It was hard to blame the Vancouver Canucks for their last-place finish in 2020-21.
The Canucks were out of action for nearly a month during the middle of the season because of a COVID-19 outbreak that swept through the team, infecting much of the roster and coaching staff. Some 22 players and four staff members tested positive, forcing the NHL to postpone eight games stretching from the end of March until April 18.
The Canucks were forced to play 19 games during the final 31 days of the regular season and understandably limped to the finish line with their lowest points percentage since 2017-18.
But this off-season was supposed to bring new hope, especially after a massive draft-day deal with the Arizona Coyotes, bringing in winger Conor Garland and veteran defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Canucks also reached deals with restricted free agents Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes in time to get the duo into the lineup on opening night.
Except things haven’t been better on the ice for the Canucks this season. In fact, they’ve been much worse.
On the heels of Vancouver’s fifth straight loss Wednesday night, TSN.ca looks back at their tumultuous start to the 2021-22 season.
May 21 – Green signs extension
Head coach Travis Green went into the 2020-21 season with an expiring contract. Speculation swirled about a possible coaching change after the end of the season came and went without a new deal, but the Canucks and their head coach eventually worked out a two-year extension.
“I wouldn’t have signed back here if I didn’t believe in what we’re doing and what we’re capable of doing and where we’re going. I want to win and that’s why I signed back here,” Green said.
But general manager Jim Benning made it clear bringing back their head coach was only the start of a long list of things to do over the summer.
“We have lots of work to do,” Benning said. “I’m not going to sit here and say it’s going to be an easy summer. We’ve got lots of work to do and we’ve already started in on all that work.”
June 23 – Blockbuster deal
Benning wasn’t kidding when he hinted changes were on the way a month earlier.
On draft night, the Canucks pulled off a major deal with the Arizona Coyotes to acquire Ekman-Larsson and Garland. Headed back to the desert was the ninth-overall selection, a 2022 second-rounder and a 2021 seventh-rounder. Forwards Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle and Loui Eriksson, all set to be free agents at the end of the 2021-22 season, also headed to the Coyotes in the deal.
The trade was interesting for several reasons.
First, the Coyotes were forced to forfeit their No. 11 overall selection for testing players in violation of the NHL’s combine policy. Not only were they able to replace their first-rounder, but they also moved up two spots in the deal. It also meant that Vancouver would not own a first-round pick coming off a last-place season.
And then there was the risk of what they were getting back.
Once a very effective puck-moving defenceman, Ekman-Larsson was less than a month away from turning 30 and had six years remaining on his contract at $8.25 million per season. While the Coyotes agreed to eat about $1.2 million per year, it was still a hefty payday for a player who might have been already past his prime.
“We think he’s going to be our No. 1 defenceman,” Benning said during a call with reporters after the trade.
On July 27, the Canucks announced they had signed Garland to a five-year, $24.75 million extension.
Oct. 3 – RFA duo signs
Right near the top of Benning’s off-season duties was getting new deals for franchise cornerstones Pettersson and Hughes.
But as summer turned into fall and training camp opened in Abbotsford, B.C., both restricted free agents remained without deals with the clock ticking fast toward their Oct. 13 regular season opener with the Edmonton Oilers.
With 11 days to go until the start of the season, the Canucks officially announced deals for their two stars. Pettersson signed a three-year agreement with a cap hit of $7.35 while Hughes opted for a longer deal, signing for six years at $7.85 million per.
“They’re two important guys in our group. They’re still young players. I think they can still get better. So, we’re happy to get them signed and get them in camp,” Benning said.
Oct. 15 – Uplifting first win
After a shootout loss to begin the season two days earlier, things were looking good for the Canucks up 4-2 late into the third period against the Flyers in Philadelphia. All four of their goals came in the second period, silencing a normally energetic Philly crowd.
Except Vancouver gave up two goals over the final 2:17 and the game went to overtime with nearly all the momentum on the Flyers’ side.
The Canucks regrouped during intermission and got things to the shootout, where Pettersson and J.T. Miller netted goals to give the Canucks their first win of the season.
“I don’t think we felt like they took the life back,” Miller said. “Anything can happen once you get to overtime. We did it to a team two nights ago. It’s part of the game.”
Oct. 26 – Home sweet home
It had been nearly 600 days since the Canucks last played in front of fans at home due to COVID-19.
A quirk in the schedule meant Vancouver started the season on the road for their first six games, but the team held their own, returning to Rogers Arena with seven points.
