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As spring begins, Blue Jays aim to build flexibility wherever possible – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – If there’s a theme tying together the early days of the Toronto Blue Jays’ spring training camp, it’s the way the team is prioritizing flexibility.

From high-level decisions regarding 2021 home games and future payroll, to medium-term considerations like roles and playing time all the way to the truly granular, the Blue Jays are attempting to keep their options open. And really, in late February, there’s no need to make any of these decisions just yet. But even as the team’s executives and coaching staff attempt to stay nimble, the way they frame upcoming choices offers some insight into what’s ahead.

“It’s fun for executives, it’s fun for everyone to build that opening day roster,” GM Ross Atkins said on a Zoom call with media Friday. “We have to caution ourselves not to get caught up in the emotion of a spring training decision and (instead) think about season decisions: what gives us the best chance to be in the best position over 162?”

Big picture, this is a team that doesn’t know where its 2021 home games will take place due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But instead of rushing to a decision, they’re still considering a wide range of options split between three locations.

That flexibility even extends to triple-A, as the recently announced schedules of the Buffalo Bisons and Rochester Red Wings are essentially inverted. Since the two teams never have overlapping home dates, the Blue Jays seemingly have the option of sharing Rochester’s ballpark (their alternate training site in 2020) should they need to bump their own triple-A affiliate from Buffalo and use Sahlen Field themselves.

Between the lines, the Blue Jays opened camp with a wide-open competition at the back of their rotation, according to manager Charlie Montoyo. The likes of Ross Stripling, Steven Matz, Tyler Chatwood, Trent Thornton, Anthony Kay, Thomas Hatch and T.J. Zeuch are all in the mix for a rotation spot, and Julian Merryweather will be stretched out, too.

Viewed through the lens of the traditional five-man rotation, that’s a lot of candidates for one open spot, but more realistically, there’s room for all of those pitchers and then some. Consider that the 2019 Blue Jays set a modern-day record with 21 starting pitchers used and the notion of a five-man rotation starts to seem like a fantasy.

Hopefully for Montoyo, the 2021 edition of the Blue Jays won’t be turning to the current equivalent of Buddy Boshers and Ryan Feierabend to start games. This team rightfully aspires to be much better. But there’s still a constant need for innings, especially after the shortened 2020 season.

And while managers and GMs would love to see 200-inning seasons from their aces, the distribution of innings continues changing rapidly. Back in 2016, for example, a 23-year-old Aaron Sanchez pitched 192 regular-season innings on his way to an ERA title.

Five years later, teams aren’t expecting that from their young starters. Even 160 innings might be considered an ambitious target for pitchers coming up now, with the caveat that some innings are far more taxing than others.

“I think that’s a good benchmark, and putting goal posts around that would be fair,” Atkins said. “Anywhere from the 135-200 inning mark. Building towards that carefully with not just innings and workload parameters but thinking about how they’re doing it (from a fatigue and recovery standpoint).”

The current Blue Jays staff includes one pitcher who has ever reached 200 innings (Tanner Roark) and just two pitchers who have ever qualified for the ERA title over a full season (Roark has done so five times while Hyun-Jin Ryu has done so twice).

In theory, there’s a need for another stabilizing presence in their rotation, but after Taijuan Walker agreed to terms with the Mets on a two-year, $20 million deal, Jake Odorizzi is the lone prominent free-agent starter remaining. Walker was genuinely open to returning to the Blue Jays, and while they showed some reciprocal interest, they didn’t appear to engage meaningfully in recent weeks.

Until he signs, Odorizzi remains an option but he’s likely to have serious interest on multi-year deals elsewhere, so the fit in Toronto seems unlikely barring a change. Passing on those starters may prove to be a missed opportunity, but again it connects to the theme of flexibility. Instead of making multi-year commitments now, the Blue Jays are choosing the freedom to enter next off-season with only Ryu, George Springer, Randal Grichuk and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. on the books.

Speaking of which, Gurriel Jr. will be one of the many position players the Blue Jays move around the diamond this spring. Considering his throwing issues prompted his move to the outfield in the first place, no one’s expecting him to play the infield for an extended period. At the same time, there’s little harm in seeing if he can regain some comfort and provide Montoyo with more options.

