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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy. Special thanks to our regular contributors including Jordan Moss, Ian MacPhee, Dave Kittle, Ted Tait, Peter Hucul, Glen and Bill Myles, Howard Steiss and Rob Wagner. This week, the NHL playoffs approach. Baseball season is underway and Shohei is gambling with his career. 

Canucks Notebook – With the NHL playoffs less than a month away, it’s time for teams to get their game in order. Should Canuck fans be worried about the team’s recent play? Not sure there’s any reason to sound the alarm bells. With Thatcher Demko on LTIR, it’s hard to get a true barometer. Demko is not scheduled to come off the injury list until April 6. The Canucks will have only six games left at that point. Will it be enough time for Demko to get playoff ready?

Only the NHL schedule-maker would give the Canucks a marathon nine-game homestand. They are 4-3-1 with the final game scheduled on Sunday night against Anaheim. The practice time has been great but how do you bring your best every night during a homestand that long?

In this season of growth, the Canucks have evolved into something of a defensive juggernaut. They have the ability to suffocate teams defensively. They can control play five-on-five. The analytics back it up. The penalty kill, long a Canucks frailty, has been much improved. The power-play has sputtered recently and needs to be better. Where the concern lies is when the Canucks fall behind. They have trouble generating scoring opportunities and rarely find a way to mount a comeback. Recent games against L.A. and Dallas stand out. Ending the homestand and getting back on the road may actually help the Canucks break the monotony.

Love the idea of bringing Jonathan Lekkerimaki and Elias Pettersson (EP2) over from Sweden at the conclusion of their seasons back home. Both have reported to Abbotsford and will have a chance to get a taste of how things operate within the organization. It will certainly give them a foot up prior to the start of training camp next season. Lekkerimaki had an assist in his first game in Abby. He will be returning to Sweden shortly to try and earn a spot to play in this year’s World Championships.

NHL Notebook – Good for Zach Hyman for hitting the 50-goal mark. Not many people saw it coming but I guess when you play with Connor McDavid, you just have to stand in front of the net. Of course, that’s not giving Hyman enough credit. Kind of reminds you of when Warren Young scored over 40 playing side-man to Mario Lemieux.

Think the Leafs are regretting letting Hyman get away in free agency? His best season with the Leafs was 21 goals.

Nashville’s Roman Josi may be on his way to a Norris Trophy this season as the NHL’s top defenceman. Josi was selected in the third round of the 2008 NHL draft with a pick the Leafs originally sent the Coyotes in order to acquire Yanic Perreault. Way to go Leafs!  Let a 50-goal scorer get away and watch a third-round draft pick become a Norris Trophy winner.

Hockey fans have every right to bitch about some of the NHL matchups being offered on a nightly basis by Sportsnet. Depending on your region, you are often served up some real lemons. Who wants to watch Chicago and Anaheim which aired recently on the network?  Would like to see the ratings for that one.

Many hockey fans would love to see the NHL switch up the playoff format. The biggest complaint right now is we often see the same two teams meeting in the opening round year after year. Think Maple Leaf fans want to see the Bruins in the opening round again this year?

The NHL has actually had some 25 different playoff formats in its long history. Who can forget the 1 vs. 16-format used in 1979-80 after four WHA teams entered the NHL? Many fans want the NHL to go back to the 1 vs. 8-format for each conference.

How would 1 vs. 16 look today? Eric Duhatschek of The Athletic posted the results on March 24 and this is how it looked on that date. It would certainly make for some fresh matchups. Of course, the NHL would never go for it.

  • 1. Vancouver vs. 16. Washington
    • 2. New York Rangers vs 15. Philadelphia
    • 3. Colorado vs. 14. Vegas
    • 4. Florida vs. 13. Tampa Bay
    • 5. Boston vs. 12. Los Angeles
    • 6. Carolina vs. 11. Nashville
    • 7. Dallas vs. 10. Toronto
    • 8. Winnipeg vs. 9. Edmonton

Remember a few years ago when the Canucks would always seem to go on a late season spurt only to blow their chances of gaining a high lottery pick? It happened several times under Jim Bob Benning and it had Canuck fans pulling out their hair. Seems the same thing is happening this year in Ottawa. The Senators are suddenly winning when its far too late to matter. They’ve won five in a row and they have dropped several draft spots.

