Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Co-Editor Bill Morphy and contributions Jordan Moss and Bill Myles. This week, the Lightning strike again. The Leafs are officially the biggest losers of all time. Shapo shapes up and England and Italy get set for the Euro 2020 finale.
Stanley Cup Final – Well, this is the first weekend without playoff hockey since the post-season began on May 15. If you are feeling withdrawals, now you know why. Tampa has the Stanley Cup for the second straight summer and at least this time they can actually each have the Cup for a day and celebrate. Since Montreal won the Cup in ’93, six Canadian teams have come up short in the Stanley Cup final – the Canucks in ’94 and 2011, the Flames in 2004, the Oilers in 2006 and the Senators in 2007. The Canadian Cup drought continues.
Credit general manager Julien BriseBois for constructing the best and deepest roster in the league and don’t underscore the contribution of coach Jon Cooper. All he’s done is win six titles in four different leagues over the past 15 years. If Canada goes to the Olympics next winter, he’s your head coach.
The Lightning made quick work of the Canadiens in the final. The 1-0 win over Montreal in the deciding fifth game was eerily similar to the 1-0 shutout of the Islanders in game seven of the semifinal series. The Lightning are 14-0 following a loss in the last two post-seasons. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was a deserving Conn Smythe winner. He posted a shutout in all four series-clinching wins. He went 16-7 with a 1.90 GAA and a .937 save percentage. The scary thing is – he’s only 26. And how about Patrick Maroon? He has now been on three consecutive Stanley Cup champions.
In the end, it was Tampa’s scoring depth that did the Canadiens in. The last six goals scored by the Lightning in the Cup Final were scored by lesser-lights – Tyler Johnson with a pair, Ross Colton, Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman and Patrick Maroon. Montreal could not match the Lightning’s incredible depth up front.
The work starts immediately for the Lightning if they want to three-peat. It’s going to be a tricky two-step in order to become cap compliant to start the 2021-2022 regular season. Tampa already has $86.5 million committed to 19 players for next season. With the cap remaining flat at $81.5 million, the Lightning are going to be faced with some really tough roster decisions. There’s a scenario where the Lightning could lose their entire third line which was so effective in the playoffs. Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow are both pending UFA’s as is defenceman David Savard. Yanni Gourde is a potential expansion pick if the Lightning can’t find a way to protect him. The big challenge is finding room to get Nikita Kucherov and his $9.5 million dollar ticket onto the roster to start the season instead of on LTIR. The Lightning need to find a taker for forward Tyler Johnson who still has three years to go at $5 million per season. It would not be a shock if the Lightning tried to shop Steven Stamkos. It might be the best option for opening cap space. Stamkos is 31 and has three years left on his deal at $8.5 million.
Looking ahead for Montreal, you would hope this year’s playoff experience will have meaning and propel the team forward. In the Atlantic Division, however, there are no sure things. Don’t forget, the Habs finished 18th in points this season. They will return to the Atlantic Division with two strong teams in Florida plus the Bruins and the Leafs. Detroit joins the division next season and along with Ottawa, you have two teams that are only going to get better. Buffalo should remain a dog’s breakfast but there’s no doubt the division offers tremendous challenges and the jockeying for playoff spots will be very difficult.
When you think of a class organization in the world of sports, you think of the Montreal Canadiens. To have a boozed-up and shirtless Nikita Kucherov get up on a soapbox following the Cup victory and demean the Canadiens and their rapid fans says volumes. Kucherov can go back to Moscow and drink some potato vodka. To give him a sponsorship deal with Bud Light is the perfect marriage. Bud Light is to beer what potato vodka is to premium scotch.
Finding Solutions – One year after acquiring Nate Schmidt from the Vegas Golden Knights, it looks like the veteran defenceman could be on the move again. Reports have surfaced that Schmidt did not exactly enjoy his time in Vancouver and has requested a trade. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that “there’s an understanding between the two sides that they will try to work together to find a deal.” Friedman added that he’s not sure there’s been a formal trade request but that both Schmidt and the team recognize the match hasn’t been the best fit. Moving Schmidt may be easier said than done. The soon-to-be 30-year-old has four more years to go on a deal that pays him $5.95 per season.
The most valuable commodity on the trade market is cap space. Something the Canucks don’t have. It is going to be increasingly challenging for the Canucks to improve their roster. As the critical off-season dates approach, the Canucks need to start looking hard at creative ways to improve without breaking the bank. The Canucks simply don’t have the available cap space to go big-game hunting for the likes of Seth Jones or Dougie Hamilton. They have big holes on the blueline and could use more speed up front including one or two useful centers. They should see some internal improvement on the back end where Quinn Hughes, Olli Juolevi and Jack Rathbone will benefit from another summer of fitness training. Sorry, but I would prefer to move on from Alex Edler and Travis Hamonic, if, for no other reason, than to give the defence corps a different look.
