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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Chief Editor Bill Morphy. This week, a fitting end to the World Cup of Soccer. We lament the sorry state of the Canucks, say goodbye to the Seahawks playoff hopes and unveil our Top 100 songs of the years.

Don’t Cry for Argentina – Call it what you want – epic, game for the ages, instant classic. The World Cup final was all of that and more. For three riveting hours, it was pure spectacle. The game is likely to go down in soccer lore as the greatest World Cup final in history.

Argentina’s stirring victory over defending champion France was the crowning moment for superstar Lionel Messi. He captured the Golden Ball as the tournament’s top player and became the first to ever score in the group stage, round of 16, quarter-finals, semifinals, and final in a single World Cup. It was a fitting climax to a remarkable career. By winning a World Cup, Messi now sits among the greatest soccer players of all time. For Argentina, the celebration will likely last for weeks. It was Argentina’s first World Cup title in 36 years since the heyday of Diego Maradona.

In the end, mounting injuries and a virus that spread through the team combined to prevent France was becoming the first team to repeat as champions since Brazil in 1956 and 1962. Les Blues were so debilitated they became the first team unable to attempt a single shot in the opening half of a World Cup final. When Golden Boot winner Kylian Mbappe broke through for a pair of goals in 97 seconds, it was the first time France had made a play inside the penalty area.

For all the controversy and scandal surrounding holding the World Cup in Qatar, having the world’s top two players meet in the final was the perfect last act.

A History of F*ck-Uppery – No team in the NHL has administered more self-inflicted wounds than the Vancouver Canucks. You could write a book on it. The first chapter in the dark history was losing the right to select Gilbert Perreault at the draft table in 1970. It set the tone. What has followed is 50+ years of bad management, PR gaffs and regrettable decision-making.

Fast forward to today and the captain, as good a soldier as you could find, is having to apologize for publicly-leaked contract negotiations. Bo Horvat is the team’s longest-serving member and moral conscience but it doesn’t seem to matter. Poor cap management has pretty much forced the team’s hands and a trade seems inevitable. Great timing. Just as the NHL announced the salary cap may only be increasing by one million next season. Who has the space to trade for Horvat and sign him to a massive extension?

The head coach has been left to twist in the wind. Bruce Boudreau wasn’t the choice of the new front office and they’ve made it no secret. Another example of the Canucks institutional dysfunction, as Sportnet’s Iain MacIntyre called it. The owner doesn’t want to fire Boudreau because he’s the very person who hired him. How would that look? And who wants to have three coaches on the payroll?

How do the Canucks get themselves into these positions? The entire hockey world knows they want to deal Horvat, Boeser, Garland and who knows who else. How do you get fair value when every GM knows you’re in a rush to unload them? The Canucks never seem to make a trade on their terms. They only deal from a position of weakness.

All the fans want is a clear plan. Some hope for the future even if there’s more pain ahead. Stop spinning tires. The bloom is off the rose with the new management group.  Having a 73-year-old club president doesn’t seem so wise all of a sudden when managers around the league are getting younger all the time. Oh, right? They tried that already with franchise icon Trevor Linden and the owner wouldn’t listen to his advice about a wrecking ball rebuild.

So it goes, until the next controversy. We’ve dubbed it Canucks F*ck-Uppery. It’s real and it’s spectacular.

NHL Notebook The NHL has to do something about the salary cap. It’s not working and GM’s are getting increasingly disgruntled. Bettman says the cap will go up next year by only one million. Big deal. What will that get you? It’s ridiculously punitive to teams that do well. Just ask the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche who have Nate MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog on IR and can do nothing to replace them. The Avs are barely staying above the playoff cut line. Tampa, St. Louis, L.A. and Chicago all ran into the same problem after winning a Cup. The system allows the Arizona Coyotes to act as a clearinghouse for bad contracts. It’s typical NHL. Mickey Mouse bush league. Don’t fix the system. Just stand by as teams cheat the system.

