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Under Further Review – October 24, 2020 – Douglas Smith with Contributing Editor Bill Morphy and an assist from Edward Tait. The NHL and NBA take a break and it may be a long one, it’s Have and Have Not in the World Series and get ready for the Best of Chris Berman. 

Holes Aplenty – So the draft is over. Free agency has come and gone. So we ask the question, are the Canucks any better since they left the NHL bubble in September? By any measurement, the answer has to be no.  When you lose your MVP from the last two seasons along with a shutdown defenceman and a top-six forward, it’s hard to make a strong case. Yes, you added a legitimate top-four D-man and a back-up goaltender but the roster damage is significant.  

Adding Nate Schmidt addresses a huge hole on the right side of the defence. He should be an excellent stylistic fit with Alex Edler on the Canucks second pair and should help balance out the top four. Jacob Markstrom has been the team’s MVP in consecutive seasons for good reason. He has continually bailed out what has been a very poor defensive team. The numbers don’t lie. The tandem of Thatcher Demko and Braden Holtby should provide the Canucks with solid, even above-average goaltending. But it would be foolhardy to think they will provide the elite netminding Markstrom supplied. What the Canucks need most is across-the-board defensive improvement from the entire group. By nearly every statistical category available, the Canucks were a bottom-5 defensive team last year and there is no reason to believe they will be much better this season. The Canucks have lost their best defensive defenceman in Chris Tanev and an underrated contributor in Troy Stecher. For the moment, it also looks like they will be without a pair of solid two-way forwards in Josh Leivo and Tyler Toffoli. Add it all up and, on paper, the Canucks have taken a step backward. Whether they can make up ground remains to be seen. It all depends on Jim Benning’s ability to manufacture cap space which will allow the team to ADD and stop subtracting. The high profile departures may be painful to accept today. However, we may be singing a different tune three years from now when the freed-up cap space has opened up new opportunities to reshape the roster.

NHL Notebook – Something has to give with Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets. Laine’s representatives have basically said exploring a trade could be mutually beneficial for both sides. The Jets acquisition of Paul Stastny was aimed at keeping Laine happy. They have him under team control for three more seasons at a reasonable AAV of $6.75 million per year. If Laine chooses not to report, the Jets would be wise to play hardball like they did with Jacob Trouba. If they go the trade route, I would only move him for a defenseman in the category of Zach Werenski, Ryan Pulock or Brett Pesce.

If you asked me to pick an early Stanley Cup favourite it would be the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs are assembling a killer young back end. The latest addition is Devon Toews who was acquired from the Islanders for a pair of second round picks, a luxury few teams could afford. Add in Cale Makar, Bowen Byram, Conor Timmins, Samuel Girard, Ryan Graves and this year’s first round pick, Justin Barron, and you have the makings of a Cup-quality defense corps. Toews could end up playing with Makar in the Avs top pair. Colorado also added winger Brandon Saad from the Black Hawks to complement their forward group so all the pieces appear to be in place.  Still not convinced their goaltending is good enough however. It was interesting to see Avalanche GM Joe Sakic reach a deal with Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello. You have to have big cahones to tread into those shark-infested waters. Shows how much Sakic has grown as a GM.

The Vegas Golden Knights landed the prize of free agency in kingpin defenseman Alex Pietrangelo but are they really any better? William Karlsson is the only real centre in their lineup and he’s not a true #1. Cody Glass is an outstanding prospect but is he ready to deliver? Centre ice is the spine of any team and it’s why Vegas keeps coming up short.

Florida’s splendid centre Alexander Barkov is two years away from free agency. You have to wonder if he has any intentions of re-signing with the Panthers. Wonder what it would take to pry him out of Florida if the team determines they won’t be able to get him signed to a new deal?

Have you ever seen so much ink spilled over the signing of a 40-year old player than Joe Thornton? My goodness. Do you really think he will be a difference-maker? The Leafs are also going to find out that defenseman T.J. Brodie is not a $5 million dollar player.

