and around. Right? Like, even with the slumps, he ends up with in and around 40, which, I don’t know if you checked, gets a lot of money in the NHL these days.”
Sid: “Oh, it does. Look, the Cheveldayoff thing and Laine, we’re gonna hear a lot of the breaking rumors, he is not leaving Winnipeg, he is signing long term in Winnipeg, he is not being traded, he is not exploring those options. Of all the restricteds, that one is gonna get locked down guaranteed.”
I’m with Sid, even though his numbers are a bit wonky (Laine has yet to score “45-plus” in a season). Puck Finn isn’t going anywhere.
Strange tweet from Scott Stinson of the National Post: “No one from outside Ontario would dare cheer for the Maple Leafs. The Raptors, though…” What rock has that dude been hiding under? When les Leafs make their annual pilgrimage to Western Canada, it’s like they’re the home team. Stinson might want to get out of the house more often. Or at least stay up late enough to turn on his TV and watch les Leafs when they’re playing in the colonies.
D’oh boy tweet from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star: “More people watching these Raptor games in the NBA Finals than watch Grey Cups these days. That’s exceeding an annual piece of Canadiana. Think about that for a moment.” I don’t have to think about it. Although Cox doesn’t spell out what “these days” are, here are Canadian TV ratings from Grey Cup matches this century vs. the NBA final:
2009 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6.1 million average
2010 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6M
2012 Calgary-Toronto 5.8M
2002 Montreal-Edmonton 5.2M
2011 B.C.-Winnipeg 4.6M
2013 Hamilton-Saskatchewan 4.5M
2003 Edmonton-Montreal 4.4M
2015 Ottawa-Edmonton 4.3M
2017 Toronto-Calgary 4.3M 2019 Game 2 NBA final 4.3M
2014 Hamilton-Calgary 4.1M
2006 B.C.-Montreal 4M
2005 Edmonton-Montreal 4M
2004 Toronto-B.C. 4M
2016 Calgary-Ottawa 3.9M
2008 Calgary-Montreal 3.65M
2007 Winnipeg-Saskatchewan 3.5M 2019 Game 1 NBA final 3.3M
2018 Calgary-Ottawa 3.1M
2001 Calgary-Winnipeg 2.7M
And, finally, I keep hearing pundits talk about hockey IQ and basketball IQ and football IQ, but I never hear anyone mention baseball IQ. I guess after listening to Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel, the notion of intelligent life on Planet Baseball was ruled out years ago.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy Pride Month to everyone in the LGBT collective and all our allies…
Apparently, I’ve been “swept up.” You have been, too, in case you didn’t know.
Oh, yes, (I’m told) we have become a nation of 37 million bouncy-bouncy, hoopster hosers, entranced and enthralled by the antics of those long, tall Jurassics from the Republic of Tranna, a talented troupe that might or might not soon be champions of all the world’s hardwood floors.
It will require three more Ws from the Jurassics before they can be anointed rulers of a game invented by a Canadian and perfected by Americans, but their opening salvo—a 118-109 beatdown of the Golden State Juggernaut—in the National Basketball Association title skirmish has put us (I’m told) in a nation-wide tizzy, the likes of which we haven’t experienced since the last time we were in a nation-wide tizzy.
We in the north don’t get into too many tizzies, understand, because we’re understated and polite. But, when we do go ga-ga, it usually involves a hockey puck, like the one Paul Henderson slid under Soviet Union goaltender Vladislav Tretiak in September 1972, thus plopping the lid on a shinny cold war called the Summit Series and igniting a nation-wide hooraw.
I recall quite vividly where I was the moment Henderson, Espo, ankle-breaking Bobby Clarke et al put the Soviets in their place: At home. In my living room. Going bonkers.
Similarly, I know exactly where I was the other night when the Jurassics and their one-and-done superstar, Kawhi Leonard, took the measure of the Juggernaut in Game 1 of the NBA’s final tussle: At home. In bed. Catching zzzzzzs. And, no, I wasn’t dreaming of Drake.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, to learn in the ensuing days that I have been “swept up” by something one Postmedia Tranna essayist labeled “Rapstock,” the jock equivalent of Woodstock.
That same scribe, Joe Warmington, considered the Raptors’ success so significant and global in scope that he sought words of wisdom from that noted authority on pink slips and layoffs, Paul Godfrey, his boss at Postmedia. (Nothing quite like sucking up to the boss to flesh out your copy.)
“It is definitely something we haven’t seen since the Blue Jays 1992 and 1993 years that the whole country got swept up in,” the God-man gushed.
Hmmm. I seem to recall being “swept up” in gold medal crusades by our women and men hockey players at the 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014 Winter Olympic Games, but, hey, that didn’t happen in the Republic of Tranna, so it’s total meh, I guess.
I don’t know about you, but I truly appreciate it when people from The ROT tell those of us in the colonies what we’re thinking and feeling.
You know, people like Steve Simmons, who informed us, “The country won.” His columnist colleague with Postmedia, Scott Stinson of the National Post, spoke to a chap in Quebec and advises us that folks in La Belle Province have embraced the Jurassics “in a way that matters.” He didn’t say in what way it matters, but I’ll take his word for it that it matters to les Quebecois. Curtis Rush of Forbes reminded us that “Canadians swelled with pride,” the moment the Jurassics arrived in The ROT late last century. (For the record, the only thing that swells on me are my ankles, and that has everything to do with failing kidneys and nothing to do with a hoops outfit more than 4,000 kilometres away.)
On jock TV, meanwhile, the propaganda machine at Drake-onian Sportsnet went into overdrive, cranking out dispatches that trumpet record-breaking viewership numbers. An average of 3.3 million sets of Canadian eyeballs caught Game 1. Yowza!
You know what that means, don’t you? That’s right, 33.7 million of us found something better to do than watch the Jurassics tame the Juggernaut last Thursday night. Like me…I got “swept up” in sleep.
I’d like to see a regional breakdown of the Sportsnet numbers. It’s my understanding that two-thirds of the 3.3 million viewers live in Ontario. So much for a nation-wide tizzy.
