Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and contributors Jordan Moss, Frank Sullivan and Ian MacPhee in Montreal. This week, we have a quiz. Are the Canucks a mockery, a travesty or a sham? Pick one or all of the above. We wade into the quagmire and pontificate on lots more.
I Feel Responsible – The Jim Benning death watch is on. It’s been pretty much the same tired story for eight years. Collect some shiny new toys in the off-season and build new hope. Then, when the season goes off the track, start the process all over again. It’s a cycle of overpromise and underdeliver.
This year was going to be different. Benning shed a plethora of mistakes in one fell swoop and the Canucks were going to be a playoff team in a shaky Pacific Division. Guess what? The team stinks. But is it because they are under-performing or is it just the fact, they are simply not that good? We’ll choose the latter. From our vantage point, it looks like Benning just applied ‘lipstick on a pig.’ He told the media this week “I feel responsible.” Thanks for letting us know Jim!
So, the wolves are out. Numerous publications offered up their analysis this week. Here’s an assessment of Benning’s dumpster fire from Sports Illustrated and Yahoo.com.
One of the great myths of Benning’s tenure in Vancouver is that he is some kind of draft savant. Problem is, the record shows otherwise. Sports Illustrated looked closely at the Canucks draft record under Jim Bob.
It’s definitely time for a refresher course on Benning’s performance over the past eight years. Thanks to Lorne Gardner https://mobile.twitter.com/ThatGuy72 on Twitter for his timeline of Benning’s blunders. The sheer volume of bad deals and bad decisions is beyond comprehension.
May 21, 2014: Hired as Canucks GM
June 23, 2014: Canucks hire Willie Desjardins as head coach
June 27, 2014: Canucks trade Ryan Kesler and a 3rd round pick to the Ducks for Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, a 1st round pick and a 3rd round pick
June 27, 2014: Canucks draft Jake Virtanen in the 1st round. Players missed out on include William Nylander, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kevin Fiala, Alex Tuch and David Pastrnak
June 28, 2014: Canucks trade a 2nd round pick to the Kings for Linden Vey
January 29, 2015: Canucks trade Gustav Forsling for Adam Clendening
March 2, 2015: Canucks trade a 2nd round pick to the Flames for Sven Baertschi (pick became Rasmus Andersson)
April 8, 2015: Canucks re-sign Luca Sbisa to a 3yr/$10.8M contract
July 1, 2015: Canucks trade Zack Kassian and a 5th round pick to the Canadiens for Brandon Prust
July 28, 2015: Canucks trade Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening and a 2nd round pick to the Penguins for Brandon Sutter and a 3rd round pick
August 4, 2015: Canucks re-sign Brandon Sutter to a 5yr/$21.875 contract
February 28, 2016: Canucks do not trade impending UFA’s Radim Vrbata and Dan Hamhuis at the trade deadline. Both players sign with new teams in the off-season
May 26, 2016: Canucks trade Jared McCann, a 2nd round pick and a 4th round pick to the Panthers for Erik Gudbranson and a 5th
June 24, 2016: Canucks draft Olli Juolevi in the 1st round. Players missed out on include Matthew Tkachuk, Mikhail Sergachev, Clayton Keller and Charlie McAvoy
July 1, 2016: Canucks sign Loui Eriksson to a 6yr/$36M contract
July 1, 2017: Canucks sign Sam Gagner to a 3yr/$9.45M contract
July 1: 2017 Canucks sign Michael Del Zotto to a 2yr/$6M contract
July 1, 2018: Canucks sign Jay Beagle to a 4yr/$12M contract
July 1, 2018: Canucks sign Tim Schaller to a 2yr/$3.8M contract
July 25, 2018: Trevor Linden steps down as Canucks president. It’s widely accepted that the reason for his departure is due to disagreements in the long-term vision of the team with both Benning & Aquilini
February 16, 2019: Canucks trade Sam Gagner to the Oilers for Ryan Spooner. Spooner would be bought out at the end of the season
February 25, 2019: Canucks trade Jonathan Dahlen to the Sharks for Linus Karlsson
July 1, 2019: Canucks sign Tyler Myers to 5yr/$30M contract
February 17, 2020: Canucks trade Tim Schaller, Tyler Madden, a 2nd round pick and a 4th round pick for pending UFA Tyler Toffoli
