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Q&A: Manny Malhotra on Maple Leafs job, Steve Nash, Vancouver lessons –



TORONTO – Manny Malhotra has just been tossed the keys to a Ferrari.

The Toronto Maple Leafs offence — one of the youngest, fastest and most combustible front engines hockey has to offer — will have a fresh set of hands tinkering under the hood.

The club announced Thursday its hiring of the former player to Sheldon Keefe’s bench, where the 991-game NHL veteran will fill the role vacated by Paul McFarland at the conclusion of the season.

Malhotra arrives in Toronto with the blessing of the Vancouver Canucks, the club he served as an “eye in the sky” assistant during games while working on-ice in development for three seasons.

“Manny’s such an awesome guy. He really cares about each individual he works with on the ice,” Vancouver’s Brock Boeser told reporters. “I’m really happy for Manny, and I think he’s going to do a great job.”

Upon learning of his promotion to bench coach, we caught up with an excited Malhotra over the phone Thursday afternoon for a quick, 10-minute chat about his new gig and the philosophy he’s taken from those who coached him.

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SPORTSNET.CA: The Maple Leafs weren’t the only team that asked permission from the Canucks to speak with you. What factored into your decision to come here? How much did an emotional pull of returning to the Toronto area play into it?

MANNY MALHOTRA: Growing up in Toronto there is, you obviously understand the gravitational pull that the Leafs have on the community. So, that was somewhat weighed into my decision. But more so, after speaking to Sheldon and Kyle [Dubas] about the opportunity and the role here and where the group was and where they were headed, I felt it was a great opportunity to advance my coaching career with a really good organization, with a really good staff, and then a team that has been trending in the right direction. All of those things factored in for me. But it was a great opportunity to advance, I felt.

SN: What was the greatest thing you learned from your role in Vancouver?

MM: I learned a great deal from Travis in terms of the way to think the game. I keep saying how detail-oriented he is as a coach. His ability to analyze things. Even the most minute things that you wouldn’t think would be an issue or come into a play, then all of a sudden you see it happening two or three or four times in a game, and it’ll be the difference in a game. You learn that you can’t leave any stone unturned, as a coach.

But the other thing for me, I’ve learned that it’s not always about the X’s and O’s with players.

Each individual is different. They all learn differently. They’re all motivated by different things. So, it’s important for me to understand the person and get to know them as an individual to find out who they are, what’s their makeup before we can get into the X’s and O’s of the game. That’s a big thing for me, the communication aspect of things. And from there, you learn how to get information to players. That’s part of coaching that I really enjoyed, learning about guys and learning what makes them tick.

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Maple Leafs bring Manny Malhotra aboard to assist Sheldon Keefe

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SN: How significant is the advantage for you, at 40 years old, not being so far removed from your own playing days?

MM: It definitely does help in a certain regard, in terms of knowing what players might be thinking in certain situations on the ice, or knowing what they may be going through at a certain time of the year. But there’s definitely been a switch for me from thinking as a player, which is incredibly advantageous, being in and around the guys and knowing what they’re going through. But it’s important to think like a coach and think beyond the right now. You’re thinking ahead. You’re thinking, two, three days ahead. You’re thinking to the next shift, to the next period. So, there has been a shift, but that player mentality will always come in helpful.

SN: I imagine you’ve done some studying of the Leafs’ offence and their power play in particular. What areas do you see for improvement? Can you give an example of one idea you can bring to the table?

MM: It’s been a very quick four or five days [of switching focus to Toronto from Vancouver]. And not having had a chance to see too much film on the team, it’s tough to give a definitive answer. Looking from the outside, obviously, you recognize the talent of the group and the potential of the group. What I want to get into in the next few weeks is just looking at that video, understanding a little bit more about their game and how we can improve and where we can improve. A lot of that comes from discussions with Sheldon and Hak [assistant Dave Hakstol] and then seeing where those improvements can take place.

SN: Have you had many coaching discussions with your brother-in-law Steve Nash? And were you at all surprised he took the Brooklyn Nets job?

MM: No, I wasn’t surprised. I have a lot of really good talks with both him and his [younger] brother Martin, who’s a soccer coach, and both of them are incredibly intelligent when it comes to sports and understanding not just the X’s and O’s but philosophies and concepts and ideas and traits of successful people. So, I’ve found a lot of help in just chatting with those guys. Obviously it’s different sports, but there’s a lot of things that carry over to sports in general that we discuss.

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Who’s the best coach you ever had?

