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
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 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)
Andreescu eliminated from National Bank Open after loss to teenager Zheng – Sportsnet.ca
TORONTO — Canada’s Bianca Andreescu lost to China’s Zheng Qinwen 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, as she was eliminated from the National Bank Open on Thursday.
Andreescu, from nearby Mississauga, Ont., was the last Canadian playing in the women’s tennis tournament.
Felix Auger-Aliassime is the only Canadian left in the men’s event in his hometown of Montreal.
Zheng will play Karolína Plíšková of the Czech Republic on Friday in the WTA tournament’s quarterfinal.
It was the first time the 53rd ranked Andreescu had played world No. 51 Zheng.
Andreescu won the 2019 edition of the event when it was last held in Toronto, earning the victory after all-time great Serena Williams retired from the match due to injury.
Trailing 5-4 in the first set, Andreescu dropped a volley well out of Zheng’s reach to go up 40-0 in the match’s 10th game. The smart play drew loud cheers from the partisan crowd at Sobeys Stadium and then Andreescu’s first ace of the match tied the set 5-5.
The crowd included Toronto Blue Jays infielders Santiago Espinal and Bo Bichette as well as Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse.
A Zheng ace made it 6-5 and then, after a lengthy rally, the Chinese player used an overhead smash to win the set 7-5.
Andreescu made the most of her home court advantage, egging the crowd on after critical points in the second set.
She pumped her fist and yelled after Zheng’s return on game point was well past the baseline. Then Andreescu threw her hands up, encouraging fans to cheer when Zheng’s return was long on set point.
That momentum did not carry into the third set, with Andreescu quickly falling behind 3-1.
Although Andreescu won a game point, earning her chants of “Let’s go Bi-bi!” she gave up three break points as Zheng took a 4-2 lead. A hard forehand smash to the opposite court by Zheng added to that advantage.
Zheng put the match away on a double break point when Andreescu charged the net and the 19-year-old Chinese player put the ball deep but in.
World No. 1 Iga Swiatek of Poland was stunned by Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 earlier in the day. The unseeded Haddad Maia had already upset 13th-seeded Leylah Fernandez of Laval, Que., on Wednesday.
Haddad Maia will face the winner of the Round of 16 match between Belinda Bencic and Garbine Muguruza in a quarterfinal on Friday.
Serving was an issue for Swiatek with nine double faults to Haddad Maia’s one. The top-ranked player from Poland said that the swirling gusts in the bowl-shaped stadium were an issue for her.
“Right now it’s hard to say if it was more her game or the wind that really messed up my first set,” said Swiatek, who was playing Haddad Maia for the first time. “I think she just used the conditions better than me.
“When she was playing with the wind she was playing really strong balls and sometimes I was late for them.”
The wind was also a factor in Coco Gauff’s win in the afternoon. The American moved on to the quarterfinals with an entertaining and error-filled 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (4) win over Aryna Sabalenka.
Both players struggled with the conditions at Sobeys Stadium, with Sabalenka committing 18 double faults and Gauff hitting into 15. Sabalenka had 42 unforced errors overall, while Gauff had 32.
Gauff will face Romania’s Simona Halep in the quarterfinals. Halep, a two-time Canadian Open champion, defeated Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann 6-2, 7-5 to begin the day’s slate of matches at Centre Court.
Later, seventh seed Jessica Pegula of the United States came back from a set down to defeat defending champion Camila Giorgi of Italy 3-6, 6-0, 7-5.
Pegula saved match point to tie the third set 5-5, then broke to take the lead on Giorgi’s sixth double fault of the match. Pegula served to love in the final game to move on to the quarterfinals.
Quebec's Olivier Rioux, world's tallest teen, chasing hoops dream at Canada Games – Yahoo Canada Sports
Olivier Rioux landed with a size-large exclamation point on Michael Meeks’ radar when the Canada Basketball coach opened a photo in his inbox seven years ago.
Rioux was attending a kids basketball camp in Montreal, and posed for a photo alongside then-Detroit Pistons and Canadian team centre Joel Anthony, who stands a formidable six foot nine.
“Ron Yeung (Canada Basketball’s manager of domestic development) sent me this photo of Olivier and Joel, and Olivier is about the same height, give or take an inch. Ron says, ‘This kid is nine years old,'” said Meeks.
“I was immediately on the phones, finding out who he was and what was going on and what we can do to help.”
In the years since, Rioux has sprouted to a full seven foot six. He can dunk on an NBA hoop while barely leaving his feet.
Guinness World Records recognized him as the world’s tallest teenager when he was 15 and seven foot five. If he played in the NBA now, he’d be tied with Cleveland’s Tacko Fall as the league’s tallest player.
But Rioux is playing for Quebec at the Canada Summer Games this week in Ontario’s Niagara Region with kids at least his own age, if nowhere near his size.
