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2021 World Juniors: Canada advances despite a strong effort from Czechs – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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In the third of four quarterfinal games, a scrappy, but inconsistent Czech Republic squad clashed with a deep Canadian team that hadn’t quite seemed to hit it’s full stride in the tournament. Canada was without Alex Newhook for the game, forcing them into a 12 forward, eight defender line up against the Czechs. The Czechs were also without some of their lineup regulars, with Jaromir Pytlik and Michal Gut missing the game.Devon Levi got the start for Canada, while it was Nick Malik starting for the Czech Republic.

Canada came into the match fresh off a 4-1 win over the Finns, while the Czechs had rebounded after a thrashing by the Americans, collecting a 7-0 win over Austria to secure their place in the elimination rounds.

The Canadians came on strong right out of the gate, with Dylan Cozens pressuing Nick Malik in the opening seconds and again off the opening draw. It was nearly five minutes before the Czechs found themselves in the offensive zone testing Devon Levi who gave up nothing in terms of a rebound in front of his net. Even with the Czechs growing into the game and looking dangerous, it was Team Canada getting on the board first.

A blocked shot turned into a breakaway chance when Connor McMichael corralled the puck,then fired a stretch pass for Dylan Cozens, and Cozens dangled in before taking his shot on Malik. The Czech goalie got most of the puck, but not enough to stop the puck from trickling in over the line behind him.

The Czechs didn’t help themselves with Adam Raska lining up Jakob Pelletier well after the puck was gone resulting in an interference penalty. The Czechs managed to kill off the penalty, but still surrendered a goal just as Raska stepped out of the box. Bowen Byram circled the zone, looking for a shooting lane, when he found it he fired a wrist shot that Malik again got some of, but again not enough to stop it from squeaking in behind him for a two goal Canadian lead.

The Czechs settled in after the second goal, pushing back heavily against the Canadians, and keeping sustained pressure in the offensive zone. Both Pavel Novak and Jan Mysak had great looks, but couldn’t beat Levi, and the teams headed into the first break with Canada up by a pair of goals.

With the second period underway, Canada seemed content to wait for chances, rather than pushing heavily into the Czech defence. They circled the puck back to the point, to get it away from a collapsing defensive wall in front of Nick Malik to varying levels of success, but they still hadn’t found another goal. The Czechs couldn’t find their legs in their counterpunching style, and were resigned solo rushes or stretch passes.

That was the tempo of the period, neither side truly found a breakthrough in any of their attacks. Canada did nearly add another goal with Bowen Byram ringing a shot off the crossbar behind Malik. While the best Czech chance of the period came when Michal Teply slid a pass across the crease during a two-on-one to Jan Mysak. However, Teply’s pass was slightly behind Mysak and the Habs prospect couldn’t grab the errant pass to get a chance off. When all was said and done, Canada went into the second break still holding a two goal lead, and seemed content to just ride it out going into the third period.

While the second period seemed to lack any real action, the third was the opposite. Connor McMichael broke in on Nick Malik, but the Czech goalie clamped down to deny a third goal. The Czechs then pushed their offence forward, trying to break down the stout Canadian defence, and Martin Lang threw a pass into the slot, but his teammate couldn’t quite get enough on it to trouble Devon Levi.

The Canadians continued to keep a stranglehold on the game, wearing down a Czech team that looked like it was running on fumes in the third period. With just over five minutes left the Czechs opted to pull Nick Malik for the extra attacker, and almost immediately Jan Mysak created a great chance. His shot went wide of Devon Levi, off the end boards and right to Adam Raska who failed to beat Levi’s pad low against the post on the play. The Canadians managed to get the puck out, but it was again Mysak making a stellar play on the back check to deny them a chance for the empty net marker.

Kaiden Guhle managed to chip the puck out off the glass, Connor McMichael jumped on it, blowing by the last defender and easily depositing it for the empty net goal, and all but seal the game for the Canadians. A late power play for the Czechs yielded nothing, setting a date for the Canadians against the Russians in the semi-final. A valiant defensive effort by the Czechs should also be commended, it’s something team captain and Canadiens’ prospect Jan Mysak talked about this week in an interview with Eyes on the Prize.

