This week, Under Further Review looks at each Canadian team in our NHL Preview plus a complete recap of this year’s Ryder Cup.
With the NHL season about to get underway, it’s time for a few thoughts on the 7 Canadian teams. Outside of Winnipeg and Toronto, things look pretty bleak although the Alberta teams look like they will at least be competitive. Let’s start with the local bumpkins and work our way across this great land.
Vancouver: The Canucks went 1-and-6 in pre-season and were outscored 30-10. That tells you all you need to know. They can’t score 5-on-5 and can’t stop anybody 5-on-5. Now that’s a nice recipe! They were hoping some kids would step up and take away some jobs but that hasn’t happened. Supernova prospect Elias Pettersson is a future star but at 19, how much can you expect? He’s 165 pounds soaking wet and they are going to try him at centre but he can’t win a face-off. I caught a bit of an exhibition game against Edmonton and Draisaitl owned him in the circle. In that game, McDavid had his way with the Canucks, circling around them in the offensive zone at will. It looked like a border collie circling around a herd of sheep.
Thanks to Bro Jake and Dr. Stinky, I attended an exhibition game up in the Champions Lounge at Rogers Arena against Calgary. Both teams iced really young teams since Calgary’s vets were in China. Adam Gaudette played 25 minutes for the Canucks and is a definite keeper. They’ve sent him to Utica but pencil him in as a future fixture at centre. The good news is the Canucks have at least five players ready to contribute at some point this season – Pettersson, Jonathan Dahlen, Adam Gaudette. Olli Juolevi and perhaps goaltender Thatcher Demko. They may have another 4 or 5 ready to contribute next season so you can see the future core starting to come together. It’s going to be really important they nail their first rounders each of the next two season to add to the core.
Speaking of first rounders – this is a watershed season for Juolevi, taken 5th overall in 2015 and Jake Virtanen, taken 6th overall in 2014. Missing on two guys picked that high would be disastrous. Don’t forget, they were in the lottery both of those seasons and to come away with nothing, would be absolutely devastating. Virtanan is starting the season on the 4th line. Not good. Nice job by Linden and Benning signing Sam Gagner to a 3-year, 9+ million dollar deal. One year later, they put the guy on waivers. Of course, no one will pick him up. They are basically on the books for another 6+ million and for what?
Judging by what we’ve seen in the pre-season, it could get ugly this year. When Leipsic and Goldobin are starting the season in your top six, it does not look promising. What’s more, it’s the same cast of characters back on the blueline as last year when the whole group scored a grand total of 21 goals amongst them. Dougie Hamilton in Calgary has 17 all by himself. Winning the Jack Hughes sweepstakes may not be that much of a reach. Let’s all chant – Lose for Hughes!
Edmonton: They are all googly in Edmonton to start the season. Everything went nicely during the pre-season and there’s a great deal of optimism around the team again. Be forewarned! The Oilers have no depth and the season could go off the rails as easily as it could go well. They have very little scoring on the wings and are banking on youngsters like Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puuljarvi to step up and make strong contributions. That may be asking too much. The immortal Ty Rattie, who’s had about 6 or 7 years to establish his NHL career, is playing on the top line with McDavid and that seems like a reach. The bottom six forwards are a mix and match cast who may not contribute a whole lot offensively, leaving much of the burden for scoring with McDavid and Draisaitl. The defense is desperate for bounce-back years from the top pairing of Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom. After that, they are very thin outside of Darnell Nurse especially since they have already lost Andrez Sekera to a torn Achilles.
As is the case in Calgary, goaltending is a big question mark in Edmonton. Cam Talbot was a sieve last season and needs to rebound big-time for the Oilers to even think about earning a playoff spot. They have resurrected 6’7” Mikko Koskinin from the KHL and hope he can supply some support as the back-up. He had a 5-hole the size of Red Deer during pre-season so the jury is out on him. My feeling is a lack of depth could seal the Oilers fate this season and they will miss the playoffs again – McDavid or no McDavid.
