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Under Further Review – This week, we look at the NHL landscape after July 1 free agency, how the Canucks prospects shape up, plus news and notes from the NBA and MLB.

The Canucks Forecast – When the smoke cleared from NHL free agency, one thing that was readily apparent is the Canucks were not prepared to part with Bo Horvat in a deal with Colorado for Tyson Barrie. Jim Benning began the week hoping to add a right-shot defenseman through trade but he couldn’t pull the trigger on his primary target. A deal for Barrie and Vancouver native Alexander Kerfoot in exchange for Horvat was never going to happen. Horvat will undoubtedly be named Canucks captain this off-season and he wasn’t going anywhere. When that deal was shelved, the Canucks turned their attention to Tyler Myers in free agency as the best fallback for landing a right-side D-man. Fans cringed when speculation surfaced that the contract may be seven years and $7 million per.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when he came in at five years and $6 million per season. Frankly, I am fine with it because the Canucks should have significantly more cap space after next season.

As things stand now, their defense will probably have pairings of Edler-Stecher, Hughes-Myers, Benn-Tanev with Olli Juolevi and Oscar Fantenberg for depth. Certainly better than it’s been in recent memory. You may remember last season, the Canucks opening night defense included Michael Del Zotto, Derek Pouliot and Erik Gudbranson. At least they will have a little more pushback and some net front presence with Myers, Benn and Fantenberg. One of the biggest indictments of Jim Benning is that in over five years on the job, the only regular defenseman he has been able to develop is Troy Stecher, a college free agent signing.  He’s wasted all kinds of draft capital in deals for the likes of Gudbranson, Pouliot, Audrey Pedan and Adam Clendening with underwhelming results.

Looking ahead to the 2020 off-season, the Canucks have only $55 million in salary commitments which is why the Myers signing is not a massive overpay. As of today, that’s over $25 million in cap space. On defense, Edler and Myers will be under contract. Benn will have one year left. Stecher, Brisebois and Sautner will be RFA’s. Tanev will be unrestricted if he not gone already. Juolevi and Hughes will be on entry level deals. There will definitely be cap space to add along the blueline.

Up front is where it gets very interesting. Beagle, Bartschi and Sutter will each have just one year left which would open the door to buy-outs. Eriksson will still have two years left so a buy-out is out of the question unless Francesco wants to dig real deep. If you did a couple of buy-outs, all that would be left under contract is Horvat, Miller, Pearson, Roussel, Boeser and Pettersson. Virtanen and Gaudette will be RFA’s. You can see that the Canucks will have all kinds of room to maneuver if they want to add either through trade or free agency. Where they could really benefit is if some of the young players in their system push for jobs and can make the roster on entry level deals. After signing Josh Leivo, the Canucks are left with only $6 million in cap space heading into next season and still have to deal with Brock Boeser. So you would have to expect there is more work to do in extricating themselves from some current contracts. Otherwise, they will be hamstrung in trying to make any more useful additions.

If you are forecasting right now, I still don’t see the Canucks as a playoff team. The Canucks are hell-bent to make the playoffs but it won’t be easy navigating through the Western Conference. I still see an overall lack of scoring depth up front.  Unless a bunch of forwards step up in a big way, I don’t where the goals are coming from. They can still use more scoring on the right side and I still maintain they could use a third line center that could be the engine of a bottom six line that chips in with goals on a regular basis. The lack of quality depth at center may short-circuit the Canucks again next season. If Horvat or Pettersson go out with an injury for any length of time then the Canucks season will be compromised. Sutter and Beagle as your bottom six centers is just not good enough.

NHL News & Notes – The deal involving Tyson Barrie and Nazem Kadri was a ‘true’ hockey trade that will certainly help both clubs in areas where they were undoubtedly weak. But it may also have exposed other shortcomings. The Leafs no longer have a ‘3-headed monster’ at center which was one of their greatest strengths. Removing Barrie from the Avs lineup leaves them very vulnerable on the back end with a very young defense corps. Burnaby Joe Sakic apparently decided he wasn’t going to be able to sign Barrie to a long-term deal, or he simply didn’t want to meet Barrie’s asking price, so he moved him early before he could leave as a UFA next summer. But can the Avs win a Cup with a defense that young? While that is an obvious concern, they still have over $27 million in cap space so could Jake Gardiner be a target? They were thin up front last year and have already added a complete new second line in Kadri, Andre Burakovsky and free agent Joonas Donskoi. Look out for those Avs.  They were going to be fun to watch!

The biggest winner in free agency may be the Florida Panthers. With Roberto Luongo retiring, they absolutely had to land a goaltender and got one of the best in Sergei Bobrovsky. They overpaid at $10 million per season but I’m sure they wanted to give new coach Joel Quenneville a fighting chance every night. They also added some other decent pieces in Anton Stralman, Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari.

Most people would point to Columbus as the big loser in free agency.  Yes, they lost Bobrovsky, Panarin and Duchene but I wouldn’t mind trying to build a winner around Pierre-Luc Dubois, Seth Jones and Zach Werensky, three pretty outstanding young core players.

Even last year’s cupcakes in the Western Conference will be much improved next season. Two of the poorer teams have made big strides.  Chicago has already added five useful pieces in Andrew Shaw, Olli Maatta, Calvin de Haan and Ryan Carpenter plus Robin Lehner who will now ensure the Hawks get quality goaltending every night.

Anaheim had a tough year last season with a long list of injuries.  They are sure to be better next year with five young forwards – Sam Steel, Troy Terry, Max Jones, Isaac Lundestrom and Maxime Comtois – ready to give the team a huge injection of youth, speed and offense.

