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This week, Under Further Review rides the Raptors bandwagon, sings the Bruins blues plus a preview of the NHL Draft and a golf course that stands the test of time. 

A Title Awaits – It’s been far too long since any major sports world championship resided in Canada. The drought is about to end on Monday night. The Raptors find themselves just one win away from the NBA championship and you have believe they will close it out at home on Monday night.

The last time a Canadian team won a world title was 1993 when the Blue Jays and the Montreal Canadiens both won championships. I am surprised that more people didn’t see this coming. The Raptors won 58 games in the regular season despite the fact that Kawhi Leonard missed 22 games as part of his load management program. How many games would the Raptors have won if he had played the entire schedule?

History favours the Raptors. Teams that lead the NBA Finals 3-1 are 33-and-1 all-time. The only team to come back from that deficit is the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, not-so-coincidentally, against the Warriors.

You have to wonder if the Warriors are feeling the effects of five straight trips to the NBA Finals. Long playoff runs take a physical toll and the Warriors looks beaten down, which explains the epidemic of injuries. Steph Curry goes off for 47 points in game three and the Warriors still lose. Not a good sign! Toronto looks like the fresher, more determined team. Make no mistake, the Raptors have a belief that they can win the title and they are playing like it.

The Raptors have been able to figure out the tendencies of their opponents in each playoff series and then their defense has taken over, stifling teams to the point where they have pretty much crushed their spirit. Toronto is killing the Warriors on the screen and roll. They had their way with them in the second half last night and it turned the game around. Every time the Raptors needed a big bucket, they broke the Warriors down and got it.

What they have to do is play with more offensive consistency.  They hit 17 three’s in game three, then went 2 for 17 from beyond the arc in the first half of game four. Kawhi kept them afloat then sparked the second half run. He’s been the best player in the series by a country mile and is poised to win his second NBA Finals MVP. Leonard now has 14 30-point games in the playoffs, one shy of Kobe’s post-season record. He’s averaging 31 points, 10 boards and 4 assists in the finals – shooting 50% overall, 39% from 3-point range, 89% from the line, not to mention his tremendous defense.  But it’s his calmness and resolve that separates him and elevates him to superstar status.

Let’s just hope Canada can celebrate on Monday night. We the North Baby!

Kawhi’n Time Again – Bro Jake pointed out on the show last weekend what is probably the most compelling reason for Kawhi Leonard to re-sign with the Raptors. Under the current CBA and how it’s structured, Kawhi is in position to sign a new five-year contract with the Raptors that will max out at $190 million. A cool $38 million per season. The most he could receive from any other NBA team is four years and $141 million, an average of $35.25 per season.  That fifth year on the deal is massive. Being able to tack on the fifth year is a huge advantage for the Raptors and may just keep him in Toronto.

Case of the Blues – Its ‘put-up’ time for the Bruins.  Down 3-2 in the series, Boston has no room for error. The Bruins top line scored 12 goals and 26 points in the six games following losses in the 2019 playoffs. That is, up until game five. Boston has been living off the power-play which has suddenly gone 0 for 5 in the last two games. It appears to me as though the Bruins have run out of gas.  Similar to the Warriors story, there’s a physical toll that comes into play in the NHL marathon, especially for teams that make the playoffs year after year, and it seems like the Bruins have hit the wall.  The injuries on the blueline haven’t helped matters.

As my good friend the Huckster pointed out to me this week and something I have emphasized in my blog, the NHL playoffs are ‘Big Boys Hockey.’ Do you want proof?  Here’s a rundown of the St. Louis Blues defense – size and weight – Alex Pietrangelo (6”3”, 210 lb.); Colton Parayko (6’6”, 230 lbs.); Carl Gunnarsson (6’2”, 198 lbs.); Joel Edmundson (6’4” 215 lbs.); Vince Dunn (6’0”, 203 lbs.); Jay Bouwmeester (6’4”, 206 lbs.)’ Robert Bortuzzo (6’4”, 216 lbs.). Need I say more? The Bruins cannot penetrate the Blues defense five on five and they are getting no second chance opportunities.

