Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Co-Editor Bill Morphy and contributions from the usual suspects including Jordan Moss, Dave Kittle, Frank Sullivan, the Huckster and the Big E in Montreal. This week, Nos Glorieux are off to the Cup Final, the Twins return to the Canucks and amber alert, the Jays bullpen is smelly.
Road to the Cup – Thursday was Saint Jean Baptiste Day in Quebec, a cherished day of celebration in La Belle Province. Can you think of a better way to celebrate than the Montreal Canadiens 34th trip to the Stanley Cup Final?
It’s been a magical run for the Canadiens, 28 years in the making. The formula has been eerily similar to the Cup-winning team in 1993. Superb goaltending, goal-scoring by committee and overtime wizardry. It was Patrick Roy then. It’s Carey Price now. It was Claude Lemieux then. It’s Cole Caufield now. The ’93 team won a record ten consecutive overtime games. This edition seems to have the same overtime alchemy. It was a similar script in 1971. The Boston Bruins were the defending Stanley Cup champions and heavy favourites. They had Orr and Esposito. A rookie goaltender named Ken Dryden emerged from out of nowhere and the Canadiens staged an upset of the Big Bad Bruins.
At the start of the season, the odds on the Canadiens winning the Stanley Cup were 3,500-1. A $10 bet would get you 35 grand. A $1,000 bet wins you $3.5 million. The Canadiens lost 14 of their final 21 regular season games including the last five in a row. Heading into the post-season, they were the lowest seeded playoff team. Talk about overcoming incredible challenges. This is a team that was playing so poorly they had to making a coaching change. They had a COVID outbreak that forced the Canadiens to play their final 25 games in 44 nights, flying back and forth across the country three times. There were injuries galore. In the playoffs, the head coach gets a positive test and has to go into quarantine. This team has shown amazing resolve.
Once Montreal started to take control of the series, Vegas rarely had the lead. They were constantly chasing the game. Mark Stone, the Golden Knights captain and $9.5 million dollar man had no points in the series. Same number as Celine Dion. In 17 playoff games, the Canadiens held Stone, Max Pacioretty, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Nik Ehlers and Blake Wheeler to a grand total of three goals.
Max Pacioretty was an idle passenger. The trade that sent Pacioretty from Montreal to Vegas is looking like a massive win for the Canadiens. Nick Suzuki, the centerpiece in the deal for the Canadiens, was the best player in the series, hands down. The Habs also received Tomas Tatar and a 2019 second-round draft pick which turned into defenceman Jayden Struble who’s playing at Northeastern University. Meanwhile, Suzuki has developed chemistry with quicksilver rookie Cole Caufield and wily Tyler Toffoli. Just like that, the Canadiens have a legit number one line. It’s crazy to think that Caufield, who had four goals against Vegas, will still be eligible for the Calder Trophy next season.
You don’t find playoff success without every single player in the room doing their job and then some. That’s been the Canadiens recipe. Total team effort. Do they have a chance against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning? Of course they do. They are the Montreal Canadiens. You don’t win 24 Stanley Cups by chance. It’s not as though these are uncharted waters for this proud franchise.
Editor’s Note: In our pre-season preview of the all-Canadian North Division on January 5, we predicted Montreal would finish in first place. It didn’t work out that way but it’s not as though we didn’t think the Canadiens had it in them to put together a great season.
NHL Playoff Notebook – Needless to say, the Canadiens face a huge challenge against the Lightning. One key will be whether the Habs can shut down the Bolts power-play which is clicking at over 37%. Good news is the Canadiens penalty kill has been outstanding. It’s at 94.5% and the Canadiens haven’t surrendered a PP goal since midway through the opening round against the Leafs.
It’s been two years since Steve Yzerman left the Lightning and returned home to Detroit. He won’t get to celebrate Tampa’s successful run but make no mistake, this is HIS team. He hired Jon Cooper as coach. He drafted Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Yzerman also unloaded Jonathan Drouin on the Canadiens for solid blueliner Mikhail Sergachev. 15 of the players on the Lightning were drafted and signed by Yzerman.
Can you believe what Brayden Point has done in these playoffs? His nine-game playoff goal streak came to an end in game seven against the Islanders. Only one player in NHL history – the Flyers Reggie Leach in 1976 – has had a longer such streak, 10 games.
