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Under Further Review – 

This week, Under Further Review looks ahead to NHL free agency, looks back at the NHL draft and the Canucks trade for JT Miller, and ponders the bizarre proposal that would see the Tampa Bay Rays play half their games in Montreal. 

Attention K Mart Shoppers – Get ready for more stupidity when NHL free agency opens on July 1. If some of the deals signed so far this off-season are any indication, it’s going to be silly season.

The Canucks are reportedly ready to drop a bundle on Jets UFA Tyler Myers. The numbers could be goofy for a defenseman who would be third or fourth best on a good club. If the Canucks go to 7-years and $50 million as some are speculating, they are nuts.  If it’s 6-years and $36 million, I say yes.

As reported last week, I would kick the tires on a number of guys but would walk away if the numbers grow too high. The news of Roberto Luongo’s retirement this week didn’t help the situation. The cap recapture penalty is going to cost the Canucks an estimated $2.3 million for each of the next three seasons.  This is what happens when you circumvent the salary cap and hand someone a 12-year contract for $64 million.  They are now paying the piper.  At least we can’t blame this one on Jim Benning. It was one of Mike Gillis’ foolhardy moves.

New Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher must have been on vacation during the NHL playoffs because he gave up a fifth round pick in order to negotiate with Kevin Hayes before July 1 and then signed him to a seven-year, $50 million dollar contract. Are you serious? Did Fletcher not watch him during the playoffs with the Jets?  Winnipeg acquired Hayes from the Rangers at the deadline to play behind Mark Scheifele but Hayes was unable to supplant Bryan Little and ended up slogging away on the Jets fourth line in the playoffs.

Hayes set a career high in points last year with the Rangers and Jets with 55 points. He played four seasons under Alain Vigneault in New York so its obvious Vigneault was tooting his horn. But this is a massive overpay for a player who cannot handle the pace of today’s game. Expect more of this insanity on July 1.

Desperate Times – If you asked me what the Canucks might do on July 1, I would have no idea. When it comes to the Canucks, it just seems like a long series of mixed messages.  Are they rebuilding, retooling? No wait, they are now going ‘all-in’ for a playoff spot next season.

During a recent interview on TSN 1040, the brilliant mind of Ray Ferarro mused that the Canucks seem to have no real identity and no clear plan. Under Further Review has been singing from this songbook for five years. The Canucks are a study in conflicting messages. The narrative seems to change every year. It starts with dreadfully poor communication within the organization and it goes from there. As I have stated many times, the buck stops with the owner and if you want to point fingers you have to start there. Benning deserves much of the blame from the hockey operations side of the business for assembling such a strange brew of complimentary players with not enough size, not enough scoring and not enough puck movers on defense.  Five years into the big rebuild, Alexander Edler is still the team’s number one defenseman. What an indictment!

We recently chronicled the pitiful lack of scoring in the Canucks bottom six forwards and unless that somehow changes, a playoff spot next season is out of the question. Would you like some evidence? Last season, the Canucks had seven forwards making over $3 million dollars who had less than 31 points. Antoine Roussel ($3 million, 31 points) was the high-water mark. Below him, it was a minefield of wasteful spending. Louie Eriksson ($6 million, 29 points). Sven Bartschi ($3.66 million, 14 points). Jay Beagle ($3 million, 13 points). Brandon Sutter ($4.375 million, 6 points). Ryan Spooner ($3.1 million and a combined 7 points with the Canucks and Oilers). Tanner Pearson ($3.75 million and a combined 26 points with the Canucks and Penguins). That’s almost $24 million dollars for a total of 109 points. Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning had 128 points all by himself.

Simply said, it’s a patchwork of futility. In the immortal words of Woody Allen, it’s a mockery, of a travesty, of a sham. Had the Canucks spent their money more wisely, they could be sitting with a ton of cap space. It seems like their salary cap sophistication went out the window when they cut Laurence Gilman loose, an ill-advised move to say the least.

Miller’s Time – It was pointed out to me this week that the Canucks trade for JT Miller seemed like a desperate attempt by Jim Benning to make a splash with the NHL Draft taking place in Vancouver.  It almost seems like he felt compelled to do something major. Trouble is, it was ill-advised and absolutely mind-boggling. first reported that the JT Miller trade with Tampa involved a first round pick coming to the Canucks. That makes total sense. When I heard that the Canucks were surrendering a first rounder, I almost fell off my chair. I have spoken to numerous people since the deal came down and it’s unanimous that the deal does not make any sense.  Why would you take on $21 million dollars in salary commitments – $5.25 million for each of the next four years – and have to give up first and third round picks in the process. It’s ludicrous. This was a classic salary dump by the Lightning, yet it was the Canucks who gave up the draft choices. In today’s NHL economy, the Canucks are the team supposed to be getting the first pick in a deal like that. This is the type of trade you make when you are on the verge of winning a Cup or are a perennial playoff team, not a team that is still several years away from serious Cup contention.

