scorecardresearch Skip to main content
Sunday hockey notes

The Golden Knights entered the Stanley Cup Final with just one player they drafted, so there are different ways to build a winner

The Vegas Golden Knights have participated in six drafts, selected 46 players, only a dozen of whom have played in the NHL.Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Had the Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, which Saturday night would have had them facing Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 at TD Garden, half of their 20-man game roster would have consisted of players they drafted.

The list would have included first-liners Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Jake DeBrusk, along with fellow forwards David Krejci, David Pastrnak, and Trent Frederic. The backline would have included homegrown Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Matt Grzelcyk.

Jeremy Swayman might have started in net, pending the, uh, coach’s decision.

Anyway, moving on …

In the team-building dynamic, a roster consisting of 50 percent homegrown draftees is quite healthy. In fact, when compared with the Cup finalists, Vegas and Florida, it’s off the charts. Maybe we need to adjust the narrative at least a tiny bit about the foibles, failures, and pratfalls of the Bruins on draft day (next edition: June 28-29 in Nashville)?



The Knights, led into the postseason by ex-Sabres cornerstone Jack Eichel, entered the Cup Final with Nicolas Hague (pick No. 34 in 2017) as their lone draftee slated for the lineup. Again, that’s 20 players, and one homegrown draftee.

The Panthers, with ex-Flames first-rounder Matthew Tkachuk leading the charge, planned to suit up only three of their own draftees: Aleksander Barkov (No. 2, 2013), Aaron Ekblad (No. 1, 2014), and Anton Lundell (No. 12, 2020). It took some very lean years to acquire those high picks, but for a franchise with such a disjointed management/ownership history, the front office made some top-notch picks and had the wisdom to keep them on the payroll.

All in all then, only four of the 40 projected roster players for Game 1 of the Cup Final were selected in the draft by those clubs. The rest were obtained via trades, free agency, and waivers. In the Knights’ case, four were acquired in the 2017 expansion draft — William Carrier, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Brayden McNabb. Six seasons gone by, those four castaways, average age 30, are now are playing in their second Cup Final.


Bruce Cassidy's Golden Knights didn't follow the usual team-building blueprint, but they're in the Stanley Cup Final all the same.John Locher/Associated Press

The Vegas draftee yield is suppressed, in part, by the club’s relatively short time in the league. The Knights have participated in six drafts, selected 46 players, only a dozen of whom have played in the NHL. Nick Suzuki, the No. 13 pick in the 2017 draft, is arguably the most talented of the 46. He was wheeled to the Canadiens for Max Pacioretty in 2018 before ever playing for the Knights and has scored 20-plus goals each of the last two seasons for the bedraggled Habs.

For contrast, the Panthers in the last six drafts selected 43 players and eight of them have suited up for an NHL game. Lundell is included in the eight, as is ex-Boston College goalie Spencer Knight, who stepped back from active duty this season in February upon entering the NHL-NHLPA Player Assistance Program.

In large part because of general manager Don Sweeney’s aggressive deadline moves, the Bruins were left with 33 picks — only three in the first round — across the last half-dozen drafts. Had they made it to the Final, it’s a good bet Swayman would be the lone product of those six draft classes to suit up for Saturday night’s lineup. Although Jim Montgomery also might have drawn winger Jakub Lauko (No. 77, 2018) into his group of 20.


All of this serves as a reminder, once again, that there is no proven formula for engineering a ready-for-prime-time-Cup-play roster. The draft-and-develop method is certainly part of the equation, though it has been shown for decades that the majority of impact players are those culled in the top 15 selections. A sure-shot Hall of Famer such as Bergeron (No. 45, 2003) is the great exception to the rule.

Entering Game 1, the two biggest rainmakers in the series were Tkachuk and Eichel. Both were coveted first-rounders, Tkachuk taken No. 6 by the Flames in 2016, and Eichel No. 2 by the Sabres in 2015 (the Connor McDavid draft).

Both Tkachuk and Eichel made their way to their current port of call via trades they essentially steered, albeit with Tkachuk better positioned to direct his landing spot because he stood but one season from unrestricted free agency and told the Flames he was outta there. Eichel, who never reached the postseason with the Sabres, reached an impasse with them over the care and treatment of his serious neck injury. Sabres GM Kevyn Adams was left to find the best deal he could with a club able to absorb Eichel’s $10-million-a-year deal through 2025-26.

