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Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Contributing Editor Bill Morphy. Plenty of ground to cover this week. The NFL season is in peril. We have post-season baseball. A Cup is crowned in the NHL and we track off-season options for every NHL Canadian team. 

Breaking News: The weight of a flurry of positive COVID-19 tests may be about to buckle the NFL season. There are already calls to pause the schedule until the situation is under control. New England quarterback Cam Newton has tested positive, prompting the postponement of Sunday’s Patriots-Chiefs game.  Meantime, no less than 16 Tennessee Titans have contracted the virus. With so many hotspots throughout the U.S., and a President in quarantine in hospital, the logical thing is to halt the season immediately and enter an incubation period. Will the NFL take action?  Who knows?

Center of Attention – In order to take the next step, the Canucks need to upgrade their blue line and find a serviceable third line center. Let’s play general manager and see how the team may be improved. Let’s look at the center ice position first. Adam Gaudette may have some upside but his defensive deficiencies are glaring. His inability to kill penalties also hurts his value. We did a deep dive into rosters around the NHL and found several potential cost-effective options that would fit both in the short term and longer. It is vitally important that the player can earn the trust of Travis Green.

From the group of unrestricted free agents, there are a couple of potential fits. (Last season’s salary in brackets) Cody Eakin ($3.85), Erik Haula ($2.75) and Colin Wilson ($2.6) are low cost possibilities. I would also look at Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu ($5.5) if you could get the 37-year old at a bargain price for one year. Koivu is a proven warrior, leader and dependable 200-foot guy. Mattias Janmark ($2.3) of the Dallas Stars spent some time at center during the playoffs and fits the mold we are seeking.

Among restricted free agents, my number one target would be Chandler Stephenson of the Vegas Golden Knights. Cap pressures will make it very difficult for the Golden Knights to retain him. Cody Glass is ready to take a spot at center so that drops Stephenson down to a fourth line role. He’s better than that. I would consider putting in an offer sheet on Stephenson and make it difficult for Vegas to match. There are several players that could be targeted on the trade market. Rickard Rakell of Anaheim would be an outstanding addition. He will earn under $4 million over each of the next two seasons. The question is – can you pry him away from the Ducks? What I like about Rakell is he could move up in the lineup if injuries occur.

There are other center candidates who would slot in nicely in the third line role but only if the trade partner is willing retain salary in any potential deal. Nick Bonino of Nashville is 32 and has one year left at $4.1 million. Casey Cizikas of the Islanders is 29 and has one year left at $3.35. Alexander Wennberg of Columbus is 26 and has three years remaining at $4.9 per season. Arizona’s Derek Stepan has one year left at $6.5 million but might be a good acquisition if the Coyotes retained half of the salary. One cost-effective target might be Jason Dickinson of Dallas. He’s 25 and is earning only $1.5 million. Dickinson is a year away from RFA. The Stars will be tight to the cap after they resign three current RFA’s in Radek Faksa, Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov so Dickinson might be worth pursuing.

One out-of-the-blue center candidate may be New Westminster native Kyle Turris. The 31-year old is a potential buy-out candidate in Nashville and if that happens, he could be a low-cost alternative for the Canucks. If Michael Ferland goes on LITR next season and Antoine Roussel ends up in Utica, the Canucks may want to look at a couple of veteran wingers to augment the bottom six forward group.
Affordable candidates might include Patrick Maroon and Kyle Clifford.

We believe the Canucks are intent on reshaping their defense this off-season. There’s a good chance that both Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher are playing elsewhere next season which leaves a huge void on the right side of the Canucks defense. On the free agent market, there are several possibilities. You cannot rule out Tyson Barrie ($5.5) simply because of his Victoria roots. Barrie would have to agree to a short-term, “prove it” deal that would allow him to become a UFA again next season. More likely options are Sami Vatanen, Zach Bogosian, Carson Soucy, Jan Rutta and Radko Gudas. Vatanen is the only one with top four potential.

Realistically, the only way to substantially upgrade the back end is via the trade route. Let’s start with several veterans who could help but would only be under consideration if the other team were willing to retain salary. Players in this category include Niklas Hjalmarsson of the Coyotes (one year left at $5.1 million), Arizona’s Jason Demers (one year left at just under $4 million), David Savard of Columbus (one year left at $4.25 million) and Matt Niskanen of the Flyers (one year left at $5.75 million).

