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Under Further Review – This week, we consult with Santa on a Christmas wish list, detail the story of former NHL star Tony McKegney, plus a look at the baseball winter meetings and the surprise happenings at the President’s Cup down under. 

Ponder This – Professional sports is now nothing more than everybody bending over and capitulating to the big market teams that the TV networks want to see do well. You can poach players, coaches, managers – do whatever the hell you want without paying any price. Doesn’t that just about sum things up?

Xmas Wish List – Well, it’s that time of year when we are making a wish and checking it twice so we thought it would be timely to offer up a wish list for Canada’s major league teams. Let’s start with the NHL. 

Canucks – The wish for the Canucks is a playoff spot after 5 years on the sidelines. In order to get there, we wish them good health in the second half of the season. They are going to need it. Bubble-wrapping Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes would help. The Canucks wish list should also include another scoring winger. Pettersson has been held scoreless in 12 of the Canucks 32 games this season. The Canucks are 1-9-and-2 in those games, scoring a grand total of 16 goals. In contrast, the Canucks are 15-3-and-2 when Petey hits the scoresheet.

Oilers – Oiler fans are wishing Ken Holland can somehow pull a Houdini and find a top-six forward without breaking the bank. Edmonton is in desperate need of depth scoring and must find another forward (or two) if they have any hope of advancing past the first round. The Oil has been sputtering lately and there is serious cause for concern.

Flames – The Flames are a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Are they Jekyll or Hyde? They haven’t lost since we wrote them off in our blog last week. They are a team playing loose and free since Bill Peters walked the plank. Our wish for the Flames is to find another impact forward, preferably a centre, who can take the heat off Monahan, Gaudreau and company. Eight straight wins under new coach Geoff Ward is very encouraging.

Jets – Our wish for the Jets is for Dustin Byfuglien to get healthy and return to the lineup as soon as possible. Of course, for that to happen, Big Buff needs to settle his contract grievances with the Jets and get his head straight. If he wants to play, he has the ability to make a big impact in the second half of the season.

Leafs – The Leafs wish list is a long one. Start with acquiring a backup goalie who can actually stop a puck. It would also help if the ‘tin men’ can actually find a heart and play with more jam. If the Leafs can learn to draw more penalties and make teams pay on the power-play, it would go a long way to improving their playoff chances. Leaf Nation should also wish that Auston Matthews suddenly transforms into a player worth $11.6 million per season which, by the way, is the third highest number in the NHL.

Senators – Is it OK to wish for a new owner? Short of that, we wish the Senators can hit the jackpot again with another retread like Anthony Duclair. He’s been a different player since arriving in Ottawa. It’s similar to what’s happened to Josh Leivo since joining the Canucks. When you are rebuilding, it’s essential to find a few reclamation projects. Duclair has 15 goals already.

Canadiens – Please don’t wish for the Habs to acquire Jean-Gabriel Pageau from the Senators.  The last thing the Canadiens need is another pint-sized forward. At some point, Montreal needs to figure out who they want to be. Our wish is for the Canadiens to somehow land a transformative player that can inject new life into the organization. Who that player is we have no idea.  But until the Canadiens find a player who can elevate everyone else, they are destined to remain in perpetual mediocrity.

Raptors – Our wish for the Raptors is simple. Sign Masai Ujiri to a contract extension past the 2020-2021 season. This is absolutely imperative. It may not stop other clubs from calling but it will certainly go a long way to stopping the incessant rumours. We also can dream of the Raptors signing Giannis Antetokounmpo when he becomes a free agent after next season.

Blue Jays – For the Jays, we wish they would do something – anything – just put us out of our misery and sign somebody, anybody. Is Stan Bahnsen available?  Woody Fryman? The Jays off-season to date has been largely quiet and it’s time they gave their fans something to unwrap at Christmas.  

NHL Notebook – Tear away all the noise and one stat tells you everything you need to know about the Maple Leafs. They have ranked dead last in the NHL in drawn penalties each of the last two seasons.  Where are they ranked in that category so far this season?  You got it – 31st again. The Leafs draw only 6.7 PIM’s per game by the opposition.  Colorado leads the NHL with 12.7 PIM’s per game, giving them 3 more PP opportunities every game than the Leafs.