Calgary: The Flames have made a whole bunch of changes up front and so far, the results are fairly positive. They could have at least five new faces in their forward group on opening night and two more on the blueline. I think the new blood will actually have a really good effect in Calgary. Up front, they’ve added James Neal, Austin Czarnik, Elias Lindholm and Derek Ryan in trades and free agency and rookie Dillon Dube has earned a spot at left wing on the third line. Noah Hanifan switches in for Hamilton on defense while rookie Juuso Valimaki, a former first round pick, will start on the third pairing. He looked outstanding on that exhibition game against the Canucks, certainly better than Juolevi.
The Flames lineup is much deeper than last year and should compete for one of the last two playoff spots in the West. The big question is in goal where Mike Smith is aging and injury-prone. He started well last season but faded badly then got hurt. All bets are off if the goaltending is mediocre.
Winnipeg: The Jets are a juggernaut and should roll along all season. They are big, deep and play fast and physical. They have no real weaknesses although they still have to learn how to stay out of the penalty box and keep the goals against down. They will miss Paul Stastny at centre but there’s always the possibility they can add later on in the season. I have been touting the big Finnish left winger Kristian Vesalainen, the Jets first round pick from two years ago. Looks like he will start the season on the third line with Jack Roslovic and Matthew Perrault. He’s only 19 but another big body and net front presence. Could the Canucks please find this kind of player?
Well run organizations like Winnipeg and Nashville always try to integrate 2-3 rookies into the lineup each year. Keep the flow of talent moving up through the ranks every year so you have new blood on entry level contracts. Winnipeg has introduced Ehlers, Hellebuyck, Laine, Morrissey, Roslovic and Connor into the lineup over the past few seasons. Next up – Vesalainen, Tucker Poolman, Sami Niku, Dylan Samberg, Mason Appleton, Brendan Lemieux and probably Eric Comrie as a backup goalie. They have traded away two first rounds picks over the past two seasons but the pipeline is still producing players. If you are unable to maintain a constant flow of talent, you cannot sustain a winning team, simple as that. The Jets and Preds do it better than anyone else.
Toronto: If we listened to the Toronto media, there would be no reason to play the season. Just hand the Cup over the Leafs right now. There’s so much hype around this team in wake of the Tavaras signing, it’s ridiculous. Hold on however. Have you looked at their defense, especially on the right side. Sorry, it’s not good enough to go deep into the playoffs. Nikita Zaitsev, Ron Hainsey and for now probably rookie the Russian rookie Ozhiganov ? No way they win with that group. The left side with Jake Gardiner, Morgan Reilly and Travis Dermott is not good enough either. The whole bunch of them can be pushed around. Kyle ‘Harry Potter’ Dubas couldn’t find a dance partner during the off-season to upgrade the group and unless he does, they won’t get past the other top teams in the East.
If you are a fantasy pool guy, I hope you selected Mitch Marner. He’s going to have a huge season. The Leafs will score goals but can they prevent them when it counts? I say no! An early playoff exit again is likely unless they can find a way to significantly upgrade their blueline.
Ottawa: Yes, it’s a tire fire but more like a fire sale in Ottawa where everything has to go by midnight. How can you expect these players to perform amidst all the turmoil? Matt Duchene and Mark Stone have one foot out the door and then the exodus will be complete. I see both being traded at the deadline because there’s no way they will be resigning in Ottawa. If they reach free agency next summer, Stone could go to Vegas where he is close with Asst. GM Kelly McCrimmon, whom he played for in junior. He could also go to Nashville and be reunited with his old Sens linemate Kyle Turris.
In terms of their current lineup, the goaltending is shaky at best and that’s not good for a team as poor as the Sens. The defense is brutal without Karlsson. At this point, it looks like their top pairing is Thomas Chabot and Cody Ceci, not exactly anything to write home about. Two rookies have cracked the forward group – top pick Brady Tkachuk and speedy Alex Formenton so at least the fans can cheer for them.
One other footnote to the dumpster fire in Ottawa to illustrate just how bad things are in the Nation’s Capital. Back in the 2011-2012 season when the team was contending, the Senators averaged 19,357 per game which was 6th overall in the NHL. That was 100% capacity. They probably could have drawn more if they had a bigger building. Last year, they averaged 15,829 which was 8th worst in the league. Season’s tickets have dropped from more than 12,000 to what is reported to be around 4,000 this season. The Sens are likely looking at crowds of 6,000-7,000 for some games this year. We were joking that things are so bad, the guy who gave Melnyk his liver now wants it back! Bill in Ottawa says he would rather watch midget wrestling than watch the Senators. I say all right! Bring back Fuzzy Cupid, Little Beaver and Sky Low Low. Losing Bryan Murray was a big blow to the Senators. He was the only guy with any integrity which is in short supply now.
