NHL trade deadline deals don’t come cheap
A little more than one week to go before the NHL trade deadline, with Bruins general manager Don Sweeney saying little about how, or if, he plans to upgrade his team prior to the start of the playoffs in April.
The Bruins could use a bona fide winger at the top of the lineup, and support at center down below, where rookies Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (now in Providence) and Trent Frederic have been part of the community auditions over the last three months with limited success. Those two soft spots in the order became apparent by mid-November and neither Sweeney nor coach Bruce Cassidy have conjured up a cure.
The pressure for help higher in the order grew even greater this past week when David Pastrnak, a guy normally rock solid on his skates, fell while leaving a team sponsorship event with teammates, mashed up his left thumb, and required surgery Tuesday morning to repair a tendon. The Bruins will update his condition in two weeks, but best to figure Pasta’s off the menu until at least mid-March.
Pastrnak played every game last season, then all 56 this season, only to get IL’d while hoofing it to catch his ride home with the boys. OK, we are left to accept these truths to be self-evident. The rolled eyes among the press corps when Sweeney offered details of the injury could have wheeled 2-ton blocks of stone to the tip of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
But back to the trade deadline . . .
A year ago, the lead trade suspect around the NHL was Rick Nash, and Sweeney outbid all suitors with a package that included a first-round draft pick, defensive prospect Ryan Lindgren, along with Matt Beleskey and Ryan Spooner. A year later, from Boston’s perspective, the art of the deal was offloading Spooner and Beleskey, a pair of wingers once thought to be essential offensive elements (they combined for 59 goals while wearing the Spoked-B). Today they are Exhibit A: addition by subtraction.
Nash was the real deal and, by market standards in recent years, worth the goods that Sweeney yielded. For about two weeks. Until Nash was dealt yet another concussion, this one ultimately proving to be his express pass to retirement. So it goes in the caveat emptor world of deadline deals. Right deal, wrong outcome, reminiscent of the 1994 deadline swap that had then-GM Harry Sinden plucking Al Iafrate from Washington for Joe Juneau.
The 6-foot-3-inch Iafrate, age 28 that spring, was a defensive powerhouse to behold, with 13 points in 12 regular-season games and also a dynamic contributor in helping the Bruins once more bounce the Canadiens from the playoffs. But like Nash, he was damaged goods and never played again for the Bruins. The Planet’s wheels were shot, though he gave it one last twilight twirl with the Sharks after a two-year rehab.
Juneau never came close to matching the 32 goals and 102 points he posted in Boston in his rookie 1992-93 season. But he popped in another 105 goals over the next 10 years, made himself a pile of dough, and also had a fling in the Cup Final in ’99 with the Sabres. He also earned a degree in aeronautical engineering at RPI, arriving on campus from Quebec in 1987 unable to speak English.
Sinden’s sharpest, shrewdest late-season acquisitions came in 1988 and ’90, each time helping to propel the Bruins to the Cup Final.
On March 3, 1988, he swapped Geoff Courtnall and Bill Ranford to the Oilers for Andy Moog, who proved to be a perfect partner with Reggie Lemelin for another three-plus seasons. It was that spring when the Bruins finally shook the Habs in the playoffs for the first time in 45 years.
The price was high: Courtnall picked up the Cup ring with the Oilers in ’88 and went on to score 289 more goals through the end of the ’90s. Ranford was a two-time Cup winner in Edmonton (each time vs. Boston) and came back to Boston in the Blaine Lacher-Craig Billington days.
In 1990, in a pair of deals with the Flyers, Sinden in January acquired center Dave Poulin and then followed in March by picking up Brian Propp.
Total cost for adding two top-of-the-order forwards: the return of Ken Linseman to Philly, where he starred years earlier, and a second-round pick that the Flyers used on the highly forgettable Terran Sandwith (lifetime NHL line: 8 games, 0-0—0).
Some 30 years later, the Poulin-Propp combination, a pair of experienced, high-performing forwards, could be enough to make the Bruins a 2019 Cup favorite. But in today’s market prices, each one likely would cost Sweeney a first-rounder, a roster player, a top prospect, and perhaps more.
Keep in mind: Propp proved to be a rental (signed by the North Stars in the offseason), while Poulin played another three seasons on Causeway Street prior to hitching on with the Capitals at age 35. In 1991 and ’92, he helped carry the Bruins into the Cup semis. They just don’t make deals like that anymore.
In February 2019, Propp and Poulin are not walking through that door prior to next Monday at 3 p.m. For all the fun chatter around the deadline, the prices today are so exorbitant, and so inflated, that it has rendered the process a fool’s gold rush.
