Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Co-Editor Bill Morphy and reporting from Dave Kittle and the Big E in Montreal. This week, the Cup Final turns anticlimactic, the NBA Final is set, the Jays surge, England rises, and the tale of a PGA caddie who finds redemption.
Late-Breaking Heartache – There will be no trip to Tokyo. How much disappointment and heartbreak can you take? Despite so much hope and optimism, Canada dropped a 103-101 decision in overtime to the Czech Republic in the semifinal of the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Victoria. Canada overcame a 9-point deficit in the final minute in order to force overtime but still came up short. In the end, it was poor shooting. Canada went 9 of 37 from deep in the elimination game with everything on the line.
Canada goes home just like they did in Mexico City in 2015 when we lost to Venezuela on a questionable foul at the buzzer. Canada goes home just they did in 2016 when we were beaten by France in the final of an Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Manila. Canada has not competed in the Olympic basketball tournament since Victoria’s Steve Nash led the way in 2000. Before that, there was a 12-year drought going back to 1988. So the wait begins anew. Canada will now look to 2024 to start the process all over again. All you can do is continue to build the program and keep believing that one day, our time will come.
Stanley Cup Final – Sadly, it looks like the Montreal Canadiens will go quietly into the night in the Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning are headed for their second straight Cup and they are playing at a level the Canadiens simply cannot match. It’s been an incredible run for the Habs. Unfortunately, they have not been able to shut down the Tampa attack or solve the wall in the Lightning net.
The Canadiens wanted to double the allowable number of fans at the Bell Centre for the final from 3,500 to 7,000. Their request was turned down by Quebec Health authorities. Seems rather odd when there are crowds of 20,000 outside the arena gathering in close quarters to cheer on the beloved Habs.
Fans and media questioned the Montreal coaching staff for sitting out rookie Cole Caufield to start the playoffs. In game one, we saw why. Caufield’s giveaway at the Lightning blueline led directly to the opening goal. He also failed to get back and pick up defenceman Erik Cernak who re-directed a shot past Carey Price. Caufield and linemates Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli all finished minus-3. Caufield was much better in game two including a nice backcheck that broke up a prime scoring chance. He’s a fine offensive player but far from a finished player.
The Canadiens played much better in game two. They managed the puck far better and fired 43 shots on Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who’s proven again to be one of the best in the world. The last-second goal by Blake Coleman to close out the second period proved to be the proverbial back-breaker. It appeared to be totally preventable if Ben Chiarot had just backed off and played it safe. It was the type of close game the Islanders were able to pull out in the Conference final in pushing the Lightning to seven games.
If you are looking for a Conn Smythe award winner, look no further than Vasilevskiy. He has a 1.94 GAA in the playoffs with a .938 save percentage. Vasilevskiy’s career regular season record against the Canadiens is 11-1-2 and he’s had their number in the Final as well.
Luke Richardson did an outstanding job filling in for Dom Ducharme while the Montreal head coach was in quarantine. Expect Richardson’s name to surface when heading coaching jobs open in the NHL. The guy is well-liked and well-respected by the players and looks ready for a head job.
The Canadiens had the worst record of any playoff team with 59 points in 56 games. However, if you look at the advanced stats, we should have seen this coming. The Canadiens were actually one of the top puck possession teams in the NHL. At 5-on-5, only the Colorado Avalanche had a better Corsi percentage, which measures shot attempts for and against. If you are wondering, the Canucks were 28th in the NHL in Corsi percentage.
Nikita Kucherov has joined some heady company in these playoffs. Kucherov is now one of the only three players to have scored 30+ points in consecutive playoff seasons. The Great One and Mario Lemieux accomplished the feat. Kucherov is running away with this year’s playoff scoring lead. He reached 30 points in only 19 playoff games.
A 24-year-old Canadiens fan from New York purchased a $45 bet when the Habs were down 3-1 against the Leafs. If the Habs somehow win the Cup, the ticket will be worth over $10K, based on the size of the initial ante. Dave (his last name is withheld) said he bought the ticket for a special reason. “It was the Leafs. They collapse every year. So I saw an opportunity.” Good thinking, Dave!
