TORONTO – Back in March, the expectation around Blue Jays camp was that Nate Pearson would begin the 2020 season at triple-A Buffalo.
Despite his status as the game’s best right-handed pitching prospect and his impressive spring training performance, there was a legitimate developmental case to be made for keeping Pearson in the minors a little longer. The best place to refine his curveball might be triple-A, where there’s less urgency to win and greater emphasis on maximizing potential. Plus, the Blue Jays had reason to be careful about workload after a season in which Pearson’s innings total jumped by 80.
Alongside those developmental questions was the reality that a few more weeks in the minors would give the Blue Jays an additional year of club control over Pearson. While Blue Jays staff gave the impression of being locked in on Pearson’s on-field development, some outside the organization noted that a few weeks in the minors would keep Pearson in Toronto through 2026 rather than 2025. If Pearson realizes his potential, that could be a significant year.
Now, almost every variable has changed. The 60-game MLB season will be the shortest in baseball history, big-league rosters are bigger than ever and the triple-A season likely won’t take place at all. If there’s a developmental case for keeping Pearson off the big-league roster, it’s hard to see. But with all of that said, the team could gain that extra year of service time more easily than ever in a shortened season.
On Sunday, the Blue Jays officially added Pearson to their player pool, making him eligible to contribute to the team in 2020. Health-permitting, he’ll make his debut this summer, assuming there is an MLB season. For that to happen, the Blue Jays will first have to find a home and until they have clarity on those next steps, the front office appears focused on logistics. That’s understandable, but soon enough, the Blue Jays will have answers on that front. At that point, they’ll face a significant question regarding Pearson’s future. Namely, will he spend the entire season at the MLB level?
Months ago, the idea of developing Pearson in the minors made some sense, but it now appears likely that the entire minor-league season will be cancelled. Without those games, it’s hard to see how Pearson’s development would be maximized by practicing with the Jays’ reserves.
Granted, development can happen outside of game settings. The last few months offer proof of that, as Pearson has worked out in Florida, refining his pitches in the Tampa area at places such as the KineticPro Baseball performance lab. Under the circumstances, that’s pretty resourceful, but if Pearson wants to know how his curve plays in games that matter, there’s only one place to find out: the majors.
Maybe that’s not ideal given the pressure of major-league games, but little about this 2020 season would be considered optimal. Teams simply have to do the best they can under the circumstances. With 30-man rosters, there’s certainly no shortage of space in the majors for Pearson (though he will require a 40-man roster spot once the Blue Jays select his contract and that means cutting someone else).
What’s more, any innings concerns that lingered around Pearson have likely eased by now. In a 60-game season, workhorse pitchers might log 60-70 innings with most starters falling well short of that mark. At this point, innings are a rather antiquated way of measuring workload, so the Blue Jays will of course measure fatigue in other ways, but it’s safe to say pitchers face a different physical challenge over two months than they would over six.
So, to recap:
• The majors are likely the only place Pearson can test his stuff in games this summer.
• There’s little reason to be concerned that Pearson’s 2020 workload will snowball out of control.
• He has the potential to help the Blue Jays win games.
• There’s room for him on the roster.
Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.
Why, under those circumstances, would anyone even consider breaking camp without him? Well, let’s look at how service time will be calculated in this shortened season. According to a source familiar with the MLB rules, players will get a full year of service if they spend at least 62 days in the majors in 2020 (most years the minimum is 172 days). Or, put another way, any player who obtains less than 62 days of service time doesn’t get credit for the full year.
If this were a video game, a prudent GM might decide to keep Pearson in the minors for a week or so until early August then call him up for the remaining two months of the year with complete confidence that Pearson would get less than the 62 days required for a full year of service. On paper, one start in late July certainly isn’t worth the full year of club control the Blue Jays would get in 2026.
But of course Ross Atkins isn’t playing a video game here. The decision the front office makes will be monitored closely in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse, by the Toronto fan base and within the offices of the MLBPA. All of those stakeholders would notice if Pearson doesn’t break camp and some might oppose such a decision loudly. When the team’s focus shifts back from logistics to development those voices will be worth considering.
It wasn’t long ago that starting Pearson in the minors looked defensible. Service time aside, there was a case to be made for sending him to Buffalo. But there was a triple-A season then, creating alternative settings for top prospects to develop in games. A few months later, it would be harder to justify keeping Pearson off the roster for baseball reasons.
