The plan emphasized prudence. Earlier this summer, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was in no rush to extend Tyler Seguin. Chiarelli wanted the next collective bargaining agreement to be in place before re-signing his young forward. Perhaps under the new CBA, the NHL and the Players Association will agree to place restrictions on second contracts. The second deals have long been prickly matters for GMs, who believe inflation has ballooned their costs.
In all likelihood, Chiarelli’s plan will hit the trash.
According to a team source, Seguin probably will sign an extension before there is a labor agreement. The deal would come in the wake of extensions that Taylor Hall and Jeff Skinner, two other rising stars from the 2010 draft, signed this month.
Last Wednesday, Hall signed a seven-year, $42 million deal with Edmonton. On Aug. 8, Skinner agreed to a six-year, $34.35 million extension with Carolina. All three players will be entering the final season of their entry-level contracts in 2012-13.
Chiarelli declined to comment on his shift. Two factors, however, most likely lead the charge: the gulf between the owners and players regarding labor talks, and the precedent set by Hall and Skinner.
With the CBA set to expire Sept. 15, there has been little traction between the NHL and NHLPA. Given the extensions signed by two peers, Seguin would prefer security to uncertainty.
During a conference call following Hall’s signing, Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini said the organization wasn’t pressing to sign Hall. But at the draft in Pittsburgh in June, Tambellini spoke with agents Paul Krepelka and Rick Curran, who represent Hall. Krepelka and Curran also represent Skinner. Seguin’s agent is Ian Pulver.
“At that time, we didn’t really think it was the right time to go ahead,” Tambellini said. “As we went through the summer, we started talking about it. We spoke with them a few more times. It became clear we thought we could get to the right number and the right term. It made sense to do it now.”
On Sept. 14, 2011, John Tavares signed a six-year, $33 million extension with the Islanders. Tavares, the first pick of the 2009 draft, signed his second deal before his entry-level contract expired.
But it was Skinner who most helped to trigger Hall’s extension and the one that awaits Seguin. In 2010-11, the same year Seguin won the Stanley Cup, Skinner nabbed the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. Seguin and Skinner were youth hockey teammates in Toronto.
“It’s nice to get it over with,” Skinner said following the signing. “Things come together in different ways for different people. I had an opportunity to get it done with this summer. Now I have seven more years to focus on.”
For the players, signing extensions before their entry-level contracts expire grants them peace of mind. Especially if such deals are stricken in the next CBA.
For the clubs, they lock up centerpieces. Depending on how Carolina coach Kirk Muller deploys his troops, Skinner could skate alongside Eric and Jordan Staal. The three forwards could be on the same power-play unit with Alexander Semin and Justin Faulk.
Hall should be Edmonton’s No. 1 left wing. In 61 games last year, Hall had 27 goals and 26 assists. Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov form the nucleus of a roster that should peak within the next three years.
“He just brings such a compete level to our organization,” Tambellini said. “He grabs the rope and pulls everybody along many times during the game. We’ve seen that through his first few years as an Oiler.
“Expectations will always be high. But it’s not just numbers with Taylor. He brings a compete level that, at times, is unmatched. He’s always been like that. He’s been like that winning Memorial Cups with Windsor. He’s been like that his first day of camp here as an Oiler.”
Based on his skill and pedigree, Seguin could become better than Hall and Skinner. Last season, Seguin led the Bruins with 67 points (29 goals and 38 assists) while averaging 16:56 of ice time. Seguin could become a point-per-game player in 2012-13. Few players boast his double-barreled gift — comparables include Phil Kessel and Marian Gaborik — of speed and shot.
Yet, as with all young players, there is risk involved with giving 20-year-olds big-bucks, multiyear extensions. Skinner missed 16 games last season because of a concussion. Hall is still battling through a six-month rehab stint following shoulder surgery in April. He has also suffered a concussion, an ankle sprain, and a severe cut to his forehead during his two-year NHL career. Neither Hall nor Skinner has dressed in an NHL playoff game.
Seguin required surgery in May to repair tendon damage in his left hand. He is back to full strength and will be ready if and when camp opens. But the Bruins’ issues with Seguin have been off the ice.
On Dec. 6, Seguin was suspended one game for missing a team breakfast and meeting in Winnipeg. At the time, Bruins bosses were prompt to note it was not the first time that Seguin had had an unexcused absence.
Other 20-year-olds have committed bolder offenses. But most 20-year-olds (Seguin will turn 21 on Jan. 31, 2013) don’t make millions.
The variable that nobody — not GMs, not agents, not scouts — can guarantee is how paydays affect performance.
Some players perform better when motivated. Consider Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. He could have signed a multiyear extension like the one signed by Vancouver’s Cory Schneider (three years, $12 million). Instead, Rask chose a one-year, $3.5 million deal. Provided all goes according to plan, Rask’s next deal will be the big one.
For others, long-term contracts don’t do the trick. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov signed a nine-year, $51 million contract with the Flyers. For whatever reason, he performed better in Phoenix in 2010-11 before he hit the Philadelphia lotto.
It might have been safer for Carolina and Edmonton — and Boston, provided the two other contracts serve as templates — to seek something shorter-term. Nothing wrong with three-year bridge contracts that take these three youngsters to the big ones. By then, all three would have been 24. Not a bad age to score big.
Instead, Hall and Skinner are done. Seguin is next.
