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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Editor Bill Morphy and contributors Jordan Moss, Peter Hucul, Doug MacCormack and Bill Myles. This week, panic comes early in Canuck Land. Canada prepares for the World Cup. The Phillies surprise and the Seahawks produce a rookie class for the ages. 

The Great Miscalculation – We’ve seen this movie before. It took the Canucks less than two weeks to hit crisis mode. The new management team clearly misread the state of the team in the off-season. They assumed the Canucks would build off last year’s promise under Bruce Boudreau and they were dead wrong. Whatever cycle the front office believed the team was in, it was a miscalculation.

Boudreau is without a contract beyond this year and is basically a lame duck behind the bench. Ownership has no appetite to make a coaching change since the Canucks are already paying Travis Green to sit at home, leaving Bruce Almighty in purgatory for the remainder of the season.

As currently constituted, the Canucks simply do not have the organizational depth or the necessary pieces on defense to “retool on the fly.” Sorry, the foundation is just not there. Reality has clearly gotten in the way. Something is wrong when your stated goal is to just ‘make the playoffs.’

All that was accomplished during the off-season was digging a bigger hole and burying the team further into the abyss. Why lavish a 29-year-old forward with a seven-year, $56 million dollar extension? Why reward Brock Boeser a new, three-year deal at over $6 million per when speed up front is an issue? Two more contracts that may prove impossible to move.

One management group after another have taken up residence at Rogers Arena and none have been willing to gut the team and conduct a proper rebuild. Trevor Linden wanted to and he was tossed to the curb. Jim Benning kept his job because he convinced ownership he could retool on the fly. The fans are on board for a proper rebuild. Management and ownership have simply not been willing to take the necessary steps.

The Rutherford regime talked the talk when changes were made last season. Rutherford made overtures about getting younger, getting faster, stockpiling draft picks and slowly rebuilding organizational depth. There have been some modest gains but overall, the new management group have been unable to acquire picks, shed salary or fix the massive issues on the back end. The one-year grade would have to be B-minus. In fact, taking into account the Miller and Boeser contracts and the second-round pick sent to Chicago to dump the contract of Jason Dickinson, we would have to downgrade it to C.

The composition of the blueline is nowhere near good enough. The Canucks have failed to find a partner for Quinn Hughes since Chris Tanev bolted for Alberta. Not only do they need to insulate Hughes and his defensive shortcomings, the Canucks need to put together a legitimate shutdown defense pairing, something every good team must have. In reality, they are probably three quality defensemen away from any hope of contention. It’s a big ask for a front office working without cap space or the assets to acquire what’s desperately needed. The acquisition of Ethan Bear may provide short-term help but as long-time Canuck observer Peter Hucul wisely mused, “Bear goes from a healthy scratch in Carolina to the number one pairing in Vancouver. That kind of tells you everything you need to know.”

As hockey writer Cam Robinson pointed out, unless the Canucks can somehow add picks, (and that’s unlikely based on their track record) they will, at best, make three first-round picks and two second-round selections over a five-year period from 2020-2024. THIS is what frustrates the ever-patient and ever-loyal fan base. Needless to say, it’s not exactly the ideal way to build a team.

Want a prediction? The Canucks will show some life late as the season goes along and improve just enough to end up selecting 12-14 in the draft.  Once again missing out on an opportunity to land a premium talent in the draft.  Sound familiar?

NHL Notebook Scoring is up in the NHL (again) and we are starting to see some trends on the power-play that point to the reason why. Several teams are leaning far more heavily on their top PP unit in an effort to boost production. The Oilers first power-play unit is staying on the ice for more than 85 percent of the man-advantage minutes. It’s similar in Minnesota were the Wild deploy their PP1 about 80 percent. In Colorado, it’s over 70 percent. The Rangers top unit is on the ice about 77 percent of the time. NHL teams have also shifted almost exclusively to using four forwards on the power-play. Some teams, including the Montreal Canadiens, have even started to experiment with five forwards.

