Under Further Review – This week, we have it all for you – the Canucks, the NHL coaching carousel, the Seahawks post mortem, the MLB sign-stealing scandal and the Commander in Cheat. Enjoy NFL Championship weekend!
Canucks Notebook – The Canucks have a great opportunity to head into the all-star break on a torrid streak. If they can knock off San Jose on Saturday might, it will cap an 11-and-3 run and will keep them right in the middle of the Western Conference playoff race. It certainly appears as though at least one of the four western Canadian teams – Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg – is going to miss the playoffs.
One of the keys to any success they have enjoyed this season is the result of their added depth. The Canucks have used the same 12 forwards since Josh Leivo was injured. With Leivo, Ferland and Sutter out of the lineup, their depth was suddenly sapped. Those three guys constitute a whole line and a whole lot of push-back. It’s also one of the reasons the penalty kill has been slipping of late. Sutter is one of their better penalty killers. It hurts that only Jay Beagle kills penalties along Canucks centres. It puts too much responsibility on one player to take draws and work the PK. Unfortunately, Travis Green cannot send out Horvat, Pettersson and Gaudette and that severely limits his options. It would really help if one of the other centres could kill penalties.
Free agent bust Louie Eriksson, who’s been stealing money from the Canucks for four years, now has 36 goals in a Canuck uniform. They said he was going to be a 30-goal scorer but I don’t think they thought it was going to take this long. His 36 goals match his $36 million dollar contract – a million bucks for every goal. Nice investment!
NHL Notebook – It’s been a tough season behind the bench in the NHL. No less than seven coaches have been fired since the start of the season. The latest turf job came this week in Las Vegas where the Golden Knights unexpectedly sacked Gerard Gallant, less than two years after he led an expansion team to the Stanley Cup final. He won the Jack Adams Trophy as Coach of the Year proving again that the Jack Adams is a curse. That team featured a roster of castoffs including 14 UFA’s, many of which earned rich new contracts. Did that change things?
Last year, the Knights made a hasty first round exit against San Jose when officials messed up in game seven. Strangely enough, Gallant was all set to be the Pacific Division coach in next week’s NHL All-Star game. Bill Foley is yet another demanding owner who is upset that Vegas is not among the league’s elite this year. What he doesn’t realize is the Knights can’t handle speed teams and no coaching switch will change that. Already, there’s speculation Gallant will end up coaching the expansion Seattle franchise. I think it’s more likely he ends up in Detroit working for his old linemate Steve Yzerman. If you can believe it, Canucks Coach Travis Green is now the longest-tenured coach in the Pacific Division.
The New Jersey Devils canned General Manager Ray Shero only months after handing him a new 4-year contract. The Devils are owned by Josh Harris, the same joker who own the Philadelphia 76’ers and orchestrated ‘The Process’, the much ballyhooed rebuild of the Sixers that has still not bared any fruit. Harris also owns an 18% stake in Crystal Palace in the English Premier League. He reportedly met with Jared Kushner at one point to discuss a post in the Trump administration.
One team to watch leading up to the NHL trade deadline is the Montreal Canadiens. They have some key veterans heading to unrestricted free agency after next season that would garner heavy interest should Marc Bergevin put them on the market. They include Brendan Gallagher, Joel Armia, Philip Danault, Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry. Question is – Do the Habs have any interest in dealing them? As a covered right-shot defenseman, Petry would have the most value. By the way, after my diatribe last week on the vertically-challenged Canadiens forwards, a friend said the Habs should install a ladder on the bench to help the players get over the boards.
We should not be surprised that Matthew Tkachuk goaded Zack Kassian into a double minor which led to the winning goal in the latest installment of the Battle of Alberta. The Tkachuk boys will do anything to win. Brother Brady in Ottawa leads the NHL in drawn penalties with 28. The Canucks are still lamenting passing on Matthew in the 2016 draft in favour of Olli Juolevi. The Canadiens passed on Brady in 2018 when they reached for Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
The Canucks should have known better. In 1990, the Canucks had two first round picks. They chose Petr Nedved second overall, then selected Shawn Antoski 18th overall. The very next pick by the Winnipeg Jets was a Hall of Famer named Keith Tkachuk.
NHL shooters have never been better. It was not too long ago that scoring was down and goaltenders were dominating the game. The trend was to large goaltenders with big pads. The NHL was forced to legislate smaller equipment and even considered larger nets. Now, every kid who comes into the league can shoot the puck.
Gone are the days when teams might have one guy who could really twist it. Look no further than the recent World Junior tournament where Hayton and Foote and Lafreniere were firing pucks into the top corner consistently. It’s unbelievable how hard they can shoot the puck. It’s been a great equalizer against big goaltenders. The sticks have played a big factor as well. Kids are playing with 65 and 75 flex sticks that are as whippy as hell and allow them to go under the bar almost at will.
