Posts Tagged ‘Season Expectations’

Former Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne is having a great time watching Juuse Saros seamlessly fill his shoes in the Music City.

“I knew one day he was going to be the No. 1 goalie, and not only (Nashville’s) No. 1 goalie, but one of the best goalies in the league, and he proved that last year,” the franchise legend said, according to NHL.com’s Zach Gilchriest. “He’s the backbone of this team, and obviously, just as a friend, I’m very proud of him.

“It’s fun to watch him, and obviously, like everybody else, I’m expecting big things from him this year, and he looks great. I’m just always impressed when I see him skate.”

Rinne served as the face of the organization himself for 15 seasons. The Finn retired last July, ending his playing career with 369 wins and 60 shutouts across 683 games. He captured the Vezina Trophy in 2018 and was a finalist on three other occasions.

Now, Nashville seems to have another perennial Vezina Trophy threat on its hands in Saros, who was nominated for the coveted award this past season after logging a .918 save percentage and 2.64 goals against average in 67 appearances – the most in the league.

The 27-year-old’s underlying numbers were also stellar: He ranked fourth amongst all goaltenders in goals saved above average (16.9) at five-on-five, according to Evolving-Hockey.

Saros wasn’t able to help the Predators fend off the Colorado Avalanche in the postseason thanks to a late-season injury, but the way he handled the frustrating situation impressed Rinne.

“It was a big disappointment for him, for sure, missing out on the playoffs. He had such a strong season and played a ton of games, and right at a key moment, he got hurt,” Rinne said. “So, I’m sure mentally it was a disappointing time. But he is a pretty level-headed guy, and he knew that it was just a hurdle, and I knew he was going to bounce back.”

Saros told reporters earlier this month that he was “all good” for the 2022-23 campaign.

The puck-stopper’s emergence has certainly helped ease the Predators into life without Rinne, who is still serving the franchise as a special alumni advisor.

Saros will be key to Nashville’s success this season, as will defenseman Roman Josi and forwards Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg, who both eclipsed the 40-goal mark for the first time in 2021-22.

The first season of Seth Jones‘ eight-year, $76-million megadeal is about to begin, but the Chicago Blackhawks aren’t quite where the defenseman thought they would be when he signed last July.

“It was a little frustrating to see (the trades this summer) at first. It’s not really what I or anybody had in mind, looking back a couple years,” Jones said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Ben Pope. “But it is what it is. It’s going to make a lot of us better in here. We’ll be patient with each other and help each other through this.”

He added, “I don’t have any regrets.”

The Blackhawks’ last two offseasons have been radically different. In 2021, Chicago made a series of splashy moves and seemed poised to make a push up the Central Division standings. The organization traded for Jones then signed him to a hefty extension, and they picked up veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury from the Vegas Golden Knights.

The wheels swiftly fell off, though. The Blackhawks went 1-9-2 to begin 2021-22 and fired head coach Jeremy Colliton in early November. Far out of the playoff picture at the trade deadline in March, Chicago dealt Fleury to the Minnesota Wild and sent talented young forward Brandon Hagel to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Blackhawks ended last season in seventh place in the Central Division with a 28-42-12 record, and the losses continued this summer. Chicago moved on from Alex DeBrincatKirby DachDominik Kubalik, and Dylan Strome, while the futures of franchise mainstays Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are hazy at best.

In the midst of all the turnover that comes with a rebuild, Jones said he’s focusing on the “bigger picture.”

“Patience is going to be important this year. At the same time, we’re going into every game trying to win,” he said. “We’re going to have to be a disciplined, structured team this year (and) make sure teams earn their wins and goals against us.”

Jones, 27, posted five goals and 46 assists in 78 games during his first season in Chicago. He averaged a career-high 26:13 of ice time per contest, the most on the team.

Many have pegged the Boston Celtics as favorites to win the 2023 NBA title, but team co-owner Wyc Grousbeck has more tempered expectations for his squad entering the season.

In an interview with Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe, Grousbeck said that despite last season’s success, he doesn’t believe Boston is a shoo-in to reach the NBA Finals again.

“I really loved being part of the Celtics throughout that run. I loved being right there with them. It was thrilling. The other side of the coin is I think that we’ve now been overrated,” he said. “I think that performance was a bit overrated in the public mind – or my own mind, because I’m the one saying it.

