Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Co-Editor Bill Morphy and contributions Jordan Moss and Bill Myles. It was a week that shook the foundation of the National Hockey League. We will review. The Jays come home and take a big gamble. The Raptors do it their way and De Grasse is fast.
Editor’s Note – Following this week’s column, Under Further Review will be taking a summer holiday break.
The Week That Was – Well, what can you say? Jim Bob Benning promised to be aggressive and he certainly has been. In a matter of a few days, he cleansed the Canucks of all the bad contracts he himself created and just like that, the team underwent an extreme makeover quicker than Caitlyn Jenner.
Time for a quick review.
- The buy-out of Jake Virtanen was a no-brainer and closes the book on the immature 2014 first rounder. Virtanen was Benning’s very first draft pick after taking over as Canucks GM. It’s been a star-crossed career in Vancouver for Jake who never seemed to have the drive and ambition to make an impact. Since he’s under 25, the buy-out will only cost the Canucks 50 grand against the cap this season and $500,000 next season so the decision was an easy one.
- The Canucks wasted little time getting newly-acquired forward Conor Garland under contract. He agreed to a five-year deal with an AAV of $4.95 million. This should be a reasonable deal if he performs like a top-six forward for the duration of the contract. A four-year deal at around $4.2 would have been far more prudent.
- We predicted it would be difficult shedding Braden Holtby’s contract and that was just the case. The Canucks tried to find a taker but came to the conclusion a buy-out was their only real option. Holtby will count half a million against the cap this season and another $1.9 million next season in dead money. The buyout opened $3.8 million in cap space.
- One year after acquiring defenceman Nate Schmidt from Vegas for a third-round choice, Benning was able to recoup the pick from the Jets and more importantly, shed the final four years of Schmidt’s contract at $5.95 million per season. This may have been Benning’s best move all week. It frees the Canucks of the contract and provided the team with a chance to better balance the blueline. With Hughes, Schmidt, Rathbone and Juolevi, the back end was lacking the necessary bite.
- After signing Garland, exercising the two buyouts and getting out from under Schmidt, the Canucks headed into free agency on Wednesday with $26,089,341. Benning’s adventurous financial finagling may be fraught with risk but he has managed to move the Canucks competitive cycle up a year. Much of the cap space they would have enjoyed next summer has been borrowed for today. Last season was so distasteful, Benning was not about to watch a replay. For that, he deserves a ton of credit.
- The Canucks were active when free agency opened and for a change, didn’t go all goofy. They reeled in a cost-efficient back-up goaltender in veteran Jaroslav Halak. One year at $1.5 million was a sound investment although the bonus structure scares me. Bringing back Travis Hamonic was a value add. Big right-shot defenceman Tucker Poolman was a nice target but 4 X $2.5 million is risky. Brandon Sutter is back along with depth defenceman Luke Schenn.
- All told, the Canucks signed 18 players to standard player contracts in a little more than 24 hours. The roster churn is crazy. Gone are 17 players from the roster that finished last season including players on IR, on the taxi squad or in the minors with a cap hit that counted. It was contract cleansing on a massive scale.
The team is better. No argument there. How much better remains to be seen. The defence, particularly on the right side, is still highly questionable. We remind everyone that Benning has just kicked the cap can down the road. As Thomas Drance of The Athletic astutely observed, two years from now in June of 2023, the Canucks will be sitting with nearly $20 million dollars in inefficient contracts if you combine a 32-year-old OEL, a 30-year-old Pearson, a 33-year-old Myers and a 30- year-old Poolman. By then, it may be up to a new Canucks GM to solve the problem.
Free Agent Frenzy – Welcome to Crazy Town. Better known as NHL free agent frenzy. It’s hard to recall a week with more activity. Over half a billion dollars was spent in short order. More than 100 players found new addresses. 15 goalies moved in an unprecedented display of musical chairs. NHL GM’s can depart for their cottages and hope their judgment was not impaired. Let’s look first at the other six Canadian teams and how they navigated the free agency period.