Super 16: Top right wings playing in Stanley Cup Qualifiers – NHL.com
Seven voting points separated the top three players ranked in this week’s Super 16, the best right wings among the 24 teams returning to play.
David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins edged Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning by two points to be the No. 1 right wing. Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks finished third, five points behind Kucherov.
Pastrnak was ranked first by six of the 12 voters. Kucherov and Kane each were ranked first by three voters, but Kucherov was ranked second by six voters and Kane by three.
There were 31 right wings to receive a vote this week.
To create the Super 16, each of the 12 participating staff members put together his or her version of what they think it should look like. Those were submitted and a point total assigned to each.
The right wing that was selected first was given 16 points, second got 15, third 14 and so on down to No. 16, who got one point.
Here is the Super 16:
1. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
Total points: 182
Season stats: 95 points (48 goals, 47 assists) in 70 games
Career playoff stats: 43 points (17 goals, 26 assists) in 42 games
Pastrnak and Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin led the NHL in goals and won the Rocket Richard Trophy this season. Pastrnak was tied for third in points with New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin, and was first among right wings. Pastrnak is third with 155 goals in the NHL since 2016-17, three behind Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (158) and 26 behind Ovechkin (181). Pastrnak scored 39 points (15 goals, 24 assists) in 36 Stanley Cup Playoff games in 2018 and 2019, second behind Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (40).
2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
Total points: 180
Season stats: 85 points (33 goals, 52 assists) in 68 games
Career playoff stats: 61 points (29 goals, 32 assists) in 65 games
Kucherov was seventh in points this season and second among right wings. He closed the season on a hot streak, scoring 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 24 games from Jan. 14 to the season pause, and he scored at least one point in 23 of the 24 games. Last season, Kucherov won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, the Ted Lindsay Award as most outstanding player as voted by the NHL Players’ Association, and the Art Ross Trophy as the League’s leading scorer with 128 points (41 goals, 87 assists) in 82 games.
3. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Total points: 175
Season stats: 84 points (33 goals, 51 assists) in 70 games
Career playoff stats: 123 points (50 goals, 73 assists) in 127 games
Kane is the most decorated right wing on this list. He was eighth in the NHL in scoring this season, the fifth time in 13 NHL seasons he’s scored at least 80 points. He’s sixth among active players with 1,022 points (389 goals, 633 assists) in 973 regular-season games, and sixth among active players in playoff points. Kane is a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks (2010, 2013, 2015), and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs in 2013; the Art Ross Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award and Hart Trophy in 2015-16; and the Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year in 2007-08.
4. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
Total points: 135
Season stats: 41 points (19 goals, 22 assists) in 42 games
Career playoff stats: 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 18 games
Rantanen missed 28 games this season because of injuries but finished sixth among right wings (minimum 30 games) at 0.98 points per game. He’s scored 250 points (99 goals, 151 assists) in 272 games since 2016-17, and his average of 0.92 points per game is seventh among right wings (minimum 100 games) during that span.
5. Mitchell Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs
Total points: 130
Season stats: 67 points (16 goals, 51 assists) in 59 games
Career playoff stats: 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 20 games
Marner was fourth among right wings in points and points per game (1.14) this season. He is fifth among right wings in points since 2016-17, his rookie season, with 291 (83 goals, 208 assists) in 300 games. He is fifth among right wings in points per game during that time at 0.97 (minimum 100 games).
6. Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights
Total points: 127
Season stats: 63 points (21 goals, 42 assists) in 65 games
Career playoff stats: 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 34 games
Stone arguably is the best defensive wing in the NHL. He was first among right wings and tied with Matthews for second in the NHL this season with 78 takeaways (Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman, 81). Stone’s 3.70 takeaways per 60 minutes was second behind Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin‘s 3.91 among players with at least 10 games played this season. Stone leads the NHL with 581 takeaways (4.26 per 60 minutes), 150 more than any player, since 2014-15. He scored 12 points (six goals, six assists) in seven playoff games with the Golden Knights last season.
7. Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
Total points: 123
Season stats: 65 points (22 goals, 43 assists) in 71 games
Career playoff stats: 33 points (six goals, 27 assists) in 48 games
Wheeler is seventh in the NHL and second among right wings with 634 points (207 goals, 427 assists) in 687 games, an average of 0.92 points per game, since the 2011-12 season. He is fifth among all players in assists during that period. Wheeler scored 21 points (three goals, 18 assists) in 17 games during the 2018 playoffs, when the Jets lost the Western Conference Final to Vegas.
8. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets
Total points: 90
Season stats: 63 points (28 goals, 35 assists) in 68 games
Career playoff stats: 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 23 games
Laine has scored 138 goals in his four NHL seasons. Since debuting in 2016-17, he’s tied with Kane for seventh in the NHL and third among right wings, behind Pastrnak (155) and Kucherov (153).
9. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues
Total points: 87
Season stats: 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 10 games
Career playoff stats: 49 points (33 goals, 16 assists) in 70 games
Tarasenko is healthy after recovering from surgery Oct. 29 to repair a dislocated left shoulder. He was injured Oct. 24 after he scored eight points (three goals, five assists) during a five-game point streak. He scored 17 points (11 goals, six assists) in 26 playoff games last season to help the Blues win the Stanley Cup. He was third in the NHL and first among right wings with 182 goals from 2014-15 to 2018-19.
10. Andrei Svechnikov, Carolina Hurricanes
Total points: 63
Season stats: 61 points (24 goals, 37 assists) in 68 games
Career playoff stats: Five points (three goals, two assists) in nine games
Svechnikov’s production increased by 24 points in 14 fewer games compared to his rookie season of 2018-19, when he scored 37 points (20 goals, 17 assists) in 82 games. He was tied with Travis Konecny of the Philadelphia Flyers for eighth among right wings in points this season. Svechnikov scored five points (three goals, two assists) in nine playoff games for the Hurricanes last season.
11. Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers
Total points: 56
Season stats: 56 points (12 goals, 44 assists) in 69 games
Career playoff stats: 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) in 34 games
Voracek was fifth in assists and tied with Bryan Rust of the Pittsburgh Penguins for 11th in points among right wings this season. He scored 13 points (one goal, 12 assists) in the final 10 games before the season pause. He is fifth among right wings since 2013-14 with 466 points (128 goals, 338 assists) in 548 games.
12. T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals
Total points: 46
Season stats: 49 points (26 goals, 23 assists) in 69 games
Career playoff stats: 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists) in 83 games
Oshie has scored 257 points (128 goals, 129 assists) in 360 games during five seasons with the Capitals; he is eighth in goals and 11th in points among right wings during that time. He helped the Capitals win the Stanley Cup in 2018 by scoring 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in 24 playoff games.
13. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks
Total points: 40
Season stats: 45 points (16 goals, 29 assists) in 57 games
Career playoff stats: N/A
Boeser has been one of the more productive right wings in the NHL during the past three seasons with 156 points (71 goals, 85 assists) in 188 games. Among right wings during that time, he’s tied for 15th in goals, tied for 16th in points and 12th in points per game (0.83; minimum 100 games) despite being 58th in games played.
14. Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers
Total points: 37
Season stats: 61 points (24 goals, 37 assists) in 66 games
Career playoff stats: One point (one goal, zero assists) in six games
Konecny scored 24 goals for a third straight season, but with 13 games left when the season was paused, a hot streak could have gotten him to 30. He scored an NHL career-high in points and was on pace for 73 this season.
15. Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes
Total points: 35
Season stats: 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists) in 70 games
Career playoff stats: 77 points (33 goals, 44 assists) in 87 games
Kessel fell on this list because of his performance this season, his first with the Coyotes. He scored five even-strength goals, the fewest in his 14-season NHL career. But that doesn’t take away from his potential impact and the career he’s had to date, including Stanley Cup championships with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017. His 18 goals in 49 games led all players during those two postseasons and his 45 points were third, behind his Penguins teammates Malkin (46) and Sidney Crosby (46). Kessel is second behind Kane among active right wings with 861 points (371 goals, 490 assists) in 1,066 games, and has played 844 consecutive games, the third-longest active streak in the NHL (Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers defenseman, 866; Patrick Marleau, Penguins forward, 854).
16. William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs
Total points: 32
Season stats: 59 points (31 goals, 28 assists) in 68 games
Career playoff stats: 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 20 games
Nylander was fourth among right wings in goals this season and is 14th among right wings with 208 points (80 goals, 128 assists) in 285 games since 2016-17.
