By Lori Bennett
National Sports Columnist
With the trade deadline over, teams are all but set to complete the season and ramp up for the playoffs. The winners and losers from that window are clearer than usual following what was a dramatic week of wheeling and dealing.
Unless you’re looking at the Toronto Maple Leafs through some biased lenses, you have to acknowledge they are a clear winner. GM Kyle Dubas knows that regular season success will not be enough this year, and he added no less than three forwards, including Ryan O’Reilly, and three defensemen, including Jake McCabe. He changed the complexion of the team with grit, depth and playoff experience.
The Boston Bruins made it very clear that they are serious about another Stanley Cup run. They added Dmitry Orlov, Tyler Bertuzzi and Garnet Hathaway to a roster that is already dominating this season. The question is whether they can keep this pace going for four arduous series beyond the regular season.
The New York Rangers added two of the biggest names available in Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane, and the New Jersey Devils won the Timo Meier sweepstakes. Both the Rangers and Devils are teams on the rise with little pressure on them just yet. The deals they made were a statement that they’re ready to be taken seriously in the post-season.
GM Pierre Dorion of the Ottawa Senators showed he was a better poker player than the Arizona Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong. Jakob Chychrun is now an Ottawa Senator and I confess I am secretly cheering for them to claim a wild card spot and make a post-season appearance.
There were some teams I felt didn’t do enough. I wonder if the Tampa Bay Lightning are vulnerable for the post-season – Leafs fans sure hope so. The Carolina Hurricanes looked to me like a team that watched Toronto and Boston deal and lost heart. Jesse Puljujarvi and Shayne Gostisbehere are reasonable additions, but they don’t stack up well against those made by the competition.
Out west, I liked what Ken Holland did for the Edmonton Oilers, adding Mattias Ekholm and Nick Bjugstad. Ekholm will shore up that defense group through their window, and they needed a big depth forward.
Adding Nino Neiderreiter was a solid move by the Winnipeg Jets, but I suspect not enough to take them deep. It was a typically conservative approach by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff in a season that begged him to go for it a little. The Colorado Avalanche added Lars Eller, a solid playoff performer. But he’s no replacement for Nazim Kadri and, with their injury woes, the Avs will be in tough to repeat.
Rosters are practically set now, but there is another way teams can add before the playoffs.
Do you remember the run the Montreal Canadiens made in the 2020-21 season, only to be stopped in the Final by the Tampa Bay Lightning? They made a very significant addition late that season when they signed Cole Caufield after his NCAA season ended. Caufield added 12 points in 20 playoff games that year. Not a bad boost on an entry-level contract. There are a few teams that might be entertaining NCAA additions.
Matthew Knies is a power forward playing college hockey at the University of Minnesota, and he is also a prospect of the Toronto Maple Leafs. With two years of NCAA eligibility remaining, the Leafs may be in no rush to get Knies to the NHL. But we know they value him highly and were not prepared to deal him at the deadline. Perhaps this is an option they consider down the stretch.
Similar to Caufield, Knies plays on a team that is expected to be playing late in the college hockey season, but if GM Kyle Dubas wanted to add him as an option it looks like he has a little cap space to do so in time to get Knies into a handful of games before the playoffs.
The Calgary Flames are still hunting for a playoff position, and they have a prospect playing at Harvard university that might be an option for a late season boost. Matt Coronato, in his second season at Harvard, is one of the top goal-scorers in the NCAA. He also had a strong showing at the World Juniors, and he knows he will have a decision to make in the coming weeks.
Hockey fans are always a little paranoid about the college developmental pathway, and whether the guy their team drafted will actually sign or play out his college career and elect to turn free agent. It seems like there is little risk of that. Coronato looks ready for the NHL and, if he wants to sign early, Calgary is his destination. In a recent interview he indicated his intentions to eventually sign with the Flames but will consider whether it will be this Spring when his hockey season ends, or if he will return to college for another year or more.
He won’t see any playoff action this year, but it’s almost certain that Sean Farrell will bring his NCAA career to a close and sign with the Montreal Canadiens in the Spring. The small and skilled winger is scoring at a pace of more than a point and a half per game for Harvard in just his sophomore year.
The Habs also have a decision looming about defenseman Jayden Struble. The physical and mobile blueliner is in his senior year at Northeastern University and GM Kent Hughes will likely make an offer to Struble despite the depth they possess at the left-handed defender position. If the offer comes, Struble will need to decide whether he will sign and join the Habs system or opt for free agency in the summer.
The Vancouver Canucks, like the Habs, are looking to get younger. They have a forward prospect, Aidan McDonough, who is also in his final year of college hockey at Northeastern. The Canucks would surely like to sign him but will have to wait for the player to decide between Vancouver and free agency.
These storylines are likely to get more airtime as the college year progresses and NCAA teams have their seasons come to an end.
With more than 80 per cent of their games for the 2022-23 season in the history books, the Toronto Raptors are holding steady to secure a position for the play-in tournament to make the NBA playoffs. They’d like to finish strong, and minimally secure home court advantage for a play-in or, better yet, move up in the standing and claim a playoff spot.
Blue Jays Babble
Spring training games are underway and the Toronto Blue Jays and will continue through March. They are due to open their regular season on March 30th with a series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Jays will be making decisions about the final roster that will take the field for the 2023 season. We’ll see if Jays management has done enough to take the team a little deeper.