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Answering 5 on-ice questions about the upcoming NHL season –



There’s a stark contrast right now between the speed at which the next NHL season is barreling down at us and the slow drip of news that continues to trickle in from around the league. That drip belies the truth of what’s soon coming, which is real hockey, so let’s turn our attention to some actual hockey questions to prepare, shall we?

How does Alex Steen’s retirement affect the St. Louis Blues?

There’s this awkward dance we’re left to do in the media when players retire due to injury with what appears to be fortuitous timing for both the player and the organization. I want to be clear that I’m speaking in generalities here, and that I’ve got the utmost respect for Alexander Steen and his wonderful career. I’m also expressing zero skepticism that his back is a mess and that it’d be much better for his long-term health to not force it through another NHL season. I’m certain it’s the right call.

I also had the utmost respect for Marian Hossa, I have the utmost respect for Johnny Boychuk, and I don’t think anyone is fabricating anything in these LTIRetired scenarios.

You can feel the “but” coming, I know.

BUT we’re left to do this awkward dance even when we know the above to be true, because we also know that nearly every veteran player has nagging injuries, and every player would benefit from stopping the cycle of working to get their body in a position to play each day so they’re able to sustain further damage each night. What doctor wouldn’t verify these players would be better to stop playing? (“Doc my back hurts me every day, do you think I should keep getting in small car accidents each night or no?”) But the vast majority of them continue to do so, for a variety of reasons.

The dance is just in acknowledging that truth – that this is obviously in the player’s best interest – while not coming off like a rube that sometimes the decision to LTIRetire is the best way to not forfeit money AND help the team out in the process.

Whatever the case may be there in St. Louis, boy, is Steen’s $5.75 million cap hit coming off the books fortuitous timing (I’m sure they knew this was coming but likely would’ve preferred it be confirmed before the Pietrangelo negotiations, no?). They should have the space to pay Vince Dunn and still add some offence, whether in the form of Mike Hoffman or Mikael Granlund or Anthony Duclair or someone else they think can score them some goals in the (hopefully temporary) absence of Vladimir Tarasenko.

It’s impossible to know how this affects St. Louis off the ice, as Steen has been a smart, serious, thoughtful and respected leader there. But in viewing it from an on-ice perspective alone, this should allow the Blues to be improved in 2020-21.

How does having zero exhibition games affect your view of the NHL season?

The loss of exhibition games certainly doesn’t add anything to the credibility of the campaign, does it? There’s a real feeling-out process in the early part of the season, where teams can at least get a look at a few lines and special teams units, have a sense for how the whole thing is going to mesh together, and try to be properly prepared a few games later.

Players can be reminded of game pace and how that all feels, and there’s at least a couple games where playing competitively feels weird.

Those games will now count, which feels even weirder.

Which is fine.

At this point it is what it is and nothing is guaranteed this NHL season. Have you seen what COVID-19 is doing around North America right now? There’s the very real risk of having big swaths of games cancelled between January and April, meaning the league is going to need the biggest sample size possible on which to draw revenue and cobble together a regular season. It’s OK to admit we’re cobbling here, people.

So, in sum, having no exhibition games does hurt the legitimacy of the regular season. But right now the NHL is James Franco in 127 hours – it can sit around and hope for a magical best-case scenario to come through and die in the process, or cut off its own arm and live here. (OK that’s a bit dramatic, but at some point you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.)

Which players have the most to prove in the upcoming season?

I enjoyed this list put together over on The Hockey News about players who have the most to prove during the upcoming season. The 10 names they came up with: Freddy Andersen, Josh Anderson, Sergei Bobrovsky, Johnny Gaudreau, Philipp Grubauer, Taylor Hall, Jack Hughes, Matt Murray, Bobby Ryan, and Jesse Puljujarvi.

My quick thoughts on a handful of those names:

Gaudreau: Great players can have one-off years that aren’t great for a variety of reasons, and the guy is 27 years old. But last season was definitely a concern, and I feel like if he has another off year the Flames will move him, so this is of utmost interest to me.

Hall: I’m not sure an NHL player has ever had a career like his and not gotten The Big Payday. He’s a first-overall draft pick who’s won a Hart Trophy and is a decade into the league but he’s yet to take home more than six million in a season. He’s gonna make eight this year, but if for whatever reason it isn’t a great year, and every team is tight in a flat-cap system, is it ever going to come for the guy?

