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Newfoundland's Mercer, Newhook fuelled by provincial pride at World Juniors – TSN

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Team Canada held an optional morning skate and media availability on Sunday​.

Dawson Mercer and Alex Newhook are feeling the love from back home in Newfoundland.

“It’s unmatched,” said Newhook, a centre from Boston College. “I don’t think anywhere else in the world would have that support. Myself and Dawson, we’re feeling it first hand and we’re super proud to be from Newfoundland. The support we get, it’s been crazy.”

What was Mercer’s phone looking like after he scored twice last night?

“It was blowing up, honestly,” the Chicoutimi Sagueneens forward said. “I love seeing the videos of my friends and how hooked they were and everything.”

Even the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Andrew Furey, tweeted his support, telling Mercer and Newhook, “your home province is cheering you on.”

This the first time since 1992 that two players from the province have made it to the World Juniors. Mercer and Newhook actually grew up as rivals. Mercer is a “Baymen” from tiny Bay Roberts while Newhook is a “Townie” from St. John’s.

“There was always a rivalry, for sure,” said Newhook. “It was always the town against the bay. We played a lot against him and that helped both of us. Usually there’s not too much competition once you get older and to have a lot of great players in our age group back home has helped us both get here today.”

“I only played with him when it was Team NL tournaments and a lot of time was against him,” Mercer said. “It was very competitive, especially for our age group. It was, honestly, a pretty good year in Newfoundland so the competition was decent.”

Who had the edge growing up?

“I remember we took it my first year of bantam before I moved away,” said Newhook, who left home at age 14, “so that will probably give me bragging rights.”

“Yeah, they got the best of us there,” Mercer recalled with a chuckle, “but we had it the year before, though.”

Newhook and Mercer may be from the same province, but they bring different elements to Team Canada. Mercer is often listed as the 13th forward and described by coach Andre Tourigny as a “flex player” who can bounce around the line-up. One of his goals last night came shorthanded.

“Every team needs a guy like that,” said Newhook. “He’s a guy that can be put in every situation and excel.”

Meanwhile, Canada prefers to keep Newhook at centre and also feeds him some power-play time. Newhook’s skill was on display on his opening goal last night as he wheeled around the German defence with some fancy footwork.

“He’s a very explosive and powerful player,” Mercer observed. “He showed that on his goals. You could see he really went by that defenceman with ease. He has a lot of skill and offensive ability, but he’s also a big guy and hard to knock off pucks. He’s a strong player and he’s always been like that growing up against him.”

So, Newhook and Mercer are different players from different parts of Newfoundland, but in the end that shared heritage means more than anything else.

“It was a great game last night and to have us both here makes it that much more special,” Newhook said.

After getting the third period off last night, Devon Levi will be back in net tonight for Canada.

“Today we will face an opponent who will bring a little more offence, so we wanted Devon to have a chance to play more minutes,” Tourigny explained.

The Northeastern University freshman turns 19 today.

“We’ve all been giving it to him a bit,” Newhook said with a smile. “All we can really get for him is a win so hopefully that will come through.”

Levi stopped nine of 10 shots against the Germans and continues to impress his new teammates.

“He’s been really composed and he plays really safe,” Mercer said. “He’s always in the right position and plays with confidence. He’s always zoned in. He’s so serious and determined in all aspects whether it’s warming up or in practice. I go out there to shoot on the goalies [before practice] fairly often and he’s always dialed in so I think that’s something that’s important.”

Slovakia will start Samuel Hlavaj, who posted a sparkling 33-3-2 record with Sherbrooke in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season.

“He’s a big body,” said Mercer. “He had a good team last year that had a lot of success and he was a big part of that. We will move the puck side to side and get quick shots on net.”

The IIHF issued a one-game suspension to Team Canada’s Braden Schneider for checking to the head and neck area. The Brandon defenceman was ejected from last night’s game in the first period after catching Jan-Luca Schumacher up high.

Here’s the explanation from the IIHF:

“In an attempt to gain possession of an incoming puck from his teammate, German forward Jan-Luca Schumacher slowed down and decided to chip the puck outside of his defensive zone. At no time during this sequence did Schumacher establish control of the puck. At the same time, Schneider skates towards Schumacher. Without any regard to the puck at any time and seeing his opponent in a vulnerable position, Schneider delivers a body check to the head of Schumacher. Schneider delivers the check slightly elevating his shoulder, hitting his opponent directly in the head … while Schneider’s elbow was down and while there was a size difference between the two players – because Schneider slightly elevated his shoulder into Schumacher’s head resulting in the player’s head snapping back, Schneider actions were extremely dangerous, created a serious risk of injury to Schumacher … Schneider could have easily avoided the check.”

Tourigny was asked about the play this morning before the decision came down.

