Big dollars are drawing hockey stars away from college
The NHL’s biggest influence on college hockey, no surprise, is money. Talented kids arrive in collegetown, be it in their late teens or early 20s, for the most part dreaming of big bucks and not big books.
“And how many true freshmen are there?’’ noted Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “It’s rare now for a kid to arrive at a Division 1 school, 18 years old and undrafted. So that alone is a big part of the equation.’’
Over at the Heights, the big pocketbook of the NHL never before delivered the kind of smack Jerry York’s roster has taken in recent months. At last count — and it should be the last — Boston College has seen no fewer than seven players sign NHL contracts prior to entering their senior season.
Those seven players, including top performers Thatcher Demko (G, Vancouver) and Ian McCoshen (D, Florida), had 11 seasons of eligibility remaining.
The only player to leave after only one season was left winger Miles Wood (10-25—35 last year), who signed in New Jersey with fellow Eagle Steve Santini, a 6-foot-2-inch backliner who played three seasons at the Heights.
The Eagles also lost Zach Sanford (F, Washington), Alex Tuch (F, Minnesota), and Adam Gilmour (F, Minnesota).
“There are many factors why kids decide to leave when they do,’’ Kent Hughes, Patrice Bergeron’s longtime agent and family adviser for BC forward Colin White, who is returning to the Heights despite overtures by the Senators to sign him. “BC has taken a heavy hit. But I don’t know if that’s because NHL teams are applying more pressure or if it’s because BC put together such a good team, and now they end up paying the price for having such high-end talent.’’
Overall, a confluence of factors play into it. As Sweeney noted, kids typically aren’t 17 and 18 anymore when they arrive at the doorstep of their Division 1 school of preference. More typically, they were drafted upon leaving high school, and have played a year or two, perhaps in the USHL, before shipping off to college. They could finish their freshman year at age 20, 21, their bodies able to handle the demands of the pro game.
Meanwhile, NHL clubs in recent years have placed increasing emphasis on extending younger roster players to long-term lucrative deals, rather than risk losing them as free agents (restricted or unrestricted) in their mid- or late 20s.
With big dollars tied up in those players, it makes it all the more enticing, sometimes imperative, to woo kids out of college with three-year entry deals valued at a fraction of what it takes to sign players with 3, 4 or 5 years NHL experience (case in point: Toronto extending Morgan Rielly for six years, $30 million, right out of his entry-level contract at age 22).
And then there is the Vesey factor. Jimmy Vesey played all four years at Harvard and thus earned the right to become a free agent, rather than sign with Nashville, the club that drafted him 66th overall his senior season at Belmont Hill. The Predators lost a prime prospect, one who might be able to plug in as a top-six forward in his rookie season (team to be determined). That hurts.
All 30 teams paid attention when Vesey opted for UFA. It likely played a part in how the Capitals pursued Sanford, who had virtually everyone at BC believing he would be back for his junior year this fall. Instead, the 6-4 left winger went to development camp with the Caps, bought the NHL sales pitch, and informed the Eagles around July 10 (less than 60 days ahead of classes starting) that he would turn pro.
The Eagles will be fine. York and his staff have plugged the roster spots and BC again will be a formidable presence in Hockey East. As for the seven players who departed early, McCoshen, Tuch, and perhaps Demko have the best chances to make a varsity roster, while the other four — Sanford, Wood, Santini, and Gilmour — could need a year or two of AHL seasoning.
“It works great for some kids, those who are physically and psychologically ready for the pro game — the work it takes, playing or practicing every day,’’ said Hughes. “But not everyone is ready. Some of these kids get lost in the AHL. That’s always my fear; they end up in the minors and their careers dead-end there.’’
Henderson still reeling from hit
Veteran NHL linesman Don Henderson, brutalized by Dennis Wideman’s blindside assault during a game on Jan. 27, three weeks ago required neck surgery to repair damage from the hit. Friends of his worry that his officiating career may be finished.
Henderson, 47, was near the boards, with his back to Wideman, when the Flames defenseman skated into him, inexplicably lifting his arms and knocking Henderson to the ice. Typically not one to engage in rough stuff, particularly during his four-year stint with the Bruins, Wideman appeared to leave his feet when making contact — a move that usually would bring a charging call and/or game misconduct if it were perpetrated against another player.
In hockey parlance, Wideman “finished’’ his check, against a defenseless, unsuspecting on-ice official. Uncharacteristic of the player, but nonetheless a blatant, vulgar transgression.
“I took a pretty good hit down in the corner and had some pretty good pain in my shoulder and neck,” Wideman said at the time. “I was just trying to get off the ice and kind of keeled over. At the last second, I looked up and saw [Henderson] and couldn’t avoid it. I went up to Donnie and apologized to him on the ice.
“I didn’t see him. I didn’t know where to go and how to get out of the way. I’ve been around for a few years, and I think I’ve treated every official with the utmost respect, and I would never intentionally try to hit a linesman or a ref. It was completely unintentional.’’
