NBA Power Rankings – What all 30 teams are playing for down the stretch


The NBA regular season ends May 16. But we still have so much to figure out!

Will the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets or Milwaukee Bucks secure the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference? Can the surging Phoenix Suns outduel the Utah Jazz in the race for the Western Conference’s top seed?

Can the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers avoid the play-in tournament? Can teams such as the Washington Wizards, Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs hold on to their spots?

Will the New York Knicks really capture a top-4 seed?

Those are a lot of questions. The next two weeks will answer all of them. Until then, here’s where our panel sees all 30 teams — each with something to play for during the regular season’s final stretch.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin, Royce Young and Ohm Youngmisuk) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Week 17 | Week 18 | Week 19

1. Phoenix Suns
2020-21 record: 46-18
Previous ranking: 3

With their playoff spot already clinched, the only thing left to decide for the Suns is seeding. And Phoenix is shooting for the stars. The Suns have their eyes on the top overall seed. If the Suns can beat out the Jazz and take the No. 1 overall seed into the playoffs, it will be the first time they’ve done so since 2005, when they were ousted in the conference finals. (Phoenix also secured the No. 1 overall seed in 1981 and 1993.) — Lopez

This week: @CLE, @ATL, NYK, @LAL


2. Utah Jazz
2020-21 record: 46-18
Previous ranking: 1

The race for the NBA’s best record and the West’s top seed could go down to the wire, but it isn’t the Jazz’s priority at this point, particularly with the likelihood of the Lakers and/or Clippers being involved in the 4-5 matchup. Utah hopes to be fully healthy going into the playoffs, so they will be as patient as necessary with All-Star guards Donovan Mitchell (sprained ankle) and Mike Conley (hamstring tightness). Ideally, the Jazz will have at least a handful of games down the stretch with their full roster to reestablish rhythm entering the postseason. — MacMahon

This week: SAS, SAS, DEN, HOU


3. Philadelphia 76ers
2020-21 record: 43-21
Previous ranking: 5

After surviving an overtime game in San Antonio on Sunday night thanks to a Ben Simmons tip-in, Philadelphia is now one up in the loss column on the Nets — plus the tiebreaker — with eight games to play, putting the Sixers in prime position to snag the all-important top seed in the East. Another factor in Philadelphia’s favor: Only one of its final eight games (at Miami) comes against a team in the top eight of either conference. — Bontemps

This week: @CHI, @HOU, NOP, DET


4. Brooklyn Nets
2020-21 record: 43-22
Previous ranking: 2

Sunday’s showdown against the Bucks felt like a playoff game, but it also carried seeding significance. There’s incentive, particularly for the Nets, to move to the No. 1 seed, because that means the second-round matchup would be the 4-5 winner (currently the Knicks or Hawks), instead of the 3-6 victor (currently the Bucks or Celtics). Milwaukee is still within striking distance of catching the Nets for the No. 2 seed too, especially with these teams turning around and playing again on Tuesday. — Young

This week: @MIL, @DAL, @DEN


5. Denver Nuggets
2020-21 record: 43-21
Previous ranking: 7

Denver continues to defy expectations without Jamal Murray. Since Murray went down with a season-ending injury, the Nuggets are 9-1. And they’ve been without Will Barton and Monte Morris, who could be nearing a return. Nikola Jokic is not only playing like the MVP, he has his team competing with confidence and composure. Michael Porter Jr. has taken off. The Nuggets handled the Clippers again, and Denver is now in the driver’s seat for the third seed in the West. Avoiding a first-round series against the Lakers would be ideal, but the most important thing for the Nuggets is to get healthier, keep Jokic fresh and maintain their groove heading into the postseason. — Youngmisuk

This week: @LAL, NYK, @UTA, BRK


6. Milwaukee Bucks
2020-21 record: 40-24
Previous ranking: 6

By beating Brooklyn on Sunday, the Bucks kept their hopes alive of moving up from third in the East. Now, they face a massive rematch against Brooklyn on Tuesday in Milwaukee, where the Bucks will have a chance to move within a game in the loss column — and grab the tiebreaker. If Milwaukee wins, it remains a real threat for the second seed (and possibly even the top spot, if Philly falters down the stretch). If Milwaukee loses, it’s time to start resting guys and preparing to finish third, as the Bucks would essentially be down three games to Brooklyn with seven to play. — Bontemps

This week: BRK, WAS, HOU


7. LA Clippers
2020-21 record: 43-22
Previous ranking: 4

The Clippers have lost three straight but none more stinging than their most recent to Denver. The Nuggets won the season series and the crucial tiebreaker, and they overtook the Clippers for third place in the West. Seeding likely will be important only from the standpoint of avoiding a potential first-round matchup with the Lakers. Really, the most critical thing for the Clippers over these final seven games is to define roles and develop chemistry with Kawhi Leonard back. Patrick Beverley is nearing a return, and Serge Ibaka continues to work his way back. It’s imperative for the Clippers to see what they can do at full strength, if only for a few games, before the postseason starts. — Youngmisuk

This week:


8. New York Knicks
2020-21 record: 36-28
Previous ranking: 10

The Eastern Conference’s hottest team has earned itself the inside track to the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round. New York is 1.5 games ahead of the Hawks and 2.5 games in front of the Celtics with eight to play. A difficult task lies ahead beginning Monday night in Memphis: a five-game trip through the Western Conference against playoff teams in Memphis, Denver, Phoenix and both L.A. teams. — Bontemps

This week: @MEM, @DEN, @PHO, @LAC


9. Los Angeles Lakers
2020-21 record: 36-28
Previous ranking: 8

The defending champs are currently in crisis mode. The return of Anthony Davis and LeBron James from injuries hasn’t helped L.A. build off the momentum the team was able to muster while the stars were sidelined. With eight games left, the Lakers are in real danger of falling to the play-in tournament, where their repeat hopes could be dashed in one or two games before the playoffs even begin. — McMenamin

This week: DEN, @LAC, @POR, PHO


10. Dallas Mavericks
2020-21 record: 36-28
Previous ranking: 9

Heading into Monday’s action, the Mavericks are locked in a three-way tie for fifth with the Lakers and Blazers in what could become one of the most fascinating races in the Western Conference. One of those three will be relegated to the play-in tournament. And with every game mattering down the stretch, Dallas can’t afford to lose Luka Doncic for any of them. Doncic received his 14th and 15th technical fouls of the season during Sunday’s loss to the Kings; one more is an automatic one-game suspension. — MacMahon

This week: @MIA, BRK, CLE, @CLE


11. Portland Trail Blazers
2020-21 record: 36-28
Previous ranking: 12

After an awkward few weeks, the Blazers have righted the ship and have gotten out of the play-in spot. They’ve won four straight, all on the road, with CJ McCollum working back to full strength and the role players stepping up. For Portland, avoiding the play-in is the priority; with a favorable schedule to close out, chances are looking much better than they did a week ago. — Young

This week: @ATL, @CLE, LAL, SAS


12. Atlanta Hawks
2020-21 record: 35-30
Previous ranking: 11

When the Hawks fired head coach Lloyd Pierce at the start of May, Atlanta was 11th in the Eastern Conference. Fast-forward two months and the turnaround under Nate McMillan has been so drastic that the Hawks could find themselves with home-court advantage in the first round. The Hawks, Celtics and Heat are all looking up at the Knicks for the No. 4 spot — and whoever finishes last among that bunch will be sent to the play-in tournament at No. 7. — Lopez

This week: POR, PHO, @IND


13. Miami Heat
2020-21 record: 35-30
Previous ranking: 13

Miami has won four of its past five contests and appears to be rounding into form heading in the postseason. Kendrick Nunn has had a nice stretch recently, averaging 20.4 points over his past five games. The same goes for Bam Adebayo, who is averaging 19.4 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists over his past five outings. The Heat are tied with the Hawks for the fifth seed in the East and are just two games behind the Knicks for the fourth seed and home-court advantage. — Friedell

This week: DAL, MIN, @BOS


14. Boston Celtics
2020-21 record: 34-31
Previous ranking: 14

While Boston has to be concerned about finding itself in the play-in tournament after losing to the Blazers on Sunday night, of far greater concern is the health of Jaylen Brown, after he and Jayson Tatum collided in the final minute of that defeat and left the game. Brown was unable to put any weight on his right leg. No matter how Boston does over these final games, it has no chance of doing anything in the playoffs if Brown isn’t available. — Bontemps