Others receiving points: Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins, 23; Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens, 12; Justin Williams, Carolina Hurricanes, 11; Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets, 6; Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders, 6; Tom Wilson, Washington Capitals, 6; Kailer Yamamoto, Edmonton Oilers, 5; Evgenii Dadonov, Florida Panthers, 5; Alexander Radulov, Dallas Stars, 5; Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes, 3; Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild, 3; Tyler Toffoli, Vancouver Canucks, 3; Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars, 2; Corey Perry, Dallas Stars, 2; Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets, 1
HERE’S HOW WE RANKED ‘EM
1. Nikita Kucherov; 2. David Pastrnak; 3. Patrick Kane; 4. Mitchell Marner; 5. Mikko Rantanen; 6. Vladimir Tarasenko; 7. Blake Wheeler; 8. Mark Stone; 9. Andrei Svechnikov; 10. Patrik Laine; 11. Brock Boeser; 12. Travis Konecny; 13. William Nylander; 14. Jakub Voracek; 15. Joe Pavelski; 16. T.J. Oshie
1. Nikita Kucherov; 2; David Pastrnak; 3. Blake Wheeler; 4. Patrick Kane; 5. Mark Stone; 6. Patrik Laine; 7. Mikko Rantanen; 8. Jakub Voracek; 9. T.J. Oshie; 10. Mitchell Marner; 11. Brendan Gallagher; 12. Phil Kessel; 13. Brock Boeser; 14. Clayton Keller; 15. Travis Konecny; 16. Mats Zuccarello
1. David Pastrnak; 2. Nikita Kucherov; 3. Mitchell Marner; 4. Patrick Kane; 5. Mikko Rantanen; 6. Mark Stone; 7. Patrik Laine; 8. Jakub Voracek; 9. Andrei Svechnikov; 10. Blake Wheeler; 11. William Nylander; 12. Travis Konecny; 13. T.J. Oshie; 14. Brock Boeser; 15. Jordan Eberle; 16. Evgenii Dadonov
1. Nikita Kucherov; 2. Patrick Kane; 3. David Pastrnak; 4. Mikko Rantanen; 5. Blake Wheeler; 6. Mitchell Marner; 7. Patrik Laine; 8. Mark Stone; 9. Vladimir Tarasenko; 10. Andrei Svechnikov; 11. Phil Kessel; 12. Jakub Voracek; 13. Evgenii Dadonov; 14. Tom Wilson; 15. Travis Konecny; 16. Brendan Gallagher
1. David Pastrnak; 2. Nikita Kucherov; 3. Patrick Kane; 4. Vladimir Tarasenko; 5. Mikko Rantanen; 6. Mark Stone; 7. Mitchell Marner; 8. Blake Wheeler; 9. Travis Konecny; 10. Andrei Svechnikov; 11. Patrik Laine; 12. William Nylander; 13. Brock Boeser; 14. Tyler Toffoli; 15. Jakub Voracek; 16. T.J. Oshie
1. David Pastrnak; 2. Nikita Kucherov; 3. Patrick Kane; 4. Mikko Rantanen; 5. Mark Stone; 6. Mitchell Marner; 7. Blake Wheeler; 8. T.J. Oshie; 9. Brock Boeser; 10. Travis Konecny; 11. Patrick Laine; 12. Kailer Yamamoto; 13. Bryan Rust; 14. Jakub Voracek; 15. Brendan Gallagher; 16. Justin Williams
MIKE G. MORREALE
1. Patrick Kane; 2. Nikita Kucherov; 3. Blake Wheeler; 4. David Pastrnak; 5. Mitchell Marner; 6. Mark Stone; 7. Justin Williams; 8. Vladimir Tarasenko; 9. Jakub Voracek; 10. T.J. Oshie; 11. Patrik Laine; 12. Phil Kessel; 13. Jordan Eberle; 14. Mikko Rantanen; 15. Corey Perry; 16. Brendan Gallagher
1. David Pastrnak; 2. Patrick Kane; 3. Nikita Kucherov; 4. Mikko Rantanen; 5. Vladimir Tarasenko; 6. Mark Stone; 7. Andrei Svechnikov; 8. Blake Wheeler; 9. Mitchell Marner; 10. Patrik Laine; 11. Phil Kessel; 12. Brock Boeser; 13. Jakub Voracek; 14. Bryan Rust; 15. Mats Zuccarello; 16. William Nylander
SHAWN P. ROARKE
1. Patrick Kane; 2. David Pastrnak; 3. Nikita Kucherov; 4. Mikko Rantanen; 5. Blake Wheeler; 6. Vladimir Tarasenko; 7. Mitchell Marner; 8. Mark Stone; 9. Bryan Rust; 10. Andrei Svechnikov; 11. Patrik Laine; 12. Phil Kessel; 13. Brock Boeser; 14. William Nylander; 15. Brendan Gallagher; 16. Jakub Voracek
1. David Pastrnak; 2. Patrick Kane; 3. Nikita Kucherov; 4. Blake Wheeler; 5. Mark Stone; 6. Mikko Rantanen; 7. Vladimir Tarasenko; 8. Mitchell Marner; 9. Patrik Laine; 10. Andrei Svechnikov; 11. Bryan Rust; 12. William Nylander; 13. Travis Konecny; 14. T.J. Oshie; 15. Jakub Voracek; 16. Oliver Bjorkstrand
