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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Co-Editor Bill Morphy and contributions from Jordan Moss. This week, Jim Bob’s messy roster moves, plus NHL notes, baseball post-season, Russ goes down and Phonzie’s gorgeous goal.

Benning Brilliance – It’s about time we all came to a consensus and agreed the Benning era in Vancouver has been an unmitigated disaster. The front office handling of roster moves prior to the start of this season was somewhere between shortsighted and downright incompetent. Jim Benning is the master of waiting too long on players to develop instead of proactively moving them before you have a depreciated asset.

Why hold a training camp when you release two players who were among the best players in camp? Speaking of Jonah Gadjovich and Phil Di Giuseppe who, based on their performance, earned spots in the lineup. Zack MacEwen was waived and picked by the Flyers. Instead of working young players into the lineup, the Canucks chose to keep pint-sized Nic Petan and a pair of 31-year-olds, Justin Dowling and Alex Chiasson. Go figure! In this same ill-fated week, the Canucks trade Olli Juolevi so they can acquire Abbottsford native Noah Juulsen just so he can now play in his hometown. Goodbye to the fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft. Benning admitted this week that the Canucks made a mistake when they prioritized positional need in selecting Juolevi. Thanks for letting us know Jim!  They ended up waiving Juolevi to basically keep Brad Hunt and Kyle Burroughs. Are you kidding me? For all the bluster around Jim Benning’s draft acumen, we have now seen Virtanen, Lind, Gadjovich, MacEwen and Juolevi all exit the building within a matter of days. Weren’t they all supposed to be important support pieces as the Canucks built a Stanley Cup champion? All gone with sweet diddly in return unless you are counting the immortal Juho Lammikko. You couldn’t get a fourth round pick for any of the young kids who were cut loose? It’s asset management at its worst. Travis Green should not go without criticism. He’s fine with playing high picks like Hughes and Pettersson but he seems unwilling to work any young players into the bottom half of the lineup. To top it all off, the front office completely misread Travis Hamonic’s intentions and ended up having to waive him just a few days before the start of the regular season.

In looking at the Canucks roster, what’s most concerning is there is little size and toughness in this year’s lineup. Wait until the Flames hit town with Matthew Tkachuk, Milan Lucic, Tyler Pitlick and Brett Ritchie. We’ll see how that works out. Who’s going to fight when other teams take liberties? Luke Schenn and Alex Chiasson?

Here’s a novel idea. Send Benning and his sidekick John Weisbrod to Abbotsford and elevate Ryan Johnson to GM in Vancouver. Out with the month-old yogurt and in with the fresh probiotic. Did we mention that Johnson was reportedly pissed when the Canucks waived Gadjovich, who was subsequently snapped up by San Jose? Johnson was the only member of the front office who realized Gadjovich is one of those players who won’t be denied. Gadjovich has improved every off-season and continues to grow his game. He leaned out this summer and looks like he is going to find a way to earn an NHL spot come hell or high water. Once again, player development is not linear. It takes time. Smart teams know that.

Which brings us to the case of Gustav Forsling. The Canucks drafted Forsling in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, Benning’s first year at the helm. The kid immediately made a strong impression. Sure, he was small for a defenseman but he showed a high hockey IQ. What did Benning do? He traded him to Chicago for the long-forgotten Adam Clendening. Forsling never made a huge impact with some bad Blackhawk teams. After being dealt to Florida, Forsling has flourished and is now playing in the top four for a Panther team that some are predicting will win the Cup this season. Call it what you want but it’s another example of horrible asset management, a Benning trademark.

Prediction:  The Canucks will go as far as Demko and the top-9 forward group take them because its doubtful team defence will be their calling card.

Final thought from a great friend and devoted Canuck fan and I quote, “Is Jim Benning not the worst public-speaking GM in the NHL? The guy is a public relations nightmare.” Hard to argue with that! If I hear Benning say “he’s a big part of our group” one more time, I’m going to gag!

NHL Notebook – If you are looking for Calder Trophy candidates for this season, there are several names that stand out. Cole Caufield of the Canadiens. Goalie Spencer Knight of the Florida Panthers. Trevor Zegras of the Anaheim Ducks. Maybe Vasily Podkolzin of the Canucks.

