• Ottawa Redblacks re-sign LB Fernandez, WR Saunders and RB Flanders
    The Canadian Press

    Ottawa Redblacks re-sign LB Fernandez, WR Saunders and RB Flanders

    OTTAWA — The Ottawa Redblacks have re-signed linebacker Jerod Fernandez, wide receiver Jalen Saunders and running back Timothy Flanders. Fernandez joined the Redblacks during the 2019 season after spending time with Washington in the NFL. He had 53 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles in 11 games and was named the Redblacks' most outstanding rookie. Saunders originally signed with the Redblacks last April. but didn't get to suit up for Ottawa after the 2020 season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He had 1,170 receiving yards and four touchdowns as a CFL rookie with Hamilton in 2017. He had 739 yards and two touchdowns in nine games in 2018 with the Tiger-Cats before his season was cut short due to a knee injury. Flanders had 96 carries 541 yards over the past three seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He signed with Ottawa in December 2019. Ottawa also announced it has added three Americans: linebacker D'Juan Hines, receiver Terry Williams and offensive lineman Joshua Dunlop. STAMPEDERS RE-SIGN METCHIE, KASITATI CALGARY — The Calgary Stampeders have re-signed Canadian defensive back Royce Metchie and American offensive lineman Nila Kasitati. Metchie, a University of Guelph product, recorded 48 defensive tackles in 2019 including four tackles for loss. He had three interceptions — including his first career pick, which came in the Labour Day Classic against Edmonton — and added seven special-teams tackles and one knockdown. Metchie recorded three defensive tackles in Calgary's West Division semifinal loss to Winnipeg.. A third-round draft selection by Calgary in 2018, Metchie has played 24 regular-season games over two seasons with the Stampeders. Kasitati started 16 games at right tackle in 2019, his second season with the Stampeders. He was part of an offensive line that allowed 34 sacks, the second-lowest total in the CFL. Kasitati also started at right tackle in the Western semifinal. Kasitati has played 20 career regular-season games for Calgary, making 18 starts at right tackle and two at centre. ROUGHRIDERS INK FIRST-ROUND PICK, EXTEND MCCRAY REGINA — The Saskatchewan Roughriders have signed Canadian offensive lineman Mattland Riley and inked defensive back L.J. McCray to a one-year extension. Riley, a six-foot-three, 300-pound native of Melfort, Sask., was selected seventh overall by the Riders at the 2020 CFL draft. Riley, a two-time Canada West All-Star and a U Sports first-team all-Canadian, spent four seasons at the University of Saskatchewan, appearing in 31 games for the Huskies. In 2019, Riley was part of the offensive line that helped running back Adam Machart pile up 1,610 yards and nine touchdowns on 195 carries. McCray made 47 defensive tackles and three interceptions over 13 games in 2019 with the Riders in his first CFL season. He also suited up in Saskatchewan's loss to Winnipeg on the West final. ARGOS SIGN RICHARDS, EXTEND BUTLER, AKINS AND ALLEN TORONTO — The Toronto Argonauts have signed American defensive back Jeff Richards and extended the contracts of defensive back Crezdon Butler, linebacker Curtis Akins and offensive lineman Jatitus Allen. Richards played 13 games over two seasons with the Ottawa Redblacks (2015-16), recording 16 defensive tackles and six special-teams tackles. He had an interception in Ottawa's win over Calgary in the 2016 Grey Cup. The 30-year-old Richards most recently spent time in the NFL with the Los Angeles Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers. Butler, 33, played 12 games for the B.C. Lions in 2019, recording 25 defensive tackles, one interception and one forced fumble. Akins, 25, was signed by the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent in May of 2019 and played in four preseason games for the NFL team, making one tackle. Allen, 24, played four games for the Memphis Express of the Alliance of American Football in 2019 before the league ceased operations. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2021. The Canadian Press

  • Former Buffalo and Montreal coach Marv Levy behind Buffalo Bills during playoff march
    The Canadian Press

    Former Buffalo and Montreal coach Marv Levy behind Buffalo Bills during playoff march

