By Lori Bennett
NHL games get back underway tonight following the four-day All-Star break weekend. The events surrounding the weekend are pure gimmick, but it does offer a nice break for players who may be nursing small injuries and such. It’s also the time of year when teams shift into business mode, assessing whether they will be buyers or sellers for the upcoming trade deadline, which is now just six weeks away.
The Toronto Maple Leafs approach the deadline as confirmed buyers. They went into the break with a 29-10-3 record, and their star players showing why they get paid the big bucks in recent weeks. GM Kyle Dubas likes the team he has assembled, but we can expect him to add a top-4 defenceman before the deadline. He is rumoured to be interested in Josh Manson (Anaheim Ducks) and John Klingberg (Dallas Stars) but both guys are on teams with their own playoff hopes. The Leafs also have a salary cap issue and any deal will require a bit of a money dance.
The Montreal Canadiens enjoyed a longer break and are at the centre of many rumours based on their confirmed seller status. This past week, news broke that defenceman Jeff Petry would welcome a trade. Pending unrestricted free agent Ben Chiarot will also be moved by March 21st and a couple of other defencemen are possibilities. The beleaguered Habs may take a page from the Leafs playbook and have a Zamboni driver in their D-corps before the season is over.
One Canadian team that might be a surprise seller is the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets went into the season projected as one of the top teams north of the border, but that hasn’t translated into wins. First line centre Mark Scheifele has struggled this year and the entire team has underperformed. They went into the break outside of the playoff picture, and the Jets will need to make decisions about pending free agents Paul Stastny and Andrew Copp. These are not the decisions GM Kevin Cheveldayoff expected to be making.
The Arizona Coyotes drew some attention this week, much like a fire truck heading out around the bay in Newfoundland. You know it’s not going to be a good scene, but you can’t stop yourself from following. The team has been smouldering since inception, and they threw a little gas on the embers this week when news broke of their intention to play next season in a university facility.
The lease on their current arena is coming to an end, and the long-term plan is a new arena. In the short-term they’re exploring the option of playing in a new facility at Arizona State University. The arena is expected to seat 5000, raising concerns about potential revenue. Imagine hosting NHL teams in a barn that’s a smidgen bigger than the Corner Brook Civic Centre.
The Coyotes have been in perpetual rebuild mode and are sellers once again this year. When 23-year-old top pair defenceman Jakob Chychrun is on the market, one wonders when it is this team thinks they can ever be competitive.
On Thursday, the Anaheim Ducks announced Pat Verbeek as their new General Manager. Verbeek had a 20-year career as a player before becoming a hockey executive. He spent the last three years as AGM in Detroit. Verbeek will have to hit the ground running – the Ducks are surprised to be in a playoff position and have some key pending free agents to make decisions on before the trade deadline.
The spiky Toronto Raptors are holding their own in the NBA standings. Two wins this past week against the Miami Heat and another against the Atlanta Hawks had them on a three-game streak. All-Star Fred VanVleet’s leadership, the shooting of Gary Trent Jr., and the surprising maturity of the kids are giving management something to think about with Thursday’s trade deadline upon us.
The 2022 Winter Olympics are underway in Beijing. China’s time zone is 11.5 hours ahead of Newfoundland time. Many daytime events will be live in Newfoundland while you’re sleeping, and when you’re getting up in the morning the prime time events will be ongoing.
I imagine we’ll all have to roll with it where scheduling is concerned – COVID-19 will have a say on when some things happen. But based on the current schedule, on Thursday morning, Feb. 10, you can watch Team Canada play their first game in the preliminary round in men’s hockey. The women’s team started their preliminary round with games on Friday and Sunday, and you can catch them late Monday night if you’re a night owl.
On Wednesday you can watch Team Gushue begin the quest for a second Olympic Gold in men’s curling. Watching one of our own compete with the world’s best is a good enough reason to lose a little sleep. Enjoy the games.
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.