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Toronto Maple Leafs Defence Better Than Advertised – LWOH – Last Word on Hockey

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DETROIT, MICHIGAN – OCTOBER 12: Jake Muzzin #8 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his third period goal with Tyson Barrie #94 while playing the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on October 12, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. Toronto won the game 5-2. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)


The Toronto Maple Leafs defence has been called a lot of things. Mostly it’s been called bad or at least not good enough. It’s still a stigma the team holds today. Their Achilles’ Heel may actually be back-up goaltending this season, although Michael Hutchinson played superbly Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings. In reality, the Toronto Maple Leafs defence isn’t that bad. In fact, they’re kind of good.

Toronto Maple Leafs Defence Is Good And Getting Better

New Additions

While the Tyson Barrie trade is still debatable, Kyle Dubas undoubtedly traded from an area of strength to an area of weakness and that part still holds. Was it an equal value trade? Nazem Kadri is on pace for near 30 goals with the Colorado Avalanche and Barrie got off to a rough start this season but has seemed to improve since Sheldon Keefe took over behind the bench.

Barrie is on pace for only 33 points this season. That would be his worst since his first season in which he had zero points in ten games. Still, this team is better with Barrie than without, and Barrie will likely fully return to his old self in due time. He has eight points since Keefe took over, that’s a pace of 46 points in a full season.

Barrie regaining his offensive edge isn’t the only way he helps this team. His Corsi For is 56.1 percent this season and his relative Corsi For is 5.1. He may not be a world-class defender, but he’s not a liability, which is not something every player to don the uniform in recent years can say.

The Other New Addition

I suppose I can’t just exclude Cody Ceci from this article. He’s the other new addition to the team this season. He’s looked decent at times, but rarely does it seem he puts together a full 60 minutes. It may be ‘whipping boy syndrome’, but Ceci just isn’t worth the $4.5 he’s getting paid. Not when the team could really use that space in other areas.

Ceci has the worst Corsi rating of all defencemen in Toronto at 49.6. That’s better than five of his six years with the Ottawa Senators, but there’s no way to say he’s anything other than a third-pairing guy getting paid top-four money. That’s not a good fit for a cap-strapped team. Still, he’s got a better Corsi rating than both Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev did last year, and this year. If you want to feel better about Ceci, check Hainsey and Zaitsev‘s numbers this year.

Youth Getting Better Every Day

It’s hard to call Justin Holl young at 27 years old, but since he’s only played 48 career NHL games, it still fits. Holl has quietly turned into a valuable shutdown defender for the Maple Leafs. He’s paired with Jake Muzzin at the moment and the two have become a very reliable pair.

Holl is also a right-side defender. The Maple Leafs’ lack of a quality defender on the right side has been a sore point in Leafland for years now. Holl appears to be part of the answer. Between him and Barrie, the Maple Leafs are no longer desperate for a top-four right-handed defenceman. That’s a major improvement for Toronto from a couple of years ago.

The next wave of youth is still playing with the Toronto Marlies, but both Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren have looked good this season. Liljegren has 16 points in 25 games while Sandin, currently on loan to Team Sweden for the World Junior Championships, has 12 points in 19 games. Sandin has two assists in six games for the Maple Leafs this season too. Both will be favourites to make the team out of training camp next season. More on that later.

Travis Dermott

Travis Dermott has been steadily growing into his role in Toronto. He’s playing bottom-pairing minutes and doing well, but there’s more to see from Dermott. He could probably be a top-four player on another team. One that doesn’t have Morgan Rielly and Muzzin ahead of him on the depth chart. He’s not as flashy as Rielly but can be a steady player that excels at getting the puck out of his own zone and up to the forwards. If he had more minutes and more time in offensive situations, his offensive numbers would probably be much better. He missed the first month of the season as well, which can be tough to recover from.

He’s not an overly physical player, but he’s been noticeable in recent games on the ‘heart’ front. He is currently responsible for half of the Maple Leafs fights this season, that’s one out of two for those keeping score. He also took a ten-minute misconduct penalty for banging his stick against the boards after the Red Wings scored on a questionable power-play opportunity last night. The refs took exception to him calling them out. That kind of spirit is something the Maple Leafs have lacked at times. They could use it now with no Kadri on the team. Dermott doesn’t seem the sort to be suspended halfway through a playoff series so he’s got that going for him too.

More To Come

It’s hard not to believe Dubas is looking to trade Ceci. There are cheaper players that can play as well as him on the third pair. There are better players out there making less money that can play as well as Ceci. It’s possible Dubas just can’t get rid of that contract easily. If he does, it frees him up to use that money to acquire another, better defenseman. Perhaps again trading from an area of strength, the forwards. There’s a lot of interest in Kasperi Kapanen apparently.

Briefly looking ahead to next season, the Maple Leafs will be in tough to re-sign everyone. Rielly is the only player signed for next season from the current Maple Leafs defence corps. Holl and Dermott will return, but the Maple Leafs will probably lose one or both of Muzzin and Barrie. They’ll definitely move on from Ceci and that will free up a lot of cap space for replacements. It also opens the door for Sandin and Liljegren, but that’s a lot of inexperience on the blue line. It all points to Dubas adding another, experienced player to the group. The only question is if he’ll be able to do it this season or will he have to wait till the off-season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs blueline is looking pretty good these days.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – OCTOBER 12: Jake Muzzin #8 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his third period goal with Tyson Barrie #94 while playing the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on October 12, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. Toronto won the game 5-2. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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Penny Oleksiak back to lead Canada in Tokyo pool

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Penny Oleksiak, the first Canadian to win four medals at a Summer Olympics, will lead a Canadian swimming team eager to build on their efforts in Rio de Janeiro at next month’s Tokyo Games.

