Under Further Review –
The Hall Beckons – It’s been a bittersweet few weeks for my great and good friend Bro Jake Edwards. The whole TSN 1040 team were still reeling from the sudden death of Jason Botchford when Jake hopped on a plane to Toronto with wife Laurie to be inducted into the Canadian Broadcasting Hall of Fame. It was an amazing honour for a guy who paid his dues in radio stations right across this country, rising to become one of the top morning men in Canada. No sooner was he honoured in Toronto than Jake and Laurie flew onto Moncton to pay final respects to his Dad who passed away shortly before his 95th birthday. I can’t imagine the emotions over just a few days. Way to go Jake! Good on you!
Canada’s Team – It’s time for Canada to step up and get behind the Toronto Raptors. They are one game away from the NBA final and rarified air for an NBA franchise that has often disappointed and underachieved. It’s shaping up as a bit of a fairy-tale story. Don’t forget, the Raptors lost the opening game of the playoffs to Orlando and everyone was saying “here we go again.” They were down 2-1 against the 76’ers and 2-0 against the Bucks.
How have they done it? It’s been an ensemble performance. Kawhi has been the best player in the playoffs, hands down, and now the Raptors are getting support from all the complimentary parts. Leonard has set a franchise record with 11 straight 30 point games in these playoffs. He’s had six games with 35 or more points, joining only LeBron and Kobe as the only players in NBA history with that many in a single post season.
You will remember that just two years ago, the Raptors were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. Now, they have two former NBA Defensive Players of the Year in Kawhi and Marc Gasol and three second-team All NBA Defensive Players in Danny Green, Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry plus two young bulldogs in Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell. Collectively, they are giving the Bucks fits. Milwaukee’s offense consists of Giannis Antetokounmpo getting the ball at the top of the key and being quickly surrounded by four bodies. If he’s lucky he passes the ball out of trouble for a three. The Raptors are killing the Bucks in the half-court game. Giannis may be this year’s NBA MVP but he’s not ready for prime time.
It was great to see Fred Van Vleet, buoyed by being a new Dad, step up and shoot lights out in game five. He stuck 7 of 9 three-pointers for a smooth 21 points off the bench. He was 1 for 11 in game three but has been 12 of 19 since then.
And here’s the kicker. Fans and media are all over Raptors protagonist Drake. His sideline presence is suddenly a big issue. They are acting like he’s the first guy to sit on the sidelines and get all animated over the fortunes of his hometown team. I just feel sorry for Spike Lee who’s been sitting on the sidelines at Madison Square Garden for 30 years with nothing to show for it.
NBA Can Con – There were 13 Canadians in the NBA this season and there is little doubt that number is going to continue to rise. More than 90 Canadian kids played major college basketball this year and as many as seven Canadians may go in the upcoming NBA Draft.
It makes you wonder if the buzzer-beating shot by Kawhi Leonard won’t be a seminal moment and influence young ballers for years to come in the same way Vince Carter inspired a generation of kids nearly two decades ago. Players like Tristan Thompson and Jamal Murray will tell you they got into basketball because of the high-wire acrobatics of Vinny.
Down Home Blues – No hockey fan can be disappointed to see the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1970. Depending on your vintage, you will remember that the Blues met the Bruins in the 70’ final with Boston winning the Cup on Bobby Orr’s airborne goal. The post expansion Blues actually made the final three straight years only to be swept each time. St. Louis has been a great hockey town ever since and the fans deserve a Cup winner. Go Blues!
The Boston Bruins are hated in these parts but you have to respect the organization and its accomplishment over the past decade. They will be playing in their third Stanley Cup final in nine years. The Bruins will have had a 10-day layoff when the Cup final begins on Monday night. It will be interesting to see if they can get the momentum going again.
