TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays were left scrambling after their regular-season plan was rejected by a government for the second time in five days, as the Pennsylvania Department of Health turned down their plan to share PNC Park with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday.
An agreement between the teams to share the picturesque stadium was locked down late Tuesday night, but was pending clearance from local and state officials. But much like Canadian federal government, which on Saturday denied a proposal for staging games at Rogers Centre, the state’s health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, found too much risk in the idea.
“To add travellers to this region for any reason, including for professional sports events, risks residents, visitors and members of both teams,” she said in a statement to Will Graves of The Associated Press.
Dr. Rachel Levine says in statement to AP “To add travelers to this region for any reason, including for professional sports events, risks residents, visitors and members of both teams.”
— Will Graves (@WillGravesAP) July 22, 2020
The decision delivered another massive blow to a Blue Jays organization that had been trying to regain equilibrium after the Toronto plan that had been its sole focus fell apart.
Where the Blue Jays go from here is unclear – they had also been exploring a split of Camden Yards with the Baltimore Orioles, and Buffalo’s Sahlen Field has been their reluctant, if-all-else-fails backup – but their plight underlines the challenges of staging a season amid a pandemic.
Everything right now is in the mix.
Nothing has been easy for the major leagues’ only Canadian club, which started its summer camp late while it awaited governmental approval to train in Toronto, and then had to work through player discomfort over the possibility of a summer quarantine before their regular-season plan was quashed.
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The Pirates offered them a lifeline, and are said to have gone over and above in their efforts to help out the Blue Jays. That GM Ben Cherington and AGM Steve Sanders were lured over from Toronto during the off-season surely helped, although in a statement released Monday, president Travis Williams said, “leaning in to help others is what Pittsburghers do best.”
If the logistical issues can be cleared up – and they are plentiful at any big-league park – the Orioles home schedule matches up well with the Blue Jays home schedule. The only conflicts are July 29-Aug. 2 and Aug 14-16, but figuring out where to set up an alternative clubhouse, where to locate the clubs and ensuring all protocols are followed requires time that no one has.
ESPN’s Buster Olney was the first to suggest that the Blue Jays play their entire home schedule as the host team at the stadium of their opponent, but that would turn the season into a 60-day road trip.
If that were the case, the Blue Jays would never be in one spot for more than four days until Sept. 7-17, when they are set to host the Yankees and Mets and visit the Yankees.
During their initial exploratory work, the Blue Jays also looked into bouncing between Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, although a multi-stadium plan is less ideal because it means more temporary elements such as third clubhouses are needed.
Similarly, Buffalo’s Sahlen Field is also substandard when compared to big-league facilities and would need sizable infrastructure investments to bring the lighting, clubhouses and training areas up to par, and protocol compliant.
Toronto Maple Leafs hope others step up with injured Jake Muzzin out for series – TSN
TORONTO — The Maple Leafs have lost top-pairing defenceman Jake Muzzin to injury for the remainder of their qualifying-round playoff series against Columbus, but they aren’t in any mood to wallow.
“I believe that in our game in particular, everybody’s replaceable,” head coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters on a Zoom call from the NHL’s Eastern Conference Hub at the Royal York Hotel on Wednesday. “Every single player is valuable, and Muzz certainly is among the most valuable and important people. But we’re going to have guys come in and we’re going to step up and just continue rolling along as a team.”
The Leafs were less than two minutes away from closing out the Blue Jackets in Game 2 on Tuesday night when Muzzin, out killing a penalty, was cross-checked from behind by Pierre-Luc Dubois and tripped head-first into Oliver Bjorkstrand’s knee.
Muzzin stayed down on the ice surrounded by medical personnel for nearly 15 minutes, before being stretchered off and taken to a local hospital accompanied by general manager Kyle Dubas. The 31-year-old has since returned to the Leafs’ bubble and will remain in quarantine and hopeful of a return if Toronto advances.
When play resumed on Tuesday, the Leafs finished off Columbus without Muzzin in a 3-0 shutout, to even their best-of-five series at one game apiece. But with Game 3 and Game 4 looming in the span of 24 hours on Thursday and Friday, there’s precious little time to make adjustments.
“It’s obviously tough. [Muzzin’s] a huge part of our team,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly. “It’s important that we have guys that are willing to take on more responsibility. I don’t think you can replace what he does for our team but I think it’s important to have other guys help [fill] that void. He really offers a lot, but I think it’s a good opportunity for guys to play more minutes, to play in different situations and rise to the occasion.”
