Photo Credit: Darryl Dyck of The Canadian Press

*This was originally posted on April 24, 2022*

Well, it’s been two weeks since the last Avid Thoughts. Things got busy last week since it was the weekend of Good Friday and Easter.

Nonetheless, Avid Thoughts is back and I can share my thoughts on the vast world of sports around Vancouver and elsewhere.

Whitecaps fans apathy

So the Whitecaps’ awful start continues with a 3-0 loss to Austin FC. I wrote the post-game so you can read that here if you want. I’ll also have a deep dive on why they have started so poorly later this week.

JJ Adams of The Province and myself were the only media members in the Zoom press conference after the game. It was the veteran and the rookie asking questions. 

JJ Tweeted this and it gained a lot of response from apathetic Whitecaps fans. As you can see, many were saying they lost interest in the soccer team and blamed Greg Kerfoot and the ownership group.

It is hard not to blame them. In 11 years as an MLS club, the Whitecaps have had not much success. Sure there was a Canadian Championship in 2015 and Cascadia Cups in 2013, 2014 and 2016 but in terms of the MLS playoffs, they have only one playoff win in their history. That was in 2017 when the Whitecaps beat the San Jose Earthquakes in the knockout round 5-0. 

They never really had a star player over the years. Eric Hassli, Camilo, Pedro Morales and Fredy Montero were good players for example, but they never really were stars. The closest the Whitecaps had to a star was Alphonso Davies. Of course, he is arguably the best left-back in the world having just won his fourth straight Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich. When he was with the Whitecaps, he showed a lot of promise but was never one of the best MLS players. (He was an All-Star, however.)

The biggest criticism of the Whitecaps is that ownership doesn’t spend. The club looked to build on their second-half success last season but it was a quiet offseason. No big money moves were made. This team just doesn’t have the ambition to be better. If they did, they would be spending money on players from Europe that can make an impact. Sure, Ryan Gauld was an impact player last year but they need to make more of those types of signings. Is ownership committed to making a team one of the elites in MLS? Doesn’t look like it.

Then, there is the off-the-pitch stuff. The sexual assault scandal involving Herbert Busby JR and Bob Birarda is a black eye on the organization. It went on for years and it took a long time before action was taken. In 2019, fans staged a walkout during games because of the allegations. 

Fortunately, the MLS has hired lawyers and is still investigating the situation and hopefully, justice will be served in the coming months. (Birarda has pleaded guilty.) After that, the Whitecaps need to make sure this never happens again. 

I can’t blame the fans for having apathy. The Whitecaps have been consistently near the bottom of the MLS, ownership doesn’t want to spend the money to improve the team and the off-pitch stuff is disgusting. 

Vancouver has a history of soccer. The original Whitecaps played in the NASL and won the Soccer Bowl in 1979 which drew 100,000 people to downtown Vancouver for the victory parade. The Vancouver 86ers later renamed back to the Whitecaps gained a good amount of support in the Canadian Soccer League and the Whitecaps drew good crowds at Swangard Stadium when they were in the USL.

However, Vancouver is a hockey city first. Why is there still a lot of following even when the Canucks are bad? It’s because the Canucks and hockey have been a part of Vancouver’s identity for so long. For the Whitecaps, they are an afterthought in a city where hockey talk dominates the radio and podcasting sphere. 

Fans have other soccer teams to watch too. They can support whatever European club they want as well. Why support a lowly MLS club when you can support the best players in the world? 

I just hope one day the upper bowl at BC Place will be open but that is a pipe dream at this point.

It was fun while it lasted 

Speaking of the Canucks, their playoff hopes are pretty much dead. It’s not mathematically over yet but their playoff odds are as big as a grain of rice.

With a 6-3 loss to the Calgary Flames Saturday night, the Canucks playoff odds are pretty much at 0% according to The Athletic and Money Puck. It’s over.

However, you have to give props to Bruce Boudreau. He has a track record of turning teams around and he showed that track record is no accident. Now if only, the changes were made earlier or even at the end of last season. (Or years ago as some of you might say.) 