The new regime in Ottawa has had all season to access the team and so far, there’s been little change. The GM search ended with Steve Staios basically appointing himself to the position. Next up will be naming a new coach. Don’t be surprised if the Sens play it safe again and go with John Gruden who’s coaching the Toronto Marlies. Gruden coached for Staios and Senators owner Michael Andlauer with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. The NHL is so incestuous. Can teams not be more innovative?

In New Jersey, former Canucks head coach Travis Green is hoping the Devils remove the interim tag. The Devils have been playing much better under Green’s guidance.

Requiem for a Heavyweight – A sad and tragic story, one repeated far too often, has played out once more. Chris Simon, former NHL pugilist, dead at 52. Death by suicide.

His family believes his death was brought on by Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the progressive disease associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries. No doubt they’re right.

Simon was one of the NHL’s most feared tough guys. He had more than 100 fights over his 15-year career. Simon is just the latest in a disturbing and ever-growing list of NHL enforcers who have died at a young age. He joins Bob Probert, Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak and Rick Rypien among those who have died far too early. Probert and Boogaard were both confirmed to have CTE following their deaths.

Meantime, the NHL continues to downplay the links to CTE and allows thugs like Matt Rempe to enter the league and collect scalps. How much more evidence do you need that repeated concussions and headshots lead to CTE? How many more times is this tragic story going to be repeated?

Something Smells – Gambling and baseball have a sordid history going back to the Black Sox Scandal in the 1920’s. Now we learn that Shohei Ohtani’s translator, Ippei Mizuhara, allegedly racked up huge gambling debts using Ohtani’s bank account.

The story has legs. There’s a federal investigation underway. Major League Baseball is also conducting an independent investigation but you wonder how hard they will look under the hood. Surely, we need an explanation when $4.5 million dollars is transferred directly from Ohtani’s bank account to an illegal bookmaker. How the hell did Ohtani’s interpreter get access to his bank account in order to make wire transfers? Can you imagine the ‘vig’ on gambling debts that big? How could Mizuhara make nine bank transfers without Ohtani’s knowledge? With sums that large you require written or digital authorization? Next question. How could the interpreter get a credit line from a bookmaker large enough in order to rack up debts in the millions? Perhaps only if the bookmaker had knowledge of Ohtani’s involvement and knew he would be good for the money. A bookmaker would be happy to give a line of credit to the guy who just signed the largest contract in North American sports history.

With the noose tightening, you wonder if the bookmaker will ‘sing’ in order to reduce a potential heavy sentence. For now, Ohtani’s translator has been fired by the Dodgers and claims he was solely responsible. He says he didn’t bet on baseball but so did Pete Rose. There have been conflicting stories from the two camps. Ohtani’s attorneys issued a statement saying the player was a victim of theft which stretches credulity.

You can be sure the story is not going away. It’s a bad look for baseball and we need to know what exactly was going on. If you ask me, it has a major stench.

Blue Jays Notebook – It’s hard to be optimistic about the Blue Jays chances this season. In their pre-season preview, The Athletic was not exactly glowing when assessing the Jays prospects. They have John Schneider as one of the first managerial casualties this season, to be replaced by bench coach Don Mattingly. From our perspective, the Jays will be lucky to match last year’s win total of 89 and grab one of the wildcard spots. An awful lot has to go right for the Jays to reach the post-season.

The Jays won 89 games last season with a pitching staff that went the entire year without any major casualties. Already this season, four pitchers have had various arm ailments. Ace Kevin Gausman missed most of training camp. Alek Manoah is sidelined and relievers Eric Swanson and Jordan Romano have started the season on the disabled list.

Seahawks Notebook – The Seahawks are loathe to admit it but they are rebuilding. The team has major holes on both sides of the ball and no long-term answer at quarterback. The defense lacks punch up front. The offensive line can’t move anybody. How is that a Super Bowl contender? Until they have the bodies in the trenches to play smash-mouth football, the Seahawks will remain a borderline playoff team.

