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Under Further Review – March Edition – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and regular contributor Jordan Moss. This week, let the dealing begin as the NHL trade deadline approaches. The Leafs get Kraken. Baseball is back and we pontificate on Russ’ exit from Seattle. 

Canucks Notebook – As the season slowly slips away, the Canucks find themselves in the worst of positions. Just outside of a playoff spot and in a precarious draft position where their first-round pick will be anything but a certainty. Right now, the pick will likely fall somewhere between 12 and 16. It’s time to give up the ghost and accept what you are and that’s a team boxed into a salary cap corner with a glaring lack of organizational depth.

The Canucks finally made their first moves since Jim Rutherford took the helm back in December. Travis Hamonic was sent to Ottawa for a third-round pick in a straight salary dump. Full marks for that move. GM Patrik Allvin then sent a third rounder to Toronto for depth defenceman Travis Dermott. This is a classic Rutherford deal. Acquire a young player and hope he somehow finds some upside. Dermott is making half the salary of Hamonic so it does clear some cap space.

The Canucks may not do anything significant unless someone steps up with a serious offer for Conor Garland or Brock Boeser. Those deals are probably best completed in the summer. After crushing losses to Detroit and Calgary, the Canucks will likely ship out the team’s pending UFA’s by Monday’s deadline if the return is decent.

Jake Virtanen’s stint in the KHL is over. The former Canuck was released by Spartak Moscow for what was termed “breach of contract.” No one knows the circumstances at this point but he may just be one of many players who bolted the ‘K’ following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Virtanen had nine goals and seven assists in 36 games this season. His hockey future certainly hangs in the balance since he’s facing a sexual assault charge that’s moving through the BC courts. His lawyer made a court appearance on his behalf in February.

NHL Notebook – If you are laying odds on who will win the Stanley Cup, there are five clear favourites – Calgary, Carolina, Colorado, Florida and Tampa. Everyone else can go to the back of the line. So far, only the Hurricanes have resisted giving up high draft assets in order to bolster their lineup.

One player who could be on the move is Blackhawks goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Here’s Fleury’s reply when asked where he might like to be traded.

A year ago, the Calgary Flames were a mess. They were playing at an 80-point pace and were anything but a Stanley Cup contender. Fast forward a year and the Flames are tracking to finish with 110 points. Darryl Sutter is a miracle worker and a leading contender for the Jack Adams award. What’s most incredible is the roster hasn’t been changed all that much. The improvement has come from within with several players enjoying career years.

Heading into free agency this summer, Johnny Gaudreau has been a different player. He’s fourth in the league in scoring with 28 goals and 80 points. Andrew Mangiapane has a career high in goals with 30. Matthew Tkachuk is on pace for close to 100 points. Elias Lindholm is having a career year. Jacob Markstrom is in the Vezina Trophy conversation. Last year, Markstrom was 25th in the NHL with a 2.68 goals-against average. This year, he’s second at 2.06 with a league-leading nine shutouts. Overall, the Flames are just a far superior defensive team and Sutter deserves a ton of credit.

The Flames can certainly give a tip of the hat to the Canucks for their run of success. There should be a hashtag #ThanksToJim. The Calgary lineup includes Markstrom, Chris Tanev, Tyler Toffoli and Rasmus Andersson who are all playing prominent roles. Andersson was a second-round steal that resulted from the deal that brought the immortal Sven Baertschi to Vancouver.

The Maple Leafs got into the act on Sunday by acquiring Mark Giordano and Colin Blackwell from the Seattle Kraken. Do you really think a 38-year-old defenceman is going to put the Leafs over the top? Boy Wonder has now traded a first, two-seconds, two thirds, two fourths and a seventh-round pick at the last two trade deadlines for the luxury of getting bounced in the first round. How does he keep his job?

