Friday, August 12, 2022

Canadiens shake up the top of NHL Draft, plus Rafael Nadal’s calendar slam bid ends in worst way

Happy Friday, everyone! Another week down.

Let’s get right to it.


Good morning to everyone but especially to…

JURAJ SLAFKOVSKY

The top pick of last night’s NHL Draft was kind of a surprise — and a historic one at that. The Montreal Canadiens selected left winger Juraj Slafkovsky first overall, making him the first Slovakian ever to be taken No. 1. Here’s what our NHL expert Chris Bengel had to say:

  • Bengel: “Slafkovsky is a big-bodied forward that really burst onto the scene in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where he led all scorers with seven goals and was named the tournament MVP as he led Slovakia to a bronze medal. The Slovakian winger really has no problem establishing his presence in those gritty areas around the net. Slafkovsky uses his large frame to hold onto the puck and should excel on the forecheck at the next level.”

Here’s the rest of the top five:

You can check out analysis for every pick from last night here.

Honorable mentions

And not such a good morning for…

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RAFAEL NADAL

Rafael Nadal‘s chase for even more history this season has come to an unexpected and unfortunate end. The Spanish superstar withdrew from Wimbledon yesterday due to an abdominal injury. Nadal’s scheduled opponent for the semifinal, Nick Kyrgios, is into the final.

  • Nadal, 36, has a seven-millimeter abdominal tear and determined he could not continue after a short practice session yesterday. He suffered the injury in the first set of his quarterfinal match against Taylor Fritz, which he came back to win in five sets.
  • Nadal had already won the Australian Open and the French Open. No man has won all four majors in a calendar year since Rod Laver in 1969.

There’s no two ways around it: This is a huge disappointment for Nadal and for his sport. Not only are we robbed of what would have been an awesome semifinal between him and Kyrgios, but he’s robbed of a chance to chase history.

Kyrgios will face the winner of Novak Djokovic-Cameron Norrie in the final.

Why Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges in Russia 🏀

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Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17, pleaded guilty to drug charges yesterday. She could face up to 10 years in prison.

  • In February, the Russian Federal Customs Service claimed to have found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in Griner’s luggage.
  • Griner was charged with “large-scale transportation of drugs.”

  • In her guilty plea, Griner said, “There was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.” Her next court date is July 14.

Griner pleading guilty was likely the best course of action, however. Our WNBA expert Jack Maloney explains:

  • Maloney: “Despite the serious charges against her, an official admission of guilt was the best option for Griner in both the short and long term. First and foremost, the nature of the Russian legal system meant there was essentially zero chance she would be acquitted… Looking further ahead, an admission of guilt is a necessary pretext to a potential prisoner exchange. Russian authorities have signaled an interest in a prisoner swap that would free Viktor Bout, a convicted arms dealer who is currently serving a 25-year sentence in the United States. However, the vast discrepancy between the two offenses would make such an exchange difficult for the White House to justify.”

There is no specific timeline on the next steps beyond Griner’s court date next week.

Which pitchers should start MLB All-Star Game? ⚾

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USATSI

MLB All-Star Game starters will be announced tomorrow, and the debate for who should get the start on the mound is a heated one. On the NL side…

  • The game is being played in Dodger Stadium, and the Dodgers have two excellent candidates in Tony Gonsolin — who has the lowest ERA and is tied for the most wins in the majors — and Clayton Kershaw
  • On the opposite side of the country, Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara is the only pitcher with multiple complete games this season.

As for the AL starter:

  • Rays standout Shane McClanahan leads the AL in most significant categories, including ERA (1.74), opponent batting average (.179) and strikeout percentage (36%).
  • But Justin Verlander, coming off Tommy John surgery, is second in the AL in two of the three categories listed above and is tied for the major-league lead with 11 wins.

So, who gets the call? Our MLB expert Matt Snyder makes his choices

  • Snyder: “Alcantara’s a true workhorse and in a time where the number of those types continues to wane, letting him shine as an example of what could (should?) be in a starting pitcher makes him my choice in blowout fashion. … On the AL side, I’m on board with Verlander. He’s been one of the best pitchers in the league and his return from Tommy John surgery to perform like this at age 39 is brilliance deserving of the nod.”

You can see all of our expert picks here.

Where will Jimmy Garoppolo end up? 🏈

NFL: NFC Championship-San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams

USATSI

With Baker Mayfield being traded to the Panthers earlier this week, the quarterback carousel likely only has one more spin this offseason: Jimmy Garoppolo.

Garoppolo and the 49ers came within a quarter of their second Super Bowl trip in three years, but now Trey Lance — the No. 3 pick in 2021 — is set to be San Francisco’s starter. Garoppolo is due over $24 million this season, the final campaign of a 5-year, $137.5-million deal signed in 2018. Yes, he’s probably a middling-at-best starter: he was second in the NFL in yards per attempt last year but also threw just 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Still, that could make him a strong bridge option for a team in need — Cleveland in particular stands out as a strong fit, writes our NFL expert Cody Benjamin. You can see Cody’s top five options here.

What we’re watching this weekend 📺

We’re watching Wimbledon all weekend. Here’s how you can, too.

We’re also watching WNBA All-Star Weekend festivities. Here’s how you can, too.

And also…

Friday

MLB All-Star Game starters reveal, 7 p.m. on ESPN

Racing Louisville FC vs Gotham FC, 8 p.m. on Paramount+

Saturday

Rays at Reds, 4:10 p.m. on FS1

Yankees at Red Sox or Giants at Padres, 7:15 p.m. on FOX

Angel City FC vs San Diego Wave FC, 10:30 p.m. on Paramount+

Sunday

Spirit vs Current, 5 p.m. on Paramount+

⚾ MLB All-Star Game roster reveal, 5:30 p.m. on ESPN

Red Stars vs Courage, 6 p.m. on Paramount+

Yankees at Red Sox, 7 p.m. on ESPN

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