NHL Free Agency Day 1: Bruins add depth, Acciari to Panthers

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As expected, the Boston Bruins played on the margins during the NHL’s annual free agent derby July 1, re-signing defenseman Connor Clifton to a three-year pact at a $1M per annum cap hit along with Ryan Fitzgerald (pictured) to a 2-way contract valued at $700k for one year. From the outside of things, the B’s added bottom-line forwards Par Lindholm (Jets and Maple Leafs) to a 2-year NHL deal valued at $850 k per, and Brett Ritchie (Stars) to a 1-year, $1 million contract. The B’s also signed 2012 1st-round forward Brendan Gaunce (Canucks) to a 2-way (700k cap hit) deal, 2011 4th-round defenseman Josiah Didier (Canadiens) to an AHL contract and free agent goalie Maxime Lagace (Golden Knights) 2-way (700k cap hit) to bolster their AHL depth.

Clifton was a no-brainer after his emergence in the Stanley Cup playoffs and to lock him up for 3 years at that price is excellent value. It’s nice to see the local Fitzgerald get another shot to find his way to the Big B’s after being a fourth-round pick in 2013, but the scouts were concerned about his overall speed/pace game and how it would translate to the NHL, and thus far, he’s still fighting to break through.

The B’s also saw their first casualty of the free agency period, as grinder Noel Acciari came to terms on a 3-year/$5 million contract with the Florida Panthers. It’s only a matter of time before we find out where Marcus Johansson will end up, but it won’t be back in Boston.

While the groans in some fan circles are audible- most knowledgeable fans understand that given the current cap situation facing Don Sweeney, there simply wasn’t any room for spending sprees on the open market, especially with three key restricted free agents needing extensions in Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen. The only hope for some additional coin to spend here in July of 2019 was for the B’s to somehow off-load David Backes and the 2 years remaining on his $6M cap hit. Since the deal signed in 2016 was front-loaded, Backes’ contract is appealing to teams looking to get to the cap floor whose operating budgets are lower than the richer teams in that the cap hit is higher than the money owed, but it’s easier said than done. Of course, with other teams around the league moving bad contracts, it’s natural for B’s fans to want the same- it always takes two to tango and the team is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to behind-the-scenes negotiations, so good luck finding out what if any overtures were made in this regard. Barring a trade of some fashion, whether Backes or somewhere else on the roster, there simply wasn’t any money to spend on over-priced free agents. And there won’t be much to handle next year’s more challenging roster turbulence.

Fast food mentality ain’t gonna work here, folks- instead of being envious of the huge contracts being handed out around the league today, set your sights to 2020 and the longer game. It never ceases to amaze that so many of the nimrods out there clamoring for the B’s to be players in an annually inflated free agent market will be the first to turn on the GM when said player(s) don’t live up to their big cap numbers. Truth in lending- TSP was bullish on Backes three years ago in the face of some pointed criticisms elsewhere. In hindsight, the fears (at the time) have come to fruition- there’s not much tread left on the tire, and Backes, as tremendous a character/glue guy as he is, hamstrings the B’s for two more years at $6M per. Teams are better to invest in their own players and leave the madness of the UFA market to others who will be doomed to repeat history because they aren’t learning from it.

Think of all the NHL teams today who worked so hard to clear cap space only to fill it up again. Now, in some cases- the signings look smart and should pay dividends (Lehner- CHI; Donskoi- COL; Hartman- MIN; Perry- DAL; Spezza- TOR to name a few). Others are courting major disaster (Bobrovsky- FLA 10M cap hit? For 7 years?? Wow!!; Stralman- FLA; Zuccarello- MIN; Hayes- PHI delayed reaction from 19 June signing & Erik Karlsson’s big pay day as he approaches 30 with a lot of wear and tear on his slight frame). But, if we’ve learned one thing over the past several years, there always seems to be a GM or three out there who will bail some of their spendthrift counterparts out by taking on the remainders of bad contracts handed out on credit.

We learned the lesson with Backes- character matters, but up to a point. You have to balance that with a more realistic assessment of your ROI- return on investment. We all wanted Backes to be successful in Boston, but the warning signs were there. In the end, he’s a player more suited to the NHL of yesteryear…it sucks to say it, but as some predicted three years ago, that contract is, in fact, an albatross. And we’ll have to see what the B’s are able to do about it with 24 more months left on the term.

Now, on to the new guys:

Center Par Lindholm spent the season between Toronto and Winnipeg after signing with Toronto a year ago, and the move makes sense if you believe the rumors that the B’s are shopping Joakim Nordstrom.

Lindholm is an intelligent 200-foot pivot with a wealth of Swedish pro experience, but didn’t play much in his first North American season in the NHL. He’s not a dynamic offensive player and more of a Swiss Army Knife/Jack of All Trades type. He typically played less than 10 minutes a game for the Leafs and Jets, so if you noticed him much, then you’re a far better judge of talent than we are.

We’ll chalk this one up as a wait-and-see kind of addition, as it smacks of a set-up for something else to happen on the roster…otherwise, color us perplexed as to where this player fits in the B’s lineup when all is said and done.

Here’s an informative article on him out of Winnipeg from a month ago…

Brett Ritchie comes to the B’s from the only organization he ever knew- the Dallas Stars- who drafted him in the second round of the 2011 lottery. Interestingly enough, when the rumors of Tyler Seguin being dealt to Dallas first came to light, we (that is Kirk) thought that Ritchie might have been one of the prospect pieces included in that ill-fated trade that is coming up on 6 years old.

We’d like to say that the 26-year-old is on the verge of busting out, but the reality is- he’s a big-bodied (6-4/220) forward who never really developed into the player he looked like he could be in his draft season with the OHL’s Niagara Ice Dogs. While not a bad skater, he has trouble separating and is at his best when his team has possession in the offensive zone and he can get to quiet ice/doesn’t have to win footraces to loose pucks.

