Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Contributing Editor Bill Morphy and special thanks to Ted Tait in Calgary. This week, takeaways from the NHL playoffs, Holy Makinaw the Leafs are toast, plus a Star is Born on the PGA Tour.
Now the Fun Starts – The NHL playoffs are finally underway for real. Canucks Nation has to be ecstatic over their 2-0 series lead against the defending Cup Champion St Louis Blues. One thing we know for sure – don’t be taking penalties against the Canucks scary-good power-play.
The Canucks wanted to play meaningful games in March but instead it’s happening in August. The Blues were winless in round-robin play among the top playoff seeds and seemed uninspired. They are finding it’s not so easy to suddenly ramp up the emotion? Will we see more upsets in round one? It appears that way.
It looks like Colorado will make quick work of the Arizona Coyotes. The Avalanche can not only score goals, they have learned to play solid team defense. The Avs are very dangerous and should be an early Cup favourite. In the East, don’t be surprised if Carolina gets by Boston and makes it all the way to the final. At some point we need to realize the Canes can no longer be considered darkhorses.
Fans who watched the six-hour, five overtime opening game marathon between Tampa and Columbus should be given some kind of award. The game set all kinds of playoff records. Here are some of the stats: a combined 151 shots which shattered the old record of 132; 88 shots on goal by the Lightning which is the most since they started tracking shots on goal in 1959-60; Lightning also attempted 188 shots on goal; Blue Jackets had 62 blocked shots; Joonas Korpisalo of the Blue Jackets had 85 saves which is the most ever in a playoff game, shattering the previous record of 73 held by Kelly Hrudey; an NHL record 65:06 of ice time by Columbus defenseman Seth Jones. Crazy stuff!
Play-in Round Takeaways – It is interesting to note that not one team in the play-in round who trailed in the series 2-1 came back to win. It makes you wonder how much fight is in the players when you are living in a bubble and away from family at a time when you are normally enjoying important time together.
It may go against the long-held belief that NHL players will give up a body part to win a Stanley Cup but you have to wonder if there is less right in the dog when you are playing playoff hockey in August. The Canucks were the only team to lose game one and come back and win the series. What does that tell you?
The referees called it tight in the play-in round. It was more like regular season refereeing than ‘throw away the whistle’ playoff refereeing. Canucks defenseman Tyler Myers had a rough time adjusting. He was whistled for nine minor penalties in just four games against Minnesota. Myers had three each in games 2 and 3.
Home ice advantage is almost meaningless inside the bubble. In fact, the only way to tell the home team is the sweaters because you are certainly not going to tell the difference from crowd noise. Do you really think the Leafs would have come back in game four against the Blue Jackets if the game was being played in Columbus? That would have been the case because the Jackets were the home team in game five?
The Winnipeg Jets were doomed once Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine departed the series with Calgary with injuries. That was pretty much the Jets story for the season. They showed a lot of moxie despite heavy off-season losses on the back end. It will be interesting to see what additions they can make in the off-season. It’s not as though their window is closed.
It is rather apparent at this point that the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins have passed their ‘best before’ date. The window for serious contention is over for both teams and they would be wise to start looking ahead to the future.
In Nashville, a series of ill-advised trades by General Manager David Poile has left the team with little depth and an overall lack of scoring. The team was built from the back end out and it’s surprising they were unable to have more success. Over the past decade their defense has featured Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis, Seth Jones, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis. Poile let Suter walk in free agency and got nothing. Weber was flipped for P.K. Subban and we know how that worked out. Poile basically gave Subban away last summer for nothing just to unload the contract. The Jones for Ryan Johansen trade was a disaster. Three stud defenseman gone with little to show for it. This is how good teams go south in a hurry.
The Penguins, meantime, are ready for wholesale changes. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have simply too many miles on the odometer. Sidney is 33. Kris Letang is 33 and Malkin is 34. Years of trying to stay in contention with the Cup-winning core has left the barrel empty. The blue line is thin and there are no reinforcements coming to the rescue. Both the Pens and the Preds would be smart to realize where they are in their cycle and start to rebuild now instead of trying to hold on for a few more years.
Glad to see the Montreal Canadiens pull the upset in the opening round. When you have a goaltender like Carey Price, you always have a chance. The shutdown gave the Habs a chance to heal and they certainly seemed to benefit. Do you think the Oilers would like to have Jeff Petry back?
