If 2020 hadn’t already thrown us enough curve balls, Zdeno Chara has signed to patrol the blueline for the Washington Capitals for the 2020-21 season. There is no truth to the rumor that the deal was held up while the Capitals were in negotiations to get an exemption from the Height of Buildings Act that prohibits skyscrapers from being erected in D.C.
It was shocking news indeed, particularly since most observers thought Chara would either return to the Boston Bruins or retire. But it’s pretty clear that, even at the age of 43 – he’ll turn 44 midway through the season – Chara believes he still has something to give. And he’s probably right. And it wasn’t that the Bruins didn’t agree with him. This move appears to have had everything to do with roles and responsibilities. The Bruins wanted to see what they have with their young left-shot defensemen and that would have meant a reduced role for one of the greatest leaders the Bruins franchise has ever seen.
Like the Bruins, the Capitals are trying to win another Stanley Cup with a group for whom time appears to be running out. With Craig Anderson on a PTO and possibly the backup goalie, the Capitals have also added Justin Schultz to their veteran group. Going with a cast of veterans worked out pretty well for the Dallas Stars last season. Perhaps it will do the same for Washington.
So if you subscribe to the theory that Chara left Boston because he still wants to be an everyday player, then it would stand to reason that the Capitals likely gave him some assurances that he would be that, despite the fact that it’s a pretty crowded blueline at the moment. The John Carlson-Brenden Dillon is set as the first pairing, with Shultz and Dmitry Orlov likely making up the No. 2 tandem. The Capitals also acquired Trevor van Riemsdyk as a free agent over the summer and it probably makes sense that he and Chara would make up the third pairing.
It will likely be something of an adjustment for Chara, who remarkably played 21 minutes a game last season. But if he can take a regular shift and continue to be one of the elite penalty-killing defensemen in the league – as well as occasionally rub out an opposing forward – this could be a great move for the Capitals. He is no longer the towering force he was in his prime, but Chara is still a very good defensive presence and a really difficult opponent. There will be lines that will not enjoy matching up against the Capitals when Chara is on the blueline and both Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin are on the ice.
As far as Chara’s legacy in Boston is concerned, it is secure and without reproach. As one of the best free-agent signings in NHL history when he joined the Bruins in 2006, Chara became one of the greatest defensemen of his generation. In his 14-year career, he captained the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup triumph in 40 years, winning a Norris Trophy and being named a first-team all-star twice and a second-teamer three times along the way. Much of the culture that has been established with the Bruins over the past decade can be traced directly to Chara’s influence. His toughness and work ethic are legendary, as evidenced by him playing Games 5, 6 and 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup final after breaking his jaw.
This past fall, THN produced a special issue ranking the top 100 NHL defensemen of all-time and Chara was No. 23 on the list. That puts him behind the likes of Bobby Orr, Eddie Shore and Ray Bourque – who finished at No. 1, 4 and 5 on the list – and the No. 11-ranked Dit Clapper in Bruins history. (Brad Park, who spent eight outstanding seasons and was twice a first-team all-star with the Bruins, was 13th on the list.)
So it’s safe to say that Chara is the fifth-best defenseman in the history of a franchise that has had an embarrassment of riches at that position, which is quite an achievement. Chris Chelios and Scott Stevens are the only defensemen in NHL history to play at least 1,600 games while recording 700 points and 2,000 penalty minutes. Chara is 47 games, 44 points and 44 PIM from joining them in that group. The Hall of Fame most definitely awaits.
Time will tell whether the Bruins made a mistake in letting Chara go. Their leadership group, led by captain-in-waiting Patrice Bergeron, is already very strong. But not only have they lost Chara, they’ll also be without Torey Krug, with Brad Marchand and David Krejci expected to miss time. They already have Matt Grzelcyk, John Moore and Jeremy Lauzon on the left side, with Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen having spent the past couple of seasons in the minors. It should not take long for them to find out, however. With the Capitals and Bruins playing in the East Division, the teams will meet eight times (not including playoffs) this season.
Connor McDavid goes super-nova in 5-2 Edmonton Oilers win over Vancouver – Edmonton Journal
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ZACK KASSIAN. 6. That was more like it. Zack Kassian was skating better and was involved in the play more over-all, chipping in 3 hits and 3 shots. Unlucky to have not scored, as Thatcher Demko absolutely stoned him in close with a terrific glove save on an early chance. Set up McDavid for a chance a shift later. Part of a 3-way sequence that led to Nugent-Hopkins ringing one off the post. More, please.
DARNELL NURSE. 8. Darnell Nurse will be asked to carry a heavier load this year with Oscar Klefbom on the shelf for the season. If tonight is any indication, Nurse is up to it. 2 shots, 5 hits, 2 blocks in a team-leading 23:54 of TOI. A nifty take-away and shot in the 1st. 61% CF (30-19 at even strength). He was a tower of power. +3.
