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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Contributing Editor Bill Morphy. This week, professional sports comes out of hibernation after four months with the resumption of play in MLB, the NBA and the NHL with NFL training camps also underway. It’s going to be Christmas in August for sports viewing.

Home Sweet Home – The Major League Baseball season is underway and it’s an exercise in chaos. New cases of COVID-19 are being reported daily and it may end of being a case of ‘last-man standing’. Instead of a 162-game marathon, we have a 60-game sprint. To put it into perspective, CY Young candidate Gerrit Cole was 5-5 with a 4.13 ERA after 12 starts last season, the likely number of starts he will have this year. Many slugging stars were hitting in the low .200’s after 60 games in 2019. There’s a good chance the standings will be upside down when this year’s regular season is over.

It looked for a time like the Blue Jays would spend the entire season on the road without a home ballpark. With their options dwindling, the Jays finally settled on Buffalo, home to their Triple ‘A’ affiliate. To play at Sahlen Field, a number of major upgrades are going to be necessary including improvements to the lighting and clubhouse facilities. The ballpark won’t be ready for the Jays scheduled home opening series against the Washington Nationals on July 29-20. The Blue Jays may not play in Buffalo until as late as August 11 when they start a five-game home-stand against the Miami Marlins.  Even then, it may still seem like the team is going to be playing its entire 2020 schedule on the road. It’s going to be incredibly mentally challenging for the players and that’s putting it mildly.

Flying South – Every once in a while, you hear something so utterly ridiculous, you are left completely dumb-founded. How someone could be so vacant, uninformed and out of touch with reality.

Well, it happened last Saturday after the federal government announced it would not support the Blue Jays request to play their 30-game home schedule at Rogers Centre in Toronto. The decision came despite the fact the Jays had received approval at both the municipal and provincial levels. The Feds, and rightfully so, concluded the threat posed by COVID-19 to public safety was too high. The deal-breaker was the fact the Jays would be making repeated trips in and out of the country.

In announcing the decision, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said “There were serious risks if we proceeded with the regular-season proposal of MLB and the Jays and therefore we concluded it was not in the national interest. I get that some people will be disappointed but this decision can’t be taken as a fan. It is taken on behalf of the health and safety of Canadians.”

So how does this tie into being dumb-founded?  Well, I happened to be listening to ESPN 710 Seattle following the announcement and some jock-talk bozo was ranting about the decision by Canadian authorities and said “they should take away the franchise and have them play in Buffalo for good.” The show was emanating from New York and he added “we could support a third team here in New York.”

Here’s the deal.  All the decision served to do is make the U.S. look more foolish than they already appear as a result of the crisis. They’ve handled it like a third-world country. The Jock obviously took it personally as if Canada was supposed to just open the door and bow down to MLB.  Two of the teams on the Blue Jays home schedule were the Marlins and the Tampa Rays who would be travelling into Canada from a state with the highest current volume of cases in the U.S.

Dollars and Sense – It’s hard to look at the landscape in professional sports and not think economic Armageddon is lurking in the not-too-distant future. The stage is set for catastrophe when you have guaranteed contracts at higher-than-ever levels and revenues at 40-50% of normal. As long as stands are empty, economic disaster is not far off.

The Canadian dollar is floundering at around 74 cents U.S. and you have to wonder what this means to Canadian franchises going forward.  It doesn’t take a genius to know the situation is not good when the majority of your revenues are in Canadian dollars and in turn, you are paying out large portions of your expenses in American greenbacks.

The NHL salary cap is expected to remain flat for several years.  It has been set at $81.5 million with a $60.2 million dollar floor and will remain there until revenues hit $3.3 billion. For that to happen, the NHL will need fans in seats and a near full schedule. Without fans, revenues will be in the $2.5 billion range. Right now, the best-case scenario for the salary cap is one million dollar increases each year from 2021-2002 to 2023-2024 when the cap could rise to $84.5 million. The worst case? The cap rises no further than $82.5 for several years to come.  Good luck, Kyle!

In the Bubble – The NHL is refusing to allow any reporters inside the so-called ‘Bubble” in Edmonton or Toronto in order to cover practices. This is typical of the ever-archaic NHL. They should at least allow a pool reporter and cameraman to follow proceedings. The fans deserve to know more about player injuries than lower-body-injury and upper-body injury. With betting on games now common-place, fans deserve more detailed information.  This tired excuse that players may target an opponent’s injured area is ridiculous.

