- They're off! The 2016 CFL season started in Toronto last night with another game tonight and two more on Saturday to close out Week 1 of the season. Yes, the Riders are left in the dust until Thursday's Week 2 opener against the Argos at home, but it will be nice to watch some regular-season CFL football as it will lead the way into CIS, NCAA and NFL. Ahhhhhhh----football is back!
As is the case every year, the question is who hoists the Grey Cup high in November. I see it being a two team race in the West with Calgary battling Edmonton and a two horse race in the East with Hamilton battling Toronto. I see the Stamps and Argos fighting it out at BMO Field in November with the Stampeders coming away with the trophy. As for the Riders, I know they will be better in Chris Jones' first year in charge. In fact, I think they will be the 3rd place team in the West beating out both the Bombers and Lions as they will make a 2nd half charge. Is it too much to ask for a nine win season. I don't think so. If you want predictions, go Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and BC in the West with the East standings having Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Montreal from to top to bottom.
As the season starts, the focus in Riderville is squarely on this guy and why not?
It has become painfully evident over the last year and a half that the fortunes of the Saskatchewan Roughriders depend on this guy. They have a good chance when he is playing and virtually no chance when he isn't. While some have said "NO WAY", and I understand that, I still believe if Durant is healthy last year, the team would have been fighting for a playoff spot going into that last game in Montreal. Of course if that were the case, Chris Jones might still be in Edmonton (or maybe Winnipeg) because I don't think he would have been here. That being said, Corey Chamblin would not have been here in 2016 barring some kind of huge playoff run.
Without Durant, the Riders are 5-26 in their last 31 games. In the 31 games before Durant suffered his season-ending elbow injury in 2014, they were 22-9. It is as simple as the nose on your face that as Doubles goes, the fortunes of the Saskatchewan Roughriders go. It may be even more magnified if Durant goes down in the wake of the Brett BSmith cut as there is no experience behind Durant right now should he go down.
Offensively, I see Naaman Roosevelt having a monster season and I also see Rob Bagg having a great year. They may not make you go Weston Who?, but they'll try. I am also very intrigued to see what roles Kendial Lawrence and Nic Demski have as they will be asked to do many things. I've already said I see Lawrence having the same type of role here that Corey Holmes used to have. The running game still is a concern to me as Curtis Steele didn't play a lot in the pre-season and when he did, he wasn;t that effective.
Defensively, this team will be much better than the team that left the field in 2015. Not having Marshay Green and Junior Mertile on the field makes that sentence accurate. Jeff Knox Junior is needed in the linebacking corps, but the additions of Justin Capiccotti, Shawn Lemon, Otha Foster and Greg Jones make that side of the ball much better. Once Jones gets them on the same page, and yes, it will take a couple of weeks, I see some defensive football that Rider Nation is used to seeing. By the way, where are Marshay Green and Junior Mertile anyhow? Maybe that could be a segment for Ballsy's "Where are they now?" feature. Then again, maybe not. By the way, has anyone mentioned Josiah St. John lately?
-- The NHL draft goes tonight, and if all goes according to script, the excitement shouldn't start until the #4 pick as it is expected Auston Matthews, Patrick Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi go 1-2-3 to Toronto, Winnipeg and Columbus. The Oilers have the #4 pick and if they keep it, I think they take Matthew Tkachuk. However, I don't think they keep it as they use the pick to trade down and get a defenceman they so desperately need and then perhaps get an Olli Juolevi, Mikhail Sergachev or Jacob Chychrun to help them out on the blueline.
Will the Calgary Flames offer up number 6 to get someone like Marc-Andre Fleury or Ben Bishop? I am guessing Tampa might be willing to move up to number 6 if they are going to lose Steve Stamkos. Would the Arizona Coyotes offer Toronto a package including Max Domi, Dylan Strome, their first round pick this year and next to land Matthews and give the organization the marquee player it wants? Being from Arizona, you know Matthews would love nothing more than pull a Coyotes jersey over his head tonight. I don't think that happens, but you never know what Lou Lamioriello may do. Will Jordan Eberle get traded, will Kevin Shattenkirk or PK Subban have a new team by the time Monday hits and will Tyler Bozak, Scott Hartnell or Rick Nash have new homes as some suggest. Draft weekend is always a treat to watch.
Around these parts, there is a lot of interest as the Pats and Warriors will be well represented in Buffalo. Where does Sam Steel go? Where will Adam Brooks end up? Is Brett Howden going to be a first rounder? Is either team holding a draft party tonight? If not, why not? Nothing wrong with talking junior hockey in late June is there? Find a spot, get some current players and alumni out there, do some giveaways and hopefully see one of your players get selected in Round 1. Bada boom, bada bing! I sometimes think teams are too scared to try something new for fear it will fail. How do you know if you don't try?
-- Two thumbs up to outgoing Swift Current Broncos head coach and general manager Mark Lamb. In his exit news conference, Lamb said the following:
"Social media is a huge problem. I don’t follow it a lot because it can drive a person crazy with the negativity that’s out there. And usually the negative people (who) are out there are the people (who) really don’t know what’s going on anyways. But I’ll tell you one thing — the players, they’re on social media and they read it and they follow it. And when they’re getting criticized on social media for going out and not doing their best and not performing up to the standards of some of the people, I think the fans really have to realize that you’re writing something about these kids — look back and go, ‘Maybe that could be my kid.’ And maybe you change your mind.”"
- Ripping pro athletes is one thing, but rippin young kids is another. Yes, the story may change a little when a pro contract is signed, but when I see people ripping 15, 16 and 17 year old hockey players for their play, it becomes a little tiresome. There is a fine-line between criticizing someone for what they do or don't do on the ice and ripping someone just for the sake of ripping them because they have an axe to grind. I don't think there are many in the hockey world who disagree with what Lamb is saying.
-Congratulations to Dean Brockman. The former head coach of the Humboldt Broncos is the new coach of the Saskatoon Blades. I met many classy individuals during my time with the SJHL and Brockman was right up there. Considering his track record behind the bench, I have no doubt if he is allowed to do his job, he will have the Blades playing good hockey very soon.
-- Congratulations to Regina's Dustin Molleken. As he toiled in the minor leagues, he must have wondered if he would ever get the call to the bigs. 13 years later, he got that call. Molleken is in the bullpen of the Detroit Tigers and while he didn't get a chance to pitch before being sent down Thursday, he still had that chance to wear a big league uniform.
-- The annual "Sticks On Rose" street hockey tournament will go outside the 620 CKRM headquarters today. The work done by Mike Sillinger, Jamie Heward and others on this event is outstanding. I'm sure it will be another great day.
--That's all I got. Have a great weekend!