Why not Votto for athlete of the year, again?

Joey Votto's great followup season, combined with a lack of front-line competition, could — some...

Joey Votto's great followup season, combined with a lack of front-line competition, could — some say should — lead to a second consecutive Canadian athlete of the year award. (REUTERS FILES/John Sommers II)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:18 PM ET

Could Joey Votto go back-to-back as Canada’s athlete of the year?

Could be.

In a year without Sidney Crosby, without a single dominant Canadian hockey player, without Olympic Games and without an obvious can‘t-miss choice, Votto could be the selection when the Lou Marsh Trophy is awarded next month.

Emerging tennis star Milos Raonic began the year as a likely candidate, but injuries spoiled what might have been at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Canadian relief pitcher John Axford had a fine year closing in Milwaukee and Jerome Messam rushed for 1,000 yards with the Edmonton Eskimos. That makes them candidates. The field this year is thin enough to include a shot-putter, Dylan Armstrong, and the MLS MVP, Dwayne DeRosario. But after that, who? Votto won last year for his MVP season with the Cincinnati Reds. He followed up that year by hitting 29 home runs, knocking in 103, and led the National League in walks and on-base percentage, remaining one of the best hitters in baseball and winning a Gold Glove for his play at first base.

The question may not be “why Votto” as much as it will be “why not Votto?”

THIS AND THAT

Did Phil Kessel take being picked last in the all-star draft last year to heart? Maybe. Since that somewhat embarrassing event, Kessell has been on a tear, scoring 48 points in 38 games, well beyond his career marks. And since last season’s all-star game, he has outscored Alexander Ovechkin 19-15 and out-assisted him 29-21. That’s 48-36 Kessel in terms of points. One winger dominated the supposed Great 8 ... Busy times for Brian Burke. He joined Twitter (@LeafsBB20) and was also quietly named to replace Harry Sinden on the Hockey Hall of Fame voting committee ... Tough summer for Burke, though: He signed Tim Connolly, traded for Matthew Lombardi, Cody Franson and John-Michael Liles, and thus far, only Liles has really done anything of impact to help the Leafs ... An educated guess: If the Anaheim Ducks continue to struggle, don’t be surprised if Randy Carlyle winds up as the leading candidate to replace Ron Wilson as Leafs coach at the end of this season. And GM Bob Murray has to be regretting the three-year extension he gave Carlyle late last season... Strange thing about the Ducks: They had the consensus best line in hockey coming into this year — Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan — and yet are the lowest-scoring team in the Western Conference.

HEAR AND THERE

WIth Pat Quinn co-chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame committee and Burke now among the voters and the board-room voices, you have to know that if Pavel Bure remains out of the Hall, it will be because Quinn and Burke don’t want him there. If Cam Neely’s short career was considered Hall of Fame worthy, you can’t keep Bure out ... Wasn’t that nice of Ed Belfour to support the Occupy Toronto protesters with his wardrobe at last Saturday’s Hall of Fame game at the Air Canada Centre? ... From the department of Life Ain’t Fair: Carolina GM Jim Rutherford spent his off-season signing ex-Leaf Tomas Kaberle, who bombed in Boston, and ex-Leaf Alexei Ponikarovsky, who bombed in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, and he got a four-year extension for his work. Meanwhile, coach Paul Maurice may not last the next four days trying to coach these stiffs ... The weird Islanders note of the week: Evgeny Nabakov is out with a groin injury and can’t play goal. Al Montoya is out with a hamstring injury. That leaves Rick DiPietro as the healthy one.

