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Edmonton Oilers GM Faces A Daunting Challenge

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As yet another disappointing season draws to a close for the Edmonton Oilers, the focus of their long-suffering fan base shifts toward what could be a crucial offseason.

The Oilers are expected to hire a new general manager and head coach this summer. Whoever fills the GM role will have their hands full attempting to rebuild a once-proud franchise mired in mediocrity due to years of mismanagement.

As this season ends, the Oilers are composed of two superstar forwards (Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl), a good two-way center (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), a couple of young defensemen (Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse) who may or may not blossom into reliable top-pairing rearguards, an expensive power forward whose best seasons are well behind him (Milan Lucic) and, as the Edmonton Journal‘s David Staples recently observed, a bunch of fourth liners.

Quibbling over what forwards like Zack Kassian or Alex Chiasson or defensemen such as Andrej Sekera, Kris Russell or Adam Larsson bring to the ice is pointless. Whatever their qualities, they’re not enough to turn the Oilers into a perennial playoff contender.

The Oilers woes have prompted some fans and pundits to suggest they’re wasting McDavid’s best years. The same could also be said of Draisaitl. McDavid and Draisaitl may be signed through the middle of the next decade, but they could their respective futures in Edmonton if things haven’t improved before then.

For years, the complaint about the Oilers’ front office was it was an old-boys network dominated by ex-Oilers who were buried too deeply within their own bubble. But now-former GM Peter Chiarelli, who built the Boston Bruins into a Stanley Cup champion in 2011, wasn’t from that network when he was hired in 2015.

Either Chiarelli’s decisions during his tenure in Edmonton were affected by too much meddling from higher up,  he had already lost the golden touch he once had or a combination of both. His successor must be someone who’s not an Oilers alumni and still in his management prime with a proven record for turning around a struggling franchise.

The next Oilers GM could have perhaps a three-year window to turn things around. He won’t have the luxury of taking a year to evaluate the roster before making significant changes.

It certainly won’t be easy. For starters, he’ll have to find a way to shed some salary-cap space. With over $71.7 million invested in 16 players (stick tap to Cap Friendly), the Oilers could have less than $12 million to work with this summer assuming the salary cap reaches the projected $83 million for 2019-20.

The good news is they don’t face any expensive re-signings this summer. The bad news is freeing up additional cap space will be difficult

The Athletic’s Allan Mitchell (subscription required) recently listed Lucic, Sekera, and Russell as three possible cost-cutting candidates, using the savings to bring in speed, skill and goaltending depth.

Buying out the remaining four years of Lucic’s contract isn’t a good option, leading Mitchell to suggest packaging Lucic with a prospect and pick up part of his salary in a trade. Given Lucic’s decline and remaining contract tenure, that’s easier said than done. Buying out the remaining two years of Sekera’s contract and trading Russell appears the more likely scenarios.

Figuring out what to do with struggling Jesse Puljujarvi will be another issue. The 20-year-old winger still has the potential to blossom into a scoring winger. Surgery to repair a hip condition might also rectify his inconsistent play. So could playing for a coach with the patience to help him rediscover his scoring touch.

Bolstering the goaltending is another priority. Chiarelli may have felt Mikko Koskinen was worth a three-year, $13.5-million contract extension (with a modified no-trade clause), but he’s yet to fully establish himself as their starter.

Adding another experienced netminder to share the duties with Koskinen – or even challenge him for the starter’s role – without breaking the bank is a must. The market for free-agent goaltenders this summer isn’t very deep but maybe someone like New York Islanders goalie Robin Lehner could be worth pursuing if he hits the open market in July.

What to do with their 2019 first-round pick is a key question. The Oilers could get lucky and win next month’s draft lottery, which will likely cause a meltdown of hockey’s Twitter universe. They currently have only a five percent chance of winning, but could still finish with a pick among the top-10.

It might be worthwhile seeing what that pick could fetch in the trade market, especially if it’s the first-overall selection. Granted, it would take a substantial offer to pry that away from them. But if they could also package someone like Russell or Sekera in the deal, maybe they could land a quality return that would have an immediate positive impact while clearing some cap space in the process.

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Specialness of Raptors veterans will help replace Kawhi, Green

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The Toronto Raptors didn’t just lose the NBA’s best two-way player, Kawhi Leonard, in the off-season, though that’s all everyone seems to talk about. The defending champions also saw one of the premier two-way role players, Danny Green, head to Los Angeles

Green had a tremendous season for Toronto, shooting a scorching 45.5% on three-pointers (third in the NBA) while also garnering plenty of All-Defensive team votes.

Though he struggled in the playoffs, Green was still a huge contributor toward the success of the team, both on and off of the court.

“He’s very consistent with the things that he’s going to do on the floor,” Marc Gasol told the Toronto Sun.

“He’s very vocal. Very positive. He doesn’t take things personal. He’s a veteran guy who has been around but has come up also through hard times and has been coached hard in his previous years (by Gregg Popovich in San Antonio) and knows what it takes to play at the highest level. And he was very good for us,” Gasol said.

“The general public doesn’t really notice what the other guys (besides Leonard) do (and) Danny’s one of those guys,” said Fred VanVleet.

He’s not flashy, his game isn’t very sexy, but I don’t know what he shot, 45% from three? Something crazy like that, at a high clip, played 80 games, played every night, guarded the best players on the other teams and he’s just solid every night,” VanVleet said. “You know what you’re going to get … (and) just having that experience here – He didn’t do a lot of preaching and teaching, he just was here and (led) by example and we’ll miss that.”

