Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Co-Editor Bill Morphy. It’s Masters week so sit back and enjoy it. Canucks Nation is flummoxed by Jim’s latest misstep. The trade deadline may be dead time and the Blue Jays have a week from hell.
Masters Week – Britain’s Justin Rose holds a one-shot lead heading into the weekend at the Masters in Augusta. Rose nearly imploded in Friday’s second round after opening with a 7-under 65. He was four-over on the front nine before rallying back to finish the day with an even-par 72. Canadians Corey Conners and Mackenzie Hughes both made the cut. Conners is sitting at -2 and a very respectable T13. Hughes is in a group at even par and T21. Bryson DeChambeau rebounded with a 5-under 67 following an opening round 76. Defending champion Dustin Johnson bogeyed 15, 17 and 18 on Friday to miss the +3 cutline.
Memo to Dustin. You have been engaged with Paulina Gretzky for eight years. You have two children together. You might want to think about marriage. Your career earnings heading into this week’s Masters are $71,279,775. You might want to just make it official.
What’s happened to Rory “Mr. Bean” McIlroy? He missed the cut at +6 and his game is in a complete shambles. McIlroy won four majors between 2011 and 2014. He finished 2014 by winning the British Open and the PGA Championship. He hasn’t won a major since. McIlroy has 28 wins worldwide and over $50 million in career earnings but his game is wildly unpredictable. In 2019-2020, his 69.21 scoring average was fourth on the PGA Tour but his final round scoring average of 71.0 was 150th. Hard to figure. McIlroy’s short putting is often shaky. How bad have things got? McIlroy hit his father with an errant shot in the opening round. You really have to wonder if he will ever win a major again.
McIlroy must shake his head when he checks the leaderboard and sees that 55-year-old past champion Jose Maria Olazabal made the cut at +2. Olazabal told CBS he hadn’t picked up a club since playing in the Masters last November.
So Tiger missed the annual Champions Dinner at the Masters. He is at home in Florida recuperating from the near-fatal car crash in California that his left leg shattered. A police report this week indicated that Woods was driving 84 to 87 mph (135 to 140 kph) in the area of the crash with a speed limit of 45 mph (72 kph). The stretch of road is known for wrecks and drivers who frequently hit high speeds. Due to the steepness of the terrain, a runaway truck escape lane is available just beyond where Woods crashed. There was no evidence that Woods tried to brake, and investigators believe Woods may have inadvertently stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake pedal in a panic just before going off the road. It’s the third auto incident he’s been involved in the past 11 years. They should suspend his license. Tiger is a menace to himself.
Masters Chairman Fred Ridley held his annual news conference on Wednesday prior to the start of the tournament and the discussion quickly turned to the distance issue in golf. Ridley is a former President of the USGA and he has considerable influence on how the governing bodies address the golf ball, equipment improvements and how to defend the original design of golf courses. The manufacturers have a ton of influence. The distance issue is a call back to traditional values. The par five 13th hole at Augusta is a perfect example. As many golfers including Fred Couples have stated, the second shot has become too easy and less dramatic.
The one key factor to remember, under the rules of golf, each local tournament has the authority to enact rules that they consider proper. The Masters, in effect, could introduce their own golf ball to counteract the distance issue in the game. In other words, counteract the golfers who are overpowering the course. They could also limit the size of the club head. But there’s no chance the Masters will go rogue and introduce rules that only apply at Augusta. It’s a tough needle to thread but the USGA and the R & A have to act.
Enjoy the final two rounds. I will be happy as long as Patrick “Hide Your Wallet” Reed doesn’t win.
Canucks This Week – The best case scenario has the Canucks returning to action next weekend. Exactly when will be determined by provincial and regional health authorities. The team is now in the recovery phase. Nineteen players remain on the COVID protocol list. Three players from the taxi squad, three members of the coaching staff and one other staff member have also tested positive. It would not be surprising for some Canucks to simply opt out for the remainder of the season due to the effects of the virus.
The NHL is said to be targeting next Friday for a return to play. It is going to be next to impossible for the Canucks to play their final 19 games of the season before the end of the season on May 5. With so many games to make up, don’t be surprised if the schedule is tweaked and the Canucks end up finishing out the schedule with games against Ottawa after the playoffs get underway.