As much as we criticized Buffalo ownership for years of mismanagement, it appears their long rebuild is finally starting to pay dividends. With Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power, the Sabres have two lynchpins on defense. Up front, trades for Tage Thompson and Alex Tuch are looking like huge wins. The Sabres had three first-round picks in the 2022 draft and selected three centers, further fortifying the spine of the team. The Canucks should be following a similar script. Build down the middle. People forget that this is the Sabres second rebuild in a row. The first rebuild was centered around Jack Eichel. We know how that worked out. Now they are starting to see the results of a second rebuild. Buffalo hasn’t made the playoffs since 2011. A painful 11-year drought.

Say what you want about Phil Kessel. He’s a gamer and he now stand’s alone as the NHL’s all-time Iron Man. Kessel fired in his 400th career goal on the night he broke the consecutive games played record. Daniel Sedin of the Canucks is headed to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He scored 393 goals during his career. You would have to think Kessel is a Hall of Fame candidate despite the way he’s been portrayed in the media over the course of his career. The media has made him out to be fat and lazy and out of shape and it couldn’t be further from the truth. At Gary Roberts off-season summer training facility in Toronto, Kessel is said to have squatted 330 pounds while standing on one leg. Kessel himself has played into the narrative with a self-deprecating sense of humour. Here’s a good read on how other players and former teammates view Kessel.

The Maple Leafs have stumbled out of the gate. According to a report in the Toronto Sun, an NHL coach is quoted as saying, “that’s a soft team. Really talented but soft. You don’t go anywhere being that soft.” From now on, let’s just call the Leafs the Toronto Charmins.

You may laugh but there’s a path that would see the Leafs miss the playoffs this year. Like the Canucks, they do not play with the kind of structure you need to be successful. Saturday night’s loss in Los Angeles dropped the Leafs to 4-4-1. They currently sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference. Yes, it’s early but the signs are there for everyone to see. Sheldon Keefe could be the first coach fired this season.

The Calgary Flames have reopened talks with the City of Calgary on a new arena. Both sides are calling it a “fresh start.” It looked like they had a deal earlier this year but it fell apart over just $10 million dollars. The Saddledome opened in 1983 and is now the second-oldest arena in the NHL. The city is now being represented in talks by CAA agency which is led by player agents Pat Brisson and J.P. Barry. It’ll be interesting to see if they can get a done deal quickly.

Anyone predicting the demise of the Boston Bruins this season may want to change their thinking. The Bruins have hung tough without veteran stars Charlie McAvoy and Brad Marchand. Marchand is back and it’s doubtful the Bruins will fall out of a playoff spot as many people predicted. It’s starts with accountability – a mainstay in Boston – and structure. The Bruins can plug and play different guys and still just carry on.

Life just got a lot tougher for the Ottawa Senators. Rising star Josh Norris is gone long-term with another shoulder injury and the Sens will have to figure out how to replace his scoring in the lineup. Ottawa’s playoff chances dropped by 17 percent following the injury to Norris. Rookie Shane Pinto, an early Calder candidate, will have to take on added responsibility. Look for young Ridley Grieg to make his way into the lineup by Christmas. He’s apprenticing in Belleville and should become a factor sometime later in the season.

Say what you want about John Tortorella but the guy gets results. He’s certainly lit a fire under the Philadelphia Flyers in the early going. Torts did the same thing in Columbus. The Blue Jackets improved by 32 points in the standing in Tortorella’s first year. You’ll remember when Torts left Vancouver, he said the team had major problems and needs a rebuild. The Canucks should have heeded his warning then.  It probably won’t last but Torts is already changing the culture. He has the Flyers blocking shots and taking the body. The improved commitment has helped revive goaltender Carter Hart whose career was at a crossroads.

If you were constructing Team Canada right now, the biggest question would be who would be in goal. Hart looked like a future star in 2020 when he broke in with a .914 save percentage during the regular season and followed it up with a .926 percentage in the playoffs. Since then, it’s been a struggle with an .896 save percentage over the last 72 games. Canadian hockey fans are praying Hart can keep it together.

