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Blue Jays’ free-agent groundwork could soon yield payoffs –



TORONTO – About a month into the off-season, the Toronto Blue Jays have surveyed the landscape, done their legwork and apparently have their budget for 2021. Now, general manager Ross Atkins says, they’re ready for action.

“It doesn’t take much at this point for a deal to happen,” he said Wednesday during the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s annual meeting. “I don’t know if it’s days or a week or two before things start to pick up for the Toronto Blue Jays. But we’re prepared.”

Prepared for what exactly remains the subject of much intrigue. They continue to be connected to new names daily, while some industry chatter wonders if a trade is in the offing. The Blue Jays have a surplus behind the plate and “a lot of teams have approached us about our catching,” Atkins said, declining to elaborate on a follow up.

No matter their specific aims, they’re big-game hunting, and making it known that they’re big-game hunting, which is an indication that they’re confident of landing a prime target.

Hence, even with Atkins conceding that “feeling the interest back has reshaped” their current pursuits, the Blue Jays feel that “this is an opportunity to not only impact this team this off-season, but it’s an opportunity to impact this (team) for years to come.”

“As we’ve talked about, this is just one step in the process, as last trade deadline was, as last off-season was,” he continued. “This is another point in time where we have an opportunity to add talent. And what we’re thinking about is not only positional fits, whether that be pitching or outfield/infield/catching, but also how it will impact our environment for some time to come.

“So that’s something we’re talking to free agents and targeting free agents for, is how they will influence Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette and Vladdy (Guerrero Jr.) and Ryan Borucki and Jordan Romano and others.”

That’s a description befitting the likes of George Springer and D.J. LeMahieu, two players believed to be high atop their list, and other names they’ve been connected to, such as J.T. Realmuto. The sudden flooding of the free-agent market with players non-tendered ahead of Wednesday’s deadline – a deeply troubling purge of the game’s middle class – created some new opportunities for the Blue Jays, but they’re not achieving Atkins’ stated goals in that shopping aisle alone.

They also seem to have received approvals from team owner Rogers Communications Inc., which also owns this website, for their spending plans. Asked if the club’s 2021 budget has been OK’d, Atkins replied: “There have been several interactions, as there always are. We feel well-positioned. We feel like everyone understands our plan and everyone understands our opportunities. We feel well-positioned to proceed on executing them.”

Let’s condense those 33 words down to one, as that sure sounds like a yes.

Within that plan, Atkins said the Blue Jays “are in a good position to make the team better on both sides of the ball,” although he stressed that the club’s resources weren’t “unlimited.”

How those resources get divvied up bears watching, as after Robbie Ray was re-signed, Atkins said the Blue Jays felt good about covering a season’s worth of innings, and were focused on the quality of their innings as opposed to the quantity from here on out.

Save for ace Trevor Bauer, some of the better starting options are already off the free-agent board, which is why the Blue Jays seem positioned to strike on the position-player front first and secure impact there, circling back to the pitching market afterwards.

“I would say that’s a fair assessment, but it’s not by any means that I feel strongly that is the case,” said Atkins. “But I think the way that you framed it is fair.”

What they manage to accomplish in terms of adds will help determine how they line up the pieces already in place.

The decision to non-tender Travis Shaw, while not surprising, underlines that the Blue Jays believe they will find an infield upgrade. LeMahieu is the ideal option both from an offensive standpoint and his ability to play at any of the bases, but he may be impossible to pry from the New York Yankees, or perhaps the Mets.

Allowing the Blue Jays to examine a host of options is that Biggio can remain primarily at second base, move over to third or be bounced around the diamond. Atkins also won’t rule out the possibility that Guerrero is part of the solution at third base, describing him as one of the variables impacting where Biggio ends up playing, the other being who they end up acquiring.

“The great thing, and it’s the biggest compliment I can possibly make, at least in my view, to Cavan, is he has two incredible attributes that give us an incredible opportunity to have the situation just described,” said Atkins. “One is he has the athleticism and ability to do it. And two, he has the openness and values it himself and what it means for a chance to win. I think he prioritizes that. He prioritizes team and that’s a huge benefit for the Toronto Blue Jays.”

Even better would be if the Blue Jays reward him with some certainty about his defensive responsibilities for 2021. Given all the groundwork that’s been laid in recent weeks, and with the virtual winter meetings due to begin next week, payoffs on a number of fronts may soon start coming.

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Canadiens’ dominant win vs. Canucks another reassuring sign for GM Bergevin –



Marc Bergevin, in one of his dapper suits, stretching out a mask with a smile so wide his face must be sore. That’s what we’re picturing right now as the Canadiens pack their bags and prepare to return to Montreal with 10 points banked in the standings following this season-opening, cross-country, six-game road trip.

