ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There was no panic in the Blue Jays heading into what sure felt like a significant Saturday date at trippy Tropicana Field.
Matthew Tkachuk has skated free from his part in the violent hits on Zack Kassian Saturday night because the NHL doesn’t think either wallop was over-the-line, but Kassian will be talking to the league’s Player Safety folks Monday and he probably won’t escape further punishment.
If the Player Safety department is looking for a precedent, they might call up the video of Kassian’s Edmonton Oilers teammate Darnell Nurse beating up Roman Polak in March, 2016 after the then San Jose defenceman Polak drilled an unsuspecting Matt Hendricks into the end boards. Nurse got a three-game suspension because it violated the NHL rule about fighting an unwilling combattant.
“I maybe went a little overboard,” Nurse admitted after the incident.
That’s what the Player Safety people might say about Kassian, even if he wasn’t defending a teammate but taking matters into his own hands while Tkachuk refuses to drop his gloves. And that’s the way the hockey code should work.
“Both hits delivered on Kassian were legal, full body checks to a player carrying the puck,” said the NHL in a statement, even though it appeared the Calgary winger took four strides, left his feet slightly and with his elbows in, shoulder up, drilled the Edmonton forward in the head as he went around the net in the first period at the Saddledome. Kassian certainly had the puck as he was dogged on his shoulder by Flames captain Mark Giordano but video clips show him being hit in the head as it snapped back, as he flew through the air and his helmet came off.
In a tweet, former NHLer Scottie Upshall defiantly said that hit was predatory.
“For those u haven’t played the game…. coming down from your WING (as a winger) to hit a vulnerable guy on a wraparound is as DIRTY as it gets. Such as BELOW. I know because I’ve done it, lots. I deserved a punch in the face too. If this hit was on McDavid, 10 GAMER MIN!”
In another tweet, Upshall, now playing in Switzerland but an old-school, settle things on the ice competitor, said “Kassian paid the price already (double-minor that Calgary scored on to win the game). By the third hit, he had enough and let the kid know it’s still a man’s game. Sometimes a punch in the face is what a guy needs.”
The NHL disagrees, feeling on the late second period wallop by Tkachuk was a hockey play that Kassian went postal on. He grabbed Tkachuk, who wouldn’t fight and threw a blizzard of punches while the linesmen were very slow to break it up. He shrugged off the first Tkachuk hit but not the last one two minutes from the second intermission.
He thought it was a Raffi Torres type play; the NHL disagreed, calling it clean. If he gets three games, that means he won’t play in the rematch here Jan. 29. Oilers play Nashville here Tuesday and Arizona Saturday. It also means they’ve lost their first-line right-winger which will necessitate some roster juggling.
The Battle of Alberta certainly needs the juice of the Tkachuk-Kassian rivalry. The hits and the fight and the cheeky war of words afterwards is good for business.
Of course, it was pretty tame stuff in today’s sanitized NHL, compared to the old-school violent Uncivil War between the two clubs but it livened things up
Calgary fans think Tkachuk is a fine young fellow, a kid who plays hard and who did nothing wrong to be rag-dolled by Kassian. In OilerNation, he’s the blackest of the black hats in Calgary; they grudgingly acknowledge that he’s a helluva player, always in the middle of the action with a high skill-set, but they think he’s a serial hit and run guy, a guy who starts stuff but won’t back it up.
“It’s boys being boys, right? It’s two guys competing. That’s why you play the game,” said Calgary coach Geoff Ward, who felt there was no real harm, just lots of mayhem. “Gets both benches going. Both guys doing whatever they can to get a spark for their team, trying to gain momentum.
“The only thing I’d like to have seen was one of the linesmen jumping in a little sooner. I thought one of the linesmen could have gotten in and grabbed Kassian but that’s what it is.”
For those who think Tkachuk never fights, he’s had seven in his NHL career, ranging from tussles with big aggressive guys to greasy guys to non-fighters. Brooks Orpik, Matt Dumba, Jake Dotchin, Alex Wennberg, Joe Cramarossa, Ryan Kesler and Brayden McNab.
To his credit, at least Tkachuk was drilling Kassian, who has had 33 NHL fights, not going after Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl Saturday night.
The villain angle harkens back to the 80s when Neal Sheehy was sliming Wayne Gretzky and wouldn’t fight after slamming him into the boards even though his bio said he was the heavyweight boxing champ at Harvard, a joke because there was no fight team. He was hated here.
“Made my career,” the current player agent Sheehy has said over and over again.
Maybe the oddest comment to come out of the angry game Saturday was Rasmus Andersson’s on a Flames post-game show.
