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Under Further Review – It’s been a nerve-racking few weeks for everyone. We hope you are healthy and safe and finding the extra time valuable to stay in touch with family and friends. In a world without live sports, we have managed to muster up a few idle thoughts. 

It’s not surprising that, as Canadians, we are trying to find humour at this uncertain time. Why not laugh in the face of adversity, right?  We can be proud at how Canadians have reacted generally and how we still have trust in our media members and government officials who are trying their best to keep us informed. It seems to be in stark contrast to what is happening south of the border. Here’s a great read from MacLean’s magazine.

The Path Forward – Now that we are all sitting around twiddling our thumbs, we have time to wax poetic on any subject of interest. What better time than to conduct an exercise in roster-building with the NHL season on hold and potentially in jeopardy.

For months now, we have been sounding the alarm on the Canucks impending cap crunch this summer and ways they may extricate themselves from a situation largely of their own doing. In order to forecast the future, we need to look at the current roster, potential rosters for 2020-2021 and 2021-2022, and then determine whether the team is positioned for a championship run. Not just a playoff team but a Stanley Cup champion.

Fact is, there are several top-end franchise cornerstones on the current Canucks roster that should comprise the core of a Cup winner. The challenge is – how do you surround them with the right pieces and stay within the salary cap.

If we assume the cap next year will remain at $81.5 million, the Canucks have some serious work ahead.  First off, you have to take into consideration the Ryan Spooner buy-out and the Luongo contract recapture penalty totaling $4.5 million. The Canucks cap figure for next season will actually be $77 million. That’s the number we are working with.

A couple of things are going to have to happen if the Canucks want to ice their best possible lineup to start next season. First, Louie Eriksson has to agree to a contract termination. He will probably be presented with three options – accept a termination and sign with another NHL team, accept a termination and return to play in Europe, or refuse a termination and be forced to play next year and maybe even the year after in Utica. Frankly, I don’t see Louie taking option three. So let’s agree he accepts the termination and the Canucks have his $6 million dollar contract off the books in 2020-2021.

Next, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL agrees to allow teams two compliance buy-outs each with no cap penalty. This has been speculated as a way of assisting teams in response to the cap ceiling remaining at the current level. If this happens, the Canucks could buy-out the final year of Brandon Sutter and Sven Baertschi. That’s another $7.375 million off the books. If they could get Baertschi to agree to a contract termination, then Jamie Benn ($2 million) could be a buy-out candidate. At this point, we will also keep Michael Ferland ($3.5 million) on LITR with post-concussion issues because he cannot be counted on as a regular next season.

With the available money to spend, here’s how we see the dollars being distributed to UFA and RFA players the Canucks would like to have back. We will award $7 million for next season to Jacob Markstrom, $5.5 million to Tyler Toffoli, $1.5 million to Josh Leivo, $4 million to Jake Virtanen and $5 million to Chris Tanev.  Tyler Motte, Adam Gaudette and Zach MacEwen all get $1.2 million for the sake of argument. We let Troy Stecher walk away as an RFA rather than qualifying him at what will be around $3.5 million. A trade to salvage something in return would be even better.

So now let’s see what the lineup may look like in 2020-2021 and where the holes may be.

Forwards: Miller ($5.5), Pettersson ($1.25), Boeser ($5.875), Pearson ($3.75), Horvat ($5.5), Toffoli ($5.5), Leivo ($1.5), Gaudette ($1.2), Virtanen ($4.0), Roussel ($3.0), Beagle ($3.0), MacEwen ($1.2). Spare Forwards – Motte ($1.2), Ferland (LITR). Total Cost: $42,600,000

Defense: Edler ($6.0), Myers ($6), Tanev ($5.0), Hughes ($1.0), Rafferty ($1.0), Tryamkin ($2.0), Juolevi ($1.5), Benn ($2.0). Total Cost: $24,500,000

Goaltenders: Markstrom ($7.0.), Demko ($1). Total Cost:  $8,000.000

With the roster laid out above for 2020-21, the cap figure includes $42.6 million for the forward group, $24.5 million for the D corps, $8 million for goaltending plus the $4.5 million for Spooner and Luongo.  This also assumes you get out from under Eriksson, Baertschi and Sutter.  The total commitment: $75,100,000 which would leave about $6.5 million to add another top four defenseman to pair with Edler and another extra forward. If Ferland can’t play next season, the Canucks will need to add another forward other than Motte.  If Ferland is fit enough to play, you would also have to find the money to get him onto the roster. Bottom line, money is going to be tight and it is essential the Canucks find a way to dump some contracts this summer.

