The Edge of Lori: NHL has an NL champ

By Lori Bennett

Sports Columnist

NHL Noise

The Colorado Avalanche are the 2021-22 Stanley Cup Champions! After losing to the defending champs on Friday night, June 24, the series returned to Tampa Bay for a sixth game, and there were worries that the Lightning would do their thing and Colorado would blow it. But the Avalanche would not be denied. Artturi Lehkonen’s goal at the midway point of the second period was the difference in a 2-1 win.

A Newfoundlander will have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. St. John’s Alex Newhook was drafted by Colorado in the first round, at 16th overall, in the 2019 draft. He contributed four assists in 12 playoff games after scoring 13 goals and 20 assists in 71 regular season games for the Avalanche this year. The Stanley Cup may find its way to the Avalon Peninsula this summer.

With the season over, there are hockey lessons other teams can learn from these last two.

The lesson from the Tampa Bay Lightning is that being a dynasty is exhausting. Are the Lightning a dynasty? In a salary cap era, to be eliminated in the Stanley Cup Final the year after winning back-to-back Cups is probably as close to a dynasty as we will see.

The squad from Tampa finished the series with multiple injuries, and it’s fair to say they were fatigued after three long seasons that included the challenges of COVID-19. It will be interesting to see how GM Julien BriseBois juggles his roster this summer to improve the team while staying within the cap limits and preparing for another Cup run.

The Colorado Avalanche are a master class in using every tool available to build your hockey team. Their core – featuring Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Gabe Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and, more recently, Alex Newhook and Bowen Byram – were all drafted and developed by the Avalanche. In a salary cap era, building through the draft is essential – any successful team will have a slew of players that grew up in their organization. For teams at the bottom of the NHL standings this year, a close look at how Colorado managed their drafts is warranted.

Other significant players were added through trades. Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, J.T. Compher, Darcy Kuemper, Samuel Girard and Devon Toews were all added by trade, not to mention the timely deadline additions of Artturi Lehkonen and Josh Manson. We can’t forget the free agent signings of players like Valeri Nichushkin and Darren Helm.

That’s how you use every tool, perfectly timed, to bring together a team that can contend for a Stanley Cup. GM Joe Sakic will have some juggling of his own to do this summer, and I’m guessing he has already taken a page out of the BriseBois book to get ready.

Elsewhere in the NHL, another coaching vacancy was filled this week when the Chicago Blackhawks hired Luke Richardson to be their next Head Coach. As a result, the Montreal Canadiens will be looking for a new assistant.

Barry Trotz, who was fired at the end of the season by the New York Islanders and was coveted by several other teams, including the Winnipeg Jets, has announced he will take a break before accepting a new post.

The off-season is genuinely underway. This past week the Toronto Maple Leafs signed defenceman Timothy Liljegren to a two-year, $2.8 million contract extension.

Liljegren, who is 23, was selected by the Leafs in the first round of the 2017 NHL draft. Last season he scored five goals and 23 points in 61 games.

The countdown is now on to the NHL Amateur Draft. Last week respectected Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie released his final draft ranking, and for the first time Shane Wright is not at the top of his list. Juraj Slafkovsky, the giant Slovakian left winger, has overtaken Wright.

The Montreal Canadiens management group has a giant decision facing them on July 7 when they take to the podium to make their selection. The draft promises to be an exciting event.

Blue Jays Babble

After losing two of three in their weekend series against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Toronto Blue Jays greeted the Boston Red Sox for a four-game series this week. The Jays are neck-and-neck with Boston for second place in the American League East, making this an important series.

The Jays opened with a standout pitching performance from Kevin Gausman in a 7-2 win. On Tuesday night, June 28, Ross Stripling gave the Jays five solid innings and a lead for the bullpen, but relief pitching nearly blew the game and it took some late-game heroics from the batters to secure a 6-5 win.

The Jays need pitching help!

With Hyun-jin Ryu done for the season, and perhaps next, there is a hole in the starting rotation. That gap has been admirably filled by Ross Stripling, but it was likely Stripling would have been called upon regardless with the way Yusei Kikuchi has struggled. With Kikuchi being pulled early on a fairly consistent basis, and Stripling still working to stretch out his game since being transferred to a starting role, the bullpen is exhausted.

An upgrade on Kikuchi may be a deal you make at the trade deadline, but it’s starting to feel like bullpen help is a need that must be addressed in short order if the Jays hope to be buyers at the trade deadline.

It’s too early to panic, but it’s surely not too early to make a deal.

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