NHL free agency 2013 turned two weeks old on Friday, and activity continued to be all but dormant. The UFA jamboree always cools down after the first few days, but this year it has been particularly dull after the first flurry of signings beginning July 5.
“Yes, very quiet,’’ Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said late Friday afternoon. “And I think that’s to be expected. The cap is coming down this year [to $64.3 million] and a lot of clubs already have their roster in place and payrolls set. I don’t think you’re going to see much more, at least in the short term. Maybe things will pick up late in the summer as camps are about to open.’’
Chiarelli’s biggest move came via trade, the surprise that sent Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to Dallas for the package that included prized scorer Loui Eriksson. Chiarelli followed that up with the free agent signing of Jarome Iginla, for a cap-friendly $1.8 million base, but otherwise the GM now plans to fill in roster spots with players already on the payroll, including the likes of Carl Soderberg and AHL prospects up front, and Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski along the blue line, where Andrew Ference has departed for an end-of-career run with the Oilers. Chiarelli also signed Chad Johnson as a candidate to work as Tuukka Rask’s backup.
Another contributing factor in the slowdown this summer is the new two-day period that allowed clubs to talk to pending free agents prior to offers first being allowed on the table July 5. Long an NBA tool, it allowed GMs to interview prospective employees and better gauge the offers that would hit the market. The new collective bargaining agreement provides for that period to be expanded to five days, beginning next summer, which could contribute to an even quieter period after the initial glut of deals in 2014. More time to prepare could take most of the prime stock off the table in the opening 24-48 hours.
Chiarelli reiterated Friday that he’s now officially in a quiet period, not looking to make trades or add free agents.
“I had some calls from [agents] looking to get their guys work,’’ noted Chiarelli. “But I told them all, ‘I’m done for a while.’ ’’
Thomas still without team
Bill Zito, agent for Tim Thomas, let it be known prior to the June 30 draft that Thomas evinced some interest in returning to the game for the upcoming season. Some three weeks later, still no takers for Thomas, who will turn 40 as the playoffs begin next spring.
Upon heading for his extended hiatus in Colorado last summer, Thomas mentioned to both Zito and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli that he might want to take a shot at the 2014 US Olympic roster.
“I’m speaking to a few teams about Timmy,’’ Zito noted Friday via e-mail. “Trying to find the best fit.’’
If an NHL club comes calling at this point, it might only be to extend Thomas a training camp invitation, no money guaranteed, with a shot at winning a backup job. Many, if not most, European jobs are locked up by Aug. 1 at the latest. The Islanders and Flyers have been rumored to have interest in Thomas.
There had been some speculation that the Blue Jackets could be interested because new GM Jarmo Kekalainen years ago gave Thomas his big shot in Finland. But Columbus appears to be all set, with Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky signed to a new two-year pact ($5.625 million cap hit) and Curtis McElhinney inked to a one-year, one-way deal ($600,000) as backup.
Schedule has high notes
The Bruins finally released their 2013-14 schedule early Friday afternoon, roughly an hour after the league announced it would participate in its fifth Olympic Games (Nagano, Salt Lake City, Turin, and Vancouver the predecessors). A few notables about the Boston schedule:
■ Season opens with three straight home games — Oct. 3 (Tampa Bay), Oct. 5 (Detroit), and Oct. 10 (Colorado).
■ With the league in Olympic dormancy for more than two weeks in February, the Bruins will play 17 games in March, a rate of one every 1.76 days.
■ The Canadiens won’t play their first game on Causeway Street until Jan. 30 and only play here twice all year (return March 24). Boston visits Montreal only once (March 12).
■ The Red Wings, with ex-Senator Daniel Alfredsson aboard, will be here only twice, both in October (5, 14).
■ Tyler Seguin’s return to Boston with the Stars will be Nov. 5. It will mark the start of a five-game homestand, the Bruins’ longest of the season.
■ Loui Eriksson’s return to Dallas will be Jan. 16.