Who says goaltending doesn’t count in the playoffs? In the Final, we’re going to get a matchup of the two best goalies in the game. In his last three playoff seasons, Carey Price has posted save percentages of .934, .936 and .933. His regular season save percentages in those years were .901, .909, and .918.
Have you noticed that a power-play goal is almost a rare occurrence in these playoffs? When there’s an obvious penalty, can you please just call it?
Reports out of Buffalo suggest the Sabres may be up for sale. Apparently the current owners, Terry and Kim Pegula, are tired of all the abuse they’ve been taking. One of the potential interested buyers is a close friend of John Tortorella. Torts would help clean up the mess. Maybe WE should try and find an investor. Let’s get Boots Del Biaggio on the phone! Whoops, he’s still in jail.
The Seattle Kraken have their first head coach. They hired Dave Hakstol, the former Flyers coach who helped build the University of North Dakota into an NCAA hockey power. Seems like a safe bet. Seattle GM Ron Francis knows Hakstol from working together with Team Canada at the 2019 World Championships.
Reports have surfaced again that the Arizona Coyotes are looking to shop Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Good luck with that. Please name a team that is interested in picking up a 30-year old defenceman whose earning $8.25 million for another six seasons.
Rumours are flying that Matthew Tkachuk wants out of Calgary. He has just one year left on a bridge deal and will be looking for a lucrative new deal next summer. St. Louis is the likely landing spot since it’s his hometown and his parents still live there. The Jack Eichel rumours are also flying. Vegas may be looking to jump into the fray but they will have to find a new home for Marc-Andre Fleury first. The Golden Knights lack of quality down the middle really got exposed against the Canadiens.
Make a note of this name: Adam Fratelli. He’s just 16 but was the MVP of the USHL playoffs with 8 goals in 8 games for the league champion Chicago Steel. He’s already 6’2” and 190 pounds. Along with Canada’s Connor Bedard and Russia’s Matvei Mishkov, the gifted center will be one of the top selections in the 2023 NHL draft. Fantilli is from the Toronto area. It’s not clear where he is headed next. Fantilli has made visits to the University of Michigan and UND. His junior rights are held by the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL.
We can’t seem to go a week without talking about the Maple Leafs even if we try. Islanders’ general manager Lou Lamoriello just won the General Manager of the Year award for the second year in a row. The award is not voted on until after the second round of the playoffs. Even so, Kyle Dubas of the Maple Leafs received one first place vote. Any chance that voter was from Toronto? In an effort to mask the Leafs collapse, the Maple Minions are now trying to somehow diminish Lou’s success on Long Island.
There’s a website called Leafs Nation. Some meathead emerged from his mother’s basement with this incomprehensible account aimed at minimizing Lou’s impact. They left out one small factor (and something the Leafs know nothing about) and that’s how Lou has changed the culture on Long Island.
Exactly 15 years ago, the Bruins and the Maple Leafs completed a one-for-one trade involving two goalies. The Bruins obtained Tuukka Rask in exchange for Andrew Raycroft, who won 39 games for Leafs while lasting two seasons. Rask has posted 306 victories in Boston, by far the most in franchise history. Thanks John Ferguson Jr.! No wonder he’s never got another job as a GM.
It’s hard to get excited about ESPN and Turner Sports hiring Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky to be their lead studio analysts when they start broadcasting NHL games next season. Maybe because they’ve been away from the game for 25 years. Maybe it’s because I would like to see someone younger in those roles.
Whistle Blowers – Canuck fans know all about bad officiating. They still talk about how the Canucks got jobbed out of a Cup in the 2011 final against the Bruins. Well, it seems like we cannot get through a playoff season without the refereeing becoming a major controversy.
There were numerous instances in the Montreal-Vegas series where the officials stood by and failed to call obvious penalties. Canadiens veteran Corey Perry was cut for 16 stitches by a Jonathan Marchessault high-stick in game three. Clearly a double minor. No call.
It got worse in game four. Referee Chris Lee turned a blind eye to numerous infractions. Shea Weber of the Canadiens was hit from behind head first into the boards. No call. Knights’ defenceman Brayden McNabb punched Nick Suzuki in the head. No call. In the playoffs, referees are supposed to advance to the next series based on performance. There is no explanation how Lee got this far and how he continues to referee critical playoff games. He also worked the Lightning-Islander series. You know the situation is critical when a player agent jumps into the fray. Agent Jeff Jackson voiced his displeasure after Lightning star Nikita Kucherov was injured by a cross-check from the Islanders Scott Mayfield. Jackson tweeted, “You can’t sing & whistle at the same time. NHL has a problem & they pretend it doesn’t exist. How many games is Chris Lee going to ref where he pretends not to see a blatant penalty? Why is he still doing games? Another star out!! Wake up!”
