Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and contributions from Bill Myles, Howard Steiss, Dave Kittle and Ian MacPhee. In this edition, we say goodbye to the Flower. It’s lights out for the Canucks. The Jays are rolling plus a little pre-draft NFL chatter.
Ode to the Flower – The province of Quebec plans a national funeral for Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur. Funeral services will be held in Montreal on May 3. He will lie in state at the Bell Centre on May 1 and May 2 to allow the public to pay their final respects. Le Demon Blond died on Friday at the age of 70 after a long battle with lung cancer. Former Canadiens stars Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau were also given national honours.
When you think of Guy Lafleur you can’t help but think back to game seven of the 1979 Stanley Cup semi-final – Canadiens versus the Boston Bruins. The Flower comes through in the clutch. Love the Danny Gallivan call – “Lafleur coming out rather gingerly.”
Guy’s unfortunate passing brings back memories of how the Canadiens deftly manoeuvred to land Lafleur exactly 50 years ago. Without a couple of shrewd deals by legendary Canadiens GM Sam Pollock, the Flower would never have worn a Canadiens sweater.
A year before Guy was drafted, Pollock sent the 10th pick in the 1970 draft along with the immortal Ernie Hicke to the California Golden Seals for their 1971 first-round pick. Don’t think for a second that Pollock wasn’t thinking ahead. As things turned out, halfway through the 1970-71 season, Pollock became concerned that the Golden Seals might not finish in last place. The L.A. Kings had nearly as poor a record as their California neighbours. Pollock got on the phone and finalized a deal that sent veteran centre Ralph Backstrom to the Kings for Ray Fortin, Gord Laboissiere and a second-round pick. The two warm bodies who came over in the deal never played a game for the Habs. Pollock didn’t care. Backstrom scored 27 points in 33 games with the Kings, ensuring the Seals would end up at the bottom of the standings and that the Canadiens would select Guy Lafleur with first overall pick in the 1971 draft.
Guy Lafleur would finish his Habs career with 518 goals, second most in team history. His 1,246 points are the most in club history. He won two Hart Trophy’s and most importantly, five Stanley Cups. RIP Guy! You were, without a doubt, one of the most exciting and entertaining players in NHL history.
Canucks Notebook – Any faint hopes of securing a playoff berth have pretty much been snuffed out. The current three-game losing streak has closed the book on the Canucks gutty late-season charge. It was fun while it lasted but the reality is, the Canucks have missed the playoffs in seven of the last nine seasons. Everything they do under the new management group has to be tied to long-range thinking.
There were plenty of positives this season. Elias Pettersson had 17 points after the Canucks first 37 games. Blame it on his wrist injury or because he missed training camp, the good news is Pettersson turned his season around and again looks like a difference-maker and long-term foundational player.
Thatcher Demko is a franchise goaltender. How many points did he steal this season with spectacular play? He’s a foundational piece. Quinn Hughes will finish the season averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per game, something only two other players, Matthias Ohlund and Ed Jovanovski, have done in Canucks history. Hughes is also likely to break the franchise scoring record for defencemen.
Russian forward Vasily Podkolzin looks like the real deal. The Canucks made sure he is eligible for the American Hockey League playoffs. He should get into several playoff games with Abbotsford which can only help his development. Ditto for Will Lockwood who’s shown something in his brief late-season call-up. Defenceman Travis Dermott, picked up from the Leafs at the trade deadline, has also made a decent impression.
Behind the bench, you would have to think the Canucks will come to an agreement with Bruce Boudreau on a contract extension. The Canucks have posted 30 wins since Boudreau took over. How can you argue with the results? One thing about Boudreau. He makes coming to the rink fun. He’s a great communicator and the Canucks have definitely responded to his leadership.
NHL Notebook – Selecting this season’s Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP will be no easy task. Several players are having incredible seasons including Connor McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau, Auston Matthews, and Jonathan Huberdeau. One player who should not be overlooked is Nashville defenceman Roman Josi. He ranks 15th in the league in scoring with 90 points which is just six back of Mitch Marner, J.T. Miller and Artemi Panarin who are all having career years.
When the Montreal Canadiens host the NHL draft in July, they will have a truckload of draft picks – 14 altogether. Arizona has also been hoarding picks. The Coyotes have eight picks in the first three rounds including three first-rounders. Their own selection is sure to be a high lottery pick. They also have Carolina’s (via Montreal for Christian Dvorak), plus Colorado’s as a result of the Darcy Kuemper trade. Arizona has four picks in the second round. They have their own, plus the Islanders (for taking on Andrew Ladd’s contract, the Flyers (for taking on Shayne Gostisbehere) and the Sharks (for goalie Adin Hill). Now, if they only had somewhere to play!
