Connect with us


Toronto Maple Leafs Finally Have Hope, Montreal Canadiens Expect to Contend: Breaking Down the NHL’s Eastern Conference



Last season: 47-26-9; lost in first round of playoffs

What’s new: Okay, so the Panthers had one of their best seasons on the ice, then made wholesale changes — including moving GM Dale Tallon upstairs and promoting assistant GM Tom Rowe. Defenceman Erik Gudbranson, considered captain material, was sent packing to Vancouver while blueliners Brian Campbell, Willie Mitchell and Dmitry Kulikov are also gone. Keith Yandle was brought in from Arizona and signed to a massive extension, while Aaron Ekblad returns with a new deal. There has been so much change it will be interesting.

Expectations: The belief is they should take the next step; however, the reality is this is a different team than the one that enjoyed success last season.


Last season: 46-31-5; lost Eastern Conference final

What’s new: In Tampa, everything old is new again. Let’s start with Steven Stamkos, the most coveted unrestricted free agent the NHL has seen in years. After listening to sales pitches from a number of teams, he opted to stay in Tampa for a hometown discount — if you consider an eight-year, US$68-million pact to be a bargain. Once Stamkos was locked up, GM Steve Yzerman wasted no time in inking franchise defenceman Victor Hedman to an eight-year, $63-million extension. With Stamkos and Hedman under contract long-term, the backbone of this franchise is in place for the next decade.

Expectations: A loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 final. A defeat in Game 7 of the 2016 Eastern Conference final to the Pittsburgh Penguins. After that, it’s Stanley Cup or bust — and they’re more than capable of winning it all.


Last season: 41-30-11; lost in first round of playoffs

What’s new: Pavel Datsyuk returned to Russia, leaving a gaping hole in Detroit’s top six forwards. They hope centre Frans Nielsen, a free-agent addition from the New York Islanders, can fill the void. They also believe journeyman Thomas Vanek can help boost a power play that fell from second to 13th in the NHL. Steve Ott will provide grit and sandpaper to Detroit’s bottom six forwards.

Expectations: The Wings’ core players are a year older and a year slower. This could finally be the year that Detroit’s run of consecutive Stanley Cup playoff appearances comes to an end after 25 seasons.


Last season: 42-31-9; missed playoffs

What’s new: The Bruins added centres David Backes and Riley Nash as well as backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, but did nothing to address a defence anchored by 39-year-old Zdeno Chara. Backes is coming off a 21-goal season in St. Louis and must fill the hole left by the departure of Loui Eriksson, who was Boston’s No. 2 scorer with 63 points.

Expectations: The Bruins didn’t do enough in the off-season to avoid missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season.


Last season: 38-35-9; missed playoffs

What’s new: There was no shortage of change with the Senators. GM Pierre Dorion took over the day after the season ended, and he fired coach Dave Cameron and brought in Guy Boucher, along with associate Marc Crawford. The whole coaching staff is new, while on the ice centre Mika Zibanejad was dealt to the New York Rangers for veteran Derick Brassard. Also gone are winger Alex Chiasson and defenceman Patrick Wiercioch.

Expectations: Owner Eugene Melnyk wanted changes because he expects this team to make the playoffs. Nothing else would be acceptable.


Last season: 38-38-6; missed playoffs

What’s new: Goaltender Carey Price is healthy and he’ll get more protection this year with Team Canada mate Shea Weber replacing the popular P.K Subban on defence. Alex Galchenyuk gets a chance to centre the top line with Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher and there’s more pop up front with the addition of Kontinental Hockey League sniper Alexander Radulov and agitator Andrew Shaw. Al Montoya is an upgrade as Price’s backup.

Expectations: If Price stays healthy, Montreal is a Stanley Cup contender.


Last season: 35-36-11; missed playoffs

What’s new: Just a year after adding second-overall pick Jack Eichel and Team Canada World Cup add-on Ryan O’Reilly, the Sabres further augmented their forward ranks this summer by landing former Islanders sniper Kyle Okposo, who has averaged 61 points per season over the past three campaigns. Ex-Panther Dmitry Kulikov adds stability to the blueline. Between the pipes, Anders Nilsson was brought in as a safety net for oft-injured starter Robin Lehner.

Expectations: After making significant progress in the second half of the 2015-16 season, the goal is to reach the postseason. While this roster still has some glaring warts, it says here they’ll have a good shot.


Last season: 29-42-11; missed playoffs

What’s new: More than anything, there’s hope, a commodity that has been absent from the Air Canada Centre for a long time. This welcomed optimism starts with young Auston Matthews, the first-overall pick in the 2016 draft who wowed any and all observers while playing on a line with Connor McDavid for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey. Add in speedy 2015 first-rounder and incoming goalie Frederik Andersen, and the future in Toronto is bright for a change.

Expectations: The ceiling would be contending for a playoff spot, but the more important gauge is how much Matthews and Marner develop at the NHL level in their rookie seasons.



