A Bruins Hall of Fame is long overdue
Splendid job by the Bruins, recently hoisting Rick Middleton’s No. 16 to the Garden rafters. Since opening for business in the old Boston Arena (now Matthews Arena) in 1924, the Bruins have chased pucks up and down our quirky streets and causeways for nearly a century, and Middleton is only the 11th club member to be duly enshrined as one of the franchise greats.
History has become almost a dirty concept nowadays, even here in the history-lovin’ Hub. We’re really not into that yesterday thing. Old is out. Particularly in sports. Fan and media focus is ever-centered on the next game, the next trade, the next live slice of craziness to play on the Jumbotron.
OMG, it’s a free pizza and . . . a T-shirt! Followed by, of course, a 100-decibel eardrum assault blasted through the Garden audio system.
Be still, my wood-leather-and-horsehair heart.
Truth is, the Bruins don’t make enough with their grand history, and that said, I am OK with their current ratio of retiring roughly one number for every decade they’ve been in business. The rafters should be for the crème de la crème, the players who put up numbers, capture our imaginations, and frame the conversations from one generation of fans to the next.
“The power of sports,” Richard Johnson, the Sports Museum’s founding curator, is fond of saying, “is the many lessons it teaches — not just in sports but throughout society and throughout history.”
The Bruins, and the Celtics, have yet to found their own Halls of Fame, something both the Patriots and Red Sox did in the 1990s. They have been horribly remiss.
The Patriots, the youngest of our four big-league teams, opened their Hall in 1991, a little more than 30 years after Billy Sullivan plunked down his $25,000 for the AFL Patriots. The Red Sox waited until 1995, their 94th year of doing business. Both franchises have gone on to make fine work of honoring their great names, linking past to present, keeping fresh the memories of games and decades gone by.
If the Bruins founded their Hall today, as they should, as they need to, it also would be after 94 years of doing business. Keeping in lockstep with the Red Sox is not such a bad idea in such a competitive sports town.
What of, say, the Kraut Line? Milt Schmidt, the center of that famed Boston trio that played here pre- and post-World War II, duly has his No. 15 in the Garden rafters. But not so his storied wingers, Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart, the mere mention of whom nearly brought Schmidt to tears in his later years. The Krauts should be remembered together, and the perfect place to do that would be a Bruins Hall of Fame located inside the Garden.
“We’re talking about three guys, in their last game together before heading off to World War II,” recalled Johnson, “who we’re carried around the ice on the shoulders of the Canadiens. And the Garden organist played ‘Auld Lang Syne’. I mean, come on, that’s a Frank Capra movie.”
What of, say, Harry Sinden? He arrived here with Bobby Orr in 1966, was bench boss for Boston’s Cup win in 1970, then oversaw the construction of highly entertaining Black and Gold teams in the ’70s, ’80s, and into the ’90s. Coaches and general managers don’t have numbers to place in rafters. Sinden is in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, inducted years ago as a builder. His name should be properly enshrined in Boston.
Derek Sanderson? No question, a Bruins Hall of Famer. Same with Johnny “Pie” McKenzie. And Bill Cowley. And Wayne Cashman. And Brad Park. And Adam Oates. Some of them are just so painfully obvious. Hand up here for Don Marcotte, who didn’t put up big numbers but made his name shadowing the likes of Guy Lafleur, back in the day when coaches specifically assigned good players to keep great players off the scoresheet. Shadows now are forgotten history.
Oh, and Art Ross. Some Bruins fans only know the name because the league each year hands out a trophy in his name to honor the game’s leading scorer. This is the same Art Ross who was the Bruins’ first coach and GM in the 1920s. In their years with Boston, Phil Esposito won the Art Ross five times, Orr twice. The entrepreneurial Ross for years owned the patents on the NHL net and the NHL puck. There is no Art Ross banner hanging in the Garden. Inaugural Bruins Hall of Famer, no question.
To its great credit, the Sports Museum, housed in the Garden, keeps many of these names alive with its exquisite displays and murals. A trip there should be on every Boston sports fan’s to-do list, even if he or she typically only ventures to Fenway and/or Foxborough.
Yet there is still need for the Bruins to take care of their own house, perhaps even in concert with the Sports Museum, and honor more of their great names with proper Hall enshrinement. For every one of those 11 sweaters hanging in the rafters, with Middleton’s 16 now tucked neatly between Schmidt’s 15 and Terry O’Reilly’s 24, there easily is a handful who deserve Hall of Fame recognition.
After nearly a century, waiting any longer will remain a disservice to those few who meant so much to so many.
Middleton’s enshrinement came some 30 years after he last played for the Bruins — a reminder, once more, that it is always the right time to do the right thing. For the Bruins Hall of Fame, that time is now.
