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Under Further Review – February Edition – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and contributor Jordan Moss. In this edition, the Winter Olympics get underway in Beijing. Really? We hadn’t noticed. The Super Bowl is a week away. We have a prediction. Plus, Rocky Wirtz has another scotch. 

Winter Olympic Report – Aren’t the Winter Olympics wonderful? Bringing the world together to celebrate the human spirit…under complete quarantine in a police state. Does anybody care? Haven’t watched five minutes of coverage. I’d rather bake muffins.

Turning Beijing, which hosted the summer Olympics in 2008, into a Winter Olympics site is beyond bizarre. In order to create enough snow to make it happen, China has sprayed an estimated 49 million gallons of crystals around the venues in a city that has year-round water shortages. While China is hardly the first winter host to use fake snow, it’s the first time the snowpack has been completely artificial.

For the opening ceremonies, we would have made one big change. Instead of releasing white doves to symbolize peace, they should have let loose hundreds of bats. Seems more appropriate.

Why did the IOC go back to China? It’s simple. Money is not a problem. China has told the IOC the cost of these Olympics is $3.9 billion. The Business Insider news site says it’s more like $38.5 billion, just a tad shy of the most expensive Olympics ever – and yes, that was the Summer Games in Beijing. The IOC is obviously running out of suckers to host the games.

Thanks to COVID-19 protocols, there are no fans. Chinese and international spectators are banned from the venues. All athletes, coaches, journalists and technicians are completely separated in an Olympic bubble maintained by health-care workers in head-to-toe hazmat suits. Being a police state, there’s no smiling allowed either. What a lovely atmosphere in which to compete!

Wisely, several countries advised their athletes and personnel to leave their personal cell phones and laptops at home and instead use burner phones to avoid having their personal data stolen by the Chinese government. One journalist even quipped that, athletes should have their medals scanned because you never know what might be inside them.

Qatar Calling – You can quickly run out of superlatives in describing Canada’s men’s soccer team. They stand on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Qualification is supposed to be difficult yet the Canadian team is marching through having won five in a row and remain unbeaten after eleven matches. Wake me up because it seems like a dream!

Canada has met every challenge. They continue to score highlight-reel goals. Numerous players have turned in incredible individual performances. Collectively, the team has performed beyond all expectations. They have found ways to win regardless of the style of play. When you can win games in different ways, that’s the mark of a quality team. It’s why they are atop the standings and within an eyelash of booking their ticket to Qatar this summer.

For What It’s Wirtz – It seems Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz wasn’t fond of dishing out $2 million to settle the Kyle Beach affair. His displeasure was evident at the Hawks townhall meeting when he became unglued when a question about the sexual assault scandal was posed by a reporter. The Blackhawks had weeks to prepare for the meeting and they had to know the subject would be broached. Yet, Wirtz still flew off the handle.

You want to know why Wirtz wouldn’t answer questions? It’s because he’s never had to. As expected, the NHL did nothing. It’s clear to everyone. Pro leagues are powerless when it comes to holding owners accountable.

However, WE have one question for Wirtz. Where did you get that hair-hat on top of your head?  End of the Roll?

Canucks Notebook – Judging by his public statements, Canucks president of hockey operations Jimmy Rutherford is getting anxious to reshape the roster. According to numerous reports, forwards J.T. Miller and Conor Garland are among the Canuck forwards under consideration in trade discussions. Rutherford’s recent comments are telling.

“We’ve got to figure out how to get a little cushion on the cap,” Rutherford said, in announcing the hiring of new GM Patrik Alllvin. “It’s always difficult, but being up against the cap as a team that’s not in the playoffs at this point in time isn’t a good combination.”

That, pretty much tells you everything you need to know. Bodies are going to be moved to give the team some salary cap relief.

Good on Rutherford for hiring for a pair of highly-capable young females as part of his front office revamp. Player agent Émilie Castonguay was brought on board as an assistant general manager. She holds degrees in finance and law and will be in charge of the salary cap, CBA issues and contract negotiations. Rachel Doerrie was added to the Canucks analytics department. Some hockey insiders think both Castonguay and Doerrie could become NHL GM’s.

