Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after day three of Phase 3 training camp, touching on the scrimmage format and team selections, William Nylander’s consistency, and Nick Robertson’s performance in camp so far.
Some eyebrows were raised with both of the top two lines being a part of the Matthews group. What are you hoping to accomplish when you came up with those teams? What are you hoping to accomplish with the five scrimmages?
Keefe: Obviously, it’s a little unconventional. Usually, you would take those lines and put one on each team, but this is not a conventional camp or conventional times. We’ve got to adapt to it.
We are trying to get a lot out of these games, and keeping those guys together gives us an opportunity to not only try different things involving special teams, but we can change those lines at any time and use different combinations that we have in mind.
The other part of it is just that we’ve got the Kerfoot line and the Gauthier line, and they’re two lines that really have to work to make life hard on the opposition now with their habits and their detail and how they play. Our top guys have got to get used to playing it against guys that are hard on them. We just thought it was a way to create that environment and have a little bit of competitiveness at the same time.
How did you come up with the scrimmage format and why is it so important?
Keefe: We need to have game action as best we can to be able to really prepare ourselves to play. It is not just structural and systems things for us. There are game habits and things in the flow of the game — how you manage the puck, shift length, line changes — that are really important for us and are areas where we have to grow as a team.
It is not necessarily just things you can practice in a practice environment. We need game reps. We don’t have an exhibition season — we have one exhibition game that is right in front of a playoff series — so we have to give ourselves as many reps as we can. If we are going to do that, it has to be somewhat of a competitive environment.
That is why we set up the teams the way that we did and we created a series in terms of it being a best-of-five, which is course mirrors what we are going to face in the match up against Columbus. We just thought it made sense and we are going with it.
Jack Campbell said you had a video beforehand to get the guys fired up a little bit?
Keefe: We had a little bit of a video to get the guys going. We are playing on the Matthews and Andersen relationship and friendship that they have clearly shown. I thought it was one of the real highlights for me just in terms of our team. You see two guys taking care of each other and hanging out with each other during a tough time. Rather than being alone — certainly in Fred’s case in Toronto — Auston invited him out there. I think it is a really cool thing for our team and we are just kind of playing off of that and adding some competitiveness within this camp.
When you were binging the Maple Leafs over the pause, was there something about William Nylander’s play this season that came to light, be it something he needs to work on, or something that stood out that he needs to work on, or something you want to see more of?
Keefe: The big thing that stands out for William is just his consistency — the consistency he brings in his effort and competitiveness. When he does that, he is the player that he is capable of being. I showed him a number of different clips where he was all over the puck and winning pucks back.
One very underrated thing with William: The way that he wins the puck back in terms of takeaways in the offensive zone. He is right near the top of the league in that regard. That is just him being strong on his stick and being smart and using his skill to win the puck back. There is a whole competitive side to that as well. When he is doing that, it allows him to play with the puck that much more; he is that much more engaged.
That is what we are looking for from him: the consistency. The talent and the ability — not many players in the world can match that. He has that. We just have to see it all the time.
Do you have a theory as to why the consistency isn’t always there?
Keefe: I think it is part of Will’s nature at times to not be as engaged as you’d like him to be. He needs a push. Sometimes it comes from me, but a lot of the time it comes from himself as well because he is a guy that is hard on himself. He recognizes it when you show him the clips. A lot of the times, he doesn’t even need to see the clips. He knows the situations you’re talking about.
Just through the habits and the repetition and the environment around him… The pressure we are trying to put on all of our players to be good all the time… When I say all the time, of course, it doesn’t mean that you are going to be perfect, but it does mean that there is a sense of urgency to everything that you are doing to give yourself a chance to be good more often than not.
How has he looked this week so far?
Keefe: I think he has looked good — not just this week, but all through Phase 2. He put in a lot of work. Will is a guy who loves to be on the ice as well, so there is no questioning his work ethic and preparation off the ice and in practices or on his own personal time on the ice. He does what he needs to do to get himself prepared. I am not worried about him on that front.
Nick Robertson was saying it is taking him some time to get used to the pace here. What have you seen from him in the three days — specifically today?
Keefe: He looks like a guy who is finding his way. He is not the only one. There are lots of eyes and attention on him, but there are other guys here who are trying to find their way. He is a guy that not only is coming out of the same break and pause everyone else has had, but he is also trying to adjust to a new level, a new league, and a new environment. It is a little bit harder for him in that sense.
He is trying to find his way. There is some time here. Of course, there is probably not as much time as you would like for a young player to adjust and get comfortable, but we are going to give him more time to adapt and see whether he is an option for us as we get going into the playoffs.
Just the fact that he is here, he is an option in that sense, but there are other players competing for that spot and it will sort itself out.
