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Under Further Review – This week, things turn sour for the Canucks and the Canadiens, the music has stopped in Nashville, and the NFL has learns nothing when it comes to hiring head coaches. 

Road to Hell – It’s becoming rather obvious that the Canucks won’t take the next step in their development without significant improvement in their defensive play. We got all the evidence we needed as the Canucks opened a critical 5-game road trip with back to back losses in the Florida sunshine.  

How tough will it be for the Canucks to make the playoffs in the Western Conference this season? Consider this. The Canucks had reeled off seven straight before their 9-2 humiliation in Tampa.  It was their first loss since December 17 yet it dropped them out of a playoff spot.

There’s no masking the issues. The Canucks are giving up an average of 33 shots per game which is third worst in the league. In the last six games, the average has climbed to almost 39 shots against per game. That won’t get it done. The Canucks have been getting top notch goaltending all season but recently, Markstrom and Demko have not been able to make up for the rash of turnovers and poor puck management. With back to back matinees this weekend in Buffalo and Minnesota, things won’t get any easier.

One Canuck who has made a believer out of me this season is Tanner Pearson. His career was hanging in the balance when he was acquired last season from the Penguins for Erik Gudbranson. Upon arrival in Vancouver, Pearson was given a top six audition on a line with Bo Horvat and he hasn’t looked back.

Earlier this season when Pearson struggled through a 14-game scoring drought, I was still not convinced. But since then, Pearson has become a fixture, even leading the Canucks in scoring with 21 points over a recent 22-game stretch.

We recently chronicled the Canucks salary cap issues heading into next season. They will be carrying what amounts to $13 million in ‘dead money’ with the $3 million dollar Roberto Luongo contract recapture, $6 million due to Louie Eriksson, $1 for the Ryan Spooner buy-out and another $3 million to Sven Baertschi wherever he happens to be plying his services.

To make matters worse, the Canucks also have to deal with entry level contract performance bonuses to Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes of up to $4.5 million depending on their final stats which will be added to next year’s cap.

According to PuckPedia, the Canucks are projected to be on the hook for roughly $64.3 million next season which will leave about $17 million in cap space to deal with Jacob Markstrom (UFA), Chris Tanev (UFA), Josh Leivo (UFA), Adam Gaudette (RFA), Troy Stecher (RFA), and Jake Virtanen (RFA). Good luck. The Canucks new Assistant General Manager and capologist Chris Gear had better have a sharp pencil.  If the Canucks continue to slide, I would be looking to deal Tanev, among others, at the trade deadline.

There’s no doubt Canuck Nation has a new superhero in Elias Pettersson. His game speaks for itself. What fans also need to know is he a thoughtful, respectful and compassionate young man. In case you missed it, here’s a wonderful story on how Pettersson has been able to reconnect with his childhood friends whose family was deported from Sweden when they were just young boys.

NHL Notebook – It’s all doom and gloom in Montreal where the Canadiens are reeling. The Habs are working on their second 8-game losing streak in the past six weeks and have dropped out of sight in the Eastern Conference playoff spot. It’s time for sweeping changes in Montreal but do you really believe the Habs will do what really needs to be done? Owner Geoffrey Molson can’t tell the difference between a hockey puck and a beer cap. Firing General Manager Marc Bergevin is absolutely the right move.

We did a little check on the Canadiens pint-sized forward group and counted no less than 8 players that we believe are definitely 5’10” and under. Three forwards – Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron and Matthew Peca – are listed at 5’9”.  Three others are listed at 5’10” – Tomas Tatar, Max Domi and Jordan Weal.  If any of those three are 5’10”, then I am a 7’ center in the NBA.  Nick Suzuki is listed at 5’11’ and the biggest reach is they have Jonathan Drouin listed at 6’. That’s laughable. Add in defenseman Victor Mete who checks in at 5’9” and you get the picture. Bergevin has assembled a roster of midgets and it’s no surprise they get pushed around on a nightly basis.

So what did the Habs do at the NHL draft table last summer? They selected Cole Caulfield, the vertically challenged winger from the U.S. National Development team who is listed at 5’6” and 162 pounds. The next two picks were Canadian-born forwards Alex Newhook and Peyton Krebs. We will see how that works out. Bergevin’s next move may be to formulate a whole line of Fuzzy Cupid, Sky Low Low and Little Beaver, my favourite all-time midgets.

David Poile is one of the most respected GM’s in the NHL but you have to wonder about his thought process in firing Peter Laviolette. All Laviolette has done is lead 3 different teams to the Stanley Cup finals including a Cup winner in Carolina. To replace him with John Hynes, who was dumped by New Jersey earlier this season, is utterly incomprehensible. Why not just hire John Brophy?

This is an act of sheer desperation.  Laviolette won’t be unemployed for long. Look around the NHL and he would be a massive upgrade behind the bench in at least 10 cities. He’s a good tactician, a good communicator and his teams play an up-tempo style of play that works in today’s game.

