Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Co-Editor Bill Morphy and contributions from Jordan Moss and Bill Myles. This week, the funeral process is underway. Tom Wilson is a pariah. James Dolan is a Mississippi Delta Bluesman. Mark Messier needs work. And George Springer needs a new fitness instructor.
Canucks This Week – Conversation overheard between a Vancouver Canucks sales agent and a potential season ticket holder.
(Sound of telephone ringing)
Canuck Fan: Hello.
Canuck Sales Agent: Hi. I’m Johnny from the Vancouver Canucks calling about our season’s ticket offers.
(Sound of phone going clunk)
Iain MacIntyre of Sportsnet nailed it. The Canucks are in a funeral procession to the end of the schedule. Eleven games in the final 17 days and the season can’t end fast enough. At least they are auditioning Kole Lind, Jack Rathbone and Jonah Gadjovich. There’s not much else to watch. Here we are again cheering for the Canucks to lose so they can improve their chances in the NHL draft lottery. Haven’t we been doing that for the past ten years?
How much darkness can one season reap? The Jake Virtanen sexual misconduct investigation is the latest stain. The pandemic brought widespread layoffs within the organization. A COVID-19 variant ripped through the team. J.T. Miller had to stand up and speak for the team while management stood silent. There’s been more foolish roster decisions. They even had to fire the team’s long-time anthem singer. All the while the owner is invisible. If it’s not rock-bottom, I don’t know what is.
If you are keeping track, the Canucks added Jimmy Vesey and Travis Boyd off waivers and Matthew Highmore at the trade deadline to bolster the bottom half of their forward group. They combined for zero goals and zero assists in 30 games combined before Highmore registered a point.
We’ve talked extensively about the Canucks front office and the fact they are operating on a skeletal staff. After losing Director of Amateur Scouting Judd Brackett to the Minnesota Wild last off-season, the Canucks chose not to replace him. Long-time Canucks crony Ron Delorme is Chief Amateur Scout. Stan Smyl, another Canucks lifer, is Special Assistant to the General Manager. For several years, former Islander Lorne Henning headed up the Pro Scouting Department. It’s now led by his son Brett. Talk about nepotism. If that’s not enough, one of the Canucks amateur scouts is Brandon Benning. Yes, Jim Benning’s son. Also on the scouting staff is 84-year-old Ted Hampson. Apparently, the Canucks are unable to tell people when it’s time to go. Lou Crawford remains as a Canucks amateur scout, a carryover from when his brother Marc Crawford was head coach. If you could describe the organization in one word, it would be STALE.
NHL News & Notes – Connor McDavid of the Oilers is headed to his third scoring title in six seasons. Reaching the 100-point mark in a 56-game season is truly remarkable. In the last five seasons, McDavid has won the Hart three times and finished runner-up the other two years. Mitch Marner of the Leafs is currently sitting third in scoring behind McDavid and Oiler teammate Leon Draisaitl. If Marner is named a first team all-star on right-wing, he would be the first Leaf to be named to the first all-star team since Borje Salming in 1977.
It was just a few short months ago that we examined the many indiscretions of Washington Capitals rock-head Tom Wilson. After his mauling of Boston’s Brandon Carlo, we outlined how an ICBC-type system would work wonders in the NHL in weeding out the violent nonsense. By now, Wilson would have reached a threshold and had his NHL playing privileges taken away for good. So what happens this week? Wilson was at it again, rag-dolling the Rangers best player Artemi Panarin, putting the New York star out for the season with a UBI, presumably a concussion. Wilson also stood up in the penalty box and mocked the Rangers with a Hulk show. The on-ice officials deserve some criticism here too. Why was Wilson not tossed from the game? It’s ridiculous when you consider he later scored a goal.
