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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy. This week, the Canucks proving they are true contenders. The NFL conference title games are set and we say NO to Dan Quinn.

Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada – We were happy to see Victoria hosting Scotiabank HDIC but judging by the turnout, the response was lukewarm at best. Please, don’t blame it on the weather. Sportsnet did a decent job showcasing the community and Victoria’s rich hockey history. We could do without Ron MacLean dressed in a Victoria Millionaires jersey and cap.

Canucks Notebook – Can you pick a Stanley Cup favourite right now? It sure seems like it’s a wide-open field with no consensus choice. With half a season to go, it increases the pressure to make something happen at the trade deadline. You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity in a season without a clear-cut favourite

Coming off one of the best road trips in club history, the Canucks are riding high atop the Pacific Division with a shot at the President’s Trophy. From the start of the season, the goalposts have clearly shifted. The team now has higher expectations. Why not aim higher? Is a Cup run really out of the realm of possibility?

The front office says it would like to add a top-six forward. Most reports have the Canucks searching for a solid, two-way winger but with the Lotto Line back together, would a top-flight center to anchor the second line not be a more likely target? Pius Suter has been a positive addition but he’s not a true number two center.

Contributor Jordan Moss provided the perfect match if the Canucks go shopping at the NHL trade deadline – Minnesota’s Joel Eriksson Ek. He’s an outstanding shutdown center with good size at 6-3” and 207 pounds. Eriksson Ek had his best season last year with 23 goals and 61 points. Better yet, he’s still only 26 and under contract for five more seasons at a bargain rate of $5.25 million.

Would the Wild be willing to part with Eriksson Ek? The short answer is probably not. It would take a boatload. Wild GM Bill Guerin has called Eriksson Ek the team’s most irreplaceable player. While we are always loathe to part with first-round draft picks, we would be willing to move next summer’s pick if Eriksson Ek were the prize. There are some other pieces that could be included to make it work. Andrei Kuzmenko would help make the cap numbers match. Nils Aman, Aatu Raty, Valeri Podkolzin, Conor Garland are other potential names that could be included in any deal. Probably not enough to get it done but you would at least have enough to open discussions. Eriksson Ek may be untouchable, especially when you take into account his contract status, but it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t profile as a perfect fit.

The Canucks already have the top scoring offense in the NHL so they can easily afford to surrender a winger like Kuzmenko. Eight players have 10 or more goals this season which is testament to the team’s scoring depth. It will be interesting to see if Canucks management can get something done before the deadline. Finding a player in the right age group with an affordable cap number will be difficult.

NHL Notebook – Rick Bowness has always been one of our favorites since his days as an assistant coach with the Canucks. He’s done a superlative job with the Winnipeg Jets this season. Who would have predicted they would be near the top of the NHL standings at this point in the season? The Jets lead the NHL in goals against and recently had a stretch where they allowed three or fewer goals in 31 consecutive games. Along with Patrik Allvin, no other general manager has done a better job than Kevin Cheveldayoff. Fans in Winnipeg were screaming for a rebuild. Instead, Cheveldayoff moved out Pierre-Luc Dubois and Blake Wheeler, re-signed Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck and the Jets have taken off. They opened the season as 50-1 longshots to win the Cup. The odds have dropped to 18-1 thanks to the Jets stellar play. In terms of needs, like the Canucks, the Jets could use a number two center.

John Tortorella takes so much flak in the media. He’s been portrayed as a tyrant and it’s a label he may never be able to shake. Criticism aside, the guy can coach and his record speaks for itself. He wins hockey games. It may not be pretty but Torts gets results. What he has done in Philadelphia this season is nothing short of remarkable. To have the Flyers in a playoff spot at this point in the season is absolutely incredible. Most hockey insiders predicted the Flyers would be in contention for the top pick in next summer’s NHL draft.

The Montreal Canadiens have stockpiled 22 picks over the next two drafts. However, in the 2024 draft, the Habs have only one pick in each of the first two rounds. Expect Montreal to try and add another second-rounder by dealing Sean Monahan prior to the trade deadline.

If you watched the Leafs-Canucks game on Saturday night, you couldn’t help but notice how much John Tavares’ play has dropped off. He’s having all kind of trouble with the pace of the game. T.J. Brodie is also struggling. He can no longer handle playing 21 minutes a game and it’s costing the Leafs big time. Mark Giordano is near the end. He and Brodie have trouble clearing the front of the net.

Bo Horvat must be wondering what he has done to land on Long Island on a middling team and now have to play for Patrick Roy. What’s the over-under before Roy erupts? Following the Islanders just got a whole lot more interesting.

