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Maple Leafs sign Nick Ritchie to toughen roster – Toronto Sun

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The Maple Leafs continue another attempt to toughen up for the playoffs by adding some muscle to their Core Four.

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Latest to come aboard Saturday morning was UFA left winger Nick Ritchie, whose return to his GTA birthplace has long been rumoured. The former Boston Bruin signed for two years with an AAV of $2.5 million US and could possibly fill the Zach Hyman vacancy on the first line.

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The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Ritchie had 26 points in 56 regular season games with Boston, for which he played 19 post-season games in two years. That alone would give him seniority on a Toronto team that has stalled in the first round five straight springs.

Ritchie also did well with his draft team, the Anaheim Ducks, taken 10th overall in the 2014, two spots behind William Nylander, one of the Leafs’ centrepieces whose large salaries have prevented more well-known UFAs from fitting under Toronto’s cap.

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Speaking of that, the Ritchie signing and that of forward Ondrej Kase late Friday night puts the club over $81.5 million, but that’s allowable in the off-season. Ritchie joins Michael Bunting and Kurtis Gabriel among a number of budget signings of players who general manager Kyle Dubas hopes will show a passion through 82 regular games and into playoffs.

The additions of Wayne Simmonds and Joe Thornton last season clearly were not enough. Ritchie has a high penalty minutes total and a couple of league suspensions, but rarely crosses the line. Primarily groomed with the Peterborough Petes of the OHL, he spent a final junior year with Dubas’s beloved Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, showing the Soo Flu permeating the Leafs’ roster and hockey office shows no signs of abating.

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In six NHL seasons between the Bruins and Ducks, Orangeville native Ritchie has 137 points in 350 regular season games and appeared in 38 playoff contests. He was also on Canada’s 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship squad. Older brother Brett is with the Calgary Flames.

In a Zoom call with the media, Ritchie said once he wasn’t qualified by Boston and unexpectedly found himself on the market, a Leafs deal came together quickly.

“I got to talk to some teams, but definitely the lure of Toronto, how good of a team they have and being from here was part of the decision. It’s a dream to play for a hometown team.

“Knowing (Dubas and Soo coach Sheldon Keefe) made things more comfortable. Lots of teams were interested, but I chose what I thought was the best team and best fit at this stage of my career. You want to play with good players and there’s lots on the Leafs. I’ll have a good summer (training) and see where the chips fall (with a regular line).

“This has been a great team for a few years, I know they have not got the reward of winning a close series. Sometimes in hockey, that’s the way it goes. You have to lose a few times before you get over that hump and it’s at that point now that the team is ready to take that next step. Hopefully I can help.”

lhornby@postmedia.com

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Marner and Matthews stay hot, Samsonov earns shutout as Maple Leafs beat Kings – Sportsnet.ca

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As winter meetings come to a close, Blue Jays opt to wait for other opportunities – Sportsnet.ca

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Hazel Mae sits down with Toronto Blue Jays manager John Schneider to discuss his experience at the winter meetings, what the Blue Jays will look to improve upon this offseason, whether outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. can play in right field, and more.

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Edmonton Oilers turn it on against a wounded opponent in an 8-2 win: Cult of Hockey Player Grades

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The Edmonton Oilers earned only their 2nd 2-0 lead of the season against the Arizona Coyotes Wednesday. Then did not look back, en route to an 8-2 no-doubter at Rogers Place.

And while Edmonton deserves fair marks for the victory…

Arizona came into this one with just 1 win in their last 10 games and at the tail end of a withering 14-game road trip.

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Bad team. Bad schedule. Bad result.

Aside from the 2 points, Jay Woodcroft was able to ease off the gas on McDavid, Draisaitl and Hyman’s ice time.

Here is the tale of the tape…

Cult of Hockey Player Grades

STUART SKINNER. 7. As good as they needed him to be. Stuart Skinner’s best save early was a point-blank stuff on Crouse. Excellent kick save on Keller in the 2nd. Left to his own devices on an Oilers defensive zone breakdown on the 3-1. Handled a breakaway shot in the 3rd thanks in part to a hard back-check by Bouchard. Stopped 16-18.

CONNOR McDAVID. 9. Second assist on the 1-0. Drew a Power Play with a dogged play in the high slot and then fed Draisaitl net side for the 3-0. Just missed an opportunity short side. Received a stretch pass from Draisaitl and then sifted a nice pass to Hyman who took it hard to the net. A lightening fast wraparound on a circus-like pass from Draisaitl made it 7-1. A 1-timer from the bottom of the circle off a Hyman pass made it 8-1. His 18:32 was the least so far this season.

