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Under Further Review – Happy New Year!  Due to the abundance of major happenings in sports in recent days, we waited until today to fire off a new post. We say goodbye to a decade and offer up our first edition of Under Further Review for 2020.

A Win for the Ages – Team Canada’s stirring and remarkable victory over Russia in the World Junior gold medal game has to be one of our greatest wins ever in international hockey. The come from behind 4-3 triumph was one for the ages. Down 3-1 with 11 minutes remaining, Canada cued the comeback, scoring 3 times in stunning fashion to steal away the gold. There were so many outstanding individual performances that it is hard to point out just a few but the heroic efforts of Captain Barrett Hayton certainly stands out. Despite playing with an injured shoulder that was partially separated in the semi-final game, Hayton fired in the tying goal, opening the door for Akil Thomas’ incredible winner.

As a hockey fan, you never get tired of the sheer joy and emotion that is exhibited every year in the tournament. I cannot understand why NHL teams prevent players from participating.  It was foolish for the Black Hawks not to release Kirby Dach for instance. He could have been part of an experience he would never forget. How could that have not helped his growth as a player? Same with Noah Dobson of the Islanders.

WJC Notebook – Sweden has fashioned a truly remarkable feat at the World Junior Championships. The Swedes have won 52 consecutive games in group play spanning 13 years.  To point out the enormity of the streak, the next best current winning streak had been 3 games by the U.S. However, on the flip side, Sweden has won only one gold medal in the last 13 years and have failed to medal six times. They barely squeaked by Finland to earn a bronze this year.

It was great to see Team Canada get a measure of revenge against Finland in the semi-finals.  You will remember the Finns knocked Canada out in the quarters last year, sending Canada to an early exit and a sixth place finish. I liken Finland’s game to European soccer where they sit back and shut the game down, try to get a power-play goal, and be happy to win 1-0. At least Canada, the U.S. and Russia play an attacking style that’s loads of fun to watch.

Outside of the obvious notables like Hayton and Alexis Lafreniere, there were a number of Canadian players that really impressed me in the tournament including Columbus draft pick Liam Foudy, Tampa Bay draft Nolan Foote and Senators defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker. Not so sure about Joe Veleno and Jared McIsaac, a couple of Red Wing draft picks. Veleno may need to move to left wing in order to find a spot in the NHL. McIsaac had far too many turnovers. If you are turning pucks over in the World Juniors, how does that translate to the NHL?

From among the other teams, I really liked German centre Tim Stutzle who is draft eligible next summer, Russian forwards Kirill Marchenko (Columbus) and Alexander Khovanov (Minnesota), Russian defenseman Alexander Romanov (Montreal), Swedish centre Samuel Fagemo (L.A. Kings) and Swedish defenseman Victor Soderstrom (Arizona). The two top Canuck prospects, Russia’s Vasily Podkolzin and Sweden’s Nils Hoglander, certainly acquitted themselves well. The American team was surprisingly disappointing although Sens fans should be happy with the breakout performance turned in by Shane Pinto.

Here’s an excellent recap from Cory Pronman of The Athletic on the standouts, surprises and disappointments from the 2020 World Juniors. He shares many of the observations I had.

Turn Up the Power – The Canucks begin a tough 5-game road trip on Tuesday night in Tampa Bay that will also include stops in Sunrise, Florida against the Panthers, Buffalo, Minnesota and Winnipeg.  The sojourn begins with the Canucks riding a 7-game winning streak, their longest in six years.

The Canucks have survived to this point in the season on the strength of their fourth-ranked power-play.  The Canucks lead the NHL with 40 PP goals in 42 games. Their success on the power-play has often been the difference in games.  Don’t forget, they were 22nd in the league last year on the power-play and scored only 43 PP goals all of last season. Yes, Quinn Hughes and J.T. Miller have had a huge impact in the turnaround.

The big story during the win streak has been continued solid goaltending from Jacob Markstrom. He’s been outstanding and was rewarded by a late addition to the Western Conference all-star team.

