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SIMMONS SUNDAY: Leafs signing of veterans an indictment of club leadership – Toronto Sun

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LEAFS’ MATTHEWS NEEDS TO EXPAND HIS GAME

In his four years in the NHL, Auston Matthews is second in the entire league in goal scoring, behind only Alex Ovechkin, and just ahead of David Pastrnak, Nikita Kucherov and Leon Draisaitl.

It is indeed an individual place where no Maple Leaf has ever been before, surrounded by three Hart Trophy winners and Ovechkin, the nine-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner, who tied with Pastrnak for the award this past season.

In his rather brief time playing, Matthews leads all of hockey in even-strength goals, ahead of Ovechkin 121-116 and that means even more when you consider Matthews has played 31 fewer games the Ovi.

That’s the great aspect of what Matthews brings to the Leafs. What isn’t so great or impressive are his assist numbers, where he ranks 80th in the NHL over four years, just behind Jake Gardiner of all people. Matthews has yet to hit the 40-assist mark in any season. By comparison, Connor McDavid has averaged 69 assists a season over the past four years.

In point scoring, Matthews is just 19th overall, 10th among centres. Among the first orders of business for coach Sheldon Keefe in his first full season with the Leafs is to find a way to expand Matthews’ game. The more playmaker he becomes, the more offence he creates, the more dangerous a centreman he will be.

PRO SPORTS SO HARD TO FIGURE OUT THESE DAYS

With the NHL, like all leagues, trying to figure out what next season will look like, the notion of having an All-Canadian division is indeed intriguing. Especially considering the array of talent and the apparent flaws in almost every Canadian franchise.

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Dodgers' Justin Turner joins team for World Series photo after positive COVID-19 test – Toronto Sun

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MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said it was a “bittersweet” end to the season.

“We’re glad to done, I do think it is a great accomplishment for our players to get this season completed but obviously we are concerned when any of our players tests positive,” he added.

“We learned during the game that Justin tested positive, he was immediately isolated to prevent any spread.”

Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner (10) poses for a picture with his wife Kourtney Pogue after the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Tampa Bay Rays to win the World Series in game six of the 2020 World Series at Globe Life Field. Photo by Kevin Jairaj /USA TODAY Sports

The World Series was held entirely at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas with a limited number of fans in attendance to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Turner said he felt great and had “no symptoms at all.”

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Kansas City mayor, star quarterback want Raptors to make Missouri temporary home – CityNews Toronto

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Some of Kansas City’s most famous residents want to call the Toronto Raptors their home team.

On the heels of reports the NBA season will tip off Dec. 22, and with federal and provincial restrictions around COVID-19 potentially keeping the Raptors out of Scotiabank Arena, there’s been rampant speculation about where the 2019 NBA champions will play.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif took to social media to advocate for the Raptors to play there.

Mahomes, the 2020 Super Bowl MVP, posted on Twitter “Bring them to KC!” with a flexed-arm emogi, to which Mayor Lucas replied: “Working on it.”

On Tuesday morning, the mayor wrote: “Good morning, Kansas City! It’s currently 13 degrees colder here than in Toronto (7 degrees Celsius),” with the hashtag “We the North.”

The Chiefs’ right guard Duvernay-Tardif, a medical school graduate from Quebec who opted out of the NFL season due to concerns around COVID-19, replied: “Merci monsieur! Definitely feels like home,” with a happy face.

The T-Mobile Center in Kansas City has close to 19,000 seats for basketball. The 13-year-old downtown arena has hosted games in the NCAA women’s and men’s basketball championships as well as NBA and NHL pre-season games.

Kansas City, Louisville, Ky., Hartford, Conn., and the New York area have been some of the suggestions as temporary home courts for Toronto.

Raptors spokesperson Jennifer Quinn, however, told The Canadian Press on Tuesday “Our focus is on playing in Toronto.”

After the federal government denied the Toronto Blue Jays permission to play at Rogers Centre this season, the Major League Baseball team played home games in Buffalo, N.Y., after politicians from just across the border pitched the city as a temporary home.

All three Canadian Major League Soccer teams have been playing recent home games in the United States. Toronto FC is in East Hartford, Conn., the Montreal Impact are in Harrison, N.J., and the Vancouver Whitecaps are in Portland.

TFC coach Greg Vanney told reporters Tuesday he’d love to have the Raptors in Connecticut.

“I don’t think our hotel could accommodate both of us at the same time, but it would be great to have them nearby,” Vanney said.

The Connecticut experience has been excellent, the coach said.

“For me . . . it’s the living situation, and the field,” Vanney said. “Those are the most important things, and so far the place that we’ve been staying has been phenomenal in terms of the living conditions, the food and everything has been great.”

He said some of the fields have been “touch and go” as the weather gets colder.

“(But) In terms of basketball, I assume you find a court and the court is generally the same, so it’s doable.”

Toronto FC’s hotel is across the street from the XL Center in Hartford, a potential home arena for the Raptors. It seats around 16,000 for University of Connecticut basketball games, and is also home to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League.

The Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in nearby Storrs, Conn., seats just over 10,000 and also hosts some UConn basketball games.

The Raptors haven’t played a game at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena since Feb. 28, a 99-96 loss to Charlotte. The 2019 NBA champions were ousted in the second round of the playoffs by Boston once the season resumed in the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World in Florida.

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Dodgers cement legacies by finally capturing elusive World Series title – Sportsnet.ca

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Back in February, when the Los Angeles Dodgers first reported to spring training, they had ambitious goals for the year ahead. They had come close to winning it all over the years, only to lose time after time in the playoffs. But by adding Mookie Betts to a team that had won eight division titles in a row, they had legitimate World Series aspirations once again.

