Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and contributor Jordan Moss. This week, the Canucks rise from the ashes. Jimmy knows hockey. The Oilers hit the skids and what’s ahead for the Seahawks after a season gone bad?
Note to Subscribers: This will be our final blog post until further notice. We have had a great run over the past 3-plus years but it’s time to take a break. We promise to reappear on occasion when there is something that turns our crank or merits a response. We will miss poking the knife at Jim Benning and the Maple Leafs and so many others in the world of sports who deserve to be cut down to size. Many thanks to all the contributors including Jordan Moss and my great friend and editor Bill Morphy. Couldn’t have done it without you! Sports has seemed somewhat insignificant for quite some time now in this new COVID world. Maybe stepping away for a time will help rekindle the flame.
Canucks This Week – There’s no doubt the Canucks have enjoyed a huge bump since the changes behind the bench and in the front office. The vibe around the team changed immediately and the results have followed. It’s not like Bruce Boudreau has done anything provocatively different. It’s just, as Thomas Drance of The Athletic aptly stated, “the team just needed to get away from the thick cloud of toxicity that had hovered over the organization for the past 15 months.”
It will be interesting to see if the Canucks can chase down a playoff spot after the hole that was dug over the first 25 games. We thought they were a bubble playoff team at the start of the season and it looks like that’s exactly how things will play out. The impressive win streak under Boudreau has put the Canucks back on pace to finish with a points-total in the high 80’s or low 90’s, good enough to be in the playoff conversation.
The ace in the hole is the goaltending of Thatcher Demko. He was named one of the NHL’s three stars for December and it was well-deserved. Elite goaltending and improved special teams play should go a long way in determining the Canucks fate. The other big factor is the January schedule. The Canucks are set to run a gauntlet of tough opponents this month. We should know a lot more about the team by the time the calendar turns over into February.
The Jimmy Show – January results will certainly weigh heavily on Jimmy Rutherford’s trade deadline plans. With all the roster issues around the league caused by the latest COVID outbreak, making changes won’t be easy. Don’t think he won’t be looking to make a move.
“We need to get some offensive production out of our bottom six forwards,” Rutherford told Postmedia. “I think those guys are playing OK. I’m not gonna say that they’re not working at it. But we can’t rely on four or five players every night to do the scoring. These guys may be able to pick it up and start to contribute. And if they can’t, then we have to look at changing it. And changing it won’t be easy,” Rutherford said. “It won’t be easy in the middle of the season. Especially with what all teams are dealing with, with COVID and their active list and moving players around. I would suspect that making trades at this point in time probably becomes a little more difficult.”
As for front office changes, Rutherford says he would like to whittle down the general manager candidates to five as soon as possible and then hold face-to-face interviews. He’s already hired former Penguins staffer Derek Clancey as an assistant general manager but more additions are still to come. “We have to strengthen a lot of areas,” Rutherford said. It’s not just about finding senior executives; there are a lot of holes to fill in the organization. We need to add more people in our analytics department. I like the people we have there now, but there’s a lot of work to be done and adding a couple more in there. We have to strengthen our player development department.”
Rutherford also wants to strengthen the team’s collegiate and European scouting. “We have to look at trying to be in a position to get college and European free agents. When you get a player in that area — coming out of college or coming out of Europe — that can play on your team, even if he’s a fourth-line player or a fifth or sixth defenceman, it’s a big bonus. In Pittsburgh, we were picking up almost one college free agent a year, a European free agent here and there. And so that’s where I’d like to get here with the Canucks. I don’t want to say it’s a total overhaul of the hockey department because there’s a lot of good people in it. But we have to try to strengthen it.”
The clear frontrunner for the GM post is Swedish native Patrik Allvin who started with the Penguins as a European scout under Ray Shero in 2006. Rutherford says he wants an ‘entry-level’ GM candidate whom he can mentor and Allvin certainly fits the description. In Pittsburgh, Allvin earned Rutherford’s confidence by running the Pens amateur scouting department. He currently handles the club’s salary cap and collective bargaining issues among other duties.
After nearly eight years of Jim Benning and his No Plan-Plan, it’s oddly reassuring to have a steady hand finally at the wheel. Rutherford is certainly saying all the right things. Buttressing the front office is job one. At least there’s someone at the controls who can identify the problems and meet the challenge head on. It’s been a long time since the Canucks leadership group evoked any confidence.
NHL Notebook – There’s a very real possibility the Edmonton Oilers could miss the playoffs. The team has lost four straight and is 2-8-2 in their last 12. The Leafs are up next in Toronto on Wednesday night and it looks like the Oilers will be without Connor McDavid who’s tested positive.
Firing Dave Tippett doesn’t seem like the answer. The Oilers have already drilled through four coaches in the past six years. GM Ken Holland has not been able to repair the Oilers fundamental problems. The goaltending is wildly inconsistent. Going to war with a 38-year-old goalie who’s been hurt each of the past three years was a huge mistake. Look at the difference Jakob Markstrom has made in Calgary? The bottom-six forward group is suspect at best. At 5-on-5, the Oilers bottom six have been outscored 36-17. The Oilers fast start is a distant memory. Can you smell panic?
