Under Further Review – January 25, 2019
City of Chump-ions – Hey Edmonton! How are things going in the City of Champions? The Oilers have careened out of control like a Hunter S. Thompson road trip. Describing things as toxic is an understatement. You fire the coach and now the GM – if only you could fire the owner! The Oilers make the Cleveland Browns look like a model franchise.
Oiler President Bob Nicholson informed Peter Chiarelli that he was out as GM at the end of the second period of Tuesday night’s game against Detroit. I would assume he did so to allow Chiarelli to leave the building without an escort. The Oilers named Wayne’s little brother Keith Gretzky as interim GM. Gretzky Jr. was serving as the Oilers assistant GM and had followed Chiarelli to Edmonton from Boston.
Here’s the deal! Chiarelli grossly miscalculated where the NHL game was trending when he took over in Edmonton. He wanted a ‘heavy’ team similar to the Bruins 2011 Cup winning team. He thought that would work in the Pacific Division where the Oilers had to bypass heavy teams like L.A. and Anaheim. Well, he was dead wrong! The game was changing to speed and finesse and Chiarelli missed the memo.
Has anything really changed in Edmonton where Craig MacTavish, Kevin Lowe and Scott Howson, hangers-on from previous failures, are inexplicably still cashing pay cheques? Even the Great One is Vice Chair. What exactly Gretz is doing and how much influence is has is anyone’s guess. You can blame Chiarelli all you want but this is an organization that traded away a Hart Trophy winner, a Calder Trophy winner, and a top six forward in rapid succession and have only Adam Larsson to show for it. The Oilers also have a well-earned reputation for throwing players under the bus on their way out of town. Just ask Taylor Hall. What they said about him was nothing short of character assassination. Same with Jordan Eberle.
Do you want to know the main reason they find themselves where they are? The Oilers have exactly one player on their roster – forward Jujhar Khaira – who was chosen outside of the first round over the past seven years. Even their first round selections from 2016 and 2017 – Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailor Yamamoto – are now looking like massive mistakes. How can a scouting staff be that inept and still have jobs?
To illustrate just how low the bar has been set in Edmonton, as of right now statistically, this is the Oilers fourth best season in the last 15 years. They fire the coach and fire the GM but the stench is still abundant. It’s going to take a lot more than that to repair the decades of damage. Whoever takes over this mess is facing as monumental task and believe me, this is no easy fix. Mark Hunter and Kelly McCrimmon are two of the leading candidates. If I were them, I wouldn’t answer the phone.
Playoffs, What Playoffs? – Before we get too giddy, could the playoffs be in sight for a Canucks team that was an afterthought when the season began? It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Who would have thunk it? The Canucks just completed a six-game homestand, going 3-1-and-2 and sit among six teams in the Western Conference vying for three playoff spots. If you believe Colorado is one of the six, then that leaves five teams fighting for two spots. Edmonton is a dumpster fire. Dallas is just as dysfunctional and Anaheim is barely afloat after a 12-game losing streak. That leaves Minnesota and Vancouver and don’t be surprised if they are the teams still standing when the slow walk to the finish line is completed.
Canucks coach Travis Green has been preaching the same mantra all season long. He wanted the team to get faster and become harder to play against. You would have to say that, to date, its mission accomplished. Green wanted to identify players they can win with, players that can be part of a championship team. That process is ongoing.
If you were sitting in the Canucks War Room and looking at a big white board with all the names on it, which players would you say are keepers? If you look at the roster, I count nine forwards whom, I think, can be part of the program moving forward – Pettersson, Boeser, Baertschi, Leivo, Horvat, Virtanen, Gaudette, Roussel and Beagle. The rest I’m not so sure about and that would include Schaller, Ericsson, Granlund, Motte and Goldobin. On defense, you have Edler and Tanev, youngsters Quinn Hughes and Olli Juolevi and veteran Eric Gudbranson. The jury is still out on Hutton, Stecher and Pouliot. The way Pouliot played against Carolina, he may be gonzo sooner than you think. Goaltending looks well-fortified with Markstrom, Demko and Mikey DiPietro.