Swimming Canada unveiled a 26-member squad (16 women, 10 men) on Thursday that is a mix of experience and youth that officials hope is capable of improving on the six medals won in Rio, the country’s best haul in the pool since the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

“I think the mix of veteran leaders and new faces is awesome,” said Kylie Masse, a bronze medallist in the 100 metres backstroke in Rio and one of 10 returning Olympians. “That’s kind of how sport works, there are always older and younger athletes, and it’s a great dynamic to have.”

Leading the charge at the 2016 Rio Games was Oleksiak, who became Canada’s youngest Olympic champion winning gold in the 100m freestyle as a 16-year-old, while also grabbing silver in the 100m butterfly and two relay bronze.

The stage is set for a new star to emerge in Tokyo in 14-year-old Summer McIntosh, who edged Oleksiak in the 200m freestyle at the trials and breezed to victory in the 800m free.

At the other end of the experience and age spectrum is 37-year-old Brent Hayden, who came out of retirement to earn a spot on his fourth Olympic team, becoming the oldest Canadian Olympic swimmer in history.

Bronze medallist in the 100m freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics, Hayden clinched his spot with a win in the 50m freestyle at the Canadian trials that wrapped up on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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Sinclair to lead Canadian women’s team in her fourth Olympics

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Christine Sinclair, the all-time international goal-scoring record holder, was named to her fourth Olympic squad on Wednesday and will headline a Canadian roster at the Tokyo Games that features a mix of veterans and youth.

Led by Sinclair, whose 186 goals for her country are the most by a female or male soccer player worldwide, Canada won medals at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and was the only nation to make the podium in both competitions.

“I am looking forward to doing whatever I can to help take this team back to the podium and make history again,” said Canadian captain Sinclair. “Our team is in a good spot, we are excited, we are hungry and we are ready to go.”

The 18-player roster features 12 members of the squad that competed at the 2016 Rio Games while a quintet including Vanessa Gilles, Jayde Riviere, Julia Grosso, Adriana Leon, and Evelyne Viens will be making their Olympic debuts.

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan travelled to Rio in 2016 as an alternate.

Canada will kick off their Tokyo 2020 journey when they face Japan on July 21 and continue Group E play against Chile on July 24 and Britain on July 27.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)

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Which of the Canadians Picked in the 2021 NFL Draft Will Thrive This Season?

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It was a good NFL Draft for Canadian players in 2021.

Some four stars from north of the border were selected by NFL franchises in the free agency pick ‘em, and that is tied as the highest number of Canadians drafted in the 85-year history of the event.

Of course, the hope is that these young talents are more than just filler and roster depth, but can any of the quartet make the breakthrough into the big time?

Here’s a look at which of the NFL’s newest Canadian additions can shine in 2021/22.

Jevon Holland

The defensive back was the number 36 pick in the Draft by the Miami Dolphins, who beat off a number of rivals in the hunt for the Coquitlam native.

A versatile defender, Holland is a former Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist thanks to his exploits in the NCAA back in 2019 with the University of Oregon.

He sat out the 2020 campaign, but representatives from dozens of NFL teams were in town to watch Holland go through his paces at the Oregon Pro Day.

The 21-year-old is following in the footsteps of his father Robert, who turned out for the Detroit Lions, and he is expected to force his way into the starting line-up at the Dolphins. And, who knows, maybe Holland could go all the way in his first season, with Miami priced at +2500 in the Super Bowl 2022 American football odds.

Benjamin St-Juste

When you’re six foot three, 205 pounds and still able to run 40 yards in 4.51 seconds, it goes without saying that you have the physical credentials to succeed in the NFL.

Benjamin St-Juste is the man that can, and he will bolster the roster at a Washington Football Team that will be looking to improve upon their playoff showing in 2020.

The 23-year-old may only have been a third-round pick, but he comes with a burgeoning reputation thanks to a successful time at the University of Minnesota. An All-Big Ten special mention in 2019, more than 50 NFL recruitment personnel attended the college’s pro day – largely to catch a glimpse of St-Juste going through his paces.

Both Brian Gutekunst and Jon Robinson made the trip but, in the end, it was Washington who snapped up the powerhouse from the Draft.

Chuba Hubbard

The third Canadian to be drafted in 2021 was Chuba Hubbard, who became the first Canadian running back to be selected from the Draft in 25 years.

It’s the Carolina Panthers who have taken a chance on the 22-year-old and with his credentials, you can see why. Hubbard finished eighth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2019 after a stellar campaign – he served up 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, an NCAA best. He was named the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

While running backs are not the hottest of properties in the Draft, Hubbard provably has the talent to cross into the end zone with regularity – the Panthers might just have got their hands on an unheralded gem here.

With these three Canadians taking the step up to the NFL, the future of the sport north of the border looks in safe hands.

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