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Top 10 Canadian sports stories of 2017

Dec 21, 2017

Canada is much, much more than strictly a hockey nation, and never has that been more evident than in 2017.

Sure, Sidney Crosby keeps adding Stanley Cups and Conn Smythes to his resume and Connor McDavid solidified himself among the world’s elite this year. But Canadians also had momentous triumphs in basketball, swimming, tennis and MMA, while the country continued to cement itself as a football, baseball and soccer hotbed. Many memorable moments were witnessed over the past 12 months, and while most of them provided proud Canucks something to cheer about, there were a few that are painful to look back on, too.

As another year comes to a close, the Yahoo Canada Sports team has put together a list of the top-10 Canadian sporting moments of 2017.

Penguins, Crosby go back-to-back

The Pittsburgh Penguins winning their second of back-to-back Stanley Cups — a feat no club has accomplished in the NHL for 20 years — was just another feather in the cap for the team’s Canadian captain.

Pittsburgh was led to its fifth championship by several notable Canadians including goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray, defenceman Kris Letang, trigger-man Chris Kunitz, and of course, Sidney Crosby. In the postseason, the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia product finished second only to teammate Evgeni Malkin in points (27) and goals created (9.4), while ranking second in points per game and first in assists. Crosby capped off the third Cup triumph of his career with his second Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP.

Connor McDavid’s coming out party 

Connor McDavid not only threw his own breakout bash in 2017, he swept the place up when the festivities were over.

The 20-year-old had a dream-like sophomore season with the Oilers, leading the NHL in assists (70), points (100), assists per game (0.85) and points per game (1.22), while dragging the Orange and Blue on his back towards the team’s first playoff appearance since 2006. At the NHL Awards in June, McDavid became just the 10th player in NHL history to win hockey’s version of the triple crown, capturing the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award. He was also just the fourth player 20-years-old or younger to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP. The others? Wayne Gretzky (twice) and Sidney Crosby.

Toronto FC’s historic campaign

After dropping the Montreal Impact to become the first Canadian team ever to advance to the MLS Cup final just over a year ago, Toronto FC made 2017 even more memorable.

Further breaking ground for league and country, TFC broke the 19-year-old points record held by the L.A. Galaxy en route to becoming the first Canadian MLS franchise to win the Supporters’ Shield. But what ultimately cemented TFC as the greatest club in league history was atoning for last year’s loss in the MLS Cup Final with a dominant victory in the championship rematch with Seattle Sounders at BMO Field.

The return of GSP

The UFC and Canada as a whole were blessed by the comeback of one of the sport’s best-ever fighters and one of the country’s all-time great athletes.

Georges St-Pierre made his long-awaited return to the Octagon after a four-year hiatus, and delivered more than anyone could have imagined in an incredibly entertaining bout with Michael Bisping for the middleweight crown. GSP, bruise-faced and leaking a steady stream of blood, slapped a rear naked choke on Bisping to re-assert himself atop the MMA world. At 36-years-old, St-Pierre is once again a top-flight superstar in the UFC and firmly entrenched in the conversation for greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time.

Roy Halladay’s tragic death

Though he wasn’t Canadian by birth, the country mourned the loss of one of its own when arguably the greatest pitcher in Toronto Blue Jays history was taken away far too soon.

Roy Halladay tragically lost his life in November as a result of a plane crash off the Gulf Of Mexico. He is certainly one of the most talented MLB pitchers of the last half-century, and he spent 12 of his major league seasons tossing for Canada’s team. He captured his first Cy Young in 2003 with the Blue Jays and was an All-Star six times with Toronto while throwing an absurd 49 complete games with the club (he threw 67 in his career). He later went on to win a World Series, another Cy Young, and toss the second perfect game in postseason history with the Phillies.  One of the greatest athletes  — and by all accounts greatest people — to ever grace the Canadian sports scene.

Denis Shapovalov begins his ascent 

2017 was the year of El Shapo, as Denis Shapovalov thrusted himself into the Canadian sporting spotlight and finished the season as the talk of the ATP tour.

The 18-year-old Montreal native started 2017 as the 250th ranked mens player in the world, while making it known that his goal — which seemed quite lofty at the time — was to crack the top 150 by the end of the year.  Shapovalov started making his way up the latter at the Rogers Cup in Montreal with a gutsy victory over Juan-Martin Del Potro, then by defeating No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal in a miraculous, three-set-thriller in front of a charged up home crowd. Shapovalov followed up his inspiring underdog performance by making it to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Open. He is currently No. 51 in the world — nearly 200 spots higher than he ranked 11 months ago.

Kylie Masse breaking records in the pool

A year after winning an Olympic bronze in Rio, Kylie Masse carried Canada’s momentum in the pool right into 2017.

The 21-year-old made history at the world aquatics championships in Budapest in July, becoming the first female Canadian swimmer ever to win a world title. Masse did so in dominant fashion, to boot, setting a new world-record in the 100-metre backstroke with a time of 58.10 seconds, and in the process throwing out the longest-standing record in women’s swimming.

Under-19 Men’s Basketball claims gold

One the best international basketball clubs Canada has ever assembled was led to gold by the most highly-touted Canadian baller since Andrew Wiggins.

After a historic win over the U.S. in the semifinal, Canada claimed its first-ever gold medal at an international FIBA competition after crushing Italy by 19 points in the championship game. Mississauga’s R.J. Barrett — who later committed to powerhouse Duke after receiving offers from every major D1 program — followed up his heroic performance versus the Americans with 18 points and 12 boards in the final contest, and was named tournament MVP for averaging 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists throughout.

Toronto Argonauts capture Grey Cup 

A tumultuous season for the Argos concluded in triumph with a Grey Cup victory set upon a backdrop of pure Canadiana.

In January, general manager Jim Barker was axed and head coach Scott Milanovich subsequently left his position to become a quarterbacks coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL. The outlook seemed bleak for the Double Blue until the hirings of three-time Grey Cup champion Jim Popp as GM former Montreal Alouettes boss Marc Trestman as head coach. After a 4-6 start, the Argos ended up finishing first in the East and concluded the campaign by knocking off four Western teams including an upset over Calgary in an incredibly exciting (and snowy) Grey Cup.

Ottawa Senators improbable postseason march 

Everything about the Senators’ improbable season, and an even unlikelier playoff run, was magical.

After managing to scrape their way to a second-place finish in the Atlantic Division, the Sens took out the Bruins in a thrilling six-game series which included four one-goal victories — three of them in overtime. Ottawa went on to beat out the favoured New York Rangers in round two, also in six games, teeing up a Conference Final matchup with he defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

After a thrilling Game 6 victory, Ottawa’s Cinderella run ended a shot away from a berth in the Stanley Cup Final, losing in double overtime of Game 7 on a heartbreaking Chris Kunitz winner.

More end-of-year content from Yahoo Sports:


Major League Soccer: Nashville granted latest expansion team

Dec 20, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Major League Soccer is expanding its presence in the southeast, awarding Nashville the first of its newest expansion franchises as MLS’ 24th team .

Commissioner Don Garber made the announcement Wednesday at a news conference with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and John R. Ingram, head of the group that will own the team.

”This is a town that really surprised us with 46,000 at the Gold Cup US-Panama match and over 50,000 for the Man City game just a few weeks later,” Garber said. `So soccer-involved, great ownership and a great stadium plan, it just seemed like the perfect, perfect match.”

Nashville had been vying with Cincinnati, Detroit and Sacramento, California, as the finalists for the league’s latest two expansion teams. A decision on the second winner is expected within a few weeks. Atlanta and Minnesota joined this year and Los Angeles FC starts in March, giving the league 23 teams.

When Nashville starts playing remains to be decided. Garber said it was unlikely the team would debut in 2019 but 2020 was a possibility.

”We are making a lot of progress in Miami,” Garber said of David Beckham’s long-pending team. ”We’re hopeful we’ll be able to bring that team over the finish line.”

Nashville Soccer Holdings LLC includes Ingram, chairman of Ingram Industries Inc.; and the Wilf family, owner of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. Ingram said it was a landmark day both for Nashville and the area’s soccer fans who made a strong case for why the league needs to be in Music City.

”We will have a team that everyone can be proud of, and we will take a leadership role in enhancing the growth of the sport in a region that already has a passionate soccer culture,” Ingram said. ”Nashville is going to be a very worthy addition to MLS.”

