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SIMMONS: One on one with Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan – Toronto Sun

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If his job is on the line, and it might be as he enters his eighth season as president of the Maple Leafs, Brendan Shanahan doesn’t show it.

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Like fans, like his aging mother, like those who live and die with the Leafs, the new hockey season can’t start soon enough for him. He’s ready and he’s not looking back. This is how he chooses to operate. This is the only way he knows. Going forward, straight ahead, the way he played the game.

He understands the market and the fan base. And he can’t wait to see what comes next.

“I’ve felt pressure from Day 1 on the job,” Shanahan said in a lengthy, wide-ranging interview in his Bay Street office. “I welcome pressure.

“There’s never been a time in any job I’ve ever had where I didn’t feel pressure. I’m attracted to jobs with pressure. I don’t think I’d like to have a job without pressure and urgency. You can look back now, three-four years ago, when we were building things up, you felt that urgency every day. I still feel it. It’s part of the job.”

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This is really unlike any time in Maple Leafs history. This team with talent has yet to experience any kind of playoff success under Shanahan. There have been next to no fans in the Scotiabank Arena in 18 months. The level of angst and anger and cynicism within hockey’s largest and most rabid fan base from afar is at an all-time high, which by itself represents some kind of all-time low. There are questions and then more questions about the Leafs and Shanahan understands the frustration, feels it himself, says his players have never been more determined after the playoff collapse against the Montreal Canadiens.

“We haven’t gotten over the hump and we understand that,” said Shanahan. “And I sympathize with our fans. For the last year and a half, you go into an arena and there are no fans, no positive feedback from people attending games, it’s an empty feeling. You can feed off that sometimes. We only get our feedback through media and social media. And that can be damaging.

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“This is our world. If you want to talk about the Leafs or politics or cooking or gardening or anything, you’re not getting a balanced conversation. It’s difficult not to walk away and feel bad (after that). I think our players are hopeful and optimistic that we will have our fans back. I think everybody feels, whether you’re a player or a fan or an owner or you work in management, it’s something you need right now. The way we’re getting our information, there is just not enough one-on-one contact since the pandemic.

“The feeling the fans have exists within our players and our dressing room. There is an anger, even at themselves, and anger might be the wrong word, but there is a sort of determination to get the job done. That’s what I feel heading into camp.”

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The external pressure isn’t just on Shanahan — it’s on general manager Kyle Dubas as well and on his chosen coach, Sheldon Keefe. Partly by circumstance and partly by the strangling economics of COVID-19, the Leafs have been boxed in salary-wise since the pandemic began. Whatever plans Dubas might have had after signing Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander long-term, the $40 Million Four, were frozen by a stagnant salary cap.

“Right before the league shut down in 2020, there was a general managers’ meeting and the prediction at the time was, the salary cap was going to go up $4-to-$6 million that year and the following year, with a new television contract coming in, the cap was expected to go up even more,” said Shanahan. “Suddenly the pandemic happens and all of us had to make new plans. Every team had to pivot in some way. Every team had to make decisions it probably wouldn’t have had to make had it not happened, but that’s sports. You come up with a plan, things change, you change your plans.

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“We’re happy that (big four) were locked up. We believe in those players. We feel we’re fortunate to have them. I’ve watched the development of the players, Mitch killing penalties, Auston’s two-way game. It’s not just those four guys. I’ve seen our team do a lot of things (since Keefe took over) that historically winning teams need to do.

“We need to improve. The important thing is that those things that Sheldon demanded from them get better. Even though it didn’t get results in Games 5-6-7 against Montreal, those are vital team-building blocks. Look at Mitch. He became an elite defensive player and still finished Top 5 in scoring. Auston led the league in goals and plays a great all-around game. They can be strong players and still be among the top offensive players.

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“What we can’t do is get frustrated now. We can’t discard the plan. We can’t go on our own as individuals. We have to continue on this course and I think the players are absolutely driven to get this done here in Toronto.”

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Of all the players who have taken heat in the off-season, none have been singled out as much as Marner, the first Leaf forward to be voted a first-team all-star since Frank Mahovlich in 1963. He is among the most talented and most ostracized of all Toronto players. And that bothers Shanahan.

