Mike Grier’s wicked cool July in the Bay Area — a warp-speed course in NHL front officeology — continued with his hiring Tuesday of fellow ex-BU Terrier David Quinn as the 10th head coach in the Sharks’ 30-year history.
Grier, 47, officially became the Sharks’ GM on July 4, and less than 10 days later dished fan favorite Brent Burns, the gap-toothed behemoth back liner, to the Hurricanes in order to gain vital salary-cap space (approximately $5.3 million).
Sandwiched in, too, was the July 7 amateur draft, in which Grier, in Belichickian more-is-better style, traded out of the No. 11 spot for a pair of second-round choices (Nos. 34, 45), and also acquired Filip Bystedt at No. 27.
The 6-foot-3-inch Bystedt, a left shot pivot, has the hands and passing skills to make it as an NHL center, but will have to improve his stride and speed — not uncommon for supersized 18-year-olds yet to grow into their frame. Even at No. 27, they are usually projects.
Quinn, who made it to the short list of finalists to succeed Bruce Cassidy behind the Bruins bench, prior to Don Sweeney opting for Jim Montgomery, is back as a bench boss after a one-year layoff. He was dismissed by the Rangers after his three seasons overseeing the aggressive Blueshirt roster rebuild masterminded by then-GM Jeff Gorton, after shaping the likes of Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Adam Fox (Norris winner ‘21) into legit contenders.
Grier and Quinn, who turned 56 Saturday, now are co-shareholders trying to shake the Sharks from a lethargy that has led to a franchise-worst three straight seasons without a playoff berth.
A tall order, possibly all the harder without the dynamic Burns, who ranks No. 1 in points (594) among all NHL back liners since joining the Sharks for the start of the 2011-12 season. Over that same stretch, he also landed more shots on net (2,643) than any other defenseman, nearly 500 more than Nashville’s Roman Josi (2,153).
Burns is 37, and the contract ($8 million cap hit) was heavy, but his firepower unparalleled in a sport that makes it increasingly difficult for defensemen to put shots on net. It was not good news for the Bruins to see him land with the Tropical Depressions.
“I know the last three years have been tough,” Quinn said during his introductory news conference, noting that dips can be typical for franchises such as the Sharks “that have been successful for a long time.”
Quinn added that he intends to coach up a roster to play with both structure and freedom, which is very similar to the approach/ethos that Martin St. Louis implemented in Montreal when taking over the hapless Habs bench last season. St. Louis saw encouraging results, arguably with a roster with less talent than Quinn has inherited from outgoing coach Bob Boughner.
“I never heard a coach say, ‘We want to play slow,’ ” added Quinn, emphasizing his desire for speed. “We want to be an up-tempo, tenacious, aggressive, ultra-competitive team.”
By Quinn’s math, if his 23 players can produce 5 percent better results than last year, “that can be the difference between making the playoffs or not.”
Maybe. The NHL can be the land of funny math, especially so when factoring in those loser points for overtime defeats.
Another challenge for Quinn will be in net, where today (subject to change) Quinn will have to cull a No. 1 from among a lackluster lot of James Reimer, Kaapo Kahkonen, and Adin Hill. None of them is capable of carrying the franchise, which was why Grier insisted on Finnish prospect Eetu Makiniemi when flipping Burns to the Hurricanes. Makiniemi has only one year of North American pro experience (AHL Chicago), but at the moment he has a shot at being the franchise’s goalie of the future.
It’s likely Quinn more than once this season will recall the words of his pal Jack Parker, the legendary BU coach, who often said hockey should be renamed “goalie.”
“That,” said Parker, “is how important the position is.”
Despite their Comm. Ave. bond, Grier and Quinn never were together at BU, though both played for Parker.
“It all starts with Coach Parker,” Grier said after he became the first Black man to direct an NHL team. “He was the leader. He believed in a team-first, unselfish approach.”
Grier helped BU win an NCAA title in 1995, then wrapped up his three years under Parker in ‘96 and turned pro with the Oilers. That same spring, Quinn left Northeastern, his first coaching gig, to spend six years at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Years later, noted Grier, he sometimes would venture over to BU for workouts during Quinn’s tour as the Terriers head coach (2013-18) — well after Grier wrapped up a 1,000-plus game playing career. Now the guy who OK’d Grier’s post-career tuneups in the Comm. Ave. gym is the guy charged with making Grier’s team an on-ice success.
Quinn, decked out in a tailored suit, sounded eager and confident during his intro presser. As important as X’s and O’s are, he noted, his philosophy and approach to coaching are personality-and relationship-driven.