1. Patrick Kane; 2. Nikita Kucherov; 3. David Pastrnak; 4. Vladimir Tarasenko; 5; Mitchell Marner; 6. Mikko Rantanen; 7. Mark Stone; 8. Jakub Voracek; 9. Phil Kessel; 10. Patrik Laine; 11. Cam Atkinson; 12. Alexander Radulov; 13. Blake Wheeler; 14. William Nylander; 15. T.J. Oshie; 16. Andrei Svechnikov
1. David Pastrnak; 2. Nikita Kucherov; 3. Patrick Kane; 4. Mitchell Marner; 5. Mikko Rantanen; 6. T.J. Oshie; 7. Mark Stone; 8. Blake Wheeler; 9. Andrei Svechnikov; 10. Patrik Laine; 11. Brock Boeser; 12. William Nylander; 13. Travis Konecny; 14. Tom Wilson; 15. Bryan Rust; 16. Jakub Voracek
Slimmed-down Marc Gasol should be a difference-maker for Toronto Raptors – TSN
TORONTO – Spend any amount of time with Marc Gasol and one of the first things you’ll notice about the big Spaniard is his Thumility.
The 35-year-old has a wealth of knowledge on a wide range of subjects – relating to and outside of basketball – and he’s generous enough with his time to share it. Ask him about pick and roll coverage, politics or wine and he’ll gladly fill your notebook.
The one topic that Gasol isn’t especially interested in talking about is: Gasol. Don’t expect the veteran centre to pat himself on the back. After 12 seasons in the NBA, the former Defensive Player of the Year has become quite good at politely swatting away questions that are designed to elicit self-praise.
Ask him about his historic dominance over Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid or Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic and he’ll credit his team’s collective defensive effort. Ask him if he’s thought about his chances of making the Hall of Fame when his illustrious NBA and international careers come to an end and he’ll tell you it hasn’t crossed his mind.
So, when he finally spoke to the media for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to see him quickly shift the conversation away from his recent physical transformation. But, hey, we had to give it a shot.
The legend of ‘Skinny Marc’ started to grow when a photo of the slimmed-down Gasol began to circulate online in June. How did he use the time off to get himself in such great shape?
“It goes with training regimen, goals, sleeping habits, everything,” Gasol told reporters on a Zoom call from the Disney bubble, following the Toronto Raptors’ Wednesday morning practice session. “Obviously, when you’re at home, everything is a lot easier than when you’re on the road and travelling and trying to make everything work and [to] win games.”
Did he lose weight?
“Not really sure. I don’t think that’s really relevant. What’s important. like I said, what we’ll all be measured by is winning games and getting another ring. That’s what we’re all here for. We’re all trying to be in the best situation [individually] to do that.”
Fortunately, at least for our purposes, his teammates and coaches have a lot more to say on the subject of Gasol’s conditioning. Like the rest of us, they saw the photo on social media, but know that images can be deceiving, especially in this day and age. They needed to see it for themselves. When the Raptors reconvened in Fort Myers, Fla., for pre-camp workouts late last month and everybody first saw Gasol, they were stunned.
“I had to do a double take, I won’t lie,” said assistant coach Adrian Griffin. “I was so impressed about the way he looks. He just looks phenomenal.”
“I was shocked seeing him,” guard Patrick McCaw added. “It was like, ‘sheesh,’ I couldn’t really recognize him.”
“The change is that drastic,” said guard Norman Powell. “I make fun of him all the time, [he’s] looking like a soccer player from Barcelona. He looks great, man, he’s moving great, he’s feeling great.”
