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ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Tucked in the warmth on the surrounding grounds of the Big House, Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis made one point urgently clear as he announced the signing of Torontos captain through 2021. "We signed Dion to this deal because he deserved it," said Nonis on the eve of Wednesdays Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium. But the success of the seven-year extension between the Leafs and Dion Phaneuf wont just be about the 28-year-old defender, but the ability of Nonis and the organization to surround him and the Toronto core with capable talent. Right now that core includes at least six players; Phaneuf along with Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul, David Clarkson and Tyler Bozak – all signed until at least 2017. And while that group must remain productive – and increasingly so from a generally disappointing first half – the overall team success is likely dependent on the quality of talent the club adds in the coming years. "Weve added these pieces because we think that they can help us win long-term," said Nonis of that core group. "Its now going to be up to us to add players around them. We feel we have some pieces coming, but were not where we need to be yet. We still need to add some pieces around players like Dion and Phil and [Lupul], JVR. Those are players that will help any team in this league win, but we need to continue to add to that group." No team has done a more efficient job of surrounding their impressive core than the Chicago Blackhawks (though the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins could make equal argument). "I think theyre a model for the league, not just our hockey club," Randy Carlyle said of the defending Stanley Cup champions earlier this season. Chicagos core is among the more dynamic in the league – much of it built through the draft – but the organization has done well in surrounding that group with wave upon wave of helpful young players and outside talent. In recent years, the likes of Andrew Shaw (fifth round pick), Marcus Kruger (fifth round), Bryan Bickell (second round), Corey Crawford (second round) and Brandon Saad (second round) all proved invaluable toward the Blackhawks capturing their second Cup in four years last season. For the Leafs that means improved drafting and development. It means finding more capable assets through the draft, ever an important tool in todays cap age. "Theres still only three ways to do [build around the core] – trade, free agency or the draft," said Nonis. "We have to do a better job in all three areas. But the draft is going to be more and more important as players start to earn six, seven, eight, nine, 10 million – who knows what the numbers are going to end up being. "If you have players that are entry-level players or just coming out of entry-level that are earning substantially less that can contribute youre going to have a better chance of winning. We need to try to find some of those players." Not only does that mean the continued development of young players like Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri, Peter Holland and Jonathan Bernier, but success here and there from a solid and yet unspectacular prospect pool that features Matt Finn, Connor Brown, Petter Granberg, Dominic Toninato, and Josh Leivo. It also means finding more useful players to contribute right now. Chicago found help for example in the form of veterans like Johhny Oduya and Michal Handzus. Uneven all season, Torontos patchwork defence – which featured no major additions last summer – is a source requiring definite upgrading in the summer of 2014 and beyond. As for Phaneuf, he may be an imperfect first defender, but is a capable first defender no less in a league where commodities of such kind are difficult to find and then keep. More and more teams are locking up their most talented players long-term leaving the free agency pool increasingly weak and short of high-impact options, especially on defence. Among the top unsigned defenders for the summer of 2014 are 37-year-old Dan Boyle, 35-year-old Andrei Markov, and 29-year-old Dan Girardi. Internally, the Leafs have promising long-term options for the top of their defence in the 19-year-old Rielly and 23-year-old Gardiner, but neither is near ready to assume the difficult duties Phaneuf holds at the moment. And while the likes of Finn, Granberg, Stuart Percy, and Tom Nilsson offer prospective hope further on down the line, they are suitably unknown commodities. "If youre signing players because you dont have anyone to replace them youre making mistakes," said Nonis. "Hes going to play at this level and beyond, I feel, for seven years and maybe beyond that. Its not that you dont have anyone to replace Dion, its that hes done enough to prove to us that he is a player that is near the top of the league in terms of how he stacks up against the top defencemen." The difficulty of his minutes is easy to overlook. His role on a generally unstable Toronto defence requires him to match up nightly against the most difficult competition in the league. In Wednesdays Winter Classic for example, that tall challenge will include large quantities of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. "I dont think you can look beyond the situations and positions that Randy puts him in," said Nonis. "Theyre not always the best situations. He plays some pretty tough minutes." In fact, no defender in the league has faced more challenging competition in the past two seasons than the Leafs captain, this according to ExtraSkater.com. And though hes struggled to produce offence this season – 15 points in 39 games – Phaneuf has ranked amongst the top-20 at his position in offensive production in each