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    Lowry’s injured thumb not stopping his impact on the court vs. Bucks

    Lowry’s injured thumb not stopping his impact on the court vs. Bucks


    MILWAUKEE — Considering how well he’s played through four games against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Final, you might not realize how injured Kyle Lowry is. For the series, he’s shooting 52 per cent from the field and 48 per cent...

    MILWAUKEE — Considering how well he’s played through four games against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Final, you might not realize how injured Kyle Lowry is.

    For the series, he’s shooting 52 per cent from the field and 48 per cent from beyond the arc. No player on either team has hit more than Lowry’s 15 three-pointers — only Norman Powell (11) has more than nine. Lowry holds his team’s best net rating at 10.7. When he’s been on the court, Toronto’s offence has averaged 109.5 points per 100 possessions. When he’s been off of it, that number plummets to 87.7.

    A badly sprained left thumb, suffered during Toronto’s epic Game 7 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers a week-and-a-half ago, hasn’t been enough to stop Lowry from playing as one of the most impactful players in the subsequent four games. But every once and a while, you get a glimpse of how bad it is. Pascal Siakam certainly did, when Lowry tried to find him on the baseline early in Game 4 with a pass off his left hand.

    “Usually, his passes are always on point. But that pass, I don’t know,” Siakam said, laughing, as the Raptors gathered for shootaround on the morning of Thursday’s pivotal Game 5. “He’s a warrior. … It doesn’t matter whether he’s injured, whatever, he’s always put it all on the line. And he does everything to make sure that we win. That’s definitely a guy that I always want to have on my team. I’m so happy that I have him on my team. I’m sure he doesn’t make excuses about [the injury.] That’s the type of guy that he is.”

    And that will have to continue because Lowry’s thumb isn’t getting any better. The Raptors guard shared sparse details Thursday, saying it feels just as bad as it has since he suffered the injury, and that he won’t be able to have the issue “taken care of” until Toronto’s season ends.

    That suggests a structural problem, and perhaps something that can’t be corrected with mere rest. But no sense speculating. Lowry has at least two games remaining to play in this series, and he hopes a bunch more after that. The injury isn’t going away. But neither is Lowry.

    “It’s pretty bad. Honestly, it’s pretty bad,” he said. “It hurts on everything. Everything. Every time I use the hand it hurts. But it’s whatever. At this point, it is what it is.

    “I’ve still got a lot to give, I’ve still got a lot more to give. My thumb being hurt, it is what it is. But my body feels great, my mind feels strong — that’s an important thing.”

    Stream Raptors basketball on Sportsnet NOW Stream marquee NBA matchups from around the league, including over 40 Raptors games. Plus, get the NHL, MLB, Premier League, CHL and more.

    The Raptors have needed it. With Kawhi Leonard limited by his own injuries, Siakam demonstrating the inconsistency found in most young players, and the entire team fatigued from the stress of Game 3’s dual overtime periods, Lowry’s effectiveness in Game 4 was paramount. The Raptors won that game so handily because they played with pace, moved the ball effectively and embraced a free-flowing offensive structure that led to 32 of Toronto’s 41 buckets being assisted.

    That starts with Lowry. He led the Raptors in both touches and passes in Game 4, and consistently pushed his team’s pace — clapping his hands and urging officials to let him inbound turnovers faster, rushing the ball up the floor while the Bucks were still setting their defence, and probing Milwaukee’s paint with aggressive drives to discombobulate coverages and open up opportunities for his teammates.

    “I’m just playing basketball — just trying to help my team win,” Lowry said. “It’s not about scoring for me — it’s about everything else. And I think just the aggressiveness of me in general offensively has helped the team.

    “I think I know what we need a little bit. I see the game, as always. I feel the game early on. I see what it is. And understand every situation is always going to be different.”

    Look at how Lowry directs traffic on this play, pointing out an attacking opportunity to Siakam:

    He essentially plays this next possession with one arm, using his right hand to create two shooting opportunities for Serge Ibaka, who finally takes the second one (plus, extra points for boxing out George Hill):

    Here, he helps force a turnover, attacks decisively in the opposite direction and is even in position for an offensive rebound in case Siakam doesn’t finish the play:

    The fact that the Raptors are 8-2 in these playoffs when they put up 21 assists or more, and 2-4 in games with less, is no coincidence. And when Lowry’s playing like this, it has a cascading effect on the rest of the roster.

    “I think it’s more fun for everybody to play with ball movement — I think it’s more fun for everybody to watch,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “I think it builds a better energy and spirit to play at the other end.”

    Of course, it’s unlikely Game 5 will play out the same way as Game 4. If one thing’s been consistent when it comes to the Raptors this postseason, it’s the inconsistency of the team’s performance from game to game. At times they’ve moved the ball freely and effectively. At others, they’ve handed it to Leonard and let him carry them through. You never know until the ball goes up.

    So far in this series, Toronto and Milwaukee have split a pair of lop-sided games and a pair of close ones, too. It’s hard to know what to count on any given night. But through four games, the Raptors have been able to count on Lowry, injury and all.

    “Game 5’s going to be different than Game 4, Game 3, Game 2, Game 1,” he said. “Every game’s going to be different. We’ve just got to go out there and play extremely hard, understand the game plan and know what we’ve got to do. And play with confidence. Play free.”

    Warriors’ Kevin Durant unlikely to return for start of NBA Finals

    Warriors’ Kevin Durant unlikely to return for start of NBA Finals


    Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant is unlikely to return to action for the start of the NBA Finals, the team announced Thursday. Kevin Durant & DeMarcus Cousins injury update: pic.twitter.com/nMyQG0yKDl — Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) May 23,...

    Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant is unlikely to return to action for the start of the NBA Finals, the team announced Thursday.

    Kevin Durant & DeMarcus Cousins injury update: pic.twitter.com/nMyQG0yKDl

    — Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) May 23, 2019

    Durant was injured in Game 5 of the conference semifinals against Houston and the injury was later revealed to be a strained right calf.

    The 30-year-old has not yet been cleared to begin on-court activities.

    Despite this, the Warriors remain optimistic that he could return at some point during the series.

    Senators organization needs stability & calmness more than anything

    Senators organization needs stability & calmness more than anything


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    What’s next for Senators from now until NHL Draft?

    What’s next for Senators from now until NHL Draft?


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    Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard voted to All-NBA second team

    Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard voted to All-NBA second team


    Toronto Raptors star forward Kawhi Leonard is among the 15 players selected to the NBA’s three All-NBA teams. Leonard was announced as a selection of the second team despite playing only 60 games in a 2018-19 season that saw him miss time because of...

    Toronto Raptors star forward Kawhi Leonard is among the 15 players selected to the NBA’s three All-NBA teams.

    Leonard was announced as a selection of the second team despite playing only 60 games in a 2018-19 season that saw him miss time because of the load management program he was under.

    He averaged 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 49.6 per cent from the field and 37.1 per cent from deep.

    Leonard earned 73 second-team votes and 23 third-team votes for a total voter score of 242

    The All-NBA first team is made up of MVP front-runner Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, last season’s MVP James Harden from the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry and Denver Nuggets star centre Nikola Jokic.

    The 2018-19 All-NBA First Team! @Giannis_An34 @StephenCurry30 @Yg_Trece @JHarden13
    Nikola Jokic pic.twitter.com/Lib2RfRPuN

    — NBA (@NBA) May 23, 2019

    Joining Leonard on the second team is the Warriors’ Kevin Durant, the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers and the Boston Celtics’ Kyrie Irving.

    The 2018-19 All-NBA Second Team! @KDTrey5 @JoelEmbiid @KyrieIrving @kawhileonard @Dame_Lillard pic.twitter.com/ych0FLXjYu

    — NBA (@NBA) May 23, 2019

    Lastly, on the the third team is LeBron James from the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert, Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons, Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Hornets.

    The 2018-19 All-NBA Third Team! @rudygobert27 @blakegriffin23 @KingJames @KembaWalker @russwest44 pic.twitter.com/7IMCbp1JQK

    — NBA (@NBA) May 23, 2019

    Raptors guard Kyle Lowry received a single third-team vote, while Pascal Siakam managed to accrue four of them.

    Milos Raonic withdraws from French Open with injury

    Milos Raonic withdraws from French Open with injury


    PARIS — Canada’s top-ranked tennis player will not play in the French Open. Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., announced he was pulling out because of injury just before the draw on Thursday. Raonic, ranked 17th in the world, hasn’t played...

    PARIS — Canada’s top-ranked tennis player will not play in the French Open.

    Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., announced he was pulling out because of injury just before the draw on Thursday.

    Raonic, ranked 17th in the world, hasn’t played since suffering a right knee injury at the Miami Open in late March.

    The 28-year-old also withdrew from last year’s French Open because of injury.

    The hard-serving Raonic has battled the injury bug throughout his career. He reached the quarterfinals at the French Open in 2014, but traditionally doesn’t do as well on the clay-court surface used at the second Grand Slam of the season.

    Raonic’s decision left four Canadians in the main draw in singles play.

    No. 20 seed Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., will face the 44th-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany in the opening round.

    Struff beat Shapovalov on clay last month in Monte Carlo, tying their lifetime series at 1-1.

    No. 25 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal drew the 69th-ranked Jordan Thompson of Australia in the first round.

    Auger-Aliassime, 18, has advanced to the semifinals of the Lyon Open, while Shapovalov was eliminated on Thursday in the quarterfinals.

    On the women’s side, No. 22 seed Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., will face a qualifier to open the tournament.

    The 18-year-old Andreescu hasn’t played since retiring from a fourth-round match with a shoulder injury at the Miami Open.

    Prior to that, Andreescu made a stunning run to the BNP Paribas Open title in Indian Wells, Calif., rocketing up the rankings in the process.

    A potential third-round encounter with American star Serena Williams looms for Andreescu if both players win their first two matches.

    The French Open will mark the first time Auger-Aliassime and Andreescu are seeded at a Grand Slam.

    Unseeded Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., will face No. 27 seed Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine in the first round.

    Bouchard hasn’t played since suffering an abdominal injury in Miami Open qualifying.

    Meanwhile, Vancouver’s Rebecca Marino fell just short in a second-round qualifying match on Thursday.

    Marino lost 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-4 to No. 22 qualifying seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan. Rybakina needs one more win to advance to the main women’s singles draw.

    The 28-year-old Marino won three more points than Rybakina during the match, but converted on just three of 10 break-point opportunities. Rybakina, ranked 135th in the world, was 3-for-4 in the same category.

    The 28-year-old Marino climbed to No. 147 in the world rankings after winning the ITF Kurume title in Japan last weekend.

    A former top-40 player, Marino returned to full-time play last season after taking a five-year break from the sport.

    All eyes at the French Open will be on Rafael Nadal, who will start his campaign for a record-extending 12th title at the tournament against a qualifier. And if he makes it to the second round, another qualifier will be waiting.

    The defending champion was handed what looked like quite an easy draw at Roland Garros stadium, where the Spanish player attended the ceremony and said he was happy with his form.

    Nadal won his first title of the season last week at the Italian Open, where he looked close to his best after some uncharacteristic struggles on clay.

    "It was an important title for me," Nadal said. "I played very well throughout the tournament, I’m very happy to find myself in this situation."

    In the women’s draw, Simona Halep will open the defence of her title against Ajla Tomljanovic.

    Roger Federer, in his first French Open match since 2015, will face Lorenzo Sonego of Italy and top-ranked Novak Djokovic will begin his run against Hubert Hurkacz.

    Main-draw play starts on Sunday.

    What pumped up Dorion and Senators most about D.J. Smith

    What pumped up Dorion and Senators most about D.J. Smith


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    Conn Smythe Power Rankings: It’s Tuukka Rask’s trophy to lose

    Conn Smythe Power Rankings: It’s Tuukka Rask’s trophy to lose


    The last time the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues met in the Stanley Cup Final it gave us the iconic moment of Bobby Orr soaring through the air after scoring the series-clinching overtime goal. Orr capped off that remarkable 1969-70 campaign by being...

    The last time the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues met in the Stanley Cup Final it gave us the iconic moment of Bobby Orr soaring through the air after scoring the series-clinching overtime goal.

    Orr capped off that remarkable 1969-70 campaign by being awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy after finishing the post-season with 20 points in 14 games – no other defenceman had more than seven playoff points that year.

    Will the eventual 2019 Conn Smythe winner also have a moment like Orr’s that leaves an indelible mark on hockey fans?

    There’s no blue-liner currently operating at an Orr-like level but there have been a number of memorable playoff performances.

    We’re down to two teams and only a handful of viable Conn Smythe contenders. Here they are.

    With 6 grams of delicious, crunchy, energy-giving protein, there’s nothing you and almonds can’t do. Visit Almonds.com for more ways to slay your day. LEARN MORE Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

    17 GP | .942 SV% | 1.84 GAA | 2 SO

    The clear frontrunner among remaining players, Rask has won seven in a row dating back to Boston’s second-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Finnish netminder has stopped 220 of 229 shots during this stretch. He’s also getting plenty of help from his teammates, as the Bruins have scored at least thrice in all but six games these playoffs – all five of Boston’s losses have occurred under these circumstances.

    “This guy’s unbelievable to be honest,” David Pastrnak told Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukauskas after the Bruins completed their sweep of Carolina. “I’ve never seen anybody play like him and the whole playoffs, this guy’s just on another level.”

    The only other time during the salary cap era that a goalie had a save percentage that high and a GAA that low in the same post-season was back in 2012 when Jonathan Quick played lights out en route to the Los Angeles Kings’ first Stanley Cup championship.

    Patrice Bergeron on the performance of Tuukka Rask: "Right now he's in the zone. He's been amazing." pic.twitter.com/poa2GYLwbp

    — Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) May 15, 2019

    Rask is rising in the record books as well. When he blanked the Hurricanes to complete the Eastern Conference Final sweep, he passed Miikka Kiprusoff for most playoff shutouts by a Finnish-born goaltender in NHL history.

    Even in a losing effort, if Rask can maintain or even improve on these numbers it might be good enough to warrant him being named the Conn Smythe recipient. The last time a player on the losing team was named playoff MVP was in 2003 when Jean-Sebastien Giguere did it with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

    Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues

    19 GP | .914 SV% | 2.36 GAA | 1 SO

    It has been more than three decades since hockey fans last saw a rookie netminder do as well as Binnington has done this year. In fact, the last rookie to earn each of his team’s first 12 wins during a playoff run was Ron Hextall with the Flyers in 1987. Hextall just happened to win the Conn Smythe in a losing effort that year.

    If the Blues can earn the franchise’s first championship and Binnington is between the pipes for all four wins, he’ll become the first rookie goalie in NHL history to record 16 wins during a playoff run.

    Most Wins By Rookie Goalie in Single Postseason in #NHL History:

    Patrick Roy (1986) – 15
    Ron Hextall (1987) – 15
    Cam Ward (2006) – 15
    Matt Murray (2016) – 15
    Ken Dryden (1971) – 12
    Mike Vernon (1986) – 12#STLBlues Jordan Binnington (2019) – 12

    — Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) May 22, 2019

    Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues

    19 GP | 12 G | 4 A | 16 Pts | 2 GWG

    The pride of Wilcox, Sask., has had to overcome plenty of injury setbacks during his young NHL career and his 2018-19 campaign was his worst regular-season performance since his sophomore year. He scored only 11 goals in 69 games.

    That’s why it’s so refreshing to finally see him playing some of his best hockey of his life, already scoring 12 times and adding four assists in just 19 playoff games. He’s just two goals and four points back of Logan Couture for the league lead in both categories.

    The franchise record for points during a single playoff run is a three-way tie at 21 points between Brett Hull, Doug Gilmour and Bernie Federko. A strong showing in the Stanley Cup Final could see him surpass those three Blues legends.

    It’s not a difficult argument to make that Ryan O’Reilly has been the Blues best forward overall, not to mention Vladimir Tarasenko has come on strong with a point in every game against the Sharks, but Schwartz has been the team’s most clutch goal scorer and that often sets a player apart when it comes to award voting. Schwartz became the first player to record multiple hat tricks during a single playoff run since Johan Franzen did it with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008.

    Jaden Schwartz is 2 goals shy of setting the #stlblues record for most in a single postseason (Brett Hull: 13 in 1990)

    — Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) May 21, 2019

    Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

    17 GP | 7 G | 11 A | 18 Pts | 2 GWG

    Coming off his first 100-point NHL season, Marchand started his 2019 playoffs impressively with nine points in his first six games. Then he went quiet. A four-game pointless skid resulted in him pulling some classic Marchand antics against the Blue Jackets – stepping on Cam Atkinson’s stick, punching Scott Harrington, etc. – which helped him and his team get back on track.

    The Bruins haven’t lost since they fell behind 2-1 to Columbus in that second-round series and Marchand has put up nine points in the seven games since to lead his team.

    .@Bmarch63 sealed the deal.#NHLBruins pic.twitter.com/I49jmuUVuG

    — Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) May 17, 2019

    Senators head coach D.J. Smith addresses media for first time

    Senators head coach D.J. Smith addresses media for first time


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    Canada rallies to beat Switzerland in overtime in world hockey quarterfinal

    Canada rallies to beat Switzerland in overtime in world hockey quarterfinal


    KOSICE, Slovakia — Mark Stone scored in overtime to give Canada a dramatic 3-2 win over Switzerland in a quarterfinal at the world hockey championship. Canada’s Damon Severson tied it with 0.4 seconds left in regulation on a goal that was...

    KOSICE, Slovakia — Mark Stone scored in overtime to give Canada a dramatic 3-2 win over Switzerland in a quarterfinal at the world hockey championship.

    Canada’s Damon Severson tied it with 0.4 seconds left in regulation on a goal that was confirmed by video review.

    In the 3-on-3 overtime, Stone got a step on a Swiss defender and put a pass from Pierre-Luc Dubois behind goalie Leonardo Genoni to win it.

    Stone’s seventh goal of the tournament came at 5:07 of the 10-minute period. If neither team scored, there would have been a shootout.

    The tying goal came with Canada goalie Matt Murray was pulled for an extra attacker, Severson’s shot from the point dribbled over the goal line after it hit Genoni’s pad and blocker. After a video review that lasted about five minutes, it was confirmed as a goal.

    Canada (7-1) has now won seven games in a row. Canada finished first in Pool A, while Switzerland (4-4) was fourth in Pool B.

    Canada finished fourth last year after losing to Switzerland in the semifinals before dropping the bronze-medal game against the United States.

    Nico Hischier gave Switzerland a 2-1 lead with three seconds left in the second period. The first overall pick by the New Jersey Devils in the 2017 NHL draft, Hischier put a rebound past Murray with Switzerland on a power play.

    Canada was playing without top scorer Anthony Mantha, who received a one-game suspension for his hit to the head on American Colin White in the final game of the preliminary round.

    Stone, a Vegas Golden Knights forward, tied it at 1-1 when he tipped a Dante Fabbro shot past Genoni at 5:45 of the second period.

    Sven Andrighetto cashed in on the power play to open the scoring for Switzerland with 1:54 left in the first.

    Russia beat the United States 4-3 in another quarterfinal on Thursday.

    Finland was scheduled to play Sweden and Germany was set to meet the Czech Republic in the other quarterfinals later Thursday.

    The semifinals are Saturday and the final is Sunday.

    Is D.J. Smith the right head coach for the Senators?

    Is D.J. Smith the right head coach for the Senators?


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    MLB Live Tracker: Blue Jays vs. Red Sox

    MLB Live Tracker: Blue Jays vs. Red Sox


    Follow along with Sportsnet’s MLB Live Tracker as the Toronto Blue Jays look to bounce back from their 13 inning marathon loss at the hands of the Boston Red...

    Follow along with Sportsnet’s MLB Live Tracker as the Toronto Blue Jays look to bounce back from their 13 inning marathon loss at the hands of the Boston Red Sox.

    Islanders, Brock Nelson agree to six-year contract extension

    Islanders, Brock Nelson agree to six-year contract extension


    Less than a year after losing John Tavares, the New York Islanders re-signed new No. 1 centre Brock Nelson before he could even test free agency. Nelson on Thursday agreed to terms on a six-year contract through the 2024-25 season. Nelson scored 25...

    Less than a year after losing John Tavares, the New York Islanders re-signed new No. 1 centre Brock Nelson before he could even test free agency.

    Nelson on Thursday agreed to terms on a six-year contract through the 2024-25 season. Nelson scored 25 goals and set career highs with 28 assists and 53 points last season to help the Islanders make the playoffs.

    "It was a bigger opportunity," Nelson said in a phone interview. "There wasn’t a whole lot of talk about us being a very good team. A lot of people predicted us to be kind of at the bottom of the league. Kind of went out there to prove people wrong and a chip on our shoulder. And for me, that opportunity playing with great players throughout the year, I think just trying to step into those shoes and take advantage of that."

    Getting Nelson under contract is one item on a long off-season checklist for general manager Lou Lamoriello. Captain Anders Lee and goaltender Robin Lehner are among the Islanders’ potential unrestricted free agents.

    With Tavares’ departure for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs still fresh, the Islanders don’t want to say goodbye to their captain two years in a row and would love to bring back Lehner after a bounce-back season made him a Vezina Trophy finalist .

    "Hopefully guys decide to stay and come back and you want to win together," Nelson said. "This is the only place I’ve ever known. Being comfortable with the fit and everything was great for us, and you hope maybe it’s similar for some of those guys. But you just never know how it shakes out. You hope to see those guys back because last year was a special group and you want to keep it together."

    Brodeur, Hefford, Bilodeau among Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame 2019 inductees

    Brodeur, Hefford, Bilodeau among Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame 2019 inductees


    CALGARY – Hockey players Martin Brodeur and Jayna Hefford and freestyle skier Alex Bilodeau will be among this year’s inductees into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. Para-nordic skier and wheelchair racer Colette Bourgonje, water polo player...

    CALGARY – Hockey players Martin Brodeur and Jayna Hefford and freestyle skier Alex Bilodeau will be among this year’s inductees into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.

    Para-nordic skier and wheelchair racer Colette Bourgonje, water polo player Waneek Horn-Miller and long-distance swimmer Vicki Keith round out the class of athletes entering the hall located in Calgary.

    Former CFL commissioner Doug Mitchell and rowing coach and official Guylaine Bernier will be inducted as builders.

    The eight were chosen from 260 public nominations.

    Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame has inducted 665 athletes and builders in its 64-year history.

    This year’s induction ceremony will be in Toronto in October.

    Signings, trades and drafts: How the Stanley Cup finalists were built

    Signings, trades and drafts: How the Stanley Cup finalists were built


    The stage is set for the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, and what a journey it’s been to get there. The St. Louis Blues completed one of the greatest comebacks we’ve ever seen just to get into the post-season and then raised the bar yet again by defeating...

    The stage is set for the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, and what a journey it’s been to get there.

    The St. Louis Blues completed one of the greatest comebacks we’ve ever seen just to get into the post-season and then raised the bar yet again by defeating the Jets, Stars and Sharks to return to the Cup Final for a rematch 49 years in the making.

    The last time the #STLBlues made the Stanley Cup Final they were swept 4-0 by the #NHLBruins (1970), thanks to an OT winner by Bobby Orr in Game 4. pic.twitter.com/B3094RnnIJ

    — Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) May 22, 2019

    The Boston Bruins, meanwhile, survived a spring filled with upsets to get back to the Final for the third time since 2011, going through Toronto, Columbus and Carolina in the process.

    Both teams’ general managers, St. Louis’s Doug Armstrong and Boston’s Don Sweeney, were named finalists for GM of the year — not surprising, considering the success of their respective teams. But in taking a closer look at how each roster has come together, it’s interesting to see how these two GMs built their squad and compare the makeup of the two.

    They’re pretty different.

    For example, Armstrong has proven to be a savvy trader, landing several key players on the market, while Sweeney’s shorter tenure at the helm in Boston has seen him focus on fine-tuning his roster and re-signing franchise cornerstones to make the strong core already in place even stronger.

    It’s worth noting here that while both teams have seen a long list of players suit up over the course of the 2018-19 campaign, we’re keeping this deep dive limited to the current 23-man roster of players who spent the bulk of the regular season with the big club or who have factored in significantly to the team’s playoff run.

    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 BOSTON BRUINS

    We’ve seen a lot of new faces this spring, with several surprise teams making unexpected Cup runs — but the Bruins aren’t one of them. This is Boston’s third trip to the Stanley Cup Final in the salary cap era (Boston won the Cup in 2011 and lost it in 2013) and they’ve managed to keep the same core intact: Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, and Tuukka Rask. Rask, of course, was Tim Thomas’ backup during the Bruins’ Cup win and now has another shot to win it as the starter.

    Since the salary cap was enforced in 2005, we’ve seen five teams that, like Boston, have made it to at least two Stanley Cup Finals and won at least one of them: Detroit (won in 2008, lost in 2009), Pittsburgh (lost in 2008, won in 2009, 2016, and 2017), Chicago (won in 2010, 2013, 2015) and Los Angeles (won in 2012 and 2014). All five teams made multiple trips to the Final using the same consistent core.

    Sweeney inherited this rock-solid core when he replaced Peter Chiarelli in May 2015, and has since safely navigated the club through several team-friendly negotiations. He re-signed Marchand (8 years, $49M) and Krug (four years, $21M), locked up Pastrnak (six years, $40M), kept veteran Chara while drafting tomorrow’s stars and added some important complimentary pieces along the way.

    Highest-paid: David Krejci ($7.25M | signed through 2020-21)
    Longest-tenured: Patrice Bergeron (15 seasons, 1028 games)
    Oldest: Zdeno Chara (41)
    Youngest: Charlie McAvoy (21)

    Here’s a look at the makeup of this current Bruins team:

    Acquired via draft: Charlie McAvoy (2016), Jake DeBrusk (2015), Brandon Carlo (2015), David Pastrnak (2014), Danton Heinen (2014), Matt Grzelcyk (2012), Brad Marchand (2006), David Krejci (2004), Patrice Bergeron (2003).

