Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Contributing Editor Bill Morphy and an assist from Ted Tait and Jordan Moss. Travelling on Friday so we are coming to you a day earlier this week. We have a few random thoughts on the Canucks, lots from the NHL playoffs and OMG, no CFL! What will we do?
Paging Dennis Hopper – So I’m out riding my bike on the Galloping Goose trail the other day. The Goose is one of the most incredible biking trails in Canada. You can go from downtown Victoria all the way to Sidney in one direction and to Sooke in the other. The big new fad these days is battery-operated bikes. I’m riding along and I pass this guy with a souped-up bike that looks like a Harley with banana bars and a front wheel with the long extended fork. He’s got no helmet, long hair and for a moment, I thought I was in an ‘Easy Rider’ time warp. The guy looked just like Dennis Hopper on that rig. He was only missing the U.S. flag bandana. You had to be there. I couldn’t help but break into laughter.
Growing Pains – The Canucks are a win away from upsetting the defending Stanley Cup champions. Heady stuff! The Canucks are full credit for their victory in game five after trailing 3-1 and looking over-matched for much of the game. Jacob Markstrom turned in a performance for the ages and it allowed the Canucks the opportunity to cue the comeback. However, getting that fourth win may prove to be the toughest.
Every NHL team learns that it’s hard to win in the playoffs if you can’t get into the greasy areas. Championship teams are able to fight through lockdown playoff defenses. If teams can keep your attack to the outside all night, and that’s often been the case with the Canucks, then you won’t go far. Unless your power-play is operating at peak efficiency, you become an easy out.
We will see how the Blues respond in game six on Friday night. Look for another tour de force performance from last year’s Conn Smythe winner Ryan O’Reilly. He’s a beast and can singlehandedly take over a game. The Blues have absolutely abused Canucks defenseman Troy Stecher. He was on the ice for all three goals against in game three, then got caught out of position on O’Reilly’s second goal in game four. Stecher is a great kid and it’s unfortunate he lost his Dad this season but when it comes to the playoffs, you need sturdy defensemen who can stand up to heavy forecheck pressure. Stecher is a restricted free agent this summer and his asking price may be around $3.5 million. The Canucks would be advised to just walk away. They did it with Ben Hutton and had no regrets.
One thing about playoff hockey – you sure find out quick which players you can count on. The Canucks are learning some important lessons and management is getting a better handle on the ‘keepers’ moving forward. Up until Wednesday night, Jake Virtanen was probably not one of them. We will see how things go from here but when the season shuts down for four months and you return completely out of shape, you have to question his commitment to his profession.
A Royal Tribute – Dale Hawerchuk was an incredible hockey player. He was an even better person. That may be cliché but it’s true. It seems so unfair when a man so earnest and down to earth is taken away by stomach cancer at just 57. Several of my dearest friends are from Winnipeg and it must be hitting them hard. As Scott Oake said this week “Dale was hockey royalty in Winnipeg.” The Hall of Fame numbers speak for themselves so no need for a deep dive into his NHL scoring feats.
What I will remember is Dale’s junior hockey career in my native Cornwall, Ontario. He brought the community two Memorial Cups in his two seasons with the Royals, tearing up the Quebec Major Junior League in the process. As a 16-year-old rookie during the 79-80 season, he scored 37 goals and 103 points on route to winning the league’s rookie of the year award. In the playoffs, he scored 20 goals and 45 points as the Royals won the league championship with Hawerchuk earning playoff MVP honours. He then led the team to a Memorial Cup title.
If that wasn’t enough, he would do it all over again the following season. He was the QMJHL scoring champion after putting up a whopping 81 goals and 183 points. The Royals repeated as Quebec League champs with Hawerchuk taking home QMJHL player of the year. The Royals then won a second consecutive Memorial Cup with Dale winning Memorial Cup MVP. To top it all off, he was named CHL player of the year before becoming the #1 overall selection in the 1981 NHL Draft. What a 2-year, junior hockey legacy!