The Czechs three best players, as voted by their team at the end of the game were:

#4 Radek Kucerik

#8 David Jiricek

#19 Jan Mysak

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Blue Jays’ Springer signing needs to end tired Toronto narrative – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Now that George Springer has donned a Toronto Blue Jays cap and jersey in public for the first time, with Marcus Semien soon to join him, let’s put the persistent narrative about players not wanting to come here to bed for good.

If the situation is right from a baseball perspective and the money is there, the Blue Jays have a legitimate shot at any free agent they want.

Toronto may not be a glamour destination like California, or home to a historic franchise like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers or Cubs, or native to wide swaths of the major-league populace, but let’s stop acting like the front office has to sell players on Milwaukee.

This is a great place to play, and arms don’t have to be twisted to get guys to stay once here, as evidenced by the club’s strong history in retaining players that have been prioritized. Tired whinges like the border and customs and taxes are weak crutches that are convenient when the Blue Jays are struggling, or can’t compete on the baseball front.

The signing of Springer to a club record $150-million, six-year deal, and the looming arrival of Semien, who agreed to an $18-million, one-year contract pending a physical, reinforces what’s possible when the Blue Jays build an enticing core, and are willing to pay market rates.

They have plenty to work with, and GM Ross Atkins has effectively leveraged that.

“One that was most important is that they were themselves,” Springer said of how, beyond dollars, the Blue Jays swayed him to head north. “They were honest about where they wanted the team to go, about what they believed in, about how much they believe in their players now, the guys already in that locker-room, the plan, the direction they saw these guys going. When you have a young, talented group that’s already in place, it’s obviously very, very attractive because you know what they can potentially do. All the conversations I’ve had, not one person has said that they don’t want to win, that they don’t go out there and play as hard as they possibly can. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most, getting down to it and playing hard every day with these guys.”

To be clear, the Blue Jays’ decision to offer an extra year at a higher average annual value than what the New York Mets reportedly had on the table is ultimately what tipped the scales – in free agency, money almost always trumps all.

But it’s the other parts of the package that have allowed the Blue Jays to overcome the usual excuses that come up in their pursuit of players.

To wit, Springer cited the presence of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio as being a key part of the attraction, and augmenting a team coming off a playoff berth is a strong marketing tool.

In his opening comments, Atkins shouted out Shannon Curley, the club’s senior manager, player relations and community marketing, for her role in the courtship process, and the dedicated work she does in assisting players and their families is essential in building comfort.

The tax hits here, meanwhile, aren’t much different than in New York and California, and the Blue Jays must do more to kill the imbedded perception of excessively onerous clawbacks. From a tax perspective, it’s really no worse joining the Blue Jays than the Yankees or Dodgers.

None of that means the Blue Jays will get every player they want – no team does. Gerrit Cole spurned aggressive pursuit from the Dodgers and Angels to play for the Yankees. Mookie Betts wouldn’t sign an extension with the Red Sox so they traded him to the Dodgers, who locked him up. Some players have a destination in mind, no matter what, a right they’ve earned in free agency.

But former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi – whose fall 2005 signings of A.J. Burnett ($55 million over five years with an opt out) and B.J. Ryan ($47 million, five years) remain the fourth and fifth largest free-agent commitments in team history – was bang on when he told me last year that, “most free agents want three things.”

“They want the most money they can make; they want to be as close to their home as they can be; and they want to be on a winning club,” added Ricciardi, now a senior advisor to San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. “Sometimes, you just can’t get as close to their home as they want, so you’ve got to try and create the other two things.”

In other words, it might be harder to sign free agents and it may cost more, but it can be done.

That’s why marketplace perceptions matter, underlining the importance of president and CEO Mark Shapiro describing Springer as a step, not the destination.

If his plan to build a sustainable winner is successful, upper tier off-season additions like Ryu last year and Springer this year are going to become the norm, rather than outliers. Ryu’s $80-million, four-year contract last winter was viewed by some in the industry as an overpay by a team spurned by other free-agent pitchers, but it also established a credibility that’s been bolstered by the moves this winter.