Murray: The Sens don’t make too many big bets, and making one in the crease is the biggest bet you can make. Murray’s had some concerning numbers of late, but has proven he can be the guy in the past. Can he again?

What are the Capitals gonna do in the crease?

Breaking just this afternoon was the news that Henrik Lundqvist won’t be suiting up for the Capitals as it was originally believed.

It’s awful news, and here’s hoping Hank will be just fine and back soon.

The plan in net for a very good Capitals team was to have a solid veteran who can handle a decent workload provide cover for their hopeful starter of the future in rookie Ilya Samsonov. Boy, the pressure just ramped up on the kid, didn’t it? There will have to be a solution here for Washington, and I’m eager to see how they pursue filling that hole.

Players are returning for NHL camps, what will those look like?

One of my takeaways from working with an NHL team was just about how little time there is to prepare for and execute all that there is to do. Now teams head toward a 10-day training camp – tops – with no exhibition games and big decisions to make. Here in Toronto, numerous roster decisions are left hanging in the balance, I’m sure in part with the plan in mind of sorting them out at camp.

So watching how teams choose to operate during these camps is going to be wildly different, I’d wager, and thus fascinating. If you need to sort out roster spots you need to play games. Will there be scrimmages? You need to get conditioning up to game speed as quickly as possible, but there won’t be time for much rest, so how hard can you go? Can you bag skate? You need to get back to battle hockey too, which plays into that. There will be systems coaching, lines to sort out, and decisions that normally take three weeks and multiple games to make will have to be made in severely compressed timelines.

One thing’s for sure: whenever hockey comes back, coaches, staff and players will be working at nearly impossible levels to be ready for puck drop, heading into one of the weirder seasons in NHL history. I, for one, am ready for it, and I’m sure they are too.

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Vendée Globe Skipper Who Had Close Call with Bulk Carrier Collides With Fishing Boat – gCaptain –



A Vendée Globe skipper who just days ago had a close call with a bulk carrier off the Azores has now been involved in a collision with a fishing boat, his team has informed.

“At 19:50h UTC this evening, while racing in third place, some 90 miles from the Vendée Globe finish line off Les Sables d’Olonne, German skipper Boris Herrmann (Seaexplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco) was in collision.
He reports damage to his starboard foil and some other damage, but he is unharmed, has secured the boat and is proceeding towards the finish line at reduced speed,” according to an emailed statement from his team.

An update on the Vendée Globe website said the collision was with a fishing boat.

Herrmann addressed the collision in a video during which he said he was asleep before the collision. He also questioned why his alarms did not alert him to the other vessel, raising the question that perhaps the fishing vessel was not broadcasting AIS.

 “I have never experienced anything like this at sea before,” Herrmann said, “but the most important thing is that no one was hurt.”

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The incident comes just a few days after Herrmann reported that he had to convince the captain of a bulk carrier to give-way as the two were seemingly on a collision course. The bulker did eventually turn to starboard, giving way to Herrmann’s sailboat.

In the previous incident, Herrmann said he was in communication with the ship but that the captain needed some convincing to give-way. “As if we didn’t have enough stress, this adds to the stress. Half an hour of checking, convincing him. ‘Get out of my way, I’m a sailboat. I have right of way!’ Ha!,” he said, recalling the event.

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George Springer perfect fit for Toronto Blue Jays' long-term plan starting to take shape – TSN



TORONTO — Picture this: An organization that has a reputation as a developmental machine and can regularly churn out big league players, but one that also has the money and resources to keep those homegrown stars around with lucrative, long-term contracts, as well as supplement the roster each and every off-season.

A drafting-and-developing track record and deep pockets is the most powerful combination in sports, and it’s one that the Toronto Blue Jays are suddenly flexing to the surprise of some.

This was always the plan.

Take a handful of years to put the developmental processes in place, build a base of young talent, tear down and discard high-priced veterans, then build it back up, being careful to also time it all up perfectly.

The building started last year with an $80-million investment in Hyun-Jin Ryu.

It was fully expected to continue this winter, and the Jays were fortunate that their top target all along, George Springer, had mutual interest.

‘This guy just fits with exactly what they need’: Mitchell feels Springer, Jays a great match

TSN Blue Jays reporter Scott Mitchell discusses what stood out to him from George Springer at his introductory news conference, and what’s next for the Jays who still have holes to fill on their roster.

