As a father, Ray Shero is grateful to Jerry York. Son Chris Shero played for York at Boston College for two seasons.
As a general manager, Shero is also in York’s debt. The emergence of some of the BC coach’s former charges allowed Shero to execute one of the NHL’s most significant trades of the season on Thursday.
Without the development of Miles Wood (6-4—10) or the unexpected contributions of Brian Gibbons (11-4—15), Shero may not have been so willing to part with Adam Henrique. But the 22-year-old Wood, who scored 10 goals and 25 assists during his one and only season at BC, is pushing for third-line status with the Devils. Gibbons, a four-year resident of The Heights, was leading the team in goals while seeing top-six time.
The impact of Wood ($925,000 annually, according to CapFriendly.com), Gibbons ($650,000), and other younger and cheaper forwards allowed Shero to swap Henrique ($4 million), AHLer Joseph Blandisi, and a 2018 third-rounder to Anaheim for Sami Vatanen ($4.875 million) and a conditional third-round pick in 2019 or 2020. The 27-year-old Henrique is still within a productive curve of his career. But the left-shot center, under contract through 2019, can ask for a degree of raise that might not make sense for the up-and-coming Devils.
Vatanen, meanwhile, is 26 years old. He is a puck-moving, right-shot defenseman signed through 2020. His skill set is a more precious and scarce commodity.
Whereas the Devils are building an infrastructure that can absorb the loss of Henrique, they did not have Vatanen’s pace-pushing presence ready within the organization. So they did what good drafting and developing allows organizations to do: trade an older, more expensive, and easier-to-replace asset from a position of strength for something they lacked entirely.
“Sami’s a guy that we’ve looked at for a long time,” Shero told reporters in New Jersey. “We know him real well as a player. I think for us and to me, at 26 years old, he’s a top-three or -four guy on a real good team in the league. Very competitive. Can play in all different situations. That was something we were looking to add. I love the fact that he’s signed for two more years after this. We’re getting another younger defenseman that can move the puck and competes hard. The cost of that is a real good player in Adam Henrique that’s been here, and a prospect in Joe Blandisi. That’s a real good fit for Joe. A change, I think, is probably good. He’ll get a real good opportunity there. For us, and I think for Anaheim, it’s one of those deals that, I think, makes sense for both sides.”
After finishing last in the Eastern Conference in 2016-17, the Devils are experiencing an accelerated turnaround. They are thick in the Metropolitan Division’s dogfight, partly because of good luck. After 24 games, the Devils were sinking 9.26 percent of their five-on-five shots, the league’s third-highest shooting percentage. In comparison, they only converted on 6.38 percent of their five-on-five sniffs last year, the third-lowest rate. Their true shooting percentage is, most likely, somewhere in between.
But the Devils’ sooner-than-expected improvement is for real. The ping-pong balls tumbled their way last year when they cut in line ahead of Colorado, Arizona, and Vancouver to claim 2017’s first overall pick. They swiftly claimed Nico Hischier, the slick left-shot teen from Switzerland.
Through 24 games, Hischier had five goals and 13 assists for 18 points, second most on the team after Taylor Hall (8-18—26). The ex-Oiler was averaging 18:49 of ice time. Hischier was logging 16:14, indicating how coach John Hynes has been easing the rookie into NHL battle.
But Hischier plays with more jam and danger-area presence than Henrique. He is already the No. 1 center between Hall and 2016 sixth-rounder Jesper Bratt, the steal of his draft class.
There’s more. Pavel Zacha, No. 6 overall in 2015, is in his second full NHL season. On defense, the Devils won the pursuit of ex-Avalanche property Will Butcher, last year’s Hobey Baker winner. On the right side, Vatanen will be one-third of a formation that also features 23-year-old Damon Severson and 22-year-old Steve Santini, also an ex-BC Eagle.
Trades, meanwhile, have also hastened the rebuild. When Washington faced a cap crunch, Shero happily helped counterpart Brian MacLellan by taking Marcus Johansson off his hands for second- and third-round picks in 2018. Hall, acquired for Adam Larsson, has been an offensive dynamo. Kyle Palmieri is out with a broken foot, but the right wing is another Shero special: acquired from Anaheim for a 2015 second-rounder (Ryan Gropp) and a 2016 third-rounder (Rem Pitlick). Neither remains in the Ducks organization.
Under normal circumstances, landing Vatanen wouldn’t have happened. But Anaheim has been shredded by injuries, including those to Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. The Ducks tried to manage their absences. But they are still chasing top-eight traction. Henrique gives them instant presence. When the musclebound Getzlaf and Kesler return, the ex-Devil will be a clever and skilled third-line option after the right-shot bash brothers.
