Like everything else over the past year, the hockey world has been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic. The 2019-20 season was completed with teams playing in bubble locations in Toronto and Edmonton and the 2020 campaign will open without fans as part of a condensed 56-game season, among a slew of other changes. 

With the previous season extending several months past the normal ending date, the league had little choice but to delay the start of 2021 and to find a way to make a shortened season work. The new plan is for the regular season to end on May 8, with the Stanley Cup awarded no later than July 9. 

Of course, nothing is set in stone anymore and the NBA and NFL have had to deal with countless COVID-19 issues, so the NHL expects similar problems to arise with the pandemic experiencing another surge. The league knows it may have to adapt and games will very likely need to be rescheduled. 

The NHL has already dealt with this, as the start of the season for the Dallas Stars had to be pushed back to January 19 after six players and two staffers tested positive for coronavirus. While the completion of last season in the bubble locations was virtually flawless, teams are playing in home arenas this season, increasing the chances of players becoming infected. 

To combat this, teams will be allowed to carry taxi squads of four to six extra players who will practice and be prepared to step in when needed. 

While there is less hockey to enjoy, there are some tweaks to the upcoming season that fans will enjoy. 

The four divisions have been realigned and they include an all-Canada division of seven teams, made necessary by border restrictions. The other three divisions are mostly based on geography, but St Louis and Minnesota were shuffled into a division with the three California teams, Vegas, Arizona and Colorado. 

The Chicago-Detroit rivalry gets renewed with the Red Wings moving into the Central Division, and Tampa Bay and Dallas – last season's Stanley Cup Final participants – are now together in the Central.  

There should be no shortage of intensity this season with teams scheduled to play mostly back-to-back sets solely against teams in their own division. So, the Flyers and Penguins will meet eight times, as will the Islanders and Rangers and Kings and Ducks. The teams in the all-Canada division will face each other nine or 10 times.  

The first two playoff rounds will be played within the division, meaning the bad blood that started in the regular season could grow even deeper. The division winners will then advance to the semifinals but seeding will be based on points rather than geography.  

The new setup raises the possibility of a Stanley Cup Final between traditional East teams like the Capitals and Penguins or Canadian rivals Montreal and Toronto.   

To recoup some of the money lost by having no fans or limited fans at the start of the season in some cities, the NHL is allowing teams to include a sponsor name on their helmets and each division will also include the name of a corporate sponsor. 

The condensed season was preceded by an abbreviated training camp without exhibition games and there is concern that the start of the season will be marred by sloppy play. This could be especially true for the seven teams that have not played a game since March after they did not qualify for the expanded playoffs.  

As in any offseason, several big-name players changed teams. It will be jarring to see 43-year-old Zdeno Chara in a Capitals uniform and Joe Thornton playing for the Maple Leafs after 14 seasons in San Jose. Henrik Lundqvist would have looked strange as a member of the Capitals following an 887-game run with the Rangers, but he decided not to play this season due to a heart condition. 

Injuries will also keep some marquee players off the ice for a while. Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov – the 2018-19 scoring leader – will miss the entire regular season due to hip surgery and the Stars could be without top forward Tyler Sequin (hip) and goaltender Ben Bishop (knee) until at least March.  

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is out indefinitely with an unknown illness and there is no word on whether the 12-time 20-goal scorer will play this season. 

While this season is full of unknowns and will be like no other before it, the potential is there for it to be one of the most exciting in recent memory.

Lionel Messi, one of the greatest football players of all time, stunned Barcelona by telling the club he wanted to leave only to be thwarted in his attempts in the last transfer window.

However, as he enters the final six months of his contract, it seems likely talks have already begun with interested parties as he considers where his future will lie in 2021.

The Argentina superstar has spent his entire career at the Catalan giants, but he now looks likely to start the 2021-22 campaign with a new club. 

Where Messi goes remains to be seen but any deal for the 33-year-old will rank as one of the most dramatic in the history of sport. 

