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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, Peter Hucul, Glen and Bill Myles, Howard Steiss and Rob Wagner. This week, we break down the deadline deals. The Canucks stand pat, plus things are about to warm up in the NFL.

The Vegas Way – It should be obvious to everyone that the Vegas Golden Knights are the new paradigm for roster construction in the NHL. Vegas identifies impact players and finds a way to get them. Figure out the cap ramifications later. Draft choices are nothing more than tradeable commodities in a non-stop pursuit of difference-makers.

Every year at the deadline, Vegas wins the pot. We just witnessed Anthony Mantha, Noah Hanifan and Tomas Hertl landing in Sin City. The deadline-crushing Golden Knights added a 6-foot-3 blueline stud, a 6-foot-5 winger and a 6-foot-3 center to an already sizeable lineup. You think maybe they know what it takes to win in the playoffs? Size matters.

Does it not seem like the Golden Knights break every rule in the rulebook? Out of thin air, they create enough cap space to load up for the playoffs. For the second straight year, Mark Stone was placed on the long-term injury list. This time with a lacerated spleen. Sorry, we have doubts. How much do you want to bet he mysteriously recovers just in time for the post-season?

Even if Stone doesn’t return, the rules have to change. There’s too much opportunity for shenanigans. The trade deadline should be moved up, no question. The NHL also needs to do something about LTIR eligibility. Players on LTIR should not be allowed to magically return just as the playoffs get underway with no salary cap ramifications. Why should dollars not count in the playoffs? Vegas may roll out a playoff lineup worth close to $100 million. Will the NHL do something about it? Probably not. They would rather have teams like Vegas just make a mockery of the rules.

Back to the paradigm. Vegas has been big-game hunting from the moment they came into the league. Can’t fault them for constantly going ‘all-in’. Just look at what they’ve done with their first-round picks. In 2017, they selected Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki in the first round. Suzuki was used to acquire Max Pacioretty. Their first-rounder in 2018 was sent to Detroit for Tomas Tatar. Peyton Krebs was taken first in 2019 and flipped to Buffalo along with their 2022 first-round pick in order to acquire Jack Eichel. They sent Zach Dean, their top selection in 2021, to St. Louis for Ivan Barbashev. Center David Edstrom was their first pick last year. He’s now on his way to San Jose along with a 2025 first-round pick as part of the Hertl deal. The Knights 2026 first-rounder will go to Calgary for Hanifan. The Golden Knights managed to hold onto their 2024 first-rounder but won’t pick again until the sixth round. Picks after the first round mean nothing to Vegas. They can always fill out their roster with cheap, NHL-ready talent on July 1 because Vegas is a warm weather destination with no state tax.

As far as the money goes, the Golden Knights always find a way. Hertl and Hanifan will likely cost a combined $15 million next season. Jonathan Marchessault ($5 million), Alec Martinez ($5.25 million), Anthony Mantha ($2.85 million), and Chandler Stephenson ($2.75 million) are all pending free agents. Their combined salaries are $15,850,000. Walk away from all of them and you have the cap space to add the two new shiny acquisitions.

This is how Vegas does business. You can criticize it all you want but they take advantage of the rules and they don’t bother worrying about tomorrow. Just win baby!

Deadline Vancouver – After landing Elias Lindholm and Nikita Zadorov, the NHL trade deadline proved rather anti-climatic in Vancouver. You can be sure the Canucks front office tried to acquire a top-six forward but at some point, you run out of bullets. The team was loathe to trade next year’s first-round pick and top prospects, Tom Willander and Jonathan Lekkerimaki, were simply off the table.

You have to wonder how much the Canucks recent play factored into their deadline thinking. The win in Vegas was especially impressive. The Canucks outshot Vegas 31-17 through two periods, then slammed the door in the third. It’s time now to run with what you’ve got. Will there be enough scoring when it counts? Is there enough defensive depth? We’re about to find out. If the standings remain the same, the Canucks will have the pleasure of facing the lowest-seeded wildcard team. Guess who that is? Yes, the Vegas Golden Knights.

