Under Further Review – This week, we knock the Leafs down a peg or two, knock Auston Matthews down a peg or three, and serve up a full menu of appetizing opinion from around major league sports.
The Maple Leafs For Never – Let’s cut to the chase and put it out there for everyone to know – the Toronto Maple Leafs are not that good! The Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since 2004, yet, if you listen to the fans and the Toronto-centric media, the much-ballyhooed rebuild is going to yield multiple Stanley Cups. Make no mistake, this is a fatally-flawed team and there are no Cups in the immediate future.
While the fans and the media panic in the streets and point the finger at Coach Mike Babcock, there is never any criticism directed at Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas. These are the guys who have been at the helm and have laid the foundation. These are the guys who have grossly overpaid their top players and put themselves in salary cap hell. How is this Babcock’s doing? The Toronto media, who have fawned all over the Leafs for the past two years, have suddenly come to realize the team is not nearly as great as advertised. The Leafs are unmistakably the most overrated team in the NHL and Auston Matthews is without a doubt the most overrated player in the NHL.
Following losses to the Bruins and the Blue Jackets this week, Matthews had the audacity to call out his teammates and claim “We all have to be better. We need to look each other in the eye and be accountable.” How about waking up and realizing you are just not that good? The nooses are out in Toronto and we haven’t even reached November.
Matthews is incapable of handling the prime match-ups now that John Tavaras is injured and he’s being exposed big-time on the defensive end. Babcock has quickly realized he can’t use Matthews to take defensive zone face-offs where his win rate is 29%. Patrice Bergeron toyed with him in the Bruins win on Monday night. With Nazem Kadri in Colorado, the Leafs former strength down the middle is gone. They have no size on the wings and no size on defense. Teams are owning the middle of the ice and attacking the Leafs net at will. That’s not a good recipe. Don Cherry was bang-on when he said the Leafs are not built for playoff hockey. Their record against top teams is horrible and now they are having trouble beating the bottom feeders.
The Leafs are headed for the same fate as last year and that’s IF they make the playoffs. Freddie Andersen will be over-worked again. The back-up in goal is Michael Hutchinson who’s made two appearances to date. He gave up six goals against Montreal, then 2 in 3 minutes vs. the Capitals.
Some in the Toronto media had the Leafs winning the Presidents Trophy this season. Believe me, they are not among the top 10 teams in the league.
Auston’s Powers – One of the best examples of the constant bluster surrounding the Leafs came last year when a Toronto sportswriter said Morgan Reilly’s play was ‘Orr-like.’ That’s like comparing an F-14 fighter jet to the Hindenburg. Any sportswriter worth his salt would never compare any defenseman to Bobby Orr. Just don’t go there! Even after having multiple surgeries on his left knee, Orr was still better than Reilly.
Meantime, Postmedia just published their Top 50 players in the NHL for 2019-2020 and hold your hat, they had Reilly rated 27th. Here’s a list of defensemen rated BEHIND Reilly in the top 50 – Seth Jones, John Carlson, Kris Letang, Alex Pietrangelo and Drew Doughty. Do you actually think any of the teams with those players would trade any of them straight up for Morgan Reilly? Not a chance. Four of the five have Stanley Cup rings. Here are some of the forwards rated behind Reilly – Mikko Rantanen, David Pastrnak, Sebastian Aho, Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall and Matthew Tkachuk. Do you think the Flames would trade Tkachuk to the Leafs straight up for Reilly. Not a chance!
The same list has Auston Matthews rated as the 9th best player in the NHL, one spot ahead of Leon Draisaitl. Again, only an idiot would trade Draisaitl straight up for Matthews. Draisaitl is a horse who hit the 50-goal mark last season and unlike Matthews, he plays hard every night.
Canada’s Team – NOT! – To make matters worse, we are served up a constant menu of Leaf games every Saturday night. It’s as if the rest of the Canadian NHL teams don’t even exist. Check out this great column from Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette on the Leafs domination of Hockey Night in Canada.
Who Are These Guys? – The Canucks look like a completely different team to start this season. I know it’s early but they are playing with far more confidence and less like the team we have come to know – yes, the one that always played like they were waiting for the other shoe to drop. As noted previously, the added size has been a big factor but they just seem to be playing with a more ‘wolf-pack’ mentality.