July 9, 2020: Canucks part ways with Director of Amateur Scouting, Judd Brackett after an ongoing power struggle with Benning. Bracket is largely credited for the draft picks of Elias Pettersson, Adam Gaudette, Jack Rathbone and Quinn Hughes
October 9, 2020: Canucks do not re-sign Chris Tanev. It is widely accepted knowledge that Benning did not reach out to Tanev until the morning his contract was set to expire, leaving the long-time Canuck to feel greatly disrespected
October 9, 2020: Canucks sign Braden Holtby to a 2yr/$8.6M contract. Holtby would be bought out at the end of the season
October 10, 2020: Canucks do not qualify RFA, local boy and fan favourite Troy Stecher, who signs with the Red Wings
October 12, 2020: After never recording an extension offer, UFA Tyler Toffoli signs with the Montreal Canadiens October 22, 2020: Canucks re-sign Jake Virtanen to a 2yr/$5.1M contract. Virtanen would be bought out at the end of the season
July 28, 2021: Canucks sign Travis Hamonic to a 2yr/$6M contract. Despite Benning’s public assurances to the contrary, Hamonic would miss beginning of the regular season due to not being vaccinated – can’t play away games due to vaccine status issues
October 1, 2021: Canucks re-sign Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes after a deal could not be reached in the off-season
While the fans ire is aimed squarely at Benning, we should know by now the real problem lies with the ownership group. Francesco Aquilini is the one signing the cheques. He bought what Benning was selling or was it Aquilini who was pushing to sign free agents every summer? Did he push for trades? Was Aquilini wanting to create hope in order to sell tickets? We suspect that’s absolutely the case. Trevor Linden preached patience and a proper rebuild. Aquilini wanted instant results so Linden was tossed to the curb.
Travis Green should not escape criticism. Newell Brown was axed as an assistant coach in the off-season and blamed for the Canucks power-play struggles. What happens? He lands in Anaheim. The Ducks went 2-for-4 on the power-play when the two teams met last week.
The fans have clearly had enough. “Fire Benning” chants are echoing through the stands. Better yet, “Sell the Team” calls were heard as well. Lower bowl tickets on the secondary market are available for $50-$60, a sure-fire sign of disgust and apathy. How directionless does the team have to be before the axe falls?
Editor’s Note: Prediction. The Canucks miss the playoffs and do what they always do, which is win a bunch of games after they have been mathematically eliminated just so they can screw up their draft lottery odds.
Who’s Next? – For far too long, the NHL office has had a heavy influence on the hiring of top personnel around the league. In this week’s 32 Thoughts, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman had some interesting perspective on the vetting of candidates for NHL job openings. He spoke with Mike Forde, executive chairman of Sportsology who assists major sports organizations with the hiring process. Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis used Forde when he was doing a GM search for the NBA Washington Wizards. According to Leonsis, Forde taught him “not to be bound by doing the same old things in the same old ways. We took our time to build a leadership group with complementing talents and skills. Traditionally, front-office searches look for the ‘one great person,’ and I approached the process thinking about how to bring together great people around ‘one big goal’ of winning a championship.”
The idea of having as many great minds in the front office as possible brought back the Detroit Red Wings of the 90’s. The Wings front office included GM Ken Holland, Steve Yzerman, Jimmy Devellano, Scotty Bowman and Jim Nill among others. THAT was a brain trust! The Canucks have a skeletal front office. Why did Aquilini hire Benning and Green? Because they were cheap. If an owner is unwilling to invest in talented leadership and staff, what’s the point. The Toronto Raptors just agreed to pay Masai Ujiri $15 million per season. That would never happen under Aquilini. It’s why they still operate without a club president.