Credit the Rangers for calling out the league after Wilson walked away with just a fine. Pointing the finger directly at George Parros, the NHL’s head of Player Safety, was even more shocking. How that ex-goon is in that position in the first place is one of life’s great mysteries. It’s like having Al Capone in charge of the Parole
Board. All we know is the NHL needs Panarin a lot more than it needs Wilson but try telling that to the clueless crew that is so reluctant to deliver meaningful punishment. Wilson escaped with a $5,000 fine which is the maximum allowable under the collective bargaining agreement. A five grand fine is simply not enough deterrent. Over the past four years, Wilson has now forfeited $1,296,456.50 in salary as a result of supplemental discipline. You would think he might stop throwing his money away. We are left to add another pathetic rap-sheet to the Wilson file although it’s now so thick we may have to use a binder. We will label it – “Just another immature, entitled s#*t-bag athlete.” If ever there was a time to overhaul the player safety department, this is it.
In case you are wondering, George Parros had 36 points and more than 1,000 penalty minutes during his six-year NHL career. It’s like having Tiger Woods in charge of safe driving.
Former NHL referee Paul Stewart knows all about “The Code” from his days as on on-ice official and as a tough-guy player himself. Stewart claims that there are few actual tough-guys left in the game only imposters like Wilson. Despite his size, Stewart says Wilson wouldn’t have survived in the old-school game where he would have had to answer to the likes of Bob Probert, Gino Odjick, Craig Berube and Dave Brown. According to Stewart, Berube was so intimidating he would keep opponents in check even from the bench. On one occasion, Dale Purinton of the Rangers was running around taking liberties. From the bench, Berube called over to Brian Leetch and said “Brian, you better get your f*#king pet on a leash!” Leetch went to Purinton and told him to knock it off. The rest of the game was peaceful.
So much for the Rangers slow, methodical rebuild. Patience was so much out of character for the organization anyway. The Rangers unceremoniously dumped club president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton just one day after the Wilson debacle. The firings can be traced back to Glen Sather who still serves as a special assistant to whacko owner James Dolan. Chris Drury was handed both posts. We should not be surprised that Mark Messier jumped on ESPN Radio in New York and immediately started lobbying for a job. His Messiness claimed the Rangers are not tough enough. “In my opinion, if you’re going to win, you got to be able to win in the street and the alley,” he said. “I particularly would not have built the team that didn’t have answers in this regard.” Asked if he’d like to be part of the front office team: “I’ve made it very clear that I’ve been standing by ready to help out in any way for many years. I don’t really know what else to say.”
Yes, Rangers owner James Dolan is a certified whack-job. Several years ago, he formed a band called JD and The Straight Shot and produced a music video. Seems Dolan pictured himself as something of a bluesman complete with fedora. Put it this way, he’s no John Lee Hooker. Money CAN apparently buy you anything. Here’s the video he had produced. Dolan is one with the camera. Think Ben Stiller and Blue Steel. Such charisma!
In spite of three-point games, this year’s compacted 56-game schedule has not produced the usual number of tight playoff races. We’re basically down to one playoff battle. Dallas is turning in a late charge and has pulled to within two points of Nashville in the Central with two games to play. The Stars season has been wrecked by 14 overtime losses. The Stars welcomed back Tyler Sequin this week who’s been out all season following major hip and knee surgeries.
Arizona faded behind St. Louis in the race for the final playoff spot in the West Division. In their feeble attempt to make the playoffs, the Coyotes chose not to deal any of their seven pending unrestricted free agents. When the conversation comes up again about the worst teams in sports, how can you not include the Coyotes?
The senseless hyperbole around the Maple Leafs drives us crazy. Apparently, the pom-poms have arrived in the mail because, one year after saying Morgan Reilly’s play was ‘Orr-like”, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox is now saying Auston Matthews has reached ‘Mario-like’ heights. Can we please cut this out? Fox extrapolated Matthews season and said he’s on a 66-goal pace if the Leafs were playing an 82-game schedule. Need we remind him that the Leafs are playing in the middling North Division and not facing every team in the league? Matthews is having a fine season but don’t compare him to Mario Lemieux. In NHL history, the top 13 single-season point performances belong to two players – Wayne Gretzky with nine and Mario with four. Lemieux scored 69 goals on two occasions, 70 and 85 in two others. Comparing Matthews to Mario is blasphemy. Did we mention that Mario has two Stanley Cup rings? Matthews hasn’t got out of the first round.
