Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and regular contributors Jordan Moss and Bill Myles. This week, the Canucks stumble out of the gate. Plus, lots of news and notes from the best time of year in the world of sports.
Canucks Notebook – Something is deeply wrong when you hold a players-only meeting on the first road trip of the season. Blowing multiple-goal leads in each of the first four games will do that. The Canucks have a way of doing things that no other team has ever done. Not in the 105-year history of the NHL. Yes, the Canucks are now the only team ever to lose its first four games while holding multigoal leads in each one of them. That’s something to be proud of!
The Canucks entire 53-year history has been marked by calamity. How would you like to be the only NHL team to be 0-3 in Stanley Cup finals? Everyone asks what is the Canucks identify? Defeatism is the Canucks identify. They are accustomed to this stuff. It’s mystifying how a team can be so fragile but it’s not exactly unexpected.
Let’s get to the root of the problem. We already know the defense is not good enough. It’s also not big enough, tough enough and deep enough. Little was done in the off-season to address the problem unless you think Riley Stillman is the second coming of Alex Edler. Go deeper and you have a group of talented, offense-first forwards who can’t or won’t defend and who seem incapable of killing a penalty. Even their top two forward prospects, Danila Klimovich and Jonathan Lekkerimaki are offense-first guys.
When the two-time Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning were upset in the opening round by Columbus in 2019, they took a hard look at themselves and realized they could not win a title without learning how to defend. They did and two Cups followed. Choose any sport and the top teams all play top-level defense. The Canucks are not even close to that level.
Did we not warn you about J.T. Miller? His body language when things are going bad is terrible. His commitment to defense is highly questionable. He should have been embarrassed after being on the ice for the first nine goals against this season. The Canucks surrendered six power-play goals in the first 12 opportunities and Miller was on the ice for all of them. He should not be killing penalties, plain and simple. With Miller on the ice, the Canucks have been outscored 13-4 in all situations over the first five games. Much like the bad start last season, the special teams have been atrocious. The power-play was 2-for-19 on the trip. The penalty-killing is running at less than 60 percent efficiency. You know how far that will get you.
We didn’t like the idea of signing Miller to an extension but even we didn’t think it would be only a few games into the season before the deal was questioned. There are reports the Canucks turned down a deal with the New York Rangers late last season that would have sent Miller to Broadway for centre Filip Chytil, defenseman Ryan Lindgren and a first-round pick. If that report is true, man, did the Canucks miss the boat. Even if you insert Nils Lundqvist for Lindgren, it’s still a deal the Canucks should have made.
We can agree you would have to be Harry Houdini to extricate yourself from the mess left by the Canucks previous regime. However, we’re less convinced the path taken by the new front office is the right road to travel. Trying to retool on the fly with a barren prospect pool and big-time cap problems is near impossible. Canucks brass seem to have been seduced by the team’s success last season under Bruce Boudreau in the same way Benning and company were seduced by the Edmonton Bubble playoff run. As constituted, the Canucks don’t have the defensive chops to challenge the top teams in the league, let alone their own conference. It’s certainly setting up to be another hugely disappointing season.
NHL Notebook – You don’t think the Ottawa Senator are improved this season? Check the list of players from opening night a year ago who were not in the lineup on opening night this year: Matt Murray, Chris Tierney, Tyler Ennis, Connor Brown, Nick Paul, Alex Formenton, Logan Shaw, Zach Sanford, Nikita Zaitsev, Victor Mete and Josh Brown. That’s a lot of turn over. Only Formenton, who’s unsigned, and Zaitsev, who’s the Sens seventh defenseman, remain on the roster.
Judging by the early returns, the Edmonton Oilers have not learned how to defend. Like the Canucks, until the Oilers figure out how to defend teams, they should not be considered legit Cup contenders.
The Arizona Coyotes play 20 of their first 24 games on the road. Can you imagine what their record will look like after that stretch? To show you how bad it is, Travis Boyd, who was no better than a fourth-liner in Washington, Toronto and Vancouver, is centering the Coyotes top line.
The toothless Coyotes hold a total of 3 first-round picks, 8 second-round picks, and 7 third-round picks over the next three NHL drafts. What good will it do when you have the smallest complement of scouts in the league? Sounds good on paper but this is a team who chose Barrett Hayton over Quinn Hughes.
