Jack Eichel to Vegas. It fits like a sharkskin suit — shirt collar open, no necktie needed.
One of the league’s most expensive and talented players heads to the land of high rollers, big swingers, and risk takers. And we’re not talking about the ones at the craps tables.
The Golden Knights are always in the mix, which is probably the best course of action if you’re trying to grow an expansion team’s fanbase. Ask the average sports fan in South Florida how the Panthers are doing and they might reply that actually, they root for the Dolphins, but they hope Carolina beats the Patriots on Sunday.
In its six-year history, Vegas has had seven first-round picks under its control. Only two are still with the organization: Brendan Brisson (2020) and Zach Dean (2021). Their first three, in 2017, Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki, and Erik Brannstrom, were shipped to the Predators, Canadiens, and Senators, respectively. They flipped their 2018 pick (which became Joe Veleno) to the Red Wings for Tomas Tatar (he’s no longer in Vegas, either). Payton Krebs (2019) was the key to the Eichel deal, and their 2022 is also headed to Buffalo.
This franchise has gotten 189 NHL games out of 40 draft picks it has made in five years, 100 of them from big defenseman Nicolas Hague, who reportedly was a non-starter for general manager Kelly McCrimmon in Eichel talks. They’ve also brought in players such as Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, Robin Lehner, and now Eichel with those picks, so, different strokes.
Given how Vegas never plays the long game, it’s surprising it took this long to get a star No. 1 center on the team. The Golden Knights will have to wait a little bit longer, given that Eichel still needs disk replacement surgery. Vegas signed off on it, helping end one of hockey’s most discussed dramas.
Funny, too, how Thursday’s deal was completed around 5:30 a.m. Pacific. Time will tell on how this shakes out, but it wouldn’t be the first time someone made a questionable decision before sunrise in Vegas.
“We’re not always interested in every situation that comes forward. There’s certain players we have aggressively gone after and tried to bring into our organization,” McCrimmon said. “You’ve got that elite level of player Jack comfortably slots into … We felt that we would not be doing our organization justice to fail to pursue it.”
The feeling on the Sabres’ return: That’s all they got? It looks like a talented prospect (Krebs), a middle-six forward (Alex Tuch, not expected back until 2022 after offseason shoulder surgery), a first-round pick that’s top-10 protected (meaning it won’t be in the top 10 if Vegas is a lottery team this year), and a 2022 second-rounder for the third they included with Eichel.
Sabres GM Kevyn Adams is betting on Krebs, 20, as the future. “Someone we had targeted and worked extremely hard to get in this deal,” he said. “That was really, really important to us.”
Krebs (5 feet 11 inches, 190 pounds), while an intriguing prospect, is unmolded clay. He has one assist in 13 NHL games (0-0—0 in nine this season), after posting 13-30—43 in 24 games with WHL Winnipeg in 2020-21. In two years, he has 21 pro games under his belt.
Tuch, a Boston College product from nearby Syracuse, N.Y., may be involved in the first BC-for-BU swap since Zach Sanford (BC) went to the Blues and Kevin Shattenkirk (BU) joined the Capitals in February 2017.
A lingering question: Why did the Sabres not retain salary? Surprising, given they have $19 million in extra room with Eichel (four years left at $10 million per) off the books. Perhaps Adams knows he’ll have to eat some of Jeff Skinner’s deal (six years left at $9 million per), if he can get the underperforming winger to waive his no-move clause. Retaining some of Eichel’s hit could have gotten them better players — maybe from Carolina or Calgary, teams rumored to be finalists. As attractive as adding a hometown franchise center would have been, Eichel was a bit too rich for Boston’s blood. The Bruins were never serious players.
The hot rumor the night before the trade, as reported by ESPN’s Kevin Weekes, had Matthew Tkachuk in the discussions between the Flames and Sabres. If that was the offer from Calgary, then Buffalo looks foolish (Adams, for his part, did say it wasn’t legitimate). If Tkachuk was really on the table, it should have been a slam dunk, even with the soon-to-be 24-year-old due a qualifying offer of $9 million to retain his RFA rights next summer. It would have made Senators-Sabres games appointment viewing, with brother Brady Tkachuk part of the long-term plan in Canada’s capital.
Bruins-Sabres games become a little less spicy with North Chelmsford’s own heading west. Eichel, who missed all but 21 games last season with his injured neck, hasn’t faced his hometown Bruins since December 2019.
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy mused. “We’ll see him twice a year. Hopefully he gets healthy.”
