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Enthusiasm, intrigue set the table for an NHL season unlike any other – Sportsnet.ca

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In 2021, the promise of fresh ice and a fresh NHL schedule comes with no less excitement or anticipation than it usually would.

But this season of our dreams in the Great White North also looms as a Great Unknown.

We are not just talking about who will surprise and disappoint, which stars will shine brightest and which teams will assert themselves as contenders. We are not even talking about who will emerge from the dogpile of expectations and emotions in the realigned all-Canadian North Division to grab a playoff spot.

No, the entire enterprise is subject to some degree of doubt as the new NHL season dawns amid a deepening pandemic. Gary Bettman acknowledged the heightened risk during a tone-setting press conference this week and said he hoped his league would find a way to complete the campaign in exciting fashion in order to get back to something closer to normal in the fall.

Included among the opening slate of five games is the Tampa Bay Lightning raising their Stanley Cup banner inside an empty Amalie Arena before facing the Chicago Blackhawks; the Toronto Maple Leafs hosting the Montreal Canadiens one day after a stay-at-home order was issued by the Ontario government; and the Vancouver Canucks juggling their lineup because of COVID-related absences for J.T. Miller and Jordie Benn prior to starting in Edmonton.

This would have been called chaos in the sporting world we knew before March 2020. Today it is just Wednesday.

The other North American sports leagues have all been forced to reschedule games and realign expectations, and the NHL will take every precaution it can to avoid facing the same fate. But the Denver Broncos were forced to start a backup wide receiver at quarterback and the Philadelphia 76ers recently used Dwight Howard at point guard and, well …

“It’s going to happen in all the leagues,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning told Sportsnet 650 on Tuesday night.

At least NHL teams have been armed with four- to six-player taxi squads that keep extra options at the ready. That will help. However, there’s not much that can be done once an outbreak hits like the one that infected 17 Dallas Stars players and has forced at least their first three regular-season games to be rescheduled.

Incredibly, this season of completely intra-divisional play sees games scheduled each of the 116 days it spans. If the health and safety protocols can hold up, if the walls don’t cave in with COVID-19 still spreading rapidly through the general population, this could be a year long remembered, even though it’s unlikely to include many fans watching live.

Only Florida, Arizona and Dallas will be able to sell tickets initially, and they will be kept to a severely limited capacity. Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has been pushing a plan for 6,000 fans at Canadian Tire Centre, but it seems extremely unlikely that any of the provincial governments will loosen regulations after the lengthy approval process required to cement them.

“Those aren’t the conversations that we’re having at this time,” said Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. “We look forward to the day that (fans) are in the arena. Quite frankly, one of the greatest points about the fact that when our fans are in the arena, the more important point is it’s a reflection that our community as a whole must be doing a whole lot better to have that.”

That should not dampen the enthusiasm in Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton or Toronto. In these cities and among fanbases where the game is cherished this sets up as a once-in-a-lifetime 56-game spectacle.

But the intrigue doesn’t stop at our closed border.

You have three top-tier Stanley Cup contenders in Colorado, Vegas and St. Louis playing out of the realigned West Division, plus Pittsburgh, Washington, Boston and Philadelphia among those contesting the East. The Central now includes both of last year’s Stanley Cup finalists — Dallas and Tampa — plus Columbus, Nashville and Carolina.

There will be several skilled rookies populating rosters — including Alexis Lafrenière and Tim Stützle with the accent grave and umlaut used to mark their heritage printed across Rangers and Senators sweaters — plus world junior star Trevor Zegras in Anaheim and Kirill Kaprizov in Minnesota, among others.

There are all of the ingredients needed to cook up a tasty stew.

That’s assuming, of course, they can pull this off as intended. The NHL had a remarkable finish to 2019-20 inside bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton, where no positives were confirmed among the 33,000-plus tests conducted.

It required amazing buy-in that couldn’t reasonably be replicated across six months of a new year.

“I believe our players made an incredible sacrifice over the summer and into the fall, being away from family and friends in some cases more than two months,” said Bettman. “I repeatedly said to (NHLPA executive director) Don Fehr that I’m not going to even ask you to do that (again) because it wouldn’t be right and there’s no expectation that you could expect all of our players and supporting personnel to do that. So that was the starting point, and frankly the ending point.”

So here we are at the beginning of an NHL season unlike any that has ever come before it.

