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Keefe warns Leafs to avoid agitator Tkachuk's 'sideshow' – TSN

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TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the Maple Leafs, who practised at Ford Performance Centre on Wednesday ahead of Thursday night’s home game against the Calgary Flames. 

Matthew Tkachuk may be among the top agitators in the NHL, but he’s failed to make much of an impression in seven career games against the Maple Leafs, scoring just one goal and taking three minor penalties. 

“He knows his stuff probably won’t work on me, because I’ve seen it first hand,” said Auston Matthews, who played two seasons with Tkachuk with the U.S. National Development Program. 

Perhaps Matthews and Mitch Marner, who played one year with Tkachuk in the OHL, benefit from being friends with the Calgary Flames alternate captain? 

“Maybe a little bit,” Marner said. “I mean, I got to see a lot of his tricks in London so I know a couple things he does after the whistle and stuff like that and it was great when you played with him. I mean, he drew a lot of penalties for you and a lot of power plays.”

Matthews doesn’t think Tkachuk takes it easy on his pals. 

“No, I don’t,” Matthews said. “Honestly, I think he doesn’t really take that stuff into account, he goes out there and competes every night, whether it’s against guys that he knows or guys that he’s friends with or not. That’s just the way he is. I think it’s the way it really should be.”

Sheldon Keefe is warning his players not to get drawn into Tkachuk’s game on Thursday night when the Flames pay their one visit of the season to Toronto. 

“It’s just being aware of the fact he’s competitive and he’s going to come hard on every puck and all those types of things, but also not to let things go off the rails and become a sideshow,” the Leafs coach advised. “He looks to kind of, you know, change the focus that you might have in a game and that’s not what we want to be about. We want to just focus on what we have to do.”

Tkachuk registered just two shots and a minus-1 rating when the Leafs visited Calgary on Dec. 12. With only one point posted against the Leafs overall, Toronto is actually the team Tkachuk has burned the least in his career. And when it comes to discipline, it was Tkachuk who earned a one-game suspension for spearing Matt Martin, then with the Leafs, back in December 2017. 

“You got to be careful around him,” Marner said. “The thing for us is to make sure we stay out of all the stuff after the whistle, nothing’s going to happen, just make sure we’re playing smart.”

And while Tkachuk is taking heat for his hits on Edmonton’s Zack Kassian and how he dealt with the fallout, the Leafs aren’t expecting the 22-year-old to tone things down in the centre of the hockey universe. 

“He did the same stuff that he does now in the OHL,” Marner said, “and the most annoying thing is the skill he has in him and how good he is. If you take penalties against him, he could be the one who puts it in the back of your net so that’s the thing that really annoys people.”

“It’s something he feeds off of,” Matthews said. “I saw it first hand for two years. He just likes to compete out there and play on the edge. Obviously, he’s kind of pissed a couple people off on the way doing it, but I definitely think it’s one of those (things) where it’s a guy you hate to play against, but a guy you’d love to have on your team, for sure.”

Matthews on Tkachuk: ‘He knows his stuff probably won’t work on me’

As the Leafs get set to welcome the Flames and Matthew Tkachuk to town on Thursday night, team members discussed the unique challenges Tkachuk presents and how they plan to avoid getting wrapped up in antics.

Keefe is starting to incorporate music into Leafs practices more and more. 

“It’s the tempo and the energy,” he explained, “especially on days like this, you’re coming back from a game, it can be a little bit tough to put your gear back on and go out and get some work in so just raising the energy level not unlike what you would do in the gym.”

On Wednesday, video coach Jordan Bean was stationed beside a large speaker in the stands overlooking the ice awaiting signals from Keefe for when to blast the tunes. 

“I’m a fan of it, it’s just relaxing,” said Marner, who at one point gestured at Bean to restart the music even without Keefe’s go-ahead. “I’m not sure what other guys think, but I had fun with it.”

Some players aren’t thrilled about the playlist, which on Wednesday featured Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” among other songs. 

“He’s got Lady Gaga from 2013 going,” Matthews said with a smile. “I mean, I got nothing against her, I think she’s great, but maybe update the playlist a bit.”

Marner is looking for more of a flow. 

“I like all genres so I’m good with anything,” the winger said. “It was just a lot of switching of songs in the middle of the songs, it wasn’t great by our DJ today.”

The playlist, Keefe said, is courtesy Marlies forward Rich Clune, who took responsibility for the music at practices when Keefe ran the bench for Toronto’s AHL team. 

“I’d love for the players to take a little bit of ownership,” Keefe said. “They don’t take much ownership even in the locker room to put their own music on and stuff so if they want to take that over, that would be great. We have enough things to worry about.”

