As the weekend approached, players and owners were in tentative agreement to serve up both resumption of play and labor peace, a summertime combo as refreshing as ice cubes and lemonade.
The coronavirus pandemic could turn things quickly bitter.
Whatever the eventual conclusion to the 2019-20 NHL season, the Bruins remain among a slew of teams looking to avoid a sour time on Oct. 9, the start of the new free agency period.
The proposed collective bargaining agreement calls for the salary-cap ceiling to remain at $81.5 million next season, and it would stay there until hockey-related revenue returns to pre-COVID-19 levels ($4.8 billion). It is possible the cap could stay at its current level for two to three seasons.
This means Torey Krug will not, barring some wizardry from reigning general manager of the year Don Sweeney, be maximizing his long-term earnings locally.
Krug and restricted free agents Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk, and Anders Bjork are the most pressing contract situations for Sweeney. Here’s a refresher on Black-and-Gold concerns after this season:
Unrestricted free agents in 2021 include David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, Jaroslav Halak, Sean Kuraly, and Par Lindholm. Brandon Carlo, Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie, and Anton Blidh will be (arbitration-eligible) restricted free agents.
In the summer of 2022, Patrice Bergeron (UFA), 24-year-old Charlie McAvoy, and Jeremy Lauzon (both RFA) are up.
The big one for 2023 is David Pastrnak, who will be 27 and likely on his way to becoming the highest-paid player in Bruins history. Bergeron, though he carries a criminally low $6.875 million cap hit, earned a club-record $8.75 million in salary in each of the first four years of his current deal, which began in 2014-15.
McAvoy could pass that mark before Pastrnak.
The defenseman, who inked a bridge deal last September, is on his way to being one of the best in the show. He does not, and may never, have Krug’s quick trigger and sleight of hand on the power play. But he is a stifling presence in his own end, transitions out of the zone as well as anyone in the league, and has enough vision and creativity to run the point. His third contract will surely surpass the $7.3 million he will earn in 2021-22 ($4.9 million cap hit).
That’s Carlo, McAvoy, and Pastrnak with hands out in successive years, while Sweeney needs funds to turn over his Bergeron-Krejci-Rask-Zdeno Chara-Brad Marchand core of veterans.
The players comparable to Krug in age and ability: Jared Spurgeon, who was 29 when he re-signed for seven years in Minnesota at a $7.6 million cap hit last year; Justin Faulk, 27 when he extended with St. Louis for seven years times $6.5 million; and Norris candidate John Carlson, who was 28 and coming off a Stanley Cup championship when he scored an eight-year-times-$8 million extension from Washington in 2018.
Krug turned 29 on April 12. He has few peers among power-play quarterbacks (9-40—49) this season. Expecting the salary tide to rise in a pre-pandemic NHL, he was looking at an $8 million payday. Sweeney, who has his best players locked up at team-friendly deals (under $7 million each for Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line), would be out of character if he broke the bank.
UFA market to be well-stocked
Ten other intriguing UFA situations around the league:
▪ Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis — Can the Blues afford to keep the captain who lifted them to their first Stanley Cup championship? Not likely, unless he takes something closer to what he’s paid now ($6.5 million) than what he’s likely to command on the open market ($9 million to $10 million). Pietrangelo, a perennial Norris candidate entering his age-31 season, has been one of the best in the league since he debuted in 2011. The Blues, who handed long extensions to back liners Justin Faulk (seven years) and Marco Scandella (four years), can still keep Pietrangelo but might have to part ways with an entry-level guy (pending RFA Vince Dunn, or Robert Thomas, who’s up in two years), or look at trading one of their Cup-worthy pieces (think David Perron, Tyler Bozak, or Colton Parayko).
▪ Taylor Hall, LW, Arizona — By the time training camp rolls around (proposed date: Nov. 17), Hall could be done in the desert. The Avalanche, a contender with a ton of cap space for next season, are a reasonable short-term landing spot for the 2018 MVP currently making $6 million.
▪ Tyson Barrie, D, Toronto — Offensive defenseman became a Blue and White whipping boy. Jake Gardiner and Tomas Kaberle empathize. Top-heavy Maple Leafs had to cut his $5.5 million hit in half to add him in the Nazem Kadri deal. They won’t be able to give him a deserved raise ($7 million range) and field a full roster unless they clear room.
▪ Robin Lehner, G, Vegas — GM George McPhee added him to the deck of cards at the deadline, but could be trying to cash in his chips elsewhere. The Golden Knights are on the hook for $1.4 million of his $5 million hit, and he was just OK (3.01, .918 in 33 games). A move back East (Washington?) could spark him.
