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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Contributing Editor Bill Morphy and special thanks to Jordan Moss. This week, the Canucks in full-blown crisis. We take a trip around the NHL and have the wings marinating for Super Bowl Sunday. Plus, the Stafford trade and the Jays land big fish!

Canucks This Week – It was Groundhog Day this week. Whiarton Willie saw his shadow and predicted an early spring. His Alberta counterpart, Balzak Billy, called for six more weeks of winter. Does it mean the Canucks will be giving us six more weeks of bad hockey?

The Canucks started their current six-game road trip last Saturday night in Winnipeg and produced one of their best efforts of the season. It was their fourth straight win and improved their record to 6-5. Now, after two setbacks in Montreal and a blow-out loss in Toronto, you have to wonder if it’s the last time they will be above .500 this season. How can you not be concerned? It’s a five-alarm fire. Take away, the three wins against Ottawa and the Canucks record is 3-8. The Canucks have given up five goals or more on eight occasions. They are last in the NHL in shots allowed and have the second-worst goals against average at 3.93. Dismiss the Ottawa games and the GAA is 4.72. Every phase of their game is in disarray.

It’s a good thing the Canucks won’t see the Canadiens again until March 8. The Habs have taken nine out of ten points from the Canucks this season, piling up 28 goals in five games. Tyler Toffoli has filled the net against his former team with eight goals, making the decision not to re-sign him all the more painful. Jim Benning’s comment this week that the team “ran out of time” in contract negotiations with Toffoli set off a firestorm. It’s just one more example of Benning’s lack of a cohesive plan.

The NHL schedule-maker has done the Canucks no favours – an old story to Canuck fans. We knew how challenging the truncated NHL schedule was going to be. The back- to-back games this week against the Canadiens marked the fourth time the Canucks have played back-to-back’s already this season. The Canucks have passed the quarter pole in the season and endured a stretch of 13 games in 21 days. They will play every second day all this month. The Canucks don’t have the luxury of practice time. Travis Green said they looked like a tired team in Toronto and you can understand why. Letting 37-year-old Jason Spezza score a hat trick against you is inexcusable.

How fragile are they? When they fall behind, you don’t get the sense they are going to come back. The lack of team speed was apparent against the Canadiens. The Canucks are not quick to the puck. Puck management is a major issue with giveaways a nightly occurrence. At times, they look like they are playing shinny. Down-low coverage is terrible. It’s mystifying how the Canucks can be leading the NHL in penalties. It’s not as though they are a tough and heavy team to play against. The only sensible explanation is they are not moving their feet and not winning enough puck battles.

When together, the Lotto Line has played a high risk game. The underlying numbers back it up. The line was minus-9 on Monday night in Montreal. J.T. Miller, one year after being the Canucks best player, is angry and unengaged and you wonder if his attitude is a cancer. Quinn Hughes can’t win puck battles and is a nightmare in his own zone after losing reliable partner Chris Tanev. After a minus-3 on Thursday night in Toronto, he’s a team-leading minus-10. The Canucks number one priority moving forward has to be to find a sturdy, long-term defense partner for Hughes.

In retrospect, Jim Benning should have shopped Jake Virtanen during the off-season. Instead, he signed Virtanen to a new two-year contract at $2.55 million per season. To make matters worse, the deal is back-loaded so Virtanen will earn $3.4 million next season.  Virtanen is now virtually untradeable because no one is going to deal for a bottom-six forward at that cost who is undependable in his own zone and has no penalty-killing utility. Virtanen has repaid Benning by scoring one point in eleven games and has been a healthy scratch three times already this season. It’s obvious to everyone that Benning would have been better off dealing Virtanen and finding enough cash to re-sign Toffoli.

