Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and Wayne Smith, seen here in 2009 at the draft, are parting ways after working together since 2006. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
Well, this has to fall under the category of “Rather Odd” when it comes to off-season hockey news. And given everything that has happened since the puck last dropped a month ago, that’s saying something.
Fresh off their appearance in the Stanley Cup final, the Boston Bruins have fired their longtime director of amateur scouting, Wayne Smith.
Smith, who was one of Peter Chiarelli’s first hires after he took over as Bruins GM in 2006, was hired as a scout, then became head scout a year later and oversaw a department that had done a strong drafting job and signed key college free agent Torey Krug, who was an integral piece of the roster that came within a late meltdown of going to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
It seems rather odd, given that Chiarelli admits that Smith is his good friend and is a very good scout. Their prospect list was solid, ranking them 12th among NHL organizations in THN’s Future Watch edition in 2013.
“We wanted to freshen up our amateur scouting and shift things a little bit and we felt this was the way to do it,” Chiarelli said. “Wayne has done a good job and I’ll give him a good reference, but we wanted to inject some new life.”
Changes such as this one are rarely made unless there is a good reason, though. Word among people in the scouting community is that Smith, who has a long history of scouting both in the Ontario League and the NHL, is a very good evaluator of talent and a hard worker, but is more suited to be a regional scout than someone running a scouting department with a multi-million dollar budget and scouts all over the world. (A phone call and email to Smith were not immediately returned.)
Smith is a pure hockey man, perhaps a little rough around the edges, but did a very good job. For example, Smith and his department pushed for promising defenseman Matt Bartkowski to be included in the deal from the Florida Panthers when the Bruins acquired Dennis Seidenberg in 2010.
The details of Ilya Kovalchuk’s four-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL has not been made public, but for those to think that it was simply a money grab by a greedy Russian would be irresponsible and inaccurate.
Had Kovalchuk wanted to take the money and run, he probably would have gone through the motions with the New Jersey Devils for the next five seasons when his yearly salaries would have been $11.3 million, $11.3 million, $11.6 million, $11.8 million and $10 million before dropping down to $7 million in 2018-19.
The fact is, even the people close to him cannot point to one factor that triggered Kovalchuk’s decision to leave the Devils three years into a 15-year contract. Family considerations certainly played a part, and undoubtedly money had something, but not all, to do with it. Kovalchuk and many of his brethren were not thrilled to earn just half of their salaries during the lockout season and none can seem to stand that escrow this season was at 16.2 percent.
But that’s how the system works. They knew it when they signed their deals and it should come as no surprise. The CBA is based on sharing revenues and a necessary part of that is collecting escrow. Some of that money might come back and in years when revenues grow even more than anticipated, the players get all their escrow money back and more. It’s a pretty simple concept, really.
In any event, those looking for a WHA-like migration to the KHL will be disappointed. That’s because there’s a key difference between the two leagues in that the WHA was based in North America. Most scouts would put the KHL on, at best, equal terms with the American League in terms of caliber of play and some with whom I spoke believe the Swedish Elite League is still a better league. Travel in the KHL can be oppressive, especially as the league continues to increase its geographical footprint, and the adjustments for non-European players are immense. (Which should give everyone an appreciation for the obstacles European players face when they come to North America.)
Does this mean the NHL will lose players to the KHL in the future? Probably. But considering only 22 Russian players played in the NHL this season, we’re not talking about enormous numbers. There might even be a North American star who gets lured away someday. But the fact is Russian stars such as Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk have given no indication they want anything to do with the KHL.
On the flip side, though, neither did players such as Alex Radulov and Kovalchuk. Radulov, in fact, wanted to play in the NHL so badly that he came to North America to play junior hockey and was very successful. But it’s an indication how quickly things can change when the KHL becomes a viable option.
That’s why, as one scout said, the Florida Panthers should be a little nervous about Sasha Barkov, who signed an entry-level deal recently. After that deal expires, if Barkov isn’t pleased with the money he’s being offered, he’ll clearly have an option with the KHL.
“I haven’t changed my opinion one bit about Russian players because of this,” one scout said. “You were taking chances with these guys before and you’re taking chances with them now. That risk will always be there.”
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.