Under Further Review – This week, the streaking Raptors, the Canucks goalie conundrum, a look around the NHL as the trade deadline approaches and a look back at Super Bowl 54.
Late Breaking News – What can you say about the Toronto Raptors? They ran their club record winning streak to 13 games with a win in Indiana on Friday night. That’s also 10 straight wins on the road. It’s the longest winning streak by any Canadian MLB, NHL or NBA team in history and the longest streak since the Habs won 12 straight back in 1967. The Raptors have Brooklyn twice and Minnesota leading up to the NBA All-star break so the streak could reach at least 16. Amazing for a team that has been so beset by injuries all season long.
The Canucks This Week – The Canucks barely survived a brutal road trip and though it didn’t end well, they did manage to earn five out of 10 points. They will need to right the ship in quick order however, starting at home on Saturday night against the reeling Calgary Flames.
It was good to see Travis Green open up and blast the refs for the no-calls on Elias Pettersson during the road trip. Pettersson took another one against Boston and though it wasn’t shockingly egregious, most people thought a penalty should have been called when he got hit a couple of seconds after releasing the puck. We will see soon enough if Green’s words made a dent with the NHL. The league talks about protecting its best players but you don’t often see much evidence.
Much has been written to date on the Canucks goalie conundrum. Some big decisions will have to be made by July of 2021 when the Seattle Kraken (or whatever they will be called) enter the league and teams will only be allowed to protect one goaltender in the expansion draft.
In the meantime, Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko have been lights out and it leaves the Canucks front office with a very big headache. First off, with Markstrom heading into free agency, you have to get him wrapped up and signed to an extension. No way you let him walk! Demko has been coming into his own so it will be decision time before the expansion draft or perhaps even earlier. What to do? Sign Markstrom and figure it all out later.
Defenseman Chris Tanev will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and many fans assumed the Canucks would let him sign elsewhere, especially considering their impending cap problems. However, Tanev has been rock solid as a defense partner for Quinn Hughes and the Canucks would be wise to reconsider. I would try and find a way to get Tanev extended. Don’t forget, right-shot defensemen are hard to find so it would be very unwise to let him walk for nothing. It’s nice to see Tanev finally enjoying an injury-free season.
I made the case several months ago that Vancouver and Colorado would dominate the Western Conference over the next five years. I didn’t expect the Canucks to arrive this quickly but I am more confident than ever that these two teams, if projecting forward, have the most upside of any teams in the West.
It certainly appears as though the Calder Trophy voting is going to be a three-horse race. Quinn Hughes of the Canucks, Cale Makar of the Avalanche and Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov are all enjoying superlative rookie campaigns. Early on, it looked like Makar would run away with the Calder. Hughes has been coming on strong and may end up leading all rookies in scoring. Varlamov’s numbers are off the charts so he can’t be dismissed. It’s going to be an interesting final few months.
NHL Bits and Pieces – The NHL trade deadline is just two weeks away and while every team wants to make a big statement, sometimes under-the-radar deals pay big dividends. There was no better deal at the trade deadline last year than the deal that sent Ryan Dzingel from the Senators to Columbus for Anthony Duclair and a pair of second round picks. That trade has stung the Blue Jackets big time. Dzingel was just a rental while Duclair has emerged as a force in Ottawa and leads the Sens with 21 goals. A one-for-one deal would still favor the Senators let alone the two second rounder’s throw in.
Another deadline deal that seemed insignificant at the time was the trade between Arizona and Los Angeles in 2018 that sent goalie Darcy Kuemper to the Coyotes for Tobias Rieder and goalie Scott Wedgewood. Kuemper has been a huge addition in the desert and came at virtually no cost.
If you look at the list of players who may be available at this year’s trade deadline, it is not exactly earth-shaking. There are very few quality centremen on the market and overall, few players who will move the needle. At the moment, it looks as though trade deadline day will be very slow and uninspiring.
Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has learned that other teams don’t do you any favors when your needs are obvious. The Leafs have been shopping for a quality back-up goaltender all season to no avail. They finally acquired Jack Campbell from Los Angeles this week but it cost the Leafs two third round picks. I predict Campbell won’t have any big impact. It doesn’t matter who you have in nets if you’re giving up Grade ‘A’ scoring chances time and time again.
This isn’t the first time that Dubas has traded for Campbell. Back when he was general manager of the OHL Sault St. Marie Greyhounds, Dubas acquired Campbell from Windsor. The cost? Two players and SEVEN draft choices. Why do we point this out? Well, the Sault didn’t win diddly after acquiring Campbell for that ridiculous haul. And guess who Dubas shoved aside in order to make room for Campbell? Matt Murray! Yes, that Matt Murray. The guy who back-stopped Pittsburgh to two Stanley Cups. Its obvious Dubas wouldn’t know a goalie if Patrick Roy landed on his lap.
