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NHL Annual Holiday Roster Freeze

By Lori Bennett National Sports Columnist

NHL Noise

The NHL is down to the wire to make deals before the freeze on wheeling and dealing before the Christmas break. Each season the NHL implements a Holiday Roster Freeze. This season that freeze kicks in at midnight on December 19th and ends at midnight on December 27th. During that window, teams can recall players from their farm teams, but they cannot make trades. Whatever they intend to do before Christmas, they need to do quickly. The goalie market continues to be drawing a lot of attention. The netminders in Edmonton have picked up their game of late, but that doesn’t mean there is sufficient confidence that they can carry the team to the playoffs. The Carolina Hurricanes have the league’s worst goals-against average. The New Jersey Devils are lurking around bubble team status while their goalies struggle. All three teams are currently outside of a playoff spot despite being viewed as Stanley Cup contenders when the season began. The Colorado Avalanche are not worried about their season, but they’re believed to be keeping an eye on goalie moves due to injuries. Several netminders are apparently available, but none are drawing more attention than Jake Allen of the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs have committed to Sam Montembeault, recently signing him to a contract extention, and appear to be leaning toward keeping young Cayden Primeau over the veteran Allen. In the meantime, whenever Allen takes the net in Montreal a list of pro scouts are in the building watching on. GM Kent Hughes won’t be rushed into a deal, but it feels like an Allen move is imminent. The Calgary Flames are expected to be sellers at this year’s trade deadline and have already been active. In late November they dealt defenseman Nikita Zadorov, and other unrestricted free agents are believed to be available. That plan took a hit on Monday night when defenseman Chris Tanev was injured in a game against the Avalanche. Tanev is both an important part of the Flames defense group, and also a key asset for the trade deadline, but that all depends on his health now. He’s been listed as day-to-day, but one wonders if this scare will be enough to get GM Craig Conroy making a deal sooner rather than later. The Toronto Maple Leafs were celebrating big milestones this week. In a game against his former team, with his father in attendance for the dads trip, John Tavares scored his 1000th point. With 435 goals and 565 assists, Tavares became the 98th player in NHL history to hit the 1000-point mark. The Leafs are one of the teams looking at Tanev, and may also be looking at Allen if a recent injury to Joseph Woll becomes serious. Another NHL coach got pink-slipped this week. The St. Louis Blues, at 13-14-1 after 28 games, relieved coach Craig Berube on Tuesday night. Ironically, Berube was hired in November of 2018 after the Blues fired their coach. Berube was promoted from his Assistant Coach role to coach the Blues on an interim basis, but then led them to a Stanley Cup, their first in franchise history. Taking a play from their 2018-19 playbook, the Blues named Drew Bannister, coach of the Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League, their interim coach. Perhaps they are hoping to repeat on that season’s outcome. The coach in Ottawa hasn’t received a pink slip yet, but the performance of the Senators this season has to leave the new management group wondering if D.J. Smith is their guy. The Sens are at the bottom of the Eastern conference and frustration is setting in. This week, the Carolina Hurricanes were in Ottawa and the game went to a shootout. Captain Brady Tkachuk took the shootout attempt and was poke-checked by the Sens goalie. Granted, the move is a little dangerous when a player is speeding in on a breakaway, but it’s a legal play. Tkachuk, who is not known for his emotional restraint, completely lost it. If management is delaying making a move to settle things down, it isn’t working. Speaking of shootouts, Montreal and Pittsburgh fans were treated to one that went 12 rounds this week. Sidney Crosby and the Penguins were in town to face the Habs, and a shootout was needed to resolve it. After the 12 rounds, it was Pittsburgh that left with two points. It’s hard to fathom a time when Sid the Kid won’t be putting on an occasional show in Montreal. Seeing how he performs at the Bell Centre, it would truly be something to see him finish his career with the Canadiens.

Raptors Racket

With more than a quarter of the season in the history books for the Toronto Raptors, the forecast does not look good. The Raptors are gathering up more losses than wins and sit outside of a play-in tournament spot. With the coaching change and some new personnel, some growing pains were anticipated. But perhaps it’s time for the management group to acknowledge that this roster, as currently constructed, is simply not good enough. Big decisions loom for the new year, and it might be time for a proactive approach. The standings are deceptively bloated, with more than half the league performing above .500 and the play-in tournament format resulting in 20 teams being eligible for some form of postseason. Many teams will delay their decision to be buyers or sellers. With several pending free agents, including Pascal Siakam, Raptors management should already be feeling out the trade market in advance of the February 8th deadline to see if there is an opportunity to strengthen the team for the future. No one wants to see Siakam leave Toronto, but the return he might fetch must be explored.

Blue Jays Babble

Shohei Ohtani is not a Toronto Blue Jay, and the Boys in Blue are back to the drawing board. Following a social media vigil, a faulty news report by a reputed MLB reporter and the most watched flight ever from California to Toronto, Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. So where do the Jays go from here? Two things are certain. The first is that there is no one else available on the free agent market or by trade that would have the impact that Ohtani would have. A Babe Ruth comparable does not come by often. The second certainty is that management’s freedom to deal is not limited to Ohtani. They were reportedly in on Juan Soto before he was dealt to the New York Yankees.With those things in mind, fans can be hopeful that once the sting of losing out wears off, the Jays will pivot and find ways to improve upon the 2023 team that got swept in the Wild Card Series. Cody Bellinger is the next player to watch. A free agent left-handed batting outfielder who can play first base, Bellinger is a good fit to fill a Toronto gap. The Blue Jays also remain interested in third baseman Matt Chapman until he commits elsewhere. All is not lost, but fans will be hesitant to count chickens before they hatch after the Ohtani fiasco.

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