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.
This week, the NHL season is off and running. We have our annual All-Overpaid Team. In Geno, we do not trust. The Alien speaks and those Canadians can really golf!
Canucks Notebook – After an encouraging couple of games to open the regular season, the Canucks have quickly fallen back to earth. Coach Rick Tocchet called the team out for the non-effort in Philadelphia. Using the word ‘soft’ to describe the team’s performance, three games into the season, is rather alarming. The Canucks are a borderline playoff team at best and cannot afford no-shows.
Considering the state of the Canucks back end, don’t be surprised if the team makes a move to re-sign defenseman Ethan Bear. He’s been on the shelf since undergoing shoulder surgery in the off-season and remains a free agent. Of course, for that to happen, the Canucks will have to open up the necessary cap space. You can be sure any deal involving Conor Garland is going to involve salary retention. There are reports Columbus may have some interest. Blue Jackets blueliner Andrew Peeke is a right-shot defenseman who could be on the Canucks radar.
NHL Quickies – The Winnipeg Jets have no interest in tearing it down and undergoing a long rebuild. In a small market, they have to be concerned about alienating the fan base and selling tickets. That was the reasoning behind the deals that will keep Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck in Winnipeg for the next seven seasons. The Jets average attendance last season was 14,045, third worst in the NHL, and they drew only 11,226 against the Kings this week. The signings give season ticket-holders some degree of hope. Still, the Jets remain a borderline playoff team and that’s not a great place to be.
In making pre-season Stanley Cup predictions, not one Sportsnet analyst chose the Vegas Golden Knights to repeat as champions or even return to the Cup Final. We find that astonishing. Vegas has jumped out to a 5-0 start despite the fact Alec Martinez appeared in only one of the games and Alex Pietrangelo missed three of the first five. The Knights have learned how to win and are built for playoff hockey.
Many of the so-called experts predicted an Edmonton-Toronto final. Are you kidding? That’s not happening. If you wanted to name two teams who will not be as good as expected, the Leafs and Oilers would be wise choices. Goaltending and defense remain huge issues in both markets and you can probably add in lack of bottom six scoring.
If you count rookie Matthew Knies and defenseman Jake McCabe, who joined the Leafs at the deadline last season, Toronto has eight new faces in the lineup this year. Kyle Dubas had good success adding bottom-of-the-lineup guys to fill out the Leafs roster around the Core Four. However, that method of roster-building may have caught up to the Leafs. They have really struggled out of the gate and alarm bells are already going off. The Leafs have zero depth if they encounter injuries. We have predicted this fall for a while and there are signs its now happening.
Judging by the early returns, the Ottawa Senators may be a team that will exceed expectations. The Sens have looked very solid. The return of Josh Norris made an immediate impact. Norris solidifies the top six and makes Ottawa very formidable up front. The top four defense group is among the best in the NHL and when you add in two above average goaltenders, the pieces are in place for a break-out season. We rate Ottawa ahead of Buffalo and Detroit when it comes to teams starting to emerge from long rebuilds.
The Los Angeles Kings are a cautionary tale when it comes to rebuilding programs. After winning a pair of Cups, the Kings faced an inevitable rebuild and you have to question whether they got it right. Rebuilds are fine if you draft well. The Kings started their decline in 2017 when it became obvious their Cup run was over. They selected Gabe Vilardi with the 11th pick in 2017. The next two picks were Martin Necas by Carolina and Nick Suzuki by Vegas, later dealt to Montreal. Vilardi has not come close to the level of Necas and Suzuki.
In 2018, the Kings picked Rasmus Kupari at No. 20. K’Andre Miller went two picks later. He’s now a fixture with the Rangers. It got worse in 2019 when the Kings chose Alex Turcotte with the fifth pick. Moritz Sieder went sixth, Dylan Cozens went seventh and Trevor Zegras went ninth. Big swing and miss. In 2020, the Kings selected Quinton Byfield second overall, whiffing on both Tim Stutzle and Jake Sanderson who went third and fifth. To make matters worse, the Kings traded first-round picks in both 2022 and 2023 with the misguided belief that they were ready to challenge for a Cup. Mistakes at the draft table and inadvisable deadline deals have left the Kings somewhere in the middle of the pack and that’s not where you want to be.
NHL teams are already looking forward to next summer when the salary cap is set to make a big jump for the first time in years. The cap is expected to rise by $4 million from its current $83.5 million which will help the many cap-strapped teams. It will certainly be a good time to be a free agent. Currently, only six NHL teams have more than $3.5 million in cap space – Anaheim, Detroit, Nashville, Buffalo, Chicago and you guessed it, the Arizona Coyotes. You can be sure those teams will be targeted when it comes to potential salary dumps.