This week: @ORL, @CHI, MIA


15. Golden State Warriors
2020-21 record: 32-32
Previous ranking: 16

The Warriors come into the final two weeks of the regular season sitting half a game behind the Grizzlies for the eighth spot and half a game ahead of the Spurs for 10th in the Western Conference standings. Stephen Curry will be the reason nobody in the West wants to see the Warriors in the play-in tournament. Curry comes into Monday’s game against the Pelicans as the league leader in scoring at 31.3 points per game. — Friedell

This week: @NOP, @NOP, OKC, OKC


16. Memphis Grizzlies
2020-21 record: 32-31
Previous ranking: 15

The Grizzlies are trying to hold off the Warriors and Spurs in the fight for eighth place in the West, which has become a lot tighter after Memphis lost three of its past four. That’s a significant spot: It assures a team two chances of claiming a postseason bid in the play-in tournament. Memphis also is tinkering with the bench rotation while trying to get Jaren Jackson Jr. up to speed after the franchise cornerstone missed most of the season due to knee surgery. — MacMahon

This week: NYK, @MIN, @DET, @TOR


17. Charlotte Hornets
2020-21 record: 31-33
Previous ranking: 17

Charlotte sure won’t be coasting into the play-in tournament. The Hornets sit half a game ahead of the Pacers for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and just two games ahead of the Wizards for 10th. Some great news: LaMelo Ball (wrist) returned to the floor on Saturday night for the first time since March 20 and immediately created highlight-reel moments in a win over the Pistons. — Friedell

This week: @DET, CHI, ORL, NOP


18. Washington Wizards
2020-21 record: 29-35
Previous ranking: 20

Washington is 10-2 in its past 12 tilts, with its only losses coming in overtime to San Antonio and by one point to Dallas. Somehow, after their COVID-19 outbreak, the Wizards have put themselves in position to at least make the play-in tournament. This is an absolutely critical week, with two games against ninth-place Indiana. Getting into ninth or eighth means potentially facing the Hornets or Pacers, rather than a potential play-in matchup as the 10th seed against perhaps Miami, Boston or Atlanta. A lot can happen in the final stretch, but this week will have a playoff feel for Washington against Indiana twice, Milwaukee and Toronto. — Youngmisuk

This week: IND, @MIL, @TOR, @IND


19. San Antonio Spurs
2020-21 record: 31-32
Previous ranking: 18

With nine games remaining, San Antonio will continue to jockey for position in the West play-in race. It’ll take a lot of work for the Spurs to catch the Trail Blazers (or the Mavericks or Lakers) at No. 7, so the race for the No. 8 spot is on. San Antonio will have to move forward without Derrick White, whom the team doesn’t expect back this season because of a sprained right ankle. — Lopez

This week: @UTA, @UTA, @SAC, @POR


20. Indiana Pacers
2020-21 record: 30-33
Previous ranking: 19

Fresh off of serving Oklahoma City the worst home loss in NBA history, Indiana can get its focus back on seeding in the play-in race in the East. The Pacers are trailing the Hornets for the eighth seed but have a game and a half cushion on the Wizards for 10th place. It’ll be easy to catch Charlotte, however, if the Pacers could continue to post franchise records in points like they did against the Thunder. Indiana also has more chances to look at how things work with Domantas Sabonis and Caris LeVert on the floor at the same time. The Pacers are 9-9 this season when both play. — Lopez

This week: @WAS, SAC, ATL, WAS


21. Toronto Raptors
2020-21 record: 27-38
Previous ranking: 21

Sunday night’s impressive road win over the Lakers still leaves Toronto with a very steep hill to climb to make it into the play-in tournament, as the Raptors are 2.5 games behind the Wizards with nine remaining. What will likely matter more in the end to the Raptors is where they finish alongside the Bulls and Kings for positions seven through nine in the NBA draft lottery. — Bontemps

This week: @LAC, WAS, MEM


22. New Orleans Pelicans
2020-21 record: 29-35
Previous ranking: 22

The Pelicans’ play-in tournament hopes could be decided by Tuesday night. New Orleans has back-to-back games against the Warriors starting Monday evening (7:30 ET on ESPN). The Warriors are three games ahead of the Pelicans in the race for the play-in tournament, and the teams also play each other in the penultimate contest of the regular season. But two wins by the Warriors this week and New Orleans can start prepping for the offseason. — Lopez

This week: GSW, GSW, @PHI, @CHA


23. Sacramento Kings
2020-21 record: 27-37
Previous ranking: 24

Two wins in a row, including Sunday’s victory over the Mavericks, have Sacramento 4.5 games behind the Spurs — who‘ve lost three in a row — for the final play-in spot. Potentially hampering that playoff push is Tyrese Haliburton‘s status after injuring his left knee in the win over the Mavs. — McMenamin

This week: @OKC, @IND, SAS, OKC


24. Chicago Bulls
2020-21 record: 26-38
Previous ranking: 23

The Bulls are three games behind the Wizards for the final play-in spot in the East. All the high hopes the Bulls had after acquiring Nikola Vucevic have disappeared. Zach LaVine hasn’t played since April 14 because of COVID-19 protocols. The Bulls are 4-10 in their past 14 games, and they have a rough stretch during the final two weeks of the season, which includes Monday’s game against the Sixers and two against the Nets. — Friedell

This week: PHI, @CHA, BOS, @DET


25. Minnesota Timberwolves
2020-21 record: 20-45
Previous ranking: 28

Even though they don’t have much to play for, the Timberwolves are approaching the final few weeks looking to string some more victories together. They could rest starters and try to improve their chances at another top-3 pick, but the Wolves are hoping to begin building a winning mentality and momentum into next season. They are 6-4 over their past 10 games and just put together a four-game winning streak, getting it snapped in overtime against New Orleans. — Young

This week: MEM, @MIA, @ORL


26. Cleveland Cavaliers
2020-21 record: 21-43
Previous ranking: 25

The Cavs are still technically alive in the chase for a play-in spot — trailing No. 10 Washington by eight games with eight games left to play. But considering Cleveland is 1-9 in its past 10 while the Wizards are 8-2, it’s all but over. And that’s merciful, considering how weird of a week it was for the Cavaliers, with Kevin Love needing to apologize to teammates for carelessly batting a ball in bounds against the Raptors and then attempting zero shots in 22 minutes two games later. — McMenamin

This week: PHO, POR, @DAL, DAL


27. Orlando Magic
2020-21 record: 20-44
Previous ranking: 29

Cole Anthony provided one of the best highlights of a difficult season by knocking down a buzzer-beater to top the Grizzlies on Saturday night. Anthony finished with 26 points. It’s going to be interesting to see how the 20-year-old rookie guard pairs with Markelle Fultz next season. The Magic are well out of the playoff picture and are hoping for some lottery luck; they own the Bulls’ 2021 first-rounder if it stays out of the top four. — Friedell

This week: @DET, BOS, @CHA, MIN


28. Detroit Pistons
2020-21 record: 19-45
Previous ranking: 27

The Pistons’ late-season struggles — they’ve now lost nine out of 12 — do come with a silver lining: Detroit is already officially eliminated from postseason contention, guaranteeing it will keep its 2021 first-round pick. The Pistons owe Houston a first-round pick as part of November’s sign-and-trade deal for Christian Wood, but it is top-16 protected this year. Pistons general manager Troy Weaver will have that selection, plus three second-rounders, to work on the rebuild this offseason. — McMenamin

This week: ORL, CHA, MEM, @PHI, CHI


29. Oklahoma City Thunder
2020-21 record: 21-44
Previous ranking: 26

The Thunder’s 57-point loss to the Pacers was probably the low point of the season, but it really wasn’t all that surprising of an outcome. They’ve been playing fewer and fewer rotation-level NBA players, instead approaching the last few weeks with a very developmental and experimental mindset. They’ve made major progress on securing top-4 lottery odds, though; they are currently fifth worst, and with the Timberwolves rising, things are looking up (down?) for OKC. — Young

This week: SAC, @GSW, @GSW, @SAC


30. Houston Rockets
2020-21 record: 16-49
Previous ranking: 30

It’s pretty much a certainty that the Rockets will finish with a bottom-3 record, meaning Houston will be in the bunch that has the best draft lottery odds. The rest of the season is about developing the Rockets’ young core, particularly 20-year-old guard Kevin Porter Jr. He became the youngest player in NBA history to record a 50-point double-double in a breathtaking performance against the Bucks last week, a lightning bolt of promise in a thunderstorm of a season. — MacMahon

This week: PHI, @MIL, @UTA



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Inside Dallas Stars rookie Jason Robertson’s journey to his 2021 breakout


The Dallas Stars were in the Edmonton postseason bubble last summer for 66 days, longer than any other team. Jason Robertson was there for all of it, but didn’t get a single minute of game action. “I took warm-ups for a couple games,” the 21-year-old said. “That was the closest I ever got.”

