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Under Further Review – December 26, 2021 – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and contributor Jordan Moss. This week, the NHL takes a pause on the season and a pass on the Olympics. The games go on in the NFL and we take a look at a remarkable female vocalist who left us far too early.

We hope you enjoyed a special Christmas Day this year despite the ongoing challenges and frustrations posed by the surge in COVID cases. Enjoy the remainder of the holiday season and best wishes for a wonderful 2022. Stay positive. It’s going to get better friends!

NHL Notebook – Well, we knew the news was coming but it still doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. NHL players won’t be participating in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing. The previously scheduled Olympic break will now be used to make up more than 50 games that have been postponed due to the latest surge in COVID cases. The NHL had until January 10 to opt out of the winter games without any financial hit.

We haven’t seen NHL players participate in the Olympic since 2014 in Sochi when Canada took home the gold medal. The Olympics are slated to run from February 4-20. The best scenario for hockey fans would be to see the Beijing Olympics postponed for a year much like what happened to the summer games in Tokyo. If not, look for a revival of the World Cup within the next two years.

According to Team Canada GM Doug Armstrong, he was very close to finalizing the roster for the Olympics. Armstrong said he had three lines and two sets of defencemen locked in. He was apparently going to wait until the last minute to determine the status of goalie Carey Price. The management group was set for a call later today to go over the final selections. What a bummer!

The NHL has to be concerned about revenues. Everything was tracking nicely until this latest outbreak. When the NHL resumes the schedule, high revenue Canadian teams like the Montreal Canadiens are likely to play an extended number of road games with the hope capacity levels will increase by the time they return home. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on 32 Thoughts reported this week that the loss of gate receipts from Canadian teams could ultimately damage salary-cap projections. Here are the approximate revenues for home games in Canada: Toronto ($3.5M), Edmonton & Montreal ($2.3M), Vancouver ($1.8M), Calgary & Winnipeg ($1.4M), Ottawa ($650,000).

Talk to any NHL player and they are sick and tired of being tested. They have been subject to daily or regular testing for close to two years now. How would you like to have a nose swab every 24 hours for this long? They are tired of it and you can’t blame them.

The Calgary Flames need some Christmas cheer. Let’s recount where things stand. They’ve lost four games in a row. Six games have had to be postponed. 20 players have contracted COVID-19. Arena capacity has been cut by 50 percent.  Oh, did we mention that their proposed new arena deal is dead? Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp. announced this week they are walking away from the deal after the city introduced an additional $19 million in infrastructure and climate mitigation costs. The city wanted CSEC to buck up another $10 million. Can you blame the Flames ownership group for feeling blindsided? Of course, this is all posturing. The 19,000-seat facility is projected to cost $630 million.

Tis’ the season to be jolly. For Leaf fans, it’s also the season to be delusional. One fan has penned a rabid soliloquy expressing happiness that the Olympics have been cancelled because it will ensure the team’s stars are rested and avoid potential injury. Lest we forget, this is the year the Leafs are going to break their 54-year curse.

Brett Connolly of the Chicago Blackhawks was hit with a four-game suspension for an unwarranted cheap shot on Tanner Kero of the Dallas Stars. Have a look at the video and you may agree, Connolly should have been punished more harshly. Kero didn’t have a chance.

The Hockey News released their list of the Top 5 Worst Contracts given out during the 2021 off-season. Not surprisingly, the Canucks were on the list thanks to the four-year, $2.5 million AAV deal signed by defenceman Tucker Poolman compliments of Jim Benning.  Here are the other four:

  • Mike Hoffman, Montreal Canadiens – 3 years, $4.5 million AAV
  • Nick Ritchie, Toronto Maple Leafs – 2 years, $2.5 million AAV
  • Cody Ceci, Edmonton Oilers – 4 years, $3.25 million AAV
  • Seth Jones, Chicago Blackhawks – 8 years, $9.5 million AAV

World Junior Watch – It’s déjà vu all over again for the World Junior Championships in Edmonton and Red Deer. After having to play the tournament in a bubble last year because of the ongoing pandemic, the IIHF decided to award the event back to Alberta after no fans were allowed to attend. Fast forward to this year and we are back to half capacity and worse yet, NO BEER sales. Just a nightmare for Hockey Canada.

