Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Contributing Editor Bill Morphy and a big assist from Jordan Moss. This week, we look at the Canucks staggering start, throw out a few early season NHL observations and get you ready for NFL Championship weekend.
Canucks Notebook – Zap! Whack! Bam! Kaboom! Holy Smokes Batman! The Canucks have been run out of Gotham! Twelve goals against in six periods against Montreal and suddenly, the floodgates are open and the knives are out. Let’s not get too emotional. We need to always remind ourselves of the old ‘saw’ that says – “a team is never as good as we think when things are going well, and never as bad as we think when things are going poorly.” We should always keep that in mind. It saves you from the highs and lows when following your favourite team in any sport.
But yes, there’s reason to be VERY concerned. When Jordie Benn draws into the lineup, the Canucks will have used nine defenseman in the first two weeks of the season. The defensive breakdowns have been numerous and the Canucks best players are not playing like it. When you watch the Canucks so far this season, you quickly realize that Jacob Markstrom masked a lot of the team’s defensive woes with his stellar goaltending last year. The Canucks surrender far too many grade-A scoring opportunities and Markstrom was a brilliant last line of defense. Thatcher Demko and Braden Holtby may give the Canucks above-average goaltending this season, but will it be enough? On a team that is poor defensively to start with, it didn’t help to lose the team’s best defender and penalty-killer in Chris Tanev. Keep in mind, the team’s three best defensemen – Quinn Hughes, Nate Schmidt and Tyler Myers – are not exactly known for their defense. Hughes was minus 4 in Wednesday night’s game against the Canadiens and is looking nothing like a Calder Trophy finalist.
We still expect the Canucks to be one of three or four teams fighting for the final playoff spot in the All-Canadian division. The Canucks penalty-killing unit has been scary so far this season and that’s being polite. Travis Green is largely depending on a group of rapidly-deteriorating forwards to kill penalties. He’s used Antoine Roussel, Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle, and Tyler Motte – four players who may not be with the Canucks beyond next season. Don’t forget, the forgettable Loui Eriksson also kills penalties. The Canucks have to start looking seriously at a transition plan for the penalty kill. They need to identify the next group of forwards who can be responsible with the team a man down. I would be auditioning Nils Hoglander, Adam Gaudette, Jake Virtanen and Vasily Podkolzin once he arrives. The Canucks are going to need forwards who can fulfill a penalty-killing role.
Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello resisted the urge to break the bank when he agreed to a three-year bridge deal with Matthew Barzal at $7 million per season. It immediately made you wonder if this is not the route the Canucks should take with Elias Pettersson. Considering the current financial state of the NHL, it may be the best option. Ditto for Quinn Hughes. There is no chance I dish out a long-term deal at $11 million per season like the Leafs did with Mitch Marner!
It was almost two years ago that I called for the dismissal of Jim Benning during an appearance with Bro Jake on TSN1040 in Vancouver. Well, my opinion has not changed. If you look at his entire body of work, there is no other conclusion to make. He has messed up more times than not and cost owner Francesco Aquilini a ton of money in the process.
Benning spent like a drunken sailor in free agency and what have they got in return other than a salary cap nightmare? Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, Jamie Benn and Michael Ferland cost Aquilini over $72 million dollars. Benning made ill-advised trades for Brandon Sutter and Sven Baertschi and then made matters worse by giving Sutter a four-year extension for $17.5 million and Baertschi a three-year deal for over $10 million. The tab keeps going up. Baertschi cost the Canucks a second-round pick which turned out to be Flames defenseman Juuso Valimaki who may have a 10+ year career ahead of him.
Yes, there’s more. Last year, Benning sent promising youngster Tyler Madden and a second-round pick to the L.A. Kings for winger Tyler Toffoli. Toffoli played 10 regular season games and 7 playoff games for the Canucks before departing in free agency because Benning had no money left under the cap to retain him. The Kings used the second pick on defenseman Brock Faber who helped the U.S. win gold at the recent World Junior Championships. Faber had 5 assists in 7 games and is now playing college hockey at the University of Minnesota. The Canucks may have to face Madden and Faber within their own division for the next decade.