“I know everyone’s excited about it, we’ve been talking about it. We were getting a little itchy on the road there, wanting to get home and play some home games here,” goaltender Thatcher Demko told reporters.
But the Minnesota Wild were in no mood to give the home fans what they came to see as they escaped with a 3-2 victory behind goals from Matt Dumba, Mats Zuccarello, and Jonas Brodin.
Oct. 30 – Struggles set in
The Canucks held their own during their lengthy road trip to begin the season, but things started to go wrong in a hurry once they finally returned home.
After the loss to the Wild, Vancouver dropped its second in a row to Philadelphia two days later and it didn’t get any easier as Connor McDavid and the 5-1-0 Edmonton Oilers came to town.
While the Canucks held McDavid to one assist in the contest, they struggled to find the net once again and lost their third in a row.
Vancouver managed just four goals in three games since returning home and captain Bo Horvat lamented the team’s offensive struggles after the loss.
“When you do hold a team like Edmonton to two goals, you’ve got to figure out a way to score three.”
Nov. 17 – Canucks in freefall, drop fifth straight
By mid-November, things turned from bad to ugly for the Canucks.
Leading 2-1 into the third period, Vancouver conceded three straight markers to the Colorado Avalanche, who went on to win 4-2 and hand the Canucks their fifth straight loss.
They allowed three power-play goals and saw their penalty kill success drop to a league-worst 62.3 per cent.
Frustration began to show.
“It’s a bit of a broken record, I’m sure,” defenceman Tucker Poolman said. “Just every game it’s a play here or there and it happens to be on special teams one way or another. But we’ve got to stick with it as a group here, play hard for each other and just keep grinding.”
But Green was encouraged by the team’s effort level, calling it one of the better five-on-five games of the year.
“Frustrating to lose, especially with an effort like that,” the head coach said. “Five on five was one of our better games of the year. Obviously, the penalty kill let us down.”
Nov. 18 – Benning meets with media
With the Canucks in disarray, TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger reported earlier in the week that Benning and Canucks ownership met to discuss “early season challenges and how the group can be better.” Dreger added drastic off-ice changes were not expected just yet and the team would continue to be patient. For now.
That brings us to Thursday.
With the Canucks a dismal 5-10-2 and second-last in the Pacific Division ahead of only the expansion Kraken, Benning met with reporters to explain his team’s struggles and chart a plan for the rest of the season.
“This is wearing on all of us, from ownership through the management team to the coaching staff to the players,” Benning said. “We’re a fragile team right now.”
“Some of our players need to regain their confidence to play up to their potential,” he said. “We’re going to need to string a bunch of wins together to get back in it.”
The Canucks will try again to snap their current skid on Friday against the Winnipeg Jets and complete their current three-game homestand against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.
Riders outlast Stamps in OT thriller to move on to Western Final – CFL.ca
REGINA — The Saskatchewan Roughriders survived a slugfest of a night to defeat the Calgary Stampeders 33-30 to advance to the Western Final.
Cody Fajardo survived a four-interception night and Brett Lauther hit a 34-yard field goal to put the game away, as the Riders advance to their second consecutive Western Final. They’ll face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at IG Field on Dec. 5, to battle for a berth in the 108th Grey Cup.
Bo Levi Mitchell made 24-32 passes for 285 yards, had zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Riders got the game going with a bit of an emotional roller coaster.
Jamal Morrow thought he had a missed field goal return touchdown, but found out that his 124-yard trip to the end zone was wiped out by an illegal block. That moved Saskatchewan back to its own five-yard line. Two plays later, Fajardo was intercepted by Jonathan Moxey. One Mitchell handoff to Ka’Deem Carey later, the Stamps’ running back had trucked five yards into the end zone to give Calgary the lead. Rene Paredes‘ convert made it a 7-0 game at 7:02.
The half quickly settled into a defensive battle, with Moxey pulling in a team-record-tying three interceptions before halftime. Ed Gainey got the best of Mitchell twice, with a pair of interceptions. While the potential was there for big plays on each turnover, including a Calgary turnover on downs, neither offence was able to capitalize the way they wanted to.
After a Brett Lauther chip shot 16-yard field goal, the Riders got a breakthrough on special teams. Returner Jamal Morrow took a Cody Grace punt back 69 yards for the touchdown, putting the Riders in front for the first time in the game. Rene Paredes‘ convert made it a 10-7 Riders lead at 7:26 of the second quarter.
