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Stu Cowan: Canadiens’ Marc Bergevin starting to look like WKRP’s Herb Tarlek



WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — Here’s something to ponder in the aftermath of Wednesday night’s blockbuster trade: will the players in the Canadiens locker room — who obviously had a problem with P.K. Subban — be better now without him, or will the former Norris Trophy winner be better in Nashville without them?

I’ll pick the latter.

Subban’s trade to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber proved one thing: don’t believe anything Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin says. Bergevin’s nose probably grew a bit when he told reporters at the NHL Entry Draft he wasn’t shopping Subban and simply had to answer the phone when other GMs called. When asked if it was realistic that a trade could happen, the GM said: “I would say no.”

TSN’s Bob McKenzie — the best at what he does — called the GM out when he told Vancouver’s TSN Radio 1040: “The Canadiens obviously don’t want it out there: ‘We’re trying to dump P.K. Subban.’ And in fairness to them they’re not trying to dump P.K. Subban. But I mean they’re not playing tiddlywinks on these calls, either. These are serious calls and they’re entertaining offers on P.K. Subban.”

Maybe Bergevin should buy another fancy new tie with Pinochio figures on it.

Fans at Bell Centre react to P.K. Subban trade news 1:31

You knew Canadiens management had a big problem with Subban last February in Colorado after the defenceman lost control of the puck just inside the Avalanche blue line and fell down. It resulted in an unthreatening three-on-three the other way, but when captain Max Pacioretty gave up on his back-check, Jarome Iginla scored what proved to be the winning goal for the Avalanche.

After the game, coach Michel Therrien pointed the finger directly at Subban for the loss, calling it an “individualistic” play. It didn’t seem to matter to the coach that his captain stopped back-checking.

Therrien never liked Subban going back to his unemployed coaching days as a talking head on RDS’s L’Antichambre panel. He might be back there before the end of next season.

Did Subban make mistakes with the Canadiens? Of course. When you carry the puck as much as he does, those things will happen. But none of Subban’s mistakes came from a lack of effort like Pacioretty on that back-check.

I learned about the Subban trade while waiting for Eugenie Bouchard to arrive at her post-match news conference following her first-round tennis win here at Wimbledon. Some other Canadian media members in the room thought it was a joke. It wasn’t and most Canadiens fans aren’t laughing. They’re either screaming, crying or ordering Nashville Predators jerseys with No. 76 and Subban on the back while swearing they’ll never drink Molson or Coors Light again. The Predators Team Store sent out a tweet shortly after the trade letting fans know the Subban jerseys were already on sale.

You have to feel sorry for all those Montreal fans who spent big money on Subban Canadiens jerseys. Hopefully they didn’t pay full price at the team’s souvenir shop.

Canadiens Weber jerseys certainly won’t sell like Subban’s, which means money out of owner Geoff Molson’s pocket. But he obviously signed off on this and must have the same dislike for Subban as his GM and coach.

Subban’s personality is obviously going to rub some people the wrong way. He’s confident and cocky — which is actually a good mix to thrive in Montreal’s hockey fishbowl. Just ask Patrick Roy and Guy Lafleur. The bigger the game, the better Subban always played. Not that many of his former teammates can say the same thing — including Pacioretty, who has 10 goals in 32 career playoff games. Some people talk about how Subban became bigger than the team, but he never got in a fight with a stripper girlfriend or did anything else to embarrass the CH on or off the ice that we know of. He sold his brand and the CH at the same time.

Former Canadien Georges Laraque — who is friends with Subban — probably hit the nail on the head when he told TSN Radio 690’s Chris Nilan after the season that P.K.’s teammates were jealous of him and that he wouldn’t be surprised to see him traded. If jealousy was indeed a problem, then there’s a much bigger issue in that locker room than Subban. It’s too bad some of his confidence didn’t rub off on his former teammates.

Bergevin looked really good in his fancy, colourful suits when he first took over as GM in the summer of 2012 and made some moves to put a terrible team back on the right track and into the playoffs. But over the past season his clothes are starting to make him look more like Herb Tarlek, the not-so-extraordinaire sales manager on the old WKRP in Cincinnati TV sitcom. There was the John Scott fiasco, thinking Ben Scrivens was an answer in goal with Carey Price recovering from his “top-secret” injury, and trading Devante Smith-Pelly for a ghost named Stefan Matteau.

Bergevin’s legacy could end up being the man who didn’t want Hall of Famer Larry Robinson behind his bench as an assistant coach — choosing childhood buddy J.J. Daigneault instead — and didn’t want a possible future Hall of Famer on his blue line, but definitely wanted Therrien in his foxhole.

Bergevin’s next move should be to give the captaincy to Weber to see if he can clean up whatever problems remain in that room. The 6-foot-4, 236-pounder has a huge presence and comes in new, meaning everyone in the room has a fresh slate with him. Pacioretty is a super-nice guy and his teammates obviously love him by voting him captain, but he’s not a natural-born leader and proved that last season.

There’s no doubt Weber is an outstanding defenceman, but he’s going to be 31 on Aug. 14 and is on the downside of his career with 10 seasons remaining on a gigantic 14-year, $110-million contract that carries an annual salary-cap hit of $7.9 million. Weber was minus-7 in the regular season and minus-7 in the playoffs with the Predators this season. And for those analytics junkies who insist plus/minus doesn’t mean anything, Subban’s analytics numbers were also better than Weber’s. Both defencemen finished the season with 51 points — Weber had 20 goals compared with six for Subban, who was plus-4 on a bad team.

A lot of Canadiens fans, along with kids and parents at the Montreal Children’s Hospital — a place Subban has pledged to raise $10 million for over seven years and has an atrium in his name — will be sad to see him leave. But the always-upbeat Subban sounded excited about joining the Predators when he spoke on a conference call Wednesday night with the Nashville media from Paris, where he is on vacation.

“I’d like to get down there as quickly as possible because I’ve always enjoyed my time in Nashville,” he said. “Over all-star break I had an opportunity to get to know some of the players on the team and I don’t know if that’s a coincidence that I got along with the guys great.”

After not being wanted by Team Canada for the World Cup of Hockey or by the Canadiens, Subban will head to Nashville with even more motivation — not that he really needs it. He’ll also have a head coach, Peter Laviolette, who actually wants him and a defence coach, Phil Housley, who is a Hall of Famer and used to play just like him. Subban also won’t have to pay Quebec taxes on the remaining six seasons of his eight-year, $72-million contract.

It probably won’t be long before Subban shows up wearing a cowboy hat and boots in a Carrie Underwood country-music video along with her husband and his new teammate Mike Fisher. Subban and the Predators will be at the Bell Centre on March 2, but he will be back in Montreal before then to host P.K. Subban’s All-Star Comedy Gala as part of the Just For Laughs festival on Aug. 1.

If this trade doesn’t work out well for the Canadiens, Bergevin he will be able to hold his own comedy show in the future. All he’ll have to do is stand on stage looking like Herb Tarlek.

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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