The Maple Leafs have clinched just their fourth division title since World War II. Yes, that’s correct. WWII. A span of 76 years. Of course, the Leafs are elite! Just ask them. From Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun – Since Lou Lamoriello left the Leafs, the New York Islanders are 114-66-24. The Leafs record is 116-68-23. The difference? The Islanders have won four playoff series in three years. The Leafs have won none.
You would have to think that Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin will be under heavy fire if the Habs go quietly into the night this season. There’s a lot of heat in Montreal over the Canadiens drafting record. Bergevin and his head of scouting, Trevor Timmons, whiffed badly in 2018 with the selection of Jesperi Kotkaniemi third overall ahead of the Senators Brady Tkachuk. Don’t forget, Bergevin also struck out with another third overall pick back in his first year on the job in 2012 when he selected Alex Galchenyuk. Outside of Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher, who have the Canadiens drafted and developed under Bergevin and Timmons?
Jeff Carter is a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the L.A. Kings and an Olympic gold medal winner with Canada. Everyone assumed his career was at an end but he’s a prideful athlete who felt he still had something to offer. The Pittsburgh Penguins picked him up at the trade deadline. Carter has nine goals since joining the Pens including a four-goal night this week.
U.S. Olympic Team Selections – The U.S. had an outstanding team when they won the World Cup of Hockey in 1996. The team they will ice next February in Beijing at the 2022 Winter Olympics will be even better. There’s youth. There’s size. There’s speed and there’s no shortage of players who can put the puck in the net. Best of all, the U.S. has outstanding goaltending. Let’s look at how we think the roster should shape up.
Brady Tkachuk – Jack Eichel – Patrick Kane
Kyle Connor – Auston Matthews – Alex DeBrincat
Matthew Tkachuk – Dylan Larkin – Anders Lee
Brock Nelson – Jack Hughes – Alex Tuch
Extra Forwards: T.J. Oshie, Jake Guenzel, Clayton Keller
Not on the Radar: Max Pacioretty, J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, Kyle Palmieri, Blake Wheeler, Brock Boeser, Conor Garland, Charlie Coyle
Rising Fast: Jason Robertson, Cole Caufield
The U.S. team has nice balance up front. If there is criticism, we think it’s the fact the centre ice group is lacking in defensive awareness overall. Lots of talent but not the kind of two-way players you need in a short tournament. We have Jack Hughes on the team but that may premature.
Zach Werenski – Seth Jones
Jaccob Slavin – Adam Fox
Quinn Hughes – Charlie McAvoy
Extra Defencemen: Noah Hanifan, John Carlson, Jeff Petry
Not on the Radar: Ryan McDonagh, Torey Krug
Rising Fast: K’Andre Miller
This is a really solid group of defencemen. Quinn Hughes may have issues defensively but there is no way you can leave him off the team. He’s just too dynamic.
John Gibson – Starter
This is where the U.S. team has the upper-hand over Team Canada. Any of the three goalies could start and you would be confident in their play.
NFL Draft Analysis – The Seahawks came out of the NFL Draft with a league-low of only three draft picks. It’s hard to give them a bad grade, however, when you consider they acquired Jamal Adams, Carlos Dunlap and Gabe Jackson with some of those picks. D’Wayne Eskridge of Western Michigan should be an immediate contributor as a third receiver and primary kick returner. At 5’10”, fourth-round pick Tre Brown of Oklahoma is not a prototypical Seahawk cornerback but he does have outstanding speed and a reputation as a ball-hawk. In the sixth round, Seattle chose mammoth 6’8” offensive tackle Stone Forsythe of Florida. He has a reputation as a fine pass blocker, something the Hawks can use. Some mock drafts had Forsythe going in the third or fourth round.
