Under Further Review – July 25, 2021 – Douglas Smith with Co-Editor Bill Morphy and contributions Jordan Moss, Bill Myles and the Huckster. This week, Jim Bob rolls the dice. Seattle gets Kraken. Deals get done and Owen Power tops the NHL draft board.
Editor’s Note – Following this week’s column, Under Further Review is taking a summer holiday break. We will be back in a few weeks as the NFL season gets underway and the MLB pennant races heat up. Stay cool!
Jim Bob’s Big Gamble – It’s a recurring nightmare. You cringe every time Jim Bob Benning puts his finger on the trigger. This is what happens when your general manager is fighting to save his job. You do desperate things. You punt your problems down the road and make things nice today.
On the surface, Friday’s blockbuster deal with Arizona adds two solid pieces to the Canucks lineup with no meaningful deletions. Along with Vegas, the Canucks may be one of the top two teams in a weak Pacific Division. It’s still irrational. Who in their right mind would dump $12 million in salary cap commitments and pick up $50 million in return? Regular contributor Jordan Moss said it best, “The Canucks may have taken two steps forward to being a playoff team, but they may have taken four steps backward to being a Stanley Cup champion.” Do you really think this is responsible management to get one year of cap relief?
Why not take your medicine for one more year and be flush with cap space in the 2022 off-season? To give up the ninth pick in the draft is sheer lunacy. Something’s backward here. The Canucks should be the team getting a first-round pick for taking on the remainder of Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s contract. Then, to throw in two other picks next year including a second-rounder, is madness. Benning didn’t even have the common sense to wait until the draft was underway to see who might be available in the nine spot. Instead, he did the deal hours in advance of the draft and removed any additional leverage he might have.
Who cares if Arizona is retaining 12% ($990,000) of OEL’s contract? The Canucks are still saddled with a $7.26 cap hit for six years for a 30-year old defenceman who scouts suggest is declining rapidly. Even if he gives them a few decent seasons, it’s deja vu all over again. The Canucks now have to absorb OEL’s contract, sign Conor Garland, who’s an RFA and in need of a new deal, plus newly-acquired Jason Dickinson. Poof, the Canucks are right back into a cap crunch. When will they finally learn the hard lessons? Apparently never. The goofy part about it? Contracts aside, the Canucks have still not addressed their fundamental problem and that’s a lack of physicality throughout their lineup, particularly on the back end.
The Tampa Lightning didn’t just win two Stanley Cups by trading for players from other teams. They won with a nucleus of home-grown talent. More importantly, they patiently built organizational depth to the point where they could replace players who became too expensive with kids on entry-level contracts. Part of the appeal of being a fan is watching the progress of your team’s draft selections. When your team is made up of other team’s castoffs, you lose the connection. What Benning and the Canucks are doing is counterintuitive to the draft and develop model that has proven successful time and time again. Believe me, it will come back to bite them.
Let’s do a little accounting because the waste of draft capital is frightening. Last year, no first and no second-round draft picks. This year, no first, no third and no fourth. Next year, no second, no third and no seventh. This is in addition to all the picks that were pissed away in previous years. The minor league cupboard is already bare. What happens in the next few years when the Canucks are cap-strapped and they need to add players from their system on entry-level deals? That’s when the rubber hits the road.
Jim Benning has consistently painted himself into a corner. His work is absolutely Milbury-esque. It’s no secret the Canucks have made defenceman Nate Schmidt available. But how many teams want a 30-year-old with four years remaining on a deal that pays nearly $6 million per season? A year after sending Vegas a third-round pick to get him, Benning may need to surrender another high pick to get him off the books. Meantime, the Canucks are also attempting to find a landing spot for goaltender Braden Holtby, another of Benning’s free agent blunders. The Canucks and the Kraken discussed Holtby prior to the expansion draft but the asking price was sky high and the talks never advanced. There’s word the Canucks have given Holtby’s representatives permission to talk to other teams in the hopes of shedding the final year of his contract.