    He's coached in both Kansas City and Buffalo, but former Montreal Alouettes coach Marv Levy will be firmly behind the Bills this weekend. Buffalo visits Kansas City in the AFC championship game Sunday following a 17-3 home playoff win over Baltimore on Saturday. The defending Super Bowl-champion Chiefs dispatched Cleveland 22-17 the following day. Buffalo will make its first AFC championship appearance since Levy's Bills beat Kansas City 30-13 at then-Rich Stadium on Jan. 23, 1994. The Bills advanced to their fourth consecutive Super Bowl game, suffering a fourth straight loss, 30-13 to the Dallas Cowboys. "I'm for the Bills," Levy said during a telephone interview Monday from Chicago. "I'm pulling for them and their terrific fans. "I'm thrilled for Buffalo, they were always very supportive fans, even through those Super Bowl losses. I don't know them (Bills) nearly to the depth I did when I was coaching but they're doing great. I did get to know (current head coach) Sean McDermott, and I'm very impressed, I think very highly of him." Levy and McDermott share the same alma mater. McDermott played collegiately at William & Mary and served as a graduate assistant coach there in 1998, some 30 years after Levy was the head coach (1964-68) at the Virginia school — which also was the college home of Toronto Argonauts general manager Mike (Pinball) Clemons and Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. Levy, still an eloquent and energetic speaker at age 95, took his first pro head-coaching position in Canada. He led the Alouettes to three Grey Cup appearances (two wins) from 1973-77 before being hired by the Chiefs in ’78. Levy compiled a 31-42 record with Kansas City before heading to Buffalo, The Bills were 112-70 under Levy (1986-97), won 11-of-19 playoff contests and reached the Super Bowl four straight seasons (1990-93). Levy rejoined the franchise as GM in 2006 at age 80. He's the winningest coach in Bills history, but many only remember the Super Bowl disappointments. "It still hurts but I can't change what's happened," Levy said. "I'll always remember the great players we had, the owner, Ralph Wilson, was a wonderful guy, all the terrific people in the organization. "When I was hired, Ralph, (GM) Bill Polian and I made the comment that it wasn't a good coach or a good quarterback that wins, it was a total organization. It was really a great organization to work for and the fans really helped." Levy admits he's not close to what's happening in the CFL, but is aware the league cancelled its 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Levy fondly remembers his players. "(On Sunday) I got a very nice email from Wally Buono (an Als linebacker/punter before he became a longtime CFL coach)," Levy said. "And last year Mike Ditka had a big dinner called Gridiron Greats and I sat at the same table as Gabriel Gregoire and Peter Dalla Riva (both former Als players). "I enjoyed it very much." Levy said it's very difficult to compare the current Bills to the teams he coached. But one similarity would be inspired play at quarterback with current starter Josh Allen and Jim Kelly, the Hall of Famer who led the offence during Levy's tenure. "I think he (Allen) is one of the best in the league," Levy said. "We had a great one in Jim Kelly, plus when Jim was injured we had Frank Reich step in and he was terrific also. "They're resilient, they've got a great receiver in (Stefon Diggs). We had guys like Andre Reed and James Lofton. I'm sure there are similarities but they're not identical." Levy has no difficulty stating his Buffalo allegiance heading into the AFC championship game. But he was certainly torn in the first round of the playoffs when the Bills faced the Indianapolis Colts — whose head coach is Reich. Buffalo won 27-24, but Reich will always be one of Levy's favourite players. "He's not only a great coach, he's a very high-character person," Levy said. "He has high ideals and is a great family guy. "He's everything you'd want in your players and staff." The big question this week will be the status of Chiefs starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Last year's Super Bowl MVP suffered a concussion in the third quarter against Cleveland, forcing veteran Chad Henne to finish up. There's no doubt the Chiefs are a much better team with Mahomes, but Levy cautioned against assuming they can't win without him . "Again, I'll point to the Frank Reich situation," Levy said. "Both teams are there for a reason." With Kelly injured, Reich rallied Buffalo from a 35-3 deficit for a 41-38 wild-card win over the Houston Oilers on Jan. 3, 1993, the largest comeback in NFL history. In college, Reich also helped Maryland erase a 31-0 halftime deficit en route to a 42-40 win over Miami on Nov. 10, 1984. Arrowhead Stadium is traditionally one of the NFL's loudest — and most intimidating — venues. Although the Chiefs are expected to allow only 16,000 spectators into Sunday's game, Levy said simply winning on the road is a big enough challenge. "When we had an exceptionally difficult road game to win in order to get to the Super Bowl, I told our players the long story about Hitler's march into Russia until he hit Stalingrad," said Levy. "I said, 'You know why Hitler lost the war? He couldn't win on the road.' "It (Arrowhead Stadium) is very noisy and they (Chiefs fans) are great fans and very supportive. There won't be that many in the stands . . . but it's always tougher on the road." Also on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC title game. Levy wouldn't predict which teams will advance to the Super Bowl. "Predicting the winner is easy," he said. "Being right, that's the hard part. "Call me after the games, I will tell you." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2021. Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

