Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Contributing Editor Bill Morphy and a big assist from our deep-throated Vancouver accomplice who will remain anonymous. This week, a rocky hay-ride around the NHL, We report on the NFL from safe distance and throw in a few curveballs for good measure.
NHL Free Agent Frenzy – We knew it was going to be a crazy week in the National Hockey League. The NHL Draft. The Countdown to Free Agency. You knew it was going to be frantic. Well, in case you haven’t noticed, the flat salary cap has paralyzed teams. Everyone is trying to move out money. Many teams including the Canucks found themselves up against the wall. Jim Benning had a month to try and move money and couldn’t do it. What does that tell you? Benning was hog-tied with several Canucks having little or no value. This is the year that the anchor contracts handed out in recent years by the Canucks finally came back to bite them in the chops.
How would you like to be the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Lightning? They have to shed at least $10 million in payroll before they can deal with their own restricted free agents. They tried in vain to deal Tyler Johnson, who has four years and $5 million per remaining, and had to place him on waivers. Conversely, the Montreal Canadiens have been able to conduct business because they are in a position to take ON money. Most other teams aren’t so fortunate.
Opening day of free agency was predictably quiet. It’s in stark contrast to what happened last year. NHL teams spent more than $700 million on July 1, 2019. Fast forward to Friday and GM’s are sitting back and waiting for a market correction. It’s pretty obvious that general managers are under strict orders from ownership. Until there is cost certainty nothing will change. What we are seeing is length of contract seems to be the key determining factor. GM’s are willing to offer more money in return for a shorter term. Outside of a few goalies, (Tory Krug notwithstanding) the only skater to get more than two years was Kevin Shattenkirk. Most of the contracts handed out so far will run out when the virus is presumably gone and the economy is improving. This is the cause and effect of someone eating a bat in China.
Winners & Losers – Canuck fans can breathe a collective sigh of relief with word a potential deal with Arizona for Oliver Ekman-Larceny is dead in the water. We are still trying to figure out why some hockey writers were trying to rationalize the merits of taking on a contract with seven years and $58 million remaining. The Canucks are two years away from wiping every bad contract save for Tyler Myers off their books. Why mess things up further? Sorry, Ekman-Larsson is not suddenly going to make the Canucks a Stanley Cup contender. Be patient. Stay the course. Verdict: Huge win for the Canucks by keeping their urges in check.
The Calgary Flames sign goalie Jacob Markstrom to a 6-year, $36 million dollar contract. Apparently Brad Treliving didn’t get the memo about handing out long-term contracts in the current climate. It’s not hard to see why the Flames would be seduced into signing Markstrom. They haven’t had solid goaltending since Miikka Kiprusoff and it’s resulted in numerous quick playoff exits. Stealing a team’s MVP away from a division rival is a bonus. Markstrom should give them top notch netminding for at least four years. Anything less and this will end up in the graveyard of bad contracts. Markstrom should be happy in Calgary alongside Elias Lindholm who’s from the same home town. Warning: How will Markstrom do without having Canucks goalie coach Ian Clark around to keep his game in order? Verdict: A win for the Flames.
Canucks GM Jim Benning may not want to openly admit it but I think everything changed around Markstrom following Thatcher Demko’s brilliant playoff performance. The Canucks were sincere in wanting to bring Markstrom back but it suddenly came with a caveat. The term and dollars had to fit. Benning can’t be happy to see him go to a division rival but a 6 X 6 ‘Loui’ deal was never in the cards in Vancouver. Braden Holtby will provide a fallback for the Canucks as Demko takes the reins in goal. Two years with an average salary of $4.3 million is acceptable for Holtby and they can expose him to Seattle in the expansion draft. I just wonder what they will get from Holtby. His save percentage has been declining rapidly in Washington and he’s going to face a higher volume of shots in Vancouver than he ever did with the Capitals. Verdict: Win for Vancouver but it’s not without risk. All bets are off if Markstrom comes back to haunt the Canucks in a divisional playoff series, or two!
The Calgary Flames sign defenseman Chris Tanev to a 4-year, $4.5 million per season contract. Sounds like a good addition to the Flames on the surface but do you really think he will stay injury-free through the life of that contract? Not a chance! Way too much term. Verdict: Big mistake by the Flames. Good work by Tanev’s agent.
