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Under Further Review – March 29, 2019 – 

The Mighty Quinn – The long awaited and much anticipated arrival of Quinn Hughes certainly lived up to the hype. He showed no signs of jitters in his debut which should have been expected since Hughes has already been on the big stage at last year’s World Hockey Championships, this year’s World Juniors and the NCAA playoffs with Michigan. He hits the trifecta with quick feet, quick hands and a quick mind. His skating is superb and as I mentioned in an earlier blog, he uses his edges better than any player in recent memory. Evidence of his creative play was immediate. Everyone saw the slick back-hand saucer pass from behind his own net up the boards on a breakout and the cheeky play off the back of the net that led to a goal by Brock Boeser. Watching Hughes, Pettersson and Boeser toy with the Kings during the 3-on-3 overtime was something to behold and a precursor of things to come.

The Canucks fan base can now salivate at the prospects for a young core that also includes Thatcher Demko and Bo Horvat and potentially several others. However, before anyone gets too carried away you still have to look at the gap between the Canucks and the NHL’s top teams. As the roster building continues, the Canucks have to become a much harder team to play against. They still have all kinds of problems protecting the front of their own net and until they develop more grit and resistance, they will not take the next step.  You need to look no further than last year’s playoffs when Tom Wilson and Ryan Reaves played huge roles in the road to the Cup final.

The first order of business in the off-season has to be finding more role players who can provide secondary scoring and help protect the Canucks young core. It would be even better if the Canucks could acquire a tough left-winger to install on the top line next to Pettersson and be available for instant retribution. When Chris Kreider gave Pettersson the forearm shiver in the recent game against the Rangers, the Canucks could not answer back. Improving the Canucks overall team toughness has to be priority number one, otherwise keeping Pettersson and Hughes upright may be just a pipe dream. As the roster is currently constructed, the Canucks will continue to be manhandled by the league’s top teams.

I have chronicled how Benning has failed miserably to bring in the foot soldiers you need to fill out a roster. The character guys, preferably with size, who help you win. Brian Burke recently said that he hated the 1999 Canucks team and at the season-ending team party, he stood up and said “enjoy yourselves tonight boys because a lot of you won’t be back next season.”  I liken the Canucks current roster to that 99’ team. They need to exorcize the roster in the same way.  For every Peter Schaefer, there’s a Ryan Spooner. Back up the truck and start moving them out. Louie Ericsson.  Bye Bye. Nikolay Goldobin.  Try the KHL kid!  Go down the list and send them packing. Find some secondary players with jam who will step up and protect the kids.

NHL Briefs –

  • The Bruins just signed Zdeno Chara to a new contract for next year when he will be 42. I suspect he is hoping to become the first player in NHL history to play in rubber boots. Chara certainly has a job waiting when he retires. He’s a shoo-in for Lurch in a remake of the Adams Family.
  • The Buffalo Sabres season has certainly gone off the rails. They have the worst record in the league since November 29 with only 14 wins in their past 51 games. They have lost 11 of their last 12 and will miss the playoffs for the eighth straight year. The first thing Jason Botterill should do in the off-season is move out Sam Reinhart before his stock falls further. Phil Housley has lost the room so a coaching change is likely as well.
  • Just a hunch but could Joel Quenneville be re-united with his old buddy Dale Tallon to Florida and take over as coach of the Panthers next season? It would help if Artemi Panarin followed Coach Q to Florida and signed as a UFA on July 1. Panarin reportedly had a good relationship with Quenneville in Chicago.
  • Craig Button just released his latest NHL Draft rankings and I was surprised that Alex Newhook had dropped to 27th in the first round. Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino has him rated 12th. I had a chance to watch Newhook this week in the 7th game of the BCHL playoff series between the Victoria Grizzlies and Powell River. Newhook is from Newfoundland and came all the way across the country to play junior hockey which tells you a ton about the kid. He’s not especially big but is a dynamic offensive player. He led the league in scoring this season and should have a long NHL career. Newhook is off to Boston College next season where his sister also has a scholarship.

