Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Jordan Moss, Bill Myles,Ted Tait and Contributing Editor Bill Morphy. This week, we put on a face mask, wash our hands, wipe our feet, clean our teeth and wade into the cesspool that is professional sports in 2020. Proceed with caution!
Let’s Play Ball – Major League Baseball is completely asleep at the wheel in its handling of COVID-19 and the return to play. Last weekend, in an exhibition game against the Phillies, reports surfaced that members of the Miami Marlins had tested positive. Instead of calling off the game, officials asked Marlins players if they felt they should play the game. They came back after a quick arbitrary vote and said they wanted to continue. So let’s get this straight. MLB leaves the decision to the players whether to play or not? Why would they not consult with team doctors and the medical experts? It’s beyond ridiculous.
Of course, with the out-of-control outbreak in Florida, we could see this coming. 21 Marlin players and coaches have now tested positive. Major League Baseball officials did an investigation and they were not impressed with the off-field activities Marlins players were engaged in. Their series in Philadelphia had to be cancelled. They’ve shut down the stadium in Philadelphia after Phillies clubhouse staff were confirmed to have contracted the virus following games vs. the Marlins. Get this! We’re told that they have all the COVID positive Marlins entourage holed up in a Philadelphia hotel and they will now be put on a bus and driven 1,100 miles back to Miami. Yes, I’m serious. Who wants to drive that bus? Any volunteers?
The Blue Jays were scheduled to play in Philly this weekend and now they won’t play again until next Tuesday. The Marlins outbreak has affected the schedules of eight different teams. If you are keeping score, the Phillies and Marlins now both have seven games to make up. The Blue Jays have three and counting. On Friday, word came that the Brewers-Cardinals game was being postponed due to positive tests among two St. Louis players. How much longer can baseball try to stubbornly move forward? You can understand why they wanted to get the season underway, (yes, its’s all about the money) but reality has to set in at some point. The situation in the U.S. is so dire that the initial hopefulness of playing out the season has all but evaporated.
As baseball deals with an alarming daily attrition rate, it appears as though they are flying blind and heading into complete chaos. Their latest response is to add a compliance officer to each team and mandate that teams isolate in their hotels while on the road. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred emerged from his cave Friday afternoon long enough to tell the MLBPA that if the league doesn’t do a better job of handling the coronavirus, it may have to shut down for the season. Thanks for letting us know, Rob! Manfred’s handling of this makes us long for the days of Bowie Kuhn.
Blog Follow-up – How is that radio idiot from last week ranting about the Canadian government’s decision to restrict the Jays from playing home games in Toronto looking now?
NHL Play-in Preview – There’s a ton of online previews and predictions out there as we get ready for the NHL season to resume. We won’t go too deep but here’s a few observations and our picks for the play-in round. The key to all of the series is how quickly can teams get into playoff mode and play with structure. It looks like a lot of the games so far have been loose with teams simply trading chances. The players do not appear to be in ‘game’ shape which begs the question, will we see a bunch of upsets? Which team can ramp it up quick enough? Do you really think NHL players are ready to play playoff hockey? You can’t simply turn on a switch after a brief training camp.
Canucks/Wild: The play-in round may not officially be the playoffs but it’s the first post-season appearance for the Canucks in five years. It certainly serves as a high-stakes opportunity for the Canucks kiddie corps.
The series with Minnesota could easily go five games. The Canucks have a decided edge in goal if Markstrom plays to his capabilities. Where Minnesota has the advantage is in their solid top four defense group – Dumba, Brodin, Spurgeon and Suter. Overall, the Wild play with more structure while the Canucks have a tendency to break down in their own zone when under heavy forecheck pressure. The Wild may not have a high-powered offence but they do roll out four solid lines. The Canucks have an advantage in their top six but may have trouble getting any scoring out of their bottom six forward group especially their fourth line. Vancouver needs their strong power-play to produce. Prediction: Wild in 4.
