Under Further Review –
The Sky is Falling – The opening round of the NHL playoffs is over and all the Canadian teams have been swept aside. It’s now 26 years and counting since the Cup resided in Canada. I think we need a special parliamentary commission.
Who the hell would have predicted the second round playoff match-ups? Dallas and St. Louis. San Jose and Colorado. Carolina and the Islanders. Columbus and Boston. Sorry, nobody saw this coming. All four division winners are out in round one. All four wildcard teams are advancing. It’s flat-out crazy!
When the Maple Leafs were up three games to two in their opening round series with the Bruins, you would have thought they had already won the Cup. The ‘homers’ in Hogtown including the blow-hole that is Joe Bowen already had them advancing with game six in Toronto. But wait! The Leafs had another collapse in store. Leaf Nation is left to mourn another first round exit at the hands of the reviled Bruins.
The script was eerily similar to last year. It was predictable that Jake Gardiner would on the ice for the first two goals of the game. You will remember he was minus-5 in game seven last year. Frederik Andersen, the best goalie in the world according to Don Cherry, looked unsteady when the lights were brightest and the anointed ones, Matthews and Marner, were nowhere to be found. Give John Tavaras credit. At least he showed up.
We’ve followed the narrative all season long and the Leafs lack of bite and overall defensive awareness did them in again. Now they have to deal with a salary cap crunch that will severely limit their ability to fix the problems. Over the past year, the Leafs have single-handedly done more than any NHL team to escalate the cost of doing business. Contracts for Tavaras, Matthews, Nylander and soon-to-be-for Marner only serve to drive the market upward. If they could have signed all of the big names for a million less each, they would have had the money for at least two additional quality players slotted lower into their lineup.
It will be almost impossible for the Leafs to upgrade their supporting cast let alone fix the blue line. The Leafs will probably be forced to ice a fourth line next year comprised of players all making close to the NHL minimum. You can’t win that way. Depth is everything in the NHL. Bruin fourth-liners Sean Kuraly and Joakim Nordstrom killed them with huge goals in game seven. Patrick Marleau will be 40 next season and is due to make $6.25 million. He had two assists in the playoffs. Marleau can’t be bought out because he is over 35 so Kyle Dubas is going to have to toss in a significant sweetener if he wants to dump that contract.
Flambéed – The Calgary Flames are a tough team to evaluate after having the doors blown off their season by the Avalanche. The series wasn’t close. Nathan MacKinnon and company thoroughly flambéed the Flames and you have to wonder where Calgary goes now when their top goalie is 37 and their top defenseman is 35. They were the number one seed in the West so it’s hard to say they are not knocking on the door but in watching that series, the Avs exposed some serious flaws.
The Avs top line of MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen bulldozed the Flames for 21 points in the five game series. Calgary had no answers. The Flames top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm had only 5 points. Gaudreau had only one measly assist and spent most of his time whining to the refs. I question whether the Flames can build a contending team around Gaudreau and Monahan. Not enough ‘bite’ from your top two forwards. You need more push back than that and Matthew Tkachuk is not enough.
It’s still shocking to think that the NHL’s top two seeds won only one playoff game between the two of them.
Singing the Blues – Is there another general manager in the NHL facing a more challenging and daunting off-season than the Jets Kevin Chevaldayoff? No less than 15 Jets off the 23-man roster are in need of new contracts this summer. The Jets are cap-strapped and will likely lose Tyler Myers, Ben Chariot and Brandon Tanev to free agency. Chevaldayoff needs to find the money to pay his three gifted restricted free agents – Patrik Laine, Jacob Trouba and Kyle Connor. I would not be surprised if this is the summer some team comes calling with an offer sheet.
My first move would be to send Paul Maurice packing and he can take Charlie Huddy with him. Huddy was in charge of the Jets defense and when you can’t defend leads, someone should have to pay. The Jets had the worst record in the NHL when leading after two periods and the same issue reared its ugly head in the playoffs.
The Jets should shop around and find a taker for Dustin Byfuglien. His play does not match his pay grade. He’s being paid like a #1 defenseman and he’s not. His performance in the playoffs the past two seasons has been far too undisciplined with poor decision-making and a raft of poor penalties. Big Buff has two years at $7 million per left on his contract and I would try and see who may be interested. The Jets need to trim payroll and you may as well start there. If it helps you retain Myers, then do it. I would also quietly shop Laine and determine his value. This team had so much promise but the hoped-for breakthrough simply hasn’t happened. They also have to do something about the left side of their defense where the lead-footed Chariot and Dmitri Kulikov were exposed big-time versus the Blues. But without salary cap space it’s really hard to improve your hockey club.
NHL Notebook – Kucherov. Gaudreau. Marner. Small stars who had exceptional seasons. All out in the first round. What does that tell you? I wonder if it won’t be the same movie if and when Elias Pettersson makes the playoffs.
It looks like the end of the road for the Nashville Predators. Their best-before date has expired. I kind of feel sorry for David Poile because he’s a great GM and has never been able to get to the top of the mountain. Something just isn’t working there. Watch him try and dump PK Subban on Jim Benning’s doorstep.
The Montreal Canadiens were the smallest team in the NHL this season both in height and weight. In fact, they were the only team in the league with an average weight of under 190 pounds. Do you really think that’s the prescription for playoff success?
With a name like Jake Muzzin and the beard to boot, the Leaf defenseman could easily pass for a Klondike gold miner!
Chief Thief – Seahawks GM John Schneider has done it again. How he got the Kansas City Chiefs to surrender first and second round draft picks for Frank Clark, I will never know. Clark is a fine defensive end but he’s not worth that bounty. The Chiefs then inexplicably handed Clark a five-year contract worth $105 million with $63 million guaranteed. That’s what 14 sacks in today’s NFL will get you.
