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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 make a statement. The Ottawa Senators get shafted. It’s panic time in Alberta and the Seahawks are surprise divisional leaders.

Canucks Takeaways – It’s time to start giving the Vancouver Canucks some love. And this is not in response to the 10-1 drubbing of the Sharks in San Jose. Right out of the gate this season, the Canucks have been laser focused and relentless. The team is playing with structure, conviction and newfound confidence.

Credit Rick Tocchet for the turnaround. Watching the Canucks perform this season is watching a completely different team. It’s a cliché but everyone seems to be buying in. The roster additions have made a big difference. No longer are there gaping deficiencies in the lineup. Recent wins against the Blues and the Rangers may have been the best back-to-back performances in a decade. The old saying about “your best players have to be your best players” is ringing true. So far, Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller, Quinn Hughes and Thatcher Demko are having career best seasons. Everyone is just following their lead.

Hughes has taken his game to a whole new level this season. His confidence is soaring and he’s playing like he has something to prove. The newly-minted captain clearly wants to show everyone he’s one of the top defensemen in the league. His play on most nights has been nothing short of dominant. Paired with Filip Hronek, the Canucks finally have a top pairing that can match up with any line in the league. We know all about Hughes’ offensive abilities. As of today, Hughes is the top scoring defenseman in the league and enjoys the top plus-minus rating at plus-13. Hughes is also showing he’s a capable defender using his incredible edge and stick work. Hughes was on the ice for 1:15:40 in all situations to start the season before the Canucks were scored upon. That tells you all you need to know about his all-around performance to date.

Without getting too carried away, it’s interesting to note that the Canucks playoff chances have risen 24% since the start of the season. There will be potholes along the way but things do seem different so far this season.

The Canucks have several positive stories playing out so far this season in their system. None more so than Hunter Brzustewicz of the Kitchener Rangers. The 18-year-old right shot defenseman is leading the OHL in scoring with 5 goals and 21 assists in 14 games. The Canucks selected Brzustewicz with their third-round selection in last summer’s NHL draft.

Making Sens of a Bad Situation – With new ownership in place, things were going to be different for the Ottawa Senators this season. After a six-year rebuild, this was going to be the season the team broke through and made the playoffs. The Sens are not even at the 10-game mark and already they’re in a deep hole.

New owner Michael Andlauer enjoyed a brief honeymoon before everything imploded.  Unsigned forward Shane Pinto was slapped with a 41-game suspension for gambling activities. The team was then stripped of a first-round draft pick as a result of a botched trade of forward Evgenii Dadonov to Vegas. Andlauer responded by firing GM Pierre Dorion. To add injury to insult, the Sens are now without three top six defensemen. Forwards Ridley Grieg and Mark Kastelic were injured on Thursday night against the Kings and may be out for a lengthy period. Welcome to the NHL Michael.

The NHL’s handling of both the Pinto and Dadonov files were shrouded in mystery in typical NHL fashion. It’s ironic that, last year, Pinto wore a Sens helmet with a Bet99 decal on it. It’s OK for the Sens to enter into a promotional agreement with a gambling site but don’t dare place a sports bet, kid! Once again, the NHL refused to reveal the circumstances around Pinto’s suspension. Why not tell the fans exactly what happened? From all reports, it appears Pinto allowed friends to use a betting account he had registered including placing bets on hockey.

Regarding losing the first-round pick, do you really think the punishment would be the same if it were the New York Rangers or Chicago Black Hawks? It’s a lot easier to get your point across when it’s a small market Canadian team. Andlauer had every right to bitch. How would you like to spend close to a billion dollars purchasing an NHL team and be largely kept in the dark about both investigations. Andlauer deserved better.

The Senators are left to scramble. Their season of hope is in jeopardy. The fans are rightfully upset. While Dorion left the team with a promising future, he made plenty of mistakes that continue to cost the team. His salary cap management this summer was abysmal. He made 80 trades in eight years apparently favouring quantity over quality. The Alex DeBrincat trade is proving to be a disaster. How about Mika Zibanejad to the Rangers for Derrick Brassard? Think the Sens would like to have that one back? The trade of Mark Stone to Vegas was a huge misstep. Signing Colin White to a six-year extension, then having to buy him out, was plain stupid.

It’s time for new era in Ottawa. Coach D.J. Smith is dead man walking. He will be next. It’s just a matter of when. Perhaps the Senators can mirror the Colorado Avalanche. In 2016-2017, they won only 22 games. That summer, they were awarded by drafting Cale Makar. The Stanley Cup soon followed. Maybe the Sens can follow a similar path.

