While details still need to be sorted out within Canada about where each team will be able to play, we now know where the NHL hopes everyone plays when the puck drops for the 2020-21 season on Jan. 13.
The league released its full 56-game schedule for every team on Wednesday, and it’s all supposed to wrap up on Saturday, May 8, with the playoffs starting a few days later. There is a minimum of one game every night between the start and end of the season, and there will be more than that played on every night but four.
We know that the opening night plan is to feature five games: Toronto-Montreal, Edmonton-Vancouver, Colorado-St. Louis, Pittsburgh-Philadelphia, and Chicago-Tampa Bay, where the defending champion Lightning will raise their banner.
Every game this season will, of course, be played only within the realigned divisions, which are as follows:
East: Boston-Buffalo-New Jersey-NY Islanders-NY Rangers-Philadelphia-Pittsburgh-Washington
Central: Carolina-Chicago-Columbus-Detroit-Florida-Dallas-Nashville-Tampa Bay
West: Anaheim-Arizona-Colorado-Minnesota-Los Angeles-Vegas-San Jose-St. Louis
At the end of the regular season, the top four teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs. The first two rounds will be best-of-7 series to play out of your division, leaving one “champion” from each grouping. Those teams will be re-seeded from 1-4 based on regular season points, and then a best-of-7 semifinal will lead to a best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final. The Eastern and Western Conferences are of no consequence this season.
The 2021 schedule is also unlike any we’ve seen before. Here are some things you should know about how it looks:
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 22, 2020
THE ‘BASEBALL-STYLE’ SCHEDULE IS CONFIRMED
To limit travel between cities, when a visitor comes in they aren’t only there for one game. You’ll see a lot of two-game road trips now, but not necessarily on back-to-back nights. Having two games in three days will be a regular occurrence.
And, in fact, there are a number of situations where one team will fly into a city for a two-game series, then fly home and play that same team twice more for a four-game home-and-home.
This idea of a “baseball-style” schedule had been assumed for some time. In Major League Baseball, it is normal to play the same team three or four days in a row to get a 162-game season in over the summer. The NHL doesn’t have quite that much of a crunch, but has aligned the schedule in such a way that the same teams will play against one another for four games in a row on occasion. Anaheim and Los Angeles find themselves against each other five times in a row from April 20-May 1.
There are a few instances where the same teams will play each other three times in a row, and in the same destination. For example, the Toronto Maple Leafs will host the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 4, 6 and 8, and Ottawa on Feb. 15, 17 and 18. Similarly, Vancouver will host Calgary on Feb. 11, 13 and 15, Montreal will host Edmonton on March 22, 24 and 26, and Calgary hosts Winnipeg on March 26, 27 and 29.
CANADIAN TEAMS FACING EACH OTHER 10 TIMES
In a 56-game schedule for a seven-team division, the games can’t completely be split evenly. Each team will matchup against four of its divisional rivals nine times, and will face the other two rivals 10 times.
The NHL did a great job making sure all the best rivalries are given to us the most.
Here is the breakdown of how often each Canadian Division team will play against one another:
The first all-Canadian division in NHL history is set to deliver more than triple the number of all-Canadian matchups versus the usual 82-game schedule (196 in 2020-21 vs. 58 scheduled in 2019-20).#NHLStats: https://t.co/hkOXa1arei pic.twitter.com/UVa2hnNkuJ
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 23, 2020
SAN JOSE’S LONG ROAD TRIP TO START THE SEASON
Due to local health regulations, the San Jose Sharks won’t be able to access SAP Center for the next while, and will host their training camp at the Ice Den in Scottsdale, Ariz. It’s too early to tell when they’d be allowed back into their home arena again, and the NHL built more time for that to get sorted into the Sharks’ schedule by starting them on an eight-game road trip.
But the won’t begin far from where they’re doing training camp, playing in Arizona against the Coyotes for the first two games. From there, the Sharks will go to St. Louis, Minnesota and Colorado — playing each of them twice — before their first home game shows up on Feb. 1 against Vegas.
In all, twelve of San Jose’s first 14 games are on the road, and their second home series isn’t scheduled until Feb. 13. Hopefully by either of those dates it will be safe enough to play in Santa Clara county. If not, though, the Sharks are considering backup plans.
“There’s a couple potential options that we’ve been exploring, just like we were exploring for training camp,” GM Doug Wilson said earlier this week. “Could be a hub city. Could be us playing in another NHL city for a while.”
