By Lori Bennett
With the IIHF World Juniors in the rear-view mirror, teams are beginning preparations for the upcoming NHL Amateur Draft. This year’s draft is booked for June 28-29 in Nashville, and a generational talent will be selected. Beyond one team winning the jackpot and selecting Connor Bedard, the 2023 draft is understood to be a deep draft and several elite talents will be available.
This week Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports in Montreal reported that the Canadiens were in a three-day meeting to prepare their draft list. The Habs expect to be one of the teams who are in position to draft one of those elite talents. Following a series of losses, Montreal has dropped in the standings and their odds of winning a lottery pick are increasing daily.
The Canadiens will also reap the benefits of a slumping Florida Panthers team. Last year’s President’s Trophy winners have struggled mightily this season and are currently out of a playoff spot. At the halfway mark of season, NHL teams are arriving at an understanding of where they are in the playoff picture and making decisions about whether they will be buyers or sellers. NHL insiders are wondering if the Panthers will choose to sell and try to retool for next season.
The thought of Florida as deadline sellers is delicious to Habs fans who own the Panthers’ first round pick, acquired in last season’s trade deadline deal for blueliner Ben Chiarot. If Florida misses the playoffs and drops in the standings, lottery odds for the Habs are boosted. Montreal will be sellers again this year, and hope to acquire at least one more first round pick in 2023 to truly jack up their rebuild.
Two Canadian teams are potential trade partners for the Habs, and rumours have consistently swirled about two specific players. The Edmonton Oilers are reportedly determined to add a defenseman – and they’d be wise to do it sooner than later since they’re barely hanging onto a playoff spot. One of the players on their radar is Montreal’s Joel Edmundson. The Habs will be asking for a package that includes a first round pick, and hoping it works out as well as the Chiarot trade.
The Calgary Flames are also clinging to a playoff spot, and on their wish-list is a top-six winger. They’ve been long rumoured to be interested in Josh Anderson. Montreal doesn’t need to move Anderson – he’s under contract for several years and continues to attract interest. But for the right offer, GM Kent Hughes would part with his big and gritty power forward, and it’s hard to imagine another coach loving the package Anderson brings more than Darry Sutter.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets are also confirmed buyers. An interesting dynamic is unfolding as this year’s trade deadline approaches that is a fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is suspected that some players who were required to submit their no-trade lists at the beginning of the season may have included Canadian teams on that list because of Canada’s restrictions during the height of the pandemic. This may open doors for trades between the Canadian buyers and sellers.
As of press deadline, there is a shocking potential seller on the list. Last season’s Stanley Cup Champions, the Colorado Avalanche, are sitting outside of a playoff spot. A slow start came as no surprise and was explained as the typical Stanley Cup hangover. At the halfway mark, questions are creeping in and the possibility of crowning a new champ is looking possible. Realistically, it’s hard to imagine that the Avs won’t find a way to sneak in, and almost impossible to think they will be sellers. But this is a team to watch as we approach March 3rd.
On Thursday night, Jan. 12, a recently retired player was honoured at the Bell Centre in Montreal before the Canadiens faced the Nashville Predators. P.K. Subban announced his retirement this past summer at the age of 33 after 13 seasons in the NHL. Subban was drafted by Montreal in the 2007 draft at 43rd overall, and split his career between the Canadiens, the Predators and the New Jersey Devils.
P.K. became a fan favourite in the 2009-10 season, when he made his mark late in the season in the playoffs when he helped replace injured defenseman Andrei Markov. He was a stud in the post-season and is remembered for a breakaway goal he scored against the Boston Bruins, coming out of the penalty box.
On Thursday night, Subban was honoured with a video tribute, a standing ovation, and an opportunity to address the Bell crowd after an unceremonious departure in 2016 when he was traded to Nashville for Shea Weber, a trade that split the fanbase for some time. We even got to see a triple low five with Carey Price, a celebratory practice the pair had developed at the end of wins that was subsequently banned by GM Marc Bergevin and Coach Michel Therrien once they began their tenure.
Subban addressed the young and rebuilding Habs bench about the passion of the Montreal fanbase.
“I hope that’s the message to the current players and the players that will wear the jersey in the future, that these guys will love you, no matter what, if you leave it all out on the ice. So leave it on the ice every night.”
That young bench, apparently fueled by P.K. and his fans, went out and claimed a 4-3 win over the Preds.
The February 9th trade deadline is quickly approaching for a Toronto Raptors team that has struggled to string together wins. With the season more than halfway done, the Raptors find themselves sitting outside of a playoff spot and decision time is looming large for president Masai Ujiri and GM Bobby Webster.
This week, rumours circulated that the Raptors may be willing to listen to offers on some core players. Insiders reported that while the Raptors were not actively shopping players, they were listening. Pascal Siakam is having a very strong season and would command an enormous return on the trade market. As much as he has become a face of the franchise, the Ujiri-Webster duo may get an offer they can’t refuse.
The notion of selling is a giant disappointment for the Raptors, who finished fifth in the Eastern Conference last season and made a playoff appearance with a young team in the middle of a rebuild. But the young Raps have not risen to expectations this year, and that may mean change is on the horizon.
Blue Jays Babble
The Toronto Blue Jays might not be making the biggest splash in the MLB off-season, but no one can accuse them of inactivity. In November, GM Ross Atkins traded fan favourite outfielder Teoscar Hernandez to the Seattle Mariners for right-handed relief pitcher Erik Swanson and left-handed pitching prospect Adam Macko. Bradley Zimmer and Raimel Tapia were released to free agency, confirming the Jays were retooling their outfield.
In December, the Jays sent utility player Lourdes Gurriel Jr. along with catcher Gabriel Moreno to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Daulton Varsho. Varsho is a versatile left-handed catcher turned outfielder who is known for his defensive prowess and was added to bring diversity to the batting order and support the transformation of the outfield. They signed free agent right-handed starting pitcher Chris Bassitt to a three-year contract, and also signed several players to minor league contracts with an invitation to spring training.
This week the Blue Birds signed free agent infielder Brandon Belt to a one-year deal. Belt is another left-handed bat who is expected to serve as a designated hitter, and back-up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at first base. The veteran has two world series titles under his “belt” and is known as a clutch performer, something the Jays lacked in the 2022 Wild Card Series. The Blue Jays also acquired right-handed pitcher Zach Thompson from the Pittsburgh Pirates for minor league outfielded Chavez Young. Thompson adds to Toronto’s pitching depth.
There are no superstars on the list, but so far Atkins has managed to add both starting and relief pitching, renovate the outfield, and diversify the batting order. With spring training opening next month, there is still time for the Jays to strengthen their roster ahead of the 2023 MLB season.