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Jets back on ice for 1st official practice since NHL suspended play in March – CBC.ca

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The Winnipeg Jets are getting their skating legs back in shape with the NHL’s abbreviated season set to resume in 2½ weeks.

Players took to the ice Monday at the Bell MTS Iceplex for the first official practice since the season was paused March 12 due to COVID-19. At the time, there were still 189 games remaining on the NHL’s schedule.

Training camps across the league were opening as part of Phase 3 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan, which dives right into the playoffs.

“It’s a good idea because I’m a hockey fan and I’m going nuts,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice on Monday.

“It’s the middle of July, I didn’t get to see playoffs, I want to see it.”

The NHL announced earlier in spring that, if possible, it would complete the season by bringing back 24 of its 31 teams — 12 from each of the Eastern and Western conferences — based on the standings when the shutdown occurred.

Pucks will drop on Aug. 1, with a number of games taking place throughout the day in two host cities: Toronto and Edmonton.

Winnipeg Jets players listen in to coach Paul Maurice during training camp on Monday. (Winnipeg Jets)

The Jets will head to Edmonton and take on the Calgary Flames. They play Aug. 1, 3 and 4, and — if needed — are scheduled for the 6 and 8 as well.

Maurice said the Jets’ organization has gone “above and beyond” the minimum standards in terms of assuring the safety of players returning to the city, of staff and of the community.

“We have a responsibility, first to our health, I get that, but also we’re entertainers, right? People want to watch hockey, they want to see it, so that’s our job, and we have a responsibility to do our job.”

Playoff format

The league’s playoff format in this shortened season gives a bye to the top four teams from each conference. They will go straight to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The next eight teams from each conference will play a best-of-5 series, with the winners advancing to the playoffs. The losing teams will return to their summer break.

The Jets-Flames matchup is the only all-Canadian series of the qualifying round.

The four top teams in each conference will play each other once to determine the order of the seeding for the first round of the playoffs. All playoff series after the qualifiers will be best-of-7.

‘Take it out of the garage a little bit slowly’

Following Monday’s workout, Maurice said there was some rust on the players but not much.

“We wanted to take it out of the garage a little bit slowly. But the key thing I took away from today is … they wanted to be on the ice. They ran the routes. They did the drill exactly the way it was designed. They had a little bit of fun, they worked hard.

“They look like they want to be here, they look like they want to play.”

Fans will not be allowed to attend any of the games but the league has been talking about using recorded crowd noise and even cardboard cutouts of people to fill the empty seats. 

Jets super fan Jeff Baquiran says it’s a peculiar experience to watch the Jets in August, but he’s looking forward to it. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Superfan Jeff Baquiran may see a video of himself beamed into the empty rink, lounging outside while carrying a mug in the shape of the Stanley Cup. 

He said watching hockey in August may look like it does in that video.

“If it means bringing the TV outside to watch it, so be it, or if I have to sit outside and have the TV in the front window there then whatever it takes,” he said.

Winnipeg bars are looking forward to welcoming throngs of Jets fans again.

Ahnissa Martens, assistant general manager at Underdogs, is looking forward to the return of Jets games, which are big business for the St. James sports bar. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Ahnissa Martens, assistant general manager at Underdogs, said she knows all the regulars by name and the Jets keep coming up in conversation.

“We have a lot of regular clientele and it is something we talk about all the time, how they miss the Jets,” she said.

Martens said she feels their pain, as she’s had nothing to watch during the last few months of COVID-19.

“I think it will definitely … be a distraction of everything else that’s going on.”

Whiteout parties could make a comeback

Though public health officials likely won’t want to see thousands of fans storm the streets to cheer on the Jets, Manitoba’s Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Brent Roussin said Monday that “there’s probably a possibility of having a decent-sized gathering.”

Manitoba has gone 13 days in a row without reporting a new case of COVID-19, and the province’s active case count is down to one as of Monday morning.

Right now, public health rules only allow up to 100 people to gather together outside. Although, Roussin noted, “you could cohort to get to that maximum of that 30 per cent capacity for the area.”

He later said that public health officials are looking at further relaxing the limit on outdoor gathering sizes.

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NBA Free Agency Report: Raptors waive Dewan Hernandez – RaptorsHQ

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In a surprising turn, the Raptors officially announced this afternoon that they are waiving centre Dewan Hernandez in advance of the 2020-21 season. The soon-to-be 24-year-old big man would have once again been the Raptors 14th or 15th man for the coming season, but it still comes as something of a shock given Toronto’s usual regard for their own draft picks as of late — and their ability to develop them into useful NBA players.

The thinking here from Toronto may have more to do with roster management and salary cap thinking than potential. Though, due to things he could and couldn’t control, Hernandez didn’t do much to prove he could stick in the NBA.

Hernandez joined the Raptors for the 2019-20 season as the 59th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. There’s usually no reason to believe a player picked in that range will hang on in the league, but Hernandez is a lithe 6’10”, 235 pounds, and showed he had some of the mobility and shooting range needed to be a new-age frontcourt player in the NBA. He still had a ways to go, particularly on the defensive end and appeared in just six games during last season for the Raptors. Unfortunately a serious ankle injury kept him off the floor for the 905 in the G League as well, which surely hurt his development — and his chances of staying with the Raptors.

