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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and contributors Jordan Moss, Ted Tait, Peter Hucul, Glen and Bill Myles. This week, the Canucks launch their late-season surge, the NHL playoffs beckon, the Seahawks go fishing for free agents and Ja likes guns.

The Sultans of March – It’s so predictable. How many times have we said it would happen? The Canucks are kings of the late season surge. It’s a rite of spring to dominate garbage time. When the pressure is off, watch them roll! All the way to 14th overall so they can pick another 5-10, 165-pound winger in the draft. Any faint hopes of landing hometown boy Connor Bedard are in the rear-view mirror now.

The front office will convince the fans the team is playoff-bound next season. They will make a bevy of short-term moves in the off-season to try and bolster the lineup. Buy-out out bad contracts and move the money forward. The Canucks suffer from the same ailment as the Maple Leafs. They constantly think they are better than they actually are. For better or worse, the Canucks have adopted a win-now posture. The consequences be damned.

But hey, let’s be nice. The team is playing with discipline and structure under Rick Tocchet, something we haven’t seen in a decade. Where the team seems to be making significant inroads is in player development. They have beefed up the department in a big way and strongly believe they can take second-tier players and turn them into useful NHL contributors. Case in point: Seventh round 2019 draft choice Aidan McDonough wrapped up his career at Northeastern University and signed an entry-level deal. McDonough has captained the team in his senior season and is a Hobey Baker award nominee. He’s a big-bodied left-winger and a good release and net-front presence. The big question remains whether his skating will prevent him from becoming an NHL regular.

With the farm system so barren, the Canucks could not let McDonough get away. He could have waited until August 15 and become a free agent, eligible to sign with any NHL team. The Canucks will burn the first year of his entry-level deal, keep him in Vancouver for the remainder of the season, then likely place him in Abbotsford next season.

The Canucks are reportedly in the mix for other NCAA free agents including defenseman Jake Livingstone of Mankato State who played Tier 2 hockey in the Fraser Valley before going the U.S. college route.

NHL Notebook – The sale of the Ottawa Senators is moving along quickly. Reports say the franchise purchase price could top $900 million. Some of the bids came in much lower and it’s clear now the serious bidders are prepared to go much higher than earlier anticipated.

Actor Ryan Reynolds net worth just took a huge spike. He was a minority stakeholder in Mint Mobile which was just acquired by T-Mobile for $1.35 billion. Reynolds, along with Toronto businessman Rudy Bratty, is fronting the Remington Group, one the leading bidders for the Senators.

During Covid, the Quebec Government kept several teams in the QMJHL afloat with emergency funding. Seems the debt is now coming due in the form of a ban on fighting in the Q. The provincial government exerted significant pressure and the league is now set to ban fighting starting next season. It will be interesting to see if the other major junior leagues follow suit.

Not a good time to be a hockey fan in the state of Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Penguins are running on fumes in their last feeble attempt to make the playoffs. Sorry, the Cup window in Pittsburgh is closed and has been for quite some time. Pens GM Ron Hextall is dead man walking. Who in his right mind would give up a second-round pick for 31-year-old Mikael Granlund? The Penguins were already the oldest team in the NHL, not to mention the fact they are also one of the NHL’s smallest teams. Granlund is 5-10, 185 pounds. Worse yet, he’s under contract for two more seasons at $5 million per. Sheer lunacy.

We recently chronicled the situation in Philadelphia where the Old-Boys Club casts a shadow over the entire organization. The Flyers have taken nepotism to a whole new level. Please, don’t dare hire Ray Shero as the team’s next general manager.

How long can the Flyers live off the legacy of the Broad Street Bullies? That culture, for what it was, is long since expired. Today’s game is built on speed. Wake up and get with it. The Flyers need to put someone in place who will tell Bobby Clarke, Paul Holmgren and Bill Barber to take a hike. General Manager Chuck Fletcher was shown the door but you have to wonder if he really had any chance at success with so many franchise legends breathing over his shoulder.

Whoever takes over will be faced with a massive task. The team is in a shambles with a long list of untradeable contracts, a mediocre prospect pool and a roster lacking core pieces. Add the Flyers to the list of NHL teams who need to strip the roster down to the studs and embark on a full-scale rebuild.

Connor McDavid has already set a new career high in points, surpassing the 124 he posted last season. He’s up to 58 goals, a career-best, 76 assists and 134 points in 70 games. He’s running away with the Art Ross Trophy, the Rocket Richard Trophy and has a form hold on the Hart. McDavid has been carrying the Oilers on his back all season.

Fans forget that the Florida Panthers are last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners. It looked like they were road kill until recently. A huge win on Saturday night over the New Jersey Devils has the Panthers one point out of the final playoff spot in the East. The Panthers can thank Matthew Tkachuk for the recent surge. He’s fourth in the league in scoring with 91 points and, like him or not, he brings it every night.

Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Reilly has to rate as one of the most overrated and overpaid players in the NHL.  He is under contract for seven more seasons at $7.5 million per year. Reilly has only four goals in 53 games this season, two of them coming this week. He’s one of only two regulars on the team with a negative plus-minus at minus-3. Extending Reilly may be the worst move the Leafs front office has made and they’ve made a few.

Those nutty Leafs have to be concerned about their goaltending heading into the playoffs. Matt Murray is an accident waiting to happen. He’s given up four goals or more in each of his last five starts. Would you put that train wreck between the pipes in the playoffs?

It’s pretty clear at this point that the Calgary Flames won’t make the post-season. The Flames can’t put the puck in the ocean. They’ve lost a bucketload of one-goal games this season. No team is worse in overtime and shootouts. Calgary has posted 14 losses after regulation. They are 4-11 in overtime and 2-3 in the shootout. That translates into a 6-14 record and a .300 winning percentage. Turn out the lights!

We’ve maintained all season that you should not sleep on the Colorado Avalanche. Despite a laundry list of injuries, the Avs have hung tough and are again emerging as a force in the Western Conference. The Avs swept their recent eastern road trip and now sit in fourth place in the conference. They are also within striking distance of the Dallas Stars in the Central Division despite still being without Josh Manson, Artturi Lehkonen, Erik Johnson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog.

The Untraded – Pierre Lebrun of TSN and The Athletic did a nice job chronicling where things stand with some of the players who were NOT traded at the NHL deadline. At the top of the list is Erik Karlsson of the San Jose Sharks who is likely on his way to the Norris Trophy.

We know Edmonton was interested. The roadblock is Karlsson’s massive contract that still has four years remaining with a cap hit of $11.5 million. Try swallowing that. Karlsson has a full no-trade contract. The Sharks are simply going to have to come to grips with the fact a deal will likely not get done unless they are willing to retain a large portion of the contract.

From all reports, the Canucks surveyed the market to gauge interest in J.T. Miller. Pittsburgh is reported to have engaged in discussions. Miller’s seven-year, $56 million dollar extension hasn’t even kicked in yet. His no-movement clause begins July 1 so the clock is running out if the Canucks wish to get something done.
Lebrun highlighted a number of other players who are likely to be moved this summer including Travis Konecny of the Flyers, Pierre Dubois of the Jets, John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks, Colton Parayko of the Blues, Joel Edmundson of the Montreal Canadiens and Nick Schmaltz of the Arizona Coyotes. It looks like Winnipeg has another Matthew Tkachuk situation on their hands because Dubois has shown no interest in resigning with the Jets and will be a season away from free agency this summer.

Coyote Ugly – We referenced it in an earlier blog but let’s get into it a little more – the Arizona Coyotes are a cap laundering clearinghouse for the NHL’s top teams. The Coyotes have been taking on bad contracts for years. At this year’s trade deadline, they took on 25 percent of Patrick Kane’s contract to facilitate his trade to New York. The Coyotes have $31 million of their salary cap earmarked for players who don’t even play for them. It’s a joke.

The Coyotes continue to hand out “Get Out of Cap Hell” cards to whichever team comes calling. Please don’t suggest they are actually trying to compete because they are not. Any competitive spirit they have shown is a credit to the players not the organization. Sure, they have a bucketload of draft picks over the next several years but remember, you have a 50-player limit for players under contract so you can’t sign everybody.

According to CapFriendly, the Coyotes current roster is only costing the team around $42 million and it may not even be that high when you take insurance claims into consideration. Every year, they somehow get above the salary cap floor (currently at $60.2 million) but its all smoke and mirrors. The Coyotes have already set themselves up for more of the same next year. Their current cap hit is $57.2 million with only 14 players signed. It should not be difficult to get to the cap floor.

Don’t expect anything to change anytime soon. The Coyotes are at least three years away from moving into a new arena and that’s assuming the arena referendum is passed in Tempe. Don’t expect the NHL to step in and stop the nonsense. The league office will just continue to turn a blind eye.

NFL Free Agency  – It’s been a crazy week in the NFL with the opening of free agency. The Seahawks have jumped in with both feet. They filled a big hole on the defensive line with the signing of former Denver Broncos defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones. Seattle also added linebacker Devin Bush from the Steelers, New York Giants safety Julian Love as well as former Seahawk Jarran Reed. You have to wonder if the signing of another safety may signal the end of Jamal Adams’ Seahawk career. Adams could now be a post-June 1 cut.

The Seahawks also added back-up quarterback Drew Lock who will return behind Geno Smith. The question everyone is asking is? Does this take the Seahawks out of selecting a quarterback with the fifth overall pick in April’s NFL Draft? If Florida’s Anthony Richardson is still on the board, you have to think John Schneider will pull the trigger and redshirt him for a year. Signing Lock is just a hedge if the Seahawks are forced to go in a different direction. Richardson’s Pro Day is scheduled for May 30. Look for him to put on a show.

