Under Further Review – This week, we wade into the Maple Leaf quagmire and wonder if change is coming to Calgary as well, plus the fall-out from the Don Cherry firing and other scraps from the sports dumpster bin.
Don’t Step in the Mess – The melodrama in Toronto surrounding the Maple Leafs reminds me of the young child who whines and complains and holds their breath hoping to get their own way. Well, Kid Kyle Dubas has done just that in ousting Mike Babcock and inserting his hand-picked replacement Sheldon Keefe. Trouble is for Dubas, there’s no more excuses and the media spotlight is now on him.
Let’s make one thing clear – the Leafs current mess is of their own doing. Their roster overhaul last summer has been a disaster and the fault lies directly at the feet of Boy Blunder. Just look at the changes to the roster since last year when the Maple Leafs racked up 105 points in the regular season.
Out: Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, Patrick Marleau, Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, Tyler Ennis
In: Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot, Cody Ceci, Jason Spezza, Ilya Mikheyev, Dmytro Timashov
You don’t have to be a hockey expert to see the difference. Experience and bite – gone! Softies IN! With Babcock out and Young Sheldon in, the Leafs are now basically the Edmonton Oilers all over again – rookie President, rookie GM and rookie coach. You know how that scenario works out! They are holding down their first major roles in the NHL. Do you actually think a coaching change is going to bring a different result? Short-term, perhaps. Long-term, no way. The roster composition is just not right. Simply put, the Leafs are not a balanced team. They can’t defend the cycle and are just not physical enough to compete against the top teams. Don’t forget, the last two Stanley Cup winners – St. Louis and Washington – are two of the older teams in the league and two of the bigger teams. That’s no coincidence!
You can’t win in today’s NHL without depth and the Leafs roster make-up won’t allow it when over 40% of your payroll is wrapped up in four players. Not one player on the Leafs third or fourth lines or third defense pairing makes more than $1 million per season. This is thanks to Dubas. Why the Toronto media has had a love-fest with this guy, I will never know. Babcock was the easy target.
It’s hard to fathom that the Leafs chose Harry Potter over Lou Lamoriello and Mark Hunter. Dubas’ claim to fame was having some success with the Sault Greyhounds in the OHL. Meantime, Hunter had operated the most successful junior franchise in Canadian junior hockey history. Go and look up how many incredible players have graduated from the London Knights to the NHL. It’s a junior hockey factory. Hunter knows players! Dead stop! Dubas is supposed to be some kind of analytics guru and you can see how far that’s taken the Leafs.
Here’s some evidence of where they stand. The Leafs win against Arizona was their first regulation victory this season against a team with a winning record. They had given up the first goal in 17 of their first 22 games. Conventional wisdom tells you – do the math – if you add up your penalty-killing percentage and power-play percentage, they need to add up to 100+ if you are going to be successful. At last glance, the Leafs percentages add up to 92.9. They are 20th in the league in power-play and 24th on the penalty kill. Boston, for example, is at 112.6.
So the noose tightens in Toronto. The next arrow is aimed at Dubas because he is now inextricably tied to Keefe, for better or worse. But you can also be sure a bullet is awaiting Leafs President Brendan Shanahan if the situation doesn’t improve. How’s that Shanny Plan working out so far, Brendan?
Work in Progress – November has proven to be a cruel month for the Canucks. Their fast start in October is in the rearview mirror and they are in a full-blown November free fall. Like the Leafs, they also have a nasty habit of giving up the game’s first goal – it happened 15 times in their first 22 games – and what happens is they end up chasing the game. Not a good thing!
A series of injuries has robbed the Canucks of any depth they had and you can see they have lost a lot of their early season defensive structure. They are getting spread out and giving up way too many goals off the rush. Sure, they had a nice bounce-back in Nashville but it’s still a concern.
As much as we like to tout the Canucks and the state of their rebuild, there’s still a lot of work to be done and it’s evidenced in the current roster following a spate of injuries up front. I count at least 5 forwards currently in their lineup – Pearson, Baertschi, Schaller, Graovac and Eriksson – who won’t be around when they are really ready to challenge for a Cup. Let’s see how they perform when Ferland, Sutter, Beagle and Roussel are back and contributing. Perhaps they can right the ship.
When all the bodies return, the Canucks are going to have to make a decision on Adam Gaudette. How can you possibly take this kid out of the lineup? He posted 8 points in his first 8 games since being called up from Utica. Gaudette seems to be clicking with whomever he plays with and is a constant scoring threat which is saying a lot more than the other guys in the bottom six forward group. However, it probably would not hurt him to return to Utica and over-ripen which is never a bad thing. He can still work on his 200 foot game.
Mr. Clean – In case you missed Ron MacLean’s smarmy recant on Hockey Night in Canada last weekend, have a listen.
It’s been great to see the reaction from various writers across the country in the wake of the Cherry firing. How about this column from Rex Murphy in the National Post? Brilliant!
Another great read comes from Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette. He skewers MacLean big-time!
After watching MacLean’s weasly performance on Saturday night, something tells me he is not long for HNIC. Any shred of credibility is out the window. The comment about having to choose “principle over friendship” is such a pile of crap. The only thing he chose between is a pay cheque and not a pay cheque. Don’t worry, Ron can always go back to doing the weather in Dead Rear!
