Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Co-Editor Bill Morphy. This week, the baseball season comes to a stirring conclusion. We go across Canada with our NHL season preview and tally up what’s wrong with the Seahawks.
To the Wire – Are you ready for a roller-coaster ride on the final day of the Major League Baseball season? Four teams in the American League wild-card race separated by a single game with the likelihood we are headed for at least one tiebreaker game on Monday. Pressure? You bet and it will have a nation on the edge of their seat.
Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, the Blue Jays have provided so many highlights this season. Who could have imagined Marcus Semien hitting 44 home runs to set a new MLB record for second basemen? It’s a team on the rise. The Jays look like a sustainable championship ball club that should remain a World Series contender for at least five years. Yes, it may hurt to miss out on the post-season but how can you complain about a team that provided so much entertainment in a year when they had to play in three different cities?
Despite giving up four home runs and taking the loss on Thursday night, Robbie Ray is still the leading candidate for the AL Cy Young award. He leads the AL in ERA (2.84), innings pitched (193.1) and strikeouts (248). Ray also leads in numerous other advanced pitching stats including WAR and WHIP. One thing we’ve learned over the years, leading the league in ERA and innings pitched is a sure fire formula for winning the Cy Young. The one drawback to Ray’s breakout season is home runs allowed. Ray has given up 33 home runs, second highest in the American League.
There are so many positives to reflect back regardless of what happens on Sunday. The Jays have hit a club record 258 home runs. They have seven, yes seven, players in their lineup with at least 20 home runs. They have four players – Semien, Vladdy, Bo and Hernandez – with 100+ RBI’s.
Where would the Jays be without Alek Manoah? The big right-hander has saved the Jays season. The Jays have won 16 of his 20 starts. He leads all rookie pitcher’s in WHIP. It seems pretty clear he’s a future front-of-the-rotation starter. The Jays need Nate Pearson to break through in a similar fashion next season.
Talk about buyer’s remorse. At the trade deadline, the Blue Jays made a futile attempt to bolster their horrid bullpen by acquiring a pair of relievers, veteran Joakim Soria and leftie Brad Hand. Soria has allowed seven earned runs in eight innings since being acquired from Arizona. Soria has benefitted from the Jays offense, otherwise his series of bad outings would be more damaging. Hand’s stay in Toronto was a disaster from the get-go. In his first outing, he allowed three runs in the 10th inning and took the loss. He appeared in 11 games with two losses and a blown save, allowing 10 runs in 8 2/3 innings. Oh, did we mention he gave up three dingers as well? The Blue Jay scout who gave these two gas-cans the thumbs up should be shown the door.
You get the feeling, and we could be completely wrong, but it seemed like the spotlight became a little too bright for some of the young Jays. I think of Alejandro Kirk. The guy can rake but he’s failed to produce any big hits in the final couple of weeks when it counted most. One thing is for sure, the experience of playing important games in September in the middle of a pennant race can only help all the young Jays. It’s not like there are many holes to fill. Add a couple of arms in the bullpen. Add a few more left-handed bats to balance out the lineup and the Jays should be right back in the mix next season.
It may be a tall order in convincing Semiem to return next season. As much as he’s enjoyed playing in Toronto, if he is adamant about playing shortstop next season, there’s not much the Jays can do. Semien may end up being third in MVP voting in the American League.
MLB Notebook – Full marks to the Seattle Mariners for the season they have put together. The Oakland A’s can certainly attest. The M’s singlehandedly erased the A’s playoff hopes by beating Oakland 12 consecutive times. Amazing! Now do you agree that Scott Servais should be AL Manager of the Year?
We’re not big fans of Bryce Harper but the Phillies outfielder has put together one of the best second-half’s in baseball history. His numbers since the all-star break are ridiculous. Harper has put himself ahead of the pack in voting for NL MVP.
What’s with athletes punching walls and breaking their hands? Witness the case of Milwaukee Brewers reliever Devin Williams who is set to undergo surgery on his pitching hand just as the Brewers prepare for the post-season. The 2020 NL Rookie of the Year told reporters he had too much to drink after the team clinched the NL Central crown, became angered and punched a wall. Williams should have taken a page from former Washington Redskins quarterback Gus Frerotte. You will remember he injured his neck when he rammed his head into a padded cement wall during a touchdown celebration. Had Williams slammed his head into the wall instead of his pitching hand, it couldn’t possibly cause any damage.
