Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and the usual cast of contributors including Jordan Moss, Ted Tait, Peter Hucul, Glen and Bill Myles, Rob Wagner, Dave Kittle and Ian MacPhee. This week, Stanley stays south, Dubie departs, loads of NHL scuttlebutt and the Jays sputter.
The Quest Continues – The Stanley Cup drought has now reached thirty years among Canadian teams and it may be another thirty years before the Cup comes north of the border. Scribes can blather on all they want about the pressure of playing in Canada but is that the biggest reason? Is it any coincidence that three of the final four teams in this year’s playoffs – Dallas, Florida and Vegas – play in States where there is no income tax? What incentives are there to play in Canada? The lovely winter weather in Edmonton? The culture in Toronto and Vancouver is toxic where neither team has won a thing in more than five decades. You have the French thing in Montreal where it shouldn’t really be an issue but it is. Hockey players are not exactly worldly and few can adapt to the Montreal milieu. Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa are small markets and you know how that song goes. There’s not a lot of reason to be optimistic that the drought will end any time soon.
Watching the NHL Final Four makes you wonder how many Canadian hockey fans cheer for any of the remaining teams unless you are an absolute bandwagon jumper. Unless you have a familial connection to a player on one of the teams, what are the chances you actually cheer for Florida, Carolina, Dallas or Vegas? And here we go again about ‘heavy’ teams in the playoffs. The Panthers and Golden Knights are the last teams standing and both have the kind of requisite size and grit that gets it done in the post-season.
It’s been a long and bumpy road for the Panthers since their run to the Cup final in 1996. For years, they literally couldn’t give tickets away. One night, firefighters would get in free. Then, police officers would get in free. They even gave away tickets to entire communities. One game would be Plantation Night. If you showed up with a driver’s license from Plantation, Florida, in you went. Same went for other surrounding communities including Sunrise where my buddy Steve Falzack lives. Things were so bad at one point defenseman Brian Campbell recalls the players had to pay $20 bucks for a pre-game meal. Happy to see the Panthers having some success. It’s taken some time but owner Vinnie Viola, who’s risen from a hardscrabble childhood in Brooklyn, deserves a lot of credit for sticking with it. Super happy for Paul Maurice as well.
Some Plan! – Any reader of this blog knows we have taken many pot-shots at now-departed Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas. His body of work in Toronto speaks volumes. We used him for a pin cushion, yes. But does he deserve all the blame for the Leafs playoff shortcomings over the past seven years? Definitely not.
If you are looking to play the blame-game, look no further than Brendan Shanahan. If Leafs ownership was looking for a scapegoat, he’s the man with the plan – the Shanaplan which has been a monumental failure. How he continues to survive is beyond comprehension. Is nine years not enough? In the first place, what qualifications does Shanahan have to lead a multi-billion-dollar organization? He’s never been a GM. He’s never been a coach. He was an accomplished player but how does that prepare you for being club president? He has no post-high school education. Oh yes, he worked in the league office in New York dishing out punishment. Gary Bettman ensures everyone who takes that job gets a sweetheart front office position somewhere. Just ask Brian Burke.
After Dubas got the punt, reports started to surface that Shanahan may have meddled more than once when it came to player trades and signings. Dubas wanted more autonomy and perhaps for good reason. Maybe some of the bonehead moves were at Shanahan’s urging and not something Dubas was prepared to do on his own. It’s another case study in management and what happens when ownership and the front office are not in complete unison. For Leaf fans, that’s an old and tired story in Toronto.
When you have two media giants in Bell and Rogers are owners of the team, you are never going to get an honest take from the talking heads at Sportsnet and TSN. Don’t dare say anything derogatory about the beloved Leafs. We chuckled when it was a Montreal sportswriter, Jack Todd, who stood up and gave us the real goods.
NHL Playoff Notebook – Looks like the ownership battle royale in Ottawa is about to come to a conclusion. The Neko Sparks bid has been an absolute hoot. Is there any B-List celebrity out there that hasn’t hitched to the wagon? I’m surprised Meaghan and Harry are not part of the ownership group. Pretty sure Joey Bishop, Nipsy Russell and Moms Mabley have been recruited.
Even though they are about to cash in a lottery jackpot by the name of Connor Bedard, the Chicago Blackhawks would be wise to play the slow game in their rebuild. The worst thing they could do is try and speed the process. The Hawks are sitting on a massive stockpile of draft picks that should form the foundation of a contending team – in time. Chicago has a second first-round pick in this year’s draft, 19th overall. They hold a whopping four second-round picks which could be used to move up in the draft if they identify a player they want to grab.
