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, the Canucks go shopping for blueline help. We weigh in on the soap opera in Edmonton and its Grey Cup weekend in Hamilton.
Canucks Notebook – Middle of November and the NHL season is almost six weeks old. Who would have ever guessed that, on Thursday morning, the Canucks would be sitting with the second-best record in the league and tied with Vegas atop the Western Conference standings? Who would have predicted that three Canucks would be tied for the NHL scoring lead? Who would have thunk it? No one. That’s who.
Now that defenceman Carson Soucey is out six-to-eight weeks with an ankle injury, it creates more urgency for GM Patrik Allvin to bolster the back end. Allvin has already admitted he would like to acquire another blueliner. Numerous names have been mentioned in the rumour mill. The Canucks are definitely searching around for another right-shot defenceman. Mark Friedman is just a short-term answer. Tyler Myers have been far more reliable this season but he’s a UFA next summer and certainly not in the Canucks plans. Among the names being mentioned is Flames towering D-man Nikita Zadorov who’s asked out of Calgary. You wonder how high Zadorov may be on the Canucks radar. He certainly fits the bill with his size and feistiness. Former Canuck Chris Tanev has been mentioned but the price tag would be steep. We have brought up the name Andrew Peete in Columbus.
No doubt Rick Tocchet has done an incredible job with the Canucks since taking over last season. Not enough credit has gone to Sergei Gonchar and Adam Foote who were also added to the coaching staff. The Canucks blueline is much improved and clearly its not all just a change in personnel.
The turnaround this season has certainly been welcome for diehard Canucks fans who have suffered through so many lean years. While it’s great to see the progress, the Canucks will not enjoy sustained success until the farm system starts producing. Wouldn’t it be nice if the team didn’t have to go outside of the organization to find a replacement for Soucey? You can’t sustain success until you can reach into your system and find cost-efficient replacements. Fast forward two years and Tom Willander and Hunter Brzustewicz may be ready to crack the lineup and make an immediate impact. Jonathan Lekkerimaki may be ready to replace Conor Garland. In the meantime, Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Hoglander need to become Canuck regulars. It’s almost imperative because the Canucks are going to continue to be squeezed by the salary cap for the foreseeable future. When you can’t deliver talent through your system, there’s no chance you can sustain success. Just ask the Edmonton Oilers and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It’s funny how winning can change the temperature. Not so long ago, Garland was reportedly asking for a trade. His contract prevented anything from happening and now, all of a sudden, he’s playing his best hockey as a Canuck and is presumably happy to stick around. It still doesn’t mean the Canucks won’t try to move him if the right deal comes around. The good news is his trade value has definitely risen.
Who is Kris Knoblauch? – Ken Holland is no longer calling the shots in Edmonton. Let’s make that clear. The decision to fire Jay Woodcroft and bring in Kris Knoblauch was not made by Holland. If it were up to Holland, he would have hired a retread like Gerard Gallant. Holland is in the final year of his contract and is clearly on his way out. New CEO of hockey operations Jeff Jackson made the call as the power shifts away from Holland.
Knoblauch joins the Oilers from the Rangers AHL team in Hartford. He also spent two years on Dave Hakstol’s staff in Philadelphia. Knoblauch has Edmonton roots having played five years with the University of Alberta Golden Bears. Good luck turning things around considering the state of the Oilers goaltending.
The narrative in Edmonton now centers around the influence of Connor McDavid and Paul Coffey in all of this. How much input did they have? Knoblauch coached McDavid for three years with the OHL Erie Otters. Coffey joins Knoblauch as an assistant coach after serving as a special advisor to owner Daryl Katz. Can the players trust Coffey when he’s seen as a pipeline to the owner from behind the bench?
McDavid is caught in the middle and it’s made the situation even more toxic. Jackson is his former agent. Knoblauch is his former junior coach. Connor Brown is a former junior linemate who joined the team this summer seemingly with McDavid’s stamp of approval. McDavid is not the type to be sticking his nose in front office business, not for a second, but the perception is definitely there. Two summers from now, he will be eligible to sign an extension. Did the team go out of its way to try and appease him? Absolutely.
