What are the stakes tonight?
“They’re huge,” said Team Canada centre Alex Newhook. “We know what’s on the line. We know the opponent we’re playing is a really good opponent and they’ve had a good tournament so far. We’ll have to bring our A game if we want to take the group.”
A win and Canada takes top spot in Group A and faces the Czech Republic, fourth place in Group B, on Saturday. A loss leads to a knockout-stage date with either the United States or Sweden.
Team Canada spent one hour and 15 minutes on the ice yesterday, but after only 30 minutes of drills Andre Tourigny allowed his players to work on individual skills and have some fun. The coach said most of the adjustments at this stage of the tournament will be made through video sessions and chats with players.
“I like where our guys are at,” Tourigny said. “They’re all business. They’re smiling, but they’re all business. I can feel a good vibe, good prep, you can see it in their eyes, but at the same time they’re not tight. They’re ready for the competition.”
Team Canada has outscored the opposition 29-3 at the World Juniors while not trailing for even a second through three games. But they haven’t faced an opponent like the Finns, who are the only other undefeated team at the tournament.
“They’re a pretty fast group,” said Phil Tomasino, who has four goals and two assists despite skating in a fourth-line role. “We haven’t seen that type of speed the last few games so it’ll be a good challenge. We’re ready. We’ve watched a lot of video and prepared really well for it.”
“The last couple games it’s really been us taking it to them and the other team sitting back,” noted Jets first rounder Cole Perfetti. “Finland, they’re a crazy-skilled team and it will be a really good battle. It’s going to be good for us, heading into the medal round, to play a team like Finland to get us prepared and get us to tune-up on the defensive side of the game and stuff we haven’t had to work on as much the last couple of games.”
Team Canada will have to pay close attention to Finnish captain Anton Lundell who’s posted six points and leads the tournament in face-off percentage.
“They are the best team in face-offs in the tournament,” said Tourigny, “so they are a puck-possession team and they start with face-offs so we will have a good challenge on our face-offs tonight. We want to be a puck-possession team as well.”
When Tourigny shuffled his lines ahead of the Switzerland game on Tuesday, Perfetti and Newhook ended up together on a line with Peyton Krebs.
“It’s nice to play with Newy,” said Perfetti. “It was a lot of fun. Growing up I always played against him and that was the first time I played on a line with him.”
“Me and Perf have been close for a while,” said Newhook. “Playing against him, I’ve seen the stuff he can do with the puck and it’s fun to watch, but more fun to be a part of. When I moved to Ontario I played against him for two years there in the ETA [Eastern AAA Hockey] and OMHA [Ontario Minor Hockey Association] so great battles with him. We have a good relationship going and that chemistry will help moving forward.”
Newhook was born in St. John’s, but moved to Ontario at age 14 to further his hockey career. And playing with the York Simcoe Express allowed Newhook to form a relationship with former NHL goalie Curtis Joseph, who posted a supportive message on Twitter this week. The tweet included a video of Newhook scoring on Joseph on a breakaway.
— Alex Newhook (@AlexNewhook_) December 31, 2020
“I actually played with his son for two years and me and Luke are best buddies so I got to know Curtis a bit. He’s a great guy and I did get him once in a shootout so that’s something I’ll take with me forever. We’ve stayed in touch over the years and for him to put that out is pretty funny. He’s a down-to-earth guy and I’m really fortunate to have met him.”
Joseph provided Newhook with insight on how a goalie sees things.
“It was kind of cool, actually,” Newhook recalled. “I’ve learned a lot from him life-wise just kind of asking questions about his path and what he’s gone through and then, from a goalie’s perspective, yeah, he kind of told me a bit of how he thought about guys coming down on shootouts and he helped me a bit on shootouts.”
Team Canada has scored 29 goals at the World Juniors with four coming off the stick of a defenceman. Moncton’s Jordan Spence, a healthy scratch in all but one game so far, and Mississauga’s Thomas Harley have potted one each while Prince Albert’s Kaiden Guhle has a pair. Guhle, a Canadiens prospect, scored on a rocket from the point during Tuesday’s win over the Swiss and said he worked hard on his shot during the lengthy pandemic pause.
“You can never shoot enough pucks so whenever I got asked to go shoot on goalies for goalie ice I did it,” Guhle explained, “or just going out in the summer time and putting down some plastic ice and a net, I tried to do that.”
— #WorldJuniors (@HC_WJC) December 30, 2020
The smooth-skating Guhle, who brings a physical presence to Canada’s blueline, has worked hard in recent years to improve his offensive game. Last season, he posted 40 points in 64 games, which was a 23-point increase over the previous campaign.
“It was about puck skills and being more confident with the puck and allowing more things to open up,” he explained in a summer interview with TSN.
Ryan Suzuki scored his first World Juniors goal in his first game on Boxing Day, which led to a funny message from brother Nick Suzuki.
“He texted me and said, ‘At least one of us has a goal in this tournament!’ So he was pretty good about it. But whenever I talk to him it’s usually about other stuff and not hockey.”