“He looks like prime Marc to me,” guard Terrence Davis said. “So, I don’t know, man. It’s scary.”
Gasol was in Toronto when Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 on March 11, and the season – followed by most of North American living – was quickly put on hold. After going through an initial round of testing – he didn’t play against Gobert and the Jazz a couple nights earlier, but he was in Utah with the team – and clearing the precautionary quarantine period, Gasol spent the next few months in Spain with his wife and two kids. Knowing he was close to his parents, grandparents and uncles in case of emergency helped give him peace of mind.
The details of his training regimen remain a mystery, but Gasol was clear about his motivation for working himself into tip-top shape.
“It was a frustrating season for me personally because I could never get a rhythm and help the team the way that I should be helping the team,” he said. “As soon as the [the Raptors’] facility closed down, I got together with my team on a phone call and got going on a plan to resolve these ongoing issues.”
Gasol was physically and mentally exhausted when training camp opened last fall. He had played more basketball over the previous year than during any other 12-month span of his life.
After appearing in 53 games with Memphis in 2019-20, he was dealt to Toronto ahead of the February trade deadline – changing teams and moving cities for the first time in his career. He would go on to win his first NBA championship with the Raptors last June (and steal the show at the parade) before joining the Spanish National Team and winning the FIBA World Cup later in the summer. He only took a couple weeks off and then it was back to work.
The fatigue may have affected his play early in the season. He got off to a slow start, particularly on the offensive end of the floor, but was beginning to get his rhythm back when he hurt his left hamstring in a win over Detroit just before Christmas.
The lingering injury cost him 28 games over two separate stints. He made his return in Sacramento – playing 16 minutes and sitting out for rest in Utah the following night – just before the season was suspended, but would have probably been at less than 100 per cent for the duration of the campaign and into the playoffs.
The silver lining and unintended consequence of the hiatus was that it gave banged up and burnt-out players a chance to rest and heal. Few needed it more than Gasol.
It’s going to take most players some time to get back into game shape, and it may take even longer for Gasol on account of his age. Head coach Nick Nurse has been encouraging his players – especially Toronto’s veterans – to “self-monitor” and pull themselves from practice if and when they need a breather. Gasol is one of the guys who have taken him up on that a few times during their first week of practice in the NBA bubble, understanding the importance of easing back after a long layoff.
According to Nurse, Gasol’s hamstring is fully healed. That, in addition to his new physique, should pay dividends for the Raptors when they resume their season in Orlando next month, and then even more come playoff time, given how important Gasol is to their success.
Despite struggling with his shot and then battling injuries, the Raptors have outscored opponents by 10.4 points per 100 possessions with Gasol on the court this season – the best mark among Toronto’s rotation players. Even at less than full speed, he impacts the game with his passing, screen setting, defensive positioning and communication, and high basketball IQ. He’s a hub on both ends of the floor. And now, if he’s a bit quicker on his 35-year-old feet, well, that can’t hurt.
“Maybe the leaner Marc gets to more rebounds, gets him to better defensive positions more quickly,” Nurse said before camp started. “Not that those were a problem [before], but maybe he’s gonna produce more in those [areas now]. Maybe his legs stay in there late in the game for some three-balls. I don’t know. If he can improve, if his conditioning improves him as a player, that’s gonna be a super added bonus for us.”
There’s plenty at stake for Gasol as well. His contract is up after this season and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in the fall. He’s at the back end of his career but he’s proven he still has something left in the tank and can help a team win. But, to little surprise, he says he isn’t thinking about his contractual situation. His goal – same as the motivation for transforming his body – is to help lead the Raptors to another championship.
“I think we’re all here for the same goal and that’s to try to win a ring,” he said, expertly steering away from a question about his upcoming free agency. “Anything outside of that is just not relevant at this moment, it can’t help you and it’s not important. Once we all committed to playing, we’re here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to win.”
NHLTopPlayers: Top Goalies, Nos. 5-1 – NHL.com
From Stanley Cup champions to Vezina Trophy winners to all-stars, the NHL has many great goalies. NHL Network producers and analysts chose the top 10 goalies in the League right now, and Nos. 5-1 were revealed Wednesday in the second of an eight-part series featured on “NHL Tonight.” Here is the list:
5. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues
Binnington has proved that last season was no fluke. In 2018-19, he was a finalist for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year (24-5-1, 1.89 goals-against average, .927 save percentage, five shutouts) and won 16 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help the Blues to their first NHL championship. This season, he was third in the NHL with 30 wins (30-13-7) and had a 2.56 GAA, a .912 save percentage and three shutouts in 50 games (all starts). Binnington also was selected to the 2020 NHL All-Star Game and helped the Blues finish with the best record in the Western Conference (42-19-10, .662 points percentage).
