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ED WILLES: Bruins and Blues are proof there are many roads to success


Don’t know what we’re going to do for excitement once the NBA Finals are over but you’ll always have the Monday morning musings and meditations on the world of sports to keep you entertained.

Attentions draftists. In this year’s Stanley Cup Final, there were exactly three top-five picks playing for the St. Louis Blues and none for the Boston Bruins. Of the three players in question, only Alex Pietrangelo was drafted by the Blues. The other two, Jay Bouwmeester and Brayden Schenn, came over in trades.

Before you ask, Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester and Schenn also represented the only top-10 picks in the Cup final.

The point, of course, is assembling a group of top draft picks is one way to build a winner but it’s not the only way. In the end, organizational acumen counts for more than draft position which is something to keep in mind as the Vancouver Canucks chase their rebuild.

On a related note , you hope the Canucks had an interest in Jeff Skinner before the Buffalo Sabres took him off the market because he represented exactly what the team needs. He just turned 27. Over his nine-year NHL career he’s averaged 30 goals per 82 games.

Skinner would have remade the Canucks’ top-six and the entire look of their forward group. Yes, he commanded a huge price tag — eight years, US$72 million — but that’s the going rate for a 27-year-old, 30-goal scorer in unrestricted free agency.

Beyond Skinner, moreover, the pickings start to get lean among the UFAs:

• Matt Duchene is a fine centre but he’s not a fit for the Canucks and, more to the point, the Canucks aren’t a fit for him.

• Anders Lee has averaged 34 goals over the last three seasons but he turns 29 in a month and there hasn’t been one credible rumour connecting him to the Canucks.

• Ryan Dzingel is 27 and he’s scored 23 and 26 goals over the last two seasons but he’s not the game-changer Skinner would have been.

• Jason Zucker, who’s name has been linked to the Canucks in trade talks, is a similar player. He’d help but he won’t excite the fan base.

In the absence of a big, headline-grabbing move, that leaves the Canucks offering the status quo and some hope based on improved seasons from Tanner Pearson, Josh Leivo and Jake Virtanen. That’s certainly plausible and, all things considered, maybe the prudent approach is the best approach for the Canucks this offseason.

You’ll just have to decide for yourself if that’s enough after four years out of the playoffs.


Great to see the RBC Canadian Open restored to some of its former prestige this week with a world-class field, a bravura performance by Rory McIlroy and solid showings by the Canadians.

Back in the ’60s and ’70s our Open was considered the fifth major and regularly attracted the best players in the world. That changed in the late ’70s when the tournament moved to Glen Abbey and became, in essence, the greater Toronto Open but the 115-year-old championship has bounced back in recent years. Now that it’s locked into an early June start date for the foreseeable future it will remain a marquee event.

Know that he hasn’t shown his best form consistently enough over the last five years but I still say McIlroy has more game than any of the top players, with the possible exception of Brooks Koepka. He turned 30 in May and the golf world has waited for him to reclaim the territory he carved out for himself in 2014 when he won two majors. Just wondering if this is the start.


This is why I love the CFL . On Friday night, the B.C. Lions gave Grant Kraemer seven minutes to decide his future and the young quarterback went six-of-eight for 145 yards while leading the Leos on two touchdown drives in a last-minute win over Calgary. The biggest play on the game-winning drive was a third-and-10 completion to Mexican national Fernando Richarte.

Kraemer is 23 but he looks 14 and he was positively glowing after the game.

“He looks younger than my kids,” said Lions quarterback Mike Reilly.

On Sunday, Kraemer signed a practice-roster agreement with the Leos and suddenly figures in their quarterback rotation now and in the future.

Still with the Leos. The one bit of interesting news to come from their final cuts concerns the number of Canadians who’ll see significant playing time in the early going. Jevon Cottoy, who played for the junior Langley Rams last season, made the team and will be part of the receiver group with Shaq Johnson, another Canadian. The Lions will start four Canadians on the offensive line. Running back Wayne Moore also figures in the offence.

On defence, Anthony Thompson will move back to his safety position and Jordan Herdman-Reed figures to start at middle linebacker. That doesn’t mean the Lions will finish the season that way but their Canadian content gives them a huge degree of flexibility.


And finally, it’s hard to put the Toronto Raptors run to an NBA championship in historical perspective but, if they pull this off, it feels like the greatest achievement in our country’s sporting history.

The Blues Jays’ World Series wins in 1992 and 1993 are up there somewhere but the Jays’ success wasn’t exactly unprecedented and both they and the Expos had been close. Don’t think the various Stanley Cups won by Canadian teams are a direct comparison. And last time I checked, we’ve never had an NFL team.

True, there are individual championships which are in the game ballpark: Mike Weir winning the Masters, Donovan Bailey in the 100 in Atlanta and Paul Henderson’s goal might be the single-greatest moment in Canadian sports history.

But when everything is factored in — the scope of an NBA championship, the opposition, the teams they beat along the way, the moments they provided — the Raptors stand alone. From Kawhi Leonard’s shot against Philly, to the win over the Bucks, to their heroic performance against Golden State they’ve provided this country with an epic story, one which will be told and retold by Canadians to Canadians over the generations.

In so doing, they’ve become part of our story. That is a rare and beautiful thing.

ewilles@postmedia.com

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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