A pile of fireworks sits there, and this class of restricted free agents has doused it with a bucket of water.
Instead of setting ablaze their dollars for big-name veterans, a slew of NHL teams are trying to fit under their salary caps the Mitch Marners, Mikko Rantanens, Brayden Points, Sebastian Ahos, and yes, Charlie McAvoys of the league. It’s a summer for re-upping young RFAs, not breaking the bank for unrestricted free agents.
Still, a few teams could do the latter (and no, the Bruins won’t be one of them). Ranking the league from most interesting to least entering July 1:
Colorado Avalanche — Megabucks coming for Mikko Rantanen, but the Avalanche could be working with $28 million-$30 million in cap space after extending their top RFA. A team that was an offside call away from the Western Conference finals could be in the mix for Artemi Panarin, Marcus Johansson or anyone in between.
Florida Panthers — Entering Friday, the dream of a Panarin-Sergei Bobrovsky blockbuster remained alive. It would be a franchise-changer, not unlike the Bruins adding Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard in 2006. These Panthers are far closer to making noise than were those Bruins.
New York Islanders — Also in line for the Bob-and-Bread combo meal. If they can’t land the two-time Vezina winner, they’ll push harder to re-up their own Vezina finalist, Robin Lehner. What if they lose 28-year-old captain Anders Lee, whose bullish net-front game will get heavier as he ages?
New York Rangers — Panarin players, and looking at some kind of movement with a bunch of forwards (Chris Kreider, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ryan Strome, Jimmy Vesey, Jesper Fast) entering the last years of their deals.
Columbus Blue Jackets — Likely to lose their star Russian duo, plus Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. Tons of cap space for several forwards. Also have to extend RFA blue liner Zach Werenski.
Dallas Stars — Looking for complementary scorers to help Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. If they can’t extend Mats Zuccarello, Joe Pavelski makes a lot of sense.
Tampa Bay Lightning — Will be tight after handing Brayden Point close to $10 million, but seemingly always ready to deal. May have to move a contract. Need another defenseman.
Toronto Maple Leafs — The Mitch Marner drama is the talk of the town. Leafs need to shed salary and improve the back line.
Winnipeg Jets — RFAs Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, and Andrew Copp are the focus. Good team that doesn’t need to change much.
Vancouver Canucks — Brock Boeser’s second contract will take up about half of their $15 million in cap room. Getting rid of Loui Eriksson’s three years at $6 million would be a plus, especially since they’ll take Roberto Luongo’s retirement cap recapture penalty ($3-plus million through 2022).
New Jersey Devils — Adding P.K. Subban and Jack Hughes may help convince 2020 UFA Taylor Hall to stay long term, but the Devils need forwards now. Micheal Ferland or Gustav Nyquist could be a fit.
Nashville Predators — Dealing Subban and his $9 million cap hit opened the door for Duchene, who would surprise many if he didn’t finally tie the knot with his long-rumored suitors in Music City.
Vegas Golden Knights — Like Toronto, entered the weekend over the salary cap. Someone (Ryan Reaves?) will be available.
Carolina Hurricanes — Have to save money for Sebastian Aho. In need of goaltending. Could make a play for Lehner.
Calgary Flames — Ditto, but change Aho to Matthew Tkachuk.
Buffalo Sabres — Some $19 million annually tied up in Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner the next seven years. Need youngsters Tage Thompson and Alexander Nylander to become contributors, but could make a splash.
Pittsburgh Penguins — General manager Jim Rutherford is itchy to keep open the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin championship window. Phil Kessel is out, shipped to the Coyotes for center Alex Galchenyuk. They can’t go into 2019 with an Erik Gudbranson-Jack Johnson defense pairing, can they?
Anaheim Ducks — How do the underwhelming Ducks improve? Adding Toronto fan whipping boy Jake Gardiner would be a nice play for a team that has just five defensemen under contact.
Chicago Blackhawks — Potential players for a veteran forward such as Johansson or Corey Perry, who was bought out by the Ducks.
Montreal Canadiens — Could use an upgrade on defense, particularly a left-side partner for Shea Weber. They were reportedly in the mix for Duchene.
Edmonton Oilers — Get Connor McDavid some help, please. Some budget winger is going to wind up in Edmonton. Several teams are reportedly interested in former fourth overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi.
San Jose Sharks — About to lose their captain, Pavelski, who could be on the way to Arizona, Dallas, Minnesota or Tampa Bay. Also, what’s the plan in net?
