Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Co-Editor Bill Morphy and contributions from Jordan Moss and the Big E in Montreal. This week, the Canucks hit rock bottom. We make our Team Canada selections and offer an Open Letter to the Leafs. Plus the NFL Draft and the Jays Week in Review.
Canucks This Week – As the sun sets on the Canucks sad-sack season, we come to reflect on the sorry state of the franchise. (Is that enough S’s for you?) The Canucks, as a franchise, are basically one notch above the Buffalo Sabres, their expansion brethren. We need not remind you that neither team has won a Cup in more than half a century of painful existence.
Who to blame? Point no further than the absentee owner who appears to be completely detached. He’s hired three first-time general managers in a row and a pair of first-time coaches. Anybody with any common sense has departed the organization. Perhaps Francesco Aquilini would have had the money to sign Tyler Toffoli or extend Travis Green if it hadn’t cost him a small fortune to settle his recent divorce. When a high school dropout is the most senior manager in your organization, what does that tell you? Someone is asleep at the wheel. The general manager has been on the job for seven years and just asked us to be patient for two more. Who does that? And what owner would stand by and accept it?
The organization seems paralyzed whenever it comes to making a decision. There’s no pro-active planning just reactionary thinking. Got a weakness in the lineup, how can we fix it right now? Need a fourth-line centre? Let’s hand Jay Beagle $12 million. That’ll fix it, without conducting a thorough valuation of the assessment cost. The Canucks already had Nic Dowd and Brad Richardson in that role. Both veterans continue to get the job done elsewhere at barely the league minimum. Are you seeing a theme here? Who spends $12 million on a fourth-line centre?
The Canucks bottom-six is a dog’s breakfast. Most of the players seeing action right now should be in the American Hockey League. The Canucks are rolling out bottom-six line combinations of Vesey-Boyd-MacEwen and Highmore-Sutter-Hawryluk. This is what you get after seven years? It’s a major indictment of the player development department. Think about it? Other than goaltender Thatcher Demko, the Canucks have not graduated anyone of note from Utica in seven years under Jim Bob Benning? Meantime, organizations like Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Boston and Colorado churn out valuable roster-filling players. We poke fun at the Maple Leafs but they have made 60+ draft selections during Benning’s time in Vancouver. It’s simple – more picks, more organizational depth. If you look at the roster the Canucks are currently icing, it is barely a cut above the worst teams in the league. Any good fortune the team has enjoyed over the past two seasons is based entirely on spectacular goaltending performances. Can you imagine where this team would be if they had league-average goaltending?
When you start to project ahead to this summer and what needs to be accomplished for the Canucks to return to the post-season, you can’t help but get nervous. If Jim Benning is still at the controls, do you really think he will be able to navigate the salary cap, the expansion draft, buy-outs and the trade market in order to push the team forward? You would have to be an eternal optimist to believe Benning can suddenly find the magic touch because he hasn’t demonstrated the wherewithal to this point.
Jake Virtanen has presumably played his last game in a Canucks uniform. The mercurial forward has been placed on leave amid allegations of sexual misconduct. The team has hired ‘external expertise’ to conduct an independent investigation into the matter. Expect the Canucks to expose Virtanen in the expansion draft although it’s doubtful Seattle will show any interest, leaving Vancouver little option but to buy him out. Virtanen had 18 goals last season but has only 5 this season along with, incredibly, ZERO assists. You read that right! The guy has the hockey IQ of a wombat. Wouldn’t Nik Ehlers look good in a Canucks uniform right now? Ehlers is just one of the players the Canucks passed over in order to select local boy Virtanen.
Will the NHL ever move away from the so-called ‘Code’ and get over the Neanderthal need for payback? Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre is one of the best hockey writers in Canada and he was bang-on in calling out Wayne Simmonds of the Leafs for the retribution attack on the Canucks Alexander Edler. It was embarrassing! Simmonds felt the need to jump Edler even though Edler had apologized for his ill-advised check on the Leafs Zach Hyman that put Hyman on the sidelines. Edler also served a two-game suspension. Apparently that wasn’t enough. Simmonds has had 76 career fights. Edler had not been in one fight in his 913-game career. Yet, Simmonds felt the need to adhere to ‘The Code’. The Leafs, to a man, agreed. Show the guy some respect! Edler has played almost 1,000 games in the NHL including playoffs. He apologized profusely, served his suspension, and was coming off a bout with COVID-19 yet had to be subjected to that crap. Even more ridiculous, Kevin Bieksa, who claims Edler is one of his three best friends in hockey, agreed with the Simmonds response on national TV and called out MacIntyre for defending Edler. Claimed MacIntyre doesn’t understand ‘The Code.’ Of course, Bieksa knows a thing or two about cheap-shots. If memory serves me correct, and it does, Bieksa was quite capable of sticking his leg out and tripping up an opponent.
