Bruins have sharp new scout in P.J. Axelsson
His hip was sore, a knee a little shaky. Overall, P.J. Axelsson just knew what his body was telling him.
"I was just getting old,'' said the former Bruins winger, mulling the factors that convinced him to retire this spring after playing the last four seasons in Sweden. "I'm glad I played that last season, it was important to me — but it was time.''
And now it's on to something different for the 38-year-old Axelsson, who was named last week as one of Boston's European scouts. Never a prolific forward, Axelsson was long one of the Bruins' most diligent and efficient defensive forwards, and now he'll be charged with ferreting out talent with the tenacity that he once dug for pucks and looked to eliminate opponents' scoring chances.
"Hopefully, I can find some talent, but I know it's a tough job,'' said Axelsson, who spoke over the telephone while taking a break from scouting a tournament in northern Sweden late last week. "You know, you watch a lot of games, and you see so many different players, hear so many opinions. It can be kind of overwhelming. To be honest, my head's spinning — I hope it gets easier.''
It will, no doubt, because of the work ethic Axelsson displayed for his 11 seasons in Black and Gold. There is no official scouting guidebook to follow, but much of the job comes down to hard work, watching game after game and gaining a sense of whether a teenager ultimately can play in a man's game.
Svenake Svensson, about to enter his 23d season scouting for the Bruins, helped convince Boston management in 1995 to take a shot on Axelsson, whom they selected 177th in that year's draft. Svensson was at Axelsson's side last week watching the tournament in Sweden.
"I've got a great teacher here,'' said Axelsson, noting Svensson's willingness to help. "Like I say, there's so much you think you have to do and watch, but the first thing he says is, 'Just relax and watch the game . . . you'll see who sticks out.' So, I'll just sit and watch and it will come to me, I guess. That's what I am hoping, at least.''
Many NHL scouts watch games with laptop computers propped in their laps or parked on counters in the press box. For now, said Axelsson, he's taking notes longhand, then dashing back to his hotel room or home to input the information.
"That's another thing I have to learn . . . I'm not very good with a computer,'' said Axelsson, with his infectious lighthearted laugh. "Frustrating? Oh, yes . . . yes it is.''
The Bruins also last week named Keith Gretzky as their new director of amateur scouting, replacing the recently fired Wayne Smith. Gretzky, 46, spent the last two seasons on Boston's scouting staff, based in Ontario and mainly assessing amateur talent throughout Canada. Now he'll oversee an 11-man staff, including Axelsson.
Prior to joining the Bruins, Gretzky had a long run on the Phoenix Coyotes' scouting staff, where, he said, Dave Draper was instrumental in showing him the ropes.
"You know what, it's having the feel that you know what you're looking for,'' said Gretzky, asked the secret to the non-science that is scouting. "Each team has different needs and wants. In Phoenix, we needed speed and skill — because we didn't have any.''
And in Boston?
"Well, we have categories, what we're looking for,'' said Gretzky, speaking from his home in Brantford, Ontario. "But of course with us you have to work hard. You can be the most skilled guy out there, but if you don't come to work, it's not going to fly with our club.''
Bruins forwards Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand will spend the next few days outside Calgary, among the 40-plus candidates hoping to pick off one of the 25 roster spots to represent Team Canada at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Claude Julien (assistant coach) and Peter Chiarelli (assistant general manager) are also at Camp Maple Leaf.
According to GM Steve Yzerman, some 10-12 of the invitees are "locks,'' and that undoubtedly includes Bergeron, a late add-on for Vancouver 2010 who went on to be a vital contributor with the gold-medal squad. Lucic and Marchand are each in the "reach'' category, considering the overall depth and profile among the forwards — names such as Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal, Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews, and Claude Giroux. Overall, there are some 30 players vying for about a dozen jobs.
Giroux, originally among the 25 forwards invited, did not attend camp. Injured while playing golf recently in Ottawa, he underwent hand surgery last week to repair an index finger. He might need until the first or second week of the regular season to make it back to the Flyers' roster.