What the Canucks really need is to identify a few inexpensive targets who may be undervalued and who can outperform their contracts. Over the past two off-seasons we have identified this type of player only to watch the Canucks over-spend to acquire Tyler Myers and Nate Schmidt. Our recommendations were Ben Chiarot and Joel Edmundson, both of whom signed in Montreal, and played a major role in the Canadiens drive to the Stanley Cup Final.
Considering the Canucks cap situation, a few of the mid-level UFA defencemen like the Devils Ryan Murray, Jamie Oleksiak of Dallas and David Savard of the Tampa Lightning are probably out of reach. Herman Dayal of The Athletic recently conducted an in-depth analysis of pending UFA’s the Canucks might want to target. Here’s a few defencemen from Dayal’s list that we think are worth pursuing.
Jake McCabe, LD, Buffalo Sabres: The 27-year-old is a steady, two-way defenceman who would fit into the Canucks top-four and more than replace Edler. His underlying numbers are excellent, suggesting he can control play at five-on-five. In fact, while on the ice, McCabe was the only Sabres blueliner in which Buffalo outshot and out-chanced the opposition. Financially, he would likely be the most expensive to sign this summer.
John Merrill, LD/RD, Montreal Canadiens: The 29-year-old did a fine job with the Canadiens during the post-season. He is versatile and can play both sides which is always a plus. During the regular season, he logged almost 20 minutes a night in Detroit. Merrill has good size at 6-5. According to Dayal, over the last three seasons, there were 186 defensemen who skated at least 1,500 five-on-five minutes. Out of those 186, Merrill owns the ninth-best shots-against rate and the fourth-best expected-goals-against rate. Sign the guy. You can’t go wrong.
Jani Hakanpaa, RD, Caroline Hurricanes: Here’s another under-the-radar guy we really like. Hakanpaa should come relatively cheap. He checks in at 6-5 and although he’s not going to give you much offensively, he would certainly fit in nicely on a third pairing with Rathbone.
Patrick Nemeth, LD, Colorado Avalanche: Here’s another potential bottom pairing blueliner who would bring some much-needed grit to the Canucks back end. The 29-year-old Swede is very solid defensively and would provide penalty-killing utility. He’s got the size you are looking for at 6-3, 228 pounds. Nemeth does what few Canuck defencemen have been able to do and that’s play physical, block shots, win battles and defend the cycle.
Mark Pysyk, RD, Dallas Stars: Pysyk should be readily available since he earned only $750,000 last year in Dallas and played only 11 minutes per game. At 29, he should have some solid years in front of him. Don’t forget, he played several years in Florida in a much larger role. Pysyk might thrive in a third-pairing role and at the very least, gives you another right-shot option.
The Canucks may also want to kick the tires on Zach Bogosian of the Leafs and Derek Forbert and Tucker Poolman of the Winnipeg Jets. It remains to be seen if the Canucks are astute enough to identify these type of low-cost players and whether they can convince them to sign in Vancouver. We will look at some low-cost forward options next week.
NHL Notebook – The NHL buy-out window is now open. The Seattle expansion draft roster freeze follows on July 17. The Kraken will then make their selections on July 21. A lot of NHL Insiders are predicting a very busy off-season. Many teams, including the Canucks, have promised to be aggressive. Several teams are burning up the phones trying to make a play for Columbus defenceman Seth Jones. There’s early bidding on Hurricanes blueliner Dougie Hamilton. Look around the league and an abundance of teams want to make major changes. Colorado has three prominent UFA’s and stand to lose a quality player in the expansion draft. Calgary is promising big changes. Philadelphia is looking to shake things up. Vegas is never satisfied. Ron Hextall and Brian Burke will want to leave their stamp on the Penguins. San Jose is looking for a goalie, maybe two. Edmonton wants to take the next step. Winnipeg needs defencemen. Toronto is searching for answers. The Kings have already served notice they want to take the next step. You get the idea! It could be a summer of big change. If you are sitting with cap space like Seattle, you could do some interesting things.
After watching the grind that is the NHL playoffs, something tells me the most coveted free agents this summer may be the guys with the most ‘jam.’ Look for Zach Hyman Joel Armia, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow to be much in demand. These are the type of guys you want in your lineup in the post-season.
