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Patriots in unfamiliar spot entering off-season of unknowns – Sportsnet.ca

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For the first time in three years, the Patriots won’t enter the off-season following a Super Bowl appearance.

Now the franchise that has hoisted six Lombardi trophies faces questions it has rarely had to address during its run of success over the past two decades.

Tom Brady’s future in New England is the biggest unknown. The 42-year-old quarterback says it’s unlikely he will retire, but also acknowledged following Saturday’s 20-13 wild-card loss to Tennessee that nothing is certain regarding where he could suit up next season.

“I love the Patriots. I mean, they obviously — this is the greatest organization. Playing for Mr. (Robert) Kraft all these years and for coach (Bill) Belichick, there’s nobody that’s had a better career, I would say, than me,” Brady said. “I don’t know what the future looks like and I’m not going to predict it.”

Belichick said there was no timeline on making a decision on Brady, but conceded the six-time Super Bowl champions’ situation is unique.

“Everybody’s situation is different,” Belichick said. “Certainly, Tom is an iconic figure in this organization. And nobody respects Tom more than I do.”

Meanwhile, the futures of several players that made up the core of the Patriots’ most recent run of Super Bowl also are up in the air.

The list includes safety Devin McCourty special teams captain Matt Slater, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and offensive lineman Joe Thuney. Multiple teams are also expected to take another run at luring away offensive co-ordinator Josh McDaniels.

Van Noy said Sunday that where he plays football 2020 has crossed his mind.

“Of course. If I told you I didn’t, I’d be lying,” he said. “But right now, this is sit back and wait, get better in the off-season — which I’ve done each and every year. This time is gonna be nothing different.”

Following an 8-0 start, the Patriots lost four of their final five games to end the season. It’s an uncharacteristic finish for a team that had reached at least the AFC championship in each of the previous eight seasons.

“Certainly, when the season doesn’t end the way that you want it to, it is like a crash landing. It is very emotional,” Slater said. “But the reality is that it is going to end like this for all but one team and, unfortunately, this year we aren’t that team.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Patriots’ biggest strength in 2019 was clearly a defence that allowed a league-low 14.1 points per game during the regular season and had an NFL-best plus-21 turnover differential. Assuming changes are on the way on the offensive side of the ball with or without Brady, New England must do what it can to ensure it retains enough of its defensive core.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Offensively, if Brady does stay he’ll need more playmakers around him than he had this season. That will probably mean spending some money on revamping the receiving group yet again. The offensive line had injury issues, but building more depth there also should be a priority.

STOCK UP

Van Noy followed up a strong 2018 season with a productive 2019. He finished second on the team with 6 1/2 sacks and was fifth with 56 total tackles, including a fumble return for a TD. He figures to garner a lot of attention on the open market and it will be interesting to see how much the Patriots are willing to keep such an integral part of this defence on the roster.

STOCK DOWN

Receiver Julian Edelman has experienced some of the highest points of his career over the past four years. He made huge plays during the Patriots’ historic Super Bowl comeback against Atlanta in the Super Bowl following the 2016 season and won Super Bowl MVP honours in New England’s victory last season against the Rams.

He led the Patriots during the 2019 regular season with 100 receptions, 1,117 yards and six touchdowns. But nagging injuries took a toll on him late in the season. He was mostly a non-factor in Saturday’s loss to Tennessee, catching just three passes for 30 yards on five targets.

KEY NUMBER

1-3 — That was Belichick’s record this season against his former assistants. Belichick entered 2019 with a 14-10 record against Al Groh, Eric Mangini, Jim Schwartz, Romeo Crennel, Nick Saban, McDaniels, Bill O’Brien, Matt Patricia, Brian Flores and Vrabel. In addition to Saturday’s loss to Tennessee, he split during the regular season with Flores, including the regular-season finale loss that dropped the Patriots to the wild-card round. He also lost to O’Brien’s Texans. Belichick went 0-2 during last season’s Super Bowl run, losing regular-season matchups with Patricia and Vrabel.

HOW TO GET IT RIGHT

Tough decisions await Belichick and not much will be known about what direction he plans to take until Brady’s future in New England is resolved.

