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Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:
Quick note before we get started: no newsletter Monday on account of the holiday. Back Tuesday.
Here’s your guide to the first stage of the NHL playoffs
On Saturday — 143 days after putting its season on pause — the NHL will finally play meaningful games again. It’s cutting right to the chase, too. Unlike the NBA, which is having its teams play eight more de facto regular-season games each, the NHL is going straight to an expanded version of the playoffs.
Refresher on how this will work: The first stage, branded the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, consists of two parts. The more interesting one matches up the 5th through 12th seeds in each conference for best-of-five series. While those are going on, the top four seeds in each conference play a round robin against each other. Everyone in the round-robin is guaranteed to advance, but their records in these games will determine seeding for the conventional 16-team, best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff bracket that follows. The No. 1 seed in each conference gets to play the lowest-seeded survivor from the best-of-five series, and the teams will be re-seeded after each round so that the top remaining seed always gets to play the weakest seed.
The four teams in the East round-robin are (in order of best to worst record) Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia. In the West it’s defending Cup champion St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas and Dallas.
The Stanley Cup champ is more likely to come from that group of eight. Most bookmakers have Tampa Bay as the favourite to win the Cup, but the odds suggest it’s a wide-open race. Boston, Vegas and Colorado are all packed in closely behind the Lightning, with several other teams not far away.
Some teams will undoubtedly rise up the board if they survive their best-of-five series. Let’s take a quick look at those matchups:
#5 Edmonton Oilers vs. #12 Chicago: There’s plenty of star power in this battle between two of the leagues’ top-heaviest teams. The Oilers have the NHL’s No. 1 and No. 2 point scorers in Leon Draisaitl (an MVP finalist) and Connor McDavid (the best player in the world). Chicago’s Patrick Kane had 84 points in 70 games this season, and Jonathan Toews is one of the top two-way players of his generation.
#6 Nashville Predators vs. #11 Arizona Coyotes: Probably the least interesting matchup, but there’s some freshness to it. The Coyotes are making their first playoff appearance since 2012, and Arizona star Taylor Hall is making just the second of his career.
#7 Vancouver Canucks vs. #10 Minnesota Wild: Vancouver is back in the playoffs for the first time in five years and looking to win a series for the first time since falling one victory short of the Stanley Cup in 2011. The Wild are the deeper team, but the Canucks have more stars, including last year’s rookie of the year (forward Elias Pettersson) and also possibly this year’s (defenceman Quinn Hughes, who’s a finalist for the award).
#8 Calgary Flames vs. #9 Winnipeg Jets: The only all-Canadian matchup is one we haven’t seen in the playoffs since the 1987 Smythe Division semifinals. Top to bottom, Calgary’s skaters are stronger, but the Jets have one of the best goalies in the league in Connor Hellebuyck, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
#5 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #12 Montreal Canadiens: Everyone is calling the Habs impostors because they had basically no chance of making the playoffs the conventional way this year. But a best-of-five series introduces even more randomness into the already notoriously random NHL playoffs, and Carey Price can steal one of these if he gets hot. But he’ll be facing a healthy and rested Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
#6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. #11 New York Rangers: This one looks fun. The Rangers’ Artemi Panarin finished third in the league in scoring to earn an MVP-finalist nod, and he and Mika Zibanejad are a dynamite tandem. Carolina made a surprising run to the conference finals last year, but its goaltending is still a big question mark.
#7 New York Islanders vs. #10 Florida Panthers: The Panthers spent a ton in free agency, but they were probably on their way to missing the playoffs before they got rescued by the expanded playoff format Still, they have a pair of stars in Jonathan Huberdeau and Alexander Barkov, and a high-ceiling goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky. The Islanders are a classic Barry Trotz team: a collection of no-names who beat you with effort and dedication to their brilliant coach’s stifling system.
#8 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. #9 Columbus Blue Jackets: A fourth consecutive opening-round exit would be devastating to the Leafs and their fragile fan base. So it’s a bit cruel that they drew the team who shocked juggernaut Tampa in round 1 last year. Columbus, though, won only three of its last 15 games before the NHL shut down the regular season.
A few more things to note: From now through the quarter-finals, all Eastern Conference games are being played in Toronto. Edmonton is hosting the Western games, and will host both conference finals and the Stanley Cup final.
