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Player grades: James Neal leads Edmonton as Oilers avoid total collapse against New York Rangers – Edmonton Journal



The Edmonton Oilers started out the first period with four Grade A chances and got three goals, the kind of things that usually happens to them, not in their favour.

But I’m sure they’ll take it.

And they’ll take the hat trick from James Neal, just as some fans of the Calgary Flames were starting to (improbably) suggest the the Flames just might have got the best of the Neal-for-Milan Lucic deal.

And, of course, Edmonton will also take the two points in a cliffhanger win, which saw Edmonton collapse in the third period but claw their way back to real .500, 21 wins and 21 losses on the year.

In the end — even if the Rangers had a strong push to almost tie it and remind every Oilers fan of just how undisciplined and disorganized this team can be on defence — the Oilers won 7-5, getting 12 Grade A scoring chances to nine for the New York Rangers (running count).

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Cult of Hockey game or player grades

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Connor McDavid, 7. He wasn’t involved much in the first three goals, but he led two dangerous shifts late in the first that had plenty of o-zone time, including McDavid setting up Nurse in the slot for a shot that went off the post. McD made a brilliant deke and pass to Neal on the one-timer hattie goal for #18.

Zack Kassian, 7. He came out flying, setting up James Neal in the slot. Had four shots on net.

James Neal, 9. Whatever else you want to say about James Neal, he’s still got his goal scorer’s touch, which he flashed on the first goal 11 seconds into the game, then again nine minutes in when he deflected in Oscar Klefbom’s power play shot, then on the hattie with a wicked one-timer snipe in the second period. Picked up a power play assist in the second. But he also made a bad line change on New York’s third goal.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 8. Four point night! He did what he needed to do early in the game, creating something positive, setting up Jujhar Khaira in the goal mouth. Next he made a sweet pass leading on Neal’s power play goal and an even sweeter tip on Edmonton’s third goal. In the second, he and Ethan Bear got their signals crossed on a dangerous Ranger chance, then RNH took a penalty. His skate-pass was key to Draisaitl’s goal. He allowed a cross-seam pass on the Rangers second goal, then again on the third goal, but the game was pretty much out of reach by then. Or so it seemed.

Sam Gagner, 3. He flipped the puck into RNH on Khaira’s dangerous early chance. But he let go his check Ryan Strome on the second New York goal, and allowed a cross-seam pass on the third. The fifth Rangers goal also went through him when he lost his stick.

Jujhar Khaira, 5. He went hard to the net but failed to cash in on an early Five Bells chance. Quiet game otherwise.

Leon Draisaitl, 6. He got beat up the ice by Brett Howden on New York’s first dangerous slot shot. Mikko Koskinen made a swell save, keeping Draisaitl from getting another unwanted -1 goals. But he got an excellent tip chance on the power play in the second, then hacked in a wide-open slot shot for a power play goal of his own.

Joakim Nygard, 5. He left his check Adam Fox open in the slot early in the second, but Fox missed the net. In the second period, though, he and Ethan Bear broke up a dangerous chance. He was part of the strong passing that led to Kailer Yamamoto’s near one-timer goal.

Kailer Yamamoto, 7. Almost got his first NHL goal this year on a one-timer shot off a Draisaitl feed. He did get it into the empty-net, first shutting down the New York attack in the Oil zone. Impressive that coach Dave Tippett trusted him enough to have him out there late in the game protecting a one-goal lead. By then, of course, most of the other veteran forwards had let down the Oil with weak defensive play in the third.

Riley Sheahan, 6. Kicked off the game with some strong work on the Edmonton’s first penalty kill. He also made a fine pass to Archibald on his second period goal. He lost track of the danger man on the fifth New York goal, allowing a cross-seam shot.

Josh Archibald, 7. He joined in the early stomp fest with his best snipe of the year late in the second. Not at fault on the ugly and ongoing team-wide sequence of pain in the third period.

Gaetan Haas, 5. He hustles hard, skates fast, falls down quite a bit, makes the odd good play. He gave away the puck late in the second, leading to a four-on-two Rangers rush late in the second and Chris Kreider’s goal. That mental mistake by Haas late in the second foreshadowed the many mental mistakes in the third period.