How painful is it to watch two top-six draft picks in Virtanen and Olli Juolevi be healthy scratches? When the Canucks walked away from four free agents in the off-season, Benning stated publicly that the team was banking on internal improvement from a group of young players. How’s that going? Brock Boeser has been OK. Pettersson and Hughes are having off-seasons with contract negotiations looming. Adam Gaudette’s looks like an AHL’er. His skating has not improved. Virtanen’s at a career crossroads. Juolevi can’t get in the lineup. Jalen Chatfield has done little to evoke promise. Thatcher Demko has had some nice games but is getting overwhelmed by the high-grade shot attempts he is facing night after night. It’s pretty clear Benning over-played his hand when it comes to the growth of the young players. Last year’s playoff success may have also created unrealistic expectations.

This is Jim Benning’s seventh season as Canucks general manager. We are five years into a rebuild and watching a team in crisis as the losses mount. The hashtag #Fire Benning is trending again and we shouldn’t be surprised. Just a thought but is ownership dragging its heels on a new contract for Travis Green because they want to wait and see about Benning’s future? If the team misses the playoffs, Benning’s job could be in jeopardy. If that were to happen, then the new GM could decide on who he wants behind the bench. With Green twisting in the wind, you wonder what is holding things up. From what we know, the two sides are not close on a new contract. You also have to wonder what the owner’s role has been in all of this.

If you figure the Canucks will need around 63 points to grab the final playoff spot in the North Division, it is going to take a massive push in order to qualify. They will need 51 points in their final 42 games, a .607 clip. Unless there’s a spectacular shift in their current play, it’s doubtful a playoff spot is in the cards.

NHL Notebook – When it comes to COVID-19 postponements, we’re seeing a much different situation play out here in Canada than in NHL cities in the U.S. Several teams have been heavily impacted so far. The latest hotspots are New Jersey,   Buffalo and Colorado. Sabres coach Ralph Krueger has a confirmed case. Florida, Dallas, Carolina and Tampa have already had games postponed and it’s going to be brutally difficult on the players to make them up. The NHL’s Central Division has been particularly hard hit. Florida will now have to play its remaining 54 games in 102 days. Dallas will play 54 games in 104 days. Carolina will play 53 games in 100 days and Tampa will play its remaining 52 games in 102 days. Watch the injuries pile up. There’s a very good chance that not every team will be able to complete the 56-game schedule which means the final standings could end up being determined by winning percentage. It would not be shocking to see the NHL go to a bubble for the playoffs again this season.

Considering the number of new faces in Montreal, you might think they wouldn’t have jelled so quickly. The Habs look very formidable with great team speed, added scoring and no apparent weaknesses. Right now, it’s hard not to favour the Canadiens to come out of the North Division and reach the final four.

We were too hasty in crowning the Calgary Flames as one of the top two teams in Canada. The Flames called a team meeting to address their inconsistency so far this season. Their work rate seems to fluctuate wildly. The Flames played three games against the Winnipeg Jets this week and managed just a shootout win. In case you were wondering, former Canuck Josh Leivo has one assist in ten games with the Flames and is minus-3.

Flames forward Sam Bennett wants out of Calgary. Bennett was taken fourth overall by the Flames in the 2014 draft and has been given every opportunity at both left wing and center but has never been able to blossom. Another Darren Ferris client, defenseman Victor Mete, is unhappy in Montreal and is seeking a trade. Mete has been a healthy scratch until recently and wants a new start elsewhere.

Like the Flames, the New York Rangers are off to a shaky start. The Rangers are finding that progress is not always linear. They had a bit of success last year but are finding it hard to reach the same level this year. The Rangers lack an identity and it’s not something you capture easily. It takes time and patience, something that’s always been in short supply in New York.

Rangers defenseman Tony DeAngelo is in limbo after clearing waivers this week. DeAngelo cooked his goose by getting into an altercation with Rangers goalie Alexander Georgiev. It started with a miscommunication behind the net in a game against the Penguins that led to the tying goal. The Pens later won in overtime. After the game ended, Georgiev was sitting dejected when DeAngelo walked by and made a sarcastic remark. A fight ensued and teammates had to break it up. It was the last straw for the Rangers who placed DeAngelo on waivers the following day. DeAngelo has a reputation for being immature. He had just signed a new, two-year, $9.6 million dollar contract over the summer. He’s a right-shot defenseman who had 50+ points last season so you know somebody will take a chance on him.

