1 - GREY CUP 2014: So the combatants are set for the 102nd Grey Cup in Vancouver: the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Calgary Stampeders. The pair emerged in some entertaining Division Finals on Sunday. Not surprisingly the odds have not yet been set for the game and they may be difficult to determine. Generally the home team gets four points automatically but it's not a home game. Calgary will come out as the favourite I'm sure.
As for the forecast, rain is predicted all week for Vancouver with the sun only poking out around Wednesday. The temperature will hover around +9 or +10 degrees. It will be easier to deal with than minus-40 last year in Regina but the rain does threaten to dampen spirits. However not much dampens spirits at Grey Cup time.
Us CFL types will be descending on Vancouver in the days ahead and 620 CKRM gets there Wednesday afternoon. We'll be broadcasting the SportsCage from the Vancouver Convention Centre's Radio Row on Thursday and Friday.
2 - TICATS NATION?: It seems Saskatchewan has adopted Hamilton as its Grey Cup favourite this week. Correct me if I'm wrong but that's the general feeling I got while watching social media on Sunday. A lot of it stems from Saskatchewan's distaste for the Calgary Stampeders but a lot of of Rider fans see themselves in Ticats fans too. They're a rabid bunch until those in McMahon Stadium Sunday who we didn't really see all year.
Someone said, "I'm pulling for Hamilton but not Kent," on Sunday although that's disappointing, it's also understandable. Kent Austin's responsible for two of the Roughriders' four Grey Cups but he left twice. I get it. I'll never dump on Austin because he's been great to me - even writing the forward for my best-selling book - but if people here can't let the other stuff go, that's their business.
As far as Hamilton winning the Grey Cup in 2014, CKRM analyst Carm Carteri said on Sunday, "It would be great for the league!"
3 - THE MATCH-UP: Calgary and Hamilton last met in the Grey Cup in Vancouver in 1999 with the Ticats winning 33-21. The year before in Winnipeg, the Stampeders beat the Tiger-Cats 26-24 in the 86th Grey Cup.
So this is the rubber match, if you will. And it's a salacious match-up indeed. It pits the cocky, brash, older Stampeders against the youngest team in the CFL, the determined and seemingly humble Tiger-Cats. The Stamps were passing around the West Division championship trophy on Sunday like it actually means something, groping and kissing it like they were at a high school dance. The Ticats, on the other hand, wouldn't touch the East Division championship trophy. They also wouldn't engage in Montreal's trash-talking the week before the EDF, saying instead "We don't have time for trash-talking. We're preparing for Sunday's game". Then they whipped the Als' butts when it counted.
So you read it here first -- and this will be my prediction for the week -- the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will win the 2014 Grey Cup. I'm never one on posting points but I'll say between 7-10 in this one.
Why? The Ticats have had the fire burning in their bellies for just over a year now and if you subscribe to the theory "The team that wants it more will win", then it'll be the Tabbies.
Make no mistake, Calgary looked fantastic in their romp over Edmonton on Sunday. But the core of that group is old (Cornish, Lewis, Hughes, Simpson, etc.). They know the window is closing on the chance to cap their careers with a title, but they're too brazen to show some humility. As always, that's what will catch them in the end.
4 - THE RIDERS: Of course it sucks the Roughriders won't be in the Grey Cup. No amount of sugar-coating the situation will placate the readers and it would all be hogwash anyway. However we're going to have to forget about the Green & White for a week and focus on this national celebration of the CFL.
Honestly I was watching the Western Final thinking that the Riders would've been smoked by the Stampeders had they advanced to the Final Four. That's in their current state of course, without Darian Durant. Honestly I'd rather have not gone to Calgary at all than go there and get humiliated.
If you were watching the pregame show, TSN's Chris Schultz said Calgary and Edmonton are only going to get better so Saskatchewan, B.C. and Winnipeg had better "get your act together" if they plan to compete in the West.