My sense is there’s not a lot of interest in either player, and the Canucks will again be left holding the bag. It’s inconceivable that the Canucks would be shopping Schmidt and Holtby one year after acquiring them. Apparently, Jim Bob didn’t learn any lessons from all his other toxic free agent mistakes. He’s had seven years to build a sturdy blueline and look what he’s produced. He has three homegrown players on the left side in Hughes, Rathbone and Juolevi, none of whom hit anybody. On the right side, he has two grossly overpaid veterans in Myers and Schmidt. At a time when size and strength are in vogue among NHL bluelines, the Canucks are as soft as a baby’s bottom. You don’t have to look any further than the final four teams in this year’s playoffs. They all featured big, nasty top four defence groups. It’s a problem that won’t be fixed in one off-season and while Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a talented addition, the six-year ticket is bound to become radioactive.
NHL Entry Draft Takeaways – In a draft like no other, it’s going to be quite some time before we know how teams fared. With so few viewings, the 2021 NHL Entry Draft was a bit of a crapshoot. In sharp contrast to the Canucks, the Ottawa Senators continue to load up in the draft. The Sens selected a pair of rough and tumble forwards in the opening two rounds. They nabbed right-winger Tyler Boucher from the USA U-18 National Development Program with the tenth overall pick. Boucher is the son of former NHL goalie Brian Boucher. Ottawa added 6-3, 205 pound centre Zach Ostapchuk from the Vancouver Giants in round two. Give the Senators a few more years and they are going to be awfully tough to play against.
The Calgary Flames took high-scoring winger Matthew Coronato from the USHL Chicago Steel. The Winnipeg Jets, who always seem to draft well, grabbed centre Chaz Lucius from the US U-18 program. They followed up in the second round by selecting Russian forward Nikita Chibrikov who many scouts think had first-round talent. In contrast, the Oilers always seem to mess things up. In desperate need of a franchise goalie, the Edmonton Oilers passed on highly-touted Swedish goalie Jesper Wallstedt. They traded down with Minnesota and allowed the Wild to select Wallstedt with the 20th pick. Two choices later, the Oilers took centre Xavier Bourgault from Shawinigan of the Quebec League. How do you say ‘bust’ in French? The Leafs were without a first-round pick thanks to the deadline deal for Nick Foligno. The Canadiens made the most polarizing selection in the opening round, taking defenceman Logan Mailloux from the London Knights. His story has been well-documented. After taking his name out of the draft for obvious reasons, it was shocking to see the Canadiens select the kid and now face the repercussions. The Canucks top pick, 41st overall in the second round, was Russian winger Danila Klimovich. He’s got good size at 6-2, 205 pounds. With any luck, he could end up being a bookend for Vasili Podkolzin.
The big winner? Without question, it’s the Columbus Blue Jackets who ended up with three first-round picks. The Jackets landed Port Moody native Kent Johnson, the quicksilver forward playing at Michigan. They followed it up by selecting Cole Sillinger, son of former NHL’er Mike Sillinger, before grabbing Alberta Junior defenceman Corson Ceulemans. It was an outstanding first-round bounty.
Time to Get Kraken – With the expansion draft selections completed, the Seattle Kraken have been officially christened into the National Hockey League. Seattle’s neophyte hockey fans now have actual players to get excited about. The Kraken avoided claiming any of the big names that were left unprotected. General Manager Ron Francis, to no one’s surprise, made salary cap space a priority. The team’s 30 selections came with a price tag came of less than $55 million, meaning the Kraken have plenty of wiggle room as they continue to build their roster out.
In the process, Francis cornered the market on defencemen. He used Seattle’s exclusive negotiating window to sign a pair of UFA blueliner’s, inking Edmonton’s Adam Larsson to a four-year, $16 million dollar deal and Stars D-man Jamie Oleksiak to a five-year, $23 million dollar contract. Francis selected a stable of left-shot defencemen including Calgary captain Mark Giordano. If the Canucks want to add help on the back end, they may need to place a call to the 206 area code.
There were some odd choices among the 30 selections. Morgan Geekie from Carolina instead of Jake Bean was a head scratcher. Carsen Twarynski, Gavin Bayreuther, Kurtis MacDermid, and Alex True are definitely not household names. I would have preferred goalie Kaapo Kahkonen from Minnesota rather than defenceman Carson Soucey. Francis reportedly asked for the moon when the Montreal Canadiens offered a sweetener for the Kraken to pass on goalie Jake Allen. Pierre LeBrun reported that Seattle demanded two picks and a prospect in order to pass on taking Allen. Marc Bergevin turned the tables and protected Allen at the risk of losing Carey Price. Out-maneuvered, the Kraken were left to select prospect defenceman Cale Fleury.
