Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Contributing Editor Bill Morphy. This week, when will hockey return? Plus, Jim Benning swallows hard, Turner unmasks the Dodgers while the Seahawks search for answers.
Winter Without Hockey – It is becoming rather apparent the NHL is unlikely to start the next season on January 1. COVID-19 cases continue to soar around the world and a vaccine still seems far off. February 1 appears to be a more realistic start date but even that comes with a load of questions. When the NHL shut down back in March, there were still only a handful of positive cases in BC. Look at the numbers now.
The path to a 2020-2021 season is sure to be paved with an All-Canadian division. Get used to the idea. If the NHL follows through with an abbreviated 48-game season, each of the seven Canadian teams would play each other eight times. It would bring back memories of the old six team league when each team played each other 14 times a season. As I recall, no one got tired of seeing the Leafs and the Canadiens meet that often every year. Sportsnet would love the idea. Ratings would likely increase with so many games involving Canadian teams. It would also lower production costs. In order to increase safety precautions, don’t be surprised if teams play two games in three nights in the same city. Instead of a 3-game road trip out west, it could be turned into a six-game trip.
NBC holds the rights to the rescheduled Tokyo Summer Olympics which are set to being on July 23. Since NBC is the NHL’s U.S. broadcast partner, next season’s Stanley Cup playoffs will have to be concluded by then. A contracted schedule is pretty much a foregone conclusion. If the season starts in February without fans in the stands, does it even make economic sense? The NHL and the NHLPA are scheduled to begin talks shortly. It’s going to be interesting to see the player’s response when they are asked to play for what may be around 54% of their expected salaries. Good luck with that!
Bitter Pill – Now that we have had some time to reflect, it’s pretty clear that Jim Benning swallowed hard and took his bitter medicine. The Canucks had no choice but to take a step back and start to exorcize all the bad contracts off the books. It’s not like they were in a position to make matters worse. Signing Jacob Markstrom to a six-year contract extension would have been absurd. Tanev and Toffoli received four-year deals in Calgary and Montreal. It was time to move on and they did. Gladly!
At first glance, I was in favour of buying out Brandon Sutter. But here’s three compelling reasons why it was a good idea to avoid the urge. First, it made no sense to carry over more than a million dollars into next year’s cap and that’s what would have happened had you bought him out. Short term pain. Second, if he can stay healthy, you may have an asset to move at next year’s trade deadline although don’t expect much. And finally, and most likely, Sutter gets injured as usual and goes onto LITR. You will then have an opportunity to add a valuable player at Sutter’s cap hit which is over $4 million.
The Calgary Canucks, err Flames, added another former Canuck in forward Josh Leivo. Was it a mistake to let him get away when he signed for only $850,000? Not really. Leivo suffered a very serious leg injury last season and he’s not exactly known for his foot speed. The Canucks need to inject speed to their lineup and Leivo was not the answer.
The Canucks are banking on a number of young players stepping up next season and making on impact. If you look at their roster right now, depth is a major issue. The common denominator among all great teams is depth. The Canucks, as currently comprised, are not deep. They need winger Nils Hoglander to join the team next season and inject energy and scoring. They need Olli Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty to establish themselves as reliable depth defensemen. Thatcher Demko has to become a legitimate number one goaltender. Vasili Podkolzin should be available once the KHL season is over in March and he needs to come over and make an immediate impact. Imagine the internal growth within the team if those five players step up and become solid NHL regulars.
NHL Notebook – It’s maddening to think what could have been had the NHL not been so hard-headed about keeping the Coyotes in Arizona. The Coyotes could be a model and stable franchise in Quebec City right now with well-heeled local ownership. It seems like the Coyotes have been on the brink of financial and front office collapse for the better part of two decades.
The latest fiasco in the desert surrounds the drafting of Mitchell Miller who was found to have bullied, verbally abused and assaulted a black, developmentally challenged classmate named Isaiah Meyers-Crothers in 2016, when Miller was 14 years old. Among other things, Miller and an associate forced the disabled boy to suck on urine-soaked candy.
