Reed Duthie: Off the top of the head- Matias Mantykivi

3 Amigo Reed Duthie is back to continue his steady march through Europe to bring you the goods on B’s Finnish forward prospect Matias Mantykivi. Enjoy!- KL

In the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Boston Bruins would continue a recent trend of swinging for the fences in the late round in Scandinavia. With the teams’ 6th round pick (185th overall) the Bruins would turn to the SaiPa program in Finalnd to select talented center Matias Mantykivi.

Very likely catching the Bruins eye originally in the 2017-18 season when he rose from the U18 to U20 as a 16-year old, it could have been happenstance for Mantykivi as Bruins 2017 1st round pick Urho Vaakanainen was playing for the SaiPa senior squad at the time. In his 2018-19 draft season Mantykivi’s meteoric rise continued. Starting with the SaiPa U18 side, he would post 13 points across 9 games and quickly return to the U20 team where, as a 17-year old, he would post 12 goals & 24 assists for 36 points across 34 games finishing 3rd on the team in points and second in PPG. Mantykivi’s performances at the U20 level would see him join the SaiPa senior team for 6 games in the SM-Liiga recording a goal but finding his most success at the professional level with Kettera of the Mestis (Finland’s second division) posting 4 assists through 11 regular season games and adding a goal and 5 assists for 6 points across 13 playoff games.

The quick rise through the Finnish ranks led to the Bruins utilizing a draft pick on Mantykivi, and they would already see the rewards of drafting him in the 2019-20 season. After posting 2 points in 2 games at the U20 level to open the season, Mantykivi would quickly join the SaiPa senior side as the SM-Liiga season got going, as an 18-year old his ice time at Finland’s top level would be limited but he would still record 3 goals & 3 assists for 6 points across 42 games in addition to once again joining Kettera in Mestis for 8 games where he would again excel recording 7 assists.

Still a few seasons from a potential NHL run, Mantykivi’s development has been more of a straight line upwards as opposed to a curve. Expected to play a more significant role in the SM-Liiga following a contract extension with SaiPa as well as an expectation to be a part of Finland’s 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship team, this could be the season where Matias Mantykivi takes his game to another level and builds his way towards his eventual jump to North America and joining the Bruins franchise.

Assets:

Vision/Distribution – Much like current Providence Bruins forward Oskar Steen, Mantykivi’s biggest offensive strength, and perhaps biggest strength overall, would be his vision and ability to distribute the puck. Able to fit hard passes into small windows and pick out teammates even through crowded ice, Mantykivi has drawn a lot of attention for that ability.

Attitude – Playing on the hybrid ice in Finland (blend between international and NHL sizes) Mantykivi has no issues maximizing a 5’11’’ 170lbs frame to drive the net, scoring an abundance of his U20 goals from right in front of the net. A no fear style that the Bruins like, even in their skill players is clearly on display with the talented Finn.

Agility – Although not the fastest player on the ice, Mantykivi’s greatest skating strength is his agility, strength on his edges and ability to quickly cut and dart in and out of traffic, even in possession of the puck. Very similar to Bruins current star David Krejci in that regard.

Weaknesses:

Size – As mentioned with Steen, not nearly as a big of a hindrance as it once was, Mantykivi has a 5’11’’ frame but currently sits around the 170lbs mark. He will need to take a page from Steen’s playbook and add more strength to his toolbox to continue to play his preferred style at the next level.

Shot – Again much like Steen while he worked his way to the SHL, Mantykivi has stepped forward as a tremendous playmaker but will need to round out his game by being able to score while teams over play his passing options. He has a good shot and solid release but doesn’t seem to use it as much as he could, preferring to add his goals by getting to the net and cleaning up loose pucks. If he can gain confidence in his shot over the next season or two, it will take Mantykivi to the next level.

Future:

Another potential late round steal, Mantykivi has a ton of room to grow and quickly climb the Bruins prospect charts. A player who would have likely gone under the radar with most other organizations, the Bruins took a player with a ton of raw talent who just needed continued refinement. His rise from the junior to professional ranks in Finland have proven he can translate his biggest assets to the pro level in Europe. The next steps will be to have a breakout in the SM-Liiga before making the jump to Providence in the AHL. Likely a middle-6 NHL forward ceiling, Mantykivi fits the Bruins system perfectly as a team that tries to run 3 offensively balanced lines that can threaten and even as a “third line” player, Mantykivi could find both his offense and 200-foot games very handily deployed by a coach like Bruce Cassidy.