Are we headed into a new age of scoring in the NHL? For the first time in 16 years, the NHL will have four 50-goal scorers this season. Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews, Alexander Ovechkin and Chris Kreider have already hit the mark. It will be interesting to see if it’s just a blip on the radar or a sign of things to come.
Big questions will be asked in Las Vegas if the Golden Knights miss the post-season and it looks like that could happen. In the first 30 games after acquiring Jack Eichel from Buffalo, Vegas went 14-14-2. The Sabres had an almost identical record. Eichel put up 12 goals and 21 points. Alex Tuch, one of the key pieces in the deal for Buffalo, scored 8 goals and 24 points. As good as Eichel performed with the Sabres, his highest goal-scoring season was 36. Fast-rising Sabre forward Tage Thompson has 37 this season.
For all the big-game hunting Vegas has done since entering the league, they still haven’t been able to reach the summit. Considering the state of their salary cap moving forward, Vegas may find their methodology has been a massive mistake.
The Ottawa Senators trade that sent Erik Karlsson is destined to be one of the most lopsided deals in NHL history. Considering the breakout campaign being turned in by Josh Norris, the Sens would be happy if it was just Karlsson for Norris. Add in Tim Stuetzle and a host of other assets and the Karlsson trade tree may keep paying the Senators dividends for another 10+ years.
Meanwhile, Karlsson will be the highest paid player in the NHL this season, earning – wait, you had better sit down – $14.5 million in actual dollars according to CapFriendly. His eight-year, $92 million dollar ticket runs through the end of the 2026-27 season. Talk about a drag on a team’s payroll.
If you are wondering, there are four players tied for second on the highest-paid list – all at $13 million: Connor McDavid, Artemi Panarin, Carey Price and Tyler Seguin. Price has struggled since returning to the Canadiens lineup. Seguin has only 46 points in 78 games. Three players, Sergei Bobrovky, Mark Stone and Nikita Kucherov, will all earn $12 million this season in hard cash. Altogether, there are 20 players earning $10 million or more in actual salary this year.
The Hype Machine – Sports journalism has become an oxymoron. Television dominates sports coverage and the talking heads have almost become imbedded public relations flaks for the networks, leagues and teams they hold the rights to. Some TV networks have an actual ownership stake in teams. Some networks control what is said because they are worried about retaining the broadcast rights. Back in the day, the Chicago Tribune owned the Chicago Cubs. Today, it seems like there are incestuous relationships everywhere you look.
Do you ever see someone on Sportsnet or TSN tell it like it is? Criticizing the beloved Toronto Maple Leafs is cause for dismissal. Do you really think great writers like Milt Dunnell, George Gross, Jim Hunt and Frank Orr, who all covered the Leafs, would shy away from taking out the dagger when it was justified? They would have had a field day after the Leafs were throttled 8-1 this week by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Talk about sending a message before the playoffs begin! The Lightning reminded everyone they are the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.
What happened after the Leafs were spanked senseless by the Bolts? The snivelling sycophants rolled out the excuses. The Leafs lost because Auston Matthews was out with an injury and they played the back-up goalie. No one mentioned that Tampa was also without Brayden Point. The following day, they started talking about how the Leafs need rest before the playoffs and how tough it’s going to be to have to play eight games in 13 nights. It’s as if they convene a PR meeting after every loss and discuss what spin to put on the story. It looks like the Leafs and Lightning will meet in the opening round. We don’t have to tell you how this is going to play out. They are probably already working on how to spin the Leafs inevitable demise.
Blue Jays Notebook – After receiving an amazing reception on opening day at Rogers Centre, Blue Jay players now have an idea of what to expect if they make it to the post-season. It has to give them an added incentive. Despite a raft of injuries, the Jays still sit atop the AL East.
We have a new nickname for Jays leftie Hyun Jin Ryu – Hung One High. Just keep throwing those marshmallows up to the plate buddy! The way Ryu is pitching, we can see a scenario where he is not even on the post-season roster if the Jays make the playoffs. Time for Ryu to get his s*^t together. Oh, that’s right. He’s sidelined again with arm trouble.