After choosing Miller in the fourth round of this year’s draft, the Coyotes defended the selection by saying they were hoping to use this as an opportunity to raise awareness. Several days later, under an avalanche of media criticism, the Coyotes changed their tune and renounced the draft rights to Miller. The University of North Dakota followed by removing him from the hockey program.
Every NHL team had been made aware of the situation and many teams had removed Miller from their draft lists. The Coyotes initially chose to give him a second chance. The U.S. Under-19 team was willing to give him a second chance. So was UND. But everything changed when it became a social media sensation. The kid was suddenly a Pariah and no one was willing to stick by him. It would have been far wiser to just let Miller go undrafted, spend several years in college under the radar, and check back in four years to see how he had developed mentally and emotionally.
In some weird way, Miller has himself become a victim. Should we not sympathize with a kid who has had his dream of being drafted by an NHL team taken away from him for something he did in eighth grade? The Coyotes and UND clearly failed in properly vetting Miller. The whole ordeal could have been avoided if they had spoken more in-depth with the victim’s family and conducted a proper impact study. The after-the-fact righteous outrage is downright cowardly.
I hate when sports and politics intersect. The reaction to news that Bobby Orr has endorsed Donald Trump for another term as U.S. President has been swift here in Canada. Social media accounts are saying he’s taken too many pucks to the head. Frankly, Orr can do whatever he wants and should not be criticized. However, it is amazing how people can so easily overlook someone who has created such divisiveness within the country, not to mention his treatment of women and outright racism. Let’s be honest, the reason Bobby supports Trump is because he’s helped him avoid paying taxes.
It will be years before the salary cap mess is cleared up in San Jose. Defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Erik Karlsson have full no-move clauses and six and seven years remaining on their contracts. Brett Burns has five years left and a list of only three teams he can be traded to. Between the three of them, who are all between 30 and 35, the Sharks have committed $26.5 million in cap space or nearly a third of the team’s total. Toss in Logan Couture, Evander Kane and Martin Jones and the Sharks have $47.3 million committed to six players, all of them almost impossible to move. Couture has seven years left at $8 million per. Kane has five years to go at $7 million while Jones still has four more years at $5.75 million. It’s going to get ugly in San Jose before it gets better.
World Chumps – It’s a sad state of affairs when the Dodgers World Series victory is overshadowed by the selfish act of one player. Jason Turner’s insistence on returning to the field for the post-game celebrations despite having tested positive for COVID-19 is about as reprehensible as it gets. Let’s be honest. The guy is an entitled jackass! Dodger officials even condoned the act, saying “he’s been the heart and soul of the team for six years and deserved to be part of the celebration.” If Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred had a spine, he would hit Turner with a major fine and suspension and hand out heavy penalties to the Dodgers as well. But hey, it’s the Dodgers. Can’t do that!
Turner was removed from the game in the eighth inning after the team was informed a sample taken on Tuesday had come back positive. He was placed in isolation but security personnel were unable to prevent him from joining his teammates on the field where he failed to wear a mask or stay socially distanced. Turner posed for photos with teammates and the World Series trophy, then sprawled on the grass in the center of the team picture, sans mask.
Major League Baseball had gone 58 days without a positive test. The Dodgers post-game celebration has every potential to become a super-spreader event. Players, staff and even some baseball writers and broadcasters were forced to remain in hotel rooms until further tests could be conducted. Turner’s behavior changed the narrative on this year’s World Series and now it’s up to baseball to do something about it. If Turner is indeed suspended, he can always find work as a fill-in on Duck Dynasty.
World Series Postscript – Can someone tell Tampa Rays manager Kevin Cash it’s OK to leave your starter in for a third time through the order? Cash insisted on sticking to the analytics and pulled starter Blake Snell after five and a third innings in Game Six even though the Rays were leading 1-0. To that point, Snell had surrendered only two hits with 9 K’s and a low pitch count. What happened to leaving decisions to the eyeball test? Snell’s stuff was dominant and had the Dodgers completely bewildered. Sometimes you need to throw analytics out the window and that was the time.