Here, we look at a selection of other sporting deals that shocked the world. 

 

Neymar: Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, 2017

The Brazilian had formed a potent attacking trio with Messi and Luis Suarez at Camp Nou but a move to PSG was inevitable when the French side met his world-record buyout clause of €222million. He has played an important role in their continued dominance of domestic football, but has so far been unable to guide them to Champions League glory. He was reduced to tears by his side's 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in the 2020 final last term. 

LeBron James: Cleveland Cavaliers to Miami Heat, 2010

Basketball icon James announced that he would sign with the Miami Heat instead of returning to his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a six-time All-Star, James added to the spectacle of the stunning move by announcing it on a special television broadcast called The Decision. He enjoyed four years in Miami, where he won a pair of NBA titles, before returning to the Cavaliers in 2014. 

Tom Brady: New England Patriots to Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2020

Few people expected Brady to leave the Patriots after 20 years and six Super Bowl victories. Not only did one of the game's greatest ever quarterbacks leave, but he joined one of the least successful franchises in NFL history. Time will tell if his decision to sign with a highly promising Buccaneers team proves to be a masterstroke.  

Luis Figo: Barcelona to Real Madrid, 2000

Should Messi ever return to Camp Nou as an opposition player, it is unlikely he will be on the receiving end of the kind of abuse that greeted Figo. Barca fans threw bottles, lighters and even a pig's head at the Portuguese star when he went back to Camp Nou with Los Blancos in the seasons following his controversial move. 

Wayne Gretzky: Edmonton Oilers to Los Angeles Kings, 1988

In 1988, the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings agreed a deal that shook the NHL to its core. The trade left Canada in disbelief, with a member of the country's parliament even proposing the federal government block the trade or buy Gretzky's contract and sell it to another Canadian team. "The Great One" would go on to enjoy eight successful years in Los Angeles before spells with St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers.

Former Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist has revealed he is to undergo open-heart surgery as he misses the 2020-21 NHL season. 

Lundqvist left the New York Rangers, where he had spent the entirety of his NHL career, in September when the team bought out of the final year of his contract. 

The 38-year-old goaltender subsequently signed for the Washington Capitals on a one-year, $1.5million deal, but announced this month he would not play in the coming campaign due to a heart condition. 

In a social media post on Monday, Lundqvist added detail of a scheduled surgery. 

"[In the] last three weeks my focus has shifted from training camp and the upcoming season to my health and what I can and can't do," he said. 

"Scheduled for open heart surgery now - aortic valve replacement, aortic root and ascending aortic replacement, to be more exact. 

"We all have our mountains to climb. Staying positive here and set on the road to recovery."

Initially drafted in 2000, Lundqvist enjoyed an outstanding rookie season in 2005-06, ranking fourth for save percentage (92.2 per cent) and fifth-lowest for goals against average (2.24). 

The 2011-12 campaign brought Vezina Trophy recognition as he kept eight shutouts in 62 games, again ranking fourth for save percentage (93.0 per cent) and fifth-lowest for goals against average (1.97). 

Lundqvist has played 887 regular season games - the eighth-most among goaltenders - while keeping 64 shutouts to sit 16th on the all-time list. 

He left the Rangers without winning a Stanley Cup, however, despite making a further 130 playoff appearances. 

Lundqvist did enjoy success at international level with Sweden as he claimed a gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics and the 2017 Ice Hockey World Championships.

The NHL is planning to get its new season started in mid-January, while the league acknowledges it will have to adapt to coronavirus spikes.

The 2019-20 campaign, delayed due to COVID-19, only finished in September, pushing the next season back from its usual October start date.

Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed plans for the new year on Wednesday, however, also discussing how the campaign might pan out with a shortened schedule, changes to where games are played and a realignment of divisions.

"We are focused on starting at some point hopefully in mid-January," Bettman said via video conference at the World Hockey Forum in Moscow.