“We have to envision all of those things and think about all of those potential scenarios that could occur,” Atkins said. “In an ideal world we don’t need to see that for an extended period of time, since that means everyone’s healthy and playing the positions they’re accustomed to. But what we don’t want to do is not think about that early in spring training, not use this time to get guys exposure to different positions.”

Along those lines, Springer, Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Marcus Semien and Cavan Biggio will also be working out at multiple positions this spring. Even if this early work simply affords Montoyo more flexibility to make late-game moves, that’s something.

On an even more granular level, Atkins was asked Friday about the Blue Jays’ likely roster composition. Could they carry nine relievers? Or do they prefer a four-man bench? Clearly, it’s too early to make calls that specific right now, but it sounds as though the Blue Jays are open to either structure.

“We don’t have a lean yet,” Atkins said. “The make-up of our 26-man roster is going to fluctuate a great deal and having some pretty established position players with the additions of Marcus Semien and George Springer really will increase those opportunities to be flexible and creative with our alignment.”

In other words, the Blue Jays can run a short bench if they want to. But, as with other aspects of the roster, that’s not a call they need to make any time soon.

Across the board, that’s been the approach for the Blue Jays as camp gets started. There will eventually be tough decisions to make, but the priority now is simply creating as many options as possible.

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Ace, bunker hole-out, massive putts all part of Jordan Spieth's third round – Golf Channel

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ORLANDO, Fla. – Jordan Spieth got off to a hot start Saturday at Bay Hill.

After sinking a 20-footer for birdie at the par-4 opening hole, Spieth dunked his tee shot from 223 yards at the par-3 second hole. The hole-in-one was Spieth’s third career ace on Tour, following aces at the 2013 Puerto Rico Open and 2015 BMW Championship at Conway Farms.

“I hit a 5-iron, it was 205 front, 220 hole, and the wind wasn’t blowing very hard, so I was trying to peel it left to right to hold the wind and land it a little right of the hole. I hit it a little thin but it was right on the line I wanted and knowing that the grass was wet, you get some skid, I thought in the air it was going to be pretty good. Certainly not as good as it was,” Spieth said.

Spieth’s birdie-ace start moved him to 8 under, a shot off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

He then hit his next shot, a tee ball at the par-4 third, into the water, but he rallied to save par by holing a 32-footer.

The fireworks continued on the next par 3, the 201-yard seventh. No ace this time, but a birdie courtesy a 71-foot bunker hole-out.

Spieth then grabbed sole possession of the lead with this 36-foot birdie putt at the par-4 10th.

Spieth would two-putt for birdie at the par-5 12th but that was the end of his scoring. He missed a 6-footer for par at the 14th and an 8-footer for par at the 17th to drop two shots coming in. He finished with a 4-under 68 and, at 9 under par, was two back of leader Lee Westwood.

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Tom Wilson Offered In-Person Hearing For 'Boarding' Brandon Carlo – Boston Hockey Now

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The NHL Department of Player Safety announced Saturday morning that Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been offered an in-person hearing for ‘boarding’ Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo in the waning minutes of the Bruins’ 5-1 win over the Caps Friday night.

By offering an in-person hearing, the league now reserves the right to suspend Tom Wilson give games or more. Wilson’s last suspension came after the preseason finale for the Capitals and St. Louis Blues in September 2018 for a high hit on Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. The league came down heavy on Tom Wilson then, nailing him with a 20-game suspension, but after he served 16 games, it was reduced to 14 games and he was able to recoup wages lost for two games. At the time that was Wilson’s fourth suspension in 105 games so he was considered a repeat offender but he has since shed that label as he’s gone 166 games without a significant incident.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, and specifically winger Mark Jankowski, may disagree with that after a Wilson late hit on him on Feb. 25.

The hit on Carlo was not called on the ice and as TSN Insider Frank Seravalli pointed out, the fact that it is being termed ‘boarding’ by the Department of Player Safety means this will not be a hearing to determine if Rule 48 (illegal hit to the head) was broken. Tom Wilson will likely become the first player suspended for ‘boarding’.