Canadian Preview – With the start of the NHL season just around the corner, let’s have a quick look at the seven Canadian teams and assess where they stand.
Vancouver Canucks – When Hockey Canada brass convene to start constructing a team for any major international event, top of mind is who to select for their shutdown pair of defencemen. It’s the #1 priority. You need a reliable pair that can eat up big minutes and play in all situations.
General Manager Jim Benning enters his 8th season at the helm of the Canucks yet the team is still without a shutdown pair. The right side of the defense is shaky at best and none were drafted and developed through the system. All three were signed in free agency. Even right-side depth defenceman Luke Schenn was a FA signing. It’s excusable that so little attention was paid to the most important part of roster-building. Why are the New York Islanders our choice to win the Stanley Cup this season? It starts with their shutdown pair on the blueline – Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock.
To make matters worse, Travis Hamonic, who was slated to team with Quinn Hughes in the top pairing, is still not in camp because of his apparent refusal to be vaccinated. It’s another classic case of Canuck negligence. Did they not broach the subject with Hamonic and his representatives when they signed him to a two-year, $6 million dollar extension? They knew his position. Hamonic opted out of the Edmonton bubble in 2020 because of his concern over contracting COVID and potentially passing it along to his daughter.
Hamonic’s absence leaves a big hole in the Canucks penalty-killing unit. He was probably the team’s best penalty-killer last season. Oliver Ekman-Larsson will be forced to kill penalties since no one else on the left side of the defence is up for the task. Olli Juolevi would have been an option but he’s pretty much played himself out of a job. Outside of J.T. Miller and Jason Dickinson, who among the Canucks top-nine forward group can kill penalties? Horvat has been utilized on the PK in the past without success. Travis Green has indicated he’s reluctant to use young players in the role but he may have no choice but to audition Nils Hoglander and Vasily Podkolzin. With both Tyler Motte and Brandon Sutter sidelined, it becomes absolutely necessary to find penalty killers on the fourth line. That opens the door for Phil Di Giuseppe and Justin Dowling. Matthew Highmore has not exactly stood out in training camp but since he kills penalties, he’s almost a lock to start the season in Vancouver. Once again, Benning has no concept of roster-construction. The Canucks penalty killing unit is likely to become a major issue.
A season with so much promise is now at risk of imploding. Canuck fans must look at Seattle and wonder how an expansion team can have a better group of defencemen without having played their first regular season game.
Benning gets high marks for finally getting Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson under contract. It’s been a nervous few months but the fan base can finally exhale. How do you spell relief? That would be Petey – 3 yrs. X $7.35 million and Huggy – 6 yrs. X $7.85 AAV. It’s a big win for the organization. Locking up the prodigal pair at under $8 million each helps the Canucks maintain a very sensible internal cap structure. Brock Boeser will need a new deal next summer. J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat will be up the following year. How could any of them try and eclipse what the two foundational pieces are now earning?
We see the Canucks as significantly improved yet still flawed on the back end. This is a playoff team in the weak Pacific Division.
Breakout Candidate: Vasily Podkolzin
Edmonton Oilers – It’s hard to be overly optimistic about the Oilers prospects. Can Edmonton really expect a pair of aging warriors like Mike Smith and Duncan Keith, to continue performing at a high level? Mikko Koskinen remains the other option in goal and you know how that’s worked out. On defense, gone are stalwart Adam Larsson, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear and Dmitry Kulikov. Worse yet, it looks like Oscar Klefbom won’t be returning anytime soon from a serious shoulder issue which leaves his future in serious doubt. Enter Keith and Cody Ceci to fill two spots along with the returning Tyson Barrie whose defensive limitations are well documented. Depth on defence could be a serious issue. Zach Hyman and Warren Foegele will add grit and punch up front but will it be enough to mask the team’s shortcomings? We don’t think so. The Oilers desperately need recent top picks Kailer Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi and Philip Broberg to make a big impact. Somehow, we don’t see that happening. By the end of this season, the talk of Connor McDavid wanting out of Edmonton will be echoing again. Count on it.
Breakout Candidate: Evan Bouchard.
