Tonight’s opponent, the Senators, have been a popular pick as an upstart playoff team in the Eastern Conference this season thanks to their additions of Claude Giroux (via free agency) and Alex Debrincat (via trade) up front, the graduation of highly-touted defense prospect Jake Sanderson, as well as the continued maturation of their young nucleus in Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, Drake Batherson, and Josh Norris. MLHS’ Alex Drain summed up the mix of promise and uncertainty that surrounds the Senators’ rebuild in his recent Atlantic Division season preview:
A lot of people will focus on the huge moves that the Senators made, inking the second-most discussed free agent contract and executing the second-most discussed trade in Claude Giroux and Alex DeBrincat, respectively. I get that. Those are the shiny new toys, but GM Pierre Dorion also dropped the dough for the toys they already had, locking up the existing core.
Over the course of the last year, Dorion gave 7x$8.2 M to Brady Tkachuk, 8x$7.95 M to Josh Norris, 8x$8.35 M to Tim Stützle, and 6x$4.98 M to Drake Batherson. That’s nearly $30 M doled out to four forwards! If you want to toss in Thomas Chabot’s 8x$8 M deal signed a few years back, you have close to half the cap given to five players, all of whom are signed for at least the next five seasons.
I’m not against the strategy of allotting a lot of the cap to only a few guys on principle. You need elite players to win the Cup! If those guys are Stamkos/Hedman/Kucherov/ Vasilevskiy or Makar/MacKinnon/Rantanen/Landeskog, I can get behind it. Those guys are all top 50-100 players in the league, including several of the top Hart contenders in a given year. But none of those Senators players right now are anywhere close to that level.
I like several of those players, to be clear. But are Norris and Tkachuk and Stützle in the same conversation as any of those forwards? No. Is Chabot in the same sentence as Hedman or Makar? No. Chabot’s deal is fine in the abstract given comparable contracts (Morgan Rielly, Darnell Nurse, etc), but this is a lot of multi-year, high AAV deals given to non-elite players.
Pierre Dorion made a bet that this core will grow into one that contains at least one or two elite players. We need to see signs of that from at least a few guys this year and that question is tied pretty closely to whether this squad makes the playoffs.
With two Leafs vs. Senators games tabbed for late March/early April in Ottawa (where there is always a great split-crowd atmosphere), playoff implications on the line would certainly make for a fun reanimation of the Battle of Ontario, but there are some big question marks for the Senators to answer in order to make that a reality.
With a weak defense on paper entering the season (Travis Hamonic is currently on the second pairing, and rumours swirled all offseason about their interest in Jakob Chychrun in order to address the need), how quickly can Sanderson adjust to the league and provide them with a stud to anchor the second pairing behind Thomas Chabot? Are there third-year steps forward forthcoming from Stutzle and Norris down the middle, where the Senators are also hoping 21-year-old Shane Pinto is ready for prime time? How much does the soon-to-be 35-year-old Giroux have left in the tank (23 points in 18 games for Florida, plus eight in 10 in the playoffs, augurs well)? Can Anton Forsberg follow up a promising breakout season at age 29 (46 games, .917 save percentage) and form a formidable 1A/1B tandem with their new veteran goaltending addition, Cam Talbot?
The Senators opened their season in Buffalo on Thursday with a 4-1 loss in which they were unable to solve former long-time Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson more than once despite 36 shots on goal, three breakaways for Stutzle, and four power plays in the opening 40 minutes. After Brady Tkachuk opened the scoring halfway through the first, the Senators conceded twice inside three minutes in the second period due to missed assignments in front of their net, and two Sabres empty netters in the final minute rounded out the scoring.
100 miles north, the Maple Leafs kept the wolves at bay with a bounce-back win over Washington in their home-opener that included contributions from their top power-play unit, their top line, and their new third line of Engvall – Kerfoot – Jarnkrok. Goaltender Ilya Samsonov, after a shaky first period, settled in and shut the door the rest of the way.
Game Day Quotes
DJ Smith on the Battle of Ontario, the Maple Leafs‘ strengths as a team, and the two rivals bringing out the best in one another:
In the Atlantic or in the Eastern Conference, I would say they’re the favourites at this point. They play the right way. They check. They play with lots of structure. They can score. They are ready to win right now. If you are going to beat them, you are going to have to be at your best. That is absolutely what we need.
When you go into Toronto and there are so many guys from Ontario or Canada and it’s Hockey Night In Canada, it is something special. You always get the best game when it is Hockey Night In Canada.
For us, right now, we are chasing them. Let’s be honest: They are ahead of where we are in the development. They are on the cusp of trying to win right now, and we want to be that guy.
We know what kind of players they have with Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and Tavares. We have some good young players ourselves. We’ll be ready when we play them. We have to be ready to check because they can flat-out score. If you are going to beat them, you are going to have to defend.
One thing I think they don’t get enough credit for is how they defend. I don’t know if that was to be said a few years ago, but they don’t give you much. We are going to have to be willing to play that exact same way. If you are willing to check and play that 2-1 mentality, I think we will have a chance.