Not much video out there on him, but we found a YouTube clip from early in his draft season:

Zach Senyshyn: Then & Now

We continue updating Boston Bruins prospects in two different series with Zach Senyshyn. We’re taking the longer, more detailed approach with the 15th overall selection from 2015, with some superb past content from Dominic Tiano who has been following him longer than most of us.-KL

Zach Senyshyn Then on Scouting Post:

July 18, 2015 (One of the very first posts of the blog)

Zachary Senyshyn, RW Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) 6-2, 195

Acquired: 1st round, 2015 NHL Entry Draft

The 2015 NHL draft’s first true off-the-board pick has the natural skills to eventually justify the selection, even if the Bruins took an acknowledged risk with other more established players on the board. The good news: the Ottawa-area product is a fine skater who can beat defenders wide with his speed, takes pucks to the net and has the hands to find the back of the net with regularity. On the downside- scouts question his natural creativity and there is significant risk associated with him if he does not take the next anticipated step in the OHL with the departure of several key veterans he was playing behind. Although he isn’t an intimidating presence on the ice, Senyshyn is saying and doing all the right things and demonstrated his raw, but promising talent at development camp.

August 16, 2015

Zach Senyshyn scouting report:
Senyshyn plays a north/south game with very good size and still room to fill out. He has a very powerful skating stride with quick acceleration in his first few strides and top end speed. He has the ability to beat defenders with that speed one-on- one and the tenacity to drive to the net with the puck.

Senyshyn can throw a big hit but it’s not something he goes out looking for. He will battle along the boards for pucks and wins more of those battles than he loses. He possesses that same work ethic in his own zone. He plays the game in high gear from the drop of the puck to the final buzzer.

At times, Senyshyn has shown to make an excellent pass. His playmaking abilities weren’t really noticeable in his first year, but as he enters year two in the OHL, and playing with more talented players, it’ll be his time to shine.– Dominic Tiano

July 18, 2016: Bruins development camp roundup

Zach Senyshyn, RW

Plus: A year after tallying 26 goals on the bottom line and without much special teams time, the 15th selection in 2015 scored 45 goals to lead the Soo Greyhounds; he’s a big, explosive and skilled scoring presence on the right side. Minus: The goals are great, but the 19-year-old has work to do in his 200-foot game; he has a tendency to wait for the next scoring chance or let others go and get him the puck.

May 12, 2017- Another profile of Senyshyn from OHL analyst Dominic Tiano:

We all know Senyshyn is an elite-level skater who can beat defenders wide. He also possesses an NHL shot already. He’s willing to stand in front of the goal and take his licks and knock in rebounds. He plays smart with his stick seemingly always on the ice waiting for the pass. He has subtle little moves that allow for that extra 6-12 inches to get into a lane. Only time will tell how it translates to the NHL.

But for now, a year in the AHL is probably the best thing for him and the Bruins.

Zach Senyshyn now:

Three years into his pro career and after the above post was written, the time has mostly been spent in the AHL with the exception of 6 NHL games (1 empty-net goal, 3 points).  The projection on Senyshyn is just about in focus: He’s probably more of a third-line/middle-of-the-roster forward at the NHL level at best, which, in the context of his draft position, validates the concerns around the choice when it was made.

Mat Barzal (Islanders), Kyle Connor (Jets), Brock Boeser (Canucks), Travis Konecny (Flyers) and Anthony Beauvilier (Islanders)- all forwards drafted after the 15th selection, have established themselves as impact players, each with at least 121 NHL points (Barzal leads the pack with 207, while Connor is close behind with 201). There is no denying five years after the draft that the Bruins did not get the best value out of that pick. Like fellow 1st-rounder Jakub Zboril, Senyshyn has been a victim of others’ success more than the has been a subpar performer. And there is no denying the fact that a lot of people have taken great pains to point that out from day one.

Even with the potential surrounding the Senyshyn pick at the time, it was a given that he would be a project who would take time to justify the selection. However, the slower, more deliberate NHL timeline we predicted on this blog at the time of the selection ended up being optimistic.