“It’s a hockey play,” Canada’s coach said. “The size between the two players is a big factor. I won’t lie, I didn’t review the clip 22 times, just saw it and moved on, nothing we can do about it. We don’t want, obviously, a hit to the head, but I think it was a hockey play. I don’t think he meant any harm to the opponent.”

Moncton’s Jordan Spence, a healthy scratch against the Germans, will draw into the lineup.

Despite the 16-2 win last night, Tourigny still highlighted areas where he feels Team Canada can improve.

“We have a lot of little things, little habits from our face-off routes to our net presence to our reloading, a lot of details we need to get better at during the tournament,” Tourigny said. “The spirit of the players this morning is really good. The players have good energy. I like their focus. They’ve stayed grounded so that’s important.”

Slovakia, meanwhile, is feeling confident after shutting out Switzerland 1-0 on Christmas Day.

“We battled hard for a whole 60 minutes,” said coach Robert Petrovicky. “We played for each other and especially at the end of the game we blocked lots of shots. It was a team effort.”

What’s the key tonight against Canada?

“We got to be concentrating as soon as the puck drops, especially early in the game,” he said. “The boys are ready. They’re excited. They’re prepared. We got to keep the spirit up and play hard for every shift.”

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Rivers retiring after 17 seasons in NFL – TSN

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Veteran quarterback Philip Rivers told Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune he is retiring after 17 seasons in the NFL, 16 with the Chargers organization.

Rivers spent the 2020 season with the Indianapolis Colts, leading the team to the playoffs before losing to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card Round.

The 39-year-old threw for 4,169 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.

Prior to his lone season in Indianapolis, Rivers played 16 seasons with the Chargers split between San Diego and Los Angeles.

Rivers was drafted fourth overall by the New York Giants in 2004 before getting traded to the Chargers as part of a deal for Eli Manning.

An eight-time Pro Bowler, Rivers finished his career with 63,440 yards, 421 touchdowns, and 209 interceptions. He ranks fifth all-time in the NFL in both passing yards and touchdown passes.

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Blue Jays’ big swing on Springer marks turning point for franchise – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – After years spent trying to raise the roster’s floor, the Toronto Blue Jays are now raising the franchise’s ceiling.

A $150-million, six-year deal with free-agent outfielder George Springer that is pending a physical, according to an industry source, is certainly one way to do just that, marking a significant inflection point for the franchise.

The agreement is the richest in Blue Jays history, moving past the $126-million, seven-year extension Vernon Wells signed in December 2006, and is easily the club’s deepest free-agency plunge, nearly doubling the $82-million, five-year deal for Russell Martin in November 2014.

On the heels of the $80-million, four-year deal for Hyun-Jin Ryu last winter – the biggest outlay to a pitcher by the Blue Jays – this is a stride by president and CEO Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins back toward the upper third of the big-leagues, with room to grow.

Assuming that Springer’s salary is spread evenly at $25 million a year, the Blue Jays now have just under $100 million committed to 12 players for the upcoming season, with more moves to come. Factor in roughly $10 million for pre-arbitration eligible players, they can still make adds without blowing too far past their pre-pandemic projected 2020 spend of $108 million.

The financial efficiency of the current roster will diminish somewhat in the coming years when salaries for the club’s young core escalate as they become arbitration-eligible.

But assuming life regains more normalcy in 2022 and beyond and the Blue Jays deliver on their potential, revenue growth should keep pace with the escalating payroll, allowing them to not only make attempts to retain the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio before they become eligible for free agency after 2025, but to keep augmenting the roster, too.

In that way, going big now for Springer – an athletic centre-fielder with a strong, positive presence, seasons of 3.9, 4.5, 5.0 and 6.5 WAR as calculated by FanGraphs and a track record of post-season performance – makes sense.

There are some similarities between where the Blue Jays are right now and where they were in the late 1990s, with young, deeply talented rosters positioned to rejuvenate the business after a fall from grace.

Back then, former GM Gord Ash was forced to work around the indifferent ownership of Interbrew S.A., the major coup of signing Roger Clemens undermined when he asked out after the 1998 season, and the roster was never sufficiently reinforced with external adds.

Failing to leverage a talented young group featuring Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green, Shannon Stewart, Alex Gonzalez, Chris Carpenter, Kelvim Escobar and Roy Halladay is a haunting missed opportunity, and failing to bolster the group now would have been similarly damaging.

In Springer, the Blue Jays are adding a proven elite performer to support Guerrero, Bichette, Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, Danny Jansen and Nate Pearson, putting the 31-year-old in place to do a good chunk of the heavy lifting.

Beyond that, he makes the Blue Jays a much deeper club, and one thing they have aspired to is creating surplus on the roster, allowing them to better survive injuries and to mitigate against underperformance.

That’s why the report from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic saying the Blue Jays would continue to explore adding Michael Brantley, Springer’s close friend and Houston Astros teammate, makes sense, even if as a left fielder/DH, he’s a positional redundancy.