NHL News & Notes – It’s been an equally pathetic season in Calgary where the Flames also have a general manager who has been on the job for seven years. It’s not surprising Flames fans are calling for the ouster of Brad Treliving. In honour of their recent suffering, we have a new nickname for the Flames GM – Brad Try-Leaving!
Have you noticed that Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has been radio silent for a long time now? After his untimely rant threatening to move the team out of the Nation’s Capital, Melnyk has kept very quiet. You have to wonder if Gary Bettman didn’t step in and tell Melnyk to shut his trap.
Good line from Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star: “There’s been so much hype about the Montreal Canadiens Cole Caufield, you’d think he was a Leaf.”
Turner Sports has landed the remaining portion of the NHL’s U.S. TV contract. The deal runs for seven years and includes three Stanley Cup Finals. The yearly rights fee with Turner and ESPN is estimated at $650 million. It will be interesting to see how Turner positions itself from a production standpoint. They have developed a unique style in their presentation of NBA games with the Emmy-winning panel featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaq. Can they come up with anything close to that with their NHL coverage? That’s doubtful. NHL television coverage has been traditionally vanilla and bereft of personalities. Barkley is actually a hockey fan. Turner would be smart to have him make occasional appearances.
TSN’s Frank Seravalli issued his Expansion Draft primer 2.0 recently and chronicled a potential protection list for each Canadian team.
One team that may have protection problems is the Winnipeg Jets. According to Seravalli’s protection list, the Jets would be in position to lose forward Mason Appleton who has put up 22 points this season. That would be a tough pill to swallow for the Jets. Here’s a few other takeaways from Seravalli’s report. I see no reason why the Oilers would bother protecting Zach Kassian. Are the Oilers that thin that they would waste a protection spot on him? The Canadiens should think long and hard about protecting Jonathan Drouin. If the Kraken want to pick up his contract, let them go ahead. If I’m the Ottawa Senators, I would protect Austin Watson ahead of Logan Brown. Brown’s career has never taken off. The Winnipeg Jets may want to protect Logan Stanley ahead of Dylan DeMelo.
NHL shift disturber Andrew Shaw retired this week after suffering a series of concussions. He won two Cups with Chicago. We would rate Shaw about one rung above the biggest rat of all-time – Matt Cooke.
Open Letter to the Leafs – Dear Maple Leafs. During this difficult past year with the pandemic raging, we would like to send along our heartfelt thanks for all the wonderful amusement you have provided. Reading and listening to the constant delusional chatter from Leaf fans and the adoring media has given us hours of giddy amusement. During the summer and every regular season, the team is pronounced a Stanley Cup favourite, the parade route is planned and every player move is applauded. This is going to be the year! Then in the spring when the wheels come off and the Leafs exit meekly, the panicky post-mortems begin. The fingers get pointed. The race is on to find the latest scape-goat to be thrown under the bus. The cycle is always the same. And we LOVE it! Yours Truly, West Coast Leaf Haters. P.S. – Please let Luke Fox of Sportsnet know the pom-poms are in the mail!
Team Canada Selections – One of our subscribers asked why we have not made our selections yet for Team Canada for next year’s Winter Olympics. It’s always a good exercise. Many sites marked the one-year mark from the start of the Games by making their picks. St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong is the man tasked with the job of selecting Team Canada. He has said he expects the team to be very young.
One player who has been completely overlooked in pre-Olympic selections is Arizona defenceman Jakob Chychrun. He was born and raised in South Florida but is a dual citizen and says he would prefer to play for Team Canada. Chychrun’s dad Jeff played 262 games in the NHL and won a Cup with Pittsburgh in 1992.
Jakob, now 23, has emerged as the Coyotes best blueliner and is tied for second on the team with 16 goals (including 3 game-winners) and is second in points with 36. Chychrun has always been very dependable in his own zone. The left side of the Team Canada defence has been a source of much debate. Chychrun has built a strong case from our vantage point.
Not a single pre-Olympic poll mentioned the New York Islanders defence pair featuring Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. Both are 26-years-old and together they form the best shutdown tandem in the NHL. Neither one are big-time scorers. All they do is help you win hockey games. Pelech is 6”3” and 205 pounds. He was the Isles third-round pick in 2012. Pulock is 6’2”, 215 pounds and was taken in the first round in 2013.
