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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and contributions from Jordan Moss, Bill Myles, Brian White and new subscriber Reg St. Marie. This week, our Leaf Laughs ring true. It’s time for Big Boy hockey in the NHL playoffs and Tiger limps off at the PGA.  

The Curse – Well, here we go again! It’s springtime and the Maple Leafs are out on their ass. It’s Groundhog Day all over again. No one does collapse better than the Leafs. Up three games to two to the Tampa Lightning, the Leafs went to the same tired script and exited once more in seven. They have now lost ten games in a row when they had the other team on the ropes with a chance to clinch a series. It’s been 18 years since they won a playoff round. Talk about not having a killer instinct. That kind of infamy will never be matched.

Anticipating the result, Leafs brass were prepared. They pre-ordered the K-Tel Commando 5000 Excuse-O-Matic. Press a button and up comes an excuse. Press #1 – It was the refs! Press #2 – It was the goaltending. Press #3 – We didn’t get the bounces. Press #4 – It was Nazem Kadri.  Whoops, they used that one already.

You can fire up the Excuse-O-Matic all you want. Tampa played most of game seven without Brayden Point and there was clearly something wrong with Nikita Kucherov. The Lightning are not close to being the same team that won two straight Cups. They were ripe for the picking but the Leafs couldn’t close the deal – AGAIN!

You have to pity the poor Leaf fans. A glance at the faces in the crowd and the Leaf faithful looked beaten down and defeated. You would be too after 55 years of futility. It’s the longest drought in hockey history. Not only have the Leafs not won a Cup, they haven’t even made it to the final in 55 years. It’s more than a curse. It’s some kind of dark, demonic voodoo.

It was a highly entertaining series. Listen, we give the Leafs full marks. They competed hard and showed a lot more ‘battle’ than in previous years. But in the playoffs, winning is all that matters and when you lose in the opening round for six consecutive years, you lose the benefit of saying “we’ll get em’ next year.” Something is missing in Toronto and the answer is leadership. If anyone thinks Auston Matthews is going to lead the Leafs out of the wilderness, they are dreaming in technicolor.

Toronto had the number one power-play in the NHL this season but the unit has consistently failed to deliver when it matters most. The Leafs power-play was 0-for-3 in game seven and is now 0-for-18 in their last seven games when trying to clinch a playoff series.

The Leafs set franchise records for wins and points this season. Expect management to roll it out one more time next season but it will surely be the last chance romance for the current core. So much for the Shanaplan! We give Scooby Dubas credit for filling out the Leafs forward group with a cast of players on affordable deals. It’s something the Canucks have been unable to do. Dubas added Michael Bunting, Jason Spezza, Colin Blackwell, David Kampf, Ondrej Kase and Illya Mikheyev to the Leafs lineup, all at $1.65 million or less. That’s great value on a team that was up against the salary cap wall. But none of them did a bloody thing against the Lightning.  The aforementioned six players combined to score six goals in the series, two of them into an empty-net.

Here’s the problem. Running back the same lineup next season will be next to impossible. The Leafs UFA list includes Spezza, Blackwell, Mikheyev, Jack Campbell, Mark Giordano, and Ilya Lyubushkin. They will also have to find money for RFA’s Timothy Liljegren, Rasmus Sandin, Pierre Engvall and Kase, each of whom will likely come looking for a bump in pay.

This may have been the Leafs best chance with the current crew. At the end of the day, the problem with the Leafs is losing has always been acceptable. Until that changes, they will only ever tease us.

Stanley Cup Playoff Notebook – The headline on reads: “Thrilling Battle of Alberta Exceeding Lofty Expectations.” Excuse me? The Oilers and Flames have combined for 23 goals in the first two games of the series. Defense is just a pipe dream. Sorry, that’s not playoff hockey. Behind closed doors, Darryl Sutter must be beside himself. This is definitely not what he had in mind. Both goalies have been left out to dry. We’re shocked that the play is so loose. If the Flames want to advance, they better stop giving the Oilers power-play opportunities. Give Connor McDavid some love. I wondered about his will to win. He’s been terrific in the playoffs and his numbers to date are ridiculous. McDavid is playing at a level above everyone else. We thought this would be a short series in the Flames favour. Not anymore!

