Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and contributors Jordan Moss and Peter Hucul. This week, waiting for the shoe to drop in Vancouver and Montreal. Riding high in Alberta and the Jays start their Xmas shopping.
Highway to Hell – The vultures are circling. You can be sure of that. Any casual hockey-watcher can see the Canucks have checked out on coach Travis Green. Save for a slight uptick in Columbus, they are playing with a casualness as if they don’t care. Can’t win puck battles. Turnovers galore. They are just waiting for the axe to fall.
Daniel Wagner, in his regular “Pass it to Bulis” column in Vancouver is Awesome, summed up the Canucks plight perfectly. “It’s the eighth season with the same GM, the fifth season with the same head coach. The results have been uniformly terrible, except for one deceitful playoff run in the middle of a pandemic bubble fueled by unsustainably good goaltending. It can’t be enough for the bar to be set at making the playoffs, maybe, if everything goes right. The expectation has to be to build a truly great team where making the playoffs is the base level of success, not the end goal — a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup, not by happenstance or by getting lucky, but because they’re legitimately one of the best teams in the NHL. That’s where the bar should be set.”
The hornet’s nest around the team became more toxic with a report from Matt Sekeres of a dressing room rift between Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller. These things happen all the time during the course of a season. I suspect Horvat may have told Miller to cut the brooding act and clean up the sappy body language. Miller being the alpha male probably didn’t like being told the truth.
The reported squabble followed word this week that the Minnesota Wild may be looking to acquire Miller. One report had the Wild offering Kevin Fiala and a second-round pick. No way I would do that deal. How about rugged forward Jordan Greenway and a first? Dealing Miller seems more likely by the day. He will be a UFA after next season and it makes no sense to extend him at what is likely to be at least $7 million per season. Too many other holes to fill.
Jim Benning should be absolutely vilified for his handling of the COVID uncertainty surrounding Travis Hamonic. The charitable GM handed Hamonic a two-year, $6 million dollar extension in the off-season without resolving with certainty Hamonic’s vaccination status. Turns out Hamonic refused to get a first vax as promised before training camp began, then took a leave of absence from the team to think about it. He finally received a shot after reporting to the team. Hamonic was forced to remain in Vancouver while the team departed on its current road trip because the required time period following his second shot had not passed, preventing him from entering the U.S. Good work Jim! Way to stay on top of things!
What the hell has happened to Elias Pettersson? Let’s forgo the excuses. He’s now 23 and making $7.35 million per season. You need to produce. Pettersson is on pace for 13 goals and 43 points. He’s still looking for his first even-strength goal of the season. Watch him play and it’s astonishing how his play has declined. His skating looks off. He passes up shots. He refuses to drive defensemen wide, often pulling up for no apparent reason. Puck management is an issue. The giveaways are abundant. Pettersson needs a swift kick in the derriere if you want my opinion. This is where the right coach can make a huge difference. Green was a slug during his playing career. He has no idea how to handle a player as talented as Pettersson.
The Canucks should see if they can find a taker for Michael Ferland’s LTIR contract. He’s got this year and next left on the four-year, $14 million dollar deal he signed as a free agent. Ferland has played a grand total of 14 games. Yes, that’s one million per game. Contending teams with cap issues may be interested in the contract. Vegas maybe?
In case you didn’t notice, the Canucks have all kinds of problems with quick teams as evidenced on Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. A lack of team speed has been an issue with the Canucks for years. Please, no more Alex Chiasson’s! That guy is glacial. Green seems to think the only way the Canucks can compete is by slowing down the play to a crawl with drop-back passes to the D. The system is easy to defend because you rarely get any odd-man rushes. No wonder the Canucks can’t score. Try working through the neutral zone against a team with five men back in coverage. Fast teams love this because they can counter quickly off of turnovers.
How do you fix the team when you are faced with the double-whammy of being cap-strapped with a barren prospect pool? One thing that needs to happen is the Canucks have to find an experienced manager who can come into the organization and set a new path forward. Jimmy Rutherford comes to mind. Ken Hitchcock is a BC native with a world of experience. You need a steady hand even if the candidate is only on board temporarily as a consultant who helps with the search for a President of Hockey Ops and a GM. And please, no more rookie coaches. If you want to step out of the box, how about Ray Ferraro? No one is more familiar with players around the league than Ray. He could be the Canucks answer to Joe Sakic, Rob Blake or Steve Yzerman.