There’s no telling what’s going to happen, but there’s a universal hope that it plays out as safely as possible.

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Nets’ Kyrie Irving fined $50K for violating health and safety protocols – Sportsnet.ca

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NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving‘s absence from the Brooklyn Nets has cost him nearly $1 million.

The NBA fined the point guard $50,000 on Friday for violating its health and safety protocols, and said he could return to team activities Saturday.

The league added that he would forfeit his salary for each game he misses during a five-day quarantine period that would end Saturday if he continues to test negative for the coronavirus. He’s already missed two, which means he has lost more than $900,000 of his $33.5 million salary.

Irving has missed the last five games while away from the Nets for personal reasons. He was seen in a video on social media during his absence at an indoor family party while not wearing a mask.

The league’s protocols prohibit attending indoor social gatherings of 15 or more people or entering bars, lounges, clubs or similar establishments.

Irving is the second player to be fined for that. The other is his new teammate, James Harden.

The Nets have not explained the reasons for Irving’s absence, leaving it to him to do when he returns. Their next game is Saturday against Orlando.

“Without a doubt, the organization’s disappointed with not having any one of our players, in this particular case Kyrie, not amongst us, not in the trenches with us and so forth,” general manager Sean Marks said Thursday during a news conference to discuss the trade for Harden.

“So I don’t want to speculate and say why he’s out and so forth. I’ve had conversations with him and I’ll continue to have conversations and we look forward to him being back in the gym, where he will address this.”

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Charles Barkley, Shaq react to James Harden's trade to the Nets during 'NBA on TNT' – Yahoo Canada Sports

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The Canadian Press

Canadian Mark-Anthony Kaye elected to MLS Players Association executive board

Canadian international Mark-Anthony Kaye has been elected to the Major League Soccer Players Association executive board. The 26-year-old Los Angeles FC midfielder, along with Jalil Anibaba (Nashville SC) and Victor Ulloa (Inter Miami CF), was elected to a three-year term. The executive board serves as the decision- and policy-making body of the Players Association with its members serving as the MLSPA’s chief officers. “The leadership and hard work of our executive board members, both past and present, has made the MLSPA into what it is today,” MLSPA executive director Bob Foose said in a statement. “I want to congratulate our newest board members, and those who are returning, and thank them for their commitment to serving their fellow players and continuing to grow and improve the MLSPA.” Foose thanked departing board members Jeff Larentowicz and Luis Robles. Other current members of the executive board are Scott Caldwell (New England Revolution), Ethan Finlay (Minnesota United), Clint Irwin (Colorado Rapids), Eric Miller (Nashville) and Patrick Mullins (Toronto FC). The MLS and MLSPA are currently at loggerheads over the league’s decision to trigger a “force majeure” clause in the collective bargaining agreement to reopen negotiations on the CBA signed in January 2019. The league has said it lost nearly US$1 billion last season due to the global pandemic. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15. 2021 The Canadian Press

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Laine 'pissed' to miss Gordie Howe hat trick – TSN

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Winnipeg Jets winger Patrik Laine had a productive opening game of the season, scoring the overtime winner as part of a three-point night in Thursday’s 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames.

Laine, however, was not happy to wind up with only a minor penalty for roughing after dropping the gloves with Matthew Tkachuk as part of a skirmish late in the second period.

“I was pissed off because that would have been a Gordie Howe hat trick,” Laine said after the win. “That one time when I drop my gloves, I get a two-minute penalty. So that’s kind of embarrassing.”

Laine went after Noah Hanifin after the Flames defenceman cross-checked Jets forward Kyle Connor behind the Calgary net, with Tkachuk jumping in soon after.

Hanifin received a minor penalty for cross-checking on the play, while Laine and Tkachuk both picked up roughing minors. Laine has never been assessed a fighting major. 

“It gets the team fired up,” Jets forward Nik Ehlers said of Laine’s actions. “I’ve maybe been a little bit in his head in the last week, saying he hasn’t fought yet and when is it going to happen? I think he took that a little personal. He stood up for his teammate. It fires the guys up. Patty’s a big boy, and he went in there today and showed that. It’s exciting, it gets the boys going, it always does. And he got himself buzzing, too. It’s exciting for us.”

The Jets won’t face the Flames again until Feb. 1, when they will play the first of four consecutive games against Calgary – three of which will be on home ice.

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