As for the schedule, it’s a binge-watcher’s dream. Five games are on tap Saturday, with start times ranging from noon ET to 10:30 p.m. ET. They’re staggered in such a way that you’ll be able to watch about 13 consecutive hours of hockey with very little gaps in the action (please consult your doctor first). A similar slate is in line for at least the first six days, and probably a bit longer unless there are a bunch of sweeps. This handy graphic from the NHL lays out the full schedule for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers:
Another baseball game was postponed — and more might be coming. Today’s matchup between St. Louis and Milwaukee got called off after two Cardinals players tested positive for COVID-19. That makes three games on today’s schedule postponed because of positive tests. Philadelphia-Toronto and Washington-Miami are the others, and their games through the weekend have already been nixed. At our publish time it was unclear what will happen with the Cardinals-Brewers games on Saturday and Sunday. It’ll also be interesting to see if the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland get pulled into this. The Cardinals said that their positive results came from tests conducted on Wednesday, prior to a game in Minnesota. The Twins are scheduled to play Cleveland tonight, Saturday and Sunday. Meanwhile, the Miami Marlins’ outbreak resulted in a 20th positive test today. The count is up to 18 players and two coaches. Read about the latest in baseball’s growing list of problems here.
The Canadian Elite Basketball League’s tournament has been quite competitive. After the 0-2 Ottawa Blackjacks beat the 2-0 Fraser Valley Bandits last night, all seven teams were either 2-1 or 1-2 at the halfway mark of the round robin. This stage runs through Wednesday. At that point, the top two teams will get a bye to the semifinals while the teams ranked 3-6 will square off in a pair of quarter-final matchups on Thursday night. Every game in the tournament is being streamed live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Today’s matchups are Edmonton vs. Niagara at 3 p.m. ET and Saskatchewan vs. Guelph at 5:30 p.m. ET. Both of Saturday’s games — Hamilton vs. Fraser Valley at 1:30 p.m. ET and Edmonton vs. Saskatchewan at 3:30 p.m. ET — will also be broadcast live on the CBC TV network. Stream everything live and see the full schedule here.
The LPGA Tour is back. The first tournament since mid-February teed off today in Ohio. Canada’s best player, Brooke Henderson, isn’t there. The world No. 7 decided to skip the first three events and return for the next major, the British Women’s Open on Aug. 20. The only Canadian in the field this week is 107th-ranked Alena Sharp. If not for the pandemic, she and Henderson would be in Tokyo right now competing in the Olympics. Read more about Sharp here.
And one more thing…
The NBA is back, which is great. But so is load management, which is not.
It was genuinely uplifting to watch the return of meaningful NBA games last night. They looked and sounded as close to normal as you could hope under these circumstances. And the moment before the opener in which every single player, coach and referee involved in the Utah-New Orleans game took a knee for the national anthem was quite powerful.
But it was not so great to be reminded that load management is still very much a thing. Star rookie Zion Williamson, like the rest of the league, had been off for four and a half months. He’s now nine months removed from the arthroscopic knee surgery that was initially supposed to keep him out for 6-8 weeks, and he already came back and got 20 games under his belt before the pandemic hit. So you’d think he’d be good to go.
And yet, in the final few minutes of a tight, nationally televised game last night, New Orleans refused to budge from the minutes restriction it has placed on him. Zion came out of the game with 7:19 left and never returned — even when the Pelicans got the ball with 6.9 seconds left and trailing by two. They missed a potential game-winning three and lost. After the game, coach Alvin Gentry said “We wish we could have played Zion down the stretch. But he had used the minutes that had been given to us.”
It’s understandable that New Orleans would want to be protective of Zion. He has a history of knee injuries and the Pelicans’ chances of winning a championship this year are extremely slim. So in some ways it makes sense to play the long game — for both the team and for Zion. But New Orleans still has a chance to make the playoffs, and one of the selling points of this final stretch of regular-season games (or “seeding games” as the NBA has branded them) was supposed to be watching Zion lead his team on that push. Now we know that isn’t the top priority for the Pelicans.
This kind of indifference is something the league might have to reckon with before long. It’s become pretty plain that many teams and players don’t really care about the regular season. Pretty soon, fans might stop caring too.
You’re up to speed. Have a good long weekend.
