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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. This week, we pick our Stanley Cup winner. We take stock of the Canucks and it’s time to light a fuse under the Jays.

Stanley Cup Final Preview – We were wrong about the Edmonton Oilers. They have been the surprise of the NHL playoffs and are poised to end Canada’s 31-year Stanley Cup drought. Can they take the final step? It’s a big hill to climb. The Oilers have reached the final for the first time in 18 years. The Florida Panthers were in the final just a year ago and that experience has to factor in.

The special teams battle is always a big talking point. The Oilers have killed off 28 straight penalties and we already know all about their potent power-play. It could be the tipping point if the Panthers lose their discipline. Florida was one of the NHL’s most penalized teams during the regular season.

You have to figure Florida has the advantage in goal when you size up Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Stu Skinner. But that’s what we said about the Dallas series when everyone assumed Jake Oettinger provided the Stars a big advantage. We will stick to our view that Skinner is not a top echelon goalie and it will reveal itself in the final.

Edmonton has had the easier path to the final. They should have plenty left. Can Florida stop the dynamic duo of McDavid and Draisaitl? Barkov and Tkachuk are a pretty solid duo themselves. The Panthers will benefit from the break and they come in a lot healthier than a year ago when they were banged up and had nothing left. The Oilers defence has held up surprisingly well and the bottom-six has been better than expected. Will that change starting Saturday?

The decisive factor will be the Panthers forecheck. They will apply far more pressure than the Dallas Stars and it should force mistakes. Florida should also do a better job defending the rush, limiting the Oilers space in the neutral zone and making it harder for clean entries.

Goaltending, scoring depth, forecheck, physicality and experience all favour the Panthers. Barkov, Bennett and Lundell give Florida the overall advantage down the middle. As much as we would like to see a Canadian team bring the Cup back to Canada, we are picking Florida in the final.

Stanley Cup or not, the Florida Panthers may look a whole lot different next season. With a dozen players on expiring contracts, no team, outside of Vancouver, has tougher decisions to make. Sam Reinhart, coming off a 57-goal season, leads the list of pending unrestricted free agents. Making matters worse, key cogs Aaron Ekblad, Sam Bennett and Carter Verhaeghe are a year away from free agency. Who do you try and extend this summer? You can’t sign everyone. Look for the Panthers to try and unload Ekblad’s contract which has two years to run at $8 million.

Footnote: Only 12 players in NHL history have scored 50 or more goals in a season at the age of 31 or older. Zach Hyman of the Oilers is now one of them. Way to go Leafs!

Canucks Autopsy 2.0 – Looking back at the Canucks 2023-24 season, the good news is that several players really delivered and played above expectations. The bad news is that several players really delivered and played above expectations. Unfortunately for the Canucks, the bill for all the success is now coming due. If the Canucks want to bring back several pending free agents, there just isn’t enough cap space to make it happen. It would be a shame to lose Dakota Joshua and Nikita Zadorov, two fan favourites, but it may happen.

We can assume Elias Lindholm is going to receive an offer on July 1 north of $7.5 million per season. That should take the Canucks out of the equation. If Lindholm lands a deal in that neighbourhood, the contract figures to be a mistake the minute the ink dries especially if it comes with a minimum 3 to 4-year term. Lindholm’s regular season numbers have declined each of the past two seasons and that’s reason enough to walk away. For the Canucks, it’s a signing too risky to consider.

If the Canucks lose Lindholm in free agency, they might want to check on Colton Sissons of the Nashville Predators. Sissons is from North Van. He’ll be 31 in November and like Lindholm, is a coveted right-shot center who can win draws and kill penalties. Sissons did a great job against the Canucks in the playoffs. While Sissons may not replace Lindholm’s scoring, he would be a nice fit on the third line and the price is right. Sissons has two years remaining on his contract at just over $2.8 million per season.

The Canucks have a greater need on the wing where scoring depth is thin. Brock Boeser was the only Canuck winger to score over 50 points this season. The Dallas Stars had five wingers go over that mark. Early indications are Dakota Joshua could land up to $4 million per year in free agency. If that’s the case, the Canucks may have to look elsewhere. Two names to remember – Carolina’s Jordan Martinook and William Carrier of the Vegas Golden Knights. Either one would be a good potential UFA replacement.

Gadfly Gadzik – Sportsnet hockey analyst Luke Gadzik has been receiving generally positive reviews for his studio work in the NHL playoffs. Of course, the bar is so low when it comes to hockey broadcasters in Canada, it’s not hard to stand out when you’re trying to upstage Kelly Hrudey and Jennifer Botterill. The attention must have swelled Gadzik’s hockey-concussed cranium because he went off on Canuck fans during an appearance on some two-bit Edmonton podcast.

