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If Oilers are in the playoff race, Holland will look to add

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Oilers playoff

When it comes to the trade deadline, Ken Holland has a philosophy.

“When your team plays at a high level to put themselves in a position to get into the playoffs, as the general manager I want to help out.

“I like to make a move that sends a message to your team, a message that says ‘You guys have played great to get us to this point, I’m going to try to help out.’ ”

In a one-on-one interview with your correspondent Thursday, Holland revealed his intent to be a player at the trade deadline if his hockey club keeps itself in position to warrant it.

Having taken over the job as Edmonton Oilers GM with the team in salary cap jail, all Holland could do was sign a bunch of low dollar one-year deals with veteran European and North American players, hoping a few of them would help build a bridge to next year.

Holland has been more than clear that his priority and focus here are very much big-picture in his first year on the job. But he says there’s so much parity in the NHL that you have to be willing to spend futures when you get a chance to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. And if the Oilers keep themselves in position to play in the postseason, he’s not likely to be a spectator on the sidelines deadline day, no matter how big-picture his plans may be.

“If you can get into the playoffs, you’ve got a chance,” he said. “The regular season now means a ton because only half the teams make it and half the teams miss. But once the regular season is over, there’s no carryover.

“I look at last year where the two No. 1 teams, Tampa and Calgary, won one playoff game combined.

“I look at 2006 when the Red Wings had 126 regular-season points and we played the Edmonton Oilers in the first round and they knocked us out. It’s a brand new season when the playoffs start in today’s NHL.

“So if I get to the trade deadline and I can do something and live with the price, I’ll do something.”

The trade deadline is 14 games away, on Feb. 24. And if the Oilers continue to play like they did in the last six, Holland hopes to do what he can to give them a missing link or two.

“For me, right now, we have some huge games. Arizona. Calgary. St. Louis. Calgary. Arizona. Those are huge games. It’s getting tougher and tougher and tougher.

“You get these regular-season tests and if you keep passing them, then as a manager you just work the phones a little harder to try to find that move that’s going to make your team a little better, a little deeper.”

Holland says that’s in keeping with his history, not swerving away from it. He has historically traded second, third and fourth-round draft choices on the deadline to upgrade his hockey team.

“There are three ways to go at the trade deadline. Buyer. Seller. Or stand pat.

“Barring a collapse, I don’t see us being a seller.

“So, are we going to be a buyer? Or are we going to stand pat?

“When you add players at the deadline, you’re giving up futures. You’re paying a price. But we don’t win the Stanley Cup in 2008 if we don’t do the deal for Brad Stuart. He gave us our fourth defenceman to go with Niklas Kronwall,” he said of giving up a second- and fourth-round draft pick for the Rocky Mountain House product.

“We won the Cup in 2008 and went to Game 7 in 2009.”

Holland says everybody is in a holding pattern at this point.

While the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues took a runaway 10-point lead into games last night, eight teams in the Western Conference standings were five points apart. And another pack of four teams were bunched together not far off the pace.

If it were a horse race heading into the final turn prior to going down the stretch, the race announcer would be severely stressed.

“The first thing I have to say is that I’m thrilled to be in the middle of the race,” said Holland of his hockey team that scrambled back into contention with a 5-1-1 record since New Year’s Eve.

“When the season starts, you’re hoping. Now we’re 48 games in and five of the teams in the Pacific Division are within two or three points. Then you factor in some teams from the other side. And it’s going to be a real race to make the playoffs.

“When it comes to the trade deadline, I think it’s still another eight to 10 games needs to be played before anything happens. I want to see what happens over the next 10 games leading to the trade deadline.

“Right now, there’s a little chatter. But there’s not much chatter. Very few teams are out of it. It’s a 31-team league and probably 22 or 23 teams think they have a chance today. When I call another general manager, they’re saying, ‘I’m two points in or two points out. I’m still evaluating.’ ”

“We got off to a great start. In the first 10 games we were 7-2-1. And then we played the next 30 at one game below .500. We sort of hung in the race based on the first 10 games. But then we brought up Kailer Yamamoto and Caleb Jones and went on a really difficult road trip to start January and our guys dug in.

