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Jets’ Laine on hockey’s return: ‘My game is probably gonna look terrible’ – Sportsnet.ca

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Patrik Laine is eager to get back on the ice.

The Winnipeg Jets sniper also knows post-quarantine hockey will feature plenty of rust — at least initially — if the NHL gets the green light to return this summer.

“My game is probably gonna look terrible since I haven’t skated for two months,” Laine said on a video conference call with reporters Friday. “It’s always a struggle to come back after a long period when you haven’t skated.”

The NHL, which was forced to pause its season in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the NHL Players’ Association are believed to be inching towards an agreement on a 24-team playoff format that would see 12 clubs from the Eastern and Western Conference compete for the Stanley Cup.

It should be noted that even if the framework is cemented, a number of issues remain, including getting the go-ahead from government and health officials, timing, locations, testing procedures and ensuring the safety of everyone involved.

Laine said that while the game itself might be rough around the edges early, it shouldn’t take long for NHLers to get back in the swing of things.

“If there’s a training camp or something like that, I think it’ll be a good playoff run since everybody’s rested and hopefully healthy,” said the 22-year-old. “I think it would be a great playoff run.”

Laine, who is back home in Finland, had 28 goals and 63 points through 68 games when the NHL suspended its season March 12 amid the widening novel coronavirus outbreak.

Known as a pure scorer when he entered the league as the No. 2 pick behind Auston Matthews at the 2016 NHL draft, Laine’s 35 assists in 2019-20 are already seven better than his previous career-high.

He averaged 40 goals over his first two campaigns, but had just 50 points (30 goals, 20 assists) in 2018-19 before rebounding this season.

“I took some big steps this year, especially in my all-around game,” Laine said. “It was the first time in my career I had more assists than goals, so hopefully that’s not going to happen again.

“The all-around game was good this year. Kind of (got) some more consistency out of my game. It was a good year. Too bad we had to stop the season.”

Laine said he’s been doing his best to stay in shape, playing lots of golf, and watching movies to pass the time.

But unlike some other NHLers, one thing he hasn’t tried is rollerblading: “No, absolutely not.”

Already a veteran of 305 regular-season games and 23 post-season contests, Laine doesn’t have a problem with a 24-team playoff.

“I just want to play, and I can do whatever format they decide,” he said. “It’s still hockey, but I don’t mind the format. It’s not an issue for me.”

And if the Jets, who were on the post-season bubble when play was halted, are forced to potentially quarantine in hotels for months on end, that’s also OK.

“I’ll have to bring my computer so that I can play some video games,” he said. “It will be boring, but if that’s what it requires to play hockey this summer, that’s fine with me. I don’t mind and I don’t need to go anywhere but my hotel room. So that would be just normal for me on the road.

“If that’s necessary, I don’t mind it.”

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NHL Rumors: Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Red Wings, Sharks, Awards, More – The Hockey Writers

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In today’s NHL rumor rundown, the NHL has officially honored a few stars with awards, putting any debate to rest about where the play-in points might go. In Montreal, the Montreal Canadiens got good news and potentially bad news. The Toronto Maple Leafs are adding a prospect to their playoff roster, and the San Jose Sharks have questions they aren’t quite ready to answer.

Montreal Gets One Player Back, Another Questionable

Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin revealed on Twitter today that forward Jonathan Drouin will be healthy and active for the team’s playoff series. Drouin missed most of the season due to a variety of injuries, and if he’s back and healthy, and anywhere close to the 2018-19 version of himself, this could be a huge boost for the Habs.

Montreal Canadiens center Max Domi celebrates with teammates (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

Unfortunately, the availability of forward Max Domi is in question. Bergevin spoke to media and noted that there are questions about whether or not Domi will play because he’s a diabetic, and team doctors may determine it is unsafe for him to join the team during the pandemic. Medical testing has shown that diabetics are 25% more likely to require hospitalization and while Domi has had no prior issues with his Type 1 diabetes during his NHL career, the Canadiens don’t want to take any unnecessary risks.

Bergevin also explained to Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports this week that the team will not be issuing contract offers to prospects Allan McShane, Cole Fonstad and Samuel Houde.