Keefe got to work on altering his blue line in Wednesday’s practice, sliding Travis Dermott up to replace Muzzin beside Justin Holl as the Leafs’ top pairing, and adding Martin Marincin to the mix on the third pairing with Tyson Barrie.
Keefe had played Dermott and Holl together late in the regular season when Muzzin had previously suffered a broken foot, and they earned mixed results. Per Natural Stat Trick, in nearly 300 minutes playing together, Dermott and Holl were outscored 12-11 by opponents when on the ice, but held nearly 51 per cent possession.
Regardless, Keefe still felt confident enough to explore that option again.
“Both guys were taking on greater responsibility [back then],” Keefe explained. “Holl had really been doing it most of the season, had taken a big step, in terms of his responsibility and his role. Dermott is evolving and taking on more as it comes. It’s really been injury situations that have given him increased opportunity throughout the entire season and this is no different. [He showed before] just that he can handle that [promotion] when called upon.”
In the 16 games Muzzin was sidelined for due to injury in 2019-20, Toronto still managed a 7-5-4 record, and are at least somewhat familiar in how to get by in his absence. But Muzzin’s impact on the group is felt all over, from inside and outside the dressing room.
During the regular season, Muzzin averaged the third-most minutes among Leafs at 21:36 per game and was their second-most used penalty killer, averaging 2:31 shorthanded per night. That’s part of the reason why Keefe tapped Marincin, and not rookie Rasmus Sandin, to step in for Muzzin – not only does Marincin bring comparable size (his 6-foot-5 frame nearly mirrors Muzzin at 6-foot-3), the 28-year-old also logs heavy minutes on the kill, averaging 1:40 shorthanded in 26 regular season appearances.
“We think that Marty brings some of the elements that Muzz brings,” said Keefe. “Obviously he doesn’t replace Muzz in the intangibles that he brings; he’s a very important player for us. But there are some elements in particular [that Marincin has], like the penalty killing and the size. So there’s some similarities there in terms of what he can provide us and that’s important.”
Marincin hasn’t played in an NHL playoff game for Toronto since 2017, but was a key part of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies’ Calder Cup run in 2018. That’s a far cry from the championship pedigree Muzzin brings to the group, as a Stanley Cup winner with the Los Angeles Kings.
So while everyone may be replaceable in theory, some elements aren’t transferable. In the high-stakes playoff series at hand, Toronto will have to thoroughly test its own perseverance.
“I think [his contributions] start with the off-ice aspect, in terms of being a leader,” Rielly said. “His playoff mentality, he has experience, he’s played in these games before so that’ll be missed. But I think on the ice, just playing tough minutes against the opponent’s top line, playing penalty kill minutes. He’s a big tough guy out there for us that blocks shots, leads by example. We’re going to miss him, but it’s an opportunity for guys to step up and take more responsibility and have an impact.”
Oilers 50/50 sales close early with 'historic, record-setting' $5.4M-jackpot – CTV Edmonton
Sales for the Edmonton Oilers’ online 50/50 closed eight hours earlier than expected after what the team is calling “historic, record-setting sales.”
After Monday’s total pot hit just over $3 million between 9 a.m. and the 10:30 p.m. deadline, Albertans bought $5,417,130 worth of tickets by 2:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“Our online 50/50 service provider continues to upgrade server capacity to improve fan experience,” the Oilers said. “The volume of purchasers has been unprecedented. You should expect improvements in the very immediate future as we chase yet another 50/50 record. We will work diligently to address the maximum ticket issue in advance of Friday’s game to give Oilers fans every opportunity to support the raffle.”
The winning number for the $2,708,565-jackpot, which the Oilers are calling a world record, will be posted online no later than 11:30 p.m.
The program supports the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation.
The Oilers are facing the Chicago Blackhawks at 8:30 p.m. The best-of-5 series is tied 1-1.
Sales for Friday’s jackpot will go live at 9 a.m. Albertans can purchase tickets online.
Maple Leafs' Muzzin discharged from hospital, out for rest of series – theScore
He will be unavailable for the remainder of the team’s qualifying-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets due to injury, but he will remain in quarantine within the hotel.
Late in Game 2 on Tuesday, Muzzin was cross-checked from behind by Blue Jackets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois. The hit caused Muzzin to awkwardly fall face-first into the leg of Columbus winger Oliver Bjorkstrand.
The league reportedly won’t look into supplementary discipline for Dubois.
The series is tied heading into Game 3, which will take place Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.
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