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Gretzky says he'd want McDavid, Ovechkin as linemates – NHL.com

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If Wayne Gretzky played in the NHL today, he’d want to skate on a line with Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and Washington Capitals wing Alex Ovechkin.

“For me, probably Connor because of his speed, he would open up the ice, and Ovechkin because if we get him the puck you know he’s going to hit the net or at least have a chance to score, so, those two guys would be fun to play with,” Gretzky, a Hockey Hall of Fame center, said during a “#HockeyAtHome” video call this week.

Responding to a question on the call, Gretzky also mentioned Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl, Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and wing Mitchell Marner before picking McDavid and Ovechkin.

“There’s so many good players, that’s a tough question,” Gretzky said.

McDavid, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, was second in the NHL with 97 points (34 goals, 63 assists), behind Draisaitl’s 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists) when the NHL season was paused March 12 due concerns surrounding the coronavirus. McDavid, an Oilers captain like Gretzky, has an NHL-high 469 points (162 goals, 307 assists) since entering the NHL in 2015-16.

Video: WPG@EDM: McDavid beats a sprawling Hellebuyck

Ovechkin, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, was tied with David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins for the NHL lead with 48 goals this season and is eighth in NHL history with 706 goals. He needs 189 goals to break Gretzky’s record.

Gretzky, who retired after the 1998-99 season, is the NHL leader with 894 goals, 1,963 assists and 2,857 points. During a “#HockeyAtHome” episode with Ovechkin that premiered April 20, Gretzky said he “would have had a lot more assists” if he played with the Capitals captain.

“I admire the fact that every time he gets a chance, he usually hits the net,” Gretzky said. “So if I played with him, I think I’d have more assists. It’s as simple as that.”

Video: WSH@NJD: Ovechkin scores 700th NHL goal

Gretzky was asked the latest question by Jamie Drysdale, a defenseman who is among the top prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft. Also participating in the call arranged by the NHL were draft prospects forward Quinton Byfield, forward Alexis Lafreniere, defenseman Jamie Sanderson, and forward Tim Stuetzle.

The full episode of “#HockeyAtHome” premieres Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN, SN, NHL.com and the NHL Facebook, IGTV and YouTube platforms.

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Report: Raptors agree to deal with free-agent centre Alex Len – Sportsnet.ca

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The Toronto Raptors have agreed to a deal with free-agent centre Alex Len, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

Len, 27, finished the 2019-20 season with the Sacramento Kings after a trade sent him and Jabari Parker to California from Atlanta in exchange for Dewayne Dedmon.

The Antratsit, Ukraine native averaged 5.9 points and 6.1 rebounds with the Kings — over the course of the 2019-20 season as a whole, he averaged eight points and 5.8 rebounds in 17.6 minutes per game.

Prior to his brief 15-game spell in Sacramento, Len spent a season and a half in Atlanta, and five seasons with the Phoenix Suns, who drafted him fifth overall back in 2013.

Len’s reported agreement with the Raptors comes a day after the team was linked to Aron Baynes, reportedly signing the fellow centre to a two-year, $14.3-million deal. The moves come after Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka both departed Toronto as free agents, the former joining the Los Angeles Lakers and the latter reuniting with Kawhi Leonard on the Los Angeles Clippers.

More to come.

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NFL Week 11 Takeaways: Canada’s Claypool joins elite company with 10th TD – Sportsnet.ca

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The Pittsburgh Steelers are perfect, and Chase Claypool is, too.

Pittsburgh walloped the one-win Jacksonville Jaguars, 27-3, on Sunday to move to 10-0 on the year. The Steelers are just the eighth team in the past 25 years to start with 10-straight wins — and it’s the first time they’ve done it in their 88-season history.

Claypool, meanwhile, snagged the 10th touchdown reception of his stellar rookie season, streaking past single coverage for a 31-yard score.

That put Canada’s favourite receiver in a very select group: he’s one of just four players in NFL history to have 10-plus touchdowns in his first 10 career games. The others, all from the pre-Super Bowl era, are Houston’s Bill Groman (1960), Chicago’s Harlon Hill (1954) and Green Bay’s Billy Howton (1952).

In the past 10 years, only one wide receiver has won the Rookie of the Year award (Odell Beckham Jr., 2014). Claypool is doing all he can to change that narrative.

After Burrow injury, Bengals brace for the worst

It is not hyperbolic to say that Joe Burrow is the Cincinnati Bengals’ offence. Or at least that he was.

Burrow entered the week averaging 41 pass attempts per game, the most in the NFL, with five games of 300-plus passing yards (one shy of the rookie record). But now 2020’s top pick will miss the rest of the season, following an awkward injury to his left knee.