“When the people you are leading know you want the best for ‘em,” he mused, “you have a much better chance to get the most of ‘em.”
THE TIME IS NOW
Tkachuk move reminiscent of Neely, Espo deals
When the call came, with word that Matthew Tkachuk indeed wanted out of Calgary and had Florida at the top of his list, Panthers GM Bill Zito initially wasn’t sure whether to believe it.
“I couldn’t even fathom it was possible,” said Zito. “He’s 24 years old . . . tough . . . mean . . . ”
At that point during the Sunrise news conference, a giddy Zito, with Tkachuck sitting at his right elbow, kiddingly checked himself and said, “I might have to stop.”
Earlier in the press conference, Zito also described Tkachuk as “a unicorn.” He indeed landed the best player in the deal, though at a high price that included Jonathan Huberdeau, the classy, productive winger who posted a career-high 115 points this past season.
Clearly, the Panthers believe this is their Cam Neely moment, reminiscent of the summer of ‘86 when Bruins GM Harry Sinden landed the strapping 21-year-old winger in trade with the Canucks. Neely soon was tabbed the game’s first power forward (Sinden’s term), his combination of strength and prolific goal scoring parlayed into his ticket to the Hall of Fame.
Some 20 years earlier, in May 1967, Bruins GM Milt Schmidt made the whopping deal with the Blackhawks, acquiring Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, and Fred Stanfield for Gilles Marotte, Pit Martin, and Jack Norris. Espo came aboard one year after Bobby Orr’s arrival, and two Cups (’70, ‘72) soon followed.
Tkachuk is not Neely or Esposito, though the swagger he often displays on the ice might make some believe he is better than both combined.
It’s precisely that swagger, bordering on an irritating smack, that Zito felt his skilled Panthers desperately needed, and convinced him to part with the bountiful package that included Huberdeau, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, center prospect Cole Schwindt, and a first-round pick (2025).
“Steep price, but didn’t want to lose the asset,” Zito said. “Cannot find guys like this.”
Zito promptly signed Tkachuk to an eight-year deal with a $9.5 million cap hit, identical to the pact Charlie McAvoy starts this season with the Bruins. All but $8 million of that $76 million total will be paid in signing bonuses, including $38.75 million over the first four seasons.
“On ice, I have a different personality,” said a smiling Tkachuk. “The way I play, I bring a certain swagger that I really think will help this team . . . I’m excited to get the chance to grow the game down here.”
A 6-foot-2-inch, 200-pound left winger, with the same swaggering DNA his dad, Keith Tkachuk, turned into a 538-goal fortune, Matthew last season posted a career-high 42 goals and 104 points. He’s a younger, brasher version of Huberdeau, and now he gets to help anchor a lineup dotted with young high-end talent that last season pinned up the league’s best overall record (58-18-6) in the regular season.
It’s all right there for it to happen — just as it was for Neely and Esposito upon their arrivals here.
Faced with the Bolts in Round 2, though, the Panthers couldn’t blend in the requisite moxie and jam it takes to get to a Cup Final. Enter Tkachuk, whose play should embolden performances throughout the lineup, particularly those such as Aleksander Barkov, Sam Reinhart, and Aaron Ekblad.
“First and foremost, it was winning ― not just winning now, but in the future,” said Tkachuk, asked why he prioritized joining the Panthers. “If I keep hearing about the past [Panthers failures], I think I’m going to lose my mind . . . because I think this team, I know some of the players are unhappy with the way things have gone the last few years, but I don’t want to keep hearing it. I want to worry about the future here. All the guys are from my age up to 28 or 29. That was attractive to me ― win now and win in the future.”
Tkachuk, already with six seasons in the NHL, is 24½ years old. Neely turned 21 the day he was dealt here and had logged three seasons with the Canucks. Esposito, who had posted 174 points in his 235 games with the ‘Hawks, was 25.
“I’m here to win,” said Tkachuk. “Personal stuff . . . throw that out door . . . I’m here to be the last team standing. That’s it. If we are, I’m happy.”
“Mean, big . . . 24 years old,” Zito noted when contacted by the Globe. “I’ll take two, please.”
Some moves bring relief, but cause pain
Ex-Bruin forward Jarmo Kekalainen, his Blue Jackets payroll squeezed by the UFA signing of Johnny Gaudreau and a pricy extension for Patrik Laine, scurried for cap relief in dishing productive right winger Oliver Bjorkstrand to Seattle.
It was essentially a gift in the top six for the Kraken, who yielded only two picks (R3, R4) in next year’s entry draft to acquire a reliable forward who posted 101 points over the last 136 games.