Well, Jim Bob Benning has done it again. He just keeps repeating the same mistakes. It’s Groundhog Day all over again. In his infinite wisdom, Benning has signed winger Tanner Pearson to a three-year contract extension with an AAV of $3.25 million. This is a guy who has 11 points in 33 games this season. Apparently, Jim Bob likes negotiating against himself because there isn’t a hope in hell Pearson would have received an offer that rich when he hit free agency this summer. A contributor to this column compared the deal to the three-year, $10 million dollar contract Benning handed to Sven Baertschi and it’s an excellent comparison. You would have to think the Pearson contract will age in the same way. If the Canucks were that enamored by Pearson, why not just deal him before the trade deadline then circle back when he becomes a UFA on July 1 and determine the degree of interest in his services? There was no reason to take this risk. If that’s not enough, Benning will now have to protect Pearson in the upcoming Seattle expansion draft because he also included a NTC in the contract. It’s just one more bizarro misstep in the unorthodox world of Jim Bob Benning. Personally, I blame ownership for signing off on the deal.
In a Friday presser, Benning told media in a Zoom call that he thinks the Canucks are in “great” shape heading into the summer when it comes to the salary cap. What netherworld is this guy living in? Yes, some of the ill-advised, inefficient contracts are coming off the books but Benning seems intent on replacing them with new ones. His own incompetence cost the team Tyler Toffoli. When compared to the Pearson deal, he could have had Toffoli last fall for $1 million more. You can see why the frustration in the market is through the roof. Benning has the team headed down the same rabbit hole. Think about it. Pearson, Holtby, Myers, Schmidt. Every one of those contracts may prove to be a mistake, or at the very least, inefficient and damaging to cap flexibility. When you look at Benning’s record at the negotiating table, you cringe at the thought of upcoming negotiations with franchise cornerstones Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson.
The outbreak has created the worst possible situation for the Canucks with the trade deadline coming up on Monday. Benning told the media on Friday that he doesn’t expect the team to be active. It’s just one more bit of bad news in another backward stepping season.
It’s time for the Canucks to start focusing on the upcoming Seattle expansion draft. Teams are permitted to protect seven forwards, three defencemen and a goalie or eight skaters of any description and a goalie. The Canucks should have little trouble setting their roster before the pre-expansion roster freeze on July 17. Nils Hoglander is exempt, so the Canucks will have five forwards – Pearson, Bo Horvat, J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson – who absolutely must be protected. It offers the Canucks a huge opportunity to target forwards from teams facing protection issues.
Once the season is over, the Canucks should be putting in a call to the St. Louis Blues. By our count, the Blues have 11 forwards with good value. 26-year-old Zach Sanford is a 6-foot-4 left-winger who could bolster the Canucks bottom-six forward group with the kind of size and grit that is sorely lacking. Sanford also kills penalties. Another enticing option is Sammy Blais. He’s only 24 years old and has a physical edge to his game.
Last week, we mentioned how much valuable salary cap space the Canucks will have tied up in goaltenders next season after the new contract handed to Thatcher Demko. We forgot to factor in the Roberto Luongo recapture penalty which is an additional $3 million. You now have Demko at $5 million, Braden Holby at $4.3 million plus Luongo, bringing the total to $12.3 million. Holtby’s actual salary jumps to $5.7 million next season so Francesco Aquilini will be dishing out $13.74 million for netminding alone. Good work Jim Bob!
NHL News & Notes – The NHL trade deadline is Monday and it figures to be a quiet one. There’s a myriad of reasons why. Continuing concerns over the pandemic is just one factor. Think about it. You have a flat cap and tightened internal budgets. Nearly half the NHL is operating in LTIR. With arenas empty for the most part, what’s the financial incentive to win an extra playoff round? Plus, with a reduced schedule, how much impact are players you acquire going to have? You also have the implications of a looming expansion draft. You can see why a lot of GM’s are treading very carefully.
If the first round of the North Division playoffs has Toronto against Montreal and Winnipeg against Edmonton, it will be must-watch TV. The whole country will be tuning in. The last time Leafs played the Canadiens was 1979. The last time the Oilers played the Jets was 1990.
It looks like the Calder Trophy will end up in the hands of Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov. He has separated himself from the pack. However, there are three players who have entered the conversation recently that weren’t on the radar a short time ago. Goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic of the Carolina Hurricanes has been outstanding and is coming off rookie-of-the-month honours in March. It’s almost inconceivable that he went unclaimed after being placed on waivers earlier this season. Forwards Jason Robertson of the Dallas Stars and Eeli Tolvanen of the Nashville Predators finished the month with the highest scoring totals, 16 and 14 points respectively.
We noted recently that one of the top college free agents available this year was 22-year-old Matt Kierstad of the University of North Dakota. He’s been signed by the Florida Panthers to an entry-level contract. With Aaron Ekblad out long-term, it’s not surprising that Kierstad is already seeing NHL action.
