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What Canadiens signing Corey Perry says about team’s depth in 2021 –



MONTREAL — You have to think Corey Perry could’ve taken a smidgen more than the league minimum to play just about anywhere. Coming off a run to the Stanley Cup Final with the Dallas Stars, over which he scored five goals and nine points in 27 games and fully lived up to his reputation of being about as fun to face as a mallet with blades, few teams would blink at bringing in a six-foot-three Cup winner with over 1000 games of experience as a depth option.

That Perry chose to sign a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Montreal Canadiens on Monday certainly says something about the stagnation of the salary cap butchering the market possibilities for lower-priority free agents, but it says much more about how far the team has come since the 2019-20 season was paused back in March.

Perry’s older at 35 — a battle-hardened, bruised-but-not-broken type who can only be interested in one thing at this stage of his career. And after earning over $85 million since he was drafted 28th overall by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks — as they were known — in 2003, it ain’t the money.

This is about the Cup, which Perry must believe he can win with the Canadiens.

And maybe that’s to do with what they showed in the Toronto bubble in August — beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in four games of the play-in round before giving the Philadelphia Flyers a legitimate scare in a six-game loss in the first round of the playoffs.

Or maybe it’s about everything that’s happened since.

The Canadiens have become bigger, meaner and far more seasoned. They’ve added scoring, grit and size with Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson, defensive depth, grit and size with Joel Edmundson and Alexander Romanov, and a 30-year-old backup goaltender coming off the best season of his career in Jake Allen.

Michael Frolik, a cagey vet of 850 games, signed on last week.

That’s four Stanley Cup winners (Toffoli, Edmundson, Allen and Frolik) coming to a team that previously had none.

And now it’s five with Perry.

“At 750K? I like it,” said a Western Conference executive we touched base with just minutes after the news dropped on Monday. “I really like it.”

For the Canadiens, it’s a no-brainer.

They wanted Wayne Simmonds, a 32-year-old with a near identical playing profile to Perry; a player who’s dropped off considerably from the one who consistently topped 25 goals but one who still brings size, edge, character and depth scoring. Bergevin even confirmed they offered Simmonds more money than the $1.5 million he took to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 9.

You have to think the Montreal GM is thrilled to land Perry, a one-time 50 goal scorer and Hart Trophy winner, for less than half the price.

The Western Conference executive we spoke with said he should be.

“I would take Corey Perry before I’d take Wayne Simmonds,” he started. “He’s obviously not the player he used to be — neither of them are — but he’s good on the walls and getting pucks out, and with the way Montreal plays, he’s going to be a good fit.

“He was outstanding in the playoffs. He’s not a guy that’s going to carry from one end to the other, but once he’s in the zone, he’s a useful guy. He’s a good defensive player, too, so you’re not worried that you’re going to get scored on. He’s also coming from Dallas’s system, so he’ll be polished that way.”

Will Perry be an everyday player for the Canadiens? Maybe not.

Perhaps the more pertinent question is: Does he even need to be one?

Last year’s Canadiens would’ve needed to use the Peterborough, Ont., native in their top-nine. This edition can afford to rest him on the second night of back-to-backs knowing that the fresher they keep him, the better he’ll be when it matters most.

Bergevin has secured the type of depth the Canadiens need in order to believe they’ll be playing when it matters most. It’s the type of depth you need in any season, but especially in one where his team is in a 56-game sprint to the playoffs and playing exclusively against six other teams in an uber-competitive division.

You’re going to need quality players rotating in and out at the bottom end of your lineup; quality players who can step up in case of injuries or a COVID-19 rash; quality players who can handle the playoff-style games this season is going to feature. The Canadiens suddenly have two more of them than they did at this time last week.

Prior to Perry and Frolik signing, you could’ve penciled two potential 20 goals scorers in Paul Byron and Joel Armia onto their fourth line. They’re players who could move up the lineup when injuries hit but players that could also rotate out for Perry or Frolik on any given night if the team is fully healthy.

“Perry’s a gamer,” said the executive. “He’ll want to play every night.”

The Canadiens wouldn’t have looked his way if that wasn’t the case. It’s that competitiveness they’re buying.

And Perry wouldn’t have signed with the Canadiens if they were still a team that could guarantee him a spot his play no longer merits.