“We sort of played our way back into the race. On that road trip we could have gone 1-4 and played our way out. But we went 3-1-1 and came home and won a huge game over the Predators.

“You’re going to have adversity. In 2008 when we won the Cup in Detroit we had a whole bunch of injuries in February we had, I think, a nine- or 10-game losing streak. This team had its adversity in December.

“At that point you didn’t know which way we were going to go. But the players dug in on a really tough road trip. What it has done for us is put us back in the mix.

“But now Arizona is coming in here before the All-Star break and when we get back, it’s Calgary, St. Louis, Calgary and Arizona.

“The games are going to get bigger and bigger and bigger. If you’re going to be a playoff team, you have to win big games. It’s a huge game against Arizona on Saturday. And we want big games for our players and for our fans.”

During the All-Star break Holland will travel to Tucson to watch the Bakersfield Condors farm club play a pair of games and will then head to Palm Springs for two and a half days and the pro scouts for two and a half days.

It’s the meetings with the pro scouts that will be of special interest to Holland heading to the trade dealing.

‘Play with discipline’

Ken Holland wants to deliver a message to Zack Kassian and his Edmonton Oilers teammates as they prepare to head to the All-Star break and return to play their Jan. 29 and Feb. 1 games against the Calgary Flames.

“We have to make sure we play with discipline, that we play hard and that we play physical and do whatever we have to do to win,” said the new Edmonton Oilers general manager.

“But we can’t take undisciplined, foolish penalties losing sight of the most important thing which is the end result.

“You don’t want to have your players getting suspended.

“We need our players in the lineup.”

Kassian took two minor penalties in rag-dolling a turtling Tkachuk and the Flames scored the winner on the power play.

Holland said he loves the revival of the rivalry that he witnessed when he was a goaltender with the Medicine Hat Tigers and when he was based there as a scout.

“I lived it eight years ago with Detroit-Colorado,” he said of the rivalry that came the closest to the Battle of Alberta in his 22-year run as general manager of the Detroit Red Wings.

Clearly, especially with the furor involving the perceived predatory hits on Edmonton’s Zack Kassian by Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk and the two-game suspension currently being served by Kassian, it’s back.

And with threats of retribution out there, the Edmonton Oilers general manager has his own message to deliver to Kassian who he spent time with for his hearing Monday.

“I’m excited as a general manager because they’re big games and in between we have St. Louis and they’re the defending champions and in first place in the Western Conference.

“That’s Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. That’s going to be an emotional time. In those two games against Calgary we have to play hard, we have to play physical and we have to play intensely. But we have to play smart and we have to play disciplined.”

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Val Sweeting finally breaks through at Scotties after so much heartbreak – TSN

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MOOSE JAW, Sask. – It took some extra drama, but Val Sweeting has finally reached the top of the Canadian curling mountain.

The vice for Kerri Einarson’s Manitoba rink captured her first Scotties Tournament of Hearts championship Sunday night with an 8-7 extra ends victory over Rachel Homan’s Ontario foursome.

“I’ve had quite a few heartbreaking final losses, so I definitely needed that,” an emotional Sweeting said after the game. “It’s hard to get back up, but we did and got back to that final.

“I’m so proud of us.”

Sweeting on finally winning Scotties: ‘I’m so proud of us’

After a few years of experiencing heartbreak at the Scotties, Team Manitoba third Val Sweeting spoke about how much it means to finally be able to win the Scotties and represent Team Canada.

Einarson, who also won her first Scotties on Sunday after dropping the 2018 final to Jennifer Jones in Penticton, B.C., says she couldn’t be happier for Sweeting.

“Val is such a wonderful player. So smart and talented. Her and I together, I think work really well,” said Einarson. “We’ve come a long way. We really focused on the little things that matter.”

