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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy. Special thanks to our regular contributors including Jordan Moss, Ian MacPhee, Dave Kittle, Ted Tait, Frank Sullivan, Peter Hucul, Glen and Bill Myles, Howard Steiss, Rob Wagner and John Dancause.

Spanning the digital ether to bring you the constant variety of sport… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition… This is Under Further Review.

NHL Free Agent Frenzy – It was a July 1 spending spree like no other. NHL teams blew the door off all previous levels of fiscal lunacy, dishing out contracts totalling close to $1.4 billion dollars with nearly 500 years of term. Remember what Ray Ferraro said about Jim Benning?  “On July 1, they should take away his cellphone.” This year, it could be said about half the general manager’s in the league.

As usual, the big winners are the players who now seem to not only be benefitting from the money being tossed around but also the term. GM’s are apparently not worried about seven-and-eight-year contracts because there’s a good chance, they won’t be around by the time the contract is over. You can be sure many of the contracts signed this year will end up in a buy-out.

For the second straight year, the Canucks played it cautious on July 1 despite the wild activity playing out around them.

The prize of free agency for the Canucks was left-winger Louie DeBrusk. At 27, DeBrusk was one of the younger free agents available. We don’t like the seven-year term but it helped keep the AAV to a palatable $5.5 million per season. DeBrusk is expected to line up next to Elias Pettersson and finally give EP a decent running mate. In terms of fit, you would think lining up next to Miller and Boeser would be a match made in heaven. Nonetheless, it’s certainly going to be interesting to see if DeBrusk can deliver paired with a much better centreman.

Placing low-cost, short-term bets on four lesser-light free agents was very prudent management. The Canucks locked up Derek Forbert, Danton Heinen, Kiefer Sherwood and Vincent Desharnais to one-and-two-year contracts at a cost of between $1.5 and $2.25 million. Love this kind of approach. Deep lineups win in the playoffs. You can always make a home run swing later in the summer or by the trade deadline.

The Canucks were successful in maintaining their sizeable back end. It’s the preferred model for playoff success and helps preserve Rick Tocchet’s defensive structure and team identity. We found out that having Adam Foote and Sergei Gonchar on the coaching staff is proving to be a huge plus when recruiting defencemen.

After losing Elias Lindholm and Nikita Zadorov to the Bruins, the Canucks answered back and raided Boston for a trio of useful spare parts. Forbert signed for one year and $1.5 million which is half of what they paid Ian Cole last season. Teamed with Vincent Desharnais who was signed away from the Oilers, they will form a pair of jumbo-sized towers on the third pairing. Whether there is now enough puck-moving ability on the blueline outside of Hughes and Hronek remains to be seen.

One key element the Canucks accomplished in free agency is maintaining a strong core of personnel on the penalty-kill. The newcomers along with Teddy Blueger, Tyler Myers and Dakota Joshua who all chose to re-sign on reasonable contracts, should help maintain a strong unit. When re-working the roster, it’s very important to ensure there’s no drop-off.

In the final analysis, the Canucks management group did a commendable job when you take into account the team had nine UFA’s to deal with. There’s no doubt they still lack punch when compared to other top NHL contenders. But hey, the playoffs don’t start for another nine months.

Cross-Canada Check-Up –

Edmonton: The Oilers are facing a tough decision when it comes to the future of Leon Draisaitl who’s now eligible to land the richest contract in NHL history. You can’t let him walk next summer without getting something back. But does it make sense to hand him an eight-year, $120+ million contract and have two players on the roster making close to $30 million combined? It didn’t work in Toronto with three players making over $10 million each. The concern is how Connor McDavid may react if you auction off Draisaitl this summer to reset the roster with younger talent. Would McDavid want out when his contract expires in the summer of 2026? These situations are never easy to navigate. If you want to sustain success, you have to take cold, calculated risks. Sometimes walking away from big commitments is the prudent thing to do.

The Oilers did some nice work in free agency despite not having a GM in place. Edmonton signed sensible contracts with veteran forwards Jeff Skinner and Viktor Arvidsson. The Oilers are no longer thin up front and should be able to roll four solid lines next season. Look out if the Oilers can add one more rock on the right side of their defence.

