Bedard downplays comparisons to McDavid: ‘That guy’s got 700 points’

After reasserting his dominance as the projected 2023 first overall pick at the world juniors, Connor Bedard is well aware that the hype surrounding him is real.

But that doesn't mean he's completely on board with the lofty comparisons he's garnered throughout his career to generational talents like Sidney Crosby, Wayne Gretzky, and Connor McDavid.

"I think when people kind of put me against someone - McDavid, for example - I'm like, 'Well, that guy's got 700 points in 20 games in the NHL,'" he joked during an interview with Sportsnet's Sam Cosentino. "I think what I'm doing right now is obviously not to the impact of that, but obviously it's cool to see your name with those guys. I hope to play against them one day, that would be a dream come true.

"For me, I've got a lot of games left to still prove myself and I've gotta get out there and do that and try and get better every day."

The 2023 NHL Draft is just five months away and, assuming he makes his team's opening-night roster, Bedard won't have to wait very long to compete against the likes of McDavid (who has 786 points in 536 games).

Even though the next phase of his career is right around the corner, making the jump to the big leagues appears to be a surreal idea for Bedard.

"The NHL's still that thing that's the best of the best and it feels like you're still a fan of it and that these people aren't real people," he said. "Honestly, there's still a lot of work to do and I hope to be there one day."

This isn't the first time Bedard has reined in the buzz surrounding his own hype. After becoming the first 16-year-old since Gretzky to score a hat trick for Canada at the world juniors in December 2021, Bedard noted that he didn't think he'd be hitting the 2,800-point mark in the NHL like the Great One.

The British Columbia native continued to build up his resume during the 2023 World Junior Championship, where he was named MVP of the tournament after setting new Canadian records in all-time goals (17) and points (36).

Bedard is currently crushing it with the Regina Pats of the WHL. He leads the league with 39 goals and 81 points in 33 contests while riding a 32-game point streak.

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Caufield: ‘I’d still be playing’ through shoulder injury if Habs were in playoff spot

Despite suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, Cole Caufield said he would still be slotting into the Canadiens' lineup if Montreal had its eyes on a postseason run.

"For sure, if we were in a playoff spot, no doubt in my mind I'd still be playing," he told reporters during a press conference on Friday. "It really wasn't up to me to stop playing. But in the right circumstances, I feel like this is the best decision long-term."

The Canadiens are currently in last place of the Atlantic Division with a record of 20-25-4 and are 13 points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

The 22-year-old winger was ruled out for the remainder of the 2022-23 campaign on Sunday after the team announced he'd been playing through a right shoulder injury that would require surgery.

Caufield said he initially sustained the ailment on Dec. 23 against the Dallas Stars after what he called an "awkward fall."

"I kind of put (my shoulder) back in myself a couple of seconds later and, you know, it wasn't too bad," he said.

Caufield ended up playing 16:33 and registering three shots on goal during the Canadiens' 4-2 defeat in Dallas. However, the issue reared its head again four games later against the Nashville Predators on Jan. 3.

"The same thing kind of happened and that time was a little more painful, but our medical staff has done a great job of doing some rehab work on it and making me feel 100%, in my opinion," Caufield said.

All in, Caufield suited up for 12 more games after initially suffering the injury, putting up seven goals and one assist in that span. In his final game of the season against the Florida Panthers on Jan. 19, he saw just under 18 minutes of ice time.

"For me, I didn't want to stop playing. I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly, but in the end, it could have been one more fall and it could have been even worse," he said. "I guess the risk factor of that, it was hard to face. ... I didn't want to hurt it more."

The details of the surgery are still being finalized, but Caufield said he expects to undergo the procedure soon.

Caufield can become a restricted free agent this summer. One day before his season ended, he confirmed his representatives had started preliminary contract talks with the team.

The Wisconsin native added Friday that the decision to call off his campaign had nothing to do with the negotiations, noting that both he and the Canadiens are prioritizing his health.

Caufield leads the Habs with 26 goals in 46 games and ranks second on the team - behind captain Nick Suzuki - with 36 points this season.

