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Mailbag: Teams that benefit from pause, players who compare to Forsberg –



Which team do you think will benefit the most if the season starts again? Then who do you think will benefit the least? — @AMatthews1921

The Columbus Blue Jackets and Colorado Avalanche benefit the most. Sorry, I know you asked for one, but I’m copping out and giving two because choosing between them is near impossible. It’s all because of health. Columbus and Colorado were significantly banged up before the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, and each should have close to a full lineup if and when the season returns. We’re talking about significant players back in the lineups too. 

The Blue Jackets will have defenseman Seth Jones and forward Oliver Bjorkstrand back from their ankle injuries. Each is skating, and if the Stanley Cup Playoffs were being played right now, Jones and Bjorkstrand would most likely be in the lineup. Forward Alexandre Texier, who has been out since Dec. 31 because of a lumbar stress fracture, would also most likely be playing. Forward Cam Atkinson, who was dealing with an ankle injury when the season was paused, will certainly be available. It’s also possible defenseman Dean Kukan (knee) will be back. And although it’s not likely that forwards Brandon Dubinsky (wrist) and Josh Anderson (shoulder surgery) will return in time to play this season, the number of skaters who will be back should make Columbus a dangerous opponent. In addition, the Blue Jackets signed goalies Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins each to a two-year contract, giving them peace of mind. 

Video: NYR@CBJ: Merzlikins slides across to stone Zibanejad

The Avalanche were without top-six forwards Nathan MacKinnon (lower body), Mikko Rantanen (upper body), Nazem Kadri (lower body) and Andre Burakovsky (lower body), along with depth forward Matt Calvert (lower body) and goalie Philipp Grubauer (lower body) when the season was paused. Assuming they’re all back, the Avalanche will be healthy, talented and hungry, a trio of ingredients that I think could be enough to get past the St. Louis Blues in the Central Division (Colorado was two points back when season was paused).

I can’t pick a specific team that will not benefit from this pause, but I have written in a previous mailbag that I am leery of some of the older teams in the NHL and how quickly they can bounce back. I’d put the Blues, Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights in that category. Each has a roster with an average age of at least 28 years old. The Blue Jackets’ average age is 26, the Avalanche’s is 27.

Which current player reminds you most of Peter Forsberg? — @DavidDugan77

Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl, Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel, New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad, and Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg.

All five would probably grumble or laugh, or both, if I told them they compare to Peter Forsberg. It’s a high honor to be mentioned in the same breath with a player who averaged 1.25 points per game during an NHL career cut short by injuries. Forsberg scored 825 points (249 goals, 636 assists) in 708 games, won the Calder Trophy (1995), the Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy (each in 2003), and was named an NHL First Team All-Star three times (1998, 1999, 2003). He also won the Stanley Cup twice (1996, 2001) and averaged 1.13 points per game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring 171 points (64 goals, 107 assists) in 151 games. 

Video: Peter Forsberg won two Stanley Cups with Avalanche

But Malkin, Draisaitl, Eichel, Zibanejad and Filip Forsberg all have the type of complete game that Peter Forsberg had in his prime. Their skill is among the best in the NHL. They each have a terrific shot along with a nose for the net. They set up goals with 20/20 vision. They see all the angles. They play with intelligence. They can play with finesse or power. They can play in the defensive zone. 

Among the five, though, Malkin compares most favorably if you look at statistics and awards. He is averaging 1.19 points per game in his NHL career (1,076 points in 907 games), has won the Hart Trophy (2012), the Art Ross Trophy twice (2009, 2012), the Calder Trophy (2007), the Conn Smythe Trophy (2009), and is a three-time Stanley Cup champion (2009, 2016, 2017). He’s also been named an NHL First Team All-Star three times (2008, 2009, 2012). 

But Draisaitl, Eichel, Zibanejad and Filip Forsberg are coming into his prime now. 

Since the start of last season, Draisaitl leads the NHL with 215 points (93 goals, 122 assists) in 153 games (1.41 points per game), Eichel has 160 points (64 goals, 96 assists) in 145 games (1.10 points per game), and Zibanejad has 149 points (71 goals, 78 assists) in 139 games (1.07 points per game). Filip Forsberg has averaged 27.5 goals and 57.8 points per season since 2014-15, including 48 points (21 goals, 27 assists) in 63 games this season.

