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Taking stock of how Maple Leafs’ depth forwards have performed so far – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — The run to the top of the NHL standings has included some twists and turns for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

They’ve dressed 30 different players over the opening 20 games alone and practised Tuesday down seven bodies: top-six wingers Joe Thornton (lower body) and Zach Hyman (foot), who are both considered day-to-day; winger Wayne Simmonds (broken wrist), who is still a few weeks from returning; depth forwards Alexander Barabanov and Scott Sabourin, who both entered the NHL’s COVID Protocol after inconclusive PCR tests; and defenceman Jake Muzzin (broken bone in face) and goaltender Frederik Andersen (lower body), who have no clear recovery timelines.

The most likely of that group to dress for Wednesday’s rematch with the Calgary Flames is probably Barabanov. He needs one more negative COVID-19 test to rejoin the team. But it’s not out of the question that they’ll all be out.

“I think you expect it in a year like this,” said veteran Jason Spezza. “There’s going to be injuries and there’s going to be guys out of the lineup. I think it’s been talked about ad nauseam just how things have changed throughout the year, but when you go through it there is an [adaptation period].

“You have to pick up the slack.”

Spezza went on to add that he feels depth is one of the keys behind a 14-4-2 start for the Leafs.

With that in mind, here is a look at how each of the forwards occupying a spot on the fringes has played and where his stock currently rests with the organization:

Jason Spezza

Stock: Strong performer

Analysis: There’s a pretty strong case here for Spezza to get a look in the top six with Thornton and Hyman both out. He’s produced 2.92 points per hour this season in a limited role — behind only Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and Thornton among Leafs regulars — and still moves surprisingly well around the ice at age 37. He’s also the team’s top faceoff man at 58.7 per cent and has a 52-per cent expected goals mark. The Leafs got him through waivers earlier this season, no doubt in part because Spezza’s agent said he’d retire if claimed by another team, but they probably don’t want to risk that again. He’s been that effective.

Alexander Barabanov

Stock: On the rise

Analysis: Not only do we run into sample-size issues here, but there’s also recency bias. Barabanov is a relatively unknown quantity coming over from the KHL and he didn’t look like a NHL player through his first seven games. Then on Monday he got a chance to play up the lineup with William Nylander and Alexander Kerfoot and generated three shots, plus another that rang off the crossbar behind Flames goalie David Rittich. He caught coach Sheldon Keefe’s eye with that effort: “I thought he had good jump from the early going in the game. He was on the puck. A strength of his game is when he gets to play in the offensive zone.” The challenge will be recreating it on nights he plays lower in the lineup because top-six opportunities aren’t likely to be too plentiful for him on this roster. But at least he’s put himself back on the radar.

Pierre Engvall

Stock: Trending up

Analysis: He briefly lost his spot on the Maple Leafs roster to start the season, taking sharp public criticism from Keefe at the end of training camp. But Engvall has bounced back and performed well since assuming third-line centre duties after a tour on the wing. He’s a straight-line player that doesn’t bring much offensively, but is only being asked to keep things even during his minutes. And at six-foot-five there’s definitely potential for him to become an effective checker — “I think a big thing for me is to be better at winning the pucks back, using my body to my advantage,” he said Tuesday, when asked about where he can find improvement. Engvall hasn’t locked down a full-time job yet, but he’s taken some steps forward in the last few weeks.

Jimmy Vesey

Stock: Plummeting

Analysis: Everything is heading in the wrong direction here. Vesey started the season on the second line after being signed as a buy-low free agent, but hasn’t been able to find any traction. He played a season-low 6:51 in Monday’s loss to Calgary and saw his point drought stretched to 12 games. On top of that, he’s been on the ice for 11 goals against at 5-on-5 while playing at least 100 minutes less than any teammate near him in that category. Some of that can be attributed to bad luck, but very little has happened offensively for Vesey despite dressing for all 20 games so far. He joined a power-play unit at Tuesday’s practice, which could be the boost he needs. His spot in the lineup looks increasingly tenuous.