NHL Notebook – Some interesting comments this week from Team Canada GM Doug Armstrong. Here’s what he had to say when asked about putting the roster together. “The white noise can’t overtake what we’re doing,’’ Armstrong said. “You’re doing everything you can with the Hockey Canada/Team Canada hat on. And personal relationships and personal biases have to go out the window for everyone involved. Also, you have to continually reinforce that you’re building a team that can compete in an NHL-style game, not a team that can compete in an All-Star Game. There’s going to be bodychecking, there’s going to be tight, defensive play. There’s going to be things that you want to make sure you have players that can close games out, that can kill penalties, that can do all the things that make you successful. So, it’s not just taking the top eight scoring defensemen, the top eight scoring forwards, and saying okay, ‘They’ll figure it out.’ You need a team.”
People forget the 2022 Winter Olympics will be played on NHL-sized ice. You need to build the team accordingly. Keep the date January 10 in your mind. That’s the final day the NHL can opt out of the Olympics without any penalty.
The Calgary Flames have registered seven shutouts already this season. That’s more shutouts than the Canucks have wins. The Flames have already completed two major road trips totaling 12 games. They picked up 20 out of a possible 24 points on those two trips and scored the first goal in every one of those games. In fact, they have scored the first goal in 18 games so far this season. A sure sign that Daryl Sutter has them ready to play every night. The guy is a miracle worker. The Flames were a mess before he took over. It hasn’t taken him long to put his imprint on that team. Calgary leads the league with a 1.89 GAA.
Andrew Mangiapane has been a revelation for the Flames. He scored 15 goals in his first 19 games including a league-leading 14 on the road. Mangiapane is under consideration for Team Canada after shining in the World Championships last spring where he scored seven goals in seven games. Armstrong would be smart to select a player like Mangiapane over someone like Mitch Marner. Anthony Cirelli of the Tampa Bay Lightning is another likely choice. Team Canada coach Jon Cooper loves the guy and for good reason.
Who is Dan Vladar? The Flames have had trouble with their backup goaltending for several years. He was acquired in the off-season from the Bruins for a third-round pick. All he’s done in Cowtown is go 4-0-1 with a 1.57 GAA, .946 save percentage and a pair of shutouts.
Jim Benning has made a bucketload of bad deals, we know that. One ill-advised move that goes under the radar is the trade for Sven Baertschi from the Flames that cost a second-round pick. The choice turned out to be defenseman Oliver Kylington who has replaced Mark Giordano in the Flames top-four defense group this season. The goofy part about it is, the Canucks could have picked up Kylington for nothing last year when the Flames placed him on waivers.
Could this be the year we see a renewal of the Battle of Alberta? Could very well happen since both the Flames and the Oilers are proving to be two of the more elite teams in the NHL. We would favour the Flames because of superior goaltending and overall team defense. One caveat – the Flames would have to find a way to slow the Oilers ridiculously potent power-play.
What a difference a year has made for the Jets Pierre-Luc Dubois. A year ago, following the trade from Columbus, Dubois was completely out of step and shifted over to the left side for a good portion of the season. He lacked jump in his legs and never really found his game. This season, Dubois been among the top centers in the league. He leads the Jets with 12 goals and has been a force every night. Whatever he did in the off-season seems to be paying off. As a team, the Jets have been in a complete funk. They had dropped five in a row before a wake-up call win against the Flames last night.
The signing of goaltender Matt Murray is going to cost the Ottawa Senators a bundle. He’s been placed on waivers in the second year of a four-year, $25 million dollar contract. Murray has gone 10-18-1 in his short stint in the Nation’s Capital. This season, he’s 0-5 with a 3.26 GAA and a .890 save percentage. Eugene can’t be happy to throw money away. Murray will probably end up in Belleville since there’s zero chance he will be claimed.
This was the year that Alex Lafreniere was going to break out and become a big star on Broadway. Sorry, it hasn’t happened. He’s playing on the Rangers third line behind Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin on the left side. The 2020 first overall pick has five goals and one assist in 20 games this season. Lafreniere is averaging only 12:18 minutes of ice time per game.
Nothing has been announced but it looks like Marc Bergevin is out in Montreal. Assistant GM Scott Mellanby has resigned after being snubbed as a potential replacement. Former Ranger GM Jeff Gorton has been contacted. Looks like he will be part of the Canadiens new hockey ops department.
