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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and contributions from Jordan Moss, Peter Hucul and Bill Myles. This week, the road to the Cup begins and it’s Sayonara to the Canucks. We analyze the NFL beef auction and Boris gets fitted for an orange jump suit.

Stanley Cup Playoff Notebook – The NHL’s current playoff system is patently unfair. How can you justify Minnesota and St. Louis and Toronto and Tampa meeting in the opening round while Edmonton gets to play the Los Angeles Kings? Makes no sense. If teams were seeded 1-to-8, this wouldn’t happen. The top teams during the regular season should be rewarded properly.

We’re going to have egg all over our face if the Maple Leafs knock off the two-time defending Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Still don’t see it happening. Full marks to the Leafs for their efforts so far in the series. Until Sunday night, the goaltending and the defence had held up. When you are facing the Leafs, you had better stay out of the penalty box. They had the #1 power-play in the league this season and you are playing with dynamite if you keep letting them have the man-advantage.

Morgan Reilly was minus-4 in just over 20 minutes of ice time in game four. Victor Hedman played 25 minutes and was plus-4. Before the series, the Toronto media were comparing the two as if they were equals. Sorry to disappoint you! During the regular season, Reilly was on the ice for more goals against (89) than any other defenceman among playoff teams. What does that tell you when your so-called number one defenceman is that poor defensively?

As much as we needle the Leafs, we just want a Canadian-based team to break through in the playoffs. We thought it might be the Calgary Flames but they could be headed to a first-round upset vs. Dallas. If the Flames bow out quickly, would you offer Johnny Gaudreau a massive long-term contract as a UFA? You might be wise to let him walk and sign with his hometown Flyers. He’s been a playoff bust throughout his career.

The Bruins-Hurricanes playoff series has been particularly nasty. Why do these two teams have such a ‘hate-on’ for each other? Goaltending is suddenly a huge issue for the Canes who were touted by many, including Wayne Gretzky, as a dark-horse Cup contender. Don’t see it. One team we do see as a dark-horse is the Minnesota Wild. That team has a bit of everything.

As long as their goaltending holds up, the Colorado Avalanche look like they are about to snow everybody under. I really like the tweaks they made at the trade deadline. They can play at a pace no other team in the league can match.

You don’t think coaching matters in the Stanley Cup playoffs? Andrew Brunette of the Florida Panthers is out of his depth against Peter Laviolette and the Washington Capitals. If the Panthers get bounced early, it will be on the Panthers interim coach. Brunette has not been able to clean up the Panthers cheese-cloth defensive play. Depending on how things go in the playoffs, we could see as many as six or seven coaching vacancies this off season. Paul Maurice will be at the front of the line.

Speaking of the Capitals, can you believe how good Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are performing? They are both in their 17th season and still at the top of their game. Amazing!

Canadian-born Bill Foley has to be the most demanding owner in the NHL so it will be interesting to see how he reacts to his Vegas Golden Knights missing the post-season. Foley is a bit of a loose cannon so stand by for the fallout.  If you asked me, the Golden Knights window for contention has already passed them by. Foley promised the team would win a Cup within the first six years of their existence. Sorry, but that blueprint can now be tossed in the garbage.

Canucks Notebook – The Canucks head into a critical off-season with an abundance of dark clouds. There was a day of reckoning coming thanks to the mess left behind by one Jim Benning and now it’s up to Jim Rutherford and the new front office to navigate through the wreckage.

Rutherford fired a surprising missive at his end-of-season media gathering. In addressing the status of coach Bruce Boudreau, Rutherford said he saw flaws in the Canucks ‘structure’ and announced Boudreau would be welcomed back for his option year but that no contract extension would be offered this summer. Guess we know who’s in charge. It’s a risky play. Boudreau could choose to opt out of his contract and move on.

