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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy. Special thanks to our regular contributors including Jordan Moss, Ian MacPhee, Dave Kittle, Ted Tait, Peter Hucul, Glen and Bill Myles, Howard Steiss and Rob Wagner. This week, the Canucks try to right the ship. Lots of NHL pre-deadline scuttlebutt and money to spend in the NFL.

Speed Bump – Well, you had to figure the Canucks were going to face some adversity sooner or later. Few teams can go the entire season without hitting a speed bump. The Canucks have enjoyed a charmed season so it was no surprise they ran into a dry spell. How you respond tells you more about the team than when everything is clicking.  

The Canucks returned home after playing 10 games in 17 days in four different time zones. By the time the Canucks finish their three-game homestand on Thursday night against Los Angeles, they will have played 13 games in 24 days. The Canucks face the most difficult remaining schedule in the conference based on the quality of their opponents. Still, despite a four-game losing streak that ended Saturday night, the Canucks remain atop the overall standings.

It’s hard to say how many players are banged up. It doesn’t help that Carson Soucey and Dakota Joshua are both missing with injuries. Both play a heavy game. In case you haven’t noticed, teams are putting increased attention on Quinn Hughes in an effort to take away his time and space. He’s also been taking plenty of punishment. You wonder if Hughes is hurting. Hard to expect the guy to dominate every night.

It’s certainly time for Elias and Elias to step up. They’ve been very quiet of late. Pettersson and Lindholm both have one point in their last four games and are a minus-5. Both will be demanding big money this summer. It’s time for both players to show us what they’re worth.

Finishing first in the Western Conference is still a realistic goal. What needs to happen right now is cleaning up the special teams. The Canucks power-play was in a 1-for-29 nosedive before the overtime winner against the Bruins. In the Canucks first nine games following the All-Star game, the power-play scored only three times while surrendering three short-handed goals. The penalty killing has been bleeding goals as well. Steady that ship and the results should follow.

How about the debut of Canucks forward Arshdeep Bains? It has to be a great source of pride for the Indo-Canadian community to have a local kid join the Canucks. The Surrey native has defied all the odds. He went undrafted in both the WHL and NHL drafts. Bains has done it with sheer hard work and dedication. It remains to be seen if he can carve out a regular role but don’t bet against him.

NHL Notebook – We are not big on prognostications but if forced, we would have to pick Florida and Colorado as this year’s likely Stanley Cup final combatants. The Panthers were a surprise Cup finalist a year ago but this year, it’s no fluke. Check the improvement in their goals against. The Panthers GAA is 2.27. Only the Winnipeg Jets are better. People forget that Florida’s GAA last year was 2.43 which was also second in the NHL.  When you can defend, you have the recipe for playoff success. Florida has few assets to offer at the deadline. If they do something, it will likely be on the fringes but good teams don’t always have to deal like crazy at the deadline.

When you look at the Avalanche, you have Cup pedigree. They may get Gabriel Landeskog back off the injury list for the playoffs. Valeri Nichushkin should return from the restricted list and if the Avs acquire a forward at the deadline, that’s like adding a complete second line. Everyone drops down the lineup and a very good team just gets better. The Avs still have an outstanding blueline and frontline goaltending. They are going to be a very tough out in the Western Conference.

For both the Avs and Panthers and other contenders like Boston, Vegas, Vancouver, Edmonton and the New York Rangers, salary cap restrictions make it very difficult to make a deal. It’s basically dollars in and dollars out. If you want to count Toronto among the contenders (and we don’t), it’s the same thing. Dallas and Winnipeg have a little bit of room but not a whole lot.

The Vegas Golden Knights are playing without both Jack Eichel and Mark Stone. They must be thinking they have to add something if they want to repeat. If Stone is out long-term, the Knights would suddenly have a big chunk of cap space. Isn’t it funny how contending teams somehow always find cap relief at this time of year?

The Bruins have been connected to the Flames Noah Hanifan. He would be a huge add on their defense. It would make the Bruins top-four defense group as good as any team in the league. Add in top-flight goaltending and you have a Cup contender. With as much as $20 million in cap space this summer, the Bruins would be in position to extend Hanifan.

With Filip Chytil on LTIR, the Rangers need to add down the middle. Expect the Rangers to go shopping at the deadline. Adam Henrique of the Anaheim Ducks would be a good fit. After over-paying for Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko at last year’s deadline, the Rangers will probably be a lot more conservative this time around.

