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Russia snaps Sweden's 54-game preliminary round winning streak – TSN

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EDMONTON — Russia snapped Sweden’s extended win streak at the world junior hockey championship Wednesday, clinching a 4-3 overtime victory in Edmonton.

Marat Khusnutdinov scored the game winner with just 5.6 seconds left in extra time.

Yegor Afanasiev, Rodion Amirov and Kirill Kirsanov all scored in regulation and Russia’s record improved to 2-1-0-1 (wins, overtime wins, overtime losses, losses).

Sweden (2-0-1-0) forced the three-on-three overtime when, with a minute left on the clock, New Jersey Devils prospect Alexander Holtz released a rocket of a shot that bounced off the shin of Noel Gunler and into the Russian net.

Holtz and Vancouver Canucks prospect Arvid Costmar also scored in regulation.

Sweden went into Wednesday’s game having won 54 straight in group play at the tournament.

The Swedes will face the U.S. in a final preliminary round game on Thursday. Russia will play in the quarterfinals Saturday.

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Ehlers has four points to lead Jets to come-from-behind win over Oilers – Sportsnet.ca

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WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets were left shaking their heads when Sunday’s comeback was spoiled by a stunning, late collapse.

A similar script played out two nights later — only with a different final chapter.

Nikolaj Ehlers scored once and added three assists as Winnipeg rebounded from an early 3-1 deficit Tuesday with four straight goals, including three early in the third period, to defeat the Edmonton Oilers 6-4.

The Jets trailed 2-1 heading into the final 20 minutes some 48 hours earlier against the same opponent before surging ahead, but ultimately walked away with nothing after the Oilers tied things with four minutes left in regulation to set up Leon Draisaitl’s demoralizing winner with 0.7 seconds remaining on the clock.

Winnipeg found itself in an a near-identical situation down 3-2 through 40 minutes Tuesday. This time, however, the Jets scored three times in a span of three minutes 27 seconds to secure a lead they wouldn’t squander.

“It’s the highs and lows of professional sport,” said Winnipeg forward Adam Lowry, who scored the winner to go along with two assists. “Sometimes it seems like you have an emotional letdown the next game.

“The first period wasn’t our best, but we regrouped. We’ve got a lot of belief in our room and the firepower we have.”

Andrew Copp added two goals, including one into an empty net, and two assists, while Paul Stastny, with a goal and an assist, and Mathieu Perreault provided the rest of the offence for Winnipeg (5-2-0). Connor Hellebuyck made 22 saves.

“Our mentality of just staying in the battle,” Ehlers said when asked how his team shook off a tough loss and a rough opening 20 minutes. “And knowing that we’re better than that.”

Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, with a goal and an assist each, Draisaitl and Adam Larsson replied for Edmonton (3-5-0), which has yet to win consecutive games in the all-Canadian North Division. Mikko Koskinen made 27 saves, while Darnell Nurse added three assists.

“Same type of story as the other night,” McDavid said. “We did a good job most of the 40 minutes, and then in the third period we kind of just let it get away.

“Able to battle back the other night. Not tonight. It’s frustrating.”

The Jets tied it 3-3 at 3:19 of the third when Stastny weaved into the offensive zone and slid a pass for Ehlers to bury his fifth of the season — and a career-high fifth in as many games.

“I feel really good, which to me is the most important thing,” said Ehlers, who finds himself among the NHL leaders with 11 points. “My legs have been great. I want to be able to continue feeling great.”

Stastny then gave Winnipeg its first lead at 5:26 when he fished a loose puck out of a crowd in front and flicked his second beyond Koskinen.

The Jets continued the onslaught just 1:20 later when Lowry redirected his fourth off a pass from Derek Forbort to make it 5-3.

McDavid got one back for the visitors thanks to his fifth with 1:50 left on the clock and Koskinen on the bench for an extra attacker, but Copp iced it into an empty net with under a minute to go.

The line of Ehlers, Stastny and Copp combined for 10 points Tuesday in Winnipeg’s sixth game in nine nights.

“We’re reading off each other so well,” said Copp, “We’ve gone to the net hard, we’ve put the puck in the net on our opportunities, and have been able to change some games for us.”

Edmonton and Winnipeg will go head-to-head seven more times this season, with the next meetings scheduled for Feb 15 and 17 in Alberta’s capital.

Playing the finale of a four-game road trip through Toronto and Winnipeg, the Oilers opened the scoring on a power play at 1:48 of the first when Draisaitl snapped his fourth of the campaign — and fourth in as many games — off the rush.