Quebec was scheduled to face Saskatchewan on Friday after dropping a 72-70 decision to Alberta in Thursday night’s semifinal.
Meeks, who’s at the Games to keep an eye on Canada’s young players, said he’s seen improvement in Rioux even over the past few weeks, but cautions that like any super tall player, he’s a long-term work in progress.
“People see his size and their expectations are pretty high,” said Meeks. “For me, it’s the little things like his mobility and agility, how he’s moving, how he conceptualizes the game — how much fun is he having competing and playing?
“This is important because we’re in uncharted territories with Olivier, there’s never been anybody that big at that age before. So, we’re kind of cautiously optimistic that he’s definitely moving in the right direction.”
Rioux, who’s from Anjou, a borough in east Montreal, will begin Grade 10 in the fall in Bradenton, Fla. He moved there to attend IMG Academy — a school that counts superstar tennis sisters Serena and Venus Williams among its alumni — a year ago.
“It was nice,” Rioux said of his first year away from home. “I was calling my parents almost every day, and the school year was good, my grades were up.
“Back in Montreal I used to go to school every day for at least eight hours. Now I go to school for three hours and practice in the afternoon, It’s different,” he added with a deep-voiced laugh.
He’s having fun at the Games, he said, and has taken in some of the boxing competition.
Rioux was 5-2 in kindergarten. His dad Jean-Francois is 6-8, his mom Anne is 6-2.
He first became an unsuspecting internet star at age 12, while playing at a tournament in Spain. He stood out like a maypole among the other players on the court. It caught the eye of Golden State star Steph Curry, who tweeted: “So many questions … “
Joey Mckitterick, who’s coached Rioux at Montreal’s AAU program Brookwood Elite since he was 12, echoed Meeks in that he’s seen huge improvement in Rioux this year, particularly as his growing has slowed and his co-ordination is catching up.
But perhaps most important is that Rioux is enjoying the game, which is key since huge expectations come with being super tall.
“I think this year you could see that he enjoyed everything about it, the basketball, the travelling, everything like that. He’s definitely falling in love with it,” Mckitterick said.
Mckitterick said part of his responsibility coaching Rioux was being a buffer between the teen and curious onlookers.
“When we travel, we could be sitting in a hotel lobby and random strangers will come up to him and ask him for a picture. It’s challenging even getting through the airport to make a flight on time because people are constantly stopping him: ‘Can I take your picture? Can you hold my baby?’ Can you do this, can you do that?
“When I met with our players at the end of the year. I told him ‘I can’t imagine being you. But the best I can do is just kind of guide you and help you and be here for you for anything you need, because I can’t put myself in your position.’ Nobody could.”
That uniqueness makes it difficult to gauge where basketball might take him.
“When you see Olivier, every three to six months he’s doing things quicker, faster, stronger, more balanced, he’s got more agility, his game is getting better, his understanding of how to impact the game is getting better,” Meeks said. “This is important, because usually taller players are a little bit slower (to develop), and he’s moving at the right rate in terms of a super tall player.
“Usually guys that stopped growing at about 6-3, 6-4, you could begin to see exactly what they’re going to be by the time they’re 16 years old. But these tall, tall players, it’s 24, 25 before it all starts coming together.”
Rioux, who likes to study the games of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic, who are both 6-11, is well-proportioned for his size and hasn’t had any major physical issues such as sore knees that can come with fast growth.
Among other NBA giants, Gheorghe Muresan is listed as the tallest ever at seven foot seven. Yao Ming and Shawn Bradley were 7-6. Canadian Sim Bhullar was 7-5, but his weight — he was listed at 360 pounds — was a limiting factor.
Canada at least has some experience with super tall players. Zach Edey, a 20-year-old from Toronto, is seven foot four. Edey made his debut with Canada’s senior men’s team in a World Cup qualifier in May. The IMG Academy product is heading into his junior season for the Purdue Boilermakers, who’ve also expressed early interest in Rioux.
“There are a lot of Division 1 schools that are very familiar with him already,” Mckitterick said. “The schools that are really focusing in on him are ones that value the size and want to use it. Because basketball has kind of gone in the direction of smaller (multi-position players), but there’s still a lot of programs that still value that size.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
McTavish puts up six points, Canada crushes Slovakia at world juniors – Sportsnet.ca
Four goals and a pair of assists from captain Mason McTavish powered Canada to a dominant 11-1 victory over Slovakia at the world junior hockey championship Thursday.
Brennan Othmann and Joshua Roy each scored and contributed a pair of helpers for Canada (2-0-0) while Connor Bedard, Will Cuylle, Logan Stankoven and Olen Zellweger added one of each. Zack Ostapchuk also scored.
Matej Kaslik put away the lone goal for Slovakia (0-0-2) midway through the second period.
