Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and contributors, Jordan Moss, Bill Myles, Dave Kittle, Peter Hucul and Howard Steiss. This week, it’s time for a pause. Jimmy knows hockey. Urban is a myth and Mingo Fishtrap is a name you need to remember.
Not THIS Again – The escalation in COVID cases around professional sports in the past week is astonishing. As the situation worsens, it is time we took a pause. The NHL had no choice but to invoke tighter COVID protocols. Over 90 NHL players and staff entered COVID protocol in a span of only three days. Players and coaches will now be tested daily. The prudent thing to do would be to opt out of the Olympics, use the 2+ week break in the schedule to their advantage, and announce an immediate pause in the NHL schedule until the situation is under control. What’s wrong with letting everyone return home to be with their families at Christmas? It will be easy to make up all the postponed games using the Olympic gap in the schedule. Medical experts agree a timeout in the schedule is necessary to slow the rapid spread. One way or another, it certainly puts participation in the Beijing Olympics in serious doubt. If I am an athlete, there’s no chance I would be travelling to the very country that gifted us a worldwide pandemic. I’m sure the players are just delighted to once again be restricted to home/hotel/rink.
Canucks This Week – It’s deja vu all over for the Canucks who suffered through the worst COVID outbreak of any professional team last season. Here we are again with a bunch of cases and postponed games this weekend against the Leafs and the Coyotes. The next scheduled game is Tuesday night in San Jose and that game is likely to be cancelled. Who would want a player to test positive down there and have to spend Christmas quarantining in a San Jose hotel room?
In his introductory news conference this week, Canucks new president of hockey operations Jimmy Rutherford acknowledged the fundamental challenge he will face – how do you improve the team when you have a lack of trade assets, a shallow prospect pool and limited cap flexibility? Rutherford seems to have a complete grasp of the situation. It’s clear he wants no part of a rebuild and you can see why. Look at the lineup. Thatcher Demko is playing as well as any goaltender in the league and he’s just turned 26. On defence, Quinn Hughes is 22. Up front, Bo Horvat is still only 26. Connor Garland is 25. Brock Boeser is 24. Elias Pettersson is 23 while Nils Hoglander and Vasily Podkolzin are both just 20. It’s an enviable array of young talent. It’s not like the Canucks have been without talent. Bruce Boudreau just lifted the black cloud and lightened the atmosphere. Instead of sitting back, the team is attacking and playing to its strength.
The problem all along has been the Canucks inability to fill in around them. That’s where Rutherford needs to work his magic. Sometimes small tweaks can make a huge difference. Remember what we have argued all along about incremental improvements? Here’s what Rutherford said, “With the parity in this league, it appears that given year after year different teams, if you lose the wrong two guys you lose drastically. And if you add the right two guys, you can move up drastically.”
The best takeaway from Rutherford’s comments was the statement around trading draft picks. He says the Canucks are in a different cycle than Pittsburgh and in any trades, he will be looking to get younger. It was also good to hear he believes the Canucks need to get bigger and faster. “I want to be careful with our trades. I don’t want to trade draft picks unless they’re later round picks,” said Rutherford. “It’s not the cycle we’re in to trade high draft picks and the trades we make, I prefer that we’re gaining some age on it. So, as we’re moving along if it takes a couple of years to bring it together to be more of a contender then we’ve got the right age group where they can come together.”
Rutherford made his first major front office hire this week, naming Derek Clancey the team’s new assistant general manager. Clancey had served as director of player personnel on Rutherford’s staff with the Penguins. With the Canucks, Clancey will oversee the pro and amateur scouting staffs and you know those areas need improving. Rutherford promises to ‘mentor’ the next Canucks general manager. That’s a pretty good avenue for career development. The Rutherford GM ‘tree’ includes Bill Guerin, Jason Botterill, Tom Fitzgerald and Ron Francis. All four went on to land GM jobs after working under Rutherford. One other name to keep an eye on and that’s former Penguins defenceman Sergei Gonchar. He is a candidate to be added to the hockey ops department. Gonchar is currently a coach with the Russian national team.
