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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Contributing Editor Bill Morphy. This week, we scan the landscape one week after NHL free agency and see where it leaves the Canucks. The Seahawks hit the bye week unbeaten, and MLB prepares for an Astro-sized embarrassment. 

Canucks Notebook – On Thanksgiving weekend there were a lot of Canuck fans who were ready to carve up Jim Benning. A full-scale exodus was underway with Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, Tyler Toffoli and Troy Stecher all finding new addresses. However, when the dust had cleared, things didn’t appear so grim. All it took for the wolves to stop howling was the trade with Vegas for defenseman Nate Schmidt. Two years from now Canuck fans may be applauding Benning’s fiscal restraint. Let’s review and see where this leaves the team.

Schmidt was acquired for the bargain price of a 2022 third round pick. However, you can’t say he came cheap. Schmidt has five years left on a deal he signed just last season that carries a $5.95 million dollar cap hit. The good news is, although Schmidt is left-handed, he is comfortable playing on the right side where the Canucks have a cavernous hole. He should fit nicely with either Quinn Hughes on the top pair or with Alex Edler on a strong second pairing. Schmidt is an outstanding puck-driving defenseman so there’s a good chance he will remain in the top four for the life of the contract. He’ll be happy to rejoin an old Capitals teammate, goalie Braden Holtby, in Vancouver.

It was apparent the Canucks never came close to signing Markstrom. It had to be painful to see him fly to a division rival but neither the dollars nor the term were going to work. The numbers on Tanev were not in the ballpark either. The Flames took a huge risk in giving Tanev four years at $4.5 million per. He’s played 70 games once in his career and do you really think he will stay injury-free for the next four seasons? Toffoli was also a victim of the Canucks cautionary approach.

When you do the math the decision to walk away from Markstrom, Tanev and Toffoli was the only option. It was absolutely necessary and provides the Canucks with much-needed financial flexibility. Looks at what they were facing. The dead weight on the roster was killing them. Eriksson, Sutter, Baertschi, Roussel, Beagle, Ferland and Benn, in addition to the Ryan Spooner buy-out and the Luongo recapture penalty is costing the Canucks $29,310,211 against the cap this season. And we don’t need to remind anyone what the team is receiving from the entire lot. Fortunately, that number will drop to $18,535,212 next season but it’s still onerous. The Canucks have no choice but to look ahead to when a more realistic competitive window opens. The only players on the roster signed beyond 2022-23 are Horvat, Miller and Ferland up front and Myers and Schmidt on the back end. The following year, it’s just Myers and Schmidt. This will open up all kinds of opportunity for the Canucks even when you take into account extensions for Pettersson and Hughes. It’s fiscally responsible to clean up the mess now.

In the meantime, the task for Benning is to find creative ways to get out from under some of the $29 million in excess baggage. If he wants to continue to upgrade the roster, he will have to start shedding some of those contracts, one way or another.

Next on the docket for Benning is the arbitration hearing for Jake Virtanen on October 28. If it reaches that point, once a settlement is awarded, the Canucks will be afforded a 48-hour buyout window. Don’t be surprised if the Canucks use it to buyout the final year of Brandon Sutter’s $4.375 million dollar contract, opening up additional cap space. There are still a few unsigned free agents out on the market who may interest the Canucks including Erik Haula, Dominik Kahun, Michael Grabner and Sami Vatanen, if the money is there.

NHL Notebook – The prospect of an all-Canadian division when NHL play resumes definitely has legs. Commissioner Gary Bettman has already stated he would like the 2020-2021 season to begin on January 1 and its unlikely the border between Canada and the U.S. will be open by then. An all-Canadian division with seven teams would leave 24 U.S. teams that could be split into three other divisions. Makes perfect sense and you can bet it would be warmly received by Canadian hockey fans. Many would probably hope to see it made permanent. You can also bet the games would be ultra-competitive.