Meanwhile, Team USA is staging its two-day (Monday and Tuesday) Olympic camp outside Washington, at the Capitals' training facility. Like the Canadians, boot camp will not include on-ice workouts, both Hockey Canada and USA Hockey unwilling to pay the injury insurance (premium reported to be about $1 million for each team). So, it's a chance to schmooze, team build, and undoubtedly play a few rounds of golf.
Same team butdifferent views
The low-keyed, high-performance Pavel Datsyuk was in Russia last week to pick up his Kharlamov Trophy, which recognizes the country's top NHLer each year. Asked about the brewing controversy over Russia's anti-gay laws, the Red Wings star offered only a terse, "I'm Orthodox, and that says it all,'' according to the website sports.ru. A few days prior, Winged Wheel teammate Henrik Zetterberg, a Swede, offered, "It's unbelievable that it can be this way in this time, especially in a big country like Russia.'' Zetterberg, of course, wasn't in Russia when he said it. And Datsyuk also could end up captain of the Russian Olympic team, with the Games to be held in Sochi. The Russian Orthodox church has long been against same-sex unions, allowing the 35-year-old Datsyuk a bit of an escape hatch. Sports and politics are often a quirky fit. Mix in religion and it gets all the quirkier.
In critical need of a No. 2 center with Mike Ribeiro now in Phoenix, the Capitals on Friday signed Toronto castaway Mikhail Grabovski to fill the prime scoring spot behind Nicklas Backstrom. Grabovski received a lucrative buyout ($14.3 million over eight years) from the Leafs in June, then shopped the market for about seven weeks before taking GM George McPhee's offer. As McPhee noted, players this summer have not found much "liquidity" in the market, in part due to a lowered salary cap. Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault are expected to handle the 3-4 center spots, with perhaps Jay Beagle in the mix, too, if coach Adam Oates shifts Johansson to wing. Grabovski is skilled and can wheel, but his production was minimal (9-7—16) in the abbreviated 2012-13 season. McPhee no doubt is hoping that "Grabo" will be a better fit with Oates than he was under Randy Carlyle's thumb in Toronto. The German-born ex-Hab can easily produce in the 50-55-point range, and could boost that if he finds the right fit.
The Ducks could find out as early as Monday if Finnish Flash Teemu Selanne wants back for a 21st season. If so, he told the Orange County Register last week, "I want to make sure I'm treated the way I deserve.'' In other words, he wants to be considered a top-six forward and not some 8-, 10-, or 12-minute filler on the bottom six. Few guys have the right, or profile, to be that picky, but Selanne has earned it. Ranked 15th on the all-time points list (675-755—1,430), he's a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. Prior to his production dipping last season, he averaged 73 points over the two previous seasons. The bet here is that he returns, plays on the top two lines, and notches at least 60 points.
Roberto Luongo, lo and behold still under employment of the Canucks, spoke to TSN's James Duthie for a lengthy piece aired Friday night, and generally seemed OK about returning as the club's No. 1 goaltender — following the shocking deal that shipped ex-Boston College star Cory Schneider to the Devils in June. Luongo even kidded over his own analogy that he was seemingly headed for a divorce with the Canucks most of a last season. "Only problem is,'' Luongo told Duthie, "she wanted me back.''
Towering defenseman Hal Gill, who debuted in Bruins training camp in September 1997, had the final year of his deal bought out by Nashville in June, and still hopes to play. According to agent Peter Fish, the 38-year-old Gill will be in someone's NHL camp next month — be it under contract or by invitation only. The Bruins aren't likely in need of help back there, but it would not be a total surprise for GM Peter Chiarelli to offer Gill the opportunity to tune up in Wilmington while other NHL clubs scrutinize rosters. Overall, an outstanding career for Gill, who was the 207th pick out of the 1993 draft, and went on to play 1,212 games (playoffs included), with his name on the Stanley Cup with the 2008-09 Penguins.