Do you really think the Canucks will contend for a Cup with Troy Stecher and Quinn Hughes on the blueline, perhaps to be joined by Victor Soderstrom who is 5’11”, 176 lbs. and touted by some to be their top pick in this year’s draft?  Sorry, that’s not a winning hand! Size matters, even in today’s game when they are playing at warp speed.

2019 Entry Draft – The NHL Entry Draft is only a few weeks away and numerous mock drafts have been posted predicting how the first round will play out. Here’s how I see the top ten picks going:

  1. New Jersey – Jack Hughes
  2. New York Rangers – Kaapo Kakko
  3. Chicago – Alex Turcotte
  4. Colorado – Bowen Byram
  5. Los Angeles – Kirby Dach
  6. Detroit – Dylan Couzens
  7. Buffalo – Trevor Zegras
  8. Edmonton – Philip Broberg
  9. Anaheim – Peyton Krebs
  10. Vancouver – Matthew Boldy

I think the top eight are pretty much etched in stone. Zegras could go to Detroit at six which would leave Couzens for Buffalo. Edmonton is reportedly in love with Broberg.  If they go with a forward, it will probably be Boldy although Cole Caufield would make a dynamic partner for Connor McDavid. The way it’s playing out, the Canucks will probably have their choice among several forward prospects including Krebs, Caufield, Boldy, Vasily Podkolzin and Alex Newhook. They desperately need help in their top six forward group so that’s the way they should go.  They should have a chance to select among about five defensemen when their choice comes around in the second round. I like Kaedan Korczak, a right shot defenseman from the Kelowna Rockets. Nice size and good defender.

Sweeteners – Numerous NHL teams need to move money off the books in a hurry. That’s going to be a recurring theme this summer. It’s time for the Canucks to get in on the action. We have mentioned some of the teams and some of the potential names before.  Tampa Bay, Toronto, Vegas, Calgary, Pittsburgh, Washington and Winnipeg all have issues and have to cut salary before they can supplement their rosters this off-season. The Canucks should be eager to take on short-term contracts and reap the benefits. But is the owner on board?

The Leafs and Golden Knights would be happy to throw in a sweetener in order to rid themselves of the final year of the Nathan Horton and David Clarkson contracts. If I am the Canucks, I would happily take on Horton’s contract in return for Jeremy Bracco. Same sort of opportunity exists with Vegas. Use your salary cap space to your advantage. Don’t keep wasting it on second tier free agents who don’t move the needle.

The Architect – It’s very fitting that the 110th Canadian Open is being played at Hamilton Golf & Country Club. It is exactly 100 years since the tournament was first held there. Hamilton G&CC hosted the Open in 1919. The course was designed by famed golf course designer Harry Colt who was born in Highgate, England in 1869. He is known for designing three courses in the Open Championship rota including Muirfield, Hoylake and Royal Portrush. Here in Canada, he also designed Toronto Golf Club.

Overall, Colt was involved in the design of over 300 courses worldwide including 115 on his own. He is perhaps best known for his role in designing Pine Valley Golf Club in Southern New Jersey, the number one ranked golf course in the United States. Colt is also largely credited with introducing the dogleg into course design.

The Draft That Wasn’t – The Major League Baseball Draft took place this week and it has to be the biggest crap shoot in sports. To say there are no sure things is a gross understatement. The players who get drafted are largely unknowns and the path to the major leagues is completely unpredictable.

Perhaps the greatest draft of all time took place in 2000 when the Montreal Expos selected Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Jason Bay and Russell Martin.  In hindsight, it was a draft haul that could have altered the fortunes of the team for more than a decade. Trouble is, none of the four ever played a game for the Expos. Eleven players selected in that draft by the Expos played in the majors which is an alarmingly high percentage. They were worth 142.8 wins above replacement in their careers, the highest WAR of any draft class for any team in a sample conducted by the Associated Press. What makes it more remarkable is none of the four best players taken by the Expos in that 2000 draft were selected in the first round.

As things transpired, the Expos were unable to sign Martin to a contract and foolishly ended up trading Bay the following year. Worse yet, they packaged Sizemore and Lee in a deal with Cleveland that brought Bartolo Colon to Montreal. Can you imagine what a powerhouse that 2004 Expos team would have been with all of those guys in the lineup? They already had the best record in baseball when the shutdown took place.  Had the season not been cancelled, they would have been unbeatable.