Road to the Super Bowl – Home field is truly an advantage in the NFL post-season. Of the ten playoff games played to date, only two road teams have been able to post wins. The Green Bay Packers went into Dallas and upset the Cowboys, then on Sunday, the Chiefs knocked off the Bills in Buffalo. Wide right remains the two most infamous words in Buffalo. Kansas City has now reached the AFC championship game for six consecutive seasons. Don’t rule out Andy Reid and Pat Mahomes going into Baltimore and taking out the favoured Ravens. The 49’ers were anything but invincible in taking out the Pack. Maybe, just maybe, the Detroit Lions can play Cinderella.  Deebo Samuel of the Niners is a fine football player but will he ever stay healthy enough to flash when it counts?

It was a seismic shock to see three coaching legends depart within a period of 24 hours. Super Bowl-winning coaches Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick were dismissed following the end of the NFL season and were then followed by Nick Saban who announced his retirement as head coach at Alabama. Together, they coached 55 seasons with over 900 wins, seven Super Bowl titles and nine national championships. The Belichick era in New England ended after 24 years. He may return to the NFL sidelines but you have to think Carroll is done as an NFL head coach. However, if it’s up to Pete, he will be back.

The Green Bay Packers are a model NFL franchise. Their DNA is all about draft and development. They fielded the youngest team in the NFL this season and thanks to the upset of the Dallas Cowboys, are clearly ahead of schedule in their rebuild post-Aaron Rodgers. You don’t see the Packers making sexy, marquee free agent signings. If anything, they will walk away from a player if he starts demanding too much. See – Devante Adams. Patience doesn’t sit well with a lot of NFL owners but in Green Bay where they have a large local ownership group, there’s consensus. The Packers have as bright a future as any team in the NFL. Hopefully, John Schneider, who got his start in Green Bay, is paying attention. You can see why we are urging the Seahawks to go young. It’s working out well in Houston and Green Bay.

Love these bozos who go shirtless in sub-zero weather just to get on TV. Fifteen people ended up in hospital following the wildcard game between the Dolphins and the Chiefs in Kansas City. Seven were treated for hypothermia and three for frostbite. The wind chill factor was as low as 20-below zero. Perfect time to take your shirt off and drink as much alcohol as possible.

The Dolphins have now gone 24 years without a playoff win. They have lost their last ten games when the weather is 40-degrees or lower and by an average margin of 17 points. Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said he had never been in temperatures below 15 degrees in his life. It was minus-4 Fahrenheit at game time at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.

Owning an NFL team is a foolproof investment. Media revenue is now approaching $10 billion dollars a year. When you split the windfall amongst 32 teams, each club nets close to $300 million. That basically covers your entire payroll. It’s part of over $400 million that is distributed to each owner every year. The remaining revenues, including all ticket sales and local media, is gravy. It’s part of the reason many coaches are now earning in excess of $10 million per season. And when you are raking in that kind of cash, firing them is no big deal.

Love the rags to riches stories in sports. Never gets old. How about Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert? He was cut six times before finally landing a job with the 49’ers. At 31, he just made his first Pro Bowl team after putting up 21 touchdowns this season, tied for the NFL lead with the Niners Christian McCaffrey.

The Mighty Quinn – Can we please throw cold water on all the talk about Dan Quinn being the next head coach of the Seattle Seahawks? We didn’t like the idea in the first place. Did everyone forget he was on the sidelines as head coach of the Falcons when Atlanta blew a 25-point second half lead against the Patriots in the Super Bowl?

Everyone seemed to think it was a foregone conclusion he would be heading to Seattle as Pete Carroll’s replacement. Slow down. Green Bay dismantled Quinn’s Dallas defense and he’s your guy? I don’t think so. The Cowboys allowed six touchdowns on the Packers first seven possessions. Quinn coached Atlanta for six seasons and the Falcons went down the drain the minute Kyle Shanahan departed for San Francisco.

Glad to hear the Seahawks are conducting a wide search. When you are facing Shanahan and Sean McVay twice a season, finding a head coach with a creative offensive mind is a must. Frankly, if you wanted a head coach with a strong defensive background, why not target the Chiefs Steve Spagnuolo? He’s got a much better track record than Quinn.

Now that John Schneider is the one calling the shots in Seattle, it will be interesting to see which direction he takes the team. Does he think it’s necessary to gut the roster and make wholesale changes? With little or no cap space, he may have no choice. One thing is for certain, it’s decision time in Seattle in what promises to be an interesting off-season.