Sportsnet has had to cover his tracks, issuing the following statement:

“Luke is relatively new to broadcasting on the national stage, and having millions of people watching him every night comes with an elevated level of scrutiny. As Luke was preparing to appear on the podcast, he received vile, personal attacks toward himself and his family on social media. The content of these social comments was completely unacceptable and crossed a line,” the unsigned response read.

“Luke’s response on the podcast was an emotional one and he made the mistake of taking what some people said to him online and generalized about the entire Canucks fan base. He understands his conduct was inappropriate and we are confident it won’t happen again.”

The big question now is whether Gadzik will be pulled from appearances on Canucks regional telecasts next fall. He’s clearly an Oilers booster. Gadzik played parts of four seasons in the NHL including three with Edmonton. He played 147 NHL games, scoring a grand total of five goals and three assists. They say his best asset was his ability to take a punch.

NHL Notebook – Dallas GM Jim Nill played it too conservative at the trade deadline. His only major acquisition was Chris Tanev. When you are a clear-cut contender, you have to be willing to take greater risks. Not adding another scorer up front was a mistake. In the series against Edmonton, it was clear the Stars two 39-year-olds. Joe Pavelski and Ryan Suter, were at the end of the line. Pavelski has already announced his retirement. Suter needs to pack it in as well.

The Buffalo Sabres haven’t made a post-season appearance in 13 seasons. They’re caught in a perpetual rebuild. The Sabres have pissed away a long list of players who could be contributing to a playoff calibre team. Witness the players on the 2016-2018 rosters who have fled the Pothole City. The list includes Sam Reinhart, Brandon Montour, Jack Eichel, Dmitry Kulikov, Kyle Okposo, Jake McCabe, Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, Evan Rodrigues, and goaltender Linus Ullmark. The Panthers have cornered the market on former Sabres. Reinart, Montour, Kulikov, Okposo and Rodrigues are all headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

Forget about Mitch Marner getting traded by the Leafs. Do you really think he will waive his no-trade clause? Why would he? He’s a God in Toronto!

Have you ever seen a summer when so many top-tier goalies could be on the move? Jakob Markstrom, John Gibson, Juuse Saros and Linus Ullmark are all reportedly available. Start the bidding!

Had a chance to watch the Rangers Matt Rempe for a couple of shifts in the series vs. Florida. It was apparent his skating is nowhere near NHL calibre. Rempe’s turns are glacial. His sole purpose is to run around and cause havoc. The word is out. Players are aware of him at all times. All Rempe does is take bad penalties. Not a guy you can use in the playoffs.

When rebuilding teams take on bad contracts to weaponize cap space and accumulate draft picks, it does come at a price. It’s hard to improve your roster in the short term. The Philadelphia Flyers are stuck between a rock and a hard place right now after overachieving this season. On the books for the Flyers next season are $5 million for goalie Cal Petersen, $3.57 million in retained salary for Kevin Hayes, a $1.66 million buyout charge for Tony DeAngelo and another $6.25 million on LTIR for Ryan Ellis. Totalled up, it’s $16,480,000. That’s a lot of money for nothing. (But the chicks are free!)

The Seattle Kraken have hired Dan Bylsma as their new head coach, replacing Dave Hakstol. Cue the yawn! And we thought Travis Green was an uninspiring choice in Ottawa. We gave Ron Francis more credit.

How about what’s happening in Utah? The team doesn’t even have a name yet and they’ve sold 34 thousand season ticket deposits at a hundred bucks a pop. The selection of a team name is now down to six contenders – Utah Blizzard, Utah Hockey Club (Utah HC), Utah Mammoth, Utah Outlaws, Utah Venom and Utah Yeti.

Look for the Yeti to be busy this off-season. The now defunct Coyotes have more than $40 million in cap space. They claim they won’t go spend-crazy but when you have no defencemen under contract, you have no choice but to hit the market hard. The plan is to offer high AAV’s but a short term so the cap remains flexible when the bevy of prospects start to mature and become more expensive.

The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since H.R Pufnstuf had just begun sending coded “Smoke Marijuana” messages to North American youngsters.

The Great Scot – How can you not be happy to see Robert MacIntyre win the Canadian Open? It was a great story. His Dad Dougie was on the bag for MacIntyre’s first PGA Tour win. Dad taught him to play the game on his home course in Scotland where Dougie is the head groundskeeper. After the victory, Dougie told television viewers, “I can’t believe it. I’m just a grass cutter.” How can you not love that kind of humility?