Among the many issues in Montreal is the Canadiens special teams. The Habs are 28th in the NHL on the power-play and 29th on the penalty kill. Christian Dvorak and Jake Evans have not adequately replaced Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. There’s been no Shea Weber. No Carey Price. No Paul Byron. No Joel Edmundson. The Canadiens have $84 million committed next season to only 14 players including Weber’s LTIR ticket. It’s hard to fix it when you have nine players on long-term deals signed through 2024-2025.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are going to be tested. Brayden Point has an UBI and is out for a couple of weeks. Nikita Kucherov may not return until after Christmas after surgery in October for a groin injury.
Looks like Judd Brackett has done it again. Minnesota Wild 2021 first-rounder Carson Lambos is off to a tremendous start with the Winnipeg Ice. Lambos has 5 goals and 18 points in 19 games. He’s a 6-1”, 197-pound defenseman. The Canucks couldn’t use him though, right? Just like they couldn’t use Brackett as their chief scout.
Restless in Seattle – The Seahawks tango with Russell Wilson last off-season should be seen as a precursor of things to come. If you think he was making passive overtures about getting out of Seattle then, well, strap yourself in for more when this season is over.
The Seahawks are desperate for a rebuild. That should be clear to everyone. It’s the perfect time to sell high. Look around the league and there is no shortage of teams that are quarterback-needy. Several of them, like New Orleans and Pittsburgh, are built to win right now. You could probably add Denver and Minnesota to that list. There are several other clubs including the Texans, Dolphins, Panthers, Eagles and the WFT who need an upgrade at quarterback. What about Green Bay if Aaron Rodgers leaves town? The Cleveland Browns would be wise to check in. Baker Mayfield certainly doesn’t seem like the answer.
For Seattle, the return would be massive. Don’t forget, the Chicago Bears reportedly offered three first-round picks, two starting-caliber players and a third-round pick for Wilson last spring. Seattle should have pulled the trigger if that report was for real. The Seahawks are desperate for draft capital. The deal would kick-start a major roster renovation. A stock-pile of draft picks is just what’s needed. They are without a 2022 first-round pick thanks to the Jamal Adams deal. Wilson is still only 32 and maintains he wants to play into his 40’s. If we couldn’t quite get our heads around a deal last off-season, this time round it makes perfect sense.
At 3-7, the Seahawks 10-game record is Seattle’s worst since 2009. The only other NFC team with a worse record is Detroit at 0-10-1. The Seahawks are a mess on both sides of the ball. If you take away the 31 points they scored against a horrible Jacksonville team, the Seahawks have scored 17, 20, 10, 0 and 13 points in their other five most recent games. Offensively, it’s a train wreck. The Seahawks are the worst third down team in the league. Against the Cardinals, the Hawks converted on just two of 10 third downs and both came on third-and-1. Wilson pas2ed for only 207 yards.
After getting blasted 34-10 at home the previous week by Carolina, Arizona came into Lumen Field and had their way. The Cards were without quarterback Kyle Murray, top receiver D’Andre Hopkins and top running back Chase Edmunds and still rang up 413 yards of offense behind backup QB Colt McCoy. The Seattle front can’t get any pressure on the quarterback. The acquisition of Jamal Adams looks like a massive mistake. Yes, friends, it’s time for change in Seattle.
Rookie cornerback Tre Brown has been one of the few bright lights for the Seahawks this season. What happens? Brown is gone for the season with a torn patellar tendon in his knee. Top pick D’Wayne Eskridge is yet to have any impact after suffering a severe concussion. With only three selections in the entire 2021 NFL draft, it looks like this year’s rookie crop will be a washout.
NFL Notebook – Football fans didn’t have much to look forward to on U.S. Thanksgiving Day. All six teams on the slate of games on Thursday lost on Sunday. How about sitting through Chicago vs. Detroit?
Here’s a few takeaways from Week 11 in the NFL. Time to stop the Josh Allen for MVP and the Buffalo Bills for the Super Bowl talk. Allen and the Bills are completely overrated. The Colts went into Buffalo and put up 41 points. Colts running back Jonathan Taylor set a club record with five touchdowns. Allen seems incapable of winning an important game. Knocking off a beat-up Saints team doesn’t count.
Lamar Jackson was unable to play last weekend. I’m sick of hearing about him being sick. He’s had COVID twice. Does he have it AGAIN? Where does this guy go at night? I hope he’s not hanging out with Bob Kraft and Deshaun Watson at the massage parlor.