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Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy described the hit as predatory.

“Well listen, it’s a fast game; they play hard, we play hard,” Cassidy said after the game Friday night. “But I mean you can see it, he clearly hit him in the head. Brandon’s in an ambulance; goes to a hospital obviously from that hit. It clearly looked like to me he got him right in the head. It’s a defenseless player and predatory hit from a player that’s done that before.”

Cassidy, like many who watched the hit, could not understand why there was no penalty on the ice.

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“So, I don’t understand why there wasn’t a penalty called on the ice,” a flabbergasted Cassidy said. “They huddled up but I did not get an explanation why but it’s out of our hands after that, we just gotta play hockey after that and try and stick together as a team and play the right way. Sometimes when that stuff happens and there’s no call, the players kind of settle it on the ice in their own way. We felt that we pushed back and did what we could do and won the hockey game and tried to let that particular player know that that was unnecessary. That’s how we handled it and like I said, I assume it will get looked at by the National Hockey League and they’ll make their decision.”

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Canadiens Game Day: Carey Price will be back in goal vs. Jets – Montreal Gazette

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Right-winger Josh Anderson will be a game-time decision after being on a line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Tyler Toffoli at morning skate.

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Carey Price will be in goal when the Canadiens face the Winnipeg Jets Saturday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., SNE, SNW, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

Head coach Dominique Ducharme is hoping right-winger Josh Anderson can return to the Canadiens lineup after missing the last three games with a lower-body injury. Anderson will be a game-time decision after skating on a new line with centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi and left-winger Tyler Toffoli Saturday morning in Brossard. Before the injury, Anderson had been playing on a line with Nick Suzuki and Jonathan Drouin. If Anderson plays, it looks like Joel Armia will replace him on that line.

If Anderson returns to the lineup, Paul Byron will be a healthy scratch for the second time this season judging by the lines at the morning skate.

“We want to have the best lineup possible,” Ducharme said after the morning skate. “We’ll see what happens with Josh. We’ll have to make a decision about him before the game. We saw some positive signs this morning, so we’re confident he’ll play. But we can’t confirm that he’ll be in the lineup. With respect to the line, it’s something we’d like to see eventually.

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“Josh brings a lot to our team,” the coach added. “He’s a guy who skates and he plays physical. He’s talented and he can score goals. We saw that in the past. He usually has strong starts to games, which is good for us.”

Ducharme said he has been impressed with Kotkaniemi’s play the last few games, which led to him getting new linemates Saturday morning.

“I want to see the combination of speed and skill on that line,” Ducharme said. “But we might see some movement in the lineup within the game on the right side. That’s something that I might feel during the game depending how the game is going and from one game to another.”

Price is coming off a 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators in his last start Tuesday night at the Bell Centre and now has a 6-4-3 record with a 2.96 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage. Canadiens goalie coach Stéphane Waite was fired by GM Marc Bergevin after the second period of Tuesday’s game.

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Jake Allen was in goal when the Canadiens lost 4-3 to the Jets in overtime Thursday night at the Bell Centre, making 23 saves as his record fell to 4-2-3 with a 2.31 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.

The Canadiens are in fourth place in the all-Canadian North Division with a 10-6-6 record, while the Jets are in second place with a 15-7-1 record. The Canadiens have only one win in their last seven games (1-2-4) and two wins in their last 10 (2-4-4). The Jets are 6-1-0 in their last seven games, including three overtime wins. Two of the OT wins came against the Canadiens.

The Canadiens can certainly use the 6-foot-3, 226-pound Anderson against the Jets.

“I think we all knew the kind of player he was coming in,” defenceman Jeff Petry said about Anderson, who was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets during the off-season in exchange for Max Domi. “We’ve all played against him. He’s a guy, his speed, his physicality, just his presence on the ice is very big for our team. To have a guy potentially coming back tonight that plays like that — especially against a team like Winnipeg, they like to cycle the puck, they’re a big team as well. He’s a big, important part to our team and hopefully he’s feeling up to it and feeling good and we can see him in the lineup tonight.”

