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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Co-Editor Bill Morphy.  This week, the Canucks find new life. Laine and Dubois find new homes. It’s Brady vs. Mahomes in the Super Bowl and the Blue Jays flex their major market muscles. 

Canucks Early Season Observations – Nothing like a trifecta of games against the Ottawa Senators to get the structure and confidence back in your game. The Canucks outscored the Sens 16-3 in completing a much-needed 3-game sweep that levelled the Canucks record at 5-5 before departing on a tough six-game road trip to Winnipeg, Montreal and Toronto.

Regardless of the Canucks success against the Senators this week, they will live and die with their ability to defend. The Canucks started the week with the worst goals against average in the league. They have scored the most goals and given up the most goals in the NHL, a nice little dual accomplishment. They are also at the bottom of the NHL in several other defensive categories including surrendering 5-on-5 shots, shot attempts, and expected goals against.

The arrival of the Senators couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. The Canucks psyche was badly damaged after allowing 17 goals in three games to the Canadiens and being outshot 75-42.

Here’s a few other notes of interest:

  • There was a big concern over the early season play of Elias Pettersson. He posted only two points in the Canucks first eight games and went five straight without a point. Pettersson’s play had lacked his usual tenaciousness. When you are getting out-scored by Tyler Motte and Brandon Sutter, something is wrong. The 5-on-5 stats for Pettersson’s line to date have been alarmingly bad. Heading into the Ottawa series, the Canucks had been outshot 60-32 this season with Pettersson on the ice.
  • Quinn Hughes is struggling defensively and it is clear teams are paying far more attention to him this season. You can see they are taking the body to Hughes at every opportunity.
  • Rookie Nils Hoglander has added a nice offensive spark alongside of Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson. The Horvat line has been the Canucks best so far by a wide margin. Hoglander’s workmanlike effort and all-around play has been a huge positive. You have to wonder where the Canucks would be without the solid contributions from Hoglander, Tyler Motte and Brandon Sutter.
  • The Canucks special teams need to be strong if they have any aspirations of landing a playoff spot. The power-play started the season 0-for-15 but has bounced back. It needs to be among the best in the league for the Canucks to contend. The penalty-killing allowed seven goals in the first 21 chances. It can’t be any worse than middle of the pack.
  • Jordie Benn was an afterthought when the season started. He was a healthy scratch most of last season as well. Well, what do you know? Benn is suddenly in a top-four pairing with Quinn Hughes and happy to be playing on the right side where he has always been more comfortable. As Thomas Drance of The Athletic stated, “it’s an accidental pairing.” No one saw it coming.
  • Both goaltenders have been given equal opportunity so far this season. It probably doesn’t serve anyone to continue an even-split. It makes sense to give Thatcher Demko an opportunity to become the clear-cut #1 goalie. Give him the net and see how he fares. Demko was lights out in the opening two games against Ottawa. He had 42 saves on Wednesday night including 23 in the opening period. Looks like he’s tracking the puck really well.
  • If you had asked me a year ago, I would have probably said Adam Gaudette, Jake Virtanen and Olli Juolevi were all core Canucks and a big part of the team’s future. Fast forward to today and nothing is certain. You have to start wondering where Gaudette and Virtanen fit in. The team was hoping Gaudette would develop into a reliable third-line center but he has simply not been able to gain Travis Green’s trust. Gaudette was a recent healthy scratch only to be replaced in the press box by Virtanen who’s now 24 and still unable to establish himself as a reliable and consistent force. Virtanen has produced only 16 points in his last 51 games dating back to last year. He’s had every opportunity to seize a top-six role but with Hoglander’s emergence, Virtanen’s runway as a Canuck may be coming to an end.

Around the NHL – When it came right down to it, the trade between Winnipeg and Columbus involving Pierre-Luc Dubois and Patrik Laine made complete sense. Both teams shopped the players around the league before settling on the deal and it became rather evident, it was their best option. YOU take my highly-talented but disgruntled player, I’LL take yours. The acquisition of Dubois gives the Jets the best center-ice group in hockey and two 6’3”, 225 centers to make your life miserable. Dubois will figure out the Jets culture in a hurry. This is a team that ran Evander Kane out of town rather than put up with his act. The Jets sealed the deal by including Columbus native Jack Roslovic. Roslovic will be given an opportunity to move up in the lineup with the Blue Jackets, something he hasn’t been able to do since being the Jets top choice in 2015. I doubt whether he will earn Torts’ trust.

