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Quick Shifts: Why Zach Hyman’s contract leverage keeps growing – Sportsnet.ca

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A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. I thought this week’s column was good, but I guess I thought wrong.

1. Actions speak, and Sheldon Keefe tipped his hand.

When the Toronto Maple Leafs needed to score on their closest rival Thursday, when they were at risk of extending their losing streak to four games — the longest of their coach’s tenure — Keefe formed the best top line he has. And stuck with it.

Zach Hyman is proving he can drive his own line this season. But come crunch time, the superstars want him on theirs.

Promoted to Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner’s left wing mid-game, it was Hyman who hounded the puck in Winnipeg’s end, stole it and extended the O-zone possession that eventually resulted in a Marner goal and revealed Connor Hellebuyck human.

Hyman didn’t receive an official assist on the play, but the verbal credit flowed through the intermission and deep into the post-game Zooms.

“He’s been lights out,” Matthews beamed. “You know what you’re gonna expect from him every night, and he’s extremely easy to play with because you know he’s just gonna get in there and battle and work. He’s had a couple really, really nice goals lately. He’s really been letting the hands come out to play, so it’s been pretty fun to watch.”

Flying in the face of your age-regression charts, Hyman is adding layers to skill-set at 28. Oh, and it just so happens to be a contract year.

Hyman was Kyle Dubas’s first meaningful trade acquisition as a member of the Leafs front office, and he has long been highly regarded for his dogged forechecking and selfless penalty-killing.

But his ability to create scoring chances, knock ’em in, and establish himself as a net-front power-play guy have increased his value to the Leafs. Or any other club that tries to outbid them for his services.

Keefe’s relationship with the coach’s dream extends back to their Marlies days. And just as the coach has asked William Nylander to step in shot-blocking lanes, he’s challenged Hyman to get creative. To attack the middle of the ice instead of straight-lining into the corners. The payoff is remarkable.

“He’s got a lot of confidence,” Keefe said. “We’re encouraging him to hang on the puck a little more, encouraging him to look for linemates and make plays when they are there, encouraging him to challenge defencemen with his speed and the way he protects the puck.

“We know he’s great a retrieving the puck and those types of things and we still obviously need that from him, but I love the way he challenges the defencemen. He doesn’t let them off the hook. He doesn’t make it so they can go back for a puck all the time. Sometimes he’s just burying his head and challenging them to take it from him — and that mindset, I think defencemen don’t like that.”

This may be a longwinded way of saying the Maple Leafs need Hyman. Perhaps more than Hyman — who has always professed a desire to stay put and already took a hometown discount as an RFA — needs the Leafs.

Other teams will knock. Like Tom Wilson with the Capitals (but different), Hyman is that rare support player who can cash in.

Dubas must step up with a nice raise this summer ($5 million AAV?), because the elements and consistency Hyman brings won’t be easily replaced. And the window is now until Matthews’ contract is up (2024).

All reports say negotiations have not begun, and it makes sense to shake hands and wait until after the expansion draft to minimize exposure risk.

Dubas has been reluctant to give his core term deep into their 30s. John Tavares will be 34 when his deal expires; Jake Muzzin will be 35.

Would Hyman — who plays a high wear-and-tear brand of hockey — accept extra years and salary bonuses in order to keep his cap hit workable and everybody happy?

Even with the winger’s leverage at an all-time high, and the futures of Frederik Andersen and Morgan Rielly to consider, I think there’s a path to make it fit.

2. Jordan Binnington’s six-year, $36-million extension matches the contract Jacob Markstrom signed in Calgary.

We don’t foresee another UFA goalie this year eclipsing that bar, which appears to be the limit for No. 1 goalies under a pandemic-flattened cap.

Frederik Andersen, Tuukka Rask and Philipp Grubauer top the list, but they’re all older than the 27-year-old Binnington — and none have backstopped their team to a championship (yet).

Incredible how the NHL’s new math has tightened the purse-strings on netminders. The windfalls of Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist and Sergei Bobrovsky now feel like outliers.