Calgary: Not sure what’s going on in Cowtown. All the major pieces have left town. The goaltending is now a big question mark. The defence has been stripped clean. Most of the young talent being inserted into the lineup is largely middle-of-the-road. The Flames seem to want to re-tool the roster without the kind of foundational talent that’s needed to truly contend. It’s hard to imagine the team making a leap forward until it selects right at the top of the lottery. Yes, the Flames own a ton of draft picks but most are late-round selections who will take years to develop. Everything seems to point to 2027 and beyond which aligns with the construction of a new arena.

Winnipeg: No NHL team outside of Carolina took a bigger hit in free agency than the Jets. Sean Monahan, Tyler Toffoli, Brenden Dillon and Laurent Broissoit all departed for greener pastures. The Jets were predictably quiet on July 1. Who wants to deal with the minus-40 winters in the ‘Peg? Looking at the Jets current lineup, there’s now all kinds of holes both up front and along the blueline. The good news is they still have plenty of cap space. As if the Jets needed any more grief, there’s word that former first-round pick Rutger McGroarty has no intention of signing with the team and has requested a trade. If the Jets decide to move him, expect Montreal to come calling. How about a package including defenceman Justin Barron who would be united with his brother Morgan?

Toronto: You would have to be living in an alternative universe to not agree the Maple Leafs roster was in need of major change. The Leafs tried to remodel their porous blueline with the free agent acquisitions of Chris Tanev and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. They would have been terrific signings seven years ago.  Tanev will be 40 when his six-year deal is over. Can you say buy-out? Handing Max Domi a four-year extension with an AAV of $3.75 was a head scratcher. We’re talking about a nine-goal scorer who’s played on seven teams. The Leafs could have used the money spent on Domi and OEL to land a higher impact blueliner like Brett Pesce or Matt Roy. No additions were made to the forward group which was found lacking in the playoffs and is now without Tyler Bertuzzi and still missing a quality third-line centre. Are the Leafs willing to deal Mitch Marner and can they find a taker? That question will linger all summer.

Ottawa: The Senators finally began reconstructing the roster. Landing goaltender Linus Ullmark in advance of free agency was a great piece of work. Putting an improved defence in front of him is the next challenge. The Sens sent Jeff Chychrun to Washington for pennies on the dollar. Nick Jensen was part of the return and will help balance the blueline on the right side. The third pairing is still a question. Starting next season with rookie Tyler Kleven and Jacob Bernard-Docker would be a big mistake. Signing forwards David Perron and Michael Amadio was a good use of resources. Ottawa needed to add some veteran voices so check that box. Getting Shane Pinto under contract removes another headache. Are the Senators a playoff contender? Not convinced yet but there’s still time although very little cap space for another impact addition.  

Montreal: The Canadiens front office wisely sat out free agency. That in itself is praise-worthy. Montreal is sitting on over $10 million in cap room so you can be sure there are moves forthcoming. Martin Necas, perhaps? There are also other players available in the marketplace including Winnipeg’s Nik Ehlers. You can be sure the Canadiens will be among the rumored bidders. For now, the Habs can sit in the weeds and wait for the right opportunity. Montreal also signed former top pick Juraj Slafkovsky to a rich eight-year extension. They had better hope he out-performs the deal.

Around the NHL – When you dole out the amount of money NHL teams spent in free agency, you can be sure there will be a multitude of mistakes. Here’s a few of our other takeaways from the July 1 Splurge-a-Rama.

