Villeneuve’s game starting to click, McMann’s strength, and ‘Mr. Consistency’: Marlies Weekly

Villeneuve’s game starting to click, McMann’s strength, and ‘Mr. Consistency’: Marlies Weekly

First place in the AHL’s North Division, the second-best power play in the league — the Toronto Marlies are having a season.
The team is 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and they’re also two points off the top spot in the AHL. This is something that a lot of people likely wouldn’t have predicted at the beginning of the season.
Toronto is undefeated in 2023 and who knows when their first loss could come. The past two games have gone to overtime, but strong play from both Joseph Woll and Erik Kallgren have kept them from having a game go in the lose column.
William Villeneuve’s comfort level rising
Villeneuve is one of the most fascinating players on the Marlies this season. It’s his first professional year, and being a fourth-round pick, his season could could go either way.
As a defenceman coming from junior to the AHL, the initial phase might be a little difficult to get used to. Though over time, things will become easier as you get more comfortable, and stronger.
“He’s an impressive hockey player,” said Marlies head coach Greg Moore back in early December. “There’s a lot of things he does with the puck and how he positions himself around the rink in his reads that is elite.
“Once his body continues to develop, and get stronger and faster, then all of a sudden you’re going to see this pop where he’s going to be able to control games offensively and defensively. (He’s) a really special player. …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

Toronto Maple Leafs set to visit Arizona Coyotes in 5,000-seat Mullett Arena for the first time

Toronto Maple Leafs set to visit Arizona Coyotes in 5,000-seat Mullett Arena for the first time

The Toronto Maple Leafs will hit the ice for their first game at the 5,000-seat Mullett Arena in Tempe, AZ when they take on the streaking Arizona Coyotes on Thursday evening.

The Coyotes (12–16–5) toppled the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche 6–3 on Tuesday. They’ve been one of the National Hockey League’s best teams at home this season, posting a 6–3–2 record through their first stretch of games at the brand-new arena.
The Maple Leafs are used to playing in front of big crowds at Scotiabank Arena, but the Coyotes have one thing going for them that the Leafs don’t: a sellout streak. Arizona has sold out each of its first 11 home games at Mullett Arena this season, with attendance capped at 4,600 in its NHL configuration; as of midnight on December 29, the cheapest seats for Thursday’s Toronto/Arizona game were listed at $190 USD, with standing room passes also available for $150.
Mullett Arena, the NHL’s newest and smallest rink, has drawn rave reviews from players for the quality of its ice surface. Construction also recently finished on brand-new home and visitor NHL dressing rooms, the latter of which ranks among the largest in the league — a far cry from the temporary hodgepodge put together for the Coyotes’ first homestand.
The new rooms are firmly big-league quality.

👀#GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/Iqm3JMa5XK
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) December 19, 2022

The Coyotes are preparing for their arena and entertainment district proposal to go before Tempe citizens in a referendum this coming May. Until then, they’re firmly in rebuilding mode, albeit with the likes of Clayton Keller, …

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Author: Mike Gould / The Leafs Nation

Looking at the depth pitching options left for the Blue Jays on the free-agent market

With the addition of Chris Bassitt, the first four spots in the Blue Jays’ starting rotation are set. But what about the fifth starter?

The battle for the final spot in Toronto’s rotation will likely be between Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White, a pair of arms who didn’t inspire much confidence in 2022, unless the team goes out and adds somebody else through trade or free agency.
In this article, I’ll look at the arms available to the Blue Jays on the free-agent market, and then later on I’ll look at who could be acquired through a trade. Also, I’m going to be looking primarily at left-handed options as the Blue Jays pitching staff is comprised almost exclusively of right-handed pitchers.

Matt Moore – LHP
When looking at left-handed starters, I ran into some relievers that might be able to help the Jays in the bullpen as well. One of those names is Matt Moore, a 33-year-old who many around here might remember from his time with the Tampa Bay Rays. With only Tim Mayza and potentially Yusei Kikuchi in the bullpen, Moore could be a worthwhile addition as somebody who could work in multiple roles.
The journeyman had a solid season in 2022, in which he posted a 1.95 ERA and 2.98 FIP. Moore limited home runs really well at only 0.36 HR/9, and in a good sample size of 74 innings pitched, he had the second-highest K/9 of his career.
Taylor Rogers – LHP
One of my favourite players of this year’s free agent class who I don’t think gets enough respect is Mr. Rogers (a quality nickname, if you ask me). A lefty who owned a 31% K rate with an average BB% gets me excited about what he could add to the team’s bullpen.
While his ERA of 4.76 wasn’t incredible, Rogers’ xERA was much lower, which indicates that he was …