When Bill Foley landed an NHL team in Las Vegas, he vowed to win a Stanley Cup within six years. The Knights owner can be praised for being uber-aggressive but his methodology is fast becoming reckless. After reaching the Cup final in their first season, Foley insisted on signing FA centre Paul Stastny. Then he had to have Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty when they became available. Both were lavished with costly new contract extensions with no movement clauses. The Knights were also in hot pursuit of Erik Karlsson. Fast forward to today and Foley has corralled the prize of this year’s free agent pool in defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.

The Golden Knights win-now approach may well come back to bite them. They shipped out Nate Schmidt one year after signing him to a 6-year contract. Stastny was also sent packing. Vegas is now heavily cap-strapped and there is talk they are trying to move Pacioretty.  As Brian Burke pointed out this week, “Your credibility goes out the window if you are going to give players long-term deals and then quit on them after one or two years. Guys will stop going there as a free agent destination if they realize two years in they’re going to get chopped.”

Did you catch where Burke has criticized Jonathan Toews for speaking out against the Black Hawks trade of Brandon Saad to Colorado? With three Stanley Cup rings, I think Toews has earned the right to speak his mind. Whenever it comes to commenting on NHL general managers or the NHL league office, two fraternities that Burke has been a part of, you know where his allegiances lie. Burke is just a barnacle on the side of the NHL ship.

We are starting to see the financial impact of COVID-19 on NHL owners. Multiple employees of the Dallas Stars have been furloughed for the second time this year. BC-born Stars owner Tom Gaglardi made his fortune in the hotel and restaurant business here in Canada and both sectors have been rocked by the pandemic. Gaglardi also owns the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers. It’s unfortunate because reaching the Cup final in a normal year would have been very profitable for the Stars.

Ken Holland had better hope that the Oilers two big free agent signings rebound next season. In case he didn’t notice, Tyson Barrie and Kyle Turris were not very good last year. I never like signings where you are banking on players turning their careers around. Do you really think the Oilers can take a step forward with Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith in goal?

The off-season has not exactly gone well for the Boston Bruins to date. It looks like two-thirds of their top line will start the season on the sidelines.  David Pastrnak is not expected to play until mid-February after surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip.  Brad Marchand had an operation to repair a sports hernia and won’t be ready until at least mid-January. With the loss of Torey Krug on defense, the Bruins may look very ordinary next season.

As first glance, it was odd to see Taylor Hall land in Buffalo. He had stated he wanted to play for a winner. That won’t happen with the Sabres but for $8 million on a one-year deal, it makes sense. Hall will get to play with a great centre in Jack Eichel and will be reunited with former Oilers coach Ralph Krueger.

Let’s do the math on the Canadiens recent spending spree. Brendan Gallagher – 6 years, $39 million. Tyler Toffoli – 4 years, $17 million. Josh Anderson – 7 years, $38.5 million. A total of $94.5 million for three right-wingers. Somebody should tell Marc Bergevin that you don’t construct a team around wingers. Spend your money on centres, defensemen and goalies. Kind of like building up the middle in baseball. You heard it here first. That Gallagher contract won’t age well. With his history of concussions, the Canadiens will be lucky to get two good years out of him.

Fire up the parade plans! The Maple Leafs have signed Joe Thornton who is over in Davos playing in the Swiss League. Who’s next?  Mud Bruneteau? The Leafs should have also signed Patrick Marleau and along with Thornton and Jason Spezza, they could have wheeled out an all-geriatric line. With those guys they could have won the Cup – in 2005!

Seahawks Sunday – Another game.  Another comeback win for the Seahawks. The only regret is the 12’s weren’t around to enjoy it. Before the season even began, football analysts insisted the Seahawks could not continue to win close games. They went 10-2 last season in games decided by 8 points or less. They won six games after trailing at halftime. Their point differential was 7 points, unheard for a team with an 11-and-5 record. It had to change. The margin for error was unsustainable they said.  Well, apparently not. After the last-second win over the Vikings, the 5-0 Seahawks who are 4-0 in games decided by one score or less (eight points or fewer).