The Metro Nashville City Council on Nov. 7 approved $225 million in revenue bonds to construct a 27,500-seat soccer stadium and an additional $50 million in bonds for renovations and improvements around the site at the current fairgrounds. The stadium could open by March 2021, with the bonds only waiting for Nashville to receive an expansion franchise.

Garber said it will be up to Ingram and the Nashville owners whether the new team gets a new name or keeps the Nashville SC identify used for the team starting in the second-tier United Soccer League next season.

Garber said Sacramento, seen as the other favorite, is MLS ready.

”They have some things to finalize with their ownership that I think would make them optimum,” Garber said. ”We’ve said for many years there’s a great level of support for the game in Sacramento and I think there’s great interest in joining Major League Soccer.”

MLS joins the NFL in Nashville with the Tennessee Titans and the NHL with the Nashville Predators. Forward Filip Forsberg of the Predators was at the news conference Wednesday, and the Titans tweeted out photos of players holding up shirts supporting the town’s newest pro team.


NHL Power Rankings: Secret Santa Edition

Dec 20, 2017

When Adam Henrique returned to New Jersey this week dressed as a Duck, the former Devil received the most hilarious inside-joke gift in hockey history: the Pads of Seduction.

Back in November 2016, Devils backup goalie Keith Kinkaid threw a contest inviting fans to design his next set of pads. Feeling frisky, Henrique entered a design with teammate Stephen Gionta striking the classic George Costanza painting pose.

Well, Kinkaid gave the pads — a thing that exists in real life — to Henrique this week, just in time for the holidays.

In that same generous spirit, we offer up some last-minute shopping ideas in our NHL Power Rankings: Secret Santa Edition.

As always, teams are ranked in order of their current jolliness. The write-ups focus on the perfect gift idea for your favourite club.

1. Vegas Golden Knights

A shiny, new, oversized bandwagon, so the Knights — your new No. 1 seed in Western Conference and the Lightning’s streak killers — can cart all their new fans on a ride to the post-season.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning

Respect™, by Calvin Klein. Vezina candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy deserves a vat of this new cologne for leading all NHL starters in wins and ranking second only to Chicago’s Corey Crawford in save percentage, while everyone talks about Tampa’s high-powered offence.

3. Nashville Predators

An endorsement deal for Roman Josi. We’re thrilled that marketing dream P.K. Subban inked his deal with Adidas this week. But at a $4-million cap hit, Josi, Nashville’s other best defenceman and one of the NHL’s best bargains, deserves a little something extra in his stocking.

4. Washington Capitals

A $10,000 Hudson’s Bay gift card for Alex Ovechkin, so he can keep cruising the streets of cold Canadian cities and outfitting the homeless.

5. Los Angeles Kings

An oxygen mask for Anze Kopitar, who has been logging an incredible 21:55 hard minutes a night, getting used on both special teams and has bounced back from his most disappointing season to get into the Art Ross race.

6. Chicago Blackhawks

A carbonite freezing chamber, so the Blackhawks can preserve the magic of their five-game winning streak, the longest active run in the league.

7. St. Louis Blues

A juicy contract renewal for GM Doug Armstrong, who is not afraid to makes trades or bench changes and builds a relevant team year after year.

8. Boston Bruins

A 16-inch Sunbeam desk fan, to cool down a bit. Since the Bruins’ core members have returned from injury, this is one of the hottest teams in the league. With games in hand over their inconsistent competition, the third seed in the Atlantic is Boston’s to lose.

9. Winnipeg Jets

An all-star game invite for Blake Wheeler. It was on the Jets captain’s wish list last winter and he’s more than deserving.

10. Toronto Maple Leafs

The game of Operation. You don’t have to tell us where Auston Matthews is sore, just make the body part buzz with these miniature metal tweezers.

11. New York Rangers

A third-line centre, before the Penguins get one. With the Metropolitan Division completely up for grabs, how the Rangers fare in the mid-season trade market could give them an edge over their close competition.

12. New Jersey Devils

A playoff berth, for Taylor Hall. It’s only been Item 1 on his letter to Santa for eight winters now.

13. Minnesota Wild

A lumbar pillow, for Eric Staal. The poor man must be getting tired of carrying offensively anemic teams on his back.

14. Columbus Blue Jackets

Shorter word counts, for Blue Jackets beat reporters who need to file game stories on nights when coach John Tortorella won’t give them any quotes.

15. San Jose Sharks

Beard oil, Costco-sized.

16. Dallas Stars

A sack of power-play points for Martin Hanzal. The $14.25-million free-agency acquisition has just two goals all season and needs something to spark his production.

17. New York Islanders

What do you get the team that has everything (goals galore, a brand-new arena site, an increasingly happy captain)? How about some new pads for Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss? They are the prime contributors to the NHL’s worst team save percentage, .892.

18. Calgary Flames

A brick of inedible, regifted Christmas cake, for every fan who doubted Sam Bennett, he of 12 points in his past 11 games.

19. Philadelphia Flyers

A time machine, so they go back to November and take a mulligan on that 10-game losing streak.

20. Pittsburgh Penguins

A rabbit’s foot. While it may be a bit rich to describe the two-time defending champions as unlucky, Pittsburgh is operating with the league’s worst PDO (96.4), has dealt with a stream of injuries, and should be having a better season.

21. Edmonton Oilers

A lifetime supply of Vicks NyQuil for Connor McDavid. Seeing what the Oilers captain can accomplish when he’s not suffering from the flu has reinforced the need to keep him healthy.

22. Colorado Avalanche

A two-second head start on all draws in January, so the Avalanche can elevate their league-worst 44.8 faceoff percentage.

23. Anaheim Ducks

One more trade for an Adam Henrique-type of impact player who can score goals like this one.

24. Montreal Canadiens

Earmuffs for everyone, so they can block out the constant rumour-mongering and focus on losing 3-2 games.

25. Carolina Hurricanes

A special teams seminar, so Carolina can fix its 29th-ranked power play and 29th-ranked penalty kill.

26. Detroit Red Wings

An all-expenses-paid harpoon fishing expedition for Justin Abdelkader, so he can spear away without reprimand.

27. Ottawa Senators

A fire extinguisher.

28. Florida Panthers

This book by Hal Mooz: Make Up Your Mind: A Decision Making Guide to Thinking Clearly and Choosing Wisely.

29. Vancouver Canucks

A Calder Trophy for Brock Boeser, whose knack for scoring goals will not be deterred by a day on crutches nor a long-term injury to his centreman. Just ask Carey Price.

30. Buffalo Sabres

An updated phone plan for GM Jason Botterill, who’s about to rack up all kinds of long-distance minutes trying to swing trades.

31. Arizona Coyotes

A new arena, possibly in a new city, potentially in a new country.


31 Thoughts: Arena deal a massive victory for Islanders

Dec 20, 2017

• How does arena deal affect Tavares free agency?
• Pens’ two-trade day “the tip of the iceberg”
• Karlsson unlikely to move in near future

As one GM who wants John Tavares to hit free agency laughed last night: “This… is not helpful.”

Ah, but it’s the sweetest melody to the NHL, the New York Islanders and their fans. Two months ago, owner Jon Ledecky and GM Garth Snow met the media at a Manhattan restaurant, refusing to even consider questions about anything other than Belmont Park as the franchise’s future home.

“Our focus is solely on Belmont Park,” Ledecky said, over and over again. We twisted the question every possible way we could think of. He wasn’t having any of it. “We want Belmont to be our permanent home.”

And now it will be. If Long Island had chosen MLS’s New York City FC plan for a soccer stadium, the Islanders would have rocketed to the top of relocation rumours to Houston, Quebec City or Seattle. Now that storyline is dead and buried. This is where they belong. We just need Islanders/Rangers in the playoffs to really re-ignite things.

This is a massive, massive victory — particularly for Ledecky, who has gone out of his way to put a positive face on ownership. You can tell Islanders fans truly like him and wanted to believe in his ability to deliver, but there was a not-so-deep-down worry that yet another disappointment awaited them at the end. Not this time.

They chanted, “Yes, yes, yes,” at Ledecky during the media conference. He replied that they “deserved” the arena. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo petitioned NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to play some games at the old Coliseum in the interim, with Bettman replying he’d consider it if Billy Joel (who was in attendance) opened the new arena.