We all know there is a wealth of talent up front. The other big area still open for debate is in the crease. Everyone expected Carey Price would be the easy pick in goal but at this point, selecting Price would be on reputation only and not on merit based on his recent performance. From our view, Marc-Andre Fleury is the unquestioned starter in goal. Carter Hart of the Flyers was another easy choice but his play has deteriorated so precipitously that he may not even be invited to camp.
So here goes – let’s start with the forward lines.
Brad Marchand – Sidney Crosby – Patrice Bergeron
Familiarity is important during a short series. These guys have played together before and each player is still performing at a high level. No need to switch things up.
Jonathan Huberdeau – Connor McDavid – Brayden Point
Lots of speed. Lots of talent. This line will pressure the opposition big time. The Team Canada coaching staff can look at various line combinations but this is one we think will work.
Mitch Marner – Nathan MacKinnon – Mathew Barzal
These three players should earn spots on the team so let’s put them together and see what they can do. Again, lots of speed and creativity. MacKinnon will open up room for the other two.
Ryan O’Reilly – Mark Scheifele – Mark Stone
How about trying to handle this unit? Don’t forget, they will be playing on an NHL-sized ice surface in Beijing so size can play a factor. This unit provides a nice change of pace from the other three forward groups. We have some hesitancy about Scheifele’s 200-foot game.
Top reserves: Jonathan Toews, Josh Anderson, Anthony Cirelli, Bo Horvat, Sean Couturier.
Rising Fast: Alexis Lafreniere, Kirby Dach.
Not on our Radar: John Tavares, Steve Stamkos, Taylor Hall, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Tyler Toffoli.
Although he has been out of action all season, we still find it hard to overlook Jonathan Toews. His overall experience and utility is still world-class. You cannot write off future Hall of Famers. Cirelli would bring some strong intangibles. I’m a little concerned about picking Scheifele. His defense is suspect. Don’t write off Lafreniere and Dach. If they come on strong next fall, they could play themselves into the mix. How about Lafreniere on the left side with MacKinnon and either Barzal or Marner?
Shea Theodore – Cale Makar
Jakob Chychrun – Alex Pietrangelo
Adam Pelech – Ryan Pulock
Top Reserves: Duncan Keith, Thomas Chabot, Darnell Nurse, Drew Doughty, Aaron Ekblad.
Rising Fast: Bowen Byram
Not on the Radar: Shea Weber, Sammy Girard, Morgan Reilly, Dougie Hamilton, Jared Spurgeon, Colton Parayko.
The defence is where things get very interesting. All the pre-Olympic roster predictions had Morgan Reilly earning a spot. No chance from our perspective. Likewise for Chabot and Nurse. All three raise concerns with their turnover rates. You need defencemen who play it smart and safe. Chrychrun and Pietrangelo would make a dynamite shutdown pair. None of the roster prognosticators had either Pelech or Pulock on the team yet they are the #1 shutdown pair in the NHL. You simply cannot overlook their impact on the Islanders success. You may wonder about inviting Keith to camp. He may be 37 but he’s in incredible condition and still plays 23 minutes a night in Chicago. Keith is still as reliable as they come. Byram is the wildcard. He may be too good to keep off the team when the final selections are made. If Pelech doesn’t make the grade, Chabot and Nurse move into the mix as well. Ekblad is certainly a potential candidate but his status is unclear after suffering a serious leg injury this season.
Marc-Andre Fleury – Starter
While they may still be invited to training camp, Carey Price and Carter Hart have simply not lived up to expectations this season. They will have to turn things around next fall in order to be under consideration when they team is selected. Mackenzie Blackwood remains a potential invitee.
NFL Draft Notebook – We will provide more analysis next week when we have had more time to dissect this week’s NFL Draft. Quarterbacks went off the board with the first three picks and a total of five in the opening round including top selection Trevor “Hay-Hair” Lawrence of Clemson University. Somehow we think there will be the usual contingent of QB draft busts.
Heading into this year’s NFL Draft with only three picks, the fewest in the NFL, it’s not as though the Seahawks were going to accomplish anything earth-shattering. With their top selection, 56th overall in the second round, Seattle filled their need for a third receiving option by grabbing D’Wayne Eskridge from Western Michigan. A deal to trade back and add more picks fell through at the last minute. Eskridge is 5’9”, 190 pounds with 4.39 speed. He should work out of the slot as a rookie and be the focal point of some of the trick plays new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron likes to feature. Eskridge should also take some of the burden off of Tyler Lockett in the return game. The only drawback is Eskridge is already 24 years old.