Police in Novi, Michigan continue to look into the circumstances surrounding the July Fourth death of Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks. The initial police report indicated he died from head trauma after fleeing from a hot tub following a fireworks mishap. The Coroner’s Office later said Kivlenieks died from chest trauma caused by a fireworks mortar blast. The incident took place at the home of former NHL goalie Manny Legace who has coached Kivlenieks since he turned pro, first with the AHL Cleveland Monsters and for the past three seasons with the Blue Jackets.
Congratulations to the Toronto Maple Leafs! It’s now official. The Leafs have taken ownership of the longest Stanley Cup drought in NHL history. Its 19,794 days and counting. The Leafs, who last won the Cup in 1967, have surpassed the New York Rangers drought which lasted from 1940 until 1994. Have you ever seen an organization accomplish so little yet act so important? The Leafs must have collective amnesia.
If you were an avid listener of TSN1040 Vancouver, the loss of the radio station has to hurt. Sportsnet650 is almost unbearable outside of Halford and Brough in the morning, who came over from TSN when the station went off the air. Sportsnet 650 is All-Canucks, All-Day, and boy does that get tiresome. The biggest loss when TSN1040 left the airwaves was Ray Ferraro as a regular contributor. Ray’s take on hockey is unmatched and it always comes with humour, insight and even some honest opinion. Ray will be moving on to ESPN’s NHL coverage next season. He will be doing at least one game per week on ESPN and will continue to work the World Juniors for TSN and some regional Leafs broadcasts. He will no longer be doing all the radio hits in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. It’s ESPN gain. Ferraro is the best in the industry right now. Good for him!
Alberta Crude – If you are wondering why the Oilers have been struggling for so long, look no further than their dismal record at the draft table. Outside of can’t miss selections like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, it’s pretty much been a 20-year wasteland.
The Oilers draft failures are near legendary. To really put it into perspective, you have to go back to the 1990 NHL Draft when the Oilers were coming off their fifth Stanley Cup title in seven years. I was in attendance at that draft which was held at B.C. Place in Vancouver. Edmonton GM Glen Sather had 11 selections starting with forward Scott Allison at no. 17.
Now, some 20+ years later, it’s considered to be the worst drafting performance of all-time. Not a single player selected by the Oilers in the 1990 draft played a single game in the NHL. It was a complete whiff! Excluding the last four drafts (2017-2020), only three other times did a team not have a single pick reach the NHL, and, in each case, the team made fewer picks than the Oilers in 1990 and did not have a selection as high: 2003 Phoenix Coyotes – eight picks, highest at No. 77; 2007 Vancouver Canucks – six picks, highest at No. 25; 2008 Montreal Canadiens – five picks, highest at No. 56.
To make matters worse, the 1990 Draft is regarded as one of the NHL’s deepest; one in every six players selected (42 out of 252) played at least 400 career games, including 15 who topped 1,000. Seventeen players appeared in an All-Star Game or were named to an All-Star Team at least once. And to think that Glen Sather is still around as a consultant with the New York Rangers. Consulting what?
Euro 2020 Finale – It will be Italy and England in Sunday’s final of Euro 2020 at Wembley Stadium in London. The Azzurri advanced with a shootout win over Spain while England rode a late goal from Harry Kane to oust Denmark in the other semi-final. It’s the first appearance in a major tournament final for England since 1966. Italy brings a 33-game winning streak into Sunday’s final.
Shapo Time – Novak Djokovkic will be seeking his 20th Grand Slam title in Sunday’s final at Wimbledon when he faces Italy’s Matteo Berrettini. Djokovic can tie Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most Grand Slam titles all-time. Djokovic reached the final by beating Canada’s Denis Shapovalov. It was a straight set victory for the World #1 but it was not a walkover. It was first time Shapo had advanced a Grand Slam semi-final. In fact, Shapo had never even reached the quarters in a major.
It certainly looks like Shapo’s time may be coming. Shapovalov is 0-8 in tournament finals on the WTC Tour so he’s still looking for that big breakthrough moment. Shapo knocked off Roger Federer on grass in a lead-up tournament to Wimbledon, then overcame Germany’s Alexander Zverev in a fourth round match. Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime are to Canada what Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras were to the U.S. Shapo is the crowd favourite and plays the role of Agassi. Felix is more stoic much like Sampras.
Ashleigh Barty of Australia won her second Grand Slam title beating Karolina Pliskova in the women’s final. Barty is the first Australian woman to win a Wimbledon crown since Evonne Goolagong in 1980. On the ladies side, 13 different players have won a major over the last 18 Grand Slam tournaments. During that time, Serena Williams has won only once.
NBA Finals – Milwaukee is playing Phoenix. Don’t care!
