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. Coming up this week, the Jays go meekly into the night. Hockey season is upon us. Are the Canucks playoff-worthy? The 49’ers are world-beaters and we revisit the Ryder Cup.
Blue Jays Notebook – The beat goes on for the Blue Jays in the post-season. They have yet to win a playoff game with Bo Bichette and Vladdy Guererro Jr. in the lineup. Kind of reminds you of another Toronto team. The rival Tampa Bay Rays have won 15 playoff games since the last playoff win by the Blue Jays.
Getting swept to the curb in two straight games for the second year in a row should come with some repercussions but apparently not in Toronto. Sorry, there’s no excuse for pulling Jose Berrios after just 47 pitches against the Twins when his stuff was clearly electric. He had struck out five in three innings and looked as good as he had in any outing this season. Berrios was clearly pumped to be facing his former teammates in the AL wild-card series. If the Jays had such little confidence in Berrios, why in hell did they sign him to a $131 million dollar extension less than two years ago?
The issue is not analytics. It’s poor decision-making based on anal-ytics. Yes, the emphasis is on the anal. The whole scenario was pre-ordained and that’s just wrong. You know the front office had input into the decision to pull Berrios in the fourth inning after a lead-off walk. Yet, there was GM Ross Atkins, in his season-ending media briefing, throwing manager John Schneider under the bus, claiming it was Schneider’s decision alone to make the move. As a great friend said “Atkins is an ass-covering coward.” That about sums it up. Listen, analytics are more important in baseball than in any other sport. But ‘feel’ still matters and the Jays got it all wrong. Not only was it a bad decision but you could tell by the players reaction that it was deflating.
In the post-season, pitching and execution play such a big factor. We’ve talked about the Jays poor baserunning all season. So, what happens? Bo Bichette is thrown out at the plate in Game 1 and then in Game 2, Vladdy Guerrero Jr. is caught napping and gets picked off at second with two runners on in the fifth inning and Bichette at the plate. Inexcusable. After the season Vladdy turned in, do you really want to sign him to a mega-deal? He’s far too nonchalant and may never fulfill the kind of promise a lot of us predicted.
The Jays have now lost six playoff games in a row. They have scored two runs or less in five of them. They blew an 8-1 lead in the other. Against the Twins, the Jays left nine runners on base. They struck out 12 times and they didn’t have a single extra base hit. Do the front office wizards have an explanation for the Jays hitting woes which were an issue throughout the entire season? Atkins put the roster together and completely underestimated the impact of losing Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdis Gurriel Jr. and Gaby Moreno. Oh, but the outfield defense was better!
The Jays will now have all winter to think about the bonehead analytics-based moves and why they keep coming up short in the post-season.
MLB Playoff Notebook – What an incredible season for Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Atlanta Braves. He finished with 41 home runs and 72 stolen bases. He led the National League in 10 offensive categories. Atlanta had five hitters in their lineup with more home runs than any Toronto Blue Jay player. Watching the Braves-Phillies series, does it bother you as much as me that Atlanta has a Canadian GM and the Phillies a Canadian manager? Wouldn’t it be nice to have Alex Anthopoulos back in Toronto with Rob Thomson in the dugout? It hurts even more to see Gabriel Moreno leading the Arizona Diamondbacks playoff charge. That deal, more than anything, should get Ross Atkins fired.
So much for the ballyhooed American League East. The Tampa Rays bit the dust in rapid fashion. By the way, they drew under 20,000 for the series opener against the Texas Rangers. And now, the Baltimore Orioles are on the ropes after dropping the first two games against the Rangers at Camden Yards.
Can anyone explain why Clayton Kershaw is such a basket case in the playoffs? He was lit up by the Diamondbacks in the series opener in Los Angeles. Kershaw’s post-season numbers are very pedestrian for a pitcher of his stature.
Major League Baseball seems to have no mechanism to remove umpire Angel Hernandez. He’s the longest-running joke in baseball. Think Denis Morel, who was the NHL equivalent. If you haven’t seen Hernandez at work, check out this video of some of his worst calls.