The dreaded games on back-to-back days. In this compact schedule, fatigue will be a factor when you’re averaging one game roughly every other day. So each team’s back-to-back situation is of note, especially since it’ll be harder to start the same goalie for each one.
The Sharks lead the way with the most back-to-back situations, a total of 12 on the season. Edmonton and Ottawa have the most in the Canadian division with 11 each, while Vancouver has the least among the Canadian clubs with just seven. The fewest back-to-back situations of any team in the league are the six for Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers.
Via Sportsnet Stats, here is the full breakdown of back-to-backs:
San Jose: 12
St. Louis: 10
Los Angeles: 10
NY Islanders: 8
New Jersey: 7
Tampa Bay: 6
NY Rangers: 6
MAXIMUM NUMBER OF GAMES ON LAST TWO SATURDAYS
In a 31-team league, the most games you can have on one day is, of course, 15. Over the course of this coming season, that doesn’t happen as much as you may think, but the two times we will get treated to max hockey land is right in the thick of playoff hunt.
If all goes according to plan, Saturday May 1 and 8 will be the only two days where 15 games will occur around the league. Those are the last two Saturdays of the regular season, and May 8 is the final day of the regular season.
Hockey Night in Canada was already circled on your calendar, but maybe circle these last two again and again. Playoff spots will be on the line and those last two Saturdays will include matchups like Toronto-Vancouver and Toronto-Montreal, Edmonton-Calgary on both days, Pittsburgh-Washington, Boston-NY Rangers, and Philadelphia-Washington.
As Jets build foundation, comeback win over Senators an important step – Sportsnet.ca
WINNIPEG — When it comes to building this foundation, the Winnipeg Jets are going to need to spend a bit more time tightening the screws.
Becoming a more defensively-conscious and detail-oriented team was never going to be an overnight process for this group, but Tuesday’s rousing comeback from a two-goal deficit could represent an important step in that process.
No, this wasn’t a defensive clinic by any stretch of the imagination, but the Jets stuck with it after falling behind 3-1, scored with the goalie on the bench in favour of an extra attacker with 77 seconds left to play and then earned the bonus point when Andrew Copp sent Nikolaj Ehlers in all alone on Matt Murray during the three-on-three session.
Instead of having to listen to the outside noise that comes with a two-game losing streak even if the season is just three games old, the Jets earned a 4-3 overtime triumph over the Ottawa Senators and quickly changed the tone of the narrative.
“That’s the most important piece for any team, that the score on the clock doesn’t dictate your effort level, your compete level. Maybe more important than all of it is your belief,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “That’s the foundation that’s most important to our team — build that belief that the next shift can be better, the next game can be better… that you’re always giving yourself a chance to win.
“Those comeback wins, the late comeback wins, have a really nice impact on your team, right? You carry those for a number of games, you always feel that you have a chance.”
The Jets and Senators meet again on Thursday at Canadian Tire Centre as Winnipeg wraps up a three-game swing and the two clubs play for the second time in this three-game mini-series.
Somewhat surprisingly, given his speed and skill set, it was the first overtime winner of Ehlers’ career.
Or was it?
Not so fast, says Ehlers, dipping into his memory bank while tossing in a side order of humour for good measure.
“My first year here, an own goal against Colorado,” Ehlers deadpanned during the post-game Zoom session.
Putting one into the proper net instead of sneaking an intended pass past an unsuspecting Michael Hutchinson back on Nov. 12 of 2016 brought a smile to Ehlers’ face.
“Personally, it’s obviously very nice to not just get one in OT but get the first of the year,” said Ehlers. “The team, we battled our asses off to stay in the game and get a chance to get the tying goal.”
Even one point was far from a certainty for the Jets after giving up a pair of power-play goals (one from Josh Norris, his first NHL marker, and another from Alex Galchenyuk) and an even-strength redirection from Chris Tierney before the game was 32 minutes old.
To that point, Adam Lowry had the lone marker for the Jets and his line with Mason Appleton and Copp was one of the only groups generating much offensive-zone time or pressure.
But Maurice got out the blender for the second time in as many nights — and this shake-up got the desired result.
After reuniting Kyle Connor on the top line with frequent linemates Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, the Jets produced an offensive spark.
“That’s our safe place,” said Maurice.
Thanks to a power-play marker from Connor (which was set up brilliantly by Wheeler), the Jets made it a one-goal game going into the second intermission.
Connor is up to three goals in three games — and he could easily be at five (or more), given the looks he’s had.
“He hasn’t had a lot go for him around the net,” said Maurice. “With the chances he’s generated or getting, he could have twice (as many goals of) what he has. Kyle is scratching the surface here. He hasn’t been lucky here in his start and he’s putting up great numbers.”
