Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and contributions from Jordan Moss and the usual suspects including Dr. Stinky, the Huckster, Howard, Lindsay and Joe. This week, Eichel is freed, McDavid dazzles, the Canucks fizzle, Bettman dribbles and Rodgers babbles.
A Goal for the Ages – When you compare sheer talent, Connor McDavid ranks with any of the most recognizable athletes in the world. Hockey, being what it is in the landscape of sport, leaves McDavid somewhere in the nether regions. His 1-on-4 goal against the Rangers can immediately be placed among the greatest goals in NHL history. It was Orr and Lemieux and Bure rolled into one. Perhaps no player EVER can do what McDavid does at top speed. Edmonton is very fortunate to have their very own Rocket. If you haven’t seen the goal, witness it for yourself.
Spin Cycle – The boos have started. They are only going to grow. It’s becoming clear to everyone. The ghastly eight-year Jim Benning rebuild is not working. The Canucks went “all in” on this year’s team and Jim’s big experiment is looking like a disaster in the making.
Need we review? The Canucks have traded away two consecutive first-round draft picks. They were one year away from considerable cap flexibility yet Benning chose to sacrifice everything in a desperate search for a playoff spot this season. Now almost the entire roster is locked into contracts with term and there’s very little in the system to provide financial relief. It certainly appears as though the Canucks are spinning their wheels and may be for some time. Young teams show growth. Are you seeing any growth in this team?
The brutal truth is the Canucks are really not deserving of better results so far this season. When you are generating scoring chances at the worst rate in the NHL, what can you expect? It starts with an identity and the Canucks don’t have one. Are they run-and-gun? No. The offensive output to date proves it. Are they physical? No. Are they a defensively-oriented team? They are trying to be but that’s not their DNA. Thatcher Demko has masked a lot of their defensive shortcomings.
Travis Green has had plenty of time to help the team create an identity and it hasn’t happened. For Pete’s sake, Willie Desjardins (.498) had a better winning percentage than Green (.485). Green has reached the 300-game mark as Canucks coach. He’s had ample time to get this figured out. The special teams are a mess. They are giving up a power-play goal on one of every three opportunities. They can’t win a faceoff. In the 28 face-offs Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller have taken while penalty-killing this season, they have won only five. Jason Dickinson is not better. He’s won only two of 11 faceoffs on the PK. Elias Pettersson, the reluctant superstar, is a liability in the faceoff circle. He’s dead last in the NHL in faceoff winning percentage among centres who have taken at least 60 draws this season. Everyone was quick to anoint him rising star but it was wildly premature. The power-play is lost. Green fired Newell Brown in the off-season and replaced him with Jason King yet they continue to employ the same power-play set-up. On Friday night against Nashville, the Canucks had three shots on goal in five power-play opportunities.
Watch any game and the Canucks get pushed off the puck consistently. To be successful, you have to win battles for the puck. Size matters. You certainly don’t win in the playoffs without bite and physicality.
When you watch the Toronto Raptors and the Toronto Blue Jays, you see growth. You can track the improvement. It makes them fun to follow. You have confidence in the front office. It’s hard to say the same thing about the Canucks. You can’t look ahead and see the blueprint for success. What’s the path forward? Much like the Maple Leafs, the Canucks only option each summer will be to fill out the roster with a bunch of minimum salaried players. How do you improve the defence without the dollars available or blue-chip prospects? Leading the league in waiver claims doesn’t get you anywhere.
The Canucks look every bit the part of a 75-80-point team. At best, they will be among a group of teams challenging for the final playoff spot in the West. That’s not growth, folks! That’s the spin cycle. The spectre ahead is not exactly promising. Jim Benning is looking like Wily Coyote after his latest purchase from Acme Inc.
NHL Notebook – Jack Eichel has played six seasons in the National Hockey League. He’s never played a playoff game. You can imagine how happy he must be to get the hell out of Buffalo. He got his wish on Thursday when the Sabres sent Eichel to Vegas for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs and draft picks. It’s a mere pittance for a player of Eichel’s stature. If he can return at anything close to his previous level, it’s a big win for the Golden Knights. But first, Eichel will undergo disc replacement surgery in his neck and is not likely to play again for 3-5 months. When he does come back, and don’t expect him to return until the playoffs because of Vegas’ cap issues, he may end up on a line with Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. How nice will that be? The bigger problem for the Knights will come in the off-season when they will have only $3 million in cap space with 11 players still to sign. Vegas treats first-round picks like they’ve got head lice. They’ve now traded every one of the four first-round picks selected during their short existence – Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, Erik Brannstrom and Peyton Krebs.