Jets/Flames: This series should be very competitive. The outcome will likely be determined in goal where the Jets have a huge advantage with towering
Connor Hellebuyck. The Flames also have to overcome their penchant for playoff flops. Winnipeg can roll four strong lines and while their defense can be pressured, they still should survive. Jets in 4.
Oilers/Black Hawks: This is our upset special. The Oilers upended the Flames in an exhibition game this week but outside of Connor McDavid, did not look good doing so. Their bottom six forward group is anemic and they lack overall team speed. You also have to wonder about their goaltending. If Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford can deliver, Chicago has a good chance of fashioning an upset. The Hawks also have more forwards who can hurt you. With the Oilers, it’s McDavid and Draisaitl and not much else. Hawks in 5.
Leafs/Blue Jackets: This series will be worth watching. Can Torts deliver more playoff magic? Columbus will try and slow it down and make it tough for the Leafs to get to the net. The Jackets may not have the name-brand forwards but they still should be able to overpower the Leafs defense in the offensive zone. Don’t undervalue the Jackets young goaltending tandem. It would not be surprising to see either one of them outplay Frederik Andersen. Blue Jackets in 4.
Canadiens/Penguins: It appears as though Jake Guenzel is back healthy after a long absence and running sidekick to Sidney. All of which means the Habs are doomed. The Penguins can score and play at a speed the Canadiens can’t match. Pens in 3.
Islanders/Panthers: This is another series that could be over before it starts. The Panthers defense is in complete disarray. They give us far too many premium scoring opportunities. Barry Trotz will have the Isles locked in early. The Panthers made a huge mistake giving away quality center Vincent Trochek to Carolina at the deadline. Islanders in 4.
Hurricanes/Rangers: This one is a coin flip that will likely go the distance. It may be determined by the availability of Canes defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Look out for the Rangers if rookie goaltender Igor Shesterkin takes over in net and steals the show. Hurricanes in 5.
Coyotes/Predators: Nashville seems to have righted the ship at just the right time. Filip Forsberg is playing at a high level and the Preds top four D is a big notch above anything the Coyotes can send out. Roman Josi is the difference-maker. Predators in 4.
Get Kraken – As widely speculated, the NHL’s new Seattle expansion franchise has chosen Kraken as its team name. The team kept the name under a cloak of secrecy but why the mystery when it seems like that was the plan all along? Not sure that Sockeyes or Totems were ever really under serious consideration. Kraken is the ‘sexy’ choice because of the curiosity factor and its potential popularity with kids and neophyte hockey fans, not to mention merchandise sales which apparently have already exceeded the Vegas Golden Knights in the opening week.
For the uninitiated, the kraken is a legendary cephalopod-like sea monster of gigantic size in Scandinavian folklore. According to the Norse sagas, the kraken dwells off the coasts of Norway and Greenland and terrorizes nearby sailors. Which begs the question? How does a mythical creature of Scandinavian lore have any regional relevance in Seattle? Did a Kraken somehow pop up in the waters of Puget Sound?
Of course it all comes down to marketing and the early online fan response has been very positive. It’s one of those things where you are either in or you are out. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist when it comes to these things so I find it rather fleeting. Will it have longevity? We will see.
The S in the logo pays homage to the old Seattle Metropolitans who, in case we forget, once won a Stanley Cup. The colour scheme, however, seems pretty close to the Winnipeg Jets. I can’t imagine the Jets are very happy. The name Kraken is certainly goofy and you can have some fun with it. Lots of opportunity for puns! But remember, the Mighty Ducks was a playful choice at the time and where is that now? We can be sure of one thing – hockey fans in Seattle won’t be known as ‘Krakheads’. That connotation can be ruled out for obvious reasons.
Random Notes –
- It looks like Jake Virtanen will be on the outside looking in when the Canucks open the play-in round against the Minnesota Wild. The enigmatic Jake had a breakout season with 18 goals and looked to have his career on track but a sloppy training camp has changed the narrative. Virtanen’s inability to kill penalties has pretty much limited his role.
- Brock Boeser came out of the enforced layoff looking like a new player. He spent his time wisely, working on his fitness, strength and speed. Looks like he may be the best version of himself which is a player with 40-goal potential. He could give the Canucks second line a huge boost.
