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NBA, NBPA plan is good first step, but players can’t shoulder burden alone – Sportsnet.ca

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You never know how much leverage you have until you use it. Sometimes you never know you’re about to make history until you’re part of it.

Turns out NBA players have plenty of leverage and will forever be remembered for using it.

When the Milwaukee Bucks arrived for the 4 p.m. tip of Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, they likely had no idea they were standing at the precipice of what could be a watershed moment for North American sports and – maybe? – the modern civil rights movement.

They just felt like something had to be done. That the police shooting of Jacob Blake in a small city not far from Milwaukee couldn’t come and go. That they had to turn his trauma and theirs into something that mattered.

So they didn’t play and the rest of sports followed suit, eventually.

Sports went dark to remind us that Black Lives Matter, as a spur to have us recognize that the slogan should prompt action.

By that measure, the athlete-driven action has worked spectacularly. Instead of pre-game shows and half-time panels, sports fans tuned into conversations that were vital and important, even if they might have been uncomfortable for some.

But here’s the thing when trying to exert maximum leverage, when conducting a physics experiment in real time with the world watching and some portion – some even in the highest office in the Western World – hoping you fail:

Load up that lever too much trying to move that metaphorical boulder, and it snaps.

The boulder remains as it ever was and you’re left with no leverage, trying to pick yourself up, having underestimated the task and over-played your hand.

Based on reports from Walt Disney World Resort, that seems to be the basis of some of the frustration within the player ranks about the ad hoc nature of the Bucks independently refusing to play their game on Wednesday.

The Bucks walked out spontaneously and seemingly without a plan, raising questions that have needed answers on the fly: On what basis does the league return to play? For what gains? And for what cause would you walk out again?

Now we know. As high profile as NBA players are, they were never going to do this without help. By halting play temporarily they got the owners to the table and emerged Friday afternoon with a workable three-point plan with potential to make change now and in the future.

They earned a commitment from the league and from owners to formalize their pursuit of social justice by way of a multi-party coalition; they secured a promise to have the owners back something as actionable as using team facilities for voter registration and polling; and an agreement to have social justice messages front-and-centre on playoff broadcasts.

It’s a win and it allows play to resume with a sense that committing to finishing the 2019-20 season will be about more than basketball-related revenue or personal glory.

Now, after the most tumultuous 48 hours we’ve arguably ever seen in sports, the NBA season is ready to resume (again) and the rest of sports will too.

There’s no doubt that they’ve achieved a ‘reset’ as one NBA veteran put it – a reminder that part of the purpose of playing through a pandemic was to keep front and centre the systemic inequality of which violent encounters with police are perhaps the most visible of many symptoms.

Making this bigger than the 200 or so players in the bubble was vital.

It was heart-wrenching to listen to Raptors Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and Pascal Siakam speak about the soul-searching they were forced to go through after the video of the Blake shooting began to circulate.

Listening to their stories also proved to be valuable because it spoke to some of the unfairness of the situation that they felt like they had to speak.

Trying to shift the weight of generations of inequality is not something the NBA or NBA players should have to shoulder alone.

The last two times NBA players raised the possibility of a boycott or – in the Bucks’ case – a strike, the problems they were trying to solve were finite; they existed within the league’s known universe. At the 1964 All-Star Game it was pension rights; in 2014 it was to demand the ouster of then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling. On both occasions, solutions were at hand and gains won.

This time it’s almost as if the players are on the dark side of the moon now trying to navigate a distant, uncharted solar system.

That they are trying means they have earned admiration and respect and very likely a place in history alongside athletic icons of the 1960s-era civil rights movement.

But eventually – and sooner is better than later – they need to be unburdened, or at least the burden needs to be shared.

The Bucks, after all, can ask for the Wisconsin state Republican-held legislature to reconvene to pass a police reform bill first tabled by Democratic governor Tony Evers in June, but they’ll have difficulty making it happen.

The unfortunate likely reality is – given the polarized political climate in some parts of the U.S., Wisconsin among them – the notion that a group of wealthy Black athletes trying to force the hand of Republican lawmakers might only embolden those legislators to hold firm to appeal to their voting base.

So in some ways the mountain remains Everest-like in scale in some corners of the league.

Owners of the Orlando Magic, Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs are all high-profile Republicans and have supported Donald Trump in the past.

The structures that have perpetuated systemic inequality – in the U.S. in particular – are deeply rooted and can almost certainly only be changed incrementally – likely over years and multiple election cycles.

So it’s not fair to expect only the players to use their platform for social justice.

Had players decided to walk away from the 2019-20 season, it would have severely damaged league revenues for this season and likely caused the current CBA to be torn up, most likely requiring players to negotiate a new one from a distinct disadvantage.

Striking against the league or owners hurts the players disproportionately given they share league revenues evenly with ownership, but the owners – all wealthy before they ever bought a team – split their half 30 ways while the players split theirs 450 ways, and have a brief window in their lives to do so.