Paredes had an out-of-character first half, missing field goals to open and close out the half. The teams got into a skirmish on the way to their locker rooms and it ended up carrying grave consequences for Calgary, as veteran d-lineman Shawn Lemon was disqualified from the game for what officials deemed as rough play.
Off the penalty on the Lemon ejection, the Riders executed a perfect onside kick from Calgary’s 50-yard line, with A.C. Leonard pulling the ball in. Fajardo quickly found Kian Schaffer-Baker three plays later for a six-yard touchdown pass. Lauther was back out on the field at 1:49 to kick the convert through to give the Riders a 17-8 lead.
A Paredes field goal from 27-yards out at 5:36 of the third made it a six-point Calgary deficit, but even that little bit of momentum came with a price, as the team lost receiver Colton Hunchak to a leg injury. The Stamps survived another turnover when Reggie Begelton had a punt bounce off his chest and scuttle away from him, into the Riders hands. Calgary’s defence didn’t allow points on the ensuing drive and Paredes added another field goal, this one from 25-yards, to make it a three-point game at the end of three quarters.
Lauther doubled his team’s lead with a 24-yard field goal at 1:46 of the fourth quarter, but the Stamps engineered a quick, six-play drive up the field. On second-and-one, Mitchell handed off to Carey for the fourth time on the drive, as he launched himself overtop of the trenches, where he might have seen the Riders’ d-line go offside under him. His second touchdown of the game tied it at 20 and Paredes’ convert gave the Stamps a 21-20 lead at 5:39.
Calgary seized ahold of the momentum at the midpoint of the quarter when Jameer Thurman lunged in front of a Fajardo pass and pulled in the defence’s fourth interception of the night, setting up Mitchell and the offence at the Riders’ 47-yard line. The Stamps settled for a field goal on the play and Paredes delivered from 47-yards to put his team up 24-20 with just over five minutes left to play.
Undeterred, Fajardo led the Riders down to Calgary’s one-yard line. After a couple of handoffs to William Powell were stuffed, Fajardo kept the ball and powered his way into the end zone. Lauther’s convert gave the Riders a three-point edge with 2:23 left on the clock.
With his team taking a punch, Mitchell wound up for a responsoe of his own, but could only get the Stamps to the Riders’ 39-yard line after Mitchell was sacked for a loss on second-down. Paredes coolly lined up a 47-yard field goal that sailed through the uprights with 37 seconds left to tie it up 27-all.
In overtime, Schaffer-Baker wasn’t able to hold onto a ball that required a tightrope act on the baseline of the end zone. Lauther’s 20-yard field goal put the Riders up three.
With the pressure of the Mosaic crowd rooting against him, Mitchell led a varied drive against the Riders, looking end zone on his first pass, then working Carey into the mix on the ground. Carey was stopped on the 17-yard line, which brought Paredes out for a 24-yard attempt that knotted the game at 30-30.
In the second OT, the Stamps survived a near-fumble from rookie receiver Luther Hakunavanhu and had to call upon Paredes once again. His 44-yarder went wide left, his third miss of the night. Morrow ran the ball out of the end zone and opened the door for a Riders’ victory.
After a pair of handoffs, Lauther made his way onto the field for a 34-yard attempt. Mosaic fell dead silent as Lauther lined it up and exploded in celebration as he hit the field goal.
With Bergevin era over, Canadiens tap Jeff Gorton to oversee 'new vision' – Sportsnet.ca
MONTREAL — It was a seismic shift happening right under Marc Bergevin’s feet, and under his nose too.
He knew the end of his tenure with the Montreal Canadiens was nearing. He understood that, in failing to secure a contract extension prior to the start of the season, his days as general manager were likely numbered, and he had come to terms with that reality as he watched the team that got to last summer’s Stanley Cup Final flounder towards the worst start in its 111-year history.
But Bergevin didn’t expect the cracks to form as quickly as they did on Saturday, and on Sunday he — along with assistant general manager Trevor Timmins and executive VP of public affairs and communications Paul Wilson — was pushed through them.
In a release appearing on the Canadiens’ website at 3:09 p.m. ET., the announcement came that all three had been relieved of their functions effective immediately.
Timmins had been with the team for nearly two decades, overseeing the draft for all of that time and serving as AGM since 2017. Wilson had taken on his role in 2018 after working with the Canadiens for several years as a partner in NATIONAL Public Relations. And Bergevin was brought on to lead the team he grew up cheering for nine years, six months and 26 days ago.