The NHL appears to have taken its new injury non-disclosure policy to a whole new level. In addition to the old “upper-body, lower-body” designations, if players are absent, teams are only allowed to reveal that the player is “unfit to practice,” which could mean anything from a positive COVID-19 test, to a broken bone or a simple maintenance day. The policy was created to protect a player’s medical privacy, but all it has served to do is create speculation and confusion.

The Big Curiosity – We should not be surprised that Nikita Tryamkin is staying in Russia for another season. He had reportedly been seeking two million a season from the Canucks who were likely only offering the league minimum. Tryamkin also probably refused a two-way deal.  You will remember he balked at going to Utica in his previous stint with the Canucks.

Tryamkin has been a huge curiosity with Canuck fans since returning to Russia. At 6’8” and 250 pounds, he’s strikes an imposing figure.  However, Big Nik is not to be confused with Zdeno Chara. He would have been nothing more than a depth piece and only of value at the right price.  There’s still a big question whether he has the mobility to be effective at the NHL level.

J-Bone Signing – Far more important for the Canucks was the signing of defense prospect Jack Rathbone to a three-year, entry-level contract. Under Further Review has been touting the Harvard product since he was drafted in the fourth round in 2017. Rathbone should be in the Canucks lineup within a year. Like Quinn Hughes, he has quick feet and outstanding skating ability. He also reportedly had the best point shot in the NCAA this year.

Rathbone could have become a free agent next summer if he had not signed with the Canucks. However, the Canucks were in a strong bargaining position after the Ivy League announced that all college sports were being cancelled for the fall semester due to COVID-19. Rathbone would have been left with nowhere to play until 2021.

For all the hype around the Canucks prospect list, they have very few top-level prospects at center and on defense. Rathbone, Brogan Rafferty and Olli Juolevi are their top defense prospects but who knows what their ceiling is at this point. In terms of proven young defense talent, it’s Quinn Hughes and not much else. The Canucks need Rathbone to turn out.

Random Thoughts

  • If Hughes wins the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie-of-the-year, it will be the first time since 1967 that an NHL team has had back to back Calder Trophy winners. Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson of the Bruins won the award in 66’ and 67’. It’s also the first time in the post-expansion era that one team has had Calder Trophy finalists in three consecutive years in Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson and Hughes.
  • The NHL playoff format has three games on the schedule per day in each Hub City. Can someone please explain what happens if one of the first two games goes into triple overtime? Even if you start at 9 o’clock in the morning, it still seems iffy. Players are creatures of habit. They like firm schedules and they prepare accordingly. If a game was slated to start at 4:00pm and it doesn’t get going until 8:00, your pre-game routine is thrown off big-time.
  • The NHL has been announcing its annual award finalists. Doesn’t it seem strange that there’s no trophy named in honour of any of the game’s greatest all-time players – Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky?
  • The Maple Leafs have been toying with an all-star line of John Tavaras, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner during training camp. The Toronto media have been calling it Sheldon Keefe’s “nuclear” option. I’m sure Torts is just quaking in his boots.
  • The Toronto Raptors got off on the right foot on Friday night as they kicked off their resumption in play with a victory over the Houston Rockets in the NBA’s Orlando bubble. The Raptors have the toughest remaining schedule of any playoff contender and need to somehow hang onto their 3-game cushion and the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference. If they can do that, they will meet either Orlando or the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round of the playoffs.
  • NFL training camps are officially underway which means players can now take medicals so that should open the door for signing any remaining free agents. Hello Jadaveon, are you hearing this? The NFLPA has signed off on training camp protocols. Players will be tested daily for the next two weeks.  If the percentage of tests is below 5%, then tests will be administered every two days. In case you missed it, there will be no exhibition games this year.
  • Kudos to Canadian Laurent Duvernay-Tardif for his courage and conviction in opting out of the NFL this season. The Kansas City Chiefs’ starting right guard has a medical degree from McGill University and has been working on the frontlines during the crisis in a long-term care facility to fulfil his requirements to become a doctor in the off-season. He’s the first NFL’er to opt out of the upcoming season due to the pandemic.
  • It appears as though the Edmonton Eskimos are planning a name change. Like the Washington Redskins, the decision was prompted by a complaint from Belair Direct Insurance, a major sponsor. It looks like the Eskimos will be called the Edmonton Empire, a name that has already been copywrited. It would allow the team to keep its current logo.
  • News Flash – Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis has purchased the rights to Moe Howard’s haircut. Have you checked out the “doo” on that guy?
  • You have to be impressed with how MacKenzie Hughes has turned his PGA Tour season around. He started the year by missing the cut in nine of his first 11 tournaments. Since then, he has turned in three top-6 performances including a T6 on Sunday at the Memorial at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio. The native of Dundas, Ontario will now join fellow Canadians Corey Conners and Adam Hadwin at the U.S. Open starting September 17th at Winged Foot. Hughes also moved to a career-best No. 75 in the world golf rankings.
  • Bryson DeChambeau unleashed a 423 yard drive on the 470 yard first hole at Jack’s tournament. It left him only 47 yards to the pin. Tiger, in turn, hit his second shot from 144 yards out. However, DeChambeau ended up missing the cut after taking a 10 on one hole on Friday, hitting the ball out of bounds twice. He argued with a rules official which only adds to his growing reputation for petulance.
  • The LPGA Tour is returning next week and Brooke Henderson, the pride of Smiths Falls, Ontario won’t be among the players competing. Brooke is skipping the first three tournaments and may only play the majors and the CME Group Tour Championship. Needless to say, she’s concerned about travelling to the U.S. and is taking a wait-and-see approach. She will debut at next month’s AIG Women’s Open in Troon, Scotland.
  • The Washington Nationals selected Dr. Anthony Fauci to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in their home opener that kicked off the Major League Baseball’s pandemic-delayed regular season. Take that Donald! Nothing like being upstaged by the country’s top infectious disease expert at a time when the number of new cases is spiraling out of control.