Last year’s Canadian Open victory by Nick Taylor appears to have lifted the pressure off all the Canadian Tour players. Mackenzie Hughes had three quick birdies on Sunday and was momentarily tied for the lead. A pair of bogeys on two of the easiest holes on the front side took him out of contention. A final round 65 from Corey Connors allowed him to be the top Canadian. Connors finished in sixth spot, his first top ten this season. Hughes fell into a tie for seventh after a final round 70.

Rory McIlroy and Tom Kim were paired for the final two rounds over the weekend. The combined to go 22-under with matching rounds of 65 and 64 to finish T4.

Kudos to Surrey’s Adam Svensson for qualifying for this year’s U.S. Open. After finishing T51 in Hamilton, he fired back-to-back 65’s on Monday at a qualifier in Ridgeway, Ontario to punch his ticket to Pinehurst. Got to appreciate his effort.

One Canadian Open footnote: Forget about the Open coming to Vancouver again anytime soon. Golf Canada says the RBC Canadian Open is unlikely to move away from the Greater Toronto area, at least for the foreseeable future. The cost of moving the tournament around the country has just become too prohibitive. You need venues that can handle the massive scale of the event and clubs like Shaughnessy in Vancouver just don’t have the facilities and space necessary.

Hopefully, we may see some more heroics from the Canadian contingent at this week’s Memorial tournament in Dublin, Ohio. Abbotsford’s Adam Hadwin has the first-round lead after a six-under 66 that included four birdies in the final five holes. Corey Connor is sitting in a tie for third after a four-under 68.

Rewriting History – There’s a lot to unpack following news that Major League Baseball will now include Negro League records into a newly integrated statistical database. At first blush, the reaction may be “was this really necessary?” Baseball purists are certainly uncomfortable. Others surely feel it’s long overdue.

It’s taken three years of methodical work to put the information together. The great Josh Gibson is now the all-time batting average leader at .372, five points ahead of Ty Cobb. The problem is, based on the data available, Gibson only played in 607 games. Cobb played 3,034 games. Cobb had 11,400 at-bats and struck out only 350 times. Doesn’t seem right. Oh well, Cobb was a prickly SOB anyway. Gibson also now holds the record for the highest average in a single season at .466, set in 1943, and in career OPS.

There’s a lot you can question. Unreliable score-keeping. Bandbox stadiums with short outfield porches. Lack of quality pitching. But those questions also apply to major league baseball. The decision to integrate the stats certainly opens up plenty of debate but that’s never hurt the game. There were loads of great ballplayers in the old Negro Leagues and they should be recognized.

One thing is certain. The revised records will not sway everyone. It almost seems like its major league baseball’s attempt to whitewash the racism that existed for decades. The Negro Leagues didn’t need validation. MLB needs to ask itself why more young black athletes are not playing the game. It’s white. It’s Latino. Where are the great black stars of yesteryear? They’re playing basketball and football. They’re not playing baseball and the game suffers.

The Splendid Splinter – Many baseball diehards will argue that Ted Williams is the greatest hitter in baseball history. A lot of people think his .406 average in the 1941 season is the true single season batting average record. His career batting average was .344. Did you know that Ted Williams lifetime OBP was .482? That means he reached base almost 50 percent of the time for his entire 19-year career. That’s absolutely sick.

What makes Williams larger-than-life is when you factor in his war record. Williams was a U.S. Marine fighter pilot who missed three seasons serving in World War II. He also missed parts of two other seasons when he was called back to serve in the Korean War. This was active duty. He wasn’t hanging around signing autographs.

Williams was one of dozens of MLB players who were part of the World War II war effort. Yogi Berra, Bob Feller, Ralph Kiner, Bob Lemon, Stan Musial, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider and Phil Rizzuto were among the major league players who served in the Navy. Jackie Robinson, Warren Spahn, Monte Irvin, Larry Doby and Hoyt Wilhelm were among those who served in the Army. Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and Whitey Ford were part of the Korean War effort.

Robinson had a terrible Army experience. In 1944, he volunteered for combat with the segregated 761st Tank Battalion. While stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, Robinson remained in his seat after the white driver ordered him to move to the back of an Army bus, as was the custom in the Jim Crow South. Although acquitted at his court-martial and given an honorable medical discharge, Jackie left the Army to play baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues. He would break the colour barrier in baseball in April, 1947.

Literally hundreds of Negro League players stepped forward and served with distinction including Don Newcombe, Buck O’Neil, Joe Black and Lyman Bostock Sr. Referring to the colour line in baseball, MLB Commissioner Happy Chandler offered the now famous quote, “If they can fight and die in Okinawa and Guadacanal in the South Pacific, they can play baseball in America.”