TSN’s Craig Button takes mix and match to a whole new level. Have you ever seen such sartorial splendor? Polk-a-dot ties, stripped shirts and checkered jackets with some paisley thrown in for good measure. Where does this guy shop? Goodwill! He should have his own line of clothing. The Craig Button ‘Hobo’ line.
If you were wondering why Button was fired as GM of the Calgary Flames, look no further than Marty St. Louis and J.S. Giguere. He let both go and got absolutely nothing in return.
Seahawks Post Mortem – Green Bay has been a black hole for the Seahawks so it was no surprise they bowed out to the Packers in the NFL playoff divisional round.
There’s no question that injuries short-circuited the Seahawks season. The Seahawks played the game without their top three running backs, a back-up center, a third-string guard, and left tackle Duane Brown was playing less than 3 weeks after knee surgery. They were without their top two tight ends. Jacob Hollister and Luke Willson were not even on the roster when the season began. It’s pretty hard to run an offense at peak efficiency with an injury list that long. Injuries also prevented Seattle from fielding their best defense most weekends. Yet the Seahawks scored touchdowns on their first three possessions of the second half for the second time in three weeks against the two teams that will be playing for the NFC Championship this weekend.
It’s particularly disappointing when the season is compromised by a dropped pass in the final few minutes. Malik Turner obviously heard footsteps. Could it be because he was coming off concussion protocol just last week?
The good news is that the Seahawks have transitioned from the Legion of Doom into a new era with a very young squad and a really good cap situation. The Seahawks will have $68.6 million in cap space heading into the off-season which is 8th best in the NFL.
The defensive line will be the main focus with Jadeveon Clowney, Quinton Jefferson and Jarran Reed all heading to free agency. The Seahawks needs to focus on re-establishing a violent, smash-mouth defense with speed and playmaking ability. They sat back this season and surrendered way too much yardage between the 20’s. The evidence was clear against the Packers. Green Bay was 9 of 14 on third down and converted third and 8 and third and 9 on their final possession. Green Bay scored each time they got inside the Red Zone. So much for the Seahawks ‘bend but not break’ defense. It was also revealing that the Seahawks did not have a single takeaway over the final three games. Green Bay had only one reliable target in Devante Adams yet the Seahawks watched as he caught 8 balls for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
The only significant free agent on offense is right tackle Germain Ifedi and you have to wonder if the Seahawks will even be interested in re-upping. Ifedi is a penalty waiting to happen. He had 13 penalties this season, 7th most in the NFL and has incurred 52 penalties during his 4-year Seahawks career which is the most by any NFL player during that time.
NFL Notebook – Who would have predicted the Tennessee Titans would be playing in the AFC Championship game? They have proven once again that running teams can still have success in the pass-happy NFL. Derrick Henry went for a buck 95 against the Baltimore Ravens after churning out 186 yards in the opening playoff game against New England. He’s the first player in NFL history to rush for over 180 yards in three straight games and the first player to go over 175 yards in two consecutive playoff games.
Ryan Tannehill has had only 15 completions for 160 yards in the Titans two playoff games. The Titans are the only team in NFL history to win two playoff games with less than 100 yards passing in each game. The fun may stop this Sunday in Kansas City. If the Titans fall behind, it will be very difficult to play catch-up without a viable passing attack.
Can we stop ordaining young quarterbacks as the ‘next big thing’ before they have won anything? Everyone had Baltimore winning the Super Bowl behind Lamar Jackson. He pranced around more than MJ at Neverland but still couldn’t carry the Ravens past Tennessee. Still, the Ravens averaged more than 200 yards rushing per game this season and won 14 games.
Houston coach Bill O’Brien wins the ‘Brain-Dead’ award for his decision to try a fake punt with the Texans up 24-7 in the second quarter against the Chiefs. Talk about a momentum-changer. KC scored 21 points in 15 minutes of real time and 41 unanswered points overall. They outscored Houston 51-7 after trailing 24-0. O’Brien may want to make plans to return to Penn State.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Bill Cowher has been inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. WTF? The NFL has apparently lowered the bar for HOF selections to ‘Limbo’ level. Cowher won one Super Bowl in two appearances and if you recall, the one he won was against Seattle when the Seahawks got royally screwed by the officials. It just points up the influence of the Rooney family in NFL affairs. It should certainly open the door to a HOF selection for Seattle’s Pete Carroll who is also one for two in the Super Bowl.
There’s a new sucker checking into the Cleveland Asylum. The Browns have hired Viking offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski as their new head coach. He’s the Browns 6th head coach since Jimmy Haslam took over as owner seven years ago. Apparently Knute Rockne turned it down. No coach with any common sense or credibility would take that job. The Browns reportedly interviewed 8 candidates over the past two weeks. Haslam may want to ask the 37 year old Stefanski why the Vikings had only seven first downs and 21 yards rushing in their beat-down against the 49’ers.