No one needs to be reminded how dangerous it can be when it comes to big money free agent signings. The latest examples are Damon Severson and Timo Meier. They were two of the bigger ticket signings this summer by Columbus and New Jersey and both players have already been benched for uninspired play.
Here’s an NHL oddity. The Buffalo Sabres have three former number one overall picks on their blueline – Rasmus Dahlin, Owen Power and Erik Johnson, who joined the Sabres in the off-season.
The All-Overpaid Team – It’s time for our annual NHL All-Overpaid Team and there’s no shortage of candidates. There are the perennial choices like John Tavares ($11 million); Erik Karlsson ($11 million); Mitch Marner ($10,903,000); Drew Doughty ($11 million) and an old favorite – Sergei Bobrovsky ($10 million). New to the list is Flames flame-out Jonathan Huberdeau at $10.5 million. Darnell Nurse of the Oilers is a definite pick at $9.5 million. Nurse handles the puck like a hand grenade. Caps center Nik Backstrom is near the end of a fine career and still earning $9.2 million. Teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov is pulling in $7.8 and providing little value. The Blues have to be questioning the twin deals they handed to Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas who are both earning $8.125 million. How about the Kings paying Kevin Fiala $7.875 million for the next six years? Dallas is overpaying Tyler Sequin ($9.5 million) and Jamie Benn ($9.5 million). Jacob Trouba in New York is not an $8 million dollar defenseman. The Flyers are hog-tied by the contract gifted to Sean Coutourier ($7.75 million) which has seven years remaining. The Sabres would love to get out from under Jeff Skinner’s deal at $9 million per season for four more years. And how about the Blackhawks? They rewarded Seth Jones with a mega contract. He will cash in at $9.5 million for seven more years.
The Thanks for Nothing Team – Looking over NHL rosters on Cap Friendly, you will find a whole host of players cashing cheques without throwing one. Whether it’s a buy-out or LTIR, there’s a ton of money going out the door with nothing in return. Carey Price in Montreal will bank $10.5 million for three more seasons including this one. Arizona loves to serve as the clearinghouse for dead money. Jakub Voracek is on the books for $8.25 million. Shea Weber for $7.85 million. Bryan Little for $5.3 million.
Nashville is awash is wasted cash. After the Matt Duchene buy-out, the Predators are on the books for close to $20 million over the next six years. That will make Duchene’s broker happy. The Preds also owe Kyle Turris $2 million per season for the next five years. The Canucks are equally indebted. They will have to pay Oliver Ekman-Larsson $16,280,002 over the next six years not to play for them. Robin Lehner is on the books in Vegas for $5 million. Ottawa is still paying Bobby (Rye and Coke) Ryan $1.8 million this season. How would you like to be the Minnesota Wild? They still have to dish out for Ryan Suter and Zach Parise for six more years. It’s choking their salary cap. The pair are owed a combined $36,153,840. That’s painful.
Mike Richards is the Bobby Bonilla of the NHL. The L.A. Kings are still paying Richards long after his career ended. Richards will receive $700,000 from the Kings this season and next and another $600,000 for four more years after that.
Seahawks Central – It’s become rather apparent that Geno Smith is not the long-term answer at quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. Do you really think he will deliver in key moments? The Seahawks blew a winnable game in Cincinnati and it was largely due to Geno’s indecisiveness. Gotta get rid of the ball dude! After an opening drive touchdown, the Seahawks could only muster two field goals the rest of the way.
Since the 6-3 start last season, the Hawks are 6-8. Geno has only five touchdown passes in five games so far this season. Sorry, a 17-touchdown pace is not going to cut it. Geno has continued the pattern from the second half of last season of turning the ball over at inopportune times. The Seahawks red zone efficiency is very poor and a lot of that is on Geno. The Hawks scored only 10 points on five red zone opportunities against the Bengals. Third down efficiency is a big problem as well and it’s an issue on both sides of the ball. The Seahawks are currently at the bottom of the NFL in third down conversion rate converting only 28.9% of their attempts. Defensively, they are allowing opponents to convert over 50% of their third down attempts. It’s a pattern that can’t continue.
Geno Smith is nothing more than a bridge to the next franchise quarterback. He has a limited ceiling and the Seahawks brass must recognize it. He was a bargain last season but he won’t be this year. Smith is earning $31 million this season and Seattle is set to pay him somewhere between $31.1 million and $41.1 million next season depending on the accelerators he hits. Put him in the category of Alex Smith and Jimmy Garoppolo – good but not great quarterbacks – who turned out to be very replaceable. Kirk Cousins is another who comes to mind.