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Author: Ryan Snodgrass / Blue Jays Nation

What are the causes of the Leafs’ overtime struggles and how to fix them

What are the causes of the Leafs’ overtime struggles and how to fix them

1-6.
That is the Leafs’ record in overtime through the first 26 games of the 2022-23 season. It has them ranked 29th in the NHL and ahead of only the Flyers, Coyotes, and Stars (all three of whom have gone winless in the extra frame).
Here is another number of significance: five. That is how far back the Leafs sit behind the Bruins for first place in the Atlantic Division at the time of writing. While it is true that Boston has two games in hand and could easily widen the gap, the fact that Toronto is within striking range of catching the red-hot Bruins is a testament to how well the Leafs have done since a mediocre start to the campaign.
If the Leafs had half of their overtime results go in their favour, they would only sit one point back of Boston. Had they gotten lucky and gone undefeated after 60 minutes, they would be two points ahead of the Bruins. Instead, it has now been over a month since the last time Toronto emerged victorious after 60 minutes, with their most recent victory coming against the Stars on October 20th.
All of this is to say that the Leafs need to change their fortunes in the extra frame and fast because it is costing them critical points that could make the difference between playing a Wild Card team or having a rematch against the Lightning.
Speaki …

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Author: Michael Mazzei / The Leafs Nation

Jacob DeGrom signs with the Texas Rangers

The first huge domino of free agency has fallen, as Jacob DeGrom has signed with the… Texas Rangers? What?

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the 34-year-old has signed a five-year, $185,000,000 contract with the Toronto Blue Jays son.

BREAKING: Right-hander Jacob deGrom has signed a five-year, $185 million contract with the Texas Rangers, sources tell ESPN. Physical is passed. Deal is done. Includes conditional sixth-year option that would take total deal to $222 million. Full no-trade clause. A massive haul.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 3, 2022

 
This sets a trend of the Rangers committing serious money to free agents, as they signed Corey Seager to a 10-year, $325,000,000 contract and Marcus Semien to a $175,000,000 contract over seven seasons before the 2022 season.
Last season, DeGrom finished with a 3.08 ERA and 2.13 FIP in 64.1 innings pitched. He also amassed an insane 42.7 K% and an incredibly low 3.3 BB%. However, injuries have been a concern for our generation’s best pitcher, as he’s been limited to only 26 starts the past two seasons. Usually, a starter appears in around 32 games if fully healthy.
He’s also on the wrong side of 30, so they’ll always be a concern there. However, teams have been committing serious money to older pitchers still performing excellently.. For example, the Mets signed Max Scherzer to a 3-year, $130,000,000 contract before the 2022 season when he was 37 years old.
Furthermore, reigning American League Cy Young winner Justin Verlander is looking for a big payday, like Max Scherzer’s the season prior. Verlander will be 40 years old before the season starts.
What about the rest of the Texas Rangers pitching st …

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Author: Brennan Delaney / Blue Jays Nation

Alejandro Kirk is the American League’s Silver Slugger at catcher

Alejandro Kirk has won his first piece of silverware.

It was announced Thursday evening that the 24-year-old catcher has won his first silver slugger at the catcher position. Kirk slashed .285/.372/.415 on the season with 14 homers. Kirk was also one of only six players this season who had a walk percentage (11.6%) higher than a strikeout percentage (10.7%).
As one of only five qualified catchers, Kirk’s 129 wRC+ led the position, beating the likes of J.T Realmuto, Will Smith, Sean Murphy, and MJ Melendez. 
The Blue Jay catcher beat out the likes of Sean Murphy (122 wRC+), Cal Raleigh (121 wRC+), Adley Rutschman (133 wRC+), Salvador Perez (108 wRC+), and Martín Maldonado (70 wRC+, seriously, why was he nominated?).
Had Rutschman had more plate appearances, it’s not impossible to believe he could have won the award. Regardless, Kirk is your 2022 Silver Slugger award winner for American League catchers.
He also should have been nominated for the Gold Glove for the position, but Trevino was always going to win that. Anyway, please don’t suggest that the team should Kirk, because as you can see, he may be literally the best catcher in the game right now.
Which other Jays were nominated, but failed to win?:
Three Jays infielders were nominated but didn’t win. Shortstop Bo Bichette (129 wRC+) lost out to Xander Bogaerts (134 wRC+). Third baseman Matt Chapman (117 wRC+) lost out to José Ramírez (139 wRC+), while first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (132 w …

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Author: Brennan Delaney / Blue Jays Nation