You don’t need to be picking at the top of the draft every year to build a solid team. The Dallas Stars had a rough year in 2016-2017 and used the opportunity to restock the franchise. In the 2017 NHL Draft, the Stars landed defenceman Miro Heiskanen and goalie Jake Oettinger in the first round and forward Jason Robertson in the second round. That’s how you turn your fortunes around in quick fashion. Are you paying attention Canucks?

The Florida Panthers won the Presidents Trophy last season with 122 points. Right now, they are in survival mode. Top defenseman Aaron Ekblad is injured again and last year’s other top D-man, MacKenzie Weegar, is playing in Calgary. Salary Cap pressures prevented the Panthers from re-signing Claude Giroux, Mason Marchment and Ben Chiarot. Anthony Duclair is out until at least January with a torn Achilles. Could you go from Presidents Trophy to non-playoff team in one year? It’s not out of the question.

The San Jose Sharks should wake-up and start a total rebuild. What were they thinking when they signed Tomas Hertl to an eight-year extension when the team was already saddled with a bunch of debilitating long-term contracts? The payroll is completely bloated. Several veterans including Erik Karlsson have full no-move clauses. Good luck to new GM Mike Grier cleaning up that mess.

It’s going to be a season-long challenge for the Tampa Bay Lightning. I don’t care how good you are, when you lose two solid defensemen in Jan Rutta and Ryan McDonagh, you are going to feel the pinch. It’s akin to losing a complete shutdown defense pair. Expect the Bolts to go looking for help before the trade deadline.

The defending Cup champion Colorado Avalanche may also be shopping around. Victoria Grizzlies grad Alex Newhook is not ready to be a number two center in place of Nazem Kadri. How about Jonathan Toews or Bo Horvat? Either one would look good in an Avs uniform. Meantime, Valeri Nichushkin is responding to increased ice time. He popped in five power-play goals in only 22 minutes of ice time over the first half dozen games.

Anyone who thought Kadri would regress in Calgary after coming off a career year in Denver and landing a big free agent contract was dead wrong. Kadri has been outstanding in a Flames uniform in the early going and finally gives the team a solid one-two punch down the middle.

Only the NHL would let the Arizona Coyotes play in a 5,000-seat university arena but yes, it’s happening. The Winnipeg Jets had the pleasure of being the first visiting team to play in Mullett Arena. The dressing room is surrounded by pipe and drape. The visitor’s shower is a converted public washroom. Here’s more from a report on TSN.

As the saying goes, you are what you eat and nutrition has never been more important for the modern-day athlete. Hockey players are starting to catch on to the impact of good eating habits. Contributor Doug MacCormack passed along a good read on how NHL players are paying much more attention to what they put in their stomachs.

World Series Notebook – Phillies manager Rob Thomson is the first Canadian ever to manage a World Series team. Thomson is a baseball lifer and couldn’t be more deserving. The Phillies went  65-46 after Thomson replaced Joe Girardi back in June. The Phillies were 22-29 at the time and the 59-year-old from Corunna, Ontario was just the tonic they needed. Thomson was a candidate for the Jays managing job in 2010 when the Jays hired John Farrell. It’s great to see him get the opportunity after being pigeon-holed for so long as a bench coach and nothing more.

If you watched the Phillies during the regular season, you would not for a minute think you were watching a team that was headed for a World Series berth. That’s baseball! No sport produces a more unpredictable postseason. Phillies Director Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski has now guided three different organizations to the World Series. Wonder how Red Sox fans are feeling now.

Justin Verlander is this season’s American League Cy Young favourite. He’s had tons of postseason success and is a future Hall of Famer but he’s not been able to find World Series magic. After getting touched up for five runs in the opening game, the 39-year-old now has a 5.68 ERA in seven career starts in the Fall Classic.

Having covered Andre Dawson and Tim Raines during the Montreal Expos heyday, it’s sad to learn there are no African-American players in this year’s World Series for the first time since 1950. We’ve known for a while that top black athletes have been gravitating away from baseball. Basketball and football are simply more popular. The Houston Astros have 12 non-Americans on the ball club from a range of baseball hotbeds including Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. The trend has been to Hispanic players while blacks now basically ignore the game. It’s baseball’s loss.

