The Leafs’ bottom-six forward group has undergone a transformation this offseason, with the team trading away Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, while bringing in Thornton, Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey, and Alexander Barabanov (who was signed out of the KHL in April). Youngster Nick Robertson could also make the team.
Here are four different ways the Maple Leafs could set their forward lines next campaign, assuming general manager Kyle Dubas is done adding forwards this offseason. For these projections, we’ve rotated Robertson, Vesey, and Barabanov in and out of the lineup. Pierre Engvall, meanwhile, was omitted because his $1.25-million cap hit may be tough to manage.
Option 1: Stacked top 6
|Zach Hyman||Auston Matthews||Mitch Marner|
|Alexander Kerfoot||John Tavares||William Nylander|
|Nick Robertson||Joe Thornton||Ilya Mikheyev|
|Jimmy Vesey||Jason Spezza||Wayne Simmonds|
Before adding Thornton, the Leafs would’ve needed Kerfoot to play center. Opinions are mixed regarding whether he’s best suited to be a center or a winger. But Kerfoot struggled during his first season in Toronto, which was spent primarily playing down the middle. Some of his best success came as a winger with the Avalanche in a complementary role on the club’s top lines, so we’ve placed him on the left side with Tavares and Nylander.
The 19-year-old Robertson, meanwhile, flanks Thronton after leading the OHL in goals last year. Mikheyev, who was a hound on the puck last season before suffering a wrist laceration and being quiet in the playoffs, joins them. The finisher and puck retriever could nicely complement Thornton’s playmaking ability.
Option 2: Depth down the middle
|Zach Hyman||Auston Matthews||Mitch Marner|
|Ilya Mikheyev||John Tavares||William Nylander|
|Jimmy Vesey||Alexander Kerfoot||Wayne Simmonds|
|Alexander Barabanov||Joe Thornton||Jason Spezza|
There’s a real chance Thornton can no longer play top-nine minutes and must be sheltered on the fourth line. That would force Kerfoot back to center. We’ve bumped Vesey – Kerfoot’s former college teammate at Harvard – up to the third line in hopes of recreating their old chemistry.
Putting Spezza and Thornton on the same line may not be ideal because they both lack quickness, but flipping Spezza and Simmonds doesn’t entirely fix that problem. We’ve also inserted Barabanov for Robertson in this scenario to provide a different look.
Option 3: Balanced attack
|Alexander Kerfoot||Auston Matthews||Zach Hyman|
|Ilya Mikheyev||John Tavares||Mitch Marner|
|Nick Robertson||Joe Thornton||William Nylander|
|Alexander Barabanov||Jason Spezza||Wayne Simmonds|
The previous two lineups are awfully top-heavy, which was part of Toronto’s issues in 2019-20. In this lineup, we’re banking on Matthews to carry his own unit. As the league’s second-highest-paid center, he shouldn’t need the help of Marner or Nylander to be effective. Plus, a workhorse in Hyman is there for support, alongside a capable playmaker in Kerfoot.
The third line sees the biggest change in this lineup. Nylander, an elite play-driver and zone-entry specialist, would put Thornton in the best position to succeed. A 30-goal scorer this past season, Nylander would benefit from Thornton’s playmaking skills, too. As would Robertson, of course.
Option 4: Let’s get weird
|John Tavares||Auston Matthews||Mitch Marner|
|Zach Hyman||Joe Thornton||William Nylander|
|Alexander Barabanov||Alexander Kerfoot||Ilya Mikheyev|
|Jimmy Vesey||Jason Spezza||Wayne Simmonds|
This isn’t a realistic or viable lineup to use over an extended period. It’s more of an in-game desperation option for Keefe if the team is trailing and he needs to create a spark.
Toronto ran out it’s $33.5-million line toward the end of its qualifying-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets after the club’s offense dried up. The trio displayed flashes of brilliance, but the line should really only be used in spurts.
It probably isn’t best to give Thornton second-line minutes over a long span, but Hyman and Nylander are there to provide ample support. However, that leaves the bottom six looking quite bleak. Putting Kerfoot between Barabanov and Mikheyev could create a makeshift checking line, though.
Gushue Falls to 2-1: Smith Makes Shot of the Tournament – VOCM
It was a classic matchup at the Tim Hortons Brier last night between defending champ Brad Gushue and former champ Kevin Koe.
They were tied in the eighth end but Koe eventually put it away 9-7 to remain undefeated.
Gushue, whose next match comes tonight against Saskatchewan, falls to 2-1.
Greg Smith, representing NL, dropped to 0-4 after an 11-4 loss to Nova Scotia.
Down 7-1 and nothing to lose, Smith made the shot of the tournament in what TSN is calling the “Rock Around the Clock.” Smith plays tonight against winless PEI.
— TSN Curling (@TSNCurling) March 8, 2021
James unbeaten as captain as Team LeBron beat Team Durant at NBA All-Star Game – TSN
ATLANTA — In the midst of a pandemic, this was assured of being an NBA All-Star Game like no other.
