Why you should care
Major offseason changes cast uncertainty across the league.
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Four months ago, an inebriated Brett Hull sang “Gloria” and kissed a chinchilla named Boris as his St. Louis Blues hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. On Opening Night on Wednesday, the Washington Capitals beat St. Louis, 3-2, in overtime.
Oddsmakers believe Blues fans should get used to the feeling.
At +1,600, the Blues have just the sixth-best odds to win the Cup, according to SportsBetting.ag. Per FiveThirtyEight, that 4.5 percent probability of repeating is the worst for a defending champion since 1985.
Leading the way as expected contenders are the high-octane Tampa Bay Lightning (+700), followed by the Vegas Golden Knights (+800), the up-and-coming Toronto Maple Leafs (+1,200) and last year’s runners-up, the Boston Bruins (+1,400).
Major offseason changes cast uncertainty across the league, and the New Jersey Devils (+2,500) look like a playoff sleeper. After making American phenom Jack Hughes the No. 1 pick in June, the Devils stunned the hockey world by trading for superstar defenseman P. K. Subban (pictured). Subban brings a much-needed air of panache to a team desperate to compete with New York.
Speaking of the Rangers (+2,500), they added key bodies, including Finnish sensation Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 draft pick. Elsewhere, after the most successful season in franchise history (they swept the Lightning in Round 1!), the Columbus Blue Jackets (+5,000) sent several key players packing.
So what do we know so far? Not much, besides the fact that Toronto center Auston Matthews is the greatest Opening Night goal scorer of all time.
What to Watch & Pick ’Em
Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees (Friday at 7:07 pm ET on MLB Network)
Game 1 of the ALDS kicks off with the Bronx Bombers hoping to slug their way to the World Series. Only problem? The Twins hit more long balls than the Yankees this season. Both teams broke the previous single-season team record.
Chelsea F.C. at Southampton F.C. (Sunday at 9:00 am ET on NBC Sports)
Looking to stabilize after a volatile 3-2-2 start to the season, seventh-place Chelsea visits 14th-place Southampton (2-1-4) in a match bookmakers expect to be close.
Ones to Watch
Bo Nix. Can Nix beat a Top 10 team with his arm? That’s the question this week, ahead of No. 7 Auburn’s trip to No. 10 Florida on Saturday. Through five games, the true freshman Nix has proven to be an admirable leader and clutch competitor. With tough wins over No. 13 Oregon, No. 25 Texas A&M and Mississippi State, Nix is leading arguably the most proven team in the country. But the kid still has plenty more to prove. Nix’s stat line (980 yards passing, seven TDs, two INTs, 57 percent completion rate) isn’t awful, but his accuracy — and the ability to hit big plays — will need to improve if the Tigers plan on running the table in the SEC. Given his athleticism and pedigree (his father set Auburn’s passing efficiency record in the ’90s), there’s reason to believe he’ll ace the test. Look for the younger Nix to author a late-game victory on the road in Gainesville.
Emma Meesseman. With the best-of-five WNBA Finals tied one game apiece, and the series headed back to Connecticut, all eyes are on Washington Mystics star forward Elena Delle Donne. Her back spasms kept her out of nearly all of Game 2, and the MVP is questionable for Sunday’s Game 3. In her absence, Connecticut Sun star Jonquel Jones ran rampant, dropping a game-high 32 points and 18 rebounds in the 99-87 Sun victory. If Delle Donne can’t return, expect a heavy dose of Meesseman. In Game 2, the 26-year-old Belgian finished with 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting, and her teardrop runners and funky up-and-unders befuddled the Connecticut defense. Alas, it wasn’t enough. For the Mystics to take control of the finals in Game 3, they’ll need a similar offensive effort from the 6-foot-4 forward — plus a little help on D (from center LaToya Sanders) to defend Jones on O.
The real MLB postseason. Those pesky wild card games were fun, weren’t they? Still, a single winner-take-all game in the most random of sports is nothing if not barbaric. The madness becomes more civilized as the best-of-five divisional rounds begin. This season was the Year of the Home Run. While you should expect fewer of them — home runs per game decrease 8 percent in the playoffs, due to better pitching — they become more valuable, because total runs drop 16 percent. According to Baseball Prospectus, the “Guillen Number” (the percentage of runs scored from home runs, named for dinger-reliant former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillén) increased 14 percent from the regular season to the playoffs for World Series winners since 1995. That means watch out for power hitting Houston and Los Angeles to make deep October runs. As for sleepers, the only club to hit more home runs than the Yankees this season (the Minnesota Twins) play New York in the ALDS. That spells trouble in the Bronx.
NFL predictability. If you’re a fan of chaos, then Week 4 in the NFL was your kind of week. After three weeks of things going according to plan (with apologies to Cleveland), the first quarter of the regular season ended with a slew of puzzling finishes that cast doubt on several divisional races. The once-feared Rams gave up 55 points in a loss to a 2-2 Bucs team that may be an unlikely NFC South contender, while the undefeated 49ers are ahead of the Rams out West. Meanwhile, the parade of .500 teams includes the Jaguars, Panthers, Giants, Texans, Colts and Raiders. Only three AFC teams (Kansas City, New England and the Buffalo freaking Bills) have more than two wins. With seven teams above .500, the NFC looks much stronger on paper, but we may know even less about that conference. At least one thing is clear as we enter October: no one team is far above the rest. This season might end up being a war of attrition.
This Hockey Streaming Star Gets Sponsored Like a Player, by Jeff Eisenband/OZY
Andrew Telfer, aka Nasher, has a YouTube channel with 285,000 followers where he posts both gaming clips from EA Sports’ NHL series and IRL (in real life) hockey trick shot videos, and another 30,000-plus followers on Twitch. Now, he’s getting sponsored like a real-life hockey player.
‘It Was a Confusion’: The Shooting of David Ortiz, by Daniel Castro/Bleacher Report
The attack on the MLB legend in the Dominican Republic not only shocked his family and fans but also shed a light on Big Papi’s relationship to his home and put him at the center of a wider national crisis.
The Beauty of America’s Ugliest Ballpark, by Jack Nicas/The New York Times
The Oakland Coliseum, the host of Wednesday night’s AL Wild Card game, is perhaps America’s most hated sports stadium. But does baseball need another retro-modern downtown ballpark? What will we lose when Oakland demolishes the Coliseum?
California Is Forcing the NCAA’s Hand — and No, the College Sports World Isn’t Going to End, by Dan Wetzel/Yahoo! Sports
California’s new law allowing athletes to profit from their names, images and likenesses doesn’t mean the end of college athletics. What it does mean is temporary hysteria and a confession that the playing field is already far, far from even.
Is it too early to jump on the Pelicans bandwagon? We think not. Something tells us that the Lonzo Ball-Zion Williamson connection is going to be fun to watch.
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) October 2, 2019