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This week, Under Further Review looks at the Canuck’s season to date, the unexpected emergence of the Buffalo Sabres and an underwhelming Grey Cup game.

Canucks News Flash!!!! Elias Pettersson is quite good!

Seriously though, the kid has Gretzky-like vision and anticipation, doesn’t he?  Did you catch him intercepting the cross-ice muffin served up by Dion Phaneuf for the winning goal last Saturday night against the Kings?  Then he turns around and, flat on his keister, somehow delivers a perfect behind the back pass to Brock Boeser for an absolutely stunning goal against the Golden Knights. Every game, he’s a highlight waiting to happen.

What’s that now for the Canucks?  Oh yes, 11 losses in their last 12 games. The penalty kill has sagged big time and that’s not a good thing.  They are sorely missing Beagle and Sutter for penalty-killing duties not to mention they were also without Edler and Tanev for a long spell and that didn’t help. They have to get that corrected and soon. Fortunately, Beagle is back on Tuesday night.

I would definitely keep Edler and Tanev together as a shutdown pair.  Hutton and Gudbranson have been surprisingly solid for the most part. The issue is with whomever they put together on the third pairing. Del Zotto and Stecher just aren’t good enough. It’s also clear neither Markstrom or Nilsson is a true number one goaltender.  I would alternate them and not let either one play more than 3 games in a row even if they are on a hot streak.

It’s tough for fans because you want to see the Canucks do well after years of floundering. However, the worst scenario would be for them to just narrowly miss the playoffs and draft somewhere around 10-14. They still have significant holes and need to draft at least one more impact-type player and that will only happen if they select high enough up in the lottery.

NHL Tim-Bits – It was a memorable return to Ottawa for Erik Karlsson. His toothless Sharks were bludgeoned 6-2 by the lowly Senators.  Sir Erik had no points in his return to the Nation’s Capital and went minus 2. His season to date is so forgettable we should start calling him Karl Eriksson. And what’s with the hair and the pirate look?  If he put on a Conquistador helmut, he could roam the world in a Viking ship and look for the Fountain of Youth.

So all hail the triumphant return of William Nylander. The Leafs front-loaded the deal so they can pay him 10 million this year at a time when they are 17 million under the salary cap. The reality check comes next summer when 12 players become either restricted or unrestricted free agents. If you project ahead and assume Matthews and Marner will get at least what the Leafs gave Tavares and that’s 11 million, then about 40 million of the projected 80 million dollar salary cap will be going to four players.  Not good.

Basically, the Leafs are going to find themselves in a position where every dollar you give is one you can’t give someone else.  Get ready Leaf fans because it’s going to get very difficult to keep everyone around.

Postscript – A lot of hockey people intimated Nylander was getting bad advice from his father Michael who bounced around the NHL with 8 teams during his career. His Old Man couldn’t check his coat either so hopefully he’s not giving young William any advice on that front.

Sad to hear that yet another former NHL player has been diagnosed with CTE, the degenerative brain disease caused by repeated concussions.  Todd Ewen, the former Canadiens tough guy, died at 49 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the basement of his home in St. Louis. His wife insisted he had serious problems from playing hockey and sent his stored brain tissue to Boston University for analysis and it was determined he had CTE.

Canadian Content – I am always proud and happy when Canadians become prominent managers in pro sports outside of professional hockey. A few Canadians have been able to make their mark. There’s Alex Anthopolous, who is Vice President and General Manager of the Atlanta Braves, and Thomas Dimitroff, who is General Manager of the Atlanta Falcons.

The latest is 42-year-old Sudbury native Farhan Zaidi, the new President of Baseball Operations for the San Francisco Giants. Zaidi left the arch-rival Dodgers to join the Giants. He was the Dodgers GM from 2014-2018. Zaidi is more than qualified to manage a major league ball club. He has a PHD in Economics from Cal-Berkeley and a Bachelor of Science from MIT.

It’s always shocked me how little education NHL General Manager’s possess, yet they are put in charge of franchises valued at 2+ BILLION dollars. If you owned an NHL team, would you turn it over to someone with barely a high school education?  Not a chance!