What’s the standard? Who knows? It’s completely absurd that the NHL rulebook goes out the window when the games matter most. You would think that there would be a stricter adherence to the rules once the playoffs begin. It’s completely the opposite. The players have no idea what’s going to be called. In overtime, it’s basically jungle rules.
Rebirth of the Twins – If you are cynical, you are surely thinking the Canucks hired the Twins in another feeble attempt to thwart the crisis in consumer confidence. Yes, you can make a comparison to the hiring of Trevor Linden. Personally, I don’t see it that way. Let’s just take it at face value. Henrik and Daniel Sedin have agreed to become special advisors to general manager Jim Benning and according to the Twins, they are 100% committed to their new roles after three years in retirement. They will be involved in all aspects of hockey operations. The Sedins will act as a conduit between the players and management. They will work closely with the new minor league franchise in Abbotsford as well as having a role in scouting and trade acquisitions.
At their introductory media briefing, the Sedins were asked point-blank whether they had spoken with Linden prior to accepting the new positions. The answer was yes so we can presume they are comfortable that ownership didn’t drive the hiring’s as a PR move and will leave them to holistically grow into their new roles.
One thing is certain: the Canucks can only benefit from having the Sedins back in the organization. Their hockey IQ is off the charts. They will see things are others would not. As they become more comfortable in the Canucks front office, you can only hope someone will be listening when they speak.
Blue Jays This Week – You can be certain the Blue Jays will be focused on bolstering their bullpen ahead of MLB’s July 30 trade deadline. The Jays bullpen has been striking a nice balance between unreliable and putrid. The relief corps has put up an ERA of 5.68 since May 20.
It was the same old song and dance routine on Friday night vs. the Orioles. Tyler Chatwood entered the game in the 8th inning and walked the first two batters he faced. It opened the door to a four-run Baltimore rally. Then, in the 10th, Trent Thornton issued three walks as the O’s scored the go-ahead run without the benefit of a hit. The latest bullpen dumpster fire gift-wrapped the Orioles 6-5 win, ending Baltimore’s 20-game road losing streak and the Jays 5-game winning streak. Good teams don’t lose games in that fashion. Period! Full stop!
There is a route to adding to the roster without carving too deeply into the prospect pool. The Jays have a handful of promising minor league players who will be Rule-5 eligible this winter. It will be almost impossible to add all of them onto the 40-man roster. In recent years, we have seen the San Diego Padres use this strategy to improve their roster without dipping too deeply into their farm system. Two of the Rule-5 eligible players, shortstop Kevin Smith and infielder Samad Taylor, are having outstanding seasons at Double-A New Hampshire. Either player could be used to acquire pitching help. It’s an avenue the Jays are likely to use and it avoids dealing any of their elite prospects. They could also choose to deal from their wealth of catching depth once Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk return from injuries in the next couple of weeks. Don’t be surprised if the Jays try to improve their lineup at third base. Cavan Biggio has struggled defensively at the hot corner. In defensive stats, Biggio ranks 30th out of 35 third basemen.
The 2021 MLB Draft is coming up on July 11. No Canadians are projected to go in the first round this year. The top Canadian prospect is Wright State second baseman and Toronto native Tyler Black. He’s the son of TSN broadcaster Rod Black.
If you have tuned into Blue Jays Central on Sportsnet during any Blue Jay games, you must be getting tired of hearing “Powered by Samsung Galaxy S21 5G.” Very annoying! On Sportsnet 650 radio in Vancouver, they are so hard up for cash, they have announcers shilling for a real estate agent in Abbotsford. Try hiring a sales agents who can actually find some decent clients.
MLB Notebook – What Jacob deGrom has been doing with the New York Mets is completely out of this world. He has become the only pitcher in MLB history with more RBI’s (5) at the plate than earned runs allowed (4) in a 10-start span in a single season. DeGrom is fashioning a season that’s even better than the 1968 season turned in by Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals, a year that is widely considered to be the gold standard. Through his first 10 starts, deGrom’s ERA was 0.58. Gibson’s was 1.52. Whip for deGrom – 0.53. Whip for Gibson – 0.89. Opponent’s batting average – deGrom 1.21, Gibson 1.86. Opponents OPS – deGrom .372, Gibson .485.
