For Alexis Lafreniere, June 26 was more than just a date circled on the calendar.
It was slated to be his moment – the projected No. 1 overall prodigy with franchise-changing ability stepping onto the stage, slipping on his new sweater for the first time.
Not just any stage, either.
The planned arrival of the next Great Quebec Hope inside a roaring Bell Centre was either a stroke of luck or a stroke of choreographed genius by the NHL to host the 2020 Draft in Montreal – a stone’s throw from the suburb where he grew up in Saint-Eustache, Quebec.
Draft week was quickly coming into focus. A dinner reservation was set for his family and the proud agency representing him in the Old Port. Key sponsor events were lined up. Family and friends were ready to snap up tickets.
And now …?
The NHL officially postponed the 2020 Draft and Draft Lottery on Wednesday. With the season’s end undetermined, it is unclear when either will take place, or if a scaled-down version will be required – like the one held in late July of 2005 in a downtown Ottawa hotel where the Pittsburgh Penguins picked Sidney Crosby coming out of the 2004-05 lockout-cancelled season. It is also unclear whether Montreal would still host the Draft, whether it would be open to fans, or whether it might be conducted via video conference online.
There is no doubt that would bring disappointment, but it’s a brave new world since the COVID-19 outbreak and Lafreniere says he isn’t sweating the details.
“You know, for sure, it would be a little bit different,” Lafreniere said on Wednesday on a conference call with reporters when asked about a Draft different than he might’ve envisioned. “I think it’s still an honour to get drafted by an NHL team. It’s really special.
“Maybe it’s going to be different, we don’t know yet. But day-by-day, we’ll see what happens.”
Just about the only certainty is that Lafreniere will be the first player chosen in the NHL Draft, whenever and wherever that occurs. He emerged from the World Junior Championship in January with a gold medal and as the undisputed No. 1 overall prospect.
Since the Canadian Hockey League announced last week the cancellation of the remainder of the major junior seasons, league playoffs and Memorial Cup tournament, coupled with the IIHF’s previous cancellation of the World Under-18 tournament, no one else will be able to mount a challenge.
Lafreniere, 18, finished his final season of junior hockey with a staggering 35 goals and 112 points in just 52 games. His number 11 will one day be hanging in the rafters among the other Oceanic greats, including Crosby and Vincent Lecavalier – in a veritable No. 1 pick factory in Rimouski.
When asked whether he thought he’d done enough to carry on that tradition, Lafreniere responded: “I tried my best to play as good as I could in every game I was in. There’s some really good players around the world. You never know who is going to go No. 1, but I tried my best to play as good as I could.”
The tougher pill to swallow, Lafreniere said, was not being able to mount a challenge for the Memorial Cup. The Oceanic had been building towards this season for three years.
“For sure, it was tough news for me. We all understand and it’s serious,” Lafreniere said. “It’s a little bit sad that the season came to an end quickly like this. We had a great team this year and we believed we could do something special.
“It went by really quick. It’s sad that I won’t get to play with these guys again, but it’s hockey and you’ve got to move on at some point.”
Really, the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting cancellations were a cap for Lafreniere’s rather strange draft-eligible campaign. He was suspended twice in the QMJHL for illegal checks and also suffered a knee injury while playing for Team Canada that kept him out of two games at the World Junior Championship.
He also showed scouts an impressive physical edge in the Czech Republic that helped cement his status, notching 10 points in five tournament games, along with a gritty return from what appeared to be a gruesome knee injury.
Lafreniere was looking forward to translating that win on the world stage to a win on the Memorial Cup stage.
“It was a really big moment for me,” Lafreniere said of the World Juniors. “Growing up, you dream about it and last year  we didn’t get the result we wanted. To be able to win that, that was for sure one of the big moments in my career so far.”
So now, Lafreniere waits – like the rest of the hockey world. He believes he can be ready to step into the NHL next season with the help of the exercise equipment at home in Saint-Eustache.
“I think I can get stronger even if I train at my house,” Lafreniere said. “I stay in shape, you know, just work as hard as I can to try and gain some strength so when [hockey] is going to come back, I’m going to be ready.”
He is getting reacquainted with his family, familiar faces that he hasn’t had much time with since he’s been living with a billet family in Rimouski for the last three seasons. And he is cracking the books. Lafreniere is hunkered down and studying to complete his high school courses on time.
Most importantly, Lafreniere is handling everything with the proper dose of perspective.