“They’ve got a lot of pretenders over there. That’s one of the biggest coward moves I’ve ever seen from Kassian. That’s the kind of player he is,” said the Swedish defenceman, whose had two career bouts against Brayden Schenn and Jared McCann.
Now them’s fighting words.
At this point, you sort of feel sorry for Kyle Dubas every time he talks.
What’s he going to say that will change anybody’s mind? And given that impossibility, why does he have to keep saying it?
But the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager keeps getting pushed out on stage at the end of a sword. Once there, he keeps saying the same silly things. He was out there again this week as training camp started, doing this semester’s first lecture of Intro to Tragedy 101.
“Nobody wants to hear us talking about it,” Dubas said. “They want to see us do.”
Fair enough. Under the circumstances, not bad.
Then, not one minute later: “Our goal is not to win one round. It’s to win four.”
There you go talking about it. How about you win one round and then start lipping off about how you’ve got the big one right there in your sights.
At this point, you sound like a guy who’s just booked his flight to Kathmandu, looks off in the general direction of Everest and says, “Just a few more steps.” Maybe get to base camp before you start setting your intentions in front of the class.
This is the conundrum of modern sports communications. You don’t want to say nothing, because people will fill the void for you. But anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of media law.
Nobody’s good at explaining losing, but right now no one is as bad at it as the Leafs. Their answer to everything is that meme of a cartoon dog drinking coffee in the midst of a house fire saying, “This is fine.”
Has that dog been copyrighted? Because he should be the new Leafs mascot. Then they can send him out to do the talking.
To varying degrees, everyone on this team is trapped in a conversational loop from four years ago.
“We’ve obviously been right there,” captain John Tavares said.
To whom is that obvious, exactly? And how are you defining “right there?”
“We’ve established ourselves as an elite team in this league,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said.
I’ve just realized the perfect thing to get the Leafs for their birthday – a dictionary.
First thing you do, look up the words ‘established,’ ‘elite’ and, just for kicks, ‘team.’
Everybody’s bad at it, but the weight falls on Dubas. He’s the boss, plus he wears glasses. So he must know what’s going on.
Once one of the more forthcoming, three-dimensional GMs in hockey, Dubas’s public persona has been beaten flat by years of failure. He still sounds excited, but excited about talking so fast, for so long, that there is the slim possibility he may avoid facing more questions.
When he gets one he doesn’t have a great answer to (ie. a lot of them), he retreats into hockey boilerplate.
Why do you like this team, someone asked (an inside-out way of asking the more interesting question – why don’t you dislike this team?).
“Everything they are doing now is about winning,” Dubas said.
What were they doing before when, you know, they were losing? Was that about winning, too? When I’m in my car, is everything I’m doing about driving, even when I’m wrapping it around a phone pole?
‘Leafs disease’ – that’s what they used to call losing on the steady with no hint of an intention to change. The virus has mutated. Leafs disease is now a condition whereby rampant verbosity replaces results.
The miserable teams of Leafs yore knew enough to hang their heads when things were going sideways. This team believes the answer to every disaster is to schedule a TED Talk called Losing Your Way to Victory.
The sentences are a problem, but the presentation may be worse.
Has there ever been a more mirthless pro sports organization? When it gets dark for other teams in other sports, a few of them are able to triangulate the ridiculousness of treating who wins this or that game like a real-world problem.
Not the Leafs.
No jokes. No little asides. Absolutely zero capacity to laugh at themselves, from any member of the organization.
To be fair, this isn’t just a Toronto problem – it’s a hockey problem. But it’s still a shame. Canadians are supposed to be funny and hockey is meant to be a retreat from real life. A little gallows humour might put this team’s situation into perspective. It might even win you some credit for having your priorities straight.
Instead, the Leafs have confused solemnity for seriousness. That doesn’t leave them any room to say, “Listen, I didn’t blow that play. I was trying to wave at my mom in the crowd as the puck drifted between my skates” when things go wrong.
They have figured out one thing – that no one is going to believe this team is for real until the second after it proves it is.
That moment cannot arrive until the third or fourth week of April (though it can certainly be disproven before then).
That leaves the Leafs with seven months of sound bites to fill. When you lose three in a row, “four rounds,” “proved we are elite” and “been right there” is not going to work. You’ve set yourself a standard both so high and so hard to credit that you have no rhetorical wiggle room. All you can do is repeat the same affirmations while your audience turns into 20,000 hecklers. That’s a lot of pressure.
So forget about the playoffs. If the Leafs can make it to December without at least one of them cracking it’ll be a Christmas miracle.
