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    Raptors fans overflowing with excitement watching Kawhi Leonard

    Raptors fans overflowing with excitement watching Kawhi Leonard


    TORONTO – Kawhi Leonard appreciates the support, Toronto, but it’s a bit too early. He’s not the first player Raptors fans have broken out the MVP chants for, but it’s a short list. There was Chris Bosh way back when and more recently DeMar...

    TORONTO – Kawhi Leonard appreciates the support, Toronto, but it’s a bit too early.

    He’s not the first player Raptors fans have broken out the MVP chants for, but it’s a short list. There was Chris Bosh way back when and more recently DeMar DeRozan.

    And now we have Leonard, in Toronto for a good time, if not necessarily a long time.

    Which is perhaps why the sold-out crowd at Scotiabank Arena got the chants going when Leonard stepped to the line in the second half of the second game of the regular season.

    They have to take advantage when the opportunity presents itself, even if it’s nearly two weeks before Halloween. And Leonard leading the Raptors (2-0) to a hard-fought 113-101 win over the Boston Celtics – everyone’s (justifiably) sexy pick as the emerging superpower in the Eastern Conference – seems as good a time as any, even if it caused Leonard to raise his eyebrows (metaphorically).

    “It’s a little too early,” said the typically taciturn Leonard. “It’s Game 2, but you know, I appreciate the support. I know they’re excited about us winning the game tonight, and I appreciate it.”

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    Etiquette aside, it’s not like the fans were imagining things. Leonard has played 11 NBA games in the past 16 months and two since Jan. 9.

    And if this is what he looks like rusty, good luck when the gets to peak condition and has developed a comfort level with his new team, city and country.

    Leonard finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds and got better as the game went on in a contest that was more like Greco-Roman wrestling than boxing – everything was tightly clenched. Boston led by seven after the first quarter and four at halftime, but a 15-point third quarter from Leonard provided some breathing room before the Raptors ran away with it with a 12-2 spurt in the final 2:53.

    Leonard missed a share of shots that looked makeable – hence the 10-of-25 line – and struggled with some turnovers as he’s yet to quite figure out Raptors spacing, but against a Celtics team as deep and talented as any that doesn’t have Steph Curry and Kevin Durant in uniform, it was pretty evident that if the Raptors and Celtics end up battling for Eastern Conference supremacy, Toronto will have the single best player.

    “I think the biggest thing I’ve seen from pre-season Game 1 until now is he can get a really good, on-balance shot just about any time he wants to,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “But he can get a good shot, he can kind of bully you to get to the rim if he wants to and I think you’re going to see him shoot a lot more free throws than he’s shooting.”

    It may be a little surprising that two games into his Raptors career he’s shooting 25 times (he shot a team-high 22 times in the season opener) and commanding the ball down the stretch of close games, but it’s telling too: Leonard didn’t come here to ease his way in.

    There’s an urgency to his game, it shows and it’s hard not to respect.

    “He’s playing well,” said Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, excellent again in support as he finished with 18 points on eight shots to go with six assists and six rebounds without a turnover. “He’s a guy who knows his shots, and he got to his spots a lot tonight. … He played extremely hard … he really was aggressive. That’s the kind of thing we’re gonna need for the whole season.”

    Leonard was hardly alone, which was encouraging. Serge Ibaka drew into the starting lineup to match up with mobile Celtics centre Al Horford and provided 21 points on 14 shots while Danny Green – the other newly acquired San Antonio Spur – offered 14 points on eight shots, his biggest a corner three with 2:29 left that put the Raptors up 104-99.

    On the next possession Lowry drew one of his two fourth-quarter charges and came back and drained a three that put Toronto up eight and the clinch was finally broken.

    It’s hard to read what Leonard’s thinking at the best of times but based on his actions he clearly wanted to let the NBA community – gathered around the hearth of a rare (for the Raptors) ESPN game – know that he was ready to step out of his injury-infused cocoon from a year ago.

    (Officially, he denied such motivation: “I play hard every game.”)

    But whatever his inspiration he signalled his intention on his defensive possession when he swiped a pass from unsuspecting Celtics forward Gordon Hayward who – coming off a year lost to injury himself – seemed shocked that Leonard could cover that much ground in that little time.

    A few possessions later, Leonard deflected a pass to disrupt the Celtics and then forced guard Jaylen Brown into an air ball before Toronto earned a shot-clock violation and a turnover. The effort was contagious. Ibaka closed out hard on Celtics guard Terry Rozier forcing a brick and Pascal Siakam scared another from Celtics power forward Marcus Morris. One of the pivotal plays of the fourth quarter came when Leonard and Green combined for a chase-down block on Jayson Tatum – Green got the credit for it, but only because he touched the ball first.

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    The Raptors held the Celtics to 40.4 per cent shooting, matching their effort in the home opener against Cleveland. Keep that up and they’ll lead the NBA in that pivotal defensive category. Leonard, raised on the defensive orthodoxy of San Antonio, still thinks they weren’t good enough.

    “We played well and got stops when we needed to, I just felt like we coulda done better,” he said. “They got a lot of wide open looks. With a great team like that, they’re not gonna always miss it. They got a lot of second-chance points, as well, from us not rebounding the ball. It’s Game 2 for us, you know, just something to build on and move forward with.”

    Leonard inspires belief, and when you realize that he’s not close to where he wants to be, it can make you giddy.

    “[My] lungs feel good out there,” said Leonard who has played a sturdy 73 minutes in two games so far. “What I’m trying to do is just get my legs under me, get used to playing these NBA games, getting hit, running up and down the floor, guarding these great players throughout the minutes that I am out there. It’s still gonna take time.”

    There is only so much of that. Leonard’s free agency will always be looming over what seems like a very promising Raptors season, which perhaps explains why the Scotiabank Arena crowd is determined to show love whenever possible.

    Leonard can’t help but notice.

    “You know, just coming here playing on the road back in the past, I could see how live this arena is and how amped up they get for the Raptors,” he said. “[So] it doesn’t surprise me, their commitment to the team.

    “The only thing that really surprised me is the MVP chants so early, but like I said, I understand the excitement and where we’re trying to get to this year and what they expect.”

    Those MVP chants?

    Better get used to it.

    Flames’ James Neal’s growing pains continue in loss to Predators

    Flames’ James Neal’s growing pains continue in loss to Predators


    It was a side of James Neal the fans in Calgary had yet to see. Feisty, engaged and part of a line generating significant scoring chances when needed most. And with eight minutes left in a one-goal game, it appeared he’d all but drawn his team even...

    It was a side of James Neal the fans in Calgary had yet to see.

    Feisty, engaged and part of a line generating significant scoring chances when needed most.

    And with eight minutes left in a one-goal game, it appeared he’d all but drawn his team even with a world-class pass Sam Bennett simply needed to redirect into an open cage.

    Somehow he steered it through the crease and wide on the far side, as per the type of luck Bennett seems to have had for three years now.

    “I’m going to have some nightmares about that one,” said Bennett.

    “I missed, but that’s the way it goes. It’s tough. You can replay it as much as you want in your head but it’s not going to change anything.”

    Changing things up is exactly what Neal is hell-bent on doing these days as the Flames’ big free-agent signing has one goal and a helper in seven outings.

    Languishing on a third line that has seen him playing with different linemates virtually every night, things are a world away from how he started last year when he scored the game-winner the first three games in Vegas Golden Knights history.

    He’s been saying all the right things, including an admission he needs to shoot more.

    On Friday, against his old Nashville teammates, the 31-year-old seemed destined to finally be more of an impact player.

    [radioclip id=4271389]

    Shoving matches after the whistle with several ex-teammates, including Miikka Salomaki, demonstrated a slice of the fire he is being paid $5.75 million the next five years to ignite.

    However, his aggression backfired midway through a 2-2 game when his stick hit Salomaki in the face, drawing a double-minor and so much blood it appeared to be the reason Neal needed to exchange his stick.

    Kevin Fiala made Neal and the Flames pay with a power-play goal as part of an entertaining game eventually won 5-3 by the Predators.

    However, for the balance of the game Bennett and Neal’s centre was upgraded from Mark Jankowski to Derek Ryan to form a trio that was the squad’s most dangerous the final 30 minutes.

    Bennett tied the game early in the third with a nifty deke around Pekka Rinne following a world-class pass by Ryan.

    A rare Zac Rinaldo snipe at the six-minute mark of the third put the visitors up 4-3 and prompted a strong response from the Flames.

    With 2:40 left Neal redirected great pass by T.J. Brodie in tight that was kicked out by Juuse Saros as part of a brilliant nine-save effort in almost 11 minutes of relief for Rinne. The defending Vezina Trophy winner pulled himself due to an apparent injury suffered in a collision with Fiala.

    “We had a chance to win in the third – we tied it up and then a tough bounce,” said Neal of Bennett’s misfire.

    “I felt good tonight – I thought our line was generating good chances. Sam’s game has been good. He continues to get better every night. He’s on pucks, he’s making good plays and I’m sure he’d like to have that one back. He got a great goal and I thought we were all over it.”

    Was Neal showing his frustration early on with several shoving matches, or was he simply trying to rev up his team?

    “It’s not nothing really – just from a slash earlier I was kind of upset,” said Neal, who has scored a minimum of 21 goals each of his 10 years in the NHL.

    “I felt I was engaged in the game and looking to get a big goal there. Had some decent chances there, but at the end of the day, myself I’ve got to find a goal.”

    His four shots were a positive sign, as was the fact he was one of the most involved, engaged players for the Flames.

    The Flames need to see more of that or the task of trying to work his way onto the top line won’t get any more realistic.

    Right now the gig alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan is Elias Lindholm’s, not just because he scored his team-leading fifth goal Friday, but because he can also spell off Monahan in the faceoff circle.

    The second unit – Calgary’s 3M Line – is reserved for checkers.

    So, third-line duty is likely Neal’s lot in life for the foreseeable future.

    That said, it’s a long season and you can bet there will be times he’s moved up.

    Right now he’s on the second power-play unit too.

    “It’s tough to feel good after a loss but I thought our line generated a lot of chances,” said Bennett.

    “They’re both good players. They’re so smart with the puck and we had a lot of good shifts controlling the puck down low and working the cycle, but we’ve got to do a better job getting more pucks to the net.”

    Not across them.

    Neal’s growing pains continue.

    Celtics meet their match in hard-fought loss to Raptors

    Celtics meet their match in hard-fought loss to Raptors


    The questions for the Boston Celtics were all about the new-look Toronto Raptors. About Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, and no DeMar DeRozan, and Serge Ibaka starting at the five – hell, even the arena has a new name – and the consensus was they are...

    The questions for the Boston Celtics were all about the new-look Toronto Raptors.

    About Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, and no DeMar DeRozan, and Serge Ibaka starting at the five – hell, even the arena has a new name – and the consensus was they are very much like the Celtics which, in and of itself, hardly qualifies as news.

    That’s down to the fact that like the Raptors, they consider themselves to be a work in progress. The Raptors are attempting to blend in new players; the Celtics are making up for lost time working in a healthy Gordon Hayward along with a healthy Kyrie Irving, against the backdrop of a treasure trove of young players who would start for most teams. They have plenty to worry about themselves, and perhaps that was why even though it was only the second game of the regular season, head coach Brad Stevens focused on the way his team wilted down the stretch in a 113-101 loss to the Raptors, a game in which the home team rattled off a 10-point run in the final 2:53 for the win.

    Before the game, Stevens talked about how unhappy he was with his team’s defence in the pre-season, and how while the offensive stuff would take care of itself, the defence would require some application. Losing in Toronto is nothing new to the Celtics: it was their seventh consecutive loss here and their 11th in a dozen games in the city. Al Horford thought he saw some progress in a game that he admitted was “a little more intense than you normally get in October.”

    “This was different than those games here last season,” said Horford, who finished one assist shy of a triple-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. “It felt like we were in position to win the game. Last year, I think they got us out of here pretty quickly.”

    Still…

    “I thought they played a lot better than us in the second half,” said Stevens, whose team was outscored 30-14 in the paint in a second half in which the Raptors shot 55.8 per cent, compared to 38.8 in the first. “We had our moments offensively, but all the rebounds they got – especially late – really hurt us. We’ll go back and look at that.”

    One of the criticisms of the Raptors in recent seasons has been an inability to close out conclusively. Unfairly, much of that fell on DeRozan and his mid-range jumper. Leonard, it’s hoped, will bring a more powerful finishing kick. He had seven points in the fourth quarter and you can make the case it was Kyle Lowry’s 28-foot three-pointer to push the Raptors’ lead back to five with 2:30 left that was the dagger. But none of that matters if Leonard doesn’t grab the game by the neck in the third quarter, scoring 15 of his 31 points on the night.

    “Any time he goes through you to score I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong coverage-wise,” Stevens said with a shrug. “When he gets to the rim uncontested or you’re fouling him, then I think you have to tell yourself you need to do a bit better.

    “He’s going to create some of that stuff because he’s a great player. A great two-way player.”

    The Celtics pointed to examples of missed communication down the stretch. They were late to switch on two occasions. They failed to get rebounds. “He commands double-teams, makes tough shots and gets it going down the stretch and, honestly, he could put the whole team on his back,” said Irving. “He’s done it before. I mean, sometimes you can just throw the ball to him and he’ll get you a bucket.”

    It is Hayward who will of course be the focus of things in the early going, after missing all but the first 5:15 of last season with a fracture dislocation of his left ankle. The Celtics were good last season – really good – but all along the lingering question was: just imagine what it would be like with Hayward. He is on a minutes restriction, and scored 10 points in the Celtics season opener in just under 25 minutes while contributing 14 points, two assists and seven rebounds Friday in 24 minutes and 17 seconds.

    “He got a chance to really let loose a little bit,” said Irving. “He got in the mid-range. He was aggressive off those pick-and-rolls, so he just kind of threw himself into the game tonight.”

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    Hayward was pleased with his second half, scoring eight points and hauling down five defensive boards. “I felt like I found a little rhythm, a little something there,” he said. “It was good to be thrown into the fire. Good to have to figure it out.

    “I was getting to some stuff I normally do and am good at. There were four or five minutes there where I felt pretty good.”

    Hayward played over eight minutes in the fourth quarter and played the final five and a half minutes. His layup and free throw tied the game at 84-84 and he drew a loose-ball foul on Jonas Valanciunas on the subsequent position. He also grabbed a rebound that set up Jaylen Brown’s three-pointer to put the Celtics back into the lead, briefly.

    His presence down the stretch was noted by Stevens, who was quick to sound very much like Raptors head coach Nick Nurse when he said he would be open-minded about how he chose his five in crunch-time. Get used to it: these are teams that look alike, sound alike, play alike. LeBron’s left the conference, but even at this early stage of the season it feels like one of these teams will be the East’s immovable object.

    They’ll be sick of each other come playoff time, to be sure.

    Rinaldo gets winner as Predators beat Flames

    Rinaldo gets winner as Predators beat Flames


    CALGARY — Zac Rinaldo’s first goal of the season in the third period was the game-winner on Friday night as the Nashville Predators beat the Calgary Flames 5-3. Ryan Johansen, Craig Smith, Kevin Fiala and Filip Forsberg, into an empty net, also...

    CALGARY — Zac Rinaldo’s first goal of the season in the third period was the game-winner on Friday night as the Nashville Predators beat the Calgary Flames 5-3.

    Ryan Johansen, Craig Smith, Kevin Fiala and Filip Forsberg, into an empty net, also scored for Nashville (6-1-0), which has won four straight. The Predators wrap up their two-game road trip on Saturday night in Edmonton.

    Elias Lindholm, with his team-leading fifth goal, Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett scored for Calgary (4-3-0). The Flames depart for a two-game road trip that begins in New York on Sunday night against the Rangers.

    After Noah Hanifin got caught pinching, Rinaldo broke out on a two-on-one with Ryan Hartman and hung onto the puck the whole way before beating Mike Smith on his blocker side with a perfect wrist shot into the top corner at 6:31 of the third.

    In the back-and-forth game, Nashville took the lead four times with Calgary answering back to tie it the first three times.

    Down 3-2 entering the third, the Flames pulled even at 2:20 when Derek Ryan wired a perfect feed to Sam Bennett, who was breaking in off the wing and went to his backhand to neatly beat Pekka Rinne.

    While stretching to try and make the save, Fiala landed on top of Rinne in an awkward-looking collision.

    Rinne stayed in the game briefly, but came to the bench at 5:09 and after talking with the training staff went to the dressing room. He was replaced by Juuse Saros.

    Saros was excellent in relief, getting tested just seconds after he arrived in the crease. Off the ensuing face-off, he had to jab out his right pad to rob Lindholm to keep the game tied.

    Saros was perfect on nine shots to earn the win and improve to 3-0-0. Rinne had 15 saves when he exited the game.

    Smith turned aside 25 shots in taking the loss. He falls to 3-3-0.

    Fiala gave Nashville a 3-2 lead at 14:23 of the second as the Predators converted their first power-play opportunity of the night, courtesy of a double-minor for high-sticking on former Predator James Neal.

    Calgary tied it less than two minutes earlier, connecting on its first power play at 12:51 with Lindholm’s shot caroming in off Tkachuk’s skate.

    Nashville struck first, scoring fifty-one seconds into the game. TJ Brodie lost his stick along the sideboards and in going to retrieve it, allowed a two-on-one in front that was converted by Johansen.

    Calgary went over 16-and-a-half minutes between shots in the first, with Lindholm snapping the streak, burying a Johnny Gaudreau set-up past Rinne at 18:43 to make it 1-1 after 20 minutes.

    Notes: The Flames lose for the first time on home ice after winning their first games… Dillon Dube (lower body) returned after missing one game. That bumped Austin Czarnik to the press box for the first time as a healthy scratch… Sean Monahan played in his 400th NHL game.

    Brewers top Dodgers to force Game 7 in NLCS

    Brewers top Dodgers to force Game 7 in NLCS


    MILWAUKEE — Ryan Braun slid across home plate and raised his arms in sheer joy. A big lead, a bruising bullpen and a boisterous crowd have the Milwaukee Brewers all set up for Game 7. Jesus Aguilar sparked Milwaukee’s slumping lineup with three RBIs...

    MILWAUKEE — Ryan Braun slid across home plate and raised his arms in sheer joy.

    A big lead, a bruising bullpen and a boisterous crowd have the Milwaukee Brewers all set up for Game 7.

    Jesus Aguilar sparked Milwaukee’s slumping lineup with three RBIs on a pair of two-out hits, and the Brewers beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 7-2 on Friday night to even the NL Championship Series at three games each.

    “I don’t think about me. The most important thing, at the end of the day, is win games,” said Aguilar, who had driven in just two runs in the playoffs. “Tomorrow it can be somebody else. Tonight, it was me.”

    Game 7 is Saturday night in front of the same frenzied crowd that booed Manny Machado vociferously after he tangled with Aguilar while the series was in Los Angeles. Dodgers rookie Walker Buehler faces journeyman Jhoulys Chacin, with well-rested relief ace Josh Hader looming in the bullpen for Milwaukee after a surprise day off.

    It’s the first Game 7 for the Brewers since losing to St. Louis in 1982 in their only World Series appearance. The Dodgers dropped Game 7 of the World Series last year to Houston.

    “Got to get them tomorrow. We got one more game,” Machado said. “They played good baseball today. So, we just got to play a better one tomorrow.”

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    David Freese led off this Game 6 with a home run that quieted Miller Park — but just for a moment.

    Backed by raucous fans waving yellow towels that read “ONE TOUGH CREW,” Milwaukee rebounded from consecutive losses at Dodger Stadium with the same formula it used to win the NL Central during a breakout season.

    Some timely hitting by Aguilar and company produced an early lead, and Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress led the way in another shutdown performance by Milwaukee’s tough bullpen.

    “Anybody, anywhere, anytime,” Knebel said. “We’re ready to go.”

    Los Angeles was looking for its second straight NL pennant and some time to prepare for the mighty Boston Red Sox in the World Series. But losing pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu was tagged for four runs in the first inning, two on a double by Aguilar that sent Braun sliding home.

    After Wade Miley pitched into the fifth inning in his second straight start — he faced only one batter in Game 5 — Knebel, Jeffress and Corbin Burnes closed it out with hitless relief. Knebel got the win and Burnes retired the Dodgers in order in the ninth, setting off a wild celebration for the crowd of 43,619.

    Manager Craig Counsell considered bringing in Hader, especially in the eighth, but Aguilar scored on a wild pitch in the seventh and singled in Lorenzo Cain in the eighth. The extra room helped persuade Counsell to give Hader another day of rest. The rocket-armed reliever hasn’t pitched since Tuesday in Game 4.

    “Best-case scenario for sure for us,” Counsell said.

    Freese drove in both runs for the Dodgers. The rest of the Los Angeles lineup managed just three measly singles. Hounded by boos all night long, Machado went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.

    “You know what? I’m focused on the game,” Machado said. “Try to go pitch by pitch, drive in runs. Do what we got to do on the field. We didn’t execute today.”

    The 35-year-old Freese was a surprise choice for leadoff hitter by Dave Roberts, and he made his manager look quite good when he started the game with a drive to right-centre for his ninth career post-season homer.

    Freese also connected in the first inning of the previous NLCS Game 6 in Milwaukee, helping the Cardinals win the pennant in 2011. It was just his fourth time in the leadoff spot in his 10 years in the majors.

    But the Brewers put together a quick response that set the tone for the rest of the night. With runners on first and second in the bottom half of the first, Aguilar lined an opposite-field double into the corner in right.

    Mike Moustakas followed with another RBI double and scored on Erik Kratz’s single to make it 4-1. The Brewers managed just three runs in the previous two games in Los Angeles.

    “It was huge to be able to answer back in the first inning after the homer,” Moustakas said. “One would have been great, two would have been awesome. To put up four right there just gives us a lot of confidence.”

    Christian Yelich and Braun combined for another run with consecutive doubles in the second, and then it became a question of strategy for Roberts and Counsell with Game 7 on deck.

    Roberts used starting pitcher Rich Hill in the eighth after Kenta Maeda struggled, staying away from key reliever Pedro Baez and closer Kenley Jansen. Counsell stayed with Knebel for five outs, giving him his first pro plate appearance with the bases loaded in the fifth — he struck out — and Burnes worked two perfect innings.

    “There’s the thought of trying to go to your ‘pen in the first inning or the second inning, but there’s a significant cost potentially for a potential Game 7,” Roberts said. “So I just felt that we needed to get some more innings out of Hyun-Jin to keep our highest leverage guys available for a potential Game 7.”

    Predators’ Rinne leaves game vs. Flames with apparent injury

    Predators’ Rinne leaves game vs. Flames with apparent injury


    Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne left Friday’s game against the Calgary Flames with an apparent injury. Early in the third period, Rinne collided with teammate Kevin Fiala and left for the locker room after a lengthy conversation with...

    Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne left Friday’s game against the Calgary Flames with an apparent injury.

    Early in the third period, Rinne collided with teammate Kevin Fiala and left for the locker room after a lengthy conversation with training staff on the bench.

    Juuse Saros is coming into the game. Pekka Rinne is testing his leg/knee at the bench. #Preds

    — Thomas Willis (@TomAWillis) October 20, 2018

    The nature of the injury is unclear, as is the question of whether he removed himself from the game or was pulled by a concussion spotter.

    Juuse Saros took over the crease in relief to backstop Nashville to the 5-3 victory.

    The team did not issue an update following the game.

    Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green team up to deny Jayson Tatum

    Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green team up to deny Jayson Tatum


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    Kawhi Leonard pours in 31 points to lead Raptors past Celtics

    Kawhi Leonard pours in 31 points to lead Raptors past Celtics


    TORONTO — Just two games into his tenure in Toronto, Kawhi Leonard was serenaded with chants of “M-V-P!” by almost 20,000 fans Friday night. And while the newest Raptor smilingly brushed aside the gesture — “It’s a little too early,” he...

    TORONTO — Just two games into his tenure in Toronto, Kawhi Leonard was serenaded with chants of “M-V-P!” by almost 20,000 fans Friday night.

    And while the newest Raptor smilingly brushed aside the gesture — “It’s a little too early,” he said — Leonard certainly showed glimpses of his superstar billing in just his second real NBA game in nine months.

    Leonard scored 15 of his 31 points in the third quarter, and hauled down a team-high 10 rebounds to lead the Raptors to a 113-101 victory over the Boston Celtics in a marquee Eastern Conference matchup.

    “It’s Game 2, but I appreciate the support,” Leonard said of the chants. “I know they’re excited about us winning the game tonight, and I appreciate it.”

    Serge Ibaka had 21 points, while Kyle Lowry had 15 points, six assists and five boards as the Raptors (2-0) remained undefeated in early season action. Danny Green chipped in with 14 points, while Fred VanVleet added 11.

    Green, part of the blockbuster deal that brought Leonard to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan, said his former Spurs teammate is already being more assertive, and showing his ability to take over games.

    “You can tell he’s a competitor, he wants to compete, he wants the ball, he wants to be on the floor at all times,” Green said. “And he wants to make the big plays, the winning plays, and offensively he’s doing a good job of getting us there, taking us there, carrying us.”

    Leonard, who until Wednesday’s opener hadn’t played an NBA regular-season game since January 13, had predicted it would take time to find his rhythm. And while he shot just 3-for-11 in the first half, he was constantly creating havoc on the defensive end and grabbing rebounds with his enormous hands.

    “Lungs feel good out there, what I’m trying to do is just get my legs under me, get used to playing these NBA games, getting hit, running up and down the floor, guarding these great players throughout the minutes that I am out there,” said Leonard, who played just nine games last season due to injury.

    “It’s still going to take time.”

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    Kyrie Irving led the Celtics (1-1) with 21 points.

    The game was an early gauge of how the Raptors stack up against the consensus team to beat in the East, plus a preview of what should be a fierce season-long battle between the two Atlantic Division powerhouses that could extend into the playoffs.

    The Raptors were coming off a 116-104 win over Cleveland in Wednesday’s season opener, while the Celtics began their campaign Tuesday with a 105-87 rout of Philadelphia.

    Neither team led by more than eight points through the first three quarters Friday, and the Raptors took an 82-79 lead into the fourth in front of a soldout Scotiabank Arena crowd that included swimmer Penny Oleksiak and former Toronto Argonauts quarterback Damon Allen.

    The Celtics pulled to within two points on a three-pointer by Al Horford with just under three minutes to play, but Green and Lowry connected on back-to-back three-pointers to put the brakes on any Boston momentum.

    The Raptors ended the game with a 12-2 run for an emphatic victory.

    Leonard’s ability to create a variety of shots in his big third quarter impressed Raptors coach Nick Nurse.

    “He did a little bit of everything, right? He hit a three or two, one or two threes in that quarter, he took a couple in transition to the basket and he had a couple of isolation point up plays,” Nurse said. “That’s kind of his versatility, I think there’s some growth to be done with his screen and roll game, right? I think we can get him up the floor and get him into some more screen and rolls … he hasn’t really busted that out yet but he can do that as well.”

    Irving had kind words for Leonard.

    “You just throw it to him sometimes and he’ll go get you a bucket,” the Celtics guard said. “He commands double-teams, makes some tough shots, gets it going down the stretch. Honestly, he can put the whole team on his back. He’s shown it before. He’s just a special talent.”

    The Raptors improved to 10-1 versus Boston at home. The two teams have accounted for 12 of the last 14 Atlantic Division titles, Toronto winning five and Boston seven.

    OG Anunoby began the game wearing protective goggles after suffering a orbital contusion on Wednesday’s opener, but he ditched them after a few minutes on the floor. Delon Wright (groin strain) didn’t play.

    The Raptors led by three points late in a tight first quarter, but the Celtics closed the frame on a 14-4 run to take a 25-18 lead into the second.

    Toronto took a one-point lead three minutes before halftime, but the Celtics responded with a 9-2 run to go up by eight. Then with time ticking down, VanVleet drilled a three as the buzzer sounded, cutting Boston’s lead to 53-49 heading into the break.

    Leonard poured in 15 points in an eight-minute stretch of the third, and his cutting dunk midway through the quarter put the Raptors up by two.

    The Raptors and Celtics will meet three more times in the regular season. Next up is Nov. 16 in Boston.

    The Raptors are in Washington on Saturday to play the Wizards, their first-round opponent from last season’s playoffs.

    Alex Ovechkin levels Aleksander Barkov with open-ice hit

    Alex Ovechkin levels Aleksander Barkov with open-ice hit


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    Report: Rival NHL execs question Maple Leafs forward Nylander’s value

    Report: Rival NHL execs question Maple Leafs forward Nylander’s value


    With Nick Ritchie signing a three-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks earlier this week, William Nylander of the Toronto Maple Leafs is now the NHL’s only remaining unsigned restricted free agent. Nylander is currently practising with Dornbirner EC of...

    With Nick Ritchie signing a three-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks earlier this week, William Nylander of the Toronto Maple Leafs is now the NHL’s only remaining unsigned restricted free agent.

    Nylander is currently practising with Dornbirner EC of Austria’s top tier league to stay in shape but he must sign an NHL contract before Dec. 1 otherwise he won’t be eligible to play in 2018-19. Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas flew over to Austria this week to meet with the star forward in person yet by all accounts both sides remain far apart in negotiations.

    The holdout has lasted long enough into the season that rival NHL executives are starting to share their opinions on the contract dispute.

    “William Nylander is not worth what William Nylander thinks he’s worth,” one Western Conference executive told Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star.

    Rival executives talking about players on other teams is taboo – it could also be tampering depending on what is said – but under the condition of anonymity four of them gave their thoughts on the Nylander situation exclusively to McGran.

    “I know Michael [Nylander] from his playing days, and he has a different view of what is right,” a second Western Conference executive said of Nylander’s father. “But how much is enough?”

    The elder Nylander, whose 920-game NHL career was split between seven teams, notoriously drove a hard bargain and has reportedly been in his eldest son’s ear.

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    Both camps have kept a tight lid on negotiations.

    Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos reported this past weekend on Hockey Night in Canada that the Maple Leafs do not intend to trade the forward and Nylander himself had not yet requested a trade. Kypreos also said he was told there was a four-year contract offer on the table that is “well under $20 million in total” meaning Nylander’s proposed salary cap hit would fall somewhere between $4 million and $5 million annually.

    There are other reports suggesting Nylander is hoping to land a long-term deal that would pay him something akin to the huge deal Leon Draisaitl inked with the Edmonton Oilers after his third year as a pro.

    As this Hockey-Reference comparison chart shows, Nylander’s production in his first three seasons was nearly identical to Draisaitl’s.

    Draisaitl was rewarded with an $8.5-million cap hit, an average annual value few think Nylander will receive from Dubas and company.

    “The Leafs are right,” one Eastern Conference executive told McGran. “There is no way any team in the NHL is going to pay Nylander $8 million.”

    Another Eastern conference exec added: “At $6.5 million, I don’t think he’d be underpaid.”

    The Maple Leafs are off to a 6-2-0 start without Nylander and are the league’s highest-scoring team thus far. Kasperi Kapanen has shone on Toronto’s top line in Nylander’s absence, putting up eight points (all at even strength) in eight games while playing with Auston Mathews and Patrick Marleau.

    Sid Seixeiro attempts to sing Despacito in Spanish

    Sid Seixeiro attempts to sing Despacito in Spanish


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    Golden Knights sign Alex Tuch to 7-year extension

    Golden Knights sign Alex Tuch to 7-year extension


    The Vegas Golden Knights have signed forward Alex Tuch to a seven-year contract extension worth $33.25 million. Alex Tuch extension in LV, 7 years and a $4.75M AAV — Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) October 19, 2018 Tuch had 15 goals and 37...

    The Vegas Golden Knights have signed forward Alex Tuch to a seven-year contract extension worth $33.25 million.

    Alex Tuch extension in LV, 7 years and a $4.75M AAV

    — Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) October 19, 2018

    Tuch had 15 goals and 37 points in 75 games last year after coming over in an expansion draft deal that ensured the Golden Knights would select Erik Haula from the Minnesota Wild.