Thanks to the rapid Omicron outbreak, Team Canada will play only one pre-tournament game prior to the start of the tournament on Boxing Day. In the tune-up game, Canada rolled out to a 4-0 lead before holding off Russian 6-4. A raft of penalties in the second period helped make the game closer than it was.

Canada will ice a fairly young squad this year with 16-year-old Connor Bedard, 17-year-old Shane Wright and five 18-year-olds. Defenceman Kaiden Guhle, a top Montreal prospect, will captain the team. There are 13 first-round NHL draft picks on Team Canada.  Three players on the team have played NHL games this season, Mason McTavish, Jake Neighbours and Cole Perfetti. Canada has only three returning players from last year and is fortunate to be playing in a very favourable pool with Austria, Czechia, Finland and Germany. Canada should waltz into the medal round. It’s much different in Group B where the defending champion USA finds itself with Sweden, Russia, Slovakia and Switzerland. It’s already being called the “group of death.”

For Canada, scoring goals should not be a problem. The team is loaded up front. On the back end, Guhle is the only returning defenceman. Team Canada is without a single right-shot defenceman so that should cause concern. The Americans are quite the opposite. They have a big and experienced blueline but a young forward group which will be led by Matthew Beniers, the second overall pick in last summer’s NHL draft by the Seattle Kraken.

Forward Dmitry Zlodeyev is the only Canucks prospect who will play in the upcoming World Junior tournament.  The 19-year-old has earned a berth on the Russian team. Zlodeyev was taken in the sixth-round in the 2020 draft. He’s a gritty two-way centre in the mold of Artem Chubarov. Remember him?

Seahawks This Week – It’s been a crazy week for the Seahawks with two games in a span of five days. The team was forced to play on Tuesday in Los Angeles and will now get ready to host the Chicago Bears on Sunday. The loss to the Rams dropped the Seahawks to 5-9, ensuring their first losing record since 2011.

Russell Wilson has not been the same player since undergoing surgery on his hand. Against the Rams, he went 17 of 31 for a paltry 156 yards and no touchdowns. His quarterback rating was 28.5. The offence punted the first three times they had the ball. Outside of a field goal and a touchdown drive, the Seahawks netted only 92 yards on their other eight possessions.

It’s time for the organization to take a really hard look at themselves. Poor drafting and bad decisions in free agency have left the team with holes all over the lineup. Speculation surrounding Wilson is only going to escalate once the season is over. The Seahawks are going to have to make a decision on petulant receiver D.J. Metcalf. Top wideouts in the NFL are commanding upwards of $20 million per season. Do you really want to spend that kind of capital on a player prone to tantrums who can be easily baited by opponents? Metcalf had eight touchdowns in the first eight games but has none in the past six. He’s 28th in the league with only 805 receiving yards. Cooper Kupp of the Rams with 1,625 has double Metcalf’s output. Forget the outbursts. I’d be looking for a trade partner.

NFL Notebook – The NFL’s response to the Omnicron outbreak is counter-intuitive. Players who are symptom-free and fully vaccinated do not need to be tested. What they fail to take into consideration is the potential spread to family members and the general public. I guess that doesn’t matter. Apparently, the NFL believes it’s more important not to disrupt the schedule than it is to stop the spread of the virus. Here’s why NFL teams are reluctant to forfeit games. If a game is forfeited, players on the other team also lose a game cheque. That’s not a call any team wants to make.

Mr. Anti-Vax himself, Cole Beasley of the Buffalo Bills, has tested positive and will be unavailable for Sunday’s AFC East showdown with the New England Patriots. Beasley has been placed on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list. Since he’s unvaccinated, Beasley will be unavailable for 10 days and will miss the most important game of the season. Beasley is the poster boy for the risk of counting on players who refuse to get the shot. Had he been vaccinated, there’s a good chance that Beasley would have been able to play on Sunday. Don’t want to say “we told you so” but back in September, we said the Bills should cut Beasley’s ass! Sunday’s game between the Bills and the Patriots is likely to decide the AFC East title. If the Bills win, they should be able to take the division crown. Their last two games are against the Falcons and the Jets.

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan can lament the hiring of Urban Meyer all he wants. If he’s looking for someone to blame for the team’s ineptitude, he might want to look in the mirror. The Jags have had one winning season in his ten years of ownership. The team’s overall record under Khan is 42-118. They are 3-27 in their last 30 games. They are yet to score 24 points in a game this season. Blame the coaching all you want.  It’s time for the owner to own up.