It may not have been deliberate but creating a trigger point had the desired effect in contract negotiations with Elias Pettersson. It was becoming obvious to everyone that the talks were causing a distraction so, when word leaked that the Canucks were having trade discussions with the Carolina Hurricanes around a possible deal involving Pettersson, the tenor changed. It’s clearly a weight off Pettersson’s shoulders because his play has picked up after the deal was completed. I’d still like to know what the Hurricanes were prepared to offer.

Now that Pettersson’s name is on paper, the Canucks have salary cap clarity going forward. We looked at the cap sheet for this summer and it’s going to be very difficult to sign both Lindholm and Filip Hronek. Combined, they will cost in excess of $15 million. By our calculations, the Canucks would be left with only $12 million in cap space and with only four defensemen under contract.

One bit of business the Canucks were not able to tidy up was shedding the LTIR contract of Tucker Poolman which has one more year to run at $2.5 million. The Canucks are allowed to use the cap room but they cannot accrue cap space during the season as long as Poolman remains on LTIR. Look for the Canucks to try and trade that contract over the summer to a team needing to get to the cap floor. If Poolman had been off the books, the Canucks would have had more cap space to play with at this year’s deadline.

Deadline Calgary – What would possess Craig Conroy to send Noah Hanifan to Vegas? Are you aware that the Golden Knights are in your division? A first-round pick in 2026 which will likely land in the 25-32 range plus another conditional pick and a 26-year-old middling prospect is nowhere close to equal value for a legit number-one pairing defenseman.

The Flames are being praised in some circles for their deadline dealings. I don’t see it unless you like quantity over quality. Calgary was sitting with the two best defensemen available and the best center. What did they get? A couple of low first-round picks, a bunch of thirds and not one top-rated prospect. Sorry, can’t call that shrewd bargaining.

What’s worse is the whole world now knows the team can’t retain top players. We don’t need to list the players who have exited Calgary over the past few years. The exodus south is very concerning, not only in Calgary, but elsewhere in Canada as well. We mentioned it last spring. It was no coincidence that last year’s Stanley Cup combatants were in locations with no state tax. It’s a massive advantage and that’s not about to change.

Deadline Edmonton – The Oilers cashed in more draft picks to acquire forwards Adam Henrique and Sam Carrick. It drops underperforming players down the lineup which should have a positive ripple effect. Is it enough? We suspect the answer is no. Scoring goals is not the Oilers problem. It’s defensive awareness. Are the Oilers defensive pairings good enough to go four rounds? Will Stuart Skinner hold up in net? We’re going to find out but fans in Edmonton may be disappointed with the result.

The looming dark cloud in Edmonton is Leon Draisaitl. He has one more year on his contract before becoming a UFA. If the Oilers can’t get his signature on an extension this summer, they are headed for a major fork in the road. They saw what happened in Calgary with Johnny Gaudreau. The Oilers had to notice the distraction in Vancouver around Elias Pettersson’s contract negotiations. If you can’t get pen to paper, no way I would go into next season without a new deal in place.

Deadline Winnipeg – Nice work Chevy! When you have a stable organization, this is how you do business. Need a 2C. Go get Sean Monahan. Need a top-six scoring winger. Go get Tyler Toffoli. Kevin Cheveldayoff managed to add two key pieces to an already solid lineup without giving up any top prospects in the Jets system. That’s excellent work. Look at how the Jets top four lines stack up right now. Winnipeg can roll four lines in the playoffs and have scoring depth to go along with a solid defensive structure. Getting out of the loaded Central Division will be difficult with the Jets, Avs and Stars all post-season ready.  

Deadline Toronto – When your holster is empty, it’s hard to make any impactful moves. The Leafs were left to dance around the aisles at Value Village and came away with veteran rearguards Ilya Lyubushkin and Joel Edmundson. Do you really think they will move the needle? Edmundson’s defensive metrics are among the worst in the league. His D-zone exit numbers are atrocious.