Woodcroft is the unfortunate fall guy. The chaos in Edmonton lies with the owner. Knoblauch is the Oilers eleventh coach in the last 16 years. McDavid has now played for five different coaches. By our count, seven were first-time NHL head coaches including Knoblauch. But is that really the problem? There have been experienced voices like Ken Hitchcock, Dave Tippett and Todd McLellan. The players are either coach killers or the blame lies elsewhere. Look no further than the owner’s box. The current situation in Edmonton is eerily familiar to Canuck fans. It’s amazingly similar to how things went early last season in Vancouver where the team seemed to hop from one toxic crisis to another.
NHL Notebook – Multiple teams including the Canucks are eyeballing the Calgary Flames for potential roster upgrades. Whether they have come to grips with it or not, the Flames need to embrace a rebuild. They have several key pending UFA’s including Zadorov, Elias Lindholm, Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifan. Craig Conroy may not be the right guy for the job but the Flames should be able to extract multiple first-round picks if they play their cards right. While they’re at it, the Flames should consider moving goaltenders Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar and turn to young Dustin Wolf if they want to fast-track the rebuild.
The NHL adopted 3-on-3 overtime at the start of the 2015-2016 season. It’s time they tweaked the system, something that was discussed at the recent general managers meeting. Overtime scoring rates this season have dropped again for the third time in four seasons. Goals are down. Shots are down. The constant backing up and regrouping is taking away from any excitement. The league needs to do something.
No professional sport embraces nepotism like the National Hockey League. Remember Jim Benning’s tragic reign with the Canucks? You will recall he hired his son Brandon who served as an amateur scout. Ken Holland has done the same thing in Edmonton. The Oilers assistant general manager is none other than Holland’s son Brad. He was promoted to the position at the beginning of last season. If these neanderthal GM’s are not hiring siblings, they are bringing in booze buddies or old teammates from their playing careers.
It’s amazing how goalies can run hot and cold from season to season. Look at the numbers from these goalies over the past two seasons. A year ago, Cam Talbot was a free agent dud with the Ottawa Senators. With Ottawa, he had an .898 save percentage. This season with the L.A. Kings, Talbot’s save percentage is up to .930. Conversely, Joonas Korpisalo posted a .921 save percentage during his stint with the Kings. With the Sens this season, it’s dropped to .902. Former Senator Filip Gustavsson is struggling big time this season with the Minnesota Wild. He has a .874 save percentage and a 4.64 GAA. A year ago, Gustavsson was lights out for the Wild. In 39 games, he posted a 2.10 GAA with a .921 save percentage. You’re only as good as the team in front of you.
The next coach on the firing line may be Wild coach Dean Evason. Minnesota is having all kinds of problems keeping the puck out of their net as evidenced by the drop in Gustavsson’s numbers. Don’t tell me Bill Guerin is not looking at options. Evason is probably safe until the team returns from Europe but after that, the rope may be very short.
Prior to the season, we were pumping the tires of the Colorado Avalanche as potential Cup champions. So far, the Avs have been luke-warm and many of the additions this summer have had minimal impact. Ryan Johansen has 5 goals in 14 games but only one assist. Charmin soft Jonathan Drouin has only one goal and has already been benched. So much for rekindling the magic with Nathan MacKinnon. Ross Colton and Miles Wood have not exactly blown the doors off either.
If you are looking at potential buy-out candidates next summer, look no further than the Leafs Ryan Reaves. Brad Treliving foolishly signed Reaves to a three-year contract in July. He’s minus-11 in 13 games and has already been pulled from the lineup. Unless the Leafs face a team with another tough guy, there’s absolutely no reason to have Reaves in the lineup.
The U.S. women’s hockey team has a star in the making in 19-year-old Laila Edwards. She’s made her debut at the national level at this year’s Rivalry Series vs. Team Canada. Edwards will become the first Black woman to represent the U.S. women’s national team at a world championship or Olympics. The Wisconsin sophomore combines size – she’s 6-foot-1 – and skill. Edwards was named MVP of last year’s U18 world championships. She also helped Wisconsin win their seventh national championship.
Le Coupe Grey – Sunday’s Grey Cup game in Hamilton will be the 110th edition of the CFL championship. It is truly remarkable, given a nine-team league, that it will mark the first time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Montreal Alouettes have met in the final.
Winnipeg is the first CFL team to reach four straight Grey Cup games since the Edmonton Eskimos dynasty that won five titles in a row from 1978 to ’82. If the Bombers prevail, it will be their third Cup title in the last four seasons.