Yes, there’s more. How about giving up a second round pick for Linden Vey? Or the host of other draft picks he wasted away? We won’t bother reviewing the Ryan Kesler trade or some of Benning’s other bad deals. How do you keep your job when you have pissed away nearly $100 million dollars of the owner’s money on a whole lot of nothing? Everyone points to the outstanding draft record and for the most part, it’s been outstanding. But what GM wouldn’t do well when you are picking in the top half dozen several years in succession? Did Aquilini influence some of the free agent signings” Who knows? But it’s still on Benning.
If the season turns sour, you know what direction I would be going and that’s finding a new GM to guide the Canucks forward.
Groundhog Day – Toronto Maple Leaf apologists are like Punxsutawney Phil – they keep seeing their shadow and in this case, should be predicting 54 more years of futility. After the Leafs were thoroughly beaten by the Ottawa Senators in the third game of the season, the excuses came quickly. One report claimed the Leafs should have “overwhelmed the Senators”, adding “the Leafs offence had simply not yet hit high gear.” They made no mention of the fact the Leafs lack structure, that the goaltending is inconsistent and that they are a very poor defensive team top to bottom, especially when playing at even strength. What’s more, the Leafs are an easy team to play against.
The Maple Minions spilled a lot of ink over how the team was going to be much-improved by adding toughness and leadership in the off-season. What they failed to consider is the players the Leafs acquired were available because GM’s felt they would be better off without them. Teams don’t kick players to the curb if they think they still have something left. Calgary let T.J. Brodie walk because they thought they would be better with Chris Tanev. Believe me, teams are not staying up at night worried that they no longer have Jimmy Vesey, Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds and Zach Bogosian. What makes you think a team that’s been bounced from the playoffs in the first round for four consecutive years is going to be better in year five?
Leafs fans and Leafs media are the biggest anvil around the teams neck. The rose-coloured bluster from the Toronto media is a tap that never stops flowing. They overrate the prospect pool, predict a division title and applaud every acquisition. On the flip side, they run Nazem Kadri, Tyson Barrie and Mike Babcock out of town as if they are the sole problem. (Freddie Andersen, you’re next!) The Club President compares John Tavares to Steve Yzerman and says they will be erecting a statue of Mitch Marner if he continues on his career trajectory. They are completely unable to view the team through a clear and unbiased lens. Here’s our recommendation for the Maple Minions – start acting like real journalists and do some actual reporting instead of the constant cheerleading.
NHL Notebook – Not sure if you have noticed but the All-Canadian Division certainly brings back shades of the old Original Six days when teams played each other multiple times each season. All of a sudden, interest in the other NHL divisions is minimal. In fact, it would be impossible to even list the teams in each of the three U.S. divisions. Our focus is entirely on the All-Canadian division. Is that so bad?
Is it just me or are the Calgary Flames and the Montreal Canadiens a cut above everyone else in the North Division? They look like the two most complete teams so far.
Can you imagine how good the Canadiens would be right now if they had not traded Mikhail Sergachev and Ryan McDonagh? Add those two players to a blueline group that includes Shea Weber, Jeff Petry and gifted rookie Alexander Romanov and you have something pretty special. It will be criminal if Weber is not in the Norris Trophy conversation this season.
Marc Bergevin looks like a big winner in the deal with Columbus that brought winger Josh Anderson to Montreal. Anderson has been lights out so far for the Canadiens while Max Domi has already been benched by Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella.
Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen may not want to answer Bergevin’s calls if Montreal has aspirations of acquiring Pierre-Luc Dubois. If I were the Habs, I would go all-in. Dubois is a legit #1 centre, something the Canadiens have been in search of for what seems like decades. It’s doubtful the Blue Jackets are in any rush to appease Dubois’ trade request. Dubois is yet to reveal his real reasons for wanting out. Maybe Dubois just wants to play in a more high profile ‘hockey’ market. All I know is, the kid can play!
Who’s playing goal for the Edmonton Oilers? Denis DeJordy and Bruce Gamble? The Oilers are going nowhere with their current goaltending situation.
The first trade of the season saw the Colorado Avalanche send Ian Cole to Minnesota for Greg Pateryn in a swap of defensemen. The deal saved the Avs $2 million in cap space. It opened the door for the NHL debut of Cranbrook native and former Vancouver Giant Bowen Byram. It also sets Joe Sakic up to make further deals before the deadline to strengthen an already stacked lineup. Could he be looking for a goaltender? Maybe Joe comes calling on Pierre-Luc Dubois?
Our early choice for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie-of-the-year is Minnesota Wild fireplug Kirill Kaprisov. The Wild have been awaiting his arrival for two years and so far, he hasn’t disappointed.
When people recall the 1968 Stanley Cup final between the Montreal Canadiens and the expansion St. Louis Blues, most think it was a cakewalk since the Habs swept the series 4-0. What people forget is all four games were one-goal games and two went into overtime. The Blues had Hall of Famers Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante and the great Scotty Bowman behind the bench. Scotty got incredible mileage out of a bunch of wily veterans including Red Berenson.
Springer has Sprung – The natives were restless because the Blue Jays were left holding the bag on a few early free agent signings but there was no need to panic. Sure enough, the Jays landed the prize they coveted all along, Astros center-fielder George Springer, who signed a six-year, $150 million dollar deal, the largest in club history. What’s even more encouraging, the Jays are probably not done yet. They are in desperate need of help in the starting rotation and you can be sure they are looking hard at Trevor Bauer and other free agent arms. Ladner’s James Paxton is rumoured to be Toronto-bound. With the addition of Springer, the Jays have plenty of depth in the outfield and could offer up Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or Teoscar Hernandez to acquire pitching. Randel Grichuk is trade bait but I doubt if they will find any takers unless they eat a big chunk of contract.
Baseball America has released its 2021 Top-100 prospect list. The Jays have six players on the list including prize pitching prospect Nate Pearson (14), infielder Austin Martin (19), third baseman Jordan Groshans (34), right-hander Simeon Woods-Richardson (69), catcher Alejandro Kirk (70) and shortstop Orelvis Martinez (96).
Goodbye Hank – The great Hank Aaron died on Friday at the age of 86. As far as I’m concerned, he’s still the all-time home run hitter in major league baseball history. Aaron was the first to break Babe Ruth’s home run record and finished his 23-year with 755 home runs. Barry Bonds later broke the record but we all know that comes with a major steroid asterisk.
Aaron was a true five-tool star. He claimed two National League batting titles. He finished with a career average of .305. But it was his tolerance and unassuming persona that made him a near-mythical character. When chasing Ruth’s cherished home run record of 714, Aaron said “If I was white, all America would be proud of me, but I am Black. It’s very offensive. They call me ‘nigger’ and every other bad word you can come up with. You can’t ignore them. They are here. But this is just the way things are for Black people in America. It’s something you battle all of your life.”
“He never missed an opportunity to lead,” former President Barack Obama said, describing Aaron as an “unassuming man” who set a “towering example.”
“With courage and dignity, he eclipsed the most hallowed record in sports while absorbing vengeance that would have broken most people,” President Joe Biden said. “But he was unbreakable.”
NFL Championship Weekend – Its conference championship weekend in the NFL and by Sunday night, we will know this year’s Super Bowl combatants. The NFC Championship game serves up Tampa Bay (11-5) at Green Bay (13-3) and a battle of #12’s in Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
For Tom Brady, it is his 14th conference championship game. What more can you say? Brady holds a host of NFL playoff records including Super Bowl wins (6), total passing yards (11,769), passing touchdowns (75), and wins (31). It is highly doubtful these records will ever be matched.
