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, we check in on the tire fires in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto. The Canucks head east on a high. And the Seahawks need to find a new QB.
Leaking Oil – During the 80’s and 90’s, Cliff Fletcher was one of the most active general managers in the National Hockey League. Fletcher was never shy about making a move. Twice he traded for Doug Gilmour and reaped huge rewards including a Stanley Cup in Calgary. There were mistakes along the way. Fletcher dealt future Hall of Famer Brett Hull to the St. Louis Blues before Hull emerged as a prolific goal-scorer.
Fletcher once told me he never tried to win every trade. He said he was happy if he could improve his team by three percent every time he made a deal. Do it often enough and the team will make incremental improvements. You don’t have to hit home runs. Hit enough singles and watch what happens. In the past year, the Canucks have made 12 additions to the current roster that is enjoying a red-hot start. If you take the 3% philosophy into play, the Canucks have improved by 36%, thanks to turning over one-third of the roster. The results are there for everyone to see.
Fletcher also maintained you need to make 3-4 roster changes every season just to ensure players don’t get too comfortable. That’s exactly what’s happened in Edmonton. Over the summer, the Oilers chose to stand pat save for the addition of Connor Brown who’s now sidelined by injury after going without a single point in nine games. Leaving a lineup alone is a dangerous gamble. Much like the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Oilers have relied on a record-breaking power-play to mask their deficiencies. However, they are finding out you can’t out-score your problems forever.
When the Canucks were floundering under Jim Benning, we begged the Canucks to go after Ken Holland when he became available. Holland has an off-season home in Vernon and it seemed like a great fit. Boy, were we wrong! Holland has messed things up in Edmonton despite having two of the top players in the world. The acquisition of goalie Jack Campbell was an absolute death-blow. Campbell was a mental basket-case in Toronto and everybody knew it. Still, Holland lavished Campbell with a five-year, $25-million-dollar free agent contract, seemingly bidding against himself because nobody else was prepared to offer Campbell anything close. This week, Holland placed Campbell on waivers. At the time, Campbell sported a 4.50 GAA which ranked 55th in the league out of 58 qualifying goalies. His save percentage was .873 which ranks 50th. The Oilers salary cap is in the soup thanks to Campbell’s deal with no potential exit. He’s still owed almost $20 million. He made 39 starts in Edmonton and finishes with a 3.53 GAA.
Holland has stripped the Oilers of nearly every asset in chasing immediate gains. The only draft choices made by Holland currently in the Oiler lineup are Dylan Holloway and Evan Bouchard and the jury is out on both of them. This was to be the season the Oilers finally broke through. Holland doesn’t have a lot of options unless he wants to put his 2024 first-round pick in play. This summer, Leon Draisaitl will be one year away from free agency. Why would be want to remain in Edmonton with things spiralling out of control?
You don’t win in the NHL without rolling four lines. Full stop. How can you roll four lines when you often only dress 11 forwards which has been the case on many nights in Edmonton? Most of the time the bottom six forwards are stapled to the bench watching Connor and Leon. How can you feel part of the team when you are a spectator? This is on Holland who has failed to build a balanced roster. You know things are bad when McDavid is 109th in league scoring with only 10 points.
Ten out of 20 Sportsnet analysts chose Edmonton to win the Stanley Cup this season. Elliotte Friedman, Caroline Campbell, Christine Simpson, David Amber, Wayne Scanlan, Sean Reynolds, Sonny Sachdeva, Gene Principe, Sam Cosentino and Rory Boylen all chose the Oilers to win the Cup in a pre-season poll. 13 of the 20 picked the Oilers to win the conference and reach the Cup final.
So, what can the Oilers do to turn things around? A coaching change is certainly an option. The Oilers were so pleased with Jay Woodcroft last season they gave him an extension. You can’t ask someone to make a gourmet meal and hand him Kraft dinner. Gerard Gallant is waiting in the wings. He was a minor league teammate of Holland in the AHL. Gallant is the highest profile coach out there. The Oilers and the Ottawa Senators may end up tripping over each other to land Gallant’s services.
Canucks Notebook – In Vancouver, everyone is asking if the hot start is sustainable. The short answer is yes. You can dance around all the analytics you want. The Canucks are full marks for their performance to date. They own the top scoring offense in the league. Sticking around in the top five is certainly possible. There may be some regression defensively. The Canucks probably won’t stay in the top five and may not continue to have the top save percentage in the league. The goaltending provided by Thatcher Demko is for real so any dip should not be that dramatic.