“I look at a guy like Mitch, who from the moment he could put on skates, he was saying he wanted to be a Maple Leaf,” said Shanahan. “He’s a great teammate, a great two-way player, is an elite all-star who will likely be an Olympian, and all he wants to do is deliver here in Toronto.

“Yeah, he’s disappointed and frustrated. We all are. That reflects the mood of the entire team.”

If Shanahan was a fan of Dubas when he hired him eight years ago and promoted him to GM three seasons back, he is more of a fan today.

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“I’ve witnessed his growth from the day he got here,” said Shanahan. “I’ve been with him a long time. I’m privy to information every day, watching him grow and evolve, watching how he views the game. In the beginning, people wanted to put him in a certain little box, as someone who only saw the game through numbers, but I can tell you he is as much of a pure hockey guy as you will find.”

There is little indication from the inside that Dubas’ job is on the line this season, which would be the narrative from outside the offices of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Shanahan is also a large fan of the work Keefe does as coach. He thinks the public will have a better view of Keefe’s work after watching the upcoming documentary All or Nothing. The indications are that Keefe is one of the stars of the show. “I think people will see what a great young coach he is.”

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So with a great top-heavy roster, a great GM, a great coach, maybe a great team president, how is it the Leafs have yet to win a playoff series under Shanahan, then Dubas, now Keefe. This won’t, necessarily, be an easy season in Toronto. The Leafs return to the Atlantic Division, which includes the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, the perennial contending Boston Bruins, the emerging Florida Panthers and the finalists from Montreal.

“I think that’s something we welcome,” said Shanahan. “If you want to be an elite team, you have to beat elite teams. I don’t think it’s productive to look back (at overtime games) and see what didn’t happen. We can’t do that. We can’t get sucked in or drawn into that. We can’t be excuse-making. But at the same time, we can’t be so emotional.

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“I think emotion is great. I think emotional decisions are not.”

When he talks about the Leafs, Shanahan likes to reference the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs and teams that had historically long runs without championships. One of his daughters was born in Boston during the NHL lockout as the Red Sox were about to win the World Series. The feeling of that time, sporting-wise, has never left him.

“I don’t want to make this about me but I was born in 1969,” he said. “You’ve seen a Stanley Cup here. I haven’t. There’s a whole generation of people who haven’t won here. I get the feeling. I get the angst. I also truly believe in staying focused on the task at hand and not losing your grip on that.

“We know the ultimate judgment for this team will come in the playoffs. But we have to know and understand that the playoffs start with a great off-season, with a great training camp, with a great regular season. If we take our eyes off that today, we will be in trouble in the future.”

ssimmons@postmedia.com

twitter.com/simmonssteve

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Valdez, Astros grab ALCS lead after dominant Game 5 win over Red Sox – Sportsnet.ca

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BOSTON — Framber Valdez lost his perfect game and then bounced the following pitch off the next batter’s leg.

Astros manager Dusty Baker decided it was time for a chat.

“That’s the time when you’ve really got to settle him down,” Baker said. “I said `Hey, you’re the best. Just be natural and do your thing.’ I didn’t say a whole bunch to him.”

It was enough to get Valdez through the inning — and more.

Perfect through four, the Houston left-hander took a two-hit shutout into the seventh and became the first pitcher this postseason to complete eight innings, leading the Astros over Boston 9-1 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Yordan Alvarez had three hits and three RBIs for Houston, which needs could clinch a second straight trip to the World Series with a victory at home on Friday night.

The Red Sox need a win to force a deciding seventh game on Saturday.

“We came back to Boston exactly where we wanted to be: We were 1-1,” Red Sox starter Chris Sale said. “Not in a good spot going back to Houston. There’s no denying that, but this team has won two games in the playoffs back-to-back before, and we think we can do it again.”

One day after the Astros scored seven runs to break a ninth-inning tie, they hung another crooked number on the Fenway Park scoreboard, chasing Sale while scoring five runs in the sixth. Alvarez, who homered in the second and singled in the fourth, had a two-run double to break things open.

That was plenty for Valdez, who extended the staff’s shutout streak to 14 straight innings before Rafael Devers homered with one out in the seventh — one of just three hits for Boston. The left-hander departed after retiring the Red Sox in order in the eighth.

