Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Co-Editor Bill Morphy and contributions from Jordan Moss. This week, the Canucks in turmoil. The owner’s in the crosshairs and Jim Bob still has the keys. The NHL playoffs are in full spring bloom. It’s PGA weekend and we re-visit McDonough vs. Clayborn.
A Season in Reverse – Talk about putting lipstick on a pig! Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver conducted a poll this week to gauge the tenor of Canuck fans. They asked the question – Do you think the Canucks need an extreme makeover in management? 96.2% of the more than three thousand respondents said yes. Looking at it in reverse, that’s a 3.8% approval rating. Yet, what does the absentee owner do? He brings back the same crew because he doesn’t want to pay a GM not to work.
Let’s do a quick review of where things stand. Travis Green returns on a two-year contract. That didn’t take long! We’re not sure about the rest of the staff including much-coveted goalie coach Ian Clark. General Manager Jim Benning, under constant siege from a disgruntled fanbase, has somehow avoided the axe because the owner is too cheap to pay someone else. In a feeble attempt to somehow smooth things over, the ownership group is speaking with the Sedin twins about a potential role within the organization. Is that about it? We forecast “Change is Coming” but this is not exactly what we intended.
Here’s the problem. In a season-ending news conference, Benning announces that he plans to be “ultra-aggressive this off-season in improving the team and returning to the playoffs.” Just to be clear. Making the playoffs is your goal? Not winning a Stanley Cup? Here we are putting a GM under heavy pressure in charge of getting the team into the playoffs. We’ve seen how this movie plays out before. Bad trades and ludicrously foolish free agent signings with no consideration to the long-term impacts. In the words of Yogi Berra, it’s déjà vu all over again. The Canucks have a strong core. What is needed is a calculated and creative plan to fill out the roster, not the work of someone in desperation mode who future with the team depends on making the playoffs.
Amidst all the negativity around the team this week, a light suddenly went off. When you ask the question – why does Francesco Aquilini not hire a club President and Director of Hockey Operations, the answer is simple. He thinks he can do the job himself. After firing Trevor Linden, Aquilini made the decision not to replace him. Why pay someone to do a job you think you can fulfill yourself? Why hire someone in a senior position and cede control when you can lord over your management team and meddle till the cows come home?
The issue is Francesco Aquilini steadfastly refuses to conduct a thorough management search, something he has failed to do in his entire term as Canucks owner. He’s shown no willingness to listen to the unvarnished truth. Ten years ago, the Canucks were a trendsetting franchise. That’s no longer the case. Aquilini is counting every dollar as if Vancouver is a small-market team. In a desperate plea to season ticket holders, the embattled owner (@fr_aquilini) tweeted:
When you project ahead to next season, can the Canucks be reasonably assured they will have full capacity at Rogers Arena come October? At this point, it seems unlikely. In 2011, when the Canucks reached the Stanley Cup Final, the team reportedly made a profit of $80 million dollars. If reports that they could lose $20-$30 million this season are correct, that’s a mighty big swing in the wrong direction. You would be blind not to think the team faces a crisis in consumer confidence.
So the Benning-Weisbrod tag-team will now prepare for the NHL buy-out window on July 15. Good luck getting ownership to buck up. The NHL roster freeze ahead of the Seattle expansion draft takes place on July 17. There’s a brief period when a creative team could make some nice additions.
The Canucks have a habit of winning when it doesn’t matter. In 2014-2015, they won five of their last seven to close out the regular season. In 2015-2016, they won four of their last six. When saying goodbye to the Twins in 2017-2018, the Canucks won five of their last seven but both losses came in shootouts so they actually took 12 of a possible 14 points to finish off. In 2018-2019, they won three of their last five. With nothing to play for than an improved draft position, the Canucks picked up five points in their last four games. They moved by several teams but not enough to jump past Ottawa and vacate the North Division basement. The Canucks will go into the NHL draft lottery on June 2 in ninth place. They will have a 5.4% chance of landing the top pick and a 11.1% chance of picking second. Considering the Canucks draft luck, you can pretty much expect them to be picking at nine or, more than likely, dropping a spot or two.
NHL Playoff Notebook – It is not easy to win back-to-back Stanley Cup titles. The Penguins did it in 2016 and 2017. Prior to that, you have to go back to the Detroit Red Wings in ’97 and ’98. The Tampa Bay Lightning certainly have a great shot this season. In their opening game against Florida, the Lightning rolled out defence pairings featuring Victor Hedman-Jan Rutta, Ryan McDonagh-Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev-David Savard. That folks is about as solid as it gets. Throw in goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and you have a powerful last line of defence. If that doesn’t illustrate how far the Canucks have to go to build a Stanley Cup-calibre defence, I don’t know what does. Who cares about your regular season record? It’s all about grinding out those elusive 16 playoff wins.
