New Bruins center Morgan Geekie, 25, arrived in town over Labor Day weekend, accompanied by his mother (Tobi) on the 2,000-mile drive from Strathclair, Manitoba, the farming village (population: approximately 150) where he met his wife, the former Emma Coulter.
The Coulter and Geekie families were friends back home for years, which led, in part, to Morgan and Emma eventually making passes. Lest anyone begin to wonder whether they’ve stumbled across the Love Letters edition of Sunday Hockey Notes, the couple literally traded passes, often with Morgan at center and Emma one of his wingers on various Strathclair hockey teams when they were ages 10-14.
“Yep, that’s how it started, me and her,” recalled Geekie, who eventually became the 67th pick (Carolina) in the 2017 NHL draft. “She was always a little more physical than I was, you know, a little more rowdy. So I definitely liked playing on the same line with her and not against her.”
The keen sleuths of the nhl.com data/analytics department do not keep track of such things, but it’s quite possible Geekie is the first NHLer to marry an ex-linemate. We are reminded again: The hockey-is-for-everyone universe has expanded in magnificent, unexpected, and splendid ways.
Emma, who continued to play in college, will arrive in town soon with the couple’s first child, Gabby, who was born in April. The plan is for all of them to be here for at least the next two years, perhaps longer, if Geekie fits in as projected with a Bruins team in dire need of bolstering the center position in the wake of the Patrice Bergeron/David Krejci retirements.
Geekie, signed to a two-year UFA deal July 1, is a speedy and rangy center (6 feet 3 inches, 205 pounds) with room for his game to grow. For the most part, he has been a third- and fourth-line contributor in his three-plus NHL seasons, the last two of which were with Seattle.
Ostensibly pressed for roster and cap space, the Kraken didn’t extend Geekie a qualifying offer after last season, which led to the two-year Bruins deal that carries a $2 million annual cap hit. Upward of a dozen NHL clubs contacted his camp as he hit the open market, but he chose Boston because, he noted, the quality of the coaching staff and players, along with the franchise’s Original Six roots.
“My first time as a free agent,” offered Geekie, who learned via social media as summer approached that the Kraken chose not to qualify him. “Seattle had a great season. The playoffs were fun and we did some things that not a lot of people expected us to do.
“I’d never not been qualified before, so I was kind of in limbo. Then July 1 came and it was all just a whirlwind couple of days.”
Geekie and Brandon Carlo, with seven seasons logged on the Bruins backline, were junior teammates at WHL Tri-City. When varsity camp opens here Sept. 20, another familiar face in the dressing room will be Patrick Brown, the ex-Boston College Eagle who also signed with the Bruins as a free agent over the summer.
Brown and Geekie played on the AHL Charlotte team that won the Calder Cup in 2019. Brown was captain. Geekie rolled up a line of 8-10—18 in 19 games that spring, tied for second in Checkers postseason scoring.
“I’m excited,” said Geekie, who participated in his first captains’ practice Tuesday in Brighton. “I’ve loved playing in Boston — not that I’ve played there a lot, obviously.
“My first year [with Carolina] was the COVID year, and then I was playing on the other coast. But I’ve heard nothing but great things about the group of guys and the organization. So I am super excited.”
Headed into camp, coach Jim Montgomery’s depth chart has Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle penciled in for the No. 1 and 2 center spots, respectively. Trent Frederic, Jesper Boqvist, Brown, and Geekie would be the logical candidates to sort out the 3-4 holes, unless general manager Don Sweeney were to pull off a major trade for a high-profile center such as, say, Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg) or Elias Lindholm (Calgary).
Geekie, who saw some limited time on the penalty kill his second year in Seattle, has the middle-six tools to potentially push Coyle for the No. 2 spot.
“I pride myself on being able to play whatever role is asked of me,” Geekie said. “I think I’ve got enough game sense and hockey IQ that I can make a difference up in the lineup.
“When I was in Seattle and Carolina, I was in a fourth line and I think I bring a little bit of a different flavor to that role. I’m not a big, physical guy, and I’m not going to put you through the wall. But I think I can be a solid player and play well at both ends of the rink.
“I didn’t drill myself to be one thing, trying to get to the NHL. I just try to do as much as I can and try to fit in wherever the team needs me. To me, that’s the most important thing.”