So, the answer to cobbling together a title-worthy roster, obviously, is to go and trade for a stud forward whose previous club had, at best, limited success. Then fill out around him with maybe a draft pick here and there, a waiver guy, a couple of castoffs, and, oh, some guy in net who can stop the puck. Betting too big on that annual crop of 18-year-olds in the amateur draft doesn’t nearly get the job done.



Penguins feel Dubas is the one

It didn't take long for Kyle Dubas to land on his feet.Nathan Denette/Associated Press

No surprise in Pittsburgh, where Fenway Sports Group went all Bloom 2.0 and hired 37-year-old Kyle Dubas as GM and president of hockey operations. Bosses feel certain Dubas is the guy, despite the Maple Leafs winning all of one playoff series during his nine-year stay in the front office, including the last five as GM.

This is the same Dubas who less than two weeks earlier, prior to being dismissed by the Leafs, said he would need some protracted think time “to recalibrate and reflect” over his next move if his days were over in Toronto.

“You won’t see me next week pop up elsewhere,” he said, prior to popping up in Pittsburgh.

Clearly, the Fenway guys once again have shifted the time-and-space paradigm.

Dubas has inherited a roster that has a lot of dough tied up in players ages 30-plus, including superstar Sidney Crosby, now 35 and with two years remaining with a $8.75 million cap hit. Evgeni Malkin (36) has three years at $6.1 million. Kris Letang (36) has five years at $6.1 million. Ex-Duck Rickard Rakell (30) has five years to go at $5 million, and Bryan Rust (31) five at $5.125 million. All have complete no-trade protection for at least two more years, except for Rakell.


Meanwhile, in Toronto, Leafs boss Brendan Shanahan filled the Dubas opening with Brad Treliving. Treliving, 53, spent nine years as the Flames’ GM and was the guy who had the unenviable task of moving Matthew Tkachuk last summer — the deal that brought back Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, a prospect (Cole Schwindt), and first-round pick in 2025.

All in all, it was a strong yield, though Huberdeau’s offensive cliff dive (115 points to 55) no doubt played a part in the Flames ultimately “parting ways” with Treliving this spring.

Treliving is similarly hamstrung with the roster he inherited, though with much younger stock. He has two critical points of business, the first whether to secure a long-term deal with franchise center Auston Matthews, who has a year left on his deal prior to unrestricted free agency and cannot be traded as of July 1. Then there’s whether Treliving wants to retain Sheldon Keefe as coach.

As the weekend approached, the betting around Toronto was that Matthews will get his dough — be it now or well before July 2024 — and that Keefe will stay on the job. Oft-overlooked amid the repeated playoff failures is the fact that Keefe’s Leafs averaged 52 wins the last two years. In his time behind the bench, he has delivered a .678 win percentage, best of all current NHL coaches with a minimum of four seasons on the job.


There’s no quit in ex-Bruin Lucic

Milan Lucic, forever adored by Bruins fans for his toughness and contributions to the 2011 Cup win, will be back on the market July 1 for the first time since 2016.

Looch, to turn 35 Wednesday, wants to keep playing and isn’t expected to draw significant offers.

One potential landing spot could be Buffalo. The Sabres have a lot of young, promising players who might be able to play up a notch with Looch’s toughness in the mix. Some Sabres fans might wince, though, remembering the time at the Garden Lucic freight-trained his way over Ryan Miller, when the Buffalo goalie roamed to the middle of the right defensive circle to field a puck (play on the tracks, expect a train).

Lucic, by the way, just left Tampere, Finland, with a gold medal, pocketed as a member of Team Canada in the IIHF World Championship. Blues GM Doug Armstrong, in charge of Team Canuck, was eager to have him as part of the ensemble. The Blues also could have interest in his services.

Per Canada teammate MacKenzie Weegar, the boy still “has a lot left to give,” as quoted on

Bruins GM Don Sweeney, in need of rearranging the dollar mix of the roster he inherited in 2015, dealt Lucic, acquiring goalie Martin Jones, defenseman Colin Miller, and the Round 1 draft pick used to acquire Jakub Zboril. Days later, Sweeney wheeled Jones for Sean Kuraly and the first-round pick that became Trent Frederic.

Lucic just termed out of the seven-year, $42 million pact given him by then-Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli. It proved to be a vast overpay by the ex-Bruins GM.

Realistically, Clifton may not fit

What will the Bruins do with Connor Clifton?Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Connor Clifton, who survived in Boston through the 2021 expansion draft, the Kraken opting instead for Jeremy Lauzon, could see offers of $2.5 million per year or more when UFA bidding opens July 1.