▪ Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman, Florida wingers — Dadonov returned from a KHL stint three years ago and has approached 30 goals each time. At 31, deserving of another deal stateside, though it’s hard to see the cap-strapped Panthers breaking the bank. Dadonov’s $4 million hit is reasonable for a running mate for Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. Hoffman, a power-play specialist nearing age 31, isn’t likely to get a raise ($5.19 million).
▪ Jacob Markstrom, G, Vancouver — Canucks could roll the dice with Thatcher Demko, but it would be prudent to ride their MVP. He reportedly wants $6 million a year (Loui Eriksson money!) and would be the prize of the goalie market. Can Jim Benning keep both Markstrom and UFA Tyler Toffoli?
▪ Braden Holtby, G, Washington — What’s the market for a Stanley Cup winner who hasn’t been all that good lately? Bet the 35-year-old Corey Crawford, toiling in Chicago for $6 million a pop, winds up with fatter pockets than the 30-year-old Holtby ($6.1 million).
▪ T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic, D, Calgary — Before the Flames extended star RFA Matthew Tkachuk last September, they tried to trade Brodie to Toronto for Kadri, but the Leafs balked. The Flames remain in a cap crunch, with Brodie and Hamonic (second-half injury woes) reaching UFA status. Extending the underrated Rasmus Andersson for a bit less than Brodie’s hit ($4.5 million to $4.65 million) solidifies the right side, should Brad Treliving let either or both walk.
Devils ready for old Ruff
The wait continues for new head coaching blood in the NHL.
The rebuilding Devils, not convinced interim coach Alain Nasreddine could steer the ship toward respectability, turned to 60-year-old Lindy Ruff to tutor 19-year-old franchise pivot Jack Hughes. Other candidates reportedly included Gerard Gallant and Franklin’s Peter Laviolette, both of whom had long résumés and presumably can, as Ruff had to in his introductory meetings with the team and local media, navigate Zoom.
“We have such a young team,” Devils vice president Martin Brodeur said. “We wanted to get kind of a father figure, that knows the league, to help our young players moving in the right direction.”
Eleven of the last 13 permanent hires across the league were coaches on their second job or more.
The Devils, who sacked John Hynes in December, lacked NHL head coaching experience on staff other than Peter Horachek (brief stints with the Leafs and Panthers). Assistant Rich Kowalsky was adjusting to the NHL after eight years as the club’s AHL coach. Holliston’s Mike Grier joined the group last season. Ruff could be a placeholder until one of them — the bet here is Grier — is ready.
Ruff, of late a Rangers assistant, had some quality teams in Buffalo in his 14-plus seasons there, and remains the last man to lead the Sabres to the playoffs (2011). His time in Dallas (2013-17) was less inspiring, though the Stars could score. The Rangers moved AHL Hartford assistant Gord Murphy to fill Ruff’s shoes during their play-in series against Carolina.
Billerica’s Tom Fitzgerald, like Murphy a short-time Bruin, was in the GM chair since the Devils fired Ray Shero in January. He officially shed the interim tag on the same day (Thursday) the Devils announced the Ruff hire. Fitzgerald, of Austin Prep and Providence College, finished his 17-year career with the Bruins in 2006. He played for Ruff in Florida, when the latter was an assistant in the mid-90s.
Fitzgerald, who has certainly put in the required time, helped his case with fine work during his first trade deadline. In February, he surrendered a quality piece to Tampa Bay in winger Blake Coleman, but snagged a first-round pick and highly regarded prospect Nolan Foote. The first-rounder was Vancouver’s, and will shift to 2021 if the Canucks don’t make the playoffs — i.e., advance to the Round of 16 after beating Minnesota, their play-in opponent.
Fitzgerald also found a taker for veteran rental Andy Greene (the return from the Islanders: a second-rounder and blue liner David Quenneville), a package from Carolina including a mid-round pick and a prospect (Janne Kuokkanen) for injured D-man Sami Vatanen, and a mid-rounder from Buffalo for struggling veteran Wayne Simmonds. Smart.
Love for Shack
Sad to hear reports this past week that Eddie Shack, 83, entered palliative care for cancer.
The rollicking right winger won four Cups in Toronto and inspired a song — “Clear the Track, Here Comes Shack” — that became an instant hit in the city during his breakout 26-goal season of 1965-66. He was also loathed by Bruins fans, until The Entertainer landed in Boston for two seasons (1967-69).