    Sweeney’s signature pick: Jake DeBrusk
    Sweeney’s first draft as GM of the Bruins in 2015 was certainly his busiest as he stocked up on picks — including three consecutive first-rounders — in an effort to put his stamp on this team. Sweeney used the 13th overall pick (via L.A.) to select Jakub Zboril and took Zachary Senyshyn with the 15th pick (via Calgary). In the middle, using the Bruins’ own pick, he took DeBrusk. An unpopular pick at first considering the three players chosen right after Boston went, DeBrusk has evolved into a solid young forward who perfectly embodies the Bruins’ gritty style — he’ll be a thorn in your side and he’ll get on the scoreboard, too.

    Acquired via free agency: Jaroslav Halak (2018), Connor Clifton (2018), Joakim Nordstrom (2018), John Moore (2018), Chris Wagner (2018) David Backes (2016), Noel Acciari* (2015), Torey Krug* (2012), Kevan Miller* (2011), Zdeno Chara (2006).
    *undrafted free agent signings

    Best signing of 2018-19: Jaroslav Halak
    Never underestimate the power of a good backup goaltender. Sweeney sure didn’t. When he signed Halak to a two-year, $5.5-million contract last July, he instantly eased Rask’s workload in 2018-19 — and it’s paying off big time this spring as the 32-year-old is looking well-rested and fresh. Rask’s 45 starts in 2018-19 was his lowest game count since taking over as Boston’s No. 1 netminder, and Halak’s 22-11-4 performance, including some clutch play down the stretch, gave the Bruins every confidence in their crease.

    Acquired via trade: Charlie Coyle (2019), Marcus Johansson (2019), Sean Kuraly (2015), Tuukka Rask (2006).

    Top trade of 2018-19: Charlie Coyle
    The Bruins’ best trade target on this squad is definitely Rask, who was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Andrew Raycroft back in 2006 during then-interim GM Jeff Gorton’s two months on the job.

    Feel very confident saying, no one is ever going to score on Tuukka Rask ever again. #Duncan

    — Andrew Raycroft (@AndrewRaycroft) May 17, 2019

    But in an effort to capture Sweeney’s impact, let’s look at Coyle, who was acquired at this year’s trade deadline to add some depth scoring. He’s been thriving while playing for his hometown team. The 27-year-old, who comes at an affordable $3.2 million for one more season, has tallied six goals and 12 points through 17 playoff games this year and is getting plenty of looks on the Bruins’ excellent power play.

    ST. LOUIS BLUES

    Doug Armstrong joined the Blues as vice president of player personnel in 2008 and took over as GM in 2010, which means his fingerprints are all over this roster. While many contenders tend to keep off-season moves to the fine-tuning variety, Armstrong did not.

    The 2018-19 campaign may have been his busiest season yet — he hired, fired, signed, and traded — and saw his club go from last place on Jan. 3 to the Stanley Cup Final.

    [radioclip id=4630609]

    It’s interesting to note that, compared to the Bruins’ makeup, the Blues have acquired a number of impact players via the trade market. They brought in key players this past off-season so started with plenty of new faces as opposed to the tried-and-true core of the Bruins.

    Highest-paid: Vladimir Tarasenko & Ryan O’Reilly ($7.5M cap hit | signed through 2022-23)
    Longest-tenured: Alexander Steen (11 seasons, 710 games)
    Oldest: Jay Bouwmeester (35)
    Youngest: Robert Thomas (19)

    Here’s how this current 23-man roster is made up:

    Acquired via draft: Robert Thomas (2017), Vince Dunn (2015), Sammy Blais (2014), Ivan Barbashev (2014), Robby Fabbri (2014), Colton Parayko (2012), Joel Edmundson (2011), Jordan Binnington (2011), Jaden Schwartz (2010), Vladimir Tarasenko (2010), Alex Pietrangelo (2008), Jake Allen (2008).

    Armstrong’s latest draft impact: Robert Thomas
    Thomas put together a solid rookie campaign this year, and is clearly just getting started. The last teen standing this spring has brought a jolt of energy into this lineup deep into the playoffs, contributing six post-season points while greatly benefiting from his time skating alongside veterans Tyler Bozak and Pat Maroon.

    Robert Thomas is the sixth teenager in the last 20 years to record at least six points in the #StanleyCup Playoffs. The others:

    MacKinnon: 2-8—10 in 2014
    Seguin: 3-4—7 in 2011
    Karlsson: 1-5—6 in 2010
    J. Staal: 6-1—7 in 2008
    Thornton: 3-6—9 in 1999#NHLStats pic.twitter.com/KTeCSVkcaa

    — NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 22, 2019

    Nice 4 year stretch for Robert Thomas. 2 OHL titles, including 1 playoff MVP. Mem Cup title. WJC Gold. SCF appearance.

    — Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) May 22, 2019

    Acquired via free agency: David Perron (2018), Patrick Maroon (2018), Tyler Bozak (2018).

    Best signing of 2018-19: Pat Maroon
    Armstrong brought in three solid veterans last summer, and each one is proving to be a smart signing this spring, but no one has captured the hearts of Missourians like Maroon, whose double overtime heroics in Game 7 on home ice against the Stars took the club to the Western Conference Final. The 31-year-old signed a one-year, $1.75-million deal with his hometown team last summer and has brought plenty of size and grit to the lineup that already had a lot of it, making this squad tough to match up against.

    Acquired via trade: Ryan O’Reilly (2018), Brayden Schenn (2017), Oskar Sundqvist (2017), Zach Sanford (2017), Robert Bortuzzo (2015), Carl Gunnarsson (2014), Jay Bouwmeester (2013), Alexander Steen (2008).

    Top trade of 2018-19: Ryan O’Reilly
    The Blues sent a handful of assets (three forwards, a first-round pick and a second-rounder) to Buffalo to bring O’Reilly to the midwest, and it looks like it was totally worth it as one of the final pieces of this Cup contender’s puzzle. The 28-year-old has thrived in St. Louis, getting a much-needed fresh start and posting career-highs in goals (28), assists (49) and points (77) in 2018-19 while adding 14 points in 19 playoff games — his longest post-season stint after two short runs with Colorado in 2010 and 2014.

    Former Panthers assistant coach Paul McFarland joins Leafs staff

    Former Panthers assistant coach Paul McFarland joins Leafs staff


    TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs have hired former Florida Panthers assistant coach Paul McFarland for the same role on head coach Mike Babcock’s staff. McFarland replaces D.J. Smith, who was named head coach of the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. ...

    TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs have hired former Florida Panthers assistant coach Paul McFarland for the same role on head coach Mike Babcock’s staff.

    McFarland replaces D.J. Smith, who was named head coach of the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

    The Leafs also announced assistant coach Jim Hiller has been granted permission to explore opportunities outside the organization.

    McFarland, 33, spent the previous two seasons as an assistant coach with the Panthers. Florida fired head coach Bob Boughner and McFarland during the off-season.

    Prior to joining the Panthers, McFarland spent three seasons as head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs (2014-17), earning a 111-71-22 record.

    The native of Richmond Hill, Ont., joined the coaching ranks in 2012, serving as an assistant with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals for two seasons.

    As a player, McFarland played four seasons in the OHL with the Kitchener Rangers and Windsor Spitfires and then played four years at Acadia University.

    "I’m extremely excited to be coming home and joining the Maple Leafs organization," McFarland said in a statement. "The Leafs have a great, young team and this is an amazing opportunity to work with Mike, his staff and these talented players."

    Six contracts with cap concerns that could be traded this summer

    Six contracts with cap concerns that could be traded this summer


    As a rule, even rich people hate spending money on nothing. It’s just one of those things that irks the human soul on a fundamental level. Given that, there’s understandable hesitation when it comes to the potential of buying out players on...

    As a rule, even rich people hate spending money on nothing. It’s just one of those things that irks the human soul on a fundamental level.

    Given that, there’s understandable hesitation when it comes to the potential of buying out players on cumbersome contracts. Sometimes it can’t be avoided and we’ll no doubt see some cheques cut this summer. In other cases, though, a little creativity could lead to someone on an unpalatable deal getting moved to a place that has more of an appetite for what he brings.

    An assortment of factors can lead to teams trying to shed bloated deals, from cap-crunches to rebuilds to a younger, cheaper option squeezing out a vet. Usually, that includes the “seller” in any potential transaction eating some salary, sweetening the pot with a pick or prospect, and certainly asking for nothing more than pennies on the dollar in terms of a return.

    With that in mind, we present a six-pack of players of who, despite being a cap concern to their present club, could be welcomed in a new burgh.

    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

    Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Los Angeles Kings
    Cap hit: $6.25 million
    Years remaining: Two

    After a five-year hiatus from the NHL, Kovalchuk was likely wishing he’d remained in Russia last season instead of coming to Los Angeles — and that’s saying something. Fun fact: Kovalchuk’s average ice time during his final year with the New Jersey Devils in 2012-13 was 24:44, a number that dropped by almost 10 minutes to 16:14 this past season with the Kings.

    Despite a completely miserable campaign all around in L.A., Kovalchuk, now 36, still managed 16 goals in 64 outings — in other words, a 20-goal pace on the nose. There were rumblings at the deadline that a win-now team might take a shot at him and it’s very conceivable those conversations could be re-visited over the summer as the Kings look to get younger and faster.

    Olli Määttä, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
    Cap hit: $4.1 million
    Years remaining: Three

    Määttä has completely fallen out of favour in Pittsburgh on a team that is always looking for ways to create cap space and hits the off-season determined to shake things up. His age (25 in August) and pedigree as a 2012 first-rounder would garner him another look on their own. Now consider this is a player who’s won a pair of rings and saw the third-most minutes of any Penguins blue-liner during the team’s title run just two years ago.

    The healthy scratches surely hurt, but some team would be happy to offer Määttä a second chance.

    Kyle Turris, C, Nashville Predators
    Cap hit: $6 million
    Years remaining: Five

    Remember when that three-way trade between Nashville, Colorado and Ottawa was a win-win-win? All the smiles belong to the Avs now.

    Turris seemed like a perfect second-line fit with the Preds, who immediately inked him to a six-year extension after acquiring the right-shot pivot in November, 2017. He fared well enough during his first partial year in Tennessee, but last year was an injury-plagued flop and he registered just two points while averaging under 15 minutes per outing in the Preds’ six-game, first-round loss to the Dallas Stars.

    Nashville, as much as any team in the league, is pushing hard to exploit a championship window right now. Everything is on the table and GM David Poile has never shied away from big moves. Turris, presently the captain for Canada’s entry at the World Championship, turns 30 this summer and is only two years removed from registering 27 goals for the Ottawa Senators.

    Your 2019 #IIHFWorlds Team Canada captains:

    – Kyle Turris
    – Sean Couturier
    – Mark Stone pic.twitter.com/LxN9eHlcED

    — Team Canada Men (@HC_Men) May 10, 2019

    Andrej Sekera, D, Edmonton Oilers
    Cap hit: $5.5 million
    Years remaining: Two

    Sekera is just weeks away from his 33rd birthday and red flags ripple any time you see a defenceman of that age endure consecutive injury-ravaged seasons (Sekera was limited to a combined 60 games the past two years thanks to knee issues and a torn Achilles tendon).

    That said, this is a smart player playing the thinking man’s position. You might even draw some loose parallels to former Montreal Canadiens blue-liner Andrei Markov, who missed the majority of three straight years during his age 31, 32 and 33 seasons before rebounding to basically play every game — at a very high level — from age 34 to 37.

    Sekera isn’t in Markov’s class, but if he can show for all 82, he figures to benefit someone. Edmonton’s options for clearing space are pretty limited given the unmovable status of Milan Lucic’s deal, so trading its top-paid defenceman might be one path to relief.

    Andrej Sekera with a rocket to tie things up! 1:1. #IIHFWorlds pic.twitter.com/ksGz7NNSTA

    — Aivis Kalniņš (@A_Kalnins) May 15, 2019

    Ryan Callahan, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning
    Cap hit: $5.8 million
    Years remaining: One

    Every penny counts for the Bolts, who need to strike new deals with two-way monster Brayden Point and No. 1 goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy in the next two summers. Callahan carries modified no-trade protection, so he’d have some say on the move. He’s a fourth-liner these days, but one who has worn the ‘C’ with the Rangers and still carries alternate captain’s status in Tampa Bay. Callahan could play a valuable role grooming a crop of young players on an in-transition squad.

    James Reimer, G, Florida Panthers
    Cap hit: $3.4 million
    Years remaining: Two

    With GM Dale Tallon’s bullseye thought to be firmly trained on UFA-to-be goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the Panthers have to clear some crease room. Maybe 40-year-old Roberto Luongo retires, maybe he doesn’t. Regardless, Florida would do well to float the notion of trading Reimer, still only 31 years old.

    Realistically, if the Panthers do ink Bobrovsky to a pact worth, say, $9 million annually, the team might not be crazy about spending another $3.1 million in real salary on Reimer. The one-time Maple Leaf posted a .920 save percentage during his first campaign in South Florida three years ago, but has seen his numbers dip in the each of the past two seasons.

    With more and more teams looking to pay a couple stoppers modest salaries to play 30-45 contests, Reimer is a decent bet to rebound.

    Federal government gives $4.3M to prepare for 2026 World Cup

    Federal government gives $4.3M to prepare for 2026 World Cup


    TORONTO — The federal government is providing $4.3 million to help Canada prepare for the 2026 World Cup. Kirsty Duncan, minister of science and sport, made the announcement Thursday morning at BMO Field. The money goes to the Canadian Soccer...

    TORONTO — The federal government is providing $4.3 million to help Canada prepare for the 2026 World Cup.

    Kirsty Duncan, minister of science and sport, made the announcement Thursday morning at BMO Field. The money goes to the Canadian Soccer Association "from now through 2020."

    "Soccer has the power to transform, not only the lives of Canadians but also our communities from coast to coast to coast," said Duncan. "It’s a sport that we find in almost every Canadian community and it builds friendships that last a lifetime."

    Canada, the U.S. and Mexico will serve as co-hosts of the 2026 tournament.

    The current blueprint calls for Canada and Mexico to stage 10 games each, with the U.S. hosting 60.

    Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal are Canadian candidate host cities for the men’s soccer showcase, expanded to 48 teams for the 2026 tournament.

    FIFA will select up to 16 host cities from the 23 candidates proposed in the North American bid.

    At a meeting in Moscow last June, FIFA member associations voted 134-65 in favour of the joint North American bid over a competing bid from Morocco. The united bid forecasts record profits for FIFA of US$11 billion.

    In its lone previous bid, Canada failed to get hosting approval for the 1986 tournament after Colombia pulled out. The 1986 tournament, which went to Mexico, remains the only World Cup the Canadian men have ever qualified for.

    Canada hosted the Women’s World Cup in 2015.

    Blue Jays Confidential: No Victoria Day apologies necessary, right?

    Blue Jays Confidential: No Victoria Day apologies necessary, right?


    Each week Blue Jays Confidential will ask a panel of Sportsnet Blue Jays Insiders and personalities to weigh in on issues big and small with the team, and around Major League Baseball. 1. We know what Ross Atkins said Tuesday about the decision to sit...

    Each week Blue Jays Confidential will ask a panel of Sportsnet Blue Jays Insiders and personalities to weigh in on issues big and small with the team, and around Major League Baseball.

    1. We know what Ross Atkins said Tuesday about the decision to sit Guerrero Jr. on Victoria Day. What he didn’t say were the words, “I’m/we’re sorry.” Do the Blue Jays owe fans — especially those who travelled from out of town for the game expecting to see Guerrero Jr. play — an apology for how Monday was handled?

    Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
    Geezus, no. All that needed to be said was: “In hindsight, as an organization we should have handled it differently.” Period.

    Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
    No, they don’t. It doesn’t say anywhere on anyone’s ticket that they’re entitled to a game featuring Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Fans bought tickets for an MLB game, and that’s what they received. That said, it’s still a remarkable own-goal for a franchise that can’t afford the public ill will — a disappointing and disheartening misstep that could have so easily been avoided if the Blue Jays had the foresight to schedule Guerrero’s off day for Sunday or Tuesday. It was either stubborn, naïve, or tone-deaf. Maybe all of the above.

    Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
    Sure, but if the Blue Jays are saying sorry, shouldn’t they start with needing 10 different starting pitchers through the first 45 games? Talk about signs your season has gone off the rails. Look, the Blue Jays have a responsibility to help manage their players’ health. Long-term, these rest days for Guerrero make sense. Some court awareness would help. He’s their primary selling point. Every day in the bowels of the stadium, I see people unwrapping boxes upon boxes of Guerrero jerseys for sale in the team store. It’s not hard to think of the fans when deciding which day he rests.

    Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
    The most informed fans are likely aware that rest is essential for any player, especially someone who has missed significant time due to knee and oblique injuries over the last year. Those fans realize that there’s no guarantee of seeing Guerrero Jr. on any given day.

    But alongside those fans are thousands who consume the game more casually. They know who Guerrero Jr. is and want to see him play, but they’d have no reason to believe that a 20-year-old would need the day off when he had just homered to cap off a breakout week.

    Some of those fans planned trips on the assumption he’d play, and the Blue Jays’ decision surprised them. Those fans matter. We’re not playing MLB The Show here. End of the world? Not at all. Vlad Jr. will be here for a while. But why not apologize to those who were inconvenienced?

    Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
    The easy answer is yes. It’s very easy to say “we, as a collective, messed up, we’re sorry, and we won’t let it happen again.” I think that would go a long way with fans who were so disappointed on Monday, and who are likely to bring the story back every long weekend for quite a while. In an effort to see things from the Jays’ perspective, though, I’m wondering if the front office might be reluctant to do that for fear of what might be seen as confirming a lot of fans’ belief that Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins are pushing many of the buttons that the manager ordinarily would be. Perhaps they worry that an organizational “mea culpa” would fan the “the manager is a puppet” claims.

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    2. Whether it’s Auston Matthews in hockey or Darius Bazley in basketball, today’s young athletes seem more willing than ever to take an unconventional path to the pros. Now there’s Carter Stewart, the 19-year-old Atlanta Braves draft pick from 2018 — and Scott Boras client — who is in agreement with a Japanese Pacific League team on a six-year contract worth more than $7 million. The deal will theoretically allow him to become a MLB free agent when he’s 25 after earning up to $3 million more than we could have with the Braves over the same period.

    Barring dramatic changes to the MLB draft in the next CBA, do you think the case of Stewart is a.) an anomaly b.) eye-brow raising and worth monitoring or c.) more proof that the MLB draft system will be blown up in the next CBA

    Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
    I’d say it’s an anomaly because I’m not sure a lot of corn-fed American teenagers are big on heading over to a new culture to play baseball. Or it could just be that Scott Boras is trying to figure out new ways to get a commission since he can’t get his free agents signed and has others (Marcell Ozuna) ditching him.

    Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
    A mixture of A and B. Stewart’s certainly in a unique position. He’s an undeniably high-ceiling talent, so he has more leverage to pull something like this off rather than your typical, run-of-the-mill prospect. Plus, Stewart’s negotiations with the Braves reportedly fell apart due to medical issues, so maybe he’s motivated to get as much out of his body while he can. That said, I love everything about it. He gets to play high-level ball, make more money than he would with an MLB organization (not to mention the marketing and endorsement opportunities in Japan), and enjoy an interesting cultural experience in his youth, all while preserving the ability to join an MLB team as a free agent in his mid-20s. It’s going to be fascinating to watch this play out.

    Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
    For now, I’d say Carter Stewart is an outlier, someone who had been a first-round pick but didn’t sign with the Atlanta Braves, who said he had a wrist injury. This year, he was expected to go in the second round, which would have cut his bonus by millions, and going to Japan gives him an immediate payoff, as well as a quicker path to a top league. That being said, I’d guess most dudes won’t want to go that route unless the financial incentive is sufficiently weighted toward their benefit, although it is intriguing for the rare player who finds himself squeezed. And yeah, this is more proof the draft bonus pool system needs a rethink.

    Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
    Part of the allure of major league baseball is that the best players play here. Stewart’s willingness to go to Japan should create some concern for MLB decision makers, not because the loss of one 19-year-old pitcher hurts so much, but because of the precedent it sets.

    For years, players have wondered ‘what if I sidestepped a flawed draft process and played elsewhere?’ Over the coming seasons we’ll get at least one answer to that question. If it works well for Stewart many more could follow. Regardless, this should prompt MLB to re-work a system that seriously underpays drafted players.

    Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
    It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on, but I doubt it’ll become a regular thing. Stewart was drafted eighth overall, and his signing bonus was slotted at almost $5 million, but the Braves only offered him $2 million, which was relatively easy to turn down. If he was offered the slot bonus, made it to the big leagues within three years and, of course, stayed healthy, he could have made as much or more as the $7 million he’ll get in the Far East. It could become a point of leverage for high picks who are being offered below-slot bonuses, but I’m not sure it’ll be anything more than that.

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    3. On Tuesday it was announced that the series between the Yankees and Red Sox in June in London, England will be played on artificial grass. Given MLB’s recent challenges with declining national U.S. TV audiences and poor April attendance — especially in colder North East cities — would they be better served considering hosting a handful of early-season series each year in warmer, mid-sized U.S. markets? Say, Louisville, Oklahoma City, Durham, etc.

    Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
    No.

    Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
    No team wants to give up home dates considering the revenue they generate, so that’s going to be a tough sell. I do think MLB could do a better job ensuring markets with covered stadia — Toronto, Seattle, Miami, Milwaukee, etc. — open the season with two or three-series home stands.

    Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
    The games in London and Mexico serve a greater good. I’m not sure the same holds true for mid-sized US markets, where baseball is already a thing.

    Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
    Interesting idea. It’d be fun to have the Reds play in Louisville, the Rays play in Durham and the Rangers play in OKC–even just for a few games. Owners might hesitate to give up home dates, but if that’s the case just schedule these games late in spring training the way the Blue Jays have with their visits to Montreal.

    With that said, I still think MLB needs to try to showcase the game in Europe and Asia because there’s so much potential to grow in those markets.

    Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
    Last year, the Blue Jays went to Texas in early April and temperatures were in the single digits. They went to Baltimore, which is south of the Mason-Dixon line, and froze. It was cool and rainy in Anaheim when the Blue Jays arrived there at the end of April this year. Warm-weather cities aren’t necessarily so warm in the early spring anymore (climate change doesn’t care whether you believe in it or not), so I don’t think playing games in neutral sites that are supposed to have better weather will necessarily help as much as might be assumed.

    Teams aren’t thrilled to lose home gates, even if they’re smaller in April, so I don’t think we’ll ever see an abundance of neutral-site games. And you would also have the colder cities (not just northeast – it’s no fun in Minnesota, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Oakland and San Francisco in April, either) rightly complaining that they’re losing home games while their warmer-weather competitors aren’t.

    4.On Tuesday it was also announced that Andrelton Simmons was diagnosed with a Grade 3 ankle sprain (that’s really bad). Given Freddy Galvis’ recent return to offensive earth, if you’re Ross Atkins, have you already texted Angels GM Billy Eppler, or are you happy to slow-play the Galvis trade market?

    Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
    I’m not sure there is a Freddy Galvis trade market. To me, the decision with all Jays players is the same: does the return give us measurable better value than what the player gives us while he’s playing for our team. Doesn’t matter who or when.

    Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
    Selfishly, I shudder to think what it will be like to watch this team without Galvis at short — his defence really is a pleasure to watch. And there’s something to be said for the veteran dependability and savvy he provides. Still, he’s a clear candidate to be moved if there’s a return out there the Blue Jays like. Toronto’s obviously listening on any of their veterans. But I doubt Galvis is fetching anything considerable.

    Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
    First, do you want the pitchers to revolt? Beyond Guerrero, Galvis is one of the few enjoyable things about this team right now. Besides, I can’t imagine the Blue Jays would get an asset sufficient enough to give up all that Galvis brings.

    Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
    At this point, the Blue Jays should let Eppler come to them. They don’t need to rush to move Galvis, who has anchored their defence with stellar play at shortstop. Instead, they can enjoy his production for now and wait for a team to come to them with serious interest. If that’s the Angels, great. If not, there will be other chances to move Galvis this summer because he’d help many contenders as a bench piece or more.

    Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
    I would think that Atkins has his ear to the ground, monitoring every situation where a Blue Jay who won’t be part of the core in a year or two might be helpful to a contender in need, so I’m sure he’s already communicated with Eppler. I’m just not so sure that the Angels would be willing to give much up for Galvis right now. The Angels have a losing record, and while they’re still within five games of the second wild card, they’re not playing especially well at the moment and have been abominable (5-14) against their own division. It’s not a situation where it appears as though a team is in position to give up some of its finest meats and cheeses for some plug-in help for a couple of months.

    Toronto Blue Jays‘ Freddy Galvis runs to first base after hitting an RBI single during the third inning of the team’s baseball game against the Chicago White Sox on Friday, May 17, 2019, in Chicago. (Matt Marton/AP)

    5.There will be a very rare San Diego Padres sighting in Toronto this weekend. When I say “The San Diego Padres” the first thing/memory that comes to mind for you is _____

    Jeff Blair (@SNJeffBlair):
    Randy Jones Bar-B-Que at old Jack Murphy Stadium – a stadium that was, incidentally, named after a sportswriter. Jones used to work the pit himself wearing an old Padres jersey. That, plus sneaking into the bleachers on a Sunday afternoon to hammer 24 ounce Tecate for a couple of innings before going back to the pressbox to write. Brilliant!

    Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling):
    Trevor Hoffman and Adrian Gonzalez. That’s about it.

    Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi):
    Tony Gwynn being one of the purest hitters I’ve ever seen, nearly impossible to strike out, putting the ball into play in every way imaginable. Just a delight in the batter’s box. So him and those hideously beautiful yellow and brown jerseys.

    Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith):
    Tony Gwynn comes to mind. The 1998 Padres-Yankees World Series comes to mind. And so does Nate Colbert, who’s the all-time franchise leader in home runs with 163. No offence to Colbert, a three-time all-star, but you’d think the Padres’ franchise leader in home runs would have more than that after half a century of baseball.

    Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness590):
    Tony Gwynn, Tony Gwynn, Tony Gwynn is what I’m sure comes to mind for everyone, and he does for me, too. One of the greatest singles hitters of all-time. But I also remember, for some reason, the 1984 World Series and Kurt Bevilacqua. I don’t know what he did, but I remember he was on that team and had a very cool name. Also, I remember that when Steve Garvey, the great and prolific Dodgers first baseman, signed as a free agent with San Diego in the early ’80s, he said (of the Friars’ brown and yellow uniforms) “I used to dress like the American flag, now I look like a taco.”

    Vintage Photo of the Day: #MLB

    Graig Nettles, Steve Garvey, and Tony Gwynn during the 1984 World Series. #Padres pic.twitter.com/Kki3VE46nm

    — Chris Larson (@SportsTechie17) December 28, 2017

    Why Senators hiring Leafs assistant Smith is not that surprising

    Why Senators hiring Leafs assistant Smith is not that surprising


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    How excited should Leafs fans be about Nylander’s success at worlds?

    How excited should Leafs fans be about Nylander’s success at worlds?


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    Senators announce D.J. Smith as team’s next head coach

    Senators announce D.J. Smith as team’s next head coach


    OTTAWA — Former Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach D.J. Smith is the new head coach of the Ottawa Senators. Smith signed a three-year contract with the club on Thursday. He replaces interim head coach Marc Crawford, who also interviewed for the...

    OTTAWA — Former Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach D.J. Smith is the new head coach of the Ottawa Senators.

    Smith signed a three-year contract with the club on Thursday. He replaces interim head coach Marc Crawford, who also interviewed for the position.

    "D.J. Smith is a winner. We believe he is the best person to drive the development and success of the Ottawa Senators," Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said in a statement. "D.J is a great communicator and an exceptional strategist. His passionate approach, coupled with his ability to teach the game, is exactly what we were looking for throughout the process. We’re thrilled to welcome D.J. and his family to Ottawa."

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    Guy Boucher was fired as Ottawa’s head coach last season, a year in which the Senators finished last in the NHL standings.

    Smith, 42, spent the past four seasons as an assistant on Mike Babcock’s staff in Toronto.

    Prior to that, the native of Windsor, Ont., guided the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals for three years, capping that run with a Memorial Cup title in 2015. He also was named OHL coach of the year in 2013-14.

    Before his time in Oshawa, Smith spent six seasons as an assistant coach with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, capturing back-to-back Memorial Cup titles in 2009 and 2010.

    Smith played 45 career NHL games as a defenceman with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche.

    Are you a fan of Drake’s antics or has he gone too far?

    Are you a fan of Drake’s antics or has he gone too far?


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    The five biggest questions facing the Sharks after being eliminated

    The five biggest questions facing the Sharks after being eliminated


    The San Jose Sharks went all in this season. They made a blockbuster move to acquire superstar defenceman and impending unrestricted free agent Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators as training camp opened, and pushed even more chips into the pot with a...

    The San Jose Sharks went all in this season.

    They made a blockbuster move to acquire superstar defenceman and impending unrestricted free agent Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators as training camp opened, and pushed even more chips into the pot with a trade-deadline move for fellow July 1 UFA Gustav Nyquist from the Detroit Red Wings.

    The Sharks finished second in the Western Conference, survived two seven-game series against the Vegas Golden Knights and the Colorado Avalanche, thanks in part to some controversial calls along the way. But their luck ran out against the St. Louis Blues as they fell short of winning the first Stanley Cup in franchise history and getting Joe Thornton’s name engraved on hockey’s top prize.

    San Jose’s six-game defeat to the Blues in the Western Conference Final leaves the club with seven UFAs — including several core players — four restricted free agents and a glaring need in goal, giving general manager Doug Wilson lots to think about this off-season.

    Here’s a closer look at the team’s biggest question marks as it aims to retool for another run at the Cup.

    Will they move on from Martin Jones?

    In the Sharks’ biggest game of the season, Tuesday’s 5-1 defeat in Game 6 to the Blues, the six-year veteran turned in a dud, allowing four goals on 18 shots for a .778 save percentage.

    Notwithstanding the result, a short-handed San Jose club — that was missing a trifecta of stars in Karlsson, captain Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl due to injuries — still managed to outshoot St. Louis 26-19 and dominated the glut of play with a Corsi for percentage of 58.54 at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick.

    Martin Jones is the first goalie since 1981 to play a full game, face 18+ shots, and save 14 or fewer in a decisive Game 6 or 7 https://t.co/uu5hFf6o61 pic.twitter.com/Y8GI6WNqPt

    — Hockey Reference (@hockey_ref) May 22, 2019

    Despite a stretch of strong play in these playoffs, the 29-year-old finished with a .898 save percentage, 3.02 goals against average and sported a minus-9.73 goals-saved above average at 5-on-5, good for last among qualified goalies, according to Natural Stat Trick.

    This comes on the heels of a 2018-19 campaign during which Jones recorded a 2.94 GAA, .896 save percentage and a league-worst minus-32.7 GSAA at 5-on-5.

    Jones has compiled a save percentage below league average in two out of his four years as the Sharks’ starting goalie, with his two most recent seasons checking in under that standard.

    The Sharks came under fire for opting against upgrading their goaltending at the trade deadline, but with five years remaining at $5.75-million AAV — including a three-team no-trade clause — left on Jones’s six-year deal, will Wilson look to find another solution?

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    Can they bring back Erik Karlsson?

    The two-time Norris Trophy winner’s looming free agency has had armchair GMs drooling over his CapFriendly page for years, but in just over a month’s time, it could become a reality.

    Karlsson and the Sharks kick started talks at the beginning of this year, but it remains to be seen whether he will return to the perennial Western Conference contender or jump ship.

    The Tampa Bay Lightning and his friend Victor Hedman are the latest, although repeated, rumoured suitors, if they can clear up the necessary cap space.

    Regardless of the destination, Karlsson will be looking for a raise on his $6.5-million annual average salary. It’s been rumoured that star rearguard Drew Doughty’s eight-year, $11-million contract signed with the Los Angeles Kings last off-season set the market for Karlsson’s next deal.

    The soon-to-be 29-year-old’s spotty injury history — including a groin issue that limited him to 53 regular-season games, a severely broken ankle and a torn Achilles — could scare off some teams. However, Karlsson is still one of the best defencemen the world, managing 45 points in those 53 appearances and boasting a Corsi For percentage of 59.22 at 5-on-5, which was tops among D-men who logged at least 500 minutes.

    Evolving Wild pegs his next contract at $9,899,306 across eight years. The Sharks have a slew of other players to bring back, but they also have $24,703,333 in projected cap space, according to CapFriendly.

    The ball is likely in Karlsson’s court.

    Will the captain return?

    Come July 11, Pavelski will be 35 years old. He’s set to become a UFA just 10 days earlier.

    In his 13 years with the Sharks, the captain has a been a picture of consistency, posting at least 61 points and 20 goals in eight of his last nine seasons with the single exception being the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.

    But it’s the number on his driver’s licence and the years he’ll be looking for on his new deal that likely concern the Sharks.

    In the past, Wilson has re-signed free-agents-to-be well before their deals expired, including Pavelski’s last deal in 2013, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman says the potential term has kept the two parties away from a new contract.

    “The really interesting thing about the Sharks is that a lot of their guys they’ve re-signed well before they got to free agency, they actually did the last time with Pavelski, Friedman told Sportsnet 650 on Tuesday.

    “Look Logan Couture got signed a year before he was a free agent, Brent Burns a year before, [Marc-Edouard] Vlasic a year before, Jones a year before — they don’t let guys go to free agency. Now, I think the thing with Pavelski is he is a little bit older, and I think what’s happening there is again, term is the issue.

    “If you look at what happened between them and Patrick Marleau, it was over term, they didn’t want to go to the third year that Toronto gave him.”

    To San Jose’s benefit, because of Pavelski’s July 11 birthday, he will miss the June 30 cutoff to qualify for the league’s 35-plus contract, which would make it responsible for his cap hit regardless of whether or not he remains active.

    But Pavelski hasn’t shown any significant signs of decline and he is coming off a resurgent season where he had 38 goals in 75 games, plus was 14th (16.59) in individual expected goals among forwards with 500 minutes played at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick.

    Evolving Wild projects his next contract at $7,544,950 AAV on a three-year deal. Is that enough to bring him back and will the Sharks have adequate cap space?

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    What happens with Timo Meier’s next deal?

    At 29.4 years old, the Sharks’ roster was nearly two years older than the league average (27.9).

    Core players such as Pavelski (34), Burns (34), Couture (30), Karlsson (28), Thornton (39) and Vlasic (32) are all out or nearing the tail end of their prime.

    That’s why getting 22-year-old Meier signed to a cost-effective, long-term contract is so important to this team if they hope to hold open the window to contend.

    Meier, who broke out for 30 goals and 66 points in his second full season and added 15 points in 20 games in the playoffs, is likely in the second tier of a loaded RFA class that features Mikko Rantanen, Sebastian Aho, Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Matthew Tkachuk, Patrik Laine and Brock Boeser.

    But Meier’s Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 (56.27) was 16th among forwards with a minimum of 500 minutes on the ice and was third behind only Brendan Gallagher (23.61) and John Tavares (22.12) in individual expected goals (19.84) under the same conditions.

    In fact, Evolving Wild estimates that Meier could sign a new deal in the same vein as Tavares’ six-year, $33-million extension that kicked in for his age-22 season in 2012-13, forecasting the ninth pick in the 2015 draft to get $5,889,783 over a half-dozen years.

    If somehow San Jose manages to bring back Meier, Karlsson and Pavelski at Evolving Wild’s projected numbers, it would have $1,369,294 to bring back RFAs Kevin Labanc, Joakim Ryan and Dylan Gambrell, as well as UFAs Joonas Donskoi, Micheal Haley, Tim Heed, Nyquist and Thornton, or to fill the gaps in other ways.

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    Is Joe Thornton going to retire?

    Speaking of Thornton, perhaps the biggest question facing the Sharks going forward is: will Jumbo Joe remain the face of the franchise, or was that his last kick at the can?

    Thornton said after the Sharks’ elimination Tuesday that he hadn’t thought about his future yet.

    The 21-year veteran has never hoisted the Stanley Cup, with the closest being in 2015-16 when the Sharks fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the final.

    Thornton is slated to become a UFA on July 1 and will turn 40 a day later.

    Despite his age, there’s no doubt the six-time all-star, Hart Memorial and Art Ross Trophy winner, and the league’s active points leader (1,478, good for 14th all-time) can still contribute.

    Thornton had four goals and 10 points across 18 games in the playoffs, following a 51-point regular season. He compiled these numbers even though the hulking playmaker, who has never been known for his foot speed, had a pair of knee surgeries over the last few years.

    Despite his continued success, Thornton has opted for flexibility in the final years of his career, inking one-year deals with the Sharks for $8 million and $5 million in the last two off-seasons, respectively.

    It gives him the chance to decide whether to return for one more shot with a San Jose team that has been in the most playoff games in the league since 2004, with a .629 winning percentage across the regular season during that span.

    The 2014-15 season was the lone year the club failed to qualify for the post-season (with Meier being its reward in the draft).

    But do the Sharks have enough in the tank to make another run? And is the team’s history of sustained success enough to inspire Thornton to lace up his skates one more year?

    Regardless, there’s a lot to be settled in San Jose.

    May 23, 2019: And then there were two

    May 23, 2019: And then there were two


    What’s next for the Sharks? Why the Blues story are amazing. The biggest battle of the Cup Final and Scott Morrison on the 1989 Calgary...

    What’s next for the Sharks? Why the Blues story are amazing. The biggest battle of the Cup Final and Scott Morrison on the 1989 Calgary Flames.

    Moran, Groulx lead Mooseheads to berth in Memorial Cup final

    Moran, Groulx lead Mooseheads to berth in Memorial Cup final


    The host Halifax Mooseheads and their QMJHL rival Rouyn-Noranda Huskies already knew coming into Wednesday’s round-robin conclusion that they both would be moving on at the Memorial Cup. But it wasn’t yet clear who would get a bye straight to...

    The host Halifax Mooseheads and their QMJHL rival Rouyn-Noranda Huskies already knew coming into Wednesday’s round-robin conclusion that they both would be moving on at the Memorial Cup. But it wasn’t yet clear who would get a bye straight to Sunday’s championship final.

    And there was a little pride on the line, too. After all, it was just last week the Huskies defeated the Mooseheads in Game 6 of the QMJHL Final to claim the President Cup. Looking for a little redemption, Halifax had a chance to wrap up a perfect round robin and leave the Storm and Huskies to battle it out in the semifinal. The Huskies just wanted to head into Friday’s game with more than a win against the 0-3 Prince Albert Raiders to show for their round-robin — and had a chance to play spoiler against the hosts.

    As expected, the two familiar foes treated us to a chippy and hard-fought game that came right down to the final seconds. Rouyn-Noranda came out of it with a 4-3 win, leaving us with a three-way tie atop the standings and a goal differential tie-breaker to decide the playoff bracket.

    Here’s what we saw in the final round robin game from the Memorial Cup, and how it sets up the final two games this weekend.

    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

    CAPTAIN MORAND COMES THROUGH WITH STRONG ROUND ROBIN
    Eleven players have won back-to-back Memorial Cups on different teams and this year Rouyn-Noranda’s Noah Dobson has been the headliner name in his chase to be 12th on that list. But on Wednesday night, a couple of his former Acadie-Bathurst mates were on the other side of the puck for the host Mooseheads in Samuel Asselin and Antoine Morand.

    Morand served as an assistant captain for the Titan in 2016-17 and 2017-18 and was their highest-scoring member last year. A June trade sent him to Halifax and he served as the team captain this year. He finished fifth in team scoring, but where he was the only 70-point player on Acadie-Bathurst a year ago, he was one of seven Mooseheads to hit that total this year.

    An important producer for the Memorial Cup hosts, Morand came into the tournament ice cold. He was kept off the scoresheet for the last two games of their series against Drummondville and then was shut out completely by Rouyn-Noranda in the six-game President Cup Final, while posting an ugly-looking minus-7.

    But a little home cooking and the big stage of the Memorial Cup has given second life to the 20-year-old Anaheim Ducks prospect. Although the Mooseheads scored 300 goals on the season, they came in as the lowest-scoring team in the round robin and there was some question whether or not they could keep up with the pace of their competitors, especially if Raphael Lavoie went cold.

    Halifax needed everyone on board and that’s what they got. Morand, who was held goalless in the 2018 Memorial Cup, scored his third in as many games in 2019, a power play marker that gave the Mooseheads a 3-2 lead at the time. (And in hindsight, it was the goal that sent Halifax to the final. More on that later.)

    The Mooseheads wrapped up the round robin with 11 goals in three games and Morand is one of the three players at the tournament with three goals, joining Guelph’s Alexey Toropchenko and Nick Suzuki.

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    GROULX A PROSPECT TO WATCH
    Prior to the start of the Memorial Cup, Sam Cosentino ranked the top 10 NHL prospects who would be competing in it. But although Benoit-Olivier Groulx didn’t crack the top 10, Cosentino had to set him aside as an honourable mention because, while he doesn’t have the high-end natural ability some of the best prospects do, you can see a hard-working NHLer there.

    Son of Syracuse Crunch head coach — and former Canadian WJC bench boss — Benoit Groulx, the 19-year-old Anaheim Ducks prospect brought tons of energy and was a force on the puck. His physicality was on display all night and with Halifax trailing 2-0 after the first period, Groulx got his team on the board less than a minute into the second period, portending a dominant frame for Halifax. He could have had another goal on a few other close opportunities.

    Groulx was a second-round pick just last summer and isn’t signed yet by Anaheim. But you can bet the team, with its very strong draft history under GM Bob Murray, is loving the idea of one day injecting this kind of passion into their lineup.

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    THE PLAYOFF ROUND IS SET
    There were a lot of implications in this game. A win by Halifax would put them straight through to the final, but a Rouyn-Noranda victory would leave all three teams tied at 2-1 and bring goal differential into the equation. And of course, that’s what happened.

    The Huskies were even coming in, so they needed a blowout victory to earn the bye. But Halifax and Guelph were close enough that the difference between a one- or two-goal victory for the Huskies on Wednesday would determine who moved on. Had the Huskies won by two goals, Guelph would have advanced to the final and we’d get another meeting between the two QMJHL rivals in the semifinal.

    And actually, it looked like Halifax was going to play its own way in. They dominated the second period, and although Rouyn-Noranda’s William Rouleau scored midway through the third to tie it up, just getting to overtime would have been good enough to get the Mooseheads the bye. They continued to do a good job thwarting the Huskies attack, but Jakub Lauko’s goal with 54 seconds left certainly made for some entertaining, teeth-clenching hockey for the home crowd in the final minute.

    The Mooseheads wound up holding on to the one goal lead and there was this sort of uneasy celebration afterwards. Sure, the team lost again to the QMJHL champs, but shooting through the semifinal straight to Sunday’s championship game is a big factor in favour of the team that will already have the crowd on its side.

    Guelph will meet Rouyn-Noranda Friday night at 7:00 p.m. ET in the Memorial Cup semifinal, with the winner advancing to meet Halifax Sunday at 7:00. You can watch both games on Sportsnet.

    Mooseheads’ second period vs. Huskies leads to Memorial Cup final

    Mooseheads’ second period vs. Huskies leads to Memorial Cup final


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    MLB still a ways off from fully embracing personality’ on field

    MLB still a ways off from fully embracing personality’ on field


    TORONTO – Last October, just ahead of the post-season, Major League Baseball dropped an ad featuring highlights of several playoff-bound stars committing a series of sins such as staring at a home run, flipping a bat, and, oh horror, showing emotion on...

    TORONTO – Last October, just ahead of the post-season, Major League Baseball dropped an ad featuring highlights of several playoff-bound stars committing a series of sins such as staring at a home run, flipping a bat, and, oh horror, showing emotion on the field. The critiques of repulsed broadcasters are overlayed toward the end before Ken Griffey Jr., is revealed to be the narrator and, wearing his trademark backwards hat, says, “no more talk, let the kids play.”

    This spring, a sequel, kicking off with clichés at a news conference before Alex Bregman grabs the mic and boasts about how his Houston Astros “are going to win this World Series and the next one.” A round of good-natured trash talk between several superstars follows before reporters ask Mike Trout whether he has anything to say. “Just let the kids play,” the Los Angeles Angels centre-fielder replies.

    The message the sport’s best player wants people to take from the ad?

    “Being able to go out there and show your personality – it’s good for baseball,” Trout says during a recent interview. “We want to bring more people into playing baseball as a young kid.

    “People want to see your personality. They see how you are on the field. But they want to see who you are.”

    Keep all that in mind as you consider the latest case of opponents with hurt feelings getting mad at Marcus Stroman, one of the dumbest ongoing sagas in baseball.

    For those of you that missed it, the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander rankled the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night when he struck out Xander Bogaerts to escape a bases-loaded jam in the third inning of a 10-3 win, and yelled in the direction of the visiting dugout right afterwards.

    The next inning Michael Chavis, who had just stepped out and called time to disrupt Stroman’s rhythm, got angry when he was quick-pitched, muttering something to the right-hander as he reached base on a Vladimir Guerrero Jr., error. Stroman said something back, prompting Chris Sale to begin yelling at him from the dugout.

    On the NESN broadcast, home plate umpire Alan Porter could be heard yelling, “Hey, hey, hey, Chris. Chris! Stop. Stop!” And Stroman was picked up shouting, “That wasn’t me first Chris, that wasn’t me first.”

    Porter and Alex Cora then had an exchange, which the Red Sox manager explained Wednesday as being “about the umpire and staying away from our guys, just making sure the other guy didn’t scream onto our guys.”

    Still, more noteworthy were Cora’s comments after Tuesday’s game, when he said of Stroman, “it’s the same thing with him every day. He competes a certain way and people don’t like it. … It seems like whenever a team comes in, somebody screams at him. I don’t know, that’s the way he acts.”

    Even if the post-game comment wasn’t meant to be pejorative, as Cora suggested Wednesday, his observations about the place for emotion in the game stand at the crux of the issue.

    “We have guys that hit homers and they stand there. It’s a game of emotion. We get it. We understand that,” said Cora. “Now, there’s stuff that people don’t like and they will express their feelings from the dugout.”

    In other words, kind of let the kids play, but be ready for people to get mad about it?

    Stroman replied to Cora’s comments on Twitter by saying, “I compete. That’s it. Didn’t know I had to cater to opposing teams to like me. Everyone messes with timing, deliveries and pitching mechanics these days. Everyone. Get over it. I’m going to keep that dawg mentality always. Pops raised me right and approves of it all!”

    I compete. That’s it. Didn’t know I had to cater to opposing teams to like me. Everyone messes with timing, deliveries and pitching mechanics these days. Everyone. Get over it. I’m going to keep that dawg mentality always. Pops raised me right and approves of it all! https://t.co/y5xvA6dGhm

    — Marcus Stroman (@MStrooo6) May 22, 2019

    He declined during a brief interview to elaborate further, but when asked whether the let the kids play message was making any headway, he shook his head and said, “I don’t know, man.”

    “I’ve always been the same, I’ve always been extremely passionate, that’s how I’ve needed to play to put myself at a level and I’ve always been a proponent of let the kids the play,” Stroman continued. “I don’t look at it as something that’s new all of a sudden. I love it. It’s hard. It’s basically based on the individual. Some guys are OK with it, some guys are not. That’s all I’m going to say.”

    For whatever reason, few players not named Yasiel Puig seem to run afoul of baseball’s “Guardians Of The Right Way To Play” more often than Stroman. The entire topic of governing on-field behaviour is deftly handled in veteran writer Danny Knobbler’s new book “Unwritten – Bat Flips, the Fun Police and Baseball’s New Future” which outlines the game’s internal conflict with how much flash a long hidebound culture will tolerate.

    One memorable passage describes how Martin Prado learned the game’s unwritten rules as a minor-leaguer in the Atlanta Braves system after leaving Venezuela, helping him as he eventually grows into a widely respected veteran. “Just because you walk around your own house in your underwear, that doesn’t mean you can walk into your neighbour’s house and do the same thing,” he told Knobbler.

    There’s a lot of truth to that, and, to be fair, there are times when Stroman barges through the door and parades around in nothing but boxers.

    On the flip side, Stroman understands that if he’s going to dish it, he needs to take it, too, which is why he doesn’t get his back up if hitters want to admire their work when they get him.

    Yet even as the game slowly changes, a live-and-let-live environment is still a ways off, which means players like Stroman who run counter to the player population’s largely banal base will remain lightning rods for the foreseeable future.

    “The game’s definitely getting flashier,” says Trout. “For me, personally, big moments in a game, if it’s a walk-off as a hitter, you can do your thing, or as a pitcher, big situation. That’s just me personally. If you have 650 homers like Albert (Pujols), you can do whatever you want. That’s where I’m at. Big situations in a game, as a competitor, people will see that.”

    Yes they will, but only if players let one another show that emotion.

    Huskies send message with victory over Mooseheads at Memorial Cup

    Huskies send message with victory over Mooseheads at Memorial Cup


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    Mooseheads celebrate making Memorial Cup final despite loss to Huskies

    Mooseheads celebrate making Memorial Cup final despite loss to Huskies


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    Huskies’ Jakub Lauko scores late with wicked wrist shot

    Huskies’ Jakub Lauko scores late with wicked wrist shot


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    Raptors have reason to believe they can go to places they’ve never been

    Raptors have reason to believe they can go to places they’ve never been


    MILWAUKEE – Tied 2-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, heading back to a hostile environment with a chance to seize the advantage, a chance to reach new heights? The Toronto Raptors have been here before. Not these Toronto Raptors. Not the Kawhi...

    MILWAUKEE – Tied 2-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, heading back to a hostile environment with a chance to seize the advantage, a chance to reach new heights?

    The Toronto Raptors have been here before. Not these Toronto Raptors. Not the Kawhi Leonard-era Raptors. Not Nick Nurse’s club. But it was only three years ago that a team managed by Raptors president Masai Ujiri and led by Kyle Lowry was balanced on this edge, at this stage.

    We know what happened then: The Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James put their foot on the gas. A message-sending 38-point blowout win in Game 5 in Cleveland followed by a business-like 26-point close out win back in Toronto in Game 6. Season over; no Finals for you.

    That was when James gave Raptors Nation a collective head rub, a ‘nice try, good effort’ as Raptors fans that refused to leave the building kept the chanting going long after it was all lost.

    Now? As the Raptors return to Milwaukee for Game 5 of their best-of-seven series against the Bucks Thursday night it feels different. Forget squeezing through an open window, if the Kawhi Leonard-era Raptors are going to break through and advance the franchise and the city to the NBA Finals for the first time they need to smash through the front door.

    Get Game 5 in front of a rabid home crowd in Milwaukee and then bring it home to Scotiabank Arena and finish the job Saturday night.

    Sound like a plan?

    Of course the Raptors would sign off on any combination that ends with them progressing out of the East to the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

    For the moment, they have the Bucks reeling. The Raptors have managed to contain Milwaukee’s emerging Superman and presumptive NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo while knocking the Bucks back both with Leonard throwing bombs in double-overtime in Game 3 and then — with Leonard clearly ailing in Game 4 — forcing them into a corner with a flurry of jabs from Toronto’s previously under-performing bench.

    Later the Bucks — having cruised through their first 11 playoff starts and the entire regular season without having a glove laid on them — sounded like they weren’t sure what hit them and where the next body blow might be coming from.

    "[We] just couldn’t get stops," said Bucks all-star wing Khris Middleton. "I feel like for the most part, from top to bottom, all their guys played well. They shared the ball. They moved the ball. Took advantage of some of our defensive coverages and just made shots."

    Now the Raptors have to press their advantage against a young Bucks team that seems as distracted by Raptors superfan Drake’s sideline antics than anything else that happened in Game 4. Antetokounmpo’s agency complained about the crowd control in Toronto after Drake — who has an unofficial title with the Raptors as ‘Global Ambassador’ — was venturing on to the floor from his sidelines seat and mocking the Bucks star for missed free throw.