Calgary Flames – The Flames are at a crossroads. Heading into his 8th season, the heat is on GM Brad Treliving big time. If you can’t secure a playoff spot in the weakest division in hockey, changes are sue to follow. The Johnny and Monny Show is back and you know how that movie has turned out before. The Flames have one of the weakest center-ice groups in the NHL. Darryl Sutter has convinced Treliving to bring in a bunch of slugs who will slavishly play his system. Watching the Flames this season will not be fun on most nights. Where’s the offence coming from? The loss of franchise icon Mark Giordano has to hurt. They need a bounce-back season from goalie Jacob Markstrom. How can you not look at this team and see that it has the potential to go sideways? This could be the year the Flames take a major tumble. They are a playoff bubble team at best. Cue the rebuild!
Breakout candidate: Blake Coleman
Winnipeg Jets – The clock is ticking on the Jets competitive window. The top six forward group is as good as any in the league. Wheeler, Schiefele, Stastny, Dubois, Connor and Ehlers. That’s about as good as it gets. Pierre-Luc Dubois has plenty to prove after last year’s injury-riddled season. You would have to think a bounce-back is in order. Toss in Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp and you are a matchup nightmare up front.
You know the Jets will have first-rate goaltending thanks to Connor Hellebuyck so the focus again falls on the blueline. The off-season additions of Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt should do wonders to solidify the group. Neal Pionk, Josh Morrissey, Dylan DeMelo and Logan Stanley will help give Paul Maurice more options than he’s had in three years. This is a team that could challenge for top spot in the Central Division.
Breakout candidate: David Gustafsson
Toronto Maple Leafs – No General Manager in hockey is under a bigger microscope than the Leafs Kyle Dubas. Here’s what he had to say in the off-season after the Leafs fifth straight first round playoff exit.
“For better or worse, I believe in this group. I believe that they are going to get it done and that they are going to win. I understand that this comes with certain doubt because we have not broken through in the playoffs, but it is my belief that they will. I believe in them as players. I believe in them as people. I know that the decision lies on me and the risk is for me in going ahead that way. I am comfortable with it. I believe we are going to see the best version of this group [in 2021-22] that we have seen yet. I am willing to bet everything on that.”
After the string of playoff disappointments, the Leafs made changes to their staff and added Greg Harden as a performance coach to “help the team be at their best when pressure comes.” So THAT was the Leafs problem! I would have never known.
With little money to spend, Dubas again worked the fringes of the roster with a number of bargain-basement signings. One of Michael Bunting, Nick Ritchie or Ondrej Kase with be needed to replace Zach Hyman. The defence lacks depth and bite. The goaltending is middle-of-the-road. The Leafs were very fortunate to avoid injuries last season. If the injury bug hits in a big way, particularly on the back end, the Leafs lack of depth could plummet them right out of a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. The offence should be good enough to get them third place behind Tampa and Florida.
Breakout Candidate: Michael Bunting
Editor’s Note: The five-part documentary, All or Nothing, on last season’s Maple Leafs team is now available on Amazon Prime Video. Can you guess the ending? It has to do with the Nothing part.
Ottawa Senators – How can you not like what’s happening in Ottawa? The Senators are a quality center away from taking a major step forward. They have enviable size and grit right down through their lineup and should no longer provide a soft spot on the schedule for opponents. Once Brady Tkachuk is signed, the left side of the forward group is as good as any team in hockey with Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, speedy Alex Formenton, Nick Paul and Zach Sanford. The right side is lacking behind Drake Batherson and Connor Brown. That’s opens a door for hulking Russian winger Egor Sokolov. Ottawa will start the season with a veteran group on defence after adding Michael Del Zotto and Nick Holden to the blueline over the summer. The future of Erik Brannstrom is cloudy. Brannstrom was the key piece in the deal that sent Mark Stone to Vegas but he is yet to establish himself. He may start the season in the minors along with defence prospect Jacob Bernard-Docker. Once again this season, the determining factor for Ottawa will be goaltending. Matt Murray has spent the summer building strength so he can handle a long season. Filip Gustavsson and Anton Forsberg will battle for starts behind him. The Sens are another year away from a serious jump.