NHL Notebook –To be successful in the NHL playoffs, you have to be willing to pay the price. Any hockey fan knows that. Why have the Toronto Maple Leafs not had playoff success? They won’t hit anybody! A year ago, the Leafs finished dead last in hits per 60 minutes among the 24 teams that qualified for the post-season. In 2021, the Leafs ranked 16th in hits among the 16 playoff teams. If you are the least likely team to throw a body check, you are going nowhere fast.
Is it not obvious to everyone that Ron MacLean has passed his best-before date as host of Hockey Night in Canada? He looks disinterested half the time. His school teacher act is done. Asking a question to the four members of the HNIC panel, MacLean said “put your hand up if you want to respond.” What is this? A class room? The intermissions are unwatchable. Not one member of the panel is going to tell you something you don’t already know. David Amber is the obvious replacement.
The New Jersey Devils are reportedly willing to trade the fourth overall pick in this summer’s NHL Draft if they can acquire a top young defenceman. How about sending Quinn Hughes to the Devils so he could be united with brother Jack? I guess it depends on how highly the Canucks rate top defence prospects Simon Edvinsson and Brandt Clarke. The Devils may just keep the pick and draft Luke Hughes, the third of the Hughes boys to reach the NHL. The Canucks should at least look at it. The cost-saving would be significant and Hughes’ defensive play is highly questionable.
The trade for Viktor Arvidsson certainly signals the LA Kings are ready to move forward with their rebuild. The Kings acquired Arvidsson from Nashville for second and third-round picks. It remains to be seen if the Kings feel they are ready to contend for a playoff spot or if they are just getting impatient. Don’t be surprised if this is a sign the Kings are going to make a play for Jack Eichel.
The Chicago Black Hawks are reportedly working on a deal that would send veteran defenceman Duncan Keith to a western club. Keith has waived his no-movement clause to accommodate a trade. He reportedly wants to be closer to his 8-year-old son who lives in Penticton with Keith’s ex-wife. Keith would be a smart pick-up for any western team. He may be 37 but he’s in tremendous shape and still playing at a high level. How weird would it be for Canuck fans to see the much-hated Black Hawk in a Canuck uniform?
The Leafs have themselves in a fine mess. They are reportedly far apart in contract talks with UFA winger Zach Hyman. He’s expected to get a contract with an AAV of at least $5 million. The Leafs are sitting with over $10 million in cap space with 10 forwards, 5 defencemen and one goalie under contract. That doesn’t leave them with a whole lot of money to fill out their roster.
It was a mild surprise to see Adam Fox of the New York Rangers win the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman. Fox is the first defenceman ever to win the Norris on a non-playoff team. He was second in scoring among defenceman behind Tyson Barrie of the Oilers. Colorado’s Cale Makar finished second in the voting with Tampa’s Victor Hedman third. No Canuck was among the top 17 in voting. Anyone who doesn’t think Hedman is the best defenceman in the league is not watching closely enough. Obviously, the abundance of New York writers made a difference. They have to be shaking their heads in Calgary. The Flames stole Fox in the third round of the 2016 draft but couldn’t get him to sign after his finished college. The Flames traded his rights to Carolina in 2018 as part of the big multi-player deal with the Hurricanes. The Canes couldn’t sign him either and dealt his rights to the Rangers.
Mitch Marner of the Leafs was named to the NHL’s first all-star team. He’s the first Leaf to be a first-team all-star in 44 years. My question – how is he better than Mikko Rantanen, Mark Stone and Patrick Kane?
NBA Finals – The NBA Final is set. It will be Milwaukee vs. Phoenix with the series to open on Tuesday night in Phoenix. The Bucks advanced for the first time since 1974 by closing out the Atlanta Hawks in game six of the Eastern Conference finals. The Bucks have not won an NBA title since 1971. Phoenix has never won a championship. Their last trip to the finals was 1993.