Two-time champ Matt Murray’s $25-million deal has Ottawa concerned it may have overpaid.

Binnington’s deal is the same one then-recent Cup champ Corey Crawford inked way back in 2013: six times six.

“I’m not looking to kind of crush the bank,” Binnington said on a video call with reporters. “It’s not all about money to me. At the end of the day, I think what you look back on and you feel in your heart is the memories made and competing and being successful and going through tough times and getting out of them and being there for your teammates. We’ve got a good respected group here, and I’m excited.”

Guys like Andersen and Grubauer, hoping for their big payday, may need to curb their expectations.

If Toronto can retain Andersen at his current $5-million AAV, the Leafs may have to consider it. Although, his performance in the playoffs will sway things immensely.

3. Great year for goalie graduations from the American League to the National League.

Look at all the solid NHL performances by the netminders who shone in the farm last season.

• Minnesota’s Kaapo Kahkonen: 11-4-0, .918
• Washington’s Vitek Vanecek: 11-5-3, .906
• Chicago’s Kevin Lankinen: 10-4-4 0.919
• New York’s Igor Shesterkin: 6-7-1, .921
• Carolina’s Alex Nedeljkovic: 5-2-1, .927
• L.A.’s Calvin Peterson: 4-4-4, .914
• Dallas’s Jake Oettinger: 3-1-4, .918

With Vegas down Robin Lehner, the Golden Knights might give 24-year-old Logan Thompson a peek soon. He was set to be next man up when Marc-Andre Fleury had his false-positive COVID test. Thompson’s numbers with the AHL Silver Knights — 6-1, 1.72 GAA, .946 — are shiny.

4. Extended tryouts in Leafland are over.

Much-discussed and heavily courted KHL imports Mikko Lehtonen and Alexander Barabanov are now elsewhere. Lehtonen was headed to the Marlies before being sent to Columbus Friday in exchange for goalie prospect Veini Vehviläinen. Barabanov will bide his time on the farm.

Both signed one-year deals to join Toronto and try to carve a niche in the world’s best league.

Lehtonen registered three assists in nine games as a Leaf but hadn’t appeared since Feb. 24. Barabanov was given an 11-game look with limited minutes and did not get on the scoresheet.

“We’ve reached a different phase of the season here. I think we gave lots of opportunity to different people early in the season, Mikko being one, at times when maybe we really didn’t have a reason to change the lineup other than to give more opportunity for Mikko and others,” Keefe explained Thursday.

“You’ve got to give yourself the best opportunity to win each day. That’s all part of it for us here now. Everybody really is just going to have to wait for their next opportunity and continue to put in the proper work to do so.”

With integral winger Wayne Simmonds targeting a return to full team practices next week, Alex Galchenyuk eager for a peek, and the Leafs searching for a top-six forward on the trade market, Barabanov may have a harder time getting back to the NHL than Lehtonen.

Columbus is in need of an offensive jolt. The Jackets have the sixth-worst power-play in the league. Have to wonder if Lehtonen gets a better chance to prove himself there.

“In Mikko’s case specifically, we have no doubts or questions about the work that he puts in. He’s extremely committed, extremely focused, works very hard. We’re happy with all of those kinds of things. For the last little while we just haven’t seen a reason to make a change on defence,” Keefe said.

5. Jimmy “Hollywood” Vesey estimates Joe Thornton has given him 15 to 20 nicknames since they became teammates.

“He’s got seven California-themed nicknames for me,” Vesey said Friday.

The friendly monikers — “Willy Styles” Nylander is a big hit — mostly stem from secret origin, and new ones pop up as quickly as the old ones vanish.

“He’s a nickname machine,” Frederik “Fredzilla” Andersen explained of Jumbo. “He has a lot. He even has nicknames you guys don’t even hear before they come and go. He cycles through them pretty quick. He loves throwing out a good nickname.”