Although he popped offensively in junior with 45 and 42 goals, his staple tool-  offense at the pro level has been slow in materializing. He’s had to learn how to be a more complete player to succeed in the Providence system, which adopts many of the same set plays and player responsibilities as the parent Bruins club. While we can say that his game has improved and he’s taken positive strides in terms of his pro habits that the AHL experiences have taught him, it’s not a stretch to say that more was and is expected.

Senyshyn is 23, and in a four-game NHL recall in late October/early November, he started to show why the B’s were high enough on him to invest ahead of the others. He showed some jump and was impacting shifts with his speed and an energetic style that despite limited even strength minutes, was making a difference and starting to move the needle. Then, he suffered an injury that ended the promising stretch just as things were getting started.

Steve Conroy of the Boston Herald reported on the lower body injury in a detailed piece back in December, when Senyshyn was returned to Providence five weeks after leaving the NHL lineup.

Here is Bruce Cassidy, quoted from the Conroy Herald piece with key analysis on the player’s Boston stint bolded for emphasis: “He did his job. He’s one of those guys who hasn’t earned his way yet so we haven’t used him on the power play or penalty kill, it’s all even-strength minutes, so you can get lost some nights in that role. We’ve seen that with Brett (Ritchie) a little bit, getting that motor turned on when you’ve got to sit for extended periods. And that’s where I thought (Senyshyn) did a decent job for us when he didn’t play. As a young guy, sometimes the mind wanders. I thought he went out and stayed true to his game and got on pucks, protected them in the O-zone. I thought he influenced the play well for us. It’s too bad when he got hurt. He was starting to gain a little bit of confidence and we were starting to see what we had. So he has to start over a little bit. Hopefully he picks up where he left off, whether it’s here or Providence and gains a little bit of confidence knowing that there is a role for him in this league.”

Cassidy, like most successful coaches at any level, focuses on the details- the little things. And going back to his junior years, we had scouts tell us that while Senyshyn had the tools to thrive in the NHL, his overall game and commitment to those habits and attributes that most successful NHLers have weren’t quite there. When it doesn’t come naturally to a player, then there is a window of time extended to figure it out. Not everyone can be Patrice Bergeron and play like a seasoned veteran at age 18, but any organization only has so much patience with the process before others pass you on the depth chart, and potential is either reached or left unfulfilled.

There’s no guarantee that had Senyshyn not gotten hurt that he would have been able to keep a spot on the Boston roster, but in missing the time he did, he needed to get back down to the AHL to get his conditioning and timing back on track, and there would be no other NHL opportunities after that.

Outlook:

At TSP, we can only guess that the positive, albeit baby steps towards earning a regular NHL shift might have done enough to convince management to hold on and give him more time. When you read between the lines of Cassidy’s comments back in December, he’s essentially saying that Senyshyn is young, but figuring it out and is trending in the right direction. That’s a good sign, and it likely means that with a qualifying offer in hand and another year under NHL contract, the third of three first-round picks will get another opportunity to prove he can play here.

That doesn’t change the fact that the projections here were overly rosy about him in the early going, but we won’t apologize for being high on a player who scored 114 goals in 195 junior games. Even though he was projected to go in the second round that year, we won’t fault the scouts who pushed for him in Sunrise, because sometimes you make gut calls based on passion for a player that pans out in a big way- like Bergeron and more recently, David Pastrnak. And sometimes, the player you believe in doesn’t deliver like you hoped. No one scout, no one team- no matter who they are- ever has a perfect track record. Every team can continue to learn as an organization in developing a sustained productive process from the decisions that don’t work out, just as much as the validation received from successful picks. Learning organizations might stumble, but they rarely fall.

Finally, the silver lining to the slow development, modest production and injury setbacks is that Senyshyn is still in the mix to establish himself as a player and could yet develop into a capable middle-of-the-roster forward. That’s not going to erase the criticism surrounding his selection, but even if the selection ends up being a bloop single to shallow right field, it is preferable to striking out swinging. With his growing confidence and a willingness to work, he has a chance to get on base.

Although it is cliche to say, the jury is still out on Senyshyn, but fire up some Europe if you can- it’s the final countdown.

For more on Senyshyn with analysis from Anthony Kwetkowski/Bruins Network,check out this recent podcast. He starts talking about him at the 1:18:50 mark of the audio.