Free Agent Targets – Blue Jays ownership is promising to spend in order to help the Jays take the next step. There are some interesting targets on the free agent market. Among position players, the prize of this year’s crop is Houston center fielder George Springer. He would be a perfect fit in Toronto but the price may be prohibitive. Springer is an above-average defender in center and has a strong record in the post-season. He certainly fits the Jays need to improve defensively at several positions. Jackie Bradley of the Red Sox is another possibility in center. He stopped trying to hit the long ball this season and would be a good short-term solution. The Angels Andrelton Simmons should draw attention. He’s flat-out the best defender in baseball, regardless of position. Metrics show he’s the all-time leader in Defensive Runs Saved at shortstop and it’s not even close. Simmons has dealt with ankle issues each of the past two seasons and his bat has slipped but he would be a massive defensive upgrade at short and would allow the Jays to move Bo Bichette to second or even third.
There are a number of pitchers who could bolster the Jays rotation. Trevor Bauer is the top pitcher available this off-season. He would come at a big price but has connections to Mark Shapiro from their days in Cleveland. Ladner’s James Paxton is coming off two injury-filled seasons. The Jays should jump if Big Maple is willing to accept a one-year deal to reestablish his value. Chris Archer of the Pirates and Cory Kluber of the Texas Rangers are two other pitchers who may be worth a flyer if they would accept a one-year offer with incentives. Former Baltimore Oriole Kevin Gausman had the best strikeout-walk rate of his career last season with the Giants. He has a filthy split-finger fastball and would boost the rotation.
From their own group of free agents, the Jays may consider re-signing starting pitchers Matt Shoemaker, Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray and infielder Jonathan Villar but not before the market is set. On Friday, they declined the option on right-hander Chase Anderson at $9.5 million and renewed the contract of reliever Rafael Dolis at $1.5 million.
The Jays should be cautious because there will be bargains out there thanks to what is expected to be a winter of austerity in baseball. One problem the Jays may encounter, however, is convincing players to sign in Toronto. What if the border is still not open? What if the Jays have to start next season with their home games somewhere other than Rogers Centre? It may hurt their chances of signing top free agents.
Up From the Dead – The decision by the Chicago White Sox to exhume the corpse of 76-year old Tony La Russa and install him as their new manager falls into the category of the truly bizarre. Was Connie Mack not available? You can bet this has Jerry Reinsdorf’s hands all over it. The White Sox owner surely has no remorse in hiring his fellow old white man friend even though the team has an array of ascending young Latin and Black players. Reinsdorf is so out of touch with today’s game it is not even worth discussing. It’s just another example of baseball’s Old Boys Network which is one of the game’s biggest problems. Worse yet, nothing ever changes.
Seahawks This Week – Sunday night’s bitter loss in Arizona was about as bizarre as any game in memory. It looked like the Seahawks had the game won on at least five occasions. When Tyler Lockett hauled in his third touchdown of the game to put Seattle up 34-24 with 6:50 to go, I thought it was over. When the Hawks stopped the Cardinals on third down deep in Arizona territory, it should have been over but an unsportsmanlike penalty on Bobby Wagner kept the drive alive. It should have been over when Cards kicker Zane Gonzalez missed a 41-yard field goal in overtime but the Seahawks failed to capitalize. Everyone thought it was over when DK Metcalf took a short pass to the end-zone in OT only to have the touchdown negated by a holding penalty on David Moore. Crazy!