I had similar thoughts about Calgary and Edmonton but am not prepared to lump the Riders in with the Lions and Blue Bombers either. The Rider brass knows they have their work cut out for them to get back to the Grey Cup so rest assured they are on it.
And the expectation for the top should always remain to be in the Grey Cup, and win it. If you've noticed, President Jim Hopson has gone underground the past little while although he'll resurface this week in Vancouver.
Hopefully the next President has the fire, passion and expectations of the departing Hopson.
5 - HOCKEY THOUGHTS: You want to know why attendance is down in amateur hockey arenas across the country (WHL, SJHL, CIS)? Because each night we have a variety of choices on our big screens at home. And on Friday and Saturday, that's exactly what I watched and it was mainly the Edmonton Oilers plus the Leafs-Wings game ... I should've gotten off my butt and gone and watched my alma mater, Mount Royal University, pay a visit to the U of R but I was too tantalized by having the weekend off (the Cougars and Cougars split by the way) ... Anyways the passion is gone in Edmonton as I noted on Friday but it was impressive to see Rouleau's Keith Aulie rocking bodies on the Oiler blueline. At least someone was putting out an effort in Blue & Orange over the weekend ... As for the Leafs, Don Cherry was right in that the Toronto players were shortsighted when they refused to salute the fans after Thursday's win over Detroit. Because a few fans threw jerseys on the ice, they turned their back on 18,000 others and the Leafs Nation. How stupid and juvenile. However when your leaders are Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel, what do you expect? ... In the WHL, the Prince Albert Raiders were bullied by the P.C. crowd into mothballing their brand new mascot. In my days in P.A., we referred to that logo of the team as "The Sheik" and it was in reverence. A Sheik is an Arab leader. However, because some Middle Eastern people MIGHT be offended by the mascot, he's been retired without making an appearance. No comment here. Maybe I've got to find a better way of fitting into this new world we live in ... The Regina Pats are 1-1 on their west coast trip after a 6-2 win in Vancouver and a 5-0 loss in Victoria. They're off until Wednesday when they visit the Prince George Cougars. All games can be heard on Saskatchewan's Sports Radio, 620 CKRM.
By: Luc Mullinder
AYE!!! RELAX!!! Gordy G and his equipment guys hadn’t even unpacked a travel bag from Edmonton yet and half of Ridernation was already making the roster decisions for 2015!!! #CoachesIncluded
I get it…The business of sport has no off season, touché my friends. But please, let’s not stress ourselves out over the 27 guys that have been cast into the “Riderville FA watch”.
I know that everyone wants to see their favorite guys re-signed, and their least favorite guys left at the Westjet counter, but in this business, there’s truly no formula that you can use in order to pinpoint front office thinking patterns.
I’m putting these thoughts on paper for two reasons…
1. I couldn’t write about Saskatchewan vs. Calgary in the West Final
2. Quite a few of you guys have asked my thoughts on the Free Agent Outlook
This will be the only time I truly speculate as to who goes where, and which coach may get the hook etc etc. Truthfully, I probably won’t even go that far. I hated speculating when I was a player, and I’m not into it that much now that I’m a washed up has-been who runs a 13.23 40 yard dash (joking *kind of*).
The one thing that I will say Ridernation is that every team in the CFL is about to take a good hard look at their option year rosters, and there is some serious talent that may or may not be up for grabs when Free Agency rolls around. Shoot, some of these guys may have re-signed by the time you read this…
Here’s how we’ll do this. We’ll assume that none of the 27 guys that you’ve been talking about come back. Hey, it could happen. #NotLikely. And we’ll also assume that the guys we talk about here all make it to Free Agency…I know, a lot of assumptions, however, at least you guys will see that the Green and White aren’t the only ones at risk of losing some talent.
Ladies and Gentlemen, here are some names to ponder…
If Calgary can’t get this guy under contract, look out, there will be a line-up of teams that would love to have him. Big and Physical come in the Calgary Stampeders job description, however what stands out most about him is his football IQ. Having such a high aptitude for the game allows him to probably make a full time transition from centre to guard without missing a beat.
