Door swings open for Maple Leafs’ Sandin after Rielly, Muzzin injuries - Sportsnet.ca - Canada News Media
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Door swings open for Maple Leafs’ Sandin after Rielly, Muzzin injuries – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — This is an unvarnished opportunity for Rasmus Sandin.

In fact, if you’re a 19-year-old prospect aching for a NHL breakthrough, you can’t really hope for better.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, down their top two defencemen, suddenly need Sandin to munch minutes. And if he’s good enough, there’ll be a chance to play a lot of them in the absence of Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly.

His second NHL call-up comes with no artificial cap on playing time or concerns over contract control — although the Maple Leafs were never overly worried about him hitting the 10-game threshold this season and starting the clock on his entry-level deal.

That’s certain to happen now with Sandin about to dress for his seventh game against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, while Muzzin continues to wear a walking boot and Rielly faces at least an eight-week recovery from a fractured foot.

“I feel prepared and I’m looking forward to tonight,” Sandin said after an optional morning skate.

He will start on the third pairing alongside Cody Ceci, but that’s hardly set in stone. Until recently, Travis Dermott occupied that spot on the bottom pair and he’s one of the left-handed shots now ahead of Sandin in the rotation. The other is Martin Marincin, who has more healthy scratches (24) than games played (14) with the Leafs this season.

It’s not hard to envision Sandin moving up in the lineup if he plays well.

“We’ve got some question marks there, right?” said head coach Sheldon Keefe, who oversaw the first season of Sandin’s development in the American Hockey League. “How is Sandin going to adjust back in? And then how is he going to pair with Ceci, who he’s never played with? And how are the other pairs going to work out?

“I think when you’ve got two important pieces like this out, like we do, you’re going to have some new things that you’re trying and new opportunities that you’re giving guys. We’ll have to monitor it.”

Keep in mind that Sandin arrives brimming with confidence after a dominant performance for Sweden that earned him top defenceman honours at the world junior tournament. He’s also logged more than 25 minutes per night across all situations for the Marlies and has 15 points to show for 21 games.

A key tenet to his game is a poise that belies his age and relative inexperience.

Teammates raved about how calm and confident he was after breaking camp with the Leafs in the fall. Sandin doesn’t possess one obvious elite tool — he’s not the fastest, or most physically imposing, or known for having the hardest shot — but he displays an overall situational awareness that will probably have us one day wondering how 12 other defencemen were called to the stage before the Leafs drafted him 29th overall in 2018.

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What remains to be seen is how impactful he’s prepared to be in the here and now.

Only a small handful of his peers have done it. The last five NHL seasons have only seen 10 defencemen play at least 40 games as teenagers — and Sandin won’t be the 11th, with his 20th birthday coming March 7.

But he has had a developmental edge on many of the 2000-born North Americans in the form of 78 games of AHL experience. He even noticed a difference after getting sent back to the Marlies in mid-October.

“I think just gaining confidence, I feel like. That’s the biggest thing,” he said of where he’s grown. “I just feel more comfortable out there and I’m just playing my game.”

Sandin’s first stint with the Leafs was basically ended by a shoulder to the face from Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader. That left him bloodied and set off some soul-searching inside the organization, where they started to weigh the merits of only playing their top prospect 12 minutes per game while subjecting him to those situations.

The bet here is that he’s leaned on much more heavily now. There’s even a chance he’ll kill penalties and see a little time on the power play given that Rielly and Muzzin both log key specialty teams minutes.

“I mean he’s gonna be great here,” said Rielly. “I think it’s important that he has confidence and he goes out there and just plays true to his style of play. I think he’s an outstanding player with a great career on the horizon.

“I think that if that starts tonight that’s very exciting.”

The door has swung wide open for Sandin, and there’ll be nothing holding him back if he’s ready to stride on through.

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Why are the Toronto Raptors Being So Routinely Written Off This Season?

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It is fair to say that the Toronto Raptors shocked the world of basketball in reaching the NBA Finals during the 2018/19 season, let alone going on to end the Golden State Warriors’ dominance of the championship game.

It was the first time that the Raptors had been crowned NBA champions in the franchise’s history, and they headed into the 2019/20 campaign fearing the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’.

And yet… everything has gone rather swimmingly so far.

