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Under Further Review – Coming up this week, heady stuff for the Canucks, the NHL at the break, a Super Bowl preview and Larry makes the Hall!

Gung Hai Fat Choi – According to Larry David, it’s too late to say Happy New Year but Gung Hai Fat Choi nonetheless.  This is the Year of the Rat so a big shout-out to Ken Linseman, Matthew Tkachuk, Brad Marchand and all other little dastardly gerbils.

Heady Stuff – The NHL has hit the All-Star break and the Canucks sit atop the Pacific Division. Who wrote that script? This is heady stuff for Canuck fans who are far more familiar with futility and disappointment. Who knows, they might just stay there. It seems like every team in the division has warts. The Canucks hit the break having won 11 of their last 14 and you could make a pretty strong argument they have the best goaltending in the division. What’s most shocking is they may be able to win the division without doing anything at the trade deadline. I was really happy to hear Jim Benning say he won’t be giving up any young assets or draft picks for any short-term fixes.

I have a lot of respect for Iain MacIntyre, formerly of the Vancouver Sun, who’s now working for Sportsnet.  They asked Ian to write a story on 3 moves the Canucks might make at the trade deadline. I got the sense he was not too excited about it because I think he also believes the Canucks will be standing pat.  Here’s what he had to say.

The one move I could see the Canucks making is moving Jordie Benn at the deadline to open the door for Nikita Tryamkin. Benn has one more year at $2 million and considering the Canucks cap squeeze, moving that contract would be very valuable. Plus, he’s basically lost his spot in the lineup to Oscar Fantenberg. Tryamkin’s season in the KHL will be over in March so he could conceivably return to Vancouver for the playoffs. Adding a 6’8” monster like Tryamkin would be rather timely. I also like the idea of adding a Russian player into the mix who could serve as a caddy for Vasily Podkolzin when he arrives a year from now.

One guy Benning wants to take a look at, depending on injuries, is Utica centre Justin Bailey, an unheralded free agent signing last summer. Bailey is a 6’4, 215 pound power forward who’s been playing lights out with the Comets. He’s cooled off a bit lately but had an 11-game streak where he scored 13 goals (three hat tricks in four games) and 17 points. The third hat gave him 22 goals and 34 points in 40 games. He’s only 24 and it would be a great story if he’s a late bloomer.

Fantasyland – The honeymoon in Toronto for Sheldon Keefe is over. The Maple Leafs reached the All-Star break having surrendered the fourth most goals in the NHL.  Only Detroit, New Jersey and San Jose have given up more. They were shelled for 30 goals in their last six games heading into the All-Star break. Their 3.29 goals against average is 5th worst in the NHL.  The Leafs penalty kill is ranked 25th. With Jake Muzzin and Morgan Reilly out of the lineup with injuries, the Leafs are rolling out a defense corps comprised of Tyson Barrie, Justin Holl, Travis Dermott, Rasmus Sandin, Cody Ceci and Martin Marincin. Good luck with that Young Sheldon!

Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas is so afraid of making a bad trade that he is completely paralyzed. If the Leafs fail to make the playoffs, both Dubas and his Doobie brother Shanny should be shown the door.

You have to love the Toronto sports media who don’t report what is reality but write what they wish for in their sordid Leaf World. They scramble every day for new excuses to explain the Leafs defensive futility. Toronto scribes are fans first and foremost. The stuff they throw out on a regular basis is pure fantasy.  One of the most recent examples is the report that the Leafs were looking to trade for Rangers goalie Alexander Georgiev and were offering minor league forward Jeremy Bracco.  We know the Leafs desperately need a back-up goalie who comes on the cheap and can fit into their f**ked-up salary cap. If anyone believes the Leafs are going to get Georgiev for the pint-sized Bracco, then you need a slap on the head. How about a first round pick or Kasperi Kapanen and a second rounder?  This garbage comes up all the time. It’s laughable. They have no idea of what a player’s real value is. Let’s call it ‘Leaf Love.’

In Montreal, Michael Traitkos reported that the Canadiens may be able to move Ilya Kovalchuk at the trade deadline and get a second round pick in return. He is obviously delusional.  Not happening!  This is a guy who was on waivers a few weeks ago and could have been picked up by any team for nothing. Kovalchuk won’t be able to handle the pace in the playoffs and every GM knows that.

If a lot of these reporters had better contacts among NHL general manager’s, they could easily find out what a player’s real value is.

NHL Notebook – What can you say about Alexander Ovechkin? He’s been such a great soldier for the Washington Capitals. He just passed Mario Lemieux for 9th place on the all-time NHL goal scoring list with 692. He’s tied with Steve Yzerman and will likely pass Mark Messier and Mike Gartner before the end of this season. That would move him into 7th place all-time.

Ovechkin recently posted his 25th career hat trick. He has scored 30 or more goals in 15 straight seasons, making him the only player other than Mike Gartner to accomplish that feat.