Interesting that the Drab Slab would dispatch their main man, Mad Mike McIntyre, to Games 1 and 2 of the NBA final. Even more interesting is that Mad Mike would eagerly swallow the Kool-Aid they’re serving in The ROT. I mean, he calls a “foul on anyone” who claims she or he isn’t caught up in Rapstock. He also writes: “You’ll have a hard time convincing me that a Raptors championship won’t instill a sense of pride to even the most fair-weather fan out there.” Yo! Mad Mike! Some of us just…don’t…care. And we don’t have to convince you or anyone else of that.
I wonder what the fib count was during this weekend’s 40th anniversary gathering of the 1979 champion Winnipeg Jets in Good Ol’ Hometown. Hockey people, especially a guy like Tommy McVie, like to tell stories, and I’m guessing they’ve been stretching the truth further than the elastic waist bands on some of their trousers. It’s just too bad Fergy, Sudsy, the Shoe, Friar, Jon and Turbo weren’t there to share the tall tales.
Still surprised when I hear someone suggest the World Hockey Association Jets could have laid a licking on the late-1970s Montreal Canadiens. Wouldn’t have happened, kids. The Jets were very good, but not Habs good.
It’s Sunday morning, June 2, 2019: Do we know where Jacob Trouba is? Does Kevin Cheveldayoff know where he’s sending the young defender? Time to play show-and-tell, Chevy.
Trouba sits in the No. 2 slot on TSN’s National Hockey League trade board, and here’s something to keep in mind when Chevy moves him: We know for certain that two players have asked the general manager for a trade—old friend Evander Kane and Trouba. Kane got his wish. Trouba will, too, one way or the other. Moral of the story: Any player who wants to get out of Dodge simply has to be patient because, in the end, Chevy can’t prevent him from bolting.
Always find the goings-on in Edmonton a curious bit of business, with the Oilers forever hiring and firing scouts, coaches and GMs to be fired and rehired. The latest to step behind the E-Town bench as future ex-head coach is Dave Tippett, who replaces Ken Hitchock who replaced Todd McLellan who replaced…oh, you know the story. Odd thing is, Tippett’s record is no better than McLellan’s. Check it out…
Tippett: 14 seasons, 553-413-28 .563…missed playoffs six times…33-41 .446…twice reached conference final…Stanley Cup titles 0.
McLellan: 11 seasons, 434-282-90 .594…missed playoffs three times…37-38 .493…twice reached conference final…Stanley Cup titles 0.
I doubt this latest changing of the guard will make Looch Lucic’s feet move any faster.
Nice to see Doug Brown’s big words back on the sports pages of the Drab Slab. I haven’t always been a fan of his work, but Doug’s essays on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Canadian Football League serve two purposes: 1) they usually provide readers the kind of insight that only a former player can deliver; 2) they often give my dictionary a good workout.
Bravo and a tip of the bonnet to Emily Clarke and Georgina Paull, both of whom worked the Calgary Stampeders-Saskatchewan Roughriders skirmish on Friday night in Cowtown. Emily (side judge) and Georgina (line judge) are the first women to wear the stripes in a CFL game, and it somehow doesn’t seem right to call game officials skunk shirts or zebras anymore.
Also a tip of the bonnet to the Tranna Argonauts, whose first dress rehearsal of the CFL preseason was a daytime gig at old Varsity Stadium in The ROT. Only 4,313 witnesses watched the Boatmen beat the Montreal Alouettes, 45-20, but that’s okay because most of them were school kids who got to skip class. That, not trips to Mexico and Europe by Commish Randy Ambrosie, is the ticket for the CFL—make nice with Next Gen fans.
Speaking of school kids, the d-i-c-t-i-o-n-a-r-y took a beating at the recent Scripps National Spelling Bee in the U.S., when officials ran out of words for the young geniuses to s-p-e-l-l. So they declared the last kids standing co-champions—all eight of them. There hasn’t been that many hands pawing a trophy since Lyle Lovett started dating Julia Roberts.
On the subject of champions and the alphabet, a real shocker in boxing on Saturday night when Andy Ruiz Jr. paddywhacked defending heavyweight chump Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden in Gotham. After boxing Joshua’s ears, Ruiz Jr. now holds most of big boy boxing’s title belts—WBA, WBO, IBF. Deontay Wilder owns the other alphabet belt (WBC) and, for those of you scoring at home, Manuel Charr is the WBA Regular champion and Trevor Bryan is the WBA Interim champion, whatever that means. The Ring magazine, meanwhile, refuses to recognize any of the aforementioned pugs as world champeen. Apparently the self-proclaimed Bible of Boxing is holding out for a Mike Tyson comeback.
Ruiz Jr., who stopped Joshua in the seventh round, looks like a guy who spends a lot more time in a donut or ice cream shop than a gym. He’s definitely the Round Mound of the Ring, and his considerable girth did not escape the notice of some of the mooks in MSG. Here’s how Tom Gray of The Ring described the pre-fight scene: “As he stood proudly listening to the Mexican national anthem, Ruiz was heckled by hordes of idiots around the ringside area over his body shape. ‘You fat bastard!’ they cried in unison. ‘Get your tits out for the lads!’ they sang.” Way to keep it classy, New York.
For those of you wondering, here’s the skinny on women’s pro sports in North America:
WNBA: Average attendance 6,721 Minimum wage $40,000
NWSL: Average attendance 6,024 Minimum wage $16,538
NWHL: Average attendance 954 Minimum wage $4,000
As much as I would like women’s hockey to grow and flourish, in whose universe can you earn a $50,000-$100,000 salary when no one is buying what you’re selling? The ForTheGame200 boycotting the National Women’s Hockey League might want to rethink their wants and needs, not to mention their strategy.
And, finally, I’m going to come right out and say it: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are your 2019 Grey Cup champions. I’m not going to explain myself. Not yet anyway.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and there’s only one NBA final (not finals) but I’ve got more than one item on my menu…
Top o’ the morning to you, Kevin Cheveldayoff.