If this doesn’t demonstrate the Leafs lack of grit and willingness to get to the so-called ‘dirty’ areas, I don’t know what does? The Leafs inability to play in the greasy areas pretty much explains their lack of success against top teams. It would also help if they solve their coverage problems and stop giving up crater-like gaps in their defense which surrendered 3 breakaways in the third period vs. the Canucks earlier this week.

If you need any evidence that the Leafs need to acquire a backup goalie, consider this. The Leafs have earned 22 points from their backups since the start of last season. The Bruins have 65 points from their backups.

The Canucks have a tough decision to make with Jacob Markstrom. He’s headed for free agency next summer and Jim Benning says he wants to get him signed to an extension. But at what cost? Markstrom is likely to ask for 5 years at $6+ million per season. The Canucks would probably like to do 3 years at around $4.5 to $5 million. Markstrom is expected to ask for a no movement clause which would make him exempt in the Seattle expansion draft in July 2021, jeopardizing the Canucks ability to keep Thatcher Demko.

It may be wiser for the Canucks to simply make a choice. You can’t keep playing Demko 15-20 games per season if you want him to develop. What happens if you sign Markstrom long-term and Demko starts outplaying him? Then you are stuck with a very expensive goalie you don’t want.  Of course, all bets are off if Demko has continued concussion issues. He’s out again with a concussion and that has to be very concerning. Demko missed the first months of the season last year while in Utica with a concussion sustained from taking a shot in the mask. If Markstrom can continue playing anything like he did Thursday night vs. Carolina, then the decision is pretty easy.

It’s been a shaky transition in Carolina for former Leaf defenseman Jake Gardiner. Shaky Jake is minus 18 on the season while his defense partner, Dougie Hamilton, is plus 15. How can that happen? A 33-goal differential between two defense partners is absurd.

Do you think Nashville GM David Poile breathed a sigh of relief when he shipped P.K. Subban to the Devils in the off-season? The camera-happy Subban has only 2 goals and 5 points so far this season and is currently in a 17-game scoring slump. He’s a team-worst minus 15 and is a shadow of his former self.  Anyone who watched Subban in the playoffs last season saw a player in rapid decline. When the wheels start to go, your game is in big trouble. On July 1, the Devils get to cut Subban a $6 million dollars bonus cheque. Subban has two more years left on his contract at $9 million per season. Good luck getting rid of that contract!

A friend provided this update on the much-discussed Subban-Weber trade. Weber, 34, has 10 goals, 15 assists and is a plus-9 while averaging 23:54. He remains on an anchor of a contract – 6 more years at $7.85 million a season through 2026. Still, the original Subban-Weber deal doesn’t look quite so lopsided anymore.

Code of Conduct – Gary Bettman is the quintessential New York lawyer.  He can put a spin on anything. Bettman issued a stern warning to NHL clubs following the Board of Governors meeting in Palm Springs, saying “the NHL has put all 32 franchises on notice that failure to report inappropriate conduct in the future will result in severe discipline.”

Bettman says the league will introduce a four-point plan of action and code of conduct in the wake of the Bill Peters affair that includes mandatory annual training for coaches and management on inclusion and harassment.

My question is why was this not done years ago? The old-school conduct was allowed to continue because the league failed to do what any major company or industry did long ago. While each individual team could have done more, the onus is on the league to have the proper policies in place. Once again, the NHL was slow to respond to a workplace environment that should already have been embracing inclusiveness. It’s easy to be stern after the fact.

It’s interesting that the NHL is looking to a very talented woman to solve their problems. Executive V.P. Kim Davis was hired two years ago to improve the league’s strategies for diversity and inclusion. She’s been instrumental in formulating the new strategic plan that will hopefully get the NHL out of the dark ages.

The People vs. Tony McKegney – Do you remember the name Tony McKegney? He had an excellent, although nomadic, NHL career, playing over 900 games with seven different teams, scoring 320 goals. His story is very relevant today.

McKegney played four years with the Kingston Canadiens in the OHA before following teammate Ken Linseman to the Birmingham Bulls of the WHA. Trouble is, he never actually made it to Birmingham.

Canadian John Bassett owned the Bulls and was blind to the overt racism in Alabama back in the late 70’s. He also didn’t know that McKegney was black. Fans and sponsors objected. Bassett got death threats. McKegney’s family in Sarnia, Ontario got calls from people claiming to be KKK. Bassett was forced to terminate the deal, claiming McKegney wanted too much money even though the contract had already been signed.