If you buy into what I’m selling, then the Canucks need at least another three forwards including probably two top-six forwards. They will still need at least two more defensemen including a big, right-shot defenseman who can play in the top four and drop Gudbranson down to the third pairing. I would be looking at the Jets towering Tyler Myers as a free agent on July 1. In the pipeline, there’s Jett Woo, Toni Utanen and Guillaume Brisbois on the blueline. Utica defensemen Jalen Chatfield, Evan McEneny and Aston Sautner are long shots at best. Up front, you have forwards Tyler Madden, Zack MacEwan, Jonathan Dahlen, Jonah Gadjovich, Lukas Jasek and Kole Lind. Depending on what happens at the trade deadline, MacEwan is the most NHL-ready. What Green needs to determine is whether there is still room for growth among some of the younger players currently on the roster. Will Hutton, Stecher, Leivo and Baertschi, for instance, be part of the solution? Will they continue to improve or have we seen their ceiling?
So that’s the depth chart. The 2019 NHL draft will bring more prospects while this year’s NHL trade deadline could potentially land more. Tanev has market value but has played in 60+ games only three times in his career. He hasn’t hit that mark since the 2015-2016 season. He’s 29 with has one more year on his cap-friendly contract. If the Canucks want to move him, there’s definitely going to be interest.
In terms of roster-building, the hardest part is what lies ahead. Putting together a young roster that can make the playoffs is a lot different than constructing a Stanley Cup champion. It will be interesting to follow how the Canucks go about adding the final pieces of what could be a Cup contender or better yet, a Cup winner.
The Eagle Has Landed – Another major piece of the Canucks rebuild has landed in Vancouver, seemingly for good. Thatcher Demko has completed his long apprenticeship in Utica and is ready to start challenging Jakob Markstrom for playing time. At 6’4”, Demko is another in a long line of big, young goaltenders. The 23 year old from that hockey hotbed of San Diego, spent the better part of three seasons in Utica, picking up over 100 AHL wins. Demko also spent three seasons at Boston College where he posted a record 10 shutouts for the Eagles in the 2015-2016 season.
The 2014 second round pick is not just another tall goaltender. He’s got great extension and seems to have developed beautifully under the guidance of Canucks goaltending guru Ian Clark. It’s going to be fun to watch him over the next few seasons as he earns his stripes in the NHL.
NHL Scribblings – How about those Maple Leafs? They go into Tampa Bay and knock off the Lightning 4-2 and the scribes go wild! Of course, they fail to mention that the Lightning had just come off a long road trip. The next night, the Leafs fall back to earth and get punched out by Florida only to follow it up with a loss to Arizona. I’ve been saying all along – the Leafs are just not that good!
The New York Islanders have climbed back into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. If the Isles can make the playoffs without John Tavaras, that should come as a warning sign to every team. He was the shiny toy in the free agent window but the Isles may actually be thankful he walked away.
When is the Flames Mark Giordano going to get some love as a potential Norris Trophy winner? He’s one of five Flames with 50+ points already this season.
Do you think the big trade between Calgary and Carolina last summer worked out OK for the Flames? The two players they acquired from the Hurricanes, Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifan, have combined for 82 points while the players they gave away, Michael Ferland and Dougie Hamilton, have combined for 41. Oh yes, and the new guys are plus 38. Ferland and Hamilton are minus 7.
If I am the Ottawa Senators, I would give the agents for Matt Duchene and Mark Stone 72 hours to make a decision. I would not wait until the 11th hour because any negotiating power will be severely compromised. Get an answer NOW! The benefit is that you can tell other teams that they will get more games out of them if you make a deal for them now rather than waiting until closer to the deadline.
Ode to the Old Guard – We have lost some great ones in the sports business over the past year. One of the giants of the newspaper business, Jim Taylor died recently at the age of 82. He spent more than 60 years in the biz and had a well-earned reputation for being more colourful than the teams he covered. Jim was encouraged to get into writing by Stan Murphy, his legendary English teacher at Victoria High School. Stan recognized Jim’s gift for writing and actually helped him get his first job at the Victoria Times as a cub reporter. Taylor had a long career with the Vancouver Sun and Province and wrote 16 books including a great profile of Wayne Gretzky. But it was his acerbic wit that stands out.
Then last week, we lost long-time TSN Reporter/Anchor Peter Watts who passed away far too early at 68. Peter was one of those throw-back broadcasters who could do pay-by-play, report, anchor – whatever you asked him to do. He had time for everyone and what I admired most was he considered it important to cover amateur and university sports as well as the pros.