During Sunday’s game against Washington, a pair of linemen fell on Burrow’s left leg — his plant leg — as he heaved a pass downfield. Burrow appeared to be in considerable pain and required a cart to leave the field.

Several NFLers, including Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Burrow’s college teammate at LSU), quickly showed their support on Twitter. That was an immediate indicator for how severe the injury was.

The Bengals were already far from a complete team. But without Burrow for the rest of the year — and with starting running back Joe Mixon on injured reserve — we’re about to see how ugly things can get.

Herbert continues playing beyond his years

As one rookie quarterback falls, another one continues to rise.

For the seventh consecutive game, Justin Herbert threw multiple touchdown passes for the Los Angeles Chargers, en route to a 34-28 win over the New York Jets. Oh, and he torched the Jets for 366 passing yards, too.

That sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen for someone who was playing against amateurs and attending general science lectures this time last year. And yet here we are.

It’s strange to think that the Herbert Era in Hollywood only began because a Chargers team doctor accidentally punctured Tyrod Taylor’s lung back in September, forcing L.A. to go to its rookie sooner than intended.

Taylor’s injury might have been a fluke, but Herbert’s ascendance hasn’t been. And it’s encouraging to know that his powers aren’t Samson-like, because he still balled out this week despite getting a pretty brutal haircut.

Valdes-Scantling fumbles game away for Packers

Ah, the highs and lows of professional sports.

After blowing a 14-point lead against the Indianapolis Colts in the second half, the Green Bay Packers needed someone to make a big play in their final drive of regulation — and receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling did just that.

Valdes-Scantling, Green Bay’s speediest offensive weapon, hauled in a 47-yard bomb in triple coverage to help set up Mason Crosby’s game-tying field goal with three seconds left. After catching just one ball all day prior to that moment, it looked like Valdes-Scantling might have put Green Bay in position to win.

And then overtime started. On the second play, Valdes-Scantling caught a screen pass, planted his foot to make a cut, and had the ball punched loose. Fumble, recovered by the Colts.

Indianapolis connected on a field goal in its ensuing possession to win the game, a game in which the Packers had a 90.6 per cent win probability at halftime, according to ESPN.

The Colts’ victory allows them to keep pace with the Tennessee Titans atop the AFC South, at 7-3. The Packers dropped to 7-3, but they still hold a two-game cushion on the laggards of the NFC North.

Hill, Saints keep marching

If you’re being honest with yourself, you didn’t expect Taysom Hill to start at quarterback in place of the injured Drew Brees this week.

If you’re being really honest with yourself, you didn’t expect it to go nearly as well as it did.

Hill (41 career pass attempts) got the nod over Jameis Winston (2,559 career pass attempts) and helped the New Orleans Saints to a seventh-straight victory, which propels them to the top of the NFC South standings.

When Brees is healthy, Hill is largely a gadget player — taking design runs and read options from shotgun, running routes from the slot, etc. So it’s no surprise that Hill did most of his damage with the ball in his hands on Sunday, rushing for 51 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries (while also completing 18-of-23 passes for 233 yards).

In the fantasy football realm, Hill was available as a tight end and/or wide receiver in some formats. For those of you who took advantage, bravo.

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Don’t assume Raptors have taken step back despite disappointing free agency – Sportsnet.ca

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The Toronto Raptors have traditionally weathered the absence of elite talent quite well.

For example: During the season of Kawhi, those paying attention might have been tweaked to exactly how serious a championship threat the Raptors were by how well they did when Leonard wasn’t playing.

With Leonard nicked up or simply being load-managed for more than a quarter of the season, the rest of the Raptors simply kept rolling, putting up a 17-5 mark — a better winning percentage than they had with Leonard in the lineup — and provided a preview of how good a team that relied on the likes of Pascal Siakam or Fred VanVleet or Norm Powell might be.

Last season, with Leonard gone to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Raptors got better. Even in a year when Marc Gasol missed 28 of 72 games, Serge Ibaka 17 and six of the top seven players in the Raptors’ rotation — excluding OG Anunoby — missed 18 games on average.

It didn’t seem to matter who dressed at times as the Raptors ended up playing at what would have been a 60-win pace in a regular year and finished with the second-best record in the NBA, sans Kawhi and while lurching from game to game with a different lineup due to injury.

Having bought into a ball-sharing, ball-hounding philosophy espoused by head coach Nick Nurse, the plug-n-play Raptors kept chugging along, picking up Ws and belatedly getting credit for it.