Ovechkin needs only 8 goals to get to 700, and 16 to catch Gartner at 708, which seems eminently doable before the end of the regular season. From there, Ovechkin would need another 9 goals to reel in Phil Esposito at 717. Again, assuming no major injuries, by the end of next year, Ovechkin could pass Marcel Dionne (731) and Brett Hull (741), which would move him to fourth place overall. Of course, the biggest hurdles are Jaromir Jagr (third at 766), Gordie Howe (second at 801) and that #99 fellow Wayne Gretzky leading the way at 894.

Ovechkin is 34 – his 35th birthday comes in September. Say what you want but Ovie is one of the greatest goal scorers in NHL history, hands down.

Big Red – Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid is 7th on the NFL career wins list.  Every coach ahead of him has a Super Bowl ring. He returns to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2004 when Donovan McNabb and the Eagles were beaten 24-21 by the Patriots. It’s time Big Red won that elusive Super Bowl.  He went into Sunday’s AFC title game with Tennessee with a 1-and-5 record in championship games. In five of those games his teams were favoured.

The Chiefs head into Super Bowl 54 having scored 86 points in their two playoff games. The 49’ers boast the #2 defense in the NFL and a bludgeoning run game. Raheem Mostert ran wild against the Packers, rushing for 220 yards and 4 touchdowns, the second highest rushing total in NFL playoff history. Not bad for a guy who’s been cut seven times. 49’er quarterback Jimmy Garappolo threw the ball only 8 times against Green Bay. Something tells me he will have to put the ball in the air a lot more to beat the Chiefs.

Meantime, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Pat Mahomes proved against the Titans he’s the best in the game. After trailing 17-7, Mahomes and the Chiefs reeled off 28 straight points and won going away. The week before, after trailing 24-0 against the Texans, the Chiefs ran off 41 straight points. It’s been like that all season. The Chiefs reeled off 23 straight points against the Patriots in week 14, 31 straight against the Raiders in week 13, 30 straight against the Broncos in week 7, 23 straight against the Ravens in week 3 and 28 straight against the Raiders in week 2.

Can the Niners slow them down?  Not likely.  Give a big edge to the Chiefs in the quarterback department.  Mahomes vs. Garappolo is an easy call.  Give Andy Reid two weeks to prepare and it will be very difficult for the 49’ers to put up enough points to match the Chiefs. The Niners will try to run the ball and control the clock but there’s no way Mostert approaches 200 yards rushing and if Tevin Coleman can’t go (he was injured vs. the Packers), it will reduce the Niners options. Don’t forget, the Chiefs held Titans record-setting running back Derrick Henry to 69 yards rushing and only 7 in the second half. I don’t think there’s a defense in the NFL that can hold Kansas City to under 30 points. Defending the Chiefs is a guessing game – pick your poison! It’s Air Coryell all over again.

The early prediction is – Chiefs 31 49’ers 20.

Doctor in the House – Here’s another reason to cheer for the Chiefs in Super Bowl 54.  We introduce you to Dr. Duvernay-Tardif.

Off-Season Priorities – In the hyper-competitive NFC West, this will be an important off-season for the Seahawks. They have a number of needs if they want to take the next step.  Comparing this year’s team to the 2012 team that won a Super Bowl the following year is folly. Let’s get serious. The Seahawks lack a championship-caliber defense. In fact, they need significant reconstruction up front on both sides of the ball.

Seattle will go into the 2020 NFL Draft with 8 draft picks including the 27th pick in the first round. They have two seconds, a third, two fourths, a fifth and a sixth rounder. They have plenty of needs particularly on the offensive and defensive lines.

Here’s how I rank the Seahawks off-season priorities – Edge rusher, cornerback, tight end, offensive tackle and defensive tackle. I think they can pick up a third running back and a reliable third receiver in free agency.  Depending on what happens in free agency, they may also be shopping for additional depth along the offensive line. They absolutely have to improve their pass rush and their pass blocking. Both ranked near the bottom of the league this year.

Perhaps the best news for the Seahawks is their schedule next season is much easier than this year’s schedule which was ranked among the toughest in the NFL. Here’s how their 2020 schedule shakes down.

Home: Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, New England Patriots, New York Jets, and Minnesota Vikings.

Away: Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, and Buffalo Bills.

Nurse Back to Health – When the NBA season began, it was hard to predict how the year would play out for the Raptors. Would there be a championship hangover? Would they hit the skids without Kawhi Leonard?  Many thought they were likely to sell off vets and start a full-blown rebuild.

Very few would have predicted they would be on pace for a 54-win season. But that’s the case despite the fact they have lost 150-man games to injury, fourth highest in the league. Six of the team’s top-seven players have missed 10 games or more. They have had all seven in 11 of 41 games and they’ve only had their full roster available twice all season. How can Nick Nurse not be among the favorites for NBA Coach of the Year? He’s has done a phenomenal job.

If the Raptors can regain their health, they should be able to roll in the second half of the season. 26 of their final 41 games are against sub-500 teams. It would help if they can add some rebounding at the trade deadline.  Hello, Tristan Thompson. Despite their success, they are still among the worst rebounding teams in the NBA.

