So, that’s what a $6.1-million smile looks like.
WINNIPEG — The dress rehearsals are finally done. Now it’s time to make the difficult decisions.
As the Winnipeg Jets have wrapped up the exhibition season with a record of 2-3-1 after a 3-1 loss to the Calgary Flames, the final cuts are about to be made and the fact of the matter is that a few of those decisions will be made with a focus on a calculator — and not only by a scouting report or analysis of how the player fared during the final stages of training camp.
Tough choices are the kind that contending teams are happy to make and, for the Jets, they’ve got a few interesting wrinkles to work through as the 2021-22 season opens in Anaheim with a game against the Ducks on Wednesday.
When you consider three of the remaining players in camp are injured (Dylan Samberg, Nelson Nogier and CJ Suess), that leaves 25 guys for 23 spots but it’s not that simple.
One of those 25 is forward Evgeny Svechnikov, who is on a pro tryout offer (and signed an AHL contract with the Manitoba Moose during the off-season after he was discarded by the Detroit Red Wings).
Svechnikov suited up in five games and did an excellent job, showcasing a dynamic shot and skill set while also using his size.
The expectation is that Svechnikov will sign a two-way contract during the coming days at somewhere near the league minimum of $750,000 — which would allow the Jets the maximum amount of flexibility.
He remains in the mix with Dominic Toninato to open the campaign on the fourth line with Riley Nash and Jansen Harkins, the lone Jets player to appear in all six exhibition contests.
The other issue at play is related to how the opening-day roster can maximize the long-term injury reserve pie — and the Jets can do that by getting as close to the $81.5 million ceiling as possible before Bryan Little is shifted to LTIR.
Lastly, because top-line centre Mark Scheifele is going to miss the season opener as he serves the final game of his suspension, the Jets are likely going to start the campaign with 23 skaters — but they’ll spend ample time with 22 instead this season.
Since centre prospect David Gustafsson sat out the final two exhibition games, he’s a good bet to be assigned to the Moose.
Same goes for defenceman Ville Heinola, who is presently the eighth defenceman on the Jets’ depth chart.
Both of those players are knocking on the door, but it’s important for them to play prominent roles and big minutes, not hold spots on the edges of this roster, where ice time is limited.
Of course that will be disappointing initially, but when players dominate in the minors, opportunities often present themselves sooner rather than later.
Which brings us to another top prospect, forward Cole Perfetti, who left a lasting impression and showed that he is probably closer to NHL duty than even Paul Maurice anticipated.
Perfetti was mostly used at centre during his first NHL training camp, but he shifted seamlessly to the wing for the exhibition finale.
Not only did he generate offensive opportunities for himself and linemates Adam Lowry and Paul Stastny on Friday night, Perfetti was defensively responsible and showed his versatility.
Although his most likely destination is the AHL, Perfetti has at the very least given Maurice and his coaching staff pause to consider using him in the opener thanks in part to Scheifele’s absence.
With Stastny expected to move up to the top line with Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler, Perfetti showed he would be comfortable on the wing with Lowry, should Maurice decide to call his number for his NHL debut.
“You’re looking for kind of a future, right? Do you think he can play the position at some point,” Maurice told reporters in Calgary on Friday night. “He’s played centre, obviously, and he’s also played some right-wing and I thought, from that point of view, I thought he had a good handle on what he needed to accomplish over there. He did some really good things with the puck. He’s got a lot of confidence with it. He’s got a nice set of hands on him. So that’s a positive for him, it’s another place he can play.
“There was enough in the game to be interested. To sit there and say there’s something there. That there’s a place other than centre ice he could go to if you needed him.”
For his part, Perfetti was happy with his personal progression throughout training camp and he’s done everything in his power to make the decision as difficult as possible for the coaching staff and management team.
Although playing a more prominent role in the minors is the most likely outcome, Perfetti is clearly knocking on the door and those flashes of potential have only heightened the anticipation of his arrival on the scene — whenever that time comes.
“I thought that was my best game. I created lots and was engaged and made a lot of plays. I was happy with that,” Perfetti told reporters. “There are obviously things I want to improve on and it’s just going to be the experience of taking time and playing every game that I can get and just learning. I’m taking a step in the right direction every game I feel and it’s getting a little bit more comfortable, so I’m happy with that. But there’s lots more (to accomplish).”
That’s the thing about Perfetti, because of his ability to process the game and willingness to ask questions in his quest for higher learning, he’s probably going to accomplish his goal before long.
Whether he’s done enough to get into the lineup on opening night remains to be seen, but he’s just getting started.