Edmonton Oilers: What were the Edmonton Oilers thinking in handing Cody Ceci a four-year deal at $3.25 per? Are they nuts? He played in Pittsburgh last year for $1.5 and was not particularly good. What did he do to deserve that bump? We give thumbs up to the trade of Ethan Bear to Carolina for Warren Foegele. Toss in the signing of Zach Hyman and the Oilers have upgraded the left side of their forward group big time. Hyman’s term is questionable but that’s the price you have to pay in free agency. With Hyman, Ceci and Tyson Barrie back in the fold, the Oilers are Maple Leafs West. Not sure that’s a good thing.
Calgary Flames: Darryl Sutter’s influence was all over the Flames free agent moves. Calgary acquired gigantic Russian defenceman Nikita Zadorov from Chicago. The Flames then dished out ridiculous term and money to free agent forward Blake Coleman (6 X $4.9 AAV). Nice player but one of the big overpays of the day. Not sure the Flames are a whole lot better. Can’t see how the fans want a continuation of the Monny and Johnny Show.
Montreal Canadiens: Marc Bergevin got some business done with several good signings. The Habs resigned gritty winger Joel Armia (4 X $3.4) and landed free agent defenceman David Savard (4X $3.5) and winger Mike Hoffman (3 X $4.5). Can’t argue with Cedric Paquette at $900K. However, the loss of two-way center Phillip Danault to Los Angeles leaves a big hole. I would have rather seen the Canadiens pass on Armia and Hoffman and get Danault under contract because he is going to be harder to replace. Don’t be surprised if the Canadiens mimic the Tampa Lightning and mysteriously bring Shea Weber off LTIR just in time for the playoffs next season. Save a ton of cap space in the meantime and then get him back when it counts. Nikita Kucherov 2.0.
Ottawa Senators: Love how Pierre Dorion was able to unload disappointing winger Evgenii Dadonov after one season. The Sens moved him to Dallas for Nick Holden and a pick. They get out from under $5.5 million for two more seasons. They can now direct the money elsewhere more effectively. Dadonov was supposed to help the Ottawa power-play. He had a big donut with the man advantage last season. Can’t understand why the Golden Knights were interested when their real problem is down the middle. Ottawa has over $30 million in cap space. They need to get Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson signed but should have plenty of money to ink a veteran center.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Have you noticed that the unadulterated optimism in Toronto is starting to wane? Even TSN’s Craig Button says the Leafs will never win anything with all their money wrapped up in four players. Button is the guy who said “Dubas has hit it out of the ballpark with the acquisition of Nick Foligno.” We know how that worked out. The analytic-driven Leafs shopped at the bargain bin on July 28 and came away with a whole lot of nothing. You heard it here first. The Leafs won’t make the playoffs next season when they return to the Atlantic Division.
Sportsnet – that bastion of unbiased dribble – gave the Leafs a C+ grade in free agency and the Canucks a D+. What they failed to recognize is that a majority of the Canucks signings were earmarked for their new minor league club in Abbotsford, necessitated by the move from Utica, New York. Instead of giving the Leafs a C+, they should have given them a C-nothing because I see nothing that will make the Leafs significantly better.
Elsewhere around the league, here are some other observations.
Some nice work by Carolina to revamp their goaltending with Antti Raanta and Frederik Andersen. Decent upgrade over Petr Mrazek and James Reimer. Losing Dougie Hamilton to New Jersey was a huge hit. At some point, the Hurricanes need to decide, if they want to play with the big boys, they will need to buck up. Every player is overpaid when free agency opens. Hamilton’s no different but sometimes you need to step up to the plate when your competitive window is open.
Vegas signed Sven Baertschi. We can only assume he’s going to be a greeter at Circus Circus.
It sure is nice to have cap space. Seattle opened the wallet to sign Colorado goalie Philipp Grubauer, St. Louis winger Jaden Schwartz and center Alexander Wennberg. We will see how those deals age.