Breakout Candidate: Shane Pinto
Montreal Canadiens – Can anyone explain why Marc Bergevin has not yet received a contract extension from the Montreal Canadiens? A year ago, Bergevin was under heavy criticism. One year later and one trip to the Stanley Cup final and Bergevin is viewed in a far different light. L’affair Kotkaniemi has only improved his standing. Walking away with Christian Dvorak in the deal with Arizona was larcenous. His only misstep was signing Brendan Gallagher to a lengthy extension and failing to ink FA center Phillip Danault. Danault took $33 million and bolted to the Kings. Sorry, we’re not buying Jake Evans as a third-line center!
The loss of future Hall of Famer Shea Weber on defence is sure to have an impact. David Savard was signed to fill his spot but they will miss Weber’s bombs from the point. When you look at the Habs closely, it’s hard not to think something is missing. There’s a lot of nice pieces but overall, is there the cohesiveness to carry them through a full season in the tough Atlantic Division? Jonathan Drouin returns but what version are you getting? Carey Price will need to produce a fair better regular season performance if the Canadiens are going to land a playoff spot. We foresee a Cup hangover. The Habs just miss out grabbing a post-season berth.
Breakout Candidate: Cole Caufield
COVID Championships – Hockey Canada has to be more than a little concerned about the alarming COVID-19 numbers in Alberta. The World Junior Hockey Championships are scheduled to return to Edmonton-Red Deer starting on December 26. The 2022 World Juniors were awarded back to Alberta after the 2021 tournament was played in a bubble without fans. The governing bodies felt compelled to return with the expectation it would be held at full capacity. Well, with a fourth wave raging throughout the province, nothing is certain now. It would be a shame if the tournament is held without fans again this year but that’s certainly a possibility. Hopefully, the situation will improve by then.
Seahawks This Week – Let’s cut to the chase. The Seahawks had their lunch handed to them in Minnesota and they are full value for their 1-2 record. Seattle occupies last place in the tough NFC West and it may be a long climb out of the basement. When your defense can’t get a stop and get off the field, you have big problems. Don’t forget, this was a Viking team without Dalvin Cook and they still rang up 150 yards on the ground.
Hey, there’s nothing to worry about. The Seahawks cheese-cloth defense is showing improvement. After three games last season, they had surrendered an average of 497 yards and 28.7 points per game. After three games this season, the numbers are 440.3 and 26.3. See what I mean? They only suck at all three levels of the defense. No pass rush. Can’t stop the run. Can’t stop the pass. The corners are playing so far off the ball they may as well be playing safety.
So far, the personnel decisions on defense have been disastrous. Gone from last season are linebacker K.J. Wright, cornerback Shaquille Griffin and defensive tackle Jarran Reed. All three have played in the Pro Bowl. Griffin departed in free agency to Jacksonville with a three-year, $40 million dollar deal, $29 million guaranteed. Reed ended up in Kansas City when his demands for an extension were denied. He signed a one-year deal with the Chiefs for less than he would have made with the Seahawks. Wright landed in Vegas on a one-year contract when the Hawks decided to walk away from the 10-year vet and give playing time to Darrell Taylor and Jordyn Brooks. Each move was calculated and so far, the results are not exactly overwhelming.
After giving up 532 total yards to the Titans, the Seahawks allowed Minnesota to convert 9 of 13 third-down tries and pile up 453 yards of offense. Vikings quarterback Kurt Cousins went 30 of 38 and could have sat back there on a rocking chair. Unheralded Alexander Mattison sat in for Dalvin Cook and had 171 yards from scrimmage including 112 yards rushing and another 59 on a variety of screen plays, something that’s been killing Seattle in the early going.
The offense is certainly not blameless. The Seahawks have scored a grand total of 13 second-half points in their opening three games. They are getting crushed in time of possession and after converting their first three third-down attempts, the Hawks went 0 of 5 the rest of the way. The Seahawks are in San Francisco on Sunday before hosting the red-hot L.A. Rams the following Thursday night. This could be the most important two-game stretch during the Pete Carroll-Russell Wilson era. The match-up with the 49’ers is about as close to a must-win as you can get. Otherwise the season could get ugly in a hurry and the ‘Wilson wants out’ chatter will begin anew. At least we know one thing. With the Rams and the Cardinals going head to head, the division will have only one remaining undefeated team after Sunday.
