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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with contributors Bill Morphy and Dave Kittle. This week, the sports world comes to a screeching halt amid the coronavirus pandemic. This may well be our last blog until the resumption of play. Stay well everyone! Hopefully we have something to amuse ourselves with very soon!

Going Viral – As the week unfolded and the sports landscape changed almost by the hour, it became rather apparent we were entering uncharted territory in our lifetime. Major sports leagues in North America were making contingencies but everything changed once Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for coronavirus. The thought of playing in front of empty arenas seemed possible until a player was infected.  That changed everything. No one can predict what comes next.

Major League Baseball is taking a two-week hiatus but that seems ridiculously optimistic. Pitchers can’t just walk off the street and start throwing in major league games so they are going to need a couple of weeks at least to get ready. A May 1 start to the MLB season is probably more likely and that may be pushing it. We can expect an abbreviated season of perhaps 144 games.

Who knows what is to become of the NBA and NHL seasons. There is late word that NHL teams are going to make ice and fitness facilities available so players, in small groups, can work out during the outbreak. NBA teams will probably do something similar.

The PGA TOUR season was thrown into complete disarray just at the Players Championship was underway in Ponte Vedra, Florida. The Masters has been postponed and there’s no predicting whether it will even be played this year. Don’t forget, the course is normally closed for the summer following the completion of the Masters to protect it from damage because of the extreme heat down in Georgia. It may be a case where it is played in September or October.

All I know is all my buddies are wondering what to do this weekend without any sports on TV.  Personally, I am self-isolating.  I told my wife I would take her out on a date this weekend….to the backyard!

Fans hoping for a big jump in the NHL’s salary cap next season may want to hold the fort. The coronavirus will most assuredly take its toll on the league’s financial picture. If the schedule is reduced, or if fans are forced to stay away from arenas, revenues will drop dramatically and will affect next year’s cap. There are reports NHL players will receive their next two pay cheques.  After that, who knows? With no money coming in, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk may have to ask the league office for a loan to cover payroll.

The Canucks This Week – It’s hard to call yourself a playoff team when you rank in the bottom third of the league in defensive metrics. Last time I checked the Canucks were 20th in team defense in the NHL. That’s just not going to get it done. They simply have to become a bitter overall defensive team if they want to jump into the NHL’s elite teams.

Before all hell broke loose, we were preparing a Canuck and NHL notebook, so here’s a few other thoughts from this week:

  • Jake Virtanen continues to search for consistency in his game. In the game against Colorado a week ago, he played only 12 minutes. Meantime, Louie Eriksson played 13:42. Travis Green needs to loosen the rope and play the guy 14-15 minutes a night.
  • The Canucks have a ton of cap space invested in their bottom six forward group. Based on their current lineup composition, they can have over $20 million tied up in the bottom six depending on how the lines are configured. The Canucks are going to find it hard to move into real contention until the contracts of 4-5 forwards are off the books.
  • One answer in the bottom six going forward may be Zack MacEwen. He had two goals in seven minutes of ice time in the game vs. the Avalanche. That’s more production in seven minutes than a lot of the bottom six group produce in a month or more. It’s hard not to cheer for MacEwen considering his long road to the NHL.