Then with the goalie on the bench in favour of an extra attacker, Josh Morrissey ripped a shot from the point through a double screen and it was tipped in by Wheeler with 1:17 left in regulation.
That set the stage for Ehlers’ heroics.
“He can be so dangerous, such a dynamic player late in a game,” said Maurice. “Just the speed to get into that hole and make the play that finishes it. We need him. We need him to feel confident and healthy and strong — and when he is, he’s so very dynamic.”
The most stable part of the foundation for the Jets to this point has been goaltending — and that should not come as much of a surprise, given that the reigning Vezina Trophy winner is on the roster.
After giving up three goals in the opening period against the Calgary Flames, Connor Hellebuyck has been brilliant over the next five periods and change, allowing only two markers in the next 50 shots that he faced.
Were it not for the brilliant play of Hellebuyck during the second period on Monday against the Maple Leafs, the Jets would have been blown out instead of having a chance in a game they really had no business being in.
Jets backup Laurent Brososit held up his end of the bargain on Tuesday, turning aside 16 of 18 shots on goal in the first period and finishing with 38 saves against the Senators.
Last season was a challenging one for Brossoit, but this performance was one he can build on.
Sometimes, all a backup needs to do is give his team a chance to win.
In others, stealing the game is required.
This one probably falls somewhere in the middle of those two categories.
“Very hard worker, very dedicated. He’s a guy that’s always prepared, that’s the best way to describe (Brossoit),” said Wheeler. “When his number gets called, you know you’re going to get a great performance from him because he just works so hard in between starts. He prepares his body and his mind, and I just think he’s always ready.
“We’re very fortunate that we have a goalie with (Hellebuyck) that can man a pretty great and strenuous workload, but even more fortunate — especially in a season like this — to have a guy like (Brossoit) ready to step up when his number’s called, when he might not get as many starts as he’s capable of handling.”
Entering the busiest stretch of the season, with six games over the span of nine nights, the Jets weren’t icing an optimal lineup — not with defencemen Dylan DeMelo (birth of his child) and Tucker Poolman (COVID Protocol Related Absence) back home in Winnipeg and forward Patrik Laine sidelined after suffering an upper-body injury that has him officially listed as day-to-day.
That’s a reason, not an excuse for the loose coverage and slow pace that was evident in the Jets’ play during a 3-1 defeat to the Maple Leafs on Monday.
After another slow start, it would have been easy for things to go sideways for the Jets on Tuesday.
Rather than get bogged down and frustrated, the Jets dug in and found a way to elevate their collective level of play.
“We were a way better team tonight,” said Wheeler. “Score wasn’t quite indicative of that, but we watched some video (Tuesday) morning, it wasn’t the way we want to play the game. It didn’t really fit into the type of culture we’ve established here in Winnipeg. Staying connected on the ice, helping each other out, giving each other easy outs, just those little things that make the game easier for everyone. We were much better in that area tonight, I think we felt good about where we stood in the game, kept clawing our way back and got some big plays at key times.”
One of the oddities for the Jets so far is that despite holding a record of 2-1, they haven’t actually played a single second of hockey with the lead.
Yet, thanks to a pair of comebacks that required overtime, the Jets have been able to bank four of a possible six points.
Chasing the game is not a recipe for success that can be sustained, though having the ability to rally is something the Jets will certainly look to build on as they continue the process of trying to build a stable foundation.
“We have some things we can work on,” said Ehlers. “We haven’t had the best starts to our games, obviously, that’s something we’re trying to change.
“But it shows that we don’t give up. If you’ve watched the games, you can see that. We find ways and we work hard to stay in the game and give ourselves a chance to get that tying goal and get ourselves some points.”
Toronto Blue Jays flex financial muscle to secure George Springer, the player they wanted all along – TSN
TORONTO — There was a time, not so long ago, that it would be hard to envision the Toronto Blue Jays as off-season heavyweights in the American League East.
Usually, the big splashes were reserved for the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, with the Jays just happy to pick through the leftovers, hoping to win 85 games and make a surprise run.
Not so much anymore.
For the second year in a row, general manager Ross Atkins and the Mark Shapiro-led front office have made a huge splash, one that will not only change the dynamic of the AL postseason race in 2021, but the way the franchise is viewed in the all-important lens that is the “power player” landscape.
They may not be the Evil Empire, but a strong player development system and a newfound ability to flex their financial muscle is both resonating with free agents and leaving the traditional AL East powerhouses with something to think about.