Ethan Bear, 7. He commanded the offensive blueline in the first period, making an excellent heads up shot pass at RNH for Edmonton’s third goal. He made mistakes on a few chances against, but nothing too major.

Oscar Klefbom, 7. He got the puck on net fast on Edmonton’s first power play and it was suddenly 2-0 for the good guys. He left the game in the third with a sore foot on a blocked shot. It will be bad news, if he’s out for long, said Captain Obvious.

Darnell Nurse, 6. He put one off the post in the first. He allowed the cross-seam Artemi Panarin pass late in the second leading to Kreider’s goal. But he wasn’t much part of the ugly, ugly, ugly in the third.

Kris Russell, 6. He takes a lot of guff from a small but loud faction of haters, but there Russell was, bumped up into the Top 4 again on the right side at a time of need. He got the job done this night. He did allow a cross-ice pass on the second New York goal.

William Lagesson, 5. He did well in his first game, helping set up a couple of Grade A chances with stretch passes in the second. But he got walked on a breakaway chance early in the third.

Adam Larsson, 4. Quiet game as he helped break in his new defence partner, Lagesson. He made a weak glove pass, though, on Panarin’s fourth goal and was also part of the group that allowed a cross-seam pass on the sequence of pain leading to New York’s third goal.

Mikko Koskinen, 7. Five goals against but a good game? Yes, that’s how I saw it, because Koskinen came up big when the game was on the line. He made a fine early save on a Five Bells chance by Howden early in the first. That was huge. He had a few other tough shots in the first but saved them. Early in the second, he made another great save on a goal mouth shot by Ryan Strome. He made some trouble of his own, a bad turnover that led to a dangerous cross-seam pass and one-timer shot in the second. Early in the third once more he came up big on a deflected shot off of Klefbom’s skate and a moment later on a breakaway by Greg McKegg of the Rangers. Not at fault on any of the New York goals, save for the fourth. He should have had Panarin’s shot. Could it be he got hurt early in the third? If so, the Oilers are done for 2020. He’s the team’s most vital player, as there’s no one else to put in net at this time.

At the Cult

McCURDY: Yamo and Wild Bill get the call up

STAPLES: A radical plan for McDavid & Draisaitl

STAPLES: Toffoli? Saad? Pageau? Any make sense for Oilers?

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Report: Louisville a possibility for Raptors home games in 2021 –



Discussions have been had about the possibility of Louisville serving as a temporary home for the Toronto Raptors during the upcoming NBA season, according to Yahoo’s Vincent Goodwill.

Per Goodwill, the potential stems from former NBA player and now-businessman Junior Bridgeman having contacted the NBA to bring attention to the fact that Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center is NBA-ready.

Canada and the United States agreed to close the border for non-essential travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic back in March, and on Monday that agreement was extended until at least Nov. 21. Due to the restrictions, Toronto-based teams such as the Blue Jays and Toronto FC have had to play their home games out-of-country, in Buffalo and East Hartford, Connecticut, respectively.

If those same restrictions continue to be implemented into the forthcoming NBA season, the Raptors, too, may be forced to play somewhere other than Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.

The league has yet to make any official decisions about the 2020-21 campaign, and is still in the process of figuring out the salary cap, the opening date for free agency and a myriad of other topics.

Commissioner Adam Silver has reiterated several times over the past few months that the league’s decisions will be necessarily be determined by the novel coronavirus.

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Raptors ‘making the best’ of challenging circumstances ahead of NBA Draft –



TORONTO — Despite looking to have slim pickings with picks No. 29 and No. 59 in this year’s NBA Draft, the Toronto Raptors think there’s a lot of talent to be found at those spots and are doing a lot of homework right now to cover their bases before the Nov. 18 date.

“It seems to be a very balanced draft this year,” said Raptors assistant general manager Dan Tolzman in a conference call with the media Wednesday, “which for picking almost smack dab in the middle of it, at 29, we feel pretty confident that we could be looking at 50 different players maybe just for that one pick because we have really no idea who could go at the 20 picks in front of that pick, or the 20 picks after, and it’ll be anywhere in between.