Well, you sure fooled me, didn’t you? I thought you were doing the Rip Van Chevy thing (read: snoozing) when—poof—you convince Laurent Brossoit that being a millionaire caddie in Winnipeg beats being a backup keeper elsewhere in the National Hockey League.
The question now is this, Chevy: When do the other three, four, five shoes drop?
Soon I hope, because I’ve had it up to my eyeliner with the free-wheeling speculation swirling around Jacob Trouba. The boys on the beat (hello Ken Wiebe, Murat Ates) were tripping over their dangling participles and run-on sentences last week trying to determine your next gambit for the top-pair defender, and I really wish you’d give them something juicy to write about.
I mean, both Wiebe at the Winnipeg Sun and Ates at The Athletic delivered chapters 4,375 and 4,376 in the Trouba Saga, and you know what I call that, Chevy? I call it a slow news day. Sloth slow.
Same thing with Mad Mike McIntyre over at the Drab Slab. He’s become so bored with your thumb-twiddling that he decided the cluster climb and body count on Mount Everest (120 reached the peak on Thursday, 15 dead or missing this year) are more interesting than Mount NHL, which you’ve been trying to scale for eight years. So he went Sherpa-speak on us with a yarn about a local dude who lived to talk about surviving the ultimate uphill trudge.
Mad Mike did, mind you, scribble a token piece on your Jets last week, a yawn-inducing recitation of Paul Maurice’s head coaching resume, confirming that a) Coach Potty Mouth remains the seventh-winningest bench jockey in National Hockey League history, b) he is also the losingest bench jockey in NHL history, c) you won’t find his name etched on the Stanley Cup, and d) he’s 52 years old.
You and Stevie Y in Detroit exchanging bubble gum cards would be more interesting than that, Chevy.
I suppose we should be thankful, though. After all, Mad Mike finally managed to get through an entire week without another installment in his whodunit novel Scandal, Jets Wrote.
Hey, maybe that’s what you can do, Chevy. Tell us what Mad Mike hasn’t been able to dig up. Give us the skinny on what went down in the changing room of that team you generally manage. That ought to generate some juicy, 72-point headlines and spice up an off-season that began at least a month too soon. But no. Don Cherry will turn his back on Bobby Orr before Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman allows you to hang out Winnipeg HC’s dirty laundry in public. If, that is, there’s dirty laundry to hang out.
That’s right, Chevy, I still insist on concrete evidence before I’m convinced that your players’ lair was as “rotten to the core” as Mad Mike and some among the rabble speculate.
The point is, news snoops need you, Chevy. Like Connor McDavid needs an escape route. Only you can save them from themselves. They’ve flat-lined. They’re like a 1960s, grooved-out DJ still spinning Monkees and Herman’s Hermits tunes as if they’re relevant.
You need to toss the boys on the beat a bone, Chevy, and it wouldn’t take much to arrest their attention. Trust me, news snoops like nothing more than shiny objects right out of the box. So give them something new to gnaw on between now and the NHL’s annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers next month in Lotus Land.
You’d be doing them, and us, a real large if you could see your way to handing them something that goes ka-boom. Like an upgrade at centre ice or on the blueline.
Anyway, Chevy, it’s good to know you still have a pulse. But the Brossoit signing is mostly meh. It was barely enough to bring Mad Mike home from the Himalayas. And it doesn’t change anything with your Jets, who were found wanting this spring. Improvements are mandatory. Get on with it. The news cycle is depending on you, Chevy. A 72-point headline awaits.
If you’re keeping score at home, Chevy heads to Lotus Land for the NHL entry auction in Vancouver (June 21-22) with just three shout-outs—second, fourth and fifth rounders. So much for that draft-and-develop mantra, I guess. More like draft-develop-and D’oh!
Not to worry, though. The only outfits still standing in this spring’s Stanley Cup runoff, the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues, are convenient reminders that there’s more to piecing together a championship-calibre squad than a GM’s handiwork on the draft floor. Here’s how the two finalists were built:
Boston: 9 drafted, 10 free agents, 4 trades.
St. Louis: 12 drafted, 3 free agents, 8 trades.
Since you asked, no, I don’t want to see wife-beater Slava Voynov back in the NHL. The Los Angeles Kings have already issued a communiqué stating he’s persona non grata in Tinseltown, but it’s guaranteed he’ll find suitors before his suspension is lifted midway through the 2019-20 crusade. Are les Jets interested in the rancid Russian rearguard? Seems to me that would be a good question to ask Puck Pontiff Chipman, so why aren’t local news snoops asking?
Our little ray of sunshine at Postmedia Tranna, Steve Simmons, posits that any NHL club signing Voynov will “sully their ethics.” Interesting. I mean, when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats brought the woman-beating Johnny Manziel on board, Simmons didn’t view it as a sullying of ethics. More to the point, he was so excited he basically piddled himself in print, gushing: “Johnny Football is coming to Canada. And where do I sign up?” He suggested that the Tabbies signing a guy who thumped out—and threatened to kill—his girlfriend would make the Canadian Football League “maybe more fun, possibly more fan-appealing.”
I’m not a hoops freak, so I haven’t watched five seconds of the Tranna Raptors’ push to the National Basketball Association final. But it’s my understanding that Kawhi Leonard and Drake are the leading candidates for playoff MVP. What’s that you say? Drake doesn’t play for the Raptors? He must. I mean, c’mon man, every time I call up the Sportsnet website I’m looking at pics of Drake and reading headlines about him. When I turn on my flatscreen to catch the latest highlights, there’s Drake running around on court like the escapee from a village that just lost its idiot. I hear the Sportsnet anchors flapping their gums about him. Ditto Tim and Sid. Alas, the rapper dude is nothing more than a greasy groupie, or, as Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star describes him, “a jacked-up fan,” “spectacularly un-cool” and “the barnacle of blingy acolytes.” Rosie also mentioned something about Drake the Courtside Drip’s “mortifying buffoonery,” and I’m totally onside with her when she writes it’s “time for a Dear Drake kiss-off.” Somehow I doubt the geniuses at Sportsnet will get the memo, though.