If I were the Seahawks, I could be preparing for life after Geno Smith right now.
Seahawk Footnote – At the risk of repeating ourselves, DK Metcalf is a pain in the butt and his act his wearing thin. He was flagged for unnecessary roughness in the game against the Bengals, some 30 yards from where the play actually happened. Metcalf also had a 15-yard taunting penalty in Week 1 and now has five 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, unnecessary roughness or taunting penalties over the past two seasons. Metcalf shows no indication he’s getting the message and is prepared to clean up his act.
NFL Notebook – The Denver Donkeys are 6-18 since the arrival of Russell Wilson. He’s making $48.5 million per season and may be close to losing the starting job to Jarrett Stidham. It will cost a fortune in dead money but look for the Donkeys to cut Wilson before March 1, 2024 to avoid the $37 million in guarantees in 2025. Denver will still be looking at huge dead cap hits in ’24 and ’25 but there’s no escape route without a great deal of pain.
Remember the former St. Louis Rams and the Greatest Show on Turf? Well, we have a new rendition in the Miami Dolphins who are playing football at break-neck speed. The Dolphins have ripped up 2,568 yards of offense in the first five games of the season, the highest number in NFL history.
We talk a lot of the greatness of Patrick Mahomes. The numbers certainly bear it out. Since arriving in Kansas City, the Chiefs have absolutely owned the AFC West and it doesn’t look like that will change anytime soon. Mahomes is 28-3 against AFC West opponents in his career. The average margin of victory is 15 points. In the 31 games, he’s fired 67 touchdown passes with only 17 interceptions. The guy is money!
Can you name the Chiefs back-up punter if Tommy Townsend is hurt and can’t perform? Yes, it’s Mahomes. Apparently, he can boom punts 50+ yards in practise. The Chiefs claim they would have no trouble asking Mahomes to punt if the situation presented itself. The guy’s a terrific athlete. Like his dad, he probably could have played major league baseball.
Can we please stop the Jordan Love train? Packer fans were all giddy when Green Bay got off to a 2-0 start. They thought the Packers had found a long-term answer to Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Not so fast. Love has had trouble reading defenses. He’s had (5) interceptions over the past three games. The Pack has dropped three in a row and Love looks lost.
The Carolina Panthers are winless and it appears like they made a massive miscalculation in choosing Bryce Young first overall in the draft. What’s worse – to do so they traded their number one pick in next year’s draft to the Chicago Bears. What happens if the pick ends up being the top selection? How bad will that look? This is what happens when you have a meddling owner. The Panthers could have stayed where they were (and not traded up) and still landed C. J. Stroud who looks like the top quarterback out of this year’s draft. Young’s passer rating and yards per attempt are right at the bottom of the league.
Judging by the way the New England Patriots are performing, you have to wonder how much of their success was tied to Tom Brady and not Bill Belichick. Former NFL head coach Jim Fassel once said: “Show me a great coach and I’ll show you a great quarterback.” That statement was never truer. Let’s see what Sean Payton does in Denver without Drew Brees.
It’s time to take the Detroit Lions seriously. They play hard every week and have a solid roster top to bottom. The Lions are 13-3 since the start of November last year. Look for Detroit to pick up a cornerback prior to the trade deadline. They’ve had a lot of injuries at that position and it wasn’t a strength to begin with.
Jays Off-Season Questions – What to do about Vladdy Guerrero Jr.? That’s the Blue Jays biggest off-season question. He’s coming off a hugely disappointing season that saw him hit just .264 with 25 home runs. In the post-season, the picture is worse. Vladdy has a career playoff batting average of .136 (3-for-22) with 1 RBI in six career post-season games.
He’s a one-dimensional player where his value is solely tied to his ability at the plate. We know all about Vladdy’s poor baserunning. And sorry, he’s not a great defender despite winning a Gold Glove at first. How did that happen? Guerrero made $14.5 million this season and is headed into his third year of arbitration. There is zero chance I would be looking to negotiate a long-term deal at this point. I’d be more apt to be entertaining trade offers.
Having Mark ‘The Alien’ Shapiro at the head of the organization should not inspire confidence. He’s been running a major league baseball team for 23 years. He’s not won a playoff game since 2007. And don’t count 2016. He inherited that Jays team from Alex Anthopoulos. Between Cleveland and Toronto, Shapiro has lost his last ten playoff games. This year’s team scored one run in two games. Gabriel Moreno is a budding star in Arizona with three playoff home runs already. When asked about the trade of Moreno and Lourdis Gurriel Jr. to Arizona, Shapiro said “You can’t judge a trade for four or five years.” Oh yes you can. The trade STINKS! Shapiro looks like cosmetic surgery gone wrong. Well, I guess he can now head back to his off-season home in Arcturus. It’s only 36.7 light years from the sun.
