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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and the usual cast of contributors including Jordan Moss, Ted Tait, Peter Hucul, Glen and Bill Myles, Dave Kittle and Ian MacPhee. This week, the demise of the Blue and White. The NHL playoffs bring plenty of surprises and the Seahawks get another A+.

Leaf Laughs – Let’s start with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Why not? Is there an easier target?

The Toronto Maple Leafs – providing the rest of the country with laughs since 1968!

Leafs beers – $17.  Leafs tickets – $1,000.  Leafs contracts: $10 million. Likelihood of the Leafs losing in the playoffs: Priceless.

Toronto is the only city where the leaves fall in the spring.

The Leafs saga could have been written before the playoffs even began. The Leafs always collapse under the weight of expectations. The Leaf lemmings have already fired up the K-Tel Excuse-O-Matic. Here’s the bitter truth:

  • The Leafs went 1-5 in six playoff home games. See ya!
  • They scored two goals in each of their final seven games. Bye bye.
  • John Tavares and Auston Matthews had no goals in the series vs. Florida. Bon Voyage.
  • The Leafs added six players at the trade deadline but it didn’t change the outcome. Sayonara.

Can you imagine being a Leaf fan and showing up at Maple Leaf Square for the six home games only to watch the team lose five of them? That’s cruel and unusual punishment. Then there was the Leafs fan who suggested the Leafs name Gordon Lightfoot as honourary captain after the death of the Canadian music legend. That’s brilliant! Have a honourary captain who’s most iconic song is about the sinking of a ship.

Therefore, we felt it necessary to pen a few Leaf-inspired lyrics, sung to the tune of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

In Dubie they trust, but all his moves were a bust.

And he’s traded all of their draft picks.

The old blue and white, they’ve dropped out of site.

They may have jumped into Lake Gitche Gumee.

 Remember Pully and Frank, Keon and Punch,

They lifted the Cup, not like this bunch.

It’s time to exhume the entire dressing room,

Toss aside the entire Core Four.

The Big Four don’t score, their defense is poor.

That’s what you get for 40 million.

They’ve got nothing to show seven years in a row.

They’ve sunk like the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Well, you can’t say we didn’t see this coming. This is a team that  went 19 years without winning a playoff series. In that time, the Montreal Canadiens won 11 rounds; Vancouver eight; Ottawa seven; Edmonton seven; Calgary five; and Winnipeg three. This is a team that managed to lose 10 consecutive elimination games when they had a chance to put teams away.  That’s a playoff record that may never be broken.

Excuses don’t fly. The Leafs were favoured to win the Cup by Vegas oddsmakers after the opening round that saw the record-setting Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning and defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanches all bite the dust early. The path was clearly there. The will was not.

We’re not big on self-congratulatory platitudes but when it comes to the Leafs, we’re batting .1000.  We’ve been consistent in our assessment of the team – they are simply not built to win in the playoffs. How much evidence do you need? Before the playoffs began, former Leaf Wendel Clark was asked about the multitude of trades at the deadline.  His response? “The guys we got, you’re hoping they don’t play like the guys we already got.”

What to do? You have a three-headed monster at the top of the corporate ladder with Larry Tanenbaum and competing media giants Bell and Rogers. The Shana-Plan is no plan. Nine years and nothing to show. Three GM ‘s and four coaches. Kyle Dubas keeps repeating the same mistakes. He dealt a first-round pick for six games of Nick Foligno, then turned around this year and did it all over again with Ryan O’Reilly. How different would the Leafs be today if they had chosen Mark Hunter as GM over Harry Potter?

The draft cupboard is empty. The farm system is empty and who wants to take on any of the Core Four?  Ten roster players are pending UFA’s. The jig is definitely up. Changes are coming because you can’t run back this gong show one more time.