The Chicago Black Hawks have written season-ticket holders an open letter telling them what we already know – the Hawks are into a full-blown rebuild. It would help if Stan Bowman started winning a trade for a change. He’s misfired on several deals including Henri Jokiharju to Buffalo for Alexander Nylander, Philip Danault to Montreal for Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann and Artemi Panarin to Columbus for Brandon Saad. It would also help if the Hawks started drafting better.

You don’t think the economics in the NHL have taken a 180 degree turn? Nearly $450 million fewer dollars were spent in the first six hours of free agency on October 9 compared to the opening of free agency one year ago.

There’s been little written about the situation surrounding the Arizona Coyotes but you would have to think it’s leaning toward desperate. The Coyotes were late on paying rent to the company that manages Gila River Arena. They were supposed to pay $500,000 in rent and other fees to ASM Global, which manages the city-owned venue, by June 30. ASM then shares a piece of that funding with the City of Glendale. The arena management company has until the end of October to pay the city before it would be considered late per the contract so there is increasing pressure on the Coyotes to buck up. There have also been reports that the team was late with contract bonuses to some players. It will be interesting to see what happens next because 8% of 2020-2021 salaries are due to be paid by October 31. Sounds like a big red flag to me.

If Gary Bettman were included among the highest paid NHL players of all time, he would rank fourth. As NHL Commissioner, Bettman has earned a tidy $110,302,704.  We did some more research and found the most recent updated figures for career earnings including all current players. Here’s the top ten.

Jaromir Jagr – $139,198.863

Sidney Crosby – $119,740,244

Alex Ovechkin – $113,220,893

Joe Thornton – $108,778,561

Chris Pronger – $108,750,348

Shea Weber – $108,405,348

Ilya Kovalchuk – $101,429,024

Nick Lidstrom – $100,318,571

Evgeni Malkin – $99,720,893

Zdeno Chara – $98,868,695

Hockey Canada has announced the World Junior Hockey Championship will go ahead in Edmonton starting on Christmas Day using the same bubble format employed by the NHL. As of now, all teams are planning to arrive on December 13 to being pre-tournament preparations. There’s some indication the federal government may be willing to ease the 14-day quarantine requirement for international arrivals in exchange for producing one negative COVID test at the airport. Of course, this comes as the number of new cases soars in Alberta. They had a record 406 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.

Seahawks This Week – The Seahawks are getting ready for a good test on Sunday as they take their unbeaten 5-and-0 record into Arizona. It remains to be seen how many injured players will be returning to the lineup after the bye week. It looks like Jamal Adams will sit out for at least another week. They may also take a patient approach with recently signed run-stopper Damon Harrison. Carlos Hyde, Rasheem Green, Jordyn Brooks, Phillip Dorsett and D.J. Reed are all close to returning and could be game-time decisions.

With the defense performing so poorly so far this season, you have to wonder when patience will run out with Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton. Let the record show his defenses have not exactly stood out. During his time as DC in Oakland, the Raiders defenses ranked 22nd in 2015, 26th in 2016 and 23rd in 2017.  In Seattle, the defense ranked 16th in 2018 before dropping to 26th last year. We don’t need to be reminded the Seahawks defense is dead last in the league so far this year. Can you blame it all on personnel or is Norton just not getting the job done?

One thing in Seattle’s favour this season is their schedule which is considered the 25th toughest in the NFL. Over the next 5 weeks, the Seahawks have their most difficult stretch with the Cardinals, 49’ers, Bills, Rams and Cards again. Then they will enjoy a month of cupcakes with the Eagles, Giants, Jets and Washington before finishing out the season against the Rams and 49’ers. Reaching at least 12 wins looks very doable.

