Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Contributing Editor Bill Morphy and an assist from Bill Myles. This week, the Lightning prepare to sip from the Cup, injuries galore in the NFL, and the Jays barnstorm their way into the post-season.
Stanley Cup Final Review – When the NHL resumed play inside the ‘Bubble’ in Toronto and Edmonton, we all wondered if it would work. Well, it not only worked, it’s been a resounding success. Crowning a Stanley Cup champion in September may seem strange but there’s no need for an asterisk. If we are passing out bouquets, much of the credit must go to the players who stuck to the protocols and made it all work. Being away from family, friends and loved ones for three months could not have been easy.
Game One – Stars goalie Anton Khudobin turned in another huge performance as Dallas grabbed the early series lead. However, the Stars will learn that you cannot just sit back and expect to protect leads against the Lightning. It won’t work. The Bolts outshot the Stars 22-2 in the third period of game one.
Game Two – The Bolts bounced back in game two, jumping out to a 3-0 lead then hanging on to win 3-2. Victor Hedman is using the stage to show everyone he’s the best defenseman in the league. Don’t understand how hockey writers could give the Norris Trophy to Nashville’s Roman Josi over this guy.
Game Three – Steven Stamkos made a brief return to the Lightning lineup and had an immediate impact. He scored a goal on his first shot and that was all the emotional spark Tampa needed in an easy 5-2. Hedman became the Conn Smythe frontrunner with his 10th playoff goal. The Stars are fading fast.
Game Four – Khudobin started looking like a goalie who’s played 23 games since August 5. The Tampa power-play is taking over the series. Three power-play goals including Kevin Shattenkirk’s overtime winner keyed a 5-4 Lightning win. Tampa has scored six power-play goals in the series. Dallas is 1-for-14 with the man advantage. The Stars haven’t led in the series at any time since the opening game. Two more goals for the brilliant Brayden Point. The Lightning are 10-and-0 in the playoffs when Point scores. The Lightning could be drinking from the Stanley Cup as early as Saturday night.
NHL Notebook – The NHL buy-out window opened on Friday. The Senators wasted no time cutting ties with Bobby Ryan. There could be several NHL veterans cast adrift this fall. It opens up opportunity when you look at several castoffs who are making an impact in the Stanley Cup final. Defenseman Zach Bogosian has resurrected his career in Tampa after having his contract terminated in Buffalo. Kevin Shattenkirk is giving the Lightning solid minutes after being kicked to the curb by the Rangers. Shattenkirk went from earning $6.65 million in New York to $1.75 million in Tampa. His reputation as a sub-par defender is not so evident with the Lightning. Shattenkirk’s superior puck skills mesh well with the Bolts outstanding group of forwards. Dallas, meantime, has a reclamation project of its own. Defenseman Andrej Sekera signed a one-year, $2 million dollar contract with the Stars after being bought out by the Oilers. He’s provided the Stars with some important minutes in their surprise playoff run. You can be sure this has not gone unnoticed in front offices around the league.
The NHL was hopeful of starting the 2020-2021 on December 1 but that looks highly unlikely now. Privately, there are many managers around the league who can’t see the economics working without fans in the seats. It doesn’t take an economist to know that the numbers aren’t favourable in a ticket-driven league. The economic downforces as a result of COVID-19 are scary. The NHL made the playoffs work in a bubble format but the regular season is a whole different cup of tea.
Every team is going to find it difficult to navigate a flat salary cap. The Canucks are hoping they are on the verge of a Cup-contending window but any hope for improvement is inextricably tied to money-in, money-out contract management. If Loui Eriksson accepts a contract termination, it’s goodbye to his $6 million dollar anvil contract this season and next. That could buy you 2-3 solid veteran players to fill out the roster. Will Michael Ferland’s $3 million dollar contract end up on LITR to give the Canucks relief? Is there any interest in veterans Brandon Sutter, Antoine Roussel or Jay Beagle even if you add in a sweetener? Do you buy-out Sven Baertschi but how valuable is that if you have to carry over money in subsequent seasons? You can paint an optimistic picture until the cows come home but reality may prove different.
One thing is certain, the Canucks know they have to reshape their blueline in order to move into the supper echelon of teams in the NHL. Washington, St. Louis and now Dallas and Tampa Bay are making it clear you need size and depth and bite on your back end if you want to win a Stanley Cup. The Canucks defense was overpowered by Vegas in this year’s playoffs and it didn’t go unnoticed in the Canucks front office. Improving the blueline is priority #1 this off-season.
