Johnny Gaudreau’s stunning big-bucks touchdown in Columbus on Wednesday could serve as an interesting road map if David Pastrnak opts to play out the final season of his contract for a crack at the UFA market next July.
Speculation in recent days was that “Pasta” and general manager Don Sweeney will settle on an eight-year extension long before then, perhaps even before September training camp. Even then, Gaudreau’s experience — and the limited market he was left to consider — could factor in Pastrnak’s approach.
In the end, Gaudreau secured the richest deal of this year’s UFA period, ringing the bell for $9.75 million over each of the next seven seasons. Upon agreeing to terms Wednesday night, Johnny Hockey ranked 16th on the league’s top-20 pay list, just a smidge behind ex-Bruins winger Tyler Seguin’s $9.85 million (for five more seasons). Edmonton’s Connor McDavid rightly leads the payroll parade with a $12.5 million AAV.
Truth is, though, the market for Gaudreau was rather small, in part because he turned down a longer, richer deal offered by Calgary. Flames management, reported to have offered eight years at $10.5 million per, was left to believe that he wanted out of Alberta to play in his hometown Philadelphia-New Jersey-New York market.
Other clubs around the Original 32 could have been interested — with Gaudreau fresh off a career-best 115-point season — but no doubt sat on their hands when it sounded like his heart was fixed on heading home. Well, the ex-Boston College standout landed some 500 miles west, in what is not a hockey hotbed, playing for a franchise that historically has struggled to keep its own free agents from bolting town faster than the fuse burns down on that cannon that blasts after each Blue Jackets goal at Nationwide Arena.
“We were like, ‘Wow, is this real?’ ” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen exclaimed to the team’s website crew the day Gaudreau virtually fell out of the blue Ohio sky.
Yep, it was true, underscoring how the marketplace has yet to shake the stalled salary cap, which this year is $82.5 million, an increase of a mere million bucks over last year. Columbus had the dough. Gaudreau liked the city (a rarity among NHLers), and he felt the fit was right in terms of accompanying roster talent. Sold to the man in the old BC Eagles sweatshirt!
Keep in mind, the Blue Jackets weren’t alone. Detroit also could have accommodated the $9.75 million hit, even amid GM Steve Yzerman’s prudent, expansive shopping spree that unfolded the same day. New Jersey also had ample cash on hand, and The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the Devils had an offer to Gaudreau that was right there with the dollars he accepted in Columbus.
The cap figure, based on guidance from the league, is not likely to move substantially higher for the next 2-3 years. Overall hockey-related revenue (HRR) remains in post-COVID-19 ICU. Clubs constantly have deals coming off the books, but as of this weekend, per capfriendly.com, only 12 teams had cap room to accommodate a $9.75 million deal. Is it truly free agency when only about one-third of the league can drum up heavy metal bids?
Pastrnak, if not satisfied with Sweeney’s offer, no doubt will have an ample number of teams interested, allowing him to gin up the market. The question then becomes just how big is the field, and are they teams he cares to play for, in terms of location and their ability to contend for the Stanley Cup?
The Flyers, too tight to the cap, didn’t bid on Gaudreau. His choice, once spurning the Flames, came down to Columbus or New Jersey. Those are not highly desirable GPS coordinates for a vast majority of NHL players.
Pastrnak, with 215 goals over the last six seasons, has evolved as one of the game’s premier scorers. Scorers get paid. Only Auston Matthews (259), Alex Ovechkin (255), Leon Draisaitl (233), and McDavid (223) have potted more over the same stretch.. None of them ever has changed addresses. Their average cap hit next season will be $10.5 million, the very figure the Flames reportedly put in front of Gaudreau.
The richest contract inked by a Bruin belongs to Charlie McAvoy, about to begin his eight-year deal for an average $9.5 million. The more accomplished Pastrnak, now at $6.67 million, will have his hand up for at least McAvoy money, and easily can make the case for breaking the $10 million-a-year threshold, be it here or elsewhere.
The Lightning a year ago added eight years to Brayden Point’s contract, lifting him to $9.5 million. He had a year left at $6.75 million. On Wednesday, they went eight more years with Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak, and Anthony Cirelli, who had a year remaining on their deals.