Green Bay has the #1 offense in football and expect Rodgers to have a big day. Neither of the Bucs corners will be able to stop Devante Adams. The Packers should cover the -3 betting line.
K.C. (14-4) hosts Buffalo (13-3) in the AFC Championship game. When the Chiefs knocked off the Bills earlier this season in Buffalo, they had 245 yards rushing. Rookie Clyde Helaire-Edwards returns this weekend so expect the Chiefs to run the ball again. Josh Allen will have to play a perfect game for the Bills in order to keep this one close. We like the Chiefs (-3) to cover.
Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is the master of the fourth down play call. Did you catch the successful fourth quarter gamble against Cleveland that essentially put the game away? Chad Henne tossed a short pass to Tyreek Hill for the first down and it was game over. That’s not the first time Reid has pulled a beauty out of his bag of tricks. The Chiefs are uncanny compared to say, yes, the Seahawks. Every time the Seahawks gambled on fourth down this season, it seems like they made a mess of it.
The Chiefs defense improved big time the moment they acquired safety Tyron Mathieu. He was targeted six times against the Browns for get this…a negative five yards. He had a team-high seven tackles and his first career postseason interception. The Chiefs have five potential Hall of Famers on the team including Mathieu, Pat Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Chris Jones and Tyreek Hill.
Leftovers – Montreal native Chris Boucher has been a revelation for the Toronto Raptors amid the team’s tepid start. Boucher is playing 22 minutes a night and his inspired play hastened the release of centre Alex Len who was signed in the off-season. If you projected Boucher’s stats over 36 minutes, he would be averaging over 24 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks per game. He’s also shooting 47.5 percent from three-point range. We never get tired of seeing Canadians shine on the big stage.
Speaking of which – Canada’s Brooke Henderson is playing in the LPGA Tournament of Champions this weekend in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. It’s her first tournament of 2021. The tournament matches 25 pros with 50 celebrities. On Thursday, Brooke shot a 67 while matched with former Blue Jay Josh Donaldson. She shot 69 on Friday and is T7, a full seven shots back of the leader Danielle Kang. Due to the pandemic, Henderson played in only ten tournaments last year, yet had six top-10 finishes. She’s currently ranked #6 in the world.
Abbotsford’s Nick Taylor has picked up where he left off in Hawaii and sits in a tie for second place at 10-under after two rounds of The American Express event in La Quinta, California. Taylor has posted rounds of 68 and 66 and is in excellent shape heading into the weekend.
Meantime, Tiger Woods is out of action indefinitely after another back surgery, the fifth back procedure he’s undergone. It’s his third micro-discectomy, this time to relieve pain from a pinched nerve. He’s expected to miss at least two months. The most invasive surgery was a spinal fusion that was performed in 2017. It’s unlikely Tiger will see much action before this year’s Masters in April. The recent two-part HBO documentary on Tiger did not reveal a whole lot about Woods that we didn’t already know other than the fact he was socially inept and cut people out of his life with cold and calculated regularity.
Since inking Kyrie Irving to a $134 million dollar contract, the Brooklyn Nets have played 90 games. In that time, Irving has played 27. Can you say malingering idiot?
Music Videos of the Week – This week, rather than feature one individual artist, we thought we would serve up a few videos that we thought you would enjoy. Let’s start with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page performing a fine acoustic version of the “Rain Song.”.
You may be familiar with Andy Fairweather Low. He appeared with Eric Clapton on one of Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Summit concerts. One of the songs they performed was “Gin House Blues.” Here’s Andy in concert in Darwen, UK in 2007 doing his own rendition.
Here’s a little curveball for you. We present Frank Sinatra performing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” with Nelson Riddle + Orchestra.
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