▪ Matt Boldy, LW, Wild: Scored twice against the Rangers on Thursday and has had a productive start (17-24–41 in 48 games). Favorite son of Millis plays a big-body, solid, skilled game. A little Mikko Rantanen, a little Charlie Coyle.
▪ Brandt Clarke, D, Kings: Could shoot the puck a little more but did not look out of place in his debut on Thursday. “We dressed six defensemen,” coach Todd McLellan said, “and I know he wasn’t six, pretty sure he wasn’t five, and I don’t believe he was four, either.”
▪ Kent Johnson, RW, Blue Jackets: The absence of Patrik Laine, expected to miss 3-4 weeks with an elbow injury, opens a spot for the No. 5 overall pick from 2021. More playmaker than Laine-like sniper, Johnson entered the weekend skating on a third line with veteran Gustav Nyquist (LW) and fellow prospect Cole Sillinger (C).
▪ Wyatt Johnson, C, Stars: Might be headed back to juniors (OHL Windsor), but he did smack home a one-timer in his NHL debut Thursday. That’ll help.
▪ Mason McTavish, C, Ducks: Two assists in his season debut brought the rugged 19-year-old to 2-3–5 in 10 NHL games. Has starred in the Swiss league and World Junior levels (for Canada). No reason to think he can’t handle this league.
▪ Owen Power, D, Sabres: Players that big (6 feet 6 inches) aren’t usually that smooth. Power’s hockey sense and skating are his best attributes. As he becomes stronger, he could have a Victor Hedman-like impact for the Sabres.
▪ Jake Sanderson, D, Senators: Wheels, wheels, wheels. Sanderson (son of Geoff Sanderson) played 22:21 in his NHL debut and looks like a top-four fixture for the pesky Senators.
▪ Arber Xhekaj, D, Canadiens: Call him Player X. The 21-year-old from Hamilton, Ontario, is the first player in NHL history with a surname that starts with an “X”. Xhekaj (pronounced “JACK-eye”; it’s Albanian) is a punishing defender at 6-4, 238 pounds. The Habs need beef on the left side after trading Ben Chiarot last spring and losing Joel Edmundson and Mike Matheson to injuries. Xhekaj brings it.
▪ Shane Wright, C, Kraken: If only to see if he stares down the Canadiens, as he did on draft day. Wright played 6:14 in his debut Wednesday and was scratched the next game.
Teams are signing young talent early
Mattias Samuelsson is the first NHLer to sign a seven-year, $30 million contract before scoring his first NHL goal. The pain-in-the-butt Sabres defenseman entered this season with all of 54 games on his ledger, but now will make some $4.3 million a year until he’s 30.
Quite a bet for Buffalo. If the cap really is going to rise by some $10 million in the next three years, as the league has estimated, and Samuelsson (son of Kjell Samuelsson) continues to hold down a top-four role next to Rasmus Dahlin, then that figure looks fine.
Other teams are making similar calls. The trend is for teams to sign their under-23 players — ones who aren’t at the Connor McDavid, Cale Makar, Adam Fox, or even Miro Heiskanen levels — to seven- and eight-year extensions as their rookie deals are expiring. In the last two seasons, Buffalo (Samuelsson, Tage Thompson), Carolina (Jesperi Kotkaniemi), Montreal (Nick Suzuki), New Jersey (Jack Hughes), Ottawa (Josh Norris, Tim Stutzle), and St. Louis (Jordan Kyrou, Robert Thomas) signed young talent through the bulk of their 20s.
How far we have come.
Salary disclosure first arrived on Jan. 29, 1990. The genesis of it, agent Allan Walsh noted this past week, was Bob Goodenow taking over as head of the NHLPA. “Up to this point, players had no idea what others made, there were no comparables and it was difficult to maintain a leaguewide marketplace,” Walsh tweeted. “Salary disclosure changed everything.”
Mario Lemieux was the top earner that year, his $2 million salary edging Wayne Gretzky ($1.72 million). Lemieux’s salary is worth approximately $4.53 million today. Ray Bourque ($500,000) was the third-highest earner among defensemen, behind Chris Chelios ($575,000) and Larry Robinson ($550,000).