The Ottawa Senators are learning a hard lesson. You can’t build your hockey club with other team’s castoffs. It’s been the same story in Edmonton. We may even be saying the same thing about the Leafs before the season is over.  After a recent loss, Derek Stepan said “We’re a fragile group right now.” Thanks for letting us know Derek! The Sens will be lucky to win ten games this season.

The Sens brought in a host of new bodies over the off-season and are 2-8-1 over their first eleven games. Matt Murray was given a four-year, $25 million dollar contract and has fizzled in goal. His save percentage is .866 and his GAA is 4.40. Eric Gudbranson and Josh Brown have struggled on defense. Braydon Coburn has already been released. Other than Austin Watson, none of the additions up front have made an impact. Pierre Dorion seems to be taking a page from the Jim Benning handbook in dishing out hefty contracts to players who haven’t earned them. Those contracts will haunt the Senators when they start to climb out of their current mess a few years from now.

Timing is everything when you are making trades. The Minnesota Wild resisted moving defenseman Matt Dumba over the summer despite plenty of interest. Now, Dumba has undergone surgery on a torn pectoral muscle and is out at least three months. The Wild will still have to move a defenseman before the Seattle expansion draft at the risk of losing a player of Dumba’s value.

Super Bowl Sunday – The Andy Reid-Pat Mahomes partnership is a marriage made in football heaven. The offensive guru and the gun-slinging quarterback. How can you pick against these two guys on Sunday? When you look at Pat Mahomes’ body of work, it is mind-boggling. He’s 6-1 in his first seven career playoff games with the highest (109.8) passer rating in history. His one loss came against New England in the AFC Championship three years ago. Mahomes engineered 24 points in the final quarter. You will recall, the Chiefs had the game won late in the fourth when Tom Brady threw an interception but it was wiped out by a Dee Ford offside call. The Patriots scored to tie the game and won it 37-31 in overtime. Mahomes never had a chance to touch the ball in OT.

Here are some of the stats that place Mahomes in singular company.

  • Mahomes is 23-5 (.821) when the Chiefs score first and 21-4 (.840) when they DON’T. NFL averages since 2018 are .608 and .392 respectively. In other words, no one stops this guy!
  • Mahomes has already won six playoff games. The Chiefs won four in the previous 48 years before his arrival.
  • In his first seven playoff starts, Mahomes has produced 21 touchdowns. Tom Brady produced nine in his first seven playoff games.
  • Mahomes has averaged 31 PPG in games in which he has lost. That’s more than Brady averages in games that he wins.
  • Over the last two years, Mahomes is 8-1 in games in which he has trailed by two scores. That’s 88%. All over quarterbacks average 12%.
  • Mahomes has never lost an NFL start by more than one score. That’s the longest streak in the NFL since at least 1950.
  • Mahomes has put at least 30 points on the board in six of seven career playoff starts. The only game that he didn’t, he was knocked out of the game in the third quarter.
  • Mahomes could have an MVP and two Super Bowl wins by the age of 25. The only other player to do that is Cowboys Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith.
  • Mahomes averages 308 yards passing per game for his career. No one EVER is within 25 yards of that number.
  • Mahomes has started three conference championship games. He has three TD’s and no picks in all three. No one has more than one in NFL history.

Ram Tough – The Seahawks hopes of repeating as NFC West champions just got a whole lot harder with the L.A. Rams acquisition of quarterback Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions. The Rams paid a king’s ransom to get the deal done, sending quarterback Jared Goff, 2022 and 2023 first-round draft picks plus a 2021 third-round pick to the Lions. The trade cannot be made official until the official start of the 2021 season in March.

It’s a massive gamble for the Rams who seem to be completely averse to risk. Rams coach Sean McVay had lost all trust in Goff. He was adamant a change at quarterback was necessary and damn the cost. They may have well as put up a billboard in L.A. advertising for a new quarterback. Goff had turned the ball over 38 times in the last 31 games, tops in the NFL and McVay had seen enough. Brad Holmes, the new Lions GM, was hired away from the Rams just last month. He knew McVay was down on Goff so he had the upper-hand in negotiations.