“If a guy’s dealing, you just let him keep dealing,” Baker said. “Today, it was in the hands of Framber. Everybody talks about momentum, but momentum is controlled by the pitcher. If the pitcher’s dealing, all that momentum’s gone.”

In all, Valdez gave up one run on three hits, one walk and a hit batter, striking out five. He was also the first opposing pitcher to last eight innings in a postseason start at Fenway since Cleveland’s Charles Nagy went eight in the 1998 Division Series.

Ryne Stanek pitched a perfect ninth while the rest of Houston’s relievers rested. Astros starters had not lasted three innings all series, pitching to a 18.90 ERA in the first four games and giving up 10 homers — including a record three grand slams.

Valdez was not much better, allowing two earned runs in 2 2/3 innings in Game 1.

“I didn’t get frustrated at all. I wasn’t down on myself,” Valdez said. “What I did was I decided I’m going to work really hard so that when I come out here for the next outing, I’m going to be as 100% ready as I can be, to demonstrate to my team what I’m capable of, to demonstrate to my team that I can come out here and compete with any team in the league.

“So I just worked the entire time and I had my mindset set that I was just going to come out and have a way better outing,” he said. “And that’s what I was able to do tonight.”

Valdez retired the first 12 batters on Wednesday — eight on grounders, four on strikeouts. Devers singled to lead off the fifth, then Valdez bounced the next pitch off J.D. Martinez’s leg. The Astros escaped when Hunter Renfroe grounded into a double play and Alex Verdugo bounced out to first.

Sale started almost as well, allowing just two hits — both to Alvarez — in his first five innings. But he walked Jose Altuve to start the sixth, then Michael Brantley nubbed one toward third. Devers fielded it and made the throw in time but Schwarber dropped it at first; after sliding into second, Altuve popped up and took off for third, which was uncovered.

Brantley moved up to second on a groundout to the pitcher, then Alvarez doubled to left, scoring two to make it 3-0 and chasing Sale. Ryan Brasier struck out Carlos Correa before giving up an RBI double to Yuli Gurriel and a two-run single to Jose Siri that made it 6-0.

Brantley added an RBI single in the seventh, and Gurriel singled in two more in the ninth.

Sale was charged with four runs — two earned — on three hits and two walks, striking out seven in 5 1/3 innings.

“I was good for five, and then I sucked for one,” he said. “I told myself coming into this game I had a job to do; obviously didn’t get it done. But I left (it all) out there on that mound tonight, that’s for damn sure.”

The Red Sox had won seven straight postseason games at home — dating to the 2018 ALCS — before blowing an eighth-inning lead on Tuesday night. They had never lost back-to-back postseason games under manager Alex Cora.

UP NEXT

Nathan Eovaldi, who won Game 2 but came on in relief and lost in Game 4, will start Friday for Boston. Baker said he had not decided on a starter.

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Nine thoughts from the Toronto Raptors season opening loss to the Washington Wizards – NBA CA

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The Toronto Raptors couldn’t get over the line in their long-awaited return to Scotiabank Arena, going down to the Washington Wizards 98-83 in their season opener.

With plenty of new faces on the roster, the young Raptors trailed for most of the game and despite a late rally in the fourth quarter where they got it to within 10 points, their poor shooting caught up with them.

For more on this game, we have you covered with some thoughts below.

1. Scottie Barnes is as advertised

The No.4 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft was inserted into the starting lineup and made his presence felt from the jump.

The 20-year-old was aggressive looking for his shot as he attacked the rim, not settling for jumpers and while he only finished with one assist, his passing really stood out as he facilitated the offence for stretches at the elbow.

…Not to mention this skyhook!

He finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, one assist and one steal, and was tied with Fred VanVleet for the most field goals on the night, hitting 5-of-13.

It wsn’t all smooth sailing for the rookie, who had three turnovers and three fouls in the first half alone, but as the game wore on, he showed flashes of his elite potential

Until Pascal Siakam returns from injury, it will be interesting to see if Nick Nurse sticks with Barnes in the starting lineup.