Canucks Season Outlook – The Vancouver Canucks are league leaders when it comes to ‘get rich quick’ schemes. Always mortgaging the future for a trip to the playoffs as if that’s the ultimate goal. It’s never been truer than this year with the Canucks management group putting all their chips into play in a frantic chase for the post-season. Projections have the Canucks with about a 50% chance of making the playoffs. In other words, a lot has to go right.
You can talk about roster improvements all you want but playoff teams don’t give up 298 goals. That’s the number surrendered by the Canucks last season. Add in a minus-22 goal differential. Good teams are hard to play against and don’t bleed goals at a rate of 3.63 per game. Couple that with the league’s worst penalty-kill and you’ve got big issues.
It’s really hard to envision the Canucks suddenly becoming even a league-average defensive team based on the personnel changes made in the off-season. A huge bounce-back season for Thatcher Demko is a must. The other big question mark is whether the team can show the kind of defensive structure necessary on a nightly basis. That’s a big IF. Good teams maintain their DNA from game to game. Not sure the Canucks can do that based on recent history. They have a pretty solid forward group but we’re not convinced the blueline is strong enough to survive a long season. Depth is a big concern and it’s already an issue with Carson Soucey sidelined. Fans must cringe to see the team may start the season with Akito Hirose and Noah Juulsen in the third pairing.
If things go the wrong way this season and the Canucks fail to earn a playoff berth, you have to wonder what the future holds. If the team is unable to get Elias Pettersson’s name on a new contract, you would then be at a crossroads. You can’t stay in the mushy middle forever.
Canuck Quick Hitters: It’s looking more and more like Jim Benning’s last big draft gamble, forward Danilo Klimovich, is going to be a swing and miss. Klimovich is a one trick pony and can’t seem to handle the NHL pace. Vasily Podkolzin, who was drafted one pick before Minnesota’s Matthew Boldy, is also struggling and footspeed is again the issue.
Last season, Carson Soucey, Ian Cole and Tyler Myers combined for a minus-14 Offensive Rating. When you look at the makeup of the Canucks back end, outside of Quinn Hughes, where is the offensive push coming from?
When you compare the Canucks size up front to the Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights, you realize why the Canucks are a playoff question mark. The Vegas forward group averages 6-1” and 205 pounds. Canuck forwards average 5-11” and 189 pounds. You can’t give away 15 pounds on average and expect to win a seven- game series.
NHL Notebook – The Eastern Conference is going to be super competitive again this season. Buffalo and Ottawa are ready to take the next step and it’s going to be at someone’s expense. It would not be surprising to see one or both make the playoffs this season. What needs to happen for the Sabres and Senators to make the playoffs? Both teams have to cut down on the goals against. Buffalo gave up 300 goals last season. Ottawa gave up 271. They need to cut down that number significantly. Otherwise, nothing will change.
If either of those teams make the jump, who takes the plunge? The Bruins had a record 135 points last season. Boston would have to take a steep nosedive. We’re talking about a 45-point dip. Can Florida maintain the momentum they created in last year’s playoffs? Can they survive injuries to key blueliners Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour? Both had off-season should surgeries and may not return until December. Are the Maple Leafs a 100-point team or do they end up in a playoff fight? Is Tampa Bay’s playoff streak in jeopardy? Can the Penguins muster one last post-season bid? The New Jersey Devils enjoyed a charmed season but can they do it again with Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid in goal? It’s going to be a season-long battle and you had better be prepared to bring it every night.
The Senators have yet to come to terms with restricted free agent Shane Pinto. Ottawa is up against the salary cap with no room to sign Pinto to the kind of contract he is seeking. The Senators would be crazy to trade him. Right shot centremen are hard to come by. With Josh Norris still not fully recovered from his second should operation, it puts Ottawa in a tough situation to open the season. Placing Norris on LTIR for the first ten games makes the most sense. That would open up cap space to sign Pinto. Signing Norris to an eight-year extension at just under $8 million after one good year was a monumental mistake and the Senators may end up paying a huge price.