It will be interesting to see the concert setup. It’s believed that with James Dolan’s involvement, those who play Madison Square Garden are also going to play Belmont. That’s one way to fill dates with so many entertainment options in the Big Apple. The Islanders, who currently rank among the lowest NHL teams in per-game ticket revenue, aren’t going to be anywhere near that spot when they open the doors to the new facility.

That’s three years away — well after Tavares is scheduled to hit free agency.

Undoubtedly, there are Islanders fans who hope that one major announcement leads to another. I don’t get the sense anything’s imminent on the Tavares front, but, by now, we should understand not to read too much into his decision-making.

“As time goes on and you take time to think about things, look at the big picture, it’s very positive for the organization, for us, for the fans,” Tavares said of the new arena deal. “For my situation it’s really exciting news. I’m not going to say it’s going to change or ultimately make my decision, but everything that’s involved in my daily life plays into it and going to the rink, playing games is a big part of that.

“We’ll continue the way things have been going, keeping the communication open and taking it one day at a time. A lot of focus on the ice, on getting us to the playoffs. I’ve always stated how much I enjoy being here, playing here and wanting it to work out here.”

The moral of the story: He’ll let us know when he’s ready. Smartly, the organization is content to wait as long as possible. And, the biggest factor is winning. The Islanders are trending upward in hockey’s toughest division. Staying on that course is the best thing they can do.

But the team and its fans can worry about that another day. Wednesday was a celebration, a huge and well-deserved party.


1. Tavares’s linemate, Josh Bailey, continues his dream season, finishing Tuesday’s games with 42 points, tied with his captain for third in the NHL. Only Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos have more. After setting career highs in 2016–17 with 43 assists and 56 points, he’s on pace for 77 and 101, respectively. Does he really like the attention that comes with it? Bailey laughed.

“Most of it is praise, so that’s okay,” he answered.

2. As you would expect, Bailey threw most of the credit at Tavares and their third, Anders Lee.

“We would not be having this talk if not for those guys,” Bailey said. “If you don’t have it one night, give those guys credit. They pull you along with them.”

That said, a few different sources credited coach Doug Weight for putting Bailey with Lee/Tavares last year and leaving him there. Bailey pointed out that in the Islanders’ final season at the old Coliseum (2014–15), injuries forced then-coach Jack Capuano to put those three together. Bailey responded with 41 points, at that time a career-high. But the trio didn’t stick until Weight re-united them. Did Bailey ever request Capuano try him there again?

“No, I never asked,” he replied. “I believe you are told who to play with, you go out and do your best. I’m not that type of guy to go into [the] office and do that.”

Last year, after taking over as coach, Weight went to Nick Leddy and said he needed the defenceman to be his second-best player every night. Did he have a similar message for Bailey?

“Yes,” Bailey answered. “He told me he needed me to be better, to continue to grow. He also said he believed that I could do it.”

Are you surprised a your success?

“I try not to think about it. I try to approach each day the same. I’ll worry about looking back when the year is done.”

3. A few years ago, there were reports the Islanders were close to trading Bailey to Edmonton for then-Oiler Sam Gagner. Did Bailey think that he’d still be part of this organization at Christmas 2017?

“Yes, I would have believed you if you told me I was still an Islander. I enjoy it here. It’s where I’ve always wanted to be. My wife likes it here and my kids were born here.”

He’s an unrestricted free agent after this season. Has he thought about his future?

“Yes, I’ve thought about it. And the thing I think about is wanting to remain is priority No. 1. It would be nice to play my entire career here. I believe in where we are going.”

What Bailey concedes is that family and maturity have changed him for the better.

“Every player has a time that their confidence is rattled. Earlier in my career it happened a lot more, but as you grow as person, you gain appreciation for veterans who show up game-in, game-out. You know you can rely upon them every night. That’s what I wanted for myself. Yes, I feel good, because when you jump over the boards those with two guys, there’s added confidence. More results mean more belief in yourself. If I have a bad night now, I don’t think about it. It’s gotten to the point where I can turn the page each day, approach everything as a new opportunity, no matter what’s happened, bad or good.”

As any father knows, a lot of that comes from going home to 16-month-old Wyatt and 10-week-old Mack. (Wife Megan has her hands full with two children that age and a husband on a hockey schedule.)

“I owe them a lot of credit,” Bailey said. “Going to them is always nice. It’s easier to leave the game at the rink.”

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4. A few opposing executives on Pittsburgh’s trades for Michael Leighton and Jamie Oleksiak: “The tip of the iceberg.”

5. Call it more of a hunch, but I can see Vancouver making an increased effort to move Erik Gudbranson. It’s unlikely they re-sign him to what he can get on the market, and there is little point to keeping him on the roster if he’s not part of their future. A fresh start would benefit Gudbranson, too. It just hasn’t worked out for team or player.

6. Winnipeg sent out a note last week indicating Shawn Matthias’s availability. Their success has made it difficult for him to get into the lineup; just two appearances in five weeks. He is an unrestricted free agent this summer.

7. Fresh Start Number Three: Have to think Edmonton moves Anton Slepyshev, too.

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8. I think teams have asked Montreal GM Marc Bergevin what his plans are for Charlie Lindgren. (Have to think Florida was one.) Bergevin does not discuss trade possibilities, so it’s difficult to know. But the fact nothing’s happened tells you something.

9. Two weeks ago, one Western Conference GM said the Oilers still worried him.

“Any team with Connor McDavid is a threat,” he warned.

The Oilers enter Wednesday’s games six points out and with multiple teams between them and the final playoff spot. But I don’t think the GM I spoke to is the only opponent who feels that way.

10. Columbus talked last week about getting Alexander Wennberg back in the habit of carrying the puck. Their prospective No. 1 centre, who took a major step last season, has really struggled. He’s playing 18:20 per game, just two seconds below last season. That’s behind only Artemi Panarin and Nick Foligno among Blue Jackets forwards. (In 2016–17, only Foligno was above him.)

Producer Matt Marstrom asked SportLogiq, which does some tracking for us, to see if Wennberg’s numbers have declined. They found he’s carrying the puck for two fewer seconds at even-strength and six fewer seconds in all situations. While that doesn’t seem like much, what has also dropped is his ranking among teammates. He’s gone from carrying it third-most in all situations and seventh-most at even-strength to fourth and ninth. That seems really low for a player of his ability, and I wonder how much that has to do with Panarin’s arrival. They’ve played a lot together. They’ve got to find the chemistry Panarin and Patrick Kane did.

11. Idea that might make sense only to me: Columbus, looking for a centre, considering a reunion with Derick Brassard. Brassard and John Tortorella worked well together with the Rangers. You know who Tortorella’s assistant was there? Mike Sullivan. And the Penguins are looking for a centre, too.

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12. A few thoughts about Ottawa, the Senators and Eugene Melnyk: When I arrived in the nation’s capital one week ago, the cabbie said, “They might as well fold the team if they trade Karlsson.”

Some of the biggest battles I’ve had with leagues and/or executives come when an event they are extremely proud of is overshadowed by a story (especially a negative one) released at the same time. That’s why I was shocked by Melnyk’s timing, launching a neutron bomb into a terrific weekend. Whoever or whatever you blame for the team’s attendance woes, I can’t imagine the NHL was pleased. Melnyk is a fighter, and there is a theory he felt boxed into a corner by rumours about his finances, a sale, Karlsson and who knows what else. What does a fighter do when cornered? Comes out swinging.

Senators fans responded by making #melnykout a Canadian trending topic the day of the outdoor game, and people who know the market better than I do worried there was going to be lingering damage. Announced attendance was 13,804 Tuesday against Minnesota, and with the Senators low in the standings, you wonder if this could turn into an ugly, self-fulfilling prophecy: “He doesn’t think we support the team? Well, why would we do it now?”

Then what happens if they decide to cut payroll by trading higher-paid players for youth, prospects and picks?

13. During the 2010 Pittsburgh/Ottawa series, Melnyk tried to enter the team’s dressing room during an intermission — only to be intercepted by then-GM Bryan Murray. I was inches away, trying to do an interview at the time, as Murray prevented Melnyk from getting in. Whether the manager or an advisor to current GM Pierre Dorion, Murray found a way to keep the owner in check. It’s another reminder of how much he is missed.