The Montreal Canadiens centre produced three assists in five games in Vancouver as Canada lost in the quarterfinals at the 2019 World Juniors. Ryan, meanwhile, is now up to two goals this year in Edmonton.
Team USA forward Arthur Kaliyev has used the same bizarre tape job on his stick since he was 13. There’s almost no tape on the blade and almost an entire roll at the the top of the stick.
“It is brutal,” said teammate Trevor Zegras. “His stick weighs 50 pounds maybe and nobody really knows why he tapes his stick like that. He told me it feels like a tennis racquet, his knob, so whatever that means. Pretty crazy. Never seen anything like that.”
TSN pressed Kaliyev for an explanation.
“I just liked it better than using a full blade,” he said. “I just liked it, that’s all. I just like how it feels. I prefer less tape.”
OK, and how about all the tape up top?
“I got the idea from a tennis racquet. I liked the feel so I started using it on my stick.”
Kaliyev scored 44 goals in 57 games with Hamilton of the Ontario Hockey League last season so it’s hard to question his approach.
“People are shocked at first,” he said. “They think it’s crazy, but whatever works for me.”
Projected Team Canada line-up:
Holloway – McMichael – Cozens
Perfetti – Newhook – Krebs
Quinn- Byfield – Pelletier
Mercer – Suzuki – Tomasino
Byram – Drysdale
Harley – Schneider
Guhle – Barron
Projected Team Finland line-up:
Hirvonen – Lundell – Simontaival
Pyyhtiä – Pärssinen – Lambert
Järventie – Nikkanen – Räty
Korhonen – Helenius – Petman
Hatakka – Heinola
Kokkonen – Puutio
Viro – Niemelä
Rivers retiring after 17 seasons in NFL – TSN
Veteran quarterback Philip Rivers told Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune he is retiring after 17 seasons in the NFL, 16 with the Chargers organization.
Rivers spent the 2020 season with the Indianapolis Colts, leading the team to the playoffs before losing to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card Round.
The 39-year-old threw for 4,169 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.
Prior to his lone season in Indianapolis, Rivers played 16 seasons with the Chargers split between San Diego and Los Angeles.
Rivers was drafted fourth overall by the New York Giants in 2004 before getting traded to the Chargers as part of a deal for Eli Manning.
An eight-time Pro Bowler, Rivers finished his career with 63,440 yards, 421 touchdowns, and 209 interceptions. He ranks fifth all-time in the NFL in both passing yards and touchdown passes.
Blue Jays’ big swing on Springer marks turning point for franchise – Sportsnet.ca
TORONTO – After years spent trying to raise the roster’s floor, the Toronto Blue Jays are now raising the franchise’s ceiling.
A $150-million, six-year deal with free-agent outfielder George Springer that is pending a physical, according to an industry source, is certainly one way to do just that, marking a significant inflection point for the franchise.
The agreement is the richest in Blue Jays history, moving past the $126-million, seven-year extension Vernon Wells signed in December 2006, and is easily the club’s deepest free-agency plunge, nearly doubling the $82-million, five-year deal for Russell Martin in November 2014.
On the heels of the $80-million, four-year deal for Hyun-Jin Ryu last winter – the biggest outlay to a pitcher by the Blue Jays – this is a stride by president and CEO Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins back toward the upper third of the big-leagues, with room to grow.
Assuming that Springer’s salary is spread evenly at $25 million a year, the Blue Jays now have just under $100 million committed to 12 players for the upcoming season, with more moves to come. Factor in roughly $10 million for pre-arbitration eligible players, they can still make adds without blowing too far past their pre-pandemic projected 2020 spend of $108 million.
The financial efficiency of the current roster will diminish somewhat in the coming years when salaries for the club’s young core escalate as they become arbitration-eligible.
But assuming life regains more normalcy in 2022 and beyond and the Blue Jays deliver on their potential, revenue growth should keep pace with the escalating payroll, allowing them to not only make attempts to retain the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio before they become eligible for free agency after 2025, but to keep augmenting the roster, too.
In that way, going big now for Springer – an athletic centre-fielder with a strong, positive presence, seasons of 3.9, 4.5, 5.0 and 6.5 WAR as calculated by FanGraphs and a track record of post-season performance – makes sense.
There are some similarities between where the Blue Jays are right now and where they were in the late 1990s, with young, deeply talented rosters positioned to rejuvenate the business after a fall from grace.
Back then, former GM Gord Ash was forced to work around the indifferent ownership of Interbrew S.A., the major coup of signing Roger Clemens undermined when he asked out after the 1998 season, and the roster was never sufficiently reinforced with external adds.
Failing to leverage a talented young group featuring Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, Shannon Stewart, Alex Gonzalez, Chris Carpenter, Kelvim Escobar and Roy Halladay is a haunting missed opportunity, and failing to bolster the group now would have been similarly damaging.
In Springer, the Blue Jays are adding a proven elite performer to support Guerrero, Bichette, Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, Danny Jansen and Nate Pearson, putting the 31-year-old in place to do a good chunk of the heavy lifting.