And the issues prompting the walkout aren’t going away, sad as it is to say. The killing of George Floyd and maiming of Blake won’t be the last time police use lethal force against an unarmed Black person. Although data is incomplete, some estimates suggest there were 235 such instances in the U.S. in 2019.

When another video surfaces next week or next month or next year, what happens then?

Can play continue? Should it?

It’s not a choice the players should have to make by themselves.

This cohort of NBA players have done their share and seem determined to make their voice heard and their influence count.

But it’s not their job to reverse generations of history and certainly not theirs alone. They can’t be expected to stop working every time tragedy strikes or be the only source of leadership on the issues that give rise to them.

Using this walkout to earn promised support from the league is an important step, but there is more to be done and over a long horizon.

They deserve massive credit this time around for having leaned into the task, but they need a giant lever with many hands on it to move mountains.

When they return to play and we start watching again, that’s what needs to be remembered above all.

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Lightning’s Stamkos returns, scores in Game 3 of Cup Final vs. Stars – Sportsnet.ca

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Steven Stamkos is back.

The Tampa Bay Lightning captain is playing his first NHL game since February as he returns to the ice for Game 3 of the team’s Stanley Cup Final matchup with the Dallas Stars on Wednesday.

And in his third shift of the game, Stamkos buried a goal over the blocker of Stars goalie Anton Khudobin. Stamkos took a pass in the neutral zone from Victor Hedman, glided into the Stars’ zone and sniped a shot past Khudobin to lift Tampa Bay to a 2-0 lead in the first period.

Stamkos had yet to suit up in the 2020 post-season, suffering an injury before the Lightning reconvened from the season pause to begin training. The centreman’s last game came on Feb. 25 — amid a 15-game, 22-point scoring streak — after having core muscle surgery. 210 days have passed since then. The 30-year-old finished the campaign with 66 points across 57 games.

The Cup Final is level at one game apiece after the Lightning’s 3-2 win over the Stars on Monday.

Watch Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT on Sportsnet and SN NOW.

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Craig Anderson’s time in Ottawa comes to an end – TSN

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A few minutes into Wednesday’s video conference call with reporters, Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion mentioned the club would not be offering a contract extension to veteran goalie Craig Anderson.

It was a low-key, modest announcement – almost a throwaway nugget of information in a session dominated by talk of the upcoming NHL Draft and the opening of free agency.

But in a strange twist, it was the perfect exit for the netminder who never sought the limelight of the No. 1 goalie job in a Canadian market. The 39-year-old would not have wanted a splashy farewell press conference or an emotional goodbye with fans and media.

At some point, Anderson should get an opportunity to re-connect with the Ottawa fan base for an emotional evening. His Senators resume, which boasts more than 400 games and 200 wins, has certainly etched his name as a future addition to the club’s Ring of Honour inside Canadian Tire Centre.

But beyond the dominating statistical profile – which includes virtually every meaningful goalie record in franchise history – Anderson singlehandedly transformed the way Ottawa fans viewed the position in their own market

Prior to Anderson’s arrival, Senators fans often felt nervous about their situation in the crease. Ottawa had earned the reputation of being a goalie graveyard – a place where netminders melted under the pressure of playing in a hockey-mad market.

There was Patrick Lalime’s infamous Game 7 meltdown against Toronto.

The ill-advised, splashy free agent signing of Martin Gerber.

The tumultuous tenure of Ray Emery.

The injury-plagued career of Pascal Leclaire.

Even Stanley Cup-winning goalies such as Tom Barrasso and Dominik Hasek couldn’t seem to shake the curse.

Ottawa was a place that offered job security for public service workers, not goaltenders.

But when Bryan Murray pulled off a trade in February of 2011, sending Brian Elliott – himself a victim of Ottawa’s haunted crease – to Colorado for Anderson, all of that changed. 

In many ways, Anderson’s departure from Ottawa was as understated as his arrival.

Murray brought in Anderson for a test drive – hoping that he could convince the pending free agent to sign with the Senators before hitting the market in the summer of 2011.

Anderson immediately endeared himself to Ottawa fans, posting a 47-save shutout in Toronto on a Saturday night in his first start in a Senators jersey.

Anderson sparkled in his first stint with the Senators down the stretch of the 2010-11 campaign, with an 11-5-1 record and a .939 save percentage. Some fans grumbled that Anderson’s stellar play in that run cost the club the first-overall draft pick – ultimately dropping them down to the sixth spot.

But in hindsight, that was a small price to pay to land a franchise goalie.

For almost a decade, Anderson was the epitome of cool and calm in a tumultuous environment that would have tested the mental resolve of any netminder. While the roster was overhauled around him multiple times, Anderson never once publicly demanded a trade to a better situation, even as veteran teammates were being jettisoned all around him.

Anderson was at his best in the playoffs, establishing himself as a reliable postseason netminder. In 41 career playoff games with Ottawa, he boasted a .928 save percentage – a metric that should have earned him more than just one trip to the conference final.

He held his own in playoff series against the likes of Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist – goalies with Hall of Fame resumes who made nearly double what Anderson was being paid.