For the Sabres, it’s back to the drawing board and yet another rebuild centered around Rasmus Sandin, Dylan Cozens and 2021 first-overall pick Owen Power. Alex Tuch will be a nice fit in Buffalo. He’s one of the most underrated forwards in the league and a local kid from Syracuse, New York.
Don’t rule out Thatcher Demko winning the starting goaltending job with the U.S. Olympic team ahead of Conner Hellebuyck and John Gibson. That’s how good he’s playing. If it’s a fair competition, Demko may just be the choice.
Do you think the Leafs are experiencing some remorse after not re-signing Zach Hyman to a contract extension? Hyman already has seven goals with the Oilers. Edmonton inked Hyman to a seven-year deal for $38.5 million ($5.5 AAV) with a full NMC for five years. Talks with the Leafs broke down over the no-movement clause. The Leafs essentially used the money to sign goaltender Petr Mrazek ($3.8 million), forward Nick Ritchie ($2.5 million) and forward Michael Bunting ($950,00). Not too bright!
When are the Maple Leafs going to wake up and realize the math isn’t working? You have a bunch of overpaid multi-millionaires at the top of the pecking order and a group of near-league minimum bums at the lower end. The disparity is shocking. The Leafs have clearly plateaued and a decline is staring them in the face. Starting next season, they will have five players or 60% of their cap tied up in five players.
You might be able to justify the Leafs signing Morgan Reilly to an eight-year extension if he were a legit number one power-play guy but he’s not. Reilly has no shot from the point and it’s a big reason why the Leafs aren’t clicking with the man advantage. Comparing Reilly to Zach Werenski or Charlie McAvoy and others is a joke. NHL defencemen have scored over 100 goals so far this season. Leaf defencemen have scored one.
The Montreal Canadiens early-season woes were predictable. No Price. No Weber. That spells trouble with a capital T. Did Marc Bergevin really think he had the horses down the middle? No Danault. No Kotkaniemi. That’s a big red flag. The Canadiens centre ice group is among the weakest in the NHL and it’s left the team dead in the water.
Want to know why the Oilers are off to such a great start? The power-play, plain and simple. The Oilers have scored a power-play goal in every game so far this season and are clicking at an even 50 percent. The 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens hold the all-time single-season power-play record at 31.88 percent.
Predictably, Jeremy Colliton was the NHL’s first coaching casualty of the season after getting axed this weekend by the Blackhawks. Who will get the job? Hey, Joel Quenneville is available.
When he’s being interviewed, does Flames coach Darryl Sutter not remind you of Bill Belichick? It’s OK, Darryl! Talking to the media is not a root canal, it only seems that way.
The Kyle Beach Fallout – Listening to Gary Bettman’s media availability following the Kyle Beach revelations was nothing more than self-serving lawyer dribble. Bettman’s more wooden than a toy soldier in the Nutcracker Suite. Could we have expected anything more? Compassion and empathy are not in Bettman’s playbook. His emotions run the gamut from A to B.
He talked at length about the progress the league has made over the past ten years. Progress? What we have seen, in fact, is a league that fails to lead on every front. Racial justice and Black Lives Matter. The league did nothing. The NHL has followed not led when it comes to progress in hiring women and people of colour. Then, in the last week, with the heart-wrenching Kyle Beach interview still reverberating, all we get is silence. Anyone who had a voice in this matter – the players, the management personnel involved – all stuck firmly to a culture of silence. The Blackhawks punishment was a $2 million dollar slap on the wrist. Bettman came down harder on the New Jersey Devils ($3 million dollar fine plus first and third-round draft picks) for Ilya Kovalchuk salary cap violations. Gary Bettman is always there to wash his hands of any controversy. Anyone who thinks this culture isn’t broken is dwelling in an alternate universe.
In stark contrast, the Winnipeg Jets media conference to address Kevin Cheveldayoff’s involvement came off as genuine and sincere. To hear Jets President Mark Chipman say “I’m going to use all my influence in the National Hockey League to make systemic change to a systemic problem” was a powerful statement. For the first time, you heard someone say “I’m sorry” and believed it was heartfelt. Chipman is one of ten owners on the NHL Board of Governor’s Executive Committee so he is certainly in an influential position. You can only hope the necessary processes are put in place to ensure a safe workplace and ensure this sorry chapter is never repeated.