We identified four straight-up trade targets that would involve no retained salary. 28-year old Josh Manson of the Anaheim Ducks has two years remaining on his contract at $4.1 per season. He’s a right-shot D-man who would move right into your top four. Connor Murphy of the Black Hawks is 27 and has two more years at just under $4 million. He’s more likely to be an expensive third pairing option. However, he’s big and tough and an upgrade on Stecher. The Predators Mattias Ekholm is 30 and has two years left on a under-valued $3.75 million dollar deal. He would slot in behind Quinn Hughes on the left side and drop Alex Edler down to the third pairing. One low-cost pick-up would be 26-year old Brett Kulak of the Montreal Canadiens who has two years left at only $1.85 million per season. Kulak would be a great ‘value’ add. He has fallen behind Joel Edmundson, Ben Chiarot and rookie Alexander Romanov on the Habs depth chart.

There are two RFA’s on the market that would be very attractive including Vince Dunn of the Blues and Erik Cernak of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Cernak is probably third on the Bolts RFA priority list that also includes Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev. He’s only 23 and your prototypical coveted right-shot defenseman. The Canucks have a trade history with the Lightning after acquiring J.T. Miller last season so making a call on Cernak makes a lot of sense. If you are wondering about offer sheets, any offer over $2.1 million up to $4.36 million will cost a second round draft pick. Offers over $4.36 million up to $6.54 million will cost you a first and third pick. How about offering Cernak $4.36 million for three years and see what happens? Chances are Tampa would match. Qualifying offers for restricted free agents are due by October 7. Those offers can begin to be accepted on October 9 and expire on October 18. The Canucks are certainly spending a lot of time mulling over what to do with Troy Stecher and Jake Virtanen.

Bottom line? We hope the list we have provided above, both at center and on defense, helps you realize the job of team-building isn’t so easy. We can talk about different trade scenarios all we want but the numbers have to work and the Canucks don’t have a lot of wriggle room. However, when your team reaches contender status, it starts with identifying players who can actually get you one step closer. As you continue to improve, the number of players who can make a difference starts to diminish. That’s where the Canucks find themselves now.

One thing the Canucks need to determine over the next two weeks is the market value of some of their young players and prospects. How much interest is there in young prospects Jett Woo, Olli Juolevi, Kole Lind and Toni Utunen? What’s the market value for Stecher, Virtanen and Gaudette? Is anyone interested in acquiring the rights to Nikita Tryamkin? Can the Canucks put together a package of young players in order to acquire a proven commodity? The Canucks need to find out and in a hurry!

Negotiations between the Canucks and goaltender Jacob Markstrom are said to be developing slowly. Vegas just reached a 5-year extension with Robin Lehner for $25 million. If that is the water level for a UFA goalie then Markstrom may have to lower his expectations. There were reports he was seeking $7 million per season. If Markstrom would agree to Lehner’s terms, the deal would get done today. There have been several reports this week that the Canucks have interest in Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He’s a big ticket with seven years remaining on an 8-year, $8.25 million dollar per season contract. He’s 29 which is the same age as Alex Pietrangelo. If you are going to go that route, you would be better served to go after Pietrangelo who would feel a bigger need on the right side of the Canucks defense.

Off-Season Primer – We have an analyzed the Canucks to death so let’s have a quick look at the off-season priorities for the other six Canadian teams, starting in Ottawa and moving west.

Ottawa SenatorsThe Senators are flush with valuable young players in their system plus a boatload of draft picks. Their immediate focus should be on acquiring players who can help them now and into the future. It will also be vitally important to surround those players with a leadership group that can show the kids the way. Gone off their roster from last year are veterans like Ron Hainsey, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Mark Borowiecki, Bobby Ryan and Craig Anderson. You cannot ice a team comprised of players 21-23 years of age. Find some players who can insulate the youngsters and teach them how to be a pro.