We already knew the Buffalo Sabres were one of the worst organizations in pro sports but to leave yourself without a single goaltender under contract is indefensible. Unheralded Linus Ullmark signed with Boston, leaving the Sabres bare at such a crucial position.
Veteran winger Nick Foligno signed a two-year deal with Boston. That closes the book on the Leafs deadline acquisition which cost them a first-round pick and two fourths. Foligno will now be lining up with the Leafs #1 rival.
Kind of disappointed that Ryan Getzlaf chose to stay in Anaheim. Several teams were interested in his services. It would have been nice to see him take one more crack at a Stanley Cup with a true contender.
NHL Entry Draft Leftovers – We didn’t have much time to digest the NHL Draft before last week’s blog was sent out so here’s a few leftover observations.
We remain firm in our belief that the loss of draft capital over the past few years will come back to haunt the Canucks. It doesn’t take a genius to gauge the impact. The Canucks had one pick in the top 100 in 2020, one pick in the top 100 in 2021 and until acquiring a third-round pick from Winnipeg, they were poised to do the same in 2022. As it stands now, they are without a second-round selection next year. Believe me, the impact will be felt.
This year’s top pick, Belarusian forward Danila Klimovich, turned heads at the U-18 tournament in Texas and the Canucks believe he has big upside. Klimovich is from Pinsk. He played in Minsk. Sorry, but I find that hilarious. Since Klimovich is from Belarus and not Russia, the Canucks were able to get him signed immediately to a 3-year entry level contract. He is expected to be at training camp although he could be loaned to a KHL team. If the Canucks bring him over, the options are the AHL or Rouyn-Noranda of the Quebec League who own his CHL rights.
Canucks goalie coach Ian Clark continues to be a large influence in the draft process. Clark believes the team should draft a goalie every second year and I couldn’t agree more. The Canucks landed 6-4 Finn Aku Koskenvuo in the fifth round. You can’t go wrong drafting from the Finnish pipeline of goaltenders. Koskenvuo must be bright because he’s headed to Harvard to play for the Crimson.
The Canucks draft strategy has definitely changed over the past few years. Only four of their 26 selections in the last four drafts have been from the CHL. Under Benning, the Canucks top two CHL picks, Jake Virtanen and Olli Juolevi, have not worked out. In 2016, five of the Canucks top six picks were from CHL teams and so far, it’s netted only 25 combined NHL games.
Going back even further…since 2009, the Canucks have made 64 picks from the CHL. Only six have graduated to the NHL and only one, Bo Horvat, has become a core player. The Quebec League has become a wasteland for the Canucks. They haven’t drafted a player from the Q in six years. It’s easy to see why the Canucks have focused on Russian, European and U.S.-born players as an organizational philosophy.
MLB Trade Deadline – The Boys are Back in Town! It was an emotional return to the Rogers Centre for the Blue Jays on Friday night. The pre-game ceremonies had Manager Charlie Montoyo and many of the players close to tears. 670 days is a long time to be away from your home ballpark. Attendance may be limited to 15,000 but it’s clear the Jays are getting a huge lift. They took the opening two game against the Kansas City Royals. Every game now becomes more meaningful if the Jays want to take a run at a wildcard playoff spot.
We knew the price for acquiring pitching was going to be steep at the MLB trade deadline but we didn’t think it would cost the Blue Jays the number two and number four players in their farm system. That’s exactly what the Jays gave up to acquire righthander Jose Berrios from the Minnesota Twins, surrendering shortstop Austin Martin, the fifth overall pick in last year’s MLB Draft, and top pitching prospect Simeon Woods-Richardson, who is currently playing for the U.S. at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Berrios is a durable front-of-the-rotation starter with big-time stuff. He’s got a 52-36 career record with a 3.76 ERA and a pair of all-star appearances in 2018 and 2019. He’s under team control through next season and there’s already talk of the Jays extending him in the off-season. Fans are already excited about the potential of a starting rotation next year with Berrios, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Robbie Bay, Alek Manoah and Nate Pearson.