“He’s a shy, quiet kid that loves the game and has a knack for… has a high hockey IQ and has skill and has the want to be better and I love seeing that in a kid nowadays,” Scheifele said in a recent interview. “Sometimes you see kids that are so infatuated with what they’re doing, their skill work or whatever it is. He’s a guy that wants to learn the game and how the pro game works and to live like a pro.
“That’s what I really respect about him, that he wants to learn, he wants to be an NHLer, he wants to learn from all the older guys. He wants to be a sponge and absorb everything. He knows that he doesn’t know it all and he wants to make his game better. He reminds me of myself when I was that age. He gets excited about every game and he gets nervous about every game and it’s something you love to see in a young kid coming into their first real NHL training camp, where they’re just excited to play. They want to soak everything up. They want to be the best player they can be.”
As for the coming days, now it’s about drilling into the details for the Jets — a fine-tuning of the systems, some further work on special teams and setting the lines for that season opener.
Training camp is officially over and the fun is about to begin.
CLEVELAND (AP) — Baker Mayfield had the best seat in the house to watch the Browns’ backups deliver.
Case Keenum stepped in for an injured Mayfield and made the most of his first start in two years, third-string back D’Ernest Johnson rushed for 146 yards and Cleveland overcame a short week and a long list of injuries to beat the Denver Broncos 17-14 on Thursday night.
Keenum didn’t put up impressive stats (21 of 33 for 199 yards), but threw a touchdown pass and did enough — as did Cleveland’s maligned defense — to get the Browns (4-3) a much-needed victory.
They survived without Mayfield, who sat out with a shoulder injury and could miss more time.
“Unfortunately, some people are going to get hurt,” Keenum said after his first win since 2019. “At the same time, you love other young guys getting chances.”
Johnson, playing because stars Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt were both out with calf injuries, had the best game of his young career. He scored on a 4-yard run in the first half and picked up 52 yards on seven carries as the Browns chewed up the final 5:17 after the Broncos pulled within three.
Once he reached the end zone, Johnson wasn’t sure how to react.
“It’s unexplainable,” he said. “I wanted to celebrate but I didn’t know what to do. It’s been a long journey.”
The Broncos couldn’t stop Johnson and now they can’t stop losing, either.
“The last drive was very frustrating,” Denver coach Vic Fangio said. “We loaded up against the run and we couldn’t stop them.”
Afterward, Johnson, who worked on a fishing boat when he wasn’t drafted, got doused with water by his teammates in a raucous locker room celebration.
Johnson couldn’t believe that NBA superstar LeBron James tweeted about him in the game’s final minutes.
“LeBron?” he said. “Man, that’s my favorite basketball player. LeBron? That’s amazing. That means a lot. Wow!”
Denver quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw a pair of TD passes and gutted it out while playing with foot and quadriceps injuries. He finished 23 of 33 for 187 yards with one interception.
The Broncos (3-4) dropped their fourth straight game, and maybe as importantly, lost star linebacker Von Miller to a sprained ankle. The eight-time Pro Bowler missed all of 2020 with a dislodged ankle tendon.
Miller got hurt late in the first half when he banged legs with teammate Dre’Mont Jones while rushing Keenum.
Mayfield, who has been playing with a torn labrum, also has a broken bone in his non-throwing shoulder but believes he can continue to play with it, a person familiar with the quarterback’s health told the Associated Press.
Mayfield hopes the injury improves enough in coming days days that he can play against Pittsburgh on Oct. 31, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
The fourth-year QB revealed the break in his humerus bone — which runs from his shoulder to elbow — to Fox during the network’s pregame show.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski did not get into any specifics about Mayfield’s injury, but said it was “too far away” to know if the QB will be back next week.
Until he’s ready, Keenum showed he can keep the Browns going forward.
So did Johnson, an unlikely hero.
“A guy like him, who the locker room loves and everybody loves — a great young family and just a good overall person,” Keenum said. “To come in here and having an incredible night like that and make some big time plays for us on a national stage, very pumped for him. It was exciting.”
After Bridgewater’s 8-yard TD pass to Melvin Gordon brought the Broncos within 10-7 in the third quarter, Keenum directed a 13-play, 75-yard drive he capped with a 1-yard scoring pass to fullback Johnny Stanton IV.
Keenum made the biggest play on the drive, converting a fourth-and-3 play with a 5-yard scramble to Denver’s 1.
The 33-year-old, who last started for Washington two years ago, was excited about the opportunity to play, saying Wednesday he was “built for this” and Keenum showed he’s more than capable of filling in.
Browns receiver Jarvis Landry had five catches for 37 yards in his first action since missing four games with a sprained knee. He was activated a few hours before the opening kick.