Who says you need a top-notch goaltender to win a Stanley Cup? Recent history shows that’s not he case. The Vegas Golden Knights just won a Cup with Adin Hill in net. Colorado won with Darcy Kuemper. The Capitals won with Braden Holtby. What IS required is a big, rugged, deep defense corps. With that in mind, expect Vegas to be right back in the hunt this season. The Colorado Avalanche still have the horses on the back end with Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Bowen Byrum, Josh Manson and Sammy Girard. Carolina boasts a strong blueline featuring Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Brent Burns, Brady Skjei, Dmitry Orlov and Tony Deangelo. This is the formula for a deep playoff run. It’s exactly why the Leafs won’t be a factor and why the Sabres and Senators are headed in the right direction.
If you want to ‘rebuild on the fly’ in the NHL, the model franchise is the Dallas Stars. For the Stars, you can trace it back to the 2017 draft where they landed Norris Trophy calibre defenseman Miro Heiskanen with the third overall pick, then grabbed goalie Jake Oettinger at 26 and star winger Jason Robertson at 39. Add in Roope Hintz who was selected at No. 49 in 2015 and you have the makings of a new core group. However, to make it work, you need to keep the talent flow coming and the Stars have done that with Wyatt Johnson, Logan Stankoven and Lian Bichel.
Seahawks Central – After the beat-down of the Giants in New York, the Seahawks enjoyed an early season bye week. The travel to Cincinnati next Sunday.
For all the credit we give Seahawks GM John Schneider, he’s made a mess of the salary cap. Paying safeties Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams a combined $28.3 this season is a monumental blunder. And that’s not the worst of it. The Hawks re-worked Diggs’ contract before this season to create space but it now means he has a 2024 cap hit of $21.4 million. They also re-worked the Adams contract. He’s now slated to have a cap hit of $26.9 million next season. That’s a staggering $48.1 million tied up in a pair of underperforming safeties. If you add in the contract of safety Julian Love, the number grows to $56.2 million. To get out from under Diggs in the off-season, the Seahawks would have to absorb $10 million in dead cap space. For Adams, the cost will be $20 million. Seattle had better hope they are getting production from the pair. After the opening three weeks of this season, Diggs was ranked 85th among 85 qualifying safeties according to Pro Football Focus. Yes, you read that right! The real question is why would you tie so much money into the safety position in the first place? Why double-down on Diggs and Adams? They should have cut them both this year and got the pain out of the way now. Poor management for a team already carrying over $18 million in dead cap space this season.
The Seahawks have been decimated by injuries to the offensive line early in the season but have somehow made it work. Credit offensive line coach Andy Dickinson. Against the Giants, they played four back-ups and the lone offensive line starter, center Evan Brown, had to move to left guard. Rookies Anthony Bradford and Olu Oluwatimi have been impressive. Stone Forsythe and Jake Curhan have done a serviceable job replacing injured tackles Charles Cross and Abe Lucas.
NFL Notebook – In the NFL, there are measuring stick games almost every week. A week ago, it was Miami at Buffalo. The Dolphins came in riding a high and were quickly handed their lunch by the Bills. Josh Allen finally stepped up in a big game with the first perfect passer rating of his career. And yes, no turnovers. The Bills then go over to London and lay a stinker. So much for Buffalo as a top contender.
Meanwhile, Dallas had a chance to measure up against San Francisco on Sunday night and laid a big fat egg. The Cowboys had yet to face a formidable opponent. Their first four games were against the Giants, Jets, Cardinals and Patriots and they couldn’t even knock off the woebegone Cardinals. Like the Maple Leafs, the Cowboys are always over-hyped. What have we been saying about Dak Prescott? Three interceptions against the 49’ers. The Cowboys will never win with this guy. Full stop.
The 49’ers are 5-and-0 and playing like a juggernaut. Brock Purdy has been a godsend at quarterback after being the last pick of the draft just two years ago. He’s now an MVP frontrunner. Who could have predicted that? Poor quarterback play has plagued the 49’ers for years. The Niners are 13-0 in games in which Purdy has played at least three quarters. They’ve scored 30 or more points in every game so far this season. Average margin of victory is just a tad under 20 points. Purdy has nine touchdown passes and is yet to throw an interception. He’s tops in the league in passing accuracy at 72.1 percent. It’s time to start believing. Purdy is for real.
