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Under Further Review – January 19, 2019 Edition

Deadline Droppings – The NHL trade deadline is still more than a month away but it’s obvious there are plenty of sellers and a host of attractive players available. It’s a buyer’s market for sure. Just consider for a moment the number of teams open for business – St. Louis, Philadelphia, Florida, Carolina, Ottawa, N.Y. Rangers, Edmonton, L.A., Anaheim, Arizona, New Jersey, Chicago – the list is long.

Columbus is sitting there with two prize UFA’s in Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky and while they claim publicly they have no plans to deal them prior to the deadline, I find it hard to believe they will walk away from two premium players without getting anything in return. A lot of what may come down hinges on the contract status of several potential unrestricted free agents. The Senators have scaled up contract talks with Matt Duchene and Mark Stone.  If they don’t sign new deals, Ottawa will have no choice but to find a dance partner. Buffalo will be working hard to sign Jeff Skinner but may have no option but to trade him if he’s not signed by February 25. It certainly appears as though Carolina’s Michael Ferland and the Flyers Wayne Simmonds won’t be signing before the deadline so they immediately become major targets. Both would be huge additions at the deadline.

I don’t see the Canucks trading Alex Edler.  The team held management meetings this past week and it’s more likely they sign him to an extension. That could happen sooner than you think, certainly well before July 1. I could definitely see the Canucks go after Ferland if he hits the opening market this summer. They desperately need someone who can prevent the other team from taking liberties.

Looking at the Canadian teams, the Winnipeg Jets have had some lapses this season and could use a few upgrades but are they willing to deal a first round pick for the third straight year?  There are some interesting names out there. The Jets could use some help on the left side of their defense behind Josh Morrissey.  Could they pry Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez out of L.A.? They would like to add another centre as well.  How about Brayden Schenn or Derek Brassard, a player they targeted at this time last year? Winnipeg will be an interesting team to follow.

I don’t see Calgary being very active even though they are riding high in the Western Conference. The asking price on a lot of these players will be high so I don’t think the Flames will diving into the pool too deeply.  The team is going well but a number two centre behind Sean Monahan or a forward with some bite would be a great addition. Edmonton is in panic mode as previously chronicled. Peter Chiarelli is desperate to save his job but I wonder if Bob Nicholson or owner Darrell Katz will sign off on a trade where the Oilers surrender a first round pick just to try and squeak into the playoffs.

The Leafs need help on the blueline as we have stated ad nauseum. The question is – are they willing to shake things up? More on the Leafs later!  Ottawa is sure to be involved in a big way at deadline time whether they like it or not. The Sens can’t afford to sink any deeper or the rink in Ottawa will be empty. The Avs are licking their chops at the prospect of having the Sens first and third round picks come June. Montreal is an interesting one.  The Canadiens won’t be surrendering any young assets but that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to add an interesting piece or two to supplement their roster. Don’t forget, the Habs have accumulated a ton of extra picks in the upcoming draft so they may be willing to surrender some picks outside the first round in order to get something done.

Big Boy Hockey – All the wise prognosticators who had the Leafs sipping from the Stanley Cup in June have suddenly gone silent.  The Leafs haven’t beaten any team currently in a playoff position on home ice since November. Not a good sign when you can’t dominate in your own barn! How have they done against five of the top teams in the league? Even after beating Tampa Bay on Thursday night, Toronto is a combined 3-and-9 against the Bruins, Lightning, Predators, Penguins and Flames so far this season. It’s obvious the Leafs can’t play ‘Big Boy Hockey.’ As currently constituted, the Leafs will exit meekly in the opening round of the playoffs again this season.

What to do!  Well, number one, don’t expect Kyle ‘Harry Potter’ Dubas to pull the trigger on a major deal.  I don’t think he has the appetite for it.  The Leafs should have hired Mark Hunter to replace Lou Lamoriello because Hunter would have the ‘jam’ to make a major move. There are several reports indicating the Leafs are willing to part with a first round pick in order to land a much-needed defenseman. They could also use a forward with some size and toughness. I would package Kasperi Kapanen and a first round pick or William Nylander and a pick to try and bolster the lineup. Once the Leafs signed John Tavaras, they were ‘all-in’ so they should start acting like it.

Patriot Game – Are we ever going to learn not to discount the New England Patriots?  Here they are heading to a record eighth straight conference title game yet many insiders predicted this would be the year they started to fade into the sunset. No chance! We keep waiting for a drop-off and it never happens. The one year Tom Brady got hurt and missed the season, they still won eleven games with Matt Cassel at the controls.