The stands were mostly empty. The crowd noise was largely piped in. There were no A-list celebrities sitting courtside. Two players had to sit out after getting haircuts.
But in the end, it had a familiar feel.
Team LeBron won again.
Knocking down shots from all over the court, LeBron James’ powerhouse squad closed the first half with a dominating run to set up a 170-150 romp over Team Durant in the league’s 70th midseason showcase Sunday night.
The top vote-getters in each conference have picked the teams the last four years, a duty that James has earned every season.
He’s now 4-0, having defeated Stephen Curry’s squad in 2018 and teams selected by Milwaukee’s two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo the previous two years.
This time, James drafted his two former adversaries and blew away Kevin Durant’s team.
“I think he’s got a future as a GM,” said Damian Lillard, another of James’ inspired selections. “He always gets it right.”
Antetokounmpo was the game’s MVP after shooting 16 of 16 for 35 points, even making all three of his attempts beyond the 3-point stripe. It was the most baskets without a miss in All-Star Game history.
“I’m just having fun,” the Greek star said. “Sometimes when you’re having fun and not thinking about the outcome, you just let your instincts take over.”
Curry chipped in with 28 points, while Lillard had 32.
James spent most of the night admiring his drafting skill from the bench. He played less than 13 minutes, scored just four points, and didn’t return to the court in the second half.
Instead, he munched a snack on the bench.
“I know he was managing his minutes tonight,” Curry said. “We had a great time, representing him as captain. It was a memorable night for sure.”
It sure was for Curry, who won the 3-point competition beforehand, then went 8 of 16 from beyond the arc in the game.
Lillard matched him, also making 8 of 16 from 3-point range.
This All-Star Game sure was different than the previous 69.
Determined to pull off an exhibition that is huge for TV revenue and the league’s worldwide brand, the NBA staged the game in a mostly empty downtown arena, a made-for-TV extravaganza that was symbolic of the coronavirus era.
Despite extensive safety protocols in place, two players didn’t even make it to tipoff. Philadelphia stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were ruled out because they got haircuts from a barber who tested positive for COVID-19.
The only good thing for Durant: He didn’t have to participate in this shellacking, sitting out the game with an ailing hamstring.
Bradley Beal led Team Durant with 26 points.
On a night highlighting Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Team LeBron swept the first three quarters and cruised to the final target score, earning a total of $750,000 for its charity, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
The game got out of hand late in the second quarter.
With scant defence being played, Team LeBron took turns dunking off alley-oop passes. Chris Paul delivered back-to-back lobs that Lillard and Curry slammed through. Then, it was Paul on the receiving end of a payback pass from Curry.
After showing it could handle shots up close, Team LeBron headed outside in the final seconds of the half.
Lillard pulled up for a 3-pointer from the half-court line. Not to be outdone, Curry knocked down one from virtually the same spot.
“It was a lot of fun,” Lillard said. “Me and Steph shoot a lot of 3s. We shoot deep 3s. It was 3, 3, 3, 3, 3.”
Amid the joyful moments, the atmosphere at State Farm Arena was downright eerie compared to a normal All-Star Game.
Instead of a packed house, with A-list celebrities crammed into prime courtside seats, this game was attended by a smattering of hand-picked guests. They had plenty of room to spread out in a 17,000-seat venue that was essentially transformed into a giant television studio, with socially distanced spectators kept far from the court.
Towering video screens were set up behind the benches. Vegas-style lights flashed around the arena. Recorded crowd noise blared over the sound system. The entertainment was provided by the host Atlanta Hawks, who didn’t have any players in the game but were represented by their cheerleaders, drum line and DJ.
To address fears that one of its biggest events would become a super-spreader for a virus that has killed more than a half-million Americans, the NBA pared down its usual weekend-long ritual of extravagant parties, gridlocked streets and people watching
This All-Star Game was a one-night-only event, with a pair of skill competitions held shortly before the game and the Dunk Contest squeezed into the halftime break. The players flew in Saturday afternoon and were largely confined to a nearby hotel except for their time on the court.
“This is when everyone in basketball all over the world comes to one city,” James said before the game. “We’re able to sit back and go, ‘Wow, this is the game we have built.’ It’s a beautiful weekend for all walks of life, on the floor and off the floor.
“But I’m sitting here in my hotel room, isolated. My family’s not here. I’m by myself. It’s just different, to say the least, compared to previous years.”
All-Star Weekend was crammed into a few hours.
During the pregame, Indiana forward Domantas Sabonis defeated Orlando centre Nikola Vucevic in the Skills Challenge, redeeming last year’s finals loss to Bam Adebayo. That was followed by Curry knocking off Utah’s Mike Conley to capture the 3-Point Contest for the second time. The Warriors star added to the long-range title he won in 2015.
At halftime, Portland’s Anfernee Simons defeated New York Knicks rookie Obi Toppin in the Slam Dunk Contest, nearly kissing the rim with his winning throw-down. Cassius Stanley of the Indiana Pacers was eliminated in the opening round.
