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Leafs’ dazzle on full display in breeze past Flyers

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Seriously, check that out, from the young Swede with the toothiest grin in the locker room. Highlight trifecta in Toronto’s 6-0 whoopin’ of the Flyers on Saturday night.

One: Stepping around Philly D-man Robert Hagg with a faked shot, which got the goalie sliding across, opening up five-hole space, wrister. 4:45.

Two: Off a blocked shot at the Leafs blue line, Johnsson disrupting the play and off like a flash, duplicating Kasperi Kapanen’s speed, straight down the middle whilst shrugging off two pursuing Flyers, five-hole, unassisted. 6:19.

Three: Stole the puck along the boards to the right of the net, blur of a dart toward the crease, backhand tuck of the puck behind Calvin Pickard, five-hole, unassisted. 12:20

Little wonder, as the lids rained down on the ice, that Johnsson stood near the Toronto bench watching the replay on the big screen, gobsmacked expression on his face. Like, WHAT THE.

Lip-readers could fill in the rest of that sentence, which is what Johnsson clearly said — with a sense of wonder — upon the execution of his first NHL hat trick, racked up across just under eight minutes.

The 24-year-old took a while to rouse himself from sophomore sluggishness this season, only recently showing off glints of a year ago. But man, he’ll always have Nov. 24, 2018.

Inside that cluster of opening-frame goals, a Patrick Marleau pounce on a loose puck, trailing a two-on-one rush, poor defensive clearing attempt on Jake Gardiner’s flip to the front and, pop, over the glove. So, Pickard. End of.

“It kind of felt unreal,” said Johnsson afterwards of his three-putt. “First goal, then second goal, and then all of a sudden third goal. I’m like, what’s going on?”

Against Pickard, a Marlies teammate from last year, though that familiarity apparently provided no goal-scoring insight.

“First one, I kind of seen some other guys do that. Or else it’s just instinct.”

Johnsson, who had two goals on the season, has been a whole lot of snake-bit over six weeks. “That’s how hockey is. Sometimes you miss all your chances, this time everything went in.”

Toronto ticked the t’s, dotted the i’s and put up the W.

Which the Maple Leafs hadn’t done since, oh, way back on Monday, was it? Before that pointless and pointless two-game road junket. Hadn’t lost three in a row since last Feb. 27 to March 5. Avoided the triple two-peat Saturday night.

Middling Philadelphia, with James van Riemsdyk — Leaf passim, Flyer even passim-er, restored to the orange fold — proved a juicy opponent, bringing the Leafs’ wobble this week to a halt.

Good thing they got that JVR tribute in early, before the cascade of goals, because it might have been awkward; the former 154-goal scorer for Toronto over six years probably wouldn’t have been in the mutual salute mood.

Thus, a low cloud of anxiety over Toronto was swiftly lifted on a damp night outside.

Hard to take this city’s pulse on the hockey stress-o-meter. Whether this pretty flashy team, studded with talent, has infused Leaf Nation with muscular confidence so that all involved can roll through a couple of defeats and not go heebie-jeebie. Or if a half-century of history has so damaged the Leaf body politic that even now, amidst a rollicking quarter-season of hockey — a mere week ago standing astride the NHL — there is still a pathology of doubt and disbelief.

Misgivings, a dubious twitch, might also describe Mike Babcock’s clearly dim view of Sparks, deploying him only in back-to-back situations, as if the lineup had to be wrenched from the coach’s cold dead hands, despite an excellent acquittal last time out (OT win in Anaheim). Freddie Andersen, who frankly looked a tad gassed in Friday’s loss to Columbus, may have MVP time-stamped all over him, but Babcock is heels-dug-in obdurate about overusing the Dane to rack up points now — league-leading dozen wins for Ginger Man as of Saturday — even if this is exactly the heavy reliance which contributed to that Game 7 disaster Boston last spring.

But who are we to challenge Babcock’s coaching IQ?

Anyway, Sparks got his infrequent kick at the can, occupying the net some 180 feet across from his Calder Cup-winning teammate and co-goalie, Pickard, who’d shut out the Rangers the night previous. No hardship for him, back-to-backs. But of course the Flyers, with four goaltenders in the loop this season, really don’t have a No. 1 goaltender. Some mook name of Anthony Stolarz was given a blindfold and a cigarette, shoved over the bench to replace Pickard. Who, you’ll recall, was lost on the waiver wire along with Curtis McElhinney at the start of October. McElhinney, who beat the Leafs in Raleigh on Wednesday.

Perhaps Babcock will have more trust in Sparks now, on the strength of a second career NHL shutout, turning away all 34 shots.

There were lucky kids waiting in the corridor as Sparks came off the ice, begging for his stick. “Sorry guys, this is the lucky one.”

Of the lopsided goaltending duel with a buddy: “It was really special seeing Picks out there, across the ice from me. We had a great year together last year. There were definitely times where we both doubted if we would find our way back to this league. We always told each other that we would get to this moment where we got to square up. I was just happy that we came out as fast as we did.’’

Johnsson, of course, was on that Calder Cup team with the two goalies as well. “I love Picks,’’ said Sparks. “But I love Johnny too. He’s a special player and he showed it tonight.’’

There was so much Leaf dazzle on display, scarcely leaves room to mention a couple of eye-popping goal set-ups by Mitch Marner, typical dipsy-doodle dandy on salvos by Josh Leivo and John Tavares.

Weird factoid: Second game in a row with no power plays for either Toronto or their opponent. No need, then, to fret over an 0-for-8 record with the man advantage, stretching back to Nov. 13 in L.A.

This game marked exactly one month since Auston Matthews went down with a shoulder injury. There’s a strong likelihood Toronto’s superstar will be game ready for San Jose at home Wednesday, though likely not Toronto’s highly anticipated hosting of Boston on Monday.

It’s been quite remarkable, really, how well the Leafs have adjusted, just carried on, minus their stud, with Tavares, Morgan Rielly and Kapanen picking up so much of the goal-scoring slack. Just as significant, however, is the contribution from Toronto’s bottom six forwards, which had been lacking early on — 15 goals from the third and four lines in Matthews’ absence.

That’s what teams of talent depth and mental sinew do.

Oh, almost forgot, cursory reference to the countdown clock on William Nylander: Check.

Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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