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Under Further Review – April Edition – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and regular contributor Jordan Moss. This week – spring has sprung. That means it’s time for the Canucks to fade. Tiger surfaces at the Masters and let’s play ball!

Canucks Notebook – Well, it’s that time of year again. The flowers are blooming and the Canucks are wilting. (Yes, we know. They won last night.) But it’s a tiresome saga. The Canucks stay on the fringes of the playoff race before ultimately bowing out. And make sure you win a whole bunch of meaningless games down the stretch just to diminish your draft lottery odds! A constant tease. Never quite good enough to earn a post-season berth. What will that be now?  Seven missed playoffs in the last nine years?

Things might be different if the Canucks could win an overtime game. They’ve lost their last four OT games and are 3-7 in the extra session this season. Worse yet, they are 1-6 in their last seven. By contrast, the Dallas Stars are 10-1 in overtime this season. There’s the difference in the standings.

Imagine what it’s like being a Canucks fan. It’s equal parts frustration and equal parts anger. How different things would be if the regime change had taken place right after the end of last season. So much damage was done by Big Jim McBob over the summer that will cripple the franchise for years to come. Imagine how different things would be without the OEL deal? The current cap situation would be so much better. And that doesn’t even take into account the waisted 2021 first-round and 2022 second-round picks that were sent to Arizona in the deal. I wonder how all the fans who loved the trade at the time are feeling about it now. Don’t want to say we told you so!

Realistically, it’s going to be the 2023-2024 season before we see the impact of the new front office and whether the team is on a trajectory toward legitimate contention. It’s crazy to think that, following the trade deadline in 2018, we called for the ouster of Benning on Bro Jake’s radio show on TSN 1040 in Vancouver. It would be three more years before Francesco Aquilini finally woke up and kicked him to the curb. The damage done in the interim will take years to repair.

Editor’s Note:  Rumour has it, Big Jim is going to resurface as head scout of the Trail Smoke Eaters.

NHL Notebook – The NHL has announced the salary cap will rise by one million next season to $82.5 million. Dumping inefficient contracts is going to become increasingly difficult. Take the Maple Buds for example. The Leafs have already committed $73.6 million against next year’s cap. That leaves them less than $9 million to sign pending RFA’s Rasmus Sandin, Pierre Engvall, Timothy Lilegren and Ondrej Kase. Where is the money to re-up pending UFA’s Ilya Mikheyev, Jason Spezza, Mark Giordano, Colin Blackwell and Ilya Lyubushkin?  Oh, did we mention they also have to extend goaltender Jack Campbell? And the Canucks think they have cap problems?

The Maple Leafs should have got their head out of the clouds long ago and dealt William Nylander for young, cost-controllable assets. Guess what? Nylander is a team-worst minus-15. You know how hard that is to do on a team that scores as many goals as the Leafs?

What ever happened to Sean Monahan? The oft-injured centre has undergone another hip surgery and is out for the season. Monahan was a team-low minus-16 and a recent healthy scratch. Monahan scored only eight goals this season following a 10-goal season last year. His old linemates on the top line are all +42 or better. Monahan is on the books for one more season at $6.375 million. He’s an obvious buy-out candidate this summer.

Cue the front office shake-up in Winnipeg. The Jets are unlikely to make the playoffs and their window of contention is closing fast. Time for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to find another line of work. Interim head coach Dave Lowry can move along with him. This team is in need of a makeover. The Jets have to be considered one of the NHL’s biggest disappointments this season. Someone has to pay the price. It seemed like they were on the verge of big things just a few seasons ago but it just hasn’t happened in Winnipeg.

During his tenure in Montreal, Marc Bergevin handed out several questionable long-term contracts. He refused to budge in contract negotiations last summer with centre Phillip Danault, who signed with the L.A. Kings for six years at $5.5 million AAV. All Danault has done is put up a career-best 21 goals and is plus-15. Meantime, Montreal’s top goal scorer is Nick Suzuki with 18.

There should be no debate. Red Wings defenceman Moritz Seider is the clear-cut NHL rookie of the year. The Wings have given up 67 more goals than they have scored this season. Yet, Seider is basically an even player five-on-five. That’s amazing since he’s playing over 23 minutes a night.

Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers is having one hell of a season. He now has 25 power-play goals, a new Ranger record. The Arizona Coyotes, as a team, have 24 PP goals.

Back in the late 60’s, Dennis Hull played a round of golf with Gordie Howe during the off-season. Gordie fired a 68. Hull asked him if it was true Lou Boudreau wanted to sign him to a contract with the Cleveland Indians. Howe said it was true. Hull told Gordie, “It doesn’t seem fair. You’re the best hockey player in the world. You just shot 68 and you could have played major league baseball.”  Howe responded, “You should see me bowl.”

What Comes Next – Eugene Melnyk saved the Ottawa Senators. You can’t take that away from him. He stepped up when no on else would and kept the team in the Nation’s Capital. What came next, however, was a long road to oblivion. A general lack of cash flow kept the Sens on the outer fringes of the NHL.

Melnyk leaves a long trail of litigation. Thanks to his own ego and heavy-handedness, any deal to build a new downtown area at LaBreton Flats went out the window. Who sues the very person you are set to partner with? The front office is a mere shell when compared to other teams. Melnyk had no appetite for keeping top players. The Sens are caught in a perpetual rebuild. The great hockey fans in Ottawa tuned the team out a long time ago. No wonder. On the eve of one of the biggest games in club history, the Heritage Classic, Melnyk threatened to move the team.

A crowd of 17 thousand at a recent game against the Florida Panthers gives hope they will return when the time is right. God knows, they deserve better. The team is loaded with young talent and with the right ownership group, there’s plenty to be optimistic about. There could be at least three groups emerging to bid on the team once Melnyk’s two daughters and the executor decide to put up a for-sale sign. With deep-pocketed owners willing to spend to the cap, the Senators could be legit Stanley Cup contenders within two years.

Melnyk deserves his place in the Sens legacy. Colouring him anything other than an ill-tempered tyrant is fiction. Just ask the long line of former Sens employees about Melnyk’s behaviour. Or the suppliers and sponsors who refused to do business with the team. Let’s not sugar-coat it. This is good news for the ticket-buying public in Ottawa.

Qatar Bound – The run of success for Canada has to be one of the most captivating stories in international soccer. Canada’s unprecedented World Cup berth is a perfect storm that’s been decades in the making. By qualifying for Qatar 2022, Canada breaks a World Cup drought that dates back to 1986.

The national team will have seven months to prepare. The official draw placed Canada in Group F with Belgium, Croatia and Morocco, a difficult group but let’s face it, it could have been worse. Canada certainly has an outside chance of reaching the knockout stage for the first time ever.

Veteran soccer journalist Grant Wahl has been totally impressed with Canada’s run, “Literally, Canada’s men’s team is the best story globally in World Cup qualifying. They’re fun, they’re good and they’re enjoying it.

Much credit has to be given to manager John Herdman. The program was in disarray when he took over the team in 2018. Herdman had led the Canadian women’s team to bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. His motivational speeches are legendary and it’s clear the players are responding to his leadership.

The impact of qualifying will be felt for years to come. The Canadian soccer federation will now receive a $15 million dollar windfall from FIFA just for qualifying for the World Cup. There’s major prize money at stake depending on tournament performance. Sponsors are already knocking on the door. Gatorade was just announced recently as a major new partner. The influx of cash is much needed at the grassroots level.

There’s no doubt the sport is on the rise in Canada.  All eyes will be on the Canadian squad in November. One thing is certain. No team should take Canada lightly.

MLB Notebook – Top Blue Jays prospect Orelvis Martinez has been opening eyes in training camp. The 20-year-old hit a pair of home runs and scouts have noted, “The ball sounds different coming off his bat. It’s the sound of a special hitter.” Martinez will start the season at Double-A New Hampshire and should be pushing for a major league job a year from now. He will play at short this season but may outgrow the position.

The Blue Jays have announced Rogers Centre will be undergoing major renovations over the next two winters. Most of the work will be done on the stadium’s lower bowl and interior including a new clubhouse. The biggest challenge is trying to turn what is essentially a dome into a traditional baseball stadium. If you’ve ever watched a game in Toronto, the sight lines in the lower seating area are terrible unless you enjoy staring into the back of someone’s head. The renovations are expected to extend the life of the 33-year-old stadium by 10-to-15 years and will give the team more time to start working on a new stadium plan. No word yet on the cost of the renovations.