LEON DRAISAITL. 7. Could not bat home a rebound off a pass from McDavid in the 1st. Contributed to 3 chances on a 2nd Period PP. The next man advantage, he made short work of a tidy McDavid pass net side for the 3-0. Fired a stretch pass in the 2nd that ended with a Hyman chance in tight. Who did not marvel at the spin-o-rama at the attacking blueline followed by the sublime cross-ice backhand pass to McDavid for the 7-1. A relatively light night at 17:40. 57% on draws.

ZACH HYMAN. 6. Drew a 1st Period Power Play and then was net front on the resulting 1-0. Took a McDavid set up hard to the net in the 2nd. Another net drive in the 3rd, followed by a terrific pass that McDavid turned into the 8-1. 4 shots. Good to see him healthy.

DARNELL NURSE. 7. A fine defensive play thwarted a would-be Arizona 2-on-1 in the 1st. An assist on McDavid’s 1st. Quiet, confident game.

CODY CECI. 5. 1st Period hooking minor. 2 hits, 2 blocks.

RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS. 9. He was excellent. Wristed home his 12th of the season on a Power Play in the 1st. Another hard wrister after an Arizona turnover delivered career NHL goal 209 to make it 4-1. That tied him with the great Paul Coffey for 8th on the all-time franchise list. A helper on the Draisaitl goal. Late to his man on the 8-2. 4 shots in 17:59. 50% on draws. A clean sheet in 1:16 of PK time.

MATTIAS JANMARK. 6. Dangerous wrap-around attempt in the 1st. Next shift won an important battle to help clear his own zone. 3 shots.

KAILER YAMAMOTO. 7. His hustle drew an interference call on a pic to negate an Arizona Power Play. Good positioning on the forecheck and then intercepted a clumsy pass and funneled it up to Nugent-Hopkins for the 4-1. Earned the primary assist on the Kulak goal. 3rd Period breakaway but his back-hand deke was stopped. Has been since he has been back.

BRETT KULAK. 6. His elite skating skills were on full display to erase a would-be Arizona breakaway by Maccelli in the 2nd. Corralled his man but got no puck support from his forwards on the 3-1. Walked in and fired a laser off a hard-working flurry by Holloway and Yamamoto for the 5-1. His man deflected home the 8-2.

TYSON BARRIE. 8. Primary assist on the 1-0. Threw a lovely cross-seam pass to Nugent-Hopkins on a 1st period PP. Wrist shot off a 2-on-1 feed from Ryan. On the ice but not at fault on the 3-1. Diving block broke up an Arizona 2-on-1. Zone entry on the 8-1. 3 shots, +2. High Dangers 6-2. Led the club in TOI at 22:40. The Oilers best D-man tonight.

JAMES HAMBLIN. 5. Good defensive stick at his own blueline in the 1st. Hustled. A shot.

DYLAN HOLLOWAY. 7. Drew a penalty in the 1st by tucking his shoulder into Nemeth on a hard net drive. Tremendous shift late in the 2nd where he created a chance, just missed one of his own, and then finally drew the 2nd assist on Kulak’s 5-1 goal. Hard 3rd Period net drive but the puck wobbled wide. Led the Oilers in 5v5 CF at 14-3, 82%.A very noticeable 15:05 of TOI.

JESSE PULJUJARVI. 5. 3 shots credited although none particularly dangerous.

EVAN BOUCHARD. 6. Looked much better tonight after the benching last game. Walked in from the point and ripped a hard wrist shot early in the 2nd. 3 shots 3 hits. 22:0q in a boucne-back effort.

PHILIP BROBERG. 6. Second assist on the 2-0. Inadvisable reverse in own zone led to a long Arizona shift in the Edmonton zone. But over-all a solid effort.

DEVIN SHORE. 5. 80% on faceoffs. Worked hard, fought the puck a fair bit. 3rd Period minor.

KLIM KOSTIN. 8. The Gordie Howe hat trick for the big forward. Rattled the boards with a hit on Nemeth. Later, calmly cleared the zone and then putted a smart pass up the middle which Derek Ryan deposited for the 2-0. Could not clear the zone up the wall on the 3-1 against, although the bounce did him no favors. Laser wrist shot glove side high on the 6-1. Finally, took on and bloodied the nose of Zack Kassian in a late scrap. 3 hits. Opening some eyes…

DEREK RYAN. 7. Had a very good night. Scored an industrious goal for the 2-0 by grabbing a Kostin area pass, battling past 2 defenders, and then depositing a skillful for-back-for-back deke. Fed Barrie on a 2nd Period 2-on-1. Lost his check on the 3-1. Forced a 3rd Period turnover which Kostin deposited for the 6-1. 1:19 short handed.

The Oilers are now 15-12 for 30 points in 27 games. That is good for 4th in the Pacific, and in the 1st Wild Card spot. Minnesota is up next.

Find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins, on Instagram at LeavinsOnHockey, and now on Mastodon at KurtLeavins@mstdn.social

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