Had Jim Bob Benning left well enough alone and shown one iota of patience, the Canucks would now be sitting with a blue-chip prospect in right-wing Dylan Guenther, who scored 45 goals in the WHL this season, a second and a seventh-round pick in this year’s NHL draft and $12.2 million dollars in additional cap space. If Benning had only avoided making the OEL deal with Arizona. If only they had ridden out the pain of one more year of Beagle, Eriksson and Roussel. Guess what? They would not be facing six more years of Oliver Ekman-Larsson at $7.26 million a year and an expensive Conor Garland extension. Altogether, they would be flush with upwards of $25 million in total cap space at a time when cap space means everything. We predicted this situation the minute the deal was made last summer. You can argue that OEL and Garland acquitted themselves well this season but that’s not the issue. Their contracts are now a major obstacle as the team tries to carve out much-needed cap space.

The Canucks are going to have to swallow hard because there are hard decisions ahead. Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller are both a year away from free agency. Their market value is likely to be in the $8-to-$9-million-dollar range. That’s a huge hit the team probably cannot afford. Both are on friendly contracts for next season. Do you consider moving one or both when their value is at its peak?

No Canuck will be under the microscope this off-season more than Brock Boeser. He’s a pending RFA and the Canucks are staring at a $7.5 million dollar qualifying offer just to retain him. Thomas Drance of The Athletic reports that, of the 36 players who earned $7.5 million or more this season, Boeser’s 44 points would have been the lowest outside of players who missed significant time with injury. A trade seems unlikely because any team acquiring Boeser would be faced with the same dilemma. The best option is to find common ground on an extension before the July 2 deadline.

One way or another, new GM Patrik Allvin has to find some cap relief. Every veteran Canuck should be available including Tyler Myers, Jason Dickinson and Tanner Pearson. Dickinson was a major bust this season. It’s imperative the Canucks move at least two or three contracts. It won’t be easy but it’s part of the stench left behind by incompetent management.

We figured the shake-up in the front office would continue once the season was over. The Canucks wasted no time handing pink slips to five members of the amateur scouting staff including Brandon Benning, the son of the former GM, who was a WHL scout. Name one Western Hockey League player the Canucks have uncovered in the last five years? That would be none!

Changes Coming – The Canucks won’t be the only non-playoff Canadian team under scrutiny this summer. The Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets also have plenty of question marks.

Like the Canucks, the Habs have major cap issues thanks to departed GM Marc Bergevin. Montreal has $80 million committed to only 17 players so new GM Kent Hughes has his work cut out for him. Figuring out the status of goalie Carey Price is the first order of business. Price’s knee brings his future into question. Will he ever be able to perform at a high level again or is retirement likely? Can Hughes deal the LTIR contract of defenceman Shea Weber who’s on the books for $7.85 million until 2026?

The Canadiens have an abundance of overpaid, underperforming players including Brendan Gallagher, Paul Byron, Josh Anderson, Joel Armia, Jonathan Drouin and Jeff Petry.  Any off-season success will hinge on the Canadiens ability to unload bloated contracts even if they have to retain some salary.

The Ottawa Senators are hoping to take the next step but until the ownership situation is resolved, it’s hard to believe they will suddenly be opening up the purse-strings. Eugene Melnyk’s two daughters, ages 18 and 23, are incapable of running a professional sports franchise. Three different potential ownership groups have already emerged. An ownership change this summer would be ideal.  The Sens have two valuable UFA’s in forwards Matthieu Joseph and Alex Formenton. Ottawa can ill afford to let both players walk. Losing players for nothing when you are trying to build a playoff roster is not an option.

The Winnipeg Jets, meantime, have to be considered one of the NHL’s most disappointing teams this season. Something is not right with the culture of that team. The Jets ownership group should have been looking at major front office changes but instead, handed GM Kevin Chevaldayoff a new three-year contract. Big mistake! The Jets should release interim head coach Dave Lowry and find a decent replacement. The Jets need an injection of alternative thinking similar to what’s happened in Montreal and Vancouver. No one should be safe in Winnipeg including top earners Blake Wheeler and Mark Schiefele. Determining Schiefele’s future will be critical.

Seahawks Draft Recap – When your defense ranks 28th in the league, you know you have a problem. When your quarterback is constantly running for his life, you know you have a problem. When you trade your franchise quarterback, you can’t underscore the importance of this year’s NFL Draft.