The Winnipeg Jets acquire Paul Stastny from the Vegas Golden Knights. Not sure what the Jets were thinking in trading for the 34-year old centre and a second go-round in Winnipeg. Did they not watch the playoffs and see how his game has regressed? Why would you enable a Western Conference foe that is tight against the cap and a team you have to get past to reach the Stanley Cup final? Doesn’t make any sense to take $6.5 million off their hands and, at the same time, allow Vegas to conduct further business. The Jets could have filled their need for a second line centre another way. Verdict: Bad move by the Jets.
The Maple Leafs sign right-winger Wayne Simmonds to a one-year, $1.5 million dollar contract. There’s a reason Simmonds has bounced from Philadelphia to Nashville to New Jersey and Buffalo in a matter of a couple of years. He can no longer handle the pace of today’s game. Something tells me the Leafs were bidding against themselves. Would he still be available tomorrow for $1 million? Verdict: Good guy but he won’t move the needle with the Maple Leafs.
Leafs sign Flames defenseman T.J. Brodie to a 4-year contract with an average annual value of $5 million. It’s panic time in Toronto. Dubas definitely DID NOT get the memo about signing long-term contracts. If he thinks a top four defense corps of Reilly, Brodie, Muzzin and Holl will get it done, he’s off his rocker. Verdict: Delusional!
St. Louis Blues signs Bruins defenseman Tory Krug to a 7-year contract worth $45.5 million dollars. Hard to argue with the wisdom of Blues GM Doug Armstrong who’s one of the best in the business. The Blues could ill afford to lose Alex Pietrangelo and not have a fallback position. The term makes me nervous but Krug does offer high value as a power-play quarterback, something the Blues were missing. St. Louis still has a quality top four D-group with Krug, Parayko, Faulk and Dunn plus Scandello, Gunnarsson and Bortuzzo in reserve. The downside? The Blues now have zero cap space to improve a low-scoring forward group. Verdict: Win for the Blues.
NHL Draft Recap – The 2020 NHL Draft will be remembered as one of the deepest drafts in history. It was chocked with outstanding prospects well into the third round. Here’s a few random thoughts…
- The NHL has to fix the draft lottery. The Rangers have jumped up in the lottery two years in a row to land Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere who has a good chance to score 50 points as a rookie. Teams like the Red Wings are getting royally screwed. Detroit had the worst combined points percentage in the NHL over the past two seasons, yet, between 2019 and 2020, there were eight players they never had a chance to draft thanks to the lottery system. So much for rewarding the league’s worst teams.
- Ottawa ruled the draft and slam-dunked the opening round. The Senators landed a Patrick Kane clone in German winger Tim Stuetzle. They got the top defenseman in Jake Sanderson and a skilled and agitating centre in Ridley Grieg. Nice work Pierre Dorion! The Sens are going to have the rights to half the team at the University of North Dakota.
- Three Germans were picked in the first 34 picks including Stuetzle, Lukas Reichel by Chicago and John-Jason Peterka by Buffalo. The surge in German-born players started with Leon Draisaitl and it’s continuing in leaps and bounds.
- Quinton Byfield will have a great mentor in Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles. The Kings are collecting a ton of young talent. Rob Blake and Joe Sakic were teammates in Colorado and they are turning into two of the top GM’s in the NHL.
- The Canucks were intent on selecting a goaltender in this year’s draft but circumstances didn’t work out. They were high on Swedish goalie Joel Blomqvist, who was highly recommended by Canucks goalie coach Ian Clark. Blomqvist was taken in the second round, 52nd overall, by the Pittsburgh Penguins. As fate would have it, had the Canucks kept the pick that was dealt to the Kings for Tyler Toffoli, their pick in the second round would have been 51, one choice ahead of the Penguins.
- The Canucks dipped into the U.S. high school ranks with their selection of Jackson Kunz, a 6’3”, 210 lb. left-winger from the Minnesota hotbed Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep. Over the past several seasons, the Canucks have arguably been the best team in the NHL at mining U.S.-born prospects. The list includes Thatcher Demko, Brock Boeser, Adam Gaudette, William Lockwood, Quinn Hughes, Tyler Madden and Jack Rathbone.
- Minnesota first rounder Marco Rossi is a fire hydrant. Did you see the video of this kid working out? This kid will have a long NHL career despite his small stature. New Wild GM Bill Guerin has been very aggressive since taking over in Minnesota. He used his cap space to acquire Nick Bonino from Nashville. Guerin gave up young centre Luke Kunin in the deal but walked away with picks 37 and 70, giving new Director of Amateur Scouting Judd Brackett more ammunition in his first draft with the Wild following his departure from Vancouver.
