If Las Vegas set a line last weekend on how long Peter Chiarelli would remain on the job as the Oilers’ general manager, all the action probably would have been shut off by bookmakers come Monday night.
By Tuesday morning, just hours after Chiarelli signed backup goaltender Mikko Koskinen to a three-year contract extension, Edmonton media already were posting names of his possible successors. One list included Ken Holland, who has yet to vacate that chair in Detroit, albeit with Steve Yzerman the favorite to move back from Tampa and take over as the new-age Dead Wing’s sainted makeover artist.
And by Tuesday night, just before midnight, Chiarelli was toast. The ex-Bruins GM was let go less than four years after he took over the Oilers on the eve of Connor McDavid arriving as the game’s generational talent and the franchise centerpiece. Bad deals and overpriced/lengthy contracts — the combination that led to his comeuppance in the Hub — again ushered the former Harvard captain to the unemployment badlands.
After their initial uptick at midseason under new coach Ken Hitchcock, the once-proud Oilers were back deep in the bramble bush again, beginning the week parked 3 points out of a wild-card spot. The end came for Chiarelli moments after a loss at home (3-2) to said Dead Wings, the Oilers still only 3 points out of it.
So they were close, which explained why Chiarelli still had a job by puck drop Tuesday night. Things certainly have been worse in Oiler town, although that has been little comfort to a Blue and Orange fan base fed up with their ex-Cup champs being a league laughingstock ever since their last trip to the Cup Final in 2006. A franchise is a terrible thing to waste — and ownership decided Chiarelli was wasting it even more.
Boston ownership had Chiarelli in the crosshairs at about this time in the 2014-15 season, but let him ride it out, then sent him packing only days after the club missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years — and less than 48 months after they won the Cup. He didn’t have that kind of equity on his résumé with the Oilers, who made it to the playoffs only once during his 45-month tenure.
Riddled with injury on the backline, the Oilers should get a bump when their top gun back there, 6-foot-3-inch Oscar Klefbom, returns to action. Klefbom has been nursing a broken pinkie and inching toward a return. But with their “bye” break, the Oilers aren’t back now until Feb. 2 and they have 32 games to go in an attempt to close that 3-point gap.
Realistically, they’ll have to play close to .666 hockey the rest of the way to qualify. A tall order for a club now in a .490 muddle.
Backline issues aside, scoring has been a perpetual problem. Chiarelli earlier this season brought in his old draft pick, Ryan Spooner, hoping he would provide some spark. Nope. Spoons was so flat, and so out of favor with Hitchcock, that Chiarelli placed the Bruins former second-round draft pick on waivers last Monday.
No takers, and no surprise. In 40 games this season with the Rangers and Oilers, Spooner posted an anemic 3-2—5. He’s on the books next season for another $4 million (not a typo), although the Rangers will pay $900,000 of it, the promise they had to make the Oilers when they swapped him for Ryan Strome (6-5—11 in 29 games with the Blueshirts).
Oddly, though somehow fittingly, Spooner played in Chiarelli’s final game. With no takers via waivers, the wisdom in Edmonton was, well, to put Spoons back in there. Of course. He went 0-0—0. Had it not been for the glass partition behind the bench, fans in the lower bowl surely would have heard Hitchcock gnashing his teeth during every second of Spooner’s modest 6:56 time on ice.
Chiarelli’s move Monday to tie up Koskinen to a three-year deal with a $4.5 million cap hit was his last transaction — and perhaps the final straw for ownership. It likely set the stage for Chiarelli to deal workhorse goalie Cam Talbot for a legit scorer, even only as a rental. Talbot is ticketed for the UFA market on July 1, so it’s just as easy for the Oilers to lose a rental forward as it is a goalie whom they did not plan to bring back. It appears ownership felt differently.
It’s now up to the new GM to find a suitable, and affordable, backup for the 6-7 Koskinen, who actually proved to be one of Chiarelli’s most prudent acquisitions. Koskinen, a Finn, was a free agent out of KHL St. Petersburg last summer and Chiarelli grabbed him on a one-year deal at $2.5 million. Now 30, he has a $13.5 million promise in hand.
But overall, Chiarelli will be remembered first and foremost for dealing away Taylor Hall (last season’s league MVP) to New Jersey for Adam Larsson, a defenseman not nearly of elite status. His other grand boo-boo was bringing in a worn-down Milan Lucic, then 28, and showering him with a seven-year, $42 million deal. Looch can’t score anymore, and his best asset, fighting, was all but legislated out of the game while he was still a Bruin.
All of that, and more, is now for the next guy to clean up, as Don Sweeney had to do in Boston in Chiarelli’s wake. The favorite: Kelly McCrimmon, assistant GM in Vegas, who is also being mentioned as the guy who could call the shots with the NHL expansion franchise in Seattle.
