No team has scored more goals than the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have been redefining what it means to be an offensive juggernaut with each year of the Auston Matthews–Mitchell Marner–William Nylander era.
Since that young, explosive nucleus was Voltron’d together — and surrounded, of course, by some puck-pushing defencemen and net-driving weapons, foremost captain John Tavares — Toronto’s goals per game has risen significantly each season, now humming along at a 3.57 clip under a head coach who lets his horses run.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying, Toronto is set upfront but in need of depth on the back end, because even the best possession teams can’t control the puck all the time.
In terms of goals allowed (3.29 per night), the Maple Leafs haven’t been this porous in 11(!) years, and that includes some epic stinkers and a last-place finish.
The club’s recent rash of injuries (get well soon, Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly) and instability in the net beyond all-star Frederik Andersen, have made its trade-deadline needs crystal clear: defensive depth and a backup goalie.
This is an organization with Stanley Cup–sized ambitions, and with top-four blueliners Muzzin and Tyson Barrie long shots to re-sign, GM Kyle Dubas is staring at a go-for-it spring.
There are significant snags when stepping into the market, however. Dubas spent his 2020 first-round pick last summer in order to clear Patrick Marleau off the books. Seldom do clubs burn a first and a second in the same draft year.
The other hurdle is cap space.
Whereas contenders like the Colorado Avalanche and New York Islanders have plenty of space to go big-game hunting, a healthy Toronto roster would have none. The Leafs currently have six players on long-term injured reserve.
The only silver lining of this injury parade is that the Leafs temporarily hold $7.6 million in wiggle room, per CapFriendly.com, but things will get sticky when the bodies return.
Absolutely categorize Dubas as a buyer, but he’ll need to be a creative one.
Here are three suggested targets.
The Rangers — sellers for certain — must allow Henrik Lundqvist to exit with grace, and the King has another season beyond this one on his deal. The heir to the throne is not Georgiev, whom the Blueshirts view as an excellent backup, but rather Igor Shesterkin, who has wowed fast, winning his first two NHL starts and looking every bit like the blue-chip prospect he’s been hyped to be.
Georgiev (12-9-1, .913 save percentage) is only 23 and he’ll be restricted free agent this summer. The Leafs would love a younger backup they can trust — New York has two of them. Once you look up Georgiev’s cap hit ($792,500) and consider the Rangers’ hunger for young, skilled forwards… well, let’s cut the flirting and get to dealing.
Yes, Leafs backup Michael Hutchinson has been better lately, but his stat line — 3-7-1, 3.83, .885 — just isn’t up to snuff.
If a trade for Georgiev can’t be consummated, Dubas should kick tires on Penguins prospect Casey DeSmith, now usurped by all-star Tristan Jarry, or a rental like Ryan Miller (Anaheim) or Aaron Dell (San Jose) — cheap, decent backup options standing behind bad teams.
Dillon should be blue line target No. 1 for Toronto.
Don’t waste time looking at his production (11 points). The Leafs have plenty of play-creating defencemen.
At six-foot-four, 225 pounds, Dillon is a big, nasty and responsible left shot with 62 games of playoff experience, including a trip to the Final.
Yes, the 29-year-old is a minus-four this season, but his club is minus-37. He starts the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone and still finishes most of them in the O-zone. That’ll make Dubas and Sheldon Keefe happy.
Dillon also kills a couple minutes of penalties every night for the NHL’s best PK unit, and Toronto’s bottom-eight PK could use a boost.
From San Jose’s perspective, this is a lost season. Doug Wilson has the 28th-rated offence and might as well recoup some assets.
It’s no secret that Dubas has a queue of winger prospects eager for a break, and their opportunity for NHL ice time is frankly better somewhere else. Dmytro Timashov, Egor Korshkov, Jeremy Bracco, Nic Petan, Kenny Agostino, Pontus Aberg… there’s gotta be a package deal to be formed.
The Leafs do have six 2020 draft picks in Rounds 6 and 7 to toss in as a sweetener.
Certainly, Dillon’s early season clocking of Matthews will be water under the bridge if the hardnosed D-man can make a difference in April.
We’re tiptoeing into blockbuster territory now.
Toronto has been eyeing Hamonic since he was an Islander and lost a bidding war to Calgary. The Leafs came close to dealing for a Flames defenceman over the summer, only to have the swap blocked by Nazem Kadri’s partial no-trade clause, but Dubas and Brad Treliving — one of the league’s greatest wheeler dealers — are on friendly terms.
The moment Treliving re-signed righty Rasmus Andersson to a six-year extension signalled to us that one of his 29-year-old UFAs in the top four, Hamonic or T.J. Brodie, won’t be coming back for 2020-21.
Curiously underachieving upfront, Calgary isn’t hiding its desire for a top-six winger. Trading Michael Frolik to Buffalo on Jan. 2 was a salary dump to this end.
If there is a real “hockey deal” to be made by Feb. 24, Toronto-Calgary isn’t a bad bet to provide it.
Celtics top Heat, cut East finals deficit to 2-1 – TSN
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Getting big leads has been relatively easy for the Boston Celtics in these Eastern Conference finals.
This time, they also found a way to finish the job.
And just like that, the East title series got a whole lot closer.
Jaylen Brown scored 26 points, Jayson Tatum added 25 and the Celtics got right back into the East finals with a 117-106 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 3 on Saturday night. Kemba Walker added 21 to help Boston pull to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Marcus Smart scored 20 points for Boston, going 9 for 9 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. The Celtics — who also got 14 rebounds and eight assists from Tatum — outscored Miami 60-36 inside the paint, led by as many as 20 and never trailed.
The Celtics held Miami to 39% shooting.
