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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and all the usual suspects.  This week, let’s get ready for kickoff in Qatar. The Canucks get off the mat. It’s bye week for the Seahawks and is the beer cold for Le Coupe Grey?

The World Will Be Watching – The 2022 World Cup of Soccer will be underway in Qatar by the time you receive this column in your inbox. No sporting event garners more worldwide attention. First, the math – 32 teams, 64 matches, 29 days of competition. France is the defending champion and one of the favourites along with Brazil who hold the most titles all-time with five.

The World Cup is a veritable feast for any fan of soccer. There are eight groups with four teams in each group. The top two in each group will advance to the round of 16 knockout stage. We are going to get four games per day. Canada is in a very tough group with Belgium, Croatia and Morocco. Belgium is currently ranked second in the FIFA rankings. Croatia lost out to France in the 2018 World Cup final. Team Canada will need to pull off a minor miracle to advance to the round of 16.

For Team Canada, the question is whether they can take advantage of the aging rosters of both Belgium and Croatia. In 2018, when Croatia reached the final, 13 of 23 players were at least 28 years old. They’re even older now. It’s a similar story with Belgium. Of their top 16 players, 12 are at least 29. It’s the end of a golden generation for both squads. Can Canada, with speed to burn, stage an upset?

Injuries could play a major factor in determining the champion. France is already without Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kane. Karim Benzema suffered an injury in a workout this weekend and he’s now been declared out. Several other big names could be missing including German forward Timo Werner, English defender Reece James, Senegal star Sadio Mane, Argentine forward Paulo Dybala and Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku. Two key Canadians, Alphonso Davies and Stephen Eustaquio, have been nursing injuries but should be ready to go.

Canada faces a massive challenge right out of the gate with a match against Belgium on Wednesday starting at 10:30am Pacific. The entire country will be watching.

Canucks Notebook – In discussing the state of the Vancouver Canucks, a regular contributor said it best – “Watching the Canucks is like slowing down in traffic to take a look at a car wreck. You can’t stop yourself from having a look at the damage.” That pretty much says it all.

When the Canucks stopped off in Montreal on their recent five-game eastern trip, it shone a light on the different paths taken by the Canadiens and the Canucks since both organizations underwent sweeping front office changes one year ago. The Canadiens immediately started moving bloated contracts, acquiring valuable draft capital while giving young prospects an opportunity to develop. Montreal had 11 selections in last summer’s draft including four in the first two rounds. They sent former Canuck Tyler Toffoli to Calgary for a first-round pick. After clearing cap space, they picked up another first-rounder from the Flames by taking on the final year of Sean Monahan’s contract. That’s smart management.

The Canucks, meanwhile, doubled down on the current roster by signing J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser to expensive long-term extensions. More draft picks went out the door for short-term gain. One year later, the Canadiens are on the rise with a farm system flush with prospects, extra picks in next summer’s draft and yet more veterans who could be moved at this year’s deadline. The Canucks, on the other hand, remain capped out. The system is without any blue-chip prospects. They head into the next draft without the full complement of picks – again. One team has demonstrated a clear vision. The other never seems willing to suffer the necessary pain to build it right. Not only do the Canadiens have a better future. They also have a better present.

The jughead that was Jim Benning left the Canucks hog-tied. Instead of swallowing deep and accepting the gravity of the situation, the new front office put its faith in a half season of fleeting success. You can bet they would take a different path now after watching the Canucks struggle through the first quarter of the season.

For loyal fans, it has become painfully evident that the Canucks are not going to be in position to contend for a Stanley Cup in the prime years of franchise cornerstones Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Thatcher Demko. At some point down the road, you are probably looking at expensive buy-outs for Oliver Ekman-Larsson and J.T. Miller similar to the crippling buy-outs exercised in Minnesota for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. It’s a car wreck all right…and it’s going to be next to impossible to fix without the willingness to rip the band-aid off completely.  However, another rebuild likely won’t fly with Francesco Aquilini.