So, the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders are good to go for a National Football League dress rehearsal at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry in August. Any chance the Raiders will pull a Cher? You know, a no-show? We can only hope.
I wasn’t surprised to hear Cher cancelled her concert in Good Ol’ Hometown last week. What surprised me is that she’s still on tour. And that people still pay money to stare at her glitzy costumes and whatever potted plant she’s wearing on her head. Sorry, Cher fans, but your girl lost me when Sonny lost her.
So how’s that boycott thing working for female shinny stars? Well, the signing season for Dani Rylan’s National Women’s Hockey League has been upon us since May 15, and the grand sum of six players have checked in to buck the boycott. They are:
Boston Pride— Tori Sullivan ($5,000), Kaleigh Fratkin ($11,000), Christina Putigna ($5,000).
Connecticut Whalers—Shannon Doyle (undisclosed).
Metropolitan Riveters—Madison Packer ($12,000).
Minnesota Whitecaps—Allie Thunstrom (undisclosed).
At this rate, there’ll be no need for team buses. Cooper Minis will do.
My oh my, so much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing in the Republic of Tranna last week, all because Blue Jays skipper Charlie Montoyo told Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to sit a spell. That is, Charlie failed to pencil Vlad the Gifted into his starting lineup on Victoria Day. Horrors! Some samples of the hue and cry:
I swear, there hasn’t been this much fuss over a day of rest since God slacked off on the original Sabbath.
My favorite comment was delivered by Steve Phillips of TSN: “This was an organizational failure. Bad input leads to bad output. Montoyo didn’t understand what Victoria Day means to Canadians.”
Yo! Steve! You know what Victoria Day means to most Canadians? It means a day off. Vlad the Gifted got one. So give it a rest (pun intended).
And, finally, hard to believe that the Drab Slab ignored the 40th anniversary of the last pro shinny championship in Good Ol’ Hometown. I realize they don’t have anyone on staff who was there to witness the Winnipeg Jets’ third and final World Hockey Association triumph, but there’s a reason we have archives. And what, no one at the Freep knows how to work a phone? I guess it was more convenient to fill an entire page with the nonsensical natterings of the resident pen pals, Steve Lyons and Paul Wiecek, whose Say What?! shtick reached its best-before date about two years ago. Shame, shame.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we called Victoria Day “firecracker day” when I was a sprig growing up in Winnipeg…us kids actually got to play with firecrackers and none of my friends ever lost an eye…
On the matter of lighting a fuse, it’s about the Winnipeg Jets.
While recounting the events of les Jets’ oft-turbulent run to their final World Hockey Association title on this very day 40 years ago, it occurred to me how obliging and honest the players were with their thoughts back in the day.
Kim Clackson, for example, pulled no punches when asked about the head coach, Larry Hillman.
“I can’t play for that guy anymore,” Clacker growled. “I’m tired of all the bull.”
You wouldn’t hear a guy like, say, Dustin Byfuglien go off like that on the current puppet master behind les Jets’ bench, Paul Maurice. Big Buff talks less than an Amazon parrot. On those rare occasions when the Winnipeg HC defender actually grunts something that passes for a complete sentence, it’s usually as bland as dried toast.
From what I can gather, it’s much the same with many of Buff’s accomplices in les Jets’ changing room. Listening to them preach the party line is like a day at the laundromat—all wishy-washy.
They don’t talk. They recite. Play the right way, move our feet, play a 200-foot game, blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda.
It’s all cookie-cutter quotes from young guys schooled in the art of moving their lips while saying squat, and I’ve often wondered why news snoops even bother collecting the artificial bon mots the players deliver pre- and post-game, not to mention during down time.
Mind you, the players are mostly muzzled by an organization that believes the daily weather forecast should be kept top secret, and they follow the lead of a general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, who’s a practitioner of bafflegab. Ask Chevy for the time of day and he’ll explain the Julian and Gregorian calendars to you, but you still won’t know if it’s half past noon or half past happy hour.
Be advised that news snoops don’t get lousy quotes because they ask lousy question, so let’s reject that notion. They get lousy quotes because they get lousy, limited and rush-rush access to guys who a) would rather be sitting in a dentist’s chair, and b) usually have a PR flack hovering nearby to censor or cut short any interview that travels to close to the truth.
We had no such restrictions.
First of all, we traveled with the team. That is correct. The WHA Jets didn’t fly charter. The players mingled with the rabble on commercial flights, with assistant coach Sudsy Sutherland distributing the boarding passes, and that meant they sometimes were required to sit beside one of us news snoops, meaning myself, Friar Nicolson or Reyn Davis. As I recall, the players regarded that as cruel and unusual treatment, and I often suspected Sudsy of using his boarding-pass powers as punishment.
But, ya, we were part of the traveling party, and practical joker Willy Lindstrom would prank us with his stink bombs and sneezing powder as often as he would a teammate.
We also rode the team bus to and from the airport, to and from the rink. I normally sat in either of the front two seats, right side, across the aisle from Hillman, his successor Tom McVie, John Ferguson and Sudsy. There was an unwritten code: What happens on the bus stays on the bus.
It sometimes became frosty, depending on what Reyn or I had written that day or what Friar had said on air the night before, and we would be blunt in our critiques of the team.
Some examples of my scribblings…
“Jets return from their week-long road trip this afternoon, and if they travel the same way they play hockey, they’ll all come home on different planes.”
“There are too many passengers on this team and the list gets longer every day. There are players more interested in getting an aisle seat on an airplane than digging a puck out of a corner.”
“Winnipeg management doesn’t like to hear references to Houston, but the players who came from the Aeros are the blood and guts of this team and the Winnipeg holdovers are living off them.”
You think any players wanted to sit beside me on the bus or flight home after reading that?
In general terms, however, it was an agreeable arrangement, in part because I like to think that Friar, Reyn and myself recognized we were in the players’ space, so we didn’t tell tales out of school.
In terms of dealing with the players post-game, post-practice, again, we had open access. I don’t recall any player hiding in the showers. And we weren’t required to go through a PR flack to get an audience. We just sat down beside them in the changing room.