We noted a few weeks ago that the Canucks should have held out for defenseman Shea Theodore when they dealt Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks. Theodore has emerged into a blueline force after being picked up by the Vegas Golden Knights. What I didn’t realize is the Canucks could have drafted Theodore in the 2013 NHL draft. With the 24th pick that year, Vancouver selected underwhelming left-winger Hunter Shinkaruk. Two picks later, Anaheim nabbed Theodore. Worst part about it, Theodore is a local kid from Langley, B.C.
We criticized the Canadiens trade of Mikhail Sergachev to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Jonathan Drouin when it happened and the deal is looking even worse now. It will no doubt be a low-light in Marc Bergevin’s managing career in Montreal. It took a few years for Sergachev to earn his stripes but his performance in this year’s playoffs has cemented his reputation as a frontline NHL defenseman. Steve Yzerman made a huge mistake selecting Drouin over Seth Jones in the 2013 draft but he sure made up for it when he flipped Drouin to the Canadiens. The Canucks made a mistake taking Olli Juolevi over Sergachev in the 2016 draft but hindsight is 20/20.
Oilers GM Ken Holland gave up a pair of second round draft picks to acquire Andreas Athanasiou from the Red Wings at the trade deadline. The Oilers may now let him walk as an RFA rather than going through the arbitration process. Another foolish trade deadline decision.
Oh geez! Here’s a news flash. The Arizona Coyotes are a mess. There are reports they were late paying player bonuses. This franchise has been an anchor around the neck of the NHL for far too long. The Coyotes are without a 2020 first round pick and a 2021 third round selection as a result of the Taylor Hall deal. They have also forfeited this year’s second rounder and next year’s first rounder for violating fitness testing with draft prospects. On top of everything else, Arizona has huge cap issues and are looking to sell off (take your pick) goalie Darcy Kuemper, defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Niklas Hjalmarsson and forwards Phil Kessel, Michael Grabner and Derek Stepan in order to cut payroll. And Quebec doesn’t deserve a team. Right!
The 2020 NHL Draft is two weeks away. With three first round picks and nine picks in the opening three rounds, the Ottawa Senators are in position to control the proceedings. The Senators should target certain players, use the extra picks as trade chips, and add some quality veterans to insulate all the kids on their roster.
Russ is Cooking – The NFL season may only be two weeks old but Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is undoubtedly the early MVP front-runner. Wilson tossed five touchdown passes in Seattle’s Sunday night victory over New England, running his two-week total to nine, three more than any other quarterback in the league. Wilson has completed more than 82% of his passes.
Wilson has a freakish weapon in second-year receiver D.K. Metcalf. It didn’t seem to matter that Metcalf was matched up against cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Playing straight up against Gilmore, Metcalf had 4 catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. At 6’3” and 230 pounds with 4.3 speed, Metcalf is virtually unstoppable and Wilson seems to be finding him this year with regularity.
Sunday night’s game should not have come down to the final play. The Seahawks had to play catch-up right off the get-go after the Patriots returned an interception for a touchdown on Seattle’s opening drive. Greg Olsen let a ball slip through his hands that was returned for a TD by Pats safety Devin McCourty. Olsen didn’t catch a ball in the game and had a costly offside penalty. It makes you wonder if the Seahawks have again made some questionable decisions in free agency. They spent over $10 million to sign Olsen and B.J. Finney who failed to win a job on the offensive line. Phillip Dorsett was brought in to win the third receiver job and hasn’t played a down. Bruce Irvin was the other major free agent signing and he’s now out for the year with a torn up knee. That’s a lot of money for little production. Brings to mind other ill-fated signings like Ziggy Ansah and Luke Joeckel.
The Seahawks have only three sacks after two games and two of them have come from safety Jamal Adams. The lack of a pass rush is a major concern in Seattle. The D-Line has been decimated by injuries. Irvin is on IR along with Rasheem Green who missed the Sunday’s game with a neck injury. Benson Mayowa may also be unavailable on Sunday. Rookie Jordyn Brooks will start this week in Irvin’s spot and is going to have to step up. The Hawks also lost nickel corner Marquise Blair for the season with a torn ACL. Very unfortunate because Blair was really starting to blossom.
The Seahawks need to start looking for some reinforcements. No way they get out of their division and reach the NFC Championship game without some help. Veteran run-stuffer Damon “Snacks” Harrison is planning to visit Seattle next week. He’s a massive space eater and would definitely improve the Seahawks depth along the defensive line. No doubt Quandre Diggs will be trying to recruit his former Detroit Lion teammate. Another veteran out there on the market is Clay Matthews who played for Pete Carroll at USC.