After last season’s first-round flame-out, the Maple Leafs could not turf Freddie Andersen out of town fast enough. The Leafs thought Jack Campbell was the answer in goal. They signed free agent Petr Mrazek to back-up Campbell. The difference in salary between Andersen and Mrazek is 700 grand. Mrazek has stunk the joint out and was placed on waivers on Sunday.

This week, the Leafs, in desperation, turned to rookie Erik Kallgren. After two games, he was anointed the next Ken Dryden. After five pucks found the back of the net against Nashville, the tune has changed.  To add depth, the Leafs signed 32-year-old Finnish goalie Harri Sateri who’s claim to fame is having won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. As soon as he gives up a softie, we have a ready-made nickname for him – Scary Sateri!

The Vegas Golden Knights are in a desperate panic and will need a frantic finish just to make the playoffs. Have you noticed that Vegas started their nosedive in the standings as soon as Jack Eichel was added to the lineup? Is that just a coincidence?

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk can’t be happy with the monumental waste of money that is Matt Murray. The beleaguered goaltender has appeared in only 47 of 114 games since he was acquired two years ago from Pittsburgh. Murray’s record is 15-25-3. This season, he is 5-12-2 with a 3.05 GAA and is done for the year with yet another injury. The Sens gave him a four-year deal for $25 million and will probably have to buy him out this summer.

General Manager Pierre Dorion has done a good job at the draft table but his work at the negotiating table is far less impressive. The Bobby Ryan buyout is costing the Sens over $3.5 million this year and there’s two more years at over $1.8 million. Colin White is on the books for three more years at $4.75 million. Evgeni Dadonov was dumped on Vegas but it was Dorion who foolishly gave him a three-year, $15 million dollar contract. Agents must love sitting at the bargaining table with Dorion. Small market teams can’t afford to make these mistakes.

Dorion had months to get pending free agent Nick Paul under contract and could not reach an agreement. On Sunday, Ottawa sent Paul to the Tampa Lightning for Mathieu Joseph and a fourth-round pick. Absolutely baffling! Paul is one of the most underrated forwards in the NHL. The Bolts know exactly what they are getting. They’ve remade their third line in the last 24 hours. It’s not like Paul was asking for the moon. These are the type of players you win with. Sends a terrible message to the dressing room.

Speaking of bad negotiators, how about the San Jose Sharks? Apparently, they have learned nothing from all the bad contracts they’ve handed out over the years. Instead of putting UFA Tomas Hertl on the market, the Sharks signed him to a fat cat 8 X $8 million extension. This belongs in the WTF department. San Jose is already paying Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic over $7 million each and they were lucky to get out from under a rich deal handed Evander Kane. How is this a rebuild when you have a bunch of 30-something’s on bloated contracts?

Living in Dreamsville – When organizations lose for as long as the Toronto Maple Leafs, there’s a reason and the reason is accountability. Good organizations have accountability. The Leafs are surrounded by fans and sycophants with an ever-ending supply of excuses. The players don’t have to accept responsibility when they get bounced out of the playoffs in the first round every year because everyone around the team is at the ready with a bucketload of excuses.

Here’s what Postmedia’s Steve Simmons wrote about the Leafs – “The Maple Leafs have the car, the body, the engine, the tires, the technology, the ingenuity, the pit crew to win the big race. What they don’t have is the driver. And you can’t win without one.”  Simmons was suggesting the Leafs just need better goaltending in order to bring home a Stanley Cup.

He then wrote, “Yes, the Leafs are thin on defence but Pittsburgh won two Stanley Cups being thin on defence. Carolina won a Cup being thin on defence. That can be handled with structure. A goaltending problem cannot.”

Clearly, he’s living in an alternative universe. How can Simmons compare this year’s Leaf blueline to the Penguins defence corps that won a pair of Cups? When the Pens won the Cup in 2015-16, the defence group included Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, underrated Brian Dumoulin, Ian Cole, Olli Maata and cagey veterans Ron Hainsey, Rob Scuderi and Trevor Daley. I think that group is just a wee bit better than the limp group the Leafs are now rolling out on a nightly basis.