Between 2014 and 2019, the Canucks picked in the top ten of the NHL draft five times in a six-year stretch. There were some hits but also some bad misses. Goodbye Jake Virtanen. So long Olli Juolevi. Where it all went sideways was the constant draft pick deficit and the disastrous work in free agency on July 1. The Canucks should have taken away Jim Benning’s cell phone. How bad is it? The Canucks are no longer even a bubble playoff team. This is the third straight year the team’s playoff hopes have been dashed in the first month of the season. Sure, they will pick it up and probably end up picking 15th again. That’s not how you improve.

Canucks management and ownership may not want to hear it but there should be no untouchables on this team. Major surgery is required. The only question now is how long will it take before they come to grips with the sad reality.  Here’s a State of the Canucks analysis from Sportsnet’s Jason Bukala who’s worked in NHL front offices.

NHL Notebook Great to see Canuck greats Roberto Luongo and the Sedin twins going into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the same class. People laughed when Mike Gillis named Luongo captain of the Canucks but in retrospect, the guy was much-loved by his teammates and always kept things light with his self-deprecating sense of humour.  In honour of Roberto’s Hall of Fame induction, here’s the TSN Film “The Panel Intern.” Luongo was ‘all-in’ on the gag.

Any lifetime Maple Leaf fan had to be moved by the return of Borje Salming for the Hall of Fame game in Toronto. Salming, who’s fighting ALS, was given a rousing ovation and deservedly so.  For those who never saw him play, he was one of the top defensemen in the NHL during a 1,099-game career that spanned 1972-1973 to 1989-1990. He single-handedly erased the stigma of the ‘Chicken Swede.’ Now 71, Salming is unable to speak due to the crippling disease. Early in his career, playing for Harold Ballard, Salming was the ONLY reason to watch the Leafs. No question, Salming’s game would transfer beautifully to today’s NHL.

The Maple Leafs are headed for a reckoning. The Leafs lead the league in turnovers. That’s not a statistic you want to be leading. When you turn the puck over as often as the Leafs, your chances of playoff success are slim and none. No team spends more money on their forwards ($54.9 million) than the Leafs. Yet, the Leafs sit 25th in the league in goals per game (2.89). While the forwards can take much of the blame, a big part of the reason the scoring has dropped off is because the Leafs get almost no offence from their back end. After scoring 60 goals in 72 games last season, Auston Matthews has only eight in 19 games this season, six of which have come on the power-play. Now, about that Stanley Cup Parade?

Why do the Leafs find themselves in their current position? As we’ve pointed out, it’s because they have generously supplied Carter Verhaeghe, Mason Marchment, Zach Hyman, Trevor Moore, Connor Brown, Ilya Mikheyev, Nazem Kadri and Sean Durzi to other NHL teams.

Please explain what the Edmonton Oilers saw in Jack Campbell that would possess them to hand him a five-year contract with an AAV of $5 million. He collapsed under the pressure in Toronto and is already playing himself out of a starting job in Edmonton. Back-up Stuart Skinner has been much better between the pipes. In his first 10 games with the Oilers, Campbell posted a 4.27 GAA with an .873 save percentage. Ouch!

Oilers GM Ken Holland is a former goaltender. You would think he would be a better judge of talent. While Holland was striking out on Campbell, Colorado GM Joe Sakic went out and traded for Alexandar Georgiev from the Rangers. Steve Yzerman in Detroit signed free agent Ville Husso, the former St. Louis Blues goaltender. Both have been excellent so far this season and would have been far better choices to fill the void in net in Edmonton. We won’t even mention the stupidity in Toronto of dealing for Matt Murray.

After some early success, the Calgary Flames have stumbled big time. As predicted in our NHL Preview, the Flames are having trouble scoring goals. When Tyler Toffoli is your top right-winger, you are not exactly overflowing with snipers. Andrew Mangiapane has not followed up on his breakout season. Speaking of Mangiapane, isn’t that a daily special at Eastside Mario’s? I’ll have the Chicken Mangiapane with a side of pasta and the all-you-can-eat breadsticks.