NFL Notebook – The Tennessee Titans are one of three remaining unbeaten teams and it’s time to start beating their drum. Ryan Tannehill is 12-and-3 as a starter since taking over at quarterback last season and has the highest quarterback rating in the league since the start of 2019.  The decision by head coach Mike Vrabel to move on from Marcus Mariota is looking pretty smart now. The Titans can bludgeon you on the ground with bulldozing running back Derrick Henry. He accounted for 264 yards from scrimmage last Sunday against Houston. The Titans took a major hit in that game, however, with the loss of All-Pro tackle Taylor Lewan to a torn ACL.

When is Aaron Rodgers going to step up and beat a good team on the road? Rodgers is gaining a reputation as a major whiner. He pouted his way through the Packers lopsided defeat at Tampa Bay.

The New York Jets are a complete laughingstock. They’ve already axed general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Adam Gase will be next. Macagnan spent like a Russian oligarch. He dished out over $112 million during free agency in 2019 and the Jets have almost nothing to show for it. Le’Veon Bell received over $28 million and he’s now with the Chiefs. Linebacker C.J. Mosley was handed $29.3 million. He started two games last year, got hurt and then opted out this year due to COVID-19.

Before we anoint the 5-and-1 Chicago Bears, let’s see how they do in a brutal upcoming 3-game stretch. The Bears go on the road to face the Rams, then host the Saints at Soldier Field before meeting the Titans in Tennessee. They could easily lose all three.

The Cleveland Browns have built a 4-and-2 record by beating Cincinnati, Washington, Dallas and Indianapolis. They’ve lost to Baltimore and Pittsburgh by an average score of 38-7. Baker Mayfield is now 1-and-5 against the two premier teams in the division. The Browns schedule is so weak they will probably make the playoffs but it will surely be a quick exit. Cleveland will soon need to make a decision on whether to pick up Mayfield’s fifth-year option. He came into the league with so much hype and what’s he really done?

Unlike the Brown-things, the Baltimore Ravens are one of the NFL’s model franchises. In the past year, they have acquired three defensive cornerstones, Marcus Peters, Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngokoue – all former All-Pros – and none cost more than a third round draft pick. That’s how you do business.

There’s no doubt that Andy Reid is one of the finest coaches in the NFL. It was great to see him finally win a Super Bowl last year in Kansas City. If you go back and look at the Andy Reid coaching tree from his first staff in Philadelphia in 1999, it is astonishing how many graduated to head coaching jobs in the NFL. Sean McDermott was assistant head coach on that staff and is now the head coach in Buffalo. Brad Childress was quarterbacks coach. He’s had a head coaching job. Pat Shurmur was tight ends coach. He’s had a head coaching stint. Ron Rivera was linebackers coach. He went on to a head coaching job in Carolina before moving on to Washington this year. Leslie Frazier and Steve Spagnuolo both became NFL head coaches. John Harbaugh was special teams coach and is now HC in Baltimore. Doug Pederson was a backup quarterback on that team and is now the head coach of the Eagles. Eric Bieniemy was an Eagles running back and now works under Reid as the Chiefs offensive coordinator. Look for Bieniemy to get a head coaching job somewhere next year.

MLB Notebook – In 1963, the Los Angeles Dodgers swept the New York Yankees four straight to win the World Series. The Dodgers used a total of four pitchers in the entire series. Completely bizarre when you think teams commonly use four pitchers in an inning. The Dodgers and the Rays used a total of 18 pitchers in the opening two games of this year’s World Series. No wonder the games are so brutally long.

When addressing the media this week, he didn’t come right out and say it but it appears Mark Shapiro will sign an extension to continue on as President and CEO of the Blue Jays. Shapiro said he intends to stick around and finish the job in turning the Jays into a championship contender. No one can do the corporate speak like Shapiro.

“The desire to be here long term has been reciprocated by the people I work for,” said Shapiro. “That’s as simple as I can be for you. I’ll be here until I’m not here. Based upon my desire to be here and the reciprocation of that, I would expect that that’s going to continue to happen.” To that we say – such eloquent and garrulous verbosity and loquaciousness!! Shapiro says he has the support of the Rogers suits upstairs and says the Jays will continue to spend this off-season as they chase another championship.  