At the bottom of the list: Capitals center Doug Wickenheiser, who made a $25,000 salary (about $57,000 today). At the time, these pages noted the salary figures did not include “side deals,” or endorsements.
“I think it’s great for the players and will help in negotiations,” opined power forward Cam Neely, who was second to Bourque among Bruins earners ($325,000).
Thirty-two years later, Neely and Don Sweeney — $110,000, ranking ahead of only Rob Cimetta ($100,000) among 1989-90 Bruins — are trying to figure out where David Pastrnak’s eight-figure AAV will land.
Virtual board ads have got to go
So it seems the NHL is plowing ahead with these virtual board ads. It should not.
I don’t care how much cash they add to the league’s coffers. They’re bad. They impose on the game-watching experience in a way I cannot abide. I am calling for a dump and change.
Look, Impossible Burgers are a perfectly fine sandwich: They taste like a light burger, you can dress them in various ways, I like a fried egg on mine sometimes. I must object, however, to seeing a 30-foot-wide close-up of a plant-based burger patty plastered all over the half-wall.
The NHL viewing experience in 2022: You’re trying to follow the play, then this unwanted screensaver jolts away from the close-up and pans out to the whole sandwich. The word “IMPOSSIBLE” was painted in shouting capital letters in the rest of the available board space.
That’s as best I can describe one of the new virtual board ads, which are superimposed on the boards in each TV market’s broadcast. Those watching the Root Sports Seattle broadcast on Thursday, when the Kraken beat the Kings, might have seen the Impossible Burger ad; those watching the Los Angeles feed would have seen something else.
Watching NHL games these days, you think a little too much about a local-market power semiconductor company, which … sigh … is the point.
Are we not advertised to enough here?
They’re distracting. They’re disorienting. They’re bad for the casual fan, someone who might be trying to sort out the fastest team sport in the world. Watching an NHL game already demands a level of focus. Now imagine you’re following a player with the puck, wondering what he is going to do with it, and all of a sudden the Geico gecko pops up next to him.
In recent years, the league has dropped logos all over the neutral zone and corners of the rink, and they’re creeping onto helmets and jerseys. When these showed up, I tried to ignore them. But I couldn’t. They can make you go cross-eyed.
At this rate, we’re not far away from the boards being covered in betting lines, letting the consumer play the odds on any number of in-game situations. Which of these two players are going to win this puck battle? Scan the QR code to place your bet now!
I don’t need approximately 1/10th of the horizontal space on my TV shouting at me about which cellular network is “the one America relies on” while the Kraken are trying to protect a two-goal lead in the final minutes. This is a call the NHL should drop.
I’m not even going to knock the league for the obvious technical glitches in the ads — players being swallowed by rogue-wave board ads — because they’ve been amusing.
If I’m being generous: NHL, do your viewers a favor and wait for the technology to catch up with the game experience you should be offering as the best league in the world. These detract from it.
More on Arber Xhekaj: At OHL Kitchener, he studied under assistant coach and ex-Bruin Dennis Wideman. Xhekaj’s father is from Kosovo and mother is from Czechia. During the pandemic, he was working at Costco, before he was laid off, and also worked building clay tennis courts … Another rookie to watch: Detroit left wing Elmer Soderblom. He’s 6-8, 250, loves to stickhandle his way to the net, and jammed home a rebound Friday. The sixth-round pick in 2019 could be another Swedish steal for the Wings … Speaking of Red Wings: Did not realize Jakub Vrana is second only to Auston Matthews in goals per 60 minutes at even strength over the last four seasons (2.03 to 1.68). Oft-injured Vrana has played in 145 games in that span, scoring 57 times … I would not bet against Alex Ovechkin extending his league record for oldest player to score 50 goals. Ovechkin, 37, is coming off a 50-goal year and still gunning (and still a wrecking ball, as evidenced by his nine hits in the season opener against the Bruins). Prior to him, Johnny Bucyk (age 35 in 1971) was the oldest to hit the half-century mark … Missed watching Nathan MacKinnon, who plays like a larger, younger, right-shooting version of Brad Marchand. He has that “Mario Star, But Angry” quality that always seems to surface in important moments. Don’t know if it’s a Bluenoser