The obvious solution – from here until April, don’t say anything. If you feel you must, hire Rick Mercer or Ali Hassan as your next assistant GM. I’m not sure how big they are on hockey, but they will vastly improve the entertainment value of your excuses.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There was no panic in the Blue Jays heading into what sure felt like a significant Saturday date at trippy Tropicana Field.
There was growing frustrating, however, as the twists and turns of the American League wild-card race were headed in a direction they would have preferred to avoid.
Enter the beast that is Alek Manoah, whose competitiveness is surpassed only by his talent and continuing emergence as one of the best pitchers in the AL.
The burly right-hander delivered seven-innings of shutout ball — dominating at times and grinding when needed in others — as the Jays delivered a 3-1 win over their pesky nemesis, the Tampa Bay Rays.
“He’s a bulldog, man,” said second baseman Whit Merrifield, whose three-run homer in the seventh inning provided all the Jays offence. “He gets the ball when the team needs him. This was a big game for us. This place has given us trouble this year.
“Big Puma threw a big game for us.”
Just as it has been throughout the season — a campaign that has now reached 30 starts — Manoah is the man the team leans on to restore order when needed most.
And in a contest that felt like a playoff preview, Manoah was money.
“I think every game right now is of huge importance,” Manoah said of how much the post-season scent is firing him up. “Every game right now kind of feels like a playoff game. There’s a lot to look forward to in the next couple of weeks.”
The prospects of Manoah pitching games of heightened importance has to be tantalizing for the Jays, especially given how his teammates seem to feed off his efforts. On Saturday, he was dealing through an outing in which he tossed a season-high 113 pitches and striking out eight Rays batters while limiting the Rays to four hits.
In his last seven starts, Manoah has allowed just six earned runs over a span of 48 innings. He has now lowered his ERA to 2.31 while improving his record to 15-7.
The 2022 all-star served up just the type of effort the Jays needed against a Rays team that had taken the first two games of this four-game set. The victory snapped a three-game losing streak and with 10 games remaining in the season, allowed the Jays to reclaim top spot in the wild-card spot, a game up on the Rays.
“He’s putting together a really special year for a young guy and tonight was just another example of one of the premiere pitchers in the game right now,” manager John Schneider said.
“I think he’s proven it to where he’s up for the big games. He’s up for bit spots and challenges like this.”
While offence was at a premium in a stellar pitching duel between Manoah and the Rays Drew Rasmussen, a suddenly heating up Merrifield broke through for the Jays in the seventh inning.
As for Manoah, he’s now thrown seven consecutive quality starts and 24 overall, the most by a Jay since Ricky Romero dealt 25 in 2011. In those last seven starts, his ERA is a skimpy 1.13.
And as we’ve seen throughout his young career, he’s clutch when he needs to be, holding the Rays to 0-5 with runners in scoring position on Saturday.
“These guys have been battling all year, picking me up,” Manoah said. “It’s my job to go out there and pick them up when I can.”
As the Jays remain locked in a game-at-a-time approach, there’s no denying the urgency Saturday’s game carried — and it starts with the crazy things that happen so regularly at the Trop.
The Jays are just 3-5 at the quirky indoor stadium and have grown frustrated at the ways they’ve let games get away from them here over the years.
“I don’t think we’re the only team walking in here or going out of here going ‘WTF,’” Schneider said. “It’s something you’ve got to work around as best you can.”
The Jays, of course, have had trouble doing that against a Rays team that clinched the season series with wins here on Thursday and Friday, and thus hold the tiebreak should the teams be locked at the end of the regular season.
Earning home-field advantage is always a thing worth pursuing, but especially when it eliminates a return here for a best-of-three wild-card clash two weeks down the road.
“It’s definitely an interesting place to play,” Jays third baseman Matt Chapman said. “It’s just different in every way and takes some adjusting and getting used to.”
ROMANO TO THE RESCUE
Closer Jordan Romano was called upon for a four-out save and got the job for number 35 on the season, moving him into solo possession if the eighth most in a season by a Jays reliever.
It was an important bounce back for Romano, who had suffered blown saves in each of his two previous appearances. The Markham, Ont. native got back on track in style as well, striking out three to secure the win.
After anchoring the NHL’s hottest line last season, the Swedish star watched from overseas this summer as both his linemates took turns departing the organization.
And while Flames fans rejoiced when Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk were replaced by the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar and Nazem Kadri, the orphaned centre knew he’d return to Calgary with plenty of unknowns surrounding his new wingers.