One agent in regular contact with the Blue Jays is impressed with how aggressively they’ve pursued such a wide array of players in recent months, believing it demonstrates a real change in direction.

Making that view more widespread is critical with Shapiro indicating the team’s payroll has the potential to exceed record highs in the $165 million range during the 2016-18 window if the wins keep coming, and the revenue increases commensurately once the pandemic passes.

“There is no limit to what that can reflect from a revenue perspective” if the team grows into a consistent contender, said Shapiro. “(The) plan is to continue to win. And as we win, the revenues will increase. And where those dollars go, I think there’s no limit to what this market can be. It’s a behemoth and we’re going to continue to get better and continue to add the players and keep the players that we have necessary to be a championship team year-in, year-out.”

Those are bold words and when asked if the Blue Jays could be a team that spends to or beyond the $210 million competitive balance tax threshold, Shapiro hedged around the uncertainty with the collective bargaining agreement expiring in December.

“Whatever system is going to be in place after this year, we’ll have to consider it and adjust,” said Shapiro. “But beyond this year, there is no system in place. So that’s not a concern right now.”

Fair enough, but it’s refreshing to think in those terms about a franchise that for too long has constrained itself.

Fading into forgotten history is that the Blue Jays led the majors in payroll during the World Series years of 1992 and 1993, when nobody cried about the difficulty in luring free agents.

Hall of Famers like Dave Winfield, Jack Morris and Paul Molitor signed with the Blue Jays as free agents because they believed this was a place they could win. And thanks to the brilliant framework Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick put in place, that’s exactly what they did.

The ensuing drift into an extended playoff-less wilderness steadily eroded the organizational derring-do, and when combined with some player abandonments of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, a deep insecurity settled into the local sporting psyche.

And it’s lingered since, even after Masai Ujiri, the Raptors president, sought to pull everyone from the malaise during Kawhi Leonard’s introduction in September 2018, telling a questioner that, “the narrative of not wanting to come to this city is gone. I think that’s old and we should move past that. Believe in this city, believe in yourself.

Those words should resonate again after seeing Springer in a Blue Jays uniform Wednesday and hearing him respond to a question about if playing in Canada gave him pause by saying, “No. To be honest, no.”

There’s no better proof that the narrative of not wanting to come to this city is gone, is old and that we very much should move past that. The Blue Jays have reason to believe in themselves and they’ve started to make star free agents believe in this city, too.

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Penguins still in ‘win-now mode’ as search for new GM begins – Sportsnet.ca

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It’s not every day a general manager steps down from his position in the NHL, and certainly not just seven games into a season with a 4-2-1 record.

Jim Rutherford’s decision to resign as GM of the Penguins on Wednesday shocked the hockey world. In his seventh season with the team, and after two Stanley Cup wins, the news was sudden and, given the times, concerning.

CEO David Morehouse made it clear on his media availability, though, that the decision was not health-related and happened fast.

“The discussion was last night,” Morehouse said about how long this was in the works. “I had a discussion with Jim, just Jim and I. Jim had his mind made up.

“There was nothing with this team currently or the coaching staff currently configured that is any different than any of the other teams we’ve had…There was nothing different in the form of dialogue. And I don’t think there was any one thing that led to Jim resigning.”

After the 2013-14 season, Rutherford stepped down from his position as Carolina Hurricanes GM and into a retirement that lasted no more than two months before he joined the Penguins.

He arrived at an interesting time, too. Dan Bylsma was relieved as head coach and the Penguins, still led by a similar core to what you see today, were seemingly at a crossroads. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang — all of their stars were still in their prime, but rather than become a New York Islanders-esque dynasty that won Cup after Cup or was at least right there every season, they had won four playoff rounds in the previous five seasons. The furthest they advanced in that time was to the Eastern Conference Final, where the Boston Bruins rolled over them in four games.

Malkin became no stranger to the off-season trade rumour talk. Whether or not the Penguins should take a step back to retool around Crosby was a debated point.

