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SIMMONS: NHL players almost fully paid still want shot at the Stanley Cup – Toronto Sun

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When NHL players return this summer — if they return at all — they won’t be paid for playoff participation. And they can’t wait to play for nothing but the Stanley Cup.

That says something about the athlete and the sport, although in fairness they’ve already received all but one cheque of their season’s salaries. The world may be fighting itself everywhere, with so many questions, but hockey players still want that trophy.

In baseball, which may be ready to begin its season by early July, no one has been paid anything yet. And all they are doing is fighting over dollars. There won’t be ticket revenue in any sport for a while. There won’t be fans in the stands or money from parking or concessions.

Major League Baseball has come up with a complex 67-page plan to bring the sport back but none of it will mean anything if the players can’t agree to some kind of reduction in salary, more than simply cutting salaries in half as the season will be cut in half.

Each sport, each league, has its own individual difficulties and challenges to deal with regarding testing and social distancing and the possibility of travelling. But it is good to know, in terrible times, how much players still want the Stanley Cup.

THIS AND THAT

When Pat Quinn was coaching the Los Angeles Kings in the 1980s, he got his team ready for a playoff series with the great Edmonton Oilers by showing a videotape of highlights. Wayne Gretzky goals. Jari Kurri goals. Paul Coffey goals. Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson running people and scoring. Just amazing stuff to watch. But not for Tiger Williams. Williams let Quinn and his teammates know what he thought of the highlight preparation tape when, afterwards, he took the VCR and threw it at the TV, smashing both to pieces … Weird possibility if hockey comes back this summer: A Toronto-Montreal playoff series may happen for the first time in 41 years. Might be just a best-of-three, depending on which format the NHL eventually settles on. But it can happen. Overall, the Leafs and Habs have played 15 times in a variety of playoff series, with Montreal winning eight of them. They last played in the playoffs in 1979. Leafs haven’t won a playoff game against the Habs since Toronto won the Stanley Cup in 1967. When the NHL season was halted, Montreal had 71 points, 10 fewer than the  Leafs … Imagine that: A Montreal-Toronto series and no fans in the stands … Mike Futa, whose contract wasn’t renewed by the Kings, has interviewed for numerous GM jobs around the NHL in recent years, including with the Maple Leafs … Nice guy Art Howe, who was terribly and inaccurately misrepresented in the movie Moneyball, is in hospital with COVID-19. Thinking of him and all those who are struggling. Thinking also of Alex Delvecchio, the smooth Red Wings centre, living alone in a nursing home in Detroit at the tender age of 88.

HEAR AND THERE

Defencemen better than P.K. Subban at this point in time: Roman Josi, John Carlson, Drew Doughty, Victor Hedman, Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan Suter, Brent Burns, Mark Giordano, Miro Heiskanen, Kris Letang, Seth Jones, Dougie Hamilton, Shea Weber, Morgan Rielly, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Erik Karlsson, Thomas Chabot, Zach Werenski, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, and the kids Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar. And I’m probably missing a few. If Subban wants back in the Norris Trophy conversation, and he should want that, that’s a large group to leap over … The only three defencemen with worse plus-minus numbers than Jake Gardiner this season all played for the rather terrible Detroit Red Wings … For some reason, and we’re not sure why, commissioner Gary Bettman wants former Oilers and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli back working in the NHL. He’d like to place him with the historically dysfunctional Arizona Coyotes. The league would also like Shane Doan to wind up with the Coyotes, but there’s apparently some bad feelings about how everything ended for him in 2017. Doan currently works for the league … Pierre McGuire denies it but word is he recently interviewed for the GM job that may or may not be open in New Jersey. “They have a GM,” said McGuire … It’s no wonder why people are turning away from the WWE. The lack of stars and interesting characters and plot-lines are easy to bypass. When Wrestlemania 6 was held in Toronto in 1990, the lineup included Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Macho Man Savage, Andre The Giant, Bret Hart, Ultimate Warrior, Shawn Michaels, Dusty Rhodes, Jake (The Snake) Roberts, Jimmy Snuka — all of whom were bigger stars than anyone working WWE today.