Canuck Dream Team – Baseball Edition – If you are a Canadian baseball fan, you can’t help but wonder what Team Canada would look like if another World Baseball Classic were to be played this year. It may surprise you but the team would be very competitive if you could bring all the players together which always seems to be an issue.

The starting pitching staff would actually be quite good. You would start with Yankees ace lefthander James Paxton, the pride of Ladner, BC. You would definitely have the Atlanta Braves emerging star Mike Soroka who’s making a case for National League Rookie of the Year. Add in Jameson Taillon who was born in Calgary before his family moved to Texas to work in the oil industry.  To finish out the rotation you could have Nick Pivetta of the Phillies and fast-rising Padres rookie Cal Quantrill.The bullpen would be led by John Axford of the Blue Jays along with Rowan Wick of the Padres and  Rob Zastryzny of the Cubs.

The middle of the infield would be very iffy particularly at short.  Presumably, they would give Langley’s Brett Lawrie a call to play second base. Major league veteran Mark Teahan played short in previous World Baseball Classics but he’s retired and short would be a big hole to fill.  At third, you have Vladdy Guerrero Jr. who was born in Montreal. At first, you can choose between Freddie Freeman of the Braves and Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds. The corner infield spots would be a big strength of the club. You would have to wheel out Russell Martin of the Dodgers to handle the catching. In the outfield, there’s several decent choices.  Rookie Josh Naylor of the Padres would have a spot along with Dalton Pompey, Tyler O’Neill of the Cardinals and Jim Adduci of the Texas Rangers.

Team Canada could also draw from some recent high MLB draft picks. In 2016, Landon Leach and Adam Hall were second round selections by Minnesota and Baltimore. Last year, another one of the Naylor boys, Noah Naylor, was taken 29th overall in the first round by Cleveland. Just this week, outfielder Dasan Brown was chosen by the Jays while Jake Sanford was a Yankees draft, both taken in the third round.

What’s the overall evaluation?  Good but not great but a heck of a lot better than a decade ago.

Day Old Leftovers – Congratulations to Troy Tulowitski!  The Yankees just placed him on the 60-day disabled list. Is there another athlete in pro sports who has pocketed more money in the last three years and done less than Tulo?  It’s grand larceny!  He’s collected over $60 million in salary from the Blue Jays plus a $34 million ‘get lost’ payment and he’s only played a handful of games. The guy should be ashamed.  If he had an ounce of remorse, he would return some of the money.

Something tells me the Canadian gals are going to do something special at the Women’s World Cup of Soccer that just got underway in France.  I could be off base but I think they are capable of reaching the final.  They are currently ranked fifth in the world and won bronze at the most recent Olympics, so why not? It would be a lovely sayonara for Christine Sinclair.

Yogi-isms – I’ve been thinking about including some malapropism’s in my blog each week as an ode to that incomparable purveyor of the English language – Yogi Berra.  First the definition – A malapropism (also called a malaprop) is the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, sometimes humorous utterance. Here’s a few for you this week:

Chicago Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson on being a role model: “I want all dem’ kids to do what I do, to look up to me. I want all the kids to copulate me.”

New Orleans Saints RB George Rogers when asked about the upcoming season: “I want to rush for 1,000 or 1,500 yards, whichever comes first.”

Torrin Polk, University of Houston receiver, on his coach, John Jenkins:
  “He treat us like mens. He let us wear earrings.”

Football commentator and former player Joe Theismann: “Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.”

A senior basketball player at the University of Pittsburgh: “I’m going to graduate on time, no matter how long it takes.”

Bear Mountain Bound – Congratulations to our winner of a round of golf for two at Bear Mountain.  Luigi Donofrio of Langley will get to play on the Jack Nicklaus designed Valley course along with a friend plus take in the Friday Night Flights wine event.  Enjoy yourself Luigi and take a few extra balls!

The One and Only Etta – And finally, we leave you this week with the legendary Etta James and “I’d Rather Go Blind.”  Doctor John – Mac Rebennack – is along for the ride.