Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and contributors Jordan Moss, Peter Hucul, Glen Myles and L’Angelo Mysterioso. This week, Le Coupe Grey, Seniors Day in Vancouver, a 10-step plan, and can we just back up the truck in Arizona?
108th Grey Cup – After the slop that was served up this season, it was great to see an entertaining Grey Cup game. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were far and away the best team during the regular season but it took a frantic fourth quarterback comeback and more dramatics in overtime before the Bombers could put away the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-25 and capture their second straight CFL crown.
In his Grey Cup ‘stage-of-the-union’ address, CFL Commissioner said “everything is on the table” as the league tries to chart a path forward – EVEN – the idea of going to four-down football. The product on the field this season was sub-par by any standards. Quarterback play is at an all-time low. What does it say when Zach Collaras, the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player, throws six post-season interceptions? When the Grey Cup was last played in Hamilton, Doug Flutie was the winning quarterback. Other CFL quarterbacks included Damon Allen, Matt Dunigan, Anthony Calvillo, David Archer, Kent Austin, Danny McManus, and Tracy Ham. You could argue everyone of those quarterbacks is better than anyone playing quarterback in the CFL today.
Ambrosie announced the CFL is going to a revenue-sharing model. That’s not going to go over well with community-owned teams like Winnipeg and Saskatchewan. Can’t see them wanting to write cheques to MLSE to prop up the aimless Argos.
In Vancouver, you have a new owner who says the team will hold rallies and tailgate parties to better engage with fans. Really? Try fielding a team that can actually play football! Until the owners recognize the CFL should be a developmental league for the NFL, it’s going to remain adrift. Fix the rules. Go to four downs. Align with the NFL and watch the quality of play improve. The revenues will follow and you may no longer have to worry about an aging fan base.
Dark Clouds Lifted – What are we going to do? With Jim Benning no longer around, who are we going to skewer? It’s kind of like CNN no longer having Donald Trump around. Well, to put a twist on his own oft-used favourite quote, “I guess Jim Benning is no longer an important part of the group.” The walk to the gallows was long overdue. We’ve maintained for years Benning was in over his head and ill-qualified to be an NHL general manager. The list of bad trades and ill-advised free agent signings is endless and there’s no need for a review. Watching Jim at the controls was like watching Mr. Magoo drive.
Perhaps we’re looking at it the wrong way. Jim managed to pocket well over $10 million of Aquilini’s dollars over the past eight years, so how stupid can he be? Benning is now going to sit at home and collect more $ for doing nothing. We hope he enjoys retirement because nobody is going to hire him.
So, we now brace ourselves for another era of Canucks hockey. For better or worse, it’s Jimmy Rutherford’s team now. The Canucks hired the 72-year-old as President, Hockey Operations and according to owner Francesco Aquilini, he has total autonomy to reshape the roster.
Rutherford is a Hockey Hall of Famer with three Cup rings so his resume is impeccable. He will be introduced at a media session on Monday. His first order of business will be to find a new general manager. If you are looking for leading candidates, look no further than a pair of former Penguins assistant GM’s, Jason Botterill and Patrik Allvin. Botterill is currently serving in that capacity with the Seattle Kraken.
There’s no shortage of quality candidates. Our other top choices include Chris MacPharland, assistant GM with the Colorado Avalanche, Ross Mahoney, assistant GM with the Washington Capitals and former Arizona GM John Chayka who remains under NHL suspension as a result of his messy departure from the Coyotes, something we would not hold against anyone.
Between Rutherford and new coach Bruce Boudreau, the Canucks have added 138 years of experience in just a matter of days. Rutherford has a rep for being uber-aggressive. He loves the big deal. He’s also not shy about trading draft picks. Trader Jim dealt the Penguins first pick six times in the last seven years. You know how we feel about that. The Canucks prospect pool is barren so if anything, adding picks should be the priority. But at 72, Rutherford is not about to be patient. Forget about a rebuild. For Canuck fans, the important part is a critical leadership position, left vacant by Trevor Linden’s ouster in 2018, has been restored and there was no one more qualified to fill the bill than Jimmy Rutherford.