Zach Senyshyn’s 1st NHL goal vs Minnesota to close out the 2019 regular season

Senyshyn- 2 goals in a 2018 preseason game vs Washington (plus a nice breakaway goal at 1:50 by Jakub Lauko– speed!) 1st at 2:03 vs Ilya Samsonov and the second (a fluky bounce) at 2:40, but he threw the puck at the net off the rush- good things happen.

Jeremy Lauzon: Then & Now

The Bruins prospects series rolls on with a player who might’ve been on the verge of graduating to NHL regular status when the 2019-20 season was put on pause. He’s an interesting profile to write because he’s finally paying some real dividends at the highest level.- KL

Jeremy Lauzon Then on Scouting Post:

Watch this Guy: Jeremy Lauzon July 24, 2015

So, why might Lauzon be the best between Jakub Zboril (13th overall) and Brandon Carlo (37th overall)? Like Zboril, Lauzon brings similar size and a mix of offense and defense. He’s more of a consistent competitor in my view, despite some reports of Boston’s top choice Zboril being “ultra-competitive” (I wouldn’t go that far based on what I saw in film study). Carlo is a massive rearguard who excels in a shutdown role, but I don’t know that he has the offensive skill/sense to be much of a consistent points producer. That leaves Lauzon as the best combination of the three- not as talented as Zboril or as big/defensively savvy as Carlo, but solid across the board and a gritty, hard-to-play against -d-man.

Prospect deep dive: Jeremy Lauzon March 7, 2016

Though not a truly exceptional player in any key area or specific hockey skill, Lauzon nevertheless is above average and more than capable at just about everything. He’s got good (Lauzon is about 6-1, 195 pounds) if not great (6-4, 220+ pounds or more is what is considered ideal in the modern NHL for D) size, and skates well though doesn’t provide dynamic speed and quickness. He’s a deft passer and effective goal scorer from the blue line, and has the ruggedness and smarts to neutralize opposition rushes and prevent players from getting to the front of his net.

Lauzon is putting up the best offensive numbers of his major junior career with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in his third season with them. He’s off his goals pace from a year ago (eight vs the 15 he netted in 2015) but with 44 points in 41 contests, Lauzon has already exceeded his 36 points set last season. He’s had to deal with some nagging lower body injuries that have limited his effectiveness in the new year after injuring himself after returning from Team Canada’s World Jr. Championship training camp in December. As one of the final cuts, Lauzon opened a lot of eyes around the CHL this year after being the 52nd overall selection by Boston last June.

Lauzon is a smart player who often does the little things in terms of maintaining his gaps, keeping the proper stick positioning and forcing opponents into committing early. He likes to go for hits in the open ice and will take every opportunity to finish his checks along the boards and remind guys in the other sweaters that he’s there. Though not a feared fighter, he’s willing to drop the gloves to defend teammates and plays a naturally rugged and aggressive defensive style that will translate well in Boston.

What’s Next For the Bruins- The Young D May 24, 2017

Jeremy Lauzon, LD, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)- Injuries impacted Lauzon’s season and he didn’t put up the kind of regular season numbers in his fourth major junior campaign as he did a year ago. However, when it comes to Lauzon, it’s not so much about the stats as it is the consistency and balance. Besides, he had an outstanding playoffs (albeit an earlier-than-expected exit at the hands of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in the second round of the Quebec League run), posting 5 goals and 14 points in 13 games with the Huskies.

With Lauzon, less is more- he made Team Canada’s World Jr. Championship squad but wasn’t given as much ice time as some of the other defenders. Still- he scored a big goal in the gold medal game against USA, and seemed to make the most of the opportunities he had. He’s got enough skill to score, but he’s also a tenacious, even nasty competitor on the back end who makes forwards pay for the real estate they try to occupy. He’s not huge, but big enough- he’s got a great stick and impressive vision. We said it back after the 2015 draft, but as a shutdown guy, he’s not as effective as Carlo and as an offensive presence, he’s not quite as talented as Jakub Zboril, but if your idea of success is a player who can thrive over all 200 feet of the ice surface, then Lauzon is your man. He’s been with Providence since his playoffs ended, learning and benefiting from being around the team, but he wasn’t ready to go health-wise after playing hurt against Chicoutimi and the way things have gone for the Baby B’s has meant that he’s on the outside looking in for now. His time will come, though.