    "I don’t know of any person that’s attending the game that isn’t a participant in the game — a player or a coach — that has access to the court," said Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer. "There’s certainly no place for fans and, you know, whatever it is exactly that Drake is for the Toronto Raptors. You know, to be on the court, there’s boundaries and lines for a reason, and like I said, the league is usually pretty good at being on top of stuff like that."

    One factor the Raptors will be dealing with: It’s not clear to what degree Leonard will be able to recover to full strength in advance of Game 5 after clearly labouring Tuesday night. Even when he rose up to dunk over or through Antetokounmpo at one point he came down gingerly, favouring his right thigh, the same one that caused him to miss 73 games with San Antonio last season, the same one that he appeared to strain after his spectacular full-court sprint and dunk in the second overtime in Game 3.

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    But even Leonard playing at less than full capacity can work in the Raptors’ favour. Some of the best offensive performances the Raptors have had in the playoffs have been when Leonard’s role decreases — Toronto is 3-0 and +73 in games where his usage rate is below 25 per cent, including in Game 4. Moreover, he showed the way in his defence against Antetokounmpo in Game 3 when he was the primary defender for the majority of the Bucks star’s possessions and in Game 4 he was lifted up by the contributions of his teammates.

    Collectively they have turned the athlete that is the closest thing we’ve ever seen to combining James’ ground-eating speed in the open court with Shaquille O’Neill’s ability to overwhelm at the rim into something a little more mortal.

    In the regular season Antetokounmpo averaged 7.9 field goals per game in the restricted area on 73.7 per cent shooting, his per game mark setting — unofficially — what is believed to be a modern NBA record, surpassing O’Neal’s best seasons.

    Against the Raptors? By doing their best to limit transition opportunities and by loading up on him in the half-court Antetokounmpo has been rendered merely remarkable, rather than devastating.

    He’s averaging 6.8 field goals in the restricted area per game (the four-foot semi-circle in the key underneath the basket) and he’s shooting ‘just’ 65.9 per cent at the rim. By forcing him away from the rim his efficiency falls off even more sharply as Antetokounmpo is shooting less than 40 per cent from outside four feet. For the series Antetokounmpo is shooting just 44.9 per cent from the field, a steep tumble from the 57.8 per cent he shot during the regular season.

    It could be the Raptors have solved Antetokounmpo — for all his wonderful talent, he’s still a maturing player, with flaws, and manufacturing scoring opportunities outside the paint in the half-court is one of them — or it could be that he’ll figure them out suddenly and impact the series decisively.

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    If there is a code, Nurse isn’t divulging that he has it.

    "I think our code is this: We play with the effort we put in in three of the four games this series and we’re gonna have a really good chance to win," said Nurse on a conference call Wednesday. "We’re gonna put ourselves in a position to win. I don’t think it’s any tricky schemes or fabulous game plan, I think it’s our players playing their butts off, really."

    The Bucks, for their part, have the benefit of not only coming home but also coming home with a sour taste in their mouths.

    "We got punched," said Budenholzer. "They played really well. So, in that sense, can we go home and get ready for another battle and be ready to go? I totally believe in Game 5 we’ll be ready."

    But the Raptors have a reason to believe in a way they probably didn’t three years ago when they were headed back to Cleveland trying to steal a game from James at his peak.

    Throughout the post-season they have found different ways to win, both being carried by Leonard and carrying him, as they did in large measure in Game 4. They have survived long enough that their bench has gone from unplayable to thriving. They have seen Marc Gasol grow into a more dominant force by the day, seemingly. Three years ago Lowry badly sprained his ankle at the end of Game 5 and didn’t play in the series again. This time around Lowry is finding a way to excel even with a sprained left thumb Nurse described as "not great… it’s hurt and it’s sore and it causes him a lot of pain."

    And yet Lowry put in one of the best playoff games of his career on Tuesday.

    Stream Raptors basketball on Sportsnet NOW Stream marquee NBA matchups from around the league, including over 40 Raptors games. Plus, get the NHL, MLB, Premier League, CHL and more.

    It’s cardinal rule at this level of sport to never lift your gaze, to not be distracted from the pursuit of the prize by the prize itself. The Raptors are sticking to it. After the Raptors’ dramatic Game 7 win over Philadelphia, Lowry reminded his ecstatic teammates that they were still only half way to their goal, that the road ahead was long.

    That remains the view now, heading into Game 5.

    "I know it’s not easy to sit here and think, ‘Oh my God, we could do it’, but I’m certainly not thinking that way," said Nurse. "I don’t see any benefit in doing that. You know, we’ve got to really laser in and focus in on how hard we have to play to beat this team, and how much of a connected effort it will take, a togetherness effort on the road and band together and get a ‘W.’"

    Three years ago they couldn’t get one ‘W’ let along two. But even if they’ve been here before they have to know they’ve never been closer to where they’ve never gone.

    Chicago White Sox turn triple play against Houston Astros

    Chicago White Sox turn triple play against Houston Astros


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    Did the Blues accomplish the greatest turnaround in NHL history?

    Did the Blues accomplish the greatest turnaround in NHL history?


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    Gasol’s ability to bounce back helps Raptors pull even with Bucks

    Gasol’s ability to bounce back helps Raptors pull even with Bucks


    MILWAUKEE — On Friday, after suffering through what was quite literally the second-worst performance of his 870-game NBA career, Marc Gasol wasn’t most upset with the eight shots he missed versus only one made. He wasn’t particularly displeased...

    MILWAUKEE — On Friday, after suffering through what was quite literally the second-worst performance of his 870-game NBA career, Marc Gasol wasn’t most upset with the eight shots he missed versus only one made. He wasn’t particularly displeased about his two turnovers, or his uncharacteristically inaccurate passes, or the way he forced things offensively practically every time the ball touched his hands.

    He was pissed, absolutely fuming in the moments after his team’s loss in Game 2 of this Eastern Conference Final, about what he did at the other end.

    "I allowed my frustrations offensively in that game to impact my defence. And that really threw me for a spin," Gasol said Tuesday night in a lively Toronto Raptors dressing room after his team evened its series with the Milwaukee Bucks at two games apiece. "Whatever happens offensively, you can’t let it affect your defence. That was what really got me frustrated — allowing my offence to mess up my defence. Because that’s where your team relies on you the most. That really threw me for a spin. But it’s life, right? You get knocked down, you get up, and you try to do better."

    Gasol’s ability to do just that is one of the elemental reasons the Raptors have been able to fight their way back into this series. He’s converted 11 of his 22 attempts over the two games since, including 7 of 14 from beyond the arc. After the Raptors lost Gasol’s 19 minutes in Game 2 by 14 points, they’ve won his 76 minutes since by seven. A brutal minus-35.9 net rating in Game 2 has given way to positive marks of 7.2 in Game 3 and 5.2 in Game 4, as Gasol’s asserted himself at both ends.

    He’s done exactly what a veteran of 11 NBA seasons is meant to. And exactly what he told his coach, Nick Nurse, he’d do during a quick chat a day after the disappointment of Game 2. He’s responded.

    "I said, ‘Listen, you’re a great player. Because my definition of a great player is you make all the other people around you better. And there’s nobody else I’d rather go out there with than you,’" Nurse remembered. "And he said, ‘I’m going to play great the next game.’ So, his confidence didn’t waver. He’s been around a long time. He knows he can play and impact this game and impact this series in a big fashion."

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    Part of the reason Nurse had that conversation with Gasol may have been the speculation that was beginning to swirl about a potential starting lineup change in the wake of Toronto falling into a quick two-game hole. One idea was to replace Gasol with Serge Ibaka, the back-up centre who had looked more comfortable and dynamic in those two losses. Another was to shift Pascal Siakam into the centre position and replace Gasol with Norman Powell in order to get the surging wing more involved in the series.

    But none of it came to pass, as Nurse stuck with his veteran centre and was rewarded for it. Gasol scored 16 with 12 rebounds, seven assists, and five blocks over 45 hard minutes in Game 3. Only 48 hours later, he followed it up with 17 points and seven more assists over 31 minutes in Game 4. After his primary defensive assignment, Brook Lopez, went off in Game 1, Gasol’s managed to keep Milwaukee’s stretchy centre mostly contained since, while providing plenty of help defending the barrelling drives of Giannis Antetokounmpo. And, perhaps most important of all, he’s played with a confidence and decisiveness that was curiously absent from his game earlier in the series.

    "What I’ve seen is him being aggressive, being assertive, catching-and-shooting, shooting the trail threes," said Raptors guard Kyle Lowry. "Not worrying about it. Just catching-and-shooting. He watched the film. He sees the shots that he has available — and he’s been taking them."

    It can’t be stressed enough how important it is for Gasol to shoot his shot. A 36 per cent three-point shooter since he incorporated it into his game three seasons ago — as any NBA centre who wants to continue receiving bi-weekly direct deposits should — Gasol has the ability to open the floor right up by taking, and making, his open looks from beyond the arc. If Gasol’s defender is forced to play him closer at that range, rather than sagging off him into the paint and letting him shoot, it creates lanes of attack for Toronto’s guards and wings to cut into.

    And that’s when the exceptionally gifted playmaker and passer can really go to work. Gasol’s 22.2 per cent assist rate this season ranked third among NBA centres, the seventh consecutive year he’s placed top-five in the category. Standing at one of the elbows, Gasol operates less like a plodding NBA big man and more like a quarterback, reading defences, directing traffic, and dropping dimes into space.

    Watch his anticipation here, as he sees a play develop one step ahead of everyone else, leading Lowry in motion for a relocation three:

    Look at the little head nod he gives Kawhi Leonard here, before splitting a pair of defenders with a bounce pass and initiating one of Game 4’s most indelible moments:

    He uses the head nod with Leonard again here before lacing an absolute bullet into open space the instant Milwaukee’s rim protectors stray a little too far away:

    "Marc did a phenomenal job of breaking down the defences when he had the ball up top on cuts, on screens," Powell said. "I think we’re just playing for one another. Everybody is talking about what we see and how we can get better looks and try to get a shot up every time. We’re staying confident in one another. We’re talking to each other about different shots, different reads that are there."

    It’s hardly a coincidence that the Raptors are 8-2 in games this post-season in which they notch 21 assists or more, and 2-4 in games with 20 assists or less. Tuesday, they had 32 assists on 41 made buckets, their second-highest total of the playoffs. The result was a commanding victory, once in which the Raptors averaged 125 points per 100 possessions, also their second-highest mark of the post-season.

    When your roster has a player as transcendent as Leonard — and particularly when he’s playing at the all-world level he has been — it can be tricky not to fall into a pattern of simply handing him the ball and letting him go. But the Raptors’ offence clearly functions best when the ball is moving, whizzing from station to station, cutter to shooter, elbow to post to corner, finding open looks for shooters with the confidence to take them.

    "That’s really kind of our true system — that we create opportunities and everyone’s involved, everybody’s touching the ball, and everybody’s moving and cutting. It’s kind of a free-flowing, open system," Nurse said. "It was a good night last night, one that we needed on that particular night. It was great to see the ball moving and sharing — the 32 assists. And a lot of people making the ball move and getting it to the guys who were open. And those guys that were open were willing to take those shots."

    So much of that applies to Gasol — whether it’s his willingness to shoot from beyond the arc, his vision to find cutting teammates in space, or the sheer amount of offence that flows through him. In each of the last two games, Gasol’s finished second on the team in touches and first in assists. No Raptor has thrown more passes in the two victories. After being at his worst in Game 2, Gasol’s response has been to show everyone his best.

    "It’s team basketball," he said, simply. "It’s everyone’s job to do whatever’s necessary to win the games."

    Heinen, Cassidy discuss Bobby Orr and history of Bruins vs. Blues

    Heinen, Cassidy discuss Bobby Orr and history of Bruins vs. Blues


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    Jody Shelley reflects on time spent with Halifax Mooseheads

    Jody Shelley reflects on time spent with Halifax Mooseheads


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    Doris Burke: Kawhi’s playoff contributions among best in NBA history

    Doris Burke: Kawhi’s playoff contributions among best in NBA history


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    Rowdy Tellez on recent hot bat ahead of Blue Jays vs. Red Sox

    Rowdy Tellez on recent hot bat ahead of Blue Jays vs. Red Sox


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    How Oilers could look under Dave Tippett, according to ex-players

    How Oilers could look under Dave Tippett, according to ex-players


    EDMONTON — Shane Doan had only played 18 games for new head coach Dave Tippett back in the 2009-10 season, but it was after a 3-2 win at home by his Phoenix Coyotes that he saw something he says now, “was one of the things I’ll never forget.” The...

    EDMONTON — Shane Doan had only played 18 games for new head coach Dave Tippett back in the 2009-10 season, but it was after a 3-2 win at home by his Phoenix Coyotes that he saw something he says now, “was one of the things I’ll never forget.”

    The Coyotes beat Dallas 3-2, and Doan had shed his gear, dispensed with the media interviews, showered, and was walking out of the Coyotes dressing room, headed fort his car.

    “I was walking out of the dressing room and there was, like, 13 of his ex-players from the Stars, waiting to go into his coaching office. All waiting to say hi to him. And he was excited to see them all.”

    All signs point to the Edmonton Oilers head coaching position being Dave Tippett’s, if he chooses to accept the mission. So, we spoke to a couple of ex-players, and a few other folks around the game, to get a vibe for what kind of coach he would be. Particularly as it pertains to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, two of the NHL’s top four scorers who would surely trade some regular-season points for the chance to pile up a few in the post-season.

    “I would tell them, be prepared to have to play a full 200-foot game,” began Ray Whitney, who played two seasons under Tippett in Phoenix. Whitney tied his second-best points total ever, with 77 points for the Coyotes in the 2011-12 campaign.

    “I think Tipp has learned that the game has changed. You’re going to have to give those types of players the time and space to do what they’re going to do. And Connor and Leon, they’re going to get their points no matter what,” Whitney said. “What they’ll have to buy into is, Leon, if you don’t score 50 goals and 100 points — but you get 40 goals and 85 points and we make the playoffs — is that going to be good enough? If they buy into it, they still might get to their 100 points, but they will be much better at both ends of the rink.

    “Dave’s is a team where everybody is asked to play the same way — within reason.”

    Doan was the captain for every one of the eight seasons Tippett coached in the desert. He chuckled at the mention of Tippett being known as a “defensive coach.” As if there are any NHL bosses who aren’t concerned with what’s happening in their own end.

    “The defence part is the structure part. The part you can control. Everyone comes into the league with decent skill, but the defensive side has to be coached a bit,” Doan said. “He wants you to be offensive. Look at what (Radim) Vrbata and Ray Whitney did — they had their best years when they played for him. He’s not going to hold anyone back.

    “The guys who have the ability to make plays will have more freedom, but at the same time he’ll hold everyone accountable to how he expects everyone to play the game. Which is,” Doan adds, “the right way.”

    “Structure” is the term most coaches say when you ask what they think of Tippett’s style. And as evidenced by Doan’s opening story, Tippett is known to get his players to feel responsible, or accountable, to performing for him, while some coaches strive to have their players be accountable “to the guy next to him in the dressing room.”

    It’s two ends to the same means, and it could be said that Tippett’s close relationship with his players has not —– into playoff wins. In 14 seasons as a head coach, his teams made the post-season eight times, winning just five rounds. They went out in Round 1 in five springs.

    Tippett’s Coyotes missed the playoffs in each of his final five seasons behind the Coyotes bench, the caveat there being the financial and organizational mess the Phoenix/Arizona team has been. They have had a rock-bottom budget and a carousel of owners, two things that are not conducive to building a winner.

    “He took a team that no one thought could possibly do anything, to 107 points his first season there. After things got really, really bad, he took them to average over 100 points in his first three seasons there,” Doan said. “You just got eroded over time. Without the ability to do things the right way, you just eventually pick away (at the roster). It was pretty much impossible to have any kind of success at the end, when Tipp was there. Look at it still: Rick Tocchet is doing an unbelievable job … and they still missed the playoffs.”

    “If I’m your leading scorer, that’s not a superstar level,” laughed Whitney. “But when you play as a team like that, we got a long way on less talent than what the Oilers have already.”

    The decision should come shortly, and it is likely Tippett deciding on the Oilers, as much as it is the team choosing the coach.

    Is Tippett what the Oilers need? If he isn’t, Shane Doan would love to know what it is that can take Edmonton over the top.

    “He’s stern — not overly bubbly — but at the same time very friendly. He has a really good mix,” said Doan. “Very personable, but at the same time he’ll hold everyone accountable.

    “I hope he gets the job.”

    Is there a problem with Marcus Stroman’s quick pitching?

    Is there a problem with Marcus Stroman’s quick pitching?


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    Oilers sign goalie Olivier Rodrigue to a three-year, entry-level deal

    Oilers sign goalie Olivier Rodrigue to a three-year, entry-level deal


    EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers have signed goaltender Olivier Rodrigue to a three-year, entry-level contract. Rodrigue, 18, has played for the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League the past three seasons. The native...

    EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers have signed goaltender Olivier Rodrigue to a three-year, entry-level contract.

    Rodrigue, 18, has played for the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League the past three seasons.

    The native of Chicoutimi, Que., tied for first in the QMJHL with 35 wins this past season and then guided Drummondville to the third round of the playoffs.

    The six-foot-one, 165-pound Rodrigue has a career QMJHL record of 80-56 with an .895 save percentage and 2.80 goals-against average.

    Rodrigue has represented Canada internationally on four occasions, most recently at the 2018 world under-18 championship.

    The Oilers selected Rodrigue in the second round (62nd overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft.

    Sorting out Flames goaltending should be Brad Treliving’s top priority

    Sorting out Flames goaltending should be Brad Treliving’s top priority


    With all due respect to Matthew Tkachuk, Brad Treliving’s No. 1 priority this summer revolves around signing a pair of goalies. While still compiling input and data in an effort to explain the Calgary Flames’ first round face-plant, the GM has...

    With all due respect to Matthew Tkachuk, Brad Treliving’s No. 1 priority this summer revolves around signing a pair of goalies.

    While still compiling input and data in an effort to explain the Calgary Flames’ first round face-plant, the GM has already done some footwork on a goalie gap that has the club without an NHL starter signed for next season.

    No, we’re not talking about the signing of 23-year-old Artyom Zagidulin out of the KHL this spring.

    One of Treliving’s first orders of business was talking to Mike Smith about the possibility of a return.

    Indeed, the 37-year-old has made it clear he’d be game to suit up for Calgary next season.

    At what price and whether there are better options are now the bigger questions.

    At the all-star break, it would have been hard for anyone to envision a desire for the Flames to bring Smith back given his age, his disastrous finish a year earlier and his horrific start to the 2018-19 season.

    However, the fitness freak dug deep to battle back from confidence and technique issues to finish the final two months on a high that translated into him being the Flames MVP through their five-game ouster courtesy of Colorado.

    Because of it, he’s a viable option to be David Rittich’s stable mate once again.

    Rittich is a restricted free agent whose contract should be easily ironed out, albeit with a hefty raise from the $800,000 he made last year as an unproven NHLer.

    He’s now almost certain to open next season as the Flames starter.

    It says here he’s ready.

    Who to pair him with is the $2 to $4 million question.

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    That’s the sort of window Treliving likely has to work with as he addresses the most important position in hockey.

    Make note, Sergei Bobrovsky, Robin Lehner and Petr Mrazek do not fit into that budget.

    Smith does, as he isn’t in any position to demand the $5.66 million he earned each of the last six years on the back of a run to the 2012 West Conference Final with Phoenix.

    His late season rebound and playoff brilliance has positioned him to extend his career at least another year as a mentor and tandem-mate who has the upside of starting potential.

    Edmonton is the first team to come to mind that could use just such a veteran to help Mikko Koskinen, potentially upping the ante to get Smith re-signed.

    They likely won’t be the only ones, given Smith’s relentless dedication to fitness, competitive drive and attitude through a pair of tumultuous seasons in Calgary.

    Smith will undoubtedly want to try parlaying his recent play into a two-year deal, which could scare many potential suitors away. Another option is an inexpensive, one-year deal loaded with bonuses available to players 35 and older. Bonus money for 10 or 20 games played, for example, wouldn’t be counted against the cap until the following year, giving the Flames cap relief this season.

    Treliving said at his season-ending press conference he was content with the goaltending duo that finished 21st in team save percentage to land the Flames atop the west in points. Surely he has designs to improve upon that significantly, which may mean having to replace Smith.

    Smith bounced back from a nightmarish start to the season to finish 23-16-2 with a 2.72 goals-against average. His .898 save percentage was, by far, the worst of his career, causing a crisis of confidence early that saw him lose his starting gig and prompt locals to boo him at times.

    Rittich picked up the slack as Smith worked on his form, finishing 27-9-5 with a 2.61 GAA and .911 save percentage. Alas, for the second year in a row he faded as the season progressed, making Smith the starter for all five playoff games — three in which his name was chanted by Saddledome seat-warmers.

    Asked if he thought Rittich, who will be 27 in August, was ready to shoulder the load as a No. 1 goalie in the league, coach Bill Peters said he thought so.

    "I think he has the ability to do that, yeah," said Peters, who started Rittich 42 times and Smith 45, including playoffs.

    "But until you’ve done it and been there, everyone is going to question it.

    "He has a lot of confidence in himself, and that’s earned. I thought he had a very good year. The most he’s played in the NHL was this year, and he’s looking to take that next step too. So if we have enough people take the steps individually, I think collectively we will take those steps."

    Calgary Flames goaltender Mike Smith (41) stands at his bench next to backup David Rittich. (Larry MacDougal/CP)

    That certainly seems like the prudent plan for the undrafted Czech star, whose boyish charm and stellar play have made "Big Save Dave" a favourite in and outside the dressing room.

    Whether he’ll be handed the starting gig could also depend on who his tandem-mate is. It’s important to note, he reveres Smith and the two have a wonderful relationship.

    The list of viable free agents to pick from is slim, but this year’s playoffs may have opened some doors on that front.

    Jordan Binnington’s heroics in St. Louis makes Jake Allen and his two years left at $4.35 million annually easily attainable via trade if you believe the 28-year-old can rebound.

    Lehner’s stunning, career-turning season puts him in line for a large payday, which could make someone expendable in whatever city he signs in, including Brooklyn where Thomas Greiss, 33, makes $3.33 million for one more season.

    Semyon Varlamov will be available as a UFA thanks to Philipp Grubauer’s late emergence in Colorado, presenting teams with the possibility of signing an inconsistent netminder with a big upside. At 31 he might be worth a gamble.

    So might Curtis McElhinney, a former Flames draft pick in 2002, who at 35 years of age is considered to be one of the premier NHL backups after yet another solid season, this time in Carolina.

    He may make the most sense, as it would give the team two solid options, while also leaving the team devoid of a proven starter.

    What isn’t an option is starting camp with signed prospects Jon Gillies, Tyler Parsons, Nick Schneider or Zagidulin vying for an NHL gig.

    According to Capfriendly.com Treliving only has $14 million with which to sign two netminders (last year the duo came in at under $6.5 million), Tkachuk (projected to be at least $7-8 million), Sam Bennett (who has arbitration rights), Andrew Mangiapane, Garnet Hathaway and other role players.

    It limits his options at a position the Flames have had as a weakness since Miikka Kiprusoff retired — a shortfall that has to be improved if the team is going to challenge once again in the west.

    May 22: Raptors battle back. Now what?

    May 22: Raptors battle back. Now what?


    Donnovan and JD look at the Raptors’ Eastern Conference Finals Game 4 victory, and look ahead to Game 5 with some help from Joseph...

    Donnovan and JD look at the Raptors’ Eastern Conference Finals Game 4 victory, and look ahead to Game 5 with some help from Joseph Casciaro.

    At what point will Sharks need move on from Joe Thornton?

    At what point will Sharks need move on from Joe Thornton?


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    FIFA keeps 32 teams for 2022 World Cup, scrapping expansion

    FIFA keeps 32 teams for 2022 World Cup, scrapping expansion


    FIFA scrapped plans to expand the 2022 Qatar World Cup to 48 nations, deciding Wednesday to stick with 32 countries due to the political and logistical complexities of using another Persian Gulf nation. FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s hopes of...

    FIFA scrapped plans to expand the 2022 Qatar World Cup to 48 nations, deciding Wednesday to stick with 32 countries due to the political and logistical complexities of using another Persian Gulf nation.

    FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s hopes of expanding the Middle East’s first World Cup in the region were stymied by the regional diplomatic crisis and the governing body’s demands on host nations to adhere to its human and labour rights requirements. That means the World Cup will not be expanded until 2026, with FIFA already having approved a format with 48 teams for that tournament in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

    A meeting of the FIFA Council in March authorized Infantino to work with Qatar on seeing if it was feasible to use at least one more country in the region to accommodate an additional 16 matches and present a proposal at meetings in June.

    "Following a thorough and comprehensive consultation process with the involvement of all the relevant stakeholders, it was concluded that under the current circumstances such a proposal could not be made now," FIFA said in a statement on Wednesday. "Due to the advanced stage of preparations and the need for a detailed assessment of the potential logistical impact on the host country, more time would be required and a decision could not be taken before the deadline of June. It was therefore decided not to further pursue this option."

    A FIFA internal report had already concluded that the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia could not join as co-hosts unless they restore the economic and travel ties with Qatar that were severed two years ago.

    The regional diplomatic crisis left neutral Kuwait and Oman as the viable options. Oman has said it isn’t keen on hosting games at the FIFA showpiece. Infantino visited Kuwait last month in an attempt to persuade them to host matches in 2022.

    But FIFA has now concluded that it lacked to the time to prepare a country to host the extra games.

    In Kuwait, Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium has 60,000 seats and the capacity at Sabah Al-Salem Stadium is only 26,000. Both venues would require upgrades to be used at the World Cup, putting the spotlight on working conditions and labour rights.

    FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura wrote to human rights activists last month to offer assurances that there was going to be "an assessment of human rights risks and potential opportunities associated with a possible expansion."

    Qatar has an exemption that allows foreigners to drink alcohol, but Kuwait has a complete ban which would have be problematic for FIFA, which has Budweiser as a major sponsor.

    FIFA has already had to adapt to cope with taking its showpiece tournament to the Middle East for the first time.

    While Qatar won a vote in 2010 on the basis of staging a June-July World Cup, FIFA shifted the tournament to from its usual slot because of the fierce summer heat to Nov. 21-Dec 18, 2022.

    Bucks coach on Drake: ‘There’s boundaries and lines for a reason’

    Bucks coach on Drake: ‘There’s boundaries and lines for a reason’


    TORONTO — With his team pulling away in the fourth quarter of a pivotal playoff contest, Nick Nurse was standing by the broadcasters’ table and applauding the previously struggling Raptors bench players that had given Toronto a 99-82 lead in Game 4...

    TORONTO — With his team pulling away in the fourth quarter of a pivotal playoff contest, Nick Nurse was standing by the broadcasters’ table and applauding the previously struggling Raptors bench players that had given Toronto a 99-82 lead in Game 4 of its NBA Eastern Conference final against the Milwaukee Bucks.

    That’s when rap superstar and Raptors superfan Drake left his courtside seat to give the Toronto coach a quick shoulder massage.

    Nurse tried hard to act like he hadn’t noticed. He claimed on a media conference call on Thursday that he didn’t even know he got it until someone showed him a picture of it.

    "I didn’t even feel it. I was so locked into the game," Nurse said.

    However, it seems like everyone else watching the game saw it, and of course social media debates were waged. Did Drake cross a boundary with his act of bonhomie, or were his actions an acceptable part of the NBA’s celebrity-driven culture?

    The move was in blatant disregard of the NBA’s fan conduct policy, which the Raptors faithful at Scotiabank Arena are lectured on via a jumbotron video several times per game.

    But Drake is no ordinary fan. Love him or loathe him, he’s an entertainment icon who has used his celebrity to put his hometown on the map. The Raptors, desperate to harness his star power, even made up a job for him back in 2013, granting him the ceremonial title of "global ambassador."

    What comes with that vague position? On one hand, he has lent his powerful OVO brand to the team, with his signature black-and-gold colour scheme decorating one of the team’s alternate jerseys — as well as the Scotiabank Arena court during the Raptors’ "Drake Night" promotions — and his owl logo adorning the team’s practice facility. On the other, it seems to involve trolling opposing players, hollering at referees and acting as a part-time masseur.

    Drake seems to be even more animated in these playoffs, on his feet for most games and taking direct aim at the opposition’s superstars with mocking gestures.

    "There’s certainly no place (on the court) for fans and, you know, whatever it is exactly that Drake is for the Toronto Raptors," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. "You know, to be on the court, there’s boundaries and lines for a reason, and like I said, the league is usually pretty good at being on top of stuff like that."

    Although Drake has not explicitly spoken on the issue, he did like a fan’s comment about all the complaints and then screencaptured the comment and put it on his Instagram story on Wednesday night.

    View this post on Instagram

    A post shared by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on May 22, 2019 at 4:40pm PDT

    "Sports media needs to accept the simple rule the Miami Hurricanes signed into law back in the 80s: if you don’t want the opposing team to celebrate and dance, prevent them from scoring, winning, or achieving their objective. Get over it and keep it moving."

    Other teams have celebrity fans — the Los Angeles Lakers are the beloved team of actor Jack Nicholson while director Spike Lee has lived and died with the mercurial New York Knicks — but none seem as polarizing as Drake. Whether his courtside actions are innocuous or obnoxious, they are always a talking point.

    A few playoff highlights include:

    A few playoff highlights include:

    THE LINT ROLLER

    Even if Drake’s courtside attire at Raptors games often channels high-school gym teacher rather than entertainment icon, he commits to his look. And apparently, that means no lint. While not one of his more demonstrable antics, cameras caught Drake using a lint roller on his pants during Game 2 of Toronto’s first-round series with Brooklyn in the 2013-14 playoffs. The clip went viral, and the team gave away Drake branded lint rollers before Game 5. One of the lint rollers was famously sold on eBay for over $55,000 in 2014.

    THE CLEVELAND CONFRONTATION

    Game 1 of the 2017-18 Eastern Conference semifinals was a dark time for the Raptors. The team has just lost their series opener in overtime to bete noire LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers despite leading for much of the game. An agitated Drake had a heated confrontation with Cavaliers centre Kendrick Perkins after the game which included plenty of colourful language from both parties. The NBA reportedly warned Drake to tone down his antics after the incident.

    THE AIRPLANE

    You could forgive Joel Embiid for enjoying the moment. The star Philadelphia 76ers overcame injuries and a rogue digestive system to drop 33 points on the Raptors in Game 3 of this season’s conference semifinal between the teams. Embiid engaged in all manner of celebrations throughout his big game, including spreading his arms and running around like an airplane in flight. When Embiid came back down to Earth and the Sixers dropped Game 5 in Toronto, Drake mocked Embiid with an airplane celebration of his own. Embiid took the ribbing in stride, telling Drake "I’ll be back for Game 7."

    GOING AT THE GREEK FREAK

    Before this East final, Milwaukee radio station 103.7 KISS-FM invoked a moratorium on playing Drake’s hits, calling the rapper a "big smack-talker on the basketball court." And so far Drake has not disappointed. When Bucks behemoth Giannis Antetokounmpo fouled out in overtime of Game 3 after being shut down by Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard, Drake waved a sarcastic goodbye to the MVP candidate as he left the court. Drake was even more animated in Game 4, laughing as Antetokounmpo bricked a free-throw attempt and punctuating his mirth with an exaggerated windmill motion with his arm.

    Is Raptors physicality and aggressive D wearing Giannis down?

    Is Raptors physicality and aggressive D wearing Giannis down?


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    Raptors’ Nick Nurse on Kawhi Leonard’s health: ‘He looks OK to me’

    Raptors’ Nick Nurse on Kawhi Leonard’s health: ‘He looks OK to me’


    With just under 11 minutes play in the third quarter of the Toronto Raptors‘s 120-102 Game 4 shellacking of the Milwaukee Bucks, Kawhi Leonard made a cut to the heart of the paint, took a seam pass from Marc Gasol and went up with his left hand and...

    With just under 11 minutes play in the third quarter of the Toronto Raptors‘s 120-102 Game 4 shellacking of the Milwaukee Bucks, Kawhi Leonard made a cut to the heart of the paint, took a seam pass from Marc Gasol and went up with his left hand and dropped a hammer jam all over Giannis Antetokounmpo.

    A signature moment in a big-time win that also provided a moment of fear immediately as well as jubilation for Raptors fans.

    When coming down from his posterization of Antetokounmpo, Leonard landed and was seen hobbling as he attempted to walk off pain in his right leg.

    After the contest Tuesday, Raptors coach Nick Nurse was asked about the status of his star forward. While he conceded Leonard isn’t all systems go, he isn’t expected to miss time, either.

    “Yeah, we were concerned,” said Nurse about whether the team’s worried about pushing Leonard too hard. “I think he’s fine. I think he’s — you know, he logged a lot of minutes. He’s certainly tired, like a lot of guys in this series are.

    “You know, he looks OK to me. I think there’s a number of guys out there that aren’t 100 per cent on both sides of the ball. But, again, he’s got tremendous will. He’s got tremendous desire, and there’s one time I was trying to give him an extended rest there, and he didn’t really want it. So he must be OK.”

    It seems apparent that Leonard has been playing hurt since he went for a fast-break dunk midway through the first quarter of Game 3.

    In that game, of course, Leonard logged a career-high 52 minutes in a double-overtime thriller as he scored 36 points and grabbed nine rebounds playing the role of Raptors superhero.

    The apparent leg injury and heavy minutes looked to have taken a toll on Leonard in Tuesday’s Game 4, however, as he was much more limited, scoring 19 points as his Toronto teammates picked him up.

    The Raptors load managed Leonard for essentially 22 games this season specifically so he’d be good to go for this time of year.

    That program is over now, though, and it looks like the Raptors are going to ride with the Leonard regardless of how banged up he may appear.

    Many questions surrounding San Jose Sharks this offseason

    Many questions surrounding San Jose Sharks this offseason


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    Turns out Binnington can keep rolling for Blues in playoffs

    Turns out Binnington can keep rolling for Blues in playoffs


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    7 NHL teams that could weaponize salary cap space

    7 NHL teams that could weaponize salary cap space


    Weaponize your cap space. The phrase may sound dangerous and thrilling, like something a sprinting Tom Cruise might shout at Ving Rhames in Mission Impossible VII as explosions shower the background. In reality, it’s Marc Bergevin acquiring a useful...

    Weaponize your cap space.

    The phrase may sound dangerous and thrilling, like something a sprinting Tom Cruise might shout at Ving Rhames in Mission Impossible VII as explosions shower the background.

    In reality, it’s Marc Bergevin acquiring a useful Joel Armia and a couple of late-round Winnipeg Jets draft picks in exchange for eating backup goalie Steve Mason’s $4.1-million salary.

    But for us transaction-starved hockey nerds, that’s some high-octane action.

    When considering the group of teams that could get creative with all their luxurious salary cap space, we do so with one eye on the NHL’s most cap-crunched clubs this summer and their appetite to find a willing and able trade partner for the Milan Lucics of this world.

    The projected cap ceiling for 2019-20 is $83 million; the floor is expected to rise to about $61.3 million.

    In discussing the teams with potential to make sneaky splashes by weaponizing their space, we chose not to dive into Colorado and Carolina, both of whom currently sit under the floor, for two reasons.

    First, it is imperative that each re-sign a marquee restricted free agent — Mikko Rantanen and Sebastian Aho, respectively — to a lucrative deal. We’re talking about an eight-figure ballpark.

    Once Colorado also doles out raises to RFAs like J.T. Compher, Alex Kerfoot, Sven Andrighetto, and signs another goalie, hitting the floor won’t be an issue. In Carolina’s case, it needs to ink two capable goalies.

    Second, both are budget, not cap, teams with plenty of draft picks at their disposal. We find it difficult to see ownership approving the swallow of another team’s problem just to add more futures.

    (Yes, Ottawa too is a budget team, but the Sens have so much cap space and so few critical re-signings this off-season that they’ll have to spend money somewhere.)

    So here are seven clubs blessed with cap room and capable of using it to their advantage for 2019-20.

    Ottawa Senators
    Projected cap space: $37.7 million

    Remember the old days, when the Senators were trying to trade away Bobby Ryan because he was expensive? Now, the NHL’s softest spenders need his $7.25 million on the books just to reach the floor.

    The Rebuilding Senators™ have a grand total of $4.4 million committed to their 2019-20 blue line and a mere $22.4 million in forwards, roughly a third of which is going to Ryan alone.

    Owner Eugene Melnyk has zero intentions of sniffing the cap ceiling until 2021, but he would be wise to give GM Pierre Dorion the green light to use some of this glorious wiggle room to take on some more Bobby Ryans and further load the cupboards with picks and prospects. That way, when the Sens are ready to contend — locking up defenceman Thomas Chabot long-term on July 1 would be a fine start — they have a surplus of tradeable assets.

    They’re set in net and will be quiet in free agency (smart). Giving RFA Colin White a nice raise is a no-brainer.

    And at his season-ending press conference, Dorion left the door open to re-sign RFAs Anthony Duclair, who scored eight goals after arriving via the Ryan Dzingel trade, and Cody Ceci, who endured an arbitration so bitter last summer he questioned if Ottawa even valued him.

    “We feel that Cody Ceci – slotted in the right spot – can be a very good player,” Dorion said. “If we slot him in the right spot, he’s someone we’d like to keep around.”

    “We’re happy with Anthony’s play. He showed he can produce at the NHL level, but we have to make sure it’s the right fit here.”

    Even if those signings are made, Dorion should look to absorb a couple veteran contracts through trades and tax his cap-crunched partners with a pick or prospect.

    He has the space. Does he have the authority?

    New Jersey Devils
    Projected cap space: $35.6 million

    Despite an eerily quiet 2018 off-season and a disappointing 2018-19, Ray Shero was given a multi-year extension to guide this ship forward.

    The lottery-lucky executive is armed with draft picks (including another first overall) and cap space – all the ingredients to make noise in June. That’s why we have his Devils as one of the few clubs that could realistically consider an offer sheet to accelerate their own build.

    Taylor Hall (UFA 2020) needs to believe Shero is constructing a winner, and that goes beyond re-signing RFAs Pavel Zacha and Will Butcher.

    New Jersey purposely and wisely took one step back at the deadline, trading away rentals Ben Lovejoy, Brian Boyle, Keith Kinkaid and Marcus Johansson. This is the summer for Shero to take two steps forward.

    He should be engaging cap-tight Vegas, Tampa, Washington and his alma mater Pittsburgh in trade talks to see if he can scoop roster talent at a bargain. New Jersey needs some dependability to go with its youth.

    New York Islanders
    Projected cap space: $35.2 million

    Lou Lamoriello will leverage any possible advantage, and this summer it’s cap space — the silver lining to having so many impending UFAs.

    Captain Anders Lee leads a group that includes Brock Nelson, Jordan Eberle, Valtteri Filppula and Robin Lehner. Some will be back, RFAs Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle need raises, and a chunk of dough must be set aside for a goaltender.

    The Isles need some elite scoring talent to complement Mathew Barzal, leading us to believe Lamoriello could be aggressive on July 1. Don’t rule out the offer sheet here.

    Another route would be trying to grab extra draft picks via trade. New York only has five picks at this June’s draft (no third- or a fourth-rounder) and may want to give its scouts some help.

    Philadelphia Flyers
    Projected cap space: $33.4 million

    Chuck Fletcher is no stranger to bold moves. On Independence Day 2012, the former Wild exec aggressively signed the best two UFAs on the market, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, to identical 13-year, $98-million whoppers.

    But if the dispatching of Wayne Simmonds or the occasional Jakub Voracek trade rumour has you thinking rebuild, the recruitment of coach Alain Vigneault (whose teams almost always make the dance) suggests a team that wants to contend in the Claude Giroux era.

    Fletcher must dole out raises to RFAs Travis Sandheim, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, and spend on a goaltender to support wunderkind Carter Hart. But he still has room to get creative — especially if he trades Radko Gudas or Shayne Gostisbehere, or buys out Andrew MacDonald.

    Columbus Blue Jackets
    Projected cap space: $32.5 million

    Jarmo Kekalainen’s amateur scouts might not have anything to do in Vancouver next month if the GM can’t recoup a couple of the draft picks he splurged away to help his franchise win a round.

    Columbus has just two choices in the 2019 draft (a third and a seventh) and is down to five in 2020.

    With his highest-paid player (Cam Atkinson) set to make $5.87 million and all that pricey talent walking out the door — Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid — Kekalainen can comfortably give RFA Zach Werenski a well-deserved raise, pay a goalie and still have enough pay roll to weaponize his space and claw back a pick or two.

    Vancouver Canucks
    Projected cap space: $30.5 million

    Some Canucks fans hear “weaponize cap space” and fear Jim Benning may interpret that as “sign Loui Eriksson” or “overpay Jay Beagle.” But there is good reason why Vancouver is a club to watch this off-season, which needs to begin with a long-term contract announcement for RFA Brock Boeser.

    The sense is that ownership is antsy to return to the playoffs, and Benning’s employment might just depend on it. The building blocks of an exciting young squad are here — Boeser, Bo Horvat, Rookie of the Year shoo-in Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Thatcher Demko — but properly filling the gaps around them is critical.

    Secondary scoring is essential (2018-19 bargains Tyler Motte and Josh Leivo are also RFAs), and with Alex Edler creeping toward UFA status, so is some experience on the blue line to help groom Hughes. If I’m Benning, I’m on the phone with David Poile.

    Buffalo Sabres
    Projected cap space: $29.4 million

    Two promising qualities about Jason Botterill: he’s willing to think outside the box (see: hiring head coach Ralph Krueger), and he’s not delusional.

    “We haven’t arrived yet,” the realistic GM said at one point this past season, recognizing that his Sabres’ hot October wasn’t sustainable.

    Botterill has one more year before Brandon Montour, Casey Mittelstadt, Sam Reinhart start knocking on his door for raises and franchise defenceman Rasmus Dahlin can be extended.

    Free of the pressure to win today, is there a way he can take advantage of the space he has now to help Buffalo’s future? Offer-sheet a mid-level RFA forward like Kevin Labanc or Kasperi Kapanen?

    Use his surplus of draft picks to help acquire another solid roster player from a cap-tight club, the way he raised eyebrows by snatching Montour from Anaheim at the deadline?

    Yes, the GM is trying to keep UFA Jeff Skinner in the fold and must spend more money on his crease, but with Jason Pominville coming off the pay roll, there’s plenty of flexibility here. Botterill appears to have the imagination to match.

    (All figures via the indispensable CapFriendly.com)

    Deal reached on Montreal land development for potential MLB stadium site

    Deal reached on Montreal land development for potential MLB stadium site


    MONTREAL — Stephen Bronfman-owned Claridge Investments and real estate development firm Devimco have reached an agreement to develop a plot of land for sale known as the Peel Basin, where a group committed to bringing Major League Baseball back to...

    MONTREAL — Stephen Bronfman-owned Claridge Investments and real estate development firm Devimco have reached an agreement to develop a plot of land for sale known as the Peel Basin, where a group committed to bringing Major League Baseball back to Montreal would like to build a new stadium.

    Bronfman announced the deal at a gathering Tuesday night to honour his father, former Montreal Expos owner Charles Bronfman, as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Montreal Expos’ first season.

    Stephen Bronfman, who heads a group of investors interested in bringing baseball back to Montreal, said Devimco would be responsible for the purchase of the land and would partner with his firm to develop the 950,000-square-foot site.

    It wasn’t clear how long completing the purchase would take.

    Bronfman said he hopes to make an announcement in the summer, but he isn’t too hung up on dates.

    "We’ve moved steadily along with our development project for the site," Bronfman said. "We’re going day-by-day."

    He said planning is underway but certain details could not be divulged.

    "When the time is right, we’ll be announcing it step by step," Bronfman said.

    Not much has changed on the MLB front, but Bronfman said he isn’t worried about that either.

    "I’m always positive," he said. "It’s going slowly, but it’s going and that’s what is important."

    The younger Bronfman admitted he purposely doesn’t do a lot of press to avoid building up too much hype around baseball’s possible return.

    "At the end of the day, I’m not controlling the agenda," he said. "I’m trying my best to temper things, but with a positive temperament."

    Many former Expos greats including Steve Rogers, Bill Lee, Andre Dawson, Denis Boucher and Claude Raymond were on hand in Montreal’s Old Port Tuesday night to honour the elder Bronfman.

    Charles Bronfman, 87, said he is convinced that his son’s project is sound and that a proper stadium is necessary for it to succeed. His advice to his son was to remain patient.

    "Hang in there," he said. "He’s done a hell of a good job. He’s got a lot of patience, played every card the right way."

    The elder Bronfman was asked about the level of interest in the 50th anniversary of MLB’s arrival in the city and recalled the days when Montreal was in love with baseball.

    "There’s something about being major league, there’s a panache," Charles Bronfman said. "I think everybody loved it — the team was exciting, and it was a lot of fun."

    He said while the Jarry Park experience really sold baseball, the Olympic Stadium experience a bit "iffy."

    "Unfortunately, we never made the World Series," he added. "That’s my only regret by the way, not making the World Series."

    The Expos relocated to Washington, D.C., following the 2004 season.

    Too much Drake at Raptors game, or not enough?

    Too much Drake at Raptors game, or not enough?


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    A blueprint for how the Lightning can make room for Erik Karlsson

    A blueprint for how the Lightning can make room for Erik Karlsson


    Put on some comfy pants, load up the calculator on your phone and sit back in a comfy chair. We’re going to get a little armchair GM action going here. In one of the more intriguing scenarios we could see this summer, the idea that Erik Karlsson could...

    Put on some comfy pants, load up the calculator on your phone and sit back in a comfy chair. We’re going to get a little armchair GM action going here.

    In one of the more intriguing scenarios we could see this summer, the idea that Erik Karlsson could use his UFA powers to join the Tampa Bay Lightning is a mind-bending salary cap exercise. How exactly could the Lightning, already one of the seven teams facing cap hell, also afford the biggest name available? It’d take some massaging of the roster for sure, but don’t scoff at the possibility.

    “I still think Erik Karlsson’s going to be this year’s John Tavares,” Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston said on The FAN 960 in Calgary. “Taking a few suitors and getting wooed and seeing what’s out there. I think that he’s going to leverage the market and really make a life decision for himself.

    “It would be a surprise to me if we see him sign an extension before June 23 when he’s able to officially start talking to other teams.”

    Tampa Bay is facing some tough questions anyway, but the fact they followed up a record-tying 62-win season with a first-round sweep perhaps makes giving a jolt to the roster a little more urgent.

    You’re not going to tear this thing down or trade your best players, but if you can add someone on Karlsson’s level for a relative bargain it would be worth exploring. They’ve tried to get the player a few times before and with Julien BriseBois in the GM’s chair now, he may not be as attached to the moveable pieces on the roster as the former GM who put them there.

    Other teams such as the New York Rangers, ones with plenty of cap space and an opening window to move out of a rebuild toward contention, may be more natural or plausible landing spots. But the Lightning are a legitimate dark horse in this race.

    [radioclip id=4623145]

    “Tampa requires some serious surgery to their roster, but there’s been a long song and dance between the Lightning and Karlsson,” Johnston continued.

    “They tried to trade for him out of Ottawa a couple years ago. He and Victor Hedman are very close. And that’s an organization I can see being bold just for the sheer fact they’ve been hanging around and not won a Cup yet. I could see Julien BriseBois, entering his second year as a general manager, making a Kawhi Leonard type of move for their team to shake things up that might result in Erik signing there. I also believe he would give them a little bit of a discount for the Florida factor and that it’s such a nice place to live and some of the other star players have done the same.

    “Don’t rule out the Lightning if they start making moves to clear cap space.”

    So what exactly is their situation and how may this scenario possibly play out?

    Let’s have a peek at Tampa Bay’s cap outlook. Keep in mind they’re also still being charged $1,833,333 for Matt Carle’s buyout.

    First, assuming next year’s cap ceiling is $83 million, Tampa Bay heads into the off-season with $8,576,669 in room with 17 players under contract. The first order of business is to sign RFA Brayden Point, who as a centre should be the most valuable of all the big-ticket RFAs.

    Of course with the state tax situation what it is, we’d expect him to follow Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov and take a little less against the cap. Evolving Wild has Point’s projected cap hit at $8.24 million if he signs a five-year extension, so if we add that to their current cap number Tampa would already have only about $300,000 in room. You can see the problem here.

    The reason Karlsson is even being discussed as a target, though, is because Tampa stands to lose three blue-liners to free agency already. Given they should be contending for the Cup again in 2020, they’ll want to replace some of those guys with more than farmhands looking to make the next step up. And if Karlsson is going to become a Lightning, we’re working on the assumption that none of Anton Stralman, Ryan McDonagh or Dan Girardi are back in 2019-20.

    So let’s try and work this thing out step by step. Starting from the position the Lightning are in today, with 10 forwards, five defencemen and two goalies signed for next season with $8,576,669 in cap room and three other RFAs on the roster, how can they get to a place where Karlsson fits in with a competitive salary?

    Here’s how that may look:

    TRADE RYAN CALLAHAN

    The assistant captain has just one year left on his contract, so a buyout to clear room is less than ideal because the Lightning would face a charge in 2020-21 that they otherwise wouldn’t have on the books. A trade is the preferred route here. Callahan has a modified no-trade clause through which he can submit a list of 16 destinations. We’re not too restricted here.

    Callahan is not the same player Tampa acquired in the Martin St. Louis trade five years ago and he hasn’t even hit 20 points since 2016. At 34 years old, Callahan alone isn’t going to entice any GM to make a trade, but if the Lightning add a sweetener, some team with plenty of cap space would gladly take on one more year of Callahan at full value ($5.8 million). The Lightning already put their first-rounder on the table as a condition in a trade with the Rangers, but since they didn’t win the Cup they’ll keep it. Perhaps it can still be used in a move like this. In fact, if New York isn’t going to land Karlsson, would they take back Callahan for a season if it means adding the first-rounder anyway?

    Cap space after trading Callahan: $14,376,669

    TRADE J.T. MILLER

    Finding a way forward in this fantasy isn’t as simple as picking two or three players off the roster making $4 plus million and sending them away via trade. That’s because some of those who would be great candidates to move — Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn — all have full no-trade clauses. Sure, maybe one of them would be fine to move away from an elite contender like Tampa Bay, but the odds aren’t in favour of that outcome.

    So we’ll instead turn our focus to Miller, who has only been part of this for the past season and a bit, and who only has modified no-trade protection. According to CapFriendly, Miller can have a list of eight teams he wouldn’t accept a trade to, so the Lightning would have lots of options.

    Unlike with Callahan, Tampa wouldn’t have to add anything in with Miller — this could be a move for futures where no salary comes back to Tampa Bay. Miller is right in his prime at 26 years old, has four more years on his contract with a $5.25-million cap hit and is a good bet to approach 20 goals and 50 points. That’s decent second line production and he also brings some net-front sturdiness, which more teams could be after following what we’ve seen in these playoffs.

    Cap space after trading Miller: $19,626,669

    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 TAKING CARE OF YOUR OWN RFAs/FILLING OUT THE ROSTER

    To get Karlsson the Lightning would need to squeeze out all the cap room they can, so let’s tie up the loose ends at the lower end of the salary chart. Adam Erne, Cedric Paquette and Danick Martel are three RFAs on the roster, so to gauge what they may sign for we’ll again turn to Evolving Wild’s model. Assuming Erne goes for $1,016,778, Paquette for $1,463,096 and Martel for $769,044, the total of the three would sit at $3,248,918. With Callahan and Miller out of the picture and these three RFAs signed, the Lightning would still sit with 11 forwards at this point and a cap picture that suddenly looks close to being able to afford a discounted Karlsson.

