Here’s what you need to know about the sports you love for the week of March 15, 2021.
I’d sooner be strung up by my eyelids and tickled until I blink than write this, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are the best team in the Scotia North Division. With half the games for the 2020-21 season in the history books, it’s time for our second quarterly review.
I predicted the Leafs would win the division in my first review, and they’ve only gotten stronger. Auston Matthews, playing with a wrist injury, is on pace for 44 goals in a compressed season. Mitch Marner is on pace for 73 points.
Their forward group and the power play are the envy of the division, even if most of us prefer not to admit it.
The other safe prediction was that the Ottawa Senators would finish in the basement. As of press deadline, the Sens had twice as many losses as wins. They will finish last, but not before they wreak havoc on the teams above them. They have a young group that will eventually be potent. All twelve Sens fans have a bright future to look forward to.
The rest of the Canadian division is murkier than pea soup. I predicted the Vancouver Canucks would miss the playoffs – that prediction stands. GM Jim Benning recently gave Coach Travis Green a vote of confidence, and in the absence of a dramatic trade, Green is working with a flawed line up.
I predicted the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens would compete for 2nd and 3rd place, and the Battle of Alberta would determine the 4th playoff slot. The outcome may depend on how three of those teams adjust to major changes.
The Jets had a slow start, followed by the trade of two significant regulars. Following quarantine, Pierre-Luc Dubois joined the team, and my expectation is that the Jets will add at the trade deadline and only get stronger as the playoffs approach.
After a strong start the Habs skidded to a halt, and GM Marc Bergevin shook things up by firing coaches and inserting a new leadership group. That new group is now trying to right the ship, and with a little trade deadline help – perhaps earlier with an injury to Ben Chiarot on Wednesday – I’m predicting the Habs will wind up the regular season at their strongest.
After getting off to an 11-11-2 start, the Calgary Flames fired Coach Geoff Ward and replaced him with Darryl Sutter. Sutter’s teams are famously fast and intense, and he has had previous success with the Flames, taking them to a cup final in 2004. It has the makings of a good story, but I expect the climax will come with a late season elimination from the playoffs.
In Edmonton, the Oilers have had a little less drama surrounding them. They’ve been steadily average, which is enough to have them in 4th place. If they want to make noise in the post-season, GM Ken Holland needs to find support for his stars like no GM before him has been able to do. I expect a 4th place finish.
So, at the halfway point, I’m predicting Leafs versus Oilers, and Habs versus Jets for the first round of the playoffs.
Next week we’ll look at trade targets for each of these teams.
While professional sports leagues around the world are trying to get through their seasons unscathed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the NBA thought an all-star game would be a good idea. Classic NBA.
The all-star game was originally cancelled, but the NBA shifted course and held a one-night event in Atlanta on March 7th. This happened, despite concerns expressed by several players who were selected to play. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms encouraged fans to watch on TV rather than making their way to her city.
The Raptors entered the break with a 17-19 record and in eighth place in the Eastern conference.
Blue Jays Babble
In Florida, Blue Jays pitching roster clarity is coming as they progress through the Grapefruit League schedule. Stephen Matz, acquired from the Mets in January, started his pre-season with two games where he didn’t allow a run. He’s making a genuine play to make the starting rotation.
Nate Pearson, Toronto’s prized pitching prospect, was a hopeful to join this year’s starter group. A groin strain has interfered with this plan and opened the door for someone else. Veteran southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu is expected to be the Jays ace, but behind him a lot of question marks remain.
When asked about the rotation, Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro acknowledged this is their “area of least experience” and they don’t expect the Jays will be a perfect team this year. He said they will adjust as they go, but he is building toward an era of a championship calibre team.
Patience for the short term. Better times ahead. Something we can all identify with.
Lori Bennett is a social worker, policy professional, recreation softball player and coach, and new ukulele-ist. A Newfoundlander living in Toronto, Lori loves a good hockey chat or even a debate, just as long as it remains respectful. She posts her gametime thoughts on twitter, particularly about hockey and the Montreal Canadiens, as @lori10habs.