Why the Maple Leafs should keep the core-four intact heading into next season

Keeping the core four together — some like the idea, others don’t.
After another first-round playoff exit by the Maple Leafs, I can understand both sides of the argument. If Toronto keeps losing, it doesn’t make sense to keep going with the same players over and over again. However, there’s always the possibility that these four have success in a Maple Leafs uniform.
It just might take some time and patience.
Do you want to keep going down one hallway until you find the magic door that takes you to the promise land or do you want to open a door halfway down with the possibility of inching forwards or backwards?
If you want to test the door halfway, you’re likely someone who wouldn’t be opposed to trading a player like William Nylander. If you’d like to wait, well, your perspective aligns with those of Maple Leafs’ management.
There were two sayings said by GM Kyle Dubas and President Brendan Shanahan that stood out to me during their final media availability of the season. They’re not trading someone for the sake of it and that they’re core is bigger than just the four players.
We classify Nylander, Auston …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

Report from the Rock: Growlers bend but refuse to break in second round

It sounds like something out of fiction, but this statement is very real: in 2022, a hockey team under the MLSE banner is going to the Eastern Conference Finals.
There were times when it looked like the train had run out of track, and it came down to an unprecedented show of determination to get it done, but the Newfoundland Growlers have emerged from the ECHL North Division victorious over the Reading Royals in seven games.
“It could’ve went either way,” said coach Eric Wellwood after Game 7. “The series was a bit of a coin flip and we were fortunate to get through (Reading).”
The Growlers’ already strong forward group was strengthened before the series began via the Toronto Marlies assigning Pavel Gogolev back to the team. Gogolev was loaned to the Growlers in March and put up an impressive 20 points in 14 games before he was recalled to Toronto and spent most of the Marlies’ remaining games scratched, though whether that was a coach’s decision or due to injury is unknown.
The Growlers also got another welcome boost with Orrin Centazzo stepping back in after a lower-body injury took him out of a few games near the end of the first round series. Despite those addition …

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Author: Dylan Murphy / The Leafs Nation

Maple Leafs changed a few narratives in their Game 5 win against Tampa, now they have to change the one that matters the most

It was looking like it was going to be another one of those nights. If you are a frequent reader of this site, you know the feeling.
The Toronto Maple Leafs allowed two goals on the first four shots of the game, but erased that deficit with tallies from John Tavares, Morgan Rielly, William Nylander and John Tavares as they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 take a 3-2 series lead in their first-round series.
Through the first four games between these clubs, the team that scored first had gone on to win each game. There were also no lead changes in any of those games.
So when the Lightning scored a pair of early goals from Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, things looked pretty grim for Toronto.
They went into the intermission down 2-0 and were badly outplayed in the first 20 minutes. They were outshot 14–4 and Tampa had a 78 percent of the 5-on-5 score-and-venue adjusted expected goals share of 78 percent per NaturalStatTrick.com.
That’s when Jason Spezza took it upon himself to deliver a speech to players in the dressing room to help lift his team’s spirit.
“More along the words that it wasn’t good enough,” Nylander paraphrased of Spezza’s message. “We just need to get going and battling and skating.”
It wa …

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Author: David Alter / The Leafs Nation

Maple Leafs fall on penalties as the real Lightning step up to even the series

It was never going to be like Game 1 the whole way through, nut for 19 minutes and 57 seconds of Game 2, it looked as though the Toronto Maple Leafs had picked up where they left off.
That was until Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman picked up a loose puck after a failed clearing attempt and beat Jack Campbell for a deflating end to the opening 20 minutes.
That was the first of four points Hedman recorded as the Lightning defeated the Maple Leafs 5-3 to even up their first-round series at a game apiece.
A simple power-play goal against shouldn’t have let the air out of the Leafs as badly as it did, but it was the beginning of a sequence of plays where Toronto ended up on the wrong side of things.
Andrei Vasilevskiy returned to his dominant form. The Tampa goaltender made 13 of his 31 saves in the opening period, stifling the Leafs on their two power-play chances in the frame.
Over a minute into the second period, the Maple Leafs had some sustained pressure at Tampa’s net, capped by a chance in the slot for Timothy Liljegren, but Vasilevskiy flashed the leather with a highlight-reel save to limit the damage.
Less than a minute later, Hedman recorded his second po …

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Author: David Alter / The Leafs Nation

It’s time to move Bo Bichette to Second Base

When asked about how I would like to exit this world, I often say surrounded by friends and family, or Blue Jay fans.

Today is the day that I may be eliminated from this early for saying that Bo Bichette needs to be moved from shortstop.
Before you get mad at me, this article is not saying Bo Bichette is a bad player, much to the contrary, actually. His bat will get him all-star votes and he’s still only 24-years-old, meaning that defence could come with experience.
Let’s briefly go back in time:
A few years before my birth, there was a baseball player you may have heard of. His name is Derek Jeter.
Drafted in the first round in the 1992 draft by the Yankees, Jeter went on to have an illustrious career being on a team that won 5 titles. The shortstop was a big part of those teams, as his hitting ability and clutch performance took the Pinstripes over the top.
When it came to Hall of Fame voting, he got in (as he should have), but there was only one vote out of 397 that said no to the “shortstop”. Had this one voter said yes to Jeter, he would have been only the second player ever to be voted in unanimously.
While Jeter should have absolutely been voted into the Hall of Fame, there was one big glaring hole in his game – his defence.
Total Zone is a predecessor to Defensive Runs Saved (which was first tracked in 2002). From 1995-2001, Derek Jeter had a Total Zone …

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Author: Brennan Delaney / Blue Jays Nation