When you reflect back, so much of what ailed the Canucks was masked by great goaltending, even back as far as Ryan Miller. Can you imagine how poor this team would have been without Miller and Markstrom and Demko? With league average goaltending, this team would still be looking for their first playoff appearance in a decade. It only serves to show what we have claimed all along – the roster construction was deeply flawed.
To figure out what ails the team on the ice, the Canucks have turned to recycled veteran coach Bruce Boudreau, who has the second-highest winning percentage in NHL history behind Scotty Bowman but little playoff success. The perpetually positive Boudreau looks like he hasn’t missed a turn at the all-day buffet. If they see him coming, they may want to lock the doors. No cheeseburger is safe with this guy around.
Boudreau definitely has a reputation as a players coach. He has wasted no time helping the Canucks get the offence cranked up. If the team doesn’t give the effort, we can expect Boudreau to resort to a profanity-laced between-periods rant, as was the case when he was coaching the Washington Capitals.
In honour of Jim Benning’s departure, we offer this Twitter tribute to his fine work over the past seven and a half years.
Where do the Canucks go from here? Stealing the famous quote used to describe the Toronto Raptors drafting of unknown Brazilian Bruno Caboclo, “the Canucks are two years away from being two years away.” Rutherford may find it’s more than just a “retool.” Benning left the Canucks with a bottom ten prospect pool and a salary cap ledger that will be difficult to navigate.
Following the firing of Benning and Green and before Boudreau and Rutherford was hired, we put together a 10-step plan for fixing some of the Canucks major issues and getting the team back on a realistic road to success.
- Figure out the proper front office structure. Take a page from the Montreal Canadiens recent shakeup and hire a president of hockey operations. Let him hire the next general manager. The Canucks need a new ‘face of the franchise.’ Someone to act as a buffer between hockey ops and ownership. If the Canucks do indeed decide to hire a president of hockey operations, I would be putting in a call to either Jimmy Rutherford or Dale Tallon.
- Once the new brass is in place, ownership must agree to step back and keep their nose out of the team’s hockey operations. There have been rumblings of ownership meddling for years. It must STOP.
- Clean out the entire pro scouting staff. Too much nepotism for too long. Brett Henning, Director of Pro Scouting – GONE! Lou Crawford – GONE! The record of complete incompetence is there for everyone to see. How much evidence do you need?
- While you are at it, make sweeping changes to the amateur scouting department. Sorry, Ron Delorme, Chief Amateur Scout, it’s time to go. You can take several others with you including Jim Benning’s son Brandon.
- Beef up the player development and analytics staff. Benning was clearly not a huge fan of analytics. It’s crazy not to have the data available when making player evaluations. Players don’t always fail. Teams fail the players by not doing enough to help them grow and improve.
- Fix the salary cap mess created by Benning and his Machiavellian sidekick John Weisbrod. The Canucks will be facing several major decisions over the next year. Who to re-sign and who to let go? Opening cap space should be a priority. How are they going to improve the blueline otherwise?
- Stop trading draft picks. During his 7-year reign of error, Benning traded a total of 23 draft picks by our count. The only way to develop organizational depth is to ADD draft picks instead of trading draft picks. Give yourself more spins at the roulette wheel.
- Increase the Canadian content. When captain Bo Horvat is the only Canadian player in your lineup that was drafted and developed by the team, you have a problem. The Canucks currently have eight Americans on the roster. Last time we looked, it’s a Canadian market. Act like it.
- Don’t try to hit home runs. Incremental improvements work. Two or three small deals or cost-efficient free agent signings can make a big difference. Too often the Canucks have tried to land the big fish and it hasn’t worked.
- Size and speed. Everyone knows the Canucks lack toughness. They also lack speed. At the draft table, look to add some size and bite to the lineup. You can’t get pushed around if you want to win in the playoffs. If you want to run with the top teams, you also need speed and quickness. Develop a performance model for every position. Take a page from the Carolina Hurricanes who have an organizational strategy that focuses on drafting defencemen who are 6-2+ and 200+ lbs. Make sure to draft a goalie at least every other year and prioritize drafting centers over wingers.