■ The Bruins play 17 times on back-to-back nights for a total of 34 games, including six times in March. Of those twinbills, 16 involve travel. Tough sledding.
■ The Cup-winning Blackhawks, who collected their trophy on Garden ice June 24, are back for the first time March 27.
■ Ex-Bruin Jumbo Joe Thornton is here with the Sharks Oct. 24. San Jose didn’t play here last season because of the lockout.
■ Most Garden games will begin at 7 p.m, per usual, but there will be a dozen matinees, beginning with a 1 p.m. start Columbus Day (Oct. 14) vs. the Red Wings.
Coyotes make a good score
As expected, 33-year-old pivot Mike Ribeiro bolted the Capitals, landing in Phoenix for four years/$22 million after picking up 49 points in his 48-game, one-season stay in Washington. That point total sounds relatively modest, until one considers only 13 NHLers averaged better than a point per game last season. Compared with the salaries of those other dozen guys, Ribeiro’s $4.5 million looks modest. The other 12 will pull down an average $7.21 million next season, led by Sidney Crosby (1.56 points per game) grossing $12 million and teammate Chris Kunitz (1.08 points per game) the low man at $3.725 million. Meanwhile, the Capitals have done little in the way of shoring up their lineup. With Marcus Johannson, Brooks Laich, and Mathieu Perreault on the roster, they still need a true No. 2 center. They likely will add elite prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov (No. 26 pick overall in 2010 draft) once his KHL season ends with Chelyabinsk. But he’s a springtime arrival, which could be too late for both parties.
Proof that size matters: 6-foot-4-inch Dustin Penner, the ex-Maine Black Bear, turned in yet another uninspiring season with the Kings (2-12—14), yet will return to Anaheim next season on a one-year deal that will pay him $2 million. In two-plus seasons with the Kings, Penner scored all of 11 regular-season goals and 37 points. But he’s big, still young (31 in September) and has been a decent teammate wherever he’s played. Blend that together and he’s back in Anaheim, the club that signed him as a free agent out of Maine in 2004, with a deal that he can use to springboard to a richer long-term contract if he gets his game back on track.
Ron Hextall shifted cities last week, vacating his assistant GM duties in Los Angeles for the same gig in Philadelphia, where he had his best goaltending days. Ex-Kings defenseman Rob Blake took Hextall’s job in LA, leaving Brendan Shanahan in need of replacing Blake in the league’s player safety office (where ex-Bruin Stephane Quintal helps guide policy and make decisions). Shanahan also relies heavily on Damian Echevarrieta, an indispensable glue guy in the busy operation. No word yet on who comes aboard Shanahan’s staff, but it likely will be a retired player with a long résumé and some distance from his playing days.
As long expected, the NHL and NHLPA finally agreed Friday to send their best and brightest to Sochi for the 2014 Olympics, which will leave the NHL’s 30 rinks dark for a couple of weeks in February. League participation was considered a fait accompli, but commissioner Gary Bettman needed more assurances from the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation on such details as game video being made available for extensive use on nhl.com. The league’s 1,230-game regular-season schedule was released shortly after the Olympus deal was made official. Team USA will hold its Olympic camp, stocked with NHLers such as Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel, Aug. 25-29 in Arlington, Va., site of the Capitals’ training facility. Four years ago, America’s best and brightest convened in suburban Chicago for camp. Team Canada remains on course to hold its Olympic camp roughly the same dates outside Calgary, where recent flooding caused millions of dollars in damage at the Saddledome.
The Bruins have yet to replace Wayne Smith, whom they fired last week as director of amateur scouting, but betting remains on Causeway Street that the job will go to Keith Gretzky, who just wrapped up his second season on the club’s scouting staff. Younger brother of Wayne Gretzky, 46-year-old Keith was drafted by the Sabres in 1985 (No. 56 overall) but never made the leap from minor pro. He retired following a second season with San Diego (IHL) in 1992-93. His coach that first season in San Diego: Mike O’Connell, the former Bruins defenseman who went on to become the Bruins’ general manager.