The Seahawks defense is historically bad. They are giving up 479 yards per game and that’s 50 yards more than the second worst team, the Atlanta Falcons, and the Falcons are a dumpster fire. The Seahawks have allowed the most yards in NFL history through six games and are on a pace to shatter the record of 7,042 yards set by the New Orleans Saints in 2012. We know Pete Carroll is a god in Seattle but at what point do you start pointing fingers when there’s been no improvement through six games? The pass rush is nonexistent. Kyler Murray attempted 48 passes. He was not sacked once. The Seahawks did not register a single quarterback hit. Next Gen Stats had them with only one pressure. That’s beyond futile. The Seahawks are on pace to finish the season with 24 sacks. Last season, they had 28 and that was at the bottom of the league. The Seahawk defense simply cannot get off the field. The team allows opponents to convert 48.8 percent of the time on third down, the eighth-worst mark in the league. They are the worst team in the league at forcing punts and one of the worst in scoring percentage. The Seahawks allowed eight more explosive pass plays against the Cardinals, bumping the season total to 51, second-worst only to the Falcons. Pete keeps saying the defense will improve but how much longer can you wait?
Russell Wilson’s decision-making was questionable. It almost appeared at times like he was over-confident. He served up an uncharacteristic three interceptions for only the third time in his nine-year career. Of course, he’s the least of the Seahawks worries but he still needs to protect the football. The Seahawks are drifting away from their power running game which has been a Seattle calling card. In 2018-2019, their percentage of pass plays on first and second down was 47%, lowest in the NFL. This year, it’s up to 65%, the highest in the NFL. The 50-50 run-pass balance is not there. You will see Wilson’s interception rate continue to climb if they choose to abandon the running game.
It was a shame that Tyler Lockett’s career game got buried in the disappointment of the overtime loss. Only two other receivers in NFL history have put up 15 catches, 200 yards and three touchdowns in a game: Seahawks legend Steve Largent in 1987 and Jacksonville’s Jimmy Smith in 2000. There’s no doubt Metcalf will one day be Seattle’s No. 1 receiver, but how can you overlook Lockett? Both are definitely enjoying Pro Bowl seasons.
The incredible effort by DK Metcalf to track down Budda Baker and prevent a pick-six will be remembered as one of the greatest ‘hustle’ plays in NFL history. Watching Metcalf gallop down the field at an estimated 22 miles per hour was like watching Usain Bolt in shoulder pads. How a guy that big can run a 4.3 40 is astonishing.
The Late Addition – The Seahawks moved to address their feeble pass rush ahead of this week’s NFL trade deadline, acquiring veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap from the Cincinnati Bengals. Dunlap has only one sack so far this season and had been vocal about wanting out of Cincinnati. He has 82.5 career sacks including nine last year. Hopefully, he will give the D-line a much-needed boost. It’s a reasonable gamble since all the Seahawks gave up was reserve lineman B.J. Finney and a 2021 seventh round draft pick. Seattle had to include Finney to make the money work. He’s been a huge disappointment since being signed in the off-season to replace centre Justin Britt. Finney lost the job to Ethan Pocic and has been nothing more than an expensive back-up.
NFL Notebook – It was Branch Rickey who said the difference between a good general manager and a bad general manager is the good ones recognize their mistakes and fix them right away. The Arizona Cardinals traded up in the first round in 2018 to select quarterback Josh Rosen. One year later with the first pick in the draft they selected Kyler Murray over Nick Bosa. Rosen is now on the practice roster in Tampa Bay. Cards GM Steve Keim admitted his mistake and fixed it.
Look around the NFL from just last weekend and it’s littered with quarterback draft mistakes. Daniel Jones passed for only 187 yards with an interception in the Giants loss to the Eagles. His now famous stumble on what appeared to be a sure touchdown run may end up defining his career. Jones has now thrown an interception or fumbled or both in every one of his 19 career starts. The Jets Sam Darnold went 12 for 23 for 120 yards with a pair of interceptions. He was sacked six times and had a 17.6 QB rating. He’ll be gone if the Jets land the first pick and grab Trevor Lawrence. Drew Locke was 24 for 40 for 254 yards for the Donkey’s with two INT’s. His QB rating was 19.7. Dwayne Haskins has been benched in Washington and his career is already at a crossroads in only his second year. Baker Mayfield had 5 touchdown passes in the Brown-things last second win over the Bengals and celebrated with chest bumps. It’s the Bengals Baker! Relax! What does that say about his character? And then there’s former #1 overall pick Cam Newton. He was benched in the third quarter against the 49’ers by Bill Belichick after going 9 for 15 for 98 yards with three interceptions. His QB rating was 3.5. It hasn’t take him long to wear out his welcome in New England. After the game, Newton was quoted as saying “I’m coachable.” Sure you are Cam!