Rutherford, though, doubled down on his star core and began adding. Patric Hornqvist was his first trade acquisition and mid-way through his first season David Perron was picked up from the Edmonton Oilers for a first-round pick. Rutherford made four more trades around deadline season with an eye on playoff depth, the most notable pickup being Ian Cole.

Rutherford’s first playoff run with the Penguins ended with a single win, but they were about to be fully back.

Phil Kessel was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2015 off-season, and in Pittsburgh, he thrived as a supporting scorer instead of the go-to star. Nick Bonino was next, and mid-way through his second season, Rutherford acquired Carl Hagelin. Suddenly the HBK line (Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel) was in the house. The three finished first, fourth and fifth in team scoring during that 2016 playoff run, and were a key part in the Penguins reclaiming the Stanley Cup.

Then they repeated the next season.

Nuts to the idea of rebuilding a star-heavy team.

As Rutherford departs six-and-a-half years later, the Penguins are interestingly in a similar spot to when he first arrived, though a few years older. They haven’t gotten out of the second round since claiming the 2017 Cup and actually haven’t technically won a game in a playoff round in either of the past two years. They were swept by the Islanders in 2019 and lost in the qualifying round, 3-1, to the Montreal Canadiens in the summer bubble.

Crosby and Letang are 33. Malkin is 34. There isn’t a seemingly endless amount of time left for these players anymore. After next season, Malkin will need a new contract, if he doesn’t test free agency. And if the Penguins are fading from contention again, at this stage, will a move to a new GM spur some sort of re-tool, an adjustment that may result in a step back if it means giving Crosby and Co. a better stretch run?

Don’t count on it.

“We’re not in rebuilding mode,” Morehouse said. “We’re in a win-now mode and we’re going to continue to be in that mode until we’re in a rebuilding mode. We’re looking for someone who can come in and have us continue to work toward winning another Cup.

“The criteria (for a new GM) is the same criteria we’ve had here for the last almost 15 years, is to win the Stanley Cup. We’re looking for someone that’s going to be able to come in, take a very talented team with a very good coaching staff, and take it as far as they can take it.”

Patrik Allvin, who has worked his way up from European scout, to director of European scouting, and to assistant GM with Pittsburgh this season, will carry the interim label and, according to Morehouse, will be one of the candidates considered for the full-time job.

Morehouse did not put a timeline on when the next GM would be hired, but noted he had already taken calls.

With the 2021 Penguins off to a decent start, there are still potential cracks in the foundation. Tristan Jarry has struggled without Matt Murray to share the crease, Malkin is not feeling it yet (three points in seven games) and the offence ranks 22nd in 5-on-5 shots per 60 minutes.

There are the recent playoff shortfalls, the fact the team has made one first-round pick in the past six years. And they already don’t have their own first pick in the 2021 draft.

But there’s also the optimism that comes with having players like Crosby and Malkin on your team, and how Jake Guentzel has developed into a significant producer, or how Bryan Rust has carved out a nice role for himself in the top six.

“We think the team Jim put on the ice is a team that can compete and win,” Morehouse said. “We think our coaching staff is a coaching staff that can get them there.”

Whoever the next GM is will be tasked with the same expectations faced by a Hall of Famer nearly seven years ago, with a younger roster that had more runway. The Penguins rebuild will eventually arrive, but it seems when it does, it won’t be because they chose it.

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Penguins still in 'win-now mode' as search for new GM begins – Sportsnet.ca

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It’s not every day a general manager steps down from his position in the NHL, and certainly not just seven games into a season with a 4-2-1 record.

Jim Rutherford’s decision to resign as GM of the Penguins on Wednesday shocked the hockey world. In his seventh season with the team, and after two Stanley Cup wins, the news was sudden and, given the times, concerning.

CEO David Morehouse made it clear on his media availability, though, that the decision was not health-related and happened fast.

“The discussion was last night,” Morehouse said about how long this was in the works. “I had a discussion with Jim, just Jim and I. Jim had his mind made up.

“There was nothing with this team currently or the coaching staff currently configured that is any different than any of the other teams we’ve had…There was nothing different in the form of dialogue. And I don’t think there was any one thing that led to Jim resigning.”