Despite the lack of push up front, the Seahawks were wise not to re-sign Jadeveon Clowney. He has five tackles and no sacks after two games. Not the kind of production you want for $12 million. One bit of good news for the Seahawks, the run defense looks better. Last year, the team gave up an average of 4.9 yards per rush. That’s down to 3 yards per rush after two games. The Seahawks are actually second in the NFL against the run.
The Seahawks have another big test on Sunday afternoon with the Cowboys travelling to Seattle. The Cowboys are also hurting with a string of injuries on defense. Looks like they will be without both starting corners, linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Sean Lee and several defensive linemen. Russell Wilson could have a field day. The over-under for this game is 55.5. Bet the over!
NFL Recap – So much for defense wins football games! Offense rules so far this season. The NFL record for touchdowns scored in the first two weeks of the season (175) was broken prior to the game on Monday night so offense is clearly in vogue. The Chiefs proved last year you don’t need a dominant defense to win a Super Bowl.
The NFL league office has come down hard on no less than five head coaches for not wearing masks during games. Pete Carroll of the Seahawks, Kyle Shanahan of the 49’ers, Jon Gruden of the Raiders, Sean Payton of the Saints and the Broncos Vic Fangio were all fined $100,000 and each team was fined an additional $250,000. That’s $1.5 million bucks in fines. It all comes after the league sent out a memo last week warning heavy discipline if coaches did not wear a mask on the sidelines at all times. They should follow Andy Reid of the Chiefs and just a wear a plastic face shield. You would think Gruden and Payton would know better. Both coaches had previously contracted COVID-19.
Injuries were the story in week two of the NFL season. No less than seven players went down for the season with torn ACL’s. The 49’ers were the hardest hit. In Sunday’s win over the Giants, the 49’ers lost last year’s defensive rookie of the year Nick Bosa and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas to an ACL tear as well as running back Raheem Mostert and quarterback Jimmy Garappolo. The Giants lost star running back Saquon Barkley for the season with a torn ACL. Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey was also among the long list of players who were injured. He’s out up to six weeks with an ankle injury. The Colts will be without All-Pro safety Malik Hooker who went down with a torn Achilles.
The NFC West is 7-and-1 after the second week of the season. The Arizona Cardinals had an easy time of it in Washington. Kyler Murray is for real. He had 286 yards passing and 67 yards rushing including a pair of touchdowns.
The L.A. Rams look solid as they went into Philly and took care of the Eagles. Jared Goff had three touchdown passes. The Eagles appear to be in complete disarray.
The 49’ers moved to 1-and-1 by beating the dysfunctional Jets. Adam Gase has one foot out of the door in New York. The Jets allowed the 49’ers to convert a third and 31 with a running play. They are beyond bad!
In NFL history, teams scoring 39 points were 440-0 until the Falcons imploded in Dallas. Congratulations Falcons! Dan Quinn is again on thin ice. Mr. Home Depot won’t be giving Quinn any reprieves this season. Allowing the Cowboys to fall on an onside kick was inexcusable.
Tom Brady got his first win in a Tampa Bay uniform as the Bucs beat a bad Carolina team. The Panthers may just end up being one of the worst teams in the NFL season. They had four turnovers and nine penalties against the Bucs.
The Matt Patricia firing watch is on in Detroit. The Lions blew a 17-point fourth quarter lead against the Bears in week one. They proceeded to blow an early 14-3 lead against the Packers before curling up in a fetal position and losing by 21. Green Bay’s top receiver Devante Adams went out of the game with a hamstring pull. Aaron Rodgers had better hope he’s not out for long.
Josh Allen looked poised again as the Bills held off the Dolphins in Miami. The Dolphins put 13 thousand seats on sale for their home opener and could only sell just over 11 thousand tickets. Sad statement on that sorry franchise.
The Chiefs-Chargers served up one of the most bizarre finishes of the week. It took three tries for kicker Harrison Butker to close out the Chiefs overtime win. His first attempt from 53 yards out was nullified by a penalty. He then hit from 58 yards but it was negated by a timeout call. Butker then proceeded to nail yet another 58-yarder. He’s the best kicker in the NFL right now. Quarterback Justin Herbert had a sparkling debut for the Chargers, throwing for 311 yards. He was the sixth overall pick in this year’s NFL draft and the Chargers may have a big time QB for the next decade. Herbert replaced Tyrod Taylor who had to miss the game with cracked ribs. The doctor who administered a painkiller to Taylor prior to the game is now under investigation after the needle punctured Taylor’s lung. The doc is about as accurate as Jameis Winston.
The Baltimore Ravens rolled up 230 yards rushing and tore apart the Texans in Houston. The Ravens have now won 14 straight regular season games.
