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As Leafs strengthen grip on the North, Dubas’ deadline mandate is clear



Kyle Dubas has been waiting for the acquisition cost and salary cap considerations to fall into place more than looking for a sign from the Toronto Maple Leafs that it’s time to make a trade.

But in completing a 4-0-0 road trip and strengthening its grip on the North Division with just days to go before the deadline, the team made it abundantly clear to the general manager how this needs to go.

Contrast it with where the Leafs were last season, skidding through the NHL’s trading period and losing to their Zamboni driver less than 48 before the final decisions had to be made. Dubas responded by swapping AHL players, sending a depth goaltender out of town and buying a fifth-round pick by retaining Robin Lehner’s salary as a go-between in the Chicago/Las Vegas deal.

He didn’t mince words that day when it came to explaining why he chose not to add any reinforcements himself: “Well I just think things change as a season progresses and the way that you operate on the deadline is a byproduct of a number of things: Cap space being one function, the performance of the team being another.”

The Leafs might be grinding out victories more than dominating opponents in the shadows of this deadline, but there’s growth to be found in games like their 5-3 win over the Calgary Flames on Monday night. They stuck with it through a slow start and survived Calgary’s third-period rally before Auston Matthews ended the team’s weeks-long power-play drought with the winning goal, his second of the game and NHL-best 27th on the season.

They found a way just as they had a night earlier against the Flames, and two nights before that in Winnipeg.

“I think that’s what you’re seeing is the difference in our team this year, is just the ability to stick with games and not get frustrated,” said veteran Jason Spezza.

You’ve established a high baseline when you’re sitting with a .705 points percentage at this stage of the season. That puts the Leafs squarely in the class of elite teams working towards the Stanley Cup — a notch below Colorado (.737), but in a group with surprising Florida (.718), Carolina (.716), Tampa (.711), Washington (.711) and Vegas (.703).

It’s why Dubas will be compelled to hold up his end of the bargain even with the considerable challenges brought on by the pandemic. This version of the team has shown itself worthy of spending future assets, whether they be to bring in the middle-six winger he covets, add depth elsewhere for insurance or to help balance the cap ramifications by using other teams to retain salary.

The Leafs have thrived since Frederik Andersen went down to injury last month, going 7-0-1 to pull out of a tailspin while riding the goaltending duo of Jack Campbell and Michael Hutchinson.

Campbell was Dubas’ most significant acquisition last season and he’s paying major dividends now. He matched Felix Potvin’s franchise record with his ninth-straight victory on Monday and hasn’t suffered a loss since March 6, 2020 — in those heady days before the pandemic arrived in North America.

“He’s battling his ass off out there,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe.

As much as Toronto’s high-end offensive talent is a separator, the top-six could use another weapon. Alex Galchenyuk has proven to be a useful reclamation project in his minutes alongside John Tavares and William Nylander, but Keefe is a noted line shuffler and the deck is shy on left-side options with Joe Thornton having settled into a depth role after starting with Matthews and Mitch Marner.

Were you only basing these decisions off Monday’s win, it would look like a luxury item since each unit scored at five-on-five against Jacob Markstrom. Spezza and Wayne Simmonds each struck for the bottom two lines, while Tavares and Matthews chipped in, too.

Step back and look across 39 games and the Leafs are a much-improved defensive team that no longer goes away easily. They’ve suffered just two losses by more than two goals all season. Even in their worst outings, they hang around with a chance.

“You’re not going to have it every night, but we play the right way, we find ways to go,” said Campbell. “Then other nights we’re just completely buzzing and our talent’s pretty impressive.”

Dubas said one other thing after standing pat at last year’s trade deadline that underlines why the situation calls for something different now. He expressed faith in the core he’d built while acknowledging that he couldn’t explain why they were such a “Jekyll and Hyde” outfit.

“Our group that we have here has to go through this,” Dubas said in February 2020, the David Ayres game still front-of-mind during that session with reporters. “We have to develop the ability to weather the storm when it comes and to thrive going through it. That’s the only way we’re going to be at our best.”

Fast forward 14 months and the entire operation has stabilized despite the unusual amount of instability we’re all dealing with in our lives right now.

The Leafs players have done their jobs.

In these final days before the deadline you can be sure their GM is going to follow suit.


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Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now



The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.

The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.

The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.

Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.

The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.

Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.

Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season –



It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics



(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.


(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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