Free Agent Target: Dylan DeMelo, Zach Bogosian, Kevin Shattenkirk

Trade Target: Ondrej Palat, Matt Murray

Most Likely to be Traded: Chris Tierney, Anthony Duclair

Montreal CanadiensWe are actually a lot more bullish on the Canadiens than you might think. Yes, they are woefully lacking in high-impact forwards but the Habs have a solid defence and with the addition of Jake Allen, will have top-notch goaltending for all 82 games. You can understand why the Canadiens are mentioned every time a quality forward surfaces in trade rumours. They lack true first line forwards. They desperately need more scoring punch and it would help if that player comes in a large package. Thus, the rumours about acquiring Patrik Laine of the Jets or signing Taylor Hall as a free agent. Steve Stamkos is an outside possibility but only if the Lightning retain significant salary.

Free Agent Target:  Taylor Hall, Evgenii Dadonov, Mike Hoffman

Trade Target: Patrik Laine, Johnny Gaudreau, Steven Stamkos

Most Likely to be Traded:  Max Domi, Victor Mete

Toronto Maple Leafs We still maintain that the Leafs front office operates like they are smarter than everyone else. The Leafs off-season plans revolve completely around upgrading a thin blue line. It’s quite possible the Leafs land the prize 2020 free agent in Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. It may seem outlandish with four high-salaried forwards already on the roster but the Leafs could make it work if they really wanted to. They do like to buck convention. In our opinion, if they really want to tighten up defensively, they would be wise to shop Morgan Reilly who’s vastly overrated by the Toronto hordes. One year after having one of the best third lines in hockey, the Leafs now have one of the worst. Upgrading on Alex Kerfoot is a must. The Leafs should look no further than the Tampa Lightning to see how important it is to add workmanlike, bottom-of-the-lineup players who can help you win in the playoffs. Late News Flash:  The Leafs have just signed Denis Malgin to a new contract. Start planning the parade route!

Free Agent Target:  Chris Tanev, Alex Pietrangelo

Trade Target: Matt Dumba

Most Likely to be Traded:  Frederik Andersen

Winnipeg Jets The Jets have gone two seasons without winning a playoff series. It’s time for their stock to start rising again. The big scuttlebutt in Winnipeg surrounds the status of enigmatic star Patrik Laine. There has been speculation the Jets are testing the waters on the high-scoring right-winger to see what offers might be available. Something tells me he will remain a Jet. However, a trade to Carolina does make sense where Laine could hook up with fellow Finn and developing star Sebastian Aho. If the Jets would lure away right-shot defenseman Brett Pesce in the deal, it could happen especially since Pesce is signed for four more years at a good number.

Winnipeg desperately needs a second line center to replace the injured Bryan Little. Could the Laine deal be expanded?  Maybe. We could see the Jets bidding on UFA defenseman Travis Hamonic, a Winnipeg native. The Jets may be able to get their business done without sacrificing Laine and I think that’s their first preference. Finding a solid second center, however, may not be so easy. The Jets are banking on the rapid development of two young defensemen, Dylan Samberg and Ville Heinola, but it’s doubtful we will see both make an impact this season.

Free Agent Target:  Travis Hamonic, Dylan DeMelo, Brenden Dillon

Trade Target:  Brett Pesce, Phillip Danault

Most Likely to be Traded: Nik Ehlers, Patrik Laine

Calgary FlamesIf any team is ready for a significant roster turnover, it’s the Flames who have made three straight first-round playoffs exits. The first order of business has to be finding a legitimate number one goaltender. Expect the Flames to be active in trade talks and free agency in securing a goalie. The Flames have five UFA’s on defense. The right side of their blue line needs attention. Thus, rumours about targeting Alex Pietrangelo. Tyson Barrie may also be an option for the Flames. From our viewpoint, upgrading the center ice position would also be wise.