SCENE AND HEARD

My best investment this year: Argos season tickets. The money I paid for them will be refunded if they don’t play, dollar for dollar. Over the same period of time, my BMO stock has gone from $100 a share to $62 … For the record, this will be the second consecutive Victoria Day that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. won’t be in the Blue Jays starting lineup … One thing the WWE has going for it: It’s making biological history. The Man is pregnant … I checked my milk carton. He wasn’t on it. Anyone knowing the whereabouts of NHLPA leader Donald Fehr, please contact the authorities … It still bothers me that the Leafs and Raptors have raised ticket prices for next season, assuming there is a next season. Who can afford more today than they could yesterday? …  For a late-bloomer like Cavan Biggio, losing a half season or even an entire season at this time, it has to be personal. Especially when his career seems just poised to take off … Among the many rules baseball is looking at for a re-opening is no post-game buffets in the clubhouse. And I can’t help but think of the late Tony Fernandez, leaning over a post-game plate full of roast beef, mashed potatoes, and all kinds of gravy in Boston on a night he sat out complaining of stomach pains. Roger Clemens happened to be pitching for the Red Sox that night. That could give anyone stomach pains.

AND ANOTHER THING

This is made for the movies: LeBron James’ production company is planning to do a docu-drama on the Houston Astros cheating scandal … I admit it. Being home for 60-plus days is getting to me. I have zero interest in UFC and watched six hours of it last Saturday night — and didn’t hate it. The lasting impression: The power of heavyweight Francis Ngannou. There’s some young George Foreman in this guy … The UFC did about $50 million in pay-per-view sales last weekend, which is impressive when  you consider how many people have figured out how to stream this stuff for free … My Netflix tout of the week: Waco … It’s been 13 months since Dion Phaneuf last played an NHL game and he still hasn’t announced his retirement. Odd … Did anybody else find it funny that London MP Peter Fragiskatos wasn’t happy about the CFL asking for government support because too many of its players are American. In fact, most of the highest-paid players in the CFL are American and guess where they pay their taxes? Here … By the way, Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau and Brock Boeser are Americans playing in Canadian NHL cities. They also pay the majority of their taxes in Canada. Does Fragiskatos know that? … I understand the CFL meeting with government and asking for help. I understand the CFLPA meeting with government and asking for help. I don’t understand them doing it separately … Happy birthday to Sugar Ray Leonard (64), Tessa Virtue (31), Jack Morris (65), Thurman Thomas (54), Terence Davis (23), Floyd Smith (85), Simon Whitfield (45), John Salley (54), Kyle Wellwood (37) and Jeff Skinner (28) … And hey, whatever became of Colby Rasmus?

ssimmons@postmedia.com

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There’s never a wrong time to tell a Rickey Henderson story. Here’s one of my favourites.

Henderson was 39 years old, in his 20th big league season and still playing regularly on a young Oakland A’s team that had a 24-year-old rookie catcher in A.J. Hinch and a 24-year-old shortstop star in Miguel Tejada. The team was on a bus one day during the 1998 season and the young players, sitting near the front of the bus, started playing team trivia.

Where were you when Kirk Gibson hit the home run?

Do you remember the Carlton Fisk home run?

The questions were being asked, the answers were being shouted out.

Then came the big question: Where were you when Joe Carter hit the home run? Jason Giambi had just finished a season of A ball in Modesto. Hinch was still in college, at Stanford. The Canadian, Matt Stairs, was home after a triple-A season in Ottawa and a few days with the Montreal Expos.

The answers from the A’s were lively and all over the place, I’m told, and then a voice from the back of the bus was heard?

Where were you when Joe Carter hit the home run?

“I was on second base,” said Henderson.

The great Henderson, by the way, went on to play five more years for five more teams. His all-time WAR was 111.2, just behind a couple of guys named Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams.

The settlement looked huge. The lawsuit against the Canadian Hockey League and its Canadian operators finally came to a conclusion Friday when it was announced that $30 million will be paid out by junior hockey to those involved with the class action suit.

At first glance, it looked like the players won large with their suit. But first glances are often deceiving.

The lawyers won huge — they’ll get somewhere in the $10-million range. But the purpose of the lawsuit launched by players, who believe they were wronged in junior hockey and not paid an appropriate wage, including former Leaf Bill Berg’s son, Sam, essentially lost their fight. The rules of operating in junior hockey haven’t changed here. They will still operate without paying reasonable wages to players.

The $20 million or so remaining will be split among the more than 4,000 players who were involved in the class action suit. That money will mostly be paid by insurance carriers. It’s a pretty small settlement big-picture for each individual player, especially considering the grief many of them took for being involved in trying to change the system. They’ll probably get a few thousand dollars each. In the end, it was a lot of noise and a lot of fight and a lot of purpose and a lot of money moving around — and basically nothing changing.

The hope now is that at last junior operators will learn from being so crass and nasty with their players. That’s a hope, it may not be a reality.

—-

The question I asked to Rob Ray, who fought more than 270 times in his NHL career, was rather basic: If you came back this summer to play, knowing the world has all but stopped for COVID-19, knowing how you played your game, would you fight?