Rutherford has had a big to-do list since taking over. It’s great to hear the organization is looking at upgrading facilities which could make the Canucks a more desirable destination for free agents. According to Rutherford, the Canucks would like to build a new practice facility along with upgrading facilities at Rogers Arena and in Abbotsford. The locker room at Rogers Arena has not been upgraded since before the 2010 Olympics.

Rutherford and Allvin are sure to focus on player development. While in Pittsburgh, they built the Penguins minor league system into a powerhouse with a constant flow of talent that included Jake Guentzel, Bryan Ruster, Conor Sheary, Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese. You can be sure they will try and duplicate the success in Vancouver. They will also try to mine U.S. college and European free agents. The last highly-recruited European free agent signed by the Canucks was defenceman Philip Holm back in 2017 and that didn’t exactly work out. Allvin has extensive contacts in Europe so expect the Canucks to be active on that front.

Paid to Produce – Former Oakland A’s owner Charles O. Finley once famously said, “I have no problem with the high cost of talent. I have a problem with the high cost of mediocrity.” Finley’s comment is certainly true when it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Many hockey-watchers have advanced the opinion that the Maple Leafs roster is too top-heavy and that the Leafs will never win with four players making so much money. How many times have you heard that?

There’s no doubt your top players HAVE to be playing at an elite level. What’s killing the Leafs is two of their so-called ‘Core-4’ are not producing to their pay-grade. Auston Matthews is making $11 million but he’s delivering like one of the top performers in the league. William Nylander is earning just under $7 million and is providing good return on the dollar. That’s not the case with John Tavares and Mitch Marner. Tavares makes $11 million with three more years to run on the contract. His on-ice performance does not justify that pay cheque. On January 19, Marner scored a power-play goal against the New York Rangers. It was his first goal with the man advantage in a span of 101 games. Marner will take home $10,903,000 this season. An inexcusable lack of production for a player making eight figures.

For comparison, look at the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Like the Leafs, the Lightning have four players earning huge money. The difference is – Tampa’s Core-4 are all delivering high value and unlike the Leafs, the money is not all wrapped up in four forwards. Andrei Vasilevsky is arguably the top goaltender in the NHL. Victor Hedman is a perennial Norris Trophy candidate. Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point are both producing at a level that meets or exceeds their salary slot.

A top NHL contender can carry several large contracts but your big earners need to be having career-type seasons. You also better have a deep group of cost-efficient players underneath them coupled with a prospect pool supplying young talent to support the core group. Unfortunately for Leaf faithful, that’s not the case in Toronto.

NHL Notebook – With the NHL choosing not to participate in the Beijing Olympics, there’s already talk of a World Cup of Hockey in two years time. Rather than hold the event in the summer, word is the NHL may be willing to hold the World Cup in the middle of the season in February, 2024. The NHL is committed to participating in the Winter Olympics in Italy in 2026.

The NHL trade deadline has been pushed back until March 21 as a result of all the COVID-19 cancellations. Expect to see a flooded market as the deadline approaches. The playoff race in the Eastern Conference is all but over so you could have eight teams in the East as potential sellers. Depending on how things go in the West, you are likely to have several more sellers. There could be as many as 20 UFA defenceman available so it only serves to follow that price’s, compared to last year, could come down.

The shine is off Ken Holland. The beleaguered Oilers GM is no longer the hockey genius he was made out to be. None of Holland’s moves since taking over in Edmonton have moved the needle. In fact, several of his roster decisions have only served to set the Oilers back. We know all about his inability to act decisively and solve the Oilers goaltending riddle. The right side of the Oilers defence is the equivalent of the Canucks and you know how much that’s been talked about in Vancouver. Evan Bouchard is still developing and the jury is out on his defensive awareness. The decision to sign Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci over the summer was flat-out foolish. They are both huge liabilities in their own end. Up front, the Oilers bottom six forward group is a train wreck. Holland should have seen this coming. Patchwork doesn’t cut it in the NHL. You will be exposed.