However, there’s a few others who surprised everyone by making opening night rosters. Centre Cole Sillinger has earned a spot in the Columbus lineup between Patrik Laine and Jakub Voracek. Sillinger was the 12th overall pick in the 2021 draft. Hendrix Lapierre has made a big impression in Washington and is taking advantage of the absence of Nik Backstrom. Lapierre went 22nd overall. Feisty forward Jake Neighbours has battled his way into the St. Louis Blues lineup. Third overall pick, Mason McTavish, has already scored his first NHL goal in Anaheim. William Eklund, this year’s number seven pick, is another first-year player who’s walked right into the St. Jose lineup.

Seven years for #7. Finally getting Brady Tkachuk under contract is such a massive plus for the Ottawa Senators. Tkachuk is arguably one of the ten most impactful players in the NHL. He can influence a game in so many ways. Just think how good the Senators are going to be when Jake Sanderson and all the other kids arrive. This team is going to be GOOD!

The Toronto Maple Leafs are already feeling the salary cap pinch. The groin injury to goalie Petr Mrazek forced the Leafs to call up University of Toronto goalie Alex Bishop to back-up Jack Campbell on Saturday night. Since the Leafs are so tight against the cap, they cannot call up Michael Hutchinson until Sunday when they can open the necessary cap space. Despite the Leafs incompetence, this is not a good look for the league.   If you watched the Amazon Prime documentary on the Maple Leafs – All or Nothing – you could not help but come away thinking Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe is about as bright as a bag of hockey pucks. He makes the guy on the porch with the banjo in Deliverance look like the Jeopardy champion. Sure, F-bombs are standard language in a dressing room but c’mon, do you have to mix in a half dozen every time you open your mouth? I said it before and I will say it again, if Lou Lamoriello was still with the Leafs, there’s not a hope in hell he would have ever hired Keefe. Keefe is a Dubas crony from the Sault and that’s where he should have stayed. Can you imagine where the Leafs would be if Lou had stuck around and hired Barry Trotz?

Veteran defenseman Drew Doughty sent a very clear message to Team Canada GM Doug Armstrong with four assists in the Kings opening night win over Vegas. Don’t forget about me when you are pulling names for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing!

During the 2018-2019 season, the year in which they won the Stanley Cup, the St. Louis Blues had 22 players on their roster who were Canadian. You don’t think that matters? The Canucks currently have one regular in their lineup, Bo Horvat, who was drafted and developed by the organization.

Whatever happened to Matt Duchene? Did he enter the witness protection program? The guy is stealing $8 million per season in Nashville and doing sweet- dick-all. Career earnings of $61.4 mil. Where are all the people who slammed the Senators when they traded him? The Preds are on the hook for this year and four more.

The Off-Season Script – Money should not be an issue for the Blue Jays this off-season. The 2021 opening day roster came in at $135 million. Additions during the season brought the payroll to $150 million. That’s $53 million less than the Yankees and $34 million less than the Red Sox. But make no mistake, the Jays should not be aiming at those teams. They need to set their sights on the Tampa Rays who finished nine games ahead of the Jays this season. Forget about wild-card races. The Jays need to figure out what they need to do to grab top spot in the division. 

Any off-season improvement starts with pitching. If both Robbie Ray and Steven Matz depart in free agency, that’s two starting spots to replace. Nate Pearson will be asked to fill one but those are big shoes to fill. The Jays used 38 pitchers this season so that tells you all you need to know. You can never have enough arms. The bullpen woes are well chronicled so expect the Jays to load up on relief pitchers wherever they can find them.

While the gap between the Jays and Rays may not seem that wide, when you have a run differential of +183 and still finish nine games out, something is missing. You can point to the bullpen but there were too many defensive lapses and the lineup tilts far too right-handed. Better defense and more lineup balance would go a long way to improving the Jays fortunes. You can be sure they will be looking for hitters with plate discipline and a high on-base percentage. A fulltime third baseman is probably on the wish list. The opening day 2022 roster is sure to look different. There’s no reason to believe it won’t be better.

MLB Playoffs – It’s hard to watch the American League Championship series when you have the cheating Houston Astros on one side of the diamond and the Boston Red Sox, managed by another confessed cheater, Alex Cora. The Series is tied 1-1 and it’s shocking the Red Sox have advanced this far with such shoddy starting pitching. The Sox have played six games so far in the post-season and they have just 18 innings from their starters. Of course, the Red Sox can bop with the best of them. Kike Hernandez has been the playoff batting hero so far. He’s hitting .500 with four doubles, four home runs, eight RBI’s and seven runs scored. Did we mention he’s been outstanding in center? This from a guy who hit .208 in September. That’s why the MLB post-season is so unpredictable.

