David Pastrnak is the best scorer on the best line on the best team in hockey. At this moment, that’s hardly a controversial statement.
Edmonton, certainly, and perhaps much of Canada would say Connor McDavid is hockey’s most dangerous striker, because of No. 97’s preternatural talent and highlight-reel hype. They also might point to Leon Draisaitl, who entered Saturday with a 2-point lead on Pastrnak in the scoring race (26-24) and was tied in goals (12).
But the Oilers had played two more games, and their superstars averaged some five to six minutes a night more than Pastrnak, who went into the weekend as the league’s top point producer (2.0 per game, 12-12—24). He, more than anyone, was why the Bruins trampled October like elephants.
With respect to those who strike fear across the league — McDavid and Draisaitl, October double-digit goal scorers Alex Ovechkin and Auston Matthews, the suddenly lonely Nathan MacKinnon — this description that fits Pastrnak’s offensive skill set also applies to his line, and his team: Right now, he has the league’s most potent mix.
Best bargain in hockey? It has to be Pastrnak. There are 12 right wingers, 50 forwards, and 73 players who put more of a dent in their teams’ salary cap than No. 88, whose annual tag is around $6.67 million. Unless you want to make a case for Brad Marchand ($6.125 million, fifth in scoring at 7-14—21) or Patrice Bergeron ($6.875 million for the game’s most complete center), Pastrnak is it.
The Bruins continue to enjoy the good fortune of Pastrnak, who signed his six-year, $40 million second contract in September 2017, outperforming that deal. They would have to change their roster composition to fit more expensive right wingers who, to this point, have been less productive, such as Mitch Marner ($10.893 million), Patrick Kane ($10.5 million), Nikita Kucherov ($9.5 million), Mark Stone ($9.5 million), and the injured Mikko Rantanen ($9.25 million).
When Pastrnak’s six-year sheet expires in 2023, he will have just turned 27. He could carry the Bruins’ first double-digit AAV. He will get paid.
Let’s posit that Pastrnak, who has blossomed from a 167-pound rookie to 195-pound powerhouse in five-plus seasons, keeps evolving and growing his game. Say we’re looking at the age-23 season of one of the dominant players of his generation. It’s certainly possible, though there’s so much skill in the league nowadays that goals such as Matthew Tkachuk’s OT strike against Carolina — from the slot, on the move, between his legs, blocker-side high — are becoming commonplace. The bet here is Pastrnak has more tricks up his tattooed sleeves.
Which means reigning GM of the Year Don Sweeney must have some of his own.
Long before Pastrnak signs for a $10 million-$12 million cap hit, the Bruins will have made a choice on Torey Krug, who likely pushed himself into the $8 million range annually before Nashville captain Roman Josi inked an eight-year pact worth $9.059 million per last week. If not worth that much — and his production over the last four years is greater (172 points to Josi’s 171, in nine fewer games) — Krug should at least command the $8 million John Carlson, Brent Burns, Thomas Chabot, Jacob Trouba, and Victor Hedman will be making.
Sweeney needs to determine how high to go with Krug, how long to extend RFAs-to-be Jake DeBrusk (1-3—4 through 12 games) and Matt Grzelcyk, and whether he wants to boost third-line center Charlie Coyle up to the $5 million range (current rate: $3.2 million) or let him walk.
The largest domino, Krug, could wait it out until July 1. He and his wife, Melanie, have a newborn daughter (Saylor Harper, born in June) and they like it in Boston. He has stated a preference to stay, where the organizational culture is established and he’s part of the leadership group. It also may be appealing for the Livonia, Mich., product to become a building block for Detroit, where Steve Yzerman is looking for a No. 1 defenseman.
Other concerns: The Bruins don’t have a No. 1 or 2 center waiting to replace Bergeron or David Krejci. If they had to go to market for that, who knows who might shake free by the time Bergeron, 34, and Krejci, 33, are overripe, or what they might cost. Goaltending at the NHL level is not a current concern, but Tuukka Rask is 32 and Jaroslav Halak is 34, so that could be a potential spending area if prospects don’t rise up.
When Pastrnak is up in 2023, the Bruins could have a 35-year-old Marchand under contract, be well into Krug and Coyle’s next deals, and have started the third contracts for DeBrusk, Grzelcyk, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Danton Heinen. Unless they develop a few more high-level prospects and the veterans take an uncalled two-hand slash to Father Time, they may not reach the power they have now: the best line and deepest roster in the game, all fitting snugly under the cap.
