The Blue Jackets stand 263 days from losing prized left winger Artemi Panarin for less than a lettuce sandwich. Come July 1, he can depart the land of the blasting cannon as an unrestricted free agent, with suitors lining up from the red states to Red Square to acquire the 26-year-old puck wizard.
Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, the ex-Bruins winger (1989-91), won’t wait for the expiration date to hit. At the moment, he sounds inclined to play this out until the February trade deadline, but that’s a dangerous approach — particularly if clubs keep knock- knock-knockin’ on Jarmo’s door with enticing offers.
It is almost impossible for Kekalainen to win, in the context of netting the kind of sublime talent he is about to see go walking out that door. Consider Panarin’s bona fides since entering the NHL with Chicago in 2015-16 (stats as of last week):
Goals (91): Tied for 14th in the league, along with Connor McDavid and David Pastrnak.
Assists (149): Ranked 11th overall.
Points (240): No. 8 overall, 2 points behind Brad Marchand.
So, think, what would you expect the Bruins to land in return if Pastrnak and/or Marchand stood less than nine months from taking their talents elsewhere?
And that’s what Panarin is saying. He wants out. He craves to be in a big city, one with a robust Russian community. That puts him in the Los Angeles/New York/Chicago markets. Boston has Russians, too, but to be honest, the market hasn’t recovered here since Sergei Samsonov was dished to the Oilers in March 2006, one of Mike O’Connell’s final acts here at GM.
After plucking Taylor Hall, the reigning MVP, away from the Oilers in 2016, it’s a good bet Devils GM Ray Shero will be in the thick of the Panarin talks. Shero has the strongest roster of the three NYC-area clubs and he also is sitting on a $15.5 million pile of cap space, second only to the Dollar Store Hurricanes ($16.7 million).
Few clubs, if any, have the combination the Bruins can offer in the Panarin chase. Boston’s Russian population may be a little light, but it’s a first-class North American city, and the Bruins have abundant player equity to offer Kekalainen, be it in the form of young roster players and/or prospects.
Kekalainen’s target pool in a Boston swap no doubt would include the likes of Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Jake DeBrusk — the three kids GM Don Sweeney would be the most reluctant to surrender — and any number of others, including Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork on the varsity, and AHL stock such as Trent Frederic and Urho Vaakanainen.
It has been a long time since a Bruins GM has dealt for a young, dynamic forward. Harry Sinden struck gold in his deals for Cam Neely and Adam Oates, but both at the time were in a different spot on their career arc than Panarin.
Neely, acquired on his 21st birthday, was still a baby-faced wannabe with barely 100 points after three seasons in Vancouver. Oates was less than six months from reaching his 30th birthday when Sinden deftly plucked him from the Blues in February 1992. We’re more than a quarter-century removed from seeing anyone close to their likes brought in from the outside to pump up the scoring volume.
All of which made it even more intriguing when Sweeney this past summer took bold runs at free agents Ilya Kovalchuk and John Tavares. It was Sindenesque in proportion if not execution. Kovalchuk opted for Los Angeles (again, the Russian market) and Tavares went home to Toronto.
Sweeney did execute the deadline deal last season for Rick Nash, but it fizzled when the veteran right winger suffered yet another concussion soon after his arrival in the Hub of Hockey. But again, not a solid comparison with a Panarin deal. Nash is 34 and has played 1,060 NHL games, and possibly won’t play again. Panarin has yet to reach his prime after fewer than 250 games.
The scary part here for the Bruins, when stepping into the trade market for promising and dynamic young forwards, is they that have suffered the short end of the Hespeler in four significant deals dating to the Joe Thornton swap in November 2005.
O’Connell made the hasty Thornton swap, and it was his front office trailer on the play, Peter Chiarelli, who moved Blake Wheeler, Phil Kessel, and then Tyler Seguin. As of the middle of last week, that foursome had played another 2,616 games, scoring 845 goals and collecting 2,490 points. Thornton needed only 26 more points to make it an even 1,000 with San Jose. His career line: 1,495 games/1,428 points and a free pass to the Hall of Fame.
For those four deals, and the subsequent related moves in their wake, the Bruins netted 21 players in return. Not bad, a better than 5-for-1 body count. But to date, 16 of those have worn the Spoked B for a collective 2,178 games and an imbalance in production (1,005 points vs. 2,490).
Unless Zach Senyshyn, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and Jeremy Lauzon end up potting pucks like it’s 1999, history will hold that the Bruins were hosed in those four deals. The carnage has been long and painful. Bruins fans justify all by saying that moving out Thornton led to more cap space and subsequent moves that helped win the Stanley Cup in 2011, and that is partly true.
But overall, the Thornton-Wheeler-Kessel-Seguin moves speak to dreadful asset management, a drag on the franchise for over a decade. They offer Kekalainen a virtual user’s guide in how not to deal Panarin.