In terms of roster construction, Jays management completely missed the boat in putting this year’s lineup together. It’s not like they aren’t spending the money to contend. The $240 million dollar payroll seems like a complete waste of resources. Someone should have to pay but you wonder if the suits at Rogers have the guts to act.
The good news is several contracts will come off the books. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon Belt, Kevin Kiermaier, Jordan Hicks, Matt Chapman, Whit Merrifield and Chad Green are all free agents. There’s certainly an opportunity to redirect the resources into more productive players. Trouble is, the free agent market is very thin this year so upgrading the lineup may be difficult.
MLB Playoff Notebook – With all the talk about analytics, is it any coincidence that the two opposing managers in the ALCS, Dusty Baker (74) and Bruce Bochy (68), are the two oldest managers in baseball? Both are loathe to rely strictly on analytics when it comes to in-game decision-making. What’s more, the two NLCS managers, Rob Thomson and Torey Lovullo are 60 and 58 respectively. Nothing like experience, friends!
There have been eight playoff series to date and none went the distance. Six were sweeps. The Atlanta Braves, L.A. Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles all won over 100 games and went out with a whimper. They combined for one win in ten total games. Not buying this stuff about a layoff and how having six days off may have affected them. The Braves and Dodgers need to figure out why they keep coming up short. Atlanta scored eight runs in four games against the Phillies after a record-breaking offensive season. The Phils, on the other hand, had 11 home runs in that series.
The Blue Jays should be asking themselves why they didn’t bid on free agent shortstops Cory Seager and Trea Turner when they had the chance. Both have been lights out in this year’s post-season. The reason, of course, is the risk-averse Jays didn’t have the guts to move Bo Bichette off short.
Something just doesn’t sit well with the goggle-wearing, champagne-popping clubhouse celebrations after you secure a wildcard playoff berth. Big deal! The Jays haven’t won a playoff game since 2016, yet they celebrated like winning a wildcard spot is some big accomplishment.
Leftovers – A record eight Canadians are playing on the PGA Tour this season – Corey Connors, Adam Hadwin, Nick Taylor, Taylor Pendrith, Mackenzie Hughes and Adam Svensson are all holdovers. They are being joined by Merritt’s Roger Sloan and Ben Silverman who graduated from the Korn Ferry Tour.
The Canadian contingent turned in an amazing performance at the recent Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas. Hadwin finished solo second at 19-under. Pendrith finished in a tie for third. He came into the tournament at No. 123 in the FedEx Cup rankings. The result moved Pendrith up to No. 90, all but assuring his full card for 2024. Nick Taylor finished T-13. Svensson was T-18, placing four Canadians in the top 20.
ESPN sports talk show blowhard Pat “Mr. Tank Top” McAfee claims Jets quarterback Arron Rodgers has made over $1 million dollars for his weekly appearances on the show. Boy, that’s money well spent! A million bucks to hear that clown speak?
Kim Ng, the first female general manager in baseball history, has made an abrupt departure from the Miami Marlins. She declined a mutual option for next season after the team failed to offer a new three-year contract despite the fact she guided the budget-conscious Marlins to the post-season. What a slap in the face! Marlins ownership reportedly plan to hire a Director of Baseball Operations which would have effectively taken away Ng’s authority. Look for her to land a new post with the Red Sox or the White Sox where she started her baseball journey.
Spotify Tracks of the Month – Geoff Achison is an Australian-based singer-songwriter who has shown up on our Spotify playlists. He has an album out called Little Big Men with his band the Souldiggers. Check out the tracks ‘Crazy Horse’ and ‘Rule the World.’ Also, have a listen to the title track off ‘One Ticket, One Ride.’ He’s completely unknown on this side of the world but he’s worth a listen.
Imelda May is an outstanding Dublin-based singer-songwriter-actress who’s appeared with many artists including Jools Holland and Jeff Beck. Check out “Dealing with the Devil’ from the release No Turning Back. From the album Life. Love. Flesh. Blood, listen to ‘Black Tears.’ Beck solos on that track. From Love Tattoo, check out ‘It’s Your Voodoo Working.’
Here’s Imelda performing Walking in the Sand with Jeff Beck eleven years ago at a concert honouring Les Paul.
And just four months ago, Imelda joined Ronnie Wood and Johnny Depp for a tribute to the recently deceased Jeff Beck. Again, performing Walking in the Sand.
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