When you think of the most underrated all-time NHL players, Hawerchuk is at the top of the list. Did we mention he was also something of an Iron Man during his career, seldom missing any time with injury? Dale Hawerchuk was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001. He was a special player and a very special man.
Playoff Takeaways – You have to give NHL players credit. The NHL has not reported one positive case of COVID-19 since the week of July 13. That’s a testament to the players. Apparently, no one has had the urge to go to a strip club in Atlanta or smuggle a girl into the Bubble wearing hockey equipment.
The NHL is benefitting from the cancellation of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. NBC is desperate for sports content and they are happy to be showing NHL playoff games in August in time slots where the Olympics would have been airing. It will be interesting to see if the NHL can come to a new long-term television deal with the network. Needless to say, they could use the money.
The NHL should take a hard look at the playoff format for next year. The reseeding that’s taken place for the playoffs has been really well received by fans, media and players. The league would be wise to continue it next year rather than the bracketing format they have been using in previous playoffs.
Montreal fans have to be asking themselves if it was really worth winning the play-in round and advancing against the Flyers. Something tells me the Habs would have been better off losing to the Pens and taking their chances in winning the draft lottery and obtaining the ultimate prize in Alexis Lafreniere.
Nonetheless, the Canadiens have shown some growth and may not be too far away from being legit. When you have two studs on the right side of your defense like Shea Weber and Jeff Petry, you are a step ahead of a lot of clubs. It also doesn’t hurt to have Carey Price in goal. Montreal should stay the course, maintain salary cap space and keep loading up in the draft. Trying to speed up a rebuild is never a good idea. Just ask the Leafs.
It looks as though a couple of trade deadline acquisitions have added some requisite bite into the Tampa lineup. The Lightning are running out an all-Smurf line of Blake Coleman-Barclay Goodrow-and-Yanni Gourde and they are giving the Bolts a big lift. Coleman came over from New Jersey and Goodrow from San Jose at the deadline. Maybe the added ‘jam’ will carry Tampa through to the Cup final this season. Anthony Cirelli has been another huge factor for the Lightning. He’s rapidly developing into one of the top checking centers in the league.
Once again Zdeno Chara of the Bruins has escaped punishment. Andrei Svechnikov of the Hurricanes has a damaged right knee as a result of a Chara slew-foot yet the NHL saw no reason to suspend the giant Boston defenseman even though the video said otherwise. Chara has rarely been suspended by the NHL despite his reputation as a cheap-shot artist. He’s 43 and has been done for three years, just hanging around for another pay-Czech. Canes coach Rod Brind‘Amour refused to comment after already incurring a $25K fine for criticizing the officials in a previous game that ended in a Boston overtime win. Yes, it’s the Bruins. The NHL Head Office doesn’t want to deal with the wrath of Boston owner Jeremy Jacobs. Watch the video for yourself.
The Dallas-Calgary series was a toss-up going in and not surprisingly, turned out to be a back and forth tug-of-war the whole way. When you look at both teams, they are very similar in many ways. They both have a number of solid players but are missing the elite difference-makers. Tyler Sequin and Johnny Gaudreau are just not the type of players that are going to carry a hockey team.
Not a good time for Victoria’s Tyson Barrie to be an unrestricted free agent. His year in Toronto was a bust and to top it off, he had no points in the five-game series with Columbus. He might be better off to sign a one-year deal and try and improve his stock.
Things couldn’t be worse for another former Maple Leaf defenseman. During his stint in Toronto, Jake Gardiner was a top four defenseman playing 22+ minutes a game. He’s toppled down the depth chart in Carolina and ended up out of the playoff lineup, the Canes seventh D-man at best.
Yes, we like to analyze the Leafs to death (sorry, Leaf fans) but you have to admit they are an interesting study in roster building and salary cap management in today’s NHL economic structure. With that in mind, we were not surprised Steve Simmons of the National Post picked up on our story from last week and wrote about the difference between the Leafs and the Raptors front office.
