Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and contributors Jordan Moss and Peter Hucul. In this edition, we dive into what’s ailing Elias. The Oilers are leaking badly. Kane’s a pain. And it’s status quo in Seattle.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to everyone who sent along messages saying they love the blog. For now, we will be posting once a month.
We are glad to be back with our January edition. We’ve just returned from the Serbian Embassy where we were protesting Novak Djokovic’s Australian no-vaxx ruling. Shame. The Djoker is such a likeable guy! What can we say? The prick didn’t want to get a prick!
The Pettersson Principle – When it comes to the Canucks, the hot-button topic recently has been the uninspired play of Elias Pettersson. He finally woke up in the final two games of the just-completed road trip but his season overall has been nothing special. Was the off-season wrist surgery that invasive that it’s affected his game? Has it caused him to have a season from hell similar to what happened with Pierre-Luc Dubois last season following the trade to Winnipeg? What did we say about the wisdom of signing Pettersson to a bridge deal? Looks like Jim Benning did something right.
The challenge for Pettersson is to figure out what kind of a player he wants to be. What are the strengths of his game and where can he find more utility? Bruce Boudreau tried to unlock Pettersson’s game by moving him over to left-wing during the road trip. He’s also given Pettersson an opportunity to kill penalties in an effort to broaden his role. In the National Hockey League, you will never be far from the doghouse if you can’t earn the coach’s trust defensively. In Nashville, Boudreau united Pettersson with two other young forwards, Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Hoglander, and the results were positive. Maybe that’s a combination we will see more of in the future.
Once a new GM is in place and the front office is fully staffed, it will be interesting to see how they view Pettersson. Canuck fans and local media have placed Pettersson on hallowed ground. We’re not sure if Jimmy Rutherford views him in the same light. The Canucks would be smart to insist that Pettersson stick around Vancouver for a large part of the summer. He needs to put on ten pounds of man-muscle so he is not so easily knocked off the puck. Working closely with a personal trainer and a high-performance skating instructor would be wise. Pettersson is a hugely important asset. Getting him back on his game should be priority number one.
Canucks Notebook – When you think back at the eight years of Jim Benning infamy, what would you say was his biggest mistake? (Beside copying Rudy Giuliani and going with the back shoe polish in his hair) No doubt, there’s a lot to choose from, but if you narrowed it down, it has to be his inability to make a decisive call on the goaltending. Letting Jacob Markstrom escape to Calgary without any return was inexcusable. The Canucks had patiently developed Thatcher Demko and it was time to give him the net. Yet Benning allowed Markstrom to walk away for nothing in free agency. Imagine what the Canucks could have acquired had Benning just made the right call.
Benning is the Canucks gift that keeps on giving. The Canucks will get some relief next season when the Roberto Luongo recapture penalty of $3+ million comes off the books. However, thanks to Benning, the Canucks will be carrying forward a $1.9 million dollar cap hit for the Braden Holtby buy-out and another $500,000 for the Jake Virtanen buy-out. Savings gone!
The contract handed to goalie Jaroslav Halak is another Benning gift. Halak is two games away from a $1.25 million dollar performance bonus. The Canucks are without the necessary cap space to absorb the bonus so it will have to be carried over to next year. Thanks to Jim Bob, Halak has a full no-trade clause. The fact the new management group is considering a deal for Halak tells you volumes about their overall intentions.
Benning not only left the Canucks in a precarious salary cap position; he left the team’s prospect cupboard almost bare. Scott Wheeler of The Athletic has begun releasing his 2022 rankings of every NHL team’s prospect pool. Benning has left the Canucks are near the bottom of the league at #28.
The eastern road trip has exposed the Canucks shortcomings on the blueline. You can be sure Jimmy Rutherford will be prioritizing a puck-moving defenceman when he puts together his wish list. The Canucks D-corps has contributed fewer points so far this season than all but five teams.