Jimmy Garoppolo seemed to be the franchise’s heir apparent at quarterback before he was traded to San Francisco in 2017. The coaching staff likes Jarrett Stidham, who was drafted in 2019 and beat out Brian Hoyer to be Brady’s backup in the preseason. But Stidham threw just four passes during his first NFL regular season, so putting the offence in his hands next season would signal a complete rebuild on offence.

Throughout his time in New England, Belichick hasn’t been shy about moving on from players he felt were past their prime or seeking contracts that exceeded value in relation to their age.

While it seemed before this season there was no chance Brady would join that list, the offence’s shortcomings this season could cause Belichick to reassess his thoughts about a quarterback that will be 43 years old at the start of next season.

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Training camp questions: Edmonton Oilers – TSN

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With summer officially coming to an end and training camps set to open across the National Hockey League this week, TSN gets ready for the preseason by looking at the three biggest questions facing each of the seven Canadian franchises.

On tap for today are the Edmonton Oilers, who finished with their highest points percentage in over 30 years (.643) but were swept away by the Winnipeg Jets in the opening round of the playoffs.

1. Is the defence better or worse than last year?

The Edmonton Oilers made massive changes to their defensive corps over the summer.

Gone are Adam Larsson, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear and Oscar Klefbom, with Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci as the primary replacements. We know the Oilers won’t have much of an issue scoring goals, but did they do enough over the summer to prevent giving them up?

Like most off-season overhauls, that answer will likely depend on a few different things.

For starters, what does Keith have left in the tank? Keith is a three-time Stanley Cup winner, a three-time All-Star and a two-time Norris Trophy winner. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2015 and has 625 points in 1,192 career NHL regular-season games.

But Keith is 38 now and as TSN’s Travis Yost points out, no Chicago Blackhawks skater conceded more goals or expected goals against – goaltender neutral – over the past two seasons. Chicago allowed the seventh-most goals last season and Keith was second-worst on the team at minus-13.
The 27-year-old Ceci was signed to a four-year, $13 million contract by the Oilers in free agency but will join his fourth team in the last four seasons. As things stand right now, it’s likely he’ll play with Keith on the second pairing.

Edmonton locked in their top pairing with contract extensions for Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie. Nurse had a career-best 16 goals last season and Barrie recorded 48 points in 56 games.

Considering the firepower the Oilers have up front, this team shouldn’t have any trouble scoring, especially with their defenceman contributing at that level.

Another intriguing option for head coach Dave Tippett is 21-year-old Evan Bouchard. The No. 10 selection from the 2018 draft, Bouchard only has 21 NHL games under his belt and might be asked to take on a much bigger role than in years past.

2. How will major free agent signee Zach Hyman fit in?

As the clock ticked toward free agency last season, Hyman told reporters he would like to remain with the Toronto Maple Leafs if it made sense. But given the Leafs’ cap situation and Hyman’s desire for a long-term deal, what made sense to one side didn’t to the other.

In swooped the Oilers, who signed Hyman to a seven-year, $38.5 million deal in one of the most debated signings of the off-season.

Hyman’s offensive numbers – 15 goals and 18 assists last season – aren’t necessarily eye-popping considering the kind of dollar value and term he got, but the Toronto native brings a lot more to the table than just points. A skilled two-way player with or without the puck, Hyman is a combined plus-70 the past four seasons. Sure, playing alongside Toronto’s other elite forwards helps that, but it’s not like there’s going to be much of a drop-off with the Oilers.

Hyman is expected to slide in beside Connor McDavid – the same Connor McDavid who had 72 assists in 56 games in 2020-21 – on the top line and should have an instant impact for the Oilers on both ends of the ice in the short term.

Time will tell if that holds up as the years go by. History hasn’t been kind to seven-year deals for 29-year-old forwards like Hyman, especially ones with a documented history of knee injuries. But finding a player like Hyman on the open market isn’t easy and is never cheap.

3. Is Jesse Puljujarvi poised to take the next step?

Two years ago, Puljujarvi appeared to have moved on from the Edmonton Oilers.

He was drafted fourth overall in 2016 but bounced between the Oilers and American Hockey League affiliate Bakersfield Condors during his first three seasons. Things didn’t exactly go smoothly, and he signed with Karpat of the SM-liiga in Finland in July of 2019 and elected to re-sign last summer with an opt-out in time for the 2020-21 NHL season.