At the other end of the spectrum, Alek Manoah is looking everything like a front-of-the-rotation starter, a role everyone thought Nate Pearson was going to fill. The Blue Jays have won the last 11 games Manoah has started and are 19-4 in his young career. Pearson, on the other hand, can’t stay healthy and when he has pitched, he can’t find the plate. Pearson is yet to pitch this season after coming down with mono. Can’t blame him for that but the shine is coming off his can’t-miss label.
One of the early season surprises for the Blue Jays has to be the emergence of infielder Santiago Espinal. He came into the season expecting to be part of a platoon at second base with Cavan Biggio. Espinal has absolutely seized the job with stellar defensive play at second and timely hitting at the plate. Unlike Biggio, he’s making solid contact. Espinal has put bat on the ball on 83% of the pitches he’s swung at so far this season. That’s top-30 in MLB. His glove and range are far superior to Biggio. We’re only 16 games into the season but Espinal has seized the job and run with it.
There’s a lot of players struggling at the plate all around the majors. Most notable among the Blue Jays is shortstop Bo Bichette. He’s hitting just .217 and drew his first walk of the season just this weekend. His timing is off. Bichette is too good a hitter not to get it going at some point but with Teoscar Hernandez sidelined, it would help if Bo broke out soon.
The biggest single positive so far this season is the Jays record in one and two-run games. The bullpen has been outstanding for the most part. They are closing out close games, a great sign the team is learning what it takes to be a true contender. Remember back to last season? Winning tight games was a huge issue.
MLB Notebook – Runs are down big-time around baseball this season. So are home runs. Blame it on the cold weather. Blame it on the shift. But the stats don’t lie. The accumulative batting average in baseball is .231. That’s the lowest it’s been in the majors since 1968 when they lowered the mound because of the dominance of Hall of Famer Bob Gibson.
There’s no question, MLB has to do something about the shift. It’s outlawed in the minors this season where every team has to have two players on each side of the infield at all times. Pitchers are on a 16-second pitch clock. Guess what? The games have been shortened by 25 minutes on average. As the Jays broadcast team noted this weekend, games should be decided by the athletes on the field and not by a computer spitting out information on where the defense should be positioned and the likelihood of a batter hitting the ball to a certain spot. Guys are absolutely roping the ball and it’s being caught because a team is employing four outfielders. Hopefully, baseball will outlaw the shift next season based on the findings in the minors this year.
You don’t think starting pitching is a lost art in the majors? Only four, count em’ four, starters have cumulative ERA’s under 4.00 over the last five years. In major league baseball today, if a starting pitcher goes five innings and gives up three runs or less, it’s called a ‘quality start.’ At the height of baseball’s popularity back in the Sixties, if that’s all a pitcher was doing, he would probably be sent to the minors. Complete games by a starting pitcher are rare today. For guys like Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan, it was a given.
The Baltimore Orioles are a disgrace. They had the worst record in baseball last year and many observers believe they will be even worse this season. If you are old enough, you will remember when the Orioles were a model franchise with Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson. Not anymore. Within the AL East last season, the Orioles went 1-18 against the Tampa Rays. The Rays are already 3-0 against the flightless Birds this season and have won 27 of their last 29 against Baltimore. How hapless can you be?
Seahawks Notebook – The NFL draft starts on Thursday. The annual meat market could be franchise-altering for the Seattle Seahawks. The Hawks have a top ten pick for the first time since 2012 along with a pair of second-round selections thanks to the deal that sent quarterback Russell Wilson to Denver. Quarterback is clearly a position of need but the Seahawks would be smart to chase a quarterback next year. This year’s QB drop is highly questionable. Think Christian Ponder.
Seattle would be wise to focus on other positional needs including the offensive line and all three levels of the defense. Offensive tackle is a huge concern. The only tackles on the roster right now are Jake Curhan and Stone Forsythe, two rookies from a year ago. The Seahawks absolutely need to come out of this draft with a plug-and-play tackle, a pass rusher and a starting quality cornerback.
Focus on improving the trenches. If the Seahawks want to be a dominant running team, it starts up front. This is a great draft along the offensive line. They should take advantage of it. An unsexy draft could actually be a good thing.
Seahawks GM John Schneider loves to trade down but too often the Seahawks have bypassed players who ended up being quality starters. If the right player is available with the 9th overall pick, avoid the urge to trade down. LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. may be the best corner to enter the league in several years. He has immense potential. If Stingley is there at #9, take him. If Florida State end Jermaine Johnson is still on the board, call his name. Look to fill other positional needs with picks 40 and 41 in the second round.
