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Toronto Maple Leafs bulk up on defense, acquire veteran Mark Giordano, 38, from Seattle Kraken – ESPN

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Seattle Kraken defenseman Mark Giordano was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, the teams announced.

Seattle also sent center Colin Blackwell to the Maple Leafs and retained 50% of Giordano’s salary-cap hit. In exchange, the expansion Kraken acquired second-round draft picks this year and next year, as well as a third-round choice in 2024.

Giordano, 38, was the Kraken’s inaugural captain after spending 15 seasons in Calgary. Giordano will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and met with Seattle general manager Ron Francis earlier this month to discuss his future. Giordano expressed a desire to be traded to a contender so he can chase a Stanley Cup this spring, according to sources.

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The Maple Leafs have a top-five offense in terms of goals per game but have been looking to shore up — and retool — the defense to get past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Last month, the Maple Leafs sent forward Nick Ritchie and a conditional draft choice to Arizona in exchange for defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin, who has been on Toronto’s third pairing most of March. And later on Sunday, they shipped defenseman Travis Dermott, a healthy scratch of late, to the Vancouver Canucks for a third-round draft pick this summer.

The Kraken had high hopes that Giordano, 38, would provide the veteran leadership to put them in contention for the playoffs — similar to what the Vegas Golden Knights did in their inaugural season. However, Seattle never jelled like Vegas. The Kraken are firmly in last place in the Pacific Division, and last week they took Giordano out of the lineup to protect him from injury.

Since notching 74 points and winning the Norris Trophy in 2018-19 with the Flames, Giordano’s numbers have fallen off. But he still has 23 points in 55 games this season.

Giordano is in the final year of a six-year contract that carries a $6.75 million cap hit per season. According to sources, Giordano is keeping an open mind about his future.

The Kraken, meanwhile, have now acquired six picks via two trades leading up to Monday’s trade deadline. Seattle, looking forward to developing the team through the draft, now has 10 picks in this year’s draft and owns four of the top 64 selections in each of the next two drafts.

This marks the second consecutive year the Maple Leafs will add a captain of another team ahead of the trade deadline. Last year, Toronto acquired former Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno for a first round pick.

Toronto is firmly in playoff position in the Eastern Conference, but its seed is very much in question. The Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning have been wrestling for the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic Division, but the Boston Bruins, in the No. 1 wild-card slot, aren’t far away from catching Toronto.

If the season ended Sunday, the Maple Leafs would meet the Lightning in the first round.

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Bedard earns attention, rave reviews at CHL

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LANGLEY, British Columbia — Connor Bedard was the center of attention during the 2023 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Langley Events Centre on Wednesday.

The 17-year-old forward with Regina of the Western Hockey League, and projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft, had a bit of a home-ice advantage. He grew up about 30 minutes away in North Vancouver.

“I’ll have a good amount of people there,” Bedard said before the game. “I think some relatives. Obviously, my sister, my parents and some buddies for sure. I should have a decent crowd.”

Tom Bedard, Connor’s father, was relishing the rare chance to see his son in person; Regina is a 20-hour drive.

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“My wife (Melanie) actually is in Regina with Connor, so she gets to go to a few more games,” Tom said. “I get out five or six times a year but it’s difficult. It’s nice to have things close to home.”

It was a good show for family and friends. Bedard had a game-high six shots on goal for Team Red in a 4-2 loss to Team White.

The only people watching Bedard as closely as his family was the opposition.

“Keeping him off the scoreboard, that was kind of a team goal,” Team White goalie Scott Ratzlaff said. “Just making sure he’s always covered, making sure we’ve got eyes on him. It was good.”

There was a fair amount of physical play aimed at Bedard, including Team White defenseman Lukas Dragicevic taking a cross-checking penalty against him 20 seconds into the first period. Bedard also had a game-long, trash-talking conversation with Team White defenseman Oliver Bonk.

