The Vancouver Canucks are packing their bags and heading home from the Edmonton bubble after an unbelievable playoff run ended in disappointing fashion Friday night.
Still, the club should feel nothing but pride in what they accomplished, winning two series — including one against the defending Stanley Cup champions — and pushing one of the NHL’s best teams to a 0-0 tie mid-way through the third period of Game 7.
Of course, the biggest reason their series with the Vegas Golden Knights even got to that point was goaltending, but it wasn’t Jacob Markstrom holding the fort. Instead, rookie sensation Thatcher Demko almost single handedly led the Canucks to the upset with three huge performances in Games 5, 6 and7.
Now, general manager Jim Benning has the very difficult task of deciding whether Demko has shown enough to be a primary starter or if Markstrom — a pending free agent — should be offered a contract to return.
Whichever way Benning chooses to go will shape the Canucks for years to come.
The case for re-signing Markstrom…
Markstrom chose a great time to peak.
With the most important contract negotiation of his career looming, the 30-year-old put together a great season, with a 23-16-4 record, .918 save percentage and .925 save rate at 5-on-5. That continued in the playoffs where he upped his numbers slightly to a .919 save percentage overall and .941 rate at 5-on-5 in 14 starts, eight of which required him to make more than 30 saves. When the Vezina Trophy voting results are revealed during the Stanley Cup Final, his name will appear on more than one ballot.
Markstrom joined the Canucks from the Florida Panthers as part of the return in the 2014 Roberto Luongo trade and is the third-longest serving player on the current roster. If these playoffs are any indication, Vancouver is entering a win-now window and his unquantifiable veteran presence would be a valuable asset. Markstrom is a known commodity to the Canucks and replacing him with another goalie with a comparable resume from outside the organization would be risky and could be costly, whether in salary or trade assets.
Most teams that have gone on deep playoff runs in recent years have done so with a strong goaltending tandem splitting time during the regular season, allowing the starter to be fresh come playoff time. With Markstrom and Demko sharing the net, the Canucks have that coveted split. The duo started 70 of the Canucks’ 72 games this season, with Markstrom getting into 43 of them. After 57 and 60 starts in each of the last two seasons, when his backup was primarily Anders Nilsson, Markstrom was able to rest a bit more this season. The pandemic pause makes it difficult to evaluate how much that factored into the Canucks’ deep playoff run, but it certainly didn’t hurt it.
The case for naming Demko the No. 1 starter…
Money makes the world go ’round and the cap-ceiling Canucks don’t have much of it to spend. The team was already going to be forced to make some difficult decisions this off-season before a global pandemic turned off the economic tap, and now with the salary cap staying flat for at least two years, there’s even less room to work with. Beyond Markstrom, some important skaters have expiring contracts that need to be extended or replaced, including Tyler Toffoli, Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher and Jake Virtanen.
One way Benning could save some money is in goal.
On the open market, Markstrom could command $6-million a year or more, a significant raise from the $3.66 million he made this season. By pairing Demko, who has a $1.05-million cap hit for one more season before becoming a restricted free agent, with a cheaper back-up like Brian Elliott or Cam Talbot, Benning could open up some salary cap room to bolster his blue line or to add more forward depth. The Canucks allowed an average of 33.3 shots against this season, fourth-most in the NHL, so investing in skaters who can lower that total could offset Demko’s inexperience.
Some other factors are at play in Demko’s favour. One of them is the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, set to happen after the 2020-21 season ends, whenever that may be. The Canucks can only protect one goalie from their new northwest rivals so signing Markstrom long-term could expose Demko to be taken freely by the Kraken. While that would only add more fuel to the rivalry from a fan’s perspective, the Canucks would be setting themselves back by losing their goalie of the future that way.
Markstrom’s injury history should also factor into the decision. He’s had knee issues in the past and in late February he had a minor-knee procedure that would have potentially forced him to miss the remainder of the season had the pandemic not paused play. Plus, while it’s still not fully clear what ailment caused Markstrom to miss the final three games of the Golden Knights series, it was concerning enough that he didn’t dress as the backup in any of the games.