NHL Playoff Notebook – In case anyone needed a reminder, it’s now been thirty years since a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup. The Edmonton Oilers were Canada’s last hope before bowing out in six games vs. Vegas. You have to wonder what Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will be thinking this off-season. Like Toronto, the pieces just don’t seem to add up. Goaltending continues to be a problem in Edmonton. Stuart Skinner was replaced in game six for the third time in four games. Vegas had their way with the Oilers physically, crashing the net with abandon.

The Golden Knights have now reached the conference final four times in their six-year history. The Seattle Kraken could end up facing Vegas and wouldn’t that be nice? Two expansion teams gifted playoff-ready lineups. If Gary Bettman had a single testicle, he would admit the expansion process for both teams was a huge miscalculation.

Winning the Presidents’ Trophy has become something of a curse. The Boston Bruins had 65 wins this season and a record-breaking 165 points only to be unceremoniously bounced in the opening round. No President’s Trophy winner has won the Cup in ten years since the Blackhawks in 2012-2013. The Bruins lost only four games on home ice all season. They lost three in the series vs. the Panthers. Patrice Bergeron missed several games before playing with a herniated disc. David Krejci also missed games. You can’t lose your top two centreman and survive in the playoffs.

The Colorado Avalanche were opening round upset victims as well. Seems like the Avs were behind the eight-ball all season. Seattle scored the first goal in all seven games in that series. It will be interesting to see what Joe Sakic does in the off-season. Captain Gabriel Landeskog is set to undergo ligament replacement surgery and will miss all of next season. It will open up much-needed cap space to make a few roster additions.

Oilers defenseman Evan Bouchard may be an accident waiting to happen in his own end but this guy can shoot the puck like few others. Moving Tyson Barrie at the deadline and opening a spot for Bouchard on the power-play has been a difference-maker for the Oilers. As if the PP needed to be any better.

The Calgary Flames finally have a new arena deal. The product on the ice is another question. Brad Treliving exited the scene in quick fashion after the Flames failed to make the playoffs. He was followed in short order by the Flames ever-charming head coach Darryl Sutter. Don’t think for a minute the players didn’t throw Sutter under the bus in exit meetings. Don Maloney, who sat on Glen Sather’s knee for what seemed like decades in New York, is in charge for now. Treliving left a dog’s breakfast of a roster for whoever takes over including malcontent Jonathan Huberdeau who enjoyed the largest drop in point production in one season in NHL history from 115 to 55, a tidy 60-point plunge in a single campaign.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have suffered the inevitable roster churn that seems to hit every Stanley Cup champion. Injuries on the back end to Victor Hedman and Erik Cernak were a big factor in their first-round loss to the Leafs. Hell, they lost three overtime games and came ever so close to sidelining the Leafs again. Gone from the Cup teams are Yanni Gourde, Barclay Goodrow, Ondrej Palat, Blake Coleman, Jan Rutta and Ryan McDonagh. Alex Killorn is probably next. The salary cap makes it next to impossible for Cup teams to keep the same crew together.

You have to have a little bit of sympathy for the Winnipeg Jets. They took the opening game of their series with the Vegas Golden Knights and looked great doing it. Then, the Jets proceeded to lose four straight and were hit with back-breaking injuries to Josh Morrissey and Mark Schiefele.  Still, you have to think it’s time for a major shakeup in Winnipeg especially after cryptic comments from coach Rick Bowness after the Jets were eliminated. Bowness railed on the Jets lack of pushback in the series. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff may finally be in trouble. Seems like the roster needs a big-time makeover.

Former NHL player turned broadcaster Keith Jones has been named the new President of the Philadelphia Flyers. Daniel Briere had the interim tag removed as general manager. The Flyers roster is without any high-end, foundational-type pieces. Good luck turning that situation around.

Can someone explain how Mitch Marner could be a finalist for the Selke Trophy? You have to be kidding.

The NHL has to change the names of some of their trophy’s. The Norris Trophy should be named after Bobby Orr. Name the Selke Trophy after Claude Provost or someone who’s representative of the attributes used to honour the NHL’s top defensive forward. By the way, a lot of people believe they should have a trophy for the NHL’s top defensive defenseman as well.