The Kansas City Chiefs defense has suddenly come to life. The Chiefs have allowed fewer than 20 points in four straight games. The last time they did that was in 2019, the year they won the Super Bowl. Picking up Melvin Ingram at the trade deadline has given the pass rush a big boost.
There’s no excuse for the L.A. Chargers near-epic collapse against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In a matter of two minutes in the fourth quarter, the Chargers turned a 34-20 lead into a 37-34 deficit. Good thing Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert had his best day as a pro, going 31-of-41 for 382 yards and three scores including the game winner. Herbert also ran for 90 yards.
Happy to see Washington HC Ron Rivera get the win on his return to Carolina. Also got to give some love to Cam Newton, a regular victim of our contempt. The guy has done a nice job for the Panthers. Not sure what the team does going forward with $18.8 million in guaranteed money tied up in Sam Darnold next season. How about Russell Wilson to the Panthers for Darnold and a bevy of picks? Darnold would be to the Seahawks what Jared Goff is to the Detroit Lions. That’s the price you sometimes have to pay to make these deals work.
The Denver Broncos have quietly assembled a really good group of playmakers on offense. They just announced extensions for a pair of young receivers in Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick. Add in Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler plus tight end Noah Fant and running back Javonte Williams and you have some great offensive weapons. Could Aaron Rodgers be an off-season target for Denver? He might be able to replicate what Tom Brady did in Tampa Bay by winning a Super Bowl in his first season upon arrival.
The Las Vegas Raiders made some bonehead moves under Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock but none match their decision to sign tackle Trent Brown to a four-year, $66 million dollar contract in 2019. The move came after the Raiders sent All-Pro end Khalil Mack to the Bears because they didn’t want to meet his demands. Brown reportedly ballooned to over 400 pounds while with the Raiders and missed 16 of 32 games due to injuries.
Blue Jays Hit List – The Toronto Blue Jays started their Christmas shopping on Saturday night with the signing of veteran reliever Yimi Garcia to a two-year, $11 million dollar contract. The former Houston Astro should add some decent depth to the bullpen.
The Jays are in position to be very selective in the players they wish to add. At the top of our list on the trade market are a couple of quality infielders who could be available. Ketel Marte of the Arizona Diamondbacks can play second, short and centerfield. He’s a fine defender and has lots of pop in his bat, hitting .318 last season in 90 games. The good thing is he could spell George Springer on occasion. Marte has three years left on a team-friendly deal. He’s owed $8.4 million in 2022, then has team options at $10 and $12 million the following two years. You get a ready-made replacement for Marcus Semien at the right price.
The Jays should look to Oakland to fill the hole at third base. The A’s are looking to cut salary. Matt Chapman is one of the top defensive third basemen in the game. He’s expected to make $9.5 million in arbitration and will not become a free agent until after the 2023 season. Chapman hits for power but does have high strikeout numbers. With Marte and Chapman, the Blue Jays would have much-improved defense around the infield.
If the A’s are open for business this off-season, the Jays should also look there for potential starting pitching. Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt are both reportedly on the trade block. Cincinnati Reds righthander Luis Castillo is an outstanding arm that will be highly coveted this off-season. Sonny Gray of the Reds would be another option on the lower end. German Marquez of the Rockies has excellent stuff but would not come cheap.
It’s doubtful the Blue Jays will be pursuing any of the top starters on the free agent market. Simply too costly. Leftie Carlos Rodon was placed on the market by the Chicago White Sox after their refused his $18.4 million dollar option due to lingering arm problems. The Jays may be interested if his arm checks out. They are more likely to dip into the secondary market. One possibility is Rockies righthander Jon Gray.
There are several names that could be cost-effective among free agent relievers. We mentioned Cory Knuble a few weeks ago. Add Daniel Hudson to the list who had a brief stint with the Jays in 2019. Hudson started last season in Washington and put up a 2.20 ERA. However, his season fell apart after a deadline trade to San Diego. The second-half flop may make the 34-year-old righthander more affordable. Another reclamation project may be former St. Louis Cardinal closer Trevor Rosenthal. He missed all of last season with a torn hip labrum. Still only 31, Rosenthal might be a good target. Other names include Archie Bradley of the Phillies and Collin McHugh of the Tampa Rays. We don’t see the Blue Jays bidding on the top reliever on the free agent market. That’s Raisel Iglesias of the Angels who had 34 saves and a 2.57 ERA last season.