The Suns took out the L.A. Clippers to win the Western Conference crown. On the opening night of the season, the Suns odds of winning the NBA championships were +4,000. The Suns winning percentage before trading for Chris Paul was .466. It was .708 after he entered their lineup so reaching the Final should not come as a major surprise. Phoenix is 12-4 so far in the playoffs including 6-2 on the road. In the elimination game against the Clippers, Paul put up 41 points on 16-of-24 shooting along with eight assists. Devin Booker chipped in with 22 points and the beast in the middle, Deandre Ayton, recorded a 16-point, 17-rebound double-double. Don’t sleep on Phoenix especially if Giannis Antetokounmpo remains out of the Bucks lineup with a hyperextended knee.
Blue Jays This Week – The Blue Jays arrive at the midway point in the season with a record of 43-38. They have won ten of their last 13 games. After beating Tampa on Saturday, they suddenly have the Rays in their sights. With pitching reinforcements on the way, a second-half surge is certainly possible.
The Blue Jays are sending three players to the MLB All-star game –Vladdy Guerrero Jr., Marcus Semien and Teoscar Hernandez. There’s also a good chance Bo Bichette will be added as a reserve. Considering the impact he has made at the top of the order, the Jays should think long and hard about trying to get Semien to sign an extension rather than letting him hit the open market again this winter. It will be expensive but his contribution at the plate, in the field and in the clubhouse has been tremendous.
Judging by the Jays recent activity, it appears as though they will be one of the more aggressive teams at this year’s MLB trade deadline. GM Ross Atkins has already made two minor deals, picking up right-handed relievers Jacob Barnes from the Mets and Adam Cimber from the Miami Marlins.
Out of the mess that is the Blue Jays bullpen has emerged left-hander Tim Mayza. He’s become the primary set-up man to closer Jordan Romano. In 13 June appearances, Mayza posted a 0.90 ERA and did not allow an extra-base hit. The Jays need more stories like this if they want to hang around the playoff race.
The Blue Jays starting staff has actually done a very commendable job over the past several weeks. In a 30-game stretch, here are the ERA’s of the starting five – Ross Stripling (2.29), Robbie Ray (3.24), Steven Matz (3.32), Alek Manoah (3.34) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (4.71). It’s surprising to see Ryu, the so-called ace, at the bottom of the list. He got rocked by the Seattle Mariners in his latest outing on Canada Day.
If the Jays want to go big-game hunting at the deadline and make a pitch for a top starter, there are a couple of controllable arms that are very appealing. 26-year-old German Marquez of the Colorado Rockies is 6-6 this season on a terrible Rockies team with a 3.99 ERA and two complete games. He led all MLB pitchers in innings in the shortened 2020 season. He’s set to earn $26 million combined over the next two seasons with a club option for $16 million for the 2024 season. In other words, he’s under club control for three more years. Another starter that may be available is Jose Berrios of the Minnesota Twins. The Twins are having a horrid season and may make Berrios available. The Jays may be able to make something happen if they choose to offer up prime pitching prospect Nate Pearson who’s back on the IL with another groin pull.
Since 1930, Bo Bichette has the third highest OPS among shortstops at .854. Only Alex Rodriguez (.886) and Nomar Garciaparra (.881) are better. I guess Pepe Frias didn’t quite make it.
With George Springer finally in the everyday lineup, the Blue Jays batting order has incredible length. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is hitting in the eighth spot with catcher Reese Maguire, who hit .344 in June, in the nine hole. Suddenly, there are no easy outs in the Jays lineup. Heading into action on the weekend, the Jays were second in the majors in run production at 5.2 runs per game. They trailed only the Houston Astros who were averaging 5.6 runs per game. The Red Sox were third at 5.1. The Jays also have the youngest starting lineup in baseball at 26.6 years.
MLB Notebook – John Sterling is the long-time radio voice of the New York Yankees. After the Yankees post a win, Sterling’s go-to call is “Ballgame over! Yankees win! Theeeeeee Yankees win!” It’s become his widely recognizable calling card. Trouble is, this year the wins are a lot less frequent for the Yankees. They have quickly morphed into a bad ball team.
The Yankees hit a new low on Wednesday night when they blew a 7-0 first inning lead against Shohei Otani and the L.A. Angels. New York took a four-run lead into the ninth inning before a crushing 11-8 defeat. Closer Aroldis Chapman gave up his first career grand slam in a disheartening ninth.