When you have adoring fans and cheerleading media, accountability take a backseat. Losing is acceptable because there’s always an excuse. Blame it on the goaltending and just gloss over all the other readily apparent flaws in a team that’s never been built for playoff hockey. When will they realize that you win Cups with battle-hardened players that will go to war for you?

Lewy Body Dementia – The list keeps expanding. Stan Mikita, Ralph Backstrom, Bob Murdoch. So many more who have been undiagnosed. The great Ken Dryden recently penned this article on Murdoch, his former Montreal Canadiens teammate, who was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia.

Little known fact:  Ralph Backstrom invented inline skates and he didn’t make a dime off it.

Baseball’s Back – It didn’t take long for the hype to build as the Blue Jays checked into training camp in Dunedin, Florida. All the baseball pundits are predicting the Jays will win the AL East. Vladdy Guerrero Jr. had the quote of the year when he told assembled media, “Last year was the trailer. Now you’re going to see the movie.”

The Blue Jays acquisition of third baseman Matt Chapman from the Oakland A’s is a clear indication of their intentions. The Jays are living in the present and the window for winning is wide open. Chapman plays third base as good as anyone in the game. The Jays have used 15 different players at the hot corner since trading Josh Donaldson. No more third basemen who catch the ball with their face!

Judging by Vladdy’s conditioning, we can expect another MVP-type year from the young slugger. He’s reportedly lost 22 pounds in the last month. (Which begs the question – what were you doing over the winter?)

There are numerous takeaways from the new MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement. Here’s a few highlights:

  • Baseball will move to a more balanced schedule next season which should be a big help to teams in the AL East.
  • The postseason will be expanded to 12 teams. The top two teams in each league will receive first-round byes. The single-elimination wild-card games are replaced by a three-game series (No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5). The winners of the three-game series advance to the division series.
  • The addition of a draft lottery. This is intended to discourage tanking although, judging by what the Oakland A’s have done in the past week, you wonder if it will have any effect.
  • A committee will decide on rule changes. Robot umps, larger bases, a ban on the shift and a pitch clock aren’t coming to MLB in 2022 but if and when they do, they’ll be implemented by this new joint committee.
  • No major league team has mined more talent in Latin America than the Blue Jays. As part of the new CBA, the two sides have until July 25 to reach a deal on an international draft. While it may hurt the Jays ability to land international talent, the system needs to be fixed. There’s so much corruption in the scouting and signing of Latin players. Some kids are scouted as early as 12. We’ve heard stories of kids getting steroids as young as 14. There’s trainers and scouts and coaches getting paid under the table. It’s a horribly corrupt system and something needs to be done to clean it up.

MLB Notebook – The Seattle Mariners have the dubious distinction of holding the longest playoff drought in pro sports – 20 years and counting. The pieces are in place after a painful rebuild and the outlook is positive. It’s time for the M’s to make the post-season. AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray was a prize off-season free agent signing. The hard-throwing leftie inked a five-year, $115 million dollar deal to front the rotation. Seattle has a bountiful group of young talent including outfielders Jarred Kelenic and Kyle Lewis and pitcher Logan Gilbert. Outfielder Julio Rodriguez, shortstop Noelvi Marte and starter George Kirby are knocking on the door. The bullpen is first-rate. Is this the year the Mariners unseat the Houston Astros in the AL West?

Cue the Rebuild – Still bitter about the Seahawks trading Russell Wilson to Denver? Still think it was a dumb move? Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to answer why it happened and it may not be that difficult to determine why. Russell Wilson was one year away from needing a new contract. Now that Aaron Rodgers has re-upped with Green Bay, the new benchmark for top quarterbacks is $50 million per season. The Seahawks asked themselves whether they really wanted to pay a 34-year-old quarterback $50 mil per season. The answer was obviously NO.

