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2021 NHL Draft winners and losers: Ranking every team’s first round – The Athletic

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Just 289 days after we put one draft in the books, here we are for another.

After an unconventional season spent scouting these players predominantly by video, learning about them predominantly over phone calls and text exchanges with sources, hundreds of viewings and conversations, and tens of thousands of words, my coverage of the 2021 draft concludes this weekend with my complete evaluations of all 32 (that’s new!) teams’ draft classes and likely almost (almost!) all of the 224 players that will be chosen.

That starts with this breakdown of Friday’s 31 selections, offering pick-by-pick analysis of the first round.

This analysis does not evaluate any of the trades, nor the teams that didn’t pick. Instead, it will rank each of the teams that did pick based solely on their choices relative to my draft board, considering factors like organizational fit, the available players, and each prospect’s expected range.

This is also not an evaluation of the total value the teams got out of their pick(s) but rather of the relative value they mined compared to where they picked. As such, teams with higher picks, or multiple first-round picks, are not guaranteed favourable grades.

As always at The Athletic, the ranking will also be sorted into the following tiers:

Winners: Teams I believe won out over their competition with sleuth, home-run-level selections relative to where they picked.

Overtime winners: Teams I believe did well with where they were slotted, even if they might not have picked the exact player(s) I would have.

Overtime losers: Teams I believe could have done better but might, in time, be happy with their pick(s) regardless.

Losers: Teams I believe will regret taking the player(s) they chose.

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LeBrun: What's at stake for the Maple Leafs this season? 'I don’t think we can hide from it' – The Athletic

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TORONTO — To be blunt, the Toronto Maple Leafs could go 82-0 this season, rewrite the regular-season record book and there would be large segments of their fan base and people around the hockey world who would say: Yeah, but …

That “but” hangs over this season like a massive anvil.

This is my 27th year covering the NHL, all of them based here in Toronto, and I would argue this franchise has never in that time frame felt this kind of pressure to deliver.

Doug Gilmour’s overachieving Leafs teams were too beloved by the fan base to be second-guessed. Wendel Clark is still a Leafs God for a reason. He left it all on the ice.

Mats Sundin’s Leafs teams a decade later didn’t deliver the ultimate prize but the faith of the fan base didn’t waver too much through some decent playoff runs.

This current team has done nothing come playoff time.

Nothing yet, anyway.

Which is why despite always being a team that garners plenty of leaguewide attention, sometimes for no real reason, the Leafs are genuinely one of the most compelling stories this season in the NHL, win or lose.

Up 3-1 on their rival Montreal Canadiens in May, the Leafs crumbled in a seven-game series loss that won’t soon be forgotten.

And yet the painful lessons from yet another first-round exit had to be addressed before the Leafs could turn the page.

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In final clash before potential playoff duel, Rays torment Blue Jays once more – Sportsnet.ca

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – No team torments the Toronto Blue Jays quite like the Tampa Bay Rays, and adding insult to injury in their final regular season meeting was getting a beatdown from their archnemesis and then watching them clinch a playoff berth.

The finale of a three-game set at Tropicana Field lacked the typical drama most of Wednesday afternoon after Ross Stripling got lit up for five runs in a six-run third that effectively decided a 7-1 Rays win. But theatre arrived in the eighth when Ryan Borucki hit Kevin Kiermaier, who triggered ill will Monday by grabbing a data card dislodged from Alejandro Kirk’s wristband during a play at the plate, prompting words to be exchanged and the dugouts to empty.

Relative calm prevailed as Rays manager Kevin Cash ranted to the umpiring crew, which then gathered by the mound after and ejected Borucki. That prompted pitching coach Pete Walker and manager Charlie Montoyo to argue, and Walker was restrained before he was ejected, too.

David Robertson closed things out in an incident-free ninth inning and the Rays poured out on the field afterwards for business-as-usual handshakes.

As usual, the Rays got the better of season series with 11 wins, and at 94-59, now have a magic number of four to clinch the American League East in back-to-back seasons. Of their 19 clashes this season, it was only the sixth time the game was decided by four runs or more, in contrast to the 10 contests settled by two or less.

The Rays winning the East is an inevitably at this point and should the Blue Jays successfully clinch a wild-card berth and then win that game to reach the division series, the Rays are likely to be waiting for them there.

There are steps to be taken for them to get there, but the math remains fairly favourable for the Blue Jays (85-67), who fell even with the New York Yankees (85-67) for the second wild card and dropped two games back of the Boston Red Sox (87-65) for the first, pending Wednesday night’s action. The Yankees were scheduled to host Texas, the Red Sox home to the Mets.

With 10 games left, beginning with a four-game set at the Minnesota Twins opening Thursday, a 6-4 run would push them to 91 wins, a total likely enough to get them into the playoffs. After the Twins, the Blue Jays have three-game series at home versus the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, so the opportunity for 7-3 or even better is certainly there.