In Stafford, the Rams get a quarterback with tremendous arm talent. Stafford can make all the throws and comes at a reasonable price tag – $43 million total over the next two seasons. Look for the Rams to add a year and try to lower his cap hit. The Lions are on the hook for Goff for at least two more years. $43 million of the $54.3 million he’s due is fully guaranteed.

The Lions reportedly had offers for Stafford from at least eight teams. Carolina apparently dangled the eighth overall pick and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The two first-round picks from the Rams will likely come in the high 20’s so you could argue taking one higher pick from the Panthers would be a better way to go. Based on Jimmy Johnson’s old draft formula that may be the case. But the Lions didn’t want to send Stafford somewhere he didn’t want to go. He has a home in Newport Beach just south of SoFi Stadium. The deal just made sense.

The Rams don’t exactly cherish first round picks. They swapped their first-round selection in 2016 with Tennessee in order to draft Goff, surrendering their 2017 first pick in the process. The Rams’ 2018 first-rounder went to New England for receiver Brandin Cooks. Their 2019 first-rounder went to Atlanta in a pick swap. The Rams sent their 2020 and 2021 first-rounder’s to Jacksonville for All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Now, after giving up two more to Detroit, the Rams are not scheduled to pick in the first round until 2024. That’s seven years without a first round pick.

The Rams now have major cap issues to deal with, in large part due to the contracts handed Goff and running back Todd Gurley. They will carry over $30 in dead money next season, retaining $22 million for Goff and another $8 million for Gurley. The Rams will find it difficult to keep several of their 13 free agents including rush end Leonard Floyd, (who gave the Seahawks fits) receiver Josh Reynolds, tight end Gerald Everett, center Austin Blythe and emerging star safety John Johnson. The Rams may have to find replacements on the cheap.

Part of the season the Rams were willing to give up the draft capital is because they are due to receive several compensatory draft choices as a result of losing free agents, coaches and front office staff in the past year. The Rams are confident they can mine talent in the middle rounds and judging by recent success, you have to believe them.

NFL Notebook – The Seahawks are in better shape than several teams when it comes to the salary cap. Ten teams are over the cap and some are in really rough shape. The New Orleans Saints are $90 million over. The Philadelphia Eagles are $44 million over. Dead money from the Goff trade combined with Stafford’s salary has the Rams around $35 million over. Green Bay and Atlanta are $23 million and $25 million over.

It begs the question. If the Lions got two firsts and a third for Matthew Stafford, what can the Texans get for Deshaun Watson? The Texans insist they are not listening to any offers. You have to wonder if the marriage can be repaired at this point. Frankly, I don’t think Watson is going to change his mind.

The Atlanta Falcons have a new GM in former Saints front office executive Terry Fontenot and a new coach in Arthur Smith. It’s the perfect time to move away from veterans Matt Ryan and Julio Smith. Their combined cap hit for next season is $64 million. The 49’ers would be a good landing spot for Ryan who will be 36 next season. 49’er head coach Kyle Shanahan worked closely with Ryan when he was the Falcons offensive coordinator. Jones will be 32 and still has plenty left.

Is there a more stable team in all of sports than the Pittsburgh Steelers? They have had three coaches in the last 45 years and an almost unbroken run of success. The Steelers stumbled down the stretch this season going 1-5 in their last six games after an 11-0 start. Something tells me they need to start thinking rebuild. Big Ben looked like he was at the end of the line during the late-season collapse.

With Brady now in Tampa Bay, we will find out quickly how Bill Belichick fares without a franchise quarterback. Belichick’s all-time coaching record is 279-135. He’s 219-64 with Brady behind center. Belichick is 60-71 in his career without Brady which includes his stops in Cleveland and in New York with the Jets.

