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Bergevin, Julien must take Canadiens to next year’s playoffs to keep jobs safe – Sportsnet.ca

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All of the Montreal Canadiens are going to wear the failings of this season, but no one in particular is going to own them. That much is clear after Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin did a round of interviews in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday — on top of this exhaustive one with La Presse’s Mathias Brunet last week—and confirmed that head coach Claude Julien will be on the team’s bench at the start of next season.

Julien, who’s under contract for two more seasons after this one, isn’t taking the fall for what’s all but guaranteed to be a third consecutive playoff miss for the Canadiens this spring.

Neither is Bergevin, who’s also under contract until 2022.

That the GM is securing Julien’s position for next season at this point in time — he confirmed to our Elliotte Friedman, for an interview that will be dissected in this week’s 31 Thoughts, that this was his decision alone and that none of his core players were consulted before he made it—tells you that he has the authority and support from ownership to make major decisions for the team beyond this season.

And you know what else seems clear? That Bergevin doesn’t intend on making many (if any) drastic changes to Montreal’s core.

Even if his message was completely muddled after last Monday’s trade deadline passed, the one thing he repeated several times that afternoon was that he trusts he has the right nucleus of players to get the team to the playoffs.

On Tuesday, Bergevin doubled down on that.

“Making changes just to make changes often doesn’t work,” Bergevin said in an interview with TVA Sports’ Renaud Lavoie. “I have confidence in Claude Julien, I have confidence in our team.”

Whether or not that confidence is well-founded can certainly be argued. The Canadiens are a team that’s currently nine points out of a playoff position, a team that has scored the 17th-most goals and allowed the 15th most per game, a team that ranks 19th on the penalty kill and 20th on the power play, and a team that ranks 30th in win percentage when leading after two periods. It seems logical (if not pertinent) to ask if those problems can all be fixed internally and with a few strategical tweaks from the coaches and a better buy-in level or performance from the players in place.

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Even if we know Bergevin intends to make some moves—he told Brunet he’d consider trading a forward for a defenceman if the opportunity arises this summer, and he said in his various interviews Tuesday that he will continue to try to improve his roster—it’s fair to say his biggest gamble as general manager is banking on drastic improvement without invoking fundamental change.

It has to pay off in the form of a playoff berth next spring for him and Julien to continue to have their jobs secured.

That means players like Tomas Tatar, Jeff Petry, Phillip Danault, Joel Armia and Ben Chiarot have to build on career-best seasons they’re currently enjoying.

It means franchise goaltender Carey Price has to maintain the type of play we’ve seen from him since Jan. 1 (he ranks top five in every traditional category except save percentage, where he ranks eighth) and not have drastic, month-long dips like he has over the last two Novembers. Captain Shea Weber is going to have to stay healthy, which is something (through no fault of his own) he hasn’t been able to do in his last three seasons. Jonathan Drouin is going to have to return as the player we saw at the beginning of the season, before wrist surgery and an ankle injury destroyed his campaign. Max Domi — if he isn’t used as trade bait to acquire a top-four defenceman—has to perform closer to the way he did in his first season with the Canadiens.

It also means Nick Suzuki needs to improve on an excellent rookie season, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling and Cale Fleury need to show they’re prepared to be impactful NHL players; and though expectations are smartly being tempered by Bergevin, it means Alex Romanov needs to step into the position that’s been carved out for him on Montreal’s third defence pairing and show that he can help the Canadiens balance the minutes on their blue line much more than they did this season.

Just as much (if not more) will be riding on Bergevin’s ability to unearth a player at this year’s draft who’s prepared to offer immediate help. It will be riding on his ability to make a shrewd trade (or two) and a couple of key signings on the open market — to acquire some more size, more talent, plus a backup goaltender capable of playing upwards of 25 games and winning at least half of them.

And even if the GM told Lavoie that he likes “the way (Julien) manages our young players, but also our players with more experience,” and that he finds the coach is “a very good teacher,” Bergevin must demand significant adjustments from the 59-year-old coach who could personally miss the playoffs for a sixth time in the last seven seasons if the Canadiens fail again next year.

Both Bergevin and Julien are being given a golden opportunity to continue shaping a brighter future for this team. If they can’t propel the Canadiens further down that path as early as next spring, it should be their last one.

