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Oilers, Maple Leafs could learn from how current Lightning roster is built –



EDMONTON — In Edmonton’s fantasy world, the Art Ross, the Hart and the Norris trophies are all followed sequentially by the Stanley Cup.

In Toronto’s master plan, the spreadsheet spits out a cheat code that magically produces an offensive high-wire act, fabulously concluding with a parade down Bay Street.

That’s how the Tampa Bay Lightning used to approach things too.

“We used to be a team that wasn’t good enough to beat you 3-0. We had to beat you 9-0,” began Jon Cooper, the head coach who for the past seven-plus seasons has stewarded this vessel through the rocky waters of the Eastern Conference. “You’re right about how we used to play in the past. We have an ability to score some pretty flashy goals, there’s no question about that.”

The problem was, the Bolts kept putting together 50-win regular seasons, even reaching a Stanley Cup Final and three Conference Finals — but they could never close the deal. Then, last spring, a Columbus team that had not won a single playoff round in franchise history swept the Lightning out of Round 1.

It was as big a slap in the face as any the National Hockey League has witnessed in decades.

From the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the Stanley Cup Final, livestream every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, blackout-free, on Sportsnet NOW.

With zero rings and a loooong spring to contemplate, Cooper recalled, “we had to change that attitude.”

It’s that attitude change — and the accumulation of players like Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, Pat Maroon and Zach Bogosian — that corrected the roster and priorities of a Lightning team that has gone from first-round fodder to being three wins away from being crowned Stanley Cup champions.

“What do they say the definition of insanity is? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?” Cooper asked. “We couldn’t do that. You need to have an attitude adjustment, and guys have to buy in. And it starts with your stars. The guys who are used to putting pucks in the net.”

Tampa was, to some degree, just a more mature and well-rounded team than the run ’n’ gun outfits in Toronto and Edmonton, two teams that had their share of regular season success this season before being blasted out in the Qualifying Round. Even with vastly better goaltending in Andrei “Vezina” Vasilevskiy and annual Norris Trophy candidate Victor Hedman on their blue line, Tampa couldn’t win — which tells you how far away the Maple Leafs and Oilers truly are.

“If you play that way — especially when you get to this time of year — bad things are usually going to happen,” Cooper said of the old Bolts. “Experience and being humbled can help right a ship. I truly believe last year’s experience… We’re seeing the fruits of that awful setback last spring.”

It’s obvious to look at the roster adjustments that general manager Julien BriseBois made, adding depth forwards that have made the Lightning grittier, and “slotted everybody into the right spots — including themselves,” according to Cooper.

But remember what the head coach said: “It starts with your stars.”

Whether it’s Connor McDavid, Mitch Marner or Nikita Kucherov, the leaders have to lead in the right direction. Towards the Stanley Cup, not just the Art Ross.

“Look no further than Nikita Kucherov’s (Game 2), and how he was getting beat up in ways that for anybody it’s hard to come back. All he did was come back and run a powerplay that scored two goals, and be a big part of why we won,” said Cooper. “When guys understand that it’s about what you keep out of your net, and not what you put into (their) net, good things will happen. That’s what’s gone on so far.”

Eventually, for every skilled team, there is going to be a Dallas on the horizon. A big, deep, grinding roster that doesn’t have nearly the same top-end skill of all the aforementioned clubs, but wins games using all the elements that those teams lack.

Tampa has learned through experience that you can’t simply surf along on top of those waters. You have dive in and swim with the sharks eventually.

It’s a movie the Leafs and Oilers should watch.

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Vikings trade Yannick Ngakoue to Ravens for multiple picks



MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings traded defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to the Baltimore Ravens for draft picks on Thursday, less than two months after acquiring the fifth-year pass rusher in a deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Ngakoue is tied for fourth in the NFL with five sacks in six games, including two forced fumbles, but the Vikings entered their bye week with a 1-5 record and thus more incentive to focus on the future than stay competitive in 2020.

“This was an opportunity that I felt would accomplish both the short and long term as we move forward, but these decisions aren’t easy to make,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said.

With Everson Griffen gone via free agency and Danielle Hunter injured since the beginning of training camp with a potentially season-ending neck injury, the Vikings on Aug. 31 sent a second-round draft pick in 2021 and a conditional fifth-round selection in 2022 for Ngakoue. He wanted to leave the Jaguars after accumulating 37 1/2 sacks in four years and called his arrival in Minnesota “a breath of fresh air.”

