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Jack Todd: A Heaping Helping of Crow Over My Carey Price call



You have to give it to me (and you do — quite often.) When I get it wrong, I don’t mess around.

I once said the Colts should have drafted Ryan Leaf instead of Peyton Manning. Early last season, I thought the Canadiens just might contend for a Stanley Cup.

But the worst, the Todd blooper to end all bloopers, was when I doubted Carey Price. Face it. That’s like doubting Ted Williams could hit. That the Beatles would ever get famous. That Jesus could walk on water.

Back in the late spring of 2010, I thought former GM Pierre Gauthier had made a huge mistake when he traded Jaroslav Halak and kept Price. (Gauthier did make a smaller mistake — he failed to get market value for Halak. But that’s another story.)

It wasn’t immediately obvious, but Gauthier’s predecessor, Bob Gainey, was right all along when he called Price a thoroughbred. Halak had guts and grit and fire in his belly, but he simply didn’t have the tools to be a Carey Price. Not then. Not now.

Who does? I’ve been a fan of this sport since the Canadiens called up Ken Dryden in the spring of 1971 and I’ve never seen anything like it — except possibly Patrick Roy, during that stretch when he won overtime game after overtime game in the run to the 1993 Stanley Cup.

But Roy was never as consistent as Price. He stands as the greatest money goalie of all time, but for long-term, game-in and game-out consistence, Price has it all over him. Dryden? Dryden was great for his time, but he played behind the greatest team of all time and he wasn’t half the athlete Price is.

If I had to rank the all-time goaltender list, I’d start with Terry Sawchuk, but Price is working his way up that list with a full head of steam. He is locked in to an almost unimaginable degree. He is doing things no one every thought of asking a goaltender to do: making stickhandling plays on the ice, leading in the room.

Most of all, Price has a degree of separation from his peers that I don’t believe any goaltender can rival. That is probably the ultimate test. Price simply has no peer. Goalies rise and fall, one plays well for a time than another. But you can go back to before the 2014 Olympics and Price has been, as José Théodore said last week, in a class by himself.

There’s only one missing link in the resumé. You know what it is. Price knows what it is: A Stanley cup ring.

"I have to make decisions and sometimes they're not the most popular," says Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, speaking after a team practice at the Bell Sports Complexe in Montreal on Oct. 11, 2016. (Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette)
“I have to make decisions and sometimes they’re not the most popular,” says Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, speaking after a team practice at the Bell Sports Complexe in Montreal on Oct. 11, 2016. (Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette) Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette

Roll those bones: If you’d like to cultivate a fine set of ulcers, being a general manager of a sports franchise is probably the surest route to the Maalox.

In the past month, we’ve seen the GMs of the three major Montreal franchises going in different directions in their tension-fraught jobs. Adam Braz (technically the technical director of the Impact) has his team preparing for its two-game MLS semifinal against Toronto FC. No GM can do much better than that.

Jim Popp — well, we’ll get to Popp in a moment.

Then there’s Marc Bergevin. Six months ago, most of the fan base here had lost faith in Bergevin. Today, if the Canadiens keep winning at anything like the 13-1-1 pace they were on heading into last night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Bergevin is a lock for General Manager of the Year.

Look, every GM worth the fine print in his contract has to be part riverboat gambler. At some point, you have to ante up. Go all in. Make a call and bet the farm, the horses and Aunt Lucy’s knickers that you’re right. Knowing that if you’re wrong, you’ll be back scouting midget kids in Thunder Bay and Chicoutimi.

When the Canadiens hit an Everest-sized speed bump with Price out last season, it freed Bergevin to roll the dice — and roll them he did with one of the biggest trades in league history, P.K. Subban for Shea Weber. Now, among those hitting the stage in Vegas if the NHL awards show was held now would be Weber, accepting the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman.

Comeback player of the year? Does it count if you were in the KHL? If it does, my vote would go to Alexander Radulov, another Bergevin gamble paying huge dividends. Paul Byron, a Calgary Flames castoff? Phillip Danault? Andrew Shaw? Torrey Mitchell?

This is Bergevin’s team now. It’s a place where, if you were to drop in to tell a foxhole joke, you’d look pretty foolish.

Alouettes head coach Jim Popp runs practice in Montreal on Sept. 14, 2016. (Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette)
Alouettes head coach Jim Popp runs practice in Montreal on Sept. 14, 2016. (Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette) Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette

Exit the ego, stage right: You don’t often see huge egos among general managers. It’s the nature of the job to be somewhat self-effacing. (Or, in the case of Gauthier, to attempt to turn yourself into a ghost.)

But to say former Alouettes GM (and everything else: Popp carried more titles than a third-world dictator) had a massive ego was putting it mildly. Where most GMs prefer to remain in the background, Popp preferred to strut along the sidelines.

The extent of Popp’s ego hit me one year when I was going through the team’s media guide before the first game of the season. Popp’s bio up front was so long his father got more ink than most of the players.

You can have a huge ego and still do the job. For maybe 15 years, Popp did pretty well. Perhaps not as well as he wanted us to believe (he was, after all, operating in the perennially soft CFL East), but well enough to keep the Alouettes consistently on top.

But Popp’s ego kept whispering in his ear, telling him he could be a great coach and a great GM. Some can (see Wally Buono.) But typically, a guy is a fine coach first, then a GM. Popp tried to go the other way and it simply didn’t work. As a head coach, he wasn’t even adequate — he was flat terrible. Any guy who would say to his players, “you’re making me look bad!” simply isn’t a coach.

In the end, Popp’s lust for coaching (where the spotlight is, after all) did him in. Not only did he fail as a coach, the time he spent coaching made him a less-than-adequate GM. He tripped over his own ego, turned a once-great franchise into a basket case and greatly overtaxed the patience and purse of the Wetenhalls before his final, merciful exit.

Popp did some good things here. Had he kept his ego in check, he might have carried on another decade and won more Grey Cups. Sadly, perhaps, he’ll be remembered as a guy who had more ego than ability. Perhaps that’s an unfair assessment. If it is, Popp has no one but himself to blame.

Heroes: Carey Price, Evan Bush, Marc Bergevin, Adam Braz, Shea Weber, Alexander Radulov, Paul Byron, Phillip Danault, Torrey Mitchell, Patrik Laine, Leon Russell &&&& last but not least, Leonard Cohen.

Zeros: Jim Popp, the NHL’s Toronto “War Room,” Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Jake Arrieta, Dabo Swinney, Nick Saban, Don Cherry, Eric Lindros, Claude Brochu, David Samson &&&& last but not least, Jeffrey Loria.

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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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