NHL Notebook – The Edmonton Oilers find themselves at the intersection of Mediocre Avenue and Stinky Street and they don’t know which way to turn. They’ve dropped six straight and are 2-10-2 in their last 14 games. They have conceded the game’s first goal 22 times in their last 26 games.
For two decades, the Oilers have failed miserably at the draft unless they were picking right at the top. The goaltending is abysmal and it’s sucked the life right out of the team. The best move might be to write this year off and start adding assets for next year. A few tweaks won’t fix this mess.
How desperate are the Oilers? Desperate enough to consider signing the cancer that is Evander Kane. Let’s review the Kane legal dossier: Accused of sexual assault (2013) and (2015); accused of harassment (2016) (he was actually charged in this case); coercing a partner into terminating a pregnancy (2018); domestic violence (2021); betting on NHL games including own team (2021); accused of faking a vaccination card (2021); accused of crossing Canadian border while positive for COVID-19 (2021). Kane has run the gamut – assault, abuse, gambling, bankruptcy, breaking team rules. Forget second chances. He’s on his eighth. Yes, he will be back in the NHL at some point. Why? Because he can skate and put the puck in the net.
Once Kane is cleared to play, I would doubt Edmonton would be his preferred destination, even with the prospect of playing alongside McDavid. The media spotlight is much brighter in any Canadian market. Why sign with the Oilers when you could potentially land in Florida where there is no state tax and both teams are legit Stanley Cup contenders? Kane will only sign in Edmonton if it’s his only option.
Connor McDavid may be the best hockey player on the planet but eloquence is not part of the package. When probed by the media over the possibility of Kane joining the Oilers, McDavid was ill-equipped to handle the situation. He came off as completely indifferent, antagonistic and not the least bit sympathetic to the potential fallout it may cause. Here’s part of what he said: “If fans don’t like it, or the media doesn’t like it, or whatever… it is what it is.” Thanks Connor! You’ve obviously given it a lot of thought.
Seldom in the NHL do you see a former player or executive throw someone under the bus like we saw with Bobby Clarke dumping on former Flyers GM Ron Hextall. The heat is on in Philadelphia and Clarke just turned it up a notch.
Don’t sleep on the St. Louis Blues as a Cup contender in the Western Conference. This is still a heavy team that goes four lines deep. The trade for forward Pavel Bushnevich has been one of the best under-the-radar deals of the off-season. The Blues acquired Bushnevich from the New York Rangers for Sammy Blais and a second-round pick and he’s responded with 14 goals and 21 assists in 34 games. The other big addition has been Finnish rookie D-man Niko Mikkola. He’s teamed with Colton Parayko on the Blues top pairing and done an outstanding job. The Blues stole Mikkola in the fifth round of the 2015 draft.
When the epitaph is written on the Maple Leafs season with another first-round exit, they will cart out the usual wagon of excuses. The REAL reason will be the Leafs overall lack of team speed. If you caught the Leafs setback in Colorado when they blew 3-0 and 4-1 leads, the problem was exposed for everyone to see. When the Avs turned it up a notch, the Leafs couldn’t handle the pace. It was a game they were unfamiliar with. Go down through the roster and the list of players who play at Dornhoefer speed is lengthy – Engvall, Spezza, Simmonds, Clifford, Muzzin, Holl, Ritchie, Tavares, Mikheyev. Lack of footspeed is why the Leafs won’t advance far in the playoffs.
The NHL fined Dallas coach Rick Bowness 25 grand for slamming a stick in disgust following a tough 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues. The referees gifted the Blues a pair of power-play goals in the final minute which set Bowness off. The NHL should be giving Bowness 25 grand for keeping his cool with the media following the game. There’s no nicer guy in hockey than Rick Bowness.
The Canucks, and numerous other teams, will be hamstrung by the salary cap when it comes to 2022 free agency on July 1. There are players coming available that would be of interest if the salary and the term were acceptable. Here’s a list of players we would take a run at under the right circumstances: Nazem Kadri, Andrew Copp, Ben Chiarot, Nick Paul, Valeri Nichushkin, Andre Burakovsky, Rickard Rakell, Ondrej Palat, Filip Forsberg and Rasmus Ristolainen.
