By Lori Bennett
Special to Wreckhouse Press
As we say in Newfoundland, the NHL is in a proper state at the moment, and COVID-19 is at the centre of it.
Last week the NHL announced that its players would not be going to the Beijing Olympics in February after all, thanks to the havoc wreaked by the Omicron variant, and the fallout continues. Big name players have publicly expressed their displeasure with the decision, and that list includes Connor McDavid, Alexander Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, and Brad Marchand. Marchand went as far as suggesting he would forfeit pay to be able to play for Team Canada.
A giant hole remains in the 2021-22 regular season schedule. A stoppage in play had been planned for the duration of the games and now the NHL is, as a 10-year-old GPS would say, “recalculating”. Add to the list a pile of games that need to be rescheduled due to rosters being wrung out with players in COVID protocol.
While some games have been postponed, many have gone ahead anyway but with significant roster players unavailable.
The Montreal Canadiens have played several games with a line-up that is three-quarters AHL call-ups. With the direction the Habs season has taken, it matters little from their perspective. But their opponents continue to rack up the points and gain ground in the playoff race. For those teams not getting to cash in on the easy points, a fairness question comes into play.
Mercifully, the coronavirus isn’t the only bit of hockey news. A general manager search is ongoing in Anaheim, Vancouver and Montreal. The Habs made news when their list of candidates was leaked and it included two women, Emelie Castonguay and Daniele Sauvageau. It is expected that all three teams will name a new GM in advance of the March 21st trade deadline.
With the trade deadline just 10 weeks away, the buyer and seller categories are becoming more defined.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will definitely be buyers, but GM Kyle Dubas has to feel good about his bargain bin shopping this past summer since it’s tough to identify glaring holes to patch.
The Calgary Flames will also be buyers, as they enjoy a new life under old coach Darryl Sutter.
The Edmonton Oilers absolutely must be buyers because missing the playoffs is not an option. But they can ill afford to wait until the trade deadline since they are in free fall. Their core need is what it has been since I was a youngster eating Cherry Blossoms on the government wharf – they need a true number one goalie. They also need depth scoring, maybe some help on defence, and possibly a new coach, but GM Ken Holland has to be exploring options to improve in net.
The Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks will wait a little longer before they confirm their category. The Jets are on the fringe right now but will likely be buyers to try and secure a spot and go on a run. The Canucks will be sellers, but it’s tough for them to acknowledge it, having gone on a wild winning streak under new coach Bruce Boudreau. Alas the coaching change came too late, and there is likely too much ground to cover.
The Habs are the second worst team in the league and dropping – they will definitely be sellers and the only question is how big the fire sale will be. Once a GM is named, an announcement to clarify the Habs plan is expected to follow.
The Ottawa Senators have become specialists in the selling category as deadline approaches and this year will be no different.
Business is about to pick up, and perhaps we can enjoy some hockey action where the tests come on the ice instead of in the team medical room.
As we approach the halfway mark of the NBA season, the Raptors are playing .500 basketball. If the playoffs were to begin today, Toronto would find themselves in the play-in tournament to vie for the 7th and 8th positions in the Eastern Conference.
Fred VanVleet has been leading the team and his name is surfacing in All-Star roster discussions. First round draft pick Scottie Barnes is adapting nicely to the professional game and is among the league’s top rookies. Pascal Siakam is emerging as a force at both ends of the court. They have battled through injuries to core players and absences due to COVID protocol, and last week were finally able to start a healthy line-up.
The young Raptors are performing admirably.
As the only Canadian team in the NBA, they had to move to Tampa last season, and are the only team watching the attendance get cut by COVID this season.
The distractions are plentiful, but if you’re paying attention to this group of kids the potential is undeniable and the future is shining bright.
Lori Bennett is a social worker, policy professional, recreational softball player and coach, and new ukulele-ist. Originally from NL and now based in Toronto, Lori loves a good hockey chat or debate, as long as it remains respectful. She posts game time thoughts on twitter as @lori10habs.