Free Agent Target:  Taylor Hall, Braden Holtby, Tyson Barrie, Chris Tanev

Trade Target: Tony DeAngelo

Most Likely to be Traded: Johnny Gaudreau, Noah Hanifan, Mark Jankowski

Edmonton OilersIt seems crazy but Connor McDavid will be heading into his sixth season in an Oilers uniform yet the team is no closer to winning a Stanley Cup. There are holes all over the Oilers roster including in goal where Mikko Koskinen is proving he’s not a true #1. Look for the Oilers to shop for a low-cost answer in goal.  Edmonton’s top D-man Oscar Klefbom may spend the entire season on LITR after a second shoulder surgery so the Oilers need to shop for solid, puck-moving defensemen. Edmonton has expressed interest in Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson. It looks like Edmonton is close to bringing back forward Jesse Puljujarvi for a second act. The Oilers are woefully thin on dependable third and fourth line players. The Oilers will be shopping the free agent and buy-out bargain bin for warm bodies up front.

Free Agent Target:  Thomas Greiss, Mattias Janmark, Erik Haula

Trade Target: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Matt Murray, Petr Mrazek

Most Likely to be Traded: Alex Chaisson, Zack Kassian, Evan Bouchard  

NHL Notebook – Count me among the people back in March who thought the idea of restarting the NHL in a bubble would never work.  The fact the NHL pulled it off without a single positive test is remarkable. They conducted 33,000 negative tests.

No one should place an asterisk beside the Tampa Stanley Cup championship. A total of 52 players and team personnel were together in the bubble for 65 days. They won four best-of-seven series against tight-checking defensive teams and they are full value for winning the title. The Lightning were a team on a mission one year after being swept in the opening round by Columbus. It fueled their journey for sure.

Now, Tampa General Manager Julien BriseBois is faced with breaking up the crew thanks to serious salary cap pressures. The easiest solution would be dumping Steven Stamkos and his $8.5 million dollar ticket but good luck with that. BriseBois may also be forced to shop defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forwards Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn. It certainly brings back memories of the Chicago Black Hawks after they won their first of three Cups. The Lightning absolutely have to find cap space to resign pending RFA’s Anthony Cirelli, Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev. You have to wonder if Stamkos has played his final game for the Lightning. The oft-injured 30-year old has four more years on his contract at $8.5 million per so it will not be easy to find a suitor. Finding Stamkos a new home is the quickest way to a solution. The only way to get it done, however, will be to retain a healthy portion of his contract.

Television ratings for the Stanley Cup Final were poor. How bad was it?  Ratings across Canada for the Cup finals were just one-third of Game 7 of the Raptors-Celtics series and less than half of the Toronto-Columbus play-in round.

Doesn’t it seem odd that the NHL’s MVP award has been handed to eleven different players in the past eleven years? It’s also shocking that Connor McDavid finished fifth in Hart Trophy voting this season.

Have you noticed that goal-scoring by NHL defensemen has increased significantly in the playoffs?  The numbers prove it. Goal-scoring by defensemen is up over 50% in each of the past two playoff seasons.  There’s no doubt coaches are giving D-men more leash to join the play. They are also using video to show defensemen how they can be more effective in finding lanes when shooting pucks from the blue line.

If you were wondering about potential buy-out candidates on the Canucks, the only one that makes sense is Brandon Sutter. He has one year left on his contract at $4.375 million and it’s doubtful the Canucks will find a taker without retaining a lot of salary. The Canucks would save $2.33 million in cap space next season if Sutter were bought out. However, it would come at the expense of a $1.16 million charge the following season. The upside for Francesco Aquilini is he would save just over $1 million in actual cash over the next two years.

The New York Rangers will be carrying $12.99 million in ‘dead money’ on the salary cap this season. The Henrik Lundqvist buy-out will account for $5.5 million. They will also be carrying buy-outs for Dan Girardi, Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan Spooner.  Yes, the same Ryan Spooner who’s on the Canucks books. Brad Richards doesn’t count against the cap, but the Rangers will continue paying Richards over $1 million a year through 2025-26.

Why are there not more ‘sign-and-trade’ deals in the NHL?  It makes perfect sense. Teams looking to retain an UFA can offer a maximum eight-year contract while other clubs can only offer seven years. It nearly happened when the Leafs signed John Tavaras away from the New York Islanders. You may not give Jacob Markstrom an eight-year deal but wouldn’t it make sense to sign him and then deal him to another team and at least get back an asset?