You have to figure Blackhawks star Patrick Kane will be on the move before this year’s trade deadline. Both Kane and Hawks captain Jonathan Toews are playing out the final year of identical eight-year, $84 million dollar contracts signed back in 2014. If either player gets moved, the Hawks will need to retain salary. It may also require another team to enter the picture and take on salary as well.
Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs has scored 33 points in the playoffs over the last six seasons. Connor McDavid had 33 points in 16 playoff games last season. Who’s the better player? I think that’s rather apparent.
Looks like the Vegas Golden Knights are going to have a bounce-back season under new coach Bruce Cassidy. That will make it that much tougher for the Canucks to earn a playoff spot.
The salary cap has made it so difficult for teams to replace key players who are lost for extended periods of time. How would you like to be the Florida Panthers who will be without top defenseman Aaron Ekblad for up to two months? The Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche have lost top line forward Gabriel Landeskog for even longer after the veteran underwent knee surgery. It’s extremely difficult to add another contract when you must have room under the salary cap to add them back onto the roster when they return.
It’s still early but the Boston Bruins are hanging tough despite the absence of a couple of key contributors in Charlie McAvoy and Brad Marchand. Once they return, the Bruins should be one of the contenders looking to add. Wouldn’t Patrick Kane look good in a Boston uniform?
Fans are already complaining about the new virtual dasher board advertising that’s appearing on NHL broadcasts. Isn’t technology lovely? The NHL and its network partners seem to have an insatiable appetite for uncovering new revenues but sorry, switching ads during the action doesn’t work in hockey. The game is too fast moving. Baseball maybe? Hockey, NO! If they are going to insist on doing it, it should only happen during stoppages in play.
This could be the year the Washington Capitals hit the wall and miss the playoffs. They are starting the season with Nick Backstrom and Tom Wilson, two key components, on long-term injury reserve. Backstrom has hip resurfacing surgery in the off-season and his future is very much in doubt. Backstrom is a big factor on the power-play. His absence will also hurt Ovie’s chase for the NHL goals record. Wilson had ACL surgery and may not return until January.
If you enjoyed the CBC documentary Summit ’72, you may want to get hold of Ken Dryden’s new book The Series which chronicles the iconic hockey series. Dryden was interviewed on the TVO network in Ontario on the 50th anniversary of the Canada-Russia series. Here’s the interview in its entirety.
Toronto the Good – If you want to know the reason the Maple Leafs can’t get over the hump, it’s ARROGANCE, plain and simple. Did they really think they could resurrect the career of Matt Murray when the whole league knew he was done? Oh, but Kyle Dubas had him in the Sault and knows him better than anyone else. If this is the hill Dubas is prepared to die on, it may not end well.
Every player who arrives in Toronto is immediately overrated. If everybody the Leafs bring in is so good, how come they haven’t advanced past the first round since 2004? The Leafs bottom-six forward group is filled with cast-offs and none can put the puck in the net. Zach Aston-Reese’s best season is 9 goals. Denis Malgin’s career-high is 7. Nicholas Aube-Kubel scored a career-high of 11 goals last season with Colorado. Pierre Engvall scored a career-high 15 goals last season. Before that, his season-high was 8. Alex Kerfoot scored 13 goals last season. In the two seasons prior, he scored 8 and 9 goals. Calle Jarnkrok scored 12 goals last season, none after being acquired by the Flames from Seattle. David Kampf scored 11 goals last season. His career high before that was 8. Nine players in total. Do you really think they are suddenly going to become something they are not?
The real problem with the Leafs is a lack of homegrown talent. Matthews, Marner, Engvall and Nylander are the only forwards drafted and developed by the Leafs. Morgan Reilly and Rasmus Sandin are the only defenseman currently in the lineup drafted by the Leafs. You simply don’t win Cups with that few drafted and developed players. If you want confirmation, just look at the roster of last year’s Stanley Cup finalists.
What’s Next for Blew Jays – After their gut-wrenching playoff exit, the Blue Jays have plenty of work ahead of them in the off-season. Don’t expect a lot of shopping in the high-rent district with over $120 million already committed in guaranteed contracts and that’s without the anticipated hefty pay raises for Vladdy and Bo who are again arbitration eligible. Don’t expect another big off-season free agent signing along the lines of George Springer or Kevin Gausman.
Here’s our thoughts on some of the off-season decision-making facing the Jays.