The desperation signing of Evander Kane only makes Holland look more foolish. Does anyone think Kane will make a difference? Do you really think there will be a happy ending? Kane has played 12 seasons in the NHL. He’s been in the playoffs twice. He’s played 20 playoff games and scored two goals.

Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes have their work cut out for them as they map out a plan to move the Canadiens forward. The Habs are giving up goals by the bushelful. Not even a 25-year-old Carey Price could fix their issues. One of Marc Bergevin’s parting gifts was signing Nick Suzuki to an eight-year, $63 million dollar extension. It’s just one of many over-inflated contracts on the books that the new management team will have to navigate. The Canadiens are sitting with eleven picks in this year’s NHL draft. It might be wise to use some of the extra picks to help unload a contract or two and open up some cap space.

Although the Canadiens are sitting dead last in the NHL, don’t expect a coaching change until after the season. The Habs are already paying Claude Julien $5 million US until the end of the season and Marc Bergevin will continue cashing cheques until the end of June. To make matters worse, Bergevin signed coach Dominique Ducharme to a three-year deal last summer so there could be more dead money on the books by the start of next season.

If there’s a team in need of a rebuild, it’s the Philadelphia Flyers. An in-season coaching change has had little impact. The team has had a pair of 10-plus game losing streaks already this season. Time to blow it up.

The Colorado Avalanche are an absolute juggernaut right now. They have won 18 straight games at home. They have the best record in the NHL. Nonetheless, if I am Joe Sakic, I am still looking to bolster the lineup at the trade deadline including another competent goaltender.

Sabres goalie Aaron Dell was handed a three-game suspension for his flagrant elbow on Drake Batherson that left the Senator forward with a high ankle sprain. The injury will likely cost Batherson the remainder of the season.  The suspension should have been longer based on Dell’s prior record of cheap shots on unsuspecting forwards. The Sabres were not impressed because they placed Dell on waivers. If he plays in the NHL again, Dell is dead-man walking if he leaves the net.

This could only happen in the NHL where all logic went out of the window years ago. The Arizona Coyotes have revealed they are considering a move into the new, 5,000-seat Arizona State University arena as a temporary home while they await approval and construction of a new building which, by the way, could be years away. Some reports suggest the capacity could be as low as 3,200 once necessary infrastructure changes are made to accommodate an NHL team. The NHL refuses to force the Coyotes to give up the ghost and move despite plenty of good options including Houston, Quebec City, Hartford and yes, a second team in the Toronto area.

You can be sure the Coyotes will be active at the trade deadline. They have cap space and have told teams they are willing to serve as a third party to accommodate clubs looking to offload salary. The Coyotes have set themselves up to win the Shane Wright sweepstakes and they also own two additional first-round picks and a total of five second-round picks in the 2022 draft.

There’s no doubt a lot of hockey dads live vicariously through their sons, often pushing them to the point where they want to give up the game altogether. When evaluating young players, Scotty Bowman once said he always wanted to meet the moms. Why? Bowman maintained that hockey players get their competitiveness and heart from their mothers.

Black Coaches Matter – The calendar has turned over to February and here we are with only one black head coach in the NFL, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin. We should not be surprised that fired Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores has reopened the old wound of racism around the NFL’s hiring practices with a bombshell civil rights lawsuit.

The lawsuit certainly includes some juicy evidence. Flores says he received a series of misdirected texts from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick prior to the Giants hiring of another Brian – Brian Daboll. In the messages, Belichick congratulated Flores, a former Pats assistant coach, for being selected by the Giants as their new head coach. What irked Flores and is included in the complaint, was the fact he was scheduled to interview for the Giants head job. The sham interview was clearly just set up just so the Giants could check the Rooney Rule box which stipulates NFL teams must interview black coach candidates when hiring a new head coach.

The suit also claims Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered Flores $100,000 for each loss during the 2019 season in an effort to tank and land the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Flores refused. The suit claims he was then branded as uncooperative by the organization.

Super Bowl Preview – The Cincinnati Bengals are headed to the Super Bowl for the first time in 33 years. Who would have predicted THAT at the start of the season? Bengals head coach Zac Taylor entered the year having gone 6-25-1 in his first two seasons.