Posting a career 0.22 points-per-game average with the Stars in 241 career contests (plus 3 playoff games), Ritchie has always had decent possession numbers in Dallas, and looks to be the kind of player at even strength that the B’s are trying to bring in to improve their overall 5v5 play. The problem is- because they don’t have a lot of money to spend in free agency this summer, they’re forced to bring in a low-end producer like Ritchie who fits that heavy, hard-to-play-against style the team loves in its forwards, but simply doesn’t have the production to indicate that he will suddenly find a scoring touch in Boston.

We suppose the B’s could do worse here, but we hope they will find a way to do better! Ritchie is a role player and not much more than that- 1 year and $1M isn’t going to break the bank, but since posting a career-best 16 goals in 2016-17,  he’s only managed 11 total in the last 124 games/ two campaigns. He’s an offensive upgrade on Acciari, but not by much- what is the real play here as it pertains to the B’s roster?

Here’s something a little dated (written a year ago) on Ritchie from a Dallas perspective.

Brendan Gaunce is like Ritchie-light…he was Vancouver’s 1st-round pick in 2012, selected just after the B’s drafted his Belleville (OHL) teammate Malcolm Subban…and he was a guy we had time for as a Bruins draft option that year. Big and has some skill with a high motor and leadership, Gaunce, who was once the 2nd overall selection of the Bulls in the OHL draft, has been an utter disappointment at the NHL level.

He’s the classic looks like a player prospect who didn’t ever develop into one despite a willingness to drive the net and compete/be effective on the walls and on the cycle. He’s not a snarly, in-your-face physical type and ultimately, that plus a lack of skill to establish himself on the top-two lines in Vancouver spelled the end for him in his first NHL organization. He’s going to be a good add in Providence, and his NHL ceiling might be that of a Tim Schaller if he can somehow get his foot in the door, but even that’s probably a stretch.

Here’s an article on Gaunce when news broke he would not be qualified by the Canucks:

Max Lagace and Josiah Didier– The B’s needed a minor league veteran to replace Zane McIntyre, who left the B’s to sign with the Canucks after being drafted by Boston in 2010.

Lagace has 17 career games in the NHL all with Vegas, and was pressed into emergency duty in 2017-18 when the Knights went through an unbelievable rash of injuries at the goaltender position. He’s not an NHL regular but will provide good insurance down in the AHL, as Providence probably can’t afford to hand the keys to a Daniel Vladar/Kyle Keyser tandem and needs a third/emergency goalie to backfill the second season of Tuukka Rask/Jaroslav Halak.

Didier, who was a 4th-round project pick out of the USHL’s Cedar Rapids Rough Riders by Montreal in 2011 and played for current Dallas HC Jim Montgomery at the University of Denver, just won a Calder Cup with the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL and is another experienced winner who will bolster the Providence blue line and help Boston’s younger players develop.

The final word: The real value to the Bruins will come when their key RFA’s sign. Don’t cry for the big name UFAs, Argentina…the truth is- they were never really in play for Boston.

Everyone likes their shiny new toys and wants their favorite team to be in the mix to get the name guys on July 1st, but in most cases, the big spenders are left with a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Last year, Sweeney hit the middle tier market and did well, but you can’t step up to the plate year after year and pay market prices for the talent out there and expect to keep the real gems in your organization.

It’s like a high interest credit card- you get some immediate satisfaction in the form of landing a brand name that the hockey media will buzz about, but in 3-4 years, who did that phat free agent contract cost you, and was it worth it?

Something tells us that Sweeney knows that, and also realizes he will have to find another route to upgrading the second-line right wing. How soon it happens and what form the next addition(s) takes is sure to dominate social media from here on, but anyone who knows how the cycle goes in the NHL understood that the B’s weren’t going to make waves today…whether they moved Backes or not.

As for Acciari, he came to his childhood favorite team as an undrafted free agent and did a solid job on the fourth line. He represents decent but not good value for the Panthers, but the reality is- they need more guys like the former Providence College captain, whereas the Bruins have more than enough of those players already. We wish him well as he moves on to his new team and a solid payday.

NHL free agency: B’s likely to part with Johansson

We’re on the eve of the NHL’s annual open market unrestricted free agent derby and with the Boston Bruins having about $12 million in cap space and three key restricted free agents to come to terms with in Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen, don’t expect any major splash on July 1.

Additionally, with trade deadline acquisition Marcus Johansson rumored (per report from Darren Dreger) to be talking to multiple teams, and none of them the Bruins, it looks like the B’s will miss out on re-signing a good complementary piece who made a positive impact in his short time in the Black and Gold.

Unfortunately, when you haven’t signed your key restricted free agents, it’s pretty tough to make a solid offer to an unrestricted free agent who is being courted by teams with more solidified positions. The player known as “Jo-Jo” will almost certainly get a new zip code tomorrow or early in the UFA signing period, but in the end, are the Bruins taking a big blow? Johansson is likely to get a contract that exceeds his current value and Don Sweeney understands that, so he wasn’t about to rob Peter to pay Paul to try and move someone else to free up the cap room to take a run at MJ90.

In the end, Johansson helped his new club get within one win of a Stanley Cup championship…but the B’s couldn’t quite get there. And like every team that enjoys extended playoff success, there is always a “winner’s tax” that comes in the form of other teams with cap space who line up to invest in said players who hit the open market. One of the most important factors in good teams staying good is by avoiding the temptation of re-signing solid role players at higher-than-market value based on past performance. If Johansson is going to get $6M or more, let some other team break out the check book. The B’s have more immediate (with long-term implications) and strategic interests to manage.

Boston’s real priority is getting contracts extended with their RFAs and however long it takes, expect it to get done. McAvoy may take a bit of time, but the prediction here is that Carlo and Heinen should come to terms in relatively fast order.  And let us not forget- next summer, you’ll see Torey Krug, Charlie Coyle and Jaroslav Halak (plus Chris Wagner, Joakim Nordstrom, Kevan Miller and Zdeno Chara) become unrestricted free agents (and realistically- will we be seeing Chara’s last NHL campaign in 2019-20?), while Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk will be up for raises on the restricted side.

