Good morning, folks.
Perhaps you've noticed the daily signings of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers over the last few weeks.
The CFL team has historically done this a couple of times a year — before free agency and prior to training camp. A lot of the players are already inked to deals, but by spacing out the announcements the team buys itself some free publicity in the local media.
We've generally gone along with the scheme — after all, we also need something to write about and you want something to read about. We're all in this together.
Not unlike a lot of things these days, this year's slew of signings has been unique. After missing the 2020 season owing to the pandemic, the league's financial situation is tenuous at best and most of the big-name players are being asked to sign new deals for lower salaries — "restructured" contracts is the January 2021 catch-phrase.
The Bombers have managed to get many of their stars to agree to these terms, with many of them expressing their understanding and acceptance of the situation. I know their options are limited, but still — CFL players are the best folks.
Zach Collaros, Willie Jefferson, Stanley Bryant, Nic Demski, Brandon Alexander, Jackson Jeffcoat and others have all re-committed to the team, expressing a keen desire to come back and defend the Grey Cup title they won in 2019. Man, that seems like 14 years instead of 14 months ago!
Which brings us again to the elephant in the room. While the local NHL team opened its 2021 season last night, there's still a lot of uncertainty as to whether or not the local CFL team will at some point get to do the same.
A tweet this week by CFL Insider David Naylor of TSN brought some perspective to the prospect of a three-down football season this year. It said:
According to Ontario government vaccine rollout plan, shots for the general public "could begin as early as August 2021." That is not good news for the CFL. I anticipate there will be a shortened season in the fall. But like everyone, I am just guessing.
I'm not sure what Manitoba's vaccine plans are for the general public, but I'd bet they're about the same — I hope.
When we last heard from Randy Ambrosie in November, the CFL commissioner was brimming with optimism that a vaccine was on the horizon and that was going to pave the way for the league to get back on the field with its fans in the stands.
Some of us wondered at the time if there was a Plan B. We mostly heard that we should simply hope for the best and everything would work itself out.
The CFL does have a schedule for 2021. It was put out during that moment of optimism back in November. I normally print these things out and pin them on my bulletin board. In this instance, I didn't want to waste the paper, so I had to Google it yesterday to remind me that the Bombers are scheduled to open the season at home on June 10, with a 2019 Grey Cup rematch versus the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
What do you think the odds are of that game happening?
So while we are happy to write about how the Bombers are filling their roster for the 2021 season, we also wouldn't mind hearing from you know who on how that season might unfold if Canadians are still waiting for their vaccination shots in August.
Hello, Mr. Commissioner. Poke your head up and say something. Anything, really.
The Winnipeg Jets opened their 2021 season vs the Calgary Flames Thursday night at Bell MTS Place with a 4-3 OT victory. Mike McIntyre and Jeff Hamilton were in the rink and file these reports:
• Big picture: Mike's opening night column describes the scene, the first event inside the downtown rink since the pandemic shut things down back in March of 2020;
• Cool hand Laine: Jeff reports on how the team rallied from a 3-1 first-period deficit to win the game on a snipe from Patrick Laine — his second of the game — early in the extra frame;
• This and that: And the fellas combine on a notebook that includes details on how Nicolaj Ehlers managed to get freed from COVID protocol to get into the game.
In other news:
• Aye aye skipper: After nearly 20 years of work in independent baseball, Tom Vaeth is finally getting a chance to be manager. Last week the former Winnipeg Goldeyes' hitting coach was named the new skip for the Frontier League's Washington Wild Things. The Maryland native who started his family in Winnipeg, chatted with Taylor Allen about his long road to becoming bench boss;
• Make way: Marty Murray bolstered his lineup this week with a pair of WHL top prospects, but Mike Sawatzky reports in this story that the GM and head coach of the USHL's Sioux Falls Stampede has had to strike a delicate balance when adding players, not wanting to cause too much turmoil with the roster he already had.
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In case you missed it
The Winnipeg Jets are off to an impressive 11-6-1 start to their season, but 13 of those 18 games have come against non-playoff teams in Ottawa, Vancouver and Calgary. Now the real test begins, with 23 of the next 34 against Toronto, Edmonton and Montreal beginning Thursday. Free Press sports editor Steve Lyons and columnist Mike McIntyre discuss how the hockey club might handle this tougher stretch, whether their current style of play can lead to sustainable success, the breakout performance from Pierre-Luc Dubois and more. They also chat about Tiger Woods’ devastating car crash, Mike’s pitch to buy Steve’s unused golf clubs, and Steve’s idea to ditch his vehicle and travel by two wheels instead of four.