For the second time this season, the Maple Leafs will face Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers without their own top gun, Auston Matthews.
Not good news when Saturday is the first of three games with first place in the North Division at stake. But hold off that panic button, Matthews’ nagging wrist injury is not expected to sideline him more than a game or two and Toronto already beat the Oilers 4-2 without him on the road.
And when Matthews came back last time, he went on that electrifying 16-game points streak/goal rush that helped propel the Leafs to first.
Coach Sheldon Keefe didn’t wait to make a game-time decision, pulling Matthews Saturday morning, while confirming that three other returning injured players are ready. Goalie Jack Campbell, defenceman Jake Muzzin and winger Joe Thornton are a go, with John Tavares going to Matthews’ spot on the first line between Thornton and Mitch Marner.
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The Leafs take on an Edmonton team, who are even hotter than they’ve been of late, jumping Montreal for second place and possibly passing Toronto if they sweep this series in regulation. McDavid and Draisaitl have a combined 74 points, but a couple of Leafs cautioned against overlooking the rest of the Edmonton roster.
“They have a deeper lineup than they get credit for,” defenceman Justin Holl said. “They’ve been rolling lately and everyone on the ice has been dangerous. Even from the back end, Ethan Bear has been hot. It will be a five-man unit for us and we can’t take shifts off against anyone.”
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Holl said the Leafs are well aware their lead in the North isn’t safe and a higher seeding remains a vital team objective after late season letdowns ultimately hurt the team in unfavourable playoff match-ups.
“We’re up by four points, we have a game in hand, but it’s a super-important series and we have to get off to a good start tonight.”
Also Saturday morning, the Leafs swapped a couple of Taxi Squaders with the Marlies, but one of the promoted players was not rookie winger Nick Robertson. Veteran forward Kenny Agostino and defenceman Timothy Liljegren stayed in Alberta after the farm team wrapped up a series in Calgary, while Alex Galchenyuk and defenceman Martin Marincin remained in Toronto and will possibly play in the Marlies home opener Monday against the Manitoba Moose.
Galchenyuk, whose 2012 first-round draft star has fallen considerably the past couple of years, went unclaimed while on waivers before the trade with Carolina and has never been in the AHL.
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“Part of our plan is just to get Galchenyuk playing and that would’ve been sooner if the Marlies hadn’t been out West,” Keefe said. “It’s an environment where he can look to find his game, get comfortable in our surroundings and in our systems. He can find his confidence and not be so concerned about his place in the lineup or making mistakes.”
Robertson was among a few Marlies on a near point-a-game pace through eight games, though Keefe would only say the club wanted a closer look at defenceman Liljegren, whom the coach said is not off to a great start, but could do better as a Leaf extra now that he’s played some games.
Campbell has not been in net for a month since a lower body injury, while No. 1 Frederik Andersen is on the trip, but not yet healed from his own lower body injury. As usual, Campbell has oozed positivity around the room the past few days.
“He’s amazing, a great guy on the ice and off,” Holl said. “I was looking over his shoulder on the plane yesterday and he was watching some film. I was laughing, because on every clip he makes a save, he immediately taps someone closest to him. It could be me and I didn’t even do anything on the play, but he gives you a shin tap. It’s fun to play in front of a guy like that.”
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Swimming: Penny Oleksiak swam to her sixth Olympic medal yesterday – the most ever won by a Canadian athlete at the Summer Olympics. This puts her among the ranks of speedskater Cindy Klassen and cyclist and speedskater Clara Hughes, who also have six Olympic medals each. As the Globe’s Cathal Kelly writes from Tokyo, she shows up when it matters, and that’s why she’s Canada’s greatest summer Olympian.
Boxing: Canadian boxer Tammara Thibeault will advance in the women’s middleweight boxing event after winning her bout against Nadezhda Ryabets of Kazakhstan by split decision last night. Canadian Caroline Veyre lost in her featherweight quarter-final bout against Italian Irma Testa.
OFF THE FIELD
COVID-19 surge: Governors of three prefectures near Tokyo are likely to ask the government to declare states of emergency for their regions, media said on Wednesday, after COVID-19 infections spiked to a record high in the Japanese capital. Tokyo recorded 3,177 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, a new record for the second day in a row. The total of Olympics-related COVID-19 cases since July 1 has risen to 169.
Food waste: Olympic organizers have apologized for ordering too much food for their staff during the opening ceremony and letting it go to waste. Videos of trucks carting off boxes of uneaten food went viral online, forcing the apology.