No less than three Flames sit atop the TSN Trade Bait board with the deadline fast approaching. Hanifan, Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev could all be on the move. You really wonder if wiping the slate clean is the right way to go. The Flames blueline would be decimated and what would you have left in goal? Sure, you would have draft capital and some young pieces but you’d also be for a long rebuild. You can’t tell me attendance wouldn’t suffer.

There’s already been concern about a significant attendance drop in Winnipeg. The commissioner is making a stop in Winnipeg on Tuesday so the concern is obviously high. Will Bettman fight as hard to keep hockey in Winnipeg as he has in Arizona? The Jets season ticket base has dropped 30 percent in the last three years from 13,000 to 9,500. The Jets average attendance this year is ahead of only Arizona and the Coyotes are playing in a 4,600-seat college arena. After returning to the league in 2011, the Jets had 332 consecutive sell-outs. Hopefully, the support is still there.

If reports are correct, the Maple Leafs are trying to add by offering mid-round picks. That’s not going to make any team jump. If the Leafs are unwilling to offer up their 2024 first-round pick, they may not be able to add anything significant along the blueline. The Leafs are without a second-round pick for the next three years so it makes it even more difficult. Not only do the Leafs need to add something impactful on the back end, they could use an upgrade down the middle. Max Domi and David Kampf don’t scare anyone centering the Leafs bottom-two lines. It’s a big reason why depth scoring is still a big problem despite recent results.

It’s anyone’s guess what the Carolina Hurricanes will do at the deadline. They are the NHL’s biggest mystery. At last year’s deadline, the Canes big move was to pick up Shayne Gostisbehere and Jesse Puljujarvi. A lot of vowels but not a lot of production. At some point, Carolina needs to quit jacking around. Take a risk and make the final hurdle.

The Tampa Lightning are in a tough spot with the injury to defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. It’s left a big hole in their back end but it also opens up $8.5 million in cap space because he won’t be returning before the playoffs. The Lightning have traded away their first-round pick at each of the past four trade deadlines so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them go fishing again. Hanifan has been linked to the Bolts as well.

Trading draft picks can certainly come back to haunt you. Surprisingly, the Canucks have not been burned too badly with traded draft picks despite dealing so many of them over the years. The Athletic recently conducted an in-depth study to see which teams have been burned the most. The conclusion? The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Los Angeles Kings. With picks dealt away, the Leafs lost out on forwards Tyler Sequin, Kevin Stevens and Travis Konecny, defensemen Scott Nidermayer, Roman Josi and Dougie Hamilton and Hall of Fame goaltender Robert Luongo. The Kings missed out on drafting Steve Shutt, Reggie Leach, Ed Olczyk, Claude Lemieux, Ray Bourque, Larry Robinson, Phil Housley and goalie Tom Barrasso. Painful reminders to both teams.

We’ve been calling for a rebuild in Pittsburgh for the past five years. Instead, they have held onto some false hope of once again being Cup contenders. Sorry, Sid or no Sid, the jig is up. If any team needs to do a sell-off at the deadline, it’s the Penguins. They are the oldest team in the NHL with an average age of 31.3. And please, shut up with the talk about Erik Karlsson heading back to Ottawa. It’s not happening.

Pierre Dorion left the Senators with a major clean-up job when he was axed as general manager. The Senators prospect pool was ranked 31st out of 32 teams by The Athletic in their recent rankings. Dorion was great at making big promises but had trouble with the delivery part. One of his major failures was fixing the Senators long-running problem in goal. Dorion only made matters worse with the off-season signing of Joonas Korpisalo. Not only is the Korpse overpaid at $4 million per season but Dorion foolishly gave him a five-year term. Korpisalo is sporting a save percentage of .887 which ranks dead last among goalies with 30 or more starts. His backup, Anton Forsberg, is not much better. He has a save percentage of .892.

It’s doubtful the Washington Capitals will be a playoff team this year. Expect the Caps to be sellers at the deadline. They have some veterans that could be shipped out including Max Pacioretty, Joel Edmundson and Anthony Mantha. The Caps are reportedly willing to retain salary so it should be easy to find them new homes.

Anaheim Ducks mercurial center Trevor Zegras is rumoured to be available. With Leo Carlsson, Mason McTavish and Cutter Gauthier, the Ducks have enviable depth down the middle making Zegras expendable. Montreal has been mentioned as a possible destination but it’s buyer beware. We don’t view Zegras as a top-two center. Too many defensive warts. He’s probably best suited on the wing and are you going sell the farm for a small winger who doesn’t play both ends of the rink? There are also character issues. Sorry, not interested.