One of the most positive developments so far this season for the Canucks – and there’s been a few – is the play of the Miller, Boeser, Di Giuseppe line. You have to remember that, a year ago, J.T. Miller was being labelled a malcontent. Brock Boeser was on the trade block and Phil Di Giuseppe was in the minors. How things have changed.
Miller deserves a ton of credit for turning his game around. He’s no longer a matchup problem. He’s making a commitment to a 200-foot game. He’s winning faceoffs, providing leadership while continuing to drive play and put-up solid numbers. Maybe $8 million a season isn’t so bad after all? Credit Miller for the sudden awakening. The line is a combined plus-30 and may be the team’s most dependable at both ends of the ice. Boeser already has 11 goals on the season. He scored his 11th goal last season on February 25.
Hockey watchers around the league are finally warming up to Quinn Hughes. He leads all defencemen in scoring with 21 points and is first in the NHL at plus-16. Hughes is the first defenceman to post those numbers in the first 12 games of the season since a guy named Bobby Orr in 1973. Pretty heady company!
Last year at this time when the Canucks headed east, the season was already spinning out of control. The team was surrounded in chaos and dysfunction, eerily similar to what’s happened this year in Edmonton and Ottawa. The temperature has lowered a bit in the Nation’s Capital. Not sure we’ve seen things bottom out yet in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto.
Calgary Flame Out – The Calgary Flames are a dog’s breakfast. Any hope of a revival this season is already out the window. This is what happens when you install a rookie coach and a rookie general manager. It happened for years to varying degrees in Vancouver and Edmonton and you know the results.
Problem in Calgary is how do you sell off assets? Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri are earning a combined $17.5 million and both have no movement clauses. They have a combined 12 points in 15 games. The Flames, as a whole, are near the bottom of the league in goals scored. The team lacks speed and is bereft of any offensive flair.
Hockey analysts lauded former GM Brad Treliving for his moves following the free agent loss of Johnny Gaudreau and the subsequent trade of Matthew Tkachuk. He gifted Huberdeau a monster eight-year deal at $10.5 million per season and signed Kadri to a rich seven-year deal that averages $7 million per season. It appeased the fans – temporarily – but the results on the ice have been anything but positive. Huberdeau suffered through the biggest one season point production dip in NHL history and it appears as though nothing will change this season.
The Flames success at the draft table has been mediocre going all the way back to the 80’s. There’s a bunch of B-grade prospects in the system. Do they have the appetite for a full-on rebuild or like Winnipeg, is ownership worried about ticket sales in the oldest building in the NHL?
It will be interesting to see what direction they take. Several key contributors including Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifan are headed to free agency. Is a sell-off coming? With an agreement in place for a new arena, the best course of action may be to step back and rebuild and try to contend once the new building opens.
Leaf Laughs – You think it’s bad in Edmonton and Calgary? It’s a five-alarm fire in Toronto where the Leafs are giving away goals like Halloween candies. Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe got it right when he said, “We sit in here and we celebrate guys who score, big numbers and score a ton. We don’t talk enough about what we give up. That’s the reality.”
Keefe couldn’t be more right. While the Leafs are bleeding goals against, fans and media are raving about Auston Matthews hat tricks and Michael Nylander’s point streak. How bad is it? The Leafs surrendered at least four goals in each of their first eight home games. They’ve given up 52 goals in 14 games and have only 3 regulations wins.
Treliving left a flaming pile of dung in Calgary and he’s done nothing but make matters worse since arriving in Toronto. Treliving’s free agent signings this summer have been disastrous. There are no answers in the system and no cap room to make significant changes. Unlike the Leaf lemmings in Toronto, we saw this coming and it’s now playing out in real time.
It should come as no surprise that the Leafs are struggling to kill penalties. Gone from last year’s squad are Justin Holl and Luke Schenn on the blueline and Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari and Alex Kerfoot up front. All were effective penalty killers and they have not been effectively replaced. The Leafs are so desperate they have used Matthews as a penalty killer and you know that’s not the answer.
The Leafs are without any depth scoring. The third and fourth lines are a black hole. Take away the Leafs five highest paid players and the rest of the roster has provided 10 goals and 28 assists combined. They get very little scoring from the back end. Quinn Hughes has almost outscored Leafs defencemen all by himself. Hughes has scored five times. Leafs defencemen have combined to score three goals. Hughes has 16 assists. Leafs defencemen have 20 assists. The Leafs have allowed the second highest number of High Danger Chances in the NHL. Only San Jose is worse.