If you follow Under Further Review on a regular basis, you will know we weren’t buying stock in the New York Yankees all season. Too much swing and miss in their lineup and boy, did it show up in the postseason as they were swept away in the ALCS by the Houston Astros. Through the first three games of the ALCS, the Spankees went 12-for-94, good for a .128 batting average with an astounding 41 strikeouts. American League MVP favourite Aaron Judge did not deliver in the postseason, going 5-for-32 with 14 strikeouts. All Judge could muster were three singles and a pair of home runs. Manager Aaron Boone had few bench options. Boone had to choose between Matt Carpenter, Jose Trevino, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Oswald Peraza, Kyle Higashioka and Tim Locastro. How’s that for a Murderer’s Row? The Yankees went 50-51 over their final 101 games including playoffs.

Seahawks Notebook – This season may prove to be Pete Carroll’s greatest coaching accomplishment – and not just because the Seahawks are surprise leaders in the NFC West. Don’t forget, this was supposed to be a rebuilding year in Seattle. Pete simply refused to treat this season like a rebuild and somehow convinced the team to think that way as well.

The young Seahawks went into Los Angeles and walked all over the listless Chargers. Who would have ever thought Geno Smith would be leading the NFL in passing percentage? Russell who? Geno is hitting on close to 74% of his passes.

The foundation of the Seahawks Super Bowl team was built around the 2012 draft which included Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Russell Wilson, Robert Turbin, Jeremy Lane and J.R. Sweezy. Ten years later, the 2022 draft class may be as good or even better. In order, Charles Cross, Boye Mafe, Kenneth Walker III, Abraham Lucas, Coby Bryant, Tariq Woolen are all making huge contributions already. Receiver Dareke Young and Tyreke Smith, who’s on IR, may be factors down the road.

Walker has exploded since taking over at running back following the season-ending injury to Rashaad Penny. He’s had nine runs of 10+ yards in the past two weeks including a scintillating 72-yarder to put the Chargers away. On the day, Walker had 23 carries for 168 yards.

NFL Notebook – The San Francisco 49’ers seem intent on using the same playbook as the arch-rival Los Angeles Rams when it comes to team building. The Niners coughed up 2023 second, third and fourth-round picks plus a 2024 fifth-round selection in order to acquire oft-injured Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey. The guy can run the football but he’s missed a ton of games over the past few seasons. The Rams emptied the draft cupboard in their pursuit of a Super Bowl. Looks like the 49’ers are also saying ‘draft picks be damned.’ This could play in the Seahawks favour big-time over the next few seasons. Two completely different approaches to winning.

The great Jim Brown played nine seasons in the NFL from 1957 to 1965. The Cleveland Browns played 122 games including playoffs during that span and Brown started every one of them. THAT’S durability.

The Chargers playoff hopes may have gone out the window with the season-ending knee injury to receiver Mike Williams. Justin Herbert is running out of targets. The Bolts other top wideout, Keenan Allen, was already out of the lineup with a hamstring injury. Williams and Allen carry a combined $33 million dollar cap hit and have given the Chargers a whole lot of nothing.

Don’t look now, but if the NFL Draft was held today, the 2023 first-round pick acquired by the Seahawks from Denver in the Russell Wilson deal would be sixth overall. The way things are going in the Mile High city, the pick may stay that high. Who would have ever thought the Denver draft pick would be higher than Seattle’s in a year the Hawks were supposed to be rebuilding?

The Denver Donkey’s under Wilson have the worst offense in the NFL and maybe the worst in franchise history. They have scored 16 or fewer points in six of seven games and nine points in two of the last three. Hee-Haw!!!

Veteran quarterback Matt Ryan has been benched by the Indianapolis Colts. Ryan has no mobility and is a statue in the pocket. Surprised he doesn’t have pigeon doo on his shoulder pads. Ryan’s career has been in the dumpster since the Falcons blew the 28-3 lead against the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

It’s official. Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen have ended their 13-year marriage. You have to wonder if Brady’s decision to unretire was the final straw for his glamorous wife. Brady claimed he still had “unfinished business” with the Bucs. We know how that’s going. Tampa is 3-and-5 and just lost defensive star Shaq Barrett for the season.