No one has been able to find out what the Montreal Canadiens offered for Dubois and you can bet they made a pitch. Back during the 2016 draft, the Habs had a deal in place to select Dubois if he slipped in the draft. Had Columbus selected Jesse Puljujarvi instead of Dubois with the third overall pick, Edmonton was going to follow by taking Russian defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. Had that happened, the Canadiens had a deal in place to send P.K. Subban to Vancouver for the fifth pick and the right to select Dubois. Good thing for the Canucks it didn’t happen. Jim Benning would be fired by now. The Canucks ended by grabbing Olli Juolevi instead of Sergachev, proving they couldn’t even get that right. The Oilers picked Puljujarvi when they should have stuck with Sergachev.

It was a surprise to hear of the resignation of Penguins GM Jim Rutherford since it happened so early in the season. It was an abrupt exit so everyone is wondering why. Word is Rutherford wanted to deal Kris Letang but management balked. Rutherford walked and if that was the case, can you blame him? The Penguins have resisted a full-blown rebuild since winning Cups in 2016 and 2017.  Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Letang are all into their 30’s and the prospect cupboard is bare. You would have to think the leading candidate to replace Rutherford is Ray Shero, who was let go by New Jersey last season. He managed the Pens when Crosby and Malkin were breaking into the league back in ’08 and ’09.

We were very leery about the Oilers off-season moves and we are quickly finding out why. Edmonton brought in Kyle Turris to slot in behind McDavid and Draisaitl and boost Edmonton’s bottom-six forward group. Turris is sitting at -9 and is getting buried 5-on-5. The shot share when he is on the ice is below 40% and scoring changes are nearly double. This was predictable. When a team (Nashville) is so anxious to buy a player out and is willing to pay him $2 million for this season and the next six just to get rid of him, you know there’s a very good reason. Memo to Ken Holland: He’s done! Meanwhile, Tyson Barrie has been taken off the top power-play unit and is struggling big-time defensively. Dominic Kahun, who was brought in to play alongside his childhood buddy Draisaitl, has yet to score despite playing with one of the top centers in the world.  Mark Edmonton down for second to last place in the Canadian division.

After being acquired from Pittsburgh last summer, the Ottawa Senators handed goalie Matt Murray a new four-year, $6.25 million dollar contract. Something tells me they are going to regret that one. Pierre Dorion also erred in signing Colin White to a lucrative extension. Shades of Jim Benning! Can someone teach these guys how to negotiate? By the way, the Senators would be wise to send prized rookie Tim Stuetzle back to Germany rather than risk further exposure to that pile of dung.

We had a hunch that all the off-season moves by the Montreal Canadiens would pay dividends. The Habs started the season with six straight games on the road and walked away with ten of a possible twelve points. The Canadiens now play a heavy game and their possession numbers are impressive.

Maple Leafs winger William Nylander had two goals on opening night. He had zero goals in the seven games that followed probably because he makes his home on the perimeter. If someone offered a warm body for Nylander, I would jump on it in a nanosecond. Guy should play with a tutu on! Can you explain why the Leafs would be reluctant to trade this guy?

Some readers of this blog say we pick on the Leafs. Of course, we do. Can you think of something better to do? The King of the Maple Minnions is Sportsnet’s Luke Fox. Here’s his latest fit of hyperbole and we quote “the Jake Muzzin-Justin Holl defensive pairing is the best in the sport.” Who is this guy and what Kool-Aid has he been drinking?

It took #1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere seven games to get his first NHL goal, an overtime game winner against the woebegone Buffalo Sabres. Lafreniere will find out pretty quickly that you need to grind every night to have success in the NHL. Just ask Elias Pettersson.

Not sure what Jack Hughes did in the off-season but the New Jersey Devils center is playing with renewed confidence. He’s helped the Devils to a decent start.

Something is wrong with the Philadelphia Flyers. No team is more up and down and Alain Vigneault has to be pulling his hair out – what hair he has left. The Flyers are a team that could use a shake-up. Too many passengers on big contracts. Tough to find a buyer for some of those grifters however!

Speaking the Truth – It’s time Ron MacLean was taken off the air for good. We all know he has no credibility after throwing his long-time meal ticket Don Cherry under the bus over Grapes’ “You people” comments. Yet, MacLean is still hosting Hockey Night in Canada and remains as nauseating as ever with his pandering, self-serving apologist act passing as broadcast journalism.

He was at it again last week during an interview with Pierre-Luc Dubois. At one point in the interview MacLean prefaced his question with “You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to.” Who conducts an interview in that fashion, giving someone an ‘easy out’ before you even finish the question? MacLean has made a career as an apologist and just can’t help himself. He ended the interview by telling Dubois “Your dad would be very proud of how you handled this interview.” Dubois’ dad is a coach with the AHL Manitoba Moose. MacLean’s job was to find out the real reason Dubois wanted out of Columbus, something he failed to do. When MacLean was a child, his parents must have run out of apples to give little Ronnie to take to his teachers. Please, for the sake of all of us, just go away.