    The Wild drafted Tuch 18th overall in 2014.

    He was scheduled to become a restricted free agent at season’s end, but his new deal should keep him in Vegas threads through the 2025-26 season at a $4.75-million cap hit.

    Photographic Memories: Emmitt Smith on Cowboys, Obama, Terrell Owens

    Photographic Memories: Emmitt Smith on Cowboys, Obama, Terrell Owens


    It’s not every day you can meet your sporting hero. Especially in a professional setting. But for a kid who grew up in a Dallas Cowboys family, and who himself was an under-sized running back, the chance to meet Emmitt Smith was a treat. Before we...

    It’s not every day you can meet your sporting hero. Especially in a professional setting. But for a kid who grew up in a Dallas Cowboys family, and who himself was an under-sized running back, the chance to meet Emmitt Smith was a treat.

    Before we even sat down at the restaurant Chef’s Assembly Hall in downtown Toronto, Smith gave me part TED talk, part motivational speech on everything from parenting to following life’s passions. What prompted the tour de force talk was his belief that football is still a safe sport for children.

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    Then we finally got around to him recounting the greatest moments of his career, which included triumphs on and off the field.

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    Not included in the above videos were Smith’s descriptions of what he believes football’s greatest gift to him has been: relationships. Here are Smith’s thoughts on some of those people and relationships.

    Jimmy Johnson celebrating with Cowboys’ Emmitt Smith. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

    Sportsnet.ca The guy who really had an affinity for you was Jimmy Johnson. The relationship between star coach and player isn’t always easy. What made your relationship work?

    Emmitt Smith Jimmy was a hard-nosed coach, make no bones about it. He had his favourites. You had to earn the right to be his favourite, but you knew where you stood. All players knew where they stood and I think that’s fair. As a player you have to be willing to be humble. You have to be willing to be taught and trained and you have to learn things that you otherwise might not be able to do for yourself. Coaches are there to push you to another level of greatness. You have to be willing to go through the fire in order to achieve that level of greatness and that’s what we did with Jimmy.

    SN Do you ever wonder what would have happened if Jimmy and Jerry Jones got along and Jimmy had stayed?

    ES You know at one point in time it crossed my mind, but I’ve resigned to the simple fact that God has blessed us with three Super Bowls. He wanted us to have three. If he wanted us to have more than three, we would have had four. I’m happy that I never experienced what losing a Super Bowl was like.

    All-time leading NFL rusher Emmitt Smith is all smiles as he holds up his new Arizona Cardinals jersey during a press conference at the Cardinals training facility. (AP/Darryl Webb)

    SN That wasn’t the end of your story. You went to Arizona. This is like Michael Jordan’s years with the Wizards. People think of you as a Cowboy. What was your experience like with the Cardinals?

    ES The beautiful thing about going to the Arizona Cardinals, it gave me a chance to continue my career because I felt like I still had gas in the tank, but it also served a different purpose. To give wisdom to players that were thirsting, longing for that type of wisdom and being around someone that had been there, done that. I got to share with a group of young men that were passionate and hungry for success like Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Adrian Wilson and other guys that played in the Arizona Cardinals Super Bowl run against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    When I was with the Arizona Cardinals I remember sitting down like you and I are sitting down right now and having vivid conversations about what it takes. How to prepare. How to study. How to take care of your body. And to see them go on and do that and go to the Super Bowl was fascinating for me because I felt like I had a hand in that transition and it also helped bring closure as a player.

    After 15 years in the National Football League there was nothing else for me to do outside of get hurt. I chose to hang it up. I had a chance to go to Buffalo the day I was making my announcement. I made my announcement of retirement at the Super Bowl down in Jacksonville. I got a call from my agent. Buffalo wanted me to come and spend two years there working with Willis McGahee. I said no. I’m going home because I was able to have closure.

    Hall of Famer and former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith makes an address as he looks on at team owner Jerry Jones. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

    SN One of the people that helped you at that time was Jerry Jones, who you had induct you in the Hall of Fame. It’s not often the employee is thanking the employer.

    ES I love Mr. Jones. Not only because he was my owner, but he gave me my first real job and he gave me an opportunity to play for the team that I’ve always wanted to play for as a child. That’s why I think spiritually I was placed in Dallas for that reason because it was the place where I really wanted to be. Being around a person like that to teach you certain things and open your mind’s eye to the possibility of what the world has to offer outside of sport. That’s what he did for me.

    SN He hasn’t been able to find a player like you since.

    ES He won’t.

    Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith, left, talks with Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21). (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

    SN Ezekiel Elliott might be close, and if he gets there it will be because of help from you. What’s your relationship like with Zeke?

    ES Well, I would just say Zeke and I have a very cordial relationship. It’s not as strong as I would like for it to be. I think relationships are built because two people want to.

    And not to say that he doesn’t want to have it. He may not know how. And so, I’m not going to force anything upon a guy like Zeke. There’s a lot of wisdom that I can actually impart upon him and he can take it and shape it however he wants to do it. I don’t want any credit for it. All I want to do is to see a young person that has as much talent as Ezekiel Elliott does, take advantage of the platform on a consistent basis year in year out and maximize his true, God given ability.

    I’m not here to chastise. I’m not here to criticize. I’m here to only help you not make some mistakes that I may have made and some mistakes that you might make on your own but help you.

    How Dale, Mark Hunter turned London Knights into a CHL powerhouse

    How Dale, Mark Hunter turned London Knights into a CHL powerhouse


    All things considered, London Knights fans are pretty spoiled. That’s something you might not have said around the turn of the century, but consider the track record: In recent years, they’ve gotten to know Rick Nash before he went No. 1 overall to...

    All things considered, London Knights fans are pretty spoiled.

    That’s something you might not have said around the turn of the century, but consider the track record: In recent years, they’ve gotten to know Rick Nash before he went No. 1 overall to the Columbus Blue Jackets, met Corey Perry before he became a cornerstone of the Anaheim Ducks, and were dazzled by Patrick Kane when few knew what he could do. They got a first-hand glimpse of John Tavares before he was let loose on the NHL circuit, celebrated Max Domi as he made a name for himself apart from his dad, and watched Mitch Marner grow up. And those are just a few of the many NHL stars to have skated through London, where Rogers Hometown Hockey makes a stop this weekend.

    Consistent success is hard to come by in sports and it’s even tougher to achieve in a league centred around developing and launching players to the next level — after all, the most NHL-ready ones won’t likely stick around for long.

    But the Knights have managed to get pretty close to just that thanks to the steady presence of co-owners Dale Hunter (head coach) and Mark Hunter (general manager) at the helm. The brothers from nearby Petrolia, Ont., took on a struggling OHL franchise almost 20 years ago and have since transformed it into one of the top junior hockey destinations and most sought-after stepping stones to the pros.

    “I played, so I know what it takes on and off the ice,” Dale Hunter, who himself suited up for 1407 NHL games with the Quebec Nordiques, Washington Capitals and Colorado Avalanche, recently told Sportsnet’s Christine Simpson. “Young people coming into this, you’re 15, 16 years old and you’re playing minor midget and you’re coming here and it’s a totally different culture. I try to teach them to be NHLers, and that’s on and off the ice.”

    Shoot day in my hometown London, ON with Dale Hunter, coach & co-owner of the London Knights where so many NHL’ers got their start. Feature airs next Sunday when @hometownhockey_ comes to London for their 100th episode!! pic.twitter.com/oARWmEDtbC

    — Christine Simpson (@SNChrisSimpson) October 15, 2018

    The gold (and green) standard of OHL success

    Junior success is based on wins and championships, yes — and the two-time Memorial Cup champs have plenty of Ws in the Hunter era — but also on how many players pass through its doors on their way to the NHL.

    “We like skill, so we develop a lot of skill,” Hunter said. “Mark going out, and our scouts going out and everybody involved.

    “It’s [Mark’s] job to go get the good players, and it makes it easier on the coaches, I’ll tell you that much,” Hunter continued. “He does a good job of getting skill here and then trying to get them playing to a level where they can step in and play easily in the National Hockey League.”

    Case in point: Marner, who Hunter describes as a “water bug” thanks to his small stature and great shiftiness on the ice.

    “He was pretty small here, but he was like a water bug — he’d never stop,” he said of the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ fourth-overall pick in 2015. “He has a great motor where sometimes his shifts are a little long, but he has a motor that can do it. He would skate forever, make plays and he’s a great passer. He sees the ice so well.”

    Kane was the same way in London before being selected first overall by the Chicago Blackhawks — short on size but rich in skill.

    “Patrick Kane, oh yeah, he was a special player,” Hunter recalled. “He came here and he wowed the fans. When he came here, he wasn’t ranked so high in the draft, but when he first stepped on the ice here, we go, ‘Woah. This guy is special.’

    “Definitely, he set up plays, was back behind the plays, and he did it with a smile. He enjoyed the game. A lot of people said, ‘Well, he won’t be able to do that in the National Hockey League.’ And he’s doing the same thing.”

    The club has been a pipeline to the pros for more than just players. Dale Hunter’s success behind the bench earned him a call-up to the Washington Capitals in November 2011 following the firing of Bruce Boudreau. Hunter coached the NHL club to a 30-23-7 record and pushed them into the playoffs before deciding his heart was back home.

    Mark Hunter would also leave London for a short time, helping usher in the current Maple Leafs era as director of player personnel in 2014 and later as assistant GM. His name will forever be linked to Marner, who he drafted to the Knights before having the rare opportunity to also call his name at the NHL draft a few years later.

    But like his brother before him, Mark returned home to resume his position as GM of the Knights. The move was announced earlier this off-season, after he left the Maple Leafs following Kyle Dubas’s appointment to the top job in Toronto.

    Rogers Hometown Hockey Celebrate Our Community. Celebrate Our Game. Click here for more great Hometown Hockey content. The house the Hunters built

    Under the Hunters’ guidance, the Knights are two-time Memorial Cup champions (2005, 2016), four-time OHL Champions (2004–05, 2011–12, 2012–13, 2015–16) and have registered the top regular-season record six times.

    But the city didn’t always have a lot to cheer about when it came to its local major-junior club. Faithful fans from the pre-Hunter days will tell tales of some pretty low lows — of the infamous “SpiderKnight” sweaters, an Ice House in disrepair, and a too-bad-to-even-be-believed 1995-96 season that saw them finish with a 3-60-3 record.

    That all changed in 2000 when the Hunters returned to their hockey roots and purchased the team along with fellow former NHLer Basil McCrae.

    The timing was perfect.

    “Mark was coaching at the time in Sarnia [with the OHL’s Sting] and I was just finishing up my career in Colorado in the playoffs, and that’s when it all started coming about,” Hunter said. “We wanted to be involved in hockey… and we ended up buying [the Knights] and starting from there in 2000. It was quite an adventure.”

    Then came time to roll up their sleeves and get to work on bringing sustained success to the city.

    “We had to restock the cupboards, as you’d say – get draft picks and run the arena,” Hunter said of the first challenges of owning the team.

    A new arena deal was already in the works, and the revamped roster was ready for its close-up when the new downtown rink (known at the time as the John Labatt Centre, and later renamed Budweiser Gardens) opened its doors in October 2002.

    “The city was behind it. We thought it was the perfect location, right in the heart of the city,” Hunter said of the venue. “People come down for supper and then go the games, walk over to the games. It’s really convenient for the fans.”

    Those fans have been a driving force from the early days of the Hunters’ tenure, making their presence known at the new arena upon its opening and around the league.

    “It’s special to play in front of them,” Hunter said. “That’s why it’s easy to recruit players because we just show them a game, and show them the fans – how loud they are, how they care, how they follow us on the road.”

    ICYMI: @Rogers #HometownHockey celebrates its 100th episode by heading back to where it all started: London, ON! Take a look at some of the stories we'll be telling this Sunday, including @GoLondonKnights, @BrandonPrust8, @DaveBolland and @88EricLindros. pic.twitter.com/CECSULLABZ

    — Rogers Hometown Hockey (@hometownhockey_) October 19, 2018

    2005: The team that changed everything

    So, as fans filled the 9,090-seat arena, the Hunters filled the roster with talented players thanks to a newly implemented scouting system. Ten years after that three-win season of 1995–96, the faithful were rewarded for their pains with the formidable 2005 edition of the Knights — a squad that featured players like Perry, Brandon Prust, David Bolland, Dan Girardi, Marc Methot, Robbie Schremp and Danny Syvret, among others.

    Those Knights won 31 straight games to start the season, which ended with them setting an OHL record with 59 wins before going 16-2 in the playoffs and defeating Sidney Crosby’s Rimouski Oceanic on home ice to win the franchise’s first-ever Memorial Cup. Earlier this year, that historic squad was even named the CHL’s team of the century.

    Talk about a turnaround.

    “They’d never won it. It had been quite a few years and the stigma kind of goes, ‘Well, you’ve never won it all,’” Hunter said of the team’s climb to the top that year. “We had a good team and good playoff runs. The Memorial Cup here, it was tough because we had to go up against Sid the Kid, and he’s a special player – we knew he was.

    “Mark went and watched Rimouski play and we go, ‘Oh, we gotta get better,’” he said. “That’s how good they (Rimouski) were, so it was a battle and we had a lot of character guys that stepped up and played unbelievably in the playoffs and in the Memorial Cup and won for us.”

    A decade later, the club reached the top of the CHL again with their second Memorial Cup victory in 2016. Scan that year’s roster and you’ll see plenty of familiar names, including Marner, Matthew Tkachuk, Olli Juolevi, Victor Mete, Christian Dvorak, Tyler Parsons and Evan Bouchard, among others.

    The team went 39-25-2-2 in 2017–18, and exited the playoffs in the first round. Now, a new season is under way with players like Liam Foudy (2018 first-round pick of the Blue Jackets) and 2019 NHL Draft hopeful Matvei Guskov (seven points in his first eight games) leading the charge.

    And so the Hunters’ tradition of drafting and developing continues. So, too, they hope, the one of seeing their players off to the game’s biggest stage.

    “They’re kids when they come here, and now they’re men,” said Hunter. “They enjoy the game, and it’s fun when a coach has players that enjoy the game and have fun at the game. It’s hard work, but it’s still fun.”

    Mike Babcock open to using Nazem Kadri as his matchup centre again

    Mike Babcock open to using Nazem Kadri as his matchup centre again


    TORONTO – "I’m ready," said Nazem Kadri. "I’m ready." Ready to reprise his role as the Toronto Maple Leafs nullifier. Of even greater importance is the fact head coach Mike Babcock appears ready to once again deploy Kadri as his primary...

    TORONTO – "I’m ready," said Nazem Kadri. "I’m ready."

    Ready to reprise his role as the Toronto Maple Leafs nullifier.

    Of even greater importance is the fact head coach Mike Babcock appears ready to once again deploy Kadri as his primary matchup centreman. That’s where he’s found his most success as a NHL player, scoring 20 even-strength goals each of the last two seasons despite starting a significant number of his shifts in the defensive zone against high-quality opponents.

    Babcock has so far been unwilling to use him in the same manner this season because of the trickle-down effect of William Nylander’s absence due to a contract dispute. It has tested the Leafs depth on the wing and left Kadri to play with a mixed bag of Connor Brown, Par Lindholm and Josh Leivo.

    But as the coach has grown more comfortable with Lindholm – the 27-year-old, late-blooming Swede the team signed out of Skelleftea last summer – he’s warming to the idea of unleashing Kadri once again. In Thursday’s 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh, Babcock matched Lindholm-Kadri-Brown against Sidney Crosby throughout the third period and saw them fair well territorially.

    It was an encouraging enough performance to leave him thinking about using last change in Saturday’s game against the St. Louis Blues to get his third line out against Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko.

    "We haven’t matched up Naz’s line just because of the situation and who’s on it and that, but we think we’re in a position to start doing that here," Babcock said Friday after practice. "So that’ll be good for Naz as well. He’s an important player on our team. We need him to be mean and we need him to compete hard and just to keep doing what he’s doing."

    Play the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool! Play the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool for your chance to score big with over $30,000 worth of prizes to be awarded!

    The benefits of using Kadri in a matchup role are two-fold. Not only has he thrived in those situations previously, but it will free up Auston Matthews and John Tavares to face lesser competition in the games at Scotiabank Arena.

    Toronto boasts uncommon depth down the middle, but there’s been an adjustment for Babcock in managing his bench since Tavares arrived as a free agent on July 1.

    It’s seen Kadri take a small hit in playing time – something that will likely change if he starts consistently facing No. 1 lines again at even strength. He continues to occupy the bumper role in the high slot on the top power-play unit.

    He saw a season-best 17:18 against the Penguins and was thrilled to get seven shifts against the Crosby unit in the third period of a tight 1-0 game.

    "I always appreciate that. I think it brings the best out in me and my linemates," said Kadri. "Just being able to be engaged and ready every single shift. Because you know those guys – you can’t have a bad shift because it could end up in the back of your net."

    There is no hint of discouragement in Kadri’s demeanour despite having gone through eight games without a goal. He’s hit a couple crossbars so far and had the potential tying goal in Thursday’s game denied by Matt Murray’s left pad late in the third period.

    "I’m less than half an inch away from having three or four of them," Kadri reasoned. "For me that’s the positive thing. [It’s] just being able to feel good, feel the puck on my stick, having to play with possession and not constantly playing defence.

    "That’s really how I’m approaching it right now."

    His underlying metrics are top drawer.

    The Leafs have enjoyed more than 55 per cent of even-strength shot attempts with Kadri on the ice this season even though just 25 of his 106 faceoffs have come in the offensive zone. Toronto also has an edge in shots (51.5 per cent), scoring chances (57.1 percent) and high-danger scoring chances (62.9 per cent) while Kadri is out there, according to naturalstattrick.com.

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    It’s only in the more traditional stats where it’s looked like a slow start: Kadri has four assists to show for his eight games, trailing Matthews (16), Morgan Rielly (13), Tavares (11), Mitch Marner (11), Kasperi Kapanen (eight), Jake Gardiner (six), Patrick Marleau (five) and Zach Hyman (five) on the team’s points list.

    "I know my capabilities. I’m just trying to stay confident," said Kadri. "I feel like I’m generating lots of plays out there and creating lots of offence. I have an opportunity to score every game, they’re just not falling for me."

    Perhaps a return to his old role will help break the dam.

    That was bound to happen when Nylander returned anyway, but Babcock is ready to accelerate the process even with the unsigned 22-year-old winger now skating with the Dornbirn Bulldogs in Austria.

    "With moving people around, [Kadri’s] line wasn’t set up to do that at the start," said Babcock. "Now that we’ve found Lindy here, obviously he’s a real good player and very intelligent and good with and without [the puck] and so now we’re more comfortable.

    "So we can start moving ahead with our long-term plan."

    Tie Domi says cheering for son Max on the Canadiens comes naturally

    Tie Domi says cheering for son Max on the Canadiens comes naturally


    BROSSARD, Que. — It’s possible to have amassed 3,515 penalty minutes in the National Hockey League and still be a gentleman. Tie Domi proved as much this week. What began as an individual interview at the Montreal Canadiens practice facility...

    BROSSARD, Que. — It’s possible to have amassed 3,515 penalty minutes in the National Hockey League and still be a gentleman. Tie Domi proved as much this week.

    What began as an individual interview at the Montreal Canadiens practice facility Thursday quickly transformed into an imposing scrum as the former Toronto Maple Leafs enforcer held court for more than 10 minutes.

    The task was no doubt made easier because the 48-year-old is happy to see his son Max feeling so at home with his new team, the Canadiens.

    "He works hard every day, he has a smile on his face, so that’s nice to see," Domi said. Seeing his son so happy, "makes my day," he added.

    Play the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool! Play the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool for your chance to score big with over $30,000 worth of prizes to be awarded!

    Domi said he had not been planning to attend the Canadiens home game Wednesday against St. Louis, but his son persuaded him, and he witnessed his first goal in a Habs jersey.

    Even though he is from Ontario and played 777 of his 1,020 regular-season games for the Leafs, Domi said he hasn’t thought twice about cheering for the Canadiens — and not only because his son is on the team.

    It is not "weird" to see Max wearing the colours of a team that was an arch-rival when he was playing, he said.

    "It was actually emotional because I was happy for him — original six. It’s a historical franchise," he said. "I grew up idolizing Guy Lafleur and the Montreal Canadiens and the winning tradition. I played for Toronto, but Montreal was always my team as a kid, and Guy was always my favourite player."

    Domi said his son’s move from Arizona, where he played the first three years of his career, has been welcome. In Arizona, there were constant questions about the fate of the Coyotes, which takes a toll on the players.

    "It’s kind of unstable in that situation — where are they going to be, the fans," Domi said. "Here you live it, you walk it, you breathe it every day. That’s what you dream to do, and he’s living his dream now for sure."

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    He said Max had been used to winning, including three trips to the Memorial Cup with the London Knights and a gold medal at the 2015 World Junior Championship. In Arizona, he played for teams that were out of playoff contention by Christmas. "It’s a tough pill to swallow for anyone," he said.

    Now, Domi said, his son is "on a real team, in a real market. It’s exciting to see him taking it all in, but at the same time, he’s taking it a day at a time. He’s a positive kid."

    Max Domi, 23, echoed his father’s sentiments when he got off the practice ice, saying he has been happy with the trade since day one.

    "It’s a huge honour to be part of this franchise, and to be a part of this team," he said. "Obviously, the start has been great for us, and we’re all enjoying ourselves at the rink right now."

    In the past, some players have balked at coming to Montreal because of the pressure of being constantly under the microscope. He said such pressure can be a positive.

    "When you’re winning the city’s on a high. When you’re going through some tough times it’s harder to play," he said. "Some people don’t like that, and others thrive on it …. Playing in a market like this is something I’ve dreamed of my whole life."

    Analyzing the early returns of the Flames-Hurricanes blockbuster trade

    Analyzing the early returns of the Flames-Hurricanes blockbuster trade


    The Calgary Flames were supposed to be better than an 84-point team that missed the playoffs last season. So when they hit that low, whiffing on the post-season for the second time in three years, GM Brad Treliving decided something had to be done. The...

    The Calgary Flames were supposed to be better than an 84-point team that missed the playoffs last season. So when they hit that low, whiffing on the post-season for the second time in three years, GM Brad Treliving decided something had to be done. The action plan was to pull off the biggest trade of draft weekend.

    “We’ve given up some pieces here but as the season ended and the summer progressed we wanted to look at changing the mix here,” Treliving said at the time. “We did some things here that addressed some issues. We love the players coming in – we think they’re young, smart, they’ve got skill. Good players left us, but you have to give to get. Now we continue trying to keep getting better.”

    The Flames picked up Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm from the Carolina Hurricanes for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and prospect Adam Fox — a couple of top-liners at their position and a prospect the team felt they couldn’t sign. Hamilton was the most shocking to include since he and Mark Giordano made up one of the more dominant defence pairs in the league last season.

    Both Carolina and Calgary are off to good starts and both promise to be better than they were in 2017-18. But how, specifically, have the players from this blockbuster fit in? Here’s our quick and early look:

    Tape II Tape Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game. Listen Now | Subscribe | Boylen on Twitter | Dixon on Twitter CAROLINA’S SIDE OF THE DEAL

    Micheal Ferland
    He found a home alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau on Calgary’s top line and became a 21-goal, 41-point player last season, but he’s not a player you’d think would drive offence on his own. In Carolina, Ferland is playing a similar role on the top line with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen and has four goals and seven points in seven games.

    When Andrew Berkshire wrote his breakdown on the trade in June, he pointed out that Ferland’s primary strength was an ability to get to the front of the net on the regular, writing “only 21 players in the NHL (with 800+ minutes played) had more high danger scoring chances than Ferland per 20 minutes at 5-vs-5.” Ferland also stood out as a playmaker in this regard and made a ton of successful passes to the slot.

    That’s carried over to Carolina’s ace line. All of Ferland’s goals have come at even strength and three of them have come from the hash marks or closer. He leads the team with five primary points at even strength as well and is 17th league wide in primary points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 time.

    Yes, it’s early and these rates could still change, but it’s not as though this is an unheard of relative level of production for Ferland. He was 32nd league-wide in primary points per 60 minutes last season. The Canes are using him in the type of situation he’s proven to thrive so his production with the Flames could be replicated, or even improved on.

    Dougie Hamilton
    Both Giordano and Hamilton finished with 5-on-5 corsi for percentages above 57 last year and held the top two 5-on-5 shot differentials in the league — by these measures they were the best pair in the NHL. So now that they’re apart we can find out: was that performance due to one of the two carrying the other, or did they just complement each other so well?

    Everything this time of year needs to be framed within a “small sample size” context, but both players are still excelling.

    Hamilton now plays with quiet star Jaccob Slavin — who would be a heck of a lot more celebrated if he played in a bigger market — and has a 60.41 GF% so far. The Hamilton-Slavin pair has gotten the most defensive zone starts among Canes blue liners and yet have the second- and third-best 5-on-5 shot differentials in the league so far.

    The biggest difference for Hamilton is that playing on a team so deep with blueliners means his workload has been lightened some. Where he averaged a little more than 22 minutes per game last season, Hamilton is getting barely over 20 minutes a night so far this season.

    Hamilton finished tied for the league lead in goals (17) at the position last season and hasn’t yet converted in Carolina, so you can see how even better days are still ahead.

    31 Thoughts: The Podcast A weekly deep dive into the biggest hockey news in the world with hosts Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek. New episodes every Thursday. Apple Podcasts | Podcatchers | Listen Now CALGARY’S SIDE OF THE DEAL

    Elias Lindholm
    In Berkshire’s piece he noted that Ferland seemed to be a better offensive player than Lindholm, though in Carolina Lindholm was moved all over the lineup and had the added bonus of being a capable centre as well. Even though James Neal was getting some looks on the top line in pre-season, Lindholm has ended up alongside Monahan and Gaudreau in the regular season so far.

    The exact opposite of Ferland, Lindholm has the lowest primary points per 60 rate on the Flames and the worst shot differential at 5-on-5. But it is worth noting that when the Flames needed a goal late last Saturday against Colorado, Lindholm was the one who cut off a clearing attempt and scored the late tying marker en route to the OT win. In fact, none of his four goals have been in garbage time: he’s twice scored Calgary’s first goal in a game, a game-winner, and the clutch one against Colorado.

    The big positive on Lindholm is he’s been an early, promising contributor on the power play, which was an area the Flames sorely lacked in last season. Calgary’s man advantage ranked 29th in the league in 2017-18, converting on a measly 16 per cent of its opportunities, and though they currently rank 20th at 17.2 per cent, this is still a sore spot for Calgary.

    Lindholm’s team-leading two power play markers are already a third of the way to Ferland’s total last season so while he’s not yet matching what Ferland did at even strength in Calgary, Lindholm is giving an early lift to an area of need.

    Playing more than 20 minutes a night, Lindholm’s versatility has been an underrated addition as well. He has already taken 77 draws and has won 49 of them — his 63.6 winning percentage is among the best in the NHL.

    Elias Lindholm off to a great start as a Flame 4-2-6 in 5 games. He didn’t reach 6 points until game 10 last season. In October Lindholm has only 17 points in 49 career games. April is the only month with fewer pts 11, but has played 23 fewer games 26 in that month

    — Peter Loubardias (@fan960lou) October 16, 2018

    Noah Hanifin
    How unfair is it that Hanifin’s career in Calgary will always be lined up against what Hamilton is doing in Carolina?

    Through his first three NHL seasons, Hanifin had 83 points, which is the exact same point production Hamilton had in his first three years in the league. But although Hanifin has all the expectations that come with being a fifth overall pick, if he hits his ceiling he’ll become — more or less — what Hamilton already is.

    The idea with Hanifin was that his arrival would allow Bill Peters to push T.J. Brodie to the top pair with Giordano and break up the underwhelming Hamonic-Brodie pair from last season. So far the new lead duo has worked, but since Hamonic has been week-to-week since suffering a facial fracture in a fight with Vancouver’s Erik Gudbranson in the first game of the season, we haven’t seen a fully healthy second pair yet. Hanifin has already had three different defence partners.

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    Hanifin’s performance hasn’t been dynamic out of the gate, but there is reason to believe he’s just warming up. He is one of only two Flames blue liners with a CF% below 50 (rookie Rasmus Andersson is the other) and his 5-on-5 shot differential (-5) is better than only Michael Stone on the blue line. But the key note here is that Hanifin starts in the defensive end more than any other Flame, so he’s usually hitting the ice at a disadvantage. He is the team’s shutdown guy right now.

    His offensive upside is something to look forward to, though. Hanifin hasn’t yet scored in 2018-19 after he did so 10 times last season, and his nine shots on goal at 5-on-5 is the second most among all Flames blue liners. He may not always pass the eye test, but there is a lot to like in Hanifin’s game. The whole point of his acquisition and subsequent signing was to lock in a young (21-years-old) and on-the-rise blue liner who likely won’t pay off to his full potential for a couple more years, but starts with a pretty high base line.

    Once Hamonic gets back and Hanifin settles in with a regular and trustowrthy defence partner, it should all start coming together.

    Flames’ Gaudreau on McAvoy hit: ‘I kind of brought it upon myself’

    Flames’ Gaudreau on McAvoy hit: ‘I kind of brought it upon myself’


    Johnny Gaudreau is taking some responsibility for the controversial hit he received from Boston Bruins defenceman Charlie McAvoy on Wednesday. “I was on a breakaway trying to get the rebound there and had my head down. I always tell myself never to...

    Johnny Gaudreau is taking some responsibility for the controversial hit he received from Boston Bruins defenceman Charlie McAvoy on Wednesday.

    “I was on a breakaway trying to get the rebound there and had my head down. I always tell myself never to have my head down, especially in this league,” Gaudreau told reporters in Calgary Friday. “I kind of brought it upon myself there, looking down for the puck, and got hit.”

    Gaudreau confirms he’s fine and would have returned to the game if concussion protocol moved quicker. Said he shouldn’t have had his head down and that he got a text from McAvoy right after the game.

    — Eric Francis (@EricFrancis) October 19, 2018

    The hit in question came mid-way through the third period of the Flames’ 5-2 win over the Bruins. Gaudreau skated in on a breakaway but didn’t score on tuukka rask. In the ensuing scramble around the net, Gaudreau was levelled by McAvoy, who was given an interference penalty on the play. Gaudreau briefly remained in the game but was eventually removed by a concussion spotter.

    Gaudreau, who is five-foot-nine, said size played a factor in the collision.

    “Obviously, I’m a smaller guy. Charlie’s definitely a lot bigger of a guy than me. It happens. It’s part of hockey,” Gaudreau said. “He shot me a text right after the game and we chatted a little bit. It’s part of the game. It’s no big deal.”

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    On Thursday, Sportsnet’s Eric Francis reported Gaudreau was “feeling no significant effects” from the hit and that McAvoy wouldn’t be given further discipline for the play. In practice Friday, Gaudreau was back skating on the top line with Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm, and he should play with those two in Friday’s game against the Nashville Predators.

    NHL Plays of the Week: Johnny Gaudreau, Darnell Nurse pot OT beauties

    NHL Plays of the Week: Johnny Gaudreau, Darnell Nurse pot OT beauties


    Johnny Gaudreau and Darnell Nurse score big extra time goals while Jamie Benn and Miles Wood go old school with an epic brawl. The post Jerebko buzzer-beater leads Warriors past Jazz appeared first on...

    Johnny Gaudreau and Darnell Nurse score big extra time goals while Jamie Benn and Miles Wood go old school with an epic brawl.

    The post Jerebko buzzer-beater leads Warriors past Jazz appeared first on Sportsnet.ca.

    Brian Burke praises Kadri’s development since drafting him

    Brian Burke praises Kadri’s development since drafting him


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    Deslauriers in, Hudon out gives Canadiens’ fourth line new dimension

    Deslauriers in, Hudon out gives Canadiens’ fourth line new dimension


    MONTREAL — Choosing who dresses for any given game comes down the health and depth of the roster, but it’s also based on roles. That’s why Nicolas Deslauriers is likely taking Charles Hudon’s place when his Montreal Canadiens play the Ottawa...

