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After a major roster retrofit, Leafs make one more minor move before NHL trade deadline

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Toronto Maple Leafs forward Dryden Hunt (72) scores past Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72) and defenseman Josh Mahura (28) in the first period at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 17.Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Kyle Dubas got most of his shopping done early this year.

The Toronto Maple Leafs general manager then made one more deal before Friday’s tepid NHL trade deadline passed.

Dubas swung five trades between Feb. 17 and Tuesday in a roster reconstruction that added six new players to the fold.

He then nibbled around the edge of the organization’s depth chart ahead of the largely non-event 3 p.m. ET cutoff, snagging Radim Zohorna from the Calgary Flames for fellow AHL forward Dryden Hunt.

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“A number of different transactions over the course of the last several weeks that we feel sets our team up competitively,” Dubas told reporters in Vancouver. “Gives us the depth that we need at all positions to compete come playoff time.

“That was the goal of the entire exercise.”

The Leafs started by acquiring veteran centre Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari from the St. Louis Blues in the middle of last month before really ramping up this week.

Dubas got back to work Monday when he grabbed defenceman Jake McCabe and forward Sam Lafferty from the Chicago Blackhawks.

Then things got wild 24 hours later.

Toronto shipped Rasmus Sandin to the Washington Capitals for fellow blueliner Erik Gustafsson before sending winger Pierre Engvall to the New York Islanders and reacquiring Luke Schenn – the defenceman was drafted by the Leafs in 2008 – from the Vancouver Canucks in three separate deals.

“We’re happy with where we’re at,” Dubas said. “Excited for the last quarter of the season.”

In all, Toronto got six new players and shed a lot of draft capital, but a franchise that’s lost six consecutive series and hasn’t advanced in the postseason since 2004 looks to get over its ugly playoff hump has clearly gone all-in.

One area the Leafs didn’t touch the team’s goaltending, meaning a Toronto roster led by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander will aim to ride the combination of Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray into what looks like an inevitable first-round playoff rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Dubas said he didn’t set out to make massive changes to his lineup.

That’s just how things played out.

“It was just more trying to identify what we needed [and] address that,” Dubas said. “In a perfect year, I think we would go in and feel you didn’t have to do anything.”

“I do have a lot of faith in what I’ve seen from the players – when they’re outside of the lens of the public and we’re together – that they could handle bringing some new guys in.”

All the Leafs GM can do now is sit back and see if the moves pay off come spring.

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Raptors' Nick Nurse 'Gonna Take a Few Weeks to See Where I'm at' After Season Ends – Bleacher Report

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Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is unsure of his future with the franchise beyond the 2022-23 campaign.

Nurse told reporters ahead of Friday’s matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers that he’s going to take his time deciding on whether he wants to forge ahead as Toronto’s head coach beyond this season.

Nurse said, via ESPN’s Tim Bontemps:

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“First of all, I think when this season gets done, we’ll evaluate everything, and even personally, I’m gonna take a few weeks to see where I’m at, you know? Like you said, where my head’s at. And just see how the relationship with the organization is and everything. It’s been 10 years for me now, which is a pretty good run. I don’t know, over those 10 years we got to be up there in number of wins with anybody in the league. I don’t know even know where that is, but we’ve had a lot of big seasons.

“And then, right now, my head is to make this as long of a season as possible. This team needs playoff experience. So that is where I’m at right now … finish out these six, see where we land, see if we can’t creep up a spot or two in the standings, and then give them hell in the playoffs, see if we can get in a real series and take it from there.”

Nurse added that he has not considered his future being somewhere other than Toronto after the 2022-23 campaign.

The 55-year-old has been with the franchise for 10 years. He has been head coach of the Raptors since the 2018-19 season and he served as an assistant for the franchise under Dwane Casey from 2013 to ’18.

In his five seasons as Toronto’s head coach, the team has gone 224-160 and has made three postseason appearances, including a trip to the NBA Finals in 2019, where the Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors in six games.

