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Blue Jays trade beloved all-star outfielder Teoscar Hernandez to Mariners

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Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins gave up a big bat to address an area of need on Wednesday, sending slugger Teoscar Hernandez to the Seattle Mariners for pitchers Erik Swanson and Adam Macko.

Hernandez has been an offensive anchor for Toronto in recent seasons and is eligible for free agency after the 2023 campaign. While his power and clubhouse presence will be missed, Atkins was pleased to land a high-leverage reliever in Swanson and a solid prospect in Macko.

“No trade is ever easy and always comes down to alternatives for both sides,” Atkins said on a video call with reporters. “Fortunately it worked out that it made sense for both teams.”

The 30-year-old Hernandez, who is entering his eighth big-league season, batted .267 last season with 25 homers and 77 runs batted in. An all-star in 2021, the outfielder won Silver Slugger awards that year and in 2020.

He said he enjoyed his time with the Blue Jays and learned a lot over five-plus seasons in Toronto.

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“They trusted me and they gave me the opportunity to show everything that I got and thankfully I did that,” Hernandez said on a video call later in the day.

Hernandez is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility and is projected to earn over US$14 million in 2023.

“We began our off-season with the intent to add impact and length to our lineup,” Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said in a statement. “In adding Teoscar to an already solid foundation, we feel we’ve become a far more dangerous offensive club.”

Swanson was 3-2 with a 1.68 earned-run average over 57 games for the Mariners in 2022. The six-foot-three right-hander has the valued “swing and miss” skill set that hampered the Toronto bullpen at times last season.

“The stuff has been improving and we feel like we have him at a very strong point in his career,” Atkins said. “And he’s still very young.”

The 29-year-old Swanson, who made his big-league debut in 2019, had 70 strikeouts and 10 walks last season. He’s entering his first year of arbitration eligibility and is projected to earn about $1.4 million next year.

Atkins noted that Swanson had a “really remarkable year” getting outs by attacking hitters on both sides of the plate, adding he has the ability to pitch in any inning.

Swanson is under team control through the 2025 season.

“He’s always been a strike-thrower and he’s always had the ability to locate the fastball at the top rail ,” said Mariners GM Justin Hollander. “The split-finger this year really changed [his] universe. It’s something that he’s been working on for a while and he really took it to another level.”

Canadian resident headed to Jays

Macko, a 21-year-old from Bratislava, Slovakia, made eight starts for advanced-A Everett in 2022. He has permanent resident status in Canada after living in Stony Plain, Alta., for six years.

“If we can put him into a position where he can sustain and haul a full season of innings he could become easily one of the better prospects in baseball,” Atkins said. “He’s got the arsenal to do that.”

The trade gives the Blue Jays some financial flexibility and could set up Whit Merrifield, Cavan Biggio or Nathan Lukes for more playing time with outfield regulars Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and George Springer.

Hernandez posted a long thank-you message to fans, teammates and the organization on his Instagram account. He ended the post with an all-caps line: ‘You will always have a great part of my heart,’ complete with a blue heart emoji.

“I think the world of him. We will miss him,” Atkins said. “We got to the point where we felt like the acquisitions on the run prevention side would help us. It does create some flexibility for us as well in terms of resources.

“Thinking about where we had depth, there was an opportunity to move.”

The Mariners swept the Blue Jays in a best-of-three wild-card series last month at Rogers Centre. Hernandez hit two homers in Game 2 but Seattle came back from a seven-run deficit in a 10-9 win.

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Leafs may have lucked out with timing of Auston Matthews and Matt Murray injuries – The Globe and Mail

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and goaltender Matt Murray celebrate after defeating the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena in Denver on Dec. 31, 2022.Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Not that it is ever good to have key players injured, but the Maple Leafs may have caught a break with Auston Matthews and Matt Murray.

With the NHL’s all-star weekend just ahead, both will have more time to nurse what ails them while also possibly missing less action.

Matthews suffered a knee sprain in an overtime victory against the New York Rangers on Jan. 25 and the team’s star centre is expected to be sidelined at least three weeks. It will cause him to miss Saturday’s all-star spectacle in Sunrise, Fla.