The Los Angeles Rams wrapped up their second NFC title in four years and have the luxury of hosting the Super Bowl in luxurious SOFI Stadium. The Rams are currently four-point favourites. Quarterback Matthew Stafford never won a playoff game in 12 seasons in Detroit. He’s won three with the Rams in a matter of 20 days.

There have been 55 quarterbacks in NFL history who have been sacked 50 or more times in a season. Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow is the first one to lead his team to a Super Bowl. Remarkable feat! The ability of the Bengals offensive line to hold off the Rams pass rush is certainly going to be one of the keys to the game. Can the Bengals front protect Burrow against Aaron Donald, Von Miller and company?

Here’s a bit of trivia for you. Bengals HC Zac Taylor played in only one professional football game as a player – the 2007 Grey Cup. He was sitting on the sidelines as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers fourth-string quarterback. When an injury hit starter Kevin Glenn, Taylor was added to the roster for the Grey Cup game but never got a chance to play. That was it for his pro career.

PREDICTION: Rams 31 Bengals 20.  Cooper Kupp is named Super Bowl MVP.

NFL Notebook – For over a decade, the Bill Belichick coaching tree has fed head coaching candidates around the NFL. The results have been anything but positive. Ex-New England assistants have made five playoff appearances in 28 combined seasons. Four of them were turned in by Bill O’Brien in Houston. The latest Patriots hire is Josh McDaniels who’s been hired by the Las Vegas Raiders as head coach. Prediction on how that goes? Probably not well.

The Buffalo Bills are the new ‘hot’ team in terms of cherry-picking front office talent. The beleaguered Giants chose the Bills Joe Schoen as their new GM. As mentioned, Schoen and the Giants quickly named Brian Daboll, Buffalo’s offensive coordinator, as their new head coach. Daboll looks mysteriously like the long-lost brother of famed wrestlers Maurice “Mad Dog” and Paul “The Butcher” Vachon. Their first dumb move was saying they are going to stick with quarterback Daniel Jones.

Let’s try and get this straight. The Chicago Bears fired a coach named Matt and a GM named Ryan, then turned around and hired a coach named Matt and a GM named Ryan. Perhaps they should now make a pitch for Falcons QB Matt Ryan. Seems like the logical next step.

Don’t like the NFL’s overtime rule. It may be fine in the regular season but it sucks in the playoffs. Let both teams possess the ball at least once each. Until Cincinnati turned the tables on the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game, the team that had won the coin flip had won ten out of eleven times. Doesn’t seem fair.

The Dallas Cowboys remind me of the Toronto Maple Leafs. They always have an excuse when they crap the bed. Dallas fans can lament all they want about the Cowboys quick exit from this year’s NFL post-season. Blame the coach. Blame the play-calling. Blame the officiating. Real reason is their top players failed to perform. Dak Prescott had a 69 percent passer rating. Ezekiel Elliott had 31 yards rushing and receiver CeeDee Lamb had one catch for 21 yards.

It’s hard to win when the owner thinks he knows more about football than any of his staff. Jerry Jones runs the Cowboys draft and has his hands all over everything. Jones played college football at Arkansas, presumably with a leather helmet and no facemask. Maybe he can bring back Red Grange and teach the Cowboys how to play the Winged T formation.

Postmedia football writer John Kryk penned an article a couple of years ago about how NFL quarterbacks have benefited from playing baseball as youngsters. There’s no better example than the Chiefs Pat Mahomes whose dad played major league baseball. Young Pat played shortstop as a youth and he claims the arm angles used as an infielder have helped him as an NFL quarterback. Playing short taught him how to throw on the run. Mahomes may have come up short in the AFC Championship game but his throws – underhand, overhand, sidearm, three quarters and on the move – are the work of an athletic marvel. It’s not surprising to learn that Joe Burrow also had a huge love of baseball.

In 1998, Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen offered John Elway a 20% stake in the team for $36 million. Elway turned it down. This week, it was reported the Donkeys are for sale and the price tag is estimated to be as high was $4 billion dollars. That $36 million would now be worth $800 million.