Boyle perfect in his first start
Something good was bound to happen this season for the hapless Ducks, and it finally came Wednesday when goalie Kevin Boyle, 26, posted a 1-0 shutout over the Canucks in his first career start.
Boyle, from Manalapan, N.J., played his first two Division 1 seasons at UMass Amherst, sat out 2013-14, then was the UMass Lowell workhorse (combined 42-19-11) in his junior and senior seasons, before signing with the Ducks as a free agent. After two-plus-seasons at AHL San Diego, he got his shot with the varsity, subbing for injured No. 1 John Gibson. Boyle stifled all 35 Vancouver shots for the shutout.
But, wow, what a plummet for the mighty bad Ducks, who were comfortably in a playoff spot in mid-December and then went a rancid 2-15-4 before GM Bob Murray finally shooed Randy Carlyle out from behind the bench last Sunday. “Our play,” said Murray, an ex-Blackhawks blue liner, “has clearly been unacceptable.”
It was a full three weeks earlier, during a conference call with reporters, when Los Angeles Times columnist Helene Elliott asked Murray, “How long a leash are you giving Randy Carlyle?” The Ducks already were a month deep into “unacceptable,” yet Murray held on, noting Sunday that it was his club’s history of reversing misfortune that made him hang on so long with a clearly losing hand.
The Ducks had a mere two wins in nearly two months when Murray canned Carlyle and put himself behind the bench for the duration. The betting remains that Dallas Eakins, the ex-Oilers coach now four years into his tour at San Diego, will be named Anaheim bench boss in the offseason.
But that assumes Murray still holds the corner office after waiting so long to do the obvious. Headed into Friday night’s matchup with the Bruins, the Ducks had but 53 points, only a 6-point edge on the cellar-dwelling Senators in the overall standings.
What happened? By Murray’s eye “lack of emotion” has been the culprit. By an outsider’s eye, the Ducks’ Big Three look like toast.
Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler are all age 33-plus, each closing in on 1,000 games, and each with high-priced, no-move deals for at least two more years (three for Kesler). To be fair, Perry has just returned, post-surgery, after tearing up a knee in the preseason. If he can get back in gear, Perry can move the needle.
But overall, the Ducks are hurting for speed and also lack the talented youth corps that virtually every team now tries to have in on-the-job training. Without the developing ride-a-long component — witness Boston last season with Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen, and this season with Matt Grzelcyk — aging, heavy rosters such as Anaheim’s are destined for a slow roll to nowhere. The Ducks look like they’re getting nowhere even faster.
Thornton still offers handouts
Brooklyn-born Kevin Labanc was a couple of months shy of his second birthday when Joe Thornton, then a gangly 18-year-old rawboned Bruins rookie, took his first NHL shift in October 1997. On Monday, the 23-year-old Labanc potted the Thornton feed that moved Jumbo Joe into ninth place all time with assist No. 1,050, inching him ahead of Gordie Howe. It’s an especially good day on Planet Joe when Mr. Hockey shows up in the rearview mirror.
“He’s been a special player for two decades,” said teammate Logan Couture, who came aboard the Sharkfest some five seasons into Thornton’s tour de force.
Thornton, who will be 40 on July 2, has a much lower profile (30 points in 48 games at last look) in the Sharks’ attack these days. Bad knees limited him to 47 games last season, and kept him out of the playoffs. Yet he still has the long reach, soft hands, and pinpoint vision that soon could have him chipping ahead of Steve Yzerman at No. 8 (1,063) on the career assist list.
Is there a next year for Jumbo? Probably. His knees are good again and this is his third straight season on an expiring contract, having signed consecutive one-year deals of $8 million and $5 million the last two seasons. The Sharks aren’t likely to insult him with an offer under, say, $4 million, and that’s good value for a guy delivering above .600 points per game when not getting top-of-the-order minutes. He’ll likely roll out for 15-17 minutes when the Bruins face the Sharks Monday night in San Jose.
There is no questioning now that Thornton, dished away from Boston in haste, is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He has yet to win a Cup, and the argument lingers whether the Bruins would have won in 2011 had the roster parts not changed in the wake of his leaving in November 2005.
There is no knowing that answer, but by that point, Thornton was 31 and had collected another 556 points in 5½ seasons with San Jose. Had he assumed the GM job in 2006 with Thornton still in Black and Gold, Peter Chiarelli likely would have fit him in somewhere in the lineup, backed by a newly arrived Zdeno Chara on the backline. We can only say they would have had their postseason chances.