“I didn’t give ’Zilla his nickname, by the way,” Thornton chuckles. “That was not me. I know who did, but it was not me. As a kid running around with my brothers and my cousins, we always had nicknames for each other, so it started at a young age.”

A lover of life and keeping things light, Thornton believes balancing hard work with a double-scoop of humour relaxes the dressing room. And it makes sense with that performance on the ice.

“He’s got more excitement every day than anyone else,” Alexander (“Kerf”/“Footer”) Kerfoot says. “We can all learn from that.”

6. Very cool… and very overdue.

CCM’s collaboration with Auston Matthews for a personalized skate feels like a long time coming when you consider basketball stars’ longstanding relationship with sneaker giants. But the execution here is pretty sweet.

The Toronto skyline, tiny-type bio info and blue highlights are nice touches. Would love to see a royal-blue blade holder for the AM34 2s.

7. Ryan Johansen’s two-question second-intermission interview with Nashville trailing Carolina 4-0 tells you all you need to know about the Predators’ campaign:

Mindset heading into the third? “Go score five goals.”

The Preds did not score five goals. They lost 5-1 and fell to 11-15-1 with an ugly negative-26 goal differential.

8. Quote of the Week.

Buffalo Sabres coach Ralph Krueger, speaking on Jeff Skinner finally finding the back of the net for the first and only time this season: “That’s certainly something for Jeff Skinner, who’s measured his whole career on goals.”

Gulp.

9. Can’t say I was this optimistic about live attendance at 2021 NHL games by the halfway mark. Canada’s arenas are still exclusively reliant on pumped-in fake crowd noise — although the Edmonton Oilers are lobbying the Alberta government hard — but south of the border, more and more rinks are swinging open the doors.

With the state of Minnesota approving up to 3,000 fans indoors starting April 5, the Wild is poised to become the 18th NHL club to allow partial attendance at home games. That’ll be 75 per cent of U.S. hockey cities with a green light.

Barns in Chicago, Washington, Colorado, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim remain empty.

On the one-year anniversary of the mandatory masks and six-foot buffers, Joe Thornton spoke eloquently on hockey night’s missing ingredient.

“It just gives the atmosphere you need to really enjoy the experience. Just coming into games and seeing the fans with the jerseys on, giving the pucks to fans and things like that. As soon as you get in the buildings, you know where you’re playing,” Thornton said.

“If you’re playing at home or on the road, it just gives that goosebump feeling of coming out and getting your name announced and the place goes crazy… it’s little things like that you definitely miss.”

10. Finding a way to award a Stanley Cup in the heart of a pandemic, inside a completely COVID-free bubble. And now bringing hocky back to ESPN.

Boo him if you choose, but some props are due. Gary Bettman has a had a better six months than most.

The $2.8-billion, seven-year commitment is one thing, but the fact a second U.S. broadcast partner will hop in the mix is critical. The NHL can now following the NBA-NFL-MLB blueprint of spreading its reach — and income streams – across multiple channels.

ESPN should also assist in turning hockey’s growing influx of American talent — Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Alex DeBrincat, the Tkachuk brothers, et al. — into superstars, which should in turn fuel sweater sales and all those other good things.

I’m not quite convinced I need Stephen A. Smith yelling some hockey randomness through my TV, but this deal is massive win.

11. Thirty-five NHLers have scored 11 or more goals. Sixteen of those players are American; 10 are Canadian.

Seven of the top 12 goal-getters are U.S.-born (compared to three Canadian) — and that group does not include stars like Jack Eichel, Jake Guentzel, Matthew Tkachuk, Brady Tkachuk, Dylan Larkin, Blake Wheeler, J.T. Miller and Phil Kessel.

Traditionally we think of Team Canada having a hard time picking and choosing its offensive weapons for the Olympics.

Team USA will face some headache decisions upfront for 2022, and goalies from the other nations will be under siege.

12. Mesmerizing…

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Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now

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The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.

The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.

The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.

Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.

The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.

Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.

Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca

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It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics

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(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.

 

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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