Related: The Maple Leafs and the Legacy of the Muskoka Five

Red Wings to Keep Blashill

Detroit Red Wings GM, Steve Yzerman noted on a conference call with media that he is not planning on making a coaching change at this time. Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, explained that Blashill signed a two-year contract extension in 2019 that carries him through the 2020-21 season. While his 153-194-52 record isn’t glowing, he’s not being held responsible for the failures of the team.

She adds:

When he met with the media following the February trade deadline, Yzerman backed Blashill, saying it was unfair to judge him on the team’s record because of various factors, most notably the number of injuries (Larkin and Bertuzzi were the only Wings not to miss a game this season).

source – ‘Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman will keep Jeff Blashill as head coach’ – Helene St. James – Detroit Free Press – 05/27/2020

Maple Leafs Will Add Robertson to Roster

Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas announced on social media that 2019 top pick Nick Robertson will join the team for their playoff run. Dubas had previously noted he expected Robertson to battle for a position on the team next season but the situation surrounding the NHL now has changed things.

Robertson, 18, recorded 86 points in 46 games for the OHL’s Peterborough Petes and also starred for Team USA at the World Juniors. He may not play much with the Maple Leafs, but the thought is that he’ll get an opportunity.

Related: Every Stanley Cup Winner Since 1960

Sharks Coaching Situation

Amalie Benjamin of NHL.com noted that San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson said on Tuesday that interim head coach Bob Boughner isn’t guaranteed a job with the organization next season. Wilson notes, “We are still in the process.”

He added:

“I’ve talked to all our players. I’ve been talking to Bob quite a bit lately, talking about just how we want to play and some adjustments, and some things that were learned through not only our team this year, but around the League, what works and what doesn’t.

“So it’s a process that’s ongoing. Very difficult to come in and coach a team halfway through the year. You don’t necessarily have all the ingredients in your staff that you want around you. … I think he came in and did a very good job.”

Joe Thornton San Jose Sharks
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Wilson noted that he also talks to Joe Thornton almost daily and they are continually in communication about their future plans. It sounds like Thornton will be back with the team next season.

NHL Awards Handed Out

The league officially announced the winners of the Art Ross, Maurice “Rocket” Richard, William M. Jennings, and Presidents’ Trophy today. Leon Draisaitl takes home the 2019-20 Art Ross, Alex Ovechkin and David Pastrnak will share the Rocket Richard Trophy, and Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak take home the Jennings as the goaltending duo with the lowest goals-against-average.

Catch up on all the latest NHL Rumors

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At least two CFL teams unsure about playing games in 2020: report – 3downnation.com

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It appears that not all nine CFL teams are in agreement regarding the 2020 season.

Sportsnet’s Arash Madani reported on Thursday afternoon that at least two privately-owned teams are unsure about playing a shortened season.

Playing games would allow the league to draw revenue from its television contract, but it remains unclear if fans will be able to attend games. Paying player salaries and travel expenses without gate revenue could lead to big losses for private owners, which could explain why some teams may prefer not to play a shortened season.

Madani also reported that all three community-owned teams — Edmonton, Saskatchewan, and Winnipeg — are in favour of playing a shortened season.

CFL chief financial officer and head of football operations Greg Dick believes a decision regarding the 2020 season must be made by August. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie hasn’t specified a timeframe, though he told TSN 1290 that the “drop dead date” is his to decide. He has also stated that the earliest games could be played is September.

The league recently allowed teams to reopen their training facilities, though there are a number of restrictions in place regarding usage.

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A statistical look at the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets play-in series – TSN

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The National Hockey League’s Return to Play format is official, and assuming all goes to plan, we are about six weeks away from watching hockey once again.

The new format – in the event you live under a rock – will feature 24 teams in total, and will open up with a 16-team qualifying round. The opening best-of-five series offers new life to eight teams that were below the original playoff cutline, and should create waves of excitement for eager sports fans.

With such a significant layoff, there will be ample questions about preparedness for every team. But the good news is with 70 or so regular-season games logged, we do have a rather strong understanding of each team’s strengths and weaknesses.

To shake off the rust here, I will preview each qualifying round series over the next few weeks. Today we will start in the Eastern Conference, with the eight seed Toronto Maple Leafs taking on the nine seed Columbus Blue Jackets.

Regular Season Performance

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One of the things that I think makes a Toronto-Columbus matchup so intriguing is that the teams are polar opposites.