Abbotsford’s Chase Claypool has an 84-yard touchdown reception as Pittsburgh upended the Denver Donkeys. Denver quarterback Drew Locke was hurt in that game and get this, the Donkeys have signed Blake Bortles to replace him. Was Ronnie Lancaster not available? Memo to John Elway – it’s time to tank and get a real quarterback like Trevor Lawrence.
The Raiders christened their new $2 billion dollar stadium in Las Vegas with an impressive upset of New Orleans on Monday Night Football. Darren Waller caught 12 balls, serving notice he’s one of the best pass-catching tight ends in football. Saints quarterback Drew Brees, in his 20th NFL season, is looking all of 41. The Saints host Green Bay on Sunday night. The Packers are pounding the ball on the ground with Aaron Jones.
What’s with the clunkers being served up on Thursday night? Last week, it was Cleveland and Cincinnati. This week, it was Miami and Jacksonville. My goodness, you have to be a huge football fan to sit through that garbage.
Road Warriors – Kudos to the Blue Jays for clinching a playoff spot in this pandemic-plagued baseball season. It hasn’t been easy barnstorming through a 60-game schedule without a single game at Rogers Centre in Toronto. A week ago, the Jays looked dead in the water after losing three straight to the Yankees and giving up 19 homers and 43 runs. Rebounding this week to take three of four from the Yanks was impressive. Punching their ticket to the post-season was certainly a team effort as the Jays used 21 different position players and 28 different pitchers this year. The experience gained will be immeasurable as the Jays enter a new window of contention. Going from a 95-loss season (28 games under .500) last year to a playoff spot is a heck of an accomplishment.
Things could change over the weekend but it appears the Blue Jays will meet the top-seeded Rays in the best-of-three opening round playoff series beginning Tuesday at Tropicana Field in Tampa.
Flabby Guerrero – Can someone tell Vladdy Guerrero to put down the fork? In a matter of a few months, the Blue Jays superstar-in-waiting has gone from surefire prospect to bloated suspect. No doubt his in-season move from third base to first has been challenging but Guerrero continues to butcher routine plays, developing a habit of diving at balls to his right that should be left for the second baseman to handle. He wouldn’t drop so many balls if it were a cheeseburger! The Jays should put him in a sauna and leave him there for a month. If this guy is under 275, I would be shocked.
Sadly, it looks like Vladdy is going to be nothing more than a designated hitter in the long-term. There’s still lots of time but the Jays front office, behind closed doors, has to be very concerned. To be fair, Guerrero is one of only six players 21 or younger in the majors this season. It was good to see him break out with a great series against the Yankees this week. He raised his batting average by 20 points. Vladdy has the ability to be another Miguel Cabrera. He needs to start demonstrating the kind of professionalism and commitment it takes to get there.
The Blue Jays have another pork ball in rookie catcher Alejandro Kirk. The 21-year old from Mexico is listed at 5’8” and 265 pounds. You have to wonder what he can accomplish if he loses some weight because the kid can rake. He went four for four on Monday night against the Yankees which included his first MLB home run.
MLB Playoff Preview – The Major League Baseball playoffs will kick off this week with no less than 16-teams in the postseason hunt. MLB has a bubble plan in place which calls for games to be played at neutral sites after the wild-card round. The wild-card round is a best-of-three that will be played in the home ballparks of the higher seeds. The winners of those series will then proceed to their respective bubbles.
Blue Jay fans should note that the American League Division Series will be played in San Diego at PETCO Park or in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium. PETCO will host the winners of the 1-8 series so that’s where the Blue Jays will start if they get by Tampa. (Assuming the Jays end up being the 8th seed)
This year’s playoffs will include no off-days during the Division Series and League Championship Series. Normally, there are travel days built into the schedule but that’s been eliminated this year because of the bubble format. There is one off-day built into the schedule after each series is completed, allowing teams to travel to the next bubble if necessary.
The format will definitely put more importance on pitching rotations. Forget about a dominant pitcher like Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander or Madison Bumgarner getting three starts in a seven-game series. It’s going to help teams with starting pitching depth.
Major Effort – Bryson DeChambeau joined some elite company in winning the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. He joins Jack and Tiger as the only golfers ever to win an NCAA title, a U.S. Amateur and a U.S. Open title.
DeChambeau was the only player to break par on Sunday, posting a brilliant 3 under par 67 to win by six shots. He ended up being the only player under par for the week. Matthew Wolff ate some humble pie in the final round. He found out it is one thing to do it on Saturday (65), and another to do it on Sunday (75).