The secret to the Bolts’ success is player development. They do it better than almost everyone else and keep churning players out. Left-winger Ross Colton registered nine goals in 30 games this season. The 24-year-old was a fourth-round pick in 2016 and spent most of the past three seasons playing in Syracuse in the AHL. The Lightning over-ripen their players in the minors and it continues to pay off.
Size matters in the playoffs. Of the Canucks currently under contract for next season, only six are over 200 pounds. Colorado, St. Louis, Carolina all have at least a dozen 200+ players in their lineup. Vegas has 15 including pretty much their entire blueline. Don’t tell me it doesn’t make a difference.
The NHL Department of Player Safety is a joke. We already know that. Can you explain why Nazem Kadri would get an eight-game suspension while Tom Wilson walks away with a $5,000 fine? If you justify the suspension because Kadri is a repeat offender, what about Wilson? The eight-game playoff suspension for Kadri is the longest in the post-season since he lost five games with the Leafs in 2019.
Some of the Maple Leaf minions have started to center out defenceman Morgan Reilly for criticism. Reilly’s eighth season in Toronto has been up and down and you have to wonder whether he’s being set up as this year’s scapegoat. Just thinking ahead. You know the media hordes will be looking for a fall-guy when the Leafs are eliminated. Of course, with John Tavares out a minimum two weeks, the Leafs already have a built-in excuse.
The potential for another first-round flop-out hasn’t stopped the Maple Minions from heaping praise on Leafs management. Check out this article from Yahoo.com. I haven’t seen this much excrement spewed since the morning after all-you-can-eat Taco Night.
We have documented the Leafs struggles on special teams. Their power-play and penalty-killing rank last and second-last among all playoff teams. For all the bouquets tossed at Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe this season, should he not shoulder the blame for the special team woes? That’s all about good coaching and don’t forget, the Leafs built those terrible special teams numbers playing in a mediocre North Division. Imagine what the numbers would look like if they had played every NHL team this season.
The referees have gifted the Leafs eleven power-play opportunities in the first two games against Montreal. That’s an inordinately high number by any playoff standard. They had six PP chances on Saturday night. The Habs had one.
Not sure what the Canadiens were thinking in sitting out three first-round picks for the playoff opener against the Leafs. Cole Caufield had two overtime winners in his brief late-season stint with the Habs. Jesperi Kotkaniemi has played more NHL games than Jake Evans, the guy who replaced him in the lineup, so the idea that you want to go with a more veteran lineup doesn’t fly.
In case you didn’t notice, Tyson Barrie of the Edmonton Oilers led all NHL defencemen in scoring this season with 48 points. Didn’t he used to play for the Maple Leafs? Oh yes, he wasn’t good enough to play there.
After Connor McDavid shredded them for 22 points in nine games this season, the Winnipeg Jets have found a way to neutralize the Oilers wunderkind. The Jets are not painting a Rembrandt however, unless you like to watch pucks off the glass for three hours.
If the Canucks had a reliable pro scouting department, they would have targeted Devon Toews in the off-season instead of Nate Schmidt. The Abbotsford native has been Colorado’s most consistent defenceman this season. He’s another in a group of left-shot D-men who should be under consideration for Team Canada.
PGA Championship – Phil Mickelson is turning back the clock and is atop the leaderboard heading into the final round of the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island Resort in South Carolina. Our top Canadian hope is Corey Conners of Listowel, Ontario. He sits at minus-1 and T10. His game is standing up in the big events. Conners was 7th at the Players Championship this year and was 8th at the Masters. Conners is proving he is one of the top ten players on the PGA Tour tee-to-green. The numbers back it up. Entering the week, Conners was 12th in Shots Gained Off the Tee. He was 6th in Shots Gained Approaching the Green. He was 9th in Greens in Regulation. It’s pretty apparent that if Conners is putting well, he is going to be in contention. The problem is his putter has not always been consistent. If his short game keeps improving, look out.
Blue Jays This Week – The Blue Jays can’t get out of TD Ballpark in Dunedin fast enough. The winds blow out to right field every night. It’s difficult on pitchers to keep the ball in the yard. The Jays had to switch the starting time of games a half hour later because the late day sun is directly in the eyes of anyone playing on the left side of the diamond. Sahlen Field in Buffalo is not perfect but it’s better than playing in a minor league park in Dunedin.
You have to give the Jays credit for holding their own during a difficult start to the season. At the quarter pole, they are very much in the pennant chase in the AL East despite having placed 20 players on the injured list so far this season. They’ve had to use 38 different players, including 12 different starting pitchers
This was the week when the Jays really started to flex their muscles at the plate. They had 16 hits on Sunday against the Phillies, then followed it up with 18 hits on Monday against the Red Sox. What was most impressive was 9 of the 18 hits against Boston were hit to the opposite field. Jays’ hitters are being more patient and starting to stay back on pitches. Going the other way is a great sign.