The win over the Vikings was about as bizarre as it gets. The defense gave up 449 yards including 201 yards rushing. The Vikings had nearly double the time of possession. The Seahawks were 0-for-7 on third down yet somehow found a way to win the game. Why?  Russell Wilson, of course. Wilson fashioned a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime for the 34th time since the 2012 season. He took the Seahawks 94 yards in the final minute and a half and capped it off with a 6-yard strike to DK Metcalf with 15 seconds remaining. And he did it in the driving rain. Final score Seattle 27 Minnesota 26. The Seahawks are now 5-0 for the first time in club history. Wilson has 19 touchdown passes in five games. Metcalf had two scores including the game-winner and is rapidly emerging as a monster talent. He’s averaging 99.2 yards per game, 22.5 yards per reception (best in the league) and has eight receptions of at least 20 yards. After 21 games in his young career, Metcalf has numbers equaling Julio Jones and Calvin Johnson.

The defense continues to give up huge tracks of landscape yet seems to come up with big plays at just the right time. According to ESPN Stats, the 2,356 yards Seattle has given up are the most by any team through five games since the 1950 Colts. The one saving grace has been the Seahawks ability to force turnovers. They are tied for second in the NFL with 10. As bad as the Hawks pass defense has been it’s important to note that their starting backfield of – Jamal Adams, Quandre Diggs, Quinton Dunbar, Shaquill Griffin — have played just 77 total snaps together so far this season, roughly the equivalent of one game.

KJ Wright’s one-handed interception in the second half was the big momentum shifter. The game-winning drive would never have happened if the defense hadn’t stopped the Vikings on fourth down at their own six yard line. It makes you wonder if Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer would have settled for a field goal and an 8-point lead if there had been fans in the stands. Something tells me he wouldn’t have gambled on fourth down.  The Seahawks now head into a bye week before travelling to Arizona on October 25. The defense could get as many as four bodies back when they play again plus recently signed run-stuffer Damon Harrison. The Seahawks have allowed 25+ points in each of their past ten home games so there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

NFL Week 5 Takeaways – What can you say about Steelers rookie receiver Chase Claypool?  The 22-year old from Abbotsford was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week after scoring 4 touchdowns in the Steelers win over the Eagles which kept Pittsburgh unbeaten. Claypool is the first rookie since at least 1950 to catch 3 touchdowns and run for another in a single game. At 6’4” and 238 pounds, he’s a DK Metcalf clone with an equally promising future.

Pity poor Alex Smith. He made his first appearance for Washington since his gruesome leg injury back in November, 2018. He underwent 17, yes 17 surgeries to repair the right tibia and fibula. At one point, it looked like they would have to amputate his leg. He came on in relief at quarterback against the Rams on Sunday and was sacked six times. His teammates should be embarrassed to look the guy in the face. Washington surrendered 8 sacks in the game. Rams mauler Aaron Donald alone had 4 and now has 7½ after 5 games. If the NFL could remove Jerry Richardson as owner of the Carolina Panthers, they surely have enough on Daniel Snyder to remove him as owner of the Washington Football Club. That team is an embarrassment.

It didn’t take quarterback Dwayne Haskins long to wear out his welcome in Washington. One year after being selected in the first round, 15th overall out of Ohio State, Haskins has been benched and it’s doubtful he will earn back a starting job. There were questions about his maturity when he was drafted and now we know why. Haskins was reportedly bragging after passing for 300 yards following Washington’s 31-17 loss to the Ravens two weeks ago. Needless to say, his teammates were not impressed. You may recall last year, the Redskins couldn’t find Haskins when they wanted to insert him into a game. He was found signing autographs near the stands while the game was in progress. Another case of a team getting enamored with a player’s physical make-up while ignoring what’s upstairs.