Sweeney needs to avoid over-commitment on the pricey open market and focus on managing Boston’s growing cap.

In the meantime, watch for the Bruins to invest modest cap numbers in low-end veteran players who will provide some bargain value with NHL experience, but not much upside. This opens the door for players like Oskar Steen or Jack Studnicka perhaps to take a run at making the B’s this fall to help fill the gap left by Johansson’s departure. Anders Bjork, often a forgotten man because he’s been lost to significant injuries in each of his last (and only) two pro seasons probably should be the first forward who slots into the vacancy left by Johansson. However, the B’s are still left with a more pressing need to address on the right wing.

That isn’t going to get solved via free agency, so it may mean Sweeney and Co. may need to open up the stable doors and try to make a trade somewhere.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow, don’t expect the Bruins to be major players. They’ll do what they usually do and bring in low-end signings that bolster the organization, but the war chest to sign the bigger available names out there in the first 48 hours isn’t there…barring some kind of creative maneuvering no one expects.

However- we keep going back to the summer of 2020. If the B’s overspend now, it makes it substantially more difficult to manage in 12 months. The smart money bets that the team will focus on locking up its own guys versus jumping into the deeper pool with teams with the money to spend (and potentially get themselves over their heads) when the frenzy kicks off in a matter of hours.

Final thoughts on B’s 2019 Development Camp

Truth in lending- no one from TSP was present in Boston, but we’ve talked to a few hockey folks who where. These are just observations meant to supplement what may already be out there in articles, blog posts and message boards from those who saw the action firsthand.

Development camp caveat- you have to take the performances with a grain of salt. B’s player development director Jamie Langenbrunner said it best when asked about 2018 4th-rounder Curtis Hall, when he remarked about liking Hall better in game situations than he does in a skills and drills-centric development camp setting. Some players look like heroes when they just have to showcase their skills and don’t actually have to compete/fight through contact/handle the requirements to play with pace against opponents who are trying to take your head off, and eventually prove they can’t crack the NHL lineup on a full-time basis. Other guys might look less impressive at d-camps, yet become NHL regulars because when it comes to making plays in games, they get it done. This is not to say that it has to be one or the other, but we all have to temper expectations on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to assessing development camp performances from year to year.

Now, on to some notes about players:

Most notable performers

John Beecher, C- Boston’s 1st-rounder wowed onlookers with his pure skating chops, which is not a surprise. As mentioned on this space before, he’s so big and fast that even if he doesn’t evolve into a top scoring threat at the NHL level, he’s going to play for quite a few years because the incoming Michigan freshman has such a high floor at the pro level, and having played behind such dynamic offensive talents at the Program, he might have been denied his due as a scorer. It will be interesting to see how he is employed in Ann Arbor, and one can only wonder if he will be a one-and-done player like Joel Farrabee was at BU this past season. We’re seeing players sign earlier and earlier out of the NCAA, so whether it’s one year or two, the feeling we’re getting is that the B’s will want to bring Beecher into the pro ranks sooner rather than later.

Oskar Steen, F- We talked about him in the first development camp post this week and said we weren’t thrilled when he was drafted. Let’s expound on that: In the 2016 draft, the B’s passed on other smaller/skill forwards like Alex DeBrincat and Vitali Abramov to grab Steen later on. The feeling then was that if you’re going to take a player like that, why not grab the higher-rated guy? Now, hindsight being 20/20- DeBrincat would have been a terrific get for Boston at 29 (Trent Frederic), but to his credit, Steen has developed into an impressive offensive threat in Sweden, finishing 10th in the highest pro league’s scoring, despite being eligible to play junior hockey this past season as a 20-year-old. So, while we (with the exception of 3rd Amigo Reed Duthie, who loved the Steen pick from the get-go) weren’t keen on him on draft weekend, we have seen him evolve as a prospect from a latter-round flyer to a solid NHL prospect who is signed and ready to make his mark in North America. We don’t know where he’ll play this season or what kind of role Steen will have, but with his speed, hands and grit- don’t be surprised to see him play some games in the show at some point. As an older, pro-experienced player, Steen was expected to shine in development camp this week and he did just that…let’s see how he looks against the NHL veterans in September before we get any more hyped on him.

Cooper Zech, D- The slight but speedy defender was signed to an AHL deal and ATO out of Ferris State and made a splash with the Providence Bruins during their playoff run. Now, he might be another of these free agent gems that the B’s scouts seem to be so adept at finding. In 2017, it was Connor Clifton, who after being drafted by Arizona but not coming to terms out of Quinnipiac University, signed a similar deal with Boston and earned a NHL contract. After making a positive impression in his first big league action, Clifton found himself playing in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final…we’re not saying Zech is going to take the exact same glidepath, but he’s doing all the things that point in that direction. Although small, he gets up the ice quickly and puts rocket passes on the tape/has a natural inclination to be aggressive with his play. It’s easier to tame a tiger than try to paint stripes on a pussycat, so Zech is setting himself up to have more opportunities going forward.

Jeremy Swayman, G- He’s a fourth round pick attending his third development camp, so naturally, more was expected of the Maine Black Bear, and he delivered. We talked to one Hockey East assistant coach whose team has been stymied by Swayman’s play in the last two seasons, so there is a lot here in terms of natural size, ability and the mental toughness to keep his team in games while playing in such a competitive conference. In Boston this past week, Swayman showed that he’s continuing to progress in his development and growing as a goaltender as he gains experience and fills out. Between Swayman and Kyle Keyser, the B’s have a couple of goalie prospects who are not high draft picks. Daniel Vladar was a 3rd-rounder in 2015 and is still hanging around, but his development has been slower and there were always some concerns with Vladar’s overall game, particularly in the areas of how he reads the play/sees the ice. Swayman appears to have the edge right now and it will be interesting to see where he is in his progression when he signs and turns pro.