Winnipeg responded on a man advantage of its own at 5:14 when Copp banged home his third after Koskinen made a couple of good stops.

Edmonton nudged back in front 2-1 at 9:13 when Patrick Russell found Larsson at the point, and he beat Hellebuyck on a shot the Jets goalie will want back.

The Oilers, who came in with the NHL’s 25th-ranked power play after finishing first in 2019-20, connected on their second straight man advantage to go up by two just 2:03 later when Nugent-Hopkins took a pass from McDavid and wired his fourth upstairs.

But the Jets countered once again three seconds after an Edmonton penalty expired when Perreault snapped his first past Koskinen, who has played every minute of his team’s season with fellow netminder Mike Smith out injured, off a Lowry feed at 14:37 as the Oilers took a 3-2 advantage to the locker room.

Mark Scheifele hit the post for Winnipeg early in the second on a 2-on-1 chance as the teams played with a lot more tempo following that penalty-filled first.

Edmonton’s Zack Kassian had three great opportunities to put his team back up by two, including a breakaway moments before the intermission, while James Neal had another, but the Oilers were unable to find the range.

Without pointing fingers, McDavid said misses like that can give a tired opponent energy.

“I’ve been on the other side of that,” he said. “When there’s chances missed, it’s almost like there’s a goal scored for you.

“It’s momentum they can build off.”

The Jets certainly did that in the third.

Notes: Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice was behind the bench for the 1,607th regular-season game of his NHL career, tying him with Al Arbour for fourth on the all-time list. … Edmonton hosts the Maple Leafs for two games beginning Thursday after the teams split a pair of contests last week in Toronto. … Winnipeg now has three days off before resuming its seven-game homestand Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks.

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Mitchell: Toronto Blue Jays betting on Marcus Semien's upside while infielder gambles on himself – TSN

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TORONTO — In luring George Springer last week, the Toronto Blue Jays remade their long-term outfield picture with one $150-million cheque.

On Tuesday, they continued upgrading, this time shifting their short-term infield picture with the addition of former Oakland Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien on a one-year, $18-million deal, a source confirmed.

The agreement is pending a physical.

From the Blue Jays’ perspective, the move can be explained in one word: Upside.

In 2019, at the age of 28, the right-handed hitting Semien swatted 33 home runs, stole 10 bases, played in all 162 games, and slashed .285/.369/.522 on his way to a third-place finish in American League MVP voting.

In the pandemic shortened 2020 season … Semien cratered.

He batted just .223 with a .679 OPS and his strikeout numbers jumped as he fell from 7.6 fWAR in 2019 to 1.2 fWAR in 53 games last season.

The Jays are betting Semien can at least split the difference between his two most recent seasons, with the outside chance he can get back to his MVP ways for at least one year.

If things go well for the 30-year-old hitting near the bottom of what could be a top-five offence in baseball, the club will also have the ability to give Semien a qualifying offer next winter, which would either sign him up for another go-round at a similar price should he accept — the QO was $18.9 million this winter — or tie him to draft pick compensation if he declines and hits free agency.

On the flip side, Semien is simply betting on himself.

Put up big numbers in 2021 and he can try free agency again next winter, this time with some added defensive versatility to his name because the plan is for Semien to be the primary second baseman in Toronto.

He’s not a complete stranger to the position, having made 26 starts at the keystone over his first two seasons in the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox, the club that selected him in the sixth round of the 2011 draft out of the University of California.

Semien has also made 44 starts at third base, a position he could see time at this season when the need arises, in addition to being the primary backup behind shortstop Bo Bichette.

Analytics and positioning should turn the athletic Semien into a plus second baseman with the glove and give the Jays at the very least a pretty fun double play duo up the middle this summer.

As of today, that would leave Cavan Biggio at third base and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at first, but Biggio’s extreme versatility gives the front office options, meaning they might not be done adding to the infield puzzle.

With at least one rotation arm needed and some bullpen depth, as well, the club’s off-season is far from over, but you can easily start to question how much money there is left to spend.

The current estimated payroll, per Roster Resource, sits at around $132 million.

While Blue Jays’ brass has given no indication where the upper threshold lies, there is reason to believe there’s flexibility built into budget scenarios based on the opportunities available to them.

Considering there are a number of quality free agents still available and not enough major-league owners willing to spend money, GM Ross Atkins and the front office might have the wiggle room to convince ownership to push even more chips into the centre of the table.