"It is clear that we will not be playing an 82-game schedule for the regular season, which we normally do, but we're going to try to play as many games as possible."

The 2020 postseason was played out with a 24-team tournament in bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.

But despite the existing issues relating to the coronavirus pandemic, Bettman acknowledges a repeat scenario for the entirety of the coming season is unrealistic.

"Right now, we're focused on whether or not we're going to play in our buildings and do some limited travelling or play in a bubble," he said.

"That's something we're working on and getting medical advice on. We don't think we can conduct an entire regular season that way.

"But circumstances, depending on where COVID is spiking and where the medical system is being taxed at any given time, may require us to adjust.

"So, for example, we have a couple of clubs that can't hold training camp or conduct games even without fans in their current buildings and facilities, and we're going to have to move them somewhere else to play.

"If enough teams can't play, again, without fans, in their own facilities, then we may have to move more and more towards a hub.

"It may be that some teams are playing in other buildings. It may be that a whole group of teams have to play in other buildings.

"One of the things that we're doing for the regular season, as we're planning it, is we're going to just play within our divisions, so we're not going to play every team against everybody else in the course of a season."

Even the changes to the divisions may have to be more drastic due to border restrictions between the United States and Canada.

"We may have to, only for the regular season, have the Canadian teams play each other in Canada in one or more cities and then we have to realign the remaining 24 teams in the United States," Bettman added.

There remains uncertainty over a schedule for the 2020-21 NHL season but it will definitely end with no action having taken place this year.

The league is attempting to navigate the coronavirus pandemic for a second time and is expected to push the start of the campaign back to mid-January. 

A regular 82-game NHL season usually begins in early October but that was never an option after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the 2020 Stanley Cup in the playoff bubble late in September

The NHL does not want to extend play into late summer again, which would then affect the 2021-22 campaign. It is increasingly likely that this season will either be 52 or 56 games, bringing back memories of a lockout-shortened 2012-13 season that was reduced to 48 matches. 

So, the question becomes is a 52 or 56-game regular season better than an 82-game season? 

A season with 82 games offers far more hockey, which would certainly appeal to fans. More games also brings in more money for owners, leading to teams hopefully spending more on players and facilities.

But aside from finances, is the hockey better when there are less games in the regular season? And which teams and players would benefit most from a shorter season?

Conventional wisdom would suggest that yes, fewer games in the regular season leads to better and more exciting hockey. With each game carrying more weight in the standings, players should increase their intensity and fight even harder for every point. 

A shortened season, however, is unlikely to lead to an increase in goalscoring. At least not if the 2012-13 season is any indication, with that campaign seeing 2.65 goals per game scored – less than in any of season since 2011-12.

There is also an unknown with the schedule in a reduced season. Sure, there is less travel and less games, but does that translate into more off days for teams, and if so, it would suggest that teams with older rosters would benefit.

The Detroit Red Wings currently have the oldest roster (28 years 253 days) in the league but after finishing with a league-low 39 points last season, it is difficult to see them experiencing much improvement. 

Fewer cross-country flights and less games could help a team like the Bruins, who have the fifth-oldest roster (27 years, 294 days). There would be less wear and tear on Patrice Bergeron (35 years old), David Krejci (34), Tuukka Rask (33), Brad Marchand (32) and if he re-signs, Zdeno Chara (44 in March), when the playoffs roll around. 

A condensed schedule, while less playing time, means even less opportunity to recover from the previous game. That should give teams with deeper lineups an advantage and increase the value of backup goaltenders. For example, the Capitals' signing of Henrik Lundqvist (39 in March) could turn out to be a key addition. 

It is unlikely that Lundqvist will perform at the level he used to, but he could be the perfect goalie to pair with young Ilya Samsonov. Lundqvist played 30 games last season for the Rangers but may only be asked to play half that amount next season.