Jeremy Lauzon Now-

The now 6-2, 205-pound left-shot defenseman made his NHL debut in 2018-19, playing 16 games as an injury replacement and scoring his first NHL goal against Las Vegas. In 2019-20, he came up in the middle of the season and was just rounding into form, having played his way into the nightly lineup consistently when the season was put on pause.

The numbers- 2 goals and 1 helper in 35 games split between last season and the current one- aren’t anything to write home about, but there is room in his growth and development to be more of a point producer than he has thus far shown at age 22 (he turns 23 on Tuesday). Of course, he’s not been a point-getter in the AHL to date, and isn’t likely going to blossom into a 40-50-point guy in the NHL in his prime. But, like many young players who are in the process of breaking into the NHL while seeing limited minutes in a more specific role to place a priority on playing defense, Lauzon has been fine.

He competes hard, plays with good intelligence and vision, making the right decisions with and without the puck; Lauzon does his job with his mobility, a smart stick and has enjoyed the trust of head coach Bruce Cassidy and assistant coach Kevin Dean for his willingness to keep things simple.

Style analysis: 

Why does one defenseman who seems to have all the major league tools and who was a first-round draft pick have trouble establishing himself as an NHL regular, while another who was drafted later the same year and carries a significantly more modest skill set has leapfrogged the first on an organizational depth chart?

With Lauzon, we think it simply has to do with the fact that he’s a better defender and brings a high hockey IQ to the table, along with a certain poise and ability to do the little things to make plays in his own end.  He’s willing to lay out to block shots and he’ll drop the gloves. He’s not a heavyweight fighter, but he’s tough enough, and in Boston, that matters.

NHL defensemen who can both produce points and effectively defend their own zone are coveted commodities and franchise cornerstones- that’s why there are so few of them available across the NHL. That leaves the rest of the population at the position: players who might bring more offensive abilities to the table, while others are better at taking care of their own end. Gone are the pure specialists: the “offenseman”- a player who lines up behind the forwards to take faceoffs, but is essentially a fourth forward on the ice- taking the puck and rushing it up the ice, but lacking the instincts or wherewithal or both to provide capable defense, or the “shutdown” D- a euphemism for a big, powerful player who lacked the skills to skate and carry pucks out of danger, but could grapple and pin and obstruct players in the defensive zone effectively enough to justify their spot on an NHL roster.

Now, if you expect to play defense in the NHL and stay there, you had best be a hybrid 2-way defender or at least be an exceptional enough player in your own end with the mobility to angle, retrieve and win foot races to loose pucks. The modern NHL defenseman has to be able to skate, think, pass and understand how to play within his team’s structure and systems, or he won’t be long on the roster.

Lauzon isn’t fancy, but he’s just tough- able to get up and down the ice, make the first pass and brings a tenacity and competitiveness that endears him to the coaches and teammates he plays with. His best junior season was a 50-point campaign, so his offensive numbers at the highest level will be modest at best, but Lauzon’s value transcends pure point production. He’s going to eventually develop into a player who can play a good chunk of minutes as a steadying influence on the back end.

In hindsight, it looks like we were overly optimistic in thinking he could be the best of the three D Boston took in 2015, and to Brandon Carlo’s credit, he’s taken the bull by the horns to establish himself as an anchor on the B’s blueline, while coming off his best offensive season to date with 19 points in 67 games. But Carlo is also a physical specimen at 6-5 whose mobility opened the door for him earlier in Boston than most, and he took full advantage. Lauzon, on the other hand, has been on a longer (and expected) developmental path. He can’t match Carlo’s physical gifts in terms of pure size, strength and reach, but he’s not far off at being able to contain opponents and neutralize scoring chances.

Outlook:

Lauzon’s persistence has paid off, not only in the form of an increased role with the big club, but with a two-year contract extension at a bargain rate of $850k per that will take him through the 21-22 season. He might even be in danger of being the one Bruin that new NHL franchise Seattle could walk away with in next June’s expansion draft. That might be putting the cart before the horse, but with his experience, cap hit and potential, Lauzon just might be the kind of player who makes perfect sense for GM Ron Francis and Co. if he plays at least 40 games for the B’s in 20-21.

If not, then he’s on the up and up as a player who should be able to slot into Boston’s top-6 going forward. He’s got just enough skill, a good amount of smarts and plenty of ruggedness to make it as a solid role player and maybe something more. It’s not overly complicated when it comes to figuring out if players will earn more NHL ice time or not- if the coaches trust them, then they’ll play.