Poile has been applauded for making gutsy trades but upon reflection many of them have gone sour.  Trading stud defenseman Seth Jones to Columbus for under-achieving centre Ryan Johansen was a massive mistake. Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban was not a great decision and there’s probably several more moves that have contributed to the Predators current predicament.

The Predators have been unable to get Kyle Turris going and right now, Turris is a millstone with four more years and $24 million owed to a player playing on the 4th line. You will remember Turris was part of the three-way deal between Ottawa, Colorado and Nashville that sent Matt Duchene to the Senators. The Preds gave up speedy defenseman Sammy Girard and other assets in the deal to get Turris. Poile may also live to regret several cap-killing contracts. 29 year old Roman Josi is just starting a six-year deal at $9 million per. Duchene has six more years at $8 million while Johansen has five more years at $8 million. I understand that you have to take chances when your window for winning a Cup is open but Poile is now paying the piper.

If you were wondering what your favourite NHL team has in the prospect pipeline, TSN just released its Top-50 NHL affiliated prospects.  Some outstanding talent on the way.

Things are going from bad to worse in San Jose. Captain Logan Couture went down this week with a broken ankle which was not lost on Senator fans. Ottawa holds the Sharks first round pick thanks to the Erik Karlsson trade and the pick is now looking like it could be a high lottery selection. Visions of Alexis Lafreniere in an Ottawa uniform perhaps?

The situation in San Jose is starting to look much like what happened with the Kings in Los Angeles. The Sharks have just over $47 million committed to five skaters and a goaltender through 2023-2024. The group includes Couture, Karlsson, Evander Kane, Brent Burns, Marc-Eduoard Vlasic and Martin Jones. Good luck to Doug Wilson cleaning up that mess.

NFL Notebook – Can you explain the infatuation with hiring Patriot assistants as head coaches? Once again the New York Giants have dipped into the New England staff and hired receivers coach Joe Judge as the new Giants head coach.

Let’s review. Numerous Patriot assistants including Josh McDaniels, Brian Flores, Matt Patricia and Bill O’Brien have landed head jobs.  You can even go back to Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis. The common denominator? None of them have won diddly since leaving New England to become an NFL head coach.

There’s really no end to the stupidity in pro sports. Owners have more money than brains. Correct me if I’m wrong but please name a college football coach that has had any success in the NFL.  It certainly isn’t Chip Kelly.  Mr. Chip’s posted a 28-35 record in four seasons with the Eagles and 49ers. Kelly takes his place alongside Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban among the highly successful college coaches who could not make it work on Sundays.

NFL owners have apparently learned nothing. So what do the Carolina Panthers do in their search for a new head coach?  They hire Baylor coach Matt Rhule and hand him a 7-year, $60 million dollar contract with incentives that could take his earnings to $70 million. My question is – who is this guy and what the hell has he accomplished that would make you want to shower him with a contract that ridiculous?  Complete insanity!

Hey Mr. Goodell?  How’s that diversity program working out because I don’t see a lot of black head coaches being hired? In the wake of all the recent coaching changes, yes, they are all white, there are more calls for minority hirings in the NFL. There are all kinds of qualified candidates who are black yet nothing seems to change. Mike Tomlin, Tony Dungy, Herm Edwards, Marvin Lewis have guided teams to the playoffs. Tomlin and Dungy won Super Bowls. The reality is NFL owners are mostly old, white guys who won’t entrust their team to a black head coach.  A sad commentary.

The Patriots had better hope Tom Brady returns for another season because his departure would have a seismic impact on their cap space. The extension given to Brady last season was, in effect, a raise with two voidable years added for cap purposes. Problem is, if Brady retires or signs elsewhere, the Patriots will be stuck with $13.5 million in dead money against their 2020 salary cap.

Nurse Maid – You have to be impressed with Raptors coach Nick Nurse and the job he has done this year with the injury-depleted Raptors. To illustrate just how hard the Raptors have been hit, they have had to use two completely different starting lineups in a pair of games against Portland this season. All five starters were different and they almost won both of them.

At last check, the Raptors had lost 138 man games to injury, third most in the league this season. In the past week, their lineup has included undrafted free agent rookies Matt Thomas, Oshae Brissett, Chris Boucher, Malcolm Miller and Patrick McCaw along with Stanley Johnson who’s on his third team in two years. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been a revelation all season.  The Raptors have adopted a next-man-up mentality but it’s Nurse who deserves a ton of credit for holding it all together.

The Joe Shultz Quote of the Week – This week, a classic line from former NBA great Chuck Nevitt.  “My sister’s expecting a baby, and I don’t know if I’m going to be an uncle or an aunt.”

Music Video of the Week – A few years ago I had the pleasure of booking Hans Theessink and Terry Evans for a concert I was producing. Here they are in studio performing ‘Delta Time.’ Enjoy!