OBJ JUST OK
Odell Beckham Jr. had a forgettable night.
The Cleveland star receiver, who didn’t practice this week due to a shoulder injury, had a drop, got called for an illegal formation and was briefly out of the game after banging his shoulder — all in the first half.
Beckham bounced back with two receptions in the third quarter.
Broncos: ILB Micha Kiser (groin) left in the first quarter. Denver was already thin at linebacker after placing Alexander Johnson and Andre Mintze on injured reserve earlier this week.
Browns: WR Donovan People-Jones suffered a groin injury during pregame warmups and didn’t play. … CB Denzel Ward injured his left hamstring in the fourth quarter. … Cleveland was also missing starting RT Jack Conklin, who missed his second straight game with a knee injury.
Broncos: Host Washington on Oct. 31.
Browns: A much-welcomed extra few days off to heal before facing rival Pittsburgh on Halloween.
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
LOS ANGELES — Chris Taylor hit three homers and drove in six runs as the Los Angeles Dodgers broke loose at the plate to beat Atlanta 11-2 on Thursday, cutting the Braves’ lead to 3-2 in the best-of-seven NL Championship Series.
AJ Pollock had two home runs and four RBIs for the defending champion Dodgers, who have won seven straight postseason elimination games dating to last season. They also trailed 0-2 and 1-3 against Atlanta in the NLCS last year before rallying to win three straight at a neutral site in Texas.
“We needed to make a statement,” Taylor said. “They put it on us yesterday. We had to respond.”
Game 6 is Saturday back in Atlanta, where the Braves get two more chances to clinch their first trip to the World Series since 1999.
After mustering just four hits during a 9-2 loss in Game 4 that pushed them to the brink of elimination, the desperate Dodgers rapped out eight hits by the third inning off Max Fried. They finished with 17, a club record for a postseason game, and also equaled a postseason franchise mark with five home runs.
The Dodgers got to Fried with four consecutive hits in the second. Pollock hit a tying homer and Taylor drove the first pitch he saw to left field, putting Los Angeles in front for good, 3-2.
Starting in place of injured Justin Turner at third base, Taylor became the second Dodgers player with a three-homer game in the postseason. Kike Hernandez also did it in Game 5 of the 2017 NLCS against the Chicago Cubs.
“First time I’ve ever done it,” Taylor said. “It’s kind of surreal.”
Taylor had an RBI single in the third to make it 4-2. He went deep in the fifth, sending an 0-2 pitch from Chris Martin to center field and extending the lead to 6-2.
Taylor homered again in the seventh, taking Dylan Lee out to left-center before taking a curtain call in the dugout.
“I never look cool doing anything,” Taylor said.
The versatile veteran had an opportunity to match the major league mark of four home runs in a game, but struck out swinging to end the eighth.
“I was trying not to think about it,” Taylor said. “Usually I’m just trying to hit line drives.”
The mild-mannered Taylor also hit a game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth inning against St. Louis in the NL wild-card game.
Albert Pujols wasn’t just hugging, he was hitting, too.
The 41-year-old slugger got on base three times, including a walk, and scored twice on Taylor’s homers. He got two singles for his third and fourth hits of the postseason in his second start. He had two hits in the NL Division Series against San Francisco.
Pujols has taken to greeting his much younger teammates with bear hugs in the dugout after home runs, and they kept him busy.
Los Angeles got a clutch performance from its bullpen after opener Joe Kelly allowed a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman in the first and soon exited after 28 pitches with tightness in his right biceps that will sideline him for the rest of the postseason.
Evan Phillips, Alex Vesia, Brusdar Graterol, Blake Treinen, Corey Knebel and Kenley Jansen combined to allow just three hits the rest of the way.
Phillips struck out three in 1 1/3 innings and was credited with the win.
Atlanta’s Eddie Rosario, who homered twice in his second four-hit game of the NLCS in Game 4, went 2 for 4 with a strikeout.
Pitching in his hometown, Fried gave up five runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. The left-hander struck out three and walked two.
“I wasn’t executing on the corners like I normally do and when you leave the balls over the middle, normally damage happens,” Fried said.
In the feast-or-famine nature of the Dodgers’ offense, Cody Bellinger went 3 for 4 with a strikeout and NL batting champion Trea Turner was 3 for 4 with an RBI single in a four-run eighth capped by Pollock’s three-run homer. But Mookie Betts and Corey Seager were a combined 2 for 10.
“We’re up 3-2 and we’re going home,” Freeman said. “That’s a great position to be in. We’re going to be just fine.”