Another great move by the Jeff Gorton-Kent Hughes front office in Montreal is the acquisition of 21-year-old Kirby Dach. He’s blossoming in Montreal after being  moved onto the wing on the Habs top line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. Montreal took advantage of the premium on young defensemen by dealing 22-year-old Alexander Romanov to the New York Islanders for the 12th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. In turn, the Canadiens passed it along to the Chicago Black Hawks in order to acquire Dach. Don’t forget, Dach was the third overall pick in the 2019 draft and at 6-4, he’s a big body who creates plenty of space for his linemates. Can’t understand why the Black Hawks showed so little patience with a kid as talented as Dach.

Looks like we might not have a World Cup of Hockey until February, 2025 and that’s a big IF. Connor McDavid will be ten years into his NHL career by then and will have never donned a Team Canada uniform as a pro. What a shame!

The two best goalies in the NHL so far this season have been Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets and Linus Ullmark of the Boston Bruins. Hellebuyck has posted a 2.07 goals-against average with a .935 save percentage. Ullmark is 12-1 and is the only goalie in the NHL with a GAA under two (1.89). He has a save percentage of .937.

Speaking of the Jets, their recent line combinations included a bottom six of: Jonsson-Fjallby-Eyssimont and Toninato-Gustafsson-Mäenalanen and a third pairing of: Samberg-Capobianco. We ask the question?  Who the hell are these guys?

In the wake of the serious skate cut suffered to the wrist of the Oilers Evander Kane, you would think the NHL would make special protection mandatory.  Kevlar wrist sleeves are available. The Canucks Ilya Mikheyev wears one after suffering a serious wrist injury a couple of years ago. Kevlar socks are already worn by numerous players in the NHL.  Both should be made mandatory. Kane will be out for 3-4 months, creating a massive hole in the Oilers already-thin lineup.

The New Jersey Devils have been one of the big surprises so far this season. Get used to it. This team is for real. They have an outstanding group of young forwards and a very underrated defense. Imagine how good they will be when Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec, their two prized young defensemen, are NHL-ready. The Devils would be smart to make a pitch for Thatcher Demko.

Regina Pats superstar-in-waiting Connor Bedard is selling out in every Western Hockey League market he ventures into. Bedard will be in Victoria on November 23 when the Pats play the Victoria Royals. The game is already sold out.  Same thing in Vancouver. Bedard will headline Team Canada in the upcoming World Junior Championships which are scheduled to get underway in Halifax and Moncton in December. Expect Canada to team Bedard with Michigan freshman Adam Fantilli on the top unit.  The pair worked magic in the 2022 U18 tournament and  may well go 1-2 in next summer’s NHL draft.

Jays Off-Season Notebook – It’s starting to look like this off-season may be transformational for the Toronto Blue Jays. The trade of slugging Teoscar Hernandez to Seattle signalled the Jays front office is serious about making some deep roster moves. Most fans looked at the deal and wondered why the Jays received so little in return. Reliever Erik Swanson, the key piece coming back to Toronto, pitched one inning in the playoffs for the Mariners. Fact of the matter is Hernandez was headed to free agency after next season and the Jays had no intention of signing him. The trade of Teoscar and the release of Raimel Tapia and Bradley Zimmer opens up more than $19 million in salary space. It will be best to judge the trade once corresponding moves are made.

It’s a great opportunity for the Jays to balance the lineup and improve the outfield defense. Look for the Jays to add a centrefielder and move George Springer to right where he can hopefully stay injury-free. By far the best free agent option is the Mets Brandon Nimmo but don’t expect the Jays to go fishing in that pond. Nimmo may command, and get, upwards of $20 million per season. A trade is more likely using the Jays catching depth as bait. The best target would be the Pirates Bryan Reynolds but he would likely cost three top-20 prospects including catcher Gabriel Moreno.