One guy to watch in the series is the Blues big centreman Ryan O’Reilly. I watched him closely when Canada won back to back gold medals at the World Championships in 2015 and 2016. He partnered with Mark Stone who also served notice of his talents. O’Reilly is almost equal to the Bruins Patrice Bergeron in the faceoff circle and that will be a matchup to watch. If O’Reilly can be successful in a shutdown role on the Bergeron line, I like the Blues chances. If I am St. Louis, I would target Boston’s two pint-sized defensemen, Tory Krug and Matt Grzelcyk. Punish them defensively and keep an eye on them offensively.
It may be the end of the line for the San Jose Sharks. Their 15-year playoff run has been the envy of a lot of NHL teams and we may not see this type of success again anytime soon. I can’t imagine any team repeating the Sharks success or anything close to the Red Wings who made the playoffs for 25 straight years. Check out Ian McIntyre’s story on the Sharks run of success.
So you have to wonder if the Sharks competitive window is about to slam shut. It certainly looks like they will be joining their California cousins, the Kings and the Ducks, in rebuild mode fairly soon although Doug Wilson is loath to do a tear-down. The Sharks may be able to cobble together one more playoff season but after that, it looks questionable.
San Jose has drafted only 16 players over the past three years and hold only four picks in each of the next two seasons. Their blueline is perilously thin and the Sharks have no replacements in their system.
It certainly appears as though terminal groin problems will cost Erik Karlsson big time when he hits the open market this summer. He left game four of the Western Conference final after having played 25+ minutes in each of the first three games of the series. Don’t forget, Karlsson missed 27 of the final 33 games of the season due to groin problems. He’s had two major surgeries on his ankle and Achilles and you have to question whether he is worth a Drew Doughty-type contract. Karlsson may have to settle for a short-term deal in order to re-establish his value.
If the NHL would have stuck to the rule book, the controversy over the hand pass by Timo Meier that gifted a victory to the Sharks in game three of the Western final could have easily been avoided. Rule 38.4 states: The following situations are subject to video review by the video goal judge: (ix) The video review process shall be permitted to assist the referees in determining the legitimacy of all potential goals. (eg. to ensure they are good hockey goals).
Don’t give me this garbage about how the goal was not reviewable. It was and the rule book bares it out. They could have gone upstairs and got it right.
Welcome to Cap Hell – The Canucks would be wise to target cap-strapped teams like the Leafs and the Lightning this summer. Tampa Bay has only $10 million in cap space and must find money to sign restricted free agent Brayden Point, not to mention upgrading their blueline. The Leafs have only $7.5 million in cap room and must deal with Marner, Kapanen and Johnsson plus improve their horrid backline. The Canucks should offer to eat the final year on Nathan Horton’s $5.3 million dollar contract or pick up the final year of Ryan Callahan’s contract from the Lightning. Look to add picks or young assets in return. They should also look to Vegas where the Golden Knights are also headed to cap hell. Vegas is saddled with the final year of David Clarkson’s $5.25 million dollar contract and need to find someone to take that deal off their hands.
It makes me nervous to think of what Jim Benning may do as he enters the final year on his contract. He knows it’s ‘playoffs or bust’ in 2019-2020. The Canucks can ill afford any more back trades, bad draft picks or foolish free agent signings. If Benning thinks the Canucks are one or two moves away from being a playoff team, he’s sadly mistaken. They still don’t have the depth to contend. One or two long-term injuries and they are toast again.
Brooks Mania – Brooks Koepka is making the majors look like pitch and putts. In winning the PGA Championship, Koepka set a bevy of records in the process. He has now won four of the last eight majors and has separated himself from all mere mortals. How he wasn’t already the #1 ranked golfer in the world is a mystery to me.
Koepka posted the lowest 36-hole score in Majors history and his seven-shot lead was the biggest 36-hole lead in history. There were 156 golfers in the PGA field. Only one golfer was able to reach the par five 13th hole in two – and it was Koepka. He’s the first player in golf history to hold two back to back majors at the same time. No one has won the US Open three straights years since Willy Anderson in 1905, so essentially no one in the modern era. Next up for Koepka is the US Open at Pebble Beach where his length may not be as much of an advantage. Brandel Chamblee had the best line on the Golf Channel when he said “Koepka is built like Hulk Hogan and players like Ben Hogan.”
