Under Further Review –
Canada’s Team – If sports fans across Canada were not on the Raptors bandwagon before the start of the NBA Finals, then I hope they are now. The Raptors splendid take-down of the Warriors in the opening game was spectacular to watch and a testament to team basketball.
The Raptors were cohesive and unselfish. They shared the ball and played outstanding team defense. How can you not like this team? They play the game the right way and have no big egos. The Raptors should be confident. They won game one with Kawhi Leonard going 5 for 14 from the field, his worst shooting game since February. Toronto has been a different team since winning game seven against the 76’ers and certainly since dropping the first two games against Milwaukee.
They were the better team in game one by a wide margin and the Warriors had better hope Kevin Durant makes a quick return from his calf injury. Andre Igoudala is also banged up. Golden State’s bench is virtually non-existent and if Durant doesn’t return, they could be in trouble. It will be interesting to see how the Warriors respond in game two but somehow you can’t chalk it all up to a nine-day layoff. One key to watch. The Raptors need to do a better job on the defensive glass because the Warriors will kill you with second chance opportunities and the easy, wide open three’s that result.
Reports say Durant could be back for game three in Oakland. If he comes back Wednesday, it would be exactly one month since the injury. Here’s a stat for you – the Warriors are now 7-and-7 in the playoffs without Durant. With him, they are 8-and-1.
By the way, it’s great to see the response in and around Toronto to the Raptors success. And yes, they may become Canada’s Team. Cineplex had game one on movie screens in 33 cities across the country. I think that’s great.
Kawhi Time – As the NBA Finals play out, everyone is holding their collective breath hoping that Kawhi Leonard will re-up with the Raptors this summer and keep a good thing going. It was great to hear that he’s bought a home in Toronto. That certainly is a good early indication.
There’s nothing like winning to convince a player to stick around. It doesn’t hurt to see the incredible fan support either. That can’t be going completely unnoticed. Even if the Raptors don’t capture the NBA title, Leonard has to know his best chance for winning in the next few years is in Toronto. Everyone is holding their collective breath hoping he will commit to the True North.
The Commish – I don’t know about you, but I am getting really sick of LeBron James and his overt recruiting of players. Who made this guy Commissioner? Now comes reports that he has already reached out to Kawhi Leonard about having him sign with the Lakers. When is the league going to step in and put an end to this? It’s clearly tampering yet LeBron seems to get away with it while others would be admonished and reprimanded. Here’s the answer. Do it again and we’re taking away the Lakers first round draft choice. Start there and see if he shuts his pie-hole. Meantime, Clippers coach Doc Rivers has been fined by the league for comments he made this week about Kawhi that were considered tampering. Brutal! Do you really think a fine does anything to deter them?
The Long Road Ahead – When it comes to roster construction, it’s easy to get excited about the Canucks who hold three winning tickets in Pettersson, Boeser and Hughes. Core pieces to be sure but as any hockey fan knows, there’s a lot more to building a winner.
The feeling around Vancouver seems to be if the Canucks can add a couple of top-six wingers and improve the blueline, then they are a sure-fire playoff team. Perhaps, if they can avoid injury and they continue to get first-rate goaltending. But if you look closer, the road to the playoffs may have a lot more potholes than you think. Check out this excellent piece from Harman Dayal in the Athletic Vancouver who reveals some major weaknesses in the Canucks bottom six forward group.
As Dayal points out, when the Canucks top two centers were not on the ice, the bottom six were outscored by nearly a full goal for every 60 minutes on the ice, dead last in the league. The overall lack of production from the group is alarming. What’s even more disturbing is the fact the Canucks have far too much salary cap space dedicated to players who played in their bottom six last year. The Canucks have almost $20 million committed to Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle, Markus Granlund, Ryan Spooner, Tim Schaller and Loui Eriksson, a very underwhelming group by any estimation.
Last year, the Canucks basically tried to survive with two checking lines centered by Sutter and Beagle. When Sutter went out with a long-term injury, they turned to rookie Adam Gaudette. While he may have some long-range potential, he was not ready for prime time in his rookie season. The Canucks would be wise to acquire a scoring center to plug into their third line if they have any playoff aspirations next year.
Look no further than the two teams in this year’s Stanley Cup final to see how important it is to have depth scoring. The Blues and the Bruins roll four lines and each provide important production. You can no longer have two checking lines and expect to beat top teams. Quality depth right down through your lineup is the key to success in today’s NHL. The Canucks don’t have it and until they do, they are destined to be also-rans.
We Are All Canucks – Are things so bad in Vancouver that we are envious of the Oilers when they land Ken Holland as their new GM and Dave Tippett as their new head coach? It seems that way when the Canucks front office continues to shrink. Just look at the attrition over the past several years under Francesco Aquilini. Lorne Henning, Laurence Gilman, Chris Zimmerman, Victor de Bonis, Trevor Linden, Jeff Stipec, TC Carling just to name a few. De Bonis is now the COO of the new Seattle franchise. Zimmerman is President of the St. Louis Blues. Meantime, the Canucks are without a Club President and any true leadership. How can the Canucks current front office makeup inspire any confidence?
NHL Notebook – It sure seems like the Canucks trade for Erik Gudbranson is going to go down as one of Jim Benning’s biggest pratfalls. To refresh our memories, here’s how that deal with Florida broke down. The Panthers sent Gudbranson and a fifth-round pick to the Canucks for center Jared McCann, a 2016 second round pick and a 2016 fourth-round pick. McCann never really got untracked in Florida but came alive after this year’s trade deadline when he was sent to Pittsburgh and ended up playing left wing alongside Sid the Kid. McCann was selected to play for Canada at the World Hockey Championships after the Penguins early playoff exit and played some outstanding hockey. It looks like he’s a guy the Canucks would like to have back especially when you consider how little depth they have in their top six. It doesn’t look like the Panthers did anything with the two draft selections they received in the deal but that doesn’t mean the Canucks wouldn’t have hit on them if they had held onto the picks.
Baseball Notebook – Here’s some breaking news! Aaron Sanchez had to leave his last start with another fingernail issue. The Jays righthander has what is called a nail avulsion. Basically what happens is the nail lifts up, then settles back down on a blood blister. Ouch! I’m sure it’s painful but when is this problem going to end? It’s killing his trade value. Sanchez has been unable to pitch deep into games and many baseball people are wondering if he wouldn’t be better off in the bullpen where he can throw hard for an inning or two. The Jays need to get this figured out.
It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel following next week’s MLB amateur draft. Clubs interested in signing either of the two veteran pitchers will no longer have to give up draft pick compensation to sign them. There are several teams lining up and willing to dish out big money on a short term deal. The Yankees need starting pitching and may go hard after Keuchel. Kimbrel may come off the Amish settlement long enough to sign with the Dodgers.
Amidst all the sloppy baseball being played in Seattle there is a beacon of hope down on the farm where super-prospect Jarred Kelenic is rising fast through the Mariners system. The 19-year-old outfielder just got moved up to high A-Ball and he’s proving himself as an elite prospect. Kelenic hit .303 with 10 home runs and 26 RBI’s in just 49 games at Class-A West Virginia before moving up to Modesto in the California League this week. He’s got power and speed and the make-up to be a major star. You may remember, he was the key piece in the deal with the Mets last year that sent record-setting reliever Edwin Diaz to New York. Kelenic was the number six pick in the 2018 MLB draft.
You can’t tell me that tear-downs don’t work in major league baseball. Atlanta, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Houston are all fielding great teams right now after tearing it down to the studs and building it back up.
I leave you this week with a little something from Erma Franklin. Her rendition of “Piece of My Heart.” Enjoy!