Pity the great hockey fans in Ottawa! This is a major tear-down and a long rebuild is ahead. The only hope is for Melnyk to finally wake up and sell the team and hopefully, they can find a way to get a new downtown arena built.
Montreal: So at the start of training camp, here’s what the Habs centre depth chart looked like – Phillip Danault, Paul Byron, Thomas Plekanec and whatever other warm body they could find. Things were so bad the Canadiens were thinking about moving Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin to centre. They are so desperate they have fast-tracked rookie centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the third overall pick in this year’s draft, and it appears as though he will at least start the season in Montreal. And you think the picture at centre is bad? The grab-bag of wingers and defensemen is no better.
With Shea Weber and David Schlemko injured, they probably start the season with a blueline consisting of Jeff Petry, Karl Alzner, Victor Mete, Jordie Benn, Noah Juulsen and Xavier Ouellet, who they picked up off the scrap heap from Detroit. Tell me what you think of that bunch? Their top wingers are Domi, Drouin, Thomas Tatar and Brandan Gallagher – none of which are taller than about 5’9”. Forget about the Four Horsemen, it’s the Four Hobbits!
So let’s review! You have nothing at centre, no size or scoring on the wings and perhaps the worst blueline in the league. That’s a nice blueprint. Make no mistake – this is a bad hockey team. Poorly constructed with little or no scoring, a complete lack of depth and a shallow, slow blueline. A few injuries and they are toast. Carey Price is going to have to earn his ten million dollars this season. The Habs will probably get out of the gate OK like they always do, then come November, they will go into the tank and fall off the cliff. They are headed to the lottery again this season – take it to the bank!
Ryder Cup 2018: Day 1 Observations
The US got off to a good start, winning the morning four-ball session 3-1 but two of the matches went down to the final hole. Europe roared back and swept the afternoon foursomes 4-0, the first time they have ever done that. Is it just me or do the American players just seem more privileged? I guess it’s the whole ‘country club’ thing. In the ‘thanks for showing up’ department, the duo of Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau were down 7 after 9 holes in their match. Bryson DeChambeau the Third sounds like one of the stowaways on Gilligan’s Island. Better yet – the Bryson DeChambeau Trio is playing tonight out at the Holiday Inn on Route 5. Bubba Watson played all weekend like he was on Quaaludes. Total deer in the headlights performance. He’s 2-7 in matches played in Europe in his career. The guy’s all heart! The guy who seems the most privileged is Ricky Fowler, he of the orange pants. Memo to Ricky – are you ever going to win a tournament that matters? I doubt he will ever shake the ‘best player never to win a major’ label.
After the Americans got dusted in the afternoon, the Golf Channel announcers were apoplectic. It was like calling a funeral. Right off the get-go, you could see the writing was on the wall. The course outside of Paris puts a premium on hitting fairways and the European side had a big advantage off the tee. (more on that later). The Europeans just have better camaraderie and it shows. They seem like the kind of guys you would want to sit down and have a beer with. They are loose and genuinely like each other. It was summed up when Stenson and Rose were interviewed after their victory. Rose had apparently been stretching out on the course a few times and the announcer asked him if his back was acting up. Rose said yes but then Stenson added that he also had a sore butt from carrying around his wallet, in obvious reference to the 10 million he had just pocketed for winning the FedEx Cup. Great stuff!
By the way, is Rory McIlroy Mr. Bean’s illegitimate son?
Day 2 Observations:
Tiger and Phil are a combined 0-4 after two days and we’re supposed to pay to watch these two bozos in a pay-per-view exhibition. I have news for them – after their performance at the Ryder Cup, no one will be paying 5 cents to watch these guys. I would rather watch Dick Zokol take on Dan Halldorson. Phil is playing like Al Gieberger. Tiger dusted him by 25 strokes when he won the Tour Championship and Phil brought that inspired form to the Ryder Cup.
Europe seems to breed guys that are tailor-made for the Ryder Cup. The latest examples? Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari. They were absolutely on fire in the team matches. Tiger, on the other hand, can never find a partner to play with. He’s now 9-19-and-1 in his career in four-ball and foursome Ryder Cup matches.