Add Steve Spurrier, Lou Holtz, Lane Kiffin, Chip Kelly and Dennis Erickson to the list of college coaches who have failed miserably in the NFL. Outside of Jimmy Johnson, name one college coach who has made the transition successfully?

The Indianapolis Colts have a playoff calibre defense and a power running game led by MVP candidate Jonathan Taylor. Taylor now has 1,518 yards rushing with three games still to play. The next closest running back is Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon and he trails Taylor by 424 yards. It’s time that a running back gets some love in the MVP race. Trouble for the Colts is they have Carson Wentz at quarterback. He went 5 of 12 for 56 yards on Sunday against the Patriots including a pick. The Colts remain in the hunt for the division title despite having Wentz behind center.

“Hang Down Your Head” Tom Brady has now lost four straight regular season games against the New Orleans Saints as a member of the Tampa Bay Bucs. The 9-0 loss to the Saints was the first time Brady has been shutout in 15 years.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley is not the only riverboat gambler in the NFL. How about Ravens HC Jim Harbaugh? On two separate occasions this season, he has attempted a two-point conversion and both times it cost Baltimore the game. Why not just kick the extra point and try to win the game in overtime? The Ravens are 8-6 and fighting for their playoff lives. They could be 10-4 and leading the division.

The Arizona Cardinals are 3-4 since starting the season 7-0. It’s gut-check time for Kyler Murray.

The last NFL player to have 10+ interceptions in a season was Everson Walls of the Dallas Cowboys who had 11 forty years ago. Trevon Diggs of the Cowboys has 10 with two games to play. No one in the NFL jumps routes better than Diggs.

The NFL needs to stop allowing fans to vote for Pro Bowl selections. It’s just a popularity contest and has nothing to do with actual on-field performance. The 49’ers Trent Williams is the best left tackle in the NFL. He was 8th in fan voting for his position. Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner was not among the top ten inside linebackers. Go figure.

Blue Jays Notebook – It’s a drag that baseball is in a lockout because, at this time of year, there would be so much trade banter going on. This week, The Athletic laid out a potential trade between the Blue Jays and the Cleveland Indians, whoops Guardians, involving all-star third baseman Jose Ramirez. We all know the Jays could use an upgrade at third and the 29-year-old Ramirez checks all the boxes.  He’s a switch-hitter which would help balance the right-hand heavy Jays lineup. He’s got great discipline at the plate. He runs the bases and provides elite defense at third. What’s not to like? Ramirez is also on an affordable contract through 2023. He’s due to earn $12 million next season with a $14 million dollar club option the following year.

Here’s the deal they are proposing. Ramirez goes to Toronto for left-fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., ultility man Cavan Biggio, catcher Alejandro Kirk and third base prospect Jordan Groshans. On paper, the deal works for both clubs but it’s doubtful the Guardians would agree since they are flush with infield prospects and probably wouldn’t do the deal without one elite prospect. Groshans is the Jays fourth-highest rated prospect.

Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reports the Blue Jays are moving toward a major renovation of Rogers Centre rather than building a new stadium. Industry sources say the team is aiming to grow revenues by modernizing the building through a redesign of the lower bowl. Retrofitting the 32-year-old stadium seems like the best option at the moment. The estimated cost is between $200 and $250 million. A larger-scale development could take 10 years from the planning stage to completion. It’s possible the renovation work could be done in a couple of off-seasons to mitigate in-season disruptions. Rogers Centre has undergone several upgrades in recent years including the installation of a dirt infield, a new weight room and batting cages, improved sound system and scoreboard changeover.

Leftovers – It’s been an amazing year for Canada Soccer. The Canadian men started the year ranked 72nd in the world. They end the year ranked 40th in the FIFA rankings. As a result, Canada has earned the title of this year’s “Most Improved Side.” Canada outscored its opponents this year 55-11.

Former BC Lions great Geroy Simon is joining the Edmonton Elks as assistant general manager. Geroy was a key part of the Lions front office staff and was apparently being groomed to be the Lions next general manager. Can’t figure out why they would let him get away. Asleep at the wheel again!

Sunday’s runner-up finish at the PNC Championship may have been the most satisfying second-place finish of his career for Tiger Woods. Tiger and his 12-year-old son Charlie reeled off a tournament record 11 straight birdies but still felt short of John Daly and his son John Daly II by two strokes.