(A couple of quick asides from the Canucks house-cleaning. Assistant coach Nolan Baumgarner was released along with Travis Green. Assistant Jason King was not. Did the Sedins have anything to do with that? You have to wonder since King was their linemate in the early stages of their career. We were relieved when the news came and Weisbrod was part of the purge. It would have been a disaster to name him interim GM. Weisbrod has had as much to do with the Canucks demise as Benning.
Trivia Question: Who was the goalie when Bruce Boudreau scored his first NHL goal in the 1976-77 season playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs?
Coyote Ugly – The Arizona Coyotes make the Cleveland Barons look like a model franchise. This dog’s breakfast has been a drag on the league for the past 25 years. After the City of Glendale threatened to lock the doors for the non-payment of taxes and unpaid arena charges, the Coyotes claimed it was just “human error.” The money suddenly appeared and Gary Bettman reassured it was no big deal. How stupid do they think we are?
The Arizona Department of Revenue had filed a tax lien notice against the Coyotes for more than $1.3 million in unpaid state and city taxes. The City of Glendale was owed approximately $250,000 in unpaid city taxes. Had the debts not been paid, the City of Glendale had instructed arena staff to deny team employees access to the building. It could be 3-5 years before the Coyotes build a new home and that may be a pipe dream. Take it to the bank…rumours of a sale to a new ownership group in Houston are for real. Off the ice, the team is a gong show. On the ice, the team is a complete embarrassment.
NHL Notes – The NHL’s financial forecast is looking up. Revenues for this season were projected to be $4.8 million. They have already reached $5.2 billion. While the salary cap is only expected to climb by $1 million next season, the long-range prospects look promising. Once the players make whole with escrow payments to the owners over the next two seasons, the salary cap could climb considerably. We’re told the cap could jump to as much as $90 million by the 2024-25 season. That would be a great year to be a free agent!
The Carolina Hurricanes may be the best team in hockey right now. They are 12-3-1 on the road so far this season and playing at a consistently high level.
We knew the axe was about to fall in Philadelphia. Like the Canucks, the Flyers are a team without an identity and Alain Vigneault paid the price. It’s going to cost the Flyers a princely sum. Vigneault was two-and-a half years into a five-year, $25 million dollar contract. The pieces just don’t seem to fit in Philadelphia and we don’t see things changing anytime soon.
From the ‘Gotta See It to Believe It’ Department, how about the amazing goal this week from Anaheim Duck forwards Trevor Zegras and Sonny Milano? They combined for what surely will be the goal of the year. In case you missed it, have a look.
Colorado’s Cale Makar has ten goals already this season. The Avalanche blueline has 25 goals as a group. The entire Maple Leafs defence has scored five.
Let’s see how the Leafs do without Mitch Marner and Rasmus Sandin for the next month. They will also be missing Jason Spezza for six games following a suspension for kneeing Winnipeg defenceman Neal Pionk. The Leafs depth, or lack thereof, will be sorely tested.
There’s a distinct possibility the Canucks won’t have a single player in the upcoming World Junior Championships. Jacob Truscott is one of ten defencemen invited to the U.S. camp but he’s a long-shot to make the team. Forward Danila Klimovich is playing out in Abby and there’s no indication if he will join Belarus in the relegation pool. It’s a sad indictment for a team that’s unlikely to make the playoffs.
Seahawks This Week – Back-to-back victories over the 49’ers and the Houston Texans have the Seahawks at 5-8. Still, Seattle has a less than 10 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Make no mistake, this era of Seahawks football is over. The wins only delay the speculation around the future of head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, not to mention the continued chatter over whether Russell Wilson will return next season.
NFL Notebook – It’s starting to look like the San Francisco 49’ers made a massive blunder in trading up in the 2021 NFL draft to land quarterback Trey Lance, a veritable unknown from North Dakota State. The Niners traded their 12th-overall pick, a 2022 third-round compensatory pick and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 to the Miami Dolphins for the No. 3 overall selection. New England grabbed quarterback Mac Jones from Alabama with the 15th pick and so far, he looks better than the four quarterbacks picked ahead of him including Lance. The 49’ers could have landed Jones just by standing pat. It would have saved them a ton of draft capital.