In past seasons, Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner were the resident team DJs in Toronto so there’s an opening there and Matthews seems keen on stepping up. 

“I didn’t know we were going to do the music thing today,” Matthews noted, “so I’m sure old Bean Boy will get an earful from the guys here in the locker room about the playlist he had going on.”

Matthews calls for new practice playlist: ‘He’s got Lady Gaga from 2013 going’

The Maple Leafs had a DJ at practice on Wednesday, but as Mark Masters would soon find out, there were mixed reviews from Auston Matthews and the players about some of the song choices on the playlist.

Before practice started and the music got going, Keefe met with the team’s leadership group. The topic: defence. 

“That has been the greatest challenge,” he admitted. “We’ve made a lot of strides offensively and we think that puts our team in a better spot, there’s benefits defensively just from that because of how much more we’ve had the puck and we’ve spent a lot more time in the offensive zone. That’s really helped, but as we’ve seen with some of our play recently, breaking some of the habits defensively (is tough).” 

In 23 games under Mike Babcock this season, the Leafs allowed 3.43 goals per outing, which ranked 24th in the league. In 24 games under Keefe, the Leafs are allowing 3.13 goals per outing, which ranks 19th. 

“It’s not just a product of how we’re playing here now,” Keefe pointed out, “we think some of these things have been an issue for quite some time with some of our players and we got to find a way to break that and that’s our biggest challenge and we actually had a meeting about that type of stuff this morning with our leadership group (about) just kind of taking that next step as a team.”

One player leading by example is Matthews. The Arizona native is known for his incredible offensive abilities, but Keefe says what has surprised him the most about the 22-year-old is how good he’s been on the defensive side of the puck. 

“The biggest thing I’ve learned (about) him is he’s a very good player defensively, away from the puck,” Keefe gushed, “and when he’s engaged, the way he can track, you saw the one goal in the Winnipeg game that he got, but we’ve got dozens of clips of him doing similar things and some of the best defensive-zone coverage clips that we showed here this morning to the players, he was out there doing a job.” 

‘Our greatest challenge’: Keefe meets with leaders on breaking bad defensive habits

Scoring has never been an issue for the Leafs in recent years, but defensive breakdowns have been a constant struggle for the young squad. Head coach Sheldon Keefe explained the steps he and his staff have been taking to try and solve what he calls the team’s ‘greatest challenge.’

When Rasmus Sandin arrived at Leafs training camp ​in September, a No. 38 sweater was hanging in his stall. 

“They gave me it in camp. I don’t really think about it too much, but I’ve been getting a little bit of chirps so we’ll see if I can change maybe next year,” the 19-year-old said. 

Sandin is the first Leaf to wear the number since Colin Greening in 2016. Per Hockey Reference, the other Leafs to wear No. 38 have been: Frazer McLaren (2013-14​), Jay Rosehill (2010-12), Brad Leeb (2004), Yannick Tremblay (1997-1999), David Harlock (1996) and Chris Snell (1994). 

What sort of chirps is Sandin hearing? 

“Just that the number doesn’t look the best,” he said with a smile. 

Sandin wore No. 8 with the Marlies and with Team Sweden at the World Juniors. It’s the same number his older brother Linus Sandin wore. But pending UFA Jake Muzzin owns that digit these days in Toronto. 

“It would be tough to move Jake from there,” Sandin said of the veteran. 

Sandin’s next preferred option would be 14, but thanks to Dave Keon that number is retired in Toronto. 

“I’m not bothered by it too much, to be honest,” Sandin said of the situation. “We’ll see what’s open for next year.”

Sandin facing chirps for wearing 38: ‘The number doesn’t look the best’

Rasmus Sandin has been rocking a 38 on his jersey since being called back up to the Maple Leafs on Monday. Sandin normally wears 14 or 8, but has been unable to secure those jersey numbers on this current Leafs roster. He spoke to Mark Masters about some of the chirps he’s been dealing with as a result.

Muzzin skated on Wednesday for the first time since breaking his foot on Dec. 27. The hope is the defenceman will return in Toronto’s first game after the all-star break on Jan. 27 in Nashville. 

“That’s what they’ve talked about for being a potential target,” Keefe revealed. “Obviously, how things go between now and then will dictate that. My understanding is he’s going to stick around and get working over the break.”

Out since Dec. 21 with a concussion, Trevor Moore was cleared for contact and practised on the fourth line on Wednesday. His status for tomorrow’s game is unclear, but Keefe said the left winger is “very close” to returning. 

