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Bruce Dowbiggin

Connor Gets His Man; Toronto Still Searches For Defence

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If you bet the chalk on who would win the Stanley Cup next spring you’re probably a little nervous at the moment. The betting favourites Toronto (+750) and Edmonton (+900) have been shaky at best. In both cities there are already goalie changes and coach firings.

On Sunday the 3-9-1 Edmonton Oilers gassed HC Jay Woodcroft in favour of Connor McDavid’s junior coach Kris Knoblauch. They had already fired their goalie, former Leaf Jack Campbell, while they battle to get McDavid healthy. There is speculation that this is Edmonton’s final chance to get it right with McDavid before he moves elsewhere in frustration.

Meanwhile, Toronto is a mediocre 8-5-2, despite its star scorers Auston Matthews (13-6-19) and William Nylander (10-12-22)  at the top of the league in scoring. Their 5-2 win over Vancouver Saturday was their first time allowing fewer than four goals on home ice all season.

Yup, goaltending’s a curse in Toronto, too. Expect to see a move here (Jacob Markstrom?) Of course it’s still early, but at least the decision to sign a four-year-extension with Matthews looks good (till the postseason, at least). Here’s how we saw the impact of finally getting Matthews to sign on the line that is dotted.

“Yet another long national nightmare has passed for Toronto Maple Leafs Nation. After a prolonged summer silence from star forward Auston Matthews about his intentions for Toronto the mustachioed sniper has agreed to a four-year, $13.25 M. per-season extension with the team (beginning in 2025). 

This news resonates at a number of levels from the team to the NHL head office. 1) While Matthews has yet to prove he can lead the Leafs anywhere but a golf course come May, he remains their best hope for any assault on the 56-year Stanley Cup drought. It might be a stretch to say the 40-plus-goal scorer in the regular season led them to their first postseason series win in April against Tampa. Patricia Bergeron he ain’t. But he didn’t hold them back, either. Not every Leafs star can say that. 

He’s at a point (25) where a number of NHL stars have morphed from stats producers to win producers. Bryan Trottier, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic and Vincent Lecavalier are a sampling of guys who added leadership their tool box in mid-career and went on to multiple Cups. We will see if Auston does likewise.

2) Matthews’ decision to remain in a Canadian city is a huge relief for the league which has recently seen American stars abandon or ignore Canadian cities for the lure of their home country. Indeed, Matthews would likely have gotten all the perks of this deal elsewhere— plus the anonymity of being an NHL player in a city obsessed by the NFL, NBA or MLB. He could’ve maxxed his take-home pay going to one of the NHL teams benefitting from no-state-income-tax. And the NHL would get a huge problem with Canadian fans.

As Canada’s economy wobbles and players have a choice on lifestyle, Matthews’ decision to live in the Toronto fish bowl means that at least one CDN team is relevant. And, let’s be honest, he has a chance of winning the Cup that he wouldn’t in six other CDN teams. If that doesn’t pan out his contract is movable should he desire to move on before 2028.

3) Speaking of relief, getting the deal done is a break for new Toronto GM Brad Treliving. It was he who, as Flames GM, had to negotiate the escape of Americans Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk from Calgary last summer. Had he not been able to retain Matthews in Canada’s largest market it would have not been a job enhancer. Now, he has to find a way to squeeze all Toronto’s glamour boys— hello William Nylander— under the cap and leave room for what they still need. Good luck, Brad.

4) Matthews’ commitment to Toronto means that a number of teams who’ve been delaying bold moves and hoarding trade bait in anticipation of his potential trade or UFA market can now move to Plan B. There were a number of U.S. teams poised to offer the Leafs the moon and stars— NHL version— at the trade deadline or to sign him next summer. This should now signal some activity by teams anxious to deal.

Ironically, the Leafs used to be that team waiting for a Toronto Moses to emerge in the UFA market. Remember Brian Burke’s unseemly longing for Steven Stamkos? Even when they got their local guy in John Tavares, the Islanders star was past his peak and has proved a millstone under the Toronto salary cap. This time they get a star in his peak years.

5) Matthews’ league-leading benchmark of $13.25 M. over just four years allows the NHL salary grid to fall in place behind him as the salary cap takes a bump in 2024-25. His deal will be the comparison for the next superstar contract that enters the unlimited FA portal in the future— although his max salary may chafe some stars who match Matthews’ production but have taken their teams deep into playoffs or winning a Cup. Don’t they deserve more? The expected rise in the league cap over the four years of the Matthews deal may help assuage that.