Bam Adebayo had 27 points and 16 rebounds for the Heat, who fell for just the second time in 12 games in these playoffs. Tyler Herro scored 22 points, Jimmy Butler had 17 and Duncan Robinson 13.
The Heat rallied from 14 points down to win Game 1 in overtime, 17 points down to win Game 2, but never caught up Saturday — though they put together a late run to make matters interesting.
They got within eight on a 3-pointer by Robinson with 1:12 left, setting the tone for the Celtics to scramble at the end. Brown committed a flagrant foul nine seconds later, and Robinson made one of two free throws to cut Boston’s lead to 109-102.
Adebayo scored on the ensuing possession to get Miami within five and cap a 24-9 run, but the Heat got no closer.
Herro had 16 points in the second quarter alone to keep Miami close, the last of those 16 coming on a 3-pointer with 3:22 left before halftime to cut Boston’s lead to 51-48.
That’s when the Celtics started to run away.
Boston got three consecutive fast-break scores in a span of 48 seconds to push its lead back to 10, and after a late 3-pointer by Walker it was 63-50 at the break.
And when Miami tried another comeback in the third, Boston again had a late-in-the-quarter answer.
The Heat went on an 11-1 run to get to 82-73 on a layup by Herro with 1:08 left in the third, and Boston answered with the next seven points — needing just 32.9 seconds to get them.
Goran Dragic had 11 for Miami and Jae Crowder finished with 10. The Heat were 12 for 44 from 3-point range.
Celtics: This is the 124th series in Boston playoff history, and the Celtics have trailed 3-0 in only seven of them. … Brown and Tatum now have eight games each of at least 20 points so far in these playoffs. … Gordon Hayward made his return after missing a month with a sprained right ankle, scoring six points in 31 minutes.
Heat: Even with the loss, Miami matched the best 12-game start to any postseason in team history — now 10-2. The Heat also started postseasons that way in 2005, 2012 and 2013. … Miami never led, marking the first time that happened in the team’s last 70 games. The only other instance of that this season for the Heat was Nov. 23 against Philadelphia.
ROAD, SWEET ROAD
Games in the bubble still count toward “home” and “road” records. The road-designated team has won the last 12 games in which Boston has played — and in the playoffs, road teams are now 39-31. That ties the NBA record for road wins in any postseason; teams were 39-50 on the road in the 2014 playoffs. The road winning percentage this postseason (.557 right now) would also be an NBA record; the current mark is .519, set in 1966 when road teams went 14-13.
Partly to allow the Western Conference finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets to catch up, the Heat and Celtics won’t play Game 4 until Wednesday. Game 2 of Lakers-Nuggets is Sunday, followed by Game 3 on Tuesday. From there, both series will have an every-other-day format.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Matthew Wolff, 21, set to make golfing history as he seizes the lead at the US Open – CNN International
Wolff takes lead into final round at U.S. Open – pgatour.com
The final tee time will feature two of the most iconoclastic talents in the game. DeChambeau is trying to win his first major and his second title (Rocket Mortgage Classic) since bulking up to add driving distance.
“The past two majors I’ve played in I’ve been right in contention,” he said, noting his T4 finish at the PGA Championship last month. “It’s definitely validating, albeit there’s a lot more to go. I’ve got to figure out a lot more. I am excited to be in this position for sure. There’s no better place to be.”
Should Wolff hang on, he would be the youngest U.S. Open champion since Bobby Jones in 1923, and the first 21-year-old U.S. Open winner since Jordan Spieth in 2015. Wolff would also be the first player to win the tournament in his debut since Francis Ouimet in 1913.
He would also stamp an exclamation point on an up and down 2020.
Wolff, who edged Morikawa and DeChambeau for his first PGA TOUR victory at the 3M Open just over a year ago, finished 35th in the recently concluded FedExCup. That wasn’t great, but he began playing better over the summer. The 54-hole leader at the Rocket Mortgage, he shot 71 to finish second to DeChambeau (65), and they each tied for fourth at the PGA.
His mistake in Detroit, Wolff said, was looking ahead and getting “antsy” to start the final round, a gaffe he is hoping to avoid Sunday. He said he has played this week while thinking about his agent, who was recently diagnosed with stomach cancer, putting the golf into perspective.
Those behind Wolff and DeChambeau include Louis Oosthuizen (68, 1 under, four back), plus the threesome of Harris English (72), Hideki Matsuyama (70) and Xander Schauffele (70).
“You know, it doesn’t take much around here,” said Rory McIlroy, whose 68 got him to 1 over for the tournament, six back. “Someone gets off to a decent start, maybe 1- or 2-under through 5 and then the leader goes the other way, 1- or 2-over through 5, and all of a sudden you’re right in the thick of things.”
The weather for Sunday’s final round is expected to be more of the same, which is to say cold in the morning, followed by crisp sunshine in the afternoon. Autumn in New York.
“It feels like I should be tailgating right now,” said Zach Johnson (68, 2 over total).
Much like Morikawa in San Francisco last month, Wolff will play the final round not in front of boisterous New York galleries, or any type of galleries, but amid the quiet of his own thoughts.
That’s not insignificant.
Said McIlroy, “Just makes it a touch easier for the guys at the top.”
Wolff, sometimes described as fearless, admits he will almost certainly be nervous for the final round but doesn’t argue with that adjective. Sunday might be his greatest test yet.
“I go out there and I play my game,” he said. “There’s a lot of holes out there that maybe people would try to hit it in the fairway or maybe take the safe play because it is a U.S. Open and they know that pars are a good score, but I don’t really like to think of it that way.
“I like to go out there and do what I feel comfortable with,” he added, “rip dog and see how it goes from there. I feel comfortable with every part of my game so I don’t like to shy away from things when I’m feeling confident, and I’m probably going to do the same tomorrow.”
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