They’ll probably be uncomfortable if they read this, knowing someone is comparing them to a Hockey Hall of Famer, but Malkin, Draisaitl, Eichel, Zibanejad and Filip Forsberg all deserve the comparison because of how they play the game.

Which Canadian team will be next to bring the Stanley Cup north of the border? It’s been 27 years. How much longer does Canada have to wait? — @theashcity

Canada’s longest drought without a Stanley Cup champion will eventually be broken by the Toronto Maple Leafs. I hesitate to say when it will happen, but they remind me of the Washington Capitals in the early part of the Alex OvechkinNicklas Backstrom era. The Capitals had great individual skill, excellent goaltending, strong coaching, an ownership willing to spend, and a smart management staff. But they were not capable of figuring out how to put it all together as a team. From 2008-17, Washington failed to break through in the playoffs and was eliminated by the Rangers, Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens. Among those five teams, New York and Pittsburgh proved the most trouble, eliminating Washington three times each.  

The Maple Leafs have similar individual talent with forwards Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander, and Frederik Andersen is a reliable goalie. Ownership clearly is not hesitant about spending to the NHL salary cap, and they have a smart management staff which is constantly adapting and embracing new information. But they haven’t found an answer for the Boston Bruins, losing to them in seven games in each of the past two seasons after losing in six games to the Capitals in 2017. The Maple Leafs are still growing, just as the Capitals were during those nine seasons from 2008-17. They are learning lessons from losing, as the Capitals did. Sometimes it just takes time. I don’t think it’ll take Toronto as long as it took Washington, but making that prediction is a setup for failure. The Maple Leafs need to stay the course and keep building, especially at defenseman, and if they do that, I believe they’ll win the Cup for the first time since 1967 and become the first team from Canada to win it since the Canadiens in 1993.

The Flyers are known for trading away talent. What are your thoughts on Carter Hart, his potential and where the Flyers could be in the near future? — @theashcity

A frequent contributor to the mailbag, @theashcity gets another question this week.

I’m not sure that’s what the Flyers are known for. They’re known for being the “Broad Street Bullies.” Although it’s true they have traded away some talented players before they began fulfilling their potential (goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Patrick Sharp immediately come to mind), they’re not alone in that category. Every team has a few trades they wish they never made. 

Specific to Hart, he certainly looks like the real deal to me, the goalie Flyers fans have been waiting for since Ron Hextall in the late 1980s. They didn’t give Bobrovsky enough runway to become the goalie he has become. Roman Cechmanek didn’t last. Neither did Robert Esche. Steve Mason was good, but never quite loved. Martin Biron was solid, but never seemed like the Flyers’ first choice. The same goes for Brian Boucher. Ilya Bryzgalov never lived up to his contract, which is why it was bought out. 

Video: NYR@PHI: Hart robs Panarin with great save

Hart is 21 years old and has played 74 NHL games (70 starts), going 40-26-4 with a 2.59 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. But he looks confident, fearless, and his technique is sound. He looks like he could and should be the No. 1 goalie in Philadelphia for a decade, if not longer. Hart looks like he should be the goalie who leads his team to a Stanley Cup championship, or at least puts them in position to try to win one, similar to Henrik Lundqvist with the Rangers. I say “looks like” only because he’s young and we don’t know for sure how everything will play out, but I’d count on the Flyers keeping him off the trading block, that’s for sure.

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Spurs’ Gregg Popovich: U.S. ‘is in trouble and the basic reason is race’ –



Amid the marches and the protests, amid the pain, amid the generational trauma this moment in history has forced communities across the world to openly reckon with, a spotlight has shone bright on the need to listen and learn.

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich sees that spotlight. He sees that need for learning. And he knows that what must be learnt is not just what is happening in the streets across the United States now, but the history that preceded it. To see one without the other would be to miss the essential full picture.