Nick Nurse’s outfit has avoided key injuries to this point and sits top of the tough Atlantic Division, so far besting the likes of the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76’ers in the race for the play-offs.

It has not been completely plain sailing, but when writing up a mid-season report on the Toronto franchise’s efforts so far there would certainly be more superlatives than curse words on the page.

But how far can they go? Can they join the LA Lakers, Miami Heat and the Warriors in winning consecutive NBA Finals’? The sportsbooks aren’t overly positive on that front, and those interested in the NBA betting at William Hill will note that the Raptors, at the time of writing, are still available at +200 to win the Atlantic Division, +1100 to claim the Eastern Conference and +3000 to win the NBA championship.

Are those quotes pessimistic? The Atlantic Division will surely be closely fought until the final throes and throws, but the pedigree of the Raptors in these big games is second to none.

And, lest we forget, they have plenty of star quality to call upon.

Lowry Turns Back the Hands of Time

Preparing to turn 34 in March, Kyle Lowry is nearer the grave than the cradle as far as elite-level basketball is concerned.

It took him more than a decade to reach the top of the NBA, and yet Lowry is showing no signs of slowing down and remains a key figure for the Raptors.

He is a five-time All-Star, but generally, the 33-year-old hasn’t received the recognition he deserves throughout his career – with Jim Boeheim once describing him as ‘the best team player out of everybody’ during the US national team’s romp to the gold medal at the Olympic Games of 2016.

But finally, pundits are getting turned on to the fact that Lowry is a premium performer in the NBA.

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What we learned about Connor McDavid’s rehab

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When Connor McDavid scored his first goal of the season, there was plenty of reason to be excited.

The play was vintage 97, as he darted between Vancouver Canucks defencemen Quinn Hughes and Chris Tanev before lifting a shot over Jacob Markstrom’s blocker and under the bar. The tally broke a 2-2 tie and came with just over five minutes remaining in the third period of a contest that doubled as Edmonton’s first game of the new campaign and its home opener.

It also came on the heels of a summer-long rehab process McDavid required to heal a left knee injury sustained in the final game of the 2018-19 season, when he crashed into the post in a contest against the Calgary Flames

Given all that, it seemed completely natural to witness McDavid drop down to one knee and unleash a few furious fist pumps. His dad Brian, though, sensed a little extra mustard on this particular celebration.

“There was a different level on that one,” Brian McDavid says.

That’s because Connor McDavid — unbeknownst to most of those watching in the building and around the country — came terrifyingly close to missing this season of NHL hockey, a fact revealed in an hour-long documentary titled ‘Whatever It Takes’ that aired on Sportsnet Friday night. In it, McDavid and his inner circle — including his parents, girlfriend and medical professionals — speak candidly about the extent of an injury that, in the early stages, created real concern about his long-term future in the game.

Thankfully, McDavid is right where he should be, leading the NHL in scoring at the break. It’s a happy ending to a chapter in his career he’ll never forget. Here are some of the can’t-miss aspects of this story.

It takes a lot, but it’s possible to rattle Connor McDavid

Despite the fact he plays a faster game than anybody in the history of hockey, McDavid always seems in control. On the ice, he’s the one dictating the action. In the dressing room, he’s measured and economical in front of microphones.

Even in the immediate aftermath of his injury, we saw McDavid calmly say the words, “It’s broken” to the group of teammates, trainers and opponents huddled around him. Once he was out of view, though, hobbling down the hallway, McDavid came undone.

“I held it together until we got through the tunnel and [then] I was a mess,” he says in the doc.

You’d expect nothing less from an athlete in that position. Still, it was jarring to hear those closest to him explain how distraught McDavid was as he processed what had happened and what might have to happen next

One of the doctors consulted told McDavid surgery was the way to go, the recovery period would be upwards of a full year and, even then, there was no guarantee his knee would be exactly as it was before he fully tore the posterior cruciate ligament, tore the medial and lateral menisci, fully tore the popliteus muscle, tore the posterior capsule and sustained a tibial plateau fracture.

Oh, and by the way, the sooner you have this surgery, the better.

“I’ve got to make this decision at 22 [years old] and I’ve got to make it in 24 hours,” McDavid says.

Maybe for the first time in his life, the next move wasn’t obvious.

