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column Oilers in playoff spot at season pause helped by meeting, GM says –



On Dec. 27, general manager Ken Holland, assistant general manager Keith Gretzky, director of salary cap management and assistant to the president Bill Scott, coach Dave Tippett and his staff sat together for two hours in the coaches office at Rogers Place to brainstorm after a 5-1 loss to the Calgary Flames was the Oilers’ eighth in 10 games.

“We knew that we had to try to do something, so we called up (forward) Kailer Yamamoto (from the American Hockey League) and the coach made a decision that he was going to separate (forwards) Leon [Draisaitl] and Connor [McDavid],” Holland said. “From that point in time … Yamamoto came up and found chemistry with Leon, and we had Leon on one line and Connor on another, and it made it a little more difficult for the opposition matchups.”

From there, the Oilers were 17-8-5 until the pause, with production spread out on two lines. Yamamoto, who made his season debut Dec. 31 in a 7-5 win against the New York Rangers, has 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in 27 games. 

Video: EDM@CHI: Draisaitl feeds Yamamoto for goal

Edmonton (37-25-9) is second in the Pacific Division, three points behind the Vegas Golden Knights with the season paused due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

“We played our way into the thick of things,” Holland said. “We’re in a playoff spot now, only [five points] from being out, but we’re in the game. I remember thinking at the start of March that we were in a good position, controlling our own fate. …

“The goal in the short term was that we could be competitive and be in the playoff race when the calendar turned to March.”

The Oilers did that by improving their competitiveness and consistency — they lost three straight games in regulation once this season — and by playing better defense. Edmonton allowed 3.03 goals per game, 15th in the NHL at the pause, compared to 3.30 last season, 25th in the League.

A big part of the success has been reliable play from goalies Mikko Koskinen, who is 18-13-3 with a 2.75 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in 38 games, and Mike Smith, who is 19-12-6 with a 2.95 GAA and .902 save percentage in 39 games.

Video: WPG@EDM: Smith shuts the door on Copp

All of that is a backdrop to the play of Draisaitl, who leads the League with an NHL career-high 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists) in 71 games, and McDavid, who is second with 97 points (34 goals, 63 assists) in 64 games.

“When you’ve got a team with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, two of the best forwards in the game today, the goal as a manager is to build a team, to try to find a supporting cast so that we are competing for the Stanley Cup,” Holland said. “It’s why we’re all in this game. How do you compete for it? First, you do it by making the playoffs. And if you can make the playoffs annually, you get multiple chances at it. If you don’t make it, you can’t compete for the Cup.

“[You start thinking about] making the playoffs two years in a row, but then it gets harder and harder. Everybody’s trying to build their team. I signed a five-year deal coming to Edmonton (on May 7). The short-term goal is to be in the race. Looking forward to next season and beyond, how do we make our team a little bit better and deeper?”

Video: EDM@NSH: Draisaitl dazzles with four-goal game in win

With so many things to be determined in the short-term, it’s difficult for Holland to come up with a clear picture too far out. During the pause, he’s talking to Oilers chairman Bob Nicholson multiple times a day, to Tippett every other day, and to his hockey operations staff and scouts on a regular basis.

“We’ve been giving our pro scouts some assignments, to watch teams they haven’t covered, doing some video scouting and putting in some reports, and it’s helped them get a feel,” he said. “We’ve had some conference calls already, planning to do them regularly.

“On the amateur side, I’m talking to (director of amateur scouting) Tyler Wright all the time. You’ve done all the work and we’re as ready as anybody for when the [2020 NHL] Draft will be held.”

Holland said he’s had in-depth discussions with Scott and Gretzky about the plan next season for their American Hockey League affiliate in Bakersfield, which will not make the Calder Cup Playoffs this season.

Holland and his wife, Cindi, are spending the pause at their offseason home in Vernon, British Columbia, about a nine-hour drive from Edmonton. He said it’s easier to self-isolate and practice social distancing there.