ETHAN BEAR. 7. Had a terrific game. Always on the right side of his man. Made a number of nice, crisp outlet passes. A key clear on a 1st Period PK, again on a 3rd period penalty kill. A shot, 2 blocks, and played in all 3 disciplines across 23:44. Nurse nudged him out in ice time by 10 seconds. +3.
LEON DRAISAITL. 9. Dominant on both sides of the puck. Put up 4 assists, the first a shot off the post that Nugent-Hopkins back-handed home. Won the faceoff with just 2.5 seconds in the opening frame which led to McDavid’s 1st. His drop pass was part of the high-light reel goal by McDavid described above. Then, Leon set up Connor’s hat trick goal with a sublime, no-look backhand pass that was just out of this world. Without the puck he also chipped in 3 hits, was 71% in the circle, and also had an impressive 1st Period back-check that broke up a dangerous Canucks sortie in the 1st. What a player.
Steve Nash has his hands full with the Brooklyn Nets – CBC.ca
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Steve Nash is blessed — and also maybe cursed
There’s an element of Greek tragedy to it. The gods (or, in this case, Brooklyn Nets GM Sean Marks) grant our hero a gift that can make him more powerful than all his rivals. But it comes with a catch that threatens to destroy him.
That’s where Nash, the Canadian basketball legend and NBA coaching rookie, finds himself after the Nets’ blockbuster trade for James Harden. The kraken of a deal (technically two deals), officially completed today, involves four teams, seven players, six draft picks and four pick swaps. The gist is that Harden is moving from Houston to Brooklyn, Caris LeVert from Brooklyn to Indiana, and Victor Oladipo from Indiana to Houston. Brooklyn is giving Houston three first-round picks and the right to swap first-rounders in four other years, and the Rockets grabbed another first-round pick from Cleveland. Whew.
On one hand, Nash is blessed. It’s every coach’s dream to see his front-office go all-in like this on a championship run. In his first season as a head coach at any level, he now commands one of the best triumvirates ever assembled in pro basketball. Harden is one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the sport, the winner of the last three NBA scoring titles and a former MVP. Kevin Durant is a two-time Finals MVP who owns four scoring titles and a regular-season MVP. Kyrie Irving has hit a championship-winning shot and is one of the most dazzling ball-handlers and finishers anyone has ever seen.
But the Nets’ Achilles heel is painfully obvious. All three of their superstars are difficult personalities who have worn out their welcomes with other teams. Harden forced his way out of Houston by demanding a trade and then showing up for the season out of shape and sullen, alienating teammates and fans. Durant, despite great personal and team success in Golden State, never found the fulfilment he sought in joining the Warriors’ dynasty. He clashed with teammates and the media during his final, sour season there.
And then there’s Kyrie. After unhappy endings in Cleveland and Boston, he could be headed for another one in Brooklyn. Irving is currently on an unspecified, indefinite leave from the team — the reasons for which remain mysterious. No one knows when — or even if — he’ll return to the NBA. So, at this point, the Nets’ Big Three exists only in theory. And, oh yeah, there’s still only one ball for everyone to share.
Time isn’t on Brooklyn’s side either. Harden and Durant are both on the wrong side of 30. Kyrie turns 29 in March but seems like one of the NBA’s oldest souls. So there’s tremendous pressure on Nash to win right now.
The Nets recruited the universally beloved Canadian for this job over far more experienced coaches because of his “soft” skills. He has the ability to relate to, empathize with — and command the respect of — modern superstars. Those talents were put to the test with just Durant and Kyrie on the team. With Harden, the degree of difficulty — and the stakes — have been raised.
Depending partly on how Nash plays this, Brooklyn could win the championship this year. Or go down in flames. And no one would be surprised either way.
Another province cancelled its curling playdowns. Saskatchewan joins B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Northern Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia in deciding not to hold tournaments to determine its representatives for this year’s Brier and Scotties. Unlike most of the others, Saskatchewan isn’t simply sending last year’s provincial champions. Instead, it considered recent results and landed on the teams skipped by Sherry Anderson, whose last Scotties appearance was in 2018, and Matt Dunstone, who finished third at last year’s Brier. Both the Brier and the Scotties will be played in a bubble in Calgary this winter, and Curling Canada announced yesterday that it’s expanding the fields to 18 by adding two extra wild-card teams to each event. Read more about Saskatchewan’s decision in this story by CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux.
Another track star broke doping rules. Reigning Olympic 100-metre hurdles champion Brianna McNeal didn’t test positive for a banned substance, but the 29-year-old American has been provisionally suspended by the Athletics Integrity Unit for “tampering within the results management process.” Read more about the ruling here.