Squeeze; Release; Repeat

With his surgery already scheduled, McDavid sought one more opinion before going under the knife. That doctor suggested forgoing the scalpel in favour of a pioneering, multi-pronged rehab program. Feeling there was no harm in trying, McDavid opted for that route.

The film details the painstaking steps McDavid undertook as — for 10 hours a day, seven days a week — he worked to heal his body. In the beginning, he was spending two hours a day locked in a hyperbaric chamber doing the one tiny exercise he’d be cleared for.

“I’d be in [the chamber] and I would flex my quad muscle for 10 seconds on, rest for 10 seconds, and I would do that over and over again trying to save the muscle,” McDavid says.

When he was finally allowed to put some weight on the knee, McDavid spent so much time in the pool his skin is probably still wrinkled. For a while, he didn’t know if the work would be in vain and surgery would still be required. But the hours of meticulous and varied rehabilitation started to pay off as the PCL fibres began to re-attach.

Somebody knows how to keep a secret

Any time the game’s premier star is suddenly worrying about the potential for career derailment, you’d think word would leak out and travel at lightspeed around the hockey world. Somehow, the team around McDavid managed to keep the deep details of this injury under wraps — even from high-profile new hires.

When Ken Holland was talking to Oilers chairman Bob Nicholson about the possibility of filling the vacant general manager’s office last summer, the former was justifiably curious about how the franchise’s foundational player was recovering from his injury.

“I gave him information; I didn’t give him all the information,” Nicholson explained. “We [the Oilers] really talked about, hey, we’ve got to keep this as tight as possible. There were a lot of people poking around, trying to get more information and we just clamped it down.”

Holland acknowledged he really didn’t understand the full extent of things until after he’d put pen to paper. Now, we’re all in the know. And that makes what McDavid is doing this season even more remarkable.

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Stanley Cup 2020 Top Contenders

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Stanley Cup 2020

The 2019-2020 NHL season has to be one of the most hotly contested competitions going on right now. With teams fighting it out till the last minute, everyone seems to have one goal in sight, that to lift the coveted Stanley Cup. For punters and fans, this is the perfect time to get fully into the game and start examining the players and teams to make that ideal winning wager, leading to some profitable returns.

Before venturing out into the betting world and making a bet, it is essential first to join a reputed bookmaker. Moreover, make sure you make the most of the free bonuses, and promotions bookies give to first-timers and returning customers, to increase your profits. Then, pick the best odds available after analysing the teams, and read up on what the professionals are saying. As the NHL progresses, there seem to be a few teams that are leading the pack and backing these top contenders can prove to be quite a lucrative proposition.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

At the very start of the NHL season, most hockey pundits predicted that Tampa Bay Lightning would lift the Stanley Cup. They sure are doing rather well going head-to-head for the top stop with the Bruins in the Atlantic Division. Punters who are wanting to make money off the tournament should be looking at the latest Stanley Cup odds and picking their options at the earliest. As the season progresses these odds are bound to change, and the ones right now, especially for the Lightning, Leafs, and the Bruins are incredibly favourable.

 

Stanley Cup 2020

Toronto Maple Leafs

Even though a Canadian team has not won the Stanley Cup for the longest of time, they do make for strong contenders. At the start of the tournament, it was the Canadiens that people thought would make an impact this year. However, it is the Toronto Maple Leafs who are going forward with much gusto and enthusiasm. Provided they can buckle up and have a three or five-game winning streak soon; the Leafs might pose as a real threat to both the Lightning and the Bruins who are presently leading the Atlantic Division.

 

St. Louis Blues

No matter what the statistics show you, one should never disregard the returning champions of any competition. St. Louis Blues remarkably won the 2019 Stanley Cup, and they are already leading in both the Western Conference as well as the Central Division. Not only does it make sense to bet on them to win both these groups, but the prestige that comes with winning back-to-back titles makes them strong competitors worth following.

Boston Bruins

Finally, last year’s finalist, Boston Bruins, are by far the leading contenders to reach the Stanley Cup finals this time as well. They have been playing an excellent game, winning 27 of their 46 games. While other teams in different divisions have fared better, the Bruins are on a winning streak and with a little push can ultimately go on to win the Stanley Cup with ease.

 

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