Upon further reflection, how can we not be disappointed and somewhat cheated by the cancellation of Olympic hockey? Many of our greatest hockey memories have come from Olympic competitions. Who can forget Salt Lake City? And there was nothing like winning gold on home ice in Vancouver in 2010. The United States has the Miracle on Ice. International hockey memories last a lifetime. It’s truly unfortunate we won’t have a best-on-best competition this year. The last Olympic hockey tournament was in Sochi in 2014 when Canada took gold and that is already a distant memory.
The quote of the year comes from Ottawa Senator Brady Tkachuk. When asked if he was disappointed at not going to the Olympics, Tkachuk remarked “Not really. I wasn’t really looking forward to spending two weeks with my fuck-faced brother.”
The writing is on the wall for the Maple Leafs. If they fail to win the Atlantic Division title, and it’s doubtful they will, they can expect to draw the Florida Panthers or the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round of the playoffs. Cue the excuses. Here’s a prediction for 2022 – the Maple Leafs Jack Campbell will win the Vezina Trophy. Auston Matthews will win the Rocket Richard Trophy. Morgan Reilly will win the Norris Trophy. Sheldon Keefe will win the Jack Adams Trophy. The adulation never stops but out they go in the first round for the sixth straight year. The Leafs would lose in the opening round if they faced the Kenora Thistles.
The playoff numbers tell you everything. In Pittsburgh’s three Stanley Cup wins, Sidney Crosby scored 77 points in 72 playoff games. In Chicago’s three Cup wins, Patrick Kane scored 70 points in 68 games. In L.A.’s two Cup runs, Anze Kopitar had 46 points in 46 games. In 109 combined playoff games with the Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander have scored just 80 points. Do you really think anything will be different this year?
In case you haven’t noticed, the Leaf Lickers are touting Jack Campbell for the Vezina Trophy. No doubt he’s having a fine season but be forewarned, he started 22 of the Leafs first 30 games so don’t be surprised if Campbell is worn down by playoff time. He’s not exactly a big goaltender who can handle a heavy workload.
No NHL GM had a worse trade deadline last year than the Leafs Kyle Dubas. He flipped six draft picks including a first-rounder for Nick Foligno, Stefan Noesen, Riley Nash, David Rittich and Ben Hutton. None of the whole group provided anything in the playoffs and have yet to do squat this season. Thanks to Dubas, the Leafs were left with six picks in the ’21 and ’22 drafts.
Speaking of Foligno, he hasn’t scored a goal for the Boston Bruins after going scoreless as a member of the Maple Leafs. The Bruins made a big mistake signing Foligno in the off-season.
The two clubs to watch as the season rolls over into 2022 are the Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes. Heading into play on Tuesday night, both teams had only seven regulation losses in 31 games. The Panthers may have the best center-ice corps in the league with Alexander Barkov, Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart and impressive rookie Anton Lundell. Carolina has a plus-40 goal differential and are top ten in every major statistical category. Everyone thought the Canes would take a step back after losing defenceman Dougie Hamilton in free agency. Tony D’Angelo has stepped in and is providing almost a point per game from the back end. The Hurricanes have become a model franchise. Not only are they sitting near the top of the league standings, they had 11 prospects in the World Junior tournament. Rookie Seth Jarvis would have made it 12 but he grabbed a roster spot in training camp.
Seahawks This Week – The Seahawks are headed for their worst season in 12 years under Pete Carroll. They finish out the string on Sunday in Arizona. The best they can do is 7-10. For most of the season, the offense was a train wreck. Ill-timed penalties, third down conversion and time of possession were major problems throughout. They are 0-9 in games in which they were tied or trailing by one score in the fourth quarter. No more late game magic from Russell Wilson who has the most fourth-quarter comebacks in the NFL (35) since 2012.
Pete Carroll can talk all he wants about a “retool” (something we are familiar with in Vancouver when it comes to the Canucks and we know how that worked out) but this requires something more like major surgery, as in full rebuild. The number of narrow losses this season has only served to prevent major panic in the ranks. Do you really think some off-season cosmetic roster tinkering is going to suddenly turn things around? You would be pretty naïve to think so. The Seahawks are 12-13 in Wilson’s last 25 starts dating to Week 7 last season.
The Seahawks are 3-5 in the post-season since the painful loss to New England that prevented a second straight Super Bowl win. Speculation around the future of Wilson has been re-ignited and will only continue into the off-season. Trade talk is already ramping up. ESPN ran a story chronicling several potential off-season transactions involving Russell Wilson. One deal had Wilson going to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for first and third-round picks in 2022 and 2023 and slot cornerback C.J. Gardner-Johnson. The Seahawks would also get a conditional second-round pick in 2024 if Wilson leads the Saints to a Super Bowl. Sounds enticing to me!
The personnel mistakes caught up to the Seahawks this season. Poor offensive line play has been an issue for several seasons. In the 2021 NFL draft, the Seahawks selected receiver Dee Eskridge in the second round with their top pick. They could have taken one of two centers who went later in the round. Josh Myers was selected by the Green Bay Packers. Creed Humphrey was picked by the Kansas City Chiefs and is already one of the top centers in the league and a future perennial All-Pro. Everyone knows games are won up front. It’s about time the Seahawks paid attention to both sides of the line of scrimmage.