“He’s been fantastic,” NHL Network analyst Mike Rupp said. “When goalies break into the League, some goalies get hot for 20 games and we think they’re the next great [goalie], and then the market kind of corrects itself. Not with this guy though. I love the way he’s come and attacked this season, that’s why the St. Louis Blues are my favorite to win the Stanley Cup again this year.”
4. Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars
Bishop, who was the runner-up to Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Vezina Trophy as the best NHL goalie in 2018-19, had another strong season, going 21-16-4 with a 2.50 GAA, a .920 save percentage and two shutouts to help the Stars earn a playoff berth. After he was 1-4-1 with a 2.84 GAA and .889 save percentage in his first six games, Bishop went 11-2-1 with a 1.70 GAA and .947 in his next 16 games. Over the past three seasons, he is tied for second in the NHL with Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask in GAA (2.33), behind Binnington (2.30), and tied for third in save percentage (.923), behind Arizona Coyotes goalies Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta (each .924). Bishop was a Vezina finalist three times in six seasons from 2013-19.
“I love his game. He’s huge (6-foot-7, 210 pounds), he’s athletic, he’s competitive, he’s down there in Dallas,” Rupp said. “They’ve got a very good structure in front of him, which I think is showing all of his talents. He’s a dominant goalie in the League right now.”
3. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
Hellebuyck went 31-21-5 with a 2.57 GAA, a .922 save percentage and a League-leading six shutouts to help the Jets to a berth in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, when they will play the Calgary Flames. He was tied for first with Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens among NHL goalies in games (58), faced the most shots (1,796), and made the most saves (1,656). Hellebuyck, who allowed two goals or fewer in 32 games this season, has made the most starts (182) and has the second-most wins (109), behind Vasilevskiy (118), in the past three seasons. He was the runner-up to Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators for the Vezina in 2017-18.
“This is a big, bounce-back year for him because we knew how good he was early on, a few years back,” Rupp said. “He was a little bit inconsistent. Well this year, what does he do? This team loses four of their top six defensemen coming into the season, and he is unbelievable. He’s been fantastic, puts the Winnipeg Jets into this preliminary round.”
2. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins
Rask went 26-8-6 and led the NHL with a 2.12 GAA, was second in save percentage (.929), behind Stars goalie Anton Khudobin (.930), and was tied for second with Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights with five shutouts. He, along with Jaroslav Halak, helped Boston win the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the NHL (167). Rask allowed two or fewer goals in 27 of 41 games and began the season with a 20-game point streak on home ice for the Bruins (14-0-6), who won the Presidents’ Trophy with the best record in the NHL (44-14-12, .714). Over the past seven seasons, he is second in wins (225), behind Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (245), and GAA (2.30), trailing Bishop (2.28), and is tied for third in save percentage (.920) among goalies who played at least 100 games.
“Tuukka Rask has probably been the most consistent guy on this list over the last number of years,” Rupp said. “He always seems to be at the top in every statistical category. This guy never gets the full love in Boston. I don’t think he will until probably he’s the goalie in between the pipes when they win Stanley Cup. But I love him, he’s been very consistent in recent years.”
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
After winning the Vezina last season, Vasilevskiy (35-14-3) led the NHL in wins for the third straight season. He had a 2.56 GAA, a .917 save percentage and three shutouts, and allowed two goals or fewer in 27 of 57 games to help the Lightning qualify for the playoffs. He had a 21-game point streak from Dec. 17-Feb. 15 (19-0-2) and helped Tampa Bay win at least 10 straight games twice this season. Vasilevskiy leads the NHL in wins (118) and is tied for first with Fleury in shutouts (17) over the past three seasons, and he is fourth in save percentage (.921) among goalies who played at least 100 games over that span.
“The Tampa Bay Lightning are trying to play better defensive hockey under (coach) Jon Cooper now, but the reality is, [Vasilevskiy] still sees a lot of stuff that he shouldn’t see.” Rupp said. “He’s big (6-3, 216), he’s athletic, he’s competitive. He’s the most dominant goalie in the National Hockey League and has been for a couple of years.”
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