Even with the trade of Teoscar, it’s doubtful the Blue Jays will be cutting any big cheques this off-season. They have over $50 million tied up in three pitchers who are providing next to nothing – Jose Berrios, Hyun Jin Ryu and Yusei Kikuchi. The trio will account for about one-quarter of next year’s payroll. This is before the Jays even look at next contracts for Bo and Vladdy.

MLB Notebook – The California Angels claim they will not be trading Shohei Otani this winter. Sorry, we’re not buying it. Otani will be a free agent after next season and he’s clearly fed up with losing in Los Angeles. It’s doubtful he will sign an extension with the Angels so why not test the market now? You could probably get more for Otani now than at next season’s trade deadline. Sure, Angels owner Arte Moreno is selling the team and yes, the Angels are more valuable with Otani in the lineup. But by the time the sale is completed, Otani may have left town as a free agent. The Jays are one of a handful of teams that have the assets necessary to make a legitimate pitch. Is there anyone in baseball more valuable?  Otani posted a 2.33 ERA this season in 166 innings, averaging 11.87 strikeouts per nine innings. Oh yes, he also blasted 34 home runs with an .875 OPS.

Two free agent arms who would have been great additions to the Jays bullpen have already re-signed with their respective teams. Robert Suarez signed a new deal with San Diego while Rafael Montero is returning to the World Champion Houston Astros. Both are swing and miss righthanders who fit the mould of pitchers the Jays are coveting.

The money being tossed around in baseball for mediocre pitching is obscene. You’re lucky to get five innings out of your starting pitcher. It’s ridiculous how they ‘baby’ arms. Fewer than one percent of big-league games now produce a complete game by the starting pitcher.  Canada’s great Ferguson Jenkins threw 30 complete games in 1971.  Yes, 30 complete games in ONE season!

Seahawks Notebook – The Seattle Seahawks are on a bye week after travelling across the pond to play the first-ever NFL regular season game in Munich, Germany. Up next, the mighty 2-7 Las Vegas Raiders. Looks like the Raiders will be competing for the top pick in next year’s NFL draft. The Raiders have blown three 17+ leads this season and continue to play to their motto – Commitment to Excrement.

Seattle radio host Mike Salk made a good point when he said Seahawks owner Jody Allen deserves a lot of credit for sticking with Pete Carroll and John Schneider. She could have easily made a coaching change and pinned her hopes on Russell Wilson. Carroll won the tug of war (and war of egos) and the Hawks are reaping the rewards. Pete’s philosophy won out. The Seahawks fleeced the Broncos and Seattle is the NFL’s surprise of the year. Geno Smith is a revelation and the Seahawks may have had their finest draft in club history. Betting on Pete over Russ was franchise-altering.

The Seahawks still need to upgrade their defensive line before they can take the next step. Tampa Bay put up a season-high 161 yards on the yards in their win over the Seahawks in Germany. The Bucs came into the game averaging less than 61 yards rushing per game. Tom Brady sat back on his rocking chair and completed 22 of 29 for 258 yards and two scores. The Seahawks absolutely need to pressure the quarterback more consistently.

Regular followers of Under Further Review are wondering how much money the Seahawks can save this off-season by releasing their highly-paid pair of safeties Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams. If you designate Diggs as a post-June 1 cut, the Seahawks will save $14 million against the cap while splitting the dead money between 2023 and 2024 ($4.1m each year). If you designate Adams as a post-June 1 cut, you save $11 million but you would take on a $7.1 million dead money hit in 2023 and a $14.2 cap hit in 2024. It will be interesting which route the Seahawks take. Neither player has played anywhere near his contract level. Adams has not been able to stay in the lineup, having suffered season-ending injuries each of the last two seasons.