  • Nashville was declared the big winner after signing Steve Stamkos, Jonathan Marchessault and defenceman Brady Skjei. Sounds good on the short term but it’s a risky commitment on two forwards who are 34 and 33 respectively.
  • Didn’t like the way things played out in Tampa with Stamkos. Looked like the long-time captain was just kicked to the curb to make way for the signing of Jake Guentzel. The final offer to Stamkos was reportedly around $3 million per season which was just a slap in the face.
  • Our opinion of Seattle GM Ron Francis is changing. When the franchise came into being we thought he was an excellent choice to lead the team. Not sure now. The signing of Brandon Montour (7 X $7.14 million) and Chandler Stephenson (7 X $6.25 million) look like huge overpays for a pair of 30-year-olds. Stephenson’s metrics really fell off last season. Aren’t the Kraken supposed to be building for the future? They still look like a borderline playoff team caught in the murky middle.
  • New Jersey improved themselves as much as any team and should vault back into contention in the East next season. Jacob Markstrom fills the void in goal. Dillon and Pesce are great adds along the blueline.
  • Washington is another team that has made some strides. They’ve added Pierre-Luc Dubois, Andrew Mangiapane and Brandon Duhaime up front plus Roy and Chychrun on the back end. That’s a pretty solid influx of talent.
  • No doubt the additions of Lindholm and Zadorov are going to make a big impact in Boston. The Bruins now have one of the biggest and heaviest top four D-corps in the NHL.
  • No team was hit harder than the Carolina Hurricanes. Gone are Guentzel, Pesce, Skjei and Teravainen. The Canes tried to backfill but the talent drain was significant.
  • The Florida Panthers are going to miss Montour and OEL. No way they will repeat without finding a replacement for Montour.
  • Like every Cup winner, the Las Vegas Golden Knights are finding it hard to keep the band together. The once-deep Vegas lineup is suddenly looking very thin. All those big contracts come at a price.
  • There’s a long list of deals that we absolutely hate including the two Seattle contracts. The Chicago Blackhawks had money to spend and wasted it on T.J. Brodie (2 X $3.75 million), Teuvo Teravainen (3 X $5.4 million) and Tyler Bertuzzi (4 X $5.5 million). L.A. gifted 31-year-old Joel Edmundsen a four-year deal at $3.85 million. The Kings have no idea how to build a roster.
  • Columbus GM Don Waddell was hogtied in Carolina when it came to signing fat contracts on July 1. He will regret signing Sean Monahan (5 X $5.5 million). That was just dumb.
  • Tyler Toffoli is laughing all the way to the bank after getting a four-year deal from San Jose at $6 million per season. Another overpay for a 32-year-old whose wheels are going.
  • After losing Tanev, the Dallas Stars acted like a team in salvage mode. Why give a three-year deal to Casey DeSmith as a back-up goalie? Signing defencemen Ilya Lyubushkin and Matt Dumba to contracts totalling $7 million made no sense. Why not sign one of the premium D-men available who could actually upgrade your blueline?
  • No explanation for what’s happening in Detroit. Steve Yzerman was anointed as the second coming of Sam Pollock. What he’s assembled is a dog’s breakfast. Sorry, Cam Talbot, Erik Gustafsson and Vladimir Tarasenko just add to the list of Yzerman’s July 1 mistakes. Outside of Moritz Seider and Lukas Raymond, his draft picks have been questionable. No one seems to have the guts to criticize his work.
  • Kyle Dubas, the Boy Wonder of NHL GM’s, seems caught in a vortex, trying to please Sidney Crosby while staying on the borderline of playoff contention rather than embarking on a proper rebuild. Giving up a second-round pick to St. Louis in order to acquire Kevin Hayes was just stupid.

NHL Draft Notes – The 2024 NHL Draft will be remembered for two things. The incredible venue at the Sphere in Las Vegas and for the Montreal Canadiens who absolutely stole the show. How can you top having Celine Dion make your number one selection? How good was that? What was not expected was having electrifying Russian forward Ivan Demidov drop into the Canadiens lap with the number five overall pick. Many had Demidov rated as the second-best player available in the draft. He’s another major piece as the Habs build toward their next window of contention. Montreal added right-shot centre Michael Hage later in the opening round. He’ll head to the University of Michigan and should fit in nicely down the road.