It was oddly ironic that two players with uniquely unconventional swings would be in the final pairing on Sunday. Wolff and DeChambeau have funky one-of-a-kind swings so it made for must-see viewing. DeChambeau hit only 23 fairways all week, the fewest by a U.S. Open champion in history, proving you can overpower even the toughest golf courses with speed and power. You would have to think he will be the favourite at the Masters in Augusta in November.
Taylor Pendrith was the top Canadian. Outside of DeChambeau, his even par 70 was the best final round score of the day. It helped Pendrith finish in 23rd spot. He was third in driving distance for the week which included a 372 yard drive on the ninth hole on Sunday. Adam Hadwin closed with an 80 and dropped 16 spots into 54th place.
Winged Foot did manage to break the spirit of at least one golfer. Danny Lee had a six-putt on the 18th hole on Saturday and ashamedly, he immediately withdrew, citing a wrist injury. You can view the debacle for yourself in this post-round account.
Some encouraging news on Canada’s Graham DeLaet as he continues his comeback from back woes. DeLaet fired a second round 64 at the Corales Puntacana Resort Championship in the Dominican Republic. It’s his best round yet on the comeback trail. Unfortunately, he missed the cut thanks to an opening round 78. Mackenzie Hughes is playing in that tournament and sits at -8 (T6) heading into the weekend.
It is unfortunate the Ryder Cup won’t be contested this year. When you look at the emergence of several young American players, the makeup of the U.S. team would be impressive. If a Ryder Cup were to be held this month, here’s what the U.S. side might look like – Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa, Matt Wolff, Tony Finau, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Patrick Cantlay and Daniel Berger. Not too shoddy.
The European team does not look nearly as formidable but it never does. They just win. According to the current World Golf Rankings, the European team might include John Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton, Viktor Hovland, Justin Rose, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Paul Casey, Shane Lowry, Victor Perez and Erik Van Rooyen. Danny Willett and Christian Bezuidenhout would also be in the conversation along with old stalwarts Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood. On paper, big advantage to the U.S. side.
Daly Diagnosis – John Daly has been diagnosed with bladder cancer. He’s already undergone surgery to remove a tumor and may require additional surgery. Here’s his comments when the diagnosis was revealed to the media.
If you are wondering how Mike Weir is doing on the senior circuit, he has played six events so far on the PGA Legends Tour. He’s moved up to 28th in the Charles Schwab money list with just under $250,000 in earnings.
Leftovers – I’m shocked that the Vancouver sports media continues to give the Vancouver Whitecaps a free pass. The Whitecaps are abysmal and no one seems willing to call them on it. All the organization seems to do is sell off players for cash. Winning is secondary. The Caps lost 6-0 in Los Angeles this week, a game in which they trailed 4-0 after 14 minutes and surrendered two own-goals.
As a result of COVID-19 and Canadian protocols, the Whitecaps have had to make Portland their temporary home for travel purposes. It’s just their latest in a long line of excuses as to why they stink.
The Miami Heat are headed to the NBA Final and their success can be traced to a couple of astute draft picks. The Heat landed Bam Adebayo with the 14th overall pick in 2017 before grabbing guard Tyler Herro from Kentucky with the 13th choice in 2019. Both players have played key roles. Herro is just 20 and has the makings of a huge star. Adebayo blossomed into an all-star in his third season and made NBA All-Defensive Second Team this season.
Music Video of the Week – Cat Stevens was born Stephen Demetre Georgiou on July 21, 1948, in London, England as the youngest of three children. His Dad Stavros was from Greece. His Mom Ingrid Wickman was from Sweden. Together, they ran the Moulin Rouge restaurant on Shaftsbury Avenue in London.
Cat Stevens burst onto the music scene in the late 60’s and enjoyed instant success. Stevens’ albums Tea for the Tillerman (1970) and Teaser and the Firecat (1971) were certified triple platinum in the U.S. He had a string of hit songs including “Father and Son“, “Wild World“, “Moonshadow“, “Peace Train“, and “Morning Has Broken“.
In December 1977, Stevens converted to Islam and adopted the name Yusuf Islam. In 1979, he auctioned all of his guitars for charity, leaving behind his musical career to devote himself to educational and philanthropic causes in the Muslim community. He has received two honorary doctorates and awards for promoting peace as well as other humanitarian awards. Cat Stevens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.
Here he is performing the classic song “Wild World” at a concert in Chile.
Here he is in studio performing solo for one of NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts.
Make sure to check out Tea for the Tillerman2 which has just been released in which he reworks that landmark album. It’s available for purchase through iTunes.
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