Back home at the end of a workday, he has a wife who knows the game and what it takes to compete. Emma, who was a nurse during the couple’s time in Seattle, has a knack for valid critique and analysis of her husband’s game. The best linemates don’t hold back.
“She’s definitely a harsh critic, but she’s awesome,” said Geekie. “She understands the game, knows what’s going on, obviously. But she doesn’t try to say too much.
“She knows when I’ve had a good game and a bad game, and she’s really good at kind of feeling that out and saying what needs to be said, but she’s good at leaving it at the rink, too. Everyone’s got lives away from the rink, and we try to put a big emphasis on that — just try to leave games and hockey at the rink, so we can enjoy time as a family.”
ONE BIG WRONG TURN
Galchenyuk steered himself out of NHL
Had he not careened his vehicle into a parking lot sign, and had he not threatened the police who arrested him for mowing down said sign and then bolting the scene, Alex Galchenyuk would be on the verge of reporting to training camp for a third tour of duty with the Coyotes.
Instead, Galchenyuk, 29, is playing for St. Petersburg SKA, his first time in the KHL after 654 NHL games. He signed a two-year deal with SKA late last month, some eight weeks after the incident in Scottsdale that led the Coyotes to tear up the two-way deal he signed with them July 1.
Entering the weekend, Galchenyuk, chosen No. 3 by Montreal in the 2012 draft, was sporting a line of 0-1—1 in two KHL games. Fellow North American Brendan Leipsic (LW), chosen 89th by Nashville in the same ‘12 draft, also is playing for SKA, his fourth season in the KHL.
Galchenyuk, though born in Wisconsin, spent a fair portion of his childhood in Russia, where his Belarus-born father once was a solid contributor for Moscow Dynamo. Russia was very much on the younger Galchenyuk’s mind the night he verbally tore into the cops who arrested him in Scottsdale.
Citing Russian connections, he bellowed, “One phone call and you’re all dead, your whole family, your bloodline is dead,” according to the police report as published by ESPN’s Emily Kaplan.
In short order, the Coyotes withdrew the contract (one year at $775,000, only one-third guaranteed) and a contrite-sounding Galchenyuk then announced his intention to enter the Players’ Assistance Program that is jointly operated by the NHL and the Players Association.
He also sent a letter to the Scottsdale police he offended, noting that it was alcohol that led to his abusive behavior.
“I hope to one day be able to show you that I am a better person that you sadly encountered,” said the letter, per ESPN. “What all of you do, putting your lives on the line to protect and serve others, is nothing short of selfless and heroic. I appreciate and respect each of you and I want you to know I will work on myself every day with the goal of one day being able to make amends and try to earn your forgiveness.”
Galchenyuk, with 146 goals and 354 points, ranks No. 5 for NHL points among his 2012 draft class. He won’t be adding to that total for at least the next two years.
Kings and Coyotes ticketed for Australia
The Kings and Coyotes will head down under for the start of their varsity camps, the sides squaring off in Sept. 23-24 exhibition games at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. It will be the first time the NHL has showcased its brand in the Southern Hemisphere and could be a precursor to more visits, perhaps including regular-season games.
The league’s most ambitious foray yet in the regular season will come Nov. 16-19 when the Wild, Maple Leafs, Senators, and Red Wings each play a pair of games in Stockholm’s Avicii Arena (the second largest spherical-shaped building in the world).
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly labeled the trip to Australia “a test drive” in comments to nhl.com. There are a number of logistical challenges, including the sheer distance teams must travel from North America, and the time it will take players to shake jet lag upon return.
BODY OF WORK
Kane healing quite nicely
Unrestricted free agent Patrick Kane, still looking for a change in latitude for his next NHL stop, took to social media for his farewell to Jimmy Buffett, the beloved singer who turned beach bum spirit into an empire with billions. “RIP to a legend,” wrote Kane, following Buffett’s death over Labor Day weekend at age 76. “Some of the best nights ever backstage and onstage with you and the Stanley Cup! Always thought there would be another one. Cheers Jimmy.”
Meanwhile, the prolific Kane (1,237 career points) recently told the Associated Press that he is progressing well after June 1 hip surgery. He has skated upward of two dozen times and has been encouraged by what his body has been telling him.