In their continuing efforts to ice a Cup contender, the poor, old Leafs have spent draft choices like a hip hop artist spends on gold chains. They wisely held onto their 2024 first-rounder. However, their second and third-round picks are already out the door. In 2025, they won’t make a selection until the fifth round. This is what happens when you futilely chase a Cup without the proper foundation in place. The Leafs are headed to another first-round matchup with the Bruins and after getting slapped around twice by the Bruins this week, why mortgage the future any further?

Auston Matthews remains on track to break the 70-goal mark. No doubt, it would be an amazing accomplishment. It’s been 31 years since a player scored 70. Teemu Selanne and Alex Mogilny each scored 76 goals that season. It’s interesting to note, neither team advanced past the opening round of the playoffs. In the past 18 years, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been in the post-season 8 times and missed the playoffs 10 times. They are 1-8 in playoff rounds since the introduction of the salary cap.

Deadline Ottawa – In a year of bitter disappointment, you have to wonder if the road to the playoffs is still not a long way off for the Ottawa Senators. The return for Vladimir Tarasenko was underwhelming. Another going-away present from Pierre Dorion! Thanks for including the full no-trade clause in Tarasenko’s contract, Pierre. Tim Stutzle has struggled after putting up 39 goals last season. Josh Norris is facing another shoulder operation. The best thing that could happen to the Sens is for Norris’ shoulder problems to be career-ending and place his $8 million per season contract on LTIR. Something tells me Brady Tkachuk is going to force his way out of Ottawa this summer just like brother Matthew forced his way out of Calgary. There’s still a lot to clean up in the Nation’s Capital.

Deadline Montreal – No surprise that the Canadiens were quiet at the deadline. The new management group in Montreal are pretty much done with the roster clean-up. Goalie Jake Allen was sent to New Jersey to open up an opportunity for Cayden Primeau. Now it’s time for the Canadiens to start building the roster back up. The Habs are loaded with extra draft picks and have a ton of quality prospects in the system. The job this summer will be to turn picks and prospects into NHL-ready talent that can boost the lineup next season. The Canadiens need to add difference-makers and that’s never easy.

Deadline Mania – TSN has always been the leader in trade deadline coverage. They started what’s become something of a cultural phenomenon back in 1999. Two years later, it was expanded into a multi-hour extravaganza. Sportsnet assembles a large panel as well but their coverage is a distant second. For TSN, no other day-time show generates comparable viewership and ad revenue for the network. TSN has always had the edge when it comes to hockey insiders. Bob McKenzie set the standard and has been followed by Pierre LeBrun, Darren Dreger and Chris Johnston. Hockey executives know who wins the ratings game and that’s where they want the story to break. Watching the trade deadline on TSN has become appointment viewing.

Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel was one of the prizes of the trade deadline. He landed in Carolina and it was an absolute steal for the Hurricanes. One writer for The Athletic described the deal as trading “a dollar for a quarter, three dimes and a piece of gum.”

Kyle Dubas may have total control in Pittsburgh but his track record to date is shaky at best. The Penguins will surrender their top pick this summer thanks to the acquisition of Erik Karlsson and now Guentzel is gone. Judging by Sidney Crosby’s reaction after the deal was announced, it didn’t go over very well in the Penguins dressing room. The prospects going to Pittsburgh are all B-list. Even the first-round pick has conditions attached. If the Hurricanes fail to each the final, it converts to a second-rounder. Sorry, Guentzel is worth far more than a second-round pick. Count the Penguins among the deadline losers.

A year ago, hockey insiders were lauding New Jersey GM Tom Fitzgerald. The Devils were playoff-bound and seen as one of the most exciting up-and-coming teams in the NHL. Fast forward one year and how things have changed. Fitzgerald fired Lindy Ruff only months after handing him a two-year extension. He failed to fix the netminding. Jake Allen is not the answer. He sent Yegor Sharangovich for Tyler Tofolli and Sharangovich leads Calgary with 26 goals. What’s more, the Flames have moved him to centre and he’s developed chemistry with Jonathan Huberdeau. If Sharangovich can help resurrect Huberdeau, it’s an even bigger win for Calgary. What’s happened in New Jersey is a warning for every developing young team. Sometimes it’s best to stay the course and focus on player development.