Before departing town after the April 30 playoff knockout, Clifton said that he wants to return and that Sweeney told him he’d like to keep him on the roster. Realistically, to make Clifton’s dollars fit, that likely would mean moving Derek Forbort and/or Matt Grzelcyk.

“Looking back on my career, it’s been amazing being a Boston Bruin the last five years,” Clifton said. “Just incredible. I really appreciate all the time I’ve been here.”

Despite his gaffes in the Game 6 meltdown vs. Florida, the spunky Clifton developed the last two seasons as their most consistent hitter on the back end. Assuming that Dmitry Orlov can’t be enticed to stick around or can’t be accommodated on the money side, Clifton certainly would rate a higher “keep” over Forbort. Grzelcyk, a year left at $3.7 million, has a more versatile game as a puckhandler than Forbort, who has one year left at $3 million.

“I wish I’d done a lot better job,” said Clifton, reflecting on Game 6, noting he entered that night rested after sitting out the three previous games. “Wish I’d come in with those fresh legs and impacted the game in a good way, get that win, close out that series. But you know, that’s not how sports work all time. So I am pretty disappointed in how that game went for me, personally.

“But I guess you move forward, right?”

A cheaper one-year bridge deal could be Sweeney’s play to keep Clifton, but at age 28, he should be hunting that four-year/$10 million neighborhood that took Kuraly from Boston to Columbus.

Loose pucks

The Bruins surrendered Miller in the 2017 expansion draft to Vegas, where he remained for two seasons before being wheeled to the Sabres. He spent three seasons in Buffalo before signing a two-year deal ($1.85 million cap hit) last July with Dallas. He finished a career-best plus-23 with the Stars, but at age 30 has yet to turn his heavy shot into a consistent scoring threat . . . Phil Kessel (spare part) and Reilly Smith (top-six winger) are the two ex-Bruins on the Vegas roster. Smith was wheeled out of the Hub when Sweeney unloaded Marc Savard’s deal on the Panthers, part of the July 2015 swap that brought Jimmy Hayes to Boston . . . The lone ex-Bruins face in the Florida cast: goalie coach Robb Tallas. Now 50, he signed with the Bruins 30 years ago as a junior free agent (WHL Seattle) and was eventually picked up by Chicago in 2000. He has been the Panthers’ goalie coach since 2009 . . . John Hynes, let go as coach in Nashville (replaced by Andrew Brunette) had a date quickly scheduled with the Rangers to discuss the Gerard Gallant vacancy. Rangers GM Chris Drury and Hynes were teammates for Jack Parker’s Boston University Terriers for two-plus seasons in the late 1990s . . . Country singer Dierks Bentley, lead crooner for the NHL Awards in Nashville on June 26, is a self-described grinding winger in what he calls C-team beer league hockey in Tune Town. The name of his team: IceHoles. Say it fast and you’ll sound like you’re from Massachusetts . . . If both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci opt for retirement, that could open an opportunity for the Bruins to sign UFA Ryan O’Reilly, whom the Leafs scooped from St. Louis at the trade deadline. A member of the 2019 squad that beat the Bruins in the Cup Final (and was the Conn Smythe winner), O’Reilly delivered in his short Toronto stay, with 11 points in 13 regular-season games and then 3-6–9 in 11 playoff games. He is 32, consistent on offense, and solid at the faceoff dot. O’Reilly, by the way, was in Buffalo for Jack Eichel’s first three years with the Sabres prior to being dealt to the Blues. Hard not to wonder what Eichel’s trajectory might have been, and that of the Sabres franchise, if O’Reilly had remained part of the Buffalo plan. The Sabres have yet to make the playoffs since . . . The Hurricanes sound ready to hand Sebastian Aho the keys to the Tobacco Road kingdom. Owner Tom Dundon to Luke DeCock of the Raleigh News & Observer: “I think we’re on the same page. It’s kind of his team now.” The 25-year old Finn will be entering the final year of a deal that carries an $8.46 million cap hit. His bump on an eight-year extension would have to approximate the $11.25 million that David Pastrnak begins to draw down in 2023-24. Unlike Pastrnak, who just post a career-high triple (61-52–113), Aho never has scored more than 37 goals or 83 points . . . Bruce Cassidy’s Golden Knights entered the Final with a record of 12-5 through three rounds. In 2019, his Bruins stood an identical 12-5 prior to taking on the Blues. Leading up to puck drop Saturday night off the Strip, Cassidy noted to reporters that he felt a degree of anxiety about returning to the family home on Cape Cod this summer. “We’ll see,” he said. ”Hopefully, it’s with a big shining silver trophy. That would be ideal.”

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at