The expectations are aligned, and they’re much higher than they have been in the make-the-playoffs-and-see-what-happens era of the Canadiens.

They’ve gone from habitually not spending anywhere close to the cap over the last three years to surpassing it by over a million dollars coming into this one — a problem that doesn’t really require a corresponding move to solve, at least not beyond placing Jordan Weal, Xavier Ouellet and any other combination of players on their four-to-six-man taxi squad.

“We have a team that should make the playoffs, I can tell you that,” said Canadiens owner Geoff Molson in an interview with Sportsnet towards the end of October. “And I think the team and the organization and the fans would be extremely disappointed if we didn’t. I think we’ve gotten to the point where we can. So, with that in mind, it would be disappointing if we didn’t.”

When Molson made those comments, the Canadiens looked like a team that could do some damage if/when they get there. They are even more so now with Perry in the fold.

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Maple Leafs avoid disaster scenario with Jason Spezza clearing waivers – Yahoo Sports



Welcome to our weekly tour of the NHL’s North Division. Fingers crossed that this column will live beyond this season. Do it, NHL. It’s best for everyone.

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 13:  Jason Spezza #19 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Montreal Canadiens during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on January 13, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Canadiens 5-4 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON – JANUARY 13: Jason Spezza #19 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Montreal Canadiens during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on January 13, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Canadiens 5-4 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

When Sheldon Keefe replaced Mike Babcock as coach of the Toronto Maple leafs less than two months into the 2019-20 NHL season, many of the things he’d say after practice and games seemed to serve as a good ol’ fashioned subtweet towards the man who held the seat before him.

Expressing care and compassion for his players and going out of his way to put them in positions to create special moments they can look back on fondly when their careers are finished, Keefe’s words often belied the actions we saw from the former Maple Leafs coach, who in many ways had a distaste for sentimentality.

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 13: Frederik Andersen #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs guards the net with teammate Jason Spezza #19 against Jesperi Kotkaniemi #15 and Joel Armia #40 of the Montreal Canadiens during the third period at the Scotiabank Arena on January 13, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 13: Frederik Andersen #31 of the Toronto Maple Leafs guards the net with teammate Jason Spezza #19 against Jesperi Kotkaniemi #15 and Joel Armia #40 of the Montreal Canadiens during the third period at the Scotiabank Arena on January 13, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jason Spezza will remain with the Leafs. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

No subject laid these facts bare more accurately than Jason Spezza, who Babcock chose to scratch on opening night last year, denying the veteran the opportunity to experience something special versus his former team — the visiting Ottawa Senators.

In what almost seemed like an effort to make up for the loss of that moment, Keefe started Spezza on a matinee game two days before Christmas last season, on a hunch that his four daughters would be in attendance that afternoon.

As it went, Spezza scored on that opening shift. The special moment once lost, Spezza now had for his family.

Not to paint Keefe as cold in any way, but now one year later it seems we’ve learned a little bit about why the Leafs coach made a concerted effort to make members of the organization feel a certain way — and it was not to criticize or challenge a previous regime.

He’s suggested in his media appearances this season that he believes the team he inherited was, if not broken, seriously fractured. Because of this, he believed his only option in his first weeks and months on the job was to try and improve the feeling and atmosphere around the group. If not the music blaring through the speakers while the team practiced, that at least explained Keefe’s focus on accentuating the players’ strengths, not always attacking their weaknesses.

Fast-forward to now, treading lightly has not been one of Keefe’s mandates in his first full(-ish) season at the helm.

He’s not stroking egos, instead challenging his star players to show more than what they have; he’s revealed that he’s stickler for habits and details, perhaps to the extent that Babcock was; and he’s demanding more from the team’s workouts, changing the foundation in which the club’s on-ice sessions are built around. What’s also true is that as a leading voice in the conversations around roster construction and salary cap manipulation, Keefe, and by extension the Maple Leafs, appear willing to make unpopular decisions, to get blood on their hands.

On Sunday, Spezza, the same player who Keefe and the Maple Leafs management team seemed to believe was owed something for the mistreatment he received previously, was placed on waivers three games into the season, offered up for free to any team that might have interest.

Now, Toronto’s intentions weren’t to show malice, or even to cut ties. Instead, it was a move required to maximize the flexibility on a roster being restricted by the rules governing the salary cap. But regardless of why the decision was made, the reality was that the Leafs made the decision to surrender control of what remains of Spezza’s fabulous career.