“We have interest in guys in that whole range because there’s a lot of uncertainty just because of the typical draft process not being the same… usually there’s a lot of risers and fallers based on whether it’s the draft combine, individual workouts, three-on-three workouts, all that kind of stuff, that isn’t happening so a lot of the same names that we usually would have maybe bounced around on our list a little more frequently… they’re still very much in the mix and a handful of those guys will probably end up going well before our pick and we’ll be looking at some names that we may not expect at both of our picks.”

Though the great NBA bubble experiment has come to a close, the effects of COVID-19 are still impacting the league in big ways, most notably right now in the fact that the draft has been moved to November from its usual June date and the pre-draft process has gone entirely virtual, creating hurdles not seen before.

Thankfully for the Raptors, however, they haven’t been too disrupted by their new reality.

“It’s very different than what we’re used to, I can tell you that,” Tolzman said of the workflow happening now. “It’s one-of-a-kind and it seems like it’s never-ending, to be totally honest with you. It’s one of those things where we are doing what we can within the guidelines that the league has given us, and we’re making the best of it. Thankfully, our scouting department, our front office is designed to not be too thrown off by these new ways of doing things.

“It’s just it seems like forever since we’ve seen these players. They might be completely different from the last time we saw them playing in March. We’re basing a lot of these decisions on extensive film work, discussions as a staff, and a lot of background digging on players to get as much info as we can to make an educated decision come draft night. So it’s gonna look a little different, the process leading up to it, but hopefully when it’s all said and done, looking back on it, it won’t be much different in terms of outcome of it.”

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The Raptors take a holistic approach to their entire draft process and rely on data they’ve accumulated on players over the span of multiple years rather than just looking at a players’ most recent season. So it makes sense when Tolzman says his team is well-equipped for these extenuating circumstances. Still, he does admit that not being able to see players live face-to-face for interviews or to bring them to Toronto to work out has made the process more challenging than before.

“It’s unfortunate for that side of things to kind of miss out on that opportunity. We’re still getting some one-on-one time,” Tolzman said. “We’re doing a lot of Zoom interviews. Of course, it doesn’t recreate the inter-person discussions, but we’re doing our best to at least get to know them through those sorts of interviews, but then also reaching out and talking to people within their circles to just kind of learn as much as we can.

“More than anything, a lot of times what we do is we’ll talk to guys early in the pre-draft and they’ll talk about all the different things they’re working on, what they’re hoping to change in their game as they transition to the NBA, and usually the workouts, the visits, that’s where we get to see that first hand and see all the transitions they’re making. We’re not getting a lot of that this year…

“I’d definitely say it’s not something that’s going to make it impossible for us, but it’s just a valued part of the process that we just won’t have this year.”

Another complication for the Raptors, in particular, Tolzman mentioned was the fact the team puts a lot of emphasis on player development and utilizes tools like Summer League and the G-League to help develop young players recently drafted or signed. With no concrete information about when next NBA season is going to start, those development opportunities are also on hold, adding another variable for the Raptors to considerer heading into this draft.

“It’s definitely something that we’re trying to figure out right now,” Tolzman said. “It’s going to impact how we address the two-ways, the Exhibit-10, G-League kind of mentality big time because we just don’t know… what those sorts of deals that these players will be on, how it will impact their ability to go and continue to develop.”

With that said, however, Tolzman is confident the team’s player-development program will still be able to help whoever the Raptors bring in from the draft with little to no drop-off.

“Honestly, we feel really comfortable with whoever we target and bring in,” he said. “We know that our development program is in place regardless of what type of deal they’re on or what the status is within the organization, but we know once guys get with us they’ve shown enough potential to draw the interest in the first place. We just feel comfortable that as long as we bring in the right types of guys that are wired the way all the guys we’ve had success with are, regardless of what the season actually brings, the development work is still going to be there, all the hours of work are still going to be put in and we fully trust our development staff to work with these guys.”

And it’s probably for this reason that the Raptors are so confident picking where they are right now and why they’re looking to cast their net as wide as 50 possible players they could be interested in. No matter who they acquire, the team’s player-development program has proven to be one that can turn prospects into good NBA players with names like Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell being shining examples of that.

