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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy. Special thanks to our regular contributors including Jordan Moss, Ian MacPhee, Dave Kittle, Ted Tait, Peter Hucul, Glen and Bill Myles, Howard Steiss and Rob Wagner. This week, Messi spurns Vancouver. The Canucks face an uncertain off-season and it’s decision time for the Blue Jays. 

The Messi Mess – We don’t normally lead with soccer but how can we not weigh in on the messy news out of Vancouver? Pity the poor Whitecap fans after learning that Lionel Messi would not be playing in Vancouver this weekend.

More than 50 thousand people bought tickets to see Inter Miami play the Whitecaps at BC Place Stadium. According to Global News, one Vancouver Island family paid close to $3,000 dollars for tickets and hotel accommodations just to see the soccer superstar in action. Two other Inter Miami stars Louis Suarez and Sergio Busquets were also left behind. Talk about a rip-off!

Messi is not listed as injured. It’s nothing more than load management since the team has home games coming up this week on Wednesday and Saturday. In true diva fashion, Messi didn’t want to fly all the way to the west coast. Criticize the league for scheduling a one-off road trip. Why not have the team play in Seattle and Portland on this trip as well? Meanwhile, Inter Milan players were shown conducting a soccer clinic in Miami while all this was happening.

For their part, the Whitecaps were planning a big street party to celebrate the game. The team finally clued in and offered fans a free ticket to a future game. Oh, and they did offer fans half off food and beverages. Thanks. What should be happening is a class-action lawsuit. Better Call Saul. As long as sports fans put up with this crap, it will continue to happen.

In an apparent defense of what took place, the Vancouver coach said the Whitecaps rested players on the road last season as well. News flash to Vinni Sartini – you weren’t resting Lionel Messi. Hello! The final insult came when Inter Milan walked off with a 2-1 win despite the missing Messi.

Canucks Autopsy – It was fun while it lasted. Reaching the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs was a commendable achievement for the Canucks. It’s amazing how much you learn about your roster in the heat of the playoffs. Some guys step up. Some guys falter.

When you dive into the post mortem, there’s a lot to unpack. Losing three of the final four games in the series was a tough pill to swallow. Watching the veritable no-show in the final two games was exasperating save for a late spurt in game seven. Why wait so long to push the pace? It was puzzling. Rick Tocchet is a deserving recipient of coach-of-the-year honours. He brought structure and accountability to the team but you can question his tactics against Edmonton. The Canucks rarely activated the D. Did Tocchet give the Oilers offence too much credit? Why not go right after Stuart Skinner? The ridiculously low shot totals reflected the defensive posture. You can point to the loss of Thatcher Demko and Brock Boeser but the Canucks were let down by a dormant offence.

There’s no other way to view Elias Pettersson’s playoff than utterly disappointing. One goal and five assists in 13 games doesn’t cut it. Widen it out and you start to really wonder. Pettersson scored only eight times in the Canucks final 44 games. He was rarely assertive even though the matchups were often favourable. Pettersson can also share blame for the power-play struggles. The zone entry turnovers were inexcusable. When you carry a big contract, you also carry big expectations. Pettersson better get used to the constant scrutiny.

Part of the Canucks decision-making process should be whether Pettersson is best suited to play centre or whether he should be moved to the wing. Yes, he would become grossly overpaid on the wing but long-term, that may be where he needs to play. If Petey is shifted, then re-signing Elias Lindholm suddenly moves to the top of the priority list.

Unlike Pettersson, J.T. Miller emerged as the emotional heartbeat of the team. Overall, he had a strong playoff even though failing to register a point in the final two games. Assuming Boeser returns from the blood clotting issues, finding a third wheel on the top line becomes hugely important. Maybe reuniting the Lotto Line on a permanent basis is the answer.

No doubt there was tremendous growth this season. Jimmy Rutherford and Patrik Allvin have done a masterful job considering the roster and cap situation they inherited. The question everyone is asking is “How do you sustain it?” The front office has used a lot of chips to build the team to the level it reached. Keeping the pieces together and taking the next step is a daunting task when you start to dissect the challenges ahead this summer.

The Canucks have close to $24 million in cap space. The restraint exercised by the front office last off-season is proving wise now. However, with nine pending UFA’s and two pending RFA’s, the money is going to vanish quickly. Carving out enough space to improve the roster, rather than just maintain it, will be the biggest challenge.

In a perfect world, you would like to bring back Lindholm, Dakota Joshua and Teddy Blueger. It’s doubtful there will be enough money to retain all three. The rumour mill has already started churning. If Lindholm departs, the Canucks may make a move for Hurricanes centre Martin Necas, a pending restricted free agent.

Along the blueline, signing Nikita Zadorov is a must. Bring back Tyler Myers but only if he will accept a hometown discount. Filip Hronek struggled throughout the playoffs and needs a new contract. What’s his value and how high are you willing to go?