Surprise, surprise. The Arizona Coyotes do not have the requisite city council votes to gain approval for their new $1.7 billion dollar arena and entertainment district project in Tempe. The news just casts yet another shadow over their ability to secure a long-term home. Will the NHL ever come to its senses and abandon this two-decades-old charade?
Is there any doubt Avalanche defenceman Cale Makar is on his way to his first Norris Trophy? Makar has more goals (16) that the entire blueline corps of 14 teams including the Canucks.
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang have played together in Pittsburgh for 16 seasons. It’s the most by any trio in NHL history. Amazing in a salary cap era.
Why does the NHL continue to insist that each team have a representative at the All-Star game? Makes no sense.
The Florida Panthers are a juggernaut. The Panthers are rolling over teams on a nightly basis. Their home record is 22-3. They have a league-best .750 winning percentage. Over the weekend, they pumped in 16 goals against Dallas and Columbus. What’s not to like about them? Expect the Panthers to upgrade their blueline at the trade deadline. Jeff Chychrun or Ben Chiarot would be great fits in their top four.
In case you haven’t noticed, the race for playoff spots in the Eastern Conference is already settled. The playoff picture in the West is another story. As of right now, none of the four Canadiens teams in the Western Conference are above the playoff bar.
The Gorton Challenge – If you look closely at the Montreal Canadiens roster, how can you not come away thinking this team needs a full-scale rebuild? Years of poor drafting have come home to roost.
New President of Hockey Operations Jeff Gorton has his work cut out for him. According to CapFriendly, the Canadiens payroll this season is $93,965,776 with $12,465,776 on LTIR. Gorton’s biggest challenge will be figuring out how to move out veterans on bloated contracts to relieve salary cap pressures. Thanks to Marc Bergevin’s foolish generosity, the Canadiens have ten players under contract through the 2024-2025 season.
Who do you build around? There are no foundational pieces who are 25-and-under. The Canadiens top young players in the 25-and-under category are Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Alexander Romanov, Christian Dvorak and Ryan Poehling. These are not exactly impact-type players. Montreal recently iced a pygmy power-play that consisted of Suzuki, Caufield, Sami Niku, Mike Hoffman and Jonathan Drouin. Defending that group of pipsqueaks must have been easy. Memo to Jeff Gorton – NO MORE RUNTS!
There are a few pieces in the Canadiens system that may work out. Defenceman Kaiden Guhle, captain of Canada’s World Junior team, is just 19 and could crack the lineup as early as next season. The most NHL-ready prospect may be Northeastern University defenceman Jordan Harris, the Canadiens 71st pick in 2018. Harris chose not to sign with the Habs last summer in order to return for his senior year. He could opt to sign elsewhere this summer which would be a big blow to the team’s long-term plans. Elsewhere, left-winger Sean Farrell is having a nice season at Harvard. He could turn out to be a steal with the 120th pick in the 2020 draft. Farrell is only 5-9” so he’s doesn’t exactly fit the Canadiens needs. Czech centre Jan Mysak was taken in the second round in 2020. He’s playing with the OHL Hamilton Bulldogs and looks like he could be a positive, two-way pivot down the road. The biggest wildcard is defenceman Logan Mailloux, the Canadiens top pick last summer. He’s back playing with the London Knights after being reinstated by the OHL following his suspension for much-publicized sexual transgressions.
For Gorton and new general manager Kent Hughes, the challenge is formidable. Canadiens ownership had better have patience because this is going to take some time. Good thing both Gorton and Hughes were given five-year contracts. They are going to need it.
Seahawks Notebook – It looks like it will be status quo in Seattle. Pete Carroll has his end-of-season meeting with Seahawks owner Jody Allen and GM John Schneider and reports say Carroll’s job security was not discussed. It looks as though the Seahawks will go forward without any major changes and that includes quarterback Russell Wilson.