- The Jays have only three pending free agents. David Phelps and Jackie Bradley Jr. are likely headed to the open market. The Jays would probably like to retain starter Ross Stripling who pitched brilliantly last season after moving into the rotation but he’s probably priced himself out of the picture in Toronto.
- With MLB outlawing the infield shift next season, the Blue Jays should think long and hard about moving shortstop Bo Bichette to second base. Only Javier Baez had more errors among shortstops this season.
- The Jays have to consider using their catching depth as trade bait this off-season. Alejandro Kirk can rake but the rotund receiver is a base clogger. Go with Danny Jansen and emerging star Gabriel Moreno and try to fill a hole by moving Kirk for pitching or a lefthanded bat.
- Why did it take so long for the Jays to re-up manager John Schneider? They kept him twisting in the wind before finally signing Schneider to a new, three-year contract.
- The Jays face big questions as they fill out the starting rotation. Gausman, Berrios and Manoah are locked in. Hyun Jin-Ryu is recovering from a second Tommy John surgery and his future is clouded. We all know about the struggled of Yusei Kikuchi in his first year in Toronto. Stripling is doubtful to return so depth becomes a major concern.
- Forget about Nate Pearson in the starting rotation. The Jays have no plans to stretch him out in spring training so Pearson is definitely destined for some kind of bullpen role. It’s about time he delivered. So far, he’s turning into another Aaron Sanchez. Big arm. No impact.
- Blowing the 8-1 lead against the Mariners only brought the bullpen woes into bigger focus. There’s still a huge gap between the Jays bullpen and the top teams in baseball. The Jays were ranked 10th among the 12 playoff teams in strikeouts per nine innings.
- What’s missing in the bullpen is swing and miss. Power arms! Blue Jay relievers allowed too much contact and that has to change before they can expect to content for a World Series title.
- The other off-season priority has to be acquiring an impact lefthanded bat. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. missed the post-season with a hamstring pull and just underwent wrist surgery. His power numbers were down last season so he’s not exactly at the height of his value. Gurriel seems like the top candidate to be dealt to create a more balanced lineup.
MLB Notebook – The Blue Jays have yet to negotiate new contracts with franchise icons Vladdy Guerrero and Bo Bichette yet former Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has been able to lock up all the key young pieces in Atlanta. Anthopoulos has deftly persuaded several young stars to ink new long-term deals including Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Michael Harris II and just recently, pitcher Spencer Strider. The Strider deal comes with some risk but basically every one of the contracts is club-friendly. The Jays made a huge mistake letting Anthopoulos get away.
The new playoff format in major league baseball has ushered in an unpredictable post-season. Three 100-win teams, the Dodgers, Braves and Mets, didn’t survive the divisional round. The Yankees won 99 games this season and were nearly upset by Cleveland. The defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves were knocked out by the Phillies, who won only 87 games during the regular season. Wasn’t that the script the Braves used last year on route to a title?
Boston Red Sox fans must be watching the Phillies post-season march with a large amount of disgust. The Red Sox dumped Dave Dombrowski as general manager in favour of Chaim Bloom who, so far, has produced a whole lot of nothing. Last time we checked Dombrowski has two World Series rings and now has the Phillies in contention. Sometimes change is not always the right move.
Seahawks Notebook – Don’t look now but the Seahawks may have another All-Pro cornerback in the making. Tariq Woolen is turning heads as a rookie fifth-round pick. Not bad for the 153rd pick in the 2022 draft. Sound familiar? Yes, Richard Sherman was a fifth-round pick who also started out as a receiver. Woolen had only been playing cornerback for two seasons but the Hawks obviously saw potential. Woolen is 6-4 with 34-inch arms. He clocked a 40-time of 4.26 seconds at the NFL Combine.
In Seattle’s first six games this season, Woolen had four interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries. He’s already garnered NFL Player of the Week honours. Like Sherman, it looks like he will be a ball hawk on the right corner and a player teams may want to avoid. If Tre Brown can return from a torn knee and lock down the other side, the Seahawks may be set for years to come. Add in rookie Coby Bryant who’s forced a league-high four fumbles, and Seattle may be in the midst of rebuilding the Legion of Boom.
The 2022 draft is looking like a major bounty for the Seahawks. Along with Bryant and Woolen, Boye Mafe is now starting on defense. Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas are starting at the two tackle positions on offense while Kenneth Walker is now starting at running back following the season-ending injury to Rashaad Penny. That’s six rookies making a major impact.