14. Almost six years ago (March 2012), there were rumours of the Desmarais family’s interest in an NHL team for Quebec City. Andre Desmarais agreed to a phone conversation, saying his family “has no interest in owning an NHL team at this stage.” With all of the recent speculation about Melnyk’s future, I made another attempt. A spokesman politely declined on behalf of Andre Desmarais and Paul Desmarais Jr. (Last April, Andre took medical leave from day-to-day operations at his company at the request of his doctor.) For what it’s worth, staying quiet is always the recommendation if you are serious about NHL ownership.

15. When news broke that Ottawa had asked for Karlsson’s trade list, Dorion said everyone’s list was requested in advance. Initially, Brassard told reporters in French that wasn’t the case for him, although it appears the Senators did do it last summer. As for the captain being asked any time sooner than three weeks ago, well… we’ll agree to disagree.

16. So where does it stand? Prior to Tuesday’s loss to the Wild, the Senators had showed life with home wins over the Rangers and Canadiens. But it is a steep, steep climb. I don’t think Karlsson’s going anywhere in the near future. My personal opinion is he prefers to stay in Ottawa, although an ownership change would make his decision a lot easier. Teams have asked about Mark Stone, a sensational player, but were told he’s not available.

What makes that situation even more delicate is he’s represented by Newport, which also handles Karlsson. It’s always a fine line to walk. No one can have enough centres, so I think there’d be plenty of interest in Jean-Gabriel Pageau. You’ve heard Cody Ceci’s name. Same with Mike Hoffman and Zack Smith. All of them have appeal — depending on the price. My sense is Dorion is looking for young NHLers, prospects and/or picks.

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17. Heading into last Wednesday’s win over the Rangers, the Senators ranked 31st in even-strength save percentage and 30th in offensive-zone possession time. (Only Florida was lower.) Craig Anderson improved the first number in wins over New York and Montreal, but it’s tough to win with that combination.

18. Finally, on Ottawa: Whatever controversy envelopes the Senators at this time, it should not overshadow a superb weekend. I’m not a sentimental person, but it was special to broadcast from the shadow of Canada’s Parliament. The rink setup on the Hill was terrific. It was cold and windy for the main event at Lansdowne, but those fans were having a great time. Underrated excellent moment: the smile on Mario Lemieux’s face when his five-goals-five-different-ways was voted greatest moment in NHL history. We see him so rarely, and he stays so reserved. There was no faking that smile.

19. The NHL has two outdoor games (that we know of) scheduled for next season: Boston/Chicago at Notre Dame Stadium on Jan. 1, 2019, and the Pittsburgh/Philadelphia rematch at Lincoln Financial Field, 54 days later. It is “unlikely,” according to one source, that there will be a game hosted by a Canadian city until at least 2019–20. And it would not be a surprise if that matchup included Edmonton.

Last May, the NHL announced it will have games at service academies, with the first one coming between Toronto and Washington at the U.S. Naval Academy in March. So you can expect West Point and the Air Force Academy to get their moments, too.

20. Another thing I think the league is considering: new blood. There are always complaints about Chicago’s outdoor appearances, but I look at it this way: You get what you earn. Some new teams are climbing the mountain, and their merits are being discussed. Tampa Bay makes sense, even if the state of Florida doesn’t host.

21. Speaking of Erik Karlsson, Sportsnet features producer Alex Blair debuts a piece on likely 2018 No. 1 draft pick Rasmus Dahlin during Wednesday’s night’s Toronto/Columbus coverage:

Dahlin discussed three players that were his role models growing up. Karlsson is one, and he indicated Ottawa’s captain was one of the reasons he switched from forward to defence at age 13.

“My dad (Martin) told me I could score goals and still do fun stuff with the puck,” Dahlin said of the change of position.

The other two role models? Peter Forsberg — for toughness and physical style of play — and Frolunda captain Joel Lundqvist. The 35-year-old, Henrik’s twin brother, is in his 15th season with the organization and regarded as one of the best leaders in the Swedish league.

22. With all of Winnipeg’s tremendous young talent, one non-Jet exec came back from overseas with high marks for 2017 24th-overall selection Kristian Vesalainen. The 18-year-old has 19 points in 26 games for Hameenliina in the Finnish Elite League. Almost a point per game in this league at age 18 is very hard. Carolina’s Sebastian Aho did it two years ago. Other than that, it’s rare.

23. Get a load of the father-son connections for the USHL Top Prospects Game, to be played Jan. 9. There is Jack Drury (father is Ted); Christian and Cole Krygier (Todd); Philippe Lapointe (Martin); Tyler Madden (John); and Ryan Savage (Brian). That’s 3,520 regular-season NHL games between the five fathers.

24. Last year, Carolina coach Bill Peters made headlines when he bluntly criticized Eddie Lack’s goaltending performance. With an 8–1 loss to the Maple Leafs raw in his mind Tuesday afternoon, Peters refrained from similar commentary on the NHL’s brightest stage.

Scott Darling is struggling adapting to the No. 1 role, but Peters wasn’t going there. He smiled — because he knew the Toronto media was trying.

25. The Ontario meltdown came days after one of Darling’s best performances, a 2–1 victory over Columbus. Asked how he would learn from what happened, he replied: “It never happened. I’ve already forgotten about it.”

Burn the tape?


26. Carolina’s prospective new owner, Thomas Dundon, is on the team’s current trip. He was taking a tour of Toronto’s Air Canada Centre with Bob Hunter, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s Executive V-P of Venues & Entertainment, prior to the defeat. It’s probably not a coincidence these travels take Dundon’s team through Nashville, a huge success story at this time.

27. One owner at the Board of Governors’ meetings on Las Vegas: “They’ve upped the pressure on struggling teams. It’s tough to explain why you’re going badly when they’re winning the division.”

Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game.

28. There are two occasions where a coach ripped his team that I remember pretty clearly. One was Pat Quinn. He was coaching in Toronto when the Maple Leafs blew a Glenn Healy shutout in the last minute. (I’m pretty sure it was against Vancouver.) Despite a comfortable win, he was furious the players let their guard down, because, as a backup, Healy didn’t get a ton of opportunities for a shutout. He didn’t like the idea teammates could do that to each other.

The second was another Toronto coach, Butch Carter. His Raptors laid an egg in one of Antonio Davis’s first games against his former team, Indiana. Carter was furious Davis’s teammates could be so awful in a game they knew meant a ton to his player. So I always notice how these kinds of games go.

Watching the Golden Knights against Pittsburgh, you could tell how much they wanted it for Marc-Andre Fleury. Quinn and Carter wouldn’t have ripped anyone for that performance.

29. Wanted to empty the Derek Dorsett notebook from our conversation with him. First, he confirmed Ryan Johansen’s hilarious story about the penalty-minutes race from 2011–12. Dorsett entered game 82 of the season in second place, nine minutes behind Philadelphia’s Zac Rinaldo. Johansen said Dorsett told him to start a scrum, so the latter could “come in hot” and pass Rinaldo. Dorsett, however, said he got only seven minutes out of it and needed more mayhem. The opponent that day was the New York Islanders, and Matt Martin understood what was going on. One fight later, Dorsett owned the crown.

30. In the goodbye article, Dorsett discussed his parents’ ownership of an A&W burger franchise. I cannot allow it to go unreported that he liked his burgers with only cheese on them. Seriously, who eats a hamburger with cheese as the only condiment?

31. Wanted to say thank you to Damien Cox, who invited me to participate in the Lou Marsh voting for the first time in my career. Awarded to Canada’s top athlete, this year’s winner is Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds. It’s challenging. This country’s come a long way, and the depth of talent is so great that Brooke Henderson, Kylie Masse (world record holder in the backstroke) and Connor McDavid could not make the top five.


NBA Star Power Index: Lonzo starting to Ball; clutch Kyrie proving his critics wrong

Welcome back to our NBA Star Power Index — a weekly gauge of the players who are most controlling the buzz around the league. Reminder: Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing. It simply means that you’re capturing the NBA world’s attention. Also, this is not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order as it pertains to the buzz they’re generating. This column will run every week for the rest of the season. 

Don’t look now, but the narrative around Lonzo Ball is starting to shift from everyone talking about what he can’t do to eyes opening across the league to all the things he can do. He’s established himself as perhaps the best rebounding guard this side of Ben Simmons (and can you really call Simmons a guard? I know, he plays the point, but he’s 6-foot-10. Inch for inch, Lonzo is right there with Russell Westbrook on the boards). He also leads all point guards with a block per game, his defensive instincts are better than advertised and improving every game, and we know about his passing — seventh in the league at 7.1 assists per night. 