  • Talk about ill-advised free agent signings. How about the Florida Panthers signing goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. The gave him a lavish 7-year, $70 million dollar deal last summer as a UFA even though he’s 31 years old. Check out his stats for this season – a record of 23-19-and-6, .900 save %, and 3.23 GAA. Are you sure that’s not Dunc Wilson’s stats? It’s another case of an owner having to have a new shiny toy and hell be damned if it doesn’t work out.
  • When you look at the Bobrovsky contract and the long-term ramifications, you have to wonder if NHL owners may embrace a different exit strategy. The Zach Bogosian contract termination in Buffalo may be the route rather than the traditional contract buy-out. The Canucks may be thinking about something similar when it comes to the final two years of Louie Eriksson’s contract. Once he’s paid a $3 million dollar bonus July 1, all that will remain on his contract is $5 million according to CapFriendly. Why not terminate his contract, buck up the $5 mil and be done with Louie altogether? It may open the door to signing Tyler Toffoli.
  • The New York Rangers have to be pleased with the growth shown by the team this year. They appear to be head of schedule in their rebuild. GM Jeff Gorton has done a nice job turning Derrick Brassard into Mika Zibanejad, Rick Nash into promising D-man Ryan Lindgren, second and third picks into power-play quarterback Adam Fox, and Neal Pionk and picks into Jacob Trouba. Great scouting has produced two outstanding young goalies in Alexander Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin. Cap wise the Rangers are in decent shape, at least for now. Things will look better after next season when Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million), Marc Staal ($5.7 million) and Brendan Smith ($4.35 million) come off the books. On the negative side, the Rangers will be carrying almost $7.5 million in dead money next season including another year of Kevin Shattenkirk at over $6 million. In 2021-22 and 2022-23, the Rangers will still have remaining buy-out payments for Shattenkirk and Dan Girardi totaling $2.5 million each season.
  • What a toxic mess in Buffalo where the Sabres are playing out another forgettable season. Owner Terry Pegula has owned the team for nine seasons and they have yet to make the playoffs. All the blame should be placed at ownership. Pegula has had 3 GM’s during his tenure and 6 different coaches. The Sabres have two franchise cornerstones in Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin yet they never seem to show any progress.
  • Before the season was halted, it was looking more and more like we could get a Flames-Oilers first round playoff matchup. It would be the first Battle of Alberta since 1991. Bring it on!
  • One significant change that may result following the GM’s meetings in Boca Raton, Florida is the idea of eliminating the bye week and starting the season a week earlier. Anything that reduces the length of the season make sense. Many GM’s think the NHL should reduce the number of exhibition games down to four or even two since today’s players already arrive in training camp in top shape.

Torts for President – I have mentioned this before but what has taken place in Columbus this season is nothing short of incredible. John Tortorella has done a magnificent job and may be in line for his third Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year.

The team has resembled a MASH unit all season. Columbus and Pittsburgh have lost the most man-games to injury this season. The Blue Jackets still have nine regulars out of their lineup including top defenseman Seth Jones, who’s out long-term with an ankle injury, and key forwards Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Atkinson had 41 goals last season and only 12 this year. Anderson, who’s gone for the season after surgery, had 27 last year and only one this season. The fast-improving Bjorkstrand had ankle surgery and is gone for 8-10 weeks.

Both goalies have been hurt.  Elvis Merzlikins is still out with a concussion. Thank goodness for defenseman Zach Werenski. He’s been a revelation and leads all NHL blueliners with 20 goals.

Don’t forget, this is a team that lost goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and forwards Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel to free agency over the summer. It doesn’t seem to matter about the names on the back of the jersey, Torts just gets them all buying in and playing the system.

End of an Era – Thanks to everyone who sent along comments in the wake of the passing of Henri Richard. One of my favourites is that Henri didn’t have enough fingers on his hands for all the Stanley Cup rings. And yes, if he hadn’t retired he could have won 4 more with the next version Habs dynasty that followed. Richard’s record 11 Stanley Cups is one of those sports records that will never be broken. Here’s a couple of other interesting tidbits:

  • During the Democratic primaries involving Eugene McCarthy v. Bobbie Kennedy, an interviewer asked Gene about his strategy for handling some issue or other. He answered by saying he would do just like Henri Richard when he had the puck in front of the Chicago goalie and calmly waited until his adversary made a move and then flipped the puck elegantly over him. (A reference to the winning goal in game 7 in 71’) McCarthy went on to extoll the Habs and the beauty of that game and this in the middle of the Vietnam debate;
  • The game against Boston when he had three fights against men who were much bigger than him.  At the end of the game, the entire Boston bench stood up in silent homage.  And this for a guy 5’7’’ 160 lbs.

A great long-time friend in Montreal reports that Richard was also a tenacious tennis player, of which he has first-hand knowledge. I also recall that Henri had a habit of releasing all nasal blockages when he came to the bench in his own unique fashion.  It’s the end of an era, for sure.

Hockey Night in Canada wisely turned to the great Dick Irvin for comment following Richard’s passing. He told the story of how Richard got the nickname “Pocket”. It was 1954, the year before he was called up to the big team, and Richard was playing for the Junior Canadiens. The Habs were playing at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on a Saturday night and the juniors were scheduled to play the next afternoon against the Marlies. To promote the junior game, one of the Toronto rags published an ad that read “Come out and see The Rocket (Maurice Richard) tonight and the Pocket Rocket tomorrow. The nickname stuck. Neat story.