Seahawks Notebook – If the Seahawks are to return to the playoffs next season, it will be thanks to strength of schedule, or lack thereof. Seattle will enjoy a fourth-place schedule as a result of their finish this season and it’s sure to help. The Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49’ers both had fourth-place schedules this season and both made the post-season. The Seahawks will also benefit from the NFC West playing the NFC South next season. The NFC South has taken a hit with the retirement of Tom Brady in Tampa Bay and from Saints HC Sean Payton likely moving into the broadcast booth. That division looks dreadful.

Blue Jays Notebook – The Blue Jays will still have plenty of work to do on the roster once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. Based on the current roster composition, they have a gaping hole at third base that needs to be addressed. They could use another starter at the back end of the rotation. The bullpen could use another arm or two. Lineup balance is a big concern so adding a couple of left-handed bats is a must.

Prior to the work stoppage, there was a report the Jays tried to acquire center-fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. from the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Randal Grichuk. The deal made a lot of sense. George Springer is great when healthy but that’s a big IF. A reliable backup should be a priority. Since 2017, Springer has played fewer games in center in each successive year: 2017: 79; 2018: 73; 2019: 67; 2020: 41; 2021: 40.

If the goal is to win a World Series this season, the Jays may look to add another high-leverage arm to the bullpen to work in tandem with Jordan Romano. The top arms still available in free agency are Collin McHugh, Kenley Jansen and former Blue Jay Ryan Tepera. The Jays need more than Kimi Garcia who was added back in December. A trade for a high-end reliever is definitely possible.

MLB Notebook – So much for the Tampa Rays playing half of their home games in Montreal. The plan has been flat-out rejected by major league baseball. The idea of splitting the schedule and playing in both Tampa Bay and Montreal has been advanced for years after attempts to build a new ballpark in the Tampa area failed. Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg says the team will explore options to remain in Tampa Bay. He says he has no plans to sell the team or explore relocation. Montreal is once again left at the altar. If they want to get serious about bringing baseball back to the city, then build a new stadium first. The idea of playing in the Big Owe is ridiculous in the first place.

What’s wrong with baseball? Competitive balance for one. Without a hard salary cap, the discrepancy between the big spenders and the small market teams is wider than ever. In 2021, the Dodgers had a payroll of $286 million, the Yankees $205 million, the Mets $201 million, the Astros $194 million, the Phillies and Red Sox $189 million. At the bottom of the spectrum were the Rays at $70 million, the Marlins at $58 million, the Pirates at $54 million, Cleveland at $50 million and the Orioles at a mere $42 million — meaning the five clubs with the lowest payrolls were shelling out less combined than the Dodgers alone.

Golf Notebook – The potential for a rival golf tour fronted by Greg Norman is gaining traction. The Saudi-backed super league would reportedly have huge purses, guaranteed payouts and 54-hole no-cut tournaments. The London Daily Mail reported that Bryson DeChambeau has been offered in excess of $100 million to join the tour.

No one in golf can fold up like a cheap suit better than Rory McIlroy. His latest collapse took place in Dubai where Mr. Bean Jr. once again grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory. With eventual winner Viktor Hovland sitting in the clubhouse at minus-12, McIlroy was tied for the lead with the driveable par-4 17th and the reachable par-5 18th ahead of him. What does McIlroy do? He could only manage par of the 17th and then plunked his ball in the water with his second shot on 18, making bogey and missing out on a playoff. The guy’s a car wreck waiting to happen. All that talent. What a waste!