NHL Notebook – I heard it on good authority that Eugene Melnyk is considering moving the team out of Ottawa. One of the potential cities on his list is Eugene, Oregon. If the Senators relocate to Eugene, he plans to change the team name. The Senators will then become the Eugene Melnyks.
For fans, tearing the roster down and rebuilding seems like an easy thing to do. In practice, it can be much harder especially if you have built a roster with aging players on exorbitant, long-term contracts. Such is the plight of the Los Angeles Kings. They have no less than six contracts on the books that will be negatively impacting the team for years to come. Here are the contract commitments they have on the books with the players age, years remaining after this year and the price tag: (32) Anze Kopitar – 5 yrs. @ $10 million per; (36) Ilya Kovalchuk – 2 yrs. @ $6.25 per; (34) Dustin Brown – 3 yrs. @ $5.875 million per; (34) Jeff Carter – 3 yrs. @ $5.3 million per; (29) Drew Doughty – 8 yrs. @ $11 million per; (33) Jonathan Quick – 4 yrs. @ $5.8 million. That’s upwards of $200 in contracts to players with rapidly diminishing assets. Good luck with the rebuild in LA!
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are having historically goods starts to the season. They are the modern version of Gretzky and Messier. But I would not buy too much stock in the Oilers. It’s a long season and when you lack depth, it usually gets you exposed at some point.
Remember the name Kent Johnson. He’s just turned 17 and is playing for the Trail Smoke Eaters in the BC Junior Hockey League. The North Vancouver native is a Michigan commit for next year and is not eligible for the NHL draft until 2021. Check out this cheeky shoot-out goal in a recent game when he played it so casual the goalie didn’t know what to expect.
Great Scott – The greatest coach in NHL history is Scotty Bowman. That’s no mystery. The numbers don’t lie. He’s the winningest coach in history but he was also the most astute and innovative. Bowman holds the record for most wins in league history with 1,248 wins in the regular season and 223 more in the Stanley Cup playoffs and ranks second all-time for most Stanley Cup victories by a player, coach or executive with fourteen.
As a head coach, Scotty won a record nine Stanley Cups; five with the Canadiens, one with the Penguins and three with the Red Wings. He has also won five Cups as a front office executive with various organizations. He was Director of Player Development for the 1991 Penguins, a consultant with the Red Wings in 2008, and was Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations for the Chicago Blackhawks for their 3 Cups. It’s no surprise the Cup has followed him around.
Here’s a feature on Bowman that appeared this week on CTV’s W5 in advance of a Ken Dryden book release on Scotty. Note – the feature is near the end so you will have to scan ahead and try and avoid the commercials.
I still maintain the biggest injustice in Canadian hockey history is why Hockey Canada never had Scotty as part of their Olympic program. Why would you not have him involved either as coach, GM or consultant on player selection? It’s an absolute joke. There must have been some friction somewhere along the way because to exclude Scotty is an absolute mystery to me.
WS & MLB Notebook – If someone had told me that a team with Kurt Suzuki behind the plate, Ryan Zimmerman at first, Howie Kendrick at DH, Adam Eaton in right, Asdrubal Cabrera at 2B and 42 year-old Fernando Rodney in the bullpen would be two wins away from winning the World Series, I would have told them they were nuts. But that’s where we stand. And to think, all those Expo greats like Alou, Dawson, Carter, Parrish, Walker, Raines, Wallach, Martinez, etc., could never get there as Expos.
Major League Baseball is asleep at the wheel by allowing players to enter the clubhouse between at-bats and look at video. It’s OK for players to look at video of their previous at-bats and determine how a pitcher is working them where pitchers are being located. It’s incredible. Can you imagine how good Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle would have been if they were allowed to look at video and see what the pitcher was throwing and in what sequence? Between games – yes! During games – no way! Pitchers should not be allowed to look at video either and make in-game adjustments. Once the game starts, let the players decide the outcome without any high tech help.
Karma was in full display in the final moments of the ALCS between the Astros and the Yankees. Wife-biffer #1 Roberto Osuna came on in relief for the Astros, only to serve up a game-tying two-run homer to DJ LaMahieu of the Yankees. Then, in the bottom of the ninth, on came wife-biffer #2 Aroldis Chapman who served up the game winning HR to Jose Altuve that sent the Yankees to the sidelines. Don’t you love karma?