By way of comparison, if you want any insight into today’s players you don’t go to the dressing room or grovel to a PR guy—you log in on Twitter, Instagram or another social media platform.
I still recall the first time I stepped inside les Jets’ lair. It was the season of 1977-78, and Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Bobby Hull, both with towels wrapped around their mid-sections, stood nearby. This was their conversation as they sized me up:
Sjoberg: “It looks like we’ve got a new reporter with the team.”
Hull: “Just another asshole to try and stir up shit.”
Nice to meet you, too, Bobby.
I’ve made this confession once or twice, but I’ll repeat it again:You aren’t supposed to cheer in the press box, but I was silently root, root, rooting for the 1978-79 Jets to win the final WHA title. They were a real good bunch of guys, and I was partial to the players who’d come over from Houston. If a news snoop tells you he/she doesn’t have favorites, trust me, he/she is lying.
Yes, it was 40 years ago this very day when les Jets won the Avco World Trophy to bring the curtain down on the WHA. And it’s been almost 30 years since the Winnipeg Blue Bombers brought the Grey Cup home. Thank goodness for our curlers, the Goldeyes, our university athletes and other amateurs who’ve delivered the goods.
Good grief. Did Matthew Scianitti and Marshall Ferguson of TSN actually spend a portion of their first chin-wag from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats training camp talking about Johnny Manziel? As sure as the great Ticat Garney Henley played two ways, they did. “How good does Jeremiah Masoli’s body language look now that we are a year removed, thankfully, from the Johnny Manziel saga?” Scianitti asked Ferguson. Sigh. Will the TSN talking heads ever get past Johnny Rotten? Apparently not.
If the Ottawa Senators can do something stupid, bet on them doing it. And hiring Patrick Roy as head coach would qualify as stupid.
I don’t know which I’ve seen more often, Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer beater in the NBA playoffs or Vlad the Gifted’s first two dingers with the Tranna Blue Jays. Either way, TSN and Sportsnet can stop showing those replays any time now.
Fashion note: Apparently Brooks Koepka isn’t going to let success go to his clothes. I mean, that NIKE cap that Koepka wore while successfully defending his PGA Championship on Sunday looks like something he picked up in a thrift shop. We’re talking butt ugly.
And, finally, this is what passes for scandal in golf these days: A chain-smoking John Daly rides a cart instead of walking, Brooks Koepka refuses to kiss his lingerie model girlfriend Jena Sims (twice), and Jordan Spieth zips his lips when the Associated Press comes calling for an interview. Whatever happened to the good old days when it wasn’t a scandal until it involved sex, drugs and a club-wielding bride (hello, Tiger Woods)?
Forty years ago this weekend, the Winnipeg Jets put an exclamation mark on an incredible, unlikely run to the final World Hockey Association championship, their third title during the rebel league’s seven-year history. I was fortunate enough to go along for the ride in that winning 1978-79 season—as the main Jets beat writer for the Winnipeg Tribune—and I share the following recollections while thinking of Fergy, Sudsy, the Shoe, my two media traveling companions, Friar Nicolson and Reyn Davis, and that wonderful photog with both the Trib and Winnipeg Free Press, Jon Thordarson, all of whom have left us.
It was early March 1979 and the Winnipeg Jets were back in Birmingham, the scene of their most heinous crime.
Only 11 days earlier, the defending World Hockey Association champions had absorbed a shameful and shocking 9-1 paddywhacking at the neophyte hands of Alabama’s Baby Bulls, and the pungent residue of that humiliation remained. The bus carrying the workforce turned into a parking lot and lurched haltingly (much like the Jets’ on-ice product) toward the team hotel, and one of the players observed two Birmingham cop cars parked in front of the main entrance.
“They must have been at our last game here,” muttered a wise-cracking John Gray. “They’ve come to arrest us for impersonating a hockey team.”
I don’t recall if everyone laughed, but I did. Ditto Tom McVie, the freshly minted head coach who could not be implicated in the 9-1, scorched-earth debacle. He had an-air tight alibi for that night—he’d been sitting at home in Washington, waiting for the phone to ring and hoping it would be someone (anyone) in hockey calling to offer him a job behind their bench.
So McVie was off the hook, as were Terry Ruskowski, Kim Clackson and Gary Smith. (A nasty rib owie had limited Roscoe to four shifts that night; Clacker, in head coach Larry Hillman’s doghouse as usual, had been left behind in Winnipeg; recently arrived goaler Suitcase Smitty had yet to unpack his bags.)
The other boys on the bus, however…they wore the stink of 9-1, all complicit in what had been to that point in the Jets final WHA crusade the most damning evidence that this was Team Dysfunction.
To truly appreciate what went down that season, you must consider the nuances of a nine-month journey full of barking headlines, baffling sideshows, bitching, firings, hirings, disappearances and scoldings. Or, as I like to call it: Troubles Before Triumph.
This, understand, was not an outfit that fed off the warm-and-fuzzy remains of the previous campaign, a successful frolic that produced a second victory parade down the two main drags of River City. Gone to Gotham were Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, while other prominent performers such as Thommie Bergman and Dan Labraaten also took leave. In their stead skated Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Steve West, John Gray and Paul Terbenche, all refugees from an abandoned Houston Aeros franchise.
The remnants of the Jets championship outfit and the orphaned Aeros were confirmed enemies. They buddied-up like Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner.
“At the start, the Houston players hung around together and the Winnipeg players hung around together,” Lukowich confirmed at the close of business on May 20, 1979, the night les Jets gained permanent possession of the Avco World Trophy with a 7-3 victory over the Edmonton Gretzkys. “There was a time when it got so bad that I phoned my agent and told him to get me the hell out of here. I hated being a Jet.”
“They called us the New York Yankees because there were bad vibes on the team,” Ruskowski agreed.
There were other fractures, most notably between fan favorite/resident ruffian Kim Clackson and the head coach, Larry Hillman.