    MONTREAL — Choosing who dresses for any given game comes down the health and depth of the roster, but it’s also based on roles.

    That’s why Nicolas Deslauriers is likely taking Charles Hudon’s place when his Montreal Canadiens play the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.

    Deslauriers, who suffered a facial fracture three weeks ago in a pre-season fight with New Jersey Devils forward Brandon Baddock, returned to full practice this week and found himself in Hudon’s spot next to Matthew Peca and Andrew Shaw at Montreal’s skate on Friday.

    His spot in the Canadiens’ lineup for Saturday’s game will be confirmed once Tomas Plekanec’s name is officially placed on the injured reserve list on Friday afternoon.

    31 Thoughts: The Podcast A weekly deep dive into the biggest hockey news in the world with hosts Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek. New episodes every Thursday. Apple Podcasts | Podcatchers | Listen Now

    Plekanec suffered a back injury that could keep him out a few weeks. As a result, the Canadiens won’t have to make any changes to be in compliance with the NHL’s 23-man roster limit once Plekanec is placed on IR and Deslauriers is officially re-activated.

    The Canadiens don’t quite have another player like him in their lineup.

    Deslauriers is a six-foot-one, 221-pound force, who skates well and brings an unmatched physical element. We’re talking about a player who will fight anyone. One that finished seventh in the NHL in hits last season (238) despite appearing in only 58 games.

    Deslauriers can also put the puck in the net. If he hadn’t accumulated as many goals as Hudon last season (10), he might not be taking over for him.

    But, in the limited ice-time playing on the fourth line offers, it’s hard to argue against him being a better option.

    "Fourth lines across the league are usually used for eight or nine minutes per game," said Canadiens coach Claude Julien on Friday.

    If he can get some sandpaper and some scoring out of his, it’s worth a look.

    The thing is, aside from taking a couple of costly penalties in Wednesday’s 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues, Hudon hasn’t done anything to merit a demotion.

    When Julien was asked on Friday if Hudon’s defensive game had pushed him to the margins, or if he was disappointed with some other aspect, the coach said he was satisfied with the 24-year-old’s performance to date.

    "Sometimes good players are being put on the sidelines," Julien said. "That’s the depth we have this year."

    Plekanec and veteran Karl Alzner are two examples.

    Both players were scratched to start the season, with Plekanec missing the first three games and Alzner missing the first five.

    Peca, who signed a two-year, $2.6-million deal over the summer, was pushed out for Montreal’s fourth game. Nikita Scherbak, a former first-round draft pick who has produced almost a point per game at the AHL level, has yet to appear in a game this season.

    And now Hudon, who has two goals and an assist and currently ranks fifth in team scoring, is taking his turn.

    When the time comes to re-insert him, it might come at the expense of someone currently playing higher up in Montreal’s lineup.

    Joel Armia, who was traded from the Winnipeg Jets to the Canadiens over the summer, comes to mind as a player who should be feeling some pressure to produce in order to keep his place.

    As it stands, Armia, who had 12 goals and 29 points in a lesser role with the Jets last season, has produced only one goal and one assist with the Canadiens despite playing top-six minutes in three of Montreal’s six games.

    Armia has also yet to produce a point on the power play, which currently ranks 23rd in the NHL. Considering he’s taken a regular shift there in every game, that’s one strike in his column.

    But Armia’s place on Montreal’s penalty kill gives him a leg up on Hudon right now.

    And the versatility Deslauriers and Shaw bring — offering size and feistiness to the NHL’s shortest and lightest team — makes them options Julien wants to explore on his fourth line for at least a game.

    If more players were hurt, or if the Canadiens lacked NHL depth, Hudon would be in regardless. He’s a serviceable player who seems capable of becoming a 20-goal scorer in this league.

    But his current role as a depth scorer, who doesn’t bring too many other components to the lineup, is what’s relegating him to the press box for Saturday’s game.

    Week 7 NFL picks against the spread: Bet on Bills defence in Indy

    Week 7 NFL picks against the spread: Bet on Bills defence in Indy


    Each Friday of the 2018 NFL season, we’ll be picking every game (except for Thursday Night Football, of course) against the spread. Here are the picks for Week 7. Tennessee Titans at Los Angeles Chargers (-6.5) in London The Pick: Chargers The Chargers...

    Each Friday of the 2018 NFL season, we’ll be picking every game (except for Thursday Night Football, of course) against the spread.

    Here are the picks for Week 7.

    Tennessee Titans at Los Angeles Chargers (-6.5) in London

    The Pick: Chargers

    The Chargers have been one of the most impressive teams over the past couple of weeks on both offence and defence, taking on a Titans squad that has scored 12 points in its last two games and barely mustered 100 yards of offence last Sunday.

    Buffalo Bills at Indianapolis Colts (-7.5)

    The Pick: Bills

    This line moved from 6.5 to 7.5 after Derek Anderson was announced as Bills starter, but I like Buffalo to keep it close here thanks to its defence — a unit ranked third in yards against this season and giving up fewer than 15 points a game in its last four.

    Minnesota Vikings (-3.5) at New York Jets

    The Pick: Vikings

    A lot of people are tabbing the Jets as the upset pick of the week, and there’s a lot to like about Todd Bowles’s team after two consecutive convincing wins at home. But the Vikings are at a different level than New York’s past two opponents, and are coming together on both sides of the ball.

    Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles (-5)

    The Pick: Panthers

    A year ago, the Eagles beat the Panthers 28–23 on Thursday Night Football, the exact spread we see this week. Philadelphia could emerge as winners on Sunday, but Carolina will keep it close.

    Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3.5)

    The Pick: Browns

    Outside of last week’s blowout loss to the Chargers, the Browns have kept every one of their games within four points. Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland offence will do the same against the Bucs’ woeful defence.

    New England Patriots (-2.5) at Chicago Bears

    The Pick: Patriots

    The Bears are licking their literal and figurative wounds after a tough loss in Miami as pass-rushing phenom Khalil Mack — the engine of the Bears defence — is dealing with an ankle injury ahead of this game. Advantage to Tom Brady and a Patriots offence getting better every game.

    Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars (-4.5)

    The Pick: Jaguars

    The Jaguars defence has been shredded the last two weeks, but expect a bounce-back performance against a Texans offence that is struggling to protect a banged-up Deshaun Watson.

    Detroit Lions (-3) at Miami Dolphins

    The Pick: Dolphins

    The Lions are 2-0 on the road against the spread this season, while the Dolphins are coming off an impressive win at home and are a perfect 3-0 so far this season at Hard Rock Stadium. When in doubt, go with the home dog!

    New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens (-2.5)

    The Pick: Saints

    In what may be the best game of the weekend, the Saints’ top-scoring offence heads to Baltimore to take on the Ravens’ top-ranked defence. New Orleans is the hottest team in the league right now, and it’s hard to see Baltimore completely shutting down Drew Brees and company.

    Los Angeles Rams (-9.5) at San Francisco 49ers

    The Pick: 49ers

    By no means do I think the Rams will lose this weekend, but this is L.A.’s third road game in a row and all have been decided by a touchdown or less. Meanwhile, the 49ers have lost only one game by double digits this season and have been a surprisingly tough out since C.J. Beathard took over for Jimmy G.

    Dallas Cowboys at Washington (-1)

    The Pick: Washington

    Washington has been about as unpredictable a team as we’ve seen this season, but the Cowboys have been woeful on the road so far. Until I see any progress on that front I’m picking against Dallas away from home.

    Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs (-6)

    The Pick: Chiefs

    I keep picking against the Chiefs, and I keep getting burned. Kansas City is 6-0 against the spread this season, so I’m jumping on the bandwagon. Hopefully it’s not too late.

    New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons (-4)

    The Pick: Falcons

    This has been the hardest pick of the week for me. I can see the Falcons blowing out the Giants, but I could also see New York keeping it close like they did a couple weeks ago in Carolina. In the end, I’m betting on Matt Ryan, who has 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his last four games.

    All spreads via Covers.com

    Kings, Raiders fans create websites dissing coaches Stevens, Gruden

    Kings, Raiders fans create websites dissing coaches Stevens, Gruden


    The Los Angeles Kings are in an early-season tailspin and the fan base is losing patience with head coach John Stevens. The Kings have dropped three straight and were embarrassed at home by the Islanders Thursday night. “It was really disappointing,”...

    The Los Angeles Kings are in an early-season tailspin and the fan base is losing patience with head coach John Stevens.

    The Kings have dropped three straight and were embarrassed at home by the Islanders Thursday night.

    “It was really disappointing,” Stevens told reporters following a 7-2 loss in which they allowed four unanswered third-period goals. “Totally, totally went to sleep, gave up a really easy short-handed goal there and just stopped playing.”

    L.A. has dropped its past three games by a combined score of 16-4 and this latest loss to the Isles prompted one fan to create a website called FireStevens.com that asks one simple question: “Is John Stevens still coaching the Los Angeles Kings?”

    There isn’t much to the website. The only user interaction available gives the option to “Click John Steven’s (sic) face to see him get angry!”

    All that happens when you click his face is this…

    One reddit user said of the website: “the low effort page design works perfectly here,” to which the creator wittily replied, “That was my intention.”

    Stevens was hired as bench boss in April of 2017 and went 45-29-8 in his first season, but the Kings were swept by the Golden Knights in the first round after managing to score just three goals in four games.

    Those goal-scoring woes have followed the Kings into the 2018-19 campaign as the team – one of the older, slower clubs in the league – is averaging just two goals per game through seven contests.

    The Kings will look to snap their current losing streak Saturday afternoon against the Sabres.

    Creating temporary novelty websites like the one above isn’t a new trend. In fact, earlier this week, a fan of another California-based pro sports team designed a similar website.

    Oakland Raiders supporters are not liking how the team has fared under head coach Jon Gruden, who signed a 10-year, $100-million contract in January.

    IsGrudenGoneYet.com, just like the Stevens website, asks users a question and provides them with the one-word answer.

    It also tracks how much money Gruden has already made, how much time is left until his contract is set to expire, and displays a running total of how much money Gruden earns during the time you are on the webpage.

    The Raiders are 1-5 and currently on their bye week.

    Premier League Matchday 9: What you need to know

    Premier League Matchday 9: What you need to know


    The Premier League continues this weekend with Matchday 9, and Sportsnet will have live coverage of five games. Saturday, October 20 • West Ham United vs. Tottenham, 9:30 a.m. ET (Sportsnet) • Newcastle United vs. Brighton and Hove Albion, 9:30 a.m....

    The Premier League continues this weekend with Matchday 9, and Sportsnet will have live coverage of five games.

    Saturday, October 20
    • West Ham United vs. Tottenham, 9:30 a.m. ET (Sportsnet)
    • Newcastle United vs. Brighton and Hove Albion, 9:30 a.m. ET (Sportsnet ONE)
    • Cardiff City vs. Fulham, 9:30 a.m. ET (Sportsnet NOW)
    • Huddersfield Town vs. Liverpool, noon ET (Sportsnet ONE and Sportsnet World)

    Sunday, October 21
    • Everton v. Crystal Palace, 10:30 a.m. ET (Sportsnet World)

    Here’s what you need to know ahead of this weekend.

    MARQUEE MATCH

    Chelsea vs. Manchester United: The Blues welcome the Red Devils to Stamford Bridge on Saturday in an important game for both clubs.

    Chelsea is looking to extend its unbeaten start to the season to nine games and keep pace with Manchester City at the top of the table. Manchester United wants to build upon a come-from-behind win against Newcastle United and climb up from eighth place.

    United’s defence has been suspect this season, giving up 14 goals in eight games. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard must be salivating at the prospect of facing Jose Mourinho’s men – the Belgian is the Premier League’s top scorer with seven goals and he has also tallied three assists.

    PLAYER TO WATCH

    Harry Kane, Tottenham: The English forward has scored seven goals in his last seven Premier League games against West Ham United, including a brace in Spurs’ 3-2 win last season. Kane has also scored four away goals this season, more than any other Premier league player. Look out for him on Saturday when the Hammers host Tottenham.

    Stream Premier League games on Sportsnet NOW Live stream weekly matchups from around the Premier League with Sportsnet NOW. Get access to the Premier League, FA Cup, Bundesliga, Scottish Premiership and more. SIGN UP for Sportsnet NOW BOURNEMOUTH vs. SOUTHAMPTON

    Bournemouth has won 22 points from its last 30 available in the Premier League (with seven wins and one draw).

    CARDIFF CITY vs. FULHAM

    Fulham has failed to keep a clean sheet in its last 23 Premier League away matches.

    MANCHESTER CITY vs. BURNLEY

    Burnley’s Sean Dyche is looking to become the first English manager to win a Premier League match at Manchester City since Harry Redknapp did it with the Spurs in May 2010.

    NEWCASTLE UNITED vs. BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION

    Newcastle has yet to win in the Premier League this season. Only once have the Magpies ever failed to win any of their opening nine top-flight matches – they went winless in 10 matches to open the 1898-89 season.

    WOLVES vs. WATFORD

    This is the first ever Premier League meeting between Wolves and Watford, although they met in the top flight in 1983-84.

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    HUDDERSFIELD TOWN vs. LIVERPOOL

    Huddersfield is attempting to score its first goal in a home game this season.

    EVERTON vs. CRYSTAL PALACE

    Everton is unbeaten in seven Premier League matches against Crystal Palace (with three wins), a streak that dates back to 2014.

    ARSENAL vs. LEICESTER CITY

    Arsenal has never lost a Premier League home match against Leicester City (11 wins and one draw) and have won the last 11 in a row.

    THE BIG QUESTION

    Every week, Sportsnet’s soccer panel will debate The Big Question. Have your say by voting in the poll below:


    Take Our Poll HE SAID IT

    “Eden [Hazard], for us, is important. He’s a fantastic player. It will be important for us if he remains with us. Very, very important. But I think also that he can win everything, possibly a Ballon d’Or here, without playing in Spain. Because, for example, Chelsea will be able to win the Champions League. Belgium could win the European Championship. He could win everything, without playing in Spain.” – Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri

    NHL trainer intrigued by potential of marijuana helping players

    NHL trainer intrigued by potential of marijuana helping players


    As we moved closer and closer to a world where marijuana would be legal in Canada, some people surely dreamed of hitting the bong. For Matt Nichol, though, it was time to hit the books. Nichol, a nutritionist and strength and conditioning coach who...

    As we moved closer and closer to a world where marijuana would be legal in Canada, some people surely dreamed of hitting the bong. For Matt Nichol, though, it was time to hit the books.

    Nichol, a nutritionist and strength and conditioning coach who works with numerous elite-level NHLers, knew he was obliged to learn whatever he could about a product that could play a role in helping athletes do anything from deal with chronic pain to calm nerves.

    “Over the last six months it’s been a major area of focus for me,” says Nichol, the founding partner and chief formulator of Biosteel Sports Supplements Inc. “I want to at least make sure I’m directing my athletes properly and making sure they’re getting the best advice possible.”

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    While Nichol is intrigued by the healing powers derived from different components of Canada’s most famous green plant, he also used the term “wild west” on a couple occasions when speaking about the mild hysteria around legalization. The note Nichol struck was almost in line with what a level-headed person might say to those getting super high on the team he used to work for, the Toronto Maple Leafs: Hey, we all know this is exciting and we’re sure it’s going someplace good, but let’s calm down and understand there’s going to be some highs and lows before we figure out precisely what’s going on here.

    “I’m of the mindset that [things with] so much potential positive benefit never come without some baggage; there’s got to be some downside,” said Nichol, adding there’s bound to be some treatment trial and error along the way. “You went from no one should ever use it [or even] talk about it to everybody should use it all the time for everything. Eventually we’ll settle into a nice phase where people understand exactly what it does and how to use it.”

    Learning the properties of cannabis and all the forms they can take is just one obstacle for the trainers and nutritionists who may start recommending it to NHL players. Nichol acknowledges the people in charge of teams — a demographic that can skew old and suspicious — often fit the profile of a person who may subscribe to negative stereotypes surrounding hemp and marijuana. The athletes themselves, though, figure to hold more progressive mindsets.

    “A lot [of them] have grown up in a day and age when there wasn’t as much of a stigma as there would have been for the coaches and GMs,” Nichol said.

    New 31 Thoughts Podcast: @rileecoyote joins the show as @FriedgeHNIC and @JeffMarek talk Canada's legalization of marijuana and its impact on pro sports.

    Listen and subscribe https://t.co/YiJeEJlfw7

    Presented by @GMCcanada. pic.twitter.com/KHmPYO1h58

    — Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 18, 2018

    That, of course, goes hand-in-hand with widely accepted recreational use of the drug. And while Nichol can see some value in using cannabis to take the edge off for people living public lives while dealing with sky-high expectations, he’s also sure there will be attempts to justify indulgent behavior with the need to relax. Moderation, as always, is key.

    “I drink red wine, I could tell you I do it because there’s resveratrol (known to have several positive effects on the body) in it, but there are other reasons, too,” said Nichol. “There’s a difference between smoking a blunt while you’re playing Fortnite and taking CBD oil to deal with pain or inflammation.”

    Canadiens’ Plekanec may miss several weeks with back injury

    Canadiens’ Plekanec may miss several weeks with back injury


    Montreal Canadiens forward Tomas Plekanec will miss Saturday’s game against the Ottawa Senators with a lower-back injury. The injury is expected to keep Plekanec out of action for several weeks. Medical update: Tomas Plekanec (lower back injury)...

    Montreal Canadiens forward Tomas Plekanec will miss Saturday’s game against the Ottawa Senators with a lower-back injury. The injury is expected to keep Plekanec out of action for several weeks.

    Medical update: Tomas Plekanec (lower back injury) will not make the trip to Ottawa. David Schlemko (knee) and Shea Weber (knee) will also remain in Montreal to continue their rehab program.

    — Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) October 19, 2018

    Claude Julien says that Tomas Plekanec could be out several weeks.

    — Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) October 19, 2018

    The 35-year-old veteran recently played in his 1,000th career NHL game, scoring a goal in his team’s win against the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 15. Prior to the Canadiens’ game against the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 17, Plekanec was honoured with a tribute celebrating the accomplishment.

    Watch NHL games on Sportsnet NOW Stream over 500 NHL games blackout-free, including the Flames, Oilers, Leafs and Canucks. Plus Hockey Night in Canada, Rogers Hometown Hockey, Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey and more. CHOOSE PLAN

    Plekanec signed a one-year $2.25 million contract with the Canadiens over the summer, making this his 15th season in Montreal.

    James Sharman’s mailbag: Cardiff looks a sure bet to go down

    James Sharman’s mailbag: Cardiff looks a sure bet to go down


    Ahead of every weekend this season, I will answer questions from Sportsnet.ca readers on a variety of topics on the Premier League. If you’d like to ask me a question, hit me up on Twitter at @jamessharman, and be sure to use the hashtag...

    Ahead of every weekend this season, I will answer questions from Sportsnet.ca readers on a variety of topics on the Premier League. If you’d like to ask me a question, hit me up on Twitter at @jamessharman, and be sure to use the hashtag #SNAskSharman.

    Let’s dive into this week’s mailbag…

    From @brendanlowther: Will Manchester United continue on winning or will the international break have killed their momentum?

    Sharman: Let’s quickly recap. Manchester United’s most recent crisis aversion came in the form of a 3-2 win over Newcastle United after going down 2-0 early on. Of note, Paul Pogba was key to the comeback in an excellent second half performance, and both Anthony Martial and Alexis Sanchez removed themselves from the dog house with the tying goal and the winning goal respectively. Add in the Old Trafford faithful throwing their support behind Jose Mourinho, and there was a lot to like about the performance following the early disaster. 

    Maybe even more promising was that Pogba didn’t use his usual trick of making inflammatory comments during the international break, although Romelu Lukaku did, suggesting a move to Juventus would be to his liking. All that said, there is still plenty wrong about this team, and the upcoming schedule is a stark reminder that a crisis is always around the corner. It is Chelsea this weekend, followed by Juventus in the Champions League (gulp) then a couple of tricky ties against Everton and Bournemouth, before it is Juve again followed by, ahem, Manchester City. 

    United still has gaping issues on defence, as Mourinho’s desperate selections and substitutions against Newcastle proved, and all of their upcoming opponents are attack oriented sides who can feast upon such insufficiencies. This might well be a nightmare run that might force change at the top.

    Stream Premier League games on Sportsnet NOW Live stream weekly matchups from around the Premier League with Sportsnet NOW. Get access to the Premier League, FA Cup, Bundesliga, Scottish Premiership and more. SIGN UP for Sportsnet NOW

    From @tdob1927: I am highly biased as a Cardiff City supporter, but I feel like they are being written off too easily. They were really unlucky not to get anything out of the Arsenal, Tottenham and Burnley matches. We’re staying up, right?

    Sharman: Hey, what’s the point of being a fan if you can’t be highly biased, right?  Let’s take a look at those matches you mention: Arsenal squeaked three points with a late Alexandre Lacazette winner after Harry Arter had a couple of great chances, and before Sean Morrison missed a scoring opportunity at the death. Fair enough, Cardiff deserved a point. Tottenham managed to eke out a 1-0 win over 10-man Cardiff after Joe Ralls was sent off early in the second half, a red card that seemed a little harsh to me. Cardiff played well in that one, so sure, I’ll give you that one, too. As for Burnley, agreed again, Cardiff was the better side only to lose by a goal.

    I really want to see Neil Warnock succeed, just because I like him. However, looking at the squad, it just isn’t good enough. Last season was a surprise to win promotion, especially automatic qualification, but there was not enough investment in the summer. Goals keep teams up, and I don’t see them arriving, especially if the reported January war chest is only 10 million pounds. Cardiff was written off by most before the season kicked off – you can’t get written off earlier than that, but sadly it looks to be prophetic. Many a relegation side defends quite well, and puts in the effort, but eventually you need quality. 

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    From @bigkeeper13: Your thoughts on the Chelsea board member who said he is very happy to have only six teams with a realistic chance of winning the Premier League every year?

    Sharman: I’d love to know who the six are because before the season I only thought there would be one, but now a couple of months later you could probably convince me that there are three. If it really was six, the Premier League would be delighted. Just imagine the battles and the drama with six contenders. 

    I imagine he is being a tad liberal here, but he is perhaps suggesting that he’d rather have fewer teams competing. Big clubs want cost-certainty, and that comes with top four finish and Champions League qualification. If there was parity then it would cause mayhem to the “haves” business models. Parity is what “salary cap” leagues dream off, but personally I like to see dynasties, and big markets dominating.  Of course, it is easy for me to say, as the team I tend to support, Liverpool, is a big rich club. 

    From @CITY_CFFC: Why do you continue to deny Manchester City is the best team in the world?

    Sharman: Huh? I don’t think I’ve even been asked the question before. I do know I spend a lot of my time on various media platforms waxing lyrical about the brilliance of Pep Guardiola and his troops. I just can’t win can I?  Such is being in the media, I suppose.  

    I will say just this, last I remember Manchester City haven’t yet won the Champions League, right?  As far as I am concerned, the title of “best team in the world” is reserved for the winners of Europe.  So, as it currently stands, despite a few wobbles so far this season, Real Madrid currently holds the title as best team in the world.

    NHL Fantasy Mailbag: Is it time to shop Nazem Kadri?

    NHL Fantasy Mailbag: Is it time to shop Nazem Kadri?


    Have a fantasy hockey question? Ask away! Each week this NHL season, I’ll field your Twitter questions and you’ll get your answers every Friday as part of my weekly mailbag. No question is a bad question. (@thegoldenmuzzy) Unsurprisingly, the top of...

    Have a fantasy hockey question? Ask away! Each week this NHL season, I’ll field your Twitter questions and you’ll get your answers every Friday as part of my weekly mailbag. No question is a bad question. (@thegoldenmuzzy)

    Unsurprisingly, the top of Sportsnet’s Fantasy Hockey Pool leaderboard is littered with rosters featuring a plethora of Maple Leafs and rightfully so. That team can score. Matt Murray had other plans on Thursday night, however. Be careful how many times you go to the well.

    With that in mind, I can tell you that it wouldn’t be wise to stack up on Toronto again next week. They play just twice and both contests are against the also mighty Winnipeg Jets.

    Now to your questions:

    Play the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool! Play the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool for your chance to score big with over $30,000 worth of prizes to be awarded!

    Michael Cinco – @MikeCincoSays
    Is Maxime Lajoie for real?

    This is one of the burning questions in fantasy hockey right now.

    Look, I understand it’s way too early to quantify what’s going on but you can’t overlook the situation either. Bottom line – Lajoie came out of nowhere and is producing at a ridiculous level right now.

    There’s a significant disparity between elite defenseman and the rest of field in fantasy hockey. While the sample size is obviously too small to make a concrete assessment, production like this from your blue line is extremely difficult to find much of. No risk. Add him.

    Yung dak – @dakg
    Thoughts on shopping Nazem Kadri? Not sure what return he would bring or who to even target.

    To be honest, I wasn’t the biggest fan of owning Nazem Kadri in fantasy hockey going into this season to begin with. Outside of being on Toronto’s stacked first power play unit, there’s no major benefit of having him unless there’s a major development. Kadri is stuck on the third line for the foreseeable future. If William Nylander signs anytime soon, that would definitely change things a bit.

    Trade him if you can find a dance partner.

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    Larry Berman – @PaigesFall
    Is it time to drop Ty Rattie? I was lucky enough to get McDavid and RNH on my team already. Would you swap Micheal Ferland for Rattie?

    The answer to this question changed on Thursday night when Rattie left Edmonton’s overtime victory against Boston with an undisclosed issue. Be on top of this situation.

    Depending on the prognosis, it’s still fairly early to jump ship. In a perfect world, Oilers head coach Todd McLellan would love to keep Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on separate lines. Considering Rattie’s torrid pace to finish last season and his show in pre-season this season, I think Edmonton will give him ample opportunity to stay on the top line. Of course, losing would disrupt all of that philosophy.

    Given everything I just mentioned, I do have more faith in Carolina’s Micheal Ferland right now and for the balance of the season. Similar to Rattie, Ferland’s line assignment dictates his fantasy relevancy. As long as he continues to be productive with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, he’ll stick. Ferland has higher category coverage and his sample size is way larger

    Go with Ferland.

    Scott Artis – @TheOtherGuard
    Is it time to panic when it comes to Jeff Skinner?

    We’re not even 10 games into this fresh season! Look at Max Pacioretty. Look at Erik Karlsson. The two biggest acquisitions of the off-season are off to very quiet starts. Many forget that these people are human beings too. They’re not just changing teams. It takes time to get acclimated to new surroundings especially when you’re in a relationship, married or have a family. Be patient!

    Don’t forget – Skinner is looking for a big pay day. He’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent following this season.

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    Aaron Littlefair – @ALittlefair93
    Struggling to get goalie wins. I have Martin Jones and Carter Hutton. I want to stick with Jones but I’m asking about dropping Hutton. Is it too early to give up on him?

    Read above. There’s no need to make panic decisions in between the pipes. Like you, I have more faith in Martin Jones to snap out of it. Thursday’s win over interestingly enough, Carter Hutton, was a good start.

    This is the 32-year-old Hutton’s first crack at being a number one goalie in the NHL. Couple with that with that he’s on a Buffalo squad still searching for a defensive identify, there’ll be plenty of turbulent outings.

    Despite their so-so start, I still feel like we’ll see a bit of progression from the Sabres this season. Sit tight.

    Matt Walker – @mattcwalker
    Would you drop Nico Hischer or Jake Guentzel for Dylan Larkin?

    Generally speaking, I’m very high on Jake Guentzel. In my world, he’s a lock for 25, if not 30 this season. I’d keep him.

    It’s been a hot start for New Jersey but a very quiet one for Hischier. Despite losing 5-3 to Colorado on Thursday night, Hischier had his best outing of the year to-date. That being said, I do envision a bit of a sophomore slide for him. I like him in the long run but I think I’d go with Larkin.

    Now into his fourth season, Larkin is off to a blistering offensive start. After a 23-goal rookie campaign, he’s really struggled to find consistency. I think he’ll get to 25 this season. Somebody on Detroit needs to score. I hope you don’t have plus/minus in your league.

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    Anthony John Michael – @ajm_103185
    Would you trade Aaron Ekblad to acquire Samuel Girard in a keeper league?

    Let me put it this way – Ekblad is the better short-term play but Girard is the better long-term look. It’s all dependent on if you’re looking to compete this season or are you building for the future?

    I like Girard a lot but he is unlikely to have full reign in Colorado until they make a decision on Tyson Barrie, who is two years away from UFA status and is eligible for an extension as early as July 1.

    Ekblad is coming off a career-high 16 goals. He’s one of the best goal scoring defensemen out there right now.

    Cody Quan – @BigDealio09
    I currently own Cory Schneider, Cam Talbot, Henrik Lundqvist and Jake Allen. With Schneider possibly returning soon, who stays and who goes on my team?

    Personally, I’d try to trade one of these guys. The problem is – none of them have much value right now. Your best bet is to let the situation play out and hopefully, someone can increase their trade value. It’s never a bad decision to corner the goalie market. Keep them all for now.

    Travis Houthuys – @TravisLeafs
    If I have three goalies starting in one night and two are playing against each other, am I better off playing the two head to head? Or should I pick one that I think will win and play the other goalie in the other games?

    Oh yes – fantasy owners are often faced with these tough decisions on a nightly basis. Traditionally, you’re not wrong in dressing the two goalies that you feel will be victorious.

    That being said, the decision is all conditional on your league settings. If you’re in a weekly head-to-head, analyze your matchup score and then make your decision. If you’re in a roto league, base your analysis more on how much faith you have in a strong performance.

    Valhalla – @TheAZViking
    Is Alex Galchenyuk worth keeping on a roster once he returns from IR? Same question for Dustin Brown.

    Pretty simple – they produce, you keep them. They don’t, boot them. When it comes to players outside the top-150, you’re looking to extract as much fantasy value as you can. Galchenyuk has way more upside than Brown. Perhaps he’s the missing ingredient to L.A.’s floundering power play.

    Both teams are starving for offense.

    Person of Interest: Blue Jays managerial candidate Joe Espada

    Person of Interest: Blue Jays managerial candidate Joe Espada


    Now that the Toronto Blue Jays have completed preliminary interviews for their open managerial job, they’re narrowing their focus with in-person interviews for a group of finalists. As reported by Shi Davidi, the Blue Jays are believed to have five...

    Now that the Toronto Blue Jays have completed preliminary interviews for their open managerial job, they’re narrowing their focus with in-person interviews for a group of finalists.

    As reported by Shi Davidi, the Blue Jays are believed to have five finalists including Astros bench coach Joe Espada, Giants farm director David Bell, Rays major-league field coordinator Rocco Baldelli and Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde.

    We started taking a closer look at the finalists with Baldelli. Now the focus shifts to Espada, whose team was officially eliminated from the playoffs Thursday night…

    PLAYING CAREER
    The Oakland Athletics thought highly enough of Espada to select him in the second round of the 1996 draft. An infielder who primarily played shortstop, Espada posted a .367 on-base percentage over the course of nine seasons in professional baseball, but never did reach the major leagues. In hindsight, then, the A’s would have been better off taking the infielder who went one spot after Espada in the 1996 draft: Oakland’s own Jimmy Rollins.

    While passing on Rollins was regrettable, the A’s did find a major-leaguer one round later when they selected catcher A.J. Hinch. Espada and Hinch came up through the Oakland system at the same time and even roomed together on some minor-league road trips. Years later, Espada became Hinch’s bench coach with the 2018 Astros.

    After five years with Oakland, the right-handed hitting Espada continued playing in the minors with various Marlins, Rockies, Royals, Cardinals, Rangers and Rays affiliates. He eventually ended his playing career with the independent Pensacola Pelicans in 2005.

