Under Further Review –
Couch Potato’s Dream – Was this not one of the best week’s of the year on the sports calendar? It’s Masters Week. You had the NCAA Championship game on Monday night. It’s the start of the NHL playoffs. You had the NHL Draft Lottery. It doesn’t get much better than that! You could watch the Blue Jays strike out night after night! You had the men’s World Curling Championships, the women’s World Hockey Championships, the Whitecaps played somebody. Whoops, sorry! I almost lost it there! I think I just went overboard!
Late Breaking News – Is Torts now a genius or are the Lightning just not built for playoff hockey? The Bolts have been out-scored 9-1 since taking a 3-0 lead in game one. But we’ve seen this movie before. The Blue Jackets have never won a playoff series in their 15-year history for a reason. They’ve been up 2-0 before returning home for game three before messing the bed. Let’s see what happens, but this is an historic upset in the making.
Canucklehead Confidential – With the season over and devoid of any playoff games for the fourth straight season, it’s now time to take a cold, hard look at the Canucks roster and see what the future may hold. Let’s look at the lineup and see who stays and who goes and what holes need to be filled.
Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Josh Leivo Elias Pettersson Brock Boeser
Tanner Pearson Bo Horvat ?
? Adam Gaudette Jake Virtanen
Antoine Roussel Jay Beagle Zack MacEwen
Expendable Forwards – Baertschi, Granlund, Goldobin, Spooner, Motte, Eriksson, Schaller and Sutter
Forward Prospects – Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich, Tyler Madden, William Lockwood
Needs – Size first and foremost. Even the prospects are not real big. Toughness to protect Pettersson and company is an absolute must. Either Leivo or Pearson could drop down the lineup if they acquired a top six left winger. The Canucks have a definite need for a top six right winger. They could also use some depth down the middle because the jury is still out on Gaudette’s foot speed. This is going to be a critical off season for Jake Virtanen. Is he part of the core moving forward or is it time to give him a fresh start elsewhere? Overall, the Canucks still look to be a minimum 3-4 quality forwards away from serious contention. As unproductive as the left side has been, the right side behind Boeser is equally uninspiring.
Left Side Right Side
Alex Edler Troy Stecher
Quinn Hughes ?
Olli Juolevi ?
Expendable – Ben Hutton, Derek Pouliot, Chris Tanev, Alex Biega, Luke Schenn
Prospects – Jett Woo, Toni Utunen, Brogan Rafferty, Ashton Sautner, Guillaume Brisebois, Josh Teves, Jack Rathbone
Needs – This is where the heavy lifting needs to occur. Presuming Edler is re-signed, the left side of the defense looks to be adequate but still not where it needs to be. The right side outside of Stecher is a disaster area. The Canucks had better hope that Jett Woo develops quickly. I would be looking to add a big right shot defenseman in free agency (Tyler Myers, Adam McQuaid) and would be exploring the trade market for someone like Tyson Barrie who can come in and help drive the power-play. Do you use Virtanen in a deal to acquire a D-man? The Canucks should finally move on from Chris Tanev. He’s far too unreliable because of injuries so counting on him for 75+ games is a fool’s game. Reality says the Canucks are probably three defensemen away from contention, two if Juolevi turns out.
Summary – We can argue all day regarding the list of expendables noted above. Yes, a few of them like Biega can stay to add depth but a roster purge is absolutely required. What’s also worth noting is, depending on the time line for serious playoff contention, some of the players listed as ‘keepers’ may not be contributors two or three years down the line. Guys like Edler, Beagle and Roussel. If the time line to win a round or two is 2-3 years down the road, then the number of additions required will definitely have to grow.
The Canucks currently sit near the 50-player contract limit so it’s time to start moving bodies out. Whether Benning stays or not, anything short of the playoffs next season will be hugely disappointing. The pressure is only going to increase in a hockey-crazed Canadian market so it’s time to embrace change and get creative. Every acquisition should be predicated on the fact the team needs to get tougher to play against. Size should be front and center in the equation both up front and on the backline. Goaltending is a huge strength so the Canucks should be able to look forward to getting first-rate goaltending every night next season. Overall, the Canucks appear to be 3-4 forwards up front and 2-3 defensemen away from serious contention and that’s probably being optimistic. What’s especially worrisome is the minor league system is not exactly flush with high end prospects.
If you look at the Canucks season as a whole, excluding ties they went 18-and-26 against playoff teams and 18-and-20 against non-playoff teams. They went 3-and-11 in November and 4-and-10 in February so those two months pretty much sealed their fate. A 1-and-7 mark against non-playoff teams in November was particularly damaging. While you can look at the slight improvement in the standings this year to 81 points, it’s sobering to think at how much further they have to go to get to the generally-accepted playoff bar of 95 points. As much as fans got excited about the team’s growth this year, the Canucks still ended up 25th in the NHL with only 219 goals, just one more than last year. They were 17th in goals against so you can see there’s still plenty of room for improvement both offensively and defensively.