With the payroll now approaching $140 million for 2021, it won’t end with Springer, either, but the latest big step in Jays president/CEO Mark Shapiro’s plan was finally wearing Blue Jays colours Wednesday during his introductory presser.

There’s no secret what lured Springer from Houston to Toronto, even with the Connecticut native’s hometown New York Mets making a pitch: Money and the opportunity to win.

“When you have a young, talented group that’s already in place, it’s obviously very, very attractive because you know what they could potentially do,” Springer said.

Expectations are now sky-high for the Jays and it’ll be that way for the foreseeable future.

The Toronto Blue Jays are no longer a little brother in the American League East and they’re no longer a rebuilding team just happy to have an intriguing core of kids, either.

Year in, year out from this point forward, the expectation and goal for this ballclub every spring is World Series or bust.

There are no “good stepping stones” or silver medals coming off an above .500 season, albeit a shortened one, and then proceeding to hand out the largest contract in franchise history to push that forward.

While far from the last piece to the puzzle, Springer could be the final core lineup building block if things go smoothly, and the fit has been obvious for a long, long time.

“Our attraction to George Springer was several years ago where it began,” GM Ross Atkins explained. “I think any executive in baseball that has watched George play for some time would love to talk about how he’d fit onto your team. And when you start to think about the middle of the diamond and centre field, that being the best player on your team, that’s really exciting to think about. It is a very good fit. George’s impact on both sides of the ball, the defender he’s been, the offensive player he’s been, the base-running capability.”

A perfect fit on the field and in the clubhouse, it was clear from the start of free agency who the target was.

The big question was whether they could convince Springer they were the right partner and get a deal done.

Despite the obvious need in centre field and the exciting power/speed combo, there are intangibles Springer brings that this Blue Jays clubhouse simply did not have before.

“Dependability, reliability, consistency, and then fit,” Shapiro said. “Ross has talked a lot about we had certain attributes and characteristics and skillsets that we were looking for and George was the guy that was clearly a good fit for this team, for this city, for this country, and for [where] we are right now. His experience will add a certain level of wisdom to our players. He’s been places where our guys haven’t been yet and he knows how to handle those environments.”

Objectively, Springer has been named to three all-star games, garnered MVP votes in three separate seasons and has been a well above average hitter statistically in each of his seven big-league seasons.

The track record of health and consistency is one you’re willing to commit to.

Digging even deeper, the 31-year-old has a career .883 OPS on the road compared to .819 at home — goodbye trash-can narrative — and the right-handed hitter handles righties (.834 OPS) just as well as lefties (.899 OPS).

He’s also crushed to the tune of a .358/.453/.604 slash line in 15 career games inside hitter-friendly Rogers Centre.

There really isn’t a red flag in the profile at this point.

So where does the plan go from here?

In the short term, over the next handful of weeks leading into spring training, the goal is to add to the starting rotation, the clear roster need at this point.

Trevor Bauer has finally been crossed off the board as the budget gets tighter, but there’s still room to improve, according to Shapiro.

“We’ve got some flexibility, but the bulk of our heavy lifting is done,” Shapiro said. “There’s still opportunities for Ross and our baseball operations group to be creative in what they do.”

A trade is the most likely route to finding a top-of-the-rotation starter, but there still seems to be ways to add a James Paxton, Jake Odorizzi or Taijuan Walker, especially if they’re open to one-year deals once the calendar flips to February.

The more intriguing question, perhaps, is what’s the next step of this long-term plan?

There are more planned budget increases coming and the expectation is a franchise record payroll is on the horizon, which will exceed the $165 million or so spent a few years ago.

“That plan is that we’ll 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,” Shapiro said.

With a cornerstone player added to the outfield and a deep group of homegrown kids either already patrolling the infield or on their way, the next building block is likely to be that elusive ace that each and every eventual World Series winner has to go out and find.

The significant amount of money coming off the books after the season combined with another payroll bump will have Atkins fishing in the big boy pond once again.

One name to consider next winter is Noah Syndergaard, an arm we already highlighted here as a target.

Another scenario to consider is giving an already much-improved Jays team the first half of the 2021 schedule to show they’re ready and then go out in July and use that prospect pipeline to acquire whatever ace happens to hit the trade market.