Best case. Find the money to sign Chris Tanev as a free agent. Reunite him with Quinn Hughes and drop Hronek to the second pairing with Zadorov. You may be forced to use Carson Soucey and Noah Juulsen as your third pair. Another option would be to bring back former Canuck Jalen Chatfield. Ideally, Soucey needs to play with a puck-mover. The long-term answer is Thomas Willander. He could be in the mix as early as next March when he’s finished at Boston U. Maintaining size and strength on the back end has to be the number one focus.

Up front, the Canucks number one goal will be to add a scorer in the top six. It’s almost imperative that Jonathan Lekkerimaki makes an impact at some point next season. Rick Tocchet showed almost no faith in Valeri Podkolzin. That needs to change. It’s critical that Podkolzin and Nils Hoglander continue to show growth as cost-effective bottom-six options.

Arturs Silovs was the story of the playoffs. If Silovs takes over the backup role next season, the Canucks will save about a million against the cap. Every dollar counts so its probably a move worth making.

One thing that stands out about the Canucks management group is they tend to be very unconventional. Don’t be surprised if they make a move this summer that comes out of nowhere. Conor Garland had an outstanding season but maybe he becomes a trade piece in order to open additional cap space. If they don’t like Hronek’s salary demands, do they ship him elsewhere? They go by the beat of their own drum so expect the unexpected.

What to do with Ilya Mikheyev? He’s on the books for two more years at $4.75 million. Mikheyev is a black hole on offence and is miscast in the top six. Moving his contract will be next to impossible. A buy-out is unlikely. If Mikheyev was making $1.5 million and playing on the fourth line, there would be no discussion.

Yes, ultimately, the season ended in disappointment. In the broader picture, the team restored pride in the organization. The team reconnected with the fan base and Vancouver is again a desirable place to play. That’s the biggest takeaway from this season and what a remarkable turnaround from a year ago.

Manny Happy Returns – The Canucks have welcomed back Manny Malhotra. He returns to the west coast to take over as head coach of the AHL Abbotsford Canucks. Returning to the organization is a natural fit for Malhotra since he played for the team and also served as an assistant coach. Malhotra has roots here. He’s married to Joann Nash, sister of Steve Nash. The fact his son will be playing for the BCHL Chilliwack Chiefs was certainly a factor. Malhotra has a close relationship with the Sedins who are key members of the Canucks player development staff.

It was tough to lose Jeremy Colliton. He’s going to be back behind the bench in the NHL. It’s just a matter of when. Had the Senators been paying attention, Colliton would have been a far more inspired choice as coach than Travis Green.

NHL Playoff Notebook – The Dallas Stars haven’t caught a break with the playoff matchups. They had to go seven games with both Vegas and Colorado and they may have to go the distance with Edmonton. That takes a big toll. If the Stars reach the final, it may be a factor.

When you grade the Oilers, you have to weigh who they have beaten to date. You can’t exactly call the Kings and the Canucks the toughest assignment. Edmonton has had the easiest path of any playoff team. They seem to have plenty left in the tank.

The 2024 playoffs have been a star-maker for the Oilers Evan Bouchard. Defensive warts have always kept him from Norris consideration but that’s no longer the case. He was a Canucks killer with four goals and seven assists in the series. Along with McDavid and Draisaitl, the Oilers are the first team in NHL history to have three players with 20+ points after the opening two rounds. You would have to think Bouchard will be in strong consideration for the next Canadian Olympic team.

The Eastern Conference final between the Rangers and the Panthers is turning into a nasty affair. Matt Rempe has been inserted into the Ranger lineup and that can only lead to trouble. He’s a ticking time bomb. Hold your breath waiting to see what damage he does in his eight minutes a night of playing time. We still forecast a Dallas-Florida final. By the way, we nailed all four second round series predictions. We’re now 11 of 12 for the playoffs.

Did you know that Elias Pettersson will be the highest-paid Swede in the NHL next season at $11.6 million? EP has surpassed countrymen William Nylander and Erik Karlsson who will both earn $11.5 million.

A great, long-time friend lives near Fort Lauderdale, Florida and often attends Florida Panther games. This year, he could have attended every Panthers home game for a grand total of $823. The least expensive ticket at Madison Square Garden for the opening game of the Panthers-Rangers series was $482.

Gary Bettman took over as NHL Commissioner in February of 1993. That spring, the Montreal Canadiens captured the Stanley Cup by beating Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings. Who do you think Bettman was cheering for? The Habs prevailed but you wonder if it left an indelible mark on Bettman. No Canadian team has won the Cup since. Do you think the New York office wanted the Canucks to beat the Rangers in ’94 or the Bruins in 2011? What if the Oilers advance to the final this year against the Panthers or heaven forbid, the Rangers?