Lines at Wednesday’s practice: 

Hyman – Matthews – Marner
Engvall – Tavares – Nylander
Johnsson – Kerfoot – Kapanen
Moore – Gauthier – Spezza
Brooks, Marchment

Dermott-Holl
Marincin-Barrie
Sandin-Ceci
Timashov – Liljegren

Andersen
Hutchinson

Leafs Ice Chips: Back on the ice, Muzzin targets post all-star return

There were some familiar faces on the ice at Leafs practice on Wednesday as Trevor Moore skated with the fourth line and took contact for the first time since sustaining a concussion in December. Jake Muzzin also skated for the first time since breaking his foot in a game on December 27th. Mark Masters has more.

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Maple Leafs hire Paul MacLean as assistant coach – Pension Plan Puppets

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Today the Toronto Maple Leafs announced they’ve hired another new assistant coach, adding Paul MacLean:

“Over nearly two decades as an NHL coach, Paul has filled every role on a coaching staff, winning a Stanley Cup and Jack Adams trophy along the way,” said Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe. “Adding someone of Paul’s expertise and character to advise and assist our staff is something that we felt was very important as we seek to make tangible steps next season.”

MacLean spent the 2019-20 season as an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets after being hired on November 21, 2019. He previously served as the head coach of the Ottawa Senators from 2011-15, leading the Senators to a 114-90-35 record and a pair of playoff appearances. He won the Jack Adams Award while coaching Ottawa in 2012-13 after being a finalist for the honour in 2011-12. MacLean served two stints as an assistant coach for the Anaheim Ducks spanning 2002-04 and 2015-17 and was an assistant coach for the Detroit Red Wings from 2005-11. He has been an assistant coach in the postseason on 11 occasions and has made three appearances in the Stanley Cup finals (2003, 2008, 2009), winning the Stanley Cup in 2008.

MacLean, 62, joined John Tortorella’s staff in Columbus in November of last year after not having a coaching job for two years. He worked for Randy Carlyle in Anaheim after being fired as head coach in Ottawa in 2015.

The power play of the Columbus Blue Jackets is not something the Maple Leafs should be looking to emulate. In my pre-playoffs coverage of the Blue Jackets I said their power play was so bad that the only PK squad better than Columbus’s own powerhouse unit was whoever they tried their power play against on any given night. That wasn’t exaggeration, their power play really was that bad, although it improved whenever Seth Jones was available.

Last offseason, the Maple Leafs hired Paul MacFarland, and most of us here at PPP weren’t very thrilled at the prospect of his power play concept coming to the Leafs. We can only hope this goes better.

With the news that Bruce Boudreau would not be hired by the Leafs, MacLean seems to be next man up on the veteran leadership coaching list. He joins Dave Hakstol, Manny Malhotra, and the goaltending and video coaching staff. And the new guy is getting the up in the rafters job.

And in case you were wondering how a guy who’d never been to the Soo got this job:

Update:

Also today, the Arizona Coyotes hired Maple Leafs goaltending scout/consultant Brian Daccord to be their Special Assistant to the GM and Director of Goalie Operations. I don’t think they mean hip surgeries, but who knows?

He has been with the Leafs for five seasons prior to this change.

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Canadiens sign defenseman Jeff Petry to a four-year contract extension – NHL.com

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MONTREAL – Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin announced today that the team has agreed to terms on a four-year contract extension with defenseman Jeff Petry (until the end of the 2024-25 season). The deal has an average annual value of $6.25 million.

Petry, 32, registered 40 points in 71 games with the Canadiens last season (11 goals, 29 assists). He posted a third straight 40-point season, ranking first among the team’s defensemen in points every season during that span. Petry was Montreal’s hits leader with 177 this season, and he also led all Canadiens defensemen with 30 takeaways. He also tallied two goals (both game-winning goals) and an assist in 10 playoff contests in 2020.  

In 11 seasons in the NHL, Petry appeared in 680 regular season games with the Canadiens and the Edmonton Oilers, recording 253 points (69 goals and 184 assists). He also added seven points (five goals, two assists) in 25 postseason contests. Petry has lit the lamp 52 times since joining the Canadiens, which puts him in a tie with Shea Weber for 16th among defensemen in franchise history.

Before making his first strides in the professional ranks, the 6’3 ”, 201 lbs right-handed rearguard played with the Michigan State University program for three seasons (2007-08 through 2009-10). He concluded his collegiate stint with nine goals and 67 points in 118 games. Petry also played two seasons in the USHL, sporting the Des Moines Buccaneers colors (2005-06 and 2006-07). In the junior ranks, he recorded 19 goals and 41 assists in 103 regular season games. He added two goals and 13 points in 19 postseason appearances with Des Moines.

A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Petry was selected in the second round, 45th overall, by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2006 NHL Draft. The Canadiens acquired Petry from the Oilers at the 2015 trade-deadline in return for a 2nd round and a conditional 5th round pick.

