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In wake of humiliating loss, Toronto FC fires head coach Chris Armas – Sportsnet.ca

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Toronto FC is coming home Thursday, at least to train and sleep in its own beds. But head coach Chris Armas won’t be making the trip, paying the price for Saturday’s humiliating 7-1 loss at D.C. United and the string of defeats that preceded it.

The first-year coach is the only staffer, so far, to be axed after a nightmarish start to the MLS season that has seen a club that prides itself on its trophy case plummet to the bottom of the 27-team league.

Under Armas, Toronto (1-8-2) has lost six straight and is winless in seven. Its defence is broken and it’s clear that Armas’ bid to change the team’s style of play, long established under former head coach Greg Vanney, to an aggressive pressing approach was an uncomfortable fit.

Assistant coach Javier Perez will lead the team Wednesday against New England on an interim basis. After Wednesday, Toronto does not play again until July 17 against Orlando City.

Club president Bill Manning, echoing the view of most fans, said the team had become “very difficult to watch.” Never more so than Saturday, which marked largest margin of defeat in club history.

“As this season progressed, you could tell that this did not have the makings of a championship team. And of a winning team right now,” Manning said Sunday, hours after firing Armas. “And sometimes being a leader you need to know when to make a change. For me, especially after (Saturday) night’s game, it was clear as day that we needed to make this change.”

The new coach will be challenged “to provide that spark for this group of players who do know what it takes to win,” said Manning.

But Manning and GM Ali Curtis offered little vision for the road ahead. Instead they praised Armas after showing him the door.

“Chris is a good person. He’s a good coach. But the results drive our business in so many ways, which drove this decision in particular,” Curtis said.

Manning said Armas thanked he and Curtis for the opportunity and hugged both before leaving.

“He was a class act on the way in and he was a class act on the way out,” he added.

Manning said the club, which is currently based in Orlando, is able to return home because travel restrictions are being loosened for people who are fully vaccinated. He expressed hope the team will be able to play at BMO Field soon but said there is another U.S. option if needed.

Toronto is mired in its second-worst start to an MLS season. Only 2012, when the team lost its first nine games and didn’t reach the five-point mark until its 13th outing (1-10-2), was worse. That run cost Aron Winter, the team’s head coach and technical director, his job.

On Sunday, it was Armas’ turn. It likely did not come as a surprise.

“Something has to give,” he said after the D.C. United debacle.

“We’re at a place where we haven’t been before,” he added. “It’s a strange time, it’s a difficult time for our team. If you’ve not been there, how do you know how to get out of it?”

Manning acknowledged the team had a “very difficult time changing to a new coaching staff and a new style of play,” which does not exactly augur well for whoever takes over.

“But we are expecting this roster to play better than they are,” Manning added.

The hope, he said, is that “a new tactician possibly could give our current roster a better look and maybe a spark to get something out of them that was missing right now.”

Despite the disastrous loss Saturday, captain Michael Bradley said Armas had the players’ confidence “1,000 per cent.”

Still, Bradley said the team had “let everybody who follows us down” and issued an apology.

“One of my worst days at the club, for sure,” he said. “We’re not in a good way right now and it’s nobody’s fault but ourselves, the players. People want to look around and point fingers and say ‘It’s Chris’ fault, he’s not done a good enough job.’ Bull. The players, we have to look at ourselves and find more.”

In announcing Armas’ hire in mid-January, Manning said the former New York Red Bulls coach was “the right fit to build upon the foundation that’s been established at TFC.

“Our fans are going to love his intensity and how that’s going to translate into our team’s style of play for years to come.”

Instead, it turned out to be months.

Curtis talked of a “collective responsibility” when it came to the team’s poor showing and said he himself bore “a lot of responsibility.” He said the club had to look forward and “find solutions.”

None were offered Sunday.

Toronto’s problems have been legion this season, with the team often digging itself a hole in games. The club has turned the ball over in dangerous positions, looked shaky on set pieces and porous on defence.

