We are into the 2nd half of 2016. Where did the first half go? Another weekend has come and gone, so here are some thoughts as we head into the first week of July.
THE SEASON OPENER - The final score was not indicative of the play on Thursday night at Mosaic Stadium.
History will show Chris Jones lost his first game as head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but the debut performance of the green and white under the new boss was an "encouraging" one despite the 13 point defeat. When Twitter follower Jenny Sarich asked Rod Pedersen and I what the one word we would use to describe the game would be, I said "encouraged" simply for the fact I liked what I saw. Jones said after the game three plays cost his team the football team, and he was right. When I asked him if you take away the first five minutes, do the Riders win, he just looked at me and said "Absolutely".
I went into the game with some early worries about the defense for the fact they were 12 guys who were starting who had never played a game for the football team before. You would expect some growing pains. NOPE! You can't blame the defence for the first TD because of Larry Taylor's big punt return. Yes, Ricky Ray baited Johnnie Dixon on the pump and go for the Vidal Hazelton major, but after that, Toronto didn't do anything of substance offensively as far as I was concerned. While Darian Durant was solid in his first complete game in a year and a half, the offence left points out on the board. When you do that a lot, you are going to lose. It is as simple as that. I said this team would likely finish 3rd in the West, and while BC has sent an early message, I think this squad will be a very competitive one. In fact, as I uttered to Rod on the July 1 Sportscage, if the Edmonton Eskimos think they are going to deliver a solid beatdown to the green and white Friday in Edmonton, think again. I'm not saying the Riders win the game, but I will say they will give Edmonton more than they bargained for. Cmon Len Rhodes, come out and pull a Skulsky and guarantee a win!
The one play that did anger me on Friday night was the Matt Black touchdown on a botched 3rd down. This isn't an indictment on Jones, but all CFL coaches. Who started the trend of putting the 3rd string QB in for short yardage situations. You don't see it in the NFL, you don't see in the NCAA and you don't see it in the CIS. As I said Friday, if you are going to utilize a 3rd string QB in that fashion, why not have that 3rd string QB be a Canadian? Could CIS quarterbacks not do what 3rd stringers around the league are doing now? I will stand on that soapbox for ever when it comes to the topic of the 3rd stringer. There is just no need in my mind for that person to be in the game unless it is for an emergency. Sneaking the ball on 3rd and short is not an emergency.
For what it's worth, my star of the game was Naaman Roosevelt. As I have said on this blog before, I think Roosevelt is going to have a huge year and what you saw on the Mosaic turf Thursday night was a precursor of things to come.
Let's move on!
OTHER WEEK 2 THOUGHTS - You can't talk about the week that was in the CFL without discussing Duron Carter and his actions that made headlines around North America. Idiot doesn't start to describe this guy. He's a million dollar talent with a 10 cent brain and he showed it at home against the REDBLACKS. Yes, he took a hard shot to the head as he caught a touchdown pass, but to come off the field and push Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell before marching through the REDBLACKS bench and then seemingly ignoring his own coach and team thinking he did nothing wrong is inexucable. The CFL rarely gets suspensions and fines are not as tough as what they should be, but Carter needs to have the book (as soft as it may be) thrown at him. Is he going to use the Dennis Wideman excuse that he didn't know what he was doing because he had been concussed? Campbell didn't help the situation much either. That was a Lebron James against the Raptors worthy flop. It might have been the second biggest flop in Ontario this year. Chris Jones wouldn't have fallen on his wallet, and I'm thinking a few others wouldn't have as well.
Is it safe to say the return of Wally Buono to the sidelines has been a successful one? Wally knows what he's doing as the Lions are 2-0. They took it to the Tiger-Cats at Tim Hortons Field on Friday. That effort for the Tabbies was as putrid as the Lions unis. Speaking of putrid, how about the Bombers? When does the play of Drew Willy start to come into question? He left Saskatchewan wanting to be a starter in the league after being Darian's backup, but he has not become what the Bombers expected him to be. Winnipeg now goes to Hamilton to face a Ti-Cats team that I'm sure Kent Austin is not happy with.
NHL FREE AGENCY - The amount of money NHL GM's spent on the weekend was just gross. Granted, it wasn't the same kind of money NBA GM's threw around this weekend, but Canada Day was just a reminder as to how sports has evolved from entertainment to a business. The best move of the day may have been the Wild's acquistion of Eric Staal. It comes cheap, and with Bruce Boudreau in charge of Minnesota, Staal might have a resurgence. The worst deal had to be Alexander Radulov. Why would anyone want this guy? NHL Radio had an interview with Patrick O'Sullivan and he just blasted the Russian saying he is selfish, he doesn't listen to anyone, he isn't a good teammate etc. etc. Habs GM Marc Bergevin says he spoke to Shea Weber about Radulov before signing him and Weber obviously gave his seal of approval so some of what O'Sullivan says can be discounted, but the video of Radulov swinging his stick at his coach last season can't be discounted. This is a huge mistake IMO.
The St. Louis Blues were one game from getting to the Stanley Cup final. They have now lost David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott. The Blues are not getting back to the Western Conference final and have taken a step backwards. The same can be said for the New York Islanders. They were decimated in free agency.
Milan Lucic took the exact same contract in Edmonton that Kyle Okposo did in Buffalo. Both are 28 years old. Are the Sabres getting the same type of flak for signing Okposo that Edmonton is for getting Lucic? Isn't scrutinizing Canadian hockey teams great!
In a move that flew completely under the radar, the Winnipeg Jets signed former Warrior forward Quinton Howden to a contract. Howden was a first rounder in Florida, but he never did pan out seemingly being one of the last guys to be sent to the minors. I don't know what Winnipeg has planned for him, but that could be a steal.
How is Steve Yzerman doing it in Tampa? He managed to keep Steve Stamkos, he resisted trading Jonathan Drouin who came through in the playoffs. He has signed Victor Hedman to a contract extension and he has signed Andrei Vasilevskii to an extension making one think Ben Bishop won't be in Tampa colours for much longer. You have to love what he is doing if you are a Lightning fan. Are there any Lightning fans out there?
THANK YOU COMEDY NETWORK - The first season of "Letterkenny" was on the Comedy Network Canada Day evening. While the fireworks were going off, the PVR was capturing that first season. Laughs aplenty followed!
GOOD POINT GREGG - Blue Jays Central co-host (and Riders fan) Gregg Zaun might be one of the best in the game today at his job. He's certainly better at it than he was on the diamond. Zaun's Sunday Roast commentary is always a good view and yesterday's was no different. The Blue Jays 19 inning game on Canada Day was a disaster because of the home plate umpire as both Edwin Encarnacion and Russ Martin were kicked out for arguing balls and strikes as was Toronto manager John Gibbons. Umpire Vic Carapazza was garbage behind the plate when it came to his strike zone. There was no consistency whatsoever. It wasn't just the Blue Jays who were getting hosed either. While Encarnacion was suspended, Zaun wondered when baseball will stop protecting its umps and discipline them as well. Zaun correctly stated Carapazza should have to defend his calls to someone who has the right to say you aren't capable of umping a major league game. I'm sure Vic won't be getting any post-season assignments, and what happened Friday will be marked in his file, but umpires should be held accountable for their actions on the field much like players. There are a lot of good umps in MLB, but I am guessing there are a few in the minors who shouldn't have to wait for retirement or something else to move up.