Speaking of the 49’ers, I don’t see them losing at home in the NFC Championship game. Their defense is too strong and they should be able to run the football against the Packers front. In fact, I could see both championship games this weekend being one-sided. It’s the Chiefs and the 49’ers in the Super Bowl.
Cheaters Prosper – The Major League Baseball sign-stealing scandal is gaining more momentum each day. It has tainted the game much like the PED scandal 20 years ago. It’s an issue of trust and it’s very damaging.
What’s the old saying in sports – “If you aren’t cheatin’, you aren’t tryin’?” Well, the Houston Astros clearly decided to take it to a whole new level. In case you missed it, Major League Baseball has suspended Astros manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow following an investigation going back to the 2017 season. The Astros subsequently fired both of them. Houston also had draft choices taken away in the first and second rounds over the next two years and were fined the maximum allowed, $5 million dollars.
According to reports, the Astros had a system where someone would hit a garbage can with a bat when an off-speed pitch was coming. There is another report that claims the Astros used electronic devices that were taped inside uniforms that buzzed for certain pitch selections. Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman have been identified as ringleaders along with former Astro Carlos Beltran and former Astro bench coach Alex Cora. Since the story broke, Beltran and Cora have been dismissed as managers of the Mets and Red Sox.
If you are keeping score, that’s three managers in four days out the door. No players have been punished so far. But when you look at the big picture, the whole team is complicit.
Sign stealing was always considered part of the game when it was limited to petty thievery. This is grand larceny. While the punishment appears stiff and appropriate, it doesn’t really hit the Astros that hard on the field. If MLB really wanted to make a statement, they would have taken the designated hitter away from the Astros for a year or two and force their pitchers to hit. That would have had really sent a message.
Global Bird-Dogging – Scouting Europe has proven to be a fruitful strategy for the Raptors. Likewise, the Dominican Republic has been a bountiful breeding ground for the Blue Jays. Now, the Jays are looking to mine talent in the Far East, an area they neglected for far too long.
The 2019 season was one to forget for the Blue Jays but it did mark the start of a new era with an influx of young talent that should continue for several years to come. Along came Guerrero, Bichette and Biggio and there’s more to come. The Jays top 50 prospects list includes several more blue-chip prospects who should be in Blue Jay uniforms sometime over the next two seasons.
Gorgeous Gilgeous – I can hardly wait for the final Olympic basketball qualifying tournament in Victoria next June. Canada is going to feature a dynamic backcourt with emerging NBA stars Jamal Murray and Shae Gilgeous-Alexander. It certainly looks like the L.A. Clippers will live to regret the trade with OKC for Paul George that sent Gilgeous-Alexander to the Thunder. Alexander set several NBA records this past week when he recorded his first ever triple double.
Tigers vs. Tigers – Talk about a dream season! LSU quarterback Joe Burrow wins the Heisman Trophy, a national championship and is now the consensus #1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Not a bad trifecta.
Commander in Cheat – Donald Trump the golfer is very much Donald Trump the person. It’s been reported recently that he basically hijacked the 2018 club championship at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach from movie mogul Ted Virtue. Virtue, who bankrolled the Oscar-winning film ‘Green Book’, won the championship legitimately. However, the Donald was out of town when the championship took place. Upon returning to the club, Trump ran into Virtue on the course midway through a round. Virtue was playing with his son. Trump told Virtue he wasn’t really club champion because he hadn’t beaten him. Trump insisted on playing a match over the final six holes. They were tied when they hit 18. Trump dunked his ball in the water while Virtue and his son both hit onto the green. When they reached the green, Trump started to line up the son’s ball. The kid told Trump it was his ball. Trump played it anyway, sank the putt for a bogus birdie, and claimed the club championship for himself.
Former Sports Illustrated writer Rick Reilly wrote a book on Trump’s golf exploits called ‘Commander in Cheat.’ You could not get a more apt title. Here’s more in this video link.
In case you were not aware of what Trump did in Aberdeen, Scotland when he petitioned to build a golf course there, check this!
The Joe Schultz Sports Quote of the Week – This week it comes from none other than Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods. “Hockey is a sport for white men. Basketball is a sport for black men. Golf is a sport for white men dressed like pimps.”
Music Video of the Week – We have a treat for you this week. It’s always fun to go back in the vault and find some vintage footage of some of the great bluesmen. Here is Howlin’ Wolf (AKA Chester Burnett) performing in Britain in 1964. You will notice another blues icon Willie Dixon on bass.
One year later, Howlin’ Wolf was on the American TV program Shindig at the request of the Rolling Stones who were guesting on the show and insisted he appear with them. It was probably the first time most North American kids had seen an actual black bluesman performing. Pretty cool stuff.