Updated: May 15, 2021
By Mike Toth
Perhaps the pandemic has finally pushed us all over the edge.
How many times can you walk the family hound, for instance, before you go completely bonkers?
Whatever boring routine you find yourself trapped in, I think you'll agree our crazy COVID existence has produced way more questions than answers.
So with that in mind, here's a few queries that have been bouncing around the brain of yours truly. For sanity's sake, they all revolve around the wonderful world of sports - one of the great escapes during these brutal times.
And unlike most of our goofy politicians, who don't seem to have a clue how to lead us out of this mess, I even take a stab at coming up with a few answers.
Q.) Can the Habs manage to win a single game in their NHL play-off series against the Leafs?
A.) Not a chance. Bud's in four straight. I still can't figure out why Montreal canned coach Claude Julien. With his Stanley Cup pedigree (2011 with Boston) behind the bench, I think he could have come up with a few wrinkles to make it tough on Toronto. But with a rookie coach and too many banged up veterans, (Gallagher, Price, Weber, etc.) the Habs just don't have the horses to run with the talented Leafs. So bust out the brooms in Toronto, and get ready for the "Bring back Patrick Roy!" cries to pick up steam in Montreal.
Q.) What about an opening round surprise?
A.) Florida…..Home to Toronto's baseball and basketball teams…..and the host of the most interesting first round puck play-off. The Florida Panthers pounded the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in two games down the stretch to earn home ice advantage in this series. Much has been made of the Lightning getting Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov back from the injured list. But Stamkos has been on the shelf for weeks and Kucherov has missed the entire season. It's tough to jump into the higher tempo play-offs and slam it into top gear right off the hop. So I'm picking the Panthers and their sensational centre Aleksander Barkov, who just happens to be the most underrated player in all of hockey. (Just for the record, here are my complete first round winners: Toronto, Edmonton, NY Islanders, Boston, Carolina, Florida, Colorado and Vegas.)
Q.) How can the Buffalo Bills be so good, and the Buffalo Sabres be so bad?
A.) It's crazy. The Buffalo power couple of Terry and Kim Pegula own both franchises, but they might as well be playing on separate planets. The Pegula's hit a home run by hiring GM Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott to run the Bills. But they've whiffed constantly and completely when it comes to finding the right people to lead the Sabres. Kevyn Adams, the latest Sabres GM, is a raw rookie. But he seems to have a good head on his shoulders and has done a good job thinking on his feet when dealing with the Buffalo media - not an easy task when you're facing an understandably bitter and jaded group of reporters who have been eyewitnesses to years of Sabres incompetence. Now Adams has to get it right when it comes to hiring a head coach. Veteran NHL bench boss Bruce Boudreau, who lives in the Buffalo region, is said to really want the Sabres gig. Boudreau has won wherever he's been and if he's that motivated, why not give him the gig? But, whatever the case, until the Sabres finally put the right GM and coach in place, they have no chance of snapping their embarrassing 10-year play-off drought. The Bills, on the other hand? The NFL released their 2021/22 schedule this week, and the only real toughies on tap for the Bills are the Chiefs in Week 5 and the Bucs in Week 14. It's not inconceivable that Buffalo could finish 15-2 (Remember, it's now a 17-game regular season) and if the Bills don't at least make it back to the AFC final, I'll be surprised.
Q.) Why did the Raptors decide to tank down the stretch?
A.) Beats me. Most Toronto basketball reporters have been way too easy on the Raptors when it comes to their team tank. But I have to believe that even some of the media softies would have been forced to rip the Raps if they pulled off their tank job in pre or post-COVID Toronto instead of faraway Tampa Bay. It's a lot tougher to play the "lose for a higher draft pick" game when you're doing it in front of a full house of fans who want their money's worth and demand some answers. I really believe that if the Raps would have run out a consistent line-up, as opposed to instituting their phony "load management" scheme, they would have found a way to sneak into the play-in round and make some noise. (And don't get me started on how tough it's been for the poor Raptors to play their "home" games in Tampa Bay. Most of us would give our frostbitten right arms to winter in Florida - and being away from Toronto hasn't seemed to be that much of a hardship for the Blue Jays.) But not much of the Raptors season seemed to make a whole lot of sense. For instance, if they were going to tank, what was the point of holding on to Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline? He's been a healthy scratch for much of the stretch run. With Fred VanVleet poised to take over as the team's new on-court general and rookie Malachi Flynn showing signs of promise, there doesn't seem to be any point in re-signing Lowry. So why didn't the Raps get something for him at this year's deadline before they let him walk as a free agent this summer? More questions, I know. Hopefully, team president Masai Ujiri has the answers - if he even plans to stick around. Yup. Just another question in a head-scratching season for the Raptors.
Q.) Is there a better baseball broadcast team than Dan Shulman, Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler?
A.) If there is, I haven't heard them. Shulman had the top broadcast job in baseball, serving as the voice of the Sunday night game on ESPN. But he gave up the gig a few years ago to return to his Toronto hometown to spend more time with his family. (Dan's son, Ben, by the way, is a talented up and coming baseball play-by-play announcer who's scheduled to call games in the legendary Cape Cod League this summer.) Dan's decision to spend more time in T.O. was baseball heaven for Blue Jays fans. His voice is as comforting as pouring syrup on a stack of pancakes and with his vocal talents and knowledge of the game, it's clear Shulman was born to be a baseball broadcaster. Buck and Pat, meanwhile, are two of the nicest gents you're ever going to meet. I had the pleasure of working with both of them during my early years in the network TV game and they couldn't have been kinder to a nervous young sportscaster who was just learning the ropes. Whatever combination is in the booth on a given night, Dan, Buck and Pat feature the perfect dash of information, warmth and humour. The pandemic obviously stinks big time. But Dan, Buck and Pat provide a terrific escape and make for outstanding family viewing on a nightly basis. Thanks guys!