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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Chief Editor Bill Morphy and contributors Jordan Moss, Peter Hucul and Ted Tait.  This week, Titans clash in Qatar. We question our attachment to the Canucks and say goodbye to Tiger as a competitive golfer.

Qatar Confidential – It had the makings of an instant classic. If Harry Kane makes good on his second penalty kick and the game goes to extra time, the heavyweight battle between England and France may have gone down in soccer lore as one of the greatest games in history. Nonetheless, it was a beauty with Olivier Giroud’s goal in the 78th minute standing up as France held off England 2-1 to book a ticket into the World Cup semi-final.

You have to wonder if the clash was the decisive game in the tournament. France is now the probative favourite to repeat and become the first back-to-back champion since Brazil in 1958 and 1962. France will face Morocco on Wednesday. Argentina and Croatia will battle for the other final spot.

England certainly has a budding star in 19-year-old Jude Bellingham. Reports indicate he will leave Dortmund in the next transfer window and may be headed to Liverpool. Don’t be surprised if Canada’s wunderkind Alphonso Davies leaves Bayern Munich for the English Premier League. There’s speculation Davies could make a move to Chelsea.

Once again, and it’s entirely predictable, Brazil choked up and bowed out in the quarterfinals against Croatia. If the Brazilian players spent more time training and less time dying their hair blonde, I would give them a better chance of living up to expectations.

Just wondering but…who designed those white Croatian uniforms with the red checkerboard pattern? Do they double as tablecloths in the summer? They would work on Halloween if you wanted to dress up as a court jester.

It’s clear now that Canada was truly in the Group of Death. Only one group had two teams get through to the knockout stage and that was Group F. Morocco and Croatia have both reached the semifinals. Belgium failed to advance from the group yet they came into the World Cup ranked number two in the world. Clearly Canada had it tough and the results prove it.

There was no doubt Canada faced a tall order and it’s hard to draw too many positive conclusions when you go winless. Still, there were signs of growth and certainly spurts of exceptional play. The question now becomes how can Canada improve over the next three and a half years before hosting the World Cup in 2026?

One thing that has to happen is more players have to join top club teams in the highest level of international soccer. We’ve already learned that Alistair Johnston has signed with Scottish League giants Glasgow Celtic. Johnston will get to play in the Champions League. 20-year-old midfielder Ismael Kone is joining English second division side Watford FC.  Tajon Buchanan is weighing his options and may be headed to the English Premier League. The transfer fee from Club Brugge in Belgium could be as high as $20 million. These opportunities to play at the highest levels are critical if Canadian players are going to improve.

As an example, Croatia has 19 Tier 1 players who are playing in one of Europe’s top five leagues or on teams that are regular participants in the UEFA Champions League. Belgium has 21. Morocco has 14. Canada had just six. That needs to change. When Morocco qualified for the World Cup in 2018, they had only eight Tier 1 players. Four years later, the number has nearly doubled and Morocco has been the tournament’s big surprise. Proof positive that experience matters.

It would also help if Canada can schedule more games against highly-ranked teams. When Canada met Belgium in the opening game of this year’s World Cup, it was the first time in more than a decade that Canada had faced a top-ten FIFA-ranked team. Perhaps now that Canada has gained some notoriety and respect, we will be able to schedule friendlies against some of the world’s more powerful soccer nations.

The final piece is funding. Canada earned a $10.5 million dollar windfall for participation in this year’s World Cup. That will certainly help the bottom line. Increased funding has to be funneled into youth programs across the country if we want to continue to progress.

For Canadians who are largely unfamiliar with the World Cup, watching soccer vs. hockey can be a little disconcerting. Diving is an essential part of soccer theatre. Playing hurt is part of hockey lore. Have a look at this video which pretty much sums up the difference in the two sports.

Canucks Notebook – The drama around the Canucks is building. It’s looking more and more likely that the Canucks are moving closer to wholesale changes. It’s no longer a question of IF, it’s a question of WHEN. Ownership has never bought into the idea of a scorched-earth rebuild but any hockey savant would agree it’s time for a major re-set.