Free Agent Debate – It looks now like the NFL salary cap will be around $185 million next season, a drop of about $13 million from last year. The Seahawks will start the off-season about $8 million under the cap but have tough decisions to make in free agency. Their list of free agents is long so it’s going to be a critical exercise in shaping the roster for next season. Here’s our capsule view on how things may play out. We start first with the unrestricted free agents.

  • RB Chris Carson After carrying the load in 2018 and 2019, Carson missed four games this season with injuries and rushed for only 681 yards. Will he settle for a one-year deal at around $7-8 million to re-establish his value? The franchise tag on running backs last season was around $10 million. No way it will be that high next season.
  • LB K.J. WrightHis 10th season as a Seahawk was one of his best after switching from the weakside to the strongside. K.J. was the only player in the NFL to have 10 tackles for loss and 10 passes defensed. The Seahawks started planning for the future with the drafting of Cody Barton in 2019 and Jordyn Brooks in 2020 but we believe the Seahawks will find a way to keep Wright in a Seattle uniform.
  • CB Shaquille GriffinGriffin missed four weeks this season with a hamstring injury and a concussion. His situation is the toughest to project. If the Seahawks choose to franchise tag Griffin, the number could reach $14 million. Griffin has the tools to be a #1 corner but he doesn’t always play like it. There’s a good chance the Seahawks let him walk but they had better have a back-up plan.
  • RB Carlos HydeHyde will be 31 when next season begins so it’s doubtful he returns to Seattle. Hyde has too much wear and tear. He missed three games this season with injury and had only one game in the second half with double-digit carries. The Seahawks will look elsewhere for running back depth.
  • TE Jacob Hollister A year ago, Hollister signed a second-round tender at $3.2 million which was very pricey for a tight end who usually only plays on passing downs. No chance he returns under the same terms. The Seahawks will probably go with Will Dissly and 2020 fourth-round pick Colby Parkinson, then add through the draft and free agency.
  • C Ethan PocicPocic earned the job in training camp by beating out free agent signee B.J. Finney. Although he still has room for improvement in pass blocking, it’s doubtful the Seahawks want to make a change at such a critical position along the offensive line. Expect Pocic to return.
  • DE Benson MayowaMayowa joined the Seahawks for a second go-round and proved to be one of the team’s best defensive linemen. He has 34 pressures and was second best on the team in pressure rate behind Carlos Dunlap. Mayowa signed a one-year deal for $4 million. He should be a priority free agent but if the price gets too high, the Seahawks may turn to young draftees Alton Robinson and Darrell Taylor.

Among the other UFA’s, there are a few maybe’s. Fullback Nick Bellore made the Pro Bowl as a special teamer and the Seahawks would like to bring him back even though his role in the Seattle offense is negligible. Receiver David Moore played last year on a minimum deal plus incentives. If he chases the money this off-season, he’s likely gone. Receiver Phillip Dorsett spent the entire season sidelined with injury. There’s a chance he returns but the Hawks should be looking elsewhere for a more reliable upgrade. Veteran guard Mike Iupati has been injury-prone and will likely be replaced. Linebacker Bruce Irvin missed the season after knee surgery. He’ll be 33 next season and probably won’t have a lot of suitors. He could be added near training camp as insurance. Cornerback Quinton Dunbar never really got untracked in his first season in Seattle. He went out for the year in December following knee surgery. At the right cost, he may come back to provide depth and experience at a position that is very thin.

Among restricted free agents, the top priority is defensive tackle Poona Ford. He’s a candidate for a second-round tender ($3.4 million) and considering his contribution, that’s a bargain.  Don’t be surprised if Ford receives an offer sheet from another team which would open the door to draft pick compensation if the Seahawks think the price is too rich.

Carlos Dunlap is under contract and the Seahawks want him back but he’s scheduled to make over $14 million next season. He’s expected to be asked to take a pay cut. At 32, he doesn’t have a lot of negotiating clout with the cap falling. I would bet they will work something out.