One of the most remarkable stats from Vladdy Guerrero Jr.’s breakout season to date is the fact that he is walking more than he is striking out. Sure, it’s nice to see the tape-measure home runs but this is a sure fire sign that he is in complete control of the strike zone. It was something he displayed in his rapid rise through the minors. His ratio so far is 30:29 BB:K.
Nobody has more prospects in Baseball America’s Top 100 list than the Blue Jays. When Baseball America released their latest list back in April, it featured Nate Pearson, Austin Martin, Jordan Groshans, Simeon Woods Richardson, Alejandro Kirk, and Orelvis Martinez. Since then, two more Blue Jays, Alek Manoah and Gabe Moreno, have made their way into the Top 100.
MLB Notebook – One of the reasons batting averages are at a historically low level in MLB this season is because the strike zone has been expanded. Watch any major league game and you will notice it. There’s a shocking number of pitches outside the strike zone that are being called strikes. You wonder if the umpires have received some kind of mandate from the Commissioner’s Office.
What’s with all the no-hitters in baseball already this season? There have been six of them and we haven’t even reached June 1. The most ever in a season is seven and that’s going all the way back to 1900. The six no-hitters have been against only three different teams. Cleveland, Seattle and Texas have each been no-hit twice. The Mariners are dead last in baseball with a team batting average of .198.
The New York Mets are without Jacob deGrom who’s on the injured list with lower back tightness. They are also missing Noah Syndergaard who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery. Former Blue Jays Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker have been outstanding for the Mets in the early going. The Mets added former Cleveland Indian Carlos Carrasco in the off-season. Once they get everyone healthy, this is a formidable starting rotation.
You have to feel for former Blue Jay Kevin Pillar. The Mets outfielder was hit in the face with a 95-mph fastball and suffered multiple nasal fractures. He’s going to have to undergo plastic surgery in the next few weeks in order to repair the damage. Here’s the video, it’s not pretty.
Albert Pujols was designated for assignment by the Los Angeles Angels after a slow start to the season. Although he’s been picked by the Dodgers, it’s pretty obvious the end is near for the sure-fire Hall of Famer. You would think the Angels would have shown him a little more respect since he has a 10-year, $10 million dollar personal services contract with the team that automatically kicked in after his 10-year, $240 million dollar free agent deal expired on May 6.
Good on White Sox manager Tony La Russa for dressing down his own player following a blow-out win over Minnesota. Designated hitter Yermin Mercedes swung on a 3-0 pitch and hit a home run with the Sox leading 15-4 in the ninth inning. The Twins had a utility infielder named Willians Astudillo on the mound. La Russa may be under fire for being out of touch with today’s player but he was bang on for calling out Mercedes. You don’t run up the score when the game is out of reach. Why upset a division rival?
NFL Notebook – Back in the 90’s when I was coaching minor hockey at the Arbutus Club in Vancouver, I was astonished that nearly every player on the team had a first name starting with a ‘J’. It was goofy. There was Jonathan, Josh, Jamie, Jared, Jordan, Jeremy, Jacob, Jesse and Jake to name a few. We got a good chuckle this week when reading Peter King’s Football Morning in America column. Apparently, nothing much has changed in 25 years. Where have all the Bill’s and Bob’s gone?
- In the 2021 NFL Draft, there were players named Jaylen, Jaelan, Jalen, Jaelon and Jaylon.
- Players named Javonte, Javon, Jamin, and Ja’Marr, Jamar, Jermarr.
- Players named Jaycee, Joe, Jay, Jackson, Jeremiah, Josh, Joshua, Joshuah, Jacob, James, Jabril, Jordan, Janarius, Jamien, Jason, Jonathan, Jonathon, JaCoby, Jimmy, Jake and Jack.
- And one player named John: Boise State tight end John Bates, picked in the fourth round by Washington.
And how about this from King? For the Patriots’ October home game against the Jets, Vivid Seats is selling two upper-deck tickets in section 307, row 10, for $287 each. For the Patriots’ October home game against the Bucs, Vivid Seats is selling two upper-deck tickets in section 307, row 13, for $4,752 each. Almost the same seats, three rows back, and the price to see Tom Brady’s return to Foxboro is 16.5X more expensive.
McDonough vs. Clayborn – There were a few times when things got very heated with players during my broadcast career. I would have loved to have popped Dave Steib if given the opportunity. There was the time Doug Risebrough broke his stick over the boards while I was standing in the bench area after a Flames practice. He apparently thought he was sending me a message. However, nothing comes close to the confrontation between Boston Globe columnist Will McDonough and Patriots cornerback Raymond Clayborn. The date was September 9, 1979. Here’s the account from Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media Watch. He revisited the incident in 2008.