Nice piece on Sportsnet.ca on Canucks assistant coach Manny Malhotra. I still maintain the Canucks would have won the Cup in 2011 had Malhotra not suffered an eye injury. You can bet he will be on the short list for head coaching jobs in the NHL very soon.
Title Defense – Time to throw a few bouquets the Raptors way! When the season started, the defending NBA champions were an after-thought. Without two starters in Kawai Leonard and Danny Green, most experts figured the Raptors were headed for an all-out rebuild. Fast forward to today and the Raptors are coming off their best season ever and a 7-and-1 record in the NBA Bubble during the seeding round. The Raptors put together the second-best record in the NBA (53-19), and set a franchise record for win percentage (73.6). A return to the NBA Finals is very much in the picture.
You have to like the comments from guard Fred VanVleet when asked about the Raptors chances for repeating. “We know who we are and that we’re good enough to do it. It’s going to be hard to beat us four times. If you can do that, we’ll shake your hand and congratulate you. But I think we all like our chances.”
Home run Derby – The Blue Jays are enjoying the bandbox that is Sahlen Field in Buffalo. After having trouble scoring runs in their three-week road odyssey to open the season, the Jays bats came alive as soon as they arrived in their home away from home. The Jays averaged just three runs per game over the first 13 games of the season, then combined to score 16 runs in their first two home games in Buffalo. They will play 27 home games in Buffalo this season.
Now that the Jays are finally getting some time in their Buffalo home, it would be a good idea to spend some time working on fundamentals. The Jays have been wildly inconsistent at times. One day they look like a team on the rise, the next they botch routine plays with shoddy defense, poor baserunning and generally bad situational play. Hopefully it’s just part of the growth of a young team but it would be nice to see them start cleaning that stuff up.
You know the baseball season is a cluster f*#k when you look at the standings and find the Tigers, Orioles and the Miami Marlins all in playoff positions. Something tells me that won’t last but….it’s upside down right now.
The Unwritten Rules – Padres ascendant superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. ran afoul of baseball’s “Unwritten Rules” this week. His big indiscretion was belting a grand slam on a 3-0 pitch and San Diego up 10-3 on the Texas Rangers in the 8th inning. Baseball’s unwritten rules say you should take the pitch and not try to run up the score. What a pile of crap! Let’s get this straight. You are asking an opposing player to fail just so you won’t be embarrassed any further? You should ask your own pitcher to learn how to control the strike zone so he doesn’t keep running the count to 3-0.
Baseball needs to get out of the dark ages. It’s the same thing with not admiring a home run or not stepping on the foul line when you run onto the field. Get over it! Tatis has found plenty of support since the controversy erupted. Former stars Johnny Bench and Reggie Jackson both said Tatis shouldn’t have to apologize for hitting a home run, unwritten rules be damned.
The Greatest Ever – Last Sunday, Major League Baseball recognized the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues. At a time when we are focusing attention on Black Lives Matter, it’s sad that the number of black ballplayers in the game has fallen to such a low level. Still, the Negro Leagues place in baseball history is as important today as ever before.
If you go back and look at the record books you can’t help but come to the conclusion that catcher Josh Gibson was one of the greatest players of all-time, regardless of the league. According to Seamheads, the recognized statistical source for the Negro Leagues, Gibson’s career numbers were .365 batting average, .690 slugging percentage and a 1.139 OPS. Those numbers are off the charts and would probably lead the majors most years. While it’s impossible to confirm, baseball historians cite home run totals in excess of 800 which would have included Negro League play, unofficial non-Negro games and the many games played during ‘barnstorming’ tours.
