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Under Further Review – March 15 Edition – 

Race to the Exit – Thanks to my great and good friend Bro Jake Edwards, I was able to take in Wednesday night’s Canucks-Rangers game from the comfort of the Champions Club. Watching the Canucks closely, one takeaway I have is they seem to always be ‘chasing the game.’ When you chase the game and are constantly defending, this is why injuries occur. However, I don’t buy injuries as an excuse this year. How much longer will Benning and Green keep using injuries as a crutch? Arizona is among the league leaders in man-games lost to injury this season and they are currently holding a playoff spot. If the Canucks had more size and toughness and were harder on the puck, they wouldn’t always be chasing the game.

The Canucks have a nice habit of starting games while half asleep. Check the evidence! They fell behind 3-0 in Vegas on March 3, 2-0 vs. the Leafs on March 6, 3-0 vs. Edmonton on March 7 and 3-0 vs. Vegas at home on March 9. In other words, they gave up 11 goals without scoring at the start of those four games. It’s just another indication of the lack of down-low coverage by their defensemen.

When it comes to generating offense from the back end, the Canucks are again at the bottom of the league.  Alex Edler leads all Canucks defenseman in scoring with 22 points in 43 games. No NHL team boasts a scoring leader on defense with fewer points. What does that tell you? Edler leads Canucks D-men with 10 power-play points. Keith Yandle of the Florida Panthers leads all NHL defensemen with 35. You can see the gap.

I have certainly noticed that the Fire Benning calls have been more frequent on social media recently. One thing you can be sure of – they had better not roll out the same cast of characters next season. They absolutely need to jettison several players and that group could easily include Ericsson, Granlund, Pouliot, Schaller, Sutter, Goldobin, Spooner and Schenn. We have seen this movie for five years and it’s like a bad rerun. Benning’s transactions have all been safe. He’s clearly afraid to take a risk. None of his deals are ever creative where he uses cap space or other means to acquire talent. He has dealt away nine draft picks since he took over and has acquired only seven. It seems completely bizarre that a rebuilding team would be doing that but then again, nothing Benning does surprises me.

Who is John Weibrod? – I have serious suspicions about the influence and motivations of Canucks assistant General Manager John Weisbrod. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire and you have to wonder what role he played in the firing of Trevor Linden.

Here’s his back story! Weisbrod went to Harvard and played on the Crimson’s NCAA Championship team in 1989. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Minnesota North Stars in the ‘87 NHL draft and bounced around the minors before having to retire because of injuries. He landed his first NHL job as a scout with the New Jersey Devils.

His big breakthrough occurred when he led the Orlando Solar Bears to an IHL title. When the league disbanded, Weisbrod landed a front office position with the Orlando Magic, despite having no NBA experience. In 2004, Weisbrod was promoted to General Manager of the Magic where he promptly fired respected NBA coach Doc Rivers. His scorched earth style reached an ugly conclusion when Weisbrod orchestrated the blockbuster trade of disgruntled superstar Tracy McGrady. In a 7-player deal that sent McGrady to Houston, the Magic received erratic point guard Steve Francis, who is well known to Vancouver Grizzlies fans as the guy who refused to play here. Francis recently documented his lengthy NBA drug dependency. Apparently, Weisbrod didn’t think to call the Grizzlies for a background check. His stint with the Magic was such a disaster that he received several death threats.

In 2005, Weisbrod resigned his position as General Manager and Chief Operating Officer of the Magic, citing an opportunity to return to an executive position in the NHL.  That position would be as a New England scout for the Dallas Stars. Very odd. He leaves an NBA GM job for an NHL scouting position? After a season with the Stars, Weisbrod joined the scouting staff of the Boston Bruins where he would first come in contact with Jim Benning. Like Benning and Peter Chiarelli, Weisbrod cashed in on the 2011 Bruins Cup win and landed a job with the Flames as assistant General Manager. He was relieved of his duties with the Flames in 2013 and joined the Canucks in July of 2014 as vice president of player personnel. A year later, he was promoted to assistant GM.

While with Calgary, Weisbrod took a ton of criticism for the Flames 2012 selection of Mark Jankowski with the 21st pick of the first round.  Most draft experts had him going in the second or third round. While Jankowski has finally cemented a job with the Flames, it highlights Weisbrod’s reputation as a guy who considers himself to be smarter than everyone else. One of the first things Brian Burke did when he arrived in Calgary was to fire Weisbrod saying, “I have no idea what the guy did around here.”