Wideman was suspended 20 games for the assault. He served 19 games, but ultimately had the suspension cut in half by an arbitrator (the rollback nearly as inexplicable as the hit). Wideman couldn’t get back the nine games he sat out, but he was spared the loss of some $280,000 in salary.
According to one of his friends in the officiating business, Henderson’s recent surgery was aimed at repairing two ruptured disks in his neck, the result of the hit. Felled in the second period, he dusted himself off and finished the game the night he was injured.
“I know a lot of people are saying stuff like, ‘Hey, Wideman’s not that type of guy . . . that’s not in his nature . . . he’s a good kid,’ ’’ said one of Henderson’s longtime pals in stripes. “And I say, ‘Yeah, so what?!’ That doesn’t make it any less egregious. He attacked him from behind, the puck was nowhere near the two of them, and now Henderson’s career may be finished. I don’t see much difference between what he did and Wayne Maki cracking his stick over Teddy Green’s head.’’
A veteran of 20-plus years, Henderson is from Calgary and has worked more than 1,300 NHL games. He will be 48 in September.
BANKING ON MRAZEK
Wings invest in unproven goalie
Payoff comes quickly in today’s NHL. Case in point: Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek, who last week settled ahead of an arbitration hearing and now will be paid $8 million over the next two seasons.
Mrazek, 24, has played in all of 94 regular-season games with the Winged Wheels and has but 46 career wins. Granted, he snatched the starter’s job away from Jimmy Howard in Detroit’s brief playoff run, but $4 million per is a bountiful take for a kid yet to prove he is a legit No. 1.
“You know, it’s Hockeytown,” Mrazek told ex-Globie Gregg Krupa, now the Detroit News. “The team is great, so I am more than happy to be back.’’
Mrazek is also one of three goaltenders, along with Michal Neuvirth and Ondrej Pavelec, who will be part of Team Czech Republic for the upcoming World Cup.
Mrazek’s deal put the Wings slightly over the 2016-17 salary-cap figure of $73 million. GM Ken Holland has until the season opener to make his roster cap-compliant, and it is expected both Johan Franzen and Joe Vitale will be off the books as long-term injured reserve exceptions due to lingering concussion issues, trimming some $5 million off the ledger.
Franzen’s head woes date to 2014-15. He played in only 35 games over the last two years. Vitale, the former Northeastern captain, played only one game with Arizona last season and was flipped to the Wings in the offseason as part of the Wings moving Pavel Datsyuk off the books once he decided to return to Mother Russia.
If Holland is convinced Mrazek is his No. 1, the most obvious salary “fix’’ would be to move Howard, the 32-year-old ex-UMaine Black Bear. Howard is on the books for three more years at $5.3 million per, a fairly comfortable number for a No. 1, especially with his solid résumé. One possible move would have the Wings retaining, say, a third of his salary. The acquiring team would have a proven No. 1 for roughly $3.6 million (cheaper than Mrazek) and the Wings would have to carry only $1.7 million of his cap hit.
Top of 2010 draft got turned over
Once the Oilers moved Taylor Hall to New Jersey to acquire puck-moving defenseman Adam Larsson, it meant all of the top six picks in the 2010 draft were no longer with the clubs that drafted them.
No. 7 that year, Jeff Skinner, remains in Carolina, where GM Ron Francis has opted instead to move out virtually everyone else — notwithstanding the somewhat curious move to bring back struggling goaltender Cam Ward on a new two-year deal.
To recap the 2010 top six:
1. Hall, Edmonton — dealt June 29 to New Jersey for Larsson.
2. Tyler Seguin, Boston — dealt July 4, 2013, to Dallas with Ryan Button and Rich Peverley for Reilly Smith, Joe Morrow, Matt Fraser, and Loui Eriksson.
3. Erik Gudbranson, Florida — dealt May 25 to Vancouver with future draft pick (Cole Candella) for Jared McCann and two future draft picks (Rasmus Aslund and Jonathan Ang).
4. Ryan Johansen, Columbus — dealt Jan. 6 to Nashville for Seth Jones.
5. Nino Niederreiter, NY Islanders — dealt June 30, 2013, to Minnesota for Cal Clutterbuck and future draft pick (Eamon McAdam).
6. Brett Connolly, Tampa Bay — dealt March 2, 2015, to Boston for two future draft picks (Matthew Spencer and Boris Katchouk).
Bruins are likely settled
With six weeks to go before training camp, it doesn’t look as if the Bruins will augment their roster substantially prior to setting up shop at their new Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton.
The one possible large exception could come in a little over two weeks, if free agent winger Jimmy Vesey (Harvard/North Reading) decides to play for the hometown team. He’ll vet a host of other suitors, beginning Aug. 15, likely to include the Leafs, Hawks, Rangers, and possibly Penguins. The Sabres own his NHL rights (obtained from Nashville) and made their formal pitch just after the July 4 holiday.
