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What the Jays need most as the deadline approaches – TSN

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No team is as good as they look when they are at their best, or as bad as they look when the play their worst. The month of July has been a bit of a roller coaster for the Toronto Blue Jays. Remember, in this month alone, the Jays have lost nine of 10 games and won nine of 10 games. They have looked their best and their worst. So, will the real Toronto Blue Jays please stand up!

With the trade deadline just a few days away, general manager Ross Atkins is hunting for ways to improve his club. Not only to get to the playoffs, but win once they arrive as well. Nothing about their recent hot streak will dissuade him from making moves to improve his team. The losing streak is still fresh in his mind. He knows how quickly things can turn. 

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The team needs have not changed much during the month of July. In order of priority, the Jays need: another starting pitcher, bullpen depth and one big bat. The pitching needs are most critical.

Ideally, they would trade for a front-of-the-rotation guy who could take the ball in a playoff series and win a big game. If they don’t land an ace, then they need a second-tier starter who can predictably give them a chance to win every outing. If they settle for a lesser starter, then they should focus on acquiring stronger relievers. They could really use another left-handed reliever who can get big outs in the 8th or 9th innings. They need a veteran reliever who can save the game at any point of the game. Sometimes games need to be saved in the 6th and 7th innings. This lefty would be a complement to Jordan Romano in high-leverage situations. 

Offensively, Toronto could use another big bat in the lineup. Realistically, that hitter would mostly serve as a designated hitter. Ideally, he would bat left-handed to better balance the lineup, which is a bit right-hand dominant. Or, even better, he would be a switch-hitter. But mostly, they just need him to be a good professional hitter. 

Reading the trade market

When general managers are making their calls this time of the year, they are juggling a number of parallel negotiations. GMs have to have a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and Plan D for each need they are looking to fill. So, Atkins has to identify who the best starter, reliever and hitter may be for this team. But the reality is that no team has the prospect capital, financial flexibility or good fortune to get the best available players in multiple areas of need. In their conversations with other clubs, general managers are gauging the fit for the players they are considering acquiring: the cost of the acquisition and the timing of when a deal can happen.

It is a juggling act trying to stay involved in all of the discussions while navigating for the best outcome as of 6:00 p.m. ET on Aug. 2. 

Atkins will have to weigh his ability to get Reds ace Luis Castillo or A’s starter Frankie Montas for the starting rotation. Knowing that if he gets one of them it will cost so much that he will have to likely settle for lesser relievers and offensive help. If he can’t get one of the aces, then he will have to make sure he gets a stronger reliever tandem and hitter. If he gets a lesser starter and can’t land the relievers he would prefer, then the quality of the hitter should be higher. There are a bunch of moving parts that call for the general manager to be nimble and smart. There is an art to keeping every deal alive and calculating what is the best combination of players to acquire and at what cost. 

It is critical that the Jays make moves to address their needs. Have you ever sat in a car in a traffic jam and experienced a feeling like you were rolling backwards, but it was just an illusion because the movement was actually the cars next to you rolling forward? That’s what it feels like at the trade deadline when the teams around your club in the standings are making deals and improving and you are not. It feels like you have gotten worse. General managers recognize that feeling and its impact. Players want to see effort and commitment from their front office.  As a general manager, I couldn’t throw a pitch or hit the ball. But at the trade deadline it was my time to compete. 

I wanted to win the deadline. 

I knew there were other good teams and aggressive general managers, but I believed a GM who made the right deals could manipulate the roster in a way to get his club to the playoffs and win. Look at the Atlanta Braves last season. Former Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos added four outfielders at the deadline (Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson and Jorge Soler) and shortly after they passed the Mets, who had been in first place for over 100 days. They rode the wave of momentum all the way to a World Championship.

Demand exceeding supply this year?

The expanded playoff format adds another interesting twist to the trade deadline. There are now six teams in each league that will make the playoffs; the three division winners and three wild cards. The top two division winners by record get a bye in the first round while the third division winner plays the third wild card club and the first and second wild card teams play each other. The higher seeded teams will host all of the games in a best-of-three series.   

The law of supply and demand applies to baseball like it does to the economy. The more teams that are in the playoff chase, the greater the demand for player acquisitions at the trade deadline. The asking price by sellers will be marginally higher for talent this year because of the greater opportunity to play in October.  