Cutting Deep – It seems like the impacts of the pandemic are catching up to the CFL. The league is barely holding on by a thread. Players and coaches are exiting south. Teams are cutting payroll. Roster bonuses are not being paid. You wonder how the league will hold a season without fans in the stands.

CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie earns more than any player in the league. He’s collecting $750,000 per season plus incentives that can increase his annual earnings to about $1 million. We don’t see him taking a haircut yet players all over the league are being asked to cut their salaries by up to 40%. Quarterbacks have been taking it on the chin. The CFL’s salary cap for 2021 was set at $5.35 million but teams can reduce it to $4.75 million which is the cap floor under the CBA negotiated with the players association. If you want to save money, it’s a lot easier to go after high-salaried QB’s than it is to nickel-and-dime veterans making less than a hundred grand.

Ottawa and Toronto played musical chairs with quarterbacks Matt Nichols and Nick Arbuckle. Nichols was released before playing a single game with the Argos. He was due a $220,000 bonus. The situation was similar in Ottawa. Quarterback Nick Arbuckle was due a $150,000 bonus. Nichols wasted no time signing with the RedBlacks and received a $200,000 bonus, reuniting with his former Blue Bomber coach Paul LaPolice. Arbuckle then, in turn, signed with the Argos and got his $150,000 bonus. He was reunited with first-year head coach Ryan Dinwiddie who coached Arbuckle in Calgary when he was the Stampeders quarterbacks coach. Arbuckle leaves Ottawa without playing a single down. To acquire Arbuckle, the RedBlacks sent the Stamps the number one overall pick in the CFL draft. Only in the CFL does this stuff happen.

Earlier, Hamilton QB Jeremiah Masoli agreed to a restructured contract rather than being released. The exodus from the CFL may not be limited to just players. Edmonton head coach Scott Milanovich has left for a job with the Indianapolis Colts before even coaching a single game. Stay tuned. You wonder where all this is leading.

Next Moves – The Blue Jays have spent just a shade under $190 million so far this off-season to improve the ball club. Spring training opens in Dunedin less than two weeks from now on February 18. Now that the so-called ‘heavy lifting’ has been completed, what comes next? So far most of the renovation work has been done on the free agent market without sacrificing any jewels from the prospect pipeline. To reach the ultimate goal, the Jays will have to be more willing to take on risk. You won’t find an ace for the starting rotation by shopping at the five-and-dime. It’s great that Jays President and CEO Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins built their careers on player development and put an emphasis on home-grown talent but you won’t land a top-end starter by dealing from the bottom-rung of your farm system.

The recent acquisition of lefthander Steven Matz from the Metz was easy. Landing a bigger fish for the rotation will bring a higher degree of risk. Who can forget the trade that sent infielder Michael Young to the Texas Rangers for pitcher Esteban Loaiza? And it pains to be reminded of the deal with the New York Mets that landed knuckleballer R.A. Dickey for flame-throwing right-hander Noah Syndergaard. The Jays are about to find out it’s not so easy to balance player development when you move into the reality of win-now contention.

While the Jays have done some outstanding work this off-season, the starting staff is still lacking another front-of-the-rotation arm, preferably a right-hander. With Trevor Bauer out of the equation, the search will continue until camp opens and perhaps up until this year’s trade deadline.

For Pete’s Sake – Observing the slow, inextricable and anguishing decline of journalism has been excruciating. We no longer get our weekly fix from the gristled scribes who wrote so eloquently. You know the names. Writers told stories. They investigated. They took us places. As the great Red Smith quipped “Writing is easy. You just sit at the type-writer and open a vein.”

These days, it’s Zoom interviews with athletes who have been schooled on how to say nothing ten different ways. There’s no access. Reporting has been reduced to speculation, hearsay and conjecture. They write what THEY want to HEAR, not what the reader needs to know. It’s a never-ending river of dribble with WAY too much opinion. We are in an era of spellcheck and 140 characters when the people crafting the words have no grasp of the English language. This is what you get. Get used to it.

