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SIMMONS SAYS: Team Canada’s Armstrong has a lot to consider

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No one gave Doug Armstrong an Olympic handbook when he was named general manager of Team Canada for the Beijing Olympics.

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Having been there before, in an assistant’s role, he thought it was mostly a hockey appointment.

Turns out, the job has been part-hockey, part-socio-politics, part-epidemiologist, and now part soothsayer as Armstrong needs to name a roster in early January, about six weeks from now, and still there are so many unknowns, one of them centred directly around whether NHL players will be going to Beijing.

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If they are, at least five possible sure-thing choices from the Olympic roster — goalie Carey Price, defenceman Drew Doughty, forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Brayden Point, Mark Stone — have either not played, barely played, or are injured now and for the immediate future.

Armstrong will likely give all of them an opportunity to determine if they are Olympic ready and able. In the meantime, some players who were expected to be challenging for spots on Team Canada — Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele, Islanders’ Mathew Barzal, Vancouver’s Bo Horvat, and Montreal’s Nick Suzuki have likely played themselves off the Team Canada list.

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All this shuffling and excellent quarter-seasons from Leafs captain John Tavares and Lightning captain Steven Stamkos have moved the veterans into Olympic consideration. Both were longshots when the season began. Both were thought to be older and slowing down. But both are being seriously looked at now.

Can they name one and not the other? Can they have both among their 14 forwards? That’s the challenge for Armstrong. Who fits in where and what role do they play?

One name almost certain to be on Team Canada — Tampa’s multi-faceted forward Anthony Cirelli. He is a Jon Cooper favourite and getting a strong push from several members of the Team Canada executive to be part of the national team.

THIS AND THAT

Team Canada’s first Olympic hockey game is against Germany. That’s Connor McDavid vs. Leon Draisaitl. The two best players in the NHL head to head … Nazem Kadri, who is surprisingly second behind McDavid in scoring among Canadians, will not be part of Team Canada. His name was not included on the original 50-man roster named at the beginning of the season … On the day David Kampf signed with the Maple Leafs, I got a text from an NHL coach: “Best signing of the day,” he wrote of Kampf. “He is an excellent checking defensive centre, great on penalty kill. Above average and getting better on faceoffs. Excellent world-class conditioning. Only trouble is he has trouble finishing. He gets lots of chances … in my opinion, he allows Toronto to move Kerfoot to the wing and for me he’s a Top 9 forward.” Pretty accurate assessment on July 29 … One day later, the Leafs signed Ondrej Kase. Another NHL coach: “Great kid. Lives his life right. Brings good energy every day. Could score 30 if he plays 82 games. Concussion and anxiety with his head keeps him in the stands. Could be an unbelievable signing if he stays healthy.” On pace now for close to 20 goals for the Leafs … This is Alain Vigneault’s 19th season coaching in the NHL. The bet here is it will be the Philadelphia coach’s last … Very little is said about how great a defenceman Miro Heiskanen is in Dallas. Yep, Adam Fox is playing again at Norris Trophy form in New York, as are Cale Makar in Colorado, Roman Josi in Nashville, Charlie McAvoy in Boston, and forever Victor Hedman in Tampa. But when you watch Heiskanen against McDavid, it’s the best any defender in the NHL has played against the young legend.

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HEAR AND THERE

Here is Mark Shapiro’s view of the possible coming baseball lockout and the new federal requirements that all professional athletes must be vaccinated in order to cross the border from the United States to play in Canada and anything else you might care to know. Oh, never mind … Vladimir Guerrero Jr. finished second in MVP voting and will be a strong candidate in a very strong field for Canada’s athlete of the year, about to be formerly known as the Lou Marsh Trophy. It appears as though the award named for Marsh will be going the way of Ryerson University and Dundas Street when the late racist is deemed to be no longer worthy of having an award named for him … How about the Terry Fox Award? Or the Steve Nash/Wayne Gretzky Award? Or the Christine Sinclair Award? Who could argue against those? … This year’s award, from this seat, should come down to Guerrero, and Olympians Andre De Grasse, Damian Warner and Maggie MacNeil … Also contending: McDavid, as usual, along with Joey Votto, defending winner Alphonso Davies, soccer’s Ashley Lawrence. My choice: Either De Grasse or Warner. A strong case could be made for either … This is impressive for Tavares: He has played 222 games since signing with the Leafs, scoring 218 points. And this is the best three-zone hockey he has played in Toronto. Over four seasons, he is cumulatively 17th in the NHL in scoring, one point ahead of Brayden Point. Mitch Marner is eighth in that time, Auston Matthews is 10th … There’s going to come a time, if it hasn’t already, where an NBA referee is going to tell Nick Nurse to sit down and be quiet. Nothing wrong with arguing calls. Something wrong with arguing every one of them.