Make no mistake. The relationship between Wilson, his agent Mark Rodgers and the Seahawks was acrimonious. A year ago, it was the Wilson camp who leaked reports he was willing to accept a trade. Wilson kept saying he was committed to the Seahawks but was he?

Players claim he more or less ‘checked-out’ this season. Wilson always rubbed teammates the wrong way. Just ask Richard Sherman. Just how genuine was he? Russ was always about Russ. About his brand! He was great in the community but there was always a camera in tow just to make sure everyone knew about his visit to the children’s ward or the cancer clinic. You don’t think teammates notice this stuff?

Are you as nervous as me when it comes to the Seahawks plans? Are they really committed to a two-or-three year rebuild because that’s what it’s going to take to restock a badly eroded roster? Do they have the appetite for it? It would be a massive mistake if they don’t go all-in on a rebuild. Why would you use all the draft capital acquired in the trade of Russell Wilson to Denver to pick up another quarterback and then try and compete with the same shoddy roster? Makes no sense.

After dealing Wilson away, Seattle now has eight picks in the 2022 draft, including the 9th, 40th, and 41st overall selections. The Seahawks will have another 10 picks in 2023, including two first-rounders and two second-rounders. They could also have as much as $142.6 million in projected cap space. It’s certainly going to allow them to change the complexion of the roster.

The Seahawks have plenty of holes to fill. They need building blocks not a quick fix. Seattle is now in position to grab a premium pass-rusher or plug-and-play left tackle with top pick acquired from Denver. In the second round, they can address other needs including cornerback and potentially linebacker where they need to find along-term replacement for Bobby Wagner in the middle of the defense.

Looking ahead to next year’s draft, there’s a quarterback that should be on the Seahawks radar – Will Levis of Kentucky. Check out this video of Levis in action during his junior season with the Wildcats. I would be stocking up on draft picks to take a run at this kid.

The path is there if the Seahawks want to take it. Seahawk fans are not stupid. It will be painful but if they have to survive a year with Drew Lock at quarterback, then so be it. Take it slow and methodical. Rediscover the draft mojo that helped build the foundation for a Super Bowl championship. You did it once. Time to do it again.

Seahawks Free Agent Notebook – Apparently, the Seahawks are paying zero attention to our calls for a rebuild. They wasted no time in free agency resigning several of their own players including veteran safety Quandre Diggs. The Seahawks will now have over $30 million invested in their two safeties. THAT makes no sense.

The big head-scratcher was the three-year, $24 million dollar deal handed to tight end Will Dissly. He had 231 receiving yards last season and one, yes, one touchdown. How is this guy worth 8 mil?  The L.A. Rams gave the exact same contract to center Brian Allen, a player that would have filled a huge need. So much for investing in the trenches!

However, you have to take a lot of these free agent signings with a grain of salt. The contracts are only as good as the guaranteed money. Dissly, for instance, will only count just over $4 million against the cap next season and there’s little chance he’ll be around long enough to collect the full amount spelled out in the contract.

NFL Notebook – The Cleveland Browns acquisition of Deshaun Watson proves an NFL team will sell its soul to the devil to get a quarterback. The Browns chose to trade for a guy who was accused by 22 women of sexual harassment and assault and turned the other cheek because he avoided an indictment. Calling all masseuses in Cleveland – if Deshaun Watson calls, hang up!

Timing is everything. Two days before Tom Brady “unretired,” a collector paid $518,628 for Brady’s “last” touchdown ball. OOPS! What’s the ball worth now? Maybe $200.

With the mystifying trade for Carson Wentz, the Washington Commanders have gone from having no answer at quarterback to having no answer at quarterback. What were they thinking? Giving up valuable draft capital in an outstanding draft year for that stiff while agreeing to swallow his full $28 million dollar cap hit is nuts.

You don’t think quarterbacking is important in the NFL? Take the case of the Chicago Bears. Since 1992, 21 different quarterbacks have started at least five games in a season for the Bears. Here’s the list and its not exactly legendary:

Ezekiel Elliott will carry an $18.2 million dollar cap hit next season with the Dallas Cowboys. If ever there was a cautionary tale about not investing big money in a running back, that’s it.

