|CUP OF CHEER - Bruins goalie Tim Thomas was a big hit yesterday when he brought the Stanley Cup to Burlington, Vt., where he went to college. (Alison Redlich/Associated Press)|
Pandolfo fast approaching a career crossroads
Last Tuesday, the five-on-five games had concluded by 10 a.m. Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Dennis Seidenberg, Joe Corvo, and Chris Kelly, some of the active NHLers participating in the lighthearted games, hustled off the sheet at Boston University’s Walter Brown Arena.
Jay Pandolfo’s on-ice workout wasn’t finished.
Pandolfo, along with former BU teammate Mike Grier and some other pros and ex-collegians, participated in a bag skate. Afterward, Pandolfo and Grier helped retrieve all the pucks.
Such is life for big-leaguers still seeking one last NHL paycheck.
“Going to give it one more chance,’’ said Pandolfo, who must go the tryout route if he wants to make a team. “Once you stop for good, you’re obviously done. I’ll try and give it one more try here. If it works out, great. If not, that’s it.’’
Through 2009-10, Pandolfo had put together a respectable NHL career. He was the kind of grunt that every coach (including Claude Julien for one season) appreciates - a smart, fast, hard-working, defensive-minded forward. At the peak of his career, with the Devils, Pandolfo skated with John Madden in one of the game’s best shutdown pairings. In 819 games, Pandolfo has 99 goals and 124 assists.
Last year, Pandolfo didn’t play in a single NHL game. He had one year remaining on his deal with New Jersey, but the Devils bought out his contract. On top of that, Pandolfo had undergone shoulder surgery at the conclusion of 2009-10. The only action the former Burlington High star saw was for Springfield (AHL) in November and December.
For a 13-year, one-franchise NHL veteran, missing an entire season gave rise to an unwelcome feeling.
“You do this for how many years in a row, you have the same thing you’re doing every year,’’ Pandolfo said. “For that to be taken away, it’s tough. It was tough to get used to.’’
Even as Pandolfo gears up for his final shot, he’s thinking about what he’ll do in retirement.
Given his situation, he was a perfect candidate to speak at a College Hockey Inc. clinic held last month at Marlborough’s New England Sports Center.
Approximately 70 of the area’s top 1996-born players participated in the one-day session. For part of the day, the boys scrimmaged under the watch of local college coaches such as Jack Parker, Jerry York, and Ted Donato.
But the meat of the clinic was pounding home the message that college hockey is the preferable route to major junior. Executive director Paul Kelly and director of education and recruitment Jeff Dwyer gave several examples of why collegians become solid NHLers, citing greater development time and more practice.
Most of the talk, however, centered on how college can prepare you for life after the NHL. Or how college would help if you never made it.
“The percentage of guys who make it to the NHL is a small percentage,’’ said Donato, the Harvard graduate and ex-Bruin. “The percentage of guys who never work again is a much smaller percentage. I wanted to use hockey to have a better life and have opportunities to do better things.’’
Dwyer, who played four years at Yale, never made it to the NHL. Dwyer, Atlanta’s sixth-round pick in 2000, played 21 games for Chicago of the AHL and eight games for Bridgeport before retiring in 2008. He told a story from his East Coast Hockey League days.
Dwyer was en route to a game alongside four teammates - three who played college hockey, one from major junior.
“You three are on this bus because you want to be,’’ the former junior player told the collegians. “I’m on this bus because I have to be.’’
UMass-Lowell assistant coach Cam Ellsworth told the teenagers at the clinic about a former junior star drafted in the first round in 1997, the same year Joe Thornton went first overall. That player suffered a major knee injury, didn’t sign with his original team, and was re-drafted in 1999.
Ellsworth didn’t mention the player’s name. But he is Matt Zultek, selected in the second round of the 1999 draft by the Bruins. Zultek, now 32, played the last two seasons for Mississippi of the Southern Professional Hockey League. He never played in the NHL.
In comparison with players like Zultek, Pandolfo is lucky. He made it. But Pandolfo will have to find a job once his playing career is over.
Pandolfo has a college degree. He can rely on two support systems - BU’s alumni network and that of the NHL. But he acknowledged to the boys that he wished he’d worked harder at BU.
Pandolfo said he should have pursued a business degree, which could have helped him maximize his NHL earnings and set him up for post-hockey employment. Upon reflection, Pandolfo said, he was so trained on making the NHL that he didn’t spend as much time considering what would happen had he fallen short.
“You’re so focused on that goal,’’ Pandolfo said. “You’re not thinking, ‘What am I going to do if I don’t make the NHL?’ That’s when it comes into effect. If you can make the most of the education you’re getting, it’s only going to help you. Especially if you’re getting a free education. You’ve got to take advantage of that.’’
General manager Peter Chiarelli won’t comment on contract talks, other than to say they are ongoing. Wade Arnott, Marchand’s agent, echoed that sentiment in a voice-mail.
With both sides declining to show their hands, here are three recent comparables - young forwards heading into their second contracts - that should set the parameters for a Marchand deal:
High: James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia, six years, $25.5 million.
Very nice second deal for van Riemsdyk, who is entering the final year of his entry-level contract. The former University of New Hampshire standout was the No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft. It’s an appropriate sum for the left wing, given how he projects to be one of the game’s most dangerous snipers. The 22-year-old was a wrecking ball in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Bruins (2 goals, 8 shots, 28:18 of ice time). Good bet that van Riemsdyk will live up to the “VarsityR’’ nickname he earned in the playoffs. He will be, if he already isn’t, a No. 1 left wing.
Middle: Logan Couture, San Jose, two years, $5.75 million.