Heading into the draft, the Seahawks had a definite need at cornerback after letting Shaquille Griffin walk in free agency. They’ve signed Pierre Desir and Ahkello Witherspoon to compete for playing time but would it not make sense to bring back Richard Sherman? Yes, he’s not the shutdown corner he once was but he could give the Seahawks some valuable contributions as a reserve. Money may be holding back a reunion. Sherman and the Seahawks need to bury the hatchet. Sherman needs to remember the Seahawks were the team that believed in him in the first place.
Three Canucks went on day two of the NFL Draft. Coquitlam native Jevon Holland went to Miami in the second round, 36th overall. His Dad John played as a DB in the CFL with BC, Edmonton and Saskatchewan. Holland is a safety who played collegiately at Oregon. The Dolphins may work him out at cornerback.
Montreal native Benjamin Ste-Juste, a lanky corner, went to the Washington Football Team in the third round, 74th overall. Ste-Juste opened a lot of eyes at the Senior Bowl and at Minnesota’s Pro Day. He’s 6’3” with decent speed. Sounds like a player the Seahawks would covet.
Tennessee receiver Josh Palmer, from Brampton, Ontario, is headed to the L.A. Chargers. He was selected with pick #77 in the third round. He listed at 6’2”, 210 pounds and should provide Justin Herbert with another big target.
NFL Notebook – One important quality that separates the great organizations in pro sports is decisiveness. Case in point – the Kansas City Chiefs. They were upset in last season’s Super Bowl because of injuries along the offensive line so what do they do? They set about fixing the problem in decisive fashion. In free agency, the Chiefs signed the best lineman available in All-Pro guard Joe Thuney plus centre Austin Blythe and guard Kyle Long. Then, they went the trade route and acquired All-Pro left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. from the Baltimore Ravens in an exchange of multiple draft picks. Presto! The O-Line is completely transformed and the Chiefs are back to being a Super Bowl favourite again this season. To top it off, the Chiefs selected Oaklahoma centre Creed Humphrey in the second round of the draft, further strengthening the offensive line makeover.
The 2021 NFL salary cap has been set at $182.5 million. That’s a big drop from the 2019 salary cap of $198 thanks to the impact of the pandemic. Three members of the Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan, Grady Jarrett and Julio Jones – are slated to account for more than $71 million of it. The Falcons should fire their capologist.
If Mike Tomlin coaches until the end of his contract through the 2024 season, the Steelers will have had three head coaches in 56 years. It’s no coincidence that the Steelers have the most wins in the NFL since 1970. They also have the most Super Bowl titles with six. Do you think maybe there’s a correlation between winning and head coaching continuity?
MLB/Blue Jays This Week – The Blue Jays have been forced to cut ties with Roberto Alomar, the greatest player in club history, following an investigation by Major League Baseball into sexual misconduct allegations in 2014. Alomar has been placed on the ineligible list, meaning he cannot work for any team in major league or minor league baseball. He’s also lost his job as a consultant to MLB in his native Puerto Rico. Alomar worked for the Jays as a special assistant and team ambassador. A banner honouring Alomar will be removed from Rogers Centre. His number 12 had been retired. As of now, it does not appear as though the Baseball Hall of Fame will remove his plaque from Cooperstown.
Here’s a few other observations from the Blue Jays this week:
- The Jays lineup should become more dynamic and complete with the return of George Springer and Teoscar Hernandez. Springer is the team’s best option in the leadoff spot. He will also make the middle of the order that much better.
- The Jays are the only team in major league baseball to use 10 different starting pitchers so far this season. The Jays overall team ERA is tops in the American League.
- It’s been amazing to watch the maturation of Vladdy Guerrero Jr. His three-homer night on Tuesday, with two of the bombs off of Max Scherzer, was a thing of beauty. It was a feat his Hall of Fame Dad didn’t accomplish in 16 years in the majors. Vladdy has more walks than strikeouts so far this season. His slash line is .350 BA, .490 OBP, .663 SLG %, 1.153 OPS. Last season, Vladdy’s launch angle slipped to 4.6 degrees. This season, it’s up a 10.3 degrees. Buck Martinez said it best – “Nobody is saying Vladdy is hitting too many ground balls this season.”
- As we documented last week, defense on the left side of the infield is a big concern for the Blue Jays. Entering play Friday, the Blue Jays ranked last in the majors in Statcast’s outs above average, at minus-12. While the various defensive metrics present a bit of a mixed bag of conclusions, combine them with the eye test and it’s clear the Blue Jays are still a bottom-half defensive club. The big question is – do the Blue Jays stay the course or start to look at alternatives? I say – stay the course.