The Seahawks announced they will not be picking up the fifth-year option on 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny. The oft-injured running back has played in only 21 of 48 games since being drafted. NFL Insider John Clayton says the decision to draft Penny is another example of why the Seahawks like to trade down. Most NFL teams normally have lists of 16 to 20 players with first-round grades. In 2018, the Seahawks tried to trade out of the first round but could not find a dance partner. It’s doubtful the Seahawks had a first-round grade on Penny. History shows that players picked from 21 to 32 in the opening round seldom become Pro Bowl players and many do not have their fifth-year option exercised. It certainly explains why the Seahawks were unable to trade down this year and why we are seeing fewer trades during the latter part of the first-round. You may remember last year, the Seahawks tried to trade back from No. 27 with the belief they could move into the second round and still take linebacker Jordyn Brooks. Nothing developed because its clear teams have caught on and realized the risks are too high. Plus, it’s not cost-efficient.
Here’s a few other takeaways from last week’s NFL Draft:
- No less than five quarterbacks were taken in the first round. There’s zero chance they all work out. You can bet at least two will not earn a second contract with the teams that drafted them.
- The Denver Broncos were unwilling to surrender the draft capital necessary to move up and land a top quarterback. We love the pick of North Carolina running back Javonte Williams in the second round. He may prove to be the best running back in this draft. It makes you wonder if the Broncos may make a play for disgruntled Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
- Some organizations just never learn. Case in point – the Cincinnati Bengals. In the opening round, the Bengals had a chance to select offensive tackle Penei Sewell from Oregon with the fifth overall pick. He’s been compared to Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden and would protect the blind side of Joe Burrow, the team’s franchise quarterback who was taken with the top pick in last year’s draft. Instead, the Bengals chose LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Cincinnati then traded down in the second round and reached on offensive lineman Jackson Carman from Clemson in a futile attempt to address their porous offensive line. In a draft deep in receivers, the Bengals could have drafted Sewell and taken another LSU receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. in the second round who played with Burrow on LSU’s national championship team. Something tells me Sewell and Marshall will be better than Chase and Carman. Had they not traded down in the second round, the Bengals would have had the option of taking Oklahoma State offensive tackle Teven Jenkins. Makes no sense. Some teams never learn.
- The Las Vegas Raiders are another team that appears completely out to lunch. The Raiders cut several offensive linemen this off-season then reached on Alabama offensive guard Alex Leatherwood in the first round. The selection follows questionable picks in 2018 – end Clelin Ferrell (4th overall) – and again in 2020 – cornerback Damon Arnette (19th overall). Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock should go back to television.
- Several Canadians who went undrafted have signed as free agents. Calgary’s Amen Ogbongbemiga, who played linebacker at Oklahoma State, signed with the Los Angeles Chargers. Montreal native Bruno Labelle will try to make it as a tight end with the Arizona Cardinals. Iowa offensive lineman Alaric Jackson, a native of Windsor, Ontario, signed with the L.A. Rams. The Seahawks jumped in and signed Quebec native Pier-Olivier Lestage, an offensive lineman from the University of Montreal.
- The Miami Dolphins may have come away with the best cache of talent from this year’s draft. The Dolphins landed speedy receiver Jaylen Waddle from Alabama, Miami Hurricanes defensive end Jaelan Phillips, Oregon safety and Canadian native Jevon Holland, Notre Dame offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg and Boston College tight end Hunter Long. Now if Tua can develop…..
- By the way, Alabama had six players go in the first round.
- The Los Angeles Chargers came away in good shape as well, drafting offensive tackle Rashawn Slater and cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. Both should start immediately.
- Atlanta drafted Florida tight end Kyle Pitts with the fourth overall pick. He’s the highest drafted tight end since Denver picked Riley Odoms fifth overall way back in 1972.
- As Peter King pointed out, no draft pick spoke louder than the Houston Texans second-round selection of quarterback Davis Mills of Stanford. It was the first pick for Nick Caserio as GM of the Texans. Caserio said all the right things about the legal process running its course and how Deshaun Watson is still their guy but, as King said, those comments strain credulity. A lot of NFL people are now saying they don’t think Watson will play at all this season as his sexual misconduct allegations work their way through the legal system.