Steve Yzerman is using one of the tried-and-true resources at his disposal as he continues to reshape the Red Wings and that’s utilizing your salary cap space. Yzerman acquired veteran defenseman Marc Staal and the final year of his $5.7 million contract from the Rangers in return for a 2021 second round draft pick. All the Red Wings have to do now is actually make a decent selection, something that seems to continually escape them. Filip Zadina instead of Quinn Hughes? Ouch!

The Defense Rests – The Seahawks find themselves at 3-and-0 and alone atop the taxing NFL West. Sounds good until you look at the underlying defensive numbers. The Hawks ‘cheesecloth’ defense allowed the Cowboys to rack up 522 total yards including 472 passing. The defensive stats for the season are ugly. On average, Seattle is allowing 497 net yards per game, 434 passing yards, 6.6 yards per play, 8.13 yards per pass play, and 28.6 points per game. They’re also allowing offenses to convert on third down 51% of the time (21 for 41) and have allowed a conversion on seven of 10 trips into the red zone.

If you are an eternal optimist, you can point to the fact the Seahawks are now 9-and-0 when they allow the opposing QB to pass for over 400 yards. Yes, they are giving up a ton of yards but don’t forget, last year it was a similar story and they were #3 in the league in takeaways. Dallas had three turnovers on Sunday and Dak Prescott was forced to throw the ball 57 times which is usually not a great recipe. Once again on Sunday, the Seahawks allowed the game to come down to the final play when they should have closed the book much earlier.

We need to cut the Seahawks defense a little slack. Before the game even started the Hawks were without Quinton Dunbar, Rasheem Green, Bruce Irvin, Lano Hill and Marquise Blair. The Hawks then proceeded to lose Jamal Adams and rookie Jordyn Brooks during the game. The offensive line was also hit hard as both starting guards, Mike Iupati and Damien Lewis, left the game while center Ethan Pocic managed to finish the game despite hurting his knee.

As bad as the pass defense has been, for what it’s worth, the Seahawks are stopping the run.  Todd Gurley of the Falcons had 21 carries for 72 yards on opening weekend. The Pats had 25 rushes for 67 yards in week two while Zeke Elliott carried the ball 14 times for only 34 yards last Sunday.

Offensively, the Seahawks continue to rampage. Seattle leads the NFL in explosive plays. They went three for three in the red zone against Dallas. Russell tossed 5 more touchdown passes and now has thrown 14 in the first three games, the most in NFL history. He has 925 yards passing after week three with one interception and that wasn’t his fault. Tyler Lockett is an absolute joy to watch week after week. On Sunday, he had nine catches for 100 yards and 3 touchdowns. The communication between Lockett and Wilson is remarkable.

East is Least – In the NFL, strength of schedule is a major determining factor in a team’s playoff prospects. The Seahawks are benefitting this year by playing both NFC East and AFC East division teams. The NFC East is a combined 2-9-1 through three weeks. That’s a .208 winning percentage. Washington and Dallas are tied for the division lead with 1-and-2 records. The only wins have come against another NFC East team and against the sickly Atlanta Falcons and that took an historic comeback.  When you look at the traditionally woeful AFC East, the overall record so far is 6-and-6. Only New England and Buffalo offer any real resistance and the Seahawks have already taken care of the Patriots. Seattle could go 7-and-1 against those two divisions this year if not 8-and-0.

NFL Week 3 Takeaways – The offense being produced in the NFL so far this season is unprecedented. Four hundred yard passing games are becoming a regular occurrence. On Monday night, Pat Mahomes went 31 for 42 for 411 yards and 5 touchdowns against a solid Baltimore defense. Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale couldn’t dial up any defenses to stop Mahomes. Then again, maybe he was busy with his game show duties. So far in his career in the month of September, Mahomes has thrown 32 TD’s with no interceptions. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was 7 for 15 for 35 yards in the first half and is 0-3 against the Chiefs so far in his young career. I think any debate between the two QB’s can stop. Mahomes is the the fastest QB to reach 10,000 yards passing in NFL history. It took him only 34 games, eclipsing Kurt Warner’s old record of 36. That’s an average of 294 yards per game over two seasons. Phenomenal football player!

Let’s not crown the Arizona Cardinals just yet. Losing at home to the Detroit Lions should simply not happen. The Lions had lost 11 straight games dating back to last year. Imagine how many people lost their weekend suicide pools because of that result?