This is NOT a misprint. Matt Ryan’s cap hit next season was set to be $48.6 million.. The Falcons had to add three voidable years to his contact totalling $9 million just to lower this year’s cap hit by $12 million. A wonderful example of pathetic cap management. How the Atlanta Falcons could let that happen is mystifying.

If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you will know we renamed the Denver Broncos the Denver Donkeys for their ineptitude in trying to acquire a decent quarterback. Well, I think we should now change the name of the Atlanta Falcons to the Atlanta Pigeons for their hapless salary cap management. We’re accepting recommendations for the Washington Commanders because no team deserves a derogatory handle more than that pathetic excuse for an organization. The early favourite is the Washington Dependers since they always crap the bed.

The NFL’s decision to suspend Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley for the entire 2022 season for betting on NFL games is completely over the top. Of course, he needed to be punished. But a one-year suspension that cannot be appealed until February of 2023 is ridiculous. Think about it for a minute. Ridley’s making $11 million per season. What motivation does he have to fix games?

The NFL comes down hard on Ridley but they go easy on domestic abusers. And what have they done to investigate Dolphins owner Stephen Ross who was accused by former coach Brian Flores of offering money in order to lose games and increase the Dolphins chances of landing a franchise quarterback?

The AFC West made the biggest splash in NFL free agency. This division may now be the best in football. The Los Angeles Chargers have a star-studded defense with holdovers Joey Bosa, Asante Samuel Jr. and Derwin James plus the additions of Pro Bowl end Khalil Mack and free agent cornerback J.C. Jackson. With brilliant young quarterback Justin Herbert, the Chargers roster is impressive. The Last Vegas Raiders added top pass rusher Chandler Jones and the NFL’s top receiver in Devante Smith.

Kansas City may now find it tough to keep their hold on top spot in the division. The Chiefs surprisingly brought back former Seahawk end Frank Clark. This guy’s a beauty. He once got pulled over by police who found a machine gun in his car. Who the hell does he think he is? Pretty Boy Floyd? Did he think he was going to run into the 101st Infantry?  Frank, give your head a shake. You are not heading to the Battle of the Bulge!

Here’s an interesting footnote to the trade of Russell Wilson to Denver. Back in 2012, the Donkeys were looking for a long-term replacement for Peyton Manning. Wilson had a pre-draft visit to Denver and a closed-door meeting with GM John Elway. What did the Donkeys do? They drafted Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler with the 57th overall pick in the draft. The next QB taken was Wilson by Seattle with the 75th pick. The Donkeys only spent the next decade looking for an answer at quarterback.

NBA Notebook – The Los Angeles Lakers are old and as stale as a week-old loaf of bread. Influential L.A. Times sportswriter Bill Plaschke thinks the Lakers should trade Lebron James while he still has some value and he may be right. The NBA salary cap is projected to be around $121 million next season. The combined salaries of Lebron, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook are around $130 million. Something has to give. Westbrook will earn $47 million in the final year of his contract. Try trading that contract!  If you are thinking the Lakers can start to rebuild through the draft, that’s not happening. The Lakers have traded away their first and second-round picks in 2022, 2023 and 2024. Good luck fixing that mess!

Rising Hoopsters – There is a chance we could see two Canadians picked in the top ten of the NBA Draft this summer. Arizona Wildcats sophomore guard Bennedict Mathurin earned Pac-12 Player of the Year honours and was one of ten semi-finalists for the Naismith Award as NCAA player of the year. The 19-year-old from Montreal is rated as high as sixth in some mock drafts. Mathurin is a 6-6, 210-pound guard who finished the year with a 17.4 PPG scoring average. He shot 47 percent overall and 38 percent from three-point range. He’s also learning to attack the basket off the dribble. Mathurin is from Haiti and can speak English, French and Creole.