If and when Aquilini makes a change, he would be wise to take his time, hire expertise to help with the search and build a team of skilled front office personnel instead of trying to land another Trevor Linden. The chances of that happening? Slim and none and slim just left town.
Habitant Pea Soup – When you look at the Montreal Canadiens, you will find many similarities with the Vancouver Canucks. Both have been teased by fleeting playoff success. When the Canucks pushed Vegas to a seventh game in the Edmonton bubble in 2020, it appeared as though the young team was ready for a breakthrough. The Canucks have been regressing ever since. The Canadiens caught lightning in a bottle and made a surprise trip to the Stanley Cup finals last season. It only created false hope. Both clubs have spent lavishly and find themselves hamstrung by the salary cap. Neither team has a clear identity. Both teams are never more than a borderline pick to make the playoffs. Fans in both markets are livid. In Montreal, the needle hasn’t moved in ten years under Bergevin. Eight for Benning. Between the two of them, they have mastered the art of overpaying a slew of replacement-level players. This season, Bergevin is paying Mike Hoffman and Joel Armia nearly $8 million combined yet he wouldn’t buck up an extra $500 grand to sign Phillip Danault, one of the best two-day centers in the league. While Benning said “I feel responsible,” Bergevin commented “It’s hard to comprehend.” No, it’s not. The team you have assembled is nowhere near as good as you think it is.
NHL Notebook – The Hockey Hall of Fame has done it again. It’s the same nonsense every year. Kevin Lowe and Doug Wilson were added this year along with Kim St. Pierre. I covered Lowe and Wilson during their playing careers and never once did I think I was watching a Hall of Famer. Put them in the Hall of the Very Good. Lowe benefitted from playing on the great Oiler powerhouses. Just down the road in Calgary, former Flame Brad McCrimmon was as good a defensive defenceman as Lowe. I’m told St. Pierre was a goalie on the Canadian women’s national team. Lovely to see women in the Hall of Fame. But does she have to get in there ahead of Paul Henderson, Daniel Alfredsson and Rod Brind ‘Amour?
It’s been a nightmare start for the New York Islanders. They opened the season with 13 straight games on the road as they wait to move into their new arena. To make matters worse, top defenceman Ryan Pulock is out for the next 4-6 weeks with a lower-body injury. The Isles defensive structure has broken down. Look for Lou to go out and get some help. Hey, give Jim Benning a call!
The Arizona Coyotes are on the fast track to Tank Town. They are on pace to end the season with 24 points. They have 18 players on expiring contracts so expect them to deal any warm body they can at the trade deadline. The Coyotes already have eight picks in the first two rounds of the 2022 NHL draft.
Now that the Coyotes are being kicked out of their building in Glendale, it remains to be seen where they will reside next season. While they work to get an arena deal going in Tempe, the Coyotes are reportedly looking at Chase Field as a temporary home. Yes, the domed stadium in downtown Phoenix that’s home to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Sure, put some ice in there and let’s play hockey!
There is growing concern over the hockey playing future of Colorado Avalanche defenceman Bowen Byram. The former Vancouver Giant has been dealing with a series of debilitating concussions, vertigo and a bout with COVID-19. His first concussion occurred last February against Arizona. He returned 19 days later only to be drilled by Vegas forward Keegan Kolesar who left his feet and made contract with Byram’s head. After finally returning to play this season, Byram is sidelined yet again after an elbow from the Canucks Bo Horvat. Byram has played only 30 games so far in his young career. Some forecast he would be a potential Team Canada selection by now. It would be an absolute shame if such a promising career is cut short by repeated concussions.