“The most important thing is for everybody to be safe,” Holland said. “You’ve heard the prime minister and the president and all the health officials talking about the importance for all of us to be social distancing, to stay home, to have as little contact as possible with nonfamily members. We’re all thinking about making good decisions, including for those around us, because we’ve got to get this virus under control.

“And then somewhere down the road, hockey is an important part of a lot of peoples’ lives. And in Edmonton, it’s something that’s really important for our fans, to have somebody to cheer for, to make the community feel good. But in the short term, it’s all about making the right decisions from a health standpoint, to protect one another via social distancing, don’t be in gatherings and let’s shorten this time frame so that soon we’ll start to get a more normal world back.”

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Trump does not have a 'moral bone in his body': TFC's Michael Bradley – Toronto Sun



An “angry” and “horrified” Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley made an impassioned plea on Thursday to try be “part of the fix” in terms of better understanding the racial inequality and social injustice that has continued to plague the black community.

Asked for his comments on the state of affairs in the wake of the George Floyd tragedy, Bradley stated unequivocally that “if we want any chance to start to fix those things, then (Donald) Trump can’t be president, as simple as that.

“There is zero leadership in our country right now. Zero,” Bradley, a native of Princeton, N.J., said. “We have a president who is completely empty. There isn’t a moral bone in his body.

“There’s no leadership from the president, there’s no leadership from the Republican senators who have sat back and have been totally complicit with everything he’s done for the three and half years.

“That part now comes to a head,” the seventh-year TFC midfielder continued. “I just hope that people are able to go to the polls in November and think about more than just what is good for them, more than what is good for their own status, their own business, their own tax return. I hope that people can go to the polls and understand that in so many ways, the future of our country and the future of our democracy is at stake — to think about four more years with Trump, what that would mean. How terrible that would be for so many people.”

Bradley said he is “disgusted and embarrassed that we still live in a world where black men, black women, black children fear for their lives on a daily basis.

“We have all been a part of the problem,” he said. “The reality is we have to find real ways to confront this head on. And what we’ve been doing, the way we’ve been living up until now, is not good enough. It’s not enough at this point to say you don’t want to talk about it. It’s not enough at this point to say, ‘Well, I don’t use the n-word or I have friends who are black and I look at them as equals’ … No, those things aren’t enough. We all have to do more, we all have to educate ourselves more. We all have to have more difficult conversations. We need to do the best that we can to understand that there is a perspective in a world totally different than the one that we’re used to. To think again that in 2020 we can watch black men and black women get murdered in broad daylight … if that doesn’t (rock) you to your core, then you are a big part of the problem.

“And as a white man, as a privileged white man, I have to look harder at myself in terms of how I’m not just sitting by and taking all of it in, but doing more to really help make a difference,” he added.

Bradley addressed the issue of Major League Soccer and the MLSPA managing to ratify the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, clearing the way for a return to the field.

Bradley called the process “frustrating,” adding that the league used heavy-handed negotiating tactics, which didn’t sit right with the players, particularly in the middle of a pandemic, though he did add that the players are very excited to start training and playing.

Having the CBA ratified means that the plan to have players train and then play in a tournament to kick-start the resumption of the MLS season will likely go forward.

It also means that most MLS players, including members of TFC, began small group training at their respective training grounds on Thursday.

MLS is considering a plan to bring all the players down to Walt Disney World near Orlando this month to begin training for a tournament-style format which would start in July and involve all 26 teams where each club would play at least five games.

Under the plan, all members of each team, from players to support staff, would live under quarantine at one of the resorts near Walt Disney World, while both practices and games would primarily take place at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports. Disney-owned ESPN is one of MLS’s broadcast partners.

MLS teams played two regular season games before the league suspended play on March 12 because of the COVID-19 outbreak. TFC opened the season on Feb. 29 with a 2-2 draw at San Jose against the Earthquakes and defeated New York City FC 1-0 on March 7 at BMO Field.

From a personal perspective, Bradley said he is excited that his right ankle joint — which required corrective surgery in January — is all but healed and is now able to take part in training.