Blue Jays Notebook – The Toronto Blue Jays are a bad baseball team. Let’s not sugarcoat it. They win a few in a row but then they fall right back into a familiar pattern. That’s what bad teams do. It’s hard to argue with the assessment of the Jays from baseball analyst Buster Olney who says it’s time the Jays acknowledge the reality of their situation and start changing the messaging to make fans aware of the potential for change. In other words, stop acting like everything is OK because it’s NOT.

This is a team that’s set a new club record by going 28 consecutive games (and counting) without scoring a run in the first inning.  Overall, they’ve scored the fewest runs in the first inning of any team in baseball. The cleanup spot in the batting order is a black hole.

A year ago, the Jays pitching staff was virtually injury-free. Not this year. Injuries to the staff have been piling up. Alek Manoah is awaiting a second opinion on his elbow. That can’t be good. Jordan Romano is on the disabled list. Erik Swanson is in the minors after arm trouble in training camp. Ricky Tiedemann is having arm issues – again. The Jays are suddenly without a fifth starter and the bullpen is over-taxed.  And the front office keeps waxing optimistic!

Just a question but was Davis Schneider in ‘Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigilo’? Could be wrong. Maybe it was ‘Debbie Does Dallas.’

We don’t often wade in on uniforms in sports. It’s entirely subjective. The Blue Jays new, City Connects uniforms are getting positive reviews but they still look like Bob’s Auto Parts slo-pitch team from Smithers. Some of the other alternative uniforms around baseball are god-awful. The Tigers all-black unis are a joke. Just another money grab as far as we’re concerned.

If you were watching the Blue Jays game in Chicago on May 29 against the White Sox, you had to shake your head at the umpiring crews refusal to call the game. It was 7-2 for the Jays in the bottom of the ninth inning. They were in the midst of a torrential downpour. The start of the game had already been delayed by an hour. The White Sox are the worst team in baseball. Why not just call the game? When they finally resumed the game at 11pm Chicago time, there were 39 fans in the stands according to Jays reporter Shi Davidi who actually counted them. Yes, the game ended 7-2. How stupid is that?

MLB Notebook – What did we say about gambling in sports becoming a huge problem? Major League Baseball has just slapped Padres infielder Tucupita Marcano with a lifetime ban for betting on baseball. Marcano reportedly placed nearly 400 bets on baseball games totalling more than $150 thousand. Four other minor leaguers were suspended for one year. Each of the four wagered under $1,000. Marcano’s suspension follows on the heels of the NBA’s lifetime ban of the Raptors Jontay Porter. Can you say ‘tip of the iceberg?’

Cleveland Indians infielder Josh Naylor is putting up some big power numbers so far this season. The Mississauga native has 16 homers and 45 RBI’s despite a .224 batting average. Naylor has quietly made himself into an everyday player.

We spent some time putting together a lineup for Team Canada for the next World Baseball Classic and it’s actually pretty decent. The days of Brett Lawrie and ‘pray for rain’ are over. Canada’s roster is no longer chopped liver.

The infield would include Freddie Freeman at first, Edouard Julien of the Minnesota Twins at second, Abraham Toro at short (this is not a position of strength), and Tyler Black of the Milwaukee Brewers at third. Vladdy qualifies as a Canadian since he was born in Montreal but we doubt he would suit up for Canada. Behind the plate, it’s Bo Naylor. In the outfield, we have Surrey’s Damian Palmegiani in left, Owen Caissie of the Cubs in center and Tyler O’Neill of the Red Sox in right. Josh Naylor would be the DH. Otto Lopez and Joey Votto would be on the bench. The pitching staff is very solid. The starters would include Nick Pivetta, James Paxton, Cal Quantrill, Jameson Taillon and Mike Soroka. In the bullpen, you have Matt Brash, Zach Pop, Jordan Romano and young Cade Smith of the Cleveland Indians. The manager is the Phillies Rob Thomson. Alex Anthopoulos would be the obvious choice as GM. Pretty competitive overall and a heck of a lot better than it was five years ago.

10 Cent Beer Night – How can we not mark the 50th anniversary of 10 Cent Beer Night? It took place on June 4, 1974 in Cleveland during a game between the Indians and the Texas Rangers. In a bizarre attempt to attract fans, the Indians decided to offer 12 oz. beers at ten cents apiece. As you might expect, total chaos ensured.

Ten years ago, ESPN marked the occasion of the 40th anniversary of 10 Cent Beer night with a lengthy report. Here’s the video.