With Mike Smith on LTIR, goaltending is suddenly becoming a big concern once again in Edmonton. You can be sure Ken Holland is looking around for answers in goal.
Wayne Gretzky had 14 seasons with 100+ points including four seasons with over 200 points. Connor McDavid is headed for his fifth straight 100-point season. If he maintains his two-points-a-game pace, he would end up with more points than Messier, Dionne, Yzerman, Jagr, Sakic and Esposito ever scored in a single campaign. And it was a heck of a lot easier to score back then.
Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has been under heavy criticism since signing his massive contract that pays him over $10 million per season. He’s been quieting the critics so far this season with a sparkling .942 save percentage. Speaking of goaltending, how about former Canuck Jacob Markstrom? He has posted five shutouts in 13 games with the Flames.
Cable subscribers in Canada get absolutely ripped off. The Edmonton Oilers and the Winnipeg Jets clashed on Thursday night in a game that went to overtime and featured another Connor McDavid highlight-reel goal. Do you think we would get to watch it here in B.C.? Of course not. Sportsnet served us Detroit and Vegas.
World Cup or Bust – In case you haven’t noticed, our national soccer teams matter now. Soccer matters. For once, Canadians can cheer for their own country and our own individual stars. When the World Cup rolls around, we will no longer need to cheer for England or France or Italy. Earning a berth in Qatar 2022 on merit would be momentous since Canada is likely to be an automatic qualifier in 2026 as co-host.
We can thank the women’s side for bringing Canadian soccer to life. It was the women who started the excitement at the London Olympics in 2012. It was the women who raised the bar with their gold medal performance in Tokyo this summer. It was Christine Sinclair who first emerged as an international star. As Cathal Kelly observed recently in the Globe & Mail, soccer programs don’t suddenly emerge out of nowhere. “A tide has to come in before the boats start to rise.”
With a pair of wins on the frozen tundra in Edmonton, Canada has vaulted into first place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. We did it in very Canadian fashion, typified by Sam Adekugbe throwing himself into a snowbank to celebrate the second of Cyle Larin’s two goals against Mexico.
Canada will return to action in January with a home game against the U.S. Site still to be determined. They have visits to Honduras and El Salvador in late January and early February before finishing the qualifying schedule in March with games at Costa Rica and Panama with a home match against Jamaica in between.
World Cup 2022 qualifying has been going on in Europe as well. Spain, Servia and Croatia are the latest teams to advance. Three countries – Russia, Portugal and Sweden – will be taking the long road to Qatar. They are all headed to the playoffs which get underway March 24. They will be among 12 teams in four brackets with one team out of each grouping gaining a World Cup berth. The playoff draw takes place November 26.
Restless in Seattle – Russ returns. Russ gets shutout for the first time in 150 career starts, 167 if you want to count the playoffs. The last time the Seahawks were shutout was in 2011 at Pittsburgh during Pete Carroll’s second year in Seattle. Tavaris Jackson was the quarterback.
It begs the question. Would Russ have been better off to wait another week before returning from injury instead of playing in the snow in Green Bay? Full marks to Wilson for coming back so quickly after surgery on his finger but judging by his performance, he should have stayed home. 20 for 40 for 161 yards with two picks and a quarterback rating of 39.7. The Packers held the ball for 39:09, nearly twice as much as the Seahawks 20:51.
Mid-season pass protection numbers have the Seahawks offensive line rated 31st in the NFL. Left tackle Duane Brown is in steep decline. He’s allowed 22 pressures and ranks second in sacks allowed with seven. Add a left tackle to the Seahawks off-season shopping list and they are not easy to find.
It’s time to really evaluate where this team is at. Too many draft picks and free agent signings have not worked out. The offense and the defense can’t seem to put it together at the same time. This has been a disturbing trend for a couple of years now. Forget the excuses. It’s time for change in Seattle. The weak-kneed Seattle media is loath to criticize Carroll or general manager John Schneider. DK Metcalf lost his cool again and was ejected in a game where he had three catches for 26 yards. The guy’s a prima donna. At what point does the heat get turned up? Is it time for Pete to step aside? Will Russ want out after another disappointing season? The aura is off this team. The Legion of Boom is a distant memory.