TFC conceded goals in the second and eighth minute against D.C. United on Saturday, bringing the number given up in the first 15 minutes of a game to a league-worst eight. Combine that with an 0-7-1 record when conceding the first goal and the woeful season starts to make sense.

Toronto ranked last in the league, conceding 2.45 goals a game, in the wake of the D.C. United humiliation. It was mid-table on offence, tied for 15th in averaging 1.18 goals an outing.

But it has to be said that Armas was dealt a litany of challenges in his first season at Toronto’s helm. He never got to play at home and, due to the pandemic, reporters covering the team only got to know him over video.

An intense man, he burned brightly. But players praised his enthusiasm and commitment. In recent days, however, he seemed short on answers and looked forlorn.

With the pandemic raging, TFC’s training camp was halted due to an outbreak of COVID-19 with eight cases reported, according to city of Toronto figures.

The team then had to relocate to the U.S. for a second-straight season due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Toronto did not fill its third designated player spot until April 26 when it announced the signing of Venezuelan international winger Yeferson Soteldo from Brazil’s Santos FC. When a hamstring injury interrupted his season, he had appeared in just five MLS games (302 minutes).

Playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, the reigning league MVP, was sidelined by a thigh injury during the pre-season. He did not make his season debut until May 21, when he saw 35 minutes of action off the bench in a 2-1 loss to Columbus.

The Spaniard, who played in all 23 league games last season, has appeared in just four this year (209 minutes).

Both Pozuelo and Soteldo came off the bench in the 7-1 loss to D.C. United, marking the first time they had been on the field together in league play.

Star striker Jozy Altidore, the club’s third designated player, fell out with the club after confronting Armas in the wake of being substituted in the 70th minute of Toronto’s 1-0 loss to Orlando on May 22. Altidore, second on the club’s all-time scoring list, has been on the outs ever since, training separately from the first team while talks were held about his future.

Altidore, who is making US$3.6 million this season, turned into an expensive distraction.

Curtis offered little on Altidore’s future Sunday, other than to say talks continue. “Stay tuned in terms of what next week looks like.”

The interrupted pre-season meant Toronto had little time to prepare for high-pressure Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League matches. When it opened round-of-16 play against Mexico’s Club Leon, it had to do it without Pozuelo and No. 1 goalkeeper Quentin Westberg, who was late arriving at camp after he and his family contracted the virus.

Toronto got past Club Leon 3-2 on aggregate but the feel-good vibe disappeared quickly in a 4-2 loss to CF Montreal in the MLS season opener. Toronto conceded a goal in the third minute, a trend that has continued.

After the Montreal loss, Toronto tied Vancouver 2-2 and lost 2-0 to the New York Red Bulls. A 2-0 win over defending champion Columbus on May 12 seemed to signal a change.

But the season went south after a 1-1 tie with New York City FC. Toronto lost to Orlando (1-0), Columbus (2-1), Orlando (3-2), Nashville SC (3-2), FC Cincinnati (2-0) and D.C. United (7-1).

After finishing the 2020 season runner-up in the Supporters’ Shield race at 13-5-5, Toronto finds itself bottom of the 27-team league with a 1-8-2 record, having conceded a league-worst 27 goals.

The CONCACAF Champions League campaign ended in a 4-2 aggregate loss to Mexico’s Cruz Azul, and Toronto is 2-10-3 in all competitions.

Armas succeeded the popular and successful Vanney, who stepped down Dec. 1, saying he needed a new challenge. That turned out to be running the Los Angeles Galaxy, whom he joined Jan. 5.

Armas had last coached the Red Bulls, moving up from assistant coach to take over the team in July 2018 and leading it to the 2018 Supporters’ Shield and the Eastern Conference final. He was let go in September 2020 with the team on a 1-4-1 run.

Curtis worked with Armas at the Red Bulls.

A former elite defensive midfielder, Armas played in the MLS from 1996 to 2007, spending two seasons with the Galaxy and 10 with the Chicago Fire. He won one MLS Cup and four U.S. Open Cups.