What’s more, on top of their own 2024 first-round pick, which will likely be top five, the Blackhawks will again own Tampa’s first-round pick. Altogether, Chicago has seven first-round picks, eight second-round picks and seven third-round picks combined in the 2022, 2023 and 2024 drafts. Sure, not all will turn out but the scorched-earth approach to rebuilding the franchise is the best formula based on history. Numerous teams have gone this route in the past, but many, like the Toronto Maple Leafs, tried to speed the process by dishing out big money to free agents before the foundation was properly in place. The Hawks have been focused on building their back end and that’s something the Leafs neglected.
When are NHL owners going to call off the dogs and end Gary Bettman’s 30-year vanity project that is the Arizona Coyotes? Give up the ghost already! This nonsense has gone on since the Jets moved to the desert in 1996.
Eric Duhatschek of The Athletic did a brilliant job chronicling the laundry list of owners and would-be owners who have gained or attempted to gain ownership of the team. There was Steve Ellman and his minority partner, a guy named Gretzky. There was George Gosbee, Jerry Moyes, Andrew Barroway and now Alex Meruelo. But don’t forget all the others who tried and failed including Jerry Reinsdorf, Matt Hulsizer, Greg Jamison, Darin Pastor, the Ice Edge Group and of course, Jim Balsillie, who tried to move the team to Hamilton.
The Coyotes and the NHL spent $750 grand in a futile campaign to win voters over for the arena project in Tempe. The no-voters reportedly spend $37,000. The no-vote won easily. And so, it looks like the Coyotes will be stuck in the 5,000 seat Mullitt Arena for at least another year. Brad Marchand of the Bruins had the best line about playing in a college arena when Boston visited this season, “At least now, they only have to give away 500 tickets instead of 5,000.”
Good luck to the Calgary Flames. They are going to need it. Craig Conroy is a nice guy but is he the right person to clean up the mess left behind by Brad Treliving? Hiring a rookie GM is never a good idea. Treliving was a rookie GM when he was hired. How many times have we seen this movie? Edmonton had a succession of rookie GM’s and rookie coaches and it was a toxic 20-year nightmare. Watch the Flames hire a rookie coach to work with Conroy. Watch how that goes.
Treliving has left a mess similar to what Jim Benning left in Vancouver. Conroy will be ably assisted by none other than Dave Nonis who flopped as a GM in Vancouver and Toronto. How many times do these bozos get recycled? What has he done that makes you think Nonis would be a good addition?
The nickname of the year has to be the handle given to Darryl Sutter – “The Jolly Rancher.” That is the best. Sutter has two years left on his contract at $4 million a year. He can now walk around the homestead and yell at the livestock.
Blue Jays Notebook – If you think time is running out on Brendan Shanahan in Toronto, how about Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins? The much-hyped window of contention may not even be opening. The Jays are 6-15 against American League East opponents and have look shaky more often than not.
Shapiro has all the answers with his buttoned-down boardroom speak. Atkins has been handed everything required to get the job done and he’s failed miserably. Jays ownership have given Atkins an open cheque-book but many of his free agent signings have not measured up. Remember the $10 million he handed reliever Kirby Yates? Did he ever actually don a Jays jersey? Yusei Kikuchi has been uniformly ineffective save for a few brief moments of brilliance. The Jays draft record is sketchy at best. Their record in the first round is abysmal. Atkins still hasn’t found a bullpen that can get people out with any consistency. Even manager John Schneider has contributed to the recent malaise. There was no excuse for making a mound visit after pitching coach Pete Walker had already checked on Alek Manoah. Do you know the rules or are you just not paying attention?
What should cost Atkins his job is the trade than sent catcher Gabriel Moreno and outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to Arizona for Daulton Varsho. That’s a pretty price to pay for defense in left-field. Varsho is barely hitting above the Mendoza Line. Meanwhile, Gurriel, at the time of this writing, was hitting .318 with eight home runs and 27 RBI’s. But the big mistake was dealing Moreno. You just don’t give up on 21-year-old catchers. He’s hitting above .300 and his defensive metrics are among the best in all of baseball. Moreno is tied for second among qualified catchers in defensive runs saved. The trade becomes even more haunting every time Alejandro Kirk waddles out to the mound. Kirk is an absolute base-clogger and if he hits the ball on the ground with a man on base, it’s a sure-fire double play.
Atkins may look even more sheepish when the Milwaukee Brewers come to town next week. The Jays biggest weakness is the lack of a lefthanded power bat. Rowdy Tellez is on pace for more than 40 home runs this season. Atkins shipped him to the Brewers for reliever Trevor Richards and minor league righty Bowden Francis. That deal has not exactly worked out.
