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Douglas Smith with Contributors Bill Morphy, Bill Myles and Lindsay Lent. This week, the itch to restart pro sports, the compliance buy-out, the NFL meat market, amazing athletes who exemplify their sport and a goodbye to John Prine. 

Play Ball – If we listen to the medical experts and look at the data and the science, do you really see pro sports returning anytime soon? It’s hard not to dismiss all the various scenarios for restarting professional sports. Almost every day there’s a story about how one sport or another is going to get back on the field of play. Major League Baseball is going to start the season in Arizona and have the players sit in the empty stands six feet apart instead of the dugout.  Sure, sounds good. The NHL is going to play games in North Dakota. Yes, I can see all the players staying at the Motel 6 in Bismarck.

I think it’s time for a reality check. As NHL player agent Allan Walsh said this week “Until there is a vaccine, is someone going to be comfortable taking their dad or their family to an NHL game?” Can you really see the games back on before we have widespread random testing with results within minutes? It just seems irrational to put so many people at risk. Sports Illustrated published a report recently that should make all sports sit back and take notice.

We would be naïve to think that the thirst to get the games back on is not directly tied to television. The networks are hurting badly without the steady flow of programming and the leagues desperately rely on TV money. But let’s face it, until test kits are readily available, life as we know it will not return to normal and that includes professional sports. Ultimately, until a vaccine is developed, society will not be back to business as usual and from all projections, that could be 12 to 18 months away. Plus, it will take additional time for a vaccine to become widely available.  Even then, vaccines are never the perfect antidote. They are typically only about 70 percent effective. As well, by that time the virus may have mutated.  And how patient are we going to remain to prevent a second wave just as serious as the first?

How can major sports operators safely green light a return to action, crowd or no crowd, when only one percent of the US population has been tested? If we had widespread testing with results in just a few minutes, it is possible to see a road to the resumption of activity. Without that, there’s a huge risk of spreading the virus all over again. Right now, there’s no way to justify large-scale sporting events. Live Nation has already cancelled all major concerts until the end of 2020. How can they come to that conclusion and major sports not face the same reality?

On top of everything else, you would have to think that a salary rollback is in the offing for professional sports? It could happen. Players may be asked to agree to a rollback with some of the money that’s currently owed to be paid back over time.

Barrie Picking – We have chronicled what will be a tight salary cap squeeze for the Canucks this summer. With the stoppage in play and resulting loss in revenue of up to one billion league-wide, the financial situation may become even more ominous.  Imagine if the salary is forced to move below $81.5 million?

In the midst of this backdrop, the Canucks must find money to extend goalie Jacob Markstrom, potentially tie up UFA forward Tyler Toffoli and sign RFA Jake Virtanen among others. The best-case scenario for the Canucks is if the NHL allows two compliance buy-outs to help teams deal with the situation this summer.

Going forward, the biggest area of concern for the Canucks has to be the right side of their defense. I do not see any scenario where the team can sign free agent Chris Tanev. It would have to come at a significant hometown discount and I don’t see that happening. Troy Stecher is a restricted free agent and also needs a pay boost. The Canucks should look at dealing him in the off-season. Finding another $3.5 million for Stecher to slot in as a 5-6 defenseman would not be wise. Brogan Rafferty can fill his role.

If things fall the Canucks way and they are able to move a number of bodies out, it may be worth looking at Leafs UFA defenseman Tyson Barrie. He’s from Victoria and would love to play close to home. Barrie may be willing to sign a one-year deal at a reasonable number in order to re-establish his value after a subpar year in Toronto. The guy has talent and may thrive in Vancouver. He still put up 39 points in 70 games with the Leafs this season. A right-side with Tyler Myers, Barrie and Rafferty would be an upgrade from what the Canucks rolled out this year. It’s a story worth watching and potentially not out of the question.

One other Canucks footnote – You have to wonder if the Canucks will now be able to sign Russian defenseman Nikita Tryamkin.  With a timely start of the 2020-2021 season in doubt and the salary cap so tight, he may just decide it is better to stay in the KHL for another season.