What were the New York Giants thinking when they handed quarterback Daniel Jones a four-year extension that averages $40 million a season? Have you seen this guy play?  He’s big. He can run.  But he’s got an arm like a leg. Last season, Jones passed for 3,205 yards and 15 touchdowns which ranked 21st in the league. Pedestrian numbers at best. Jones’ new deal puts him in Patrick Mahomes territory in terms of salary. You can’t be serious?

Only the New York Jets would be foolish enough to get caught up in a feeble pursuit of Aaron Rodgers. You do know he’s 39, right? The Jets are so out to lunch they are willing to sign several of his Packer teammates just to appease the self-absorbed diva. Wake me when it’s over.

PGA Tour Notebook – Lots to unwrap from the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. With his lopsided five-stroke victory at TPC Sawgrass, Scottie Scheffler regained the number one ranking in the world. Scheffler has six victories in the last 13 months and has pocketed more than $33 million since last year’s Phoenix Open. He’s proving to be an incredible ball-striker. Scheffler was 17 strokes better, tee-to-green, than the entire field, the most by a Players champion since tracking began 20 years ago.

With less than a month to go until the Masters, Scheffler is clearly the prohibitive favourite as he attempts to become a back-to-back winner at Augusta. Only three men have won the Masters in consecutive years: Jack Nicklaus (1965-66), Nick Faldo (1989-90) and Tiger Woods (2001-02).

Two Canadians turned in outstanding performances. Adam Hadwin and Adam Svensson both finished T-13 at six-under. Hadwin had a chance for a top ten finish but a three-putt and a missed three-footer on the back nine prevented him from finishing higher. Hadwin is trying to work his way into the top-50 in the world rankings and gain entry into next month’s Masters. Svensson has already qualified thanks to earning his first PGA Tour victory. He was scheduled to head to Augusta right after the Players to get his first look at the legendary track.

Tiger in the Tank – Can we all now agree that Tiger Woods is not all he’s made out to be? Yes, he’s arguably the greatest golfer of all time. As a human being, he has more warts than Emma Thompson in Nanny McPhee. Need we be reminded that Woods cheated on his first wife with as many as 300 women? The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Tiger’s old man used to make out with college girls in a camper van in golf course parking lots while Tiger was playing junior tournaments.

Woods is now trying to silence his former live-in girlfriend in what is quickly becoming a messy ordeal. Erica Herman has lived in Tiger’s Hobe Sound, Florida residence for six years. She alleges Woods’ agents persuaded her to pack for a short vacation but upon arrival at the airport she was told she had been locked out of the house and should not return. Nice. Herman is the former general manager of Tiger’s restaurant. Seems he was unable to keep his hands off his own staff.

Leftovers – Ja Morant had better wake up before his NBA career goes off the rails. He’s currently serving an eight-game suspension for posing with a firearm while intoxicated in a Denver bar. Get this – he was live-streaming a video at the time. Having a drink after a game is not going to get anyone suspended. Flashing a gun will.

Trouble is, this is not the first incident for Morant. He threatened a heckling fan on Twitter before deleting it. In July, 2022, Morant and a close buddy allegedly beat up a 17-year-old kid after an argument following a pickup basketball game. Then, on January 29, following a game in Memphis, acquaintances of Morant reportedly confronted members of the Indiana Pacers near the team bus. Verbal threats ensued for nearly 20 minutes. Morant had better grow up…and quick. In case he didn’t notice, he’s become one of the faces of the NBA.

March Madness is underway and there’s always lots of surprises. There was no bigger upset in the opening round than Fairleigh Dickinson taking out Purdue in the opening round. It was only the second time in NCAA tournament history that a 16th seed had taken out a number one seed. It was a horrible way for Canada’s Zach Edey to end his college career.  He finished the game with 21 points and 15 boards but was swarmed the entire game.

The shine has come off Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. In his first two seasons as an NBA coach, he fashioned a .720 winning percentage and celebrated an NBA title and coach of the year honours. In the three seasons since, Nurse has guided the Raptors to a .481 winning percentage and now finds his future in question.

Spotify Tracks of the Week – Remarkably, Willie Nelson will turn 90 on April 29. The original outlaw of country music is still going strong. He’s appeared on numerous albums over the past few years. Willie has a new single out with daughter Paula Nelson entitled Pretend I Never Happened. We also recommend checking out the title track from his 2019 release Ride Me Back Home.

Veteran troubadours Bruce Cockburn and Yusuf/Cat Stevens have new releases about to drop. A few tracks have already been released. Check out Colin Went Down to the Water by Cockburn and Take the World Apart by Stevens.

Dave Barnes is a singer-songwriter with a great voice who recently popped up on one of my Spotify playlists. Have a listen to A Lot Like Me off his release Chasing Mississippi.

Let’s also feature a few female vocals. Kat Eaton is a young emerging songstress. Listen to Slow It Down off her album Talk To Me. Allison Russell and Brandi Carlile team up on You’re Not Alone. Shelby Lynne does a nice job with Why Didn’t You Call Me off her release Tears, Lies and Alibis.

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