Obviously the Riders love their home town guys, but if he was from Yellowknife, we’d want him just as bad. There is a path of greatness that a few Saskatchewan guys like Scott Flory and Gene Makowsky have paved. Jones seems to be on that route. The front office missed out on drafting him, but may look to get him in Green and White before the dust settles.
You know with all this drama surrounding the lack of “national” offensive line talent that exists in the CFL, Tyler Holmes would be a welcome addition anywhere, and with the absolute gong show that was the Toronto Argonauts, Tyler may be looking to get outta there as fast as he can.
We had to wait until he exhausted some NFL looks, to get a look at the 2011 CFL first rounder, but the kid can flat out ball. The Argos are probably in there right now trying to convince Braley to at least pay for SOMETHING this year, Holmes needs to be it, cause he’ll be a starter in this league until he retires. Good Canadian Talent. It’s limited for some reason or another, on the Oline. Worth a real look.
While we’re talking about the Canadian talent that may be available on the Offensive Line, we may as well throw Wojt in there. The veteran Canadian may be on his way out in Hamilton and if he can’t find a place to start in, he may be a great depth add for a team like Saskatchewan. You’ll have to pay him as a vet, but luckily not as a high priced one. Wojt has never been an all-star but he’s a solid football player who’s had his fair share of reps.
If you can’t beat ‘em, sign their FA’s and get their secrets (it happens). 6’11, Canadian, and 350 lbs. Matt’s got plenty of Football left and had a really good year this year. Take a look at him on Sunday, and judge for yourself. Ed Hervey did a great job of going unnoticed this year while his team turned it all around, maybe he’ll screw up and forget to sign this behemoth. I’m sure Rob Bagg will be a fan, he’s also a Queens Alum.
Offensive line is definitely a position group that has been mentioned a lot lately in Saskatchewan. Nobody wants to see the guys that are in question go, but if they did, at least there are plenty of guys (especially Canadian guys) that may be available. Depending on how the ratio shakes out with that group, talented guys like Mark Dile from Hamilton, and veteran Edwin Harrison from Calgary may be an “international” option.
Jabar Westerman and Don Oramasionwu
The Rider “National” depth on the defensive sign is intriguing. I’m not sure everyone is sold on David Lee. Thankfully Ricky Foley never got hurt for an extended period of time because it may have caused a re-shuffling. Westerman and Donny O may be on the outs with their respective teams or may be looking to go themselves, however their passport and skill level may be something to go after if the price is right. The Riders wouldn’t want them both unless they planned on changing the ratio, but getting one of these two guys if the price is feasible may be a good depth pick-up. Both have shown they can play, but they may be looking for a re-do…if the Riders want more Canadian Depth on that line, this may be an option.
Popp has struck out with his “national” D-linemen as of late. Ahmeet Pall never panned out when they lifted him from Calgary. Bo Adebayo didn’t scratch the field, and before that Chima Ihekwoaba looked to be the next greatest thing but never even came close to the athletic potential he exhibited.
Michael Klassen looks to have snapped the trend. And now it’s up to Montreal to sign him or let him check out his options. The 4th rounder made a bunch of plays for the Alouettes as part of their regular rotation and he’d be perfect here in Riderville. Klassens only 23, and with Foley showing him and Ainsworth the ropes, the D-line Canadian Depth would be good to go. I see Popp fighting hard to keep him in the stable there, but if he did look elsewhere, there’d be a few teams that would jockey with the Riders for his services. Productive Canadian D-linemen are not easy to find, so teams are always open guys like Klassen.
Other notables, are two guys from Edmonton in Willis and Howard. Howard has all the ability, but has struggled to stay healthy, and has fallen by the wayside in Edmonton. A change of scenery may be just what the doctor ordered in his case, and you can never have enough depth at the end position. Willis may be looking at an outside opportunity in the NFL, but the safer bet, would to be to see him re-up with the team that believed in his reincarnation.
