Under Further Review – Douglas Smith with Contributing Editor Bill Morphy and special thanks to Bill Myles. What a week it’s been in sports. Where do we start? Lots to talk about. Let’s get right to it.
Canucks Post Mortem – It is a testament to their resiliency that the Canucks forced a game seven in their series against the Vegas Golden Knights. They have made believers of all of us. What can you say about Thatcher Demko? He saved the Canucks season, stopping 90 of 91 shots in his first two games in six months before turning in another gem in game seven. He had a streak of 98 consecutive saves and a shutout streak of 1:38:40. Demko became the first goalie since Jacques Plante in 1953 to win his first two playoff games while facing elimination. His performance rekindled memories of Ken Dryden’s rookie debut for the Montreal Canadiens in 1971. Kudos to the Golden Knights for sticking with Robin Lehner in goal. The shutout was his third of the series. Vegas coach Pete Deboer had every opportunity to go with Marc-Andre Fleury in game seven but stuck with Lehner who had a 1-7-and-1 career record in back to back’s.
When all is said and done, the Canucks can point to their lack of scoring depth. When Jake Virtanan opened the scoring in game six, it was the first point by the Canucks bottom six forward group. That’s why they lost the series. The power-play disappointed, finishing on a 0-for-11 drought including a five-minute major. It was ironic that Vegas would win the series on a late power-play goal of their own.
A local kid, Shea Theodore from Aldergrove, BC, ended up being a thorn in the Canucks side the entire series. He scored the series clincher and had two goals and seven assists in the series. If Canuck fans were not aware of how talented he is, they got a good introduction. It stills hurts that Theodore didn’t become a Canuck as part of the Ryan Kesler deal with the Anaheim Ducks. Had Jim Benning drove a harder bargain, he could have pried him loose from the Ducks as part of that ill-fated trade. Yes, instead of Luca Sbisa.
Jim Benning has insisted on more than one occasion that the team is going to do everything it can to sign impending UFA Jacob Markstrom. It was hard to argue with that strategy based on Markstrom’s MVP season with the Canucks. It’s certainly a tough decision and one made more difficult by the 11th hour playoff performance turned in by Demko.
There’s a bunch of factors that have to go into the decision. Most important is the cost and the term. What will Markstrom be seeking and how does it fit into a tight salary cap? Is it four or five years and $7-7.5 million a season? Does he want a no-trade clause? For the longest time, I felt resigning Markstrom was absolutely imperative. Now…not so sure…and that’s not strictly due to Demko stepping up. There are two other very important things to consider. Number one is the Seattle expansion draft next summer when the Canucks can only protect one goalie. There’s no chance you would want to lose Demko for nothing. The second factor is Markstrom’s age. He will be 31 next January and does he really fit into the Canucks long-range window of contention when your top core players are 20 and 21? Markstrom is 10 years older and may have already reached his peak.
For the Canucks, the big question is…can you afford to add Markstrom’s big money contract to your budget at a time when you are looking to cut payroll? I am starting to wonder if you should roll the dice with Demko and take your chances. The salary cap savings alone will allow the team to sign other players and prepare for the mega-contracts coming for Pettersson and Hughes a year from now. The Canucks have invested so much time in developing Demko, maybe now is the time to hand him the reins. It would be tough to walk away from Markstrom and get nothing in return but in today’s NHL, that’s often the cost of doing business. It’s too bad the NHL isn’t more like the NBA where sign and trade deals are commonplace.
Here’s a few other random notes from the series – Quinn Hughes set a new NHL playoff record for points by a rookie defenseman with 16. After going minus 7 in the opening four games of the series, Hughes rebounded in games five and six and was a big reason the Canucks pushed the series to the limit.
One of the reasons the Canucks were able to extend the series is the fact Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat out-played the Golden Knights top two centers, William Karlsson and Paul Stastny. Pettersson was amazingly consistent throughout the playoffs and drew 13 penalties, the most of any player in the playoffs.
It’s going to be an interesting off-season with free agency and the draft happening in November prior to a truncated season starting around December 1. Benning has a lot of tough decisions on his plate which we will explore in the coming weeks.
NHL Playoff Notebook – Colorado GM Joe Sakic has to be second-guessing himself after watching the Avalanche bow out in seven games to the Dallas Stars. Sakic neglected to acquire a goalie at the trade deadline and it proved to be the Avs undoing. After Philipp Grubauer departed the series with an injury, Pavel Francouz flopped and the Avs, in desperation, had to turn to Leafs retread Michael Hutchinson. The Avs were able to scramble back from a 3-1 series deficit to force a seventh game but the lack of reliable goaltending ultimately did them in. Sakic should have pushed harder to acquire Robin Lehner.