The frustration led to Bedard taking a penalty for cross-checking Bonk at 16:30 of the third. Bonk said the back-and-forth wasn’t anything malicious, more about the respect for Bedard’s ability to take over a game.

“He’s the best [2005-born player] in the world right now,” Bonk said. “It was good to get him off the ice for two minutes for our guys.”

Bedard (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) is used to physical play and won’t shy away from it. He was a presence in front of Team White’s goal on most of his shifts and had no problem battling in all areas of the ice.

“It’s hockey,” Bedard said. “It’s competitive and you’re allowed to hit so you’ve always got to expect that. It’s a contact sport and you’re going to get hit and you’re going to give hits. That’s part of it and it was good.”

Despite the physical play, Bedard still displayed his game-breaking ability. With Team Red on the power play in the first period, he wheeled through the high slot and fired a shot on net that Ratzlaff saved. Midway through the second, Ratzlaff had to make a spectacular pad save to stop Bedard at the net on a give-and-go with Zach Benson.

“The goalies played well and obviously it would have been nice to see a few go in, but it didn’t happen,” Bedard said.

Ratzlaff also plays in the WHL, for Seattle. Though it was his first time facing Bedard in a game, he knows exactly what he’s capable of doing.

“He’s just so dynamic, and he’s just good from anywhere,” Ratzlaff said. “You think, ‘Oh, I’ve got to commit because he’s going to shoot,’ and then he makes a pass backdoor right on the guy’s tape. So, I think just being ready for anything because he’s just so good and just patient with the puck so he can really create, turn nothing into something.”

Bedard said his focus now returns to Regina, where he leads the WHL in goals (39), assists (42) and points (81). Since being held off the score sheet in the season opener, he has a point in 32 straight games. He’s No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm ranking of North American players presented by BioSteel and almost a certainty to hear his name called first at the 2023 draft at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on June 28.

“When you look, you can see his similarities with his quickness, offensive smarts, that go up to the Connor McDavid level, but then just the pure substance and overall makeup of his game is reminiscent of Sidney Crosby,” said Dan Marr, vice president of Central Scouting. “He’s right up there with those players that are going to be all stars and win a lot of hardware moving forward.”

Bedard has said the draft is something he’ll worry about down the road. Now that all the attention from the Top Prospects Game has passed, he’s focused on helping Regina reach the WHL playoffs.

“I want to win in Regina,” he said. “We’ve been playing well of late, [won] four of the last five, so we want to keep that going and I’m excited to get back and get to work.”

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 113, Kings 95 – Raptors Republic

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S. Barnes38 MIN, 7 PTS, 6 REB, 10 AST, 2 STL, 3-8 FG, 0-2 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 22 +/-

Scottie was finding his teammates all night long, one of the stronger defensive performances from Scottie tonight as well, first game without double digit points in quite some time but he impacted the game in other ways.

O. Anunoby31 MIN, 11 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 4-9 FG, 3-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 24 +/-

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Solid shooting night for OG who was able to really impact this game defensively by being a menace in the paint, did some great stuff against Sabonis.

P. Siakam35 MIN, 26 PTS, 11 REB, 7 AST, 2 STL, 11-24 FG, 2-8 3FG, 2-2 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, 15 +/-

Great night for. Pascal, defense was very impactful as he mucked up a lot of Sacramento’s acts through Sabonis, he was hitting his teammates all night, cleaned up on the glass, and kept the pressure up late with his scoring.

G. Trent Jr.36 MIN, 16 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 7-15 FG, 2-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 13 +/-

Gary’s shot wasn’t all the way there tonight but he still managed to get a couple down, had some good looks in transition.

F. VanVleet38 MIN, 17 PTS, 4 REB, 5 AST, 4 STL, 7-16 FG, 2-9 3FG, 1-1 FT, 2 BLK, 2 TO, 20 +/-

Fred didn’t shoot the ball well tonight but he still put up 17, had a game high 4 steals tonight which is a testament to his impact on that end tonight.

