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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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For Oilers, Archibald’s selfish anti-vaccine stance is not worth the risk –



EDMONTON — One is a player who opted to honour his commitment to his new team in Edmonton. The other, just another selfish anti-vaxxer who is betting on himself, somewhat foolishly.

One is a player the general manager staked his reputation on, with much pedigree and a handful of Stanley Cup rings. A guy who came to town billed as a leader, and then backed it up when he rolled up his sleeve despite obvious misgivings about being vaccinated.

Sure, Duncan Keith should have gotten vaccinated a month sooner. But give him some credit for putting the team — society and the Oilers — ahead of himself. Even if he waited until the 11th hour to do it.

Then there is depth winger Josh Archibald, who will be replaced by Game 1 of the regular season if he doesn’t give his head a shake. He is from that young, conspiracy-oriented demographic that has been suckered in by far-right disinformation, and tweets about idiocy like “the plandemic.”

“I’m happy that he’s going to be part of our team this year, fully vaccinated,” Oilers general manager Ken Holland said of Keith, a player Holland had seriously dug in on to convince him to get vaccinated. Mike Smith took some work, too, we are told, but now both are vaccinated and ready to do what they were brought in to accomplish.

The other player is more selfish than that.

Archibald is a nice, fourth-line penalty killer in a normal season. He’ll get you 10 goals a year. But for this, the third COVID-affected NHL campaign, an unvaccinated Archibald just isn’t worth it.

Holland and head coach Dave Tippett sat down with Archibald on Tuesday and spelled out how many games he would miss and what it would mean to be Canada’s only unvaccinated NHL player. It would cost him up to 40 per cent of his $1.5 million salary. Maybe more.

Now Holland sits, and hopes that Archibald changes his mind before the GM has to send him to AHL Bakersfield. He is virtually untradeable, as Archibald could not play games in Canada for a U.S.-based team, and poses a risk that no fourth-liner can justify.

“There are a team or two out there that have made the decision that unvaccinated players are not welcome at training camp. I have not made that decision as of this time,” Holland said on Wednesday. “I think the player is going through the process to decide. It’s a difficult decision. I’ll give [Archibald] the appropriate time, and I’ll see where I’m at in a week, 10 days from now. We’ll see.”

Editor’s note: With overwhelming consistency, research has shown vaccinations against COVID-19 are safe and effective. Residents of Alberta who are looking to learn more about vaccines can find up-to-date information here. Further details on COVID-19 and the country’s pandemic response are available on Canada’s public health website.

In a strange twist of fate, Keith — who received his vaccination in the United States only this week — is in quarantine until next Friday, while the unvaccinated Archibald is undergoing daily testing while attending Edmonton Oilers training camp.

But here’s the reality of all this: A Canadian team simply can not have an unvaccinated player on its roster.

By Holland’s math, an unvaccinated player who must serve a 14-day quarantine every time he comes over the U.S. border and into Canada, would miss “30-plus games” this season. He’d also miss a ton of practice time, and would lose one-200th of his pay for every day missed due to the federally mandated quarantine.

It would be impossible to hold his place on an NHL roster.

“After you quarantine for 14 days, if we’re playing well you’re not just taking someone out to put that person in,” Holland said. “The number of times we cross the border, it’s going to be very difficult.”

Had Keith and Smith not relented, the Oilers’ season would have been derailed.

Related reading: Edmonton Oilers goaltender Alex Stalock contracted COVID-19 before the shortened 56-game season. Now, the 34-year-old is likely going to miss the 2021-22 season due to a heart condition.

Now that Holland has his starting goalie and No. 3 defenceman in the fold, why on earth would you want an unvaccinated, 13:33-minutes per game player flying on the same charter and inhabiting the same dressing rooms as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl?

Between the peer pressure, the risk of lost salary, and the ridiculous nature of his stance, I expect Archibald to relent and get the jab. Let’s face it: It’s a business, and there is no moral high ground in sport.

“In July I heard talk that there were 80, 90 unvaccinated players,” Holland recounted. “We had a Board of Governors meeting (Tuesday), and Bill Daly said we’ll be in single digits of players unvaccinated going into the season. So, basically, 70, 80, 90 players eventually made the decision to get vaccinated.”

Some because they didn’t want to lose the salary, and some because they put their team and others before themselves.

There is one player left on a Canadian team who puts himself before everything else, and his name is Josh Archibald.

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Kiermaier on getting hit by pitch by Blue Jays' Borucki: 'Oh yeah, it was intentional' – Yahoo Canada Sports



The Tampa Bay Rays clinched a spot in the postseason on Wednesday, but that was the secondary story against the Toronto Blue Jays.