The Yanks are 14th overall in the majors with a .235 batting average. They have some power but they strike out a lot. The pitching is middle-of-the-pack. Where the Yankees really fall short is speed and defense. They are dead last in the majors with only 17 steals. New York is 26th out of 30 teams in advanced defensive stats. They have a negative rating in seven of the nine defensive positions in the all-important stat – defensive runs saved.
Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner is vowing to keep manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman in place. Steinbrenner says he won’t act impulsively, in obvious reference to his father George. The Yankees have the second-highest payroll in baseball at $207 million and are sitting in fourth place in the tough AL East with a record of 41-40. They trail the Red Sox by nine and a half games.
Former Yankee Derek Jeter took a lot of heat when he took over as managing partner of the Miami Marlins and dealt star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton to his old team. That’s looking like a fit of genius now. Jeter rid the Marlins of Stanton’s 10-year, $350 contract which is fast becoming an albatross in New York.
For the New York Mets, July 1 is Bobby Bonilla Day. That’s when the long-since retired outfielder receives his annual gift of $1,193,248.20 from the Mets, something that’s happened on that date since 2011 and will continue through 2035.
It goes back to 2000 when the Mets agreed to buy out the remaining $5.9 million on Bonilla’s contract. Instead of just paying Bonilla out, the Mets decided to make annual payments of nearly $1.2 million for 25 years starting July 1, 2011, including 8% interest. Bright move!
Mets owner Fred Wilpon was buddies with Bernie Madoff and his investment account promised double-digit returns. Well, we know how that story turned out. Bonilla will continue getting paid every July 1 until 2035 when he’s 72-years-old. He’s also receiving another $500,000 annually until 2029 from a deferred deal between the Mets and the Orioles. For Bobby Bonilla, retirement is wonderful. A footnote to the story, the Mets GM at the time was TSN Baseball Insider Steve Phillips who was ordered by Wilpon to put the Bonilla deal together.
It was hard to watch the gruesome injury suffered by Cleveland Indians outfielder Josh Naylor, the native of Mississauga. He suffered a “closed” fracture and dislocation of his right ankle and underwent surgery to repair multiple fractures and torn ligaments. Naylor was injured last Sunday in Minnesota when he collided with rookie second baseman Ernie Clement and got his ankle caught underneath him when he hit the turf. Hopefully, Naylor will be able to make a full recovery. It’s going to be a lengthy rehab.
On December 2, the Chicago Cubs non-tendered outfielder Kyle Schwarber. He signed a one-year deal with the Washington Nationals. Since June 12, Schwarber belted 16 home runs in 18 games. The only other players in MLB history with 16 home runs over an 18-game span are steroid twins Bobby Bonds and Sammy Sosa. Unfortunately, Schwarber suffered a hamstring pull this week and is out of the Nationals lineup.
NFL Notebook – As if money fixes everything, the NFL has fined the Washington Football Club $10 million as a result of the league’s investigation into the team’s workplace culture. There have been a myriad of accusations against the organization for its workplace environment including sexual harassment. In February, the team reached a settlement with its former cheerleaders who appeared in lewd videos made without their knowledge during photo shoots in 2008 and 2010. Owner Daniel Snyder is said to be backing away from the team for a period of time. He’s made his wife Tanya a co-CEO. While the investigation was going on, Snyder wrested sole control of the team from a group of minority owners who wanted him ousted. There’s a reason teams struggle for decades and it starts with a meddling owner like Dan Snyder. Once again, the Teflon NFL avoids controversy by lawyering-up and smoothing everything over while proving they are simply unable to hold owners accountable.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Seahawks acquiring veteran Stephon Gilmore from the Patriots to bolster a weak cornerback group. Makes sense but Seattle may also want to look at two-time Pro Bowler Xavien Howard of the Miami Dolphins. The 28-year-old led the NFL with ten interceptions last season but is currently holding out in pursuit of a new contract. Howard is set to make over $12 million this season. His deal runs through 2024 but he has a potential out after this season. Howard was a second-round pick out of Baylor in 2016.
The Seahawks wasted no time cutting undrafted wide receiver Tamorrion Terry this week after the former Florida State Seminole was charged with murder. He’s one of 11 people facing felony charges after a gang-related nightclub shooting in Ashburn, Georgia in 2018. I would say a murder rap will usually get you cut.