Please explain what is happening with the Florida Panthers. Dale Tallon has been fired as general manager for the second time. The team is completely adrift with no real plan in place. The owner – Vincent J. (Vinny) Viola – is a U.S. Army veteran who was, for several weeks, Donald Trump’s nominee for United States Secretary of the Army, before withdrawing from consideration. Last summer, Cousin Vinny gave Tallon the OK to sign goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to an outlandish free agent deal and to also pursue Artemi Panarin. Strange for a team with serious revenue issues. The Panthers have asked the Canadiens for permission to interview Habs Assistant GM Scott Mellanby, the former Panther forward.
Oh! Tanenbaum! – It’s a complete mystery why Leafs owner Larry Tanenbaum still has faith in Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas. All he has to do is walk down the hall and see how Raptors President Masai Ujiri operates to observe the difference in management styles and operational know-how.
The Leafs quick exit vs. Columbus was completely predictable. The problem with the Leafs is ownership and management spend far too much time listening to fans and media. Toronto media are fans first and journalists second. How can the players not be distracted by the constant noise and gratuitous chatter?
The Leafs $40 million dollar quartet of forwards had ten points in the big game four comeback but scored only seven points in the other four games. The supposedly high-powered Leafs were shutout twice and outscored 10-3 at even strength during the series. John Tortorella took Leafs rookie coach Sheldon Keefe to school. Keefe insisted on keeping the ‘million dollar line’ of Tavaras, Matthews and Marner together in game five which played right into Torts’ hand. The Jackets matched their top checking line against Matthews and company and the rest was easy. As Justin Bourne of Sportsnet pointed out “By combining their biggest offensive players onto one line it played into Columbus’ hands. It left the Leafs with two lines that played together…not at all this year. Hyman-Nylander-Kapanen saw six seconds as a group this season, and Johnsson-Kerfoot-Mikheyev saw none.”
Of course as soon as the series was over the excuses began. Goalposts. Back luck. Bad bounces. You name it. History has shown you don’t win Stanley Cups with star power only. You have to assemble a TEAM. Look no further than the Blue Jackets to find a team that plays together and sticks to its system. We have been chronicling the Leafs problems since last fall. In Toronto, they just can’t face up to it. The team is not that good! They put players on pedestals before they have accomplished anything. They are 0-and-4 over the past three seasons in games to win a series. At what point do you come to the conclusion it’s not working?
The biggest single mistake the organization made was letting Lou Lamoriello get away to Long Island where he has made the playoffs in both seasons with the Islanders. How you could choose a neophyte junior hockey GM over a Hall of Fame legend is incomprehensible. The Leafs have been in a freefall ever since. Dubas should have dealt Nylander for a defenseman when he was holding out. Signing John Tavaras was totally unnecessary. Lou was happy to let him walk. What does that tell you? Boy Wonder then signed Mitch Marner to a lavish contract more than one year before he was set to become a restricted free agent. Marner has a cap hit of $10,893,000 for another five years. He was goalless vs. the Blue Jackets.What did we say about paying players who haven’t proven anything? Last summer, Columbus said goodbye to Sergey Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene and what would have been $19 million in salary commitments. That worked out OK, didn’t it? The Leafs, meantime, blamed Nazem Kadri for back-to-back playoff losses to the Bruins and ran him out of town. There always has to be a scapegoat in Toronto. That trade would prove to be another massive blunder.
Leaf fans retreated with the hope the team would somehow remarkably win the NHL Draft Lottery. That didn’t happen and the Leafs will now surrender the 13th overall pick to Carolina as payback for taking Patrick Marleau off their hands last summer in a salary dump, part of their own self-inflicted cap management. As it turns out, the Hurricanes basically purchased the Leafs first round pick for $3.8 million dollars. Marleau’s cap hit was $6.25 million, which the Canes had to fit into their salary cap, but the amount owing for the final year of his contract was $3.8 million. Watch the Canes draft Russian goalie Yaroslav Askarov with the pick and end up with a franchise goalie for the next ten years. Shades of the Leafs ill-fated trade with the Bruins for goalie Andrew Raycroft in exchange for a 19-year old Tuuku Rask. History just keeps repeating itself when it comes to the Leafs. An odd footnote to that deal – it was made by Jeff Gorton, who at the time, was serving as the Bruins interim GM. Gorton is now General Manager of the Rangers and overseeing the Rangers positive-looking rebuild.