Thank goodness, the Seahawks used the opportunity to address some of their glaring issues. Left tackle, cornerback and the pass rush were critical needs and the Seahawks were able to load up on those premium positions. Altogether, the Seahawks drafted nine players. At least seven could be contributors in their rookie season. Every draft pick is a lottery ticket but this was great resource allocation.

For a change, the Seahawks resisted the urge to trade down in the opening round and landed left tackle Charles Cross with the ninth overall pick. Cross is a premier pass blocker and should be a plug-and-play answer on the quarterback’s blind side. Adding massive Washington State tackle Abraham Lucas in round three gives the Seahawks two potential bookends in the same draft, something the team could have never imagined.

With a pair of picks in round two, Seattle landed Minnesota defensive end Boye Mafe and Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker. Mafe should be a rotational pass rusher and Walker could end up playing a major role depending on the status of Chris Carson. Clearly, the Seahawks want to get back to their DNA and that’s to pound the football on the ground. Walker is a tackle-breaking machine with the body to be a lead back. Think Ezekiel Elliott.

In the later rounds, the Seahawks nabbed a pair of cornerbacks, Coby Bryant from Cincinnati and Tariq Woolen from UTSA. Woolen is 6-4 and ran a ridiculous 4.26 at the NFL Combine. Shades of Richard Sherman but with more speed! Like Sherman, Woolen is also a former wide receiver. He’s raw but intriguing.

To many draft watchers, this may not be the sexiest draft especially when you consider the Seahawks did not find a long-term answer at quarterback. They were smart to leave that to another day. They beefed up both sides of the line and found a couple of potential corners that could become big time contributors.

Listen. Rebuilds don’t happen in one off-season. The Seahawks have taken a massive step forward but it’s only the start. They still need a franchise quarterback and a game-wrecker on defense like Joey Bosa and Aaron Donald right in their own division.

With two firsts and two seconds in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Seahawks have the draft capital to land a quarterback. The guy to keep your eye on is Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Will Levis.  Watch the tape and salivate.

NFL Draft Recap – Can you believe what’s happening with the receiver market in the NFL? It’s just gone bananas! 13 of the first 54 picks in the NFL draft were receivers. That’s almost one quarter of the picks. Seven receivers were selected in the second round alone. With the explosion in salaries among top receivers, it’s going to be more important than ever to have receivers on rookie deals. A lot of NFL executives are going to resist paying a receiver what a top left tackle or edge rusher is making. Receivers just don’t have the same impact on a play-to-play basis.

No team in the NFL does a better job at the draft table than the Baltimore Ravens. If any team deserves an A-plus from this year’s draft, it’s the Ravens. They had 11 total picks, including six in the fourth round alone. They landed the best safety in the draft in Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton. They landed the best center in the draft in Tyler Linderbaum. They took Michigan linebacker David Ojabo in round two even though he won’t play this year due to a torn Achilles. Watch him come back next year and be a star. In the later rounds, they drafted massive offensive tackle Daniel Faalele, Alabama cornerback Jalyn Amour-Davis plus the best punter available, Jordan Stout of Penn State. Amazing haul.

The normally dysfunctional Detroit Lions did a nice job. They selected Michigan edge Aidan Hutchinson with the second overall pick before adding the top receiver in the draft in Alabama wideout Jameson Williams and Kentucky end Josh Paschal. Good work by the Lions. Watch Hutchinson be a better pro than Travon Walker who went first overall to Jacksonville.

The Kansas City Chiefs needed a strong draft if they plan on holding onto top spot in the tough AFC West and they did just that. The Chiefs filled a bunch of holes on their porous defense. With a pair of first-round picks, the Chiefs landed Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie and Purdue end George Karlaftis. In rounds 2-4, they added safety Bryan Cook, linebacker Leo Chenal and cornerback Joshua Williams. To top it off, they found a potential replacement for Tyreek Hill in Western Michigan speedster Skyy Moore. Pretty impressive.

Joe Douglas is the new GM with the New York Jets. Like Patrik Allvin of the Canucks, he’s had to fumigate the place following the disastrous work of the two previous GM’s. Man, did he nail this draft!  The Jets ended up with three first-round picks and walked off with Cincinnati corner Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Ohio Stage receiver Garrett Wilson and Florida State end Jermaine Johnson. In round two, the Jets picked the top running back in the draft, Breece Hall of Iowa State before getting tight end Jeremy Ruckert in round three. Wow! Now, if Zach Wilson can just be the answer at quarterback!