thing or not … They still holler “Loooooch” whenever Milan Lucic bullies a defender or chases down a puck. He’s an expensive fourth-liner ($6 million) but no one in Calgary seems to mind … Mackenzie Weegar is an excellent puck mover and kills a lot of plays defensively, but some of his more visible gaffes make you wonder if Calgary is betting too high on him as a top-pair guy … Thursday’s Flames-Avalanche was a good watch. Fast, chippy game between teams that should be among the last ones standing … If you make a pick you stick with it, so I’m not backing off Carolina over Edmonton as my Stanley Cup call … I’m not buying the Devils as a playoff contender, but I’m willing to admit if it turns out I’m too low on the Rangers. They looked fantastic in the opening week, pounding the Lightning and Wild by a combined 10-4. It’s a roster with few holes, young talent, and a world-class goalie. Also, I’m a firm believer that Mika Zibanejad deserves more shine … Entering the weekend, Cole Caufield had 24 goals in his last 38 games. He torched Toronto in the opener (two goals), reminding everyone how questionable a decision it was for the Maple Leafs to rest their Cup hopes on Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov. That defense looks average, too … Maybe it’s early, but Mason Marchment (two goals in the opener against Nashville, including a spectacular breakaway finish) doesn’t look like a player whose 47-point breakout last season (in 54 games) was a fluke … On the other hand, the Predators might have left their skating legs in Europe. Not easy to recover from that trip … Lightning defenseman Ian Cole, suspended pending investigation into a social media post that accused him of sexual assault and grooming, was still in limbo entering the weekend. The issue reminds one that the NHL has no clearly stated domestic violence policy. Why is that? … On the Coyotes broadcast before the season opener at Pittsburgh, host Todd Walsh asked GM Bill Armstrong what he can say to fans who have long had their patience tested. “We’re at the first part of the foundation,” Armstrong said. “The cement’s been poured. The architect has poured the concrete. Rebuilds take a lot longer than people think.” Reassuring. Coach Andre Tourigny, who has one of the toughest jobs in the league: “We’re not just rebuilding our talent pool. We’re rebuilding what type of team we want to be, what character we want to have.” This was aired moments before the Penguins pounded the Coyotes, setting a franchise record for the fastest three goals to begin a season (5:10) … Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang opened their 17th season playing together. Among MLB, NBA, NFL, and NHL trios, only the New York Yankees’ Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada spent as much time together. Crosby is signed through 2025, Malkin through 2026, Letang through 2028 … Nice moment at the Maple Leafs’ home opener when 2020 first-round pick Rodion Amirov was introduced to applause. Amirov, diagnosed with a brain tumor earlier this year, recently finished his fourth round of chemotherapy … Rasmus Dahlin, at the NHL’s preseason media tour, said Anders Bjork was among his Buffalo teammates most likely to jump through a table. The least sober of Bills fans have made that activity a tailgate staple. Bjork, an ex-Bruin, brought 5-3–8 (58 games) to the table last year … Every Sabre got to pick their own goal song this year, which is why KeyBank Center heard ABBA twice at the end of Thursday’s game. Victor Olofsson sent in two empty-netters in a row against the Senators, and “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” rang out. Had Jeff Skinner scored, they’d have played “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston. Bjork, by the way, picked hip-hop classic “Hypnotize,” by The Notorious B.I.G. … Fun idea by Buffalo, especially contrasted with some Atlantic rivals with stale goal songs. Toronto, despite some fan protest, stuck with “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates, and Boston continues to pump “Kernkraft 400″ by Zombie Nation through the TD Garden speakers … Charlie McAvoy, asked to weigh in on the idea that new teammate Anton Stralman looks a little like Stone Cold Steve Austin: “Maybe if he had a lot more meat on his bones.” No Stralman 3:16 T-shirt for him … Someone at the University of Maine claimed that Jeremy Swayman had gone vegan. Not true, the netminder said, but he doesn’t eat red meat. He did take a ballet class at Maine, which helped his balance … Consider, and come to grips with it: Patrice Bergeron has been a Boston Bruin for more than half his life.
Matt Porter can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.