Taylor set a Dodgers postseason record with 13 total bases, most by any major leaguer in an elimination game. He became the 11th player to hit three home runs in a postseason game, a list that also includes Pujols and Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and George Brett. Babe Ruth accomplished the feat twice. Taylor became the first to do it for a team facing elimination.
Braves: OF Jorge Soler was activated after being out following his positive COVID-19 test. He struck out swinging as a pinch-hitter in the eighth.
Dodgers: Justin Turner was replaced on the NLCS roster by INF Andy Burns after straining his left hamstring while running to first in the seventh inning Wednesday. To make room on the 40-man roster, RHP Edwin Uceta was designated for assignment.
RHP Ian Anderson goes for the Braves in Game 6. RHP Max Scherzer starts for the Dodgers.
So, that’s what a $6.1-million smile looks like.
The biggest smile in the Bell Centre Thursday night was on Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s face after he scored the third goal for the Hurricanes in a 4-1 win over the Canadiens.
It was Kotkaniemi’s first point in three games this season after agreeing to a $6.1-million offer sheet from the Hurricanes that the Canadiens decided not to match and it helped Carolina improve its record to 3-0-0, while the Canadiens fell to 0-5-0.
There were no smiles on the Canadiens’ faces after the game. They have now been outscored 19-4 this season are are 1-for-19 on the power. The Canadiens went 1-for-6 against the Hurricanes with Tyler Toffoli scoring their first power-play goal of the season to cut the Hurricanes’ lead to 2-1 at 17:57 of the second period.
Kotkaniemi deflected in a shot to make it 3-1 at 9:23 of the third period and Sebastian Aho scored his second of the night into an empty net to seal the Carolina victory with 39 seconds left. The same Sebastian Aho Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin tried to get out of Carolina with a five-year, US$42.295-million offer sheet two years ago that the Hurricanes matched. Aho also had an assist.
“It’s tough right now,” the Canadiens’ Nick Suzuki said after the game. “The confidence for our group just seems to be low. There’s plays that we make all the time and we’re just not executing them. It’s definitely a tough patch. We had some of these my first (year) and even last year, these stretches. Good teams find a way to get out of it. We need to really bounce back.”
Suzuki is still looking for his first goal this season, as is every other player on the Canadiens with the exception of Jonathan Drouin (who has two), Chris Wideman and Toffoli.
“This is the NHL … it’s not easy to score goals,” said Toffoli, who led the Canadiens with 28 goals in 52 games last season. “We’re trying. We’re slowly getting there. Not necessarily time’s running out, but we got to come together and capitalize on our opportunities.”
The Canadiens appeared to take a 1-0 lead at 5:33 of the first period when Brendan Gallagher deflected in a point shot on the power play, but the goal didn’t count after a video review for goalie interference.
“It’s such a fine line,” Toffoli said about goalie interference. “I’m not here to complain. But one game it’s a goal and the next game it’s not. It’s definitely frustrating. For Gally, too, that’s how he scores his goals.
“It’s not an easy job,” Toffoli added about the video judges. “Whatever their decision was is what we had to go with and you can’t use that as an excuse. We got to find a way. It’s still early in the game and there’s no excuse for it.”
The Canadiens were outshot 33-28, but they had plenty of chances to score.
“We’re working at it as much as we can,” Josh Anderson said. “There was multiple chances there in the blue paint. We just couldn’t finish the puck. We got a goal called back. But we just got to keep grinding away. We got 20 guys in that locker room each and every night. You got to keep working at it and fight through together and once you do go on a roll from there.”
Suzuki admitted the frustration level is growing in the Canadiens’ locker room as the losses pile up without any wins.
“When everyone gets frustrated you start to get on different pages and that’s never a good thing for a hockey team,” he said. “It’s definitely really frustrating right now. Somehow we have to find a way to get that first one in. But we started the game well, some pucks just didn’t go in the net or they were right in the crease.
“It’s a team game and when a team has success all the players have success and you start having fun,” Suzuki added. “It hasn’t been fun losing all these games. We just need to find our first one and I think we can get the ball rolling and get a pile of confidence back and really help the team out.”
Kotkaniemi looks like he’s having a lot of fun with the Hurricanes. He was at left wing on the first line with fellow Finns Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, logging 12:58 of ice time with three shots and three hits to go along with his goal.
“I like his potential, for sure,” Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme said after Thursday’s morning skate when asked what he liked about Kotkaniemi during his time in Montreal. “I think at times he really showed that. Being consistent is hard for a young player and going through those ups and downs. But he’s a good kid. He’s liked by his teammates.
“I’ve said it before, I wish I could have kept working with him but I understand his situation where they put that pile of money on the table for him. He said yes. Who would have said no?”
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