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MILLIONS: Canucks poised for one hell of a season

Roger Millions examines the Vancouver Canucks 2021 line-up.

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Of all the teams hailing from Western Canada, the Vancouver Canucks the most fascinating of all. The fact that the Canucks had such a terrific run during this past year in the bubble post-season is a major reason. One win away from knocking off the Vegas Golden Knights was a tremendous achievement. How the team responds now will be interesting.

It starts in my mind with GM Jim Benning. Not so long ago, Benning was seemingly stumbling. Facing the retirement of the Sedin brothers and an aging core of leaders the Canucks were lagging behind most. To their credit Benning and his staff took on the challenge. In my mind, they have done a masterful job reconstructing their NHL roster. Youthful talent has been injected and the future seems bright.

Up front, Captain Bo Horvat has developed into not only a fine leader, but a threat on offense and a dependable defender as well. Horvat has a knack of doing the right things at the right time on the ice.

He complements the very talented Elias Petterson. The 22-year-old Petterson is as gifted a forward as there is in the NHL. He is a silky slick puck hander with a lethal release. The result is a genuine threat every time he is on the ice. As he grows older, Petterson will become physically stronger. His physique and youthful size has been a concern in the past, but soon that will be history.

Forward Brock Boeser continues his steady climb to stardom as well. Boeser is a power forward that fits in very well with Horvat and Petterson as offensive leaders. Good size, great skill and a bit of a nasty attitude makes Boeser at age 23 another cornerstone of the Canucks future.

JT Miller was nifty bit of business by Benning as well. Somewhat hidden in Tampa where the Stanley Cup Champions had a wealth of talent, Miller has come to life in Vancouver. His emergence as an offensive force and leader had to surprise Benning and staff just a little. He supplied both and if that trend continues, so will the Canucks’ ascension. 

Up front seems to be the Canucks greatest strength, and if the team’s defensive unit can hold up its end more good times lay ahead.

21-year-old Quinn Hughes blossomed in his first full year. The nifty puck handler joined Petterson to make the Vancouver power play one of the NHL’s most dangerous. What Hughes lacks in size he makes up with savvy. His potential seems to be unlimited.

Alexander Edler, Jordie Benn and now 30-year-old Tyler Myers add some much-needed experience on the blueline. Nate Schmidt will help coming over from Vegas and the curious addition of training camp add Travis Hamonic is interesting as well. 

Remember Hamonic opted out of the COVID playoffs with Calgary claiming family concerns. There was also talk Hamonic and Flames GM Brad Treliving were at odds over an extension in Calgary. Word is that didn’t end well so a new home base could be very timely. Hamonic as they say does the little things well. Not flashy, but he does a lot of dirty jobs others won’t do and may be another piece of the puzzle for the rising Canucks.

I am hopeful Braden Holtby finds Vancouver to his liking. On a personal note, I know Braden and his farming family outside Lloydminster, SK a little. He’s a great kid that fought his game well after winning a Stanley Cup in Washington. He’s only 31 with a lot experience. He could be the Ying for the Yang of youthful Thatcher Demko. Demko has a great playoff and could blossom. 

It means the loss of Jacob Markstrom as a free agent to Calgary may not be the concern many believe it to be.

The final word goes to coach Travis Green who has weathered the storm of the Canucks rebuild and is ready to reap the rewards. Green – who had success in the American Hockey League – has carried it to Vancouver. He is a great communicator and has a nice way of being tough and understanding as a Head Coach. Make no mistake that talent is important with the new age professional athlete. 

I like the Canucks. A lot. We will see them in the playoffs again barring any COVID related issues, or injuries on a grand scale. Credit to Benning and his entire staff form making his organization more than relevant again. 

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard

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MILLIONS: Sutter is the old war horse the Flames need

“Some self-proclaimed experts have already predicted failure; that he is a dinosaur and that the game has passed him by. I think those experts may be in for a rude awakening.”

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There have been four coaches in seven years for Flames under GM Brad Treliving, but brother, did he leave the big kahuna for now.

