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Thursday, November 19, 2015


Regina's Jordan Eberle scores Wednesday night vs Chicago.  Photo: Andy Devlin/Edmonton Oilers

1. EDMONTON --  Told you this Roughriders' General Manager search could end up upstaging the Grey Cup.  Five days in advance of the CFL's Division Finals this Sunday, the two prominent Rider vacancies are what everyone's talking about across the league.  Remarkably, right here in the Alberta Capital, the lead item in writer Kirk Penton's CFL Blitz column in the Edmonton Sun on Wednesday had to do with the rumour Eskimos head coach Chris Jones could be the head coach and General Manager of the Saskatchewan Roughriders next season.

Truthfully, I think this gossip about Chris Jones was simply started by someone with nothing better to do.  The Riders' search committee has said NOTHING about potential candidates and far as Jones himself goes, I can't imagine he's focused on anything other than beating the Calgary Stampeders on Sunday in 2015 West Division Final.  So if it's not coming from either side, where else could it be coming from?

I'd be shocked if Chris Jones is with the Riders next year, but wouldn't be opposed to it either. I respect the heck out of him.

2. In truth, the trail of the Roughriders' GM search has gone somewhat cold.  At least, from the outside.  Roughriders historian Graham Kelly (he's written two books on the Green & White) covers the CFL for the Medicine Hat News and is a regular in the McMahon Stadium press box in Calgary.  In an appearance on 620 CKRM's SportsCage on Monday, Kelly scoffed at the notion Stampeders Coach/GM John Hufnagel could jump over to the Riders in a combo role in 2016.  Graham said nothing is pointing that way.  However I got a tip this week that Hufnagel would at least consider an offer from the Roughriders so don't sleep on it just yet.

3. A CFL personnel type predicted this week that the Riders' GM search will come down to Stampeders Assistant GM John Murphy and current Riders Assistant GM Jeremy O'Day.  This gentleman further envisions that if Murphy jumps to Saskatchewan, then former Rider GM Brendan Taman will fill Murphy's role with Calgary.  See how this is the #1 topic in the CFL?

4.  Oh - about Sunday's Division Finals.  Ottawa is favoured by 6.5-points at home over Hamilton in the East while Edmonton is a 2.5-point favourite over Calgary in the West.

Will we finally see the Commissioner at one of these games?  I didn't notice him on the telecasts of either semifinal last weekend.  Is he ill?  I'm starting to get concerned.

5.  Back to the rumours, because they're more fun.  Further down in Penton's CFL Blitz column was the always popular Insiders segment where he anonymously quotes CFL coaches, GMs and scouts.  One of those sources forecasted that Jacques Chapdelaine will end up as offensive coordinator of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2016.  It's a possible scenario since the new head coach of the Roughriders will likely handpick his own staff which may well omit Chapdelaine.

6. We won't see the CFL's official list of free agents for another month but some players have already been identified and it's a stunning smorgasboard of talent.  The list includes such big names as Travis Lulay, Andrew Harris, Jerome Messam, Chris Getzlaf, Rob Bagg, Ryan Smith, Tyron Brackenridge, Macho Harris, Ricky Ray, Ricky Foley and Chad Owens.  And this doesn't even include players from Hamilton, Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton or Winnipeg!

This off-season is going to be perhaps the most-interesting the CFL has ever seen.  However, as CKRM football analyst Luc Mullinder was quick to point out this week, almost everyone of these players are over the age of 30 (with the exception of Ryan Smith and Andrew Harris).  It's like looking over a dazzling buffet that was unfortunately put out yesterday.

However if a languishing CFL team wants to rebuild fast, and has room within their salary cap, they could rebuild extremely quickly for 2016 with all of that talent.  Know any teams like that?

CFL free agency will officially begin on Febuary 9, 2016.

7. Due to a lack of sponsorship, the Football Reporters of Canada's yearly "Reporter of the Year" will not be handed out this season.  Over the years the trophy's been awarded to Vancouver's Llowell Ulrich, Winnipeg's Ed Tait and Kirk Penton, and Edmonton's Bryan Hall.  What a shame it won't be awarded for the 2015 season.  However if it were, my vote would go to Sportsnet's Arash Madani.

8. TSN rightfully trumpeted reporter Dave Naylor's selection for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing during this year's Grey Cup Week but the news release was remiss in identifying Global Winnipeg's Joe Pascucci as the other inductee this year.  Way to go Joe!  He's first class all the way.

9.  An article in Globe and Mail on Wednesday directly linked the 380 layoffs by Bell Media/TSN across the country to the network's loss of their NHL contract.  The axe-swinging didn't take long -- about 100 weeks after Sportsnet stole the NHL from TSN.  However the layoffs were extremely unfortunate and included personal friends of mine such as Jeff Paterson and Matt Baker of TSN 1040 in Vancouver and Sheri Forde from the TSN main network.