Gibson played on two of the best Negro League teams, the 1931 Homestead Grays and the 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords. He anchored a Grays team that won the league championship every year but one from 1937 to 1945, playing in four Negro League World Series, winning two. Gibson would never have the opportunity to play a single game in the major leagues. However, in 1972, Gibson did become the second Negro League player after Satchel Paige to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In early 1943, Gibson fell into a coma and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After regaining consciousness, he refused the option of surgical removal and lived the next four years with recurring headaches. Josh Gibson would die of a stroke at the age of 35.
In Memorium – In case you missed it, the Federal Government won’t be bailing out the CFL. We will just have to find something else to do this fall now that there won’t be a CFL season. The Feds turned down the league’s request for a $30 million dollar bail-out that would have allowed the CFL to play this season. Why do I think the money would have gone directly into the wallets of CFL owners? Perhaps not but the bottom line, the CFL is not a necessity. It goes back to what we said before – open up a lemonade stand, and vend for yourself! What’s next? Bailing out Stampede Wrestling?
NFL Training Camp Notebook – The NFL Network released the Top 100 NFL player list for 2020 as voted on by the players and you have to wonder what these guys are smoking. The top three players on the list were Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and L.A. Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald. Fourth, yes fourth, on the list was Kansas City quarterback Pat Mahomes. No offense to the top three but having Mahomes fourth on the list is a complete joke. He’s the best player in the NFL, hands down, no questions, full stop! Jackson is voted the #1 player in the NFL and how many Super Bowl rings goes he have? Putting him in the same category as Mahomes is ludicrous. Do you really think the Chiefs would trade Mahomes even up for Jackson or Donald? Lest we forget, Mahomes threw for 50 touchdowns in a single season and brought the Chiefs back from double digit deficits in three straight playoff games on route to a Super Bowl title.
When the Chiefs were scouting Mahomes prior to the 2017 NFL draft, they brought him into the Kansas City training complex for a visit. Andy Reid and his offensive staff drilled Mahomes repeatedly with offensive strategies and complex offensive sets and coverage. Prior to a break for lunch, they drew up a series of plays on the chalkboard and asked Mahomes to study them. When they returned, they erased the board, handed him the chalk and asked him to write the plays back on the board. Mahomes aced it. The Chiefs were blown away and traded up in the draft to select Mahomes with the 10th overall pick. It was an absolute game-changer for the organization.
Mahomes grew up in a sports family. His Dad pitched in the major leagues and many scouts still contend that Pat Mahomes could easily have reached the majors as a power pitcher. Russell Wilson has won a Super Bowl but please don’t put Lamar Jackson ahead of Mahomes until he’s won something.
Seahawks Training Camp – One player you have to be cheering for is Seahawks tight end Will Dissly. His rookie season was derailed by a ruptured patellar tendon and then last year, his season was over after only six games when he ruptured his Achilles tendon. Two devastating injuries in a 15-month period. Dissly is back on the field at training camp and hoping he can make it through an entire season.
Recently acquired safety Jamal Adams is already making an impact on the Seahawks defense. During a red zone drill this week, Adams intercepted Russell Wilson and returned the ball 100 yards for a touchdown. However, teammates gave Adams grief for his ball security since he held the ball in the air and celebrated while returning the interception. Shows you the difference in mentality between the Hawks and the New York Jets. Turning the ball over is a crime in Seattle and ball security is a Seahawk trademark.
Golf Notes – Kind of disappointing that Roger Sloan couldn’t finish what he started at the Wyndham Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. Sloan, who grew up in Merritt, B.C., shot a PGA Tour career-best 62 in the opening round but was unable to keep it going through the weekend. He dropped 13 additional spots on Sunday with a final round (+1) 71 to finish T31. Hopefully, his breakthrough will come soon.
Music Video of the Week – New Orleans – 1987. Here’s something rare from the vault. Check out Stevie Ray Vaughan and his brother Jimmy playing the song ‘Pipeline’ together on the same guitar. They owned and played a custom Stratocaster-shaped double-neck guitar named “Family Guitar”, built by Robin Guitars of Houston, Texas. Some good old brotherly love!
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