We’re in the final stretch of the offseason, when NHL players ramp up their training and have precious few golden afternoons to enjoy a round of golf with their buddies. One sign of this: charity hockey games.
At Thayer Academy in Braintree last Wednesday, local pros were skating along with law enforcement, raising around $30,000 for the Hold the Line Foundation. Between whistles, the players talked of a season that looks as normal as possible.
“Last year was tough. The season was shortened, but it felt like forever,” said Canucks winger Conor Garland of Scituate. “I’m looking forward to spreading it out and getting back to the normal schedule we train for and prepare for. Obviously, I’ve got a new team that’s heading in a different direction than the Coyotes were.”
This offseason, Garland improved his standing as much as any of his peers. Traded from Arizona to Vancouver, he found security with a five-year, $24.75 million deal out of restricted free agency. He’s on a promising young team, in a place where hockey matters.
“I grew up in a hockey city in Boston,” he said. “I played juniors in Moncton, New Brunswick, a hockey city. You felt every Friday night you were the main event and you had the city behind you. It’s a little different in Arizona. You’re not one of the major sports teams there.”
In Vancouver, players are often recognized, sometimes stopped and given unsolicited advice. When he went to dinner in Scottsdale and Phoenix, fans might have taken him for an athlete of some kind.
“Well, not me. I’m 5-5,” joked Garland, who is listed at 5-10 and 165 pounds.
Canucks fans will know about his contract, which Garland described as fair for both sides.
“To get that kind of number and security is pretty good for someone who’s only played 164 games,” said Garland, who had 39 points in 49 games last season. “I think I’m just getting started, and getting better, and I think I’ll be a pretty good player at 30. I think by that time it’ll be a pretty good deal for them. I’m excited to fulfill my part of it.”
Knowing a trade was likely — Arizona, stripping it down, wasn’t paying him — and assessing depth charts and salary caps across the NHL, Garland saw Boston’s middle six as a fit, likewise Toronto and Los Angeles.
“I did my research pretty well,” he said. “I don’t think we ever heard from Boston. My agent [Peter Cooney] talked about who was interested, what the Coyotes were hearing. I don’t think it was ever Boston. Might have been, but I never heard it. Maybe at the end of my career I could come here. For the next five years, I’ll be in Van.”
Garland’s good buddy, fellow Scituate product Ryan Donato, doesn’t know where he’ll play this season. Cut loose by San Jose, the shoot-first winger is looking to join someone’s training camp, after going from Boston to Minnesota to the Bay Area in the last three years.
“I think I’ve learned a lot of lessons,” Donato said, pointing to consistency as his largest hurdle. “I’ve been through the ringer a few times.”
Hingham’s Brian Boyle, whose last NHL stop was Florida in 2020 and who has been invited to Pittsburgh’s camp, has been keeping up with his NHL-caliber summer training partners.
“They still can’t catch me,” the big man (6-6, 245 pounds) said in jest.
Highly regarded Minnesota prospect Matt Boldy, a winger out of Millis, said he grew a bit this offseason — up to 6-3, 204 pounds — and wants to play a big man’s game.
“At that level,” he noted, “there’s no going through defenders.”
Blues winger Zach Sanford (Manchester, N.H.) is hungry after signing a one-year, $2 million extension. His team has had a pair of first-round exits since the 2019 Stanley Cup win.
“It’s definitely a prove-it year, a bet-on-yourself type of year,” he said.
Then there is Jack Rathbone, one of Vancouver’s top prospects. The defenseman from West Roxbury played eight games in his NHL debut last season (1-2—3), showing high-level skating and puck-moving ability.
“We’ll have to see where it goes with his development but he certainly has the physical tools to become a top-four D with his skating and puck skills,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning told reporters. “As he gets older and stronger and more mature, I don’t see why he couldn’t be a top-four D.”
Why not? It’s a new year, with new hope across the league.
WHAT’S AN OFFER?
Rarely-used ploy can cause contention
A revenge offer sheet. Twitter bios in French. A $20 signing bonus.
Whether you think it was too clever by half, or all in good fun, Carolina gave an otherwise quiet summer some juice by signing Jesperi Kotkaniemi to a gigantic offer sheet last week: one year, $6.1 million for a 21-year-old who hasn’t proven he can play in the top half of the Canadiens’ lineup.
The Canadiens went down to Saturday’s deadline before deciding to let Kotkaniemi walk. They then acquired Christian Dvorak, a better, less expensive ($4.45 million) center, from Arizona for draft picks (first, second round).
