It’s hockey season – here’s a quick catch from the NHL

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It’s hockey season

Today is the first day of fall. Winter is coming. NHL hockey too. Training camps opened today, the first exhibition games are on Saturday and the regular season begins in less than three weeks. Now is a good time to catch up on some key league scenarios. Such as:

We’re back to normal – most of the time. The pandemic extended the 2020 playoffs until the end of September, resulting in the 2020-21 season being postponed to mid-January and shortened to 56 games. The subsequent playoffs also went a few weeks behind schedule, with the Tampa Bay Lightning winning their second straight Stanley Cup on July 7. But, after another truncated offseason, order has largely been restored. The regular season kicks off more or less at the usual time, and the traditional 82-game schedule is back. The same goes for interconference and interdivisional play (goodbye, all-Canadian division), with each team in the league competing at least twice. The old playoff format is also returning: the top three teams from each of the four divisions advance, plus two wild cards per conference. The All-Star Game is back from a year-long hiatus, taking place in Las Vegas, just before the Olympic break from February 7-22. This pushes the end of the regular season back to April 29 – a few weeks later than usual.

It’s good to be vaxxed. Although some players showed up to camp unvaccinated, the league says at least 98% of its players should be vaccinated against COVID-19 by opening night. That would leave only 15 players (or about one for every two teams) unvaccinated and give the NHL a vaccination rate that compares favorably with that of the NFL (recently reported at 93%), the NBA (90%) and of Major League Baseball. (85 percent). It also exceeds the percentage of completely vaxxed people in Canada, which represents up to about 78 percent of the eligible population. The NHL has accomplished this primarily by making it clear that life could be tough for anyone who hasn’t taken the peak. Teams are allowed to suspend unvaccinated players without pay if they cannot participate in matches or training due to COVID-19 protocols, and some assistant coaches have been sacked because they did not have their blows. Many teams also draw a hard line with fans, requiring full proof of vaccination to attend games.

The Kraken has a release date. The 32nd NHL franchise plays its first official game on Opening Night (Tuesday, October 12) in Vegas, and its first home game on October 23 against Vancouver. Some Seattle players you might recognize include 2018-19 Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano (formerly of the Flames), 2021 Vezina finalist Philipp Grubauer (signed away from Colorado), former Dallas Star Jamie Oleksiak (brother of Penny), ex-Oilers Jordan Eberle and Adam Larsson and Yanni Gourde, who have just won two consecutive Cups with Tampa Bay. The arrival of the Kraken required a minor realignment. To make room for Seattle in the Pacific Division, the Arizona Coyotes (returning to their 90s peyote-trip logo, by the way) were moved to the power plant.

Jack Eichel is still a Saber – for now. The disgruntled star’s relationship with the NHL’s worst team is so poisoned at this point it’s hard to imagine he’ll play another game for Buffalo. But the neck injury that ruined Eichel’s 2021 season makes it difficult for the Sabers to get anything close to full value in a trade. Eichel has five more years on a contract that carries an annual cap of US $ 10 million, and he only scored two goals in 21 games last season. But he’s still only 24, and he’s recorded big numbers in his last two healthy seasons, despite being surrounded by lackluster talent (at best) on ugly Buffalo teams. Whoever ends up trading for him has a chance of hitting the jackpot.

Some even bigger names are on the mend. Defending NHL scoring champion Auston Matthews believes he will be ready for the Leafs’ opener after undergoing wrist surgery in mid-August. Dynamic Pittsburgh duo Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin appear to be missing the start of the season after wrist and knee surgeries, respectively. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews is at camp hoping to return to action after missing all of last season with chronic immune response syndrome. His team missed the playoffs without him, but added goaltender Marc-André Fleury and defenseman Seth Jones during the offseason.

Hopefully the Olympics are approaching. After missing the 2018 Games in South Korea, the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association announced a few weeks ago that they had reached an agreement with the world hockey governing body to compete in Beijing in February. This was obviously great news for hockey fans, who should see Connor McDavid (Canada), Auston Matthews (US), Leon Draisaitl (Germany), Nikita Kucherov (Russia) and other young superstars play for the first time at the Olympics. . But there is a potential fly in the ointment: the pandemic. The deal gives the NHL and its players wide leeway to bail out the Olympics if COVID-19 conditions make travel to Beijing “impractical or dangerous.” If all goes as we hope it should be the highlight of the hockey season.

NHL scoring champion Auston Matthews will hopefully make his Olympic debut this winter. (Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images)

Quick…

Ben Simmons wants to leave Philly. Will the Raptors bite? No one questions the talent of the 76ers star. The No.1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft is one of the best athletes in a league filled with them. He’s fast, strong, a great passer and widely regarded as the best perimeter defender in the world. With this skill in a frame of nearly seven feet, he can literally play any position on the floor, from point guard to center. But he can’t shoot. This glaring hole in his game became excruciatingly evident during this year’s playoffs, where Simmons missed an excruciating two-thirds of his free throws (free throws!) Got the ball. This led to rumors that Philly would like to trade him in, and now we know the feeling is mutual. Simmons reportedly told the Sixers he wouldn’t show up to training camp and never play for them again. Among the teams that would be interested in Simmons (at the right price) are the Toronto Raptors, who have some intriguing players to offer as commercial bait and a creative man who leads the team at Masai Ujiri. Until Simmons’ future is resolved, that will be the hottest topic heading into the NBA season on October 19.

And finally…

Spygate. Deflate. Cheatsheetgate? OK, the latest controversy over sports ethics doesn’t quite sound the same. And it’s probably not even cheating, to be honest. In a home plate game in last night’s Blue Jays-Rays game, the little card Toronto wide receiver Alejandro Kirk keeps in his bracelet to remember how the team wants to throw at certain hitters has come off and is fallen in the dust. Kevin Kiermaier of Tampa Bay, who had just been tagged, picked it up and took it to his shelter, where he gave it to a member of the team’s staff. The Jays were not satisfied with this alleged act of espionage. “If there’s one card we wouldn’t want an opponent to have, this is it,” a team member told Sportsnet’s Arash Madani. But Tampa manager Kevin Cash later apologized, and Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said he now considered the whole thing “agua under the bridge.” By the way, the Jays won the game 4-2 to stay 1 and a half behind the suddenly fiery Boston and a half a game ahead of the Yankees in pursuit of the two wildcard AL spots. After today’s rubber game against the Rays, which started at 3:10 p.m. ET, the Jays visit the lowly Minnesota Twins for a four-game series starting Thursday night. Learn more about last night’s game and see how Kirk’s micro-scandal with the card started here.

You are aware. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.


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