Darryl Sutter returns for his second head coaching stint in Calgary. He’s won two Stanley Cups and arguably should have won another in Calgary back in 2004. He’s won. He knows what it takes. He gets the best out of people, immediately. Whether he can maintain that for the long term is up for debate by some.

Any country club atmosphere within the Calgary Flames locker room has come to an immediate and abrupt end. It’s about time.

Watching this year’s addition of the Flames has been – with the exception of about 3 or 4 games – downright painful. Dreadfully inconsistent, easily satisfied, and at times playing with entitlement, watching the Flames was at times perplexing.

These things can be cleared up with a very simple but hard to achieve message: clarity. If you have had the pleasure of getting to know Darryl Sutter as I have, clarity is insisted. In fact, it’s demanded.

That’s not to say Sutter will be herding his players like cattle. It simply means that he will demand of everyone in the Flames organization the same that he demands of himself: everything. The best you can be each and every day. Perhaps that’s too much to ask of a lot of young people these days – but like it or not – that’s exactly what’s on the menu for the Calgary Flames. 

Like everyone, the man has some flaws. They will no doubt be well defined by today’s touchy-feely media. There will be hurt feelings – and for those not willing to suffer that indignation – some time to contemplate their future. 

But for those Flames that choose to learn and discover what those demands can bring them, it’s a chance to grow. If you are a young man looking to achieve the very best, why wouldn’t you welcome that?

I think that’s exactly why Darryl Sutter has been hired by Treliving. He is going to find out what the organization has. They have more than half a season to dissect the team, and no time to waste. Rest assured, Sutter has no patience for wasting time. 

Some self-proclaimed experts have already predicted failure; that he is a dinosaur and that the game has passed him by. I think those experts may be in for a rude awakening.

Perhaps I’m biased. Out of the 17 years I had the good fortune of working with the Flames while at Sportsnet, five of them were with Darryl in his roles of coach and GM. They were the most fulfilling and interesting years of my career, for a variety of reasons.  

His demeanour and attitude was indicative of people that raised me. The Darryl Sutter I know is both professional and personal. I respect his professional approach. I like the man as a friend. 

His return is indeed fascinating. I can’t wait to see what becomes of Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Both are fine young men, but to this point in their careers, they have never played for Darryl Sutter. It won’t be easy for them either. It could very well lead to both moving on to other franchises. But if they listen and learn with respect, it could be a turning point that will propel them both to higher levels.

There are no guarantees, but is that not what intrigues you the most?

Welcome back Darryl. Whether people like it or not.

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard

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MILLIONS: What’s in a Name? To the (former) Eskimos bosses, not a hell of a lot

Consultations about the name to date have only been able to turn up woke white liberals offended on their behalf.

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The Edmonton Football Club Board of Governors and its new president have opened a can of worms, and now they have to eat it.

By electing to drop the name ‘Eskimos’, the governing body of the football team sent their strongest possible virtue signal that that are in touch with woke culture. They are all too aware of the past, but they would appear to be asleep at the wheel when it comes to the future.

The seven names that are going forward for consideration include the: Elk, Elkhounds, Evergolds, Evergreens, Eclipse, Eagles and Elements. Riveting stuff.

The Washington Football Club dropped their longstanding nickname of “Redskins” a year ago and went without a lame replacement moniker. It worked well. The NFL – with its limitless marketing power – found a way to proceed and it was good enough.

The CFL is not in the same league. Heck I’m not even sure the CFL will be back on the field in the long run. 

Sure, teams are signing and re-signing players for an anticipated season, but the CFL is a fan-driven league. So much so, that anything less than about 60 percent capacity at stadiums won’t work. With the way governments are handling the COVID-19 dilemma, it’s not a good bet.

How important is renaming the Edmonton Football Club? It’s not. The woke crowd do not watch football in significant numbers. The people who actually watch the Eskimos, don’t see much wrong with the name.

The whole process is a shambolic embarrassment. 

Of course, some were offended with the Eskimos name. A friend of mine who has spent four decades in the Edmonton Sports Media told me two years ago that the team asked those who actually matter in this conversation. That is, Canadians of northern indigenous heritage. According to him, the vast majority had no problem with it.

Consultations about the name to date have only been able to turn up woke white liberals offended on their behalf.