Whether he ends up with the Ottawa Senators or Detroit Red Wings, or the Draft is held at a packed Bell Centre or via teleconference, it’s all out of his hands.
“I really live it day-by-day and try to control what I can control. If the Draft is online, it will be different for us, but we’ll still enjoy our time and be happy.” Lafreniere said. “The most important thing is that everyone stays healthy.”
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli
Report: NBA eyeing rapid COVID-19 testing – TSN
According to ESPN’s Baxter Holmes, the NBA and NBAPA are looking into the viability of devices that could test and provide accurate results for the COVID-19 virus within minutes as the league and players attempt to get back to action as soon as possible.
The multiple blood-testing devices are reportedly similar to what diabetics use on a daily basis. After a prick of a finger, accurate results could be delivered within 15 minutes.
The tests have been approved by the FDA and Illinois-based Abbott Laboratories began shipping its tests across the United States last week, according to the Washington Post.
League sources have said the rapid-testing devices are still only in an “exploratory phase,” reports Holmes.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Monday night that he doesn’t expect a decision to be made regarding the possible resumption of the 2019-20 season until at least May.
“Essentially, what I’ve told my folks over the last week is that we just should just accept that, at least for the month of April, we won’t be in a position to make any decisions,” Silver said. “And I don’t think that necessarily means on May 1 we will be.”
One anonymous NBA general manager told Holmes that the devices would be “key” to a return to sports and everything else.
“Rapid testing results are key to return to work, return to sports, everything,” the GM said. “Whatever job you have and environment you work in, if you’re interacting with people, we’re all going to have to feel safe doing that. Sports isn’t any different.”
Even if the devices are approved and become readily available, questions remain where the NBA lies on the priority list.
“We are going to be clearly second in line to healthcare workers, transportation workers, public workers, things along those lines,” said a NBA head athletic trainer.
The NBA suspended its season on March 11 after two members of the Utah Jazz tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Blue Jays: What happens now with Mark Shapiro’s contract? – Jays Journal
Mark Shapiro, the President and CEO of the Blue Jays, is only under contract until the end of the 2020 season. What happens now for him in Toronto?
There will be a lot of complicated variables for MLB executives to navigate over the coming weeks and even months, and I imagine things will be very much in limbo until we have some answers about the future of baseball in 2020.
That’s the unfortunate reality for the players, the fans, and for the front offices across the game, but there could be another interesting factor to deal with at some point this year. The Blue Jays were set to enter the season with Mark Shapiro working under the final year of his current contract as President and CEO, and the two sides had yet to work out an extension.
According to the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, there were talks around the idea back in October, but it didn’t sound like anything was particularly close at the time. We do know that Ross Atkins, the Blue Jays GM, is under contract until after the 2021 season, and he has been closely tied to Shapiro throughout his career in baseball, including being hired by Shapiro to come to Toronto. All along I personally expected that Shapiro would be extended until the end of 2021, and all parties could re-evaluate at the end of the 2020 campaign to see where things were at with the front office.
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Fast forward to today, and we’re now facing the very real threat that there may not be any baseball in 2020. That’s a terribly depressing thought for a number of reasons, but it could also be relevant when it comes to the Blue Jays’ situation with Shapiro. For the purposes of this thought train, let’s assume there will be no baseball this season.
Without having any inside information whatsoever, I would still be surprised to see Shapiro leave with Atkins under contract for another year. The Blue Jays could decide to move on to a different front office group and fire Atkins with a year left on his contract this fall, but it’s hard to see them making that decision now, especially without a 2020 campaign to evaluate their work. After focusing on building a homegrown core and rebuilding the roster for the last few years, Atkins and company went out and acquired some real help this winter including Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, and more. On paper it was an exciting winter for the Blue Jays, and it would be hard to justify moving on from the front office team without getting to see the fruits of their work.
All that said, Shapiro has been linked to other positions in the past, even in other sports. It’s hard to know what could be on the table for the 53-year-old until a decision has been made either way, he has downplayed any rumours of that sort, and has repeatedly stated he is interested in seeing the job through.
“I’ve been clear and consistent about enjoying where I am and wanting to be here. From a competitive perspective, I want to finish the job. That’s incredibly important to me.”
Once again, my assumption is that if there’s no baseball this year, the Blue Jays and Shapiro will be interested in at least a one year extension to his current deal. Without getting a chance to see what this current group can do, it’s pretty hard for anyone to make a decision about the future at the moment.