Since he left as a restricted free agent, the Oilers retained Puljujarvi’s NHL rights. General manager Ken Holland and Tippett promised the youngster a clean slate if he ever decided to return to the NHL.

That might have been exactly what he needed.

Puljujarvi recorded career highs in both goals (15) and assists (10) and was a plus-6, far outpacing his four goal and five assist tally with a minus-14 goal differential in 2018-19, his last NHL campaign before departing for Finland.

Puljujarvi spent much of last season playing on McDavid’s right side and the duo outscored opponents 42 to 33 at even strength. His goal total from 2020-21 isn’t especially impressive alongside McDavid but when you consider that he saw limited power-play time and 13 of his 15 markers came at even strength, it makes more sense. If Hyman slides in on the left side as expected, there could be plenty more opportunity for the 23-year-old to put up some numbers heading into restricted free agency.

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Jim Hughson retiring after 42-year broadcasting career – Sportsnet.ca

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Sportsnet’s Jim Hughson is stepping away from the mic.

The Hall of Fame play-by-play commentator announced his retirement from sports broadcasting on Tuesday, ending a 42-year career.

“It’s been a fantastic run and I’d like to thank Sportsnet, Hockey Night in Canada and all my friends and colleagues over the years for the tremendous support and countless memories,” said Hughson. “This is a decision I made in consultation with my family and I’m very much at peace with it. My only goal in this industry was to work at the highest level and on the last day of the season. I’ve had that opportunity a number of times and will always be grateful for it.”

Hughson called his first game on radio in 1979. He has been the voice of the Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs and national broadcasts on Hockey Night in Canada.

Hughson has called a dozen Stanley Cup Finals along with the men’s hockey tournament at both the 2006 and 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

“Jim is one of the best this business has ever seen,” said Rob Corte, VP of Sportsnet and NHL Production. “Whether on TV, radio or in video games, for many he has been their soundtrack of hockey. He’s set the gold standard for broadcasting in this country and has accomplished pretty much everything any broadcaster would set out to do in their career. On top of that, he’s a tremendous teammate and an even better person.”

Hughson also was part of the Toronto Blue Jays’ broadcast crew during their World Series runs in 1992 and 1993.

In 2019, the Hockey Hall of Fame awarded Hughson the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award to honour his outstanding contributions as a hockey broadcaster. He is also a four-time Canadian Screen Awards winner for Best Sports Play-by-Play Announcer.

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Jonathan Drouin's absence from Canadiens late last season, in playoffs due to anxiety – CBC.ca

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Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin has opened up on the reasons why he took a break from hockey last spring during his club’s push for the playoffs.

In interviews aired Monday night on RDS and TVA Sports, Drouin revealed that he was suffering from anxiety and insomnia last season, problems that have afflicted him for years.

The 26-year-old said his problems reached a peak as the team was warming up for its April 23 game in Calgary against the Flames. Drouin was caught on camera looking pale and suddenly leaving the ice to return to the dressing room.

“That week was difficult for me,” Drouin told RDS. “I had fallen ill to the point where I was no longer controlling my body. That was really the moment when I realized that I needed to take a break from hockey, to take a step back.”

He has not played for the Canadiens since, even though the team went all the way to the Stanley Cup final before falling in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I had made the decision to take care of myself. I was happy with my decision. I respected my decision,” Drouin said. “For me, it was just being able to watch them, to give my support to my teammates and coaches. I was so happy with every game we won. The passion never left me.”

Expected on ice to open camp

The athlete from Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., says he has since restored his mental health, and last week he skated with his teammates at the Canadiens’ practice facility.

“I went to find help, I went to find people to be around me,” Drouin recounted to RDS. “Now I understand how it happens, I understand the little moments when I feel anxiety. I am now better equipped than I was before.”

He addressed rumours that he had entered rehab, saying they were false.

“I have never had a drug or alcohol problem,” he said.

He is expected to be on the ice for the Habs’ training camp, which officially kicks off Wednesday, and he commented on his hopes for the upcoming season.

“I am really happy to be back. I just want to have fun and get better every day,” Drouin told RDS. “I know it’s a cliche, but just having fun playing hockey is going to be the best thing for me.”

In 229 regular-season games with the Canadiens, Drouin has 40 goals and 137 points.

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