Marquee players like Alex Ovechkin (35) and Sidney Crosby (33) may not mind a shorter regular season as they chase the Stanley Cup, but it is not going to help them reach milestones.

After hitting the 700-goal mark last season, Ovechkin has a legitimate shot at catching Wayne Gretzky’s career goals record (894), but fewer games will not help. 

With 706 goals, the Russian superstar ranks eighth on the all-time list, 188 behind the Great One.

Ovechkin was headed for his ninth 50-goal season after scoring 48 in 68 games last season and shows no signs of slowing down.

His average of 0.61 goals per game is more than any other player, among those who have featured in a minimum of 250 matches, since the 2013-14 season and has scored 335 times in that period.

If Ovechkin scored 30 goals next season and then 45 in each of the next three, he would be at 871 goals and 24 away from passing Gretzky before turning 40. Given his durability and love of the game, it is hard not to see Ovechkin playing that long and remaining effective.

Crosby has 462 goals and is going to get to the magical 500 mark eventually but will not get there in a shortened 2021 season. The most goals he ever scored through Pittsburgh's first 56 games was 34 back in 2009-10.

Another season of fewer than 82 games is also changing the way a player's career can be judged. 

Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid was three points away from his fourth consecutive 100-point season when the 2019-20 regular season was stopped due to the virus. As remarkable a player as he is, nobody will be getting to 100 points in 52 or 56 games.  

With three points last season, and another 100-point campaign in a normal campaign McDavid could have become the first player since Steve Yzerman (1987-88 to 1992-93) with five straight 100-point seasons. 

As far as team success goes, getting off to a fast start takes on added meaning in a shortened season. The 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks took this to a new level when they opened 21-0-3 and finished with a league-best 77 points in 48 games. They defeated Minnesota, Detroit and Los Angeles in the playoffs before beating Philadelphia for the Stanley Cup.

Every year there is a team that starts slow and turns it on in the second half but that will not be an option this season. A poor stretch in January or February could be all that it takes to keep a team out of the playoffs.

Lukas Podolski is to try his luck at ice hockey with Kolner Haie after spearheading a successful campaign to keep his local club afloat.

Former Germany forward Podolski, who now plies his trade for Antalyaspor in the Super Lig, promised to represent Haie if they could sell 100,000 virtual tickets.

The eight-time DEL champions achieved that target, ensuring they are able to compete in the 2020-21 campaign after avoiding bankruptcy proceedings.

And Podolski has vowed to keep to his word of playing for Haie - one of Germany's most famous clubs - in the coming season.
 
"I am extremely happy for the Haie (sharks), that we got the 100.000 tickets," he said. "I just want to say thank you to all the people and companies that helped us.

"Once everything is a little more calm we'll sit together with the club to see how this continues. Whatever it will look like: I am looking forward to being a Haie player."

Cologne-based Haie are coached by former Stanley Cup winner Uwe Krupp and finished 11th in last season's curtailed DEL season.

Gretzky-Kurri, Trottier-Bossy and Lemieux-Jagr are a few of the greatest tandems in NHL history. McDavid-Draisaitl and Crosby-Malkin, meanwhile, are two of the present day's top duos.

While the Buffalo Sabres' newly formed duo of Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall likely will not reach those lofty heights, they should provide some excitement and plenty of offense next season for a playoff-starved fan base.

No team currently have a longer streak without a playoff appearance than the Sabres, who haven't played beyond the regular season since 2010-2011. That nine-season drought is just one shy of the all-time mark (Panthers, 2000-01 to 2010-11; Oilers, 2006-07 to 2015-16).

There is a myriad of reasons for this futility and perhaps chief among them is a revolving door of coaches and general managers. Incumbent Ralph Krueger is Buffalo's sixth coach since the 2012-13 season and Buffalo have also had three general managers during that span, with Kevyn Adams taking over in June 2020.

