By Lori Bennett
With just days before NHL rookie and training camps officially open, players are setting up in their teams’ cities and getting acquainted or reacquainted on the ice, while executives clue up the last bits of business of the off-season.
The Edmonton Oilers started the action last weekend, adding free agent defenceman Ryan Murray on a one-year contract. Murray is fresh off a cup-winning season with the Colorado Avalanche. The Winnipeg Jets followed suit, adding free agent forward Sam Gagner for one season. Both moves represent cheap depth signings for their new teams.
The Vancouver Canucks also took the plunge, signing centreman J.T. Miller, who had one year left on his contract, to a seven-year contract extension worth $56 million. The Canucks were at a crossroads – they could trade Miller for futures and begin a retool or extend him and confirm they are in win-now mode. The path they chose should trigger additional moves to improve the team, but it’s not abundantly clear how the executives in Vancouver intend to make that happen.
On Monday the Ottawa Senators dealt with one of their restricted free agents, signing defenceman Erik Brannstrom to a one-year contract. Then on Wednesday they signed an eight-year contract extension with forward Tim Stutzle worth $66.8 million. It’s a rich deal for a 20-year-old, but GM Pierre Dorion is betting on Stutzle to perform at such a high level that the contract will look like a bargain in a few years.
The Montreal Canadiens joined the party on Wednesday, signing restricted free agent Kirby Dach to a four-year contract worth $13.45 million. Dach had been acquired in a draft-floor trade on July 7th, with the Habs spinning a couple of deals to make it happen. Adding the big centre was a big piece of GM Kent Hughes’ summer efforts to rebuild the Habs.
The deal was followed by an announcement that Carey Price would be placed on long-term injury reserve. It is becoming increasingly more likely that Price has played his last NHL game. Hughes confirmed the star netminder is not likely able to play this year, and the likelihood was sufficient that they were prepared to spend against his cap space. It remains to be seen whether the goalie who was once the best in the league will consider another surgery in an effort to return to the Habs.
On Thursday, the Habs were back at it, signing their last remaining restricted free agent. Goalie Cayden Primeau was inked to a three-year, one-way deal. He will continue to develop in Laval but will earn an NHL-level salary to do so. Primeau was impressive in the AHL playoffs last season, but it remains to be seen whether he can eventually be the ace starter that replaces Carey Price.
As of press deadline, there was still some unfinished business lurking around the NHL, so the next few days promise to be hopping.
Last weekend, Team Canada won gold at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Denmark. Brianne Jenner scored a pair of goals to claim the hero role in the final game. It was the 12th gold medal for Canada at the women’s worlds, and they entered the tournament as the defending champs. This was another chapter in a lengthy rivalry saga between Canada and the United States in Women’s hockey.
The moment of glory was sullied by the decision by Hockey Canada to allow CEO Scott Smith to present the gold medals. Hockey Canada has been embroiled in a significant sexual assault scandal, and an ongoing related investigation. Hockey Canada has faced multiple calls for new leadership, including for Smith to be removed from his position. The decision to have him present medals against that backdrop is bizarre at best.
Perhaps we should manage our expectations about the potential for culture change at Hockey Canada.
Blue Jays Babble
Last weekend the Toronto Blue Jays were in Pittsburgh to face the Pirates for a three-game series. On Friday, Alek Manoah pitched a beauty in a 4-0 win. It was pitching by committee in Saturday’s game, but somehow the Jays came out with a 4-1 win. The Jays completed the sweep on Sunday on a strong outing from Ross Stripling leading them to a 4-3 win.
The Jays kicked off a four-game series against the Baltimore Orioles on Monday with a double header. In the first game, Kevin Gausman pitched into the seventh inning and George Springer had three hits and three runs in a 7-3 win. Just hours later, the teams were at it again and this time it was three homeruns from Bo Bichette that sealed the 8-4 win. Mitch White struggled on the mound on Tuesday, and the Jays lost 9-6. On Wednesday Manoah was in a groove once again as the Toronto beat the Orioles 4-1 to cap off the series and leave Baltimore with six wins in seven games.
The Jays had Thursday off before heading to Texas for a three-game weekend series against the Rangers. They are in good standing to make the post-season, but the Blue Birds have some pitching questions to address. Mitch White has not performed well since he was acquired at the trade deadline and was optioned to Triple-A on Wednesday. The starting rotation in Toronto lacks a fifth man, and that could make things very challenging down the stretch.