As I said at the beginning, I don’t expect it will be a priority for the immediate future for the Blue Jays or for Shapiro, but we’ll see if and how that changes as the suspension of play continues. Hopefully there will still be baseball this season, but one way or another the decision on Shapiro’s future is coming later this year.
How the field will likely look for a November Masters – Golf Channel
While many questions remain about what a Masters might look like in November, one area where we have some clarity is what the field will look like.
Augusta National Golf Club announced Monday that this year’s tournament has new “intended dates” of Nov. 9-15. But part of that announcement included language from club chairman Fred Ridley about who will be invited down Magnolia Lane this fall.
“We want to emphasize that our future plans are incumbent upon favorable counsel and direction from health officials,” Ridley wrote. “Provided that occurs and we can conduct the 2020 Masters, we intend to invite those professionals and amateurs who would have qualified for our original April date.”
Masters qualification was already winding down when global competition ground to a halt last month, with only two remaining pathways to an invite: win one of four remaining full-point PGA Tour events, all of which have since been canceled, or sit inside the top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings on March 30.
But 92 players had already qualified for this year’s Masters, a larger number than some fields in recent years even with those 11th-hour avenues removed. Eighty-seven players participated each of the last two years, while the field grew to 93 in 2017. The Masters has not had a field size over 100 since 1966, when 103 players participated.
If the tournament committee opted to make the final top-50 cutoff based on what the world rankings looked like when they were frozen on March 20, four more players who were not otherwise exempt would be invited: No. 44 Collin Morikawa, No. 45 Scottie Scheffler, No. 47 Christiaan Bezuidenhout and No. 49 Graeme McDowell. That could potentially swell the field to 96, though winners of tournaments should competition resume this summer will earn invites to the 2021 event.
“We would not be adding players to the field between now and the November event,” an Augusta National spokesperson told GolfChannel.com. “Those would be picked up by the 2021 tournament, per our usual qualifications.”
There are 19 Masters qualifying criteria, although lucky No. 19 is the final OWGR cutoff that had not yet come to pass. Here’s a look at how all 92 players for this year’s field qualified, with players who gained entry via multiple criteria listed only by the first way by which they qualified:
1. Masters champions (lifetime exemption): Angel Cabrera, Fred Couples, Sergio Garcia, Trevor Immelman, Zach Johnson, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Phil Mickelson, Larry Mize, Jose Maria Olazabal, Patrick Reed, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott, Vijay Singh, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Mike Weir, Danny Willett, Tiger Woods
2. U.S. Open champions (last five years): Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Gary Woodland
3. Open champions (last five years): Shane Lowry, Francesco Molinari, Henrik Stenson
4. PGA champions (last five years): Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jimmy Walker
5. Players champions (last three years): Si Woo Kim, Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson
6. Current Olympic gold medalist (one year): N/A
7. Current U.S. Amateur winner and runner-up: James Augenstein (a), Andy Ogletree (a)
8. Current British Amateur champion: James Sugrue (a)
9. Current Asia-Pacific Amateur champion: Yuxin Lin (a)
10. Current Latin America Amateur champion: Abel Gallegos (a)
11. Current U.S. Mid-Amateur champion: Lukas Michel (a)
12. Top 12 and ties from 2019 Masters: Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler, Justin Harding, Matt Kuchar, Ian Poulter, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele
13. Top 4 and ties from 2019 U.S. Open: Justin Rose, Chez Reavie
14. Top 4 and ties from 2019 Open: Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood
15. Top 4 and ties from 2019 PGA Championship: Matt Wallace
16. Individual winners of PGA Tour events that offer full FedExCup points: Cameron Champ, Tyler Duncan, Dylan Frittelli, Lanto Griffin, Tyrrell Hatton, Max Homa, Sungjae Im, Sung Kang, Andrew Landry, Nate Lashley, Marc Leishman, Sebastian Munoz, Kevin Na, Joaquin Niemann, C.T. Pan, J.T. Poston, Cameron Smith, Nick Taylor, Brendon Todd, Matthew Wolff
17. Qualifiers for 2019 Tour Championship: Abraham Ancer, Paul Casey, Corey Conners, Bryson DeChambeau, Lucas Glover, Charles Howell III, Kevin Kisner, Jason Kokrak, Hideki Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen, Brandt Snedeker
18. Top 50 from final Official World Golf Ranking of 2019: Byeong-Hun An, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Adam Hadwin, Billy Horschel, Shugo Imahira, Jazz Janewattananond, Victor Perez, Andrew Putnam, Erik van Rooyen, Bernd Wiesberger
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