NFL Notebook – It’s clear as day. Antonio Brown has serious mental health issues. We would like to know if the Tampa Bay Bucs actually tried to get the guy some help. Whether he’s bi-polar or whatever, did they make an effort to get him the assistance he obviously needed? The Bucs didn’t care about Brown. They just needed a receiver. Here’s a suggestion they should have considered in the first place. Why not insist he get help before giving him yet another second chance?
First, we made the case for MVP for Colts running back Jonathan Taylor. How about giving equal time to Rams receiver Cooper Kupp? Kupp now has 138 catches for 1,829 yards and 15 touchdowns through 16 games. He’s just 11 receptions shy of Michael Thomas’ NFL single-season record of 149. Kupp is only 117 yards short of Calvin Johnson’s single-season record for receiving yards (1,946). With another strong game this weekend, Kupp could break both of those records.
The Buffalo Bills can clinch the AFC East with a victory on Sunday. The Bills are trying their best to change the narrative in a division where New England, with Tom Brady at the controls, won the AFC East title 17 times in 19 years.
The Kansas City Chiefs looked like they had the top seed in the AFC locked down until getting upended in Cincinnati. Incredibly, the Chiefs had won 22 straight games in November and December. The Tennessee Titans can now claim the top seed if they win on Sunday against Jacksonville. The Titans deserve a ton of credit. They have used a total of 88 players this season, which is an NFL record for a non-strike season. They have started 52 different players.
We are watching a changing of the guard in the AFC North. The Bengals clinched the division with their stirring upset of the Chiefs. Joe Burrow is looking every bit like a franchise quarterback. He went 30-of-39 for 446 yards and four touchdowns. Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase was electric with 11 catches for 266 yards and three scores. Chase has made the case for ROY with 1,429 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The New York Giants announced they will be bringing back head coach Joe Judge and quarterback Daniel Jones for a ‘prove-it’ 2022 season. Are they nuts? Have they not been watching? First to go should be GM Brian Gettleman. How bad are the Giants? They had minus-25 yards passing on Sunday. They paid receiver Kenny Golladay $18 million as a free agent in the off-season. He has 34 catches for 499 yards and zero touchdowns.
The biggest free agent bust of the year has to be receiver Curtis Samuel. The Washington Football Club is paying Samuel $11.5 million this season. He has 6 catches for 27 yards and no touchdowns. That’s almost two million per reception.
Count Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger as one of those players who stayed around at the dance too long. Yes, he’s had a Hall of Fame career but watching him hobble around in the pocket is embarrassing.
It appears a though the Jacksonville Jaguars will be picking first overall in the NFL draft again this season. Here’s where the Jags have picked over the past 14 years: 8, 8, 10, 10, 5, 2, 3, 3, 5, 4, 29, 7, 9, 1. How in the hell can you not assemble a playoff team when you are picking that high for so long?
The end of the NFL season always spells trouble for a number of head coaches. Black Monday is sure to visit Matt Nagy in Chicago and Vince Fangio in Denver. The axe probably doesn’t stop there.
Sports Oddities of 2021 – A Cape Cod lobster diver was wholly ingested by a humpback whale that spat him out after 30 seconds.
A hiker stranded overnight on a Colorado trail ignored repeated calls from search and rescue because he didn’t recognize the number.
After the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs beat the Augusta (Ga.) Green Jackets behind a three-run dinger by Abiezel Ramirez on Toilet Paper Night, fans rained the 3,000 rolls they were given onto the field in celebration.
British swimmer Tom Dean suppressed a laugh when BBC presenter Clare Balding told Dean’s Olympic teammate, Matt Richards, on live television, “Your third leg was just phenomenal.”
Leftovers – For the first time in what seems like forever, the Toronto Raptors have a full complement of players and it’s allowing Nick Nurse to do his thing which is getting creative with lineup rotations. Against the New York Knicks over the weekend, Nurse used all three of his talented wings – Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes and OG Anunoby in the starting lineup along with Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. No traditional center required. It was just the fourth game all season in which VanVleet, Siakam, Anunoby and Barnes have all appeared together. The result was a blowout. VanVleet has seven 3’s and 35 points at the end of the third quarter. It comes down to defence however. This is a group that can be on the floor at the end of the game. The Raptors forced the Knicks into 18 turnovers so clearly Nurse’s lineup maneuvering is working.
NBA revenues this year are expected to be around $8 billion dollars. NHL revenues should be about $5 million. No wonder the Toronto Raptors, valued at $2.7 billion, are worth more than the Maple Leafs at $1.8 billion. The NBA enjoys legitimate worldwide interest. That’s not the case with the NHL.
On July 15, 2001, in the sixth inning of a game between the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers, Texas reliever Pat Mahomes gave up a single to Calvin Murray of the Giants which scored JT Snow with the go-ahead run. Involved were the father of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the father of Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray and the son of former Rams wideout Jack Snow.
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