For one, surplus creates the opportunity for trades and Gurriel, for one, has wide appeal given his abilities and a very efficient $14.7 million total price tag for the next three seasons. But the Blue Jays would also be fine carrying more talent than available at-bats, knowing the inevitable attrition of a major-league season will largely sort that out.

Such an approach has allowed the Los Angeles Dodgers to be a sustainable winner, which is what the Blue Jays hope to become. It was a telling moment at the trade deadline last summer when Atkins pointed to the now defending World Series champions as the model to follow.

“It’s never all-in at one time – it’s a steady growth,” he said Aug. 31, when asked to contrast the Blue Jays’ approach to that of the San Diego Padres. “They continue to build up their system. They’ve continued to make their 40-man roster more efficient and obviously very effective. It’s important to be measured, and there isn’t one juncture where, in our view, that you put all the cards on the table. For us it will be, hopefully, continuing to be able to build and have a system that continues to provide talent for us, and not just trade pieces. That’s our goal.

“We’ll hope to continue to be measured. At the same time, it’s not without making really significant deals that mean very, very high prices. But it’s too hard to say on when exactly that time will be where those bigger deals occur.”

That time arrived late Tuesday night and it’s a turning point for the franchise, a significant step after near-misses this off-season for Francisco Lindor and D.J. LeMahieu, among others.

The Blue Jays needed an add like Springer, not only to placate fans who eye-rolled their way through months of reporting that linked the team to every free agent of consequence, but also to be credible to their own players, to show them that they can get the help they need.

Many needs, however, remain.

The rotation requires a boost and the pending-physical deals with Tyler Chatwood on Monday and Kirby Yates on Tuesday, the latter for one year at $5.5 million with the potential for $4.5 million more in bonuses for appearances, per a source, demonstrate how they’re trying to protect themselves with a deep bullpen.

The Blue Jays also intend to add an infielder, while Brantley, a left-handed hitter, would help balance a lineup that’s nearly totally right-handed if signed.

No matter, after adding Springer, they are better, much better, in so many different ways.

The cost was steep and the back-end of such deals aren’t usually pretty, but that’s OK. Adding an extra year and the extra dollars is simply the price of doing business.

More important is that the Blue Jays didn’t play it safe, didn’t shy away from the risk, and rather than finding the reasons to say no when the moment of truth arrived, they turned the franchise in a new direction by saying “yes” instead.

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Three potential reasons why the Toronto Raptors have waived Alex Len – Raptors Rapture

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Alex Len has just been waived by the Toronto Raptors, which is important because it is most likely signaling another transaction.

The Raptors were not making this move for cap space, as Alex Len was signed to a very small contract, but the team was using up all 15 contracts that the team is allotted. Therefore, another player is probably coming into the fold to replace Alex Len.

Yuta Watanabe being converted to a one-way contract.

Yuta Watanabe has been a pleasant surprise for the Toronto Raptors coming off of the bench this season. He picked up the Raptors’ defensive schemes very quickly and was able to come in off the bench. While he is not a flashy offensive player, his strong defense quickly turned him into a fan favorite with the team.

Alex Len being waived opens up an extra one-way contract spot, which would allow Yuta Watanabe to come in and take that spot. If Watanabe were to remain on his two-way contract, the Raptors would have to abide by the rule of only being able to play him for 50 games. If they were to do this, the Toronto Raptors must be very confident in Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher at the centre position.

A potential trade for another centre.

Toronto Raptors – Marvin Bagley and Chris Boucher (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Perhaps the team waived Alex Len to open up a contract spot for a potential trade. There are a few centres on the market, such as Marvin Bagley and Andre Drummond, and trading for a new centre may have needed the Raptors to take on an additional contract. This waiving could mean a lot of things in a possible trade, but the most important thing here is that it opens a roster spot.

Marvin Bagley is an intriguing player. He has had some injury issues, but his player progression timeline fits much better with Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and the other young players on the roster. Making a move for him would allow him to complement Chris Boucher’s skillset very well, and he still has a ton of time to improve, only being drafted in 2018.

The Raptors 905 stand out

The Raptors 905 has begun their training for the upcoming G league bubble, and the Toronto Raptors most likely did some scouting on their practice. The Raptors have always been known for their ability to use the G-League to develop prospects, so maybe someone like Dewan Hernandez or Henry Ellenson performed well.

Ellenson, in particular, was not bad offensively during the preseason games this season, but Yuta Watanabe’s outstanding play made him not make the team. Perhaps the team liked what they saw from Ellenson’s offense, and thinks that they can bring him in to provide more offense from the centre position while also bringing more size than Chris Boucher too.

Dewan Hernandez is an interesting player for the Raptors to consider. He had major injury issues during his first season with the team, but perhaps the team is thinking that he has bounced back well from his injury.

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