You have to wonder about the future of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott who suffered a gruesome leg injury in the Cowboys last-minute win over the Giants. Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of the right ankle – meaning his bone pierced through the skin. He was enjoying a career year and on track to break Peyton Manning’s all-time single season passing record. Dak will have plenty of time to second-guess the wisdom of turning down a five-year, $177 million dollar contract offer. He took a one-year franchise tag instead and will probably never recoup that money. I’ve heard of ‘betting on yourself’ but that was downright idiotic. When you are offered a much money as Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, you should sign on the dotted line. The Cowboys are not likely to offer him another long-term deal and will likely bring him back on a one-year franchise tag of $38 million.

What has happened to the San Francisco 49’ers? They suffered their third straight home loss to open the season and to Miami no less. When you get blown out 43-17 at home to the Dolphins, you know you have problems. Jimmy Garoppolo threw two horrible first half interceptions and was benched for the second half. The Niners are now 2-3 and in last place in the NFC West. What’s more, they host the Rams on Sunday night.

The Las Vegas Raiders posted a signature win by knocking off the Chiefs in Kansas City, ending the Chiefs franchise-record 13-game winning streak. Derek Carr actually looked like a NFL-quality quarterback in that game.

Let’s hold off on the coronation of the Buffalo Bills. They went on the road and laid a dinosaur-sized egg against the Tennessee Titans. We can put a stop to any MVP talk around Bills QB Josh Allen. Let’s see how they do this weekend when the Bills host the Chiefs.

The Atlanta Falcons cleaned house after another spirit-crushing loss to the Carolina Panthers. It’s never a good thing if you start last season 0-and-7 then do 0-and-5 to open this season. Former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was let go after six years. General Manager Tom Dimitroff, who attended the University of Guelph, was also removed. Dimitroff was hired in 2008 and was one of the longest-tenured GM’s in the league. It’s been all downhill for the Falcons since squandering a 28-3 lead to the Patriots in the 2017 Super Bowl.

America wanted college football during the pandemic and look where that’s left them. The college football season has created a COVID-19 inferno of positive cases in addition to a plethora of cancelled or postponed games. Schools showed no ethics whatsoever when they permitted practices and games while campuses were shut down. What do you think will happen when you parade 150-200 athletes and staff to road games throughout the country?  Alabama head coach Nick Saban got a reality check this week when word surfaced that he had contracted the virus. You would expect more from institutions of higher learning but apparently not.  In the U.S., football is more important than protecting people’s lives.

All-Paternity Team – The number of professional athletes who have had children out of wedlock is shocking. Many have been the subject of paternity-related lawsuits. In the NBA alone, the list is lengthy and includes some of the game’s biggest stars – Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Gary Payton, Scottie Pippen and Isiah Thomas. There are scores of others who are supporting out-of-wedlock children but have not yet been the subject of litigation. Remember Latrell Sprewell who during contract negotiations uttered the famous line “I have family to support.” He had three kids by three different women before he turned 21.

You may be wondering who may be the all-time leader when it comes to fathering children. Well, there’s plenty of company. Legendary Brazilian soccer player Garrincha is said to have fathered 14 children. How many mamas he snagged in the process is unknown. NBA Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy holds the unofficial record for illegitimate children (14) with the most women (9). At one point, Murphy faced molestation charges from five of his daughters (all of which he was later acquitted of). What’s most shocking is Murphy was still selected to be part of the NBA’s mentoring program. Then there’s the case of NFL defensive back Antonio Cromartie. To date, Cromartie has fathered 12 kids with 9 women. He became a cause celeb during a taping of HBO’s Hard Knocks where he’s shown struggling to list the names all of his kids. Even after having a vasectomy after fathering his 11th child, it didn’t stop his sperm from inseminating three more women.

It’s not uncommon to see boxers prolong their careers due to financial problems brought on by child support payments. Evander Holyfield fathered 11 kids with 8 women and is now struggling financially. Who would have thought? Muhammad Ali had 9 kids with 5 women. Mike Tyson has 8 kids with an unknown number of women. Oscar de la Hoya, who had 6 children with 4 women, was hit with a $62 million dollar paternity suit by his girlfriend at the time after she saw him escorting another woman down the aisle at the Latin Grammy Awards.

