Under Further Review –
Big Boy Hockey – The NHL playoffs are a tale of two seasons. Make no mistake about it, there is no correlation whatsoever between the NHL regular season and the post season. It’s two different seasons completely. The refereeing changes, time and space is taken away and heavy hockey takes over.
The Tampa Bay Lightning won 62 games during the regular season. They walked off with the President’s Trophy, then got their asses handed to them by Columbus. The Lightning might be having second thoughts about extending Jon Cooper right before the playoffs. He got schooled by Torts whose expletive-laced rant after the Blue Jackets fell behind 3-0 at the end of the first period of game one is now legendary.
Last year, Tom Wilson and Ryan Reaves had huge impacts in the playoffs. Josh Anderson just finished playing the role to perfection for Columbus in their incredible upset of the Lightning. Small forwards like Nikita Kucherov and Johnny Gaudreau have flopped. It’s Big Boy Hockey in the playoffs and you better adjust. All the teams that have surprised so far have the same things in common – good goaltending, stifling defense, scoring by committee and they all play ‘heavy’ hockey. Just like Torts says, you can’t take a step backward. The Flames were the second seed in this year’s playoffs and they are facing the same problem in trying to subdue Colorado’s top line who all weigh over 200 pounds.
This seems to happen every year but the number of potential first round upsets is astonishing. Why do you think I have been calling for the Canucks to add size and bite? They experienced this in 2011 when they won the President’s Trophy and got pushed around by the Bruins. As long as the refs throw away the whistles, heavy hockey will win out every time.
NHL Playoff Notebook – Hey, Nazem Kadri! Thanks for coming, then promptly going – loony – again! Hope you enjoyed your time in Toronto.
Hands down, Nate McKinnon is the second best player in the NHL and the margin between him and Connor McDavid is a lot smaller than you might think. The guy’s a horse! He takes over big games.
Don Cherry has entered the twilight zone. He claimed on the air this week and again on Friday night that the Leafs Frederik Andersen is the best goalie in the world right now. Cherry has caught the blue and white disease. Apparently he missed Sergei Bobrovsky’s performance against Tampa Bay. The night Grapes first made the statement Andersen gave up five against the Bruins. He’s playing great but hold on Don.
I certainly hope that at least one of the Canadian teams survive the first round. I was hoping that maybe Calgary and Winnipeg would meet in the Western Conference finals but that’s a pipe-dream now.
I hope you didn’t have Sidney Crosby in your playoff pool! That Penguins teams is stale and they need to be thinking about a rebuild in Pittsburgh at some point soon. Could Malkin be moved in the off-season?
Does a curse come with winning the President’s Trophy?
The D-corps in Big D is getting the job done. John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell have outplayed PK Subban, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis. It’s a big part of why the Stars may pull off the upset.
The Flames signing of James Neal may end up being one of the worst free agent signings in memory. He has four more years at $5.75 million per season on the deal he signed last summer. Neal is coming off a seven-goal season and he was a healthy scratch for game five of the series vs. the Avs. He has no points in the series and his lack of speed is a huge problem. Maybe he can rebound next season but the red flag has been raised.
Something is seriously wrong with Erik Karlsson. He’s been on the ice for 13 of the Vegas goals so far in that series. Karlsson has been plagued by a groin injury since the all-star break and he’s just not right. There isn’t a chance I would consider signing him this summer but it only takes one team and someone will probably step up. They had better have good doctors to check him out.
The Jets made a big mistake not going harder after homeboy Mark Stone. He has been a holy terror against the Sharks with six goals and four assists in the first five games of the series. You can see a path where Vegas returns to the Cup final again this year.
Evgeni Kuznetsov led the NHL playoffs in scoring a year ago as the Caps marched to the Cup. This year, he looks totally uninspired and the Capitals may be the next team to exit at the hands of a major underdog.
Grounded Jets – The Jets had the worst record in the league this season when leading after two periods. They blew another lead in game five against the Blues and could exit the playoffs on Saturday night. Something is amiss in Winnipeg and you have to point the finger at Paul Maurice. Yes, I think they need to make a coaching change but the problems appear to run even deeper.
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff faces a monumental task in the off-season with the salary cap and there may be no easy fixes. He’s got three 30-something vets on long term deals who may be hard to move. 31 year old Bryan Little has five more years on his deal at $5.3 million. Captain Blake Wheeler is 32 and has five more years at $8.25 million. 34 year old Dustin Byfuglien has two more at $7.6 million. Goaltender Connor Hellebucyk is wildly inconsistent and is signed for five more years at $6.2 million. Why do I mention this? Because Chevy needs a ton of cap space to sign three important restricted free agents this summer in Patrik Laine, Jacob Trouba and Kyle Connor. The competitive window in Winnipeg may close sooner than we think.
Yes, I would not hesitate to make a coaching change. Paul Maurice has not been able to get the Jets to play the kind of team defense required to win in the playoffs. Chevedayoff surrendered another first round pick to bring in centre Kevin Hayes from the Rangers at the deadline and Maurice played him eight minutes in game two. Go figure!
