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The Maple Leafs are emerging as North Division favourites
Here’s where things stand in the Canadian division and around the NHL:
Toronto Maple Leafs
Winners of nine of their past 10 games, the Leafs added Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno — whose father Mike was on the team for its 1993 playoff run — in exchange for a first-round pick and a pair of fourths on Sunday night. Foligno brings defence and grit to a team often criticized for lacking both, but he isn’t much of an offensive threat anymore. Toronto also added backup goalie David Rittich from Calgary with Frederik Andersen still out indefinitely, and depth defenceman Ben Hutton from Anaheim.
The Leafs, up six points on second-place Winnipeg, are barreling toward first in the North and a first-round playoff series against the Canadiens, with both teams pretty much locked into their place in the standings. That hasn’t happened since 1979, and it’s a pretty ideal outcome for the NHL’s year of rejigged alignment.
Come Game 1, all pressure in that series will sit firmly in Toronto with its mix of veterans and young stars primed to contend.
A top-heavy offence plus the reigning Vezina Trophy winner in net could make for a lethal combination come the playoffs. The Jets already made their move early in the season when they flipped Patrik Laine to Columbus for Pierre-Luc Dubois. They added d-man Jordie Benn from Vancouver for a late pick today.
But the question remains: can Connor Hellebuyck make up for a defensive core that’s been lacking since Dustin Byfuglien’s departure?
Edmonton brought in Dmitry Kulikov, a minute-eating, penalty-killing defenceman, from New Jersey to shore up its blue line on Monday. Between Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, we know there’s enough offence, and Kulikov has just two assists and no goals.
The Oilers have been consistently good this season, but their record may be propped up by a dominant nine-game, season-series sweep of basement-dwelling Ottawa. Like Toronto, Edmonton’s season will be judged solely by the playoffs.
The Habs tinkered around the edges, adding defencemen Jon Merrill from Detroit and Erik Gustafsson from Florida at minimal costs to follow their earlier Eric Staal pickup.
They’ve lost three straight, with a matchup against the Maple Leafs on deck tonight. Those two have been pretty evenly matched throughout the season, despite the Canadiens’ own turbulent campaign that began strongly but quickly cratered into a coaching change.
Playing playoff spoiler against Toronto as underdogs would instantly make the season a success.
Two years after winning the West, the Flames were clear deadline sellers having gone 2-8 in their last 10 games to fall out of the playoff picture. It was a nice bit of business getting a second and a prospect for former lottery pick Sam Bennett from Florida, plus a third from Toronto for Rittich.
New-old coach Darryl Sutter hasn’t been able to turn things around, and the off-season may force answers to bigger questions, such as what to do with Johnny Gaudreau.
Pretty ideal season for the Senators (especially if you remove their Oilers games), as the young guys have shown improvement and the old guys (Mike Reilly, Braydon Coburn, Erik Gudbranson) were shipped out for draft picks.
They could be a trendy playoff pick next season.
There was one more player added to health and safety protocols over the weekend, but the team’s facility finally reopened today. The Canucks are scheduled to play their first game since March 24 on Friday against the Oilers. The NHL announced over the weekend that the North playoffs would be delayed as Vancouver played out the string.
The Canucks are unlikely to factor into the post-season picture, eight points back of the Canadiens with 19 games remaining. They dealt forward/patient zero Adam Gaudette to Chicago for forward Matthew Highmore on Monday, while also sending Benn to Winnipeg and importing fellow defenceman Madison Bowey from Detroit.
The Canadian division makes up less than one quarter of the league, and its winner will face an American team for the first time this season in the semifinals.
If that team is the Leafs, they’re surely hoping their semifinal foe is not Boston, who traded for Taylor Hall from Buffalo in exchange for a second-round pick and a depth forward. But the Bruins are just fourth in the East, behind the always-dangerous Capitals (who brought in scorer Anthony Mantha from Detroit), the stingy Islanders (who added offence in Kyle Palmieri last week) and the Penguins, who picked up centre Jeff Carter (yes, he’s still in the league) from the Kings.
In the Central, the Lightning and Panthers acquired defencemen David Savard and Brandon Montour, respectively, to keep up in the race with the Hurricanes. All three teams are separated by two points.
Finally, the West likely boasts the best team in the league in Colorado and another serious contender in Vegas. Neither made major moves at the deadline, due to a combination of cap problems and existing depth. But they’re on a collision course for a second-round showdown and the title of Stanley Cup favourite.
To see all the day’s moves in one place, head to CBC Sports’ trade tracker.
Minnesota Twins, Wild and Timberwolves games are postponed after the police killing of a Black man. Daunte Wright, 20, was pulled over for a traffic violation and shot to death in what the Brooklyn Center, Minn., police department is calling an “accidental discharge” when the officer meant to take his taser. The murder trial of former cop Derek Chauvin, charged with the killing of George Floyd last May, is currently ongoing in the same county. With protests underway and “in response to the tragic event,” the Twins announced their home game today was postponed, and were soon followed by the Wild and Timberwolves who were also scheduled to play at home tonight. Read more about the situation here.
In case you missed it…
The Calgary curling bubble nearly burst. Late Friday night, just after Canada was eliminated by Scotland in a qualification game, news came of positive COVID-19 tests at the men’s curling world championships. It was the first scare since lead rocks were thrown at the Scotties in February and prompted the playoffs to be delayed by a day. American skip John Shuster revealed on That Curling Show that one of his teammates was among four positive tests, and each of the four tested negative 24 hours later. That allowed play to resume on Sunday, with Sweden’s Niklas Edin collecting his third consecutive title just before midnight in Calgary. Read more about the conspicuous end to the curling worlds here.
Hideki Matsuyama became the first Japanese man to win The Masters — or any golf major. And he did it without much contest, taking a four-shot lead into Sunday and only experiencing a brief scare before bouncing back to claim the green jacket. Though a trio of majors come first, Matsuyama may now be focused on this summer’s Olympic golf tournament, where he should be a contender to take gold on home soil. Canada’s Corey Conners, meanwhile, finished tied for eighth, guaranteeing himself a return trip to Augusta in 2022 after grabbing some attention this year with this hole-in-one.
You knew about the lucky loonie. Now meet the hopeful hardwood. OK, it doesn’t have quite the same ring. But it’s meant to serve the same purpose, as the New York Times reports that Canada Basketball purchased the Toronto Raptors’ title-clinching court from the Golden State Warriors to be reinstalled in Victoria for the last-chance Olympic qualifier beginning in June. The hardwood didn’t come cheap (nearly $270,000 US), but will be worthwhile if it helps Canada get to Tokyo, where the country could boast an all-NBA roster and contend for the podium. Read more about the purchase here.
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