Anderson calls for protection
No telling what would have happened had Charlie McAvoy, rising up from his slide through the low slot, not knocked into Filip Chytil last Saturday as the Rangers forward charged hard to the net.
What we do know is the outcome: the 6-2, 210-pound Chytil went airborne upon colliding with McAvoy. Chytil then connected derriere-first with Tuukka Rask’s head, a blow that tipped the Boston goaltender hard to his right and slammed him into the ice along the goal line.
Rask lost his helmet amid the blow and was concussed, led off the ice by teammates the way sailors once chaperoned drunken shipmates back from the Combat Zone during Boston shore leave.
No substantive update on Rask’s condition is expected until Monday, when the club returns to practice from its “bye” week leading into the All-Star break. But based on the nature of such brain injuries, and the vacant look on Rask’s kisser, it’s a reasonable guess that the 31-year-old Finn will need at least another week to recuperate and regain game footing.
It’s all guesswork, and Chytil might not be certain himself, but he was traveling at a speed and angle that probably would have driven him into and through Rask even had McAvoy not wandered into his path to become the unintentional launching pad.
Such is another increasing peril in today’s game: Forwards can attack the net — and those who protect it — with a speed and vengeance not seen in the era when nets were immovable, when both posts were anchored hard into the ice. Pinned to the ice by breakaway anchors for nearly the last 30 years, the nets give way with only moderate force. Lucky for Rask and perhaps even for Chytil. There was such force in that 400-pound pileup, the old nets could have cost one or both their careers.
Veteran goalie Craig Anderson, just back in the Senators’ lineup after missing 11 games because of a concussion, was watching from afar on Saturday. He has seen enough.
“Tuukka Rask is out with a concussion right now because a guy went to the net,” Anderson told the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch. “I missed time because a guy went to the net hard.”
Anderson would like league GMs to enact rule changes that better protect goaltenders. To wit: If a player enters the blue paint area in front of the cage, then have a referee blow the play dead. Albeit, said Anderson, after trimming some 6 inches off the blue paint where the goalie works. He’s willing to give up some work space in hopes of gaining some job safety.
“You won’t have guys running into the goalie,” said Anderson, 37, who is closing in on his 600th regular-season game.
Anderson was driven to the sideline for a month, concussed when trucked Dec. 11 by New Jersey forward Miles Wood, ex- of Boston College.
“You wouldn’t see Sidney Crosby getting run over,” added Anderson. “You wouldn’t see the best players, making $7 million, $8 million, $9 million, you wouldn’t see those guys getting run over. What’s different about a $7 million, $8 million, $9 million goalie?
“That’s one of the core components of your team and a guy that plays 60 games — and you’re putting him at risk because you want more scoring?”
Propp recovered following stroke
Brian Propp was one of the Bruins’ better trade deadline acquisitions, filched from the Flyers in March 1990 by then-GM Harry Sinden, who yielded but a second-round pick (the unremarkable Terran Sandwith) to acquire the then-31-year-old Flyers scorer. Propp reached the 30-goal plateau in eight seasons before pulling on the Spoked-B.
The prolific left winger averaged nearly a point per game in the 14 games remaining in the 1989-90 regular season with the Bruins, then contributed 4-9—13 to the playoff run that took the Bruins to the Cup Final — and another knockout punch at the hands of the Oilers.
Propp, who will turn 60 on Feb. 15, was feted Monday night in Philly, where he was bestowed the “Most Courageous” award by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association. Felled by a stroke during a family vacation to Annapolis three-plus years ago, the ever-smiling Propp is back near full strength, after a long, arduous recovery in which he had to re-learn how to walk and talk.
For the first three months, recalled Propp, he could say only the word “and” and the name “Bernie Parent,” the Flyers’ Hall of Fame netminder.
“I couldn’t even say my family’s names,” said Propp, as reported by philly.com’s Mike Jensen. “It just kind of popped in my head. I still work with [Parent as a Flyer ambassador]. Maybe it’s the initials, BP. He gets a kick out of that.”
His motor skills severely impaired by the stroke, Propp learned to write with his nondominant (left) hand. The night Propp was felled, he recalled, he had a headache, one bad enough that he had stopped at a hospital emergency room to be checked out the day he and the family drove to Annapolis. Sent on his way, he arrived in Annapolis and sustained the stroke in his hotel room, a clot traveling from his heart to his brain.
“I was kind of quiet for a year,” said Propp, noting he was hospitalized for six weeks after the stroke. “Then I was another year, five days a week [in physical therapy].”
Some 18 months later, Propp was back on skates. He recently played in a celebrity four-on-four tourney in New York’s Central Park and is proud to say he even mixed a little defense into his attack.
“It can be tough, depending on how [severe] the stroke is,” added Propp.