Fact is, defense remains a greater concern for the Bruins, who lost their grip on a playoff spot in March, mainly because the backline wore down. The UFA acquisition of David Backes should give the forward corps a boost, but the defense still looks very spotty, unless raw rookie Brandon Carlo (6-5, 220) proves ready to make the leap after only a brief AHL hit in Providence.
Two of the club’s prime backline prospects, BU’s Charlie McAvoy and UMinn’s Ryan Lindgren, reported Friday to Team’s USA’s evaluation camp (Plymouth, Minn.) for the 2017 World Junior Championship (Dec. 26-Jan. 5) in Montreal and Toronto. Both are committed to college for the upcoming season, but McAvoy is a prime candidate to turn pro at the end of his sophomore season.
Another recent Boston draft pick, forward Trent Frederic (entering his freshman year at Wisconsin), is also at the Team USA evaluation camp.
Familiar voice is gone
RIP Jim Prior, the PA voice of BU hockey the last 30 years, who died last weekend at age 85.
Bernie Corbett, the radio voice of BU hockey over much of that time, considered Prior a close friend and confidant. Prior was known for his trademark line, “The players are ready . . . soooooooo let’s play hockey.’’ But away from the microphones, noted Corbett, the two pals shared a line that all freelancers could appreciate.
“We’d always say to each other, ‘Hey, you got a gig?’ ” said Corbett, whose main freelance gigs include calling BU hockey and Harvard football and writing books. “We shared that right to the end. He worked the Beanpot this year, and struggling with his health issues. But he loved to work. He was passionate about work and hockey. And sure enough, with all he had going on, he comes up to me at the Beanpot and says, ‘Hey, Bern, you got a gig?’ ’’
Drafted No. 17 overall by the Blues in 2009, Swedish defenseman David Rundblad has been well traveled over his short NHL tenure. He never played for the Blues, who dealt him to Ottawa for the pick that became Vladimir Tarasenko. The Senators shipped him to Arizona for Kyle Turris. The Coyotes sent him to the Hawks for Christian Dvorak. He ended up in Zurich last season, unable to get playing time in Chicago, and the Hawks will find a way for him to continue his career overseas.
“St. Louis turned Rundlad into Tarasenko,’’ wrote Hawks beat man Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times. “Ottawa turned him into Kyle Turris. Arizona turned him into Christian Dvorak. Chicago turned him into thin air.’’
Cashman’s turn at Tradition
Last year’s Bruins honoree at The Tradition was Gerry Cheevers. This time around (Nov. 29) it will be fellow Big Bad Bruin Wayne Cashman. The Tradition, the main fund-raiser for the Sports Museum, is among the city’s best gigs. For tickets call Rusty Sullivan: 617-624-1237 . . . Interested in an officiating career? Ex-NHL ref (and former Nordique enforcer) Paul Stewart this week will start up his Tuesday Morning Skate Sessions for anyone who’d like to wear stripes. It’s a one hour eye-opener, starting at 6 a.m., at the Breakaway Ice Center in Tewksbury. Cost: $10. Open to men and women of all ages. “The game needs better officiating at all levels,’’ said Stewie. “It’s a great job, and recession-proof.’’ . . . Problematic winger Evander Kane is due in a Buffalo courtroom Monday to answer for his latest dust-up, allegedly attacking three women and a bouncer at Bottoms Up, a downtown Buffalo nightclub. “Not good for the organization,’’ said GM Tim Murray. “He’s going to have to behave himself a lot better.’’ The guess here: the Sabres will unload Kane pronto, especially if they can land Vesey . . . Similar to the NFL, the NHL will livestream one game a week on Twitter during the 2016-17 season . . . Money Inc. published a list of the NHL’s top 20 all-time money earners. Leading the way, Wayne Gretzky with $200 million. Jumbo Joe Thornton ranked No. 2 with $70 million. Another ex-Bruin, Mark Recchi, stood at No. 15 with $44 million, or roughly $3.55 an hour for his career ice time.
Ex-Bruin Marty Howe will be signing autographs ($20 a pop) Sunday (12-2 pm) at Phil Castinetti’s Sportsworld, 87 Broadway, in Saugus. Howe, 62, was with the Bruins for one season (1982-83), before finishing out his NHL career with the Whale, a good chunk of his ice time ultimately taken by rookie Ulf Samuelsson.
Critics of Eric Lindros’s inclusion to the Hockey Hall of Fame point to the fact that the former No. 1 overall pick doesn’t even rank inside the top 100 on the career points list (he finished with 865 — or, say, two more than sure non-Hall of Famer Alex Tanguay). But you can’t ignore Lindros’s peak, which was immediate. Lindros averaged better than a point per game for his first nine active seasons (he sat out 2000-01 in a contract dispute). A look at the NHL’s point-per-game leaders during that duration shows just how impressive Lindros was, as six of the top eight are in the HOF and the two others are just waiting for their turn.