One side note to the front office changes in Vancouver. It’s going to seem like night and day for the local media covering the team. Jim Benning was as dull as dishwater and Travis Green always played it close to the vest. It’s going to be fun and refreshing to put a mike in front of Jimmy Rutherford and Bruce Boudreau. They are two ‘open books’ and always good for an honest opinion.
NHL Notebook – Paul Maurice has always been well-liked and well-regarded as an NHL coach but it was time for a change in Winnipeg. In his ninth season, the message was not being heard. Dave Lowry takes over. We will see if the coaching change gives the Jets a bump. It’s surprising to see them sitting outside the playoffs. Time for the players to man up. If the Jets have any hopes of turning their season around, their special teams have to get fixed and fast.
So far this season, we’ve seen jersey’s thrown onto the ice in protest in four Canadian cities – Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto and Edmonton. Is this the new way of expressing contempt for the local hockey heroes? Considering the price of jersey’s, fans may want to find another way of showing their displeasure.
In our pre-season analysis, we argued the Edmonton Oilers still lacked depth up front and guess what? It’s starting to show. The Oilers are particularly weak on the right side. Kailer “Cream Puff” Yamamoto hasn’t had a shot on goal in six games. He has ONE assist all season which is nearly impossible to do when you are playing most of the time with Leon Draisaitl. Jesse Puljujarvi has shown improvement but he really doesn’t drive play. Zack Kassian is nothing more than a fourth-liner at this point. No wonder the Oilers are struggling. Oilers GM Ken Holland is looking for help. He could use a right-winger but also a decent third line centre and a defenceman that can clear the front of the net. How about giving up a first-round pick for Montreal’s Ben Chiarot?
Colorado’s sublime defenceman Cale Makar has to be considered the favourite for the Norris Trophy which, by the way, should be renamed the Bobby Orr Trophy. Makar is on pace for 40 goals. Only two defensemen in NHL history have ever hit the 40-goal mark – Orr and Edmonton’s Paul Coffey.
In Ottawa, the Senators are showing signs of life after a horrible start. Brady Tkachuk has caught fire after coming into camp late. All that needs to happen now is a change of ownership and a new arena. The National Capital Commission is again seeking proposals for LeBreton Flats, the 29-hectare parcel of land near the centre of Ottawa. You’ll remember a development proposal was approved back in 2016 that would have included a new building for the Sens. However, the deal went out of the window when Senators owner Eugene Melnyk broke off the partnership with Trinity Developments in a bitter break-up. The Senators are 31st in the NHL in attendance, averaging just under 11,500 per game. The young team, with so much promise, deserves better.
When I was a kid growing up in Ontario, I was a Maple Leafs fan. I remember the name Eddie Litzenberger. It was one of those names you just loved saying. Turns out Litzenberger had a unique and amazing accomplishment. He won four consecutive Stanley Cups while playing for two different teams, one with the Blackhawks and three with the Leafs. Litzenberger is also the only player in hockey history to win six straight championships, winning the Cup in 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964, and then capturing the Calder Cup in 1965 and 1966 after he had been demoted to the American Hockey League. That’s what I call a winner!
Seahawks This Week – Covid issues are causing changes in the NFL schedule. Sunday’s Seahawks game at Los Angeles has been moved to 4pm on Tuesday. If the Seahawks want to hang onto any faint playoff hopes, the game against the Rams is a must-win. No team has given the Seahawks more headaches in the last few years than the Rams.
Rashaad Penny is climbing out of the Seahawks doghouse. Penny has been the poster boy for bad Seattle drafts after being taken in the first round of the 2018 draft. The oft-injured running back put up 137 yards in the Hawks lopsided win over the Houston Texans including touchdown runs of 47 and 32 yards. The Seahawks running game has perked up the past two weeks. They had 193 rushing yards against Houston and 146 against the 49’ers the previous week.