Media blowhard Colin Cowherd took to the airwaves and claimed the Seahawks should trade Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner to the New Orleans Saints and start a full rebuild. And what? Become a four-win team for the next three seasons? What Cowherd failed to take into consideration is the Saints have no cap room and could not take on over $50 million in combined salaries.
The NFL is a coach and quarterback-driven league and when you have a top coach and a great quarterback, you don’t fuck with it. Fans and media can say all they want about Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson but last time I checked, that’s a winning combination. It’s the offensive and defensive lines that need attention.
If you are looking for a major reason why the Seahawks took a big step backward this season, look no further than the lack of a pass rush. The Seahawks were ranked 28th in the league before registering seven sacks in the season finale against Arizona. Carlos Dunlap failed to register a sack for nearly two months. Kerry Hyder Jr. and Benson Mayowa were major disappointments. Alton Robinson failed to take a significant step forward. Former first-round pick L.J. Collier was a healthy scratch on numerous occasions. The pass rush has to be a major focus in the off-season and it’s why it just cost defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. his job.
If you have followed Under Further Review over the past three years, you know we have been a huge supporter of Seattle GM John Schneider. Our unabashed enthusiasm is being tested. His work in free agency and the draft has been spotty at best. Seahawk fans are trumpeting the possibilities this off-season with the team sitting with over $70 million in cap space. History shows that doesn’t always transfer into on-field success. In the 2019 off-season, the Seahawks had $56 million in cap space and much of it was wasted on a raft of non-productive players. Here’s a list of some of the players who have been signed as free agents by Schneider in the past three off-seasons: Bruce Irvin, Joey Hunt, Greg Olsen, Jadeveon Clowney, Ezekial Ansah, C.J. Prosise, Mike Iupati, D.J. Fluker, Mychal Kendricks, Quinton Dunbar, Phillip Dorsett, B.J. Finney, Carlos Hyde, Damon Harrison, Cedric Ogbuehi, Kerry Hyder Jr., and Gabe Jackson. Tell me how you would grade that pile of dung? Schneider had better up his game this off-season if the Seahawks are going to return to playoff contention.
This year’s salary cap was $182.5 million. It will jump next season to $208.2 million. Two months ago, it looked like the Seahawks couldn’t run Rashaad Penny out of town quick enough. Now, he will probably be their top priority in free agency. From Week 14 to 18, Penny was the most productive running back in the NFL. He led the league with 671 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged 134.2 yards per game and 7.29 yards per carry.
The Seahawks also have a big decision to make on Bobby Wagner. He’s set to count $20.2 million against the cap next season. While Wagner is still productive, that number is totally out of whack. The Seahawks could free up $16.6 million by cutting ties with Wagner altogether.
NFL Playoff Takeaways – The dust hasn’t settled in Dallas after the Cowboys quick exit against the 49’ers on wildcard weekend. The Cowboys took a club-record 14 penalties. You would think Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is going to think long and hard about retaining head coach Mike McCarthy after such an undisciplined performance. The ill-fated Dak Prescott quarterback draw with 14 seconds remaining will be talked about for years. Several executives around the league are saying they have a club policy not to call that play unless there are at least 16-18 seconds remaining on the clock.
San Francisco now heads to Green Bay to take on the top-seeded Packers. The 49’ers had better hope their top two defensive players, Fred Warner and Nick Bosa, are available to play. Warner hurt his ankle against the Cowboys. Bosa suffered a concussion. Otherwise, they have NO chance!
The Los Angeles Rams made quick work of the Arizona Cardinals. Quarterback Matt Stafford finally got his first career playoff win. The Rams looked about as good as they have all season and should provide a good test for Tom Brady this weekend down in Tampa. What did we say about Cards QB Kyle Murray being over-rated? Good quarterbacks don’t throw interceptions for touchdowns like the one he threw against the Rams.
