This isn’t just a contract year for Morgan Rielly. This is an Olympic year. This is an enormous time in terms of professional opportunities.
This isn’t just a contract year for Morgan Rielly. This is an Olympic year. This is an enormous time in terms of professional opportunities.
This is Rielly’s ninth season — if you can believe that — with the Maple Leafs. He’s not a kid anymore at 27, even though he never acted the part. He arrived in Toronto and has been the Leafs’ most valuable and stable person over the years, just not necessarily the top player in any season.
And this can be the year of a playoff win of some kind, an eventual life-changing financial deal, along with the possibility to be part of Team Canada at the Olympic Games.
There is no sure thing in all this — other than the money that will come his way.
He’s a 50-50 shot, maybe, to go to Beijing. That’s primarily because he plays the left side on defence. Canada is stacked with right defencemen, starting with the already named Alex Pietrangelo, and the Norris Trophy candidates Cale Makar and Dougie Hamilton. There are also the veterans, Kris Letang and the historically great Drew Doughty, on the right side, along with Aaron Ekblad.
That’s a long list from which to choose three or four defencemen.
The left side, though — Rielly’s side — is not as complete. There is Shea Theodore in Vegas and Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse … and then, after that, a lot of guesses to be made by general manager Doug Armstrong, unless he chooses to play a right defenceman on the left side.
This may be where Rielly comes in. He’s among four or five left-shot defencemen who are no sure things to be selected for the Olympic roster. But his demeanour, his maturity, his ability to be low-maintenance, and his skating talent may work in his favour.
The Olympics would be new to him — as would a playoff-series win, as would his pending free agency. It’s a lot on Rielly’s plate as a new season is about to begin. A feast of possibilities.
THIS AND THAT
This may be completely unrelated to Carey Price’s current personal situation, but more than one hockey person was convinced this summer that Price wanted to be chosen in the expansion draft by the Seattle Kraken but remained in Montreal instead … This is Auston Matthews’ sixth season with the Leafs and, until the other day when training camp moved north, he had never been to Muskoka before. Honest … How ironic does this seem: When GM Kevyn Adams, now in the middle of the Jack Eichel mess in Buffalo, was originally drafted by the Boston Bruins and played his first NHL hockey for the Maple Leafs, he had to file a grievance with the NHL to determine who owned his playing rights. That was a quarter-century ago … The problem with the Eichel situation is there is no third-party decision-maker in the process. That’s the flaw. The Sabres’ doctors say one thing. Eichel’s doctors say another. There is no one to appeal to on this … After Aleksander Barkov’s first game in Toronto years ago, I rode down the elevator with then-Florida GM Dale Tallon. I told Tallon that Barkov reminded me of a little of Jonathan Toews, whom Tallon had drafted in Chicago. Tallon smiled and said “better.” Barkov’s new deal in Florida pays him $10 million a year. Toews is being paid $10.5 million after he helped bring three Stanley Cups to Chicago … My local gym can’t operate at full capacity. Nor can my favourite local restaurant. But the Maple Leafs and Raptors and Senators can fill their buildings indoors when the NHL and NBA seasons begin. Go figure … Some people happen to like Sheldon Keefe’s regular use of F-bombs in the Maple Leafs documentary All or Nothing. Some are offended by it. Like everything Leafs, there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground on this … My bet: If William Nylander spends the year on the Leafs’ first power-play unit, he’ll finish second on the team behind Matthews in goal scoring … Another bet: One of Shane Pinto or Cole Caufield will win the rookie of the year award in the NHL.
