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$80 million brings Ross Atkins and Toronto Blue Jays more than just an ace – TSN

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For the price of one top-of-the-rotation starter, Ross Atkins also bought a change in perception.

Seen from the outside as a front office regime brought in to keep costs controlled and, potentially, stumble into contention every once in a while, wins were few and far between for Atkins and the Toronto Blue Jays through his first four years on the job – both on the field and in the public eye.

After a couple of quiet, cost-cutting off-seasons, stories of the Blue Jays being aggressive in free agency from the outset this winter were met with eye rolls and a more than fair wait-and-see attitude.

That all changed late Sunday night when the Jays and left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, one of the premier arms on the free-agent market, agreed to terms on a four-year, $80-million deal, a source confirmed.

One important detail in the contract is it does not contain any opt-outs, per sources, and there is a limited no-trade clause as well.

It’s by far the largest investment Atkins has made in a player, surpassing the three-year, $33-million deal he handed Kendrys Morales in the winter of 2016, and it’s also the second-largest total value free-agent contract in franchise history, just behind the $82.5 million deal Russell Martin signed in 2014.

When it comes to pitchers, it’s reminiscent of the contract J.P. Ricciardi used to lure A.J. Burnett to Toronto way back in December 2005, a five-year, $55-million pact.

That Burnett deal could be used as a comparison in a different way, too, as Ryu comes with similar health risks, making it a move that has the Atkins regime ready to shed its label as a risk-adverse front office.

As I wrote here on the final day of the winter meetings in San Diego earlier this month when it became very apparent Ryu was not only the apple of Atkins’ eye but also their best chance to land one of the upper-tier options on the pitching market, the Blue Jays had to go all-in.

The expected $20 million per year floor came to fruition, and it’s likely that the fourth year tacked on, one that will take Ryu through his age-36 season in 2023, was instrumental in getting the South Korean lefty to choose an American League East destination not named New York or Boston over a pair of rotation-needy Los Angeles clubs.

Ryu represented Atkins’ best chance to get a top-of-the-rotation starter for nothing but money, something that seemed like a pipe dream for many just a few short weeks ago.

Coming off a second-place finish in the National League Cy Young race and a 2.32 ERA, Ryu is inarguably exactly what the Blue Jays needed – an impact starter.

But his resume, however, is littered with health issues — Ryu has landed on the IL nine different times in six years with shoulder (twice), hip (twice), groin (twice), elbow, foot and neck injuries – leaving a whole lot of risk involved with a four-year commitment to a pitcher in his mid-30s.

Since arriving in the majors with the Dodgers in 2013, Ryu has thrown more than 150 innings just three times.

He threw 192 in his rookie year, followed by 152 in 2014.

From 2015 through 2018, however, Ryu was only able to make 40 starts total, before throwing 182.2 innings and winning 14 games this season.

With that being said, the timing was right for this type of risk in a number of ways.

Not only does it show a beaten-down fan base that everything they believed about this regime’s philosophy going forward was false, it also kicks the plan to be a legit contender by 2021 into overdrive.

There’s no doubt adding Ryu, along with veteran right-handers Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson, makes the Blue Jays a better team in 2020, but it’s more about surrounding the young position player core with a couple more building blocks now, before adding a handful more next winter.

Had Atkins not been able to add an arm like Ryu now, it would have simply left more work to do in the future and the clock ticking on Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio’s cheap, pre-arbitration years.

You can’t build a rotation or a ball club in one off-season.

When 2021 arrives, the Jays envision a rotation headed by Ryu and Nate Pearson, followed by 2020 off-season addition X, Roark, and they’ll cross their fingers and hope one or two of the other internal options they’ve collected over the past couple of years can prove they’re capable of being part of the plan.

Where things go from here will be interesting.

Ryu could be the cherry on top of what now looks a successful off-season, or it could be just the start.

Rumours the Jays have checked in on David Price are legit, but the Boston Red Sox will have to pay around half of the $96 million he’s owed over the next three seasons or it’s not happening.

An upgrade is also desperately needed in centre field, while the bullpen now becomes a focus. Suddenly, a Ken Giles trade doesn’t seem as likely as it once did.

By no means is this team anything more than an everything-went-right wild-card contender in 2020 as the roster currently stands, but there’s now no mistaking what this front office is up to and their desire to win.