The Hurricanes’ ploy was retaliation for the Canadiens signing Sebastian Aho to a five-year, $42.27 million offer sheet in 2019. Carolina swiftly matched, rather than lose their No. 1 center.
GM Don Waddell offered Kotkaniemi perhaps three times what the restricted free agent would have gotten from Montreal. In his news release, Waddell explained the move using nearly identical language to that of Habs counterpart Marc Bergevin post-Aho. The team issued a twin statement in French, and changed its Twitter bio to French as well. The aforementioned $20 bonus for Kotkaniemi reflected Aho’s Carolina jersey number.
Bunch of jerks, indeed.
Offer sheets, rare as comets, are an abrasive tool. In 2007, Anaheim GM Brian Burke planned to fistfight Edmonton’s Kevin Lowe after the latter snatched winger Dustin Penner. In 1998, Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos handed superstar Sergei Fedorov a contract (six years, $38 million) that wound up forcing Detroit to hand out a $26 million lump-sum bonus. That was part of the rift between Fedorov and Red Wings ownership that has kept No. 91 out of the rafters, despite the Hall of Famer’s résumé.
Kotkaniemi, a healthy scratch for two of five Stanley Cup Final games, doesn’t have that cred, but Montreal needs a No. 2 center after losing free agent Phillip Danault to Los Angeles. The Finnish pivot may never be a $6.1-million player, and certainly isn’t at this stage, so matching the offer would have been tough. The smart move for Bergevin would have been to shop the first- and third-round picks Carolina must now cough up and strengthen the roster elsewhere. We hear there’s a center available in Buffalo.
AIMING THEIR SHOT
Strict rules await the unvaccinated
The NHL and NHLPA sent a strong message: Get the jab, or else.
With training camps expected to begin around Sept. 22, the two sides late last week hammered out COVID-19 protocols, agreeing to strict guidelines that will keep most unvaccinated players under wraps for the 2021-22 season.
In last season’s abbreviated schedule, 53 games were rescheduled because of COVID situations. All 32 teams plan to play a full 82 this year, COVID variants and a February Olympic break be damned.
As reported by ESPN, the 27-page memo sent to teams Thursday says the following about unvaccinated players:
▪ They must stick to the team hotel or rink on the road. They cannot use the hotel bar, restaurant, gym, or pool. No visitors in the rooms. No carpools or saunas.
▪ They are encouraged not to eat and drink on flights, go to bars or clubs, or dine indoors (even at home) with people outside their household.
▪ They can be suspended if they are “unable to participate in club activities,” whether due to a positive test or inability to travel because of government restrictions.
▪ They will forfeit a day’s pay for each day they miss. Those unvaccinated because of religious or medical reasons are exempt from this. Also, Sportsnet reported, the league will not punish for COVID cases that “[arise] out of the course of employment as a hockey player,” or missed time due to a quarantine because of a high-risk close contact.
▪ They will be tested daily, as opposed to every third day for vaccinated players, and must quarantine for seven days before training camp.
ESPN reported the “overwhelming majority” of NHL players are vaccinated. That number was believed to be around 85 percent at the end of the season.
If a fully vaccinated player contracts the virus, it will be treated as a hockey-related injury, under the CBA. That means they get paid. The unvaccinated would not be.
Also in the memo, per Sportsnet and ESPN:
▪ Players can opt out of the upcoming season by Oct. 1. Teams will have 30 days to decide whether to roll over a player’s contract or cut this year from the contract. Anyone opting out would not be able to play in another league, or the Olympics.
▪ Anyone who will be within 12 feet of team personnel (including players) must be fully vaccinated. Media will be allowed in-person contact with players only if they are vaccinated and masked. (Big win for us, since face-to-face conversations are essential to good reporting.)
▪ Players were asked not to participate in community events such as speaking engagements, charity events, or autograph sessions, or touch fans (even with a fist bump).
No rest for the weary
Jaromir Jagr is tired, but he keeps trucking.
The legend, who turns 50 on Feb. 12, will be in the Rytíři Kladno lineup to start the Czech season, as the franchise owner and No. 4 right wing. He made his pro debut in 1988, around the time Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, and Patrick Kane were born.
Good luck pushing around Jagr, who is listed at 6-2 and 254 pounds. He can still turn it on, as evidenced by his 2-8—10 in 16 playoff games last year as Kladno earned promotion to the top-level Czech Extraliga.
Jagr acknowledged to the Hockey News that he’s trying to prevent his age from overtaking his obligations.
“I have a responsibility to the club, otherwise I wouldn’t fly here and I wouldn’t be making a fool of myself,” he said. “But if I quit, the partners and sponsors would leave and the club may be done. I have no choice.”
