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Under Further Review – Coming your way this week, why Canadian teams can’t win the Cup, plus the Toffoli deal and all the trade deadline chatter and we ask the question – were the Yankees and the Red Sox stealing signs too?

Come Home Stanley – I have come to the conclusion that the pressure is so intense in Canadian NHL markets that the long Stanley Cup drought will not be ending anytime soon. There has to be some explanation why the Stanley Cup has not resided in Canada since 1993.

Every time you think one of the Canadian franchises is building a solid foundation for the future, it all comes crashing down. There is a collective lack of patience when it comes to team-building. How can you explain what has happened in Toronto?  Did the Leafs really need to sign John Tavaras? Did they really need to hand out three long-term $11 million dollar per year contracts that has left them contractually paralyzed?

As soon as a Canadian team enters a window of contention, the pressure mounts and stupidity takes hold. For a month, the Canucks were riding high atop the Pacific Division. A playoff berth seemed inevitable. A few losses and a few injuries later and panic sets in. Jim Benning and Canucks ownership are so intent on making the playoffs, the future be damned. I get it that Benning wants to reward the team and the fans by acting at the deadline but at what cost?

Acquiring Tyler Toffoli from Los Angeles to fill the void left by the injury to Brock Boeser is beneficial in the short-term but is it really worth that price for a rental? Perhaps you could justify it if Toffoli had some term left on his contract and the Canucks had cap space moving forward. But we know that’s not the case. Toffoli straight up for Madden.  Maybe.  Toffoli for a second rounder. OK.  But Toffoli for both.  No chance I do that. My issue is that it is going to be very difficult to re-sign the guy.

Last time I checked the goal for any team is to win the Cup. The Canucks seem more focused on just making the playoffs rather than the ultimate goal. If the Canucks do manage to slip into the playoffs, they are now left without a first or second round pick in what is expected to be a very deep draft this summer. And if you are counting, the deals for Miller and Toffoli could potentially cost them a total of four draft choices. The Canucks already surrendered a third round pick in last year’s draft to the Lightning in the trade for Miller, a pick Tampa used to select goaltender Hugo Alnefelt who was good enough to start in goal for Sweden in the recent World Junior Championships.

It’s doubtful the Canucks will have the cap room to re-sign Toffoli to an extension in the off-season. How can you justify surrendering a high quality prospect like Tyler Madden plus a second rounder for a rental? One of the Canucks issues is a lack of team speed and Toffoli certainly doesn’t fix that problem. Madden has speed and exceptional puck skills.

It also doesn’t make sense to trade within the division. The Kings have the #1 prospect pool in the NHL and the trade only adds to the vault. We may have a different opinion three years from now when Madden is a fixture in the Kings lineup and the second rounder is contributing too. When will organizations wake up and realize championship teams are not built at the trade deadline.

Trade Deadline Notebook – Trade deadline prices seem to get more ridiculous each year. New Jersey made out like bandits when they dealt Blake Coleman to Tampa Bay for a first round pick and prime forward prospect Nolan Foote. It was mystifying to say the least but when you look deeper, you can see why the Lightning pulled the trigger. They’ve reeled off a club record 11 straight. Tampa’s window is wide open so you can see why their focus is limited to the next two seasons. Every dollar counts.

The Bolts will be facing huge cap issues this summer. Andrei Vasilevskiy’s new $9.5 million dollar contract kicks in and they have to find money to sign Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev. Coleman is signed for one more year at a bargain basement cost of $1.8 million. While he’s an upgrade up front, the Lightning still need to address their lack of mobility on the backline.

Strangely enough, the first rounder used in the deal with New Jersey is the one that belonged to the Canucks. For a team that is lacking size up front, moving Foote was a shock. He was the 27th overall pick in the 2019 draft and was a huge factor in Canada’s gold medal-winning team in the recent World Juniors. Foote has a cannon for a shot and could be in the Devils lineup as early as next year.