Why did the Seahawks invest so much time and effort in Josh Gordon? Apparently loyalty is not something he is familiar with. The Seahawks gave Gordon an opportunity when no other team would. They signed Gordon after his fifth substance-abuse suspension only to see him suspended for a sixth time late last season when they needed him most. Well, the NFL, in its infinite wisdom, cleared Gordon to play again and what does he do? Gordon signed with the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers despite the fact he was still living in Seattle at the time and the Seahawks offered to bring him back. Thanks Josh! Good luck in Tampa.
NFL Notebook – It ain’t easy being a rookie quarterback in the National Football league. Four rookie QB’s started on Sunday – Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville (first overall), Zach Wilson, New York Jets (second), Justin Fields, Chicago Bears (11th) and Mac Jones, New England (15th). Here’s how they did according to Peter King, MMQB.
- The rookie QBs went 0-4.
- They lost by 12, 15, 20 and 26 points.
- They threw four touchdown passes with seven interceptions, and were sacked 19 times.
- The combined passer rating of the four rookies: 43.1.
Can you believe the ending last weekend in Detroit? Jason Tucker of Baltimore proved again he’s the best kicker in football. Tucker has played in Detroit twice in his career. Back in 2013, he nailed a game-winning 61-yard field goal and Baltimore won by two. On Sunday, in just his second game there, he hit an NFL record 66-yard field goal in the final minute and the Ravens won by two again. The guy is money!
I can’t figure out why place kickers are allowed to take a 10-yard run to the ball on kickoffs. No wonder they can boot the ball out of the back of the endzone. If the NFL wants to promote runbacks, then force kickers to stay within five yards of the ball when kicking off. Makes no sense to give them that much runway.
How about the story of Philadelphia Eagles left tackle Jordan Mailata? The former rugby player from Australia has transformed himself into one of the best LT’s in football and he will be paid accordingly. Mailata just signed a four-year, $64 million dollar contract after beating out former first-round pick Andre Dillard. The Eagles traded up in the seventh-round in 2018 in order to select Mailata. Hitting on a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle in the seventh round is lightning in a bottle.
Ryder Cup Post Mortem – This year’s Ryder Cup represented a major changing of the guard. The U.S. team trounced Europe 19-9 with a young and talented group featuring 8 of the top 10 ranked players in the world. Four of the rookie U.S. team members went undefeated. The oldest player on the team, Dustin Johnson, became the first American player since Larry Nelson back in the 70’s to go 5-and-0.
It certainly looks as though the great European run is over. Europe had taken nine of the last 12 competitions but without an influx of new blood, you would have to think an era is ending. When they compete again in Rome in 2023, Lee Westwood will have hit 50 and may be playing on the Champions Tour. Ian Poulter will be 47. Paul Casey will be 46. Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose will be 43. The scary part for the Euros is – who is emerging to replace them? Outside of Jon Rahm, there’s very few Europeans near the top of the Official World Golf Rankings. If you look at the European Tour money list, it sure looks like the pipeline is dry. A once great competition may be headed to another era of U.S. dominance.
Leftovers – Five Canadians made the cut at the PGA’s Sanderson Farms event in Jackson, Mississippi. Two Canucks sit in the top 10 with an outside chance to win on Sunday. Merritt’s Roger Sloan is at -15 and T8 and within three shots of the lead. Corey Conners is -14 and T10. Taylor Pendrith, Mackenzie Hughes and Adam Hadwin are also playing the weekend.
Spotify Songs of the Week – We had a lot of response last week to our feature on 82-year-old Dion DiMucci. For those of you who want to check out more of his recent music, we recommend the album Blues with Friends. He teams up with an array of guest artists including Jeff Beck, Joe Bonamassa, Sonny Landreth, Van Morrison, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and Joe Louis Walker. We also recommend the 2012 release Tank Full of Blues.
YouTube Artist of the Week – Halie Loren is a soon-to-be 37-year-old American jazz singer who makes her home in Eugene, Oregon. She was born in Sitka, Alaska. Halie has had great success in Japan where her albums have reached number one on the Billboard Japan Top 20 Jazz Albums chart.
For those of you living in the Victoria area, take note. Halie will be performing at Hermann’s Jazz Club on November 14. Well worth taking in her show! Here she is performing “A Woman’s Way.”
Here’s Halie performing “Feeling Good” at the Wildish Theatre in Oregon in 2017.
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