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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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Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now



The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.

The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.

The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.

Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.

The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.

Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.

Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season –



It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics



(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.


(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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