ESPN has been releasing NHL player rankings using a panel of 10 players and 10 executives. They’ve unveiled their list of the top wingers in the league. The top five in order are Nikita Kucherov, David Pastrnak, Artemi Panarin, Mikko Rantanen and Matthew Tkachuk. The only Canadians in the top ten are Mitch Marner at number 7 and 35-year-old Brad Marchand at number 10. Doesn’t exactly provide much hope for the next Olympics. My Olympic team will likely include having both Connor Bedard and Macklin Celebrini playing on the wing.

Not sure what the hell Adam Ruzicka was thinking but we now know why he was placed on waivers by the Arizona Coyotes. Ruzicka posted a video of himself on social media with a white powder appearing to be cocaine and a credit card on a counter. Not too bright. He was immediately placed on unconditional waivers. Ruzicka apparently intended to send the post to a friend but it landed elsewhere and it may cost him his career.

Speaking of those woebegone Coyotes, they are 0-10-1 in their last 11 games. For those counting at home that’s one out of a possible 22 points. How’s that new arena coming along? There’s a better chance of Don Cherry coming back on HNIC than there is of the Coyotes getting a new arena. Stop the fairy tales.

Oh, but those Coyotes have seven picks in the opening three rounds of this summer’s NHL draft including three in the second and three more in the third. They’ve accumulated 20 picks in the opening three rounds of the next three drafts. Who cares? Perhaps the 12 actual hockey fans in Phoenix.

NFL Notebook – The 2024 NFL salary cap has been set at $255.4 million, up a whopping $30 million from last season. The increase was much larger than teams were anticipating. It certainly makes life easier for contending teams needing to become cap compliant.

Things are going to pick up quickly with the NFL Combine opening on Monday and with free agency set to begin on March 13. There will be plenty of enticing players available. Don’t expect the two Baltimore Ravens defensive stars – defensive tackle Justin Madubuike and linebacker Patrick Queen – to follow new Seahawks head coach Mike Macdonald to Seattle.  The Seahawks tight cap situation simply won’t allow them to sign either one.

There are plenty of other free agents who may be of interest at a much lower cost. If the Hawks release both Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs, they might want to go after Carolina Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn or the Patriots Kyle Dugger. However, finding a replacement in this year’s draft might be a better answer.

It’s definitely time for the Hawks to move away from Bobby Wagner.  It might be worth taking a flyer on one of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers veteran linebackers, Devin White and Lavonte David. They may also want to take a look at the Titans Azeez Al-Shaair. There should be familiarity with the one-time 49’er. The Seahawks need to clean up the middle of their offensive line. They will likely to go searching for a low-cost center or guard in free agency to add depth.

The Seahawks tight end room is going to look a whole lot different next season. Noah Fant and Colby Parkinson are both free agents and Will Dissly could be a salary cap victim. It would not be surprising to see the Hawks draft a tight end in the early founds. Ohio State’s Cade Stover is a guy they could target.

By our count, there will be nine new head coaches in the NFL next season and none named Steve Spagnuolo. That seems like a complete travesty. Spagnuolo is head and shoulders the best defensive coordinator in the NFL and no one came calling? Are you kidding?

In the playoffs this year, the Chiefs faced the league’s second, third, fourth and sixth highest scoring teams. Collectively, Miami, San Francisco, Baltimore and Buffalo averaged 28.3 points per game. In the four playoff games against Kansas City, they averaged 16.5 points.

During the regular season, Chiefs defenders recorded more unblocked pressures than any other team in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats. In the Super Bowl, KC had a season-high nine unblocked pressures. With two weeks to prepare, Spagnuolo had time to scheme and the results were obvious. He’s a defensive wizard.

Don’t forget, this is the same guy who guided the New York Giants to a 17-14 upset over the previously unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl 42, spoiling the Patriots perfect season. Spagnuolo just signed a new deal with the Chiefs. Not sure what he is being paid but it’s not enough.

Spring Training Notebook – Blue Jays slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. reportedly showed up in Dunedin trimmed down and in great shape. Haven’t we heard that every spring? Vladdy certainly has something to prove. His numbers have declined dramatically each of the past two seasons since being AL MVP runner-up in 2021. In his breakout 2021 season, Vladdy had an AL-leading OPS of 1.002. His OPS last year was .788.  In 2021, Guererro had a .311 batting average with 48 home runs, 111 RBI’s and 123 runs scored. In 2022, the numbers dropped to .274, 32 HR’s, 97 RBI’s and 90 runs scored. Last year, his batting average was .264 with 26 homers, 94 RBI’s and only 78 runs scored. That’s a pretty major offensive decline.