If the NHL does indeed allow at least one compliance buy-out for each team as a result of the shutdown of the game, there will be a long list of players on the chopping block. Here’s a few that will be likely candidates for a buy-out:  David Backus, Anaheim – 1 yr. $4.5 million; Kyle Okposo, Buffalo – 3 yrs. $6.0 million; Milan Lucic, Calgary – 3 yrs. $5.25 million; Brent Seabrook, Chicago – 4 yrs. $6.875 million; James Neal, Edmonton – 3 yrs. $5.75 million; Jonathan Quick, L.A. Kings – 3 yrs. $5.8 million; Zach Parise, Minnesota – 5 yrs. $7.5 million; Karl Alzner, Montreal – 2 yrs. $4.625 million; Kyle Turris, Nashville – 4 yrs. $6.0 million; Andrew Ladd, N.Y. Islanders – 3 yrs. $5.5 million; Martin Jones, San Jose – 4 yrs. $5.75 million. Louie Eriksson – 2 yrs. $6.0 million – would be the obvious Canucks candidate for a buy-out but there’s speculation the Canucks may opt to terminate his contract altogether and hope he returns to Europe or signs with another NHL team rather than report to Utica. If the NHL allows two buy-outs per team, Sven Baertchi and Brandon Sutter may be the two Canucks to get the axe.

Back on the Air – It was great to see TSN SportsCentre returning to the broadcast airwaves this week. The show had been off the air for two weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic which has basically shuttered all live sports. Rod Smith hosted the first show from his home with the producer working from the dining room. Of course, all guests appeared from inside their home offices.

TSN VP and Executive Producer Ken Volden said “it was good to get our voice back because it’s important we tell Canadian stories. As long as it wasn’t putting our people in harm’s way.” SportsCentre was quietly removed from the air as the COVID-19 shutdown took effect. The new shows are not aired live and are limited to only a half hour but for content-starved sports fans, at least it’s something.

NFL Meat Market – The NFL draft is coming up next week from April 23-25. The league has mandated a virtual draft where all team personnel are making the selections from home. It’s going to make for a unique situation and potentially, a lot of mistakes.

Teams have been allowed three phone calls per week with each prospect with each lasting up to one hour. This essentially replaces the 30 team visits teams are normally allowed to conduct. The biggest issue however, is teams have not been able to have players take medicals and physicals with team doctors and trainers during those visits. How would you like to draft a player who’s coming off knee surgery when you haven’t been able to check him out yourself? How can a team possibly have any comfort level?

There’s a long list of players who didn’t run at the NFL Combine due to injury who planned to run the 40 at their individual Pro Day workout. All Pro Days were cancelled, further clouding their draft status.

Let’s look at who may be available when the Seahawks select 27th overall in the first round. Of course, don’t be surprised if Seattle trades down or out of the first round considering their penchant for doing so.  This is a good draft in which to add extra picks. The Seahawks will select twice late in the second round with pick #59 and #64.

In terms of need, the Seahawks should be focusing on adding bodies in the trenches on both the offensive and defensive line.  This is where we see them going with the first round selection. This is a deep draft for defensive tackles so the Seahawks should absolutely focus on nabbing an impact talent for the inside of the defensive line.  Someone who can disrupt and create pressure from the middle and open up pass rush opportunities for the guys on the outside. Defensive tackle Ross Blacklock of TCU is a player shooting up draft boards. He’s has Pro Bowl potential.

There may be several edge rushers available late in the first round to bolster the Seahawks sorry pass rush – A. J. Epensea of Iowa, Yetur Gross-Matos of Penn State and Marlon Davidson of Auburn. Gross-Matos has the highest ceiling and if he is still on the board, the Seahawks should jump.

If they look at a developmental offensive tackle who can replace Germain Ifedi on the right side and eventually switch over and replace Duane Brown on the left side, there are two possibilities – Austin Jackson of USC and Josh Jones of Houston. Frankly, if any of the players mentioned are still available when the Seahawks pick, I would make the choice and resist trading down.