It might not always make sense to media and fans who will look at other shiny, flashier objects in the system and say, “Why not him?”  Well, because if the flashy guy turns pucks over and can’t establish a solid level of the t-word with the team’s coaches, he’s not going into the game.

Lauzon won’t win a lot of style contests, but in the end, style doesn’t always win hockey games. As the season abruptly ended in March, the coaches trusted him because he proved that he is trustworthy.

Sometimes, that’s really all you need.

***

First NHL goal on former B’s 1st-rounder & prospect Malcolm Subban from late 2018

Squares off vs Matthew Tkachuk- noogie time:

 

A preseason fight vs the NJ Devils’ Nathan Bastian

 

Closing time: Thoughts on Peter Cehlarik

One story that cropped up late in the weekend and got some mild traction in Boston and the Bruins beat Monday was word out of Slovakia where it appears that left wing Peter Cehlarik’s time with the team is up. The 2013 third-round selection was interviewed in local media outlet Ta3.com, expressing his frustration at not having carved out more of an NHL role for himself, and appearing to levy a sizeable share of the blame to coach Bruce Cassidy (admittedly, we’re going off of translation devices and the interpretations of other sources) for his inability to do so.

We’ve tried to be fair to Cehlarik here, observing in the past that given his hands/skills and potential to generate offense, he was worthy of opportunities in Boston. Having said that, it was never a secret that he was a surprising pick of the Bruins in Newark at the end of the third round because he did not have the kind of typical attributes that the B’s prize in their forwards: higher-end skating and/or ability to play with pace/urgency, willingness to consistently get to the front of the net and play hard between the dots, and a modicum of jam- basically-  being hard to play against. Even when putting up decent numbers in Sweden, Cehlarik could never be identified as a player who was a rugged competitor and a tough opponent. Although possessing a big frame, slick hands and the vision to create, he was a soft-skill, perimeter player.

Back in 2016, we had this to say about him after he signed his NHL contract with Boston:

The Slovak, who has spent the past three seasons playing in Sweden, is a top-six NHL forward dark horse kind of prospect, but he’s also one of those guys who is tough to peg because if he doesn’t make it as a scorer, it’s hard to envision him playing a heavy and responsible enough game to succeed on the third or fourth lines in Boston. His initial first steps are a bit clunky, though with a long, efficient stride, he can work well in open space with good straight line speed. Cehlarik improved his skating from when he was first drafted, but it will never be a strength. He has a quick release that allows him to score goals off the rush;  an-in-stride drive that sometimes handcuffs goalies. He’ll also take the puck in close and shows some pretty fine dangle in getting net minders to open up and commit.

So, now- we’re facing the reality that the 2013 draft class was a bust for the Bruins. They traded their 1st-rounder (Jason Dickinson) to Dallas for Jaromir Jagr, so the first choice was at the end of the 2nd round after reaching the Stanley Cup Final that spring. Linus Arnesson was Boston’s first selection, and the “2-way”, “puck-moving” defenseman has already come and gone from North America, returning to Sweden after the end of his ELC and 79 games, 1 goal for the Providence Bruins from 2015-17. Cehlarik joins him as the next highest-drafted player to not meet hopes and expectations.

The point of this post is not to highlight some of the organization’s missteps in the draft- it happens to every team and organization and while some seem to prefer to call attention to the draft failures by this club, that’s not the key takeaway here. What is important to note is that the B’s broke away from their normal draft model to take a swing at a player who did not fit with their organizational values and style. When it works, great- but when it doesn’t, should anyone be surprised?

The good news for the club is that they have done a better job than any other NHL franchise at identifying undrafted talent and getting production from that viable pipeline. It’s not  something you want to get into the habit of depending on, but if the 2013 Boston draft is shaping up as a dud (Ryan Fitzgerald is a group 6 free agent, Wiley Sherman may not be offered an extension given the recent NCAA signings) with only Cehlarik and Anton Blidh having played any NHL games, at least the lack of success in Newark hasn’t adversely impacted the team’s fortunes seven years later.