Chip Cox is in the top 3 when discussing the best pound for pound players in the CFL. He’s not just a statistical beast, he’s really the heart and soul of the Montreal Defence and Special Teams units. It’s really tough to imagine Jim Popp letting Cox walk but Montreal is going to have to pay, and extend, a couple of guys this off season and someone may choose to test the waters. You would be nuts not to want to try and fit this quintessential dime into your defensive scheme. The only variable that may make a GM flinch on Cox is his age, but he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, and that is due to a monster work ethic and all out love for playing the game. He’s really Montreal’s Eddie Davis, but younger. You get the picture.
Bear Woods has been in the CFL for a few years but has bided his time as a back-up and then been hit with untimely injuries. What you are seeing in the east-division defensive MOP nominee justifies the Alouettes patience in him, and now he looks to potentially cash in. Ridernation has been up in arms about its LB core all year, despite the solid play of Sean Peters and Weldon Brown. Seeing Bear Woods manning the middle for the green and white would surely silence the thirst. Bear has two things going for him, aside from being a physically tough player. He’s another guy with a tremendous football IQ, and really displays a good fundamental base, when it comes to the demands of the position.
This kid's a playmaker and Edmonton needs to find a way to wrap him up for the long term. Yet another fine example of the linebacking talent that may be available when Free Agency hits. Rider fans have seen enough of him to know his pedigree. Good nose for the ball, and has the ability to play in multiple coverage schemes. Dexter McCoil has been the talk of the town in Edmonton for obvious reasons, but Curran makes plays every time that the opportunity presents itself.
Ian Wild did a fantastic job in Winnipeg this year. Wild is very coachable. When you play in a defence requires you to think outside of the box, you can tell by watching the film who the guys are that haven’t bought in. Wild adapted very well to the concepts that were laid in front of him, and it showed up on the stat sheet, thanks to his keen eye for the ball. The CFL game is constantly changing its offensive concepts and lately teams have looked to guys with Ian Wilds body type and skillset in order to deal with the changing coverage dynamics and athletic requirements. Wild will always have a place on someone’s roster because of these demands. The Rider wouldn’t complain if he fell into their lap.
Throughout 2014, there has been issues with the Middle Linebacker spot. We all knew of the void left by Mike McCullough and Rey Williams, and to this day, the position still seems like it’s up for grabs. A guy like Bear Woods or Ian Wild may just be the answer going into training camp.
Nobody really talks about anyone from Hamilton’s secondary, and the unit didn’t do much to stand out during the year, however there is some talent over in Steel town, and one guy in particular can be highlighted. Sometimes the best DB’s in the league are the guys you never heard of, and a large part of that is because nobody ever tests them. I’ll use Terrell Maze with the Riders as an example. No all-star recognition, no fireworks, but if you ask anyone in the locker room who you don’t want to try as a QB, Maze would be the guy who jumps out. It seems like Breaux is Hamilton’s T-Maze, but bigger; the Hamilton boundary CB stands about 6’1 and is super athletic. The Alouettes tried him ONCE during the Eastern Final, and he made them pay by picking it off. We all know the Riders Defence is a man scheme for the most part, and Breaux would fit in quite well with the Wolfpack.
Other than 3-time Grey Cup champ and special teams ace, Paul Woldu, there’s no ‘national’ experience in the DB unit of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Rwanbukamba has proven himself more than serviceable since leaving Hamilton, to the point where he’s a guy that could really provide some awesome ratio flexibility. If there was a defection at the field side corner, having a guy like Chris on the roster would at least allow for the discussion of having some portion of the secondary manned by a Canadian. This would also go a long way if a guy like Ricky Foley gets hurt for a lengthy period of time.
This guy also can play multiple positions on the field. He filled in admirably at Safety when Hinds when down this year, so he’s already struck something off Chamblins “ability our guys must possess” list.
Ryan Hinds is another guy on the Esks roster that looks like he’s in his option year, but he seems to be a high priority guy due to his role as the Free Safety when he’s healthy.