Every week we watch the Patriots out-scheme the opposition and execute with ruthless efficiency.  They never beat themselves with turnovers, penalties, blown coverages, dropped balls or mental mistakes. They are also ruthless in how they deal with player contracts.  The Patriots are notorious for letting players go a year early before they are ready to hit the jackpot. Just ask Brandin Cooks, Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins and dozens of others. Belichick and company look for players who are intelligent and team oriented.  Guys they can just plug in and keep the train moving. And it comes with a warning, don’t dare complain about your contract or a lack of playing time! Otherwise, you are out the door.

Everyone thinks the Pats will plummet as soon as Brady retires but I maintain they will continue to thrive as long as Belichick is on the sidelines. No one out-coaches this guy! He will continue to field championship caliber teams with or without Brady. Plus he’s the best cheater and the Patriots reside in the AFC East. The Halifax Schooners could win that division.

Championship Weekend – The NFL conference championship games on Sunday will serve up some appetizing match-ups to be sure. Fans are already salivating at the prospect of Kansas City and the L.A. Rams meeting in the Super Bowl and reprising the Monday night classic that set all kinds of scoring records. It’s certainly a possibility.

The Rams go into New Orleans with a lot of momentum after taking out Dallas in easy fashion.  Home field means so much but somehow I think the Rams will march on.  My chief concern with the Saints is Drew Brees’ arm strength. At 40, he no longer can fire the football and it limits what the Saints can do offensively.  Of course, experience at quarterback means a lot but I still like the Rams.  New Orleans lost defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins to a torn Achilles last Sunday so that will really hurt their run defense. Todd Gurley should be a big factor for L.A.

New England goes into Kansas City and similar to the case of Jared Goff versus Drew Brees, you have the upstart quarterback in Patrick Mahomes going up against arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history in Tom Brady. Can the kid outshine the legend?  I am leaning toward the Chiefs on the strength of Mahomes and the Chiefs multiple weapons. If the Patriots want to play fast, so can the Chiefs. Kansas City can get after the quarterback so watch to see if they can hurry Brady. I suspect the Patriots will try to dink and dunk the Chiefs into submission, control the clock and keep the ball out of the Chiefs hands.

Both picks are risky because the Saints knocked off the Rams and the Patriots edged the Chiefs in previous match-ups this season.  Maybe in both cases, second time is a charm!

Why I Love the Seattle SeahawksFirst, a little background. The Seahawks established their reputation for being astute judges of talent early on in the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era. The seeds of their Super Bowl winning team and their 7-year run of success were planted in the 2010-2012 draft classes.

In 2010, they landed Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate and in the fifth round, Kam Chancellor. They followed it up in 2011 by choosing K.J. Wright in the fourth round, Richard Sherman in the fifth found and Byron Maxwell in the sixth round. They completed the nucleus of a championship team in 2013 when they selected Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson in the first three rounds. At least four of those selections may be future Hall of Famers. The 2013 and 2014 draft classes were not nearly as productive and the impact would be felt in subsequent seasons. The 2015 draft produced Frank Clark and Tyler Lockett so there was some success that year. Most evaluators saw a team in rapid decline and some even predicted the Seahawks would win as few as four games this season.

Instead, the Seahawks won ten games and returned to the playoffs after a one year absence. Seattle’s 2018 draft class produced a starting cornerback in fifth-round pick Tre Flowers; a first-team All-Pro punter in fifth-round pick Michael Dickson; an explosive running back in first-rounder Rashaad Penny; a potential starting tight end in fourth-round pick Will Dissly; two pass-rushers with solid potential in third-rounder Rasheem Green and sixth-rounder Jacob Martin; and a special teams ace in fifth-rounder Shaquem Griffin. Plus, undrafted rookie defensive tackle Poona Ford played his way into the defensive line rotation. They also have high hopes for yet another fifth round selection, offensive lineman Jamarco Jones, who spent the season on injured reserve. An impressive draft class to be sure!

The Seahawks also landed a slew of other players out of its 2017 class which produced starting left cornerback Shaquill Griffin, starting free safety Tedric Thompson, and starting running back Chris Carson. They also have future contributors in offensive lineman Ethan Pocic, safety Delano Hill, receiver David Moore and defensive lineman Nazair Jones.

It’s obvious that if you whiff on two consecutive drafts in the NFL, you are going to pay a heavy price.  You are sure to face problems with depth down through the lineup. Alternatively, if you can hit on multiple players it chances everything.  Look at how one bumper crop of players elevated the Indianapolis Colts this season.

What impresses me the most is the Seahawks don’t shift away from their core beliefs even if they have a bad draft!  This year, they had an even smaller draft board but still came away with a slew of impressive talent. If the Seahawks end of going deep in the playoffs in the next few years, they will look back at the bounty reaped from the 2017 and 2018 draft classes as the most important reason why. It will be an interesting off-season because the Seahawks are sitting with only four selections in April’s NFL draft so they may choose to off-load some players in order to add draft picks.