An example is the Yankees’ acquisition of Royals outfielder Andrew Benintendi Wednesday night. The Yankees need starting pitching and bullpen help and a left-handed hitting outfielder.  There was speculation that they would be all-in on Nationals outfielder Juan Soto. Instead, Yankee GM Brian Cashman made a pre-emptive strike to get Benintendi. Cashman realized his greater need is pitching over offence (they have scored the most runs in baseball). So, rather than put all his eggs in the Soto basket, he made a deal to get his Plan B option. He moved quickly before some of the teams on the bubble decide whether they are buyers or sellers. 

Cashman read the supply and demand scale in the market. He also had to prioritize his needs. By making the deal for the Plan B outfielder, he still has impact prospects to put toward pitching upgrades. Now there is one less outfielder on the market, so as the supply drops, the price will go up for others to acquire a bat. In the meantime, Cashman can use his remaining trade chips in the pitching market. 

Whatever team wins the World Series in 2022, trade deadline acquisitions will likely be a big reason why they were successful. I can’t wait to see which moves prove to be the most impactful.

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Panthers Pounce to 3-0 Win Over Oilers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

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The Florida Panthers have drawn first blood in the NHL Stanley Cup Final with a commanding performance. Carter Verhaeghe fired up the Panthers with a goal on their first shot of the game, leading to a decisive 3-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers at Amerant Bank Arena.

Evan Rodrigues added to the tally with his fourth goal of the playoffs, capitalizing on a dump-and-chase play that left Oilers’ defensemen Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci scrambling. Rodrigues found himself wide open in front of the net and sent the puck soaring over goaltender Stuart Skinner’s shoulder, making it 2-0 in the second period.

Forward Eetu Luostarinen sealed the deal with an empty net goal late in the third period, finalizing the score at 3-0.

The Panthers will look to maintain their momentum in Game 2 of the seven-game series, which takes place Monday in Sunrise, Fla. at 6 p.m.

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Rangers stay unbeaten in post-season, take 3-0 stranglehold on Hurricanes

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The New York Rangers took a stranglehold on the Carolina Hurricanes with a 3-0 lead in their second-round series thanks to a 3-2 overtime win on Thursday night.

It was an absolute heartbreaker for the Hurricanes, who tied things up with 1:36 to go in the third period, to the absolute delight of their raucous home crowd in Raleigh. But fewer than two minutes into overtime, Artemi Panarin deflected one in to give New York the win, sucking the air out of PNC Arena.

This is the seventh straight win for New York, who are perfect these playoffs after sweeping Washington in Round 1.

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Carolina badly outshot New York for the third straight game, and got nothing in return for its efforts. Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin was again his team’s best player.

Panarin’s tipper gives Rangers the overtime win in Game 3

Here are our takeaways from New York’s incredible seventh straight playoff win:

Good start for the Canes, Guentzel heating up

This game felt promising for Carolina early on, and it was Jake Guentzel who gave the Hurricanes the 1-0 lead midway through the first, tipping in a Dmitry Orlov point shot.

The Caniac fans lost it and the smoke machines went off after that, and PNC Arena was rocking.

The 29-year-old Guentzel is heating up, as he’s been known to do this time of year, with three goals in the last two games. He now has 65 points in 65 career playoff games.

Bad blood

There was a bit of an on-ice rumble late in the first, and it resulted in four penalties — two for each team.

Penalties handed to Rangers, Hurricanes as emotions run high

It started when Rangers centre Barclay Goodrow skated in hard and gave Hurricanes goalie Pyotr Kochetkov a poke on the glove, and that set everybody off. Jimmy Vesey went after Orlov. Goodrow starting yapping at the Hurricanes bench, who had plenty to say back. A bunch of skirmishes went on, and then Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Vesey threw their gloves down to fight, but the refs quickly broke that up.

During a TV timeout, Hurricanes defender Tony DeAngelo dropped his gloves while he was standing in front of his bench, yelling at a bunch of Rangers standing in front of their bench.

Tensions were high.

Big test for Kochetkov

After two straight losses to open this series, the Hurricanes opted to give Frederik Andersen a rest, and turned to Kochetkov.

