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Saturday summary: This week’s hockey headlines north of the border

Nate Schmidt (VAN), Evgenii Dadanov (OTT), Joe Thornton (TOR)

It’s been yet another busy week of transactions for Canada’s NHL teams, with the Canucks, Canadiens, and Leafs stealing the spotlight.

The Montreal Canadiens made the first splash of the week on Monday when they dipped into the free agent pool to pickup former Canucks’ winger Tyler Toffoli on a four-year deal worth $17 million. The signing caused as much commotion on the west coast as it did out east, as it marked the fourth and final significant free agent that the Canucks lost this offseason.

If you had asked me ahead of time if the Canucks were likely to lose Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher, and Tyler Toffoli this offseason, the answer would’ve been a resounding no.

At least Vancouver sportswriter Rob Williams saw this coming, even if he asked the initial question mostly in jest. Regardless, five days later, he was given an affirmative answer as the Canucks had officially lost out on all four players. Like most reporters and fans, he was blown away that the team couldn’t find a way to keep at least one of Toffoli or Stecher, considering the club-friendly deals they ended up signing (Toffoli – 4y x $4.25M; Stecher 2y x $1.7M).

For Montreal’s part, they get a hardworking winger with a nose for the net and a Stanley Cup on his resumé. After collecting 24 goals and 20 assists across 68 games split between Vancouver and Los Angeles last season, Toffoli will bring some much-needed offensive help to a Montreal lineup that finished in the middle of the pack last year in goals for.

Not long after Canucks fans were up in arms over losing Toffoli, General Manager Jim Benning pulled the trigger on a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights. Poised to sign UFA defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon was forced to part ways with another good player in order to fit under the salary cap. With no leverage in the situation, the Golden Knights ended up coughing up blueliner Nate Schmidt to the Canucks in exchange for a 2022 third-round draft pick.

Schmidt certainly makes the Canucks a tougher team to play against and provides more offense than either Chris Tanev or Troy Stecher. He’s put up 30 or more points in three seasons with Vegas since being selected in the 2017 expansion draft from the Washington Capitals and is a career +88 to match his jersey number.

What makes things tricky for the Canucks is that he’s yet another left-handed defenseman on a team already that’s quite overcrowded in that area. Schmidt does have experience playing the right side in Washington and Vegas, however, and will likely slot in next to fellow left-hander Quinn Hughes on the top pairing.

The Canucks will still need to add another right-shot player to solidify their backend over the coming weeks, but the Schmidt trade has relieved some of the uncertainty felt in Vancouver this offseason.

Well, that was Monday. Let’s move on.

Tuesday was a quieter day that saw Vancouver re-sign depth defenseman Ashton Sautner, who will likely spend most of next season in the AHL, while Toronto secured goaltender Aaron Dell on a one-year pact at $800,000.

The Habs were the talk of Wednesday, signing forward Brendan Gallagher to a six-year contract extension worth $39 million. The deal won’t kick in until the 2021-2022 season as Gallagher has one year left on his current deal, but it reaffirms the belief in one another between club and player. The Canadiens also handed out a contract extension to goaltender Jake Allen who was acquired from St. Louis last season. With one year left on his existing contract, Allen is set to make $2.875 million per year for two seasons starting in 2021-2022.

200 kilometres west, the Ottawa Senators locked in UFA Evgenii Dadanov for three years at $5 million per season on Thursday. Dadanov, 31, was a late bloomer, bursting onto the scene with 65 points for Florida during the 2017-18 season. He’s been a reliable contributor for the Panthers since then, scoring 53 goals over the past two seasons combined.

Ottawa was one of the worst teams in the league last year and won’t be expected to reach the playoffs next season, but with the offseason they’ve had, don’t be surprised if they end up competing for a spot.

Not to be outdone by their inter-province rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a “jumbo” acquisition on Friday, signing NHL veteran and longtime San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton to a one-year deal at league minimum. Thornton, 41, saw a major drop in production last season on a bad San Jose team, collecting only 31 points in 70 games. It was the second lowest point total of his career, only eclipsing the 7 points he posted in his rookie season (1997-98) with Boston.

Still, Thornton still believes he can contribute to a Toronto team that will look to bounce back from another postseason disappointment this August. He’s certainly slower than he once was and won’t see the ice time he’s used to seeing on a much more talented Maple Leafs team, but he’s been one of the NHL’s premier passers over the last two decades and will fill out Toronto’s bottom-six nicely.

In other news on Friday, the Calgary Flames re-signed 24-year-old winger Andrew Mangiapane to a two-year contract at $2.425 million per year. Mangiapane had a breakout year with the Flames in 2019-20, putting up 32 points (17-15-32) in 68 games, as well as 5 points (2-3-5) in 10 postseason games.

Saturday remained relatively quiet in the NHL, which is likely good news if you’ve made it this far and aren’t sure just how many more names and numbers your brain can handle. Even though hockey isn’t being played this October, Canada’s teams are still keeping busy and giving us plenty to talk about.