“You just have to move along with it, if you’re going to be competitive in this league,” said Sweeney, referencing Tampa Bay’s moves and increasing salaries. “Good players are going to put their demands forward, and you’re going to have to decide as an organization whether you can fit those things in … especially if you want those players, that’s just the nature of how the dynamic of the cap and how teams are being built.”
Pastrnak has a very nice fit in Boston. He is loved by teammates, adored by fans, and Sweeney sounds ready and eager to pay him. It has the earmarks of an eight-year deal that should come together quickly, somewhere around $80 million or slightly more.
Or he can press for an ever bigger payday a year from now, in a cap world that will remain tight, with suitors restrained by challenged budgets and prior purchases. The Gaudreau Effect is now in play, and while it might not define the market, it’s a post-COVID chill that will linger for at least a couple of more years.
Offense needed from the defense
New Bruins coach Jim Montgomery, introduced to the Boston media on Monday, shed little light on how he’ll wrangle more out of his Black and Gold charges than his predecessor.
“Good question,” he said, noting how coaches bring their style and methods to the job, adding, “that’s going to lead to a little more offense.”
Later in the news conference, team president Cam Neely noted Montgomery early in the interview process underscored his “philosophy of getting our defensemen to move a little bit more on the offensive blue line … whether they end up scoring the goals, that’s one thing, but they can create a little more offense by being more fluid on the offensive blue line.”
No revelations in any of that. Some of that backline fluidity left town two years ago when UFA Torey Krug packed up for St. Louis. Montgomery thinks his style will produce more punch, and Neely, much like the few media pundits left covering the team on a daily basis, figures the back end needs to deliver more.
Bruce Cassidy wanted all of that, along with forwards more committed to grinding low in the offensive zone in order to create high-danger scoring chances. If Montgomery is to enjoy a measure of success in Boston, he’ll need to find the key to reducing the amount of the low-in-the-zone “fly-bys” from many of his forwards. Cassidy emphasized that with Jake DeBrusk and we all know who ended up paying the price around that tutelage.
In recent weeks, GM Don Sweeney has said repeatedly that he felt his club left “something on the table” in the seven-game series vs. the Hurricanes. More to the point, it didn’t bring enough offense, be it from the back or front lines.
Sweeney’s Bruins also didn’t match the Hurricanes for physical moxie. The series took a decided swing Carolina’s way in Game 2 when Andrei Svechnikov clobbered Hampus Lindholm with a stiff, clean check that addled the newly acquired Bruins defenseman.
A healthy Lindholm from the start this season should help the offensive attack, and Montgomery would do well to underscore to everyone the need to lift their level of, shall we say, physical engagement. A recommitment to what was once a team standard — roll that Neely highlight reel, please — could go a long way in eliminating the concern of leaving things on the table.
Montgomery, by the way, said he did not contact the Bruins about their coaching vacancy when Cassidy was canned.
“That’s the way this business works,” he said. “Teams know what they’re looking for and they reach out to you. You can send out your résumé all you want, it’s just going to [end up on a desk].”
Montgomery added that he interviewed with two other clubs.
Greenway now a forward thinker
Only a year removed from the University of Maine, ex-Black Bears defenseman J.D. Greenway just wrapped up a transformative development camp with the Bruins, moving up from the blue line to audition all week as a forward.
“It’s always been a conversation, going back to when I played as a kid,” said Greenway, 24, whose slightly older brother, Jordan, in October will enter his fifth NHL season as a winger with the Wild. “It was always hard to think about doing it, you know, while training as a defenseman your whole life. But now, when they’re asking me to try it, I’m going to do it … I think all my life I’ve been pretty offensive as a D-man.”
Greenway, 6 feet 5 inches and upward of 220 pounds, has the physical presence to play in front or back, his size a factor in why the Maple Leafs chose him with pick No. 72 in the 2016 draft. He was dealt to the Bruins on an AHL deal a little more than a year ago, and spent last season between ECHL Maine and AHL Providence. His time with the WannaBs included two games on the wing.