Globe sports reporter Rachel Brady watched a different kind of event at the famous Budokan arena – a Games team changing out the competition mats between the daytime and nighttime sessions Read more behind-the-scenes perspectives from Globe staff at the Olympics.
Tokyo Olympics: Today in photos
From The Globe’s Olympic team
Simone Biles’ legacy may be her courage to look after herself, not the IOC
After experiencing what she called “demons” leading into and during Tuesday’s team competition, superstar gymnast Simone Biles pulled herself. In choosing her mental health over more gold medals, a superstar American gymnast is showing other athletes how much power they have to stand up to the athletic-industrial complex.
Reminder: Before and after the Olympics, women’s sports coverage is lacking
John Doyle: “I’m here to offer you a periodic reminder – before and after the Olympics, women’s sports get less attention than they merit. We will cheer on, or even worship, our women athletes now. Their accomplishments will lift the spirits of a nation and inspire young women to devote themselves to a sport. Then, afterwards, the achievement will become a memory and the activities will barely feature in media coverage, especially on television. This has to stop.”
Tokyo Olympic events to watch tomorrow, July 29
Swimming: Penny Oleksiak of Canada swims for gold at the women’s 100 m freestyle event.
No one said these Olympics would be easy. Not even watching them.
Midway through the first week of the Tokyo Games, even the most cautiously optimistic viewer of Friday’s opening ceremony is now likely to be rubbing their eyes: With shocking upsets, unexpected exits, a 16-hour time difference and a thicket of broadcast, cable and streaming options, the most tumultuous Olympics in years are starting to catch up with the NBC stable of networks, which hold the lucrative U.S. television rights to the two-week event.
Times television editor Matt Brennan, senior writer Greg Braxton and digital editor Tracy Brown have been keeping an eye on the Games from the comfort of their homes. Read on for their discussion of the difficulties facing the Olympics and its American broadcasters — and a few of the silver linings that have emerged so far.
Matt Brennan, TV editor: As I prepared for bed Monday night, idly checking Twitter, the news broke of Japanese star Naomi Osaka’s third-round upset by the Czech Republic’s Markéta Vondrousová in the Olympic tennis tournament. Tuesday morning, I awoke to an Apple News push notification that the U.S. women’s gymnastics squad had silver-medaled in the team competition after its top athlete, Simone Biles, withdrew citing her mental health. And my first reaction to this one-two punch was, “Welp, I guess that means I can skip tonight’s telecast.”
I am a casual Olympics viewer, admittedly — following the bold-faced names, like Osaka and Biles; the big events, like swimming and track and field; and the most important stories, like… what in the heck is going on with the Tokyo Olympics? Amid a set of unprecedented challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic and a crisis of legitimacy for the International Olympics Committee, I’m hard-pressed to remember a more chaotic and deflating start to what has been a TV juggernaut for most of my lifetime. I know y’all have been watching. What has your experience been so far?
Greg Braxton, senior writer: Today I tuned in to the USA women’s beach volleyball team trying to play a match in typhoon weather, which might sum up the Olympic viewing experience: The event has been overcome by a figurative typhoon. The spotlight and emphasis that NBC has placed on these opening marquee events, featuring some of sports’ biggest stars, have been crushed by a perfect storm of unimaginable disappointment and anticlimactic performances. Trying to make sense out of the maze of coverage among the various platforms of NBC, Peacock, the Olympic Channel, USA Network and others is difficult enough. Combine that with the news coming out of Tokyo about the stumbles of star athletes and it becomes doubly frustrating.
I watched the USA Men’s Basketball Team match on Sunday while reading the paper — there was no reason to pay close attention because a news bulletin several hours before announced they had lost to France. The result for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team was also broadcast far in advance, as you say. You would have had to stay in a closet all day if you didn’t want to know the outcome before turning on your TV tonight.
And I threw up my hands Monday when I found a rugby match on during NBC’s primetime programming block — and not Osaka, who was playing her match live on the Olympic Channel. The most famous female athlete in the world was being treated almost as a sideshow on a small stage when she should have been in the center ring. The outdated model of packaging the day’s events in primetime rather than showing one of the most anticipated stories of the Games live illustrated the network’s haphazard approach to the Olympics, which the age of social media has cast in an ever-harsher light.
It was Tuesday, though, that Olympic plans went south fastest. The hype surrounding the women’s gymnastics competition has been steadily building for months and hit a crescendo Sunday during the qualifying events. To hear this morning that Biles had pulled out due to mental health issues after making some mistakes in the preliminaries was really heartbreaking. Everything seems to be going wrong, and that — on top of the logistical issues — makes it hard for an Olympics fan like me to maintain interest in watching.