Seattle awarded expansion team
As expected, Seattle’s bid to become the NHL’s 32nd team was accepted Tuesday by the league’s Board of Governors, with the yet-to-be-named franchise officially to hit the ice in October 2021.
The original start-up date was pegged for a year earlier, but common sense and the potential for awkward business dynamics prevailed. First, an expansion draft in June 2020 would have come only 36 months after the Golden Knights selected their Cup-finalist roster. More troublesome, it also would have set up Seattle for the possibility of opening doors, at least figuratively, at the start of another NHL lockout. Now there’s a buzzkill. Marketing slogan: “We’re here . . . just hold on!”
Given the Golden Knights’ boffo debut, Seattle will be set up for success, at a cost of a record entry fee of $650 million (30 percent hike over what Bill Foley forked out for his Knights). Every NHL club, other than the exempt Golden Knights, will have to make bona fide NHL talent available for the expansion draft, which in June 2017 cost the Bruins 24-year-old blue liner Colin Miller (now a mainstay in Vegas for $3.875 million a year). The Bruins hoped Vegas instead would take Adam McQuaid, but those were the players of expansion drafts of old, when clubs new on the scene played five years or more just to reach the respectability plateau.
Key points related to the Seattle expansion:
■ Once Seattle starts play, Arizona will shift from the Pacific Division to the Central — a move that should save the Coyotes some commuting miles, with fewer trips each year to Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Vegas, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary.
■ The Canucks finally have a nearby rival, with Seattle only some 140 miles down the street and across the border. Right now, Vancouver’s closest geographical tie to the Original 31 is Calgary, approximately 580 miles, followed Edmonton, approximately 700 miles.
■ The ownership group, led by billionaire David Bonderman, will spend another $800 million to renovate an existing downtown arena (once home of the NBA SuperSonics as KeyArena) and an additional $75 million for a three-sheet practice facility at the northern edge of town. The all-in price: $1.525 billion before a puck is dropped. The Bruins paid $160 million to build their arena on Causeway Street that opened in 1995, which has since become the centerpiece of a billion-dollar buildout in the old West End.
■ The Seattle Metropolitans, of the old Pacific Coast Hockey League, defeated the Montreal Canadiens, then of the National Hockey Association, for the Stanley Cup in 1917. It was the first Cup win by a US-based team. Habs fans have yet to recover.
■ Seattle, with a metropolitan population of some 3.9 million, is the 13th-largest TV market in the United States. If the NHL pushes to a 33rd city, it likely will be Houston, which is No. 8, one higher than Boston.
■ The NHL salary cap for the 2021-22 season is expected be around $90 million per team, for a potential of nearly $2.9 billion in player salaries. The original cap figure, out of the 2004-05 lockout, was $39 million per team. In case anyone was wondering why Gary Bettman recently was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Leafs’ Nylander gets his deal
He took it down to the final hour (5 p.m. last Saturday) but young, dynamic Toronto forward William Nylander (son of Michael Nylander, an ex-Bruin) finally re-upped with the Maple Leafs for six years at a cap hit of $6.92 million per.
A huge payday for a kid, 22, with all of 135 points on his résumé after 2½ seasons. The deal includes $24.3 million in signing bonuses, a total $10.3 million of which he will have collected prior to the start of next season. Reminiscent of the deal in August 1997 when the Rangers tried to clip Joe Sakic (age 28) off the Avalanche roster with a three-year, $21 million restricted free agent offer sheet that included a frontloaded $15 million signing bonus. Colorado matched.
Such robust “second” contracts — first deals out of entry-level pacts — are high on the list of why league owners again are expected to lock the help out after the 2019-20 season.
The Lords of the Boards, even with the cost certainty of a hard-cap system, will complain that the working help is getting big money too soon. Tough to envision middle ground on this one, even if the owners were to relent and accept a system with a softer cap, similar to the Major League Baseball and NBA models. It would only mean paying more salary, and there is nothing the owners love more than the hard cap (a $79.5 million max this season).
Meanwhile, after the knockdown/dragout with Nylander, the Leafs have young studs Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Kasperi Kapanen all maturing out of their entry-level deals this season. Matthews and Marner easily can argue for deals equal to that of Nylander. It’s possible both will ask for substantially more. Kapanen, acquired in the deal that dished Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh, looks like he can command $4 million-$5 million a year.
At the moment, particularly with veteran Patrick Marleau on the books for one more year at $6.25 million, it does not look like the Leafs can keep all three and extend key defenseman Jake Gardiner (with an expiring $4 million deal). The Leafs have hit the talent motherlode with their young kids. Great. Until the time comes (now) to accommodate them all at the pay window.