If you use the 3% theory in reverse, the additions of Klingberg, Domi, Bertuzzi Gregor and Reaves have made the Leafs 15% worse, just enough to put them in the precarious position they currently find themselves. Mark it down. The Leafs are a borderline playoff team.
NHL Quick Hitters – Have you noticed the shift in the balance of power in the NHL? No longer is the Western Conference the powerhouse. Take a look at the standings. Ten of the 16 teams in the west could fall into the category of mediocre for just plain bad. You could see playoff teams in the west this year with a .500 record or even worse. If you discount Ottawa, because I think they will improve as the season goes, there are only four teams that fall into that category in the east.
If the Winnipeg Jets have any playoff aspirations, they had better clean up their special teams – and quick. The Jets power-play is currently ranked 25th in the NHL while the penalty kill is even worse, sitting 30th. Winnipeg’s five-on-five play has been solid. The Jets need to get the steady hand of Rick Bowness back behind the bench.
The San Jose Sharks season is completely off the rails. There’s little doubt the toothless Sharks will end the season with the worse record in the NHL. It’s just a matter of the degree of bad. Based on winning percentage, the 1974-75 Washington Capitals had the worst regular season in history at 8-67-5. The 92-93 Sharks actually hold the record for the most losses in a season with 71. Could the Sharks be in line to break their own record? They scored only 10 goals in their first 10 games so we know they can’t score. Their goals against average is 4.10 so we know they can’t defend. Yes, they have every chance to be historically bad.
The NHL has an amazing history of brother acts. We don’t need to go down the list but it’s legendary. We are seeing it again with the growth of the Hughes brothers who may walk away with a handful of hardware at season’s end. Jack Hughes was leading the NHL in scoring before being sidelined by injury. He was an early leader in the race for the Hart Trophy. Here at home, we know all about the early season exploits of brother Quinn, the oldest of the siblings at 24. Quinn is the early favourite to win the Norris Trophy. Meanwhile, Devils rookie defensemen Luke Hughes is making his mark with the New Jersey Devils. He’s playing close to 20 minutes a night and may end up as a serious Calder Trophy candidate. Can you imagine if all that hardware went to one family in one season?
Patrick Kane is getting closer to returning to the NHL after hip resurfacing surgery this summer. The most likely landing spots seem to be Florida, Buffalo and a reunion in New York with the Rangers. The Rangers are enjoying an outstanding start. It will be interesting to see if they can survive the loss of top defenceman Adam Fox. Igor Shesterkin gives the Rangers an edge in goal on a lot of teams in the Eastern Conference including the rival Carolina Hurricanes.
Seahawks Central – How often have we talked about teams miscalculating where they are in their cycle and making moves that only set them back? The Seattle Seahawks are a good football team. They are NOT a Super Bowl contender and they should act accordingly. What they are is a rebuilding team with back-to-back A-grade drafts. They are also a team without a quarterback that can carry them to an NFL title. Witness Geno Smith’s eight turnovers over the past four games.
The Seahawks are certainly not a Super Bowl contender based on the way they performed in Baltimore. The defense, which appeared to be making strides, gave up 515 total yards. The Ravens rushed for 298 yards. The Hawks rushed for 28 and were 1 of 12 on third down, a problem that doesn’t seem to want to go away. Baltimore controlled the clock for over 40 minutes. First downs favoured the Ravens 29-6. Wasn’t the Seahawks run defense supposed to be improved? They are now 21st in the NFL in yards-per-rush. Not a good sign.
Just because the 49’ers dropped three-straight, leaving the Seahawks in top spot in the NFC West, doesn’t mean you should suddenly change direction. Giving up a second-round pick for 29-year-old Leonard Williams was a misguided deal the Seahawks had no business making. Seattle will not move into contender status until they stop getting dominated up front by top teams. Williams alone won’t change that and thanks to the Seahawks current salary cap situation, he is unlikely to stick around next season.
Why not keep the pick and try to manoeuvre to land a quarterback in next year’s quarterback rich draft? Outside of Caleb Williams and Drake Maye, the consensus top two quarterbacks available, there’s still a bunch of other QB’s with solid potential including Michael Penix Jr. of the Washington Huskies. The list also includes Oregon’s Bo Nix, Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, Quinn Ewers of Texas, South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler, Duke’s Riley Leonard and should he declare, Shedeur Sanders of Colorado.
There is plenty of concern with the Seahawks offense which has been wildly inconsistent and without any real identity. They have elite playmakers but Geno can’t get them the ball. The Seahawks to date have had the third easiest schedule in the NFL yet the offense has struggled at some point in nearly every game.