Demko’s historic week in the Edmonton bubble, where he stopped 123 of 125 shots faced in three games, is one variable to this equation, too, but a decision like this isn’t made based on small sample size. However, the young goalie’s track record of success extends far beyond three playoff games.
Originally a second-round pick by the Canucks in 2014, Demko starred in three years at Boston College, winning the Mike Richter Award as NCAA goalie of the year in 2016 and finishing as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award that same season. He then posted a 55-36-5 record in parts of three AHL seasons before being promoted to the NHL full time this year. Demko held his own in 25 starts this season, winning 13 times, but his .905 save percentage and 3.06 goals-against average both ranked outside the top-30 among goalies with at least 20 appearances.
Demko is far from a sure thing and the Canucks would probably prefer to have him develop a little longer as a backup. But with Markstrom’s contract up, Benning has to choose a goalie to bet the future of his team on now. It won’t be an easy decision.
Source: – Sportsnet.ca
Hamlin, Michael Jordan partner on NASCAR team for Bubba Wallace – Sportsnet.ca
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Denny Hamlin has joined Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan to form a NASCAR team with Bubba Wallace as the driver, a high-profile pairing of a Black majority team owner and the only Black driver at NASCAR’s top level.
The partnership was announced Monday night in co-ordinated social media posts by Jordan and Hamlin, with Wallace adding his own comment. The posts showed a picture of Jordan alongside a firesuit-clad Hamlin in a motorhome at a race track.
“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners,” Jordan said in his statement. “The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more.”
Jordan becomes the first Black principal owner of a full-time Cup team since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott drove his own race car in 495 races from 1961 to 1973. Scott’s 1964 victory at the Jacksonville 200 is the only win by a Black driver in Cup history.
The NBA great, who earlier this year pledged $100 million over 10 years for initiatives combating systemic racism, said the move into NASCAR is another step toward racial equality.
“I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing,” Jordan said.
Jordan joins former NBA player Brad Daugherty, a partner at JTG Daugherty Racing, as the only Black owners at NASCAR’s elite Cup level.
“Michael and Bubba can be a powerful voice together, not only in our sport, but also well beyond it,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and a top contender for this year’s Cup title, will be the minority owner of a single-car Toyota entry aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin has raced his entire career for Gibbs, a Hall of Fame NFL coach.
“Eleven years ago I met Michael Jordan at a then-Charlotte Bobcats game and we became fast friends,” Hamlin wrote. “Not long after, I joined Jordan Brand as their first NASCAR athlete. Our friendship has grown over the years and now we are ready to take it to the next level.
“Deciding on the driver was easy — it had to be Bubba Wallace.”
Wallace is the only Black driver in the Cup Series and this season used his platform to push for racial equality. The 27-year-old successfully urged NASCAR to ban the display of the Confederate flag at its events.
Wallace is winless in 105 Cup starts over four seasons, but he has six career victories in the Truck Series. He’s been handcuffed by mid-level equipment driving the No. 43 for Hall of Famer Richard Petty and, until this summer, the team struggled to land sponsorship.
“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series and we believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin said. “He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that.
“Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”
There’s been speculation for months that Hamlin was organizing some sort of ownership group as he expects NASCAR’s business model to become more favourable for team owners when the “Next Gen” car is released in 2022. NASCAR rules prohibit a current driver from owning a team and driving for another, but Hamlin works around the policy with Jordan as the principal owner.
“Starting a race team has been something that Michael and I have talked about while playing golf together over the years, but the timing or circumstances were never really right,” Hamlin said. “It just makes sense now to lay the foundation for my racing career after I’m done driving and also help an up-and-coming driver like Bubba take his career to a higher level.”
Jordan became a partial owner of the Bobcats in 2006 and bought the team outright in 2010, restoring the franchise to its original Hornets name. Hamlin has been a longtime season-ticket holder with courtside seats along the visitors’ bench.
Jordan dabbled in racing before with Michael Jordan Motorsports. He owned an AMA Superbike team and had one win in 10 years. Jordan has twice travelled to the NASCAR season finale to watch Hamlin race for the championship. Hamlin, who’s 39, is still seeking his first title.