After the Seahawks made Russell Wilson the highest paid player in the NFL, there was zero chance they were going to meet Clark’s demands. They not only reap the draft picks, they won’t have to pay Clark $17 million this season which is what he would have earned under the franchise tag. Clark had major character flaws when he came out of college and while he’s been exemplary so far during his pro career, something tells me Seattle still had reservations when considering whether to give him a huge extension. He probably didn’t tick off all the boxes in their mind and that’s why they pulled the trigger. When you are handing out $100 million dollar contracts, you had better be totally comfortable with the person who’s going to be cashing those massive cheques.
The Seahawks were sitting with only four picks in this year’s draft so it came as no surprise that Schneider traded down three times until he had accumulated 10 picks in total. The Seahawks are already looking to next year when they will really benefit. They have their full complement of seven picks, plus four compensatory picks and now the Chiefs second rounder. It’s a textbook example of astute management!
A Real Nail-Biter – Vladdy Jr. made his Jays debut on Friday night with great fanfare. He doubled to open the ninth and the Jays walked it off against the Oakland A’s. By September, the Jays are likely to have an infield of Rowdy Tellez, Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guererro Jr. plus young Danny Jensen behind the plate. At least then we will have reason to watch.
Surprise, surprise, Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez is injured again. Yes, it’s his fingernail. He had four separate stints on the injured list in 2017, then battled a new set of issues last year, when he damaged his finger handling a suitcase that later required surgery. The Jays may have to insist that he not pick his nose in fear of damaging his finger.
Get Out the Brooms – The NBA is facing a crisis as TV ratings and general interest plummet due to a lack of competitive balance. Two of the eight first round series were sweeps and four lasted only five games. It’s clear, many of the teams that made the playoffs had no reason being there.
The playoffs are supposed to be when the competition is ratcheted up. In the NBA, the level of compete is no different than in the regular season. The second round may not be any better. Last year, none of the four second round series lasted more than five games. The refereeing stinks and defense is still only a concept.
Girl Wonder – I don’t know how they figure out the world golf rankings but I’m sorry, Brooke Henderson should not be ranked 12th in the world. She’s 21 and may already be the best women’s golfer in the world. The pride of Smith’s Falls, Ontario just won the eighth tournament of her young career, tying Mike Weir, George Knudson and Sandra Post for the most victories by a Canadian. Her whole career is still in front of her so that record is toast and a number one world ranking awaits.
Henderson is poised for a monster season. She looks fitter than ever before. It appears to me like improved fitness and nutrition has made a big difference. The change in her body this year is very noticeable. She hits the ball a ton and as long as her putting stroke holds up, she is going to win a whole bunch of tournaments.
Oh, Brother – As we know, Tiger Woods is back on top of the golf world but apparently he couldn’t be bothered assisting his half-brother who’s suffering from multiple sclerosis and in need of constant care.
Kooch the Mooch – Matt Kuchar finished second at the PGA TOUR event at Hilton Head last weekend. He paid his caddie off with a Groupon for 50% off at Arby’s. (Must purchase a side and a large drink!)
The Legend of Moe Norman – You cannot have a discussion about the greatest golfer in Canadian history without including the name Moe Norman. He was a golfing savant who devised the ‘Single-Plane Golf Swing’ – rigid arms extended far from his body, a very wide stance with minimal knee bend, shorter-than-usual backswing and extended follow-through with minimal hand action, which produced amazingly accurate ball flight.
Norman played briefly on the PGA Tour but his shyness and eccentricity resulted in him playing mostly in Canada. Norman won the Canadian Amateur Golf Championship in 1955 and again in 1956 and won 55 Canadian Tour events during his professional career. Moe turned 50 in 1979 and won the next seven Canadian Professional Golf Association senior championships. He came in second in number eight and won the ninth by eight strokes.
Norman’s skills as a ball striker are legendary. His nickname was ‘Pipeline’ because he hit it so straight. Sam Snead called Norman the greatest ball striker of all-time. In 2005, Tiger Woods told Jaime Diaz from Golf Digest that only two golfers in history have “owned their swings”, Moe Norman and Ben Hogan.
What set Norman apart was his unconventional behavior. As the story goes, on one hole his caddie told him he could get to the green with a driver and a 9-iron. Naturally, he hit off the tee with his 9-iron and then hit the green with his driver. Playing a round with Sam Snead, there was a hole with a creek about 240 yards off the tee. Everyone else had been laying up. Moe pulled out his driver and Snead warned “Moe, you can’t clear the creek with a driver.” Moe replied “Not trying to. I’m going across the bridge.” Moe hit his drive and the ball rolled right across the bridge to the other side.
These days, it’s a big story if a golfer shoots a 59. Norman did it three times. He reportedly had at least 17 holes-in-one. In fact, Norman had so many, he would barely react when he aced a hole. Moe recorded over 40 course records, three with scores of 59 and four with scores of 61. He shot his final 59 at the age of 62 at Rockway Golf Club in Kitchener.
Norman would pound balls until his hands bled. He was called the ‘Rainman of Golf’ because he was slightly autistic and often repeated his words. He dressed funny and that’s one of the reasons he walked away from the PGA TOUR. Apparently, he was mocked mercilessly and vowed never to return.
As the story goes, at one point Norman was penniless and living out of his car. Members of the Kitchener Golf & Country Club pooled money and bought Moe a house.
A film about Moe Norman called Dance the Green is now in production. One of the investors is Wayne Gretzky.
Midnight Rider – I leave you this week with a video sent to me by my great friend Ted in Calgary.
“Midnight Rider” featuring Vince Gill, Gregg Allman, and Zac Brown, from “All My Friends – Celebrating the Songs and Voice of Gregg Allman”.