One positive from the past few weeks has been the play of the defense. The Seahawks have shutout their opponent in the second half in each of the past two games. The defensive backfield is really banged up. Jamal Adams, Marquise Blair and Tre Brown are all gone for the year. Quandry Diggs and D.J. Reed are also nicked up but able to play.
The best news for the Seahawks recently came in a statement from Russell Wilson refuting he may want out of Seattle at the end of the season. Wilson said he’s not about to waive his no-trade clause and claims he will be staying in Seattle at least through the end of his contract in 2023. Wilson reiterated his love for the city and claimed he would like to play for the Seahawks for 20 years. If the Seahawks want to make him happy, try improving the offensive line. We’ve said it before, the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. If the Hawks let a Hall of Fame calibre quarterback like Wilson walk, they could spend the next decade looking for a replacement. Best to keep him happy.
Expect the Seahawks to play a home game in Vancouver in the next few years. Seattle has been granted Canadian rights as part of the NFL’s International Home Marketing Areas initiative. It’s not as though the Seahawks don’t already have a strong following in Western Canada. Seattle has 3,300 Canadian season-ticket holders and sell another 13,300 single-game tickets to Canadians each season. The only time the Seahawks played in Vancouver was a pre-season encounter in 1998.
NFL Notebook – The Los Angeles Chargers would be sitting in first place in the AFC West were it not for the complete bone-headedness of head coach Brandon Staley. Three failed fourth-down gambles sealed the Chargers fate in Thursday night’s 34-28 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Thanks to Stanley’s riverboat decision-making, the Chargers dropped two games back with three to play. Two of the Chargers failed attempted came inside the Chiefs 5-yard line. Talk about gift-wrapping a game in the holiday spirit! The Chargers returned the opening kickoff 75 yards and came away with no points. They also had two other turnovers, an interception and a fumble at the Chiefs goal-line. Take the points when you can get them doofus!
We’re still not sold on the Arizona Cardinals. They lost a statement game to the L.A. Rams on Monday night and dropped to third in the NFC race. Matt Stafford had his best game for the Rams in over a month with 287 yards passing and three TD’s. In his first eight games this season, Stafford threw 22 touchdowns with only 4 interceptions. In the four games prior to Monday night, he had 8 TD’s and 5 INT’s. Rams ageless Andrew Whitworth made NFL history on Monday night, becoming the first player to start at left tackle at the age of 40.
Remember the days, not so long ago, when the New England Patriots regularly beat up on opponents in the AFC East. Well, the Kansas City Chiefs have been doing much the same in the AFC West. The Chiefs have put up a record of 35-6 against AFC West opponents since 2015.
The Las Vegas Raiders can certainly be placed among the doormat franchises in sports. Prior to the start of last Sunday’s game in Kansas City, several Raider players huddled on the Chiefs logo at midfield. Quite the act of noodle-headedness when you can’t back it up. The Raiders turned it over five times including a fumble on the very first play of the game. The Chiefs raced out to a 35-0 lead on route to an easy 48-9 beatdown. It was the largest margin of victory since the rivalry began back in 1960.
Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow is looking like a quintessential franchise quarterback. The Bengals are 7-6 but two of the losses have come in overtime. They remain a long-shot to make the playoffs. In their final four games, the Bengals are at Denver, home to Baltimore and KC and at Cleveland. They probably need to win three of those games.
Don’t be surprised if Tampa Bay grabs the top seed in the NFC. The Bucs have an easy schedule the rest of the way. They host New Orleans this weekend, before games at Carolina and the Jets with a home date against Carolina on the final weekend. Can you imagine a Super Bowl matching up Tom Brady versus the Patriots?