The Leafs will head into this year’s draft having traded away a total of eight picks including several extra picks they had accumulated. They somehow still have three picks in the seventh round. Geez! That could net them another Brit Selby, Brent Imlach or Inge Hammerstrom.
Look down at the Toronto Marlies roster and name one player who is going to move the needle for the Leafs next season? Do the Leafs add more small cost-affordable players in Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljgren and Nick Robertson? If anyone thinks that’s the answer, you aren’t paying attention. Playoff hockey requires size and grit and toughness.
Do you really think the Leafs should stick to the vision Dubas has staked out as the way forward? We can be certain about one thing. It’s time to stop all the inane hyperbole about the Leafs being the NHL ‘team of the future.’ Sorry, any hopes they had of getting it right have long since evaporated. So much for the Shanny Plan! Don’t forget, this is an organization that held a reunion to celebrate the Leafs Final Four appearance in ’93. Unprecedented in pro sports! Only the Leafs would celebrate getting to the Final Four. Let’s wheel out Dougie Gilmour and Mats Sundin one more time!
Holy Makinaw! – Take this to the bank! Maple Leafs radio broadcaster Joe Bowen is the most overrated play-by-play announcer in professional sports. Leaf fans act like this guy is Vin Skully. He’s a hack! A Toronto paper actually did a story on Bowen’s calls during the Leafs big comeback in game four against Columbus. Can you believe that? His big calling card is “Holy Makinaw.” First of all, it’s cliché to begin with. Secondly, who would use the same call every time the Leafs score a goal? Any announcer knows you don’t overuse the very signature ‘call’ you are identified with. Bowen went all “Holy Makinaw” every time the Leafs scored during the big comeback. Poor Joe was not able to say it once in game five.
TSN uses Bowen’s calls on Leafs radio in their game hi-lites on television because they don’t want to showcase the Sportsnet announcers in their hi-lite packages. It’s given Bowen national exposure but it’s only served to let the country know he does not deserve this mythical status that’s been afforded by Leaf Nation.
Paying the Piper – The Erik Karlsson trade between Ottawa and San Jose is destined to be one of the worst trades in NHL history, rivalling the Eric Lindros/Peter Forsberg deal between Philly and Quebec. The total number of assets is yet to be determined but the bounty is still growing in the Senators favour. There’s a certain irony in that Doug Wilson, the Sharks GM, is a native of Ottawa and a former member of the 67’s.
Buffalo Blue Jays – The Blue Jays spent 21 days on the road before finally playing a so-called home game in Buffalo. From all reports, they did an outstanding job with the upgrades at Sahlen Field. The Jays christened their new ballpark with a walk-off win then proceeded to somehow lose their next game in extras despite hitting seven home runs.
After an off-day on Thursday, the Jays are heading into a stretch of 28 games in 27 days. The youthful lineup has not been producing with any consistency. It’s a small sample size but with a 60-game season, there’s not a lot of time to figure things out. Vladdy Guerrero’s early season performance has been very concerning. His on-base percentage is below .300 and he continues to swing at bad pitches.
As if the baseball season isn’t odd enough, you have to wonder what teams are thinking with the trade deadline less than three weeks away. Do you buy? Do you sell? Very few teams are out of contention and with 16 teams making the playoffs instead of 10, few teams will want to give up on the season. The Jays would still be wise to sell off veteran pitching, something they have done with a fair degree of success over the past three years.
Speaking of trades, the deal between the White Sox and the Padres that sent all-world shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. to San Diego for aging pitcher James Shields may go down in the pantheon of ‘worst trades ever.’ Remember Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock? How about Jeff Bagwell for Larry Anderson? Tatis is a breakout star who’s fast becoming the new face of baseball. His numbers so far this season are ridiculous and at just 21, he’s got his whole career ahead of him.
A Star is Born – Collin Morikawa is the next breakout star on the PGA Tour. Playing in only his second major, Morikawa fired a final round 64 to win the PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco. At just 23, Morikawa is only 15 months removed from college golf at Cal. He tied the lowest final round score in PGA Championship history and his 129 total (65-64) on the weekend was the lowest ever for a major championship.