  • Oilpatch woes boost Calgary's downtown office vacancy rates to record levels
    The Canadian Press

    Oilpatch woes boost Calgary's downtown office vacancy rates to record levels

    CALGARY — Vacancies in Calgary's downtown office towers have risen to record levels and there's no landlord relief in sight with almost one in three offices sitting empty and sublets accounting for a quarter of available spaces on the market. The city's glut of empty office space has previously been linked to overbuilding but two commercial real estate reports released this past week show that downtown vacancy rates in Canada's oil and gas capital are the highest in the country and growing — despite no major new towers opening in the past two years. Vacancies are likely to go even higher, both reports note, driven by short-term factors including layoffs resulting from the takeover of Husky Energy Inc. by Cenovus Energy Inc. and longer-term job losses from cost-cutting and mergers in the oil and gas sector. In its report released Thursday, real estate firm CBRE says the equivalent of four CFL football fields in downtown office space was emptied in the last quarter of 2020. The net reduction of 355,000 square feet (32,000 square metres) took the vacancy rate to a record high of 29.5 per cent compared with 27.2 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2019. "The negative absorption is due to the oilpatch, not COVID-19," said Greg Kwong, Calgary-based regional managing director for CBRE. "People may not be going back to work because of the lockdowns but these companies still have leases in place and have to pay the rent. It's not considered vacated space." CBRE found that 23.7 per cent of the available downtown office space in Calgary is being sublet by the lease holder. In a separate report using different calculation methods, Avison Young pegged the downtown office vacancy rate at a record 26.9 per cent in the fourth quarter, up from 24.2 per cent in the year-earlier period. Under an optimistic scenario, Avison Young predicts the vacancy rate will rise to 28.6 per cent by the end of 2023; in its pessimistic forecast, it foresees a rate of 32.9 per cent. The merger of Cenovus and Husky offices in 2021 is projected to result in between 36,000 and 54,000 square metres of downtown space being vacated later this year, said Todd Throndson, managing director for Avison Young's Calgary office. That's around one per cent of the total inventory of 4.16 million square metres. "We have a very difficult marketplace and there's no quick solutions to solving that problem," he said. "The next 12 to 24 months are going to be a challenging time for there to be any growth in our marketplace." Cenovus and Husky have said their merger will result in a reduction of between 20 and 25 per cent of the 8,600 combined employees and contractors — potentially more than 2,000 workers. The two companies have about 300,000 square metres of lease commitments in Calgary, with some of it already being sublet to other tenants, said Cenovus spokesman Reg Curren. More space is expected to be sublet going forward, he said, declining to give specifics. "Once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and we determine our plan to return to the workplace, Brookfield Place will be the head office of the combined company," he said, referring to the 56-storey glass and steel tower opened in 2017 that Cenovus calls home. Husky's head office is a few blocks west in the much older Western Canadian Place. It's not hard to find other Calgary companies reducing staff and their need for office space. Suncor Energy Inc. announced in October it would reduce total staff by 10 to 15 per cent over 18 months, cutting as many as 1,930 jobs. Those cuts will be offset by the relocation of its Petro-Canada head office and most of its 700 jobs from Ontario to Calgary. Imperial Oil Ltd. announced in November it would lay off 200 staff. Meanwhile, office space held by Equinor Canada at Jamieson Place in downtown Calgary is on the sublet market after the Norwegian oil company decided to consolidate its Canadian operations in St. John's, N.L. Lower staff counts are also expected with the close of a handful of smaller oil and gas producer corporate mergers announced late last year. Calgary's office buildings have lost an overall 13 per cent of value, about $2.3 billion, over the past year due to higher vacancy rates and lower rents, the city said Thursday as it issued its 2021 property assessment notices. Declines in recent years have pushed more of the municipal tax burden to residential and other business ratepayers. Economic Development Calgary is using the city's abundance of discounted office space as a "huge selling feature" in attracting Calgary employers in new sectors like technology and renewable energy, said CEO Mary Moran, but she concedes those new tenants haven't replaced the oil and gas losses. "I think, long-term, we know that the energy industry is not going to be the job creator," she said. "It's a jobless recovery in oil and gas." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2021. Companies in this story: (TSX:CVE, TSX:SU) Dan Healing, The Canadian Press