TJ Watt is arguably the top defensive players in the NFL. He returned to the Steelers lineup after a bout with COVID-19 to key a victory over the Baltimore Ravens. All he did was put up 3.5 sacks, six quarterback hits and 12 QB pressures. Watt leads the NFL with 16 sacks in only 12 games.
All hail the Detroit Lions. It only took them 12 weeks to post their first win. Jared Goff keyed a 75-yard drive in the final two minutes to pull out a victory over the wildly inconsistent Minnesota Vikings.
Hold off on the ‘bust’ talk when it come to Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. He’s registered a passer rating of over 100 in each of his past four games. The Dolphins are emphasizing the run-pass option which was so effective for Tua in his four years at Alabama.
It’s amazing how quickly NFL running backs decline. Ezekiel Elliott is no longer the best running back on the Dallas Cowboys roster. That honour belongs to Tony Pollard.
No team in football has been hit harder by injuries than the Baltimore Ravens. The latest to go down is All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey who’s out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle. That’s a tough guy to replace.
Leftovers – Dramatic finish to the F1 racing season. Max Verstappen passed Lewis Hamilton on the final lap to capture the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and grab his first world championship. It’s been a bitter rivalry all season between Red Bull and Mercedes and it may not be over because Mercedes has filed two protests over the final lap dual.
Don’t count on a settlement to the baseball lockout before March 1. That’s just how these negotiations tend to play out. The ramifications are significant. Any player on the Jays 40-man roster is now prohibited from using the player development complex in Dunedin. That’s unfortunate since the state-of-the-art facility just opened earlier this year. There are so many issues to be resolved in baseball – free agent eligibility, speed of game, arbitration, service time, draft pick compensation, luxury taxes, revenue-sharing. MLB has to do something about the speed of the game. In this year’s playoffs, the average at-bat lasted five minutes. That’s beyond ridiculous. Put in a goddamn pitch clock and get on with it. No wonder baseball is having trouble attracting young fans.
Tiger Woods has confirmed he will be playing with 12-year-old son Charlie in next week’s PNC Championship. It will be his first competition since his right leg was mangled in a car crash ten months ago. The 36-hole event takes place December 18-19 at the Ritz Carlton Golf Club in Orlando. The good news for Tiger is he won’t have to hit every shot and he can ride in a cart.
Tough break for Taiwanese-born Canadian John Metchie III. The Alabama receiver will miss the College Football Playoff after suffering a torn ACL in the SEC championship game. ESPN’s Todd McShay rates Metchie as the No. 7 wide receiver available for the 2022 NFL draft.
Much-hyped Zion Williams of the New Orleans Pelicans may turn out to be the next Greg Oden, or is it the next Sam Bowie? Williamson has been shut down again because of soreness in his right foot. The same foot that was operated on in the off-season. He’s played only 85 games since being the first overall pick in the NBA in 2019.
Can’t blame Hamilton head coach Orlando Steinauer for bolting the Ticats. He will earn $1 million per season as defensive coordinator of the University of Washington Huskies.
Trivia Answer: Jimmy Rutherford.
YouTube Feature Artist – Editor’s Note – Credit Ray Chelstowski. In 1992, when Eric Clapton recorded an episode of MTV Unplugged at Bray Studios in London, the series was already well into its third season. For MTV Unplugged, Clapton rearranged many of his classic songs and added a few blues classics. The record not only went on to sell 26 million copies, it became the best-selling live album of all time. It also earned Clapton six Grammy awards, including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, (“Tears in Heaven”), Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Best Rock Male Vocal Performance, and Best Rock Song. It’s hard to top that, but when it comes to live albums, Eric Clapton has always set a sterling example of how to take well-known material and make it sound fresh and new.
Now, Eric Clapton presents his fifteenth live album, The Lady in The Balcony: Lockdown Sessions, and it’s a nuanced, understated and intimate representation of songs that he and others made famous. Frankly, it’s perhaps the most delicate offering he may have ever given the public, inside or out of the studio. It was recorded at Cowdray House, a grand old countryside estate in West Sussex, England.
We hope you are enjoying Under Further Review. If you have friends or family members who enjoy sports, please take a moment and direct them to the website at https://underfurtherreview.ca/ and encourage them to subscribe.