It’s a substantial price and about as bold a move as you can imagine and the first major subtraction from the Jays minor league system since president and CEO Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins took over the team in 2015. Clearly, the rebuild phase is over.
In what is becoming a never-ending search for bullpen help, the Blue Jays acquired lefthander Brad Hand from the Washington Nationals for minor league catcher Riley Adams, a former third-round pick who played 52 games with the Vancouver Canadians in 2017. Adams had fallen down the Jays prospect list behind fast-rising catcher Gabriel Moreno. Hand is an experienced closer and gives the Jays another high-leverage option. He’s a free agent at the end of the season. If the Jays don’t extend him, they will be able to recoup a compensatory draft pick.
Is there some kind of edict from the MLB Commissioner’s Office that every time a team decides to trade a player they have to call the New York Yankees first? Texas outfielder Joey Gallo was one of the top players on the trade deadline market and he goes to New York for a barrel full of horse manure. In the deal, the Rangers acquired four minor leaguers who were ranked 14, 15, 23 and 28 in the Yankees system. With the short porch in right, Gallo will probably hit 25 home runs a season in Yankee Stadium. You can’t tell me the Blue Jays could not have offered a better package.
2021 NBA Draft – When it comes to the NBA Draft, you can expect Masai Ujiri to do the unexpected. Sometimes it works – See: Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. Sometimes it doesn’t – See: Bruno Caboclo. So, it was no surprise that the Toronto Raptors selected Florida State wing Scottie Barnes with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft when everyone expected the Raps to take Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs. If you are looking for the reason why, it’s simple. The Raptors believe Barnes has the bigger upside and with his length, his defense has the ability to impact a game a lot more. Think Scottie Pippen.
In the July 4 edition of Under Further Review, this is what we wrote regarding reports the Raptors would select Suggs. “Don’t be surprised if the Raptors go in a different direction. Raptors President Masai Ujiri is not exactly averse to taking a risk. One player who could be on their radar is Florida State wing Scottie Barnes. There are some questions about his offense but Barnes is a tremendous defender at 6’9” with long arms and a relentless motor. He can switch off and check interior players but also has the quickness to handle players on the perimeter. Give me the versatile defensive weapon every time. Barnes also has no character flaws.”
The Raptors made history by choosing hometown product Dalano Banton with the 46th selection in the second round. The 6-9, 205-pound guard is the first Canadian to ever be drafted by Toronto. The Raptors also took 6-5 Louisville guard David Johnson in the second round, 47th overall.
The first Canadian off the board was Toronto native Joshua Primo from the University of Alabama. Primo went 12th overall to the San Antonio Spurs. He became the 11th Canadian to be taken in the lottery portion of the draft since 2011. Indiana selected Montreal native Chris Duarte with the very next pick.
Don’t expect a lot of activity when the NBA free agent market opens this week. For the second straight year, few teams have any cap space. Due to the impact of the pandemic, the NBA salary cap is only going up 3 percent from $109 to $112 million.
Tokyo Olympics – In case you hadn’t noticed, the Summer Olympics are taking place in Covid-ravaged Tokyo. Once again, the ladies are posting all the medals for Team Canada. Sunday is a big day with the finals in the men’s 100-metres. Canada’s Andre De Grasse posted the fastest time in Saturday’s qualifying heats with a time of 9.91.
If you have followed the Olympics for any length of time, you have probably come to detest the IOC. Skateboarding is part of the 16-day circus. A 13-year old girl won the gold medal. If that is not child exploitation, I don’t know what is. Breakdancing is part of the Olympics this year. No, it’s not a demonstration sport. It’s actually a full medal sport. Yes, breakdancing. The IOC will apparently do anything to try and get a few more eyeballs watching so they can keep upping the TV rights fees.
