Now a month into his new life on the Bruins’ backline, ex-Capital Dmitry Orlov, though his stay on Causeway Street may turn out to be regrettably brief, has established himself as perhaps the best of all deadline acquisitions during Don Sweeney’s tenure as general manager.
Considering Sweeney also swiped Hampus Lindholm from the Ducks at the 2022 deadline, that’s rarified air. But every deal in its time and place.
Lindholm, the club’s top-scoring defenseman (10-38–48 heading into Saturday’s matinee against the Lightning), last year didn’t produce the abundant offensive pop and buckets of confidence that Orlov has provided. Lindholm also suffered that punishing hit from Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov that rendered him 0-0–0 for four playoff games — the final two of which (Games 6 and 7) the “Hammer” was still trying to reset his addled GPS playing coordinates.
Orlov has proven a critical bonding agent for an already robust and effective backline, both with his offense and his penchant for knowing just when to steer his Ray Bourque-like low-gravity frame into oncoming forwards. He has that particular knack for “stepping up” when attacking puck carriers take that fraction of a second to look for a play, and then . . . hip, shoulder, flying machines, and pieces on the ground.
In the spring of 2011, then-GM Peter Chiarelli orchestrated three key deadline moves that netted defenseman Tomas Kaberle and forwards Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. Kaberle arrived with the highest profile of the three and was pegged as the guy to resuscitate a stale power play and be the piece to put the team over the top.
Kaberle was OK, far less at times, and was barely a net positive in the overall scheme of things. Collectively, though, the deadline three combined for 36 vital points over the four playoff rounds. Without them, particularly without Kelly’s attention to details, sandpaper and stubbornness, they’re likely still chasing down dark corners in pursuit of their first Stanley Cup title since 1972.
It’s still relatively early days in a season that won’t conclude until mid-June for the two teams left standing. But Orlov, 31, could prove not only to be Sweeney’s prized catch, but the best in show among all the bodies that were moved before the March 3 deadline.
A fewer of the other names that have proven top-shelf additions, not all necessarily with Cup contenders:
▪ Joonas Korpisalo, goalie: Dealt from Columbus to Los Angeles, along with defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov in a package that sent Kings mainstay Jonathan Quick and a first-rounder to the Blue Jackets.
It’s always about goaltending, folks, although the headliner here for the Kings off the top was Gavrikov. He has been a solid addition, but Korpisalo (3-0-1, 1.96, .921 heading into the weekend) has been playoff-No. 1-worthy, partnering perfectly with Pheonix Copley in the wake of the failed plan to make Cal Petersen their netminding cornerstone.
Meanwhile, a rejuvenated Quick was flipped to Vegas, where he won five of his first six starts for Bruce Cassidy’s resurgent Golden Knights.
▪ Mattias Ekholm, defenseman: Arrived in Edmonton from Nashville, netting the Predators crafty-shooting defenseman Tyson Barrie and a first-round pick.
Ekholm, a 6-foot-4-inch, 215-pound left stick, largely has been the body back to replace the valued Adam Larsson (acquired long ago via New Jersey for Taylor Hall), who was lost to the Kraken in the expansion draft. Ekholm is a big, smooth, smart presence, and has three more years on a deal that carries a market-appropriate $6.25 million cap hit.
The Oilers, who made it to the Western Conference finals last year, have toyed with playoff DNQ status all season. Entering Saturday night’s visit by the Golden Knights, the Oilers were 9-2-0 with Ekholm aboard, and he delivered 3-6–9 in those games. For Ekholm, it’s a different world from Smashville, working behind all-world talents Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
▪ Ivan Barbashev, left wing/center: Landed in Vegas after six-plus seasons with the Blues, acquired for 2021 first-round pick Zach Dylan, now wrapping up his fourth season at QMJHL Gatineau.
Bruins fans will remember the pesky Barbashev making a persistent nuisance of himself in the 2019 Cup Final. Can smack along the wall and honey-badger his way into the tough inside scoring areas, getting to those places that Cassidy, now his coach, too often could not coax his Bruins forwards to venture. Posted a solid 4-4–9 line in his first 13 games with the Knights, who entered weekend play 10-2-0 for March.
▪ Timo Meier, right wing: Shipped from San Jose to New Jersey in a multi-body swap that also sent two first-round picks (2023 and ‘24) to the Sharks.
Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald’s deft work has revived the moribund franchise and emboldened him to make an aggressive reach for the skilled, Swiss-born Meier, who can bolt as an unrestricted free agent July 1. Yielding the two firsts would seem to indicate that Fitzgerald is confident that he can persuade Meier that Newark is the Zug of the Garden State.
As of Saturday morning, the Devils were 6-3-3 for the month and ranked No. 3 in the overall standings with 98 points (approaching their first 100-point season since 2011-12). Meir, a left shot on right wing, produced 4-2–6 in his first 11 games.
▪ Patrick Kane, right wing: Added by the Rangers, for the budget cost of a Round 3 draft pick, in a three-way deal with the Blackhawks and Coyotes.
The kind of talent that could dominate the postseason, he’s only an honorable mention here because his start on Broadway (11 games: 3-4–7) has not been as dominated as expected. Could be his age (34) and excess mileage. Or could be it takes time for everyone in the top six to adjust to his uber talents.
Like Orlov in Boston, Kane’s stay with the Blueshirts could be brief, unless GM Chris Drury is so impressed that he finds a way to rework the cap math. Not easy. But there are few talents like Kane, who should still wring out a three- or four-year extension in the UFA market.
▪ Jakub Vrana, left wing: Acquired by the Blues from the Red Wings for career minor leaguer Dylan McLaughlin.
Wings GM Steve Yzerman was eager to move on from Vrana, an Orlov teammate on the 2018 Cup-winning Capitals. “I would just say that I wish Jakub the best of luck in his hockey career,” Yzerman deadpanned, upon completing a deal in which the Red Wings retained 50 percent of Vrana’s $5.25 million cap hit.
Acquired from the Capitals in the Anthony Mantha swap, the skilled Vrana initially lit it up in Motown (11 games, 11 points) and looked like he would be central to the rebuild. Until he wasn’t. Now with the flat-lined Blues, he’s off to another solid start (nine games, 5-1–6). Could be his last chance to find a foothold.
▪ Rasmus Sandin, defenseman: Swapped from Toronto to Washington for spare backliner Erik Gustafsson and a first-round pick in June’s draft.
Just as Orlov has piled up points here in the Hub of Hockey, Sandin has delivered in his wake in D.C. (10 games, 1-11–12). A left stick, and a former first-rounder (No. 29, 2018), he might have been lost in the star-studded cast in Toronto. We’ll see. He’s never delivered at this rate anywhere in his career. But for now, be it for barely three weeks, he’s finally playing to his first-round pedigree.
Ullmark not eager to snag attention
The view from the press box, albeit six floors above the ice on Causeway Street, has it that Linus Ullmark’s glove work has improved dramatically over his first year in Boston.
His view on the subject: Yeah, maybe.
“I don’t know. It’s hard to describe,” said the runaway Vezina candidate, who was back in net for Saturday’s visit by the Lightning. “Because every shot is different, and the way we play is different. So it might look like there’s been more opportunities where I’ve made glove saves, but also there’s been more opportunities where guys are helping me to see the puck. OK, if I see the puck, it’s going to be easier to react to it. I’m also getting older, and getting better at reading [developing plays and shots], so, who knows, maybe my reads are better and my reads have caught up to my physical capacity.”
Glove saves are often a goalie’s most dramatic stops, especially in today’s standard art form that emphasizes minimal movement and shot-blocking ahead of, say, two pads stacked or cat-like glove stops or sensational diving stops (see: Tim Thomas).
By his own admission, Ullmark prefers to “work in the dark, in the quiet” and employ his abundant skill-set to turn back shots with minimal animation. The goal: avoid anything that might goad the other team’s shooters.
A so-called “windmill” save, where the goaltender embellishes a glove stop with a dramatic sweep of arm and glove (Ole!) is a sure-fire way to raise the temperature in the barn.
“I’ve always had a lot of confidence in my glove, always loved making glove saves,” said Ullmark. “It’s just something about, I don’t know, we don’t score goals as goalies, quote me on that. We don’t get that satisfaction of making a good pass that leads to a one-T-open-net kind of a goal, or a breakaway, a dangle, we don’t get that serotonin excitement from doing those plays. If we did, there’d be a lot of goals going into our own net.”
Although, noted Ullmark, he was prone to making those circus-like windmill stops more regularly in the days he wore a younger man’s pads. Even then, he tried his best to save “the entertainment” for practice, when he wore the same uniform as the shooters.