The Sad Facts – Here’s something to cheer Canuck fans up! Olli Juolevi is the only top five NHL draft pick in the last 48 drafts to not play at least one game in the NHL. Juolevi was drafted 5th overall in 2016 and has yet to appear in one game due to a lengthy list of injuries. Sure, we can still hold out hope he will finally make it to the NHL but the trek has been slow. Wouldn’t Matthew Tkachuk look good in a Canucks uniform right now?  I would take the bad penalties.

Team Crosby – Picking the Olympic hockey team is something I have done with friends for quite a few years now.  Over the holidays, I had a chance to look closer at my recent Olympic team selections and try and determine what the lines might look like.  Here’s my breakdown up front:

Marchand – Crosby – Bergeron

Hall – McDavid – Marner

O’Reilly – MacKinnon – Point

Duchene – Scheifele – Stone

Pierre Luc-Dubois would be the extra forward. The defense pairings would look like this.

Chabot – Weber

Morrissey – Pietrangelo

Giordano – Doughty

Cale Makar is our extra D-man. In goal: Binnington is the starter with Price as backup.The Crosby line is a holdover from previous Olympics. It was always hard to find linemates for Crosby but they finally found the right mix with the Bruin tandem. Bergeron slides over to the right side but can also take draws and handle defensive responsibilities. I really like the fact you have two centres on almost all the lines so you have a capable centre to take draws even if someone is tossed out. If you wanted to create a more typical checking fourth line, you could slot O’Reilly in at centre and build the unit around him. Any way you look at it, it’s a pretty formidable group.

NHL Notebook – Can you blame the formally combustible John Tortorella from sounding off on NHL officiating? His Columbus Blue Jackets got royally screwed in a game last week against Chicago that ended up costing the Jackets a point in the standings. Columbus scored what would have been the winning goal a fraction of a second after the horn blew. Let’s let Torts tell the story! Click on his post-game comments.

One of the great mysteries of the NHL season has been the performance to date of the Tampa Bay Lightning although they have recently caught fire. You were probably wondering what’s up after their record-breaking season a year ago.  Well, it starts and ends with defense.  The Lightning tied for 7th last year in goals against with an average of 2.70. This year, they are sporting a 3.14 GAA which is 21st in the league.

If you look at the Bolts defense, the thing that stands out is an overall lack of speed and quickness on the back end. Their top four defensemen are Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev and Kevin Shattenkirk.  Braydon Coburn and either Erik Cernak or Jan Rutta make up their third pairing.  Gone from a year ago are Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi. If you look at it critically, it’s probably just not good enough and it probably explains why they were unceremoniously bounced in the first round last year by Columbus.

The Lightning do have a good one in left-winger Nolan Foote, the son of former NHL great Adam Foote. Tampa nabbed Foote 27th overall in last summer’s NHL draft, a selection that could turn out to be an absolute steal.  Calgary could have had him one pick earlier but instead chose pint-sized forward Jakob Pelletier. The Flames will come to regret that one.

Just when Leaf Nation was again planning the Cup parade route, the Leafs surrender 6 goals against the Soilers. Do you really think they’ve solved their defensive zone problems?  Me-thinks not!

Here’s a pretty clear indication of the interest in the Leafs in the Toronto area. The Belleville Senators played the Toronto Marlies recently at Scotiabank Arena and they drew 15,000.  The Ottawa Senators, meanwhile, are lucky to draw 10,000 per game.

D.K. Six-Pack – It was a tour de force performance by rookie D.K. Metcalf as the Seahawks rolled past the Eagles in the final NFL wild-card game of the weekend. Metcalf set a new NFL playoff rookie record with 160 receiving yards that left everyone wondering how the hell he lasted until the end of the second round in last year’s NFL draft.  Metcalf is built like an Adonis at 6’5”, 230 pounds.  Here’s the photo evidence and the full back story.