    COACHING CAREER
    Espada started coaching immediately after his playing days ended, first as the hitting coach for the Marlins’ class A Jupiter affiliate in 2006-07. That led to a job as the Marlins’ minor-league infield coordinator from 2008-09 followed by a four-year stint as Miami’s big-league third base coach from 2010-13.

    Eventually Espada became the Yankees’ third base coach for the 2015-17 seasons, but he first spent 2014 as a pro scout with New York, gaining perspective he has since described as valuable.

    “It really helped me when I got back on the field (to understand) why we shift, why we want to play a four-player outfield,” Espada told Jake Kaplan of the Athletic this spring. “I think it’s been one of the best moves I have done in my career. How you have to be open-minded, progressive for where the game is going.”

    After those three years coaching third for the Yankees, Espada replaced Alex Cora as Houston’s bench coach in 2018. At the time, Hinch described Espada as “a tireless worker who will connect well with players.”

    Though he hasn’t managed at the MLB level, Espada has managed the Atenienses de Manati (2012-13) and Gigantes de Carolina (2014-15) in the Puerto Rican winter league. He was also the third base coach for Puerto Rico at the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classics.

    IN DEMAND
    The Blue Jays aren’t the only team with interest in Espada, who has reportedly spoken with the Rangers, Twins and Angels about their managerial vacancies. Now that the Astros are no longer in the playoffs, his schedule could allow for in-person interviews.

    Spoke to #BlueJays managerial candidate and current #Astros bench coach,Joe Espada. He’s completed the phone interview process. “I think I did pretty good.” #Jays gave no indication whether he’d fly to Toronto for next phase.”They know my schedule right now.”

    — Hazel Mae (@thehazelmae) October 16, 2018

    WHY HE MIGHT APPEAL TO THE BLUE JAYS
    None of the Blue Jays’ four known finalists have managed in the majors, but Espada does have relevant experience as a bench coach and winter league manager.

    Plus, the Blue Jays openly admire the way the Astros and Rays provide players with useful in-game information. Those clubs are “a little bit ahead of the curve” in Ross Atkins’ view, and Espada’s contributions will only help his candidacy.

    By the time Cora left Houston for Boston, he had benefitted from working alongside Hinch and the Astros’ front office. It’s conceivable that interested teams will view Espada as a similarly promising managerial prospect.

    “He has a lot of the same aspects Alex did,” Houston GM Jeff Luhnow recently told the Houston Chronicle. “Experience playing the game, experience in the trenches, coaching in an organization with a good manager. Bilingual, bicultural, really good understanding of traditional aspects of the game as well as the new aspects of the game. A good package overall.”

    Plus, as Luhnow said, Espada speaks Spanish. While that’s not a requirement for the Blue Jays it has to be considered a positive at a time that young players such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. are arriving at the major-league level.

    Lukaku, Morata still failing to deliver big for United, Chelsea

    Lukaku, Morata still failing to deliver big for United, Chelsea


    One can’t find any confidence whatsoever, the other seems to ride false highs. When Romelu Lukaku first moved to Manchester United and Alvaro Morata went to Chelsea, the two instantly put themselves on a path that would leave them inextricably linked...

    One can’t find any confidence whatsoever, the other seems to ride false highs.

    When Romelu Lukaku first moved to Manchester United and Alvaro Morata went to Chelsea, the two instantly put themselves on a path that would leave them inextricably linked for the remainder of their Premier League careers.

    Rewind to the summer of 2017, when United and Jose Mourinho were hot on the heels of a goal scorer who could put his stamp on the team over an extended period of time. Robin van Persie and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were recent one-season-wonders, but both were also at the tail-end of their respective peaks and didn’t have much to offer after that. The time for stop-gap solutions was over.

    Antonio Conte and Chelsea were also on the lookout for their own hitman, but not because they didn’t have one, but rather the manager had fractured his relationship with Spain’s Diego Costa and informed him via text messages that his services were no longer required.

    Stream Premier League games on Sportsnet NOW Stream weekly matchups from around the Premier League with Sportsnet NOW. Get access to the Premier League, FA Cup, Bundesliga, Scottish Premiership and more.

    United set their sights on Alvaro Morata, a player who teased his potential with an excellent season in a reserve role at Real Madrid, scoring 15 goals in 26 appearances, 12 of them coming as a substitute.

    He snubbed the Red Devils, though, opting for Conte’s Chelsea instead under the impression that his skills would be best suited for the Italian’s style of play. You could see the logic, too. Mourinho has long preferred powerful target men who need minimal touches to produce maximum efficiency: Benni McCarthy at Porto, Didier Drogba at Chelsea, Diego Milito at Inter Milan. Karim Benzema probably sounds like the odd man out here but his hold-up play was excellent and he often drifted wide as Cristiano Ronaldo moved central. Morata doesn’t really fit this bill.

    Unfortunately for the Spaniard, though, Conte asked him to play that exact role at Chelsea. The tactic had worked ever so well with Costa as he could bully any defender in the league, and you usually don’t try to fix things when you’re returning as defending champions. It didn’t seem to be a problem for Morata at first with seven goals in his first seven matches as a result of developing an excellent telepathic understanding with Cesar Azpiliqueta, but he had an almighty struggle after being hit with the injury bug, scoring just three goals in his final 23 appearances.

    United on the other hand moved on quickly, signing Romelu Lukaku from Everton for £90 million pounds, believing enough that the Belgian’s impressive Premier League tally (85 goals in 186 appearances) would carry over to the Theatre of Dreams. On the surface, they can have no complaints. 20 goals in 42 Premier League appearances is an admirable tally and comes at a much better ratio than Morata’s 13 goal return in 38 appearances for Chelsea.

    But, if Lukaku truly is to be considered one of the great strikers in world football, his marksmanship against the best teams must improve. He has faced teams in the ‘Big 6’ (Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham) a total of 11 times now, and has just the one goal to show for it. That means 20 of his 31 goals have come against weaker opposition and inflated his reputation.

    With Mourinho’s pragmatic style of play, someone like Lukaku should be tailor-made to thrive with his size and strength, but it’s the technical aspects that have left him struggling when it matters. His first touch is often quite poor, his decision-making in hold-up play rivaling that lack of quality, and in the big games, he’s missed some inexcusable chances just as he did this season with an empty net when United were all over Tottenham in the first half at Old Trafford and the game still scoreless. The Spurs went on to win 3-0.

    It’s led to jokes like this:

    BREAKING: Man Utd have changed the goals at Old Trafford in order to accommodate Romelu Lukaku. pic.twitter.com/japbXmih5U

    — Footy Humour (@FootyHumour) October 14, 2018

    Morata has been wasteful, period. In 31 appearances a season ago, Morata found the net just 11 times and incredibly missed 17 big chances. Only Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane and Christian Benteke missed more big chances, but at least Salah and Kane had 32 and 30 goals to show for it, respectively. Each miss piled on the misery, and this compilation below illustrates just how inexplicably bad Morata’s finishing became.

    The obviously encouraging sign here is the ability to get himself into those positions, and while he placed a significant portion of the blame on departed manager Conte’s tactics, it’s becoming more and more clear this season that the player needs to take a good chunk of the responsibility as well. He had just one goal in six appearances before finding the net as a substitute in the 93rd minute in Chelsea’s last match against Southampton.

    “The most important thing is the way we play. Last season it was direct balls and for me to protect the ball in the air is not my best quality,” Morata told Sky Sports. “Now I can attack the space, I can play one touch and go in the area for the crosses. It’s better for me.”

    Sure, the soon to be 26-year-old prefers to play in and around defenders with clever runs just as he did in La Liga, but who can Morata blame after already losing his place in the starting lineup so early in the season. The answer, of course, maintains the connection these two share.

    Olivier Giroud has been a revelation at Chelsea, impressing as a substitute before moving into the starting role. His role with France now mirrors that with Chelsea, as he isn’t necessarily depended on to score goals. For Les Bleus, Giroud’s primary role is to maximize the value of stars like Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, while in Chelsea blue, it is the likes of Eden Hazard, Willian, Pedro and co. who he seeks to bring the best out of.

    Across his seven appearances in the Premier League this season, Giroud has accumulated four assists and has taken just three shots on target without finding the back of the net. As long as Hazard and the rest of Chelsea’s midfield continues to thrive, Giroud will be an integral part of the team.

    Can Lukaku also learn from Giroud? If he is to continue to grow, he needs to become better at involving his teammates and building an attack when he’s able to successfully hold up the ball. If he doesn’t become more of a well-rounded footballer, it’s hard to envision him truly attaining that gold standard. His ability to make teammates better will only come back around to serve him well as a player. The greater the threat of his teammates, the greater he becomes.

    That both Morata and Lukaku are at a point where they could stand to learn a thing or two from Giroud speaks volumes of how far short they’ve fallen in terms of living up to the hype they were purchased with. In a clash against each other at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, both should have a chance to quell that noise, at least temporarily. Will they capture it or let it slip?

    4 things we learned in the NHL: Here comes the Coyotes offence

    4 things we learned in the NHL: Here comes the Coyotes offence


    A young team in the desert finally put up a performance worthy of its promise, every team in the NHL has lost at least once, a longtime sniper found the back of the net for the first time this season, and there’s something funny going on in...

    A young team in the desert finally put up a performance worthy of its promise, every team in the NHL has lost at least once, a longtime sniper found the back of the net for the first time this season, and there’s something funny going on in Columbus.

    Here are four things we learned in the NHL on Thursday.

    The floodgates are open in Arizona

    The Arizona Coyotes got off to a pretty toothless start this year, getting shut out in three of their first four games. A 2-1 loss to Minnesota on Tuesday left the club still searching for its first 5-on-5 goal of 2018-19.

    Enter Lawson Crouse.

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    Crouse converted a slick Clayton Keller feed to open the scoring on Thursday, mercifully ending Arizona’s inglorious search for an even-strength tally.

    At least they owned it.

    5-ON-5 GOAL, BABY! pic.twitter.com/laz5K6KMXT

    — Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) October 19, 2018

    But wait, there’s more.

    Vinnie Hinostroza, sent to Arizona as part of Chicago’s annual summer salary dump this past July, found the back of the net in his return to the United Center for a second even-strength Coyotes goal. Clayton Keller added insurance late in the third before an empty-netter gave the Coyotes a 4-1 win, with three of those goals coming at 5-on-5.

    Not only were they the first such Coyotes goals this year, they were the first goals given up by Chicago Blackhawks netminder Corey Crawford – the two-time all-star was making his much-anticipated return to the crease after missing significant time with a concussion.

    Unfortunately for him, he just had to run into the offensive juggernaut that is the Coyotes.

    They were due.

    Play the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool! Play the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool for your chance to score big with over $30,000 worth of prizes to be awarded! The last of the undefeated has fallen

    First the 2001 Stanley Cup Final, and now this.

    The Colorado Avalanche once again stuck it to their spiritual ancestors, this time by handing the New Jersey Devils their first loss of the season.

    The Devils (which spent six seasons in the ’70s as the Colorado Rockies), fell to 4-1-0, leaving the NHL with zero remaining undefeated teams.

    It was a good run.

    Nathan MacKinnon – who might as well be the spiritual successor to Joe Sakic – had three assists for the Avalanche, and by the way this is really just an excuse to post a highlight of Sakic stopping New Jersey’s attempt at winning back-to-back Cups 17 years ago.

    Tape II Tape Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game. Listen Now | Subscribe | Boylen on Twitter | Dixon on Twitter Slumping Stamkos is still dangerous when left alone in the slot

    Steven Stamkos entered play on Thursday with zero goals in four contests, though there wasn’t much reason to be concerned.

    Scoring in the NHL is hard, what with the attention to detail good teams have on defence, which is why a date with the Detroit Red Wings was just what the doctor ordered for the Tampa Bay Lightning captain.

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    Stamkos and battery mate Nikita Kucherov showed signs of life earlier in the game, connecting for multiple one-timer opportunities.

    While Stamkos can score from just about anywhere on the ice, why bother sharpshooting from the corner when you can slip right between the circles so uncovered?

    You wonder if Red Wings GM Ken Holland was proud when he saw his defenders pay zero mind to Stamkos right behind them, considering his disdain for looking over his shoulder.

    Something might be up with the ice at Nationwide Arena

    You have to wonder if hockey would be more fun if players never got their skates sharpened.

    It might not result in the precision and grace we’re used to seeing from some of the greatest athletes in the world, but if that Japanese slippery stairs contest proved anything, it’s that watching people struggle to stay upright while completing a task is tough to beat when it comes to entertainment value.

    Which is why whatever went on at the visitors’ end of the rink at Nationwide arena is cool with me.

    note: ice is slippery#CBJ pic.twitter.com/oFS9QcF2T6

    — Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) October 19, 2018

    A breakdown of what that was: Flyers defenceman Christian Folin toe-picked on the breakout, and Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson picked up the puck before surviving as the last man standing to score, while his 2-on-1 option (Sonny Milano) also took a spill. That it all happened with a desperate Claude Giroux diving onto the ice as well made it even better.

    We’re not saying for sure that the Blue Jackets game ops crew spiked the ice in a dastardly plan to gain an edge, but it seems pretty obvious that they did, all things considered.

    How else would Anthony Duclair have been so prepared to do this?

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    Q&A: Furies GM Sami Jo Small on weed, co-founding CWHL, more

    Q&A: Furies GM Sami Jo Small on weed, co-founding CWHL, more


    TORONTO — Sami Jo Small makes no bones about it: She wasn’t getting much playing time last season as the third-string goalie for the Toronto Furies, so she decided to become the team’s GM. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League got underway last...

    TORONTO — Sami Jo Small makes no bones about it: She wasn’t getting much playing time last season as the third-string goalie for the Toronto Furies, so she decided to become the team’s GM.

    The Canadian Women’s Hockey League got underway last weekend, and ahead of Toronto’s first win — a 3-1 victory on Wednesday night against the visiting Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays (all the way from China!) — Sportsnet caught up with the Furies’ recently installed GM.

    A two-time Olympic gold medallist who co-founded the CWHL back in 2007, Small talks about her new job (she likes it), the possibility of one women’s pro league in North America (the American-based National Women’s Hockey League is the other), her desire to play (it’s high) and the legalization of cannabis (obviously).

    SPORTSNET: How’s the GM role going?

    SMALL: It’s different, but I love it. When I first helped start the CWHL, we did a lot on the administrative side of things, and I really enjoyed it. I did my coaching levels through Hockey Canada and I realized that wasn’t my future. I don’t really care if we win or lose.

    Seriously?

    Yes, when it comes to passion behind the bench, I just don’t have it. But I do love Excel spreadsheets. Having been with the organization for 20 years, I’ve seen so many best practices and so many things I felt like I could bring to the organization. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, because I wanted to keep playing, but they were never playing me, so it wasn’t really an option. [Laughs] Rather than retire, I just moved into this position.

    Do you care about winning and losing as a GM?

    I don’t really care if we win or lose. I want us to be competitive, I want it to be a great fan experience. I want more bums in the seats, I want more sponsorship dollars. Those are my echelons I’m looking to achieve. I hired a coaching staff and I expect them to want to win, and I expect them to do everything they can to allow the girls to be successful.

    Weed became legal today. Did you bring it up in the dressing room?

    That’s funny. My 75-year-old father was talking to me about it today — he and his golf buddies all want to try it. But I don’t know that that’s something we’d bring into the dressing room. Most of the athletes have either been with the national team or they’re pursuing national team aspirations, so they have a different mindset than probably most. They’re adults at this point. Even when it comes to alcohol on the road, it’s up to them — we don’t mandate that. But if you’re not prepared to play, then you won’t play. If you want to have a couple beers with dinner, that’s OK. We usually play pretty late into the night and then our next game is early the next morning. And then you have to go back to work Monday morning, so if you are partying you might not also have a job. [Laughs]

    The other big recent news is there was talk about the CWHL and NWHL merging, that commissioners of both leagues are working to this end.

    It didn’t surprise me. I feel like that’s what the two commissioners have been trying to work towards, even with Brenda [Andress, the CWHL’s former commissioner] recently. The difficulty will be with them hashing out business models. Dani [Rylan, the NWHL commissioner] is an entrepreneur and she has a business. We have a board of directors and are governed by that in a not-for-profit. It’s like combining a charity like Right To Play with a for-profit entity and telling them they have to come together. There probably is a solution. I’m not necessarily the business guru to know how to accomplish that, satisfying [Rylan’s] investors as well as our board of directors. I’m sure that they can figure it out at some point.

    It seems like a no-brainer, to have all the best players in the world in one league. But these two leagues are so different.

    They are. From our standpoint, the CWHL was always about an all-for-one mentality. When they started the NWHL, it was as a business. I always felt they had different end goals in mind. As they make it into one league, Dani as an entrepreneur will have to start a new business, and same with our board. It would be a new entity altogether.

    That’s what Gary Bettman has been talking about, isn’t it? A brand-new pro women’s league.

    When we met with Gary, back in 2009 or 2010, he had a lot of really positive things to say to us. That’s why we put a team in Boston. He wanted us to align with those individual NHL club teams that were there, which is what we started to do. And then the NWHL came along, and I think they brought some incredible things with them, like social media, marketing, they have a big push behind them and were able to pay the players. And while we weren’t really ready for that I think it really pushed us in that direction as well. [The CWHL started paying its players last season.] While the NWHL may from the outside be perceived as a thorn in the side of the CWHL, really I think it pushed both leagues to be better and really pushed the envelope. And now we are where we are, and have to figure out how to make it work. We want the best for the top players in the world, whatever it looks like — the CWHL is prepared to do that.

    What were those first conversations like when you were starting the CWHL?

    It was emails initially, when the owners of the previous teams told us there would be no teams. That was May of 2007 — the owners decided to step away from the table for one year. We as players, we’re national team members on different teams, we had to do something. We thought: Can we do this ourselves? Our first investor and chairman of the board was this guy Michael Salamon. One of our players, Mandy Cronin, just happened to be in a ball hockey tournament with him and was telling him the saga, and he’s like, “Can I help?” He worked at Birch Hill Equity, and we started to meet at his offices every week to devise a business plan. He struck the first board of directors, he got somebody from legal for us, somebody from Deloitte. He knew the right people. He came up with our first policies. It was kind of like a mini MBA for those of us involved. Cassie [Campbell] was like, “Well, I’m a Scotiabank athlete, let’s ask Scotiabank.” But how do you even go into a sponsorship meeting? It was definitely trial by fire that first summer, and we met every week. The first weekend of games was just all over the place. Teams had to drive up in vans, because we didn’t even know if we had insurance on buses.

    What was your first game like?

    We were in Mississauga. The very first game, I played as a goalie. I stepped off the ice between periods and I went to the front ticket sales people, who were two of my buddies that were working the gate, and I was like, “I need the cash because I need to pay the referees.” I then walked around in my half-gear to the referees and paid them. Then I walked back through the crowd and came back in [the dressing room]. It was whatever you did to make it work. And we had this policy that if the refs didn’t show up because the schedule didn’t work out, that two players had to ref. So I had to ref one of the games when I was a backup goalie.

    Starting a league is tougher than it looks…

    People were very hard on Dani when she first started [the NWHL, in 2015]. One of the things I said to her is that we went through all those growing pains, and even more. The biggest difference though is that we were not being paid, so the expectations were very low. We’re all just volunteers. They had a solid business plan from the get-go — we did not have that. But because of Michael Salamon and the board, we devised this plan to have one central pot of money so we all got equal share. It was the first time I think not only in our sport, but in professional sport, that teams fundraised together. Everybody had the same, two practices a week, 30-game schedule, that’s what we tried to create. It’s slowly built into what we have now. The mandate is that there be a great product on the ice, and that the league not fail. And we’ve met it. We set the bar low so that we could always exceed it. [Laughs]

    The league expanded into China last season, which obviously presents a challenge when it comes to travel. But what are the positives for your team that come with that expansion?

    I think it pushes all of us to be better. We came into the weekend [against Shenzhen] thinking that they’re going to play their North American players a lot, so they’re going to be tired by the third and that’s when we’ll pounce. But they did not get tired. Clearly they’ve been training together for three months up until now, and they always had a man open and knew where each other were. That’s hard to compete against, but it forces us to be better. Knowing that, coming into the season, I added another night of ice time for us. Through the CWHL we get two nights of ice paid for, and I felt that wasn’t enough for us to be able to keep up. We now practise Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, every week.

    Who’s paying for that extra ice time?

    To offset the cost of the extra practice, I do adult women’s rec hockey nights. Women pay $50 and they come and skate with the Furies, have a skills night with the team. We had 18 women show up to the first one last week, and it generates a lot of revenue for us to be able to pay for that extra ice. We made $900 last week.

    What age and skill range did you draw?

    We had women age 21 to 60, and it was pretty rec. Some were good but lots were newer to the game. They got to change in our dressing room and wear our practice jerseys and they were taking pictures of themselves in the stalls, and they wanted to sit in certain stalls. I feel like that will be huge for us going forward, is that women’s rec community. It’s getting extra money, and from the people that care the most. People think our fan base is little kids. They are certainly our fans, but they’re so busy on weekends. They can’t really come out to our games, but the adult rec female hockey player can. They can have beers with their buddies and watch these games.

    If there’s a rash of injuries to your goalies, are you getting between the pipes? Do you have your gear with you?

    [Laughs] I always have my equipment with me, and secretly want the goalies to get hurt. No, totally joking. I went and got three really good goalies, so I have three solid goalies, and I feel like they’re going to play in front of me all the time. I just put myself as a fourth person on the list, just in case. In my mind, I haven’t retired. I feel like I’m coming back to play, but the reality is I’m 42. Maybe I’ll come back at 55.

    Tape to Tape Podcast: How Karlsson’s departure transformed the Senators

    Tape to Tape Podcast: How Karlsson’s departure transformed the Senators


    Ryan and Rory praise the New Jersey Devils for continuing to make all their doubters look foolish, answer questions from the Sportsnet newsroom in a rousing game of ‘Would You Rather?’ and are joined by Wayne Scanlan to explain how Erik Karlsson’s...

    Ryan and Rory praise the New Jersey Devils for continuing to make all their doubters look foolish, answer questions from the Sportsnet newsroom in a rousing game of ‘Would You Rather?’ and are joined by Wayne Scanlan to explain how Erik Karlsson’s departure has transformed the Ottawa Senators dressing room for the better and how important it is for Ottawa to ink pending UFAs Mark Stone and Matt Duchene.

    Champagne-covered Vazquez praises Price’s performance

    Champagne-covered Vazquez praises Price’s performance


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    Oilers gaining confidence after impressive win over Bruins

    Oilers gaining confidence after impressive win over Bruins


    EDMONTON — When the start didn’t come off the way it was drawn up, the goaltender came to the rescue, carrying the Edmonton Oilers out of a scoreless first period. When a defenceman went down early, four others stepped up, each playing more than 23...

    EDMONTON — When the start didn’t come off the way it was drawn up, the goaltender came to the rescue, carrying the Edmonton Oilers out of a scoreless first period.

    When a defenceman went down early, four others stepped up, each playing more than 23 minutes. The penalty kill overcame all three shortages it faced, and the power play got one in the third period to break open a tie.

    All are routine happenings in the hockey world. Or, at least, routine for good teams.

    It has not been routine in Edmonton, for some time. Nor have home-ice wins like this one, a 3-2 overtime win over the Boston Bruins and Edmonton’s third straight W. Also sighted Thursday night at Rogers Arena, another rare bird not seen often in these parts of late:

    Confidence.

    “Last year was so frustrating,” began centre Ryan Strome. “Now, we knew were going to win this game. I knew we were going to win tonight. First game at home, after a win like that (in Winnipeg), there’s no way we’re going to have a letdown.”

    The Oilers opened their season with a pair of losses, squeaked out a 2-1 win at Madison Square Garden, and then stunned the Winnipeg Jets 5-4 in overtime after overcoming a 4-1 deficit. They returned to Rogers Place for the latest home opener in team history (barring a lockout), and waiting there for them was a litany of opponents that began with Boston, before visits from Nashville, Pittsburgh and Washington.

    No one gets any schedule sympathy — every team will have their ugly stretch this season. But geez, this one was fairly indecent for a team that choked last season and was/is under major pressure to turn this thing around in 2018-19.

    After an 0-2 start, this morning the Oilers are 3-2. Crisis averted.

    “After that last game, coming back the way we did, we’re building a little bit,” said goalie Cam Talbot, who so far looks like he’s heading towards a bounce-back season. “Tonight, that’s a huge win against another good team. That’s a team that was at the top of the league last year, so we’re building confidence, building momentum in this room. Just trying to keep it going.”

    Edmonton was 19-18-4 on home ice last season. Only seven teams had less than Edmonton’s 32 home-ice points, and on special teams, well, dead last in penalty kill and bottom third in power play does not a playoff team make.

    They’re still a bit of a one-man team offensively — OK, more than a bit — with Connor McDavid assisting on Leon Draisaitl’s OT winner after a slick, bait-and-switch defensive play. McDavid had two more assists for 11 points in five games, but Draisaitl scored a big one, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins buried his second on the power play, and rookie Kailer Yamamoto scored his first NHL goal.

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    “Felt even better than I thought it would,” said Yamamoto, who spun on Charlie McAvoy and burned him to the net, sniping a lovely shot over Jaro Halak’s shoulder. His mind went blank when that puck went in, his first big-league goal after a lifetime of dreaming.

    “A hundred per cent. When I scored I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I was a little nervous, I’m not going to lie. I scored and I was thinking, ‘OK, what do I do now?’”

    That bit of support scoring was buttressed by one of the best nights this oft-maligned blue line has seen. Matt Benning played just 2:27 before leaving the game with an injury, and 19-year-old Evan Bouchard was playing career game No. 4.

    That left the heavy lifting to Darnell Nurse (27:39), Oscar Klefbom (28:04), Adam Larsson (23:17) and a quietly steady Kris Russell (23:11).

    “It was a tough night for them but they gave us some pretty brave minutes the five of them,” said head coach Todd McLellan. “Once we got going and got skating and supported puck movement we were a lot better, but without Cam’s performance in the first period we don’t get a chance to come back.”

    This one ended the way so many do when the Oilers get to OT. McDavid, to Draisaitl, to the goal horn sounding.

    McDavid saw Patrice Bergeron heading for a breakaway pass and dropped back to the neutral zone. It looked like he left Bergeron open just enough to entice a pass from Brad Marchand, then easily picked off the pass, turned up ice, walked past Marchand and fed Draisaitl for the winner.

    “I tried to throw sauce on that,” lamented Marchand, who had a fabulous game, dangerous all night long. “I saw Bergy going. Obviously I should have thrown it a little harder. I saw Bergy, I didn’t really know how close McDavid was.”

    Too close, as it turned out.

    As it always seems to turn out, with McDavid.

    David Price: One of the most special nights I’ve ever had

    David Price: One of the most special nights I’ve ever had


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    Cora happy that Price was able to prove doubters wrong

    Cora happy that Price was able to prove doubters wrong


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    Mitch Moreland says David Price ‘led the way’ for Red Sox

    Mitch Moreland says David Price ‘led the way’ for Red Sox


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    Maple Leafs’ dismantling by Penguins leaves ‘sour taste’

    Maple Leafs’ dismantling by Penguins leaves ‘sour taste’


    TORONTO – Throwback Thursday ushered the type of big-boy, no-nonsense hockey game that the Toronto Maple Leafs — an exhilarating group built on lightning speed and dangles for days — will need to solve once they crash head-on into another contender...

    TORONTO – Throwback Thursday ushered the type of big-boy, no-nonsense hockey game that the Toronto Maple Leafs — an exhilarating group built on lightning speed and dangles for days — will need to solve once they crash head-on into another contender for seven games straight.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins kicked off their four-game, cross-Canada tour by dismantling hockey’s hottest offence, snuffing out a handful of streaks in the process.

    In an airtight 3-0 affair that saw zero goals at even-strength (and two late into a desperate, empty home net), Toronto’s five-game run, Auston Matthews’ seven-game multi-point rip, and the Leafs’ power-play-scoring streak all got squashed by the winners of two of the past three Stanley Cups.

    “It’s not often you see our team get no goals,” coach Mike Babcock said. “You know, when you’re a good team and you’re playing good teams, there’s no room. That’s just the reality: it gets to be that there’s no room. You have to find a way to play your game within the no room.”

    Poised and punishing, the Penguins gave the Leafs their first glimpse of what they should expect come April.

    No time.

    No space.

    No second-chance opportunities.

    And no blowing leads.

    This meat-and-potatoes order of hockey? Pittsburgh gobbled it up and asked for a handful of fries smashed on top.

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    The Penguins out-hit the Leafs 30-21, outshot them 39-38, and out-shot-blocked them 22-7. They were more disciplined and more structured.

    “They were heavy,” fearless 209-pound checking winger Zach Hyman said, after the bleeding, literal and otherwise, had stopped.

    “They were a lot heavier than us. They were stronger than us. They had the puck more than us. They were a better team than us.”

    Somewhere, Lars Eller enjoyed the quiet smile of vindication.

    That Hyman — one of few Leafs built for a grind-it-out affair where victory seems to ride on every puck battle and box-out in the slot — felt overwhelmed is telling. He committed a tripping penalty, he was dumped to the ice by Jack Johnson, he got stoned in the crease by shutout-pitching Matt Murray, and he had his inner right eye socket sliced by a Jake Guenztel high-stick that slipped under his visor and out of the officials’ view. (Of course, Hyman returned, missing just a single shift as team doctors applied eight stitches and the equipment staff a longer Darth Helmet-esque super-visor for protection.)

    “Really scary. It’s right above my eye, so… lucky,” Hyman said of the nasty cut, which went unpenalized. “If they would’ve saw it, they would’ve called it. They apologized to me. It’s fine. It was away from where the puck was.”

    The one Leafs streak that did continue is a dubious one.

    Nazem Kadri, temporarily lost at C with the new one-two punch of Matthews and John Tavares, has now gone 12 consecutive games without scoring a goal, dating back to his 0-fer in April’s playoff series loss to Boston. (We’re not counting his fluke own-goal into the empty net.)

    It’s not for lack of effort. Kadri fired a team-best five shots, was on the ice for a team-high 36 shot attempts for, and his possession numbers were fantastic (76.7 per cent at 5-on-5), but Murray was stellar after spending 12 days recovering from his third career concussion, and kicked a leg out to deny Kadri at the doorstep.

    “You just try not to think about it too much,” Kadri said of his slump.

    “I know it’s going to come sooner or later. My game is never going to change. I still have the ability to go out there and play-make and set my teammates up. In return, those pucks are going to come my way.”

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    In a game with little tolerance for mistakes, Toronto’s most costly one arrived with a first-period too-many-men penalty that allowed Evgeni Malkin to zip a bad-angle shot past Frederik Andersen just six seconds into the man-advantage.

    That’s all the edge Mike Sullivan’s experts needed to squeeze the clamps. As the minutes ticked away, the contest resembled a child trying in vain to arm-wrestle his father.

    “It seemed like they were just calm, cool and collected out there. They didn’t run around; they just played smart. Didn’t force anything. They just made plays, and it seemed like they had us running around quite a bit,” said Matthews, contained for the first time all season, thanks largely to a dominant Sidney Crosby line.

    “We had a hard time getting on the inside.”

    In wake of this style of loss, Babcock heaped praise on the better side, and you’d have to assume that even a coach so addicted to winning will take some pleasure in using Thursday’s defeat as a teaching moment.

    “Especially on home ice, we want to take advantage of playing here and make it a tough place to play,” Tavares said.

    “It leaves a sour taste in your mouth.”

    Canucks PK struggles in sombre end to strong road trip

    Canucks PK struggles in sombre end to strong road trip


    WINNIPEG – The Vancouver Canucks stopped one period before their road trip did. After winning more games than anyone thought possible and learning a lot about themselves during nearly two weeks on the National Hockey League road, the Canucks ran into a...

    WINNIPEG – The Vancouver Canucks stopped one period before their road trip did.