There has been so much hype surrounding Nick. The hype almost seems out of control at times. How well prepared do you think Nick is to handle the hype he is aware of and to channel that into positive energy rather than let it overwhelm him?
Keefe: For sure. That is part of being a talented high-end prospect for the Toronto Maple Leafs. That is part of what comes with it, but he has earned it because he has had the season that he had in junior hockey. It is not matched by very many people in history. It’s not just what he showed he is capable of doing, but the results that he had.
He has earned that attention. It is enhanced, like everything else — like having refs at your scrimmage — in Toronto, but he has got to tune that out and just do his work. I am not concerned about him. In the discussions I have had with him, he is an extremely focused individual.
We’ve got to do our part to make him comfortable here and help him with his transition to pro hockey and this environment, but I am not worried about him. He is going to continue to work and adjust himself. It will sort itself out.
The plan had been to have officials today. What happened to that?
Keefe: Apparently, people around the NHL are paying attention to our media reports in Toronto. I think there were some people around the league who perhaps liked the idea that we had referees but didn’t like the idea they didn’t have the same available to them. We had to make an adjustment and we are perfectly fine doing that. Greg Moore has done a fantastic job for us there to keep things moving.
As you prepare to head into the bubble, besides your phone, what is something you have to bring with you?
Keefe: Oh, man. I don’t know. I am a pretty boring guy. Other than my phone, I am probably just going to bring my phone and laptop. I’ll have the electronic trifecta going and that will keep me busy enough.
We are going to be in the bubble, but we are there for a reason and a purpose. As a coach, you are going to be consumed with the task at hand. That is really all the hobbies that I need.
Did you ever end up getting a Netflix account? You took a lot of heat online for not having one.
Keefe: I did eventually. Going through that, my wife did remind me that she created an account for the family that I just never received the password or account to. I did get a chance to explore the Netflix world, and there is a lot going on there. I try not to get too deep into it, but it is an additional tool that might occupy some of my time.
What did you think of Tiger King?
Keefe: That was interesting. I took in one episode to make sure I could be up to speed on what was going on in the world and a lot of the conversations I was having with different people, but there are a lot more interesting things going on than that.
New Rockets’ coach expects Harden to be ‘all in’ this season – Sportsnet.ca
HOUSTON — New Rockets coach Stephen Silas didn’t talk a lot about James Harden and the rumours that he’s unhappy in Houston on Thursday.
But he was clear about one thing — he expects Harden to be there when the Rockets open camp this weekend.
“I’m confident that he will be all in,” Silas said. “That’s where I’m leaving it. As I said, I’ve given him the space to to do his thing. But I’m confident he’ll be here when we get started.”
Reports that Harden wants out of Houston have swirled since another early playoff exit by the Rockets when they were eliminated by the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals. It was rumoured that both Harden and Westbrook wanted to leave the team. Westbrook got his wish Wednesday night when he was shipped to Washington for John Wall and a first-round pick.
Westbrook lasted just one season in Houston playing with Harden and an unconventional small-ball lineup. Now both Westbrook and that small-ball lineup are a thing of the past, with Westbrook heading to the nation’s capital and centre DeMarcus Cousins joining the Rockets.
Silas is a longtime NBA assistant in his first job as a head coach after being hired to replace Mike D’Antoni, who told the Rockets he wasn’t returning at the end of the season. Silas said he hasn’t spoken to Harden since the trade and that he’s employed a hands-off approach with the superstar so far.
“When stuff like this kind of happens, where there’s a little indecision and stuff going on, I kind of take a step back and allow guys some space,” Silas said. “So from my perspective, my communication has been I’m giving you space. And that’s kind of where it’s been as far as my communication with him. And guys like that need that.”
Silas is excited to add a player of Wall’s calibre to his team, but admitted that he had some mixed emotions when he learned of the trade.
“If it weren’t for Russell Westbrook, I probably wouldn’t have this job,” Silas said. “So the fact that he vouched for me in the interview process was one of the first things that I thought of when the trade was made.”
Then he remembered all his years as an assistant in Charlotte when he had to plan to defend Wall four times a year.
“The second part of it is how dynamic John Wall has been in his career and some of the nightmares that I’ve had trying to defend him and pick and roll and all the pick and roll passes that he’s able to make,” Silas said.
Also on Thursday, Cousins spoke to reporters for the first time since signing with the Rockets earlier in the week. The 30-year-old said he’s healthy and can’t wait to get started after missing all of last season recovering from a knee injury.
“It was a tough task, mentally, physically, but at the same time, I was able to rest my body and it was much-needed rest,” Cousins said. “Coming back off of that, I feel incredible, my body is in a great place, my mind is in a great place and I’m just ready to get back on the floor and play the game that I love.”