MM: I go back and forth a little bit. I will say Ken Hitchcock is one of the most intelligent hockey people I’ve ever come across. Part of that is the fact that he’s never played the game at a high level. To be able to understand the game the way he has, never being in those situations, is remarkable. And then playing for Todd McLellan, he also had that really in-depth knowledge of the game. But his communication skills, for me, are what set him apart from a lot of coaches. His ability to make you understand things very clearly and concisely. There’s no grey area with him, and for that reason, I felt he was one of the better coaches that I’ve ever played for.

One day down the road, do you see yourself as a head coach in the NHL? Is that the ultimate goal?

MM: Step by step. I want to experience this. Like I said, this is the next step in my growth. I had a great chance to be the eye in the sky here in Vancouver. I learned a great deal. This is the next step, the next chapter. I want to do as good as a job as I can here in this role and maximize that. For me, the focus is right now and doing a good job at the role that has been given to me.

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World Series finale upstaged by data-driven decisions, COVID-19 realities –



TORONTO – Fitting, really, is the transition for Major League Baseball, spring-boarding from a World Series finale marked by the internecine struggle over data-driven decision-making and COVID-19’s inconvenient realities, into an off-season that will be broadly driven by both issues.

Kevin Cash’s decision to remove Blake Snell from the sixth inning of Tuesday’s title clinching 3-1 win for the Los Angeles Dodgers over the Tampa Bay Rays had barely been made before it turned into the game’s latest referendum on advanced analytics. Predictably, the conversation became emotional and polarized, the-numbers-say-this set getting trashed by the trust-your-eyes-feel-for-the-game gang, all with the usual counter-productive shouting of bromides.

I’ll deep dive into that in a bit.

Bigger picture, that the divide surfaced in such a forceful manner on such a grand stage doesn’t bode well ahead of a free agent market that already in recent years has been upended by data-projection performance models. The subsequent flux in the game’s compensatory structure is the most contentious matter between owners and players with the CBA set to expire at the end of next season.

This season, Dan picks an issue, trend, news item or story from around MLB, and digs in on it with a guest. And he does it five times a week for about 15 minutes a day. Enough time to inform and entertain, but also get fans back to all the sports going on.

Ratcheting up the tensions is the ongoing impact of the pandemic, which had faded to the background after MLB survived the early-season outbreaks on the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, both of which nearly killed the entire campaign. A stretch of no new positives among players that lasted for 58 consecutive days came to an end Tuesday when Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner tested positive and was removed from the game in the eighth inning and told to isolate – a jolt that should have reminded everyone of just how fragile this venture was, even within the so-called “bubble” created by MLB for the playoffs.

Unfathomably, Turner returned to the field to join the post-game celebrations, exchanging hugs with teammates and removing his mask for a team photo with the World Series trophy. Cameras also caught him kissing his wife, the entire scene a textbook example of what not to do in the COVID-19 world.

The immediate implications are damning enough.

MLB, in a release, said the Dodgers’ entire travelling party received nasal swab tests Tuesday night and that both they and the Rays were tested again Wednesday. For context, under American CDC regulations, anyone who had been within six feet of Turner for more than 15 minutes Tuesday should stay home for 14 days after exposure and keep six feet away from others.

That would have covered at least a handful of Turner’s Dodgers teammates who dogpiled the mound after Julio Urias caught Joey Wendle looking for the final out. As family members and significant others joined on the field, most if not all without masks, the pinnacle moment doubled as a potential super-spreader event.

Skeptical? Consider this situational risk chart shared recently on Twitter by Dr. Andrew Morris, medical director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Sinai Health System/University Health Network and an infectious diseases professor at the University of Toronto:

A situational risk chart shared recently on Twitter by Dr. Andrew Morris (@ASPphysician)

MLB slammed Turner in its statement, saying he “chose to disregard the agreed-upon joint protocols and the instructions he was given regarding the safety and protection of others.”

“While a desire to celebrate is understandable, Turner’s decision to leave isolation and enter the field was wrong and put everyone he came in contact with at risk,” it continued. “When MLB Security raised the matter of being on the field with Turner, he emphatically refused to comply. The Commissioner’s Office is beginning a full investigation into this matter and will consult with the Players Association within the parameters of the joint 2020 Operations Manual.”

That’s good, but it won’t undo the damage done, especially if the Dodgers end up with an outbreak. And while Turner’s actions are reflective of the stark split in American public opinion on how to live with COVID, sensible health authorities will justifiably be far more suspicious of MLB’s assurances of protocol compliance when it comes to potential 2021 exemptions.