As mentioned, Metcalf ran a 4.33 at the NFL Combine yet he ended up being the 9th receiver taken in the draft. Many teams reportedly thought he was limited in his route-running and decided to pass. Look out if he learns to perfect crossing routes and slants because he will be unstoppable.  

NFL Wildcard Weekend – The Seahawks-Eagles game was a matchup of two battered and bruised football clubs. Seattle burned the Eagles repeatedly when they kept leaving Metcalf in one-on-one coverage. It seemed like every time Philadelphia brought Malcolm Jenkins on a corner blitz, the Seahawks countered by having Metcalf go deep.

The game changed early when Jadeveon Clowney knocked Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz out of the game with a concussion. 40 year old Josh McCown came on for the Eagles and did a heroic job.  At first, I thought it was Sonny Jurgenson or was that Ron Jaworski? The Seahawks registered a season-high 7 sacks.  That may be attributable to the Eagles injury-plagued offensive line and McCown’s lack of agility in the pocket. However, Seattle defense does seem to perform at a higher level whenever Clowney is in the lineup.

We will see what happens when the Seahawks travel to Green Bay next Sunday. Seattle is now 8-and-1 on the road this season but you would think their season will end against the Pack.  The Seahawks will need to produce their best defensive effort of the year. It would also not hurt to muster a running game against a Packer team that surrendered 120 yards rushing per game during the season.

New Orleans season was again cut short against Minnesota in the other NFC wildcard game. The Saints would have been better off with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback than Drew Brees whose Hall of Fame career seems at an end. Good for Kirk Cousins who finally won a playoff game. I give the Vikings a chance next Sunday against the 49’ers but only if Dalvin Cook turns in another strong performance on the ground.

In the AFC, not surprisingly, the Buffalo Bills found a way to blow a 16-0 third quarter lead in bowing out to the Houston Texans in overtime. Deshaun Watson was sublime when it counted. The Texans now travel to Kansas City to meet the Chiefs.  KC will advance.

As an avowed Patriot-hater, it was delightful to watch New England fall to the Tennessee Titans. Watching Belichick and Brady stew on the sidelines was particularly enjoyable. You have to wonder what is in store for New England but anyone who thinks the dynasty is over is sadly mistaken.  It says here the Patriots will still be competitive as long as Belichick is head coach, regardless of whether Brady is there or not. Remember, this is a team that won 11 games with Matt Cassell as quarterback in a year when Brady was injured. For the Titans, Derrick Henry will have to run wild for the Titans to have a chance in Baltimore.

If you are wagering on the NFL playoffs, it’s always advisable to go with the best quarterback. In the wild-card games, I had Seattle, New Orleans, Tennessee and Houston. It was Wilson over Wentz, Brees over Cousins, Tannehill over Brady, and Deshaun Watson over Josh Allen. Go with the best QB every time. I was 3 out of 4 and should have been 4 for 4 had Brees delivered. So this weekend, it’s Wilson over Rodgers (why not?), Garappolo over Cousins, Jackson over Tannehill and Mahomes over Watson.

Looking ahead, I see San Francisco riding home field advantage all the way to the Super Bowl.  Kansas City meets Baltimore in the AFC Championship game.  Whoever survives takes out the 49’ers in the Super Bowl.

NFL Coaching Carousel – Black Monday served up several NFL coaches on a platter. When the Cleveland Browns hire a replacement for Freddie Kitchens, it will be their 7th head coach since Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam purchased the team in 2012.  It will also be the Browns 13th head coach since reentering the NFL in 1999. Amidst all the turmoil, General Manager John Dorsey resigned. He had obviously had enough. The Browns are now looking for their 6th general manager in 7 years under Haslam.

Haslam, you will recall, made our list of the Ten Worst Owners in Pro Sports. Whoever is stupid enough to walk into that situation and work for Haslam, good luck! The NFL should take the team away from him.