It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Antonio Brown would sign with the Seahawks since he had worked out this summer in California with Russell Wilson. Brown left Seattle at the altar and signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The idea of giving Brown a “second” chance is insulting. How about a tenth chance! Every team seems to think they will set him straight because of all the great character in the room. Please, spare me the moral high ground! The Bucs have injuries at wide receiver so they are willing to turn their heads. Hey, Brown has only been accused of sexual assault against multiple women. The pious Tom Brady invited Brown to say with him at his house when the Patriots signed Brown last season. He played one game and 24 snaps with the Patriots. Brady also called self-help guru Tony Robbins and asked if he would work with Brown. That’s a beauty since Robbins himself has also been accused of sexual assault against multiple young women. The NFL handed Brown an 8-game suspension in July for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. He could face further discipline since one of the assault claims is ongoing.
From Peter King in Monday Morning Quarterback – Jadeveon Clowney has not had a sack this season after signing a one-year contract worth $13 million with the Tennessee Titans. In fact, Clowney has not had a sack since Week 10 last year. He’s without a sack in nine straight games. The Seahawks were wise to walk away from Clowney’s demands. However, they are still paying the price for dealing Frank Clark to Kansas City. Clark landed a 5-year, $20 million dollar per season contract with the Chiefs and he’s a pass rush menace every week.
PGA Tour Notebook – Canada’s Corey Conners forgettable year on the PGA Tour took a turn for the better at last weekend’s Zozo Championship at Sherwood Country Club in California. Conners put together four rounds in the 60’s including a final round 66 to finish T8 and pick up his first Top-10 finish since last year’s event. Conners is taking this weekend off before playing in the Houston Open. Hopefully, he will have some momentum heading into the Masters in two weeks. The same cannot be said for Tiger Woods who put together one good round at the tournament and finished T72. Only three players were worse including Phil Mickelson.
The Life of Bryson – Bryson DeChambeau has always been infatuated with the biomechanics of golf. In the past year, he has taken it to an all-time high, putting on 40 pounds of muscle and adding 20+ yards off the tee. Never satisfied, Dechambeau has vowed to push the outer limits of his golf swing. DeChambeau has posted a photo on Instagram with an image of his launch monitor showing he carried the ball more than 400 yards. Yes, that’s CARRIED. From the moment the ball left the clubface to the moment it landed. The actual distance was 403.1 yards. Ball speed: 211 mph. The hang time: 8.2 seconds. And he did it without using his new 48-inch driver which he has threatened to unleash at the Masters in Augusta. Incredible.
Music Video of the Week – John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers should be in the Rock and Roll HOF. Mayall was the Headmaster for the School of Blues and his disciples are many. He mentored Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Mick Fleetwood and Jack Bruce. All are in the Hall of Fame yet Mayall has never been recognized for his major contribution to the music world.
If you get a chance to grab his 70th birthday album, make sure to pick it up. Here’s a track – ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ – from that live performance in Liverpool with the great Mick Taylor on lead guitar.
We captured an amazing video from the archives that features an all-star lineup including Albert King, Etta James and Junior Wells. Make sure to check out Mayall and Mick Taylor performing a wicked version of ‘Room to Move’ at the very end of the concert.
John is still going strong at the age of 86. He will be 87 in late November. Here he is performing in Nashville earlier this year. Still going strong. Amazing!
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