“I wouldn’t have to,” said for the former enforcer for the Buffalo Sabres. “There isn’t really any fighting in the NHL anymore. And when it comes to playoffs, there isn’t really any fighting there either.”

The NHL has never officially put in rules to prevent fighting in hockey. But as both science and the game have evolved, along with some legalities, fighting has basically disappeared. But I can’t help but wonder: If you play this summer, what happens with contact, with scrums, with pushing and shoving, with face-washes, all still part of the NHL game?

“You may think about COVID before the game and you might think about it afterwards, but I think when the game begins, you’ll be so dialed in to the game that you won’t know what’s going to happen,” said Ray. “If you’re programmed the way I was programmed, you might not think about it for that split second. You’re going to do what comes naturally. Playoffs are the most intense hockey of the year. You’re going to have some altercations of some kind. That’s only natural.”

But how natural will it be in an arena without fans or noise?

“Do you hear the crowd when you play?” said Ray. “I don’t. I never did. You’re so dialled in you have no idea what the crowd is doing, you’re so focussed on your thing. Most of the time, I never heard the crowd. I don’t think it’s a big deal playing without fans.”

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Six years of harsh reality be damned, the Maple Leafs are sticking to their plan – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Stay the course. Stick to the plan.

We’re painfully close. Closer than it appears.

In the wake of their sixth consecutive opening-round postseason defeat, the Toronto Maple Leafs will septuple down on the Shanaplan, the blueprint.

They have seen enough progress within this sad string of playoff disappointments to not only believe in their strategy but believe harder. Six years of harsh reality be damned.

“Certainly, as we look forward to next year, there’s always going to be new faces. That being said, we will not be making changes just simply for the sake of saying that we made changes,” said Brendan Shanahan, entering the eighth year of his reign and still hunting Round 2.

“In spite of the fact that we were not able to finish Tampa off in Game 6 and Game 7, I saw a different team and a different approach.”

There is no whiff that the off-ice approach, at least publicly, will alter.

History will dictate whether Leaf Nation is rewarded for this regime’s loyalty and belief or foiled by stubbornness and hubris — and left with a diminished pool of picks and prospects.

During the club’s locker cleanout Tuesday, Shanahan gave Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe a firm endorsement for 2022-23.

Dubas not only backed Keefe but said the idea of dialing up experienced free agents Barry Trotz and Peter DeBoer hadn’t crossed his mind.

“I only think Sheldon is going to continue to get better,” Dubas said. “And I think when we speak of Sheldon in 10, 15 years from now, it’ll be in the same way that you [speak about] those two great coaches. And I think that’ll be played out here in Toronto.”

On the surface, no one is lighting a fire under anyone.

Maybe that’s just smart PR.

What would be troubling, though, is this: Maybe it’s complacency.

The air of disappointment, the vows to dig deeper, the sombre tones as the Leafs packed their belongings for the summer… it all felt so familiar. Just part of the cycle.

“As much as winning can bring people together,” Shanahan said, “learning how to deal with the heartbreak and devastation of falling short, depending on what kind of relationship you have, can bring you closer as well.”

What if, for these regular-season superstars, Round 2 has become the new Stanley Cup, the way RFA has become the new UFA?

“I don’t think playing in any passionate hockey market will allow for comfort to seep into a group,” Shanahan defended.

Thing is, plenty of supporters seem content with giving this another go, essentially, as is. Run it back. Hope the Maple Leafs are 100 per cent healthy again, that they draw an easier opponent, and that next time they will have learned their lesson for real.

I threw up a Twitter poll Monday to gauge whom the fans would like to see pay for another long golf season, and 66.9 per cent of 27,200 voters are happy to run this core back with minor changes on the fringes.

While his actions this summer will speak louder, Dubas says he is still content with allocating an inordinate percentage of his cap space to four forwards (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander) and an offensively gifted defenceman (Morgan Rielly).

Even after losing multiple do-or-die games to organizations that invested more in goaltending, defence and bottom-six depth.

“The contracts to those players that you’re referencing, I think they’re providing us great value in the way that they’re producing, in the way that they continue to evolve as they go through their contract. So, I don’t regret those at all,” said Dubas, ready to go money-balling for 2023’s David Kämpf and Michael Bunting.

“It’s the reality in the league right now that you’re probably not going to be able to spend as much as you want on those depth pieces. And you’re really going to have to do a great job of finding value, whether that’s someone that’s coming off injury, someone that hasn’t been given great opportunity, [or] someone coming off a bad year that you see something in.”