As I mentioned, the golf course sets a premium on hitting fairways. Jim Furyk should have paid more attention to this when he made his four captain’s picks – Woods, Mickelson, DeChambeau and Tony Finau. Only Finau delivered and in fact, Furyk made a big mistake not playing him more. Check this year’s driving accuracy rankings for some of the US players – Dustin Johnson (138), Justin Thomas (141), Tiger (129), Patrick Reed (182), Koepka (152), Mickelson (192), Bubba Watson (142). The US teams overall average in driving accuracy would be 131.2. The European team is 83.7, a big advantage and it showed.
Day 3 Observations:
So the Europeans run away with it 17 ½ to 10 ½. They have now won 9 of the last 12 Ryder Cups. The US has not won in Europe since 93’. They have now won only two Ryder Cups since 2000 and Tiger, by the way, wasn’t on either team. Molinari became the first European ever to go 5-0. Garcia set a record for the most points in Ryder Cup history. Phil went 0-3 and now has most losses in Ryder Cup history. American wonder-boy Jordan Speith is now a combined 0-6 in Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup singles matches.
The big difference in the final analysis was the performance of the four captain’s picks from both teams. Woods (0-4), Mickelson (0-3), DeChambeau (0-3) and Finau (2-1) were a combined 2-and-11. The four European captain’s picks – Poulter, Stenson, Casey and Garcia – garnered a combined 9½ points. There’s the margin of victory right there. Is there a more clutch Ryder Cup player in history than Poulter?
I look forward to watching the Ryder Cup every two years more than almost any other sporting event. I think Canadians increasingly define themselves by how we differ from the United States, not by how similar we may be. Perhaps that’s why we cheer for Europe. I noticed a bunch of Canadian flags in the crowd at this year’s Ryder Cup and they were definitely cheering when the Europeans sunk a putt.
Seahawk Sunday: Although they have managed to go 2-and-2, things look alarmingly similar to last season for the Seahawks. They have now gone 33 games without scoring a touchdown on their opening drive. They are pathetic on third down conversions. They went 0-for-10 on third down against the Cardinals and they are at the bottom of the league in that statistic. The O-line still can’t pass protect. They gave up a league-high 12 sacks in the first two games. It didn’t help that the much-maligned Germain Ifedi had to face Von Miller and Khalil Mack in consecutive weeks, not to mention DeMarcus Lawrence and Chandler Jones, two other All-Pros the past two weeks. That’s cruel and unusual punishment. It was good to get Doug Baldwin back against Arizona. They missed him big-time. He’s one of the best in the NFL out of the slot on those quick little slant routes for 6 and 7 yards that help move the chains.
The Hawks lost Earl Thomas to a leg fracture against the Cards and is gone for the year. He has most likely played his last snap for the Seahawks. The Legion of Boom is now officially done. Nice act when he was carted off the field, giving the middle finger salute to his own team. He’s obviously bitter with the fact the Seahawks didn’t extend his contract. You can’t blame them for playing by the rules because in the NFL, the scales are tipped heavily in favour of the owners.
Just this week I listened to some doofus on Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver rant about how the Seahawks should sign Earl to a long-term deal for big money even though he’s 29 and looking for the highest salary ever given a safety. He went on and on about how Thomas is the best in the league at his position and deserves a new contract. Well, what he failed to realize is that the Seahawks have been burned four times now with so-called ‘third’ contracts. They gave Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril and Richard Sherman huge deals when their third contracts came around and none of them worked out very well. They were also burned when they extended Marshawn Lynch. There was no way they were going to do it again with Earl Thomas and they must be privately thanking the football gods that they didn’t extend him as well. However, the Hawks are probably now kicking themselves for not dealing Thomas in the off-season for whatever they could get. They won’t be placing a franchise tag on him this off season because of the injury so they will now lose him for nothing.
The Seahawks are not a conventional team and it makes you wonder if they will offer 30+ million per season to Russell Wilson when his contract is up after next year. I can’t say I would, especially when you are rebuilding for another extended run. I still thinks he leaves the pocket way too quickly and I would much prefer to have a taller QB back there.
I’m out! Bring on the NHL season!