Since it’s already been a winning off-season for the Jays’ front office, there’s no reason to deviate from the plan now.

It’s one that seems to be coming together at the right pace.

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Canucks’ Elias Pettersson appears to rediscover confidence after slow start –



VANCOUVER – Since eight games weren’t enough to judge and write off Elias Pettersson’s season, one game is a preposterously small sample in which to conclude that the worst is over and the Vancouver Canucks’ best forward is back.

But Wednesday, for the first time in 2021, Pettersson looked like the confident, driven offensive star who burst upon the National Hockey League two-and-a-half years ago.

It wasn’t just that the 22-year-old had a goal and assist, matching his output from the previous eight games, in the Canucks’ 5-1 win against the Ottawa Senators. It was that Pettersson had nine shot attempts, hitting a post and a crossbar as well as scoring. It was that he made one goal possible with a strong defensive play in the neutral zone, and on another play bowled over Evgenii Dadonov when the Senators winger came to deliver a hit.

It was this 200-foot game, this so-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it swagger, that Pettersson was missing as well as the points during the Canucks’ false start to the 56-game season.

“I think when Petey is on top of his game, you actually see a high compete level,” Canucks coach Travis Green said after his team inched back towards .500 — a minimal threshold it can attain if it completes a three-game sweep against last-place Ottawa on Thursday at Rogers Arena. “We didn’t have exhibition (games); sometimes it takes a little time to get your engine running as hot as it needs to.

“I think we saw glimpses of it tonight out of that line. But you’re right, when he’s engaged and on top of his game, you do see good things come out of other areas of his game that maybe don’t have anything to do with offence. And really, that’s part of winning hockey. All your players have to have that in them if you’re going to win.”

Pettersson and linemates J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser generated three second-period goals after the Canucks barely survived the first when they needed 22 saves from goalie Thatcher Demko to maintain an early 1-1 tie.

The only forward who has struggled as much to meet expectations as Pettersson, Miller scored his first two goals of the season six minutes apart in the middle period as the Canucks blew the game open.

Miller said he thought the third period was his line’s best this season although remarkable grinder, Tyler Motte, scored the only Vancouver goal — his fifth in nine games.

“We’re relied upon to put points up and produce for our team,” Miller said. “We’re relied on to work hard and create momentum for our team. Typically, when we work hard, the ice opens up like it did in the third period. We need to be better at the start of the game. I mean, I guess it’s nice to produce a little bit but at the same time, our standards are higher than a couple of open nets (goals).”

Miller has said it took him years in the NHL to figure how to be the player he has become. Pettersson is starting only his third season.

What wisdom would Miller offer his linemate?

“Just worry about his game,” he said. “There’s a lot of outside noise comes in here all the time and he has to answer about how he’s not good enough or whatever it is. He is our best player. I’m not worried about him at all. We know what makes him a good player and we have complete faith that he’s going to play well for us coming up.”

Miller’s definition of “all the time” probably differs from reporters’ as Pettersson is available to the media only for a few minutes on Zoom two or three times a week.

He didn’t go more than two games without a point of all last season, but has already endured a five-game scoring famine this season. He looked tentative in some games, hesitant to shoot. At times, he looked at war with the puck, struggling to control it. And he wasn’t engaged physically and defensively like he was Wednesday.

“I think frustration comes when we’re not winning games,” Pettersson said. “I think everybody in the locker room wants to win, win badly. Our confidence is good, both for me, and the team. (We) are believing each other, so just build on these two games.

“There’s always pressure. And I’m the guy to put the most pressure on me. I always want to play good. I’ll be honest, my first couple of games haven’t been the way I wanted to play. I think today was definitely a step in the right direction, but me and our line definitely have a lot more to give.”

The Canucks top players will have to give more because the team can’t ask for any more than what its bottom-six forwards have given. And through two wins against the Senators, by an aggregate score of 12-2, they can’t ask anything more of Demko.

His 42-save performance Wednesday was even more impressive than Monday’s 7-1 romp, not only because the Canucks were so poor in front of him in the first period, but because he backed up one excellent performance with a great one.

Two games are not a fluke. Demko has elevated his play and looks suddenly like the goalie whose spectacular playoff cameo last summer made starter Jacob Markstrom a little more expendable.

“The way things are kind of going, one game at a time isn’t going to be good enough,” Demko said. “We’ve got to start stringing something together.”

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