Canadian John Metchie, a native of Brampton, Ontario, was taken in the second round by the Houston Texans despite having ACL surgery last season. The Alabama receiver is an excellent prospect but it’s unfortunate he’s going to the Texans, a perennial non-factor.

Prior to the draft, we indicated our lack of interest in quarterbacks in this year’s NFL cattle call. The only QB to go in the first round was Pitt’s Kenny Pickett who just had to walk next door to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pickett went 20th overall. Not a single quarterback went in the second round. The next QB off the board was Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder by Atlanta with the 74th pick.

Blue Jays Notebook – You would have to give the Blue Jays an ‘B+’ grade for the first month of the season. They’ve had a grueling schedule against a number of top American League teams and have managed to build a decent record despite not hitting on all cylinders. You have to figure the bats will start heating up as the weather improves. The Jays record in one-run ballgames is definitely encouraging.

If the status of veteran lefthander Hyun Jin Ryu is not concerning enough, how about the early season performance from fellow leftie Yusei Kikuchi? He’s been very hittable and at $12 million per season for two more years, looks like a questionable investment. Pitching coach Pete Walker needs to work his magic much like he did with Robbie Ray and Steven Matz.

Kevin Gausman is living up to his billing as a front-of-the-rotation ace. He did not walk a single batter in his first 31 and two-third’s innings this season. According to MLB Stats, Gausman is the first pitcher since Cy Young in 1906 to not walk a batter or allow a home run in his first five starts to open a season. Who says the Jays miss Robbie Ray? Ray’s ERA with Seattle is two and a half runs higher.

Keep your eye on Blue Jays #5 prospect Ricky Tiedemann. The big 6-4 lefthander looks like a fast riser in the Jays minor league system. The Jays selected Tiedemann in the third round of the 2021 MLB draft and he’s quickly turning heads. He’s touching 98mph with a plus fastball, hard slider and a circle change. In his first four starts with Dunedin, the 19-year-old had 33 strikeouts in 20 innings with an ERA of 0.90. It would be great if we get to see him in Vancouver this summer. Look for Tiedemann to be in a Blue Jay uniform within two years.

MLB teams are choosing to leave Canada by bus rather than having their travel party test for COVID before flying to the U.S. Instead, they are taking the two-hour bus ride to Buffalo. Even the Blue Jays have been doing this. The Leafs did it when travelling to Tampa.

MLB Notebook – An automated strike zone can’t happen fast enough in major league baseball. If you want evidence as to why, just look at the incompetence of umpire Angel Hernandez. The guy has been a running joke for years.

In a recent game between the Brewers and the Phillies, Hernandez inaccurately called 16 pitches that were off the plate. One pitch was six and a half inches off the inside corner. Kyle Schwarber went ballistic on one call and was ejected from the game. Hernandez is beyond incompetent. He should have been fired years ago. Have a look at the body of evidence.

MLB has been testing the automated system in the minors and it’s hoped it could be in place by the start of next season or certainly by 2024. Can’t happen soon enough!

Got to feel sorry for Canadian slugger Joey Votto, a potential future Hall of Famer. He’s languishing with the Cincinnati Reds who are headed for an historically bad season. The Reds are 4-23 after their first 27 games. Brutal!

Summer Comes Early – When the NBA season started, the Toronto Raptors were a borderline playoff team at best. It’s hard to deny the growth that took place this season and the promise that lies ahead. Who could have predicted the rookie of the year season for Scottie Barnes? Barnes hit just 16 percent of his threes against the Sixers so you know what he needs to do in the off-season. If he can develop a jumper, the sky’s the limit on his potential.

Although the Raptors fell short in their opening round series against Philadelphia, the Raptors showed a lot of moxie. The challenge now is – how do you get better? No doubt the Raptors still have problem areas that need attention. They absolutely need more size in the middle. Trying to contend with Sixers center Joel Embiid proved that. The Raptors could use more backcourt depth. Playing without Fred VanVleet in the opening round killed their hopes. They also desperately need better outside shooting.