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MLB playoff push: Blue Jays can still catch Yankees after securing berth – Sportsnet.ca

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With their 4-1 victory over the New York Yankees on Thursday night, the Toronto Blue Jays officially booked their ticket to the playoffs.

It’s been four years since the Blue Jays last played post-season baseball, and the club that will embark on this post-season is completely different from the one that captured all of Canada’s attention en route to the 2016 American League Championship Series.

Currently sitting in the eight seed with that second wild-card spot in-hand, the young team can actually still rise in the post-season ranks before the seeding is fully locked in, thanks to their 3-1 series win over the Yankees this week. Toronto can catch New York in the standings and jump into that fifth seed with a strong showing against the Baltimore Orioles to close out the season, but only if the Yankees stumble and suffer a few losses, too.

So while a Rays-Jays first-round showdown is the most likely matchup, it’s not yet set in stone.

Here’s a closer look at where they stand in the MLB playoff picture…

If the playoffs began today

The top two teams in each division make the playoffs along with the top remaining two teams from each league for a total of 16 playoff teams. Those 16 teams will then face off in eight best-of-three series that precede the League Division Series.

If the post-season began today, these eight American League teams would qualify:

No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays vs. No. 8 Toronto Blue Jays
No. 2 Minnesota Twins vs. No. 7 Cleveland Indians
No. 3 Oakland Athletics vs. No. 6 Houston Astros
No. 4 Chicago White Sox vs. No. 5 New York Yankees

And these eight National League teams would qualify:

No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers vs. No. 8 San Francisco Giants
No. 2 Atlanta Braves vs. No. 7 Cincinnati Reds
No. 3 Chicago Cubs vs. No. 6 Miami Marlins
No. 4 San Diego Padres vs. No. 5 St. Louis Cardinals

How seeding works in 2020: According to MLB, the top three seeds in each league go to the three division winners in order of record. The next three seeds go to the three teams that finish second in their division, in order of record. The final two seeds will go to the two teams with the next best records, regardless of division.

In striking distance

After being more or less locked up for the past few weeks, the American League’s playoff picture just has one last berth up for grabs — though, calling it “up for grabs” is being generous. The Houston Astros, currently sitting in the sixth seed, can lock up their place with just a single win in their final three games, dashing the hopes of the Los Angeles Angels — who, at 26-31, are the only remaining AL club that hasn’t officially been eliminated from contention yet.

Otherwise, the only change to come in the AL is in the form of playoff-bound teams jockeying for position within those top eight seeds. The Blue Jays will most likely be meeting the Tampa Bay Rays in the first round, but that could still change. As outlined above, the Jays can still catch the Yankees and jump into second in the AL East with wins over Baltimore and New York losing to the Marlins. The Rays clinched the division earlier this week, but aren’t locked into that No. 1 seed just yet as the 35-22 Twins can still catch them. If the Twins can jump into the top spot and the Jays stay put at No. 8, that sets us up for a Minnesota-Toronto first-round clash.

Meanwhile, in the National League, the field is still wide open. While the Dodgers and Braves have clinched their respective divisions and the Cubs and Padres are guaranteed post-season berths, there are still four spots for the taking.

The Philadelphia Phillies (28-29) and Milwaukee Brewers (27-29) are playing for their post-season lives this weekend, while none of the Cardinals, Marlins, Reds and Giants can afford to lose down the stretch.

Get ready for drama, particularly in the NL Central: the Cardinals and Brewers finish the season head-to-head, a series that feels like we’re already in the playoffs.

Playoff odds report

With the Blue Jays finally hitting 100 per cent with their post-season berth secured, we’ll shift this portion of the MLB playoff push to where the drama is by looking at the National League’s odds for all teams still on the hunt.

Objectively speaking, here’s where the Cardinals, Marlins, Reds, Giants, Phillies and Brewers stand in relation to their closest adversaries, according to FanGraphs and FiveThirtyEight:

Cardinals’ FanGraphs odds: 87.4% | Cardinals’ FiveThirtyEight odds: 90%

Marlins’ FanGraphs odds: 90.7% | Marlins’ FiveThirtyEight odds: 93%

Reds’ FanGraphs odds: 88.1% | Reds’ FiveThirtyEight odds: 91%

Giants’ FanGraphs odds: 47.1% | Giants’ FiveThirtyEight odds: 44%

Phillies’ FanGraphs odds: 50.5% | Phillies’ FiveThirtyEight odds: 54%

Brewers’ FanGraphs odds: 33.9% | Brewers’ FiveThirtyEight odds: 26%

Next up

The Blue Jays will send Taijuan Walker to the mound Friday while the Orioles will counter with Jorge Lopez in their bid to play spoiler in Toronto’s mission to move up in the seeding.

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