Chase Claypool sets Canadian record, scores four touchdowns vs. Eagles

Abbotsford’s Chase Claypool isn’t at home for Canadian Thanksgiving this year, so he decided to give Steelers fans something to be thankful for instead.

Taking on the Philadelphia Eagles in the Battle of Pennsylvania on Sunday, the Steelers were looking to improve to 4-0 on the season for the first time since 1979. Thanks in large part to rookie wide-receiver Chase Claypool, they did just that, defeating the Eagles 38-29.

Selected in the second round of the NFL Draft, 49th overall this past April, Claypool has been impressive in his rookie season so far. After an 84-yard touchdown agains the Broncos put his name in the record books three weeks ago, he one-upped himself this week with four touchdowns in a single game. Three of those were receiving touchdowns, while the fourth was a rushing TD.

With seven receptions in the game, Claypool ran for 110 yards en route to collecting the four touchdowns. In doing so, he joined Jerry Butler, Harlon Hill, and Frank Jackson as the only rookie receivers to record four touchdowns in a single game.

He also set a Steelers’ record as the first rookie to score four TDs in a game, and is the first Steelers player to score four in a game in 52 years.

With 12 games left still in the 2020 regular season, and likely more in the postseason with the way the Steelers are playing, fans can look forward to more stellar performances from Claypool as the season progresses.

For highlights of Claypool’s historic performance, check out the highlights below.

Free agent frenzy, day one: Eastern Conference recap

T.J. Brodie (TOR), Matt Murray (OTT), Wayne Simmonds (TOR)

Toronto Maple Leafs

After re-signing veteran Jason Spezza to a one-year deal at the league minimum $700K earlier this week, Toronto made two key acquisitions through the open market on Friday.

The first signing of the day was that of hometown boy Wayne Simmonds on a one-year contract at $1.5 million. Simmonds has struggled offensively the last two seasons and is far removed from the 60 point player he once was in Philadelphia, but he can still contribute to a Toronto lineup that will benefit from his grit and experience. Expect Simmonds to slot in on Toronto’s third line and contribute 30-35 points if the NHL goes ahead with an 82 game season for 2020-21.

The second signing the Leafs made was snagging blueliner T.J. Brodie from the Calgary Flames on a 4-year deal worth $5 million per season. Brodie is a talented offensive defenseman who will get a chance to play big minutes on Toronto’s second powerplay unit while filling the departing Tyson Barrie’s absence on the right side.

Ottawa Senators

The Senators’ main transaction today was the contract extension of recently acquired goaltender Matt Murray who came over in a trade with Pittsburgh. After walking away from veteran netminder Craig Anderson last week, Ottawa made a point of improving their status in goal by trading for the two-time Stanley Cup winner.

His contract comes in a bit pricy at four years and $6.25 million per year, especially for a player who put up subpar numbers this season with the Penguins. But a change of scenery to an up-and-coming Canadian team might be just what the doctor ordered, and the Sens are willing to take that bet.

Ottawa also signed forwards Logan Shaw and Matthew Peca, but will still have plenty of moves to make to replace the departed Mark Borowiecki and Bobby Ryan. They’re also $8 million shy of the cap floor right now, so they’ll need to add some players either via trade or free agency in the coming weeks and months.

Montreal Canadiens

Montreal was the quietest Canadian team today, signing three players to short-term deals at or near league minimum. However, their biggest moves came in the days leading up to free agency where they traded star forward Max Domi and a third-round draft pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for winger Josh Anderson.

Domi finished tied for third in scoring on the Habs this past season with 44 points in 71 games, while Anderson struggled mightily in an injury-plagued season with Columbus, posting only 4 points in 26 games. As a result, many fans were left scratching their heads at this move, but Montreal clearly believes in the player they received, having signed Anderson to a 7-year, $38.5 million contract extension on Thursday.

It will definitely be interesting to see what else General Manager Marc Bergevin has up his sleeve this offseason, as Montreal could still use some offensive help after finishing 19th in the NHL in goals for per game played last season.

Free agent frenzy, day one: Western Conference recap

Jacob Markstrom (CGY), Braden Holtby (VAN), Kyle Turris (EDM)

NHL Free Agency opened at 12pm EDT on Friday, marking another first for the NHL in what can only be described as the wackiest year in league history. Typically held on July 1st annually, free agency was pushed back by more than three months this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now just two days after completing the NHL Entry Draft, all seven Canadian teams were poised to improve their lineups by throwing years and dollars at this year’s free agent class. As a result of the pandemic, however, the NHL salary cap will remain flat going into next season, making today a more challenging task than years past for NHL general managers.

Regardless, day one was action-filled with an abundance of surprises across the league and especially in Western Canada. From Vancouver to Calgary and Edmonton, here’s how things went down.

Vancouver Canucks

After a magical playoff run that saw the underdog Vancouver Canucks fall one game short of the Western Conference Final in Edmonton this summer, General Manager Jim Benning had a lot on his plate heading into the offseason. Two-time team MVP Jacob Markstrom, longtime defensive defenseman Chris Tanev, and recently acquired winger Tyler Toffoli were set to hit the open market on Friday.