Well, it’s happened, just not in the way anyone anticipated. The COVID-19 pandemic shortened the regular season to 60 games, but the Dodgers still had the best record in baseball at 43-17. Playoff wins over Milwaukee, San Diego and Atlanta followed, setting up a World Series matchup with the Tampa Bay Rays.

It took six pitching changes and nearly four hours, but the Dodgers beat the Rays 3-1 Tuesday to defeat the Rays in six games. Now, the Dodgers are World Series champions for the first time since 1988. At long last, it’s time for Clayton Kershaw & Co. to celebrate.

As the champagne starts flowing in Texas, here are some observations from a tightly-contested Game 6…

Legacies on the line

Year after year, the Dodgers have been in the playoffs and year after year they’ve been eliminated – often in painful fashion. If any player has carried the weight of those losses, it’s been Kershaw. And Dave Roberts, the team’s manager since 2016, has faced plenty of criticism of his own.

This year, Kershaw went a long way toward silencing his critics, capping off a stellar month of pitching with a 2.31 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 11.2 innings in the World Series. And while no manager escapes second guessing altogether, Roberts should be able to breathe a little easier now that he has led the Dodgers to a championship.

Also deserving of recognition is Andrew Friedman, the president of baseball operations whose front office sets the standard for combining financial might with player development and acquisition. Along with expensive veterans like Kershaw and Justin Turner, the Dodgers have a pipeline of young players such as Will Smith, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Julio Urias. They don’t part with that young talent often, but when they do, it’s for good reason – the Betts trade, for instance.

Now, they’re all World Series champs. With a talented young core in place more championships may be on the way, but as the Dodgers know all too well, talent is no guarantee of rings in baseball. Regardless, they’ve each accomplished something meaningful.

Meanwhile, the Rays deserve credit for an impressive season of their own. They won their second AL pennant in franchise history, took the Dodgers to a sixth game and enjoyed the continued breakout of Randy Arozarena. For now, though, this loss just stings.

An early hook backfires

Blake Snell was dealing Tuesday, with a fastball that topped out at 98 m.p.h. and three breaking pitches that kept Dodgers hitters guessing. Through five innings, he had allowed just one hit while striking out nine. Better still, he was relatively fresh after throwing just 69 pitches.

But when Austin Barnes hit a one-out single in the sixth inning, the top of the Dodgers’ lineup was coming to the plate and Rays manager Kevin Cash went to his bullpen. Nick Anderson promptly surrendered a double to Betts, threw a wild pitch that allowed Barnes to score and allowed an RBI fielder’s choice to Seager. With that, the Dodgers had a 2-1 lead and the second guessing began. Should Snell have stayed in the game?

Whether Snell would have fared better than Anderson is an open question, of course. Like most pitchers, Snell’s numbers deteriorate the second and third times through the order. In 2020, he didn’t complete six innings a single time. Plus, it was Cash’s stated intention to build an early lead then hand the ball to the bullpen. Within that context, the decision to pull Snell was reasonable.

But any plan can fail, even one as seemingly sound as handing the ball over to a pitcher with a 0.55 ERA. In this case, the Rays’ best intentions were no match for the Dodgers’ lineup, setting up ‘what ifs’ for years to come.

An early hook pays off

While Snell certainly had a case for staying in the game a little longer, his outing feels like a throwback compared to that of his counterpart, Tony Gonsolin. Roberts had the bullpen up in the first inning and pulled Gonsolin in the second after just five outs.

From there, six relievers combined to close out the win: Dylan Floro, Alex Wood, Pedro Baez, Victor Gonzalez, Brusdar Graterol and Urias. Wood was effective in the middle innings, with two scoreless, hitless frames, and Urias dominated at the end.

The pitchers themselves deserve the most credit, of course, but don’t forget about Roberts, whose bullpen management has often been questioned as the Dodgers have been eliminated year after year. This time, far fewer critics will be second guessing his work.

Turner positive prompts questions for MLB

It was revealed after the game that Turner left Game 6 because he tested positive for COVID-19. Now the diagnosis raises the question of whether others in the organization have been exposed to the virus, especially since Turner was on the field for some of the Dodgers’ post-game celebrations despite the positive test.

In one way, MLB caught a lucky break with the Dodgers’ Game 6 win. What would have happened in Game 7 if others had been exposed? But the positive test for Turner also serves as a reminder of how thin the margins for error were all season long. As MLB prepares for the 2021 season, there’s plenty more work to be done on this front to ensure the health of players, staff and fans.

Even more history for Arozarena

With his first-inning home run off of Gonsolin, Arozarena became the first player in baseball history to homer 10 times in a single post-season. With each home run that he hit, Arozarena’s month became more impressive…

• Arozarena became the first rookie in 81 years to hit three homers in a World Series. Before him, outfielder Charlie Keller of the 1939 Yankees was the last one to do it, and while Keller’s accomplishments have mostly been forgotten, those three homers were a sign of what was to come. Over the course of the next decade, Keller would hit .281/.406/.521, make five all-star teams and average 30 home runs and 109 RBIs per 162 games played.

• Arozarena now has more playoff home runs than regular season home runs (seven in 2020, eight for his career).

• He has more playoff home runs than anyone on the team that traded him hit during the entire 2020 regular season. After trading Arozarena and Jose Martinez for prospects Matthew Liberatore and Edgardo Rodriguez on January 9, the Cardinals had very little power in their lineup this year. Outfielder Tyler O’Neill and infielder Brad Miller tied for the team lead in homers with seven apiece.

• Though he’s now a household name, Arozarena could still be named Rookie of the Year in 2021. In fact, at this point, he has to be considered the favourite.

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