Elias Pettersson has hit a career in goals and is close to tying his career-best in points. Remarkable considering he was so poor in the first half of the season. Brock Boeser was scoring goals, JT Miller is in the top ten in NHL scoring, and Thatcher Demko has been the team’s MVP all season.

That 8-15-2 start was too big of a whole to climb out of. The playoffs were out of reach but the false hope made it fun for a while. It’s the hope that kills you.

The Canucks looked quicker and the forechecking looked great under Boudreau. Hopefully, he comes back next season because it would be a colossal mistake if he doesn’t.

I expect an overhaul of the roster by Patrik Allvin in the offseason and some moves will be tough to take. Bring it on. If Allvin and Jim Rutherford actually do what they said, then hope springs eternal in Vancouver once again.

How to fix the NHL

Hockey is a great sport but the NHL isn’t a good league, Out of all the big four North American sports leagues, (NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB) the NHL is the most backwards.

There have been numerous on and off-ice issues with the NHL for years now and here are some ways to make the NHL better.

  1. Call the game by the rulebook in the regular season and playoffs: This one is simple but would be the hardest to fix. Yes, officiating isn’t an easy job by any means but there have been obvious penalties not called and obvious penalty calls that aren’t penalties. The rule book should be out at the time keeper’s box so the refs can look over it if they think they made a mistake. In the MLB, the umpires often discuss calls so why can’t NHL refs do the same. Plus having the rule book with them would make things easier.
  2. Let the players have more personality: A lot of hockey players have the personality of a rock. They need to lighten up more and show different sides of themselves. I have always wondered if there is an NHL player who is a total geek. Maybe that player is secretly big into comic books and all the geeky stuff. It would help grow the game if a player came out as a huge Star Trek fan for example. Also, I really don’t like the fact players have to wear suits to the rink. To me, they can wear whatever they want to the rink as long as it isn’t appropriate. Why can’t they wear sweatpants to the rink? Imagine changing from a suit and tie to hockey gear. The clothes they wear can show iff their personalities. Players should also be able to design their own skates like basketball players do.
  3. Go back to the 1 vs 8 playoff format: What the hell was wrong with that format anyway? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I never liked the division format. Plus, this format can create new rivalries like the Canucks and Blackhawks from 2009 to 2011 for example.
  4. A Play-In tournament: The NBA is doing this idea. Basically, The teams ranked 7th to 10th have a mini tournament determining the 7th and eighth seeds (AKA the wild card.) Linked is how the NBA does it, and I think the NHL should do it too. It would be good for the players, fans, and owners and provide some entertainment and drama plus an interesting trade deadline.
  5. Abolish the shootout, go for continuous 3-on-3: The shootout was fun as a kid, not anymore. It’s a gimmick and I just don’t like the fact that a skills competition decides games. Sure 3 -on-3 can get boring when teams just play keep-away but it can get excited when skilled players are on the ice. What if to prevent 3-on-3 keep away a shot clock of 20 seconds gets put on the screen when the attacking team goes past centre ice. If they don’t shoot within that time, penalty.
  6. A 3-2-1 point system: I think this would be better for the league. Three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime win and one point for an overtime loss.
  7. Fire George Parros and hire someone competent to be the head of the DOPS: George Parros, a former enforcer is the head of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. Let that sink in. What the league needs is someone qualified who knows what dangerous plays look like. They don’t have to be a former player (Paul Kariya would be a good choice though.) but someone with a law degree could work.
  8. Move the Arizona Coyotes: They will be playing in an arena that seats less than WHL rinks. (Heck any WHL team in the playoffs right now could probably beat the Coyotes.) The prices will be steep too. It’s an embarrassment and even more embarrassing than their on-ice play. Move them to Houston, Kansas City, Quebec City or any other city that has an interest in hockey.
  9. Have celebrities collaborate with the teams: Justin Bieber designed a special jersey for the Leafs and that is one example. What if Michael Buble or Ryan Reynolds designed a special Canucks jersey? Celebs can basically be honorary mascots for the team and can be in the locker room to motivate the team when they are available and do fun stuff with the players. (Again, to make them show off their personalities) I saw an idea on Twitter where Buble and Boudreau are together in a Bubly commercial. Could you imagine? Buble: “New Bubly Sparkling Water now available.” Boudreau: “It’s Bubly Michael.” Buble: “Not you too Bruce.”
    So those are my ideas. I’m sure not all of them will be well received. Let me know what you think of commissioner Joshua Rey’s ideas and I would love to hear your ideas on how to fix the NHL!

