‘It was my 15th season, I love playing in Toronto, and I don’t know’ Rich Clune’s hockey-playing career hangs in the balance

When Rich Clune stepped off the ice on Saturday afternoon in Belleville, there was a feeling that this could be his last game in a Toronto Marlies jersey.
Toronto was taking on the Belleville Senators for the final ticket into the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Marlies needed either one point or a win to advance to the post-season.
They lost 5-2.
“It leaves a sour taste in your mouth,” said Clune of the Marlies missing the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2010-11.  “I thought we worked extremely hard all year and to come up one point short, in the last game, it stinks.”
This Marlies team was incredibly different than teams past. A number of players throughout the season discussed how comfortable they were entering that locker room every day and it showed with some of their play throughout the season.
Toronto was supposed to make the playoffs, but either way, the 35-year-old captain was proud of the group that was put together this season.
“I’m just proud of the way the guys worked,” Clune said. “I thought w …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

Blue Jays win the Series with a nail-biting 3-2 win over the Astros

The Blue Jays won 3-2 on Saturday afternoon, bringing their season record to 10-5

I actually started writing this article BEFORE the game ended, but Adam Cimber got it done. Furthermore, Alek Manoah pitched a great game, Espinal and Springer went deep.
Let’s start with Manoah.
Alek Manoah:
The 24-year-old righty absolutely bullied the Astros, pitching his third quality start of the season. He went 6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K and his ERA now sits at 2.00 for the season. Furthermore, this win is  the 11th straight win for the Jays that the Big Puma started.
According to the broadcast, he shook off the 2-seamer multiple times, as he may not have felt comfortable throwing it. However, his slider had fantastic movement which led to this great swing and miss for strike three.

Alek Manoah, Ridiculous 82mph Slider.
18″ of break. pic.twitter.com/6RJZA9Fvpb
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 23, 2022

He and Kevin Gausman are the aces of the Blue Jays. Hopefully Kikuchi can pick his game up tomorrow afternoon.
Santiago Espinal:
The everyday second basemen went deep for the second time in as many games.

“Get the jacket ready!” – Santiago Espinal, probably. pic.twitter.com/HUdvZpVkWU
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 23, 2022

Last season, he had two homers in 246 plate appearances. In just 52 plate appearances, he has matched his career high. Those extra 15 pounds of muscle is really doing the trick.
Just a side note, Espinal’s Defensive Runs Saved at second base sits at +3, while his Outs Above Average sits at +2. This trade was a win for both the Red Sox and the Jays.
His dinger gave Alek Manoah the win.
Springer goes deep in his first plate appearance back in Houston:
 
In his return to Houston, Springer mashed a ball to right centre field, giving the Jays an early 1-0 lead. 

Hello from the other side #SpringerDinger pic.twitter.com/72Ciyjivkz
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) April 23, 2022

The Jays had an opportunity to tack on more runs in the first, but after a Chapman strikeout and Tapia fly out, the Jays were retired with only one hit until the sixth inning. It was nice to see Springer go deep against his former team though.
Bullpen:
It’s not the old days anymore, meaning that after 95 pitches, Manoah did …

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Author: Brennan Delaney / Blue Jays Nation

Friedman: Rodion Amirov continues to skate with his next round of chemotherapy upcoming

During Saturday night’s edition of 32 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman provided an update on how Rodion Amriov is doing after being diagnosed with a brain tumour. It’s safe to say the Russian forward is making great strides in his recuperation

Elliotte Friedman provides an update on Rodion Amirov pic.twitter.com/3D1xsWASC4
— alberto (@twistedleafs) April 3, 2022

Friedman reported that Amriov has wrapped up his six weeks of chemotherapy and has another round forthcoming in a month’s time. During that time, he has been on the ice three times a week at a rink the Leafs have rented out for him in Dusseldorf, Germany and in the gym five times a week.
This positive development comes a little over a month after the report first came out that Amirov was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Not only has his recovery gone well to this point, but he also continues to work out and skate when given the chance. It says a lot about how well run the Leafs organization is that they are spending part of their income to ensure that the 15th overall pick of the 2020 draft gets all the help and resources he needs while he recovers.
All the best to Amirove for his next round of chemotherapy! …

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Author: Michael Mazzei / The Leafs Nation

Blue Jays Phillies recap – Orevlis Martinez is showing similarities to Vlad Jr.