The 1971 Stanley Cup final is also remembered for the brouhaha surrounding Richard and Canadiens coach Al MacNeil. They got into it after MacNeil benched him in game five of the series. Richard then ripped MacNeil in the media calling him the worst coach he had ever played for. MacNeil received death threats after the incident and had to be assigned bodyguards for Montreal’s final home game (game six) of the series. MacNeil was turfed shortly after the Cup victory and replaced by a fellow named Scotty Bowman. That kind of turned out well for the Habs, didn’t it?

Code-Breaker – The Wall Street Journal issued a damning report this week on the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal. In the story, it was reported the scheme actually had a name – Code Breaker. The origins of the scandal may go back to 2016 when, as a rookie, Alex Bregman, mentioned to Astros staff that it appeared that other teams were trying to steal signs when opposing players were on second base. An Astros intern reportedly started the program and even worse, still works for the team. The story claims that former Houston GM Jeffrey Luhnow had full knowledge of the program, something he has repeatedly denied. There is speculation it may have been organization wide. I have a hard time believing that every member of the team didn’t have knowledge of what was going on.

Shohei Time – When are the Los Angeles Angels going to wake up and realize the great Shohei Ohtani experiment is not working. Three major operations in less than 24 months and the Angels still think he can pitch and hit on a regular basis in the majors. Not happening!

No Nurse Maid – In recent weeks, we have chronicled about the Raptors and the Leafs are so fundamentally different. The Raptors are tough and competitive and resilient. They are among the NBA leaders in man-games lost to injury, yet they may still post the best record in franchise history. Great coaching.  Great management.  Great scouting. The Raptors find players with energy and athleticism and most importantly, a high work rate. Coach Nick Nurse is definitely in the NBA coach of the year conversation and deservedly so. He’s done an incredible job holding it together despite all the injuries.

Horse Play – When are they going to put a national horse-racing commission in place in the U.S. in order to police the industry? The abuse of horses is absolutely criminal. Good on the FBI for bringing down a string of indictments recently.

The Joe Schultz Sports Quote of the Week – Former NBA guard Sherman Douglas had an undistinguished career but he did leave us with this gem. He had a little issue in mixing up the idioms of ‘putting your foot in your mouth’ and ‘shooting yourself in the foot.’  “I don’t want to shoot my mouth in my foot, but those are games we can win.”

Music Video of the Week – When Dr. John passed away last year, we didn’t really give him the send-off he deserves. So let’s pay a bigger tribute. He was born Malcolm John Rebennack Jr. in New Orleans in 1941. After soaking in many of the musical influences of the Big Easy, including Louis Armstrong and the legendary piano player Professor Longhair, he started playing in bands when he was only 16 and quickly became one of the city’s most in-demand session players.  In the early days, John played both piano and guitar but focused his skills on the former after getting the ring finger on his left hand injured by a gunshot at a gig in Florida in 1960.

Interested in voodoo culture from a young age, Rebennack adopted the persona of Dr. John, the Night Tripper in the late 1960’s, first on the album “Gris Gris” in 1968, combining his music with elaborate live shows that included religious chants along with elaborate costumes and headdresses. Although he released more than 30 studio LP’s during his career, Dr. John was not all that commercially successful with only one top ten single to his credit, the Allen Toussaint produced “Right Place, Wrong Time”, which came out in 1973. He did, however, contribute his considerable influence and talents to dozens of recordings for many different artists over the years including The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Winter, Maria Muldaur, Van Morrison, Gregg Allman and many more. Dr. John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Sadly, he died last June at the age of 77. He was awarded a traditional “second line” parade funeral several days after his passing through the streets of his native New Orleans with hundreds of people turning out to pay their last respects.

We found a great version of “Right Place, Right Time” that we thought you might like. That Clapton guy is along for the ride.

And of course, we can’t forget Dr. John’s performance of “Such a Night” during The Band’s ‘Last Waltz’ concert. Perfect! Definitely one of the highlights of the show.

Leonid & Friends – We also had to pass along another video this week which you are sure to enjoy.  A great friend captured this one online.  Meet Leonid & Friends, a group of musicians from Ukraine and Russia performing the classic Chicago hit “Does Anyone Know What Time It Is”.  The horn section is spot on.  Have a listen!

Final thoughts – Can someone tell Joe Biden to stop yelling and I would hate to be the Marketing Manager for the Corona Beer Company right about now!  So long until who knows when!