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Murray, who had already surrendered the starting job in Toronto’s net to Ilya Samsonov, is now plagued by an ankle affliction and it is anybody’s guess when he will return.

The 28-year-old, whose acquisition was seen as risky owing to his history of injuries, has already missed more than a month with an adductor strain. He has not played 40 games in a season since 2018-19.

“There’s something there that’s going to require time for sure,” Sheldon Keefe, the Maple Leafs’ head coach, said. “We won’t quite know, really, until we come back from the break.”

Toronto has a contest against Boston at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday before its eight-day recess begins. Its next game after that will be at Columbus on Feb. 10.

Despite a lengthy list of injuries, the Maple Leafs have done well over the first two-thirds of the season. They are 31-12-8, second in the NHL’s Atlantic Division and a shoe-in to reach the playoffs even if 11 points behind the Bruins.

Boston is an almost incomprehensible 38-7-5 but arrives in town with three consecutive losses. A win will boost the Maple Leafs’ faint hopes of catching up.

“You want to go into the break feeling good,” Keefe said Monday after a team meeting and an optional workout for players at the Ford Performance Centre. “We expect a tough game for sure.

“Our job is to keep pace and apply pressure a little more, just like the teams behind us are trying to do to us. It is a great way to go into the all-star break. There is a lot of excitement.”

After an uninspired effort in a loss to Ottawa on Friday, Toronto rebounded to dismantle the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Sunday.

John Tavares recorded two assists in the 1,000th game of his NHL career, Morgan Rielly scored for the first time this campaign and Samsonov recorded 23 saves as he ran his record on home ice to 15-1-1.

“We played today more for John,” Samsonov said after improving his record to 17-5-2 overall. He did not realize Tavares was about to reach a milestone until a pre-game ceremony.

“One thousand games,” Samonov said, pausing, “That’s amazing.”

Rielly, who is respected as an offensively skilled defenceman, had gone without a goal in 35 previous games this season. In the best year of his career, he had 20 goals.

“Mostly, I just feel relief,” Rielly said. “We wanted to respond after a bad game against Ottawa. We weren’t very proud of ourselves when we went home from here on Friday.”

Joseph Woll, who is 12-1 with a .928 save percentage for the Toronto Marlies, has been called up from the American Hockey League as Samsonov’s backup.

With any luck at all, Woll will not be pressed to play thanks to the upcoming prolonged break.

But first the Bruins come to town.

“Every game against Boston is special,” Alexander Kerfoot, the Maple Leafs’ forward, said.

William Nylander had an assist on Sunday and on Monday was named the league’s second star of the week. He leads Toronto with 28 goals and is tied with Mitch Marner for the team lead with 59 points.

“We are just trying to carve our way back to Boston,” Nylander said. “We have to keeping winning games and see what happens.

“The Bruins are on an incredible pace and will be hard to catch but we are going to try our best to do that.”

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Cult figure Bobby Hull was a hockey wild man in a bygone NHL era – The Globe and Mail

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Chicago Blackhawks legend Bobby Hull is introduced to fans during a convention in Chicago on July 26, 2019.Amr Alfiky/The Associated Press

Before Bobby Hull showed up, the NHL was long on workmanlike effort and short on rock ’n’ roll erraticism. Now that he’s gone, it’s returned to its former state.

But for a while there, Hull played hockey the way Led Zeppelin played arenas – the most interesting stories didn’t happen in public view, and few of them were the sort you’d want to hear in decent company.

One of the great pure goal scorers in the game’s history and its most notable off-season farmer, Hull bridged the gap between the NHL’s working-class roots and its jet-set aspirations. His career was full of ‘what ifs’ – what if he’d stayed in the NHL past his early 30s?; what if he’d been allowed to play in the Summit Series? The best testament to Hull’s athletic greatness was that despite often working against his own best interests, he still managed to be remembered as great.

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Hull, 84, died on Monday.

