The NHL draft began last night in Philadelphia and by all reports Aaron Ekblad, the six-foot-three defenceman from the Barrie Colts, will have been chosen with the No. 1 overall pick.
He was the top choice of TSN’s Bob McKenzie, by far the most astute hockey analyst anywhere in North America. After Ekblad, it was anyone’s guess who would be the next four picks.
Summerside’s Gerard Gallant, who was recently hired as head coach of the Florida Panthers, had the first pick last night and I would be surprised if they did not take Ekblad.
Gallant is a tremendous hire by GM Dale Tallon, who built the Chicago Blackhawks into a Stanley Cup power. I think Tallon and Gallant will make a great team, one good enough to elevate Florida into a playoff-bound club this year. The Panthers have Roberto Luongo guarding the net and that’s a great building block. Gerard has earned a great reputation as a developer of young talent and it would not be a surprise to me if Florida’s younger players, like Jonathan Huberdeau, Alex Barkov and Nick Bjugstad, respond favourably to Gallant’s handling.
In other NHL happenings, the Tampa Bay Lightning has signed ex-Rangers captain Ryan Callahan to a long-term contract at about $5.8 million per season. Callahan is a glorified foot soldier, non-existent in their four-game sweep at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, and a player worth about half the salary even in today’s bloated salary scale.
You may recall Callahan was part of the late season deal by Rangers GM Glen Sather. If Ranger fans are wondering why the Blueshirts had no first round pick Friday night in Philly, you can thank Sather.
He tossed in first-round picks in 2014 and 2015 as part of the Marty St. Louis deal.
Sather is responsible for some of the most outrageous and laughable contract signings in history like Bobby Holik at $7.5 million per, Wade Redden at $6.5 million and Scott Gomez at $7 million per and the long-term deal handed to Brad Richards, which has six years remaining at about $8 million per year. All four were bought out much before the term of the contracts ended.
The Rangers lack of scoring in the playoffs was their eventual downfall, but it didn’t have to be that way. Marian Gaborik, the leading playoff goal scorer with the L.A. Kings, was a Ranger but Sather traded him. Excluding the Toronto Maple Leafs front office during the past 40 years, is there anyone with a worse track record than Sather?
On the diamond
The Toronto Blue Jays were without third baseman Brett Lawrie and right-fielder Jose Bautista for an important three-game series with the New York Yankees at Toronto, but still managed to win twice.
The Jays are the best of a terrible East Division, which includes injury-riddled Tampa Bay, the weak hitting and struggling Boston Red Sox, a Baltimore Orioles team without all-star catcher Matt Wieters and the worst Yankees team in 50 years.
In a team that always featured a power-hitting lineup, today’s Yankees don’t have much. The outfield of Ichiro Suzuki (no homers), Jacoby Ellsbury (four home runs) and Brett Gardner (six round trippers) aren’t going to scare anybody.
The Yankees are staying close because of their smart manager, Joe Girardi.
Toronto is the best of a poor, poor division.
In local baseball, the Charlottetown Gaudet’s Auto Body Islanders lost 5-3 in 12 innings to the Moncton Mets on Tuesday night at Memorial Field.
The local team has top-notch pitching, but when it comes to fundamentals, homework is needed. One of the earliest lessons for young coaches, never make the first or third out at third base. Trying to steal third base with two out is a no-no, especially when you’re the home team and a blooper scores the runner from second base.
As for bunting in the bottom of seventh or eighth innings and a runner on first with nobody out, that’s the correct play. As a coach, you should only worry about giving up outs when you are behind, not at home in a tie game when the next run wins it. If in doubt, I’ll give you my cell phone number.
The Islanders next home game is Sunday at 1 p.m. when the Saint John Alpines come to town. For Islanders fans and supporters, let’s not forget, the team’s major is their golf tournament on July 22 at Avondale, tee off at 1 p.m. The cost is $500 per tea, which includes golf cart, steak dinner, 18 holes of golf, beverage tickets and numerous prizes. For further information contact Sean Corcoran at firstname.lastname@example.org or get a registration form at the ballpark Sunday.
On the rugby pitch
The Hunters Ale House Mudmen open their rugby season with games today at Co-op field, just off North River Road in Charlottetown.
The first division team tackles the Saint John Trojans at 4 p.m. while the second division team plays at 2 p.m. against Pictou County.
The first division, which includes Nova Scotia and New Brunswick clubs, is the highest rated in Atlantic Canada and Hunters have a powerful club. Coach Eddy MacDonald has added Three Oaks head coach James Voye and he will help.
The Mudmen have standout returnees like James Mallard, Mike Deighan, Brodie MacDonald, Kyle Robertson and Justin Ellis plus high school grads like Alex Forrest (Three Oaks), Sean Doyle (Colonel Gray), Aaron Fitzpatrick (Montague), Jordon Gaudet (Westisle) and a duo from Bluefield in Luke McKay and Isak Combrink. If you want to be entertained, drop over to the Co-op Field today.
The UPEI review of the athletic department is nearing its completion and from what I am being told Hermie MacNeill and his people are leaving no stones unturned.
This review is the talk of the Charlottetown sporting community and I am told a report is due the first week of July. Let’s hope the university follows all MacNeill’s recommendations and women’s basketball head coach Greg Gould is back on campus.
Harness racing has a big weekend with the Atlantic Canada Driving Championships going tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Summerside and the baby races here this morning at 11 a.m. in Charlottetown. Tonight’s card in Summerside features two divisions of the aged pacing mares series at $3,378 among the 12 dashes.
The baby races this morning are always a highlight of the season. There are 12 races for two year olds, eight pacing qualifiers and four trot. The warm weather and the babies should bring out a big crowd.
Live harness racing returns to Charlottetown on Sunday at 1 p.m. with a 12-dash card. The $2,200 feature goes in Race 11 and from the rail out are Eagle Jolt, Tempo Seelster, Ultimate Luck, Artist List, Honor Boy and Cheyanne Ford.
At Mohawk Raceway tonight, Casey Gavin’s Silverhill Shadow is listed at 5-2 odds in one of three $70,000 divisions for three-year-old Ontario-bred pacing colts. In this split, he’s in against P L Hoofhearted (James MacDonald) for trainer Casie Coleman and Bugger Bruiser (Anthony MacDonald). Silverhill Shadow is trained by Dr. Ian Moore, who is off to another great start. Moore also has Play It Again Sam in another division against Coleman’s Twin B Spy (James MacDonald) and seven others.
In the Mohawk $34,000 feature, Moore’s State Treasurer is listed as the morning-line favourite against a tough field that includes Ellis Park, Dapper Dude, Evening of Pleasure, Sing For Me George and three others.
At Pocono tonight, Bolt the Duer (Mark MacDonald) has drawn post six in the $500,000 Ben Franklin against a tough field like Sweet Lou, Foiled Again, Captain Treacherous and five others. All are available via simulcast at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park.
Fred MacDonald’s column appears in The Guardian each Saturday. He can be reached at email@example.com.