It’s personal for Jagr, who assumed majority ownership of the team from his father, Jaromir Sr., in 2011.
“Mostly during my career, I felt that if I wanted to score a goal, I would score. But suddenly, this doesn’t work,” he said. “At the same time, people still expect it from me, and that’s probably the worst feeling, when people think I can but I know I can’t. Plus, I can’t even tell them. I just know that I will do my best to help the club.
“I don’t even want to be in such a position, but I have no choice. As long as my father breathes, I take the club as my responsibility. He held it for 20 years. As a son, I would be embarrassed if I left.”
Early predictions for Bruins Olympians, off Friday’s news that the NHL is officially participating in Beijing 2022: Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand (Canada), Charlie McAvoy (United States), David Pastrnak (Czechia), Erik Haula (Finland), and Linus Ullmark (Sweden) are locks. Outside contenders include Taylor Hall (Canada), Matt Grzelcyk (United States), and Jakub Zboril (Czechia). Old friend division: Tuukka Rask (hip surgery) will have a spot on the Finnish roster if healthy and willing, David Krejci is all but a lock for the Czech squad, and Zdeno Chara, nearing age 45, could captain the Slovaks one last time (potentially protecting Jaro Halak’s net). As previously announced, Bruce Cassidy (assistant coach) and Don Sweeney (assistant GM) will represent Canada . . . Jason Payne, who had a brief stop in Worcester during a 15-year pro career, was hired by the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones. The 45-year-old Toronto native becomes the only Black head coach in North American pro hockey. Payne was promoted after Cyclones head coach Matt Thomas joined Providence as an assistant. Payne’s goal: become the second Black head coach in NHL history. Dirk Graham, who had a 59-game run behind the Chicago bench in 1998-99, was the first . . . Full marks to Cincinnati for its diversity efforts. Kristin Ropp is the only female GM in the ECHL, AHL, or NHL. Ex-radio voice Everett Fitzhugh, hired by the Kraken, is the NHL’s first Black team broadcaster . . . The NHL keeps getting younger, and younger players keep getting paid. Philadelphia’s Joel Farabee, who was a freshman at Boston University three years ago, signed a six-year, $30 million contract Thursday. Farabee, 21, is one of six players who will be 22 or younger on opening night (Oct. 12) and earning $5 million or more against the cap. The others, according to CapFriendly: Colorado D Cale Makar (22, $9 million), Dallas D Miro Heiskanen (22, $8.45 million), Carolina wing Andrei Svechnikov (21, $7.75 million), New Jersey C Nico Hischier (22, $7.25 million), and Carolina C/LW Jesperi Kotkaniemi (21, $6.1 million) . . . If Lou Lamoriello has his way, we’ll never get an explanation as to why he waited all summer to announce a spate of Islanders re-signings: Kyle Palmieri (four years, $20 million), Anthony Beauvillier (three years, $12.45 million), Casey Cizikas (six years, $15 million), and Ilya Sorokin (three years, $12 million). The Cizikas deal keeps a fourth-liner on the books through age 36 . . . The Ontario Hockey League suspended Montreal first-round pick Logan Mailloux indefinitely for violating the league’s conduct standards, related to a November 2020 incident in Sweden. The Canadiens took the defenseman 31st overall in the July draft despite knowledge that Mailloux, while on loan to SK Lejon last season, was fined by Swedish police for taking and sharing an intimate photo of a woman. Mailloux asked NHL teams not to draft him so he could use this year to learn from his mistakes. He can apply for reinstatement after Jan. 1 . . . Good for the Canadian women’s team, which won its first world championship in nine years in a fast, physical title match with the United States. The shot of the tournament came from Marie-Philip Poulin, BU’s all-time leading scorer, who snapped the OT winner off the post, crossbar, and barely over the goal line. One stat from the final that needs improvement for the Americans, who lacked a bit of touch after a long COVID-season layoff: only 24 of their 57 shot attempts landed on goal. They surrendered a 2-0 lead, both goals by Alex Carpenter (North Reading), BC’s all-time scoring leader . . . Former NBC commentator Patrick Sharp returned to the University of Vermont, his alma mater, as a coaching adviser . . . Quite a catch by Pete Peeters. The 1983 Vezina winner with the Bruins was part of a guided group on the Fraser River in British Columbia that caught an 890-pound sturgeon, a prehistoric-looking fish that measured 11 feet, 6 inches, reportedly a record for British Columbia. Hey, Jeremy Swayman, can you top that?
Matt Porter can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.