So while this is a draft that may lack the kind of star power of previous ones to draw casual eyeballs, Tolzman’s assessment that this is a balanced pool of players seems very fitting and explains why he suggested that even players who go undrafted could get plenty of attention from around the league.

“There’s going to be a lot of rotation-level players that come out of this draft, kind of all across the board, and I think probably more than usual the undrafted market is going to be huge because normally players that maybe early on were expected to go undrafted, they worked their way into the draft picture and those workouts and those opportunities for them to do so just didn’t happen this year. So a lot of these guys that have maybe been earmarked unfairly as an undrafted player, they’re going to end up on that market and you’re going to see guys come out of nowhere and be contributors next year.”

Some of the players that may get overlooked are the Canadian contingent, which includes point guard Karim Mane of Montreal, shooting guard Nate Darling of Saint John, N.B., and power forward Isiaha Mike of Toronto. Unlike 2019’s record-setting draft for Canadian basketball, the crop of Canadians hoping to have their name called on draft night in 2020 is much smaller in both number and profile.

“I think the few [Canadian] players that are in the draft are interesting and we always like to make sure that we get to know all of these guys and we don’t want to miss anything with any local guys because we kind of pride ourselves on having a pretty thorough program in terms of keeping guys developing with some local ties because it makes it easier for them to get comfortable and develop as young players as well,” Tolzman said.

“So, there’s definitely some interesting players who we see with the right development, the right program put in front of them they could absolutely turn into legitimate NBA players.”

The Raptors have never drafted a Canadian player in the franchise’s history. Given the kind of draft this is, this year might not be a bad one to cross that particular bit of Canadian basketball history off of the club’s list.

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With Shapiro likely to stay, Blue Jays’ murky future takes some shape –



TORONTO – Mark Shapiro is well-versed enough in the art of navigating difficult questions that if he wants to give a non-answer, he certainly knows how. On Wednesday, when I asked if his expiring contract as president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays had been extended, it seemed like he was going to Connor McDavid his way through the matter.

Then, after the usual stuff about how much he enjoys living in Toronto, wants to remain in the city and intends to “finish the job” of rebuilding the club into a championship contender after this year’s playoff appearance, Shapiro cleverly planted an answer inside his non-answer.

“The desire to be here long term has been reciprocated by the people I work for,” said Shapiro. “That’s as simple as I can be for you. I’ll be here until I’m not here. Based upon my desire to be here and the reciprocation of that, I would expect that that’s going to continue to happen.”

Now, as simple as he can be would have been a “Yes, my contract has been extended,” or a “No, my contract hasn’t been extended yet, but it’ll get done.” Better to not make everyone parse words. Since we’re here, though, there’s no way Shapiro would say such a thing publicly if the five-year deal he signed upon arrival in November 2015 wasn’t either already extended, or in the final stages of renewal.

Watch every game of the 2020 World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers on Sportsnet and SN Now.

To do so otherwise would be a reckless attempt at strong-arming team owner Rogers Communications Inc., which also owns this website, into signing a new deal. Shapiro isn’t doing that, which is why you have to think an extension is all but done, if not signed and sealed.

Why the chicanery, then?

Great question.

A fanbase deserves transparency about the terms of a team’s leadership when the organization is, in part, a public trust. And since players, managers and coaches all have to perform with their contractual status up for debate in the public domain, why shouldn’t executives like Shapiro have to do the same?

“To me, when things are going well, there’s not a lot of discussion about front-office executives,” replied Shapiro. “At least there shouldn’t be. We’re not celebrities. We’re not stars. We’re here to do a job and that job is ultimately for our fans, which is about the players in the field. It’s more of an extension of the desire to have that focus be on the players. I think when things are going well, that naturally happens anyway.”

Decide for yourselves on that one.

Either way, the “reciprocity” about Shapiro’s future apparently removes one of the lingering questions about the Blue Jays’ future from the long list of uncertainties they and countless other businesses face amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Most pressing among them for the Blue Jays are whether they will be able to play in Toronto next season, if fans will be allowed in the Rogers Centre, what their payroll will be and how they’ll be able to sell a situation more uneven than any of the other 29 clubs to free-agent targets. Not to mention how to improve a club that went 32-28 in the abbreviated season before getting bounced in two games by the American League champion Tampa Bay Rays.

