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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Chief Editor Bill Morphy and contributor Jordan Moss. This week, let the auction begin. It’s deadline time in the NHL. The dominos are falling fast. Baseball is back and Canadians shining on the PGA Tour.  

Late Breaking News – The Canucks acquire winger Vitali Kravtsov from the New York Rangers for Will Lockwood and a seventh-round pick in 2026.

Just what the Canucks need – another warm body to ensure they end up 14th overall instead of bottom five. Have you noticed the Canucks are already on their usual late season surge, escaping with three points in two games this week with final minute rallies? No team is better when the stakes are lowest.

Kravtsov is a good low-cost bet although he has a reputation for being comatose on far too many shifts. However, he’s certainly worth the acquisition cost of a seventh-rounder four years down the road. It will be interesting to see if the Canucks can unlock Kravtsov’s considerable talent. He’s represented by Dan Milstein who’s also the agent for fellow Canucks Ilya Mikheyev, Andrei Kuzmenko and Danila Klimovich. Add in Vasily Podkolzin and assistant coach Sergei Gonchar and Vancouver is becoming Moscow west.

Canucks Notebook – There should be only two untouchables on the Canucks roster. Unless you are named Elias Pettersson or Quinn Hughes, you should not be considered safe. The fans are demanding a major overhaul. It’s been evident for years but the organization has been simply unwilling to swallow hard.

The Canucks new management team is learning a hard lesson when it comes to offloading expensive, inefficient contracts. Dismantling a team filled with underperforming contracts is nearly impossible – and very expensive. It’s instructive to look at the Ottawa Senators recent trade that sent Nikita Zaitsev to Chicago. It cost the Sens second and fourth-round picks to get his $4.5 million dollar contract which runs through next season, off the books. The Canucks are in no position to give up that level of draft capital when organizational depth is so depleted.

By now, the Canucks front office are no doubt acutely aware of the reality of the situation. Unless a player is in the final year of his contract, it’s very hard to offload a contract without paying an exorbitant price. At next year’s trade deadline Beauvillier and Myers may be useful trade chips. The following year, it’s Boeser and Kuzmenko. You get the idea. How different things would be right now if not for the OEL deal. Arizona ate $12 million dollars in contracts for one season (Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel). If Jim Bob Benning had shown an ounce of patience, just think where the Canucks would stand today.

The Canucks would be crazy not to test the market on JT Miller before his no-trade clause kicks in on July 1. You can be sure the team is listening on Thatcher Demko. How else are you going to fix the blueline? The L.A. Kings are among the teams rumoured to have interest in Demko. Brock Boeser has been on the market for months. You have to think there’s a team out there who believes they can get Boeser on track especially if the Canucks are willing to retain a portion of his salary, perhaps 20%.

There’s definite interest in Luke Schenn. He’s been shutdown until a deal is worked out. The Canucks appear to be holding out for a second-round pick. I would be willing to settle for a third and a fifth. It’s vitally important for the Canucks to collect as many assets as possible and start restocking the shelves.

The Sad Truth – Remember when the Leafs acquired Nick Foligno at the trade deadline two years ago, TSN commentator Craig Button, in a fit of unabashed Leaf homerism, said “They’ve hit it out of the park with this deal.” Fast forward to today and we know how that worked out.

Does the Leafs acquisition of Ryan O’Reilly not remind you of the deadline deal for Foligno? A couple of aging, gritty veterans with Ontario roots brought in to provide leadership and playoff pedigree. Both former captains having poor seasons. They would be inspired by returning home and putting on a Leafs sweater. Wishful thinking. It speaks more to the lack of leadership in the Leafs dressing room.

The acquisition cost  for O’Reilly and Noel Acciari was astronomical. The Leafs coughed up first, second, third and fourth-round picks. The wild swing to get Foligno cost the Leafs a first-round pick and a pair of fourth-rounders. Toronto is now left with only three selections (3rd, 5th, 6th) in the upcoming draft. Already out the door are the Leafs second and third-round picks in 2024 and it’s second and fourth-round picks in 2025. Last year’s deadline acquisition of aging Mark Giordano cost the Leafs a pair of second-round picks plus a third.

The trade for O’Reilly and Acciari was akin to ‘lipstick on a pig’ since the Leafs still have big issues on the back end and in goal. Do you really intend to go into the playoffs with a third-pairing of Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liligren? We already know they can’t handle heavy forechecking pressure.

The Leafs have lost games a pair of games this season to both Montreal and Arizona. They also have losses against Chicago, Columbus, San Jose and Anaheim. That’s 16 points lost against weak opponents. Does that inspire confidence that the Leafs unparalleled lack of playoff success will end this season?