Timothy Liljegren is determined, confident and impacting the Leafs already

Timothy Liljegren is determined, confident and impacting the Leafs already

It took about two shifts of Timothy Liljegren’s first AHL game with the Toronto Marlies this season to prove he was ready to step back up to the big club.
He was dominant with the puck, forcing Syracuse to make mistake after mistake and looked like a proven veteran. That’s what you’d expect from someone that played 61 NHL games the year before. And after a successful two-game conditioning stint, Liljegren was back with the Leafs for his first game on Saturday against Boston. Coach Sheldon Keefe eased him in – he had some moments in his first two games, but he wasn’t all there just yet. The AHL is one thing – everyday NHL action after a six-month layoff is another.
But Liljegren’s performance on Tuesday against Vegas – a two-goal night against one of the best teams and one of the best goalies – showed be was TRULY back. Liljegren had never scored twice in a game during his NHL career, but he looked like as confident and strong with the puck as ever. And after the mess of a start to the year it has been for Toronto’s blueline, mainly due to injuries, it’s a welcome sight. The Leafs ultimately lost 4-3 in overtime, …

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Author: Steven Ellis / The Leafs Nation

A nihilist’s season preview for the Leafs

A nihilist’s season preview for the Leafs

Here we are at the Leafs first game of the season. In many ways, this feels like it should be a meaningful day, but frankly, it hits just about the same as the start of the preseason. I’ll tune in. I write about the Leafs, so I should probably watch them play, but I don’t know if there is much excitement that comes from committing to a season that is about 20 games too long and will ultimately get us to the same place, the Leafs will finish somewhere in the top three in their division, and somehow 4th or 5th in the league, and then something will finally be put on the line as we see if the Leafs are now 19 years removed from a second round appearance or if the mocking of the Leafs needs to revert to the standard 1967 reminder that admittedly I’m far more comfortable with.
That’s not to say that there aren’t storylines to care about with the regular season. Whether Kyle Dubas was active enough for you or not in the offseason, the fact that he’s given Toronto two new goaltenders to hastily develop misinformed opinions on is a bit of a blessing. Last year the g …

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Author: Jon Steitzer / The Leafs Nation

Wild Card Notebook: Phillies comeback, Bieber dominates, Jays’ bats are stifled and more!

The first day of wildcard action didn’t quite end the way Jays fans would’ve liked.
Before we look into the Jays game, we’ll look at how the other American League Wildcard series started, as well as a miraculous comeback from the Phillies. As I write this, the Mets and Padres game is set to get underway soon, so I’ll leave a section open for that as well.
Tampa Bay and Cleveland:
The first game featured the Cleveland Guardians and the Tampa Bay Rays. it was a pitcher’s duel, which saw Cleveland’s Bieber finish with a line of 7.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, and 8 K. The only blemish came from a Jose Siri homer. 
To his credit, American League Cy Young candidate Shane McClanahan has a line of 7 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, and 5 K. His only blemish came on a Jose Ramirez homer, which the Rays challenged due to the runner at first potentially missing second base. Thankfully, they lost the challenge, and the homer and score stood. This is such a Rays thing to do, stay petty, Kevin Cash.
Another note from this game is the fact that I said that I would have preferred that the Jays play the Guardians. After watching this game, I’m glad Toronto dodged that bullet. Are they better than Seattle? No idea, but I think those games would b …

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Author: Brennan Delaney / Blue Jays Nation

A big strike zone helped Martin Perez carve up the Blue Jays on Sunday

Winning the first two games of the series was an absolute must for the Blue Jays. John Schneider had planned for a bullpen day on Sunday, and the Blue Jays were facing Martin Perez, the Rangers’ ace in the series finale.

Toronto couldn’t overcome the above, as they fell to Texas 4-1 and failed to sweep the series.
Perez was dealing, which should come as no surprise since he has been having a career season with the Rangers. He was a hot topic at the trade deadline, as he was a name that floated around trade talks with a few teams including the Blue Jays. Perez threw six innings, giving up six hits, one run, two walks, and striking out seven.
Perez was solid, but he also got a few beneficial calls from home plate umpire Rob Drake. Multiple Blue Jays hitters were displeased with Drake’s strike zone, mainly Bo Bichette. Bichette went 1-for-4 on the day, but in all three of his at-bats resulting in outs, he took issue with at least one of Drake’s calls. This included his strikeout looking in the top of the 3rd, in which Bichette stopped to have a back-and-forth with Drake explaining that he felt differently about Drake’s Doug Eddings-esque strike zone. Bo was …

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Author: Evan Stack / Blue Jays Nation