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SCENE AND HEARD

The previous Olympic hockey tournament in South Korea, artistic disaster that it may have been, did have some talent without NHL players. Minnesota’s Kiril Kaprizov played for Russia in Gangneung and Eeli Tolvanen, now with Nashville, was Finland’s best player at the Games … This is how gigantic and impenetrable the National Football League remains. The league will pay St. Louis $690-million to get out of the lawsuit of stealing the Rams and moving them to Los Angeles. The Rams franchise has tripled in price since the team moved to California … And another NFL giant reminder: The Dallas-Vegas game on Thanksgiving Thursday had an audience of 35 million in America, the most-watched regular-season game in 31 years. And remember, just a few years ago, when some prominent media voices were predicting the death of football in America … You know it’s CFL playoff time when I go to type Robbie Ray’s name and come up with Ricky Ray instead … For my money, Winnipeg’s Willie Jefferson is the best player in the CFL and he didn’t get nominated for Most Outstanding Player or best defensive player on his own team. The CFL’s stars are on defence this season: Jefferson, his teammate Adam Bighill, and Hamilton’s Simoni Lawrence are the best of the best in the league … The new and old traditions of American Thanksgiving: Family time. Turkey time. Lots of food and football. And way too many flags on the play. Way too many … Strange season this is: Toronto, Calgary and Edmonton, graduates of the North Division, are among the best teams in hockey. Vancouver, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Montreal, graduates of the North Division, are among the worst … The surprises come when trustworthy coaches, like Paul Maurice and Travis Green, have teams playing really badly.

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AND ANOTHER THING

The more OG Anunoby doesn’t play, the more you realize: He might be the Raptors’ best player … The best part about women’s hockey and the worst part may be the same thing: I can’t tell you who will win gold or silver in almost any upcoming Olympic event. But I can almost assure you that Canada will play the U.S. for gold in women’s hockey … Didn’t understand the hiring of Dave Hakstol when it happened with expansion Seattle. I understand it even less now … The Elks fired everybody in Edmonton and then brought in Wally Buono short-term to oversee a new beginning. Which is a little strange. The team Buono left behind in B.C. has hardly flourished since his retirement … You hear something often enough it starts to sound true: So does Jakob Chychrun really want out of Arizona? … Is there anything in sports with less meaning than a player signing a one-day contract to announce their retirement? Kyle Lowry says it will happen with the Raptors. Wake me up at the time to remind me … Watching a Davis Cup without Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime playing for Canada is like watching Canadian hockey without McDavid and Sidney Crosby … Love the idea of Thanksgiving Friday afternoon NHL hockey on ABC, and that wide-angle shot they’re using on power plays should be picked up by everyone. It’s revealing … Just a thought: If Wayne Gretzky had iPads on the bench in the 80s to digest his play after every shift, how many more points might The Great One have scored? … Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 6.8 points as a rookie in Milwaukee and 12.7 points in his second year. His career average in minutes played per game is just 32.5. Not comparing Scottie Barnes in any way to Giannis, but he’s scoring 14.9 points a game as a rookie and playing 35 minutes. Antetokounmpo needed almost five seasons to secure his place as an NBA star. Wonder where Barnes will be as a player five years from now … Fifty years ago Sunday, Leon McQuay fumbled and some of us will never get over it … A happy and healthy Chanukkah, in this year maybe more than any other, to all who celebrate … Born this date: Ernie (The Cat) Ladd … Happy birthday to Marc-Andre Fleury (37), Paul Warfield (79), Jerry Lawler (72), Pudge Rodriguez (50), Blake Coleman (30), Nick Van Exel (50), Sixto Lezcano (68), Garry Valk (54), Jarvis Landry (29) and Jimmy Rollins (43) … And hey, whatever became of Michael Bishop?