Qatar 2022 – The World Cup of Soccer in Qatar is less than a month away. On pure talent, Brazil is the prohibitive favourite. Question is – can they live up to it? Let’s face it, Brazil is deep at every position. They could send out four strikers that are as good as anyone in the world. The issue with Brazil is – will they come together and play as a cohesive unit?

If you are looking for a prediction, how can you not go with a Brazil-France final? If you are looking for surprises, look at the Eastern European teams, perhaps even a team like Senegal from Africa and Korea from the far east. Someone is sure to surprise and why not Canada?

Several Canadian players are playing lights out in major European leagues. Forward Jonathan David is among the scoring leaders in Ligue 1 with the French club Lille. Cyle Larin is playing in Belgium with Club Brugge and has been one of their top performers. We know all about Bayern Munich defender Alphonso Davies who may just be the fastest soccer player in the world. You have midfielder Stephen Eustáquio with Porto in the Portuguese Primiera Liga. Team Canada is not exactly chopped liver.

Canada has two upcoming matches before the start of the World Cup. Canada faces Bahrain on November 11 and Japan in Dubai on November 17. That’s the final dress rehearsal before the opening game in Qatar on November 23 against Belgium.

Leftovers – We were taken aback when news broke that Canadian-born Josh Primo had been released by the San Antonio Spurs. Now, we are starting to find out why. Shocking because Primo had been the Spurs number one pick in the 2021 NBA draft, 12th overall. Reports say Primo has been accused by a former Spurs employee of exposing himself.  ESPN reports there were multiple incidents of Primo exposing himself to women.

In last week’s column, we touted Canada’s Bennedict Mathurin as a potential NBA rookie-of-the-year. The Indiana Pacers guard and Montreal native has already posted games of 26, 27 and 32 points. We also mentioned OK Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander would look good in a Raptors uniform. All he’s done so far this season is average a tad under 30 points per game.

It’s been a tumultuous year for Rory McIlroy. He found himself in the middle of the PGA Tour-LIV Golf controversy. He became the unofficial de facto spokesman for the Tour. In the midst of the furore, McIlroy got his golf game together and by winning the recent CJ Cup, he returned to number one in the world rankings. It’s the ninth time in his career he has reached #1. Rory has now won 23 times on the PGA Tour and 31 times worldwide. I guess we can now stop calling him Mr. Bean.

Top U.S. college players may choose to stay in school longer now that NCAA endorsement money is being made available to top players. Last year’s unanimous player of the year in college basketball, center Oscar Tshiebwe of Kentucky, has already earned a reported $2.5 million from the NIL program. Players can now earn more in college than they would on a two-way NBA or G-League deal. It’s a big incentive for players to stick around and anchor major college programs.

There have been many stories written about the eating exploits of the Yankees immortal Babe Ruth. Check out this recounting of the Babe’s daily diet. The Babe was ravenous.

Spotify Playlist Tracks of the Week – Van Morrison seems to be just as prolific as ever. Van the Man has released a couple of albums in the last year and just dropped a new single entitled Streamline Train. It’s vintage Van. Check it out, it’s a great track.

Even an avid jazz fan has probably never heard of bassist Kyle Eastwood. He’s an outstanding player and arranger. Just so happens he’s the son of legendary actor/director Clint Eastwood who passed along his own love of jazz. Clint is apparently a decent piano player. Son Kyle has written the soundtrack for nine of his father’s films. Check out the track Metropolitain from a Kyle Eastwood release in 2009.

Paul Carrack and the SWR Swing Band have released a single from an upcoming album. Check out Cryin’ Won’t Help You. Looking forward to the album. Should be excellent.

Randall Bramblett is a multi-instrumental session player who’s been around the American music scene for decades. He’s recorded and toured with numerous artists including Gregg Allman. Bramblett plays keyboards, saxophones, flute, guitar, mandolin, and harmonica, and his tongue-in-cheek songwriting is brilliant. Have a listen to I Just Don’t Have the Time from the release Juke Joint at the Edge of the World.

The world music unit Playing for Change has dropped another track. This time out they reprise U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

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