of the past two seasons. The Leafs were in a surprise in 2013, finishing fifth in the conference while nearly upending the eventual Cup finalist Bruins in the first round. But theyve fallen under considerable strain this season – just four regulation wins since Nov. 1 – and have proven a poor defensive contingent again after struggling in that regard a year ago. Phaneuf is more solution than problem. The Leafs simply need better players around him. "You see some of the best players around the league," said Nonis, "if you put them on a team by themselves theyre going to have a hard time winning. We think were adding pieces that will help us win." http://www.baseballgiantsmlb.com/authentic-brandon-belt-giants-jersey/ . -- Tiago Splitter tipped in a rebound with 2. http://www.baseballgiantsmlb.com/authentic-will-clark-giants-jersey/ .com) - American Madison Keys grabbed a first- round victory on Sunday in a rainy start to the Apia International Sydney tournament. http://www.baseballgiantsmlb.com/authen ... jersey/.ca. Hi Kerry, Love reading your column and loved watching your analysis on the TSN broadcasts!And were now in Round 2! Bruins! Canadiens! We know all about the great games of the past from the players, the broadcasters and the writers. http://www.baseballgiantsmlb.com/authentic-johnny-cueto-giants-jersey/ . -- Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer will be out three to six weeks with a stress fracture of the third finger of his right hand. http://www.baseballgiantsmlb.com/authentic-hunter-pence-giants-jersey/ . Viewers in the Canadiens region can watch the game on TSN Canadiens at 7:30pm et/4:30pm pt. The game can also be heard on TSN Radio Montreal 690. The Calgary Flames will see if they can take their recent hot streak on the road when they shoot for a sixth consecutive win Monday night in Montreal.ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Felix Hernandez thinks the Mariners off-season reboot will produce impressive results this season, and Seattles ace was glad to help out in yet another win on opening day. Abraham Almonte hit a tiebreaking RBI double in the seventh inning and Hernandez struck out 11 in the new-look Mariners eighth consecutive victory on opening day, 10-3 over the Los Angeles Angels on Monday night. Hernandez (1-0) gave up four hits over six innings in his seventh opening day start for the Mariners. After he allowed a first-inning homer by Mike Trout, Hernandez settled into his usual brilliance -- and unlike many nights last season, his teammates provided enough runs to win. "Youve just got to make good pitches, and were going to be OK this season," said Hernandez, who passed Randy Johnson for the club record for opening day starts. "I can feel that. I made a couple of mistakes, but I felt really confident with these guys." Justin Smoak hit a three-run homer and Dustin Ackley had a three-run triple while the Mariners batted around in the ninth inning, roaring back from an early two-run deficit. Robinson Cano went 2 for 4 with a double and an intentional walk in the $240 million second basemans debut for new Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon, who hesitated to ascribe much significance to a close game that turned into a blowout win. "I thought our starter did a tremendous job and battled all night," said McClendon, who replaced Eric Wedge. "The bullpen did a fantastic job, and the offence did a great job grinding out at-bats." Trout hit a two-run homer and Albert Pujols had a run-scoring double for the Angels, who had won nine of 10 on opening day, including five straight. Their evening got off to an ominous start when hitting coach Don Baylor broke his right leg while catching Vladimir Guerreros ceremonial first pitch. "Obviously its a freak (injury)," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Well see how it turns out." The former Rockies and Cubs manaager will have surgery on his femur Tuesday.dddddddddddd Baylors leg bent awkwardly before he had to be helped to the dugout, leaving the Angels stunned as they took the field. "It got me sick when I was warming up and hearing what happened in the dugout," Trout said. Hernandez outdueled Jered Weaver (0-1), who yielded six hits and three walks in his club-record sixth start on opening day. Mike Zunino had an RBI triple in the seventh to chase Weaver, and Almonte drove him home with a double off Angels newcomer Fernando Salas. Smoak connected in the ninth off Kevin Jepsen while the Mariners batted around. After Cano grounded out to short in his first plate appearance, the longtime Yankees second baseman got his first Mariners hit on a 50-foot squib to third base in the fourth inning. He rapped a solid double to right in the ninth before Smoaks shot. The Angels top newcomers didnt impress for openers: David Freese went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts, and longtime Mariners slugger Raul Ibanez was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. Trouts new $144.5 million contract doesnt even begin until next season, but the brightest young talent in baseball wasted no time delivering. After Kole Calhouns leadoff single, Trout put an emphatic drive over the left field fence against Hernandez. Pujols double boosted Los Angeles lead to 3-1 in the third. The Mariners nearly tied it with a two-out rally in the sixth, but Calhoun swiftly fielded Kyle Seagers RBI double off the right field wall, and cutoff man Howie Kendrick threw out Logan Morrison at the plate. But one inning later, Zunino put a one-out triple over Josh Hamiltons head in left, scoring Ackley. NOTES: Morrison had three strikeouts and two walks in his Mariners debut. ... Weaver has started the last five consecutive opening days, while Hernandez has started six straight Mariners openers. ... 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