The return normally would he higher for that kind of production, but these are not normal times, with Kekalainen underscoring to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline that he feared fewer and fewer teams around the league as the summer progressed would have the cap space to accommodate Bjorkstrand’s $5.4 million cap hit (for three more seasons).
“The hardest decision I ever had to make as GM of the Blue Jackets,” said Kekalainen, whose brief NHL playing career included 27 games with the Bruins at the start of the ‘90s. Making it all the harder: The amiable Bjorkstrand was on his honeymoon when he received Kekalainen’s farewell call.
Headed into the weekend, based on puckpedia.com figures, the Blue Jackets still have to shed approximately $1 million to be compliant with the max $82.5 million cap figure for the coming season. Like all clubs, they have until the season opener to shimmy under the line. Until then, clubs are allowed to run 10 percent over the cap.
Ideally, perhaps, Kekalainen would have found takers for Gus Nyquist ($5.5M/one year) or ex-Flyer Jakub Voracek ($8.25M/2 years), but again, there are so few potential takers. Upon Bjorkstrand landing in Seattle, only 11 of the Original 32 held more than $5 million in cap space.
The Bruins, with Don Sweeney still trying to budget the return of elite pivots Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, entered the weekend with approximately $4.8 million in spending money — and an upcoming arbitration hearing with Pavel Zacha, acquired from the Devils in the Erik Haula swap.
Zacha made $3 million last season. A modest bump to, say, $3.5M would eat up most of what is left in the Jacobs’s purse, seemingly necessitating more moves to accommodate Bergeron and Krjeci. Sweeney has some breathing room there, though, because hefty salaries for Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy won’t be on the books until they return on or about Dec. 1.
If Sweeney is forced into a Bjorkstrand-like gift situation, the likeliest to go could be winger Craig Smith ($3.1M/one year), whose production was spotty and frustrating last season. Perhaps a new coach will wring more out of him, if he doesn’t end up the collateral damage for the younger, bigger, and perhaps more versatile Zacha.
It increasingly looks and sounds as if the Blackhawks will move longtime franchise pieces Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, each about to enter the final year of their megadeals that carry $10.5M cap hits. Of the two, the 33-year-old Kane remains the most vital and productive (92 points last season), and maybe a team like Detroit (young stars evolving) or Anaheim (winters a touch warmer than both Detroit and Chicago) would entertain the idea of offering a two- or three-year extension at a decent dollar. The road back to respectability just looks too long for the ‘Hawks. “Not appealing,” Toews told The Athletic, noting the departures of Alex DeBrincat (flipped to Ottawa), Kirby Dach (to Montreal), and Brandon Hagel (Tampa Bay). All that turnover, said Toews, is “really draining and exhausting.” . . . .A bunch of Tuukka Rask’s former teammates, including Bergeron, Krejci, Torey Krug, and others, recently ventured to Northern Italy to attend his wedding to longtime partner Jasmiina . . . There has been a growing narrative around the club this offseason that Krejci intends to settle his family in South Carolina, originally his wife’s home, and he would like some flexibility to zip down there during the 82-game season, if he opts to return to the Bruins . . . The Kings will send Dustin Brown’s No. 23 to the rafters Feb. 11 and unveil his statue outside their Crypto.com arena. A solid Kings performer and a former captain (before surrendering the C to Anze Kopitar), but a statue, really? Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille are the only other individual bronzed Kings. When does Marcel Dionne get his moment in the sun. Meanwhile, Bobby Orr’s statue is the lone Bruins monument on Causeway Street. Just seems wrong not to be surrounded by the likes of Phil Esposito, Gerry Cheevers, and Ray Bourque . . . Prior to the Mike Grier-David Quinn takeover in San Jose, the Sharks in June hired another ex-Terrier, John McCarthy (BU ‘09) to be the head coach of their local AHL Barracuda franchise. McCarthy, 35, played all his 88 NHL games with the Sharks and retired due to a stroke during his final pro season (2019-20) with the Barracuda . . . Grier played his prep hockey at St. Sebastian’s and was drafted by St. Louis (No. 219 in ‘93) at the urging of Matt Keator, then a scout for the Blues. Now a successful agent, best known here for his work with Zdeno Chara, Keator this past week finalized a one-year deal for ex-Bruin Ryan Donato’s return to Seattle. Meanwhile, Ryan’s brother, Nolan, recently graduated from Providence College, hits the stage this weekend in “Hair: The Musical!” at the Company Theater in Norwell. A forward, Donato played his prep hockey at Dexter Southfield and suited up briefly his freshman year for the Friars, but ultimately swapped ice for the footlights. The show runs through Aug. 21.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.