The 32-year-old Sweeting has had her fair share of heartbreak at the Canadian championship in the past. Sweeting skipped Alberta to back-to-back national finals in 2014 and 2015, losing both times to Homan and Jones respectively, with the latter final happening right here at Mosaic Place. Those Moose Jaw Scotties were the last Sweeting competed in until this week.

Sweeting lost in the next two Alberta provincial finals (2016 and 2017) before dropping the page playoff 3 vs. 4 game in 2018. Her heartbreak wasn’t restricted to just traditional curling either. Sweeting and teammate Brad Gushue made it all the way to the 2018 Canadian Olympic Mixed Double trials finals before losing to John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes. That tandem would go on to win the first ever gold medal in that discipline in Pyeongchang, South Korea a few months later.

“It was heartbreaking for sure. I didn’t know how many times I could get back up,” said Sweeting of all those losses. “It just shows that you have to and I’m so honoured to get that Maple Leaf.”

At one point Sunday it seemed it was going down the same nightmarish route once again.

Manitoba held a four-point lead with two ends to play. Homan put up a deuce in the ninth before Einarson was heavy on her last throw in the 10th, giving Ontario a steal of two and a tie game.

Sweeting says she didn’t let her mind go to a dark place.

“Maybe for a second,” said Sweeting, who shot 83 per cent in the final. “I just thought ‘oh that sucks.’ I knew that we would regroup and have a really strong 11 and ultimately just leave the skip the four-foot. Kerri played amazing all week. Especially through playoffs and our last games.”

Einarson executed on a similar shot in the 11th end to win the Canadian title.

Einarson ‘so incredibly proud’ of her teammates

Team Manitoba skip Kerri Einarson couldn’t stop praising her teammates following her Scotties win and spoke about her winning shot that secured the victory.

“What an emotional roller coaster,” said Einarson. “This is so amazing. I’m so incredibly proud of my teammates and they played so well all week. If it wasn’t for them I don’t know where I’d be today.”

Shannon Birchard, the second on the team, said they won this one for Sweeting and their skipper.

“We said before the game ‘we’re doing these for Val and we’re doing this for Kerri,’” said Birchard, who was on that Jones’ 2018 Scotties team as a replacement for Lawes. “For those two, losing the national final, it must have been heartbreaking. We just really wanted to do it for them this week.”

Sweeting’s first national championship came in her home province as she was born in Redvers, Sask., and has lived in Edmonton for many years as the team’s lone out-of-province curler. Sweeting says she could feel the support from multiple parts of Canada despite wearing the buffalo.

“Although I had the Manitoba logo on, I felt like I was representing everybody and I felt that support from everybody,” she said.

This rink out of the Gimli Curling Club made headlines when they formed prior to last season as Einarson, Sweeting, Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur were all skips of their own teams prior to coming together.

Birchard and Meilleur weren’t major contenders on the elite curling level circuit, so their moves weren’t shockers, but Sweeting’s swap to the third position was surprising. Could all these skips work together? Were there too many cooks in the kitchen?

“I think we all really owned our positions,” said Sweeting. “We really bought in and learned what we needed to do in each of our roles.”

In their first campaign together 2018-19, Team Einarson won multiple times on the World Curling Tour, but lost to Team Tracy Fleury in the Manitoba final and then lost the Scotties Wild Card game to Team Casey Scheidegger in Sydney, N.S. A good first season, but Sweeting knew they could reach another level.

Birchard on sacrifices made by ‘four skips’ to come together for Manitoba

Team Manitoba second Shannon Birchard spoke about what sacrifices each member of the team made to join together, especially given the experience each curler brought to the table.

“I think we really identified a lot of little things this season that we wanted to work on and I think we just owned them,” she said.

Birchard says all four teammates having a skip mentality can be an advantage.

“I know that Briane and I are always thinking about strategy. We’re always keeping everything in check and Val as well. It just helps. It’s definitely a team effort out there,” explained Birchard.