Jeff Gorton’s appointment as executive VP of hockey operations on Sunday marked the end for all three men in Montreal.
Just prior to Saturday’s 6-3 win for the Canadiens over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported team owner Geoff Molson had obtained permission to speak the former New York Rangers GM and, according to a report from TVA’s Louis Jean later in the evening, that was news to Bergevin.
He had recommended long-time assistant GM Scott Mellanby for the position and both he and Mellanby were under the impression Molson was keen on moving in that direction.
But what quickly became clear to both men on Saturday evening was that the Canadiens’ owner had decided on another route.
Mellanby resigned 15 minutes into the first period of the Pittsburgh game and, as the night progressed, it became obvious Bergevin’s fate hung in the balance.
Sources informed us changes were en route as early as Sunday, and they came in the afternoon.
“On behalf of myself and the organization, I wish to thank Marc Bergevin, Trevor Timmins, and Paul Wilson for their passion and engagement towards our club over the last years,” read Molson’s statement. “Their relentless work allowed our fans to experience many memorable moments, including last summer’s playoff run that culminated with the Stanley Cup Final. We wish them all the success they deserve in the pursuit of their careers.
“I think, however, that the time has come for a leadership change within our hockey operations department that will bring a new vision and should allow our fans and partners to continue cheering for a championship team.”
The Canadiens haven’t been one since 1993, and they appear far off from becoming one — sitting in 29th place in the NHL, with just six wins in 23 games of what’s assuredly a lost season.
But Gorton’s job will be to oversee their revival, beginning with the task of recruiting — and eventually hiring — a bilingual general manager who will “bring significant hockey experience to the organization,” according to Molson.
The 53-year-old made his start in the NHL as a scout with the Boston Bruins in 1992. He then worked his way up to assistant general manager and was eventually promoted to interim GM after Mike O’Connell was fired in 2006.
Within a span of days, Gorton oversaw what’s widely considered the greatest draft haul in Bruins history — plucking out Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchard and trading Andrew Raycroft for Tuukka Rask — and made waves when he signed Marc Savard and Zdeno Chara as free agents.
It was then that he caught the attention of one of the shrewdest executives in hockey history, Glen Sather, who ended up hiring Gorton to work for the Rangers immediately after he left the Bruins in 2007.
“The first time I really had anything to do with him was we tried to sign Chara in New York,” Sather told Sportsnet on Sunday. “Jeff got the inside track on him and got him to Boston, and I was left surprised at what happened.”
Sather was impressed, too.
He later brought Gorton on as a pro scout with the Rangers and quickly promoted him to assistant GM. And in July of 2015, Sather named Gorton his replacement as Rangers GM.
Despite firing his protégé from that position in May of 2021 — a move most believe Rangers owner James Dolan demanded — the 78-year-old senior advisor still believes he’s uniquely qualified for the challenge in Montreal.
“I’m not going to explain what happened (in New York),” said Sather, “but what I will say is he’s a good man and I’m very glad he got the job.
“He communicates well with the people that work with him. He treats them well and has a lot of respect for them. He’s an interesting guy. He’s very respectful, very smart, and he’s good with the numbers. He’ll do a good job in Montreal.”
A rival executive we touched base with texted, “Jeff is bright. Very bright. Thoughtful, always has a plan.”
“Jeff takes his time, takes emotion out of it, does the right thing,” the exec continued. “He’s quiet. Doesn’t love attention or media.”
Gorton’s predecessor wasn’t a big fan of that, either, but mused in his final statement as GM on Sunday, “I would never have thought, in my life, that I would be getting more visibility than the Premier (of Quebec).”
Where Bergevin and Gorton diverge is on emotional detachment. Bergevin wore his emotions on his bulging biceps throughout his time in Montreal, and they got the better of him in some negotiations that went awry but also served him well in building strong relationships with nearly everyone around him.
The team was quite successful under the 56-year-old’s watch over the first five years, making the playoffs four times and earning him nominations for GM of the Year on two occasions. But it went through major turmoil from early 2017 through the spring of 2018 and left him hanging on by a thread.
It was then that Bergevin presented a plan to reset the roster, earning Molson’s endorsement and what was expected to be job security through the end of this season.
The work done since then was commendable. Last year, with cap space to burn and the economic conditions brought on the pandemic creating an opportunity for Bergevin to strike, it earned him the most first-place votes for the 2021 Jim Gregory Award, which eventually went to New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello.