There's no denying that the on-ice product also has been lacking, especially when it comes to putting the puck in the net. Inability to generate offense in the NHL of the past few seasons is a sure-fire recipe for failure.

Lowest team goals per game – since 2011-12

Sabres - 2.38 (a league-low 24.2 shots on goal per game)

Coyotes - 2.47

Devils - 2.47

Kings - 2.56

Red Wings - 2.59

After missing out on the opportunity to draft Connor McDavid in 2015, the Sabres selected Eichel at No. 2. While he hasn't approached the numbers that McDavid has registered with the Oilers, Eichel is a star in his own right and the best player Buffalo has seen since Daniel Briere and Chris Drury were the team's top forwards over a decade ago.

Most games leading team in points (including ties) – since 2015-16

Connor McDavid (Oilers) - 180

Patrick Kane (Blackhawks) - 174

Nikita Kucherov (Lightning) - 161

Jack Eichel (Sabres) - 151

Still, Eichel has been in desperate need of assistance for years and that's where Hall comes in. The best forward available in this year's free-agent market, Hall was the 2018 NHL MVP and has topped 20 goals six times since entering the league as the No. 1 pick in 2010.

Largest gap in points between team leader and second place – 2019-20

Avalanche - 43 (Nathan MacKinnon - 93; Cale Makar - 50)

Sabres - 28 (Jack Eichel - 78; Sam Reinhart - 50)

Blackhawks - 24 (Patrick Kane - 84; Jonathan Toews - 60)

Rangers - 20 (Artemi Panarin - 95; Mika Zibanejad - 75)

Hall aiming to prove a point

It came as a shock that Hall decided to sign with the Sabres on a one-year, $8million contract instead of a long-term deal with a perennial contender. While playing with Eichel was certainly attractive, Hall also played under Krueger with the Oilers in 2012-13 and he'll have plenty of opportunities to put up numbers and potentially land a big contract next offseason, either with Buffalo or another team.

Hall has something to prove after he split last season between New Jersey and Arizona and reached the playoffs for just the second time in his career this past season with the Coyotes.

After totalling career bests with 39 goals, 54 assists and 93 points with the Devils in 2017-18, Hall suffered through an injury-plagued 2018-19. He registered 10 goals and 27 points in 35 games after joining the Coyotes in mid-December but never seemed to find his niche.

When Hall had his MVP season in 2017-18, the best forwards on that Devils team were rookie Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri. Hischier was a No. 1 overall draft pick and Palmieri is a consistent 20-goal scorer but neither had the level of skill then that Eichel has now. New Jersey finished 15th in the NHL with 2.96 goals per game that season, even with the league MVP on their roster.

Hall's playmaking ability should be a boon for Eichel, who scored a career-high 36 goals last season despite playing only 68 games. Eichel averaged 0.53 goals per game in 2019-20, the same number as McDavid and ahead of Steven Stamkos, Nathan MacKinnon and Patrick Kane.

The addition of Hall should give the Sabres two solid lines and will ease the burden on Victor Olofsson, who scored 20 goals in 54 games as a rookie last season.

A best-case scenario for Buffalo is that Hall's presence lights a fire under Jeff Skinner, who was among the league's biggest disappointments last season with 14 goals and 23 points after he signed an eight-year, $72million contract following a 40-goal campaign in 2018-19.

Skinner's minus-26 goal differential last season was the league's second-largest decline of all players who played at least 30 games. Only Cam Atkinson (-29) was worse. Skinner's haul of 14 goals was his lowest total since he had 13 for Carolina in 2012-13.

The Sabres by all accounts should be better next season - whenever that is - and with the NFL's Buffalo Bills currently sitting atop their division after recently ending a lengthy playoff drought, it could be time for the Sabres to finally rise as well.

The NHL has postponed next year's Winter Classic and All-Star Weekend due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2021 Winter Classic featuring the Minnesota Wild and St Louis Blues was scheduled for January 1, while the Florida Panthers were due to host the All-Star Weekend from January 29-30.