In the wake of this chaotic week and the NHL’s less than empathetic response, there are many calling for Gary Bettman to be removed as NHL commissioner. Don’t hold your breath. As much as the league needs a new face and a fresh approach, it’s doubtful Bettman’s icy veneer will be severely tarnished.
There’s plenty of speculation around why the NHL’s punishment of the Blackhawks was so light. One theory surrounds the potentially severe financial penalties facing the Hawks from the pending civil lawsuits. Lawyers for the Blackhawks have requested a 60-day pause in settlement talks, perhaps because public reaction has been so fiery. Beach’s lawyers say this is nothing more than a delay tactic. It shouldn’t be that difficult to reach a settlement. Look at the career earnings for players from Beach’s draft year – find some common ground – and there you have it. One thing is certain. It’s going to cost the Blackhawks a bundle.
Footnote: Give the Jets credit for acknowledging Rick Westhead of TSN who led the investigation. The Jets made sure Westhead asked the first question among those on the Zoom call.
In the span of a seven-day news cycle, here’s what we have seen:
- The Kyle Beach revelations in the NHL
- The NBA investigating the owner of the Phoenix Suns who’s accused of racism and misogyny
- The Portland Trailblazers hire a law firm to conduct an internal investigation to what is believed to be a toxic work environment
- Rana Reider, the coach of Olympic gold medal winner Andre DeGrasse, is under investigation for sexual misconduct
- The National Women’s Soccer League launches an investigation into cases of abuse and sexual coercion against one of the league’s coaches
- A former coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps Women’s team is accused of sexual misconduct by a former player
Did we miss anything? Sport needs change. QUICK!
Cheers for Alex – It was a bittersweet World Series celebration for Alex Anthopoulos. He was sitting at home when the Atlanta Braves won the title in Houston. Anthopoulos contracted COVID-19 last Saturday and couldn’t travel with the team.
How can you not be delighted for him? Anthopoulos rose from an intern with the Montreal Expos to President of Baseball Operations in Atlanta and chief architect of the Braves 2021 World Series championship, their first title since 1995. He had the guts to make a series of season-altering deals at the deadline that netted the Braves four outfielders including World Series MVP Jorge Soler and NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario.
We called the Braves in six and pitching was indeed the difference. It always is. The Blue Jays should take note. Atlanta won 88 ball games this year. The Jays won 91. It demonstrates once again that anything can happen if you make the playoffs. Just be ready to play your best baseball of the year.
Just like that, the off-season is officially underway. The Blue Jays can get down to the business of augmenting the roster for next season. Yes, the bullpen needs work but balancing the lineup has to be high on the priority list. According to FanGraphs, the Jays had a major league-low 1,102 plate appearances by left-handed batters. That’s a whopping 518 fewer than the St. Louis Cardinals, the next nearest club. Sorry, Cavan Biggio and Corey Dickerson aren’t enough.
On the trade front, the Jays have a rich farm system and could take advantage of their depth at catching and in the outfield. They’ll be looking to supplement the bullpen and find left-handed bats who can fit into the lineup at second, third and the outfield.
It looks like top prospect Gabriel Moreno is ahead of schedule. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reports Moreno is tearing up the Arizona Fall Instructional League. He’s hitting .366 with an OPS of 1.042 and could make catcher Alejandro Kirk available this winter. Moreno is also reportedly getting some reps at third.
If the Blue Jays are looking for reclamation projects for their bullpen, one potential arm is former Dodger Corey Knebel. TSN’s Scott Mitchell noted that Knebel appears all the way back from Tommy John surgery. He was lights out as the Brewers closer in 2017, posting 39 saves and a 1.78 ERA. Knebel appeared to bounce back from the surgery this season as his velocity got back up over 96 mph.
Many Jays fans are wondering if the Jays will re-sign pending free agents Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray and Steven Matz. Don’t be shocked if none of them are back. Semien is the most likely to return although the Oakland native may want to sign with a team on the west coast. Don’t be surprised if the Giants are in on the bidding.
Dr. Aaron Rodgers M.D. – We had a tough time deciding our Jerk of the Week. It came down to Odell Beckham Jr. and Aaron Rogers. We’re going with the narcissistic Rodgers who tested positive for COVID-19 this week. After lying about not getting vaccinated, he blasted the “shaming cancel society” for the subsequent criticism he’s received. The wannabe host of Jeopardy said he is entitled to “body autonomy.”
“I realize I’m in the crosshairs of the woke mob right now,” Rodgers said. “So before my final nail gets put in my cancel culture casket, I would like to set the record straight on so many of the blatant lies that are out there about myself. I tested for COVID over 300 times before testing for possible positive and I probably got it from a vaccinated player.”
