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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Co-Editor Bill Morphy and contributions from Jordan Moss and the usual suspects. It was trade deadline week in the NHL and we have lots to digest. We have our takeaways from the Masters and we introduce you to the legendary “Titanic” Thompson. 

Canucks This Week – When we launched this blog two years ago, it was not set up as a platform to constantly shred Jim Benning and the Canucks. But it seems like that’s what it has devolved into, when in fact, we would like nothing more than to chronicle and praise the team for wise transactions and astute roster-building. Unfortunately, that’s not where we have arrived. If you are part of the Vancouver sports media, criticizing the Canucks is a provincial pastime. What else is there to do?

The NHL trade deadline came and went this week and it was another wasted opportunity by the Canucks who seem to have absolutely no idea of a player’s value. Selling low and buying high is a Benning trademark. The trade of centre Adam Gaudette to Chicago for 25-year-old journeyman Matthew Highmore is just the latest example. My scouting report on Highmore is “I’m not high on Highmore anymore.” It’s been a struggle for Gaudette this season after putting up 33 points in 59 games last season. His defensive game is unreliable but trading him for Highmore, who has a mere two points in 24 games, looks like highway robbery. If you are a conspiracy theorist, how can you not think Gaudette was shipped out as payback for being Patient Zero in the COVID-19 outbreak that struck 25 people in the organization? There is an ever-growing list of lost assets – Hutton, Markstrom, Stecher, Tanev, Gaudette – who have exited the organization recently with little or nothing coming back in return.

Benning gave away veteran Jordie Benn to the Winnipeg Jets for a sixth-rounder when other defencemen were attracting more. The L.A. Kings landed a fifth-rounder from the Leafs for Ben Hutton for heaven’s sakes. Inexplicably, Benning dealt a 2021 fourth-rounder to the Black Hawks for draft bust Madison Bowey, now joining his fourth team. Take a bow Jim, ‘er, a Bowey! As contributor Jordan Moss pointed out this week, Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen accomplished more in 48 hours at this year’s trade deadline than Benning has done in seven years. Need we point out that Tyler Toffoli just hit the 20-goal mark with the Montreal Canadiens? Benning couldn’t find the money to re-up Toffoli but he prioritizes re-signing Tanner Pearson.

What’s most depressing for local hockey fans is that Benning will likely remain behind the wheel again next season. Under Benning, the Canucks are like someone who lives paycheck to paycheck. Each year the plan changes. There’s no long-range thinking. The organization is bare bones and that’s probably how Benning wants it. Don’t hire anyone smarter than me! Benning’s plan is the No-Plan plan. Live year to year and pray to God you luck out. He’s so unpredictable he will probably re-sign Alex Edler and Brandon Sutter.

As far as the schedule is concerned, the Canucks will now return to action on Sunday against the Maple Leafs following a three-week shutdown. They will play Toronto again on Tuesday night. It looks like they will be playing 19 games in a month. With the weather like it is, does anyone want to watch four Canuck games in five nights? That’s what the schedule is going to deliver. Sorry, I have better things to do.

The Pearson Fallout – There’s no doubt Canuck fans were left reeling following the dead-headed decision by Jim Bob Benning to sign Tanner Pearson to a contract extension. With more time to consider the impact, here’s a few random thoughts on the merits of the deal.

  • It’s a complete mystery why Benning would prioritize Pearson. Benning has not engaged in serious contract talks with coach Travis Green or respected goalie coach Ian Clark, yet he comes to terms with Pearson. It makes no sense.
  • Benning told the media after announcing the deal that both he and Pearson’s agent decided that Pearson would receive basically the same contract if he became a UFA on July 1 so that’s why the deal was consummated now. In what world is Benning living? Sure, the agent may say that, but reality says something entirely different. On the open market this summer, Pearson gets a one-year offer at $2.0 million-$2.5 million and that’s being generous.
  • At the time of the deal, Pearson had 11 points in 33 games and had been a fixture on the Canucks second power-play unit. That’s not $3.25 million dollar production.
  • If Benning had such a high opinion of Pearson, why not deal him at the trade deadline and try to re-sign him in the summer?
  • If I hear Jim Benning say one more time “he’s an important part of our group,” I am going to vomit. I know it’s his ‘go-to-line’ but please, can you stop it right now?
  • Word around the NHL is that several executives were upset at the contract given to Pearson. It upped the ante at a time when L.A. was trying to sign Alex Iafallo and Philadelphia was trying to extend Scott Laughton.