Travis Boyd

Stock: Holding steady

Analysis: A poor showing at training camp relegated him to early taxi squad duty, but he’s made good on the opportunity since. Boyd scored in his Leafs debut at Calgary on Jan. 26 and is generating more offensively with the help of some power-play reps, firing 10 shots on goal in his last five games. The underlying numbers include some warning signs — Toronto has 44 per cent of even-strength attempts and 44 per cent of expected goals with him on the ice — but he’s been opportunistic with six points in 12 games. Said Spezza, Boyd’s most-common linemate: “He forechecks hard, he’s strong on pucks, but I think what separates him is his hockey sense. I think he gets in good spots, he makes it easy to play with and he’s a guy that’s shown he’s got some offensive touch around the net, too.”

Nic Petan

Stock: Low trading volume

Analysis: It’s difficult to draw too many conclusions here. Petan has only played six games this season and the Leafs are basically sawing off his minutes with 49.02 per cent of shot attempts and 49.6 per cent of expected goals. He’s personally generated one assist and eight shots on goal so far. Pretty good given his usage and opportunity. However, beyond a further run of injuries, it’s hard to envision him carving out a bigger niche with this group.

Alex Galchenyuk

Stock: TBD

Analysis: It remains to be seen when the former third-overall draft pick will make his Leafs debut. He was acquired in a Feb. 15 trade from Carolina and the focus now is on building him up before putting him in the lineup. Following Tuesday’s practice, Galchenyuk put in an extra session with skating development consultant Barb Underhill. Said Keefe of the 27-year-old forward, who is now on his seventh NHL organization: “He’s bounced around here and he’s trying to find a home and trying to solidify himself in the league again and within a lineup. So we don’t want to just rush and just put him in. We think we need to give him an opportunity at success. So there’s a couple things: Finding a comfort level around here with his teammates, the staff, our system, all of the surroundings. And then the other part of it is just his game. We think there’s a lot of areas we’d like to see him improve upon and reconnect with his skill-set and all of those kind of things.

“We’re in no rush despite the injuries we have here. We feel like the best thing for Alex is to really settle in and get comfortable and look to make improvements so that when his opportunity comes that he can be best prepared for it.”

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Josh Archibald is unvaccinated Edmonton Oilers player. What does that mean for team? – Edmonton Journal

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On the Oilers Now radio show, Oilers GM Ken Holland confirmed to host Bob Stauffer that winger Josh Archibald is the only unvaccinated player on the Oilers roster. Archibald has a one-way contract, with a $1.5 million cap hit. If he were to make the Oilers, and miss out on all games in the USA, he’d miss 30-plus games.

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“It’s much more difficult being a Canadian team,” Holland said, with Stauffer pointing out the Oilers play 50 games in Canada, 32 in the USA this year. “Obviously we got to go back and forth across the border multiple times this season. Obviously it’s going to be much different playing on a U.S. team vs. playing on a Canadian team being unvaccinated.”

Here’s what Holland said earlier at his press conference about the unvaccinated player (whom he had not yet identified):

  • Holland said he was still talking to the player (Archibald).  “As the season starts I would anticipate we would have one player that would be unvaccinated.”
  • Some NHL teams have banned unvaccinated players from training camp. Holland has not yet decided if the player will be welcomed at Edmonton’s training camp. “I think the player is going through a process to decide because I think it’s a difficult decision. So I want to give the person the appropriate time. I’ll see where I’m at a week from now, or ten days from now. But we’ll see.”
  • If a player is unvaccinated and the team goes to the United States, he must quarantine when he comes back to Canada, Holland said. “It’s going to make it very difficult.” (On a side note, the Oilers most likely brought in forward Colton Sceviour as a possibility at forward).
  • An unvaxxed player would miss about 30 days due to cross-border 14-day quarantines, Holland said, adding that the player might not be ready to play after being out, and if the team was going well it might not want to change the line-up. Oilers coach Dave Tippett and Holland met with the player and looked at how many times the team would cross the border this year. “It’s going to be very difficult.”

