Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Contributing Editor Bill Morphy. This week, the Canucks grab the life preservers, three cheers for David Ayers and Bobby Ryan plus trade deadline winners and a salute to Jeff Beck.
Big Game Hunting – We are at that point in the NHL season when every game is a ‘big game’ and it can’t be understated. For the Canucks, there has to be deep concern after back to back poor efforts in Montreal and Ottawa. Losing valuable points against Anaheim and the Senators is unfathomable. Now comes a massive game under the spotlight in Toronto and the Canucks had better come with a complete, 60-minute effort.
The injury to Jacob Markstrom was a lethal blow. The defensive performance has just not been good enough. The third pairing of Tyler Myers and Oscar Fantenberg has been exposed big time in the past two games. The bottom six forward group is not contributing so it’s not surprising the team has hit a roadblock. It wouldn’t take much to slip out of a playoff spot completely. This is not meant to sound the alarm but it shows how tenuous the hold on a playoff spot in the Pacific Division can be.
Trade Deadline Winners – Trade Deadline 2020 came and went with nothing but a whimper. There were few real blockbuster moves and a heap of nondescript manoeuvers that barely made a ripple. The Bruins did a nice job in acquiring two useful forwards from Anaheim in Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie. Good hockey deals that will help Boston’s depth down the stretch.
The New York Rangers were wise to resign Chris Kreider to a generous extension rather than moving him at the deadline. Kreider is an outstanding talent and should be part of the Rangers core for years to come. Meantime, they added a first round pick from Carolina in return for defenseman Brady Skjei.
Pittsburgh did some nice work on the bottom of their forward group by picking up Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues from Buffalo and ageless Patrick Marleau from San Jose. The biggest boost the Penguins will receive is the return of top pairing defenseman Brian Dumoulin who’s been out for three months with injury.
Tampa Bay is ‘all-in’ after a series of moves at the deadline. They surrendered two first round picks but came away with a couple of solid pieces that will augment an already talented group up front. The Bolts added Blake Coleman from New Jersey, Barclay Goodrow from San Jose and defenseman Zach Bogosian on waivers from Buffalo. The Lightning have the kind of depth you need for a long playoff run and after last year’s first round exit, you have to believe they are ready to roll.
We give full marks to Vegas for their moves at the deadline. Getting goalie Robin Lehner from Chicago for little more than a second round pick was an outstanding addition. Marc-Andre Fleury has shown major slippage this season so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lehner take over the number one job. The Golden Knights also acquired solid veteran defenseman Alec Martinez from the Kings and rugged forward Nick Cousins from Montreal. The Knights defense now rivals the Blues in size albeit perhaps not in overall skill. The Knights should grab top spot in the Pacific.
The Carolina Hurricanes have been devastated by injuries and were forced to make several moves at the deadline to bolster their lineup. They did some pretty good work in coming away with center Vincent Trocheck from Florida and a couple of useful defensemen in the aforementioned Brady Skjei and Sam Vatanen. Is it enough to get them into the playoffs?
The biggest surprise at the deadline has to be the inactivity of the Colorado Avalanche. Joe Sakic showed again he is not going to overpay for talent. The only move by the Avs was the acquisition of forward Vlad Namestnikov from Ottawa. You would have to assume that the Avs think they are going to get Nazem Kadri and Mikko Rantanen back from injury before the start of the playoffs.
The Edmonton Oilers were fairly active at the deadline picking up Andreas Anthanasiou and Mike Green from Detroit and Tyler Ennis from Ottawa. Green quickly exited for a month with an MCL strain while Anthanasiou was also hurt. No chance I would surrender two second round picks for Anthanasiou.
Disaster Zone – The Toronto Maple Leafs have had many embarrassing moments in their long history but the chapter written last Saturday night will certainly take its place in the Leafs Hall of Shame. You know the story now. How the Leafs could get beaten on home ice in the biggest game of the season by a 42-year old Zamboni driver named David Ayres with a kidney transplant. You can’t make this stuff up. Both Carolina goaltenders were hurt and the Hurricanes had to call upon a beer league goalie who works for the Toronto Marlies. Ayres lets in two goals on the first two shots then shuts the Leafs down the rest of the way in a 6-3 Hurricanes victory. Talk about humiliating. The Leafs left to a chorus of boos and chants of “Let’s Go Raptors.”
