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Jim Benning followed in the footsteps of his mentor, Peter Chiarelli, and built the Edmonton Oilers – Vancouver Is Awesome

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As Canucks fans are well aware, Peter Chiarelli and Jim Benning won the Stanley Cup together in 2011 with the Boston Bruins. Chiarelli was the general manager and Benning was his right-hand man, one that the rest of the NHL saw as having paid his dues to become a general manager himself.

Sure enough, when the Vancouver Canucks needed a new general manager after firing Mike Gillis in 2014, they turned to Benning, whose experience as a scout and running drafts on his resume was hoped to be an antidote to the team’s lack of success at the draft.

A year later, after the Bruins missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years, Chiarelli was out of Boston too, but didn’t need to wait long to find a new job. The Edmonton Oilers snapped him up to not only be their new general manager, but also their President of Hockey Operations.

Surely the experienced GM with a Stanley Cup ring could take a core that featured Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl back to the playoffs. And oh yeah, he had the first overall pick in the 2015 draft and added Connor McDavid. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything. Every damn thing.

Disastrous moves and false hope

Some of Chiarelli’s biggest moves backfired significantly. He traded Taylor Hall one-for-one for Adam Larsson in hopes of finding a number one defenceman. Hall went on to win a Hart Trophy with the New Jersey Devils, while Larsson has had a marginal impact on the Oilers blue line.

Another attempt to find a young defenceman was nearly as bad. Chiarelli traded his first and second round picks for Griffin Reinhart, who played a grand total of 30 games for the Oilers. That first-round pick turned into Mathew Barzal, the Islanders’ franchise forward.

Those are just two of Chiarelli’s disastrous moves, but two years into his tenure as Oilers GM, things weren’t looking that bad. The Oilers finished second in the Pacific Division, making the playoffs for the first time in eleven years. They made it to the second round and were a game away from the Western Conference Final, losing in Game 7.

Is this starting to sound familiar?

The Oilers believed they were a team on the rise, poised to become a powerhouse in short order. Instead, the next season they crashed and burned, not even coming close to the playoffs.

Sound familiar yet?

There are a few reasons why the Oilers collapsed after finally getting back to the playoffs. They moved on from players that had made them successful, like Jordan Eberle and Andrej Sekera. They didn’t recognize how an excellent season from goaltender Cam Talbot had masked some of their problems. And they had some big contracts on the books that made it difficult to maneuver around the salary cap to solve some of their problems.

Yeah, that sounds familiar all right.

Bad contracts and uncomfortable parallels

The Canucks are starting to look an awful lot like the 2017-18 Oilers, when they failed to follow up a strong playoff performance and missed the postseason entirely. It seems like Benning is once again following in the footsteps of his mentor, Chiarelli.

While Chiarelli had a head start with the young talent available to him when he joined the Oilers, Benning eventually caught up when several awful seasons gave him a few top 10 picks. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes may not be McDavid and Draisaitl, but there’s certainly a parallel to be drawn.

Chiarelli failed to build quality depth around his young stars and particularly struggled to build a capable defence corps, which has similarly been a struggle for Benning. One of the major issues, of course, is the lack of cap flexibility caused by some ugly contracts.

In 2016, Chiarelli signed Milan Lucic to a dreadful seven-year contract worth $6 million per year. Shortly after, Benning followed suit, signing Loui Eriksson to a six-year deal worth $6 million per year. That’s not the only bad contract signed by the two GMs, but those are certainly the signature deals that have defined their tenure.

“When I look at the Canucks and the Oilers, one of the things that strikes me as similar and, if you’re a Canucks fan, you hope I’m wrong about this, but they have a lot of bad contracts baked into the mix that are going to get worse as years go by,” said Jonathan Willis when I talked to him about what happened to the Oilers.

“When I look at Vancouver, I see Antoine Roussel, I see Jay Beagle, I see Loui Eriksson and Brandon Sutter,” he added. “Edmonton didn’t have the ability to solve problems when it ran into them because they didn’t have any discretionary money, because so much money was tied up in bad contracts. I look at Vancouver and I wonder if they’re not looking at potentially having the same outcome.”

Like the Oilers, the Canucks lost some players in the offseason that were key to making the playoffs. Their goaltending advantage disappeared, albeit for different reasons — the Oilers simply overplayed Talbot, who wasn’t able to match his previous performance, while the Canucks saw Jacob Markstrom walk in free agency.

Chiarelli couldn’t find enough quality wingers to play with his stars; Benning let Tyler Toffoli walk in free agency.

There’s one error Benning didn’t copy from Chiarelli, but from the Oilers previous GM, Craig MacTavish, who signed expensive bottom-six veterans like Benoit Pouliot and Andrew Ference. While Chiarelli did acquire some expensive bottom-six forwards, like Mark Letestu and Lauri Korpikoski, they weren’t as expensive as Roussel or Beagle.

While the parallels are not perfect, it’s hard to ignore the end result. Benning’s Canucks have landed in the same spot as Chiarelli’s Oilers did a few years ago — wasting the final year of their franchise forward’s entry-level contract.
 

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca

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It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics

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(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.

 

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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Masters 2021: Tiger Woods says he'll miss Champions Dinner, running up DJ's bill – Golf Channel

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Dustin Johnson will host his first Champions Dinner on Tuesday night in the Augusta National clubhouse, and he’ll be joined by several past Masters champions.

One former winner who won’t be there is five-time champ Tiger Woods, who is still home in South Florida recovering from a serious car accident in February near Los Angeles. Justin Thomas, who is still working toward his invite to the prestigious dinner, said Woods texted him Friday night and was “bummed” to not be at the Masters this year.

Woods then tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he’ll miss one of his favorite nights of the year.

“I’ll miss running up @DJohnsonPGA’s bill at the Champions Dinner tonight,” Woods said. “It’s still one of my favorite nights of the year.”

Johnson responded to Woods’ tweet, saying: “Will miss having you here. This week isn’t the same without you.”

The PGA Tour announced that the club would leave a seat open for Woods at the dinner, though the tweet has since been taken down.

Johnson will serve a menu including filet mignon, sea bass and peach cobbler.

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