Expect the Seahawks to focus on the trenches in the upcoming NFL draft. They filled some holes in free agency but the middle of the offensive line needs immediate attention. Thankfully, this year’s draft is one of the best ever for offensive linemen. The Seahawks may be able to move down in the draft and still fill their needs. If the Seahawks stick and pick at 16, you can be sure it’s for either Troy Fautanu or Taliese Fuaga.

There’s some late draft buzz around University of Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. after his impressive Pro Day performance this week. Penix has the best arm of any quarterback coming out. The guy can just flat-out fling it. Reminds you of Kenny “The Snake” Stabler. Penix definitely has the best deep ball of all the draft-eligible QB’s. The big knock has been his medicals and the fact he turns 24 next month.

There was a bit of a common theme running through the Seahawks free agent signings. New head coach Mike Macdonald was looking for high football-IQ guys. A “green dot” player is a player who wears a helmet with a speaker inside and calls the plays relayed from the coordinator. On defense, that’s usually a linebacker. In free agency, the Seahawks signed linebackers Tyrel Dodson and Jerome Baker along with safety Rayshawn Jenkins. All three have been green-dot guys on other teams.

It’s going to be fun to watch how Macdonald impacts the defense. There’s plenty of room for improvement. Watching the Seahawks get overpowered the past few seasons has not been pleasant viewing.

NFL Notebook – In case you missed it, the NFL is planning radical changes to the kickoff rules next season. It’s going to be a welcome change. Only 22 percent of kickoffs were returned last season. Can’t remember if a single kickoff was returned in the Super Bowl?

Members of the NFL’s Competition Committee spent the last two years studying the format utilized by the XFL. The new kickoff rules are a hybrid of that format. Here’s how it will work. The rule change calls for all players on the kicking team to line up at the receiving team’s 40-yard line while the receiving team lines nine players up on its own 35. Two players will be required to line up downfield as returners. The kicking team will still kick off from his own 35. The kickoff team defenders will not be permitted to move until the ball lands on the ground in the “landing zone” — inside the receiving team’s 20-yard line. If the ball lands short of the landing zone, the ball would be moved to the receiving team’s 40-yard line just as if a kickoff sails out of bounds. Touchbacks will call for the ball to be moved to the receiving team’s 30.

Of course, this is all meant to bring the excitement back to an important part of the game. It’s sure to have an effect on how teams approach the upcoming draft where speedy kick returners will suddenly now be in demand. It’s why the Seahawks decided not to cut receiver Dee Eskridge. The oft-injured Eskridge may now become a factor as a Seahawk return man.

Patrick Mahomes has done the Kansas City Chiefs a solid every off-season since signing his record contract by reworking the deal to open up cap space. Mahomes did it again this year and it saved the Chiefs $21 million against the cap. It will allow the Super Bowl champs room to add several quality players to an already great team.

Then you have Dak Prescott in Dallas. Dak is on the books for the second highest cap hit in the NFL next season at over $59 million. The Cowboys reworked the final year of his deal and will save $4 million off the cap. Thanks Dak! That’s really going to help. Try winning a playoff game some time.

Readers of Under Further Review wondered why we didn’t mention the news story that Aaron Rodgers was under consideration as a running mate for U.S. Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy Jr. who’s running as an Independent. Well, the short answer is we have a strict policy of avoiding mentioning Rodgers name if at all possible. Rodgers, the NFL’s ultimate diva, gets enough attention without us adding to the noise. Kennedy ultimately chose California attorney Nicole Shanahan.

Stop the Nonsense – Iowa’s Caitlin Clark is a heckuva basketball player. She’s become a U.S. media darling since supposedly breaking the all-time NCAA Division 1 scoring record. Clark is an amazing shooter and may well become the greatest female basketball player ever. She deserves all the accolades but please don’t compare her scoring feats to Pete Maravich who held the NCAA scoring record for decades. It’s apples to oranges. The whole idea of comparing men’s and women’s records equally is nonsensical.