6) Finally— and most amusing— has been the response from hockey sweats to Matthews getting $13.25 M. For four years? To this crew who talk lovingly about The Game, this seems an awful lot to pay a guy for playing a boy’s game. That much? This just in, Matthews is criminally underpaid as one of the Top 10 players in a modern sports league. 

The dizzying $13.25 as NHL No. 1 would make him the 113th highest-paid player in the NBA, the 103rd highest-paid player in the MLB and the 88th highest-paid player in the NFL. As one perspective, Toronto-born Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of OKC Thunder— now starring for Canada’s national team— pays about $13.25M per year in income tax.

Sure, there are differences among the revenues of the Big Four pro Leagues But, as we’ve written extensively, the @NHLPA sold out its stars in the 2004-05 CBA negotiations to protect average players and grinders. (Actually, it was a small group of stars pushed by their agents to stab Bob Goodenow’s strategy in the back.) They like to mock the product in CBA talks. 

Limiting the maximum contracts to 20 percent of the cap allows the league to have higher minimum and median salaries than NFL and MLB. (Hands up those people who buy tickets or digital packages to see the third line and fifth defenceman?) And pay lip service that it’s still Don Cherry’s Original Six league. With its cozy business plan there’s been little incentive to push the NHL’s business model beyond more expansion.

Also of note, if NHL doesn’t make its revenue target under this #CBA Matthews and the other players will have money clawed back in escrow. Great deal, huh? None of the other leagues has escrow, a device thought up by an NYC law firm and foisted on gullible NHL stars in secret meetings to break the 2004-05 lockout. Everything since then has been pantomime labour negotiations.

So good luck, Leafs fans. Enjoy Matthews and the star-spangled Toronto lineup. Things could change with the same guys making more money. But don’t hold your breath. 

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Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

From The Border To Kevin O’Leary, Canada Is Freaking Out Americans

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Tequesta, Fla.: Those Canadians who spend time in DeSantisLand  know that our American hosts are blissfully unaware of what happens in Canada. Outside blaming the True North for brisk weather like this week’s near-freezing temps in the South.

Then, out of nowhere, Canada and Canadians are suddenly blasting down the pike like an Alberta Clipper. Example: While everyone is talking the bum rush at the southern U.S. border, former GOP presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy was frothing about the steady tide of illegals crossing southward from Canada into the U.S.

He told X ,“The Northern Border is the next frontier for illegals. Career politicians including Republicans derided me for saying it last year. Now we’re starting to see the consequences.” One of the consequences is the PM not talking about our leaky border. But since the Liberals removed visa requirements for Mexicans the flood gates have opened. Canada’s fastest growing industry is human smuggling.

Vermont residents are very engaged with Canada’s dirty little secret. Swanton, Vt. resident Chris Feeley told reporters that “he has been hunting in the area since he was a teen and rarely ran into anyone. Now he sees illegals frequently. ‘The border patrol actually told us, ‘You guys might want to put a pistol in your backpack’ because nine out of 10 of them are just here for a better life, but there’s that one guy that’s got a rap sheet,” he said.

Will Trump build a northern wall as well as a southern barrier? Inquiring minds in Canada want to know. Then came the bimbo eruption from New York’s governor Kathy Hochul. Hochul’s state has the highest percentage of Jews in America (seven percent). One and a half to two million Jews live in the New York City area alone. She has a vested interest in their issues.

So when the heinous Oct. 7 attacks murdered hundreds of innocent Israelis in their homes and communities Hochul (whose ancestry is Irish-American) sought to show her solidarity with her constituents. “If Canada someday ever attacked Buffalo, I’m sorry, my friends, there would be no Canada the next day,” Hochul said at an event for the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York.

“That is a natural reaction. You have a right to defend yourself and to make sure that it never happens again. And that is Israel’s right.” Hey, she likes us enough to massacre us in retaliation. Now that’s a caring neighbour. Not surprisingly, when Canada’s media grandees heard the news they plotzed. And Hochul scrambled to clarify her remarks. But for a few days, Canada was a something. Americas would obliterate us for destroying Buffalo. The mind boggles.

Next, the liberals in overheated #TDS legacy media had one of their periodic fits over former president #OrangeManBad . They were left aghast that another Donald Trump presidency might decline to protect NATO partners from the boogey man. Trump even suggested he’d give Putin the A-OK to do his worst on Luxembourg or Montenegro. Shocked and appalled, they declared the end of NATO and McDonald’s McRib sandwich.