NHL Quickies – Call me crazy but I can see a scenario where, in the next couple of years, the only Canadian to make the playoffs are the Canucks and the Senators. Think about it for a minute. If Dinky McDavid or Leon Draisaitl walk out on the Oilers, Edmonton is toast. The Flames and Jets are caught in the mushy middle and certainly no lock to make the playoffs. The Leafs window is closing fast and with no draft capital or prospect pool, the only direction the Leafs are moving is down. For Montreal, it’s going to be three years before they are true contenders. Which leaves us with Ottawa and Vancouver. It’s a bleak forecast to be sure. But is it really that far off target?

The defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights have enviable depth. 18 different players have scored a goal so far this season. Talk about balance. It’s exactly what’s plaguing the Edmonton Oilers and the Toronto Maple Leafs and what’s preventing them from taking the next step forward. Max Domi, David Kampf, Pontus Holmberg and Ryan Reaves have yet to score a goal. Fraser Minten went scoreless before returning to junior. Noal Gregor and Calle Jarnkrok have one goal each. The Leafs fourth line is virtually unplayable. They have a combined Net Rating of minus-5.3. They are playing less than nine minutes a game and contributing nothing.

The story is similar in Edmonton. Ryan McLeod, Dylan Holloway, Derek Ryan, Connor Brown and Mattias Janmark have failed to score a goal. Adam Erne went scoreless before being released. Without production from your third and fourth lines, it’s very difficult to play with any consistency. The Leafs and Oilers both live and die on the power-play and that’s not a recipe for success.

It’s looking more and more like the Maple Leafs off-season spending was grossly misdirected. We warned hardcore Leaf faithful about Brad Treliving. He left the Flames in the dumpster. Here’s how Treliving spent the Leafs cash – Tyler Bertuzzi ($5.5 million), Max Domi ($3 million), John Klingberg ($4.25 million), Ryan Reaves ($1.35 million X 3 years) and Ilya Samsonov ($3.55 million). That’s almost $18 million and the results so far are hugely unimpressive. Samsonov can’t even hold onto the number job in goal. As documented, Domi and Reaves are yet to hit the scoresheet. We will say it one more time – this situation can only get worse. Injuries to Jake McCabe and Timothy Liljegren have left the Leafs perilously thin on the back end.

There’s been swift reaction to the horrible skate-cut death of Adam Johnson. Each of the three major junior hockey leagues in Canada have made neck guards mandatory. Expect something similar in the AHL. The response has been so great that manufacturers have not been able to meet the sudden demand. Reports say online sales of neck guards were happening every 20 seconds following the death. Several NHL players have starting wearing them. Expect more to follow.

Really happy to see Vancouver homeboy Milan Lucic back in Boston and finding peace. Lucic has been through a lot over the past several years and has stuck it out. His Dad Dobro died by suicide in 2015. After leaving the L.A. Kings in 2016, Lucic signed a seven-year, $42 million dollar contract with the Edmonton Oilers which became an anvil around his neck, not of his own doing. Back in Boston at 35, Milan has come full circle, returning to the team that drafted him in the second round in 2006.

19-year-old rookie center Matthew Poitras has been a revelation so far with the Bruins. The second-round pick has walked straight into the lineup and filled a big hole as the team’s number two center. Looks like he could be a long- term answer as a replacement for Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Bruins brass have been raving about Poitras’ hockey IQ.

There’s a busload of top rookies not named Connor Bedard in the NHL this season. The salary cap has caused teams to force-feed young players. Bedard, Logan Cooley, Leo Carlsson, Adam Fantilli and Luke Hughes are the biggest names but there are many others who are showing promise. Before being injured, Ottawa’s Ridley Grieg was the surprise scoring leader among rookies. Pavel Mintyukov in Anaheim, Kevin Korchinski in Chicago and David Jiricek in Columbus are three blueliners who have made the jump and looked impressive.

Kyle Dubas did what he could over the off-season to breathe one last bit of life into the Pittsburgh Penguins. Dubas added Erik Karlsson to the back end to help with one last playoff push. However, things don’t look very promising in Pittsburgh from the early returns.

The Los Angeles Kings may want to reconsider their decision to trade defensemen who are blossoming elsewhere. The Kings have moved Brock Faber, Sean Walker and Sean Durzi in separate deals and each blueliner is enjoying a big role in their new location. Faber is another impressive rookie who’s playing big minutes in Minnesota. Walker is flourishing with the Flyers and Durzi is averaging over 23 minutes a night in Arizona as the Coyotes number one defenseman.

The San Jose Sharks are headed to an historically bad season. The Sharks should have blown things up long ago but were slow to embrace a full rebuild. All they have done is delay the inevitable. The Sharks have very few foundational pieces to build around and still have several unmovable albatross contracts. The building was virtually empty the other night with the Canucks in town.

Don’t look now but it appears as though the Seattle Kraken have fallen back to earth. Last year’s trip to the second round of the playoffs did nothing but create false hopes. The Kraken are better off taking a step back before the young players in their system can begin to contribute.