The Roar is Back – Witnessing Tiger’s coronation at the Masters should be considered one of the top five moments in sports history. It was equally thrilling and chilling. I was still buzzing an hour after he won. Should any of us have ever doubted that he would return to form and win another major? No one can ever question his greatness again. As soon as he captured his fifth green jacket, everyone immediately starting wondering if Jack’s record of 18 majors is within reach. We would be smart not to rule it out. The next two majors on the calendar this year are the PGA Championship next month at Bethpage Black in New York and the US Open at Pebble Beach, two venues where Tiger has won before. If you look at his game, there’s no reason to think he can’t keep winning. Tiger’s iron game has always been superb. No one controls his distances better than him. His short game is immaculate and his putting, when on, is better than anyone. Sure, his driving is erratic but that’s always been the case. At 43, he could be relevant for another 5-10 years if his health holds up. It’s not out of the question because his fitness is still better than a lot of younger players half his age.
When Tiger won his first Masters at Augusta back in 1997, he influenced a whole new generation of young golfers. I wonder if, 22 years on, he hasn’t done it all over again. How many young kids were watching on Sunday and will be encouraged to take up the game as well? That’s the Tiger effect and it cannot be underscored. He has impacted three generations of golfers and the legend lives on. By the way, he’s now won majors in three different decades.
Nurse’s Maids – The mighty Toronto Raptors came up clutch again as the NBA playoffs got underway. The number two seed Raptors were upset in the opening game against the seventh seeded Orlando Magic, bringing the Raps record in first round opening games to 1-and-10. Mark my words, the Raptors will never win a thing with Kyle Lowry at point guard. Kyle clutched up and went 0-for-7 from the field for zero points in game one. Rookie coach Nick Nurse incomprehensibly played Kahwi Leonard only 33 minutes in the opener despite the fact Leonard has had more days off for so-called ‘load management’ than someone on UI. It will be interesting to see if the Raptors can somehow navigate through the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, I don’t see them beating Milwaukee if they both meet in the East final.
The Big Whiff – Make no mistake about it, this is the Strikeout Era in major league baseball. Hitters are striking out at a record rate. 2018 produced the most strikeouts in a single season in MLB history – 41,207. The overall batting average of .248 was the lowest since 1972. Pitchers are dominating, plain and simple.
If I am a baseball scout, I am looking for hitters with a ‘good eye’. Players who get ahead on the count and drive the ball or draw a walk. If you don’t have that ability by the time you reach the majors, you are suddenly not going to change your stripes.
Death Track – You have to wonder what the future holds for the Sport of Kings. Horse racing in America is at a crossroads and major changes are required if it is going to survive. Over the course of only 66 days, no less than 21 horses had to be put down at Santa Anita Raceway. The track had to be closed and the racing surface inspected. Since then, two more horses have been euthanized.
In the wake of the stunning report, Canadian Belinda Stronach, chairman of the Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita and numerous other tracks around North America, issued an open letter calling for sweeping changes to the horse racing industry. The biggest issue is the continued use of the controversial race-day diuretic Lasix. Famed trainer Bob Baffert claims the problem is with the racing surface at Santa Anita and not any medications but you have to wonder.
Lasix first hit the market in the 1970’s and was controversial right from the start. It was designed to limit exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging or bleeding into the lungs. The use of anti-inflammatory drugs on horses is also a problem because all it may be doing is masking pain. The bottom line is horse racing has never been properly governed on a national level. Racing desperately needs a national governing body to break out of a malaise that has been going on for the past 50 years.
The Big Train – If you were making an argument for the greatest athlete in Canadian history, the argument should begin and end with one Lionel ‘Big Train’ Conacher. He was voted the country’s greatest athlete for the first half of the 20th century and for good reason.
How’s this for a resume. Conacher is in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, the CFL Hall of Fame, the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame and the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. Along with someone named Carl Voss, Conacher is the only person to ever win both a Grey Cup and a Stanley Cup.
Conacher’s first passion was football, winning the Grey Cup in 1921 with the Toronto Argonauts. In hockey, he won a Memorial Cup in 1920, then two Stanley Cups during his NHL career, in 1934 with the Chicago Black Hawks and 1935 with the Montreal Maroons. Conacher was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team that won an International League title in 1926. Additionally, he won wrestling, boxing and lacrosse championships during his illustrious playing career. I haven’t been able to confirm it, but someone told me he took up golf and almost immediately became a 3-handicapper. Talk about ‘two-sport’ guys! Conacher was a ‘six-sport’ guy! At the age of 20, Conacher was knocked out in an exhibition boxing match against Jack Dempsey.
Conacher later became a Member of Parliament. Strangely enough, it was also on the sports field that Conacher died. He suffered a heart attack twenty minutes after hitting a triple in a softball game played on the lawn of Parliament Hill. He was two days past his 53rd birthday.
Ode to Etta – I leave you this week with a tribute to the great Etta James and an amazing version of “I’d Rather Go Blind” from Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes. Enjoy!
Note: The Bro Jake Show on TSN 1040 is preempted this week. We will post the podcast following next Saturday’s show.