Sweeney, if he can get down to serious horse trading with Kekalainen, his one-time Bruins teammate, no doubt will have that Boston legacy in mind. But it shouldn’t deter him. Panarin is the real deal, a generational talent, and in fact worth even a McAvoy-DeBrusk package if that will get it done.
It’s a tough side of the business, and no one knows that better than the Bruins and their fans.
Erring on side of concussed
Paying attention to head injuries
Be it deserved or not — and the jury is split — ex-Boston College blue liner Mike Matheson was slapped with a two-game suspension last week for his smackdown of Vancouver rookie Elias Pettersson. The hit delivered Pettersson into concussion protocol, and the slick center (No. 1 on the Sedins replacement list) was not expected to be in the lineup Saturday when the Bruins visited the Canucks.
Matheson, who turned pro in the spring of 2015 after his junior season at The Heights, is anything but a goon (103 PIMS in 168 games for the Panthers).
But he did get a wee bit aggressive when Pettersson, 19, dipsy-doodled by him low in the zone, Matheson then gaining leverage on the rear board and smacking him to the floor.
“It looked like WWE to me,” noted Vancouver winger Sven Baertschi.
Pettersson, who exited as the club’s top scorer (5-3—8), appeared dazed when his head bounced on the ice.
The league finally is paying keen attention to head injuries, and their root causes, and though Matheson can’t be accused of targeting Pettersson’s head, it’s a better day for everyone when the league’s Department of Player Safety is erring on the side of those concussed.
“We went through this with Anders, right?” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, referring to a big smack rookie Anders Bjork sustained last season when crushed at center ice by then-Toronto bulldozer Matt Martin. “He likes to play his off-wing and cut in, so we talked to him and said, ‘Listen, there’s going to be guys, word’s going to get out, so you are going to have to keep your head up.’ And eventually, someone got him.”
Bjork missed three weeks, returned to the lineup Dec. 2, and had his season come to a close less than two months later when he tore up his shoulder. In retrospect, Bjork said over the summer, his game and general health were still on the mend from the Martin trucking.
“Jake [DeBrusk], for the most part, has kept it more straight-line,” continued Cassidy, asked how he counsels rookies when taking their initial steps into the league. “For whatever reason, some guys have tendencies in the way they play.”
“And I don’t know about the kid in Vancouver other than he was playing great, made a move on a defenseman who didn’t like it, and [Matheson] played him hard and crossed the line. At least that is what the NHL decided.”
When making a move that undresses a veteran, as Pettersson did, then the message, said Cassidy, is to be prepared for a level of retaliation. An embarrassed player typically will try to erase the stain of his faux pas.
“That’s kind of our message with our guys — just be ready to be played against hard,” said Cassidy. “I think Pasta [David Pastrnak] has learned that lesson. He’s past that now. I think there’s a lot of respect out there.
“Again, I didn’t see the play in Vancouver, but I do know the kid’s played well, and a good player’s going to get targeted sooner or later. I don’t mean that as necessarily violent. I just mean they are going to play him harder.”
“We’d say the same thing when we play young kids that are good: ‘Hey, you have to play them hard.’ We did that with [Detroit’s Dylan] Larkin the other night. When you get a chance to finish, you have to finish. I don’t think that’s crossing the line, that’s just hockey.”
Raking it in
Leafs loaded, but not with money
The Maple Leafs, who jumped out to a 6-2-0 start, the best in the Eastern Conference, appear to be in need of little more than mapping their first Cup parade route since the summer of 1967 (the Duck Boats must vend Tim Hortons coffee).
Meanwhile, 22-year-old pivot William Nylander remains in contract limbo, unwilling to continue his career in Blue-and-White unless they meet his pay request, rumored to be upward of $8 million per season. His résumé: 48 goals/135 points in 185 regular-season games. If there is no deal in place by Dec. 1, Nylander is ineligible for NHL play for the rest of 2018-19.
The leap to $8 million on a second contract would reverberate around the league, and also present the Leafs with a cap straitjacket next summer when it will be time to offer hefty extensions to two other star forwards, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Not to mention Kasperi Kapanen, the ex-Penguin draft pick now making magic on the Matthews line.
Little doubt Matthews will look to John Tavares ($11 million per season) on his own roster, as well as Connor McDavid ($12.5 million) in Edmonton, come contract time. The Leafs today have about $12 million in cap space — not nearly what it will take to satisfy their maturing brat pack.
Matthews, who grew up in Arizona, would be the perfect candidate for the sad-sack Coyotes (four goals in their first five games) to target with an RFA offer sheet next summer. If the cap were to move to, say, $82 million, the Coyotes could consider being the first team in NHL cap history to offer Matthews a max deal — in his case, seven years at $16.4 million a year. Right now, that’s more than the $15.2 million the Coyotes have committed to seven forwards for next season.