NFL Notebook – Week 10 brought more crazy upsets. Miami took out Baltimore. Carolina went into Arizona and crushed the Cardinals with Kyle Murray still sidelined. Washington surprised Tampa Bay. In the NFC, things are getting very bunched-up at the top. The Cards and the Packers sit at 8-2 while the Rams and Cowboys are at 7-2.
The Tennessee Titans have won six in a row including five against playoff teams from last season. At 8-2, the Titans are the top seed in the AFC and playing as good as any team in football right now.
Never doubt Bill Belichick. While Pete Carroll and John Schneider have the Seahawks floundering, Belichick has retooled the New England Patriots in quick order following the departure of Tom Brady. The Patriots blew out the Browns and the Falcons to move to 7-4 and don’t be surprised if they challenge the Bills for the AFC East title. Mac Jones was the fifth quarterback off the board in this year’s NFL draft. He may end up being the best of the lot. Never doubt Wild Bill Belichick.
This is year four for Baker Mayfield in Cleveland and he’s not exactly looking like a franchise quarterback. The Browns are on the hook for his $18.8 million dollar fifth-year option next season. They would be smart to avoid any discussions around a contract extension. The going rate for top QB’s is $40 million per season. Mayfield has done nothing to deserve that kind of money.
Model citizen Antonio Brown has been accused of submitting a fake COVID-19 vax card. He’s been turned in by his former live-in chef. The mercurial Bucs receiver reportedly paid $500 for the card. The NFL is investigating.
The New Orleans Saints lost at Tennessee thanks to a pair of missed field goals by Brian “Wide Left” Johnson. The Saints had a chance to tie the game with a minute to go but missed a two-point conversion, the eighth consecutive time they have failed on two-point conversions going back to 2018.
The woebegone Detroit Lions are still winless. They had a chance to stage an upset in Pittsburgh but missed a field goal in overtime and had to settle for a tie. The last time the Lions won in Pittsburgh was back in 1955 at old Forbes Field.
Jays Off-Season Plans – Wow! Has the narrative about playing baseball in Canada ever changed. No longer are players complaining about customs checks and not being able to find their favourite junk food. Jose Berrios had nothing but good things to say when the Blue Jays announced his seven-year, $131 million dollar extension. Berrios said his wife and three children loved Toronto during their two-month stay this summer. He said his family felt safe and welcomed. It’s a ringing endorsement for a team on the verge of great things. Getting Berrios under contract is a great first step on what could be a very productive off-season. Expect the Blue Jays to explore extensions for Vladdy and Bo.
Now that the Blue Jays have moved from a rebuilding team to a contender, their approach to improving the ball club this off-season has changed. Jays GM Ross Atkins has made it clear the team is open to trading players off the current roster. “From a team-building standpoint, we’re just constantly trying to be more balanced and more versatile, and that just doesn’t happen overnight, sometimes it may take addition by subtraction. We haven’t done much of that, we haven’t subtracted for our major-league team, so we have to be open to all avenues.”
Top prospect Gabriel Moreno gives the team a ton of depth among their current group of catchers. Baseball America recently called Moreno the “clear-cut best prospect” in the Arizona Fall League. Here’s what they had to say about Moreno.