What the Jake Tapper Brigade neglected to mention in all this fainting and pearl clutching was that this would happen ONLY IF rogue nations refused to pay their obligations under the NATO charter. (Why ruin a good hysteria over running the full quote? See: Charlottesville, Jan. 6, drinking bleach.)

Now, which American neighbour to the North of Biden’s Bedroom is delinquent in its obligations to NATO? Might it be Trudeaupia where it’s more important than agriculture minister Lawrence McAuley be seen casually gorging on lobster in Asia than paying up for deterrents against the Chinese?

So to all his other self-inflicted miseries Prince Justin of Rideau Cottage was confronted with the pitiful funding of Canada’s military (his government just cut military spending by a billion) and its reliance on the support of strangers when it comes to protecting the Arctic, among other tracts of lands. Trudeau has lobbied NATO to include other spending under its requirements. But so far, NATO is not accepting maple syrup, Melanie Joly desk calendars and Bollywood costumes as applicable contributions to defence spending.

According to reports reaching us in the Land of Farenheit, Trudeau responded to all this scrutiny by flying west in a carbon-belching jet to promote climate something-something. But how would an incoming Trump administration deal with Trudeau (and his paid media) who has made POTUS 45 a convenient whipping boy? Has Canada’s PM said too much already? Might Trump tighten the pressure on paying up— just in spite? Trump? Spiteful? Never!

Next on the screens of Americans was the ubiquitous Mr. Wonderful, Kevin O’Leary, Canada’s gift to Shark Tank/ Dragons Den. The recent civil trial of Trump in NYC has vexed him. So everywhere one looks O’Leary is schooling dim liberal hosts on CNN about the idiocy of the decision to fine Trump $354M for cheating no one out of nothing.

“It’s appalling. It’s unjust. I would go as far to say it’s un-American.” Here he is with some place setting named Laura Coates explaining how you do real estate in NYC. “That fact that he was found guilty, you might as well find guilty every real estate developer on Earth,” O’Leary says. “I don’t understand where someone got hurt … What developer doesn’t ask for the highest-price value for any building they built?… If this judgment sticks, every developer must be jailed. They must be found guilty. They must be put out of business. You can’t do this to one but not another. It’s not about Trump.”

O’Leary followed up by saying he wouldn’t be doing business in NYC until the decision was reversed. Others, including Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams followed suit, “100% of people who don’t understand banking, business, negotiating, or the world in general are sure Trump committed fraud. 100% of people who understand banking, business, negotiating, and the world in general saw ‘business as usual’ and no fraud.” Like O’Leary, Adams vowed not to visit nor do business in New York State, setting off an X wave of hysteria among former CDN sports writers and liberal arts graduates.

But Mr. Wonderful discouraging business is different. Hearing O’Leary’s warning to businesses to steer clear of NYC, Governor Hochul sought to reassure real-estate developers that the government will not go after them like they have gone after Donald Trump. Prompting Texas senator Ted Cruz to observe, “In other words, if you don’t make Democrats angry, you won’t get sued. But if you do, you’ll get the Donald Trump treatment.”

It’s almost too much Canada in the news. Luckily, Trudeaupia will slip beneath the waves of American attention again shortly, ignored and dismissed. To think we were that close.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via brucedowbigginbooks.ca.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Deal With It: When St. Patrick Talked His Way Out Of Montreal

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Coming soon, our latest book “Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL And Changed Hockey”. With my son Evan, we look back to Espo to the Bruins (1967), Gretzky to the Kings (1988) , and St. Patrick to the Avalanche (1995), Deal With It tracks the back story behind the most impactful trades in modern NHL history. With detailed analysis and keen insight into these and five other monumental transactions, Deal With It recalls the moments when history was changed. Plus a ranking of the Top 25 Deals in NHL History.

One of the most memorable occurred 24 years ago, on December 6, 1995: Patrick Roy and Mike Keane from the Montreal Canadiens to the Colorado Avalanche for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko. Trading, arguably, the greatest goalie the Canadiens history was the culmination of organizational dysfunction from which it has yet to recover. It begins with the hiring of former Habs Mario Tremblay and Rejean Houle when the Canadiens stumbled entering the 1994-1995 season. It started off well. Then on a November night in Montreal…

“With the team cooling off from their torrid start under (Mario) Tremblay, the Habs were at home for a Saturday night affair hosting a powerful Red Wings team on its way to breaking the NHL single-season wins record set by the 1976-77 Montreal team (62 to that club’s 60). With the closing of the Forum, the arena Roy had once dominated, Patrick’s dominance had become less-than-surefire. (He came in that night at 238-80-34 all-time at the Forum.) All that rich history didn’t help Roy that particular night and before a national TV audience the wheels came off for hundreds of thousands to witness.

