During the early afternoon, rumours were starting to circle on Twitter that Shea Weber’s injury would be much worse than expected. In fact, the wildest rumours before he went in to see a trusted medical expert in Wisconsin suggested that his career may even be over.
Quickly, Montreal went out to poke a hole in the rampant speculation with a newsflash of their own, stating that their captain would miss the upcoming four to six weeks, which leaves the possibility for a return later in the year.
At this moment, we do not know how severe the conditions of the injury are or whether there was any legitimate truth to the earlier rumours. What it does mean is that an already weak defence will be even weaker for the remainder of the season. After Wednesday night’s loss against the Boston Bruins, the Montreal Canadiens find themselves even further away from playoff contention, operating from seven points back with three-quarters of the season behind us and more games played than any team above in the Eastern Conference.
In the most optimistic of Habs circles, there was a slight shimmer of hope that this team, once healthy, could go on a run to squeeze into a wild-card spot. Weber’s absence — one of not only a steadfast member on the Habs’ shaky blueline but the captain and leader — has put an end to that. This defence is not strong enough to create a winning team in the NHL with Weber, let alone without.
Instead, these next two weeks will be The Marc Bergevin Show. Will he keep his team intact hoping for better things in the future, or will he finally admit that this team is still a few years away from contending and start selling off assets to further strengthen the prospect pool?
My hopes are that he senses the desperation in the market and cashes in. Earlier this week, the Minnesota Wild got back a haul of a first-round-pick, a top prospect, and a middle-six rental in Alex Galchenyuk from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Jason Zucker. Zucker is not a bad player by any means, being on a 50-point pace if he were to play this whole season. Also, the first-round-pick comes with conditions for the 2020 NHL Draft and could possibly be postponed, and would likely be a late one in either year. Still, this means that it is worth exploring thoroughly how the trade landscape views players like Tomas Tatar, Jeff Petry and Ilya Kovalchuk, as well as less valuable rentals like Marco Scandella and Nate Thompson.
Tatar is having a stellar year, already eclipsing the 50-point mark ahead of the trade deadline. Petry could very well be the best right-handed defenceman on the market. Kovalchuk may be old, but imagine if a cap-strained contender could get a player with power-play pedigree and point-per-game potential for about $150,000. Which of the 20 teams still hoping to make a run to the Stanley Cup would pass that option up?
Personally, it aches writing these lines as I have grown fond of the players I just mentioned, but from a team-building standpoint this is a no-brainer. Earlier this week, Scott Wheeler of The Athletic ranked Montreal’s current prospect pool as the second-best in the league. If only a handful of these highly touted youngsters turn into NHL assets, the Canadiens will have a core to build on for years to come. Unfortunately, there are few scenarios where the players listed above will be taking part once that future finally arrives.
It’s better to sell high now and get significant building blocks back instead of just postponing what is clearly inevitable for one more season.
McDavid’s return puts Ken Holland under spotlight before deadline – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — The eyes averted from the general manager for a moment or two Thursday, when Connor McDavid executed the rare hockey “two-a-day,” skating alone at 9 a.m. and then again with the team at noon.
McDavid would not rule out playing Friday night against Minnesota — “You’ll have to ask the doctors about (a return date). We’re taking it day by day.” — and will be leaving with the team on Saturday for a three-game trip that opens Sunday in Los Angeles.
We’re betting he plays Sunday at the latest, and McDavid’s imminent return coupled with Monday’s trade deadline has veteran GM Ken Holland under the spotlight here in Edmonton — no different than in any hockey town on the map.
“The day I took the job (back in May) I told everybody at the press conference that I hoped on March 1 that we’re playing important games, competing for a playoff spot,” Holland said on Thursday. “We’re probably a little bit above that, but just a little bit. You can say we’re first place in the division, but we’re also five points from being out.
“How has it affected my thinking? I was a seller in Detroit the last three years, and I was a buyer at the deadline for many years. Would I like to do something? Yeah, you like to do something to pitch in.”
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Holland has a dressing room full of players who have come together to win games despite the fact there was $30-million worth of players out of the lineup that lost 2-1 in overtime to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. They’re looking at their GM to give them another bullet in a Pacific Division that has never been more wide open than it is today.
In the coach’s office sits Dave Tippett, who has done a masterful job creating an all-in atmosphere where the Oilers can now beat you with their stars, or by outworking the opponents with a solid bottom six, a sturdy D-corps and excellent goaltending.
And the owner of a team that has enjoyed one playoff run in the past 13 seasons likely wouldn’t mind a playoff gate or two. All of that is running through the mind of Holland, who is also responsible for building something here that can past — which means not dealing away picks and prospects.
Especially a first-round pick.
“Certainly for a rental,” he said. “I’m not going to spend a first-round pick on a rental.”
The Franchise has missed just five games, and his team went 3-1-1, dropping points only against Tampa and Boston. Top defenceman Oscar Klefbom is on the shelf for another two to three weeks with a shoulder issue. The Oilers were in first place in the Pacific when they awoke Thursday, and have watched Vancouver add Tyler Toffoli, Vegas add Alec Martinez, Arizona add Taylor Hall earlier in the season, and the Calgary Flames free up a load of cap space when they sent Michael Frolik to Buffalo.
Does that make Holland’s trigger finger a little more itchy?
“I did that in my early years as a manager, (when) there was us, Dallas and Colorado,” he said. “Sometimes it helps, quite often it doesn’t help. Today I worry more about our team. I can’t manage against what other teams are doing. I have to factor in the prices, what am I looking for, what’s going to make us deeper and better and at what cost.”