But the NHL announced the postponements on Thursday amid the ongoing uncertainty caused by COVID-19.

The NHL, though, is still planning to begin the 2020-21 season on or around New Year's Day.

"Fan participation, both in arenas and stadiums as well as in the ancillary venues and events that we stage around the Winter Classic and All-Star Weekend, is integral to the success of our signature events," said NHL senior executive vice-president and chief content officer Steve Mayer.

"Because of the uncertainty as to when we will be able to welcome our fans back to our games, we felt that the prudent decision at this time was to postpone these celebrations until 2022 when our fans should be able to enjoy and celebrate these tentpole events in-person, as they were always intended.

"We are also considering several new and creative events that will allow our fans to engage with our games and teams during this upcoming season."

The 2019-20 NHL season was suspended in March due to the coronavirus crisis before a shortened campaign resumed behind closed doors in "hub cities" – Toronto and Edmonton – in August.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were crowned Stanley Cup champions as the season ended on September 28.

The Vegas Golden Knights have signed prized free agent and Stanley Cup champion Alex Pietrangelo on a seven-year, $61.6million deal. 

Former St Louis Blues captain Pietrangelo was at the top of the free-agent list and the Golden Knights confirmed his lucrative arrival on Monday.

Pietrangelo, who served as Blues skipper since 2016 and helped the franchise to their first Stanley Cup in 2019, will earn an annual salary of $8.8m.

An elite defenseman and two-time All-Star, Pietrangelo posted 52 points in 70 games during the coronavirus-hit 2019-20 season, while he has recorded 450 points in 758 career games – all with the Blues.

"With Alex, we get a guy that's in the discussion for the Norris Trophy each year," Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon said.

"He's one of the top four or five defensemen in the game. He's the first over the boards in every situation for his team. ... He's a four-year captain [with St Louis]. He's extremely high-character, very committed to winning, Stanley Cup champion.

"Right shot. He's 6-foot-3, brings great size [210 pounds] to our blue line. And again, we wouldn't have gone to these lengths for anyone but a player that we think can do as much for our team as Alex can."

The Golden Knights traded defenseman Nate Schmidt to the Vancouver Canucks for a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft to help clear cap space ahead of Pietrangelo's arrival.

Pietrangelo was selected in the first round of the 2008 draft and has amassed 109 goals and 341 assists during that period with the Blues.

The 30-year-old has also scored 51 points – eight goals and 43 assists – in 92 playoff games throughout his career, posting 19 points en route to the Blues' Stanley Cup success last year.

Vegas, who reached the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season of 2017-18, reached the 2019-20 Western Conference finals but lost to the Dallas Stars.

The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2004 after a Game 6 victory over the Dallas Stars on Monday.

Brayden Point and Blake Coleman scored as Tampa Bay recorded a 2-0 victory at Rogers Place in Edmonton to win their second Stanley Cup thanks to a 4-2 series success.

After scoring 10 goals and providing 12 assists in 25 games, Victor Hedman won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs MVP.

"It's the best moment of our hockey lives," the defenseman said, via NHL.com.

"So many emotions. It's going to take months for it to sink in, but we're going to be champions forever, we're going to be on that Cup forever.

"It's what you imagine all your life."

Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy made 22 saves in Game 6 to earn the shutout.

Washington Capitals star Braden Holtby is expected to enter free agency, according to general manager Brian MacLellan.

Holtby is coming off the final season of his five-year, $30.5million contract in Washington, where the goaltender helped the Capitals win the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup.

A five-time All-Star and 2016 Vezina Trophy winner, Holtby made 56 appearances in the regular season and playoffs in 2019-20 as the Capitals bowed out in the first round of the postseason.

"I would expect him to go to free agency," MacLellan said on Tuesday. "The goalie market is probably a little unusually deep this year.

"I talked to his agent last week briefly about where he's at and the kind of opportunities he's looking for.