The New York Yankees will never put themselves through a full-blown rebuild but you have to wonder if a major re-set isn’t necessary. The Yankees are old, lack athleticism and until a few recent upgrades, were horrible defensively. Aaron Judge set an April 6 deadline for reaching a contract extension, otherwise he will be a free agent in December. The Yankees already have two $30 million-plus-a-year players in Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton who are both signed through 2027.  Can you really afford another one? Judge will be 30 this month. A lot of teams in that situation would move Judge for a package of young players.

In case you missed it, MLB legend and former Montreal Expo southpaw Bill ‘Spaceman’ Lee is back pitching with the independent Savannah Bananas at the age of 75. During one of his appearances recently, he entered the game by walking out of the stands with a beer in his hand.

Back when I was covering the Expos in Montreal in the early 80’s, I used to have breakfast from time to time with Bill and his then girlfriend Pam at Nick’s Diner on Sherbrooke in NDG. Bill told me that he liked being a starting pitcher better than a reliever because he would know which days he would have off. He said that way he could get high and watch the game from the bullpen knowing he would not be called into the game.

Then there was the time Bill walked out of the stadium before the start of a game to protest the release of infielder Rodney Scott. He walked across the street to a nearby bar, sat down and had a beer with the locals, in full uniform. The guy was the original ‘free spirit.’

Seahawks Notebook – The Seahawks claim they are working on a contract extension for flaky receiver D.K. Metcalf. In light of the contract handed to Tyreek Hill, you have to wonder if they wouldn’t be better off putting him on the market. How big a year is he going to have with Drew Lock at quarterback? Metcalf’s a diva. Trade him now and continue to stockpile high draft picks. I would be targeting the second of the New York Jets two first-rounders, tenth overall. Yes, that is the Seahawks pick that was dealt to the Jets for Jamal Adams. Gimme that pick and throw in a second-rounder and you have yourself a deal!

NFL Notebook – Smart teams make smart choices. You have to know when to fold your hand. That’s exactly what the Kansas City Chiefs did in dealing Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins for a package of five draft choices. The Chiefs now have the most picks of any team in the upcoming draft including two selections in each of the first three rounds. The deal also gives the Chiefs $18 million in salary cap relief. Hill was immediately handed a new four-year contract for $120 million. Who pays a receiver with questionable character $30 million a season? That’s crazy. Hill is now the highest paid player at his position in NFL history.

One thing you have to remember about all the big money deals that are announced during the NFL’s free agency period is that a lot of them are just paper value. Many of these four and five-year deals are unguaranteed fantasy. Most will be re-done after three years or the player will be cut.

No NFL player will be under more pressure next season than Miami Dolphin quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The mega-trade for Hill just amped up the pressure. Tua now has two quicksilver deep threats in Hill and Jaylen Waddle but can he get them the football? He had only 14 completions last season of 20+ yards. Patrick Mahomes had 36. There should be no excuses. Tagovailoa also has a gifted tight end in Mike Gesicki.

Not surprised to hear Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslem was not a popular face at the recent league meetings. Trading six picks for Deshaun Watson, then handing him an $80 million dollar raise didn’t exactly go over well. One team executive was quoted as saying, “This stinks to high heaven.”

The Washington Commanders, er’ Dependers, are under investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Capitol Hill, part of the probe on allegations of sexual misconduct in the front office. Reports have surfaced that the Dependers may have withheld the full share of ticket revenue that goes to visiting teams as required by NFL bylaws.  Forty percent of all ticket revenue is kicked into a league pool of revenue, of which every team gets a one-32nd share of the pie each year. If found guilty, this could be the death knell for much-maligned Washington owner Dan Snyder.

Hello Friends – Looks like Tiger Woods is going to tee it up at this week’s Masters. The Masters is a tough assignment to make your return after more than a year away from the Tour. The big question is whether Tiger can survive four rounds on a track with so much undulation. Contributor Bill Myles, who’s attended the Masters, says the elevation change is the one thing that strikes you most when you see the course for the first time. If Tigers does play, and it looks like he will, making the cut would be a major accomplishment.