Matt Brown, F- The undrafted UMass-Lowell forward isn’t very big, but he plays bigger- showcasing speed/tremendous puck skills and a natural chip-on-the-shoulder mentality in Boston this week. Unfortunately for the Bruins, if they want him, they will have to sign him as a free agent at some point when he is ready to turn pro, as he is a ’99-born player and therefore ineligible to be selected in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft- the time to do that was in Vancouver. The lack of size and the fact that he was in his final window of eligibility likely contributed to NHL clubs passing on Brown (and in Boston’s case- they grabbed a similar player earlier in Quinn Olson), but he’s one guy to keep an eye on going forward as a player who has always been overlooked coming up through the minor and junior hockey ranks. Like Torey Krug, he feeds off of the snubs and critics/doubters- UML has themselves as a good one.

Other notables

Quinn Olson, F- The Okotoks Oilers (AJHL) standout isn’t very big right now, but plays a gritty, fearless game. Headed to the twice-defending NCAA champs in Duluth, MN this fall, Olson will be in a perfect place to develop on a gradual timeline. He’s got a lot of room to grow and fill out, but one of the things we like about him is that with his quickness, top-level hands and jam/grit factor, he will be able to play up and down the Bulldogs lineup this season. We expect modest production initially, but Olson will likely really take off in years 2 and 3 as pro teams convince UMD’s top players to sign and turn pro- it’s an inevitable happening for all successful teams at every level, so watch for the Alberta native to become an impact NCAA player and garner notice in due time.

Victor Berglund, D- The late 2017 pick is coming along. He’s always had the mobility and skating that catches the eye, but according to one pro skills coach in attendance, he’s figuring out how to use his stick more effectively in offensive and defensive situations. What he lacks in size, he makes up for with his wheels and eyes, so if the puckhandling and defensive awareness are rounding into form, he’s the kind of underdog prospect who is worth tracking as a dark horse to eventually make contributions in Boston.

Nate Sucese, F- Like Brown, the undrafted camp invite is a smallish, skill forward who really stood out during the drills portions. He’s fast, agile and has superb hands/hockey vision. The Penn State scorer has been productive at every level- starting out in the Buffalo Jr. Sabres minor hockey program, playing a year of prep at the Gunnery and then putting up a point-per-game in the USHL with Dubuque in his second junior season before he headed to Happy Valley. Is he a legitimate NHL prospect or more of a ‘tweener? At 23 years old, he was older than most players here, so that gave him an advantage in the camp setting, but we could see Sucese earning an AHL contract next spring after he completes his NCAA eligibility. We’re thinking 50-60 points and Hobey Baker consideration could be in the offing for the rising Nittany Lions senior, but again- with the number of solid NHL draft picks in the B’s system, Sucese is probably a long shot to be signed.

Jack Studnicka, Jakub Lauko and Kyle Keyser didn’t participate in the on-ice activities, but were in attendance and all made their presence known to varying degrees. Lauko’s outsized personality is a welcome sight- his blistering speed and championship pedigree are showing him to be one of the 2018 NHL draft’s top values where the B’s got him in the third round.

The Bruins may not have a lot of elite/top-level prospects in their system, but they have a lot of solid role player types, some of which have a chance to develop into something more than that. When you’re picking later in the draft each year, that’s going to happen, but overall, the team’s scouts have done a good job of finding value players who have a chance to crack the lineup at some point.

We just scratched the surface here, and the various media outlets that cover prospects and rank them by organization aren’t likely to be all that interested in what the Bruins have in system at present, but it’s a solid, if unspectacular group overall that is probably more middle of the pack than bottom-end, even if others might disagree.

 

 

Dominic Tiano: 2 Bruins Selected in CHL Import Draft

The Canadian Hockey League conducted it’s Import Draft today and as you scour the list to find your favorite Boston Bruins’ prospects, you’ll find two of them selected. Axel Andersson was chosen by the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the 30th overall pick while Roman Bychkov was selected by the Ontario Hockey League Champion Guelph Storm with the 98th pick – although he was the 73rd player chosen as 25 teams passed on their picks.

Andersson is a right shot defenceman who was drafted by the Bruins in the second round, 57th overall, at the 2018 National Hockey League Draft who signed his entry level contract on July 1 following the draft. Bychkov is a left shot defenceman and was selected in the 5th round, 154th overall, at last weekend’s draft.

The first question that needs answering is that neither player playing in the CHL will have an impact either way when it comes to the Seattle expansion draft as both would be exempt from the draft and don’t need to be “hidden” for a year by the Bruins.

The second question most asked is “why select a player already drafted in the NHL?”

Well, put simply, most players that end up in the CHL have played their entire life overseas on the larger ice surface and are not accustomed to the North American ice or way of life. Both players are eligible for the American Hockey League, but they might just not be ready for professional hockey and they can spend a year in the CHL where they have excellent billet families who help prepare them for life off the ice.

Most OHL General Managers know whether there’s a chance that the player may end up playing Major Junior. Storm GM George Burnett sounded pretty confident when announcing his selection today when he said “Our goal was to add an older defenseman to help solidify our blue line and we feel we’ve done that with our selection of (Roman) Bychkov.” He didn’t sound as confident when speaking about their first pick today.

As for Andersson, this is actually his second Import Draft. He was selected a year ago by the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL with the 51st pick but chose to stay in his native Sweden.

The only thing we know for certain today is the Bruins have an embarrassment of riches on the blue line, especially on the left side, so the possibility that management would like to have Bychkov playing in Guelph to begin his North American development is not out of the realm of possibility. The right side is not as deep for the Bruins, so having Andersson in Providence may be their first choice.

Going to the CHL shouldn’t be seen as a knock. Both organizations are very well run and coached. And both are great cities to begin life in a new country.

Here’s wishing both of them good luck in whatever option they choose.

B’s 2019 Development Camp in full swing

None of us are there, so relying on second hand reports, but the second day of Boston Bruins Development Camp is ongoing and a few prospects are attracting notice from various observers.