However, the Raptors have struggled to a 38-38 record this season entering Friday’s game against the Sixers. The team currently sits ninth in the Eastern Conference and isn’t expected to contend for a title this year.

If Nurse and the Raptors part ways after this season, it will be interesting to see whether he retires or searches for another head coaching gig. He has been linked to the Houston Rockets, but there’s been no indication that he would take that job.

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Harnden brothers together again for World Curling Championship – SooToday

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With the World Men’s Curling Championship set to open up in Ottawa this weekend, E.J. and Ryan Harnden are set to reunite on the curling rink.

The Sault Ste. Marie brothers, who were teammates for years with Brad Jacobs and his northern Ontario-based team for years before the team disbanded at the end of last season, are back together as members of Brad Gushue’s Newfoundland and Labrador-based team that will represent Canada at the tournament.

E.J. joined the Gushue rink full time in the off-season while Ryan will be with the team as an alternate.

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“Joining E.J. is going to be special,” Ryan said. “Joining a group like these guys, who have won so much over the last seven years, I have a tremendous amount of respect for this team. We’ve battled in some big games over the course of our careers, but that respect level has always been there.”

“Anything I need to do, anything they want me to do, I’ll be there to help make their lives a little bit easier so they can relax and focus on curling. That’s my primary goal,” Ryan added.

Gushue said experience played a role in adding Ryan as their alternate.

“Ryan has been one of the best leads in the world the last number of years,” Gushue said. “The ability for him late at night to go out and match rocks for us, we’re going to be confident that whatever he says, whatever he gives us, they’re going to be pretty darn close.”

Gushue added that familiarity with the team also helped.

“The familiarity there and the comfort he’s going to provide to the team,” Gushue said. “It’s not like he’s coming in and we need to learn about him.”

Ryan also said that getting a chance to join the Gushue rink took some of the sting off losing in the Brier final with Matt Dunstone’s Manitoba-based team.

“To come that close, it was obviously very disappointing,” Ryan said. “I’m honoured and very excited to join these guys. They’re a team I’ve respected for a very long time.”

E.J. called having brother Ryan joining the team for the Worlds “special.”

“Going back to that, obviously it was extremely hard playing against Ryan,” E.J. said of the Brier final. “We have a really close relationship and I think everyone got a really good inside look at that throughout the Brier and especially into the playoff round and the type of relationship that we do have. Both of us were very honest and genuine when we said, as hard as it was, that was a perfect scenario because at least one of us was going to win.”

E.J. added that “I probably felt every single emotion that I was able to feel simultaneously once we won.”

Both Harnden brothers also reflected on their last World Men’s Curling Championship appearance, which was 10 years ago with Brad Jacobs’ rink.

“We were a bit of a deer in the headlights at that first Worlds,” Ryan said. “Being quite new onto the scene, we had some ups and downs. That prepared us very well for Sochi, even though the Olympics is a bit of a different beast. Having that international experience kind of opened our eyes of how much pressure there is wearing that Canadian flag.”

“It’s hard to prepare for what that feels like when you’re now representing your country,” E.J. added. “That was a great learning experience for us to be able to separate from those expectations and focus on what it is that we need to do as individuals and as a team in order to maximize our play on the ice and focus on the things that are within our control.”

E.J. joined the Gushue rink in the off-season after Team Jacobs announced near the end of last season that Jacobs was stepping away from competitive men’s curling for the time being.  E.J. said transitioning to his new team has been “going great.”

“To still be able to learn and absorb knowledge has been great,” E.J. said. “I feel like that’s only going to help me of these next number of years continue to improve and become even a better player than I am now, which is a great feeling.”

E.J. added that his new teammates – Gushue, Mark Nichols, and Geoff Walker – “have been really easy to get along with.”

With E.J. and Caleb Flaxey, also a Sault native, on the team this year, Gushue said both have mixed in well, E.J. as second and Flaxey as a coach.