They have an extra second thanks to the Frank Clark trade with the Chiefs last year. Things should get interesting when the Seahawks are on the board with the two second round selections. There should be some decent players still available. If Seattle goes with a D-lineman in round one, there are several offensive tackles that may be available – Ezra Cleveland of Boise State, Lucas Niang of TCU and Prince Tega Wanogho of Auburn. (Yes, that’s his name) Late in round two, if he’s still on the board, they should look at Canadian native Neville Gallimore who played collegiately at Oklahoma. Justin Madubuike of Texas A&M is another big defensive tackle the Seahawks may target. Edge rushers Julian Okwara of Notre Dame or Jonathan Greenard of Florida would be nice additions as well with one of those late second round picks. Seattle could also stand to add depth in the secondary. Bruce Hall of Virginia has had some medical issues but he fits the Seahawks profile for tall cover corners. The Seahawks may also look at target a safety late in round two. Jeremy Chinn of Southern Illinois and Kyle Dugger of Division II Lenoir-Rhyne have been mentioned as possibilities for the Seahawks at picks 59 or 64.

If they want to nab a depth running back, Zack Moss of Utah would be a great choice. They should also look at adding a wide receiver in a draft overloaded with great prospects. If KJ Hamler of Penn State or Michael Pittman Jr. of USC are still on the board when the Seahawks select in the second round, they should not hesitate to grab either one of them. Pittman is 6’4” and 220 pounds and although he doesn’t have sprinter speed, he’s got great hands and a huge catch radius. Try covering both Pittman and D.K. Metcalf in the red zone. Justin Jefferson of LSU is another receiver worth considering in that spot.

There are a bunch of sleeper-type players that may be around in the later rounds that are intriguing. I like two receivers – Antonio Gandy-Golden of Liberty and Devin Duvernay of Texas. If the Seahawks want to add to their tight end depth, Adam Trautman of Dayton would be a fine addition. On the offensive line, I could see the Seahawks looking at guard Damien Lewis of LSU. He’s a road grader in the run game and you know that would please Pete Carroll. Center Jake Hanson of Oregon would be a nice late pick. Tackle Ben Bartch of St. John’s-Minnesota is a player that would fit the Seahawk mold as well.

There are a number of late round draft prospects who could help Seattle repair their defense. In the secondary, they could look at corners Cam Dantzler of Mississippi State, Noah Igbinoghene of Auburn or A.J. Green of Oklahoma State.  Safety J.R. Reed of Georgia has the kind of physicality the Seahawks covet.

If Seattle can grab four or five of the guys mentioned here, they would be in great shape.

The Name Game – Any look at the NFL Draft is not complete without releasing the ‘All-Name’ team for this year. The 2020 draft certainly contains some unique handles.  Here’s our list for this year:  Quintez Cephus, McTelvin Agim, Alohi Gilman, JaMycal Hasty, Joey Magnifico, Javelin Guidry, BoPete Keyes, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Lamical Perine, K’Lavon Chaisson, Kindle Vildor and Calvin Throckmorton.

No Clowney Around – Seahawk fans should not be surprised that Jadeveon Clowney has not signed a new contract. The free agent defensive end has had previous knee problems including microfracture surgery. Team doctors have not been able to examine him first-hand or take updated x-rays so it’ s not surprising no team has come forward with a solid offer. It’s the same scenario with ex-Carolina QB Cam Newton. The best option for both of them is to sign a one-year ‘prove it’ deal and try and cash in next year.

The Seahawks surprised a lot of people with the announcement this week that they had re-signed guard Mike Iupati to a one-year deal. With all the recent signings along the offensive line, the Seahawks are likely to cut veteran center Justin Britt any day now.  It would result in an $8.5 million dollar cap saving and open the door to the Seahawks resigning Clowney.

The Greatest Ever – The Major League Baseball season is very much in jeopardy. With no games to watch, we thought we would take you back and look at a player many baseball historians call the “Greatest Player of All-Time.” No, it’s not Willie Mays or Joe DiMaggio. Contributing Editor Bill Morphy found this in-depth feature on Cuban great Martin Dihigo and his story is truly legendary.

Roy Oh Roy – The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board has issued a report on the death of former Blue Jays star Roy Halladay in a 2017 plane crash. It seems Halladay had high levels of amphetamines in his system and was doing extreme acrobatics when he lost control of the small plane and nosedived into a lake near his Tampa home. The report said Halladay had ten times therapeutic levels of amphetamines in his blood including a high level of morphine and an anti-depressant that can impair judgement. He was reportedly performing high-pitch climbs and steep turns in the plane sometimes within only five feet of the water.

