By Lori Bennett
This week in the NHL featured some public relations stories, both good and bad.
Over the Hallowe’en weekend, the Boston Bruins management group delivered a blow to the positive vibes surrounding their team following a hotter than expected start. Despite injury troubles, the Bruins were dominating and holding first place in the Atlantic Division.
The Bruins created an unnecessary whirlwind of controversy when they signed unrestricted free agent defenseman Mitchell Miller to an entry-level contract. The Arizona Coyotes had drafted Miller in 2020 and then revoked the pick after information surfaced that he had been charged and convicted several years previous in relation to a serious case of bullying of a special needs classmate.
Following a combined outcry from fans, media, Bruins players, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, and the mother of the child victim, by Sunday, Nov. 6, the Bruins had announced they were cutting ties with Miller. It’s hard to fathom what management was thinking when they pursued Miller, but the move inflicted a blow to the reputation of the organization and to hockey culture in general.
Positive attention surrounding the Ottawa Senators is on the upswing. On Monday night, Nov. 7, Ryan Reynolds appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. During the interview, Fallon addressed the rumours surrounding the sale of the Senators, and asked Reynolds directly if he was interested in purchasing the team. Reynolds was equally direct in his response, confirming the rumours were true and joking about the expense involved.
“I need a partner with really deep pockets,” he said.
Then on Tuesday night, Reynolds was at the game at Canadian Tire Centre as the Senators greeted the Vancouver Canucks. Reynolds was born in Vancouver and spent a portion of his growing up years in Vanier, a community in Ottawa. The fans acknowledged his presence with a standing ovation, while the players tapped their sticks on the boards.
All this drama is rather exciting for Sens fans, but the team ultimately lost the game to the struggling Canucks and landed in the Atlantic Division basement. This wasn’t how this season was supposed to go, with the impressive off-season they had, and GM Pierre Dorion must be thinking about a move to help his team. The question is whether that will come via trade or coaching change.
Another team that is having a slower than expected start is the Calgary Flames. After a transformational summer that saw key players replaced by new stars, expectations were high that the Flames could take the next step. Many were calling them a legitimate Stanley Cup Contender. But after a dozen games, the Flames had a .500 record and were barely in a playoff position.
One area of concern for the Flames is the slow start of Jonathan Huberdeau, who was acquired by trade in the summer and locked into a rich, long-term deal shortly thereafter. With a goal and five assists in 11 games, he will need to bring more, but it’s a little early to fret. New players are adjusting to new surroundings, chemistry is still being formed, and systems are still being learned.
While there may be calls for struggling teams like the Senators and Flames to make a move to help their team and shake things up, the answer may be found in doing the exact opposite. The Sens may benefit from a little injury replacement help, but both teams have strong rosters that are still finding their way in fitting together. Patience may be the best option.
In Toronto, the Maple Leafs have been hit again by injury, particularly in the goaltending position. With Matt Murray already on the Injured Reserve list, the Leafs lost Ilya Samsonov over the weekend to a lower body injury. He is considered week-to-week, but GM Kyle Dubas was forced to sign AHL goalie Keith Petruzelli to an NHL deal to back up Erik Kallgren.
The Leafs could be tempted look to the Montreal Canadiens for help, where both Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault are having strong starts. Habs fans are concerned that the duo’s performance may threaten their chances to land a young franchise player at the amateur draft. GM Kent Hughes is unlikely to be feeling the same angst, and it would take a very strong offer to pry Allen out of Montreal.
Blue Jays Babble
This week MLB announced the Cy Young nominees for the 2022 season, and Alek Manoah of the Toronto Blue Jays has been named. The award, named after the Hall of Fame pitcher, is given annually to the best pictures in each of the American League and National League. The winner will be announced on Wednesday. The 24-year-old is the youngest Blue Jay to ever receive a nomination for the award.
This is the third straight year that a Toronto pitcher has been nominated. Last year Robbie Ray won the award, and in 2020 it was Hyun-Jin Ryu who was named as a finalist. Manoah had a very strong season for the Blue Jays, rising to ace status by the end of the regular season and earning the start in the first game of the post-season. He finished the season with a 16-7 record with a 2.24 ERA and 180 strikeouts.
Last week I said the Jays would be wise to lock up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to a long term deal after he won the American League Gold Glove award for first base. The same should be said for Manoah, a young pitcher that can be an ace in Toronto for a long time.