NHL

Oilers star McDavid unanimous winner of NHL's MVP award

By Sports Desk June 29, 2021

Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid became just the second unanimous MVP in the 97-year history of the NHL award.

McDavid received each of the 100 first-place votes to join Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky (1981-82) as the only other unanimous winner of the Hart Trophy.

Oilers star McDavid beat Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche) and Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs) to his second MVP honour after being crowned the league's best in 2017.

McDavid posted a league-best 105 points (33 goals and 72 assists) – 21 more than next-closest player and team-mate Leon Draisaitl as the Oilers reached the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

The 24-year-old also topped the NHL for assists, power-play assists (28) and power-play points (37), while he recorded a league-leading 1.88 points per game – the most by a player since 1995-96.

"My team-mates are everything," McDavid said. "I really wouldn't be anywhere without them. … We had a special group this year, and obviously we didn't do what we wanted to do, but still so fun to be a part of and get Edmonton and the fans of Edmonton excited again for what's to come.

"Obviously not possible without [my team-mates] and so lucky to be part of a great group."

McDavid become the fifth player in NHL history to claim the award multiple times before his 25th birthday (age as of final day of regular season), after Gretzky (six), Bobby Orr (three), Gordie Howe (two) and Alex Ovechkin (two).

"Our team is just getting better as we go along here," added McDavid, who also won the Ted Lindsay Award as the most outstanding player in voting by the NHL Players' Association.

"We just had so many guys take the next step and I'm just a part of that. Obviously if we're all continuing to do that, we're going to go and do some special things in this league."

The Oilers are the first team with different Hart Trophy winners in consecutive seasons since the Boston Bruins in 1968-69 (Phil Esposito) and 1969-70 (Bobby Orr).

Meanwhile, Ryan Nugent-Hopkin signed an eight-year contract extension with the Oilers on Tuesday.

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    The roster move with Weddle came with the Rams having issues in their secondary.

    Jordan Fuller was ruled out for the season due an ankle injury, while free safety Taylor Rapp has not cleared concussion protocol and will miss the game.

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    "He'll be ready to go. What exactly that role looks like, we're still working through, but I do know as a competitor when he's out there, if he's going and he gets into the flow, he's gonna want to go.

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    "[Rapp] is a big loss. He's doing everything in his power to get back as quickly as possible, but we have got a lot of confidence in Nick Scott and Terrell Burgess as well."

     

    Weddle discussed his return earlier this week, insisting he had kept physically fit in retirement.

    He said: "Even though I haven’t been playing football, I still train like I’m playing football.

    "It [returning] was never even a remote possibility ever over the last year and a half because I was pretty much set in my decision and very happy. 

    "This is by no means me having an itch or anything like that. It was just the opportunity of a lifetime.

    "I just kept coming back to I would regret it if I didn’t come and take this chance to try to help out the guys that I love, a coach that I love and try to help this team out, whatever role that is.

    "It didn't take much persuading. It was kind of just going through the avenues with all the coaches and reaching out to some players.

    "I didn't want to come in and ruffle any feathers or be someone who gets in the way, but once all that was on the same page, it was a no brainer in my mind."

    The Rams are at home for the Wild Card game after edging the Cardinals to win the NFC West.

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    Arizona fared well on the road this season, going 8-1, but struggled to a 3-5 record at home.

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    The 35-year-old and Djokovic have carved up 12 of the last 14 grand slam titles, Nadal winning four of those (three French Opens, one US Open). He is battling back from a foot injury lay-off and coronavirus, and might need to get the early rounds out of the way without undue stress to stand a chance at the business end.

    The two exceptions in the Nadal-Djokovic sequence of slam dominance have come at the US Open, with Dominic Thiem winning in New York in 2020 and Daniil Medvedev triumphing at Djokovic's expense in last year's Flushing Meadows final. Thiem is not in Australia, but world number two Medvedev is, looking to become the third Russian man to win two slams, after Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin.

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    Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the Australian semi-finals in 2019 and 2021, so throw him into the mix too, and Matteo Berrettini might be a threat. The Italian, a runner-up to Djokovic at Wimbledon in July, served more aces than any other player in grand slams last year (311 aces, 16.4 on average per match).

    Others have more modest ambitions

    Andy Murray is back at the Australian Open for the first time since 2019, when he lost in the first round against Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets and was more or less given his last rites as a tennis pro after the match, having indicated he was close to retirement.

    The five-time Australian Open runner-up last won a match in this tournament in 2017, when he reached round four. A tough opener against Nikoloz Basilashvili awaits.

    Spanish 40-year-old Feliciano Lopez will make his 80th appearance in a grand slam and become the second man in the Open Era with 80 or more appearances at the four majors, after Federer (81).

    Do not expect an Australian to be men's champion, by the way. The last time an Australian reached the men's singles final was 2005, when Lleyton Hewitt lost against Safin, and the last home champion was Mark Edmondson in 1976.

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    You want challengers to the big two? Try sticking a pin in the draw

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    Anett Kontaveit won a tour-high 39 matches on hard courts last year but has only been to one grand slam quarter-final – last year in Australia, losing to Simona Halep.

    What about Ons Jabeur, who matched Kontaveit for a tour-high 48 wins across all surfaces last year? The Tunisian is queen of the drop shot, making 147 successful such plays on tour last year, more than any other player, and recently reached the top 10 in the WTA rankings for the first time.

    Maria Sakkari reached two slam semi-finals last year, the first of her career, and the form of Barbora Krejcikova and Badosa in the past week in Melbourne marks them out as contenders. Both are recent fast-risers, Krejcikova already with a French Open title to show.

    WTA Finals champion Muguruza could be the second Spaniard to twice reach the Melbourne title match, after Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (1994 v Steffi Graf and 1995 v Mary Pierce). Spain has never had an Australian Open women's singles winner: former French Open and Wimbledon champ Muguruza is an authentic contender.

    Halep was runner-up to Caroline Wozniacki in 2018, a semi-finalist in 2020 and quarter-finalist last year, and a Melbourne Summer Set title was a handy warm-up for the Romanian. Consider her, too.

    Monica Seles, in 1991, was the last player to triumph on her debut in the main draw, but she was already a grand slam winner (1990 French Open). Given the strength of the line-up, the prospect of a bolter coming through this field is unlikely, even if the example of Raducanu tells us anything is possible.

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