Douglas Murray, swapped from San Jose to Pittsburgh at the trading deadline, finally found work late last week, inking a one-year, $1.5 million pact with the Canadiens. The Habs need his size (6 feet 3 inches, 240 pounds) on the back line, especially while Alexei Emelin remains out, likely until Christmas, following extensive knee surgery. Murray, 33, is slow but a presence, key for a Habs club that still is recovering from an overall lack of size and truculence. Murray is a 2003 Cornell grad, with a degree in hotel administration. He is also co-creator of UberTap, a sort of supercharged device that makes pouring beer far easier and faster (a hockey essential). Where was this guy when Boom Boom Geoffrion was doing those Miller Lite commercials?
With Rob Blake back in Los Angeles to take over the front-office duties of Ron Hextall (now the Flyers' assistant GM), the NHL's Player Safety department needed to fill out Brendan Shanahan's coterie. Ex-Ranger (and short-time Bruin) Brian Leetch last week was named Blake's replacement, while Patrick Burke, who just finished law school here in the Hub, was appointed to the new position of Director of Player Safety. Burke has been a Flyers scout the last seven years, and also co-founded the You Can Play Project, the group that has promoted the interests and protection of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual athletes around the world. Burke's father, Brian, long ago was the league's chief disciplinarian, prior to leaving for a series of GM jobs in Vancouver, Anaheim, and most recently Toronto. Now a part-time scout with the Ducks, he also last week was named to the board of directors of Rugby Canada. While earning his law degree at Harvard, Brian Burke was a regular on the "B School's'' rugby team, noting over the years that he would devour the Globe's Sunday sports section while recovering in a tub of ice after Saturday matches.
The irrepressible Derek Sanderson will be among the honorees at the Garden Sept. 17 when the Sports Museum stages its 12th annual Tradition. Tickets, for $200 and $300, can be bought via www.sportsmuseum.org or by telephone at 617-624-1237. The other honorees are Carlton Fisk, Doug Flutie, Aly Raisman, the Celtics' ownership group, Vince Wilfork, and Jack Nicklaus, the latter of whom has been a longtime pal of Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs . . . Goalie Malcolm Subban, perhaps the most coveted Bruins prospect, will be in Toronto Tuesday for the NHL Players Association's Rookie Showcase — a chance for the league's official trading card companies to photograph the top up-and-comers in their respective uniforms. A total of 27 players will attend. Subban, 19, was Boston's top pick (24th overall) in the 2012 draft. Less than a week later, he'll be in Wilmington for the start of Boston's rookie camp . . . Unless there is a surprise involving Tim Thomas — as has been the case at times — the ex-Bruins goalie will not be in an NHL camp next month. His agent, Bill Zito, left the player-rep business a couple of weeks ago to become assistant GM in Columbus, where his good pal, ex-Bruin Jarmo Kekalainen, is the new GM. If he is just looking for a workout, Thomas likely could join the Blue Jackets camp in hopes of getting his name out there in ways other than, say, Facebook . . . According to new Canucks coach John Tortorella in an interview with the Vancouver Sun, he has spoken a number of times with Luongo this summer, with the goalie repeatedly telling him, "I just want to play.'' . . . Someone, perhaps the Blue Jackets, will pick up Finnish forward Toni Rajala, the ex-Edmonton prospect whom the Oilers finally waived on Friday. He is small (5-10, 165), but he produced at nearly a point-per-game pace (46 games, 17-28—45) last season in Oklahoma City . . . Ex-Bruin Jaromir Jagr, who figures his skate-around with the Devils this season will be his final NHL twirl, enters the season ranked No. 8 in league scoring with 1,688 points. He needs but 36 points to move ahead of old Penguins teammate Mario Lemieux for No. 7 . . . P.J. Axelsson will not attend Boston's training camp, but has plans for the entire family, including wife and two young daughters, to be here in November. "We love Thanksgiving,'' he said. "We really miss it. So we'll be there then. Tell Neil we're hoping for an invitation.'' That's Neil Abbott, Axelsson's longtime agent, who now knows his Thanksgiving grocery bill will be a bit larger.