As Globe great Bob Ryan once wrote, these are the good old days.
Wagner shootout option for Cassidy
Chris Wagner has never had a shootout attempt. He had one penalty shot, as a Duck playing the Devils in 2016, and the puck rolled off the end of his stick.
But as a Bruin, the hard-edged fourth-liner from Walpole has become a capable finisher on breakaways. Last Tuesday, he scored his first of the season by going five-hole on Martin Jones. The Sharks keeper is not alone. Chad Johnson, Tristian Jarry, Jake Allen, and Petr Mrazek are among the goalies who have fallen victim to Wagner’s patience with the puck.
“I’ve got to find something else, I think,” Wagner said. “Someone’s going to figure it out eventually. I’m not going in shootouts, so they can’t scout me that hard.”
That might change. Wagner, who doubled his previous career high in goals last season (12), could be a candidate.
“He would,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He seems to have that forehand-backhand hesitation move, going five-hole.” Cassidy leans on reports from assistant “Goalie Bob” Essensa, who tracks netminder tendencies. Against a goalie who tends to open his pads or overcommit to dekes, Cassidy said, Wagner would be a good call. He has used Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Charlie Coyle, and Jake DeBrusk in the Bruins’ only shootout of the season (Oct. 17 against Tampa Bay).
“Now, the minute I throw [Wagner] out there ahead of Pastrnak, everyone’s going to think I’m crazy,” Cassidy said. “But he’s proven that he should be at some point, whether it goes a few shooters in or not.”
STICKING IT OUT
Ailing Falconer still answers bell
Players get hurt all the time, and Matt Falconer was no different.
The Bruins’ longtime equipment assistant has had a bit of back trouble of late, and before last Saturday’s game against the Blues, he couldn’t lift much of anything. Tough state of affairs for someone whose job description demands the expedited shuttling of objects, some of them heavy.
Falconer, whose on-the-fly stick exchanges have helped many a Bruin stay in the game, couldn’t do that, but he couldn’t sit out. He passed his pit-crew responsibilities off to head man Keith Robinson, who typically handles skates and blades. When Chris Wagner broke his stick during play, and headed toward the bench for another, “Keto” was on call.
After years of operating next to his swift-handed linemate, it didn’t immediately click that the shouts of “14, 14” were meant to spur him into action, not Falconer. Dutifully, Falconer labored to the rack in the hall and grabbed a righthanded Bauer. Wagner later said he didn’t notice. He just got his stick as usual.
“One of the more underappreciated parts of our games,” Wagner said of equipment managers. “Hours are terrible, but a lot of the guys have been around the game for a long time. The ones I’ve had are great. They put up with a lot. There’s some high-maintenance guys. I like to not be one of them.”
If the Bruins did need another hand, they might call on photographer Keith Babineau, who knows his way around and once served a year on the equipment staff.
If needed to get a replacement for Robinson, who takes expert care of those skates, they might call up Providence equipment head Anthony Pelleccione, in his third year in that role and sixth with the P-B’s.
Byfuglien’s pact far from worst
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, his club off to a 6-7-0 start, appeared a bit rankled when discussing Dustin Byfuglien. “Big Buff,” 869 games into his career, had ankle surgery two weeks ago, and is expected to be out until January. Winnipeg has been dealing with a crater-sized hole on its defense since September, when it suspended the 34-year-old without pay after he failed to report to camp.
He had taken a leave of absence for personal reasons following an injury-riddled 2018-19, taking his $7.6 million salary off the table. If out because of a legitimate injury, he could argue he deserves his usual biweekly paychecks. As of Friday, Byfuglien’s agent, Ben Hankinson, and the NHLPA were reviewng the case, one reason Cheveldayoff was laying bricks in front of reporters. “It’s a real complicated issue,” Cheveldayoff said. “It’s tough to sit here and talk about something I really can’t talk about at this point in time.”
Byfuglien, with two years left on his deal, wound up missing about half of last season, yet ranked 15th in points per game by blue liners (4-27—31 in 42 games) and led the Jets in ice time (24:22). Given the potential that he could come back and contribute — and at present, his deal isn’t hampering the Jets’ cap — Byfuglien isn’t the veteran with the least appealing contract leaguewide.
That booby prize might go to Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan ($7.25 million through 2022), Chicago’s Brent Seabrook ($6.875M through ’22), Calgary’s Milan Lucic ($6M through ’23), and the Bruins’ David Backes ($6M through ’21), all of whom are fighting for ice time. In Vancouver, former Bruin Loui Eriksson ($6M through ’22) can’t crack the lineup.