Seahawks Central – Three weeks ago, the San Francisco 49’ers were 5-0 and atop all the NFL Power Rankings. Now, three straight losses later, the 49’ers are looking up at the Seattle Seahawks, surprise leaders of the NFC West at 5-2. Both teams made bold moves at this week’s NFL trade deadline. The 49’ers dealt a third-round pick to Washington to land pass rusher Chase Young, the number two overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. The Seahawks gave up two picks including a second-rounder to acquire defensive tackle Leonard Williams from the New York Giants.

Williams will definitely help solidify the Seahawks defensive front. The question is – was it an overpay?  If it’s a 10-game rental, yes. If the Seahawks can somehow find the room to extend Williams, a free agent after the season, then maybe you can justify the move. Unlike Chase, Williams should be a three-down player which adds to his value. However, at 29, his best days may be behind him. No doubt Williams will feel rejuvenated playing in Seattle rather than with the woebegone Giants. Still, the deal seems overly-aggressive. Should Williams depart after the season, the Seahawks, at best, will be looking at a fourth or fifth-round compensatory pick.

The trade shows the Seahawks are clearly thinking about the here and now. That’s dangerous business. Remember, last season the Hawks started 6-3 before finishing 9-8. The offense has been inconsistent. The defense has definitely shown big improvement from a year ago. The Seahawks are hoping the addition of Williams is the final piece in constructing a truly dominant defense. The Hawks face a major test on Sunday in Baltimore before a pair of winnable games, at home against the Washington Commanders and on the road against the L.A. Rams. The real test starts on November 23 when the Seahawks host the 49’ers, followed by visits to Dallas and San Francisco, and a home date against the Philadelphia Eagles. We will know a lot more about this year’s Seahawk team once that four-game gauntlet is completed.

NFL Notebook – From the crazy but true department.  The 49’ers are 0-29 under Kyle Shanahan when trailing by 5+ points heading into the fourth quarter. They are the only team in the NFL without a win in that situation since 2017. A month ago, the 49’ers looked invincible. Not so much any more.

The Dallas Cowboys need to come to the realization they will never win a championship with Dak Prescott at quarterback. Next season, he’s going to count almost $60 million against the salary cap. That will be an NFL record. Is he worth that kind of money? Of course not. The Cowboys are sure to renegotiate his contract in order to bring down the cap hit but can they do that without extending the deal which, in our mind, would be a big mistake.

Not quite convinced that Caleb Williams, the talented USC quarterback, is a sure-fire lock to be the number one pick in next year’s NFL draft. No doubt he’s extremely gifted with tremendous arm talent. Just always concerned about quarterbacks who check in at a little over 6-0’. At 6-3’, North Carolina’s Drake Maye has the prototypical NFL quarterback size so don’t be surprised if some teams favour Maye. He’s been compared to the Chargers Justin Herbert which is a pretty lofty projection.

It had to happen sooner or later. Sunday’s upset loss at Denver was the first time Pat Mahomes has suffered a setback on the road against a divisional opponent since becoming a starting quarterback. Mahomes was 16-0 in AFC West stadiums since 2017. The Chiefs face the Miami Dolphins in Germany on Sunday in one of this weekend’s featured matchups. Should be a dandy.

Bill Belichick just picked up career win number 300. His career record with Cleveland and New England without Tom Brady is 81-94. You don’t think having a Hall of Fame quarterback matters?

There are 27 Canadians playing in the NFL this season. There’s a record 26 Canadians playing in the NBA.

Deshaun Watson has played in a total of 10 games since signing a fully-guaranteed $230 million dollar contract with the Cleveland Browns in March 2022. So far, he’s pocketed over $90 million. Watson’s passer rating over the past two seasons ranks 38th among quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts. To acquire Watson, the Browns sent the 13th and 107th picks in the 2022 draft and the 12th and 73rd picks in the 2023 draft to the Houston Texans and will send their first and fourth-round picks in 2024. NFL teams were livid when the Browns gave Watson a fully-guaranteed contract. You don’t think they are happy to see Watson fail?

World Series Notebook – The Texas Rangers celebrated their first ever World Series title after dusting off the Arizona Diamondbacks in five games. The Rangers have called Arlington, Texas home since 1972 but had never won a World Series. It’s been a remarkable two-year turnaround. The Rangers lost 102 games two years ago and 94 last year. They didn’t secure a wildcard berth until the final day of the season. They won 11 straight games on the road during the post-season. The feat may never be repeated.

You have to hand it to Rangers manager Bruce Bochy. This year’s championship was his fourth World Series title. It was his fifth appearance in the World Series in his 26-year career – with his third team. When the Blue Jays hired John Schneider as manager, Bochy was available. Something tells me Bochy wouldn’t have pulled Jose Berrios from this year’s wildcard series vs. the Twins.