Blue Jays This Week – The Blue Jays have to be wondering when the flood of injuries are going to end. The Blue Jays have had 16 different players on the injured list at one point or another. There are nine players on there currently, including three — Alejandro Kirk, Tommy Milone, and Anthony Castro — who were added in one day last Sunday. The club’s rotation has been a day-to-day proposition since the season’s second week. George Springer had to be placed back on IR after his quad injury flared up. We should have seen this coming with Springer. He’s missed 84 games over the past three seasons. Can we just stop the constant injury updates on Springer? Wake me when he’s ready to play!
The Blue Jays bullpen has been outstanding so far this season. The bullpen has a 2.80 ERA which ranks fourth in MLB. Problem is, Charlie Montoyo is over-using the pen much like he did last year and chances are they will be out of steam by August 1. Montoyo comes from the Kevin Cash school of managing in Tampa where ‘openers’ are all the rage and where the bullpen is a turnstile. Even the starters have complained about being yanked too quickly. Last year, it was Tanner Roark. This year, Steven Matz blew up at being taken out early. It’s a long season. Montoyo needs to be more careful or he will burn the pen out again.
Toronto’s used 23 different lineups through 26 games — 15 batters have made a plate appearance; 20 pitchers have thrown an inning. We knew coming into 2021 that the depth of every club’s 40-man roster would be tested unlike in any year prior. But who had the Blue Jays running 35 players deep before playing their 27th game?
Prize pitching prospect Alek Manoah is off to a great start at Triple-A Buffalo. Manoah went six scoreless innings in his first start with the Bisons. The 23-year-old right-hander had 12 strikeouts and no walks against the Worcester Red Sox and is on a fast track to the majors. More performances like that will only raise the calls for Manoah to be in a Blue Jays uniform by July 1.
Take Me Out to the Ballgame – Minor league baseball opened this week following a huge off-season realignment that eliminated 40 affiliations. Each major league team now has four minor league teams. One of the big changes to the system is the creation of regionalized six-game series, a move that will reduce travel and expenses. Three of the four levels will play a 120-game schedule ending on September 19. No post-season play has been scheduled.
The Vancouver Canadians signed a new, ten-year development license to be the Blue Jays High-A affiliate. The short-season Northwest League is now called High-A West. It’s comprised of six of the eight markets from the Northwest League. As a result of the on-going border closure, the Canadians have started their season in Hillsboro, Oregon. They will share the field with the Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate. The Canadians hope to return to Nat Bailey Stadium sometime this summer but that’s still very much up in the air from a safety standpoint. If we do get a chance to get out to the ballpark, the Canadians feature two promising pitchers, Adam Kloffenstein and CJ Van Eyk, the No. 10 and No. 11 prospects in the Jays system.
MLB Notebook – The Chicago White Sox received a ton of criticism when they hired Tony La Russa in the off-season, even though he hadn’t managed in the majors in ten years. Well, it hasn’t taken La Russa long to fall under the microscope. The 78-year-old skipper admitted not knowing the extra-inning rule that would have allowed him to avoid using closer Liam Hendriks as a baserunner. Per MLB rules, as extra innings begin, the spot in the order to make the last out in the previous inning becomes the baserunner at second base. However, if that spot is occupied by a pitcher, the team has the option to use the preceding player in the batting order as the runner. In this case, it would have been Jose Abreu. La Russa inserted Hendriks anyway and the Sox lost to Cincinnati 1-0. La Russa knows when it’s Happy Hour though.
Shortstop Francisco Lindor, the $341-million dollar New York Met, is struggling big time after his move to the National League. In 93 at-bats, Lindor is sporting a .161 batting average. His 15 hits include just one double, one homerun and 3 RBI’s. The guy is just too good to keep this up. Blue Jay fans should be delighted the team didn’t trade for him over the winter.
Guess what? Alex Sanchez, the former Blue Jay who signed with the San Francisco Giants is on the disabled list? He made six starts before hitting the DL with a biceps strain. Poor Alex. Did the Giants actually think he would pitcher an entire season without being injured? Sanchez is baseball’s Tin Man. He’s earned more money for doing less than anyone in baseball history.
