Seattle formally enters the NHL world with Wednesday night’s expansion draft, the Kraken finally allowed to cull 30 names from around the league, the first faces of an enterprise that has taken nearly $2 billion (including the $650 million expansion fee) to get off the ground.
Guyle Fielder, 90, knew Seattle hockey long before it was Kraken country. A clever 5-foot-9-inch center who played 15 seasons in Seattle, Fielder often led the Western Hockey League in scoring, and today ranks with the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr, Mark Messier, and Gordie Howe as the most prolific scorers in pro hockey.
From October 1953 to the spring of ’69, Fielder was the face of Seattle hockey, winning nine WHL scoring titles en route to a career total of 1,929 points. Now more than a half-century after he last suited up for the WHL’s Seattle Totems, the NHL will take residence in the same downtown arena, albeit extravagantly overhauled, that the Totems played in after it was erected for the 1962 World’s Fair.
“Great hockey town, they’ll do well there,” said Fielder, reached last week as he made his way by car from his home in Mesa, Ariz., to visit family in Minnesota. “Very good fans — they knew their game. Remember, Seattle won the Stanley Cup back in 1917 and they’ve kept hockey going all these years. They needed, and should have had, the NHL in there years ago, but there was never the money to get it done. But they’re there now and they’ll do very well.”
The Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 3-1, to win the Cup in ’17. The two squared off again two years later in Seattle in the ill-fated Cup Final that was suspended after Game 5, with no winner declared, because of the Spanish Flu pandemic.
Even the most ardent Bruins fan might not recall that Fielder, fresh from winning his first WHL scoring title with 88 points, suited up for the Black and Gold in the ’54 playoffs, along with Seattle Bombers linemate Wayne “Weiner” Brown. Some 67 years later, Fielder recalls little of his experience here.
“To be honest,” he said, “I don’t remember much other than the rink, the hotel, and the restaurant. That’s about all we saw. And it was cold. We were from out west and we didn’t have the clothes to fight the chill. Stayed inside.”
Fielder’s big NHL chance came in the autumn of ’57, when the fading Red Wing dynasty brought him in to center a line with Gordie Howe and Johnny Wilson. He had scored a career-high 122 points the year before with the Seattle Americans and the Wings, now chasing the powerhouse Habs for NHL supremacy, figured the 26-year-old pivot could reinvigorate their offense.
“I got off to a bad start, and the whole team was off to a bad start,” recalled Fielder. “Then I was on the bench, not playing, wasn’t happy . . . ”
Fielder met with Wings GM Jack Adams and asked to be released. Adams, he said, pleaded with him to stay put and added $500 to his salary, a substantial pay boost in those days.
“So I don’t know, I think that put me at $7,500 or $8,000, whatever they were paying rookies then,” recalled Fielder, coached then by Sid Abel. “But another week went by and I still wasn’t playing, and I said, ‘Jack, you can get anyone to sit on the bench and not play . . . I just love to play, that’s all I care about, I don’t care where it is . . . please, let me go.’”
In short order, Fielder (six games. 0-0—0) was back on a train to Seattle, where he again led the Americans, and the WHL, with 111 points. It was the second of three straight seasons that he piled up more than 100 points.
“Years later, I looked back at it,” he said, “and it was a six-team league back then, pretty hard to make it. I had my chance, but I didn’t take full advantage of it. I thought I did, but years later I realized I didn’t give it my best shot. But anyway, that’s history . . . and I got to play.”
Fielder was ready to call it quits after the 1968-69 season in Seattle, but came out of retirement at the behest of his ex-linemate, Ray Kinasewich, who was named coach of the WHL’s Salt Lake Golden Eagles. Fielder was 42 when he played his last pro game for the 1972-73 Portland Buckaroos.
More WHL players would have made the jump to the NHL, noted Fielder, if not for sheer distance. The Original Six clubs were more inclined to call up help from minor pro teams in the East simply because of shorter travel times in the years before commercial air travel became the first option.
“We got around then only by train, bus, and car . . . I took ‘em all!” Fielder said with a chuckle.
Like all other NHL clubs, the Kraken will travel the Original 32 by charter flight and bunk in five-star hotels when on the road. Clubs today in need of filling a roster spot, if desperate enough, will have a prospect board a charter flight to get to the game on time. Different time, different game.