The odd duck of the Western Conference is the Minnesota Wild. They need to get younger yet they went out in free agency and signed 31 year old Mats Zuccarello. Go figure.  One team that is looking at potentially big slippage is the Winnipeg Jets. Losing Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chariot off their defense is going to have a massive impact. Dallas helped themselves in free agency with the additions of three wily veterans in Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have the Ottawa Senators. The Sens sit a little under the projected cap floor for next season of $60 million and have almost $22 million in cap space.  But you know Eugene Melnyk won’t be using it.  They would have even more room were they not carrying nearly $9 million in dead money thanks to the Marian Gaborik and Clarke McArthur contracts. The Sens have only $25 million on the books in salaries for the 2020-2021 season. If they had a committed owner, they could crush teams with offer sheets next summer.

NBA News & Notes – NHL pundits took notice when the spending during the free agent frenzy hit $500 million.  How about the NBA?  The spending on free agents is already over $2 billion.

For years, the Western Conference dominated the NBA. It seemed like the only decent teams were in Cleveland and Miami. It looks like there is a big seismic shift happening in the East. Brooklyn shook things up by signing both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant although KD probably won’t play at all next season recovering from the Achilles tear. Philadelphia shuffled the deck but still looks strong. The Celtics will try to stay relevant with Kemba Walker handling the ball at point guard. Milwaukee may take a bit of a step back but the Bucks still look strong. The Raptors hold the balance of power depending on the future of Kawhi Leonard.  Oh yeh!  That Kawhi guy! I am writing this at 7pm on Friday night and still no decision from the Quiet One. I still say he’s nuts if he joins LeBron and the Lakers. My gut says he’s smarter than that and will stay in Toronto.

Meantime, kiss the Golden State dynasty goodbye.  No KD.  No Klay Thompson for a good portion of the year after ACL surgery. The Warriors will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs in the West. They have already traded away Andre Igoudala and Boogie Cousins is looking to sign elsewhere as a free agent. On top of everything else, they are maxed out for cap space. It wouldn’t be wise to write them off but they are a far cry from the feared and unbeatable team of a few years ago.

Did you notice that Canada’s bright young basketball star, Jamal Murray, signed a new contract with the Denver Nuggets?  Murray inked a five-year, $170 million dollar deal than makes him the highest paid Canadian athlete – EVER!

MLB News & Notes – Amid the bleak rebuilding season in Toronto, there is a great story happening with the emergency of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Back in May, Gurriel wasn’t hitting a lick and was so scattergun at second base that the Blue Jays had to send him to the minors to rebuild his confidence. The Jays tried to take the pressure off defensively by placing Gurriel in left field.  The results have been nothing short of eye-popping.

Gurriel is bigger than you might think at 6’3” and 215 pounds.  Perhaps it was just a case of giving up on trying to make him into an infielder.  As soon as he was installed in left field in Buffalo, he took off at the plate.  No player in Major League Baseball has hit more home runs over the past six weeks than Gurriel Jr. He’s blasted 15 dingers in his past 50 games and looks like a future star. If you pro-rate his numbers since May 24 over a full season, he would be on track for 64 homers, 141 runs scored and 120 runs batted in.  Crazy numbers! At 25, it looks like Gurriel will be a Blue Jay fixture for years to come.All of a sudden, the Blue Jays young core is starting to take shape with Gurriel Jr., Cavan Biggio, Danny Jansen, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and soon to be prize prospect Bo Bichette. The Jays lineup in two years could be very impressive indeed. By the way, only one Blue Jay prospect made the MLB Futures Game which is part of All-Star weekend and that’s flame-throwing right-hander Nate Pearson.

It’s going to be interesting to see how many deals are made at the baseball trading deadline this year. In case you hadn’t heard, there is only one trading deadline this year and that’s July 31.  There is no longer another trade deadline in August where players can be moved after clearing waivers and still be eligible for the playoffs. It’s really going to force teams to decide whether they are in the playoff hunt or not. If I am the Blue Jays, I would be trying to determine the market for Marcus Stroman. I would also be trying to figure out what to do with Aaron Sanchez.  He looks completely lost on the mound and his trade value is at an all-time low.  A move to the bullpen may be the best option. Sanchez can’t find the plate with any consistency and is the major league leader in walks issued.

Major league baseball’s foray into Britain was a travesty. The Red Sox and the Yankees played a series at Wembley Stadium in London and the balls were flying out in record fashion. During one game, the score was 6-6 after the first inning.  This is what happens when you play on a converted soccer pitch and the center-field fence is 365 feet away and the left and right field lines are barely over 300 feet. The British fans must have thought a cricket game broke out.

More Yogi-isms

  • You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.
  • You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you.
  • I usually take a two-hour nap from one to four.
  • Never answer an anonymous letter.
  • Slump? I ain’t in no slump… I just ain’t hitting.
  • How can you think and hit at the same time? The future ain’t what it used to be.
  • I tell the kids, somebody’s gotta win, somebody’s gotta lose. Just don’t fight about it. Just try to get better.
  • It gets late early out here.
  • If the people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.

And Finally – A few years ago, totally by chance I suspect, I ran across a great singer-songwriter named Jimmy LaFave from that mecca of music Austin, Texas.  I loved his music right away.  He was a great balladeer known for his interpretations of Bob Dylan tunes. This week, I was checking him out on ITunes to see if he had released a new album recently and was shaken to learn that he had died a few years ago at the far too young age of 61. He had a rare form of sarcoma. Jimmy LaFave was not well-known up here but certainly well respected in the music industry down south. He was friends with Canada’s Ray Bonneville, an Austin transplant and another great performer in his own right. Here’s the obit from an Austin newspaper.

Here’s a photo tribute set to a couple of his songs.

Here he is on Austin City Limits back in 1996.  Go to the 15 minute mark and check out his rendition of Dylan’s “Sweetheart like You”.