The Stars’ 2017 second-round pick, coming off his first professional season in the AHL, was called up as a “black ace” throughout the 2020 playoffs. It’s a typical assignment for a rising star, in a very atypical year.

“It was kind of a weird scenario,” Robertson said. “I wasn’t familiar or wasn’t really close to anyone on the team, coming up from Texas [in the AHL], but you are brought in to their little family. You are trying to build that emotional connection — albeit I never played, or was out there fighting with them — but you’re still looking to build that bond or connection they all have together. There was a lot of experience for me to gain; I mean, it was Stanley Cup playoff hockey, the best hockey there is, and I was right there all the way up through the Stanley Cup Final.”

While Robertson gained observational experience — sitting in on every meeting, watching his teammates prep for every game, understanding how tough it is to grind until the end only to have someone else finish with a trophy — he had gone more than six months without playing in a game himself.

“When the bubble concluded, I gave him a couple weeks, then called him,” said Rich Peverley, the Stars’ player development coordinator. “I said, ‘I have a place for you to play in Europe,’ because we wanted him to play. And this stands out in my head. He said, ‘I really appreciate you doing that, but I know what I need to do to make it to the NHL, and it’s not to play in games, I need to get a lot stronger and I need to get a lot faster.'”

So Robertson returned to his family home in Michigan, and got to work with a trainer. He made the Stars’ opening night roster in 2021, but through his first few games wasn’t making much of an impact. Robertson was a healthy scratch for a handful of early-season games. He says now that he may have been “uptight” or afraid to make mistakes.

“We had a discussion this year around that time, and watched some video together,” Peverley said. “As much confidence as he had, not playing is hard. But he was willing to work. He loves the game so much, he’ll go home and watch all of his shifts because he wants to get better. There’s only so many players I’ve had, in my minimal time in this role, where they’re there because they love it so much. They’ll go home and they’ll work on things, when everyone else is home doing other things. He naturally has the drive to be the best player.”

Finally, it all came together. Over the last two-plus months, the offensively gifted winger has arguably been the Stars’ best player, and certainly one of their most indispensable ones. Since Feb. 7, Robertson has scored a team-high 15 goals and 40 points as Dallas makes its final push for a playoff spot in the Central Division, following a sluggish start marred by injuries to key veterans. The 21-year-old was especially impressive in April, when he was named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month after appearing on the scoresheet in 13 of 17 games, including a nine-game point streak.

Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov is still the favorite to win the Calder Trophy, but Robertson has made it an interesting race. He could still win it too, considering he has a slightly higher points-per-game average (0.87 versus 0.86) as well as a much higher expected goals percentage at 5-on-5 (56.50% vs 47.84%). Robertson is now on Dallas’ top line, alongside Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz, and broke Jamie Benn‘s franchise record for most points for a rookie at even strength in a season (35).

“I give the kid total props,” Peverley said. “He’s reaping the rewards of putting the work in.”


Robertson has a uniquely American hockey story. He was born in Los Angeles, and got interested in the sport because his father and grandfather were Kings season ticket holders. “I have two brothers who also played travel hockey, [including Nick, currently a Toronto Maple Leafs rookie]” Robertson said. “And with traffic in L.A., and different practice times and arenas, it was a pain in the butt for my parents to get around.”

So the Robertsons got an RV. While one brother was on the ice, the others could be sitting in the parking lot, catching up on schoolwork or just staying entertained. “We’d just bring the big rig to the rink, and just let it marinate for four, five hours,” Robertson said. And then they’d be on the move again.

The family moved to Michigan in 2010, which brought more conventional hockey opportunities. “The hockey in California — it’s not that it wasn’t as competitive, it just wasn’t as up to par yet with the Midwest or the East Coast,” Robertson said. “If I had to guess, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the same exposure staying in California, because it wasn’t as much of a hockey market yet. It’s getting there, though.”

Robertson’s mother was born in Manila, Philippines before moving to California as a child, making him only the third player of Filipino descent to be drafted to the NHL.

“Nick and I certainly are excited for the opportunity to be role models — not just for the Asian community, but for anyone from different backgrounds, or anyone trying to get into the game of hockey,” Robertson said. “Nick and I, and our whole family to be honest, have always been welcomed at rinks. We’ve never had to deal with any racism or any of that stuff, which is fortunate because there really shouldn’t be any room for that in the world, it’s unacceptable.”

Playing in Michigan opened the door to the OHL, where Robertson generated serious NHL buzz. He was drafted by the Stars in 2017 as part of what is turning out to be a transformative draft class for Dallas, as they selected top defenseman Miro Heiskanen No. 3 overall, potential goalie-of-the-future Jake Oettinger (No. 26) and Robertson (No. 39) with their first three picks.

Robertson was the leading scorer in the CHL in the 2018-19 season before going pro. The Stars wanted him to replicate that success, but knew he’d need to make some adjustments.

“Junior players, they can basically do whatever they want on the ice, because if they’re going to be productive, the coach is continually going to put them out,” Peverley said. “That’s one thing we had to bring to Jason: to play in the NHL, or even AHL, you have to be trusted. If a coach doesn’t trust you, you’re not going to play in critical times. Rick Bowness is no different. Everyone needs to play the same way.”

It was something that Robertson had to work on, even as he scored 25 goals in his first 60 games in the AHL.

“His hockey IQ is off the charts, he has the ability to win tough battles; to me it’s elite what he can do when he has the puck,” Peverley said. “But I watch him this year, he backchecks so hard. Two years ago, he’d probably be waiting on the blue line for a breakaway pass. Now when he gets in on the forecheck, he doesn’t stop moving his feet. He stops in his own zone and he’s blocking shots. These are things told to him by the coaching staff and the development staff of how to be an NHL player — and he did it.”

Said Robertson: “My coaches, Rich, they’ve all told me I have the skill and talent to make plays with the puck. Playing without it is what I needed to improve on. So that’s what I’ve been working on the last few months, those small details that get exposed if you’re not playing right: staying above the puck, tracking, making good defensive decisions.”

The Stars now have five remaining games to get into the playoff field, and then they know anything can happen. While Robertson isn’t immune to hearing buzz around his Calder-worthy campaign, he won’t focus on it.

“At the end of the day, I want to make the playoffs, everyone in that locker room wants to make the playoffs,” Robertson said. “I feel like I’d let everyone in that locker room down if I didn’t have the playoffs as my No. 1 goal. Whatever happens, happens, but the playoffs are where I want to be. That’s where I was in the bubble for two and a half months, and never touched the ice, but I want to be an impact player in the playoffs now. That’s where I want to be.”

Jump ahead:
Three stars of the week
What we liked this week
What we didn’t like
Best games on tap
Social post of the week


Emptying the notebook

1. It sounds like the NHL is aiming to begin the Stanley Cup playoffs — at least for the three United States-based divisions — on May 15. The first two rounds are intradivisional. After that, the league is still hopeful for an exemption from the Canadian government for American teams to travel over the border. (The NHL would likely have to agree to some sort of bubble environment as a concession, through a bubble is not expected for the first two rounds of the playoffs.)

But more than likely, the NHL will temporarily relocate the final Canadian team to a U.S. city for the semifinals. The decision on where might not be made until a couple days before the semifinals begin. As NHL executive Steve Mayer reminded me last week, the Edmonton bubble was scheduled only two weeks out, and involved getting 12 teams on site. This is just one team, so it’s much easier.

It sounds like the league is “wide open” to ideas on where that neutral site could be. But before you dream too big, expect it to be in an NHL arena, as it’s easier for the league to operate from an infrastructure perspective rather than a collegiate arena, like Ralph Engelstad Arena at the University of North Dakota (no matter how cool that might look).