Long Road to Paris – It’s going to be a difficult and arduous road to the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris for Canada Basketball. The disappointment from Canada’s latest setback on the world stage is palpable considering the final blow was losing to that noted basketball power the Czech Republic. Are you kidding me? The Czechs had one NBA player in their lineup! But it shows how difficult it is to advance and when there’s no continuity in your lineup from year to year, let alone tournament to tournament. Prior to the final Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Victoria, Team Canada did not play a single exhibition game. It’s tough to build chemistry or establish an identity.
Canada has learned the hard way that it’s an extremely difficult road to navigate. The next World Cup will be held in Japan and the Philippines in 2023. However, to reach the World Cup, Canada will have to work through another round of qualifying. The problem for Canada is the timing of many of these tournaments. The first window comes this November with a second one in February of 2022. These dates are in direct conflict with the NBA season which does Canada no good. In the lead-up to the 2023 World Cup, there will be six qualifying windows but only two take place in the summer. Every time Canada plays in a qualifying tournament, they are forced to piece together a different group of players. The FIBA rules favour European teams and it’s the same with the scheduling. Canada has been dealt the worst possible hand but they are simply going to need to find a way around it.
Meanwhile, our U-19 team fared well again at the FIBA basketball World Cup. Canada defeated Spain to reach the semifinals before bowing out against the U.S. 92-86. It was Canada’s first loss of the tournament and a rematch of the 2017 World Cup when Canada upset the Americans on route to a gold medal. Caleb Houstan, who’s headed to the University of Michigan, and Zach Edey, a seven-foot-four centre playing at Purdue, both played leading roles. Canada will play Serbia for bronze on Sunday.
Blue Jays This Week – The ‘Trop’ is a veritable black hole for the Blue Jays. The Jays are 7-17 at Tropicana Field in Tampa since 2019. They have a minus-37 run differential. The Jays batting average with RISP is .173. Brutal! It’s pretty obvious where the Blue Jays problems lie. They are +70 in run differential in the American League. Problem is, they are -11 in the seventh inning and beyond. This is what happens when you have to use 30 different pitchers in the first 82 games of the season. With the bullpen imploding almost on a nightly basis, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins has done some nice work in adding three veteran arms in a matter of a few weeks. The Jays traded for Jacob Barnes, Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards. They could also get a boost with the return of lefthander Ryan Borucki from injury. Hard-throwing reliever Julian Merryweather suffered a setback in his rehab assignment. You have to wonder if Merryweather will ever get healthy enough to contribute over a full season.
Don’t rule out John Axford somehow making his way onto the Blue Jays roster this season. The veteran reliever has been opening some eyes in the minors. Axford signed a minor league deal with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons and has already posted a couple of saves. The 38-year-old Canadian has hit 98 MPH on the gun. Axford started the season doing occasional appearances for Sportsnet during Blue Jay games on television.
The Blue Jays are awaiting word from the federal government on whether they can return to Rogers Centre on July 30. They have already received approvals from the municipal and provincial governments. It all hinges on border restrictions. If the Jays can’t return on July 30, then they will request a return on August 20 when they open a seven-game homestand.
Tough setback for the Jays blue-chip catching prospect Gabriel Moreno. He suffered a fractured thumb during a recent game and is out at least six weeks. Moreno was tearing up Double-A pitching at New Hampshire with a .373 BA and 8 home runs with only 22 strikeouts in 145 plate appearances.
Top pitching prospect Simeon Woods Richardson is going to Tokyo as part of the U.S. baseball team for the Olympics. It should be a tremendous learning experience for the 20-year-old. Woods Richardson was the centerpiece of the deal that sent Marcus Stroman to the New York Mets.
The MLB Draft starts on Sunday. The Jays will pick 19th in the first round. They have surrendered their second round pick thanks to the free agent signing of George Springers. The Jays have only $5,775,900 in bonus pool to work with which is the third smallest in the league.
MLB Notebook – The best pitcher in baseball, Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets, has decided he doesn’t want to go to the MLB All-Star Game. With so many players choosing not to play, you can’t help but look back to the days when the game meant something. Back in 1971, some 50 years ago, no less than 22 players and managers from that year’s all-star game made their way to Cooperstown. 17 of them would win an MVP and 7 would earn a Cy Young award. It may have been the greatest collection of baseball talent ever assembled. Joe Torre said “it was like your baseball card collection coming to life.”