Since we don’t have a lot to write about this week, we resort to TMZ magnet Paulina Gretzky for some important, late-breaking hard news. The lovely Paulina celebrated her 33rd birthday this week with a wild bash at a Palm Beach watering hole.

The NBA rookie-of-the-year race is shaping up as a close battle between Cavaliers center Evan Mobley and Raptors forward Scottie Barnes. Mobley is probably the front-runner at the moment. He leads all rookies in blocks, rebounding and defensive rating. His defense is as good as advertised.

Meanwhile, the precocious Barnes is being compared to a young Lebron James. He’s 6-9” and has incredible athleticism. He’s giving every indication he will be a two-way force for years to come. Barnes is making highlight-reel dunks at one end of the floor and highlight-reel blocks on the defensive end.

There’s nothing goofier in sports that the glut of U.S. college football bowl games. The NCAA has prostituted itself to a laughable degree. Check the names of some of the bowl games happening over the holiday season: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl; Tropical Smoothie Cafe Frisco Bowl; Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl; San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl; Cheez-It Bowl, Duke’s Mayo Bowl; Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl presented by Stifel; New Era Pinstripe Bowl; Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl; and the TransPerfect Music City Bowl.

There’s no explanation for the goofy economics in baseball. Case in point – Ladner’s James Paxton signed a one-year, $10 million dollar contract with the Boston Red Sox after making $8 million last year with the Seattle Mariners in a season where he was shut down and didn’t throw a pitch because of arm problems. In what profession do you get a $2 million dollar raise for doing nothing?

Spotify Songs of the Week – Here’s a few tunes from our Spotify playlists this week. Check out female vocalist Cassie Taylor. The album is Out of My Mind. The track is “No Ring Blues.”

Cassie Taylor also appears on an album called Girls with Guitars along with Samantha Fish and Dani Wilde. Check out the tune “Wait a Minute.”

Ellen Doty is another fine singer. We like a couple of songs from her release Gold including “Wait for Your Call” and “Perfect Day.”

We came across an old Dave Alvin release entitled Blackjack David. We recommend the track “Evening Blues.”

For a little jazz, check out Monty Alexander. He has a release on the great Telarc label called Monty Meets Sly and Robbie featuring reggae stars Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare. They reprise a couple of jazz classics “Moanin’” and “The Sidewinder.”

YouTube Feature Artist – If you are unfamiliar with incomparable singer Eva Cassidy, we recommend you dive into her discography. Her story is a tragic one.

Back in 1993, Eva had a malignant mole removed from her back. Three years later, Cassidy felt an ache in her hips. The pain persisted and x-rays revealed a fracture. Further tests found that cancer had spread to her bones and to her lungs. Doctors estimated she had 3-5 months to live. Her health deteriorated rapidly. Her final appearance came on September 17, 1996. She closed her set by performing “What a Wonderful World” in front of family, friends and fans. She died of melanoma on November 2 at her family’s home in Bowie, Maryland at the age of 33. You can’t help but wonder how her career would have soared if she had not been taken from us at such a young age.

Eva was virtually unknown outside of her native Washington, B.C.  Two years after her death, her music was brought to the attention of British audiences on BBC Radio. Shortly thereafter, her compilation album Songbird rose to the top of the British charts. From there, she began charting in the top ten in Australia, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and here in Canada. Her sudden and unexpected popularity was affirmed in 2005 when released a list of its top 25 best-selling musicians and Cassidy placed fifth behind The Beatles, U2, Norah Jones and Diana Krall. It’s remarkable that even today, Eva Cassidy has 1,820,124 monthly listeners on Spotify.

A number of filmmakers have proposed films based on Cassidy’s life but up until now the projects have not progressed. One production was to be produced by Robert Redford’s daughter. Cassidy’s parents even suggested Eva be played by actress Kirsten Dunst.

We scoured YouTube to find videos of her live performances. Here’s a rather crude black and white video of performing “Stormy Monday” at Blues Alley in her native Washington, D.C. As you will see, she had an incredible vocal range.

Since there’s very little video of Eva performing, we thought it would be best to offer up one of the gems from her catalogue. Have a listen to her cover of “Wade in the Water.” You don’t risk doing this song unless you have a great set of pipes.

We discovered another female vocalist recently that we thought we would bring to your attention. Her name is Elles Bailey. Here she is performing “Woman Like Me.”

Here’s Elles recording another track – “What’s the Matter with You.”

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