There could be some scheduling issues in arenas, including some shared NBA buildings. Also, a couple arenas already have concerts scheduled for this summer, such as a Justin Bieber world tour.

2. As for fans in the buildings for the playoffs? This week, Chicago will be the final American-based city to allow fans back into the arena. There are still no fans in Canadian cities. During the postseason, the NHL is “fine with whatever the local government says,” Mayer told me.

The capacities have varied greatly market-to-market. However, it’s unlikely we will get to full capacity by the end of the playoffs, as there still probably needs to be a “moat” around players on the bottom ring of the arena, as a form of protection.

3. Ryan Miller is retiring as the winningest American-born goalie in NHL history. From his time at Michigan State, he still holds the Division 1 record for career shutouts (26) and is the last goaltender to win the Hobey Baker Award (he did it back in 2001). And of course, Miller is known for his Olympic heroics, almost carrying Team USA to Olympic gold in Vancouver 2010.

That all leads to this amazing stat. According to the Ducks, Miller is the only player ever to be named the top goaltender in the NHL, Winter Olympics, AHL and the NCAA’s top player and best goaltender in his career.

4. I caught up with Miller early in February and we talked about the fact that he had considered retirement after last season. “The nature of what the league is like now, and that abrupt ending with no clear path forward, I didn’t know how it would work out,” Miller said then. “I was trying to think about what else could happen. But after spending some time and reflecting, I wanted to give myself an opportunity to keep going if I could, and it worked out.”

Miller played on a one-year, $1 million deal with the Ducks this season, and by announcing his retirement with a handful of games left, ensured he could get a proper goodbye to the game. I’m glad he did. The respect opponents have for the 40-year-old is apparent.

5. I’m constantly asking around on names to monitor for front office jobs. Miller is an active player whose name has come up often. He’s been vocal behind the scenes during lockouts, and also an advocate for all goalies on equipment and safety issues.

“I could see him as a GM one day,” one league source told me. “But only if he wants it.”


Three stars of the week

Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers

Another absurd week for McDavid, including four goals and six assists in four games. At this point, another Art Ross Trophy (it would be his third) and Hart (his second) feel inevitable. McDavid also hit the 400-game milestone this week, with 556 career points. Eerily, Sidney Crosby hit the 400-game milestone with a very similar line of 554 career points.

Auston Matthews, C, Toronto Maple Leafs

En route to winning the goal-scoring crown (becoming the first American to do so since Keith Tkachuk in 1996-97), Matthews scored four goals in three games, including three game-winners. This might be his prettiest of the bunch:

Semyon Varlamov, G, New York Islanders

He posted shutouts in both of his starts this week, extending a career-high and franchise-record streak of 213:56 scoreless minutes. He has a league-high seven shutouts this season, with four of them coming against the Rangers. Dark horse Vezina Trophy candidate, anyone?


What we liked this week

1. Jaromir Jagr last played in the NHL in 2017-18 with the Calgary Flames, but he’s still going at it with his hometown club in the Czech Republic, Kladno, which he owns. At age 49, Jagr said he has no plans to retire next season — even though he admits his play is declining. He scored two goals and eight assists in 16 playoff games as Kladno won the second-tier league to earn a promotion to Czech Extraliga next season.

“I expect much more from myself and I don’t have it,” Jagr told NHL.com. “But I am aware that when I leave, many [business] partners will leave the team too. That’s why I have no choice.”

Jagr noted that Kladno has an outdoor game next season — previously postponed due to the pandemic — which he feels pressure to play in.

“The main reason I am still playing is my responsibility to the club,” Jagr said. “If I did not have any, I would not be flying around on the ice here. Because I am embarrassing myself there, I can say.”

2. Welcome to the show, Cole Caufield! What a way to make your debut, scoring the game-winner in overtime:

I hate to make the comparison because they are both smaller-statured players, but I get serious Alex Debrincat vibes from Caufield. Seeing that Debrincat has scored 112 goals through his first 281 NHL games, that is a compliment.

3. Also welcome to the show, Seattle Kraken! They are officially an NHL team after making a payment to the league this week. That means 30 teams are a little bit richer (Vegas doesn’t get a cut of the $650 million entry fee, but also doesn’t have to give up a player in the expansion draft), but the league is also a lot more competitive.

Now the Kraken are officially able to sign players or make transactions, but I’m curious about what handshake agreements they’ve already made. Remember, the Golden Knights had an under-the-table deal with the Penguins to acquire Marc-Andre Fleury in February ahead of their July expansion draft in 2017.


What we didn’t like this week

The Vancouver Canucks placed forward Jake Virtanen on leave after allegations of sexual misconduct. A woman, who asked to remain anonymous for “fear of public backlash,” told Glacier Media that she met Virtanen in September 2017. She said the two agreed to meet and that Virtanen picked her up and drove her to a Vancouver hotel, where a sexual assault took place. “I couldn’t believe that I said no and he didn’t take that for an answer,” the woman told Glacier Media. “I felt violated and gross and wanted to leave.”

The woman said she contacted the police, but there are currently no charges pending.

Here’s a reminder that the NHL does not have a specific domestic violence policy, handling cases on an individual basis. They are the only one of the four major professional North American sports leagues not to have such a policy. It is uncharacteristic of the NHL to punish players without corroborating evidence, police or court records, or a person coming forward. Typically, rulings are made by commissioner Gary Bettman.

I was told that the NHL is monitoring the situation, but sounds like the Canucks have begun an independent investigation first.


Top games on tap this week

Note: All times Eastern.

Thursday, May 6: New York Rangers at Boston Bruins 7 p.m.

After brutal back-to-back shutouts, the Rangers’ playoff hopes are a longshot. They’d basically have to win out, and the Bruins would have to lose their final six. But … you’re telling me there’s a chance? This game could keep things alive, or serve as the final dagger.

Saturday, May 8: Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers 7 p.m. (ESPN+)

This very well could be a first-round playoff matchup if the Hurricanes win the Central. But this game is critically important first — and would be imperative for either of these teams to overtake Carolina at No. 1. Giddy up; the Battle of Florida has never been more fun.

Saturday, May 8: St. Louis Blues at Vegas Golden Knights 10 p.m. (ESPN+)

Over their last five games, the Blues have picked up nine out of a possible 10 points to ensure the inside track for the final playoff spot in the West. That could mean a date with the Golden Knights in the first round, though Vegas needs to hold off Colorado for the top seed.


Social media post of the week

Legendary troll job from Panthers goalie Chris Driedger:





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NHL Playoff Watch Daily – Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars continue battle for Central’s final spot


Sunday’s NHL slate consisted of just one game, with the Tampa Bay Lightning defeating the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 to move into the No. 2 seed in the Central Division.

With a little over a week to go for most teams, much of the excitement will come down to seeding among the playoff contenders in each division, with one notable exception: the race between the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars for the fourth spot in the Central.

Heading into Monday’s games, the Preds have a three-point edge in the standings, and won the season series 5-3. However, Dallas does have an extra game in hand. Both teams are in action on Monday night, with the Preds visiting the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Stars heading to Sunrise, Florida, to take on the Panthers.

Having reached the final stretch of the regular season, it’s time to check in on all the playoff races — along with the teams jockeying for position in the 2021 NHL draft lottery.

Note: Playoff chances are via Money Puck. Tragic numbers are courtesy of Damian Echevarrieta of the NHL.