Spanning the Globe – ABC’s Wide World of Sports was an iconic sports anthology show that aired from 1961 until 1967. The show was broadcast on Saturday afternoons and hosted by venerable broadcaster Jim McKay. In 2007, Time Magazine named the show of the 100 best TV programs of all time. It was the first U.S. network show to air coverage of Wimbledon, Indy 500 and Daytona 500, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, the Little League World Series, British Open Golf and yes, the Grey Cup in 1962.

What made the show legendary was the fact it exposed viewers to sports from around the globe including hurling, powerlifting, demolition derby, barrel jumping and logger sports. The opening of the show left an indelible mark on everyone. How can you forget it?

Spanning the globe 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 ABC’s Wide World of Sports!  (Opening to the show was written by Stanley Ralph Ross and narrated by Jim McKay)

One thing we have tried to do with this column is bring some humour back into sports writing. We harken back to the great wordsmiths who once graced the sports pages of major newspapers in Canada and the U.S. Who can ever forget Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times? He was once sent to cover the Indianapolis 500 and started his column with – “Gentlemen, start your coffins.” Describing Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Dick Stuart, Murray penned, “Watching Dick Stuart play first base is like watching a bear trying to catch a fish.” Vancouver sports writer Jim Taylor was always good for a laugh. He once described curling as “Eskimo bowling for the intellectually impaired.”

Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated got it right when he said, “I believe the one thing that’s largely gone out of sportswriting is what made sport such fertile literary territory in the first place – the characters, the tales, the humour, the pain, what Hollywood calls ‘the arc.’

Random Leftovers – Our Canadian national soccer team is off to a rocky start in the lead-up to the Copa America tournament. On Thursday, Team Canada (ranked 49th in the world) opened a tour of Europe with a friendly against the Netherlands. They were promptly body-slammed 4-nil. The Canadians deserve some credit for holding the Dutch to a scoreless draw at halftime.

Canada goes from the proverbial frying pan and into the fire with another huge challenge against No. 2 France on Sunday. Canada opens the Copa America competition on June 20 against World Cup champion Argentina. The Netherlands and France are preparing for Euro 2024, which begins June 14 in Germany.

It’s a slippery slope when major professional sports start to combine statistics from different leagues. The NBA now recognizes the ABA in their record book after making the decision to combine statistical records. If the NHL included WHA stats, the all-time goal-scoring leader would be Gordie Howe with 975 goals. Gretzky would be second with 940. Bobby Hull would be third with 913. If this is where it’s going, you will have to add an asterix next to every record.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Kirk Cousins must have a very good agent. Career earnings: $412 million. Cousins has one playoff win and zero Super Bowls on his resume. Tom Brady’s career earnings: $333 million. He has 35 playoff wins and six Super Bowl rings.

It seems absolutely ridiculous that the NBA season could end sooner than the NHL but that’s exactly what may happen. The Boston Celtics blew the doors off the Dallas Mavericks in the opening game of the NBA Final. Looks like it could be a short series.

Canada’s Zach Edey has worked out with the Toronto Raptors ahead of the upcoming NBA Draft. The Raptors have the 19th pick and Edey is among the players who may be available when Toronto is on the board. The towering 7-foot-4 center is the two-time NCAA Player of the Year. He averaged 25.2 points and 12.2 rebounds this season at Purdue. Basketball junkies are wondering if his game will transfer to the NBA. Edey has had his doubters for years now. All he does is keep improving so don’t bet against him having a solid NBA career.

Can someone please stop the hype on Bronny James? It’s doubtful he will be taken in the upcoming NBA draft. Maybe by the Lakers late in the second round so they can milk the playing-with-Dad thing. He’s a bust waiting to happen. Go ahead, waste some more ink.

Hot List – Here’s a Top 10 Playlist for this week for your listening pleasure.

  1. Jerry Douglas – ‘Right On Time’ from the release Traveler featuring Marc Cohn on vocals
  2. St Germain – ‘Sure Thing’ from the release Tourist
  3. Dave Alvin – ‘California Bloodlines” from the album West of the West
  4. Delta Moon – ‘Shake ‘em On Down’ from their self-titled release
  5. Indra Rios-Moore – ‘Little Black Train’ from the release Heartland
  6. Ben Poole – ‘I Think I Love You Too Much’ from the album Time Has Come
  7. John Mayer – ‘Who You Love’ featuring Katy Perry from the release Paradise Valley
  8. Alvin Lee – ‘Nice & Easy’ from the release Still On the Road to Freedom
  9. Zachary Richard – ‘Acadian Driftwood’ featuring Celine Dion from the album Last Kiss
  10. Amos Lee – ‘El Camino’ from the album Mission Bell

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