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Blue Jays squander another good start from Gausman as offence held in check again – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – This is a time for the Toronto Blue Jays to get greedy and to do that, first they’re going to have to continue the process of getting themselves right.

Settling for two of three against the similarly wayward Seattle Mariners after Wednesday night’s 5-1 loss isn’t ideal, but the dreadful Cincinnati Reds are due for a visit beginning Friday, so the opportunity to bank some wins on the current homestand is still at hand.

Capitalizing on that, of course, is easier said than done and the Blue Jays offence is still scattershot enough that nothing can be taken for granted. No one is doing consistent damage and while general manager Ross Atkins before the game went to great lengths to cap-tip the calibre of pitching his team has faced, this lineup was supposed to give even elite arm fits.

Find-a-way nights like Tuesday’s 3-0 win against the BB-throwing Logan Gilbert need to be a more regular occurrence, and against crafty left-hander Marco Gonzales on Wednesday, all they eked out was a measly Vladimir Guerrero Jr. bases-loaded walk.

Now, that walk was good process, part of Guerrero not expanding the zone, taking what’s on offer and being willing to pass the baton to cleanup man Teoscar Hernandez, who is still working to regain his timing at the plate and grounded out. But when runs are hard to come by, every little missed opportunity becomes more glaring and that’s what happened in the sixth when Gonzales alertly picked off Hernandez at second base after a one-out double.

The score was still 2-1 at the time, the Mariners opened the game up from there and the Blue Jays didn’t threaten again before a crowd of 20,472.

“This is an offence that usually we swing the bats and everybody’s fine and you can come back in a 4-1, 5-1 game. But it seems like now somebody scores four runs and it seems like 10 and that happens when your offence is struggling,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “When (plays like Hernandez getting picked off) happen, it’s magnified. Just like when a reliever comes in and gives up a run or something, it’s like oh my God. But the guys have been pitching good, it’s a close game every game.”

Gonzales largely leaned on a sinker-changeup mix, mixing in his cutter and curveball just enough to plant the options in the minds of Blue Jays hitters, en route to six innings of one-run ball. But he was also helped by 12 chase swings along with several rips at borderline pitches.


That fits a pattern Atkins acknowledged when he conceded that, “yes, we’ve chased more than we like.”

“But it’s been really good pitching and don’t want to lose sight of that,” he quickly added. “At the same time, when we are good, we’re executing our game-plan exceptionally well.”

Clearly, that’s not happening right now and it’s continuing to cause the Blue Jays to squander good starts, this time another from Kevin Gausman. While not nearly as dominant as he’s been to this point – he got only seven swinging strikes in his five innings of work – he cleverly limited damage while often getting BABIP’d.

“To be honest, a lot of those first inning hits are just good hitting on their part,” said Gausman. “I made my pitch and none of them were hit that hard, but just kind of found their holes. I just knew if I stayed there that I wasn’t going to have another inning like that. I just felt confident.”

The first inning might have been pivotal, as he escaped a bases-loaded, none-out jam by allowing only a Jesse Winker sacrifice fly and he remained unscathed until Cal Raleigh took him deep to open the fifth inning and put the Mariners up 2-1.

Hernandez’s pick off was the Blue Jays’ sixth of the season, pushing them to second most in the majors, and then Trevor Richards, extended into a second inning of work, gave up a two-out single to Adam Frazier and then a two-run homer to Ty France that effectively pushed the game out of reach.

The bullpen, still down Jordan Romano who’s day-to-day with gastrointestinal infection and Tim Mayza, on the injured list getting a second opinion to confirm that his left forearm inflammation is indeed just that, continues to face relentless pressure every night.

According to one of Baseball Reference’s leverage indexes, the Blue Jays began the day tied with Arizona for the most high-leverage relief appearances at 55. Expecting them to be perfect is unfair and too often the offence has forced them into precisely that spot.

Nonetheless, they’ll still go into the off-day at 20-18 after winning a series for the first time this month. Gausman’s performance Wednesday extended what’s been the club’s one steady strength this season, starting pitching, and that’s really been the pillar for the Blue Jays to this point.