He had a vision for this team, one he outlined before training camp got underway when he said, “We mean business, we’re here to win, and we can play any way you want,” and it’s come to life immediately—with an easy-on-the-eyes, 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday providing more vivid confirmation.

Still, the Canadiens’ general manager couldn’t have expected this right off the bat. No matter how excited he was about adding Jake Allen, Joel Edmundson, Alex Romanov, Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson, Corey Perry and Michael Frolik to a team that proved to him, in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoff bubble, it was much further along than a 24th-placed finish in the regular season would’ve indicated. He had to be concerned about this all coming together quickly after an abbreviated and exhibition-less camp.

But the GM must be elated now.

Allen went 2-for-2 behind Carey Price, Edmundson gradually found his place and offered precisely what was expected of him, Romanov entered the NHL in an eye-opening, “Hello, world” kind of way, Toffoli recorded seven of his eight points on the season in three games against the Vancouver team he left to join Montreal, Anderson tripled his goal output and equaled his point total from an injury-riddled and forgettable 26-game 2019-20 campaign, and Perry made his Canadiens debut with a goal on his very first shot and offered a performance reminiscent of most of the 1,045 games he’s played in this league.

Poor Frolik is still waiting for his chance, stuck behind a deep crop of forwards playing faultless hockey.

It’s a full-team story so far. The Canadiens lead the NHL with 29 goals, with 16 of 20 skaters filling the net. The defence has produced more points than any other group of six in the league. The power play has cashed in on more than a quarter of its opportunities, the penalty kill has allowed six goals and scored four, and the team has ravaged its opponents at 5-on-5.

As coach Claude Julien said after Saturday’s convincing win, “It’s what we hoped for when we made all these acquisitions.”

In his wildest dreams, he couldn’t have seen it going quite this well this soon.

“We’ve found a better balance, and we wanted to assure ourselves that we had that,” Julien said. “We have 56 games and we’re playing almost every two days, so it’s important to have that balance and that depth. We have it in front of the net, we have it at every position, and it showed again tonight … These things have already revealed themselves.”

Other things have been revealed, too.

When we interviewed Bergevin just before the Canadiens left for Toronto to start this road trip, he told us his team’s defence was “not going to be fun to play against,” and so far that’s clear.

The evidence mounted from city to city, with Toronto’s Auston Matthews wearing the marks of Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot crosschecks, with Edmonton super-scorers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl combining for just one assist between them through two games, and with Vancouver star Elias Pettersson—desperate to snap a miserable early-season funk—being held to just one goal in three games.

And then there was what the Canadiens did to everybody else. It just seemed like everywhere the Leafs, Oilers and Canucks turned, those bleu, blanc et rouge sweaters were right in their faces.

“The pace hasn’t changed,” Bergevin told us after watching training camp. “What made us a fast team in the past is still available to our team.”

That’s undeniable now.

And the variety Bergevin hoped the Canadiens would offer was featured throughout this trip, with a 55 per-cent share of the 5-on-5 shot attempts and 137 hits thrown.

Are these Canadiens tough? Like an Edmundson left hook to Tyler Myers’s cheek.

Seeing the six-foot-four defenceman give up more than a couple of inches to avenge the Myers hit that concussed Joel Armia was a sign of how well him and the other new guys have integrated.

“Just awesome for a guy to step up like that,” Jonathan Drouin said of Edmundson’s decision to fight Myers. “When we saw (Myers) didn’t get suspended, we knew it was going to happen; somebody was going to fight Myers, and just for him to step in like that—he had a great fight, too—it’s just huge leadership.”

Drouin loved what he saw from Perry, too.

Perry had to wait five games on the taxi squad to take Armia’s place in the lineup. He’s a Stanley Cup-winning, gold-medal-wearing legend of the game, and he’s willing to push his ego aside for one significant reason.

“I’m here to win,” he said. “I believe in this group, and you can see through the first six games and (you saw) through training camp everyone’s here to win and show everybody that we mean business.”

Nick Suzuki means business. He has vaulted his way to top-line centre status with at least a point in every game and with the type of defensive commitment that had Drouin refer to him on Saturday as “a mini Patrice Bergeron.”

Centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi, at 20 years old, has Perry impressed.

And both Suzuki and Kotkaniemi are probably making Bergevin feel good about the fact that he didn’t give either one of them up to get a six-foot-three, 218-pound, 22-year-old, established Francophone centre who reportedly wanted to join this Canadiens team but ended up being traded to Winnipeg on Saturday.