The Cincinnati Bengals picked up their first playoff win in 31 years. It hasn’t taken Joe Burrow long to join the group of elite NFL quarterbacks. In his last five games, including the wildcard win over the Raiders, Burrow has thrown for an average of 342 yards per game with 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions. His completion rate is 74.9%. His quarterback rating is 129.9. The Bengals have something special in Burrow.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen looked brilliant in Buffalo’s wildcard beat down of New England. Looks like his pocket presence and decision-making has really improved. The Bills scored six touchdowns in seven possessions against New England and the seventh was a kneel-down.
Buffalo meets Kansas City in the divisional round on Sunday night and it could be the game of the weekend. Chiefs QB Pat Mahomes will need a quicker start. He was 6 of 12 in the opening quarter against Pittsburgh for only 45 yards and coughed up an interception. From that point on, he was 24-0f-27 for 359 yards and 5 TD’s. The Bills had better get some pressure on him.
NFL Notebook – The Diva known as Aaron Rodgers had better step up in the playoffs this year. Rodgers is in his 17th season yet has only one Super Bowl on his resume. If he is to be considered one of the all-time greats, he needs to add to his ring collection. As of now, he’s in the same company as Jeff Hostetler, Trent Dilfer, Joe Flacco, Nick Foles, Mark Rypien, and Brad Johnson, all of whom have one Super Bowl win.
The Buffalo Bills selected Josh Allen with the seventh overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft. The six players chosen before him were Baker Mayfield, Saquon Barkley, Sam Darnold, Denzel Ward, Bradley Chubb and Quenton Nelson. All of those teams are still looking for a quarterback and none reached the playoffs this season.
The Denver Donkeys were one of the teams who could have selected Allen. He played at the University of Wyoming in Laramie which is 129 miles north of Denver, a drive of just over two hours. A franchise quarterback sitting in your own backyard yet the Donkeys pass on him. Meanwhile, they are still searching for an answer at quarterback. I’d rather have Sondra Locke behind center than Drew Lock. Denver has lost 13 straight to the division rival Kansas City Chiefs. What an embarrassment!
The Philadelphia Eagles made off like bandits in the off-season deal that sent fast-fading quarterback Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts. The Eagles reached the playoffs after trading Wentz and carrying $34 million of his contract on their salary cap. The Colts, on the other hand, missed the playoffs after acquiring Wentz and sending first-and-third round picks to the Eagles. The first pick will be the 15th selection in this year’s draft. Meanwhile, Wentz has three years and over $81 million remaining on his current contract. Franchise killer!
The Baltimore Ravens dropped their final six games of the season after starting the year 8-3. As a running quarterback, many predicted Lamar Jackson would suffer leg injuries and sure enough, he had a lingering ankle injury and it derailed the Ravens season. Will we see something similar in Arizona with Kyler Murray?
There was plenty of carnage in the NFL coaching ranks as soon as the season ended. Gone are Vince Fangio in Denver, Joe Judge in New York, Mike Zimmer in Minnesota, David Culley in Houston, Brian Flores in Miami and Matt Nagy in Chicago. Flores was a surprising casualty. The Dolphins were 19-14 over the past two seasons including an 8-1 tear to finish out this season. Once again, blame it on an impatient owner. The Giants back-tracked after stating publicly that Judge would be retained. They apparently came to their senses after a 4-13 season debacle in which Judge completely lost control.
There are 37 major job openings in the NFL right now among coaches, coordinators and GM positions. The firing of Culley and Flores leaves Mike Tomlin as the only black head coach in the NFL. That’s shameful despite the fact the NFL has incentivized the hiring of an African-American head coach. The NFL has ruled that, if a minority assistant is hired elsewhere as a head coach, that team is awarded two third-round compensatory picks. Still, it hasn’t had much impact.
Blue Jays Notebook – It’s doubtful the major league baseball season will start on time. The point of a lockout is to impose economic pressure. What pressure can be put on the players when they are not getting paid? Talks on a new CBA won’t get serious until the players risk losing a paycheck. Two changes that should happen once a new deal is reached are a universal DH and expanded playoffs from 12 to 14 teams in each league.