When a team with playoff aspirations produces three clunkers in one week against Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Carolina, you have to question their pride. Apparently, it was severely wounded because the Leafs were able to bounce back with two solid efforts in Florida and suddenly look like they may be able to grab one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. However, they should be thankful a glut of injuries to the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes has completely derailed their seasons.
Over the past several months, we have received a lot of reaction to our constant berating of the Leafs. Lots of readers have said “You must hate the Leafs.” Fact of the matter is – not really. As stated before, I would like any Canadian team to halt the long Stanley Cup drought. All we have done is view the team through a lens that’s is based on reality unlike the media hordes in Toronto.
It was rather refreshing to see a media type in Toronto actually take a more sobering view of the Maple Leafs. Globe and Mail columnist Cathal Kelly wondered aloud whether the Leafs are actually good enough, something we have been contending since October. You are just figuring this out now Cathal? We have maintained all along you have a big problem when your best players aren’t your hardest workers and your fiercest competitors.
The Maple Leafs are a fatally flawed team. Full stop! The front office chose to let Lou Lamoriello walk away even though he’s one of the top five all-time general managers in NHL history. It’s been all downhill since. Kyle Dubas was immediately dubbed the Boy Wonder and cutting edge. He was going to do things differently. Dubas would build the team around speed and skill because the NHL game was changing. The Leafs style would redefine the game. Dubas was the smartest guy in the room.
Fast forward to today. The Leafs have $40 million in cap space committed to four players. Goaltending is inconsistent and the defense corps gets steam-rolled on a nightly basis. But at its core, what Dubas has failed to realize is the recipe for success in today’s game and certainly in the playoffs, is speed AND power. You can be lightning-quick but if you can’t push back, you are doomed to failure. The second major ingredient needed is DEPTH and the Leafs are the antithesis of a deep team. The final key factor is leadership and this is where the Leafs fall flat. Auston Matthews was anointed the Leafs savior but it’s clear now he has serious character flaws. Fact of the matter is he’s nothing more than an immature, spoiled brat. His character was clearly exposed last summer, along with his posterior, during a childish prank with his drinking buddies. This is your future captain? The Leafs had 19 giveaways in the game against the Hurricanes and you can always be certain Matthews will have his share. He’s got size and strength yet he plays ‘cutesy’ hockey. Memo to Auston – shave off the 70’s porn ‘Snidely Whiplash’ moustache?
Dubas made two fatal mistakes when constructing the team. Signing John Tavaras was a foolish luxury and totally unnecessary. He compounded the problems by resigning William Nylander to a rich extension when he should have moved him for a much-needed building block on defense. Ask yourself this question? What NHL team other than the Leafs have named someone general manager almost directly out of junior hockey? Every good GM has served a long apprenticeship.
It seems like everything that happens in Toronto is one knee-jerk reaction after another. The trade of Nazem Kadri last summer is a perfect example. Kadri was suspended for foolish infractions in back to back playoff years. He was completely wrong but at least he cared and was fiercely competitive, something in short supply in Toronto. The answer? Send him on his way and watch his career flourish in Colorado.
How do you fix the mess? It will not be easy to pivot when you are facing salary cap paralysis. We will outline some potential maneuvering but that’s for another day.
Saving Bobby Ryan – Senators right winger Bobby Ryan has come clean about his issues with alcohol abuse. Ryan has two more years to go on his rich $7.25 million dollar per season cap hit. Even though it came against the Canucks, how could you not applaud his hat trick upon returning to the Sens lineup? The back story surrounding Ryan’s childhood has been well documented and clearly those demons have been hard to escape.
How can you also not cheer for a guy like Nathan Gerbe of the Columbus Blue Jackets? He’s all of 5’4” but what a heart. Gerbe had the guts to take on Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim who’s almost a foot taller.