The obstacles against a Canadian team winning the Cup are enormous, perhaps nearly impossible to overcome. Is this a coincidence or has Bettman done everything in his power to ensure it doesn’t happen? You can be sure he isn’t losing any sleep over the now 31-year drought.

No NHL team is more in flux than the Carolina Hurricanes. General Manager Don Waddell just abandoned ship. Looks like he is headed to Columbus. Rod Brind’Amour is sticking around as coach but the Hurricanes could be hit hard by free agency unless owner Tom Dundon opens his wallet. Jake Guentzel, Teuvo Teravainen, Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei are all free to walk on July 1. What happens if all four exit? Bye-bye contender status.

In Toronto, everyone is waiting for a roster purge. Does Brad Treliving have the guts to break up the Core Four. Expect tons of speculation over the next five weeks. Treliving has a decision to make on several pending free agents including Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi. The Leaf lemmings are making a case for their return. Send them both packing.

We remind you the Maple Leafs haven’t won the Cup since the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Snagglepuss was saying “Heavens to Murgatroyd.”

Team Canada came home empty-handed at the World Hockey Championship in Czechoslovakia. Canada was upset by Switzerland 3-2 in a shootout in the semi-final before dropping a 4-2 decision to Sweden in the bronze medal game. Good on the Czechs for winning gold on home soil. Several players did impress for Canada to put them squarely on the radar for upcoming best-on-best tournaments including the Olympics. Dylan Cozens of the Sabres and Brandon Hagel of the Tampa Bay Lightning were two of the standouts. The Canadian roster may not look anything like what we forecast just a year ago.

Blue Jays Notebook – There’s word around major league baseball that the Blue Jays may be open to dealing franchise stars Vladdy Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. Dealing either one would certainly indicate a big step toward a roster overhaul. No doubt the ask will be significant.

Waiting until the final year of their contracts next season is just bad business. If you can’t reach long-term contract extensions, there’s really only one option. Sure, their numbers are down but we’re talking about two All-Stars. You can bet there’s a market although how many teams have the money to offer a big extension once a deal is done? That will definitely shrink the market. If a team comes calling, I would not trade either player without receiving a pair of top-ten prospects.

How about that hard-hitting Blue Jays outfield? You have George Springer in right hitting .188. Kevin Kiermaier in centre is batting .226. The whiff-meister Daulton Varsho completes the troika. He’s hitting .208. Seems embarrassing to be bringing back the home run jacket. How about wearing a straight jacket if you strike out?

If there’s one positive for the Blue Jays, it’s the apparent return to form of pitcher Alek Manoah. It’s been a long road back for the former Cy Young candidate. Manoah had two recent starts of at least seven innings with no earned runs. He’s got four pitches working again. He’s pounding the strike zone and getting swings and misses. The walks and the hard contact have been limited. If Manoah continues to be reliable, that opens the door to the potential trade of a starting pitcher.

MLB Notebook – The major league trade deadline is still a way’s off but we’re starting to get a sense of the buyers and sellers. After losing three of four over the weekend in Detroit, the Blue Jays have a decision to make because they’ve shown no sign of turning their season around. In addition to Vladdy and Bo, they have several other veterans who could be in play including Springer, Justin Turner, Yusei Kikuchi, Yimi Garcia and Chris Bassitt. Even closer Jordan Romano, who’s a year away from free agency, could be moved depending how deep you want to cut into the roster. Garcia or Romano to the Orioles makes a lot of sense especially when you consider the bevy of talent in the O’s system.

There will be plenty of suitors if the New York Mets put Pete Alonso on the market. The Seattle Mariners would be a good landing spot for Alonso or Guerrero Jr. The M’s are crying out for an impact bat in the middle of the lineup. Miami, Boston, Washington, St. Louis and the Chicago White Sox should all be sellers. That puts plenty of veterans into the deadline mix including Kenley Jansen, Eddie Rosario, Jesse Winker, Josh Bell, Paul Goldschmidt and Ryan Helsley.

When private-equity billionaire David Rubenstein purchased ownership of the Baltimore Orioles, he took over a budding World Series contender but he also inherited one of the worst contracts in baseball history. Think Bobby Bonilla. Slugger Chris Davis is out of the game but he’s still owed a total of $42 million dollars. Davis will collect $9.16 million from 2023-2025, $3.5 million from 2026-2032 and $1.4 million from 2033 to 2037. Nice pension plan.

After all the surgeries and stress fractures, at 35, pitcher Chris Sale was pretty much written off. Alex Anthopoulos took a flyer over the winter and Sale has been lights out in Atlanta. Sale was 7-1 with a 2.22 ERA after his first nine starts. Sale still has the nasty wipe-out slider that freezes lefthanded batters. He comes at you from three-quarters with a 6-foot-6 frame. Don’t rule out a Cy Young season if Sale can stay healthy which is always a big question mark.