Expect San Jose’s Erik Karlsson to win the Norris this season. His point totals were ridiculous. Karlsson had 25 goals and 101 points. Voters will overlook the fact he was minus-24. Cale Makar was a finalist for the award despite playing only 60 games. No way he should have been nominated. So many other defensemen had amazing seasons including Miro Heiskanen of the Dallas Stars, Josh Morrissey of the Jets, Hampus Lindholm of the Bruins, Rasmus Dahlin in Buffalo and let’s not forget, Quinn Hughes in Vancouver.

Everybody mentions the great job Bill Zito has done in Florida. Not only did he pilfer Matthew Tkachuk from the Flames, he also stole Sam Bennett for a second-round pick. Another Treliving gaffe.

Do you think Patrick Kane may be thinking about a return to the Blackhawks? There will be a rookie in Chicago he might want to play with.

Landing the top pick in the draft is certainly no sure-thing. Just ask the New York Rangers. Alexis Lafreniere is looking more and more like a bust. In the Rangers seven-game, first-round loss to the Devils, Lafreniere had zero goals, zero points, zero PIM’s, zero takeaways. Nice clean stat sheet. Lack of footspeed is preventing Lafreniere from making an impact.

OEL Oh! Well – You know where this is headed. The date was July 24, 2021. It’s a date that will live in Canucks infamy. We shuttered the day Jim Benning pulled the trigger on the Oliver Ekman Larsson trade with the Arizona Coyotes. We knew it had disaster written all over it.  No team would touch OEL with a barge pole, except for Jim Bob and the Canucks. They were bidding against themselves.

Fast forward to today and it’s clear a divorce is inevitable. In the Canucks boardroom, there’s already been serious discussion about a buyout as soon as this summer. Yes, a mere two years after generously absorbing his bloated $7.26 million-dollar annual cap hit that, at the time, had six years remaining. Now, the Canucks are considering eating the final four years of the deal that runs through the 26-27 season. It probably won’t happen this summer but it’s just a matter of when and ‘when’ may be sooner than you think.

The cost will be painful. Think Minnesota Wild painful. The Wild have been cap-crippled under the paralyzing buyouts of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise which is costing the team a combined hit of $12,743,588 this season followed by $14,743.588 in 2023-24 and 2024-25. In fact, it doesn’t end there. The Wild will eat $1,666,666 for an additional three years after that.

The Canucks probably have no choice but to rip off the band-aid and take their medicine. Better yet, they can pray Ekman Larsson comes up with a mysterious injury and goes on LTIR for the next couple of years. It’s a painful reminder of one of the worst transactions, not only in Canucks history, but NHL history.

The Canucks usual late season surge left them with the eleventh overall pick in the upcoming NHL draft. Austrian blueliner Davie Reinbacher is the top-rated defenseman. Forget about Reinbacher being available when the Canucks pick. Knowing the Canucks penchant for mining Swedes, expect Patrik Allvin to select Axel Sandin Pellikka. He’s too small for our liking. Another Swedish blueliner Tom Willinder is shooting up draft boards. He’s bigger and shoots right, a commodity badly needed by the Canucks. Russian defenseman Dmitri Simashev is another potential blueliner worth consideration.

Alpha Dogs R US – For the second year in a row, the Seattle Seahawks scored an A+ at the NFL draft table. The Seahawks may not have landed their quarterback-of-the-future but they came away with another truck-load of talent and avoided any character risks. What they got is a bunch of alpha-dogs who are physical on the field and tone-setters off the field. Future leaders who can be the foundation of another Super Bowl champion.

