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Nylander’s Leaf return fulfils offer Tavares couldn’t refuse

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John Tavares was talking about planning towards a charitable foundation, and the Toronto Maple Leafs centre said he would approach it the way he approaches everything else. He will take it seriously.

“When you do something like that, you want to do it right,” said Tavares before scoring his 18th goal in Toronto’s 5-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, with winger William Nylander back in the fold after his two-month holdout. “And you want to take your time and be thorough and diligent and make sure you have a good grasp on what you’re doing.”

That’s how the 28-year-old Tavares approached free agency last summer: His agency, CAA Sports, prepared a 77-page booklet on the candidate teams — rosters, salary caps, depth charts, organizational talent, cities — and he pored over it. And he chose Toronto.

Thursday night, with William Nylander returning to the lineup and Auston Matthews healthy, Toronto got its first glimpse of what Tavares chose. The Leafs looked sluggish at times, and disjointed at others. The goaltending from backup Garret Sparks was below the Frederik Andersen standard. Nylander wasn’t ready to be himself, and was really only in because a bus breakdown cancelled practice Wednesday. It was 4-1 Detroit through two.

“It was just too good,” said Tavares of his summer decision. “It was hard to not think this was the perfect timing, the perfect fit. It was just so hard to say no, (even) with how much I invested in New York, how much I cared about that organization and that place … But considering where I’m at in my career, and where these guys are, the core of this group and how young they are, the potential in the immediate and really through the whole length of my contract, which was a big deal for me.

“Looking at the facts, everything that was in front of me, and that feeling, that instinctive feeling. It was the right fit, and there would be no other time like this again. I couldn’t say no.”

And then Nylander held out, and there was a real chance he wasn’t going to sign. But he secured a promise that he would not be traded from general manager Kyle Dubas — which Nylander made sure to make public when he spoke to the media about the deal — and with Matthews back too, this was the first time the full, post-Tavares Leafs were all in one place.

“I think we’ll see a good team that was already playing well and got a good player,” said Andersen. “I mean, all respect to Willie, but it’s not him or nothing; it’s like we add another great player to this program and this team, and it’s another marginal gain to get a player back or get extra depth. That’s really what it is. You can’t guarantee anything by adding one player — we’ve seen that multiple times in trade deadline deals, where you think: this team’s going to win the Cup for sure now. How often does that happen?

“But good thing for us, he’s been here for a few years already … there are players who are higher threats to score, and I would say Willie is in that category. You add another player for teams to keep track of. He might be the one scoring, or it might open up space for other guys. You can’t match against all four lines unless you’re a really good team, and if you’re really deep on good defensive players. And even then, it’s another wave that keeps coming at you. Anyway, that’s how I see Willie coming back.”

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Andersen added, “winning covers a lot of things … it’s really a matter of just staying the course and doing the right things. That’s when sometimes something special comes about, and it’s the habits that create those wins.”

So now it’s habits, health — Andersen tops that list — and the vision that the franchise sold to Tavares when he left Long Island. The Leafs sold Tavares on playing with the 21-year-old Mitch Marner, who entered Thursday on a 114-point pace and got an assist on a slightly off night; they sold him on Matthews, who scored 15 goals in his first 14 games and got an assist, too; and Morgan Rielly, who set up Tavares to get to 31 points in 29 games, after last year’s career-best 52. And they sold Nylander.

“I mean, nobody’s going to play 25 minutes up front,” said coach Mike Babcock. “If that’s what they want, they have to play on a team with way less players. But in the end we all want the same thing: we want to win and have a lot of success long term. We’re going to find a way to make it go.”

Everyone’s here now, and it won’t be seamless. Hell, they could chase a Cup and lose in the first round. But now the Leafs get to find out what they really are. And starting now, Tavares, the biggest hockey free agent in years, will find out just how right he was.

Bruce Arthur is a Toronto-based sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @bruce_arthur

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‘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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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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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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