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Maple Leafs' Tavares sees camp with Keefe as 'added bonus' of NHL's plan –



As the calendar creeps closer towards June and the tally nears four months without live hockey in North America, silver linings for Canada’s favourite game on ice have been hard to come by.

The NHL offered one earlier this week, with commissioner Gary Bettman unveiling the framework of the league’s four-phase plan to resume amid the COVID-19 pandemic if it becomes safe to do so. But the multitudes contained in that “if” are still daunting. The novel coronavirus does not care when the NHL would like to come back, after all.

Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares knows how many hurdles remain, how many hairpin turns could send the league back to square one, but still believes there’s a “really good chance” hockey is played this summer. So leave it to Tavares, that even-keeled, blue-and-white wearing optimist, to look deeper into hockey’s foggy future and find another light hiding within, too.

“We’ve got to be looking forward to what’s ahead, an opportunity to kind of reset here,” Tavares told Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman during Sportsnet’s #Ask31 Live on Thursday. “[It will be] a good opportunity to get a training camp under [head coach Sheldon Keefe], which we never really got.

“So kind of a little almost added bonus is, with a new coach, you get to really implement a lot more things …and really get those true reps that you need. Which you really can’t get in the season, especially as the season goes on, and the wear and tear, and the rest becomes very valuable. I think that’s definitely a benefit we’re going to get.”

Coaching a team with Stanley Cup aspirations is never easy, and assuming the role mid-season as Keefe did adds another layer of complexities to the mix — implementing redesigned lineups and systems on the fly, all while knowing there’s less room for error because there are fewer games left to be played.

In the 39 games he’s spent guiding the Maple Leafs’ on-ice performance, Keefe has gone 27-15 while ushering in a more free-wheeling — albeit not always consistent — offence that made use of Toronto’s wealth of offensive talent and saw them score the fourth-most goals in the league during his tenure, while posting the second-best power-play success rate.

If that’s what he could cook up in half a season on short notice, there’s at least the chance the time off to examine the ingredients in Toronto’s cupboard and a mini-camp to sample how they mix together could yield a more enticing final product.

Earlier Thursday, Friedman reported that players were informed Phase 3 of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan — the phase which includes training camps — won’t start before July 10. So that “added bonus” and any of its potential benefits is still a ways away for Tavares, Keefe and the rest of the Maple Leafs.

And if Tavares’ optimism is well-placed, if camps can be held, hockey can return and a Stanley Cup can be played for, there will be at least one more new face potentially joining him on the Maple Leafs: OHL standout Nick Robertson.

“I can imagine being in Nick’s shoes and just your hair standing up on end, getting an opportunity to be part of the team in a unique situation like this — an opportunity to help us win a Stanley Cup,” Tavares said.

Expectations accompany opportunities like that, certainly. And nerves, probably. Putting on a Maple Leafs jersey means wearing the hopes of a championship-starved fan base too — not a simple experience for an 18-year-old, to say the least.

Tavares is no stranger to shouldering that weight. He chose it, after all, deciding to sign with Toronto as a free agent, and with that familiarity comes advice for how to navigate it.

“You’re here for a reason,” Tavares said. “You shouldn’t feel that you need to walk on egg shells. You need to be yourself, you need to play like yourself. Never take anything for granted, you gotta go out there and work and earn it — that’s what playing at this level [means].

“…There’s a reason why you’re here and what brought you here, so don’t forget those things. And be yourself. You’re a part of the team, you’re a part of our group, and you mean as much to our team and our success as any one of our core guys.”

Watch Thursday’s edition of #Ask31 Live with John Tavares in its entirety below:

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NHLPA Executive Board approves CBA, return-to-play plan –



The NHLPA’s Executive Board has approved the CBA extension and return-to-play plan that was recently agreed to with the NHL. The entire NHLPA membership will now have an opportunity to vote on the two agreements with a simple majority required to ratify them.

In a tweet, the NHLPA announced that the full membership vote will be conducted electronically from Wednesday to Friday this week and the result of the vote is expected to be announced shortly after. The NHL’s Board of Governors will also vote on the agreements sometime this week.

The return-to-play plan includes all the rules and regulations necessary for the NHL to stage a 24-team return later this summer. This agreement covers Phase 3 of the return — training camps beginning July 13 — and Phase 4 — the resumption of play on Aug. 1. Any player that wishes to opt out of returning to play will have 72 hours to do so once the agreement has been approved.

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston has more information on what the return-to-play plan covers here.

While the return-to-play plan was essential to complete the 2019-20 season, a CBA extension was equally important as it dictates how the league will move forward from a season that could cost it up to $1 billion in lost revenues. The current agreement was scheduled to expire in September of 2022 and the extension adds four more years.

As part of the agreement, the salary cap will remain flat at $81.5 million for every season until league revenues hit $4.8 billion. The agreement also offers some stability with regards to escrow charged to the players. With a 50-50 split in revenue and teams expected to play in at best partially full stadiums next season, players were potentially going to be hit very hard by escrow to cover the lost revenues. The new CBA caps escrow at 20 per cent in 2020-21 and that number will go down as league revenues go up over the course of the deal.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has more details on the CBA here, including information about new trade clause rules and Olympic participation.