A player development machine with more than enough financial resources to keep players around and make free-agent splashes when the time is right is what the Blue Jays want to become, and we’re finally starting to see the two converge.

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Four-goal explosion in second period powers Canadiens 7-1 over Jets – Montreal Gazette

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It was Montreal’s first win over Winnipeg in four games this season, moving them three points behind the second-place Jets in the Canadian division.

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Carey Price made 28 saves and all four lines contributed at least one goal as the Canadiens defeated the Winnipeg Jets 7-1 Saturday at the Bell Centre.

It was Montreal’s first win over Winnipeg in four games this season and the Canadiens moved three points behind the second-place Jets in the Canadian division. Montreal also enjoys a game in hand.

The Canadiens blew this game open with four goals in the second period.

After Tyler Toffoli scored his 15th goal of the season, Brendan Gallagher scored twice. Both of Gallagher’s goals — his eighth and ninth of the season — were scored from the slot after taking a couple of no-look passes from long-time linemate Phil Danault.

The Gallagher goals brought an end to Connor Hellebuyck’s evening. The 2020 Vézina Trophy winner gave up four goals on 19 shots.

Laurent Brossoit replaced Hellebuyck, but he received a rude welcome when he was beaten by Joel Armia on the first shot he faced.

The game got off to a slow start, but opened up after Mathieu Perreault was sent off for high-sticking Shea Weber midway through the first period. The much-improved Montreal power play didn’t look much-improved as it managed only one shot on goal, but it did provide the Canadiens with some momentum.

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Hellebuyck made a blocker save on Jonathan Drouin, who was sent off on a breakaway by Gallagher’s stretch pass, but Hellebuyck was out of the picture when Josh Anderson opened the scoring at 15:29.

Anderson, who returned to to the lineup after missing three games with a lower-body injury, took advantage of a lucky bounce to give Montreal the lead. Jesperi Kotkaniemi attempted to rim the puck and Hellebuyck went behind his net to cut off the pass. But the puck never got there because it hit a stanchion in the glass and came out to Anderson, who put the puck into an empty net for his 10th goal of the season.

Fourth-liner Paul Byron and defenceman Jeff Petry added goals for Montreal in the third period, while Perreault scored a power-play goal to spoil Price’ shutout bid.

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Dominique Ducharme did some line juggling and put his two top goal-scorers, Toffoli and Anderson on a line with Kotkaniemi. The young Finn responded with what might have been his best game of the season as he distributed the puck well and was a dominant player in the faceoff circle. He won 13 of 15 draws for an 87-per-cent success rate. Danault won seven of his 12 faceoffs and Jake Evans won four of six. The Canadiens as a team won 57 per cent.

The Canadiens flew Sunday to Vancouver, where they face the Canucks to open a six-game Western Canada trip. The schedule maker has done a favour for fans in Montreal because none of the games start later than 8 p.m. ET.

phickey@postmedia.com

twitter.com/zababes1

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Friends and family mourn Walter Gretzky at funeral in Brantford – Toronto Star

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The world’s most renowned hockey dad, remembered for having a “love for life” and being important to the “culture of Canada” by his legendary hockey son, was laid to rest on Saturday.

Walter Gretzky’s funeral took place at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Brantford, Ont., but was significantly scaled back from anywhere near the scope and grandeur fitting the mark he left, with capacity limited to 30 per cent due to pandemic protocols.

“I don’t think I met a prouder Canadian than my dad,” Wayne Gretzky said of his father. Dozens of community members, including throngs of youngsters donning hockey uniforms, gathered outside the church, located near the home where Gretzky raised his family.

Wayne told the sombre gathering of family and friends that his father, who suffered a brain aneurysm in the early 1990s and had a decade-long battle with Parkinson’s disease, had sustained a bad hip injury a few weeks ago.

Gretzky clung to life for 21 days, with his family sitting with him, similar to how he fought after numerous other debilitating health complications over the years. He died March 4. He was 82.

“We thought weeks ago that the end was here,” Wayne told the mourners. “He had a love for life and he didn’t want to leave.”

Wayne called his late father a remarkable man who had a “heart of gold.” He said the world would be better off if there were many more people like him.

“It’s been a tough time,” Wayne said.

He thanked the community for leaving food and sandwiches as the family waited for the worst.