It’s been one screw-up after another since Dubas took over as Leafs GM. He had a solid back-up goaltender in Curtis McElhinney but chose to keep Garrett Sparks as a back-up. Sparks flopped and Dubas lost McElhinney on waivers. Over the summer, the Leafs let Nazem Kadri, Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev go in separate deals. The replacements – Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot and Cody Ceci – have been nowhere near as effective and the stats prove it. Not to mention the ‘bite’ and competitiveness they lost in the process.
Do long-term contracts make players too comfortable? I say YES. It’s only natural. That may be the issue in Nashville where David Poile has signed a slew of players to long-term, big money deals. Otherwise, how to you explain so many players in Nashville having off-years at the same time?
There is big concern in Calgary where the Flames took a massive hit this week with the injury to captain Mark Giordano. The Flames were looking for scoring help at the deadline and may now be forced to shop for a defenseman just to stay alive in the playoff race. If you asked me – I could see the Flames dealing Johnny Gaudreau in the off-season and making a big pitch to sign UFA Taylor Hall, a Calgary native.
Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski has 17 goals so far this season. That’s incredible for a guy who has missed games with injury. How would you like to start a team with Werenski and Seth Jones on defense? If you are wondering why the Blue Jackets have survived this season and remained in the playoff chase, that’s your answer.
Battle of Alberta – It’s great to see the Battle of Alberta being revived. The two recent clashes between Calgary and Edmonton rekindled all the old bitterness. Of course, the only way a rivalry will work is if there is something to play for. The Battle of Alberta had no relevance for over a decade during the Oilers long run of futility. With both teams in a heated battle for playoff spots, there is now something on the line. Hopefully, it stays that way for a while because it is one of the great rivalries in hockey if there is something meaningful at stake.
The Skoog – We have a new addition to the All-Name Team in sports. Enter one Wilmer Skoog. Wilmer just made a name for himself by scoring the winning goal in double overtime to help Boston University to a big win at the Beanpot tournament in Boston. He’s a freshman forward from Tyreso, Sweden.
I ask the question – why couldn’t his parents just have named him Bob? He could have probably got along OK in life as Bob Skoog. Since he’s Swedish, maybe Henrik or Daniel. But Wilmer Skoog? Sounds like the name of a guy riding the rails during the Great Depression.
Super Bowl 54 – When I look back at last Sunday’s Super Bowl in Miami, one image still stands out and that’s the 49’ers end-zone celebration after the second interception of Pat Mahomes. It was 20-10 San Francisco at the time and the entire 49’er defense gathered for a team photo op as if the final result were a foregone conclusion. Everything turned after that early end-zone celebration. Dumb and dumber!
What we learned in the final eight minutes of the game is Kansas City is never out of a game with Mahomes at quarterback. Mahomes and Russell Wilson of the Seahawks are the only two quarterbacks in the NFL that you can really say that about. The Chiefs put up 21 points in rapid succession and Kansas City had its first Super Bowl victory in 50 years. At 24, Mahomes becomes the youngest player ever to win an NFL MVP award as well as Super Bowl MVP.
It was great to see Andy Reid finally win a championship. He has over 200 wins in his NFL coaching career and it was nice to see him win an elusive Super Bowl title. San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan, on the other hand, was left to answer some big questions. For three quarters, 49’er quarterback Jimmy Garappolo looked in command while Mahomes looked very average. But in the final quarter when it mattered most, Garappolo could not deliver and Shanahan seemed helpless. You will remember, Shanahan was offensive coordinator in Atlanta when the Falcons blew a 28-to-3 Super Bowl lead against the Patriots.
One other footnote from Sunday’s game – it was rather enjoyable to see Richard Sherman get beat deep by the Chiefs Sammy Watkins during the Chiefs go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. I don’t suppose that will shut Sherman’s trap however.
I got a chance to catch a bit of Chris Berman doing the hi-lites following this year’s game and it brought to mind just how original and great he is. Nobody voices over NFL hi-lites better than Berman. He always throws in several pop-culture references and I loved the reference to the June Taylor Dancers when the Chiefs made an offensive shift prior to a snap that led to a score.
And finally, in case you missed it, here are some of the best commercials from Super Bowl 54 in Miami.
Mookie Money – While the deal is still pending, you can see why the Boston Red Sox are set to deal former American League MVP Mookie Betts to the LA Dodgers. Look below the surface and you get a pretty good picture of why the Sox are ready to make the move. Betts reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million dollar offer from the Red Sox, a move he may live to regret. Nonetheless, Mookie’s representatives came back and countered by demanding 12 years and $35 million per season. Do the math and the deal would have totaled $420 million.