The Falcons keep finding new ways to lose. They were up 26-10 after three quarters against the Chicago Bears, one week after blowing a 15-point fourth quarterback lead against the Cowboys. Nick Foles came off the bench for the Bears and threw three TD’s in seven minutes to rally the team back. Can we now make reservations in the quarterback scrap heap for Mitch (The Twitch) Trubisky?

The NFL served up another turkey on Thursday night with the Denver Donkeys meeting the New York Jets. Thursday nights are turning into the schedule-maker’s version of Value Village. The Jets are the last remaining team that has not run a single offensive snap while leading in any game so far this season. The Jets have trailed by double-digits on nearly 72% of their snaps. This is what happens when your owner is named Woody Johnson. His wife must be happy to have a Woody Johnson.

The Jets are still waiting for Sam Darnold to arrive as a legitimate NFL quarterback and it could be a long wait. They traded up in the 2018 draft to select Darnold with the third pick. On Sunday, he coughed up three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. He was injured in the Thursday night game and may be out a while. Darnold is next in line in the Christian Ponder look-a-like contest.  The Jets may end up being the #1 contender in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes.

Buffalo QB Josh Allen spent the off-season working under the tutelage of quarterback guru Jordan Palmer, brother of former NFL QB Carson Palmer. The improvement in his throwing mechanics is very evident. For the second week in a row, Allen threw for 4 touchdowns, leading a late Buffalo rally in a win against the L.A. Rams. He needs to control his temper however. Two late major penalties, one for unsportsmanlike conduct and one for grabbing an opponent’s facemask, nearly cost the Bills the game.

If Russell Wilson or Pat Mahomes are not MVP in the NFL so far, Aaron Rodgers is. It looks like he’s on a personal mission after the Packers opted to draft his potential replacement Jordan Love in the first round this year. Rodgers has thrown 9 touchdown passes in three games without an interception. He’s 36 but hasn’t lost any zip on his fastball.

Pity any football fan in New York. The Jets stink and the Giants are equally smelly. In the overall NFL ratings of the league’s 32 teams, the Giants are 31 and the Jets are 32. An injury-decimated 49’er team went into New York and blew out the Giants 36-9. The Giants were picked apart by the 49’ers back-up quarterback Nick Mullens who did it without injured tight end George Kittle.

Strange but true department. Ryan Fitzpatrick may be nothing more than a journeyman quarterback but he certainly has the Jacksonville Jaguars number. He has now beaten the Jags while piloting six different teams – Cincinnati, Buffalo, Tennessee, Houston, the New York Jets and now the Miami Dolphins.

A Future in Doubt – As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers on, let’s ponder what it means to the Canadian Football League. No one can sit here today and say the CFL will be able to begin next season with fans in the stands. Will the league go back to the Federal Government for funding assistance? How do you sell season-ticket packages with the 2021 schedule in doubt? How do you scout and recruit players when you don’t even know if you will be playing?

Front offices are already operating on skeleton staffs. The dismissal in Edmonton of the team’s equipment manager Dwayne Mandrusiak after 50 years was particularly distasteful. Across the league, both team and league staff have agreed to a 20% reduction in salary. There’s a strong likelihood that the players will be asked to do the same.  But will the CFLPA agree? The CFL salary cap is currently at $5.35 million for each team. A 20% cut in player salaries would reduce the cap by over $1 million. It may have to happen for the league to survive.

One of the big pet projects of CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has been the so-called globalization of the CFL. The plan called for the recruitment of a total of 36 international players for the 2020 season – 18 on active rosters and 18 on practice rosters. Of course, this whole pie-in-the-sky charade has been put on the back burner because of the shutdown. Was he planning to have Ecuadorian kickers on every team? Maybe Sumo wrestlers from Japan for the offensive line? And don’t forget, we are still awaiting the arrival of the Halifax Schooners. Can’t wait!