Jump ahead:
Current playoff matchups
Race for No. 1 pick

East Division

Points: 71
Regulation wins: 26
Playoff position: E1
Games left: 4
Next game: @ PHI (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 69
Regulation wins: 26
Playoff position: E2
Games left: 5
Next game: @ NYR (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 67
Regulation wins: 23
Playoff position: E3
Games left: 5
Next game: @ BUF (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 66
Regulation wins: 23
Playoff position: E4
Games left: 6
Next game: @ NJ (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 58
Regulation wins: 23
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 4
Next game: vs. WSH (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: 1

Points: 51
Regulation wins: 14
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: vs. PIT (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 41
Regulation wins: 14
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: vs. BOS (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 33
Regulation wins: 10
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 4
Next game: vs. NYI (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E


Central Division

Points: 75
Regulation wins: 25
Playoff position: C1
Games left: 5
Next game: vs. CHI (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 73
Regulation wins: 28
Playoff position: C2
Games left: 4
Next game: vs. DAL (May 5)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 73
Regulation wins: 24
Playoff position: C3
Games left: 3
Next game: vs. DAL (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 58
Regulation wins: 19
Playoff position: C4
Games left: 4
Next game: @ CBJ (May 3)
Playoff chances: 82.1%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 55
Regulation wins: 16
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: @ FLA (May 3)
Playoff chances: 17.8%
Tragic number: 7

Points: 50
Regulation wins: 14
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: @ CAR (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: 2

Points: 45
Regulation wins: 15
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 2
Next game: @ CBJ (May 7)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 43
Regulation wins: 11
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 4
Next game: vs. NSH (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E


North Division

Points: 71
Regulation wins: 27
Playoff position: N1
Games left: 5
Next game: @ MTL (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 62
Regulation wins: 28
Playoff position: N2
Games left: 7
Next game: @ VAN (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 57
Regulation wins: 21
Playoff position: N3
Games left: 6
Next game: @ OTT (May 3)
Playoff chances: 99.6%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 55
Regulation wins: 20
Playoff position: N4
Games left: 6
Next game: vs. TOR (May 3)
Playoff chances: 95.4%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 47
Regulation wins: 19
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 6
Next game: vs. WPG (May 5)
Playoff chances: 4.9%
Tragic number: 4

Points: 43
Regulation wins: 15
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: vs. EDM (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 41
Regulation wins: 13
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 11
Next game: vs. WPG (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0.2%
Tragic number: 8


West Division

Points: 74
Regulation wins: 28
Playoff position: W1
Games left: 6
Next game: @ MIN (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 70
Regulation wins: 30
Playoff position: W2
Games left: 7
Next game: @ SJ (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 68
Regulation wins: 26
Playoff position: W3
Games left: 6
Next game: vs. VGS (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 53
Regulation wins: 16
Playoff position: W4
Games left: 7
Next game: vs. ANA (May 3)
Playoff chances: 94.6%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 50
Regulation wins: 18
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 4
Next game: vs. LA (May 3)
Playoff chances: 4.9%
Tragic number: 5

Points: 45
Regulation wins: 14
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: vs. COL (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0.1%
Tragic number: 2

Points: 44
Regulation wins: 17
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 7
Next game: @ ARI (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0.4%
Tragic number: 5

Points: 39
Regulation wins: 11
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 4
Next game: @ STL (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E


Current playoff matchups

East Division

No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 4 Boston Bruins
No. 2 Washington Capitals vs. No. 3 New York Islanders

Central Division

No. 1 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 4 Nashville Predators
No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 3 Florida Panthers

North Division

No. 1 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 4 Montreal Canadiens
No. 2 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 3 Winnipeg Jets

West Division

No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 4 St. Louis Blues
No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 3 Minnesota Wild


Race for the No. 1 pick

The NHL uses a draft lottery to determine the order at the top of the first round, so the team that finishes in last place is not guaranteed the No. 1 selection. New for 2021, a team may move up a maximum of 10 spots if it wins the lottery, so only 11 teams are eligible for the draw for the No. 1 pick. Full details on the process can be found here.

Points: 33
Regulation wins: 10

Points: 39
Regulation wins: 11

Points: 41
Regulation wins: 13

Points: 41
Regulation wins: 14

Points: 43
Regulation wins: 11

Points: 43
Regulation wins: 15

Points: 44
Regulation wins: 17

Points: 45
Regulation wins: 14

Points: 45
Regulation wins: 15

Points: 47
Regulation wins: 19

Points: 50
Regulation wins: 14

Points: 50
Regulation wins: 18

Points: 51
Regulation wins: 14

Points: 55
Regulation wins: 16

Points: 58
Regulation wins: 23





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Surveying the scene after a wild Saturday


The NHL’s 15-game slate on Saturday was just as wild as we’d hoped, with six games requiring overtime or a shootout to decide the victor. And like a motion-sensing spotlight in an alley, the results of those games provided quite a bit of clarity to all of the playoff races.

The New York Islanders punched their ticket to the postseason with a win over the New York Rangers, 3-0. This was the final regular season matchup between the clubs at Nassau Memorial Coliseum, and Semyon Varlamov put on a show for the limited capacity crowd, stopping all 28 shots he faced.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Ottawa Senators are now officially eliminated from the playoffs after an overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Though still in the midst of turning the roster over to a new wave of young players, the Sens were a tough out for the rest of the North Division this season, so the future is bright.

Having reached the final stretch of the regular season, it’s time to check in on all the playoff races — along with the teams jockeying for position in the 2021 NHL draft lottery.

Note: Playoff chances are via Money Puck. Tragic numbers are courtesy of Damian Echevarrieta of the NHL.

Jump ahead:
Current playoff matchups
Race for No. 1 pick

East Division

play

0:40

Penguins’ Bryan Rust scores the first two goals for the Penguins leading them to the 3-0 win over the Capitals.

Points: 71
Regulation wins: 26
Playoff position: E1
Games left: 4
Next game: @ PHI (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 69
Regulation wins: 26
Playoff position: E2
Games left: 5
Next game: @ NYR (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 67
Regulation wins: 23
Playoff position: E3
Games left: 5
Next game: @ BUF (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 66
Regulation wins: 23
Playoff position: E4
Games left: 6
Next game: @ NJ (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 58
Regulation wins: 23
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 4
Next game: vs. WSH (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: 1

Points: 51
Regulation wins: 14
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: vs. PIT (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 41
Regulation wins: 14
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: vs. BOS (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 33
Regulation wins: 10
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 4
Next game: vs. NYI (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E


Central Division

play

0:38

Erik Haula’s goal in overtime is the lone goal of the game as the Predators blank the Stars 1-0.

Points: 75
Regulation wins: 25
Playoff position: C1
Games left: 5
Next game: vs. CHI (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 73
Regulation wins: 24
Playoff position: C2
Games left: 3
Next game: vs. DAL (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 71
Regulation wins: 27
Playoff position: C3
Games left: 5
Next game: @ DET (May 2)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 58
Regulation wins: 19
Playoff position: C4
Games left: 4
Next game: @ CBJ (May 3)
Playoff chances: 82.2%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 55
Regulation wins: 16
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: @ FLA (May 3)
Playoff chances: 17.8%
Tragic number: 7

Points: 50
Regulation wins: 14
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: @ CAR (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: 2

Points: 45
Regulation wins: 15
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 3
Next game: vs. TB (May 2)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 43
Regulation wins: 11
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 4
Next game: vs. NSH (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E


North Division

play

0:21

Connor McDavid scores the first goal of the game for the Oilers and Edmonton never looks back.

Points: 71
Regulation wins: 27
Playoff position: N1
Games left: 5
Next game: @ MTL (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 62
Regulation wins: 28
Playoff position: N2
Games left: 7
Next game: @ VAN (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 57
Regulation wins: 21
Playoff position: N3
Games left: 6
Next game: @ OTT (May 3)
Playoff chances: 99.5%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 55
Regulation wins: 20
Playoff position: N4
Games left: 6
Next game: vs. TOR (May 3)
Playoff chances: 95.3%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 47
Regulation wins: 19
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 6
Next game: vs. WPG (May 5)
Playoff chances: 5%
Tragic number: 4

Points: 43
Regulation wins: 15
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: vs. EDM (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 41
Regulation wins: 13
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 11
Next game: vs. WPG (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0.2%
Tragic number: 8


West Division

play

0:30

Kevin Fiala’s goal in overtime propels the Wild to a 4-3 win.

Points: 74
Regulation wins: 28
Playoff position: W1
Games left: 6
Next game: @ MIN (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 70
Regulation wins: 30
Playoff position: W2
Games left: 7
Next game: @ SJ (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 68
Regulation wins: 26
Playoff position: W3
Games left: 6
Next game: vs. VGS (May 3)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 53
Regulation wins: 16
Playoff position: W4
Games left: 7
Next game: vs. ANA (May 3)
Playoff chances: 94%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 50
Regulation wins: 18
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 4
Next game: vs. LA (May 3)
Playoff chances: 5.5%
Tragic number: 5

Points: 45
Regulation wins: 14
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: vs. COL (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0.1%
Tragic number: 2

Points: 44
Regulation wins: 17
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 7
Next game: @ ARI (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0.5%
Tragic number: 5

Points: 39
Regulation wins: 11
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 4
Next game: @ STL (May 3)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E


Current playoff matchups

East Division

No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 4 Boston Bruins
No. 2 Washington Capitals vs. No. 3 New York Islanders

Central Division

No. 1 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 4 Nashville Predators
No. 2 Florida Panthers vs. No. 3 Tampa Bay Lightning

North Division

No. 1 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 4 Montreal Canadiens
No. 2 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 3 Winnipeg Jets

West Division

No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 4 St. Louis Blues
No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 3 Minnesota Wild


Race for the No. 1 pick

The NHL uses a draft lottery to determine the order at the top of the first round, so the team that finishes in last place is not guaranteed the No. 1 selection. New for 2021, a team may move up a maximum of 10 spots if it wins the lottery, so only 11 teams are eligible for the draw for the No. 1 pick. Full details on the process can be found here.