"I would assume he goes to free agency, and we'll keep in contact with him throughout the free-agency period to see if he's getting what he wants.''

Holtby has called Washington home since he was drafted by the Capitals in 2008

The 31-year-old has a 282-122-46 record with the Washington franchise.

Liverpool ended their 30-year wait for a top-flight title last season by comfortably finishing top of the Premier League.

After coming agonisingly close numerous times in the three decades since their most recent success, the Reds finished at the summit with an incredible 99 points.

The Merseyside club had hardly been starved of major trophies in that time, having won a couple of European Cups, three FA Cups and various other honours.

But for plenty of Liverpool supporters - many of whom would never have witnessed their side winning the title - last season's coronation was seen as a hoodoo being lifted.

Jurgen Klopp is now tasked with making it back-to-back triumphs, though, as history shows, it is not always so easy to push on from such a success.

Here, we look at some previous examples of what happened next after other sports teams ended their long-running title droughts.


Chicago Cubs (MLB) - 108-year wait

The Cubs ended MLB's longest-such drought by winning the World Series in 2016 with an 8-7 Game 7 victory over the Cleveland Indians in 10 innings.

The following season did not turn out to be quite so memorable as, after winning the division title, they lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the League Championship Series.


Chicago White Sox (MLB) - 88-year wait

Not quite as long a wait as their city rivals, but a painful one all the same. The White Sox swept the Houston Astros in four games for their third World Series championship in 2005.

They finished third in the American League Central a year later with a record of 90-72 and are still on the hunt for their fourth crown.


Boston Red Sox (MLB) - 86-year wait

After years of falling just short, the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and vanquished the 'Curse of the Bambino' in the process.

Disappointment followed in 2005 as they finished second in the American League East before being swept by the White Sox in the American League Division Series.


Kansas City Chiefs (NFL) - 50-year wait

A more recent example of a team ending years of hurt, the Chiefs - led by the incredible Patrick Mahomes - recovered from 10 points behind to beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 in Super Bowl LIV earlier this year.

Seven months on from that famous win, they will enter the much-anticipated season as the favourites of many to match their recent success, much like Liverpool.


Chicago Blackhawks (NHL) - 49-year wait

Patrick Kane was the hero for the Blackhawks, scoring four minutes and six seconds into overtime of their decisive Game 6 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.

The Blackhawks lost several players due to salary cap restrictions and succumbed to the Vancouver Canucks in seven games in the first round of the following season's play-offs.

 
Golden State Warriors (NBA) - 40-year wait

A first NBA title in four decades for the Warriors was secured thanks to a 4-2 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 Finals, Steve Kerr's team winning the last three games of the series.

Among other records, they set the best-ever regular season return of 73-9 the next campaign but went on to lose to the Cavs 4-3 in the Finals as their opponents gained revenge.


Indianapolis Colts (NFL) - 36-year wait

The Colts got their hands on the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 2006 season with a 29-17 Super Bowl XLI victory over the Chicago Bears after ending the regular campaign with a record of 12-4.

Despite improving on their regular season record the folllowing year en route to winning a fifth straight AFC South divisional title, they lost to the San Diego Chargers in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Barack Obama, Billie Jean King and LeBron James led rallying calls on a seismic day in American sport, as games were called off in protest at racial injustice.

In a forceful message, athletes and teams downed tools in North America as they boycotted scheduled fixtures following the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man, by police in the state of Wisconsin.

Blake was shot several times in the back, prompting nationwide protests.

All three NBA playoff games set for Wednesday were postponed, and it was reported widely that players from the Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers were in favour of boycotting the rest of the season.

The NBA board of governors were set for a Thursday meeting, with players also reportedly due to hold a follow-up to their Wednesday get-together.

Major League Baseball saw three games postponed, namely those between the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, and Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres.

