The NHL's most interesting teams all have question marks
Can Tampa rebound? Will all the drama sink the Leafs? Would someone please help Connor McDavid?
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It's opening night in the NHL, and we've got a lot of questions
The 2019-20 season starts tonight with a handful of games, including Ottawa vs. Toronto and Vancouver vs. Edmonton on national (cable) TV here in Canada. Here are some things we're wondering about the league's most interesting teams:
Can Tampa Bay bounce back from one of the biggest upsets ever? The Lightning were pretty much everyone's pick to win the Cup after putting together one of the best regular seasons of all time. But they got swept in the first round by Columbus, which outplayed them from start to finish. Tampa is still the best team in the league, but its air of invincibility is gone.
Was St. Louis a one-hit wonder? Everyone seems to think so, because it's hard to remember a defending champ being this disrespected. Oddsmakers are saying half a dozen teams have a better chance to win the Cup — including Colorado, which is the trendiest team this year.
Will the Avalanche make the leap? There's good reason to be excited about this team. Despite being underdogs in the playoffs, the young Avs ran Calgary off the ice in the first round, then gave a veteran San Jose team all it could handle in a seven-game series. Colorado has one of the best one-two forward punches in hockey with MVP candidate Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, and they added Nazem Kadri as a strong second-line centre. Defenceman Cale Makar is a contender for rookie of the year after making his NHL debut in the playoffs.
Will the Leafs crash and burn again? Love 'em or hate 'em, there's never a dull moment with this team. Toronto is a Cup contender, a lot of fun to watch, and swimming in drama. Coach Mike Babcock was already on the hot seat after a third straight first-round defeat, and things didn't exactly cool down over the summer. Mitch Marner's free agency dragged on until the team overpaid him, and we found out last week that Auston Matthews was charged with disorderly conduct for an allegedly drunken incident down in Arizona back in the spring. This is still a championship-calibre roster. But if the Leafs fail to get past the first round again, heads are gonna roll.
Did Winnipeg miss its window? The Jets looked like a top Cup contender in 2017-18 and again last year — until they cratered in the second half of the season and lost in the first round of the playoffs to St. Louis. There was talk of an unhappy dressing room, and Patrik Laine didn't exactly help matters a few weeks ago when he said he deserves better linemates. If everyone can get along, the forwards should be great. It's the blue-line that's concerning. Star defenceman Dustin Byfuglien took a leave of absence and no one knows when he'll be back. Depth was lost when grumpy Jacob Trouba was traded and Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot left in free agency. This looks like a make-or-break season for the Jets, and it's hard to think of a team with a wider range of outcomes.
Can the Hurricanes keep the fun going? Their post-game "Storm Surge" celebrations were a hit with a lot of fans (especially younger ones), and they backed them up with some great play. With young centre Sebastian Aho leading the way, Carolina defied expectations by making it to the final four before getting swept by Boston. The Hurricanes don't seem like a fluke, but this was their first playoff appearance in a decade. Teams that make a big jump like that often take a step back the following year.
Can Connor McDavid save the Oilers from themselves? The NHL's best player is trapped on one of its worst teams. McDavid won the scoring title in 2017-18 and finished second to Tampa's Nikita Kucherov last year, but Edmonton missed the playoffs by a mile both times. To add injury to insult, McDavid hurt his knee pretty seriously in the season finale. He appears to be fine now, but the Oilers are not. There's not enough talent around McDavid. And instead of trying something new, the team dipped into the recycling bin for its two biggest moves: Ken Holland was hired as the new GM and Dave Tippett as the new head coach. Could be another long year.
Bianca Andreescu's winning streak is better than she's getting credit for. Andreescu advanced to the round of 16 at the China Open today with a straight-sets win over unseeded Elise Mertens. Officially, that's her 16th win in a row. She's won her first two matches in this tournament after winning seven en route to the U.S. Open title and six to take the Rogers Cup. Before that, she withdrew prior to her second-round match at the French Open, which doesn't count as a loss. So when you add her first-round win at the French, that makes the streak 16 matches. But if we want to be a little more generous, we could argue it's really 26. Before the French Open, Andreescu won her first three matches at the Miami Open before retiring during the next one because of a shoulder injury. That officially counts as a loss, but her opponent didn't actually beat her. And before that, Andreescu won all seven of her matches at Indian Wells to take the title there. Fine, it's a bit of a stretch. But if you go along with this, Andreescu hasn't truly lost a match since March 1 (in the semifinals of a tournament in Mexico). That's more than seven months ago. Read more about Andreescu's latest win here.
Two Canadians are leading the decathlon at the track and field world championships. With half of the 10 legs done, Damian Warner is in first place and Pierce LePage is second. It's really tight at the top, so they have plenty more work to do tomorrow to win medals, but what a start. There were no Canadians in any of today's medal events, but three Canadian women advanced to finals: Brittany Crew (shot put), Andrea Seccafien (5,000 metres) and Sage Watson, who broke a 23-year-old national record in the 400m hurdles. Gabriela DeBues-Stafford qualified for the semis in the 1,500m. The most interesting events tomorrow from a Canadian perspective are the women's shot put final and the final five legs of the decathlon. That gets going early and you can watch it live starting at 9:30 a.m. ET here. Read more about today's Canadian results here.
Canada got destroyed by New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup. This wasn't a fair fight. New Zealand won the last two World Cups. Canada won a total of two matches over the last four World Cups and was just hoping to finish third in its group at this one in order to qualify for the next. But that modest goal is looking out of reach after today's 63-0 loss to New Zealand, which followed a 48-7 defeat to Italy. Canada has two matches left in the group stage: vs. heavyweight South Africa on Tuesday and vs. lightweight Namibia on Oct. 13. The last one at least gives the Canadians a chance to go out on a high note. Read more about today's defeat here.
The American League wild-card playoff is tonight — and hopefully as exciting as last night's National League game. Tampa Bay visits Oakland at 8 p.m. ET. This one is too close to call: the teams were separated by only one game in the standings. The winner gets a best-of-five series against Houston, which has the best record in baseball this year. Last night's NL wild-card game ended in dramatic/heartbreaking fashion. Milwaukee led Washington 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth when Brewers rookie right-fielder Trent Grisham allowed a bases-loaded single to bounce past him. That cleared the bases, sending Washington to a 4-3 win. Watch the play and read more about the game here.
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