2. Dalano Banton’s dazzling debut

The first-ever Canadian drafted by the Raptors entered the game with 25 seconds left in the third quarter to a big applause from the home crowd and he nearly blew the lid off the arena just seconds later.

With his first shot of the game, he connected on a half-court shot at the buzzer, that cut the deficit to 81-59 heading into the fourth.

In his 12 minutes on court, he recorded seven points, four rebounds, one assist and one steal on 3-of-4 from the field.

His one assist found a cutting Chris Boucher for an emphatic dunk.

“He was a big factor for the improved pace and the improved offence,” Nurse said of Banton post-game.

3. A cold shooting night

Through the first three quarters, the Raptors couldn’t buy a bucket as the Wizards led by as many as 29 points.

They eventually found a spark early in the fourth quarter with a big lineup of Banton, Barnes, Gary Trent Jr. Chris Boucher, and Khem Birch, but by then it was too late. On the night they connected on just 30-of-97 (30.9 percent) from the field and 7-of-34 (20.6 percent) from the 3-point line.

While their ball movement at times looked crisp, they simply couldn’t finish off plays.

4. Siakam’s absence felt

With Anunoby and VanVleet their two primary offensive weapons combining to shoot 8-of-37 (21.6 percent) tonight, the absence of All-Star forward Pascal Siakam was evident as the Raptors struggled to get easy looks, especially in the half-court.

Siakam is on his way back after undergoing shoulder surgery in the off-season and is expected to return to the court in mid-November.

5. The defence has some work to do

As is the case with any young team, the defensive side of the floor is always going to be a concern and the Raptors have some work to do.

Too often in the first half, the Wizards guards were able to stroll into the paint and get good looks at the rim, with Bradley Beal, Spencer Dinwiddie and Raul Neto taking advantage.

The Wizards feasted at the rim tonight, outscoring the Raptors 56-40 in the paint.

6. Achiuwa shows flashes

After an impressive pre-season, precious Achiuwa got the start at center on opening night, showing flashes of his potential as a small-ball five.

His energy and activity was evident from the outset as he deflected passes, hustled for rebounds and tried to finish at the rim, but his enthusiasm caught up with him as he picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter.

7. Harrell back to his Sixth Man form

It’s just one game, but Washington Wizards big man Montrezl Harrell looked back to his Sixth Man of the Year winning form with an impressive performance off the bench tonight.

He poured in 22 points and nine rebounds on an efficient 9-of-11 from the field.

8. Drake in the house

Raptors Global Ambassador and No. 1 fan Drake was in the building, doing his best to help out the home team and get under Montrezl Harrell’s skin.

In the third quarter, he got into it with Harrell, who was called for a technical afterwards.

9. What’s next for the Raptors?

The Raptors are back in action on Friday against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Boston is coming off a thrilling double-overtime loss to the New York Knicks in their season opener.

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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Braves blast four HRs, beat Dodgers for 3-1 lead in NLCS – TSN

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Behind the red-hot bat of Eddie Rosario, the Atlanta Braves are one win away from their first World Series appearance since 1999.

All they need to do is put away the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

Easier said than done.

After all, the Braves were in exactly the same position last year and failed to finish the job.

Rosario homered twice in his second four-hit game of the NL Championship Series and six Atlanta pitchers combined on a four-hitter, giving the Braves a 9-2 victory Wednesday for a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven playoff.

Game 5 is Thursday in Los Angeles. Last year, the Dodgers also trailed 0-2 and 1-3 against Atlanta in the NLCS before roaring back to win three straight games at a neutral site in Arlington, Texas.

“As we saw last year, winning a game is hard, especially a veteran team like this that we’re playing,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “But I feel good about our club just from what we experienced last year and where these guys are.”

Adam Duvall and Freddie Freeman also homered for the Braves, who bounced right back from blowing a late lead in an agonizing loss Tuesday to end their 10-game skid at Dodger Stadium.

“I feel like everyone has really hunkered down and dug their heels in and everyone is really focused,” Rosario said through a translator. “That’s something that I’m really proud to be a part of.”

Rosario became the first player to have two four-hit games in a League Championship Series. He drove in four runs and scored three while continuing his torrid postseason hitting, finishing a double short of the cycle. He homered in the second inning, tripled in the third, singled in the fifth and clocked a three-run homer in the ninth.