10. Regarding our investigation of the NFL vs CFL ratings battle in Monday's column, it should be noted that the Canadian Football League is not in peril.  It simply needs some spiffing up, and it could come in the form of re-worked scheduling.  With brand new stadiums in Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and Hamilton along with refurbishments in Ottawa, B.C. and Montreal, and a stadium move by Toronto, the CFL is in no way going away.  It has survived far greater threats than this over the years and we're not hearing any stories of teams in financial turmoil.

11.  I do, however, feel sorry for Calgary.  McMahon Stadium is poised to become the oldest stadium in the CFL while the Saddledome is one of the oldest in the NHL and as Commissioner Gary Bettman pointed out last season, is substandard.  I was raised with the mentality of "make do with what you have" and there's a difference between "what you want and want you need", however pro sports doesn't look at it that way.  The Saddledome's concourses are cramped and the concessions are out of date.  However with Calgary in a financial crisis due to the price of oil and thousands of jobs being lost, there's NO way its citizens will be able to raise the nearly half-a-billion dollars required for the new CalgaryNEXT project (a brand new adjoining hockey and football complex downtown worth $900-million).

So the Flames will have to watch on longingly as the Oilers move into their splashy new downtown arena next fall and the Stampeders will be fit-to-be-tied with the Roughriders' extravagant new digs at New Mosaic Stadium.  Calgary wants the best-of-the-best, and likely deserves it, but are light years away from actually pulling it off.

12.  Speaking of arena design, whomever came up with the plan for Regina's Agridome in 1977 deserves an award.  The facility, renamed the Brandt Centre in 2004, has ample washroom space and fans can view the ice surface from ALL of the concessions while standing in line.  That's what all of the new arenas and stadiums are building these days but the architect of the Agridome was on top of this 40 years ago.

14. It can't be a coincidence.  The return of captain Colby Williams to the Regina Pats lineup has coincided with a three-game winning streak which has vaulted the Queen City Kids into a playoff spot.  Although the Washington prospect is still not 100% due to an off-season injury, his impact has been immeasurable.

On another note, one Pats executive bemoaned the attendance at Tuesday's 4-2 home win over Medicine Hat (3361).  He's not wrong. One wonders what it'll take for the Pats to average 5,000 fans per home game.  As hockey man Bryan Raymond noted Tuesday evening in the Brandt Centre seats, "This town has shown it will support a winner".  Time will tell, and the Pats are only going to get better and better on the ice over the next few years.

15. Notes From Our Trip To Edmonton:  Don't look now but the Edmonton Oilers' 13 points are the fewest among the 30 teams in the NHL which has them in line to draft #1 overall this June with another lottery win.  (Again).  The Riders may feel they have the "World's Best Fans" but Oilers fans have to be right up there.  They habitually sellout for a perennial loser.  They lost 4-3 in overtime to Chicago last night in a wildly entertaining game .. Overheard many times at Rexall Place Wednesday night was the phrase, "At least we're not getting blown out like last year".  Gulp ... The announcers on the Oiler postgame show provided the natural comparisons of these:  Hall/Messier, Eberle/Kurri, Nugent-Hopkins/Gretzky. But guess what?  There are no Lumleys, MacTavishes, Huddy's or Conachers and there darn sure isn't a Grant Fuhr.  This is still a long road back ... It was heartwarming that former Regina Pats captain Brandon Davidson's first career NHL assist came on Jordan Eberle's second goal of the season Wednesday night.  What a nice Pats alumni connection .. The featured Oilers alumnus at the game was former defenceman Sean Brown.  That got me to-thinking about Tuesday's Pats game where former Regina Pat Rod Williams had to buy a ticket to watch two of his former WHL teams play.  It would be nice if the Pats produced "Alumni Cards" for their former players so they can attend games for free.  The cards would have to come with the provision, "Pass does not guarantee seat" ... Other celebrities at Wednesday's Oilers game were Blue Jays third baseman Chris Collabello and Edmonton Eskimo players Johnny Ojo and James Franklin ...  Felt like I was in Regina amidst a sea of ball caps and sweatpants.  Awesome! ... I had the pleasure of sitting in Section 136, right beside former Eskimo safety Trent Brown, a 1993 Grey Cup champion.  He noticed my Rider ring and struck up a conversation ... By answering a Twitter trivia contest correctly, I won $50 Oilers bucks which they delivered right to my seat!  The questions were: 1) Who was the Oilers' first franchise captain? 2) Who's the Blackhawks career goals leader? and 3) Who leads the Oilers in Shots on Goal?  The answers are Al Hamilton, Bobby Hull and Taylor Hall.  And I didn't even need Google! ... It was a traffic snarl to get out of the Rexall Place parking lot.  That caused Mrs. SportsCage to quip, "Just wait until our new stadium.  Twice the people and half the parking spots" ... Oilers coach Todd McLellan's 195 wins in his first four seasons are the most by any coach in NHL history ... And lastly, the Atlanta Thrashers have made a more-recent playoff appearance than the Edmonton Oilers.  Tough times in the City of Champions.


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