Clacker was a work in progress, a young guy whose game was more fury and fists than finesse, and his style seldom found favor with bench jockey Hillman, who did not fancy the blueline bully’s perceived lack of puck-moving skills. So, like Lukowich, the frustrated Clacker was anxious to acquire a new postal code.
“I can’t play for that guy anymore,” he barked in early November. “I’m tired of all the bull. I was brought here to play hockey and take care of some of the guys. But it’s never worked out that way. I want to go somewhere else so I can play. I just want to play and be appreciated.”
It didn’t help that foes like Edmonton Oilers smug puppet master Glen Sather took delight in giving that particular pot a vigorous stirring.
“If (Hillman) ever wants to get rid of him, we’ll gladly take him,” Sather snickered rather cheekily one night after his Oilers had taken their measure of the Jets. “He’d fit right in with us.”
Others around the league also saw merit in Clackson’s presence.
“There’s no question that we prefer to play Winnipeg when he’s not in the lineup,” confessed Rick Adduono of the Bulls. “When Clackson’s out there and you come down on a three-on-two, you know you’re going to get a good two-hander when you skate in front of the net.”
“Leaving Clackson at home only helps us,” agreed Bulls coach John Brophy. “Every team needs a policeman, especially on the road.”
Jets team president and co-bankroll Michael Gobuty was unamused by the discordant notes being struck and, two weeks later, he took the extraordinary measure of entering the players’ lair to, among other things, instruct Clackson and any other malcontents to put an end to their pity party and play hockey.
“Michael came in and let us know he was the boss around here,” said Lukowich. “He told us where we stand, kind of put our minds at ease. I think we needed somebody to come in and show some authority. Nobody wants to get smart with Mr. Gobuty.”
That wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Hillman.
Larry Hillman was a nice man. A very nice man. And he owned a WHA championship ring that provided proof he was no pooch as a coach.
The man some of us called Morley had pushed all the right buttons six months earlier when the Jets secured the World Avco Trophy for a second time, yet Hillman fell prey to the whims of fate as unsteady dominoes began to tumble.
It wasn’t his fault, for example, that Hedberg and Nilsson defected to the New York Rangers.
It wasn’t his fault that the Achilles tendon in Lars-Erik Sjoberg’s right heel exploded during a late-September exhibition skirmish vs. the St. Louis Blues, and the captain was lost until the butt end of March.
It wasn’t his fault that Robert Marvin Hull suited up for four games then disappeared to battle his bride, Joanne, in a divorce court.
It wasn’t his fault that Teddy Green followed Hull into retirement.
Nor was he the mastermind behind the stroke of brilliance that brought the Houston cartel to River City.
It was, however, Hillman’s duty to make the Jets-Aeros alliance work. Unfortunately, he wasn’t up to the task of blending this hybrid outfit of fierce foes into a unified force.
“We didn’t please each other at the start and still haven’t come to great harmony,” Hillman allowed during the rough patch of mid-November. “Maybe it’s because I mentioned (the Houston guys) more frequently than others in discussing this team. You know, the owners, the public and even the media expected a lot from the one line (Ruskowski-Lukowich-Preston), and maybe I expected too much, like everybody else. I can’t keep relating the Houston guys to the big line (Hedberg-Nilsson-Hull).
“This isn’t a give-up situation, it’s something that we’ll have to overcome. But if something isn’t done soon, there are two objectives—either the coach has to be fired or some changes have to be made on the playing roster. Hopefully we’re all mature enough to realize we have the same objective.”
Hillman survived until Feb. 27, four days and another loss (to the Baby Bulls) after the infamous 9-1 blitz in Birmingham.
“I don’t know how he controls himself,” Hillman’s second-in-command, assistant coach Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, said on the day of the dismissal. “If I was in his position, I would have had some of those guys by the throat. His biggest fault is that he was too good to the guys…he took the blame for everything.”
Only 24 hours earlier, general manager John Ferguson had granted Hillman a stay of execution, saying, “I was seriously considering making a change. But there won’t be any at this time.” A 5-2, home-ice loss to Birmingham, however, sealed the coach’s fate.
“I did not give him a vote of confidence,” Fergy explained of his abrupt about-face. “I said I would leave it up to the players.”
Apparently, the players said it all in that 5-2 defeat, a performance Ferguson described as “horrendous.”
There was delicious irony in the hiring of John Bowie Ferguson as GM of the Jets on Nov. 22 of the final season.
Fergy, you see, was the cad who had lured Hedberg and Nilsson away from River City, where they were looked upon by the rabble with deity-like reverence. Turns out the two Swedes were his parting gift to Gotham and the Rangers, because the National Hockey League club relieved him of his GM duties three days before officially introducing the former Jets to Times Square and the masses in the city that never sleeps.
Gobuty tossed Fergy a lifeline six months later, and it was goodbye Broadway and hello boondocks.
“We are, in effect, handing Ferguson the key to the club,” said Gobuty. “My partners and I plan to take a much less active role in the running of the club. It’ll take time, but we’re confident that he’ll mold the people he wants into the organization.”
Fergy accepted the job sight unseen, and he joined the lads in Quebec City for a first-hand look and a speech from the throne four days later.
“I don’t know how I should put this,” defenceman Scott Campbell said after a 2-2 stalemate with les Nordiques. “Let’s just say it’s nice to know who the boss is around here. Now we know who we have to answer to.”
It’s not like Fergy came in, waved a magic wand and—poof!—the Jets were rid of the toxins that had tainted the water through the first two months of the grind.
More to the point, Winnipeg HC continued to sputter like an old jalopy and, along the way, they were forced to do without Teddy Green, the legendary, tough-as-a-tire iron defenceman who stepped away from the game on Jan. 22 after 19 1/2 seasons and a near-fatal head injury.
I often wondered how Teddy repeatedly returned to the fray. I would watch him hobble onto the team bus or airplane, then observe him sitting in a stony, seemingly catatonic silence, paralyzed from the pain in his knees and, more significantly, his head. He had been on the losing end of a vicious stick-swinging duel with Wayne Maki in 1969, a confrontation that put him in a hospital bed and near death. After the passage of much time, he still had “never fully recovered” from that blow to the head.