    After winning more games than anyone thought possible and learning a lot about themselves during nearly two weeks on the National Hockey League road, the Canucks ran into a heavy, talented, overpowering reality check in the third period on Thursday. This is what a Stanley Cup favourite looks like.

    The Winnipeg Jets executed on their power play like they were playing video games and pumped in three third-period goals to beat the Canucks 4-1. At least before Vancouver’s six-game trip, the Canucks and Jets were believed to be at opposite ends of the NHL’s competitive spectrum.

    But for 43 minutes, after consecutive Vancouver wins in Tampa, Florida and Pittsburgh, after 17 periods over 12 nights, the Canucks were right there with the Jets. And then they weren’t.

    “We cracked, basically,” Canucks winger Antoine Roussel said. “That’s a pretty good road trip, but it sucks for the end of the game in this one. We could easily be 4-2 to be honest with you. I’m very disappointed with our third period. We gave a lot in the second period. We worked hard, we were on pucks. I thought we had our best second period I’ve seen maybe the whole season. Then we just let go of the rope.

    “We compete against a great team, a team that’s a (Stanley Cup) contender. So that’s encouraging for us. At the same time, we can’t piss away efforts like that when we’re so close.”

    Tape II Tape Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game. Listen Now | Subscribe | Boylen on Twitter | Dixon on Twitter

    Starting with Bryan Little’s power-play backhander at 4:58 of the third period, after the Jets centre sliced through the Canucks zone and turned defenceman Chris Tanev, the Jets scored three times in 10 minutes to win it going away.

    The Canucks simply looked overmatched in their own zone when Andrew Copp beat Erik Gudbranson to the front of the net to swat in a loose puck and make it 3-1 at 12:46, and Little found Dustin Byfuglien for a tap-in at 14:43.

    “That third period, we had that hunger out there and it didn’t stop,” Little said. “We kept pushing and that’s why we got rewarded with more goals.”

    Having blown a three-goal lead at home to lose 5-4 in overtime to the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, the Jets exerted their will on the Canucks in the final period Thursday. They are 4-2-1 through seven games – just one point ahead of 4-3-0 Vancouver.

    The Canucks went 3-3 on a road trip in which, honestly, the over/under on them for wins would have been about 1.5. And when Vancouver lost 5-3 two Tuesdays ago in Carolina to start the trip 0-2, it was was reasonable to wonder if they’d win any games.

    Then they swept Florida State for the first time since 2002 and, after leading scorer Elias Pettersson suffered a concussion on Saturday, went into Pittsburgh and beat the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin Penguins 3-2 in overtime on Tuesday.

    The Canucks gained a lot of confidence on this trip. They came as far figuratively and they did literally.

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    “I think every game we were ready to go,” veteran Brandon Sutter said. “Going into Tampa and Florida and winning both those games, then we went into Pittsburgh and right from the start of the game we were ready and were with them step for step. Those are three really good teams. Even tonight, we were with them for 50 minutes and it kind of got away from us in the last 10.

    “I liked our effort all the way through. First long road trip of the year is always a big one. We learned a lot about ourselves. When we’re doing the right things, we can play with anyone. We kind of showed that.”

    Gudbranson said: “Our compete level and our will to win really was not the thing that wavered here. Especially through this road trip, I think a lot of guys learned how committed the guy to the left and right of him is. It didn’t finish the way we (wanted) but I think we should keep our heads held high.”

    Actually, they better keep their heads down and keep working because they play the Boston Bruins Saturday at Rogers Arena in a game that, travel-wise, is like another roadie, before the Stanley Cup-champion Washington Capitals visit Vancouver on Monday. Then, the Canucks depart again for back-to-back road games against the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes.

    Bo Horvat scored the only Canucks’ goal Thursday, beating defenceman Jacob Trouba one-on-one and chipping the puck past Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck to tie it 1-1 at 12:54 of the second period. Blake Wheeler saucered a pass through two defenders and one teammate to tee up Patrik Laine’s power-play one-timer for Winnipeg at 18:56 of the first period.

    Missing Pettersson – the 19-year-old is making encouraging progress in his recovery from Florida defenceman Mike Matheson’s illegal body-slam – the Canucks scored fewer than three goals for the first time this season. And goalie Anders Nilsson, beaten four times on 32 shots, lost for the first time in four games since replacing Jacob Markstrom in net.

    “Sometimes momentum is hard to explain,” Roussel said. “But I felt we could have pushed harder. We’ve got to learn from it. We can not have too many games where we’re so close and … we let go (of) the rope.”

    Yamamoto goes top shelf on Halak for first NHL goal

    Yamamoto goes top shelf on Halak for first NHL goal


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    Maple Leafs’ Kadri accidentally scores own goal on empty net

    Maple Leafs’ Kadri accidentally scores own goal on empty net


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    Leafs-Penguins matchup doesn’t live up to offensive potential

    Leafs-Penguins matchup doesn’t live up to offensive potential


    TORONTO – Sidney Crosby didn’t concern himself with whether the Toronto Maple Leafs were throwing Auston Matthews or John Tavares over the boards against him. The Pittsburgh Penguins captain brought the same strategy to each of his shifts on Thursday...

    TORONTO – Sidney Crosby didn’t concern himself with whether the Toronto Maple Leafs were throwing Auston Matthews or John Tavares over the boards against him. The Pittsburgh Penguins captain brought the same strategy to each of his shifts on Thursday night.

    “We just wanted to hold on to the puck a little bit more,” said Crosby. “It’s a lot more fun playing that way and I think you can wear teams down playing that way, too. That plays to our strengths. I think our focus was just holding on to the puck and defending by playing in the offensive zone.”

    He didn’t even have to register a primary point to do damage against the Leafs.

    Matthews was plugged in his own zone while sharing the ice with No. 87, prompting Leafs coach Mike Babcock to adjust out of that matchup partway through a night where Pittsburgh enjoyed an 8-4 edge in shot attempts during the seven-plus minutes they battled 5-on-5.

    That was a key man to neutralize. Matthews opened the year with at least two points in each of Toronto’s seven games and didn’t sniff a “Grade A” chance in the eighth – a 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh that was dull, by the Penguins design.

    “If we play smart and we play right, we’ll beat any team in the league,” said Pittsburgh centre Evgeni Malkin. “We have a great experienced team, we know how to play tough games, we know how to play against skill teams. We showed tonight. We stopped Matthews. Finally he did not score, you know?

    “We deserved to win.”

    The differences were subtle, but important.

    Crosby also did well in his 3:36 against Tavares, with Pittsburgh enjoying a 7-1 edge in attempts, but that was an aberration. Toronto’s big free-agent splash had two or three dangerous looks against Penguins goalie Matt Murray and seemed to have some traction with linemates Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman.

    They just couldn’t quite break through.

    Malkin struck on one of Pittsburgh’s two power plays, surprising Frederik Andersen with a low-angle shot after Crosby won an offensive zone faceoff back to Kris Letang in the first period. Toronto only received one abbreviated opportunity with the man advantage and was unlucky not to get at least one more, with a Jake Guentzel high-stick that dangerously cut Hyman for eight stitches around the right eye going undetected.

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    Otherwise, two teams brimming with elite talent ground each other to a halt. There were virtually no odd-man rushes or big gaps to make skilled plays, and the Penguins seemed a little more comfortable playing in the trenches.

    “I think it’s the best game of the season so far for us,” said Malkin. “We played three periods against Matthews, Tavares; like we did a great job in the D-zone, too. We understand they’re skilled guys. We played physical, we played smart.”

    Added Crosby: “They’ve got a lot of offensive weapons there. I thought we did a great job of limiting their chances – I mean they’re going to get them, they’re a pretty highly skilled group – but we didn’t give them any freebies. We made them work for them.”

    Pittsburgh showed the Leafs respect at Scotiabank Arena. They’ve been no defensive marvel over the first two weeks of the season but buckled down with Murray returning from a three-game concussion absence against the NHL’s highest-scoring team.

    They are a group of scoring champions – Malkin and Crosby have each won the Art Ross Trophy twice – but they are three-time Stanley Cup champions because of their ability to bottle things up when necessary.

    “It seems like they were just calm, cool, collected out there,” said Matthews. “They didn’t run around, they just played smart and didn’t force anything and made plays. It seemed like they had us running around quite a bit.”

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    As cliché as it sounds, experience won out over exuberance.

    Crosby may have made the turn to the back nine of his playing career, but he’s not ceding anything to the young guns rocketing towards the upper echelon of the sport. He got the better of Matthews on a Thursday night in October while Murray made one fewer mistake than Andersen.

    “I think all victories you’ve got to earn. It was right there for us to find another step and get better and find a way to get on the inside a little more and they did a good job,” said Babcock. “They kept us from doing that. There’s a lesson learned in that. They’re a more veteran, polished, playoff team than we are.

    “It showed.”

    Duclair scores insanely skilled goal from his knees against Flyers

    Duclair scores insanely skilled goal from his knees against Flyers


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    CHL Power Rankings: Top 10 starts to the 2018-19 season

    CHL Power Rankings: Top 10 starts to the 2018-19 season


    Just about a month into the season it’s interesting to see who’s starting to separate themselves from the pack — not just individuals, but teams as well. The cyclical nature of the CHL often propels teams into the spotlight as they build from the...

    Just about a month into the season it’s interesting to see who’s starting to separate themselves from the pack — not just individuals, but teams as well.

    The cyclical nature of the CHL often propels teams into the spotlight as they build from the ground up. Prince Albert would be a perfect example of that in the WHL.

    From an individual standpoint, a summer can make all the difference in the world. Older players realize it might be their last chance to earn a pro contract, while younger players continue to grow, build strength, and gain confidence. Opportunity also comes into play – maybe last season a team was more veteran or star-laden and opportunities for younger players were scarce. With off-season trades and graduating players, doors open for those who didn’t previously have an opportunity. Peterborough goalie Hunter Jones would fit this example.

    Overall, here’s our list of the top 10 CHL starts to the 2018-19 season.

    Tape II Tape Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game. Listen Now | Subscribe | Boylen on Twitter | Dixon on Twitter

    10.) Victoria Royals (WHL): Never one to sit still, GM Cam Hope is masterful at manipulating his lineup on the fly. Over the past couple of seasons, he’s watched former head coach Dave Lowry move to the NHL, his right hand man Grant Armstrong move to Brandon, and several of his players move on to other locales, yet the Royals just keep on winning.

    The start of 2018-19 has been no different. Hope remains an astute talent evaluator with a winning vision. A few key pieces have remained such as Dante Hannoun, Ralph Jarratt, Scott Walford and Griffen Outhouse, all of whom have performed to expected levels. What’s most amazing about the Royals’ fast start is they have no scorers in the league’s top 20 and just one defenceman (Jarratt) inside the league’s top 20 for scoring at the position.

    A balanced attack, the ability to win close games (five one-goal wins), and stymying defence allowed the Royals to start the season with seven straight wins before dropping a 3-2 decision to Vancouver Sunday.

    9.) Emile Samson (Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL): When then-GM/head coach Joel Bouchard released the experienced Francis Leclerc in favour of the diminutive Samson last season, people wondered how the move would work out. A year ago, the 5-foot-8, 142-pound netminder rode a 15-game undefeated streak in regulation time all the way to the President Cup final. This year Samson is up to his old tricks and is amongst the league leaders with a 2.21 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. He’s played in eight of the Armada’s nine games to date with a 4-2-1-0 record.

    8.) Dmitry Zavgorodniy (Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL): The 18-year-old Russian winger was selected 198th overall by Calgary in the 2018 NHL Draft. He’s already amassed seven multi-point games, including two four-point efforts in pacing the Oceanic scoring attack.

    At 5-foot-9, 169 pounds, Zavgorodniy has become a favourite of head coach/GM Serge Beausoleil for his speed, stick and shooting skills. While a 26.9 shooting percentage is unlikely to stay with him all season, he did put up 26 goals last year. Impressively, 12 of his 19 points have come at even strength, and most of that has been apart from young sensation Alexis Lafreniere.

    7.) Hunter Jones (Peterborough Petes, OHL): Jones has the Petes off to an East-leading 8-2 start. He leads the OHL in wins, minutes and save percentage (.936) and is ranked second in GAA (2.22). Getting into 15 games last year mentoring under Edmonton prospect Dylan Wells enabled Jones to step right in as the Petes’ No. 1 this season. His experiences include representing his country at the World Junior A Challenge and the U-17s.

    With the size NHL scouts are looking for (6-foot-3, 194 pounds), Jones should be one of the top goalies selected in the 2019 NHL Draft. Not bad for a fifth round OHL Priority selection.

    Peterborough’s Hunter Jones. (CHL Images)

    6.) Ryan Suzkuki (Barrie Colts, OHL): After posting a respectable 44 points last year, the younger brother of Montreal prospect Nick is on pace to shatter that mark. Through Barrie’s first 10 games, Suzuki has four goals for 18 points. Expected to go in the top half of the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft, Suzuki is the centrepiece of Barrie’s offence. He’s quickly building a reputation as a pass-first player, but there’s no doubt coach Dale Hawerchuk would like to see him be a little more selfish and shoot the puck more often.

    5.) Cody Glass (Portland Winterhawks, WHL): A late return from Vegas camp didn’t seem to phase the soft-spoken Glass, who has been nothing short of remarkable in his first seven games. Glass currently sits tied for third in WHL scoring with 18 points, but has played at least two fewer games than those ahead of him. He has put up three or more points in five of the seven games, with at least a point in each one.

    31 Thoughts: The Podcast A weekly deep dive into the biggest hockey news in the world with hosts Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek. New episodes every Thursday. Apple Podcasts | Podcatchers | Listen Now

    4.) Ian Scott (Prince Albert Raiders, WHL): It’s been fascinating to watch the progression of this young man from being the ninth overall bantam pick, going through Hockey Canada’s program of excellence, and developing into a true No. 1 for Prince Albert. Starting from the middle of February, Scott has elevated his game to an elite level. His start this season has propelled the Prince Albert Raiders to No. 1 in the KIA CHL Top 10. Scott leads the league in wins, minutes, is second in goals-against and tied for second with a .943 save percentage.

    3.) Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL): When considering the powerhouse teams for the 2018-19 QMJHL season, most would’ve pointed to Halifax, Drummondville and Rimouski. Some may have said Baie- Comeau, maybe Charlottetown, but not many people would’ve suggested Rouyn-Noranda.

    Three years removed from a President Cup, the Huskies are back thanks to a couple of holdovers from that magical 2016 run. Through 10 games this season, their only blemish is a 3-1 loss to Gatineau, thanks to a 48-save effort from Tristan Berube. The Huskies’ power play is up over 30 per cent, the PK has five shorthanded goals, and Peter Abbandonato leads the league with 20 points. New head coach and GM Mario Pouliot is fresh off a Memorial Cup win with Acadie-Bathurst, and his no-nonsense approach has fit well with the Huskies.

    2.) Jason Robertson (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL): Over the course of his CHL career, the Dallas prospect has lit the lamp 114 times in 200 games. With a depleted lineup around him compared to years past, Robertson is being given ample opportunity to put Kingston on his back. Having said that, he’s also the opposition’s key focal point and continuously draws the toughest defenders, which makes his 13 goals through 10 games so impressive.

    He’s been held without a goal just twice through Kingston’s first 10 games, with two hat-tricks already in the books. Like many natural goal-scorers he has the ability to find open areas on the ice, and when he gets the opportunity, he doesn’t miss. Robertson possesses an NHL-ready shot and release.

    1.) Brett Leason (Prince Albert Raiders, WHL): Acquired from Tri-City a year ago, Leason has turned out to be a diamond in the rough for the Raiders. The 6-foot-4 right winger has lit up the WHL with a CHL-leading 2.17 points per game pace (amongst qualifiers with eight-plus games played). Each of his past five games have been multi-point efforts, and through the Raiders’ first 11 games Leason has not been held off the score sheet. A career-high 32 points last season is likely to be surpassed before Halloween. Leason’s plus-19 rating is also best amongst all CHL players.

    Senators’ Duchene, wife use Halloween costume to announce pregnancy

    Senators’ Duchene, wife use Halloween costume to announce pregnancy


    Ottawa Senators forward Matt Duchene and his wife Ashley are expecting their first child and the couple was creative in how they made the announcement. The Senators are off to a better-than-expected 3-2-1 start and on Wednesday night they did some team...

    Ottawa Senators forward Matt Duchene and his wife Ashley are expecting their first child and the couple was creative in how they made the announcement.

    The Senators are off to a better-than-expected 3-2-1 start and on Wednesday night they did some team bonding with an early Halloween party.

    The couple dressed as skeletons and Ashley’s costume featured a baby skeleton on her midsection to indicate that she’s pregnant. Duchene, 27, posted the photo below to his social media channels to make the news public.

    View this post on Instagram

    I guess this is how we’re announcing it… Happy (early) Halloween from the three of us! #ComingInJanuary

    A post shared by Matt Duchene (@matt9duchene) on Oct 18, 2018 at 12:06pm PDT

    Senators head coach Guy Boucher was asked about his team’s party after Thursday’s practice.

    “I saw a few of those pictures, yeah,” Boucher said with a chuckle. “There were some quite funny ones in there. They really had some fun. Those moments are really important. They’ve given everything they got since the beginning and they’re responding in all the right ways, and so when they asked me to push practice back so that they would have everybody stay [at the party] long enough to create those funny moments, those relationships, that chemistry, instead of just showing up [for] one hour and leaving … I was real happy to do so. When they give, I give.”

    The @Senators got #HockeyHalloween started early and we are so here for it. pic.twitter.com/al9tlh1EP0

    — NHL (@NHL) October 18, 2018

    Ottawa is coming off back-to-back victories over the Kings and Stars, winning those games by a combined score of 9-2, and is preparing for a Saturday showdown at home against the Canadiens.

    31 Thoughts Podcast: Marijuana and sports

    31 Thoughts Podcast: Marijuana and sports


    Jeff and Elliotte discuss Canada’s legalization of marijuana and how it might impact pro sports and larger society, as well as the NHL’s stance on the subject. Former NHLer and co-founder of Athletes For CARE (athletesforcare.org) Riley Cote joins...

    Jeff and Elliotte discuss Canada’s legalization of marijuana and how it might impact pro sports and larger society, as well as the NHL’s stance on the subject. Former NHLer and co-founder of Athletes For CARE (athletesforcare.org) Riley Cote joins the show to talk about his advocacy for weed and his usage while playing. Also, Connor McDavid is carrying the Oilers on his back, Auston Matthews is making history and what it really means that Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas went to Switzerland to further negotiations with RFA William Nylander. All of that plus #Ask31.

    31 Thoughts: The Podcast is presented by the GMC Sierra Denali. GMC — we are professional grade. www.gmccanada.ca.

    Outro Song: Mike Edel – 31

    Concert dates available here: http://www.mikeedel.com

    This episode was produced by Amil Delic.

    Audio Credits: CBC, CHED, Edmonton Oilers and Sportsnet.

    The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the hosts and guests and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rogers Media Inc. or any affiliate.

    Flames’ Gaudreau ‘feeling no significant effects’ from McAvoy hit

    Flames’ Gaudreau ‘feeling no significant effects’ from McAvoy hit


    Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau is “feeling no significant effects” of Wednesday night’s hit from Boston Bruins defenceman Charlie McAvoy, according to Sportsnet’s Eric Francis. In addition, McAvoy will not face any discipline from the NHL...

    Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau is “feeling no significant effects” of Wednesday night’s hit from Boston Bruins defenceman Charlie McAvoy, according to Sportsnet’s Eric Francis.

    In addition, McAvoy will not face any discipline from the NHL for the hit.

    Update: #Flames fans can breathe easy as Johnny Gaudreau is fine and feeling no significant effects of the hit by Charlie McAvoy that prompted concussion spotters to remove him from the game last night. League will not discipline McAvoy. Case closed, even if debate continues. https://t.co/PU0FWG2R6G

    — Eric Francis (@EricFrancis) October 18, 2018

    Gaudreau left Wednesday night’s game mid-way through the third period after taking an unsuspecting hit from McAvoy following a failed break-away attempt on Tuukka Rask. McAvoy received a two-minute minor for interference, and the Flames forward played more than a minute of the ensuing power play before a concussion spotter removed Gaudreau from the contest.

    Debate raged in the aftermath of the hit over whether or not McAvoy should receive supplemental discipline for the hit, especially in the wake of Mike Matheson‘s suspension for a body slam of Vancouver Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson last weekend.

    However, it appears McAvoy will go unpunished, a decision that will sit a little better with Flames fans given the health of their diminutive star.

    William Nylander practising this week with Austrian hockey team

    William Nylander practising this week with Austrian hockey team


    William Nylander has started practising with Austrian team Dornbirner EC while waiting out his contract impasse with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Sportsnet has learned. The 22-year-old winger was on the ice with the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga team on...

    William Nylander has started practising with Austrian team Dornbirner EC while waiting out his contract impasse with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Sportsnet has learned.

    The 22-year-old winger was on the ice with the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga team on Wednesday and Thursday and is expected to be at practice again on Friday. His plans beyond that are unknown to the team, according to head coach Dave MacQueen.

    Nylander’s connection to Dornbirn came through his sister Jacquline Nylander Altelius, a WTA player who trains at the tennis centre adjacent to the arena. Nylander did an off-ice workout at that facility before skating with a team that includes 11 North American players, according to MacQueen.

    He’s been welcomed with open arms by members of the Bulldogs and their veteran coach, who spent 15 seasons in the OHL with Peterborough, Erie and Sarnia and another two years as an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning before heading to Austria.

    “My GM ran it by me and it took all of about three seconds to say ‘absolutely,’” MacQueen wrote in an email to Sportsnet.

    Dornbirn is about a 90-minute drive from Zurich, where Nylander and his camp is believed to have sat down with Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas on Wednesday. It’s not known if that face-to-face meeting produced any progress in stalled negotiations which have kept the player away from Toronto throughout training camp and the first two weeks of the regular season.

    Prior to this week, Nylander had been skating back home in central Stockholm with skills coach Jocke Ahlgren.

     

    View this post on Instagram

     

    Balance , edge and moving feet’s Missa inte Arvika på höstlovet anmäl dig idag #jrmskatesandskills #jrmskatesandskillsontour #thereisonlyoneoriginal #hockeyshot #madeofhockey #coach #hockey#hockeyplayer #hockeylife #хоккей #williamnylander #toronto #mapleleafs #nhl#ahl#khl#shl#del #skate#skills#development #bodycontrol @joachim_19 @jrm_mike @jrm_ragge @hockeyshotstore @mrhockeygear @arvikahc @arvikahc04 @ccmhockeysverige @hockeynews.se @howtohockey @farjestad_bk @tydanblades @per_ledin_97 @rncbyscience

    A post shared by JRM Skates And Skills (@jrm.skatesandskills) on Oct 10, 2018 at 12:57am PDT

    Nylander was an eighth overall pick by the Leafs in 2014 and is coming off consecutive 61-point seasons. He had been hoping to land a long-term contract coming out of his entry-level deal but might have to settle for a shorter bridge because of the gap in talks.

    The Leafs are 6-1-0 heading into Thursday’s game with Pittsburgh and have produced a NHL-best 4.71 goals per game. Nylander has kept in touch with Toronto teammates by text during his absence and continues to skate in his Leafs gear but isn’t eager to offer up any hometown discounts.

    “In the end I have to take care of myself and do what I and my agent thinks is right,” Nylander told Aftonbladet in Swedish on Oct. 4. “Especially if it’s about several years to come. I need to think long term. It’s my own future it’s about.”

    Meet Eamon McAdam, the Maple Leafs’ surprise emergency goalie

    Meet Eamon McAdam, the Maple Leafs’ surprise emergency goalie


    TORONTO – Eamon McAdam had to pause his FaceTime session with one of his hockey-loving buddies from back home in Perkasie, Pa., when his phone alit with an incoming call from Mike Dixon at 11:30 a.m. Monday morning. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ director...

    TORONTO – Eamon McAdam had to pause his FaceTime session with one of his hockey-loving buddies from back home in Perkasie, Pa., when his phone alit with an incoming call from Mike Dixon at 11:30 a.m. Monday morning.

    The Toronto Maple Leafs’ director of minor league operations needed to let the ECHL goaltender know that his promotion just got a promotion.

    McAdam, who was rated sixth on the organization’s depth chart, was going from the farm team’s farm team to the big time overnight.

    With Leafs starter Frederik Andersen tweaking his knee Saturday in Washington and the swelling persisting, backup Garret Sparks was tasked on short notice with a start versus Los Angeles, and McAdam was recalled from St. John’s on an emergency basis.

    "It was a whirlwind for sure," smiles McAdam, who couldn’t wait to flip back to his FaceTime session and relay the giddy news. "I quickly told him, then called my mom and dad. I almost gave them a heart attack.

    "It caught me by surprise, but it was really cool. Bright-eyed and bushytailed is the perfect phrase. I couldn’t get the smile off my face. Just an unbelievable experience all around. The team did really well, and it was a fun game to watch."

    Play the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool! Play the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool for your chance to score big with over $30,000 worth of prizes to be awarded!

    The ravaging of the Maple Leafs’ once-rich goaltending well over the past two weeks shows just of how fast things can shift.

    NHL-calibre netminders Curtis McElhinny (Carolina) and Calvin Pickard (Philadelphia) were both scooped off the waiver wire when the Leafs made their final roster cuts out of training camp.

    "Good for Mac. Good for Pick. Too bad for our depth," coach Mike Babcock summed up at the time.

    The situation grew more dire once new Marlies No. 1 Kasimir Kaskisuo fell victim to a serious lower-body injury that will keep him sidelined "longer-term," according to Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe.

    Babcock assured that Andersen is healthy enough to start Thursday at Scotiabank Arena versus Pittsburgh (the Penguins’ No. 1, Matt Murray, is also returning from injury), but Andersen did not speak to reporters Thursday and when he spoke Tuesday, after leaving practice early, the goalie expressed concern about managing swelling and movement.

    Babcock updating Andersen's health: "What did Freddy say?"
    Reporter: "We'll see for Thursday."
    Babcock: "We'll see for Thursday."

    — luke fox (@lukefoxjukebox) October 16, 2018

    When he’s not holding summits with RFA William Nylander in Switzerland, Leafs GM Kyle Dubas is poking around the market to bolster his goaltending. The belief is that when Philly’s Michal Neuvirth and Carolina’s Scott Darling come off IR for their respective clubs, Pickard or McElhinney could reappear on the waiver wire, in which case Toronto would have first dibs. (Another possibility in the Hurricanes’ Peter Mrazek, whom Babcock coached in Detroit and memorably chose as his No. 1 over Jimmy Howard for a spell.)

    "I’m pretty comfortable," Babcock said of the Leafs’ net depth. "The one thing about the league is, things all kinda settle out over time. Usually goalies become available. I’m comfortable with Sparks’ second game [Monday’s 4-1 win over L.A.] and how he’s started at practice, so that’s a real good thing."

    Albeit minor, Andersen’s injury has put everyone on notice. On the flip side, it granted McAdam — a seemingly inconsequential piece of this summer’s Matt Martin salary-dump trade with the Islanders — with 48 hours he’ll never forget.

    You gotta love an emergency backup goalie tale.

    Coincidentally, the first professional hockey game McAdam had ever seen live was in the same Bay Street building he rushed to Monday.

    "I watched the Leafs play the Sens when I was a kid. We were visiting friends. So it’s kind of a weird coincidence that this is the first place I got to dress for a game as well," McAdam says. "Pretty crazy."

    For his NHL roster debut, the 24-year-old was handed a sweater stitched with 60, a number previously only worn by one warm body in 101 years of Maple Leafs lore: Carlton the Bear.

    McAdam chuckles when we tell him he was wearing the same sweater as the polar bear high-fiving kids in the stands.

    "In unique company," McAdam laughs. "I’ve worn a million numbers. I usually switch every team I go to, actually. I like changing it up. They just threw this to me. I’m 50 with the Marlies and I’m 35 down in St. John’s, so I’m all over the map."

    Eamon McAdam will wear #60 for the Maple Leafs…. wait? Isn’t that number taken ??? pic.twitter.com/qNTBv3OWyQ

    — Leafs Society (@LeafsSociety) October 15, 2018

    After winning his Newfoundland Growlers debut and stopping the first half-dozen shots he faced from the NHL’s hottest forwards during Monday’s warm-up, McAdam — a .910 goalie for the Worcester Railers last season — was feeling himself.

    "‘Oh, this is easy. I’m gonna be great,’" he thought. "Then I jumped into the half-moon and let in four out of four. Tavares scored on me. A couple other guys just ripped them by me. All right, there’s reality."

    As he speaks, McAdam is seemingly still riding an emotional wave. Auston Matthews leaned on him to win a fun bet with Jake Gardiner at Tuesday’s practice, and a room full of established NHLers made a point of making him feel at ease.

    "Early on in practice, I was getting torched pretty good. I had to adjust to the pace. It takes a couple minutes to seeing these releases and just the quality of players that are here," McAdam says. "It’s been a really smooth experience. There’s a lot of really good guys in this group you can tell by how many guys reached out and made me feel at home a bit."

    The irony is, neither the Leafs nor McAdam is hoping the longshot sees any actual NHL action in the coming weeks.

    "I calmed myself down enough that I would’ve been level-headed enough to go in if I had to, but you never want to wish you’re going in. You want the team to win, and you never wish injuries on anyone," McAdam says.

    "I have to wait for my moment, but it was a step in the right direction — a cool way to get the first one under the belt."

    Canadiens focused on turning hot start into a winning culture

    Canadiens focused on turning hot start into a winning culture


    BROSSARD, Que.,–The Montreal Canadiens skated the ice into oblivion at their south-shore practice facility on Thursday. Nothing a good Zamboni job won’t fix, but we’re bringing it up because they didn’t necessarily have to do that. With nearly...

    BROSSARD, Que.,–The Montreal Canadiens skated the ice into oblivion at their south-shore practice facility on Thursday.

    Nothing a good Zamboni job won’t fix, but we’re bringing it up because they didn’t necessarily have to do that. With nearly three full days to spare between Wednesday night’s 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues and this coming Saturday’s game against the Ottawa Senators, it would have been understandable if the Canadiens took Thursday off. They had earned it by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings and Blues in succession.

    Instead they pushed through a one-hour practice at warp speed, with the intensity ratcheting up from drill to drill.

    It ended with some wind sprints, which followed a three-on-three sequence in close quarters.

    A drill that encourages playing fast pic.twitter.com/o3JwwnIrE4

    — Eric Engels (@EricEngels) October 18, 2018

    When you talk about “creating a winning culture”—and the Canadiens have been putting those four words together a lot since they opened training camp in September—this is what it’s about.

    “We’re here to work,” said forward Phillip Danault. “No matter where we are [in the standings], we’re having fun. But when we come to the rink, it’s business time. We’re here to get better as a team. Obviously we saw it today—we had a big win yesterday and we’re back at the rink, even if we could’ve had a day off.”

    Tomas Tatar, Tomas Plekanec and Paul Byron opted for treatments, taking an opportunity to rest and heal whatever wounds have accumulated over the last month.

    But everyone else, sick or banged up, was participating on Thursday.

    That included 20-year-old defenceman Victor Mete, who missed Wednesday’s game after a shot in Monday’s win over Detroit hit him in the same part of the hand he broke late last season.

    “It’s really sore,” Mete said before adding, “but it’s strong, and I didn’t want to miss anything.”

    A glimpse of Karl Alzner skating in his spot against St. Louis was enough to bring Mete back to the ice in a hurry.

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    The internal competition that’s taken hold has undoubtedly contributed greatly to Montreal’s (unexpected) 4-1-1 start to the season. Alzner, who signed a five-year, $23.125-million contract just a year ago, was scratched for the first five games. Plekanec had to sit for three games before getting a chance to play games 999, 1000 and 1001 of his career. Matthew Peca, who signed a two-year, $2.6 million contract this past summer, played three mediocre games to start the season and was scratched from Montreal’s fourth.

