Under Further Review –
Crisis Point – OK, enough already, let’s just all agree NHL officiating is at a crisis point. The winning goal in overtime that gave San Jose the victory in game 3 of the Western Conference final and a 2-1 series lead was an easy review. One quick look at the video and the goal is disallowed because of an obvious hand pass. How hard is that?
Instead, four officials on the ice were apparently so out to lunch that none of them had a clear view. The Sharks walk away with a victory that should never have happened. Almost every series in this post-season has had at least one, if not more, controversy’s over officiating. The referees will call a stupid ‘puck-over-the-glass’ call in overtime that hands some team a victory but they will miss the obvious. In the Boston-Columbus series, Charlie McEvoy nearly takes Josh Anderson’s head off with a vicious head shot, yet receives only a two minute minor. It was so egregious they later gave him a one-game suspension, which during the season, would be three or four games. McEvoy should have received five and a game, a call that could have turned the tables in that game and the series.
What comes to mind is how these non-calls or blatantly bad calls are affecting the fan experience. Do you really want to get emotionally attached to your team if there’s a good chance they are going to be screwed in the playoffs by the officials? The NHL has got to get the situation corrected in the off-season.
Offer Sheets – You have to wonder if this is not the summer when NHL general managers step up and use offer sheets in an effort to improve their hockey clubs. The NHL has released the numbers for compensation on offer sheets and judging by the figures, it could get very interesting.
$1,395,053 for below – None
Over $1,395,053 – $2,113,716 – Third Round Pick
Over $2,113,716 – $4,227,437 – Second Round Pick
Over $4,227,437 – $6,341,152 – First & Third Round Picks
Over $6,341,152 – $8,454,871 – First, Second & Third Round Picks
Over $8,454,871 – $10,568,589 – (2) First, Second & Third Round Picks
Over $10,568,589 – (4) First Round Picks
While TSN’s respected Bob McKenzie says he is still not convinced teams will use offer sheets this summer, I am not so sure. As an example, if the Sharks UFA Joonas Donskoi would agree to a four-year deal at $4.2 million per season, would you not surrender a second round pick as compensation? How about a similar deal for the Leafs Andreas Johnsson? I am sure there are other second tier players who may also be worth an offer sheet, let alone going after the bigger fish. If nothing happens this summer, then I say there’s a gentleman’s agreement among NHL general managers because if you are not seriously considering using offer sheets to improve your club, then you are not doing your job.
Breakout Stars – I mentioned last week that there are always players who break out and make a name for themselves in the NHL playoffs. Here’s a few other names that have caught people’s eyes in these playoffs. For the Bruins, two guys who have been noticeable are defenseman Brandon Carlo and forward Danton Heinen. Several previously unheralded players on the St. Louis Blues have stepped up including Vince Dunn and Oscar Sundqvist. Defenseman Jaccob Slavin and forward Warren Foegele were break-out players for Carolina. If you want to go deep in the playoffs you must have young players come of age right before your eyes when the lights are brightest.
Vanilla Pablum – I’ve got to get something off my chest! Hockey coverage in Canada sucks! If you compare what Hockey Night in Canada is serving up to coverage of major sports in the US, it’s not even close. For decades, HNIC has had a long line of ex-goalies and out-of-work coaches doing colour commentary and let’s just say it, its vanilla pudding! It seems like their main priority is to not offend anyone, let alone the players or fellow coaches, or worse yet, NHL executives.
It serves no purpose to go through all the names. You know who they are. They seem to make it their sole obligation to serve up softballs. They are loath to criticize regardless of who is playing. When it comes to the local level, it gets worse. The local announcers broadcast as though they are worried about their next pay cheque. That if they criticize the local hockey heroes, they will be banished for life. Talk about ‘company men’. These guys are ‘bag men’. What they don’t realize is honesty works. The fans aren’t stupid. They are seeing the game through the same lens. You can’t build trust and integrity without honesty. Tom Larsheid loved the Canucks and his passion for the team was apparent but he was also not afraid to criticize and that’s how he built a following and established credibility.
Sports broadcasting has grown to such an extent that everyone is under tremendous scrutiny. Broadcast rights are through the roof. But while we may want to throw a whole whack of hockey analysts under the proverbial bus, the real blame lies with the executive producers and producers. These are the guys who hired the lame analysts in the first place and stick with them for no apparent reason. Why? Because it’s the safe thing to do. If you hire someone who is controversial or who will ‘tell it like it is’, then you are going to have to answer to NHL executives and potentially, to NHL owners. Don’t forget, what’s at stake is NHL rights and YOUR job depends on your network holding onto the rights. So don’t expect things to change. The bar is set so low in Canada, we can only look forward to more of the same dribble.
As irascible as Brian Burke was as an NHL executive, he is growing into his new job as an NHL analyst. It is rather apparent that he is being groomed to replace the living legend that is Don Cherry. While Grapes’ act is wearing thin, it will still leave a huge void in the minds of many Canadian hockey watchers, especially those who cling to Cherry’s old school hockey values. You know – the whole ‘code’ shtick.
Moments in Time – Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beater in game seven against the 76’ers was, without a doubt, the single greatest moment in Raptors history. The shot will be replayed for decades and can certainly be considered franchise-altering. The Blue Jays had that moment when Joe Carter hit the walk-off home run in the World Series. The Leafs, well, not so much. They can always look to the night when Roger Neilson wore a bag over his head behind the Leafs bench. That’s about as good as it gets for the Leafs.