Clark received a glut of attention when she broke Maravich’s record total of 3,771 points. Here’s the catch. Maravich played at a time when NCAA rules prohibited freshmen from playing. He set the record in three seasons, not four. What’s more, there was no shot clock or three-point shot. Basketball junkies claim that, had the three-point line been in effect, Maravich would have averaged 12 three-pointers per game and his career college scoring average would have been 57 points per game. As it was, he averaged 44.2 points per game in his three seasons at LSU. The shot clock had not yet been instituted. The time limit on ball possession now in effect speeds up play and results in a much higher number of field goal attempts, thus resulting in higher overall scoring in the college game. There’s simply no comparing the two records.

Maravich’s story deserves a mention. His scoring exploits earned him the handle “Pistol” Pete Maravich. No doubt he was a basketball junkie. His dad was a career coach, ultimately landing at LSU. As a child, Pete’s demanding father drilled him on the fundamentals. Young Pete would spend countless hours practising. He carried a basketball everywhere, dribbling to school and the movie theatre.

Now, more than 50 years later, many of Pete Maravich’s NCAA and LSU records still stand. He’s still considered one of the greatest offensive geniuses ever. Certainly, one of the greatest shooters and ball handlers of all-time. He was one of the youngest players ever inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and was named to both the NBA’s 50th and 75th anniversary teams.

Tragically, “Pistol” Pete Maravich died suddenly at the age of 40 during a pick-up game in Los Angeles in 1988. It was determined he died as a result of an undetected heart defect that he had played with his entire college and NBA career. An autopsy later revealed he had a rare congenital defect. His left coronary artery, which supplies blood to the muscle fibers of the heart, was missing. His right coronary artery was grossly enlarged and had been compensating for the defect.

Random Leftovers – Canadians continue to rack up top ten finishes on the PGA Tour. All five Canucks entered in this week’s Houston Open made the cut.

Mackenzie Hughes tied for third at last week’s Valspar Championship. He held the lead at one point during the final round. Adam Hadwin also registered a top ten with a tie for fifth. There seems to be a spirited competition among the Canadians this year with so much on the line including a spot on the Olympic team and an opportunity to play in the Presidents Cup competition in Montreal.

If Mike Weir were making the selections right now, there’s zero chance he should be picking Corey Conners. Conners has played in eight tournaments so far this season and his best finish was a T13 at the recent Players Championship. His game is nowhere near where it needs to be. The good news is there’s still lots of time to get things turned around.

The Champions Dinner at the Masters is going to have a distinct Spanish flavour. Defending champion Jon Rahm plans to serve up recipes from the Basque region of Spain where he grew up. The cocktail reception will include ‘gildas’ which are described as an anchovy skewer with peppers and olives. The appetizers will include lentil stew, using a recipe provided by Rahm’s grandmother, acorn-fed Iberian ham, cured pork loin and a Spanish omelet with potatoes and creamy chicken fritters. For the main course, Rahm will be serving up a Basque ribeye and Turbot, a white fish popular in the region, served with asparagus. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? Just a little better (and more thoughtful) than the first time Tiger Woods hosted the Master Club dinner in 1998. On the menu that year were cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, French fries and milkshakes.

It went virtually without mention on a national level but how about the accomplishments of the University of New Brunswick hockey team? The Reds captured the U Sports men’s hockey national championship which is outstanding in itself but it’s how they did it that’s remarkable.

UNB finished the season with a perfect 43-0 record. They went 5-0 in exhibition play, 30-0 in the regular season, 5-0 in the Atlantic University playoffs and 3-0 in the national championship tournament. They are the first team to go undefeated in university hockey in 62 years. It’s the Reds tenth national title and fifth in the last seven years. The Reds also finished the season on a 298-minute shutout streak. They did not allow a single goal in the national championships, beating the Brock Badgers 4-0 in the quarters, TMU Bold 7-0 in the semis and UQTR Patriotes 4-0 in the final. Pretty remarkable!

Meanwhile, the Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since an arrow went through Larry Storch’s hat in F Troop.

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