The biggest decision facing the Blue Jays once a settlement is reached is the contractual status of franchise cornerstones Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi penned a great piece on what their next contracts might look like. Check it out if you haven’t already.
We’ve talked a lot about the Blue Jays fast-rising top prospect Gabriel Moreno. Our sense is he will join the major league roster by June. He finished up last year by playing three games at Triple-A, then had an eye-popping performance in the Arizona Instructional League. One MLB scout called Moreno a “future superstar,” and another said, “The game is so easy for him.” Given his trajectory to this point, his rise to the majors could come as soon as midseason if not earlier. Blue Jays brass should already be thinking about what to do with their three other catchers.
After Moreno, the most exciting position player in the system is shortstop Orelvis Martinez. Baseball America has him listed as the team’s third-best prospect. The Athletic ranked Martinez 39th in all of baseball in their midseason rankings. The 20-year-old was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2018. He opened last season at Low-A Dunedin, hitting .279/.369/.572 in 71 games. In July, he went on a tear, hitting .324 with 11 home runs in an 18-game stretch. He actually hit 10 of those homers in 10 games — before he was promoted to High-A Vancouver.
Scouts are high on his bat speed, hit tool and natural power although, like a lot of young players, his plate discipline needs to improve. Defensively, his focus has been at shortstop, but he could move to third eventually — especially if Bo Bichette remains at short. Martinez is still a couple of years away but he has the potential to be another impact player.
The Paulina Poses – Wayne Gretzky was ‘The Great One.’ Sorry, but we’ve christened daughter Paulina ‘The Dirty One.’ She can’t stop taking selfies of herself and her girlfriends in naughty poses in trendy, for-the-rich-only places like Palm Beach and in this case, Aspen., Colorado. You go girl!
Leftovers – Thanks to the thoroughness of the Bayern Munich medical staff, Canadian soccer superstar Alphonso Davies was diagnosed with mild myocarditis after contracting COVID-19. The team runs tests on players who have recovered from the virus as a precaution. While it appears Davies will fully recover, he will miss three critical World Cup qualifiers starting January 27 against Honduras.
Golf is always going to give you breakout stars. Few, stay at the top. Who would have predicted that Jordan Speith would fall off so dramatically? Who would have said Rory McIlroy would not win a major since 2014? The top two-ranked players in the world at the moment are Jon Rahm and Collin Morikawa. Will they enjoy sustained success? Both are great ball strikers and mentally tough. It will be worth watching to see if they can maintain their standing in the game. Based on recent memory, it’s doubtful both will be able to hold their lofty standing for long.
It never gets old to see Canadians doing well on the world stage. The latest executive having success is Brampton, Ontario’s Marc Eversley, general manager of the Chicago Bulls. Eversley is the only Canadian GM in the NBA and he has the surprising Bulls in first place in the Eastern Conference. His acquisition of former Raptor DeMar DeRozan is paying huge dividends.
The Ottawa RedBlacks have signed fullback Mitch Raper. With a name like that, it must have been hard for him to get a date.
Football fans can look forward to more football this spring with the launch of the fledgling USFL. Can’t wait! I’m going to watch it on my Kenner Give-a-Show projector.
Guitar Stories – Special thanks to an old friend and frequent contributor Ted Tait in Calgary for bringing a fantastic documentary to our attention. Mark Illsley, former bass player for Dire Straits, has been producing a series called Guitar Stories. He searched out his buddy and bandmate Mark Knopfler to document the story behind six of Knopfler’s most cherished guitars. Check it out. You will really enjoy it.
YouTube Feature Artist – Joanne Shaw Taylor is a 37-year-old British blues singer and guitarist who was discovered by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics at the age of 16. One of the guitars she uses is an Albert Collins model Fender Telecaster that was a gift from Joe Bonamassa. Here she is in studio performing “If That Ain’t a Reason” with Bonamassa producing.
Her release entitled The Blues Album has received rave reviews. Here’s another track from that album – “Let Me Down Easy.”
Here’s Joanne performing “Time Has Come” live in concert.
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