Trade Deadline Analysis – Every year around the trade deadline the gap between good and bad NHL general managers becomes more evident. The top GM’s take a measured approach. You know the names. Lamoriello, Sakic, BriseBois, Yzerman, Bowman, Sweeney. They are sharks swimming in a sea of minnows. Benning playing the role of minnow. Here’s some of the best work conducted at the deadline.

Colorado: The Avalanche filled a big need for a back-up goalie with the acquisition Devan Dubnyk from the Sharks. It was great timing. Phillip Grubauer has been placed on IR after testing positive for COVID-19. Joe Sakic also picked up a pair of former Avs, Carl Soderberg and Patrick Nemeth, for added depth at very little cost.

Boston: The Bruins grabbed Taylor Hall from the Sabres for less than what Florida gave up to acquire Sam Bennett. Don’t be surprised if the Bruins don’t find a way to keep Hall beyond this season. Don Sweeney also picked up defenceman Mike Reilly from the Sens. Reilly was immediately inserted into the number one PP unit with Charlie McEvoy sidelined.

Calgary:  Brad Treliving began the Flames post-season overhaul with the deal that sent Bennett to the Panthers. The Flames landed a second-round 2021 draft pick and Florida’s 2020 second-rounder Emil Heineman. An excellent return for Bennett. The big makeover comes this summer.

Tampa Bay: While the Leafs were surrendering a first-round pick for a 33-year-old Nick Foligno, Julien BriseBois landed the deadline’s top defenceman in the Blue Jackets David Savard who will walk right in and team with Victor Hedman on  the top pairing. The Lightning may have made a mistake by not upgrading their goaltending depth. Curtis McElhinney was been brutal of late.

Detroit: Steve Yzerman understands where the Red Wings are in their cycle. He figured 26-year-old Anthony Mantha would start to ‘age-out’ by the time the Wings are ready to compete so he dealt Mantha to the Capitals for a king’s ransom. That was one of four deals by the Red Wings who now have 12 picks in the 2021 draft including a pair of first-rounder’s.

Chicago: The Black Hawks announced to their fans before the season that they were embarking on a full-scale rebuild. Stan Bowman did some nice work by turning Mattias Janmark, who was signed as a UFA in the off-season, into second-round and third-round picks from Vegas. Taking a flyer on Adam Gaudette was risk-free.   

Doobie Business – When the dust settled after the trade deadline, the Maple Leafs were showered with bouquets for their deadline acquisitions. General Manager Kyle Dubas was applauded for going “all-in” as the Leafs try to exorcize 54 years of futility. Ryan Boylen of gave Dubas an A+. Sorry but we don’t see it that way.

The Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since 2004 yet management seems to think they are a Cup favourite. They may be a favourite to come out of the Canadian Bacon division but do you think they can beat any of the top contenders when and if they reach the final four? The Leafs don’t have a prayer of beating Carolina, Washington, Colorado, Vegas and you can probably add a few others. Part of the magic of being a top GM is determining the right time to go all-in. The Leafs may think they are at that point but they are not. Try winning a playoff round before you toss all your chips into the middle of the table.

Before you decide to load up at the trade deadline, you need to look at your team through a realistic lens. Do you really think the Leafs were a Nick Foligno away from winning the Cup? The signs were all there for management to see. Following Thursday night’s game against the Jets, the Leafs are 1 for their last 42 on the powerplay in their last 17 games with three short-handed goals against in 74:33 of ice time. The Leafs gave up two more PP goals to Winnipeg on Thursday night. The PK ranks 27th (75.8 per cent). We don’t need to remind you how important special teams are come playoff time. And yes, goaltending too. You had to know Jack “Consomme” Campbell would level out. He was yanked against the Jets.