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A radical remodel of local sports TV may come sooner than expected

Even a year ago, when theScore published an extensive series exploring the future of televised live sports, predicting how - and how quickly - it would change was challenging. Signs pointed to a drastic upheaval as cord-cutting altered the old landscape. Those forces placed tremendous pressure on the cable ecosystem.

In the last year, a major tentpole, the Bally Sports group of Regional Sports Networks (RSNs), has faced strong headwinds that could topple it. That could have far-reaching implications for the entire cable TV ecosystem and the business of sports itself, including franchise values, player salaries, and competitive balance.

On Wednesday, Bloomberg's Gerry Smith, Erin Hudson, and Rachel Butt reported that Bally Sports' RSN group is headed toward bankruptcy court, where it would seek to restructure $8.6 billion in debt.

The Sinclair Broadcast Group subsidy controls the greatest share of MLB, NHL, and NBA local television sports rights in the U.S.

Bloomberg reported if the Bally Sports properties file for bankruptcy, it could "potentially put at risk crucial broadcasting-rights revenue for the likes of MLB" and other major North American pro sports.

"You're looking at a potential rewrite of the entire regional sports business on the other side of this restructuring," Davis Hebert, a senior telecom analyst at CreditSights, told Bloomberg.

Nick Laham / Getty Images

Sinclair's Diamond Sports Group subsidiary, which holds the Bally Sports RSNs, took on billions of dollars of debt to purchase the slate of Fox Sports RSNs from Disney in 2019 after Disney acquired 21st Century Fox properties.

But cord-cutting accelerated after the deal. It was the epitome of poor timing - or lack of foresight.

On Thursday morning, Comcast, the largest U.S. cable provider, reported that it lost about two million cable customers in 2022, about 11% of its total year-over-year customers.

At its peak, U.S. cable providers had 100.5 million subscribers in 2013. It's estimated to have fallen to around 70 million at the end of 2022 once all the fourth-quarter numbers come in. Total cable subscribers are expected to decline to around 65 million by 2025, a conservative estimate.

The local cable model helped fuel growth in MLB, NBA, and NHL since it emerged in the 1980s with the trailblazing New York Islanders' deal with Cablevision. It served the cable companies, the networks, and the teams well because cable companies charged everyone the RSNs' carriage fees, even if they never watched the product.

As consumers make different choices in the streaming era, the cable model is in free fall.

Ad dollars are also migrating to streaming, where there's a greater return on investment because digital ads can be more targeted to individual viewers.

"It's been a golden goose. You remove cable TV from the scenario, and franchises are worth a fraction of what they are today, players make a fraction of their salaries," Greg Bouris, a sports management professor at Adelphi University and a longtime observer of the sports cable space, told theScore last year. "This boom has been going on for almost 30 years. But the vast majority of people that pay never watch. That's been the model."

What comes next? MLB appears to be at the forefront of the exploration. The league recently hired Billy Chambers, a longtime RSN executive, to fill a new role as executive vice president of local media, Sports Business Journal's John Ourand reported earlier this month. The last part - "local media" - is key.

SBJ said Chambers' role will be "to figure out what to do with its regional media rights, as the market for RSNs continues to crumble."

For decades, MLB, NBA, and NHL teams have sold their individual rights to RSNs that distributed games on linear cable. Now, MLB is signaling an intent to get more involved with controlling and distributing its teams' local rights.

MLB could potentially roll those local in-market games into its existing direct-to-consumer MLB.TV product, which already shows all the games but only for out-of-market fans. If Bally Sports were to fail to pay any of its rights fees, those rights could revert to the clubs.

SBJ reported that MLB executives believe they can gain control of the rights from the Bally-branded networks, as well as from Comcast and Warner.

Chambers will start his new role on Feb. 1.

But launching a direct-to-consumer operation can be expensive.

For instance, Disney predicts its direct-to-consumer offering of Disney+ won't be profitable until next year despite its large inventory of pre-existing intellectual property and more than 100 million subscribers.

Comcast reported it lost $2.5 billion on its Peacock streaming service in 2022 and projects to lose another $3 billion this year.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of going to a direct-to-consumer model is you have to compel consumers to actually subscribe - and keep them once they do. But this great unbundling of teams from local RSNs could be good for the consumer since it figures to force teams to put a better product on the field, court, and ice.