Tuukka Rask’s new deal with the Bruins, worth a total $56 million over eight seasons through 2020-21 for a $7 million cap hit, never pays him more than $7.5 million in a single season. His salary, $3.5 million last season, moves to $6 million in October, crests at $7.5 million for each of the next four years, then slips back to an average $6.67 million for the final three seasons. He will have turned 34 upon expiration of the deal. His predecessor, Tim Thomas, was 32 when he finally reported to Boston’s training camp as its No. 1 in Oct. 2006. Rask, by the way, was told during the spring that he was under consideration for the Finnish Olympic team.
Germany did not qualify for the Olympics, which means the Bruins’ Dennis Seidenberg can use the February break for some extended R&R. But along with Rask, the hunt for gold in Sochi could have ample Black and Gold representation. Forwards Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, and Jarome Iginla all could be extended invites for the Canadians’ August camp. Bergeron, a late add-on for the 2010 team, is probably the only lock in that bunch. Otherwise, Zdeno Chara will suit up for the Slovaks and David Krejci for the neighboring Czechs. Bruins newcomer Loui Eriksson suited up for the Swedes in 2010, went 3-1—4 in four games, and no doubt will be there again, possibly alongside Daniel Alfredsson, who has been part of the NHL contingent in all four previous Games. Boston coach Claude Julien is one of Canada’s assistant coaches. Look for Peter Chiarelli to this week be named to Canada’s management group.
If you missed it early last week, the Bruins will play at the Garden twice during the preseason: Sept. 19, 7 p.m., against new divisional rival Detroit; Sept. 23, 7 p.m., against the Capitals. Boston’s rookies will hit the Ristuccia ice in Wilmington on Sept. 3, followed by the vets on Sept. 11 . . . The Bruins have yet to make a formal announcement on the when/where they’ll build their new training facility, but the buzz remains that they’ll eventually reside in Allston-Brighton . . . Wayne Carleton, his name on the Cup with the 1970 Bruins, will sign autographs Saturday at Phil Castinetti’s Sportsworld in Saugus. Cost: $15 per signature. Carleton, who will turn 67 on Aug. 4, connected for 2-4—6 during the Cup run, played one more season with the Bruins, then was claimed by Charlie Finley’s California Golden Seals in a June 1971 expansion draft. “Swoop’’ for years has worked in the finance industry outside Toronto . . . Perhaps the best free agent signing of the bunch: Pittsburgh bringing back Rob Scuderi, ex- of LA, for four years/$13.5 million. Had he been on the Penguins’ backline this spring, doubtful they would have been chased out in four straight by the Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals . . . Ex-Bruin Nathan Horton, now property of the Blue Jackets, finally underwent shoulder surgery last week and could miss upward of half the upcoming season to rehab. Surgery was performed by Dr. Jon Warner of the Boston Shoulder Institute. Horton, who decided not to entertain a bid from the Bruins, signed for seven years/$37.1 million, which in turn set the market for ex-Devil David Clarkson to sign in Toronto for a near-identical seven years/$36.75 million. Horton is 28 and Clarkson 29 . . . The Bruins will play in the new Atlantic Division, with the other clubs spread among the Pacific, Central, and Metropolitan blocks. Not that it really matters, but nothing too inspiring in those names. My hand would have been up for bringing back the old Adams, Norris, Patrick and Smythe setup, or perhaps Orr, Beliveau, Howe, and Gretzky . . . Goalie Michael Hutchinson, a 2008 Boston draft pick who spent the last three years in Providence, signed as a free agent Friday with Winnipeg. It’s a two-way deal. “Good kid, and he may make it,’’ said Chiarelli. “But we had to make sure we had a couple of spots for guys like [Malcolm] Subban and [Niklas] Svedberg. We didn’t make [Hutchinson] a qualifying offer, and it just comes down to a numbers thing.’’ . . . Chris Bourque, who had a brief look with the Bruins this past season, cleared waivers on Friday, and this fall will play in Moscow with the KHL’s Atlant Mytishchi.