Even when his team would lose a playoff series with Anderson in net – and they did on four different occasions – nobody pointed a finger at the goaltending position. It was a stark departure from the previous playoff meltdowns in Ottawa, where the No. 1 goalie was often the prime culprit.

But when Ottawa fans think of Anderson’s signature performance with the club, their minds don’t immediately jump to a high-stakes playoff game.

Instead, most Ottawa fans remember the night of Oct. 30, 2016, when Anderson posted a 37-save shutout against the Edmonton Oilers. With the hockey world aware that his wife, Nicholle, was battling cancer, Anderson turned aside every Edmonton shot during the game – then had to turn aside tears as he was feted by the Edmonton crowd afterwards.

The image of his Oilers counterpart Cam Talbot cheering him on the bench remains one of the most powerful moments in Senators history.

Anderson authored so many memorable moments in the blue paint in Ottawa, but none come close to having the impact of that singular start in Edmonton four years ago.

In the months that followed, Anderson cemented his status as a fan favourite – ultimately taking the Senators to double-overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against Pittsburgh that spring.

You would be hard-pressed to find a Senators fan who put any blame on Anderson for the Chris Kunitz game-winning goal, which serves as a firm reminder of how far the pendulum has swung when it comes to goaltending in Ottawa.

Before Anderson came along, it would have been unfathomable for the Senators to suffer a crippling Game 7 loss without a significant share of the blame landing on the goaltender’s shoulders.

But over the course of a decade Anderson managed to change the narrative on goaltending in Ottawa –  a feat that is more impressive than anything on his goaltending resume.

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Lightning, Stars resume punishing Stanley Cup Final as Stamkos nears return – Sportsnet.ca

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Steven Stamkos has been out so long, there’s probably a “believe it when I see it” element to his potential return for fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The coach of the Dallas Stars, however, is operating on the assumption No. 91 could be cocking his stick from the top of the circle any moment now.

“I bumped into him the other day in the hallway,” Stars bench boss Rick Bowness said with a chuckle before Wednesday night’s Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. “When I see him walking out to the ice surface in full gear, I know where he’s going and he can’t be that far away [from playing]. We’re prepared.”

From the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the Stanley Cup Final, livestream every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, blackout-free, on Sportsnet NOW.

Tampa coach Jon Cooper said his team’s captain is “inching closer” to skating in his first NHL game since Feb. 25. While acknowledging a lot would go into Stamkos’s return in terms of shaking the rust, Cooper also emphasized the obvious: Put a two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner back in the lineup and it’s bound to move the needle.

“He’s a threat,” Cooper said. “So he’s just another thing for a team to think about when he’s out there. Whether that’s on the power play or five-on-five, you get another player who, if the puck gets on his stick in the offensive zone, it might go in the net.”

Preventing the Bolts from scoring in Game 3 could actually get easier for the Stars. Regardless of whether or not Stamkos comes back, Dallas will be the home team for the first time in the 1-1 series, giving Bowness the last-change advantage of lining up his preferred defence pair against whoever Tampa is throwing at him.

“We’ve always put more emphasis on getting the right D out there [compared to matching forward lines],” Bowness said. “Some of these matchup decisions are based on score, time on the clock, if you need a goal you put your offensive guys out. A lot of factors come into play, but the constant one will be getting the right ‘D’ out there against the top lines.”

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One person Bowness hopes can become a tougher defensive matchup for the other squad is his leading goal-scorer from the regular season, Denis Gurianov. The 23-year-old Russian — though still second on the team with nine playoff goals — has hit the net just once in his past 10 outings. He played fewer than 11 minutes in Game 1 and just over 13 in Game 2.

“Nervous,” is how Bowness assessed Gurianov’s play from the most recent contest. “He was nervous.”

When people aren’t speculating about the possibility of a Stamkos sighting, much of the talk through two games has been on how punishing the series has been as both games featured over 100 hits apiece. Early in Game 2, superstar Tampa right winger Nikita Kucherov took a couple of serious knocks before setting up a pair of goals in his side’s 3-2 win. Dallas’s Blake Comeau was rocked by Ryan McDonagh in the second period and did not return. Bowness said Comeau is a game-time decision for Wednesday’s tilt.

Tampa’s Tyler Johnson was asked if the suppressed existence everyone is experiencing with bubble life could be contributing to the nastier scene once the puck drops, as the teams kick off a particularly gruelling stretch of three games in four nights.

“I think everyone is [feeling] couped up a little bit, so you let your anger out on the ice,” Johnson said, perhaps only slightly kidding. “Going into this, I think a lot of people [were wondering] what the playoff hockey would be like: I think the questions have been answered that the guys are competing and working hard and it’s been physical and guys are doing everything they can to win.”

Few in the league have a longer history of mixing it up when it matters most than Dallas veteran Corey Perry. Back in the Final for the first time since winning a ring with the Ducks in 2007, Perry had no trouble identifying the root of the acrimony.

“We’re battling for the Stanley Cup — plain and simple,” he said. “Nobody is going to give you any room on the ice, you’re going to have to earn it. They’ve been here before and we have some guys in our room who have been here before, so we know what it takes as well.”

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