Vladdy certainly hasn’t made much attempt to learn English. He’s still using an interpreter to conduct interviews. He was born in Montreal for Pete’s sake. Doesn’t appear like Vladdy’s put in a lot of effort to improve his English. His Dad played in the majors for 16 seasons and never mastered the language. Pretty pathetic when you think of it.

Guererro won his recent arbitration case and is two years away from free agency. The Jays have been unable to get him signed to a rich extension and you wonder if that’s even a good idea. Do you really want to wrap up $250-$300 million in a guy who’s clearly not a clubhouse leader? Most of the nine-figure mega-deals have not worked out in baseball. The San Diego Padres, who seem to be the National League equivalent of the Blue Jays, have been burned repeatedly by lavish contracts. If someone offered the Jays a top-flight shortstop or center-field prospect with big-time tools, I would think long and hard about it.

Classy vet Joey Votto is still without a team. At 40, perhaps his fine career is over. You would think the Jays would have extended Votto a minor league deal and invited the Etobicoke native to camp. Instead, they offered an invite to 270-pound blimp Daniel Vogelbach. He’s a strikeout waiting to happen.

It was a very odd off-season in baseball. Player movement was at a crawl. Scott Boras seems to control all free agent activity. Spring training is underway and his major clients including Matt Chapman, Cody Bellinger and Blake Snell are still without contracts. Don’t blame collusion. Maybe teams are just smarter.

Leftovers – Much like the NHL All-Star game, the NBA All-Star game has become a complete farce. The final score of this year’s game was 211-186. A three-pointer short of 400 points combined. The shooting fest included a number of dubious records. The two teams combined to take 168 three-point attempts. Yes, you read that right. Altogether, they put up 289 shots. How is this entertainment? Who wants to watch players take three-pointers for two and a half hours? Try playing basketball. That’s the game where you pass the ball, defend and actually break a sweat.

Apologies, we don’t mention the CFL often enough. Glad the B.C. Lions were able to sign quarterback Vernon Adams to an extension. Did you notice that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have signed Thaddeus Moss, the son of NFL great Randy Moss?  He played tight end at LSU. It will be interested to see how the Tiger-Cats use him.

He’s arguably the best footballer on the planet and he’s now going to be paid like it. French striker Kylian Mbappe has agreed to a deal with, who else – yes, Real Madrid – that will reportedly pay him $21.9 Canadian for each of the next five years along with a $219 million signing bonus. By our math, if you combine the salary and the bonus, it works out to over $48 million per season. Mbappe will finish out with Paris St-Germain in June. He’s scored 244 goals in 291 games since joining PSG in 2017.

33 1/3 Thoughts – The great Willie Nelson, now 90 years young, has a new album out called Late Night. It contains 34 tracks including numerous songs recorded with Wynton Marsalis at the Lincoln Center in New York. We recommend the classic tune ‘Bright Lights Big City.’

No artist is more prolific than Van Morrison. He’s released nine recordings since 2017. Van is also getting up there. He will be 79 on August 31. While searching around this week, I came across the remastered version of Van’s 1970 seminal masterpiece Moondance. Go back and have a listen. It’s amazing how that album still stands up today.

I’m not a huge country music fan but thanks to regular contributor Peter Hucul who advised we check out Jamey Johnson. His album Living For a Song – A Tribute to Hank Cochran is a gem. It features a host of guest artists. Check out ‘Everything But You’ with Leon Russell and Willie Nelson. From the release The Guitar Song, have a listen to the track ‘Macon.’

Nothing planned but it looks like we are featuring aging musical giants this week. Taj Mahal will be 82 in May. They have started releasing tracks off his new album The Taj Mahal Swingin’ Sextet – Live at the Church in Tulsa. The track featured on Spotify this week is ‘Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes.’

The Mystix are a band you may not be familiar with. They are based in Boston and have been performing together for over 20 years. The band was formed in 2022 by acclaimed R&B vocalist Jo Lily and L.A. session guitarist Bobby B Keyes. Over the years, the band has included a revolving group of the top Boston studio and touring musicians including Jerry Portnoy who’s performed with Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters. The Mystix have released numerous albums. Listen to ‘Jimmie’s Blues’ and the title track off the release Midnight in Mississippi. Also, check out the tracks ‘The Mule’ and ‘I Can’t Stop Lovin’, both released as singles.

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