TORONTO - In 30 some years of covering hockey, Iíve never had reason to write these words: This is the Vancouver Canucks year, their Stanley Cup to lose.
They have the best team in the NHL, the deepest team, with the best player, with back-to-back scoring champions on the same line, the top power play, the most goals scored, the fewest goals against and only history and the rest of the playoff teams against them.
No Canadian team has won a Cup since 1993 ó and that Montreal team really had no business winning that season.
All that should change this playoff season ó with a Canadian team back in the winnerís circle. The Canucks have been to the Stanley Cup final twice in their history, only once with any kind of real shot of winning. This time, they enter as favourites, a place theyíve never been before. And with a small piece of history going their way.
Montreal hosted the Olympic Games in 1976, won the Stanley Cup in 1977. Calgary hosted the Olympic Games in 1988, won the Cup in 1989. And we all know, Vancouver hosted the Olympics in 2010, which means, among other things...
This and that
All Jayson Nix cost the Blue Jays was $30,000 US. He is another of those neat, cheap Alex Anthopoulos pickups already paying dividends for the Jays. Anthopoulos has a wonderful knack of finding garage sale gems, small, inexpensive pieces that find ways to contribute ... That was a spectacular season ó especially the second half ó for Corey Perry but I canít understand those who are voting for him ahead of Daniel Sedin for the Hart Trophy. Start to finish, Sedin was the best player on the best team. Heís got my vote ... Remarkable that the coach of Toronto FC, Aron Winter, would send a letter to the media, essentially announcing that he is going to break league rules with no dressing room access. Donít they have PR people around this team? Amazing that an organization as multi-dimensional as MLSEL can be made to look so silly so often. And when you have the best PR man in the industry working in your own building in basketballís Jim LaBumbard, it may make sense to use that resource every once in a while. It would save them coming off as incompetent.
Hear and there
Itís entirely possible that a Western Conference team with 97 points will miss the playoffs. And to think, some Leaf fans are grousing about being out with 80-something ... The great James Reimer story has a chance to continue at the world championships for Team Canada, although itís something of a gamble. If he has a great tournament, his price as a restricted free agent goes up. If he doesnít, does that affect what he will earn next year with the Leafs? ... On Monday, Rick Nash, Jason Spezza, Alex Pietrangelo, Brett Burns, Matt Duchene, Chris Stewart, and Andrew Ladd are certain to be among those announced as the first parts of the Team Canada roster. There could be a Leaf contingent including Reimer, Luke Schenn, captain Dion Phaneuf, and either Clarke MacArthur or Joffrey Lupul, depending on which teams are left standing come Sunday and who agrees to go ... A Manny Ramirez retirement Friday. A Barry Bonds verdict likely on Monday. Knew I should have majored in chemistry or law ... Wonder now, in all those visits Ramirez was making to Toronto over the winter, who he was seeing? ... And for the record, the Manny Ramirez bobblehead day has been cancelled in Tampa.
Scene and heard
Please say it ainít so, Bryan? But a number of NBA mock drafts have the Raptors picking another European with the third selection come June. A few things to note: We donít know where the Raps will be picking. We still donít know exactly which players will be available. But a bunch of mocks have the Raps selecting Czech forward Jan Verely with the third pick. The man to get, if you win the lottery, is guard Kyrie Irving of Duke ... Making fun of the American network, Versus, where hockey goes to die seems to be a part of Canadian sport. But I just spent a week in Florida and got Versus on my cable. There was hockey on every night, high quality broadcasts with terrific panels and a great post-game show. This guy wonít be making fun of Versus any more ... Poor Rick Nash: Eight years in the NHL, one year in the Stanley Cup playoffs ... A whole lot of OHL people think Iíve been set up ó writing here that Tie Domiís son, Max, will be playing in the United States Hockey League next year instead of the OHL. The consensus voices from junior hockey have young Domi being drafted by London and eventually agreeing to play there. Time, of course, will answer all questions ... Very hard to vote for the Norris Trophy: Tough to decide between Shea Weber, Nicklas Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara, and then find places for Keith Yandle, Dustin Byfuglien and Lubomir Visnovsky on one ballot.
And another thing
Too bad Vince McMahon isnít running the NHL: Then if thereís a Phoenix-Nashville playoff series, heíd term it a loser leaves town match ... Another reason to worry about Bryan Murray and his new three-year contract: One of his last acts in Anaheim was coming close to trading Corey Perry away ... Itís been 14 years and counting since the Knicks and Rangers have been in the playoffs in the very same season ... Just how far are the Raptors from the mainstream? In 16 NBA seasons, they have never won more than 47 games in a year. In the meantime, the San Antonio Spurs have won more than 50 games in each of the past 12 seasons ... Just what the Winter Olympics needed: Team figure skating and luge relay. And I worry about mixed biathlon ó men, women out in the wildnerness with guns. Canít be a good thing ... Is there a better defensive outfield in baseball than the Anaheim Angels starting three of Peter Bourjos in centre with former CF gold glovers Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter in left and right. But Bourjos is going to have to hit better than .217 to stay there all year ... The Maple Leafs desperately need a Mike OíShea type, a great, inventive special teams coach ... In a great playoff run last spring, Mike Cammalleri scored 13 goals for the Montreal Canadiens. Until Saturday night, he had just 19 this season ... You are what you are: Kris Versteeg, with the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, scored 44 points. This year, with one game to play, in Philadelphia and Toronto, 45 points ... Happy birthday to Dion Phaneuf (26), Sara Renner (35), Steve Tasker (49), Ken Griffey (61), John Madden (75), Sean Avery (31), Mel Blount (63) and Paul Bearer (51) ... And hey, whatever became of Felipe Crespo?
The Last Season of Richard Peddie
Pretty soon, we wonít have Richard Peddie to kick around, and that has to be a good thing for Toronto sports fans. In this, Peddieís last season in charge of all that is Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., the Leafs missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season; the Raptors bordered on irrelevant with expansion-like win numbers; neither the GM Bryan Colangelo nor the coach Jay Triano have assurances they will be back next season; and inside and out, Toronto FC, without names, traded away its only name, and seems to daily set standards for dysfunction. No matter who takes over ó Bueller? anyone? ó it canít possibly be this lame anymore. Can it?
Yet another look at the Kessel trade
The stirring final months of the Maple Leaf season accomplished a few things: We think the Leafs have a goalie for the present and future in James Reimer. It seems like a big league defence can be built nicely around Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn, Keith Aulie and Carl Gunnarsson. But just as important, maybe for Phil Kessel, maybe for Brian Burke, is that the Boston Bruins will draft no higher than 10th in a rather weak NHL entry draft, using the pick acquired in the Kessel trade. That means, the Leafs have Kessel and Boston have Tyler Seguin, junior Jared Knight, who dropped from 36 goals to 25 in London, and the 10th or 11th pick in a rather weak draft. The deal could possibly turn out to be Kessel for Seguin. And may the better man, and better team, win.
EJ McGuire would talk about the kids in whatever NHL Draft was coming up as if they were his own. He would speak with pride, stick out his chest, and go on about their attributes, just like any proud papa would. Only he wasnít their father: He was, for the most part, their promoter. There was nothing he liked better than to sit and talk about Matt Ducheneís speed, or Steven Stamkosí shot, or a teenager who was just a year away. ďYouíve got to see this kid,Ē he would say with great enthusiasm. McGuire loved being around junior hockey, loved his work as executive director of the NHLís Central Scouting Bureau. Gone way too young at the age of 58. His voice, his passion, his love of the game will be sadly missed.