Points: 33
Regulation wins: 10

Points: 39
Regulation wins: 11

Points: 41
Regulation wins: 13

Points: 41
Regulation wins: 14

Points: 43
Regulation wins: 11

Points: 43
Regulation wins: 15

Points: 44
Regulation wins: 17

Points: 45
Regulation wins: 14

Points: 45
Regulation wins: 15

Points: 47
Regulation wins: 19

Points: 50
Regulation wins: 14

Points: 50
Regulation wins: 18

Points: 51
Regulation wins: 14

Points: 55
Regulation wins: 16

Points: 58
Regulation wins: 23





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NFL draft 2021 takeaways – The QB rush continues, plus lingering questions and top surprises


By most measures, NFL offenses last year produced their best season in the history of pro football. Never had the collective environment been more conducive to scoring, especially via the pass, and new records were set for points, touchdown throws and completion percentage. So after taking three months to analyze their rosters and project trends, decision-makers voiced a full-throated response during the 2021 NFL draft: We need more!

Teams loaded up on quarterbacks, receivers and offensive linemen during the early portions of the three-day affair. Never had there been more passers (eight) or offensive tackles (14) selected during the first three rounds. The total of 15 receivers drafted over that period was tied for fourth most since the common draft era began in 1967.

A reasonable person might suggest a focus on defensive players to counter the trend, but there has been nothing equitable or organic about the NFL’s shift toward the pass over the decades. The 2020 season produced a new twist — a significant increase in tolerance for offensive holding — and most decision-makers accept that the league is willing and able to maintain the inherent competitive imbalance between the two sides of the ball.

General managers dipped into a deep cornerback class, drafting a record 16 of them through the first three rounds. But let’s face it: By the end of the second round, they had moved on to snatching backup quarterback prospects. No lie. A mini-run on passers between pick Nos. 64 and 67 crystalized how far the league had shifted.

NFL quarterback curation has undergone a massive swing during the past few decades, moving almost exclusively to the first round of the draft. In 2020, 80% of teams played at least one quarterback who was originally a first-round pick, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. A similar percentage can be projected for 2021.

This draft’s top five quarterbacks — Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars), Zach Wilson (New York Jets), Trey Lance (San Francisco 49ers), Justin Fields (Chicago Bears) and Mac Jones (New England Patriots) — all sailed off the board before the midpoint of the first round.

History tells us that some of them will fail. But the now-annual stampede to corral anyone who might have a chance to succeed ensures bleak odds of finding a good starter at any point afterward. Of the past 36 quarterbacks drafted in the second or third rounds, dating to 2006, only four have made the Pro Bowl.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans can dream all they want about a moment when Kyle Trask (No. 64 overall) takes over for starter Tom Brady. The Minnesota Vikings can certainly hope that Kellen Mond (No. 66) might one day challenge Kirk Cousins. And the Houston Texans might well love Davis Mills (No. 67). But based on recent trends, ESPN analytics suggest there is no more than an 11% chance that any of them will become a starter, much less someone who can win games.

For all practical purposes, that means the Buccaneers, Vikings and Texans all drafted backups in spots where teams historically have expected to find starters at any other position. We would all be smarter, and less disappointed in the coming years, if we viewed them through that lens.

High-end starters such as the Seattle SeahawksRussell Wilson, drafted in the 2012 third round, are the rare exception. Brady, famously selected by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 draft, is a relic of long-gone roster-building structure. The NFL has moved so far toward the passing game that backup quarterbacks are worth more draft capital than all but the best defensive prospects.

So goes my big takeaway from the 2021 draft, which largely returned to its traditional format after a homebound detour in 2020. Commissioner Roger Goodell’s iconic leather chair traveled with him to a stage constructed off Lake Erie in Cleveland, but the thousands of (masked) fans and celebrity appearances signaled the NFL’s continuing emergence from COVID-19 protocols. What follows are the remainder of my thoughts on this draft, in rapid-fire fashion.


play

1:14

Marty Smith gives a live hit from Trevor Lawrence’s draft party and is interrupted by Trevor Lawrence himself.

Fact: Jaguars coach Urban Meyer has won everywhere he has coached, except the NFL, where he has never coached.

Opinion: He’ll struggle to win at this level if he thinks that loading up on running backs is smart team building. Running back Travis Etienne, selected No. 25 overall, will join a backfield that already includes 1,000-yard rusher James Robinson and newly signed veteran Carlos Hyde. Meyer said he envisions Etienne in the kind of hybrid role that Percy Harvin filled for him at Florida and later in the NFL. But as exciting as Etienne is, that’s an incredibly high bar to reach at the pro level. Harvin was one of the most explosive athletes in a generation of pro football.

Fact: New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman traded down for the first time in his career as a GM. He actually did it multiple times, including in the first round, when he ultimately drafted receiver Kadarius Toney at No. 20 overall.

Opinion: I’m going to stop short of awarding him a Nobel Prize. But accepting lower value now in exchange for more value next year, at a time when his tenure with the Giants might depend on a much-improved 2021 season, is admirable. You would be fooling yourself to think every general manager would do it. You might even call it noble.

Fact: A great meme circulated on social media on whether the Bengals should give quarterback Joe Burrow another receiving weapon or better pass protection in Round 1.

Opinion: I’ll argue that the decision wasn’t as obvious as some would suggest. Receiver Ja’Marr Chase will be a big-time playmaker, and Penei Sewell will be a really good offensive tackle. The Bengals decided on Chase to reunite with Burrow, his college teammate, and then circled back and used a second-round pick to select tackle Jackson Carman while continuing to attack the position later in the draft. Ultimately, though, I would have taken Sewell. The drop from the first offensive lineman off the board (Sewell) to Carman (10th) was bigger than the drop from Chase to whichever receiver the Bengals might have focused on in the second round. I didn’t leave this draft with much more confidence in Burrow’s safety than I did when it began.

Fact: No. 11 overall pick Justin Fields is the Bears’ most exciting quarterback prospect in a generation — and maybe longer.

Opinion: A full accounting of resources general manager Ryan Pace has used to acquire potential starting quarterbacks during his tenure is staggering. The Bears used a total of nine draft picks to maneuver for and select Mitch Trubisky in 2017 and later Fields. It required a fourth-round pick to acquire veteran Nick Foles from the Jacksonville Jaguars. And Foles, Mike Glennon, Chase Daniel and Andy Dalton will have earned at least $44.5 million between 2017 and 2021. That’s on top of the $29 million the Bears paid Trubisky and the roughly $19 million they will have to guarantee Fields.

play

0:59

David Pollack says Justin Fields faces a tough task in trying to turn around the Bears.

Fact: ESPN college football analyst Paul Finebaum said this of Patriots coach/general manager Bill Belichick: “I see him getting lazy late in his career.”

Opinion: Belichick has a long history of zigging when the rest of the league is zagging, and that includes trusting the word of an eclectic group of unofficial advisors. Alabama coach Nick Saban is one of them, and Belichick drafted Crimson Tide players with his first two picks this year: quarterback Mac Jones and defensive tackle Christian Barmore. But Belichick is approaching the line between listening to smart football people and outsourcing his draft operation. All told, Belichick has drafted 12 Saban-coached players during his tenure with the Patriots, the most between any pro-college coach combination in the common draft era.

Fact: Commissioner Goodell once again encouraged fans to boo him throughout the draft. “I didn’t come out of my basement for nothing,” he said Thursday night.

Opinion: We must stay strong with my annual plea to protect the boo as an unironic expression of displeasure. Any attempt to co-opt the boo as a term of sarcastic endearment must be stopped.

