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Under Further Review – February 22, 2019 – 

Breaking News – We’ve been waiting all week for the proverbial ‘shoe to drop’ and it’s now finally happened with news of the trade between the Senators and the Blue Jackets. My first impression is that the Senators don’t take back any salary so that’s got to make Melnyk happy. One less cheque to cut between now and the end of the season! Columbus was probably the best option for Pierre Dorion because the first round picks will be higher than anything Winnipeg or Nashville could have offered.

Now that Duchene has been moved there should be plenty more activity between now and Monday.  Pity the poor Ottawa Senators fans who watch their stars leave town year after year. Duchene and Stone will just be the latest in a long line of great Senators to depart – Chara, Alfredsson, Hossa, Spezza, Fisher, Karlsson – just about anyone any good is thrown to the curb when the big money is due.

Canucks This Week – The young Canucks are certainly learning important lessons at this point in the season thanks to the slow-moving playoff chase in the West. The games are tougher, the matchups are tougher and it becomes a lot harder to score goals as teams tighten up defensively. Playing meaningful games in February and March can only help their progress.

Let’s Not Make a Deal – Canuck fans should not hold their breath waiting for this management group to make a significant move at the trade deadline. Benning and company like to hang around the ‘five and dime’ bargain bin and look for reclamation projects. Don’t expect any action if this is their approach! They avoid taking any risks and appear deathly afraid of making a mistake. The definition of gun-shy.  Not exactly a motivated management group!

Let’s face it, their deadline moves to date have been anything but earth-shattering. In 2015, they acquired injury-prone Sven Baertschi from the Flames for a second round pick that turned out to be defenseman Oliver Kylington who’s just now coming into his own. In 2016, the big move was sending Hunter Shinkaruk to Calgary for Markus Granlund. Wow! That deadline will be remembered more for what they didn’t do and that was getting something of value for Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata. Benning again sat on his hands. The Canucks got some value out of the 2017 deadline when they swapped Alex Burrows to Ottawa for Jonathan Dahlen and Jannik Hansen to San Jose for Nikolay Goldobin. They reverted to form last year when their only moves were picking up the now departed Brendan Leipsic from Arizona and moving Thomas Vanek to Columbus for Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte.  Talk about an uninspiring four years of deadline roster construction!

If you look back, Benning’s worst work came soon after taking the job.  In June of 2014 and in the ensuing months, he surrendered three third round picks and two second round choices in various moves, none of which improved the team. You have to wonder how much better the Canucks would be right now if they had held onto all of those picks.

NHL Tidbits

  • Connor McDavid looks totally beaten down when he is forced to face the media hordes following yet another Oiler setback. Night after night he has to stand in front of a bank of mics and explain the Oilers latest pathetic performance. Bobby Orr is Connor’s agent and we know he is not one to ruffle feathers but I could see a scenario where McDavid asks out of Edmonton. The kid is a fierce competitor and you have to believe the losing is killing him. McDavid made a huge mistake signing an eight-year deal in Edmonton and probably already has second thoughts. He has to know he will never win a Cup in Edmonton. If I am McDavid, I find a way to get my butt out of the ‘Chuk’. Take this prediction to the bank – McDavid won’t finish out the 8-year contract in Edmonton!
  • It makes me cringe to think that the Oilers could end up with the number one pick in the NHL draft again this year. They are in a deep slumber and at this point it’s certainly a strong possibility. The Oilers could end up with the first pick for the fifth time in ten years. The NHL would be wise to institute a rule whereby a team can only have the first overall pick once every five years.
  • What Barry Trotz has done with the New York Islanders is nothing short of remarkable. The Isles were dead last in the NHL last season in goals against. At the moment, they own the NHL’s best goals against average. And they’ve done it with Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss in goal and essentially, the same group of defensemen. Give Trots the Jack Adams Trophy right now.
  • Are the Arizona Coyotes a farm team for the Chicago Black Hawks? Just checking because the Hawks just keep on fleecing Coyotes Boy Blunder John Chayka. 21 year old Dylan Strome has flourished in the Windy City since coming over from the Coyotes with 31 points in his first 34 games. Meantime, the ‘Yotes will likely miss the playoffs yet again and will go into the summer still looking for a big #1 centre.
  • Call me crazy but the Jets and the Predators should be worried about facing the red-hot St. Louis Blues in the opening round of the playoffs. The Blues were dead last in the West when they called up goalie Jordan Binnington on January 7. The Blues have gone 14-4-and-1 since then. Binnington is the Cinderella story of the year. He’s 12-1-and-1 with four shutouts and a .937 GAA including a shutout string of 2:33:50.
  • Have you noticed that John Tortorella and Ken Hitchcock are constantly berating their players in post-game media scrums? I can’t imagine that sits well in the room. Torts just dressed down Anthony Duclair, saying “his game is off the rails and he has no idea how to play the game.” Hitch has used the media to try and light a fire under players for years. That old-school shtick doesn’t work and can only serve to damage a player’s value.
  • Speaking of acts that are wearing thin – Don Cherry goes off on the Hurricanes post-game celebrations in his latest worn-out rant. Frankly, what’s to criticize when the high jinks are only helping to invigorate a moribund franchise? The best celebration to date was when the players lined up and someone tossed a helmut and they all fell down like bowling pins. Its entertainment, baby!
  • It looks to me like new Minnesota Wild GM Paul Fenton is 0 for 2 after his first two deals. Nino Niederreiter for Victor Rask is weighing heavily in Carolina’s favour and there’s no way I trade Charlie Coyle for Ryan Donato and a fifth round pick. Coyle is perfect for the Bruins style of play and will flourish in Boston. Just watch.
  • It drives me crazy when I see teams acquire draft picks for mediocre players when Benning and the Canucks never seem to be able to find a buyer. Witness the L.A. Kings picking up a third and a conditional sixth round pick from the Caps for Carl Hagelin. Why can’t the Canucks ever do these deals?
  • If I am Kevin Cheveldayoff, I am gauging the market for Patrick Laine and taking a run at Mark Stone. The Jets 5-on-5 numbers are terrible and Stone would change that all by himself.