For those who might have forgotten (hand up here), Thornton’s first NHL assist came on an Anson Carter goal (with added help from Rookie of the Year Sergei Samsonov) on Jan. 25, 1998 — a 4-1 loss in Washington.
As for Howe, he put up 334 more helpers in his WHA tour with Houston-New England-Hartford, calling it quits at age 52 with 1,383 assists.
Headed into the weekend, the Rangers’ roster still included Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, and Adam McQuaid, but they remain on the Blueshirt “endangered species” list. Although, it would be easier for GM Jeff Gorton to part with any of the three if there had been more of a resurgence this season under new coach David Quinn. It’s still a roster in development and dishing away those three for future help could impede, not accelerate, the Broadway comeback . . . Despite putting up 102 points his freshman season in Boston, Joe Juneau was not the Calder winner as the NHL Rookie of the Year in 1993. Some upstart in Winnipeg, Teemu Selanne, walked off with the hardware after posting 76-56—132. The 76 remain a rookie record. Only three players have scored more in a season: Wayne Gretzky (92, 87), Brett Hull (86), and Mario Lemieux (85) . . . Coach Bruce Boudreau offered a bold “we’ll make the playoffs” for his Wild late in the week. Hard to envision now with Mikko Koivu finished for the season after recent knee surgery. Minny is short on moxie . . . Word around the Kings, who faced the Bruins Saturday night in LA, is that they may move Carl Hagelin, the left wing burner they obtained earlier this season from Pittsburgh in a swap for Tanner Pearson. His production has been meager (19 games: 1-4—5), but the ex-Michigan standout can play up and down the lineup and on the penalty kill. He probably changes venues for a second- or third-round pick . . . The Bruins next Saturday afternoon will be in St. Louis, where the Blues, dead last in the Original 31 as recently as Jan 3, last week slipped into a wild-card spot in the West after going 11-4 over the last five weeks. Upon dismissing Mike Yeo as coach Nov. 20, GM Doug Armstrong put Craig Berube behind the bench and asked consultant Larry Robinson to help tutor the defensemen. A big part of the Blues’ comeback has been the play of franchise blue liner Alex Pietrangelo. The biggest lift of all has come in net, with Jordan Binnington bumping Jake Allen out of the No. 1 job. As the weekend approached, Binnington stood 10-1-1, 1.82, .927. Binnington went 88th in the June 2011 draft, the same year Anaheim claimed John Gibson at No. 39 . . . Bruins prospect Jack Studnicka, swapped from Oshawa to Niagara upon completion of the World Junior tournament, has been hot for the IceDogs: 15 games, 11-12—23. Studnicka, a center, will turn 20 on Tuesday and likely will be tied up in junior this spring on a long Memorial Cup run. He’ll be another candidate for third-line pivot duty when the Bruins open their camp in September . . . Trevor Gretzky (son of Wayne) and Alexa Lemieux (daughter of Mario) have been working together on a hockey movie, “Odd Man Rush,” with ex-Whalers boss Howard Baldwin the executive-producer. Baldwin 76, also produced “Mystery, Alaska” and was among the co-producers of “Ray,” the story of Ray Charles . . . During Chiarelli’s watch in Boston, his best deadline deal was for a No. 3 pivot, Chris Kelly, who came aboard roughly two weeks ahead of the deadline from Ottawa for a second-round pick. The versatile Kelly played center, wing, and also killed penalties, precisely the kind of fit and price Don Sweeney should be looking for in the current market . . . Ex-Bruins coach Claude Julien should be a happier man with ex-Bruins prospect Nate Thompson aboard for fourth-line duty with the Canadiens. The Kings and Habs swapped middle-round picks in the deal. To make room, the Habs waived ex-Bruins short-timer Kenny Agostino. A former Yalie (Class of 2014), the 26-year-old Agostino played in career NHL game No. 59 when he debuted with the Devils, who picked him up off waivers. Despite the short résumé, Agostino has suited up for five NHL franchises. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the record for short résumé, long laundry: goalie Mike McKenna, who has played a total 35 NHL games for seven franchises: Tampa Bay, New Jersey, Columbus, Arizona, Dallas, Ottawa, and Philadelphia . . . Ducks GM Bob Murray, 64, and Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, 53, were briefly teammates on the Blackhawks, playing under Mike Keenan’s iron fist in the late ’80s. Cassidy, who played in only 36 NHL games, recently recalled being at the Garden and jumping on the ice, blatantly disregarding Keenan’s orders. “I figured I’d deal with it later,” recalled Cassidy. “It was Boston Garden and I was getting out there.”