Five of six Major League Soccer games also did not go ahead, while Thursday's play at the Western and Southern Open tennis tournament in New York was suspended, with Naomi Osaka pulling out of the tournament after reaching the semi-finals.

Former US president Obama saluted the Milwaukee Bucks for boycotting Game 5 in their series against the Orlando Magic.

Milwaukee is the nearest major city to Kenosha, where Blake was shot. Obama also saluted Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who criticised President Donald Trump when he spoke powerfully on Tuesday. Rivers accused the Republican Party of "spewing this fear".

Obama wrote on Twitter: "I commend the players on the @Bucks for standing up for what they believe in, coaches like @DocRivers, and the @NBA and @WNBA for setting an example. It's going to take all our institutions to stand up for our values."

Speaking earlier in the day, Lakers superstar James wrote on Twitter: "F*** THIS MAN!!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT".

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer added: "I am again angry over the shooting of a black man #JacobBlake. @DocRivers and The @Bucks players said it well, we need real police accountability. Give citizens data to do so. Let's have criminal justice reform that keeps all people safe but not senselessly imprisoned or afraid."

Tennis great King, who has fought for the growth of women's sport and for social justice, praised Japanese player Osaka's decision to abandon the Western and Southern Open in her individual protest.

King wrote: "A brave and impactful move by @naomiosaka, in support of the protest movement moving through the sports world. She was to play in the semis. Athletes using platforms for good means so much. Don't remain silent. #BlackLivesMatter"

Fellow tennis Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova added: "An amazing stance Naomi ... well done, nothing but respect!!!"

The NHL faced criticism, however, for a perceived lack of response as the Stanley Cup playoffs continue.

Canadian star Evander Kane, who plays for the San Jose Sharks, tore into the league by saying: "Actually it's incredibly insulting as a black man in hockey the lack of action and acknowledgement from the @nhl, just straight up insulting."

St Louis Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko will undergo shoulder surgery for the third time in less than three years, putting his availability for the start of next season in question, general manager Doug Armstrong revealed on Wednesday.

Armstrong said NHL Stanley Cup champion and three-time All-Star Tarasenko will have another procedure on his troublesome left shoulder next week and will be re-evaluated after a five-month period. 

The NHL has tentatively scheduled the 2020-21 season to begin on December 1, though that start date could be pushed back by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

Tarasenko was limited to only 10 regular-season games in 2019-20 after undergoing a second surgery in October. 

The 28-year-old did return when the NHL resumed play earlier this month, but did not record a point in four games and was sent back to St Louis from the Edmonton bubble following Game 2 of the Blues' first-round playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks. 

"He was very limited [when he returned]," Armstrong said. "He rehabbed, he came back, we had to do another MRI. He wasn't feeling good. That [second] surgery didn't take the way that we had hoped, it wasn't successful. 

"It's certainly not a positive that we're going through right now. We just know he prepares and trains hard and needs to get back and play well for us. It's a concern in the sense that he's going to have three surgeries." 

Meanwhile, Tarasenko insisted his career is not over, saying: "To take some speculation away, no, I'm not done, my career is not done. Now I am more motivated than ever to finally get healthy and play."

Tarasenko's first shoulder operation occurred in April 2018. He returned to score 33 goals in 76 games during the 2018-19 regular season, then added 11 more goals in 26 postseason games to help the Blues win their first Stanley Cup championship. 

Heading into the 2019-20 campaign, Tarasenko was one of only two players to record 30 or more goals in each of the five previous seasons along with fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin.  

Tarasenko's injury is one of several issues facing Armstrong this offseason. He reiterated his desire to re-sign captain Alex Pietrangelo – who is set to be an unrestricted free agent – but the Blues currently have little financial flexibility with the salary cap expected to remain flat in 2020-21. 

"I think the first phase is going to be find out if we can find common ground with Alex," he said. "If we can, then we go to work to move other pieces. If we can't find common ground with Alex, then there's really no need to do anything." 

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