Spring Training Notebook – Here’s a cautionary tale. Just think for a second how much money former Blue Jay Aaron Sanchez has earned in his MLB career vs. how little he has contributed. Highway robbery. In major league baseball, it happens all the time. Only the NBA can rival MLB when it comes to players who walk off with bucket loads of money with little payback.
Baseball analysts had the New York Yankees winning the World Series before the first pitch was thrown. Things can change in a jury when you lose two frontline starters in short order. ‘Big Maple’ James Paxton is out until at least mid-May with back issues. The Yankees have also lost starter Luis Severino for the season with Tommy John surgery. The Yanks and Red Sox both now have issues with their starting staff. Maybe the Jays can at least make things interesting in the AL East.
Fabulous Freddie – TSN did an outstanding job profiling one of Canada’s greatest all-time, all-around athletes Fred Thomas. Fabulous Freddie played for the Toronto Argonauts and could have easily made it in the NBA and MLB. He was a true Canadian pioneer. Check out this great feature.
Better Call Saul – The rap sheet of former Seattle QB Trevone Boykin grew longer this week. He was sentenced to three years in prison for beating up his former girlfriend, adding to the ever-growing list of NFL players who have assaulted women.
Reefer Madness – So let me get this straight – you figure it’s safe to drive around Texas with a trunkful of weed? Offensive tackle Greg Robinson, the #2 overall pick in the 2014 draft by the L.A. Rams, is in custody after being caught by border patrol in Texas with 157 pounds of marijuana in his vehicle. For the record, one of the biggest DRAFT busts in NFL history was arrested in one of the biggest DRUG busts in NFL history. Robinson, however, fell 56 pounds short of Nate Newton’s NFL record pot bust.
To add to the stupidity, while Robinson was being detained, police intercepted a text on his cellphone from a contact identified as “Grow House Indoor.” Robinson was reportedly about to be cut by the Cleveland Browns. He might have considered some better options in preparing for life after football.
The Joe Schultz Sports Quote of the Week – Long-time Indiana Hoosiers basketball coach Bobby Knight had a contemptuous relationship with the media to say the least. He once summed up his feelings this way – “When my time on Earth is gone, and my activities here are past, I want them to bury me upside down so my critics can kiss my ass.”
Music Video of the Week – I have contended for years that the greatest all-time rock guitarist is Jeff Beck. He was ranked fifth on Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”. Now 75, Beck is probably best known as one of the three noted guitarists of the Yardbirds along with Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. He’s a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee as a member of the Yardbirds and as a solo artist.
Back in the 1970’s, Beck was a longtime admirer of the work of Stevie Wonder. He finally got the opportunity to collaborate with the legendary Motown star on Wonder’s 1972 album “Talking Book”, playing his distinctive guitar on the song “Lookin’ for Another Pure Love”. He also cut a rough demo of “Superstition” during those sessions and was going to record it with his new band, which included himself along with bassist Tim Bogart and drummer Carmine Appice, both ex-members of Vanilla Fudge, but after that project got delayed Wonder released his own version and turned it into a massive #1 hit. Shortly after BB&A’s breakup (and a halfhearted audition at around the same time to join the Rolling Stones after Mick Taylor’s departure) in late 1974, Beck’s next project was an all instrumental band and the album “Blow by Blow”, which he made with producer George Martin and released in the spring of 1975. This time around, Wonder returned the favor by guesting on the LP, playing an uncredited clavinet on “Thelonius” and contributing the tune “Cause We Ended As Lovers”. “Blow by Blow” proved to be the most commercially successful album in Beck’s long career reaching #4 in the Billboard charts and selling over a million copies.
Here is Beck performing Live at Ronnie Scott’s in London in 2014. He invites Clapton onto the stage to play beautiful renditions of “Little Brown Bird” and “You Need Love” both Muddy Waters singles, the latter of which was ultimately revised and covered by Led Zeppelin as “Whole Lotta Love”.
If you would like to catch the entire set, here it is in its entirety.