You have to count Florida and Colorado among the deadline winners. The Panthers added Tarasenko and veteran Kyle Okposo to an already strong lineup. The Avs dumped Ryan Johansen’s contract and added four bodies including Casey Mittelstadt, Yakob Trenin, Brandon Duhaime and Sean Walker. Look out if Gabriel Landeskog is ready to go come playoff time.

Deadline deals are often not getting done without salary retention. Between February 28 and this year’s deadline, there were 19 cases of salary retention in order to facilitate trades. Several deals had double retention with a third team getting involved just to finalize the deal.

It seems crazy that games are scheduled on trade deadline day. Players deserve better. Having the deadline fall on a Friday is a problem. Canadian and European players leaving Canada for the U.S. need to obtain a work visa. If you can’t apply until Monday, it could be a week before you get into the lineup.

Trimming the Fat – NFL free agency is about to begin and that always sets off a major roster purge for teams over the salary cap.  Axing vets has become an NFL right of spring. The legal tampering period will begin at noon Eastern on Monday. It’s when NFL teams can begin negotiating with unrestricted free agents. You better have your house in order by then. It’s why the Kansas City Chiefs are frantically trying to reach a contract agreement with Chris Jones.

This year, a total of eight players were franchise-tagged. Here’s how that works. Each team can retain one franchise player on a one-year, guaranteed and non-negotiable contract. Players can agree to a one-year contract paying either the average of the five highest-paid players at your position or 120 percent of your 2023 salary. You choose. Refusal to sign means an unpaid season. Just ask Le’Veon Bell how that goes?

The eight players franchised were Colts WR Michael Pittman, Jags LB Josh Allen, Cubs safety Antoine Winfield Jr., Ravens DT Justin Madubuike, Panthers DE Brian Burns, Chiefs CB L’Jarius Sneed, Bengals WR Tee Higgins and Bears CB Jaylon Johnson. Madubuike and Johnson have since inked multi-year extensions. Sneed is rumoured to be part of a sign-and-trade deal with the Vikings that could land the Chiefs Justin Jefferson. Can you imagine what Jefferson would do in K.C.?

Seahawks Notebook – The Seahawks were certainly due for a roster purge. The trade for Jamal Adams was a disaster from the moment it was announced. Cutting Adams, Quandre Diggs and Will Dissly seemed inevitable. You can’t have over $55 million invested in a sub-optimal position like safety. Adams and Diggs were scheduled to earn over $48 million this season. Insane when you consider the pair were the 87th and 88th ranked safeties in 2023 by Pro Football Focus. We have long argued that the problem in Seattle was not a lack of talent, it was where the money was being dispersed. It should come as no surprise that the Seahawks defense finished 30th and 31st against the run over the past two years when three of the top four highest-paid players on defense were safeties. Makes no sense.

It’s time for the Seahawks to turn the page on the Carroll era and stop chasing quick fixes. Spend in the right areas and forget about shopping at the top of the market in free agency. Invest where it matters and that’s the line of scrimmage. It’s not like the Seahawks are at ground zero. They have been rebuilding the roster over the past two years with back-to-back historically strong drafts. Let’s see what the new coaching staff can do with a young, developing roster.

The biggest challenge will be finding the next franchise quarterback. Will the Seahawks trade up this year and target a quarterback or is it more Geno and wait till next year? Either way, don’t expect miracles. Until the Seahawks improve in the trenches, it won’t matter who’s behind center.

NFL Notebook – The NFL Draft always seems to orbit around quarterbacks for better or for worse. It’s amazing to witness the level of hype. You can be sure it will be no different this year as the tire-pumping reaches a crescendo. Buyer beware! A total of 17 quarterbacks have been drafted in the top five since 2014 and only two – yes, only two – Joe Burrow and C.J. Stroud, have met expectations with their original teams. That’s an incredible rate of failure.