Earlier in the day, Roy had had an impromptu breakfast at Moe’s Diner in Montreal with Detroit goalie Mike Vernon, who’d himself been forced out of Calgary after winning a Cup. Roy described his predicament. “It might be time for you to ask for a trade,” Vernon suggested to him. Fast forward to the notorious game. Getting bludgeoned by the Wings attack, Roy had given up nine goals before the game hit its halfway mark. Getting mock cheers for one of his few saves on the night- prompted a seething Roy replied with mock acknowledgement to the crowd. Clearly overwhelmed, Roy was kept in the nets as Tremblay let his star goalie get roasted by Scotty Bowman, who enjoyed getting revenge on his former player Tremblay for some remarks he’d made about Bowman’s coaching style.

Finally hooked after the ninth marker, Roy glared menacingly at his coach as he walked by on the bench. Stopping to take care of more business, he walked back across and, face-to-face, told a distressed-looking Corey that he had just played his last game with the Canadiens. As Roy walked past Tremblay on his way to the end of the bench, Roy and Tremblay glared eye-to-eye. Roy told him in French, “You understand?” This very public moment overshadowed what remains the worst home loss in the club’s storied history, an 11-1 spanking from Detroit. TV highlights that night across North America showed the stare-down.“The whole city was talking about it,” recalled Montreal native Eric Engels. “The team had suspended Roy and said they were going to trade him, and I just remember saying to the bus driver that they didn’t have to go this way, that they could salvage the situation.”

The following days saw the controversy erupt even further. Just months after plucking Houle and Tremblay from outside the organization, Corey sided with his inexperienced newbies and told Roy he would be getting dealt even when Roy apologized for his spat and vowed to mend fences. Typical of the climate at the time for even superior players who “disrespected” the organization, Roy was persona non grata in a matter of days. In his book, Serge Savard: Forever Canadien”, Savard explained the inevitability of the deal: “Patrick had become too important in the club. He took up too much space in the dressing room, had too much influence on the coach. Over the previous years, I had to handle him with kid gloves. I still had the same admiration for him as I did when we won the Stanley Cup in 1986 and 1993, where he played a determining role. But a change had become necessary. The team revolved around him too much. For the good of everyone, he needed a change of scenery.”

Team captain Mike Keane didn’t help lower the temperature at the Forum by claiming the man who wore the “C” with the Canadiens didn’t necessarily need to speak French and that he wouldn’t be bothering to learn it because the dressing room mostly communicated in English (true even in the most predominately French-based Habs teams such as the 1993 Cup winner that boasted no less than dozen Quebecois). Both Keane and Roy would go on the trading block together, joining similarly exiled pieces like Chris Chelios and Guy Carbonneau (the captain of the ’93 Cup winner, dealt after 1993-94 to the Blues for Jim Montgomery, after flashing the middle finger to a photographer who had eavesdropped on him playing a round of golf). Carbonneau’s successor at captain, Kirk Muller— an Ontario boy through and through— expressed how honoured and proud he was to wear the fabled letter patch. But he, too, would find himself gone to the Islanders partway through 1994-95. In other words, almost no one was sacred in Ron Corey’s world. Only four days after his dressing-down of the team president and head coach, Roy was notified by Houle that he had been traded.

Just like that, Montreal had parted with its franchise goalie as if it were still the “Original Six” days and players that got in management’s crosshairs were expendable. How traumatic was the deal for the rookie GM Houle? He’ll never tell. “And that is what I intend to do forever so that I don’t have to look back at a time that was difficult for me.” As for Roy, his take was “It was clear from the organization that they had made their decision. I said, ‘Okay, I’ll accept my mistake.’ I agree I was the one who made that thing happen on that Saturday, and both parties agreed it was in the best interests of us that we go different directions. I understand that you can’t put ten years aside and give it a little tap and it’s all gone. I lived through lots of good things in Montreal, but, again, it’s a turn I accept.”

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via brucedowbigginbooks.ca.

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