Eichel has a 5-8—13 line in 16 career games against the Bruins, with 18 penalty minutes. He hasn’t scored against the Bruins since December 2018, when he had a four-point night. Vegas visits in December, so it looks like 2022-23 is the next time we’ll see him flying around the TD Garden ice.
For Vegas, he’ll be worth the wait.
CASTING A WIDE NET
Company gathers goaltender data
Pucks leaving scars on unmasked faces. Hips and knees worn from constant outward rotation. Past or present, goaltending is hard on the body.
The future may not be much kinder, but teams are searching for ways to keep their goalies healthier.
The Bruins are involved in the latest development, which originates from the ninth floor of the 10 Post Office Square building in Boston’s Financial District. Sports science company Catapult is working on what could be a significant step to assist those who wield pads and paddles for paychecks.
The company this month will release a new goalie analytics solution, as they call it, for the Bruins and two other NHL teams (Flyers and Kings, along with Hockey Canada) that participated in beta testing last month.
Fourteen of 32 NHL teams use Catapult’s existing data-capture technology. Players at practices wear Catapult monitors, which measure speed, force, and muscle output. Cameras capture their movement. Coaches and trainers will always listen to a player who says they’re tired or sore, but this extra data helps the Bruins and other teams build better practice plans, manage injuries, and deploy players.
Until now, time on ice, eye tests, and verbal communication have been the main factors in sussing out workloads for goalies. At Bruins, Kings, and Flyers practices and games over the last few months, Catapult CEO Will Lopes said, cameras took 360-degree footage of goalies, capturing about 900 data points per second, to measure how explosive they were over time, how often they dropped down, and how often they were in a “set” position. The goal: determine netminder-specific levels of stress and exertion.
“What we’ve heard from trainers and coaches is, it’s changing how they’re looking at load level, and how many games a goalie should play,” Lopes said. “There’s not a lot of prescriptive, predictive [data that says], we need to rest this goalie.”
The data could help teams better determine whether a goalie had a hard night at the office, or an easy one. Some nights, they’re stationary. Others, they’re scrambling.
“The position has its unique characteristics around how they move in the net, but the more salient thing is they’re the one player that plays the entire game,” Kings performance coach Matt Price said. “We couldn’t delineate goalie load from time on ice because they’re playing all 60 minutes. So having more advanced quantification of work beyond just time was the great unknown.”
Catapult’s numbers, Lopes said, can also show teams when a netminder with a sprained ankle or wrenched knee becomes 20 percent less explosive on that leg halfway through a practice. No doubt that would have helped last season’s Bruins, who managed Tuukka Rask’s hip ailment in the second half, and had to monitor the energy levels of another high-mileage stopper, Jaroslav Halak.
Of course, Catapult has been approached to sell its data for betting and fantasy purposes. “That’s not an area we even care to explore,” Lopes said.
The Bruins deferred questions about their involvement. Lopes wouldn’t say which Bruins goalies were involved, but he characterized them as roster players on the “first team, and second team.”
Goalie workloads have shrunk in the last decade. For years, it was accepted that a No. 1 stopper would play 70-plus games — Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr went 79 of 82 for the Blues in 1995-95 — or about 85 to 90 percent of his team’s minutes. The last 70-game goalie was Edmonton’s Cam Talbot in 2016-17. He might be the last one ever.
In 2018-19, the most recent 82-game NHL season, the most-used goalie (Montreal’s Carey Price) played 3,880 minutes, or 79 percent of his team’s regular-season time on ice. The high-water mark has remained there since: Price played 80 percent of Montreal’s minutes in 2019-20, and Connor Hellebuyck was in goal for 78 percent of Winnipeg’s minutes last season.
NHL clubs, especially those without a clear-cut ace, try to split starts and practice time to save wear and tear. So far, the Bruins have split the load between Linus Ullmark, who was to start Saturday in Toronto, and rookie Jeremy Swayman.
Catapult dug up a 2019 study from the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, which found that 69 percent of goalies had hip or groin problems, 36 percent of those considered substantial. The majority of those injuries were from overuse.
And that was a look at goalies who were still playing (in Sweden, where the study was conducted), average age around 22, nearly 40 percent of them juniors.
They are in an era slightly more advanced in training than the one Andrew Raycroft knew.
“We would do up-downs for cardio,” said the 41-year-old former Bruins, Maple Leafs, Avalanche, and Stars netminder, who is now a NESN analyst. “That was part of our training, do those for 30 seconds.”
Teams now know: That’s hell on the knees, hips, and groins. It’s best to save your bullets.
Thornton says it was all worth it
Shawn Thornton’s new book includes an entire chapter on Tuukka Rask, and it’s not just because they’re buddies.