HEAR AND THERE
This was Robbie Ray’s tweet of Oct. 6: “I know we fell short of our ultimate goal, but it was still an unforgettable year. Best group of guys and it was absolutely electric to finally experience the home-field advantage that Jays fans bring to the Rogers Centre. Thank you for a very special year, Toronto!” What he didn’t say: I’m staying or I’m leaving or I want to stay. Like his slider, this was difficult to fully read … We now know who and what Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are, and we can’t wait for next season. What we don’t know is, what’s Cavan Biggio? … If I had to keep one catcher with the Blue Jays as a starter, I’d settle on Danny Jansen long-term and see what you can get for Alejandro Kirk … When Alex Anthopoulos was with the Blue Jays, he drafted Rowdy Tellez in the 30th round of the 2013 Major League draft. Who knew that eight years later Tellez would hit a playoff home run for the Milwaukee Brewers to defeat Anthopoulos’ Atlanta Braves in a National League playoff game? By the way, the Blue Jays scout who recommended Tellez was Darold Brown, who is still close to Tellez and currently works for the Detroit Tigers … What are the odds of this? In the year Hank Aaron passes away, Atlanta and Milwaukee, the only cities and teams for which he played, are meeting in a playoff series … And hard as this is to believe, the Giants and Dodgers, the historical rivals are meeting for the first time in a playoff series … The Tampa Bay Rays remind me of high school chemistry: I can watch the experiments, I just can’t explain them … I like the FOX game graphic that identifies the pitcher and the batter all game long. I don’t like the TBS graphic that identifies the pitcher, but not the batter … Sorry to report that one of Canada’s most powerful female sporting figures, Nathalie Cook, vice-president of TSN, has decided to move on from the sports network. There are not enough women in powerful sporting positions in the country. There’s one fewer today.
SCENE AND HEARD
Only in Canada: The Monday Night Football game featuring the unbeaten Raiders versus the red-hot Chargers, did an audience of 545,000 last week. That was just 25,000 more than a Leafs-Senators pre-season game managed … The former referee Don Koharski has been hired by TNT to work on its NHL broadcasts. Does this mean doughnuts in the green room for everybody? … It’s been 37 years since Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier combined with Grant Fuhr and Jari Kurri and so many more stars to win the Edmonton Oilers’ first of five Stanley Cups (Gretzky was only there for four). Now the two, born eight days apart 60 years ago, debut opposite each other on the two new American hockey networks, ESPN and TNT … The part of the Robin Lehner story that made no sense to me: Coaches don’t dispense medications. I’ve been around a lot of teams for a lot of years and have never seen a coach give out a pill. Training staff and medical staff provide medication. Why Lehner centred out Alain Vigneault, whom he never played for, was hard to understand. And I respect the hell out of Lehner for speaking out, even if some of his wording needed to be edited. Lehner later clarified to ESPN’s Emily Kaplan he never intended to accuse Vigneault of distributing pills … Emma Raducanu, who looked unbeatable at the U.S. Open, lost her opening round match at Indian Wells, where Leylah Fernandez began with a relatively easy win … Under the department of too many root canals: The 18 former NBA players, including ex-Raptors Jamario Moon, Milt Palacio, Sebastian Telfair, Alan Anderson and Antoine Wright, who were busted for attempting to defraud the league’s health and welfare benefit plan. You can only bill for so many procedures before somebody is going to notice that not all is well.
AND ANOTHER THING
So let me get this straight: The Oshawa Generals, or any other junior team, can travel by bus to the United States to play games in Erie or Saginaw or any other OHL centre. But, fully vaccinated, I can’t get in my car and drive to Buffalo and cross the border to watch the Bills play, or snowbirds can’t drive to their Florida homes. Can someone please explain? … There is no doubt about this: This is the worst season in Edmonton Elks history … One football rule I’d like to change: A forward lateral should not count as a completed pass. It’s essentially a running play. As it is, it distorts quarterback statistics and receiver statistics and messes up fantasy football results … Canadian Mark Lindsay, who has worked with Donovan Bailey, Maria Sharapova, Alex Rodriguez and Peyton Manning to name a few over the years, is now working with Christian McCaffrey, injured running back with the Carolina Panthers … Did Team USA GM Stan Bowman add Seth Jones to the Olympic team among his first three ahead of Adam Fox, Charlie McAvoy or John Carlson because he was the obvious choice or because he happens to be a Blackhawk? … Under the department of disgraceful: A Mexican League team hiring Mickey Callaway to manage … Still officially a rookie, Randy Arozarena, has hit 11 post-season home runs for Tampa in 87 at-bats. The legendary Mr. October, the three-homer man, Reggie Jackson, hit 18 career homers in 281 playoff at bats … Happy birthday to Brett Favre (52), Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (28), Troy Tulowitzki (37), Gene Tenace (75), Henrik Zetterberg (41), Mike Singletary (63), Trevor Daley (38), Kenny Anderson (51), George Kittle (28), James Murphy (62) and Joe Pepitone (81) … And hey, whatever became of Dustin Byfuglien?