You have to feel for the San Francisco Giants. They won 109 games this season and then had their season end on a bad call on a checked swing. It seems unfair when there was clear video evidence that the hitter didn’t go around.

Baseball fans in Canada can take great pride in the fact that Canadians hold top positions with three of the four National League playoff teams. Doug Melvin is a Senior Advisor with the Milwaukee Brewers. Farhan Zaida is President of Baseball Operations for the Giants. Alex Anthopolous holds the same position with the Atlanta Braves.

The Yankees whiff-meister Joey Gallo led the majors this season with 213 strikeouts. That didn’t sit well with Pete Rose. The all-time hits leader never struck out more than 76 times in any of his 24 big-league seasons.  Says Pete, “How does someone who didn’t even play everyday strike out 213 times? Ray Charles wouldn’t strike out that much. I can’t imagine striking out 213 times without killing myself.”

Seahawks This Week – What can we say about the Seahawks? They are at a crisis point. The defense ranks dead last in overall defensive rankings. They are 30th in the league against both the pass and the run. They are giving up 450.8 yards per game including 145 yards on the ground. Not a recipe for success.

The cornerback group is among the worst in the NFL. The Seahawks released fourth-year cornerback Tre Flowers this week, their latest failed experiment at the position. The current starters, D.J. Reed and Sidney Jones, were both basically picked up off the waiver wire. Cornerback is not a position to neglect in the draft. You simply have to have at least one shutdown corner who can take away half the field. The Seahawks should know. Richard Sherman locked things down for years. Since 2017, the Green Bay Packers have spent six high draft picks on defensive backs including two firsts and two seconds on cornerbacks. In the same time span, Seattle has used one second round pick on a DB, safety Marquise Blair who, so far, has not been able to make an impact because of a series of injuries. Pete Carroll earned his stripes as a defensive backs coach. He is holding on to a tired belief that you can develop DB’s without expending high draft picks. He’s dead wrong and the Seahawks are paying the price! Tedric Thompson was a bust. Flowers is gone. Blair and Ugo Amadi have had little impact. It’s time to rebuild the position group. The Hawks should have gone after Stephon Gilmore when he was released by the Patriots.

When are the Seahawks going to unleash Jamal Adams as a disruptive force? He led all defensive backs in blitz rate last season at 20 percent and in the process, set an all-time sacks record for DB’s with 9.5. This is why you are paying the guy $17.5 million! This year, Adams blitz rate is at 10 percent. An opposing GM was right when he said, “Why pay so much for a guy who doesn’t take away the ball.”

Since being drafted in 2012, Russell Wilson has started all 165 games of his NFL career. He’s played over 98 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. The Seahawks record with Wilson is 109-55-1. It’s going to seem awfully strange not to see him behind center on Sunday night in Pittsburgh.

It’s become pretty clear that Seahawks running back Chris Carson is simply unable to last an entire season without being injured. Carson has been placed on IR with a recurring neck injury that will now keep him out for at least another three games.

NFL Notebook – If you watched the last few minutes of Sunday’s Packers-Bengals game, you witnessed the most pathetic demonstration of kicking in NFL history. Mason Crosby of the Packers and Cincinnati’s Evan McPherson combined to miss five field goals in a span of eight minutes from the 2:12 mark of the fourth quarter and overtime. Crosby was particularly putrid. He missed an extra point attempt then three straight field goals before ultimately winning the game in OT on a 49-yarder. Where have you gone Lui Passaglia? In his record 25-year NFL career, Lui once had a season where he had a 90.9 field goal percentage. He holds numerous CFL records including total points, most field goals and most converts (including 560 straight). In fact, Lui missed only three extra points in his entire career. As a punter, Lui had a 50.2 yard average in the 83’ season. That’s a kicker!

The Kansas City Chiefs are going nowhere with the defense they are putting on the field. Like Seattle, they have failed to invest draft capital on cornerbacks. Safety Daniel Sorenson has been a disaster. After five weeks, he led the NFL in missed tackles with 10 and he’s been clueless in coverage. You could find someone better off the street.

Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury will miss this weekend’s game due to a positive COVID-19 test. How the Cards ownership allowed that to happen is a mystery. No chance my HC starts the season without being fully vaccinated. My advice to Kingsbury would be – you can head back to Texas Tech buddy!

Pity poor Trevor Lawrence! In a span of 29 days, the Jaguars rookie quarterback has lost more games than he did in his high school and college careers combined.

Urban Meyer and Jon Gruden. So much money invested in two coaches who will end up winning jack!