During the game prior, Rays centrefielder Kevin Kiermaier was the centre of attention as he snatched a dropped data card from Toronto catcher Alejandro Kirk, which the Rays refused to hand back to the visiting club. Less than 24 hours later during the series finale between the two AL East teams, Kiermaier re-entered the spotlight as he was struck by a pitch thrown by Blue Jays reliever Ryan Borucki in the eighth inning.

Borucki was ejected after the umpires met to review the struck batter, which then caused Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo and a very red-faced pitching coach Pete Walker to storm onto the field.

Walker was also tossed from the game for his outburst.

Kiermaier didn’t let up after the 7-1 victory, focusing on the late-game dramatics.

“Oh yeah, it was intentional,” Kiermaier said of the incident. “Pretty much almost went behind me. I thought it was a weak move, to be quite honest. It’s over. It didn’t hurt by any means, so I don’t care. Whatever. We move on. We got a series win, and I hope we play those guys, I really do.”

When Kiermaier was asked why he wants to face the Blue Jays again, it was mysterious to say the least. “The motivation is there,” he said. “That’s all that needs to be said.”

Despite Kiermaier being so sure it was intentional, Montoyo had a different idea of what happened, but was certainly sympathetic to the Rays’ reaction.

“Pete’s reaction told me everything about it,” the Blue Jays manager said. “He missed. He hit him, but I understand what it looks like. I understood how the Rays got upset about it. That thing was on for two days.”

With just 10 games remaining in the regular season, Toronto is on a hot Wild Card race with fellow divisional rivals Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. The two clubs involved in the ruckus will not face each other again unless the Blue Jays earn a spot in the postseason and are able to beat their opposition in that single-game playoff matchup.

As if the MLB postseason wasn’t dramatic enough, now there’s an underlying narrative ready to boil over at any moment if the two face each other in a series.

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Eichel stripped of Sabres captaincy, placed on LTIR – TSN



Jack Eichel is no longer captain of the Buffalo Sabres.

Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said Thursday morning Eichel has been stripped of the ‘C’ after three seasons in the role.

“I spoke to Jack two days ago, I spoke to the team yesterday and addressed this, Jack Eichel is no longer the captain of the Buffalo Sabres,” Adams said. “From our perspective, the captain is your heartbeat of your team, and we are in a situation where we felt we needed to make that decision.”

Adams added the Sabres will not have a captain this season.

Adams also confirmed that Eichel will start the season on long-term injured reserve as he remains in a holding pattern with the team on how to best treat his neck injury.

“I think we would all agree that we were hoping to avoid surgery…unfortunately, yesterday Jack did not pass his physical. At this point, Jack is not willing to move forward with what our doctors are suggesting…we will continue to work toward a solution,” Adams said.

TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger reported Wednesday that there is nothing close on the trade front for Eichel, who has been looking for a trade throughout the off-season.

“Well, it’s tough to pinpoint a timeline but we do know there is ongoing discussions with Jack Eichel’s agent Pat Brisson and Kevyn Adams, the general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. They’re on good terms, they have an excellent relationship,” Dreger said on Insider Trading. “We also know that Jack Eichel will start the regular season on LTIR. Now, he saw a team of specialists over the course of the off-season. Some encouraged the artificial disc replacement surgery; however, the Buffalo Sabres remain adamant that the fusion surgery is the best option.

“It’s possible that Eichel gets traded and has the disc replacement surgery under the blessing of a new club, but there’s no guarantee and it doesn’t seem like anything is real close on that front.”

Eichel was limited to 21 games last season due to the neck injury and there has been a long-standing dispute with the team this summer over how to treat the injury.  

The 24-year-old centre has been the subject of trade talk since the end of last season and his former agents released a statement in July trying to spur a trade. He switched agents to Pat Brisson in August.

“What’s critically important to make sure is clear is that we’re in control of this process,” Adams said in July, prior to the statement from Eichel’s then-agents. “We have a player under contract. We don’t feel any pressure.

“If there’s a deal out there that we feel is the right thing for the Buffalo Sabres, that’s going to help us improve – whether that’s improve right away or improve down the road, those are all the things weigh – we’d be open to it. But we’re not in a position where we feel we’re just going to do something to do it. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Eichel had two goals and 18 points in 21 games last season and has five years remaining in the eight-year, $80 million contract he signed with the Sabres in 2017.

He had served as captain of the Sabres since 2018.

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