“The game was changing even when I got my shot with Detroit,” said Fielder. “I was a finesse player, and thought my job as a center was to get the puck to my wingers. If they scored, they looked good, and I looked good for getting them the puck. But the NHL game then was going to dump and chase, and that’s never made sense to me. If you’ve got the puck, why then give it up, just throw it in the zone just to have to work to get it back? I’ve never figured that out.”
Seattle hockey once was Guyle Fielder’s world. It will soon be in the hands of the Kraken.
“I’ve heard rumors that they might have me there to drop the puck on opening night,” he said “That’d be nice.”
Suter, Parise buyouts signal Minnesota reset
Bold, stunning move last week by Wild GM Bill Guerin, the ex-Bruin winger from Wilbraham, in abruptly buying out defenseman Ryan Suter and left wing Zach Parise, both of whom had four years and $10 million remaining on the 13-year, $98 million deals they signed in July 2012.
The overall savings is a relative pittance, each player forfeiting one-third of the $10 million, leaving them each essentially with an eight-year pension that will pay out at $833,000 per annum (once was the time when a club’s top scorer only dreamed of $833k a year).
Guerin’s main motivation was to provide his perpetually ho-hum franchise a mini-reset, with a combined cap savings of $10.33 million for the coming season and $2.3 million in 2022-23. A good chunk of that ultimately will go to Kirill Kaprizov, the dazzling Russian left winger who posted 27-24—51 en route to being named this past season’s rookie of the year.
Chuck Fletcher thought the Parise-Suter duo would make the Wild perennial Cup contenders, signing them nine years ago when he was GM. But reality never came close to matching the vision. Suter delivered better-than-expected numbers while Parise, 28 upon arrival in St. Paul, already had put up his best numbers in his seven seasons with the Devils.
All in all, Parise and Suter did for the Wild what Guerin did for the Stars after leaving Boston to sign his then-mega deal (five years/$31 million) in Dallas in the summer of ’02. The Stars bought him out after his third season there and he then hopscotched around for four more seasons, winning a Cup title with the Penguins in ’09. No one better than Guerin for having a full understanding of the buyout world.
Come July 28, Suter (36) and Parise (37 on that day) can sign anywhere else in the Original 32. Bruins GM Don Sweeney likely will kick tires on both, though Suter would seem to present a far better fit and fill a specific need — a legit, experienced lefthanded defenseman who could pair seamlessly in the top four, either with Charlie McAvoy or the recently-extended Brandon Carlo.
What Suter lacks in foot speed, he can compensate for with hockey IQ and situational savvy — he logged an averaged 22:11 in ice time this past season and played in all situations. A good get for Sweeney would be Suter on a two-year deal at, say, $3 million a year, right around where Sweeney landed Craig Smith last season. But with potentially 30 other clubs bidding, the money easily could run higher, forever the risk in the typically-overheated UFA market.
Parise, a left shot, isn’t nearly as attractive for the Bruins, especially if they’re committed to bringing back Taylor Hall as the their No. 2 LW. If he had an aching desire to be in Boston, for cheap money and spot duty across the bottom nine forwards, then maybe. But again, clubs with greater need at wing probably will step up with more dollars than Sweeney would want to allocate to an aged support winger.
Could Kraken bite on veteran Bishop?
Ex-Bruin Anton Khudobin went into the weekend assured that the Stars would designate him as their protected goaltender ahead of s Seattle the expansion draft.
With two years left on his deal ($3.4 million cap hit), Khudobin stood to be the odd man out, and very likely Kraken-bound, had Stars No. 1 Ben Bishop not volunteered to drop his no move clause, thus making him eligible for the expansion grab.
We’ll find out Wednesday if the Kraken figure it’s worth positioning the 34-year-old Bishop as their top stopper, similar to the Knights in 2017 bringing aboard the then-32-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury.
One significant caveat emptor with Bishop: injury woes. He appeared in only three postseason “bubble” games in the Stars’ run to the Cup Final in 2020. He remained sidelined for the entire ’21 season. That history, along with Bishops $4.92 million cap hit, could mean the Kraken won’t bite.
If Bishop is out, Khudobin again will split the Dallas net duties with ex-BU Terrier Jake Oettinger, who made his NHL debut in the ’20 bubble, then followed that with an 11-8-7 mark this past season as Khudobin’s running mate at a budget-friendly $925k.
Just call him Mr. Mayor
Lost in the flurry of last summer’s NHL restart of training camps and playoffs: ex-Bruin Brandon Bochenski last June was voted in as mayor of Grand Forks, N.D., a part-time gig that pays $25,000 per annum.