Boston flinched and for good reason. The contract would have put the Sox over the luxury tax threshold and they would have been taxed an additional $33 million per season for three years. All told, if Boston would have agreed to the contract extension, keeping Mookie would have cost the Red Sox more than $68 million for each of next three seasons when you add up the luxury tax and the annual cost of the contract. No chance they were going to do that. Unloading half of David Price’s contract was added incentive for the Red Sox to pull the trigger.
Please Don’t Go Masai – The week in sports brought another worrisome report that the New York Knicks were going to make a big play for Raptors President Masai Ujiri. Of course, we have heard this tune before. Thankfully, it is not happening as the Knicks announced they are hiring former player agent Leon Rose as club president, replacing Steve Mills who was fired this week after two tumultuous years under nutty fruitcake owner James Dolan.
All I can say is I wouldn’t be surprised if Masai became the commissioner of the NBA one day. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up at the United Nations or started a pro league in Africa. Anything is possible. Masai Ujiri is one of the most coveted managers in all of sports and could write a ticket anywhere.
Final Thoughts – Glad to see Andrew Wiggins get moved out of Minnesota at the NBA trade deadline. Wiggins has not progressed in the Timberwolves wilderness and it will be interesting to see if he can elevate his game in Golden State under the watchful eye of a great coach in Steve Kerr.
Good luck on the weekend to Abbotsford’s Nick Taylor who leads the PGA Tour event at Pebble Beach after two rounds. Taylor has posted rounds of 63 and 67 to sit at 14-under. It would be great to see Nick break through with his second career victory. He hasn’t won since his rookie season six years ago. Nick plays Spyglass on Saturday which is considered the toughest of the three courses used for the tournament.
And a big congratulations as well to Canada’s national women’s soccer team who have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. They got by Costa Rica 1-0 in Friday’s semi-final of the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship in Carson, California. The Canadian women have reached the podium in back to back Olympics and have qualified for every Olympic Games since 2008. The United States punched their ticket by beating Mexico 4-nil. Canada will face the Americans in Sunday’s final.
Vinyl Regrets – One of my many great regrets in life is the decision to get rid of all my old records. Like a lot of people, I had a really decent vinyl collection. Lots of good rock n’ roll, and some vintage jazz and blues albums that I would love to have back.
To make it even more painful, I came across a website while looking at news stories on CNN.com. It lists the 40 most valuable records that people may have in their collection. Yes, I had several of them and when you see the prices, you will be kicking your ass too!
The Joe Schultz Quote of the Week – Let’s go back to when Darryl Sutter was general manager of the Calgary Flames. He got into a combustible contract negotiation with defenseman Roman Hamrlik. When Hamrlik asked for $5 million dollars a season, Sutter responded, “If you want $5 million, buy a lottery ticket.”
Music Video of the Week – With word this week that the Rolling Stones will be playing at BC Place in Vancouver this coming May, it brought to mind the great Mick Taylor, the former Rolling Stones guitar player extraordinaire.
Taylor is arguably one of the three greatest blues guitarists ever produced in the UK, along with Eric Clapton and Peter Green. He joined the Stones in 1969 (replacing founding member Brian Jones) at the suggestion of John Mayall. Taylor had previously played in Mayall’s Bluesbreakers band (taking over from Green) in 1966.
Taylor first appeared on the Stones album “Let It Bleed” but only on a couple of tracks and made his first real impact on the single “Honky Tonk Woman” and the live album “Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out”. He played a major role on the band’s next LP “Sticky Fingers” from which “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” appears and “Exile on Main Street”.
His Tour de Force with the Stones (one of many, actually) came on the album “It’s Only Rock and Roll” from 1974 and the song “Time Waits For No One”, which, although his talents are quite noticeable, he received no writing credit. He never received any credit for the song “Moonlight Mile” either even though he practically co-wrote it. This was one of the main reasons Taylor chose to leave the Stones quite unexpectedly in late 1974 to play in a band with ex-Cream bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Bruce Gary (who would later form the Knack), although the project never really took off.
Taylor’s post Stones career has been a spotty one with only a couple of solo albums, including the quite excellent “Mick Taylor” from 1979. He also made an appearance on Little Feat’s live LP “Waiting for Columbus” in 1978, guested on several Bob Dylan LP’s including “Infidels” and “Empire Burlesque” and appeared on a few solo projects by Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, who took over from him in the Stones in 1975. Now 71, Taylor was induced into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Rolling Stones in 1989 and appeared with the band for several dates during their 50th anniversary tour in 2012.
Here he is cutting loose on ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ in a live performance with the Rolling Stones in Glastonbury in 2016.
When performing live with his own band, Mick always performs an instrumental version of ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’ which is worth the price of admission. This video is from a show in Germany in 2009.