Is there a better player in the NHL than the Avs Nathan McKinnon? He reeled off a 14-game playoff scoring streak and dominated like no player. The guy is an absolute horse! Even Wayne Gretzky is singing his praises. “He is a cross between [Mario] Lemieux’s hands, [Mark] Messier’s power, and Connor [McDavid’s] speed” says Gretzky. “He is the full package.” McKinnon racked up a league-leading 25 points but was held off the scoresheet in the pivotal deciding game.
Who’s not cheering for the Flyers Oskar Lindblom who returned to the lineup in game six against the Islanders, nine months after his cancer diagnosis. He played over 17 minutes in his debut. Lindblom had to undergo aggressive chemotherapy for Ewing sarcoma. He certainly gives the Flyers added inspiration heading into game seven on Saturday night.
We learned this week that 13 teams will have a salary cap carry-over heading into next season. The Canucks carry-over charge is third highest in the league at $1.7 million, split evenly between Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes at $850,000 apiece as a result of bonuses in their contracts. The Canucks can spread the cost over two seasons. When you take into consideration the Roberto Luongo cap recapture penalty of $3.2 million plus the Ryan Spooner buy-out of $1.03 million and the cost of burying Sven Baertschi in Utica ($2.29 million), you start to tally up some significant dead cap space. Not a good situation when you have a flat salary cap and several key players needing new contracts.
You have to wonder if the Boston Bruins are fast approaching their ‘best-before’ date. It’s been nearly ten years since they beat the Canucks in the Stanley Cup final and there’s some serious tread on a few of the veteran holdovers. Zdeno Chara may be returning but you question why. Patrice Bergeron is a fantastic war-horse but how much more has he to give. Brad Marchand is starting to decline and years of drafting late in the first round is having an effect. Should the Bruins lose defenseman Tory Krug in free agency, it would open up a major hole on their back end. Plus, you have an aging Tuuka Rask in goal.
Marc Bergevin grew tired of poor backup goaltending so he traded a third round pick to St. Louis for Jake Allen. The Habs now have $14.85 million tied up in their two netminders. It’s an extravagance the Canadiens can handle for one season. The Leafs found out what poor backup goaltending can do to your season. For many teams, it’s the difference between making or missing the playoffs. Allen will give the Habs 25 solid starts.
Tom Terrific – Where do we start when paying tribute to Mets legend Tom Seaver who died this week at 75 from complications of Lewy body dementia and COVID-19? First, how about the numbers?
- 1967 National League Rookie of the Year
- 3-time Cy Young Award winner (’69, ’73,’75)
- 5-time 20-game winner
- 12-time All-Star
- ’69 World Series Champion
- 1992 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee
- 311 career wins (18th all-time)
- 3,640 career strikeouts (6th all-time)
- 9 straight 200 strikeout seasons (longest streak in MLB history)
- Tossed a no-hitter for the Cincinnati Reds in 1978
- One of 8 pitchers with 300 wins and 3,500 K’s
- Only player in MLB history to strike out 10 straight batters
“Tom was a gentleman who represented the best of our national pastime,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “He was synonymous with the New York Mets and their unforgettable 1969 season.” “After their improbable World Series championship, Tom became a household name to baseball fans — a responsibility he carried out with distinction throughout his life,” he said. It was Seaver who almost singlehandedly helped the Mets shake the handle of lovable losers.
We were reminded of a great Tom Seaver story this week. Back in 1965 while attending USC and studying dentistry, Seaver learned he had been drafted by the Dodgers. In a much recounted story, Dodgers scout Tommy Lasorda, later the Dodgers manager, offered Seaver a $2,000 bonus. In response, Seaver asked for $50,000. “Good luck in your dental career,” Lasorda reportedly told him. The possibility of Seaver becoming a Dodger quickly vanished.
Shopping Spree – The San Diego Padres are hell bent to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006. The Padres went on a major shopping spree at the MLB trade deadline, completing five separate deals. They won the Mike Clevinger sweepstakes in acquiring the talented right-hander from Cleveland for a package that included two Canadians – pitcher Cal Quantrill and outfielder Josh Naylor who joins his brother Bo in the Indians system. The Padres also picked up reliever Trevor Rosenthal, a pair of catchers in Jason Castro and Austin Nola, as well as a left-handed power bat in Red Sox veteran Mitch Moreland. All told, the Padres made five trades involving 22 players and two players-to-be-named later. San Diego could have enough to challenge the Dodgers in the NL West.