The Olympics used to be the ultimate watercooler event. People rushed home, had watch parties, talked about these amazing athletes the next day. That whole era is gone, but it’s particularly obvious during these Olympics. That became clear with the “opening ceremonies.” It’s a shame.
Tracy Brown, staff writer: For me, figuring out how to watch the Olympics has felt like an Olympic-caliber obstacle course because I’ve been trying to catch the events I care about live before I get a news alert or see results trending on Twitter. This has meant figuring out, as has been mentioned, the various broadcast and livestream schedules — all while running on very little sleep. Even then, there’s no way to stay on top of everything, so I also am strategic about choosing what to watch when.
Luckily, the sport I’ve been most excited about — softball returning to the Olympics for the first time since Team U.S.A.’s stunning loss to Team Japan at the ’08 Games — is one I’ve been able to watch more or less spoiler-free. Softball kicked off its preliminary rounds even before the opening ceremony, so I got an early start in trying to adjust to the time difference. And, as of this writing, I still haven’t watched the Gold medal rematch between rivals U.S. and Japan that took place in the predawn hours Tuesday (in Pacific Time). But because so many other big storylines have dominated the headlines, I think I’ll be able to experience it as if it were live — if I’m careful.
And that’s kind of how the strategy part comes into play for me. I stay on top of the events I know I want to experience unspoiled and prioritize watching those live whenever possible. I appreciate the packaged primetime programming block for what it is, but I leave that for the nights I haven’t picked anything specific to see, or when no live event holds my interest. And then there are some sports, like gymnastics, where the feats of athleticism are so amazing that even if I know the results, I’ll tune in anyway. While it may not always be the specific athlete or team I’m rooting for, someone is going to have some incredible Olympic moment or memorable story.
All that is to say, I very much had mixed feelings in the lead-up to the Games, with the reality of the surging pandemic and the people of Tokyo and Japan calling for the event to be canceled. And I still have moments of playing mental gymnastics when I think about the bigger Olympics picture. But I love sports stories — even when I have no idea what the rules are sometimes — so as soon as the events got started I got sucked in despite how hard NBC, and the real world, have made it.
Brennan: You are so right, Tracy, about the silver linings: Whether the star is a Tunisian swimmer or a Filipino weightlifter, there are inspiring stories to be found in the Olympics so far, even if the spotlight isn’t shining where we might have expected. That’s the nature of sports.
Ultimately, my disappointment is not in the competition itself, but in the sense that the Olympic television I grew up on has not grown up with me.
In my job I often say that people don’t watch TV the way they used to, so we can’t cover TV the way we used to — and NBC has unfortunately failed to reinvent the model developed in Sydney, Athens and Beijing for an ecosystem now dominated by streaming platforms and social media. All of the struggles you’ve enumerated above and others cited to me by our Times colleagues, are symptoms of this problem: live coverage bouncing between networks, the lack of timely on-demand replays, Peacock’s unintuitive design. Even the tradition of focusing the lion’s share of promotional attention on a handful of name-brand American stars like Biles seems parochial in a climate of global fame and increased sensitivity to the pressures on elite athletes.
I don’t envy the decision-makers at NBC, who are faced with broadcasting a highly complex, real-time sporting event to a notoriously fickle audience. Certainly, no one could have predicted what the media landscape would look like today when the network became the Summer and Winter Olympics’ exclusive U.S. home starting in 2000, or even when NBC and the IOC signed their last contract extension, through 2032, seven years ago. But it’s hard not to think that the Tokyo Games are shaping up to be NBC’s worst nightmare: evidence that one of TV’s most lucrative events won’t transition smoothly into the medium’s streaming age.
WINNIPEG – In this summer of bold moves, Kevin Cheveldayoff has already made his mark.
One day after bringing back veteran forward Paul Stastny on a one-year deal and acquiring defenceman Brenden Dillon in a trade, the Winnipeg Jets added another blue-liner, shipping a third round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft to the Vancouver Canucks to acquire Nate Schmidt on Tuesday night.
Schmidt had been a target of the Jets in the past, but they were previously one of the teams on his 10-team no-trade clause.
Interestingly enough, Schmidt joins Stastny — his former Vegas Golden Knights teammate — in waiving his no-trade clause to join the Jets.
The Jets were looking for a significant upgrade of the defence corps this off-season and that’s exactly what they’ve accomplished, adding a pair of experienced top-four blue-liners with term on their respective contracts.