Philadelphia Flyers — Need another forward line and RFAs Scott Laughton, Travis Konecny, and Ivan Provorov are due raises.
Arizona Coyotes — Enter July 1 with less than $3 million in cap space after adding Carl Soderberg via trade.
Los Angeles Kings — The West’s worst team (71 points) has a bunch of aging, underperforming players. A candidate for a major shakeup.
Minnesota Wild — Stagnant. Trying to move Jason Zucker, and reportedly had a deal for Kessel fall through.
Ottawa Senators — In need of warm bodies to fill out the roster.
Washington Capitals — Not a lot of money ($9.2 million) left, so the Capitals shipped RFA Andre Burakovsky to Colorado on Friday. Jakub Vrana and Christian Djoos remain.
Detroit Red Wings — No one expects Steve Yzerman to rebuild the Wings overnight. As he waits for prospects such as Joe Veleno (104 points in 59 QMJHL games this past season) and Filip Zadina, he’ll have nearly clean books in two years.
St. Louis Blues — Can bring back most of a Cup champion roster. Two most intriguing negotiations: hometown hero Patrick Maroon, due for $3 million-$4 million as a UFA, and RFA goalie Jordan Binnington.
Boston Bruins — In a good spot. Key players locked up at team-friendly prices. Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Danton Heinen will eat most of the available $12 million. A top-six winger, if available, would be a nice add. If not, maybe Jack Studnicka makes a push.
Surface at Garden was far from ideal
When a Zamboni took its first laps around an NHL arena, at Boston Garden in the fall of 1954, players might have scoffed that nothing man-made could help the wretched, rutty surface. After Game 4 of the 1988 Stanley Cup Final — nullified when an old transformer blew at the then-60-year-old arena — Edmonton coach Glen Sather remarked that the blacked-out building was bad, but the ice was worse.
“It’s like skating in sand,” he told reporters afterward.
Ice quality always has been on hockey’s list of chief complaints, especially in Boston and other temperate locales. At 24-year-old TD Garden, the familiar crabby chorus rang out from opening night until June 12, the last day of hockey this spring.
During the first round of the playoffs, Brad Marchand said that the Bruins and Leafs might as well have been playing with a tennis ball, the puck was bouncing so much. In Round 2, Columbus center Matt Duchene called the Garden surface “awful . . . probably the worst ice I’ve played on in this league.” After the season ended, Bruin David Pastrnak termed it “terrible. I don’t know what it is, why, or how we can make it better.”
Though they can’t control the warm and muggy weather that hampers ice-making every spring, Bruins management believes the sheet will be of higher quality in 2019-20. They pointed to the ongoing Garden renovations (target date of completion: 2020) as a primary culprit for the choppiness.
“It didn’t help that we had pierced walls in the building,” Delaware North CEO Charlie Jacobs said. “We didn’t have a controlled environment. We really did try to mitigate the poor ice to the best of our abilities, and we spent a fortune doing it.”
Garden spokeswoman Tricia McCorkle said “engineering experts and highly trained HVAC technicians” are coming this summer to audit the Garden’s ice-making process and help them adjust. But as long as the Celtics play half their games there, concerts come rumbling through, and we get an annual atmospheric reprieve from winter hell, an Olympic speedskating track this will not be.
“It’s not going to be ideal,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said. “Especially when you have days that spike to 85 with humidity. You’re always going to have some variance in a building that’s busy.”
DeBrusk clearly wasn’t himself
Zdeno Chara was lionized for playing through his injury — a jaw broken in multiple places — in Games 5-7 of the Cup Final. It’s hard to feel the same when it comes to Jake DeBrusk.
The second-year winger suffered two concussions this season, and was cleared to play after both. But his comments on breakup day, when players typically reveal the extent of their injuries, made it clear that DeBrusk was playing hurt.
“I think everyone saw in Game 2 against Toronto,” he said. “From then on, I was kind of battling some things here and there. Nothing I didn’t think I could play through. This time of year, it’s just a matter of will.”
Let’s pause here for a moment. “Game 2 against Toronto” was when the hotheaded Nazem Kadri chopped DeBrusk above the shoulders and was kicked out of the playoffs. DeBrusk was even less lucky five months before in Toronto, when he took a Danton Heinen shot to the skull (he said he was slew-footed by Nikita Zaitsev, who put him at risk after he dropped him in front of the net). After posting a 27-15—42 line in 68 games, DeBrusk went 4-7—11 in 24 playoff contests.
