By Lori Bennett
National Sports Columnist
Last Sunday, Jan. 22, after a drawn out and mishandled process, Bruce Boudreau was finally relieved of his duties as coach of the Vancouver Canucks. After an emotional farewell to fans and players, the bizarre saga was finished. On Sunday afternoon, with President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford and GM Patrik Allvin in attendance, Rick Tocchet was announced as his replacement.
Tocchet’s most recent position was as a hockey analyst for the NHL on TNT, but he has previously served as a head coach in Arizona and Tampa Bay and as an assistant in Colorado and Pittsburgh.
His first game behind the bench for the Canucks came on Tuesday, Jan. 23 in Vancouver when they hosted the Chicago Blackhawks. It was speculated that management waited until a favourable point of the schedule to make a coaching change and, if accurate, it worked. The lowly Canucks pulled out a 5-2 win over the lowlier Blackhawks.
The NHL All Star Weekend will take place on February 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. This means a pause in the NHL schedule between February 2nd and 5th. It’s an opportunity for the best players to shine in some public relations gimmicks and, more importantly, for players to rest and recover from bumps and bruises before settling in for the final stretch of the season and the playoffs.
The Montreal Canadiens will play their last game before the break on Jan. 31, and the next game thereafter is on Feb. 11. Where bumps and bruises are concerned, there isn’t a team that needs the break and the bye week more.
Last weekend the Habs announced Cole Caufield would miss the rest of the season for shoulder surgery. This came just days after they announced that Juraj Slafkovsky’s rookie season had been cut short, and that Jake Evans would be out eight to ten weeks. Several other players are also on that injured list.
The break is also an opportunity for Montreal to explore trade options as they will be sellers with the deadline approaching. By the time they hit the ice again on the 11th, there may already be some changes in the line up.
The Ottawa Senators are another team hoping to move quickly on some deals. The Sens had hoped this season would be the transition from rebuilding to competitive, but it has not gone as planned. GM Pierre Dorion has been in the market for a top-pair defenseman all season, but without success so far. They have the same extended break as the Habs and are reportedly open for business.
This week Gary Bettman confirmed the sales process for the Ottawa Senators is currently underway and official bids to purchase the team are being made. No doubt Dorion would like to pull off a blockbuster deal to impress potential new owners that will soon be his boss.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are also scoping the market, but unlike their peers to the East will not be selling. If the playoffs began today, the Leafs would meet the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, and a first round exit would not be good for GM Kyle Dubas’ job security. Dubas is expected to deal for both a defenseman and a forward between now and the trade deadline to increase their likelihood of getting past Tampa this Spring.
Dubas should probably take a page from the Lightning playbook. During their contention years, Tampa Bay consistently traded away high picks and prospects at the deadline to complete their playoff roster. Last year they acquired a big and gritty centre in Nicholas Paul, as well as depth scoring in Brandon Hagel. In previous years, players who were tough to play against were added, like defenseman David Savard and forwards Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow.
Dubas also needs to consider the reliability of the players he’s adding, particularly on defense. One of the weaknesses of the Leafs blue line in recent years is the number of man games lost to injury. They are rumoured to be interested in Jakob Chychrun, an incredibly talented defender indeed, but one who comes with a significant injury history. Toronto may be better served to add a lesser name who they can count on to be a steady presence over a long Spring. Would it make sense to bring back Luke Schenn, or go after a surplus right shot defender in Los Angeles?
In the forward category, two guys come to mind. Tyler Bertuzzi and Ryan O’Reilly are completely different players, but both would bring diversity to the Toronto roster. O’Reilly is a complete player with a Stanley Cup ring who tends to show up when it counts. Bertuzzi is an agitator who can add secondary scoring and create space for the skilled players.
Trade season is a fun time to be a hockey fan, and if we’re lucky the deals will start rolling in this week.
Just 10 days away from the trade deadline, the Toronto Raptors are still outside of a playoff spot and expected to be potential sellers. This week a Toronto paper reported the Raptors were receiving significant offers for O.G. Anunoby, and a local radio personality reported the young forward would like to be traded.
Rumours have also circulated this week that they may try to add a missing piece – specifically, a big centre – during this trading period.
The San Antonio Spurs have made pending free agent center Jakob Poeltl available, and the Raptors are reportedly interested, presumably with a view to re-signing him. The Raptors drafted Poeltl, and then traded him in a package for Kawhi Leonard. Obviously, Toronto could just try to sign him as a free agent, and they may well go that path. But the rumours would suggest they’d like a head start on being able to negotiate a deal with him.
Whatever happens with Anunoby or Poeltl, we can expect the Raptors to be active in the next few days despite their place in the standings.
Blue Jays Babble
Last week the Toronto Blue Jays released an update on the renovation of the Rogers Centre. Formerly known as the Skydome, the ballpark has been under construction since October, and the first phase that was planned for this off-season is expected to be complete and ready for the Jays home opener against the Detroit Tigers on April 11th.
The renovation will include a reduction in seating capacity by approximately 3,000 seats, with the new capacity expected to be about 46,000 seats. The new space will be used to create four new “social spaces” that have been developed around a theme and give fans a unique viewing experience.
Seats in the 500 level will be replaced in this first phase of renovations. The field will also have new dimensions, and there will be changes in the outfield wall, but the details of those are not expected to be revealed until Spring.
East Coast Jays fans heading west for a Toronto vacation can look forward to a new and improved ballpark.