If you take a close look at Benning’s body of work during his Canuck tenure, Weisbrod’s influence is very evident. You can point to the acquisitions of Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund from Calgary, former Flames who were in Calgary during Weisbrod’s stint there. He certainly influenced the free agent signing of former Bruin Matt Bartkowski. It’s also fair to wonder how Weisbrod has impacted the Canucks shortfalls at the trade deadline. How much of a role Weisbrod played in the firing of Linden remains open to speculation but one thing is clear – this is Weisbrod’s fifth NHL organization in addition to the two jobs in Orlando. Something tells me he won’t remain satisfied being an assistant GM. Trust me, if Benning is pushed to the door, Weisbrod will be there to open it.

A Giant Whiff – You know how I love to pick on the Leafs so why not go back in time to the 1988 NHL draft when the Leafs enjoyed one of their darkest moments. Holding the sixth pick in the draft, the Leafs selected Scott Pearson from the Kingston Canadiens. Back in those days, the Leafs scouting was apparently limited to driving down the 401 highway. The Leafs head scout was George Armstrong, who thanks to Harold Ballard, had to step in as head coach for part of the season.

So how did the draft turn out? The next four picks were Martin Gelinas, Jeremy Roenick, Rod Brind’Amour and Teemu Selanne. In his first season, Pearson scored five goals.  Selanne had 76 goals in his rookie campaign which is still an NHL record and destined to never be broken. Pearson quickly bounced around and ended up playing 292 games in the NHL. Roenick played 1363 and had 513 goals and 1463 points. Brind’Amour played 1484 games and had 1184 points.  Selanne played 1451 games and had 684 goals and 1457 points. Oh, those nutty Leafs! They had to have the Ontario boy. Of course, Gelinas was from Quebec. Roenick from the U.S. and Selanne from Finland. Enough said!

Ode to Sprague – With the recent passing of Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay, it certainly brings to mind some mean-ass SOB’s who have played in the NHL.  Terrible Ted was all of five foot eight yet he was one of the most feared players in the league. He helped the Red Wings win four Stanley Cups in the latest 40’s and early 50’s and is known as the first player to skate around the rink with the Cup lifted over his head. What people may not remember is Ted’s fierce on-ice style actually forced the NHL to establish penalties for elbowing and kneeing thanks to his ferocious play.

However, there was no one more vicious in NHL history than one Sprague Cleghorn. He played 17 seasons starting in 1911, often using his stick as a weapon. He claimed to have been involved in at least fifty incidents in which players were taken off the ice on a stretcher. Cleghorn was twice charged with assault for on-ice incidents and he reportedly once initiated a brawl during which he injured three different players. Eddie Shore had nothing on this guy!  And don’t forget, hockey sticks back then were all one piece and weighed a lot more so when you clubbed someone over the head, I suspect it hurt. Matt Cooke and Brad Marchand have nothing on old Sprague!

According to accounts, the wife of then Governor General Lord Byng was so mortified by watching Cleghorn in action that she donated the Lady Byng Trophy to the NHL in a bid to encourage more sportsmanlike play. The delightful Cleghorn obviously had issues. He was arrested in 1918 for beating his wife with a crutch while he was recovering from a broken ankle.

In 1956, Cleghorn was hit by a car in Montreal and died from his injuries two weeks later. He was 66. Just two days later, his brother Odie, who also played in the NHL, died in his sleep of heart failure and was found by his sister just hours before Sprague’s funeral.

Shooting Star – Canada’s budding basketball star R.J. Barrett has certainly made a huge impression in his first year at Duke. Over the past 25 seasons, no college freshman has ever averaged over 23 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists over a full NCAA season.  Thirty games into his college career, that’s exactly what Barrett has been doing. I can’t wait to see him represent Canada in the Olympics.

Prodigy Two – Shane Wright is the latest sensation to be granted early entry status into the Canadian Hockey League.  The 15 year old is the fifth player in OHL history to be given exceptional player status joining John Tavaras, Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid and Sean Day. Joe Veleno received the same exemption to the Quebec League. Right now, it looks like the Kingston Frontenacs have the inside track to select Wright with the first overall pick in the OHL draft. Wright is reportedly very smart, very mature and a tremendous all-around player.

Seahawks Update – The Seahawks suffered several losses this week as the NFL free agency period got into full swing. Earl Thomas moved on to Baltimore, J.R. Sweezy signed with Arizona, Mike Davis went to Chicago, Shamar Stephen returned to Minnesota and Justin Coleman signed with Detroit. The key signings were kicker Jason Myers who returns to Seattle after a Pro Bowl year with the Jets, guard D.J. Fluker and linebacker K.J. Wright. Based on what’s happened to date, the Seahawks may get a few compensatory picks in next year’s draft. It was great to see K.J. return to the Seahawks. Apparently, the market for outside linebackers did not develop so he agreed to return.

Please note that the Bro Jake Show on TSN 1040 is pre-empted this week.  We will post the podcast from next Saturday’s show.