So if the Canucks are back in the lottery next season, the pick is lottery protected and it defers to 2021. But the pick is not lottery-protected that year so this is very dangerous territory. Yes, think Ottawa Senators and the trade of Matt Duchene that just landed Bowen Byram in the lap of the Colorado Avalanche. Considering the Canucks luck that will be the year they suddenly move way up in the lottery or worse yet, win the lottery. But what does Jim Benning care?  He may be out of a job by then and the new GM will be left holding the bag.

There’s no doubt Miller will help the Canucks who are in desperate need of top six forwards. But be forewarned. He only scored 13 goals and 47 points in 75 games last year with the Lightning.  To have those numbers on the top scoring team in the league is very concerning. He’s also now been traded three times in two years.

NHL Draft Leftovers – Did you notice that Francesco Aquilini was sitting at the Canucks table on draft day? Yes, that’s not terribly unusual but would you like your boss sitting next to you when you are working? I am always very uncomfortable when the owner of the team is sitting with front office staff at the draft table.  The optics of that make me squirm. Here’s a poll question for you – who’s more desperate for the Canucks to make the playoffs, Jim Benning or Francesco Aquilini?

Speaking of the unusual, the Canucks didn’t take one single defenseman with any of their nine picks in this year’s draft. They went with diminutive Swede Nils Hoglander in the second round instead of tabbing one of several defensemen who were still available. With the very next pick, Vegas grabbed Kaedan Korzcak from Kelowna, a big right-shot defenseman the Canucks could definitely use. I had speculated that Korczak might be available when the Canucks selected in the second round. Korczak projects to be an outstanding defensive defenseman and excellent penalty killer.  He’s a player who could have paired with Quinn Hughes in a few years. No hockey fan needs to be reminded of the value of big, right-shot defensemen. Trading for them is next to impossible so why would you not take a flyer on a prospect like Korczak in the second round over a 5’9” forward? To me, Thomas Gradin has way too much influence in the Canucks draft room. They always seem to have to select a Swede no matter what.

Thanks to the JT Miller trade, the Canucks didn’t have a third round pick. Had they kept the pick, they could have selected Vasily Podkolzin’s teammate from Yaroslavl, centreman Ilya Nikolaev. No, that would have made too much sense. Nikolaev went 88th overall to the Calgary Flames.

One footnote to the Canucks drafting of Vasily Podkolzin. He was one of the youngest players in the draft.  He just turned 18 and is actually eligible to play in two more World Junior tournaments. Podkolzin will no doubt captain the Russian team and should dominate.

You have to now wonder if the selection of Podkolzin will influence the decision by Canucks defenseman Nikita Tryamkin to return to the NHL.  The towering Tryamkin returned to the KHL after being used sparingly by former Canucks coach Willie Desjardins. He’s still only 24 and may be better off on the smaller NHL ice. But it’s hard to gauge whether he has improved playing back in Russia since we get very little Intel from Putin’s World. The big question is whether Tryamkin has learned to process the game quicker.

Boston College is looking like an NCAA powerhouse next season. The Eagles will feature three more NHL first round draft picks in their lineup including Colorado first rounder Alex Newhook, Minnesota first rounder Mathew Boldy and Florida’s top pick, goaltender Spencer Knight.

A Study in Rebuilds – Have you been taking note of the Rangers rebuild in New York. They ripped the Band-Aid off more than two years ago now and the short-term pain is starting to pay big dividends, something the Canucks refused to do five years ago and they are still feeling the effects.

You will remember the Rangers sent a letter to season stick holders advising them that they planned to tear it down to the studs.  Well, the worst is over in New York and we should start to see some real progress next season. Of course, it helped to move up in the draft lottery and land Finnish sensation Kaapo Kaako with the second overall pick last weekend. Kaako is NHL ready and should waltz into the Rangers lineup next season and contend for the Calder Trophy.  The trade for Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba was a huge coup for the Rangers.  He will instantly move into their top pairing.

The accumulation of draft picks is where the Rangers really hit the jackpot. A series of trades.  The Rangers had two first round picks this year before trading one back to the Jets for Trouba.  They had three last year and two more in 2017 but a ton of extra picks in the second and third rounds. Here’s the net result. Last year, the Rangers landed Russian forward Vitali Kravtsov, USDTP defenseman K’Andre Miller and Swedish defenseman Nils Lundkvist in the first round. Kravtsov is expected to be in the Rangers lineup next season and should make an immediate impact. In 2017, the Rangers tabbed two centers in the first round, Sweden’s Lias Andersson and Czech Filip Chytil.  Both got their feet wet in the NHL last season. Don’t forget, previous to that, the Rangers went four years without selecting in the first round.