A five-time Olympic swimming medallist was charged for taking part in the U.S. Capitol riot. The FBI caught Klete Keller after a video apparently showed him, wearing a U.S. Olympic team jacket, among those storming the building. He’s charged with knowingly entering a restricted building to impede an official government function, disorderly conduct and obstructing law officers. Keller, 38, competed in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics. He won two gold and a silver medal as part of relay teams, plus a pair of individual bronze. Keller was known to be an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump on social media. Read more about Keller and the charges against him here.
A Mickey Mantle baseball card sold for $5.2 million US. That’s a new record for a sports card, shattering the $3.94 million paid for a one-of-a-kind Mike Trout rookie only five months ago (yes, cards are a thing again). Unlike most super-expensive cards, this Mantle is not a rookie. But the 1952 Topps is special for a few reasons. As ESPN notes, that was the first year Topps produced an annual set, and the company ended up dumping thousands of them into the Hudson River because of overproduction. Also, this particular Mantle card was graded PSA 9, and only six in that condition are believed to still exist. The record may not last, though. There are three known ’52 Topps Mantle cards graded PSA 10 — also known as “gem mint” condition. Those are valued at more than $10 million.
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Oilers show growth defensively, capitalize on McDavid show vs. Canucks – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — The journey began a day late Thursday evening, for an Edmonton Oilers team that didn’t like losing its home opener the previous night — but was particularly sour about the way that 5-3 loss went down.
All that remained was the security folks, as the Oilers clamped on to their two points with a dull, but extremely effective, third period. The Oilers were far more concerned with the “2” than the “4,” a trait they’ve struggled to embrace over the years.
“That was talked about, that’s for sure,” head coach Dave Tippett said. “You’ve got to play a certain way and there were still a couple of instances in the third that will be discussed, when we turned pucks over, we had our D in there too tight.
“You know, you’ve got to have a mindset of how you’re going to win. It doesn’t matter if you win by two or win by eight, you’ve just got to win. And when you want to win by eight, sometimes you don’t win by two.”
It was two different brands of hockey: 40 minutes of the Connor McDavid Show, as he answered a scoreless opener with a hat trick and a four-point night, and 20 minutes of Vancouver seeking a crack in an opponent that has for so many years given them that breath of life.
This year’s team has identified that area as a place where they plan to grow, and if the measurement is from Game 1 to Game 2, then that growth was enormous.
“Defence is very important to us, we’ve preached that throughout camp,” said Leon Draisaitl, who had four assists. “Yesterday wasn’t the way we wanted to show up and play. Great response tonight.”
One night after Brock Boeser had flexed his muscles for the Canucks, it was the Oilers’ star players who took over this game. The line of McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zack Kassian was too much for Vancouver at 5-on-5, and the Edmonton power play was merciless, scoring on two of their four opportunities.
If you’re looking to someone other than McDavid for why Edmonton beats Vancouver, then look to a perfect penalty kill that thwarted the Canucks on each of five chances.
“All four lines, all six D — right from the start we had the right mindset,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “We knew we needed to clean some things up after last night, and in a back-to-back, you don’t have too much time to think, and dwell on things. We responded really well.”
Look, when McDavid plays like this, you’d better win.
He was “Warp Speed Connor” on Thursday — dominating in a style that has added some power and guile. The 2-0 goal he scored with 0.7 seconds left in the opening period was equal parts skill, strength and power, as he busted through his check to pot a rebound that broke Vancouver’s back.
“It seemed like we had a little more juice than they did,” observed McDavid. “But that happens in a back-to-back, sometimes a team just doesn’t have it. I thought we did a good job as a group. The power play was good, the PK was good. 5-on-5 I thought we did a pretty good job as well.”
The growth of a team happy to shut ‘er down after 40 is a necessary element in this town.
“That’s the position we want to be in all season long, up in the third period and being able to hold those leads,” McDavid said. “I thought we did a good job. They had a couple of looks, they hemmed us in a little bit, but I liked the way we were able to find a fifth and were able to finish the game off.”
And so we’re off. Through two games, we’ve seen Mikko Koskinen with an excellent bounce-back night, the ageing Mike Smith already dinged up and young Jesse Puljujarvi — though pointless still — is clearly not the player he was when he last donned the blue-and-orange silks.
“This is his first two North American games he’s played in a long time,” cautioned Tippett. “He’s still finding his way out there but he’s relentless. He works. He’s heavy on the puck. He wants the puck all the time. I think he’s going to keep trending in the right direction.”
Puljujarvi’s game is simpler, and he uses his natural assets better than before. There is definitely something here.
“He’s committed to playing really hard and trying to do the things we want to do structurally,” Tippett said. “There’s lots and lots of upside there. It would be nice to see one of those go in the net for him but it’s good that he’s getting chances. Hopefully, it comes soon.”
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