NFL Championship Weekend Takeaways – So it’s Kansas City and Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl. Pat Mahomes vs. Tom Brady. Andy Reid vs. Bruce Arians. How do you think that’s going to go? More on that later. Let’s look first at how they got there.

If you throw out the final game of the season when Mahomes did not play, the Chiefs are 25-1 in their last 26 games. Against the Bills, Mahomes went 29 of 38 for 325 yards and 3 TD’s without an interception. Tyreek Hill had 9 catches for 172 yards. Travis Kelce caught 13 balls for 118 yards and a pair of touchdowns. When the Chiefs offense is rolling, no one stops them. Period. Full stop. The Bills certainly had no answers. The Chiefs made five red-zone trips and scored 35 points. The Bills made five red-zone trips and scored 18 points.

During their pre-game show, ESPN claimed the Bills had the advantage at quarterback and in the receiving corps. Can you believe that? What were they thinking? There were reports that Mahomes saw the coverage on TV prior to the game and was hyper-motivated. Buffalo QB Josh Allen ended up being the Bills leading rusher because he was running for his life most of the afternoon. Allen’s best work came after the Chiefs had built a 38-15 lead. Mark this down – the Bills won’t make it to the AFC Championship next season.

Green Bay pretty much gift-wrapped the NFC Championship with a series of critical mistakes including costly turnovers. It’s not as though Brady came up big. He was 20 of 36 for 280 yards with 3 TD’s and 3, count ‘em, 3 interceptions. His passer rating was just over 70. Packers cornerback Kevin King wore the goat horns. He allowed Scotty Miller to get behind him for a touchdown to end the first half and if that wasn’t enough, King was called for pass interference on a play that essentially iced the game for the Bucs. Aaron Rodgers is now 1-and-4 in NFC Championship games. That can’t sit well. He must still be seething over the decision by Packers HC Matt LaFleur to kick a field goal with less than three minutes remaining rather than going for it on fourth down trailing 31-23.

With two weeks to prepare, do you really think Andy Reid is going to lose to Bruce Arians? That Mahomes will get out-played by a 43-year old Tom Brady? Ain’t happening folks! The two teams met in Week 12 with the Chiefs prevailing 27-24 but the score flattered the Bucs. It was 27-10 after the third quarter. Mahomes shredded the Bucs defense with 462 yards passing and three touchdowns. Hill had 13 catches for 269 yards. He set an NFL record with over 200 yards receiving in the opening quarter. Brady served up a pair of interceptions and the Bucs could muster only 71 yards rushing. Ronald Jones had 10 carries for 16 yards.

The only way the Chiefs lose is if they beat themselves. The only concern they might have is pass-blocking after losing left tackle Eric Fisher to a torn Achilles in the AFC title game. The Bucs sacked Rodgers five times and put him under heavy pressure most of the day. Still, Reid will find a way to protect Mahomes and scheme around it. Needless to say, the media will trumpet Tampa leading up to the game but there’s no chance they will hold the Chiefs down for four quarters. Don’t forget, the Chiefs beat the 49’ers in last year’s Super Bowl and the 49’er defense was infinitely better.

Seahawks Off-Season Notebook – The Seahawks have hired Shane Waldron from the L.A. Rams as their new offensive coordinator. Waldron had been the Rams passing coordinator. He’s 43 and should be able to help the Seahawks develop a more well-rounded passing attack. All I know is the Seahawks need to figure out a way to get the ball out of Russell Wilson’s hands quicker. He’s been sacked 176 times in the past three seasons. Finding more offensive weapons would help. The Rams had five players who caught more than 40 passes last season. Seattle had two.

Many offenses around the league are set up to give “the illusion of complexity” with lots of motion and quick tempo. The Seahawk offense, by comparison, seemed far more static and conservative even if it wasn’t. D.K. Metcalf has gone on record as saying the Seahawks were “predictable” late in the season and claimed teams knew what was coming. Hopefully, Waldron can change that. He reportedly has Wilson’s stamp of approval.

NFL Off-Season Notebook – It looks like the NFL off-season will be highlighted by musical chairs among the quarterback fraternity. Matthew Stafford has asked for a trade out of Detroit. The Lions have zero playoff wins in Stafford’s 12 years in Motown. He’s 33 but still has great arm talent and would be an outstanding fit on several teams including Indianapolis and New England and both have the cap space to make it happen. Another team that would be smart to move quickly on Stafford is the New Orleans Saints. With Drew Brees retiring, the Saints need a QB and are in win-mode now. Stafford has a $20 million cap figure that cannot be reworked until he is on his new team, part of the reason he wants out.

