TORONTO — There’s a reason why Jason Spezza’s resurgent season with the Maple Leafs hasn’t taken on the feel of a farewell tour.
The man in the middle of it isn’t preparing to say goodbye.
In fact, with his role evolving since Sheldon Keefe took over as Toronto’s head coach, Spezza is already prepared to say that he intends to return for an 18th NHL season next fall.
“Yeah, I think so,” he said Monday. “If I can contribute down the stretch and the team has success, I don’t see why not.”
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There’s been a seamless fit here for both player and team — despite a rocky start that saw former coach Mike Babcock scratch Spezza on opening night — and the 36-year-old has more than held up his end of the bargain while playing for the league-minimum $700,000.
Getting production on that kind of contract is essential for a capped-out team like the Leafs, who will need to be creative around the margins while paying more than $40-million to four forwards. And that doesn’t even factor in the intangible qualities brought by a veteran voice whose become immensely popular in the dressing room.
On Spezza’s goal against the Anaheim Ducks last week, Mitch Marner said: “The bench blew up. If there’s any video footage or anything of our bench, I’m sure every guy was jumping around going wild. It’s like we all keep saying: ‘That’s just vintage Spezza coming back out to play right now.”’
Spezza wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when he chose his hometown team from a list of interested suitors on July 1, but he’s managed to whittle out a utility role that sees him jump between the third and fourth lines. He’s played 31 of 33 games since Keefe took over — both scratches were on the tail end of a back-to-back — after sitting 10 of the first 23 games under Babcock.
We are just emerging from the grinding dog days of the season and, if anything, Spezza seems to be making an even bigger impact now than earlier on. He scored that highlight-reel goal Marner raved about while playing a season-high 15:34 during Friday’s win over Anaheim and then followed it up with a strong performance in Montreal on Saturday while lining up as the third-line centre between Kyle Clifford and Kasperi Kapanen.
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“I liked it. I think he’s skating really well,” said Keefe. “He’s got a lot of speed coming through the middle of the ice.”
And he’s having fun, too, which is probably why Spezza hasn’t found himself taking in the sights and sounds a little more closely throughout the year or thinking to himself: ‘Hey, what if this is the last time I’ll play in this rink?’
“Not at all, to be honest,” he said. “I’m just enjoying coming to the rink every day, trying to get better day to day. … I can’t say I’ve been too nostalgic at all, kind of going in and out of places.
“I hope to have a good year and keep going.”
Players like him are an endangered species in a league that is pushing ever younger.
At age 36, Spezza’s already the sixth-oldest forward in the NHL — behind Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Justin Williams, Mikko Koivu and Ilya Kovalchuk. One trait they all share is they’re each a former first-round pick who has found a way to adapt and hang on to a job.
That, and the chance to chase a Stanley Cup with his boyhood team, is what really drove Spezza through the early part of this season. The former No. 2 overall pick and 90-point star is grateful for the chance to keep chasing the dream so long after he first started living it.
“I love the intensity of it, I love the challenge of trying to get ready, I love the challenge of being 36 and trying to reinvent myself a little bit,” Spezza said during training camp. “I like hanging out with the guys, the banter in the room, the practices. I don’t know if I’m a little bit crazy, but I like the grind of it.
“I kind of appreciate the grind.”
That enthusiasm hasn’t faded more than two-thirds of the way into another season.
The Leafs are enjoying favourable possession and expected-goal rates with Spezza on the ice, and have received some offensive pop off his stick, too. He already sits at nine goals — more than he scored in his final two seasons with the Dallas Stars.
“I feel good. Like I felt good last year down the stretch, too,” said Spezza. “I’m excited to play this time of year.”
Based on how this is playing out, there’s already a pretty strong case for keeping him in Toronto for another one.
Schneider: 'Everything is on the table' for struggling Kikuchi – TSN
Toronto Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider said Monday the team is weighing their options when it comes to struggling starter Yusei Kikuchi.
Kikuchi saw his record drop to 4-7 on the season with Monday’s 7-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, in which he allowed six runs – three earned – in 3 1/3 innings of work. The 31-year-old is winless in his past three starts and has a 5.25 ERA through 20 games this season.
“Everything’s on the table right now,” Schneider said, per MLB.com. “We just want him to continue to focus on the things he’s working on. But having options and having other guys that can step into roles is a good thing. And we’ll figure that out in the next couple days.”
Kikuchi spent three weeks on the injured list last month with a neck strain. He delivered a strong outing in his return in July 28 against the Tigers, allowing one run and two hits over five innings, and held the Tampa Bay Rays to two runs in four innings on Aug. 3, but has allowed 11 runs over his past two starts.
“There are a few things that we’ve been working on, trying to figure out what’s good and what’s bad,” Kikuchi said through an interpreter after Monday’s loss. “I feel like we’re just caught in between the ups and downs right now.”
Schneider was non-committal on what changes the team could make to help Kikuchi find his way.
“There’s always a scenario for everything,” Schneider said. “Off-days play into it; performance plays into it. It’s a welcome addition to have (Ross) Stripling back and I love what Mitch White has done as well. You can go a variety of different ways. We’re just going to continue to keep our options open.”
The Blue Jays dropped to 61-53 with Monday’s loss and now sit tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for the second wild-card spot, a game and a half ahead of the Orioles, who they will play again on Tuesday and Wednesday.
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Orioles vs Blue Jays Odds, Picks, & Predictions Today — Zero Value on Blue Birds – Covers
The Orioles have been a thorn in the Blue Jays’ sides all season. As such, even with Alek Manoah on the mound, Toronto at -235 is simply too steep to offer any value. We’re pivoting to focus more on the total in what could be a low-scoring clash.