After the game, Clayborn was snapping at writers and bumping into them on purpose. McDonough took exception, saying “Hey Ray, there’s no need to do that.” Clayborn reacted by jabbing a finger in McDonough’s face, poking him in the eye. McDonough then punched him twice, knocking him into a laundry cart and taking down a number of people with him. The story became legendary with some accounts stating that McDonough had knocked Clayborn “out cold.” According to Mark Jurkowitz’s 1994 profile of the late McDonough, the veteran writer “cold-cocked” Clayborn “with a three-punch combo after the players threatened to ‘bury’ the journalist. What Clayborn didn’t realize is that McDonough had trained as a boxer when he was younger and was more than capable of holding his own in a scrap. Too bad McDonough isn’t still around because I can think of a few athletes I would love to see him punch out.
Leftovers – You might think that the top priority for the Toronto Raptors this off-season will be to consider a sign-and-trade involving pending free agent Kyle Lowry. But when you think about it more, the number one order of business has to be negotiating a new contract for president Masai Ujiri. His contract runs until June 30 so his status has to be at the top of the agenda. The Raptors are sitting seventh in the projected NBA draft lottery with a 7.5 percent chance of landing the top pick. The lottery is set for June 22.
Shooting a 59 in golf is a rare feat. There have been 12 sub-60 rounds shot in PGA Tour history. Eleven have been 59’s. Jim Furyk has the only 58 ever recorded. A week ago, Michael Caan posted a magical 59 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, B.C. He’s a member at the club. Caan nailed a 30-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole and the celebration went viral on social media.
The NBA has announced a 16-member class for 2021 to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Longtime standout NBA forwards Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce and Chris Webber were among those selected. Bosh was an 11-time all-star but some question whether he and Webber truly had Hall of Fame careers. Frankly, I never watched either player and thought “That guy’s a Fall of Famer.” The announcement followed the induction of the 2020 HOF class which included Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Their enshrinement ceremony was delayed from last fall because of the pandemic.
Joe Schultz Sports Quote of the Week – We all know all-time hits leader Pete Rose should probably be in the Baseball Hall of Fame on statistics alone. Trouble is Pete had a little trouble telling the truth. Here’s a Pete Rose quote that will live in infamy – “I’d be willing to bet you, if I was a betting man, that I have never bet on baseball.” Thanks Pete for clearing that up.
Spotify Songs of the Week – We threw out a few cover tunes last week in our list of recommendations. Let’s go full-out this week and offer up some cover tunes we think you may enjoy. We start with none other than Mick Jagger from his solo effort “Wandering Spirit” and the every-popular Bill Withers-penned “Use Me.”
Next, it’s Dave Mason and Steve Cropper and their version of the Traffic classic “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.”
We can’t leave out Nathan East with Eric Clapton performing the iconic Blind Faith original “Can’t Find My Way Home.”
One of my favourite Stevie Ray Vaugh songs is the instrumental “Riviera Paradise.” Check out the version from Reese Wynan and Friends off the album “Sweet Release.”
Music Video of the Week – Eric Burden turned 80 on May 11. Glad to report he’s still going strong. Burden was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. He started out his young adult life as one of a group of people who hung out at the local jazz club, The Downbeat. In 1967, Burdon married Angela King, an Anglo-Indian hippie connected to the music scene. The next year she left him for Jimi Hendrix and she and Burdon were subsequently divorced in 1969. She was murdered in 1992 by an estranged boyfriend.
Burdon was also a good friend of the Beatles John Lennon and was mentioned in one of their songs, “I Am the Walrus” as “the eggman”. Eric states, “The nickname stuck after a wild experience I’d had at the time with a Jamaican girlfriend named Sylvia. I was up early one morning cooking breakfast, naked except for my socks, and she slid up beside me and slipped an amyl nitrite capsule under my nose. As the fumes set my brain alight and I slid to the kitchen floor, she reached to the counter and grabbed an egg, which she cracked into the pit of my belly. The white and yellow of the egg ran down my naked front and Sylvia began to show me one Jamaican trick after another. I shared the story with John at a party at a Mayfair flat one night with a handful of others.” Lennon, finding the story amusing and hilarious, replied, “Go on, go get it, Eggman,” incorporating the incident into his song in tribute to Burdon’s rather unique experience.
Burdon formed the Animals in his hometown in 1962. Burdon’s powerful voice was instrumental in the success of a long string of hits including “House of the Rising Sun,” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” “Monterey” and “Sky Pilot.” In 1969, Burdon joined forces with the California band War. They enjoyed several hits including “Why Can’t We Be Friends” and “Spill the Wine.” Check out this video we found.
Bruce Springsteen once said it was Burdon who had the strongest influence on his singing career. Several years ago, Burden recorded a Bob Dylan song to benefit Amnesty International. Here’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” performed at Joshua Tree National Park in California.
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