In the first four games of the season, the New York Giants have been outscored 70-6 in the opening quarter. The Giants gave quarterback Daniel Jones a megadeal in the off-season and it was a monumental mistake. He signed a four-year deal for $160 million with $92 million guaranteed. This is a guy who has 24 fumbles since entering the league in 2019, tops in the NFL. Jones is 1-12 in prime-time games in his career with 18 interceptions. The Giants have scored 3 points in their two home games. Next season, Jones will carry a cap hit of $47,105,000. If the Giants wanted to move on, the dead cap hit would be $69,315,000. In 2025, the dead cap hit will be $22,210,000. I would like to know who thought Jones was worth $40 million a season.
It’s official. The New England Patriots are hapless. The Pats got blown out for the second week in a row. Bill Belichick is no longer a genius. Do you think he misses Tom Brady? Mac Jones is not a reasonable facsimile. No chance Belichick gets fired but the Pats have a long road back to contention.
Last time around, we didn’t get a chance to weigh in on Aaron (4-Snap) Rodgers. So much hype for a guy who hasn’t won anything in 12 years. What made the Jets think he was suddenly going to be their saviour? He lasted four plays before going down for the season with a torn Achilles. Rodgers will have all kinds of time now to ‘find himself’ at some lavish retreat. The Jets, meanwhile, go through quarterbacks like Liberace went through sequined jackets. They are now left to dance with Zach Wilson who’s destined for the graveyard of failed NFL quarterbacks. If he keeps improving, he could be another Mitch Trubisky.
Who is Puka Nachua? The Los Angeles Rams absolutely stole Nacua in the fifth round of this year’s NFL draft and the rookie receiver is quickly becoming a go-to target. Nacua had 39 receptions for 501 yards after the Rams first four games. He turned in a poor 40-time prior to the draft, much like the Seahawks Jake Bobo, which allowed him to slip to the fifth round. Turning out to be a steal.
Abbotsford’s Chase Claypool got his wish to get out of Chicago. Claypool was sent to Miami in a swap of late-round picks. The Bears are a train wreck and Claypool was not shy about letting people know. The Bears gave up a third-round pick to acquire Claypool from Pittsburgh just a year ago. What a waste!
It’s déjà vu all over again for L.A. Chargers head coach Brandon Staley. He gambled and failed on fourth-and-one in his own end of the field in the fourth quarter of a game for the second time this season. This is how players lose the respect of coaches. Shocked he hasn’t been fired. With Dallas, KC, Detroit and Baltimore coming up, Staley may be dead man walking.
C.J. Stroud has looked solid so far this season. The rookie quarterback is repaying the Houston Texans for their faith in starting him early. That’s not the case in Carolina where top overall pick Bryce Young looks overmatched. His size was a huge concern for a lot of teams. Young would be better trying to win the Kentucky Derby.
How long will it be before Sean Payton gives Russell Wilson the yank in Denver? Payton was not happy about a late strip sack on Sunday that nullified any chance of a Donkey comeback against the Jets. Wilson is so unpopular a lot of people are hoping for him to fail.
Ryder Cup Post Mortem – There is a lot to unpack after any Ryder Cup but this edition more than ever. The Americans come off as 12 independent contractors. The Europeans as family. What’s great about the Ryder Cup is, unlike tournament golf, money is not at the center of the conversation.
After being drubbed 19-9 at Whistling Straits two years ago, Team Europe had something to prove and they wasted no time doing just that. Right off the hop, they looked to be more prepared and more focused. They swept the opening day foursomes 4-0 and never looked back. Europe finished 7-1 in the alternate shot sessions and that was the difference in the final result. Europe 16 ½. USA 11 ½. Europe has now won seven straight competitions on European soil dating back to 1997 at Valderrama.
