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Tennis star Bianca Andreescu named female athlete of the year – Sports –



Bianca Andreescu started the season as an up-and-coming teenager eager to make her mark on the WTA Tour. She finished the campaign as one of its top stars.

A murderer’s row of tennis talent — Kerber, Venus, Wozniacki, Svitolina, Pliskova, and of course, Serena — all fell to the upstart Canadian who shone in the key moments and on some of the sport’s biggest stages.

Andreescu capped her unforgettable season Thursday by winning the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as The Canadian Press female athlete of the year.

“When I step on the court, I know it’s very easy to say, but I try not to focus on who’s on the other side,” Andreescu, a 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., said. “I think that’s helped me achieve what I’ve achieved.”

Andreescu’s list of accomplishments over the last 12 months is a long one. She kept one-upping herself throughout the year. 

One breakthrough came at Indian Wells last March. A Rogers Cup singles title — the first by a Canadian in 50 years — came in August in Toronto, a few weeks ahead of Andreescu’s history-making turn at the U.S. Open.

In a generational Canadian sports moment on par with Mike Weir’s Masters victory and Sidney Crosby’s golden goal, Andreescu beat Serena Williams to become the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles title.

“Bianca Andreescu is the only choice for Canada’s female athlete of the year,” said Globe and Mail sports editor Shawna Richer. “Hands down the most dominant performance of any athlete, male or female. This year, a star was born.”

Andreescu nearly swept the year-end poll of broadcasters and editors from across the country.

She picked up 66 of 68 votes (97 per cent) overall, with short-track speedskater Kim Boutin and middle-distance runner Gabriela DeBues-Stafford taking one vote apiece.

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5 big picture takeaways from the most unusual Stanley Cup Playoffs –



As Steven Stamkos finally took the Stanley Cup from Gary Bettman and lifted it above his head, the shower of sparks in the background became pyrotechnic explosions, and for a moment, none of it looked real. I was reminded of the type of scene you’d see at the end of a 2000s-era video game, where you’d beaten the final boss and had a moment to revel in the visual reward of flashing lights and “you did it”-themed text that signified your journey’s end.

It was a scene, a very obviously staged scene, but what else could it have ever been?

The end somehow arrived at what’s usually the beginning, with the fall weather creeping closer to winter than summer, where hockey season would normally be but days away. It was, and is, all so surreal.

If there were ever a time for a look back, it’s today. What just happened? Not to get too existential, but what does it all mean, man? Let’s pan out to some big picture “what we learned” thoughts from all this.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

• The cruellest thing about hockey is that on any given night you can have a lot of talent, bring your best effort, do just about everything well, and lose to a lesser group. Some nights it feels unfair, but when you step back and look at overall trends, things tend to sort themselves out. The NHL plays a lot of regular season games and has best-of-7s in playoffs to give the top teams the best chance of having justice served.

It may not happen in a given year, but if you take yet another step back further, teams that are at or near the league’s top-five for numerous consecutive seasons tend to get rewarded. The exceptions stick out like sore thumbs — there’s the 2011 Vancouver Canucks and the teams around those years, the past decade of the San Jose Sharks…as the great philosopher Rhianna once opined, nothing is promised.

With that, I appreciate Tampa Bay is the latest example of sustained excellence eventually paying off. A couple years back Washington had the same experience. All you can do is get that great core, build around it, and hope you get the necessary luck (with opponents, health and bounces) along the way.

This is why the goal for teams is rarely to stack their deck as much as possible in a single season. The cruelty of hockey itself requires blocks of years where you’re great just to maybe get your one Cup. Good to see the Lightning rewarded for what’s been a great team seemingly for an impressively sustained stretch.

• There was a while there in the NHL where two trends were becoming clear: the understanding of the aging curve was being better wielded by NHL general managers (who used to believe “peak” was older than it is), and teams aiming to find value players were seeking contributors on entry-level deals. You can see how those trends holding hands could shift the league demographic.

We told each other the league was becoming a “young man’s league,” and marvelled at teams with great farm systems who were plugging in guys from the AHL on the cheap. That shift badly hurt the pockets of veteran players on the UFA market, as did the coinciding financial squeeze on hockey’s middle class in general.

It’s possible the league overcooked their belief in these newer ideas, though.

The idea has been that if you can get X contribution from an old vet for league minimum, or X contribution from a prospect on league minimum, you may as well pay the young guy and hope he eventually gives you X-plus. The problem is, the Stanley Cup Final is a reminder that we’re often squinting to equate a rookie’s contributions with what a vet can give (“they’re pretty much the same, statistically”), particularly as the hockey gets harder and the games get bigger.