Powerless to the decisions of 30 other teams, Spezza’s only defence in preserving the life he and his family chose — which was, accepting less money to settle in his hometown — was his agent desperately working the phones, asserting that his client would simply retired if claimed by another team.

Thankfully, not a single team was convinced the agent was bluffing. Spezza went unclaimed on the open market (though it’s possible that would have happened anyway), preventing an 18-year career from ending on a waiver-wire transaction. Now he’ll be in the Leafs lineup Monday night versus the Winnipeg Jets.

Leafs fans were able to breathe a sigh of relief, and so too should the team’s braintrust.

Because the opportunity that Babcock stole from Spezza would not compare to making the decision that would prevent one the game’s most respected veterans, and a former superstar in the league, from not only exiting the game the way he should, but being blindsided by the end of his playing days.

And elsewhere up north:

Montreal: Would you include Nick Suzuki or Alexander Romanov in a trade for Pierre-Luc Dubois? As much as I believe that PLD would elevate the Canadiens, reaching that next tier may be an opportunity that only exists with Suzuki and Romanov remaining in the fold. The partnership Suzuki has created with Jonathan Drouin and Josh Anderson is so exciting, while Romanov looks like a 10-year veteran on the blue line, having exceeded 22 minutes in his debut. These two players hold the key to meeting the preseason hype. That’s worth seeing through for Marc Bergevin.

But Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the other hand….

Ottawa: How can you not be encouraged by this start? Ottawa split its first two games in 10 months — against the Maple Leafs, no less — and actually came away with a plus goal differential.

And more importantly: Tim Stutzle, y’all.

That’s an unbelievable debut goal.

Toronto: Best sign through three games for the Leafs? John Tavares is flying out there.

Winnipeg: If Patrik Laine decides that his means to earn a trade out of Winnipeg is to score the lights out, we’re in for some serious entertainment. That was special, singular stuff from the Finnish sniper — on and off the ice. It’s too bad he’s already dealing with an injury, though.

Calgary: If this were a ranking of the seven Canadian teams, I would have touched on the Flames first. Just one win through two games, but massive potential shown already with Jacob Markstrom holding things down in net.

Edmonton: It’s crazy how upgrades in net just seem to escape this team. The Oilers went big-game hunting for a goalie over the summer and ended up bringing back Mike Smith. And in their desperate attempts to bring in a third goaltender with Smith on the shelf, they have dudes flying in from Austria and California over the weekend — and are therefore subject to quarantine rules — while Aaron Dell (already in Canada) is claimed by the New Jersey Devils one day later. It’s just not breaking right for the Oil in net, an area that could be the difference in making or not making the playoffs.

Vancouver: I’d be concerned, frankly. The Canucks have seemed second-best in terms of talent in both of their matchups so far this season, having faced the Oilers and Flames to this point. J.T. Miller will help in this regard, obviously, but this team has the look of one that could be overmatched on most nights.

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Maple Leafs avoid disaster scenario with Jason Spezza clearing waivers – Yahoo Canada Sports