The play-calling can be called into question. They rarely throw to the tight ends. None of the Seahawks three tight ends has a touchdown through eight games. Will Dissly has played 100 snaps and has been targeted only twice. He’s caught one pass for four yards. Noah Fant has 14 catches in eight games.
As of right now, the Seahawks have only $12 million in effective cap space going into next season. They have a long list of players to sign. Something has to give. If the Seahawks win nine games this season, Geno will earn at least $33 million next season. Adams is scheduled to have a $26.9 million dollar cap hit. Quandre Diggs is on the books for $21.2 million. None of these guys are worth anything close to those numbers.
The Seahawks need to stop fooling themselves. They have a long way to go to become a true Super Bowl contender. Find a quarterback. Then we can talk.
NFL Notebook – The longest running Gong Show in the NFL has to be the Las Vegas Raiders. Oddball owner Mark Davis (who bears a striking resemblance to Alfred E. Newman) just axed head coach Josh McDaniel, general manager Dave Zeigler and some of the coaching staff, a bit of business that will cost the team an estimated $85 million. McDaniel alone will bank $50 million. Davis has now ripped through eight coaches since taking over from his father in 2011. Interim coach Antonio Pierce follows McDaniel, Rich Bisaccia, Jon Gruden, Jack Del Rio, Tony Sparano, Dennis Allen and Hue Jackson. Not exactly a Mount Rushmore of NFL head coaches. The Raiders have had 19 coaches in the past 40 years. During that time, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had 3.
Look out for the Baltimore Ravens. Their beat down of the Seahawks was their second emphatic win over an NFC division leader in three weeks. Lamar Jackson is now 18-1 in his career against NFC teams. If you are looking for a final four right now, it certainly looks like Baltimore and Kansas City in the AFC and Philadelphia and San Francisco in the AFC.
Josh Allen continues to be a turnover machine. He’s thrown an interception in five straight games. Allen has 91 turnovers since 2018, tops in the NFL.
C.J. Stroud is head and shoulders the top rookie quarterback in the NFL. He served notice last Sunday with an electrifying performance in leading Houston to a comeback win over Tampa Bay. Stroud threw for an NFL rookie-record 470 yards with five touchdowns including a game-winning drive in the final minute. Stroud is on pace to throw for 4,823 yards in his rookie campaign. Meanwhile, the guy picked first overall and right ahead of Stroud in last year’s NFL draft, Bryce Young, threw three interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 47.5 as Carolina lost against and fell to 1-7.
How about the sojourn of quarterback Josh Dobbs over the past year? Last December, he was languishing with the Detroit Lions. The Tennessee Titans came calling following an injury to Ryan Tannehill and signed Dobbs off the Lions practise roster. He ended up starting the final two games of the season before signing with Cleveland in March as a free agent. Before Dobbs could get settled in, the Browns dealt him to Arizona where he took control of the starting job in training camp. Then, at the trading deadline, Dobbs was dealt to Minnesota where the Vikings desperately sought a replacement for the injured Kirk Cousins. Last Sunday, without any prep, Dobbs replaced injured starter Jaren Hall and led the Vikings on a final minute drive to beat the Falcons in Atlanta 31-28. Five teams in less than a year. Dobbs is the ultimate gamer.
Have you ever seen so many no-name quarterbacks at the helm in the NFL as right now? Who are these guys? The Arizona Cardinals are starting a fifth-rounder named Clayton Tune. Jaren Hall started for Minnesota last Sunday before being replaced by Dobbs. The Raiders are starting Aidan O’Connell, a fourth-round pick, ahead of Jimmy Garoppolo. Tyson Bagent, an undrafted rookie, is starting at quarterback for the Bears. The New York Giants announced this week they will be starting rookie Tommy DeVito on Sunday vs. the Dallas Cowboys. He will become the 10th rookie quarterback to start a game this season, the most since 1950. Apparently, Danny DeVito wasn’t available. It’s amazing how many NFL teams are struggling to find a quarterback they can build around. Altogether, 46 different quarterbacks have started a game this season.
Much like the Seahawks, the Miami Dolphins are a good team, certainly exciting, but not an elite team. The record speaks for itself. The Dolphins are winless in their last six games against teams with a .500 record or better. They are 2-7 against playoff teams over the past two seasons. Tua Tagovailoa is another quarterback who seems to turn it over every time Miami has a chance to do something special.
