BUFFALO — Nolan Patrick, a strapping 6-foot-3-inch center from Winnipeg, is the likely No. 1 pick in the NHL entry draft later this month, and he was the focus of much media attention Saturday at the league’s annual testing combine.
But it was the shorter (5-9) and older (58) ex-forward, George McPhee, who truly commanded the stage.
McPhee, the former longtime general manager of the Washington Capitals, these days is GM of the Vegas Golden Knights, and he made it clear that he plans to be aggressive in the trade market in the days leading to the June 21 expansion draft.
Could that portend a deal that would have the Bruins send underperforming winger Matt Beleskey to Vegas? Possibly.
“Well, there’s certainly been a lot of discussion,” said McPhee, noting he spent much of the past five days talking to fellow GMs about myriad prospective deals. “Most of the guys have been really forthright in what they want to do, who they’ll probably expose, and who they’d like to protect. We’re trying to find ways to accommodate each other.”
From the Bruins’ perspective, GM Don Sweeney stands to lose one of his valued right-side defensemen, Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller. GMs in similar situations have been proposing trades to McPhee ahead of the draft — deals that could be announced as early as Monday or Tuesday — in order to get the Vegas GM not to select one of their coveted, yet unprotected, players on June 21.
“There are teams that really want to protect some people,” said McPhee, “and protect their rosters, and they are willing to pay a pretty fair price to get us to lay off certain people and get us to go in a certain direction.”
In the Bruins’ case with Beleskey, who is due $11 million over the next three years, they would have to be creative to entice McPhee to bite. It likely would mean the Bruins adding a draft pick, perhaps a second- or third-rounder, or perhaps a lesser pick or two if Boston offered to keep a portion of Beleskey’s salary.
If the clubs could consummate a deal on Beleskey, McPhee in turn would agree not to select McQuaid or Miller in the expansion draft. The Bruins then would have room to promote one of their prospects — kids such as Peter Cehlarik, Jake DeBrusk, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, or Anders Bjork.
Beleskey was signed in July 2015 as a free agent, the first big UFA acquisition in Sweeney’s tenure. The ex-Duck had a decent first season in Black and Gold, but dipped badly in 2016-17, a knee injury playing part in his low production (3-5—8 in 49 games). When the season ended, Beleskey and fellow winger Jimmy Hayes were immediately pegged by the media as potential buyout candidates.
If the Bruins were to buy out Beleskey, they would be forced to carry approximately $1.3 million for six more seasons. Moving him to Vegas, even at the cost of contributing $1 million a season toward his deal, would be the better bargain, albeit with the accompanying cost of adding a draft pick.
McPhee said that he is open to taking on pricey deals, but he will be insistent on teams adding draft picks. Vegas will have the No. 6 pick in the first round of the entry draft on June 23.
“I’d certainly like to be in a surplus situation for a few years,” said McPhee, referring to his appetite to horde draft picks. “Based on the way discussions are going, we are going to get some picks — certainly would like to load up there if we could.
“We are willing to take on a couple of contracts that people would like to move. We have a lot of teams that are offering us big contracts. And I know what it’s like to be on the other side and be tight on the cap. It’s hard to move contracts. So they are looking at us as an opportunity to move a contract. We’ll take a few of those — for the right price.”
Per league rules, Vegas must have a minimum $43.8 million committed to salaries upon the conclusion of the expansion draft. Once the season begins, the franchise must be at the league minimum of about $74 million (exact figure to determined later this month).
“It’s really easy to get to the floor,” said McPhee. “It happens quickly. Even without taking bad contracts you can get to the floor in a hurry. We learned that in our mock drafts. It’s easy to get there. That won’t be an issue. It’s managing how much we are going to take on. So we are certainly willing to take on some contracts, if the price is right.”
Including a draft pick or two?
“Yes,” emphasized McPhee, “it would have to.”
Bowers a keeper?
Shane Bowers, a left-shooting center ranked the 16th-best skater in North America for the upcoming draft, could be on the Bruins’ radar. They have the No. 18 pick, although Sweeney said Friday that he is open to dealing it away for immediate help.
One way or the other, Bowers will be in Boston for the 2017-18 season. After two years in the USHL (Waterloo), the Halifax, Nova Scotia, native will suit up for Boston University.
“I think I am a complete two-way forward,” said Bowers, who said he also received scholarship offers from Boston College, Wisconsin, and Minnesota-Duluth. “I can play all three zones and be responsible no matter where I am on the ice.”
Bowers, 17, will join a BU squad that suddenly has ample roster space. Upon the conclusion of the season, both Forsbacka Karlsson and Charlie McAvoy turned pro with the Bruins. After only one season with the Terriers, center Clayton Keller turned pro with the Coyotes and left wing Kieffer Bellows decided junior hockey would be his stairway to hockey heaven.
It was the BU coaching staff, along with the school’s state-of-the-art hockey facilities, that convinced Bowers to choose the Terriers.
“I felt comfortable on the campus,” he said, “and could picture myself playing there.”