NFL Notebook – The Seahawks bounty coming back as a result of the trade of Russell Wilson is starting to look even more promising. If the Broncos continue to flounder, the first and second-round picks coming Seattle’s way in the 2023 NFL Draft could be much higher on the road than anticipated. Who would have thought the picks from Denver would be higher than the Seahawks own selections? But that could be the case. The Broncos picks could be top ten in each round.
Who is Bailey Zappe? Forced into a starting job, the New England Patriots rookie has been outstanding. A year ago, he was a virtual unknown. He shattered the record books at Western Kentucky by throwing 62 touchdown passes. The Patriots selected Zappe in the fourth round, 137th overall. – the fifth quarterback chosen. Matt Jones, last year’s Patriot rookie starter, may have trouble getting his job back when he returns from the injury list. Never underestimate Bill Belichick’s ability to develop quarterbacks.
Two Canadians are among the statistical leaders among Division 1 NCAA football programs this season. London, Ontario native Chase Brown of the University of Illinois leads all running backs in rushing. He’s already close to matching last year’s total of 1,005 yards. Brown transferred from Western Illinois in 2019 in order to join his brother Sydney, a defensive back, who could also reach the NFL. Meanwhile, Ohio quarterback Kurtis Rourke, the brother of BC Lions breakout star Nathan Rourke, is among the nation’s passing leaders. The Oakville native is currently fifth in passing yardage on a bad Ohio team.
Golf Notebook – It’s going to be interesting to see who is added to the roster of RBC-sponsored players on the PGA Tour this season. Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell and Harold Varner III have all moved onto LIV Golf and will no longer be part of Team RBC. There’s also a couple of other RBC-sponsored players whose contracts have expired. Each RBC player is obligated to play in the two RBC-sponsored tournaments, the Canadian Open and the RBC Heritage, as well as appearing in marketing and promotional activities.
Leftovers – The Toronto Raptors figure to be middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference this season, just good enough to avoid the play-in tournament for a playoff spot. The half court offense remains their biggest issue. Not enough outside shooting to keep teams honest.
The NBA season tipped off with a record 23 Canadians on NBA rosters. Canada is the second-most represented country in the league behind only the U.S. There were 18 Canadians on NBA teams last season. Indiana rookie Bennedict Mathurin is a legitimate rookie-of-the-year candidate. The Montreal native was chosen sixth overall in this year’s NBA draft, one of four Canadians selected. Mathurin is a muscular 6-5” guard who is already showing tremendous potential.
Here’s the full list of Canadians on NBA rosters to start the season: Mfiondu Kabengele, Boston Celtics; Dwight Powell, Dallas Mavericks; Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets; Cory Joseph, Detroit Pistons; Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors; Andrew Nembhard, Indiana Pacers; Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers; Oshae Brissett, Indiana Pacers; Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies; Dillon Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies; RJ Barrett, New York Knicks; Luguentz Dort, Oklahoma City Thunder; Caleb Houstan, Orlando Magic; Shaedon Sharpe, Portland Trail Blazers; Trey Lyles, Sacramento Kings; Josh Primo, San Antonio Spurs; Dalano Banton, Toronto Raptors; Khem Birch, Toronto Raptors; Chris Boucher, Toronto Raptors; Kelly Olynyk, Utah Jazz; Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Utah Jazz; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder; Eugene Omoruyi, Oklahoma City Thunder.
And finally, here’s the starting lineup for the East-West-North-South Biggest-Baddest Bowl game featuring the top names in college football. LOL.
Spotify Playlist Tracks of the Week – You may be familiar with the name Kim Simmonds. He was the founder and leader of the British band Savoy Brown. As a solo artist and with Savoy Brown, Simmonds has released 47 albums in a career spanning 50 years.
We were unfamiliar with his solo catalogue so we checked it out. We have a couple of recommendations. From the album Struck by Lightning, check out Ain’t No Free. From Out of the Blue, have a listen to Don’t Tell Me to Smile.
Canadian David Francey has been around for quite a while. My buddy Ben Yates from Portland, Oregon advised listening to Francey. Check out the track Empty Train from an album of the same name. Also Border Line from Torn Screen Door.
A couple other obscure recommendations. Check out the track If You’re Gonna Leave Me from a self-titled album from Connor Selby. Tom Hambridge offers up Me and Charlie from the release The Nola Sessions. Have a listen to Fine Line from the album Always Smilin’ by Oliver Wood.
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