Those loyal Sabres fans get taken in – this time by Taylor Hall

When I first came to hockey during the 1970-71, the Canadiens (here’s a surprise) were my team. They had a few players you might recognize: Jean Béliveau, Yvan Cournoyer, Henri Richard, Serge Savard, J.C. Tremblay, then Frank Mahovlich and Ken Dryden.

Sometime after that, I adopted a second team: the Buffalo Sabres. Something about the French Connection and Gilbert Perreault. When I began covering sports, I liked Buffalo. It’s a real hockey town. Tough and loyal. Not one of those Bettman outposts in a swamp or a desert.

I hate to see Buffalo fans get jerked around, whether it’s Gary Bettman and toe-in-the-crease or Connor McDavid going to Edmonton instead of Buffalo. I hate it when the league stacks the deck in favour of a newbie franchise like Las Vegas at the expense of fans in cities like Buffalo and Ottawa.

And I really hate to see those fans taken by a punk like Taylor Hall.

Hall signing a one-year, $8 million deal with Buffalo might be the most cynical player move ever. Hall has zero chance of winning a Stanley Cup during his one-year tour of Buffalo. He’s there to make the league forget that 16-goal season, so he can parlay a good season on Jack Eichel’s wing into a long-term deal in the $8- to $10 million range.

No, this isn’t sour grapes. I never wanted to see the guy in a Habs uniform from the get-go. Hall has spent his career on a series of bad teams and he has never made them better. He’s drastically overpriced, even on a one-year contract. He’s all about Taylor, not about the Oilers or the Devils or the Coyotes or the Sabres.

I don’t like to see Buffalo get jerked around – but the Sabres were desperate. Now they’ve got a splashy free-agent signing and a year with a selfish star. Good luck with that. 

Rafa forever: Many years ago, I covered a victory by a young Spanish player at the Jarry Tennis Centre. His name was Rafael Nadal. He had lots of hair and a great smile and he did his best to talk to the assembled media wretches even though his English was terrible.

So here we are, in awe after watching Rafa beat the obnoxious Novak Djokovic to win his 13th French Open. He doesn’t have all that much hair left, his English is still pretty terrible – but goodness this man can play tennis. That 13 wins in a one major is a record that will never be approached, much less beaten. And this with something like three previous matches to prepare.

Hats off, Rafa. And I hope you win 13 more. 

&&&& making history on the track: I covered the weekend at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in June of 2007 when Lewis Hamilton won his first pole position and then his first race in Formula One. Yesterday, he won his 91st race at the Nurburgring in Germany, tying Michael Schumacher atop the all-time winner’s list.

With that, Hamilton formally joins the group of four F1 drivers who are the greatest ever in the sport: Juan Manuel Fangio, Ayrton Senna, Schumacher and Hamilton. And with the number of races they run today, Hamilton should far surpass both Schumacher and the the 100 mark in victories before he’s through.

Houston, we have a problem: The Houston Astros do not belong in the post-season. Half their starters would have been banned from the game for life if Rob Manfred had a spine. The team should have had to forfeit their bogus World Series title and they should have received a five-year post-season ban. 

The Astros are the worst bunch of cheaters in the history of the game but they got off with a slap on the wrist from Manfred while truly great players like Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose have been banned for life for far less.

Watch the ALCS if you wish but I refuse to watch a single pitch while the Astros are playing. They don’t belong. Period.

Dumb and dumberererer: Your Monday Morning Quarterback skipped around and watched a bunch of NCAA football yesterday. Depending on the state where the games were played, some stadiums were empty while others let in 10,000 to 15,000 fans.

In theory, 15,000 fans in a stadium that seats 80,000 shouldn’t be a problem. There’s enough room to distance everyone and if they’re all wearing masks, they should be relatively safe.

Except that’s not what they do. At schools like Texas A&M, the fans (most of them students) sat in tight clusters without masks, screaming in each other’s faces.

These are university students, right? They have to pass college entrance exams? So how could they be so flipping D-U-M-B????

Lies, rumours &&&& vicious innuendo: I suppose he uses it for motivation but to hear LeBron James batting on about how he doesn’t get respect and how he shoulda been the MVP makes me a little ill. The guy is idolized, never mind respect. And yet he can still pull a trashy move like walking off the court before the final whistle when his team is losing. …

Spell Check, which for me creates far more errors than it catches, changed “Josh Anderson” into “John Anderson” in a couple of tweets I wrote last week. That reminded me of my late, great colleague Ian MacDonald, who had his infernal Spell Check turn “Rubens Barrichello” into “Robbing Boorishly” and “Felipe Alou” into “Feline Aloud” in stories that actually got into print. …

Great line from my friend Dejan Kovacevic covering the Steelers yesterday. After watching Abbotsford, B.C. native Chase Claypool score four touchdowns against the Eagles, Kovacevic noted that Pittsburgh is good at finding Canadians who can score. …

If President Batshit doesn’t kill us all before then, there is talk that the NHL might open its next season outdoors in Lake Louise in January. I’ve not been a fan of the outdoor games but if I were still a full-time sportswriter, I’d hitchhike to Alberta to cover that one. …

I hate the Dallas Cowboys. Always have. But what happened to Dak Prescott Sunday shouldn’t happen to anyone, much less one of the players on that roster who ought to command universal admiration. …

And I still like Jimmy Butler better than anyone on the Lakers roster. …

Meanwhile, we would be remiss if we did not mention our estimable Quebec government, letting the pandemic reach levels worthy of Florida or Texas while finding time to spend $5 to $6 million dollars unleashing more Tongue Troopers to harass small businesses in the province – because heaven knows, small business owners have nothing else to worry about at a time like this.

Heroes: Rafael Nadal, Jimmy Butler, Iga Swiatek, Brooke Henderson, Chase Claypool, Josh Anderson, Evan Bush, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Leylah Annie Fernandez &&&& last but not least, Lewis Hamilton.

Zeros: Taylor Hall, LeBron James, the Houston Astros, Carlos Correa, Lance Bregman, Jose Altuve, unmasked fans sitting in tight clusters at football games, Novak Djokovic, Dan Snyder, Jerry Jones, Ron MacLean, Don Cherry wherever he is, Claude Brochu &&&&& last but not least, David Samson and Jeffrey Loria.

 Now and forever.

TWITTER: @jacktodd46