If the Seahawks want to build another Super Bowl team, they must become dominant at the point of attack. Use this draft to lay the foundation.
Dustin and Paulina – Golf’s Royal Wedding took place over the weekend at a posh resort in the Smokey Mountains near Knoxville, Tennessee as Dustin Johnson and wannabe socialite Paulina Gretzky tied the knot. The lovely couple have been together since 2013 and have two young children. Somehow, we don’t think the kids have a future as nuclear physicists.
Masters Notes – Good on Tiger Woods for making the cut at the Masters but a pair of 78’s on the weekend showed he has a long way to go if he ever wants to contend in another major. Tiger finished in 47th place. Only five players, including Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes, had higher scores. What has become increasingly tiresome is the fawning coverage of Woods every time he tees it up. Golf Channel, and every other network, followed his every shot at the Masters. Can we please stop that nonsense? Of course, we all know that won’t happen as long as he’s playing.
Canadian Corey Conners put another solid week together at Augusta National. He turned in a final round 71 to finish T6 and earn automatic bid into next year’s tournament. It’s the second year in a row that Conners has finished in the top 10.
It seems the staid ‘Old Boys Club’ that is Augusta National don’t always get their way. The ‘Green Jacket Boys’ have been buying up parcels of land around the golf course for decades now. However, one brave lady is refusing to budge when they come knocking on her door.
Quote from Chi Chi Rodriguez on the nerves of playing in his very first Masters tournament: “The first time I played the Masters, I was no nervous I drank a bottle of rum before I teed off. I shot the happiest 83 of my life.”
Leftovers – Injuries have pretty much derailed the Toronto Raptors playoff hopes. They managed to avoid a sweep in their opening round series with Philadelphia but it’s doubtful they can make the Sixers sweat. Falling into a 3-0 series hole, it showed how important Scottie Barnes is to the Raptors future. Barnes was a well-deserved selection as NBA rookie of the year. Meantime, you can’t help but come away with some dislike for Sixers center Joel Embiid, the NBA’s likely MVP. He just can’t help himself from saying or doing stupid things. Can you just not shut up and let your game do the talking?
We like to poke fun at the Maple Laughs but there’s no mistaking the star power on the Toronto sports scene right now. The Leafs have Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, the Jays have Vladdy and Bo, and the Raptors have Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes and Fred VanVleet. That’s a lot of star quality talent in one city at one time.
U.S. House representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois, was part of the House panel investigating the NFL ownership of Washington’s Dan Snyder. After listening to the testimony, he told ESPN’s John Keim, “Quite frankly, as you go through the allegations it reads like the description of some organization out of The Goldfather and not an NFL football team.” The NFL needs to step up and strip Snyder of his ownership of the team. Should have happened long ago.
From my great friend Howard Steiss in White Rock: The top Canadian at the recent Boston Marathon was 30-year-old Trevor Hofbauer of Calgary. He finished 15th. Not too shoddy when you consider there were 25 thousand entrants from 120 countries. Seems Hofbauer was a Port Moody schoolmate of Howard’s sons 25 years ago. Hofbauer’s personel best time is 2:09:51. He was part of the 2020 Canadian Olympic team.
Spotify Picks of the Month – We have a bunch of great selections for you in this edition of Under Further Review.
A band called The Teskey Brothers showed up on our daily Spotify playlists. They are an Australian blues-rock band from Melbourne. Check out the album Half Mile Harvest. We recommend two tracks – Crying Shame and Shiny Moon.
Van Morrison has been releasing tracks, presumably from an upcoming new release. Have a listen to the song Nervous Breakdown. Classic Van!
Luther Dickinson from the North Mississippi All-Stars has a new solo album out entitled Blues & Ballads, a Folksinger’s Songbook: Volumes 1 & 11. Love the track Bang Bang Lulu.
And finally, you should check out the catalogue of singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earl. He’s the son of Steve Earl. His father gave him his middle name in honour of his own mentor, the legendary Townes Van Zandt. We recommend a couple of tracks. Check out Ain’t Waitin’ from the album Harlem River Blues and Don’t Drink the Water and Flint City Shake It from the release The Saint of Lost Causes.
YouTube Video of the Month – You can’t go wrong putting two of the best all-time slide guitar players together. Here’s Derek Trucks and Sonny Landreth performing Congo Square.
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