- The Winnipeg Jets were shocked that centre Cole Perfetti dropped to them at number 10. Perfetti has incredible hockey sense and will probably be in the Jets lineup within a year.
- I don’t understand why teams are so quick to unload second round picks. Check out the first four picks in this year’s second round. All four could have great NHL careers. They may turn out better than several players taken in the opening round. No less than 13 teams didn’t have a second round pick this year. It shows you how many teams throw caution to the wind at the trade deadline.
- Steve Yzerman has a huge task ahead of him in Detroit. He’s going about it the right way in acquiring extra picks at the deadline and using cap space as a weapon. The Wings just have to improve their fortunes at the draft table. Yzerman took his former mentor to the cleaners at this year’s deadline, acquiring two second round picks from Ken Holland and the Oilers for Andreas Anthanasiou. Anthanasiou was so ineffective during his stint with the Oilers that Edmonton chose not to quality him as an RFA.
- The Canadiens made a solid choice in the first round in defenseman Kaiden Guhle. Hopefully he will turn out better than his brother who’s been a washout so far with Buffalo and Anaheim. Nice work by Marc Bergevin to unload Max Domi and acquire rugged forward Josh Anderson from Columbus. The Habs quickly got Anderson signed to a long-term contract. Habs fans will love this guy as long as he can stay healthy.
- The Colorado Avalanche are building something special. They added another cornerstone defenseman in the opening round in Justin Barron. Barron received good medical reports after having a shoulder procedure similar to Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Chris Archer. I can see Barron paired with Bowen Byram on the Avs defense. They are assembling a great right side with Cale Makar, Barron and Connor Timmons.
- If you get a chance, check out the back story on San Jose first round pick Ozzy Weisblatt. Got to cheer for this kid.
NHL Leftovers – NHL teams were not shy about walking away from restricted free agents this year considering the market forces at play. Ottawa let left-winger Anthony Duclair walk rather than risk going to arbitration where Duclair was planning to represent himself. The Sens didn’t want to take a chance he would be awarded an amount they didn’t want to pay. Ottawa probably paid attention to the fact Duclair had two goals in his last 29 games. Teams can always circle back and sign their own RFA’s later at what they think is the right place. Could happen with the Canucks and Troy Stecher.
NHL owners are hurting. COVID-19 has hit the U.S. and Canadian economy hard and don’t think it isn’t having any impact on budgets. How would you like to be Dallas Stars owner Tom Galiardi? He owns the Sandman Hotel chain and you know how that sector has been hit. Many NHL owners are in the entertainment business and the industry has been devastated.
I was expecting the Canucks to buy out forward Brandon Sutter before the deadline. It was the one buy-out that made sense. The Canucks offered Sutter around and would have been willing to retain some salary but Sutter had zero value. Sorry, he does not resemble any branch of the Sutter family tree. He’s made $30 million in his career. Clearly benefitted from having Sutter for a last name.
When Corey Perry was playing out the string in Anaheim and making $8 million per season, his contract was considered one of the worst in hockey. Once he was bought out, at $1 million he was considered a bargain in Dallas. Funny how things can change in one season. Not so good for Anaheim however. Perry will count $6.25 million against the Ducks cap this season and $2 million more in each of the two seasons to follow. Prediction: There’s going to be a harvest of veterans making between $1 million and $1.5 million this season. The middle class is getting crucified.
Let’s Get Physical – At a time when every NHL general manager should be keeping his cards close to his vest, Leafs GM Kyle Dubas announces to the world that the Leafs “need to make life hard on teams next season.” Apparently, Dubas just woke up and figured out the Leafs aren’t tough enough to win in the playoffs. The Leafs require major roster surgery and Boy Wonder’s moves to date amount to resigning Denis Malgin and Jason Spezza and signing Wayne Simmonds in free agency. He’s now got less than $4 million in cap space and still hasn’t addressed the Leafs pathetic blue line. Worse yet, don’t expect any team in the league to drop the Leafs a lifeline. With so much noise within the media in Toronto, the front office does not need to make matters worse. Some unsolicited advice…shut your trap!