For Kyle Dubas, the trade for O’Reilly is an act of desperation. Another first round exit and he’s sure to be the first casualty. There’s already talk that O’Reilly may return to St. Louis this summer as a free agent.

NHL Notebook The NHL continues to sit back and allow the Arizona Coyotes to operate like a consignment store. The Coyotes acquired the contract of Shea Weber from the Vegas Golden Knights with just one thing in mind. Weber’s LTIR contract will allow the Coyotes to get closer to the NHL salary cap floor next season ($61 million). Weber joins Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd on the team’s list of inactive players. While Weber counts $7.85 million against the cap, he’s actually only owed $1 million in each of the next three seasons. The Coyotes have been using this practise for years. Marian Hossa, Pavel Datsyuk, Chris Pronger and Dave Bolland also never played a game for the Coyotes. It’s just such an artificial way of reaching the cap floor – and SO bush league.

It looks like Patrick Kane is headed to Manhattan. Reports suggest a deal with the Rangers is pretty much in place. The Kravtsov deal helped open up more cap space. An injury to defenseman Ryan Lindgren on Saturday may open more if he has to go on LTIR until the playoffs. Word is the Rangers will not have to give up a first-round pick to acquire Kane. With no other teams bidding on the veteran, Chicago is not in a good bargaining position.

Might the Colorado Avalanche take a flyer on Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin? The cost would probably be minimal since Drouin remains on the missing person’s list. The Avs would have the opportunity to reunite Drouin with his former Halifax Mooseheads teammate Nate MacKinnon. Could be a smart play. The Avs are also desperately trying to land a centre. Don’t be surprised if they make a move for Lars Eller of the Washington Capitals, Christian Dvorak of the Canadiens or Anaheim’s Adam Henrique, although he’s currently injured.

Henrique’s injury hits home why teams are now starting to take players out of the lineup prior to the deadline. This is a relatively new phenomenon. In the past, teams have often taken healthy players out of the lineup to protect their trade value but usually just for a game or two. What’s happening this year opens up a whole new can of worms. Defenseman Jeff Chychrun has been held of the Coyotes lineup for nearly two weeks. Columbus followed suit and is now holding out defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov. So far, the NHL has turned a blind eye. Don’t see why they would continue to allow this to happen. Would those teams be doing it if Connor Bedard wasn’t the prize awaiting? Nice excuse to tank.

San Jose Sharks winger Timo Meier is one of the top remaining trade deadline targets still out there. He’s definitely going to be on the move. New Jersey and Carolina appear to be the most likely destinations with Vegas still a possibility.

Don’t look now but Buffalo and Detroit are both potential playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. Both teams are surging and hold multiple games in hand on the Islanders and Panthers. Wouldn’t it be nice to see a couple of newbies in the playoffs this season?

The Western Conference remains wide open. It’s why the Winnipeg Jets should be aggressive prior to the March 3 deadline. The Jets are sitting with over $9 million in available cap space. The Jets added Nino Niederreiter from Nashville to add some spark to their bottom six forward group who are currently providing almost no depth scoring.  Winnipeg should absolutely be in on Meier and Chychrun. The Blues Colton Parayko would be a great fit if they could pry him out of St. Louis. It’s not like anyone is running away in the West. It’s time the Jets front office signals to the players that they believe in them.

Nice work by the Minnesota Wild to pick up a pair of mid-round draft picks by acting as a salary dumping ground. By helping broker two major deals this week (taking on about $3 million in cap space), the Wild picked by fourth and fifth-round picks from Toronto and Boston. All it cost the Wild in real cash (pro-rated salary) this season is $160,000. That’s astute management. Are you paying attention Francesco?

Meanwhile, according to rankings released by The Athletic, the Minnesota Wild have the NHL’s top prospect pool. You have to wonder how much credit can be given to Director of Amateur Scouting Judd Brackett. Yes, the same Judd Brackett whom the Canucks let get away. Safe to say he probably got sick and tired of all the draft choices pissed away by the Canucks.

Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron is ageless. He’s been on the ice for only 17 even-strength goals all season. By comparison, Connor McDavid has been scored on 58 times. Teammate Leon Draisaitl, 60 times. Sidney Crosby, as good a two-way player as you can find, has been scored upon 50 times. Incredible what Bergeron is doing at nearly 37.

NFL Notebook – In his ten seasons as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Andy Reid has led the Chiefs to nine playoff appearances, seven AFC West titles, three conference titles and a pair of Super Bowl championships. Why does this man not get more love as one of the greatest coaches in NFL history?  Do you think maybe the Eagles are regretting firing Reid?

