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Players moving in all 3 big leagues

By Lori Bennett

National Sports Columnist

NHL Noise

The Toronto Maple Leafs were in the news last week for having signed William Nylander to a massive contract. A few sleeps later and they’re in the news for a massive dumpster fire of a week. Four consecutive losses had fans calling for major change in Toronto.

Is Coach Sheldon Keefe on the hot seat? GM Brad Treliving just gave him a new contract, so Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment are probably not keen to be paying another coach who is not coaching. They just got out from under that ugly Mike Babcock contract. But it’s tough to watch the Leafs give up leads game after game and not question coaching.

Of course, there are many things to question with the Leafs. The goaltending situation doesn’t call Dominik Hasek to anyone’s mind, and that defense group isn’t scaring anyone but the fans in the stands. Toronto lacks depth and structure, and some would say heart and soul.

Who knows what’s missing? But something clearly is, and if the tide doesn’t turn soon playoffs are not a guarantee. Here is the kicker — the Leafs are not exactly flush with cap space, picks or prospects to make any significant deals that might improve their lot.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Edmonton Oilers have gone from a season of doom to a playoff spot. The Oilers opened the season with a 2-9-1 record but went into a game against the Seattle Kraken on Thursday night with an 11-game winning streak on the line.

The lingering question in Edmonton is how long Connor McDavid can carry the team on his back. The question may be rhetorical, but most suspect this isn’t a recipe for playoff success and some deals will be necessary before the trade deadline.

The Montreal Canadiens also find themselves in a surprising position. At the start of the season, the goal for the Habs was growth, but with no genuine hope for playoffs. Then the injury bug came in a swarm of Biblical proportions and playoffs became a pipe dream.

But the plucky Habs have not quit and after a win on Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils they were just five points out of a playoff spot. This limbo is most uncomfortable for fans — they want playoffs or a high draft pick, and this lurking around the wild card spot is problematic.

GM Kent Hughes met with the media on Monday and confirmed his build plan was still on, regardless of what transpires between now and the deadline. This almost certainly means that centreman Sean Monahan and goaltender Jake Allen will be dealt to the highest bidder. It may mean that a veteran defenseman is moved for a haul, or that one of the lower-value veteran forwards can find a new home. Fans are wondering if they might see some Hughes magic before the deadline — the kind where Hughes deals from a position of strength to fill a roster hole.

Less than seven weeks remain to the trade deadline. Now we wait to see which teams will break the ice.

Raptors Racket

The Toronto Raptors dove into trade deadline action this week, moving long-term Pascal Siakam to the Indiana Pacers. The deal sealed the end of the championship era for the Raptors as Siakam was the last remaining player from the 2019 NBA championship team.

The trade had been forecasted since the beginning of the season. Siakam was a pending unrestricted free agent who will command an enormous raise in the offseason. Committing those dollars for a team that may not even be good enough to make the play-in tournament, never mind make noise once they get there, made no sense. The only question was how to cash in on the asset.

On Wednesday, the Raptors cashed in, acquiring guard Bruce Brown, forward Jordan Nwora and three first-round picks from the Pacers, along with guard Kira Lewis from New Orleans, with a second-round pick going from the Pacers to the Pelicans in the deal. It’s a significant package considering trade partners all knew the Raptors essentially had to trade Siakam.

The deal is a futures deal. None of the acquired players move the needle significantly for Toronto, and fans will have to wait and see what becomes of the draft picks.

Following the trade, the Raptors greeted the Miami Heat and were fuelled by emotions in a 121-97 win. The upset was a team effort – a team that now belongs to Scottie Barnes.

On Thursday, President Masai Ujiri met with the media and spoke about the need for Barnes to step up.

"I don't know if he is ready for that responsibility, but we have to put him in that position. That's our job. We have to put him in a position to at least grow and start to see dividends of the work he is putting in, to become that kind of player.”

Ujiri preached patience. “Some way, some how we are going to have to have patience. One of the things that I'm telling you, 100 per cent, I'm not going to B.S. anybody on, is that I am patient."

The NBA trade deadline is at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on February 8th. Perhaps Ujiri will have another deal or two up his sleeve as he rebuilds his Raptors.

Blue Jays Babble

The Maple Leafs are freaking out and the Raptors are facing the music for another season, but the other team in Toronto is getting ready for another summer of action.

On Wednesday, news broke that the Toronto Blue Jays had reportedly signed Cuban pitcher Yariel Rodríguez to a four-year, $32-million deal. As of press deadline the organization had not yet announced the deal. The delay was believed to be related to completing a physical and attending to immigration issues.

Rodriguez began his professional career in Cuba, and then pitched in Japan for three years. He chose to sit out last season, which allowed him to hit the MLB market as a free agent. Several teams were believed to be interested, including the division rival New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.

Where the new guy fits on the roster remains to be seen. Questions remain with Alek Manoah, who is expected to join the starting rotation with Kevin Gausman, José Berríos, Chris Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi. But if things go as swimmingly as they did last summer, the Blue Birds may need a new starter.

Rodriguez could certainly join a bullpen that performed well last season but has undergone some offseason changes. But if things go off the rails with Manoah, it likely won’t be long before Rodriguez gets a shot as a starter.

The Jays continue to be connected to several designated hitters and positional players as the days wind down leading up to the opening of Spring Training.

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