Suddenly, Lonzo’s shooting is the only element of his game that isn’t already borderline All-Star level, and even that is starting to come around. Check out the last five games:

The numbers look even better over the last three games: 15.3 points, 7.7 assists. 7.3 rebounds, 47 percent from the field, 45 percent from three. The Lakers took Golden State to overtime on Monday for the second time this season, and Lonzo finished with 16 points, six assists, six boards, two blocks and a steal on 6-of-12 shooting, including 3 of 6 from three. Even more encouraging were a couple buckets he scored in overtime, including a step-back three that he’s starting to take more frequently and with more confidence. Proving that he can be a half-court creator, both for himself and others, down the stretch is a big step forward. Also, don’t sleep on this pull-up jumper going right, which is something he’s struggled with since his time at UCLA given his funky form. He’s clearly been working on this:

Speaking of struggling to shoot, Simmons’ inability to hit any kind of jumper, or even be willing to take one in most cases, is starting to become a little bit of an elephant in the room. Not a huge, mother elephant. But a baby one at least. The Sixers have lost seven of their last eight and are 1-6 this season in games decided by three points or less. 

That’s not entirely on Simmons by any stretch, but when you can’t shoot at all, that’s going to be exposed in late, close games when the pace tends to slow down and defenses can narrow their game-plan focus. In Philly’s triple-OT loss to OKC, the 76ers went almost exclusively to Joel Embiid down the stretch, running their offense through him in the post, and when he’s on the court, that’s fine. Embiid didn’t play in Philly’s two-point loss to Chicago on Monday, and Simmons didn’t score over the final 6:49 of that game. Embiid didn’t play in Tuesday’s loss to Sacramento, either, and Simmons scored two points over the final 16 minutes, and even that bucket was a pretty generous continuation call. 

Simmons is still the clear favorite for Rookie of the Year. He posted his fourth triple-double of the season vs. Chicago; only Westbrook and LeBron have more. It’s just the shooting, man. That’s it. I mean, when you’re an elite NBA player and you hit one uncontested 15-footer and Twitter feels the need to react, you are a really bad shooter.

That said, if he does start making this shot, good luck:

James Harden’s shooting percentages have dipped a bit of late (though he’s still averaging better than 22 ppg over his last three), yet the Rockets, who’ve won 14 straight and haven’t lost in more than a month, continue to steamroll the entire league. Why? Well, a bunch of reasons — but none bigger than Chris Paul, who’s coming off a triple-double of 18 points, 10 boards and 10 assists against the Jazz on Monday. Paul still hasn’t lost a game in a Houston uniform, up to 15-0 alongside Harden. Please look at what he’s doing in December:

Also, R.I.P. to Thabo Sefolosha:

Pretty fitting that on the night Kobe Bryant’s two numbers were retired, Kevin Durant scored a Kobe-esque 36 points on the Lakers — though inefficient as hell, missing 16 of his first 20 shots, before rending all the inefficiency completely moot by hitting the game-winning shot with less than 10 seconds to play in overtime:

If that’s not paying homage Kobe, one of the most single-minded assassin scorers in history who cared zero about all this efficiency basketball nerd talk, I don’t know what is. Durant said as much after the game. “That was for Kobe Night,” he told reporters. “I had to get them up for Kob.”

Durant continues to lead the Warriors in Stephen Curry’s absence, posting 33.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists over the four games Curry has been out. Golden State has won nine straight. 

LeBron’s last three games: Two triple-doubles, followed by 39 points on 6-of-11 shooting from three against the Bucks on Tuesday. Milwaukee actually won that game, but don’t feel too bad for the Cavs, who’ve won 18 of their last 20 as LeBron continues to play, perhaps, the best basketball of his career (No matter how many times I hear people say this, and no matter how true it actually might be, it’s still impossible for me to imagine given the miles on LeBron’s legs. The guy is an alien). 

This shot didn’t end up mattering, but this is how schoolyard-easy the game is right now for the King. He’s actually throwing it off the back of a defender to pass it to himself for a three:

LeBron has been unbelievable — and I’m not just throwing that word around — in fourth quarters this season. He leads the league with 94 clutch-time points, and continues to use his platform for good in trying to bring attention to, and advance, social equality. 

Over the first quarter of the season, there was a contingent of people who believed Kyrie was getting too much hype, pointing to the fact that his numbers weren’t even as good as they were last season in Cleveland. I disagree in every way imaginable with this stance, numbers be damned, but even if you want to take a strictly statistical approach, well, that’s out the window now too. As of Wednesday:

On Monday, the Celtics pulled off something of a basketball miracle when Terry Rozier intercepted Bojan Bogdanovic’s inexplicably lazy pass and finished a dunk at the other end with 1.6 seconds left to give Boston a one-point win in Indiana, but it was actually Kyrie who played hero once again with two 3-pointers over the final 31 seconds and three consecutive buckets in the final minute. Irving is second in the league with 87 clutch points. His closing ability is what takes the Celtics from a good team to a legit threat in the East. 

The Freak is averaging 28 points and 13 boards over his last three games, and the Bucks, as mentioned above, got a big-time win over Cleveland on Tuesday after they’d lost three straight. All Giannis did in that one was go for 27 points, 14 boards, eight assists and two steals. Oh, and he also came up with the game-sealer when he countered LeBron’s steal with a immediate steal of his own before finishing a three-point play with less than six seconds to play:

ESPN’s Adrain Wojnarowski came out with a story on Tuesday detailing, in addition to many other things, the trade rumors that seem to be constantly circling Davis, even more so recently. Yeah, that’s going to get everyone’s attention, especially when you hear the Celtics are one of the teams that is quietly eyeing Davis. From Woj:

Davis remains an obsession of several NBA teams full of the necessary trade assets to unfasten him from New Orleans, should the Pelicans ever consider a rebuild — or should Davis ever request a trade. Boston has remained vigilant on the possibility of acquiring Davis, and Davis knows it. However, the Pelicans have no intention of trading an all-world talent under contract through 2021, no matter the return.

The Pelicans say they have no intention of trading Davis, and chances are they won’t any time soon. But we all know how this often goes: Small-market team just can’t figure out how to win at a meaningful level, star player gets antsy, team doesn’t want to lose him for nothing, and bang, next thing you know Paul George is playing for the Thunder or Kevin Love is in Cleveland. 

Look at the Pelicans right now. It feels like they’re starting to “get it” — with Cousins and Davis both putting up their customary ridiculous numbers and Jrue Holiday playing really well. As of Wednesday, they’re only 1.5 games out of the No. 5 seed in the West. At the same time, at 15-16, they’re not even a .500 team after losing to Washington on Tuesday in game in which they trailed by more than 20. 

If you’re getting excited about the “positive momentum” of a team that isn’t even above .500, if the best you can do is scrape your way into the No. 8 seed (which the Pelicans occupy as of Wednesday), well, how long is AD, who is one of the three or four most talented players on the planet and in his absolute prime, going to remain patient? True, Davis is locked up through 2021, so it’s not a terribly urgent situation at the moment. But if the Pelicans remain just this side of relevant, or heaven forbid if they can’t even remain a playoff team over the next few months, perception can quickly become reality. People will talk. Rumors will fly. Teams will start to circle the situation, and being that you have to get further and further ahead of the potential superstar defection these days, so as to not lose your whole portfolio in one crash, you could see how Davis could wind up in a different uniform at some point relatively soon. 

Slowly, the Thunder are starting to come out on the right side of all these close games they’ve been finding themselves in all season. OKC’s last four wins have come by a combined 10 points, with two of those wins were by a single point, and Russ is really starting to get tunnel vision, particularly down the stretch, for better or worse. Over the last four games he’s attempted more fourth-quarter shots than anyone in the league other than Kristaps Porzingis. He posted a crazy 33-point, 17-rebound, 15-assist line in a win over the Sixers last Friday, but it took him 33 shots to do it — something Joel Embiid certainly took notice of:

Melo continues to be less and less of a focal point of late. Paul George hasn’t felt like anything other than a secondary piece — at times a distant one — all season. All told, check out these OKC usage rates in comparison to the last season Westbrook and Durant played together:

In other words: “Forget you, Jobu. I do it myself.”