The Seahawks grabbed the consensus top cornerback in the draft in Devon Witherspoon with the fifth overall pick, (Thanks Russ!) before grabbing the top-rated pass-catcher in Jaxon Smith-Njigba who finally gives the team a solid third receiving threat. OLB Derick Hall, taken in the second round, will bring added juice to the pass rush. Reports say the Hawks had a first-round grade on Hall.

One thing is certain, the Seahawks are going to be a lot more physical this season. To take the next step, they have to become more competitive in the trenches. They added several big bodies in the later rounds in OG Anthony Bradford, DT Cameron Young and DE Mike Morris. The offensive line may finally be able to control the line of scrimmage and push people around. Running back Zach Charbonnet gives Seattle a solid one-two punch along with Kenneth Walker. The offense figures to be among the NFL’s most explosive.

NFL Notes – Now that the 2023 NFL draft has come and gone, we have the final tally on the Russell Wilson trade. It’s looking Herschel Walker-esque in the Seahawks favour. The Seahawks could have as many as eight roster players this season as a result of the deal.

Seattle received:

  • 2022 first-round pick (LT Charles Cross)
  • 2022 second-round pick (OLB Boye Mafe)
  • 2022 fifth-round pick (traded to later draft OLB Tyreke Smith and WR Dareke Young)
  • 2023 first-round pick (CB Devon Witherspoon)
  • 2023 second-round pick (OLB Derick Hall)
  • QB Drew Lock
  • TE Noah Fant
  • DT Shelby Harris

Denver received:

  • QB Russell Wilson
  • 2022 fourth-round pick (DE Eyioma Uwazurike)

Great to see the identical Brown twins from London, Ontario drafted into the NFL and heading to great teams. Sydney, who’s a safety, went to Philadelphia in the third round. Chase, who’s a running back, went to Cincinnati in Round 5

As it stands today, the current salary cap number for Aaron Rodgers in 2024 is $107,600,000. That is $22.1 million more than the NFL salary cap total per team in his rookie season in 2005.

Here’s Peter King’s assessment of the New York Jets acquisition of Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers: The trade was Rodgers and the 15th pick in the first round this year to the Jets, in exchange for the 13th and 43rd picks this year and a second-rounder next year that becomes a first-rounder if Rodgers plays 65 percent of the Jets’ offensive plays this year. So, very likely it’s Rodgers for a one, a two and a flop of ones this year in Green Bay’s favor. The only way this is a justifiable risk for the Jets is if Rodgers plays at least two years in New Jersey, or if he plays one and the Jets win the Super Bowl. End of story. Couldn’t agree with him more!

The Baltimore Ravens took a huge risk in signing quarterback Lamar Jackson to a new $260 million dollar deal. Jackson brokered the deal without an agent, meaning he’ll pocket the 3% agent fees which amount to $8 million. Under the terms of Jackson’s new contract, he will earn $80 million this season in salary and bonuses. It took Tom Brady ten years to earn that much.

Favourite names from the NFL draft: Shannon Showers, Will Lay III, Toa Taua, Puka Nacua, Yaya Diaby, Briggs Bourgeois, Tre’Mond Shorts, Shaheem Haltiwanger, Momo Sanogo, Wardalis Ducksworth, Seyddrick Lakalaka, Reidgee Dimanche, Naytron Culpepper, LaQuinston Sharp, Chancellor Brewington, Boogie Knight, Ye’Majesty Sanders and Bumper Pool. If you prefer guys with a double name, how about Malaki Malaki, Fa’Avae Fa’Avae and Poutasi Poutasi?

Blue Jays Notebook – What’s happened to Alek Manoah? He was a Cy Young nominee in the American League last season. This season – not so good. A lot of baseball observers think Manoah is having trouble with the pitch clock. He no longer has 30 seconds or more to prepare for the next pitch. Now, with the new rules, he has to fire the next pitch within 15-20 seconds. Carrying 265 pounds, he’s often been gassed.