Bill Belichick is now only 28 wins behind Don Shula for the all-time NFL coaching record. Including playoffs, Belichick could surpass Shula’s 347 wins by the end of the ’23 season.
Tampa Bay Bucs receiver Antonio Brown will miss the final game of his three-game suspension this weekend. It will be interesting to see if the Bucs cut his ass after he provided a fake vax card. His personal chef spilled the beans after Brown balked at paying him for his services. If he had half a brain, he would have just bucked up. The suspension cost Brown $330,000 in lost salary. Not too bright.
Really sorry to learn of the death of former Denver Broncos star receiver Demaryius Thomas. He was found dead in his home last week at just 33. Thomas had a terrible childhood in Georgia. Police raided his home one day and arrested his mother and grandmother for crack cocaine distribution. His Mom was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Thomas was forced to live with an aunt and uncle who helped raise him. From all reports, he was a caring and personable guy who paid special attention to teammates children whenever they visited the locker room.
An autopsy has revealed that former NFL player Phillip Adams suffered from severe brain disease and it was a major factor in the shooting deaths of six people in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The doctor who examined his brain said there is no doubt he had stage 2 chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Adams shot and killed his physician, the doctor’s wife and two of their grandchildren as well as two HVAC technicians who were working at the home. Adams died of a self-inflicted gunshot.
You have to wonder how many retired athletes are suffering from some form of CTE. If you’ve played sports at any level, you’ve taken shots to the head. Personally, I suffer from CTV. That’s the uncontrollable urge to talk like Lloyd Robertson.
Urban Myth – Urban Meyer is destined to go down in NFL history as just another ill-fated college coaching hire, joining the likes of Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban. Meyer leaves after just 13 games with a 2-11 record and a laundry list of missteps. Meyer may have been omnipotent in the college ranks but the act wore thin in the NFL in a hurry. No NFL coach alienated more players and berated more staff in a shorter period of time than Meyer. He apparently thought he was still coaching teenagers. Jaguars owner Shad “I’m Notta” Khan says Meyer was fired with cause and claims he won’t pay the remaining four years on his contract. Khan was foolish enough to sign Meyer to a five-year deal in the off-season estimated at $10-$12 million per year. There’s no chance Khan will get away without a sizeable settlement regardless of Meyer’s boorish behavior. Khan can talk all he wants. He’s going to have to pay up whether he likes it or not.
Leftovers – North Vancouver prodigy Connor Bedard is in some select company as only the seventh 16-year-old to earn a spot on Team Canada for the World Junior Championships. He joins the Great One, Crosby, Lindros, McDavid, Jason Spezza and Jay Bouwmeester. Bedard is starting camp as the 13th forward but don’t expect him to stay there.
Spotify Songs of the Week – We’ve got a random potpourri Spotify playlist for you this week. Let’s start with an artist named Bow Thayer. Check out the release “Spend It All” featuring Levon Helm. The track we downloaded was “Wingless Angels.”
Here’s a name for you – Boozoo Bajou. He recorded some tracks with the late Tony Joe White. Have a listen to “Aspen, Colorado.”
For a little Cajun influence, we offer up Jean-Jacques Milteau and the song “Rock n’ Roll Will Never Die” off the album “Soul Connection.”
The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer have a release called “A Real Fine Mess.” We recommend the track “Mama’s in the Backseat.”
YouTube Feature Artist – A great friend turned me onto a fine Austin, Texas-based soul and funk outfit who go by the unusual name of Mingo Fishtrap. They are very much in the Muscle Shoals tradition, complete with an outstanding horn section. Check them out from 2017 on Music Row Live performing “Things Ain’t What They Was.”
For a good kick, check out their cover of the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic “Bad Moon Rising” performed on their tour bus.
Here’s another good tune for you called “Movin.”
And finally, check out the official video for the track “On Time.”
Also this week, we stumbled upon this fine cover of the Gram Parsons classic Love Hurts featuring Keith Richards and Norah Jones.
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