Thirteen months ago it was $80 million for Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Late Tuesday night, Atkins followed through on the front office’s promise to spend this winter by going the extra mile to secure the services of George Springer for the next six years, handing the 31-year-old centre fielder the biggest contract in franchise history at $25 million per year for a total of $150 million.
Anyone still doubting whether the Shapiro regime will spend Rogers’ money to win ballgames has all the proof they need, and there’s expected to be another payroll level coming next winter as the Jays are, philosophically, a year behind the Chicago White Sox and San Diego Padres’ all-in efforts this winter.
“A part of (last year’s) plan was this off-season and nothing has changed about that plan and our ability to make this team better, even with going through the pandemic,” Atkins said at the outset of the off-season. “We obviously realize that the best way to recovery and getting back to full steam is winning. We are united on that front.”
The contention window is fully open and the Jays are expected to pour significant resources into building a winner around the young, cheap core of Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio.
Springer fits perfectly into that puzzle.
As far back as a year ago, it was obvious centre field was not only a hole on the big-league roster, but within the organization, and they’d likely be on the hunt for an outside solution.
Springer, who the Astros took 11th overall in 2011, has a seven-season history of consistent production — trash cans or no trash cans — and can get on base at an above average clip, something the Jays front office has coveted.
The blueprint they used to lure Springer was the exact same as Ryu: Add an extra year at market value and force the player to say no to more money and term than he’d find anywhere else.
As usual, that didn’t happen.
With a career .270/.361/.491 slash line, 174 career homers and centre field defence that has graded out as above average in three of the past four seasons (per Defensive Runs Saved), Springer simply helps round out what could be one of the most potent lineups in the American League.
In 2020, the Jays already finished eighth in baseball in runs scored, crossing the plate 4.9 times per game.
Insert Springer’s power and his 11.1 per cent career walk rate into the middle of that lineup — or at the very top because he’s spent the majority of his Astros career leading off — and it suddenly becomes even more of a problem and a top five offence in baseball is not out of the question.
An outfield of Teoscar Hernandez, Springer and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. would give the Jays the Nos. 12, 13 and 15 outfielders in baseball if ordered by wRC+ at 146, 146 and 138, respectively.
If you’re not familiar with that stat, just know that 100 is a league average offensive output, so the Jays would have some serious outfield pop and production on their hands.
The odd man out would clearly seem to be Randal Grichuk, but there are ways to find him at-bats as a fourth outfielder if that’s what it comes to.
The more likely scenario now is that one of Gurriel or Hernandez is used as trade bait to upgrade a rotation that’s currently Ryu, maybe Nate Pearson for a innings-capped half-season, and then a grab bag of Robbie Ray, Ross Stripling, Tanner Roark and unprovens.
The lineup is postseason calibre, but the rotation decidedly is not.
Overall, however, the talent accumulated by the Jays through various means over the last few years now looks like a carefully manicured plan that has left them in an enviable position.
“We feel that we’re on a good path towards having one of the stronger rosters in baseball,” Atkins said. “We’re not there yet, but we’ve made some steps towards that.”
And with pitchers and catchers scheduled to report next month around Feb. 18, the Jays aren’t done, either.
Impact in the rotation, more bullpen depth, and a versatile infielder who can handle second base, third base or both are all still on the shopping list.
But no matter who they end up with from here, patience has paid off for the Blue Jays and for the second straight winter they were able to close on a marquee free agent target.
McIlroy hoping for ‘close to normal’ Ryder Cup
(Reuters) – Rory McIlroy said he is hopeful that a near-capacity crowd will be able to attend the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in September.
McIlroy said organizers had made the right call by deciding not to stage the event without fans last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m excited for the Ryder Cup,” McIlroy told the European Tour’s website.
“Hopefully, with how the vaccine is being rolled out, we are starting to see some light at the end the tunnel with this pandemic.
“It may not be the full, full capacity that a Ryder Cup usually is, but hopefully it will be very close to what a normal Ryder Cup is and I am excited for that.”
McIlroy, who is playing at the Abu Dhabi Championship this week, said he was in a good frame of mind.
“I’m raring to go after the Christmas break, I’ve done some good practice and you come into the new season with renewed optimism and a lot of goals,” McIlroy said. “I guess that has translated into some good golf here.
“I keep getting myself into contention and someone goes out and has a really good Sunday but I need to take the initiative and have one of those really good Sundays myself to get over the line.”
The Ryder Cup will be held from Sept. 24-26.
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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