Like many of his contemporaries, Hull was the sort they grew big on the farm. Born in rural Ontario, he came up through the provincial ranks and joined the Chicago Black Hawks in 1957. He was only 18, but already fully formed as a player.

In a league full of big, tough men, Hull was bigger and tougher, but also remarkably skilled. His slap shot is still remembered as a weapon of NHL mass destruction.

Teammate Glenn Hall once said of it: “The idea was not to stop that thing, but to avoid getting killed.”

Defending Hull was a special challenge because he didn’t have to find a way around you. He could just go through you.

He remains the only hockey player who is more recognizable with a pitchfork in his hands, bailing hay, than he was in uniform on the ice. Up until the chemists got involved, Hull may have had the most imposing physique in sports history. He put it to brutal use on the ice.

He was the first player to score more than 50 goals in a campaign. He scored more points than anyone ever had in a season. He won a single Stanley Cup, giving him access to the best-ever conversation.

In a two-fisted league, Hull and his Chicago teammates played a particularly exuberant brand of hockey. It made them famous outside the game’s usual strongholds.

Like a lot of other famous people in the sixties, Hull took full advantage of the social perks.

I spent an hour with him in a hotel room a decade ago. He was releasing a book and in high spirits, clearly enjoying the attention. But there was a hook of resentment in every story he told.

“We had guys who liked to have fun. But when they dropped the puck at 7:30, we played guilty,” Hull said. I remember him titled forward, waving his hands around. They were enormous.

Guilty?

“We used to say to each other, ‘C’mon, guys. We were pissed up last night. So now we gotta play guilty.’ And there are a lot of guys who don’t understand that – these coaches, I mean. Don’t bother us, cause we’re the guys who know how to play. I never listened to a coach in my life.”

This sort of approach worked for Hull, until it didn’t.

When he publicly mused that he would consider leaving the NHL to join the upstart World Hockey Association for a million dollars – a ridiculous amount at the time – guess what? They gave him a million dollars. That was 1972.

Having got what he wanted, Hull found out it wasn’t what he needed. Once the biggest deal in the biggest league, Hull became the richest guy in an outfit no one cared about.

He continued to score goals in the WHA through the seventies, but his star dimmed. His turncoat status meant he wasn’t invited to join Team Canada for the Summit Series. Just like that, Hull was cut out of Canadian history.

Eventually, he’d find his way back to the national team and the NHL, but the damage had been done. Hull became a cautionary tale about valuing the wrong things.

Post-career, shorn of the protection that teams and the journalists who cover them offer to active stars, Hull went from colourful to objectionable. In the late nineties, it was reported that Hull had given an interview to an English-language Russian newspaper in which he praised Hitler and denigrated Black people.

Once back home, Hull denied it all. The paper stuck to its version of the story and the issue was left unresolved. Whatever the truth of it, Hull was pushed down to the second tier of NHL legends. He still worked the autograph circuit, but no one was anxious to have him make appearances on behalf of the game.

Hull leaned into his reputation as a hockey wild man rather than a legend of the sport. By that point, he was most familiar to contemporary fans as the father of Brett Hull. That seemed to bother him as well.

Where does Hull figure in the pantheon? As a cult figure.

The NHL’s golden age is chock-a-block with team-first guys who played the game the right way – Howe, Beliveau, Richard, Orr, et al. The hard thing is finding a guy in there that anyone had a bad word to say about.

Hull was the wild card in that pack. He played like a virtuoso and lived like a roadie. He made terrible decisions, but kept emerging from them, diminished but intact. He was hockey’s fallen star, and one who kept falling.

It doesn’t make him heroic, but it does make him interesting.

That time I met him he was going through his own book, looking at pictures of himself and pointing out the other people in them.

“He’s dead. He’s dead. He’s dead,” Hull said, quiet and contemplative for the first time that afternoon. “I hate it when I’m the only one alive in these things.”

Now he’s gone, and an era with him. If it can be said that the NHL had a wild, uncontrollable period in its adolescence, Hull embodied it. Then, like a lot of precocious teens, he never quite get over it.

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Canucks left searching for off-ice leadership in wake of Horvat trade – Sportsnet.ca

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