Here’s a quick recap:

Drafted division

Oskar Steen, F- We’ll admit we weren’t thrilled with Steen’s selection in the 2016 draft, but the ’98-born forward is coming off an impressive breakout season in his native Sweden’s highest pro league, putting up nearly a point per game and finishing 10th overall in scoring. He played center, but whether he slots in the middle in North America or splits out to the wing remains to be seen. He’s fast, agile, skilled and plays with some p & v. During a camp interview posted on the B’s Twitter feed, Steen says he’s coming in to make the big club, but barring a major run at camp/preseason, he’ll likely begin the year in Providence.

John Beecher, F- Boston’s top selection in Vancouver did not disappoint onlookers with his impressive skating/speed, plus won locals over with his declaration that he and his brother broke with family tradition to root for the Boston Red Sox growing up in a New York Yankees household. The Elmira, NY native was a Buffalo Sabres fan on the hockey side, but he’s hitting the right notes in his first look after being taken 30th overall. He’s big, powerful and can really scoot for one so big- if his offensive skills improve, the B’s could have a real prospect on their hands.

Pavel  Shen, F- The 2018 7th-rounder and Russian pro looks the part: decent size, skating and skills. He was a standout for Russia at the 2019 World Jr. Championship tourney last winter and could be a sleeper to develop into a solid NHL player at some point. He can handle the puck in tight spaces and has vision/creativity to make plays. If he pans out, it could be another feather in the cap for a Boston scouting staff that is doing a nice job of finding players from all corners of the globe.

Axel Andersson, D- Boston’s top choice (2nd round) a year ago can really skate- his wheels/footwork is the most impressive asset he brings to the table. The slick Swede checks the boxes for what the Bruins tend to value in their players: highly mobile and sees the ice pretty well. We’re not sure about the overall skill level for Andersson to develop into a top-3 NHL defenseman, but he appears to have the tools to be a role player and special teams asset. Interestingly enough, he was drafted today in the CHL Import Draft 30th overall by the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL- that marks the second year in a row that a CHL team has rolled the dice to select Andersson.

Jeremy Swayman, G- Somewhat of a surprise pick in 2017 simply because there were other more highly-ranked goaltenders in the USHL available when the B’s grabbed him in the 4th round, the University of Maine rising junior has posted two solid seasons in the Hockey East. He’s got the size, athletic ability and production/pedigree to continue to rise up the prospect ladder within the organization. On the downside, fans won’t get to see a head-to-head matchup between Swayman and undrafted free agent Kyle Keyser this week- Keyser is being held off the ice (along with Jakub Lauko and Jack Studnicka) after he got nicked up at some point during his playoff run in the OHL and AHL (plus Black Ace duty with the B’s).

Undrafted division

Kudos to the Bruins staff for having an impressive group of current and rising NCAA players here this week who had notable junior hockey careers. Here are a couple:

Matt Brown, F- The smallish but highly skilled ’99 just finished a 30-goal season with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL and will play at UMass-Lowell in the fall. He’s dynamic with the puck on his stick and plays with some real jam as a feisty underdog who plays with a chip on his shoulder. Brown was a key member of the USA squad that captured gold at the World Jr. A Challenge last December, beating pretty much the same Russian team that knocked out the USA NTDP galaxy of all stars in April at the World U18s. Looking back on it, given some of the players who were picked in Vancouver, Brown should have had his name called at some point, even late in the seventh round- that was probably a mistake for the NHL’s 31 clubs.

Nathan Burke, F- The former NAHL standout with the Aberdeen Wings would have been a top USHL player, but went in to the University of Minnesota this past season. He’s a smart playmaking forward who has excellent vision/hockey IQ and works hard on the details of his game. Although still pretty lean for his 6-foot frame, he’s noticeable for the way he tracks back on pucks and finds quiet ice in the offensive zone. Burke was rumored to be a close candidate to be drafted a year ago as a late bloomer in his final window of eligibility but it didn’t happen. Watch for him to be a high-profile NCAA free agent in 1-2 years when he can pick his destination, and fans will catch a glimpse of what could be this week.

Nick Wolff, D- Two-time NCAA champion with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs is big and a nasty, tough competitor who helped anchor a suffocating defense in the NCHC last season. He’s massive at 6-4, and the skating isn’t a strength (especially when Scott Perunovich is flying around the same ice), but he’s a smart defender who uses his size, strength and stick effectively. The assistant captain from 2018-19 was rumored to be considering turning pro in the spring, but opted to return for his senior season, and he should sign a pro contract in the spring of 2020. Wolff attended B’s development camp a year ago and despite numerous offers by other teams opted to return to Boston in 2019. He’s a throwback type…if you liked Adam McQuaid, Wolff is a guy you’ll have time for as a defense-first, physical, hard-to-play against glue role D.

Cooper Zech, D- The B’s signed the Michigan native to an AHL deal after just one impressive NCAA season with Ferris State (where his teammates included Boston prospect Cam Clarke), putting up nearly a point per game. Although he never played in the USHL, Zech helped the BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild win that league’s championship in 2018 and though he lacks size, is a fast, tenacious player who is already evoking comparisons to Connor Clifton. Zech doesn’t know Torey Krug personally, but according to Conor Ryan of Boston Sports Journal, Zech said that Krug’s dad Kyle once cut him from the Belle Tire 16U midget AAA team. That would put Zech in some pretty exclusive company…the elder Krug is famous for cutting another player back in the day you might have heard of…Mike Modano.

 

2019 NHL Draft: Bruins take 4 on Day 2- On the long-range plan

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VANCOUVER-  The Boston Bruins wrapped up the 2019 NHL Entry Draft with four selections covering rounds 3 and 5-7 on the second day here Saturday, taking three forwards and a defenseman.

The team, which came up agonizingly short in its bid to win the Stanley Cup, found itself with the penultimate selections in every round save for the seventh, and appeared to adopt a draft strategy of taking players that they can afford to wait a longer time on to develop versus players in Canadian major junior leagues who would require being signed within two years. This ultimately led to some higher-touted players on public lists and rankings being passed over in favor of prospects whose rights can be held by the team for the next five years, allowing the team to slow-play the integration of prospects into their system. With just two selections in the top-95 and five total, this was one of those drafts where the B’s didn’t generate much buzz the way other clubs with more plentiful and earlier selections like New Jersey, the NY Rangers, the LA Kings, Vegas, Colorado and even the Minnesota Wild, who appear on paper to have done pretty well, were able to do at Rogers Arena.