The Bombers punched their ticket to the Grey Cup with a 24-13 win over the B.C. Lions in the West final. The Alouettes staged one of the biggest upsets in playoff history to earn a berth in the Grey Cup. They forced nine turnovers in a shocking 38-17 win over the Toronto Argonauts who finished a record-breaking season with a league-best 16-2 record. Eastern Division MOP candidate Chad Kelly threw four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Kelly also fumbled once and the Argos turned the ball over four times on downs. Talk about a choke job!
The Bombers come into the Grey Cup game as 6.5-point favourites. They won both meetings during the season, 17-3 in Montreal and 47-17 in Winnipeg.
Seahawks Central – The last ten Super Bowl winning quarterbacks are named – Mahomes, Stafford, Brady, Mahomes, Brady, Foles, Brady, Manning, Brady and Wilson. What does that tell you? Nick Foles is the only imposter. The rest are Hall of Famers or close to it. How can you not get the feeling that the Seahawks are just grasping at straws thinking Geno Smith is going to lead them to an NFL title? The best comparison you can make is to Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins. They are raking in big money but have not been able to guide their teams deep into the post-season. The Seahawks are spinning their wheels with Geno.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba has started to look more comfortable in the Seahawks offence. It’s no secret the Hawks have been looking for a reliable third target for several years now. JSN was taken with pick No. 20 in this year’s NFL draft. It will be interesting to follow his career arc. The next three selections in the draft were all receivers – Quintin Johnston by the L.A. Chargers, Zay Flowers by Baltimore and Jordan Addison by Minnesota. All three are having solid rookie seasons to date. Addison and Flowers are second and third in rookie receiving yards behind Puka Nacua of the Rams. JSN is sitting 12th. Time will tell if the Seahawks made the right choice.
The Seahawks face the Rams this weekend before the schedule toughens up considerably. They cannot afford a hiccup against the Rams who always seem to give the Seahawks fits.
The Quarterback Quandary – NFL teams fall all over themselves trying to find a franchise quarterback. Ten rookie quarterbacks have started a game this season which pretty much tells you everything you need to know. The graveyard of NFL draft busts is long and getting longer.
You would have thought teams would have learned by now. Apparently not. Will the Carolina Panthers live to regret choosing Bryce Young over C.J. Stroud in this year’s draft? Seems almost certain. The 2021 draft is very illustrative of the quarterback roulette wheel. After Jacksonville took Trevor Lawrence first overall, the Jets followed by selecting Zach Wilson second with the 49’ers taking Trey Lance third. Both Wilson and Lance appear to be outright busts. Chicago chose Justin Fields at No. 11. The Bears will evaluate his play for the rest of the season before deciding whether they need to draft a replacement. The Patriots took Mac Jones with the 15th pick in 2021 and he’s already on the outs in New England.
Four quarterbacks went in the first round in 2020 – Joe Burrow, number one to Cincinnati, Tua Tagovailoa (#5) to Miami, Justin Herbert (#6) to the L.A. Chargers, and Jordan Love (#26) to Green Bay. Overall, the ’20 draft is looking better than most years. Better still when you consider Jalen Hurts (#53 second-round) is flourishing in Philly.
Kyler Murray was selected by Arizona with the top pick in 2019. Daniel Jones was taken by the New York Giants with the sixth pick. The late Dwayne Haskins (#15) was the ill-fated choice of the Washington Redskins. Three first-round picks. Two busts and a big question mark.
In 2018, Baker Mayfield was taken first overall by Cleveland. Three other quarterbacks went in the top ten – Sam Darnold (#3), Josh Allen (#7) and Josh Rosen (#10). MVP candidate Lamar Jackson is proving to be the best of the bunch. He was taken with the 32nd and final pick of the first round. The success rate, or lack thereof, is pretty obvious.
According to NBC’s Peter King, in the five drafts from 2018 to 2022, 15 quarterbacks were picked in the top 15. Eight have either failed or been average or worse: Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Dwayne Haskins, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen. The jury’s out on two more, Daniel Jones and Kyler Murray. Only five—Burrow, Herbert, Tagovailoa, Allen, Lawrence—are solid starters or better.
Blame the teams that invest heavily in young quarterbacks yet don’t have the system in place to help them grow. Why draft a so-called franchise quarterback if you don’t have a decent offensive line to protect him? Develop a good running game to support the quarterback. Get the coaching staff and the right offensive scheme in place before you draft the guy and make sure he fits! How often do you see teams drill through numerous head coaches and offensive coordinators while the young quarterback is trying to establish himself? All these teams are doing is setting the player up for failure.
