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NHL, NHLPA discuss ratification of CBA, return-to-play plan

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With the ratification of the NHL’s return-to-play plan and an extension of the collective bargaining agreement on Friday night, the league can now shift its focus to getting back on the ice.

Ahead of training camps getting underway on Monday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and NHLPA special assistant to the executive director Mathieu Schneider will hold a joint availability on Saturday to discuss return to play and the extended CBA.

Source: – Sportsnet.ca

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Maple Leafs must add proven defenders, move on from all-offence identity – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Uncle.

Enough.

It’s time.

The Toronto Maple Leafs need defencemen. Plural. And, God bless Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren, but they need some defencemen who are proven.

Yes, that means they might cost more than $700,000. Yes, that means subtracting some cap-allotted dollars from the most expensive top-nine forward outfit in the sport.

Do you know what the NHL’s top nine defensive teams in 2019-20 all have in common?

They’re all alive and well in the playoffs. The real ones that start Tuesday. And that group includes the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Do you know what the bottom 10 defensive teams in 2019-20 all have in common?

They’re all eliminated. And that group includes the Maple Leafs, who lost Sunday’s decisive Game 5 by a score of 3-0.

We’ve beat this drum before, like on the night Mitch Marner signed a contract rich enough to give Kyle Dubas’s lottery-bound squad the top three highest-salaried forwards in hockey. But circumstances have changed.

First and foremost, Dubas’s hefty financial commitments to John Tavares, Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Marner were all made on the (reasonable) assumption that the salary cap would not only continue to rise with each passing Canada Day but that it could take a dramatic spike when the next U.S. broadcast deal kicked in.

That, of course, is no longer the case. The cap will remain flat until the virus decides otherwise.

Second, instead of taking a step forward, the Leafs — as a whole — have stumbled back. More than half the NHL is still bubbled up and playing for the Stanley Cup. They are not.

The Nazem Kadri trade, though explainable at the time, was a whiff. When push came to shove, rookie coach Sheldon Keefe took Tyson Barrie off the No. 1 power-play unit and replaced him with Morgan Rielly. Alexander Kerfoot’s third line wasn’t awful, but he and Kasperi Kapanen were both handed nice raises last summer. Neither scored a playoff goal, despite Keefe’s proclamation that he expected production throughout the lineup.

During the regular season, Toronto has been one of the most dangerous clubs at even strength that money can buy.

The post-season is a different beast. One that has gnawed on this core for four years in a row, no matter who’s behind the bench or how much ice time the stars are handed.

As the buzzer sounded in a hollow home arena Sunday night and Toronto joined the budget-conscious, punchline Florida Panthers as the only two franchises of the salary-cap era yet to survive a single playoff series, a few snapshots spoke volumes:

• Matthews, Marner and Tavares bent over their sticks, gasping for breath after playing 21-plus minutes apiece and still failing to score a fourth even-strength goal for Toronto over five games.

• A dour Matthews — arguably the series MVP in a losing cause — politely saying he didn’t want to explain the trend he saw in the core’s 0-for-4 performance in playoff series.

• And Keefe praising the Blue Jackets forwards for being so good and bringing up luck. “A little more luck, and it might be a different result,” Keefe said, noting his team scored on fewer than two per cent of its shots 5-on-5.

Because Dubas built his roster as the counter argument to “defence wins championships,” Keefe spent three months of quarantine and the entirety of reset camp tweaking his system and urging his players to buy into improved own-zone play by all five guys.

For the most part, it worked. The Leafs did a decent job keeping Columbus out of the danger areas and shut the Jackets out in Game 2. Yet it came at the expense of their identity, their strength.

“I’ll be thinking about this one for a while,” a sombre Keefe said post-game.

The Leafs will pack their Louis bags and carry a 5-on-5 goal drought of 182:46 in game clock into 2020-21.

A desperate Keefe tried to make William Nylander a centre. He bumped one of the game’s best forecheckers, Zach Hyman, to Line 2, and stacked his top line. He threw surprise Andreas Johnsson into the mix, even though the winger hadn’t played since before Valentine’s Day.

The coach second-guessed his own decisions and deviated from the centre depth that was supposed to attack in unrelenting waves.

That’s what solid, committed defences do to their opponents. They frustrate them. Make ’em blink.

“We can’t lose sight of who we are as a team,” Keefe said prior to Game 1, prophetically. “We need to be really good offensively.”

Conversely, John Tortorella’s group rolled out the same game plan night after night. No secrets to the recipe: Hard work. Heart. Two good goalies. And plenty of quality defencemen who couldn’t care less about their point totals.

“We’re not changing,” Tortorella said of Game 4’s epic collapse. “We pissed it away on a couple of bad plays and just within a couple of minutes, [but] we thought we played a good game. We’re going to go play the same way.”

And they did.

Not only did Toronto’s regular-season deficiencies on the blueline have Keefe and the Leafs second-guessing their own game plan, but the loss of Jake Muzzin — the club’s best pure defender — for Games 3, 4 and 5 underscored an organizational crisis.

If you truly have Stanley Cup expectations, one injured defenceman should not be a critical blow against a middle-of-the-pack opponent.

