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Under Further Review – March 22 Edition –

Please, Not Again – You can always count on the Canucks to find unique and creative new ways to disappoint. Well, here we go again! The Canucks catch fire and start reeling off victories when it doesn’t count. You will remember last year when they won six of their last seven and ended up with the 7th overall pick in the draft when they could have easily been in the top three. Just recently, the Canucks were sitting with the sixth worst record in the league but it looks now like they will  catapult several teams if they continue to roll. With the depth of this year’s draft, if you are selecting in the top 6-8, you are going to land a very good prospect.  After that, not so likely.

Don’t try and sell me all this garbage about how the playoff chase is going to be so beneficial for Pettersson, Boeser and Horvat. The faithful are waxing enthusiastic about how this experience will be better than landing a high draft pick. Are you kidding me? Sorry, chasing down the final wildcard spot is nothing special.  What pressure were they under when they went into Dallas and Chicago this week and when they knocked off Ottawa at home? That’s not playoff pressure. These kids have been playing pressure hockey since they were 12 or 13. Pettersson was probably under more pressure last year during the Swedish League playoffs. The Washington Capitals lost several game sevens against the Penguins before they broke through last year and won the Cup. Fighting to grab the 8th seed in the West and the luxury of getting bounced four straight in the opening round is meaningless.

The Canucks sack-o-woe Louie Ericsson finally surfaces with a goal and three assists against the lowly Senators. Thanks Louie! It only took him 70+ games to finally make an appearance. This is exactly my point.  Showing up when it no longer counts is complete bull—t!

Nice story from Patrick Johnson in the Province on the Canucks signing of college free agent Josh Teves. He’s a bright kid and obviously worth taking a flyer on.

If I am the Canucks, I would be looking to sign one of the two top remaining college free agents still out there – Princeton forward Nico Sturm and defenseman Jimmy Schuldt from St. Cloud State. Sturm has put up decent scoring numbers for Clarkson, but what really impresses scouts is his detail-oriented 200-foot game. At 6’3”, he has potential to be the consummate third or fourth line center who plays a grinding defensive game. Schuldt has turned down NHL opportunities each of the past two seasons to return to St. Cloud and has steadily improved his pro stock as a result. He is the defensive anchor on the best team in the country. Schuldt is a skilled offensive defenseman with a booming slap shot and underrated passing ability. He has improved on the defensive end over the course of his college career as well.

NHL Bracketology – All the belly-aching in Toronto regarding the NHL playoff format has people wondering if change is really needed. One of the main reasons the current format works is that it is easy to follow and you can predict match-ups as the playoffs move along. This creates fan engagement.  If you go to a 1 versus 8 or 1 versus 16 format, there is no way you can possibly predict match-ups. This is important to remember and it’s just as important as the divisional rivalries that have been created as a result of the current format. Coincidentally, the agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA on the playoff format expires at the end of this season. It appears as though the PA will give the NHL its blessing to continue the format for at least another year.

Once Seattle enters the league, you will have balance in each conference with 16 teams in the playoffs and 16 out.  Don’t be surprised if the NHL makes a change at that point and goes to an NFL divisional format with eight 4-team divisions instead of four 8-team divisions. You could have Vancouver, Seattle, Calgary and Edmonton in one division.  You could have Buffalo, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal in another. Sure, you will have seasons when someone wins a division with a .500 record, just like in the NFL. And yes, you could have four teams in one division with winning records. But there’s no doubt in my mind, it’s the way to go.

I agree with Brian Burke that the NHL needs to make changes to the NHL draft lottery. First off, reduce the number of teams in the lottery. Not every non-playoff team should be involved. Teams should definitely not be allowed to have the first overall pick more than once every three years. Burke also contends that teams should not be in the top three more than once every three years.

The biggest issue is how the current system has failed miserably in allowing teams to make huge jumps up the lottery ladder.  In 2018, Carolina moved up nine spots to second overall and picked Andrei Svechnikov. The year before, Philadelphia jumped up eleven spots and selected Nolan Patrick.  Regardless of whether those selections were the best choice, the system should be changed.