“I feel like we have a beast-calibre guy going any given day,” said Gausman. “More than that, we have a lot of different looks that are coming at teams. From the left side (Yuseii) Kikuchi throws 97 with a split and then you got (Hyun Jin) Ryu from the left side, too, and it’s a completely different pitcher. Then there’s Jose (Berrios) and obviously (Alek) Manoah, all those guys are completely different. So I think we match up really well against a lot of lineups because of it.”

That’s an excellent starting point and it has them sixth in the American League as they approach the quarter-mark of the season. The Blue Jays will need their offence to come around to be better than that.

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Undaunted by history, Flames and Oilers will craft their own Battle of Alberta legacy – Sportsnet.ca

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CALGARY — A throng of media-types three times the size as normal welcomed Matthew Tkachuk and the rest of the players to the podium yesterday with questions about a rivalry they know very little about. 

What they do know is they’re in the middle of something special, which Tkachuk got a hint of his very first NHL game. 

“My first memory was the first game in the new rink in Edmonton,” he said. “Everybody was in their seats for warmups. I thought that was pretty crazy. As I was skating out on the ice, I don’t remember perfectly, but Gretzky and Messier were out there doing a few laps or something. I’m 18 years old, thinking, ‘I don’t think I’m ready for this.’” 

A large majority of the players in this series weren’t born when the last BOA series was 31 years ago, sparking shrugs from most of them when asked about what they knew of the hockey played back then. 

“Not much,” said Elias Lindholm, 28. 

“It wasn’t on in Sweden, so nothing,” added Jacob Markstrom with a grin, as he was a one-year-old then. 

“Just big moments in NHL history,” said Tkachuk. “I’m serious when I say I didn’t know about it until I got drafted. It’s gotten bigger the last few years with both teams playing a lot better and maybe meeting each other in playoffs, and here we are.” 

Tkachuk’s brother, Brady, has been busy riling up fans in the Dome and throwing out t-shirts in support of his brother’s club. The Senators captain was also seen hoisting a child on his shoulders as part of his celebrations. 

 “I’m surprised his parents let him go on Brady’s shoulders,” laughed Tkachuk. “I think that was kind of a spur of the moment thing.” 

Call Your Shot? 

The beauty of The Battle has always been that just when you think they’re going to have a Pier 6 brawl all night long, the Flames and Oilers give us an incredible night of high-skill hockey. And just when you settle in for some buckled down, defensive hockey, you get a goalie fight or — like on a whacky Saturday night earlier this season — a 9-5 shootout

This season, Edmonton beat Calgary 5-3 and 5-2, and the Flames won 3-1 and 9-5. Neither team won on the road. 

“I think you’ve seen both sides when we played each other in the regular season,” said Connor McDavid. “You’ve seen low-scoring, tight-checking games. Obviously the last time we were in here it was a 9-5 gong show, pretty much. We want to be a checking team and that’s the brand that they want to play as well. 

“I think you’ll see low-scoring nights and nights where there are a couple more goals, but I would expect it to be a pretty tight-checking series.” 

Asked if he still had friends on the Oilers, Milan Lucic smiled. 

“For the next however many days? No.”  

Next question. 

Asked how he thought Edmontonians feel about Wayne Gretzky’s prediction the Flames would win, Lucic chuckled. 

“I’m sure they don’t like it, but he’s just giving his expert opinion,” he said, putting an emphasis on the word expert. 

Battle Goes Net Front 

The Calgary Flames are the bigger team — there’s no dispute there. And if it comes down to fisticuffs, Calgary is in a better spot, with their toughness centred nearer the bottom of their lineup in Milan Lucic, Brett Ritchie, Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov, while two of Edmonton’s toughest guys are 25-miniute man Darnell Nurse and top six left winger Evander Kane. 

As such, the Oilers want to make this series about speed.  

“We want to be the first mover. We want to put an emphasis on speed,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft. “For us, speed trumps perfection.” 

Calgary is not L.A., when it comes to size and the ability to control net fronts at either end of the ice. The Zadorov-Gudbranson pairing is vastly bigger and tougher than anything the Kings had, and up front the Flames have players like Lucic and Ritchie (if he dresses), tough players who go to the net hard. 

How do the Oilers go about winning the net front battle at both ends of the ice?  

