|Top-rated center Tyler Seguin opened some eyes at the NHL combine with his workouts — and chiseled frame. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press via Ap)|
Second coming for Bruins
TORONTO — Jim Gregory, ex-general manager of the Maple Leafs and longtime NHL front office executive, gave an old acquaintance a pleasant smile and knowing nod yesterday as he made his way around the NHL combine at an airport hotel.
“OK, Jimmy, c’mon,’’ said the veteran wag from Boston, “who’s your first pick in the draft?’’
Without hesitation, and with his eyebrows lifted higher than the old Garden rafters, he offered, “Bobby Orr!’’
Great choice, no matter what the era, but just a few decades behind the play.
Meanwhile, unless something changes dramatically the next 3-4 weeks, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli won’t have too much angst over his first pick in the draft on June 25. He’s holding the second pick, delivered courtesy of the Maple Leafs via last September’s swap of Phil Kessel to Toronto, and will choose either center Tyler Seguin or right wing Taylor Hall, each considered five-star stud prospects, and rated 1-2 respectively by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau.
Both Seguin and Hall were on display at the combine, though only Seguin went through the rigorous paces of yesterday’s station-by-station (11 total) physical testing inside a steamy Sutton Ballroom. Hall politely opted out of the process, granted special dispensation for lingering injuries (a tender back, in particular) from a season in which he just won his second title as Memorial Cup MVP. Seguin impressed one and all, for his general poise and polished demeanor as well as his eye-catching workouts, including such top-end numbers as 39 sit-ups, 29 push-ups, and 14 bench presses of 150 pounds. Those repetitions must be done with perfect form.
“Did you see him with his shirt off?’’ said an impressed Chiarelli, Seguin among the most chiseled teenagers, his biceps and triceps particularly developed. “It’s pretty impressive . . . the muscle development and the girth, the mass.’’
Hall, listed as 13 pounds heavier (185 vs. 172) than Seguin, actually looked leaner, certainly less bulky. Based on that eyeball comparison, it would have been interesting to see how his test numbers would have fared vs. Seguin. Chiarelli, though, didn’t sound like a man who doubts Hall’s upside or physical prowess.
“He’s a real competitor,’’ said Chiarelli, focusing on Hall’s exceptional play in the Memorial Cup tourney, junior hockey’s equivalent of the Stanley Cup. “He competed and he won’t take no for an answer . . . wants to get to that net. He wins.’’
All in all, Chiarelli and Co. will leave the draft in Los Angeles with their most highly-touted prospect since the franchise made Joe Thornton the No. 1 pick in 1997. Which one goes to Boston will be determined by the Oilers, who hold the No. 1 pick. Chiarelli said he met Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini the other night for a beer, but the execs didn’t discuss their somewhat awkward, symbiotic existence atop the amateur draft’s totem pole. At some point, they will talk, said Chiarelli.
Selecting Seguin or Hall will have ramifications up and down the Boston lineup, one that Chiarelli again said delivered too many “peaks and valleys’’ for his liking during the regular season. “I don’t like the highs to be too high, or the lows to be too low,’’ he said, adding the “sustained lows’’ off 2009-10 were the most troubling.
All of which could/should contribute to some interesting changes in the coming weeks and months, with the selection of Seguin or Hall among the first steps in what could be an aggressive Boston makeover.
“Yes,’’ said Chiarelli, “it will have a bearing in what direction we go in.’’
The draft itself comes smack dab in the middle of the NHL’s two-week buyout window leading up to July 1 free agency. During Chiarelli’s four years on Causeway St., he has bought out the likes of Peter Schaefer, Glen Murray, and Patrick Eaves (a procedure crafted around the Aaron Ward trade to Carolina and the UFA acquisition of Derek Morris).
Michael Ryder would have to be considered a possible buyout this June, given his futile regular-season campaign. He showed a little more life and pop in the playoffs, but enough to keep him on the books at $4 million? It could be that a $2.64 million savings against the cap will be a more attractive figure to Boston’s front office.
Marco Sturm cannot be bought out because of a knee injury and he has one year left at $3.5 million. If he were convinced that the road back is too long, just as Alexei Zhamnov was when Mike O’Connell was GM, then he could call it quits with full pay (much of it covered by insurance) and his cap figure would be deleted from the 2010-11 payroll.
Blake Wheeler, a restricted free agent July 1, carried a cap hit of $2.825 million last season. He is a prime candidate to be dealt, following a sophomore season that was maddeningly inconsistent. Add up a Ryder buyout, a Sturm walkaway, and a Wheeler trade, and that’s some $9 million in cap money jingling in Chiarelli’s deepened pocket. It certainly would make for more shopping power, some of it no doubt to be spent on securing unrestricted free agent defenseman Dennis Seidenberg to a new deal.
Take the highs and lows of the 2009-10 regular season and mix in an epic collapse in the playoffs, and what you’ve got is a GM who should find it easier to make roster decisions both bold and aggressive.
“It makes it easier, yes it does’’ agreed Chiarelli, four full seasons now logged in the Boston front office.
An intriguing summer, with Seguin or Hall just the start of it.