“(We were) a finalist and two wins away from winning it, but when you look back, Brooklyn was a tough series, and then we had to go seven games (against the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat). Then we lost (to the Golden State Warriors). So, we’re not a hands-down team to repeat as Eastern Conference champions. I think we’re a quality team.”

After starting last season 18-21, the Celtics turned things around to finish second in the Eastern Conference with a 51-31 record. They eventually made their first NBA Finals appearance since 2010, losing in six games to the Warriors.

Boston opens the 2022-23 regular season on Oct. 18 against the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Winnipeg Jets will begin the upcoming season without a captain, the team announced.

Instead, the Jets will be led by an undetermined group of alternate captains.

“It is our goal to expand the leadership base within our hockey team,” newly appointed head coach Rick Bowness said. “We have high expectations for our core players, and we want to provide them with the opportunity to step into those greater leadership roles as a group.”

Veteran forward Blake Wheeler had been the Jets’ captain since 2016-17. He spoke on the shake-up later Friday.

“I don’t need a letter on my jersey, you know?” Wheeler said, per TSN. “I think there was a time in my career where that validation was important to me. I don’t need that anymore.”

“I’m really looking forward to watching a lot of the guys that I’ve had a privilege of watching kind of grow up, step into a sort of expanded role. If you think that because of this I’m just going to fade into the back and not be a leader on this team, you’re sorely mistaken.”

Last season, forward Mark Scheifele and blue-liner Josh Morrissey and served as assistant captains under Wheeler. Scheifele has been teammates his entire career, and the two have been linemates most of their tenure together.

“Shocker to me,” Scheifele said, according to Postmedia’s Michael Traikos. “First and foremost, I want to be there for him and be a friend. He’s still a mentor of mine.”

“He’s still going to be a leader on our team,” Scheifele added, per The Athletic’s Michael Russo.

The Jets missed the playoffs for the first time in four years this past season. Longtime head coach Paul Maurice suddenly stepped down in December, and Winnipeg’s end-of-year interviews provided some eye-popping quotes.

Scheifele questioned his future with the franchise – a matter that the team and player have since resolvedPaul Stastny, who signed with the Carolina Hurricanes this summer, said Jets players lacked accountability and care for one another.

Winnipeg begins its 2022-23 campaign Oct. 14 against the New York Rangers.

Boston Bruins star winger Brad Marchand is confident his team can start the 2022-23 campaign strong despite missing some key players, including himself.

“It will be tough (not playing), but I think we’re in a good spot as a team,” Marchand said. “I think the toughest thing would be if the team wasn’t winning or doing well, then that would be really (bad).

“But I don’t think that’s going to be the case. I think we’re going to have a really good start. The guys look really good right now … hoping that they put a really good push on.”

The B’s are going to be without Marchand and defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk for at least the first month of the season:

PLAYERPROCEDURERETURN TIMELINE
Matt GrzelcykOffseason shoulder surgeryEarly November
Brad MarchandOffseason surgery on both hipsLate November
Charlie McAvoyOffseason shoulder surgeryDecember

Marchand paced the Bruins with 80 points (32 goals, 48 assists) in 70 games this past season while playing an instrumental role on Boston’s top line alongside Patrice Bergeron and Jake DeBrusk. The Bruins controlled 67.3% of the shot attempts and 69.7% of the expected goals with the trio on the ice at five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick.

On the backend, McAvoy is just as indispensable. He led the team in average ice time per game (24:38) and topped all Bruins defensemen with 56 points in 78 games. Boston owned 62.8% of the expected goals at five-on-five while McAvoy was on the ice, which was the league’s best mark among all defensemen who played at least 200 minutes.

He and Grzelcyk put up formidable numbers when they were side-by-side on Beantown’s blue line. The Grzelcyk-McAvoy duo accounted for a staggering 75% percent of the goals for and 67.4% of the expected goals in just over 400 minutes of ice time together at five-on-five.

Among Bruins pairings to log at least 200 minutes of ice time together at five-on-five, Grzelcyk and McAvoy’s 1.45 expected goals against per 60 minutes ranked first on the team.

It isn’t all bad news for the Bruins. After much uncertainty, five-time Selke Trophy winner Bergeron decided to return to Boston for one more season, and veteran center David Krejci is back after a year overseas.