It all comes back to this new Board of Governors. The board showed the same weakness that has permeated not just sport, but academia, the media, the political class, and entertainment.

The big question is if the creep of radical political correctness will be satisfied with their victory over the Eskimos. Not likely.

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard

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MILLIONS: Pierre-Luc Dubois is an opportunity for the Flames or Oilers

“Should either team think about making a move to acquire the talented young Columbus centre Pierre-Luc Dubois?”

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The COVID-19 world of NHL Hockey is underway. Lord knows what kind of financial and player movement gymnastics will be necessary going forward. From self-isolation, to out-and-out skullduggery in terms of roster moves, the next few months will be fascinating to say the least.

That aside, I’m wondering if either the Edmonton Oilers or Calgary Flames should consider a move of great boldness. Should either team think about making a move to acquire the talented young Columbus centre Pierre-Luc Dubois?

Blue Jackets Head Coach John Tortorella has tormented – and in the minds of some observers – tortured many young players in his wild days behind the bench. It now it appears Dubois is the latest.

Tortorella has publicly stated that Dubois would like out of Columbus. He is unhappy with his current situation and in a round-about way, has requested a trade out of Ohio. It seems a little odd coming from a player aged just 22 and who seems to be getting better and better. I suspect it has a lot to do with Tortorella, who has a reputation as a master craftsman when it comes to mind games.

Dubois is slated to be paid $5 million over the next two seasons. In the two seasons past, he amassed 27 goals and 61 points. In last year’s COVID-19 shortened season, his numbers were 18 goals and 31 assists. He stands to be even better. At 6’3” 215 pounds, he has the size every NHL team would covet.

Either the Oilers and Flames would have to do some COVID-19 hurdles. Be it a 14-day quarantine or some other fantasy whim conjured up by any government unwilling to admit they have no clue about what they are doing. Either team would have to comply. That’s a risk for sure – and in a 56-game schedule  – who can say either Brad Treliving or Ken Holland would be willing to do so.

What the hell? Let’s say they do.

If you are the Oilers, the likely candidate in my mind would be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Coming off 69 and then 61 point seasons, Nugent-Hopkins has the offensive numbers the Blue Jackets would relish. He is also well accounted for in his own end, meaning his defensive game is quite good. 

The sticking point is his contract. He is in the final year of his 7-year deal paying $6 million a season. Meaning he – like all players – would be seeking a raise in pay. That likely means $7 million plus, and with McDavid and Draisaitl already chewing up $21 million of their cap, the prospects seem highly unlikely. It also means Columbus would need something more. No doubt, the ability to negotiate a new contract with Nugent-Hopkins and a trade sweetener like a second or third round draft pick. 

As for the Flames, I am wondering about Sean Monahan. Monahan has been more than serviceable for Calgary over the years. Monahan who is 26, had an impressive 82 points in 2018-19. He has teamed up with Johnny Gaudreau very well now in his 8th season as a Flame. He makes $6.4 million over the next two seasons.

Monahan is perhaps not as accomplished defensively as Nugent-Hopkins. He is obviously working on that. His offensive upside would seem to be greater than the Oilers player. 

Yet after 8 years, the Flames seem to not be getting any closer to a Stanley Cup appearance. Gaudreau with two years remaining on his $6.8 million-dollar contract, will soon become an unrestricted free agent. He hails from south New Jersey just outside Philadelphia. I find it a little hard to believe he will want to stay in Calgary over the long haul. Especially since his recent engagement to his long-time gal who is a nurse in Philly.

Monahan and Gaudreau have seemingly been tied at the hip. It is hard to believe that is not coming to an end. Perhaps a proactive move might be in order. However, I doubt a one-for-one player trade would work. Calgary would likely have to offer a tantalizing addition. Be it a draft choice or a long talented prospect.

Same goes for Holland and the Oilers. They can keep their cap aspirations in line for a little while with Dubois. Something not likely with Nugent-Hopkins.

Realistically, the COVID hurdle may be too difficult for either the Flames or Oilers to overcome. Yet, it does make one wonder with such a fine young talent supposedly available.

Roger Millions is the Sports Columnist for the Western Standard

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