For all the talk about avoiding the one selfish act that submarines a team’s season, Turner’s actions have the potential to undermine the fates of a much wider swath of the sport as the when and how of next season become a focal point.

Within that reckoning may very well come the latest bit of navel-gazing within the game about the role of data in on-field decision-making, triggered by the Snell decision.

Cash’s call reverberated through the industry, because the ace lefty had completely dominated through 5.1 innings, allowing only two hits, striking out nine and throwing only 73 pitches. Even after giving up a one-out single to Austin Barnes on a meh slider, there were no signs that he was falling off, but a third at-bat for Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Turner loomed and this is where the conflict lies.

The third-time-through-the-order data pretty much always points to a pitching change. And Snell’s numbers this season do the same, whether you look at pitch counts or times through a lineup.

Chart courtesy of Baseball Reference.

From an analytical standpoint, the data is relatively conclusive, indicating that Nick Anderson (the reliever who replaced Snell) facing Betts for the first time was a better option than Snell facing Betts, who struck out in his previous at-bat on a healthy swing at a high fastball, a third time.

Cash would have known the probabilities beforehand and various scenarios would have been discussed between the Rays front office, analytics department and coaching staff. That preparation would have helped them build, in theory, a more objective plan that could be executed in-game without the emotional influences inherent to a contest with such high stakes.

In general terms, relying on objective data and collaboration between key thinkers will more often than not lead to a better decision than simply trusting gut and feel in the moment.

Only in this case, it didn’t.

Betts ripped a double off Anderson that left runners at second and third. A wild pitch plated Barnes to tie the game. A groundball to first scored Betts. The Dodgers had the lead, and, nine outs later, the title.

After the game, the Dodgers spoke of the boost it gave them to no longer be facing Snell, a narrative repeated by other analysts. But was it really a boost? Or did arguably the best player in the sport hit a double and then the Dodgers barely eked out a pair of runs?

The challenge for managers in Cash’s situation is that it’s hard to make an objective case for rejecting compelling data based on an eye-test. Before a game, teams can project how a pitcher’s stuff will play a third time through the order, but those are just baselines that have to be subjectively adjusted in-game. Without a measure more decisive, you’re left with a call on feel, which is something the modern front office seeks to avoid.

Now, a more nuanced view suggests the intellectualization of the sport underweights the feel element that is a product of years of experience. Cash has been there and done that enough to get a sense of when his guy is falling off, based on accumulated wisdom, and he’s earned the latitude to let his sense make the decision.

Given that, the real question is whether Cash was fully convicted in pulling Snell based on his assessment of both how the stuff was looking and what the data said, or if the numbers alone made the call.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

If it’s the former, then both he and the Rays should be able to live with it. If it’s the latter, then relying on data to make decisions is simply convention on the other end of spectrum, using numbers as a crutch, as opposed to feel.

The sweet spot, of course, is in combining the two realms, an inexact science that the Dodgers do better than most. Despite that, Dave Roberts has been skewered for decisions that led to his club’s previous post-season failures, but now that his team won the World Series, is he suddenly a better manager?

Sometimes the best decisions don’t work out. Sometimes the worst decisions do. In a game played by human beings and subject to randomness, no model will ever produce 100 per cent certainty.

That’s why there’s a case to be made for trusting your guy in the moment, a case to be made for giving your good players the rope to be great. Higher risk comes with higher rewards, and as the removal of Snell showed, playing it safe doesn’t always work out, either.

And so, the 2020 season ends much in the way the slow build to 2021 begins, with baseball still wrestling with the data movement over the game’s soul, under the relentless presence of a coronavirus a long way from disappearing.

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For Joey – The Players' Tribune



Joey Moss was the greatest person I have ever met. 

And while I’m not sure if what I’m about to write will do his legacy justice, I feel as though I have to try. 

After all, trying was exactly what Joey was about. Ask anyone who has been around that dressing room in Edmonton, or heard him sing the Canadian or U.S. national anthems, or seen him dance to “La Bamba.” He was as passionate as they come. I have countless stories and so many fond memories of our time together and honestly, I could go on forever. But I will do my best to paint a picture of the man Joey was, and also of the impact he had on those around him.