2018 NFL Mock Draft: Imagining how the dominoes would fall if Browns land first two picks

The Browns have a chance to land the top two picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, a not-far-fetched scenario John Breech explained earlier this week. Seriously, it could happen.

Welcome to your new job, John Dorsey. No pressure. Time to get some “real players.”

Obviously, below is not the current draft order. 

The Browns have a chance to land the top two picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, a not-far-fetched scenario John Breech explained earlier this week. Seriously, it could happen.

Welcome to your new job, John Dorsey. No pressure. Time to get some “real players.”

Obviously, below is not the current draft order. 


1. Cleveland Browns

Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA. Browns GM John Dorsey has the reputation as an old-school “football guy.” That indicates to me that he’ll go with the traditional pocket passer with the first overall pick. Rosen has a clean delivery and is typically impressive within the confines of the tackles as a thrower.

2. Cleveland Browns from Texans

Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma. For as much as many Browns fans would probably despise this, I think the best option in this crazy scenario would be Cleveland trading down a few spots to add an extra pick or two. But staying put, Dorsey grabs the mammoth left tackle to protect his quarterback as his team begins a new era. 

3. New York Giants

Sam Darnold, QB, USCTop two quarterbacks stay the same. Darnold has played well at a high-profile program for two seasons, so he’s gotten a head start on the immense spotlight that comes with being the signal-caller for the Giants. New Yorkers will love the hard-nosed playing style of Darnold, who consistently demonstrated his toughness at USC.

4. Indianapolis Colts

Connor Williams, OT, Texas. The Colts have a fair amount of needs, but this is the best need-prospect match at this point. Williams has All-Pro upside as a pass-blocker, and with Andrew Luck hoping to return in 2018, that upside is vital for Indianapolis.


5. San Francisco 49ers

Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU. With Sutton, Marquise Goodwin, and Pierre Garcon, the 49ers will have a desired blend of size and skill sets at the receiver position for Jimmy Garoppolo. Sutton has true No. 1 receiver talent, and his presence will elevate the efficiency of Goodwin and Garcon. 

6. Chicago Bears

Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, AlabamaThe Bears would like to go offense in Round 1, and I’ll assume they have their eyes on Sutton. With him gone, they flip to defense to round out their underrated defensive backfield with Fitzpatrick, a do-everything cornerback/safety hybrid with the length and fluidity to cover and a mastery-level understanding of how to get home as a blitzer.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State. The Buccaneers would probably lean toward a cornerback here. With Fitzpatrick off the board, they address what will help the secondary — pass-rush. Chubb isn’t a Joey Bosa prospect, yet the NC State isn’t far away from where Bosa was coming out of Ohio State. This fills a need a premium position.

8. Cincinnati Bengals

Derwin James, S, Florida State. With James and George Iloka, the Bengals would suddenly have two enormous, versatile safeties on their defense. The two can rotate their responsibilities from play-to-play, which would help to cause confusion for opposing quarterbacks.


9. Denver Broncos

Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma. For this mock, let’s assume John Elway can’t lure Kirk Cousins, Tyrod Taylor or big fish Andrew Luck to Denver. So he makes this pick, fully understanding the controversy it’ll cause, especially after taking Paxton Lynch in Round 1 of the 2016 draft.

10. New York Jets

Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. Despite a heavy recent investment at the quarterback position over the past five drafts, the Jets still need one. Jackson has transcendent potential but certainly comes with some risk. Gang Green’s willing to roll the dice because of Jackson’s amazing talent. 

11. Arizona Cardinals

Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA. Miller is a huge left tackle prospect with long arms and outstanding athleticism for the position. He flourished protecting Rosen at UCLA and will be a foundational piece of the next phase of the Bruce Arians era with the Cardinals.

12. Oakland Raiders

Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia. Time to celebrate in the Raiders draft room. Smith is clearly the linebacker with the most game-changing ability in the 2018 draft due to his play-recognition skills, athleticism, and speed-to-power capabilities.


14. Miami Dolphins

Braden Smith, OG, AuburnFirst “surprise” of the night, but Smith has an impressive resume as one of Auburn’s long-time guards who had an excellent career against top competition. He’s well-versed in the zone and power run schemes, giving Adam Gase plenty of options on offense.

15. Los Angeles Chargers

Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State. Despite being a redshirt senior with loads of experience, the Chargers, a team without a variety of roster holes, makes this pick with eyes well into the future. A pure pocket quarterback, Rudolph can learn from Philip Rivers for a year or two before taking over in Los Angeles.

16. Green Bay Packers

James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State. Back-to-back selections for the ‘Pokes. With Jordy Nelson in the twilight of his illustrious career, the Packers reload at wideout with Washington, who has a wonderful blend of possession receiver and deep threat skills.

17. Baltimore Ravens

Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State. Based on the hype, another relative tumble for Barkley, a drop only precipitated by the position he plays and the depth of this draft class, not his overall talent. The Ravens would be ecstatic to land the insanely gifted runner here.


18. Detroit Lions

Maurce Hurst, DT, Michigan. The Lions might have a more glaring need at defensive end, but any type of pass-rush improvement would be greatly helpful to Teryl Austin’s unit. Hurst has a game reminiscent of Geno Aktins.

19. Seattle Seahawks

Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSASeattle isn’t afraid to make an eye-opening first-round pick, and selecting a prospect from the University of Texas-San Antonio would raise some eyebrows. But at 6-7 and 250 pounds with a long reach and explosiveness, Davenport fits the profile the Seahawks love.

20. Dallas Cowboys

Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama. Ridley would give the Cowboys the deep threat they desperately need on offense, thereby opening up the underneath game for Dak Prescott to methodically move the ball down the field. 

21. Tennessee Titans

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OLB, Oklahoma. Dick LeBeau doesn’t shy away from multiple fronts on defense, but his scheme has 3-4 roots. Okoronkwo is the premier 3-4 outside linebacker in this class, and in Tennessee, on a defense already boasting some talented players, he can make a big impact right away.


22. Buffalo Bills

Vita Vea, DT, Washington. Two consecutive weeks with this pairing. Vea can help a defense in many ways. He’ll simply eat blocks and clog lanes due to his size at 6-5 and around 340 pounds, but he’s not a stationary nose tackle. The Washington star flashes high-caliber hand use and has twitchy athleticism relative to his massive frame.

23. Atlanta Falcons

Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma. Tight ends in Round 1 are usually seen as a luxury pick. The Falcons are in a luxury-pick situation, and, actually, could use a reliable pass-catcher over the middle. 

24. New Orleans Saints

Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas. If there’s one position in which the Saints clearly need an upgrade on defense it’s the linebacker spot. Jefferson is athletic and matured into being a force against the run during his tenure at Texas.

25. Buffalo Bills from Chiefs

Marcell Ateman, WR, Oklahoma State. With the top quarterbacks unavailable, the Bills go receiver. With Ateman and Kelvin Benjamin, the Bills would have two matchup nightmare boundary wideouts capable of coming down with the ball even in tight coverage. 


26. Jacksonville Jaguars

Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame. Hard to change this pick. McGlinchey can get exposed against speed rushers but is ready to dominate as a run-blocker, the latter part of that sentence is music to the ears of Doug Marrone and Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville.

27. Los Angeles Rams

Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa. The Rams have been unbelievably efficient — particularly compared to where they were a year ago — on offense in 2017. More secondary talent would help the defense, and Jackson has everything needed to be a No. 1 cornerback at the NFL level … size, toughness, plus athleticism and ball skills.

28. Carolina Panthers

Deontay Burnett, WR, USC. There are many similarities between Burnett and 2017 second-round pick Curtis Samuel. However, Burnett is the more polished receiver and can provide legitimate over-the-top speed right away in Mike Shula’s offense.

29. Pittsburgh Steelers

Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville. Had Alexander not been banged up in this final season at Louisville, there’s a good chance he would’ve had a monster year. His smoothness in coverage coupled with his awareness when the ball is in the air make him a top-flight cornerback prospect in this class.


30. Minnesota Vikings

Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan. It’s not easy finding big holes on the Vikings roster. While the offensive line has improved this season from where it recently had been, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Okorafor has the size, athleticism, and length to be a steady left tackle for a decade in Minnesota.

31. New England Patriots

Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech. For as gifted as Jefferson is at linebacker, Edmunds, at 6-4 and around 250 pounds, might have more inherent talent and twitchiness. Bill Belichick understands the importance of quality linebacker play in today’s NFL.

