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Wheeling, dealing, same old feeling

By Lori Bennett National Sports Columnist

NHL Noise

NHL training camps are up and running and deals are still being made as general managers watch the last dregs of the off-season drifting toward the drain. On Tuesday, Sept. 19, Montreal Canadiens General Manager Kent Hughes cleared the crease when he traded goaltender Casey DeSmith to the Vancouver Canucks for veteran forward Tanner Pearson and a third-round pick. DeSmith was acquired by the Habs earlier this summer in the deal that saw Mike Hoffman leave town and Erik Karlsson wind up in Pittsburgh. DeSmith was one of several assets that were paid to the Canadiens for helping to broker the deal. Jeff Petry was flipped shortly after his acquisition, and Hughes has now followed suit with DeSmith. The Canucks should be content with this deal. DeSmith is a decent back up to their ace, Thatcher Demko, and comes in at a lower cap hit than Pearson. GM Patrik Allvin has been ready to move Pearson for some time, while also eager to free up cap space. It cost him a mid-round pick, but he was able to do both while also bringing back a useful player. It’s unfortunate that Allvin is forced to trade away futures-based assets to remove unwanted contracts, but that’s one reality of the flat cap. Hughes may have preferred to avoid bringing back a contract in offloading DeSmith. His forward group is already stacked with limited spaces for young players to grow into. But the wily GM is content to stockpile picks as future trade capital, and Pearson is a player with a point to prove, returning to play from a series of surgeries. If he’s able to perform in the last year of his contract, perhaps Pearson too can be flipped at some point this season for another asset. If Pearson is not able to help the Habs in a meaningful way, and there are kids who deserve the roster spot more, there’s nothing preventing Hughes from waiving Pearson. In other Habs news, Paul Byron announced his retirement this week after 12 seasons in the NHL. One of his most memorable moments was when he scored a shorthanded goal from his knees in the 2021 playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has found a new role in the organization, being named a Player Development Consultant. The sixth round draft pick who came to Montreal through the waiver wire may have some things to teach the kids. Byron isn’t the only guy with a new role. In Toronto, the Maple Leafs are getting creative entering the last year of William Nylander’s contract. Drafted as a centreman, Nylander has spent limited time in that role in his time Toronto. Coach Sheldon Keefe reported last week that they would begin camp with Nylander in the middle and would give him a committed look there. This move likely changes the role John Tavares fills in Toronto. Perhaps a move to Nylander’s wing will serve to prolong the captain’s effectiveness. It may also help justify the enormous raise Nylander will fetch if he is to re-sign in Toronto. The Ottawa Senators held their golf tournament this past week and Michael Andlauer was there for his first public appearance as their new owner. He said he hoped to have the deal completed by end of week, and by last Thursday it was official. Perhaps more pressing for the Sens was the absence of restricted free agent centreman Shane Pinto from their training camp roster. GM Pierre Dorion said that talks were ongoing with Pinto’s camp but that he didn’t want to predict a timeline for getting a new contract signed. The 22-year-old just had his first 20-goal season and is an important part of the future in Ottawa. But as talks linger, speculation grows that Dorion may be forced to trade the pivot to one of the teams watching the situation like hawks. The Mike Babcock situation came to a head last week, with the controversial coach resigning from his role of Head Coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets before seeing one day of training camp. The investigation conducted by the NHLPA that revolved around Babcock looking through photos on players’ phones ended with Babcock’s resignation. This was an unforced error from the management group in Columbus, and they’re lucky to still be employed. Pascal Vincent, who was named Babcock’s replacement, was available to them all along and has a strong coaching reputation. Now Vincent is forced to get ready for a new season in a very small window of time, while welcoming to camp a group of players who found themselves in an investigation to start their hockey year. The irony here is that the Blue Jackets may accidentally be better off. Vincent may be the better coach, even if he wasn’t GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s first choice. In the meanwhile, most are betting that Babcock’s picture day might be his last event as a coach in the NHL.

PWHL Posts

The PWHL held its 15-round draft last Monday in Toronto, where the original six teams formed their inaugural rosters. Minnesota had the first ever first overall pick, and with it they selected University of Minnesota forward Taylor Heise. Training camps get underway in November.

Blue Jays Babble

Over the Sept. 16 weekend, the Toronto Blue Jays welcomed the Boston Red Sox for a weekend series, fresh off a disastrous series against the Texas Rangers. The schedule was crashing in on the Jays, and if they intended to play fall ball, they needed to get their act together. On Friday night, Toronto sent Jose Berrios to the mound, and he pitched seven scoreless innings. The bullpen held, and a three-run homerun by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was the only offense in a 3-0 Jays win. Saturday’s game was a nailbiter that went to 13 innings and a walk-off single was the difference in a 4-3 win. Then on Sunday, Matt Chapman was the hero, hitting a game-winning double in the bottom on the ninth inning for a 3-2 win and a series sweep. The Jays were back in business and had Monday off before heading to New York for a three-game series against the Yankees. The Boys in Blue continued their winning ways on Tuesday. Yusei Kikuchi combined with the bullpen to hold the Yanks to one run and the offense was effective in a 7-1 win. Kevin Gausman was the starter on Wednesday in a starters’ duel, but the Yankees bullpen was wild, and the Jays capitalized. The eighth inning saw two runs walked in, and in the ninth the Jays scored three on some timely small ball for a 6-1 win. But Toronto was not able to bring home the sweep, losing 5-3 to New York on Thursday. Following the series, the Jays were holding on to a wild card spot by the skin of their teeth, with Seattle and Texas very close behind. Two of these three teams will make the post-season and the last week of regular season play will be a battle. The Blue Jays went into the weekend with just three series remaining to determine their fate ­­— two weekend series against the Tampa Bay Rays, the first in Tampa and the season ender at home, and another home series against Yankees in in between. The entire season comes down to how the Jays perform against division rivals, and that hasn’t gone particularly well this year. It’s time to cross all our fingers.

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