Rising Stars – The Seattle Mariners have a pair of electrifying superstars-in-the-making and it’s only a matter of time before they are sharing the same outfield at T-Mobile Park. 20-year old Julio Rodriguez is the top right-field prospect in the game. He’s 6’5” and 205 pounds with incredible raw power from foul pole to foul pole. Rodriguez is a very advanced hitter for his age and reminds scouts of Juan Gonzalez. He also possesses a plus arm and should develop into an above-average defender in right. The raw tools make Rodriguez a potential 40-homer candidate and future MVP.
Jarred Kelenic is the Mariners big pay-back in the deal that sent Robinson Cano to the New York Mets. The 21-year-old Kelenic bats and throws left-handed. He’s a true “five-tool” player with big-time intangibles including intense competitiveness and a high baseball IQ. Kelenic is also said to be a hard worker. With both power and speed, he could join the 30-30 club in a hurry. Both players are can’t miss and should be together in the Mariners outfield before the season is over.
Leftovers – It’s pretty much a certainty now that the Toronto Raptors will miss the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. Barring some wild lottery luck on June 5, the Raptors still won’t finish low enough to pick in the top five. While they play out the string on a disappointing season, there has been one good news story of late. The team has had a black hole at center all season so the unheralded acquisition of 28-year-old Khem Birch has been an unexpected revelation. The Montreal native has given the Raptors quality minutes in the middle and could be another Masai Ujiri steal. Birch had taken only two three-pointers in three seasons in Orlando but has been given the green light to shoot in Toronto. He hit five of his first 12 shots from deep after arriving. In Orlando, Birch’s career high in points was 13. He did it twice. With the Raptors, he scored 13 points or more in seven straight games. Birch held his own against NBA All-star center Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz, scoring 17 points with 10 rebounds, six assists and two steals. Once again, the Raptors look like they have unlocked something. Coupled with the emergence of Chris Boucher, it’s doubly great to see two Canadians succeeding in a Raptors uniform.
The way he was playing recently you knew it wouldn’t be long before Mike Weir got his first victory on the PGA Champions Tour. The 2003 Masters champion won the rain-shortened Insperity Invitational at the Woodlands in Texas. Weir won by two shots over John Daly who plunked his ball into the water on 18 to douse his chances. It was Weir’s first win in 13 years since the 2007 Fry’s Electronics Open. (Yes, that big one!) He went 4,942 days between wins. You have to give the guy credit. It looked for a long time like his golfing career was over.
Camerson Tringale rolled in a 15-foot putt on the 18th hole at the Valspar Championship last Sunday to move into a third place tie and cash in $407,100. Over 297 events since 2010, Tringale has earned $13,743,938. Yet, he has not won a single tournament on the PGA Tour. Not once. This is the Tour record for money winnings without winning a tournament.
When I was a kid, my favourite baseball player was Willie Mays. As a kid, you don’t see colour. When I found out that Willie was born on May 6, the same day as me, I was over the moon. My love for him only grew. Willie Mays celebrated his 90th birthday this week. Happy birthday Willie. The best centre-fielder in baseball history and it’s not open for debate.
Quote of the Week – “When I was playing college football, my priorities were girls, football then school,” said Mark Richt, who led the football programs at Georgia and Miami before he retired from coaching in 2018. “Now, it’s going to be money, girls, football, school.”
Spotify Songs of the Week – This week, let’s celebrate Women in the Blues. Here’s a few recommendations for you. Check out the song “Party at Red’s” from the Fiona Boyes release “Voodoo in the Shadows.”
We also like “Don’t Quit Me Baby” by Dani Wilde from her album “Live at Brighton Road.”
Have a listen to a band called Trampled Under Foot. We recommend the track “Bad Bad Feeling” from the release “Badlands.”
Joanna Connor is one of the top female artists in blues. We recommend “Heart of the Blues” from her album “Big Girl Blues.”
Debbie Davies is another female blues powerhouse. Check out “Life of the Party” from “Love Spin.”
And finally, “Time Has Come” from Joanne Shaw Taylor and her release “White Sugar.”
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