Why not have each team designate two players as franchise players who do not count against the cap? Figure it out. Allow players who were drafted and developed by the team to be designated. The Canucks could pick Hughes and Pettersson and theoretically have the money to re-sign Horvat. Do something. The NFL and NBA have systems in place where players are franchised. Each is different but find out what may work. The fans, of course, lose out. One result we are seeing is the lack of trades because no one has any cap space. Who’s been traded so far this season? Ryan Reaves, Jack Studnicka, Ethan Bear and a couple of others. Not exactly household names. It’s SO obvious the system is broken.

Daryl Sutter is the Billy Martin of hockey. He comes with a best-before date. Are the Calgary Flames already tuning him out? The Flames haven’t got untracked all season. Sutter is on a new, three-year contract. Management better hope the players don’t quit on him. And can someone tell Jacob Markstrom to break out of his stupor?

If the U.S. was piecing together a roster for the Olympics, the embarrassment of riches up front is eye-popping. At centre, you have Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Tage Thompson, Jack Hughes and Matty Beniers. On the wings, take your pick between Patrick Kane, Jason Robertson, the Tkachuk Brothers, Johnny Gaudreau, Kyle Connor, Cole Caufield and Joe Pavelski. Maybe throw in Chris Kreider, Dylan Larkin, Alex Tuck for good measure. That would be a handful for any country.

If you were selecting Team Canada right now, Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrisey would have a spot on the team. He’s been sensational. Morrisey has five goals and 31 assists in 31 games this season. Come to think of it, you may as well choose Jets coach Rick Bowness for NHL coach of the year.

Bobby Orr is quoted as saying “Mario Lemieux is the most talented hockey player I have ever seen.”  Hard to argue. Back on New Year’s Eve in 1988 against the New Jersey Devils, Lemieux accomplished perhaps the greatest feat in hockey history by scoring five goals in five different ways: at full strength, on the power-play, shorthanded, on a penalty shot and into an empty net.

Twice in Mario Lemieux’s incredible career, he scored 50 points in the first 18 games of the season – in 1992-93 and again in 1995-96. The next closest is Jaromir Jagr who scored 50 points in 24 games, also in 1995-96. The quickest Wayne Gretzky could do it was 25 games.

Pierre Lebrun of The Athletic recently wrote about the increase in scoring in the NHL this season. Interesting response from a former NHL goalie who pointed out the number of goalies who have left the league over the past three years which may account for the increase. The list includes Carey Price, Roberto Luongo, Pekka Rinne, Ryan Miller, Henrik Lundqvist, Tuukka Rask, Corey Crawford, Ben Bishop, Jimmy Howard, Braden Holtby, Mike Smith and Devan Dubnyk. That’s a lot of goaltending talent.

Toronto Maple Leaf media letches are touting rookie Pontus Holmberg like he’s the second-coming of Bob Pulford. This unabashed praise happens with every new Leaf. Remember, Nick Robertson was going to be the next Frank Mahovolich.

World Juniors – Team Canada kicked off the lead-up to the World Junior Championship with a 6-0 exhibition win over Switzerland in Moncton. Canada should have plenty of firepower up front with Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Shane Wright and Dylan Guenther. Bedard and Wright are playing together. They combined for six points against the Swiss. Canada plays Slovakia on Wednesday before wrapping up the exhibition schedule on Friday against Finland. They play for keeps starting Boxing Day in Halifax vs. Czechia.

The Canucks, once again, do not have a single prospect on the team. You have to go back to Jake Virtanen to find the last Canuck draft pick on the Canadian team. Hey, you don’t want to draft Canadian boys!

How about the Chicago Blackhawks?  The Hawks have three selections among the seven defensemen named to the team – Kevin Korchinski and Nolan Allan of the Seattle Thunderbirds and Ethan Del Mastro of the Mississauga IceDogs. All three players are 6-3” or taller. The Hawks also drafted a defenseman named Sam Rinzel in the first-round last year who’s 6-3. That’s how you rebuild an organization. Start on the back end and work from there. Hello Canucks! Are you listening?