Poor Get Poorer – The NHL Draft Lottery is in desperate need of repair. The Canucks headed into the lottery with the ninth worst record in the league. Once again, they had no luck at the lottery table. They will end up selecting tenth in the first round when the draft is held here in Vancouver in June. It didn’t help that the Canucks had a mini-surge to finish out the season, grabbing 16 points in their final 13 games, a scenario similar to last year when the Canucks won six of their last seven and dropped to seventh overall.
The Black Hawks enjoyed the biggest leap from 12th to 3rd and it seems this type of jump is happening every year. The NHL needs to fix it and fast. Check the graph in the link below from an article posted by Jason Botchford. The lottery is supposed to help the bottom feeders but it’s doing the exact opposite. The teams with the worst records over the past four seasons have been punished the most severely by the draft process. In typical Canucks fashion, they have suffered the most, slipping in the draft each of the past four years and seven spots overall.
The lottery has been highly suspicious ever since the Oilers landed McDavid. The NHL now has its most marketable player in the worst outpost. You don’t think that’s occurred to them? Teams in the Eastern time zones never get a chance to see the guy. The last thing the NHL wanted was to have Jack Hughes playing in Colorado. The NHL has micromanaged the lottery to the point where it is no longer doing what it was set out to do and that’s helping the ‘have not’s’ become relevant again.
Future Looks Bright – Habs Nation may be disappointed the Canadiens missed the playoffs this season but the future looks promising in Montreal. After what seems like decades looking for big centremen, the Canadiens finally have some bigger bodies coming down the middle. Jesperi Kotkaniemi had an encouraging rookie season but needs to add strength. Ryan Poehling was lights out in his debut after joining the team for the final game after leaving St. Cloud State and turning pro. I’ve been touting Poehling for some time after watching him star for the US team at this year’s World Juniors. Firing in a hat trick and scoring the shootout winner in his first NHL game was a storybook debut. Add in Max Domi who led the team with 71 points this season and Phillip Danault and all of a sudden, the Habs have some depth and strength at centre. Domi, by the way, had 31 more points than the guy he was traded for – Alex Galchenyuk.
The big area of need for the Canadiens is on the left side of their defense where they ended the season with the underwhelming quartet of Victor Mete, Mike Reilly, Jordie Benn and Brett Kulak. The good news is the Habs have about 20 million in cap space this summer so they could go outside the organization to add a quality defensemen, presumably someone who can man the point on the power-play, which ended the season at the bottom of the league. That’s a sure-fire recipe for disaster.
There were some other good stories in Montreal this season like the bounce-back year from Tomas Tatar, who was nothing more than a salary dump in the deal than sent Max Pacioretty to Vegas. Tatar had a career high 58 point but I wouldn’t rely on him repeating it next year.
The Canadiens have done a great job of stockpiling draft picks over the past few seasons and have ten more selections in this year’s draft. They’ve got some nice looking prospects coming including defensemen Josh Brooks and Alexander Romanov, centre Nick Suzuki, winger Jesse Ylonen and goaltender Cayden Primeau. Building organizational depth is hugely important because it will allow the Canadiens to make other moves as the team starts to move into contention.
Coaching Carousel – It didn’t take long for heads to roll in the NHL coaching ranks once the regular season was over. Phil Housley is out in Buffalo after two years. Bob Boughner was ousted in Florida and the Panthers quickly corralled Joel Quenneville to replace him. Not surprisingly Willie Desjardins was let go in Los Angeles. Todd McLellan appears to be the leading candidate for both the Sabres and the Kings.
All told, seven openings remain around the NHL – Anaheim, Buffalo, Edmonton, LA, Ottawa, Philadelphia and St. Louis. Craig Berube will likely have the interim tag removed in St. Louis and Scott Gordon may stick around in Philly. Dallas Eakins could be an in-house choice in Anaheim.
One coach who could be in hot water is Paul Maurice in Winnipeg. If the Jets go out in the first round against St. Louis, and it’s a distinct possibility, I could see them unseating Maurice. The obvious replacement would be Alain Vigneault who coached the Manitoba Moose back when it was a Canucks farm team. Whether Vigneault would want to return to Winnipeg is open to debate but it would be an excellent fit if the Jets could make it happen.
