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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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Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s

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Andy Murray‘s grasscourt return was cut short in brutal fashion at Queen’s Club as Italian top seed Matteo Berrettini dished out a 6-3 6-3 defeat to the former world number one on Thursday.

The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.

Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.

Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.

Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.

He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.

Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.

Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.

“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.

“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”

Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.

(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)

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Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills

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North Division

It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.

The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.

Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.

Passers

Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.

Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.

Shooting

A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.

Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.

Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.

Stick Handling

Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.

If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.

Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.

When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.

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Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards

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Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.

Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.

Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.

“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.

“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”

After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.

Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.

Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.

“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.

“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.

“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”

Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.

“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.

“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”

For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.

“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.

“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”

 

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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