The Ducks weren’t keen on losing Vatanen. GM Bob Murray traded blue-line prospect Shea Theodore to Vegas for George McPhee’s promise not to take Vatanen or ex-Northeastern defenseman Josh Manson in the expansion draft.
But the play of former UMass Amherst blue liner Brandon Montour helped make losing Vatanen more palatable.
Both teams have better odds of making the playoffs after executing the deal. A year ago, such a destination would have been laughable in New Jersey.
LOOKING FOR ANSWERS
Oilers’ poor start puzzles their GM
On Nov. 28, with his club grinding in a 10-13-2 tractor pull, Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli delivered a state of the team report. It probably did not hearten coach Todd McLellan that Chiarelli referenced the 2015-16 Flames when analyzing the disappointing Oilers.
In 2014-15, the upstart Flames went 45-30-7 and made the playoffs. They bested Vancouver in the first round. Anaheim ended Calgary’s season in the second round, but Bob Hartley won the Jack Adams Trophy as the league’s best coach.
The next year, Calgary finished in 12th place in the West. Hartley was fired.
The point Chiarelli was trying to make was the matter of managing high expectations. In 2014-15, the Flames were fortunate to make the playoffs. Perhaps they became too full of themselves after their postseason run and cracked the following year when things didn’t go their way.
In comparison, the 2016-17 Oilers were more worthy of postseason qualification than their Alberta rivals of 2014-15. A lot of things went right for Edmonton.
Cam Talbot was an ace in net. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl meshed like peanut butter and chocolate. Oscar Klefbom appeared as if he was well on his way to becoming a two-way No. 1 defenseman.
So far this season, nothing is going right for the underachieving Oilers. Coaches sometimes pay the price in such instances.
“Todd and I met and we talked at length over the summer regarding managing expectations,” Chiarelli told reporters in Edmonton. “We talked about the Flames a couple years ago when they made it and didn’t make it the next year. They had great expectations. Is that chemistry that these guys are having trouble dealing with the expectations? Maybe it’s one big continuum and it flows into chemistry. I don’t know. To what I’ve seen, and I’ve been with this team a fair bit this year, the chemistry, the in-room stuff, seems fine. At what point is it just trying to get focused and managing expectations?”
As GM in Boston, Chiarelli practiced patience. He is an executive who prefers large buckets of data. He is not inclined to side with intuition when information serves him better.
But Chiarelli has acted with clarity when he decides it’s time. The Bruins experienced three below-the-belt kicks during his nine-year run as GM. After falling short of the playoffs in 2006-07, Chiarelli fired coach Dave Lewis with three years remaining on his contract and replacing him with Claude Julien.
After 2009-10, when the Bruins handed away a three-game second-round lead over Philadelphia, Chiarelli went to the trade market. He swapped Dennis Wideman, a 2010 first-round pick, and a 2011 third-rounder to Florida for Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell.
The ex-Panthers pulled their weight as No. 1 right wing and No. 4 center, respectively, as the Bruins won the Stanley Cup.
Chiarelli did not have the chance to right the ship after the Bruins failed to make the playoffs in 2014-15.
Given his history, Chiarelli will exercise more patience, even as the Oilers continue to run out of time. He knows Talbot, Klefbom, and Draisaitl can be better. He believes the cold hands up front will eventually warm. He understands today’s trade possibilities could turn into handcuffs starting next year, the first season of McDavid’s $12.5 million annual payday. Chiarelli does not want to make a bad start turn into more of a long-term problem by making rash moves.
“You have to let these things play out to a certain degree,” said Chiarelli of keeping his hands in his pockets. “You have to act when you think they’re not getting fixed. Each of those ones, I look at individually. How do you fix it? You have to look externally. You have to look internally. You have to look at your coaching staff. You have to look at your management staff. You look at a lot of different things. There’s no easy answer. No one’s going to help us right now. There are opportunities. We’ve been beating the bushes a little bit. There are things that are coming around. You have to be on top of it. We hope that we are. We’re just going to continue to try and fix these things.”
Injuries test depth in net
The Penguins are clawing to stay above the postseason cutoff line. They will have to engage in this fight without their No. 1 goalie for at least one week, and possibly more.
Last Monday, the Flyers’ Jakub Voracek slammed into Matt Murray, injuring the goalie’s right leg. Murray needed help skating off the ice from Justin Schultz and Sidney Crosby, who then handed their ace off to the training staff.
Had this happened last year, the Penguins would have been better insulated. Marc-Andre Fleury would have taken over the net, and probably done well.