“There are things that we can do defensively, and things that we can do offensively,” Woodcroft said. “Something that we talked about (Tuesday) was that the team that’s going to come out on top is the one that’s willing to pay the price. The one that’s willing to do it harder, and for longer.” 

In the end, as one would expect, the challenge gets steeper as a team moves from Round 1 to 2. The Kings took Edmonton to seven games, but Calgary presents a must greater impediment. 

“Yes, it’s a new challenge, a new task,” the coach said. “A complete different animal, a team that’s at the top of the Pacific Division for a reason. They do a lot of things really well. We’re gonna have our hands full.” 

The phones of Flames alumni have been blowing up the last few days, sparking Joel Otto to say, “Us old guys are relevant again.” 

“I think it’s important for the province. I’m a Calgarian now — lived here since the late 90’s — and understanding the passion between the two cities and how important it is to ‘one-up’ one another,” said Otto. 

“They used the word hate but it’s a grudge match.” 

Incidentally, the last Flames player to score an OT winner in Game 7 at home was Otto 33 years ago, which was a somewhat controversial deflection off his skate. 

“I’ll tell all my grandchildren it was similar to what Johnny did,” he laughed. 

“There aren’t a lot of comparisons other than it was Game 7.”

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Player strike brings CFL to tipping point – CBC Sports

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This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

For a third straight year, the CFL schedule has been interrupted. Players on seven of nine teams launched a strike on Sunday, when the collective bargaining agreement signed just ahead of the 2019 season expired. Elks and Stampeders players are set to join tomorrow when Alberta’s labour laws allow.

At this point, the 2022 interruption remains minor, with the only damage being delayed training camps. The first pre-season game will likely be cancelled if there’s no agreement today. The regular season, slated to begin June 9, remains salvageable — if also a little too close for comfort.

But the latest league tension only underlines the rough recent past of Canadian football. The 2020 season was cancelled when the CFL, under the guidance of commissioner Randy Ambrosie, failed to get its ducks in a row in the wake of COVID-19. Ultimately, players weren’t paid and the league is said to have lost between $60 and $80 million.

Even the 2021 campaign was postponed and shortened as a result of the virus, leading to a Grey Cup in December. Many said the level of play dropped off in 2021, as reflected in lacklustre offences and attendance concerns throughout the league. Meanwhile, the fate of the Atlantic Schooners, introduced as an expansion team ahead of the 2018 Grey Cup, remains unclear nearly four years later.

The field is empty but the stadium screens still show signs for the Ottawa Redblacks’ training camp at TD Place in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Contrast that to the Canadian Elite Basketball League. The fledgling organization, which began play in 2019, could likewise have crumbled under the pressure of the pandemic. Instead, led by former CFL player Mike Morreale, it organized a two-week Summer Series in 2020 and returned with a full slate of games in 2021. For the upcoming 2022 season, three expansion clubs will bring the team total to 10 — one more than the CFL.

For now, the CFL’s work stoppage does not appear overly contentious. The sides broke off talks over the weekend, but there’s already a mediator in place who can facilitate negotiations as soon as they’re ready to return to the table. After Ambrosie revealed the league’s latest offer on the weekend, officials from both sides have been unavailable — though Tiger-Cats players picketed outside of Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton yesterday.

In an open letter, Ambrosie wrote that the proposal included an increase of $18.9 million in guaranteed salaries over seven years. However, The Canadian Press said a closer examination of the proposal revealed that projection to be well off — with additions of at least $100,000 to the salary cap each year beginning in 2023, the true number would be $5.4 million. The CFL’s proposal also included a minor increase in minimum salary and allowed Americans in their fourth season with the same team or their fifth in the league to count toward the Canadian ratio. Read more about the league’s proposal here.

While the union has mostly kept its demands quiet, earlier league proposals that included no increases to the salary cap and the complete eradication of the Canadian ratio (which requires 21 players, including seven starters, per team to be Canadian) offer a hint at their platform issues.

The only other player strike in CFL history occurred during training camp in 1974, but was settled in time for the regular season. Maybe by the time the 2022 Grey Cup rolls around in November, the current strike will be viewed as nothing more than a speed bump in a successful return-to-normal season.

But if games are missed for the third straight year, the viability of the CFL itself could be up for debate.

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