A friend of mine decided a few months back that he wanted to buy season tickets for the Toronto Argonauts.
I know that’s rather unusual these days, but so was his journey in trying to purchase the most available sporting ticket in Toronto.
He called the Argos and was put on hold. After 45 minutes or so of waiting, he hung up. He called again, this time to Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, the Argos’ owner, and the result wasn’t much different. More time on hold.
I told him to try emailing the sales reps, giving him two names of those who have sold me tickets in the past. He emailed, initially with no response. A few days later, he heard from an Argos rep. It took numerous phone calls, emails and communications for the sale to finally occur, but my buddy got his Argos season tickets — through almost no help from the Argos, which by itself is rather remarkable considering how desperate the club should be to sell tickets to anyone still interested in going to their games.
Just last week, another person I know wanted to buy four additional tickets for their game on Wednesday night against Ottawa. He is a season-ticket holder, but wanted to bring others along with him for the experience.
He phoned the Argos, and phoned them again. They never called back. He never got to speak to a person. He gave up rather than buying the additional tickets.
The first-place Argos had a record-small crowd of 6,788 for their game against the Redblacks. Interest may be at an all-time low. But an inability to treat willing customers properly or at all, at this time in their history or, really, at any time, is simply inexcusable.
GETTING THE HELP HE NEEDS
You don’t hear the name Dr. Brian Shaw very often when people talk about the National Hockey League. Perhaps you should.
Dr. Shaw is one of the founders of the joint NHL/NHL Players’ Association player assistance program. His specialty is dealing with anxiety and sleep disorders. While the assistance program has had issues of its own over the years, over time it has become a more acceptable option for NHL players to take a leave, as Carey Price has done most recently to deal with personal issues, whatever they may be.
Price’s teammate Jonathan Drouin took leave from the Montreal Canadiens last April, missing out on the Habs’ remarkable run to the Stanley Cup final, to deal with his own difficulties of anxiety and insomnia, which at the time were kept private, as they should be. Those closest to Drouin now say Dr. Shaw and the program significantly altered Drouin’s life.
Years ago, NHL players such as Shayne Corson suffered in near silence while dealing with mental-health issues while trying to play professional sports. Just how many others have suffered without public knowledge is impossible to know. The outlet either wasn’t there for players or the comfort was not there to take leave from your team.
We don’t know what Price is suffering through — nor should we know. It’s his personal life, his personal situation. He is fortunate to have Dr. Shaw’s program available to him and to have the personal strength necessary to admit something is wrong.
THERE’S REASON TO HOPE
I’m not completely pessimistic about the kind of season the Toronto Raptors might have.
Part of it begins with elementary math and, hopefully, good health.
Once Pascal Siakam is ready to play, he should be good for 20 points a night, a number similar to what Fred VanVleet should add. If you add OG Anunoby at 15 points a night — and he’s capable of more than that — you’re already at 55 points a game.
Add in 10-to-12 points from rookie Scottie Barnes, from Chris Boucher, from Goran Dragic, from Gary Trent Jr., from Precious Achiuwa, and that’s the possibility of another 50 points a night. And that’s without figuring what Khem Birch might contribute at centre or what Malachi Flynn will manage coming off the bench.
Through exhibition games, it’s surprising what little-known Justin Champagnie has shown as a kind of poor man’s Junkyard Dog.
Is this a playoff team? It’s impossible to know just yet. Is this a team that should be in the play-in round come April? Possibly. Is this a scrappy group that coach Nick Nurse may be able to coach up, and get more out of than expected? Very possible.
It looks like a team you’re going to enjoy watching grow. It’s a new beginning. It doesn’t appear hapless.