What Jim and Peter shared was a thirst for the story. They were part of a dying breed of story-tellers. They could dig and come up with their own angle. Always inquisitive. They will be missed!
Spoil the Party – Whether they want to admit it or not, the NFL has a crisis in officiating. Every fan watched in horror as the refereeing become the focal point of both NFL Conference Championship games. The NFL is now admitting that the refs missed two blatant pass interference penalties on the Rams Nickell Robey-Coleman that played a huge role in the final outcome of the Saints-Rams game.
As is custom, all the calls went the Patriots way in the AFC Championship game. The Chiefs would have been first and goal had the call on Julian Edelman not been overturned on the muffed punt return. I still think he touched the ball. New England then caught a huge break with the phantom ‘roughing-the-passer’ call on Brady. The Patriots would have been facing fourth and long but instead continued to drive downfield for a touchdown. Then, of course, there was the ticky-tac encroachment call on Dee Ford that negated an interception. The Patriots had three coaches challenge decisions go their way in the fourth quarter alone including a couple of catches that were questionable.
It’s the same scenario every season. Fans watch for three and a half hours not knowing whether their team is going to get shafted by a non-call or a suspect call. A whole host of fans are wondering how the Patriots could win the overtime coin flip, drive for a touchdown and win the game without the Chiefs having a chance to touch the ball and at least have an opportunity to answer back.
So New England marches on to their ninth Super Bowl appearance in the Brady-Belichick era. All I can say is – GO RAMS!
- The Chiefs led the NFL in sacks during the regular season. They had zero against the Patriots when it counted. It played a big part in the outcome. You can’t let Brady sit back there in a rocking chair and pick you apart.
- Look for Patrick Mahomes to break the bank when his next contract comes up. They are already saying it will be the largest deal in NFL history. You can be sure it will include the greatest portion of guaranteed money ever. He’s probably looking at a minimum of seven years and 35 million per with at least half of it guaranteed.
- Have you noticed that Tony Romo tries to predict every play before it happens? The former Cowboys quarterback turned CBS analyst is enlightening but extremely annoying nonetheless.
- I mentioned recently that TV producers are thinking about switching up the Tiger-Phil Battle as they plan for another pay-per-view golf event this fall. Apparently, they are thinking about pairing Tiger and Phil with celebrities and make it a partner’s match. Tony Romo was mentioned as a possible participant since he’s an accomplished golfer. A good buddy of mine chimed in and said it best – “The only way I will watch is if they pair Phil with Donald Trump and Tiger with Stormy Daniels.”
- It was great to see Abbottsford’s Adam Hadwin turn in a brilliant performance at the PGA TOUR event down in Palm Springs. He was at 26 under and had a three shot lead when he teed off on the 12th hole. It was too bad he couldn’t hold on. Hadwin ended up tying for second with Mickelson. It would have been incredible if Hadwin had made it into a three-man playoff and won the tournament. Staring down Phil, it would have done wonders for his profile, not to mention his confidence.
- Sorry, but not surprised, to see Larry Walker fall short in balloting for the Baseball Hall of Fame. He managed to get 55% of the vote, up from 34% last year. You need 70% to get in. Next year, will be Walker’s final year of eligibility.
- Roy Halladay became the first Blue Jay ever drafted and developed by the team to reach the Hall of Fame. Halladay was actually the first ever draft pick by Canadian Gord Ash when he became the Blue Jays General Manager. Halladay was certainly a bulldog. I remember when he was sent all the way down to ‘A’ ball in 2001. He couldn’t find the plate and it looked like his career was over. Halladay returned to the team in June and became a strike-throwing machine. It was very disappointing to hear he’s not going into the Hall as a Blue Jay.
- Will Milos Raonic ever win a major? Don’t bet on it! He may have the big serve but lacks the athleticism, footwork and the backhand to win a major.
- The NBA trade deadline is two weeks away. It would be nice to see the Raptors add a piece or two. They could use a power forward to back up Pascal Siakham since Serge Ibaka is being used exclusively at centre. One of the Raptors biggest issues is rebounding. It also wouldn’t hurt to find someone else who can shoot the ‘3’. They are down the list in 3-point efficiency despite being at the top in attempts per game.