NFL Notebook – The Green Bay Packers are 4-and-7 and will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs. While the Seahawks refused to give into the diva that is Russell Wilson, the Pack did when it comes to Aaron Rodgers. Imagine what they could have received for him in the off-season? That train has left the station now. Rodgers looks slow in the pocket and with a pedestrian group of receivers, he’s thrown seven interceptions already. In 2020 and 2021, per Fox Sports, Rodgers had 377 pass attempts against NFC North foes with zero interceptions. In a recent game against Detroit, Rodgers had 23 attempts and threw three red-zone interceptions. Rodgers is the highest-paid player in the NFL at $50 million. How do you improve your roster when your quarterback, alone, is making one-quarter of the salary cap?

Can these self-described NFL experts please stop comparing Josh Allen with Pat Mahomes? Seems like they are always trying to hand the baton to the next-great NFL quarterback. First it was Lamar Jackson. Now Allen. Neither can hold a candle to Mahomes so let’s stop the nonsense. Allen hasn’t won a Super Bowl. He hasn’t led his team to four straight AFC title games and he’s a turnover machine. In the last three seasons, Allen has turned the ball over 49 times with 35 interceptions and 14 fumbles. Sorry, ball protection is important and Allen doesn’t measure up. Did we mention he’s thrown four red-zone picks in his last two games? Allen single-handedly pissed away the overtime game against the Vikings. Forget the MVP hype.

Leftovers – The Toronto Raptors have to bring Shai Gilgeous-Alexander home. The guy is a legit star and at some point, if not already, he’s going to get sick of losing in the outpost that is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Alexander is currently seventh in the NBA in scoring at 30.5 points her game. He’s also averaging 5.5 assist per game. His new five-year contract just kicked in this year with an average annual salary of over $35 million. It rises to over $40 million in year five. The Raptors have to be following his progress and wondering what it might take to get him into a Toronto uniform. Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes and Gilgeous-Alexander? That’s a three-headed monster!

Whoops! We didn’t get around to mentioning the Grey Cup. Who’s playing again? Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke, who was named top Canadian in the CFL this season, is planning to work out for NFL teams. Why not? The minimum salary in the NFL next season will be $750,000. That’s close to one million Canadian. How can the Lions compete with that?

TSN’s Rick Westhead was presented with the sportswriter of the year award by Sports Media Canada this week in Toronto. Rick could not be more deserving.

Spotify Playlist Tracks of the Week – This time around, we want to shine a light on a couple of artists who may not be on your radar.

Bap Kennedy was a talented singer-songwriter from Belfast, Ireland. Born Mark Christopher Kennedy in 1962, Bap would enjoy collaborations with Steve Earle, Van Morrison and Mark Knopfler among others. His song Moonlight Kiss was on the soundtrack for the film Serendipity. Unfortunately, Bap lost a fight with pancreatic cancer in 2016.

We recommended checking out several tracks from Bap’s discography. Have a listen to Long Time A Comin’ from Domestic Blues, Stuck By Myself and Moonlight Kiss from his self-titled album, and Loverman and The Sweet Smell of Success from The Big Picture. Glad we were able to discover Bap Kennedy.

Delta Moon is an outstanding Atlanta, Georgia-based trio featuring fantastic slide guitar work.  The early iteration of the group had Tom Gray on slide with Gina Leigh on vocals. Unfortunately, Gray died in 2021. He’s been replaced by Mark Johnson, another brilliant slide player. Leigh is no longer with the band.

Delta Moon has released a number of albums over the years. Low Down was named one of the top albums of the year in 2015 by Down Beat magazine. Several months ago, we recommended a song called Just Lucky I Guess off the release Cabbagetown. Here’s a few more tracks we would recommend checking out – Might Take a Lifetime and Somebody in My Home off of Babylon is Falling, the title track off the album Low Down, and Shake ‘em On Down and Fooling Around from the self-titled album Delta Moon. If you want to check out Gina Leigh’s vocals, listen to Lovin’ in the Moonlight from the release Howlin.’

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