That characteristic — the ability to adapt and compete with a revolving door of sometimes unlikely personnel — is best to be kept in mind as the dust settles on what seems like a disappointing weekend of free agency.

The high point — clearly — was retaining VanVleet, the homegrown point guard who proved he was ready for primetime in his first year as a starter a season ago. Inking VanVleet was the Raptors’ stated first priority and they got it done quickly and efficiently and at a number — $85 million for four years — that works for both sides.

But losing the centre tandem of Ibaka — who signed with the Los Angeles Clippers on late Saturday night — and Gasol — who signed with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday — in a matter of 18 hours was a blow.

It’s hard to spin it any other way. It’s not necessarily a fatal blow to the Raptors’ chances of being a competitive factor in the East, but are they still realistic contenders?

The Raptors may adapt and adjust and find a way to compete and surprise the NBA again, but it seems like a less-than-ideal approach to getting the most out of Kyle Lowry’s final year under contract.

They have now lost four of their top six rotation pieces from their championship team in 18 months.

Eventually, it would seem, something has to give.

Ibaka was a positive locker room presence who put up 20 points and 11 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 39 per cent from three on a high volume and contributing meaningfully on defence as well.

Gasol’s boxscore line wasn’t impressive — 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds to go along with 3.3 assists — and his offence slid further down the cliff after the hiatus. But his positional defence and rapid-fire ball movement meant the Raptors starters were plus-12.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, even when he considered his own scoring an afterthought.

Replacing 23 years of combined experience and a combined 338 playoff games doesn’t happen with a finger snap.

Still, Raptors president Masai Ujiri is the last person to show his cards at moments like this. He’s not prone to puddling when things get difficult.

“We’ll be OK,” he said via text message after Ibaka signed for two years and $19 million, trumping the Raptors’ reported offer of one year for $12 million.

“It’s how these things work,” was his message after Gasol signed a two-year deal for the veteran’s minimum — the Raptors wouldn’t offer a second year — to chase a ring with the defending champion Lakers just after dinner hour Sunday.

By then the market for free-agent centres had dried up considerably.

Still, the Raptors recovered nicely by signing Phoenix Suns centre Aron Baynes to a two-year deal (the second year a team option) for a reported $14.7 million and then giving Chris Boucher a two-year deal (again, with a team option for 2021-22) for $13.5 million, a nice payday for the rail-thin Montrealer whose slog to NBA security has been long and uphill.

So, the Raptors have a centre tandem, but the question is if they’re any better than they were on Friday?

The only proper answer is “we’ll see,” but at the very least that’s a lot of name recognition to replace.

Baynes is a nice pick-up. He’s a bruising but surprisingly quick-footed New Zealander who looks like he’s played his share of rugby in his time. The six-foot-10, 260-pounder will be 34 when the season starts, but has extended his career by adding a three-point shot to his game over the past two seasons. He shot a respectable 35 per cent from deep for the Suns last season on four attempts a game and will be appreciated for his screen setting.

The Raptors were hoping to have Baynes complement Ibaka or Gasol, I’m guessing, but not so much that they were willing to offer a second year of term to either.

Instead, the Raptors will be providing a significant opportunity to Boucher who has shown he can be wildly productive in small samples — he averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per 36 minutes last season — and will now get the chance to show he can do it over longer stretches.

And if Baynes or Boucher seem to be well-compensated given their profile, chances are they got a premium for being willing to accept deals where they don’t have a second-year guaranteed. As well, if the opportunity for a significant trade arises, the reality is you need some beefy contracts for salary-matching purposes.

And even with the signings (plus the addition of former Atlanta Hawks bench piece DeAndre’ Bembry) the Raptors remain about $5 million under the luxury-tax threshold, so nothing is lost there.

The Raptors’ focus in all of their business has included keeping flexibility for the summer of 2021 — right now it looks like they’ll be able to carve out enough room under the salary cap to either sign or trade for a max salary player — and clearly telegraphs what their priorities were in this off-season.

How that translates into this coming season is the more pressing question.

The temptation is to look at a team that has lost two key pieces of a championship roster and a 60-win team and assume they’ve taken a step back.

They might have. But the Raptors have in the past proven they can find a way to be competitive and to silence doubters.

Who is to say that if Anunoby takes another big step forward, Siakam grows a little more comfortable as a primary option and Powell remains as productive as he was for long stretches when healthy last season, the Raptors don’t continue steaming along?

Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster have earned that level of trust.

But they’ve left themselves plenty of wiggle room too, with short-term deals and escape hatches all around if things don’t quite pan out.

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