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The Edge of Lori: Fall Ball

By Lori Bennett

Sports Columnist

NHL Noise

Rookie camps concluded last week, and club training camps got underway. Team physicals were conducted, and injury reports were released, and management groups started getting a sense of holes in their line-ups. Business continues to trickle in, and storylines unfold for your favourite teams.

A promising young defender was dealt. Nils Lundkvist, selected by the New York Rangers in the first round of the 2018 draft, was refusing to report to camp. Lundkvist was concerned about his role in New York with the Rangers stacked at right side defence. On Monday, Sept. 19 he was traded to the Dallas Stars, who will surely find a place for him having lost John Klingberg to free agency this summer.

The Toronto Maple Leafs opened camp with their own holdout in Rasmus Sandin, having not yet come to terms with the restricted free agent. Defenceman Timothy Lilegren is also missing camp due to injury. The Leafs acquired Victor Mete and Jordie Benn as depth free agent signings, but another season opens in Toronto with giant questions about the D group.

The future of GM Kyle Dubas also includes a few question marks, and they were raised on the first day of camp. Dubas told the media that he was informed by President Brendan Shanahan this summer that he would not be receiving a contract extension in the immediate future.

Dubas is entering the last year of his contract, and it appears his bosses want to see the outcome of this season before committing further.

At the other end of their careers, three veteran defencemen announced their retirement this week. After 16 seasons in the league and holding the NHL iron man record at 989 games, Keith Yandle called it a career. The 36-year-old split his career between the Coyotes, Panthers, Rangers and Flyers.

Zdeno Chara’s retirement was anticipated. The 45-year-old, a second round selection of the New York Islanders in 1996, played for the Islanders and Senators before finding home with the Bruins.

Chara spent 14 seasons in Boston, leading them to a Stanley Cup in the 2010-11 season, then ended his playing days with the Capitals and Islanders. The Big Z signed a one-day contract to retire as a Boston Bruin.

With Chara’s retirement, there remains no active player in the NHL who has lost a playoff series to the Leafs.

The retirement of P.K. Subban was a little less expected. At 33, and having played 13 NHL seasons, P.K. still had something in the tank for teams in need of a veteran blue-liner. Subban was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the 2007 draft and spent his career with the Habs, Predators, and Devils. P.K. is more than a hockey player – he is a philanthropist and an entertainer, and we have not seen the last of Subby.

Speaking of the Habs, they opened training camp exactly where they ended – with a long injury list and a bunch of kids vying for positions. Most injuries are minor, but once again defenceman Joel Edmundson is out indefinitely, rendering an already iffy D group a little younger and weaker to start the season. It might be time to look toward Arizona, where 24-year-old defenceman Jakob Chychrun is still awaiting a trade. The Ottawa Senators are reportedly interested.

The professional tryout list grew in the days leading up to camp. The Edmonton Oilers invited Jake Virtanen, a move that has left many scratching their heads. Virtanen spent last season in the KHL and was recently the defendant in a sexual assault charge. He was found not guilty, but a civil suit remains unresolved. With the controversy currently surrounding the culture of hockey, GM Ken Holland is taking a questionable path to land forward depth.

The Calgary Flames added forward Sonny Milano on a PTO. The 26-year-old scored 14 goals and 20 assists in 66 games for the Anaheim Ducks last season. Milano may provide inexpensive depth scoring in Calgary if things go well at camp.

The Flames also re-signed forward Brett Ritchie to a one-year deal.

The NHL preseason kicked off on Saturday with the Leafs facing the Senators. The Habs and Sens are set to play a preseason game in Gander, Newfoundland on October 6.

Blue Jays Babble

Last weekend the Toronto Blue Jays were at home and the Baltimore Orioles were in town for a three-game series. On Friday, the Jays managed a 6-3 win despite sending a pitching panel to the mound, with no one pitching more than two innings each. Jose Berrios pitched six strong innings on Saturday, and Ramiel Tapia hit a three-run double to lead the Jays to a 6-3 win. The sweep eluded the Jays as Jordan Romano had a rare stumble in the ninth inning in the 5-4 loss.

The Blue Jays had Monday off before heading to Philadelphia for two games against the Phillies. Tuesday was a bad night for pitchers in a slugfest that ended in an 18-11 win for Toronto. On Wednesday, the Jays had a three run lead in the eighth and reliever Yimi Garcia allowed three runs to ruin a beauty of a start from Kevin Gausman. The Jays couldn’t convert with loaded bases in the top of the ninth and the Phillies won 4-3 in extra innings.

The Blue Birds headed to Tampa Bay on Thursday for a four-game weekend series against the Rays. Heading into the series the Jays were holding the first wild card spot and had just a dozen games remaining to cling on.

I smell fall ball.

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