If you look at current MLB general managers, they all have excellent CV’s plus years of executive experience in the minors. Theo Epstein of the Cubs went to Yale and also studied law. Jeff Luhnow of the Astros and Rick Hahn of the White Sox both have MBA’s from Northwestern.  David Forst of the A’s, Matthew Silverman of the Tampa Rays, Michael Hill of the Marlins and David Stearns of the Brewers all graduated from Harvard. It’s clear you must have a strong combination of experience and education in order to get to the highest level of management in baseball.

In hockey? Well, that’s simply not the case in a league where playing experience, nepotism and admission to the old boys club is more important when landing a front office gig.

Just look around the NHL where the chief qualification is having played in the league or some level of college or minor pro hockey. The dressing room seems to be the most important training ground. It’s shocking how few current managers have any formal education whatsoever.

It’s no wonder Lou Lamoriello has out-smarted his counterparts for years. He gained his spurs as Head Coach and Athletic Director at Providence University long before moving on to the NHL.

In researching each General Manager’s educational background, only a handful turned up any post high school education. Most barely finished high school while riding the buses playing junior hockey at some Canadian outpost. And this isn’t meant to diminish the success enjoyed by NHL General Managers who played the game and paid their dues coming up through the ranks.  Jimmy Rutherford and Stevie Yzerman come to mind.

The new breed of NHL GM does seem to have some education so that’s encouraging. Jason Botterill of the Sabres has an MBA from the University of Michigan. Jeff Gorton of the Rangers has a Master’s in Sports Management from Springfield University. Julien Brisbois of the Lightning attended the University of Montreal Law School and later obtained a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Concordia. Kyle Dubas of the Leafs studied sports management at Brock University.

There’s little or no education among the rest of the GM’s. Peter Chiarelli went to the University of Ottawa Law School before becoming a player agent. George McPhee studied law at Rutgers for a short time after his playing days were through. Stan Bowman earned a degree in Finance and a degree in Computer Applications at Notre Dame. Way back when, Nashville’s David Poile played hockey while at Northeastern. That’s pretty much it among the 31 NHL GM’s. Only about one third have even seen the inside of a college or university.

Many former players gain high level management positions for no other reason than name recognition.  How can you explain Trevor Linden being named President of Hockey Operations for the Canucks without any previous management experience outside of his fitness centres? It’s unfathomable.

I understand how having played the game can help you assess talent to a certain degree but I am not sure how that transmits to managing a major sports franchise and managing people.

I just find it odd that NHL owners, who have amassed fortunes in the business world, would be so slow to react and respond to how franchises have been operating in other professional sports for years. It’s taken them forever to move out of the Dark Ages.

So what happens this week?  The Flyers fire Ron Hextall as their GM and one of the candidates rumoured to be in line for an interview is one-time Canucks GM Dave Nonis, the former office boy from Burnaby. Really? Nothing has changed apparently.

Sabre Rattling – If you would have asked me a few weeks ago who were the surprise teams in the NHL so far this season, I would have said the Vancouver Canucks and the Montreal Canadiens.  Not anymore!

The surprise team so far has to be the Buffalo Sabres.  They recently reeled off a 10-game winning streak and as of now, are comfortably in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Sabres picked up their 14th win of the season on November 22, more than two months earlier than last year. What’s more, they have 5 wins already when trailing after 2 periods.

You have to give a lot of credit to new General Manager Jason Botterill who came over from Pittsburgh in the off-season. He obviously learned a few lessons while with the Penguins under Jimmy Rutherford.

Botterill made 3 significant moves during the summer that radically changed the team’s fortunes. He signed Blues goaltender Carter Hutton to a 3-year contract for less than 3 million per season as a free agent. That’s not much more than the Canucks gave Anders Nilsson to back up Jacob Markstrom. Hutton has been outstanding but what’s more important is that he’s a tremendous competitor who hates to lose and that’s definitely rubbed off on his teammates.

Botterill also acquired left-winger Jeff Skinner from the Hurricanes for essentially second and third round draft picks. Skinner is at the top of the league in goals scored and has great speed which has helped the Sabres play with more pace. Skinner is an unrestricted free agent next summer so it’s not surprising the Sabres have already opened contract talks in an effort to get him signed long-term.

The other major deal made in the off-season was the decision to trade centre Ryan O’Reilly to St. Louis. At first glance, many hockey insiders thought it was a great deal for the Blues – a deal which would take them deeper in the playoffs.  Well, needless to say, it hasn’t worked out that way.

