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The Edge of Lori: Trimming the NHL fat

By Lori Bennett

Sports Columnist

NHL Noise

The deadline for teams to announce their final rosters to start the 2022-23 regular season is quickly approaching, and that means deals are getting done and rosters are being trimmed.

The league’s most significant unsigned restricted free agent got locked down this week when the Dallas Stars signed forward Jason Robertson to a four-year contract worth $31 million. The goal scorer was a bright light in Dallas last season, scoring 41 goals and 38 assists in 74 games. You can’t afford to be at odds with a player like that.

In Toronto, another Robertson is doing all he can to earn a roster spot. Nick Robertson, drafted by the Maple Leafs in the second round of the 2019 draft, was a goal scoring machine in the Ontario Hockey League. After two seasons of seasoning in the AHL, Robertson is hoping to make the leap to the Leafs. With the current salary cap squeeze in Toronto, it will be interesting to see how Kyle Dubas brings together his roster.

Juraj Slafkovsky of the Montreal Canadiens poses with young fan Andrew Ford (son of Derek Ford, formerly of Port aux Basques, now residing in Bishop’s Falls).– © Derek Ford

Some professional tryouts are coming to an end. The Edmonton Oilers released Jake Virtanen and the Calgary Flames released Sonny Milano and Cody Eakin. Both teams will have to find forward depth through other means, perhaps by trade or through a waiver wire pick up as teams are forced to release players they’d rather not.

Last weekend the Montreal Canadiens brought some clarity to their goaltending situation when they signed Jake Allen to a two-year contract extension worth $7.7 million. Allen was entering the final year of a deal he had signed to be the back-up for Carey Price.

With Price confirmed out for the season, and perhaps having already played his last NHL game, Allen is moving into a starter’s role while the Habs engage in a rebuild. The veteran is known for his leadership and has publicly voiced his desire to stay and support the rebuild.

On Wednesday, the Canadiens announced another contract that was met with some discomfort. Logan Mailloux, selected by Montreal in the first round of the 2021 amateur draft, was signed to a three-year entry level contract. The pick was highly controversial at the time.

Mailloux played in Sweden for the 2020-21 season and was charged, convicted, and fined for a sexual offence. Specifically, he had secretly photographed a woman while engaged in sexual activity, and then shared the photo with members of his team. When the matter became public, Mailloux requested that he not be drafted so he could focus on his own personal development, a request that was ignored by Marc Bergevin, the GM in Montreal at the time.

A public relations nightmare ensued as fans, pundits and sponsors expressed their dismay. When Bergevin was later fired by the Canadiens, the new GM Kent Hughers inherited the situation. The organization committed to work with Mailloux to “show he’s remorseful” and “to work on improving himself”. Several months later the young man has a professional hockey contract, and it raises some questions.

Brady Tkachuk of the Ottawa Senators signs autographs prior to the Kraft Hockeyville game against the Habs in Gander on Thursday, Oct. 6. – © Derek Ford

There is a question about how Mailloux has improved himself. Perhaps the leadership group in Montreal feels enough off-ice work has been done to warrant the contract, but certainly those details are not known to the public. There is also a question of timing, purely based on development.

Mailloux has played precious few games since he was drafted, and the Canadiens would have been thoroughly justified in wanting to see more. There was no rush – a decision was not necessary for months from an asset protection perspective. Why not wait until he’s at least played a few games for the London Knights?

Perhaps the biggest question is born of the backdrop that is Hockey Canada. With the latest round of public scrutiny unfolding, sponsors dropping like flies, and provincial hockey associations withdrawing their support, one wonders what made the executives in Montreal decide now was the perfect time to get their guy inked. Is this the first misstep for the rookie GM?

Blue Jays Babble

Last weekend the Toronto Blue Jays ended their regular season home games in style, sweeping the Boston Red Sox in their three-game series. It was a statement series, outscoring their division opponent 25-3, and confirming they were not content to rest on their laurels having clinched a playoff spot on Thursday night.

The Jays were in Baltimore for their final series of the season, determined to claim home field advantage for the Wild Card Round. It didn’t take them long. On Monday night, the boys in blue battled through a rainy game and the bats combined with a strong effort from Jose Berrios on the mound for the 5-1 win over the Orioles. The Seattle Mariners lost to the Detroit Tigers and that was enough for the Jays to clinch the first wild card spot.

The final two games were meaningless in the standings. Tuesday’s game was rained out, so the teams played a double header on Wednesday. In both games the Jays rested their best starting pitchers. They lost the first game 5-4 and won the second 5-1. With that the regular season came to an end.

On Friday, the playoffs got underway as the Blue Jays welcomed the Seattle Mariners for a best-two-of-three Wild Card Round. Alek Manoah was named starter for the opening game. By the time you’re reading this you’ll know if a team from Toronto made it out of the first round!

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