Edmonton Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse always seems to be under the microscope, and that trend has continued into the 2021-22 season in the wake of the big defender signing an 8-year, $74-million extension over the summer. A ferocious competitor gifted with size, speed, and skill, Nurse has always had his share of critics. Nowadays he is frequently referenced as “our $9 million d-man”, often with a tinge of disdain in the voice of the speaker or the context of the writer. Never mind the fact that for one more season before that extension kicks in, Nurse has a cap hit of $5.6 million and appears highly likely to deliver excellent value yet again.
As he has for the last four seasons at least, in which he has:
But that was then; this is now. What has he done for the Oilers lately?
By the boxcars it’s been a quiet enough start, with 5 GP, 0-3-3, +4 to this point. Dig a little deeper, and we find a workhorse who leads the entire NHL in Time On Ice per game and (by a wider margin) in Hits . This on an Oilers team that is down several of their most physical players from last season including Adam Larsson , Jujhar Khaira and Josh Archibald . In their absence Nurse has come out banging, landing 8 hits in three different games and 4 each in the other two. Through all of that ice time and all of those battles, he has taken just one minor penalty through five games.
To these eyes the 26-year-old continues to improve at some of the more subtle aspects of the game. Cases in point, the following three sequences in which Nurse played a critical role in an important Oilers goal. All three from the recent road trip in which he officially got zero (0) points. Just don’t say he didn’t contribute to the offence, and specifically to Edmonton’s increasingly deadly transition game. All this while himself making a challenging transition to a new partner !
As we did in last week’s popular post micro-analyzing a superb goal by Jesse Puljujarvi , let’s “roll back the tape” and engage the screen grab function. In each case we will focus on the change of possession that preceded the goal — which is to say much earlier in the sequence than the typical highlight reel will show. But what happens at that moment, and in the ~second that follows, often sets the stage for the good stuff that happens later. To wit:
Three important goals over two games, with Nurse making key contributions to each. Just two touches, both at full stretch on his own side of centre, and a third great decision made from deep in his own territory to join the attack even as he ultimately played the role of decoy. Three subtle plays, three happy endings, with more than a little help from his friends. It is, after all, a team game.
It’s my observation that Nurse does a lot of this sort of thing over the course of a game, and has learned/is learning to pick his spots better by the year. With his superb athleticism, he wins puck battles in a variety of ways: by simply winning a race to it, by overpowering an opponent, or through judicious use of his long reach. And while not featured in these sequences, he’s increasingly dangerous with the puck on his own blade.
Yes he still makes the wrong decision at times. There was that one play in the Calgary game where he got pulled behind the goal line and was beaten by a centring pass that was quickly deposited. Heard plenty about that one, but it remains the only powerplay goal scored on his watch in 17 shorthanded minutes. Meanwhile, in just 6 minutes he’s been on the PP, that unit has scored 4 times.
In all situations — which in his case means literally ALL situations with a heaping helping of crunch time — Darnell has been on the ice for 12 goals scored by the Oilers, just 5 against.
Best of all, I’ve yet to see a sign that he’s reached his ceiling just yet. Now an impact player in his seventh NHL season, Nurse continues to upgrade the fine details of his considerable game.
STAPLES: Is Nurse-Bouchard the top pairing of Oil fans’ dreams?
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After years of confusing legislation, Canada finally achieved some clarity with regard to its sports betting laws earlier this year. The passing of Bill C-218 saw single event betting become legalized for the first time, paving the way for sportsbooks and online operators to begin serving Canadian customers all across the country.
Since then, the industry has gone from strength to strength. Unsurprisingly, Ontario has led the way in terms of online competition, with a wide array of options for punters to choose from. Home to some 15 million people, Ontario is the fifth biggest jurisdiction in the USA and Canada and is expected to rival the likes of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan in the coming years.
So with sports betting finally up and running in a more comprehensive format in Canada, what does the future hold? Here’s a quick look ahead to some of the biggest developments that are expected to occur in the next 12 months.
The ability to place bets on-the-go is something that customers have come to expect from their sportsbooks nowadays. Although the idea of sports betting on single events is still a relative novelty for many Canadians, it won’t be long before they begin to demand a truly mobile experience from their gambling provider, allowing them the freedom to lay wagers wherever, whenever and on whatever they please.