Looking ahead to the 2021-2002 season, while the Canucks get some help with a few more expiring contracts (Roussel and Beagle), they will still need a good chunk of money in reserve to sign Pettersson to what should be a mammoth new contract. Let’s peg that deal at $9 million per season. Pearson will be unrestricted in July 2021 but I would try to bring him back at $4.5 million. Gaudette will be an RFA and should command around $3.5 million. Edler will be a UFA but I would bring him back on a one-year contract for the same cap hit ($6.0 million). Hughes will need at least a bridge deal. We have him at $5 million.

Here’s how we project the 2021-2022 Canucks lineup:


Miller ($5.5) – Pettersson ($9.0) – Boeser ($5.875)

Podkolzin ($1.0) – Horvat ($5.5) – Toffoli ($5.5)

Pearson ($4.5) – Gaudette ($3.5) – Virtanen ($4.0)

Leivo ($1.5) – Marc Michaelis ($800,000) – MacEwen ($1.2)

Spare Forwards – Nils Hoglander, Kole Lind, Will Lockwood, Carson Focht

Total Cost: $48,000,000

Defense Pairings:

Edler ($6.0) – Myers ($6)

Hughes ($5.0) – TBD ($5.0)

Rafferty ($700,000), Tryamkin ($2.0), Juolevi ($863,000), Rathbone ($800,000)

Total Cost: $26,500,000

Goaltenders: Markstrom ($7.0.), Demko ($1). Total Cost:  $8,000.000

Here are the totals for the 2021-2002 season.  Forwards: $48,000,000 Defense: $26,500,000 Goaltending: $8,000,000 Total: $82,500,000.

Two big factors to be considered when setting the 2021-2022 roster.  First, where will the salary cap be set?  If you peg it at $85 million, the Canucks will be just over the cap when you take the final Luongo recapture ($3.3 million) in the equation. Second, will they be able to hold onto both goaltenders through the Seattle expansion draft and what roster players will they lose in the expansion process?

If you look over the projected 2021-2002 roster, it is very green on the back-end and this is why bringing Edler back makes some sense. Hoglander may be pushing for a spot but I don’t see room on the roster for both Hoglander and Podkolzin. Keeping Pearson around seems advisable, at least for one year. Michaelis may not be ready for fourth line duty although he will be 25 and can kill penalties which is important when you are projecting a roster.

It’s an interesting study in roster-building and hopefully provides a clearer view into the future. With some outstanding prospects on entry level contracts pushing for roster spots over the next two seasons, it gives the Canucks some options. They can walk away from several veterans knowing they have ready replacements. It also gives them opportunities on the trade market. In order to acquire some much-needed help on the right side of their defense and potentially at center, the Canucks could look to deal several valuable young assets including some combination of Boeser, Demko, Virtanen, Juolevi, Stecher, Gaudette, Tryamkin and Kole Lind.

Remember, this whole exercise is predicated on how to reach a championship level. In two to three years, the core will be ready to make a title run. Young players will have to be sacrificed in order to add the key final veteran ingredients of a Cup winner.

One thing is for sure, it’s going to be fun to watch how the team develops and if they can take the next step into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

Buyer Beware – If you have been following Under Further Review for the past year or so you will know by now that I am dead against trading draft choices regardless of the sport. It rarely makes sense. Sure, there’s a time and place and there are many instances where it has worked out fine. The Canucks trade for J.T. Miller may end up being an example. But as a general policy, it’s bad business.

All you have to do is look at this year’s NHL trade deadline where there will certainly be buyer’s remorse. If the Canucks can’t find the money to extend Tyler Toffoli, that trade will be foolhardy. The Kings will be sitting on prime prospect Tyler Madden plus a 2020 second round pick in a rich draft for 10 games of Toffoli. He posted six goals and four assists in those 10 games but if he doesn’t return next season, it’s a massive overpay.

In an article in The Athletic, Eric Duhatschek looked at a couple of Flame acquisitions at the deadline. Calgary sent a third round pick to Chicago for defenseman Erik Gustafsson and a fourth rounder to L.A. for Derek Forbort.  The Flames got seven games and three assists out of Gustafsson and seven games and no points out of Forbort.  In hindsight, do you make either one of those deals?

What to Watch – As we sit idly at home waiting for the world to return to normal, it is a daily exercise to find something to watch on TV. I spoke with a friend this week about watching old games on TV and we both agreed it’s not something we can do. However, we did find a little something for you.  Check out this National Film Board documentary from the 1967 NHL season complete with music from Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass.

Some observationsdid you notice that most players had straight sticks? Bobby Hull was already using a curve. Bobby Orr was a rookie that year. Did you notice Dave Keon’s cheeky little backhander at the start of the video? How about the goalies – Gump Worsley, Eddie Giacomin and Glenn Hall – not wearing any masks? How about the elegant skating of Jean Beliveau?  Did you notice all the players who stuck out their knees trying to make checks?  That would not be tolerated today.