“It was a challenge, especially playing every second night for almost two straight months was tough,” DeBrusk said, reflecting in the days after the Bruins lost Game 7 of the Cup Final to the Blues. “There’s different things that happen throughout the games and different situations for me personally. You just try and take notes and try learning things you see from the older guys, especially around those times where you feel like you don’t have your legs or you feel you don’t really have anything going on and there’s different kind of stuff hindering you.”
That’s fine, and forever thus. No one will ever lift the Cup at 100 percent health. NHL concussion protocol, as Bruins GM Don Sweeney noted, is “cut and dried”; either a player passes a series of neurological tests or he doesn’t play.
But head injuries aren’t broken bones. Pain tolerance shouldn’t be a factor when it comes to the brain. If DeBrusk wasn’t right upstairs, he shouldn’t have been on the ice. The NHL should assess whether it goes far enough to protect players who might still be foggy. Teams would fall in line.
“The systems are in place to protect the players. And rightfully so,” Sweeney said. “They’re only going to get stronger. Adherence to them is an obligation for every one of us.”
Dipping into Russian pool
After taking defenseman Roman Bychkov in the fifth round (154th overall) this year, and forward Pavel Shen in last year’s seventh round (212th), the Bruins have drafted Russian players in each of the last two seasons. The Bruins hope their Russian fortunes are changing.
Since 1992, when they spent the 16th overall pick on Dmitri Kvartalnov, they have drafted 14 players who were born and trained in Russia. Aside from 1998 Calder Trophy winner Sergei Samsonov (888 NHL games, 514 with Boston), 13 Russian draft picks since have combined to play 22 games in Black and Gold.
Kvartalnov, who registered 91 points in 112 games in Boston before returning to a successful career in Europe, has been a KHL head coach since 2009. Had he not taken a job with Ak Bars Kazan this offseason, he might have been coaching Bychkov. The Bruins draftee could be headed to Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, where Kvartalnov coached the last two years.
Mogilny deserving of Hall
Czech pioneer Vaclav Nedomansky’s Hall call last week makes it stranger still to see no “HHOF” honorific next to Alexander Mogilny.
Mogilny, who was terrifying as a 76-goal Sabre, put up 55 one year with the Canucks, and carried a big stick for the turn-of-the-century Devils, has both the stats and cultural impact to warrant inclusion.
He played 17 years in the NHL, set the points record for a Russian (127) before Nikita Kucherov broke it this season (128), and his success after becoming the first Soviet player to defect in 1989 blazed a path for his countrymen to come to North America.
More accolades: Triple Gold club. First non-North American NHL captain. First Russian to be named an All-Star.
He scored 1,032 points, and while Evgeni Malkin (1,002) is likely to pass him next season, Mogilny should be the fourth-highest scoring Russian until the only active Russians who could catch him (Kucherov and Vladimir Tarasenko) are near the end of their careers.
Not trying to pump his tires, but Roberto Luongo, who retired this past week, would get this writer’s Hall of Fame vote. Among the best over two decades, dominant at his peak, should have won a Vezina (see: 2004, ’07), a workhorse, a franchise player. A lot of memorable moments off the ice, too: His heartfelt speech after the Parkland shooting; announcing his contract “sucks;” being hockey’s first Twitter superstar. A legend . . . Among the good stories sullied by the Blues’ dominant close: Matt Grzelcyk scored in Game 7 of the Cup Final a mile away from his childhood home. That’s living the dream . . . According to College Hockey Inc., the number of NCAA draft picks has climbed by 27 percent over the last five drafts, from 56 in 2015 to 71 this year. The 2019 crop, led by fifth overall pick Alex Turcotte (Kings), was the most in 12 years . . . Sixteen of the top 100, including BU-bound ninth selection Trevor Zegras (Ducks), are signed by New England schools . . . US National Team Development Program U18 coach John Wroblewski on Turcotte, per The Athletic: “Sandpaper and silk. He’s kind of a Brad Marchand type.” Wonder what the Brad Marchand of 2007 development camp would have thought if told that one day, No. 5 overall draft picks would be compared to him.
Our informal poll of Bruins this spring named David Krejci and Chris Wagner as the best golfers on the team. Wagner, whose displaced ulna fracture kept him out of the Final, ceded the crown to Krejci. Walpole’s own was cleared to play Game 7, but his forearm won’t be course-ready until August. “I can chip and putt,” he said. “But if I get caught in a divot . . . ”