“Black people have been shouldering this burden for 400 years,” Popovich said Saturday during a #SpursVoices video, a Twitter-based initiative by the team to give a voice and platform to people within their organization to share how racism has impacted them. “The only reason this nation has made the progress that it has is because of the persistence, and patience, and effort of Black people.

“The history of our nation from the very beginning, in many ways, was a lie. And we continue to this day — mostly Black and Brown people — to try to make that lie be truth so that it is no longer a lie.”

In the three-minute video, Popovich does not expand on the specific history he is labeling a lie, though possibilities are not hard to find.

The preamble to the Declaration of Independence, for example, written in 1776, reads “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Pledge of Allegiance, in its original form, read: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” In 1923, the words “the Flag of the United States of America” were added to the beginning of the pledge.

Longstanding notions of all men being created equal with certain unalienable rights, and the U.S. being one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all are challenging to reconcile with history.

The United States had 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow — laws which mandated racial segregation in all public facilities, starting in the 1870s and 1880s, and sought to disenfranchise and remove political and economic gains made by Blacks during the Reconstruction period — and 60 years of “separate but equal,” a legal doctrine that asserted racial segregation did not necessarily violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guaranteed “equal protection” under the law to all people. None of which even begins to address discriminatory housing policies or explicitly touches on the history of Black people suffering from police brutality.

“It’s almost, in a strange counter-intuitive sort of way, the best teaching moment of this most recent tragedy,” Popovich said. “I think [it was] the look on the officer’s face. For white people to see how nonchalant, how casual, how just everyday-going-about-his-job [he looked]. So much so that he could just put his left hand in his pocket, wriggle his knee around a little bit to teach this person some sort of a lesson, and it was his right and his duty to do it in his mind.”

The abhorent incident Popovich is referencing is, of course, the death of George Floyd.

Richard Deitsch and Donnovan Bennett host a podcast about how COVID-19 is impacting sports around the world. They talk to experts, athletes and personalities, offering a window into the lives of people we normally root for in entirely different ways.

Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, died on May 25 in police custody in Minneapolis. The incident, which was captured on video, showed Floyd pinned to the ground with his hands cuffed and Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin – who was identified as the primary officer in the video – with his knee pressed against Floyd’s neck for at least eight minutes.

In the video, Floyd can be heard saying that he couldn’t breathe, and later paramedics are seen lifting an apparently non-responsive Floyd onto a stretcher and into an ambulance.

An independent autopsy has since found that Floyd’s death was caused by asphyxia due to neck and back compression that led to a lack of blood flow to the brain. After the graphic video circulated widely on social media, the four officers involved in the incident were fired and Chauvin was initially charged with third-degree murder. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison upgraded Chauvin’s charge to second-degree murder on Wednesday, and charged the three other officers on the scene with aiding and abetting.

“I don’t know,” Popovich said, visibly hurt by the recollection of the video. “I think I’m just embarrassed as a white person to know that that can happen, to actually watch a lynching. We’ve all seen books. And you look in the books and you see Black people hanging on trees. And you are amazed that we just saw it again. I never thought I’d see that with my own eyes in real time.”

The dismay and outrage Popovich felt has been shared by many, as protests continue across the U.S., sparked by the death of Floyd, denouncing systemic racism and acts of police brutality. The protests have not been for Floyd exclusively, though. Popovich is aware of that, too.

“What’s it gonna take,” he wonders in the video. “Two more Black people with knees in their necks?”

Though she did not die due to a knee in her neck, protests have also featured calls for justice for Breonna Taylor, an African-American woman who died on March 13 after Louisville police officers — executing a search warrant — used a battering ram to enter her apartment and, after a brief confrontation, fired several shots, striking her at least eight times. At this time, no charges have been filed against the officers.

“It’s like the gun [control] arguments,” Popovich said when grappling with how American can build a better, safer future. “How many more Sandy Hooks do we need to have? It’s easy for people to let things go because it doesn’t involve them. It’s like the neighbourhood where you know there’s a dangerous corner, and you know that something is going to happen some day and nobody does anything. Then a young kid gets killed and a stop sign goes up.