The Canucks didn’t pick until late in the third round. Is there some kind of league edict that says the Canucks must select a Swede with their top selection? Vancouver picked forward Melvin Fernstrom with the 93rd pick. His skating is a concern which is always a red flag. Florida grabbed hulking Russian defenceman Matvei Sharavin four picks later which we would have much preferred. Sharavin was rated 65th overall in the Hockey New Draft Preview. If Fernstrom doesn’t hit, there’s a high likelihood the Canucks may come up empty-handed. This is exactly how the cupboard becomes bare.

A Season from Hell – The Blue Jays embark on a western road swing a full nine games under .500. It’s been a season where everything that could go wrong, HAS gone wrong. A glut of injuries to the pitching staff. Underperformance by a bulk of the lineup. A PED suspension. It can’t get worse. The season went off the rails a long time ago.

The issue now is – what are you going to do about it? The Jays have a crossroads with the trade deadline fast approaching. The youth movement is underway. Infielder Leo Jiminez is the latest callup. He follows Spencer Horwitz and Addison Barger. Orelvis Martinez likely be in the mix as well had he not been banned for 80 games.

The season isn’t over until it’s over but you have to figure several bodies are going to move by July 30. It always sounds good to blow it up but how often do you receive the same talent you ship out? Extending Vladdy and Bo is still the best option. You can spend years trying to find players to match the talent of Guerrero and Bichette. Vladdy said this week he would prefer to stay in Toronto but added the old standard “but this is business” which is akin to saying “I’m out of here.”

We can all agree the Jays need to reset their roster and it can’t just be around the fringes. The fanbase cringes at the thought of Ross Atkins pulling the strings on any deal. Who can forget the 2018 deadline trade that sent Josh Donaldson to Cleveland for pitcher Julian Merryweather. He had just had arm surgery. The rest is history.

Random Leftovers – Why has Alexander Mogilny not been named to the Hockey Hall of Fame after 15 years of waiting? The Hall just announced the induction of Jeremy Roenick, Shea Weber and Pavel Datsyuk but sorry, no Mogilny. Roenick never won a Cup, never won an NHL award, was never a First or Second All-Star, and in his best season, finished tied for sixth in league scoring. Mogilny, meanwhile, won everything there was to win including a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold, World Junior gold, the Rocket Richard Trophy and Lady Byng. He was the first European player to be named an NHL captain and twice was an NHL All-Star. We stopped trying to figure out the Hall voting process a long time ago.

July 1 was not only free agent frenzy day in the NHL, it was also Bobby Bonilla Day. Yes, it’s the day the former Big Bopper collects a check for $1,193,248.20 from the New York Mets, just as he has and will every July 1 from 2011 through 2035. Back in 2000, the Mets could have bought out the remaining $5.9 million on Bonilla’s contract. Instead, they agreed to make annual payments of nearly $1.2 million for 25 years starting in 2011 including 8% interest. It was all part of a Bernie Madoff investment scheme and we know how that worked out. The double-digit returns promised by Bernie magically evaporated.

Don’t look now but we could have two Triple Crown winners in major league baseball this season. Shohei Ohtani of the Dodgers leads the National League in hitting and home runs and is currently third in RBI’s. Aaron Judge of the Yankees leads the American League in home runs and RBI’s and is just a few percentage points behind in the batting race. Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers is the only player to win a Triple Crown in the last 57 years.

Canada’s men’s basketball team took a couple of hits in advance of the upcoming Olympics. Andrew Wiggins and Zach Edey have both bowed out. The Golden State Warriors are trying to unload Wiggins and don’t want him getting hurt. Edey says he owes it to the Memphis Grizzlies to spend the summer working on his body in order to be fully prepared for his rookie season. We get it but still, a couple of tough losses for Team Canada.

The NFLPA recently conducted a survey of players and released a 2024 report card for every NFL team covering a wide range of team facilities. It was not surprising the Washington Commanders ranked dead last. The Commanders received an F-minus for Treatment of Families, a D-plus for Food/Cafeteria, a B-minus for Nutritionist/Dietician, an F-minus for Locker Rooms, Training Room and Training Staff and a C for Weight Room. New owner Josh Harris promises change. For the players, it can’t come soon enough.

The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since Aunt Bee was cooling her apple pies on the window sill on ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’

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