It’s clear Ron Francis was intent on building a team that is difficult to play against. It looks like he has accomplished just that. With Yanni Gourde, Brandon Tanev and Mason Appleton, Seattle has basically replicated the highly-effective Tampa line of Gourde, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman. Surprisingly, unlike Vegas, Seattle did not cut any side deals around the expansion draft. Francis still has plenty of time to finish assembling the roster. By hoarding cap space, the Kraken will be in position to facilitate deals as a third-party in exchange for future assets. It’s a measured approach and definitely the right one. Welcome to the NHL Seattle! Can’t wait for the drive down the I-5 to catch a game!
NHL Notebook – Considering the roster surgery that’s been happening in Arizona, why would anyone want to pay to watch that team this season? They will be lucky to average 5,000 fans per game.
Weren’t the Chicago Black Hawks in the midst of a rebuild or are we missing something? The Hawks emptied the bank to land defenceman Seth Jones from Columbus, surrendering a pair of first-round picks, a second and young blueliner Adam Boqvist. It was a hefty price to pay for a guy whose play may be slipping. The Hawks wasted no time signing Jones to a max eight-year deal with an AAV of $9.5 million, making Jones the third highest paid defenceman in the league.
Canadian NHL teams have to be concerned with a growing reality. Players would rather play in the U.S. than Canada. Elliotte Friedman reported this week that one GM said he’s hearing more and more from players that they prefer not to play in Canada. “It’s a real thing,” he said, mentioning taxes, social media and tighter pandemic restrictions. Good luck to the Canucks convincing a free agent defenceman to come to Vancouver.
It’s so obvious to anyone who knows hockey that the Toronto Maple Leafs are on the fast train to No-Where’s-Ville. What I don’t understand is why more of the blame doesn’t land in the lap of club president Brendan Shanahan. If writers like Al Strachan were still working the beat in Toronto, they would be carving Shanahan and Kyle Dubas a new posterior. Shanahan chose to let Mark Hunter and Lou Lamoriello get away. He hired the Boy Genius. He OK’d the hiring of Sheldon Keefe. Shanahan sat back while the Leafs negotiated themselves into salary cap hell. Sat back and watched this entire mess unfold. He’s watched this car accident for eight years. Memo to MLSE Chairman Larry Tannenbaum: Hello Larry, Try to pay more attention!
When you think about it for a moment, does it really matter if the Leafs win? The bottom line is so lucrative that they probably don’t really care. It’s no different than the New York Rangers. When premium tickets at Scotiabank Centre are $840, who cares? The average ticket price is over $200. Do the math. The Leafs are bringing in more than $150 million on ticket sales alone and that doesn’t include all the other ancillary revenues. The Leafs are netting an annual profit of $100 million at minimum.
Blue Jays This Week – It’s pretty remarkable to think that the Blue Jays signed pitching ace Hyun-Jim Ryu in the 2019 off-season and he is still yet to play a home game in Toronto. Neither have George Springer and Marcus Semien, this year’s free agent prizes. It will have been 670 days when the Jays return to Rogers Centre on July 30. What a boost to their wildcard hopes to play in front of the home fans, even though attendance will be limited to 15 thousand. Kudos to the Jays for announcing they will provide 250 tickets to every remaining home game for frontline workers. When the Jays return, fans will also notice a few new upgrades to the stadium including new turf and a new sound system. Buffalo deserves a big thank you. Average attendance in Buffalo was 6,900, better than two MLB teams, Miami and Oakland, and nearly as good as the Tampa Rays.
Shortstop Orelvis Martinez is another Jays prospect to watch. In a recent 5-game stretch, Martinez hit .542 with 7 home runs and 16 RBI’s. He’s up to 17 home runs and 60 RBI’s. Martinez is just 19 and has a big future. He’s playing at Low-A Dunedin and could be on the move to join the Vancouver Canadians soon.