TSN has taken notice. They recently did a feature on Mathurin. Check it out.–montreal-built~2401724

Meantime, there are reports that high schooler Shaedon Sharpe may declare for the draft despite a commitment to play at Kentucky. The London, Ontario native is eligible to enter the 2022 NBA Draft as an early-entry candidate. He turns 19 on May 30, one season removed from high school graduation, which makes him eligible for the draft. Like Mathurin, Sharpe is a 6-6 guard who is pegged to go as high as fourth in some mock drafts if he chooses to go pro. Frankly, Sharpe might be far better off to spend at least a year in the Kentucky program. Still, it’s amazing how many high-end young players are coming out of Canada.

Goodbye Professor – It doesn’t seem right to be saying goodbye to venerable NFL reporter John Clayton at the age of 67. He was unmatched as an NFL insider over a five-decade career that earned him the nickname “Professor.” He died on Friday after a brief illness. John’s regular daily hits on ESPN 710 Seattle were must listening. His Saturday morning show felt like you were sitting around the table with him. Not once did I listen to the Professor talk football on the air and not come away having learned something. He was a football savant and he will be missed.

Clayton was the centerpiece of what may be the greatest promotional commercial in ESPN history. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. Hilarious!

Golf Notebook – Abbotsford’s Adam Hadwin finished T7 at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida. Hadwin had a share of the lead after an opening round 64. He was within two shots early in the final round but was unable to make a move.

It seems absurdly macabre that two Canadians attending university on golf scholarships were the only survivors in a horrific car crash in Texas that killed nine people, all of whom were American. Donations are now pouring in for Dayton Price of Mississauga and Hayden Underhill of Amherstview, Ontario. The two golfers were attending University of the Southwest in Hobbs, New Mexico. They were the only survivors when the van in which they were travelling was struck by a pickup truck that crossed the centre line. Turns out the driver of the truck was 13 years old. The golf team was returning from a tournament in Midland, Texas.

Leftovers – Lost in Joe Buck’s move to ESPN to do Monday Night Football with former Fox partner Troy Aikman, is the fact Joe will no longer be doing baseball. Buck has broadcast 24 World Series. He’ll be missed in the booth doing important MLB playoff games and the Fall Classic. Amazon has signed Al Michaels to call Thursday night games starting this season. Not sure yet who he will be teamed with.

For a lot of sports fans there are some teams that you just love to hate. Why do fans cheer against the Leafs, Lakers, Yankees, Cowboys, Duke basketball and Alabama football? It’s because they come off as arrogant and fans think the scales are weighed too heavily in their favour, whether it’s inequitable spending, officiating favouritism, or television partisanship.

Spotify Songs of the Month – Here’s a few selections that have popped up on our Spotify playlist recently that we thought you might want to check out.

Luke Winslow-King is a singer-songwriter from Cadillac, Michigan who’s known for his slide guitar work.  Have a listen to the title track from his release Blue Mesa.

Eric Lindell grew up in the San Francisco Bay area but relocated to New Orleans in 1999 and you can see the Big Easy influences in his music. We recommend the remastered version of “Lay Back Down” from The Best of Eric Lindell. You might want to also check out “Sunny Daze” from the album Change in the Weather.

For a little switch, listen to the title track from the Heidi Talbot release Empty Promise Land featuring Mark Knopfler.

Spotify has also released a track entitled “You Got To Move” with Mavis Staples and Levon Helm from a release called Carry Me Home.

If you haven’t seen the Kenneth Branaugh movie Belfast yet, please check it out. The soundtrack for the movie was handled by Van Morrison and features several of his tunes. The movie ends with the song “And The Healing Has Begun” from the album Into The Music. Appropriate for what’s going on in the world right now.

YouTube Feature Artist – We leave you with an outstanding recording from the great Paul Carrack performing the iconic song How Long. Carrack wrote the song back in 1974 when he fronted the band Ace. The guy can SING!

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