"This is the great thing about media: competition is good. It usually works in the favor of the consumer," Ashutosh Gangwar, general manager for TV partnerships at The Trade Desk, a digital advertising platform, told theScore last year. "If your product is shitty, and you are relying just on the distribution to cut you a check every month, you need to look at your product. I won't go into one specific league, but it will provide the incentive for these guys to have better consumer experiences, a better connection to the consumer, and understand what they want versus what they have produced."

If RSNs tied to cable are unable to survive or pivot to streaming quickly enough, it's not just the leagues that could pick up the pieces. Selling rights to third-party streaming distributors is an option, too.

MLB has signed such deals with Apple TV+ (Friday nights) and Peacock (Sunday afternoons). There's major interest from tech giants to pick up live sports content to build out their streaming offerings.

One of Rob Manfred's greatest challenges is steering MLB to a new distribution model for its televised games. Michael M. Santiago / Getty

As the king of the sports landscape, the NFL hasn't had to lean on a direct-to-consumer product for major revenue but is selling more and more of its content to streaming outfits.

Amazon bought Thursday Night Football rights for $1 billion a year, and Google, via YouTube TV, bought the NFL Sunday Ticket product at a price tag of $2 billion per year.

The other leagues have different levels of negotiating power.

Consider that when MLB signed a new content deal last year to replace its previous deal with ESPN, the new agreement split roughly the same inventory of games among three partners - ESPN, Apple TV+, and Peacock - for $35 million less than ESPN had previously paid (about $700 million per year). That's still a lot of cash but a rare decline in what has been a golden age for broadcast rights. In the new deal, ESPN only retained about 40% of the games it had previously shown.

It's hard to imagine a day when the games won't be televised, and we'll still watch, but that ecosystem appears to be on the cusp of changing dramatically.

Travis Sawchik is theScore's senior baseball writer

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Wild make Hartman healthy scratch vs. Flyers

Ryan Hartman is the latest Minnesota Wild skater to be assigned to the press box after he was scratched Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers.

"We talk about accountability," head coach Dean Evason said prior to the contest, per The Pioneer Press' Dane Mizutani. "He's going to be accountable for his actions."

Hartman acknowledged he deserved to miss a game.

Hartman enjoyed a breakout season in 2021-22, establishing career highs with 34 goals and 31 assists while suiting up for all 82 games. However, he's had trouble replicating that success in this campaign. The 28-year-old has been limited to 25 contests due to injury in 2022-23, but he's produced only five goals and nine assists in that span.

The American has indeed had trouble staying out of the sin bin lately, racking up 21 penalty minutes over his last three games. Hartman has collected only two points - both assists - in his last eight contests. His ice time has taken a hit in this campaign, as his average (14:25) is down nearly four minutes from last season's career-best mark of 18:11.

Hartman's success last season can be partially attributed to the fact that he played on a line with superstar Kirill Kaprizov, but he's barely gotten that opportunity - let alone a spot in Minnesota's top six - in 2022-23.

The gritty forward is in his fourth campaign with the Wild, who signed him as a free agent in July 2019.

Evason hasn't shied away from sitting uninjured players this season. Last week, he made defenseman Matt Dumba a healthy scratch against the Carolina Hurricanes.

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Canucks sign Kuzmenko to 2-year extension with $5.5M AAV

The Vancouver Canucks have signed forward Andrei Kuzmenko to a two-year contract extension with an average annual value of $5.5 million, the club announced Thursday.

The deal includes a 12-team no-trade clause, reports Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.

Kuzmenko was a pending unrestricted free agent after signing a one-year contract with Vancouver this past July. He currently carries a $1.8-million AAV and a cap hit of $950,000, according to CapFriendly.

The Russian winger, who turns 27 on Feb. 4, has 21 goals and 22 assists in 47 games this season. He joined the Canucks after eight KHL campaigns.

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Makar to return vs. Ducks after 4-game injury absence

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar says he's good to go Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks after missing the last four games with an upper-body injury, according to The Athletic's Peter Baugh.