On his final dive, Halladay went into a nosedive and smashed into the water.  The report says he died of blunt force trauma and drowning. Halladay was flying an A5 amphibious aircraft meant to be treated like an ATV.  It has folding wings and can easily be towed on a trailer and can take off from the water. The guy who designed the plane died while flying an A5 over a lake in California in 2017 in an accident that was later deemed pilot error. Halladay was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously last year.

Meanwhile, it was also tragic to note that the Blue Jays dynamic double play duo of Tony Fernandez and Damaso Garcia both passed away recently within a month of each other. Both were still in their 60’s. Sad.

PGA TOUR Sked – With the weather hitting 20 degrees this week in Victoria, it made me long to be playing golf. It looks now like we will at least be able to watch golf on TV by mid-June. That’s the target date set by the PGA TOUR this week for restarting the season. The first tournament will be the Colonial at Fort Worth, Texas on June 11-14.  It will be players only with no crowds. That was supposed to be the date for the RBC Canadian Open at St. George’s G&CC in Toronto but the tournament has been cancelled for the first time since 1944. Defending champion Rory “Mr. Bean” McIlroy was set to return. RBC will have its name on one tourney this year. The RBC Heritage at Hilton Head has been rescheduled for June 18-21.

The revamped schedule has the PGA slated for Aug. 6-9 at Harding Park in San Francisco. The U.S. Open is now set for Sept. 17-20 at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, New York. The Ryder Cup will be played Sept. 25-27 at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin with the Masters at Augusta, Georgia Nov. 12-15.

The Ageless Wonder – Has there ever been an athlete who has excelled and endured longer than Germany’s Bernard Langer? He will be 63 in August yet he continues to win and win with regularity on the PGA Legends Tour. Langer has won a tournament every year from the age of 49 to 62.

Nothing had changed through the early part of this season before the halt in play. Through five tournaments in 2020, the Ageless Wonder was again leading the Tour’s money list, something he has done a remarkable 10 times in the past 12 seasons. Here’s more on a guy I have heard referred to as “The Machine.”

An Easy Decision – While all the North American sports leagues were frantically scrambling for options, the decision to cancel was an easy one for Wimbledon.  It seems the organizers of the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament were rather visionary when they took out infectious disease insurance coverage following the Sars outbreak in 2003.  It has paid off in lucrative fashion.

Essential ServiceHave you heard of anything more bizarre than the state of Florida declaring wrestling an essential service? The state is allowing WWE wrestling events to take place without an audience starting next week. A spokesman for the Governor’s office told ESPN that such services were characterized essential “because they are critical to Florida’s economy.”

Starting Monday with its RAW program, WWE will run live shows without fans after several weeks of taped programming. It’s good to know that ESPN is totally supportive and willing to put their employee’s health on the line in order to grab some fresh programming.

Music Video of the Week – Bob Dylan is the Shakespeare of the 20th century. Long after we are gone, history will record that he was the greatest songwriter of his or any other generation. His most recent contribution to our life and times is a 17-minute masterpiece on the assassination of John F. Kennedy entitled ‘Murder Most Foul.’ Take the time to listen. The lyrics are imbedded in the link.

It was with great sadness that we learned of the recent death of John Prine from complications relating to the coronavirus. He was 73. John was often called “the Mark Twain of American Songwriting” because of the way he blended the usual and the bizarre with more than a little sadness. Here is an obituary posted in the New York Times and the Globe and Mail.

One thing about John is he always had an amazing view of our mortality. He seemed more prepared to die than most of us. It was certainly evident in the words of “When I Get to Heaven”.

Here’s John and the Sons of Mephisto on Texas Connection in 1992 performing ‘All the Best.”

One of my favorite John Prine songs is “Lake Marie”. Here he is performing the song on Sessions from West 54th.

This is ‘Souvenirs” from a performance on Sessions from West 54th.

And finally this week, a big shout out to Dr. B in Vancouver and my old Cornwall high school chum ”Duck” in Nova Scotia.  Our thoughts and prayers are with you every day.