Seahawks Notebook – Playoffs?  What playoffs? We’re now seeing the many warts in the Seahawks. It just took a little longer than expected. The Seattle run defense has been gutted time and again over the past month. It’s been an issue all season but things really started to slide in Germany when the Bucs rang up over 160 yards rushing. At the time, Tampa Bay was dead last in the league in rushing.

One week later, the Raiders rushed for 273 yards. Josh Jacobs had a career-high 229. Earlier in the season, it was Cordarrelle Patterson and the Atlanta Falcons (179 yards) and Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill and the New Orleans Saints (234 yards). You get the point.

The Seahawks were embarrassed on home field against the Carolina Panthers who rushed 46 times for 224 yards. The Panthers controlled the clock for over 39 minutes including almost the entire fourth quarter. This is a team that had not won a road game in over a year. The NFC South may be the worst division in football yet the Hawks are 0-4 vs. NFC South teams this season.

Next, it was the 49’ers who ran for 172 yards in the Thursday night game. The Seahawks have surrendered an average of over 200 yards rushing over the past five games. Meanwhile, the Seahawks ran for 51 yards on 13 carries against the 49’ers and went 4 for 13 on third down. Maybe it’s time for Pete Carroll to walk off into the sunset.

As much as the Seahawks need a long-term answer at quarterback, they may need to look elsewhere in next year’s NFL draft. Georgia’s Jalen Carter is the top run-stuffer available and should get consideration when the Seahawks exercise the Broncos first-round pick.

If you are wondering what the Seahawks may do next season at quarterback, the best option would be to franchise tag Geno Smith. It looks like the franchise tag for quarterbacks will be $31.5 million. That’s the going rate. The Seahawks would be smart to franchise tag Geno, draft and develop a young quarterback, and avoid handing Geno a long-term deal.

The Seattle defense needs help at all three levels. Veteran safety Quandre Diggs dropped a sure-fire interception late in the first half against the 49’ers that could have changed the trajectory of the game. One the second play of the second half, he took a bad angle to tight end George Kittle, missed an easy tackle, allowing Kittle to prance into the endzone. Guess $15 million doesn’t buy you much these days. Mark it down. Seattle will be cutting Diggs in the off-season although, for cap reasons, they may have to wait until June to do it.

NFL Notebook – If you are an avid football watcher, you probably have a strong opinion on some of the NFL broadcast teams. I’ve always been a fan of Al Michaels and Cris Collingsworth. Straight to the point. No frills. Just give me the goods. Jim “Hello Friends” Nance of CBS is beyond annoying. Couple him with Tony Romo and it’s time to turn down the sound. Romo seems to want to predict every play before the snap to make himself look good. In fact, the whole CBS studio team is something from the dark ages. Boomer Esiason, Phil Simms and Bill Cowher are a combined ZERO on the personality meter. They bring new meaning to dull as dishwater!

When it comes to analyzing quarterback play, what’s the deal with all the second-rate ex-NFL quarterbacks who are selling themselves as quarterback whisperers? Chris Simms and Dan Orvlosky never won a damn thing during their mediocre NFL careers but suddenly, they are esteemed quarterback gurus. Go figure.

Someone needs to put a stop to defensive team celebrations after a turnover? It’s getting very tiresome. What purpose does it serve when half the defense sprints into the endzone to mug for the camera? It only fires up the other team. We refer you to the premature celebration by the 49’ers defense in the Super Bowl against Kansas City. How did that work out? Countless times it results in a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration. Often the celebrations are in vain because the play gets called back. Coaches should put an end to it.

You want to know why the Philadelphia Eagles are the top seed in the NFC? The Eagles offensive line is flat-out the best in football. No O-line can run block like this group. In two recent games, the Eagles gained 156 yards rushing before contact against the Giants and 155 yards before contact against the Packers. That’s the most by any team this season and the Eagles did it twice. Did we mention the Eagles offensive line is also fourth-best in passing blocking?

We’re not buying Jalen Hurts over Pat Mahomes for NFL MVP. Hurts is having a fine season but don’t try and compare the two. Mahomes went 36 of 41 against the Texans on Sunday including a stretch of 20 consecutive completions. His 87.8 percent completion rate was the best in history for a passer with more than 40 attempts in a game. What’s most incredible is, outside of Travis Kelce, Mahomes has done it this year with an entirely new set of receivers.