MLB Notebook – San Diego’s burgeoning star Fernando Tatis Jr. is the fastest player to reach 50 home runs and 50 stolen bases to start a career. He accomplished the feat in only 223 games. It took Mike Trout 266 games to get there.
The New York Yankees have had some pretty ugly late-inning implosions this season but none worse than Thursday night against the Red Sox at Fenway. They gave up a lead in the bottom of the ninth, then watched as rookie pitcher Brooks Kriske tied a major league record by serving up four wild pitches in the tenth. The Red Sox scored the winning run without the benefit of a hit.
Golf Notebook – Canada’s Roger Sloan has a chance to post his first career PGA Tour win at the 3M Open in Blaine, Minnesota. The 34-year-old is just two shots off the lead heading into the final round. Sloan is in a large group of ten golfers tied for fourth at 10-under.
Here’s a few final takeaways from the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s. The T6 finish for Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes was the highest ever for a Canadian at the British Open. Hughes held steady with a final round 69 and will receive an automatic invite into next year’s Open as a result of his top 10 finish.
Meanwhile, Corey Conners, who played in the penultimate final round pairing with Jordan Spieth, had six bogey’s as part of a final round 73 and stumbled from fourth spot all the way down to T15. Conners putting continues to let him down at key moments. It would also help if he played with a little more emotion.
With the victory, Collin Morikawa served notice that his game is world class. He won in his first Open appearance and now has two titles in his first eight majors. Morikawa did not post a bogey in his final 31 holes. Jon Rahm’s final round performance was spectacular. His 66 could have been a 61 or 62 had more putts dropped. Rahm was in the top 10 in all four majors this year.
While Morikawa was capturing the Open, Robert Garrigus was accomplishing something truly remarkable at the Barbasol Championship. The 43-year-old journeyman finished the week by going 8-under on the par-5 fifth hole, something that has never been done in PGA Tour history. Strangely enough, he did not post four straight eagles. He birdied the hole on Thursday before making an albatross on Friday and eagles during both rounds on the weekend. Unfortunately for Garrigus, he did not play well enough overall to win the tournament.
Leftovers – You want to get a message across? Hit them in the wallet! NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has issued a get-tough warning to teams with a high number of unvaccinated players. NFL teams that experience a COVID-19 outbreak among non-vaccinated players could forfeit regular-season games. Players on both teams would not receive a game cheque. The league says more than half its teams currently have COVID-19 vaccination rates greater than 80% of their players, and more than 75% of players are in the process of being vaccinated. In a memo to all 32 teams, Goodell warned that no games would be rescheduled under any circumstances. Instead, forfeits could happen with the team responsible getting handed a loss and the other team a win. It’s a big incentive to get vaccinated. All training camps will be open by the end of next week.
A buddy in Ottawa was sent an email alert from the RedBlacks promoting flex pack ticket packages. He highlighted three games – beat available seats – and the total price came up at $414.50. Are you kidding me? To see Triple-A football? Not a chance. Needless to say, he passed.
The second richest athlete of all time behind Michael Jordan is former NBA star Junior Bridgeman with a net worth of over $650 million. Bridgeman invested heavily into Wendy’s restaurants and then became a Coca Cola bottler after his playing career. Bridgeman never earned more than $350,000 in any season while playing in the NBA.
Spotify Song of the Week – Gotta turn you on to “United We Swing: Best of Jazz at Lincoln Center” featuring the Wynton Marsalis Septet. Bob Dylan joins them for “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.” Check out the whole album. It includes performances by the Blind Boys of Alabama, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffet, John Mayer, John Legend, Lyle Lovett, James Taylor and Tedeschi-Trucks.
Big thumbs up to the new Black Keys album “Delta Kream.” Have a listen to “Crawling Kingsnake” and Louise.”
Also just out this week, a new release from Rodney Crowell called “Fringe.” Check out the track “I’m All About Love.” It’s outstanding.
YouTube Videos of the Week – Last week, as we were researching Jackson Browne and the Artists for Peace and Justice, we came across some other Jackson Browne videos that we would like to share with you. During the COVID-19 shutdown, Jackson released a few videos of old songs with the great Greg Leisz on pedal steel. Here’s the beautiful “Looking into You” which appeared on Browne’s first solo album.
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