“He was effective,” noted Providence coach Ryan Mougenel. “And that’s where the idea kind of came from … we were a little heavy on the left side [defense] and we wanted him to get some minutes. He’s a physical specimen. He’s intimidating that way. He understands he is a big, physical guy and he needs to play that way all the time.”
Greenway played two seasons at the University of Wisconsin, then moved to Maine after a USHL season at Dubuque (the same franchise where Jim Montgomery once coached for three seasons prior to taking over the University of Denver program).
Jordan Greenway, 14 months older than J.D., was a three-year standout at Boston University prior to turning pro in 2018. The two were inseparable as kids, said J.D., kidding when he says, “I still beat him up.”
“Growing up, he was my best friend, and I was his,” mused J.D. “Being so close in age, I just kind of followed him around all my life.”
If the pattern holds, J.D. will follow Jordan’s footsteps to the front line. A lefthanded shot, he spent time in development camp at both wings.
“He’s been helping me out, positionally,” J.D. said of his brother. “I’ve got a lot of resources here [in camp]. I’m just trying to learn right now. One thing he’s told me is to learn how to catch a puck off a rim [pass along the boards] ... and also, just work. If I put the puck in the corner, I have to work in that corner, get it back, use my physicality and hold on to it, and make a move if I have that opportunity.”
College management course
For those who remember when it was a rarity for a US college player to find his way onto an NHL roster, it may be hard to fathom nearly half of the league’s 32 teams now have former US college players as the GM in charge of constructing those rosters.
Just days after ex-BU winger Mike Grier recently took over the Sharks front office, becoming the league’s first African-American GM, Joe Sakic handed over his GM duties in Denver to Bronx-born Chris MacFarland, who played club hockey at Pace University. Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher, a Harvard grad, played JV hockey for the Crimson.
A list of the 15 GMs who played varsity hockey at a US college:
Boston — Don Sweeney, Harvard*; Buffalo — Kevyn Adams, Miami University*; Carolina — Don Waddell, Northern Michigan*; Columbus — Jarmo Kekalainen, Clarkson*; Florida — Bill Zito, Yale; Los Angeles — Rob Blake, Bowling Green*; Minnesota — Bill Guerin, BC*; Montreal — Kent Hughes, Middlebury; Nashville — David Poile, Northeastern; New Jersey — Tom Fitzgerald, Providence*; NY Islanders — Lou Lamoriello, Providence; NY Rangers — Chris Drury, BU*; San Jose — Grier, BU*; Vegas — Kelly McCrimmon, Michigan; Washington — Brian MacLellan, Bowling Green*.
* — also played in the NHL
As the weekend approached, ex-Bruins Danton Heinen and Ryan Donato had yet to land new deals in the UFA market. On Wednesday, fellow Black and Gold alums Frank Vatrano and Noel Acciari found new homes — Vatrano in Anaheim (three years/$3.65 million cap hit) and Acciari in St. Louis (one year/$1.25 million). Sweeney, when asked if he kicked tires on any of the four: “Those guys are all good players in the National Hockey League and you wish them well. Vast majority of them have looped back [to say] they would like to come back, but in this case, it didn’t line up. We didn’t have a lot of spots open in that regard.” Heinen spent last season with the Penguins and Donato with the Kraken. Neither club extended them qualifying offers … Curious move by the Maple Leafs, opting to patch their net this time with Matt Murray, a disappointing 15-25-3 over his two seasons with the Senators. The Leafs also added Capitals castaway Ilya Samsonov on a one-year deal as Murray’s backup/potential partner. Between the two, the Leafs will pay $6.5 million, in hopes that they’ll get legit NHL backstopping. Tough way to operate a franchise. If the Leafs again fail to win a playoff round, it could bring an end to the Brendan Shanahan-Kyle Dubas front office era … Mougenel, when asked the differences between US college and Canadian junior prospects who arrive in the AHL, said he felt college players arrive with a better idea of how to manage their time. “That’s the biggest difference,” he said. “The junior guys, it’s a little bit more hands-on with them, whereas the college guys are a bit more mature.” He also noted the college players, because of a lighter game schedule, have been able to concentrate more on dryland strength and conditioning. “And tattoos,” added Mougenel. “The junior guys have a lot of tattoos.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.