The feats of greatness just continue for Mahomes. How did you like that little cheeky toss to Jarick McKinnon for a touchdown against the Donkeys? Since November 2015, the Chiefs are 14-0 against the Broncos. Mahomes has still never lost a road game within the division since entering the NFL. That’s nuts!  Sorry, no one in the game is close to Mahomes.

On the subject of quarterbacking, can we all agree that scrambling quarterbacks are a bad idea in the NFL. Arizona’s Kyler Murray is the ultimate jitterbug and it’s landed him on injury reserve with a torn ACL. The Cardinals are on the books for $250 million for Murray. How do you think that’s going to work out?  The NFL is a drop-back and pass, and run, if necessary, league. Running quarterbacks need not apply. We will remain on record that it will be a massive mistake if the Baltimore Ravens re-sign Lamar Jackson to a huge extension. Should we mention that Jackson is also injured?

How can you ignore what Justin Jefferson has done this season with the Minnesota Vikings? He’s the NFL’s most underrated superstar. In 14 games, Jefferson has 111 catches, 1,623 yards. That’s an average of almost 116 yards per game. He should get votes for NFL MVP.

Can we stop any talk about the Dallas Cowboys being Super Bowl contenders? Let’s review. Over the past three weeks, the Cowboys have barely snuck past doormats Indy and Houston before being upset by Jacksonville. America’s team my ass! We dubbed the Denver Broncos, the Denver Donkeys. We hereby christen the Dallas Cowboys, the Dallas Cowpies.

Did the Cleveland Browns really think Deshaun Watson was going to come back after a two-year absence and be a difference-maker? According to NBC’s Peter King, here’s what the Browns did on their first 20 possessions against the Texans with Watson back behind centre: Punt, lost fumble, interception, safety, punt, punt, end of half, punt, punt, field goal, punt, field goal, end of game … downs, punt, punt, field goal, end of half, punt, punt. Twenty drives, zero touchdowns, nine points.

And finally, all that was missing was the Stanford band. The game-ending blunder by the New England Patriots will go down as one of the worst blunders in NFL history. All the Patriots had to do is run out the clock and go to overtime against the Las Vegas Raiders. Instead?  Well, in case you missed it, here’s the video.

MLB Notebook – The dominos are starting to fall for the Toronto Blue Jays after a quiet winter meetings. The Jays filled a big hole in the rotation with the signing of veteran righthander Chris Bassitt who should be a dependable starter. He made 30 starts last season with the Mets and went at least six innings in 23 of them.

Kevin Kiermaier was a smart add in the outfield. The 32-year-old has been one of the best defensive centre-fielder’s in baseball for a decade and should rebound at the plate following off-season hip surgery. The Jays outfield ranked 18th in MLB last season in overall defensive metrics. It won’t take much for Kiermaier to be an upgrade on what the Jays rolled out last season. Raimel Tapia, Bradley Zimmer and Jackie Bradley Jr. combined to hit .228 in 614 plate appearances with only ten home runs.

To complete the off-season makeover, the Jays need to find another swing-and-miss arm for the bullpen. It would help if it’s a lefthander. They also need to complete the outfield by adding another bat from the left side, preferably with some serious pop. If the Jays go looking for the answer on the trade market, look no further than the Arizona Diamondbacks who have three left-handed hitting outfielders who may be available in Daulton Varsho, Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy.

The Toronto Blue Jays should be taking a page from former GM Alex Anthopoulos and get Vladdy and Bo under contract long-term. The Atlanta Braves have signed several players to rich extensions. Based on the current free agent landscape, those deals may end up being a bargain. Can you imagine what Vladdy and Bo may be worth when they hit the market at 26 or 27? The Jays would be smart to cut a deal now.

Blue Jay pitcher Alek Manoah got a nice early Christmas present. Manoah received $2.45 million from MLB as part of their newly-introduced player pool which rewards pre-arbitration players who are performing above expectations. Manoah is slated to earn just over $700 grand next season.