“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said. “The opportunity to own my own race team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.”
Wallace, who has cobbled together about $18 million in sponsorship deals since he made social equality his platform, already said he’d leave Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of the season.
“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” Wallace wrote. “I am grateful and humbled that they believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”
Jordan and Hamlin purchased a charter for their team from Germain Racing that guarantees Wallace a spot in the 40-car field every week.
Lightning strike twice on PP, beat Stars to even Stanley Cup final – TSN
EDMONTON — The Tampa Bay Lightning rediscovered the zap in their power play, using it to burn the Dallas Stars 3-2 on Monday and even up the Stanley Cup final.
Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat had goals on the man advantage as the Lightning scored three times in the first 16 minutes of the game then hung on for the victory.
It ties the best-of-seven series at one game apiece, with Game 3 set for Wednesday at Rogers Place.
Tampa’s power play was ranked fifth in the NHL in the regular season at 23.1 per cent but in the playoffs, heading into Monday’s game, had been spluttering along at 16.9 per cent and mired in an 0 for 14 slump.
Point said the success was not a huge relief because they hadn’t been dwelling on the previous power-play power outages.
“We’re staying positive with (it),” said Point.
“Tonight I thought we stuck with it. We were crisp on our passes and we had (Nikita Kucherov) making some great plays.”
Kucherov, the leading point getter in the playoffs, and defenceman Victor Hedman had the assists on both power-play goals.
Midway through the first period, Kucherov was the middle man in a tic-tac-toe passing play, taking a pass from Hedman and redirecting the puck into the slot area to Point, who then wristed it through traffic and high glove side past Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin.
Three minutes later, on a second power play, Kucherov, at the right face-off circle, faked a one-timer shot off a Hedman pass, freezing Khudobin, and instead slap-passed it cross-seam to Palat, who had a wide open net and didn’t miss.
Less than a minute after that, Tampa defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk scored on a blue-line wrist shot through traffic that proved to be the game-winner.
It was a different story from Game 1, when Tampa got six minutes of power play time in the third period, blasted 22 shots on net but couldn’t score and lost 4-1.
Kucherov said they didn’t tinker with the power-play plan prior to Game 2.
“We had some good looks during the first game. We just couldn’t score,” said Kucherov.
“We just stuck to what we had to do: keep it simple, shoot the puck at the net and get those rebounds.”
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 27-of-29 shots for his 15th victory of the playoffs, including the seeding round.
Joe Pavelski and Mattias Janmark, with his first of the playoffs, replied for Dallas. Khudobin turned aside 28 shots in the loss. His post-season record drops to 13-7.
Janmark said the penalties and the power-play goals proved to be a bridge too far.
“That’s where we lost the game today,” said Janmark.
“Most of the first period we didn’t come out like we wanted. I think they were better, so I would say they earned (the power plays).
“At the same time, we gotta be better. We were a little bit undisciplined. We were turning pucks over and they were coming at us.”
Tampa Bay outshot Dallas 14-6 in the first period but was outshot 18-5 in the second frame as the Stars found renewed life.
The Stars hit the scoreboard late in the period when a fluttering John Klingberg point shot was redirected in by Pavelski while he battled with defender Ryan McDonagh in front of Vasilevskiy.
Pavelski, signed as a free agent a year ago after 13 seasons with San Jose, has a team-leading 10 playoff goals.
Less than six minutes into the third, the Stars made it 3-2 on a tic-tac-toe play of their own — Alexander Radulov to Klingberg to Janmark, who tapped the puck in despite Shattenkirk being draped all over him.
It was a rough game with big hits and numerous post-whistle scrums and takedowns.
Late in the second period, the Stars’ Corey Perry had Lightning forward Cedric Paquette in a post-whistle head lock. He released him at the direction of the refs only to see Paquette turn on him, throw him to the ice and start raining down punches.
Stars forward Blake Comeau was levelled by McDonagh on an open-ice hit in the second period and didn’t return.
Kucherov now has six goals and 22 assists for 28 points in the playoffs. Hedman has nine goals and eight assists.