Let’s see. The Eagles surrender 38 points and lose the Super Bowl but defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon is named the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Meanwhile, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, with two Super Bowl rings, has to make a lateral move to become OC of the Washington Commanders. Yes, Gannon is white. Bieniemy is black. For all the efforts the NFL has made, there’s still only four black head coaches.

Patrick Mahomes is building a resume like no other player in NFL history. At the age of 27, he already has two Super Bowl victories and two NFL MVP awards. Tom Brady didn’t accomplish that until he was 33. Joe Montana was 34. Peyton Manning was 39. Mahomes has also twice been named Super Bowl MVP. He’s got a 50-touchdown season and a 40-touchdown season. Mahomes holds the all-time single-season record for total yards by a single player. Please, don’t try and compare any current NFL quarterback to this guy!

We should not be surprised to learn that Sean Payton has put a stop to the nonsense in Denver. Payton has forbidden building access to Russell Wilson’s personal quarterback coach Jake Heaps. You may remember Heaps. He’s the one-time Seahawk practice roster quarterback and Seattle radio host who befriended Wilson during training camp in 2016. Wilson will also no longer have his own office in the Donkey’s facility. Payton is already making his presence felt.

NFL free agency begins on March 15 and you can be sure NFL teams will be clearing cap space to give themselves more room to maneuver. Several prominent names are sure to be released. Atlanta will likely cut quarterback Marcus Mariota. He’s due to make $14.5 million. Cutting him would open $12 million in cap space. Carolina linebacker Shaq Thompson has a 2023 cap hit of $24.5 million. Cutting him before June 1 would save $13.2 million. The Cincinnati Bengals will save $7.3 million on Joe Mixon’s $12.8 million dollar cap hit. Perennial All-Pro offensive tackle Tryon Smith is a likely casualty in Dallas. The Cowboys could open up $9.6 million in cap space. Colts quarterback Matt Ryan is halfway out the door. He’s scheduled to earn $35.2 next season. Cutting Ryan would save $17.2 against the cap but Indy will still carry $18 million in dead money. Former Seahawks cornerback Shaquille Griffin is likely on his way out in Jacksonville. His 2023 cap hit is $17.1 million. The Jags will save $13.1 million by releasing him.  Another former Seahawk, defensive end Frank Clark, is in trouble in Kansas City. His 2023 cap hit is $28.67 million. The Chiefs cap savings will be $21 if Clark is released before June 1. The Chiefs will have to absorb the remaining $7.67 million. Other likely casualties include Dolphins corner Byron Jones, Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks, Jets receiver Corey Davis, Giants receiver Kenny Golladay, Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky and Seahawks offensive guard Gabe Jackson.

Aaron Rodgers has reportedly emerged from his ‘darkness retreat.’ Whatever that is. Memo to the Packers Diva – we don’t care. Don’t want to hear about it. Don’t want to know about it. The smartest thing the Packers could do is turn the page on this self-absorbed doofus.

MLB Spring Training Musings – This is going to be a watershed season for the Toronto Blue Jays. Many scouts and front office personnel around baseball believe the Jays have lacked the kind of leadership you need to win in the post-season. We should not be surprised there’s been major roster turnover this winter. Almost the entire outfield has been reconfigured. Exit Lourdes Gurriel Jr, Teoscar Hernandez, Raimel Tapia and Jackie Bradley Jr. The Jays have added quality veterans in Kevin Kiermaier, Brandon Belt, Chris Bassitt and Chad Green. The message is clear – it’s time to pay attention to detail, cut the dugout crap and show the kind of day-to-day professionalism the game requires over a grueling 162-game schedule.

The Jays have pretty much fulfilled all their off-season priorities – add a starting pitcher, upgrade the bullpen and balance out the lineup with the addition of several left-handed bats. Check, check and check. Now it’s time to see if the changes take hold.

The Los Angeles Dodgers won 111 games last season. They’ve had the highest payroll in baseball each of the past two seasons. They have a clubhouse filled with 13 All-Stars and three former MVP’s. However, for the first time in a decade the Dodgers come into the season no longer favourites to win the National League West. The Dodgers spent only $44.5 million in free agency this winter and have major question marks at closer, in centerfield, and three infield positions. What separates the Dodgers is superior player development. The Dodgers farm system is perennially ranked among the best in baseball with a constant stream of talent making its way to Chavez Ravine.