For 2020-21, Dubas has already committed $52 million to NHL forwards. On defence? Just $15 million.

That gap has to close. The Maple Leafs’ blue line needs more depth.

It’s time.

Enough.

Uncle.

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Danielle Kang wins second straight event as Lydia Ko collapses at Marathon – Golf Channel

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SYLVANIA, Ohio – Five shots behind with six holes to play, Danielle Kang won her second straight LPGA tour event on Sunday when Lydia Ko made double bogey on the final hole in the Marathon Classic.

Kang began her rally with consecutive birdies on the 13th and 14th holes at Highland Meadows, and then all she needed were pars the rest of the way for a 3-under 68, all because of Ko’s shocking collapse.

Ko was poised to end two years and 44 tournaments without a victory. She made bogey on the 14th hole, and with Kang’s birdies, the lead suddenly was down to two. Ko dropped another shot on the 16th, and caught a break when Kang was in position for birdie on the par-5 17th and had to settle for par.


Full-field scores from the Marathon LPGA Classic


But on the closing par 5, Ko fell apart. She hit her chip through the green. With a slightly uphill lie in patchy rough, Ko muffed the chip and watched it roll into a bunker. She blasted that out to 10 feet and missed the putt that would have forced a playoff. She wound up with a 73.

Jodi Ewart Shadoff, in contention for the second straight week but still without an LPGA victory, played bogey-free after the opening hole for a 67. She wound up in a tie for second with Ko.

Ko reached No. 1 in the world as a teenager and now is outside the top 50. Her back had been troubling her all week, but this appeared to be more about nerves.

Kang finished at 15-under 269 in winning for the fifth time in her LPGA career.

The two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion won last week when the LPGA resumed its schedule at tough Inverness Club in nearby Toledo, site of next year’s Solheim Cup.

Now, Kang is a back-to-back winner and has established herself as the top American player.

Minjee Lee finished eagle-birdie for a 68 to finish alone in fourth.

The LPGA, which resumed after six months because of the pandemic, now heads to Scotland for two weeks for the Ladies Scottish Open and the Women’s Open Championship.

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Blues will play Canucks in Western Conference First Round – NHL.com

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The St. Louis Blues will play the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

St. Louis, which won the Stanley Cup last season and finished first in the Western Conference during the regular season, was 0-2-1 in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to finish as the No. 4 seed in the West. Vancouver eliminated the Minnesota Wild in four games in a best-of-5 series and will be the No. 5 seed.

Game 1 is Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

“Vancouver has a lot of young guys who are really good players, (have) a lot of speed,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “They’re a dangerous team offensively, they really come at you with speed. We’re going to have to do a good job of checking, doing the right things. And they also have a good power play. We took too many penalties (in the round-robin), so it’s important we have to stay out of the penalty box.”

[RELATED: Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round schedule]

Ryan O’Reilly led the Blues with three assists, and David Perron and Colton Parayko each scored two goals in the round-robin. Jordan Binnington was 0-2-0 with a 4.10 goals-against average and an .895 save percentage. Jake Allen allowed one goal on 38 shots in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars on Sunday.

Quinn Hughes scored six points (one goal, five assists) for the Canucks in the Qualifiers, which Vancouver entered as the No. 7 seed. Bo Horvat (two goals, two assists), Elias Pettersson (one goal, three assists) and Christopher Tanev (one goal, three assists) each scored four points. Jacob Markstrom was 3-1-0 with a 2.27 GAA, .926 save percentage and one shutout.

“They’re both really good teams,” Canucks coach Travis Green said prior to knowing their opponent. “I mean, it’s pretty obvious when you’ve watched them play the last few years, a Stanley Cup winner (St. Louis) and a team that was on the verge of going to the Stanley Cup (Dallas), so whatever team we play it will be a good matchup, a hard matchup.”

St. Louis was 1-1-1 against Vancouver this season. Five players scored two points each, including a goal and an assist each from Tyler Bozak, Alex Pietrangelo and Jaden Schwartz. Binnington was 1-0-1 with a 1.87 GAA and .939 save percentage. Allen allowed two goals on 25 shots in a 3-1 loss on Jan. 27.

“We definitely didn’t play our best in these three (round-robin) games, but I think we progressively got better,” Allen said. “… We need to home in on Vancouver. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”

J.T. Miller led the Canucks with four points (three goals, one assist) against the Blues, and Horvat scored two goals. Markstrom allowed two goals on 27 shots in a 2-1 shootout loss on Nov. 5. Backup Thatcher Demko was 2-0-0 with a 1.92 GAA and .946 save percentage.

“You look at it, both teams, St. Louis, Dallas, one is a Stanley Cup champion team, so they definitely know what it takes, and Dallas has a lot of experience, and both definitely more than us,” Canucks forward Tanner Pearson said. “So whoever it is, it’s definitely going to be a big task and hopefully a pretty good series.”

This will be the fourth playoff series between the teams. Vancouver won each of the previous three, including the most recent in four games in the 2009 Western Conference Quarterfinals.

This is Vancouver’s first postseason appearance since 2015. The best-of-7 series will be played at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the Western Conference.

NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers and independent correspondent Kevin Woodley contributed to this report

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