As we wrote yesterday in our deadline preview, a left winger for McDavid is what we believe to be the biggest priority in Edmonton, though a depth centre wouldn’t hurt either.
How does Holland prioritize those needs?
“That’s fantasy hockey,” was his retort. “It depends what’s available, what’s the cost and it’s not like there’s a whole bunch of wingers and a whole bunch of offensive centreman or defensive centres. What’s the cost?
“I’m trying to weigh that in my thought process from when I was hired to a five-year deal. You have to draft and develop people. Some of the younger people have had a greater impact way quicker than I thought. So, I’m trying to decide over the next three or four days how active I’ll be.
“Yeah, I would like to pitch in because the guys in that locker room have worked extremely hard, players and coaching staff, to put us in this position. But I also have to factor in the cost and I would not trade a first-round pick for a rental.”
As for Jesse Puljujarvi, their wayward former No. 1 pick currently playing in Finland, Holland said this: “I haven’t really shopped him and nobody’s really asked.”
Stay tuned. As you can see, there are plenty of wheels in motion in Edmonton these days.
ATP Marseille: Felix Auger-Aliassime Saves 3 MP, Beats Pierre-Hugues Herbert – ATP Tour
#NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime saved three match points on Thursday, battling through a slew of tweeners and screaming forehands to overcome Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-0, 6-7(6), 7-6(9) in a two-hour, 40-minute thriller at the Open 13 Provence that the players nor fans watching will soon forget.
The seventh seed steadied himself well after letting slip one match point in the second-set tie-break, eventually triumphing on his sixth match point to reach the quarter-finals in Marseille. Auger-Aliassime, who lost to Herbert in straight sets two weeks ago in Montpellier, struck 16 aces and won 85 per cent of his first-serve points as he continues his pursuit of a maiden ATP Tour title.
The 19-year-old Canadian has now saved multiple match points in his first two matches at this indoor ATP 250 event, erasing two of them in his first-round victory against Italian Stefano Travaglia. Auger-Aliassime will next play Belarusian Egor Gerasimov, who upset third seed David Goffin.
For a moment, it seemed destiny was on Herbert’s side. The Frenchman not only hit a tweener lob on set point in the second set to force a decider, but he struck another clutch tweener to help escape pressure on serve deep in the third set.
Then at 6/6 in the ensuing tie-break, Auger-Aliassime played a perfect point and crushed an overhead into the open court. But on the full stretch, Herbert blasted a forehand pass down the line that the diving Canadian couldn’t handle, giving him a match point on his own serve. The Frenchman was unable to muster the courageous tennis he played under pressure during the rest of the match, pushing a backhand into the net.
On the other two match points Auger-Aliassime faced — at 5/6 and 7/8 in the same tie-break — the teen showed no fear, dictating with his forehand and then blasting an unreturned serve down the T. Felix finished off his victory with an ace out wide, letting out a roar of “Allez!”
It is a key week for the Canadian, who last year reached his first ATP Tour final in Rio de Janeiro as the World No. 104. He has since reached three additional tour-level championship matches, including one last week in Rotterdam (0-4).
Auger-Aliassime’s next opponent, Gerasimov, is a qualifier who ousted Goffin 6-4, 7-6(5). Goffin battled hard, getting back on serve in the second set after the Belarusian served for the match.
But the in-form World No. 72 played too well from the baseline, triumphing after one hour and 33 minutes behind three breaks of serve. Gerasimov reached his first ATP Tour final earlier this year in Pune.
Did You Know?
With Denis Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil also into the last eight in Marseille, it is the first time three Canadians have reached the quarter-finals in an ATP Tour event since 1990 Rio de Janeiro where Martin Laurendeau (QF), Andrew Sznajder (Finalist) and Martin Wostenholme (SF) did it.
2021 Scotties tickets on sale on Friday – Tbnewswatch.com
THUNDER BAY – As Krista McCarville and company inch their way toward a spot in the championship round at the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Heats, tickets for the 2021 event in Thunder Bay are about to go on sale.
Curling Canada on Wednesday announced the first 2,000 ticket packages will be available through a pre-sale, for $395 plus fees, starting on Friday morning at 10 a.m.
A limited number of VIP tickets, priced at $429, will also be up for grabs.
Diane Imrie, vice-chair of the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts said the announcement suddenly makes things real.
“My phone has been blowing up, my email has been blowing up because pre-sale tickets went on sale today,” said Imrie. “Curling Canada sent out the notification to people and people are buying their tickets and are getting ready for the 2021 Scotties.
“And it’s perfect timing because Krista is doing great out in Moose Jaw, so we’re hoping she’ll do exactly the same next year here in Thunder Bay.”
For now, only full week packages will be made available.
A block of weekend single-day tickets are expected to be put on sale in October.
“These are full-event packages right now and it’s a great deal, if you think about all those games you get to see for a great price,” Imrie said, “It’s tickets for everything.”
Kent Maarup, vice-chair facilities for next year’s event, said it’s a great day for curling.
He cautioned the public not to wait too long, because the next block of tickets won’t be nearly as large is this one.
“We have to keep so many for media and also for families and everybody else. So they hold off a good 500 tickets just for that,” Maarup said.
Tickets will be available online and at the Fort William Gardens box office as well. Tickets can also be ordered by phone at 625-2929. Tickets prices are subject to standard facility and ticket service fees.
Imrie said she expects information on volunteers will be made public in the coming weeks, but encouraged anyone interested to sign up as soon as possible at that time as the opportunities will be open to curling fans across the country.
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