    Don’t be surprised if Charles Hudon, who accumulated points in consecutive games from Montreal’s fourth line, is the odd man out on Saturday after two penalties taken in the win over St. Louis nearly cost his team points in the standings.

    “We’re all pushing each other,” said Nicolas Deslauriers, who will fight to take his job back when he returns next week from a facial fracture suffered in exhibition. “That’s what good teams do.”

    Good teams also don’t rest on their laurels when things are going well.

    It’s why when Canadiens coach Claude Julien was asked after Wednesday’s game what he was most proud of with regards to his team’s hot start, he replied, “I’m not proud.”

    “Right now I’m not proud of anything, because it’s only six games,” Julien said. “I’m glad with the way things are going, but there’s no reason to get carried away with where we are. I think there’s still lots to accomplish. I’m happy with the start of the season, but it stops there. We have to keep plugging away. And there’s a lot of good things happening, and I could be proud of a lot of things. But I prefer being humble in these situations where things can change quickly.”

    That’s the attitude the Canadiens are trying to cultivate from top down, and it’s permeating throughout the organization.

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    Earlier this week, Joel Bouchard, who coaches Montreal’s AHL affiliate, put his team on blast for what he felt was a sub-standard effort at practice following a loss last Saturday.

    “I’m sorry, but I’m not accepting that,” said the Laval Rocket bench boss on Tuesday. “We have work to do, and I was demanding work for just 40 minutes of practice. If they’re not capable of doing that, I’m stopping after 26 and we’re starting over tomorrow. I’m not wasting my time on the ice.”

    Bouchard did indeed cut practice at the 26-minute mark, but he wasn’t done talking about what he’s trying to instill in his team.

    “It’s funny, all I heard for three days [around Montreal and Laval] was about how Tomas Plekanec is a true professional,” Bouchard said. “He’s made several millions in his career and he’s made it to 1,000 games. Everyone’s talking about how good he was in practices, how he prepared with such attention to detail. As far as I know, none of these guys have played 1,000 games in the NHL. But they can act like professionals, unlike they did today.”

    The message was clearly received, with the Rocket jumping out to a 4-0 lead before pulling out a 5-2 win over the Hartford Wolfpack and improving their record to 3-2 on Wednesday.

    Neither the Rocket nor the Canadiens are expected to be world-beaters in their respective leagues this season, but the mandate from general manager Marc Bergevin is for everyone in place to help build towards a brighter future for the organization.

    What’s clear right off the hop is that the bar is being set high and the culture they’re aiming to establish is taking shape.

    Laine ‘doesnt care’ if Canucks chirp him about Fortnite stance

    Laine ‘doesnt care’ if Canucks chirp him about Fortnite stance


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    Babcock says McDavid ‘not even close’ to Crosby

    Babcock says McDavid ‘not even close’ to Crosby


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    Analyzing how and why NHL power plays are scoring at such a high rate

    Analyzing how and why NHL power plays are scoring at such a high rate


    A few weeks into the 2018-19 NHL season, a familiar trend is happening: goals per game are up and save percentage is down for the third straight season. Equipment changes, specifically smaller chest pads, are likely partially to thank for that, and...

    A few weeks into the 2018-19 NHL season, a familiar trend is happening: goals per game are up and save percentage is down for the third straight season. Equipment changes, specifically smaller chest pads, are likely partially to thank for that, and October is always a messy month as teams figure out tweaks to their systems and rookies fight for jobs, but this is an emerging trend in the NHL.

    The 2015-16 season averaged just 5.42 goals per game between the two teams according to Hockey Reference. This was the lowest mark since 2001-02, the height of the dead puck era, despite the introduction of 3-on-3 overtime presumably increasing goal scoring. The following season saw a modest climb to 5.54 goals per game, while last season there was a huge jump to 5.94 goals per game, the highest mark since the crackdown on obstruction in the 2005-06 season following the lockout. Teams averaged 6.24 goals per game between them that season.

    This year has seen yet another jump up to 6.24 goals per game. And while some of that is due to the messiness of October, by the end of the season we will likely see a modest increase over 2017-18 as well.

    Tape II Tape Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game. Listen Now | Subscribe | Boylen on Twitter | Dixon on Twitter

    Conveniently, 2015-16 is also the first season SPORTLOGiQ recorded league-wide microstat data, which can give us some insight into why goal scoring has increased.

    Surprisingly, even strength save percentage has actually risen ever so slightly over this period, despite the fact that teams have increased their scoring chance production year over year. Power plays, however, have become significantly more lethal.

    This is apparent even looking at Hockey Reference, as you can plot out the changes in power play efficiency over the previous 20 seasons before 2018-19.

    Conveniently, 1997-98 represents the lowest average power play efficiency since 1963-64 when the statistic was first recorded, so we can see a not entirely linear, but still very obvious 20-plus year trend of power plays becoming more dangerous.

    Interestingly, we see that over the past 10 seasons there have been fewer power play opportunities than there were in the Dead Puck Era, and while efficiency declined at the beginning of this drop, it has been steadily on the rise since the shortened 2013 season – and has exploded over the past three seasons.

    My hypothesis here is the half season off from the absolute bedlam of an NHL coaching routine helped some smart people in the game develop new strategies to better operate on the power play. Coaches aren’t dumb and they can see power plays are becoming less frequent, so it’s now more important than ever to take advantage when you can.

    What did they change though? Again, we get the convenient stagnant point in 2015-16, so we can compare each of the following seasons to that one and analyze which kind of plays increased in frequency and by how much on a per minute basis.

    To be fair, we’ll compare October hockey this season to October hockey from each of the seasons in question.

    It’s not surprising to see increases across the board here, but the extent of those increases is astonishing. Since 2015-16 the average NHL power play has increased its high danger scoring chances by more than 56 per cent and scoring chances on net by more than 60 per cent. The average PP unit moves the puck into the slot with pre-shot movement almost 65 per cent more often, and the percentage of total shot attempts taken within the slot is up nearly 47 per cent.

    East-West passes have increased compared to 2015-16, but they’re down this season, and there’s a reason for that. Most East-West passes on the power play are between defencemen, and frankly, the point shot on the power play is going the way of the dodo.

    More than ever, teams are realizing that unless you have Shea Weber back there, whose mind-bendingly excellent shot scored at a 20 per cent clip from the point over the past four seasons, shots from that far out aren’t that dangerous. Point shots have an average conversion rate of about four per cent, and though that increases on the power play due to better pre-shot movement, it’s not by as much as you would think.

    Teams who rely on point shots from their defencemen, no matter how talented (except for maybe Weber), are quickly left behind in power play efficiency. Just ask the Nashville Predators, who have the most talented group of offensive defencemen in the NHL, and only have an average power play since 2016-17 despite being a stellar even strength scoring team.

    Teams have realized that using defencemen as support players, often only putting one out on the power play, makes far more sense than organizing your man advantage around a slap shot from 50 feet out.

    The question then becomes, are power plays just good early in the year when team defence isn’t as tight? Let’s compare what we have this season to the past three full seasons.

    Over full seasons, the improvements do look a bit smaller, but one reason for that is power plays actually got better as the 2015-16 season went on. But while scoring chances, shot distance and passing plays all improved as the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons progressed, the power play conversion rate actually went down slightly.

    My guess as to why this happens is goalies perfect their timing, and as they face more shots through a season they improve. This is a bit of a wild guess though, because I’m not sure what else would explain power play efficiency not rising despite better chances being created. It wouldn’t make sense to say it was defensive structure if those chances exist in the first place.

    The overarching point here, though, is that power plays are scoring more despite getting less opportunity, which is the main reason scoring is up in the NHL. Goalies are still getting better every year — that isn’t going to change any time soon — but smarter coaching has put some power back in the hands of goal scorers, and that’s a good thing for the league.

    If the NHL called the rule book a little stricter and didn’t give us an era with the fewest power play opportunities in league history, we may see an even greater shift in power towards offence.

    Panthers’ Matheson had death threats after hit on Canucks’ Pettersson

    Panthers’ Matheson had death threats after hit on Canucks’ Pettersson


    Florida Panthers defenceman Michael Matheson says he received death threats and other vile messages on his social media channels in the days following his hit on Vancouver Canucks star rookie Elias Pettersson. Matheson was suspended two games for driving...

    Florida Panthers defenceman Michael Matheson says he received death threats and other vile messages on his social media channels in the days following his hit on Vancouver Canucks star rookie Elias Pettersson.

    Matheson was suspended two games for driving Pettersson into the ice after completing a body check in a game Saturday night. Matheson said he reached out to Pettersson via text message and apologized to the 19-year-old Swede.

    “It wasn’t my intent and it wasn’t at all what I meant to do,” Matheson told reporters Wednesday of the play that landed Pettersson in concussion protocol. “At every level I’ve never been a malicious player or someone that goes around trying to hurt players because I expect to receive the same respect in return and that’s not what hockey’s about. … There was no point in my frame of mind where I was thinking, ‘Oh I gotta injure this guy.’”

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    It turns out that some seething Canucks fans didn’t think a two-game suspension was enough punishment for Matheson.

    If you’ve ever sifted through a comments section you know they can often be a cesspool, as the 24-year-old Pointe-Claire, Que., native discovered when he checked social media.

    “I’m trying to stay off it, but it has been very, very disappointing,” Matheson told longtime Panthers beat reporter George Richards. “To think that people could be so inhumane about something … sports were made to bring people together, to cheer on teams and have passion about their teams. I fully understand and respect that. But there are thousands of people commenting things on my social media pages — sending me death threats, wishing I would commit suicide or get cancer — that’s bringing things to a whole new level. People have even threatened my dog.”

    [radioclip id=4268343]

    Matheson posted a photo on Oct. 1 of his little dog, Hank, wearing a Panthers jersey. The caption read: “It’s finally October and Hank is super excited to have his jersey on…”

    Certain Canucks supporters, and other hockey fans upset at the Pettersson play, began replying to that post after Saturday’s game.

    Here’s a small sample of some of the replies…

    “You don’t deserve this animal. You monster!”

    “Your dog is ugly.”

    “I feel bad for your dog.”

    “[Expletive] your dog piece of [expletive].”

    “Who are you kidding, you’re definitely a cat person you ginger [expletive].”

    “Take your ginger [expletive] head, your demon spawn ass, and get back in your hell hole where you belong.”

    Others eventually came to the defence of Hank (who our sources confirm is in fact a good boy) while simultaneously taking a shot at Matheson.

    “He’s a piece of [expletive] for what he did yes but no need to hate on his dog,” one comment read.

    Matheson’s only message to those posting these types of messages was: “If you’re going that far, you might want to look yourself in the mirror. I’m not going to engage in it. It’s definitely not worth it. I know not all Vancouver fans are like that. I’m sure it’s a very small percentage of hockey fans who are doing this.”

    The Panthers and Canucks play each other once more this season on Jan. 13 in Vancouver.

    Montreal Impact’s Ignacio Piatti loving life in MLS

    Montreal Impact’s Ignacio Piatti loving life in MLS


    With acres of space in front of him, Ignacio Piatti had two choices. He could either dribble in alone and shoot, or lay it across for teammate Alejandro Silva. Piatti opted for the latter, helping Silva complete his brace in a 4-1 victory for the...

    With acres of space in front of him, Ignacio Piatti had two choices. He could either dribble in alone and shoot, or lay it across for teammate Alejandro Silva.

    Piatti opted for the latter, helping Silva complete his brace in a 4-1 victory for the Montreal Impact over the Philadelphia Union.

    Usually not afraid to shoot on net, Piatti played provider on that triumphant night on Sept. 15. Both of Silva’s strikes were assisted by his fellow South American teammate, once again displaying the killer instinct in the final third.

    “Whether it’s on the left or right wing, we always find each other,” Piatti told Sportsnet. “We also help defend whenever the team needs us. [Silva] has great speed from back to front, too.”

    Piatti and Silva make it for @impactmontreal #PHIvMTL https://t.co/mBnumrohU5

    — Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 16, 2018

    Silva finds the equalizer! #PHIvMTL https://t.co/cHEplDHDow

    — Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 16, 2018

    Being in MLS for four years, Piatti is settled into life in Montreal. He speaks French, enjoys the city and gets along with his teammates, especially with the other South Americans in the squad, which helped Silva quickly adapt after he arrived from Argentinean side Lanús.

    “When Ale first arrived, he was a good reinforcement for the team,” Piatti explained. “He really adapted well when he first arrived. Some of the teammates speak the same language, like myself, [Victor] Cabrera, [Matteo] Mancosu, and [Jeisson] Vargas helps as well in case he doesn’t understand something, so I believe he’s adapted well.”

    Like Silva, Piatti left his club, San Lorenzo, in search of a new opportunity and a better life. Despite winning Copa Libertadores, the ultimate club prize in South America, the 33-year-old knew that moving to Montreal was a chance he couldn’t pass up, and he believes other South Americans are following a similar path to Major League Soccer.

    “There are many South American players that want to come to this league,” Piatti said. “This league is growing a lot. It’s very nice to play here. It’s a nice lifestyle and there’s a soccer culture here. Very different than South America.”

    While several Argentine and Brazilian teams are the most valuable clubs in the Americas, the domestic leagues are often plagued by disorganization and confusion. Even South America’s organizing body, CONMEBOL, commit some egregious errors.

    “[MLS] is very calm, the football [schedule] is organized,” Piatti admitted. “You know when is the first and last game of the season. In South America, the schedule is not fixed. You don’t know what time or day you play. It changes all the time. Sometimes you think you’re playing Saturday or Sunday and you end up playing on a Wednesday.

    “MLS has great organization and it has grown tremendously in the last year and that’s one of the reasons why so many young South Americans want to establish a career in this part of the world.”

    Not only are there issues with scheduling, there are also crowd problems which can lead to an unsafe atmosphere. In Peru, two of the country’s marquee clubs in Alianza Lima and Sporting Cristal had to suspend their Sept. 16 match after clashes between rival fans and gun shots just outside the stadium rendered the situation as dangerous. That is definitely not the case in MLS, which is appealing to many South American players.

    Thanks in large part to Piatti’s play this season, the Impact are still in the playoff race with two games remaining, although a 5-0 loss to D.C. United on Sept. 29 was a brutal setback.

    It’s a far cry compared to the 2017 campaign, which led to Mauro Biello losing his job as coach. Former Arsenal and Lyon great Remi Garde was hired as his replacement, and he’s reinvigorated the Impact in a few short months.

    “All of them are very good coaches,” Piatti offered. “When they first arrived here, it was difficult to adapt, [there were] new players … Now that time has passed, we understand each other and we see the results on the pitch. So we are very happy with [Garde], and I believe the club is as well. I hope that we can make the playoffs so that we can continue on this great path.”

    Undergoing the sort of off-season overhaul that the Impact experienced usually leads to a slow start to the following campaign. Montreal only won three of its first 13 matches, earning just nine points in that span.

    Eventually, the Impact turned a corner. Since June 2, they’ve picked up an impressive 34 points. Piatti explained that a few of Garde’s tweaks have made the difference during this 19-match run.

    “He puts a lot of emphasis on tactics,” Piatti explained. “He’s very organized, makes sure that we don’t concede goals, and we work very hard on this during the season. He has a physical trainer who makes us run a lot.

    “Now we feel the difference when we are on the pitch. During the season, we also worked a lot on closing the spaces and ensured that the opposition is pushed to the flanks. [When] we follow his instructions, everything goes well during the game.”

    This was supposed to be a transitional year for the Impact, so their 2018 season was practically impossible to predict. Whether or not Montreal qualifies for the post-season, they seem to be in good hands under this coaching staff.

    David Keon ‘honoured and proud’ of HOF induction

    David Keon ‘honoured and proud’ of HOF induction


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    Canadian Samuel Piette starring as Montreal Impact’s iron man

    Canadian Samuel Piette starring as Montreal Impact’s iron man


    Just call Montreal Impact midfielder Samuel Piette the “Iron Man.” People who follow Major League Soccer closely know all about Ignacio Piatti, the Argentine playmaker who has been one of the best players in the league since signing with the Impact...

    Just call Montreal Impact midfielder Samuel Piette the “Iron Man.”

    People who follow Major League Soccer closely know all about Ignacio Piatti, the Argentine playmaker who has been one of the best players in the league since signing with the Impact four years ago and who is the straw the stirs the drink for Montreal.

    But Piette’s contributions to the cause in 2018, his first full campaign with the Impact, shouldn’t be overlooked. His steady play in central midfield is one reason why Montreal is still in the playoff hunt with two games remaining in the regular season.

    Piette, a 23-year-old native of Quebec, returned home last summer when he signed with the Impact after spending several years in Europe where he turned out for clubs in Germany and Spain. He ended up playing 11 games down the MLS season stretch, but the young Canadian’s presence wasn’t enough to turn a failing Impact side into a playoff team.

    This year has been a different story. Under new coach Remi Garde, Piette has won plaudits for his consistent form while playing in the heart of the Montreal midfield. Piette’s game isn’t flashy and it doesn’t draw a lot of attention, but his selflessness in doing the unfashionable muck work in the middle of the park has been crucial to the Impact’s counter-attack and to the tactical identity the team has forged during Garde’s short tenure.

    Piette has also earned a reputation for his durability. The defensive midfielder has started in all 32 of the Impact’s MLS games this year, and has been subbed out only twice. He leads the team in minutes played in MLS with 2,820 (out of a possible 2,880) and if you tack on the two complete games he started in the Canadian Championship semifinals, Piette has played 3,000 minutes this season.

    When you take into account last season, Piette has started in each of the Impact’s last 45 games in MLS and the Canadian Championship for a total of 3,960 minutes of playing time.

    “It’s a lot of work, but I’m young, so I can handle it,” Piette quipped in a recent interview with Sportsnet.

    “I’ve often said it’s on the pitch that I can help the team… I’m really happy that [Garde] values me and that I’m an important piece for his team.”

    He only stands five-foot-seven, but Piette plays with a physical presence that belies his modest frame. He’s a tough tackler who’s proven to be fearless in his attempts to close down opposing players, and hard to knock off the ball once he’s won back possession. His style of play has been a perfect match for Garde’s tactics, allowing him to flourish as Montreal’s defensive stopper in midfield.

    “He believes having a compact and strong [defensive] block in our zone is the best for us, because we have fast players on the dribble on the counter. He wants us, not to sit back and just watch, but to drop back in our zone and be active in the block, but also put pressure on the ball, and make sure [opponents] don’t play through us. Then after winning the ball to move forward was quickly as possible,” Piette explained.

    “For me, to be comfortable in my position and sitting back a bit, not necessarily always running around and chasing the ball, it’s very good for my game.”

    Piette’s contributions on the pitch tell only part of his story this season. He’s also taken a leadership role off the field.

    Montreal struggled to find its way under Garde at the beginning of the MLS season. After a 2-2 start, the Impact collected just three points during April and May, losing eight of nine games during that two-month span.

    Tensions were mounting as the team dealt with a litany of injury issues, and Garde, perhaps unwisely, sounded off on some of his bench players to the local media. A reporter who covers the team told Sportsnet that one training session became very heated when several players raised their voices and snapped at each other.

    It all came to a head in June when Piette spoke to Piatti, fellow midfielder Saphir Taïder and goalkeeper Evan Bush about the situation. At that point, the coaching staff encouraged the team to have a players-only meeting in order to work out their issues and clear the air. A senior group of players then reported back to the coaches to talk about what was discussed.

    Piette credits that players meeting for Montreal’s turnaround in the second half of the season.

    “I think there’s been a mentality change,” Piette said.

    “We have great players, and maybe sometimes – not to mention any names – maybe we had some players who just wanted to play well but were thinking more about themselves than the team. Now it’s a very collective effort. Now we put the team before every person.”

    Fullback Daniel Lovitz echoed Piette’s sentiments.

    “It formalized the communication between the players and the coaching staff. Anybody who was paying attention understood that we were having some issues with that… We were trying to figure out what was the best way to get what we wanted from each other,” Loivitz explained.

    “That [meeting] was where we were forced into discussing things and we were able to come up with some topics and ideas to present to the coach in a more formal fashion. I think that really benefited us, and that was a major turning point, as we were able to move forward in a more positive way after that.”

    Indeed, the Impact went on a four-game winning streak in June and July, and they’ve only lost four times in their last 17 MLS games. They climbed to sixth in the Eastern Conference, and held down that final playoff berth until last weekend when they were leapfrogged by D.C. United, the hottest team in the league at the moment.

    D.C. has a four-point edge over Montreal with two games to play, so it’s looking bleak for the Impact’s playoff chances.

    But Montreal showed great spirit in coming back in the second half of the season like they did after that players meeting.

    “We’re playing as team, and being more like a family united on the pitch,” Piette said. “And [Garde] says what he thinks and is very direct with us. There’s no grey zone – it’s very black and white.”

    Damon Allen credits his parents for HOF journey

    Damon Allen credits his parents for HOF journey


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    Derick Brassard learning from the best in second season with Penguins

    Derick Brassard learning from the best in second season with Penguins


    I remember spending a lot of time with Derick Brassard in his draft year—I was actually sitting in a seat behind his family at the draft in 2006. Back then, he didn’t have tremendous confidence in English in an interview but he wasn’t short of...

    I remember spending a lot of time with Derick Brassard in his draft year—I was actually sitting in a seat behind his family at the draft in 2006. Back then, he didn’t have tremendous confidence in English in an interview but he wasn’t short of confidence when it came to his game. He said that he wanted to be a first-line centre for a Stanley Cup contending team. And when the Columbus Blue Jackets drafted Brassard sixth overall, they projected his floor as a second-line centre.

    If you had told Brassard back then that he was eventually going to be playing behind two centres in what should be his prime, I’m sure he wouldn’t have taken it well. But that’s exactly how it played out last season when the Ottawa Senators, deep in their swoon, traded Brassard to Pittsburgh.

    “I mean, how could I complain about playing behind two centres when they’re the two best centres in the league?” Brassard told me in Pittsburgh at the start of the regular season.

    When Penguins traded for Brassard last February, it looked like a move that contenders make to raise their chances of a deep run. Adding depth. At least it looked like that on the surface. But really, a team with two Hall of Fame centres in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin adding a skilled third talent down the middle?

    “I saw a trade coming but I didn’t see a trade coming here,” Brassard said. “The direction things were going in with the Senators and the point I was at in my career I didn’t feel I wanted or needed to be in for rebuilding for three or four seasons or however long it might be. I just wanted a chance to win and go to the Cup final. The one year, we got to the final in New York—we had a great core group of guys and I thought that team had a chance to back there again, maybe win it all. That didn’t happen. And then in Ottawa we got to Game 7 of the Conference final a couple of years ago, a great push. But then last year it was clear we were heading a different way. So, I was excited to go to a contender…”

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    Yeah, but what was the fit? A skilled centre. As responsible at both ends as he might be, for all his hockey sense, he just doesn’t play the heavy game you expect a third-line checking centre might. The design was a mystery.

    Pittsburgh wound up running into the Caps in last spring, as they have so often, and for only the second time in the Crosby vs. Ovechkin era Washington prevailed in the post-season. A few hard-hearted critics drew a line between the Pens’ loss and the acquisition of Brassard. They didn’t cite him as a cause of the post-season disappointment, didn’t tag him as the goat or anything like that. They did suggest, however, that he wasn’t exactly the difference-maker as promised or at least supposed.

    Suffice it to say, Brassard didn’t exactly thrive: three goals and five assists in 14 regular-season games and then just one goal and three assists in 12 playoff dates. That is, he wasn’t Butch Goring or anything. Sometimes the trades reap immediate payoff. Other times it requires a period of adjustment. And then there are the times when it just doesn’t come together at all.

    Back at the start of his first full season with the Penguins, Brassard viewed it as the second possible outcome: Give it some time to adjust to a new setting. And learn.

    “Before I came over last season I really didn’t know how hard Sid and Geno trained and how they prepared for games,” Brassard says. “That reflects on the rest of the team too. Everybody picks up on it. Like you’d expect. When I was playing in New York and in Ottawa we’d play those guys every year. We’d see them a lot… probably be out on the ice against one and watching the others. So, you have a good idea of what their games were like. And their teams were always good—it wasn’t a coincidence that they won those two years. You knew what they brought but it wasn’t until I got here that I understood how they did set the tone [for the team].”

    “They’re always looking to elevate their game, but it’s not just about them,” Brassard added. “They’re really looking to make their team better. They pay attention to detail on the ice like no one else I’ve really been around. They establish the culture around the team. You know, you can be in the league 10 seasons but still learn. One hundred per cent I’ve gone to school on their game and it’s been a blast. I can’t imagine what it’s like if you’re a 19- or 20-year-old kid walking into this room and seeing them—it’d be an eye-opener, like you went from high school to university. There’s not an age or amount of experience you can have when you can’t learn something about the game.”

    And now the 31-year-old Brassard is a bit like the 19- or 20-year-old kid walking into the room. On the weekend in Montreal, coach Mike Sullivan moved Brassard off the third line and had him playing a new position, taking shifts on left wing beside Crosby and Jake Guentzel. If you’re going to be playing outside your comfort zone and try something new, you can’t ask for a better set-up. Where this goes and how long it lasts is anybody’s guess but for the moment Brassard seems enthusiastic about it.

    “I just loved the experience,” Brassard told the Pittsburgh Tribune’s Jonathan Bombulie. “I think it’s going to (bring) the best out of me. I just can’t wait for tomorrow. I want to try it again, over and over. I’m really confident in my ability to see the ice and making sure I can give that puck to (Crosby) when he has open space, and the same thing for Jake.

    “I think we can be an effective line. If we compete hard, if we work hard, I think our skill is going to take over and we’re going to have success.”

    It’s a mid-career turn that last season well served a guy who sat with Brassard at the draft in ’06: His buddy and training partner, Claude Giroux, who had a career year in Philly after moving to the wing. If you’re never too old to learn, make sure you’re sitting close enough to look over the shoulder of kid with the highest marks in the class.

    The Big Question: Do you care about UEFA Nations League?

    The Big Question: Do you care about UEFA Nations League?


    Sportsnet wants to know what you think, so have your say by voting in the poll and posting your opinion in the comments section below. Then tune in to Sportsnet’s Premier League coverage on Saturday morning as soccer commentators James Sharman, Craig...

    Sportsnet wants to know what you think, so have your say by voting in the poll and posting your opinion in the comments section below. Then tune in to Sportsnet’s Premier League coverage on Saturday morning as soccer commentators James Sharman, Craig Forrest and Danny Dichio debate “The Big Question.” We’ll mention the best reader comments on air.



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    Canadiens’ Karl Alzner shows resilience in win over Blues

    Canadiens’ Karl Alzner shows resilience in win over Blues


    MONTREAL — Karl Alzner had played through it all. Broken limbs, illness, confidence peaks and valleys, and all the other bumps and bruises that come with starting 622 consecutive games in the world’s most challenging hockey league. But nothing was...

    MONTREAL — Karl Alzner had played through it all.

    Broken limbs, illness, confidence peaks and valleys, and all the other bumps and bruises that come with starting 622 consecutive games in the world’s most challenging hockey league.

    But nothing was harder for him to deal with than arriving at the rink before his Montreal Canadiens played their first game this season and finding out that he was being made a healthy scratch for the first time since establishing himself as a regular in the NHL at age 22.

    We’re talking about a player who had averaged over 20 minutes a game through his first nine seasons with the Washington Capitals. A player who had lined up against the opposition’s best players night in, night out, established the NHL’s fourth-longest active ironman streak in the process, and come out shining enough to stimulate a bidding war for his services when he became an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2017.

    Alzner may have struggled tremendously in his first season with the Canadiens, but he’d never envisioned being parked in the press box just 82 games after he signed a five-year, $23.125-million contract to come to Montreal.

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    “The first two days were pretty tough to be honest with you,” he said after appearing in Montreal’s 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday. “I was pretty down.”

    Had Canadiens defenceman Victor Mete not been ailing with a suspected hand injury, Alzner likely would have been sitting for a sixth straight game.

    Montreal jumped out of the gate with wins in three of its first five games and collected a point for getting to overtime in their season-opening loss to Toronto. The latest victory, a 7-3 stomping of the beleaguered Detroit Red Wings on Monday, wasn’t exactly going to open the door for Alzner make his debut.

    But when he arrived at the Canadiens south-shore practice on Wednesday he was told he’d be taking Mete’s place.

    The pre-game warmup revealed Alzner wasn’t just being eased into play; he was being placed on Montreal’s top defence pairing with Jeff Petry.

    “That’s the role I feel comfortable in is trying to defend those top guys,” he said. “It kind of gets the extra juices flowing for me, so it was nice.”

    Through two periods, Alzner had played the second-most minutes of any Canadien at even strength, notching a shot on net, two attempts total and a plus-1 rating. Montreal also controlled 62 per cent of the shot attempts with him on the ice.

    “I was getting tired in the third,” he said.

    Understandably so after a two-week stint on the sidelines.

    But Alzner finished the game having made his mark with solid defensive play, quick processing and decision making, sturdy penalty killing and steady breakout passing, and he even managed to step outside his comfort zone to help the Canadiens maintain possession several times in the offensive zone.

    “I thought Karl played well tonight,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien. “He’s been waiting for a while and the thing is that nobody ever said that Karl Alzner didn’t play well in camp, didn’t have a great camp. What happened was that the six guys we had picked we thought had better camps and deserved to start, and the way things were going it was hard to put him in.”

    It was undeniable.

    Petry and Mete had the versatility and speed advantage over Alzner. Twenty-one-year-old Noah Juulsen had an excellent training camp and established himself as a must in Montreal’s lineup. And even if Jordie Benn and Xavier Ouellet had not shown up as the team’s best on any given night in exhibition, they started on a strong beat as a pair in the overtime loss to Toronto and have since proven to be very dependable.

    Then there was Mike Reilly, who had an exceptional camp and has emerged out of nowhere as somewhat of a revelation.

    On Wednesday the 25-year-old assisted on Montreal’s first goal and then notched his first as a Canadien since coming over in a trade from the Minnesota Wild at last year’s trade deadline. He had averaged just over 12 minutes a game with his previous team, but he’s played so well with his new one that Julien hasn’t been able to keep him off the ice.

    “We’ve got some pretty good, young players here, and [I] had a tough year last year,” said the 30-year-old Alzner.

    It’s why he didn’t have to guess as to what the reason was for him sitting out for the first five games of the season.

    The reality is, Alzner might find himself on the sidelines again before long — with Julien saying Mete would have played Wednesday if the Canadiens had needed him to.

    “I’m going to contribute whatever I can whether I’m playing or not,” Alzner said. “I know so many guys that I’ve played with in the past and guys here that have had to be out for way more than two games at a time, one game, five games, or whatever I ended up sitting out, and they’re fine. It’s just the first time that ever happened to me, so I was upset. But once you get over yourself, you just start enjoying being around the rink and adding whatever you can.”

    It’s that type of attitude that allows a person to prevail in tough times, and we shouldn’t be surprised it’s the one Alzner has adopted given all he’s played through throughout his career.

    Sidney Crosby picks Oilers’ Connor McDavid as NHL’s best player

    Sidney Crosby picks Oilers’ Connor McDavid as NHL’s best player


    Sidney Crosby says Connor McDavid is the best player in the world. Crosby spoke to NHL.com on Wednesday and was asked who he’d pick as the top player in the league. “I think McDavid has set himself apart just based on the awards and the accolades...

    Sidney Crosby says Connor McDavid is the best player in the world.

    Crosby spoke to NHL.com on Wednesday and was asked who he’d pick as the top player in the league.

    “I think McDavid has set himself apart just based on the awards and the accolades he’s gotten and the consistency he’s had,” said Crosby. “I think it’s fair to say it’s an easy pick just because of that.”

    McDavid has come out firing this NHL season, setting a record for having scored or assisted on each of the Oilers’ first nine goals this year.

    The two-time defending Art Ross Trophy winner has been at least somewhat challenged by the scorching start Toronto’s Auston Matthews has gotten off to.

