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Canadiens get much-needed safety valve with Eric Staal addition –



MONTREAL — It’s a reasonable price to pay for a parachute.

If that’s all Eric Staal ends up being for the Montreal Canadiens, a third- and a fifth-round pick was well worth it — especially with the Buffalo Sabres retaining half of his prorated $3.25-million salary in the deal and the Canadiens owning two more picks in both of those rounds in the 2021 draft. Because relying on 20-year-old Jesperi Kotkaniemi, 21-year-old Nick Suzuki and rookie Jake Evans up the middle made it so that if veteran centre Phillip Danault went down, the season would go down with him, and there’s far too much invested in this season to take such a gamble.

This one feels like shoving in a stack with a guaranteed return; a sure thing considering the cost and relatively low expectations.

Staal isn’t coming here to be an incarnation of his former self, to jump into a first-line role and average close to 20 minutes a game. No, Staal is here to be a fourth-line centre who potentially moves up the lineup if an injury hits or if another centre is having a tough night. At worst, he’s insurance. On most nights, he’ll just be a better depth option than what the Canadiens already possessed.

And at his best?

“I think he’s a good two-way guy,” said an East Division executive we connected with after Friday’s trade was announced. “He’s going to get you more goals with Montreal than he would’ve with Buffalo, more of them than people expect, and he’s a big body that can win pucks. I mean, you can use that type of player on any line.

“I think he gives you more heaviness, without being a physical/killer type. But he’s a heavy guy who’s smart with his puck protection, and if you need him to get you some goals, he’ll get you some goals. If you need him to be in a different role, he’ll do that, too.”

It was anticipated the six-foot-four, 207-pound former Stanley Cup winner wasn’t likely to provide any of that for a team north of the border, at least not as of two weeks ago, when Elliotte Friedman reported he would probably remain in the United States if traded.

But the 36-year-old Staal waived his 10-team no-trade list to accept the deal to Montreal, and it’s assumed the Canadian government softening its quarantine laws — albeit, not formally as this is being typed — helped him change his mind.

Then again, perhaps with the way things have gone with the Sabres, losers of 16 consecutive games, he’d have taken a one-way ticket to literally anywhere else.

Still, Staal will wear the stench of a three-goal, 10-point, minus-20 output over 32 games with Buffalo, at least until he washes it out and shows something different in bleu, blanc et rouge.

“I’m not even looking at that,” said a long-time West Division scout. “Buffalo has been a total tire fire, and I don’t think Staal has just lost it completely after his last three seasons with the Wild. I watched him a ton there and, even if he’s not quite the same player, he can’t have fallen off as much as the numbers with the Sabres suggest he has.”

The Canadiens will have to hope that’s true. Staal had 19 goals and 47 points in 66 games in Minnesota last season, and that was after he produced 22 goals and 52 points in 81 games in 2018-19 and 42 goals and 76 points in 82 games during the 2017-18 season. If he’s a fraction as good as that, even a smidgen as good as the guy who captained the Carolina Hurricanes for years and was a dominant player as part of the gold-medal winning Canadian team at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, he’ll be much better than he was in Buffalo.

And that’s all the Canadiens really need from Staal, as he centres fellow Triple Gold Club member Corey Perry and whoever else remains on Montreal’s bottom line. They don’t need more as he spots in for some power-play duty and a faceoff win here or there in the defensive zone.

Granted, Staal has only won 48 per cent of his draws this season and is at 49.1 per cent over his 1,272-game career. But the Canadiens are 24th in the NHL in the category and they won’t do worse with him in the fold.

Now the question is: What else does Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin have cooking?

We suspect it’s more than one thing. And yes, we know what he said on Thursday.

“We have no cap space, so it’s money in, money out,” Bergevin stated, just 24 hours before not trading any money off the books in the deal to acquire Staal at half-pay.

“Expectation to do something at the deadline is probably very unlikely,” he added, and there might be more truth in that than he intended.