Boston will likely need to have a decent start to the campaign in a competitive Atlantic Division, especially given the strides the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings made in the offseason.

The Bruins finished the 2021-22 season with a record of 51-26-5. The Carolina Hurricanes eliminated them in the first round of the playoffs.

Several of Quebec’s major party leaders say new Montreal Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki needs to learn French.

Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault said the Habs made an “excellent choice,” describing the center as one of the team’s best players, before adding that Suzuki now has to learn French.

The Canadiens announced the appointment of the 23-year-old Ontario native as the team’s captain on Monday. He has played for the Canadiens for three seasons after being acquired from Las Vegas in a trade.

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade told reporters it would be a good thing if Suzuki learned French, adding that living in Quebec is an opportunity to learn the language. Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon described Suzuki as a “very good choice” for captain but added that it is important for the Habs captain to learn French because the position involves a bond with a Quebec fan base that has supported the team for generations.

“It’s a true honor for me and a privilege,” Suzuki told reporters before the comments from the party leaders. “This team’s headed in a great direction, and I couldn’t be more excited to be the captain and represent the team. It means a lot, just to see the respect the management, teammates, (and) coaches have for me. I know it’s a big role, but I think I’m ready for it.”

Playing all 82 games last season, Suzuki led the Canadiens in scoring with 21 goals and 40 assists for 61 points. Those totals were all career highs, though the team finished last in the Eastern Conference in a season marred by injury.

“There’s been a lot of highs and lows, a lot of learning experiences,” said Suzuki, whose great-grandparents emigrated to Canada from Japan. “I think I’ve got to handle each situation really well, just lead by example again. It’s a privilege to have that pressure on you. We want to win hockey games and that’s the biggest reason we’re here.”

Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns has no doubts about his fit with new teammate Rudy Gobert.

“I think that Rudy’s one of the best defensive players we’ve ever had in the NBA,” Towns told CBS Sports’ Colin Ward-Henninger. “He has the hardware to prove it.”

The Timberwolves acquired Gobert from the Utah Jazz in July in a blockbuster deal that included Jarred Vanderbilt, 2022 first-rounder Walker Kessler, and four unprotected first-round picks.

Gobert, 30, is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and has made the NBA All-Defensive first team six times. He joins a Minnesota squad that ranked 13th in defensive efficiency during the 2021-22 regular season.

Though he’s officially been listed at center throughout his seven-year career, Towns brushed aside concerns about his fit next to Gobert, a traditional big man who spends most of his time near the rim.

“This is how I played in college,” Towns said. “(Former college teammate) Willie Cauley-Stein is like 7-foot-2. I don’t know what they’re missing in that.”

Towns also pointed to his early NBA days when he played next to Gorgui Dieng as proof that he’d have no trouble shifting to power forward when necessary. Dieng started 121 games in Minnesota over Towns’ first two seasons in the league.

With Gobert setting screens and rolling to the rim, Towns said he’s confident his perimeter skills and shooting ability will be enough to space the floor and keep Minnesota’s offense humming.

“I think I’m one of the best offensive players and talents the NBA has ever seen,” Towns said. “Putting us together gives us really a whole spectrum of talent to use.”

Towns won the Three-Point Contest during the 2022 All-Star Weekend to become one of the only big men to finish first in the event. He’s a career 39.7% 3-point shooter, with a career true shooting percentage of 62.3% – sixth all-time and one spot below Stephen Curry.

Towns made the All-NBA third team in 2022, leading the Timberwolves to the postseason for the second time since 2004.

Erik Karlsson is committed to the San Jose Sharks, even though the franchise could be staring at a long-term rebuild.

The Sharks hired Mike Grier as general manager and David Quinn as head coach this offseason, signaling a new direction for the organization after missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Former Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes as the new regime’s first big move, but Karlsson isn’t seeking a change of scenery himself.

“No, I committed here a long time ago,” the veteran defenseman told The Athletic’s Corey Masisak. “It didn’t work out the way we wanted it to early on. There’s a lot of things that probably played into that. I’m not going to get into details about that.

“But I am excited for the future here now. I hope we can move in the direction to be successful again. Is that going to be this year? I mean, who knows? But I do think something good can come out of here.”