SCENE AND HEARD

It probably means nothing, but Ryan Fitzpatrick’s game hasn’t exactly been sharp since he signed that $59-million extension with the Buffalo Bills. He had 12 TD passes and six interceptions before the deal and four TD passes and six interceptions since ... Wrote that hell must have frozen over when the Bills, Leafs and Oilers were all winning at the same time, and since then the weather has changed and all three teams have had troubles ... So what did we, in American League cities, do to deserve the Houston Astros? And other than Texas Rangers fans, is anybody else happy? ... It’s nice that the Blue Jays have changed their logo, their colours and their attitude. Would be happier if they added a starting pitcher, a closer and a second baseman ... The legend, Franco Harris, is making all kinds of enemies for his steadfast support of his old coach, Joe Paterno ... Now here’s something you haven’t heard before: Green Bay receiver Jordy Nelson complains that white receivers are discriminated against by NFL coaches ... When he played, Mark Recchi was always a voice of locker room reason. Now that he’s not playing, when he called the Vancouver Canucks the most hated team he ever played against, you have to take him seriously ... With Mike Komisarek out for eight weeks with a broken arm, the scapegoat portion of Leafs fans who need someone to blame won’t know where to point if the team doesn’t do well while he’s out ... Tyler Seguin has 11 goals. Taylor Hall has 11 points. The who’s-better debate may go on for years ... Can’t make sense of Tim Tebow winning unless there’s something about him selling his soul to the devil and an upcoming musical planned ... The starting quarterback for Kansas City on Sunday, Tyler Palko, was cut in Montreal after two months with the Als in 2009 ... Nice that the Dallas Stars have a new owner. Would be more impressed if they had a few more fans. Their local television ratings are abysmal ... Wonderful weekend for Winnipeg: A Jets-Philadelphia game Saturday. The Eastern final on Sunday ... Congrats to Stefan Ptasek of McMaster, who won Vanier Cups as a player and assistant coach at Wilfrid Laurier and now has a chance to win his third as impressive head coach at McMaster. And it won’t be easy. He’ll have to beat Laval to do so ... Happy birthday to Mengke Bateer (36), Chris Childs (44), Rick Monday (66), Mark Gastineau (55), Dwight Stephenson (54) and Bo Derek (56) ... And hey, whatever became of Hector Marini?

DEATH BY PENALTY KILL

If it were one season, or maybe two, you could excuse Ron Wilson. But this is four years and, while players have changed, assistant coaches have changed, goalies have changed, the Leafs remain just about the worst penalty-killing team in hockey and he is one constant that remains in this mess. The Leafs’ PK percentage of 74.3% through 19 games this season is the worst it has been in four terrible special-teams seasons under Wilson. The Leafs, 29th in percentage, have given up the most power-play goals in the league. Last year, they jumped all the way to 28th. The years before that, they were 74.6% and 74.7%, each time, worst in the NHL. Last year’s statistical problem cost Wilson two assistant coaches he didn’t want to fire. This year, should it continue, it must cost him his job.

GREY CUP CURSE

By all rights, the B.C. Lions should beat the Edmonton Eskiimos on Sunday and be the heavy favourite to win next week’s Grey Cup. By all rights. But this not-so-funny thing happens way too often in the CFL: More often than you might think, the team that hosts the division finals and the Grey Cup in the same year — the big advantage — has a way of imploding at home. No one is more aware of this than Lions head coach Wally Buono, who has been in this position before. In fact, Buono’s mark in games prior to the Grey Cup is not all that impressive, considering his history. He is 8-9 in trying to get to the Cup. That should, based on this season, balance out on Sunday. It should. But it often doesn’t. I figure the Lions win easily at home, but then I had the Ticats and Eskimos losing last Sunday.

GRETZKY AND THE LEAFS

Wayne Gretzky would probably love to own a piece of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He loves the team and the business and the place it holds in the market. But he made it clear in an interview with Rob Dibble and Dhani Jones on FOX sports radio that he is not involved in any kind of bid for the conglomerate that is Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and was quite surprised to be in any kind of rumours to that regard. “I have not talked to anyone,” said Gretzky, who later joked: “I don’t have $1.7 billion sitting around.” And he also said: “I don’t even know who is in the running to buy the Toronto Maple Leafs.” Gretzky went on to call the Leafs an “unbelieveable franchise.” Were it only the Leafs for sale, the team would have been sold long ago. But a deal this rich, franchises, buildings, networks, real estate, is going to require financial players well beyond The Great One’s means and it won’t require a front man.


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