You can watch a quarterback at the NFL Combine all you want. You won’t know if he can perform until the bullets start to fly. Are they all bad quarterbacks or are they just playing for a bad organization? So much depends on the guy calling the plays? Just look at the positive impact Eric Bieniemy has made in Washington. The former Chiefs OC has instantly made second-year quarterback Sam Howell into a legitimate NFL starter. Thanks to Bieniemy, Howell looks like a fifth-round steal. It makes you wonder how many quarterbacks would have had better careers if they weren’t set up for failure.
Bottom-line. When you look at the teams who right now, are quarterback-needy including the Seahawks, you have to view their prospects of landing a quality NFL starter with a huge amount of trepidation.
NFL Notebook – Anyone who bets on the NFL is a crazy person. Every week fans and media put a team on a pedestal and declare they are Super Bowl bound. The next week, they are dog meat. The San Francisco 49’ers were atop the NFL power polls and then lose three-straight. Last week, they were anointing the Baltimore Ravens and they lose to Cleveland. It’s been Dallas, Miami, Buffalo, Seattle – take your pick. You need to be very careful about anointing teams before they’ve proven anything.
Houston’s C.J. Stroud is running away with Offensive Rookie of the Year honours. He’s even in the conversation for MVP. That hasn’t happened since 1957 when Cleveland’s Jim Brown was named both rookie of the year and MVP. Probably won’t happen but it doesn’t take away from Stroud’s performance. It also brings into question the value of the S2 cognition test which teams administer each year before the NFL draft. Stroud reportedly bombed the test which judges how players process information. It was a big reason why he ended up going second overall behind Bryce Young. Stroud has thrown for 2,626 yards which is second in the NFL. He’s thrown only two interceptions which is an NFL-low. Looks like he can process just fine.
The Bills threw offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey overboard after Monday night’s Denver Donkey debacle. Talk about a fall-guy. Was Dorsey the 12th man on the field when Denver missed the game-winning field goal on the final play? The penalty gifted the Donkey’s another shot and well, you seldom miss twice. Was it Dorsey’s fault that the Bills turned the ball over four times, three by quarterback Josh Allen. Allen has now thrown a league-high 11 interceptions including at least one in six straight games.
When it comes to quarterbacking, ball security is so important. That’s why we have criticized Allen time and time again. Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens is another quarterback with turnover issues. Jackson has had 11 turnovers in the fourth quarter since 2021 which leads the NFL. Not a great situation when you can’t trust your quarterback in the final quarter.
USC’s Caleb Williams is the consensus top pick in next year’s NFL draft. Again, ball security is a huge red flag. We were dumbfounded to learn Williams has 32 career fumbles in as many starts since taking over as the Trojans starting quarterback. I would be very wary about drafting him based on that stat alone.
Aaron Rodgers is eyeing a mid-December return from his Achilles tendon injury. It would be a remarkably quick return for an injury that serious. It may not matter because the woebegone New York Jets may be out of the playoff race by then. Zach Wilson has been a train wreck in replacing Rodgers. He has thrown one touchdown pass in the last 21 quarters dating back to week 4 against Kansas City. With Buffalo, Atlanta and Miami (twice) upcoming, the Jets may be 4-9 by the time Rodgers returns.
Can you imagine being a New York football fan right now? You have Wilson quarterbacking the Jets and a kid named Tommy DeVito behind center with the Giants. DeVito bragged that he’s still living at home with his parents in New Jersey and that his mom still makes his bed. And you are proud of that Tommy?
Want to know why the New England Patriots are struggling? Their recent draft record is abysmal. Check out what’s left of the 2022 draft class:
- Cole Strange: starter
- Tyquan Thornton: 3 catches all season
- Marcus Jones: injured
- Jack Jones: cut
- Pierre Strong: traded
- Bailey Zappe: cut then re-signed as backup
- Kevin Harris: Practice squad
- Sam Roberts: backup
- Chasen Hines: cut
- Andrew Stueber: Practice squad
Character concerns dropped Jack Jones to round four last year. He was arrested and subsequently pled guilty for burglary of a Panda Express restaurant while in college. During this off-season, he was arrested for allegedly bringing loaded guns to Logan Airport in Boston. The charges were eventually dropped when Jones agreed to one year of probation. The Pats need to take a draft lesson from the Seahawks. Sorry, no malcontents.