After suspending the season and sending players home in March, the NHL began Phase 2 of returning to play on June 8 by allowing small group skates at team facilities. In the month since Phase 2 began, 35 players have tested positive for COVID-19, the NHL announced Monday.

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Blackhawks keeping name, pledge more support to Native American communities –



CHICAGO — The Chicago Blackhawks say they will continue to use their team name because it honours a Native American leader who has been an inspiration to generations.

“The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public,” the NHL team said in a statement Tuesday.

“We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups. As the team’s popularity grew over the past decade, so did that platform and our work with these important organizations.

“We recognize there is a fine line between respect and disrespect, and we commend other teams for their willingness to engage in that conversation. Moving forward, we are committed to raising the bar even higher to expand awareness of Black Hawk and the important contributions of all Native American people. “

Under renewed pressure to change their name, the NFL’s Washington Redskins announced a “thorough review” of the issue. In baseball, the Cleveland Indians are also looking into it while the Atlanta Braves declined.

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Canucks’ Chris Tanev ‘ready to go’ after long post-season layoff –



VANCOUVER – The first time he played an NHL playoff game, Chris Tanev was a little-known 21-year-old minor league call-up who was two years removed from the Markham Waxers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.

Tanev was ninth on the Vancouver Canucks’ defence depth chart, still a rookie in the American Hockey League, when the 2011 Stanley Cup tournament began. But the defenceman from Toronto logged nearly 21 NHL minutes the night Kevin Bieksa’s overtime slap shot (on an assist from a stanchion) won the Western Conference title and sent the Canucks to their first Stanley Cup Final in 17 years.

Tanev then played the final three games of the Canucks’ seven-game series loss against the Boston Bruins.

No one at the start of that spring foresaw this undrafted, skinny-but-smart late bloomer playing for the chance to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. Still, Tanev was ready.

And five years since he last played a playoff game, Tanev will be ready again this summer no matter how little time teams have to prepare for an extraordinary Stanley Cup summer tournament in the year of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Mentally, it’s the same; you’re getting ready to go,” Tanev told reporters in a conference call Tuesday when asked about preparing for an NHL training camp in July and playoffs in August.

“Whenever the day is that it starts, I think everyone will be ready and mentally prepared. Depending on where everyone was in the world (during the NHL’s four-month shutdown), they were allowed to do different things. I feel strong. I’ve worked out. I’ve been skating for quite a while now. I feel ready to go whenever that date is.”

Earlier, the 30-year-old said: “I was fortunate enough my first few years in the league to be able to play in the playoffs, and we haven’t been able to do it in recent years. Our young guys are our best players, and they’ll be ready to go.

“I think we have just as good a shot as anyone to win this thing, so I think we’re going to be ready to go once the puck drops.”

There isn’t much time.

Ordinarily, players skate hard for at least a month before training camp, which is followed by a five- to eight-game pre-season ahead of October season-openers – the first step in an 82-game race to the playoffs that increases steadily in pace and intensity.

In the summer of COVID-19, the 24 teams still playing will have as little as three weeks – and perhaps only one or two exhibition games – to get ready for “playoff” hockey.

No one knows for sure what the hockey will look like, except there will be no spectators in the arenas of the hub cities, which are expected to be Edmonton and Toronto.

“I honestly have no idea,” Tanev said. “I don’t know if there’s an exhibition game or two games or what’s going on, but that play-in series is going to be, I think, a lot different for guys. You’re sort of jumping in to play playoffs (after) maybe only playing one game. It’s going to be very different. But I think as that series gets passed, and you start to get into the second and third rounds, the hockey will get quite good as guys get playing more.”

The Canucks have a five-game preliminary-round series against the Minnesota Wild.

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Tanev was one of only three Canucks – Troy Stecher and Alex Edler were the others – who remained in Vancouver during the shutdown. The benefit, besides the obvious health advantage of remaining in one of the safest major cities in the world, is that Canucks who didn’t require a flight to return to the West Coast now have relative freedom compared to group-quarantining teammates.

“I think a few guys aren’t as happy as us who have the freedom to walk around and do things outside of the hotel room, that’s for sure,” Tanev said.

Besides Tanev, Edler and Stecher, the Freedom Group includes Jake Virtanen and Tyler Myers, who spent most of the shutdown in the Okanagan, as well as Albertans Brandon Sutter and Jay Beagle and Manitoban Micheal Ferland.

Virtanen marked his return to the city last week by visiting a nightclub. Video and photos of the winger mixing with friends caused Canucks Twitter to melt. The Virtanen party was subject to the club’s social-distancing guidelines, but it was an unnecessary risk for the 23-year-old, even if he will have no contact with the majority of his teammates until training camp opens Monday at Rogers Arena.

The Canucks are preparing for camp in small groups isolating from one other.

“I think he knows he made a little bit of a mistake,” Tanev said. “But he’s tested now, I believe, twice and he’s tested negative. It’s obviously a tough situation when you’re not technically in quarantine and you’re allowed to go out and do whatever you want. But you’ve got to keep everyone in mind that we’re trying to create a safe environment for everyone. I think he knows that that was obviously the wrong decision, but I mean, I think him and guys seeing that now going forward will be smarter.”

Coaches call that a teachable moment.

We’ve had a lot of those in the world since February.

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