Tiger couldn’t hit a fairway and couldn’t make a putt and missed the cut at the PGA after his historic win at the Masters. Tiger heads home to regroup and there is a lot of speculation about his schedule leading up to the US Open. He’s announced we will see him at the Memorial, Jack’s tournament.
Clueless in Seattle – The 13-and-2 start for the Seattle Mariners is a distant memory now. The M’s went through a recent stretch where they lost 14 of 19 and were outscored by 73 runs. The pitching staff is in a complete shambles. The Mariners are 26th in the American League in ERA, 29th in opponent’s batting average and have already used 20 relievers so far this season.
As documented previously, the team’s defense is beyond pathetic. The Mariners lead the league in errors by a large margin and have gave up 45 earned runs in their first 50 games which is almost twice the number given up by the second worst team in that category, the Dodgers. What’s really telling is the Mariners only gave up 47 unearned runs all of last season.
Welcome Home – Meanwhile, two Canadians are making their major league debuts this weekend in Toronto with the San Diego Padres. Mississauga’s Josh Naylor got into the lineup on Friday night with more than 50 family members and 200+ friends in attendance. Pitcher Cal Quantrill from Port Hope, Ontario gets the start on Saturday. Quantrill is the son of former Jay Paul Quantrill, now a Blue Jays special assistant.
Lady Christine – Christine Sinclair doesn’t get enough credit as one of Canada’s all-time greatest athletes. Now 36, she is within just three goals of Abby Wambach’s all-time international women’s record of 184. She will probably break the record at the upcoming Women’s World Cup which gets underway in two weeks in France. Sinclair has never received the credit she deserves because Canada has never won a World Cup or even medaled at a World Cup. Something tells me that all could change this time. Canada has its deepest team ever and definitely has a solid chance of coming home with a medal.
The Big Big Big One – Here’s some late-breaking news. Former Laker Lamar Odom admits he used a ‘fake penis’ to pass a drug test in order to play for the US in the 2004 Olympic Games. After being named to the roster, Odom realized there was no way he was going to pass a drug test because he had been smoking pot every day all summer long.
After some quick online research, Odom ordered a prosthetic penis to circumvent the test. He got his trainer to urinate into the fake penis and was able to beat the system. Odom passed the screening and represented the US in the Olympics. However, they lost to Argentina in the semifinals and came home with only a bronze medal.
Who is Bill Quackenbush? – If you leaf through old hockey record books, a name that often surfaces is Bill Quackenbush. For me, it was always just a funny name and not someone I had any book on. Before there was Doug Harvey and Bobby Orr, there was Bill Quackenbush. What sets him apart was he was really the NHL’s first truly great offensive defensemen and a true gentleman on the ice.
Quackenbush played in the NHL for 14 years with the Red Wings and the Bruins and was the first NHL defensemen to win the Lady Byng award. He won the award after playing the entire 1948-49 without recording a penalty. The penalty-less season was part of a total of 131 consecutive games played without being assessed a penalty. His career high penalty total was 17 minutes in 1947-48 when he was named a first team all-star. Quackenbush was considered to be the best offensive defenseman of his era. He named to the NHL All-Star Team five times, played in eight NHL All-Star games and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976. Quackenbush is widely recognized as the player who first perfected the poke-check.
The One and Only Ry Cooder – When I started getting into music with my hometown cronies, one of the first performers I got stuck on was Ry Cooder. I loved slide guitar right from the get go so Ry and Duane Allman were my heroes. Check out Ry now, from his first studio album in six years. It’s great to see him in session with three young guys showing them the way. Make sure to let YouTube run into the subsequent video. That’s a treat too featuring the best slide player of this generation, Derek Trucks.