P. Achiuwa28 MIN, 19 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 9-12 FG, 1-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 3 +/-

Great night on both ends for Precious, really impactful defensively, had some great finishes as a roll man and see created.

C. Boucher22 MIN, 16 PTS, 6 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 7-11 FG, 2-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 3 BLK, 0 TO, -3 +/-

Great spark off the bench and made his presence felt at the rim on both ends of the floor, great energy tonight.

J. Hernangomez12 MIN, 1 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 0-2 FG, 0-2 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -4 +/-

Didn’t really standout tonight.

Nick Nurse

Great game plan for Sacramento, never let Sabonis get comfortable, great minutes for Precious and Boucher.

Things We Saw

  1. One of, if not the strongest defensive performances from Toronto this season holding this high powered offense to 50 at halftime and 95 for the full game, really encouraging.

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Russia’s path to 2024 Olympics takes shape, Ukraine objects

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Russia’s path to sending a team to the Paris Olympics next year became clearer on Thursday amid fierce objections from Ukraine.

The International Olympic Committee indicated on Wednesday it favors officially neutral teams from Russia and its ally Belarus at the 2024 Olympics despite a plea from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to exclude them entirely.

A day later, Russia and Belarus were invited to compete at the Asian Games, a key Olympic qualifier.

Russia typically competes as part of Europe but has a tense relationship with many of the countries set to host qualifying events there. Russia and Belarus have been barred from almost all international competitions in Olympic sports following the invasion of Ukraine.

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Zelenskyy has said he told French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country is hosting the Olympics, that Russia should have “no place” there. Ukraine is seeking to rally support against the IOC-brokered plan.

“IOC has been disregarding Russian war crimes, claiming that ‘No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport’, while Ukrainian athletes continue to be killed by Russia because of their passports. I urge all sports figures to make their stance known,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Ukraine boycotted an Olympic qualifier in judo last year when Russians were allowed to compete as neutrals.

In Russia, there was praise from the IOC plan from Igor Levitin, an aide to President Vladimir Putin who holds influential government and sports posts.

“I think it is already a success. Olympic society understands that the Olympic Games cannot be staged without Russia,” said Levitin, who is the senior vice-president of the Russian Olympic Committee, in comments reported by state news agency Tass.

Some Russian officials expressed unhappiness at the IOC declaring it would not allow athletes found to be “actively supporting the war in Ukraine.” Russian Olympic Committee president Stanislav Pozdnyakov said on Wednesday he opposed “any restrictions, extra requirements or sanctions.”

The IOC statement on Wednesday referenced the civil war in the former Yugoslavia at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. The country was under United Nations sanctions so Yugoslav athletes were allowed to compete individually only as “Independent Olympic Participants.” They didn’t take part in team sports such as soccer and basketball.

That would be stricter than previous IOC measures against Russia in the years-long fallout from one of the largest doping cases in sports history. Russians competed under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia” at the 2018 Winter Olympics and as ROC — short for Russian Olympic Committee — in 2021 and 2022, without their country’s anthem or flag but with national colors on uniforms.

The Asian Games will be in Hangzhou, China, in September and October, and function as Olympic qualifiers in several sports including archery and boxing. Some other sports host their own Asia-specific qualifying competitions.

“The OCA believes in the unifying power of sport and that all athletes, regardless of their nationality or the passport they hold, should be able to compete in sports competitions,” the OCA said in a statement.

The long-time director general of Kuwait-based OCA, Husain al-Musallam, is also the president of World Aquatics, which is overseeing the core Olympic sport of swimming in the IOC home city Lausanne.

“The OCA has offered to give eligible Russian and Belarusian athletes the opportunity to take part in competitions in Asia, including the Asian Games,” the organization said.

The OCA added it “remains on standby” until the IOC and the individual sports’ governing bodies finalize the conditions for Russia and Belarus to compete.

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