Here’s what you need to know this week about the sports you love.
We’re deep enough in the NHL season that teams are figuring out who they are and if they’re meeting expectations. About now, fans and pundits start talking about job security and who might be on the chopping block from teams that are struggling.
After 23 games last season the Maple Leafs decided Mike Babcock’s time was up. Pro-rated to this season’s schedule, that’s about 16 games. That’s about where we are now in the shortened season.
The COVID-19 climate is not ideal for shuffling staff. Perhaps you could find more job security if you worked for Skip the Dishes or Amazon, but not much. Nevertheless, if you suck like a Hoover there will be consequences, and this week there were consequences in Montreal.
On Wednesday, Feb. 24, Head Coach Claude Julien and Associate Coach Kirk Muller were relieved of their duties.
GM Marc Bergevin had a very busy off-season. He saw enough progress from his kids “in the bubble” that he was ready to invest to build around them. After adding major parts that included an elite back-up goalie and two top-6 forwards, Bergie was ready to pronounce his team playoff ready. Julien and Muller were excited about their bolstered roster. I think the smart kids call that foreshadowing.
After getting off to a 7-1-2 start the Habs faltered, going 2-4-2 in their last 8 games. But here’s the kicker. The losses were uglier than a monkey’s armpit.
The penalty kill was suffering, a poorly timed quandary while taking undisciplined penalties by the wholesale. Power play meant momentum killer.
Their two-on-one strategy was a face plant. I could go on, but you get the picture. It was a mess, and solutions were harder to find than a squid’s ankle. How did things go so foul so fast? Well, that’s the stuff that theories are made of.
Captain Shea Weber talked about a negative energy around the team. Young centre Nick Suzuki spoke of playing not to lose instead of playing to win. The infusion of new talent meant some regulars lost prominent roles, and disenchantment was growing.
Heck, fans were talking about banning the reverse retro jersey.
When the Habs lost to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night (Feb. 23) for the third time in four meetings, Bergie had seen enough. By the time you stopped pressing snooze on your alarm clock Wednesday morning and climbed out of bed, he was already freeing up futures.
Dominique Ducharme is the new Head Coach, promoted from the assistant role. He has a new assistant in Alexandre Burrows, promoted from the farm in Laval. Luke Richardson continues in his role.
By the time you’re reading this, we will already have seen two games under the new leadership. Ducharme has an enormous task ahead of him taking over a team that was built for another guy’s system, but it feels like a brand-new season in Habsland.
Don’t look now, but the Toronto Raptors have climbed their way back to .500 and are in fifth place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. The March 25th trade deadline is swiftly approaching and there are decisions to be made.
If the conversation were only about filling holes, the obvious need in Toronto is for size up front. The Raptors will need to upgrade the centre position to make any serious post-season noise. Mo Bamba from the Orlando Magic has been rumoured as one potential target.
But the bigger decision is what to do with pending unrestricted free agent Kyle Lowry. Lowry is in his ninths season as an important fixture in Toronto, and it seems unlikely that he’d be moved if the Raps remain in playoff contention. But he’s also an interesting trade chip, and the potential return could speed up a reset focused on a younger core of Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam.
We’ll keep an eye on how this one bounces.
Blue Jays Babble
Spring training is in full swing, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. arrived at camp having shed 42 pounds in the off-season. Who knew it was possible to lose weight during Covid? Stay tuned for a thorough review in the weeks ahead as the Jays trim down to their starting day roster.