The rebuild may be far from complete but it will be interesting to watch the team continue to grow. They still could be in the lottery for two more seasons but in my estimation, they went about the rebuild in the right way and look poised for great things down the road.

OK, You’re In Too – The Hockey Hall of Fame is a joke, let’s be honest. When Dick Duff made the Hall of Fame, all reality went out the window. Bob Pulford followed a short time later. Go down the list of names and it’s incomprehensible. Clark Gillies? Dave Andreychuk? Dino Ciccarelli? Rod Langway? Rogie Vachon? All great players in their own right but Hall of Famers?  Longevity should not be a major criteria.

So what happens this week?  The Hall of Fame selection committee names former Montreal Canadiens centre Guy Carbonneau to the Hall. Carbonneau was an outstanding defensive centreman who won three Stanley Cups during his career. But I’m sorry, he’s not a Hall of Famer. The Hall should be for players who dominant the game for a period of time and stand out above all others. It’s not the Hall of the Very Good. And if you are wondering, Roberto Luongo is a Hall of Famer, no question. All you have to do is check his career numbers.

La La Laughs – Yes, we saw where the Lakers have kicked everyone to the curb to clear space to go after another ‘max’ player to team with Anthony Davis and his Lebron-ness. Right now, the Lakers only have Davis, James, and Kyle Kuzma under contract. Do the Lakers know that you actually need to have 14 players under contract and 12 dressed for every game? Maybe they are planning to play three against five.

They are reportedly going to have meetings with Kyrie Irving and yes, Kawhi Leonard. I guess we can assume they are going to scour the league to find a dozen or so veteran free agents who are all going to agree to play for the league minimum just for the luxury of playing with Lebron and friends? Really? If Kawhi agrees to join that dysfunctional mess, he’s crazy!

Home Away From Home – The trial balloon launched by Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Stenberg is a hot topic around baseball circles. Major League Baseball has given the green light to study a proposal for the Rays to split their home games between Tampa and Montreal with new ballparks envisioned for both cities. The very premise is fraught with all kinds of potential landmines.The Player’s Association immediately responded by saying it would have to be part of collective bargaining and any move would have to gain the permission of the players union.

Think about it for a second. Stenberg has an iron-clad lease in Tampa Bay until 2027 and has been trying to get a new ballpark there for 11 years.  It’s not going to happen. The good news is Stephen Bronfman and his consortium have now purchased land in Montreal for a new ballpark. Get a shovel in the ground and you now have real momentum.  But until that happens, it’s all still a hope and prayer.

If you look further, the idea of playing half a season in both cities is downright bizarre. To which country do the players pay taxes?  Can you expect the players to keep houses in both cities?  It may be OK for young players who are single but what about players and coaches and staff who have children in school? What about media from both cities trying to cover the team throughout the year? The whole thing sounds like a logistical nightmare to me.

By the way, Stenberg purchased controlling interest in the team in 2004 for $200 million dollars.  The Forbes valuation of the team is currently $1 billion. Do you think he might want to sell and walk away with a healthy profit?

The Best of Yogi – The King of Malaprops, of course, is the great Yankees catcher Yogi Berra. We offer up ten gems and will follow with more in the weeks to come.

  1. When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
  2. You can observe a lot by just watching.
  3. It ain’t over till it’s over.
  4. It’s like déjà vu all over again.
  5. No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded.
  6. Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.
  7. A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.
  8. Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.
  9. We made too many wrong mistakes.
  10. Congratulations. I knew the record would stand until it was broken.

The King of Slydeco – For those of you in the Vancouver area, we leave you with an upcoming concert recommendation – the one and only Sonny Landreth – Saturday, August 24 at the RIO Theatre, 1160 East Broadway. As a native of Louisiana, Landreth is known as the King of Slydeco. Eric Clapton refers to him as one of the most advanced guitarists in the world and perhaps the most under-appreciated.  Those of us who have seen him certainly know different.  Landreth is best known for his slide playing, with a technique where he also frets notes, plays chords and chord fragments by fretting behind the slide as he plays.  He uses the slide on his little finger allowing him a greater ability to use his remaining fingers to fret behind the slide.

Sonny first played in Clifton Chenier’s Red Hot Louisiana Band and was the only white member.  He released his first record “Blues Attack” in 1981.  In 1982 he, along with harmonica player Mel Melton formed the band Bayou Rhythm, eventually adding C.J. Chenier to their line-up.  Along the way Landreth has played with John Hiatt, as well as John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and has been a featured performer at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festivals. See for yourself in this video from a live performance in Lafayette, Louisiana. You’ll love the guy on ukulele bass.