If the Blue Jays and the Mariners have any plans to turn things around they had better focus on pitching. Seattle used a record 67 players this season including 43 pitchers. The Blue Jays used a club record 20 different starting pitchers. Both the Astros and the Nationals are proving you can go a long way with two front-line, wipe-out starters. It also helps to have a bunch of electric arms in the bullpen that can come on and throw heat.
Do you remember the name Rusney Castillo? He’s the Cuban outfielder signed by the Boston Red Sox as an international free agent in 2014 to a seven-year, $72.5 million dollar contract. At the time, it was the richest contract ever given a Cuban free agent. Castillo played 99 games over 3 MLB seasons and watched Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley and Andrew Benintendi cement themselves as regulars in the Red Sox outfield.
Since then, Castillo has fallen victim to the MLB luxury tax system. In short, if Castillo is kept off the Red Sox 40-man roster, his $10+ million dollar annual salary doesn’t count against the luxury tax threshold, thus preventing the Red Sox from paying considerable penalties. The poor chump has been stuck in Pawtucket for the better part of 4 seasons and is looking at one more year at Triple-A because there’s little chance another MLB team will consider taking on his contract even though he has the talent to be playing in the majors. Castillo is still hoping to land a major league job in 2021 when his contract runs out, needless to say, at a much lower pay grade.
The Bryce is Right – I wonder where Bryce Harper will be watching the World Series. Do you think maybe the clubhouse in Washington is a little better now that Harper has departed? Harper walked away as a free agent and signed a 13-year, $330 million dollar deal with the Phillies which averages more than $25 mil per season. What did they get for their investment? In his first year in Philly, Harper hit a modest .260 with 35 HR’s and 115 RBI’s but struck out 178 times and scored only 98 runs.
The Nationals had a ready-made replacement for Harper in Juan Soto who already has a better all-around game and they are better for it. Just ask Jonathan Papelbon who drilled Harper in the dugout after he ran his mouth off.
The Fraud Squad – According to a study by Ernst & Young that appeared in a Sports Illustrated report, pro athletes claimed nearly $600 million in total fraud-related losses between 2004 and 2018. However, that figure may actually be closer to $1 billion since it’s based on only 35 cases available in public documents.
The alleged victims include Tim Duncan, Mark Sanchez, Roy Oswalt, Kevin Garnett, Ricky Williams, Jack Johnson and Dennis Rodman.
It is a mystery to me why athletes would give agents or financial advisors power of attorney and access to joint bank accounts, not to mention pay little attend to the nature of their investments and tax filings. The actual number of athletes who file for bankruptcy following the conclusion of their paying careers is alarming.
Giants of Africa – Raptors President Masai Ujiri founded the Giants of Africa program in 2003 when he was scouting for the Denver Nuggets. Every summer since then he has travelled back to Africa to hold basketball camps in a wide variety of African nations.
The program started as a series of basketball camps aimed at identifying top young talent – yes, the next Hakeem Olajuwon – but it’s become so much more than that now. Back then, when he was just an entry level scout, Ujiri had to round up old basketball sneakers from Nuggets players and take them on the flight home to Nigeria. Now, Nike provides sneakers, uniforms and even hijabs for the women’s camp in Somalia. The summer camps now include life training and goal-setting on a grander scale. Ujiri has been the catalyst for a new vision that include training coaches, building facilities, creating jobs through basketball and changing communities.
There are tribes in Africa where the average height is 6’8”. From a strictly basketball perspective, the NBA needs to wake up and realize what is at stake and how much they could benefit by investing further in what Ujiri has created. As Ujiri has stated, Africa is so much more than a charity.
Zion the Magnificent – Why do I keep thinking that Zion Williamson will never be able to live up to the hype. The New Orleans Pelicans rookie and number one overall NBA draft pick will miss the next 6-8 weeks with a torn meniscus in his knee. There’s no doubt Zion has incredible talent but we have been down this road before. Remember Sam Bowie who was selected ahead of Michael Jordan in 1984? Or Greg Oden who was taken first overall in 2007 ahead of Kevin Durant. It makes you wonder. Somehow I think Canada’s RJ Barrett may end up having a better and longer overall NBA career than Williamson.
Playing for Change – We leave you this week with another selection from the Playing for Change band – the Doobie Brothers classic “Listen to the Music.” My only disappointment in listening to all this great music is that more Canadians are not involved. Robbie Robertson is the only Canadian to appear on any of the tunes and he lives in LA.