It’s an important summer in Toronto. If the Raptors are going to take the next step, the biggest improvement will need to come from within. Internal growth will ultimately tell us how good this team can be.

Cinderella Story – Rich Strike struck it rich in winning the Kentucky Derby. The longshot overtook the leaders in the final stretch in what was the second-biggest upset in the race’s 148-year history. Rich Strike was an 80-1 longshot and wasn’t even in the field until Friday when another horse had to be scratched. Rich Strike paid a whopping $163.60 to win. Can you imagine if you had thrown down a hundred bucks? The victory earned the owners of Rich Strike earned $1.86 million. A horse named Messier, yes, after Mark Messier, finished 15th in the 20-horse field.

If you haven’t seen the race, you have to check out the incredible surge turned in by Rich Strike. Amazing come-from-behind effort!

Leftovers – Phil and Tiger will always be linked. Charles Barkley recently weighed in on their careers with some rather blunt comments. “One of the reasons Phil has lasted so long is because he’s had a joyful life,” said Barkley. “Tiger won a bunch of tournaments, but there wasn’t much joy in it. Sure, Tiger is a better golfer. You’re just in awe of his talent. But it’s not fun to be around him. Everyone in his world is uptight and shit, afraid to say or do the wrong thing. Tiger himself has always acted like he’s under siege. Gimme a f—ing break. You’re just a golfer, dude. When you’re with Phil, you’re guaranteed to have fun. He makes people feel good. Everyone around him is always smiling. That’s huge difference, man.”

Former tennis star Boris Becker has been sent to jail for two and a half years for hiding income after declaring bankruptcy. He reportedly hid £2.5million worth of assets and loans to avoid paying his debts. The 54-year-old declared bankruptcy in 2017, owing creditors almost £50 million. There’s no truth to the rumour his accounting firm was Dewey, Cheatam and Howe.

Ben Simmons is a disgrace. No athlete has earned more and done less in sports history. Simmons never did step on the court for the Brooklyn Nets after the trade from Philadelphia. How can someone from Australia be so gutless?  Australians are a tough breed. Simmons is the exact opposite. He didn’t play a single game all season. Now, he needs microfracture back surgery and it’s doubtful he will be ready for the start of next season.

Couldn’t have been happier to see the Nets exit in the opening round of the NBA playoffs. Nets guard Goran Dragic got his comeuppance. You will remember he basically walked out on the Raptors and told reporters in his native Slovenia that he had “higher ambitions” than playing for the Raptors this season. Toronto’s season ended up lasting longer than the Nets.

Spotify Picks of the Month – Some odds and ends from Spotify playlists we’ve come across over the past few weeks.

I had never heard of an artist named Stephen Bruton. I checked him out and he was Texas-based and worked with a number of musicians including T Bone Burnett, Bonnie Raitt, Delbert McClinton, Carly Simon and Glen Clark. He also produced Alejandro Escovedo, Marcia Ball, Jimmie Dale Gilmour, Chris Smither and Kris Kristofferson. Turns out he died of throat cancer in 2009 at the age of 60. Have a listen to the song Bigger Wheel from the album “From the Five.”

Gretchen Peters is an outstanding female artist. I enjoyed the track When You Comin’ Home from her release “Blackbirds”. The song features the late, great Jimmy La Fave.

Guitarist Joe Robinson does a nice take on the classic People Get Ready. It’s a single release and not included in an album.

Birds of Chicago is an Americana/folk band founded in 2012 in Chicago. The band is led by husband and wife, JT Nero and Allison Russell. Russell is a Montrealer and a former member of the Canadian roots act Po’ Girl. Check out the track Dim Star of the Palisades from the album Real Midnight. From the release Live in Space, have a listen to Prairie Lullaby.

And finally, a couple of tracks from Robin McKelle and the Flytones – Love’s Work from the album Soul Flower.  Also, the title track from the album Heart of Memphis.

YouTube Video of the Month – Here’s a funny clip featuring actor Billy Connolly on the Conan O’Brien Show back in 2012 talking about Connolly’s days performing in a band with singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty.

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