There are few platforms left to tell the stories. It’s all little clips and quips and meaningless blather. To get a better understanding of where we are coming from, check out this outstanding Sports Illustrated profile of Pete Axthelm, the hardscrabble New York sportswriter who epitomized an era of print giants.

Perhaps now you understand why we get so angry with young, so-called journalists who have no business in the industry. Give them pom-poms because it’s all rah-rah-rah. To call what they are doing journalism is a gross disservice to the brilliant work of the ink-stained wretches who came before them. There was a day when being a journalist was a higher calling and an honoured profession. That’s no longer the case.

The Unwanted Visitor – We’re not saying there are no good journalists working today. It’s just hard to find them. One broadcast journalist held in high regard is TSN’s Rick Westhead who does an outstanding job with TSN’s on-going investigative series TSN Originals. His most recent work is a profile of former NHL Coach of the Year Ted Nolan. The NHL turned its back on Nolan and it’s always been a troubling mystery.

Leftovers – What a shocker! Patrick Reed was caught up in yet another rules violation at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego. He sought relief for an embedded ball and then picked up the ball before a rules official could arrive. Reed was exonerated but considering he made a 5-minute dissertation following the round to defend himself, he sure acted like someone who was guilty. Reed has reportedly used a burner account to anonymously defend himself. No surprise he’s behind it because it’s the only Twitter account out there that actually defends Reed. Fine fellow! The infraction didn’t factor into the final outcome because Reed won the tournament by four strokes. Abbotsford’s Adam Hadwin struggled on the back nine on Sunday and dropped out of the top ten. He finished at -5 and T19.

If you think North American athletes are overpaid, how about Lionel Messi? El Mundo newspaper in Madrid reports that Messi’s most recent deal with Barcelona, signed in 2017, may be worth up to $555 million euros ($673 million) over four seasons. It works out to nearly 138 million euros ($167 million) each season. In case there was any doubt, it’s the most expensive contract ever for an athlete in any sport. Pity poor Messi. He has to pay about half of that in taxes in Spain. According to the report, the 33-year-old Messi has already banked more than $510 million euros ($619 million) of the total. Barcelona has denied responsibility for leaking the story and said it will take legal action against the newspaper.

The Province of Quebec has dropped out of its funding commitment for the 2026 World Cup. The cost has reportedly ballooned from $50 million to $130 million. Montreal will no longer be in line to host games as part of the joint Canada/U.S./Mexico-based event. Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton were originally the tentative host sites here in Canada. Vancouver had opted out of the bid because of the expected costs. That may change now. There’s been no word yet if any of the participating nations will choose to set up a training base in Canada. Victoria would be a great potential location.

Not a single player was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. In a fit of anger over not being inducted, former Red Sox right-hander Curt Schilling has told baseball writers to take his name on next year’s ballot, something they will refuse to do. Schilling publicly supported the U.S. Capitol insurrection and has given thumbs up to a t-shirt that read: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required,” a clear reference to lynching reporters. Schilling has also wondered aloud whether Muslims may be as dangerous as Nazis. Should his bizarre views affect his HOF candidacy? I will leave that up to others to decide.

Music Artist of the Week – You may know Dave Alvin from his days with The Blasters playing with his brother Phil. They had a successful run with the band in the 80’s. Dave left in 1986 to begin a solo career. There was some internal tension as Dave wanted to sing his own songs while Phil Alvin was the established lead vocalist for the group. Dave has carved out a successful solo career under the banner of Dave Alvin & The Guilty Ones. One of my favourite Dave Alvin tunes is “Harlan County Line.” This video was captured in Austin, Texas in 2011.

Here’s Dave in 2017 performing “Ashgrove” with David Hidalgo from Los Lobos.

Here’s a performance from eTown and “Long Black Cadillac.”

A few years ago, Dave released an album with Jimmie Dale Gilmore entitled “Downey to Lubbock”, a reference to where each grew up. Here’s the official music video for that album.

After a long falling out, Dave and Phil reconnected and starting performing together again. Here’s Dave and Phil performing “Southern Flood Blues.”

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