“I’ve got no feeling at all in my left hand,” he said at his farewell presser. “Some nights I couldn’t even get my glove on before the game. I’d be putting four fingers in the same hole.”
I marveled at, and admired, Teddy’s courage, but he pooh-poohed any pity hurled his way.
“I remember a guy who used to play on the Million Dollar Line before he came to Boston,” he said. “He went out and busted his butt every game and then would sit at the end of the bench spitting out blood. Murray Balfour was dying of cancer. I’d like to think I fashioned some of my courage from Murray Balfour.”
There are differing stories on what brought these Jets together as a true team, but I favor the one about Gary Smith, known to some as Suitcase and to others as Axe.
By any name, he was not a goaltender of gaudy credentials upon his arrival in River City in mid-February. He had begun the season guarding the Indianapolis Racers goal, but that franchise went belly up 10 days before Christmas, leaving Smitty and his 0-10-1 record and his 5.51 goals-against average wanting for work.
He called Fergy asking for employment, and here’s how Ruskowski remembers the Axe’s introduction to the lads.
“He came walking into the locker room,” Roscoe told Hockey Digest in 2001. “He was pretty much overweight. He sat down and he said, ‘Half you guys don’t know me, but my name is Gary The Axe Smith because I’ve been around 15 teams in the past two years. My goals against is about 5.33 and I won one game and lost 13. But don’t let that fool you: I’m not that good.’ Everyone just cracked up. But you could see we were coming together as a team.”
Not yet, they weren’t. Not until Tom McVie came aboard.
Tommy and Fergy had been childhood chums in Vancouver and, hockey being very much a buddy network, it was reasonable for the latter to reach out to his out-of-work pal to fill the Jets’ coaching vacancy.
We knew little about Tommy, except that he’d been deep-sixed by the worst outfit in NHL history, the Washington Capitals. His reputation as a hard-ass taskmaster preceded him, and he said/did everything to confirm he was a bit off his nut, even telling a vomiting Scott Campbell at practice to “get sick on your own time.”
Although fitness-freak Tommy’s preachings and rigid, nutbar demands failed to translate into Ws at the get-go, we saw evidence that they soon would deliver favorable results. There was renewed vigor. More purpose in their play. Superior conditioning began to take grip, most noticeably in the third period of games.
Better yet—at least for us news snoops—Tommy was a quote machine. A funny quote machine.
On teams in a slump: “You know what happens when you get into a rut like that? People start talking behind your back. When I was with Washington, I remember standing in the Los Angeles airport and I could see a couple of guys talking. As soon as I walked near them, they stopped. I’d walk up to a couple more and they’d stop talking too. Hell, it got so bad in Washington, that one night I was at a football game and the Redskins went into their huddle…I thought THEY were talking about me too.”
Upon arrival in Quebec City, he heard players whinging about their tiny rooms in Le Chateau Frontenac: “I don’t know what you guys are bitching about. The last time I was here, my room was so small that when I put my key in the door I broke a window.”
After the Jets had swept les Nordiques in their first-round playoff series, Gobuty gave Tommy a huge thank-you hug: “The last guy who did that to me was Abe Pollin (chairman of the board for the Washington Capitals). He hugged me and told me he should give me a 20-year contract…then he fired me 19 years too soon.”
More than anything, though, McVie proved to be the right man at the right time for that team.
The Jets had somehow maneuvered their way into top spot on Feb. 15, but they finished the month in third place, five points in arrears of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and every other outfit in the league had at least three games in hand. They lost six of eight, then eight of 10.
Gradually, however, whatever flavor of Kool-Aid McVie was selling kicked in. It was balls to the wind. The Jets came down the stretch like Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes, winning 11 of 17 and four of their final five matches, and only once after March 6 did they absorb back-to-back losses.
“It took them a while before they started winning,” observed Jacques Demers, head coach of the Quebec Nordiques. “Now every one of those guys is proud to wear a Jets sweater…you can see that Winnipeg has togetherness, that pride just by looking at their bench. I think now the Jets may be a better team than they’ve ever been. They’ve got so many leaders.”
It was convenient and a blessing that one of those leaders, captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg, returned from the repair shop for the finishing strokes of the regular season.
Squat like a fire hydrant, the Shoe was equal parts wizard and hockey Einstein, a smooth, puck-moving rearguard who always saw what others failed to see. Everything he did was accomplished with the calm of a Buddhist monk and the subtle skill of a heart surgeon.
The Jets were unsuccessful in his comeback game, dropping a 2-nada decision to les Nordiques, but the Shoe was magnificent in his understated manner.
“I told Fergy after the game that he should cut Shoe’s wages,” McVie joked. “He makes the game look so easy. Any guy having that good a time out there shouldn’t get paid.”
“Now I know why I always had to chop him in Houston,” added Lukowich, the feisty 65-goal winger. “The only way to stop him is to put the lumber to him.”
“I’m still waiting for somebody, anybody, to beat him one-on-one, and I’ve been in the league five years,” Edmonton Oilers centre Ron Chipperfield said of the Shoe.
Let the record show that the Jets went 13-6 with Sjoberg orchestrating the show from the back end and, although his point total was modest, it’s unlikely they would have gone on their successful 8-2 playoff run without him.
This was a WHA title that almost never happened.
The Jets had finished in third place, a whopping 14 points in back of Edmonton and three behind Quebec, and when they departed River City to open a best-of-seven skirmish vs. Quebec there were no assurances that les Nordiques would be waiting for them at the other end.
There was a money dispute, you see.
The WHA’s agreement with the WHA Players Association called for a payout of no less than $10,000 to each member of the championship side. The league was offering between $6,000 and $7,000 and the players insisted they receive no less than $8,000. Les Nordiques and Cincinnati Stingers voted to cancel the playoffs, while the Oilers and New England Whalers were in favor of proceeding as scheduled.
So was there a possibility of the WHA collapsing before its final act?
“Sure there is,” said Peter Sullivan, the silky-smooth centre who served as the Jets player rep. “Even if we vote in favor, Quebec and Cincinnati still might not come over and agree with the other three clubs. I just hope for the league’s sake it doesn’t happen.”