After adding two new rookies in the 2020 NBA Draft — Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris — and then signing a pair of established centres in Aron Baynes and Alex Len, it was clear the Raptors were about to run into a bit of a roster crunch. As reviewed here: with Hernandez on the roster, the team was at 16 players — and that’s before adding Len as the team’s backup centre, and before addressing what to do with their other two-way contract slot, which may go to rookie Harris or a returning Oshae Brissett (who is still on the restricted free agent market). There’s also Terence Davis to consider, but we’ll leave that for now.

In truth, Toronto just did not have a lot to lose by letting Hernandez go. Some team could — and likely will — pick him up to become their 15th man or to solidify their G League roster at some point in the future. But with no timetable for a G League return and roster needs now shifting elsewhere for Toronto (e.g. it’s hard to teams to justify carrying three centres), releasing Hernandez saves the team a few bucks in the short term and presumably opens the way for the return of Brissett or some other forward option.

Here’s hoping Hernandez can regain his footing in the NBA soon because, I’ll be honest, he flashed some funky skills at times and I hope he gets a chance to ply his trade for real in the league. Best of luck, Dewan.

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Report: Ravens close facility until next week; game vs. Steelers in jeopardy – Sportsnet.ca

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The Baltimore Ravens are closing their training facility until Monday at the earliest due to the team’s COVID-19 outbreak, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Sunday’s game between the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers — which was originally scheduled for the Thanksgiving primetime slot on Thursday — figures to be in jeopardy, though it has not yet been postponed.

Five additional Ravens tests came back positive on Thursday, with four players and one staff member contracting the coronavirus. Linebacker Pernell McPhee, running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins and defensive tackle Brandon Williams had previously been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

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6 star players the Raptors could sign as free agents in 2021 | Offside – Daily Hive

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After saying goodbye to Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol this offseason, one thing is clear: the Toronto Raptors will be going all-in on free agency next year.

The Raptors reportedly refused to offer either player more than one-year deals in the name of cap flexibility, with a historically-great crop of players potentially available in 2021.

Masai Ujiri will have plenty of options, beginning with his own team. Kyle Lowry is set to become a free agent, while Norman Powell could opt out of the final year of his contract.

With that said, let’s take a look at some of the top pending free agents in 2021, with an eye on who the Raptors might throw money at.

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)

Position: Power forward
Age: 25
2019-20 stats: 29.5 PTS, 13.6 REB, 5.6 AST

Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will be the most sought after free agent in 2021, and there’s a very real possibility that the Raptors could be a top contender to sign him.

Ujiri helped Giannis’ family emigrate from Nigeria to Greece, and the Raptors president wanted to draft him in 2013.

Getting a player of Antetokounmpo’s ability at age 25, in a position the Raptors covet no less, would be a franchise-changer.

2. Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers)

Position: Small forward
Age: 29
2019-20 stats: 27.1 PTS, 7.1 REB, 4.9 AST

He wouldn’t, would he? But what if he did?

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and perhaps after two years in Los Angeles, Kawhi Leonard would like to rekindle some magic back in Toronto.

It’s a long shot, but the Clippers did have a disappointing playoffs and reportedly have a fractured locker room. If the team falls apart again this season, maybe it’s enough for Kawhi to leave as a free agent, as he has a player option for 2021-22.

3. Paul George (LA Clippers)

Position: Shooting guard
Age: 30
2019-20 stats: 21.5 PTS, 5.7 REB, 3.9 AST

If Kawhi wants out of LA, maybe Paul George will too. And if Leonard doesn’t opt for a Toronto reunion, perhaps Ujiri can convince George to come north of the border.

Crazier things have happened.

4. DeMar DeRozan (San Antonio Spurs)

Position: Small forward
Age: 31
2019-20 stats: 22.1 PTS, 5.5 REB, 5.6 AST

Speaking of reunions, wouldn’t this be fun? DeMar DeRozan loved his time in Toronto and was heartbroken when the Raptors traded him to San Antonio in 2018. But perhaps that broken heart has been mended.

According to a recent story in GQ, DeRozan and Ujiri made up in the NBA bubble in Orlando. DeRozan gave the Raptors executive a “big hug,” according to Ujiri, who added that he felt they had “reached a new place.”

5. Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)

Position: Centre
Age: 28
2019-20 stats: 15.1 PTS, 13.5 REB, 1.5 AST

Seven-foot-one French centre Rudy Gobert is an intriguing piece. A two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Gobert would fit in well to the Raptors’ commitment to defence.

6. Victor Oladipo (Indiana Pacers)

Position: Shooting guard
Age: 28
2019-20 stats: 14.5 PTS, 3.9 REB, 2.9 AST

Victor Oladipo wants out of Indiana, and openly campaigned for a trade to the Raptors during in front of his teammates last season, according to a report in the Indianapolis Star.

While that’s clearly outrageous, it is an indication that the two-time NBA All-Star wants out of Indiana. Named to the All-Defensive First Team in 2018, Oladipo would help at both ends of the court.

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