The Toronto Maple Leafs might want to do a reality check prior to the deadline and realize their Cup hopes are futile. They would be advised to move out pending UFA defenseman Tyson Barrie at the deadline rather than risk loving him for nothing on July 1. To let Barrie walk after surrendering Nazem Kadri to get him would be sheer lunacy.

NHL News & Notes – A few weeks ago, I mentioned that teams with a high volume of players on long-term deals may have a problem with complacency. It made me want to take a deeper look. The theory is – players get far too comfortable when they have long-term contract security and bundles of money.

Two teams that I pointed out were Nashville and Las Vegas.  Both have been suffering through down seasons and certainly have not met expectations. Well, the Predators have seven players currently playing on long-term deals while the Golden Knights have eight.

The poster child for teams that are paying the price is the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks also have eight long-term deals on the books that are going to badly restrict their ability to rebuild in the coming years. How do you trade 34 year old Brett Burns when he has five more years on his contract at $8 million per season?  Try moving Marc-Eduoard Vlasic who’s 32 with six more years and $7 million per still remaining. Goaltender Martin Jones is posting some of the worst stats in the league this season and is signed for four more years at $5.75 million. It’s certainly a cautionary tale for a lot of teams on the rise. Don’t let your team get too comfortable and don’t overpay because you will live to regret it.

The Predators are enjoying a recent surge and are back in the playoff picture in the Western Conference. New Westminster native Kyle Turris is out of the doghouse and suddenly playing on the Preds top line with Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg.

The Calgary Flames are stumbling badly after injuries to two key defensemen Mark Giordano and Travis Hamonic. The Flames are 4-8-and-2 in their last 14 home games.  Not exactly a recipe for success. When you give up an 8-spot to the Black Hawks on home ice, you have problems.

Add Bruce Boudreau to the list of potential candidates for the coaching job with the expansion Seattle franchise. Boudreau is great with the media and would arguably be a solid choice.  We did some investigating and determined the reason he was let go in Minnesota is because he was wiping out the pre-game buffet and the equally-porky media complained. The media descend on a buffet like crows on road kill.

Can anyone really figure out the NHL’s Department of Player Safety? Predicting how they may dispense punishment is next to impossible. The NHL fined Canadiens coach Claude Julien $10,000 for criticizing officiating yet fined the Bruins Zdeno Chara $5,000 for cross-checking Brendan Gallagher in the face. The Oilers Zack Kassian gets seven games for kicking an opponent with his skate. It was totally wrong and uncalled for and should have garnered a suspension but seven games for what amounted to a push off with his skate? Every time a Bruins player is involved in a serious offense, it seems like they get a light sentence.  Is the league office intimidated by Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs?  Then, this week, you have Stars forward Jamie Benn drilling Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson into the boards with a direct hit from behind (and yes, he wasn’t even looking at the puck) and what is the punishment. Sweet nothing! Go figure.

Leaf Laughs – Welcome back to another edition of Leaf Laughs where the chuckles never stop. This week on the show, where the P’s are popping and the playoff pandemic reaches panic proportions. The laughable Leafs may need 98 points to quality for the playoffs which means they have to go 15-and-9 over their final 24 games. Starting on February 18, the Leafs will play six in a row against teams above .500 in the standings.  After a west coast trip where they play California cream-puffs L.A., Anaheim and San Jose, the Leafs will then play a string of 9 of 11 against over .500 teams. The best part of their remaining schedule comes late when they play three of their final four against Ottawa, Detroit and Montreal. Don’t expect the Leafs to do anything of note prior to the deadline.  They have no bullets left in the gun. No assets, sorry, no interest in doing any business with you.

Bang the Drum Slowly (But Loudly) – Here’s some more fallout from the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal. For the record, the Yankees won three of their home games against the Astros in the 2017 ALCS by a combined score of 19-5. They were outscored 15-3 while being swept in the four games in Houston.  Sure, the Astros didn’t cheat.