While the hockey world is expecting the man on his left will be Huberdeau, coach Darryl Sutter said a few weeks ago the first piece of the puzzle will be determining if the longtime Panthers playmaker fits better with Lindholm or Kadri.
Huberdeau, Lindholm and Tyler Toffoli have spent the first three days of camp together, and while all three are optimistic they’ll find chemistry together, Lindholm shrugged when asked if he’s felt it yet.
“Honestly, the drills we’re doing out there, it’s tough to create the chemistry, ” he said.
“But he’s a good player and good players are easy to play with. It’ll be kind of fun to get games going soon. And we’ll see from there.”
The trio didn’t get much going in Saturday’s scrimmage and is hoping to start the process Sunday night when the Flames host Vancouver to open the pre-season with a split-squad game.
So, what’s the key to trying to find some semblance of the magic Lindholm had with his previous pals?
“Just have fun out there, get it going and get Johnny used to the new system and stuff like that,” said Lindholm, who had a career-high 42 goals and 82 points last season.
“You can tell he’s a top player in the league, with that extra poise with the puck and making plays. He seems like a real nice guy, too. I’m excited to start with him.”
Sutter believes part of building that chemistry involves getting to know one another off the ice as well.
“It’s no different than having your friends at school – same idea,” said the coach.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since the club’s summertime calamity, Lindholm was asked what he thought of losing both his wingers.
“It was a rollercoaster for sure,” he laughed.
“Obviously Johnny had an opportunity to go somewhere else and Chucky wanted a new challenge and to try something else. That’s the NHL, that’s the business part of it.
“I thought the management did a really good job to put us in a good position and have a really good team this year again.”
BIG FIRST IMPRESSIONS
The Flames have their first standout of training camp, and not just because he’s six-foot-eight and 245 pounds.
Adam Klapka picked up from where he left off at the team’s prospect camp by opening Saturday’s first red and white scrimmage with a snipe that had the dozens in attendance murmuring.
Entering the offensive zone with plenty of speed, the towering right winger stuttered the defenceman with a sweet move before roofing a snapper short side on Dustin Wolf, a netminder he has 75 pounds on.
The sequence had everyone on Team White’s bench buzzing.
“He was pretty awesome out in Penticton too — he was the best player in that camp for our group,” said Sutter of the 22-year-old Czech winger, who was signed to a two-year entry level deal this summer.
“For a big man he moves really well. Usually big guys like that, when you think of NHLers that size, a lot of times it takes two or three years for their skating to catch up with their body, and vice versa. Right now that doesn’t appear to be an issue.”
Shockingly high praise from the boss.
Klapka was signed in May after scoring six goals and adding 12 assists in 44 games for Bili Tygri Liberec of the Czech Republic League.
Prior to that, the undrafted Prague native spent two seasons with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL.
As green as he is, no one is expecting him to challenge for an NHL roster spot this season, but his size and right shot make him an intriguing add for the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers this year.
The game ended 2-1, with Clark Bishop and Sonny Milano scoring for Team Red, with Cody Eakin making a nice play behind the net to set up Milano, his fellow PTO participant. Klapka’s goal was the lone marker for Team White … Goalies Dan Vladar, Oscar Dansk and Wolf rotated at both ends of the ice throughout the scrimmage, including several changes on the fly … After a full period of 5-on-5 play the two teams played a shorter second period of 4-on-4 before returning to 5-on-5 for an abbreviated third … Nikita Zadorov drew plenty of attention with his physicality, while Klapka’s goal and hands stood out in the skill department … Matthew Phillips, who is still listed at an unfathomable 140 pounds, still has the silkiest of mitts, and is a pleasure to watch with the puck … Notables who didn’t dress included Chris Tanev and Kadri, who will be used sparingly throughout camp, as well as injured Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington (absent from camp due to personal reasons). Jacob Markstrom was also given the day off … Only a smattering of fans were in the building, as the organization held a seat purchasing event for Wranglers tickets.
SATURDAY’S LINE COMBINATIONS
Tesla announces nearly 1.1 million of its car windows can pinch a person’s fingers
Artists of the past captured historical events: Renfrew Art Guild – Ottawa Valley News
Bill Blaikie, longtime Manitoba politician who served federally and provincially, dead at 71 – CBC.ca
Storm Fiona knocks out power as it hits eastern Canada – Al Jazeera English
NASA’s DART spacecraft is about to smash into an asteroid – Freethink
Former Chinese Justice Minister sentenced to life imprisonment for corruption
Alek Manoah the man as Blue Jays score big bounce back win over Rays – Toronto Sun
Every 22 minutes a Canadian woman dies of a heart attack. Most of those deaths are preventable – CBC News