- One other positive note out of camp for the Canucks was the emergence of much-maligned defenseman Olli Juolevi. As camp wore on, the former fifth overall draft pick found his stride and served notice he may be a future lineup fixture afterall.
- In the case of Leafs rookie Nick Robertson, has there ever been more ink wasted to hype a player before he has played a single NHL game? You would think the kid is Frank Mahovolich.
- Before we award the Stanley Cup to the Maple Leafs, we remind you that over the past five seasons, the Leafs have finished 25th, 22nd, 12th, 20th and 25th in goals against. Their 91.15 save percentage was 28th in the league this year and their penalty killing was 21st. Now that’s a recipe for winning a Cup, right?
- Former Leaf Steve Sullivan has been named interim GM of the Arizona Coyotes after John Chayka jumped ship. Back in 1999-2000, the Leafs decided Sullivan wasn’t good enough and placed him on waivers to get the immortal Dmitri Kristich on the roster. Sullivan was claimed by Chicago and last 808 more games, scoring 631 points. Another in a long line of stinky Leaf transactions.
- As the Montreal Canadiens move into a full-blown rebuild with a war chest of extra draft picks, it becomes more and more apparent that they need Jesperi Kotkaniemi to turn into a legitimate #1 or #2 centre. You’ll remember the Habs picked him third overall in 2018 ahead of the likes of Brady Tkachuk and Quinn Hughes. Scotty Bowman had this to say about him – “This kid has a special type of ability to read the play. The Finnish program, they develop players who play both ways. He’s good defensively and he’s going to get better offensively when he gets stronger.” Hab fans had better hope that’s the case.
- Have you noticed that MLB has instituted a new rule in an effort to shorten extra-inning games? They are now starting every inning with a runner on second base. In all my years covering sports, that is the stupidest rule change ever! MLB and the MLBPA have also agreed to seven-inning doubleheaders for this season. If they are no anxious to get the games over with, why play them at all?
- Great rookie debut by Blue Jays pitching phenom Nate Pearson. He struck out the first batter he faced with a 98 MPH heater, then matched Nationals Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer by putting up zeroes for five innings. He could be a front-of-the-rotation starter for years to come.
- Not sure what the Jays saw in signing Japanese retread Shun Yamaguchi. He has stunk the place out in his first two appearances out of the bullpen. It’s obvious he cannot be trusted in high leverage situations.
- Baseball has told players that they should refrain from spitting sunflower seeds, chewing tobacco and spitting. Have you watched any games? Sorry, that’s not happening. However, players are allowed to scratch their testicles only if they wash their hands and don’t touch their face.
- Mike Weir is playing in his first tournament this weekend on the 50-and-over circuit at the Ally Challenge in Michigan. Weir will have full status for the PGA Tour Champions thanks to the nearly $28 million he earned on the PGA Tour that has him in the top-50 in career earnings. He’ll enjoy no longer being the out-bombed by 50 yards every time he tees up.
- The NFL thinks it’s going to have an uninterrupted season. The smart players are choosing to opt out. Already, seven members of the New England Patriots have opted out including four starters. Under the agreement with the Players’ Association, all contracts simply move forward a year so why wouldn’t you opt out?
- Then we have the case of Lou Williams. He reportedly left the NBA’s Bubble to travel to COVID-stricken Atlanta to attend a funeral. While in Hot-Lanta, Lou made stop at a strip club called Magic City. Sweet Lou claims he stopped there to order their famous chicken wings. Of course, what else would you do there?
Clear the Track – Somewhere up in heaven they are saying “Clear the track, here comes Shack.”
When news came this week that former Toronto Maple Leaf Eddie ‘The Entertainer” Shack had died at the age of 83, it seems like every Canadian had a story to tell a story about their brush with one of Canada’s larger-than-life characters. Eddie was one of the most beloved Leafs of all time and had an adventurous career both on and off the ice. Following his NHL career, he was a huge hit in front of the camera as a pitchman, often wearing his trademark cowboy hat.