The award Monday night in Philly? It left him feeling humble, said Propp, once one of the game’s greatest scoring threats.
“My dad was a Lutheran minister,” said Propp, born and raised in Saskatchewan. “He taught me to be humble and not brag.”
Propp was selected 14th overall in the 1979 draft, the year the Bruins chose Ray Bourque No. 8. The Bruins had Propp on their wish list for their second pick, at No. 15, only to have the Flyers pluck him one pick before they had their chance. They instead went with Saskatchewan-born defenseman Brad McCrimmon, Propp’s teammate on the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Orr rookie card will cost you
Bids for Bobby Orr’s rookie card, published by Topps for release in 1966, topped $140,000 this past week in a Lelands Sports Memorabilia auction (lelands.com) that will wrap up Feb. 1.
The pristine Orr card up for auction, according to Lelands, was part of a 66-card test set published ahead of the 1966-67 season and was targeted for the California market. Original Sixers will remember that the NHL expanded from six to 12 teams for the start of the following season, with California franchises awarded in Los Angeles and Oakland.
LA opened business as the Kings, and the sons of Gord Labossiere remain the state’s senior NHL franchise, joined in later years by Anaheim and San Jose (site of this week’s All-Star festivities).
Oakland opened as the California Seals and then thrice changed franchise names (Oakland Seals; Bay Area Seals; California Golden Seals) before finally packing up for Cleveland in 1976 to become the Barons (later to merge with the Minnesota North Stars).
Orr’s card, a head shot centered in a faux TV frame, was No. 35 in the set and, according to Lelands, “is likely the most sought-after hockey card in existence.” For those who forget, Orr was 18 years old, had a buzzcut, and earned Rookie of the Year (Calder) honors with his freshman line of 13-28—41.
Orr’s contract with Boston shattered league standards for rookies. For the most part, headed into the 1966-67 season, $140,000 would have covered a substantial portion of a club’s entire player payroll. Orr reportedly earned $25,000 each of his first two seasons, though that did not include his signing bonus that placed the full value of the two-year deal upward of $100,000.
No. 4 in the 66-card set was Gilles Tremblay. Orr, an unknown at No. 35, was sandwiched between Wayne Hillman and Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion. No one on that list in the autumn of 1966 knew how Orr was about to change the landscape of the entire sport.
Ex-Bruin Moran arrested
Tough weekend for ex-Bruins defenseman Ian Moran, who suited up for 60 games for the Black and Gold in their days with Robbie Ftorek and then Mike Sullivan as coach. Moran was arrested last Sunday, 2:33 a.m. in Evansville, Ind., and charged with allegedly being intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle.
Moran, 46, is the head coach of the Evansville Thunderbolts in the 10-team Southern Professional Hockey League. Rather than fire him, the club suspended Moran for a week and handed the bench over to assistant Bo Driscoll for the three-game weekend set in Fayetteville, N.C.
According to a local TV report, Moran was placed in handcuffs after refusing both a portable breath test and a chemical test at the arrest site. Once at the city’s confinement center, he also refused to take a chemical breath test.
Moran, who grew up in Acton and played four seasons at Belmont Hill and then two years at Boston College, also reportedly struggled when asked to perform a standard field sobriety test. Moran was asked to stand on one leg, per the TV report, but swayed before placing his foot down.
“The test ended,” noted the WEVV-TV report, “before the allotted 30 seconds due to safety concerns for Moran.”
Had he his druthers, ex-Bruin Frank Vatrano might have preferred not going on “bye” break, after delivering a career-best 1-3—4 Monday in the Panthers’ 6-2 win over the Sharks. Three straight wins for the Sunrisers, who’ve seen little sunshine in their season (a nowhere 20-20-8 with 34 games to go). “Sometimes how it goes, feeling confident going into every game,” said the Springfield Rifle, now 16-10—26 for the season, giving him career highs in all three categories. Vatrano will return to work after scoring a goal in five of his last seven games, close to the pace in which he potted 36 goals in 36 games as AHL Rookie of the Year with Providence in 2015-16 . . . Propp (1,004) was one of seven players in the 1979 draft, including Bourque (1,579), to reach the coveted 1,000-point plateau in their careers. The others: Mark Messier (1,887), Mike Gartner (1,335), Michel Goulet (1,153), Glenn Anderson (1,099) and Dale Hunter (1,020). Anderson was the latest pick in the bunch, selected 69th by the Oilers. The Bruins made one of the best value picks in that draft, selecting Mike Krushelnyski at No. 120. The Krusher finished with 241 goals and 569 points, 19th in a class that included 126 draftees . . . Kelly McCrimmon, by the way, is the brother of Brad McCrimmon, who perished seven-plus years ago in the plane crash that killed most of the KHL Yaroslavl team he was coaching.