Fact: The Rams placed a portrait of Goodell on a wall of their draft house in Malibu, California. (Yes, the Rams had a draft house.)

Opinion: We can debate the quality of the Rams’ on-field performance in recent years, but it’s hard not to admire their organizational sense of humor. After all, this is the same team that personalizes contract offers with palindromes and references to jersey numbers, with the occasional haiku mixed in as well.

Fact: The Cowboys’ first six picks were defensive players, including linebacker Micah Parsons in the first round.

Opinion: It wasn’t excessive! To put it kindly, there was a disconnect last season between the Cowboys’ defensive scheme and their personnel strategy. Now they have a half-dozen new players to match with their new coordinator (Dan Quinn). While the rest of the league worked to elevate their passing games, the Cowboys knew they could not possibly field an offense that could keep up with what their defense allowed last year. Among many issues, the Cowboys allowed at least 30 points in half of their games.

Fact: Seven of the 32 first-round picks opted out of the 2020 college season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Opinion: Despite a few scattered comments from general managers in the weeks leading up to the draft, it was always difficult to believe that they would pass up on really talented players because of an opt-out. A total of eight opt-out players were rated among the 50 best players in this draft, and all but one were gone when the second round began. That list includes Chase (No. 5 to the Bengals), Sewell (No. 7 to the Lions), Parsons (No. 12 to the Cowboys) and tackle Rashawn Slater (No. 13 to the Los Angeles Chargers).

Fact: The Baltimore Ravens drafted receiver Rashod Bateman at No. 27 overall, giving quarterback Lamar Jackson a target who could be a true No. 1 receiver.

Opinion: Bateman was one of my favorite players in this draft. Big 10 receivers don’t get much attention, but he is smart, polished, much faster than you think and ready to counter whatever defenses throw his way. With all that said, however, I’m not sure fantasy managers should make a big bet on him. Over the past three seasons, the Ravens have thrown fewer passes than all but one team. Bateman will make them better, but will it take them away from the run-based offense they’ve employed since Jackson ascended to the starting job?

Fact: The Detroit Lions had a fun draft.

Opinion: From their aggressive celebration after drafting Sewell to defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike‘s profanity-laced declaration about the way he hits people at the line of scrimmage, it was physically impossible for Lions fans to avoid smiling at some point over the course of the weekend. When viewed in the context of new coach Dan Campbell’s stated desire to bite kneecaps, it’s pretty clear that the Lions won’t take themselves too seriously. They’ll have some energy, which is always the first building block in improving a team. They’re already ahead of where they were at the start of the Matt Patricia regime, which was cold and lifeless from the start.

Fact: Some teams wanted nothing to do with this draft, especially on Day 3.

Opinion: There were unprecedented challenges in evaluating the 2021 class. Medical information was less fulsome because of the lack of a formal combine. Scouts couldn’t make their usual rounds during a shortened college football season. And the list of draft-declared players was much smaller than usual. As a result, the Seahawks drafted only three players. The Texans kept it to five. The most players any team drafted was 11, by the Vikings, Cowboys and Panthers. The sense by most in the league is that the 2022 draft will be more plentifully stocked, of both talent and information. Only then will we know if the Seahawks and Texans, especially, made the right call.





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YouTuber tracks friend’s date at Arizona Diamondbacks game and captivates Twitter


We’ve all been in this situation — your friend is on a date and you really want to know how it’s going. But you need them to answer you!

Well, Connor Buckley, aka “BuckArmy,” took matters into his own hands on Saturday — and in a very public way during the Arizona Diamondbacks game. Buckley simply wanted to see how his friend’s date was going, so he tweeted at the Diamondbacks to check in on them at the game.

A search ensued.

After some investigating, they found him!

The D-backs were kind enough to post the full back-and-forth:

And the friend on the date even chimed in:

Finally, we got to the most important question: will there be a third date??

The D-backs tweeted they gave them a couple of game-used baseballs to remember the occasion. No pressure!





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Andy Ruiz Jr.-Chris Arreola live results and analysis


Former unified heavyweight world titleholder Andy Ruiz Jr. returns to the ring for the first time since losing his three belts back to Anthony Joshua in their rematch in December 2019, as he faces former title challenger Chris Arreola in the main event of Saturday’s PPV card at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.

Ruiz (33-2, 22 KOs), 31, of Imperial, California, who was 283½ pounds for that Joshua rematch, was in much better shape on Friday’s weigh in, weighing 256 pounds.

“I was at 310 pounds when I started this camp,” Ruiz said during Wednesday’s press conference. “We started losing weight slowly but surely. People are wondering if I’m still going to have the same power after losing weight, but I’ve been working hard for this moment and the power is definitely staying with me.

“I believe I have the fastest hands at heavyweight. I’m not where I want to be at right now, but I’m a lot better than where I was.

Arreola (38-6-1, 33 KOs), 40, of Los Angeles, hasn’t fought since a decision loss to Adam Kownacki in August 2019. He has fought three times for the WBC world title, coming short on all three attempts — against Vitali Klitschko, Bermane Stiverne and Deontay Wilder.

“Ruiz and Adam Kownacki are very different fighters,” said Arreola. “With Adam, we just slugged it out. With Andy, I have to be aware at all times. He has some of the fastest hands in the division. I have to make sure I move my head, because this is going to be a great fight.

In the co-main event, Omar Figueroa Jr. (28-1-1, 19 KOs), 31, of Weslaco, Texas, faces Abel Ramos (26-4-2, 20 KOs), 29, of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in a 12-round WBA welterweight title eliminator.

Stay here for live undercard results and analysis.


Fight in progress: Fernando Molina vs. Prisco Marquez, 6 rounds, lightweights


Results:

Lara wins middleweight title with must-see KO over Lamanna

The question of whether or not New Jersey’s Thomas Lamanna could hang with Erislandy Lara did not take long to answer.

Lara (28-3, 16 KOs), 38, of Cuba, obliterated Lamanna with a straight left hand just 80 seconds into their WBA “regular” middleweight title fight. Lara has competed at a world class level for years, but is not known for one-punch power. You wouldn’t have known that from this result, however, as it was as clean of a knockout he’s ever had in his career.

Lamanna (30-5-1, 12 KOs), 29, of Millville, New Jersey was seeking his first major title in the bout. Although the fight didn’t even last a single round, it was apparent early on he was not on Lara’s level. Prior to the highlight knockout, Lara landed the straight left to the body and head of Lamanna, before coming over the top with the walkoff shot.

A former junior lightweight champion, Lara becomes a two-weight champion with the victory.


Ramirez wins interim title with KO victory over Avelar

Eduardo Ramirez knocked out Isaac Avelar with a blistering right hook at 1:16 of the third round, winning the WBA interim featherweight title. It marks the third knockout in a row for the surging 28-year-old.

Ramirez (25-2-3, 12 KOs), 28, of Sinaloa, Mexico, who is now 5-1 since unsuccessfully challenging Lee Selby for the IBF featherweight title in 2017, knocked Avelar down with a right hook less than one minute into the third round. Avelar managed to continue but not for long, as he was still visibly hurt from the shot. Ramirez rocked him with another right hook against the ropes, and the fight was stopped.

It was a devastating finish to what had been a competitive fight to that point. Ramirez hurt Avelar with the right hook late in the opening round as well, but that didn’t stop Avelar from looking to apply pressure throughout the bout. Ramirez’s speedy right hook and jab, however, were the two best weapons of the night.

Ramirez only fought once in 2020, but recorded a knockout over Miguel Flores in that appearance. Avelar (17-3, 10 KOs), 23, of Aguascalientes, has now lost three of his last four and been knocked out in two of those fights.


Still to come:

  • Andy Ruiz Jr. vs. Chris Arreola, 12 rounds, heavyweights

  • Sebastian Fundora vs. Jorge Cota, 12 rounds, junior middleweights

  • Omar Figueroa Jr. vs. Abel Ramos, 12 rounds, welterweights

  • Jesus Alejandro Ramos vs. Javier Molina, 10 rounds, welterweights



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Key matchups of Saturday’s 15-game slate


With the end of the season approaching, the NHL has offered us a treat: Saturday’s schedule includes 15 games — everyone but the Winnipeg Jets will be in action — including a number of matchups on which we’ll be keeping a close watch for playoff ramifications.