“It’s not about you,” he said. “But if the opportunity presents itself in a game for you to windmill it, yeah, do it. You don’t have to feel you can’t, if it’s there. But you don’t want to exaggerate stuff. I used to do it when I was younger and it would [tick] the living crap out of my teammates. I’d exaggerate in practice, you know, bait them into shooting glove side and do stupid windmills. For me, all fun and games, but for them it was lack of respect. You don’t have to do that in practice, you can work on other things.”
Marchand: Fighting still has its place
Just a few hours after making a cogent case for keeping fighting in the game, Bruins star left winger Brad Marchand got into a feisty scrap with Rem Pitlick, Marchand taking exception to a late hit the Canadiens center put on Patrice Bergeron early in the Bruins’ 4-2 victory Thursday at TD Garden.
Earlier in the day, Marchand defended the fast-dying sweet science, comments he made in light of Quebec’s top junior league making clear its intention to ban fighting for the start of next season. As the weekend approached, it sounded like Ontario’s top junior circuit could follow suit.
But for now, Marchand’s not budging. He said he knows there are still plenty of fans who like to see the fists fly. He also believes clubs with that certain toughness factor are tough to beat, especially come playoff time — even in a league that increasingly emphasizes speed and skill.
“So I don’t think it should ever leave,” said Marchand, 34, who grew up in Nova Scotia but played for three teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. “Again, I think it does hold guys accountable still, to a point where cheap shots are allowed or big enough hits and you can go after guys, and I think it does keep guys in check a little bit more.
“If you lose that ability, then it does open the doors to a whole other . . . you’re completely relying on player safety [in the NHL office] for each and every play, and then that’s going to get out of control.”
Some of what’s happening in the “Q,” mused Marchand, might simply be traceable to the province’s separatist yearnings.
“You know, they’re just a little bit different, those guys up there [in Quebec],” he said. “They’re on their own page. They want their own country. And maybe that’s all — they’re just trying to advocate for what they can.”
Polin could be worth a look
Often enticed in recent years to dip into the college free agent market, the Bruins could kick tires on Jason Polin, the high-scoring right winger whose college career ended Thursday afternoon when Boston University rubbed out Western Michigan, 5-1, in the NCAA Round of 16.
Polin finished the season with 30 goals, a career high and tops in the nation, a bounty that included five hat tricks. Rumors last week had ex-Bruin Bill Guerin, the Wild GM, with solid interest. Guerin last summer nabbed free agent Sammy Walker after the pivot’s four-year tour at the University of Minnesota.
Walker, a Tampa Bay draft pick (No. 200, 2017), opted for the four-year free agent path, chose the Wild, and knocked home a team-high 25 goals with AHL Iowa before his promotion to the varsity.
Polin, 23, was left undrafted out of USHL Cedar Rapids and this season nearly doubled his production from last year. He’s a shooter first, and also was a captain, a trait the Bruins covet in prospects (see: Karson Kuhlman).
Polin also played his first three years at Western Michigan with Brandon Bussi, then the country’s top netminding prospect, who took Sweeney’s free agent offer last spring and has had a great rookie pro season (18-4-4) with AHL Providence. Polin and Bruins prospect Marc McLaughlin, the ex-Boston College Eagle, played together for two seasons in Cedar Rapids before moving on to the NCAA.
Among the Bruins’ best college free agent catches: Torey Krug, who hitched on in Boston in the spring of 2012 after three years at Michigan State.
The top three seeds in the Pacific Division — Vegas, Los Angeles, and Edmonton — each had won eight of their last 10 games entering weekend play. Quite possible that two won’t even survive Round 1 of the postseason . . . Ex-Bruins goalie prospect Michael Hutchinson, shipped to the Blue Jackets from Los Angeles in the Jonathan Quick exchange, plugged right in as a central figure in the Columbus plummet that could reset the franchise’s fortunes via the Connor Bedard pick in the June draft. As of Saturday morning, the Jackets were tied for last in the Original 32, and Hutchinson had done his part with marks of 1-2-1, 4.13, and .879. Ouch. Hutchinson, 33, joined the Bruins as the No. 77 pick in the 2008 draft. He spent three seasons with the WannaBs before the Jets picked him up as a free agent following the 2012-13 AHL season. The NHL lottery drawing, possibly with Columbus entering with the most ping-pong balls, will be May 8. Round 1 of the draft, to be held in Nashville, will be June 28.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.