He’s also ecstatic about being reunited with Wall, his college teammate at Kentucky. Cousins said he’s known Wall since he was 14 and that the point guard was a groomsman in his wedding.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Cousins said. “It’s something me and him planned and dreamed about for a long time. So I’m pretty sure he’s just grateful for his moment as I am.”
Thursday Bantering: Jays Bits – Bluebird Banter
There isn’t much for news or rumors today.
There is a rumor that the Blue Jays have been talking to the Phillies about Jean Segura. I am putting that into the Blue Jays kick the tires on anyone who could be up for trade.
Segura played third and second last year, after being a shortstop for his career before that. He had been pretty much a league average shortstop defensively, but he had a very good 9.4 UZR/150 this season. Generally shortstops moved to second look better with the glove.
He’s hit well in his career. From 2016 to 2018 he hit .308/.353/.449 in 422 games. This season wasn’t as good, hitting .266/.347/.422. He has 183 stolen bases in his career, but then only 2 this year.
He turns 31 in March and has two years, both at $14,859,000. And there is an option year at $17 million. I’m thinking that, if they traded for him, they would expect the Phillies to take some of that money.
They could look at him as a very good utility player, or could be thinking that his glove is a big up grade at second or third.
I wouldn’t be excited about getting him, but depending on what we shipped to the Phillies I’d be ok with it.
There were a few interesting players non-tendered. You can see the whole list here. I used to be interesting in Kyle Schwarber but he isn’t someone I’d like the Jays to chase after now. Delino DeShields is a good glove CF and would be a good 4th outfielder type, and could pinch run, but I don’t know home much of an upgrade from Jonathan Davis.
The one player I’d like to see them look at is Carlos Rodon. When he came up, we all thought that he was going to be a very good starting pitcher. His career has been damaged by injuries, but there is still potential there.
Our old friend Ryan Tepera is on the list. I’d be ok with a minor league contract.
Minor Leaguer has updated the Roster Route Map:
The Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers of America (insert annual joke about there being a Canadian chapter of the BBWAA) have released the results of their annual award voting.
- Teoscar Hernandez was named most improved player and player of the year.
- Hyun Jin Ryu is pitcher of the year (they should rename this the Halladay award).
- Jordan Romano gets the rookie of the year.
- Anthony Alford and Mike Wilner get the John Cerutti award for ‘displaying goodwill, cooperation and character;’.
It is worth noting that both the ‘good-guy’ award winners are no longer with the team.
Jamie Romak wins 2020 James Tip O’Neill Award.
Canada’s baseball shrine presents this honour annually to the Canadian player judged to have excelled in individual achievement and team contribution while adhering to baseball’s highest ideals. https://t.co/OFFHVZRKFj pic.twitter.com/OBiMRKc38W
— Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (@CDNBaseballHOF) December 3, 2020
In the past the Tip O’Neill award award has gone to a major league player, but it is kind of cool that they widened the net this year.
Romak hit .282/.399/.546 with 32 home runs in 139 games for SK Wyverns. The team didn’t have a good season going 51-92 this year.
Speaking of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, they are having their annual Holiday Auction. There are many things I’d love to own, but I only bid on a couple of them (don’t bid against me).
There are many signed balls, bats, jerseys, some very nice artwork and much more. If you were looking for a Christmas present for your favorite site managers, there is no end of good choices.
Over in the Sun, Rob Longley tells us that Vladimir Guerrero isn’t a lock for third base, but there is this quote:
“It’s just because of his arms and his hands,” Atkins said when asked how Guerrero can be successful at his original position. “If he’s coming in at the overall body (composition) and weight and agility he was in Double A, it’s realistic to think of him being an impact player at third base.
He lists 10 as wins, 9 as losses, 3 as draws and 3 as TBD.
A couple I might argue:
- Pearce for Espinal is listed as a loss, but, to me it is TBD, Pearce was great in the World Series, but Espinal might be a handy player to have in the long run.
- He had Merryweather for Donaldson a win. We were trading only a couple of months of an injured Josh, but it was just a weird and poorly done trade.
- Stroman for Kay and Woods Richardson is listed as TBD, but I count that as a win.
Knicks Only Had Interest In Russell Westbrook If Rockets Attached Assets – RealGM.com
Russell Westbrook was an All-NBA selection in 19-20, but he received very little trade interest as he sought a trade from the Houston Rockets.
“There. Was. No. Market. For. Russell. Westbrook,” said Zach Lowe on his podcast one day after the trade. “I kept saying this over and over again. The Clippers were not interested. The Knicks were not interested unless they were incentivized. I don’t know where the Hornets noise came from. Maybe it was credible. All I can say is from the people I know there, I never heard they were interested. There was, to my knowledge, nothing.”
Westbrook has $132 million remaining on his contract over three seasons and has fit issues.
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