If this is Ambrosie’s long-term strategy for growing the league’s business, then he’s dreaming in technicolour. The days of appealing to fans national pride and 100 years of CFL history are over. When is the CFL going to wake up and realize the only path to survival is through a long-range partnership with the National Football League? Forget about 3-down football and the rouge and the 5-yard rule on punts, it’s time to face the music. It may be hard for long-time CFL die-hards to swallow but is there a better way forward than going to 4-down football on an NFL-sized field? You run the risk of alienating a portion of the fan base but hard choices are never easy. The CFL has been unable to engage young fans and the only sustainable option is to work in close partnership with the NFL. End of story. Full stop. Each of the nine CFL franchises could align with several NFL teams and then serve as a developmental league for young players. It’s the only sensible plan to create stability. Otherwise, the CFL will be living ‘hand-to-mouth’ for as long as it can hold onto life support.

Wait ‘Til Next Year – The Blue Jays made a hasty retreat from the MLB playoffs as they were swept away in two straight by the Tampa Rays. Despite a massive decline in revenues throughout baseball, don’t expect the Blue Jays to sit idle this off-season. Industry sources indicate MLB revenues may be down as much as $3 billion dollars in 2020. For teams like the Blue Jays, it may actually offer opportunity.

It appears the Jays front office is not completely sold on Bo Bichette as a major league shortstop. He made two critical errors in game two against the Rays. Bichette may be better served moving to second base where he could become elite at that position. Don’t be surprised if the Jays revisit trade talks with the Angels around Andrelton Simmons or with Cleveland for Francisco Lindor. Didi Gregorius and Marcus Semien would be great free agent options. Don’t be surprised either to see the Jays go after free agent center-fielder George Springer. In any event, upgrading team defense should be a priority this off-season in addition to acquiring another top starter. Matt Shoemaker, Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray are all pending free agents.

Next season, the Jays may find it a lot harder to make the playoffs without the benefit of expanded rosters and an expanded playoff format which was the case this year. Give them credit, they took advantage of it this year but it may not be so easy next time around. There’s certainly lots of room for growth.  The Jays fielded the youngest team in the major leagues this season with a weighted average of 25.9 years.

MLB Playoff Notebook – Don Mattingly of the Miami Marlins is a lock for National League Manager of the Year. The Marlins made the playoffs despite making 174 roster moves in a 66-day season. They had only six players on the roster for the entire season. You will remember, at one point, they had 18 players sidelined after positive tests for COVID-19. It’s the Marlins first post-season appearance since 2003. Oddly enough, they had only been in the playoffs twice before in their existence – in ’97 and ’03 – and both times they won the World Series. They are yet to lose a playoff series in their history.

How would you like to be a Minnesota Twins fan? After winning the division for the second straight year, the Twins stretched their post-season losing streak to an all-time record 18 straight games after being swept by the Houston Astros in the AL wild-card series. The Twins have also lost nine straight rounds, the second-longest skid in history behind the Chicago Cubs (1910 to 1998). Minnesota hasn’t won a World Series in 29 years. Meantime, did you notice Josh Donaldson was not on the active playoff roster for the Twins? His oft-injured calf was acting up again. Do you think Mike Schmidt would have missed a playoff game with a bad calf muscle? Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos read the situation well and was wise to let the wimpy former Jay walk. The Twins will regret their investment.

The California Angels finished the season at 26-and-34 and second last in the American League West, prompting the club to quickly axe general manager Billy Eppler. He was hired five years ago after the Angels let go Jerry DiPoto.  Yes, the same Jerry DiPoto who moved on to the Seattle Mariners where he’s built one of the top five farm systems in baseball. The Angels, meantime, have wasted the best years of Mike Trout’s career. Trout is arguably the best player to come along in baseball in the past two decades and it’s a shame he’s had to play for an organization that bad. It would be great to see Trout have an opportunity to play for a contender.

Bob Gibson RIP – We lost a great one this week with the passing of St. Louis Cardinals pitching icon Bob Gibson who died at the age of 84. Gibson is arguably one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history. He had a 1.12 ERA in 1968 which hasn’t been matched in 52 years and never will. His remarkable season caused baseball to lower the pitching mound to make it easier on hitters having to face Gibson.