It was horribly disappointing to hear that Canadian pitcher Mike Soroka of the Atlanta Braves has re-torn his Achilles tendon and will have to undergo a third surgical procedure. The Calgary native was expected to be one of the aces of the Braves rotation. He broke through with an all-star appearance in 2019, going 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA. He was second in NL Rookie of the Year balloting and sixth in voting for the Cy Young Award.
MLB needs to do something about the shift. As a player, you are taught to try and hit the ball up the middle. This is a basic lesson from the very early years of the game. Now, with infield shifts being allowed in baseball, you often have an infielder stationed right behind the second base bag. The useless wags running baseball need to outlaw infield shifts. It’s ruining the game. While they are at it, do something about the Tampa Rays and their ludicrous pitching changes. Against the Red Sox this week, the Rays used a so-called ‘opener’ to start the game, then pulled him after two-thirds of an inning with runners on first and second. It’s a joke. They used their third pitcher by the top of the third inning. All it accomplishes is making endlessly-long games even longer. No wonder kids don’t watch baseball. The games are always three hours minimum.
On Thursday night, Victoria’s Nick Pivetta, pitching for the Red Sox, was removed from a 0-0 game against Tampa after 6 and two-thirds innings. He was working on a no-hitter but had thrown 100 pitches. Only one other Boston pitcher had ever been removed during a no-hit bid after 6+ innings. His name was Babe Ruth and it happened in 1916.
Hunter Renfroe of the Boston Red Sox threw out a runner at home on Friday night to record his 11th outfield assist of the season. That leads the majors and is more than the total of 19 teams.
U.S. Open Takeaways – When Jon Rahm burst onto the PGA Tour with much fanfare and hoopla and all the accompanying pressure, he was hailed as the “Next Seve” in obvious reference to legendary Spanish golfing great Severiano Ballesteros. It’s taken Rahm a while to break through in the majors. On Sunday, he did something Seve was never able to do and that’s win a U.S. Open. Rahm closed with a 4-under 67 to win by a single stroke over Mr. Runner-up Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa. He did it with Seve-like style. Rahm became the first winner in 39 years to birdie the 71st and 72nd holes.
Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes was in a three-way tie for the lead heading into the final round. Hughes was the outlier on a star-studded leaderboard and played like it with three bogeys in his first six holes. Hughes would go on to shoot a final round 77 and finish T-15. Still, it was his best finish ever in a major. One suggestion however. Next time you are in contention in a major, make sure your caddie brings a ladder! At least Hughes can say he tied Bryson DeChambeau’s final round score. Bryson the Great went +8 over his final nine holes to finish at +3 and T-26. Keep trying to overpower golf courses Bryson. You might want to hit a fairway now and again.
Where are the personalities on the PGA Tour? You used to have guys like Peter Jacobson and Payne Stewart and Freddie Couples. Now, they all have their entourages with swing coaches, fitness trainers, nutritionists and psychologists. Where were the mental coaches during the final round of the U.S. Open when all the so-called stars were falling apart like an old Dodge Dart? Rory McIlroy hasn’t won a major in seven years and seems to have the mental toughness of Barney Fife. DeChambeau, with the biggest entourage of them all, went into full-fetal mode after briefly taking sole possession of the lead. No wonder Tiger dominated for so long. Most of them were defeated before reaching the first tee box. Jack Nicklaus would have breezed to victory.
Can someone tell NBC’s Dan Hicks to do a little homework before he starts blathering on about how Canada has had it so tough as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? Every time the camera showed Mackenzie Hughes, Hicks’ big Hot Lick was to ramble on as if Canada was some kind of third world country. Memo to Dan: our numbers are far better than the U.S. per capita. The U.S. has lost more than 600,000 lives. Canada is at 26,000. Our only problem was a vaccine supply issue. People in Canada are far more willing to get a vaccination than in the States and the growing vaccine numbers reflect it. We are number one in the world in vaccination rates.
Leftovers – We’re into the knockout phase at Euro 2020. There are some tasty matchups in the round of 16 including England and Germany. Italy and France appear to be on a collision course in one bracket although Spain, Portugal and Belgium may have something to say about that. Italy beat Austria on Saturday to punch their ticket into the quarter-finals. On the other side of the ledger, the England-Germany winner along with Netherlands figure to be favoured to reach the final. Denmark took out Wales 4-0 on Saturday and are writing a fairytale story following the loss of Christian Eriksen in the opening game.