Tampa has 15 wins and six losses in the post-season and has yet to lose two games in a row.
The Lightning are seeking the second Stanley Cup in franchise history, the last one coming in 2004. The Stars’ only Cup came in 1999.
All games are being held in a so-called isolation bubble at Rogers Place, with the players sequestered from the public to prevent contracting COVID-19.
The NHL reported that in eight weeks of testing there have been no positive COVID-19 cases.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2020.
Jays thump Yankees – Bluebird Banter
It is so much more fun playing the Yankees in Buffalo than playing them in Yankees Stadium. I’m going to love hearing them whine about the park.
Matt Shoemaker made his first start coming back from the IL and he was very good. Just 3 innings (they were going to keep him around 60 pitches, he finished with 54), 3 hits, 2 walks, 1 earned with 1 strikeout. He seemed to be thrown out of rhythm when a foul tip went into the mask of the plate umpire and there was a long delay.
My continuing complaint is that, the umpire clearly got rocked by that pitch, the trainer comes out, and they stand and talk and joke and leave him in the game. There should be a rule that takes the umpire out of the game, at least for an inning, so he can be evaluated properly.
At the end of the inning the umpire comes out of the game and a spare umpire, who for some reason was at the game, takes over (boy was he terrible at calling balls and strikes).
Shoemaker was getting his fastball up to 95-96 and looked healthy. He’ll get another start on the weekend and, all being well, should be our third starter for the playoffs.
T.J. Zeuch came in for the fourth and threw 3 perfect innings. He gave up a walk and a double in the seventh and came out of the game at 3.1 innings, 1 hit, 1 earned, 1 walk in 3.1 innings. He looked calm and kept the Yankees hitting the ball on the ground. He gets the win.
Patrick Murphy followed up. He got us out of the seventh and pitched the 8th, giving up 2 hits with a strikeout. He’s pretty impressive with a 97 MPH fastball and a very pretty 12 to 6 curve.
Wilmer Font started the ninth and was just awful, giving up a single and 2 walks to load the bases and then a double to unload them, while getting 2 outs. Font forced Charlie to get Shun Yamaguchi into the game, to get the last out, a strikeout.
Mike Wilner mentioned that Font only hit 89-91 on the fastball, maybe something is wrong.
Lots of guys had a big night, but Kirk was the most fun to watch, going 4 for 4, with the home run, a double and a long single off the right field wall that only needed to be about 2 feet higher to be home run. Kirk scored from second on a single, which may have been the most entertaining moment of the night. Amazing that he’s in the MLB without playing above A ball.
Vladimir Guerrero was 3 for 3 with a walk. He had a “triple” that Yankees’ center fielder Aaron Hicks lost in the night sky (that we didn’t score him was a sin), a double (on pitch he really shouldn’t have swung at but he managed to pull it down the left field line) and another double that was hard hit, well earned double. let’s hope that it is the start of a hot stretch.
- Cavan Biggio had 2 walks (should have been 3, did I mention the hastily dressed plate umpire had a rough night).
- Bo Bichette was 2 for 5, with 2 RBI.
- Teoscar Hernandez was 2 for 5, 2 RBI, 3 strikeouts.
- Randal was 2 for 4, with the homer, walk and 2 RBI.
Being the Jays, we couldn’t make it through the game without an error. Biggio had an easy grounder hit to him at third but threw wide of first. Vlad got over to make the catch but couldn’t put a tag on the runner. Next batter hit another ground ball to third, this time Cavan threw a strike.
That brings our Magic Number to 3, with the Mariners still playing.
Jays of the Day: Vlad (.161 WPA), Bo (.110) and Hernandez (.102) all had the number. And, of course, I’m giving one to Kirk. And let’s give one to Zeuch for throwing the 3.1 innings, saving us from using more pitchers.
No Suckage Jays. Gurriel had the low mark at -.071. On the other hand, lets give one to Font for an awful ninth.
We had 898 comments in the GameThread. I led us to the win. I tell you, I have a beer, the team wins. I’m willing to keep it up.
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