There’s a few more names at the DB spot that look like they’re going to be Free Agents in February, unfortunately they’re a little older. Chamblin may look to develop some younger talent in that secondary either from the NFL or within the locker room. Breaux may be worth a serious look if the TiCats choose not to lock him down. Rwanbukamba would not only add to the depth, but he`d provide the Riders with a guy who could contribute during defensive reps.
I’m not positive Chambers didn’t already extend in Edmonton, but if he didn’t and wants to check out his value amongst the other teams, it wouldn’t kill Saskatchewan to take a look. He’s long, plays the jump ball well and for a big guy, has field stretching speed. He’s also going to be coming into the years where the game will start to slow down for him, and that will be huge for the youngster. Two things that play into the Riders even considering this, is how they want to continue the development of Alex Pierchalski who looks like he has all the tools to be a good one for the green and white, and Chris Getzlaf and his fit with the squad going forward. Chambers may be a reach, but he’s talented and you can’t leave any stone unturned.
Never really blossomed into the playmaker that people had him pegged for and may be cut loose by the Hamilton TiCats who also have Bakari Grant to deal with before February. Depending on how much money is around (not in saying he’s worth a ton) Giguere would be a nice boost to the overall depth of the Green and White receiving core. Currently he occupies the field side WR spot for the Cats but they don`t really look to him at all. I`m not saying the Riders would plug him into a spot already occupied by Getz or Bagg, but you could find plenty of ways to infuse him into the offense gradually.
SJ Green was huge in the resurgence of the Alouettes during the back half of the season and throughout their playoff push. All eyes are going to be on Jim Popp to see how he deals with the perennial All Star Green. With everyone already punching Duron Carters ticket to the NFL, does Jim Popp really risk losing two of his main receiving targets? My guess is no, especially after his 3 TD performance in the Eastern Final. Green is a core guy there, and with other core guys taking pay cuts to stay in Montreal last year, I don’t see Green being coaxed out of La Belle Province. The one thing I will agree on is that if SJ Green were to switch squads, the Riders would be his first choice.
Kelly made some big plays for the Bombers and can be used at the 1st down sticks for jump ball plays or as a legit vertical threat to stretch the field. He’s not the fastest guy on the field but is a nice addition to round out any teams receiving core.
Honestly, the Riders are set at this position and one gets the feeling that if they were to actively go and look to add to their training camp roster, they’d look south first. Names that may be popping up will be Matt Walter in Calgary, who would affectively replace a guy like Neil Hughes in terms of what he can do offensively and on Teams. Another interesting name would be Tyrell Sutton, however he’s been in the Montreal system for a while and looks to be the incumbent to Brandon Whitticker who bowed out to injury for the second year in a row. This is also a position group that looks to be set, and it’s safe to say that I’m not the only one that anticipates Keith Tosten taking the next step in 2015.
Those are just a few names that may be worth looking into as we sit and anticipate how Brenden Taman goes about his off season to-do list. The option year charts are not the only resources that the Saskatchewan Roughriders will use to collect talent. This is an organization that over the last few years has done a great job of finding productive players outside of the CFL.
Players like Levy Adcock, Derek Walker and Anthony Allen are just a few names, on the list of many, which Craig Smith and the gang have worked hard at finding.
The Rider brass may very well be intent on bringing guys up that they’ve been practising with.
The point here is to not panic. If your favorite player happens to start training camp next year in a different uniform, I’m sure that there will be a guy in his place that will get it done. The one thing that you know from watching Coach Chamblin over the last few years is that he is going to have a team on the field that will compete and expect to win.
My Arm Chair assessment is simple. I`d go after Brett Jones, Chris Rwanbukamba, Bear Woods, or Curran (if he`s there) and a big possession receiver. Then I would probably work to get some more Canadian talent into camp. Either way, just remember guys, there`s no formula, and anything goes.
See you guys in BC as RIDERVILLE takes over the convention centre.
THANKS LUC! HAVE A GREAT WEEK EVERYONE...