The Hab-Not’s – I am not in the business of tooting my own horn but I had a feeling the Habs might slide out of the playoffs when Bergevin chose not to add at the trade deadline. When your power-play is dead last in the league, that’s a sure-fire prescription for failure. The Canadiens may still make it thanks to the demise of the Columbus Blue Jackets. You have to wonder with all the changes Columbus made at the deadline, the one critical move they didn’t make and should have was firing John Tortorella.

The Leaves are Falling – Of course, it’s hard not to take great glee in watching the Leafs flounder.  The Toronto fans and media are apoplectic. I have been warning all year that I didn’t like the way the roster was being built and it was obvious the team is not built for playoff hockey.

During their recent four game losing streak, the Leafs surrendered 23 goals but more revealing, they trailed in those games 6-1, 5-0, 5-2 and 6-2. Defensively, the Leafs have fallen right off the proverbial cliff. Auston Matthews is a good player but nowhere near the top echelon of the league. He is not producing and not leading like a player at his pay grade. Michael Nylander should have been dealt for a young D-man when he was holding out. Grapes showed video of Nylander getting all lovey-dovey with fellow Swede Oskar Lindblom during a faceoff in the game against the Flyers. That’s not a player you can win with! Give Jakub Voracek credit for getting in Lindblom’s face.  No one on the Leafs stepped up and told Nylander to knock it off. Tells you all you need to know!

I got a kick out of back-up goalie Garrett Sparks calling out the Leafs for a lack of intensity. Here’s a guy who should be in the AHL calling out his team. Sparks has won seven games with a 3.24 GAA and a .902 save percentage. Boy Wonder made a huge mistake not picking up a reliable back-up goalie at the deadline.  Freddie Andersson has clearly been over-worked and the Leafs have no one to turn to. In today’s NHL you need a quality back-up.  Just ask Winnipeg.  The Jets Connor Hellebuyck ran out of gas in the Conference final last year against Vegas so the Jets brought in Laurent Brossoit this year to lessen the load.

The cheerleading media in Toronto claim the Leafs are a top five team and should be playing like it.  Sorry boys, the Leafs are not among the top five teams in the league.  Not even close. Tampa, Washington and Boston are all better in the East. Vegas, Winnipeg, San Jose, Nashville and Calgary are all better in the West so at best, I will generously rate them ninth overall. Take it to the bank – they will quietly exit in the first round again this year.

Cheesecloth Defense – Raptors fans have to be concerned about the team’s defensive structure as they move closer to the playoffs. The trade for Marc Gasol has not had the intended impact. A year ago the Raptors best asset was the Bench Mob who often outplayed the starters. The second unit was young and athletic and played a huge role in the team’s overall success.  It seems like the trades for Gasol and Kawai Leonard has stripped the team of its depth and one of its best assets. The second unit is no longer outplaying the opposition on a nightly basis.

Canadian Content – NCAA March Madness is underway and it is amazing that no less than 21 Canadians will be participating in the road to the Final Four. As strange as it may seem, that number is actually lower than last year. We all know about Duke’s R.J. Barrett but here’s two other Canucks to look for – Florida State’s 6’10” forward Mfiondu Kabengele and 6’7” small forward Ignas ‘Iggy’ Brazdeikas of Michigan. As a seventh grader in Burlington, Ontario, Kabengele had to take a bus and then walk two miles in order to participate in a youth program in Hamilton.  As a freshman, the Lithuanian born Brazdeikas was a 2019 Second Team All-Big Ten selection. He’s right-handed but for whatever reason, he shoots the ball left-handed. Brazdeikas went to high school in Orangeville, Ontario. The growth of basketball, especially in and around Metro Toronto, has been absolutely incredible and the caliber of players is truly amazing.

Ode to Ichiro – We had the luxury here in Vancouver of watching Ichiro Suzuki during his major league career and what a privilege. When I think of his overall body of work what amazes me the most is the fact he played nine years in Japan before ever having an at-bat in the majors. Ichiro retired on Thursday at 45 after the Mariners season opening series in Tokyo. Of course, he received a deserved hero’s farewell from the Japanese faithful.