Bradley, 32, was expected to be out until June because of the surgery and now it seems he will not miss any more games. The surgery involved the fixation of loose cartilage fragment in his right ankle joint, suffered in the MLS Cup final in November.

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Toronto FC captain says Donald Trump doesn't have 'a moral bone in his body' – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

Published Thursday, June 4, 2020 7:23PM EDT

Last Updated Thursday, June 4, 2020 11:08PM EDT

Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley pulled no punches Thursday, lamenting the “zero leadership” south of the border as the U.S. is ravaged by racial unrest.

The longtime U.S. skipper took square aim at president Donald Trump.

“We have a president who is completely empty. There isn’t a moral bone in his body,” Bradley told a media conference call.

“There’s no leadership. There’s no leadership from the president, there’s no leadership from the Republican senators who have sat back and been totally complicit in everything he’s done for the last 3 1/2 years.”

Bradley urged his fellow Americans to speak with their ballot in November, saying it was “impossible to overstate” the importance of the coming election.

“I just hope that people are able to go to the polls in November and think about more than just what is good for them, more than what is good for their own status, their own business, their own tax return. I hope that people can go to the polls and understand that in so many ways, the future of our country and the future of our democracy is at stake.

“We need as many people as possible to understand that at a real level, to think about what four more years with Trump as president, what that would mean, how terrible that would be for so many people.”

Referencing racial inequality and social injustice, Bradley added: “If we want any chance to start to fix those things, then Trump can’t be president, it’s as simple as that.”

The 32-year-old Bradley has run through the gamut of emotions while watching the violence and unrest unfold in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while three police officers restrained him – one with his knee on Floyd’s neck.

“I’m angry, I’m horrified, I’m sad and I’m determined to do anything and everything I can to try to be a part of the fix,” he said. “Because it has to end. And we all have to be part of that fix.”

He acknowledged that while he has much to learn on the issues, politicians, policy-makers and businesses have to be held accountable.

“My man Mike is a as real as they come. Nothing but the truth here,” teammate Joze Altidore tweeted.

Bradley has criticized Trump before. In January 2017, he said he was “sad and embarrassed” by Trump’s travel ban aimed at citizens of predominantly Muslim countries.

The TFC captain, while happy to see the MLS labour impasse over, noted there had been “some real difficult moments along the way.” That included a threat of a lockout from the league.

Such tactics “did not sit well with the players,” he said.

He also said there had been a frustrating absence of dialogue right from the beginning of talks, which he acknowledged played out against an unprecedented global threat.

“This, at a certain point for me, was about what’s right and what’s wrong in the middle of the pandemic. And the way to treat people and the way that you look after people. I kept coming back to that idea. That we have all put so much into growing the game in North America, at all levels – ownership, league office, executives coaches, players, fans.

“Everybody is important to what we’re trying to do. To try to dismiss any of the entities that I just named would be short-sighted and disrespectful because the game is about everybody.”

He said he would have loved to have seen everyone get on the same page early on and find a way “to cut through the (bull).”

“To just say ‘This is where we are right now. Nobody has a playbook. Nobody has any answers but how are we going to come out better and stronger from all of this? … I think conversations would have carried so much more weight and I think we would have been able to avoid so much of the way certain things played out.”

Bradley underwent ankle surgery in January to repair an injury suffered in the MLS Cup final loss in Seattle on Nov 10. His rehab over, he was part of a small group training session Thursday.

“I’m doing well,” he said. “I’m continuing to make progress … At this point physically I feel really good. My ankle feels really good. And now it’s just about training. Getting back into real training in a way that now prepares me for games.”

Still, he said injuries are an issue in the league’s return to play given the time that has passed since the league suspended play March 12.

“That is a big concern,” he said. “And it’s not a big concern only amongst players. I know that has been a real topic amongst coaches and sports science staff and medical staff.”

While teams will do everything possible to get the players ready, a compressed schedule at the Florida tournament that awaits teams won’t help injury fears, he said.