Armas is one of only five players to be named to the MLS Best XI five times. A six-time MLS all-star, he was named MLS Comeback Player of the Year in 2003.

On the international front, he won 66 caps for the U.S. and was chosen U.S. Soccer’s Male Athlete of the Year in 2000.

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How Colorado’s patience, intangibles challenged a Tampa offence with no answer – Sportsnet.ca

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Over the years of their recent post-season success, which has included a pair of Stanley Cups and appearances in five of the last six Conference Finals, the Tampa Bay Lightning morphed from Team Speed & Skill, to Team Intangibles. They’ve gone from the high-flying offensive team that put others on their heels, to the positionally-sound defensive juggernaut that basically said to their opponents: “See if you can beat us, because we sure as hell won’t beat ourselves.”

And yet again, beat themselves they did not.

Beleaguered as a team can be, Tampa Bay laid back and stayed patient, even when it seemed like their opponent was taking it to them. They’ve had the ultimate trust in Andrei Vasilevskiy, as they should, and it forced opponents to get frustrated, open up, and give them just that extra chance or two that has allowed the Lightning to score and prevail. Like Tiger Woods in his prime, sometimes the size of their well-earned reputation forced others to beat themselves.

Still, at some point you have to be able to create some offence to win games, and as they got more injured, that became a bigger challenge. They didn’t have Brayden Point as they did in Round 1, where a Bolts team on the ropes saw him go directly to the Maple Leafs crease and finish a rebound goal to keep their Cup hopes alive. That obviously hurt them.

Beyond that, though, they didn’t have the depth scoring come through as it has in past years, and they simply couldn’t dial it up on offence and remain as defensively stout as they knew they needed to be against an offensively-gifted Colorado Avalanche team. This time, that was the Avs’ reputation coming into play. Each of Alex Killorn (19:16 TOI per game), Anthony Cirelli (also 19:16), and Brandon Hagel (14:21) played in all 23 playoff games for the Lightning, and they combined for just five goals. Killorn, who scored 25 in the regular season (and had eight in 19 playoff games last year), was blanked with zero. So many players had to turn their attention solely to the little details of defending and positional play, and they excelled at it. But it came at a cost.

I reference Tampa didn’t have that same depth offence as they had in the past, because we all remember the Cup-winning Bolts teams getting huge goals from their third line of Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, but it’s worth noting the crucial difference: Colorado wasn’t Dallas and they damn sure weren’t Montreal, not even close. The depth guys on the Lightning this year were faced with a much different chore than Coleman-Gourde-Goodrow. The Avalanche were extremely well-coached throughout this playoff run, and they recognized Tampa Bay’s weakness: they didn’t have another offensive gear to kick it into, so they leaned harder on that struggle.

The Colorado Avalanche all but stole the game plan from Tampa, which was to play smart and positional and choke the life out their opponent, all while saying “The burden of creating offence is on YOU, and you’re going to have to go through every last one of us.”

“Offensively-gifted” or not, the Avs’ scoring was stunted down the stretch of the series, but it was a concession they were willing to make knowing Tampa Bay’s inability to create. Here’s the most telling stat of the series and why I leave the Final fixated on positional patience. If the Bolts were sitting back and waiting for the Avs to get desperate, open up and make mistakes in this series, here’s what they got off the rush:

A hot bowl of nothing.

Over six Stanley Cup Final games the Avalanche had more rush chances than the Bolts by an average of six per game (per Sportlogiq). Six extra rush chances, which in the end was the difference, wasn’t it?

The Stanley Cup game winner comes off a rush where Artturi Lehkonen makes an unbelievable off-hand one-time shot that finds the top corner, which maybe you’d call a bit “lucky” because who knows how many times out of 10 he could place that puck there again. But in very hockey fashion, it’s not luck, because they created enough chances to “get lucky” like that. As it always goes in hockey’s big picture, making your own luck is a reason to love teams like the Avs who create chances in volume.