So let’s recap. The Leafs tossed away four draft picks for three players who may not move the needle at all. The Leafs prospect pool is grossly overrated. Following the sell-off at the deadline, the Leafs now have only six picks total in the next two drafts. They have depth issues at centre and there are no impact centres in the Leafs system. Rasmus Sandin is their only decent defense prospect and he’s not exactly elite. They also lack a long-term answer in goal. The Leafs best prospects are Nick Robertson and Rodion Amirov, both small, perimeter-type wingers. If the Leafs think there’s a second wave of talent on the way, they are sadly mistaken. All they have done is throw away valuable draft assets in a futile attempt to win a Cup this season. That approach never works. It will come back to haunt them two years down the road. The Canucks are the poster-boy for that approach.

NHL News & Notes – Ron Francis and the Seattle Kraken plan to wait until the end of the season before deciding on a coach. You have to wonder if Travis Green will be a candidate. He coached junior hockey in Portland. Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour will also be available if he doesn’t sign an extension with the Hurricanes and he has a close connection to Francis. Should be an interesting situation to watch.

Patrik Laine has had a tough go of it since joining the Columbus Blue Jackets. He went 15 games without a goal recently. He awoke from his slumber this week with a two-goal night against the Chicago Black Hawks including this incredible coast-to-coast beauty.

With budgets so tight in the NHL and the middle class getting squeezed, the market for cheap and affordable players just got a lot more competitive.

Boy, don’t you miss hearing Ray Ferraro on local sports talk radio? He has left a huge void in the marketplace. Ferraro was great at assessing a player’s value.

The Carolina Hurricanes reportedly have a team policy to draft big defencemen in the early rounds of the NHL draft. They look to select a D-man who’s at least 6’2” who will play at over 200 lbs. If you look at their recent rosters, you can see why it was a good idea to adopt that strategy. It would also be a smart organizational strategy to draft an off-the-radar European or Russian goalie in the late rounds every year and see if you can strike gold.  Several teams including the Ottawa Senators are having great success drafting players from the USJHL and sending them to college. Forward Jackson Kunz, a 2020 Canuck draft pick, is headed to UND this fall. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops in a great college program.

Masters Takeaways – It was certainly not the most compelling Masters of all time. Think Danny Willett for reference. Still, the victory by Hideki Matsuyama of Japan was important as another salute to the worldwide status of the game of golf. His win at Augusta followed on the heels of the victory by 17-year-old Tsubasa Kajitani at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur a week earlier.  It’s the first green jacket for a Japanese player and probably cements Matsuyama as the favourite to light the torch at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Matsuyama took a four-stroke lead into the final round. If you had told me he would shoot a final round 73 and would still win, I would have never believed it. However, none of the golfers in the chase were able to make it interesting. Will Zalatoris, the week’s Cinderella story, missed a bundle of makeable putts. He shot a final round 70 to grab second place alone. Xander Schauffele tripled the 16th hole to put the brakes on his late surge. Canada’s Corey Conners blew up over a four-hole stretch on the opening nine and closed with a disappointing 75 to finish T-8, still good enough to get an invite back to Augusta next year. A 68 would have got him into a playoff.

For everyone’s benefit, can Jim Nantz please dispense with the “Hello Friends” routine? We all love CBS’s coverage of the Masters but we are getting tired of the phony, syrupy dribble. How hallowed can it be? His shtick is so sugary, I may contact diabetes.

We guess that Augusta is not a par 67 for Bryson DeChambeau after all. He only finished 15 strokes behind the winner. DeChambeau was in the bush more than a Coureur de Bois. He needs to realize you can’t overpower that golf course. You don’t win a green jacket through the air. It’s won along the ground and on the greens. Augusta is a second shot golf course where ball-striking is priority one. You need to hit fairways, control your distances and put the ball in the right spots on the green. DeChambeau had a final round 75 to finish +5 and T46.