Gibson was known for his fiery temper. Catcher Tim McCarver once went out to the mound to talk with Gibson. He promptly told McCarver to get back behind the plate. “The only thing you know about good pitching is you can’t hit it.” About 10 years ago, while in his mid-70’s, Gibson was hassled by a young man at a gas station.  He knocked the guy out cold.

Leftovers – I have never been a Lebron James fan but how do you argue with a guy who’s reached nine NBA Finals in the past 10 years? Looks like the Lakers will win the NBA title without breaking a sweat. Doesn’t say a lot about the rest of the league.

Mackenzie Hughes continued his run of strong finishes with a third place showing at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. He also finished second there a year ago so he obviously loves the course. The 29- year old has now finished inside the top 13 in four of his past five starts. He will be carrying great momentum and confidence as we move along into the next PGA season.

Music Video of the Week – Thanks to contributor and great friend Edward Tait in Calgary for sending along this week’s video.  It’s from a 1991 TV show entitled “The Inside Track” hosted by Graham Nash. There’s an interview and a performance from Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers. Don’t miss the fantastic solo acoustic version of “Melissa.”

My long-time friend Dave K. in Ottawa is one of Canada’s top rock ‘n roll musicologists. This week, I thought we would share one of his posts focusing in on the song “I Love You” by the Zombies. Here’s Dave’s blog post.

The British Invasion was one of the most exciting and creative periods in the history of popular music. From early 1964 to around 1968, acts from the UK not only wrote and recorded some exciting and ground-breaking music but also influenced the entire world with their style and wardrobe to the point where if you didn’t speak with a scouse or cockney accent you didn’t stand a chance. It also left us with many of the most memorable group names ever, many like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Herman’s Hermits, the Hollies (who took their name from their idol Buddy Holly) and the Who, we remember fondly.  Most, however, only lasted a short period of time and are now just a faint memory.  Bands like The Mojos, the Swinging Blue Jeans and the Gerry & the Pacemakers hailed from Liverpool (did you know that they were originally called Gerry Marsden and the Mars Bars but had to change their handle after the company that produced the Mars bar complained?), Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, the Zoot Money Big Roll Band and the Yardbirds (named after jazz giant Charlie “Yardbird” Parker) called London home and Unit 4 + 2, Them, the Troggs, Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick and Tich, the Moody Blues, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, the Easybeats, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, the Small Faces, the Banshees, the Castaways, Vince Eager and the Silhouettes, the Measels, the Rinki-Dinks, Screaming Lord Such and the Savages, the Woodpeckers and many, many more, all came from various provinces around the country. But by far, my two favorite group names from the original British Invasion belong to the Mindbenders, a band out of Manchester originally fronted by singer Wayne Fontana (who was born Glyn Ellis, but taking a cue from Elvis Presley’s drummer D.J. Fontana, adopted the more ‘movie-starrish’ moniker in 1963) that scored a pair of hits over here with “The Game of Love” in early 1965 and, after Fontana (who just passed away recently at the age of 74) left for a solo career, “A Groovy Kind of Love” later the same year along with the Zombies. Formed in the town of St. Albans (about 20 miles north of central London), in 1962 by keyboardist Rod Argent and singer Colin Blunstone, the Zombies first made it onto the charts in mid-1964 with the top five smash “She’s Not There” and followed that up with “Tell Her No” six months later. “I Love You” was written by the group’s bassist Chris White, and released in August 1965 as the “B” side of a now long forgotten single. Somehow it managed to get played on the radio here in Canada and became a minor hit here. In late 1967, the Zombies recorded a new LP called “Odessey and Oracle” at Abbey Road Studios in London shortly after the Beatles finished work on “Sgt. Pepper” (they even used some of the instruments left behind by the Fab Four including John Lennon’s mellotron). Unfortunately for the band, the album tanked and they decided to split up shortly after it was released. In the meantime Al Kooper, who was working in an A&R capacity for Columbia Records at the time, liked a particular song on the LP and convinced his label to put it out as a single, resulting in “Time of the Season” becoming one of the Zombies biggest hits even though the band was no more. The group reunited in the late 1990’s and have been together ever since with original members Argent, Blunstone and occasionally White and drummer Hugh Grundy all taking part. The Zombies performed together quite regularly prior to the COVID-19 virus hitting this past spring and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019.

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