Morikawa is an outstanding ball striker and a superb putter so he’s not likely to be a one-time wonder. His incredible drive onto the green on the 294-yard par four 16th hole on Sunday to set up an eagle was a definite candidate for shot of the year. Morikawa also joined Rory, Tiger and Jack as first-time PGA Champions at just 23.
Cocky Koepka – Brooks Keopka is making no friends on tour. When asked how he felt going into Sunday’s final round, Koepka pointed out that Dustin Johnson – the 54-hole leader by one shot – only had one major championship on his resume and added he liked his chances for a third PGA title considering the lack of major wins at the top of the leaderboard. Koepka proceeded to shoot a final found (+4) 74 to finish T29. He will find his inflated opinion of himself may only serve to motivate other players when it comes to Sunday’s at the majors. Karma Baby!
Bienvenue Montreal – Great to learn that Royal Montreal Golf Club will be host to the 2024 Presidents Cup matches. You may remember that Royal Montreal hosted the Presidents Cup back in 2007 when the U.S. teams dusted the Internationals 19.5 to 14.5. Royal Montreal has hosted the RBC Canadian Open ten times including most recently in 2014. The club was founded in 1873 and is considered to be the oldest in North America.
Case for the Defense – Don’t think for a minute that Seahawks GM John Schneider is done constructing the roster for the upcoming NHL season. Jadeveon Clowney may no longer be an option but further upgrades, particularly on the defensive line, are still likely. Former Vikings end Everson Griffen, who played under Pete Carroll at USC, was a strong possibility but he signed this week with the Cowboys. Don’t rule out a return of receiver Josh Gordon although he could still face a suspension for yet another positive drug test.
The Seahawks best news came with word that officials in Broward County in Miami have dropped four counts of robbery against Seattle cornerback Quenton Dunbar. Dunbar remains on the NFL’s exempt list but he has been given the OK to attend training camp. If Dunbar is cleared to play, the Seahawks could have a top five defensive secondary with Dunbar, Shaquille Griffin, Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs. The Seahawks linebacking corps was just voted #1 in the NFL by one pro football site. If the Hawks can somehow muster an improved pass rush, they could return to having a top ten rated defense this season.
The best story out of the Seahawks camp so far is Kemah Siverand. He’s been released by the club after the undrafted rookie was caught on camera trying to sneak a young woman into the team hotel. The woman was wearing Seahawks gear in an attempt to disguise her as a player. Nice try buddy!
The Washington Snowflakes – Now that the Washington Redskins are gone forever and political correctness has been served, we should prepare for a whole new football world once the NFL gets underway this season. Coaches and players had better watch their step and beware of what you say!
NFL Rap Sheet – Smart teams in the NFL do extensive background checks on college players and often drop them entirely from their draft lists based on character flaws. They figure other NFL teams can have the problem. The ‘not-so-smart’ teams overlook the potential red flags and think they can work with the player and somehow get him on the right track within their culture.
Skip to the Washington Football Club (nee: Redskins) who drafted running back Derrius Guice despite evidence of questionable character and run-in’s with the law. This week Guice was charged with multiple counts of domestic violence after he allegedly strangled his girlfriend at his Virginia home. Guice also reportedly pushed her and pulled her hair during the incident. Washington released Guice immediately after he was charged amid what is now alleged to be multiple incidents of abuse.
Peter the Great – We lost one of the greatest American writers and columnists this week with the passing of Pete Hamill at the age of 85. He told New York stories for 60 years and should be immortalized with the finest journalists in U.S. history.
Like many old scribes, Hamill enjoyed bending his elbow in New York bars. He swore off booze in 1972 after one last vodka on New Year’s Eve. When asked why, the son of an alcoholic father said: “I have no talent for it.” Hamill wrote an acclaimed memoir about his drinking days called “A Drinking Life” which is recommended reading. Little known fact. Hamill dated Jackie Onassis back in the day.
Muscle Shoals – If you haven’t seen the full-length documentary on the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, please search for it on Netflix and check it out. It documents the story behind the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section that was the heartbeat for an incredible string of hit records from Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin to the Allman Brothers, Bob Seger, Rod Stewart and the Stones. Here’s an abbreviated capsule of their legacy.