“We’re at very similar stages in our life. We’re similar ages and have a lot of similar interests. We have good chats and it’s nice to be able to bounce some stuff off him and him bounce some stuff off me and we also like our quiet time too,” Gushue said of E.J.

“Caleb’s very detail-oriented,” Gushue added. “It’s nice to have him on board and take care of a lot of the stuff, some of the things I had to deal with over the last number of years.”

Gushue joked that while Flaxey’s rock experience wasn’t quite at the level of longtime Canadian curling coach Jules Owchar, Flaxey is “just probably a little bit more organized than Jules.”

“Jules still does everything by paper and pen,” Gushue joked. “He’s pretty old-school where Caleb gets the laptop out.”

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Ryan O'Reilly on his broken finger and injury rehab: "They said I needed surgery, so I'm thinking, 'Am I done for the season?' The timeline gave me relief… Playoffs are all that really matters” – Maple Leafs Hot Stove

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Photo: Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports

For the first time since breaking his finger, Ryan O’Reilly met with the media to discuss his return to practice, his injury rehab, and the plan to ramp up for the playoffs.


How does the finger feel right now?

O’Reilly: It feels good. It has been four weeks now since it happened, but it feels good. We’re progressing. It is not 100% yet. We have to be smart. The goal is to be 100% for the playoffs.

It was nice to be out there skating with the guys. We are getting close here.

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Would you be playing if this was the playoffs right now?

O’Reilly: Possibly. It is tough to say. We are in a good position with having the points.

It does feel good. It is just being smart and making sure we don’t have setbacks and can be ready for the right time.

Was there a sinking feeling and you knew right away when the puck hit you? 

O’Reilly: I didn’t really know until I got off and was getting changed. Paul [Ayotte] the trainer came over, asked, and wanted to look at it. I kind of saw it was crooked. I knew it wasn’t good.

We saw the x-ray, and obviously, it was disappointing. But I didn’t really know. They said I probably needed surgery, so I didn’t know how long. Am I done for the season or not?

It was kind of good news that I wouldn’t be out too long and that it happened early enough. It wasn’t later in the season. I am just focused on getting ready for the playoffs.

How long did it take for you to find out the severity of it?

O’Reilly: It wasn’t too long after. They kind of gave me a timeline of four-to-six weeks after doing the surgery on it. I was really disappointed, but that kind of gave me relief with regard to the playoffs. That’s all that really matters.

What is the final piece you are waiting for until it would be 100%?

O’Reilly: The shooting and passing feel great. It is just the other stuff — the stick battles and all of that, and just being able to trust that it’s 100% strong in that.

Again, that is going to come. It is progressing. I feel like I could push it harder, but there is no point. We just have to be smart with it and make sure it heals the right way. It will help me down the road.

Does the fact that it is the lower hand on the stick make it more impactful?

O’Reilly: The top hand does a lot of work, too. Both do different things. For faceoffs, it is the bottom hand that carries a lot of the force, too. Either or play a vital part in it. It is just an unfortunate break. It happens.

Are you going to wear a modified glove when you come back to protect it?

O’Reilly: Possibly. Right now, I am wearing something that can protect it a little better. As we progress, we will kind of revisit it and see.

Have you circled a game for a return?

O’Reilly: No, we are kind of just taking it every couple of days, evaluating it, and seeing where we are at. We don’t really have a target yet.

Is it nice to be back into the full practice?

O’Reilly: I don’t like being in the red [jersey]. It stands out a little too much.

It was a good first practice to get back into the feel and be out there with other bodies. I think it will start from there.

How significant are the final few games and making sure you get into a game or two?

O’Reilly: Those will be great. It will be good for our lineup, too, to see how we are going to approach that first game and for me to get the timing back. You can skate all you want in practice, but the feel of the game, the pushing, the competing is something that you can’t really replicate.

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