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What the Puck: There's no downside to Eric Staal trade for Canadiens – Montreal Gazette

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Habs give up third- and fifth-round picks in this year’s NHL draft for a seasoned centre with grit and skill who will help in the playoffs.

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I really like the Eric Staal trade. What’s not to like? You give up third- and fifth-round picks in this year’s NHL draft for him. That’s what we in the biz like to call a bag of pucks in the technical jargon.

Even better, the Buffalo Sabres have agreed to pay half of his US$3.25-million salary. And in return the Canadiens get a seasoned centre with grit and skill, and he also scored more goals last season than any of the current Montreal Canadiens’ centres did.

Of course the grumblers are saying he’s a super old dude, that it would’ve been a great trade in 2010 and so forth, and there might have been a time when I would’ve joined the peanut-gallery chorus of naysayers. But that was then, this is now. The bottom line is the Habs are a better team today with the addition of Staal, even at 36, and it basically cost the team nothing.

But let’s not go overboard here. This is not a game-changer. It is a good move and it helps Montreal down the middle. And he’ll provide a boost in the playoffs. Count on it. So it’s all positive.

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What it does underline, however, is how weak the Canadiens remain at centre. Staal scored 19 goals last season with the Minnesota Wild and none of the current Habs centres matched that total.

Phillip Danault scored 13 goals in 71 games last season. Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored just six goals in 36 games last year and he was demoted to Laval midway through the season because he was playing so poorly. Nick Suzuki also had 13 goals in 71 games last season. Jake Evans had two goals in 13 games last season. This season, Danault has two goals, Kotkaniemi has four, Suzuki has seven and Evans has two.

  1. Buffalo Sabres centre Eric Staal has been traded to the Montreal Canadiens on Friday, March 26, 2021.

    Canadiens acquire veteran centre Eric Staal from Sabres

  2. Emergency-room doctor Drew Reid, who used to play hockey at McGill University, in Montreal on Thursday, March 25, 2021.

    Stu Cowan: Emergency-room doctor sheds light on Habs’ COVID situation

  3. Cole Caufield, the Canadiens' first-round pick (15th overall) at the 2019 NHL Draft, is now expected to turn pro.

    Canadiens prospect Cole Caufield’s university team is eliminated

  4. Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin watches his team's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs during second period in Montreal on Feb. 10, 2021.

    Stu Cowan: ‘No one did anything wrong,’ Habs GM says of positive test

  5. Montreal Canadiens right-winger Brendan Gallagher and Calgary Flames defenceman Christopher Tanev collide during the first period at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on March 11, 2021.

    What the Puck: Canadiens could still find a path out of the North

Clearly, Staal isn’t tearing up the scoring charts and he has only three goals this season on a horrible Buffalo Sabres team.

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But this is a trade with no downside for the Canadiens. And Staal is old, but it’s hard not to think of another chap in the same age group, Corey Perry. Perry is 35 and originally meant to be part of the taxi squad. This elderly player has become a key member of the team, albeit on the fourth line, and he’s shown that his hands are as soft as they ever were. Like Staal, Perry is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.

The real news flash here is that you may not have believed me before, but this is just the latest confirmation that Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin is all-in this season. He needs his team to make some noise in the playoffs and this is one more move to try to make that happen.

Bergevin knows his job is on the line. He needs to make the post-season, though at this point I think that shouldn’t be a problem because none of the three teams below the Habs in the North is likely to catch them. But the Habs need to win at least one round if Bergevin is going to survive and adding Staal makes that more likely.

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The funny part of the trade is it comes just a day after Bergevin yet again stated that he wasn’t thinking of making any significant deals because he was up against the salary cap. I’ve been arguing for a couple of weeks that Berg would be making a deal or two no matter what he was saying and I’d say the wheeling and dealing probably isn’t finished for the dashing GM.

So turns out he wasn’t completely transparent with us media wretches. No biggie. As a friend quipped to me the other day, after a news conference where he said the same thing: “What do you expect him to do? Give you his bank PIN number?”

GMs play their cards close to their chest and no GM is more circumspect when it comes to leaking information than Bergevin. Remember, in June 2016, when he was telling anyone that would listen that P.K. Subban was most certainly not on the trading block and that he wasn’t shopping his star defenceman? I know you remember. So do I. A few days later, he made the blockbuster move that sent Subban to Nashville in return for Shea Weber.

So you might want to take Bergevin’s comments about potential trades with not a grain but rather a large container of salt.

bkelly@postmedia.com

twitter.com/brendanshowbiz

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

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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

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(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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Masters 2021: Tiger Woods says he'll miss Champions Dinner, running up DJ's bill – Golf Channel

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Dustin Johnson will host his first Champions Dinner on Tuesday night in the Augusta National clubhouse, and he’ll be joined by several past Masters champions.

One former winner who won’t be there is five-time champ Tiger Woods, who is still home in South Florida recovering from a serious car accident in February near Los Angeles. Justin Thomas, who is still working toward his invite to the prestigious dinner, said Woods texted him Friday night and was “bummed” to not be at the Masters this year.

Woods then tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he’ll miss one of his favorite nights of the year.

“I’ll miss running up @DJohnsonPGA’s bill at the Champions Dinner tonight,” Woods said. “It’s still one of my favorite nights of the year.”

Johnson responded to Woods’ tweet, saying: “Will miss having you here. This week isn’t the same without you.”

The PGA Tour announced that the club would leave a seat open for Woods at the dinner, though the tweet has since been taken down.

Johnson will serve a menu including filet mignon, sea bass and peach cobbler.

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