The Baltimore Orioles moved to 9-4 in the month of August with a 7-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night.
In Tuesday night’s matchup, Toronto looks for revenge as Alek Manoah battles Dean Kremer on the mound.
This is an important series in a crowded AL playoff race. Toronto is currently tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for the second Wild Card, leaving Baltimore 1.5 games back.
Check out our MLB picks and predictions for the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday, August 16.
Orioles vs Blue Jays odds
This odds widget represents the best odds available for each betting market from regulated sportsbooks.
The Blue Jays opened -215, but money has come on them and widened the line, which currently resides between -213 and -235, with most books closer to the latter. As for the total, both 8.5 and 9 are available at the time of this writing.
Orioles vs Blue Jays predictions
Picks made on 8/16/2022 at 8:00 a.m. ET.
Click on each pick to jump to the full analysis.
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Orioles vs Blue Jays game info
• Location: Rogers Centre, Toronto, ON
• Date: Tuesday, August 16, 2022
• First pitch: 7:07 p.m. ET
• TV: MASN, Sportsnet
Orioles vs Blue Jays betting preview
Dean Kremer (4-4, 3.70 ERA): In Kremer’s first extended stay in the show, he compiled an ugly 7.55 ERA across 13 starts in 2021. It’s safe to say things have gone better for the right-hander this go around as indicated by his 3.69 ERA. His 4.87 xERA is a concern and his 6.4% barrel rate is too high to trust considering he pitches to contact.
Alek Manoah (12-5, 2.56 ERA): Toronto found a good one in Manoah. Despite being just 24 years old, he’s been one of the better pitchers in MLB this season. His 2.56 ERA is fantastic, although his 3.44 xERA does indicate that some regression might be incoming. His strikeout rate (22.4%) is down over five percentage points from last season, but he’s countered that by lowering his walk rate by three percentage points to 5.6%.
Be sure to monitor the gametime conditions with our MLB weather info.
Betting trend to know
Toronto is 9-2 in its last 11 games on astroturf. Find more MLB betting trends for Orioles vs. Blue Jays
Orioles vs Blue Jays picks and predictions
Our side and total predictions are based upon our analysis of the line and total in this game. Our best bet is our favorite pick across all markets.
With these teams so close in the AL East and Wild Card standings, it’s fair to question whether or not this line is too wide. After all, these divisional foes have played seven times this season and Baltimore has won five times — yet the Orioles are a significant +195 underdog at most books.
The pitching discrepancy is the most likely answer. Manoah has been fantastic, compiling a 2.56 ERA, while Kremer’s 4.87 xERA and 6.4% barrel rate don’t instill much confidence.
Still, Manoah has faced the Orioles twice in 2022 and his team is 1-1 during those games. He tossed a beautiful one-hit, seven-strikeout, blanking of the Orioles back on June 13, but allowed three earned on eight hits across only five innings in a no-decision in his most recent outing, which Toronto lost 6-5.
Ultimately, it’s hard to not give Toronto a significant edge in starting pitching. The Blue Jays are 13-9 in Manoah’s starts this season, which includes a 6-2 record at home.
As for the lineups, Toronto ranks fifth in wRC+ this season while Baltimore checks in at 20th. The roles have been almost perfectly reversed in the month of August, however, as Baltimore ranks fifth in wRC+ and Toronto ranks 21st.
The Orioles have been hot, going 25-11 in their last 36 games overall. This seems like a favorable spot for them as they’ve had success against Toronto this season and are 9-2 in their last 11 during Game 2 of a series and 5-0 in their last five Tuesday games.
The Blue Jays have been cold, going 1-5 in their last six overall. The line is not justified in my opinion, so I’ll side with the Orioles against the moneyline as it represents better value.
Prediction: Orioles moneyline (+195 at bet365)
Covers MLB betting analysis
If you played the Under in every game that these two starting pitchers appeared in during the 2022 season, you would’ve made a nice profit. The Orioles are 8-4 to the Under in Kremer’s 12 starts while the Blue Jays are 14-8 to the Under when Manoah is on the bump.
Baltimore has been hot at the plate, ranking fifth in both wOBA and wRC+ since the calendar flipped to June. Manoah has been fantastic this season, and it’s difficult to project the Orioles for an offensive explosion when facing a pitcher who has allowed just a 3.8% barrel rate this season.
Toronto’s lineup has gone through hot and cold stretches this season. It’s a potent lineup that can look very dangerous when things are clicking. The Blue Jays are in the midst of a cold spell, however, ranking 19th in wOBA and 21st in wRC+ in August.
Toronto is 9-2 to the Under in its last 11 games on astroturf and the Under has been a good play at the Rogers Centre during this cold spell, cashing in seven of the Blue Jays’ last nine home games.
Both of these starting pitchers have trended toward the Under this season, and I’ll bet on that to continue Tuesday night.
Prediction: Under 9 (-120 at DraftKings)
I’m rocking with the Under as Tuesday’s Best Bet between the Orioles and Blue Jays.
Baltimore’s bats have been hot, but a matchup against Manoah is nothing to scoff at. The youngster has been terrific this season, posting a 2.56 ERA and 3.8% barrel rate. Toronto is 14-8 to the Under in games that he starts.
Meanwhile, Toronto’s lineup has gone cold, and though Kremer may not be a household name, the Orioles have gone 8-4 to the Under across his 12 starts.
Some books are posting a total of 8.5 but 9 is available in a few spots, so I’m grabbing that number and riding with Under 9 as the best bet.
Pick: Under 9 (-120 at DraftKings)
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