Wayne told a fond story about how his father missed the birth of one of his sons, Brent, so that the two of them could attend a tournament in Whitby.

When bothered by family and friends about missing the birth of his boy, an irritated Gretzky responded, “Yes, but we got the trophy,” Wayne recounted.

“Every grandchild loved him,” Wayne said describing Walter’s close relationship to his grandchildren. “They understand how important he was, not only to our family but to the culture of Canada.”

Gretzky was remembered as a man of faith who cherished family, hockey and church. The gathering also heard how he treated everyone equally and was willing to volunteer his time and raise money for charities.

“Walter was great with kids, our kids, and all those kids he coached in minor league over the years, and those kids who came up to him for an autograph,” said Tim Dobbin, the former parish priest at St. Mark’s who presided over the funeral.

People lift hockey sticks to pay their respects across the street where Walter Gretzky's funeral service was being held in Brantford, Ont., on Saturday, March 6, 2021.

Wayne tweeted the news of his father’s death on behalf of the family late Thursday:

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“He bravely battled Parkinson’s and other health issues these last few years but he never let it get him down … He was truly the Great One and the proudest Canadian we know. We love you Dad.”

Walter Gretzky rose from humble beginnings to become the patriarch of this country’s most legendary hockey family.

Wayne honed his skills in a backyard rink that Walter built for his children and neighbourhood kids. It was dubbed “Wally Coliseum.” That’s where he taught his sons the basics of the game.

Walter was born on the family farm in Canning, Ont., in 1938, where his mom made “good, old country Polish food,” including perogies that were “second to none,” he wrote in his autobiography, “On Family, Hockey and Healing.” His father, from Russia, specialized in making wine.

Wayne Gretzky (centre) poses with the Stanley Cup with father Walter and brother Glen after the Edmonton Oilers won the Stanley Cup in Edmonton, May 19, 1984.

Walter went to work for Bell Canada as a technician after finishing school, and is reported to have lost hearing in one ear after an on-the-job injury. He stayed with the company until 1991, when he retired after 34 years.

Wayne had barely learned to walk when Walter had him out on his backyard patch of ice, teaching him to skate.

His eldest son became a child phenomenon at hockey, annually scoring hundreds of goals and skating rings around older, stronger kids.

Walter also coached two other sons. Keith Gretzky is assistant general manager of the Oilers. Brent Gretzky played 13 games in the NHL, all with Tampa Bay, and played a season in the Maple Leafs system when the top farm team was in St. John’s, N.L.

Friends recalled that Walter was also an astute coach of other boys in the Brantford minor hockey system, including former Boston Bruins tough guy Stan Jonathan.

Kids at the 2007 Wayne Gretzky international hockey tournament in Brantford knew where to go for an autograph.

In 2007, he was named to the Order of Canada, recognized for his contributions to minor hockey and support for numerous charities and non-profits, including the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

In 2010, he carried the Olympic torch hours before the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Winter Games.

That same year, an elementary school in Brantford was named in his honour.

Walter Gretzky’s wife, Phyllis, died in 2005. He leaves behind daughter Kim and sons Wayne, Keith, Glen and Brent.

With files from Star staff

Jason Miller is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering crime and justice in the Peel Region. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him on email: jasonmiller@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @millermotionpic

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Large hits three-run homer, Jays beat Phillies – TSN

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DUNEDIN — Cullen Large belted a three-run home run to lead the Toronto Blue Jays past the Philadelphia Phillies 7-1 in exhibition baseball action Saturday.

Large’s blast anchored a five-run inning for Toronto, which finished with 10 hits in a contest that was halted in the seventh.

Kirby Snead (1-0) took the win, allowing no hits and no runs over a 1 1/3 innings. He had a strikeout while issuing two walks.

Toronto used six pitchers in the game. The Blue Jays, who’ve won two straight, face the Detroit Tigers on Sunday.

Toronto also claimed right-hander Joel Payamps off waivers from the Boston Red Sox while designating right-hander Jacob Waguespack for assignment.

Toronto claimed Payamps from Boston on Feb. 11 but the Red Sox claimed him back 11 days later. The six-foot-two, 225-pound pitcher has made four career major-league appearances, allowing three earned runs over seven innings.

Payamps was originally signed by the Colorado Rockies in 2010 and has compiled a 41-43 record and 4.15 earned-run average in 145 minor-league games.,

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2021.

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