Sheldon Keefe on the matchup against the Senators and the strides Ottawa is looking to take this season:
I was just looking at their forward group today. With the way both teams stack up, they have two lines that can really score and two lines that can check and play real hard. The way that sets up makes a lot of sense there.
They have gone through their rebuilding and development stage. Now they are in the hunt to make the playoffs. They believe in the moves that they have made. Clearly, they have added depth to their forward group.
There are some similarities there for sure. Any time we play Ottawa, we know we are in a game. This season, with the expectations and excitement around their team and what we have to go with that, they should make for spirited games.
Alex Kerfoot on the challenge presented by the Senators:
They brought in some guys this summer and the roster looks improved, but they play us hard whenever we’ve played them in the last couple of years. They have given us good games. They have beaten us at key moments in the season. We know we are going to get their best coming in here. We’re ready for it.
Kerfoot on Keefe labeling his line a “hybrid” unit that can be defensively responsible and chip in offensively:
That is probably pretty accurate given the deployment of the other three lines. That is kind of what we’re going to need to do. Matty and John’s lines are both going to produce a lot offensively. Kampfer historically has done a really good job of soaking up a lot of the d-zone starts. I think we can kind of fit somewhere in between.
We want to chip in offensively, but we also want to be very responsible and reliable defensively, make it hard on other teams, and try to play in the offensive zone as much as possible.
Kerfoot on Ilya Samsonov’s debut game on Thursday vs. Washington:
He played really well, I thought. A couple went in on him early in the game, but he just settled right in. He has a lot of confidence in himself. No panic whatsoever. That resonated throughout our group. He gave us a chance to come back in the game and made some big saves down the stretch.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#88 William Nylander – #91 John Tavares – #62 Denis Malgin
#47 Pierre Engvall – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #19 Calle Järnkrok
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #64 David Kampf – #96 Nicolas Aubé-Kubel
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#55 Mark Giordano – #38 Rasmus Sandin
Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#50 Erik Källgren
Injured: Matt Murray, Timothy Liljegren
Ottawa Senators Projected Lines
#7 Brady Tkachuk – #18 Tim Stutzle – #19 Drake Batherson
#12 Alex Debrincat – #9 Josh Norris – #28 Claude Giroux
#14 Tyler Motte – #57 Shane Pinto – #21 Mathieu Joseph
#45 Parker Kelly – #47 Mark Kastelic – #16 Austin Watson
Neymar has returned from injury to help Brazil thump South Korea 4-1, setting up a World Cup quarter-final clash against Croatia.
Four unanswered Brazilian goals in the first half at Stadium 974 on Monday set an imperious tone for a team with their sights firmly on a sixth World Cup title.
And while the game settled in the second period, it was never sluggish or scrappy, and a spirited South Korea fought hard to score a consolation goal in the 76th minute.
It took just seven minutes for Brazil to get off the mark, with Raphinha picking up the ball just outside the box and rushing in on the right side, sending in a pass to Neymar. The Paris Saint-Germain number 10 was brought down by his marker and the ball ended up at the feet of Vinicius Jr, in acres of space.
The Real Madrid star steadied himself before placing it to the right of Kim Seung-gyu in the South Korean goal.
Just three minutes later, Richarlison was brought down by Jung Woo-young inside the box, and the referee pointed to the spot. Neymar, who had reportedly flown his barber out to Qatar to dye his hair blonde following previous victories over South Korea with bleached hair, wasted no time in slotting it into the bottom-right of the net. Brazil was up two-nil with less than 15 minutes on the clock.
South Korea had their share of chances, with Hwang Hee-chan, fresh off scoring the winner against Portugal, having a go from a distance but sending the ball comfortably over the bar. Moments later, Allison was forced to make a diving save to his left, his first save of the tournament.
But Paolo Bento’s men were simply outclassed in every part of the pitch.
A remarkable piece of skill in the 26th minute saw Richarlison juggling the ball, heading it to himself three times while evading defenders on the edge of the South Korean box. He then passed the ball before running through on goal to receive the return, firing the ball in for Brazil’s third.
Just 10 minutes later, Vinicius Jr set up Lucas Paqueta with a cheeky chip, and the midfielder shot low and right. Kim Seung-gyu could do little but look at the ball nestling in the back of the net.
With four goals before half-time, Brazil was putting down a marker for any teams who think they might have a chance of lifting the trophy on December 18.
Son Heung-min nearly clawed one back for South Korea straight after the restart, but Alisson — who must, through this game alone, be in contention for the Golden Glove — got enough of his arm onto the shot to tip it wide.
Faced with the intensity of Brazil’s onslaught, South Korea tried to slow the game, but more chances for Raphinha and Vinicius Jr followed despite the best efforts of the men in red.
Then came the 77th minute, and out of nowhere, Paik Seung-ho scored from outside the box. A free kick for South Korea was bundled clear by the Brazilian defence, falling to Paik, who belted it past Alisson’s dive to find the top-right corner. Finally, the South Korean fans had something to cheer about.