Things would be so different for the Maple Leafs if they would have resisted signing John Tavaras and Patrick Marleau and if they would have traded William Nylander for a quality defenseman when he was holding out. Leaf ticket holders are the biggest suckers in sports. Tickets in the lower bowl top out at $350. The average ticket price in the lower bowl is $270. To watch that band of panty-waists?
Bags of Cash – Did you know that Jaromir Jagr has the highest earnings in NHL history? In his lengthy NHL career that spanned 24 seasons, Jagr earned a total of $118 million US or around $150 Canadian. If you are wondering, Nick Lidstrom is next on the list at $100.6 million followed by Joe Sakic ($96 million), Paul Kariya ($89.4) and Vincent Lecavalier ($87.3).
Wayne Gretzky made US $46,067,992 in his NHL career. (US $82,578,478 in today’s dollars) The Great One ranks #177 in NHL career earnings. Guess it didn’t pay to work for Peter Pocklington and Bruce McNall. In case you were wondering, the top earners in the NHL last season were:
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs – $16,000,000
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs – $15,900,000
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs – $15,900,000
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens – $15,000,000
Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks – $14,500,000
And now you know why the Leafs can’t build a winning hockey club!
Seahawks Review – It’s never easy winning on the road and it’s even tougher when you travel across the country for a 10AM Pacific start time. The Seahawks have it figured out because they are 10-and-0 in the Eastern Time zone in their last 10 visits back east. The Seahawks are 4-and-0 on the young season for only the second time in club history. The only other time was in 2013, the year they won the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks played a clean game in Miami with zero penalties for the first time since 2007. The defense showed signs of life, keeping the Dolphins out of the end zone for 58 minutes while scoring 14 points off a pair of interceptions. The defense will only get better as the lengthy list of injured players return to the lineup. Quinton Dunbar may return this weekend against Minnesota but the Hawks will likely wait until after the bye week before bringing back Jamal Adams, Rasheem Green, Jordyn Brooks and Lano Hill. Seattle may also get a boost from Damon “Snacks” Harrison who was signed this week to the practice roster. Harrison is a massive 350-pound run-stuffer who will provide great depth on the inside of the defensive line.
Offensively, the Seahawks rolled up 441 total yards. With the score 17-15 Seattle in the fourth quarter, Russell Wilson’s headset went out, leaving him unable to hear the play calls from offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. The result? A 75-yard touchdown drive and the cushion the Seahawks needed to put Miami away. Seattle went 4-for-6 inside the red zone and they are now 12 of 14 inside the red zone so far this season.
The Seahawks offensive line has shown great improvement so far this season, particularly the pass blocking. It makes you wonder what Russell could have done the past few seasons with a better offensive line in front of him. Running back Chris Carson, who nearly suffered a major knee injury against Dallas, showed incredible toughness by even playing. Carson had to leave the game briefly for concussion protocol but returned to rush for 80 yards and 2 scores. The guy’s a stud!
NFL Week 4 Quick Hits – The 49’ers are finding out that quality quarterbacking matters. San Francisco fell to 2-and-2 after losing at home to the previously winless Eagles. Nick Mullens, filling in for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo, threw 2 interceptions including a pick-six by former CFL Defensive MOP Alex Singleton. The Eagles now lead the putrid NFC East at 1-2-and-1. Overall, the division is 3-12-and-1.
The Cowboys are South America’s Team. They let Cleveland body-slam them for 49 points. Dallas has given up 146 points in 4 games, a little over 36 per game. Do I hear 6-and-10? The Browns had over 500 net yards including 307 yards rushing despite losing top running back Nick Chubb in the opening quarter with a knee injury. Dak Prescott again put up big numbers but had an interception and a fumble and continues to be mistake-prone.
The Rams kept the Giants winless. Aaron Donald is unblockable and on his way to defensive MVP honours. The highlight of that game was the family feud between Golden Tate and Jalen Ramsey. The two traded punches at the conclusion of the game before being separated by teammates. Ramsey then reportedly waited for Tate outside the Giants locker room. The dust-up comes on the heels of an ugly breakup between Ramsey and Tate’s sister, Breanna. Ramsey has fathered two children with Tate’s sister and according to Tate, has not lived up to his responsibilities as a father. Do ya think? We will have more on pro athletes and their abilities to procreate next week.
The Arizona Cardinals are 2-and-2 and here’s why. The Cards defense recorded its first interception of the season last Sunday. Turnover ratio is so important in the NFL.