Seahawks Notebook – No position in pro sports is more important than the quarterback in football. It’s a dilemma facing the Seahawks and it needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Geno Smith is good enough to get you into the playoffs – maybe – but you won’t go far.

The position is fraught with danger. The Detroit Lions just signed Jared Goff to a four-year extension that will average $53 million per season. Is he worth that? Of course not. But it’s the going rate for a top quarterback. You either jump in with both feet or good luck trying to find an alternative. The San Francisco 49’ers are facing the same axis point. Brock Purdy is a good quarterback but is he worth the kind of money handed Goff? If the Niners have another winning season with Purdy behind center, the asking price is certain to be exorbitant.

The never-ending quest for a competent quarterback is exactly why six QB’s went off the board in the first twelve picks of this year’s NFL draft. We can criticize Sean Payton for drafting Bo Nix much higher than expected but Payton obviously thinks it’s a risk worth taking.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, can keep taking the ‘best player available’ approach every year at the draft but they still don’t have a long-term solution at quarterback. They’ve had three off-seasons to address the situation but are still sitting with Geno Smith. They seem destined to be an 8-or-9 win team until they find a true answer at the position.

Random Leftovers – The PGA Tour has been shaken by the tragic death of golfer Grayson Murray. On Sunday, his family revealed it was death by suicide. He was just 30 years old. Murray had dealt with alcohol and mental health issues but had been sober for the past eight months. He was engaged to be married and had become a Christian.

Grayson said recently that he felt his best golf was ahead of him. Murray was a two-time Tour winner including a victory at this year’s Sony Open in Hawaii. He had just been appointed to the 16-member Player Advisory Council. Just a sad, sad end for a guy who had so much to look forward to.

Isn’t it about time Louisville police dropped the charges against Scottie Scheffler? The officer involved has already been disciplined after an internal investigation revealed he failed to wear a bodycam as instructed. Any litigation at this point would appear to be a complete waste of time and resources.

Canada’s gift to the NBA, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, has been named to this year’s All-NBA team. What a great honour for the budding star but I’m not so sure the Oklahoma Thunder are as pleased. You see, being named to the annual All-NBA team comes with very punitive salary cap implications. As an All-NBA player, Gilgeous-Alexander is now eligible to sign a supermax contract. When you learn how much that is, you will cringe.

SGA may become the first NBA player to top $80 million in a season. He will be free to sign a four-year extension next summer. In the fourth year of the contract, SGA would earn almost $81.5 million. The numbers are locked in, so even of Shai fails to earn All-NBA next season, he will still be eligible to sign the deal. The Thunder’s budding young roster is going to get a whole lot more expensive and soon.

After such a dismal season, you would think things look bright for the Toronto Raptors. To come out of the season without a lottery pick has to be incredibly disappointing. The foundation of a playoff team is just not there. The Raptors would be better to continue dismantling the roster and ensure they are in the lottery next season.

Only in the NBA could Cleveland Cavaliers coach J.D. Bickerstaff be fired after taking his team to the second round of the playoffs and 99 wins over the past two seasons. Only in the NBA because the prisoners are running the asylum.

You could see this coming! Former NFL receiver Antonio Brown has filed for bankruptcy. Brown reported debts of $3 million with only $50 thousand in assets. Brown earned $80 million during his NFL career. And he’s such a wonderful human being.

Hot Take – Make sure to check out the HBO series “Soulsville U.S.A.” It’s a four-part documentary on Stax Records in Memphis. Great story on how a small label rose to prominence in the recording industry. Booker T & the M.G.’s were the session band at Stax. Booker T will be performing in Victoria during the upcoming TD Victoria International Jazz Festival. Definitely recommend you catch the show.

Hot List – Here’s a Top 10 Playlist for this week for your listening pleasure.

  1. Guy Clark – ‘L.A. Freeway’ from the release Old No. 1
  2. Jakob Dylan – ‘Questions’ from the soundtrack Echo in the Canyon
  3. Van Morrison – ‘Wild Honey’ from the album Duets featuring Joss Stone
  4. Greg Brown – ‘Real Good Friend’ from Covenant
  5. Lyle Lovett – ‘Her First Mistake’ from the release The Road to Ensenada
  6. Chuck Leavell – ‘Low Down Dirty Dog’ from Back to the Woods
  7. Carl Verheyen Band – ‘New Year’s Day’ from Trading 8’s featuring guest artist Robben Ford
  8. Jerry Jeff Walker – ‘Stoney’ from the album Gypsy Songman
  9. Roy Rogers + Shana Morrison – ‘Lovers Moon’ from Everybody’s Angel
  10. Wynonna & The Big Noise – ‘Ain’t No Thing’ (Untitled) featuring Susan Tedeschi

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