The Vikings have Ifeadi Odenigbo in place at defensive end, and fourth-round draft pick D.J. Wonnum will now be in line to start at the other spot.

“What you envision sometimes unfortunately doesn’t always come true,” Spielman said.

Minutes after Spielman’s previously scheduled video news conference with reporters, NFL Network reported Hunter has decided to have surgery. The Vikings were initially hoping he’d be able to return with rest and rehabilitation, and Spielman said acquiring Ngakoue was not related to Hunter’s injury. Since then, outside linebacker Anthony Barr was also lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle suffered on Sept. 20.

“You try to readjust with some of the top playmakers you don’t have, especially on the defensive side. That’s what the coaches are doing right now,” Spielman said.

With the trade deadline approaching on Nov. 3, the Vikings could try to trade some other high-priced veterans, with perhaps safety Anthony Harris, left tackle Riley Reiff or tight end Kyle Rudolph enticing another team to part with a draft pick or two. Spielman steadfastly refused to commit to a full-on rebuild.

“Our goal every week is to go out there and win football games. You have to balance out both. I still think we have a very talented team,” Spielman said.

The Vikings didn’t disclose specifics of the acquired draft selections. ESPN reported the Ravens will send a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional fifth-round pick.

Both teams are on their bye week.

The Ravens (5-1) could use Ngakoue to enhance a pass rush that has been productive of late but could use the help. Despite getting seven sacks against Cincinnati two weeks ago, five of those came from defensive backs. Defensive end Calais Campbell was acquired via trade, also from Jacksonville, during the last off-season. He had three of Baltimore’s six sacks last week in a 30-28 win at Philadelphia, but Ngakoue ought to minimize the need to send extra rushers and allow the Ravens to generate more pressure from their front four, just as the Vikings were intending.

“A quarterback can’t throw the ball if he’s on his back. So, if you can’t get there with four, you send five. If you can’t get there with five, send six. That’s the way it goes,” pass defenceco-ordinator Chris Hewitt said.

The Ravens are fourth in the league in sacks per pass attempt.

“We are excited to add Yannick Ngakoue to our football team,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said. “Yannick is someone who we are very familiar with going back to the draft process years ago. He is an exciting player and a dangerous pass rusher who makes us better. Yannick grew up here. He’s the type of person we welcome in our building. Finally, we are not finished building this team, as we continue to chase our ultimate goals.”

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Report: Ravens acquire DE Ngakoue – TSN



Yannick Ngakoue is on the move again.

The Minnesota Vikings have traded the defensive end to the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2022.

 Through six games this season, Ngakoue has recorded 12 tackles, 5.0 sacks and two forced fumbles.

In his fifth year out of Maryland, Ngakoue was acquired by the Vikings from the Jacksonville Jaguars – with whom he spent the first four seasons of his career – at the end of August.

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Virtanen signs two-year, $5.1 million contract with Canucks –



Jake Virtanen signed a two-year, $5.1 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday. It has an average annual value of $2.55 million.

The 24-year old forward was a restricted free agent and avoided a salary arbitration hearing scheduled for Oct. 28. He scored 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists) in 69 games with the Canucks last season and three points (two goals, one assist) in 16 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

“Obviously there’s a bright future with the Canucks organization, so many young, talented players coming in and the moves that we’ve made, I think it’s going to be just a brighter future for our team moving forward,” Virtanen said. “I’m excited to see how it all pans out and how our team’s going to do and super excited to get things going.

“[Contract negotiations] felt like a long time but obviously super excited to get this done and be back with the Canucks for two more years. Just happy to get it done and get it over with and just focus on training and skating and the whole thing, being ready to go.”

With forward Tyler Toffoli signing a four-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 12, it opened up a spot on one of the top two lines, and Virtanen is hoping he’ll get a chance to play there.

“Obviously I’d love to play top six and have a bigger opportunity, more responsibilities,” Virtanen said. “That’s what I really hope I get. I want to be able to prove that to the team and my teammates that I can play up there and be consistent every night, making sure that I can play night in and night out. It’s an opening for me to try to jump up there. I’ve got to make sure I’m coming to camp ready to go.”

Selected by Vancouver in the first round (No. 6) of the 2014 NHL Draft, Virtanen has scored 95 points (50 goals, 45 assists) in 279 regular-season games and three points in 16 playoff games.

“Jake has continued to make progress on his two-way game and remains a contributor offensively, using his speed and size to generate chances,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said. “We look forward to him taking additional steps in his growth this year to help our team be successful.” staff writer Tim Campbell contributed to this report

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