- Are we over-reacting to Bo Bichette’s defensive struggles at shortstop? He had 16 errors in his first 87 career games. San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr., who has become the face of the game, had 18. Perhaps we should just hold off a bit.
- Lourdes Gurriel Jr. finally broke out of his season-long slump on Friday night with three hits including a home run. He’s been swinging at far too many pitches out of the strike zone. Gurriel needs to become more selective.
- Catcher Danny Jansen has bottomed out at the plate. He’s hitting .045 in 44 at-bats including a 0-for-34 drought. Alejandro Kirk had a pair of home runs on Friday night and may have taken over the #1 job.
- Where would the Jays be without Steven Matz and Robbie Ray? Both lefties have exceeded expectations so far. Ray has 14 strikeouts and zero walks in his last two outings.
- At some point you have to wonder if Nate Pearson will ever become a front-line starter. He’s suffered a series of injuries since being drafted by the Blue Jays and there are many in the industry who question whether Pearson will be able to build up into a starting pitcher who can go deep into games. “Can this guy hold upper-90’s cheese all year, every fifth day, as a starter?” There are many who think the answer is no. Pearson had difficulty building a starter’s inning count in the minors and the same issue is happening in the majors. Could he end up being a multi-inning relief weapon? A lot of Blue Jay fans are getting very impatient waiting for Pearson to break out.
- TSN Baseball Insider Steve Phillips reports there’s a major alarm going off around the lack of offence in baseball. The combined batting average is .232 so far this season, the lowest in MLB history. The previous low was .237 in 1968, which was known as the “Year of the Pitcher.” If players don’t start changing their approach, MLB may step in and do something drastic like moving the pitching rubber back a foot or two.
- If Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets is not the best pitcher in baseball, I would like to know who is. In 35 innings pitched so far this season, deGrom has allowed two earned runs. He has an ERA of 0.51 with 59 strikeouts. Incredible!
Leftovers – She’s baaack! Yes, Brooke Henderson is back in the winner’s circle. She posted her tenth LPGA title in winning the HUGEL Air Premia LA Open. Henderson trailed by four heading into the final round before carding a 4-under 67 for a one-stroke victory over Jessica Korda. The pride of Smiths Falls, Ontario broke the tournament scoring record at 16-under. She now has more wins than any Canadian golfer, male or female, in history and is the sixth-ranked female golfer in the world. She has over seven million in career earnings, 56 top-ten finishes and one major. And she’s only 23! Coming from a town of 9,000 where you can only play golf for about six months of the year, what she has done is phenomenal. Way to go Brooke!
Golfweek reported that Bubba Watson had a tough time finding anyone to play with in the two-man Zurich Classic event last week in New Orleans. The two-time Masters champion, who’s apparently not terribly well-liked on Tour, ended up playing with 24-year-old Scottie Scheffler. According to Scheffler, “Bubba asked like eight or nine guys and then they all said no, and he waited for me, and then I waited about four or five days, texted a few guys and no one responded, so I said yes.” Watson and Scheffler met while attending the tour’s bible study class. For what it’s worth, Watson is married to a Canadian gal from Pickering, Ontario.
TSN Golf Insider Bob Weeks reports that Canadian Taylor Pendrith has assured himself of a spot on the PGA Tour next season. The Richmond Hill, Ontario native has earned enough points on the Korn Ferry Tour to ensure he will become a Tour member at the age of 30. Pendrith has been on a dedicated fitness program since suffering a series of injuries. The guy can absolutely bomb the ball so it will be interesting to see if he can stay healthy and maintain his Tour status.
As mentioned last week, the CFL plans to hold the Grey Cup in Hamilton December 12. It was minus-5 in Hamilton on that date last year and we all know it could end up being even colder. What we failed to mention is that the Western Final will be held in Edmonton, Regina or Winnipeg on December 5 in temperatures unfit for humankind.
Spotify Songs of the Week – We recommend watching the documentary “Echo in the Canyon” on Netflix about the wealth of musical talent living in the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles back in the 60’s and 70’s. Have a listen to the song “Questions” with Jakob Dylan and Eric Clapton from the soundtrack album.
Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Barry Goldberg formed a band called The Rides. They released an album called “Pierced Arrow.” Have a listen to the song “By My Side.”
Renowned drummer Steve Gadd put together a band called The Gaddabouts featuring, among others, Edie Brickell and Any Fairweather-Low. The album is “Look Out Now!” Edie is great on “River Rises.”
We also discovered a young singer named Shannon Curfman. She has an album called “Loud Guitars, Bib Suspicions.” We recommend the track “No Riders.”
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