Here’s what you need to know about the sports you love for the week of April 26, 2021.
Last Sunday, Apr. 18, the Vancouver Canucks returned from their COVID-19 stoppage in play and eked out an emotional win against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canucks were hit by the NHL’s worst COVID-19 outbreak to date, with 21 players and four coaches testing positive, and family members also impacted.
By Sunday, there were no Canucks remaining on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list, but some were still not ready to resume play. The roster that defeated the Leafs included several AHL call ups. Captain Bo Horvat led the way with two goals, including the overtime winner. On Tuesday, Apr. 20 they followed up with another win over the Leafs.
The stoppage leaves the Canucks with several games to make up and a demanding schedule, with a roster still getting back into game shape. If you’re a sap looking for an underdog to cheer for, you probably won’t need to call in the Search and Rescue.
With a couple of weeks of regular season play remaining, it’s a good time to revisit the top contenders for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s rookie of the year.
Pundits say it is currently Kirill Kaprizov’s to lose. The diminutive Russian winger was drafted in the 5th round by the Minnesota Wild, and spent several years developing in Russia before making the move to the NHL. Kaprizov leads the Wild in scoring.
Another Wild rookie in the discussion is Kaapo Kahkonen, a Finnish goalie drafted by Minnesota in the 4th round in 2014. Looks like someone in the Midwest knows how to draft and develop properly.
The only Canadian team with a legitimate Calder candidate has two. The Ottawa Senators drafted forward Tim Stutzle out of Germany in 2020 at 3rd overall. Josh Norris, a centre, was their first-round selection in 2018. He spent a couple of years at the University of Michigan before turning pro.
If the Wild taught us a lesson about drafting and development, Ottawa is doing a primer on rebuilding the right way – tank hard and draft high.
The Chicago Blackhawks also have a couple of young players who may get a nomination. Pius Suter is an undrafted forward out of Switzerland, signed by Chicago as a free agent in the summer of 2020. Kevin Lankinen is an undrafted Finnish goaltender who was signed by the Blackhawks in 2018. Now there is a lesson in scouting tweeners.
While this Calder might be winding down, we might get an early glimpse into next year’s race. Young players who get a taste of the NHL this season may not reach the 25 games necessary to disqualify them from next year’s Calder.
A prime candidate is recent Hobey Baker winner Cole Caufield. Habs fans are pining (did I mean whining?) for Caufield like a crowd of youngsters around an ice cream truck, but they may have to wait until Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin recovers from some trade deadline cap and call-up foibles.
The 2021 NBA entry draft will be held on July 29 at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn. The draft lottery is scheduled for June 22. So why are we talking about that in April when regular season games are still being played? I figured you’d be wondering.
The Toronto Raptors are currently stuck in purgatory – not good enough to convincingly lay claim to a playoff spot, and not bad enough to drop in the standings and increase their chances at winning the lottery for a top pick.
Look at the Golden State Warriors – champions in three of the last six years and eliminated in the final in two more – and consider how their winning rosters were shaped by the draft. Just two years removed from their own NBA championship, the Raptors have tasted winning and now they need a top tier player to reset. The management crew in Toronto is looking toward the draft like a moose hunter spotting a plump bull moose on a clear day in October.
So with a dozen games left, heroics are likely not in the cards. But what the Raptors might earn through this trial of a season is a lucky ball in the draft lottery, and a face of the franchise for years to come.
Blue Jays Babble
The Toronto Blue Jays are doing their best to stay close to the competition while they wait for some core players to come off the injured reserve list. George Springer and Teoscar Hernandez are expected to make an impact in the line up very soon. While waiting for reinforcements, the Jays have seen strong performances from Steven Matz on the mound and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at bat.
The Jays have been strong out of the bullpen, but behind Hyun-Jin Ryu and Matz the starting rotation is as clear as pea soup. With the season less than a month old, GM Ross Atkins isn’t rushing.
But as long as no one is stepping up to claim a spot in the rotation the question will remain – when are the Jays trading for a starter?
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