We reported last time about the New York Mets bloated payroll. There’s more. The Mets are tracking to shatter every spending record under billionaire owner Stephen Cohen. The Mets payroll is set to exceed $350 million next season and the team is poised to pay at least another $80 million in luxury tax penalties. The luxury tax payment would be more than the entire 2022 payroll of 12 MLB teams.

In a span of eight days, the agency headed by super-agent Scott Boras negotiated a series of free agent deals totalling $1.172 billion. Calculating in the standard five percent commission, Boras stands to collect $58.6 million. Owners beware! I would be keeping my distance from this guy.

The worst free agent deal to date may be the five-year, $75 million deal handed to Andrew Benintendi by the Chicago White Sox. That’s a lot of cash for a guy who’s a below-average fielder with no pop. Benintendi hit only five home runs last season.

It’s Just a Game – Golf was meant to be a civilized game but it’s not always the case. At the club championship at Cranbourne Golf Club outside of Melbourne, Australia, things got a little out of hand as two golfers went berserk. The entire clash was caught on film and reported by a local TV station.

In Memphis, a 22-year-old man may be facing charges of attempted murder after an altercation at the Links at Whitehaven. Wesley Caldwell is accused of hitting another golfer over the head with a club after the victim accidentally hit a shot toward another hole.  Memphis community leader Mark Coleman had to undergo emergency surgery to stop bleeding on the brain. He’s reportedly been left with significant brain injuries. For the time being, Caldwell has been charged with aggravated assault but the charge may be upgraded. Didn’t realize golf was a contact sport!

Leftovers – There’s plenty of speculation about the future of Lionel Messi. We recommend the CBC contact Messi and let him host a new CBC variety show called Lionel Messi’s Jubilee although the CBC may have trouble tracking down Marg Osbourne and Charlie Chamberlain. (How’s that for a pop culture reference?)

Is there a tougher job in sports than coaching one of the world’s soccer powers? Brazil, Spain and Portugal failed to live up to expectations at this year’s World Cup – none reached the semifinals – and heads rolled. The head coaches of each nation resigned quickly. Hey, why wait when you can avoid having your house vandalized or your children abducted!

Remember the name Zach Edey. He’s a 7-4, 295-pound centre from Toronto playing at Purdue for the number one-ranked Boilermakers. Could this be the year a Canadian captures the Naismith award as college player of the year? That would be a first and kind of ironic since the award is named after Canadian James Naismith who invented the game. Through the first ten games of the season, Edey was averaging 22 points, 13 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while shooting nearly 63 per cent from the floor.

Edey may be just what the doctor ordered to fill a huge need for Canada in the international game. If there’s one area where Canada is lacking, it’s in the middle. We don’t have a big who can defend the basket and block shots.

The Toronto Raptors have had a very tepid start to the season. They’ve been hovering around .500 and are into a stretch where they play 13 consecutive games against teams with winning records. It will be interesting to see how the Raptors approach the February 9 trade deadline. Veteran Fred VanVleet will be 29 next season and is due a new deal. Would Masai Ujiri put him on the market and continue the youth movement? Gary Trent Jr. is a pending free agent. It would mean completing revamping the backcourt. Ujiri is very calculated but unafraid of making touch decisions. It will be interesting to see what direction he goes. Finding a rim protector and some shooting is at the top of the wish list.

Editor’s Note – This will be our final blog before the New Year. Special thanks to all the contributors over the past year – Jordan Moss, Peter Hucul, Ted Tait, Dave Kittle, Ian MacPhee, Bill and Glen Myles, Mike Todd, and many other readers who waded in. Hope you enjoy our jaded view of the sports world. Best wishes to everyone over the holiday season. 2023 is going to bring you great joy!

Spotify Playlist Tracks of the Year – We’ve served up a whole whack of great tunes over the past year. Hope you have been able to download the tracks you liked! Spotify has provided a link to our Top 100 songs of 2022. Check it out for yourself.

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