Basket-Brawl – There will be heavy punishment in the wake of the brawl that took place at the end of the Kansas-Kansas State college basketball game this week.  Jayhawks coach Bill Self has suspended junior forward Silvio De Sousa indefinitely and it is doubtful De Sousa will ever play another college game. The brawl was ugly and completely unwarranted.  What’s even more disturbing, it took place in the handicapped section of the arena.  In case you missed it, check it out for yourself.

As mentioned in the report, De Sousa was at the centre of an FBI probe in 2018 that led to an investigation of the Kansas basketball program. The only reason De Sousa was even playing this season is because Kansas has appealed the allegations.

Call to the Hall – It was great to see Larry Walker of Maple Ridge, BC inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He becomes the first Canadian position player ever elected to the Hall and only the second Canadian after Ferguson Jenkins to be inducted.  However, it was really disappointing to hear that Walker plans to go into the Hall with a Colorado Rockies cap and not as a Montreal Expo.  He did have his best years in Denver though, so I understand. I think he will also be the first Colorado player inducted into the Hall so that’s significant.

This was the tenth and final year that Walker could be on the ballot and he garnered just enough votes to get in. He probably suffered a little from ‘Mile High’ bias, having played a good portion of his years in the rarified air of Colorado. A lot of baseball writers felt his numbers were inflated. Fact of the matter is Walker was clearly one of the best right-fielders in baseball for over a decade.  He was a legitimate five-tool guy and the first player to throw someone out at first base on a hard hit ground ball to right field.

Walker was also hurt by his snarly relationship with the press during his career. However, if you eliminated every A-hole Hall of Famer, Cooperstown would be half empty. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are still not in the Hall and may never be and it’s not just because of steroid use. They were both very difficult to deal with and baseball writers haven’t forgiven them.

I also wonder if the one person who didn’t vote for Derek Jeter (and make his induction unanimous) was from Miami and still fuming over the Giancarlo Stanton trade.

There’s still a lot of collateral damage hanging over Major League Baseball in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal. It will be interesting to see the numbers posted this year by Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. I wonder how widespread the fallout will be but the video of Altuve coming in from third and yelling don’t take off my shirt speaks volumes.

You have to wonder to what extent the Boston Red Sox were involved in sign-stealing. Did any of their guys wear wires? Why is it that whenever there is the smell of dead rotting fish, you find that a Boston team is somewhere in the area?

If you are a baseball fan, you will know that spring training is less than a month away. It’s a time for optimism.  Once again this year, there will be plenty of new names to follow.  Here’s a look at the Top 50 prospects in baseball from ESPN’s Jim Bowden.

Horse Bleep – The body count continues at Santa Anita racecourse. Three more horses died at the track last weekend. That’s five since December 26 when the winter-spring meet began.  If you are keeping score, 37 horses died at the racetrack last year.

California prosecutors found no evidence of animal cruelty or other crimes during an investigation into the spike of horse deaths at Santa Anita. A task force formed by the LA District Attorney found the 49 deaths at Santa Anita over a 12-month period ending in June was no higher than the national average and lower than Churchill Downs in Kentucky.

My question is – at what point do the numbers and sheer volume of horse deaths not constitute animal cruelty? Oh, I guess that’s just the price of running a racetrack and providing a venue for sports betting. National average, my ass!

The Joe Schulz Quote of the Week – This week, we go back to old favorite Yogi Berra.  When asked about a popular St. Louis restaurant, Yogi responded – “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too busy.”

Music Video of the Week – This week, we look back at the great Tony Joe White, who died last October of a heart attack at the age of 75. He’s best remembered for his top 10 swamp-pop hit “Polk Salad Annie” (which was a staple of Elvis Presley’s live sets during the 1970’s).

Tony Joe White was one of seven children born on a cotton farm in Oak Grove, Louisiana in 1943. He began his recording career in 1967 after signing a deal with Monument Records. His first few singles went nowhere but finally in 1968, he released the LP “Black and White” which contained not only “Polk Salad Annie” but also “Willie and Laura Mae Jones”, which was later covered by Dusty Springfield. White didn’t enjoy very much commercial success over the next 20 years, or so, although he did continue to write and record new material and also toured with many of the top rock acts of the day including Steppenwolf, Sly & the Family Stone and Creedence Clearwater Revival. He did make a bit of a comeback in 1989 when he co-produced and penned several tunes, including the hit “Steamy Windows” on Tina Turner’s “Foreign Affair” album.

“Rainy Night in Georgia” is one of my favourite all-time tunes.  Brook Benton turned it into a huge hit. Shelby Lynne recorded it on an album a few years ago and had Tony sit it on the recording. Click on the YouTube link below and listen to him performing “Rainy Night in Georgia” in Germany in 1992.

Here’s another live performance from 2008.  Have a listen to the set.  He performs “Rainy Night in Georgia” and Polk Salad Annie.”  Enjoy!