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Edmonton recently brought in checking winger Colton Sceviour on a PTO. Sceviour is a similar player to Archibald, a checking winger who can play on the PK. If Archibald is sent to the AHL — and it’s hard to imagine that’s not now being considered as Plan B — that will open up an opportunity for Sceviour.

The Detroit Red Wings have invited unvaxxed Tyler Bertuzzi to camp, but the Red Wings only play nine games in Canada. U.S. teams have more ability to work with unvaccinated players than Canadian teams, which puts the Oilers and Archibald in a far more difficult spot.

Another option would be to trade Archibald to a U.S. team that doesn’t play many games in Canada, though I’m unsure if any team would take on Archibald at his $1.5 million per cap hit.

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As for Archibald, let me repeat what I said in my last post, that I know what advice I’d give this player, that while there’s almost no chance he’ll get hammered hard by COVID, there’s almost no chance he’ll get hammered hard in any significant way by the vaccine.

With all that in mind, he should put his pay cheque and his family first.

That’s the same advice I gave to a vaccinate hesitant relative, by the way. In the end, but only after the vaccine passport rules came in Alberta, that individual decided to get vaccinated. That person is now at relative peace with their decision, despite the coercive new regulation that forced them to get the jab. I suspect this Oilers player will make the same call and get vaccinated, but I’m glad to see the Oilers are being patient with him, and as an Oilers fans, I’ll do the same.

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There’s a huge amount of anger and intolerance directed at the unvaccinated right now. There’s a frenzy of fear and self-righteousness boiling up here, a dangerous combination. When I think of more lockdown measures of the fully vaccinated, I have felt some of that anger myself. But I try to control it.

Every one of us sees this pandemic through our own distorted and self-interested lens. We’re all trying to balance the possibility of different harms to our own selves and our families and community. I don’t see how turning on anyone helps in this situation. I see many hard and difficult discussions, as Holland is now having with his players, as the way to go. I applaud Holland’s patient and understanding approach.

P.S. Rick Dhaliwal of CHEK TV in Vancouver reports: “Alex Chiasson has signed a PTO with the Canucks.”

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At the Cult of Hockey

STAPLES: Holland on Duncan Keith’s late vaccination: “It was a difficult decision for Duncan”

STAPLES: The single biggest wildcard on the Edmonton Oilers is…

McCURDY: Konovalov was great, the Oilers rookies? Not so much

McCURDY: Oil fans will have Kyle Dubas to thank if Petrov pans out

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LeBrun: What's at stake for the Maple Leafs this season? 'I don’t think we can hide from it' – The Athletic

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TORONTO — To be blunt, the Toronto Maple Leafs could go 82-0 this season, rewrite the regular-season record book and there would be large segments of their fan base and people around the hockey world who would say: Yeah, but …

That “but” hangs over this season like a massive anvil.

This is my 27th year covering the NHL, all of them based here in Toronto, and I would argue this franchise has never in that time frame felt this kind of pressure to deliver.

Doug Gilmour’s overachieving Leafs teams were too beloved by the fan base to be second-guessed. Wendel Clark is still a Leafs God for a reason. He left it all on the ice.

Mats Sundin’s Leafs teams a decade later didn’t deliver the ultimate prize but the faith of the fan base didn’t waver too much through some decent playoff runs.

This current team has done nothing come playoff time.

Nothing yet, anyway.

Which is why despite always being a team that garners plenty of leaguewide attention, sometimes for no real reason, the Leafs are genuinely one of the most compelling stories this season in the NHL, win or lose.

Up 3-1 on their rival Montreal Canadiens in May, the Leafs crumbled in a seven-game series loss that won’t soon be forgotten.

And yet the painful lessons from yet another first-round exit had to be addressed before the Leafs could turn the page.