Arizona has both the room and need to make the offer, and the Leafs would be stuck, shall we say, between a dollar sign and a prickly cactus. They would have to choose between taking draft picks from Arizona as compensation or handing Matthews the $114.8 million total and being left with pocket change for Marner, Kapanen, et al.
Oh, that compensation? Most likely two first-round picks, one second, and one third, per current CBA definition. A layup from the Coyotes’ perspective. And a nightmare for the Leafs, now not even six months removed from the glee of coaxing Tavares from Long Island for that $11 million a year.
Down on the farm
Providence B’s off to a slow start
The Providence Bruins faced the Sound Tigers Saturday night, entering the weekend with a lackluster 1-4-0 record. The likes of Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (3 points), Peter Cehlarik (3 points), Zach Senyshyn (2 points), and Trent Frederic (1 point) have not raced out of the gate after their extended stay in varsity training camp.
Production, typically, is the ticket to the big time.
“Who’s playing the right way? Why are they not getting points? Are they generating offense and they’re just not going in?” said Cassidy, noting that he relies less on stats than the scouting reports of GM Don Sweeney and Providence coach Jay Leach.
Sometimes, said Cassidy, players experience a psychological setback when they don’t make the varsity roster.
“You come here, have a good camp, and you don’t make the team, sometimes you drag that disappointment down there with you,” he said. “But you have to put that behind you and control your own environment.”
“Trust me, I dealt with that down there for a long time. Part of it is getting their morale back up, getting them to stay in the moment.”
Wrong path for Greenway?
Jordan Greenway, who eschewed his senior year at Boston University to sign with the Wild last spring, is off to a slow start (0-1—1 in six games, mirroring his total upon reporting there last March). Had Greenway remained on Commonwealth Avenue, he could have hit the market next summer as a UFA — the option Jimmy Vesey triggered in the summer of 2016 by putting in the full four years at Harvard.
Splitting the bill
The Maple Leafs, by the way, still pay Phil Kessel $1.2 million a year, and will continue to do so through the spring of 2022, as part of the deal that sent Kessel to the Penguins July 2015. The Penguins, who insisted the Leafs retain a portion of contract, pay him $5.6 million a year.
Ex-Terrier Brady Tkachuk, off to a hot start (3-3—6) in Ottawa, will be out at least a month after tearing up a leg ligament. The good news: no surgery. Senators coach Guy Boucher on Tkachuk: “He’s a big part of our identity.”
Grapes on the menu
Flamboyant Don Cherry, perhaps the most popular bench boss in Bruins history, will be feted by the Sports Museum Nov. 28 as part of its annual “Tradition” gala at the Garden. Previous honoree Terry O’Reilly will present Grapes. For tickets, go to: sportsmuseum.org or contact Ashley Walenta at 617-624-1231. Other honorees that night: Paul Pierce, Jim Lonborg, and Deion Branch.
A Wild idea
Mike Russo, the exemplary chronicler of all things Wild, made a case last week for Minnesota offering a pair of ex-Islanders, Jared Spurgeon and Nino Niederreiter, for William Nylander. Wild GM Paul Fenton would be moving out some $10.4 million in cap money in that swap, although the Maple Leafs most likely would want them to retain some of that (see: Kessel math above).
There was some fight in him
Granted, it’s a long time ago, but I was surprised when the good folks at Elias Sports Bureau reported back that Bobby Orr chalked up 42 fighting majors (three in the playoffs) during his 657-game NHL tenure. Overall, No. 4 logged a total 953 PIMS, not all that much less, on a per-game basis, than old friend “Terrible” Ted Green (1,029 PIMS in 621 games).
Jordan Greenway’s brother, JD Greenway, a 6-foot-4-inch defenseman, departed the University of Wisconsin after last spring and is playing this season for USHL Dubuque. He is Leafs property, acquired with one of the draft picks they got in the Kessel swap . . .
Injured (lower body) at the end of training camp, ex-BC forward Alex Tuch had yet to suit up again for the Golden Knights as the weekend approached. Your faithful puck chronicler hoped in June 2017, prior to the entry draft, that the Bruins would flip their first-round pick to Vegas to land the 6-4 winger. Tuch, who posted 37 points in his rookie season with Vegas, signed a seven-year $33.25 million contract extension Friday. The Bruins used their pick, No. 18 overall, to select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen . . . The Canadiens, a surprising 4-1-1 in the early going, make their first visit to Causeway Street Saturday. It’s just a better winter all around when the Bruins and Canadiens have a legit tussle . . . The Blackhawks have been rolling out two life-sized mannequins, dressed as hockey players, for a bunch of their off-day drills. Ulf Samuelsson, new to the Chicago staff after a season as head coach at AHL Charlotte, is among the advocates of the dummies. And I can’t think of a better place to end this weekly report.