Jack’s Legacy – In his illustrious golfing career, Jack Nicklaus established numerous records, many of which will never be matched or broken. We all know about the 18 majors. That iconic record will live forever now that Tiger Woods is broken down like an old Chevy. Here are a few of Jack’s remarkable feats:

  • In 44 majors from 1970-1980, Nicklaus missed one cut.
  • Nicklaus holds the record for most top-10 finishes at Augusta with 22, as well as cuts made, with 37.
  • Nicklaus has 19 runner-up finishes in majors, and five of those came in a playoff or by one stroke.
  • Nicklaus made the cut in 39 straight majors from the 1969 Masters to the 1978 Open Championship. Tiger Woods matched that streak with his run from the 1996 U.S. Open to the 2006 Masters.
  • In his 50s, Nicklaus made nine starts in the Masters and missed the cut only once.
  • Nicklaus won five of the first eight senior major championships he played in.
  • Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are the only two players to achieve threecareer grand slams.

Leftovers – The NBA trade deadline is coming up on February 10. The Toronto Raptors hit the All-Star break as one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Don’t expect the Raps to pull off any roster-altering moves. The starting five of Barnes, Siakam, Anunoby, VanVleet and Trent Jr. is playing lights out basketball. The Raptors hit the selection of Scotty Barnes out of the ballpark. VanVleet made his first All-Star game. Siakam has returned to elite status. Help is needed on the bench where the Raptors could use another guard, particularly one who can hit open shots with consistency. The search for a capable center continues. Whether they can pull something off at the trade deadline remains to be seen.

Looks like Masai Ujiri has done it again. The trade for Gary Trent Jr. that sent Norman Powell to Portland is tipping in the Raptors direction. Trent just put together five straight games scoring 30+ points. Powell has already been moved by the Trailblazers in a multi-player deal with the L.A. Clippers.

Canada’s Denis Shapovalov needs to control his emotions if he is going to break through and win a tennis major. The 22-year-old fell to eventual champion Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, losing a heartbreaking five-set marathon. Shapo called the match officials “corrupt” after Nadal was afforded a stoppage in play for treatment during a match played in torrid heat and humidity. Shapovalov correctly felt Nadal was given too much latitude between serves and between-set breaks.  At last year’s Aussie Open, Shapo was refused a bathroom break because he had already asked for a medical time out. Still, the kid can’t let these situations derail his momentum.

The Vancouver Whitecaps are a farm team for soccer clubs everywhere. Anytime they can turn a player into dollar signs, they jump at the opportunity. Winning is secondary. Their latest ‘sale’ saw the Whitecaps deal star goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau to Los Angeles FC in return for $1 million US in general allocation money (whatever the hell that is) between 2022 and 2025 based on Crepeau’s roster status. Vancouver will also receive a first-round pick in the 2025 MLS SuperDraft plus additional allocation money if certain performance metrics are met. The fact the draft pick is over three years away makes the deal even more bizarre. When will the draft pick be ready to contribute?  2030? The Whitecaps tried to justify the trade by saying a “very special personal situation” prompted the deal. What a Mickey Mouse organization!

Spotify Songs of the Month – Believe it or not, John Mayall is 88 years old and still going strong. The long-reigning king of British blues may have stopped touring but he’s continuing to record. Judging by his latest release, The Sun is Shining Down (album #60 of his amazing career), Mayall has not lost his ability to write and record outstanding modern blues. This is the man who gave us Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor among countless other great musicians who formed part of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.

On his latest release, Mayall showcases several great guitarists including Marcus King, Mike Campbell, Melvin Taylor, Carolyn Wonderland, and Buddy Miller along with violinist Scarlet Rivera who came to prominence with Bob Dylan.  The whole album is great but we recommend “Can’t Take No More,” a funky roadhouse blues, “Deep Blue Sea,” “Driving Wheel,” “Got to Find a Better Way,” and the title track “The Sun is Shining Down.”

YouTube Feature Artist – Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal have both enjoyed remarkable solo careers. No doubt they have left an indelible mark on the music industry. People forget they actually played together in a band in LA back in the mid-sixties called The Rising Sons. Cooder was 17 at the time. Cooder has scored a long list of movie soundtracks and almost single-handedly created the World Music genre by introducing us to talented musicians from Hawaii, Mexico, Africa and Cuba.

We are happy to report that Taj and Ry have teamed up again and have a new album, Get on Board, coming out on April 22 on Nonesuch Records. Here they are performing “Hooray Hooray” with Ry’s son Joachim on drums. Enjoy!

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