From a shot-making standpoint, the shot of the week had to be the hole-in-one by Conners on the sixth hole on Saturday. It was just the sixth hole-in-one on that hole in Masters history. If you are wondering, the first ever hole-in-one by a Canadian at the Masters was turned in by an amateur, Ross “Sandy” Somerville, from London, Ontario, in 1934. Somerville aced the 145-yard 16th hole with a mashie niblick. Yes, with a hickory shaft. American Willie Goggan matched the feat on the 16th the following year with a spade niblick. Somerville was an accomplished amateur during that era. He won the Canadian Amateur six times between 1926 and 1937. In 1932, he became the first Canadian to win the U.S. Amateur. If you are wondering, the mashie niblick was a trouble club and pitching iron, with a very small rounded head which had the loft equivalent to a modern-day nine iron or wedge.

Conners has clearly been gaining confidence by the week. He carried his Masters momentum into Hilton Head and is sitting alone in second spot heading into the weekend at the RBC Heritage. Conners blistered the course with a seven-under 64 in the second round and stands at -11, five shots off leader Stewart Cink who apparently drank from the Carolina Fountain of Youth and posted a pair of -8 under 63’s.

The Legend of Titanic Thompson – The story of Alvin “Titanic” Thompson is the stuff of legend. Born in 1893, he was perhaps the greatest gambler of all time. In the early 1900’s, Thompson travelled around America wagering at cards, dice games, golf, shooting, billiards and horseshoes. He became an underground legend by winning all manner of proposition bets, many of them outright fraudulent. Among his favorites were: betting he could throw a walnut over a building (he had weighted the hollowed shell with lead beforehand), and moving a road mileage sign before betting that the listed distance to the town was in error. Thompson once bet that he could drive a golf ball 500 yards, using a hickory-shafted club, at a time when an expert player’s drive was just over 200 yards. He won by waiting until winter and driving the ball onto a frozen lake, where it bounced past the required distance on the ice.

Raised in a poor environment far from exclusive golf courses, Thomas did not take up golf seriously until he was in his early thirties, but improved very quickly during an extended stint in San Francisco, where he took lessons from club professionals. From then on he played several times per week for the next 20 years. In an era when top pro golfers would be fortunate to make $30,000 a year, Thompson could make that much in a week hustling rich country club players. Asked whether he would ever turn professional, he replied, “I could not afford the cut in pay”.  Hall of Fame golfer Ben Hogan who traveled with him in the early 1930s for money games, later called Titanic the best shotmaker he ever saw. One hustle of his was to beat a golfer playing right-handed and then offer double or nothing to play the course again left-handed as an apparent concession.

Thompson’s incredible saga was mythicized in Damon Runyan’s character Sky Masterson, the gambler hero in which the musical Guys and Dolls is based. In 1928, Thompson was involved in a high-stakes poker game that led to the shooting death of NYC crime boss Arnold Rothstein. It was dubbed the “crime of the century.”

Rothstein believed the game had been fixed. It had been organized by George McManus, who stood trial for the murder the next year. McManus was eventually acquitted due to lack of evidence, and no one else was ever tried for Rothstein’s death. Thompson had been present at the game, and an active participant in it; and it was he who, in association with one Nate Raymond, allegedly fixed the game, leaving Rothstein with total debts estimated at $500,000. Thompson, who was not present at the shooting, gave evidence at McManus’s trial, without revealing his own role in the poker game.

Thompson is said to have killed five men according to his Wikipedia bio. The first was in 1910, in rural Arkansas, when a man named Jim Johnson accused him of cheating at dice and threw him off the boat on which they were traveling (and which Thompson had recently won when gambling with its previous owner – a friend of Johnson’s). When Thompson climbed back on board, Johnson drew a knife and threatened Thompson’s girlfriend, who was also on board. Thompson seized a hammer and struck Johnson several times on the head before throwing him overboard. The unconscious Johnson drowned. Thompson showed no remorse, stating it was Johnson’s fault for not being able to swim. The sheriff gave Thompson the choice of standing trial, or handing over the deed to the boat and leaving town; he chose the latter.