The Blue Jays decision to sign Kevin Gausman is looking very astute. You will remember the Jays had hoped to sign Ricky Ray after the 2021 season when he captured the AL Cy Young award. Instead, he opted to sign with Seattle and is now gone for the season following arm surgery. The Jays quickly inked Gausman to a similar five-year deal and he continues to pay dividends. His control is impeccable. Gausman has walked only seven batters so far this season in 48 innings and has a first-pitch strike rate of 72%. He’s become the Jays number one starter.

No doubt the Jays have a great one-two punch in Bo Bichette and Vladdy Guerrero. It’s remarkable how similar their stats are so far this season. Bichette is hitting .320. Vladdy is hitting .315. Bo has 8 home runs. Vladdy has 7. Bichette has 26 RBI, Guerrero has 24. Bichette has an on-base percentage of .365 while Guerrero is at .392. Bo has an OPS of .880. Vladdy is at .915.

Matt Chapman was AL player-of-the-month in April. He’s finished the month first in batting average, 1st in OPS, 1st in slugging, 1st in doubles, 2nd in hits, and 2nd in runs scored. Chapman is a free agent after the season and the price just went up.

MLB Notebook – MLB rule changes are working like a charm. The time of nine inning games have been reduced on average by 26 minutes last time we checked. The pace of play is dramatically improved. Batting averages are up. OPS is up across the league. Stolen bases are way up along with the success rate. Studies showed that fans found the games too long. The league did something about it in order to attract the next generation of fans. Good on MLB for listening.

How tough is the American League East? Tampa Bay is on pace to win over 125 games. Baltimore is playing at 110-win pace. The Jays are going to have to stay within striking distance just to land a wildcard spot. The poor Yankees are sitting in last place and may just stay there. Aaron Judge is on the DL after signing the mega-deal in the off-season. He was hitting .261 when he was sidelined. The Yankees rank 22nd in major league baseball in runs scored. The list of the infirmed includes Carlos Rodon, Giancarlo Stanton (of course), Josh Donaldson, Luis Severino, Frankie Montas, Jonathan Loasiga and Harrison Bader. The pitching staff has been hit hard. At one point recently, the Yanks had $160 million dollars on the injury list. Unless the Yankees get things turned around, and quick, they may be on the outside looking in come the post-season.

No team has spent more money in the past couple of off-seasons than the San Diego Padres. They added superstars in Manny Machado, Juan Soto and Xander Bogaerts in subsequent seasons but so far, the results are uninspiring. The Padres are currently three games under .500 at 19-and-22 and seven games back of the Dodgers in the NL West. Something’s gotta give there soon.

The defending champion Houston Astros took a big chance signing first baseman Jose Abreu to a three-year, nearly $60 million dollar contract in the off-season even though he was entering his age-36 season. Abreu is hitting .214 and still looking for his first home run of the season. It’s been a big reason why the Astros have fallen behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West.

Leftovers – Expect the NBA to come down hard on Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant in wake of his latest gun-toting Instagram video, the second incident in a matter of months. He was immediately suspended by the team. Morant’s five-year, $194 million max contract is set to begin this coming season. How about sitting his ass for a year?

The Golden State Warriors are quickly fading from view as an NBA powerhouse. Klay Thompson has never fully recovered from a devastating knee injury. He shot just 21% in the Warriors playoff loss to the Lakers. How quickly things have changed for one of the NBA’s best gunslingers.

Is it just me or is Canadian-born Dillon Brooks turning into the next BNA thug?  The Mississauga native, who plays for the Memphis Grizzlies, made like a goof in the team’s opening round matchup with the L.A. Lakers. He might want to look in the mirror over the summer and clean up his act.

RIP Vida Blue. In the early 70’s, the Oakland A’s were the coolest team in all of sports. And no one was cooler than Vida Blue in his A’s uniform with the green sleeves and the gold vest. Blue was a hard-throwing lefthander with a fastball in the upper 90’s. In his first full season in 1971 at just 21, he went 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA. He had 24 complete games in 39 starts. Unheard of today.

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