Here’s a quick recap of Boston’s Day 2 picks, but admittedly, we didn’t know a great deal about the two European players taken.

3/92 Quinn Olson, C/L Okotoks (AJHL): The inbound University of Minnesota-Duluth forward can skate and has offensive skill plus high effort/compete and energy levels. He played much of the season with 2020 NHL 1st-round candidate Dylan Holloway, so it will be interesting to see how much of Olson’s impressive production in Tier 2 hockey last season was a product of playing with the league’s top forward in Holloway. Olson doesn’t possess ideal size, but he plays with a relentless style and is bigger than he looks on the ice because of his pace and willingness to initiate contact. He is heading to a top NCAA program with the 2-time defending champion Bulldogs, and will probably sign and turn pro in about 3 years. He’s like a higher-end Karson Kuhlman to draw a comparison to another former UMD player, and makes sense to the Bruins at the end of the third round, even if he was projected to be picked later on. Some of that has more to do with the lack of exposure the AJHL has to many of the draft publications out there, but Olson is a good player. It’s a sneaky kind of pick, but one that could produce a solid middle-six forward with some modest upside down the road.

Quotable: “Two-way center. Has a great pair of legs. He’s got deceptive speed. He has excellent vision, can make high-end plays. A little undersized at this time, we’re hoping for some development physically. We’re excited about this player as well. If he can develop and put some muscle on, he’s got some jam. He’s put up points in each and every year.”- Scott Bradley, Bruins Assistant GM

5/154 Roman Bychkov, D/L Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (MHL): The B’s drafted this smallish but dynamic-skating Russian, who has received some mixed reviews about his ultimate offensive ceiling. One thing scouts at the draft aren’t divided on however is his feet: he can wheel, able to accelerate to speed quickly and tremendous on his edges, often eluding forecheckers and opening up skating lanes for himself because he can change directions so effortlessly. Although not tall, he tends to use his lower center of gravity to good effect and has a decent stick/defensive game. Bychkov drew positive attention for his performance with the silver-medal winning Russian World Jr. A Challenge and World U18 squads. It marks the second year in  a row the B’s have drafted a Russian player after going 2012-17 without a single selection from that country. He’s an interesting flyer kind of project pick in that he compares in style and substance to current B’s prospects Victor Berglund (2017) and Axel Andersson (2018) as defenders who can really skate and move the puck, but who don’t have an established high NHL ceiling. Time will tell on this one, but some out there have time for him.

Quotable:Feet don’t get tied up in front of own goal’ smartly steps into open turns preventing himself from getting bottled up…smart positional player who adjusts routes at the last minute to surprise puck carriers with fast footwork on startup to jump up and stay with fast developing rushes.”- Mark Staudinger, Red Line Report

6/185 Matias Mantykivi F/L SaiPa (Finland- SM Liiga): This skilled offensive forward has average size and skating, but is crafty with the puck and has some impressive offensive hockey sense when talking to those who have scouted him. An 18-year-old who was able to play both junior and pro hockey this year in his native Finland, it speaks to his potential that one so young is already getting chances to play against men, and his skating may have looked a little rougher because of the transition to the faster-paced pro game. He’s probably not ever going to be a burner or even a plus-skater given his smaller stature, but his hands and offensive creativity are strong suits. Again- there were other North American major junior players ranked higher than MM, but the B’s felt that they could draft him on the longer-term plan and take their time here. Good strategy or ultimately a roll of the dice that will come up snake eyes? We shall see, but we are talking about a pick made that was in the seventh-round range before Vegas joined the league, so it isn’t like the expectations for this pick are out of line with the value it represents.

Quotable: “Very smart player- hockey sense is- we considered not elite but very special or he can be someday.”- Bradley

7/192 Jake Schmaltz F/L Chicago Steel (USHL): The cousin of NHLers Nick and Jordan Schmaltz, this was a surprise pick here just because the newest Bruin is a player we have seen a good bit of going back to the 2017-18 season when he was on the Team Wisconsin 16U midget AAA team that reached the T1 midget title game before falling to the Chicago Mission 16s. Schmaltz has always been a responsible 2-way forward, but he was a raw, physically underdeveloped player as a midget who got better and better as the year went on, ultimately leading to his being drafted as a 2001-born player by Chicago in the USHL draft a year ago and making the team as a 17-year-old. He didn’t play a great deal behind some other more highly-skilled and productive forwards on the Steel, who fell to the Sioux Falls Stampede in the Clark Cup championship last month. There’s not much of a dynamic element to his game- he skates well and is tall and lanky at this point- he’ll have a lot of room to fill out going forward. Headed to the University of North Dakota after another year in the USHL, don’t expect a major increase in points production, but Schmaltz is a smart, efficient forward who should be good for maybe 30-40 as the team’s 2nd-line center. His GM with the Steel is former Bruins scout Ryan Hardy.

Quotable: “He was a real core and anchor for (the Steel)- he anchored their third line this year. They went deep, they went to the finals and we thought he was a big part of their team in his role. He killed penalties and was great on draws. He’s a developing kid- he’s 6-1 and 180 right now and we project him to be closer to 200 pounds and 6-2 when it’s all said and done. He’s a 2-way player and his skating will pick up with some strength.”- Bradley

Final review: With John Beecher going late in the first round, the Bruins draft class isn’t a lot to write home about. Beecher is an impressive physical package with enough talent to play in the NHL, but he doesn’t quite have the offensive wow factor of other players who were on the board at 30. He’s likely going to play in the league for a long time, so to get a good fit like Beecher bodes well for the B’s 2019 draft, but the rest of the class is harder to project.