There may be no more toxic environment in all of sports right now than in Houston where Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has issued a trade request and who could blame him. The Texans are owned by Cal McNair, the son of now deceased Houston owner Bob McNair. Before he died, McNair hired an Evangelist (not that there’s anything wrong with that) named Jack Easterby to serve as executive vice president of team development. It was an unprecedented move into football operations for a man who had previously been the Patriots team chaplain. Easterby’s strategy seems to be to consolidate power through chaos and isolation while pulling the strings behind the scenes. No wonder Watson has asked for a trade.

There’s no shortage of teams that could use help at quarterback. The teams in the best position to acquire Watson may be the teams with young quarterbacks to offer in return. The Dolphins could offer Tua Tagovailoa. The Jets could offer Sam Darnold plus draft capital. The Browns could serve up Baker Mayfield. How about Baltimore or Arizona offering Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray? That may sound foolish but Watson is legitimately among the top five quarterbacks in football. Would the Texans be interested in Dak Prescott? All the other teams that need help at quarterback don’t have quality young quarterbacks to offer in return. We count 15 teams that may be looking to upgrade at quarterback in the off-season – fully half the league. The list includes the Giants, Jets, Jaguars, Broncos, Redskins, Rams, 49’ers, Patriots, Lions, Steelers, Bears, Raiders, Colts, Saints, and Panthers.

It is unlikely that Aaron Rodgers leaves Green Bay. He still has three years left on his contract. Problem is – he’s making $12 million less per season that Patrick Mahomes, so unless his contract is re-worked, he will miss out on a lot of cash between now and the time his contract expires. It’s doubtful the Packers have any intention of moving Rodgers unless he starts making heavy duty contract demands.

Both the 49’ers and the Rams would love to upgrade at quarterback and you can’t do better than Rodgers, a California native. However, that’s not going to happen. Both the 49’ers and the Rams have quarterbacks they can’t unload because of bloated contracts and under-performance.  As long as the current quarterbacks remain in place in the NFC West, the Seahawks have the advantage.

Free Agent Fireworks – The raft of recent moves by the Toronto Blue Jays should erase any questions – the Jays are a major market team and they are acting like one. The free agent signings of center-fielder George Springer and infielder Marcus Semien send a message to all of baseball that the Jays are serious about winning and Toronto is a destination worthy of consideration.

There’s no doubt that Springer is a perfect fit for the Jays. They had a massive hole in center and a major need to improve their defense up the middle. Springer brings a great combination of power, speed and defense and he should add veteran leadership to the young clubhouse.

The Blue Jays plan to shift Semien from short to second base where he will also be an upgrade defensively. Cavan Biggio will be moved around in a utility role but may share reps at third base with Vladdy Guerrero Jr. Semien is just one year removed from a 33-home run season in Oakland when he finished third in MVP voting. He’s also a strong clubhouse presence. Analytic projections now have the Jays offense as one of the top three in baseball.

The addition of lefthander Steven Matz from the Mets helps solidify the Jays starting rotation. Matz is an upside play coming off a dreadful 2020 season that saw him surrender 14 home runs in 30 innings over nine games, six of them starts. Matz is on a reasonable $5.2 million dollar contract and the Jays are hoping he can rebound under pitching coach Pete Walker.

For now, the Jays are probably done adding although they may look for another arm for the rotation before training camp opens. Right-hander Jake Odorizzi perhaps? The Jays could use a left-handed bat off the bench. Still, there’s no longer any major urgency. It would help if the Jays could move a couple of overpaid bodies off the roster including outfielder Randal Grichuk and pitcher Tanner Roark to open up room for additional contract-in, contract-out moves.

Leftovers – How would you like to be a sports fan in Detroit? All four major pro franchises are bottom-feeders. The Lions haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. The Pistons are perennial chumps. The Tigers and Red Wings are in the midst of rebuilds that may take several more years. Makes you want to move to Cleveland. Well, maybe not!

Music Artist of the Week – This week, we thought we would introduce you to an artist we have discovered recently named Eden Brent. Eden was born in Greenville, Mississippi in 1965. She’s primarily a blues singer and piano player with elements of jazz, soul, gospel and pop. She took piano lessons from Abie “Boogaloo” Ames, a traditional blues and boogie-woogie piano player, eventually earning the nickname “Little Boogaloo.” Eden is much sought-after on the blues festival circuit. Here she is with Canadian icon Colin Linden performing “Mississippi Flatland Blues.”

Here’s the official music video for the song “Jigsaw Heart” which was a bit of a hit for her. The album by the same name is excellent.

Here’s Eden in 2016 performing “Someone Else is Steppin’ In” with Ana Popovic on guitar (in the pretty dress).

At the Montreal International Jazz Festival in 2009, Eden showed off her boogie-woogie piano chops with a tribute to “Boogaloo” Ames, performing “Caledonia.”–cBX0

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