It appears as though the Canucks may be willing to move Brock Boeser simply to open up cap space regardless of the return. His agent has been given permission to shop around for potential deals. In other words, Boeser is as good as gone. On the Bo Horvat contract front, it’s doubtful he will be offered a rich extension. Last summer, the Canucks were hoping to reach an agreement that would land under $7 million per season AAV. That was before landscape-altering deals for Robert Thomas, Jordan Kyrou and Roope Hintz. Now we’re talking about a deal well above $8 million per season AAV.

If the Canucks want to get serious about reshaping their roster, they need to consider moving veteran defenseman Luke Schenn at the deadline. Schenn is playing the best hockey of his career and is a prototypical, high character playoff guy. He should have high value at the deadline to a Cup contender. The Canucks should also test the market on goaltender Thatcher Demko. If you are serious about re-tooling the roster, everything should be on the table.

The new front office has had ample time to assess the roster and take the temperature of the dressing room. One thing they haven’t done is learn from past mistakes. Boeser found out he had been healthy scratched from the lineup by looking at a lineup board. That’s not right. You owe it to a veteran player to let him know face to face. To scratch him on Hockey Fights Cancer night is simply tone deaf in light of the recent passing of Brock’s father Duke. No team administers self-inflicted wounds more often than the Canucks.

If that wasn’t enough to confound Canucks faithful, how about the decision to induct Roberto Luongo into the Ring of Honour rather than having his number retired?  Need we remind anyone that Luongo was just inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame along with long-time teammates Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Luongo is the Canucks all-time leader in wins and shutouts. He’s already had his number retired in Florida where he had fewer starts and fewer wins. See what we mean about a franchise that just keeps shooting itself in the foot?

Emotional Attachment – With the Canucks seemingly headed for another non-playoff season, I have been searching for reasons why I no longer get emotionally invested in the team. I watch snippets of games here and there but it’s never appointment viewing. Is it because we’ve been disappointed so many times? Is it a distrust of ownership and management? Is it because the Canucks method of team-building is so at odds with my own? The answer is all of the above.

As you probably know from following this column, we pay close attention to the fortunes of the Seattle Seahawks, Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Raptors. Our confidence in the management group of those organizations is so much higher than it is with the Canucks, even with the Canucks new front office structure. The Seahawks had the common sense and fortitude to trade Russell Wilson and that one deal alone may set the team on the path to another Super Bowl. Remember what they say? It’s always wise to trade a guy a year early than a year too late.

Kyle Lowry was a franchise icon in Toronto yet the Raptors made the difficult decision to deal him to Miami rather than committing huge money to have him remain in a Raptors uniform. It wasn’t so much about the return. It had more to do with turning the page and allowing others to grow into leadership roles. Looking at the Raptors now, it was definitely the right move. Good managers like Masai Ujiri know how to take the temperature of their team.

Teoscar Hernandez was a fan favourite in Toronto yet the Blue Jays made the difficult decision to move him to Seattle a year before he was scheduled to hit free agency. Can’t pay everybody, right? What did the Canucks do when faced with the same decision?  They handed J.T. Miller a rich new seven-year deal that is destined to be another contract albatross.

When a team you want to support continues to make decisions that are directly opposite to what you believe is right, then how are you supposed to react? When it continues to happen over and over again, you go from being frustrated to being downright angry.

The shine is already off the Canucks new management team. Extending Miller and Brock Boeser were mistakes. Drafting another light-weight forward, Jonathan Lekkerimaki, in the first-round of last summer’s NHL draft was ill-advised. He’s currently out of the lineup in Sweden with a concussion. Giving up a second-round draft pick to get out from under a portion of Justin Dickinson’s contract made absolutely no sense.

When you refuse to swallow hard when the job calls for it, you will never get to the point of true contention. Building a sustainable contender takes time and patience, something the Canucks have never had. Blame ownership. Blame the front office. Slow and steady has never been the Canucks strong suit. It’s always about hitting the home run. Winning the PR battle. They would rather trade for OEL or sign Tyler Myers to a huge free agent contract than draft and develop a defenseman or uncover a cost-efficient option on the trade market.