If the NHL truly wants to institute profound change, they should be talking to Tony McKegney, the NHL’s first real black star. For more on a very intriguing story, click on the link below for a great read.

MLB Winter Meetings – So what’s new? The Evil Empire land the big fish in the free agent pond, signing pitcher Gerrit Cole to an obscene 9-year, $324 million dollar deal.  The contract was orchestrated by agent Scott Boras who played the two L.A. teams off against each other before serving Cole up to the Yankees on a record setting deal. We will see how it works out. Cole had better deliver because nine years is a long time for a 29 year old pitcher with a lot of mileage under his belt. The Yankees know they will have to pay the piper at the end of the contract.  They will be happy to win a championship or two and then just chalk it up as the cost of doing business. You know the league is out of whack when Rick Porcello gets a one-year, $10 million dollar deal from the Mets after recording the highest ERA (5.52) among major league starters last season.

If you break down the numbers, Cole will be pocketing $36 million per season which is more than a million bucks per start!  That’s CFL money! (Yes, it would probably cover the payroll of every team in the league for the next 9 years!) You would think the Yankees would learn a lesson after the Jacoby Ellsbury signing. They have tossed away over $100 million on that contract. Ellsbury has been collecting just under $22 per season after signing a 7-year, $153 million dollar deal with the Yankees. He’s has missed all of the past two seasons with a phalanx of injuries.  He’s owed one more year plus a $5 million dollar buy-out but the Yankees are trying to void the contract, claiming Ellsbury received outside medical treatment without the club’s permission. Classy!

The big winner at the winter meetings as reported by veteran baseball writer Ken Rosenthal was Scott Boras. The super-agent has already chalked up contracts valued at $850 million for Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Mike Moustakas and Anthony Rendon.  Once he’s done with Hyun-Jin Ryu, Nick Castellanos and Dallas Keuchel, the numbers are certain to top $1 billion. Agent fees are generally in the 3-5% range, so by my arithmetic, Boras stands to bank $30-$50 million. Tell your kids to forget about medicine or government, have them become a sports agent.

Of course, the greatest contract in MLB history belongs to Bobby Bonilla who was afforded what amounts to a lifetime deal with the Mets. Bobby is happy to cash an annual paycheque of $1.19 million which will continue until he’s 72.  Bonilla is 56 and is estimated to be worth over $400 million.

Do Something – As much as the Blue Jays need to acquire impact starting pitching, they could also use some help in the outfield. This season, the Jays were 27th out of 30 teams in overall production from their outfield. The Jays exact outfield stat was 1.6 Wins Above Replacement. For comparison, the Dodgers led baseball with 17.7 Wins Above Replacement from their outfield group.

If you are not a fan of the WAR stat, then how about some other numbers that paint an equally pathetic picture.  Blue Jay outfielders had a collective on-base percentage of .286, one of only two teams in baseball with an on-base percentage below .300. The Jays outfield were last in batting average at .224 and second from the bottom in strikeout rate. It’s hard to imagine but Blue Jays outfielders whiffed 28.8% of the time. Doesn’t it make you long for the days of Bell, Barfield and Moseby? What does it say about the Jays when Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is named Jays Player of the Year?  He missed 78 games for God’s sake and had only 314 at-bats.

At the close of the baseball winter meetings, the Jays signed veteran right-hander Tanner Roarke to a two-year, $24 million dollar contract. He split last year between Cincinnati and Oakland.  If nothing else, he’s durable and will give them some innings but the signing certainly won’t move the needle among disgruntled fans.

As the Blue Jays go scrambling around for starting pitchers, in hindsight, wouldn’t it have been much better to just re-sign Marcus Stroman, a guy who wanted to play in Toronto and was just as good as or better than the options they have now?

Cracks in the Foundation – Seahawk followers have to be very concerned with what they witnessed last Sunday night during the Hawks loss to the Rams in L.A. The Seahawks have won 9 games by 8 or less points and all that effort may be catching up to them. They have lost three key pieces on offense in centre Justin Britt (ACL tear), tight end Will Dissly (Achilles tear), and now running back Rasaad Penny (ACL tear). Those are pretty big hits and the offense is starting to really sputter.