Bard on the Bench – If you are anything like me, you never get tired of a Cinderella comeback story. How about pitcher Daniel Bard who is making a comeback with the Colorado Rockies at the age of 35 after being away from baseball for seven years?

Bard last pitched for the Red Sox in 2013 before being designated for assignment. He was lights out as a reliever for five years in Boston before developing a case of the yips. Bard could hit 100mph on the radar gun but had a sudden loss of control and couldn’t find the plate.

The time away from baseball gave Bard time to reset his body and his mind. He’s earned a job in the Rockies bullpen and is ready to fashion the “feel-good” story of the year in baseball.

A Paige in Time – Speaking of comebacks, it was 72 years ago that the Cleveland Indians stunned the baseball world by signing 42-year old Satchel Paige from the Negro Leagues. He would play two years with Cleveland before moving on and pitching for three years with the old St. Louis Browns (with whom he was a two-time all-star) before retiring at the age of 46.

Paige would return to the mound in 1965, at the age of 58, to make one start for the Kansas City Athletics. He pitched three scoreless innings, giving up one hit and striking out one. You can’t make this stuff up!

Derek’s Story – After reading the book ‘Boy on Ice’ about the ill-fated career of NHL tough guy Derek Boogaard, you are left in shock with some of the revelations contained in his biography.  One thing is clear, the NHL and Boogaard’s two teams, the New York Rangers and the Minnesota Wild, turned a blind eye to his downward spiral into drug dependence.

Boogaard often used a powerful anti-inflammatory called Toradol to treat his injured right shoulder, damaged during fights. It’s a blood thinner that can increase circulation problems, increase the threat of heart conditions, and even cause intestinal bleeding. One warning was to never use Toradol if the patient suffered from any sort of head injury or concussion. Records show that Boogaard had at least 13 such game-day injections over the course of two seasons, many came on nights when Derek was expected to fight.

A year after Boogaard’s first entry into the NHL’s substance abuse program and his first visit to a California rehab clinic, he received at last 12 prescriptions for Ambien from Rangers team doctors. He was also given 5 prescriptions for Vicodin. Boogaard has been subjected to at least 20 drug tests, many of which he tested positive, yet he was allowed to continue playing.  It was all kept private and the league failed to suspend him or send him back to rehab.

After trying to return to the Rangers in April of 2011 after a long absence due to injury in his first season with the team, Boogaard stumbled all over the ice during a private workout with Rangers staff. It was at this point that he was finally ordered back to the California clinic. After only three weeks, Boogaard was allowed to leave the clinic to return to his New York apartment on route to attending the end-of-season banquet for his sister who played varsity basketball for the University of Kansas. During a stopover in Minnesota – just a day later – Boogaard was found dead of a drug overdose. While in New York, he had purchased a Ziploc bag filled with OxyContin, Percocet and Xanax.

Hope you are having a great summer everyone!