MLB Notebook – You can be sure that a whole lot of dough will be wasted when free agency opens in major league baseball. Nowadays, teams have all the data to base decisions. Every organization has its own proprietary system of player analysis. Every team including the Blue Jays have invested heavily in technology so they can break down a player’s swing or check a pitcher’s mechanics. They can analyze every swing and every pitch. The kind of research you can conduct on a free agent is almost endless. There’s not a lot of guesswork anymore. If the Jays are zeroing in on a free agent, they can build a model based on computer data but in the final analysis, it comes down to subjective opinion. You can have all the statistical information at your disposal, it still doesn’t prevent teams from making mistakes. Especially when you are dealing with players hoping to have bounce-back seasons.
If the season goes off track next year, the Blue Jays now have two potential in-house candidates to replace John Schneider. The Jays announced that DeMarlo Hale has returned to the organization as the team’s first-ever associate manager. Along with Don Mattingly, the Jays have two capable replacements. It would not be surprising if one of them ends up managing the Jays at some point next season.
Golf Notes – The PGA Tour will go back to a calendar year schedule in 2024 which will we welcomed by golf fans. The 2022-2023 overlapping season was the best-ever for Canadians as four Canucks won on the PGA Tour. Mackenzie Hughes won the Sanderson Farms Championship in October of 2022, Corey Conners won the Valero Texas Open, Nick Taylor captured the RBC Canadian Open in dramatic fashion and this week, Adam Svensson will defend his RSM Classic title. Adam Hadwin nearly added a fifth win. He lost in a playoff at the Rock Mortgage Classic and finished second in two other events, the Zurich Classic where he paired with Taylor, and the recent Shriners Children’s Open. Elsewhere, Brooke Henderson won on the LPGA Tour, Stephen Ames won four times on the PGA Tour Champions circuit and there were multiple Canadian winners on the Korn Ferry Tour. Pretty darn impressive. It’s a high bar to maintain so we should probably be tempering our expectations.
Leftovers – Can you believe that Canada now holds both team titles in the world of tennis? Our Canadian men will begin defence of their Davis Cup title next week. Our Canadian women just captured the biggest team event in women’s tennis, the Billie Jean King Cup in Spain. Leylah Fernandez won all five of her matches, playing her best tennis since a runner-up finish at the 2021 U.S. Open. 18-year-old Marina Stakusic of Mississauga was the breakout star for Team Canada. She came into the tournament ranked No. 258 in the world. She had never beaten an opponent ranked in the top 100, yet won three matches against ranked opponents to help Canada earn its first-ever title. Genie Bouchard deserves a shout-out as well. She was representing Canada for the first time in fives years. Bouchard won a pair of doubles matches with Gaby Dabrowski.
U.S. college football is out of control. It’s going to cost Texas A&M University $77 million to buy out the contract of fired coach Jimbo Fisher. He signed a 10-year contract for $75 million in 2017 but the university extended the deal in 2021 for another four years through the 2031 season at an annual salary of $9 million. Needless to say, it’s the largest buyout in college football history. Which begs the question, how can you possibly afford to dish out $77 million?
Thanks to contributor and die-hard Chiefs fan Brian White for providing this video proving that golf is really just an easy game.
Spotify Tracks of the Week – Chris Stapleton is back with a new release entitled Trust. We recommend the title track and Loving You On My Mind.
The Subdudes are yet another New Orleans-based roots band with a unique sound that blends numerous musical genres. They are known substituting a drummer with a tambourine player. From the album Behind the Levee, we recommend Time For the Sun To Rise and Looking At You. From the release Flower Petals, check out The Blacksmith Song. From Annunciation, listen to (You’ll Be) Satisfied. From Live At Last, check out All The Time In The World.
Back in 2014, long before his death in 2022, Jerry Lee Lewis recorded an album entitled Rock & Roll Time which featured a long list of guest artists. The entire album is outstanding and worth checking out. We recommend several tracks including Mississippi Kid featuring Derek Trucks on guitar, Little Queenie with Keith Richards, Bright Lights, Big City with Neil Young and Blues Like Midnight with Robbie Robertson. At 79, Jerry Lee was still rockin’ the house!
Luke Winslow-King is an artist we have featured before. His latest is Blue Mesa. We recommend the title track and the song After The Rain.
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