Because the Canadiens might move again well before April 12. They currently have $486,095 in cap space, and that’s with Paul Byron and his $3.4-million cap hit on the taxi squad while the team is idle through Monday due to their activities being suspended by the league after one of their players tested positive for the variant of COVID-19. That’s not even enough to get Cole Caufield, the highly-touted prospect whose season ended just minutes after the Staal trade was consummated, signed to his entry-level contract.

That Bergevin wasn’t prepared to meet with media Friday to discuss the Staal trade — or plans for Caufield, the 15th overall pick in the 2018 Draft who had 30 goals and 52 points in 31 games — only lends to speculation that he’s got more cooking to free up some much-needed space.

For what it’s worth, Caufield’s coach at Wisconsin, former NHLer Tony Granato, said he feels Caufield authored one of the greatest seasons ever seen in the NCAA and that the sophomore should be a shoo-in for the Hobey Baker Award as the top collegiate hockey player of the year.

Granato, who was shell-shocked after his fourth-seeded Badgers were upset 6-3 by unranked Bemidji State Friday, also didn’t exactly soft-sell his belief that Caufield is already prepared to be an impact player in the best league in the world.

“He’s going to get a call, I’m sure, from his agent and from Montreal real soon,” Granato said. “The Canadiens watched him play this year, the scouts all watched him play this year, so they have a plan. I don’t know that plan. I’m assuming that plan is to try to get him up there as fast as they can, so he’ll have to answer to some calls really quick.”

In the event the Canadiens can’t clear enough space to sign Caufield immediately — and they might have to wait a few days until he’s ready anyway, since he said after Friday’s devastating loss, in which he scored two goals and an assist, that he might take a few — they could potentially bring the 21-year-old to Montreal to quarantine and then sign him at any point after that. They’ll accrue more space by the day in managing their roster and taxi squad and there’s no clock ticking on having him put pen to paper, with Caufield being on the team’s reserve list to enable him to sign and play with the Canadiens post-trade deadline.

Whether he does or not, the move for Staal made Montreal a better team on Friday. At worst, it provided the Canadiens with a much-needed safety valve in the middle of their roster — and only for a pittance.

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Canadian medal hopefuls Humana-Paredes, Pavan start beach volleyball with easy win –



Under a scorching sun, brilliant blue sky and temperatures that soared above 38 degrees Celsius at the Shiokaze Park in Tokyo, Canada’s dynamic beach volleyball duo of Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes wasted no time taking it to their Dutch opponents. 

The No. 1-ranked and defending world champions took a few minutes to get their footing in the golden sand at the venue, but when they did, they were a force to be reckoned with. 

Pavan and Humana-Paredes defeated the Netherlands duo of Katja Stam and Raisa School in straight sets (21-16, 21-14) on Saturday to open their Olympics. 

“I think today we made it clear that everything we’ve been working on has paid off,” Pavan said after the victory. “The three times we’ve played that team it’s gone down to the wire. Today we took care of it.”

The duo fell behind early to the Dutch, trailing 5-2 in the first set and looking somewhat frustrated. But after an end change Canada rallied, stringing together four straight points, the fourth a huge Pavan block at the net, to take a 6-5 lead.

She pumped her fist in the air before sharing a high-five with Humana-Paredes.

“Regardless of the empty stadium I was shaking like a leaf,” Humana-Paredes said. “I was so nervous and so excited and put on a brave face.”

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The team talked about needing to feed off one another’s energy on the court because they normally thrive on the crowd. So any chance they get to ignite one another here at the Olympics, they take full advantage of it. 

Thousands of blue seats around the venue sat empty because of COVID restrictions — a similar scene at every Olympic venue in Tokyo, still in a state of emergency.

WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes win opener in straight sets:

Canada’s Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan opened their Tokyo 2020 beach volleyball campaign with a straight-sets (21-16, 21-14) win over the Netherlands’ Katja Stam and Raisa School. 5:34

The Canadians started to pull away slowly from the Dutch. Pavan’s 6-foot-5 frame was a huge advantage at the net, blocking another Dutch smash to make the score 14-10. 

The Dutch were visibly frustrated by Pavan’s daunting presence at the net and started making unforced errors. The Canadian duo then cruised to a 21-16 opening-set victory.