The Sharks acquired Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators prior to the 2018-19 season when he was one of the league’s most dominant blue-liners. He collected 518 points in 627 games, capturing two Norris Trophies across nine seasons in Canada’s capital. But he hasn’t had the impact many expected of him in the Bay Area.

San Jose has only made the playoffs once since the trade, and Karlsson’s availability has been heavily limited due to injuries. The 32-year-old only played 50 games this past campaign as he required forearm surgery.

“I think the injuries that I’ve had since I got here … some of them probably could have been prevented a little bit, and some of them were just like, things happen,” Karlsson said.

“I broke my thumb when (I) blocked a shot. I mean, what are you going to do? That’s part of the game. I had some wear and tear where, if we were in a different position where you can take some time off and maybe look after it a little bit different, maybe it doesn’t get to the point where you have to have surgery. It is all circumstantial.”

Karlsson is under contract for five more seasons at an $11.5-million cap hit, which carries a full no-move clause.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is locked into his preparations for the 2022 campaign and isn’t worrying about ongoing contract negotiations.

“Lamar has said he’s focused on the season, he’s under contract, and he’s going to have the best season he can have,” said head coach John Harbaugh, according to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley.

“He’s hopeful to get a new contract and we’re hopeful to get him a new contract.”

The 2019 MVP said last month that he wanted clarity regarding his contract status by Week 1.

Jackson does not have an agent so is representing himself during contract talks. The 25-year-old is entering the fifth and final year of his rookie deal, which will pay him $23.016 million.

The Ravens could opt to place the franchise tag on the two-time Pro Bowler to prevent him from becoming a free agent.

Jackson missed the club’s voluntary workouts in the spring for the first time in his career, which led to speculation regarding his status with the franchise. However, Jackson reported on time for training camp and has not missed a practice since.

Harbaugh isn’t sure where discussions between Jackson and the club stand. “I don’t have any updates,” he said. “My interactions with Lamar have been all football. He’s been focused and locked in on that, 100%, from a football standpoint.”

The ever-changing landscape of quarterback contracts has made the negotiating process difficult. The Cleveland Browns signed Deshaun Watson to a fully guaranteed $230-million deal that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti noted as a complicating factor for future discussions with signal-callers.

Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson also signed new deals that exceed $165 million guaranteed.

The offseason roster churn has brought pessimism that the Dallas Cowboys can repeat as NFC East champs, with most picking the Philadelphia Eagles as the favorite in the division. But that negativity only spurs quarterback Dak Prescott‘s resolve.

“Where we are right now, it’s all excitement. It is,” Prescott said, via ESPN. “It’s truly a privilege to be the quarterback of this team, to be a leader of these guys, offense, defense, this coaching staff that we have. And yeah, especially with everything being said about us — you know what I mean? — the lack of what we have, keep writing, keep talking. We’re ready to go play.”

Dallas’ starting crew looks much different as the Cowboys prepare to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the season opener for the second consecutive season. Amari Cooper and Randy Gregory are gone. Michael Gallup and James Washington won’t suit up. Tyron Smith is injured, likely thrusting rookie Tyler Smith into a starting blind-side role.

Receiver attrition has provided big question marks behind CeeDee Lamb, where Noah Brown and rookie Jalen Tolbert expect to play significant roles to open the season.

“I believe high expectations create higher results,” Prescott said. “I feel like I’m my biggest critic. I’m tough on myself. I’m always going to hold myself to extreme, super-high expectations, higher than I think anyone else can. When you feel other people have those expectations for you as well, it’s fun. It’s fun. At that point, what you believe in yourself, other people believe in it, too. You just want to continue to improve and be the best you can.”

The Cowboys famously haven’t won multiple playoff games in a season or made the NFC Championship Game since 1995. Dallas also has not made it to the postseason in back-to-back campaigns since 2006-2007.

“It’s definitely time for us to go back-to-back winning this division, getting to the playoffs, things that you said haven’t been done in my career and hadn’t been done in a long time,” he said. “That’s how you make those steps. You got to compile good years on top of good years to make those runs to give yourself a good chance. We got a good team. We got a great team, great coaching, great organization. Now it’s time not to have any lapse, be better than we were last year and take the next step on top of last year.”

The Cowboys usually enter the season with soaring, outsized projections from the football cognoscenti. Perhaps lower expectations entering the 2022 campaign will bring a different result.