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The Edge of Lori: Work up ahead


By Lori Bennett National Sports Columnist

NHL Noise The 2022-23 NHL Playoffs are already underway, and we will spend a lot of time discussing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the next few weeks, so perhaps the 16 teams that didn’t make it into the post-season party can get some attention for just one week. It’s time to consider off-season priorities for teams that didn’t make it. The Montreal Canadiens are the Canadian team that finished lowest in the standings at 28th overall. This accomplishment has earned them the fifth best odds to win the 2023 Draft Lottery on May 8. Some off-season priorities for the Habs might become clearer after that time, but there are a few items on their agenda that are already crystal clear. One of the pressing concerns for the Habs is that they led the NHL in man-games lost to injury this year. At the end of game 82, the team posed for a picture with more regulars in suits than in hockey gear. It was a sight to behold. GM Kent Hughes stated his intentions to get a handle on that issue during the off-season. “We can have all the greatest plans in the world, but if we don’t find a way to improve what’s going on from a medical standpoint, we’ll never build a winner here.” The Habs have other priorities to consider. With several contracts ending – Paul Byron, Jonathan Drouin, Sean Monahan, and others who are unrestricted free agents – Kent Hughes will have some cap flexibility to play with. The GM said that it affords him the possibility of adding an established NHL player already under contract in exchange for prospects. Pierre-Luc Dubois, come on down! Hughes has also said they’d be open to taking on a contract like they did with Sean Monahan from Calgary last year. The Canadiens also have several young players ready to take the leap to the NHL and may add more at the draft. Vice President of Hockey Operations, Jeff Gordon, said he expects them to be as aggressive on the draft floor as they were last year. The GM will have to find a way to move out some under-performers if he intends to add. It promises to be a very exciting off-season for the Habs. The Vancouver Canucks finished 22nd overall and have the 11th best odds for the draft lottery. With a relatively new GM and coach in place, attention will be entirely on the players. There are several players reported to be on the trade block, including costly forwards J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser, and defenseman Tyler Myers. The Canucks also have a couple of young players they would like to re-sign in Elias Petterson and Ethan Bear, and those will be priorities but will require some cap creativity. Reports suggest that the ownership group in Vancouver is not interested in a long rebuild, so we can expect to see GM Patrik Allvin go for deals that drive a reset on the fly. The Ottawa Senators are probably the Canadian team outside the playoffs that are in the best shape. They finished 21st in the standings, but have been through the worst days of their rebuild and have some young players on the rise. A late season trade to acquire Jakob Chychrun was a tidy bit of business by GM Pierre Dorion. The Sens ownership situation is expected to be settled in April, with Ryan Reynolds and the Remington Group from Toronto the bidders believed to be most likely to win. The new bosses will likely be in place for most of the off-season business and will no doubt want to make a splash early. One piece of business that might become necessary is dealing with young forward Alex DeBrincat. The Sens traded for DeBrincat last off-season, but he is a restricted free agent this summer and it is unclear if he intends to re-sign in Ottawa. If that can’t be resolved, expect Dorion to deal him again, perhaps to recover a first round pick since they dealt theirs to Arizona in the Chychrun trade. The Calgary Flames are the messiest Canadian team outside the playoffs, finishing 17th overall. The summer of 2022 was tumultuous for the Flames, and it looks like this coming off-season may be even more so. GM Brad Treliving’s contract is due to expire at the end of June, and on Monday the team and Treliving agreed to part ways. Don Maloney was promoted to President of Hockey Operations, and he will have the responsibility of hiring a new general manager. It’s tough to imagine that anyone in Calgary’s management group could come to any conclusion other than that Coach Darryl Sutter needs to be released from his contract and a modern day coach added. The strife between players and coach has been evident all season, and rumours have begun to circulate that some core players may be asking for a trade. One wonders if the coaching dynamic impacted the decisions of Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk last summer. In player personnel, goaltender Jacob Markstrom may be on the move. The Flames have two goalies under contract, and a highly regarded prospect in Dustin Wolf ready to make the leap to the big show. South of the border, a couple of teams are particularly interesting. The era of Sidney Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin may be winding down as the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals missed the playoffs. For the Penguins, their fate was determined in the last week of the schedule. The last time they did not qualify for the playoffs was the 2005-2006 season, Sidney Crosby’s first season in the league. Sid the Kid rose to greatness at warp speed and led the Penguins to three Stanley Cups during their run. The core in Pittsburgh is aging and their cupboards are practically empty. Many felt that last summer was the time for them to begin transitioning their roster. But the Pens chose to re-sign Kris Letang and traded for aging defenseman Jeff Petry. The Pens desperately need an infusion of youth, and the best route to get them there may be to trade Evgeny Malkin. A true contender in need of a top 6 centreman would pay dearly to land Malkin. Before they get down to business, there are some executive hires to deal with. At the end of the season, the Penguins fired President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke and GM Ron Hextall. The Washington Capitals accepted their fate some time ago and made some deals at the deadline that made it apparent they knew a retool was necessary. They dealt defender Dmitry Orlov to Boston in a package for picks and prospects, traded Boston’s first rounder to Toronto for young blueliner Rasmus Sandin, and dealt their pending unrestricted free agents for picks. The Capitals run with Ovechkin hasn’t been as strong as the Pens run with Crosby. They did not qualify in the 2013-14 season and won just one Stanley Cup during the Ovy Era. Nonetheless, they have the eighth best odds to win the draft lottery and will be working on a quick reset to maximize the three years that remain with Ovechkin in the fold. Among the other teams that lost out, Anaheim, Columbus, Chicago, and Arizona are in burn-it-all-to-the-ground rebuilds. Detroit and Buffalo are starting to transition out of theirs and will be teams to watch in the near future. San Jose, St. Louis and Nashville are all retooling, and Philadelphia is… well, your guess is as good as mine, but guess something ugly. The off-season promises to be entertaining once the thrill of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is gone.

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