“We came out a little slow just getting used to the environment, nerves, excitement, everything. We settled in pretty quickly,” Pavan said. 

The Dutch weren’t about to go away too easily in the second set, going shot for shot with the Canadians. Canada mounted a 12-9 lead before a technical timeout for crews to rake the sand court.

Humana-Paredes then took her defensive game to a different level and at times was seemingly all over the court, digging up balls that seemed destined to touch sand. 

Pavan’s presence at the net continually frustrated the Canadians’ Dutch opponents. (AFP via Getty Images)

The experience, poise and power of the Canadians proved to be too much for the Dutch duo. Pavan and Humana-Paredes finished off the match winning the second set, 21-14. 

“Our game plan was on point. We executed our serving game very well and our defensive system. We were very prepared,” Pavan said. 

She finished with four block points and 11 attack points. 

One of the key strengths to Humana-Paredes and Pavan’s game is their ability to communicate. Because of the silent venue their strategy could be heard very clearly throughout the venue. They were constantly talking to one another and sharing information to each other and it slowly wore down the Dutch. 

WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes headed for history:

On this week’s episode of Team Canada Today, we go behind the scenes at training while Andi Petrillo tells you all you need to know about Olympic beach volleyball. 7:57

“That’s something we’ve been working on and it’s a cornerstone of our team,” Humana-Paredes said. “Our communication on and off the court, we put so much work into that. Communication is what we always come back to.”

Pavan and Humana-Paredes now take on Germany in their second match of the tournament in Pool A. 

There are 24 teams competing at the women’s beach volleyball tournament, including another Canadian duo made up of Heather Barnsley and Brandie Wilkerson. They play China in their first game on Saturday night in Tokyo. 

There are six groups made up of four teams. The top two teams from each group advance, with four more joining them in the round of 16. Then that gets trimmed down to eight teams, four teams and then the gold medal game. 

That’s the game Pavan and Humana-Paredes are targeting and are off to a perfect start. 

“It’s such an honour to be here and surreal. It’s something I’ve dreamt of since I was a little girl. I just want to soak it all in.”

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Coyotes trade Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland to Canucks – Arizona Sports



Oliver Ekman-Larsson #23 of the Arizona Coyotes during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at Gila River Arena on October 30, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Canadiens defeated the Coyotes 4-1. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes traded captain and defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson to the Vancouver Canucks, as well as forward Conor Garland, the team announced Friday.

Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro first reported talks of the deal.

In return, the Coyotes will get forwards Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel and the 9th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft that was used to select Dylan Guenther. Arizona also receives a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 seventh-round selection.

“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Oliver for everything that he has done for the Coyotes the past 10 years,” Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong said in a press release. “He is a tremendous player and person and we wish him and Conor the best of luck in the future.

“We are very pleased to acquire the ninth overall draft choice in this year’s NHL Draft along with Loui, Antoine and Jay. Loui and Jay are both Stanley Cup champions and along with Antoine, they are all solid veterans who will provide us with great leadership and experience.”

Ekman-Larsson, 30, has spent the entirety of his NHL career with the Coyotes after being selected sixth overall in the 2009 NHL Draft. The defenseman has 128 goals and 260 points over his Arizona career, for a total of 388 points.

Last season, Ekman-Larsson recorded three goals and 21 assists in 46 games. He has been the captain of the team for the last three seasons.

The Coyotes signed Ekman-Larsson to an eight-year, $66 million extension in the summer of 2018, a deal that has six more seasons left on it for $8.25 million each year. According to Gambadoro, Arizona will pay for roughly $1.2 million of that salary each of the next six years.

The 25-year-old Garland has been one of the Coyotes’ primary goal scorers in the previous two seasons. The winger had a team-high 22 goals in the 2019-20 season and 12 last season.

Garland is a restricted free agent this offseason.

Beagle, 35, had five points in 30 games last season while the 31-year-old Roussel contributed four points in 35 games. Lastly, the 36-year-old Eriksson played in only seven games.

Roussel is on an expiring deal worth $3 million next year, as are Beagle ($3 million) and Eriksson ($6 million).