32. Philadelphia Eagles

Bryce Love, RB, Stanford. Yes, the Eagles have Jay Ajayi and have gotten quality contributions from Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement. They just can’t pass on Love here, an electric home-run hitter with the ability to pick up yardage between the tackles when blocking isn’t perfect.

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‘They’re allive!” Skip Bayless on the Cowboys win over the Raiders

Dec 18, 2017

– All I’ve got to say about last night was, they’re alive. They’re still alive. I don’t know how? But they’re alive. I told you it took seven years off my life. Ernestine is not speaking to me. Our Maltese, Hazel, is definitely not speaking to me. They said the neighbors complained about me because I was losing my mind over all of the above.

And just for the record, to put this in the scope of this quote unquote game, which was an eyesore of a football game between what looked like two bad team, to be honest about this, that’s what it looked like to me, the Cowboys should have put this game away in the first quarter and shut up all those black hole fans. Should have just done it. Because the Raiders were asking to be beaten in the first quarter. And they let them off the hook.

And here they came. And all of a sudden, it’s 10 to 10. And my team, my Dallas Cowboys, had to resort to running a fake punt from their 24 yard line on fourth and–

– 11.

– 11. Fourth and 11 for you– you ran a fake punt, and the punter had to cut inside the block. So it wasn’t like there’s just an open flank. And Chris Jones, who could run a little bit, ran 24 yards. And all of a sudden, they have to resort to some sort of statue of liberty, what was it, a throwback play. But that didn’t work. And they go down and get the touchdown. So it’s 17 to 10. And then this thing happens. Fourth and one.

– Flee flicker. The flee flicker.

– Flea flicker. It was a flea flicker. So it’s fourth and one from the Cowboy 39. This is the whole season for them. This is game on the line. Because if you don’t get the 1 yard, it’s going to be dubious that you’re going to win and survive this game. Because the Raiders have all the momentum. And you’ve got none. The line cannot protect Dak Prescott in the second half. They can’t get an inch running the football. And now it’s going to come down to a centimeter thanks to Gene Steratore.

Now I agree with Dak Prescott, I thought on a second thrust, I thought he more than got the first down on the second thrust. But it was so busy inside the scrum, you couldn’t really see. But I thought he thrusted again with the football before he went down. I thought he got a bad spot. But the spot was the spot. And I think Gene Steratore got mixed up. I do. I think he got it backwards in his head.

– So you think he said no first down.

– Yeah, he just got– remember, he’s a showman to a fault. I don’t like referees who are showman. Remember, Joey Crawford in the NBA. He’s such a showman. He’s trying to, he wants to be the story. And, finally, he’s going off on the Spurs’ bench calling technicals. And they suspended him for a while.

But the point is Steratore is grinning. And he’s having a good time, he’s cutting up with everybody. So he’s going to be a showman. He’s going to pull out some kind of no card that’s doubled up, you know it’s folded over. And he’s going to show you, and all of a sudden, he shows you it’s not a first down. But it’s not. It was so clearly not. I said it’s a centimeter. , But it was like a quarter of an inch short. Right?

– Yes. Yes, it was.

– It was clearly not a first down. And I took one look at it before the no card went down, and I said that’s.

– I said the same thing.

– I just sat back, and said, we’re done. Season’s over. Game over. They’re going to go score, and this is going to go crazy the other way.


Senators Fans Don’t Owe Melnyk Anything

Dec 18, 2017
If Senators owner Eugene Melnyk paid to put a winning team on the ice every year, supported by a group of good decision-makers behind the scenes, there wouldn’t be a problem in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Last week we talked about the value of Erik Karlsson to the Ottawa Senators, and how any idea that he shouldn’t pursue a top-level contract “for the good of the franchise” was wrongheaded.

Karlsson, of course, owes nothing to the Senators, having already taken a lengthy hometown-discount contract that devoured basically his entire prime and didn’t give him much in return; Ottawa made the playoffs three times since the new deal kicked in back in the lockout-shortened 2013 season and the Senators won a grand total of four rounds, three of which were last season’s run to the conference finals.

So if Karlsson would prefer to look for what he’s actually worth (or more accurately, recoup some of the value he lost on his last deal) on his next deal, wherever that may take him, it’s tough to place any blame on him. Most fans around the league, and even in Ottawa, seem to agree with that too, which is a rare thing in modern sports. But that seems to be because most of those people recognize that Ottawa is a badly mismanaged team that would be among the worst in the league were it not for Karlsson’s mere existence.

Which brings us to the past few days, during which time Senators owner Eugene Melnyk ran his mouth about as effectively as he runs his franchise. At a time when his team was hosting the NHL 100 Classic — celebrating the league’s 100th birthday — he chose to make proceedings all about himself, his inability to make a deal for a new arena because his team currently (in its “very bad” iteration) can’t convince people to come out to Kanata.

While he said he wouldn’t be selling the team, he also basically said he’s more than happy to move the team. Unlike years past, the current Senators roster is pretty close to the cap ceiling, but Melnyk says that could change if other things with the organization do not. And he’s already running many parts of that organization on extremely limited budgets.

So the thing is, this is basically an NHL owner — albeit one whose team couldn’t draw a crowd with a box of crayons — using a vaunted league platform to say, “Show up or else.” Much like how things have gone in Calgary with the “Pay for our arena or else” argument, one imagines this isn’t a winning strategy. Especially because, for the millionth time, the Senators are horrendous.

Their win in the outdoor game was their second straight, but only their third in the previous month. Melnyk also used the opportunity earlier in the week to basically say “Trust me, this is a playoff team.” Which is not the kind of promise one typically wants to make when one’s team is six points out of a divisional playoff spot and 10 out of the wild card; the Senators would have to play at a 101-point pace for the rest of the season to even get to 92 points, which is probably the bare minimum cutoff for a playoff spot in the Atlantic. They would also have to leapfrog Florida, Detroit, Montreal and Boston to get there, as Tampa (certainly) and Toronto (probably) appear safely ensconced in the top-two.

Point being, Melnyk has done a number of very unwise things in the past several days — guaranteed a playoff appearance by a team that has almost no hope of making the playoffs, admitting to cutting behind-the-scenes budgets, and threatened to move the team — in what I guess is an attempt to coerce fans into……. showing up?

The idea, one supposes, is that Senators fans should really not want this team to move to Quebec City or Houston (hey! that’s the Flames’ gimmick!), but it’s a tough sell, because of Melnyk’s previous stewardship of the team.

Yeah, the club is spending money for the on-ice product now, but that’s a relatively new phenomenon, likely propped up by the revenues generated during last year’s fluke playoff run — which hey, credit to Melnyk for not just pocketing all that money — and little more. And again, spending on what, exactly? Lots of bad contracts on this team, right? And that big three-way trade that was supposed to reinvigorate everybody and get them excited for Senators hockey doesn’t seem to be working out in quite the way it is for, say, the other two teams in that trade.

Point being, the Senators haven’t really given fans a lot of reason to show up apart from that playoff run (which, granted, was like six months), so threatening to move and saying the market has to “prove itself” is a poor strategy. Fans owe the teams they root for nothing. Most fans will give more than they should in terms of loyalty to their franchises — see also: the attempted vilification of Karlsson for saying he deserves to get huge money two summers from now, which has worked in a lot of other markets to turn fans against a lot of lesser players — but the rise of the European-style “Melnyk Out” movement in the wake of all these pronouncements tells you the owner pushed much farther than he should have here.

To use Melnyk’s own McDonald’s analogy, this is basically the owner of a run-down McDonald’s franchise 40 minutes away from anyone, whose restaurant has been serving some of the worst Big Macs in the region and refuses to pay more than one fry cook and cashier saying, “Hey, if you guys don’t come start shoving these undercooked McNuggets in your dumb faces, I’ll go to another city where people will!”

This is classic rich-guy stuff, though. People like Melnyk are owed fealty because they (barely) operate a thing people ostensibly should like, and when “consumers” he doesn’t care about — except as far as they can be parted from their money to support a bare-bones product — don’t grovel enough for their liking, the threats to take their ball and go home start pretty quickly.

Can’t imagine why Sens fans would chafe at that line of talk from a guy who, if he isn’t the worst owner in the league, is pretty close.