The Maple Leafs are a high-flying offensive team with loads of superstar talent up front, and carried one of the league’s more prolific offences through the regular season. Toronto’s 3.4 goals per game was actually third in the league, trailing only Tampa Bay (3.5) and Washington (3.4). Despite the wondrous offensive production, Toronto is still just an eighth seed – in large part because only five teams gave up more goals per game (3.2). Elite offensive team, shaky defensive team

The Blue Jackets live on the other end of the spectrum. Their 2.6 goals against per game was fourth best in the league – a surprisingly strong performance considering the exodus of talent from Columbus last summer. In many ways, it’s a classic John Tortorella team: incredibly disciplined in the defensive zone, with five-man units that show very capable in pushing opposing forwards well into the perimeter.

It’s also a classic Tortorella team because scoring was a problem all season long. 5-on-5 scoring and power-play production – which has been an area of concern for a few years now in Columbus – are ineffective, in large part because the team cannot create offence from the low slot:

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Skater Overview (Goals Above Replacement)

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There is no doubt that Toronto’s Auston Matthews is the best skater heading into this series. Matthews’ fourth professional season was absolutely electric, with 47 goals and 33 assists in 70 games played. The season stoppage ultimately barred him from chasing down the Rocket Richard Trophy, finishing just one marker back of Boston’s David Pastrnak and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin.

What differentiates Matthews from a number of other prolific scorers in Toronto is that the Maple Leafs showed a semblance of defensive competency with him on the ice. Toronto was a full goal better than its opponents for every 60 minutes of even-strength play with Matthews on the ice – a number that compares to the likes of Mark Stone and Evgeni Malkin.

Consider some of the other Leafs attackers, and you have a very different story. Mitchell Marner (+0.0 goals per 60 minutes), Kasperi Kapanen (-0.2 goals per 60 minutes), and John Tavares (-0.4 goals per-60 minutes) are just a handful of examples of productive offensive players who traded off those goals because of leaky defensive play behind them.

Matthews isn’t the only player in the series to drive such an impressive on-ice goal differential, though. Oliver Bjorkstrand – the 25-year-old Columbus forward in the midst of his own breakout season – also finished a goal better than his opponents per 60 minutes, coming into his own with linemates Gustav Nyquist and Pierre-Luc Dubois.

But the story of Columbus ultimately centers on their blueline. The team’s top pairing of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones has become one of the most formidable defensive duos in the league, and Toronto’s top-six forwards are going to see an ample amount of both in this series.

The Jones/Werenski pairing is strong on both sides of the ice, and over the years it has led to some incredible goal rates. By season:

– 2016-17: +9 goals

– 2017-18: +16 goals

– 2018-19: -10 goals

– 2019-20: +14 goals

For Toronto to prevail in this series, neutralizing Columbus’ best units – anchored by the Jones/Werenski pairing – will be critical.

Goaltender Overview (Goals Saved Above Average)

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The questions about how porous the Maple Leafs defence has been this season has been quite tough to answer, if only because the goaltending has been comparatively abysmal. For every scoring chance where the blueline left a Toronto goalie out to dry, you had another lifeless shot from the point that somehow found its way in the back of the net.

Frederik Andersen did improve as the season progressed, and the acquisition of Jack Campbell from Los Angeles did prove to be a major upgrade over Michael Hutchinson. Andersen will be the guy in this series, but it’s probably fair to say he doesn’t have the longest leash of goalies in the qualifying round.

In Columbus, Tortorella had tough decisions to make in the post-Sergei Bobrovsky world. His tandem of Elvis Merzlikins (33 games) and Joonas Korpisalo (37 games) proved more than capable, and were one of the biggest reasons the Blue Jackets stayed in the hunt this season.

But in a short series, the value of a rotational goaltender system is diminished – Tortorella ultimately has to pick one. The games played edge would seemingly give it to Korpisalo, but on performance, Merzlikins was a definitively better goalie. I would be surprised if the Latvian isn’t given the Game 1 start.

Prediction

If anyone is still counting out Columbus after last season’s unbelievable sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning, they are foolish. This is a strong, defensively disciplined team that’s going to scratch and claw for every inch of the ice.

But this Toronto lineup just has too much firepower in the forward ranks, and there are serious concerns about where the scoring will come from on the Columbus side.

The pick is Toronto in five.

Data via Natural Stat Trick, HockeyViz, Evolving Hockey, NHL.com

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