Here’s a list of the 20 Hall of Fame players who were on the field that night: Rod Carew, Brooks Robinson, Luis Aparicio, Frank Robinson, Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Jackson, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Jim Palmer, Johnny Bench, Willie McCovey, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Willie Stargell, Lou Brock, Ron Santo, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Ferguson Jenkins, Juan Marichal and Roberto Clemente, who would sadly be there for the final time. Both managers, Earl Weaver and Sparky Anderson, would be named to the Hall of Fame. Pete Rose was also in that game but never even got to bat. Vida Blue came into the all-star break with 17 wins, which was an all-time record, and he got lit up like a Christmas tree.
Dodgers’ pitcher Trevor Bauer remains out of the lineup while police investigate allegations of sexual misconduct. Bauer is alleged to have choked and punched a woman during two sexual encounters earlier this year. The woman obtained a protection order against Bauer last month under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act. All the Dodgers have done so far is cancel Bauer’s Bobblehead Night. Now that’s a big response!
Leftovers – The situation in Tokyo is getting worse by the day. The Japanese Government has issued a state of emergency following a rapid rise of new COVID-19 infections from the delta variant. Japan is reporting nearly 1,000 new cases each day. Fans will be banned from Tokyo-area stadiums and arenas when the Olympics begin in two weeks, making the Olympics a largely TV-only event. Hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket revenue will be lost with the stadiums near empty. The Japanese Government is under increasing pressure to cancel the games altogether but they apparently don’t have the guts to make the call. NBC might ‘have to show reruns of F-Troop. Calling Larry Storch! Better yet, give me Petticoat Junction. How can you beat Billie Jo, Bobbie Jo, and Betty Jo? No wonder Uncle Joe was moving kinda slow at the Junction.
The daughter of legendary rocker Bruce Springsteen has made the U.S. Equestrian team for the Toyko Olympics. 29-year-old Jessica Springsteen was named to the show-jumping squad. She began riding at the age of four at the family farm in Colts Neck, New Jersey. Springsteen was an alternate rider for the 2012 Olympic team, then failed to make it in 2016. No word on whether the Boss plans to be in Tokyo to cheer her on. I wonder if she feels she was “Born to Ride.”
The CFL and XFL have halted discussions on a possible merger. Kind of disappointing. With “The Rock” involved, I was hoping for some rasslin’ at halftime. Maybe a big cage match. You can be sure the privately-owned big market CFL teams were pushing this. It’s all about franchise values. They certainly have a different view than the publicly-owned CFL teams. The CFL is left to ponder its future with B.C., Toronto and Montreal all in trouble. The Lions failed to draw 20,000 for any of its games in 2019. The CFL is hoping that legalized gambling will boost the league’s profits but will it really be their salvation? Until they can attract young fans, I think not.
A New Zealand rugby player named Kenny Edwards has been suspended for ten matches for allegedly violating an opponent with his finger during a recent match. Edwards was accused of putting his finger in an opponent’s anus during a match against the Catalans Dragons. The Rugby Football League reviewed the incident, and charged Edwards with a Grade F offense, which is the most serious charge the league can place on a player. Does Grade F stand for Finger? This is apparently not the first time a player has resorted to this tactic. Dragons player Joel Tomkins was accused of the same thing last year and received an eight-game ban. Two other rugby players have been suspended for grabbing an opposing player’s testicles. I get the whole “boys will be boys” thing but really?
Argentine golfer Angel Cabrera has been sent to prison for two years after being found guilty of assault. The Masters and U.S. Open champion was convicted of assaulting, threatening and harassing his former partner. Two other women also said he assaulted them. The 51-year-old golfer traveled to the United States in July 2020 without seeking permission, which led the province of Cordoba to request his arrest. Cabrera was arrested by Interpol agents in Rio de Janeiro in January. Last month he was extradited from Brazil to Argentina so he could face trial.
There’s a 23-year-old Dominican lightweight who’s creating a huge buzz in the boxing world. Michel Rivera has a 21-fight winning streak but what makes him stand out is he looks just like Muhammad Ali in the ring, complete with high-fade haircut, slender build and white shorts with black trim. Rivera has earned the nickname La Zarza Ali. Check out his latest knockout in Carson, California where he put away his opponent Jon Fernandez in Ali-like fashion.
Spotify Song of the Week – We start this week with an obscure find. Its Ben Waters and “Boogie 4 Stu,” a Tribute to Ian Stewart. The track is “Watching the River Flow” with Mick Jagger on vocals.
Next, it’s the Steve Miller Band and “The Joker Live in Concert.” Check out the old blues standard “Come On In My Kitchen.”
Another good live album is “Jeff Beck Live+.” Have a listen to “A Change Is Gonna Come.” The album was recorded at the summer concert series at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Woodinville, Washington just outside of Seattle.
We recommend the track “Low Road” by Grace Potter & the Nocturnals.
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