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Hurting Habs and Raptors return


By Lori Bennett National Sports Columnist NHL Noise The Montreal Canadiens must feel like they’re living in the twilight zone after last week’s announcement that centreman Kirby Dach would miss the remainder of the season. Dach left the second game on Montreal’s schedule, on Saturday, Oct. 14, favouring one leg. By the following Monday, reports were circulating that Dach’s injury put his season at risk. On Tuesday night while the Canadiens were facing the Minnesota Wild, the team posted an update on social media confirming that Dach would undergo surgery on his right knee to repair tears to his ACL and MCL, and that he will miss the remainder of the season. To add insult to injury — or in this case, another injury to injury — defenseman Kaiden Guhle did not finish the game against the Wild due to an upper body injury. On Thursday we learned Guhle is day to day, which is a better outcome than feared. These developments would be hard to swallow at any time, but the Habs led the league last season in man games lost to injury. By the end of the 2022-23 season, they stopped just short of calling employment agencies for warm bodies to ice to finish the year. In the off-season, they made changes to their medical and training staff to try and address any gaps that may have existed in their approach. But personnel changes were not enough to fix their luck, and the Habs were already down on theirs in just the second week of action. Injury troubles were not confined to Montreal. The Winnipeg Jets also announced on Wednesday that they had lost forward Gabe Villardi, acquired in the Pierre-Luc Dubois deal, for four to six weeks with a sprained ACL. Ironically, he was injured on Tuesday night in a game against the Los Angeles Kings with Dubois making his first return since the trade. Dubois scored in a 5-1 win over the Jets. The Vancouver Canucks completed a trade of depth players on Tuesday, sending defenseman Jack Rathbone and forward Karel Plasek to Pittsburgh for veteran defenseman Mark Friedman and forward Ty Glover. Rathbone had been struggling to land a role in Vancouver and GM Patrik Allvin noted that a change of scenery might be helpful. Friedman is the player with the most NHL experience and can provide gritty depth for the Canucks blue line. Neither of the forwards have yet made their NHL debut, and a day later the Penguins had already placed Plasek on waivers for the purpose of contract termination. This is not likely the end of business in Vancouver. The Canucks are also reportedly actively shopping forward Conor Garland. In the Summer of 2021, former GM Jim Benning signed Garland to a five-year contract with an annual cap hit of just under five million dollars. With three years remaining, including this one, Vancouver is pursuing a trade with a view to freeing up some cap space. Garland had 17 goals and 29 assists for the Canucks last season. He is a useful player, bringing speed and secondary scoring to a line-up. Insiders report that the Canucks are looking for a defenseman in return, while also creating some cap space. With the cap situation so tight across the league, this is not a small ask. Just ask the Ottawa Senators, who have still not been able to find cap space to sign centreman Shane Pinto. In the meanwhile, this past week Pinto left Ottawa and has gone home to train and to get away from the constant distraction. Fortunately for GM Pierre Dorion, the Sens are off to a hot start without Pinto and have just welcomed centreman Josh Norris back from injury. In his first game, after being away for 270 days, Norris notched two goals against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday. Newly signed Vladimir Tarasenko has been a nice fit and is performing well, and Tim Stutzle and Brady Tkachuk have picked up where they left off last season. With the Sens in a bind where Pinto is concerned and perfomring well without him, and with the Canadiens needing to add scoring punch even before they lost Kirby Dach, one wonders whether the two should find a way to do some business. The Habs have a ton of young assets the Sens can afford and happen to have a hole in their line up they wouldn’t mind filling with the likes of Shane Pinto.

Blue Jays Babble Long-time fans of the Toronto Blue Jays were given an opportunity this past week to take a walk down memory lane. Former manager, Cito Gaston, was announced as one of eight names on the ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The candidates will be considered on December 3rd, with the Hall of Fame induction weekend set for July 19, 2024, in Cooperstown. Gaston, the first Black manager to lead a team to a World Series win, did it twice with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993. If you’re old enough, you can remember the brilliant closer performances by Tom Henke, the highlight reel plays by Roberto Alomar and, of course, the walk-off homerun from Joe Carter. The manager at the helm for those teams was Gaston, and those of us who remember will be rooting for him in December. Raptors Racket The 2023-24 NBA regular season gets underway this week, and the Toronto Raptors will kick theirs off on Wednesday, October 25th, when they greet the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Raptors have undergone some significant offseason changes. Nick Nurse, the coach that led the Raptors to their only NBA championship, is out and Darko Rajakovic is the new guy in charge. Fred VanVleet was allowed to walk, and Dennis Schroder was signed to replace him at the point guard position. Jacob Poeltl, the seven-footer they gave up a first round pick for at last year’s trade deadline, has returned and is under contract for four more years. Of course, the most interesting change might be the guy they added at the draft with the 13th overall pick. Gradey Dick was arguably the best shooter in the draft, and after last season we all knew the Raptors were in desperate need of shooting. Dick is a confident and charismatic character that is sure to become a fan favourite — more so if he can actually drain a three on the regular. The new look Raptors are expected to be a playoff bubble team again this season. Certainly, with the investment in Poeltl, it’s clear that management is focused on winning now rather than retooling for the future. That doesn’t mean there won’t be deals. With Pascal Siakam entering the last year of his contract at the age of 29, the management duo of Ujiri and Webster may be looking to cash in and get a return for Siakam that helps both now and in the future. The season gets underway at 7:30 on Wednesday, which is a slow night in the NHL. It might be a good week for you to fall in love with the Raptors.

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