    Cap space after signing the three RFA forwards: $16,377,751

    SIGN POINT TO A BRIDGE DEAL INSTEAD

    Even though we still have all this cap room, it’s going to go away in flash. At first blush, if the Lightning slot in both Point and Karlsson at $8 million, Tampa Bay would have 12 forwards, six defencemen and two goalies with $377,751 of cap space. That leaves no space for scratches or room for recalls so we still need to find more room. As you can see, this would all be very tight.

    Heading back to Evolving Wild’s contract projections, if Tampa Bay walks Point straight to free agency with a four-year deal, the model has that coming in at a $7,696,313. If a three-year deal is in the cards, according to the projections that would shave off a bit more and come in at a $7,280,895 cap hit. Let’s choose that route.

    This would mean in three years time Point would be up again, but still be a year away from UFA. Considering the years you’d be buying on that deal, he’d basically be treated as a UFA anyway, but in the meantime, you could shave off enough money to maybe put you in position to land Karlsson. Arguably, everyone would be OK with this as it would put the team in its best position to win.

    Cap space after signing Point to a three-year bridge contract: $9,096,856

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    HOW ELSE CAN WE SAVE MONEY?

    We’d basically have to look back to Paquette and Erne, who we signed for a combined $2,479,874 and downgrade on them. Whether you can trade them for their own cheaper replacements or simply shed those contracts for futures and swap in a couple of players from the minors, these depth spots are interchangeable parts of the lineup.

    Carter Verhaeghe, 23, led the AHL with 32 goals and 82 points this season. He’s also an RFA, but likely wouldn’t cost much more than $800,000. Alex Barre-Boulet, 22, also scored 32 goals in the AHL and will cost only $759,258 for another two seasons. Cory Conacher, 29, was the third-highest scoring Syracuse Crunch and costs only $700,000 against the cap. He’s the most experienced of the three and has 74 points in 189 NHL games. Not bad for a depth player.

    So let’s take out Erne and Paquette to replace them with these three players. We now have 13 forwards and are set for 2019-20 at the position.

    Cap space after using the farm to add cheaper talent: $9,317,472

    DETERMINING KARLSSON’S COST

    This whole thing can come crumbling down for a variety of reasons, but chief among those is if Karlsson isn’t open to taking some kind of a discount.

    Right now the highest-paid defenceman in the league is Drew Doughty, who signed last July for an $11 million AAV. P.K. Subban comes in next at $9 million on a contract signed in 2014. Oliver Ekman-Larsson signed for $8.25 million last summer, and John Carlson for $8 million in 2018 as well, just before he became UFA eligible. Victor Hedman signed for an AAV of $7.875 million on an eight-year deal in 2016, but makes $8 million in actual salary for the first seven of those. Basically, $8 million is the minimum starting point here.

    If Karlsson signs for that great, you can fill out your seventh defenceman position with a low-cost player and have a few hundred thousand to maneuver with. But for every dollar more Karlsson costs, that squeeze gets even tighter. It all comes down to how much Karlsson would want to be a Lightning and what kind of discount he would give to do it.

    For fun, let’s assume Karlsson becomes the third-highest paid blue-liner in the league and costs Tampa Bay an AAV of $8.3 million.

    A LOOK AT OUR FINAL TEAM

    With everything except the seventh defenceman filled out, we have about $1 million in cap space remaining.

    OK, SO KARLSSON SIGNS WITH TAMPA BAY — WHAT’S NEXT?

    This was already a difficult exercise, where we had to do cartwheels to fit Karlsson under the cap. But we only figured this out for 2019-20.

    The reality is Karlsson is still in his prime years, turning 29 years old in nine days, and looking for more than a one-year deal. Given his injuries, term figures to be a sticking point for Karlsson anywhere he considers signing. And that’s the biggest conundrum when trying to fit Karlsson under Tampa Bay’s cap — how will this keep working beyond next season?

    [radioclip id=4628839]

    One year from now, Andrei Vasilevskiy will be an RFA turning 26 years old in the summer. He’ll be after a hefty raise from his current $3.5 million and, considering they’d be buying mostly UFA years, that price tag may double. Anthony Cirelli will also be coming off his entry-level contract and in line to become a multi-millionaire. Mikhail Sergachev, too, will be off his ELC. Right away, you’re probably at least looking at an extra $10 million added against the cap with those three.

    You would have one more trading option next summer. Alex Killorn’s no-trade clause turns into a modified one where he can submit a list of 16 teams to be dealt to. You’d basically have to move him for this to keep working.

    In 2021 the Seattle expansion draft comes into play and warps this entire outlook.

    The conclusion is that, yes, the Lightning can find a way to fit in Karlsson, but it wouldn’t be easy. He could potentially narrowly fit in next season, but that crunch gets even tighter a year from now.

    Should one or two of the players with no-trade clauses waive them this summer, everything opens up a bit more. If there’s a blockbuster deal out there involving one or more of Johnson, Palat or Killorn for the Lightning to re-work significant portions of their roster, then this picture could get a little clearer. But we can’t count on that outcome today.

    Looking at this as practically as we can for a pie in the sky scenario makes it obvious that it would take great pains for the Lightning to accomplish. And with all the injury concerns floating around Karlsson, the big question is whether or not he’s worth all this hassle at this stage of his career for a team that already has plenty of great pieces in place.

    May 21: The Vlad Jr. breakout is happening

    May 21: The Vlad Jr. breakout is happening


    Ben and Arden discuss Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s offensive breakout before examining the shortcomings of the offence and...

    Ben and Arden discuss Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s offensive breakout before examining the shortcomings of the offence and rotation.

    Canada’s Anthony Mantha suspended one game at world championships

    Canada’s Anthony Mantha suspended one game at world championships


    Team Canada‘s Anthony Mantha has been suspended one game after a hit to the head on U.S. forward Colin White on Tuesday. The Detroit Red Wings forward will be out of Canada’s quarterfinal game on Thursday against Switzerland. .@HC_Men forward...

    Team Canada‘s Anthony Mantha has been suspended one game after a hit to the head on U.S. forward Colin White on Tuesday.

    The Detroit Red Wings forward will be out of Canada’s quarterfinal game on Thursday against Switzerland.

    .@HC_Men forward @AntoMantha8 has been suspended for one game due to a hit to the head infraction in yesterday's game against @USAHockey, will miss tomorrow's quarter-final vs. @SwissIceHockey https://t.co/SQSmfZkn6W

    — IIHF (@IIHFHockey) May 22, 2019

    Canada went on to seal its place at the top of Group A after the Mantha incident, shutting out the United States 3-0.

    Mantha, who was suspended by the IIHF Disciplinary Panel on Wednesday, has seven goals and 12 points so far in the tournament.

    The Canadians head into the quarterfinals with a 6-1 record after seven preliminary round games.

    Canada’s Robert Wickens making impact on sidelines ahead of Indy 500

    Canada’s Robert Wickens making impact on sidelines ahead of Indy 500


    Robert Wickens may not be able to currently race an IndyCar, but it hasn’t stopped him from helping his team out from the sidelines. Ahead of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, the Guelph, Ont., native is still playing a big part for his Arrow Schmidt...

    Robert Wickens may not be able to currently race an IndyCar, but it hasn’t stopped him from helping his team out from the sidelines.

    Ahead of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, the Guelph, Ont., native is still playing a big part for his Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team.

    “He’s able to observe so much,” said James Hinchcliffe, a longtime friend and teammate. “He picks up some of the smallest things that even engineers miss just by watching the video feed during the sessions, by watching the timing and scoring.”

    Wickens has been limited to a wheelchair since a crash last August at Pocono Raceway left him paralyzed from the chest down.

    The 30-year-old was attempting to pass Ryan Hunter-Reay when the wheels on the two cars touched. Hunter-Reay’s car went into the wall while Wickens’s car went airborne into the steel fence and spun several times before landing.

    Wickens suffered a thoracic spinal fracture, spinal cord injury, neck fracture, tibia and fibula fractures to both legs, fractures in both hands, fractured right forearm, fractured elbow, four fractured ribs and a pulmonary contusion.

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    Hinchcliffe says the last year has been trying but he’s been holding up well.

    “Honestly, a lot of it is just seeing how well Rob’s doing through it all,” he says. “He’s one of the most stubborn guys I’ve ever known and I knew from Day 1 that nothing was going to keep him down and I think he’s showing the rest of the world that.”

    Through a spokeswoman, Wickens declined to be interviewed for this story.

    But he has been detailing his progress along the way through social media as he tries to regain the ability to walk. Wickens’s spinal cord injury was incomplete and there’s a chance the nerves could find their way back into his legs.

    Some of his posts include him starting to walk, pushing weights, doing ovals with his wheelchair and squats.

    Wickens has expressed a desire to race again and also have at least one dance during his September wedding with Karli Woods.

    In a March interview with Sportsnet, Wickens said he sees his injury as just a setback and not a career ender. He believes hand controls will allow him to race again and said he’s fortunate to be involved in a professional sport which allows him to do so.

    As his recovery continues, he has helped new teammate Marcus Ericsson get accustomed to the transition from Formula 1 to IndyCar.

    Wickens had a successful racing career in Europe before being persuaded by Hinchcliffe to join the North American circuit. The Arrow Schmidt Petterson Motorsports team left a car open for him for when he’s ready to return, but hired Ericsson as a full-time driver from Sauber in the meantime.

    Ericsson says the two talk a lot and calls Wickens both clever and helpful.

    “Robbie went through a very similar thing as me coming from a lot of years in Europe, coming to the series,” Ericsson says. “So that’s been very helpful to chat with him about different things especially before I was doing my first oval test.”

    Wickens was having an impressive rookie season before his crash and qualified 18th for last year’s Indy 500. He finished the race ninth and even led for two laps.

    Whatever advice he gave Ericcson, it worked. The Swede qualified 13th for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, but it was a different story for Hinchcliffe.

    The Oakville, Ont., native, who didn’t qualify for last year’s race, crashed on his first qualifying attempt last Saturday. His team managed to get a backup car ready quickly, but he still wasn’t able to be one of the fastest 30 drivers.

    In what IndyCar has dubbed the “last row shootout,” Hinchcliffe had one more shot to make the final row and squeezed into the 32nd of 33 available spots.

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    Hinchcliffe says he and Wickens have been talking about racing for 25 years and calls him a huge asset at the racetrack.

    “I’m fully confident that he’s going to get into a race car again one day.

    “He’s one of the most stubborn guys I’ve ever known and I knew from Day 1 that nothing was going to keep him down and I think he’s showing the rest of the world that.”

    CFL, CFLPA ratify new CBA that runs through 2021 season

    CFL, CFLPA ratify new CBA that runs through 2021 season


    TORONTO — The CFL and its players have ratified a new three-year collective bargaining agreement. The league and the CFL Players’ Association confirmed the deal with a joint press release on Wednesday. It carries the league through the 2021...

    TORONTO — The CFL and its players have ratified a new three-year collective bargaining agreement.

    The league and the CFL Players’ Association confirmed the deal with a joint press release on Wednesday. It carries the league through the 2021 season.

    The two sides came to terms on a tentative agreement on May 15 and signed a memorandum of agreement on Saturday, one day before the start of training camps.

    The memorandum of agreement was finalized after reports that a tentative deal between the two sides had fallen apart.

    Statements by the CFLPA and the CFL issued late Saturday confirmed that there had been a discrepancy between the two sides, but that it had been worked out.

    “Our new agreement speaks to positive growth for our League and a renewed investment in our players,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement on Wednesday. “We have an exciting future ahead of us and people around the world will see us build it together. I want to thank our players, teams and fans for their patience and let them know that I share their enthusiasm for the start of football season.”

    CFLPA president Jeff Keeping also released a statement.

    “I would like to thank all CFL players for their commitment and diligence as we worked together toward a fair agreement. I would also like to thank the fans for their support and understanding throughout this process,” said Keeping. “This new agreement moves us forward as partners in the future of the game.”

    What they’re saying after the Raptors’ season-saving Game 4 win vs. Bucks

    What they’re saying after the Raptors’ season-saving Game 4 win vs. Bucks


    The Toronto Raptors entered Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Finals series against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night with their season on the line. Those were the stakes, facing a possible 3-1 series deficit should they lose after coming up big in...

    The Toronto Raptors entered Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Finals series against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night with their season on the line. Those were the stakes, facing a possible 3-1 series deficit should they lose after coming up big in double-overtime Sunday.

    Instead, the Raptors won – and they won big. In the process, they’ve not only reignited this series, which is now tied 2-2 heading back to Milwaukee for a can’t-miss Game 5, but breathed life into their fanbase as they are two wins removed from seeing their team appear in the NBA Finals.

    The Raptors’ latest win came in encouraging fashion, with major contributions from the likes of Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol, as Kawhi Leonard was held to 19 points, and the best performance thus far from the bench, led by Serge Ibaka, Norm Powell and Fred Van Vleet, who was celebrating the birth of his son Fred Jr.

    In the coverage of the game, much of the focus is on the return of the bench mob, Leonard’s all-encompassing impact on his team and sideline entertainer Drake. As we do following each and every Raptors playoff game, here’s a look at what the out-of-market media had to say following Toronto’s season-saving win:

    NBA on TNT — Raptors Dominate in Game 4 to Even Up ECF

    Live from Jurassic Park, the Inside the NBA crew broke down what Charles Barkley called “a perfect bench game” from the Raptors:

    ESPN — ‘It’s the Kawhi effect’: The impact of having a transcendent star

    ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz marvels at the Raptors’ collective basketball IQ and examines how Leonard can impact a game even on an off-night.

    “Kawhi is going to get attention all the time, no matter what,” Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry told ESPN. “It’s the Kawhi effect.”

    The privilege of having a transcendent superstar like Leonard isn’t just the gift of the singular performance that wins a game, though Leonard has done plenty of that over the past six weeks of the postseason. The team also enjoys the ability to leverage a defence like Milwaukee’s that devotes its full weight and diligence to stopping Leonard.

    …Easing Leonard’s load was imperative for Toronto because the three-time All-Star came in still gassed from Game 3. Though there has been no specific diagnosis and Leonard insists he feels good, Raptors coach Nick Nurse characterized his best player as “tired,” and Lowry said he was “a little bit limited.” Leonard’s 19 points were his lowest output since Game 3 of the Raptors’ first-round series against Orlando, a night he was under the weather.

    …When the Raptors fail to hit open shots as they’ve done so frequently over the past few weeks against Philadelphia and Milwaukee, it’s easy to forget about the collective intelligence of the outfit. But Leonard, Gasol and Lowry conducted an honours class in basketball IQ in Game 4. Lowry led the team with 25 points, including a 10-for-10 night at the free throw line, the product of some heavy manufacturing — turning broken possessions into meaningful points by simply drawing contact against a destabilized defence.

    …The Raptors clawed back into the series on faith in probabilities and personnel. Milwaukee will be equally steadfast in its belief. Such is the NBA’s deep post-season, when elite teams know and like who they are, and are willing to live and die on those identities.

    I didn’t expect that. The Raptors are pretty goddamn impressive.

    — Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) May 22, 2019

    Game 4 was all about the Raptors’ bench coming alive.#WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/zGXEvznmD2

    — The Ringer (@ringer) May 22, 2019

    USA Today — Raptors show in Game 4 that they can win without a fully functional Kawhi Leonard

    The NBA’s daily injury reported listed zilch about Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard.

    Not the 1:30 p.m. report, not the 5:30 p.m. report and not the 8:30 p.m. report.

    But Leonard is not 100%. That’s visible when he favours one leg. No one is saying what is causing the discomfort. As they like to say in the NHL, let’s just call it a lower-body injury.

    …An interesting thing happened this season as the Raptors managed his minutes and sat him in 22 of 82 games. Toronto won without him, going 17-5 in the games he didn’t play, including wins against multiple playoff teams. The Raptors had a better winning percentage without Leonard.

    He played 34 minutes, and the Raptors outscored Milwaukee 29-27 in Leonard’s 14 minutes on the bench.

    …Leonard has been perhaps the best player of this post-season, averaging 31.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals and shooting 51.8% from the field and 39.1 per cent on three-pointers. When Leonard is on the court, the Raptors score 111.5 points and allow 101.1 points per 100 possessions for impressive plus-10.4 net rating.

    He has scored at least 30 points in 10 of Toronto’s 16 playoff games.

    …Ibaka didn’t even realize something might be amiss with Leonard.

    “You know, Kawhi plays at his own pace, and sometimes, it’s hard to know,” Ibaka said. “But at some point, I felt maybe he’s going a little too much. So I ask somebody on the bench, and when I heard that, I thought, ‘Oh, wow.’”

    Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel — Milwaukee totally hates Drake, who doesn’t own the Raptors but is somehow allowed to freely roam the court

    The Journal-Sentinel’s JR Radcliffe compiles feedback from Bucks fans on their ongoing fixation with Raptors ambassador Drake, and wonders aloud why he occupies so much real estate on the Scotiabank Arena sidelines:

    Rapper Drake is not all that popular in Milwaukee at the moment.

    The Toronto Raptors superfan, who apparently is allowed to roam the court freely during Raptors games, definitely was on the city’s nerves during and after Toronto’s 120-102 win over the Bucks on Tuesday, which pulled the teams into a 2-2 tie in the Eastern Conference finals series.

    It was irritating when he waved goodbye to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks after Toronto barely survived a double-overtime battle Sunday in Game 3. But now, he’s reached a new level of clowndom. Is he giving Raptors coach Nick Nurse a massage during the game? How is this … allowed?

    why is Drake just allowed to wander freely on the sidelines? pic.twitter.com/qxl70Z9pO3

    — Dan Favale (@danfavale) May 22, 2019

    Drake would drive me crazy if I was a Raptors fan. https://t.co/zV7mqPmfx8

    — Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) May 22, 2019

    ESPN — Stephen A. breaks down Raptors’ win with Marc Gasol, criticizes Bucks’ defense

    “They can’t guard these guys,” Stephen A. Smith says of Milwaukee’s supporting cast, which struggled to contain players like Norman Powell on Tuesday night.

    Raptors with a heck of a team performance to help out an injured Kawhi. Kyle Lowry leading it. Serge sustaining it. Marc chaperoning it. Norm coercing it. Fred finding it. Pascal grinding it. Danny forcing it. Kawhi willing it.

    — Tas Melas (@TasMelas) May 22, 2019

    Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel— Milwaukee has no answer, and suddenly the series is tied

    The Bucks had no answer for the aggressive defence of the Toronto Raptors, stagnating throughout the night. Milwaukee’s own defence surrendered back cuts, featured lazy closeouts and allowed too many open looks.

    …It wasn’t just one Raptors player who crushed the Bucks. It was all of them.

    Kyle Lowry got going early, scoring 12 of his 25 points in the first quarter. Marc Gasol was efficient all night, stretching the floor and dabbling in a few buckets inside for 17 points. Toronto’s bench — oft-maligned during the playoffs — was fantastic, with Norman Powell hitting big shots on the way to 18 points, Serge Ibaka 7 of 12 for 17 points and Fred VanVleet 5 of 6 for 13 points.

    Oh, and Raptors star Kawhi Leonard? He had just five points at halftime and the Raptors were still ahead by 10. When he added 11 points in the third quarter – he finished with 19 – it essentially broke the Bucks’ collective back.

    …And now for a brief trip into the Twitter feed of bona fide Kawhi hater Skip Bayless:

    Aha! No. 2 scored only 5 points but his team is up 10 at half! Yet all I hear on Undisputed is, he just doesn't have enough help. He sure got plenty in the 1st half from Lowry, Ibaka and Powell. The Raptors are carrying No. 2.

    — Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 22, 2019

    If you're a longtime Spurs fan, you know you can never quite trust and depend on No. 2. Is he hurt tonight? He seems to be moving just fine. Is he out of gas? IT'S THE CONFERENCE FINALS!!! The truth is, No. 2 often is what he is not.

    — Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 22, 2019

    This is San Antonio all over again. Obviously, the Raptors' med staff is so unsure what's wrong with him, they didn't even put him on the injury report. BUT … he power-cuts, dunks and limps. Huh? Why? What exactly is wrong? Ginobili and Parker: Been there, done that.

    — Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 22, 2019

    I'll say what I've said again and again on Undisputed: No. 2 has more help than Giannis does.

    — Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 22, 2019

    FS1 — ‘First Things First’ crew react to Raptors win

    “The Raptors bench finally showed up”.

    Brilliant sign held up by Raptor fans during their game with Milwaukee

    'The Bucks stop here'

    — John Cleese (@JohnCleese) May 22, 2019

    (Yes, that’s John Cleese).

    Remembering the Calgary Flames’ 1989 Stanley Cup run

    Remembering the Calgary Flames’ 1989 Stanley Cup run


    Thirty years ago this week, the Calgary Flames won their first Stanley Cup by beating the Montreal Canadiens. We relived it with those who were there. The post Vladdy shows off his arm, throwing out Devers from his butt appeared first on...

    Thirty years ago this week, the Calgary Flames won their first Stanley Cup by beating the Montreal Canadiens. We relived it with those who were there.

    The post Vladdy shows off his arm, throwing out Devers from his butt appeared first on Sportsnet.ca.

    Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo misses chance to put stamp on series

    Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo misses chance to put stamp on series


    TORONTO – Almost immediately after the Milwaukee Bucks were stunningly brushed aside in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Finals series with the Toronto Raptors, 120-102 Tuesday making the affair a best-of-three now, one of the rarest sights in...

    TORONTO – Almost immediately after the Milwaukee Bucks were stunningly brushed aside in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Finals series with the Toronto Raptors, 120-102 Tuesday making the affair a best-of-three now, one of the rarest sights in basketball could be seen in the visitors’ locker room.

    A Greek God — or at least the closest thing the NBA has to one — utterly defeated.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo sat down in a locker stall that more appropriately looks like it was intended for visiting goaltenders to Scotiabank Arena, topless with a towel wrapped around his waist and his knees bandaged up to hold the ice packs that were cooling the essential joints off while his feet soaked in an even more frigid looking ice bath.

    The Bucks superstar appeared to be deep in thought as his left hand kept his head from sinking to the ground while an array of media began surrounding him.

    At first, Antetokounmpo appeared to be nonplussed by the crowd gathering around him in his relative nakedness, but then the cracks started to show: He began playing with his knuckles, he perused his phone a little bit and finally he closed his eyes, cupped his ears with his huge hands and sunk his head down again, almost like a child trying to forget a bad memory.

    You can’t blame him, really, not when the opportunity for him to prevent this blowout and give his team a chance to be one win away from the Finals was ripe for the picking.

    It wasn’t the biggest window, but during a five-minute, 54-second span between the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth there was a chance where Antetokounmpo could’ve finally put his stamp on this Eastern Conference Finals series and come up with the kind of spurt of individual brilliance an MVP front-runner should be capable of.

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    With 1:17 left to play in the third quarter, banged-up Raptors star Kawhi Leonard exited the game, giving Antetokounmpo a rare opportunity to finally shed himself of the Raptors shadow that had seemingly been following him around all game long as Toronto head coach Nick Nurse made a point to try to match Leonard’s time off with Antetokounmpo’s for most of the game.

    At that point of the match, after Kyle Lowry converted on a free throw, the Raptors were threatening to run away with the game, taking a 91-76 lead.

    It was going to be now or never for the Bucks and Antetokounmpo knew that. As such, on the ensuing Milwaukee possession, Antetokounmpo got a switch with Norman Powell on him and also saw the perimeter mismatch of Serge Ibaka on Malcolm Brogdon. Recognizing this, he sent a pass Brogon’s way and the Bucks guard made good on it by cruising in for a layup.

    The Raptors would respond, however, as Powell then hit a pull-up triple with 36 seconds to play in the quarter. Antetokounmpo then responded in kind with his own triple to pull the Bucks within 13 to end the frame and there was the feeling that he just might do something special in the final period.

    Then the fourth quarter started, and despite Leonard being off the floor for the first 4:37 of it, Antetokounmpo was abjectly poor, scoring just one more point as he split a pair of free throws — a common theme for him all night long — near the beginning of the frame, adding to a Raptors four-point play by fouling Ibaka underneath the rim while a Fred VanVleet triple banked and rattled home, and finally turning the ball over leading to the death knell Powell fast-break reverse layup that put the Raptors up by 20.

    Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer had no choice but to take a timeout there and get Antetokounmpo off the floor, with 8:31 remaining and Leonard still on the bench.

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    Overall, Antetokounmpo had a fine game as he scored 25 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and dished out five assists while shooting 9-for-17 from the field.

    But when the chance was there, Antetokounmpo simply didn’t deliver, good statistical game be damned.

    And this is probably why after the game, Antetokounmpo appeared to be so deep in thought. He knows he had a shot and he knows his team was counting on him to make good on it.

    "He has a focus that’s maybe a little heightened," said Budenholzer during morning shootaround before Game 4. "He’s always anxious to come back and play. It’s one of the things among many, many things, that makes him great. I think he, along with everybody else, is ready to play today."

    Added Brogdon, also at shootaround: "Giannis is the MVP. He’s going to be resilient. He’s as resilient as they come."

    Not resilient enough it would seem.

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    So, there was Antetokounmpo with his eyes closed and head in his hands, trying to block out the world until he finally opened his eyes and started undoing the bandages, took his feet out of the ice bath and headed to the showers.

    When he emerged in a grey-blue tracksuit to finally sit down and answer questions, you could almost picture him wanting to return to that vulnerable position he was just in a few minutes earlier.

    "We don’t need any change. They did a good job and now we’ve gotta do a better job," Antetokounmpo said.

    Later he added: "There’s no pressure. Obviously, we’ve gotta take care of home — it’s our job — but there’s no pressure. We’ve just gotta go out there, have fun, play good basketball and try to win."

    These are the right things to say, but they also sounded like he’s saying them more to convince himself.

    How could he not?

    Game 5 goes Thursday in Milwaukee and how Antetokounmpo responds will be of great interest.