NFL Notebook – Training camp is underway in Renton, Washington for the Seahawks. Already, they have had to place rookie receiver D’Wayne Eskridge on the physically unable to reform (PUP) list. Eskridge was a second-round pick and the Hawks top selection in this year’s draft. It continues a brutal habit of draft picks missing time before they even step on the field. Last year’s second-round pick, defensive end Darrell Taylor, missed the entire season with an injury. 2019 first-round pick L.J. Collier and 2018 first-rounder Rashaad Penny also missed a good portion of their rookie seasons with injury. Who can forget Malik McDowell, the erstwhile second-round pick in 2017 who never played a single game following an ATV accident? Hopefully, the toe injury hampering Eskridge won’t keep him out too long. He’s expected to battle for the third receiver role and be a big part of the return game.
Can’t believe that the Green Bay Packers have completely capitulated in order to get quarterback Aaron Rodgers into training camp on time. The Packers agreed to renegotiate Rodgers contract. Rodgers can now walk away after this season to a team of his choice and the Packers will get nothing. They could also be left with a massive dead cap hit. No way I let that happen!
Speaking of prima donnas. We have maintained for years that Tom Brady has received special treatment from NFL zebras. Just look at the facts. Last season, Brady drew the most defensive pass interference calls (23) than any quarterback in the last 37 years. It’s beyond favoritism.
Leftovers – It looks like San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane is in hot water again. The NHL is investigating after Kane’s wife made social media posts claiming Kane bet on his own games and intentionally tried to lose for gambling profit. Here’s what Anna Kane posted this weekend: “How does the NHL let a compulsive gambling addict still play when he’s obviously throwing games to win money? Hmm, maybe someone needs to address this.” She added: “Can someone ask (Commissioner) Gary Bettman how they let a player gamble on his own games? Bet and win with bookies on his own games?”
The NHL responded by saying “The integrity of our game is paramount and the League takes these allegations very seriously.” Kane’s gambling has been public knowledge for some time. Despite just under $56 million in career earnings, Kane filed for bankruptcy last year. He was sued by a Las Vegas casino for failing to repay a half million dollar gambling debt racked up during a playoff series against the Golden Knights.
In this world of cancel culture and political correctness, we present the Cleveland Indians who announced they will be changing their name to the Cleveland Guardians. What exactly are they the Guardians of? Oh yes, that would be the longest running streak without a World Series victory, 72 years and counting.
How about Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto? The Toronto-born veteran set a Reds record by homering in six consecutive games. The 37-year-old had eight home runs in the six-game streak which is also a Reds record dating back to 1900.
The Seattle Mariners acquired switch-hitting infielder Abraham Toro from the Houston Astros this week. Toro is a native of Longueuil, Quebec and speaks English, French and Spanish. He homered in his first two games with the M’s and had homers in four straight games. With Kyle Seager likely gone after the season, Toro could be Seattle’s everyday third baseman.
Spotify Song of the Week – We’ve selected a few odds and ends for you this week. We recommend “He’s Got All the Whiskey” by John Martyn from the album “The Church with One Bell.”
Have a listen to “Back in History” featuring Leon Russell and John McEuen.
Check out Keb’ Mo’ performing “Sunny and Warm.”
YouTube Videos of the Week – It’s about time we featured Chris Stapleton. He’s become one of the hottest tickets in music. Stapleton is scheduled to perform at the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington State on June 4, 2022. Wouldn’t it nice to be able to get down there next summer?
Here’s the official music video for the brilliant “Starting Over.”
One of my favourite Chris Stapleton tunes is “Maggie’s Song.” Here he is performing that fine composition with Miranda Lambert.
Check out “Tennessee Whiskey” from a performance on Austin City Limits.
And last but certainly not least, we add in this classic performance from Johnny Winter on the David Letterman Show. Enjoy this fantastic version of “Dust My Broom.”
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