No one has earned a bigger opportunity this winter than Nick Arbuckle, but it’s not like it comes as any surprise. After watching Arbuckle start seven games with the Calgary Stampeders last year, it was almost a certainty he’d be given the chance to be a No. 1 in 2020. That opportunity came in January when the Ottawa REDBLACKS jumped the queue by acquiring Arbuckle in a trade and then signing him a few weeks later.
It was a bold move by the REDBLACKS and has the chance to pay off huge. While success in Ottawa is no guarantee for Arbuckle, it’s tough to find anyone that doesn’t think this was the right call. Arbuckle has been ready for this for a while and sounds to be approaching his shot with the right type of attitude.
“I’m really happy for the guy,” said former teammate Bo Levi Mitchell. “I watched his press conference and I think he did a good job, handled himself well and answered the questions really well. One thing he said that’s true: he’s going to try and outwork everybody and, I guess, out-prepare everyone else in every situation.”
Arbuckle understudied for Mitchell the last two seasons and helped the Stamps go 4-3 in injury relief last year. It’s tough to argue with Arbuckle’s work on the field: he completed over 73 per cent of his passes and threw 11 touchdowns against five interceptions. While we didn’t see a lot of long shots down the field, Arbuckle was smart and efficient and gave Calgary a chance to win in all seven of his starts.
“I think he’s going to do some great things,” Mitchell told me. “I think there’s going to be growing pains at times as there is with everybody, as there was with me and other guys throughout the entire league. But those are all learning experiences, you know. I think he’s in a very good situation. I know the team is coming off not their greatest season ever, but there was definitely key pieces they were missing and I think they feel like they might have found that piece.”
Arbuckle has jumped into his new role with both feet, too. New REDBLACKS’ head coach Paul LaPolice spoke to CFL.ca earlier this month and pointed out how involved Arbuckle has been since the opening of free agency. According to LaPolice, he’s given input on potential signings and has been eager to welcome new additions right away.
“His leadership is really showing up,” LaPolice told Brodie Lawson and Chris O’Leary. “He’s already been in the playbook, in our system. We’re excited to have him in the building and I just think he’s got great potential and certainly in his opportunities to play last year he did a great job.”
It’s tough not to get excited for the potential of LaPolice and Arbuckle working together starting this season. Ottawa’s new head coach has a well-earned reputation of being an offensive mastermind, which has the chance to pair perfectly with a promising, first-time starting pivot. Even Mitchell had to admit how good a fit those two could end up being.
“Man…even during the season…it was fun to watch Winnipeg play at times. Looking to see the different type of plays and concepts they’re going to run and, you know, kind of copycat steal from them as you watch some film. I think he’s going to do really well.”
The REDBLACKS had a miserable 2019 and finished the season with 11 straight losses. While there were numerous contributing reasons, a lack of effective play at quarterback was at the very top of the list. For a team trying to kick start a new era, Arbuckle was the perfect target.
No need for change
I thought Davis Sanchez and Henry Burris got into an interesting Twitter conversation last week. Following news the NFL was set to make significant changes to their regular season schedule and playoff format, the two analysts debated whether the CFL should think about changing things, specifically when it comes to the post-season. Sanchez was very much for a drastic change, while Hank was on the other side. For the record, I’m with Mr. Burris on this one.
The NFL is on the verge of increasing their regular season schedule and adding a playoff team in each conference. For Sanchez, though, his idea was not about adding teams. Instead, the three-time All-Star was suggesting a playoff format that got rid of divisional bias and instead ranked the qualifying teams one through six.
It’s something that has been suggested for years by CFL fans, specifically in the last decade when the balance of power has swung dramatically to the West Division. I get the idea of wanting to have the six best teams in the playoffs, but like Burris, I prefer the current format that still puts an emphasis on divisional play and regional rivalries. That’s important to me.
There are a few reasons why I think it’s important to keep things the way they are. I like the idea of seeing regional rivalry games in the playoffs, which you get with the current format. We saw Saskatchewan vs. Winnipeg in the Western Final in 2019, for instance, which is as good a rivalry as they come. You get a great chance of seeing classic showdowns like Calgary-Edmonton and Hamilton-Toronto under the current format, which I’m all for.
And, just as important, I think it’s big to keep teams playing important football even with a less impressive record. Some don’t like “artificial parity,” but I don’t mind it at all. Recently, the West Division has held the balance of power, which has kept below .500 teams relevant in the East.
That means more important games late in the regular season or, for me, fewer meaningless games. I’d much rather see an important Week 19 game with playoff implications than one that means nothing, even if it’s the product of one division being weaker than the other. In recent years, we’d have seen far more meaningless games had the league gone with only the top six records.
The crossover keeps things “fair,” as it still rewards a team in one conference if they’ve done enough to make the playoffs in the other. It’s a nice balance that allows more teams to be in playoff contention than would otherwise be, but also doesn’t punish a fourth place team if they’ve had a good season.
In a conversation like this, there’s no right answer, because it all comes down to opinion. My belief is the league doesn’t need to change their current playoff format, but that doesn’t make you (or Davis) wrong for thinking the opposite. It’s a personal preference thing and a really fun conversation.