The Canadian Press

Confident Buccaneers defence reverts to form at right time

TAMPA, Fla. — Tom Brady’s quest for a seventh Super Bowl ring continues, thanks to a young defence that’s regained its swagger when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers needed it most. The Bucs (13-5) advanced to the NFC championship game for the first time in 18 years, with Brady outplaying Drew Brees with plenty of assistance from a rejuvenated defence that forced four turnovers in a 30-20 divisional playoff victory over the New Orleans Saints. Brady threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third, finishing scoring drives of 3, 40 and 20 yards set up by takeaways by a unit many felt would be a liability in the third meeting of the season between the NFC South rivals. “They played incredible,” said Brady, who is headed to his 14th conference title game — first in the NFC. “This team has been doing that all year at different times,” the 43-year-old quarterback added. “The defence has picked us up, some weeks the offence has been a little bit better. Special teams has been so consistent. The way the defence played (Sunday), they were spectacular.” New Orleans had won five straight over Tampa Bay, including a pair of lopsided wins this season. While the Bucs led the NFL in run defence for the second straight year, a young secondary featuring three starters in their first or second seasons seemed to regress during a stretch in which Tampa Bay dropped three of four games in November. Despite going 4-0 over the final month of the regular season and beating Washington in the NFC wild-card round, questions persisted about the pass defence heading to New Orleans, where Devin White, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Mike Edwards had interceptions and rookie Antoine Winfield Jr., forced a fumble that White scooped up to position Brady to throw a tying TD pass in the third quarter. “We’ve been fighting adversity all year … battling the naysayers and those that say we can’t do things,” Murphy-Bunting said. “I know one thing,” White, a second-year linebacker who was the fifth overall pick in the 2019 draft, added. “We might be young, but we can get after it when we’ve got our minds set to it.” Brees was limited to 134 yards and one TD passing, while Saints star receiver Michael Thomas was held without a catch. NFL touchdown leader Alvin Kamara had 105 yards from scrimmage, but failed to get into the end zone. New Orleans scored early in the third quarter to take a 20-13 lead. Four possessions the rest of the way ended fumble, punt, interception and interception. Now, it’s on to Green Bay for a matchup against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The Bucs will need another strong defensive performance. “It’s hard to get to this point,” Brady said. “There’s nothing guaranteed from this point forward, but we’ve got to go out there and we’re going to have to play our very best to beat one of the best teams in the league.” WHAT’S WORKING A huge part of advancing to the NFC championship game for the fourth time in franchise history was Brees turned the ball over and Brady didn’t after throwing five of his 12 interceptions against the Saints during the regular season. The Bucs have won six straight since their bye week in early December, and they’ve only turned the ball over twice during that stretch. WHAT NEEDS HELP Although Brady lauded the overall consistency of the special teams this season, New Orleans’ Deonte Harris returned a punt 54 yards to set up an early field goal. Minutes later, Harris had a 67-yarder for an apparent touchdown nullified by penalty. STOCK UP When it looked as if New Orleans might have an opportunity to take control of the game, Winfield — son of former NFL cornerback Antoine Winfield, Jr. — forced the third-quarter fumble that shifted momentum to Tampa Bay’s favour for good. “I can’t say enough about him,” coach Bruce Arians said. “To me, he’s the defensive rookie of the year.” STOCK DOWN A rare week when mistakes didn’t mar an otherwise impressive performance. INJURED Receiver Antonio Brown suffered a knee injury against the Saints. He had a MRI on Monday. KEY NUMBER One, as in one more road victory needed to become the first team to appear in a Super Bowl in its home stadium. This year’s NFL title game will be played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on Feb. 7. NEXT STEPS A chilly date with the Packers in Green Bay, where the weather forecast is for temperatures in the mid-20s and snow. “You’ve just got to have some mental toughness, wear some warm clothes and be ready to go,” Brady said. “We’ll be prepared. The team that plays the best is going to win.” ___ More AP NFL: and Fred Goodall, The Associated Press

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Dell to Devils after Maple Leafs lose goalie on waivers while Spezza clears –



The Toronto Maple Leafs have lost goaltender Aaron Dell to the waiver wire.

The New Jersey Devils claimed Dell a day after the Maple Leafs put the goaltender on waivers, along with veteran forward Jason Spezza.

The 31-year-old Dell signed a one-year, $800,000 US contract with Toronto in October.

He played in 33 games with the San Jose Sharks in 2019-20, posting a 12-15-3 record.

The native of Airdrie, Alta., had a 48-34-12 record with a 2.76 goals-against average, a .908 save percentage and five shutouts over four seasons with the Sharks.

Spezza cleared waivers and can be assigned to Toronto’s taxi squad.

The Devils have been looking to add goaltending depth behind Mackenzie Blackwood after veteran Corey Crawford retired unexpectedly before the season. New Jersey claimed netminder Eric Comrie from Winnipeg last week.

Meanwhile, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe says rookie forward Nick Robertson will miss around four weeks with an injury sustained during his NHL debut.

The 19-year-old Robertson was hit into the boards awkwardly by Ottawa’s Drake Batherson in the first period of Toronto’s 3-2 win over the Senators on Saturday.

Keefe told reporters Monday that results of Robertson’s MRI were “better than expected” and that he considers missing around a month to be “good news.”

Robertson was selected by Toronto in the second round, 53rd overall, at the 2019 NHL draft.

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