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Lori's Sports: NHL's Canucks, Canadiens make a trade

By Lori Bennett

National Sports Columnist

The Canucks, Canadiens and other NHL teams during All-Star week, some PWHL action, and the court of public opinion will matter when it come to the players embroiled in the Hockey Canada allegations.

NHL Noise

It was the All-Star break for the NHL last week, so aside from those usual promotional gimmicks there was little on-ice action to speak of. Fortunately, four Canadian teams provided some off-ice action to keep fans entertained.

The Vancouver Canucks kicked off the wheeling and dealing, and we shouldn’t be surprised with Jim Rutherford at the helm. Rutherford is known for his aggressive dealing, and particularly at the trade deadline. Rutherford had extended GM Patrik Allvin earlier in the week before getting back to their player personnel.

This time, it was the top centreman on the market that Rutherford and Allvin pursued. On Wednesday, January 31st, the Canucks obtained Elias Lindholm from the Calgary Flames in exchange for forward Andrei Kuzmenko, defense prospects Joni Jurmo and Hunter Brzustewicz, and first- and fourth-round picks in 2024. 

For the Canucks, they land a 200-foot veteran centreman who adds a ton of flexibility — he can strengthen their depth up the middle, but also play in their top-six. Sitting atop the Western Conference standings, and at risk of losing Elias Pettersson to free agency in the summer, the management duo of Rutherford and Allvin have decided it’s time to go all-in.

Jim Rutherford has been here before, charged with maximizing the Crosby-Malkin-Letang window and leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017. Rutherford is fearless when he is all-in, and he’s giving Allvin a mentoring session in the same approach.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Calgary Flames are in seller mode. Unconvinced they could re-sign Lindholm to a favourable contract, and unprepared to lose him for nothing in the off-season, rookie GM Craig Conroy garnered an absolute haul in the deal. Kuzmenko is a goal-scorer in desperate need of a change of scenery, Brzustewicz has been compared to Adam Fox and is knocking on the NHL door, and the first-round pick will add a good piece for the future.

Then two more Canadian teams got in on the action. With Lindholm off the market, Sean Monahan of the Montreal Canadiens became the top centreman available. On Friday morning, GM Kent Hughes sent Monahan to the Winnipeg Jets for a first round pick in 2024, and a conditional third round pick in 2027. The condition is that the Habs get the pick if the Jets win the Stanley Cup.

For the Canadiens, this was expert-level asset management. Hughes originally obtained a first for taking Monahan’s contract off Calgary’s hands leading up to the 2022-23 season. He had hoped to move Monahan at last year’s deadline, but injuries interfered. So Hughes re-signed Monahan to a highly tradable contract, and has now dealt him for another first rounder. Hughes used nothing but cap space and gained two partial seasons of Monahan’s veteran leadership along with two first round picks. That’s a master class.

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Winnipeg Jets are also happy with the deal. Monahan was their target, and with Lindholm off the market they knew they needed to act fast. Gaining a player whose stats are practically identical to Lindholm’s for a little less, and being able to immediately insert him into their top six is a win for the Jets.

That’s two of the top names on the trade bait board that have already been eaten up. Teams get back in action this week with less than five weeks left before the March 8th trade deadline. We can expect business to pick up as each club clarifies its playoff hopes.

PWHL Posts

We’re at the one-third mark of the inaugural PWHL season, and the league is building its place in the hearts and minds of hockey fans.

In the middle of All-Star Weekend in Toronto, the women’s team held an outdoor practice at Nathan Phillips Square while fans dopped in to check it out. A women’s 3-on-3 showcase at the event was a hockey highlight.

Attendance at games is on the rise. Montreal is due to visit Toronto on February 16th, and the game will be hosted at Scotiabank Arena. The venue seats approximately 19,000 and tickets have sold out.

At press deadline, Montreal and Minnesota sat atop the standings. On Saturday, Toronto welcomed Minnesota and two goals from Natalie Spooner led the home team to a 4-1 win. After the game, Spooner led the league in goals, with seven, while New York’s Alex Carpenter held the points lead, with nine. Montreal’s Elaine Chuli led the goalie category with her save percentage at .962.

Raptors Racket

The NBA trade deadline is Thursday, Feb. 8 at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. Of course, the Toronto Raptors got started early when they dealt their best trade chips. But with the team firmly in a funk – their 135-106 loss to the Houston Rockets on Friday night was their tenth loss in 12 games – the management duo of Masai Ujuri and Bobby Webster will be scouring the market trying to find some way to improve their team while business is open.

Blue Jays Babble

While the Raptors are considering who they may move out for assets, the Toronto Blue Jays are making additions. On Tuesday, January 30th the Jays announced they had signed free agent Justin Turner to a one-year deal worth $13 million. 

The 39-year-old two-time All-Star, likely in the twilight of his career, will serve as the designated hitter for Toronto on most nights. But he can also serve as relief for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at first base. He has played other infield positions, but those days are likely done.

The Jays are hoping Turner can bring consistent hitting from the middle of the batting order, while also being a veteran clubhouse leader. Turner won a World Series title with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2020.

Hockey Canada Investigation

On Monday, February 5th, five hockey players who were members of the 2018 Team Canada world junior hockey team will appear in court in London, Ontario, to face sexual assault charges. Four of those players are currently on NHL rosters, and the fifth is a former NHLer who has been playing in Switzerland before returning to Canada to surrender to police. 

The alleged “gang rape” occurred in London in June of 2018 when members of Team Canada were in London for a team-related event. In 2022, the alleged victim reported she was sexually assaulted by eight hockey players in a London hotel room. Only five men were charged. Alex Formenton, the former NHLer playing in Europe, Michael McLeod and Cal Foote of the New Jersey Devils, Dillon Dube of the Calgary Flames, and Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers. All five are expected to fight the charges and have declared their innocence through their lawyers.

London police have scheduled a press conference for Monday afternoon, February 5th, following the morning court appearance.

The court process will determine the future of these accused, but they aren’t the only ones on trial. Details of how the matter was handled by Hockey Canada will inevitably become public in the weeks and months ahead, and it will likely be the court of public opinion that renders a verdict against that leadership.

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