NHL Notebook –

  • While Quinn Hughes fashioned a Calder Trophy caliber season with the Canucks, brother Jack found the sledding very tough in his rookie year with the New Jersey Devils. It makes you wonder if Jack wouldn’t have been better served spending a year in college. At 5’10” and 170 pounds, Hughes would have benefitted from building strength in a strong college program. The NHL is littered with players who failed to reach their potential simply because they didn’t take more time to develop. Hughes will likely finish his rookie season with 7 goals and 21 points in 61 games. You can’t tell me heading straight into the NHL was the right decision.
  • With junior leagues shut down, playoffs in jeopardy and major international tournaments cancelled, it is going to make it very difficult for NHL teams to put together their final draft lists. Getting a good look at players under playoff pressure is a big part of the final evaluation process. Scouts will also not get to look at top draft eligible players at the U-18 tournament. You can be sure it will open the door to some major draft miscues when the NHL Draft rolls around in June.
  • Alex Newhook has announced he will be heading back to Boston College next season for his sophomore year. The talented center was the 16th overall pick in last summer’s NHL draft. He earned conference rookie of the year honors in Hockey East, led the Eagles in scoring and tied for fourth in conference scoring with 42 points in 34 games. One more year in the BC program and Newhook will walk into the Avs lineup next spring.
  • It will likely be 2023 before the Ottawa Senators rebuild starts to fully bloom. The Sens are smart to stockpile young, jumbo-sized goaltenders and if you look at their pipeline, they have an abundance. Starting goaltender Anders Nilsson is 6’6” so he’s the prototype. 6’5” Marcus Hogberg will likely be the Sens back-up goalie next season. Developing in Belleville at the AHL level are Joey Daccord and Filip Gustavsson. 19 year old Mats Sogaard was selected in the second round of the 2019 draft and at 6’7” has been compared to Pekka Rinne. The Senators also have 6’4” Kevin Mandalese at Cape Breton of the Quebec League where he was turning in an outstanding season with a .925 save percentage.  Quite the cache of goaltenders.
  • The Canucks and the Leafs aren’t going to be the only NHL teams with salary cap issues this summer. The Tampa Bay Lightning will be in a particularly precarious position, with just over $76 million tied up in 15 players. They will also have to find the money to re-sign restricted free agents Anthony Cirelli, Eric Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev. The Vegas Golden Knights have close to $73 million invested in 14 players for next season. Teams with cap space are going to be in a very enviable position.

NFL Notebook – The NFL off-season has proven to be a rude awakening for three former #1 overall NFL draft picks. While money was being dished out during the first week of free agency and the quarterback merry-go-round was churning, Jameis Winston, Cam Newton and Jadeveon Clowney were all sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring. Winston and Newton have to be wondering why they were left at the station while the rest of the league’s quarterbacks played musical chairs.

One of the issues for NFL players looking for employment is the fact they could not make visits, take physicals and work out for interested teams. It’s definitely had an impact and will continue to slow the market for players like Clowney with a checkered medical history. The Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater and gave Newton permission to shop around for a trade.  Unable to travel to take a physical, Newton can’t prove to teams he’s ready to play after off-season foot surgery. Winston and Newton are finding the market has dried up.

The Seahawks have never broken the bank in the early stages of NFL free agency.  They have always chosen to wait for the market to flatten out before entering the fray in the second wave.  This year, however, I think they missed out on a lot of players who could have helped.  I am surprised they didn’t do more to help their pass rush than bringing back former Seahawk Bruce Irvin.

Of course, some NFL teams dive into free agency head first and pay the price down the road. There were several outlandish contracts handed out in the first few days of free agency this year. The Chicago Bears must have been in a time warp when they gave tight end Jimmy Graham a two-year deal for $16 million with $9 million guaranteed. Did they not watch any film and see how his career has been in steep decline? The New York Jets handed another former Seahawk, offensive tackle George Fant, a three-year deal for $27 million despite the fact he has never been a starter. This deal defies all comprehension. The Jets are the Knicks of the NFL.

The Chicago Bears are a long-running comedy show. We’ve already documented the Bears sheer stupidity in trading up to draft Mitch Trubisky and the wisdom of signing Jimmy Graham but don’t forget, this is a team that signed Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million deal (with $18.5 million guaranteed) just to keep the seat warm for Trubisky. Glennon started four games and was released the following spring. Trading up for Trubisky in the 2017 draft cost the Bears two third-round picks and a fourth-round pick, all because they were convinced the team needed to move up a single spot to land their guy. If that wasn’t enough, the Bears just saved Jacksonville a small fortune by trading a fourth-round pick for quarterback Nick Foles and his anvil contract, despite a dwindling quarterback market that had already depressed demand for the career backup. Way to go Bears!  Try to pay more attention.