No one can argue that the Flames didn’t deserve to advance past Dallas in the opening round. The Flames had 131 more shots on goal than the Stars in the series. That’s almost 20 more per game. Goalie Jake Oettinger was lights out in that series. Kind of reminded me of ‘Bubble’ Demko against Vegas a few years ago.

It’s been reported that Calgary has a new zoo. They put a fence around Edmonton!

In the playoffs, you have to be able to protect one-goal leads and close out games. Just ask the Leafs about that! No team does it better right now than the Carolina Hurricanes. If they reach the NHL Final, you will know the reason why. Gretz has been on Carolina’s bandwagon. He’s dead right.

Whenever you tune in and watch the Colorado Avalanche, it looks like they are playing at a pace above everybody else. Yet, I always come away wondering why they can’t get over the hump. Maybe this will be the year. If not, the organization is going to have to dig down and find out why they seem to underperform in the playoffs. Huge win on the road on Saturday night against the Blues! Losing Samuel Girard to a broken sternum is a tough setback.

The Florida Panthers were the highest scoring outfit in the NHL this season. They finished fifth in the league in PP percentage. Yet, they are a lifeless 0-for-25 on the power-play so far in the playoffs.  First time coach Andrew Brunette is among the three finalists for the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year. Can someone explain why? Jon Cooper has won two Stanley Cups and has never won the Jack Adams Trophy. Ditto Mike Sullivan of the Penguins. Brunette is in over his head and can only watch as the Panthers go quietly into the night.

The NHL does such a crap job of protecting its best players. Jacob Trouba should have been suspended for the elbow on Sidney Crosby that sent Sid to the sidelines and the Penguins to the golf course. It completely changed that series around.

Pierre Maguire didn’t last long in Ottawa. Can someone actually tell us what he was hired to do in the first place?

The Montreal Canadiens have to be very excited about landing the first overall pick when they host the upcoming NHL draft. You would have to think they will select Shane Wright with the top pick. He may not be a game-changer but he should develop into a solid 200’ foot centre who can provide consistent offense. North Van’s Connor Bedard will be the prize next season. It would be great if he landed with a Canadian team.

In the 2017 NHL draft, the Dallas Stars drafted all-world defenseman Miro Heiskanen with the third overall pick. They had a second first-round pick, 26th overall, and chose goaltender Jake Oettinger. The Stars selected budding star Jason Robertson in the second round with the 39th pick. Is that a difference-making haul or what? That was the draft in which the Canucks grabbed Elias Petterson. Trouble is, they followed up his selection by taking Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich and Michael DiPietro. Another Jim Bob black mark!

Andrew Brunette is not the only questionable NHL award nominee. Lucas Raymond of the Red Wings should have been a Calder nominee. He had the same number of goals as Michael Bunting of the Leafs on a poor Detroit Team while Bunting was playing on Toronto’s top line. Raymond is also six years younger. You could also question Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin as a Hart nominee. Several players including Johnny Gaudreau, Roman Josi and Jonathan Huberdeau deserved to be nominated.

The Winnipeg Jets should have Barry Trotz on speed dial. The recently fired Islanders coach is a Manitoba native and is just what the Jets need to bring structure to their game and a better defensive mindset. Trotz is sitting on 914 career wins. As some point, he will become only the second coach in NHL history to win 1,000 games.

Canucks Notebook – The hockey industry has needed to undergo profound changes. There’s been a stagnant operating model for decades. Little was changed in the industry. It’s refreshing to see what Jimmy Rutherford has accomplished in six months as the Canucks new hockey czar. As soon as the season ended, he dismissed five amateur scouts. A few days later, he cleaned out pretty much the entire training and strength and conditioning staff. The guy means business and he’s not afraid to take decisive action. Rutherford seems intent on cleaning up the entire organization, something Jim Benning was simply not equipped to do.

It’s no surprise the Canucks are desperate for help on the blueline. Since 2000, the Canucks have drafted and developed only six defensemen who have become NHL regulars – Kevin Bieksa (2002), Alex Edler (2004), Chris Tanev (2010), Ben Hutton (2012), Troy Stecher (2016) and Quinn Hughes (2018). There’s no excuse for such pathetic player development.

