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The Edge of Lori: Free agency begins


By Lori Bennett

Sports Columnist

NHL Noise

It’s been a crazy week in the NHL as free agency opened on Wednesday, July 13 at noon. A slew of players changed address, through both new contracts and trades as teams build their rosters for a new season.

GM Pierre Dorion and the Ottawa Senators have the attention of the entire hockey world with their work this off-season. Their potent summer began with a blockbuster trade in the days leading up to the draft, moving a package of picks that included the seventh overall to Chicago for goal-scoring winger Alex Debrincat.

Leading up to free agency they offloaded goalie Matt Murray to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and then traded for Cam Talbot from Minnesota. Then they opened free agency by inking Claude Giroux, one of the most sought after players, to a three year deal. That’s a tidy week of business.

One wonders if these big moves are reflective of a team that has simply finished its rebuild, or if the change in leadership following the death of Eugene Melnyk has resulted in a change of philosophy.

After trading a first round pick to offload goaltender Petr Mrazek to Chicago on the draft floor, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas inexplicably traded for Matt Murray. Dubas has history with Murray and is betting the netminder can find his game in Toronto, but if he cannot, Dubas may find himself unemployed. The Leafs also added goalie Ilya Samsonov, to form a tandem with Murray, in free agency. It’s highly debatable whether these “upgrades” provide a better option in net than they had with Jack Campbell last season.

Speaking of Campbell, GM Ken Holland has finally taken the leap and addressed his net. He acquired two goalies through free agency, signing both Campbell and Calvin Pickard. Holland also re-signed Evander Kane and Brett Kulak to kick off a very successful free agency season for the Edmonton Oilers.

Their neighbours to the south, the Calgary Flames, did not do as well. GM Brad Treliving was crestfallen when facing the media following Johnny Gaudreau’s decision to leave Calgary to test free agency. Insult was added to injury when they learned that Gaudreau had signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that has traditionally struggled to keep its own players, never mind sign free agents. The Flames were able to keep defenceman Nikita Zadorov and add some depth pieces.

The Vancouver Canucks had a fairly quiet opening to free agency, but was able to add forwards Curtis Lazar, who had spent the past few seasons in Boston, and Ilya Mikheyev, who Toronto could not afford to keep. New GM Patrik Allvin seemed pleased with the additions.

The Winnipeg Jets were also very quiet, signing back-up goalie David Rittich. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff confirmed they were still working on other deals, but they want to provide opportunities for younger players. One file at the forefront of Chevy’s attention is that of Pierre-Luc Dubois, a restricted free agent, who has served notice to the Jets management that he intends to pursue free agency in 2 years. A trade may be forthcoming.

After a fantastic draft, the Montreal Canadiens had a slow start to free agency. This was to be expected as the Habs are limited by the cap and need to offload some contracts before they can add.

On Thursday, GM Kent Hughes met with the media and stated his priority is trading defenceman Jeff Petry, but that he was not prepared to retain salary or make a deal that would not be advantageous to the Canadiens. The belief is that a pending decision from free agent John Klingberg may be holding up the market for Petry. There is also considerable speculation that Montreal is a preferred destination for Dubois, and that trade talks may be ongoing.

South of the border, the Detroit Red Wings made noise, adding forwards Andrew Copp, David Perron, and Dominik Kubalik, as well as defencemen Ben Chiarot and Olli Maata. There is another team signalling their rebuild is over. The New York Rangers acquired centreman Vincent Trochek. The Anaheim Ducks acquired pivot Ryan Strome and winger Frank Vatrano. The Florida Panthers reunited Marc and Eric Staal. The Vegas Golden Knights showed off their questionable asset management skills when they traded elite goal-scorer Max Pacioretty to the Carolina Hurricanes for future considerations.

The free agency period will continue throughout the summer until teams finalize their rosters for opening night.

Blue Jays Babble

The Toronto Blue Jays have been slumping, and this week it cost Manager Charlie Montoyo his job. General Manager Ross Atkins stated he felt the move was necessary to help the Jays come together as a team. Bench boss John Schneider was promoted to the interim manager role.

The need for a new voice is not disputed, but if Atkins is not able to find a way to strengthen both the starting rotation and the bullpen, it may soon be too late to salvage this season.

Raptors Racket

The Toronto Raptors continued business on the free agent market this past week. Justin Champagnie, who was with the team last year on a two-way contract was resigned to a multi-year deal and will have the opportunity to compete for a roster spot. Ron Harper Jr. was also signed to a two-way contract. Harper is an undrafted player who played at Rutgers University last season.

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