The other four men Thompson killed were shot in self-defense when they tried to rob him of gambling winnings. Two were killed in one incident in St. Louis in 1919 (the local police chief thanked him for killing two wanted bank robbers). The third came in St. Joseph where Thompson and his hired bodyguard between them shot two men attempting to rob a poker game (again, the victims were known criminals and no charges were pressed) Thompson’s last killing came near a country club in Texas in 1932 when he shot a masked figure who was holding him at gunpoint. This turned out to be sixteen-year-old Jimmy Frederick, who had caddied for Thompson earlier that day in a winning match. The dying Frederick confirmed to witnesses that he had been trying to rob Thompson.

Blue Jays This Week – The Blue Jays are managing to stay afloat in the AL East despite the outlandish number of injuries so far this season. The pitching staff has been decimated. If any of the recent injuries to the pitching staff is long-term, it could derail their season.

We were hopeful things would be different this season. Over the winter, in this blog, we talked extensively about the Blue Jays penchant for strike outs. We figured with the addition of George Springer and Marcus Semien, plus added experience, the Jays would be more disciplined at the plate. Sorry, that’s not the case. In a recent three-game stretch against middling starting pitching, the Jays struck out 38 times. Do they not watch video prior to games? It’s painful to watch. This team is not going anywhere until they become more disciplined at the plate.

State of the Game –Dan Shaughnessy is a veteran baseball scribe who’s been covering MLB for the Boston Globe since Babe Ruth was in diapers. Shaughnessy mused this week that baseball is now just “home runs and strike outs.” We’ve been on this drumbeat for years. He’s dead right! Watch a major league game these days and all you see are players waving at pitches way outside the strike zone. You have defensive shifts and no action on the base-paths whatsoever. The umpires have tiny strike zones. No wonder the games are three and a half hours long. Gone are the days when you had base-stealers like Lou Brock and Ricky Henderson. You no longer see a bunt or a double steal. Baseball is in a crisis whether they want to admit it or not. If the game is reduced to home runs and strike outs, it will die a slow death.

NFL Notes – In the last six NFL drafts, 15 quarterbacks have gone in the top ten. That number could increase to 20 this year in the last seven drafts. Of the 15 quarterbacks picked in the top ten from 2009 to 2016, not a single quarterback remains on the team that drafted him.

The New York Jets have a graveyard of QB failures. The Jets have cycled through 12 different starting quarterbacks in the past 25 years which is basically a two-year shelf life. If he is selected #2 overall, BYU’s Zach Wilson will be the Jets sixth quarterback in the top two rounds in the last 15 years. Average length of stay on the Jets by the previous five passers: 3.6 seasons.

Leftovers – It’s been over 20 years since Canada qualified for the Olympic basketball tournament. Things looked very promising for the summer games in Tokyo until this week when Denver Nuggets superb guard Jamal Murray suffered a torn ACL. The Kitchener product is Canada’s finest basketball talent. He planned to compete for Canada although he likely wouldn’t have been available for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Victoria from June 29 to July 4.

The body count keeps rising in the National Football League when it comes to cases directly connected to head trauma. A week ago, former NFL defensive back Phillip Adams shot and killed five people before killing himself. His father said that “football left him all messed up.” The family has authorized medical experts to conduct tests on his brain to determine if Adams suffered from CTE, the degenerative condition that can cause cognitive disorders linked to multiple concussions suffered while playing football. U.S. Representative Ralph Norman has claimed that the shooting of Dr. Robert Lesslie and four others resulted from Dr. Lesslie’s refusal to five Adams medication. Adams was drafted in 2010 and played seven NFL teams including the Seahawks.

Spotify Songs of the Week – One of my all-time faves is J.J. Cale. In looking back over his discography, I found “J.J. Cale Live” from 2001. Have a listen to a great live version of “Call Me the Breeze.” He does a nice take on “Magnolia” as well.  If you are a fan of Van Morrison, you will enjoy Gretchen Wilson’s rendition of “Into the Mystic” from her album “Under the Covers.” For some live blues, have a listen to “Gary Clark Jr. Live” and Three O’Clock Blues.”

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