There has been much ink spilled since Tom Brady signed a two year, $50 million dollar contract with the Tampa Bay Bucaneers. Did anyone tell Tom that the Bucs offensive line if truly offensive? Sure they have some top-flight receivers but as I recall, the Bucs couldn’t make the playoffs with Jameis Winston throwing for over 5,000 yards and 30+ touchdowns. Anyone who thinks Brady is going to lead the Bucs to the Super Bowl is delusional.

NFL analysts are also giving the 49’ers high marks for sending defensive lineman DeForest Buckner to the Colts for the 13th overall pick in the NFL Draft. Wrong! Buckner is one of the top three inside rushers in the NFL along with Kansas City’s Chris Jones and the Rams Aaron Donald. He is basically unblockable and a big reason why the 49’ers had success last season. Rookie Nick Bosa got much of the fanfare but Buckner is a stud. The 49’ers should have dealt Dee Ford instead. No way the 13th pick turns out to be anywhere as good as Buckner!

If you look at the landscape in the NFL West, pencil the Rams into last place in the division. This will be the third straight year they will be without a first round pick. After reaching the Super Bowl in 2019, the Rams went ‘all-in’ last season and now the bank has come calling. The Rams made bold moves for veterans on big contracts. They weren’t shy about signing their core players to market-setting deals nor did they resist sacrificing draft capital to acquire proven stars. Time to pay the piper!

An October Masters – There’s been a lot of speculation about moving the Masters to the fall once the PGA TOUR starts back up. It would obviously present a whole new set of problems for the players. Augusta National is a seasonal golf course and normally closes in late May before re-opening in mid-October. Here’s more on how the course might play if the Masters were to be held in the fall.

If you are wondering what Augusta would look like if the Masters were to be played in October, well, here’s some photos.  It would definitely look different.

The Joe Schultz Quote of the Week – George Best is one of the greatest soccer players ever and a legend in his native Northern Ireland. He had a star-crossed career that was shortened by alcoholism.  Best died in 2005 at the age of 59 as a result of complications following a liver transplant. He was never contrite about his drinking problems. When asked what happened to the millions he earned playing soccer, Best remarked “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds [women] and fast cars – the rest I just squandered.”

Music Video of the Week – If you’re a classic rock ‘n’ roll fan, you’ve probably heard of Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, a founding member of Steely Dan and later, a member of the Doobie Brothers. Baxter appeared with Steely Dan on their first three albums – Can’t Buy a Thrill, Countdown to Ecstasy, and Pretzel Logic. While finishing work on Pretzel Logic in 1974, Baxter became aware of Becker and Fagen’s intentions to retire Steely Dan from touring and work almost exclusively with session players. Baxter joined the Doobies and one of his early contributions was the guitar solo on the hit single “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)”.

When singer Tom Johnson came down with a stomach ailment, it was Baxter who recommended the Doobies bring in singer Michael McDonald as a replacement.  Baxter had worked with McDonald on various Steely Dan sessions. McDonald later joined the band full-time.

Baxter turned out to be a much sought-after session man himself. He reportedly owns more than 400 guitars. Skunk performed on albums for a wide range of artists including Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, Rod Stewart, Barbara Streisand, Donna Summer and Canadians Bryan Adams and Burton Cummings.

By now, you are probably wondering why we are featuring Skunk Baxter this week.  Well, it seems there’s a lot more to the long-haired hippie musician from Washington, D.C. It turns out Baxter is also a noted national security expert with a flair for thinking outside the box.

Very early on Baxter was passionate about music technology and it got him thinking about how other types of tech, notably data-compression algorithms and large-capacity storage devices used by military agencies, could also be used for recording. This led him to wonder if existing military systems could be adapted to serve other purposes.

Armed with time and interest, Baxter wrote a five-page paper suggesting that the military’s ship-based Aegis anti-aircraft system could be converted into a missile-defense solution. He took the paper to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who in turn passed it on to Rep. Curt Weldon. Both were amazed, and Baxter was quickly drafted into service as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Defense with the highest priority security clearance.

So what makes Baxter so valuable? He’s whip-smart, learning the ins and outs of missile defense and military technology on his own, but his biggest asset is creativity. He puts it simply: “We thought turntables were for playing records until rappers began to use them as instruments, and we thought airplanes were for carrying passengers until terrorists realized they could be used as missiles.”

Here’s a look at the very interesting life of this guitarist turned government resource.

OK, now that you have Skunk’s back story, let’s check him out on stage.  Here he is in 2016 performing “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” with an all-star band. Make sure to check out Baxter’s guitar solo toward the end.