Rudiger to leave Chelsea

Chelsea beat West Ham in a scrappy 1-0 win over East Londoners West Ham United at Stamford Bridge. It was a boring first half and Chelsea didn’t have much going until Romelu Lukaku won a penalty around the 86th minute. However, Jorginho was stopped by Łukasz Fabianski.

Captain America himself, Christian Pulisic scored the winner in stoppage time. Good to see the Lebron James of soccer score.

Antonio Rudiger has been a reliable defender under Thomas Tuchel. The boss confirmed that he will be leaving the club in the summer. They tried to give him a new contract worth over £200,000 but he rejected it. So that means he leaves on a free this summer. 

This sucks. Rudiger has played very well under Thomas Tuchel. His aggressiveness and smart tackling will sorely be missed. That tackle against Manchester City’s Phil Foden in last year’s Champions League Final is something I’ll never forget.

Rudiger is likely to go to Real Madrid. Manchester United is also apparently interested.

With Rudiger leaving and Andreas Christensen most likely leaving in the summer for free to Barcelona, Chelsea needs to sign defenders. Options are Jules Kounde from Sevilla (almost signed on deadline day last summer) and Alessandro Bastoni from Inter Milan. There is also interest in Bastoni from Tottenham Hotspur where his former manager Antonio Conte is. Chelsea could also look to Cobham again and give Trevoh Chalobah a bigger role and/or give Levi Colwill a chance who is impressing on loan at Huddersfield Town in the English Championship. 

The backline is going to miss Rudiger but they need to find a suitable replacement. Here is hoping the owners back Tuchel and get him the players he wants.

Basketball playoffs

I don’t know much about basketball but I watch it when I can.

The Toronto Raptors managed to avoid the sweep against Joel Embiid but I think they’ll lose game 5. The Denver Nuggets managed to avoid the sweep against Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors who are still a good team. Steve Nash, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are a loss away from getting swept by the Boston Celtics. I know the Nets haven’t been as good this season but that is kind of wild. The Celtics are a good team that boasts the likes of Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. (Tatum and Matthew Tkachuk went to the same high school by the way. Look it up.) 

The Memphis Grizzlies are tied 2-2 with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the T-Wolves really just sat back and blew a huge lead in game three. Good lord.

It is also weird not seeing Lebron James in the playoffs. The Lakers have been one of the teams I cheer for and they have been very bad this season, unfortunately. Lebron has a year left on his contract and hopefully, next year is a bounce-back year for them. Russell Westbrook struggled and Lebron and Anthony Davis dealt with injuries this year.

Not sure who is going to win the title this year. The Warriors are once again dangerous, and the Celtics can’t be counted out. The Miami Heat and Grizzlies could make a run too, I think. I think I’ll go with the Suns. Why? Just a gut feeling. Plus, I always liked Devin Booker.

Speaking of the Grizzlies, I often like to imagine an alternate universe where they never moved to Memphis. In that alternate universe, the Grizzlies are constantly selling out Rogers Arena and Ja Morant is one of the biggest names in the city besides Pettersson. The Grizzlies playoff games at Rogers Arena draw huge crowds as fans hope Morant can lead them to an NBA title. After years of mediocrity, draft busts and being overshadowed in the media by the Toronto Raptors, fans are starting to believe they have a chance to bring a championship to Vancity. 

But in this universe, the Grizzlies moved to Memphis in 2001 after six horrible seasons in Vancouver. Today, basketball has a good following in Vancouver and I often see people wearing NBA jerseys and talking about the NBA when I’m out. There is talk of Vancouver getting a team again but Seattle deserves one first. The way they lost the Supersonics to Oklahoma City was just cruel.

Hope you enjoyed reading Avid Thoughts this week! Next week, we’ll do an Avid Thoughts mailbag so keep your eye out for the questions Tweet!