Our All-Paternity team also includes former NFL running back Travis Henry (11 children/10 women). He’s now broke and owes $170,000 a year in child support. Former NBA forward Jason Caffey made an estimated $28 million during his career. He’s bankrupt and facing multiple child support suits. Former NFL running back Willis McGahee (9 children/8 women) fathered 3 kids in two years while playing with the Bills. Clearly not enough to do in Buffalo. Who can forget Shawn Kemp of the Seattle Sonics? Officially he fathered 7 children with 6 women but it now appears those numbers were low. It’s more like 11 and 9. Former NBA all-star Kenny Anderson (7 children/5 women) made $63 million during his career. He’s now bankrupt. Former NFL defensive back Bennie Blades (6 children/6 women) has reportedly used up all of his NFL pension to pay child support.

ESPN produced a 30 for 30 documentary several years ago called “Broke (Don’t Trust These B*itches)” To say the least, it was rather revealing about how some women target pro athletes and their money.  Definitely worth watching.

MLB Playoff Notebook – It’s an outright mockery of a travesty of a sham of a farce that the Houston Astros are even competing in the playoffs. Any league with a tiny degree of integrity would have suspended them from post-season play for at least one season in wake of the sign-stealing scandal.  But here we are with the Astros forcing a game seven in the ALCS. If the Astros make the World Series, or even worse, win the World Series, Rob Manfred will get what he deserves…and that’s egg all over his face.

How can you not cheer for the Tampa Rays? The Rays had the 28th highest payroll in baseball this year at $28 million. Over the past five years, the Rays payroll has ranked 28th twice, 29th once and 30th twice. The New York Yankees by comparison were the highest at $113 million which was actually very low for the Yanks considering previous seasons. Yet the Rays just keep on winning and may yet reach the World Series.

Who is Randy Arozarena?The Rays never seem to lose a trade. Any GM would be advised to stay clear of them in any trade discussions. Cuba’s Randy Arozarena, the breakout star of the post-season, came over in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals last winter. He was signed by the Cards as an undrafted free agent from the Mexican League. Arozarena is hitting over .417 in the playoffs with a .896 slugging percentage and a 1.357 OPS. Did we mention he also has 6 home runs? With his combination of power and speed, he is emerging as one of the most exciting players in the game.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have tried to spend their way to a World Series for years yet they haven’t won a title since 1988, the year Kirk Gibson hit the famous home run. Clayton Kershaw is a great pitcher and a potential Hall of Famer but when is he going to deliver in the playoffs?  He was scratched for game two of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves with back spasms. If you want to call yourself a great pitcher, you have to step up when the stakes are highest. Kershaw returned to pitch on Thursday night and the results were predictable. The longtime Dodgers ace faltered at the start of the sixth inning, allowing three straight hits before watching the Braves cruise to a 10-2 victory.  For Kershaw, it was his 12th post-season loss, the most in Dodgers club history. His career playoff ERA is now 4.31.

In case you haven’t noticed, Alex Anthopoulos has done an outstanding job since taking over as GM and President of Baseball Operations in Atlanta. He’s made a number of smart free agent acquisitions to supplement the young group of players he inherited. One of his best moves was picking up catcher Travis d’Arnaud who has blossomed into one of the best two-way receivers in the game. d’Arnaud has gone full circle with Anthopoulos.  You will remember he was dealt by the Jays in the ill-fated deal with the Mets for R.J. Dickey that also included flame-throwing Noah Syndergaard.

Nearly a dozen major league umpires opted out this season because of the corona virus and we are seeing the impact in these playoffs. It’s made for very inconsistent strike zones.  Some of the umpires assigned during this year’s post-season have no business working playoff games.