Lots of speculation about who the Canucks might draft with the 15th pick in this summer’s NHL draft. I wouldn’t be against trading down and trying to recoup the second-round pick Jim Bob sent to Arizona in the OEL deal. If they stay at 15, the Canucks should take a long look at two Russian forwards, Danila Yurov and Ivan Miroshnichenko. Both are top-ten talents who may drop due to the uncertainty created by the war in Ukraine. Miroshnichenko is recovering from a final round of chemo for non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Any pick is going to take at least two to three years to develop. Why not take a flyer on the most talented player available?

You can be sure there will be no shortage of trade speculation as the NHL off-season unfolds. We still advocate making a deal with the Ottawa Senators. Pierre Dorion is desperate to keep his job and the Sens need to stay above the salary cap floor. Dorion is looking for a top-six forward to team with Tim Stutzle. Why not Conor Garland or Brock Boeser?  Seems like a no-brainer. The Senators have loads of young prospects and plenty of draft capital to interest the Canucks.

Expect the Canucks to move the LTIR contract of forward Michael Ferland this summer. It’s an attractive opportunity for a cash-strapped contender. The acquiring team can place Ferland on LTI and then exceed the salary cap by $3.5 million. If the Canucks were also willing to take back a less than attractive additional salary as well, they could reap a fairly decent reward. These are the kind of moves the team must consider if they want to dig out of the muck left behind by the previous band of knobs.

PGA Championship – There’s only one way to describe the PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Oklahoma and that’s BLAND. Of the top five players in contention, only one has a tournament victory on his resume. We will see what happens on Sunday. Put your money on Matt Fitzpatrick. The young Brit is playing very well.

Why is ESPN, Golf Channel, CBS and everyone else covering every Tiger Woods shot? He’s +12 and in last place among players who made the cut. Can we stop this incessant Tiger fawning? He’s done! To reference Monty Python – He’s bereft of life, he’s gone to meet his maker, he’s a dead parrot!  After his smooth 79 on Saturday, Woods announced he’s withdrawing from the tournament and won’t be competing on Sunday. Why?  Because he doesn’t want to embarrass himself any more.

Woods has been unbelievable for the game of golf. No question. Yes, we know he’s hurting. But to cover his every shot when he’s not in contention, what’s the purpose? After shooting a one-under 69 on Friday, Woods said he felt he still had a chance to win on the weekend. Are you serious? Who is he trying to fool?

We’ve also noticed that Woods is now all smiles when he meets with the media, in stark contract to how he responded for much of his career. Although he refused to be interviewed following Saturday’s round, Woods has been very cordial. Is it because he’s getting older and mellowing out or is it because he knows that’s the best way to deal with the media when your playing lousy?

Nice effort by the Canadian crew at Southern Hills! Thanks for showing up boys! You can leave now!

You have to wonder what’s going on with Phil Mickelson. He opted not to defend his PGA championship. Mickelson hasn’t played since the Saudi Invitational in February. He asked for a release from the PGA Tour in order to play in the LIV Golf Series event in London June 12-15 and was quickly refused. If he chooses to play, Mickelson and other Tour members scheduled to play will face suspension. You can be guaranteed this is going to end up in court. The Saudis have a bottomless pit of money so bring on Saul Goodman!

Meantime, a new book on Mickelson just released claims he gambled away $40 million over a four-year period. Can you imagine all the good you could do with that money if your heart was in the right place? In a recent book about Mickelson, former PGA Tour winner Tom Lehman talked about his experience playing with Phil at the 2000 Presidents Cup. Lehman was paired with Mickelson in a match with Mike Weir and Steve Elkington. According to Lehman, “Phil was hitting it everywhere — he’s barely finished a hole through the first eight holes. He keeps saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll show up eventually. On the ninth hole he buries it in the front bunker and is out of the hole again. He walks way back into the trees and is sitting on a stump with his back to everybody and his head down. I think he’s giving himself a pep talk, so I go over there to try to make him feel better and he’s got his phone out and he’s checking the football scores.”