The GM doesn’t have Pierre-Luc Dubois, but he’s got the team he hoped he had before things got started on Jan. 13.

“All four lines are firing and we’re playing solid defensively on the back end,” said Edmundson. “So, it’s been good. It’s nice to see everybody contributing. Just gotta continue that.”

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Fresh off Laine blockbuster, Jets dominate offensively to top Senators –



Paul Stastny, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler each had three-point nights in a 6-3 Winnipeg Jets win over the Ottawa Senators at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg late Saturday night.

Both players scored a goal and added two assists in the Jets’ win (4-1-0), their third consecutive victory over the Senators (1-3-1). Andrew Copp also added a pair of goals, while Wheeler had three assists.

Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers also scored for Winnipeg.

Evgenii Dadonov, Brady Tkachuk and Nick Paul each scored a goal for Ottawa in the loss.

Senators goalie Marcus Hogberg made 32 saves in the loss, while Connor Hellebuyck made 18 saves for the Jets.

Ehlers opened the scoring with 5:57 left to play in the first period with a power play goal. Ehlers quickly fired a shot past Hogberg after receiving a pass from defenceman Neil Pionk. Adam Lowry also picked up an assist on the goal.

The Senators’ offence woke up in the second period with three goals. Dadonov tied the game a little over four minutes into the period. It was the Russian’s first as an Ottawa Senator.

Connor would later give the Jets the lead once more, scoring his fourth of the season to make it 2-1. Scheifele and Wheeler each picked up an assist on the goal.

Tkachuk then tied the game with 8:46 to go in the second. Tkachuk retrieved a backhand pass from Austin Watson with a Winnipeg Jet draped behind him. Tkachuk would then spin around and fire on net, beating Hellebuyck between his legs.

Paul gave the Ottawa Senators their first lead of the game with over five minutes to play. Paul fired a shot into the top-right corner of the night for his second goal of the season.

Copp then tied the game in the early stages of the third. Paul Stastny handled the puck in the offensive zone before passing the puck to Copp, who redirected the puck towards goal but hit the post. Copp would immediately bury the puck into the back of the net.

The Jets would take the lead on a power play goal from Stastny with 4:15 left to play. Prior to the goal, Senators forward Derek Stepan lifted the puck out of play and was later called for a delay of game penalty. Stastny would soon take advantage with his first goal of the season.

Copp added a fifth goal for the Jets seconds later as he whacked at the puck several times in front of Hogberg, eventually earning his second of the night.

Stepan fired a puck from distance to put his team within one, but the goal was reviewed and eventually waved off after a Senators player was offside.

The Jets would eventually put it out of reach thanks to an empty-net goal from Scheifele with 2:09 to play in the third.

Winnipeg will be back in action Sunday night against the Edmonton Oilers. Ottawa will play the Vancouver Canucks Monday night.

NOTES: Earlier today, the Jets acquired centre Pierre-Luc Dubois and a 2022 third-round draft pick from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for winger Patrik Laine and centre Jack Roslovic…Blake Wheeler’s assist on Kyle Connor’s second period goal was the 500th of his career.

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Canadiens 5, Canucks 2: Lacklustre performances becoming too common – The Province



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But as has been the case too often through the first week and a half of the season — an astoundingly short period that also feels like it’s taken forever — they couldn’t put enough together and then surrendered two goals in the third to the Habs, settling the game for the visitors.

“Frustrating, for sure,” Pettersson said about losing the way they did, as both goals came off turnovers by the Canucks.

“We’ve got a lot of things to work on. I need to be better, play better defence.”

Head coach Travis Green tried to put a positive spin on his team, saying he liked the effort over the first 50 minutes.

“Sometimes when you’re not on top of your game, you’re looking for a better game. I thought we got a better game out of our group,” he said. “By good game, I don’t mean we were out and creating all kinds of chances, but I think we stuck with it.”

The Canadiens’ goals were scored by Nick Suzuki, Corey Perry, Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin and Joel Edmundson into an empty net, while Pettersson and Höglander scored for the Canucks.

It was also the 350th career win for Habs goalie Carey Price.

Here’s what we learned …

Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson battles for the puck with Montreal Canadiens’ Paul Byron as the Canucks host the Canadiens on Saturday at Rogers Arena. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

You know he needed that

Pettersson has had a rough start to the season. He mostly hasn’t looked himself. There have been moments of confidence — like his between-the-legs effort on a breakaway on Wednesday that didn’t lead to a goal — but mostly he’s looked to be squeezing his stick too hard.

Finally, Saturday, he got a bounce, making a perfect tip of a point shot by Jordie Benn, deflecting the puck down toward the ice and past Price into the Montreal net.

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