A lot gets excused away for those new on the job, but maybe good teams would benefit from less internships and more senior members?

Corey Perry wasn’t league minimum, but he’s a wily vet the Stars got on the cheap, and they needed every ounce of his contributions. Andrew Cogliano and Blake Comeau played meaningful roles for them, too. How about Pat Maroon or Zach Bogosian? You can stretch this and note Kevin Shattenkirk loosely fits the mold at $1.75 million as wel.

There’s going to be some veteran guys available for league minimum this summer, and it feels like for the first time in a long time, there can be value to be had in veteran UFAs.

• While we’re looking at overall trends, how about Tampa Bay being all-in on speed and skill, getting upset by Columbus, then moving towards a more gritty style…and winning the Cup? There’s no point dressing up that reality to suit any other narrative — that’s a change they made that directly resulted in success.

When you look at the teams who win the Cup, it’s clear there needs to be a talented offensive core. You just have to have guys who can score. St. Louis doesn’t generally seem to fit that mold, but let’s not let recency bias blind us too much — offensive stars have always been key to winning. Tampa has it, and that’s what makes them great first. But the additions of Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow (and Maroon before that, and Bogosion, and Luke Schenn) undeniably helped this team over the hump to their Cup victory.

That all seems a worthwhile note for teams looking at their roster fringes and trying to build towards a Cup.

One related point before moving on here: Tampa’s roster alteration benefitted greatly from them drawing teams who also played a grinding style. They drew heavy defence-first teams (all four opponents were top-10 in goals against per game, with Columbus, Dallas and Boston being the three best in the NHL there), and so they were perfectly equipped to work their way through the slog. I don’t know how it would’ve gone against a team like a healthy Colorado Avalanche. Maybe they course-corrected too much for a group like that. Maybe it would’ve been different against the Vegas Golden Knights. But they could only play the teams in front of them, and you’d have to be blind to miss how getting more physical helped this team this year.

• Of the Lightning’s Cup run, Andrei Vasilevskiy played — hold on let me double check the stats — all the minutes. If there was a goalie in Tampa’s net, it was him. And that’s over a condensed playoff calendar, which should’ve been physically grinding.

One thing that’s made me crazy in recent years is the obsession with goalie tandems, which I think are great in the regular season, but come playoffs, give me a great No. 1 and average No. 2 over two “good” 1A/1B guys any day.

The point about goalie tandems should be that you have someone good enough so your starter isn’t unduly taxed over the course of a long season. If you’re a couple days before a playoff series, and the staff hasn’t yet decided who’s going to start for your team in Game 1, it’s possible your “starting” goalie isn’t good enough.

• Did the circumstances make this particular Stanley Cup any less valid, or did it maybe make it the hardest one to win ever? You’re going to hear opinions on both sides of that in the days and years to come, but it’s wrong to claim either. Honestly, it was just different. Certainly the most unique ever, but on exactly the same historical-value footing as every Cup won before and likely after it.

Each year brings its own unique set of challenges to overcome, and this year’s were what they were. There wasn’t any travel, but there was a condensed schedule. There wasn’t the distraction of normal family life or pestering calls for tickets, but there was isolation. There wasn’t the pressure that comes with 19,000 screaming fans, but there wasn’t the energy and adrenaline offered by them either. You didn’t have to control your emotions so much as you had to find them.

The Tampa Bay Lightning managed the unforeseen obstacles brilliantly, in part by making changes to tackle the ones they could foresee in transactions before.

When it was all over it looked like the Lightning had acted out climbing a mountain in front of a green screen, that maybe to someone farther down the road in post-production would see the Cup Final and trophy presentation as they were meant to be seen. But while it may have looked arranged and acted to the viewer, the mountain was there beneath their feet, real as ever to those who climbed it.

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What Maple Leafs, Oilers can learn from Cup champion Lightning –



The Tampa Bay Lightning are the 2020 Stanley Cup champions, and as soon as the clock ticked down to zero in Game 6, social media was aflame with hot takes about what this would mean for hockey’s future.

For those who value analytics, the Lightning winning is yet another check in the column of teams who follow the data being rewarded.

For those who don’t, the Lightning are a big team that has made some of the most impressive scouting choices in the NHL in recent years.

Any time a team wins the Stanley Cup the NHL as a whole tends to copy what they can from the last successful formula. However, I’m not sure how helpful trying to copy a team with two top-two draft picks that turned into superstars, or trying to copy snagging Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point in the second and third rounds, respectively, would be.

