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Hockey Notes

Cup quickly becoming a real frequent flyer

By Kevin Paul Dupont
July 17, 2011

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Round ’n’ round it goes, the Stanley Cup continuing its tic-tac-toe travels from one Bruin to the next. It will land Friday in Trencin, Slovakia, for a guided tour around the ancient European city by Boston captain Zdeno Chara.

Big Z, no longer sporting the lumberjack’s beard that he had the night of June 15, when he hoisted the Cup to the heavens in Vancouver, plans to port it around to various spots in his hometown and then will be joined by family and friends for a victory dinner at a local medieval castle.

According to the itinerary that was sketched out immediately following the Game 7 clincher, the Cup this week is expected to go first to Kladno, Czech Republic, for a stay with new Carolina Hurricane back liner Tomas Kaberle, and then meet up with David Krejci in Sternbeck.

After Kamp Krejci, the Cup crosses into Slovakia for the two-day stop with Chara, and from there a Hockey Hall of Fame employee will be charged with taking it to Savonlinna, Finland, for a visit with Tuukka Rask.

Chara’s Wellesley-based agent, Matt Keator, intends to be at the table in Trencin.

“I haven’t seen the invitee list, but Z rented out the castle and I think he’s got 100 or more people coming that night,’’ said Keator. “It’s friends, family, all the people he wants to share it with as a way of thanking them for supporting him along the way. This is a guy who got cut from his junior team in Trencin, and he just wants those who believed in him to know how much he appreciates it.’’

OPEN MIKE
Grier willing to move ahead Former BU standout Mike Grier is home in Needham for the summer and recovering well from offseason wrist surgery, according to local agent Jay Fee. A veteran of 1,060 NHL games, the 36-year-old right winger has yet to sign anywhere after spending the last two years back with the Sabres.

As last season ended, Grier sounded as if he would only be back for a 15th season if the Sabres wanted him. But Fee said late last week that his longtime client is open to playing elsewhere. He began his career in Edmonton and has had successful tours with the Capitals and Sharks.

“He’d be particular about where he goes at this stage of his career,’’ noted Fee, his client training with strength and conditioning aficionado Mike Boyle, Grier’s pal from BU. “It’s not just about playing, but being a good fit.’’

Originally a Blues draft pick - No. 219 in 1993 - Grier transformed himself from raw prospect to valuable soldier, respected and relied upon wherever he has played. He was initially considered by many scouts and NHL front offices to be too slow and bulky to make it as a pro.

“I know he can still help a lot of clubs,’’ said Fee. “It’s that stage now when clubs don’t know if they’ve got a kid who can step in and help at right wing, or if they want to go with someone like Mike who can just step in and give them that veteran, reliable leadership.’’

Late-round draft picks have marginal chances of making it in the NHL, but Grier was among a half-dozen “projects’’ chosen in Rounds 7-11 in the ’93 draft who went on to have impressive runs:

Todd Marchant, Rangers, 164th - 1,195 games, 498 points

Andrew Brunette, Capitals, 174th - 1,032 games, 706 points

Hal Gill, Bruins, 207th - 994 games, 171 points

Grier, Blues, 219th, 1,060 games, 383 points

Pavol Demitra, Senators, 227th - 847 games, 768 points

Kimmo Timonen, Kings, 250th - 894 games, 464 points

ETC.
Burke’s trip all business No NHL general manager is perfect (a status preserved for us know-it-all scribes and bloggers and wayward TV types), but the flap in Toronto over Leafs GM Brian Burke being out of town on July 1, during the annual free agent fiesta, struck me as trite and petty.

Longtime Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons dealt Burke a two-hander for honoring a commitment to the Canadian military, visiting troops in Afghanistan while other GMs presumably were at their desks with their No. 2’s sharpened and poised for Shopping Day. Burke, with Blackberry in hand, headed overseas and left the likes of Dave Nonis, Dave Poulin, and Rick Dudley to watch the store and keep him wired.

Even with Burke away and saluting the real Maple Leaf, Toronto offered its primary target, Brad Richards, $42 million over six years.

The Rangers trumped it with a nine-year deal worth $60 million. Given the structure of the pact, if Richards gets bought out after six years, he will have banked $59 million.

One of the few times in my life where, if I were a GM, I’d rather be in Afghanistan, provided there wasn’t an available flight to Neptune.

The GM gig is 365/24/7. Burke had all July 1-related shopping covered with three other top-notch pros, all of whom he hired, and he honored his word to the military while remaining in constant contact with his officers.

And, not that Burke needs any further character support, but this is the same guy who sucked it up at the lowest hour of his life and reported on time for his duties as GM of Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics in the days after his 21-year-old son, Brendan, was killed in a car crash. I think he knows what it takes to get a job done.

High-interest period Boston GM Peter Chiarelli and his staff will keep a keen eye on which players might become available next month in the wake of arbitration decisions. The traditional buyout period is the two-week window leading up to July 1 free agency, but often a small number of players, usually vets, become available in August after the arbitration process. Clubs tagged with a pricey ruling have the option to keep the player at the mandated price, and buy out another roster player if they need to make room under the salary cap. If clubs find the arbitration price unsavory, they can refuse to pay, immediately rendering the player an unrestricted free agent. “I’d anticipate some buyouts and maybe some walkaways,’’ noted Chiarelli. “We try to stay close to that, and if there is someone there who interests us, we’ve got some [cap] flexibility.’’ The obvious place for Chiarelli to look would be on defense, where the club has a couple of prospects - Steve Kampfer and Matt Bartkowski - to offer depth beyond the top six. But there is always room at the inn for solid, experienced blue liners, especially if the price is right.