    Matthews currently leads the league with 10 goals and 16 points in seven games.

    “Matthews has emerged this year and it really looks like he’s taken even another step. I think there’s a lot of guys in the conversation,” said Crosby, who predictably never mentioned himself as a candidate. “But it’s hard to argue (McDavid). He’s been really consistent. He’s won scoring titles, MVPs.

    “So yeah, that’s an easy one to pick.”

    Cavan Biggio’s added positional flexibility creates more pathways to majors

    Cavan Biggio’s added positional flexibility creates more pathways to majors


    SURPRISE, Ariz. – Waiting for New Hampshire Fisher Cats players upon arrival in the clubhouse each day is a printout of the TrackMan pitch chart data for each batter’s at-bats the previous night. Cavan Biggio picked up his packet one afternoon after...

    SURPRISE, Ariz. – Waiting for New Hampshire Fisher Cats players upon arrival in the clubhouse each day is a printout of the TrackMan pitch chart data for each batter’s at-bats the previous night. Cavan Biggio picked up his packet one afternoon after a game in which he believed he was incorrectly rung up on a couple of low pitches, scanned the data, saw that the offerings were in the zone and shook his head. “I went up to Shrop, our video guy, and I was like, ‘Hey man, I think the TrackMan is off a little bit, it’s a little bit down,’” recalls Biggio. “And he was like, ‘Alright, whatever.’”

    Bryan Shropshire wasn’t the only one skeptical.

    “We all laughed,” says John Schneider, the Fisher Cats manager.

    The last laugh, however, belonged to the Toronto Blue Jays second base prospect, as TrackMan emailed Shropshire a couple of days later and told him that the system needed to be updated because the zone was about two inches low.

    Those disputed strikes were, in fact, out of the zone low, just as Biggio had said.

    “He came up to me and said, ‘Told you,’” Schneider says grinning. “That makes you believe he’s got a pretty good idea.”

    Biggio certainly demonstrated that during a 2018 season in which he was named the double-A Eastern League’s Most Valuable Player as well as its Rookie of the Year, walking 100 times in 132 games while batting .252/.388/.499 with 26 homers and 99 RBIs.

    The 23-year-old’s dramatic step forward at the plate this year – he batted .243/.342/.363 with only 11 homers the previous season at single-A Dunedin – shot him up the organization’s depth chart, and the Blue Jays assigned him to the Arizona Fall League to get reps in the outfield.

    The goal is to give Biggio, who also played 34 games at third base and 22 more at first this year, additional positional flexibility, in the process creating more pathways for himself to the big-leagues. One veteran scout covering the AFL this week suggested that if Biggio takes to the outfield, he could become a Swiss-Army-knife-type player akin to Joey Wendle, the impressive Tampa Bay Rays rookie who played second, third, outfield and even 10 games at short this year.

    “I always knew I could move out to other positions and help the team win,” says Biggio, whose prime developmental goal is to get comfortable in the outfield after appearing there twice in a pinch last year at Dunedin and twice more this season. “It’s more running around, which brings me back to my wide receiver days in football.

    “It’s all pretty positive, it’s all pretty exciting.”

    For Biggio – the son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio – to maintain his current momentum into an eventual big-league promotion, he’ll need to continue the progress he made offensively this year, since it’s his bat that will ultimately carry him to the majors, rather than his glove.
    To that end, last winter he lowered his hands during his pre-pitch set-up to keep his bat in the strike zone longer, and he added a loading mechanism that allows him to consistently transfer his weight into his swing at the right time.

    That’s allowed him to more consistently make hard contact and when combined with his exceptional eye at the plate, unlocked some hidden power the Blue Jays felt he had all along, and believe is not a one-year aberration.

    “The physical part wasn’t as drastic as a lot of people think,” says Schneider. “From an approach standpoint he said, ‘OK, I’m not hitting first or second, I’m hitting in the middle of the order and I’m going to be more aggressive on balls in the zone.’ The numbers speak for themselves and that’s why I think it’s sustainable. He’s a really smart player and can make adjustments throughout the game offensively. Is it going to be 26 and 100 every year? I don’t know. But it’s going to be good going forward because he understands what he wants to do.”

    That comfort level is, in some ways, the most substantial change for him this year versus last, when he often felt “lost at the plate” and carried “a helpless feeling going into the cage trying to find something to get you ready for that game.”

    In constantly trying to counter issues with his timing and bat path, Biggio was regularly trying something new with his swing which is a tough way to play.

    “This year, whenever I’d struggle, or I’d go into the cage and I’m not really feeling well, I’d always find something that would get me ready for that day and usually for the next few days to come,” he explains. “It was just an easier adjustment to get ready for each day.”

    A constant is Biggio’s plate discipline, providing a foundation from which he rarely swings at bad pitches. That’s allowed him to not only put himself in position to do damage when he puts the ball in play, but also to stay productive through slumps by consistently working walks.

    This season his batting eye was so good, he could even validate TrackMan’s data.

    “I mean, I always trust what I see,” Biggio says with a grin. “Even when I think it’s a ball and it shows a strike on TrackMan, I always take it with a grain of salt.”

    As it turned out, rightly so.

    Ricky Williams talks Canada legalizing marijuana, its impact on NFL

    Ricky Williams talks Canada legalizing marijuana, its impact on NFL


    Former star NFL running back Ricky Williams thinks cannabis legalization in Canada is “a huge step forward” towards professional sports leagues like the NFL softening their stances on athletes using marijuana therapeutically. Williams has long been...

    Former star NFL running back Ricky Williams thinks cannabis legalization in Canada is “a huge step forward” towards professional sports leagues like the NFL softening their stances on athletes using marijuana therapeutically.

    Williams has long been an advocate for the legalization of marijuana and essentially served as the posterboy for athlete pot advocates during much of his 11-season NFL career.

    The NFL currently prohibits players from using marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids even though it is now legal in Canada and is legal in various jurisdictions in the United States.

    “My strongest argument to the NFL is we go out there and risk our bodies and our minds to entertain people and to play this game and I think that we should be given any reasonable means to take care of ourselves,” Williams said Wednesday during an appearance on The Jeff Blair Show.

    The 1998 Heisman Trophy winner ranks 31st all-time in NFL rushing yards with 10,009 but the Texas Longhorns legend’s stats could’ve been all the more impressive were it not for multiple suspensions stemming from failed drug tests in which he tested positive for marijuana.

    Williams even briefly retired in 2004 after several failed tests. He returned to the Miami Dolphins for the 2005 campaign, but failed another test and was suspended for the entire 2006 season.

    Instead of lying dormant, Williams was allowed to play in the CFL and he spent that year as a member of the Toronto Argonauts. Williams says he noticed then that Canadians seemed more accepting of his marijuana use than many of his compatriots.

    “I think it’s amazing,” he said of Canada’s new legislation that went into effect across the country Wednesday. “One of my fondest memories of my time in Toronto was the first couple weeks after I got there, talking to fans, talking to people, and the consensus was, ‘It’s just pot, what’s the big deal?’ And so I knew back in 2006 that Canada was ahead of the curve relative to cannabis and it’s amazing to see you guys actually make it legal. I think it’s setting a precedent and an example for the rest of the Western world.”

    [radioclip id=4266211]

    Williams said back in 2016 he figured he was subjected to “at least 500” drug tests during his days in the NFL. Williams retired from pro football in 2012 and has since transitioned to a career in the cannabis industry.

    The 41-year-old is brand leader and the VP of product development for Real Wellness, a company Williams launched earlier this year that sells various cannabis-based health products.

    Williams said his experiences as a professional football player, as well as the compassion he holds for people in physical pain, has helped him transition to his current field.

    “Football players, athletes are directly affected by any kind of pain or injury,” Williams said. “It has a direct effect on our livelihood and our confidence in our ability to do what we love to do.”

    [radioclip id=4266643]

    Williams said he was a 20-year-old college student when he got his first ulcer from taking too many Advil dealing with the pain of playing football in college. Then, he explained, when he got to the NFL he was still having issues with pharmaceuticals.

    “I have compassion for people that are looking for a way to take of their selves and a way to feel better, but the options available have tremendous side effects and aren’t healthy for them in the long run,” Williams said. “That was really the impetus for me to start thinking about doing something in this space.”

    Williams explained that he began sharing his story at various conferences at the end of 2015. At that time, he would explain, he had no intention of getting into the industry.

    “I just thought it was important that people spoke honestly about their cannabis use,” he said. “There’s a horrible stigma that’s still lingering in the States and I think that more people that are willing to share their stories that stigma will start to fade.”

    He also thinks allowing players to benefit from the use of various cannabinoids could actually save NFL teams money in the long run.

    “Using me as an example, I saved the teams I played for a lot of money,” Williams said. “I didn’t spend much time in the training room, I didn’t spend much time taking pills from the doctor. Through my yoga practise, my meditation practise and occasionally using cannabis I was able to take care of myself.”

    Williams added that instead of going to team doctors he found ways to take care of himself when he returned to the NFL for the final leg of his career.

    “Whether they were herbal formulas, massage, chiropractic, acupuncture et cetera, my experience of taking care of myself in natural ways really inspired me and so when I thought about doing something in the industry I said, ‘You know, people are more open to herbal remedies, people are more open to medicinal marijuana,’ so why not create more formulas that incorporate THC, CBD and the other cannabinoids to give people alternatives to pharmaceuticals?”

    Michael Matheson says ‘it wasn’t my intent’ to injure Elias Pettersson

    Michael Matheson says ‘it wasn’t my intent’ to injure Elias Pettersson


    When the NHL decided to suspend Florida Panthers defenceman Michael Matheson two games for hitting and then throwing Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson to the ice last Saturday, it left many hockey fans divided. On the one hand, some thought Matheson was...

    When the NHL decided to suspend Florida Panthers defenceman Michael Matheson two games for hitting and then throwing Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson to the ice last Saturday, it left many hockey fans divided.

    On the one hand, some thought Matheson was being disciplined for being the bigger, stronger player. Pettersson is listed at 6-foot-2, 176 pounds and Matheson at 6-foot-2, 193 pounds. It was a one-sided physical battle, end of story.

    On the flip side, many didn’t see this as a hockey play. NHL Player Safety agreed and sat down Matheson because, as described in the explainer video, “after his natural hitting motion has stopped Matheson intentionally and dangerously slams Pettersson directly into the ice.”

    Another factor in the suspension was a play that happened a little earlier in the shift. Pettersson made a spin move past Matheson, causing the defenceman to lose his footing and fall over. It was thought this contributed to Matheson’s frustration and built up to the hit.

    Pettersson broke Matheson's ankle with a deke and so like all good hockey men, Mathesson got embarrassed and took it out on Dekey Pete with a rough hit pic.twitter.com/M6jUBXnM3r

    — Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) October 14, 2018

    Speaking about the suspension for the first time since it was issued, Matheson said that while he was disappointed with the league’s decision, he understood how it was made after seeing replays. He said he’s fully on board with protecting players from head injuries, but disagrees there was ill-intent at the root of this play.

    “I know deep down there was no frustration in me when that play happened and there was no intent to injure on my part,” Matheson told the media. “It was an unfortunate event.”

    Pettersson is expected to miss at least one more game with a concussion, though could be out longer than that.

    “It wasn’t my intent and it wasn’t at all what I meant to do,” Matheson continued. “At every level I’ve never been a malicious player or someone that goes around trying to hurt players because I expect to receive the same respect in return and that’s not what hockey’s about.

    “He’s a skilled player and he makes good plays and you have to respect that. When you’re in a battle with somebody you want to play them hard and make sure that they can’t beat you back to the net, and get good body position on them. And so there was no point in my frame of mind where I was thinking ‘oh I gotta injure this guy.’ It was part of the game and it was just a hockey play where I think the fact I came into the boards and went stick on puck and my stick kinda got stuck in there, propped him up a little bit too much, and that’s probably what led to what happened afterwards.”

    Matheson’s recorded hit totals on NHL.com from his first two seasons are 69 and 53 and the 61 penalty minutes he registered last season was the highest of any level he’d played at since 2012-13, when he had 79 PIMs for Boston College. He’s never been suspended at any level, nor does he have a history of making bad hits.

    The 24-year-old defenceman said he reached out to Pettersson.

    “I texted him the day after just to reach out and apologize and see how he’s doing,” Matheson said. “He texted me back. He just said thanks for reaching out.”

    Matheson ‘disappointed’ in suspension for Pettersson hit

    Matheson ‘disappointed’ in suspension for Pettersson hit


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    Leafs’ Dubas meets with Nylander in Switzerland as stalemate continues

    Leafs’ Dubas meets with Nylander in Switzerland as stalemate continues


    TORONTO — There was a whiff of urgency in the stands, if not on the ice. The Toronto Maple Leafs were upbeat and playful during a long Tuesday afternoon practice, but members of the front office had other things on their minds. General manager Kyle...

    TORONTO — There was a whiff of urgency in the stands, if not on the ice.

    The Toronto Maple Leafs were upbeat and playful during a long Tuesday afternoon practice, but members of the front office had other things on their minds. General manager Kyle Dubas seemed to be in good spirits, too — chiding a couple reporters for their Twitter usage — before huddling with president Brendan Shanahan and going over something on his cellphone.

    Assistant GMs Brandon Pridham and Laurence Gilman were also in attendance, alternatively watching practice or making calls or pacing around the team’s suburban facility.

    We know now that the Leafs braintrust was setting the wheels in motion on a new round of contract talks with William Nylander. Dubas travelled to Zurich for a Wednesday meeting with Nylander’s camp — a Swiss rendezvous first reported by veteran Toronto Sun scribe Lance Hornby — in a bid to end a stalemate that has kept the winger away from the team during a promising 6-1-0 start to the season.

    No specifics are known about who initiated the face-to-face meeting or why it was held in Switzerland. Nylander has been training at home in Stockholm and was first linked to the Zurich Airport by a sharp-eared Twitter user. There was a direct Air Canada flight from Toronto that landed at 7:50 a.m. local time in Zurich on Wednesday.

    (Messages to Dubas and others believed to have first-hand knowledge of the meeting were not immediately returned.)

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    Given the lack of progress in talks, it’s likely that the Leafs are trying to push forward towards a resolution. The sides were largely focused on reaching a long-term deal throughout the summer and into September, but the team has since given Nylander’s camp a range of potential options that include short-term contracts, per sources.

    However, it’s believed that a significant gap remained in the money being discussed for each of those options ahead of Wednesday’s face-to-face meeting.

    Nylander is a core piece of a team that’s gone from a 30th-place finisher to a Stanley Cup hopeful inside three years. He is coming off consecutive 61-point seasons and harbours concerns that he’ll become a likely trade candidate after signing a new deal because of an impending cap crunch and Toronto’s elite scoring depth, not to mention its need for a right-shot defenceman.

    It’s made him less inclined to give the team anything resembling a hometown discount since the only thing he can get back from the Leafs is a promise he won’t be dealt — NHL rules dictate that Nylander can’t receive any no-trade protection for the first five seasons of his next contract.

    Perhaps that’s one area where Dubas can give the player more comfort while speaking to him directly.

    This is the first big test for the 32-year-old GM, who signed John Tavares to a mammoth free-agent deal seven weeks after being promoted to the position but now needs to get Nylander, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner inked to extensions by the start of next season while keeping his team under the salary cap ceiling.

    The Leafs haven’t missed a beat despite Nylander’s absence throughout training camp and the first 13 days of this season. They lead the NHL with 4.71 goals per game and have seen Kasperi Kapanen, Nylander’s former roommate and best friend, light it up in his spot alongside Matthews and Patrick Marleau.

    Following Tuesday’s practice, the Finn brushed off questions about potentially hurting his buddy’s bargaining position by putting up eight points in five games with Matthews.

    “I’m not trying to steal anybody’s spot or whatever like that,” said Kapanen. “I mean, he’s pretty much my brother. He’s a brother to me. … It’s all good. I don’t think Willy’s too upset, or he’s not rooting for me. Obviously he’s going to be happy for me and hopefully we see him soon.”

    Kapanen had even reached out directly to Nylander by text to make sure his spirits were still high.

    As good as things look in Toronto right now, they could be even better. The Leafs’ championship aspirations would unquestionably be boosted with him back in uniform.

    About an hour after coach Mike Babcock whistled an end to Tuesday’s practice, the rink fell quiet. It was around 2:30 p.m. and the lights in Dubas’s corner office had been turned off.

    He had a flight to catch.

    31 Thoughts: Matheson suspension a potential sea-change moment

    31 Thoughts: Matheson suspension a potential sea-change moment


    • McDavid’s hot play pushing TOI norms • Matheson suspension revealing on few levels • Calgary city council reopening arena talks Four games into our new season, Connor McDavid’s already broken an NHL record, scoring or setting up Edmonton’s...

    • McDavid’s hot play pushing TOI norms
    • Matheson suspension revealing on few levels
    • Calgary city council reopening arena talks

    Four games into our new season, Connor McDavid’s already broken an NHL record, scoring or setting up Edmonton’s first nine goals. Previous standard-bearer Adam Oates shouldn’t feel lonely. McDavid’s going to smash more than one.

    It’s very early, but there’s something else to keep an eye on: how much he plays.

    The Oilers’ captain skated 22:12 during Tuesday’s stunning comeback victory in Winnipeg, his lowest of the season. He went 23:34 versus New Jersey, 23:55 in Boston and 24:35 against the Rangers.

    Entering the Jets game, his average was 24:01. Only one forward has averaged 24 minutes in a season this decade: Ilya Kovalchuk. He did it twice. McDavid’s number dropped to 23:24 by slacking off against the Jets (joke, folks), still 28th overall. He’s the only forward among the league’s 36 most-utilized skaters.

    You’re going to see Kovalchuk and think, “OK, power play. He stayed out there for almost all of it. Surely, McDavid does that, too.”

    Not so fast, my friends. The scoring streak was impressive, but the most incredible thing about McDavid’s small 2018–19 sample size is even-strength ice time.

    As we wake up Wednesday, there are just two forwards averaging 19 minutes in this situation: McDavid (19:28) and Patrick Kane (19:08). To give you some perspective, Ryan Getzlaf was number one last year at 17:33, and he missed 26 games. (McDavid was second. Getzlaf beat him by three seconds.)

    Since the NHL began keeping count of ice time, only one forward has ever averaged 19 even-strength minutes in a season. That was Pavel Bure, 19:12 for Florida in 2000–01. McDavid’s going to challenge that.

    How can he not? If you’re Todd McLellan, you’re going to leave your nuclear deterrent on the bench?

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    In a week where we’ve been debating McDavid versus Matthews, the incumbent stepped up and delivered a statement so loud a banshee could have screamed it.

    “You asked me this morning about players in the League,” McLellan said after the game. “I rest my case.”

    McDavid played 20:07 Tuesday night at evens. That, in itself, is not incredibly unusual. Six (McDavid, Kane, Kyle Connor, Sean Couturier, Rickard Rakell and Mark Scheifele) have 20-minute even-strength games so far this season. McDavid is the only one, however, with two.

    There were 214 such performances in 2017–18. McDavid had 10, including the top three. Twice he went above 26 minutes.

    It is such a massive ask. But the greats do not shy from challenges. McLellan’s going to keep calling for 97. McDavid isn’t going to say no.

    31 THOUGHTS

    1. One more: Heading into Tuesday’s games, McDavid was the only player averaging more than one minute per shift (1:01). He dropped to 0:58.

    2. What a difference two games make. Heading into last Saturday’s game at Madison Square Garden, the mood around the Oilers was tense. Daryl Katz was at practice the day before, and everyone knew how he felt. As far as owners go, Katz is on the low end of the hands-on scale. He’ll make his calls, but generally isn’t breathing down everyone’s necks. When I started studying the business of sports, some of the best advice received was to learn how ticket plans and luxury-box sales worked. Often, I was told, the answers explained why certain decisions were made. When Rogers Place opened, the suites came with three-, five- and seven-year options. The three-year term ends this summer. Now, do you think that adds importance to the season? You go from 0-2 to 2-2 and a excited fan base can’t wait to see what’s next at its home opener on Thursday.

    3. Since we started (sort of) with Matthews/McDavid, let’s continue. Matthews has 10 goals on 22 shots, a percentage of 45.5. It’s not exactly going out on a limb to say he won’t keep that up, but what is his ceiling? The best recorded number in NHL history is Sergei Makarov’s 32.3 with Calgary in 1990–91 (beating our own Craig Simpson, who was at 31.6 three seasons earlier). This century, the sharpest shooter is Dallas’s Mike Ribeiro, at 25.2 in 2007–08. Two players gave him a run last year: Colorado’s Alexander Kerfoot (23.5) and Golden Knight William Karlsson (23.4). The difference between Matthews and most of the people he’d be chasing on these lists is he’s firing much more often. His 258-shot pace would put him behind only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux among the 25 most accurate seasons ever. Only two players this century have taken 200 shots and scored 20 per cent of the time: Brad Boyes and Milan Hejduk. Good challenge for Matthews.

    4. There’s a lot of hysteria in Toronto about Matthews’s contract situation. (It’s all Nick Kypreos’s fault. Add “offer sheets” to “sports radio” and you’ve got an uncontrollable explosion.) We mentioned on Hockey Night in Canada that the solution to Toronto’s cap crunch might be shorter second contracts, and I do think there’s been discussion on a five-year deal for Matthews. That would eat up one year of unrestricted free agency. Some fans took that to mean he doesn’t want to sign for eight years, which is not accurate and remains a possible outcome. My sense is both sides are serious about getting something done, but it is grind time. An eight-year contract likely comes in between $12 million and $12.5 million ($12.34?) and the Maple Leafs undoubtedly want to keep their promise to John Tavares. I find it hard to believe GM Kyle Dubas hasn’t done the math on what a max offer sheet would do to his roster, and how he’d put things together once it is matched.

    5. The Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby broke the news that Dubas was en route to Switzerland for a face-to-face with William Nylander. The Leafs have discussed a bridge with their unsigned winger, but there remained a chasm. It’s somewhere between $4.8 million (a little more than Nikita Kucherov’s second contract) and $6 million (Artemi Panarin’s AAV). Nylander’s also worried about being traded if the Leafs’ cap situation becomes untenable. Keeping him is Toronto’s main goal. Dubas’s trip allows for two things: showing Nylander a) he’s serious and b) no one can say that Toronto didn’t try everything to get this done.

    31 Thoughts: The Podcast A weekly deep dive into the biggest hockey news in the world with hosts Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek. New episodes every Thursday. Apple Podcasts | Podcatchers | Listen Now

    6. Nick Ritchie is skating in Anaheim. That’s a sign things are getting close. Look for three years. Josh Anderson’s AAV in Columbus is $1.85 million. Not sure if this one will get that high, but it is the idea the Ducks modelled.

    7. A few years ago, Detroit GM Ken Holland suggested reading Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life. There’s a chapter called “Authenticity,” described as the opposite of bad faith. “Bad faith,” French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre writes, “occurs when peer pressure and social forces combine to have us disown our own values. It is an accommodation we make with society to fit in, a psychological ‘selling out’ in which we forsake our own freedom and self-expression for the conformity of the crowd.” There’s a lot of speculation about coach Jeff Blashill’s future, but, for over a year now, Holland’s delivered a consistent message. He strongly believes Blashill should not be made a scapegoat, that this is a good coach put in a rough situation. The infirmary-laden blue line doesn’t make things easier. Not sure Holland re-read that chapter, but do feel its contents form his guiding principle.

    8. Pat Brisson visited Toronto and Ottawa this week, discussing two prominent unrestricted free-agent clients — Jake Gardiner and Matt Duchene. Gardiner will be very tough for Toronto to fit. Duchene has made it clear he wants a distraction-free season.

    9. Senators’ GM Pierre Dorion took heat for the delay before his “We’re a team” answer to a David Amber question on Kraft Hockeyville, but it is clear there’s a different feeling in the nation’s capital this year. Everything last season was tense, especially as things went off the rails. One visit to the dressing room was enough to see things are more relaxed. The players were determined to change the attitude, and three things have helped. First, they are playing more aggressively, which makes things more fun. Second, they see the talent in Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk. Third, and most importantly, winning covers almost every ill.

    10. Justin Schultz is expected to return this season, but remember that Penguins GM Jim Rutherford likes to make his moves early. Not sure how confident they are in Olli Maatta, so he’s probably in the defenceman market anyway.

    11. Carolina’s a good early story, and they’ll be interesting to watch for another reason: They’ve got unusual roster construction. The Hurricanes dress four right-shot defenders — Justin Faulk, Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce and Trevor van Riemsdyk. That type of player is always in demand and they’re all good enough to play. Scott Darling is due back soon, and, unless they want to carry three goalies, one of him, Curtis McElhinney or Petr Mrazek will need waivers. Assuming it’s not Darling, the others might be a Toronto target.

    Top 100 NHL Players of 2018–19 Sportsnet insiders ranked the 100 best players in the NHL for the 2018–19 season, from Alex Radulov to Connor McDavid. Check out the list, then create your own top 10. Top 100 players | Best of the rest | Rank your top 10

    12. Probably the most underreported story of the last week: that Calgary city council voted to re-open arena talks with the Flames. When we last tuned in to this saga, everyone was angrily storming away from the table. It will be interesting to see if there is different representation involved, some fresh faces breathing new life to the conversation. There is some optimism, albeit a long way to go.

    13. Three years ago, Carolina’s Brad Malone took down then-Flyer Sam Gagner:

    Gagner missed two months, an absence complicated by Philadelphia putting him on waivers when he was cleared to return. There was no suspension, yet that was one of the comparables for the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for Mike Matheson’s two-game ban. The difference? Our rapidly evolving feelings on concussions, for sure.

    “Happened to a player on a Canadian team,” one exec said. (It’s a common complaint.)

    As indicated in the suspension video, Malone’s manoeuvre was all in one motion while Matheson’s was into the boards and… a pause… before throwing Elias Pettersson to the ice. From now on, that’s going to be a key distinction.

    Also, some of you won’t want to hear this, but there is still plenty of debate and disagreement about the weight difference between the two players.

    One shift after Pettersson was injured, there was a wrestling match between Troy Brouwer (listed at 213 pounds) and Erik Gudbranson (217):

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    The Panthers winger went to the ice, but with the similar size and strength, no one was hurt. We haven’t heard the last of this argument.

    14. If you’re Vancouver, what you really hope this means is that opponents are forced to think twice on how they attack Pettersson. He’s breathed new life into the franchise, instantly making him the focal point of everyone else’s defence. He’s smart and shifty, able to avoid a lot. Canucks fans just saw two decades of Sedinery, complete with all the abuse they took. That’s what’s coming for Pettersson. It’s the only thing that scared anyone about him — his slighter frame. If we’re actually headed into an unheard-of era where stars are extra-protected, the Canucks will be doing celebration dances down Granville Street.

    15. In last week’s blog, we mentioned how there was at least one team that had Pettersson ranked first. With help from Jeff Marek, suspects include Nashville and Tampa Bay. The Predators drafted older brother Emil in 2013, so they had deep intel. Another team that had him highly ranked — but maybe not first — was Detroit.

    16. Canucks head coach Travis Green passionately defended his team for not retaliating on Matheson, saying the players did not see what happened. One indicated they didn’t have a true idea until seeing the craziness on social media after the game, then asking what happened.

    “We just beat Florida and Tampa,” he said, “and we’re getting killed for not fighting a guy for doing something we didn’t see.”

    17. At the Canucks’ final home game last season — the emotional goodbye to Daniel and Henrik Sedin — fans in attendance at Rogers Arena spent an average of $22.33. I’m still not sure I believe it, but someone who would know swears it is true.

    Play the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool! Play the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool for your chance to score big with over $30,000 worth of prizes to be awarded!

    18. Eight years ago, Keith Kinkaid completed his sophomore season at NCAA Union, and the professionals beckoned. Edmonton was among his serious pursuers, but there were many.

    “You look through the depth charts, see who’s had their contract renewed,” Kinkaid said Tuesday, about an hour after the Devils shut out Dallas. “Craig Anderson had a new contract, so did Carey Price. You’re looking to see where you can challenge for an AHL starting job right away. New Jersey was close to home. Martin Brodeur was my idol growing up. I wanted to learn from him, that was a big key. And I knew he couldn’t play forever.”

    Did you ever tell him he was your idol?

    “I don’t think I would ever go up and say that,” he laughs. “But when I was debating what to do, I came here for a game and he gave me a stick. I still have it, in my childhood bedroom.”

    Tough for anyone to beat that.

    19. Kinkaid’s early reputation was “quiet.”

    “That’s true,” he says. “I had learning curves, as everyone does. I didn’t want to overstep my boundaries. Once I knew the organization, my personality came out.”

    Nowhere does that show more than in his Twitter feed, a smorgasbord of emojis after each Devils’ win. Tuesday, the organization released a key for fans to understand who is represented by what. Eric Gryba and John Quenneville haven’t scored yet, so their emoticons are yet to be revealed.

    “Takes me five or 10 minutes to think of them. I can do it when I’m stuck in traffic.”

    Does he get help or take suggestions from teammates?

    “No, it’s all me. I like to have fun with it.”

    The man also likes his wrestling, having attended the last three SummerSlams. Prudential Center is hosting the WWE next week, and he’ll be there. Favourite wrestler: Finn Balor. If Kinkaid tweets out “Dinner Time” it will really be something.

    20. Of course, the reason Kinkaid’s really having fun is the Devils are 4-0. His 1.00 goals-against average and .961 save percentage are the early-season standards.

    Cory Schneider’s hip injury last January opened New Jersey’s net.

    “I’ve always believed in myself, but everyone needs that chance. It’s unfortunate that Cory’s injury opened the door. But you want the opportunity to get more playing time and show you can be consistent. I won my first three games and got too high. Then there were three straight losses. There was a lot I needed to learn.”

    Like what?

    “How to take care of my body. I used to feel like if I didn’t go on ice for an optional, people would think different things about me. Now I understand your body needs rest. And [coach John Hynes] is very good about letting us get that rest.”

    Kinkaid says he benefits from living about an hour away during the summer, not far from the organization’s training staff.

    “Last year, I wanted to prove wrong the people who said I’d never be more than backup, that I deserve the playing time. The playoffs were a great experience. Bronze at the World Championships…. We beat Canada twice, that’s always fun. You want to carry it into this year. Now, we’re off to a hot start. We may not be too highly talked-about, but we’ve got a good thing going.”

    21. One former goalie coach wondered if Kinkaid would opt for stiffer pads, since he wore softer ones last season, allowing rebounds to stay closer to the net. That’s when I learned Kinkaid is the anti-Ed Belfour. The Hall of Famer was known for obsessing over the most minute equipment detail, to the point where he was given his own dressing-room key. That’s not happening here.

    “I don’t even know (the brand name for) everything I use,” he said. “I think that if you think too much, you drive yourself insane. I’m a little strange.”

    Most goalies are.

    “I guess,” he laughed.

    Don’t fool around with what works. That philosophy is definitely working for Keith Kinkaid.

    Tape II Tape Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game. Listen Now | Subscribe | Boylen on Twitter | Dixon on Twitter

    22. Trivia time: With St. Louis playing on Wednesday Night Hockey in Montreal, we were wondering about David Perron, who signed his fifth contract with the Blues over three separate stops in the organization. That led us down two rabbit-holes: How many players have joined the same team three different times, and how many have signed five contracts with one club? According to our crack staff, Perron is the 36th to do the former. Marty Burke is the only person to beat that. He had four different tours with the Canadiens from 1927–38. Meanwhile, Perron is one of only three to sign with one organization five times and play for at least five teams. Can you name the other two? Answer below.

    23. Under-the-radar player gaining respect: Columbus defenceman Markus Nutivaara. (This was on the list before the Blue Jackets gave up 12 goals in two games in Florida, but who hasn’t done something they regret in the Sunshine State?) Everyone on the blue line gets lost there behind Zach Werenski and the injured Seth Jones, but he’s really stepped up. Not bad for a seventh-rounder.