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This Game Day notebook will be updated after Saturday night’s game.

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An adjustment for Price

Waite did a 15-minute interview Friday afternoon on Mitch Melnick’s TSN 690 radio show and talked about how Price has struggled while adjusting to sharing the net with Allen, something that is new to him.

Waite said the Canadiens expected that would be a struggle for Price at first this season while trying to find his timing and rhythm, but that it would help him in the long run with the team planning to play him two out of every three games starting in March.

Waite said the 33-year-old Price is capable of playing three or four games in a row, but that he has to take care of his body because of previous issues with his knees, hips and back.

“Unfortunately for Carey, that’s a reality right now at his age,” Waite told Melnick.

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When asked if Price is 100-per-cent healthy now, Waite said: “He’s not 100 per cent, but he can play. He’s not hurt, but he’s got some stiffness. He’s got to learn to play with those things right now. That’s the reason why we need a very good backup and that’s exactly what we have in Montreal right now.”

Price has five more seasons remaining after this one on his eight-year, US$84-million contract with an annual salary-cap hit of $10.5 million.

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The lines

Here’s how the forward lines and defence pairings looked at Saturday’s morning skate:

Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Drouin – Suzuki – Armia
Toffoli – Kotkaniemi – Anderson
Lehkonen – Evans – Perry
Byron

Chiarot – Weber
Edmundson – Petry
Kulak – Romanov
Mete

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Power play clicking

The Canadiens’ power play is 3-for-4 in the last two games and 4-for-8 in the first four games since head coach Claude Julien and associate coach Kirk Muller were fired. Muller had been in charge of the power play, which is now the responsibility of new assistant coach Alex Burrows.

Petry said Burrows’s energy and enthusiasm at his first meeting with the team “kind of took everybody by surprise.”

“He’s brought, I guess, a new style to our PP and he’s really focused on making sure that we’re executing not only in games but in practice,” Petry said. “That excitement, enthusiasm that he brings I think is contagious. There’s nothing that he hasn’t covered. We have plays that we’re running off the O-zone draws to our breakouts to our puck retrievals. He’s really hammering home the basic things that we need to do to get us prepared to go out and execute.”

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Petry added that Burrows has been stressing to the two power-play units that the play isn’t over after one shot and has been focusing on puck recoveries.

“After that shot we’re not just watching to see where the puck is,” Petry said. “We got to read it quick and get three guys on it to relieve pressure and get that setup again. I think that’s something that from Day 1 when Burr stepped in is he’s tried to ingrain in us that the play’s not done after one shot. We have to work hard to get it set up again and to sustain the pressure because the longer you’re spending in the O-zone it doesn’t give them a chance to change.

“When fatigue sets in, that’s when the PK makes mistakes so that’s what we’re striving for.”

The Canadiens now rank 15th in the NHL on the power play with a 22.2 per cent success rate.

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New look for Petry

Petry had a new look when he appeared for a video conference after Saturday’s morning skate with a shaved head and full beard.

“I shaved it a couple of times this year,” Petry said about his new hairdo. “Haven’t been able to get a haircut so this is the quickest and easiest way.”

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Waite hopes to find new job

Waite is hoping to find a job with another NHL team, but said that’s unlikely to happen before next season.

“I hope so because I still have that passion for the goalie coach job,” Waite told Melnick on TSN 690. “I still have a passion for the game and I’m still young (55) for a coach. So I think I got some good years in front of me and I would like to be back in the NHL next September.”

The timing of Waite’s firing was very bizarre, coming after the second period of the Canadiens’ 3-1 win over the Senators. Price played well in the game, making 26 saves.

“Honestly, it kind of came from nowhere to me,” Waite told Melnick. “I was very confident that Carey’s going to be good. I think I had a plan with Carey, already we worked four days together (at practice) before that game Tuesday night and we fixed a couple of things. We had a plan. I was so confident that everything’s going to be fine. So there was nothing wrong around me. On the same page with Berg and Dominique for the schedule, everything. … After the second period, the beginning of the third period Berg came in my suite a the Bell Centre and I learned from him right there that I was done.