Milt Schmidt, the GM who handed the Leafs $100,000 and Murray Oliver for Shack in May ’67, believed the deal was one of the keys to turning around the moribund Bruins. “We had [Bobby] Orr by then, but even he wasn’t enough,” Schmidt, who died in 2017, told the Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont in 1990. “We needed Shack to inject some laughs and humor. Remember, we’d had some dark days here in the ’60s. Shack worked hard, but he also made everyone laugh, and the togetherness just seemed to grow and grow.”
Old hockey books, magazines, and newsprint runs long with stories about Shack, one of the game’s great characters. In his first Black-and-Gold training camp, he was the players’ choice to be team captain, his new pals figuring fingers adorned by Stanley Cup rings could point the way to the promised land. But Shack turned them down, hockey historian Brian McFarlane wrote in his book “Golden Oldies,” reasoning that “a captain has to be able to read.”
Another one: Shack once told biographer Ross Brewitt that the reason the Bruins traded him to Los Angeles in May 1969 was because he ripped owner Weston Adams. Shack, who had taken to selling Biltmore hats to his peers, let his millionaire boss know he was wearing “the oldest, crappiest, [expletive] hats in the world.”
Scouting department hires aren’t often viewed as power moves, but credit Wild GM Bill Guerin with such for luring Judd Brackett to head his St. Paul prospecters. Brackett, 43, has earned a leaguewide rep for his sharp work with Jim Benning’s Canucks, but the two could not come to an agreement before Brackett’s contract expired June 30. Brackett, who lives on the Cape, is from Harwich, and tended goal at Northeastern and Connecticut College. He joins a Minnesota club that faces some of his best draft finds — Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes, and Adam Gaudette — in the play-in round. Another Brackett chip, Northeastern’s Tyler Madden, was the key piece in the Tyler Toffoli deal with Los Angeles . . . Chris Pronger is going from VP to VIP. After three seasons as Florida’s senior vice president of hockey operations, the Hall of Fame defenseman left his post to join his wife, Lauren, full time in their luxury travel business (yes, in a pandemic). Well Inspired Travels gets one of the sharper minds in hockey, who seemed to be (and, we suppose, still could be) a future GM in the making. The prickly Pronger made the playoffs 15 years in a row as a player (St. Louis, Edmonton, Anaheim, and Philadelphia), when he was a game-changer on the back end. The Panthers, who are bound for a slog with the Islanders in the play-in round, have suited up for 44 playoff games in their history. At this rate, they will approach Pronger’s postseason number — 173 — in their centennial season, in 2093 . . . The Panthers have the league’s longest drought since their last playoff series win (1996). Second longest? The Leafs (2004) . . Trivia: Old buds in Leafland may know Shack was the first NHL All-Star Game MVP (1962) . . . Speaking of Toronto, the Hockey Hall of Fame reopens Wednesday. Keeper of the Cup Phil Pritchard won’t be the only staffer wearing gloves . . . Torey Krug on Tuukka Rask: “If you’re a hockey goalie, there’s a 90 percent chance you’re a weirdo. Tuukks is pretty normal, for the most part. And he gets no respect, which I find is very humorous. That’s the city we live in. We have a great sports city that demands perfection” . . . Late Friday, Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic became the first player to publicly announce he would not participate in the tournament, skipping his team’s best-of-five play-in against the Jets. Hamonic was concerned about affecting his young daughter, who contracted a serious respiratory disorder last year . . . Pavel Datsyuk, soon to be 42, re-upped for another year with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, his hometown KHL team. Any magic left? . . . The German league said it will start in November, rather than its regular Sept. 18. Boxford’s Chris Bourque was 10th in league scoring (17-30—47) last season . . . Hotel X in Toronto, which will host the Bruins and other top teams in the East, describes itself as a “lakefront oasis.” Does not have the same vibe as its official location in NHL lingo: “Phase 4 Secure Zone” . . . Canucks captain Bo Horvat, on a 24-team postseason after a four-month layoff: “Guys are going to be going 100 miles per hour.” May the team with the strongest groins win . . . It’s dizzying to think of six games per day during the preliminary round: puck drops at noon, 4 p.m., and 8 p.m., local time, with a two-hour time difference between. The critical dates calendar making the rounds late this past week had qualifying rounds being played in fewer than 10 days, and each single round of the playoffs being played in 14 days or fewer. Hockey fans are desert wanderers, offered a drink from a fire hose. Here’s hoping it doesn’t turn out to be a mirage.