It was always amazing to me that Billy Beane stayed in Oakland for as long as he did. The subject of ‘Moneyball’ was the A’s top executive for 23 years, often making chicken salad out of chicken s*it. It appears as though Beane is on the verge of a major career move. Beane is at the center of a monster deal via a company he’s involved in called RedBall Acquisition Corp., which will reportedly merge with the parent company of the Boston Red Sox and Premier League champion Liverpool. According to the Wall Street Journal, if completed Beane will leave the A’s and head up the company. Under the deal, John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox, will sell 25 percent of Fenway Sports Group to Redball Acquisition. Beane is co-chairman of Redball and MLB rules prohibit him from having a stake in the Red Sox while remaining with the A’s.

Golf Notebook – Canada’s Brooke Henderson posted a two-over 72 in the final round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, missing out on another great opportunity at a major. Brooke was in second place heading into the final round on Sunday following a brilliant bogey-free 65 in round three. South Korea’s Sei Young Kim fired a final round 63 in winning her first major.

A couple of Canadians faded badly in final round play at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas. Michael Gligic had a 1-over 72 and dropped 13 spots to T27. Adam Hadwin carded a 3-over 74 and plummeted 25 spots to T34. Had to be disappointing for Hadwin who fired a 62 in the third round to move into the top ten.

It was announced this week that #1-ranked Dustin Johnson has contracted the coronavirus. I’m sure that makes Wayne Gretzky happy! We suspect Johnson will be back for the Masters next month (Nov. 12-15) but I wouldn’t want to be his playing partner. The PGA Tour has now had 15 positive cases of COVID-19.

Bryson DeChambeau is taking heat from fellow PGA Tour players for his prodigious length. DeChambeau returned to competition at the Shriners event and averaged over 350 yards off the tee in the opening round. It prompted England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick to say he’s making a mockery of the game. “He’s in the rough and miles ahead and just hitting wedges everywhere,” said Fitzpatrick. “When he’s on, there’s no point is there?” Fitzpatrick is urging the USGA and the R&A to reduce the technology helping players gain yardage. In Las Vegas, DeChambeau tested a 48-inch driver that he may use to overpower Augusta.

Leftovers – Let’s give Lebron James his due. After leading the Lakers to their 17th title in franchise history, Lebron now has four championship rings with three different teams. He was named Finals MVP after almost posting a triple-double for the entire series.  Lebron averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 8.5 assists while shooting 59.1 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from three-point range.

The NBA has to be concerned with the TV ratings from this year’s NBA Final. A year ago, the Raptors-Warriors final drew an average of 18.4 million viewers. This year’s final between the Lakers and Heat drew roughly 5.6 million per game. You don’t think sponsors and advertisers took notice?

Joe Morgan RIP. Let’s pay tribute to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame second baseman who passed away recently. Joe’s 1975 and 1976 seasons were historically great. He led the National League in OPS both seasons including a 1.020 mark in ’76. In those two seasons combined, Morgan scored 220 runs and drove in 205. He walked 246 times and struck out only 93 times. He grounded into only 5 double plays. He stole 127 bases and was caught only 19 times. Oh yes, he won a Gold Glove both years. Those Reds teams were among the greatest ball clubs of all time and their best player those two seasons was undoubtedly Joe Morgan.

Music Video of the Week – Robben Ford is one of the finest, most versatile guitar players in the world. Just a great artist that I have long admired. His career includes a stint with Miles Davis (you know that’s a badge of honour) as well as Tom Scott and the L.A. Express. An acclaimed session man, Ford has worked with Joni Mitchell, George Harrison, Bonnie Raitt, Barbara Streisand, Bob Dylan, Little Feat and scores of others. Here he is performing “Nothing for Nobody.”

Here’s Robben performing “Lovin’ Cup” at the 2016 Dallas International Guitar Show. As you will notice, he’s got a very underrated voice as well.

Robben Ford is a phenomenal improvisational guitar player. Check him out in a solo performance playing “12 Bar Blues”.

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