In 1965-66, Hockey Night in Canada analyst Brian McFarlane approached Eddie with a song he and his brother-in-law had written, wanting Shack’s permission to record. Clear The Track, Here Comes Shack was released on RCA by Douglas Rankine and The Secrets, a band McFarlane knew from the Toronto Press Club. By late February of 1966, it had bumped Petula Clark’s ‘My Love’ for No. 1 on the CHUM radio chart, holding it for two weeks before Nancy Sinatra stomped it out with ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’.
Eddie had been battling throat cancer for the past year.
King’s Ransom – The Seahawks paid dearly this week to acquire All-Pro safety Jamal Adams from the New York Jets. The price – first round picks in 2021 and 2022, plus a third rounder and safety Bradley McDougald – is pretty darn rich. It’s obvious the Seahawks are pulling out all the stops in their quest for a second Super Bowl title. Adams is a hell of a player but the bounty is more like you would surrender for a quarterback or dominant defensive end and not a safety. Nonetheless, Seattle just got a whole lot better on defense. It also helps keep them on track with their division rivals who have also added impact players this off-season. The 49’ers added offensive tackle Trent Williams, the Cardinals added Pro Bowl receiver Deandre Hopkins while the Rams added cornerback Jalen Ramsay late last year.
At 6’1” and 215 pounds, Adams plays like a linebacker and can blow up plays at the line of scrimmage. He also had 6 and a half sacks last season which is more than any Seahawks defensive lineman. Coupled with Quandre Diggs, the Hawks now have a safety tandem that rivals the days of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
Surrendering two first round picks is a hefty price to be sure. You can question John Schneider’s thought process all you want but Seahawk fans should not worry too much about the Jets cashing in with the draft picks. This is a team that has finished last, last, last and second last in a weak division over the past four years and gone 21-and-43. Their first round picks from 2010-2018 produced Kyle Wilson, Muhammad Wilkerson, Quentin Coples, Dee Milliner, Sheldon Richardson, Calvin Pryor, Leonard Williams, Darron Lee, Jamal Adams and Sam Darnold. Only Darnold remains and the jury is still out on him. The Jets organization is a laughingstock and no player is itching to play there.
Westward Home – Veteran golfer Lee Westwood is skipping this year’s PGA Championship due to the threats surrounding COVID-19. Westwood has decided not to play in this week’s WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in Memphis and will pass on the 2020 PGA Championship next week in San Francisco. In his words “I’m still more concerned that America doesn’t take [COVID-19] as seriously as the rest of the world.”
Westwood went on to say, “I still don’t feel comfortable and I don’t feel like it is right to jump on a plane for 12 hours in light of the current situation. I’m 28 years of playing on Tour and this is a shock to the system, isn’t it? Whenever I come out and play the tournaments now it is almost about seeing my mates and the sociable element of it all and you’re not getting that at the moment. You finish playing golf and go to the range. I’ve never seen so many players on the range at 8 o’clock at night trying to avoid their hotel rooms. There is a lot of think about where to play coming up, really.”
Reality Bites – Amidst the resumption of play in professional sports, we still need a reality check. Last week, the Arizona Diamondbacks were shaken by the news that long-time scout Johan Maya had passed away suddenly from complications after contracting COVID-19. He was 40-years-old. Maya was based out of the Dominican Republic.
The death of Maya should be a wake-up call for every pro sports team anxious to start or restart their seasons.
Joe Schultz Sports Quote of the Week – This week we turn to the irascible Darryl Sutter. While Coach and GM of the Calgary Flames, Sutter got into a heated contract dispute with defenseman Roman Hamrlik who was demanding $5 million per season. Sutter responded “If you want $5 million, you had better buy a lottery ticket.”
Peter Green RIP – We were very sorry to hear of the recent passing of Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green at the age of 73. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest blues guitarists of all-time and someone we have often featured. Here is the obit that appeared in the Guardian. Peter was certainly a victim of the antiquated 60’s medical system that had little idea of how to treat mental illness.