The Jays and the Phillies played on Saturday afternoon, with the Phillies winning by the score of 3-2. Thankfully, Spring Training is more about what we see, rather than results, and we saw a lot of positive signs.

My editor said if anything notable happens, I can write about it. So here are some notable things that happened.
Orelvis Martinez, potentially generational:
I said something on Twitter that got me roasted quite hard. I called Orelvis Martinez (and Gabriel Moreno) generational. 
While I’ll take a step back and say these two prospects are potentially generational, you can see my enthusiasm. The 20-year-old Orelvis Martinez, who had never seen a pitcher above High A, went deep off of Aaron Nola.
Keep in mind that Aaron Nola is a pretty darn good pitcher, as he finished as a Cy Young nominee in 2018 and got votes in 2020. The fact that a 20-year-old who missed a year of development in 2020 went deep of a big league pitcher is pretty damn impressive. It had an exit velocity of over 105 mph.

Orelvis (Martinez) has left the building pic.twitter.com/6awZz8LqtQ
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) March 19, 2022

 
The two aspects of his game that are holding Orelvis Martinez back from being generational are his defense (we’ll get to that) and his high chase rate. This includes the off-speed stuff and even changeups. To me, the home run wasn’t the most impressive part of his at bat, it was the ability to take a tough pitch.

Fair use MLB!! Leave me alone.
Orelvis Martinez’s patient approach against a level of pitcher he’s never seen before.#BlueJays pic.twitter.com/S5fOebMiWM
— Brennan Delaney (@Brennan_L_D) March 19, 2022

He also made a pretty nice defensive snag on a single, which would have gone for extra bases if not for the play. In 208 innings between Low and High A, Orelvis committed 6 errors at third base. In his 550 innings at short, he committed 20. The 20-year-old is expected come the 2024 season, a year after Chapman’s contract is done. I think we know where Orelvis Martinez should be …

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Author: Brennan Delaney / Blue Jays Nation

Mitch Marner’s skill was on display in Maple Leafs win against Kraken

SEATTLE — Mitch Marner had a front-row seat on Saturday when John Tavares made an incredible pass to Auston Matthews on a brilliant power-play goal against the Vancouver Canucks.
On Monday, Marner topped that dish and did it while his club was shorthanded. He got in close to the net and dropped a pass to David Kampf that will be replayed on television and social media for weeks to come.

Mitch Marner destroyed the Seattle Kraken on this goal pic.twitter.com/f8CxkWKXYB
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) February 15, 2022

“I’ve done that before in Junior, I was hoping he was with me and he was,” said Marner, who also scored a goal and added another assist as part of a three-point night. “I kind of took a quick peek and decided to try and pull the goalie with me and decided to leave it there for Davey to slide in.”
The goal from Kampf put the Toronto Maple Leafs up on the Seattle Kraken 5-1 early in the third period and essentially eliminated any realistic chance for the expansion franchise to mount a realistic comeback attempt. They went on to win the game 6-2.
“It’s special, that’s all you can really say about that play,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said of the play. “To know he (Kampf) is there and to still — under that level of pressure — execute a play at that level, it’s special.”
It was a milestone night for Marner, who has clearly found his swagger over the last month. He had his career-high, eight-game goal-scoring streak come to a halt against the Calgary Flames on Thursday. But after a pair of games that saw the Maple Lea …

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Author: David Alter / The Leafs Nation

The goaltender market will be active this summer, the Leafs can hedge their bets until then

Two weeks ago on a Saturday night version of 32 Thoughts, it was reported that there have been teams expressing interest in obtaining the services of Petr Mrazek from the Leafs. This came at a time when Leafs fans weren’t feeling particularly warm to Mrazek, and the idea of selling if they could was the resounding feeling at the time.
The fact that Mrazek has a pretty satisfactory stretch of hockey going now, and the questions continue to linger both about Jack Campbell’s contract and how much of a workload Campbell can handle, has quelled some of the calls to trade Mrazek. That’s probably a good thing, because the Leafs having two solid goaltending options was the philosophy that Kyle Dubas planned for this season, and one he deserves to see play out.
While this might be closing a door at the trade deadline to offload $3.8M for other areas of need, and to potentially acquire other assets in the process, there isn’t any reason to believe that the market will cool by the summer. A quick look at the state of tandems over the summer shows that it is a fairly limited free agent market, and that is something that could strongly be working ag …

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Author: Jon Steitzer / The Leafs Nation