The Final Call – It certainly was appropriate that Bob Cole’s final broadcast came in a game between the Leafs and the Canadiens. It kind of feels like the loss of someone in the family. He’s meant that much to hockey fans across Canada. As Chris Cuthbert said so eloquently, “Bob Cole was the soundtrack of hockey in Canada.” If they make a Mount Rushmore of hockey broadcasters, Bob will be the final addition along with Foster Hewitt, Danny Gallivan and Dan Kelly.
Young broadcasters can learn so much from Bob Cole. What stands out for me was his brevity. He was a minimalist who chose his words carefully and he knew just a change in inflection or a pause to build drama, could make it work so beautifully. John Shannon, who produced Hockey Night in Canada for years, said it best, “He called the game like he was conducting a symphony.”
In case you didn’t know, Bob Cole is 85 years old. He was at the top of his game right to the end.
Jays This Week – It’s early but it’s looking like the Jays could have one of the worst teams in baseball this year and one of the worst teams in club history dating back to the expansion days. 100 losses is not out of question.
Blue Jay bats have been absolutely lifeless to start the season. In fact, hitting around the majors has been surprisingly weak. Perhaps the cold weather has had something to do with it. But there’s no excuse for the level the Blue Jays have sunk to. The Jays struck out 57 times in the four-game series against Cleveland. It’s the first time in major league history that a team has struck out at least 13 times in four consecutive games. That’s unfathomable. They are hitting .198 as a team which sits 29th in the league. Their mystifying acquisition of Socrates Brito has been an unqualified disaster. So far, he has a big 0-fer beside his name and is hitless since being acquired.
The Blue Jays pitching has been surprisingly solid so far this season. One of the youngsters who’s taken advantage of the opportunity is right-hander Trent Thornton. He was acquired last November from Houston in the deal for shortstop Aledmys Diaz. Thornton had 15 combined strikeouts in his first two Blue Jay starts, breaking a club record held by Roy Halladay, who just happens to be Thornton’s childhood hero.
Thornton has a 93-95 mile per hour fastball but adds a plus curveball with a tremendous spin rate that has kept batters honest. He was expected to start the season in Buffalo but injuries to the starting staff opened a spot for him and he’s taken full advantage.
In Seattle, the Mariners are off to a unexpected great start. They set an MLB record by homering in each of their first 15 games of the season. Who would have predicted they would start 13-and-2. A word of warning however. The M’s have a terrible bullpen and horrible defense. They lead the majors with 21 errors. However, they definitely hit the jackpot with their acquisition over the winter of right-fielder Domingo Santana from Milwaukee. He was picked up in a deal for outfielder Ben Gamel. Santana is 6’5” and 225 pounds and so far this season he’s hitting .349 with four home runs and 19 RBI’s, and he’s one of the big reasons the Mariners are off to a fast start.
Santana had an injury-plagued 2018 season with the Brewers but the year before he hit .278 with 30 home runs and 85 RBI’s in 151 games. The Mariners took a flyer on him and it looks like it may pay off big time. He’s only 26 and could end up being a solid right-handed power bat in the middle of their lineup.
MLB Notebook – This week, a closer look around the National League. The Dodgers Walker Buehler has a chance to be the best pitcher in the National League if his arm holds up.
The Phillies are the odds-on favorite to win the NL East. Adding Andrew McCutcheon, Jean Segura and JT Realmuto in addition to Bryce Harper really boosted their lineup. Phillies ace Aaron Nola has incredible command and is a definite Cy Young candidate in the NL.
I love the Milwaukee Brewers. They are the Winnipeg Jets of MLB but do they have the starting pitching to win their division?
The Cubs window may be closing fast. Joe Maddon could be in hot water if the Cubs don’t get going. They’ve made a lot of trades over the past few seasons to stay in contention and it’s emptied their farm system. One trade they would like to have back is the deal that sent Eloy Jimenez to the cross-town White Sox.
The Nationals won’t miss Bruce Harper if their two gifted young outfielders, Juan Soto and Victor Robles, develop as expected. Both are impact talents. Robles is just 21 and will eventually lead off. He’s got great speed. He hits for average with good plate discipline and is a plus outfielder.
Atlanta has a stud, MVP caliber outfielder as well in Ronald Acuna. Braves Ender Inciarte may be the best defensive center-fielder in baseball and he’s an underrated hitter.
Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. is the odds-on favourite for rookie of the year in the National League. Like Vladdy Guerrero Jr., Tatis is this year’s breakout star and could club 30 HR’s. The Padres have the number one rated farm system in all of baseball but are still probably a year or two away from contention. They also have a couple of pitchers who could break out this year in Chris Paddack and Matt Strahm.
