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The NHL off-season shuffles

By Lori Bennett National Sports Columnist

NHL Noise

This past week in the NHL gave us a couple of interesting bits of business to stir us from our off-season slumber. Last Sunday, Aug. 6, a player that had been on the trade market since last season’s trade deadline finally found a new home. Fresh off a Norris Trophy win, Erik Karlsson was acquired from the San Jose Sharks by the Pittsburgh Penguins in a three-team blockbuster. President of Hockey Operations Kyle Dubas was brought to Pittsburgh to build around the Penguins’ aging core and give them a chance to win one more Stanley Cup. He turned his focus to Karlsson, a player who is also aging but experienced a renaissance last season. Dubas obviously sees the elite offensive defenseman as a key acquisition in his quest to give Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang a chance to win. Just a few days after announcing he would retain the role of General Manager for this coming season, Dubas made his move. Taking on Karlsson’s gargantuan contract meant finding a new home for blueliner Jeff Petry. The Montreal Canadiens surfaced as the most unlikely third party to help facilitate the deal, having traded Petry to the Pens just last summer. At the end of the day, the Penguins got their man in Karlsson, along with forward prospect Dillon Hamaliuk and a third-round pick from San Jose, as well as forward Rem Pitlik from Montreal. The Sharks offloaded a giant contract and acquired Pittsburgh’s first round pick in 2024, as well as veterans Mikael Granlund (forward) and Jan Rutta (defense). They also added veteran forward Mike Hoffman from the Habs. The Canadiens parted ways with Hoffman after months of trying to deal him, while landing three useful pieces in Petry, goalie Casey DeSmith, forward prospect Nathan Legare, and a second-round pick in 2025. What can we make of all these moving parts? I’d keep a close eye on Dubas in Pittsburgh. With this deal, the Pens are all in. Still, they probably haven’t done enough to be a true Cup contender, so more moves are likely coming. It’s harder to understand what the Sharks are up to. They need a rebuild and dealing Karlsson should have helped expedite that, but the return was underwhelming. They took back other unwanted contracts and didn’t fetch much in the way of future assets. It was the Habs who came out of left field to join the party and likely fared the best. They fetched Petry on a reduced cap hit, with Pittsburgh retaining salary, and his trade value is considerably higher than Hoffman’s. Petry will eventually be dealt and when he is, the Habs will have moved Hoffman for value, which seemed impossible earlier this summer. In the meanwhile, DeSmith offers depth and options in net, and Legare can continue to develop in Laval. It was a work of wizardry by GM Kent Hughes. So now Habs fans are on Jeff Petry watch. The Petry family left Montreal due to a trade request during the COVID-19 pandemic, wishing to be closer to family support. Petry is valuable to the Habs. If he stays he would instantly become their best right-handed defenseman, and buy time for David Reinbacher, Justin Barron and Logan Mailloux to develop into the role. Hughes will not be devastated to start the season with Petry in the lineup but would likely prefer to find a trade partner. Teams like the Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings are possible landing spots. We shouldn’t sleep on the goaltending position in Montreal. They now have three NHL-level netminders in Samuel Montembeault, Jake Allen, and DeSmith. Cayden Primeau is also waiver eligible this season, and doubtful to pass through waivers. Hughes may be reluctant to lose Primeau for nothing, when he has shown flashes that he can be a starter. DeSmith may be flipped in another deal, or perhaps the time has come for the Habs to move on from Allen. If the Habs are forced to start the season with three netminders on the roster, perhaps it is the higher priced backup that will be sacrificed. Like Pittsburgh, the Washington Capitals are another team to have painted themselves into an aging core corner. Last week they signed forward Tom Wilson to a seven-year contract extension. The new contract kicks in when Wilson is 30 years old. Like Dubas trying to give Crosby and company another chance to win, GM Brian MacLellan would like to give Alex Ovechkin another shot. Following the extension, MacLellan said he would like to make further changes via trade before the season begins. He already added veterans Max Pacioretty (free agent signing) and Joel Edmundson (trade with Montreal) in the summer. On Monday, one of the top remaining free agents inked a contract, signing a one-year deal with the Arizona Coyotes. Matt Dumba is the latest player to overestimate his value on the open market and find himself in a less than ideal situation late in the off-season. On Tuesday, the Edmonton Oilers targeted some depth, signing veteran centreman Brandon Sutter to a professional tryout. Sutter, who has not played a game since May of 2021, has been recovering from Long COVID. A return to professional sports after his two-year battle would be practically miraculous, but he’s certainly an easy player to root for when camp opens. On Wednesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs added some goaltending depth, signing free agent Martin Jones to a one-year contract. With Matt Murray on LTIR, the Leafs needed a veteran option to support Ilya Samsonov and Joseph Woll and Jones will fill that role. Fans will likely have to wait until training camp to find out who will back up Samsonov in Toronto. No doubt the hope is to have Jones play in the AHL, but GM Brad Treliving will be reading the waiver wire tea leaves and trying to manage his assets. Blue Jays Babble

Last weekend the Toronto Blue Jays were in Boston to face the Red Sox for an important series against a division rival. On Friday night, Alek Manoah took the mound and allowed three runs in six and two-thirds innings pitched, and rookie utility player Davis Schneider hit a homerun in his first major league at bat to lead the Jays to a 7-3 win. Saturday saw Jose Berrios have a solid start and the bats played small ball in a 5-4 win. The Jays sealed the series sweep on Sunday in convincing fashion. Chris Bassitt allowed just one run in seven innings pitched, and the bats were active in a 13-1 win. The offensive explosion included another homerun from Schneider. The Blue Birds left Boston and headed to Cleveland for a series against the Guardians. Hyun-Jin Ryu got another start on Monday and looked good in four innings, and the bullpen held in 3-1 win. The streak came to an end on Tuesday, despite a solid seven-inning outing from Yusei Kikuchi, and the Jays lost 1-0. On Wednesday night the tables were turned, and the Jays were on the winning end of a 1-0 finish, with Kevin Gausman pitching seven shutout innings and the only run coming off a first inning homerun from George Springer. The Jays were due to close out the series on Thursday before playing host to Chicago for a weekend series against the Cubs. Blue Jays pitching has been on a roll, holding the best ERA (earned run average) in major league baseball. They’re getting good starts from the rotation, which might be getting a little crowded with Manoah and Ryu working their way back, and the bullpen has been reliable. The timing is perfect, with the Jays needing to finish the season strong to secure their best positioning for the post-season.

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