A big weekend versus the Twins while the Red Sox and Yankees play three in New York this weekend is a pivotal chance to gain ground before Boston closes out against Baltimore and Washington. The Yankees finish against the Rays after playing Boston and Toronto.

Nothing should be taken for granted, but the Blue Jays are set up fairly well, even after their bullpen game Wednesday went terribly awry.

Stripling, entering behind opener Julian Merryweather as the bulk pitcher, got through his first inning unscathed but didn’t survive the next, going single, double, walk, sacrifice fly, three-run homer by Austin Meadows and single before Montoyo came with the hook.

Taylor Walls added a two-run single in the frame before it was over and, with the Rays’ bullpen game going much more to plan, this was a hole the Blue Jays offence couldn’t dig out of.

Surviving as best as possible for Thursday became the priority at that point, and essential on that front was the 2.1 shutout innings delivered by Anthony Castro. That allowed the Blue Jays to both get Jordan Romano and Trevor Richards needed rest and keep Adam Cimber and Tim Mayza available for the Twins opener.

Pearson was pressed into duty after Borucki’s ejection.

Castro’s work may very well get him optioned, as Thomas Hatch, at one point a candidate to be activated from the taxi squad for Wednesday, is likely to join the bullpen Thursday.

Another reinforcement could be Santiago Espinal, whose return from a rehab assignment at triple-A Buffalo is suddenly more urgent with Breyvic Valera on the COVID-19 IL for coming into close contact with a family member.

Valera is fully vaccinated and produced a negative test, but when he’s eligible to return will be dependent on returning more negative tests and getting sign-offs from both MLB and the union. Kevin Smith was recalled from the Bisons to cover for the time being.

Cavan Biggio is a possibility to join the club next week, although the Blue Jays are hoping he can establish some rhythm at the plate before he’s returned from his rehab assignment.

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2020 Ryder Cup: The significance of the numbers on Team Europe's Ryder Cup golf bags – Golf Channel

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Analytics have become an increasingly important part of the entire Ryder Cup process, but European captain Padraig Harrington is taking his numbers game to a new level – literally.

Stitched on the golf bags of all 12 of Harrington’s players this week at Whistling Straits is a number. The digits are unique to each player and signify where they fit on Team Europe’s historical timeline, which has featured 164 players, from the first eight Brits in 1927 to Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger, who was the last rookie selected for this year’s squad.

“Mine is the smallest number, obviously: 118,” said Lee Westwood, who is competing in his 11th Ryder Cup this week.

The 48-year-old Westwood, who has played in 44 career cup matches, just three shy of Phil Mickelson’s record. His first match came back in 1997 at Valderrama, where the Europeans, captained by the late Seve Ballesteros, edged the Americans by a point.

It was a solid debut for Westwood, who went 2-3 and teamed with Nick Faldo for all four team sessions, but the Englishman doesn’t remember the birdies and bogeys from that week as much as the passion that exuded from the European team.

“I knew from day one, really, [how important the Ryder Cup was],” Westwood said. “Listen, that week the captain was Seve Ballesteros. There may have been one or two people over many generations as passionate as Seve about the game of golf, but I doubt there’s been many as passionate about the Ryder Cup as Seve was. … You just fed off him, really. With Nick Faldo as my partner, Seve and Nick both held the Ryder Cup in high regard, and just being around them, you could see how much it meant to them.

“Passion for the Ryder Cup was never something that I had to learn or gain. Pretty much like European team spirit is not something we have to work on; it’s just there.”

Sergio Garcia can attest. The Spaniard, whose 25 ½ career points earned is a Ryder Cup record, has played in nine of these matches. His debut came in 1999, and he teamed with Jesper Pernevik to go 3-0-1 in team play, though the Euros lost by one at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.

But when it came to his number, Garcia had no clue until Monday night when Harrington played a short, inspirational video before presenting each player his number and bag.

“I’ve always known that being a part of the Ryder Cup team is very difficult, but I didn’t know that only that little amount of players have made it,” said Garcia, who is No. 120. “So, that showed you how difficult it really is. That’s why every time I’m a part of a team or the rest of our teammates, that’s why we give it the respect that it deserves, because it’s so difficult to be a part of it.

“It’s an honor, and we treat it like that.”


Harrington using numbers to inspire Team Europe


McIlroy, No. 144 (behind just Westwood, Garcia, No. 130 Paul Casey and No. 134 Ian Poulter), described some of the video presentation, which featured the theme, “Make it count.”

“To put it into context: 570 people have been into space. I think over 5,000 people have climbed [Mount] Everest. 225 have won a men’s major. When you sort of break it down like that it’s a pretty small group and it’s pretty cool,” McIlroy said.

“It’s a small collection of people that have played for Europe in the Ryder Cup,” McIlroy added. “I think that’s what brings us very close together, and that’s been one of our sort of big focus points this week is just being here is very special and being part of a European team. Very few people can call themselves a European Ryder Cup player.”

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