South Korea continued to work hard in defence and create chances in attack, but that goal was to be their only score, and they head home having been soundly beaten by one of the best teams in the world.
Brazil will face Croatia in the quarter-finals at Education City on Friday.
Christine Sinclair and former national teammate Diana Matheson announced on Monday plans to kick off a domestic professional women’s league in 2025, featuring eight teams throughout Canada.
The two players sat down with The National‘s Adrienne Arsenault to reveal the news.
After the duo helped Canada capture bronze at the 2012 Olympics — Matheson scored the medal-clinching goal — Sinclair expected progress. After all, the team had just snapped Canada’s 108-year podium drought in the sport.
“I really thought that 2012 was going to be a turning point for this country in bringing professional soccer home,” Sinclair told Arsenault. “But it never happened. And there’s still no pathways within this country.”
And so, a decade later, Sinclair and Matheson took matters into their own hands.
The still unnamed league would begin in April 2025 with an inaugural champion crowned sometime in the fall. Each team will have at least one Canadian international, and the goal is to bring home about half of the over-100 Canadians currently playing abroad.
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Signa Butler examines absence of top domestic women’s league:
Host Signa Butler explains the landscape of women’s sports leagues in Canada, as some of the country’s best athletes are without a league in their own backyard.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Calgary Foothills Soccer Club are confirmed as the first two teams to join the upstart league.
“Whitecaps FC are thrilled to be one of the first teams to sign on to a professional women’s soccer league in Canada,” said Stephanie Labbe, Whitecaps FC general manager of women’s soccer. “The creation of this league is something we have been advocating for over many years, and to be part of seeing it come to fruition is truly exciting.”
The league is being built by Matheson and her business partners at Project 8 Sports Inc. Sinclair, soccer’s all-time international scoring leader, is on board as an official advisor.
“The whole idea behind this is to aim high. And like, if you’re not, what’s the point?” Sinclair said.
“So let’s go out from the get-go and compete with the best leagues in the world and bring in the top talent. And yeah, have 10 year olds watching a game that 10 years later is on the Whitecaps, for instance. That would be my dream.”
Matheson, who retired from playing in July 2021, has visions of the league pushing the entire Canadian women’s sports infrastructure forward.
“It’s health and wellness. It’s confidence. It’s tied with better academics. There’s a huge tie between women in sport and women in business,” Matheson said. “And this is about soccer, but it’s about the coaches, it’s about the referees, it’s about women in executive roles in sport.”
Part of that women’s sports fabric comes down to marketing like jersey sales. Sinclair said she can’t even get her hands on her own jersey to gift to her niece.
“I don’t know if they exist,” Sinclair said.
Matheson, 38, said she’s been working on obtaining her Master of Business Administration, as well as partaking in UEFA programming. She’s hoping the league becomes a Canada Soccer member by 2023, with full sanctioning by 2024
She said Air Canada and CIBC are already on board as sponsors, and that it’s especially important to have the right team owners involved in the league.
“One of the things is having more diversity to begin with — more women, diverse voices to begin with, more players voices to begin with. And that’s top to bottom. I want women owners, women in the executive, women’s player voices as part of this,” Matheson said.
The Oakville, Ont., native made the case that the buy-in, which is expected to be between $8-10 million, is a worthwhile investment, noting that National Women’s Soccer League clubs, which were bought for $150,000 US 10 years ago, are now valued at a minimum of $35 million US. The Orlando NWSL franchise was purchased in 2021 for about $400 million US.
Matheson said her league can compete with average player salaries across the world right now.
“We just have way more opportunities to monetize our own brand. Players can do appearances, they can work with companies, they can run camps in a way that they just can’t when they’re playing in Italy and England,” she said.
Another point of importance for Matheson and Sinclair is ensuring players in their league are protected. Reports of abuse in the NWSL last season resulted in the resignation of half of the league’s coaches.
Sinclair is captain of the Portland Thorns, whose CEO Merrit Paulson stepped down in October following reports of systemic emotional and verbal abuse, as well as sexual misconduct.
“[It’s] unfortunate just how women are treated and taken advantage of. That’s why we need women owners. We need female executives,” Sinclair said.
Added Matheson: “It’s training, it’s vetting, it’s independent reporting systems. And for us, that’s going to mean working with those groups that are really good at doing those things.”
At its crux, though, the league intends to establish pathways for young Canadian women to stay in soccer and work their way onto the national team — to foster future generations so that one day they could get their golden moment like Sinclair had in 2021 in Tokyo.
“It’s time to change the narrative and inspire the next group,” Matheson said. “I believe kids need to see it to believe that it’s possible to happen. And with the launch of this league, kids will be able to go into their own backyard and watch their heroes play and dream of one day representing their hometown professional club and maybe representing Canada.”
Sinclair said she was once one of those kids, watching the 1999 World Cup with a dream to be on that pitch herself one day.
23 years later, the Burnaby, B.C., native has accomplished nearly everything she could in her sport.
“We’ve inspired Canadians on the podium,” Sinclair said. “Now it’s time to actually make an impactful difference here in Canada.”
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