It marked Kochetkov’s first game this post-season, and his second playoff start ever. The 24-year-old Russian netminder hadn’t started a game since April 14.

He wasn’t tested a whole lot early, but Kochetkov came up with some big saves in the game, including a beautiful poke-check on Filip Chytil, who returned to New York’s lineup after being out with an injury since January.

Kochetkov gave his team a chance to win on Thursday, and had 22 saves in the loss.

Shorty equalizer

As if the Hurricanes power play wasn’t woeful enough — 0-14 in this series so far — the Rangers tied things up in the second period while a man down.

Zibanejad and Kreider connect to score shorthanded goal

Off a broken play, Mika Zibanejad picked up the puck off the boards and headed up the left wing, while Chris Kreider drove to the net like a rocket. Zibanejad hit him with a nice little saucer pass, which Kreider deflected off his backhand to beat Kochetkov five-hole.

Kreider then launched himself into the glass in celebration — a 32-inch vertical, as measured by Sportsnet’s Hockey Central panel. None of the Carolina fans in those front rows liked that jump one bit.

Kreider now has three goals in the last two games.

Quick release go-ahead goal

Panarin fought off a check and managed to shovel a backhand pass over to Alexis Lafreniere, and the 22-year-old got his wrist shot off immediately, firing it through the legs of the defender, and into the top corner, glove side, to give the Rangers their first lead in this game, 6:25 into the third.

Lafreniere gives Rangers lead with one-time snipe in Game 3

It was Lafreniere’s third goal of the post-season, and he’s now riding a four-game point streak.

There were a few Rangers fans sitting in the front row, and they were all on their feet, and an amped-up Lafreniere skated over there during his celebration and yelled, “What’s up!” while he got hugs from his teammates.

What was up? The Rangers were, 2-1.

Svechnikov comes up huge

The game-tying goal came from just the guy you expected to pot it: Andrei Svechnikov.

The winger had been buzzing all game, creating opportunities with his size and speed and hands, and this one came after Carolina had pulled their goalie, with just 1:36 on the clock and fans on their feet.

Svechnikov scores late tying goal to force OT in Game 3

Svechnikov pounced on a rebound in the slot and beat Svechnikov on the blocker side, sending those fans into an absolute tizzy and eventually sending this game into overtime.

Breadman the OT hero

Last game’s hero in double-OT, Vincent Trochek, picked up a rim around the boards and dished it over to Panarin, and with a quick deflection, that was that. This one was over just 1:43 into overtime.

Panarin ran on the ice, then pretended to kick a field goal just before his teammates covered him with hugs.

Game 4 is Saturday at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT on Sportsnet at PNC Arena.

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Toronto pounds Minnesota with 4-0 win in PWHL playoff opening

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PWHL Toronto forward Sarah Nurse defends the puck from PWHL Minnesota defender Sophie Jaques as PWHL Toronto takes on PWHL Minnesota in the inaugural playoff game at Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto on May 8.Sammy Kogan�/The Globe and Mail

For the top-seeded team from Toronto, the first playoff game in the Professional Women’s Hockey League was everything it could have asked for.

In front of a packed house of 8,473 on Wednesday night, Toronto pounded Minnesota 4-0 in the opening game of their best-of-five series – the initial glimpse of playoff hockey in this breakout new league.

Natalie Spooner etched her name in the history books for the second time this year, as the PWHL’s inaugural scoring champ scored the league’s first postseason goal. Toronto captain Blayre Turnbull had a two-goal night.

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It was the league’s first game inside Coca-Cola Coliseum – a move prompted by big ticket demand in the city to see this team. Toronto had played its regular-season home games at 2,500-seat Mattamy Athletic Centre this season and sold out each one.

The PWHL says it has not yet made any decisions about where the Toronto team will play home games next season. But it’s hard to imagine a better audition for the franchise to play more often at Coca-Cola Coliseum, home of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, than Wednesday’s game. The crowd was engaged, dotted heavily with blue jerseys, families, and lots of young girls with handmade signs with message such as, “MY PWHL.” Tickets for the game – ranging from $32 to $117 – were hard to secure. Most, outside a few in standing room, sold out in minutes.

The Toronto team expected to pack the place, especially after selling out the NHL rink in town for one game earlier this year.