The Colts are starting to catch fire. Philip Rivers passed for only 190 yards but had no turnovers in a win over the Bears. Just manage the game, buddy!
Buffalo is one of six teams still without a loss. Stefon Diggs had 6 catches for 115 yards against Las Vegas and is looking like a great off-season acquisition by the Bills. The Raiders appear to be playoff posers.
The reviews on Tom Brady in Tampa are mixed. He threw 5 touchdowns to 5 different receivers as the Bucs rallied back to beat the Chargers on Sunday. Brady and the Bucs then faltered on Thursday night in a tough loss to the Bears. Can someone remind Tom that there’s only four downs?
The Houston Texans are winless and that got Bill O’Brien fired. Don’t expect the Texans to make a call to Dabo Swinney, who coached Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson at Clemson. Swinney makes $9.3 million per season to coach the Tigers. Something tells me he would rather stay in college than coach the Texans. O’Brien has left the Texans in a shambles. Miami owns Houston’s 2021 first and second round picks and suddenly, those selections are looking very appetizing.
The Kansas City Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to start 4-and-0 in four consecutive seasons.
Leftovers – Is CBS Sports ever going to get out of the dark ages and revamp their NFL coverage? The NFL Today show with James Brown, Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason, Nate Burleson, and Phil Simms is close to unwatchable. The forced laughter and innocuous banter is painful to sit through. Whoever is producing that show should be sent out to pasture. It’s sleep-inducing. Works better than Melatonin. When you compare it to the Fox Sports crew or to the NBA halftime coverage on TBS with Shaq and Charles and Kenny Smith, it’s night and day. Can’t understand why anyone would watch the NFL Today on CBS!
The Blue Jays will be shopping for starting pitching on the free agent market this winter. They have Hyun Jin Ryu, Ross Stripling and the underwhelming Tanner Roark under contract in addition to primo prospect Nate Pearson. It remains to be seen if they will try and bring back Taijuan Walker or Robbie Ray who are both headed for free agency. One name that could surface is Ladner’s James Paxton but its buyer-beware with the 32-year old leftie. A knee injury hampered Paxton’s first season with the Yankees. He had back surgery early in 2020 and now he’s dealing with a left forearm flexor strain.
Rest in Peace Whitey Ford. Edward Charles Ford, who died on Friday at the age of 91, played his entire 16-year career with the New York Yankees. He was the best pitcher on the best team during the most dominant era in MLB history. Whitey’s 10 World Series wins are the most by any pitcher. He threw 33 and two-third’s consecutive scoreless innings in World Series play, breaking a record held by Babe Ruth. He also still holds records for World Series starts (22), innings pitched (146) and strikeouts (94). As the story goes, Whitey Ford filed his wedding ring so it had a sharp edge. Each time he needed to get a key strikeout, he would slice the baseball so he could get better movement. You don’t think they cheated back then?
Keep any eye out for Alabama’s John Metchie III who’s having a breakout season for the second-ranked Crimson Tide. The Brampton, Ontario native had 5 catches for 181 yards and 2 touchdowns last weekend in a 52-24 romp over Texas A&M. Metchie was born in Taiwan and lived in Ghana before coming to Canada. He played his high school ball in the U.S. but considers himself Canadian.
Meantime, Edmonton’s Chuba Hubbard has a nice bounce-back game for Oklahoma State as the Cowboys rolled past Kansas 47-7. Hubbard turned in his best performance of the season with 20 carries for 145 yards and 2 TD’s. He had been benched in the previous game after a pair of fumbles.
Late Friday night News Flash: Yankees lose! Yankees lose! Thank God we won’t have another Yankees-Astros ALCS.
Music Videos of the Week – We thought we would offer up a little variety this Thanksgiving weekend to go with the turkey and dressing and Brussel sprouts. We will showcase three brilliant female artists – Nora Jones, Bettye LaVette and Patty Griffin. Here’s Bettye LaVette performing the Dylan tune “Things Have Changed” on a program called Live at eTown.
You may know Patty Griffin from her stint with Robert Plant and the Band of Joy. She is one of the finest female vocalists around today. Here she is performing “Useless Desires” on Austin City Limits.
Here’s Nora Jones taking a turn singing some blues performing “All Your Love” with the Peter Malick Group. Audio only but an outstanding tune.
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