Couture, the ninth overall pick in the 2007 draft (yes, the Bruins could have nabbed him one slot earlier), broke through last year with a 32-24-56 line in 79 games. Unlike Marchand, Couture was one of the three finalists for the Calder Trophy, which ultimately went to Carolina’s Jeff Skinner (31-32-63). Couture’s emergence was one reason San Jose shipped Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley to Minnesota in summer deals. Couture will be a top-six forward.
Low: Nathan Gerbe, Buffalo, three years, $4.3 million.
The former Boston College standout punched in 16 goals and 15 assists in 64 games last year. He has some similarities to Marchand because of his size, speed, and tenacity. The two battled repeatedly in the AHL when Marchand played for Providence and Gerbe for Portland. Gerbe may not become a top-six forward, but he projects to be a consistent third-line wing.
Using the three as comparables, Marchand should come in slightly under Couture. Expect a two-year, $5 million contract.
New sheriff in town His first wish was to play one more season for his hometown Jets. Hnidy didn’t get that opportunity, but the former Boston defenseman will be traveling with the erstwhile Atlanta franchise in 2011-12. Hnidy, who has officially retired, will be a color analyst for Sports Radio 1090. He will work alongside Dennis Beyak and Brian Munz, who will share the play-by-play microphone. Not only is Hnidy a Winnipeg native, but he also has ties to the Atlanta-turned-Winnipeg organization. Hnidy played for the Thrashers for two seasons. Among the players Hnidy will analyze will be former defense partner Mark Stuart, a close friend when both skated on Boston’s third pairing. The tough-as-granite Hnidy concludes his NHL career with 16 goals and 55 assists in 550 games.
On his way overseas Yuri Alexandrov, the 37th overall pick in the 2006 draft by Boston, will play for St. Petersburg of the KHL this season. The Bruins recently assigned the defenseman to St. Petersburg, and the process is expected to be finalized shortly. Alexandrov will have two years remaining on his entry-level NHL contract if he wishes to return Stateside. Last year, in his first season of North American hockey, Alexandrov had 6 goals and 13 assists in 66 games for Providence. This year, the farm club will be stocked with defensemen, such as Andrew Bodnarchuk, Matt Bartkowski, Colby Cohen, David Warsofsky, and Ryan Button. A crowded blue line could have affected Alexandrov’s development had he stayed in Providence. “We felt he would be better served developing over there,’’ said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. “They’ve got a good team in St. Petersburg. I think he improved. He acclimated in his time in Providence. He stalled a bit at the end. We’re willing to have him develop over there.’’
Sheets are paper-thin When the NHL and the NHL Players Association convene to work on the next collective bargaining agreement, they don’t have to waste any time discussing Section 10.3 of the current CBA. Tucked within that section are guidelines detailing the offer sheet - otherwise known as the tool most discussed but seldom wielded. For a GM, there are no techniques sexier than targeting a restricted free agent and plucking him off a rival roster, albeit at a high cost of salary and picks. Even if the offer sheet is unsuccessful, damage can be done to the other team’s salary structure. Consider the Blackhawks, who had to match San Jose’s offer sheet to Niklas Hjalmarsson last summer. In turn, Chicago walked away from the arbitration award given to Antti Niemi. The Sharks ultimately signed Niemi to replace Evgeni Nabokov. But for all the thunderclaps an offer sheet can create, only one since 2005 has led to a player changing jerseys: Dustin Penner from Anaheim to Edmonton. Even high-end RFA talent like Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty couldn’t provoke a GM to throw down the hammer. Too bad, because offer sheets sure would jazz up the market.
Loose pucks During last month’s College Hockey Inc. clinic in Marlborough, one parent asked the coaches how they looked at kids who also wanted to play sports other than hockey. Jack Parker noted that one reason BU recruited Andover native John McCarthy was that he was a three-sport athlete at St. John’s Prep. Parker reminded his audience that McCarthy was the Prep’s quarterback his senior year when it lost to Everett in the playoffs. “But then everybody gets hammered by Everett,’’ Parker cracked . . . The Bruins rookies will play back-to-back games against the Islanders kids Sept. 12-13 at Nassau Coliseum. The games were part of the agreement the clubs made last year when the Bruins hosted a pair of rookie matches at TD Garden. This year’s games will feature two junior teammates going head-to-head: Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Strome. Both Hamilton (No. 9 overall) and Strome (No. 5) are likely to return to the Niagara IceDogs before camps conclude. They’ll have better chances making Canada’s World Junior Championship roster . . . The Bruins have TBD dates on Oct. 2-3 at the conclusion of training camp. Those dates will most likely feature team-building activities, although not necessarily in Vermont, where the Bruins went last fall. One way or another, the Bruins will leave town for a two-day getaway. Unlike previous seasons, there is no extended road trip at the beginning of the year. Last season, the Bruins traveled to Northern Ireland, then opened the season in the Czech Republic. Traditionally, there has been an early West Coast trip to make room for the circus at the Garden. This year, 13 of the Bruins’ first 17 games are at home, which doesn’t allow for much on-the-road bonding . . . The second Matt Brown Gala will take place at TD Garden Sept. 24 at 7 p.m., to benefit the Norwood High player who suffered a spinal injury in January 2010. Suggested donation is $50. For tickets or more information, visit mattbrownnumber3.org . . . According to The Globe and Mail, among the dietary items approved by ex-NHLer and fitness freak Gary Roberts are mung beans and sunflower sprouts. Don’t expect to find them on the official hockey writer’s shopping list, which consists mostly of wings, chips, and everything else deep fried and dipped in chocolate.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.