Cue the Stanley Cup parade! The Leafs have acquired winger Riley Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets. No truth to the rumour, Kyle Dubas thought he was acquiring Rick Nash.
Blue Jays This Week – After a nice start in New York, the Blue Jays have quickly hit the skids. They suffered their fourth straight loss on Friday night and now have a potential COVID outbreak to deal with in addition to mounting injury concerns. Teoscar Hernandez was placed on IL after exposure to a positive case. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. left Friday night’s game with an apparent adverse effect from a recent vaccination. Earlier in the day, pitcher Ryan Borucki was placed on the injury list due to side effects from his vaccine shot. Another pitcher, Tyler Chatwood, was placed on the 10-day injury list with right triceps inflammation. When it rains, it pours!
One of the areas where the Blue Jays failed to measure up to the Yankees and the Rays in recent seasons is the bullpen. Both those teams have a number of electric arms who can come into a game and get strikeouts. Despite losing Kirby Yates for the season, the Jays can now call on Raphael Dolis, Jordan Romano and Julian Merryweather and all three can get punch-outs. Merryweather has been overpowering so far this season and is emerging as the biggest early surprise. He saved both wins in New York during the opening series of the season and looks like he will be a big factor is he can stay healthy.
I’m still not sold on the Blue Jays defense. They have improved in the outfield with George Springer in center, but the infield defense is still a work in progress. Second baseman Marcus Semien and third baseman Cavan Biggio are both playing out of position. Bo Bichette remains at short but you have to wonder if that is where he is going to stay long-term. Don’t forget, the Blue Jays have been looking at shortstops over the past two winters. Vladdy Guerrero Jr. is still learning to play the position at first base. The infield is not exactly settled. It would not be a surprise to see the Blue Jays go after Carlos Correa or Trevor Story when the two prize shortstops hit the free agent market in the off-season.
The Blue Jays could definitely use another left-handed bat. The only two left-handed bats in the regular lineup, Biggio and Rowdy Tellez, went a combined 1-for-20 in the opening series against the Yankees. Tellez is 0-for-16 and still looking for his first hit of the season. Biggio is 4-for-28. It doesn’t give manager Charlie Montoyo a lot of options. You can see why the Blue Jays pursued Astros outfielder Michael Brantley in the off-season.
The Blue Jays need to make a decision on starting pitcher Tanner Roark and soon. He allowed three home runs in three innings in his first outing on Tuesday in Texas. His fastball topped out at 91 mph and he was often way outside the plate. He’s costing the Jays $12 million this season but the best option may be to just release him. Roark is scheduled to make his second start on Sunday. If he falters again, you would have to think his Blue Jay career may be over.
Many Blue Jay fans wanted to see the team sign Ladner native James Paxton this off-season to bolster their starting staff. The oft-injured left-hander signed with the Seattle Mariner instead. Well, Paxton threw all of one inning for the Mariners before being forced to leave with a strained forearm. It’s now been recommended that Paxton undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery.
NFL News & Notes – The more I look at the Seahawks roster, the more I think they are caught in quicksand and going nowhere fast. They just invested over $100 million dollars in their offense and is it really any better? Maybe Russ will be happier. Will the defense hold up in a very tough division? The Seahawks look like a team that can win 10-12 games but are destined to bow out early in the playoffs. That’s been their MO recently and they’ve done nothing to change anyone’s opinion.
There’s a big squeeze going on in the NFL when it comes to restructured contracts. Jarran Reed of the Seahawks got a taste of reality when he turned down a restructured deal with Seattle. The Seahawks initially offered to keep Reed at his $8.5 million dollar salary but wanted him to replace his base salary with a signing bonus in order to open up cap space. His agent agreed. Reed balked. Wanting to sign Carlos Dunlap, the Seahawks were forced to release Reed outright. He ended up signing with the Kansas City Chiefs for $5.5 million and cost himself $3 million.
The New York Jets threw in the towel on the Sam Darnold experiment and dealt the underachieving quarterback to the Carolina Panthers this week for three draft picks. It almost assures the Jets will select BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with the second pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Darnold finishes his Jets career with 39 interceptions in 38 NFL games.
I don’t know about you, but I hate the fact the NFL is going to a 17-game season. It’s another money grab by NFL owners. The NFLPA continues to be an easy mark. It’s without question the weakest union in all of sports. The increase in the number of games is going to mess with the record books. It’s also going to make an already dangerous game even more dangerous. The NFL appeased the players by reducing the number of exhibition games from four to three.
Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder now owns the team outright after reportedly borrowing $950 million to buy out the team’s three minority partners. In the 22 seasons since Snyder bought the team, Washington has won four NFC East titles. They are 2-6 in playoff games, winning two wild-card games and nothing beyond that. The team has zero playoff wins in the last 15 seasons. What did we say about the importance of good ownership?
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is doing a two-week stint as host of Jeopardy. Rodgers is a well-known Jeopardy junkie who says he’s been watching the show since he was in grade school. He’s a former Celebrity Jeopardy champion. In 2015, Rodgers defeated Canadian Kevin O’Leary, the Shark Tank investor, to win $50 grand for charity. Rodgers says hosting the show is his dream job.
By the Numbers – Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks is inching toward the NHL record for games played. He has now played the second-most games in NHL history after surpassing Mark Messier. Marleau has his sights set on Gordie Howe. He should pass Mr. Hockey before the end of the season. Marleau has been remarkably injury-free over the course of his 23 NHL seasons. He has put together the fourth-longest Ironman streak at 888 consecutive games and counting. He has missed only 31 games in total, playing in 98.3% of his team’s games.
Exactly 38 years ago, Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders scored his 50th and 51st goals in a win over the Capitals to become the first player in NHL history to hit the magical 50-goal mark in seven consecutive seasons. Bossy would extend the record by scoring 50 in nine straight seasons during his 10-year Hall of Fame career. Wayne Gretzky had the second-most impressive run with eight seasons scoring 50+.
Exactly 35 years ago, Paul Coffey of the Edmonton Oilers did what was once unthinkable. He scored his 46th and 47th goals of the season in an 8-4 win over Vancouver to break Bobby Orr’s single-season record for most goals by a defenceman.
On July 18, 2001, Randy Johnson came on in relief of Curt Schilling in a game against the San Diego Padres. Johnson struck out 17 batters over the course of seven innings. The Padres managed just one hit all game. This is the first and only time in MLB history that a pitcher with 300 strikeouts in a season relieved another pitcher with 300 strikeouts in a season.
Umpiring an Angels-Astros game this week, MLB umpire Angel Hernandez was responsible for the worst called game so far this season. He missed 24 calls with a correct call percentage of only 83.2%. This is what happens when the focus is on a person’s heritage rather than their competency. Hernandez has been the worst umpire in the majors for quite some time. Everybody knows it. The numbers prove it. MLB is afraid to fire the guy.
Leftovers – In the summer of 1998, Gonzaga University, the small Catholic college in Spokane, Washington, was in the midst of a budget crisis. With enrollment stagnating, the school was searching for ways to cut budget. The administration nearly made the decision to drop the basketball team from Division I to Division III and save $1 million dollars annually. Well, we all know it didn’t happen. They saved the basketball program and the Bulldogs have made a steady rise to become a national powerhouse.
Fast forward to Monday night. Gonzaga was just 40 minutes away from becoming the first undefeated national championship team since 1976. It had been 45 years since the Indiana Hoosiers under Bobby Knight ran the table. Unfortunately for the Zags, Baylor turned the script. The Bears led by 10 at the first timeout and by double figures for all but 90 seconds the rest of the way en route to an 86-70 and the first national title in school history.
The New York Yankees are banking on right-hander Jameson Taillon to be a big part of their starting rotation this season. There’s never been any question about Taillon’s pitching ability. The 29-year-old is a huge talent but he has a lengthy medical history. In 2014, he underwent Tommy John surgery. In 2015, he had sports hernia surgery. In 2016, Taillon was hit in the head by a line drive and suffered a concussion. In 2017, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, then in 2019, he had a second Tommy John surgery. Taillon was born in Lakeland, Florida but has dual Canadian-American citizenship since both his parents are Canadian. It will be interesting to see if the Yankees can get a full season out of him.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers released wide receiver Travis Rudolph this week. I think you could say they had good reason. He was arrested in Palm Beach, Florida on charges of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder. He’s currently being held in Palm Beach County jail. Rudolph was signed by the Bombers in December of 2019 but had not played for the team yet because of the pandemic.
Spotify Songs of the Week – Everybody is familiar with Muscle Shoals and the amazing story of the famed recording studio in the small Alabama town that’s now reached mythical status and been the focus of a brilliant documentary. You should check out an album called “Muscle Shoals – Small Town Big Sound.” We recommend several tracks – the Bob Dylan penned “Gotta Serve Somebody” featuring Willie Nelson, Chris Stapleton and Lee Ann Womack, “Road of Love” featuring ‘Keb ‘Mo, “Come and Go Blues” featuring Alison Krauss and a new take on the old classic “I’ll Take You There” featuring Aloe Blacc.
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