Europe’s top players outplayed the top American players and it wasn’t close. Rory was the top point-getter, going 4-1-0. Jon Rahm was 2-0-2. Viktor Hovland went 3-1-1. The Big Three were 9-2-3 overall, grabbing 10 ½ points. Throw in Tyrrell Hatton (3-0-1) and Tommy Fleetwood (3-1-0) and the picture is clear. The top European guns delivered. Scotty Scheffler, on the other hand, finished 0-2-2 and became the first world number one to fail to win a full point in Ryder Cup history. Sorry Scotty but the top player in the world right now is Viktor Hovland.
Whenever the Americans lose, there’s always reports of a fractured clubhouse. Look closer and you can’t help but wonder who are the leaders. Look at the European side and there’s Rory, Justin Rose, Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood. Europe always seem to have a steady flow of solid captains. Luke Donald did a wonderful job this time around after being named captain, replacing Henrik Stenson who stepped aside after moving to LIV Golf. Rose, at 43, finished 1-1-1 after being the oldest captain’s pick in Ryder Cup history by seven years. You can be sure Rose and Rory will carry on the tradition as captains down the road.
The Europeans are a true team. The are united and seem bonded by culture. There are real friendships. They truly care about each other and it shows in their play. The Americans, meanwhile, just go their separate ways. Who knows, they probably took 12 individual charter flights home.
Ryder Cup Leftovers – Paul Azinger has jumped to the top of the annoying announcer list. This guy is the ultimate apologist. He’s incapable of telling it like it is. Don’t dare criticize any of the American players. Where is Johnny Miller when you need him? At least Johnny would get the knife out now and then. Azinger is just a dweeb.
When Rory McIlroy prepared to tee off on the first hole on Sunday, the Zingster said “I wouldn’t be surprised if Rory shows up a little flat.” He was referring to the dust up with Joe LaCava at the end of the Saturday session when LaCava, waving his cap after a point-clinching putt by Patrick Cantley, continued to celebrate while Rory was lining up a potential tying putt. Azinger, being the dolt he is, completely misread the situation. Rory was very prepared and went on to win his singles match in easy fashion. LaCava was completely out of bounds and if golf had any leadership, he would be been suspended from caddying on the final day of competition. Instead of making excuses for the Americans poor play, Azinger should wake up and credit the Europeans for seizing the moment. LaCava’s antics fuelled the Europeans. Azinger was blind not to see that.
Like most Ryder Cups, class was in short supply for the U.S. team. Justin Thomas takes ‘jackass’ to a whole new level. Brooks Koepka is a complete boor. He called Jon Rahm a ‘baby’ after a four-ball match on Friday. This was after Rahm sank a 35-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole to steal Europe a half point. After blowing off his mouth, Kopeka and Scheffler would be beaten 9 and 7 in the Saturday foursomes, the worst ever defeat in Ryder Cup competition.
You have to second guess Zach Johnson’s decision not to include LIV regulars Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau on this year’s team. They accounted for 7 ½ of the Americans 19 points two years ago with Johnson going 5-0-0. Rickie Fowler was a huge mistake as one of the captain’s picks.
One of the problems for the U.S. team is that some players may not view playing in the Ryder Cup as an honour and a privilege. After blowing key putts in 95’ and 97’ that left to U.S. defeats, Brad Faxon said he let himself down, his team down, his captain down and the United States of American down. That’s understanding the importance of representing your country. Faxon says he’s never really been able to let it go.
Goodbye to Another Legend – No player in NFL history was more feared than Dick Butkus. The legendary Chicago Bears linebacker died last week at the age of 80. Mean and tough don’t come close to describing Butkus. In a video for NFL Films, John Facenda, in typically dramatic fashion, said Butkus played “with a religious fervor, with an unrelenting obsession not only to excel but to dominate and demoralize.”
Butkus dominated all right. He made eight Pro Bowls in his nine-year career cut short by a botched knee surgery. He was first-team All Pro six times. Defensive Player of the Year twice including 1969 when the Bears won just one game. The tragedy is that Butkus never appeared in a playoff game. Just doesn’t seem right.
Off the field, as contributor Bill Myles noted, Butkus became a celebrity TV pitchman which opened the door for athlete endorsements. In 1970, appearing in a Prestone antifreeze commercial during Super Bowl IV, Butkus had a chance to use a very fitting tagline: “Because plugging holes is my business.” The commercial helped launch what would become today’s norm – star athletes in commercials during football’s biggest game of the year.