To make the task possibly harder for Leafs management: This next group could be headed to the negotiating table after having won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1967. By midweek, they were the hottest team in the NHL with five straight wins, sitting only 3 points behind Tampa Bay for the No. 1 spot in league standings. And, oh, Nylander had yet to play.
Another loss for lowly Kings
The Kings, marooned at the south pole of the NHL standings, will be without a chunk of their offense for another three weeks or more after losing pricey free agent signee Ilya Kovalchuk to a bursectomy. The word alone sounds like a world of hurt.
Hobbled by a bad ankle, Kovalchuk, 35, on Sunday had doctors remove its bursa sac, the liquid-filled joint lubricant more commonly referred to in elbow injuries, that aids the mechanics of surrounding bones. In 25 games, Kovalchuk had five goals and 14 points, after signing with the Crowns over the summer for three years/$18.75 million.
The Bruins were in on the bidding last June, just prior to the amateur draft, but GM Don Sweeney balked at the three-year term (a precedent the Leafs set a year earlier in tying down Marleau from San Jose).
For the first month of the season, Kovalchuk was about the only hip-and-happening thing in the Kings’ attack. But then came a change in coaching — Willie Desjardins taking over for John Stevens — and the wonky ankle. By the time he headed to the operating room, Kovalchuk had not scored in his last 11 games and Desjardins had demoted him to the fourth line.
Perhaps Kings management, in concert with Desjardins, was looking for Kovalchuk to ask for a change of scenery. If so, that’s a discussion now that can’t reasonably begin until the other side of the Christmas break. Kovalchuk first has to get back on the ice and then prove he can produce — albeit only if Desjardins moves him up in the lineup.
Putting up zeroes
Boston University and Boston College met up last Saturday night for the 279th time, only to have the scoreboard fixed at 0-0 when the night ended. It was the first scoreless tie between the Comm. Ave. foes.
The last 0-0 finish in the NHL was Feb. 24, 2004, when the Bruins and Islanders came up love-all in Uniondale, with Felix Potvin and Rick DiPietro each logging the shutout. There were five scoreless ties in the NHL that season, leading to the lost season of 2004-05, and shootouts have been used to settle the score ever since.
Start of play was delayed by some 90 minutes on Feb. 24, 2004, because the Zamboni took a sizable chunk out of the ice at Nassau Coliseum after warm-ups. The far bigger story line, as the March 3 trade deadline approached, was whether then-GM Mike O’Connell might add Brian Leetch and Sergei Gonchar to the Boston roster before the witching hour.
The Rangers instead wheeled Leetch to Toronto, where he helped the Leafs come up just short of reaching the conference finals. O’Connell landed Gonchar from the Capitals, giving up Shaone Morrisonn (Sh, no one man is Orr) and two draft picks (Rounds 1 and 2).
When play resumed after the lost lockout year, Leetch signed in Boston as an unrestricted free agent and Gonchar, also UFA, signed on for a five-year hitch with the Penguins.
The Rangers lifted Vic Hadfield’s No. 11 to the Madison Square Garden rafters last Sunday, with fellow rafter honorees Jean Ratelle (19) and Rod Gilbert (7) at his side. In their heyday, they formed the GAG (Goal A Game) Line and now all three ride in perpetuity. Ratelle and fellow Blueshirt Brad Park came to Boston in the historic November 1975 deal for Phil Esposito. Park, second only to Bobby Orr in his prime Ranger days, also was on hand for Hadfield’s night. Hadfield told New York Post columnist Larry Brooks that “there’s no doubt” Park’s No. 2 Blueshirt should be retired . . . Seattle has 10,000 names on a season-ticket waiting list. In their initial offering to potential season ticket-holders in March, requesting deposits of $500 or $1,000, they received 32,000 deposits in a span of 31 hours . . . The Flyers wasted little time in naming Chuck Fletcher to replace Ron Hextall as GM. Ex- of Harvard, Fletcher was fired by the Wild last April after Minnesota won only two playoff series in his nine seasons as boss. He is a safe, uninspiring hire, and ownership likely already was convinced he was their guy before dumping Hextall . . . The CBA cannot be terminated until September 2020, but the league can notify the Players’ Association as early as September 2019 that it plans to opt out of the deal after the 2019-20 season . . . Anton Khudobin, 6-5-2 for Dallas as weekend play approached, has had about the best NHL run of the dozen or so Bruins who left Boston over the summer. The best of the bunch overall has been Paul Postma, who delivered only one assist in his 14 games last season. He jumped to the KHL and last week stood 6-15—21 in 35 games with Kazan Ak-Bars.