The reigning Norris Trophy and Conn Smythe winner has 43 points in 42 games this season and leads the league with 27:09 of average ice time.

Colorado went 4-0-0 without Makar. The team is riding a six-game winning streak and crawled its way back into a playoff spot despite a myriad of injuries.

Several other key players have missed time this season, including Nathan MacKinnon. The club is still without captain Gabriel Landeskog and defensemen Bowen Byram and Josh Manson, among others.

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NHL Thursday best bets: Rivalries renewed and a desert ‘dog

If we talk about NHL games as a series of coin-flips and then bet one lined like a 50-50 game, we probably shouldn't be surprised when it goes to overtime. The joy was palpable after the Hurricanes' overtime win against the Stars on Wednesday. But we're not geniuses for winning a bet after regulation, just as we aren't dummies for losing one. It's all in the name of making valuable bets and letting the chips fall where they may.

Bruins (-115) @ Lightning (-105)

We've alluded to this week as the moment our weekly betting guide comes alive. A Monday update would have shown our projected fair moneyline for this game at BOS +121/TBL -121. Since -105 is a better price than -121, the Lightning are worth a bet at an expected value of +3.4%.

We know why the market is high on the Bruins. They win. A lot. Boston's start to the calendar year is similar to its start to the season: 10 wins in 11 games. The Bruins are 38-9 on the moneyline, thanks in part to being third in the NHL in five-on-five expected goal share (xG%) at 54.7%. But their true dominance stems from their ability to turn even-strength high-danger chances into goals at a high rate while allowing opponents to convert their relatively few high-danger chances at just a 7.9% rate.

Who has the best chance of beating the Bruins? A team that creates a lot of high-danger chances and has the skill to convert them. The Lightning lead the league with 9.75 five-on-five high-danger chances per game, converting them at the same rate as the Bruins.

Since the Christmas break, Tampa Bay's even-strength metrics have been better than Boston's. The Lightning are top five in xG% and high-danger chance share, while Boston isn't. Once we break their moneyline records down by location, the Bruins' impressive 16-5 road record looks a lot like the Lightning's 18-5 home record. You can see why Tampa Bay is more likely to win this game than the moneyline suggests.

Pick: Lightning (-105)

Penguins (+100) @ Capitals (-120)

The formula we use to build our weekly guide suggests there's modest value on the Capitals, with a fair price just slightly higher at -123. But that's based on numbers accumulated throughout the entire season. Recently, there's been reason to expect more from Washington and less from the Penguins.

It's worth comparing expected goal share and the percentage of high-danger chances each team has generated at even strength, both before the holiday break and after:

TEAM BEFORE XMAS AFTER XMAS
Penguins 53.8 XG% 54.7 HDC% 50.06 XG% 49 HDC%
Capitals 51.5 XG% 51.7 HDC% 52.4 XG% 50.2 HDC%

The concern for Washington is that injuries are piling up again. The Capitals were without Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom for much of the season, and both are uncertain for Thursday night. T.J. Oshie and John Carlson are also out. Still, Washington has been the better team in expected goal share in five of its last six games, despite a 2-4-0 record in that time.

While the Capitals are banged up, the biggest injury is on the Penguins' side, with goaltender Tristan Jarry out until mid-February. That leaves Pittsburgh with Casey DeSmith back between the pipes after giving up six goals to the Panthers on Tuesday.

Pick: Capitals (-120)

Blues (-155) @ Coyotes (+135)

When the Blues were without Ryan O'Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Torey Krug, the market's rating of St. Louis went largely unchanged. When Tarasenko and Krug returned, the market didn't change drastically either. That inertia was rewarded Tuesday when St. Louis lost to the Sabres, mustering just five high-danger chances at even strength in the process.

Beyond a pair of modest winning spurts, the Blues haven't been good all season, healthy or not. The Coyotes aren't any good either, but the argument is the same as it was when we faded the Blues against the Blackhawks on Saturday: If both teams are bad, take the team priced at plus money. That's especially valid here, with the Coyotes hovering around .500 on home ice and likely to go back to Karel Vejmelka - their much better option in net.

Pick: Coyotes (+135)

Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there’s a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.

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