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IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR
It’s almost October.
It’s an amazing time of year when we can finally embrace our cozy, scarf-wearing and pumpkin spice latte-drinking, basic selves. But October is also special because it’s one of the best times of the year for professional sports.
October brings the beginning of the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) seasons, the beginning of the Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs and things start picking up in both the National Football League (NFL) and Canadian Football League (CFL).
We’re here to give you “the gist” on what you need to know for each sport heading into this magical month.
HOCKEY NIGHTS IN CANADA
Let’s start with hockey, and more specifically the NHL, because as Canadians, the ice runs in our blood.
The puck officially drops for this NHL season on Wednesday, Oct. 3. There are 31 teams (Vegas got a team last season, so be sure to add a game into the next bachelorette party itinerary) and 82 regular season games.
Teams are divided into two conferences (East and West), which are then split into two divisions each (Atlantic and Metropolitan in the east, and Central and Pacific in the west). At the end of the regular season, the top three teams in each division automatically receive a trip to the playoffs. The final four spots (two per conference) are awarded to the teams with the highest point totals (two points for a win, one point for a tie, none for a loss). The players’ nine months of hard work is all for the chance to hoist the coveted Stanley Cup (a.k.a. “Lord Stanley”) over their heads.
The reigning Stanley Cup Champions are the Washington Capitals. It was a BFD that the Caps won last season, as it marked the first championship win in the team’s 43-year franchise history (and you thought your dry spell was bad). The Capitals are led by Alexander Ovechkin (a.k.a. “Ovi”) as captain, who is debatably the best Russian player to ever grace the ice. The NHL’s other top players include the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby, the New Jersey Devils’ Taylor Hall and young buck Connor McDavid, who plays for the Edmonton Oilers.
During the off-season this summer, there were some very big changes for Canadian teams — some for the better, and others not so much:
- The Toronto Maple Leafs signed superstar forward Jonathan Tavares. Tavares was the first overall draft pick back in 2009, and is considered one of the best players in the league. Given the Maple Leafs are already rife with impressive young talent, many think Toronto will be a Stanley Cup contender this season.
- The Ottawa Senators had a lot of drama this off-season culminating with trading the team’s best player in franchise history, Erik Karlsson. This trade, between the Senators and the San Jose Sharks, basically got rid of quality in favour of quantity, so that Ottawa could focus on a rebuild.
- For the Montreal Canadiens, there were also some major shake-ups. Most notably, les Habitents (fun fact: this is why the Canadiens are often called the “Habs”) traded away their captain, Max Pacioretty (a.k.a. Patches) to the Las Vegas Golden Knights. During the off-season they also acquired Max Domi from the Arizona Coyotes. (If the name sounds familiar, it’s likely because Max’s dad is the infamous Maple Leaf enforcer, Tie Domi.)
- As for the Vancouver Canucks, the Sedin Twins (Daniel and Henrik) retired at the end of the 2017/18 season. So for the first time in 18 years, there won’t be a Sedin in a Canucks jersey. Sad.
- The Edmonton Oilers are full of young talent, including the best player in the league, Connor McDavid. But even so, they’ve been unsuccessful at making the playoffs.
- The Calgary Flames got off to a promising start last season, but they didn’t end up making the playoffs. Keep an eye out for Johnny Gaudreau (a.k.a. Johnny hockey) — he’s going to have a big season.
- The Winnipeg Jets were the only West Coast team to make it to the playoffs last season. And, they were incredibly impressive in the playoffs making it all the way to the conference finals (the last round before the Stanley Cup). During the playoffs, the Jets fans proved they were some of the best in all of hockey, earning the name, the “Winnipeg Whiteout.”
Good, bad or otherwise, hockey is back this week and all feels right with the world.
Another league kicking off next month is the NBA (Oct. 17).
Similar to the NHL, the NBA is split into two conferences (East and West), and each conference is divided into three divisions. There are 30 teams in the league and only one team in Canada — the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors have been absolutely killing it these last couple years earning the hearts and souls of Canadian basketball fans across the country.
The reigning NBA Champions are the Golden State Warriors, who hail from Oakland, California. The Warriors are a dynasty, winning three of the last four NBA titles. For all four of those championship series, the Warriors played the Cleveland Cavaliers. A large part of Cleveland’s success was thanks to Lebron James who is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
However, King James has since left the Cavaliers, signing with the LA Lakers.
The Lakers are in the Western Conference, as are the Warriors. So, for the first time in four years, there will likely be two different teams in the NBA Finals. Outside of Lebron, the top players in the league are Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), James Harden (Houston Rockets) and Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder).