Meantime in Washington, volatile Redskins owner Daniel Snyder falls into the Haslam category of meddling nut-job owners. Former Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has been given a 5-year contract to try and clean up the Redskins mess and I don’t need to tell you – it won’t end nicely.  It’s the age-old saw – “Show me a bad owner and I will show you a bad team.”

It only took Jerry Jones 13 years to figure out the Cowboys were never going to win anything with Jason Garrett at the helm. Former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy walks into the hot seat in Dallas. This is a big off-season for the Cowboys with quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Amari Cooper headed for free agency.  The laundry list of off-season decisions is long.

There is still a vacancy in New York with the Giants.  Who knows what the Giants will do?  A once-proud franchise is now basically irrelevant.

Costly Investment – A brief dive into the drafting of NFL quarterbacks over the past decade reveals a landscape littered with quarterback busts. No less than seven quarterbacks have been taken first overall since 2010 and only one, Andrew Luck, can be considered a true franchise quarterback.  Even then, Luck’s career was cut short by injuries and he was never able to lead the Colts to the Super Bowl. Here’s the list of the other #1 overall selections:

2010 – Sam Bradford – St. Louis Rams

2011 – Cam Newton – Carolina Panthers

2012 – Andrew Luck – Indianapolis Colts

2015 – Jameis Winston – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2016 – Jared Goff – L.A. Rams

2018 – Baker Mayfield – Cleveland Browns

2018 – Kyler Murray – Arizona Cardinals

When you consider that Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence are likely to be taken first overall in the next two drafts that will make 9 out of 12 years the top pick has been a quarterback. From 2010-2019, 30 quarterbacks were taken in the first round. From our viewpoint, only four have become what we would call ‘franchise quarterbacks’ – Luck, Pat Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson. The list of outright busts is lengthy. How about these names? – Tim Tebow, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Brandon Weeden, E.J. Manuel, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Paxton Lynch, Mitch Trubisky and Josh Rosen. How would you like to hitch your wagon to those guys?

It’s not only the wasted draft picks. It’s the cost. Millions pissed away on players who basically never contribute. If you look at where the players were selected and the Pro Bowl caliber players who were taken a short time later in those drafts, it further illustrates the impact of those mistakes. If you have a Pro Bowl or Hall of Fame-type grade on a player, why would you pass to reach on a quarterback? If you have a chance to draft a left tackle like Willie Roaf, Anthony Munoz or Walter Jones, why would you hesitate? You are going to plug these guys into your lineup for 10-15 years and watch them march off to Canton.

NFL teams get so caught up in size and arm strength they completely overlook the intangibles that really matter – intelligence, accuracy, leadership, character – not to mention scrambling and the ability to extend plays.

Trubisky was a one-year starter at North Carolina which is not exactly a college football power, yet they traded up to the #2 spot in the 2017 draft to select him, completely overlooking Mahomes who went to Kansas City at #10, and Watson who went to Houston at #12. The Bears could have traded down and still picked either one of them. Bears GM Ryan Pace has already announced he is committed to Trubisky again next season, a decision that is sure to ultimately cost Pace HIS job.

It’s just one example of how teams reach on quarterbacks, invest tons of money in them, and get burned badly. The Chiefs did it the right way. After drafting Mahomes, they had him sit and watch for a year under veteran quarterback Alex Smith.  It also didn’t hurt that he was able to learn under an offensive guru and quarterback whisperer like Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.

Somehow I don’t think anything will change in the NFL when it comes to evaluating, drafting and developing quarterbacks. The graveyard of NFL quarterback busts is only likely to grow.

The Joe Schultz Quote of the Week – This week, we turn to Racehorse Trainer Ted Walsh when asked about a horse he was training said: “This is really a lovely horse, I once rode her mother.”

Music Video of the Week – Here’s something different for you this week! One of the great American country-swing bands is Asleep at the Wheel. They’ve been around for decades and are always fun to listen to.  Here they are performing the old standard ‘Route 66.’  Enjoy!