You know how much we love the name game. We present to you our latest selection to the All-Name team – Alabama cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry. His real first name is Ga’Quincy. Nice handle! Kool-Aid got his nickname from his grandmother who thought his smile reminded her of the Kool-Aid Man.
A Star is Born – The rapid ascendence of Victor Wembanyama has the NBA abuzz. The 19-year-old rookie from France has been nothing short of brilliant and you have to wonder how high the bar can be set. He looks like a 7-5’ combination of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin Durant. There’s nothing Wemby can’t do. Handle the ball. Check. Run the floor. Check. Shoot Three’s. Check. Protect the rim. Check. Wembanyama is a unique talent and is destined to dominate the league for years to come. The San Antonio Spurs are a blessed franchise when you consider Wembanyama is following in the footsteps of David Robinson and Tim Duncan.
MLB Notebook – Not a lot of news coming out of Las Vegas where the MLB General Manager’s meetings had to be cancelled due to a viral outbreak. Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins says the team may be looking to acquire as many as four position players through trade or free agency.
It looks as though a homecoming could be in the offing for Joey Votto. The veteran first baseman was released by the Cincinnati Reds who declined Votto’s $20 million dollar club option. The 40-year-old hit .202 this season with 14 homers and 38 RBI’s in 65 games. No chance I would entertain signing Votto. Nice story but not worth the risk.
There’s not a lot to choose from on the free agent market when it comes to position players. The best option may be South Korean outfielder Jung-hoo Lee. The 25-year-old can control the strike zone and would give the Jays another option in centerfield. The bonus is he bats from the left side.
Found it very surprising that Whit Merrifield would turn down an $18 million dollar option for next season with the Blue Jays. Don’t see any scenario where another team would pay him more than that. Perhaps Merrifield just wanted out of Toronto. White Sox free agent shortstop Tim Anderson may be an option to replace Merrifield. He could make the move to second.
Mark Chapman is likely done as a Blue Jay. His defense will be missed but the Jays need more consistent production. Switch-hitting Jeimer Candelario is coming off a career best 22 home runs and would be a smart addition to replace Chapman at third. Former Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins missed all of last season with a torn ACL. He would provide power from the right side and could be a full-time DH while filling in at first.
Leftovers – Amazing performance by South Africa’s Erik Van Rooyen to win the PGA Tour’s World Wide Technology Championship in Las Cabos, Mexico. He fired a back-nine 28 including an eagle putt on the 18th hole to seal the win. What made the victory special is Van Rooyen was playing with a heavy heart. His college teammate, Jon Trasamar, has terminal cancer and is not expected to live. Van Rooyen fought back tears when presented with the winning trophy. “There’s bigger stuff in life than golf,” he said of his former University of Minnesota teammate. “If you look at my ball … it has the initials ‘JT’ and it’s for Jon Trasamar, our best friend. He’s got melanoma, and he’s not going to make it. And every shot out there was for him. When you’re playing for something bigger than some silly trophy it puts things in perspective, and at the end of the day whether I won here or whether I lost here, it really did not matter.”
James Harden has more baggage than a Pearson Airport carousel. He joins the circus in Los Angeles – the Clippers are his fifth team – and you wonder if one ball is enough for these jokers. Harden forced his way out of Oklahoma City. He couldn’t get out of Houston fast enough. He begged out of Brooklyn and pouted out of Philly. This guy takes sulking to a whole new level. He has such a high opinion of himself he was recently quoted as saying, “I am not a system player. I am a system.” Harden joins Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook in Los Angeles which may provide Hollywood with the best reality show ever. How long before they get into each other’s face? Steve Ballmer is the richest owner in the NBA. The Clippers are set to open the new, $2 billion-dollar Inuit Dome. If nothing else, the Clipper soap opera is must-see viewing.
Name Game: Favourite name on the LPGA Tour – Pornanong Phatlum, a 33-year-old golfer from Thailand. Her sister, Pornpong, caddies for her.
Classic Music Videos – Contributor Ted Tait came up with another classic video gem this week featuring Johnny Winter and Dr. John. They appeared on a 1984 TV show called In Session produced by CHCH TV in Hamilton. Johnny performs Mean Mistreater. Dr. John performs a couple of New Orleans favourites – Professor Longhair’s Tipitina and the classic Such a Night, written in 1953 by Lincoln Chase and later recorded by The Drifters. Check out the video. It’s outstanding.
Johnny Winter made several appearances on the David Letterman Show. Here’s Johnny performing Dust My Broom during his final appearance on the show back in 2012.
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