The Dallas Maple Leafs – Let’s just get right to it. The Dallas Cowboys are the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NFL. No team is more hyped and delivers less than the Cowboys. They suffer from the football version of erectile dysfunction. It’s been 29 years since Dallas reached the NFC Championship game which is very Leaf-like. In Toronto and Dallas, they can’t just win. They have to put on a show. A Broadway performance. Every year the Cowboys are built up as a Super Bowl favourite before bombing out when it counts. The Cowboys now hold the distinction of being the only team since the 1970 merger to win 12 games in three straight seasons and fail to make a conference championship game. Still proud to wear that star?

Did we not warn you Dak Prescott is an accident waiting to happen? Dak the Slack is now 2-5 in his post-season career. That’s tied for the worst playoff record for any quarterback with a minimum of five playoff starts. If Jerry Jones would just take off his leather helmet, he would kick Dak to the curb. The good news is Prescott has just one year left on the four-year, $160 million dollar deal he signed in 2021. His cap hit next season is slated to be $59 million. That may be chump change to Jerry but he would be crazy to even consider an extension. It would be even dumber to stick with Dak and hope for a different outcome.

You can’t help but think the Cowboys are making a big mistake bringing Mike McCarthy back next season. What’s needed if for Jerry to step away and that’s not going to happen. As long as he’s calling the shots as the Cowboys de facto GM and overseeing the draft room, the Cowboys fortunes will never change.  

Blue Jays Notebook – The Blue Jays and slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are headed to arbitration. Guerrero is looking for over $20 million for the upcoming season. Arbitration cases can get contentious so the Jays probably don’t want to impact future negotiations with a bitter dispute but why not just show the arbitrator video of Guerrero getting picked off second base in the wildcard playoff game? That would have to help their case.

When you look at the holdovers from last year’s roster, it’s amazing how many Blue Jays had sub-par seasons and need a bounce-back this year. Heading the list has to be Guerrero. You can throw in Alek Manoah, Dalton Varsho, Alejandro Kirk, George Springer and probably a few others. The Jays had better hope some of the key contributors have better seasons.

Leftovers – There was no chance the Toronto Raptors were going to let Pascal Siakam walk for nothing. They let that happen last summer with Fred VanVleet and it was a huge misstep. It became clear the Raptors were not going to sign Siakam to a massive extension so it was time to make a move. They get three first-round picks from the Indianapolis Pacers and cap flexibility. Veteran Bruce Bowen came over to Toronto as well and he becomes another piece they could move before the trade deadline. Having a pair of first-round picks plus an early second via Detroit from the O.G. Anunoby deal may provide the Raptors with enough ammunition to move up in the first-round if there’s a player they covet.

It was a promising start to the PGA Tour season for the Canadian boys at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Four Canadians finished in the top 30. Abbotsford’s Nick Taylor finished T7. Taylor Pendrith fired a final round 65 to finish T10. PGA Tour newcomer Ben Silverman entered Sunday in a tie for fourth before shooting even par to drop into a tie for 18th. Surrey’s Adam Svensson finished T30. It’s great to see so many Canadians in contention almost every week.

2024 will be Brooke Henderson’s tenth year on the Ladies Tour. She’s won more tournaments – 13 – than any other Canadian golfer in history. She’s won two majors but somehow you come away wanting more. Henderson won the first LPGA event of the year last season but didn’t notch another top-10 until the end of July and finished the season with only three top-10’s. Brooke had some issues with a thumb injury and you hope that it won’t plague her again this year. Henderson finished in third spot this weekend in the opening tournament of the new season, a good early sign.

It won’t be long before we see Tyler Black in a Milwaukee Brewers uniform. Black is the son of long-time TSN broadcaster Rod Black. He’s ranked as the top Canadian-born prospect in the minor leagues. Black reached Triple-A last season and is close to being major league-ready. He’s one of only three minor league players to produce at least 18 homers, 25 doubles and 55 steals last season. Black has been playing multiple positions but it looks like the Brewers are going to give him a shot at third.

Sports Illustrated has been the standard in sports journalism for 70 years but the future of the iconic magazine is now very much in doubt. Major staff layoffs are in store after a licensing deal fell through. In 2019, Sports Illustrated was sold to Authentic Brands Group for $110 million who agreed to continue publishing in both print and digital.

Special thanks to our regular contributors including Jordan Moss, Ian MacPhee, Dave Kittle, Ted Tait, Peter Hucul, Glen and Bill Myles, Howard Steiss and Rob Wagner.

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