When I first got to Edmonton, you could see it right away — the special bond that Joey had with the players and the other trainers, and how much they enjoyed his company. We had a young group and decided early on that we were going to include Joey in just about everything we did away from the rink. Andrew Cogliano, Tom Gilbert and myself were roommates and had an extra bedroom, so whenever we could we would invite Joey over for dinner, and then he would sleep over at our place. We would go bowling, watch wrestling (more on that later), listen to his James Bond Soundtrack CD driving around Edmonton, and have so much fun.

Spending time with Joey away from the rink turned out to be better for us than we could have ever imagined. The lessons he taught us about loyalty, about humility, and about having the proper perspective on the world, are things that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I developed such a special relationship with Joey — he even came along on one of the first dates I had with my wife! (She liked him as much as I did.)

Derek Leung/Getty Images

Joey was a huge fan of wrestling. He had every WWE DVD you could think of and was constantly making us watch them. Whenever the WWE came to town we were the first to get tickets, and we would just sit there as Joey would name off every wrestler and show us each of their signature moves. His favourite was John Cena’s “You Can’t See Me.” He would even get in on the action himself, and stage wrestling matches in the dressing room against anyone who would challenge him.

I remember one time Joey told us the WWE was coming to town so we said we had to get our tickets ASAP. It turned out that it was a live pay-per-view event at a local Cineplex theatre. We told Joey that we couldn’t go to that, that it would not be well attended and that the theatre would be empty. But true to form, Joey insisted, and when we showed up, there wasn’t a seat left in the place. I believe there were six of us, plus Joey, and the only place left for us to sit was on the stairs leading to the front row of the theatre. We thought Joey was going to be upset by that, but it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Being that close to the screen meant he didn’t miss any of the action — and the area in front of the screen gave him all the room he needed to run around and perform all of the wrestlers’ signature moves. It didn’t matter that there was a theatre full of people watching him. This was his passion and he was going to enjoy it.

We had a blast that day. We also learned so much from Joey.

When I was drafted by Edmonton, I thought of the Oilers’ dynasty years, the Stanley Cups they had won and the Hall of Fame players who had worn the jersey. Now, as I look back on my time there and think about what it means to be an Edmonton Oiler, I think about Joey Moss. He gave everything he had to the city of Edmonton and took so much pride in calling himself an Oiler. If my stall was unkempt, or my laundry bag was left out, I heard about it from Joey. If I came to the rink with my hair disheveled, I’d hear from Joey about how I must have brushed my hair with a pork chop.

The banter between Joey and the guys in that dressing room was what made playing in Edmonton so special. He really was the heart and soul of all of those teams. I had the best game of my career in February of 2012, and I received calls afterwards from Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey — which was incredibly special and something I’ll never forget. But the number one memory I have from that night, was being the last player at the rink with Joey and the other trainers. Joey went to the back fridge and grabbed a couple beers because he said he was proud of me and wanted to celebrate with me. That’s just the kind of person Joey was.

Courtesy of Sam Gagner

It brings me to tears now thinking about it.

I will always cherish everything about our relationship. The sleepover nights, the bowling alley, the wrestling matches, the banter back and forth, the way Joey would light up a room with his smile. Most of all, I’ll remember the way Joey made me feel. The way he made everyone feel.

When I remember Joey, I’ll think about how we believed all along that we were doing all these things to enrich his life….. but the truth is that he was enriching ours. Joey made everyone who spent time with him a better person. The fact that he had Down syndrome didn’t matter to him — and it didn’t matter to us, either. He was just one of the guys and that is what made him so special.

Every time I went back to Edmonton after I got traded to Arizona in 2014, Joey would be waiting for me in the visiting dressing room to say, “Miss me?” One of the reasons I was so happy last year when I got traded back to the Oilers was that I would get to spend more time around Joey and have him meet my kids. As they grow older, I plan on telling them all of the stories I have about Joey, and on using the lessons I learned from him to teach them what it means to live a full life.

So even though I am writing this with a heavy heart, the truth is that this should really be a celebration of everything Joey stood for: strength, passion, humour, loyalty and friendship.

Rest In Peace, Joey. Your legacy will live on forever.

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2020-21 start date moved back to Feb. 5 | – American Hockey League



SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … American Hockey League President and CEO Scott Howson has announced that the league’s Board of Governors has approved moving the anticipated start date of the 2020-21 season to February 5, 2021, due to the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis.

The AHL continues to work with its member clubs to monitor developments and local guidelines in all 31 league cities. Further details regarding the 2020-21 American Hockey League season are still to be determined.

In operation since 1936, the AHL serves as the top development league for all 31 National Hockey League teams. Nearly 90 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and more than 100 honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame spent time in the AHL in their careers.

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