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The puck drops here

By Lori Bennett National Sports Columnist NHL Noise This week is all about hockey. The 2023-24 NHL hockey season is finally underway. In the final days before rosters were set, teams made some noteworthy moves. The Toronto Maple Leafs traded forward Sam Lafferty to the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday, October 8 for a fifth-round pick. The gritty forward is in the last year of his contract and will likely be dealt again at the trade deadline if the Canucks are not in the playoff picture. With Lafferty’s cap hit off the books, the Leafs were able to sign Noah Gregor, who had been in camp on a professional tryout. Another noteworthy outcome from the Maple Leafs training camp was that Fraser Minten earned himself an unexpected roster spot. He was at Morgan Reilly’s for Thanksgiving dinner when GM Brad Treliving called him to tell him he had made the team. Now that’s the kind of phone call you put on your “thankful for” list. The 19-year-old was selected by the Leafs in the second round of the 2022 draft, and he made his NHL debut on Wednesday night in their season opener. In other Maple Leafs news, as expected, goaltender Matt Murray is out for the season after the team announced he underwent bilateral hip surgery. Murray was at the season opener sporting his crutches, an image that epitomizes his entire tenure in Toronto. The Winnipeg Jets pulled off a shocker, signing both goaltender Connor Hellebuyck and centreman Mark Scheifele to seven-year contract extensions worth just under sixty million dollars apiece. Both players were entering the final year of their current contracts and were believed to be on the trading block. At various points of the offseason, it was rumoured that neither intended to re-sign in Winnipeg. How quickly things have changed for Winnie. After recovering some decent young assets in the Pierre Luc Dubois trade, and now having two core pieces under contract, a rebuild seems off the table and the Jets will look to be competitive again for the next few years. The Jets weren’t the only guys handing out contract extensions. The Buffalo Sabres were coughing up the cash this week, signing two defenders. Rasmus Dahlin, the first overall pick in 2018, signed an eight-year deal worth eighty-eight million dollars. That’s not a bad haul for a 23-year-old. Then they signed Owen Power, the first overall pick in 2021, to a seven-year deal worth more than fifty-eight million dollars. The Sabres blue line is set, and the entire roster will be a major threat in the Eastern Conference as the kids mature. Teams like the Habs and Leafs will be paying attention. The Leafs will feel the Sabres creeping up behind them, while the Habs will be looking to keep up. We also have one less lame duck coach to kick off the season. The New Jersey Devils extended Coach Lindy Ruff on Wednesday, confirming they were pleased with what the veteran bench boss was able to accomplish through his crew of kids last season. The Devils hope to be legitimate contenders in the East again this year. The Montreal Canadiens did the deed that fans were calling for but didn’t believe management had the stomach to pull off – they placed veteran forward Joel Armia on waivers and demoted him to the Laval Rocket. The move allowed them to make space for the younger Jesse Ylonen who they feared would be claimed off waivers. Fans have been calling for a meritocracy where players are not guaranteed their seats because they’re veterans, and they got it with this move. The Canadiens chose to finalize their roster with three goaltenders on it. GM Kent Hughes revealed that a team had called them wanting to trade for Cayden Primeau during the preseason, and that he expected that team to claim him if they waived him to send him to Laval. The Habs weren’t prepared to let that happen but now they have a very crowded crease, with none of Jake Allen, Samuel Montembeault or Primeau being legitimate starters. This will be a storyline to watch all season. It also means they can only carry two extra players, likely a forward and a defenseman, which gets dicey when the longer road trips start. The Edmonton Oilers bit the bullet and placed forward Raphael Lavoie on waivers to trim their roster for the season’s start. It was expected that Lavoie would not clear after a strong season in the AHL last year. Habs fans wondered if he would make his way home, but teams were focused on keeping their own rosters sorted and Lavoie cleared. The Ottawa Senators started their season without Shane Pinto under contract, and without Josh Norris in the line up. The pressure has been on in Ottawa, with Norris being their top-line centreman and sidelined with a shoulder injury. Pinto could sure help relieve that pressure, but the Sens don’t have enough cap space to sign him at the raise he has earned. The issue remained unresolved at press deadline. The season officially opened on Tuesday night, but every single Canadian team got their seasons going on Wednesday night. The Montreal Canadiens were in Toronto to face the Maple Leafs, and those two teams always put on a show. Auston Matthews had a hat trick and Newfoundlander Alex Newhook scored his first two goals for the Habs in a game that needed a shootout to decide it. Mitch Marner was the only scorer in the shootout, and the Leafs won 6-5. Fans were also treated to a tilt between new Maple Leaf Ryan Reaves and Montreal’s Arber Xhekaj. Reaves delivered a late hit that Xhekaj didn’t appreciate, and he came to the defense of his teammate. The fight ended with Reaves on his back on the net. That’s likely not the last tussle we see between that pair. The Ottawa Senators were the only Canadian team not facing a Canadian team. They were in Carolina where they lost 5-3 to the Hurricanes. Out west, Edmonton was in Vancouver, and it was a lopsided affair that no one would have predicted. Brock Boeser scored four goals to lead the Canucks in an 8-1 demolishing of the Oilers. Meanwhile, Winnipeg was in Calgary where the Flames had recently lost AGM Chris Snow on their minds, and his family was in the building to remember him and his impact on the Flames. Calgary “won one for Snowy” with Andrew Mangiapane scoring two and Jacob Markstrom looking more like himself in the 5-3 win. The other noteworthy story from this past week was our first looks at Connor Bedard, the phenom that went first overall in the 2023 draft. He picked up his first assist in his first game on Tuesday night, on a goal by Ryan Donato that led the Chicago Blackhawks to a 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Then on Wednesday, Bedard scored his first NHL goal, the only goal from Chicago in a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins. And just like that, we’ve dropped the puck on another hockey season, and it promises to be an exciting year.

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