The NHL season is tentatively just a month away, as teams prepare for a hopeful start date of January 13th and a likely game volume of 56 games per team during the regular season.
With just a few weeks left before that would see teams taking the ice for official game play, NHL-signed skaters are starting to make their way back from the leagues they’ve been participating in across Europe — including Jumbo Joe, who will make his Toronto Maple Leafs debut when the regular season begins.
Thank you and goodbye!— Hockey Club Davos (@HCDavos_off) December 14, 2020
Der Start in die @NHL-Saison rückt näher, Big Joe bekam gestern Abend den "Marschbefehl" der @MapleLeafs und verlässt in den nächsten Stunden die Richtung .
Uns bleibt nur THANK YOU zu sagen für die gemeinsame unglaubliche Zeit. Für immer !#HCD pic.twitter.com/i5IX0oa6BR
Joe Thornton, who will move on from the San Jose Sharks after a 15-year run with the Pacific Division team, opted to keep his legs fresh by skating with Swiss club HC Davos during the NHL’s severe 2020-21 season delays. It reunited the Canadian-born hockey giant with old friends and a familiar community, as he skated out for Davos during both the 2004-05 full season NHL lockout and the 2012-13 partial lockout in the past. It’s the hometown team he played for when he met his wife Tabea, and the long-time NHL vet now both spends his summers in Switzerland and holds a Swiss passport (which enables him to play in the NLA without being considered a foreign import player). He’s also become close friends with former Davos head coach and GM Arno Del Curto, making him something of a local legend in the team’s small Alpine town.
He’s not exactly coming back with shabby numbers, though — so Leafs fans won’t have to worry that the long-tenured Sharks captain needed the time to get back up to speed. With 11 points in just 12 games for Davos before returning to Canada, the 41-year old center seems poised to still make goaltenders nervous even as he enters his 24th year of NHL play.
Speaking of players heading back, though, another few might be on a plane back to the States — but they’re leaving behind a messy final game result in Sweden that we likely haven’t heard the last of.
Nashville Predators goaltending prospect Connor Ingram is poised to be the Central Division club’s next big up-and-coming talent in net. To keep him fresh during the NHL’s extended covid-induced pause, he was loaned to Sweden’s Allsvenskan league, where he was joined by Boston Bruins prospect Oskar Steen and Los Angeles Kings prospect Carl Grundström.
Steen left on Sunday, December 13th to head back to Boston for the upcoming season — but Grundström and Ingram stuck around for one additional game, which quickly became the most heavily-scrutinized pro sports game of 2020.
IF Björklöven quickly went up 3-0 in the first period of their game against Mora, fresh off of a 2-1 win over Almtuna IS just two days prior. But then the wheels completely fell off.
Björklöven outshot Mora 9-3 in the first period, scoring on three of the first nine shots and allowing one late-period goal. But then, they went on to allow Mora to score four goals on 11 shots in the second period, quickly going from a 3-0 lead late in the first to a 5-3 deficit after 40 minutes. Alex Hutchings, their third-best scorer, earned himself a match penalty, and the team would top off their final 20 minutes with goaltender Isak Mantler taking Ingram’s spot in the third period, but getting outshot 10-3 and allowing an extra 3 goals just to cement their loss. They came out of the game with a collective .667 save percentage between both goaltenders, and some seriously suspicious play that made it look like the skaters on the ice had absolutely phoned it in after their first three goals:
Clearly, the goaltending wasn’t incredible from a statistical standpoint. But the skaters were even more suspicious, especially on offense:
While the drastic score shift was under way, the league noticed that betting sites were scrambling to keep up — because so much money had been put on Mora, despite the odds being in favor of a Björklöven victory, that the odds made a completely unprecedented swing mid-game. The match ended up having to get pulled from most betting sites.
The result? The Swedish Allsvenskan officials are investigating the game for match-fixing.
“I hope that this is sorted out properly and that we turn over all the stones that can be turned over. Only the suspicion is serious enough, but if it turns out to be true, it is of course completely unacceptable and something that must never occur in our association,” said team president Anders Blomberg in an official statement.
“I have an incredibly hard time believing that someone in Björklöven has been involved in such a type of activity. Of course, we welcome the fact that the question is being investigated whether there are now suspicions and speculations.”
It’s an ugly way for Ingram and Grundström to wrap up their European loans, even if investigations end up disproving any wrongdoing (and for Ingram’s part, it’s hard to see his performance as anything but a struggling attempt to stay above water without injuring himself in a game with zero support from his teammates).
In lighthearted news, the Baltimore Ravens dealt with a Paul Pierce situation all their own on Monday night when QB Lamar Jackson left the game with ‘cramps’ only to reappear later and help them squeak out a win. And while the memes and Twitter jokes were flying fast and furious, no one did it better than RG III:
In some final news, Chief Wahoo’s problematic team name is finally being ushered out the door alongside his tired caricature, as the Cleveland Indians have made plans to drop the mascot name “Indians” in favor of a replacement as soon as the coming season.
The decision to scrap the Chief Wahoo logo a few years back was met with some outrage from some salty, crusty Cleveland fans despite the long-documented history of racist undertones to the cartoon. And although people have been protesting the name since the 1970’s, it’s taken this long for Cleveland to opt to drop their name as well — which might point to ‘woke culture’ for some, but is actually just a team finally making a long-overdue concession for a marginalized group:
It is such a stupid, tired act to blame Cleveland renaming its baseball team on cancel culture or wokeness. Sports teams have been doing it for 50-plus years now. Cleveland is changing because its brand grew toxic. Column unlocked and free for all at ESPN: https://t.co/dz1pWvHj5B pic.twitter.com/mksMRoxliX— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 14, 2020