Schmidt, who turned 30 earlier this month, has four years left on a deal that carries an average annual value of $5.95 million while Dillon’s commitment is for three more seasons at $3.9 million.
The Minnesota product is a high-character player and a minute-muncher who is known for his positive, energetic nature.
Undrafted out of college, Schmidt has carved out a solid career for himself as a reliable two-way blue-liner. He’s mobile, tough to play against and has ample playoff experience. Known more for his defensive acumen, Schmidt has eclipsed 30 points three times and had five goals and 15 points in 54 games with the Canucks last season.
When it comes to the projected defence pairings, it’s clear Jets head coach Paul Maurice is going to have a number of options at his disposal.
Schmidt shoots left-handed but actually prefers to play on the right side, so he’s likely going to be used alongside either Josh Morrissey or Dillon (if Morrissey ends up with pending RFA Neal Pionk or Dylan DeMelo.
One thing to consider is that the addition of the veterans means that there is basically only one spot available on the third pairing for a group that includes Logan Stanley, 2019 first-rounder Ville Heinola and 2017 second-rounder Dylan Samberg.
Stanley was protected by the Jets in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, so he has the inside track on the job as it stands right now — though he’s obviously facing competition for those minutes.
Heinola and/or Samberg could start next season in the American Hockey League with the Manitoba Moose, depending on how things play out.
Dillon was a salary-cap casualty for the Capitals, who needed to make room for the five-year contract Alex Ovechkin agreed to on Monday.
There was plenty of chatter about how Cheveldayoff would handle this off-season and it’s clear he’s made a serious statement to the core group of players that had already committed to the organization.
Since the current contracts of Jets captain Blake Wheeler, top-line centre Mark Scheifele and goalie Connor Hellebuyck all expire at the end of the 2023-24 season, the urgency to widen the window of contention is palpable.
Winning only one round since advancing to the Western Conference final in 2018 simply wasn’t good enough and the Jets have reacted accordingly.
The cost for the Jets is two-fold: they were willing to move some future draft capital — a second-rounder in 2022, a third-rounder in 2023 and a third-rounder in 2022 (they still own the Columbus Blue Jackets’ third in 2022 from the Patrik Laine blockbuster) and take on significant salary and term at a time when salary cap space is at a premium.
Staring at a flat cap (or close to it for the foreseeable future), the Jets sacrificed some of the future for a shot at trying to win now.
You can be sure these moves will resonate with Jets players.
“Every year the ceiling’s obviously to win a Stanley Cup,” Stastny said before the deal for Schmidt was made. “I’ve said it before, that everyone thinks they’re one or two pieces away but when you have a goalie like (Hellebuyck) and you have the offensive firepower and some of the dynamic defencemen, you’re right there. There’s no perfect situation, no perfect team, and I think it just shows that’s the NHL these days. There’s probably 22 or 23 teams that think they’re going to win the Cup every year at the start of the year, maybe more, but that’s what makes it fun, that’s what makes it competitive, that’s what makes every game so impactful.
“You see the drive and the hunger through the guys and I think that makes a big difference, too. You look at teams on paper and you don’t really know the identity or the character of those players but then when you’re around these guys, you realize how bad they want to win. They were there a couple of years ago and they might have taken a step back because they had so many losses on the back end just through unfortunate, unseen events, but what happened last year, to kind of get a taste of what the potential could be and you want to keep building on that.”
Dillon, 30, had a similar message to reporters as he spoke with them for the first time since his trade became official.
“I’m going to a team that wants to win, thinks we can win, believes that we’re going to be right there and that’s exciting going into a season with those being the expectations,” said Dillon, who advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 as a member of the San Jose Sharks and has 75 playoff games on his resume.
Cheveldayoff explained last week the Jets were committed to improving and he’s backed up that statement with actions.
As free agency opens on Wednesday morning, the Jets will be looking to perhaps add a depth forward. Otherwise, the next order of business revolves around getting new deals for pending RFAs Andrew Copp, Pionk and Stanley taken care of.
The money available to the Jets is dwindling (just under $4.55 million with 21 of 23 roster spots spoken for) after this flurry of activity, but with centre Bryan Little expected to be heading to LTIR again next season, there is a bit of wiggle room (up to an additional $5.291 million) to take care of the other business.
In the meantime, Cheveldayoff has already crossed off a couple of pressing items on his to-do list — including the most important one.
As it stands right now, the Jets defence corps appears to have gone from a weakness to a potential strength in a span of fewer than 24 hours.
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