The fact is, the Lightning have an embarrassment of riches that has taken them over a decade to put together. Tampa has been a Cup contender since at least the 2013-14 season, when they were unceremoniously swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, similar to what happened against the Columbus Blue Jackets last season.

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It’s taken the team seven kicks at the can to get to this point, and while the way the Lightning play is enviable and entertaining, I don’t think playing style is the lesson to take from their victory in 2020.

The first thing I think of when I look back over the history of moves by the Lightning is that they had many opportunities to mess this up, and they continually avoided doing so, instead building on what they already had.

Not every move the Lightning made has been great, but they kept the core together when many other teams would have panicked. Looking back to the sweep the Lightning suffered at the hands of the Blue Jackets last season, when I was tasked with finding out how that happened, I found that many of the assumptions about how that series went were incorrect.

So, what lesson can other teams take from this season’s Stanley Cup champions?

If you have a young team that’s full of talent, played well in the regular season, and by the numbers played well in the playoffs: Do. Not. Panic.

It’s very easy to look at ages and contracts and find reasons why you can’t keep a group together, but the smartest people in the room find a way to keep the group together and add.

Based on these playoffs, which teams have that young talent to build around and, by the numbers, should have had better fates?

Surprisingly, two Canadian teams stand out above the crowd among teams that deserved better during these playoffs, though they do things very differently: Toronto and Edmonton.

Both teams are built around a bevy of players taken in the lottery section of the draft, but while the Leafs are high volume, the Oilers play everything tight to the chest.

Disappointment was palpable for both teams when they failed to get out of the qualification around against teams they absolutely should have beaten, which was an extra bitter pill since they were the chosen host cities for the Western and Eastern bubbles for this post-season, but the path forward for each is unlikely to be as far off as many believe.

Context matters, and because the Blackhawks were an absolutely terrible even strength team this season, I think the Oilers have a much further track to run to get into competitor territory than the Leafs do, but the West is also significantly weaker than the East overall these days, which should help them out.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

The Oilers have lots of work to do to fill out the depth of their roster, and their salary cap situation is tough, but acquiring undervalued and cheap wingers is exactly where a strong analytics department should be able to help you out. Learning from the Lightning in finding players like Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde, or even Jonathan Marchessault (who they lost) is something the Oilers should be able to figure out.

The areas where they desperately need improvement are in controlling passing, which is tough to do when you don’t have depth.

The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, have been branded chokers once again, but we need to look at the last four seasons of first round (or qualifying round) exits through the lens of expectations for a moment. Toronto wasn’t the favourite against the Washington Capitals in 2016-17, they weren’t the favourites against the Boston Bruins in 2017-18, or 2018-19. Just because they got close to winning, doesn’t mean those results are underwhelming. They may be disappointing for fans, but this series against Columbus was the first time this team truly failed to meet expectations in the post-season.

That isn’t making excuses for them, it’s just a fact, and it’s all the more difficult to label the Leafs as deeply flawed when you examine how the games flowed at even strength. Almost across the board, the Leafs carried the play, with the one issue against Columbus being that the Leafs got brutalized by the Blue Jackets’ forecheck.

Like the Oilers, the Maple Leafs are up against the cap, making maneuvering a little bit difficult, but their roster is much closer to being in a competitive mode than the Oilers are. They absolutely need to get better at defending opposing forechecks — it was an issue all season long — but how much less of an issue would that have been if Jake Muzzin weren’t injured in Game 2?

The way the Leafs are talked about, it almost sounds like people think their window of competitiveness is about to close, but they have the time to make additions and try slightly different configurations. Overreacting to a disappointing result when it looks like a pattern, despite the fact that it’s the first time the team has actually disappointed, would be the mark of foolish management.

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Blue Jays announce lineup for Game 1 of AL wild-card series vs. Rays –



The Toronto Blue Jays have chosen who they’ll go to war with as they kick off Game 1 of their American League wild-card series vs. the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday.

Pint-sized slugger Alejandro Kirk draws into the club’s lineup and will get the start at designated hitter, while trade-deadline acquisition Jonathan Villar will play second base. The Blue Jays are trotting out eight right-handed hitters after lead-off man Cavan Biggio against Rays ace Blake Snell.

The full starting lineup is as follows:

Third base: Cavan Biggio

Shortstop: Bo Bichette

Centre field: Randal Grichuk

First base: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Left field: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

Right field: Teoscar Hernandez

Second base: Jonathan Villar

Designated hitter: Alejandro Kirk

Catcher: Danny Jansen

Pitcher: Matt Shoemaker

Catch Game 1 of the Blue Jays’ series vs. the Rays on Tuesday night at 5 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. PT on Sportsnet and SN Now.

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