Why would anyone buy a ticket to watch the Vancouver Whitecaps? They haven’t scored a first half goal this season. What a juggernaut!
The Toronto Raptors were big winners at this week’s NBA Draft Lottery. The Raptors landed the No. 4 spot, moving up from No. 7 despite having a 68.1 percent chance of selecting there or later. Draft analysts believe there are four players who are a cut above the rest, so it gives the Raptors a chance to select another talented building block. The likely pick is Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs who would become a ready-made replacement should Kyle Lowry depart in free agency this summer. The lottery luck gives the Raptors options should they choose to retain Lowry and deal the pick.
It looks like we will never see Canada’s best together on the basketball court at the same time. Basketball Canada has announced that six more NBA players – Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke, Tristan Thompson, Khem Birch, Kelly Olynyk and Oshae Brissett – will not be participating at next week’s Olympics qualifying tournament in Victoria. Canada may still have a roster good enough to qualify, but it makes you wonder just how good we could be if everyone was available. There’s late word that health authorities in Victoria will allow 10% of capacity at Save-on-Foods Arena for the tournament which means about 750 fans will be allowed in to view the games live.
Who says golf is not a physical sport? At the recent Wichita Open on the Korn Ferry Tour, a fight broke out during a Monday qualifying round between two of the qualifiers, Austen Dailey and Luke Smith. According to reports, Dailey confronted Smith about his refusal to tend the pin or search for a potentially lost golf ball. Smith, a University of Tennessee-Martin sophomore, had his dad on the bag and took exception to Dailey’s request for help.
The altercation took place after Dailey hit a wayward shot on the par-3 7th hole. After both Smith and his father allegedly failed to help look for the ball, Dailey approached the two and said how helping to look for errant shots might speed up the group. The Smiths then allegedly began to yell at Dailey about his own play, and as Dailey walked away, Luke Smith reportedly jumped in and started to punch him. When a third member of the group attempted to break up the fight, Smith’s father began to use a putter to keep him from breaking up the fight. Another group called the pro shop and requested security assistance. Smith was then taken to the clubhouse and arrested after Dailey decided to press charges.
43-year-old Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics. She has qualified in the women’s super-heavyweight division for the Tokyo Olympics. She will enter the summer games ranked fourth in the competition. Hubbard is certain to be the flashpoint in the debate around the fairness of trans athletes competing in women’s events.
We can at least be thankful that China’s Sun Yang won’t be competing in Tokyo. The swimming star has been banned for more than four years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport for breaking anti-doping rules following a retrial. The court’s verdict ends Sun’s hopes of defending his Olympic title in the 200-metre freestyle next month. The judges found Sun “to have acted recklessly” when he refused to let anti-doping officials leave his home with a sample of his blood. What they should do is take away the three Olympic medals he’s won because the guy has clearly cheated his whole career.
The U.S. Supreme Court delivered the NCAA a well-deserved gut punch this week. The Court unanimously affirmed a ruling that provides for increases in how college athletes can be compensated. It opens the door for future legal challenges that could deal a much more significant blow to the NCAA’s current business model. Trump appointee Justice Neil Gorsuch ruled that the NCAA was violating antitrust law by placing limits on education-related benefits to athletes. The decision allows schools to provide athletes with unlimited compensation as long as it is some way connected to their education.
Spotify Song of the Week – Here’s a few tracks we’ve come across recently that we thought you might like. It’s a little bit of everything.
Check out “Trust Yourself” from Blackie & the Rodeo Kings off their album “King of This Town.”
Have a listen to “In the Air” from the California Honeydrops and an album of the same name.
Leo Kottke is one of the finest acoustic guitar players of all time. He teamed with Mike Gordon on the release “Sixty Six Steps.” Have a listen to the track entitled “Rings.”
Remember the jazz artist Deodato? Check out the album “The Crossing” and the song “I Want You More” featuring singers Novecento and Al Jarreau. John Tropea is on guitar.
Rufus featuring Chaka Khan were a gold-selling funk band. They have since split into two acts with Chaka performing solo. Rufus has a release called “Rags to Rufus.” The album features a track with Chaka Khan on vocals. Check out “Walkin’ in the Sun.” Definitely worth a listen.
Enjoy the Stanley Cup Final! Go Habs!
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