“Once that deal went through, we were able to start negotiations,” said Hall, speaking to Edmonton reporters in reference to Skinner’s contract. “Tavares was the first one to go. Now Skinner. Now I’ve signed. There’s going to be someone after me that signs now.”
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER
Rich owner, poor example
Flyers owner Ed Snider is one of the strongmen on the NHL’s board of governors. He is also chairman of Comcast-Spectacor. Snider has granted GM Paul Holmgren the password to his checking account to secure the resources required for a Cup run.
So you can excuse the NHLPA for raising an eye about part of the NHL’s platform — five-year limits on contracts — when Snider’s hockey operations department is tossing around long-term deals like Frisbees.
Just in August, the Flyers granted Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds six-year deals. Both extensions ($4.75 million annual cap hit for Hartnell, $3.975 million for Simmonds) will start in 2013-14.
In July, Philadelphia signed Shea Weber to a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet. Nashville matched Philadelphia’s offer.
From a hockey operations perspective, all three transactions make sense.
Hartnell is a rare commodity: a point-producing power forward (37-30—67, 136 penalty minutes last season) loathed by everyone except his teammates. Every coach wants a grinding, straight-line player like Simmonds (28-21—49, 114 PIMs), who fits the Flyers brand perfectly. Weber, one of the league’s three best D-men, would have replaced the concussed Chris Pronger, whose career is most likely over.
It’s off the ice where Philadelphia’s moves are puzzling. As one of the board’s most influential members, Snider’s approval of long-term contracts and a financial straitjacket on a small-market Nashville club don’t exactly follow the company line.
A new union is heard from
There’s a peculiar movement growing around Canadian major junior hockey. Last Tuesday, former NHL tough guy Georges Laraque announced that he had been named executive director of the Canadian Hockey League Players Association. Until Laraque announced his good news on Twitter, few had heard of the CHLPA. The wannabe union aims to address, among other issues, the extension of education scholarships granted to major junior players. Under current CHL regulations, scholarships expire 18 months after the conclusion of a junior player’s career. Sounds dubious that 16-year-olds will form a union to fight for anything other than a teenager’s given right to text.
A collection of GMs, coaches, players, and officials gathered in Toronto last week to discuss rules, enforcement, and overall game flow. One thought emerging from the meetings: posting a list of the league’s most celebrated divers in each dressing room. Doubt the NHLPA would let it fly, but good intentions lie behind the idea. The game moves far too quickly for referees to notice the difference between a legitimate blow and an Academy Award-winning head snap to draw a penalty (think Kris Letang’s phantom move last year). The phoniness is epidemic in soccer. Nobody wants that in hockey.
Wellesley-based agent Matt Keator has had a relatively light summer. Keator negotiated only one one-way contract: T.J. Galiardi with San Jose. That was by design, knowing that labor uncertainty could produce an uncomfortable situation for players seeking employment. “Three or four years ago, I put in a plan for my one-way NHL guys to be signed through this year,” Keator said. “We didn’t want to mess around with the labor situation. Aside from Galiardi, everyone’s signed through next year.” Around the league, currently unsigned players include ex-Bruins Brian Rolston, Mike Mottau, Marco Sturm, Byron Bitz, and Sean O’Donnell.
Very little trade or UFA chatter going on among clubs. It seems like all parties are awaiting more clarity on labor talks before kicking the tires on players. On hold: trades involving Roberto Luongo, Bobby Ryan, and Jonathan Bernier. Shane Doan also remains in limbo as he ponders re-upping with Phoenix or leaving the desert for more stable employers. One move, however, might trigger a string of following transactions.
Blue is a little green
One of the rookies to watch in 2012-13: St. Louis’s Jaden Schwartz. The skilled forward was the 14th pick from the 2010 draft. Last year, upon the conclusion of his sophomore season at Colorado College, Schwartz signed his entry-level contract with the Blues. In seven games, he had two goals and one assist. The 20-year-old will have to earn coach Ken Hitchcock’s trust first. Once that happens, Schwartz could get some top-six shifts. He has the skill to assume a scoring role.
If players must seek employment outside the NHL, Tuukka Rask said he probably wouldn’t return to Finland. The native of Savonlinna said he’d like to play elsewhere if a lockout takes place . . . Teams want their players to hit their peak conditioning when they participate in fitness testing at the start of camp. With that date unclear, players must adjust their workouts. If camps open late, teams won’t be expecting top test results because of the shifty schedule . . . Three ex-Terriers participated in a USA Hockey coaches’ symposium in Washington this weekend: Joe Sacco, Mike Sullivan, and John Hynes. There’s no better hockey IQ than what is taught on the good end of Commonwealth Avenue . . . Teams are currently going over the UFA list to determine whether they will issue tryout invitations to unsigned players. Last year, the Bruins invited former Washington captain Chris Clark to training camp, and he was one of the final cuts . . . It was business as usual at Marlborough’s New England Sports Center last week, where the fifth annual Tim Thomas Hockey Camp took place. According to Pavel Navrat, Thomas’s business partner, the camp was nearly at full capacity . . . Jay Bouwmeester and Jason Chimera were among Johnny Boychuk’s offseason workout partners in Edmonton. Many, including Boychuk, praise Edmonton as a summertime home. Winter, well, not so much . . . The NHL’s ace card in negotiations: Its most loyal customers will return with open arms if a lockout takes place. Loyalty, it seems, has its price.