Making his first start of the tournament, Canada’s Dylan Garand registered 22 saves. Tomas Bolo stopped 33 of 44 shots for Slovakia.
The Canadians were coming off a decisive 5-2 win over Latvia on Wednesday while Slovakia dropped a 5-4 decision to Czechia on Tuesday.
Canada will continue round-robin play against Czechia (1-0-1) on Saturday.
With just seconds left on the game clock, Ostapchuk picked up a loose puck at the side of the net and slid it around the front, in past Bolo to seal the score at 11-1.
Roy gave Canada a 10-1 lead with less than five minutes to go on the game clock.
William Dufour’s shot hit Bolo’s pad and Roy picked up the rebound at the top of the crease, firing it in over the netminder as he fell to the ice.
McTavish barely celebrated after giving Canada a 9-1 cushion 3:44 into the third period.
He found space between Bolo and the post for his fourth goal of the night, a strike that tied a Canadian record for most goals in a single game at the world juniors.
Other players who have accomplished the feat include Mario Lemieux (1984), Brayden Schenn (2011) and Maxime Comtois (2019).
McTavish completed his hat trick with 35 seconds left in the middle frame.
Bedard took a hit in the neutral zone and sent a puck up the ice to give his teammates a two-man breakaway. Roy put a crisp pass on McTavish’s tape and the 19-year-old Anaheim Ducks prospect fired a shot past Bolo to give the Canadians an 8-1 lead.
About a dozen hats floated to the ice.
It was McTavish’s backhanded flick from the top of the crease 15:16 into the second that gave Canada a 7-1 cushion.
Just 36 seconds earlier, Slovakia finally beat Garand after a battle down low.
Kaslik got the puck and unleashed a shot that hit the goalie’s pad and the crossbar on its way into the net.
A three-man breakaway set up McTavish’s first goal of the night 6:25 into the second. Donovan Sebrango sent him a lead pass and, handling the puck, Team Canada’s captain skated in, sending a rocket soaring past Bolo stick side to boost the lead to 6-0.
The second period was just over a minute old when Stankoven put away Canada’s fifth goal of the night on a five-on-three.
Kent Johnson sent a shot into Bolo’s pad and Stankoven, stationed at the side of the net, popped a shot in before the goalie could get back into position.
Canada was 1 for 4 on the power play and Slovakia went 0 for 3.
After a slow start in Wednesday’s 5-2 win over Latvia, Canada was a force in the first period Thursday.
The host nation took a 4-0 advantage into the first intermission after Zellweger scored with 43 seconds left in the opening frame.
The defenceman got a shot off from the hash marks and the puck appeared to tick off another player in front of the net before pinging in off the post.
Slovakia challenged the play for being offside but a video review determined Zellweger’s goal was good.
A scuttled Slovakian clearing attempt set up Canada’s third strike of the night.
Bolo tried to send the puck out from deep in his own end but Cuylle picked it up at the blue line and sent it to Othmann in the faceoff circle The New York Rangers prospect sailed a shot in past the goalie 15:57 into the game.
Cuylle gave Canada a 2-0 lead less than three minutes earlier.
Ridly Greig stepped out of the penalty box and chipped a pass up the boards to Cuylle, who skated in alone on a breakaway and put a quick blast through Bolo’s pads.
Slovakia had a breakaway of its own earlier in the first, but Garand read the play perfectly and the shot thudded off of his pads to keep Canada up 1-0.
For the second game in a row, Bedard opened the scoring for the Canadians.
The 17-year-old Regina Pats centre dished the puck to McTavish, who sliced it back across the slot. Bedard capped the give-and-go by ripping a blistering shot past Bolo from the bottom of the faceoff circle 6:16 into the first period.
The early game Thursday saw Finland (2-0-0) battle Czechia (1-0-1) to a 4-3 shootout win.
“During the game, we got better and better. And that’s the most important thing,” said Finland’s head coach Antti Pennanen.
Czechia and Canada will both be off Friday before going head-to-head on Saturday.
The Czechs know they’ll need to elevate their game for the matchup, said forward Jiri Kulich.
“We just want to keep our game,” he said. “It’s a big challenge, of course, and a big game. So we’re just going to do our best.”
Switzerland (0-1-0) was set to battle the reigning champion Americans (1-0-0) in the final game of the day on Thursday.
Friday will see Austria (0-1-0) face Sweden (1-0-0) and Slovakia take on Latvia (0-2-0).
NOTES: McTavish leads the tournament in scoring with eight points (four goals, four assists). … The preliminary round continues through Monday, with the quarterfinals set for Wednesday. The semifinals are scheduled for Aug. 19 and the medal games will be played on Aug. 20. … The 2022 tournament is being held in August after the original iteration was called off on Dec. 29 after just four days as rising COVID-19 cases among players and officials forced games to be forfeited.
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