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NHL GMS NO LONGER SAFE

Time was, the job of general manager in the NHL was something like a senate appointment: You had it for life, or so it seemed.

Coaches got fired regularly, but rarely did general managers in the NHL lose their jobs.

That was before money got tight and salary caps became more prevalent and the panic level among owners seems to have reached an all-time high.

The Montreal Canadiens have already been sniffing around the NHL, asking questions, about replacing Marc Bergevin as GM. This is coming as the Habs, coming off an unexpected trip to the Stanley Cup final, are now unexpectedly in a race for last place in the Eastern Conference. Bergevin will be replaced, it’s only a matter of when.

The same panic level is found in Vancouver, where the Canucks are an internal mess and it’s now a question of when Jim Benning will be replaced as GM, not if. The Canucks were one point ahead of last-place Seattle as of Saturday in the Pacific Division.

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All this coming in a calendar year in which the Rangers changed GMs, Chicago moved Stan Bowman out after the Kyle Beach scandal went public, Anaheim moved its GM out, and not long after the Buffalo Sabres hired Kevyn Adams to take over the mess left behind by his predecessors.

Not that long ago, a hockey man I know interviewed for the GM job in Arizona. He told the owner, Alex Merulo, that the team needed a complete rebuild. The owner got angry with him and, basically, the interview went nowhere from there. Two seasons later, the Coyotes have just about the worst record in the NHL.

Changing GMs has become somewhat easy and convenient in the NHL. Changing owners without vision — now that’s a problem.

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A LOT OF BASEBALLS UP IN THE AIR

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The unknown comes on Wednesday in Major League Baseball.

Baseball people would like to tell you they are prepared for the impending commissioner-imposed player lockout, but the truth is, they don’t know much of anything until there is something to know.

The commissioner’s office is not sharing much information these days. The Collective Bargaining Agreement in baseball expires on Dec. 1. But GMs are caught right now trying to do their jobs, trying to complete their rosters in the off-season, and business could well be halted in three days’ time.

So far, the Blue Jays off-season has been more about loss and attempted activity than it has been about anything to enhance a team just about ready to win something other than awards. Cy Young Award-winner Robbie Ray and MVP finalist Marcus Semien were central to the 91-win season, the sixth-best season in Jays history. And now, in three days’ time, the business is likely to be closed down, with no time limit as to when it will re-open, when a new CBA will be agreed upon or when spring training, usually beginning in February, will be held.

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Semien and Ray are almost impossible to replace under normal circumstances and these aren’t normal circumstances. Ray and Steven Matz — who has already signed in St. Louis — combined to pitch 324 innings for the Jays, with 392 strikeouts and an earned run average of 3.48. That’s a lot of innings to fill — with time running out in the first wave of free agency — and baseball about to close its doors.

ALTIDORE LEAVING COMPLICATED LEGACY

For a time, Jozy Altidore had a way of mattering most when the biggest game was being played.

When you needed a goal, he scored it. When you needed an offensive play made, he was the one to make a difference. He had that special something which is so impossible to quantify in any sport.

And then it disappeared, just as he did.

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The end for Altidore with Toronto FC is imminent. Really, it can’t come soon enough. Altidore had injury after injury, being physically bothered by his own health, being bothered in other ways by his inability or unwillingness to compete under less-than-ideal circumstances.

All of this makes his time in Toronto a mixed legacy of sorts. He was more than a significant part of a championship Toronto FC team — he was central to the success — and really he was a significant part, by his own absence, of one of the worst teams in Major League Soccer over the past two seasons.

Altidore was popular enough at one time to be given a seat on the TSN Sports Desk show, where he interned as a host. And he was one of the few Toronto soccer players over the years who had a presence beyond his team and his sport. But in reality, a short run of giant success, and an ending, when it comes, clouded in circumstance.

Could Altidore have played more the past few years? Could he have cared more? Could he have been more of a central figure for the Reds? In many ways, he was central to the reasons TFC won over the years and central in the end to the reasons they lost.

He could have been so much more.

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