No Recognition – From the department of the ridiculous. Can you believe that John Schneider of the Seahawks has never been named NFL Executive of the Year? Since he took over in Seattle in 2010, six of the nine GM’s who have won the award have been fired and one of the other winners was none other than Jerry Jones, who just so happens to own the Dallas Cowboys. It’s not like Jerry is going to fire himself. The latest Exec of the Year to be axed is Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan. It’s unfathomable that Schneider didn’t win in 2013. One of the award winners who have since been axed was Indianapolis Colts GM Ryan Grigson who, as it happens, now works for Schneider. And while we’re at it, Pete Carroll has never been named NFL Coach of the Year, yet Bruce Arians has won the award twice. Go figure!
White Lightning – An absolutely jaw-dropping story took place last Saturday at a track meet in Houston. An 18 year-old high schooler named Matthew Boling set a national record time of 10.13 seconds in the 100-meter sprint against a stacked field. The record came just two weeks after Boling had posted a wind-aided 9.98 in an earlier meet.
The Georgia-bound senior wasn’t done. He set a state and national record in the long jump with a leap of 25 feet, 4 and a half inches. Incredible feats since Boling had been mainly known as a quarter miler until this year and he still hasn’t even graduated high school. In posting these results at just 18, there’s little question he will be favoured to win gold in at least one discipline in the 2024 Olympics. Oh, by the way, in case you were wondering, Boling is white.
Anothertwistafate – Best of luck to Vancouver’s Peter Redekop and Anothertwistafate in Saturday’s Preakness at Pimlico Raceway in Baltimore. Redekop is a perennial leading thoroughbred owner here in BC and is a member of the British Columbia Horse Racing Hall of Fame. Redekop made his fortune in real estate development and dove into racehorse ownership in the 1960s. The favourite in the race is Improbable. Maybe Anothertwistafate will do the improbable.
Chief Concerns – Is there an organization in sports that has done a worse job of evaluating the character of its players than the Kansas City Chiefs? Domestic abuse seems to be par for the course in KC because there is no end to the litany of sickening episodes.
The most recent case involves a criminal investigation into accusations of child abuse against All-Pro receiver Tyreek Hill. Audio has been released in which Hill’s wife is heard accusing Hill of hitting their 3-year-old son. She tells him that the child is “terrified” of him. Hill’s response: “You need to be terrified of me, too, b—h.” There are reports Hill broke the child’s arm.
The Chiefs have barred Hill from team activities while the NFL again sits by silently. This is typical of the NFL when it comes to domestic violence, drunk driving or other unseemly behavior. Hey, you wouldn’t want to damage anyone’s fantasy team! It took the NFL six months to deal with Ray Rice. His suspension would have stayed at two games had TMZ not released video of him dragging his girlfriend around by the hair.
Then there’s the case of the Chiefs All-Pro running back Kareem Hunt. Video surfaced of him shoving and kicking a woman outside a hotel elevator. The Chiefs had no choice but to release him. It took the NFL two months to announce his eight-game suspension.
Whether charges against Hill surface or not, at some point he will be suspended by the league and the Chiefs will kick him to the curb. But make no mistake, another team will pick him up. (See Hunt, Cleveland.) Hill’s talents are too tempting to pass up.
Don’t forget, this was a team that had endured one of the most horrifying episodes in NFL history, the murder-suicide of linebacker Jovan Belcher. At the time of the incident back in November 2012, Belcher was living with his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins and their three-month old daughter. They reportedly argued frequently. On the evening in question, Belcher returned home around 6:30am following a night of partying and immediately had another argument with Perkins. In the ensuing argument, Belcher pulled out a handgun, shot and murdered Perkins in front of his own mother, Cheryl Shepherd. Perkins, who was only 22 years old, had been shot in the neck, chest, abdomen, hip, back, leg, and hand, a total of 9 times.
Before police could arrive, Belcher drove to the Chiefs complex five miles away. He stepped out of the car with a gun pointed to his head and encountered Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli. Pioli tried to persuade Belcher to drop the gun. Head coach Romeo Crennel also arrived and made a plea. As the sound of sirens approached, Belcher told the men that he had to kill himself. He then knelt down beside the car and pulled the trigger. It was later determined that Belcher had suffered head trauma during his playing career and had signs of CTE.
You would think an organization would learn from an incident as horrific as this. Apparently not. So what did the Chiefs do this off-season? They went out and acquired another guy with a checkered past. The Chiefs coughed up first and second round draft picks to acquire defensive end Frank Clark from the Seahawks. Lest we forget, Clark was dismissed from the Michigan Wolverines in his senior year of college following a domestic abuse arrest. Clark had also been suspended in his freshman year after being arrested for felony home invasion. But in Kansas City they welcome Clark and hand him a new $105 million dollar contract, $65 million of which is guaranteed.
Tulsa Time – We leave you with this week with a little ditty from 2007, a live performance from Eric Clapton’s Crossroads concerts. It’s ‘Tulsa Time’ featuring Sheryl Crow, Clapton, Albert Lee and Vince Gill. I could be wrong but that looks like the incomparable Jerry Douglas on slide guitar.