The New York Rangers‘ playoff hopes are still flickering, and they can put more fuel on that fire with a win in their game against the New York Islanders. The Isles will be extra motivated because this is the final time these two rivals will play at Nassau Coliseum before the club moves to UBS Arena for 2021-22. Elsewhere in the East, the No. 1-seeded Washington Capitals will host the No. 2-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins for the final game in their season series. Both clubs have clinched a playoff berth, but they remain in contention for that top spot.

The critical matchup in the Central today pits the Nashville Predators against the Dallas Stars (streaming live on ESPN+). Dallas is two points behind Nashville for the final postseason slot and needs the win to tie the season series for tiebreaker purposes down the line as well.

The Calgary Flames‘ playoff chances took a hit on Friday night with the Montreal Canadienswin over the Jets, and they’ll hope to make up some ground in the final game of the 2021 Battle of Alberta series. The host Edmonton Oilers lead the series 5-4.

In the West, we’re getting close to do-or-die time for teams chasing the St. Louis Blues for the No. 4 spot. The Blues themselves will take on the No. 3-seeded Minnesota Wild (streaming live on ESPN+), while the Arizona Coyotes host the Vegas Golden Knights and the San Jose Sharks visit the Colorado Avalanche.

Having reached the final stretch of the regular season, it’s time to check in on all the playoff races — along with the teams jockeying for position in the 2021 NHL draft lottery.

Note: Playoff chances are via Money Puck. Tragic numbers are courtesy of Damian Echevarrieta of the NHL.

Jump ahead:
Current playoff matchups
Race for No. 1 pick

East Division

Points: 69
Regulation wins: 26
Playoff position: E1
Games left: 6
Next game: vs. PIT (May 1)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 69
Regulation wins: 25
Playoff position: E2
Games left: 5
Next game: @ WSH (May 1)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 65
Regulation wins: 22
Playoff position: E3
Games left: 6
Next game: vs. NYR (May 1)
Playoff chances: 99.7%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 64
Regulation wins: 22
Playoff position: E4
Games left: 7
Next game: vs. BUF (May 1)
Playoff chances: 99.8%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 58
Regulation wins: 23
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: @ NYI (May 1)
Playoff chances: 0.5%
Tragic number: 5

Points: 51
Regulation wins: 14
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 6
Next game: vs. NJ (May 1)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 39
Regulation wins: 13
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 6
Next game: @ PHI (May 1)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 33
Regulation wins: 10
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: @ BOS (May 1)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E


Central Division

Points: 73
Regulation wins: 25
Playoff position: C1
Games left: 6
Next game: vs. CBJ (May 1)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 71
Regulation wins: 23
Playoff position: C2
Games left: 4
Next game: @ CHI (May 1)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 70
Regulation wins: 27
Playoff position: C3
Games left: 6
Next game: @ DET (May 1)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 56
Regulation wins: 19
Playoff position: C4
Games left: 5
Next game: vs. DAL (May 1)
Playoff chances: 68.4%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 54
Regulation wins: 16
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 6
Next game: @ NSH (May 1)
Playoff chances: 31%
Tragic number: 10

Points: 50
Regulation wins: 14
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 6
Next game: vs. FLA (May 1)
Playoff chances: 0.6%
Tragic number: 6

Points: 43
Regulation wins: 15
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 4
Next game: vs. TB (May 1)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E

Points: 42
Regulation wins: 11
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: @ CAR (May 1)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E


North Division

play

0:49

The Canadiens’ Nick Suzuki scores in the first period, then adds the eventual game winner in the third, helping Montreal take down Winnipeg 5-3.

Points: 69
Regulation wins: 26
Playoff position: N1
Games left: 6
Next game: vs. VAN (May 1)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 60
Regulation wins: 27
Playoff position: N2
Games left: 8
Next game: vs. CGY (May 1)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 57
Regulation wins: 21
Playoff position: N3
Games left: 6
Next game: @ OTT (May 3)
Playoff chances: 98.4%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 53
Regulation wins: 20
Playoff position: N4
Games left: 7
Next game: vs. OTT (May 1)
Playoff chances: 86.3%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 47
Regulation wins: 19
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 7
Next game: @ EDM (May 1)
Playoff chances: 14.6%
Tragic number: 8

Points: 42
Regulation wins: 15
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 6
Next game: @ MTL (May 1)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: 1

Points: 41
Regulation wins: 13
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 12
Next game: @ TOR (May 1)
Playoff chances: 0.8%
Tragic number: 12


West Division

play

0:49

Gabriel Landeskog and Cale Makar each score power-play goals in the first period, leading the Avalanche to a 3-0 win over the Sharks.

Points: 72
Regulation wins: 28
Playoff position: W1
Games left: 7
Next game: @ ARI (May 1)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 68
Regulation wins: 29
Playoff position: W2
Games left: 8
Next game: vs. SJ (May 1)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 66
Regulation wins: 26
Playoff position: W3
Games left: 7
Next game: vs. STL (May 1)
Playoff chances: 100%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 52
Regulation wins: 16
Playoff position: W4
Games left: 8
Next game: @ MIN (May 1)
Playoff chances: 90.6%
Tragic number: N/A

Points: 49
Regulation wins: 18
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: vs. VGS (May 1)
Playoff chances: 7.3%
Tragic number: 7

Points: 45
Regulation wins: 14
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 6
Next game: @ COL (May 1)
Playoff chances: 0.4%
Tragic number: 5

Points: 44
Regulation wins: 17
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 8
Next game: @ ANA (May 1)
Playoff chances: 1.7%
Tragic number: 8

Points: 37
Regulation wins: 10
Playoff position: N/A
Games left: 5
Next game: vs. LA (May 1)
Playoff chances: 0%
Tragic number: E


Current playoff matchups

East Division

No. 1 Washington Capitals vs. No. 4 Boston Bruins
No. 2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 3 New York Islanders

Central Division

No. 1 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 4 Nashville Predators
No. 2 Florida Panthers vs. No. 3 Tampa Bay Lightning

North Division

No. 1 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 4 Montreal Canadiens
No. 2 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 3 Winnipeg Jets

West Division

No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 4 St. Louis Blues
No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 3 Minnesota Wild


Race for the No. 1 pick

The NHL uses a draft lottery to determine the order at the top of the first round, so the team that finishes in last place is not guaranteed the No. 1 selection. New for 2021, a team may move up a maximum of 10 spots if it wins the lottery, so only 11 teams are eligible for the draw for the No. 1 pick. Full details on the process can be found here.

Points: 33
Regulation wins: 10

Points: 37
Regulation wins: 10

Points: 39
Regulation wins: 13

Points: 41
Regulation wins: 13

Points: 42
Regulation wins: 11

Points: 42
Regulation wins: 15

Points: 43
Regulation wins: 15

Points: 44
Regulation wins: 17

Points: 45
Regulation wins: 14

Points: 47
Regulation wins: 19

Points: 49
Regulation wins: 18

Points: 50
Regulation wins: 14

Points: 51
Regulation wins: 14

Points: 54
Regulation wins: 16

Points: 58
Regulation wins: 23





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Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum scores 60 points and amazes the NBA world


Jayson Tatum‘s 60-point performance on Friday night was nothing short of spectacular. Along with tying Larry Bird’s Celtics franchise record for points in a game, he helped Boston overcome a 32-point deficit in a 143-140 OT win over the San Antonio Spurs. He trails only Devin Booker as the second-youngest player with a 60-point game in NBA history.

As tweets poured in after the game acknowledging his record-setting performance, Tatum recreated Wilt Chamberlain’s iconic photo:





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NFL draft 2021 – Rookies Trevor Lawrence and others show off new uniforms


The 2021 NFL draft is basically its own version of Fashion Week. During the first round we see all the red-carpet-ready suits and custom-made jewelry. Then we get to see the NFL’s newest players in their new uniforms and jersey numbers.

Trevor Lawrence, the former Clemson QB and first overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, arrived in Duval County Friday for his introductory press conference and also got his jersey. Lawrence, who wore No. 16 in college, will keep that number in the NFL, trading Clemson’s shade of orange for the teal of the Jaguars.

At North Dakota State, Trey Lance wore No. 5. He’ll also keep his college number as the newest QB for the San Francisco 49ers. Najee Harris, who wore 22 with Alabama, will also keep his number with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Last week, the NFL approved a rule change that loosens jersey number limits and allows more positions access to single-digit jersey numbers. Some rookies have already taken advantage.





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