When you compare how other organizations go about their business to the Canucks, it becomes rather apparent why getting emotionally attached is a bad idea. You are constantly waiting for a tweet or phone call from a friend with some cringe-worthy announcement about what the team has done now…and it’s usually not good.

NHL Notebook – It’s great watching talented young players take their game to a whole new level. Tage Thompson and Jack Hughes are emerging as the next generation of NHL superstars. In case you missed it, Hughes set a new NHL record for the longest shift in history in a game Friday night against the Islanders. Hughes was on the ice for the final 6:02 of the game as the Devils tried frantically to tie the game. Hughes ended up playing 12:19 in the third period and 26:13 in total ice time. Thompson has had two six-point nights this season.

Have you noticed that NHL GM’s are far too anxious to extend young players after they have early success? Boy, can that ever come back to bite you. The L.A. Kings placed goalie Cal Peterson on waivers in the first year of a three-year, $15 million dollar contract. So much for being their goalie of the future.

Remember how excited New York Ranger fans were after landing Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere in consecutive drafts? They were going to be franchise cornerstones and the centrepieces of the Rangers rebuild. Fast forward to this year and the shine is off jewel. Both players have only five goals in 29 games. Lafreniere will be an RFA next summer. Kakko the following year. The Rangers would be smart to keep any extensions short-term.

You have to wonder how long impatient Rangers owner James Dolan will wait before demanding changes in New York. The Rangers are barely holding a playoff spot and the pressure is mounting. Would Barry Trotz be willing to come to the rescue in the Big Apple? Reuniting Patrick Kane with Artemi Panarin would be another attention-grabbing blockbuster.

Did you know that the Washington Capitals have 11 pending UFA’s. The Caps are unlikely to make the playoffs in an ever-improving Eastern Conference and could end up being big sellers at the deadline. Don’t rule it out.

When assessing talent, skating should be first and foremost in any evaluation. The ability to adapt to the pace of today’s NHL is critical.  Case in point – do you think the Rangers and the L.A. Kings would like a do-over from the 2020 draft? Kings centre Quinton Byfield is having trouble with the adjustment to the NHL. Tim Stutzle, who went third overall behind Byfield and Lafreniere, has adjusted nicely thanks to his above-average NHL skating ability. It’s a similar story with the Canucks Vasily Podkolzin whose footspeed was in question prior to the draft.

We often preach the dangers of trading first-round picks but depending on where you are in your development cycle, it can be a huge positive. The Boston Bruins were thought to be aging-out but surrendered a 2022 first-round pick last season to Anaheim to acquire defenseman Hampus Lindholm. Sometimes losing can wear on a player. Lindholm has been nothing short of spectacular since moving to Boston. With Charlie McAvoy, he gives the Bruins two minute-munching studs on the back end. It’s a big reason the Bruins are having such an great season.

Remember the name Jake Livingstone? He’s the big right-shot defenceman from Creston, B.C. playing at Mankato State University in Minnesota. We brought up his name last year as a potential Canucks college free agent signing. Well, Livingstone went back to school for his junior year and is having another outstanding season. He’s listed at 6-3, 206 pounds and is scoring at nearly a point-per-game. Livingstone was named CCHA Defenseman of the Year last season. He’s definitely a late-bloomer after spending four years with Langley of the BCJHL. Livingstone should be right at the top of the Canucks priority list.

There’s a lot of speculation over what the Montreal Canadiens may do with Sean Monahan prior to this year’s trade deadline. The Canadiens already pocketed a first-round pick from the Calgary Flames for taking on the final year of Monahan’s contract. Some reports suggest the Habs could land another first-rounder for Monahan at the deadline. Don’t see that happening.

One team that should check in on Monahan is the Colorado Avalanche. They’ve used 22 different forwards so far this season and now Nathan MacKinnon is gone for a month.  The Avs are still looking for a replacement for Nazem Kadri. Monahan would be a low-cost option but the Habs would be smart to let things play out to the deadline to maximize the return.