Leading up to Friday, it was said that the Canucks were still in discussions with Markstrom, who was also considering long-term offers from the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. When all was said and done, the Canucks couldn’t compete with Calgary’s 6-year, $36 million offer, and nor should they have.

24-year-old goaltender Thatcher Demko showed in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs that he has the ability to backstop this team and with the 2021 Seattle expansion draft looming, Vancouver couldn’t afford to lose him to the new division rival. Unfortunately, that meant losing Markstrom to another division rival in the Calgary Flames.

The Canucks did recoup their loss in net by signing 2018 Stanley Cup Champion and former Washington Capital Braden Holtby to a 2-year, $8.6 million deal to share the net with Demko. Holtby struggled last season, posting an .897 save percentage on a defensively superior Capitals team, but has been considered one of the league’s premier goaltenders for the last several years.

The Canucks are banking on him finding his old form on the west coast, but overall, it’s a low risk move. Holtby’s contract comes with a 4-team no trade list, but he’s able to be exposed in the expansion draft to Seattle and will certainly be pushed by Demko for the number one job.

Vancouver also lost defender Chris Tanev to the Flames, leaving a giant hole on their blueline. The team is reportedly interested in the services of Victoria’s Tyson Barrie, who provides more of an offensive punch than Tanev, but won’t give the Canucks as much stability in their own end should they sign him.

Richmond-native Troy Stecher is also currently on the market, potentially leaving another gap on the Canucks’ blueline. With just over $7.9 million in cap space remaining, Vancouver has also yet to re-sign top-six forward Tyler Toffoli, who could very well be on his way out of town too.

One positive for the Canucks was the two-year signing of forward Tyler Motte for $1.225 million per year. Motte plays big minutes for them on the penalty kill and is hard to play against. He also has some offensive talent, as he showcased in this year’s playoffs with multiple two-goal games.

There’s still lots of time left to turn this offseason into a positive one, but day one was a loss for the Vancouver Canucks.

Calgary Flames

As mentioned, the Calgary Flames managed to pry both goaltender Jacob Markstrom and defenseman Chris Tanev from Vancouver, solidifying their back end.

Markstrom gives the Flames a major upgrade in goal not only strengthens their current roster but widens their competitive window. Calgary has been sorely lacking in goaltending for years, and while Cam Talbot provided the Flames with some stability this past season, it’s no question that Markstrom is the elite goaltender they’ve been looking for ever since Miikka Kiprusoff’s retirement in 2013.

Markstrom posted a career-high .918 save percentage in 2019-20 along with 23 wins in only 43 games played. He almost single-handedly carried the Canucks into the playoffs and is the main reason they got out of the first round against the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues.

Tanev, on the other hand, brings 514 games of NHL experience to the Flames, and is coming off the first season in his career in which he appeared in every game for the Canucks. He’s been bit by the injury bug many times in his career, and that’s certainly a concern for the Flames, who just inked him to a 4-year, $20 million contract.

Still, he’s been one of the most defensively sound defensemen in the NHL for several years and can provide some offense if surrounded by the right players. He put up a career-high 20 points this past season skating alongside rookie sensation Quinn Hughes, and while he won’t have that luxury, does have some talented LHD to be paired up with in Calgary like captain Mark Giordano and Noah Hanifin.

The Flames did lose Tobias Reider on a one-year deal to the Buffalo Sabres as well as defenseman T.J. Brodie on a four-year deal to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Tanev quickly filled that slot. There’s work to be done still, but day one was a grand slam for the Calgary Flames, who will look to bounce back from a first round loss to the Dallas Stars in this year’s playoffs.

Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers didn’t have a particularly bad opening day of free agency, but they also didn’t make any moves that greatly improve the team that was eliminated by the 12th-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the qualifying round.

After being in on aforementioned goaltender Jacob Markstrom, the Oilers lost out to Calgary, despite reportedly offering more term at a slightly lower average annual value. The Oilers are certainly still in the market for a goaltender to solidify a tandem with Mikko Koskinen, but some of the biggest names in Markstrom, Khudobin, Crawford, and Holtby are already off the market.

The team did sign forwards Tyler Ennis and Kyle Turris to two team-friendly deals but failed to address their need in goal and on the blueline, especially after it was announced that defenseman Oscar Klefbom may miss all of next season due to shoulder surgery. General Manager Ken Holland will look to add a goaltender and defenseman in the coming days.

Winnipeg Jets

The Jets’ biggest acquisition of the day actually came via trade, when the club acquired centre Paul Stastny from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for Carl Dahlstrom and a fourth-round draft pick in 2022. The deal gives the Jets some extra depth down the middle and will provide a boost to their second powerplay unit this upcoming season.

General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff also re-upped the contracts of defensemen Nathan Beaulieu (2-year, $2.5M) and Luca Sbisa (1-year, $800K), as well as winger Mason Appleton (2-year, $1.8M). It might not seem like much for a team looking to rebound from a loss in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, but this Jets team has lots of the pieces necessary to contend.

With a healthy Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele back in the lineup and Vezina winner Connor Hellebuyck between the pipes, the club isn’t in need of a major overhaul.