Move the team, don’t move the team, whatever. Think the people of Quebec or Houston will keep showing up after the novelty wears off if the team keeps barely making the playoffs every other year? Fans show up to see good teams. It’s really that simple. If Melnyk paid to put a winning team on the ice every year, supported by a group of good decision-makers behind the scenes, that would be one thing.

If we’re supposed to be mad Karlsson vaguely implied he would go elsewhere if he couldn’t get what he’s worth, but not mad that a billionaire absentee owner who runs the team on a shoestring budget for basically doing-the-same-thing-times-100, that seems like a bizarre logical leap. Generally speaking, if your net worth has three commas in it, people probably aren’t going to have too much sympathy when you cry poor, for any reason.

Ransoming fans’ love of a team against that team’s ongoing existence is the basest, most desperate act an owner can undertake. Why Melnyk would expect any response other than the one he got shows the disconnect between working-class fans and team owners.

The NHL is an entertainment product, and it is therefore incumbent upon team owners to put an entertaining team on the ice so that fans will show up. The idea that it should work in the opposite direction — that fans should pay a billionaire a lot of money and drive out to some far-flung arena so the team can be financed appropriately — is a uniquely late-capitalist idea that has no real basis in the previous 100 years of this or any other sport.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The way these two teams have been playing, the Ducks getting a point out of the Capitals is pretty good.

Arizona Coyotes: “Has become,” sure.

Boston Bruins: In my opinion, if I were coach of a team that erased a two-goal deficit in a critical game, I would not also have that team take a too-many-men penalty in overtime and lose. Just my thoughts.

Buffalo Sabres: This is one of those things where it’s like, “Oh yeah, Jack Eichel ISN’T captain of the Sabres yet.”

Calgary Flames: The Flames got shut out on Saturday but they hit a post and three crossbars, and hey, sometimes that’s hockey, baby! And look, at least it was against the damn Predators. Sometimes you just don’t get the bounces when the other team is elite.

Carolina Hurricanes: Here’s me promising never to get too worked up about any results for the Hurricanes ever again. But they’ve won three straight, gang.

Chicago Blackhawks: Turns out guys don’t want to be healthy-scratched. Pretty wild.

Colorado Avalanche: One wonders if this is a salary-cap-era record: The Avs have used 11 players on their ELCs this season.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Sometimes you just run into a hot goalie. Sometimes you make that goalie look better than he was.

Dallas Stars: The Stars really shouldn’t be having this much trouble offensively. That’s the thing they’re supposed to be, y’know, good at.

Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings have six shorthanded goals. Pretty good number! They also have 80 goals in all other situations. Very bad number.

Edmonton Oilers: This is without a doubt my favorite tweet of all time:

Florida Panthers: What a burn.

Los Angeles Kings: Win eight straight, and this is the best team in the world. Lose three straight and someone’s gotta talk you off the ledge. Tough business.

Minnesota Wild: My theory is: Mikko Koivu is almost 35.

Montreal Canadiens: Lots of people comparing the NHL to communism lately. What a time to be alive.

Nashville Predators: To have back-to-back shutouts? Folks, that’s good to do.

New Jersey Devils: Is this a good group of guys to get back healthy?

New York Islanders: We definitely all saw this coming.

New York Rangers: Not sure “playing the guy who’s almost 36 a ton of minutes the rest of the way” is a great strategy, but okay.

Ottawa Senators: What a beautiful boy this guy is. We do not deserve Erik Karlsson.

Philadelphia Flyers: Of course the Flyers have won six straight. Hockey’s fun, right?

Pittsburgh Penguins: Hearing Rick Tocchet speak freely about why the Penguins are good is really interesting.

San Jose Sharks: Logan Couture might be out long-term. That would be, uh, bad.

St. Louis Blues: That’s a 48-save shutout for Carter Hutton. Pretty good!

Tampa Bay Lightning: *Looks at Lightning roster* Ah, that’s why they’re legit.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston, come back!

Vancouver Canucks: Bless those wonderful Sedin boys.

Vegas Golden Knights: Have you all heard about this stuff with Gerard Gallant and the Panthers? Pretty crazy!

Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin is up to 23 goals in 34 games. He might hit 50 again. Good lord.

Winnipeg Jets: No coach in the history of the NHL has lost more games than Paul Maurice. That’s weird to think about.

Play of the weekend

This goal by Ryan Johansen? That’s incredible skill level.

Gold Star Award

Carter Hutton not only had a 48-save shutout, but also did it coming off not having played in two weeks. C’mon!

Minus of the Weekend


Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “ViktorBaeArvidsson” cooked up a goodie.

To Ottawa:

2018 1st Round Pick
Jacob Trouba
Jack Roslovic
Nicolas Petan

To Winnipeg:

Erik Karlsson
Alexandre Burrows (500k retained)


Ho ho ho ho ho, delightfully devilish, Seymour.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)


Breaking down NFL Week 15 with Tiki Barber

Dec 18, 2017

Sportsnet’s Starting Lineup

Dee Gordon trade the beginning of the fire sale?

December 08 2017

MLB Network/FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi joins Elliott Price, Rob Wong, and Bob McCown (!) to give his thoughts on the Marlins trading Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners, what it means for Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, when (and where) Giancarlo Stanton will probably be moved, and whether Yasiel Puig would be a good fit in Miami.


NHL Rumor Mill – December 18, 2017

Speculation over Tyler Seguin’s future plus updates on the Penguins in your NHL rumor mill.


DALLAS MORNING NEWS: In a recent mailbag segment, Mike Heika was asked if Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin has proven worthy of a contract extension, or if that depends on the club’s record before the trade deadline. 

Heika doesn’t believe the Stars will trade Seguin this season, but wonders if the club extends him next summer or let it run into his UFA season of 2018-19. If he has a healthy and successful playoff, Heika bets the Stars re-sign him. If he doesn’t, “the question about trading him before or during next season is very relevant.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Seguin’s earning an average salary-cap hit of $5.75 million on his current contract, though in actual salary he’s making $6 million this season and will earn $6.5 million in 2018-19. Since joining the Stars he has four consecutive 70-point campaigns. With 29 points in 34 games, he is on pace for another one.

It could cost the Stars between $8-$9 million annually on a long-term deal to re-sign him. Seguin’s performance over the remainder of this season and in the playoffs will play a significant role in determining his future with the Stars. 


SPORTSNET: Sonny Sachdeva lists the Vegas Golden Knights, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild as five potential trade partners for the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins haven’t suitably addressed last summer’s departure via free agency of third-line center Nick Bonino. GM Jim Rutherford is aware of the problem and seems to be inching closer toward a midseason deal. 

Sachdeva notes the Golden Knights were among three teams to recently express interest in Penguins defenseman Ian Cole. If they’re still keen, he suggests swapping Cole for Erik Haula or Cody Eakin. The Leafs were also reportedly interested in Cole and center Tyler Bozak is often mentioned by the Pittsburgh media as a player the Pens brass “hold in high regard.” 

Derick Brassard could be an option if the Senators decide to shake up their struggling roster. While his $5 million cap hit could be difficult to absorb, Sachdeva reminds us of the Pens’ earlier interest in Matt Duchene ($6 million cap hit) prior to the Colorado Avalanche shipping him to Ottawa. Center Jean-Gabriel Pageau could be another player of interest for the Pens. The Senators could seek defensive help, prompting Sachdeva to suggest Cole or Olli Maatta as possibilities.

The Avalanche were also among the clubs with interest in Cole. Sachdeva suggests Carl Soderberg, whose offensive skills could be a good fit with the Pens. There’s also a chance the Penguins could try to bring back Matt Cullen, who departed last summer to sign with the Minnesota Wild. Cullen seems like an odd man out with the Wild and Sachdeva doubts it’ll cost the Penguins much to acquire him. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Given the Golden Knights impressive play, perhaps their interest in Cole has cooled in the last couple of weeks. With the Leafs near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, I don’t think they want to move Bozak or any of their other pending UFAs.

Considering the recent trade speculation about the Senators they could be a trade partner for the Pens. I doubt Rutherford parts with Maatta for Brassard or Pageau. Quite frankly, I don’t see Maatta hitting the trade block at all.

Soderberg’s been inconsistent in Colorado but he did have a 51-point performance there in 2015-16 and is a versatile two-way forward. Perhaps playing for the defending Cup champions could improve his play. Bringing back Cullen is much more affordable and could be  tempting. However, he’s best suited in a fourth-line role.

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