The price for Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun keeps going up based on his recent play after returning from injury. Chychrun has put up eight points in his first nine games back. As long as he’s healthy, he would be a huge add for any contending team.

The Ottawa Senators let the deadline pass for signing RFA forward Alex Formenton. The Sens didn’t even make an offer. You would have to think it has to do with the Hockey Canada scandal involving the 2018 World Junior team in which there has been speculation Formenton was one of the ringleaders in the sexual assault case.

Speaking of the Senators, it looks like the impending sale is moving forward to the next stage. According to Ian Mendes of The Athletic, potential bidders will soon have access to the Data Room, a secure website which basically provides an unfiltered look under the financial hood of the organization. Here’s what may be available:

  • Audited financial statements going back at least five years
  • The details of every contract signed by the organization, including player, hockey operations and general staff contracts
  • The terms and conditions of every deal the franchise has signed with a vendor or sponsorship partner. This would include food and beverage deals, parking revenue, etc.
  • Broadcasting deals with media rights holders, including the exact wording of their current contract with BellMedia
  • Exact numbers on season ticket holders
  • Detailed information about the business operations of every entity under the club’s umbrella, including the Belleville Senators and the Sensplex arenas
  • Specific information about the club’s charitable endeavours

According to Mendes, Montreal Canadiens minority owner Michael Andlauer may be emerging as the frontrunner.

The Canucks penalty-killing or lack thereof, has been a big reason for their demise over the past two seasons.  Going back to the 1977-78 season, only three teams have ever posted a penalty-killing percentage below 70%. Four NHL teams including the Canucks are currently below that mark.

Hockey Canada has unveiled the roster for the upcoming World Junior Championships which are set to get underway on Boxing Day. The tournament is being co-hosted by Halifax and Moncton. The roster is headed by a couple of precocious draft-eligible forwards in Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli who could go one-two in next summer’s NHL draft. Three players currently on NHL rosters, Seattle’s Shane Wright, Arizona’s Dylan Guenther and defenseman Brandt Clarke of the L.A. Kings will also be joining the team.

Trivia Time:  Name the only player in hockey history to win the Hobey Baker Award, an Olympic gold medal and the Stanley Cup?  Answer below.

NFL Notebook – How bad are things in Denver?  The Donkey’s offense, or lack thereof, is tracking to be the worst in franchise history. Russell Wilson is killing drives just like he did in Seattle. Wilson has had eleven passes batted down at the line of scrimmage so far this season. Wilson’s previous season-high was six batted passes. With new ownership in place, Nathaniel Hackett is sure to be one-and-done as Broncos head coach. Counting Wilson’s new five-year, $242.5 million dollar extension, the Donkeys are on the hook for Wilson for $295 million over the next seven years. It’s doomed to be a very costly marriage.

On December 6, 2021, the Arizona Cardinals were riding high. They were in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the NFC playoffs at 10-2.  Since then, in 19 games, more than an entire NFL season, the Cards are 5-14. Can the so-called experts stop pumping Kyler Murray’s tires as a franchise quarterback?

With Zach Wilson on the bench, likely for good, the New York Jets will again be looking for a quarterback reboot. Mike White has taken over but he’s not likely a long-term answer. Since 2019, the New York Jets have had 13 different starting quarterbacks. It’s another sad reminder that developing a reliable NFL quarterback is one of the most difficult jobs in sports.

Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals seem to have the Kansas City Chiefs number. The Chiefs are 0-3 against the Bengals since New Year’s Day. Pat Mahomes and company are 12-3 against everyone else.  Over the last seven weeks, Burrows is 6-1 with an NFL-best 118.1 rating and a 74.7 passing efficiency.

What were the Cleveland Browns thinking in letting Deshaun Watson start his first game since his suspension in Houston? Watson was booed every time he touched the ball and for good reason. Watson went 12 of 22 for only 131 yards. He had no touchdowns and one interception. His QB rating was 53.4. Even though the Browns prevailed, Watson stunk the place up.