The Blue Jays did some nice work at the trading deadline. They took a flyer on two starting pitchers – Ross Stripling of the Dodgers and leftie Robbie Ray of the Arizona Diamondbacks. They may be enough to help the team reach the post-season. Ray has had trouble with his control this season, leading the National League in earned runs while serving up 31 walks in 31 innings and 9 home runs. Still, Ray has a lifetime mark of 11.9 K/9 so he’s a decent bet as a reclamation project. The Jays also acquired infielder Jonathan Villar from the Marlins who will step in at short until Bo Bichette returns from a knee injury. All in all, some good work by Jays GM Ross Atkins. By taking a measured approach and working around the fringes of the roster, the Jays were able to improve the team while preserving their prospect capital. There was no need to go ‘all-in’. One thing is certain, the Blue Jays now have a deeper and more versatile pitching staff.
It’s about time Jays Manager Charlie Montoyo starting benching players for their lack of discipline on the basepaths. The Jays have been thrown out no less than 19 times so far this season and that doesn’t include being thrown out while stealing. They’ve been picked off base a league-leading five times. It’s absolutely ridiculous and they need to put an end to it. Vladdy Guerrero Jr. has been one of the worst offenders on the basepaths. You have to start wondering if he could end up being another Pablo Sandoval. Guererro will continue to be questioned about his weight until he starts to make a greater commitment to fitness off the field. The Jays also have the lowest batting average in baseball when facing 95+ MPH fastballs. That’s not a good stat when you consider having to face hard-throwing relievers late in games on a regular basis.
Net Gain – Victoria’s Steve Nash has taken the plunge into the NBA coaching ranks by taking the head job with the Brooklyn Nets. It’s a four-year deal so he has the opportunity to go in there and put his stamp on the team. He has Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to work with so the Nets should be a solid playoff team from the get-go. I chuckled when ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith claimed it was a ‘white privilege’ hiring, alluding to the fact Nash had no previous NBA head coaching experience. Smith later pulled back on the comment, saying it was taken out of context. I would remind Mr. Smith that Nash is an 18-year NBA veteran and a Basketball Hall of Famer and deserves the opportunity. It’s really not that big a deal when you consider that the most important role of an NBA coach these days is handling the egos. You have 3 or 4 assistant coaches to handle the X and O’s.
It still bothers me that Stephen A. Smith refused to show the Raptors any respect after they captured the Eastern Conference title last year. He immediately took to courtside for a stand-up report on ESPN and said the Raptors had gone as far as they will go and will get eaten alive in the final by Steph Curry and Kevin Durant and Clay Thompson. He apparently forgot that the Raptors had the best player in the world in Kawai Leonard. By the way, I wonder what the A. stands for. I have a few suggestions.
NBA Playoff Notebook – The Raptors narrowly avoided a 3-0 deficit in their Eastern Conference semi-final battle with the Boston Celtics. O.G. Anunoby’s three-point bomb with 0.5 seconds left on the clock will be a shot for the ages if the Raptors can rally back and take the series. For now, the shot saved their season.
Canada’s Jamal Murray joined some elite company when he twice scored 50 points in the Denver-Utah playoff series. Donovan Mitchell also pulled the feat for the Jazz. Murray and Mitchell join Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson as the only players to twice score 50+ points in a single playoff series. Murray is going to look awfully good in a Team Canada jersey in the final Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria next summer.
The Oklahoma City Thunder suffered a devastating game seven loss to the Houston Rockets but they have to be over the moon with the improvement of two young Canadians, Shae Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort. Dort became something of a sensation in the series against the Rockets with his air-tight defense on James Harden and his 30 point performance in the final game. Dort is a 6’3” shooting guard from Montreal who was an undrafted free agent out of Arizona State.
Case for the Defense – If the Seahawks have any intention of returning to the Super Bowl this season, their defense is going to have to take a major step forward. There’s a ton of excitement around their much-improved secondary which is already being compared to the Legion of Boom. The additions of Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Quinton Dunbar has solidified the group. The big story in camp has been the play of second year safety Marquise Blair who has seized the nickel corner job and given the Seahawks another thumper in the backfield.