Kyle Lowry Signs With Miami Heat Leaves Toronto – HYPEBEAST
Kyle Lowry is bidding farewell to the city of Toronto after nine years to join the Miami Heat. For many years, Lowry has been the face of the Toronto Raptors, bringing in an immeasurable impact to not only the franchise but the Canadian community worldwide.
It is hard to quantify Lowry’s effect on the team, the city and the country but Lowry did definitely had a hand in shifting the franchise from being an underdog to an NBA champion. As Lowry departs the Raptors for South Beach, fans are possibly calling him the greatest player of the Canadian NBA franchise. Lowry holds the most assists (4,277), steals (873), three-pointers (1,518) and triple-doubles (18) in Raptors history.
Lowry is set to join the Miami Heat in free agency and is expected to sign a three-year sign-and-trade deal with the Toronto Raptors. Sources have reported that Lowry prefers a three-year deal with no options. The specific terms of the deal have yet to be announced, but Lowry took to Instagram and Twitter to seemingly confirm his move to Miami.
The 35-year-old NBA veteran averaged 17.2 points, 7.3 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game last season. His move to Miami will give him the opportunity to play with Heat’s star Jimmy Butler.
— Kyle Lowry (@Klow7) August 2, 2021
In other sports news, Simone Biles announced she is competing in the balance beam event at the Tokyo Olympics.
Kyle Lowry joining Heat after nine seasons with Raptors – Sportsnet.ca
TORONTO — Raptors star guard Kyle Lowry is headed to the Miami Heat.
Lowry put out a social media post to his more than 907,000 Twitter followers saying “Miami Heat X Kyle Lowry” and “Let’s Goo!!” followed by five fire emojis.
The post came less than 45 minutes after free agency officially kicked off Monday at 6 p.m. ET. Deals will not be considered official until noon Friday, with the Raptors saying they would have nothing to say until then.
Citing a source, The Associated Press reported Lowry had agreed to a three-year deal worth an estimated US$90 million in a sign-and-trade with Toronto that will send veteran point guard Goran Dragic and power forward Precious Achiuwa to the Raptors. There was no immediate word whether those players will stick in Toronto or head elsewhere in another thread to the deal.
A 15-year NBA veteran, the 35-year-old Lowry has spent the last nine seasons as a Raptor.
Miami, New Orleans, Dallas, the New York Knicks and Philadelphia had been seen as possible suitors come free agency. The debate over Lowry’s future had started prior to the trade deadline but he remained a Raptor, finishing out a difficult 27-45 season played in Tampa due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.
Lowry was seen as a key player in the free-agent guard sweepstakes, one of the first dominoes to drop and set the stage for future signings.
Several outlets reported that guard/forward Gary Trent Jr., is remaining with the Raptors after agreeing to a $54-million, three-year deal, with the third year a player option. The 22-year-old restricted free agent came to Toronto at the trade deadline in the deal that sent Norm Powell to Portland.
With Lowry’s contract expiring, it was the long goodbye for the star guard. In February, there were reports Lowry — who was in Tampa with the rest of the Raptors due to pandemic-relayed travel restrictions — had put his Toronto home on the market.
Then the March 25 trade deadline came and went.
As free agency approached, the Heat appeared to be making moves to pave the way to acquire Lowry in a sign-and-trade. They picked up the option on Dragic’s $19.4-million contract for the 2021-2022 season, which would help to make the numbers work in a deal.
Lowry is also said to be close to Heat star Jimmy Butler, who reportedly was nearing a contract extension with Miami.
“To be honest with you, my family will be a major factor in this,” Lowry said in his end-of-season media meeting in May, when asked about what will shape his decision on what’s next. “And also money talks and years talk and all that stuff. Let’s be real.
“I play this game for the love for the game. But at the end of the day I want to make sure my family is still taken care of for generations and for time to come. Even though they are now, I want to continue to be able to do that for my family.”
But the six-time all-star made it clear he is not ready to walk away from the game.
“Until that time comes, I still have a lot more to give, I have a ton of basketball left in me,” he said.
He also made it clear he wanted to play for a contender.
“I want championships, That’s always been the goal. Money comes with that and you get paid, but championships are a big key into why I play this game,” he said.
The Raptors will look to Fred VanVleet to take over as floor general.