That said, we care the most about our Toronto Raptors.
Over the summer, the Raps (sadly) traded away beloved shooting guard DeMar DeRozan to get superstar Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs. DeRozan had played for the Raps since he entered the league in 2009 so the trade was v. emotional for Raptors fans, as well as DeRozan himself (not to mention for teammate and best bud Kyle Lowry.)
Still, the general opinion is that the trade was a good one. Although Leonard was out for the majority of last season due to an injury, he is a two-time defensive player of the year (and defence is an area the Raps very desperately need help with). And, back in 2014, Leonard won an NBA Championship and was the Finals MVP.
Another change for the Raptors team comes behind the bench. After failing to deliver in the last post-season, the Raps fired head coach Dwane Casey and promoted assistant coach, Nick Nurse, to the job.
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME
While the NBA’s and NHL’s seasons are just getting started, the MLB’s is winding down.
There are 30 teams in the MLB, with only one Canadian team: the Toronto Blue Jays. The league is divided into the National League and the American League, each of which are divided into three divisions. There are 162 regular season games (that’s not a typo… these athletes really do play 162 games in a season), followed by the playoffs. All of the players’ blood, sweat, tears and bat flips go into winning the World Series.
The Houston Astros are the reigning World Series champs. And, the 2017/18 win marked the first time the Astros won the World Series since entering the MLB in 1962. The series was one for the books as the Astros defeated the LA Dodgers in game seven and the teams combined for a record-setting 25 home runs. (Talk about power hitters.)
October means that it’s time for playoff baseball — which, despite your previous knowledge of, or interest in baseball, is honestly one of the most magical times in sports. There’s something special about playoff baseball. Unfortunately, our Toronto Blue Jays really sucked this year and didn’t make it to the finals — however, that doesn’t mean the playoffs aren’t worth watching.
The first round of playoffs, called the wild card, starts tomorrow night. Here are the three teams to keep a close eye on:
- The Boston Red Sox. Boston won the American League East division, having won a whopping 107 games and losing only 54. This record is the best the Red Sox have ever had. Absolutely absurd.
- The Houston Astros had another amazing year going 103–58, winning the American League West division. It’s incredibly hard to win back-to-back World Series — only 14 teams have won at least two World Series titles since the inception of the MLB back in 1869.
- Over in the National League, be sure to watch the Atlanta Braves. This season, they shocked the baseball world by clinching the National League East title. This will be the Braves’ first trip to the playoffs since 2013.
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?
In North America, there are two main leagues for American football (not be confused with European football, a.k.a. soccer): the National Football League (NFL) played in the U.S.; and the Canadian Football League (CFL). The rules are somewhat similar in each — however, the NFL is considered the more elite/popular league.
Let’s start with the NFL.
There are 32 teams in the NFL, and they’re divided into two conferences (the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference). Each conference is further split up into four divisions. There are 16 regular season games leading to the playoffs and the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl is best known for its insanely overpriced commercials, the star-studded halftime show (for 2019 Maroon 5 is confirmed as the headline performer) and eating until you pass out.
The best team from the 2017/18 season is the Philadelphia Eagles after their Super Bowl win against the 2016/17 champs, the New England Patriots. Determining who’s the best player in the NFL is tough because there are so many different positions. However, top picks include New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, closely followed by Houston Texans’ defensive end JJ Watt, and Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Things are just getting started as today marks the fourth NFL Sunday of the season.
Because of Canada’s wee population, we have fewer teams in the CFL than the NFL. There are nine teams, which are divided into two divisions: East and West. There are 18 regular season games and then six teams make it into the playoffs for the chance to win the Grey Cup. Unlike the fall and winter NFL season, the CFL season runs from June until the end of November, meaning that the playoffs are generally played in sub-zero/snowy weather — and its playoff season is fast approaching.
The Toronto Argonauts are the defending champs. They won the Grey Cup, defeating the Calgary Stampeders at the end of November 2017 in Ottawa. However, this year the Argos aren’t doing well, mostly due to the team’s starting quarterback, Ricky Ray, suffering a season-ending neck injury in June.
As it stands, it’s looking as though the Argos might not even make the playoffs. The teams that you need to look out for heading into the playoffs are the Calgary Stampeders, the Ottawa Redblacks and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. If we were betting on it, our bet would be on the Stampeders to win the Grey Cup in November.
And that’s the gist of it! Sign up for The Gist to stay up to date on all things sports.