    Raptors’ bench puts up statement performance in Game 4 revival

    Raptors’ bench puts up statement performance in Game 4 revival


    TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks played 58 minutes of basketball the other night. Fifty-eight minutes of hard, merciless, lung-burning basketball in this, the eighth month of their seasons. Six players in the game finished with more...

    TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks played 58 minutes of basketball the other night. Fifty-eight minutes of hard, merciless, lung-burning basketball in this, the eighth month of their seasons. Six players in the game finished with more than 40 minutes. Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam were both up over 50. But no one in Toronto’s eight-man rotation played less than Serge Ibaka, whose minute total at the end of the night read 14.

    So, two nights later, with Leonard clearly compromised, Siakam continuing his hot-and-cold post-season with an off night, and who knows how many of his teammates running purely on vapours, of course it was Ibaka sending a jolt through his team midway through an already frenetic, up-and-down first quarter.

    Ibaka checked in and immediately went to work on the glass, grabbing a pair of quick rebounds, before gobbling up a steal and, a couple possessions later, providing Norman Powell both a pass and a pick, collecting his first assist of the night. Early in the second quarter, he pulled down an offensive rebound and scored his first points on a little turnaround hook shot over Giannis Antetokounmpo.

    And moments later, he dropped a hammer on a 13-0 Raptors run, beating both Antetokounmpo and Nikola Mirotic to not one but two offensive rebounds before flushing a put-back and nearly bringing down the basket in celebration. It’s a minor miracle he wasn’t whistled for a technical foul.

    Ibaka nearly came away with a double-double in that first shift, putting up 10 points and seven rebounds over 10 rollicking minutes in which the Raptors outscored the Bucks, 27-14. He was the catalyst for the Raptors surging out ahead to a double-digit lead they’d build and build on as the night wore on, eventually coming away with a series-tying, 120-102 victory.

    “That’s who he is, in a nutshell,” said Fred VanVleet, standing in an energetic Raptors post-game locker room, as his teammates carried on lively conversations, their knees, ankles, and elbows burritoed in ice. “Making open shots, being that defensive anchor. I think having him back there, giving him the freedom to kind of roam around and help us at the rim, has been big for us. Serge was unbelievable tonight.”

    It really doesn’t get much more entertaining than an energized, engaged Ibaka, scowling and talking to himself after buckets, banging around beneath the offensive glass fighting for rebounds, spreading his feet out wide and tiger-crouching on defence in front of Antetokounmpo, daring the Greek behemoth to drive on him.

    Ibaka finished with 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting, but perhaps more important were his 13 rebounds (four on the offensive glass), which helped allow the Raptors to win the battle of the boards, 44-40, for the first time in the series.

    “They’ve been winning the rebound battle for a while. So, I think tonight we did a pretty good job, with Serge especially, just going to the glass and rebounding the basketball,” Siakam said. “I think when he’s aggressive like that on the glass, his presence is definitely felt.”

    And it wasn’t only Ibaka, who finished plus-24, making a big impact off Toronto’s bench. VanVleet was a plus-25 with 13 points , while Powell was a plus-29 with 18. In all, those three outscored Milwaukee’s entire bench, 48-23, a startling reversal from the series’ first three games.

    Coming into the night, Toronto’s reserves were being outscored 130-78 in the series — Toronto had lost the bench battle by at least 15 points in each game. Tuesday, they played like they were taking that beating to heart.

     

    Eastern Conference Final bench scoring Milwaukee Toronto Game 1 22 12 Game 2 54 39 Game 3 54 27 Game 4 23 48 TOTAL 153 126

     

    “Oh yeah, we have to take it personally. We’re here for a reason. It’s not by mistake that we’re here,” Ibaka said. “We showed during the season what the bench can do. And then when we have a couple games where we can’t really play our best basketball or we can’t really help our team — we take that personally, everybody. We come the next day, we watch film. We stay on the court. We take extra shots, just to try to come back and be better, like we did tonight.”

    After Nurse dramatically increased his minutes in Game 2, Powell’s influence on this series has been immense. He’s scored double-digits in three straight, and is shooting 48 per cent from the field since Game 2, including 41 per cent from beyond the arc. He’s now plus-18 for the series with a 9.7 net rating, both of which lead his team.

    “I’m going out there and trying to impact the game where I see that I can. Just take what the defence is giving me and stay confident in my reads,” Powell said. “I think the first two games they really brought the intensity to us. They really came out and were more physical, were more active. We wanted to change that narrative coming home. We wanted to protect home court. We wanted to come out with a lot of juice, be the aggressors, be more physical, and take the game to them.”

    Meanwhile, late in the first quarter, VanVleet stepped confidently into his first three-point attempt of the evening, a heavily contested look at that, and drilled it. In the second quarter, he sunk another. And early in the fourth, one more. After going 2-of-11 from distance over the first three games of the series, and 7-of-25 since the start of the second round, the prideful VanVleet went 3-of-3 Tuesday, hitting five of his six attempts from the field a night after the birth of his second child, Fred Jr.

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    “Honestly, it’s been rough shooting the ball. Pretty bad stretch. So, it’s good to see some go in,” VanVleet said. “I expect more of myself. It’s tough to not play up to standards. And being caught up in a bunch of different reasons that nobody really cares about. That’s just the circumstance I’m in. So, you’ve just got to keep focused, keep working, and try to get better between these days. Staying right mentally is a key part of that. I have the opportunity. And sometimes it comes all at once. That’s just how it happens sometimes.”

    Not only for VanVleet, but for Toronto’s entire second unit. The Raptors won the 18 minutes that Ibaka, Powell and VanVleet shared the floor Tuesday night by 10 points. The group played to a 57.1 net rating. Coming into the night, that three-man lineup had been outscored by 10 over the course of the playoffs, playing to a minus-2.5 net rating. Time and again, Nurse had been asked about the trio’s utility when playing together. And time and again, he’d defended his players.

    “I always say this — that I want them to come in and hold their own defensively and execute the defensive schemes. And I just didn’t see many problems there,” Nurse said. “They were able to guard a bunch of different people. Two of those three guys, Norm and Serge, ended up on Giannis quite a bit. Chipping in there is good.

    “Serge was great on the glass. Fred gives us some play calling, some organization. [VanVleet and Powell] give us some dribble penetration and then some shooting, too. It’s important that those guys are out there to be able to catch the pass off the double-teams, space, and, if they rush out to them, they can get back into the paint and make the next play as well.”

    Their strong early play encouraging Nurse to stick with those three through the first few minutes of Tuesday’s fourth quarter, with Leonard, Siakam, and Kyle Lowry all on the bench, and the game still in the balance. And they quickly rewarded him by pushing Toronto’s lead higher and higher.

    VanVleet pick-pocketed Mirotic immediately after a Raptors turnover, and raced to the basket for an easy two. A couple minutes later, he freed himself on a nifty little dribble hand-off with Marc Gasol and pulled up from well beyond the elbow, watching a three-pointer catch backboard, front rim, back rim, and front rim again before dropping.

    On the next possession, he beat his man and hit a floater in the lane, a sight unseen since maybe as far back as the first round. And after Ibaka corralled a turnover at the other end, VanVleet aggressively clapped his hands demanding the ball and quickly pushed in transition, finding a streaking Powell for a reverse to put the Raptors up 20.

    “I think there’s some speed we need there with Norman. There’s some athleticism we need there with Serge. And there’s some ball handling and running the club with Fred that we need from those guys,” Nurse said. “They’re scoring, they’re shooting it a little better, Serge is on the glass — it’s really them playing up to their capabilities.”

    Thing is, this is the first time in the series, and one of only a few times all playoffs, that the Raptors have received this kind of effort from their bench. That doesn’t make it any less welcome or encouraging. It just demonstrates how necessary it is for the Raptors to be successful. The Bucks still hold a clear depth advantage and the larger sample clearly shows their reserves have been more impactful. But Tuesday, for a night at least, Toronto’s bench showed up. Now, they have to do it again.

    Fresh off series loss, Sharks’ Joe Thornton not talking future yet

    Fresh off series loss, Sharks’ Joe Thornton not talking future yet


    One of the biggest storylines on the San Jose Sharks this post-season has been about veteran forward Joe Thornton and his ongoing search for the Stanley Cup. As the Sharks advanced to the Western Conference Final, it looked like this might finally be the...

    One of the biggest storylines on the San Jose Sharks this post-season has been about veteran forward Joe Thornton and his ongoing search for the Stanley Cup. As the Sharks advanced to the Western Conference Final, it looked like this might finally be the year he’d hoist the coveted Cup, but the St. Louis Blues‘ series-clinching victory in Game 6 Tuesday night officially extinguished that idea for another year.

    Now, the question shifts to whether we’ll see Thornton lace up the skates in the NHL again. But it might still be a little while yet before we get an answer.

    According to NHL Network’s Jon Morosi, Thornton kept things brief when asked about whether he’d thought about his future.

    Joe Thornton asked if he’s thought about (his) future. “No,” he said. “Nope.”

    — Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) May 22, 2019

    Thornton, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and will turn 40 a day after, proved he’s still more than capable of contributing offensively. He had four goals and 10 points in 18 games this post-season after putting together a 51-point regular season — his 17th season with 50-plus points.

    Long a fan favourite in the league for his elite playmaking, expert beard growing, and quote-worthy media scrums, Thornton has signed a one-year deal with the Sharks in each of the past two off-seasons, earning $8 million in 2017-18 and $5 million this year.

    The Sharks will face plenty of off-season contract questions this summer as captain Joe Pavelski, Erik Karlsson, and Joonas Donskoi are among those also due to be UFAs in addition to notable RFAs like Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc.

    Raptors’ bench comes up big in Game 4 win over Bucks

    Raptors’ bench comes up big in Game 4 win over Bucks


    The Raptors’ bench stepped up in Game 4, earning a clutch win over the Bucks to the the series at...

    The Raptors’ bench stepped up in Game 4, earning a clutch win over the Bucks to the the series at 2-2.

    2019 Stanley Cup Final between Bruins, Blues to begin May 27

    2019 Stanley Cup Final between Bruins, Blues to begin May 27


    The Boston Bruins now know who their opponent will be in the Stanley Cup Final after the St. Louis Blues eliminated the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Tuesday. Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final will take place on May 27 with...

    The Boston Bruins now know who their opponent will be in the Stanley Cup Final after the St. Louis Blues eliminated the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Tuesday.

    Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final will take place on May 27 with puck drop at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT in Boston. The Eastern Conference champion Bruins will have home-ice advantage for Games 1, 2 and, if necessary, Games 5 and 7.

    St. Louis will play in their first Cup final since getting swept by the Bruins in 1970.

    Sportsnet and CBC will have full coverage of all the action with Jim Hughson doing play-by-play, Craig Simpson handling colour commentary and Scott Oak reporting from the sidelines. The Hockey Central panel featuring Ron MacLean, Elliotte Friedman, Kelly Hrudey and Nick Kypreos will be live on location for every game, offering insight and analysis before, during and after every game.

    2019 Stanley Cup Final Schedule

    Game Date Time Home Away         Game 1 May 27 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT Boston St. Louis         Game 2 May 29 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT Boston St. Louis         Game 3 June 1 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT St. Louis Boston         Game 4 June 3 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT St. Louis Boston         *Game 5 June 6 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT Boston St. Louis         *Game 6 June 9 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT St. Louis Boston         *Game 7 June 12 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT Boston St. Louis         * If Necessary        
    Kawhi Leonard: We have a chance to make history

    Kawhi Leonard: We have a chance to make history


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    Stanley Cup Final Preview: Boston Bruins vs. St. Louis Blues

    Stanley Cup Final Preview: Boston Bruins vs. St. Louis Blues


    After all the upsets. After all the craziness. After all those brackets were crumpled and burned and thrown away, we have two of the best four teams from Jan. 1 onwards meeting in the Stanley Cup Final. The Boston Bruins are no stranger to this place. In...

    After all the upsets. After all the craziness. After all those brackets were crumpled and burned and thrown away, we have two of the best four teams from Jan. 1 onwards meeting in the Stanley Cup Final.

    The Boston Bruins are no stranger to this place. In 2011 Boston returned to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 21 years and defeated the favourite Vancouver Canucks for their first Cup win since 1972. They returned two years later and lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks. And although the Bruins didn’t make it beyond Round 2 in any of the following five seasons they did win one Presidents’ Trophy and always had the pieces of a contender. With most of the same core that’s been there all along — from Brad Marchand to Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask — Boston is back yet again.

    St. Louis’ tale of two seasons lives on after they pulled back from 1-0 and 2-1 series deficits to San Jose in the conference final. You’ve heard this story by now. Last place in the league in early January and trade rumours surrounding just about everybody on the team — including Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko and Colton Parayko. But the arrival of rookie netminder Jordan Binnington changed everything. As the defence in front of him tightened up and the offence found its groove, no one posted more standings points in 2019 than these Blues. And now, they have a chance to cap it off with the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

    The last time these two teams met was in the 1970 Stanley Cup Final, and although it was a lopsided four-game sweep in the Bruins’ favour, you might recall it ended on a historic goal that is immortalized in front of Boston’s home arena. Here’s hoping we get a similarly spectacular moment in 2019.

    ADVANCED STATS

    Regular season 5-on-5 numbers via Natural Stat Trick (with league rank)

    Boston: 53.07 CF% (6th), 55.12 GF% (4th), .931 SV% (3rd), 7.34 SH% (26th), 1.005 PDO (10th)

    St. Louis: 51.50 CF% (10th), 53.04 GF% (10th), .921 SV% (12th), 8.1 SH% (14th), 1.002 PDO (13th)

    PLAYOFF ADVANCED STATS

    5-on-5 numbers via Natural Stat Trick (with league rank)

    Boston: 50.74 CF% (9th), 58.18 GF% (2nd), .946 SV% (2nd), 7.06 SH% (9th), 1.016 PDO (1st)

    St. Louis: 50.86 CF% (7th), 57.75 GF% (3rd), .930 SV% (8th), 8.58 SH% (2nd), 1.016 PDO (1st)

    REGULAR SEASON TEAM STATS

    Boston: 25.9 PP% (3rd), 79.9 PK% (16th), 257 GF (11th), 212 GA (3rd)

    St. Louis: 21.1 PP% (10th), 81.5 PK% (9th), 244 GF (14th), 220 GA (5th)

    PLAYOFF TEAM STATS

    Boston: 34.0 PP% (1st), 86.3 PK% (4th), 3.35 GF/G (2nd), 1.94 GA/G (1st)

    St. Louis: 16.7 PP% (11th), 77.5 PK% (11th), 2.89 GF/G (6th), 2.61 GA/G (6th)

    HEAD-TO-HEAD RECORD

    Boston: 1-0-1

    St. Louis: 1-1-0

    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 CONN SMYTHE CANDIDATES

    Boston
    Tuukka Rask: Load management is the new hot phrase in sports these days. The grind of a regular season schedule can take its toll on players and, especially for NHL goalies, being overworked from October to April can lead to an empty gas tank when the stakes are at their highest. One of our Round 1 takeaways was a clear trend in light-workload goalies having post-season success and the two starters left in the final are a good example. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy was mindful of this, so Rask played just 46 games this regular season. Only twice in his career had he started fewer games and been Boston’s playoff starter: In 2010, he posted a .931 post-season save percentage in a Round 2 exit and in 2013 he posted a .929 playoff save percentage on route to a Stanley Cup Final loss.

    Now Rask is putting together a playoff run to rival Tim Thomas’s incredible performance in Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup win. Standing with a 12-5 record, 1.84 goals-against average and .942 save percentage, Rask could eclipse Thomas’s numbers with a strong final (1.98, .940) — and that would make him the Conn Smythe favourite.

    But that’s far from a slam dunk. Conventionally, the weighting in Conn Smythe voting is 50 per cent credit for your performance in Rounds 1-3 and the other 50 per cent is tied to what you do in the final series. Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury arrived at the final last season with an even more historic first three rounds that had him chasing the all-time playoff record for save percentage (.950). But once there, Fleury never allowed less than three goals as his Golden Knights were quickly defeated by Washington.

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    Brad Marchand: Heading into the final as the only player on a better-than-point-per-game pace, it seems the key for Marchand to maintain his composure is to keep accumulating points. His four-game pointless streak earlier in this run culminated in the sucker punch on Columbus’ Scott Harrington that had everyone riled up. Marchand followed that with four points in his next two games and against Carolina in the conference final he put up five points in four games.

    Since his first playoff run in 2011 (in which he won the Cup) only seven players have more playoff points that Marchand’s 78: Sidney Crosby (104), Logan Couture (97), Evgeni Malkin (95), Alex Ovechkin (86), Patrick Kane (81), David Krejci (80) and Patrice Bergeron (79). And of players who’ve been involved in more than one playoff series over the past three years, only Leon Draisaitl, Crosby and Blake Wheeler have a better points per game rate than Marchand. A strong final would give him a solid case for post-season MVP and further cement his status as one of the true superstars in the game today (not to mention add fuel to a Hall of Fame case currently under construction).

    Heading into the final Marchand is one goal off Boston’s scoring lead and has more primary assists (10) than any other Bruin.

    [radioclip id=4624073]

    St. Louis
    Jordan Binnington: Next to Rask, Binnington’s post-season stats don’t look all that outstanding. His .912 save percentage ranks behind some first-round losers such as Frederik Andersen, Braden Holtby and Mike Smith. Binnington’s 2.44 GAA is solid, though again, not historic or stand-out in any way. Part of the reason for this is the Blues have been the toughest defensive team so far, allowing a playoff-low 27 shots per game. So when Binnington lets a goal in, it shows up in his save percentage a little more than it otherwise may for a heavy-workload netminder.

    But take a look at Binnington’s numbers in games where the Blues were either trailing a series or could close one out and suddenly you see his value. In Game 6 of Round 1 against Winnipeg, he faced only 20 shots and stopped 18 of them, but in Round 2 against Dallas, the Blues faced elimination twice and the rookie allowed a combined two goals on 53 shots. In the conference final, San Jose led the series 1-0 and 2-1, but in Games 2 and 4 Binnington came through with a .946 save percentage. In Game 6, he stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced.

    Denied by Binnington. #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/Am3KSJ08bR

    — NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) May 22, 2019

    Jaden Schwartz: It seemed only a matter of time before Schwartz would find his goal scoring touch again. We assumed this would start happening in January. Then February. Then March. By the time the playoffs started, we had reason to believe this would be nothing more than a write-off year for the 26-year-old. But now he’s absolutely in the Conn Smythe discussion.

    Schwartz finished the regular season with just 11 goals — the lowest total in a (mostly) healthy season of his career. Three of those came in a March game against Edmonton and he scored in just three games from the trade deadline on. The 183 shots he put on net in 69 games was the best pace of his career, but luck just wasn’t on his side in 2018-19. The only Blue to average more 5-on-5 shots per 60 than Schwartz in the regular season was Vladimir Tarasenko, who overcame his own struggles to finish strong. But Schwartz wrapped up with a shooting percentage of just six, which is about half of his career average.

    The turning point for Schwartz came in Game 5 against Winnipeg. He hadn’t scored a playoff goal to that point, but batted a mid-air pass into the net with 15 seconds left in regulation to lift the Blues to a win and 3-2 series advantage. He scored the first three goals of Game 6 as well, then added another four in seven games against Dallas. In the conference final, Schwartz scored the opening goal of a crucial Game 2 win and a hat trick in Game 5. He’s now scored more in these playoffs (12) than he did in the regular season and has six more even strength markers than the next highest-scoring Blue.

    UNHERALDED STAR

    Boston: Lots of attention has rightly been put on the likes of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. The trade deadline pickups of Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle have paid off handsomely, so GM Don Sweeney has received plenty of kudos for making helpful additions. But behind this spotlight, 33-year-old David Krejci is having his best playoff run in six years.

    In Boston’s two previous runs to the final in 2011 and 2013 Krejci combined for 49 points in 47 games. In all other playoff seasons he combined for 38 points in 61 games. Having a healthy, productive Krejci has been an underrated X-Factor in past Boston successes.

    Krejci was held pointless in the first two games against Toronto, but has found the score sheet in all but two games since. His 1.25 primary assists per 60 minutes trails only Marchand, Pastrnak and Johansson on the Bruins and is ninth among all players who advanced past Round 1. One of the quietest key playoff performers of his time, Krejci leads the Bruins in 5-on-5 points and is just one off the team goal scoring lead in those situations.

    St. Louis: When Jay Bouwmeester was drafted third overall in 2002, the thought was one day he’d be a huge part of a Stanley Cup run. But the kind of impact he’s having on these Blues is a whole lot different than what you might have envisioned all those years ago. Now 35 years old, Bouwmeester is one of the feel-good stories of this playoff season. On a recent 31 Thoughts Podcast, Elliotte Friedman noted that it was believed Bouwmeester was about a day away from going on waivers when the Blues were at their lowest, but now he’s a key shutdown player for the team and even earned a one-year contract extension. When the Blues are protecting leads late in the game, Bouwmeester is one of coach Craig Berube’s top options.

    With most of his zone starts coming in the defensive end it’s not at all strange that the Blues are outshot when Bouwmeester is on the ice. He’s made some big defensive stops and, had he not got a stick on a Roope Hintz wraparound in the final minute of Game 7, St. Louis wouldn’t have even gotten past the Dallas Stars.

    Roope Hintz yrittää ratkaista päätöserässä ottelun vanhanaikaisella, mutta Jay Bouwmeester ja Jaden Schwartz ovat jämäkkänä maalin edustalla. pic.twitter.com/YJ3x98bUnC

    — NHL Suomi (@NHL_fi) May 8, 2019

    Bouwmeester’s 23:01 of ice time is third on the Blues and he’s only behind partner Colton Parayko in average even strength ice time. It took him until 2013 to experience his first playoff game and 2016 to see his first series win. Among active players only Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have played more games without winning a Stanley Cup than Bouwmeester, but he’s generally not among the rooting interests for “old guys who haven’t yet won a Cup.” Bouwmeester is finally in his first Cup final 17 years after being a top draft pick, and given all the effort he’s put in and pain he’s felt in his career, seeing him lift hockey’s ultimate prize would be a great way to close out 2018-19.

    KEY INJURIES

    St. Louis:
    Vince Dunn: Day-to-day (upper body)

    Boston:
    Chris Wagner, Out (forearm)
    Kevan Millar, Out (lower body)

    Kyle Lowry knew rest of Raptors needed to step up in Game 4

    Kyle Lowry knew rest of Raptors needed to step up in Game 4


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    Twitter Reaction: Blues reach first Stanley Cup Final since 1970

    Twitter Reaction: Blues reach first Stanley Cup Final since 1970


    In the spring of 1970, the St. Louis Blues lost to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final. Forty-nine years later, they’re ready for a rematch. The Blues defeated the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on home ice Tuesday to...

    In the spring of 1970, the St. Louis Blues lost to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.

    Forty-nine years later, they’re ready for a rematch.

    The Blues defeated the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on home ice Tuesday to send San Jose packing and continue their incredible, odds-defying run from last place at the beginning of the calendar year to the best team in the west.

    The @StLouisBlues are the first team in the Expansion Era (1967-68) to have been in last place in the League at any point during the regular season (min. 20 GP) and make the #StanleyCup Final. #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/GAfVwcTmYE

    — NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 22, 2019

    We collected some notable reactions and stats from Hockey Twitter to help capture the excitement in St. Louis and set the stage for what will be a thrilling Stanley Cup Final against Boston as the Blues have a chance to bring home the Cup for the first time in franchise history:

    4,158 games….

    17,908 days….

    12,690 goals later#STLBlues are back in the #StanleyCup Final pic.twitter.com/uPtBUV1ogo

    — Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) May 22, 2019

    #STLBlues advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 1970, where they will face the same foe pic.twitter.com/WLlGdriPT8

    — Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) May 22, 2019

    Congratulations, St. Louis #Blues!

    Just a reminder: THIS is their most recent moment in the Stanley Cup Finals. pic.twitter.com/5ar0afpmny

    — Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) May 22, 2019

    This famous shot ended the Blues’ last trip to the Cup Finals. Now 49 years later they get another shot at the Bruins. And the Cup. pic.twitter.com/81Sz1IdHie

    — Tim Cowlishaw (@TimCowlishaw) May 22, 2019

    On May 10, 1970, STL lost its third consecutive Stanley Cup Final. 49 years later, the Blues are back again.

    — Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) May 22, 2019

    #STLBlues pic.twitter.com/mEWCWH9cQL

    — Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) May 22, 2019

    The @StLouisBlues and @NHLBruins are set for their third all-time playoff meeting, and second in the #StanleyCup Final. #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/tcaWPQIHFh

    — NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 22, 2019

    The @StLouisBlues improved to 5-0 this postseason when scoring in the opening two minutes of a game. The other victories:

    Game 6 of R1
    Game 3 of R2
    Game 6 of R2
    Game 4 of CF#NHLStats #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/hojJ1EFzvo

    — NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 22, 2019

    The Blues are Best in the West.

    Defeated Winnipeg in 6 Games
    Defeated Dallas in 7 Games
    Defeated SJ in 6 Games#StanleyCupPlayoffs

    — John Shannon (@JSportsnet) May 22, 2019

    Like the Bruins, Blues will not touch the Conference Trophy pic.twitter.com/3QZ0HPhWJK

    — John Shannon (@JSportsnet) May 22, 2019

    Plager: Boston doesn’t have Bobby Orr but the Blues don’t have the Plager brothers. #stlblues

    — Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) May 22, 2019

    Plager: “There’s a lot of tears up there (in heaven).” #stlblues pic.twitter.com/UMCT1BE93P

    — Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) May 22, 2019

    Conference trophies

    Blues: No touch.
    Bruins: No touch.