The Son Rises – As the Blue Jays start training camp in Dunedin, so does the Vladdy watch.  In case you have been in a cave, the Blue Jays have the number one prospect in all of baseball in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the 2018 Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year. He’s the son of the former Expo and now Hall of Famer but unlike his Dad, Vladdy Jr. is not a free swinger. He has an advanced approach at the plate and far more plate discipline than Vlad Sr. It’s unheard of to have an equal number of walks and strikeouts at the minor league level but that’s exactly what he did and he’s just only turned 20.

Vladdy Jr. will take over third base but probably not until late in April so the Blue Jays can manipulate his service time and maintain club control for an additional year. However, the hot corner is his once he’s called up and Vlad Jr. has made enough progress defensively that he should be fine there for at least a couple of years.  Eventually, however, most baseball people think he will move across the diamond to first base. As a hitter, he’s big league ready and should one day challenge for both batting crowns and home run titles. His numbers in the minors last year were ridiculous.  He hit .402 in 61 games at Double-A New Hampshire with 14 home runs and 60 RBI’s. At Triple-A Buffalo, Vladdy hit .336 in a 30 game dress rehearsal with 6 home runs and 16 RBI. Unlike a lot of young hitters, Guerrero doesn’t have an uppercut swing.  When he takes batting practice, every swing is a line drive.  It just so happens that a lot of his line drives happen to leave the yard.

Vladdy is certainly a franchise-altering talent and without a doubt the best homegrown position player developed by the Jays since Carlos Delgado. He’ll be an instant fan favorite and to top it all off, he’s Canadian born as his Mom gave birth in Montreal while Dad was playing for the Expos. It’s part of the reason he chose to sign with the Jays as a highly coveted 16 year old in the Dominican Republic.

Raps City – The Raptors are getting rave reviews for how they have been developing players in the G-League. Other teams have taken notice and are trying to emulate what the Raptors have been doing.  Several current and former Raptors have spent time honing their game with the 905 program including Delon Wright, Fred Van Vleet and Pascal Siakham.

It’s no coincidence that great organizations like the Patriots can plug and play guys into their system and maintain success. Intelligence is highly important. New England always has more college graduates on their roster than any other NFL team. The willingness and ability to learn, discipline and work ethic can all be traced to a high level of intelligence.

Random Leftovers

New BC Lions coach DaVone Claybrooks made a huge impression when he went to the top of Grouse Mountain and laced on skates for the first time.  The whole thing was caught on TV as he tried to skate around the ice with Olympian Patrick Chung. You can’t buy that kind of PR!  Good on him!

A quick follow-up to CFL free agency last week. The 2018 CFL salary cap was 5.2 million with a minimum salary of $54,000. When Ricky Ray joined the Eskimos back in 2002, he was delivering Frito Lay chips in the U.S. for $43,000 a year.  That’s more than he made in his first year in Edmonton.

The new-look Blue Jays head into the season with a payroll of around 80 million, a massive drop from 168 million last year. However, that does not include the 38 million dollar payout to Tulo, Russell Martin, Jaime Garcia and Yangervis Solarte. I do love the fact they are going to have a ton of financial flexibility once they start to build the roster back up again.

How about the Naylor family of Mississauga, Ontario? They are producing one baseball prodigy after another.  The latest is Bo Naylor, a first round pick of the Cleveland Indians this year, 29th overall.  He’s a catcher who spent his first season in the Arizona Rookie League. His older brother Josh was the Marlins first pick in 2015, 12th overall.  He’s an outfielder/first baseman now playing in the San Diego organization.

I loved Jeff Blair’s tweet about the upstart American Alliance of Football – “Things the world didn’t need – the AAF, where you can collect concussions for the pro sports equivalent of a minimum wage.”