    24. Drew Doughty loves poking the Canadian media. He winds us up, laughs and leaves. I’ve always wondered if he’d really enjoy it on a day-to-day basis.

    “I don’t think I would,” he admitted Monday.

    Good news for the Kings.

    25. Los Angeles is 0-for-21 on the power play, which likely ends any debate of Dustin Brown’s value. He was second on the team last season with 15 power-play points. In his absence, the Kings have tried Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Jeff Carter, Adrian Kempe and Kovalchuk as the net-front presence. Since he’s on long-term injury, Brown can’t return until Oct. 28 at the earliest.

    The Lede Each week, Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt tackle the most impactful stories in the world of sports and their intersection with popular culture. Come for the sports; stay for the storytelling and cigars. Apple Podcasts | Podcatchers | Listen Now

    26. After his “ear-to-ear” showdown with Auston Matthews nearly broke social media, Chicago’s Patrick Kane told reporters referees considered calling Matthews for unsportsmanlike conduct. Thankfully, common sense prevailed; that didn’t happen. Following up, word is that was the correct decision, and there should only be a penalty if taunting is directed at the bench.

    27. Not sure how many of you are NFL fans, but that league’s had a sensational start to the season. Rules changes have made it much, much harder to defend; skilled offensive players are taking advantage. The NHL has a long history of goal-scoring eruptions in October before chaos-hating coaches strangle everything. There is hope this season can be different, with the crackdowns on obstruction and slashing making it difficult on defenders. We’ll see.

    One executive pointed to the last 11 seconds of San Jose/New Jersey on Sunday.

    “The Devils clear the puck,” he said. “And the Sharks still get two chances. That never used to happen.”

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    28. In the aftermath of Austin Watson’s suspension being reduced from 27 games to 18, there were many calls for a specific domestic violence policy in hockey. I don’t get the sense that the NHL or NHLPA sees that as necessary.

    First, the lack of a policy does not prevent commissioner Gary Bettman from suspending a player, with the CBA giving him latitude to do so. Watson did get a ban, and the league has made it very clear that Slava Voynov faces additional punishment if signed to a new contract.

    Second, the league and the players feel that each case is different, both wanting the ability to rule on/respond to what occurs in specific scenarios. We know the NHL was upset by the arbitrator’s reduction, and that the Players’ Association was unhappy at the original punishment, the league’s reaction to the arbitrator’s ruling and the heat it took for appealing at all. We also know that Watson’s girlfriend released a statement absolving him of domestic violence.

    I can understand wishing to decide on a case-by-case basis. What I don’t get is why the process can’t be explained with more transparency. If we knew why the commissioner chose 27 games, what grounds the NHLPA used to appeal, why the arbitrator ruled as he did or if anything in the original police report was disputed, everyone would be better off, including the people involved in the process.

    29. I believe there is at least one owner who told his team Voynov is not an option.

    30. Jim Diamond, who covers the Predators for Associated Press and Rinkside Report, pointed out that Shyam Das, who ruled in Watson’s favour, was fired by Major League Baseball after overturning Ryan Braun’s 2012 drug suspension. As per the CBA, a decision on Das’s future cannot be made until June 30, 2019. So, we’ll see if hockey feels the same way as its baseball brethren.

    31. Trivia answer: David Perron signed five contracts with St. Louis, also joining Edmonton, Pittsburgh, Anaheim and Vegas. Nolan Baumgartner did it with Vancouver, also playing for Washington, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Dallas. Finally, Wendel Clark for Toronto. His other teams were Quebec, the Islanders, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Chicago.

    32. Bonus thought this week: Ben Falk, who formerly worked for the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and Portland Trail Blazers, has an interesting website called Cleaning the Glass. Earlier this week, he published an article entitled, “Want to watch basketball like a coach or scout? Here’s how I learned.” It may be about hoops, but there are some good ideas to pull for hockey fans.

    31 Thoughts: Matheson suspension a potential sea-change moment

    31 Thoughts: Matheson suspension a potential sea-change moment


    • McDavid’s hot play pushing TOI norms • Matheson suspension revealing on few levels • Calgary city council reopening arena talks Four games into our new season, Connor McDavid’s already broken an NHL record, scoring or setting up Edmonton’s...

    • McDavid’s hot play pushing TOI norms
    • Matheson suspension revealing on few levels
    • Calgary city council reopening arena talks

    Four games into our new season, Connor McDavid’s already broken an NHL record, scoring or setting up Edmonton’s first nine goals. Previous standard-bearer Adam Oates shouldn’t feel lonely. McDavid’s going to smash more than one.

    It’s very early, but there’s something else to keep an eye on: how much he plays.

    The Oilers’ captain skated 22:12 during Tuesday’s stunning comeback victory in Winnipeg, his lowest of the season. He went 23:34 versus New Jersey, 23:55 in Boston and 24:35 against the Rangers.

    Entering the Jets game, his average was 24:01. Only one forward has averaged 24 minutes in a season this decade: Ilya Kovalchuk. He did it twice. McDavid’s number dropped to 23:24 by slacking off against the Jets (joke, folks), still 28th overall. He’s the only forward among the league’s 36 most-utilized skaters.

    You’re going to see Kovalchuk and think, “OK, power play. He stayed out there for almost all of it. Surely, McDavid does that, too.”

    Not so fast, my friends. The scoring streak was impressive, but the most incredible thing about McDavid’s small 2018–19 sample size is even-strength ice time.

    As we wake up Wednesday, there are just two forwards averaging 19 minutes in this situation: McDavid (19:28) and Patrick Kane (19:08). To give you some perspective, Ryan Getzlaf was number one last year at 17:33, and he missed 26 games. (McDavid was second. Getzlaf beat him by three seconds.)

    Since the NHL began keeping count of ice time, only one forward has ever averaged 19 even-strength minutes in a season. That was Pavel Bure, 19:12 for Florida in 2000–01. McDavid’s going to challenge that.

    How can he not? If you’re Todd McLellan, you’re going to leave your nuclear deterrent on the bench?

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    In a week where we’ve been debating McDavid versus Matthews, the incumbent stepped up and delivered a statement so loud a banshee could have screamed it.

    “You asked me this morning about players in the League,” McLellan said after the game. “I rest my case.”

    McDavid played 20:07 Tuesday night at evens. That, in itself, is not incredibly unusual. Six (McDavid, Kane, Kyle Connor, Sean Couturier, Rickard Rakell and Mark Scheifele) have 20-minute even-strength games so far this season. McDavid is the only one, however, with two.

    There were 214 such performances in 2017–18. McDavid had 10, including the top three. Twice he went above 26 minutes.

    It is such a massive ask. But the greats do not shy from challenges. McLellan’s going to keep calling for 97. McDavid isn’t going to say no.

    31 THOUGHTS

    1. One more: Heading into Tuesday’s games, McDavid was the only player averaging more than one minute per shift (1:01). He dropped to 0:58.

    2. What a difference two games make. Heading into last Saturday’s game at Madison Square Garden, the mood around the Oilers was tense. Daryl Katz was at practice the day before, and everyone knew how he felt. As far as owners go, Katz is on the low end of the hands-on scale. He’ll make his calls, but generally isn’t breathing down everyone’s necks. When I started studying the business of sports, some of the best advice received was to learn how ticket plans and luxury-box sales worked. Often, I was told, the answers explained why certain decisions were made. When Rogers Place opened, the suites came with three-, five- and seven-year options. The three-year term ends this summer. Now, do you think that adds importance to the season? You go from 0-2 to 2-2 and a excited fan base can’t wait to see what’s next at its home opener on Thursday.

    3. Since we started (sort of) with Matthews/McDavid, let’s continue. Matthews has 10 goals on 22 shots, a percentage of 45.5. It’s not exactly going out on a limb to say he won’t keep that up, but what is his ceiling? The best recorded number in NHL history is Sergei Makarov’s 32.3 with Calgary in 1990–91 (beating our own Craig Simpson, who was at 31.6 three seasons earlier). This century, the sharpest shooter is Dallas’s Mike Ribeiro, at 25.2 in 2007–08. Two players gave him a run last year: Colorado’s Alexander Kerfoot (23.5) and Golden Knight William Karlsson (23.4). The difference between Matthews and most of the people he’d be chasing on these lists is he’s firing much more often. His 258-shot pace would put him behind only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux among the 25 most accurate seasons ever. Only two players this century have taken 200 shots and scored 20 per cent of the time: Brad Boyes and Milan Hejduk. Good challenge for Matthews.

    4. There’s a lot of hysteria in Toronto about Matthews’s contract situation. (It’s all Nick Kypreos’s fault. Add “offer sheets” to “sports radio” and you’ve got an uncontrollable explosion.) We mentioned on Hockey Night in Canada that the solution to Toronto’s cap crunch might be shorter second contracts, and I do think there’s been discussion on a five-year deal for Matthews. That would eat up one year of unrestricted free agency. Some fans took that to mean he doesn’t want to sign for eight years, which is not accurate and remains a possible outcome. My sense is both sides are serious about getting something done, but it is grind time. An eight-year contract likely comes in between $12 million and $12.5 million ($12.34?) and the Maple Leafs undoubtedly want to keep their promise to John Tavares. I find it hard to believe GM Kyle Dubas hasn’t done the math on what a max offer sheet would do to his roster, and how he’d put things together once it is matched.

    5. The Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby broke the news that Dubas was en route to Switzerland for a face-to-face with William Nylander. The Leafs have discussed a bridge with their unsigned winger, but there remained a chasm. It’s somewhere between $4.8 million (a little more than Nikita Kucherov’s second contract) and $6 million (Artemi Panarin’s AAV). Nylander’s also worried about being traded if the Leafs’ cap situation becomes untenable. Keeping him is Toronto’s main goal. Dubas’s trip allows for two things: showing Nylander a) he’s serious and b) no one can say that Toronto didn’t try everything to get this done.

    31 Thoughts: The Podcast A weekly deep dive into the biggest hockey news in the world with hosts Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek. New episodes every Thursday. Apple Podcasts | Podcatchers | Listen Now

    6. Nick Ritchie is skating in Anaheim. That’s a sign things are getting close. Look for three years. Josh Anderson’s AAV in Columbus is $1.85 million. Not sure if this one will get that high, but it is the idea the Ducks modelled.

    7. A few years ago, Detroit GM Ken Holland suggested reading Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life. There’s a chapter called “Authenticity,” described as the opposite of bad faith. “Bad faith,” French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre writes, “occurs when peer pressure and social forces combine to have us disown our own values. It is an accommodation we make with society to fit in, a psychological ‘selling out’ in which we forsake our own freedom and self-expression for the conformity of the crowd.” There’s a lot of speculation about coach Jeff Blashill’s future, but, for over a year now, Holland’s delivered a consistent message. He strongly believes Blashill should not be made a scapegoat, that this is a good coach put in a rough situation. The infirmary-laden blue line doesn’t make things easier. Not sure Holland re-read that chapter, but do feel its contents form his guiding principle.

    8. Pat Brisson visited Toronto and Ottawa this week, discussing two prominent unrestricted free-agent clients — Jake Gardiner and Matt Duchene. Gardiner will be very tough for Toronto to fit. Duchene has made it clear he wants a distraction-free season.

    9. Senators’ GM Pierre Dorion took heat for the delay before his “We’re a team” answer to a David Amber question on Kraft Hockeyville, but it is clear there’s a different feeling in the nation’s capital this year. Everything last season was tense, especially as things went off the rails. One visit to the dressing room was enough to see things are more relaxed. The players were determined to change the attitude, and three things have helped. First, they are playing more aggressively, which makes things more fun. Second, they see the talent in Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk. Third, and most importantly, winning covers almost every ill.

    10. Justin Schultz is expected to return this season, but remember that Penguins GM Jim Rutherford likes to make his moves early. Not sure how confident they are in Olli Maatta, so he’s probably in the defenceman market anyway.

    11. Carolina’s a good early story, and they’ll be interesting to watch for another reason: They’ve got unusual roster construction. The Hurricanes dress four right-shot defenders — Justin Faulk, Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce and Trevor van Riemsdyk. That type of player is always in demand and they’re all good enough to play. Scott Darling is due back soon, and, unless they want to carry three goalies, one of him, Curtis McElhinney or Petr Mrazek will need waivers. Assuming it’s not Darling, the others might be a Toronto target.

    Top 100 NHL Players of 2018–19 Sportsnet insiders ranked the 100 best players in the NHL for the 2018–19 season, from Alex Radulov to Connor McDavid. Check out the list, then create your own top 10. Top 100 players | Best of the rest | Rank your top 10

    12. Probably the most underreported story of the last week: that Calgary city council voted to re-open arena talks with the Flames. When we last tuned in to this saga, everyone was angrily storming away from the table. It will be interesting to see if there is different representation involved, some fresh faces breathing new life to the conversation. There is some optimism, albeit a long way to go.

    13. Three years ago, Carolina’s Brad Malone took down then-Flyer Sam Gagner:

    Gagner missed two months, an absence complicated by Philadelphia putting him on waivers when he was cleared to return. There was no suspension, yet that was one of the comparables for the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for Mike Matheson’s two-game ban. The difference? Our rapidly evolving feelings on concussions, for sure.

    “Happened to a player on a Canadian team,” one exec said. (It’s a common complaint.)

    As indicated in the suspension video, Malone’s manoeuvre was all in one motion while Matheson’s was into the boards and… a pause… before throwing Elias Pettersson to the ice. From now on, that’s going to be a key distinction.

    Also, some of you won’t want to hear this, but there is still plenty of debate and disagreement about the weight difference between the two players.

    One shift after Pettersson was injured, there was a wrestling match between Troy Brouwer (listed at 213 pounds) and Erik Gudbranson (217):

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    The Panthers winger went to the ice, but with the similar size and strength, no one was hurt. We haven’t heard the last of this argument.

    14. If you’re Vancouver, what you really hope this means is that opponents are forced to think twice on how they attack Pettersson. He’s breathed new life into the franchise, instantly making him the focal point of everyone else’s defence. He’s smart and shifty, able to avoid a lot. Canucks fans just saw two decades of Sedinery, complete with all the abuse they took. That’s what’s coming for Pettersson. It’s the only thing that scared anyone about him — his slighter frame. If we’re actually headed into an unheard-of era where stars are extra-protected, the Canucks will be doing celebration dances down Granville Street.

    15. In last week’s blog, we mentioned how there was at least one team that had Pettersson ranked first. With help from Jeff Marek, suspects include Nashville and Tampa Bay. The Predators drafted older brother Emil in 2013, so they had deep intel. Another team that had him highly ranked — but maybe not first — was Detroit.

    16. Canucks head coach Travis Green passionately defended his team for not retaliating on Matheson, saying the players did not see what happened. One indicated they didn’t have a true idea until seeing the craziness on social media after the game, then asking what happened.

    “We just beat Florida and Tampa,” he said, “and we’re getting killed for not fighting a guy for doing something we didn’t see.”

    17. At the Canucks’ final home game last season — the emotional goodbye to Daniel and Henrik Sedin — fans in attendance at Rogers Arena spent an average of $22.33. I’m still not sure I believe it, but someone who would know swears it is true.

    Play the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool! Play the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool for your chance to score big with over $30,000 worth of prizes to be awarded!

    18. Eight years ago, Keith Kinkaid completed his sophomore season at NCAA Union, and the professionals beckoned. Edmonton was among his serious pursuers, but there were many.

    “You look through the depth charts, see who’s had their contract renewed,” Kinkaid said Tuesday, about an hour after the Devils shut out Dallas. “Craig Anderson had a new contract, so did Carey Price. You’re looking to see where you can challenge for an AHL starting job right away. New Jersey was close to home. Martin Brodeur was my idol growing up. I wanted to learn from him, that was a big key. And I knew he couldn’t play forever.”

    Did you ever tell him he was your idol?

    “I don’t think I would ever go up and say that,” he laughs. “But when I was debating what to do, I came here for a game and he gave me a stick. I still have it, in my childhood bedroom.”

    Tough for anyone to beat that.

    19. Kinkaid’s early reputation was “quiet.”

    “That’s true,” he says. “I had learning curves, as everyone does. I didn’t want to overstep my boundaries. Once I knew the organization, my personality came out.”

    Nowhere does that show more than in his Twitter feed, a smorgasbord of emojis after each Devils’ win. Tuesday, the organization released a key for fans to understand who is represented by what. Eric Gryba and John Quenneville haven’t scored yet, so their emoticons are yet to be revealed.

    “Takes me five or 10 minutes to think of them. I can do it when I’m stuck in traffic.”

    Does he get help or take suggestions from teammates?

    “No, it’s all me. I like to have fun with it.”

    The man also likes his wrestling, having attended the last three SummerSlams. Prudential Center is hosting the WWE next week, and he’ll be there. Favourite wrestler: Finn Balor. If Kinkaid tweets out “Dinner Time” it will really be something.

    20. Of course, the reason Kinkaid’s really having fun is the Devils are 4-0. His 1.00 goals-against average and .961 save percentage are the early-season standards.

    Cory Schneider’s hip injury last January opened New Jersey’s net.

    “I’ve always believed in myself, but everyone needs that chance. It’s unfortunate that Cory’s injury opened the door. But you want the opportunity to get more playing time and show you can be consistent. I won my first three games and got too high. Then there were three straight losses. There was a lot I needed to learn.”

    Like what?

    “How to take care of my body. I used to feel like if I didn’t go on ice for an optional, people would think different things about me. Now I understand your body needs rest. And [coach John Hynes] is very good about letting us get that rest.”

    Kinkaid says he benefits from living about an hour away during the summer, not far from the organization’s training staff.

    “Last year, I wanted to prove wrong the people who said I’d never be more than backup, that I deserve the playing time. The playoffs were a great experience. Bronze at the World Championships…. We beat Canada twice, that’s always fun. You want to carry it into this year. Now, we’re off to a hot start. We may not be too highly talked-about, but we’ve got a good thing going.”

    21. One former goalie coach wondered if Kinkaid would opt for stiffer pads, since he wore softer ones last season, allowing rebounds to stay closer to the net. That’s when I learned Kinkaid is the anti-Ed Belfour. The Hall of Famer was known for obsessing over the most minute equipment detail, to the point where he was given his own dressing-room key. That’s not happening here.

    “I don’t even know (the brand name for) everything I use,” he said. “I think that if you think too much, you drive yourself insane. I’m a little strange.”

    Most goalies are.

    “I guess,” he laughed.

    Don’t fool around with what works. That philosophy is definitely working for Keith Kinkaid.

    Tape II Tape Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game. Listen Now | Subscribe | Boylen on Twitter | Dixon on Twitter

    22. Trivia time: With St. Louis playing on Wednesday Night Hockey in Montreal, we were wondering about David Perron, who signed his fifth contract with the Blues over three separate stops in the organization. That led us down two rabbit-holes: How many players have joined the same team three different times, and how many have signed five contracts with one club? According to our crack staff, Perron is the 36th to do the former. Marty Burke is the only person to beat that. He had four different tours with the Canadiens from 1927–38. Meanwhile, Perron is one of only three to sign with one organization five times and play for at least five teams. Can you name the other two? Answer below.

    23. Under-the-radar player gaining respect: Columbus defenceman Markus Nutivaara. (This was on the list before the Blue Jackets gave up 12 goals in two games in Florida, but who hasn’t done something they regret in the Sunshine State?) Everyone on the blue line gets lost there behind Zach Werenski and the injured Seth Jones, but he’s really stepped up. Not bad for a seventh-rounder.

    24. Drew Doughty loves poking the Canadian media. He winds us up, laughs and leaves. I’ve always wondered if he’d really enjoy it on a day-to-day basis.

    “I don’t think I would,” he admitted Monday.

    Good news for the Kings.

    25. Los Angeles is 0-for-21 on the power play, which likely ends any debate of Dustin Brown’s value. He was second on the team last season with 15 power-play points. In his absence, the Kings have tried Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Jeff Carter, Adrian Kempe and Kovalchuk as the net-front presence. Since he’s on long-term injury, Brown can’t return until Oct. 28 at the earliest.

    The Lede Each week, Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt tackle the most impactful stories in the world of sports and their intersection with popular culture. Come for the sports; stay for the storytelling and cigars. Apple Podcasts | Podcatchers | Listen Now

    26. After his “ear-to-ear” showdown with Auston Matthews nearly broke social media, Chicago’s Patrick Kane told reporters referees considered calling Matthews for unsportsmanlike conduct. Thankfully, common sense prevailed; that didn’t happen. Following up, word is that was the correct decision, and there should only be a penalty if taunting is directed at the bench.

    27. Not sure how many of you are NFL fans, but that league’s had a sensational start to the season. Rules changes have made it much, much harder to defend; skilled offensive players are taking advantage. The NHL has a long history of goal-scoring eruptions in October before chaos-hating coaches strangle everything. There is hope this season can be different, with the crackdowns on obstruction and slashing making it difficult on defenders. We’ll see.

    One executive pointed to the last 11 seconds of San Jose/New Jersey on Sunday.

    “The Devils clear the puck,” he said. “And the Sharks still get two chances. That never used to happen.”

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    28. In the aftermath of Austin Watson’s suspension being reduced from 27 games to 18, there were many calls for a specific domestic violence policy in hockey. I don’t get the sense that the NHL or NHLPA sees that as necessary.

    First, the lack of a policy does not prevent commissioner Gary Bettman from suspending a player, with the CBA giving him latitude to do so. Watson did get a ban, and the league has made it very clear that Slava Voynov faces additional punishment if signed to a new contract.

    Second, the league and the players feel that each case is different, both wanting the ability to rule on/respond to what occurs in specific scenarios. We know the NHL was upset by the arbitrator’s reduction, and that the Players’ Association was unhappy at the original punishment, the league’s reaction to the arbitrator’s ruling and the heat it took for appealing at all. We also know that Watson’s girlfriend released a statement absolving him of domestic violence.

    I can understand wishing to decide on a case-by-case basis. What I don’t get is why the process can’t be explained with more transparency. If we knew why the commissioner chose 27 games, what grounds the NHLPA used to appeal, why the arbitrator ruled as he did or if anything in the original police report was disputed, everyone would be better off, including the people involved in the process.

    29. I believe there is at least one owner who told his team Voynov is not an option.

    30. Jim Diamond, who covers the Predators for Associated Press and Rinkside Report, pointed out that Shyam Das, who ruled in Watson’s favour, was fired by Major League Baseball after overturning Ryan Braun’s 2012 drug suspension. As per the CBA, a decision on Das’s future cannot be made until June 30, 2019. So, we’ll see if hockey feels the same way as its baseball brethren.

    31. Trivia answer: David Perron signed five contracts with St. Louis, also joining Edmonton, Pittsburgh, Anaheim and Vegas. Nolan Baumgartner did it with Vancouver, also playing for Washington, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Dallas. Finally, Wendel Clark for Toronto. His other teams were Quebec, the Islanders, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Chicago.

    32. Bonus thought this week: Ben Falk, who formerly worked for the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and Portland Trail Blazers, has an interesting website called Cleaning the Glass. Earlier this week, he published an article entitled, “Want to watch basketball like a coach or scout? Here’s how I learned.” It may be about hoops, but there are some good ideas to pull for hockey fans.

    Marijuana use in the NHL: The times they are a changin’

    Marijuana use in the NHL: The times they are a changin’


    While no one is saying players are high on the ice, some say more and more are getting high off it. This is the story of one player, marijuana and how science and society will impact the NHL. The post Jerebko buzzer-beater leads Warriors past Jazz...

    While no one is saying players are high on the ice, some say more and more are getting high off it. This is the story of one player, marijuana and how science and society will impact the NHL.

    The post Jerebko buzzer-beater leads Warriors past Jazz appeared first on Sportsnet.ca.

    Ross Rebagliati redemption as weed legalized in Canada

    Ross Rebagliati redemption as weed legalized in Canada


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    Episode 17: Political Football

    Episode 17: Political Football


    Any sports fan surprised by how Donald Trump carries himself as President, doesn’t know his history as a USFL owner. Jeff and Stephen are joined by Jeff Pearlman to discuss his book “Football for a Buck” to trade Trump sports stories and...

    Any sports fan surprised by how Donald Trump carries himself as President, doesn’t know his history as a USFL owner. Jeff and Stephen are joined by Jeff Pearlman to discuss his book “Football for a Buck” to trade Trump sports stories and discuss what made the USFL unique. This episode was produced by Amil Delic and Ryan Walsh. Audio Credits: ABC, CNN, NFL, The Washington Post and World Boxing Association. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the hosts and guests and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rogers Media Inc. or any affiliate.

    Oilers’ McLellan weighs in on McDavid vs. Matthews debate

    Oilers’ McLellan weighs in on McDavid vs. Matthews debate


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    Jets’ Mark Scheifele: Matthews is ‘not at McDavid’s level just yet’

    Jets’ Mark Scheifele: Matthews is ‘not at McDavid’s level just yet’


    WINNIPEG — Hey Mark Scheifele. You played with Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid on Team North America at the World Cup, and you’ve faced them both in the NHL. Is Matthews really a better player than McDavid, like the folks in Toronto are...

    WINNIPEG — Hey Mark Scheifele. You played with Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid on Team North America at the World Cup, and you’ve faced them both in the NHL.

    Is Matthews really a better player than McDavid, like the folks in Toronto are saying?

    "No."

    Care to expound on that a bit?

    "Obviously Auston’s a great player, he’s got a lot of skill and you watch him on a nightly basis, he makes a lot of really good plays," said the Jets centre. "Connor McDavid has put up back-to-back 100-point seasons. He’s done a lot that Matthews obviously hasn’t done. Matthews is a star in this league and he’s going to get better. But he’s not at McDavid’s level just yet."

    Play the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool! Play the Sportsnet Fantasy Hockey Pool for your chance to score big with over $30,000 worth of prizes to be awarded!

    You’ve heard of those players who stay away from hockey when they leave the rink? Guys who don’t go home and surf the Centre Ice package on an off night?

    Yeah, Scheifele isn’t one of those guys. He’s in tune with the league and knows everything that’s going on. Also, he will no doubt play alongside McDavid — and against Matthews — when the NHL players go back to the Winter Olympics one day.

    He’s seen Matthews tearing it up for the 6-1 Maple Leafs, becoming just the 11th player to have 16 points in his first six games — a group that includes Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. But better than McDavid?

    Not in Scheifele’s opinion.

    "Toronto’s played seven games. Edmonton’s only played three," cautioned Scheifele. "It’s still early in the season and there’s still so much that will happen. Every year there’s ebbs and flows. Auston’s had a great start and you want him to keep going, but it’ll be interesting to have this conversation later in the season."

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    The question was posed to Oilers coach Todd McLellan, who coached that Team North America squad as well. You know who he’s going to pick.

    "I would agree with you wholeheartedly — except we have Connor," began McLellan. "Auston Matthews, and Connor, and Sid, and Nathan MacKinnon, and Taylor Hall… This league is blessed with a tremendous amount talent right now. Young players who are full of courage, and full of talent who entertain on a nightly basis. Auston would be one of them."

    "You are allowed to pick your own guy, Todd," someone said.

    "I believe he is (the best player). But I’m not going to take anything away from Auston Matthews. He’s had a tremendous start, and he’s a good kid. I’ve had the pleasure of being around him.

    "But, 97 is a damned good player. I’ll tell you that."

    Scheifele faces McDavid tonight in Winnipeg. He’s quietly hoping McDavid isn’t catching wind of this growing conversation in the Canadian hockey world.

    "I’m sure Connor likes challenges," Scheifele said, "and wants to be the best player he can be. I’m sure Auston having a great start is only pushing him to do more.

    "And that’s bad news for us."

    Cannabis & the CFL: Randy Ambrosie on what legalization means for the CFL

    Cannabis & the CFL: Randy Ambrosie on what legalization means for the CFL


    In a recent candid conversation with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, we discussed a myriad of topics over 40 minutes. But it was Ambrosie’s stance on cannabis legalization that both surprised and captivated me the most, especially given the CFL is...

    In a recent candid conversation with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, we discussed a myriad of topics over 40 minutes.

    But it was Ambrosie’s stance on cannabis legalization that both surprised and captivated me the most, especially given the CFL is the only professional football league played solely in Canada. As commissioner, Ambrosie, himself a former player, sees opportunity in legalization.

    Here’s our full interview with Ambrosie, talking cannabis and what legalization might mean for the CFL.

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    It’s important to remember for context that different North American leagues have wildly different stances on the issue.

    • Cannabis is not on the NHL’s list of banned substances in its Performance Enhancing Substances Program, but it is one of the drugs tested for under the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program.

    • MLB tests its players for “drugs of abuse,” which they consider cannabis to be, but tests players only if MLB or union officials have reasonable cause.

    • The MLS conducts unannounced testing for all prohibited substances including cannabis.

    • In the NFL, players are tested once in the off-season from mid-April to mid-August.

    • In the NBA, players are subject to four random drug tests during the season, but the league doesn’t test for marijuana in the off-season.

    NBA commissioner Adam Silver confirmed last year he was open to the legalization of medical marijuana. That follows the lead of the BIG3 who earlier this year became the first professional league to legalize cannabidiol (CBD) for recovery and pain relief.

    The CFL currently doesn’t test for marijuana, but the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports (CCES) does. Under their guidelines, marijuana is a banned substance and “Athletes subject to the Canadian Anti-Doping Program (CADP) must be aware that (legalization) does not affect the status of cannabis in sport. Cannabis continues to be a prohibited substance and a positive test can still result in a sanction.”

    This means any U Sports athletes looking to be drafted into the CFL will still be tested and suspended for marijuana use while at school.

    Ambrosie hopes the fact that the CFL isn’t running and hiding from association with the drug once the law goes into effect will in part help the stigma surrounding it.

    “We want to make sure we’re really watching for an opportunity, talking with our medical community about an opportunity to support potentially a solution to the opioid crisis,” Ambrosie said. “(We want to) play a role in helping society as part of our ongoing contribution to Canada.”

    The mixture of weed and sports is not a new subject to Canadians. In 1998, Canadian Ross Rebagliati won a gold medal in men’s snowboarding at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan but initially had it stripped after a blood test found he had Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in his system. Rebagliati won his medal back on an appeal and now runs Ross’ Gold, a medical marijuana business, while continuing to advocate for athletes looking to acquire cannabis for medicinal purposes.

    WADA has since removed CBD from its list of banned substances.

    Research has shown CBD acts as an anti-inflammatory, which helps to reduce pain from swelling and prevent joint injuries during physical activity, which has caused many football players to advocate for its use. According to a 2017 National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine’s report, Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research, there is substantial evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective for the treatment of chronic pain. But the results haven’t been conclusive.

    There are still questions to be answered and research to be done. All CFL players are over 19 and thus legally allowed to use, but the fanbase the league is looking to court is young and often under that age. How will that impact potential alignment with the cannabis industry? Will the league make a distinction in its alignment with use for both medicinal and recreational use?

    Ambrosie is waiting for Health Canada to educate him on “what’s in the box and what’s out of the box.”

    This is an issue the football community has been debating and will need to get a handle on now that all nine CFL teams and 20 NFL teams play in locations where marijuana is legal.

    NFL players like Ricky Williams, Nate Jones and Derrick Morgan, along with organizations like When The Bright Lights Fade, have been outspoken about the health benefits a non-psychoactive cannabis ingredient like CBD has on players who use it as a Ibuprofen and Toradol alternative. Former NFL player Martellus Bennett went as far as to say 89 per cent of NFLers are already self medicating with the drug.

    How many players in the NFL smoke weed? Over/Under: 70%

    Martellus Bennett says WAY OVER pic.twitter.com/Nf8041rvNZ

    — Simms & Lefkoe (@SimmsAndLefkoe) April 11, 2018

    Ambrosie has talked about the fact the CFL should mirror the country and be progressive leaders in sport. Given the traditional restrictive and conservative stances by other sports leagues, the CFL is in a prime position to do just that with the legalization of cannabis in Canada.