It was arguably Bergevin’s finest work as Canadiens GM. He traded for and signed Jake Allen to play behind Carey Price, traded for defenceman Joel Edmundson and forward Josh Anderson and signed both to long-term contracts, extended long-time Canadiens Jeff Petry and Brendan Gallagher, brought in free agents Tyler Toffoli, Michael Frolik and Corey Perry, and completed the roster by adding in Eric Staal, Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson prior to the trade deadline — all moves that, as he put it, “allowed us to get closer to the ultimate objective.”
“But we fell short of hoisting the Holy Grail,” Bergevin continued. “Despite this, I am proud of what we achieved as an organization. I sincerely hope this objective will be achieved sooner than later.
“Montreal is the city where I took my first skating strides and it’s also the city where I learned to lead the NHL’s winningest franchise. This city and this organization will always have a special place in my heart.”
Bergevin knew the clock was ticking on his time here but didn’t know it would run out as quickly as it did over the weekend.
Timmins was “completely shocked,” he said, when the phone rang on Sunday and Molson was on the line.
“I spent 10 years with Ottawa and 20 with Montreal and I’ve never been fired from a job in my life,” he told Sportsnet on Sunday night.
His hard work on the draft was often interfered with both by Bergevin and previous general managers who made executive decisions on the floor, and it was at least partially undone by flawed development practices that plagued the organization for years.
In the end, whatever good discoveries the 53-year-old made in beyond the first round — and there were many over the years — were offset by first-round misses.
Still, Timmins selected Cole Caufield there, 15th overall in 2019, and drafted Kaiden Guhle 16th overall in 2020, and both decisions have been widely praised. He also made several other quality picks over those years that will likely have a more positive influence on how his time with the organization will ultimately be evaluated.
Timmins’ dismissal, however, comes just months after selecting a player who asked not to be drafted in 2021.
Bergevin authorizing the decision to take Logan Mailloux with the 31st pick after the player was charged in Sweden for violating a woman’s privacy and distributing a photo of her engaged in a consensual sexual act with him, left Molson apologizing days later.
It was a PR disaster overseen by Wilson. The removal of him, Timmins and Bergevin from the organization on Sunday at least suggests Molson isn’t over it.
The owner will surely be asked about that when he meets with the media on Monday for the first time this season.
Meanwhile, Molson acknowledged — days after Mailloux was drafted — that he was aware of the decision being made and grossly underestimated how it would be received.
“It was an error in judgment,” Molson said.
It was one of many that’s been made with him at the top of the hockey operations org chart, and perhaps one that made him realize it was time to put someone of Gorton’s experience in place.
With the Canadiens likely earning a top-10 pick in the 2022 Draft, which is being held in Montreal, Gorton will lend his strong background in amateur scouting to the process.
He’ll also help ring in a new era by bringing along what’s likely to be a rookie GM and, as Sather put it, “he’ll surround that person with great people.”
“He knows everybody in hockey,” Sather added. “He’s going to find the right guy.”
Canadiens fire GM Marc Bergevin, assistant GM Trevor Timmins; hire former Rangers GM Jeff Gorton – CBSSports.com
After their most successful season in nearly 30 years, the Montreal Canadiens are off to a rough start to the 2021-22 season. Through 23 games, Montreal has just 14 points — tied for fifth-fewest in the league — with a 6-14-2 record. The team’s minus-29 goal differential is the worst in the Eastern Conference and second-worst in the NHL. The poor start has now led to a massive shake-up in the front office.
The club announced Sunday that that General Manager Marc Bergevin, Assistant GM Trevor Timmins, and communications chief Paul Wilson have all been let go, effective immediately. In a release, club owner Geoff Molson thanked the trio for their time in Montreal and their efforts during last year’s Stanley Cup Final run.
“On behalf of myself and the organization, I wish to thank Marc Bergevin, Trevor Timmins, and Paul Wilson for their passion and engagement towards our Club over the last years. Their relentless work allowed our fans to experience many memorable moments, including last summer’s playoff run that culminated with the Stanley Cup Final. We wish them all the success they deserve in the pursuit of their careers. I think, however, that the time has come for a leadership change within our hockey operations department that will bring a new vision and should allow our fans and partners to continue cheering for a championship team.”
The Canadiens also announced that former New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton will run day-to-day hockey operations under the title of Executive Vice President, Hockey Operations.
Riders outlast Stamps in OT thriller to move on to Western Final – CFL.ca
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