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FIDDLER'S FACTS: Canadiens, Sabres, Wild, Orioles, Yankees have handed out some boneheaded contracts

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It was not much of a surprise when the Montreal Canadiens fired head coach Claude Julien and assistant Kirk Muller last week after the Habs faltered badly in recent weeks and looked nothing like the club that burst out of the starting gate. 

Let’s not get too worked up about the plight of Julien, who gets paid the rest of this year and all next year at a hefty $5 million per season. But here’s where the fun starts. 

Julien was making $3 million per year in 2017 when he was fired by the Boston Bruins and with demand for his services diminishing by the day, any further contract had to be a surprise. Julien’s situation was far different from that of Vegas head coach Gerard (Turk) Gallant, whose coaching reputation and demand has remained on the rise even after his departure from the Golden Knights. 

Montreal could have signed Julien for something in the $2 million range per year and he would have jumped at the chance to coach the Canadiens. Montreal owner Geoff Molson must have been up to his eyeballs in Molson hops or just plain dumb to approve such a ludicrous contract, but he allowed GM Marc Bergevin to chart the course for the Canadiens. Now Molson has to swallow the Julien contract and come to grips with the realization the Habs are responsible for five more years on slumping Carey Price’s contract at $10.5 million and five more years for Shea Weber, who has lost a step or two but gets about $8 million annually. Neither player would attract much on the trade market today and certainly not at those salaries.  

The ideal situation for Montreal would be to sign a coach with a proven track record, like Gallant and his pal Mike Kelly as an assistant, but that is not going to happen as Molson has said Montreal’s GM and head coach must be bilingual. 

The Gallant-Kelly duo will be back in the NHL once this pandemic situation ends – that is a certainty – but they may have to wait until fans are allowed back in the buildings and teams are in a better financial situation.

The Canadiens’ situation is not unique to Montreal. Other big-league cities have just as inept leadership. There’s lots of examples.  

How about the sad-sack Buffalo Sabres? They signed Jeff Skinner to an eight-year deal at $72 million, a monstrous contract after his eight-season stint with Carolina, where he scored 30 goals three times. In 2018-19, he scored 40 with Buffalo, signed the big deal, then posted 14 goals last season. He has been a healthy scratch this year with one assist in 16 games. 

The Sabres also signed Taylor Hall last summer for $8 million on a one-year deal and he has one goal in 20 games. 

Minnesota signed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 13-year deals, worth about $7.5 million each annually, in 2012. Some nights, you’d be hard pressed to find either of them with a searchlight, and four more years to go, great deal, eh? 

The Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees baseball teams have also made some bonehead deals, including contracts for Chris Davis and Jacoby Ellsbury, respectively. If you’re feeling down and glum about a decision or two you have made, think about the above, you may feel better.  

Online auction

Beacon East Charity, spearheaded by Jim and Marion Harris, who do great work in Ethiopia, building schools and with clean water initiatives, have an online auction going right now and Gallant and Adam McQuaid are helping out. 

There’s half-hour virtual question and answer conversations with Gallant, McQuaid or the Harrises’ son Scott, who is part of the New Jersey Devils management team.

If you’re a hockey fan, this is for you. Check out the Beacon East Charity Facebook page.

Harness racing

Harness racing continues at up-country tracks and via simulcast here at Red Shores. 

At Mohawk, P.E.I.-bred Mr Kelly was bet down to 4-1 but finished eighth Feb. 27 in 1:53:4 (purse $20,000) after a couple of solid qualifiers. Look for him to rebound.

Nine Mile Creek-bred So Much More was a fast-closing second in 1:52:3 in the $30,000 top class for James MacDonald. Freddy Bear was third in 1:54 for trainer-driver Jason Ryan in a $12,000 conditioned pace. Woodmere Rollnpop was ninth in 1:53 and change in a $16,000 event and Exit Smiling was sixth in a $20,000 test for Robert Shepherd. 

Flamboro and Western Fair both had two cards cancelled due to poor or unsafe track conditions and that’s painful for trainers, drivers, owners and racetracks.

Recently at Yonkers, Lisburn was a disappointing sixth in 1:53:2 (purse $9,500), while Maritime-bred Rancousy was sixth in 1:54:3 ($9,500) at the same track.

Mr Kelly has Post 3 tonight at Mohawk in a $20,000 test and Woodmere Rollnpop has the rail in a $12,000 overnight race. At Flamboro tonight, there’s lots of Islanders in action. Ryan has a couple of nice trotters in the top two trot affairs at almost $10,000 and $9,400. Also in this class are Paul MacKenzie, Tyler Moore, Austin Sorrie and Brett MacDonald. The Flamboro drivers room must feel like Old Home Week.  

Fred MacDonald's column appears every Saturday in The Guardian. He can be reached at [email protected].

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