    Last year
    Golden Knights: Touch
    Capitals: Touch

    — Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) May 22, 2019

    PLAYS GLORIA pic.twitter.com/zaI6JleXVs

    — St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) May 22, 2019

    They’re going to #PlayGloria from now until the Final starts at ⁦@thejacksnybpic.twitter.com/NDyk0yOHIr

    — Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) May 22, 2019

    “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” played for the St. Louis crowd at Enterprise Center after “Gloria” following Game 6. @NHL @NHLNetwork @NHLBruins @StLouisBlues

    — Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) May 22, 2019

    Pandemonium in my home town. Nothing in my life was more important than the St. Louis Blues as a kid. I am so happy for the entire city and the people who have been waiting so long for this opportunity to share something special with their hockey team

    — Mike McKenna (@MikeMcKenna56) May 22, 2019

    So far on the video board, the fans have seen Brett Hull, Kelly Chase, David Freese, (on tape) Barret Jackman, Grant Fuhr, (on tape) and Chris Pronger. This isn’t just a hockey game. The Sharks are fighting a town and 52 year old franchise who have all come together tonite.

    — Frank Cusumano (@Frank_Cusumano) May 22, 2019

    The #STLBlues players are taking turns coming out to meet with Laila Anderson after winning the Western Conference Final. pic.twitter.com/zOEkiduNkH

    — Corey Miller (@corey_miller5) May 22, 2019

    Alexander Steen jumped over the counter to hug Laila Anderson and share a moment with her. Happy tears in this scene. Incredible. ⁦@StLouisBlues⁩ ⁦@NHLNetwork@NHL pic.twitter.com/fibs3lCm0n

    — Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) May 22, 2019

    Can't imagine what it's like to be Blues fan right now. First #StanleyCup Final in 49 years. Many quality teams that didn't have enough or came up short against other Western powers. And this season, St. Louis was dead last in the NHL on Jan. 3.

    — Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) May 22, 2019

    As for the rest of Chicago, well… pic.twitter.com/CrELer3Pw0

    — Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) May 22, 2019

    Said this on the radio today, but I really think the Blues making the final after being deal last in the league in January is an even more amazing story than last year's Golden Knights.

    — Down Goes Brown (@DownGoesBrown) May 22, 2019

    For the handshake line, all the Blues should pretend that they don't notice Timo Meier's hand.

    — Down Goes Brown (@DownGoesBrown) May 22, 2019

    #STLBlues Craig Berube is the 6th head coach since 2000 to be named as a mid-season replacement & guide his team to the #StanleyCup Final pic.twitter.com/uIQchLXaP8

    — Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) May 22, 2019

    Imagine making the Cup Final for the first time in 49 years only to be bombarded with video of Bobby Orr beating your team in the most iconic moment in NHL history.

    — Jace Evans (@JaceTEvans) May 22, 2019

    just cancelled all my hotel room reservations in san jose. pic.twitter.com/6mobxrbCqB

    — Kristina Rutherford (@KrRutherford) May 22, 2019

    Uh oh… https://t.co/JlxdRogK3A

    — John Krasinski (@johnkrasinski) May 22, 2019

    It really, truly sucks that we didn't get a healthy Sharks team in this series. Congrats on a great, and never boring, season, @SanJoseSharks.

    — Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) May 22, 2019

    Congrats to the @StLouisBlues on a hard-fought series, and we wish you well in the next round. pic.twitter.com/hl5038nEgH

    — San Jose Sharks (@SanJoseSharks) May 22, 2019

    Raptors bench comes up big when needed most in Game 4

    Raptors bench comes up big when needed most in Game 4


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    Raptors bail out weary Kawhi Leonard with complete Game 4 win

    Raptors bail out weary Kawhi Leonard with complete Game 4 win


    TORONTO — Perspective, inspiration, motivation — they can arrive at the strangest times from the most unexpected places. For Toronto Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet, mired in the worst shooting slump of his career at the worst possible time, it...

    TORONTO — Perspective, inspiration, motivation — they can arrive at the strangest times from the most unexpected places. For Toronto Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet, mired in the worst shooting slump of his career at the worst possible time, it came in a hospital in Rockford, Ill., waiting for the birth of his son, Fred Jr., on Monday.

    The timing wasn’t perfect — VanVleet’s second child wasn’t due until May 31 — but that he arrived on an off day meant that his father could fly home, be there for his birth and get back Wednesday in time for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks.

    "I just told her [his longtime girlfriend Shontai Neal] she couldn’t have him on a game day and the rest we’ll figure out," said VanVleet. "But he co-operated a little bit."

    So add Fred VanVleet Jr. to a lengthy list of contributors in a surprising 120-102 Raptors win that evened their series with the Bucks at 2-2 before they head back to Milwaukee for Game 5 on Thursday night, with Game 6 now scheduled for Toronto on Saturday.

    VanVleet Sr. did his part too, breaking out for 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, a sharp departure from the 25.6 per cent shooting – including 19.5 per cent from three – quagmire he’d been mired in for the playoffs.

    He led a big night for the Raptors bench in general as Norm Powell chipped in 18 points and Serge Ibaka added 17 points and 13 rebounds as Toronto’s primary three reserves outscored a deep and talented Bucks bench 48-23, the first time the Raptors have won the battle of the benches.

    Stream Raptors basketball on Sportsnet NOW Stream marquee NBA matchups from around the league, including over 40 Raptors games. Plus, get the NHL, MLB, Premier League, CHL and more.

    It was desperately needed. Coming into the game there were serious questions about what Raptors cornerstone Kawhi Leonard would have left to give after his 52-minute opus in Game 3 that saw him visibly limping at various points in that game.

    The answers came early — not nearly as much as they’ve been accustomed to him providing.

    Battered, grimacing, limping. It was clear to anyone who has watched Leonard carry Toronto through so many magical playoff moments that he wasn’t himself.

    There was no bounce. His thunder-and-lightning attacks on the rim where he either scatters the weak, casts aside the slow or rises up over the strong, were nowhere to be found.

    On the odd occasion, he was willing or able to get to the rim and lift the ball in one of his massive claws. But when he came down it looked like he was in pain: the same right thigh that had cost him nearly an entire season a year ago and had been so carefully managed this season was acting up, angry at being put through so much. And it wasn’t that he simply looked weary, with almost every shot short and some possessions simply spent standing around: One of the best players in the world was a decoy.

    "This is one of the nights that we knew Kawhi was a little bit limited," said Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, who was brilliant with 25 points and six assists in leading the charge as Leonard took a step back. "We had to come out and be aggressive for him. The great thing about having him on your team is he still gets all the attention. We fed off of that — drive, kick, swing. He gets in the lane, kick out. That’s the benefit of having a superstar like him on the team."

    The Raptors took advantage, notching a playoff-high 32 assists on 41 field goals while shooting 47 per cent from the floor with six different players in double figures.

    It was a departure from the standard storyline of the post-season as the Raptors have at times become almost a vehicle for Leonard to do great things — knock down game-winning, series-winning shots or make game-changing steals or merely put up more points more efficiently than almost anyone ever has.

    The not-so-subtle implication is that the supporting cast needs the help. The Raptors know it. They hear it.

    "We see all the stuff. We understand what the narrative has turned into, kind of ‘Kawhi Leonard and the Back-up Singers,’" said VanVleet.

    "We know. We know we have to be better."

    As a group, the bench has taken it personally.

    "We have to take it personally," said Ibaka, who played just 14 minutes in Game 3 and had yet to make a mark on the series before sparking the team Tuesday night. "We’re here for a reason, it’s not by mistake we’re here and we showed during the season what the bench can do and when we have a couple of games where we can’t really play our best basketball or can’t really help our team, we take that personally. Everybody."

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    Game 4 provided their chance — both to have Leonard’s back for all the times this post-season that he’s had theirs and to remind everyone that they can play too.

    For VanVleet the stakes were even higher. There was the matter of his son being born and also finding a way out of a slump that has been compounded by shifts in the rotation at times that have seen his minutes fall off, though never disappear, because he’s the only point guard on the roster after Lowry.

    He understood where his game was at. He hit a clutch three late in the fourth quarter of Toronto’s double-overtime win in Game 3 but was 1-of-11 for the game. He had a corner three that could have iced it in regulation but missed it. It’s been going that way lately.

    "I expect more of myself. It’s tough to not play up to standards," he said. "And being caught up in a bunch of different reasons that nobody really cares about. That’s just the circumstance I’m in. So you’ve just gotta keep focused, keep working, and try to get better between these days. Staying right mentally is a key part of that, and I have the opportunity, and sometimes it comes all at once. That’s just how it happens sometimes."

    With Leonard limping it was Lowry who sparked the Raptors early, scoring 12 of Toronto’s first 17 points to blunt a fast start by the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 11 of his 25 points in the first quarter.

    The Raptors were able to take a 32-31 lead after 12 minutes but the first sign that things might be different was that Leonard had scored only three points on four shots in the opening frame and that Toronto was able to go on a 9-0 run to start the second quarter with Lowry on the bench. They surged again with Leonard on the bench later in the quarter as VanVleet stepped into his second triple of the night, as the Raptors took a 65-55 lead into the half even with Leonard being held to five points.

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    The game split open in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter with both Lowry and Leonard on the bench — usually a recipe for disaster this post-season. Instead VanVleet, Powell and Ibaka helped engineer a 10-3 run that included a VanVleet steal and lay-up, a banked in three and another lay-up in traffic followed by a reverse lay-up by Powell off a VanVleet assist.

    "I think he needed it," said Lowry. "Welcome little Freddy Jr. to the building. I think those types of things kind of relaxed him a little bit."

    Leonard took notice of the bench contribution. "It was big time," he said after chipping in 19 points in 34 minutes. "Just everybody contributed tonight, knocking down shots, playing great defence."

    For VanVleet it was a long time coming. Big moments — like newborns — can arrive unexpectedly.

    "It gives you a little perspective on life," he said. "Took a plane ride there, had a lot of time to think, had to sit at the hospital all day, took a lot of time to think and obviously a plane ride back [Tuesday].

    "It just changes the way you look at things and to not be so down on yourself about everything and just come in and enjoy the game and the game is great and fun and everybody is happy.

    "It’s been a good day."

    Charlie Montoyo praises Rowdy Tellez, Marcus Stroman following win

    Charlie Montoyo praises Rowdy Tellez, Marcus Stroman following win


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    Joe Thornton on how he’s feeling following series loss to Blues

    Joe Thornton on how he’s feeling following series loss to Blues


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    Peter DeBoer comments after Sharks elimination in Stanley Cup Playoffs

    Peter DeBoer comments after Sharks elimination in Stanley Cup Playoffs


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    Vlad Jr. catches Rowdy Tellez and Hazel Mae with gatorade shower

    Vlad Jr. catches Rowdy Tellez and Hazel Mae with gatorade shower


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    Patrick Maroon reflects on what Cup Final berth means for city of St. Louis

    Patrick Maroon reflects on what Cup Final berth means for city of St. Louis


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    Alex Pietrangelo touches on adversity Blues faced during season

    Alex Pietrangelo touches on adversity Blues faced during season


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    Bill Daly presents Blues with Clarence S. Campbell Bowl

    Bill Daly presents Blues with Clarence S. Campbell Bowl


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    Blues shake hands with Sharks, advance to 2019 Stanley Cup Final

    Blues shake hands with Sharks, advance to 2019 Stanley Cup Final


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    Blues’ comeback for the ages carries them into Stanley Cup Final

    Blues’ comeback for the ages carries them into Stanley Cup Final


    ST. LOUIS – Not long after he was promoted in November to replace fired head coach Mike Yeo, Craig Berube went into the St. Louis Blues’ dressing room and removed the standings wall chart. On Jan. 3, it would have shown the Blues last among the...

    ST. LOUIS – Not long after he was promoted in November to replace fired head coach Mike Yeo, Craig Berube went into the St. Louis Blues’ dressing room and removed the standings wall chart.

    On Jan. 3, it would have shown the Blues last among the National Hockey League’s 31 teams.

    On Tuesday, Berube wouldn’t say exactly who scrubbed the daily reminder about how horrible the Blues were in the first half of the season, only that the standings chart had a “negative effect” on players he was trying to keep in the fight.

    “Honestly, I didn’t think too much about it at the time,” defenceman Joel Edmundson said. “I was just sick of seeing us at the bottom.”

    Centre Ryan O’Reilly recalled: “I remember liking that it was gone. The standings board, there’s so much stuff you can’t control. All that really matters is the next game.”

    The Blues’ next game will open the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins.

    The former 31st-place team continued its comeback for the ages on Tuesday night, eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 5-1 victory that ended the Western Conference Final in six games. It may also have ended San Jose icon Joe Thornton’s NHL career.

    St. Louis is going to the final for the first time since 1970, which was three years after the franchise was one of the first six teams added to the NHL’s Original Six. The Blues have never won a Stanley Cup.

    And if you want to know what that would mean to this franchise and this city, you had only to see original Blues defenceman Bob Plager in tears as he greeted current players coming off the ice.

    “Those guys have built the foundation of this organization,” St. Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “They represented that blue note pretty well. We try to carry that on.

    “When you have a group that is as close as our group is in the locker room, obviously the hard times are hard, but you can have those hard and honest conversations with each other. And we did that when things weren’t going well.

    “We kept believing in each other. A lot of people doubted us this year. But I’ll tell you what, this group is resilient. I really am proud of the guys. As hard as it is, it’s been fun to look back and see where we are now.”

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    After a missed call on a hand pass allowed the Sharks to win Game 3 in overtime and take a 2-1 lead in the series, the Blues dominated the second half of the conference final.

    They outscored San Jose 12-2 in the final three games.

    Without Shark stars Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl – all injured or re-injured in Sunday’s 5-0 home loss – San Jose was always likely to lose Game 6. The Blues scored after just 92 seconds when Sharks’ coverage collapsed and Sammy Blais’ uncontested shot ticked teammate David Perron on its way past goalie Martin Jones.

    St. Louis easily won wire-to-wire. When Dylan Gambrell, one of the players airlifted into the San Jose lineup, scored on a second-period breakaway to cut the Sharks’ deficit to 2-1, the Blues answered back almost immediately on a rebound goal by Brayden Schenn.

    Since saving their season with an 11-game winning streak that began Jan. 23 and included seven victories on the road, the Blues have been trending towards the moment late Tuesday when Pietrangelo led his team’s formation on the ice around the Clarence Campbell trophy.

    “I was just glad to see Pietro not touch that trophy because we touched it last year and it didn’t work out,” Perron, who lost a Cup final with the Vegas Golden Knights last June, said in the post-game press conference. “Hopefully it changes something this year.”

    Everything has changed for the Blues.

    It seems inevitable also that things will change, too, for the Sharks. They’ve been the best team in the NHL over the last 15 years but never won a Stanley Cup. Thornton is 39 years old and an unrestricted free agent, as are Pavelski and Karlsson. Tuesday looked like the end of an era.

    Thornton said he hasn’t decided if he’ll keep playing.

    Asked about playing Game 6 without Karlsson, the two-time Norris Trophy winner who finally came out of the lineup after playing the playoffs with a serious groin injury, Thornton said: “He’s one guy and he’s a big part of this team. But we can’t get into injuries (as excuses). We played a good hockey team and they beat us. That’s the bottom line.”

    “I think that’s part of what makes it ever harder, more frustrating, more crushing,” veteran Sharks defenceman Brent Burns said. “We really felt we had a great chance and they don’t come often. A lot of luck and a lot of magic goes into a run like this, and you never know. That’s what makes it so tough, I think.”

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    In the other locker room down the hallway, the Blues celebrated. Amid the crush of reporters and visitors and interviews, 35-year-old defenceman Jay Bouwmeester quietly added the game puck to the rack of pucks – one for each victory this season – growing on one wall.

    Berube didn’t entirely redecorate; he left the puck rack.

    “I wish I had two game pucks,” Pietrangelo said. “I would have given one to (Alex) Steen, too. Bo has played nearly 1,200 games in this league. He deserves it.”

    Bouwmeester is going to a Stanley Cup Final for the first time, as are other veterans like Steen, O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko.

    “If you didn’t think you could do it, you’d just stop playing,” Bouwmeester said. “But when we lost to these guys three years ago (in the conference final)… in the moment you kind of think: ‘Oh, man, are we ever going to get back here?’ And here we are.”

    The Blues went 28-8-5 in the second half of the regular season. In the playoffs, they’ve beaten the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and Sharks. They don’t need a standings chart. They know exactly where they are. Four more wins puts them on top of the world.

    Tellez’s outburst comes at ideal time as Blue Jays earn rare easy win

    Tellez’s outburst comes at ideal time as Blue Jays earn rare easy win


    TORONTO – An uncomfortable afternoon gave way to an encouraging evening for the Toronto Blue Jays Tuesday. By now you’ve heard that the Blue Jays rested Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Monday, his first game back home after his breakout road trip. While...

    TORONTO – An uncomfortable afternoon gave way to an encouraging evening for the Toronto Blue Jays Tuesday.

    By now you’ve heard that the Blue Jays rested Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Monday, his first game back home after his breakout road trip. While building in rest for Guerrero Jr. makes all kinds of sense considering his past injury history and significance to the future of the franchise, this wasn’t the time to do it.

    “The one thing I regret is in all of the things that we’ve talked about with Charlie (Montoyo) I had not talked to him about the importance of Victoria Day,” GM Ross Atkins said from the home dugout at Rogers Centre Tuesday.

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    A fully rested Guerrero Jr. got two more hits and made a fielding error Tuesday, but this game was more memorable for Rowdy Tellez‘s two-homer night and a strong Marcus Stroman start. Randal Grichuk also homered in the 10-3 win over the Red Sox as the Blue Jays improved to 20-28.

    “It feels really good,” Tellez said of contributing to a victory. “It’s probably the first meaningful homer I’ve hit all year. It’s just a good feeling. Stroman threw really well. A good all-around day.”

    The power outburst from Tellez came at an ideal time for a team that began the day last in the American League in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. As a group, Blue Jays position players (.217/.284/.362) are out-performing Mets pitchers (.196/.219/.348) but it’s closer than you’d like.

    Tellez hit both of his homers against Eduardo Rodriguez, going deep against a lefty twice in one game for the first time since high school. Big picture, that’s encouraging for the Blue Jays, who can more easily project the left-handed hitting Tellez as a regular if he hits lefties.

    “He’s part of our future,” manager Charlie Montoyo said. “Why not give him a chance and see what he can do? He’s done [well], so that’s why he keeps getting the chance. He’s swinging against lefties just like right-handers.”

    The first of the two homers broke part of the video board on the facing of the third deck, prompting the first baseman to apologize to ownership for the damage.

    “Sorry Mr. Rogers.”

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    The Blue Jays tied their season-high in runs scored thanks to Tellez and Grichuk, who are now tied for the team lead with eight homers each. Meanwhile, Brandon Drury collected two hits and drove in three while Freddy Galvis walked twice and singled

    On the mound, Stroman limited the Red Sox to one run over six innings to lower his ERA to 2.81 through 11 starts. He did tie a career high with six walks, two of which he stranded by striking out Mitch Moreland and Xander Bogaerts with the bases loaded in the third.

    “That just tells me my stuff is exactly where I thought it would be,” Stroman said. “My stuff’s nasty right now and there’s times when I lose it because almost it’s too nasty and I can’t find the zone with my sinker. I’m not scared to face anybody at any time and I’m able to bear down and make big pitches in big moments.”

    If movement was one factor contributing to the walks, the deep Boston lineup was another. Wary of allowing hard contact against Red Sox hitters, Stroman decided against throwing grooving fastballs even while behind in the count.

    “I’m trying to execute pitches during the entire AB,” he said. “If that means putting a guy on rather than laying a get-me-over heater in that’s probably going to go for extra bases, I’ve got to do that.”

    At one point in the start, Red Sox second baseman Michael Chavis made some comments for Stroman, after which Chris Sale could be seen saying something to Stroman from the visiting dugout.

    “Don’t know [what Sale said], could care less,” Stroman said. “That was between me and [Chavis]. That’s it. I could care less what anybody else says.”

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    With each passing start, Stroman looks more like the kind of pitcher opposing teams will target in summer trades. Over the winter, no team matched the Blue Jays’ asking price, but that could change in July when buyers always need pitching. If it does, the Blue Jays’ rotation will look even more vulnerable. At least Montoyo can rely on one of his starters for now.

    At this stage, questions surround the four others. Aaron Sanchez continues dealing with nail and blister issues; rookie Trent Thornton has impressed, but he’s still averaging fewer than five innings per start; Edwin Jackson has allowed nine runs (seven earned) in 10 innings, and lefty knuckleballer Ryan Feierabend isn’t even assured of another start.

    As for the bullpen, Ryan Tepera hit the injured list with an elbow impingement Tuesday and there’s some concern that he’ll have to have loose bodies removed. He’ll visit a specialist to determine next steps, but if surgery’s required the 4-6 week recovery period Nathan Eovaldi recently needed would be a relevant reference point.

    From the bullpen to the rotation to the lineup this team faces significant questions on a few fronts–and that’s before you even consider the Guerrero Jr. rest debacle.

    One lopsided win doesn’t solve any of those issues, but it sure beats the alternative.

    WHL champion woes continue at Memorial Cup with Raiders elimination

    WHL champion woes continue at Memorial Cup with Raiders elimination


    The Western Hockey League champions can’t catch a break at the Memorial Cup. The Prince Albert Raiders were the latest victims on Tuesday night by losing 5-2 to the Guelph Storm and were eliminated from Canada’s major junior championship. It marks...

    The Western Hockey League champions can’t catch a break at the Memorial Cup.

    The Prince Albert Raiders were the latest victims on Tuesday night by losing 5-2 to the Guelph Storm and were eliminated from Canada’s major junior championship.

    It marks the fourth-straight year the WHL winner hasn’t won a single game at the tournament — a losing streak of 13 games. The last time a WHL champion defeated an opponent at the Memorial Cup was in 2015 with a Kelowna Rockets semifinal win.

    Prince Albert’s tournament didn’t come without its chances.

    It had a tough start during an opening day matchup against the host Halifax Mooseheads, dealing with a three-hour time change and boisterous Scotiabank Centre crowd.

    The Raiders played the top-ranked Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, the QMJHL champions, tough on Monday night — arguably their best game of the tournament — but came up short in the third period.

    On Tuesday, they played well in the first period but appeared overmatched and outskilled afterwards by a Storm team which won the Ontario Hockey League.

    Prince Albert didn’t get the goal production they were used to throughout the regular season and playoffs while goaltender Ian Scott, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, finished the tournament with a 4.36 goals-against average and .860 save percentage.

    A positive was seeing forward Sean Montgomery score a power-play goal in the first period. The 21-year-old spent five years with Prince Albert and played the most regular season games in franchise history with 345.

    The WHL changed its schedule to reflect the rest of the Canadian Hockey League this past season and played 68 games as opposed to 72 in previous years.

    But still it didn’t amount to a victory for its league winner when it counts most at the Memorial Cup.

    Here are further takeaways from Day 5 of the tournament:

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    The turning point

    A dominant second period appeared to be the turning point for the Storm.

    Liam Hawel scored a power-play goal 1:21 into the period on a nice wrist shot and Guelph took control from there.

    Captain Isaac Ratcliffe continued his strong game with a nice pass to Montreal Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki, who made no mistake by deking Scott into his own net and scoring.

    Suzuki would add another nice goal in the third period, protecting the puck near the face-off circle before weaving his way behind the Raiders net and banking it in off Scott.

    The Storm held Prince Albert without a shot for almost 12 minutes in the period and looked the more skilled and quick team. Guelph held an 8-4 shots advantage in the period and 25-21 overall.

    Ratcliffe scores a beauty

    Philadelphia Flyers fans will have a lot to be excited about if Ratcliffe can score goals in the NHL like he did on Tuesday night.

    The six-foot-six, 204-pound left-winger will be making highlight reels for the next several nights after toe-dragging past Raiders captain Brayden Pachal and then sliding the puck it between Scott’s legs.

    Ratcliffe, taken by the Flyers in the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft, is no stranger to scoring. He tied for the fifth-most goals in the OHL this season, finding the back of the net 50 times.

    The London, Ont., native had been held pointless in the tournament until his goal Tuesday.

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    Maple Leafs pick gets in on action

    Fedor Gordeev isn’t your typical goal scorer.

    At six-foot-seven and 224 pounds, the stay-at-home defenceman only had seven goals all season between Guelph and the Flint Firebirds.

    But the Maple Leafs draft pick picked the right time to jump in on the play after a bad change by Prince Albert. Suzuki took the puck and found an open Gordeev, who put it past a helpless Scott.

    Despite his low goal totals, Gordeev has experience up front as Guelph coach George Burnett played him at both forward and defence during the OHL playoffs.

    Toronto, which picked him in the fifth round of the 2017 draft, has yet to sign Gordeev and a good tournament in Halifax could go a long way towards inking a deal.

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    The road ahead

    Guelph will have to await the result of Wednesday’s round-robin finale between the host Mooseheads and Rouyn-Noranda (1-1) — a rematch of the President’s Cup final.

    Halifax (2-0) would advance straight to Sunday’s championship game with a victory with the Huskies and Storm playing in the semifinal.

    A Rouyn-Noranda victory would put three teams at 2-1 and a tie-breaking formula would be needed to determine positioning.

    Guelph Storm end Prince Albert Raiders’ season at Memorial Cup

    Guelph Storm end Prince Albert Raiders’ season at Memorial Cup


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    Kawhi Leonard posterizes Giannis Antetokounmpo with one-handed slam

    Kawhi Leonard posterizes Giannis Antetokounmpo with one-handed slam


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    Isaac Ratcliffe delivers for Guelph Storm when needed most

    Isaac Ratcliffe delivers for Guelph Storm when needed most


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    Blues’ Brayden Schenn celebrates scoring by snapping stick

    Blues’ Brayden Schenn celebrates scoring by snapping stick


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    Serge Ibaka makes his presence felt with massive slam

    Serge Ibaka makes his presence felt with massive slam


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    To The Point: Injuries shouldn’t haunt Erik Karlsson in free agency

    To The Point: Injuries shouldn’t haunt Erik Karlsson in free agency


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    Vladimir Tarasenko snaps goal past Martin Jones high to blocker side

    Vladimir Tarasenko snaps goal past Martin Jones high to blocker side


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