Maple Leaf Forever – There’s nothing like winning to make wearing the Maple Leaf more attractive. That’s certainly the case with the Canadian men’s national soccer team. Canada is now starting to secure of services of top players who hold Canadian status. The latest is 23-year-old striker Ike Ugbo who joined the team for this month’s World Cup qualifiers. Canada Soccer became aware of Ugbo’s potential eligibility while playing for Chelsea three years ago but were unsuccessful in bringing him into the program. There’s little doubt that Canada’s recent performances played a big role in changing Ugbo’s mind. It also doesn’t hurt that Canada is looking primed to qualify for the next two World Cups. Getting noticed at the World Cup is how players earn transfers and big paydays.
Leftovers – We’ll go with Calgary and Hamilton in the two CFL playoff games on Sunday. One of the quirky features of the Stamps-Riders game is it matches up Craig and Dave Dickinson, the first time two brothers have coached opposing teams in the post-season. It was surprising to learn it’s the first playoff meeting between the teams since 2013. Bo Levi Mitchell finished the season on a 6-1 run. He should make the difference. In the East, the Ticats are the sentimental choice. They have the longest-running Grey Cup drought in the league going back to 1999. Jeremiah Masoli should outplay Trevor Harris.
More great data from TSN Senior Correspondent Rick Westhead. According to Westhead, Gymnastics Canada has temporarily suspended or permanently banned 22 coaches, staff and athletes following abuse and harassment complaints. Skate Canada has banned eight coaches for life and suspended another six coaches pending investigations, while Swimming Canada says it has received 15 complaints related to abuse and made public one suspension since 2013 when it began collecting such data. All of which begs the question – how many coaches, staff and athletes has Hockey Canada sidelined for inappropriate conduct? Hockey Canada says that’s confidential. We call bullshit on that.
The PGA Tour is taking a break over the holiday season. The next event is the Sentry Tournament of Champions which starts January 6 in Maui. Thanks to a second-place finish at the RSM Classic at Sea Island, Georgia, Mackenzie Hughes will likely end the year inside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings. That would mean automatic entry into the Masters, U.S. Open and the WGC events. It’s been a miraculous turnaround for Hughes. He finished 2019 ranked 264th in the world. Hughes has had eleven top-10 finishes since the Tour resumed after the pandemic shutdown in June 2020.
Brooks Koepka dusted Bryson DeChambeau in the latest version of “The Match” at the Wynn Golf Club in Vegas. As if we care.
Spotify Songs of the Week – We’ve got a nice variety of selections for you this week. Let’s start with an album from Reese Wynans and Friends called Sweet Release. There are several good tunes worth checking out including Take The Time, So Much Trouble and the title track Sweet Release.
Have a listen to Too Much Traffic off the Shemekia Copeland release Talking to Strangers. The lyrics are good for a chuckle.
Mike Mattison is a former lead singer with the Derek Trucks Band. He has a solo album entitled You Can’t Fight Love. Check out the title track and his version of the Tedeschi-Trucks classic Midnight in Harlem.
Former Rolling Stones bass man Bill Wyman has his own band called Bill Wyman and the Rhythm Kings. Have a listen to the album Anyway the Wind Blows. The best tune is the bonus track Sugar Babe. Some good rockabilly.
YouTube Feature Artist – This week, we thought we could toss some jazz vocals your way. First off, we feature Toronto native Sophie Milman, a true Canadian treasure. Here’s a video from 2012 with the beautiful Sophie performing Something in the Air.
IN 2009, Milman performed in Minneapolis with guitarist Jesse Cook. Here she is covering the Sting-penned classic Fragile.
We uncovered some old footage of Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto performing Agua De Beber (Drink the Water), the Antonio Carlos Jobim classic that has become a jazz standard.
Keyboardist Joe Sample has recorded the song One Day I’ll Fly Away with several guest vocalists. The version with Nils Landgren is outstanding. Here’s Joe in 2006 performing One Day I’ll Fly Away in concert with Randy Crawford on vocals.
Melody Gardot is always a nice listen. If you are reading a book on a rainy afternoon or just sitting down for dinner, you can’t go wrong. Here’s Melody performing with an outstanding ensemble recorded at Chateau d’Herouville in 2018.
Argentine singer Gabriela Anders is a fine artist. Have a listen to Fire of Love and You Know Know What Its Like.
One of the finest melodies in jazz is contained in the song Cook’s Bay by Kenny Barron. The best version is off his 2000 release Spirit Song. Here’s Kenny and his trio performing Cook’s Bay in 2014.
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