Beyond that, he makes the Blue Jays a much deeper club, and one thing they have aspired to is creating surplus on the roster, allowing them to better survive injuries and to mitigate against underperformance.
That’s why the report from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic saying the Blue Jays would continue to explore adding Michael Brantley, Springer’s close friend and Houston Astros teammate, makes sense, even if as a left fielder/DH, he’s a positional redundancy.
For one, surplus creates the opportunity for trades and Gurriel, for one, has wide appeal given his abilities and a very efficient $14.7 million total price tag for the next three seasons. But the Blue Jays would also be fine carrying more talent than available at-bats, knowing the inevitable attrition of a major-league season will largely sort that out.
Such an approach has allowed the Los Angeles Dodgers to be a sustainable winner, which is what the Blue Jays hope to become. It was a telling moment at the trade deadline last summer when Atkins pointed to the now defending World Series champions as the model to follow.
“It’s never all-in at one time – it’s a steady growth,” he said Aug. 31, when asked to contrast the Blue Jays’ approach to that of the San Diego Padres. “They continue to build up their system. They’ve continued to make their 40-man roster more efficient and obviously very effective. It’s important to be measured, and there isn’t one juncture where, in our view, that you put all the cards on the table. For us it will be, hopefully, continuing to be able to build and have a system that continues to provide talent for us, and not just trade pieces. That’s our goal.
“We’ll hope to continue to be measured. At the same time, it’s not without making really significant deals that mean very, very high prices. But it’s too hard to say on when exactly that time will be where those bigger deals occur.”
That time arrived late Tuesday night and it’s a turning point for the franchise, a significant step after near-misses this off-season for Francisco Lindor and D.J. LeMahieu, among others.
The Blue Jays needed an add like Springer, not only to placate fans who eye-rolled their way through months of reporting that linked the team to every free agent of consequence, but also to be credible to their own players, to show them that they can get the help they need.
Many needs, however, remain.
The rotation requires a boost and the pending-physical deals with Tyler Chatwood on Monday and Kirby Yates on Tuesday, the latter for one year at $5.5 million with the potential for $4.5 million more in bonuses for appearances, per a source, demonstrate how they’re trying to protect themselves with a deep bullpen.
The Blue Jays also intend to add an infielder, while Brantley, a left-handed hitter, would help balance a lineup that’s nearly totally right-handed if signed.
No matter, after adding Springer, they are better, much better, in so many different ways.
The cost was steep and the back-end of such deals aren’t usually pretty, but that’s OK. Adding an extra year and the extra dollars is simply the price of doing business.
More important is that the Blue Jays didn’t play it safe, didn’t shy away from the risk, and rather than finding the reasons to say no when the moment of truth arrived, they turned the franchise in a new direction by saying “yes” instead.
Three potential reasons why the Toronto Raptors have waived Alex Len – Raptors Rapture
Alex Len has just been waived by the Toronto Raptors, which is important because it is most likely signaling another transaction.
The Raptors were not making this move for cap space, as Alex Len was signed to a very small contract, but the team was using up all 15 contracts that the team is allotted. Therefore, another player is probably coming into the fold to replace Alex Len.
Yuta Watanabe being converted to a one-way contract.
Yuta Watanabe has been a pleasant surprise for the Toronto Raptors coming off of the bench this season. He picked up the Raptors’ defensive schemes very quickly and was able to come in off the bench. While he is not a flashy offensive player, his strong defense quickly turned him into a fan favorite with the team.
Alex Len being waived opens up an extra one-way contract spot, which would allow Yuta Watanabe to come in and take that spot. If Watanabe were to remain on his two-way contract, the Raptors would have to abide by the rule of only being able to play him for 50 games. If they were to do this, the Toronto Raptors must be very confident in Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher at the centre position.
A potential trade for another centre.
Perhaps the team waived Alex Len to open up a contract spot for a potential trade. There are a few centres on the market, such as Marvin Bagley and Andre Drummond, and trading for a new centre may have needed the Raptors to take on an additional contract. This waiving could mean a lot of things in a possible trade, but the most important thing here is that it opens a roster spot.
Marvin Bagley is an intriguing player. He has had some injury issues, but his player progression timeline fits much better with Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and the other young players on the roster. Making a move for him would allow him to complement Chris Boucher’s skillset very well, and he still has a ton of time to improve, only being drafted in 2018.
The Raptors 905 stand out
The Raptors 905 has begun their training for the upcoming G league bubble, and the Toronto Raptors most likely did some scouting on their practice. The Raptors have always been known for their ability to use the G-League to develop prospects, so maybe someone like Dewan Hernandez or Henry Ellenson performed well.
Ellenson, in particular, was not bad offensively during the preseason games this season, but Yuta Watanabe’s outstanding play made him not make the team. Perhaps the team liked what they saw from Ellenson’s offense, and thinks that they can bring him in to provide more offense from the centre position while also bringing more size than Chris Boucher too.
Dewan Hernandez is an interesting player for the Raptors to consider. He had major injury issues during his first season with the team, but perhaps the team is thinking that he has bounced back well from his injury.
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