By Lori Bennett
National Sports Columnist
It was relatively quiet across the NHL this past week as teams worked their way back from the All Star Break, and some enjoyed a prolonged bye week.
New York Islanders General Manager Lou Lamoriello was not interested in resting. He was busy doing business, locking down his newly acquired first line centre, Bo Horvat, to a long term deal.
The Islanders had acquired Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks in a blockbuster trade on January 30. Before Horvat had ever played one game in an Islanders jersey, Lamoriello had him inked to a new deal that will keep him in New York until the end of the 2030-31 season. The eight-year deal has a total value of $68 million.
Speaking of extensions, on Tuesday, February 1, the Buffalo Sabres announced that they had signed Dylan Cozens to a seven-year contract worth $49.7 million. The 22-year-old centreman was due to become a restricted free agent this summer, and GM Kevyn Adams made a move to lock him down for the long term.
If you think some of these salaries are outrageous, you should check out what some guys who played in yesterday’s Super Bowl have earned this season. Some other NHL teams are watching these transactions with interest.
Montreal Canadiens GM Kent Hughes would like to get goal-scoring winger Cole Caufield inked to a long-term contract in the weeks ahead. There are similarities between Caufield and Cozens and the kind of contract they can command. Both Caufield and Hughes want to get a deal done, but that doesn’t mean some tough negotiations won’t come first.
Similarly, Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman would like to settle things with centreman Dylan Larkin, who is due to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Larkin’s ask may be comparable to Horvat’s, perhaps heftier, and if Yzerman is unable to finalize a deal in the next couple of weeks, Larkin may be made available on the trade market. He would fetch an enormous return at the trade deadline, and Yzerman won’t be keen to lose Larkin for nothing in the summer.
With the deadline approaching, some players are making important decisions about their futures.
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, both stars who led the Chicago Blackhawks to Stanley Cup wins, are in the last year of large contracts. Chicago is in rebuild mode, but the players have no-movement clauses in their contracts. There will be interest in both players, and both are expected to make decisions about their futures in the next couple of weeks. Most of us have a tough time imagining either of those guys in any other jersey, but we may want to prepare to see Kane in New York Rangers blue perhaps, or maybe Toews in Winnipeg Jets navy. Toews returning home to Winnipeg for a playoff run would make a for a great story.
In recent months, the NHL Player’s Association has been engaged in an executive search to replace Donald Fehr who has been their Executive Director since 2010. This week news broke that they had found their guy and that Marty Walsh would be named the next ED.
Walsh was a surprise choice, as he is a seasoned politician. Walsh is Secretary of Labour in President Joe Biden’s Cabinet, and prior to assuming that role was the mayor of Boston. He was also previously a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
Walsh has an impressive résumé indeed, but perhaps his appeal to the NHLPA is that Walsh is a union man. He joined a labourer’s union at 21, and eventually became its president.He was also the head of the Boston Building Trades union.
One can’t help but wonder about the impact of this change as the time approaches to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. The current agreement is in place through the 2025-26 season. Perhaps the next set of negotiations just got tougher for Commissioner Gary Bettman and the team owners.
NBA basketball history was made this past week as LeBron James collected his 38,388th point, on the kind of shot we’ve seen him make literally hundreds of times before, and broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record. King James has said he hopes to play for another couple of years, and by the time he is done he will be the undisputed greatest of all time in professional basketball, the GOAT. The 38-year-old is a four time champion, and over the course of his career has been called the face of the NBA. The title of all-time leading scorer cements that legacy.
On Thursday, Feb. 6, the NBA trade deadline came and went. Leading up to the deadline, some big name players changed teams.
Kevin Durant went to the Phoenix Suns for a huge package that included good young players and multiple first round picks. Russell Westbrook was dealt to the Utah Jazz. The Dallas Mavericks landed Kyrie Irving.
Then very early Thursday morning, while most fans were still sleeping, the Toronto Raptors made their first deadline deal. Basketball insider Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news that the Raptors were acquiring Jakob Poeltl from the San Antonio Spurs for Khem Birch, a protected first round pick in 2024, and two future second round picks.
This is not Poeltl’s first connection with Toronto. He was drafted ninth overall by the Raptors in the 2016 draft, but left in the package that landed Kawhi Leonard in 2018.
The move is creating a little confusion in Toronto. With a win on Wednesday night, the Raptors moved into the last spot for the play-in tournament in the Eastern Conference.
It’s the first time they have been in the top-10 in weeks, even though they began the season expecting a playoff appearance. Their approach to the deadline was expected to be that of a seller.
The Raptors love Poeltl’s rim-protection game and, presumably, they intend to keep him around as part of a retooled Raptors line up. Press deadline came before the trade deadline, but the Toronto Raptors were expected to continue to be busy until the final buzzer.
Blue Jays Babble
Spring training is just around the corner, and next week the Toronto Blue Jays’ pitchers and catchers will make their way to Dunedin, Florida to ramp up for the season. Time is getting short to finalize the roster.
On Tuesday night the Blue Jays avoided salary arbitration with shortstop Bo Bichette and the parties agreed to a three-year contract. As of press deadline, a formal announcement had not been made by the team. An arbitration hearing had been scheduled for Thursday, with the team having filed a salary proposal of five million dollars, and the player having filed for seven and a half million.
With this deal, both Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are now under contract until after the 2025 season. The long-term plans for two pillars of this version of the Blue Jays will remain a topic of conversation until resolved. For now, the Jays can enter the season with loose ends tied in a bow.