In a game of goal-line reviews and phantom high-sticks, the Maple Leafs believe they are simply “one shot away,” as captain John Tavares put it.

No need for major surgery.

Just a few more bargain-bin gems, a couple extra hours in the gym. A few less careless penalties, convert on a couple more power-plays.

“We’re slowly understanding the way we need to play,” William Nylander said.

“There’s significant buy-in here, which I don’t think you get everywhere.” Jason Spezza added. “We need more just — that stubbornness of not accepting to lose a game. It’s in the room. It definitely is in the room. These guys, they’re learning how hard it is.”

So are Shanahan and Dubas.

The brass will do their best to sell steady veteran Mark Giordano on the Spezza salary program. They’ll explore a Jack Campbell extension but also alternatives in the goalie market. The fringe forwards will be juggled and a few let loose.

But to hear the decision-makers tell it, mostly what the Maple Leafs need is a seventh playoff shot.

That should do the trick.

And they’ve done a shrewd enough of a sell job to get one.

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This Battle of Alberta won’t be like the past, but the emotion will be unmatched – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON  — It’s been 31 years, so long that a generation really only knows the Battle of Alberta in snap shots from Hockey Night in Canada videos. 

Gretzky down the wing on Vernon. Smith, in off of Fuhr. Fleury break dancing across the Northlands Coliseum logo. Dave Brown, startin’ the lawn mower on Jim Kyte. 

Glen Sather, alternately cheering an OT goal in Calgary and issuing a hand gesture to Flames fans that would have garnered him a healthy fine today. 

We’re here to tell you: societal norms dictate that the old Battle of Alberta will never be re-lived. This can not be that. 

But although we might know what we’re NOT going to see when the Calgary Flames hook up with the Edmonton Oilers starting on Wednesday night, you never know what you might see in a matchup set to consume this prairie province for the first time since 1991. A grudge match that — in its best days — was as good a rivalry as the National Hockey League has seen in all its many years. 

“You always knew going into it that there was going to be bloodshed, and it was going to be some of your own,” former Oilers (and Flames) defenceman Steve Smith said in my book, The Battle of Alberta. “It was real then. There were going to be fights and you were expected to be part of fights and physical hockey.” 

“They were big, strong, physical,” added Edmonton defenceman Jeff Beukeboom. “They were dirty. Just like us,”  

The sheer violence does not exist anymore, and for that the NHL is a better place. But the emotion that has gone missing with that violence? 

That, we’d like to surgically implant back into the game, like a ligament from a cadaver that could put the hop back in the step of a league where too many players are buddy-buddy, asking how the wife and kids are rather than putting a glove in their opponent’s face. 

It was that emotion that fuelled the high-octane dragster that was The Battle. 

Emotion that would drive Doug Risebrough to slink into the penalty box with an Oilers jersey purloined from the latest Pier 6 brawl, and slice it into ribbons with his skates. Emotion injected into a practice from Flames head coach Bob Johnson, who dressed a Junior A goalie in an Oilers jersey so his players could feel the thrill of blowing pucks past a Grant Fuhr lookalike. 

“That’s the thing we’re missing in the game today. Emotion,” said former Flames goalie Mike Vernon. “Those games had so much emotion, and there was a price that had to be paid. Like the time Dave Brown fought Stu Grimson. Grimmer sat in the penalty box for 10 minutes with a broken face. 

“You want to see real? That’s real.” 

Emotion from players who knew, this wasn’t going to be a normal game. And if I play like it is, I won’t survive it. 

“I had no problem [expletive] cuttin’ your eye out. Wouldn’t have bothered me a bit,” said Theoren Fleury, a small man who cut a big swath through the Battle. “Hey – you’re trying to [expletive] kill me? This was survival. It was that unpredictability that allowed me to have the room that I had.”

On a macro level, Edmonton and Calgary have always been contesting each other.

They fought over who would get the first Canadian Pacific Railway terminal (Calgary), way back in the 1800s. They argued over who would be designated the provincial capital, or lay claim to the University of Alberta in the early 1900s (Edmonton, and Edmonton). 

Today the contest has been mostly won by the city that is simply 300 kilometres closer to the rest of the world than its rival. Calgary is the Dallas to Edmonton’s Houston, where the oil patch is concerned, an industry orchestrated by the white collars in the South, but serviced and operated by blue collars up North. 

But where all this has impacted the sports scene is this: Anecdotally, more people born in Edmonton continue to live in Edmonton, while Calgary has become a city more rich in people from elsewhere; Edmonton is a city you leave, whereas Calgary has become somewhere people come to, with allegiances to other teams in tow.