There’s no disputing the Tiger effect on the game of golf. Total prize money on the PGA Tour when Tiger broke in back in 1996 was $101 million. In 2022, prize money will be $427 million. The average purse per tournament is $9.1 million. In 1997, 18 golfers earned at least one million. Last year, 124 golfers made over one million. Every time Tiger plays, TV ratings shoot up by 30%. Ratings go up 50% when he’s in contention and even more if it’s a major. Like him or not, there’s no question the impact he’s had on the game.

Among the bigger names not qualifying for the Masters are Jason Day and Rickie Fowler. Both players are going through prolonged slumps. Fowler was solo second in 2018. Three Canadians are in the field – Corey Conners, Mackenzie Hughes and former champion Mike Weir. Mac and Mike added some Canadian content by sharing victory in Wednesday’s annual Par-3 contest.

Leftovers – Sorry, but I could not get excited about Kyle Lowry’s triumphant return to Toronto. It was billed as the Return of the Groat – the Greatest Raptor of All-Time. Are we missing something? The guy made it clear he didn’t want to return for another season and basically orchestrated his move to Miami. Yet, the organization and Raptor fans treat him like royalty upon his return. He shows up for a new conference with a ring the size of a golf ball. I’m tired of these pampered athletes with a high opinion of themselves. Yes, he helped the team win a world championship but do you have to put him on a pedestal?

Rather talk about the fact the Raptors just made the playoffs for the eighth time in the last nine seasons, without Lowry. They are holding down the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and don’t sleep on this team. No one should want to play them. The Raptors could be a serious playoff dark-horse. Plenty of grit. Plenty of game.

It’s absolutely unthinkable but Italy is going to miss the World Cup again. The European champions were beaten 1-0 by North Macedonia (yes, you heard that right) in a qualifying playoff semi-final and the Azzuri will not be competing in Qatar. Italy also failed to qualify in 2018. This is a new low-point for the four-time champions only months after winning Euro 2020. Does anyone know how South Macedonia is doing?

Is there a bigger bridesmaid in sports than the Gonzaga Bulldogs? The Zags entered the NCAA basketball tournament as the number one overall seed and exited in the round of 16 after being upset by Arkansas. This has become an annual ritual for Gonzaga. The Bulldogs have never won an NCAA title. They reached the final last season before being upset by Baylor. That was the only Final Four they’ve reached under coach Mark Few despite gaining a berth in the tournament every year since 1999.

Here at home, the Carleton Ravens just won their 16th CIAU title in 19 years. Is there any team in any sport that has dominated their competition like that?

The IIHF is reportedly investigating former Federation President Rene “The Weasel” Fasel. Fasel has always had a cushy relationship with Russia and shady connections to Vladimir Putin. Fasel is under fire for comments on the invasion of Ukraine and his new advisory role with the KHL. Last month, Fasel criticized the IIHF’s decision to ban Russia and Belarus from upcoming competitions because of the invasion of Ukraine.

Under Further Review has noticed that the Great One has signed on to shill for Bet MGM. Our first wager is that daughter Paulina will expose her bosoms on social media within the next 48 hours.  Trouble is, Vegas not giving us very good odds.

Spotify Picks of the Month – This time around, let’s focus on some female singers. Alison Krauss has a wonderful voice. Check out Trouble With My Lover from the Robert Plant release Raise the Roof.

Jeff Beck may be the finest rock guitar player of all time. Have a listen to the track Blanket from the album Live at Ronnie Scott’s featuring singer Imogene Heap. She’s got a wicked set of pipes.

Bonnie Raitt has a new release – Something’s Got a Hold on Me. Check out the track Made Up Mind.

The brilliant Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks team up for Day In the Sun from the album Highway Butterfly – The Songs of Neal Casal.

Check out the song Pretty Things from Gretchen Peters and her release Blackbirds.

And finally, have a listen to Rose Cousins performing the song Freedom from an album entitled Natural Conclusion.

YouTube Videos of the Month – If you haven’t heard any tracks from Playing for Change, you are really missing something. The Playing for Change Foundation has released several albums.

Here’s a treat. It’s Keb Mo’ performing the Robert Johnson classic Walking Blues with a group of artists from all around the globe.

Southern rocker Marcus King had a big hit with Goodbye Carolina. Here’s the official music video.

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