Leftovers – In a poll conducted by ESPN, NBA executives named the Toronto Raptors as the team who had the most disappointing off-season. One move the Raptors didn’t make, and we’re glad they didn’t, is acquire erstwhile point guard Damian Lillard from the Portland Trailblazers. Lillard, instead, was dealt to the Milwaukee Bucks to team with Gianni Antetokounmpo. The Bucks should be Eastern Conference favourites along with the Boston Celtics who benefitted from the deal by landing Jrue Holiday, one of the pieces sent to Portland in the Lillard deal.
We were broken up to learn that a Florida judge has dismissed the defamation lawsuits launched by obnoxious golfer Patrick Reed. He was seeking $1 billion dollars in damages against various media. Back in 2018, Reed filed a $750 million dollar lawsuit against the Golf Channel and analyst Brandel Chamblee. He later filed another $250 million dollar suit against the Associated Press and Fox Sports. In both cases, Reed claimed coverage attacked his character. Character? What character would that be? Would it have anything to do with Reed’s cheating incidents? Perhaps accusations he stole from teammates during his college career? There’s no truth to the rumour that the judge, in dismissing the lawsuit, said – “Case dismissed. Please check and make sure you still have your wallet on the way out.”
BioSteel, the Canadian sports drink company, has filed for creditor protection. Ontario-based Canopy Growth, the largest cannabis company in North America, has ceased funding the company. They had taken over BioSteel in 2019 in a bid to diversify their holdings. BioSteel grew quickly as a result of marketing deals with numerous NHL players including Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon and more recently, top NHL draft pick Connor Bedard. BioSteel is an NHL sponsor and reportedly still owes the NHL $9 million dollars.
Another Neanderthal Western Hockey League coach has been booted to the curb. The Wenatchee Wild have fired coach Kevin Constantine for what was termed ‘derogatory comments of a discriminatory nature.’ It should come as no surprise. This is a coach who was fined and suspended in 2006 for excessively punishing players. After a loss while coaching the Everett Silvertips, Constantine ordered the players to remain in their gear for a post-game meal and a four-hour bus ride back to Everett. Constantine can join Bill Peters and Mike Babcock for a group chat.
The Sphere – The big story in the entertainment world this week is the opening of the new $2.3 billion dollar MSG Sphere in Las Vegas. The building seats over 18,000. U2 was the first act to perform. If you haven’t seen the eye-popping structure, check out the link below.
The Wrecking Crew – The Wrecking Crew was a loose collective of Los Angeles–based session musicians whose services were employed for a great number of studio recordings in the 1960s and 1970s, including hundreds of Top 40 hits. The musicians were not publicly recognized in their era, but were viewed with reverence by industry insiders. They are now considered one of the most successful and prolific session recording units in music history. Check out their story in this outstanding documentary.
Spotify Tracks of the Month – A few tunes to pass along this week. Joe Bonamassa is one of the most prolific artists around today. He’s pumping out albums one after another and appearing on dozens of other recordings as a feature guitarist. His latest is called Blues Deluxe Vol. 2. Have a listen to ‘The Truth Hurts’ featuring Kirk Fletcher.
Joan Osbourne does a nice job reprising the classic ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ off her release Breakfast in Bed.
Patty Griffin is back with Home Recordings and Rarities featuring former beau Robert Plant. Have a listen to ‘Don’t Mind.’
In 2016, Shawn Colvin and Steve Early teamed up on an album entitled Colvin and Earle. We recommend checking out the track ‘Tell Moses.’
Quebec native Ray Bonneville, who lives now in Austin, Texas, has a new album out called On the Blind Side. We recommend two tracks – ‘Lucky Moon’ and ‘Never Get the Love Thing Right.’
Bob Corritore is one of the top blues harmonica players. He has a new release called Somebody Put Bad Luck On Me. There are several good tunes on the album including ‘I’m As Good As Gone’ featuring Bobby Rush and ‘I Need A Whole Lotta Lovin.’
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