NHL Notebook – When you take a close look at what Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz have done since taking over the Islanders, it’s nothing short of miraculous. The Islanders record since Lou came on board is 64-30-and-8. They have a ‘team-first’ mentality and not one player makes over $7 million per season. Not one player is in the top 60 in scoring. The Islanders are sitting second overall in the Eastern Conference. They recently had a 10-game win streak and have points in 16 straight games, a new franchise record.
They walked away from Robin Lehner, one of last year’s Vezina Trophy nominees and yet they haven’t missed a beat. Thomas Greiss is 9-and-1 with a 2.07 GAA and a .934 save percentage. Lehner’s replacement, Semyon Varlamov, is 7-and-2 with a 2.70 GAA and a .912 save percentage. It defies logic but it demonstrates beyond a doubt that it’s still a team game and it’s all about the ‘sum of the parts.’
The situation is dire in Calgary where the Flames are in desperation mode. The players held a players-only meeting following their sixth straight loss, 5-0 to the Blues in St. Louis. The Flames have only 10 wins in 25 games after compiling the second best record in the NHL last season.
Talk about ‘chasing the game.’ Calgary has allowed the first goal in 8 straight games, a club record. Overall, they have allowed the first goal in 17 of 25 games. Not a recipe for success. What’s most concerning is they are punch-less right now. The Flames ended a 167 minute goal drought only to start a new streak against the Blues.
Flames coach Bill Peters is on the firing line but considering the coaching turnover in Calgary over the past decade, how can you keep blaming the coach? The situation is similar to Toronto. General Manager Brad Treliving has assembled a roster that is cap-strapped. He was hand-cuffed over the summer and was only able to dabble around the edges unless you consider the Neal for Lucic deal a blockbuster. The Flames are finding out that if you are not strong down the middle, you have big problems.
NFL Notebook – The Seahawks have a tough assignment this weekend against the Eagles in Philadelphia. Seattle is 5-and-0 on the road to start the season for the first time in franchise history. It will be interesting to see if the defense is coming alive or if the effort in San Francisco was just an aberration. Suddenly there’s an opportunity for the Seahawks to win the division and that should be incentive enough.
The LA Chargers have to be considered one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL this season. A lot of people had the Chargers winning the AFC West this year. What the heck has happened to Philip Rivers? He’s suddenly showing his age. Rivers has thrown 7 interceptions in the past 2 games and has 14 on the season including a bunch in the red zone. He’s a free agent after the season and there is no chance I would consider resigning him at what will likely be around $34 million per season. If the Chargers have half a brain they would walk away and head in a different direction.
Look for a lot of quarterback turnover in the NFL again this off-season. Rivers may be out in L.A. Jameis Winston leads the NFL in interceptions with 18 and will be jettisoned in Tampa Bay. Marcus Mariota is on the outs in Tennessee. Ditto for Cam Newton in Carolina. It’s time for a change in Pittsburgh where Ben Rothlisberger has worn out his welcome. Andy Dalton is done in Cincinnati. Mitch Trubisky has been a total bust in Chicago. Miami and Denver are both searching for answers at quarterback. That’s a lot of potential change.
The Second Coming – Remember the name – Emoni Bates! He’s 15-years old and a high school sophomore at Lincoln High in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He’s already 6’9”, 185 pounds. He shattered Lebron’s high school freshman numbers, averaging 28.6 points a game and 10.1 rebounds.
The best comparison at this point is Kevin Durant because, even at that height, Bates is a deadly shooter. He’s likely to go straight to the pros after graduating from high school since the NBA will likely change the rules in the next collective agreement whereby players must spend at least one year in college.
Show Me the Money – Just a few years ago, there were only a couple of NBA players making over $25 million per season. There are now 47. Tell me if you think any of these names are worth $25+ million per season – Hassan Whiteside, D’Angelo Russell, Steven Adams, Chandler Parsons, Jrue Holiday, Nicolas Batum, Khris Middleton and Tobias Harris. Yep, they are all in the $25 million club. The Raptors have two – Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol – and soon to be three when Pascal Siakam’s new deal kicks in.
The NBA is looking to expand by two teams over the next 5 years. Seattle is sure to be one of them. Could Vancouver be the other? You could make a pretty good business case. The market can handle it since there’s lots of money in Vancouver. 27.7 percent of the population is Chinese and there are many basketball fans within the Chinese community. The problem is finding an owner who will write the cheque and it will be a big one.
Sweet Track – There was a good read in Sports Illustrated this week about a new nine-hole golf course in Tennessee named Sweetens Cove. With so many of the cookie-cutter courses closing in the U.S., it’s interesting to see a course being built that actually caters to all the hacks out there like you and me. Have a read and you will know what I mean.
Joe Schultz Line of the Week – Long-time Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver was famous for his combustible personality and vitriolic one-liners.
Back in the 1960’s, the Orioles had a player on the team who was a born-again Christian and often read the bible in the clubhouse which apparently more than annoyed Weaver. One day, Earl approached the player who said, “What’s wrong Skip? You don’t like me walking with the Lord”? Earl responded, “I’d rather you walked with the bases loaded.”
YouTube Video of the Week – A few years ago Zydeco/Cajun singer-songwriter Zachary Richard from Lafayette, Louisiana recorded the great Band tune “Acadian Driftwood” with Celine Dion on background vocals. You should definitely check it out. Here’s a few snippets from the recording session.
Here’s the full version of the song if you would like to have a listen!
Enjoy the Grey Cup game! My brain says Hamilton wins easily. My heart says Winnipeg. How can I cheer against the Blue Bombers when all my Winnipeg buddies are on the Bombers bandwagon? Go Bombers!