Rodgers is clearly the smartest guy in the room. We suspect his holistic approach to COVID included getting a horse tranquilizer. Dr. Rodgers explained what he meant when he told reporters he was “immunized” when he was asked whether he’d been vaccinated. “I’m not an anti-vax, flat-earther,” he said. “I found a long-term immunization protocol to protect myself and I’m very proud of the research that went into that.” Earth to Dr. Rodgers – Sorry, but you won’t be receiving the Nobel Prize for Medicine any time soon.
Seahawks This Week – This is the Seahawks bye week. They don’t play again until next Sunday when they travel to Green Bay to face the Packers. Lambeau Field has been a black hole for the Seahawks. They have not won there during Russell Wilson’s tenure at quarterback. The Seahawks are hoping to have Wilson, Chris Carson and rookie D’Wayne Eskridge back for that game. A loss at Green Bay would drop the Seahawks to 3-6.
The win against Jacksonville was too easy. Geno Smith targeted Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf 19 times. The duo caught 18 of them. Lockett grabbed 12 for 142 yards. Once again, the running game was futile. The Seahawks could muster only 69 yards on 25 carries. The longest was a 12-yarder by Alex Collins. Rashaad Penny isn’t worth a plug nickel. He had seven carries for seven yards against the Jags and it’s obvious he won’t be re-signed in the off-season. Carson has a chronic neck issue. His long-term prospects are in question. Collins is nothing more than a stop-gap so the position group could be a big focus in the off-season.
NFL Notebook – The L.A. Rams headlined the NFL trade deadline with their acquisition of All-Pro Von Miller from Denver for second and third-round draft picks. The Rams have tossed all their chips onto the table. They have only four choices left in next year’s NFL Draft. The Broncos, meantime, now have multiple picks in the second, third, fifth and seventh rounds in 2022.
It was an incredibly tough weekend for injuries in the NFL. Just when the Tennessee Titans were starting to solidify themselves as Super Bowl contenders, they lost running back and MVP favourite Derrick Henry for at least two months following ankle surgery. He may return for the playoffs. New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston tore his knee up and is done for the year. Minnesota also lost star pass rusher Danielle Hunter. It also looks like the Arizona Cardinals will have to do without Kyler Murray for a few weeks. He injured his knee and may not be available when the Seahawks host the Cards on November 21.
The two NFL conferences have never been more lopsided. You have five teams in the NFC who are legit – the Bucs, Packers, Cowboys, Rams and Cardinals. Each have at least six wins. The 6-2 Titans are the only team in the AFC with six wins. You are going to see some very mediocre teams make the playoffs in the AFC. Don’t be surprised if Bill Belichick finds a way to get his New England Patriots into the post-season behind rookie QB Mac Jones.
Last week, we mentioned we should be giving some props to the Cincinnati Bengals after their decisive road win in Pittsburgh. One week later, the Bengals bow to the lowly New York Jets and a unknown quarterback named Mike White throws for over 400 yards. Better hold off on the Bungals.
What’s up with Chiefs quarterback Pat Mahomes? He threw his league-leading tenth interception on Monday night. He went 2-13 (15%) on passes of more than 10 yards downfield, worst of his career. It took a last-minute field goal to hold off the stinky New York Giants 20-17.
From Peter King and MMQB: Compensation for Roger Goodell, 2020 fiscal year: $63,900,050. Compensation for Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Aaron Donald, 2020 season: $62,990,000. In other words, Goodell made almost a million dollars more than four of the best players in the game.
You know how much we like kickers. Joey Slye of the 49’ers has missed 10 extra-point attempts in 82 career tries. Justin Tucker of the Ravens is more accurate on career field goals (90.8%) than Slye is on PAT’s (87.8%). How long do you think this guy will have a job?
Reckless Ruggs – Las Vegas Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs III got behind the wheel of his fancy new Corvette impaired and he will regret it for the rest of his life. At 3:39 on Tuesday morning, drunk at more than twice the legal limit, Ruggs sped down a residential street in Vegas at 156 miles per hour with his girlfriend at his side. He slammed into the back of a Toyota RAV4, killing a 23-year-old woman. The vehicle immediately burst into flames. The fire department found the woman and the remains of her dog inside the car. Ruggs and his girlfriend suffered what appear to be only minor injuries.