Then-GM Peter Chiarelli, less than a year in the Causeway Street corner office, acquired Bochenski in a February 2007 deal with the Blackhawks for Kris Versteeg, the latter of whom enjoyed a far more successful, and richer, NHL career.
Bochenski lasted less than a calendar year with the Bruins, and his best run was in the KHL, an eight-year hitch (2010-19) with Astana Barys, where he led the club in scoring five times.
Now married and with three kids, the 39-year-old Bochenski is Mr. Mayor in Grand Forks (approx. population 55,000), where he starred for three years as a University of North Dakota winger before turning pro with the Senators in the spring of ’04.
Due to COVID-19 limitations, Mayor Bochenski was forced to go virtual with his first State of the City speech in March.
“It’s been an extremely challenging journey, but at the end of the day, strong leadership that was measured and targeted was our guiding principle,” Bochenski said, according to the Grand Forks Herald. “I came to the office every day with that goal in mind and our team put in the work to get the job done.”
Versteeg, now 35, had his last NHL fling with Calgary in 2017-18, then played two seasons overseas before announcing his retirement in April 2020, with Bochenski in the throes of wrapping up his mayoral campaign.
Duncan Keith turned 38 on Friday, three days after he severed ties with the Blackhawks for a trade that landed him in Edmonton (largely to be closer to his son in Penticton, British Columbia). Keith’s best days are far behind him after 16 heavy-usage seasons on Chicago’s back line, but, similar to Suter, he can infuse the Oiler back line with much needed wisdom. Speed often makes things look bonkers out there, but wise blue liners have a way of mitigating the craziness (Exhibit A: Brad Park’s splendid tour here despite bad knees). Oilers GM Ken Holland had to swallow Keith’s full cap hit (two years at $5.4 million) to get it done, but felt it was necessary. He has two of the game’s premier offensive talents in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. All those points don’t mean a thing if the Oilers perennially bleed out more than they can get. Keith alone might not be the difference maker, but Holland clearly is banking on him providing critical experience, particularly if Tyson Barrie (8-40—48 last season) walks in the UFA market . . . Pierre McGuire officially left the broadcast biz last week when he signed on with the Senators as senior VP of player development. Not unlike John Davidson, a superb TV color man, packing up years ago for duties in the Blue Jackets’ front office. Oft a polarizing figure among viewers, McGuire lacked nothing in energy and knowledge in his long run with NBC. Neither Turner nor ESPN, the new US rights-holders, will be able to find anyone with his passion, endurance, and mind for the minutiae. Some segment of the consumers will be happy about that. Not here. So much of hockey broadcasting in the United States in bland, rote, and absent energy and insight. McGuire was guilty of none of that. Ditto for Mike Milbury, whose absence from the NBC team this past season contributed to what was too often a flat, predictable broadcast . . . The Blue Jackets will make three picks (Nos. 5, 24, and 31) in Round 1 of the draft Friday night. None is likely to land work this October, and Columbus needs something/someone to reinvigorate the franchise. So while it may run contrary to GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s steady approach, maybe a club in a financial reshuffle offers up a prime young talent for all three picks . . . If the Maple Leafs truly are interested in making a play for Taylor Hall, that’s good news for the Bruins because the Leafs have precious little cap room. If the Bruins are ardent about bringing Hall back, outbidding the Leafs won’t be the issue. A bigger concern could be, if David Krejci decides not to return, providing Hall here with a bona fide No. 2 pivot . . . Ron Hainsey, who made his retirement official at the start of April, has taken an active role within the NHLPA, a good thing for the rank and file. The ex-UMass Lowell defenseman, once a first-round pick of the Habs, needed 14 years just to get into the playoffs. He was a bright, dependable contributor wherever he played. He lacks the law school pedigree necessary to run a union in today’s sports industry, but he has the necessary acumen and blades-on-ice bona fides to be a vital voice at the bargaining table . . . If I were making the call for the Kraken, Jeremy Lauzon would be the guy I’d cull off the Bruins roster. He has the skill, smarts, and personality to play a long time in a second- or third-pairing role . . . Finnish goaltender Pekka Rinne, 38, called it quits last week after a superb run (13-plus seasons/683 games) with the Predators. He’ll be an interesting Hall of Fame candidate when his name comes up for consideration in three years. He was a workhorse, and he carried Nashville to the Cup Final in 2017 and is tied at No. 19 with Tom Barrasso for most career wins (369). But the lack of a ring might be a deal-breaker.