If the Jays fail to make the playoffs, and there’s a good chance that could happen, don’t be surprised if Shapiro saves his own ass by feeding Atkins to the wolves. Shapiro has a ready-made replacement in James Click, the former Houston GM, who was axed by the Astros despite winning the World Series. Click is now in the Jays front office in the position of Vice President, Baseball Strategy.
MLB Notebook – Get used to the Baltimore Orioles as a contending team in the American League East. Years of bottom-dwelling have allowed the Orioles to amass a bucketload of talent. Already on the major league squad are cornerstone pieces in Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Grayson Rodriguez. Jordan Westburg and former first-round pick Colton Cowser and are both ripping it up in the minors and could add pop to an already powerful lineup before the season is out. The jewel of the system is 19-year-old shortstop Jackson Holliday, son of former Colorado Rockies slugger Matt Holliday. He’s already dominated two A-ball levels and looks like he’s on the fast track to the majors.
NFL Notes – NFL teams were allowed to hold OTA’s recently. It was the last time teams will have players together before the start of training camp.
Despite another stellar draft, the Seahawks will not take a big leap forward until they can dominate the line of scrimmage. They have a couple of rookies who could make an impact on the offensive line. Still not convinced however, that the middle of that O-line is that effective. Likewise, the defensive front lacks a stopper in the middle. Don’t forget, the Seahawks were 30th in the NHL in run defense last year. That has to get a whole lot better.
ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky must have been trying to ingratiate himself to New York Jet fans with his big take for 2024 that the two teams best equipped to beat KC are the Buffalo Bills and the Jets.
Only the Jets would take a chance of Aaron Rodgers. He hasn’t won a thing in 12 years except look for attention. Here’s our prediction – Rodgers will flop in New York and the Jets will live to regret it.
Golf Notebook – What is it about Brooks Koepka that just rubs you the wrong way? Is it because he’s pumped up and not the prototypical body type for a golfer? Is it because he holted the PGA Tour for a LIV Golf fortune? Is it because he has a high opinion of himself and comes across as a bit of a jerk? Just find it hard to cheer for the guy but you can’t argue with his success. Five major titles including this year’s PGA is a hell of a body of work at only 33. Don’t forget, he had this year’s Masters in his back pocket before slipping on Sunday.
One of the great stories in recent years in all of sports was etched by 46-year-old PGA Club Professional Michael Block at this year’s PGA tournament. He carried the mantle for all club pros, became an overnight sensation and fan favourite, while staying in contention throughout. An all-world up-and-down on 18 on Sunday allowed Block to finish T15 and pocket $300 grand which is the equivalent of about four or five years working as a club pro. It also got him into next year’s PGA Championship as well as this week’s Colonial and the upcoming RBC Canadian Open. Block’s magical ride was capped by a hole-in-one on Sunday that put the finishing touch on a storybook ending.
In case you missed it, Tom Kim’s mud bath at the PGA Championship was an absolute hoot. Check it out for yourself.
Goodbye Jim Brown – To call Jim Brown a legend seems like an understatement. He’s certainly one of the greatest players to ever walk on a football field. Unlike today’s self-absorbed athletes, Brown was at the forefront of the fight for social justice.
Even before he entered the NFL, Brown was an athletic freak. At Syracuse University, he competed in the high jump, javelin and according to many, was one of the best lacrosse players in the nation.
Brown entered the NFL in 1957 and immediately became the best player in the league. Keep in mind, this was an era when offensive linemen averaged 6’3” and 238 pounds. Brown was 6’2” and 230. He was named first-team All-NFL eight times.
This was a time when the NFL had 12-and-14 game seasons but Brown still set career rushing records that would stand for nearly two decades. In a flash, he was gone, playing his last game at age 29.
Spotify Tracks of the Month – Some fine music to pass along since our last issue. Before his untimely recent passing, Jeff Beck got together with Eric Clapton and did some recording. You absolutely have to check out their rendition of the Henry Mancini classic Moon River. Beck’s guitar work is brilliant.
Mavis Staples album “I’ll Take You There” – An All-Star Concert Celebration is fantastic front to back. Have a listen to the late Gregg Allman on vocals on Have a Little Faith.
Bruce Cockburn has a new album out called O Sun O Moon. The best track is definitely On a Roll.
Check out an artist named Matt Andersen. We recommend the track Break Away from the release Honest Man.
Sheryl Crow is back with One Night In Texas. Check out her take on Night Life.
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