Team Durant: Zion Williamson of New Orleans started the game in place of Embiid. The Pelicans forward had 10 points. … Durant’s team heaved up 72 3-pointers, but made only 27 (37.5%).
Team LeBron: Paul had 16 assists, passing Magic Johnson’s record for most career All-Star assists with 128. … Lillard ended the game with another long 3-pointer. Curry was waiving to the spectators before it even went in. … James’ team shot 63.6% from the field, including 31 of 61 from 3-point range.
The 71st All-Star Game will be held Feb. 20, 2022, at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland. The 2023 game is set for Salt Lake City, followed by Indianapolis in 2024.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Oilers’ depth to be tested again with McDavid, Draisaitl reunited – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — As the Ottawa Senators arrive in Northern Alberta in hopes of solving an opponent who is 4-0 against them this season, a special surprise awaits the North’s last place team: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the same line.
Welcome to Edmonton!
Since moving on to separate lines last season, reuniting the Oilers’ two superstars has been a tactical last resort for Oilers head coach Dave Tippett. Like on Saturday, when his team needed a spark against Calgary he re-jigged his lines mid-game, and McDavid and/or Draisaitl were in on all three goals in a 3-2 Oilers win over Calgary.
So he’ll stick with that unit tonight — with Kailer Yamamoto on the right wing — while building a second line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins between Tyler Ennis and Jesse Puljujarvi. It’s a relatively new look that will test Edmonton’s support scoring.
“It puts pressure on that depth to contribute. We haven’t tried it to this point,” Tippett said. “We know that Connor and Leon are going to drive some offence, but to be a good team we have to have that throughout our lineup. Not just chipping in, but we need consistency.”
On one hand, with last change against an Ottawa team with a young defence corps — and likely giving rookie Joey Daccord only his second NHL start in goal — putting No. 97 and 29 together might give you all the offence you need from one line. As a backup, it’s fair to expect the Oilers’ other three lines to win their matchups against an Ottawa team that has given up the most goals per game (3.89) in the NHL this season.
“It’s fun to watch for us (players) too, watching them out there together. They elevate each other,” said Ennis of the Oilers’ two top players. “For us, it’s important that we contribute. We’re going to have to — they can’t play the whole game. Our depth becomes even more important.”
Here’s a look at the lineups tonight, after an optional morning skate for the Oilers and nothing for Ottawa, which won 4-3 in a shootout in Calgary Sunday night.
Dominik Kahun is out of this lineup, Mikko Koskinen gets the start, and after a decent outing against Calgary, Tippett is going back to a D-pairing of Ethen Bear and Caleb Jones. He’s trying to help them both find their games — neither player has been as good this season as they were last.
“If they can get their game together it just makes us a lot better back there,” Tippett said.
Draisaitl, McDavid, Yamamoto
Ennis, Nugent-Hopkins, Puljujarvi
Shore, Khaira, Turris
Neal, Haas, Chiasson
As for the Sens, they’re looking for a way to beat an Oilers team that defeated them four times in a 10-day span from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9. After two more decisive wins in Edmonton (8-5, 4-2), the teams played two competitive games in Ottawa, where the Oilers prevailed 3-1 and 3-2.
Matt Murray played Sunday in Calgary, so we expect Daccord to go tonight. It is believed that Christian Wolanin could be in for Erik Brannstrom on defence.
Tkachuk, Tierney, C. Brown
Paul, White, Dadonov
Stützle, Norris, Batherson
Dzingel, Anisimov, Watson
Centre of Attention
With Nugent-Hopkins moving back to centre, one of the issues Edmonton could have on its second lines is faceoffs. This season, the trio of Nugent-Hopkins (37.5%), Ennis (75% on just four draws) and Puljujarvi (0-for-2 all season) has had little success or experience in the circle.
Nugent-Hopkins has evolved into a nice second-line centre or left-winger, but his career 44.3% faceoff percentage has been an issue through 10 NHL seasons. He’s taking the line swap in stride, a chilled veteran who can play wherever the coach asks him to.
“I don’t think we’ve thought about it as much as you (media) guys,” he said after the fourth question on the new lines. “Nobody is going to be gripping their sticks too tight, or thinking ‘We have to score now because (McDavid and Draisaitl) are playing together.’
“We want to have secondary scoring, no matter who’s playing with who. The good teams in the league, they get scoring from every line.”
Tippett built the unit with the right components to provide some offence, he figures.
While Nugent-Hopkins and Ennis are both adept at making “good plays in tight places,” Tippett said, “Puljujarvi is probably our best forward at creating loose pucks and getting to the front of the net. (He is) a big guy whose work ethic has been very good for us.
“When you put a line together you’re looking for some chemistry, some symmetry between the three. On paper it looks like it should be effective, but you’ve got to get in games to see where it goes.”
The game begins a run of 12 contests in 21 days for Edmonton. Put another way, that’s three straight four-game weeks.
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