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In final clash before potential playoff duel, Rays torment Blue Jays once more – Sportsnet.ca

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – No team torments the Toronto Blue Jays quite like the Tampa Bay Rays, and adding insult to injury in their final regular season meeting was getting a beatdown from their archnemesis and then watching them clinch a playoff berth.

The finale of a three-game set at Tropicana Field lacked the typical drama most of Wednesday afternoon after Ross Stripling got lit up for five runs in a six-run third that effectively decided a 7-1 Rays win. But theatre arrived in the eighth when Ryan Borucki hit Kevin Kiermaier, who triggered ill will Monday by grabbing a data card dislodged from Alejandro Kirk’s wristband during a play at the plate, prompting words to be exchanged and the dugouts to empty.

Relative calm prevailed as Rays manager Kevin Cash ranted to the umpiring crew, which then gathered by the mound after and ejected Borucki. That prompted pitching coach Pete Walker and manager Charlie Montoyo to argue, and Walker was restrained before he was ejected, too.

David Robertson closed things out in an incident-free ninth inning and the Rays poured out on the field afterwards for business-as-usual handshakes.

As usual, the Rays got the better of season series with 11 wins, and at 94-59, now have a magic number of four to clinch the American League East in back-to-back seasons. Of their 19 clashes this season, it was only the sixth time the game was decided by four runs or more, in contrast to the 10 contests settled by two or less.

The Rays winning the East is an inevitably at this point and should the Blue Jays successfully clinch a wild-card berth and then win that game to reach the division series, the Rays are likely to be waiting for them there.

There are steps to be taken for them to get there, but the math remains fairly favourable for the Blue Jays (85-67), who fell even with the New York Yankees (85-67) for the second wild card and dropped two games back of the Boston Red Sox (87-65) for the first, pending Wednesday night’s action. The Yankees were scheduled to host Texas, the Red Sox home to the Mets.

With 10 games left, beginning with a four-game set at the Minnesota Twins opening Thursday, a 6-4 run would push them to 91 wins, a total likely enough to get them into the playoffs. After the Twins, the Blue Jays have three-game series at home versus the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, so the opportunity for 7-3 or even better is certainly there.

A big weekend versus the Twins while the Red Sox and Yankees play three in New York this weekend is a pivotal chance to gain ground before Boston closes out against Baltimore and Washington. The Yankees finish against the Rays after playing Boston and Toronto.

Nothing should be taken for granted, but the Blue Jays are set up fairly well, even after their bullpen game Wednesday went terribly awry.

Stripling, entering behind opener Julian Merryweather as the bulk pitcher, got through his first inning unscathed but didn’t survive the next, going single, double, walk, sacrifice fly, three-run homer by Austin Meadows and single before Montoyo came with the hook.

Taylor Walls added a two-run single in the frame before it was over and, with the Rays’ bullpen game going much more to plan, this was a hole the Blue Jays offence couldn’t dig out of.

Surviving as best as possible for Thursday became the priority at that point, and essential on that front was the 2.1 shutout innings delivered by Anthony Castro. That allowed the Blue Jays to both get Jordan Romano and Trevor Richards needed rest and keep Adam Cimber and Tim Mayza available for the Twins opener.

Pearson was pressed into duty after Borucki’s ejection.

Castro’s work may very well get him optioned, as Thomas Hatch, at one point a candidate to be activated from the taxi squad for Wednesday, is likely to join the bullpen Thursday.

Another reinforcement could be Santiago Espinal, whose return from a rehab assignment at triple-A Buffalo is suddenly more urgent with Breyvic Valera on the COVID-19 IL for coming into close contact with a family member.

Valera is fully vaccinated and produced a negative test, but when he’s eligible to return will be dependent on returning more negative tests and getting sign-offs from both MLB and the union. Kevin Smith was recalled from the Bisons to cover for the time being.

Cavan Biggio is a possibility to join the club next week, although the Blue Jays are hoping he can establish some rhythm at the plate before he’s returned from his rehab assignment.

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