Raptors win against Heat becomes instant classic in triple OT

Raptors win against Heat becomes instant classic in triple OT

The Toronto Raptors went into Saturday night mentally prepared to take on the mighty Miami Heat on the road. Even without Kyle Lowry in the lineup, Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. needed to be scared of a Heat team making a run at the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Heat showed why […]
Raptors win against Heat becomes instant classic in triple OT – Raptors Rapture – Raptors Rapture – A Toronto Raptors Fan Site – News, Blogs, Opinion and More

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Author: Mike Luciano / Raptors HQ

Maple Leafs rumours aplenty on Saturday’s 32 Thoughts

Maple Leafs rumours aplenty on Saturday’s 32 Thoughts

The Maple Leafs came up in conversation on Saturday night’s edition of 32 Thoughts as we inch closer and closer to the trade deadline.
During the segment, Jeff Marek discussed a few things, including what Petr Mrazek’s future looks like with Toronto.
“On Leafs netminders, watching [Petr] Mrazek tonight there’s been a lot of speculation about the future of Mrazek with the Maple Leafs considering the Vezina-type season that Jack Campbell is having. So I checked around on this and there’s been no discussion that’s been initiated by the Toronto Maple Leafs about [Petr] Mrazek. They see him as part of the program for this season.
“However, there have been some teams that have called the Maple Leafs and said ‘Look, if you’re looking to make a move with that goaltender, give us a call, we are interested.’ So, very much, there is a marketplace for [Petr] Mrazek, but for Kyle Dubas, all goaltending decisions are summer decisions.”
Marek didn’t stop there in regards to netminders the Maple Leafs might be going for. He said Toronto has been among a number of teams looking at Barrie Colts netminder, Mack Guzda.
“One more goaltender, there’s a man by the name of [Mack] Guzda. He’s an overage netminder, plays for the Barrie Colts of the OHL and that is someone the Maple Leafs are very much trying to sign. Their pursuit, I’m told, is very aggressive. They met with the netminder this week, I belie …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

News from the Rink: Kaše set to return, Kerfoot looks to stay hot in Leafs’ top-six

Coming off a disappointing loss in Colorado on Saturday night, the Leafs were on the ice for practice on Monday ahead of a matchup with another tough opponent in the Pacific Division leading Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday night. Monday’s skate brought with it some good news as Ondrej Kase was a full participant in practice for the first time in almost a week, signaling his likely return to the lineup against Vegas.

Ondrej Kase wearing a blue practice jersey today, wore inactive grey yesterday.
— David Alter (@dalter) January 10, 2022

He joined the top line alongside Michael Bunting and Auston Matthews as Matthews returned to the ice after he and Jack Campbell were afforded maintenance days on Sunday. Campbell also returned to practice and appears set to make the start in the first half of Toronto’s back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Kaše has been quite a find for the Maple Leafs, signing a one-year deal for just $1.25 million after the Bruins decided not to extend him a qualifying offer in the offseason. He has excelled on the third line for most of the season, pairing up with David Kampf to shoulder heavy defensive minutes while still managing to drive offense at an impressive rate. Kaše’s play has earned him a look higher in the lineup with Mitch Marner missing time due to injury and with Marner now in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, Sheldon Keefe is once again trusting the Czech winger with a first line role.
Kaše’s return bumps Alex Kerfoot back down to …

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Author: Nick Richard / The Leafs Nation

Know Your Enemy: Can a depleted Maple Leafs lineup hold their own at 5v5 against the Avalanche?

A Saturday night matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche is the kind of game you mark on your calendars for, as two of the best teams featuring some of the leagues best forwards and defensemen go head to head. It’s the kind of game many would label a Cup Final preview, even though most Leafs fans don’t know what the second round is at this point in their lives. To make things even more exciting, both teams are coming in on hot streaks, with the Leafs rocking a four game winning streak (albeit split halfway through by a three week break) and the Avs winning eight of their last nine, including three in a row since coming back from their holiday/COVID break. But, with the Leafs down a few players, it certainly makes the task of winning tonight’s game a more difficult one for the Leafs, so how exactly can they match up against a loaded Avs team and exploit them?
Tale of the Tape (via Mark Norman)

Projected Lineups
Toronto Maple Leafs

LW
C
RW
MICHAEL BUNTING
AUSTON MATTHEWS
ALEXANDER KERFOOT
ILYA MIKHEYEV
JOHN TAVARES
WILLIAM NYLANDER
NICK RITCHIE
DAVID KAMPF
JASON SPEZZA
KYLE CLIFFORD
BRETT SENEY
WAYNE SIMMONDS

DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS
MORGAN RIELLY
T.J. BRODIE
JAKE MUZZIN
JUSTIN HOLL
RASMUS SANDIN
TRAVIS DERMOTT

Colorado Avalanche

LW
C
RW
GABRIEL LANDESKOG
NATHAN MACKINNON
MIKKO RANTANEN
ANDRE BURAKOVSKY
NAZEM KADRI
LOGAN O’CONNOR
JT COMPHER
ALEX NEWHOOK
NICOLAS AUBE-KUBEL
KURTIS MACDERMID
TYSON JOST
DARREN HELM

DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS
DEVON TOEWS
CALE MAKAR
BOWEN BYRAM
SAMUEL GIRARD
ERIK JOHNSON
RYAN MURRAY

Forwards
There’s not a whole lot I can tell you about the Avalanche’s first line that you don’t already know. The trio of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen have been one of the best lines in the league over the past few years, and there are very few units that can match up with them on a consistent basis. They have the protypical line setup, with your speedy creative playmaker in MacKinnon, goal scoring machine in Rantanen, and the more physical forechecker that steps it up defensively in Landeskog, with all three of them being able to burn you, and are well over a point per game so far this season. From a possession stand point, the line’s weakest link is actually MacKinnon, as he hasn’t quite been the play driver he usually is, and his defense has been pretty mediocre this season as well, but Landeskog and Rantanen make up for it as possession monsters and can shelter MacKinnon a bit so that he can be the skilled maniac that he is. Overall, the line has still had a lot of success this season, with a 59.54% CF% and 58.21% xGF% at even strength, and they’ll be a tough one to contain.
Andre Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri, and Logan O’Connor haven’t played together this season, but on paper, it has the makings of a strong second line. Kadri is having a resurgence of a season with 42 points in 27 games this season. It’s already the most points he’s had in a single season with the Avs, and he’s only 20 away from setting a new career high. Burakovsky is an excellent compliment to Kadri’s breakout year, as he’s almost a point per game and can drive offense just as well. While both of them can drive play well, they aren’t great defensively, so that’s what O’Connor brings to the table. With 13 points in 30 games he won’t hurt you offensively, and his defensive game is much better than the other two. O’Connor has been pretty flexible all year and been moved around a lot, so he should be the perfect complementary piece to the one flaw of this second line.
The third line of JT Compher, Alex Newhook, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel is another one of those line combos that we’ve seen in this series that haven’t played quite enough time together, creating some wonky results in their numbers, with just under 13 minutes of ice time and a 43.59% CF% and 58.82% xGF% at 5v5. Newhook is a highly touted first round pick from the 2019 draft in his first full season, and has shown a lot of promise so far with 11 points in 21 games and some strong defensive results, particularly a 55.68% xGF% at 5v5, good for fourth among Avs forwards. He’s in a bit tough tonight, as Compher has some of the worst possession results on the team and Aube-Kubel, while not bad, doesn’t move the needle much, but perhaps this ends up being a nice test of Newhook’s skills without having to put him in the top six when he isn’t ready. Regardless, this is probably the Avs most exploitable line in the top nine.
It’s bad enough for the Leafs that they’re up against a loaded Avs team, but to also be without Mitch Marner and Pierre Engvall, who have been a couple of key cogs to their lines this year, makes matchups even tougher tonight. The Leafs have three different line combinations in the top 20 in CF% this year, and four in the top 30 in xGF%, and only one of those does not include one of Engvall or Marner, so they’ll have to go back to the drawing board, experiment and see what sticks. Normally, I’d say go best on best with Auston Matthews and MacKinnon, put David Kämpf’s line up against Kadri’s, and then let John Tavares’ line run amok against the wildcard third line for the Avs, but we don’t really know how the Matthews line will work with Alex Kerfoot on there, how Ilya Mikheyev will look in a top six role, and how Kämpf’s line will not only do without Engvall and Ondřej Kaše, but with Nick Ritchie and Jason Spezza in more elevated roles. Hilariously, all three line combos have under a minute of playing time together, but have 100% CF% and xGF% together. Fun with small sample sizes! But yeah, I think the big thing to look out for at this point then is keeping Kämpf’s line away from the top six, considering his play without Engvall hasn’t always been great this season, otherwise it’s hard to really plan the matchups when we don’t quite know how the Leafs line co …

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Author: Scott Maxwell / The Leafs Nation