There’s been much said about the Lightning’s injuries and their inability to be at their best in this Final, but let’s not pretend the Avs were at max capacity. Andre Burakovsky was hurt, Valeri Nichushkin was hurt, and hell, Nazem Kadri had his trainer tie his skates and played in an oven mitt (and scored an OT winner). Sammy Girard was too hurt to get in a game in the Final.

Even with their injuries, the Avalanche played with a maturity the Lightning’s other opponents could not. Colorado got the better of the Bolts to open the series, then Tampa went into full lockdown mode, playing for low scores and hoping to lean on their experience and again, patience. In Games 3, 4, 5, and 6 the Avs scored just 2, 3 (with overtime), 2, and 2 goals. But instead of starting to cheat and stretch and open up to generate more against a goalie that could’ve frustrated the heck out of them, they recognized that for Tampa to win, they’d have to score too.

The Lightning are getting deserved love as “Team Intangibles” this year, and they certainly played great and blocked shots and proved themselves to be warriors. But don’t let the Avs’ demonstration of those same things get lost.

That’s coaching, that’s leadership, that’s playing (and sometimes losing) enough big games to see that forcing plays and taking chances can bury you in the post-season. You have to trust that it will come, you have to trust the plan, and when offensively talented teams get to that point, they’re almost impossible to beat.

This Final was two teams that were “almost impossible to beat,” and as a result, the series was delightful to watch. The Avalanche used all their tough experiences of the years past to give their opponent jack squat in the biggest moments of the season, and they finished the playoffs losing only four times the whole way through.

The Lightning were worthy foes, for sure, but the Avalanche are deserving champions.

What a Stanley Cup Final.

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Makar gets love from Orr after winning 2022 Norris, Conn Smythe Trophies – NHL.com

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Canuck icons Henrik, Daniel Sedin, Sens star Alfredsson lead 2022 Hockey Hall of Fame class – CBC Sports

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Henrik and Daniel Sedin entered the NHL together.

The superstar twins then tormented a generation of opponents with the Vancouver Canucks throughout dominant careers that included mesmerizing displays of skill, individual accolades and unprecedented team success.

It’s only fitting the talented brothers will walk into the Hockey Hall of Fame side-by-side.

The Sedins headline the class of 2022 elected Monday, one with a decidedly West Coast and Swedish feel that includes former Canucks teammate Roberto Luongo, fellow countryman and former Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, Finnish women’s player Riikka Sallinen and builder Herb Carnegie.

“It’s not what you think about when you when you play the game,” said Henrik Sedin, who along with his brother and Luongo were in their first years of hall eligibility. “We’ve always just put our head down and tried to put in our work.

“What we were most proud of is that we got the most out of our talent.”

“Truly an amazing feeling,” Luongo added on a media conference call. “It feels surreal.”

WATCH | Daniel and Henrik Sedin have numbers retired in Vancouver:

Daniel and Henrik Sedin have numbers retired in Vancouver

2 years ago

Duration 1:42

The Swedish superstars were honoured on Wednesday in an hour-long pregame ceremony.

Alfredsson, who’s has been eligible since 2017, thought he might have to wait at least another year until the phone rang at his home in Sweden.

“It’s such a privilege to be able to play this sport for a living,” he said. “Something I would have played for fun for my whole life without a question.”

“I’m probably the second-best Daniel out of this group,” joked Daniel Sedin, who along with his brother will be 42 when the induction ceremony takes place in November.

“Couldn’t be more honoured.”

Henrik Sedin — selected No. 3 overall at the 1999 draft, one spot behind Daniel — is Vancouver’s all-time leader in assists (830), points (1,070), games played (1,330) and power-play points (369).

The centre won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP and the Art Ross Trophy as its leading scorer in 2009-10. He added 23 goals and 78 points in 105 playoff games, including the Canucks’ run to the 2011 Stanley Cup final.