Toronto drafted guard Malachi Flynn in the first round (29th overall) of the 2020 draft and last week took Canadian Dalano Banton (Nebraska, 46th) and fellow guard David Johnson (Louisville, 47th).
Lowry became the face of the Toronto franchise, a gritty combative guard who helped lead the team to the promised land in 2019 when it dispatched the Golden State Warriors in six games. He has made a career out of proving people wrong.
“I enjoy the challenge of people counting me out, counting the team out,” he said in May.
Scotiabank Arena became Lowry’s house. His two young sons were often in the Raptors dressing room, playing video games or just hanging out with dad.
On the court, Lowry was the Raptors’ conductor.
He averaged 17.2 points and 7.3 assists a game last season, when he was restricted to 46 games due to injury. Toronto finished out of the playoffs, in 12th spot in the East.
Listed at six foot and 196 pounds, Lowry makes his living in a land of giants. And he is willing to put his body on the line, with a league-leading 166 charges taken over the last five seasons.
Lowry was acquired by Toronto in a July 2012 trade with Houston that sent Gary Forbes and a protected future first-round draft pick (the Rockets eventually moved to the pick to Oklahoma City which used it to select centre Steven Adams) the other way.
“We feel we’ve added a solid starting-calibre point guard to our team who will bring toughness, grit and playmaking at a very important position,” then-Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo said at the time. “At (26 years old), I would say Kyle represents what I would characterize as the future of the position.”
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 3, 2021
He was selected in the first round (24th overall) by Memphis in the 2006 NBA draft. Three years later he was dealt to Houston in a three-team trade that also involved Orlando.
Lowry is Toronto’s franchise leader in triple-doubles (16), three-points goals (1,518), assists (4,277) and steals (873). And with 10,540 points, he ranks second to good friend DeMar DeRozan (13,296) in the Raptors record book.
With 601 games and 20,813 minutes played in Toronto colours, Lowry is also second to DeRozan.
In January 2019, he added to his legacy by joining a select group with 5,000 career assists. Lowry found Serge Ibaka on a pick-and-roll and the big man beat Deandre Ayton to the hoop for a dunk in a 111-109 win over the Phoenix Suns.
“He’s been in the league a long time and he’s had the ball in his hands and got it to a lot of people,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said at the time.” Since I came here five-and-a-half years ago, it was the first thing I noticed — how he’d find the right guys to get the ball to. He really commands the offence and knows where to get it.”
Lowry’s pay was $30.5 million last season. According to HoopsHype, the Villanova University product has earned more than $190 million over his playing career.
Lowry is the latest member of the Raptors’ 2019 championship team to leave the fold. Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol, Danny Green, Norm Powell and Ibaka are among those who have already moved on.
Toronto Mayor John Tory paid tribute to Lowry, calling him “the greatest Raptor of all time.”
“He showed our city who we want to be. The fighter. The leader,” Tory said in a statement. “The player who’s got your back and leads the charge. Who takes the charge. Who falls down and gets back up. Again and again.”
Olympic high jumpers overcome with emotion after sharing gold medal – Yahoo Canada Sports
All Olympic athletes arrive at the Games with aspirations to perform their best and hopefully bring home some hardware.
In addition to fierce competition, however, the Olympics are a great platform to show the world the importance of sportsmanship.
On Day 9 of the Tokyo Games, fair play was on full display in the men’s high jump final between Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi.
Clearing 2.37m, both competitors successfully arrived at the 2.39m jump without any failed attempts. After Barshim and Tamberi fell short of making the jump three times apiece, an Olympic official approached the two, pitching that they compete in a jump-off to determine the winner.
What happened next, though, was truly a lasting moment of the 2020 Games.
“Can we have two gold?” Barshim asked.
The official green-lighted the request, which sent Barshim and Tamberi into pure euphoria.
“I look at him, he looks at me, and we know it. We just look at each other and we know, that is it, it is done. There is no need,” Barshim said, according to CBC.
“He is one of my best friends, not only on the track, but outside the track. We work together. This is a dream come true. It is the true spirit, the sportsman spirit, and we are here delivering this message.”
What an amazing moment between two athletes at the absolute peak of their sport.
Belarussian Maksim Nedasekau, who also cleared 2.37, took home bronze via the countback.
The win marked the first gold medals for Barshim and Tamberi at the Olympics, and it created a moment that will last a lifetime.
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