But Fleury is in Vegas, claimed via expansion, and dealing with his own injury (concussion). Goalies around the league have been caught up in the injury cascade. The absences have underscored how little protection teams have assembled for the game’s most important position.
With Murray out, the Penguins will have to rush 22-year-old Tristan Jarry into a workload that is at least one season earlier than preferred. The Golden Knights experienced their own issues when Fleury, Malcolm Subban, and Oscar Dansk went down. Given the importance of the position, teams will have to apply more brainpower to determining optimal investment allocation.
Consider the NHL’s 10 highest-earning goalies. Five have missed time because of injuries, illnesses, or personal reasons: Tuukka Rask, Carey Price, Cory Schneider, Kari Lehtonen, and Semyon Varlamov. On average, based on figures via CapFriendly.com, the difference in annual average value between these 10 goalies and their primary partners is approximately $4.8 million. Henrik Lundqvist, the richest goalie ($8.5 million), makes $7.2 million more than Ondrej Pavelec.
Difference in salary, of course, does not necessarily indicate a similar gulf in performance. At $1.2 million annually, Anton Khudobin performed quite well while Rask was out with a concussion. Even when Rask has been healthy, he has not matched Khudobin’s performance.
The issue is comparables. A year prior to the expiration of Price’s six-year, $39 million contract, the Canadiens re-upped their franchise player to an eight-year, $84 million extension. It was a simple deal to calculate. Price is the best goalie in the league. As such, he demanded a premium on Lundqvist’s AAV. Any team sinking that much dough into their starter would prefer to count their pennies on the backup. But it’s a dice roll, one that can turn up cold if and when the moneymaking goalie lands on injured reserve.
The safeguard is investing more in the No. 2. Dallas’s Ben Bishop-Lehtonen tandem is the best example of income equality within the crease. But even a higher AAV doesn’t guarantee good performance from Lehtonen (2-3-1, 2.89 GAA, .897 save percentage) if Bishop (11-7-0, 2.61 GAA, .912 save percentage) goes down.
Evaluating one goalie accurately and paying him accordingly are difficult tasks. They become even harder when you have to get it right with both goalies.
Working from behind
Most power plays prefer to zip the puck around their formation in front of the net. The Lightning, blazing along on the power play at 27.4 percent through 25 games, do not hesitate to dip below the goal line to stretch out penalty killers. Last Tuesday against Buffalo, Ondrej Palat set up in the right corner and passed the puck behind the net to Tyler Johnson in the far corner. Johnson then set up Mikhail Sergachev for a one-timer in the high slot. Part of the maneuver was to make life tough on Robin Lehner. No goalie enjoys turning his head to find the puck. But the bigger reason was to make the Sabres bite on the play and compromise their shorthanded setup. Even though Johnson was below the goal line, he drew Justin Falk his way. Falk’s shift toward Johnson wasn’t the reason Sergachev was able to score. But unless Johnson fumbled the puck, Falk should have stayed at home and held his ground.
Youth at risk in Philadelphia
Robert Hagg is 22 years old. Travis Sanheim is 21. Both rookie defensemen are still older than 20-year-old Ivan Provorov, who is a quarter of the way through his second NHL season. Combine the three blue-line youngsters with 24-year-old Shayne Gostisbehere, and it’s not hard to understand why the Flyers are grinding through a 1-4-5 downturn. The Flyers are big on both of their first-year defensemen. But with veteran hothead Radko Gudas ineligible to dress until Dec. 12 because of a 10-game suspension for slashing, the Flyers have no choice but to accelerate their on-the-job training.
Armstrong sets up in Boston
St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong attended consecutive Bruins games against Edmonton and Tampa Bay at TD Garden this past week. St. Louis is roaring toward a first-place finish in the West. Armstrong has no need to make significant moves. But down the road, Paul Stastny could be at risk of being moved because of his expiring contract. Last year, Armstrong moved UFA-to-be Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington before the deadline. The Blues still qualified for the playoffs despite wheeling their ace puck mover for ex-BC forward Zach Sanford, Brad Malone, a 2017 first-round pick, and a 2019 second-rounder.
Daniel Sedin cracked the 1,000-point threshold last Thursday by scoring against Nashville. Naturally, Henrik Sedin assisted on the goal. The play gave the twins 2,034 points, second-most among brothers in NHL history after Wayne and Brent Gretzky (2,861) . . . Stick salute to Derek Dorsett, forced into retirement because of a cervical disk herniation. The 6-foot, 192-pound firecracker ends his career with 51 goals, 76 assists, and 1,314 penalty minutes in 515 games . . . The strange thing about a recent bike ride wasn’t that two dogs bit me on separate occasions. It was that neither was named Alex Burrows.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.