Don’t forget, the offensive line is not exactly adept at pass blocking. That’s OK when the Seahawks are pounding the football on the ground and getting out in front. But when they have to play from behind and throw the football, they are in deep doo-doo. I’m not exactly sold on the Seahawks receiving corps as a whole especially after watching all the drops on Sunday night. Don’t be surprised if the Hawks don’t activate rookie John Ursua this week. Defensively, it’s been the same problem all season. No sacks on Sunday night. The lack of a consistent pass rush puts too much pressure on the secondary to cover.

Through 9 weeks, Russell Wilson was the leading MVP candidate with 22 touchdown passes and only 1 interception. Since then – not so good – with 4 TD’s and 4 INT’s. Since suffering a shin injury in the week 10 win at San Francisco, Tyler Lockett has 107 yards and no TD’s.

One issue the Seahawks need to clean up is covering opposing team’s tight ends. The Hawks have given up 84 catches and 918 yards against tight ends this season. Seattle tight ends, on the other hand, have caught 60 balls for 578 yards. The differential ranks dead last in the NFL.

Still, the Seahawks can grab the NFC West crown and a first round bye if they win out, starting this week at Carolina followed by a couple of home dates with the Cardinals and the 49’ers.

From the What Else is New Department – the New England Patriots have been accused of filming a Cincinnati Bengals practice session which is against NFL rules. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the NFL to punish the Pats. They will buy whatever excuse the Patriots are serving up.

You can expect another Black Monday for NFL coaches at the conclusion of the season. Doug Marrone will be out in Jacksonville and Matt Patricia is as good as gone in Detroit. When will teams realize that former Patriots assistants don’t necessarily make good head coaches? Patricia is just the latest former New England assistant to flame out as a head coach.

The U.S. Justice Department has uncovered a scam perpetrated by former NFL players who have allegedly been defrauding the league’s health care system. Former NFL’ers Clinton Portis and Joe Horn are among the former players implicated. Check the story for yourself.

Breakout Season – I must admit I was not a huge fan of the Raptors Norman Powell. This is a guy making $10 million per season with a 7.6 PPG career scoring average. However, this year Powell has been a different player, attacking the basket with authority and playing with a new-found drive and consistency. Powell is averaging 13.3 PPG this season and is shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 35.8 from three-point range. He’s up over 15 PPG when in the starting lineup. Give him credit. He’s has improved all phases of his game including his defense.

It was great to see Raptor fans give Kawhi Leonard a warm welcome and standing ovation upon his return to Toronto with the L.A. Clippers. Leonard received his World Championship ring during a pre-game ceremony on Wednesday night and fans gave him a classy reception. Only an idiot would boo a guy for wanting to return home. It was interesting to hear Leonard say he gave the Raptors a lot of consideration before finally deciding to join the Clippers. I believe him.

President’s Cup – The story of the President’s Cup is International team captain Ernie Els. His preparation has been brilliant. The International team has seven rookies and Ernie had each one of them paired with an Australian during practice rounds who knew the Royal Melbourne course. Els told each player how he wanted them to play each hole with absolutely no deviation. His preparation was meticulous and it has paid off beautifully. It may have also helped that the International team may have just been tired of having their lunch handed to them every two years. Another Els move was to change the format and start with the four-ball competition instead of foursomes, a format in which the Internationals have generally fared better. They stormed out to a 4-1 lead on opening day and may just fashion an upset. As of this writing, Under Further Review is extremely pleased to see that Patrick Reed is 0-and-3 after losing his first three matches.

If Tiger Woods wanted to make a statement at the President’s Cup this week, he would have sat down Reed during all of the team matches and only played him in the final day singles matches. That would have said all we needed to know about Reed’s penchant for cheating. Tiger has always had strong opinions on the rules of golf and the self-governing honesty required. Sitting Reed would have been a massive statement.

The Joe Schultz Quote of the Week – From former Major League second baseman Tito Fuentes: “They shouldn’t throw at me. I’m the father of five or six kids.” And like former Seattle Supersonic Shawn Kemp, I’m not sure Tito could name them all.

The Happy Hooker – We dug this week’s video from deep in the vaults. It’s the late, great John Lee Hooker doing ‘Boogie Chillun’ with a rather fine cast of musicians including Carlos Santana, Robert Cray, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder and Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica.  Enjoy!