Astros 2017 bench coach Alex Cora was hired to manage the Red Sox prior to the 2018 season and promptly led the Red Sox to the 2018 World Series title. Wonder if Boston used a sign-stealing system? No proof that they did, and I am not making an accusation, but the Sox felt it necessary to move the guy out as manager after the Astros scandal emerged this winter.

Then there is Carlos Beltran, reportedly a key figure in the Astros cheating system. He was hired then let go as Mets manager this off-season before he ever got to manage a game. It’s interesting to note that in December of 2018 he was hired as a special advisor to Yankees GM Brian Cashman.

In 2019, some fringe Yankees had some intriguing numbers. Gio Urshela, who hit .233 with one homer in 43 at-bats with the 2018 Jays, somehow ballooned to 21 HR, .314 in 442 ABs with the Yanks. Mike Trauchman hit 13 homers and .277 with the Yanks after hitting .094 and .222 respectively over parts of two seasons with the Colorado Rockies. DJ LeMahieu rebounded from an apparent decline in Colorado with a 26 HR/102 RBI/.327 Yankees line. It may all be on the up and up but it is fishy. Cora certainly thought so.

After the Yankees scored 29 runs in a three-game series against the Red Sox in London last season, Cora he had this to say:  “Their biggest free agent acquisition was Carlos Beltran. (He then winks) and says “I know how it works. He helps a lot.” So what does MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred do?  He comes down on the Astros and then buys a very big carpet and a very big broom.

NFL News & Notes – Can you recall an NFL off-season where three veteran Hall of Fame caliber quarterbacks were on the open market? They may be long in the tooth but Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers could help any quarterback-starved team and there are lots of those in the NFL. Late note – Brees will return to New Orleans and I still think Brady will be back in New England.

Golf Notebook – You may find it surprising but Adam Hadwin was matched up with Tiger Woods for the first time in his career in the third round of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. Jordan Speith was also in the group. Hadwin got the best of both of them. Adam fired a two under 69.  Speith posted a 70 while Tiger ballooned to a 76. You have to think it’s a nice boost to Hadwin’s confidence.

We are less than two months away from the first major of the season and it appears as though Augusta will be ready. There are more improvements in store on the property where money is no object when it comes to the Masters.

You have to love the City structure in good old Augusta. You have the most exclusive club on the planet situated in the middle of nowhere with some of the most powerful members you might name. City Council was recently informed in a nice Southerly fashion that the club was undertaking a new project.  What is the project Council asked?  The response of Club Chairman Ridley?  “Tournament operations.” APPROVED immediately!  That’s how they run things in Augusta. Tunneling under a roadway.  No problem!

The Joe Schultz Quote of the Week – This week we turn to the one and only Gordie Howe.  Old Elbows once quipped “All hockey players are bilingual. They speak English and profanity.”

Music Video of the Week – Has there ever been a greater singer than Aretha Franklin? She is the Queen of Soul and could easily be called the Queen of Pop.  By the early 1970’s, Aretha had released eleven songs that reached the top ten on the mainstream Billboard charts, beginning with her classic rendition of Otis Redding’s “Respect”, her first #1 hit, in 1967.

Her crossover success continued in 1971 with the tune “Rock Steady”, which Franklin wrote herself, taken from the album “Young Gifted and Black”, recorded with producers Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd at Criteria Studios in Miami. Franklin achieved yet another milestone in her impressive career two months after the LPs release by becoming the first R&B performer to headline at the storied rock venue the Fillmore West in San Francisco for three nights in March 1971. She was backed by saxophonist King Curtis and his great band the Kingpins which included Billy Preston on organ, Bernard Purdie on drums, Cornell Dupree on guitar and Jerry Jemmott on bass along with Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love, better known as the Memphis Horns. The shows were recorded and released as “Aretha Live at the Fillmore West” in May 1971. Generally regarded as one of the greatest live albums of all-time, the entire three nights were put out as a 4-CD deluxe package, featuring performances by Curtis and special guest Ray Charles, on the Rhino label in 2005.

Here’s Aretha performing “Respect” during a live performance in 1991. No one, and I mean no one, can match that Lady!