If Henrik was the passer on what was one of hockey’s most dangerous lines, Daniel Sedin was the trigger man.

His 393 goals are first in team history, and the winger sits second in assists (648), points (1,041), games played (1,306) and power-play points (367).

Daniel Sedin won the Ted Lindsay Award as the league MVP as voted by NHL Players’ Association members in 2010-11 to go along with the Art Ross Trophy. He added 71 points in 102 playoff games.

“Just watching them work with each other on the ice and literally knowing where they are without even seeing each other was something that always blew my mind,” Luongo said of the Sedins. “They’re great teammates. Everybody loved them, great people.

“Not so great card players, but that’s for another day.”

The hall’s 2020 edition was finally inducted last November after a delay because of the COVID-19 pandemic after officials decided against naming a class of 2021.

The 18-member selection committee met in-person this year for the first time since 2019.

Luongo’s storied career began with Islanders

Luongo started his career with the New York Islanders and wrapped up with the Florida Panthers.

His best moments, however, were on the West Coast.

When he retired, Luongo ranked third in NHL history with 489 wins, a number that’s since been surpassed by Marc-Andre Fleury.

The 43-year-old sits second behind Martin Brodeur in three goaltending categories — games played (1,044), shots against (30,924) and saves (28,409).

Luongo twice won 40 games with the Canucks, including an eye-popping 47 victories in 2006-07, and made at least 70 appearances in four straight seasons.

“He was the difference for us to get the next level,” Henrik Sedin said. “If you’re talking about a winner, he’s the guy.

“Never took a day off.”

A finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top netminder on three occasions, Luongo sat behind only Sidney Crosby in Hart Trophy voting following his 47-win campaign.

The Montreal native won two Olympic gold medals, leading Canada to the top of the podium in Vancouver in 2010 before backing up Carey Price in Sochi four years later.

“It’s a really, truly humbling experience,” Luongo said before adding of the Sedins: “And the best part of the whole thing is that I get to go in with two of my favourite teammates of all time and two of the greatest people I know.”

Alfredsson scored 444 goals in 18 seasons

Alfredsson put up 444 goals, 713 assists and 1,157 points during his 18 NHL seasons.

The face of the Senators for a generation in the nation’s capital won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year in 1996, and added 100 points in 124 playoff contests.

“We looked up to the way he plays hockey and what kind of person he is,” Henrik Sedin said.

Alfredsson, who won Olympic gold with the Sedins in 2006 and led Ottawa to the 2007 Cup final, thanked Senators fans for helping him get over the hall hump, including a social media campaign this spring that included boosts from the organization and former teammates.

“Really special with the support I’ve had from Ottawa throughout my career from the beginning until this day,” said the 49-year-old, who owns the franchise record for goals, assists and points. “They’ve been a real big supporter of mine and trying to help me get into the Hall of Fame.

“They’re behind me all the way … it goes both ways.”

Sallinen played 16 seasons with the Finnish women’s national team, winning Olympic bronze in both 1998 and 2018.

She added a silver at the 2019 world championships to go along with six third-place finishes. In all, the 48-year-old scored 63 goals and added 59 assists in 81 games for her country.

Hall of Fame selection committee chair Mike Gartner, who was inducted in 2012, said on the media call that Sallinen had yet to be informed of the honour, but quipped she should pick up the phone and dial in if she was listening.

Carnegie, who died in March 2012 at age 92, has often been mentioned as the best Black hockey player to never play in the NHL.

Following a long career in senior hockey where he faced racism that kept him from achieving his ultimate dream, Carnegie founded Future Aces, one of Canada’s first hockey schools, in 1955.

He was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2001, the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2014, and was also named to the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada.

“This is so important to so many people out there who believed in my father,” said Herb Carnegie’s daughter, Bernice. “Whether he was golfing or whether he was in business or whether he was working with thousands upon thousands of young people, it always came back to hockey and how his how he learned so much from the game.

“I am so proud.”

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