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PWHL Toronto players celebrate forward Natalie Spooner’s first goal of the game.Sammy Kogan�/The Globe and Mail

“Having home crowds like that really helps calm the nerves,” said Turnbull. “We kind of knew what to expect, after our game at Scotiabank [Arena], and then having these games sell out just as quickly as that one did.”

The league is exploring getting Toronto PWHL into a bigger home rink next season, if even for some games. Teams had 12 home dates in the first season’s 24-game schedule, but that will grow to a 30-game schedule next season, with 15 dates at home.

Per a unique PWHL playoff rule, top-seeded Toronto got to pick its first-round opponent, either fourth-seeded Minnesota or third-seeded Boston. The team from the State of Hockey was determined to make Toronto pay for that choice, but in fact, in Game 1, Minnesota didn’t at all resemble the star-powered group they had been at times earlier this year.

The past few days had not been comfy for Minnesota. The team backed into the playoffs, not on its own win, but thanks to a loss by Ottawa on Sunday. That’s when Minnesota learned it qualified for the playoffs. Then Toronto had 24 hours to decide who to play, leaving the other three playoff teams swinging for a day, waiting to make travel plans. The PWHL’s teams travel commercially, so Minnesota left home bright and early Tuesday for Toronto.

Spooner opened the scoring midway through the first period, when the Canadian Olympic gold medalist floated in on the wing and fired a wrist shot past Minnesota goalie Nicole Hensley, nestling it just inside the post. It was the Scarborough native’s 21st of the season in Game No. 25.

The stadium DJ blared Toronto’s goal song, Lady Gaga’s Applause, by now synonymous with the PWHL’s top-scoring team. A sign from one fan celebrated the 33-year-old player who juggles a toddler son: “Spooner=Mom Power.”

Minutes later, after doing a quick on-bench interview, Spooner was back on the ice, pouncing on a mid-ice turnover and racing in for a breakaway with a defender clinging to her. Minnesota thwarted that chance and was tracking Spooner’s every step, but she wiggled loose to make things happen all night.

Emma Maltais scored Toronto’s second goal, early in the second period. Sarah Nurse carried it end to end then dished a pass to Maltais, who cajoled Hensley across her crease then tucked it in the five-hole.

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Toronto captain Blayre Turnbull had a two-goal night.Sammy Kogan�/The Globe and Mail

Spooner set up Toronto’s third goal, delivering a pass across the mouth of the net to Turnbull, who directed it in. Turnbull added another goal in the third. Toronto’s firepower was too much.

“Anytime Spooner has the puck and she’s close to the net, she’s either putting an accurate shot where the goalie is not, or she’s making a hard pass to someone’s blade,” said Turnbull. “Snytime she has the puck in the ozone, you know, she’s a threat.”

Toronto used depth, looked like a team balanced, confident and sturdy enough to weather a playoff run. Even the 13th forward got decent minutes. No need to lean too heavily on stars just yet.

“The success of our team is in the variance,” said Toronto Coach Ryan.

Minnesota – a talented squad spotted with U.S. national team stars, from Kendall Coyne Schofield to Grace Zumwinkle and No. 1 draft pick Taylor Heise – had chances. It outshot Toronto 26-19, 11-4 in just the second period.

But Toronto goalie Kristen Campbell kicked away or absorbed Minnesota’s attempts, including a slapper by Zumwinkle at close range. As Toronto fans have all season, they reacted to Campbell’s saves by hollering SOUP!

Toronto’s league-leading penalty kill was staunch again, denying Minnesota some prime opportunities.

As it has all year, Toronto blared Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 after securing the win, a nod to the women who now make a living playing hockey.

Game 2 will take place Friday in Toronto before the series swings to Saint Paul, Minn.

Boston and Montreal will play Game 1 of the other semi-final series at Place Bell, an AHL rink that seats more than 10,000, on Thursday in Laval, Que. Game 2 in the Toronto series is Friday night.

The final two teams will battle for the Walter Cup later this month.

With the playoff audience tuned in on Wednesday, the PWHL released some data on its inaugural season: total attendance of 392,259 for its 72 games; more than 40 corporate sponsorships; one million social-media followers and 238 million total impressions; plus 100,000 subscribers to its YouTube channel, with viewers from 88 countries.

 

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