Final points on Cehlarik before we wrap up: He isn’t a terrible player. He probably could and should have gotten more playing time than he did, but at the same time, the idea we’ve seen put forth by some that he wasn’t given a “fair shake” rings hollow. What is a “fair shake,” exactly? We heard the same comments with Alexander Khokhlachev when it didn’t work out for him here, too- is a “fair shake” being gifted 15+ minutes a night on a top line regardless of production? Is a “fair shake” continuing to roll out a player who, for whatever reason, doesn’t enjoy the trust and confidence of the coaching staff and fellow teammates? Even if the player isn’t doing his part in practice and games to earn his way? Is a “fair shake” getting opportunities to play with David Krejci and Charlie Coyle? No one is entitled to a “fair shake”, whatever that means- you get what you earn.

The fact of the matter is- Cehlarik got 40 games in the NHL spread out over three seasons, and was unable to make it work. He says that Cassidy essentially blocked him from succeeding. That’s his view and he’s welcome to it. Cassidy said at various times when he was up that Cehlarik’s lack of details and at times urgency are what prevented him from sticking in Boston. Both can be true- it isn’t necessarily an either/or. The Bruins obviously wanted him to succeed- there is not a conspiracy to keep a good young player down, and it is not wrong to assert that he didn’t do enough to make it in world’s best league, despite some neat flashes of what could have been.

We could go on, but what is the point?

TSP friend Ty Anderson has done some solid work on the recent Cehlarik analysis. As a matter of fact, Ty’s insights and opinions over at 98.5 the Sports Hub are almost always on point. Whether you agree or disagree, he takes the time to put some meat on his opinions and loves a good debate. His coverage on the latest with Cehlarik here and here are worth checking out if you haven’t already.

In the end, we wish Cehlarik well in Sweden. He’s probably better suited to be a solid pro in Europe where his style of game will translate. We do not see him being an NHL player going forward- all teams had a chance to claim him on waivers and any one or more could have made a push to trade for him. It didn’t happen, so both parties are moving on.

As the old song goes, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

 

Here’s video of Cehlarik’s best night- his only NHL multi-goal game. Credit to “Dafoomie”, who does a great job at archiving B’s clips for us all over on YouTube:

 

 

 

 

Tribute to Colby Cave 1994-2020

Boston Bruins graphic courtesy of BostonBruins.com

Colby Cave

Today came the devastating news that days after emergency surgery for a brain bleed, Edmonton Oilers forward and former Boston Bruin Colby Cave passed away at age 25.

Words can’t even begin to convey the depth of loss and tragedy that the player affectionately known as “Caver” meant to his family, friends, fans and all who were touched by him in one way or another.

I didn’t know him all that well or cover him closely during his time in the Bruins organization, but the times I did interact with him were indicative of a former junior team captain and underdog who worked and willed himself to the big show after being passed over in the NHL draft. Despite modest expectations, Cave achieved far more than so many players drafted in 2013 and 2014, the two years any one of the NHL’s 30 clubs could have selected him. Here are a few honest observations and anecdotes about a player who is gone well before his time.

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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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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.

Game 7: Win or Die

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Well, here we are.

It’s Game 7 at TD Garden- last hockey game of the 2018-19 season for the honor of lifting the Stanley Cup overhead.

Boston Bruins are at home against the St. Louis Blues, who had the higher-seeded B’s on the ropes but couldn’t close the deal in Game 6. Now, it’s time to settle the matter of who will lay final claim to the title of world champions.

The B’s took a furious flurry of punches by the Blues in the early minutes of Game 6, with a frenzied, frothing-at-the-mouth crowd of St. Louis faithful hoping to see their team capture its first-ever Stanley Cup victory on home ice. Alas for them, Tuukka Rask and the more experienced Bruins had other plans.

Brad Marchand’s first period 5-on-3 goal drew first blood and the Bruins never really looked back after that, getting the winner from an unlikely source in defenseman Brandon Carlo, whose point shot skipped off the ice and past Jordan Binnington to make it 2-0 in an eventual 5-1 drubbing. Even rookie buzzsaw forward Karson Kuhlman got into the act, the undrafted free agent netting his first career playoff goal with a laser beam at the perfect time. It doesn’t hurt that Bruce Cassidy and his coaching staff are pushing all the right buttons.