How Nick Robertson refined his confidence with the Marlies this season

It feels like Nick Robertson is outgrowing the AHL, yet he’s only played 48 games in the past year.
When the 2021-22 season began, the 20-year-old was focused on getting a full-time role in the NHL. But after two games with the Marlies, his season was put to a halt.
A broken leg put him out for almost four months and once he returned, there wasn’t a way to tell where his game would end up.
“I’m just more of an optimistic person,” said Robertson back in January when he was returning from his broken leg. “The whole year of 2021 was pretty much downward then upward and now that the new year, 2022, is here, I’m trying to make this my year.”
Once the 20-year-old returned to the Marlies lineup, he started to show glimpses of the player he was in the OHL. After nine games of being back in Toronto’s lineup, Robertson had 11 points, five being goals.
His confidence was growing, but there was still a ways to go. For most of his season, the 20-year-old played in the Marlies top-six, but was never on Toronto’s top power play unit.
Wit …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

Kevin Gausman’s dominant start, this Blue Jays team having the “clutch” gene, and more!

It feels like the Blue Jays are unbeatable right now.

Since splitting their four-game series with the Yankees in The Bronx, the Blue Jays have gone 9-2, and the two games that they lost featured epic comebacks that came up just short.
Looking back at all of the games the team has played this season, you can’t really find too many instances in which it felt like the game was over before the last out was recorded. The Blue Jays really set the tempo on Opening Day when they rallied back after going down 7-0.
A message was sent to everyone else in baseball that this team seriously has some magic.
On Tuesday, Kevin Gausman tossed yet another gem but the bullpen imploded and the Red Sox carried a 5-2 lead into the ninth inning. That came unraveled very quickly as Raimel Tapia and Santiago Espinal hit back-to-back doubles off of reliever Jake Diekman and then George Springer smashed a game-tying two-run bomb.
Jordan Romano came in and stranded the ghost runner in the 10th inning, setting the table for a walk-off in the bottom half. The Sox opted to intentionally walk Vladdy Jr., obviously, and then Alejandro Kirk worked a walk in a wildly impressive at-bat in which it looked like making him whiff was literally …

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Author: Cam Lewis / Blue Jays Nation

Jack Campbell’s improved play is a necessity not a luxury for the Leafs come playoff time

Goaltending in the playoffs is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.
When the Maple Leafs began their season, the plan was to have two healthy goalies in Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek for the playoffs. But, that unfortunately hasn’t been the case this year.
Each goaltender has battled significant injuries this season. Mrazek has endured multiple groin injuries and is sidelined for the foreseeable future while Campbell has his fair share of bumps and bruises too.
So, Toronto is entering the playoffs, likely against the Tampa Bay Lightning with Jack Campbell and Erik Kallgren as their two netminders.
You can look at that from a ton of different sides, really.
The first side is, well, if Campbell gets hurt, then Kallgren has to come into replace him. Looking at Kallgren’s numbers since joining the Maple Leafs back in March, he’s got an .886 save percentage over the span of 13 games. Realistically, you’d hope he’s not needed to come in for any games, especially after giving up eight goals to the team they’re likely going to face in the first round just the other night.
But like I said at the beginning of the article, you never know what you’re going to get. Goaltending is voodoo and any …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

It’s time to stop blaming the umpires: A lesson in pitch framing

You may or may not like this article, but blaming the home plate umpire for a loss is not the way to go.

Don’t get me wrong, some calls are pretty atrocious, but in reality, the Twitter account “Umpire Scorecards” is incredibly misleading. I’ve spoken about it before, but framing is a super important aspect of a catcher’s game.
Why pitch framing:
Remember when everyone was mad at Kirk when a Robbie Ray wild pitch snuck by him with a runner on third? While blocking is easier in the traditional stance for catchers, I’d argue that framing is a lot more important. 
While the traditional stance would have been more useful in this scenario mentioned above, stealing strikes that are actually balls leads to more strikeouts and balls in play. As the game has moved away from the stolen base, we’ve also moved away from the need to throw out runners (which the traditional stance helps).
Every team is looking for a pitcher that strikeouts the batter, and pitch framing helps a lot in this regard.
The first seven games:

Data and visualization via Umpire Scorecards on Twitter. 
Thus far, there have been four different catchers that the opposing pitcher has pitched to. In the first game, it was Mitch Garver of the Rangers. Jonah Heim caught the last two games of that series. In the Yankees series, Kyle Higashioka caught the first three games with Jose Trevino catching the game on Thursday.
We’ll use “Catcher Framing Runs” which essentially converts how many pitches in the “shadow zone” (or just outside the strike zone) were converted for strikes. Last season, Reese McGuire led the Blue Jays with a +4. Danny Jansen, who is an above-average defender, had a +1, while Alejandro Kirk had a -1 CRS.
Garver and Higashioka caught a combined four games and their Catcher Framing Runs both sat at +3, which is well above average. Trevino ca …

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Author: Brennan Delaney / Blue Jays Nation

BJN Radio – Ep. 67: A split in New York, Teoscar gets injured, call up Moreno, and more!

It’s only April but that felt like September.

The Blue Jays and Yankees both took two games in an intense, back-and-forth series in The Bronx.
With Tyler away on vacation, I was joined by Paul Berthelot to talk about all of the good and bad from the Yankees series. We talked about Vladdy’s three-homer game, George Springer shutting up the boos, and Alek Manoah’s ace start, along with the struggles offensively from the non-Vladdy/Springer players in the lineup.
After that, we went through what we’ve seen from starting rotation and discussed what we’ve liked so far and what we’re worried about. We also talked about the injuries to Danny Jansen and Teoscar Hernandez and whether or not calling up Gabriel Moreno is The Answer.
Finally, we looked ahead to this weekend’s series against the Oakland A’s, who just took three of four from the Tampa Bay Rays.
You can listen to the episode here…

 

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Author: Cam Lewis / Blue Jays Nation