Training camp is approaching, so let’s look at how Canadian teams might fare in the Eastern Conference. Have the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Canadiens improved this summer?
The Leafs lost Zach Hyman, Nick Foligno and Joe Thornton, while adding several replacement forwards they hope will be low risk and high reward. Perhaps Nick Ritchie can be a poor man’s Hyman, for example. They lost Zach Bogosian on defence and are hoping Timothy Liljegren is ready to step up. It was clever to let Frederik Andersen walk to sign Petr Mrazek. That’s a bigger bang for their buck, and a true tandem can evolve in Toronto.
The Leafs have not improved.
Lest we forget, last year’s team couldn’t make it past the Habs to get out of the first round. Toronto is watching their window shrink with Morgan Rielly entering the last year of his contract, and just three years remain on the Matthews and Nylander contracts. This was not a “win now” kind of off-season.
The Sens have had a quiet off-season so far. They added Nick Holden and Michael Del Zotto, but lost Evgenii Dadanov, Ryan Dzingel and Derek Stepan. That said, I think Ottawa will ice a better team this year, and not just because I expect another deal before training camp.
The Senators are in a rebuild, and as their fine group of young talent matures this team will become a threat in the Atlantic.
The Habs look weaker today than they did in the Stanley Cup Final. Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar and Corey Perry departed via free agency. Shea Weber will miss the season with an injury that may end his career. Free agents David Savard and Chris Wideman will try to replace Weber, while Mike Hoffman enters to make the red light go on, especially on the power play. Mathieu Perreault and Cedric Paquette bring veteran experience down the middle.
Montreal is in a reset, and the key to their success is how their young players mature. Nick Suzuki graduated to top line centre last season and Cole Caufield unseated Tatar. Jake Evans will try to take over Danault’s shutdown role. Alexander Romanov and Mattias Norlinder are hopefuls to strengthen the back end. But much rests on whether Jesperi Kotkaniemi is ready for a top-six centre role.
All three Canadian teams are in the Atlantic Division and will compete with Tampa, Boston and Florida for a post-season berth. That looks tangly, but don’t adjust your sets. There is business yet to be done before training camp.
CFL Catch Up
In Week 3 of the CFL, the Edmonton Elk won their first of the season 21-16 over BC. The Lions were ousted on a team effort. Greg Ellingson, a top performer in Week 3, had nine receptions for 148 yards. Quarterback Trevor Ellis threw 26 for 31 and Placekicker Sean Whyte was successful on four of five field goal attempts.
The Montreal Alouettes beat themselves 28-22 in Calgary. The Stampeders fielded a rookie QB, and early in the second it looked like Montreal would earn their second win of the season. But then QB Vernon Adams Jr. fell apart, penalty flags were dropping like flies, and the game slipped away to the Stamps.
After an ugly Week 2 loss in Winnipeg, the Argos won the rematch in Toronto 30-23. QB Nick Arbuckle was the story. After taking over in the 3rd quarter in Winnipeg, he was named the Week 3 starter. Arbuckle earned top performer honors after completing 23 of 32 passes for 310 yards. He threw for a touchdown and called his own number to rush for another to hand the Blue Bombers their first loss of the season.
In Saskatchewan another quarterback, Cody Fajardo, was named one of Week 3’s top performers. Fajardo passed for 321 yards and rushed for 47 on nine carries including a touchdown as the Roughriders defeated the Ottawa Redblacks 23-10. The Roughriders are the only undefeated team at 3-0.
Blue Jays Babble
Post-season hopes are fading for the Toronto Blue Jays. After finally securing pitching reinforcements, the Jays bats went cold and the injury bug bit again. But is a wild card spot still an option? Only if they go on a monster run.
On Friday the team started a road trip in Detroit with just 36 games remaining in the regular season. To obtain the number of wins typically needed to land the wild card – at least 90 – the Blue Jays will need to win at about a 70% clip down the stretch. That’s a tall order.
But it’s not impossible. In that beautiful post-deadline homestretch between July 31st and August 12th, the Jays went 10-4 for a win percentage of 71%. It’s doable, but they could use a little timely help. It’s a good time for George Springer and Nate Pearson to get healthy and return for the stretch. A dry spell from a couple of other teams would also be welcome.
Baseball is best this time of year, especially when you’re watching youngsters that are only going to get better.
Lori Bennett is a social worker, policy professional, recreation softball player and coach, and newbie ukulele-ist. A Newfoundlander living in Toronto, Lori loves a good hockey chat, just as long as it remains respectful. Find her on twitter as @lori10habs.