They didn’t land any top-end talent in any of the rounds but did pick up some interesting prospects who could develop into players who end up being more than the sum of their parts right now. It’s tough when you only have 2 picks in the first three rounds and are going at the end of every round save the last one, so we can certainly see what the Bruins were trying to do here, even if it is a pretty “middle of the fairway” kind of draft. Quinn Olson could end up becoming a solid middle tier prospect in the organization and one player who becomes more of a fan favorite after they watch him in development camp.

One of the mistakes fans and casual process observers sometimes make especially with respect to the NHL draft is viewing it in a linear fashion- it not always is, and the approach varies from team to team. Because the Bruins had a lot of picks in 2015-17 plus undrafted free agents put into the mix, they don’t have a great deal of room to draft a lot more OR take players who are going to be forced to sign and turn pro within the two-year pick and sign window mandated for major junior players. Bradley confirmed this after all the picks were in by saying that unless a CHL player was someone they were absolutely sure on this time around, they were looking more at college and European players who can develop on a longer timeline. This explains to a degree why the B’s passed on Arthur Kaliyev and his 51 goals- you don’t have to like it or agree but it there is anything the electric OHL scorer showed, it was despite the impressive scoring, he was not a sure bet- otherwise he wouldn’t have fallen out of the 1st round. Other teams who don’t have as many prospects vying for contracts and spots in the pipeline have to take a more CHL (major junior)-centric approach in their drafting. It’s a cycle and so the B’s are in a different place right now than other clubs- observers don’t have to like it, but it demonstrates the thinking behind some of these selections.

The draft is always tough because people are conditioned to have strong opinions on players the vast majority of fans have never even seen. Just reading this blog might condition you to be a big fan of Bobby Brink to the Bruins for example, but in the end-while they liked him, he wasn’t in the cards because the team felt Beecher was a better fit and player for them in the long run.

Outside of Olson, the rest of the B’s selections appear to be a lot of: hmmm…interesting…maybe…I don’t know kinds of players, but again- the Bruins have their process and stick to it. Drafts are lauded and/or criticized every year so in 2019, if there appear to be negatives than positives it goes with the territory. At some point, Boston’s draft strategy will shift back to some of the more traditional and immediate player pipelines, but for now, we see what they are doing and we have no choice but to wait and see how it all pans out in another 3-5 years or more.

2019 NHL Draft: B’s go with Beecher in 1st round

VANCOUVER–The Boston Bruins selected U.S. National Team Development Program forward John Beecher with the 30th overall selection in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.

As highlighted in the Bruins draft preview piece at this blog, Beecher made sense for the organization on several levels: he’s a big-bodied, versatile forward who can fly (given his big 6-foot-3 frame) and while his skills/overall NHL ceiling as a scoring forward is still up in the air, he’s someone who is going to play in the league because of his pure physical tools.

Here’s more on Beecher from Dom and Kirk:

Dominic Tiano:

Don’t look at the stat sheet and assume John Beecher can’t put up points since he didn’t get the quality ice time to produce with the USDP. That question will be answered as he progresses.  He’s a big body at 6’3” and 209 pounds who possesses superb skating abilities and great top-notch speed. His first steps could use some improvement, but when he hits full speed its excellent.

Beecher is accomplished defensively, knowing his positioning, with good anticipation, good at getting in lanes and willing to battle. If you need a key defensive faceoff win, then he is usually the guy his coaches send over the boards for the puck drop.

I think Beecher’s compete level and his vision is average. For a guy his size, I’d like to see him get in on the forecheck and bang bodies and get more involved in the cycle game. However, what he does do in the offensive zone well is find lanes and soft spots that allow his teammates to find him. He’s an average passer and playmaker so his mentality is to score. Obviously with his size, when he is planted in front of the goal, he’s hard to move, and he can take away a goaltender’s eyes. He protects the puck extremely well and drives possession. Also, very good at gaining the blueline.

I think he projects as a third line center who can kill penalties and you can trust to be defensively responsible. If he can develop more offense with the University of Michigan, that’ll be a bonus. But he and the team might be better served if he transitioned to the wing and with a playmaker, might surprise and could be a second liner.

Can’t expect more from the 30th overall pick.

Kirk Luedeke:

I had Sioux City RW Bobby Brink rated higher here, but Beecher is a Boston-type player for his size/skating combo and it isn’t like he doesn’t have the skill set to evolve into a scoring forward at the NHL level- we have to remember that playing behind major league talents like Jack Hughes and Trevor Zegras meant that Beecher was going to see less playing time and very little PP opportunities on a loaded USA team.

When he gets going, he’s a load to contain, and there is an impressive high floor with Beecher in terms of a late-1st rounder who is going to play upwards of 500 or more games in the NHL because he brings the size/skating combination that will allow him to play up or down the Boston roster eventually. Brink, for all of his guts, skills and playmaking ability, represents more risk for the team that selects him in terms of long-term NHL viability because of his lack of size, but let’s face it- he’s going to be off the board very early on Day 2, and the team that gets him is going to have themselves a steal.

Beecher is a very good player- he makes sense for the modern NHL as a big-bodied forward who can really move and might be a little undersold on this end in terms of his scoring ability. Against Omaha as a 16-year-old in the 2017-18, he went end-to-end and scored one of the prettier goals you’ll ever see, so he has it in him to make plays at the highest level.

All told, Beecher to the Bruins at 30 was not a surprise. How good a selection it will end up being when all is said and done will be debated because it’s not a high-upside kind of pick, but is still likely to make some hay for the B’s.

Editor’s note- Mea culpa on Beecher’s NCAA commitment- he is going to University of Michigan not Ohio State- sloppy on my part for not verifying. Wolverines are getting a good one.

Don Sweeney named NHL GM of Year

The 2019 NHL Awards Show happened tonight in Las Vegas and Don Sweeney captured the hardware as the league’s General Manager of the Year as voted on by his peers and a smaller/more select panel of media broadcasters.

Sweeney earned it with a steady, methodical build of the Bruins from an organization that was in disarray at the end of the 2015 season, to coming within one game of a Stanley Cup championship four years later.