The Jets never took a formal vote, but at least one player, Clackson, was against a work stoppage.
“Don’t write me down as one of the malcontents,” he said. “I’ll take $7,000 anytime. We shouldn’t be concerned about anything right now except winning this series of ours.”
The Jets touched down in Quebec City on a Friday (first game was scheduled for Monday), and the club withheld the players’ per diem ($24), with a further caution: If there was a cancellation of the post-season, the players would be returning home on their own dime.
As it happened, the WHA and WHAPA agreed to put the dispute on hold until after the playoffs, so it was game on.
Much was made of the impact the threatened boycott had on les Nordiques, who became a house divided over the issue.
Reports of fights involving Curt Brackenbury, Serge Bernier and Marc Tardiff came out of the Quebec camp, although defenceman Paul Baxter insisted it was nothing more than mountains-out-of-molehills nattering from news snoops.
“We haven’t played for a week now,” Baxter said with a dismissive shrug, “that sort of thing happens.”
Brackenbury chirped in, saying, “I can’t remember anything about them.”
Whatever the case, the Jets took out les Nordiques in a romp, sweeping the series with 6-3, 9-2, 9-5 and 6-2 wins and outshooting Quebec 50-14 in Game 4.
“There are players on this team who will never wear a Quebec Nordiques uniform again,” vowed the vanquished Quebec coach Demers. “They were unprofessional. They didn’t try at all…all of this because of money. The Jets went through the same thing as my players, but they still wanted to play hockey. What hurts most is when you stand behind the bench and see your players laughing.”
That’s what the semifinal series was…a laugher.
Like many others, I often wondered how the Jets would function without Terry Ruskowski.
If Clackson provided the team with its spine (in the figurative realm), Roscoe was its heartbeat, and that’s not to discredit the Shoe and Barry Long, who wore the ‘C’ while Sjoberg was in the repair shop. It’s just that Ruskowski had that special ingredient you couldn’t reach out and touch. Call it the ‘it’ factor.
“He’s a very talented hockey player, but it’s more than that,” winger Lyle Moffat suggested during the final vs. the Oilers. “I don’t know what it is that the man has, but he has to have something magic about him. He’s just a great leader.”
After 3-1 and 3-2 victories on Edmonton ice to open the championship series, the Jets lost Roscoe to a serious shoulder owie in Game 3, and they were promptly outscored 4-zip in the third period of an 8-3 loss. They gutted out a 3-2 victory in Game 4, then received a royal rag-dolling by the Oilers, 10-2. So, let’s do the math: In seven periods sans Roscoe, the Jets were outscored 16-5. Ouch.
Chances are there wouldn’t have been a happily-ever-after ending to this story except for trainer Billy Bozak. The nicest of men, Boz used his magic fingers and perhaps some voodoo on Roscoe’s shoulder, and he was good to go for Game 6, even though the hard-boiled centre couldn’t raise his left arm and truthfully had no business being on the ice. All he did was set up four goals in a 7-3 victory that brought the curtain down on the WHA, on May 20, 1979.
“I just love the man,” gushed McVie. “I’ve never met a man in my life like Terry Rukowski (Tommy often dropped the first ‘s’ when he spoke Ruskowski’s name).”
I was happiest for the Houston players, who hadn’t been warmly embraced initially and were handed a very tough act to follow.
Thus I wandered down to the Jets changing room in the bowels of a decaying Winnipeg Arena and sought to engage in chin-wags with four of them—Roscoe, Luke, Rich Preston (the playoff MVP) and Scotty Campbell. I don’t recall ever seeing four happier, more contented men. They wore that victory well.
They all did, of course, from Suitcase Smitty to shutdown forwards Lyle Moffat-Bill (Tractor) Lesuk-Roland Eriksson-Bobby Guindon, to fancy-schmancy offensive wizards Silky Sullivan and Magic Man Kent Nilsson, to gut-check guys like Clackson and Long, to greenhorns Glenn Hicks and Paul MacKinnon, to the guy who scored the final goal in Jets WHA history 40 years ago tomorrow—Willy Lindstrom.
“I had a bad season, so I had to have a good playoff,” said Willy, who contributed 10 goals and five assists in the 10 games that mattered most. “I wanted to show that I was a better player than Larry Hillman thought I was. When he was coach, I used to get only five or six shifts a game. I was thinking this would be my last season in North America, and I was thinking of playing over in Germany or Switzerland next year. But now things are different. Tom McVie gave me chance to play and I wanted to make good on that chance.”
No one in that changing room was happier than McVie.
“Three months ago I didn’t have a job in hockey and now they’re measuring me for a championship ring,” Tommy gushed. “This is better than sex…well, maybe.”
Often I have taken pause for ponder on that 1978-79 season and how the events unfolded. Was there one decision that served as the catalyst? Actually, yes. Here’s how I rate the five most-significant developments in that championship crusade:
Michael Gobuty and his 8 Hockey Ventures Inc. partners purchased the contracts of a dozen Houston Aeros, bringing Ruskowski, Preston, Lukowich, Campbell, West, Gray and Terbenche to Winnipeg.
The Gobuty Group hired John Ferguson and handed him the keys to the shop.
Fergy hired Tom McVie.
The return of Lars-Erik Sjoberg.
Suitcase Smitty put in a phone call to Fergy and asked for a job.
The 1978-79 Jets, playoff team: Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Steve West, John Gray, Paul Terbenche, Peter Sullivan, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Bill Lesuk, Lyle Moffat, Bobby Guindon, Roland Eriksson, Paul MacKinnon, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Glenn Hicks, Kim Clackson, Gary Smith, Joe Daley, Barry Long. Coaches Tom McVie, Bill Sutherland. General manager John Ferguson.
Also playing during the regular season: Markus Mattsson, Rich Gosselin, John Gibson, Ted Green, Bobby Hull, Bill Davis, Mike Amodeo, Dale Yakiwchuk. Coach Larry Hillman. Executive Director of Hockey Operations/assistant GM Rudy Pilous.