Before he broke his thumb in the regular season, Moreno had emerged as one of the best prospects in the game. In Arizona, he’s reinforced that reputation and stands as the clear-cut best prospect in the league. Despite a swing with loud movements at the top, Moreno has consistently shown the ability to be on time and manipulate the barrel to not only get to pitches in all sectors of the strike zone, but to hit them with authority as well. He’s lashed balls from line to line against both velocity and spin, and enters the fifth week of the AFL hitting .373/.469/.588 with eight doubles, a home run and more walks (11) than strikeouts (eight). Lest you think his output was a fluke fueled by pitching that can mostly be described as highly flammable, Moreno hit .373/.471/.508 in 2020 in the Venezuelan Winter League. Perhaps even more interesting than his offense is where Moreno played defensively on Saturday. Against Surprise, the top Blue Jays prospect stepped out from behind the plate and continued dabbling at third base. He only got one chance—a slow roller that would have been a 50-50 ball for many players more experienced at the position—but the fact that Toronto is giving Moreno experience at the hot corner will help open another avenue toward big league time on a club flush with young catching like Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen.
Leftovers – An investigation is underway into the management of the Omaha Lancers of the USHL, the top U.S. junior league. The players have complained about having to pay for sticks and tape and going without meals on the road. The owner is one Koots DiCesare. Do you think maybe Koots has a little trouble with cash flow? He moves immediately into the annals of bad owners right alongside the infamous Boots Del Biaggio. Next thing you know, Bettman will be calling Koots to see if he wants to own an NHL team.
Now that the Cleveland Indians have changed their name to the Cleveland Guardians, we wondered if the key to the name change was the fact they found a new moniker that also ended with ‘ians.’ We figure the Cleveland Renaming Committee considered Vegetarians but that was not good for hotdog sales. Pedestrians was a definite possibility. It would encourage the players to try and draw more walks. We like Morticians since Cleveland is pretty much dead. Lilliputians had support especially if the team traded for Jose Altuve. Lesbians was reportedly quickly ruled out.
There’s speculation that the new MLB collective bargaining agreement will include a salary floor, perhaps as high as $100 million. Teams would reportedly be allowed a two-or-three-year grace period to adjust. It would certainly be a game-changer for several small market teams. There are reports that the Oakland A’s plan to cut their payroll this off-season to as low as $40 million.
Jimmy Lake is out as head football coach with the University of Washington Huskies after less than two seasons. Lake was fired following a one-game suspension for an altercation with an Oregon player on November 6. Lake will walk away a rich man. Since the university agreed to terminate him without cause, UW will pay him his full buyout of $9.9 million.
Spotify Songs of the Week – Clapton is back with a new release The Lady in the Balcony: Lockdown Sessions. For the most part, it’s a regurgitation of previous releases. If you are a big fan, check out his latest version of Key to the Highway and Rock Me Baby.
Fiona Boyes is an amazing blues artist we recently discovered. She is a wicked slide guitar player. Check out the track Juke Joint on Moses Lane from the album Box + Dice.
For a little jazz, you can never go wrong with Kenny Barron, one of the greatest jazz piano players of all time. We recommend the album Without Deception with the Dave Holland Trio. Listen to the wonderful track Porto Alegre.
YouTube Feature Artist – Maurice “Mighty Mo” Rodgers is a 79-year-old American blues artist who made a career for himself playing in Paris, France and other parts of Europe. He was born in East Chicago, Indiana and took up the piano when he was just a child. He benefitted from the fact his Dad owned a nightclub so he became familiar with the likes of Willie Dixon, Eddie Boyd and Jimmy Reed.
Rodgers never gained any real fame in the U.S. Thus, his move to Europe where he combined his sly, social commentary with a great funky sound. His greatest accomplishment was producing the landmark 1973 A&M release, Sonny and Brownie, featuring the acclaimed blues duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. It was a watershed moment for Rodgers who rounded up John Mayall, Arlo Guthrie, John Hammond, Michael Franks and Sugarcane Harris among others as backing musicians. If you have never heard the album, please check it out!
Rodgers now lives in Los Angeles. Here he is performing Black Paris Blues.
We searched YouTube to find some tracks that provide a good cross-section of Rodgers talents. Here’s Yes We Can.
Here’s Black Coffee and Cigarettes from 2011.
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