How can you possibly be comfortable drafting Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels? What are the chances of all three having long and successful NFL careers? Washington and New England hold the second and third picks. I would be very nervous making those selections.

The level of failure among drafted quarterbacks further illustrates the gap between Patrick Mahomes and everyone else. Over the past five years, Mahomes is 5-1 in playoff games when trailing by 10+ points. All other quarterbacks are 6-48. In the Super Bowl, Mahomes is 3-1 in games in which the Chiefs were trailing by 10+ points. All other quarterbacks in Super Bowl history are 2-47. The two wins were both posted by Tom Brady. It’s why you can never count the Chiefs out as long as Mahomes is at the controls. It also helps to have Andy Reid. John Madden coached his last NFL game at the age of 42. Reid has coached 429 games since turning 42.

If you are looking for offensive linemen or receivers in this year’s NFL draft, you are in luck. The draft is loaded with outstanding lineman including several Pro Bowl calibre tackles. We could also see as many as 10 wide receivers go in the first round including Marvin Harrison Jr. and former Washington Huskie Rome Odunze.

There’s always a combine performance that wows scouts. This year, it had to be Texas Longhorns receive Xavier Worthy who ran the ‘40’ in 4.21 seconds which was the fastest ever at the combine. A lot of mock drafts have Worthy going to the Chiefs at the end of the first round. Yes, just what Mahomes needs. Another Tyreek Hill.

Four Canadians were invited to the NFL Combine. Penn State tight end Theo Johnson from Windsor, Ontario really helped himself. He checked in a 6-foot-6 and 259 pounds. He became the first tight end in combine history to run a sub-4.6 second 40-yard dash (4.58) and record a vertical jump over 39 inches (39.5) while weighing over 255 pounds. Johnson could now be a Day Two pick. He’d be a nice project in Seattle.

It will be interesting to see where the quarterback dominos fall once free agency opens and we move closer to the draft. The Chicago Bears are dangling Justin Fields. Maybe the Raiders. Atlanta seems like the best landing spot for Kirk Cousins. Baker Mayfield may move on. The quarterback market should be active. Hey, Zach Wilson is available! Zach Wilson couldn’t beat out Flip Wilson.

Russell Wilson finds himself on the open market and has already had meetings with the Giants and Steelers. Just what Russ needs. More drama by going to New York. Pittsburgh seems like the best fit. Expect the Raiders to come calling as well.

Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy is the one quarterback who seems to be getting the most love as the draft approaches. He’s been moving up draft boards. Don’t see any chance that he gets by Denver at pick #12. He could even go to Atlanta at #8. If the Seahawks move up, it could be to land McCarthy.

Peter King has penned his final Football Morning in America column for NBC. King is retiring following his illustrious career covering the NFL. In one of his final columns, King suggested the Chicago Bears should hang onto Fields and trade down in the draft to accumulate extra picks in order to build a proper foundation. Here’s his thought process:

“The Bears could keep Justin Fields (and should), and trade the first pick down once or twice, and build the kind of supporting cast a team needs to contend. Suppose GM Ryan Poles traded the top pick down one spot to Washington (which would take Caleb Williams), and got the second pick, a second-round pick and a 2025 first-round pick in return. Then, suppose Poles traded the second pick to Atlanta at eight, and the Falcons picked one of the other quarterbacks. In return, Chicago gets the eighth pick, Atlanta’s second-round pick, and first- and second-round picks next year. Imagine moving from 1 to 8 and ending up with this draft haul:

  • The eighth and ninth (their own) overall picks in round one this year.
  • Second-round picks from Washington and Atlanta this year.
  • Three first-round picks and two second-round picks in 2025.

For moving down seven picks in the first round, the Bears could end up with nine picks in the first two rounds of the next two drafts. Instant infrastructure.”