Now, Team Einarson will trade in the yellow and black for red and white as they will represent Canada at the world women’s curling championships next month in Prince George, B.C.

“We’ve got some work to do,” said Sweeting. “There’s so many good teams there and we’ll draw on players who have had experiences there and good coaching. We’ll just work really hard and do everything we can to bring a medal back to Canada.”

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Kerri Einarson wins Canadian women's curling championship – CBC.ca

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A dream team of former skips came together to earn a Canadian women’s curling championship Sunday.

Manitoba’s Kerri Einarson beat Ontario’s Rachel Homan 8-7 in an extra end to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask.

Einarson was heavy on a draw against two for the win the 10th, but did not make the same mistake in the 11th drawing for the point she needed.

“This means absolutely the world to me,” Einarson said. “I really wanted to do this for myself and my teammates. We really put it together this week and so proud of everyone.

“Relief, but joy as well.”

Einarson, vice Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur out of the Gimli Curling Club will represent Canada at the world championship March 14-22 in Prince George, B.C.

WATCH | Einarson wins Scotties for Manitoba:

Kerri Einarson and Team Manitoba defeated Rachel Homan and her Ontario group 8-7 to win the Canadian women’s curling championship in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. 1:48

Einarson also gets a return trip to next year’s Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont., as Team Canada.

Her foursome gains a berth in the 2021 Olympic trials and collects $105,000 of the $300,000 prize purse.

As this year’s national champions, the team is eligible for just under $170,000 in Sport Canada funding over a two-year period.

Homan is a three-time Canadian champion, but has lost back-to-back Hearts finals. Her team fell to Alberta’s Chelsea Carey last year in Sydney, N.S.

‘It’s awesome to lose to such a good team’

“It sucks to lose, but it’s awesome to lose to such a good team,” Homan said. “They’re going to be great representatives for Canada and good luck to them.

“We fought right to the end. In the end, she made a great shot.”

Einarson, Sweeting and Meilleur earned their first Canadian women’s titles.

Birchard won two years ago as a substitute third for Jennifer Jones, while regular vice Kaitlyn Lawes played mixed doubles at the Olympic Games.

​​​​Einarson and her teammates all skipped different teams in 2017-18 before joining forces.

That combination raised eyebrows given how specialized each position on a team has become.

They settled into their roles, but Einarson lost in the Hearts wild-card game in Sydney to fall short of a berth in the main draw.

She faced an Ontario lineup with more big-game experience Sunday.

Einarson stole a point in the second end and generated two in the fourth and the sixth.

Homan drew for her first deuce in the ninth and trailed 7-5 coming home without last-rock advantage.

Ontario’s skip attempted an intricate triple takeout for three in the seventh, but mustered just a point.

In a dramatic sixth end, stones of both colours clustered on and around the button with Manitoba counting two.

Homan’s raise pushed one of her counters to second shot, but Einarson then delicately nudged her own stone towards the pin for the two points.

Homan attempted a raise double, but left Manitoba shot stone in the fourth. Einarson drew the four-foot rings for two.

Homan attempted an angle raise for two in the second end. She missed to give up a steal and trail 2-0.

Sweeting lost back-to-back Canadian finals in 2014 and 2015

Sunday’s victory was particularly sweet for Sweeting.

She lost back-to-back Canadian finals skipping Alberta in 2014 and 2015, losing to Homan and Jones respectively.

Manitoba, Ontario and the Jones wild-card team each posted 9-2 records in the pool and championship rounds.

Einarson earned an express ticket to Sunday’s final downing six-time champion Jones 6-4 in Saturday’s playoff between the top two seeds.

Homan denied Winnipeg’s Jones a chance at a record-setting seventh defeating the latter 8-3 in Sunday afternoon’s semifinal.

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Trade to Capitals may not be the end for Kovalchuk and the Canadiens – Sportsnet.ca

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MONTREAL — Perhaps this isn’t goodbye, but more like see you later.