The Diamondbacks are one of the most odd-ball teams in all of sports. They kind of remind me of their hockey cousins, the Coyotes. They mysteriously traded away their best hitter in Paul Goldschmidt and let Patrick Corbin and AJ Pollock leave in free agency. I guess their front office doesn’t care about contending – EVER!
Canadian Farhan Zaidi has done squat since taking over the Giants. It’s a daunting rebuild in San Francisco because the Giants have a horrible farm system. The Giants need to get serious about rebuilding by cleaning house at this year’s trade deadline. The list of trade chips is long – Madison Bumgartner, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford, Jeff Samardzjia, Derek Holland and even Buster Posey.
Over in the American League, pity the poor Baltimore Orioles. They were by far the worst team in all of baseball last season and this year looks no better. First baseman Chris Davis has set an MLB record with 53 consecutive hitless at-bats. The O’s are paying Davis over $21 million this season and there’s three more years to run on his seven-year $121 million dollar contract. They may have no choice but to pay the piper because he can no longer get around on pitches. He’s a pathetic mess at the plate and it’s sad to watch. Davis hit .168 last season with 191 strikeouts in 470 at-bats. He makes the Mendoza Line look respectable.
Masters Bound – It never gets tired seeing a Canadian succeed on the world stage so it was great to see Canadian Corey Connors break through and secure his first PGA Tour win at the Valero Texas Open. Connors fired ten birdies in his final round in nailing down a two-stroke victory. What was especially gratifying is the win came with an invitation to the Masters this week. I loved the reactions from his young bride and childhood sweetheart from his hometown of Listowel, Ontario as he roller-coasted to the win. Connors sits at minus 3 after two rounds of the Masters and has an outside chance of a top ten finish this weekend.
Meantime, Tiger is prowling so that makes for plenty of excitement. If Tiger had brought his putter with him, he would be leading by four or five strokes. He has struggled with his short and mid-range putting and that’s putting it mildly. He’s 64th out of 87 in putting from 5-10 feet. From five feet and within, he’s 84th. The strange thing about it is, he’s number one in putting from 20 feet and beyond. He made bombs on the 9th, 14th and 15th greens on Friday. Bottom-line, he should be leading the field heading into the weekend.
After watching Brooks Koepka make a mockery of the par five’s on Thursday, you have to wonder what else the ‘Hooties’ at Augusta can do to prevent the long hitters from over-powering the course. Frankly, seeing guys hit a seven iron on their second shot on a pair five is a joke. As long as Koepka hits a solid drive, he is likely to be on all the par five’s in two and that’s not something that should be happening in a major. Sure, you can argue that it makes for more excitement but I would rather see more importance on shot-making than power. When you can carry a drive 340 yards over the bunker on the right side of the eighth hole, it’s indefensible. The R & A and the USGA need to get into a room together with the ball manufacturers and fix the problem.
The Manassa Mauler – It’s always fun to go back in time and take a deep dive into the careers of some of the greatest of all time. In boxing, there may be greater boxers but there is no one tougher than Jack Dempsey. Born in Manassa, Colorado in 1895, Dempsey’s family lineage was of Irish, Cherokee and Jewish ancestry.
As a kid, Dempsey was dirt poor and left home at 16, riding underneath trains and sleeping in hobo camps. Desperate for money, he would enter saloons and challenge anyone to fight, saying “I can’t sing and I can’t dance, but I can whip any SOB in the house.” He had dozens, if not hundreds of these bar fights, before ever turning professional.
Dempsey would go on to reign as world heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926. Just like Ted Lindsay in hockey, Dempsey would be responsible for a major change in the rules of boxing. In taking the crown in 1919, Dempsey fought then champion Jess Willard. Dempsey was 6’1” and 187 pounds. Willard was 6’6 and 245 pounds. It was a bloodbath. Willard was knocked down seven times in the first round. Accounts of the fight reported that Willard suffered a broken jaw, broken ribs, several broken teeth, and a number of deep fractures to his facial bones. The beating was so bad it aroused suspicion that Dempsey had cheated and put plaster of paris in his gloves, a claim that was later refuted.
As a result of the fight and Dempsey’s aggressive behavior, boxing initiated a rule change that boxers had to retreat to a neutral corner and give opponents who had been knocked down a chance to get up.
Of course, back in those days boxing and baseball were king in the sports world. Dempsey and Babe Ruth were the biggest stars during that era.
Years after retiring, Dempsey recounted an incident where he was assaulted while walking home at night. He told the press in 1971 that two young muggers attempted to grab his arms, but he broke free and laid them both out cold on the sidewalk. He would have been 75 at the time.
Dempsey died in New York City in 1983 at the age of 87. There will never be a boxer tougher than Jack Dempsey.