Even without doing that, there’s reason to believe the budget could go as high as $140 million, which leaves room for another free-agent addition, maybe a creative trade for a controllable player, or even some cost-cutting moves — you can pay half of Tanner Roark’s salary to pitch elsewhere — if that’s what’s needed.

After a slow start to the off-season, the Jays are suddenly one of the winter’s busiest teams.

Rotation aside, they’re one of the most improved, too.​

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Semien addition helps Blue Jays’ defence, raises team’s offensive ceiling – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — A week and a half ago, the Toronto Blue Jays had almost nothing to show for their off-season. Now that they’ve added Tyler Chatwood, Kirby Yates, George Springer and Marcus Semien this roster suddenly looks much different — and much better — than before

Bringing Semien in on a one-year, $18-million deal strengthens the Blue Jays’ infield and their batting order. While more work remains on the pitching staff, the team’s offensive depth looks better than it has in years following the addition of Semien, who finished third in AL MVP voting in 2019. The Blue Jays’ lineup now projects to be among baseball’s most prolific, but this most recent deal brings with it other repercussions worth discussing.

With Semien now the leading candidate for second base at-bats, Cavan Biggio likely becomes the team’s primary third baseman. On paper that works, but there’s no need to be overly rigid about those roles in January, and the Blue Jays do value versatility highly. It’d be a surprise if the Blue Jays limit Semien and Biggio to those spots all year.

On defence Semien remains an above-average defensive shortstop, according to FanGraphs (UZR/150 of 6.4 in 2018, 5.0 in 2019, 4.8 in 2020). When he’s playing second base, the skills that allow him to handle shortstop — a strong arm, good footwork and field awareness, for instance — will be highly transferable. In those moments, the Blue Jays will essentially have two shortstops up the middle. But should Bo Bichette need any time off, Semien can slot in easily at the only position he played from 2015-20.

One way or another, this addition should help the Blue Jays’ run prevention, one of the main goals for the front office this winter. At the same time, it does appear to complicate Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s path to regular starts at third. After an off-season of dedicated workouts Guerrero Jr.’s Instagram bio reads ‘Blue Jays 3B,’ and it stands to reason that the team will ensure he gets reps there in spring training, but with Biggio, Bichette and Semien in place, Guerrero Jr. more likely projects as the team’s first baseman.

With that in mind, the team’s batting order could look like this on any given day:

CF: George Springer (R)
SS: Bo Bichette (R)
1B: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (R)
RF: Teoscar Hernandez (R)
LF: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (R)
3B: Cavan Biggio (L)
2B: Marcus Semien (R)
DH: Randal Grichuk (R) / Rowdy Tellez (L)
C: Danny Jansen (R)

Of course that’s just one possible structure among many, and teams rarely stick with one lineup for long in today’s game, but it illustrates the offensive depth this team now possesses. Some days, Rowdy Tellez (.886 OPS in 2020) might be on the bench. Other days it might be Randal Grichuk (12 HR, .793 OPS). At some point, Alejandro Kirk will get a chance to contribute, too.

Speaking of the Blue Jays’ bench, adding Semien might also allow for some creativity. Since Semien can handle shortstop, there’s less of a pressing need to roster Santiago Espinal which creates an opportunity to carry another bench bat or reliever.

With the addition of Semien, the Blue Jays now have the fourth-best projected offence in baseball behind only the Dodgers, Yankees and Astros. And if Semien is the guy he’s been for most of his career — a roughly league-average hitter with 15-homer power — that would certainly help. But there’s further upside here, too, as he showed by hitting 33 home runs with an .892 OPS in 2019.

Even this past season, there were flashes of that offensive potential. After a slow start in 2020, Semien had a .772 OPS from Aug. 8 through the end of the regular season then posted a 1.151 OPS with two home runs in the playoffs. If the Blue Jays get that version of Semien, their lineup gets much deeper.

From an organizational standpoint, he doesn’t become a core piece in the way Springer did. But while the Blue Jays’ outfield is devoid of top prospects, Jordan Groshans and Austin Martin lessen the need for long-term help on the infield. If a need exists in a year’s time, the Blue Jays could bring Semien back or even obtain a draft pick for extending him a qualifying offer — something the A’s did not do.

All of that’s a discussion for much later, though. Right now, the Blue Jays are a much better team with a deep lineup and an improved defence. They could certainly use more pitching, and there’s reason to believe their work isn’t done on that front, but the addition of Semien represents significant progress for a team that’s suddenly making a habit of big moves.

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