You would have to think Jimmy Garoppolo has played his last game in a 49’ers uniform. Garoppolo is likely done for the season with a broken foot and the Niners suddenly go from NFC frontrunners to potential question marks. San Francisco now has to ride with rookie quarterback Brock Purdy. Good luck!

Don’t look now but the Detroit Lions first-round pick from the L.A. Rams in the Matthew Stafford trade is certain to be higher than their own. At the start of the season, you had to figure the Lions pick would be higher. Right now, the Rams pick is four and the Lions own pick will be 15.

Baseball Winter Meetings – The baseball winter meetings came and went in San Diego and if you are a Blue Jays fan, you must wonder if Jays brass even attended. The Jays came away empty-handed creating a whole lot of consternation among the Jays fan base. Yes, there’s still plenty of time to make things happen but a lot of pieces have been removed from the board. The Jays did manage to ink veteran Rays centre-fielder Kevin Kiermaier over the weekend but at this stage of his career, he’s a part-timer at best.

Over the past few off-seasons, the Blue Jays have certainly shown a willingness to open up the purse strings.  Problem is – not all the money has been well spent. They gifted pitcher Tanner Roark $24 million for two seasons and got almost nothing back. The four-year, $80 million dollar deal for lefty Hyun Jim Ryu has been ill-advised and let’s not even mention Yusei Kikuchi who was handed three years and $36 million last winter. Spending is one thing. Getting it right is something altogether different.

Chequebook baseball was alive and well in San Diego. The Yankees emptied the vault to get Aaron Judge locked up. This is a guy who was booed by Yankee fans in this year’s playoffs after a raft of strikeouts. Wonder how that deal will look when he’s making $40 million a season in his late 30’s? The Phillies were the biggest winner in landing shortstop Trea Turner.

The New York Mets have no limit on spending. Owner Steve Cohen is running out of ink signing all the cheques. Forget about luxury tax thresholds. After signing free agent outfielder Brandon Nimmo and veteran pitcher Justin Verlander, the Mets payroll hit a staggering $322 million. Then, late Saturday night, the Mets added Japanese righthander Kodai Senga. It would seem Cohen could care less how much the team will be taxed for going over the threshold.

No team took a greater risk in the out-of-control pitching market than the Texas Rangers, signing free agent Jacob deGrom to a five-year, $185 million dollar windfall. That’s some serious cheese for a guy who has started only 38 games over the past three seasons. The Rangers had better hope deGrom delivers.

Dodgers righthander Trevor Bauer, in the midst of a two-year suspension for violating the league’s policy on sexual assault, stands to lose $60 million in salary if the suspension is upheld. However, if the suspension is overturned or reduced, the Dodgers as a third-time luxury-tax offender would be assessed penalties on top of his salary. According to the L.A. Times, the Dodgers total payout could exceed $100 million. No wonder they’ve been quiet in free agency.

The Match – Is this what it’s come to for Tiger Woods? Ceremonial exhibition golf under the lights? Saturday’s made-for-TV Match pitted Tiger and Rory McIlroy against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas at Pelican Golf Club outside Tampa. It wasn’t close. Spieth and Thomas never trailed and won the best-ball competition 3 and 2. The competition was scheduled to go 12 holes. It was over after 10.

Tiger was apparently just along for the ride. Yes, they all rode in carts. Woods walked with a noticeable limp. There were no memorable shots. No putts dropped. Tiger was just there as the GOAT because his golf game is nowhere near being competitive. It’s time Tiger took stock of his golf game. He may still be willing but his body is not able. There are no major championships in his future. Why not just announce your retirement and go off into the sunset? Tiger’s next big tournament is the Father-Son exhibition. Yes, this is what it has come to.