The Baltimore Orioles continue to unleash top-shelf young talent. Last year, it was catcher Adley Rutschman, 2022 American League rookie-of-the-year runner-up to the Mariners Julio Rodriguez. This year, look for third baseman Gunnar Henderson to make a big impact along with RHP Grayson Rodriguez. Henderson is ranked by The Athletic as the number two prospect in all of baseball.

Golf Notebook – There’s certainly no question at the moment who is the top golfer in the world. It’s Jon Rahm. He won three of five starts on the West Coast swing to regain the number one ranking in the world. The Spanish star went 27-under to win the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, another 27-under to win the American Express before a solid start-to-finish performance in capturing the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club in L.A.

Tiger Woods showed flashes of brilliance in his return to the Tour at the Genesis tournament including three birdies to close out his opening round 69. Woods plans to play all four majors this year if his body holds up. Expect him to play in one more tournament prior to the Masters in April.

Tiger and Rory McIlroy have joined forces to launch a new high-tech golf league. It’s called TGL and will launch early next year in Florida in partnership with the PGA Tour. So far, 11 players have committed to play in the league including six players currently ranked tenth or better. Here’s the concept: six teams of three PGA Tour players, squaring off in match play on a data-driven virtual course that also includes a short game complex for chipping and putting. It’ll be played on Monday nights and will take only two hours with in-arena fans close to the action and with the players mic’d up. There will be 15 matches in the regular season followed by semi-finals and a final. Not sure if anyone will watch.

If you are looking for a dark-horse to win a major this season, look no further than Max Homa. Of his six PGA Tour wins, four have come in his native California including the recent Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. This year’s U.S. Open is at L.A. Country Club so expect Homa to get a lot of pre-tournament hype.

Surrey’s Adam Svensson is currently 10th in the FedEx Cup standings. He’s already earned close to $2.5 million. Not bad for a guy who barely held onto his Tour card last season. Mac Hughes is currently 15th. Nick Taylor is 16th with over $3 million in winnings already, largely due to his second-place finish at the WM Phoenix Open which made Canadian golf history. His US$2 million in winnings was the most ever won by a Canadian at a single event, even topping previous winners. The PGA Tour has significantly increased purses this season.

It also elevated Taylor to No. 71 in the official world golf rankings, putting five Canadians in the top 100 of the men’s standings for the first time ever. Corey Conners is the top-ranked Canadian, sitting at 37th overall. Hughes is 55th, Svensson is all the way to 58th while Adam Hadwin is 64th. Taylor Pendrith is just outside the top 100 at 112th.

The PGA Tour has a big problem with the AT&T Pro-Am. It used to be one of the highlights of the PGA Tour season. Not anymore – despite being played on the magnificent courses along the Monterey Peninsula. The tournament has struggled to attract a decent field in recent years and the so-called celebrities are B-List at best. This year, only one of the top-10 players in the world travelled to Pebble. Long rounds and rough weather have plagued the tournament. PGA Tour officials need to figure out a way to revitalize this once-prominent event.

Ode to Sam LoPresti – Sam LoPresti made NHL history on March 4, 1941 in a game against the Boston Bruins when he faced a league record 83 shots in a regulation. He then left the NHL to join the United States Navy during the Second World War, theorizing that “it was safer to face Nazi U-boats in the North Atlantic than vulcanized rubber in North America.”

LoPresti served aboard the SS Roger B. Taney. The ship was torpedoed and sunk during an Atlantic crossing in February 1943. LoPresti was thought to be the first casualty among American professional athletes in the conflict. But as the Roger B. Taney sank, LoPresti abandoned the ship.

He was one of 26 men who took refuge in a lifeboat with minimal water or food supplies. After 42 days, traveling nearly 2,500 miles southwest, they were found and rescued off the coast of Brazil. LoPresti was credited with saving the men’s lives by catching the only real food they had during their entire ordeal.

After noticing dolphins swimming around their boat, LoPresti improvised a weapon by lashing a sheath knife to a boat hook. He plunged into the ocean, catching a 35-pound dolphin. They hauled it into the boat, drank its blood, and cooked the meat in a metal bucket with rags and kerosene.

Leftovers – Purdue’s Zach Edney, the 7-4, 305-pound Canadian behemoth, is very likely going to be named the Naismith Award winner at U.S. college basketball’s player-of-the-year. Edney has dominated college basketball this season and helped the Boilermakers to the number one ranking in the country. He’s leading the Big Ten in scoring (22.1 points) and rebounding (12.7) which ranks him fifth and second nationally in those categories. He’s also averaging 2.4 blocks per game.

Rest In Peace Raquel Welch. You were a total Babe!

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