“Well, without getting too political, we’ve got a lot of stop signs that need to go up. Quickly. Because our country is in trouble and the basic reason is race.”

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UFC 250 salaries: Amanda Nunes easily tops card, could make $450k – MMA Fighting



Early salaries have been released for the UFC 250 card, and Amanda Nunes is the biggest earner out of the gate.

The two-division champ take home a guaranteed $350,000 and stands to make up to $450,000 if she defends her featherweight title against Felicia Spencer, who could make $200,000 with an upset, according to preliminary salaries released by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

Ex-bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt is the second-highest earner in terms of guaranteed money, making $130,000 to show – and double that for a win – in a bout against Raphael Assuncao, who’s show and win pay is $79,000.

Here is the full list of UFC 250 payouts. As always, these figures do not represent a fighter’s total earnings, as certain sponsorship incomes, pay-per-view bonuses, or discretionary post-fight bonuses are not publicly disclosed.

Main card (ESPN+ pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)

Amanda Nunes ($350,000 to show, $100,000 to win) vs. Felicia Spencer ($125,000 to show, $75,000 to win)

Raphael Assuncao ($79,000 to show, $79,000 to win) vs. Cody Garbrandt ($130,000 to show, $130,000 to win)

Aljamain Sterling ($76,000 to show, $76,000 to win) vs. Cory Sandhagen ($80,000 to show, $80,000 to win)

Neil Magny ($79,000 to show, $79,000 to win) vs. Rocco Martin ($48,000 to show, $48,000 to win)

Sean O’Malley ($40,000 to show, $40,000 to win) vs. Eddie Wineland ($46,000 to show, $46,000 to win)

Preliminary Card (ESPN and ESPN +, 8 p.m. ET)

Chase Hooper ($27,000 to show, $27,000 to win) vs. Alex Caceres ($58,000 to show, $58,000 to win)

Gerald Meerschaert ($33,000 to show, $33,000 to win) vs. Ian Heinisch ($40,000 to show, $40,000 to win)

Cody Stamann ($36,000 to show, $36,000 to win) vs. Brian Kelleher ($33,000 to show, $33,000 to win)

Charles Byrd ($12,000 to show, $12,000 to win) vs. Maki Pitolo ($10,000 to show, $10,000 to win)

Early Preliminary Card (ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)

Jussier Formiga ($49,000 to show, $49,000 to win) vs. Alex Perez ($40,000 to show, $40,000 to win)

Alonzo Menifield ($14,000 to show, $14,000 to win) vs. Devin Clark ($48,000 to show, $48,000 to win)

Evan Dunham ($60,000 to show, $60,000 to win) vs. Herbert Burns ($12,000 to show, $12,000 to win)

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NBPA approves 22-team format to resume NBA season –



The National Basketball Players Association has signed off on the 22-team, return-to-play format for the NBA, the union announced in a statement Friday.

The NBPA said its Board of Player Representatives has approved further negotiations on the plan with the league and various details still need to be hashed out.

“The acceptance of the scenario would still require that all parties reach agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play,” the statement reads.

The league’s Board of Governors approved the proposal for restarting the 2019-20 season on Thursday. The plan would see the campaign resume next month at the Disney campus near Orlando, Fla.

The Athletic‘s Shams Charania reports that other aspects of the return-to-play plan were discussed by the NBPA on a call with its Board and Player Representatives on Friday afternoon, including:

• Two to three exhibition tilts before the regular season

• A maximum of 1,600 people on the Disney World campus

• Daily COVID-19 testing and a minimum seven-day quarantine if a player is found positive

• The NBA will continue to play if a player contracts the novel coronavirus

• Players and family must stay inside the bubble

• Potential manufactured crowd noise using NBA 2K video game sound

• A proposed 35-person travel party limit

• Potential three-hour practice windows for teams

• No blood tests in Orlando for substances that fall under the league’s anti-drug policy.

The NBPA reportedly also said players will receive their full paycheques after taking a 25 per cent reduction in May.

Additionally, Charania reports that the union told players a Dec. 1 start to the ’20-21 campaign is “unlikely” and it plans to negotiate the date.

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