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With Nickname on its Way, Las Vegas NHL Team Still a head-scratcher



On Tuesday, the Las Vegas entry in the National Hockey League will unveil its nickname and logo. It’s expected to be the Las Vegas (Something) Knights, partly because the league vetoed Aces and other such names with a link to gambling, which is silly since nothing makes one immediately think of gambling more than the words “Las Vegas.”

No doubt it will be an occasion for the expansion franchise to talk up all the good news — the executive team full of familiar hockey names, the robust ticket sales, the expansion draft rules that have been rigged to ensure that the Not Aces will be decent off the jump.

None of this will explain why the NHL thought it a good idea to expand in the first place.

On Friday the Carolina Hurricanes beat Montreal in front of an announced crowd of 12,101 fans at PNC Arena in Raleigh. A game with the arena more than a quarter empty, against the hottest team in the NHL and one of its storied franchises, was actually a bright spot on the Hurricanes season. Three of Carolina’s seven home dates have had announced crowds below 9,000 and, other than the sellout home opener against the New York Rangers, the Hurricanes have played before an average audience of just over 10,000. For Sunday’s home game against the Winnipeg Jets, tickets were available on resale sites for $12.

The Hurricanes aren’t exactly a threat to relocate, as they have a lease at PNC Arena that runs for another seven years, but owner Peter Karmanos, who moved the team to Carolina from Hartford, wants to sell, and it is no surprise that he does not have a line of local buyers interested in taking the team off his hands. He doesn’t even have the beginnings of a line. It’s not unreasonable to imagine that a few more months of 8,000-plus crowds in Raleigh would increase the chances that Karmanos will sell to someone who is interested in buying out the arena lease and decamping.

Carolina’s attendance, lowest in the NHL, is only a shade higher than the average crowds of just under 12,500 that have paid for tickets to see the New York Islanders at Barclays Center. In the second season in Brooklyn, the move from Long Island appears to be a full-on disaster, with the Isles’ suburban fans not terribly interested in the trek into the city (and back) and not enough bearded Brooklyn hipsters are willing to pay for hockey tickets.

The Islanders’ owners have reportedly been in discussions with the owners of the New York Mets about building a new arena in Queens, next to Citi Field. Perhaps the Islanders could play a few games a year at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, just to continue the tour of New York City’s boroughs.

And in Arizona, the Glendale experiment seems to mercifully be grinding toward an end, with Coyotes ownership having announced plans last week for a new arena in Tempe which will be shared with Arizona State University. That would be the third different location for the Coyotes, who began life in downtown Phoenix before the amazingly ill-fated move to Glendale, which led to a bankruptcy and made the team a ward of the league for several seasons.

The move to Tempe, which still has many hurdles related to arena financing because, surprise, it would involves hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, makes a lot more sense than did the move to Glendale. But, that the Coyotes are even trying to do it, speaks to how terrible the team has done in the suburbs.

Glendale, remember, sued the former owner when he considered selling to parties interested in moving the team, and the city just three years ago signed a 15-year lease that allowed public money to be used to backstop operating losses for the hockey team. City council eventually realized what a terrible deal it had signed and voided the lease, essentially on a technicality. So, in a few short years, Glendale went from fighting to keep the team to fighting to get rid of it — literally preferring the idea of an empty arena to paying the Coyotes millions of dollars annually just to stay there.

Arizona is third-last in NHL attendance, just behind the Florida Panthers, who despite getting to the playoffs in the third season under new ownership are still getting crowds that average less than 14,000 in Sunrise. Vincent Viola’s plan was to end the massive ticket giveaways and build a team that fans would be willing to pay to see. He has so far had more success with the first part than the second.

None of this is particularly new or unexpected. For years now, the NHL has always had a handful of franchises losing piles of money, with lousy attendance, or with questions about ownership or an arena — and sometimes all of those things at once.

There are still many reasons to be skeptical of Las Vegas as an NHL site, but the biggest question remains this: with so much uncertainty around the bottom end of its 30 markets, why add another?

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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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