Then, of course, there’s Greg Norman who leading the rival Saudi-funded tour. When asked about being involved with the Saudis, Norman brushed off the killing of Jamal Khashoggi by saying “Look, we’ve all made mistakes and you just want to learn by those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward.”  Thanks for the shallow justification, Greg! Turkish officials said Khashoggi was killed and dismembered with a bone saw inside the consulate by a team of Saudi agents. The group included individuals who worked for the crown prince’s office. His remains have not been found.

Blue Jays Notebook – The more I watch this edition of the Blue Jays, the more I start to realize they absolutely have to add an impact lefthanded bat to their everyday lineup. Teams have the Jays figured out. They know Jays hitters love to swing at the first pitch and they have them flailing at pitches outside the zone. It’s become painful to watch. An impact lefthand bat at the DH position or somewhere else is a must. The Jays pursuit of Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez proves the Jays front office is very aware of the need for a lefthanded bat. It would also help to add another electric arm in the bullpen.

Alek Manoah threw eight superlative innings on Saturday against the Cincinnati Reds. He threw only 83 pitches. Manoah did not want to come out of the game. He wanted to finish what he started. In baseball these days, a complete game is a rare occurrence. When Jays manager Charlie Montoyo pulled him from the game, Manoah, being the competitive guy he is, was clearly miffed. Jordan Romano finished up and preserved the victory but it was just one more illustration of how Montoyo has no feel for the game. He’s a product of the Tampa Rays analytics system and he has only one way of seeing the game. Manoah could have easily finished up and Romano would be good to go tomorrow. Now, he won’t be available after pitching back-to-back games.

Blue Jays starter Jose Berrios was handed a rich new contract in the off-season but so far, he’s been wildly inconsistent. A lot of baseball watchers think he is tipping pitches. Opposing batters are hitting over .400 on first pitchers which suggests they know what’s coming. The Jays need Berrios to get untracked.

How many times have you seen a player have a career year, enter free agency and then turn out to be a complete bust with his new team? Look no further than former Blue Jays second baseman Marcus Semien who hit it rich in the off-season with a seven-year, $175 million dollar deal with the Texas Rangers. Like a lot of hitters around major league baseball, he’s off to a horrendous start. Semien is currently batting .180 with no home runs and only nine RBI’s. Semien cracked 45 home runs with the Jays last season which was an all-time high for second basemen in MLB history. Sometimes a new team, new surroundings and yes, newfound wealth doesn’t always work out.

When the Blue Jays coaching staff were given a post-game report from the Jays Class-A Dunedin club that showed the pitching staff had 24 strikeouts in a single game, they thought it was a misprint. They called the farm team and sure enough, the Jays minor league ballclub confirmed three pitchers combined to strike out 24 of 27 batters against the Yankees minor league affiliate. Nick Frasso, a third-round pick in 2020, threw three innings and struck out eight. Dahian Santos had 10 K’s in four innings of work and Braden Scott finished up with 6 strikeouts in two innings. The Jays player development staff were thrilled.

In our last blog, we chronicled Jays budding star lefthander Ricky Tiedemann. Since that column, Tiedemann has been promoted from Dunedin to the Vancouver Canadians. He made his first start at Nat Bailey Stadium this week and had nine strikeouts in 4-plus innings. If you live in the Vancouver area, you have to get out to the ballpark and check out his next start. He hit 97 mph on the gun and is destined for great things.

MLB Notebook – Everybody’s complaining about the baseballs this season. The hitters are complaining and the pitchers are complaining. Reports say the Commissioner’s Office sent teams a memo during the off-season saying they were manufacturing balls with looser twine in the core which would likely make them travel shorter distances. The new baseballs were supposed to travel an average of about three feet less. Reports suggest the ball is now flying eight feet less. MLB thought players would adapt and hit more singles and cut down on the plethora of home runs. Hasn’t happened. Batting numbers are down across the board.

Little Tommy Brady – So, let’s review. He’s got a trophy-case filled with awards. He’s got a trophy wife. He’s won everything there is to win. Yet, we’re going to have to suffer through ten more years of his pretty face on national TV. Yes, we are talking about Little Tommy Brady.