Thankfully, there is already a healthy infrastructure in place to deal with that demand. The list of sports betting apps in Canada is growing longer by the day, with sportsbook operators giving their customers round-the-clock access to better odds, up-to-the-minute stats and exclusive promotions and bonuses. There’s an app for everything these days – so it should come as no surprise that an increasing percentage of Canadians will choose to bet on their smartphone via the app in the coming months and years.
Even before the passing of Bill C-218 officially endorsed sports betting from a legal perspective, overseas operators had been serving a Canadian market for years. Although the practice was not legal prior to this summer, it wasn’t strictly illegal, either. This created a grey area which many foreign sportsbooks exploited, with some reports suggesting that billions of dollars were being funneled into them every year.
Now that the practice has become fair game for domestic operators, it should open the floodgates with regard to the number of available options. Early adopters and established names in the industry were quick to jump aboard the bandwagon, but more and more rivals will spring up as time goes on. This can only be good news for punters, since they will gain access to more lucrative incentives and better markets with the increased competition.
As well as increased competition among operators, it’s also likely that this excess supply will be met by ballooning demand. Indeed, a particularly bullish report from Deloitte Canada speculated that the industry could be worth a massive $28 billion inside five years. Given that it isn’t projected to exceed $1 billion in its first 12 months of operation, that’s quite a seismic shift.
What that means for players is that sports betting is likely to become endorsed and advertised with greater frequency. Collaborations between teams and individual athletes will enhance the profile of the sector, while lucrative sponsorship deals will benefit both parties. And of course, the government itself is poised to cash in on a significant revenue stream, potentially swelling its coffers for reinvestment in other areas of policy.
Another exciting possibility is the increased incorporation of technological advances into the sports betting experience. Fans can already benefit from livestreams of their favorite matches, as well as real-time analysis and in-play betting opportunities. However, the sky is the limit when it comes to tech and sports betting, since there are a variety of tantalizing innovations currently on the horizon.
Chief among these is the possibility of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) becoming a more central pillar of sportsbooks. Imagine if it were possible to view a sporting event in 3D, as if you were in the stadium yourself, all from the comfort of your own home? That kind of tech breakthrough might seem lightyears away, yet similar software is already commonplace in the world of gaming. If it could be adapted to live sporting events, it would dramatically alter the way in which sport is consumed (and bet upon) all across Canada. Watch this space for news on potential developments of VR and AR in 2022.
Although sports betting is still in its infancy in Canada, it has already made quite a splash among punters, operators and regulators alike. As the practice becomes more and more mainstream, it’s to be expected that it will both deliver higher revenues and benefit from greater investment – potentially creating some exciting times ahead.
Carl Madsen, who had worked for the NFL as an official for more than 20 years, died on Sunday. He was 71.
According to NFL.com, Madsen died on his way home from Sunday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans, where he was working as a replay official.
While details are hazy on Madsen’s death, the Nashville Police Department told TMZ that early signs indicate Madsen suffered “a medical emergency” while driving on I-65 North. A spokesperson reportedly said officers answered a call about a motorist blocking a traffic lane and found Madsen unconscious at the scene.
Chest compressions were immediately administered once Madsen was removed from the vehicle, per the report, but he ultimately died after being transported to a nearby hospital. His exact cause of death remains unknown.
An Air Force veteran, Madsen spent 12 years as an on-field official from 1997 to 2008 before transitioning to his replay official role. He was reportedly tied with Paul Weidner as the league’s most experienced replay official.
“Carl Madsen was an NFL officiating fixture for more than two decades, first as a highly respected on-field official before transitioning to a replay role beginning in 2009,” NFL senior VP of officiating training and development Walt Anderson said in a statement. “A terrific friend and colleague, Carl’s love of football and dedication to officiating was ever-present, as he generously shared his time to mentor young officials at clinics across the country. A veteran of the Air Force, Carl had a tremendous spirit and will be greatly missed.”
NFL Referees Association president Scott Green also released a statement to Pro Football Talk:
“Carl will be missed by those who worked with him on the field and in replay,” Green said. “He had a nickname among his fellow officials of “Big Country” which was not only related to his size but to his big personality as a warm and generous man.”
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