Golf Notebook – Tiger Woods quest for a record-breaking 83rd PGA Tour win may be a while coming judging by his performance this week at the Zozo Championship at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California.  Woods staggered to a four over 76 in the opening round on Thursday. Only two golfers were worse and one withdrew. It was his worst score in 49 career rounds at Sherwood. In fact, Tiger has played 12 tournaments there and has finished worse than second only twice which is a pretty poor statement on the current state of his game. Woods has played the equivalent of once a month since the Tour restarted after the pandemic shutdown and to say he’s rusty is being generous. In the five events he’s played since the re-start, he’s finished no better than a tie for 37th. Only four of his 22 rounds have been in the 60’s. We ask you – what’s he done in the past year to justify still being ranked 20th in the world? Tiger bounced back with a fine 6-under 66 on Friday but it only magnified his real issue….and that’s putting together four solid rounds, something he has not been able to do.

Phil Mickelson is two for two so far on the PGA Champions Tour. He soared past Canada’s Mike Weir with a back-nine surge on Sunday to win an over-50 event in Virginia. Mickelson closed with a 7-under 65 to become the third player to win his first two stops on the tour. Jim Furyk also did it earlier this year. For Weir, it was his third top-10 finish in eight starts this year. His initial win on the senior circuit should come soon.

In Praise of Sid Hartman – How about the story of legendary Twin Cities sportswriter Sid Hartman who passed away on Sunday at the ripe old age of 100. Hartman was a sports journalist for over 75 years. His first column was published in 1945 just one week after the end of WW2. His last one was published on the day he died. During that time, Hartman had over 21,000 bylines. He spent his entire career as a columnist and reporter, most recently for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He wrote 119 stories in 2020 alone. Hartman also hosted a regular show called the Sports Huddle on WCCO radio.

While working as a columnist at the age of 27, Hartman became the acting general manager of the Minneapolis Lakers and helped turn that franchise into the NBA’s first dynasty. The Minneapolis Lakers won five titles in six seasons between 1949 and 1954.

Best of Chris Berman – ESPN’s Chris Berman made a career out of coming up with creative nicknames for pro athletes.  Here’s our Best of Berman list.

Eddie Eat, Drink and Be Murray

Bernard Innocent Until Proven Gilkey

Jesus Skip To My Alou

Al Cigarette Leiter

Rick See Ya Later Aguilera

Amani It’s Not A Toomer

Brook Jacoby Wan Kenobi

John I Am Not a Kruk

Nomar Mr. Nice Guy Garciaparra

Jeff Brown Paper Bagwell

Mike You’re in Good Hands With Allstott

Carlos Daylight Come and Delgado Go Home

Damion It Don’t Come Easley

Eric Sleeping With Bienemy

Andre Bad Moon Rison

Chuck New Kids on Knoblauch

Sammy Say it Ain’t Sosa

Juan Re Encarnacion

Roberto Remember the Alomar

Jay Ferris Buhner

Todd Highway to Helton

Bobby Bad To the Bonilla

Tom Cotton Candiotti

John Holy Moses

Jon Kitna Kaboodle

Jim Washer and Dwyer

Bruce Eggs Benedict

Bert Be Home Blyleven

LaMarr Where Does it Hoyt

Jermaine Live And Let Dye

Hideo Ain’t Gonna Work On Maggie’s Farm Nomo

C.C. Splish Splash I Was Taking Sabathia

Music Video of the Week – There are few musicians out there with a more unique sound than Mark Knopfler. Here’s a great interview with Knopfler from Brian Johnson’s music documentary series “Life on the Road.”

Back in 2012, Knopfler performed “Sultans of Swing” before a live studio audience and it includes what is considered one of the best guitar solos of all time.

Here’s another fantastic performance from Seville in 2015 with Knopfler performing “Telegraph Road.”

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