Long & Winding Road – Eric Larson has been a PGA caddie for more than 20 years. Over the past few weeks, the 60-year-old has enjoyed a financial windfall as he watched Harris English finish third in the U.S. Open and then win the Travelers Championship in an eight-hole playoff. With the standard caddie payout of 8 percent (10 percent for a win), Larson has earned more than $200,000 in the last two weeks. But that’s not what makes his story compelling.
Nearly two decades ago, Larson caddied for Ken Green and Mark Calcavecchia before spending ten years in a federal prison (1995-2005). He was caught mailing cocaine from South Florida to some buddies in Wisconsin. Larson said he never used drugs or sold them on the PGA Tour. He was given a harsh sentence because the cocaine crossed state lines.
Larson accepted his fate and did his time. Calcavecchia deserves a ton of credit for sticking with him. Mark visited Larson in the four prisons in which he was incarcerated, then hired him back after his release. They would even win a tournament together. Larson has a solid partner in English who could end up on the U.S. Ryder Cup team this season. Wouldn’t that be icing on the cake for Larson!
Leftovers – Great to see England reach the semifinals of Euro 2020. They will face Denmark while Spain squares off against Italy in the other bracket. The last time England made it this far in the European Championship was in 1996. England advanced by overwhelming Ukraine 4-0 behind a pair of goals from Harry Kane and will face Denmark in London on Wednesday. The Italy-Spain semifinal match will be played at Wembley on Tuesday.
Credit veteran Saskatchewan Roughriders offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte for opting out of the 2021 CFL season. LaBatte rejected the idea of going into quarantine while the rest of the province is wide open. He says he would rather spend the summer camping with his kids. It’s expected there will be a two-tiered system for vaccinated players. Nonetheless, LaBatte says his time will be better spent with his family. In his words, “the ask is bigger than the reward.”
Most of the mock NBA drafts have the Toronto Raptors selecting Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs with the fourth overall pick. Don’t be surprised if the Raptors go in a different direction. Raptors President Masai Ujiri is not exactly averse to taking a risk. One player who could be on their radar is Florida State wing Scottie Barnes. There are some questions about his offense but Barnes is a tremendous defender at 6’9” with long arms and a relentless motor. He can switch off and check interior players but also has the quickness to handle players on the perimeter. Give me the versatile defensive weapon every time. Barnes also has no character flaws. Of course, this is all dependent on the Raptors keeping the pick.
Meanwhile, Raptors rookie guard Jalen Harris has been dismissed and disqualified from the NBA for violating terms of the league’s anti-drug program. Harris will reportedly be eligible to apply for reinstatement in one year. In his last game as a Raptor, Harris had 31 points.
American sprint champion Sha’Carri Richardson won’t be running in the 100-metres in Tokyo after testing positive for marijuana. The puritan Olympic czars must think a joint can make you run faster. Her 30-day suspension will end in time for her to run in the relays but there’s no indication that she will be invited to be on the U.S. team.
At 12:01 am on Thursday, everything changed in U.S. College sports. That’s when the new NIL rules came into effect. NIL stands for name, image and likeness and elite college athletes can now make a buck off their popularity. They can sell a T-shirt with their image on it. They can negotiate merchandize deals, earn appearance fees and land sponsorships. Some may even make money off podcasts. It’s a game-changer for sure and the early indication is even players in smaller programs stand to benefit.
Spotify Song of the Week – Here’s a few tunes for you for this week. Remember jazz flute player Herbie Mann? He has a release entitled “Herbie Mann Surprises featuring Cissy Housten.” Check out their version of J.J. Cale’s “Cajun Moon.”
You are probably familiar with Chrissie Hynde. She guests on the album “If You Are Going to the City: A Tribute to Mose Allison.” Have a listen to “Stop This World.”
For some blues, we recommend the Blue Quarantinos “Proving It In” with special guest Dion. Check out “Hoodoo Man Blues” and “What Is That She Got.”
And out of the vault, go back and listen to Santana and “Song of the Wind” off “Caravanserai.” What a classic! Carlos Santana’s guitar work never gets old.
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