To be sure, it hasn’t been perfect- you had the Zac Rinaldo misstep right out of the gate, followed by the well-intentioned but ultimately fruitless Jimmy Hayes trade that sent Reilly Smith to Florida. And of course- you still have people twitching online about the 2015 draft, when  the B’s could’ve had Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor. Or is it Thomas Chabot? Or Travis Konecny or Sebastian Aho or (insert the name of every player taken after the B’s sandwiched Jake DeBrusk between Jakub Zboril and Zach Senyshyn who has had some NHL success to date) but we digress…

The successes, by and large, have been prolific.

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3 Amigos: 2019 Boston Bruins Draft Preview

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No time for a podcast this time around, but the 3 Amigos have gotten together to provide a snapshot of some of the players we like/think could be draft options for the Boston Bruins.

The B’s pick grid is not ideal- no 2nd or 4th-round picks, which, with the team picking near the end of every round save for the seventh, means that they probably need to hit in multiple rounds after the 1st (selection 30). Of course- this goes without saying. The Boston scouts have done a nice job in recent years going back to 2014 of finding some good values in the middle/latter rounds.

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Dominic Tiano: David Backes- More Questions Than Answers

Posted by Dominic Tiano

It’s been almost a week that the Boston Bruins lost game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals to the St. Louis Blues and the focus for Don Sweeney, Bruce Cassidy and the millions (and millions) of Bruins fans around the world switches over to what promises to be at the very least, an interesting offseason.

Obviously, the biggest issue on Sweeney’s plate will be to get Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo to put pen to paper on new contracts as their entry level contracts are set to expire on July 1st, 2019 as General Managers around the league embark on the yearly tradition of committing hundreds of millions of dollars of their owner’s money to players looking for contracts.

But for many B’s fans on social media and chat rooms across North America, the biggest question surrounding their beloved team is how do they get rid of the $6 million cap hit (for two more seasons) belonging to David Backes? Even the media is engaging in these discussions.

If you listened to Sweeney and Cassidy discuss the situation at the end of the year press conference, the pair intimated that Backes will be vying for fourth line duty with the ability to move up in a pinch. If you read Backes’ comments shortly after the season ended, he sounded like a player who knew moving on was an evitability.

When the 3 Amigos, TSP founder Kirk Luedeke, Reed Duthie and myself discussed doing a series of articles on “what’s next” for the Boston Bruins, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to do this piece on Backes.

Why, you ask? Well, there is a lot of misinformation out there on what precisely the cap ramifications might be to the Bruins under different circumstances and I wanted to set the record straight. Although my two podcast partners might disagree, I am no cap expert. But I do my research and if I can’t find it, I know who to ask.

I will breakdown the different scenarios being discussed and how that affects the salary cap if that situation were to come to fruition.

Retirement

I’m not going to debate the possibility that Backes would contemplate retirement. But with his injury history, anything is possible. Backes’ cap hit, even though it was not a 35-plus contract when he signed it, would not disappear if he chose to retire. The NHL has something called cap-recapture – a penalty imposed on teams who signed a player to front loaded deals in order to lower the cap hit. Basically, it’s the dollars paid to date minus the cap hit to date, divided by the number of years remaining to calculate the cap hit over the remainder of the term on the contract. I’ll break down the numbers below.

What makes Backes’ cap-recapture penalty even more complicated would be the date on which he retires. Backes is owed a $3 million signing bonus on July 1st and that directly effects the cap-recapture penalty. If Backes were truly contemplating retirement, would he do it 13 days away from collecting that $3 million pay check? Likely not, I know I wouldn’t and you probably wouldn’t either. But we’ll break the numbers down for you anyway.

To date, Backes has earned $19 million ($9 million in salary and $10 million in signing bonuses) while his cap hit to date is $18 million. The Bruins received a $1 million savings on the cap hit so the cap recapture penalty is $1 million spread over two seasons, or a cap hit of $500,000 per season.

However, if he retired after July 1st and receiving his signing bonus, he will have earned $22 million while the cap hit was $18 million, making the recapture penalty $4 million or spread over two years, a $2 million cap hit.

Buyout

This is where it complicates things for fans, and the best thing I can recommend to fans that don’t want to do the math or don’t understand how it works, is to visit CapFriendly and they’ll do all the work for you. Without confusing everyone on how it works or how to calculate it, it all boils down to just a $333,333 savings for the Bruins on the cap in the first year of the buyout.

The fact of the matter is this: with the amount allowed to be buried in the AHL increasing next season to $1,050,000, the Bruins receive greater cap relief sending Backes to Providence than to buy him out. The latter would only provide relief to Jeremy Jacobs’ check book.

Trade

Stranger things have happened and one can never rule a trade out as a possibility. But usually, those involved teams that were willing to take on cap hits with lower actual dollars remaining to be paid in order to reach the cap floor. But for the 2019-2020 season, there will be few, if any, teams in a position struggling to hit that cap floor.

Sure, there are many teams with the cap space to be able to take on the cap hit, but that means the price to “dump” the salary just went up. Those teams don’t need the cap hit, but may be willing to take on part of the salary – the Bruins would have to retain- in order to get an asset back. And it better be an enticing asset or rival GMs will hang up the phone.

There is another alternative that hasn’t been discussed, or I haven’t seen discussed. It may cost less in terms of assets, but it’ll cost nonetheless. If the Bruins can somehow find a team willing to take another asset in order to acquire Backes (with retained salary) and then buy him out, it may be the most beneficial way in terms of cap savings.

As an example, If Backes were to be bought out the cap hit for the first year would be $5,666,667 and go down over the next 3 years. However, if the Bruins could trade him along with a pick or prospect and retain 50% of his salary/cap, the maximum allowed under the CBA, the buyout cap hit would be split equally among the two teams, or $2,833,334 per team in the first year. That’s a $3,166,666 cap savings for the Bruins in the first year.

Some may call that cap circumvention. I don’t think so especially since they are giving up an asset. I choose to call it creative thinking.

I don’t know what the Bruins or Backes will do. But I do know that the leadership and character and the influence Backes has on the young guns has some importance to it. And his teammates love him.

Sweeney now has to decide how important that is.