Spring Training Notebook – The Athletic just published their Top 25 Under 25 List for 2024. Not a single Blue Jay was named among MLB’s top players under the age of 25. In fact, not one Blue Jay was on the list of 25 Honorable Mentions either. It’s a clear indication of the lack of quality young talent in the organization. Hey, Gabriel Moreno is on the list!

What took the Jays so long to sign Joey Votto to a minor league deal? They could have extended him a spring training invitation months ago? Let’s hope its not a token gesture. Votto deserves a legitimate shot after 17 seasons in Cincinnati. Perhaps Jays brass finally woke up and realized Votto might actually be able to help their anemic lineup.

Is this the year the Tampa Rays finally fall flat on their Moneyball ass? The continuing absence of Wander Franco has to hurt. The Rays starting rotation is in a shambles and that’s been a strength. Shane McClanahan and Jeffrey Springs will be out all year after Tommy John surgery. Drew Rasmussen is out after elbow surgery and Tyler Glasnow was traded to the Dodgers. No team can make up for that kind of gut punch to the rotation.

Leftovers – Mike Weir is already gearing up for September’s Presidents Cup at Royal Montreal Golf Club. Weir hosted 16 players for dinner at this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. The International Team will feature six players who earn spots through the ranking system. The other six will be selected by Weir as acting Captain. The top six-ranked players include Canada’s Nick Taylor. As of today, Taylor would be on the team automatically. Four other Canadians sit inside the top 17 including Adam Hadwin (9th), Corey Conners (12th), Adam Svensson (16th) and Mackenzie Hughes (17th). Svensson didn’t do himself any favours by missing the cut after rounds of 79 and 80. Weir has his work cut out for him. The PGA Tour operates the Presidents Cup so LIV Golf stars including Cameron Smith, Joaquin Niemann and Louis Oosthuizen will not be allowed to participate for the International team. 

It looks like Canadian star Alphonso Davies is headed to soccer superpower Real Madrid. He’s reportedly reached a verbal agreement and will join the team later this year or in 2025, when his contract with Bayern Munich expires. Davies has won five Bundesliga titles with Bayern. He will always hold the distinction of being the first Canadian to score a goal for Canada at a World Cup.

YouTube Tributes – On the occasion of Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday back in October, 2003, Ray Charles and Leon Russell joined Willie to perform Leon’s hit – “A Song For You” at New York’s Beacon Theatre. It was a powerful performance made more emotional since Willie knew Ray’s health was declining. Ray would pass away the following June at the age of 73. Check it out. You can tell Willie is close to tears.

Canadian television can be proud of how it captured many iconic artists in concert at a time when they would never be given a similar platform on U.S. network television. In 1983, CHCH TV in Hamilton launched a show called In Session which featured duo performances by well-known artists. Here’s one of the performances featuring Glen Campbell and Leon Russell, both former members of the legendary L.A. session band The Wrecking Crew.

No other artist was as influential on the growth of the blues as Paul Butterfield. His contributions brought the blues to a younger and broader audience. Butterfield grew up in Chicago where he developed an interest in the harmonica and where he met Muddy Waters and other blues legends. In 1963, he formed the Paul Butterfield Blues Band with Nick Gravenites and Elvin Bishop. Butterfield would quickly make his mark. The band was integrated and Butterfield made sure they could not be turned away.

It was Butterfield who arranged for Muddy and Howlin’ Wolf to join the festival circuit in the late 60’s. Until then, the Chicago blues greats were mostly still performing on the club circuit in Chicago. It opened a big door. Music critic Steve Huey said it best, “It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of the doors Butterfield opened: before he came to prominence, white American musicians treated the blues with cautious respect, afraid of coming off as inauthentic. Not only did Butterfield clear the way for white musicians to build upon blues tradition (instead of merely replicating it), but his storming sound was a major catalyst in bringing electric Chicago blues to white audiences who’d previously considered acoustic Delta blues the only really genuine article.”

Unfortunately, years of drug abuse and alcoholism led to Butterfield’s death in 1987 at the age of 44. Butterfield and the early members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. Here’s a fine YouTube documentary chronicling Butterfield’s career and influence.

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