Speaking of great managers, Milwaukee skipper Craig Counsell is without a contract and free to move elsewhere. He’s already interviewed in Cleveland while the Brewers would love to have him back. The Mets are without a manager and are expected to come calling. The Jays should jump at the opportunity to sign Counsell. He’s definitely one of the top three or four managers in baseball.

Every major league team struck out when it comes to ALCS MVP Adolis Garcia. He obliterated the record book in the ALCS against the Houston Astros. Garcia set a MLB playoff series record with 15 RBI’s including becoming the first player with RBI’s in six straight series games. He hit five home runs in the series including homers in four straight games. Before going down with an injury in the World Series, Garcia broke the post-season RBI record set by the Cardinals David Freese in 2011 by driving in his 22nd run.

In 2016, the Cuban Government allowed Garcia to play a season in Japan. He would never return home. While flying back to Cuba from Japan, Garcia defected during a stopover in Paris. He signed a minor league contract with St. Louis in 2017. He was released by the Cards in 2019 and again by the Rangers in 2021. Any team could have claimed him on waivers. He remained in the Texas organization and this year, made his second All-Star team, with 39 homers and 107 RBI’s.

Blue Jays Notebook – The vitriol flowing from Blue Jays fans toward the current front office has never been more bitter. The post-season news conferences did nothing to alter opinion and you have to wonder how its going to affect ticket sales next season. The fans have been vicious in their criticism of Mark “The Alien” Shapiro and Ross Atkins.

This year’s World Series combatants should be sending thank-you cards to the Mariners and the Blue Jays. Seattle dealt closer Paul Sewald to the Diamondbacks at the trade deadline and he was mostly unhittable in the post-season. Meanwhile, we don’t need to remind Jays fans of the ill-fated acquisition of former D-back Daulton Varsho. Varsho straight up for Lourdes Gurriel Jr. may be a suspect move, let along the fact he arrived in the desert along with fast-rising catcher Gabriel Moreno. It’s funny how these deals can propel a team forward and change their complete outlook.

Can someone explain how Alejandro Kirk could be named a Gold Glove finalist in the American League? Are there so few decent candidates that he’s considered a top defensive catcher?

Leftovers – Officials in Quebec need to wake up amidst reports a youth hockey player was forced to mimic George Floyd. According to reports, a young, black player was made to say “I can’t breathe” as a teammate knelt on his neck. The incident recalled the words of George Floyd who died at the hands of Minneapolis police. So far, Hockey Quebec has failed to act despite an independent report that found at least 14 racist incidents on a Gatineau minor hockey team.

What can you say about Winnipeg Blue Bombers fullback Brady Oliveira? He may have just fashioned the greatest single season ever by a Canadian. Oliveira rushed for 1,524 yards, added 482 yards receiving and scored 13 touchdowns. He’s the West nominee for Most Outstanding player in the CFL and should walk away with the Top Canadian award. While we are at it, kudos to B.C. Lions defensive end Matthieu Betts. The Laval product led the CFL in sacks this season with 18, six more than the next best total. In any other year, he would be the Top Canadian.

Spotify Tracks of the Month – Just released this week is a star-studded album entitled Heavenly Cream – An Acoustic Tribute to Cream. Have a listen. We recommend Sitting on Top of the World featuring Bobby Rush and Maggie Bell, Crossroads with Joe Bonamassa and Born Under a Bad Sign with guest vocalist Paul Rodgers.

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram is one of the featured guitarists in the latest edition of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Summit, recently staged in Los Angeles. Check out Ingram’s latest release, Live in London. It’s a killer performance. We downloaded several tracks including She Calls Me Kingfish, Another Life Goes By, Hard Times and 662.

The Honey Island Swamp Band has a new release called Custom Deluxe. We recommend Sugar for Sugar and High River Rag.

Amos Lee’s newest is a tribute to Lucinda Williams entitled Honeysuckle Switches. Have a listen to his rendition of Greenville.

Eddy Smith & the 507 is a band we just discovered. The release is called Right Up ‘Til Now. The track we recommend is My Time Again.

Kast Eaton is a fine singer. From the album Talk To Me, check the song Out of the Rain.

Another new artist is Donavon Frankenreiter. The Album is Move by Yourself. The track is Fool.

And finally, for a little jazz, you can’t go wrong with trumpet giant Chris Botti. His new release is called Volume 1. We like the tracks Two for the Road, Blue in Green and Paris featuring guest vocalist John Splithoff.

We’ve lost a lot of great artists this year including the one and only Leon Russell.  Thanks to regular contributor and well-studied musicologist Ted Tait for sending a rare 1970 TV appearance featuring Russell. He’s joined by band members and friends including legendary Memphis bluesman Furry Lewis. Check it out. It’s an amazing performance.

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