First of all, here’s what Buffalo got in return – veteran forwards Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka, emerging young forward Tage Thompson plus, and here’s the capper, a first round pick in either 2019 or 2020, and a second round pick in 2021. What’s important to note is that the first round draft pick could end up being in the lottery if things fall nicely for the Sabres. The first pick could get really valuable if the Blues continue to slide and the Sabres wait until 2020 to exercise the pick.

While O’Reilly has done a good job with the Blues, the deal has provided the Sabres with much needed depth up front. It was also time to change up the chemistry in the dressing room and send a signal to the players that there’s a new sheriff in town and they will be held accountable.

If you look at the Sabres six best forwards – Skinner, Eichel, Pominville, Reinhart, Okposo and Middelstadt – it’s a pretty good group. Rasmus Dahlin, this year’s coveted first overall NHL draft pick, is coming along very well and should see increased minutes as the season progresses.

Good on Botterill and the Sabres! Buffalo is a great hockey town and the fans deserve better. It would be great to see them break through and make the playoffs this season.

Le Coupe Grey – Congratulations to the Stamps for winning another Grey Cup but the game itself was not exactly a classic. When the two teams combine for 8 turnovers, it does not qualify as epic.  The RedBlacks coughed the ball up 6 times all by themselves with 3 fumbles and 3 interceptions. Trevor Harris reverted to previous form and was a turnover waiting to happen all game long.

Congratulations to both Mexico City and Edmonton for opportunities lost in hosting the big game.  Mexico City was supposed to be the site of the biggest game of the NFL season between the Rams and the Chiefs but had to forfeit when the NFL deemed the field unplayable. Apparently there were a bunch of concerts and soccer games leading up to the Monday nighter and the NFL had to step in. I always thought Mexicans were known for their landscaping prowess. Meantime, the powers that be at Commonwealth Stadium must have tabbed ‘Dan the Iceman’ from the old Northlands Coliseum to prepare the field for the Grey Cup because it turned out to be a skating rink with the players slipping all over the place. Do they not have industrial heaters in Edmonton? It was a joke for a national championship game. I won’t mention the stirring halftime show.  Perhaps Tommy Hunter wasn’t available.

The Home Stretch – Is this Pete Carroll’s best-ever coaching job? If he gets this team to 10 wins this season, they should start constructing the bronze statue outside of Century Link Field.

The Seahawks are into the home stretch, literally, with 4 of their last 5 at home. The dramatic win at Carolina was massive considering the vaunted run game amassed only 75 yards.  The Panther rushed for 220 yards and Christian McCaffery ripping up huge gains all game long as part of 476 yards in total offense.  Still the Seahawks found a way to win. The game may actually have gone another way had the Seahawks had more luck.  Carolina fumbled the ball 5 times but lost none of them.

With the Panthers committed to shutting down the run game, Wilson went to the air for 339 yards passing, completely embarrassing a second year cornerback named Corn Elder.  Note – I had the corn elder for lunch last week! Tyler Lockett is having a sensational year for the Seahawks and should be named to the Pro Bowl but don’t count on it.

The defense, however, is another story and has shown big cracks over the past 4 games. Seattle’s run defense is a definite problem and they are surrendering the highest yards per rush average in the league.

I am always touting the Seahawks drafting ability and it certainly showed on Sunday. Starting running back Chris Carson and receiver David Moore were both selected in the seventh round of the 2017 draft and both have become major factors in the Seahawks offense.

Next up for the Hawks – the 49’ers visit the Link on Sunday which marks the return of Richard Sherman to Seattle. How’s that move to Frisco working out for you Sherm? I would not expect he will get an especially warm welcome back.

NFL Tidbits – I was very impressed with how quickly the Chiefs punted Kareem Hunt after a TMZ video surfaced showing him kicking his girlfriend in a Cleveland hotel hallway last February. Is this crap ever going to end?

Then we have the tone-deaf Washington Redskins who pick Reuben Foster off waivers despite the fact he had just been released by the 49’ers for assaulting his girlfriend for what was apparently at least the second time. They release a big statement about how they will let the league deal with him first but believe he deserves a second, er third, er fourth, chance.

Sorry boys but here’s the deal.  You assault your girlfriend, your wife or your dog and there will be NO second chance!

If you are up and around on Sunday morning, tune into the Bro Jake Show with Gene Valaitis on TSN 1040 in Vancouver.  I will be joining Jake and Gene at 8:45.