But life must go on. Nobody is singing a woe is me tune in Toronto.

“We don’t have that luxury (to bring back the full championship roster) so we have to find a new approach and a new path to get back there,” VanVleet told a few reporters in the lead-up to opening night.

“Just from a mental approach, there’s no chance for a championship hangover. If we don’t get it done it won’t be because we relaxed … We still have a lot to prove and we want to do it again,” he said.

With Leonard and Green gone there will be opportunities for everyone else to expand their games and their roles. From Pascal Siakam, to Gasol, VanVleet, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby, to Kyle Lowry likely looking more like the guy who averaged over 21 points a game from 2015-17 than the one who dropped to 14.2 a year ago, things are going to change.

“I always say it’s addition by subtraction and it’s great because those guys are going to bring something different than what (was lost),” Gasol said, not meaning it to be insulting in any way to Leonard or Green.

“I think the biggest thing is seeing how we key in offensively without those two guys,” VanVleet said. “Defensively I feel very comfortable … but offensively it can be a little tricky,” he said.

“It’ll take some time to figure it out, but I think having those two guys out is going to be a little bit more opportunity and also a chance to spread it around a little bit.”

Head coach Nick Nurse seems extremely confident with the group that he’s got for a number of reasons.

“I think there’s a specialness to some of these guys. And maybe it’s because they won or whatever, or maybe it’s just who they are,” Nurse said.

“To me, Marc Gasol is a really special player. Like, really special. Kyle Lowry, really special. Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam. I mean, there’s a lot of guys. There’s IQ, toughness, competitiveness, skill, fight, that are at levels that, well as a coach you kind of dream about having guys like that,” he said.

“And it shows when the group of them goes out together you see a level of smart basketball. A level of competitiveness and a toughness and those are important things.”

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Bianca Andreescu makes Canadian history by reaching No. 4 in rankings

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Bianca Andreescu has become the highest-ranked Canadian tennis player in WTA Tour history.

The 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., jumped one spot to No. 4 in the rankings on Monday following a week off.

That pushes her one spot ahead of her career-best No. 5 ranking, which tied a Canadian record set by Eugenie Bouchard in 2014.

Ranked outside the top 150 entering the season, Andreescu rocketed up the rankings with tournament wins at Indian Wells, Calif., and Toronto followed by her first Grand Slam win at the U.S. Open in New York last month.

Andreescu had a 17-match win streak snapped when she lost a quarterfinal match to Naomi Osaka at the China Open earlier this month.

The Canadian is scheduled to return to action at the WTA Finals, which begin on Sunday in Shenzhen, China.

Milos Raonic reached No. 3 in the men’s rankings in 2016, the best ranking achieved by a Canadian man.

On the men’s side, Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., jumped seven spots to No. 27 after capturing the Stockholm Open on Sunday for his first career ATP Tour title.

Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime is the top Canadian at No. 18.

Raonic has dropped to No. 32.

Shapovalov, Auger-Aliassime and Raonic all are entered in the Erste Bank Open this week in Vienna, Austria.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2019.

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Mike Babcock out coached the Bruins

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At the beginning of the Maple Leafs 4-3 OT win over the Boston Bruins, I thought it was odd that Mike Babcock had switched Mitch Marner and William Nylander. I worried about how the Leafs were going to keep up with Boston’s depth and not lose out because of it. If only one line was able to produce, and it went up against the Bergeron line, the team wasn’t going to succeed.

Babcock’s solution was much more complicated than rolling four lines and it was brilliant.

Babcock and his coaching staff get an A+ for their effort and creativity last night because they were able to have their best matchup line (Matthews and Marner), while also maximizing Nylander’s time with the top line. Alex Kerfoot was a man on a mission and showed us that he’s much better at driving play than we thought he was. That goal he scored was fully deserved.

Jason Spezza wasn’t used much, but Frederik Gauthier and his mates killed it last night, they were super impressive. They beat the Bergeron line when they needed to, gave the Leafs positive and energetic minutes against the depth, and allowed Babcock to be super creative with his top-eight forwards.

That careful management and line matching honestly gave the Leafs the win. Without John Tavares — and for half the game Andreas Johnsson — they would not have beaten the Bruins in a normal game.

I’m less worried about the playoffs on Sunday than I was on Saturday.

Oh, and Mike Babcock (and all of you yelling at me) were right about Dmytro Timashov. I was wrong. He’s a fun little bugger.

The Branches

Here is the recap from the game I just talked about. It’s from Seldo so proceed with caution.

During the intermission, Nic Petan was brought up by Elliotte Friedman. The Leafs might be looking for a trade partner here. Gosh, I hope no one has any opinions about this in the comments.

From our friend-enemies at MLHS, the difference between reasonable and ridiculous takes and why you’re at fault for it.

For those who like to “hate watch” things, have fun with O-Dog’s ridiculous takes on… John Tavares?

Update on Andreas Johnsson: nothing broken, but he won’t practice tomorrow. Leafs play the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Bruins again on Monday and Tuesday this week.

From the Marlies, Kasimir Kaskisuo recorded his first shutout of the season in a 2-0 win over the Cleveland Monsters. Darren Archibald got his first as a Marlie and Egor Korshkov scored his fifth goal in five games. The Marlies are 5-0-0 to start the season and remain *perfect* on the penalty kill to start the season.

Captain Morgan?

Just kidding. Freddy Gauthier for Captain.

Branches Around the League

The Tampa Bay Lightning got trampled by three minutes of the Colorado Avalanche, in case you still want to say the Leafs are doomed.

Billie-Jean King is a QUEEN!

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