Ruggs has been charged with DUI resulting in death and reckless driving. The first charge carries a penalty of two to twenty years. The reckless driving charge could add an additional six years to the sentence. The Raiders released their 2020 first-round pick hours later. His once-promising career is likely over. He was the 12th selection in the 2019 NFL draft and known for his blazing speed. He had 24 receptions for 469 yards and two touchdowns this season. Ruggs was earning just over $4 million per season.
This story is so tragic and yet, was so easily avoidable. Vegas is the easiest place in the world to flag down a cab or Uber. Every team in major sports has a driver program available players to get home safely. Ruggs was too stupid to use it.
The Fastest Family – Ethiopia is the distance-running capital of the world. The country boasts multiple world and Olympic champions. They also boast the Fastest Family in the World. The Dibaba Sisters. They are the only siblings in recorded history to hold concurrent world records. Together, they have four Olympic gold medals, two silvers, three bronze and 15 world championships.
There is 30-year-old Tirunesh Dibaba and younger sister, 25-year-old Genzebe, who form the most formidable track duo in the world. There are seven Dibaba siblings and all of them run. Their older sister, Ejegayehu, 34, is an Olympian as well with a silver medal from Athens. A cousin, Derartu Tulu, was the first black African woman to win an Olympic gold medal in 1992.
The Dibaba sisters are fairly slight in stature. One track coach described them this way, “If you compared them to a car, they would be a Ford Focus with a Ferrari engine.”
The Pole Assassin – Texas Longhorns special teams coach Jeff Banks is at the center of a social media firestorm. Seems things went wrong on Halloween night when a trick-or-treater was allegedly bit by a pet monkey owned by his girlfriend. According to Banks, the monkey is her “emotional support animal.” The girlfriend, Danielle Thomas, is a former exotic dancer and better known by her stage name “Pole Assassin.” She was even known to perform with the monkey. Neither Banks, nor the Longhorns have commented on the monkey biting the child.
Fact is, the muscular Danielle could be in the Olympics. Check out her appearance on The Jerry Springer Show in 2017. She’s an incredible athlete.
Leftovers – Congratulations to the Edmonton Elks who failed to win any of their seven home games this season. How’s that Elks name working out? Meantime, the B.C. Lions are winless and 0-8 since new owner Amar Doman purchased the team. The man does the franchise a favour and this is what he gets!
It was painful to watch the final round struggles of Canada’s Taylor Pendrith at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship. The PGA Tour rookie watched a three-shot lead evaporate on Sunday as he stumbled to a five-over 76, dropping to a tie for fifth. Pendrith posted 19 birdies and two eagles over his first three rounds but failed to make a single birdie in the final round. Weather played a big factor. Play had to be halted when heavy winds made it impossible to hold balls in place on the green. Despite the disappointment, it was still the best finish of his brief PGA Tour career and the biggest cheque he’s cashed to date ($251,000). Surrey’s Adam Svensson started the day T10 before falling to 22nd.
An incredibly inspirational story took place in Bermuda. The tournament sponsor offered an exemption to 54-year-old Brian Morris, the head professional at Ocean View Golf Course in Bermuda so he could make his first career PGA Tour start. Why? Two years ago, Morris had a malignant brain tumor removed from the back of his skull. Doctors immediately determined that the Stage IV cancer had spread to Morris’ stomach, his esophagus and into his neck. It’s terminal. Forget about the scores of 89-92 during an emotional 36 holes. “You know what, I’ll always have one PGA TOUR start to my name,” said Morris. To see my family, my friends. I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again, you know? So, it means a lot. It’s huge”
The Toronto Raptors are clearly committing to a full-scale youth movement. 35-year-old veteran point guard Goran Dragic has been a DNP on most nights so far this season. The Raps took on his $19.4 million dollar expiring contract in order to work the Kyle Lowry deal with Miami. It’s a tough swallow for a guy who’s essentially just a depth piece. Chances are the Raptors will keep him around until the February trade deadline. If Dragic can’t be moved, then a buy-out is likely.
YouTube Feature Artist – The Tedeschi Trucks Band was formed in 2010. The band is led by slide guitar whiz Derek Trucks and guitarist/vocalist Susan Tedeschi. The couple were married in 2001. Trucks is the son of former Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks. Their debut album, Revelator, won the 2012 Grammy Award for Best Blues Album. Since then, the band has released four studio and three live albums.
Here’s the band performing Midnight in Harlem back in 2011. Watch as Derek Trucks does a slow burn on slide guitar.
In Atlanta, also in 2011, the band was in fine form performing Bound for Glory.
The group kicked it out at Eric Clapton’s 2016 Crossroads Guitar Summit. Here they are with Warren Haynes and Los Lobos performing Space Captain.
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