By Lori Bennett Sports Columnist
August signals the last month of off-season business before the 2022-23 hockey season gets underway. Teams continue to be busy, and a few items still remain unresolved.
The restricted free agent storyline continues to develop this summer as more players make a shift toward taking control of their own playing careers and forcing teams to make decisions concerning their future. Matthew Tkachuk headlines this group this week.
After losing Johnny Gaudreau to free agency, the Calgary Flames learned from Tkachuk that he would also be testing free agency in a year. GM Brad Treliving was not interested in a replay of the Gaudreau situation and made a quick decision.
Last weekend the Flames pulled off a blockbuster trade, dealing Tkachuk and a conditional fourth round pick to the Florida Panthers for forward Jonathan Huberdeau, defenceman MacKenzie Weegar, forward prospect Cole Schwindt and a conditional first round pick. The deal feels very lopsided in Calgary’s favour until you consider that both Huberdeau and Weegar will be free agents next summer. The Flames remain in a position where they must convince important players to re-sign and stay in Calgary.
The Flames can still win this deal in a big way if they take a dispassionate stance on each player.
If Huberdeau and Weegar are not re-signed by the trade deadline, at least one of them should be dealt for a haul rather than lost to free agency. There will be a temptation to hold on to both for the playoffs, but that will be an error if the season ends with anything less than a Stanley Cup and then both players leave.
Pierre-Luc Dubois is another player controlling his fate. Last week he re-signed with the Winnipeg Jets for one season, which will leave him one year short of unrestricted free agency. Following the signing, Dubois met with the press and said little to settle rumours that he is working his way out of Winnipeg and perhaps to Montreal.
In the meanwhile, Habs fans are salivating at the possibility of both Dubois and Huberdeau, two premium Quebecois players, becoming available to be targeted in free agency.
The Edmonton Oilers find themselves in a similar situation with Jesse Puljujärvi. He was selected fourth overall in the 2016 draft and has never lived up to expectations in Edmonton, bouncing between the NHL, AHL and Finland. Puljujärvi has been the subject of trade rumours, but to date the Oilers have been seeking an unrealistic return for a player they drafted so high.
Puljujärvi just signed a new one-year deal, and it is expected he will be dealt in the coming weeks or months as it is now obvious he will not have a long-term career in Edmonton, and they will have to cut their losses before he reaches free agency.
In Vancouver, it’s centreman J.T. Miller who is one year away from unrestricted free agency. Miller’s plans concerning free agency remain unclear, and the Canucks may be debating whether he fits their long-term plans. Miller may still move this off-season, but if not, and if he remains unsigned at the trade deadline, he will be one of the most sought after players as teams prepare for the playoffs.
As of press deadline, several significant players remain on the free agent market.
John Klingberg, apparently dissatisfied with his representation through the process, has changed agents. Nazem Kadri is the other big name still on the board, but several useful veterans are yet to find new homes including Phil Kessel, P.K. Subban and Paul Stastny.
Blue Jays Babble
The Major League Baseball All-Star Break was a nice interruption for the Toronto Blue
Jays. After a first half that did not quite meet expectations, and a prolonged skid, General Manager Ross Atkins relieved Manager Charlie Montoyo of his duties. The perception was that Montoyo, as bench boss, had not been able to get enough out of the highly talented roster Atkins had assembled. Interim Manager John Schneider had just a few games in charge before the break.
Following the break, the Jays were off to Boston to face the Red Sox for a three-game series. They swept the series, with a dramatic first game where the Blue Birds’ bats exploded for a 28-5 win that looked more like a football outcome than baseball.
The Jays took a confidence booster and a Monday rest home to face the St. Louis Cardinals for a two-game series. In the opening game on Tuesday, George Springer hit a grand slam in a 10-3 win to make it seven straight. The second game was a 6-1 loss where Albert Pujols hit a homerun in his final visit to Toronto before his retirement.
The Jays welcomed the Detroit Tigers on Thursday for a four-game series and hoped to continue their winning ways and move up in the standings.
The MLB trade deadline is Tuesday, August 2nd. The Jays are a top contender to win a wild card spot in the post-season, so they will be looking to bolster the roster before the deadline passes. Their core need is pitching – starters and relievers and any kind of pitching that moves the needle. The Jays might also like to add a left-handed bat to diversify the batting order and have that option off the bench. They were rumoured to be interested in Andrew Benintendi, a lefty, before he was dealt to the New York Yankees.
By end of business on Tuesday, the Jays may have an improved roster to take into the final stretch.