By Lori Bennett
It’s the dog days of summer in the NHL with limited action as teams take a brief reprieve. A few items are worth noting.
One of the biggest free agents of 2022 found a new home this past week. Defenceman John Klingberg signed a one year, $7 million deal with the Anaheim Ducks. Klingberg was looking for that annual amount or more over multiple seasons, but it looks like he misread the market. With minimal increase in the salary cap this coming season, teams are looking cautious.
The other significant free agent that remains apparently available is Nazem Kadri. Having had a career year this past season, Kadri was expected to find a new home with a sweet deal early in free agency. Rumours are circulating about potential landing spots.
Some suspect he has a deal in place with the New York Islanders that has not yet been announced by the enigmatic GM Lou Lamoriello. Others wonder if the Calgary Flames are frontrunners who are working to clear cap space before announcing a deal.
In other NHL news, this is the season of arbitration hearings for restricted free agents who have not been able to settle with their teams. These hearings can get ugly as the parties dispute the true value of the player, so teams are motivated to make a deal before the hearings occur.
This week, the Edmonton Oilers came to terms with Kailer Yamamoto and the Flames re-signed Andrew Mangiapane while also settling their arbitration with Oliver Kylington. The Ottawa Senators also re-signed newly acquired Mathieu Joseph to a multi-year deal.
Blue Jays Babble
NHL executives may be slumbering, but in Major League Baseball they’re wide awake. Last Tuesday, was the MLB trade deadline and business was hopping. The Toronto Blue Jays made several changes to improve their team heading into their push for the playoffs.
The Jays were in desperate need of bullpen arms heading into the deadline and they managed to accomplish that. They sent prospect infielder Jordan Groshans to the Miami Marlins for Anthony Bass and Zach Pop.
While not the big-name pitching fans may have been looking for, both Bass and Pop – a duo that sounds more like a jazz band than pitching help – add velocity to the bullpen. Bass is returning to the Jays, having been part of their 2020 team that reached the playoffs. Pop is a younger pitcher who is under team control for another four years, and is a Canadian player from Brampton, a suburb to the Northwest of Toronto.
With the clock winding down, the Jays added two additional players. With Hyun-Jin Ryu out for the season, and Yusei Kikuchi struggling since being added in the off-season, a starting pitcher was on the wish list for Toronto. The Jays were rumoured to be connected to Noah Syndergaard but lost out late to the Phillies. Instead, they added Mitch White from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
White is what baseballers call a swingman, which means he can serve as a starter or a reliever. The Jays already had such a player in Ross Stripling, who had moved from the bullpen to the rotation after the loss of Ryu. After the deadline it was learned that Stripling had suffered a glute/hip strain and would be out for at least 15 days, missing a minimum of two starts. White is not the ace that fans would have liked, but he does provide a starting option at the back of the order to help the Jays down the stretch.
In the final minutes before the deadline the Jays also added Whit Merrifield, a right-handed bat and utility player, from the Kansas City Royals. With centre-fielder George Springer dealing with an ongoing injury, it is expected that Merrifield will see some starts in the outfield to allow the Jays to load-manage Springer in the weeks ahead. Merrifield is also a strong baserunner and brings a pinch running option.
Merrifield comes with a little drama attached. When the Royals visited Toronto in mid-July, Merrifield was absent from the line-up. He was unable to travel to Canada because he was unvaccinated. After the series, Merrifield reportedly said he would consider getting vaccinated in the future if he was traded to a playoff team that may need to travel to Canada in the playoffs. Following the trade, Jays management said they would let Merrifield work out the issue with his family.
If Merrifield chooses to be vaccinated, there is still a minimum 14-day wait before he can enter Canada, depending on the vaccine he chooses. Presumably, he can still play for the Jays in road games in the United States, regardless of his vaccination status.
Did Jays management do enough? Certainly, they didn’t make the splash that fans were hoping for as they frantically refreshed their Twitter app on trade deadline day. They did make some “around the edges” moves to improve their roster, but these were tinkering moves rather than “all-in” moves.
In his post-deadline presser, GM Ross Atkins indicated he was pleased with this season’s performance from the bullpen and that the additions of Bass and Pop would complement the pen well, while White would help both the rotation and the bullpen. He said they have a lot of confidence in their young core, and they wanted to add players that could support that core for several years.
On Thursday, Aug. 4, the Jays began a four-game weekend series in Minnesota against the Twins. It’s crunch time with the post-season approaching.