“That certainly is a big question. Maybe the biggest question when you get past the initial health and safety stuff of COVID, among players and coaches and technical staff,” he said.

“How are we going to give ourselves the best chance to win, but also do it in a way where guys are at their highest level both technically and physically”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2020.

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NBA owners approve 22-team season restart plan – CityNews Toronto



The NBA’s Board of Governors has approved a 22-team format for restarting the league season in late July at the Disney campus near Orlando, Florida, another major step toward getting teams back onto the court and playing games again.

The format calls for each team playing eight games to determine playoff seeding plus the possible utilization of a play-in tournament for the final spot in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference post-season fields. The National Basketball Players Association has a call on Friday to approve the plan as well.

Thursday’s vote was the most significant step yet in the process of trying to resume a season that was suspended nearly three months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic. There are numerous other details for the league to continue working through – including finalizing specifics of what the testing plan will be once teams arrive next month at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports complex and the calculating the financial ramifications of playing a shortened regular season.

“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts.”

Meanwhile, a person speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the details of the ongoing talks have not been publicly released, said the NBPA and the NBA are continuing to work on a “lengthy” medical protocols document. The details of that document will be shared with teams once those discussions are completed, said the person, who added that teams should receive them in plenty of time for them to prepare for their arrivals at the Disney-ESPN complex.

The NBA also said it is planning to have the draft lottery Aug. 25, the draft on Oct. 15 and start next season on Dec. 1.

If all 22 teams that are going to Disney next month play their allotted eight games before the post-season begins, the NBA would play 1,059 games in this regular season. That means 171 regular season games would be cancelled, which could cost players around $600 million in salary.

Those 22 clubs would play somewhere between 71 and 75 regular season games if the Disney portion of the schedule is completed, down from the customary 82-game slate. The teams who didn’t qualify for the restart will see their seasons end after having played somewhere between 64 and 67 games.

But one of the biggest hurdles is now cleared, and if things go according to plan an NBA champion for a season unlike any other will be crowned in October. The season could go into that month if the league goes ahead with its plan for the same playoff rules as usual, that being every round utilizing a best-of-seven format.

Teams will likely arrive at the Disney complex around July 7. Once there, camps will continue and teams will likely have the chance to have some scrimmages or “preseason” games against other clubs before the regular season resumes.

Thursday’s move by the board of governors – one that came, coincidentally, on the same day this season’s NBA Finals would have started if these were normal times – was largely a formality. The NBA considered countless restart options after suspending the season on March 11, whittled that list down to four possibilities last week and from there the 22-team plan quickly began gaining momentum.

The 22-team plan includes all teams that were holding playoff spots when the season was stopped, plus all other clubs within six games of a post-season berth.

Milwaukee, the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston and reigning NBA champion Toronto had already clinched playoff berths. Now with only eight games remaining for each team, it means that eight other clubs – Miami, Indiana, Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver, Utah, Oklahoma City and Houston – have post-season spots secured, and Dallas virtually has one as well.

That leaves nine teams vying for three remaining playoff berths. In the East, Brooklyn, Orlando and Washington are in the race for two spots. In the West, Memphis, Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix will jostle for one spot.

If the gap between eighth place and ninth place in either conference is four games or less when the shortened regular season ends, those teams will go head-to-head for the No. 8 seed. The team in ninth place would have to go 2-0 in a two-game series to win the berth; otherwise, the No. 8 seed would advance to the post-season.

Thursday’s decision also means that the seasons for Atlanta, Cleveland, New York, Golden State, Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago and Charlotte are over. The Knicks will miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, the third-longest current drought in the league behind Sacramento and Phoenix – who still have chances of getting into the playoffs this season.

And with the Hawks not moving on, it also means Vince Carter has almost certainly played the final game of his 22-year NBA career – the longest in league history.

Carter, the first player in NBA history to appear in four different decades, is retiring. He appeared in 1,541 NBA games, behind only Robert Parish (1,611) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,560) on the league’s all-time list.

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