The linebacking corps looks strong with the addition of top draft pick Jordyn Brooks who appears ready to play immediately. Second year linebacker Cody Barton is also ready for a bigger role. The question mark remains up front where the Seahawks are still thin along the defensive line. New additions Benson Mayowa and Bruce Irvin are expected to add to the pass rush. The key may be whether L.J. Collier and Rasheem Green show improvement and whether rookie ends Alton Robinson and Darrell Taylor can have an impact. Robinson looks ready to help. Taylor has yet to practice after off-season surgery and it looks like he will start the season on the 6-game injury list. Don’t be surprised to see the Seahawks add another body before camp is done. They could use some veteran depth in the middle of the defensive line behind starters Poona Ford and Jarran Reed.
Offensively, the Seahawks may have their best unit ever if, and it’s a big IF, the offensive line comes together. The depth is there with the addition of running back Carlos Hyde and veteran tight end Greg Olsen. You know you are going to be in the mix when you have Russell Wilson behind center. Since he became their starter eight years ago, the Seahawks have a Super Bowl title, another Super Bowl appearance, eight straight visits to the playoffs, plus the second most wins in the NFL and seven 10-win seasons. Oh yes, Russell has made seven Pro Bowls and has yet to miss a single game. What more can you say!
The much criticized 2020 draft class is shaping up to be better than expected. In addition to Robinson, it looks like LSU’s Damien Lewis has won the starting spot at right guard while Miami running back DeeJay Dallas may contribute as a third down back on passing plays. If Darrell Taylor and tight end Cody Parkinson emerge, this year’s draft could be one of the Hawks better classes in several years.
NFL Notebook – In their NFL Preview issue, Sports Illustrated predicts the Seahawks will finish third in the NFC West with a record of 8-and-8. Of course, this is all the more reason to believe Seattle will get back to the Super Bowl. SI has the Baltimore Ravens beating the New Orleans Saints in Super LV. Under Further Review sees no reason to look past the Kansas City Chiefs who return 10 starters on offense and have a new toy in top draft pick Clyde Helaire-Edwards, the gifted LSU running back. Problem for the Chiefs? No team has repeated as Super Bowl champions since the Patriots in 2004-2005. If you are looking for teams that will make the biggest leap forward this year, we like the Indianapolis Colts and the Las Vegas Raiders in the AFC and the Arizona Cardinals and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC. However, out of those four teams, we only see the Colts making the playoffs.
It’s going to be interesting to see how things work out in Tampa Bay for quarterback Tom Brady. He has an embarrassment of riches to work with on offence but at 43, you have to wonder if he is close to the end of the road much like what happened to Brett Farve and Peyton Manning. Brady certainly has the weapons to work with including receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, tight ends Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cam Brate along with running backs Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette. The more important question is – will the offensive line hold up so Brady can stay on his feet?
The NFL may be getting ready to turf Dan Snyder as owner of the Washington Football Club. His day of reckoning may be near after the Washington Post published two accounts of widespread sexual harassment within the organization. The latest story accuses Snyder of encouraging a Redskins cheerleader to join one of his cronies in a hotel room. Another newspaper account detailed how the team’s former radio voice ordered a lewd video to be created for Snyder during a cheerleader promotional video shoot.
A Washington law firm has been hired to investigate the workplace culture and will report directly to the NFL. Team owners are subject to the NFL’s personal conduct policy which will make Snyder subject to punishment depending on the findings of the investigation. The team has been a laughingstock for years and the problem clearly lies in the owner’s box. However, something tells me Snyder will avoid having to sell the team even though it should happen.
Big Mac II – Mackenzie Hughes has learned that reaching the Tour Championship certainly has its benefits. He’s not only assured of taking home at least $400 grand this weekend, he has also earned a spot in all four majors next season, the Players Championship, the Tournament of Champions and all the World Golf Championship events. The experience he is going to gain next season will certainly benefit his career trajectory, not to mention his pocketbook.
Flushing Meadows – Some good Canadian content at the U.S. Open Tennis Championship in Flushing Meadows, New York. 15th-ranked Felix Auger-Aliassime served notice of his rapid rise by knocking off three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray. Vasek Pospisil ousted Milos Raonic in a battle of Canadians to advance to the third round as well. More and more, it’s looking like Raonic will never take that next step in his career. Denis Shapovalov moved into the quarter-finals with a victory on Friday night. It’s the first time Canada has ever had three players advance into the third round.
Music Video of the Week – We decided to switch things up a little this week and go back into the vault for some classic jazz. The first video features the incomparable Miles Davis performing “So What” with his stellar band that includes John Coltrane on tenor sax.
The next video features the Dave Brubeck Quartet and the immortal jazz anthem “Take Five” with the great Paul Desmond on alto sax.
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