By Lori Bennett
The Toronto Maple Leafs joined the trade deadline action last Saturday night. While the team was busy losing to the St. Louis Blues, GM Kyle Dubas was doing business. Last summer the Leafs signed forward Nick Ritchie to a 2-year contract worth $2.5M per year. Ritchie has not worked out in Toronto, and the contract was an issue for the cap-strapped team.
Ritchie was shipped, along with a 2nd round pick, to the Arizona Coyotes for two pending unrestricted free agents. Ryan Dzingel was waived on Sunday and was claimed on Monday by the San Jose Sharks. That equals cap space for Toronto. Ilya Lyubushkin is an experienced defenceman that will help the right side.
Then on Monday evening while the Montreal Canadiens hosted and toasted the Leafs, the GM obtained goalie Carter Hutton from the Coyotes for future considerations. He was obviously part of the bigger deal, but the teams waited for him to clear waivers before hitting send.
Neither of these pieces dramatically moves the needle for the Leafs, but it is a tidy bit of business. Ritchie is off the books for next season, along with a salary they took back to move him. The Leafs also got help on D and goaltending depth on the cheap. Then on Wednesday evening, Jake Muzzin was placed on Long Term Injured Reserve following a concussion sustained earlier in the week. The injury creates a bigger hole on D, and the LTIR opens cap space to fill it.
Dubas is, most certainly, not done. He knows he cannot follow the usual Leafs pattern of circling the drain just as the evenings are getting longer.
Meanwhile, the Habs continue to rebuild their front office. After last Friday’s announcement of the additions of Nick Bobrov as the organization's co-director of amateur scouting, and former NHLer Vincent Lecavalier as special advisor to hockey operations, on Wednesday they announced the promotion of John Sedgwick to Assistant General Manager.
Sedgwick has been with the Canadiens since 2013, his most recent role the vice president of hockey operations and legal affairs. He’s been the salary cap guy, and that expertise will be vital as Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes try to navigate the beastly contracts left behind by Marc Bergevin. His efforts to date were rewarded on Wednesday and signal the continued focus on building the executive team in Montreal.
There is a fair amount of clarity about Canadian teams and their playoff hopes. Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver are confirmed sellers, and it has been clear for some time that they would not make the playoffs. Toronto and Calgary are strong teams and nothing short of complete collapse would hinder their playoff hopes. Edmonton flirts with disaster but, ultimately, they are expected to hold it together and make it to the post-season. The Winnipeg Jets are the surprise of the season.
The Jets were expected to be strong in the Western Conference but find themselves slowly slipping into seller status. They got off to a lacklustre start, and then Coach Paul Maurice stepped down. Anyone who hoped a coaching change would light a fire under the team is wildly disappointed. Top line centre Mark Scheifele has struggled. Veteran forwards, like Andrew Copp and Peter Stastny, are not providing enough in the way of depth.
The team is caught with a ton of free agents at the end of the season, both restricted and unrestricted. Decisions will need to be about who stays and goes, and where they will make room for young talent that may breathe new life into the team. That may mean seller status when March 21st rolls around, and significant roster changes by next year.
It was a big week for goalies in the NHL. On Thursday night, the Nashville Predators retired Pekka Rinne’s number 35. Rinne was selected by Nashville in 2004 with the 258th pick and went on to play his entire career there earning a record of 369-213-75. The Preds also announced Rinne would be honoured with a bronze statue outside their arena.
Two other goalies made waves. On February 12th the Canadiens traded for Andrew Hammond, and last Sunday Hammond earned his first NHL win in nearly six years. It was his first NHL appearance since the 2017-18 season when he played for the Colorado Avalanche. In a similar story, Jean-Francois Berube earned his third straight win Thursday night with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He also last played in the NHL in the 2017-18 season. A feel good story never goes astray.
The Raptors were due to be back in action this weekend coming out of the All-Star break with two road games. On Friday they were to be in Charlotte to face the Hornets and on Saturday in Atlanta to meet the Hawks.
Blue Jays Babble
This is the time of year when baseball fans should be talking about spring training and anticipating opening day. Instead we’re in the middle of a lockout, with negotiations going poorly and MLB threatening to cancel games and shorten the season if a deal is not reached by Monday, February 28th. Players would not be paid for cancelled games, so the pressure is on.
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.