Ichiro retires as the major’s active hits leader with 3,089. He finishes his MLB career with a .317 BA and holds the major league record for hits in a season with 262. If you take away the rest of the names on the list who all played between 1911-1930, the next highest hit total is 242 held by, yes, Ichiro. The players with the next highest modern day single-season hit totals are Wade Boggs and Darin Erstad, both with 240. Ichiro is one of only three players to have more than 4,000 hits at the professional level along with Ty Cobb and Pete Rose. In 2016, he recorded his 4,257th hit, breaking Rose’s all-time mark which must have bruised Rose’s over-developed ego. I guess sometimes Good Guys finish first!

Blue Jay Pay Day – Credit the Blue Jays for their unilateral decision to initiate a 50 percent pay increase throughout their minor league system. Minor league players receive between $1,100 and $2,500 per month in-season from Single-A to Triple-A plus a $25 per day per diem, half of which goes to paying clubhouse dues. Minor leaguers are not paid during spring training or during the off-season. You can imagine what this will mean for players throughout the system. It will be interesting to see if other teams follow suit.

The Jays were also smart to instigate new rules around the playing of video games in the clubhouse. Players will be restricted from playing video games at certain times. It’s a problem facing all professional leagues.  The video game Fortnite is the major culprit and it’s not just restricted to young players.  Russell Martin of the Blue Jays was apparently one of the worst offenders in the clubhouse last year. Patrick Laine of the Jets has reportedly had major issues with gaming. Carlos Santana of the Phillies was apparently so upset with teammates playing video games during a game last year that he smashed the clubhouse TV with a bat.

The Beauty of Golf – At one point on Sunday during the final round of the Players Championship, John Rahm and Jim Furyk were tied for the lead.  Rahm is 24. Furyk is 48. In what other sport could a guy who’s twice the age of his rival still be able to compete?

Another gem from David Feherty on the Golf Channel – trying to describe Tommy Fleetwood, he chirped “He looks like a homeless person who has just robbed a Nike Store”.

The Girl Can Play – We have been touting the meteoric rise of Canadian teen tennis sensation Bianca Andreescu for quite some time so it was wonderful to witness her breakthrough win down in Indian Wells against 3-time major winner Angelique Kerber. In a matter of just three months, she has rocketed up the women’s rankings from 152 in the world to 24. It was a significant win because the tournament is widely considered to be the ‘fifth’ major on the women’s tour and it featured all of the current top ten in women’s tennis. The fact that she came back to win while down a break in the final set tells you all you need to know about her competitive fire. An amazing accomplishment since she got into the tournament as a wild-card.

I also noticed that Milos Raonic bowed out in the semi-finals down in the desert. His return game is just not good enough to duke it out with the big boys. Raonic is destined to be an ‘also-ran’ who’s got the big serve and enough game to be competitive but not formidable enough to win a major.

Not-So-Free Agency – NFL teams apparently never learn when it comes to free agency. The smart teams stay away, the desperate do stupid things. A study of the 2015 and 2016 free agency periods showed that over 61% of the contracts handed out of three years or more never made it to the third year.

The Patriots played it stone cold again this year and walked away from OT Trent Brown and DE Trey Flowers. By accumulating compensatory draft picks for free agents who left town, New England now has six picks in the first three rounds of this year’s draft and will have at least five picks in the first three rounds of next year’s draft.  That’s their currency.

The Seahawks have also refused to play free agency roulette. As of now, they will have four compensatory picks next year – a third for Earl Thomas, a fourth for Justin Coleman, a sixth for J.R. Sweezy and a seventh rounder for back-up quarterback Brett Hundley.

Kraft’s Dinner – Patriots owner Robert Kraft has refused to accept a plea bargain in his solicitation case in Florida. Kraft has lawyered-up and won’t admit any guilt to soliciting sex at a massage parlor probably because he is afraid of what NFL Commish Roger Goodell might dish out in punishment. Kraft was caught in a major FBI human trafficking sting where women were being used as sex slaves against their will.

Kraft was caught twice on film at a ‘Rub & Tug’ joint in a strip mall in Jupiter. He was dropped off on a Friday night in a Bentley and returned again the following morning before taking a private jet to Kansas City for the AFC Championship game. So let’s get this straight. He goes there on a Friday night and then returns first thing the next morning? WTF! Did Kraft have a two-for-one coupon? The cost of the service – $85. Kraft is worth a reported six billion. And oh, by the way, he’s 77.