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“He said: ‘Steph, I decided to make a change and let you go,’” Waite added. “He said he felt that Carey needs a new voice and that for him that was very important that Carey has a good end of season and good playoff because maybe the next time it’s going to be his job. So that’s the reason why. I told him: ‘Berg, I don’t understand. I got a plan and I know exactly what I’m doing. I know Carey’s still with me, he’s still focused. But for Berg that was over, so that’s it. I took five minutes and back downstairs, picked up my stuff and just left (the Bell Centre).”

Bergevin hired Sean Burke to replace Waite as the team’s new director of goaltending. Burke is observing a 14-day COVID-19 quarantine after arriving in Montreal from his home in Arizona. In the meantime, Marco Marciano, the goalie coach for the AHL’s Laval Rocket, is working with Price and Allen while communicating with Burke.

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When asked how he’s doing now, Waite said: “I’m doing better … that was a tough one to swallow, but I’ll be fine.”

Despite the firing, Waite said he still has a good relationship with Bergevin, Ducharme, Price and Allen.

Waite said he will now spend time preparing for his summer goalie school for young goaltenders, which will have sessions in Brossard, Sherbrooke and Terrebonne in July.

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A call from Carey

Waite said Price didn’t learn about the firing until after he had done his post-game video conference with the media Tuesday night. Waite said the goalie called him while driving home after the game and they talked for about five minutes.

“He was a little bit shaky, I think,” Waite said about Price’s voice. “I found him very shaky.”

Price visited Waite at his Montreal condo on Wednesday and they spoke for about 90 minutes.

“It was a little bit emotional, but that was a great talk and that just shows what kind of guy Pricey is,” Waite told Melnick. “He’s a class-act guy. He’s a good person, a good father and I got a lot of respect for him. I know he respects me as well.”

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Attitude adjustment

Price is a man of very few words when it comes to dealing with the media, which can give some people the perception he doesn’t care enough about what he’s doing.

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When asked about that during a video conference the day after Waite was fired, Price said: “It doesn’t matter to me anymore.”

Waite told Melnick that the Price fans see when he’s dealing with the media isn’t the person he knows.

“In front of the media or in front of the camera he’s a guy that doesn’t like the attention of the media,” Waite told Melnick. “He’s not comfortable with that. But he’s a totally different guy with me one-on-one when he’s in my office. He’s a guy who can talk and he’s more engaged, he shows some emotions sometimes — good or bad. He’s a great guy and I know what people think about Carey, but that’s his demeanour and that’s how he is. You just look at him walk and he’s a little bit nonchalant. That’s his personality, that’s him. But he’s not a lazy guy. To me I got nothing to say against Carey about that.

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“That’s something he knows that he tried to improve still,” Waite added. “He told me again last time I met him at my place on Wednesday. He said: ‘I know, Steph, I got to improve my demeanour, my body language, my emotions … show some emotion. I try to work on it, but that’s not easy.’”

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What’s next?

The Canadiens will fly to Vancouver on Sunday to start a six-game Western Canada road trip.

The Canadiens will play the Canucks on Monday (10 p.m., TSN2, SNP, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and Wednesday (11 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). After that, they travel to Calgary to play the Flames on Thursday (9 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and Saturday (7 p.m., SNE, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

The following week, the Canadiens play the Jets in Winnipeg on Monday (8 p.m., ,TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and Wednesday (9 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM), before returning to Montreal for six straight games at the Bell Centre.

  1. Veteran goalie coach Stéphane Waite said he was blindsided by general manager Marc Bergevin's decision to fire him Tuesday night.

    Canadiens expected Carey Price to struggle, Stéphane Waite says

  2. The foundation of the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM) announced on Friday, March 5, 2021, the creation of the Guy Lafleur Fund, in order to raise funds for cancer research.

    Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur lends hand to CHUM cancer fundraiser

  3. Winnipeg Jets forward Paul Stastny (25) is congratulated by Winnipeg Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers on his goal against Montreal Canadiens goalie Jake Allen as Joel Armia looks on during the overtime period at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg on Feb. 27, 2021.

    Hickey on hockey: Canadiens seeking solutions to overtime failures

scowan@postmedia.com

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