Leftovers – The first time Canada played in a Davis Cup competition was 1913. Yes, over 100 years ago. Now that Canada has secured its first ever Davis Cup, to some naysayers, it is still not legit. You’ll remember that Canada got in the backdoor after Russia was declared out of the competition after invading Ukraine. Canada had already been ousted 4-0 by the Netherlands but was invited back in as the highest-ranked losing qualifier. The rest is history. Canada ran the table including a final’s win over Australia. Cue the bellyaching. Aussie Todd Woodbridge claims Canada’s win should come with an asterisk. U.S. Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish also expressed his displeasure. Why not just say – Good on Canada. No, let’s taint the victory which, by the way, was well-earned.  Send Woodbridge a Christmas present. We’ve the got the perfect gift. A bottle of whine.

If we are going down that rabbit hole, Canada should be voicing displeasure with the World Cup of Soccer draw. The U.S. and Australia both landed in favourable groupings and were able to advance to the knockout round. Canada unfortunately drew the toughest bracket even through you could make an argument that we are better than both the U.S. and Australia. Don’t hear us complaining!

In case you missed it, Pat Tabler is out as lead analyst on Blue Jay broadcasts. When it comes to Sportsnet, you have to wonder if its another cost-cutting move even though Tabler is about as lively and exciting as a Quilting Bee.

It’s rather appropriate that Mike Weir will lead the Presidents Cup team when the competition is held in Canada in 2024. Weir will be the first Canadian to captain the international team. Not only will Weir get to captain the squad on home soil, he will do it at Royal Montreal Golf Club, site of one of his greatest career accomplishments. That’s where Mike knocked off Tiger Woods in a final day singles match at the 2007 Presidents Cup. It will be interesting to see how many Canadians earn their way onto the team with Weir as captain.

RBC has a big stake in the PGA Tour. The golf-crazy financial institution has added three new members to their team of sponsored players for the 2023 season – Sam Burns, Cam Young and Sahith Theegala. They essentially replace Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell and Harold Varner who bolted to LIV Golf. You would have to think that it’s just a matter of time before RBC adds Canadians Adam Svensson and  Taylor Pendrith to the group.

Baseball lost a great one recently with the death of pitcher Gaylord Perry. They don’t make em’ like him anymore. Perry won 314 games during his Hall of Fame career with a 3.11 ERA and 3,534 strikeouts. The only pitchers in history who can match all three of those numbers are Walter Johnson and Tom Seaver. Perry was the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award in each league – in 1972 for Cleveland and in 1978 for the San Diego Padres at the age of 39.  RIP Gaylord!

Answer to the Trivia Question:  Neal Broten

YouTube Music Video of the Month – Here’s a beauty for you. The Steve Miller Band featuring guest Peter Frampton performing ‘Stranger Blues’ live at the Pacific Amphitheater in Costa Mesa, California in 2018. Check it out.

Spotify Playlist Tracks of the Week – The great thing about Spotify is it allows you to discover new artists all the time. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know we have a definite love of New Orleans-based artists who combine Delta blues with the second line beat. John Mooney is a veteran singer-guitar player who makes New Orleans home. He is known for his outstanding guitar work. His 2007 release Big Ol’ Fiya was nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album of the Year. Check out the title track and the song Kiss Me.  From the album Truth of the Matter, have a listen to Deal with Love.

John Moreland is a 37-year-old singer-songwriter from Tulsa, Oklahoma. He grew up in a conservative South Baptist family. Steve Earle and Guy Clark were a couple of his major influences. Moreland was characterized as a songwriter’s songwriter by American TV host Rachel Maddow who tweeted praise for Moreland’s work. “If the American music business made any sense, guys like John Moreland would be household names.”  Moreland joked that her remark was “the first time his dad has agreed with Rachel Maddow.” From the release LP5, have a listen to “A Thought is Just a Passing Train.”  Also, from Big Bad Luv, we recommend Love is Not an Answer and Amen, So Be It.

A couple of other tracks to check out this week. Listen to “Irish Girl” by Mike Campbell and the Dirty Knobs from the album Wreckless Abandon.

Southern Avenue is a five-piece blues and soul blues band from Memphis. Formed in 2015, they took their name from a street in Memphis running from the easternmost part of the city limits to “Soulsville”, which was the original home of Stax Records. They’ve got a great sound.  From the self-titled release Southern Avenue, check out 80 Miles from Memphis.

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