Eriksson is the highest-paid forward in Vancouver, which has Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes on entry-level deals for two more years and is likely to hand Brock Boeser a major raise in three years, when Eriksson’s deal expires. Young talent like that had the Canucks 8-3-1 through Thursday in their 50th anniversary season, overlooking any contracts that soured.
Sharks have time to turn it around
Not all good teams have it together in October (or December, right St. Louis?), so I’m willing to give the Sharks a pass for their early-season malaise. While they might be missing offseason departures Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi a bit, and the goaltending remains a major problem, there’s enough firepower and leadership on the roster to pull out of the 4-9-1 hole they sat in entering Saturday. And if not, GM Doug Wilson has shown a masterful touch in retooling his roster.
Their 5-1 loss Tuesday in Boston was their fifth game in seven days, three time zones away from home, on a 1-3-1 road trip. Causeway Street was the end of the line, and no one looked particularly sharp. It happens.
But if it goes on like this, and Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are cooked (possible, given their ages) . . . they don’t get a save all year (by the way, shouldn’t the Coyotes listen to offers for Antti Raanta?) . . . and Erik Karlsson remains in a funk, the Tiburones could spend the second half trying to swim away from their first DNQ in five seasons.
Karlsson, the game’s highest-paid back liner ($11.5 million through 2027), was ripped in some quarters last week. TSN Radio 1050 Toronto was particularly tough on him, calling him disinterested and soft. Karlsson, among the game’s premier offensive forces for years, does not look like a two-time Norris Trophy winner at present. That’s apparent.
Not willing to question his desire, however, particularly given what one longtime team employee pointed out: Karlsson and his wife, Melinda, welcomed a daughter (Harlow Rain) five weeks premature on Oct. 3, which caused Karlsson to miss the season opener. The hockey world is aware of the Karlssons’ parenting plight after they shared publicly last season. Their first child, a boy, arrived stillborn when Karlsson was playing for the Senators in March 2018. Like any job, hockey becomes secondary when a child needs care.
Congrats to John Carlson, 7-16—23 in his first 14 games, for what would be a unanimous October Norris win. Tuukka Rask and David Pastrnak would have good arguments for the October Vezina and Hart. Ralph Krueger, who had Buffalo (9-2-2) atop the Atlantic for most of the month, is my October Jack Adams pick. His top right wing, Victor “Goalofsson” Olofsson, takes the October Calder . . . At five on five through Friday, Connor McDavid had been on the ice for 17 goals for and seven against. His running mate, Leon Draisaitl: 18 and eight (and they were helping linemate Zack Kassian enjoy similar numbers). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, forever holding down a second line, was at eight and four. The rest of it was ugly. Of the 13 other forwards to dress for Edmonton, all but Tomas Jurco (4-3) were underwater. Four forwards who had nearly a full month of ice time — Jujhar Khaira, Patrick Russell, Riley Sheahan, and Markus Granlund — had been on the ice for two goals combined, and 23 against. Can’t imagine new GM Ken Holland will put up with that for long . . . . . . Hockey mourned Jim Gregory, who spent more than 40 years as a league executive. Gregory, who was 83, served 10 years as Maple Leafs general manager (1969-79), and was later NHL scouting director and hockey operations director. From 1998 to 2014, as chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee, he was the voice who gave new honorees “the call.” RIP, as well, to Dick Flood, the longtime coach at Noble and Greenough and headmaster at Salisbury School, who died last week at 84. Flood, a longtime Dedham resident who retired to Jamestown, R.I., founded the summertime Europa Cup, which counts Tom Barrasso, Brian Leetch, Jeremy Roenick, and dozens more among its alums. Flood’s son, Sam, is executive producer and president of production for NBC Sports
Wild times: The 7-6 overtime win by the Lightning over the Devils on Wednesday was the highest-scoring game of the season. Before Tyler Johnson’s OT winner, the Bolts scored three in a row in the third period to erase a 5-3 deficit. Through Thursday, there had been 13 multi-goal third-period comeback wins, the most through the first 193 games in a season in NHL history. Since the start of last year, there have been eight regular-season games with at least five tying goals, including that Lightning-Devils tilt. There were none in the seven years before 2017-18 . . . There’s a lot of grumbling in Toronto about the Leafs’ 6-5-3 start, but at least no one’s throwing waffles on the ice, and John Tavares will be back at some point. In Leafland, the waiting continues.