By Lori Bennett
National Sports Columnist
This is the time in the NHL off season where bits of business continue to trickle in as general managers cross items off their checklists before taking a summer vacation.
The Chicago Blackhawks took care of some important business this week when they signed the first overall pick of the 2023 Entry Draft, Connor Bedard, to his entry level contract. The young forward, projected to be a generational player, is expected to start the season in Chicago. That’s one swift rebuild for the Blackhawks.
The Winnipeg Jets avoided arbitration with Morgan Barron, signing him to a two-year contract in advance of the arbitration hearing. They followed suit with Gabe Villardi, signing him to a two-year deal, an important task for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff since Villardi was acquired in the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade and had also filed for arbitration. Logan Stanley and Rasmus Kupari are restricted free agents who also require a contract.
The Edmonton Oilers resigned RFA Raphael Lavoie to a one-year deal. They still have two significant RFAs to take care of in Evan Bouchard, who enjoyed a breakout year this past season and will command a nice raise, and Ryan McLeod, who has filed for salary arbitration.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have one noteworthy RFA, and he has filed for salary arbitration. Ilya Samsonov became their accidental starting goaltender this season when Matt Murray couldn’t stay healthy. Murray has a year remaining on his contract, and Joseph Woll also proved valuable down the stretch. The net will require some juggling by GM Brad Treliving, a position that Kyle Dubas had never sorted during his time in Toronto.
The Leafs and player are not close at this point. Toronto has filed a proposed salary of $2.4 million, while the player’s camp has proposed $4.9M. The hearing was due to take place on Friday, July 21, and the Maple Leafs were expected to try to resolve the matter in advance of the hearing, with a preferred resolution of a short-term contract for Samsonov.
The Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens did not have any players file for arbitration and have been able to check off RFA names gradually over the summer without any significant stress. Salary arbitration hearings are understood to be contentious proceedings that can damage the relationship between player and teams as both parties make opposing arguments about the player’s worth.
Speaking of stressful situations, a former member of the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs made headlines this past week for all the wrong reasons. News broke that the Arizona Coyotes, who had signed forward Alex Galchenyuk to a one-year contract on July 1st, were placing him on waivers for the purpose of terminating the contract.
The story gradually broke from several outlets that Galchenyuk had been arrested in Scottsdale, Arizona on Sunday, July 9. Police had responded to a report of a car accident, with the driver later determined to be Galchenyuk. During the arrest, Galchenyuk had been threatening and verbally abusive, including using racial slurs. The police report indicated Galchenyuk was under the influence of alcohol, which the player would later confirm.
On Tuesday, July 18, Galchenyuk released a statement apologizing to the Coyotes players and leadership, as well as the fans, for his “deeply offensive, uncalled for, horrendous, embarrassing, disrespectful and just plain awful” behaviour and announced he would be checking himself into the NHL Player Assistance Program. He also issued an apology to the Scottsdale Police Department and the specific officers involved and attributed his behaviour to being under the influence of alcohol.
Galchenyuk was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens with the third overall pick in the 2012 draft. He had his six best seasons in Montreal and reached 30 goals and 26 assists in 82 games in the 2015-16 season. Still, he was dealt to the Arizona Coyotes for Max Domi in the summer of 2018, a deal that looked lopsided at the time. Rumours swirled about off-ice issues while he was still in Montreal. Galchenyuk’s career went downhill from there.
He played just one season in Arizona, where he managed a respectable 41 points, and then had stints in Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Ottawa, Toronto, Arizona (again) and Colorado. He has never come close to his best season in Montreal.
At the age of 29, Galchenyuk may be running out of chances in the NHL. Any remaining hockey hopes he has likely rest on how he responds to his time in the Player Assistance Program.
Blue Jays Babble
The Toronto Blue Jays enjoyed a jumpstart following the All Star Break when they welcomed the Arizona Coyotes for a weekend series.
On Friday night, July 14, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. picked up where he left off at the Home Run Derby, hitting for power in a 7-2 win. Bo Bichette and Whitt Merrifield followed suit on Saturday, hitting solo homers in a 5-2 win.
Then on Sunday the Jays got the sweep as Danny Jansen hit a three-run double in the eighth inning leading the Jays to the 7-5 win.
In all three games, the pitching held up. Berrios was strong on Friday, Bassitt had a solid outing on Saturday, and Kikuchi was good enough on Sunday. The bullpen held in all three games, and the results were wins.
The Jays had Monday off, after winning four games straight, before welcoming the San Diego Padres for a three-game series.
On Tuesday, Alek Manoah took the mound for his second game since returning from Florida, but the outing did not go as well as the first. Manaoh pitched just three innings and allowed four runs on three hits, five walks and no strikeouts. It might be back to the drawing board, and perhaps back to the Sunshine State, for Manoah. The relief pitchers did not fare better, and the result was a 9-1 pounding back down to earth.
Berrios was back on the mound on Wednesday and pitched a strong game. He allowed just four hits for two runs over six innings, tossing 106 pitches on the night. His stuff was hot, and he struck out nine to give his team a chance to win. But the Jays bats had all the potency of a thimble of rye in a gallon of coke.
Toronto will take hitting of any kind at this point, but they are seriously suffering where clutch hitting is concerned. They left the bases loaded in the first inning and didn’t manage to cash in a run. They stranded a couple more base runners in the fifth inning, and then another couple in the eighth.
The Jays would try and avoid the sweep on Thursday before heading to Seattle for the weekend to play a three-game series against the Mariners.