 More Melnyk Madness – Here are some of the signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder:

  • Grandiose sense of self-importance
  • Lives in a fantasy world that supports their delusions of grandeur
  • Needs constant praise and admiration
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Exploits others without guilt or shame
  • Frequently demeans, intimidates, bullies, or belittles others
  • Arrogant and domineering
  • Preoccupation with success and power
  • Lack of empathy
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Envious of others

Now does this sound like Eugene Melnyk and yes, Donald Trump? I would say Melnyk checks off all the boxes. In a radio interview last week, he said “We need to find ourselves four or five stars.” Oh, I guess he forgot he just traded them all away! On wanting to hire a new Club President – “We need someone like Bryan Murray.” Does he actually think he will be able to find anyone who wants to come to Ottawa and work for him? I blame Gary Bettman for not picking up the phone and telling this stooge to knock it off. The best owners in sports are the ones who are not seen and not heard. Melnyk needs constant attention and he’s ruined the Senators brand completely. The only way it will ever be restored is for Melnyk to die or sell the team. Period. Full Stop.

Money for Nothing – Now that the Blue Jays have peddled Kendrys Morales off to Oakland to free up more at bats for the youngsters, it’s time to tally up the total of dead money being carried by the team this year.  Let’s start with the $19,445,000 being paid to Troy Tulowitski to play for the Yankees. The Jays are paying a king’s ransom to Russell Martin ($16,400,000) to play for the Dodgers and another $10,000,000 to Oakland for taking Morales off their hands. Throw in Jaime Garcia ($2,000,000) and Yangervis Solarte ($750,000) and the grand total for the five Jays who have flown the coop is – get ready – $48,595,000. Money for nothing!  I hope the chicks are free!  That’s a lot of Dead Presidents for the luxury of opening up playing time for the next generation of Blue Jays. What’s even more revealing is the Jays total payroll for the opening day roster including the five players currently on the injury list. The payroll total as of right now is $65,397,000.

Tiger vs. Rory – The World Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas will serve up a beauty in the round of 16 when Tiger meets Rory McIlroy. It’s the first time they have ever met in match play. This is a different Rory than Tiger faced in the final round of last year’s Tour Championship at East Lake. McIlroy is in top form. He has 14 birdies and 2 eagles in his opening three matches. His lowest score so far in 2019 is 72. With their collective Ryder Cup experience and penchant for match play it’s not surprising that eight Europeans made it into the round of 16.

Felix & Shapo – Last week, Canadian Bianca Andreescu broke through with her first of what may be many victories on the ladies tennis circuit.  This week, both of Canada’s emerging men’s stars – Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov – made it into the semi-finals at the men’s tour event in Miami.  Felix fell to defending champion John Isner while Shapo was taken out by the great Roger Federer. No shame there.  At just 18, Auger-Aliassime became the youngest semi-finalist in the 35 year history of the tournament and gave the 6’10” American all he could handle, losing both sets in tiebreakers. It’s going to be a lot of fun following these two budding stars over the next several years.

Big Dick – When you think of the gold standard for NFL linebackers you think of Lawrence Taylor.  He’s the measuring stick but how can you not consider the immortal Dick Butkus who toiled for nine seasons with the Chicago Bears from 1965-1973. In the words of Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones, Butkus “was a well-conditioned animal, and every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital.”

Butkus was named an All-Pro eight straight years but never once played a playoff game. At 6’3” and 245 pounds, he was exceptionally large for a linebacker off his era. For that matter, he was as big as a lot of the offensive linemen. Despite his size, he also had the speed and agility to make tackles from sideline to sideline and cover tight ends and running backs on pass plays. “Tackling wasn’t good enough,” recalled former Bears defensive end Ed O’Bradovich. “Just to hit people wasn’t good enough. He loved to crush people.” Butkus was so adept at tackling and protecting himself, it’s one of the reasons he never suffered any concussions.

Butkus played angry, often manufacturing things to make himself mad, because he felt it gave him a competitive edge.  After the Bears lost to the Lions in their first matchup of 1969, Lions rookie running back Altie Taylor told reporters that Butkus was overrated. The next time the teams played that season, Butkus responded by chasing Taylor out of bounds after a play and causing him to jump into the stands at Wrigley Field. Check it out for yourself!