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NHL summer free agency moves

By Lori Bennett National Sports Columnist

NHL Noise

With the NHL free agency period well underway, some of your favourite teams have already been busy making over their rosters in advance of another hockey season. The Toronto Maple Leafs were quick out the door on July 1st, signing tough and physical forward Ryan Reaves to a (little too rich) three-year contract. They also added right-shot defenseman John Klingberg on a one-year deal. The Leafs have continued to be busy since opening day, adding a pair of gritty forwards who can score in Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi, both signed to one-year contracts. They also added Dylan Gambrell, a depth forward. In these moves, GM Brad Treliving is trying to do what Kyle Dubas couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do during his tenure – make the Leafs harder to play against. Bertuzzi and Domi are both guys who can play up and down the line-up and bring an agitating presence to an already skilled forward group. Treliving also filled a gap on the right side defense. Klingberg was the belle of last year’s free agency ball but ended up signing a one-year deal and struggled to perform in his split season in Anaheim and Minnesota. Treliving is hoping he can regain his form with the Leafs. The Montreal Canadiens have been relatively quiet so far, with an off-season more focused on subtraction than addition. They were able to offload one veteran contract on opening day, sending Joel Edmundson to the Washington Capitals for third and seventh round picks in the 2024 draft. The Edmundson trade found the Habs a little cap space, which GM Kent Hughes quickly used to sign restricted free agent Rafael Harvey-Pinard to a contract extension. The Canadiens added some depth for the Laval Rocket, and hope to be more active on the trade front once free agency slows down. On Tuesday, July 4, Montreal also signed their first-round draft pick, David Reinbacher, to a three year entry-level contract. The Edmonton Oilers are also tight to the cap, but were able to trade away forwards Klim Kostin and Kailer Yamamoto to the Detroit Red Wings leading up to free agency. As a result, the Oilers found space to extend RFA goaltender Olivier Rodrigue, and add depth forwards Lane Pederson and Connor Brown. The Calgary Flames were mostly quiet while they await decisions from core players about their intentions to remain in Calgary, or not, following next season. If negative, GM Craig Conroy will turn his attention to finding trade partners for several core players. They did manage to add some depth players via free agency, but it is expected their busiest work will be later in the off-season, and perhaps leading up to the trade deadline, to try and land solid returns on the trade market. The Winnipeg Jets are in a similar place, waiting for trades to materialize. Their most telling moves may have been to add free agent goalies Laurent Brossoit and Colin Dellia. These signings are likely in anticipation of moving their franchise goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck, to the highest bidder. After waiting on bidders to buy the team, the Ottawa Senators are now waiting for bids to improve on restricted free agent forward Alex DeBrincat. DeBrincat has been on the trade block for weeks, and would like to get as much back for him as they paid last summer. The challenge is a constipated trade market as teams deal with a practically flatlined salary cap since the pandemic. The Sens were able to extend a couple of restricted free agents in Erik Brannstrom and Jacob Bernard-Docker. They also added free agent goaltender Joonas Korpisalo and several depth players via free agency. The Vancouver Canucks were busy – perhaps busier than would be advised. They added defensemen Ian Cole, Carson Soucy, and Noah Juulsen, along with centreman Teddy Blueger, and some depth forwards on two-way contracts. Here is the thing with all of these moves. None of them truly move the needle in Vancouver. The Canucks need to decide what they’re doing with forwards J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser, defenseman Tyler Myers, and goalie Thatcher Demko. From one day to the next, insiders report a new plan for core players. Elsewhere, the biggest names in a less than impressive free agent class found new homes. Dmitri Orlov landed in Carolina, Ryan O’Reilly went to Nashville, Detroit nabbed J.T. Compher, and Alex Killorn chose Anaheim. Among the group that were bought out, Blake Wheeler found a new home with the New York Rangers and Matt Duchene landed in Dallas. Some of the names that were still up for grabs at press deadline included Vladimir Tarasenko, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Matt Dumba. The trade market may soon open up as the group thins out.

Raptors Racket

Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster and the Toronto Raptors are not having the off-season that we all hoped for. After choosing not to trade Fred VanVleet at the trade deadline, the Raptors lost him for nothing to free agency as VanVleet signed with the Houston Rockets. With VanVleet out the door, the Raptors needed to replace him and signed Dennis Schroder to a two year deal. Toronto also re-signed centre Jakob Poeltl to a four year contract. The Raptors have inked their first-round draft choice, Gradey Dick, to his entry contract. They also added depth to the guard position, signing Markquis Nowell to a two-way deal. In other Toronto Raptors news, eight assistants were named to the Darko Rajakovic coaching staff on Tuesday. Some are continuing their tenure with the Raptors, some are returning after time away, and some are brand new faces. With a significant change to the core of the team with VanVleet’s departure, and a new coaching staff, it’s logical to ask whether there will be more widespread changes before a new NBA season gets underway.

Blue Jays Babble

The Toronto Blue Jays have passed the halfway mark of the season, and the outcome is not tilting quite the way everyone hoped. The Jays are still in contention for a wild card spot, but a chance at the playoffs is far from certain. Two players are at the centre. Alek Manoah has been working to regain form in Florida, instead of filling the ace role, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is just now getting his bat going in the way that fans are accustomed to after and up and down first half. The Jays will need him to get back to his clutch hitting for power ways for the rest of the season if they want a look in the post-season. The Blue Jays were due to be in Detroit for a three-game weekend series against the Tigers before pausing for the All Star Break. Manoah was scheduled to get the start on Friday, his first game back from the minors. This will be a test for Manoah, and his performance in this game will determine where he picks up after the break, and perhaps even the Jays season.

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