He’s taken spoiled brat to a whole new level during his NFL career. His latest fit of petulance was to retire from the NFL in order to force out Bucs head coach Bruce Arians. As soon as Arians stepped side, Brady unretired. Can’t make it look like Tom orchestrated it although we know he did!

Now we’re told he’s headed to the broadcast booth whenever he finally retires and will become the lead analyst at Fox. It’s reportedly a ten-year deal for $375 million. That’s over $2 million per GAME!

Something tells us Brady may not be that well received by viewers. There’s a lot of fans in the hate-Brady camp, believe me. People outside of New England hate Brady. I’ll be turning the sound down. Where’s Johnny Esaw and Annis Stukus when you need them?

Blast from the Past – Mel Ott made the majors when he was 17. He played part-time for his first two years. At 19, he hit 41 home runs and knocked in 151 runs. These are records that stood for 93 years for players under the age of 20. Ott led the majors in home runs six times. He led the New York Giants in homers for 18 straight seasons, a record that still stands. If you wonder if he had a good eye at the plate, he walked five times in a game on three occasions. He led the National League in walks six times. He once scored six runs in a game and was the youngest major leaguer to hit for the cycle. Ott had eight straight seasons with 100 RBI’s, finishing his career with 511 home runs. Mel Ott was 5’9 170 lbs. He was a giant among major leaguers in his heyday and you rarely hear anything about him.

Trivia Answer:  Toronto, New Jersey, Detroit, Los Angeles, Seattle. Name the only NHL teams that have not won a playoff round in the past eight years.

Leftovers – The CFL strike is over. It lasted 96 hours. Wow, that was close. We were worried we might miss a CFL game. The league and the Players’ Association reached a new seven-year deal.  Don’t know the new CFL minimum salary but it does come with free Timbits.

NFL franchise values are through the roof. Reports suggest the Denver Broncos may be sold for as much as $4.5 billion. The last team to be sold was the Carolina Panthers in 2018. The Panthers sold for $2.275 billion. Have franchise values almost doubled in less than five years?

The Kansas City Chiefs selected a linebacker in this year’s NFL draft named Leo Chenal. They definitely should assign him sweater number 5. We can hear the broadcasters now – “Tackle made by Chenal #5.”

In four years, Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs has played in the same number of playoff games (11) as the Las Vegas Raiders have since 1992. And the Raiders motto is Commitment to Excellence. If you say so.

The Brooklyn Nets have played 226 regular-season games in the last three seasons. Kyrie Irving has played in 103 of them.  He missed 44 games because of personal choices. Hey, life is tough! He missed several more because of a personal leave in 2020-2021 and another 35 because his refusal to get vaccinated was in violation of a New York ordinance. Next season, Irving is set to earn $36.5 million in the last year of his contract. If I’m the Nets, I am asking myself – how can we make this guy go away?

Have you checked out young tennis phenom Carlos Alcaraz? The Spaniard is the next-best thing on the tennis circuit. He’s is destined to be a huge star.

Spotify Picks of the Month – The legendary Van Morrison has a new release entitled “What’s It Gonna Take.” Van does a lot of complaining about the pandemic and how we’ve been hard done by. Some good tracks worth checking out include Dangerous, Money from America and Nervous Breakdown.

The incomparable Mavis Staples has dropped a new album called “Carry Me Home” featuring the late Levon Helm. Check out Trouble In My Mind, You Got To Move and Move Along Train.

If you like classic acoustic blues, have a listen to the new release from Big Jack Johnson “Stripped Down in Memphis” featuring Kim Wilson. The best tracks are Baby What You Want Me To Do and Run Blues Run.

Mindi Abair is a very talented gal. She is a fine singer but an even better sax player. Check out the song Just Say When with guest singer Gregg Allman off her album “Wild Heart.” She also performs under Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers. Love the song Mess I’m In from the album No Good Deed.

The Reverend Shawn Amos is an interesting artist. Just recently discovered him. Have a listen to the release “Hollywood Blues:  Songs and Stories from the Family Tree.”  There’s a couple of tracks worth checking out – Independence Day and Hollywood Blues.  ENJOY!

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