“It’s just exciting to see progression and just feeling better on the ice,” he told the AP. “Kind of getting back to my old self, so it’s pretty exciting.”
The 34-year-old finally departed the Blackhawks late last season, swapped to the Rangers around the deadline for what proved to be a very short playoff run with New York.
One of the game’s premier scorers off right wing, he is still young enough reasonably to seek a three- or four-year contract. If he’s ready to go by, say, midseason, he may have to accept a short-term deal — presumably with a Cup favorite — and then look to lock down something with term next July.
Post-surgery, original projections had Kane figured for a Dec. 1 return. He’s awaiting word from the doctors that he can engage in contact drills.
Maxwell succumbs to aggressive cancer
Ex-North Stars defenseman Brad Maxwell succumbed to an aggressive form of lung cancer over the Labor Day weekend. He was 66.
Maxwell was a regular on the backline when Minnesota upset the Bruins with a three-game sweep in the best-of-five-game preliminary round of the 1981 Stanley Cup playoffs. He grew up in Brandon, Manitoba, where a then-young Bruins defenseman in that series, Brad McCrimmon, starred in his junior days with the Wheat Kings.
The ever-game Maxwell (career PIMs: 1,292) lived in Minnesota for most of his post-career and underwent expensive treatment in what proved a failed attempt to beat the cancer. A GoFundMe page, established to help his family defray the costs, had raised upward of $30,000 as the weekend approached.
Would Stamkos ever bolt Tampa?
Way, way too early to think the Lightning won’t pony up the dough, but it’s worth noting that Steven Stamkos, 1,003 games and two Cup titles into his Tampa Bay career, is about to enter the final season of his eight-year, $68 million deal. If he decides to test the market, he’ll be 34 when hitting UFA on July 1, 2024.
The Bolts way is always to be tucked up against the cap, and that’s where they are now, albeit with the need again to, ahem, get creative by assigning a body or two to long-term injured reserve.
The Bruins would be among at least a dozen interested bidders if Stamkos opts out of the Bay. Like Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, he’s a right-shot center, one who popped for a career-high 106 points only two seasons ago. Lots of clicks on the odometer, but still a worthy, elite contributor for another 3-4 years.
It’s a whole different ballgame
Morgan Geekie has two brothers. Conor, 19, the 11th pick in the 2022 draft, is due to report to Arizona’s rookie camp by midweek. Noah, 23, played hockey throughout his youth but ultimately was wooed away to the ballfield. A lefthanded pitcher/outfielder for Emporia State College in Kansas, he is about to wrap up his degree in education. “Hey, if I was any good at baseball,” kidded Morgan, “I would have chosen baseball, too. He was the best ballplayer of the three of us.”
The KHL opened its season Sept. 1, and there are some other North Americans suiting up for teams operating across the Putinville empire. To wit: Defenseman Darren Dietz, another former Montreal draft pick (No. 138, 2011), is back for a third season with CSKA Red Army. Dietz, 30, grew up in Medicine Hat, Alberta . . . Fenway Sports Group, owner of the Penguins, on Oct. 2 will take control of SportsNet Pittsburgh (previously known as AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh). But the change in the coverage of Penguins games already is under way, with last week’s dismissal of analyst Bob Errey (22 years on radio and TV there) and play-by-play man Steve Mears . . . Ex-Bruins forward Danton Heinen, 28, on Tuesday finally landed a PTO with the Black and Gold and will join Alex Chiasson on the tryout squad. Heinen played under Jim Montgomery for two seasons at the University of Denver prior to turning pro in Boston in the spring of 2016 and reporting directly to Providence. Heinen led the Pioneers in scoring in each of those two seasons . . . Another ex-Bruins forward, Anders Bjork, remains without a deal. Not long ago, he and Heinen both were being touted as potential long-term fixtures in the Black and Gold offense . . . Longtime NHL executive Brian O’Neill, who died July 21 at age 94, was remembered over Labor Day weekend with a funeral Mass at Saint Patrick’s Basilica in downtown Montreal. St. Pat’s, on Rene Levesque Boulevard, is closer to the Bell Centre than the old Forum, where the ever-dignified, dry-witted O’Neill spent many of his nights during his distinguished NHL tenure.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.