“I think he is one of the most underappreciated athletes in that city,” said Thornton, speaking from the press box at FLA Live Arena, a few floors up from his spot in the Panthers’ business office.
“It irks me that some of the sentiment around him — he’s the winningest goalie in [Bruins] franchise history. Yes, he wasn’t the starter when we won the Cup, but he got there twice when he was the starter. No, he didn’t win. I’d argue we’d have won in 2011 if he was the starter. He’s a generational-type player. Is there a better goalie in the last 14 years? It’s Carey Price and him.”
Thornton, whose autobiography, “Fighting My Way to the Top,” was co-written with NESN broadcaster Dale Arnold, includes some comic relief about the Corinne, the ill-fated boat Rask and Thornton owned when they were Charlestown neighbors. It also tells the story of a Toronto-area kid who signed his first NHL contract in a steel factory, where he worked in the summers. He played in the AHL for 605 games and won the Cup twice in his 705-game NHL career. As he describes it, he was “the worst player on every team” coming up.
He felt overlooked youngsters might draw inspiration.
“They convinced me I had a unique story,” said Thornton, at first hesitant to do the project. “Especially for today’s NHL.”
The book leads with the Bruins’ response to the 2010 Matt Cooke hit on Marc Savard, as well as Thornton’s self-described biggest career regret: the time he sucker-punched Brooks Orpik (who shares his side). Those tales, plus those involving Thornton’s 400-something fights in the minors, make this a record of a dying breed. He remains pro-pugilism. He knows the game no longer shares that view.
“They said it four years ago when I was retiring — he’s a dinosaur,” Thornton said. “I’m not sure how many people in today’s game would have the perseverance to stick it out for nine years in the minors before getting their first real shot. Maybe it’s the lack of options I had on the other side. It worked out for me. I’m sitting here now. It was worth it.”
All those punches, he said, have not yet left their mark. He is in good health.
“One hundred percent,” said Thornton, the Panthers’ chief commercial officer. “I don’t think I’d be in charge of revenue and marketing for a sports franchise if it was having any issues.”
The Boston Pride began their championship defense on Saturday with a two-game set against the Minnesota Whitecaps, whom they beat for the Isobel Cup last season. The NWHL has rebranded as the Premier Hockey Federation, a name it feels is more inclusive. Games are on ESPN+ this year … Best wishes to Colin Wilson, the former BU forward who last season ended an 11-year NHL career. Upon retirement, he revealed his struggles with OCD in a The Players’ Tribune article. Wilson, 32, did a follow-up piece after reading the Globe’s Jimmy Hayes coverage, revealing his own addiction to cocaine and sleeping pills. Wilson said he’s 2½ years clean. Here’s hoping for many more … The Sports Museum’s annual fund-raiser, The Tradition, will make Mike Milbury and Angela Ruggiero its hockey honorees. Tickets for the Dec. 8 event are on sale at SportsMuseum.org or by calling 617-624-1232 ... The Red Wings fell to 0-3 in games in Canada without leading scorer Tyler Bertuzzi, the only unvaccinated player in the league … Chelmsford’s Keith Aucoin, who retired as the AHL’s No. 7 scorer, is part of the league’s Hall of Fame induction class. The ceremony, Feb. 7 in Laval, Quebec, will include other class of 2022 members Nolan Baumgartner, Dave Creighton, and Bill Torrey, and the lone 2021 honoree, longtime president David Andrews … On Nov. 15 in Toronto, the Hockey Hall of Fame’s most recent class will finally get its COVID-delayed ceremony. Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, Kevin Lowe, Doug Wilson, Kim St. Pierre (players) and Ken Holland (builder) will stand alone as the 2020 group. No 2021 members will go in, marking the first blank induction year since 1957 … Only a matter of time before the Hall crossed out Brad Aldrich’s name on the Cup. Good riddance. As for the other fallout from the Chicago scandal — the future of commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA chief Donald Fehr — they remain in power … P.K. Subban, who has now swept the legs of three opponents (Trevor Zegras, Milan Lucic, and Ryan Reaves, the latter injured) in the last month, can’t help himself. What’s his deal? … The Arizona Coyotes’ tank job is going, uh, well. In their 0-9-1 start, they were averaging a feeble 1.3 goals per game, scoring on 8.0 percent of power plays, and killing 62.5 percent of penalties. Those would set modern (since 1977) NHL records. The 2013-14 Sabres scored 1.83 goals per game. Last season’s Ducks power play clicked at 8.9 percent. The 1979-80 Kings PK managed 68.2 percent.
Matt Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.