“As soon as I hit that first home run I just thought to myself, ‘Wow, I feel amazing right now,’” Rosario said, “so I kind of just carried that confidence into my other at-bats going forward.”

Rosario hit for the cycle last month against San Francisco, achieving the feat on just five total pitches.

“I’ve been using that bat that I hit for the cycle with and it has not disappointed. I had that double remaining and I’m like, ‘Man, this bat has not let me down yet,'” he said. “As soon as I hit that second one out, I go, `Oh well, there goes the double.'”

The Dodgers will need to jump-start their offense to have a shot at another NLCS comeback. Their first five hitters — Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, NL batting champion Trea Turner, Will Smith and Gavin Lux — were a combined 0 for 17 in Game 4.

Los Angeles, which had won 18 of 19 at home going back to the regular season, has won six consecutive postseason elimination games dating to last year.

“I feel good about it,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We have a very resilient team, a very tough team, and it’s not going to get much tougher than facing Max Fried in an elimination game, but we’ve done it before.”

Rosario was acquired from Cleveland on July 30 as the Braves remade their depleted outfield before the trade deadline.

What a find he’s been.

The left fielder has hit safely in every game of this postseason, piling up 14 hits so far — including a walk-off single in Game 2 against the Dodgers. He has struck out only once.

Rosario is 10 for 17 (.588) with two homers and six RBIs in the NLCS.

“He’s been looking so good at the plate, hitting balls hard,” Freeman said.

Atlanta’s four homers tied a postseason franchise record.

Each of the series’ first three games was decided by one run in the last two innings. But when it got late this time, the wild-card Dodgers couldn’t generate any comeback magic.

Atlanta opener Jesse Chavez combined with Drew Smyly, Chris Martin, A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek and Will Smith to hold down the Dodgers’ offense. Los Angeles didn’t get a hit until the fifth and was limited to one the rest of the way. Smyly went 3 1/3 innings for the win.

The Braves wasted no time jumping all over 20-game winner Julio Urías, who gave up three homers in 2 2/3 innings. It was the second time he allowed that many in his career; the first time was in his second major league game in 2016.

Rosario drove an 0-2 pitch into the left-field pavilion leading off the second and Duvall followed with a shot to center, the first time the Braves homered back-to-back in the postseason since Oct. 3, 2002, against San Francisco in Game 2 of a Division Series.

Freeman went deep leading off the third. Two outs later, Rosario tripled to deep right on a two-strike pitch, sliding headfirst into the bag.

“He kind of smiled at me after he hit it in there just because it was one of those things where it just, a hot hitter and he kind of knows where he’s going,” Urías said through a translator.

Duvall was intentionally walked and Joc Pederson singled, scoring Rosario for a 4-0 lead against Urías.

The Dodgers, who won 106 games during the regular season, closed to 5-2 in the fifth on pinch-hitter AJ Pollock’s two-out, two-run single. Justin Turner singled for their first hit of the game and Cody Bellinger followed with a single and stolen base.

Freeman’s RBI double in the ninth made it 6-2 before Rosario went deep.

Urías didn’t record a strikeout until the fourth, when Dansby Swanson and Freeman went down swinging back-to-back to end the left-hander’s first clean inning. Urías gave up five runs and eight hits in five innings. He struck out three and walked three.

CONNECT FOUR

The only other player with a pair of four-hit games in a postseason series was Milwaukee Brewers Hall of Famer Robin Yount in the 1982 World Series against St. Louis.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Braves: RHP Huascar Ynoa was scratched from his scheduled start with shoulder inflammation. He was replaced on the roster by left-hander Dylan Lee. Ynoa is not eligible to return for the World Series, if the Braves advance.

Dodgers: Justin Turner is done for the season after injuring his hamstring in the seventh, Roberts said. Turner screamed as he was retired on a double-play ball. He limped off the field and was replaced in the eighth.

UP NEXT

Fried starts Game 5 for the Braves in his Los Angeles hometown. The Dodgers planned a bullpen game, a strategy they’ve used twice this postseason, going 1-1 in those games.

___

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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