No disguising it During their annual group hug with their fans in Nashville - what the Predators call their “Skate of the Union’’ - coach Barry Trotz extolled the virtues of “Gnash’’, the team mascot. None better than ol’ Gnash, said Trotz, who then openly wondered about that dumb ol’ Orca whale the Canucks have as their mascot. “I don’t know what he does,’’ mused the coach. At which point Jeff Cogen, the club’s CEO, offered, “His name is Burrows.’’ Yes, that would be Alex Burrows, the top-line winger who put the bite on one of Patrice Bergeron’s index fingers in Game 1 of the Cup Final.

Standards on standby The Red Wings are unsure whether to bring back veteran forward Kris Draper and goalie Chris Osgood, both of whom have had a long, glorious run in Hockeytown. GM Ken Holland, who just last week became a US citizen (stick salute!), might have to let the 40-year-old Draper go in order not to lose prospect Cory Emmerton (a potential waiver casualty if he’s not with the varsity). Osgood, 38, who dropped to a backup role with the emergence of ex-UMaine Black Bear Jimmy Howard, would have been out of the mix for certain had the Wings been successful in landing Tomas Vokoun. But Vokoun, hoping to play a No. 1 role, opted instead for Washington (one year, $1.5 million), which could mean Osgood is good to go again. Holland also has ex-UNH standout Ty Conklin, Osgood’s partner in Detroit in 2008-09, as a potential candidate. Conklin spent the last two seasons with the Blues.

B’s alums made the grade Great to see Jeff Gorton, acting GM on Causeway Street for the months after Mike O’Connell was fired in 2006, get promoted to assistant GM with the Rangers. “Gorts’’ grew up here and worked diligently and professionally to make his way up the ladder before getting knocked off the top rung amid the Delaware North-mandated culture change. And while on the subject of not-to-be-forgotten B’s alums: everyone should remember it was O’Connell who signed Tim Thomas when every genius on the block figured the former UVM star forever would be just a square peg in a 24-square-foot rectangle. Adding to that curiosity is the fact that 29 GMs passed yet again on Thomas in the thick of the 2005-06 season when he had to clear waivers upon being promoted from Providence. His AHL numbers at the time of recall: 15-11-0 with a 2.26 goals-against average. For fear of taking on roughly $100,000 in salary for half a season, 29 GMs pinched their noses and waved their hands on a then-31-year-old who now has twice won the Vezina Trophy and this spring was Reason No. 1 the Bruins won the Cup.

Varying college degrees From the Newton-based office of College Hockey, Inc: Of the 978 players to suit up for at least one NHL game last season, 294 had US college experience. Los Angeles, San Jose, and Florida led the way with 11 players each, edging out Tampa Bay and Chicago (10 apiece). The Bruins, with only Rich Peverley (St. Lawrence, ’04) and Thomas, had the fewest big men on campus. That low count among the books-and-boards ranks could keep Harvard boys Chiarelli and Don Sweeney from getting an invite to this summer’s Crimson clambake, especially if Billy Cleary is in charge of the menu.

Loose pucks Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, the player who has more names than a coal train has cars, was traded last week from New Jersey to Calgary, the Flames surrendering a fifth-round pick for the 6-foot-2-inch left wing. P-L-L-L opened last season on the New Jersey varsity but was ditched to the minors for the duration after jumping LA’s Marcus Johannson in the final moments of a blowout loss to the Kings in Game 2 of the season . . . If you were among the million-plus to attend the Bruins’ Cup parade, the Sports Museum remains eager to receive pictures of whatever signs and/or homemade versions of the Cup you brought to the festivities. Museum curator “Rocket’’ Richard Johnson is building a display to remember the lovefest and to include some of your snaps. Please send to: rajcurator@aol.com . . . Paul Kelly, executive director of College Hockey, Inc., made certain that a number of college coaches, including BU’s Jack Parker, were on hand in St. Paul for the NHL draft. “Just good for our guys to be there and be among the first to offer a handshake when one of their kids gets drafted by an NHL team,’’ said Kelly. The cast included Seth Appert (RPI), Don Lucia (Minnesota), Dave Hakstol (North Dakota), Enrico Blasi (Miami), Jeff Blashill (Western Michigan, now with the Red Wings), and Andy Slaggert (Notre Dame) . . . Two great examples of draft selection number not being the be-all and end-all: Tim Thomas and Christian Ehrhoff. Thomas was taken 217th overall by Quebec in ’94 (he’s had a way better run than the Nords of late). Ehrhoff was chosen 106th overall by San Jose in 2001. On July 1, two weeks after just missing the Cup with the Canucks, he inked a free agent deal with Buffalo that will pay $40 million over 10 years. Lesson: ignore the number, do the work . . . The Blues decided to take a flyer on Jonathan Cheechoo with a cheap two-way deal likely to land the ex-Sharks sniper in Peoria (AHL) for the year. “You bring a former 50-goal scorer into camp and see where he’s at,’’ said GM Doug Armstrong. In 2005-06, Cheechoo led the NHL by potting 56 goals. He put up 18 goals and 29 assists in 55 games with Worcester this past season. He made serious money with the Sharks before the wheels fell off, but at age 31, it’s worth the Blues taking a shot . . . The annual salaries on Adam McQuaid’s new three-year deal with the Bruins: $1.4 million, $1.5 million, and $1.8 million . . . The Jets have yet to unveil their new logo or uniform colors. But they’ve sold out every game for 2011-12. Wonder if NetJets buys a board behind each net? . . . The Predators unveiled their new sweater design by unfurling an 11-story rendition on Nashville’s downtown AT&T building. Thing is, with 6-5 Stu Grimson (a.k.a. “The Grim Reaper’’) retired, who’s going to wear an 11-story sweater?

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.


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