Last season: 56-18-8; won Presidents’ Trophy; lost in second round of playoffs

What’s new: The Capitals added centre Lars Eller from Montreal and winger Brett Connolly from Boston to shore up the bottom six forwards. Washington is loaded up front with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom, but couldn’t match the Penguins’ depth in the playoffs.

Expectations: GM Brian MacLennan said last year the Capitals had a two-year window to win the Stanley Cup and this is Year 2.


Last season: 48-26-8; won Stanley Cup

What’s new: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That seemed to be the credo of Cup-winning GM Jim Rutherford, whose acquisitions prior to and during the 2014-15 season — Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, etc. — helped lead the Pens to the title, Now they have a full year under coach Mike Sullivan, who took over midseason from the fired Mike Johnston. While defenceman Ben Lovejoy went to New Jersey as a free agent, the basic foundation of this team remains generally the same — and why wouldn’t it? The one big question mark so far is the health of Sidney Crosby, who is out with a concussion.

Expectations: Crosby reminded us all during the Stanley Cup playoffs and World Cup of Hockey that he’s the best player in the world. Anything less than a repeat will be a disappointment and, in reality, they very well could do it again.


Last season: 46-27-9; lost in first round of playoffs

What’s new: With the Rangers facing a dismal cap situation, Derick Brassard, Keith Yandle, Eric Staal, Dan Boyle and Viktor Stalberg are all gone, replaced by the likes of Jimmy Vesey, Mika Zibanejad, Brandon Pirri, Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe. Vesey is the prized acquisition, with the 2016 Hobey Baker winner choosing the Rangers over teams like the Maple Leafs, Sabres and his hometown Bruins. The prized left winger averaged more than a point per game during his college career at Harvard. Zibanejad comes from Ottawa as part of the deal that sent the veteran Brassard to the Senators.

Expectations: This still is a team that will challenge for the playoffs but calling it a Cup contender might be a stretch. At 34, Henrik Lundqvist’s window to win a title is closing and this particular supporting cast may not be talented enough to get him one.


Last season: 45-27-10; lost in second round of playoffs

What’s new: Captain John Tavares watched longtime linemate Kyle Okposo hit the free-agent market and end up in Buffalo, with slick playmaker Frans Nielson leaving for Detroit. As a result, former Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd will play a key role, both on offence (25 goals) and in terms of leadership, helping to take some of the load off Tavares. Keep your eye on former Leaf P.A. Parenteau, who showed some encouraging chemistry during his first stint with the Islanders alongside Tavares.

Expectations: A year after making a postseason run that went two rounds deep, the loyal (and geographically displaced) fan base will expect at least that much from the boys who call Brooklyn home.


Last season: 41-27-14; lost in first round of playoffs

What’s new: Not much. Forwards Dale Weise and Boyd Gordon were the only established NHLers of note brought in by general manager Ron Hextall, who liked the way his young team came together down the stretch, overtaking several teams to grab the final playoff spot in the East. The most intriguing sidebar in the City of Brotherly Shove will be the continued development of defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere, who busted onto the scene in 2015-16 with 46 points.

Expectations: Not yet at the level of the Caps or Penguins in the Metropolitan Division, but they will make a run at the post-season dance. Their success will be contingent on the goaltending of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth.


Last season: 35-31-16; missed playoffs

What’s new: The Hurricanes are trying to bring respectability back under GM Ron Francis. The club picked up forward Teuvo Teravainen in a deal with Chicago that included veteran Bryan Bickell, while Lee Stempniak and Viktor Stalberg were added via free agency. Centre Viktor Rask signed a six-year extension. Many felt goaltender Cam Ward was going to move on, but he was kept. Carolina has made progress under coach Bill Peters but needs to make the next step.

Expectations: The last time the Hurricanes went to the playoffs was 2008-09 and they need to get there to re-ignite the marketplace.


Last season: 38-36-8; missed playoffs

What’s new: This offensively starved team finished dead last in goal scoring last season, finding the back of the net just 184 times. Enter the dynamic Taylor Hall, who came over in the shocking trade from Edmonton that cost the Devils defenceman Adam Larsson. GM Ray Shero must have been giddy in landing Hall, one of the most dynamic forwards in the game who scored 26 times a year ago. Bringing in Ben Lovejoy from the Penguins helps solidify the blueline. Shero is familiar with the incoming Beau Bennett, dating back to their time together in the Pittsburgh organization.

Expectations: Any game is winnable with Cory Schneider between the pipes, but there’s work to be done before the playoffs become a regular occurrence.


Last season: 34-40-8; missed playoffs

What’s new: Coach John Tortorella took over last season and wasn’t able to get the club to the post-season. Centre Ryan Johansen was sent to Nashville in exchange for standout defenceman Seth Jones. The key this year is to keep goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky healthy after he missed a large part of last season. Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky will need to carry the load in the middle, while Jack Johnson has to lead the back end.

Expectations: The Jackets have missed the playoffs the last two seasons and GM Jarmo Kekalainen wants to see the his team get back to the dance.
Read More..

Continue Reading


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.

Continue Reading


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.

Read more…

Continue Reading


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.”

Continue Reading