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Marner signing impact on salary cap

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Now that they’ve outsmarted Mitch Marner into taking a US$11-million per year deal, the Toronto Maple Leafs are collectively paying their top four players about US$40-million annually.

That doesn’t leave much for everyone else, and though they may love the game, they aren’t going to play it for free.

The Boston Bruins have been kicking the Leafs like a can down the playoff road for a few years now. They pay their top quartet about US$28-million, and just convinced defenceman Charlie McAvoy to take a cut-rate bridge deal (US$14.7-million for three years).

Boston has done what Toronto can’t – getting its players to buy into an one-for-all culture rather than a multilevel-marketing operation.

The Tampa Bay Lightning – the most talented, most humiliated and therefore most dangerous team in the NHL – notch in around US$33-million. Through a different route, the Lightning have managed the same thing.

That leaves the Leafs in what’s known around your house as a budget crunch. Except your house isn’t competing for anything.

And when someone comes home to your place and says, “Bad news. We have to get rid of the car,” your kids aren’t going to say, “Mom, dad, we appreciate all you’ve done for this organization, but we’re gonna have to go with a different approach. We wish you all the best of luck with your next family.”

There are two ways of looking at this right now – the Leafs have secured their future; or, the Leafs have bought themselves a golden parachute (since gold has a way of getting you to the ground a lot faster than you’d intended).

That window of contention people are always talking about didn’t just open. Instead, it’s starting to close. The club has this season, and this season only, to prove it has made the right choices.

This is what happens when you take risks, which should always be applauded in sport. But doing the right sports thing is not synonymous with doing the correct thing. You don’t know a right thing is correct until it works out. If it doesn’t, it was wrong by definition.

Signing John Tavares to the biggest contract in club history was the right thing, but it created a grab-all-you-can-for-yourself atmosphere for everyone else. William Nylander was emboldened to climb onto the contract barricades. Rather than put him in hockey jail for a year, the Leafs gave him what he wanted. That doesn’t look so smart in retrospect.

Auston Matthews got paid, which is also right, but a simultaneous deal wasn’t done with Marner – even if was just a nod and a wink – setting up a second opportunity for off-season brinksmanship.

The Leafs did all the right things, but in the wrong order. Whether the ordering of it was their choice (it wasn’t), that’s how you end up paying more for your elite talent than any team has before. And it still ends you up in a financial pickle that cannot be solved by saying, “We didn’t want to do it this way.” Try that one at the mortgage department of your bank and see how far it gets you.

Another problem, with creating a situation in which siblings rush to grab as much of mom and dad’s money as possible, is that no one is particularly satisfied after getting what they want.

When he’d done his deal, Marner did the usual “I bleed blue” routine, while also complaining about how hard this all was. He told TSN some kid yelled at him in a park.

This year, with front-loaded bonuses, he’ll make more than anyone in the NHL. Maybe it’s not yet time for him to be writing The Sad Ballad of Mitch Marner.

On the European continent, if you don’t play well, the more unbalanced fans will sneak into the stadium overnight and dig you an imaginary grave, or throw flaming Vespas at you from the stands. North Americans – professional athletes, as well as all the rest of us – have a very poor basis from which to bemoan their lot in life, but it has never stopped them.

Getting the paperwork in order is great and all, but now the Leafs have to win. Not should win, or would love to win, or believe they can win. But must win.

Because if they don’t win – and a single postseason round is no longer the benchmark – the operation begins to blow smoke and pop rivets.

The first thing that will happen is a power struggle within the hierarchy. The coach comes under enormous pressure. The GM only slightly less so. That struggle inevitably begins leaking out into public. It usually ends with someone packing all their stuff into boxes.

Then you have to go out and secure your remaining talent with reduced resources. It’s great that new arrival Tyson Barrie looks like the real deal. It will seem somewhat less so if the Leafs lose again and he then asks for a substantial raise. Getting defencemen under contract will imminently become a crisis for the team.

Goalie Fredrik Andersen is not the best Leaf, but he is the most important. If he gets hurt, the team’s top backup option is three jumbo bags of flour strapped into pads.

Andersen’s going to be looking for a raise in a couple of years and, based on the way Kyle Dubas & Co. have been splashing around cash, he’s unlikely to limit his financial aspiration.

This could conceivably work if the salary cap rises steeply, but that’s a basis for prayer rather than planning.

The worst thing about being short of money (rather than honest-to-God poor, which is a unique hardship) is the worrying.

Worrying is contagious and non-conducive to performance. It brings out the best in some people, but the Leafs – historically and presently – have not yet shown themselves to be those sort of people. Expectations seem to eat them from the inside out.

None of them – up and down the organization, top to bottom – has felt pressure like this before. By April, it will be the weight of the world.

Once there, they probably have to get through the Bruins or the Lightning, and maybe both. Things haven’t got easier since the last time they got this bit wrong, despite the hurrah-ing over recent administrative successes. They’ve got harder.

Then we’ll see if all this money has bought the Leafs something that becomes precious material under extreme stress, or something more brittle.

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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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