The Season Awaits – There was a lot of head-shaking when the Toronto Raptors selected Scottie Barnes fourth overall in this year’s NBA Draft ahead of Gonzaga’s star point guard Jalen Suggs. Barnes was considered raw while Suggs was the more finished product. Turns out Barnes is a lot further ahead than most people thought. The Florida State product led the Raptors in assists per game in the pre-season with 5.6 and turned it over only 1.8 times per game, an excellent assist-to-turnover ratio. His defense is outstanding. Barnes has the length to guard any position on the floor. Don’t be surprised if Barnes and OG Anunoby are the two most important Raptors by season’s end and that includes Pascal Siakam.

Having players who can guard the perimeter and contest three-point shots is going to become increasingly important. During the pre-season, the Golden State Warriors averaged 55 three-point shots per game. Four other teams averaged 45 threes. Only one team in NBA history has ever averaged 45 three-point shots per game over the course of an entire season. The Houston Rockets with James Harden did it twice. It’s not exactly the kind of basketball I want to watch but you can see why it’s going to be important to contest those shots.

Leftovers – The breathtaking goal by Alphonso Davies on Thursday night against Panama was the greatest goal in Canadian soccer history. It was one part hustle and two parts magic. Still only 20, Davies is the best soccer player Canada has ever produced and it’s not even close. He is special and it looks like he will lead Canada to heights we have never seen on the world stage. The win moved Canada past Panama and into third place in the CONCACAF qualifying standings with 10 points. Mexico leads with 14. The U.S. has 11. Canada’s next two matches are at home, November 12 against Costa Rica and November 16 against Mexico. Both games are scheduled for Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. Don’t be surprised if at least one of them is moved to BC Place in Vancouver. When qualifying is completed in March, the top three teams will earn tickets to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets says he’s refusing to get a vaccination because he wants to be a voice for the voiceless. What can you say? The guy is a regular St. Francis of Assisi.

It looks like Abbotsford’s Adam Hadwin is in for a revival this season on the PGA Tour. Last season was a disaster. He ended up outside the top-60 for the first time in five years. He had to rally late just to grab a spot inside the top-125 which allowed him to retain fully exempt status. Hadwin underwent some major swing changes last year in an effort to improve his ball-striking. During the overhaul he struggled mightily. Hadwin missed 13 cuts in 28 starts last season, more than he had in the previous four years combined. Judging by the early results this season, it looks like Adam is back on track. He’s one of the best putters on Tour so let’s hope everything comes together for him.

Mackenzie Hughes posted a 10-under par 62 in the second round at the CP Cup tournament in Las Vegas. It puts him in decent position for a top-10 finish at the limited field event. Friday’s round equaled his career low in relation to par.

I was taking an online course recently and one of the other people signed up was named Richard Long. Can you please tell me why the parents would name their child Dick Long? What could they have possibly been thinking? How could you sentence your son to a lifetime of ridicule?

Spotify Songs of the Week – Here’s a few tunes that caught our attention this week. Eric Clapton has a new release. Check out his latest version of “After Midnight” on The Lady in the Balcony: Lockdown Sessions.

Remember Chris Isaak? He’s back with Pandemic Blues: I Can’t Take It! Great tongue-in-cheek look at life over the past 18 months.

Carlos Santana has a new album out entitled Blessings and Miracles. Check out the song “Joy” with Chris Stapleton handling vocals. Also, have a listen to “Move” featuring Rob Thomas who’s back working with Carlos. For a trip down memory lane, Santana reprises “Whiter Shade of Pale” with Stevie Winwood on vocals. Enjoy Carlos’ incredible guitar work on the gorgeous instrumental “Song for Cindy.”

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit are back with a new release Georgia Blue featuring a fine roster of guest vocalists. Have a listen to “Midnight Train to Georgia” and “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” with Brittney Spencer, “The Truth” with Adia Victoria, and “Kid Fears” with Brandi Carlile. Isbell also pays tribute to his Georgia roots with a fine rendition of the Allman Brothers instrumental classic “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”

One of the best blues harmonica players alive today is Bob Corritone. On his albums, he engages a variety of guest vocalists. Check out “Tennessee Woman” off the album Spider in My Stew. The release Henry Gray/Bob Corritone Sessions is excellent and features a slew of great guest artists. We recommend “Ramblin’ on My Mind” with Robert Lockwood Jr., “Worried Life Blues” with Nappy Brown and “That Ain’t Right” with John Brim and Big Jon Atkinson.

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