That assessment is subjective, sure, but it’s backed up by the fact the Oilers tend to post better media numbers than the Flames do, whether it’s radio, TV or print. There is simply more local interest in Edmonton’s team than Calgary’s, a phenomenon that will be invisible to the naked eye these next two weeks. 

When the original Battle began however, there was no question who was the big brother, and who was the little one. 

Edmonton had joined the NHL from the old World Hockey Association in 1979, and the Flames arrived from Atlanta a year later. Soon, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey et al. were clearly a group the Flames could not match, or catch up to via the draft. So the Flames, with former University of Wisconsin coach Bob Johnson behind their bench, built a team using older college grads like Joe Nieuwendyk, Joe Mullen, Joel Otto, Jamie Macoun and Gary Suter.

In the end, the Flames only won one of five playoff meetings between the two, but they played the Boston Red Sox to Edmonton’s New York Yankees, or Don Cherry’s Boston Bruins to the 70’s Habs that were Edmonton. 

“Ali needed Frazier,” Messier once said. “That top opponent that pushes, and challenges, and makes you better.” 

As the two teams ready for a meeting beginning Wednesday night in Calgary, that old Saddledome is perhaps the only visual that will provide a similar look, outside the familiar jerseys of each team. The landscape is unfamiliar, with teams full of players who have never faced each other in a post-season series. 

Two teams who once combined for 780 goals in a season settled for 576 this season. And penalty minutes? 

Forget about it… 

In 2022 however, there are some similarities. Connor McDavid will play the part of Wayne Gretzky, while the Elias Lindholm line will lend depth and execution the way Johnson’s old Flames would attack Edmonton using his oft-referenced — but never actually seen — “Seven Point Plan” to beat the Oilers. 

Today Matthew Tkachuk is the spoon that stirs the emotional bouillabaisse, whereas before it was Esa Tikkanen or Neil Sheehy, the Flames defenceman and Gretzky-pesterer whose refusal to fight anyone on Edmonton wound the Oilers up like a top. 

When it’s done, all we can hope for is some lasting memories, some players who might not tee it up together the way they may have a summer ago, and two organizations that see each other as they once did — as the in-division hurdle that had to be jumped on the way to a Stanley Cup. 

“All the most important, most memorable team meetings we ever had were held in that dressing room in Calgary,” Craig MacTavish once said. “We were the best two teams in the NHL of that day, and we would meet very early in the playoffs. 

“They were absolute wars,” he added. “A pleasure to be a part of, in hindsight.” 

We leave you with this anecdote, from Beukeboom. 

“I think it was a pre-season game,” he began. “I was going up ice and got two-handed on the back of the legs by Fleury. Whack! I remember a pile-up in the corner one day, after Simmer (Craig Simpson) had taken out their goalie, and Fleury was running his mouth. ‘You guys suck. You can’t skate, you big [expletive].’ So now we’re in the pile in the corner, and he’s on top of me. But, we come out of it together, and now he’s saying, ‘It’s OK. I’ve got you. No problem.’ Like, now he’s being a nice guy.” 

So, what did Beukeboom do? Exactly what Fleury would have done, had the shoe been on the other foot 

“I suckered him. Cut him open for stitches,” he said. “It was one of the few times [head coach] John Muckler paid me a compliment.” 

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Barkov, Bergeron, Lindholm named as Selke Trophy finalists – Sportsnet.ca

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The Calgary FlamesElias Lindholm joined fellow centres Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins as one of three finalists named for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, the NHL announced Tuesday.

The award, which is given “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of
the game,” is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, with the top three vote-getters listed as finalists.

Lindholm, 27, has never won the award, but posted a plus-61 rating that was second only in the league to teammate Johnny Gaudreau’s plus-64. The Swedish centre was the fifth-best in the league at faceoffs, with a 52.9 per cent success rate in 1,592 attempts.

Barkov, who won the Selke last year, led the Panthers to the Presidents’ Trophy this season with the league’s best record. The 26-year-old from Finland posted a career-best 57 per cent success rate in faceoffs and led his team’s forwards in average ice time (20:18) for the fifth straight year. His plus-36 was fourth best in the league amongst forwards.

Bergeron, who may retire this off-season, has won the Selke four times in his 19-year career, which is tied with former Montreal Canadiens great Bob Gainey for the most in NHL history. The 36-year-old from L’Ancienne-Lorette, Que., has been a finalist for the Selke 11 times and led the league this season for the seventh time in his career in faceoff wins, with a success rate of 61.9 per cent.

The NHL plans on revealing its 2022 award winners during the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final.

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