The 2021 NHL Draft takes place on Friday.

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Sabres select Owen Power with No. 1 pick in 2021 NHL Draft –



The NHL draft turned Michigan maize and blue Friday night. And there’s a Hughes sibling reunion set to happen in New Jersey.

The Buffalo Sabres opened the draft by selecting Wolverines defenceman Owen Power with the top pick, and were immediately followed by the expansion Seattle Kraken choosing Michigan centre Matthew Beniers at No. 2. It marked the first time since 1969 that teammates went with the first two selections.

Three picks later, the Wolverines became college hockey’s first program to have three teammates go in the first round after the Columbus Blue Jackets selected Michigan winger Kent Johnson fifth.

“Extremely excited for Owen, Matty and their families. Its’ already a great night for Michigan Hockey. Go Blue,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson texted to The Associated Press after the Kraken made their selection.

That’s not all, however. Luke Hughes, who is committed to playing at Michigan, was chosen fourth overall by the the Devils, where the defenceman is united with brother Jack, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft.

Hughes watched the draft on his family’s living room couch with both of his NHL-playing brothers, rounded out by Quinn, who was selected seventh overall by Vancouver in 2018. Jack Hughes immediately jumped up and began hugging Luke upon hearing Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald announce the pick.

Ontario junior centre Mason McTavish was the only player without Michigan ties to round out the top five, after he was selected third overall by Anahiem.

The draft was held remotely for a second consecutive year due to the coronavirus pandemic, with commissioner Gary Bettman hosting the draft in New Jersey, where he introduced teams to make their selections from their home arenas.

On a day the Sabres traded Rasmus Ristolainen to the Philadelphia Flyers, general manager Kevyn Adams continued his offseason bid to overhaul a struggling franchise by choosing the stalwart defenceman’s heir apparent. Power is listed at six-foot-six and 213 pounds and was the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau’s top-ranked North American prospect. After scoring three goals and adding 13 assists in 26 games during his freshman season at Michigan, the 18-year-old Power cemented his draft stock by helping Canada win the world hockey championships.

From Mississauga, Ontario, Power is leaning toward returning to school for his sophomore season, something Adams has said would not play a factor into his selection.

“Not thinking about it too much right now, trying to enjoy the night. That’s something I’ll worry about later,” Power said of his future, while surrounded by his family and friends in his backyard.

As for a message to Sabres fans, he said: “I’m super excited to be part of the franchise and ready to get going.”

Power was the third player drafted first directly out of college, joining Michigan State forward Joe Murphy in 1986 and Boston University goalie Rick DiPietro in 2000. And he became the 16th defenceman to go No. 1 since 1970, and first since the Sabres chose Rasmus Dahlin at No. 1 in 2018.

Power and Dahlin have similar two-way, play-making skills, and will have the opportunity to form the backbone of a retooled defensive unit for years to come.

Beniers was ranked sixth overall among North American prospects. He had 14 goals and 24 points in 24 games for the Wolverines.

In 1969, Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif were Montreal Junior Canadiens teammates, who were selected with the first two picks by Montreal. In 1963, Garry Monahan and St. Michael’s Juveniles teammate Peter Mahovlich were selected first and second.

The Sabres made a splash earlier by adding a second first-round pick, 14th overall, and defenceman Robert Hagg in dealing Ristolainen to Philadelphia.

The trade is part of Adams’ bid to rebuild through youth after Buffalo finished last in the overall standings for a fourth time in eight seasons and extended its playoff drought to an NHL record-matching 10th year.

The acquired pick from Philadelphia is actually 13th in the draft order after the NHL stripped the Arizona Coyotes of their first-round pick, 11th overall, for testing players in violation of league’s combine policy.

The Coyotes, however, moved back into the first round by acquiring the Canucks’ pick, ninth overall, in a five-player trade that sent Arizona captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson to Vancouver earlier in the day.

The first European players selected were from Sweden in back to back selections. Defenceman Simon Edvinsson went sixth to the Detroit Red Wings, followed by under-sized forward William Eklund, who was chosen seventh by the San Jose Sharks.

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