For Ilya Kovalchuk came to Montreal and truly fell in love with being a Canadien, and there’s a chance he’ll return as an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and sign the contract that was presented to him before he was traded to the Washington Capitals on Sunday and given a chance to continue his lifelong pursuit of a Stanley Cup.

The Canadiens got a 2020 third-round pick back from Washington and retained 50 per cent of Kovalchuk’s prorated $700,000 contract, which he signed on Jan. 3 — just two weeks after he and the Los Angeles Kings terminated his three-year, $18.75-million contract before it was halfway through. And though it doesn’t seem like enough given Kovalchuk’s torrid start in Montreal, it was all GM Marc Bergevin was able to attain after the 36-year-old produced just one point over his last seven games.

Should Bergevin have pulled the trigger earlier?

It seems that way, with Kovalchuk scoring six goals and 12 points in his first 14 games with Montreal and the Canadiens not gaining any significant ground in the playoff race. There were at least four other teams outside of Washington that expressed varying degrees of interest in his services, though no formal offers worth accepting came across Bergevin’s desk at that time.

There were other factors at hand here, too.

• That Kovalchuk and the Canadiens hadn’t abandoned hope that they could pull off the improbable after winning eight of those first 14 games.

• That there were other dominoes that needed to fall before the Canadiens could hope to obtain what they were looking for (a second-round pick, or at worst a conditional third that would become a second) in a Kovalchuk trade.

• That his offence dried up at the precise moment they moved him into the type of role he was more likely to fill with any of the teams that were interested in acquiring him.

Now Kovlachuk is gone to the Capitals to join the Great 8 and a team that’s just one season removed from being crowned Cup champions. Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Vrana, Carlson, Holtby, Samsonov — among others; they were a threat before Kovalchuk arrived.

But now? Watch out.

Don’t think for a second that the big Russian isn’t grateful to the Canadiens and Bergevin. Kovalchuk was holding out hope a contender would sign him out of his contract termination with the Kings, but none were willing to take that risk before seeing him prove he could be infinitely more effective than he was in Los Angeles. The Canadiens gave him an opportunity to salvage his NHL career, they immediately put him with their best players, they gave him a top-line power-play role, and they gave him 18:54 of ice-time per game.

He took advantage of it, and his gratitude was on full display from Day 1.

“I love everything about this team,” Kovalchuk said back on Super Bowl Sunday, following the team’s 4-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. “The way everyone has welcomed me to the fans, who are unbelievable.”

“This group of guys is special,” he added. “They all care, they want to win, they want to be better. And all the young guys like (Nick) Suzuki … and (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) and (Cale) Fleury — they sent them down, but they’re all ready to play. This team has a bright future, and if I can be part of it that would be really good.”

Kovalchuk was with the team for 51 days and his impact on its future was felt throughout.

He blew his young teammates away with his dazzling skill, with his size and strength, with his commitment away from the puck, with his practice habits, with his determination, with his kindness (he bought Brett Kulak a Rolex for giving up No. 17 upon his arrival), but most of all with his passion.

The older guys were equally taken aback.

“It’s how much he loves the game,” said 28-year-old Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot moments after Kovalchuk scored his fourth game-deciding goal — and this one against the Toronto Maple Leafs — on Feb. 8. “He’s not the youngest guy anymore, but every day he’s… whatever he’s working on in the gym, on the ice… he’s as passionate of a guy as I’ve ever seen playing the game. That’s what’s made him one of the best players for his generation, one of the best goal scorers; it’s just how much he loves the game. And that’s what’s common among the great players is just how much they love the game. Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler — guys like that come to mind when I think of guys who have the same kind of passion for the game that Kovy does.”

It’s a passion that legitimately could be rewarded with a Stanley Cup this spring.

And then, perhaps, Kovalchuk will come back to Montreal and put pen to paper on a deal that will be waiting for him from the Canadiens. There are no guarantees of it happening, but it’s also not a given that this is goodbye.

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