After the 2013-14 season, Rutherford stepped down from his position as Carolina Hurricanes GM and into a retirement that lasted no more than two months before he joined the Penguins.

He arrived at an interesting time, too. Dan Bylsma was relieved as head coach and the Penguins, still led by a similar core to what you see today, were seemingly at a crossroads. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Kris Letang — all of their stars were still in their prime, but rather than become a New York Islanders-esque dynasty that won Cup after Cup or was at least right there every season, they had won four playoff rounds in the previous five seasons. The furthest they advanced in that time was to the Eastern Conference Final, where the Boston Bruins rolled over them in four games.

Malkin became no stranger to the off-season trade rumour talk. Whether or not the Penguins should take a step back to retool around Crosby was a debated point.

Rutherford, though, doubled down on his star core and began adding. Patric Hornqvist was his first trade acquisition and mid-way through his first season David Perron was picked up from the Edmonton Oilers for a first-round pick. Rutherford made four more trades around deadline season with an eye on playoff depth, the most notable pickup being Ian Cole.

Rutherford’s first playoff run with the Penguins ended with a single win, but they were about to be fully back.

Phil Kessel was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2015 off-season, and in Pittsburgh, he thrived as a supporting scorer instead of the go-to star. Nick Bonino was next, and mid-way through his second season, Rutherford acquired Carl Hagelin. Suddenly the HBK line (Hagelin-Bonino-Kessel) was in the house. The three finished first, fourth and fifth in team scoring during that 2016 playoff run, and were a key part in the Penguins reclaiming the Stanley Cup.

Then they repeated the next season.

Nuts to the idea of rebuilding a star-heavy team.

As Rutherford departs six-and-a-half years later, the Penguins are interestingly in a similar spot to when he first arrived, though a few years older. They haven’t gotten out of the second round since claiming the 2017 Cup and actually haven’t technically won a game in a playoff round in either of the past two years. They were swept by the Islanders in 2019 and lost in the qualifying round, 3-1, to the Montreal Canadiens in the summer bubble.

Crosby and Letang are 33. Malkin is 34. There isn’t a seemingly endless amount of time left for these players anymore. After next season, Malkin will need a new contract, if he doesn’t test free agency. And if the Penguins are fading from contention again, at this stage, will a move to a new GM spur some sort of re-tool, an adjustment that may result in a step back if it means giving Crosby and Co. a better stretch run?

Don’t count on it.

“We’re not in rebuilding mode,” Morehouse said. “We’re in a win-now mode and we’re going to continue to be in that mode until we’re in a rebuilding mode. We’re looking for someone who can come in and have us continue to work toward winning another Cup.

“The criteria (for a new GM) is the same criteria we’ve had here for the last almost 15 years, is to win the Stanley Cup. We’re looking for someone that’s going to be able to come in, take a very talented team with a very good coaching staff, and take it as far as they can take it.”

Patrik Allvin, who has worked his way up from European scout, to director of European scouting, and to assistant GM with Pittsburgh this season, will carry the interim label and, according to Morehouse, will be one of the candidates considered for the full-time job.

Morehouse did not put a timeline on when the next GM would be hired, but noted he had already taken calls.

With the 2021 Penguins off to a decent start, there are still potential cracks in the foundation. Tristan Jarry has struggled without Matt Murray to share the crease, Malkin is not feeling it yet (three points in seven games) and the offence ranks 22nd in 5-on-5 shots per 60 minutes.

There are the recent playoff shortfalls, the fact the team has made one first-round pick in the past six years. And they already don’t have their own first pick in the 2021 draft.

But there’s also the optimism that comes with having players like Crosby and Malkin on your team, and how Jake Guentzel has developed into a significant producer, or how Bryan Rust has carved out a nice role for himself in the top six.

“We think the team Jim put on the ice is a team that can compete and win,” Morehouse said. “We think our coaching staff is a coaching staff that can get them there.”

Whoever the next GM is will be tasked with the same expectations faced by a Hall of Famer nearly seven years ago, with a younger roster that had more runway. The Penguins rebuild will eventually arrive, but it seems when it does, it won’t be because they chose it.

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