In a sense, they’re all interconnected as the club’s finances are impacted by whether it is allowed to both play and host fans at Rogers Centre, and remember that commissioner Rob Manfred has said some 40 per cent of Major League Baseball revenue derives from attendance.

Still, Shapiro raised expectations for an active winter by saying that “we will conduct this off-season much like last off-season,” which, for reference, included the signing of ace Hyun-Jin Ryu to an $80-million, four-year deal, Tanner Roark for $24 million over two years and the acquisition of Chase Anderson and his $10 million guarantee, among other moves.

The club right now is conducting its usual baseball operations and scouting meetings in preparation for a presentation to ownership next month, which will include a payroll recommendation and revenue projections that are far from certain.

Bolstering Shapiro’s bullish outlook is that he’s received “consistent encouragement that we continue to progress in our plan, that we continue to move forward,” from ownership.

“And every indication has been very strongly that they expect us to continue to pursue where we need to add to our core, continue to pursue players this off-season,” he added. “That takes two parties, not just us, but also the players we’re pursuing. But I think the resources are going to be there. If we think the right deals are there and we make those recommendations, the resources are going to be there for us to add in a meaningful way.”

A statement like that can cause the imagination to run wild, but in a market clouded by the economic fallout of pandemic restrictions, that’s a signal the Blue Jays are prepared to do business.

Where exactly they’re going to play is sure to be among the first queries they get from free agents, with the season the team just spent at Buffalo’s Sahlen Field after getting booted from Toronto, Pittsburgh and Baltimore not exactly a selling point.

Money talks in free agency, but the Blue Jays will need to convince their targets that any hiccups in 2021 will be short-lived and all inconveniences, minimal.

“I am certain that will not be an issue, especially over the length of a long-term contract for a free-agent player,” said Shapiro. “I’m hopeful and optimistic it won’t be an issue this year, at all, and pretty confident it won’t be at some point this year. But we’ll deal with the uncertainty the way we have all along, and we’ll be honest and forthright and open. Part of what makes playing here so exceptional is this place and the team and the players and the environment and the atmosphere around them. So with those things won’t change regardless of where we are.”

The club’s revenues will, of course, which is part of what makes the current planning process so tricky.

While the Canada-United States border remains closed, the pandemic’s trajectory leads Shapiro to believe that “the public health picture is likely to improve to the point that I would think the border would be open at some point during next baseball season, and that would alleviate a lot of the issues.”

The Blue Jays, who were hit by an outbreak at their Dunedin facility before summer camp started, had no positive cases during the regular season. According to data released by Major League Baseball and the players union, 21 clubs had a COVID-19 positive during the monitoring period, so that would leave them among the outlier clubs.

More important to their fate, however, is whether any of the vaccine candidates currently in the final testing stage receive governmental approval for distribution and are widely taken by the public. If the process is slower or less effective than expected, the Blue Jays may find themselves homeless again, and Buffalo isn’t an automatic answer since what happens to minor-league baseball next year “is also in question at this point,” said Shapiro.

The club’s focus will obviously be on a season in Toronto, but “we will clearly also have to look at other places as well, which we will do.”

Trying to project ticket sales through all that uncertainty has led the Blue Jays to undergo what Shapiro described as “more of a scenario planning than a formal budgeting process that we would normally go through.”

“We normally have a ticketing model that would take into consideration competitiveness, the teams we play, the history. In this case, we have nothing to build that model upon because we have no history to work from,” said Shapiro. “So what we did do was talk to obviously the other teams that exist in this market, we talked to teams in similar peer markets throughout Major League Baseball. We talked to other entertainment businesses in Toronto and in Canada to ask them, whether it’s theatres or concert venues, how are they thinking about 2021. We talked to MLB. We factored in all those opinions and then we made our best guess, the best guess that we could possibly make, which is tough to do.”

Chasing a moving target is a reality of the times, which for baseball means a 60-game season without peer is due to be followed by an off-season like no other. It all makes for a murky path forward, one the Blue Jays seem poised to keep taking with Shapiro at the helm.

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