At the other end of the spectrum, it didn’t help that the St. Louis Post Dispatch accidentally pushed out some content meant for publication in the event that the Blues took care of business at home. That kind of an unforced error seems inconceivable in this day and age, and yet- it showed the decided lack of experience St. Louis has as opposed to Boston when it comes to the matter of winning championships. Whatever…those silly gaffes didn’t play a role in the big win the visiting team leveled on the Blues, but it does show how thirsty that team’s fans are for a Stanley Cup- something they haven’t enjoyed in the 52 years of the franchise’s existence.

So, now it ends. A new champion will be crowned tonight, and the momentum is with the Bruins.

Unlike Game 5, when the B’s had lost Game 4 to the Blues on the road, the home team is returning with the confidence of a big victory under the belt, and the experience factor may be just too much for the younger, upstart Blues to overcome. After all, Zdeno Chara is about to appear in his NHL-record 14th seventh game.

And the Bruins are no strangers to Game 7’s in the Stanley Cup Final- they went the distance eight years ago in Vancouver.  Different team, different situation, but the core of Boston’s veteran team saw it and lived it- they’ll know precisely what they’re up against tonight.  Only…they’ll have the pure energy of their fanbase behind them as the B’s play in the first SCF Game 7 in franchise history. The late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan will be watching from above, and he knows…nobody is gonna be a-knockin’ when that TD Garden gets a-rockin’.

The Bruins will be ready when the puck drops tonight and with an atmosphere reminiscent of the epic 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning to close out the 2011 Eastern Conference Final, the Black and Gold will have a full wind at their backs.

Last week, the Omaha Lancers of the USHL held the team’s main tryout camp at Ralston Arena in Nebraska, and a familiar face was on hand in our building to watch his son make the team. 2001-born forward Cam Recchi is a chip off the old block- looks like his dad and plays like him, too (which is great news for the Lancers). Cam was 10 years old when he watched as Mark lifted the Stanley Cup over his head one last time (as a player- he’s won 2 more since as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization) and skated off into the sunset with three rings.

As the time ticked down on Boston’s 2-1 Game 5 loss on the big screen televisions in the Ralston Arena’s Side Room lounge where Lancers players and their families gathered to watch a clash of titans, I stood next to Rex, one of the most beloved Bruins players in his three-season run to finish his Hockey Hall of Fame career.

“You guys lost Game 5 in Vancouver- what was the feeling going back to Boston for Game 6?”, I asked.

“We knew we were going to win the Cup,” Recchi said without missing a beat. “Vancouver was at their breaking point. They were worn down- it took everything out of them to beat us in that game, and we could sense they had very little left and momentum was in our favor.”

Swing it did, and the 2011 Bruins decisively beat the Canucks in two straight to secure the sixth Stanley Cup in franchise history, doing so on the road. The script didn’t quite play out the same way, but yet here we are- Game 7…winner take all.

“They’ve got this,” said Recchi as we walked away when the final horn sounded with the Blues up 3-2 in the series. “There are just too many experienced warriors in that room, and you can’t say enough about what that does for you.”

The Bruins are back home and in familiar territory, having beaten the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of their opening round series way back in April, which seems like a lifetime ago. The only thing is- they’ve had three more series of battles to hone their skills to a keen edge.

The Blues have done well to get this far- they are the heavy, nasty team we were all told they are. They’ve given the veteran club some serious punches, but as the old saying goes, If you’re going to kill the king, you’d better not miss.

The Blues took their best shot in Game 5 and had a chance to close it out in Game 6, but their trajectory went wide…and miss they did.

Tonight, the Blues are in the crosshairs.

Let the final game begin.

B’s 2019 trade deadline thoughts as final stretch begins

Okay, so it wasn’t a headline-grabbing trade deadline,  but the B’s have gone 1-0-0-1 with 3 out of 4 points since acquiring veteran forwards Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson in separate trades last week and on Monday’s annual NHL trade deadline.

We’re  all still waiting on Don Sweeney’s “signature” trade- he’s made some relatively minor deals in his tenure as GM since succeeding Peter Chiarelli in spring 2015, but as of yet, we haven’t seen a major franchise-altering transaction under his watch. And that’s okay- as of right now at least- because it’s hard to argue that the Bruins haven’t at least improved since Sweeney sent scoring prospect Ryan Donato and a 5th pick to Minnesota for the Weymouth native and former San Jose 1st-rounder in 2010.

The biggest challenge facing Sweeney and Co. is the specter of the NHL’s top club in Tampa Bay (who summarily dismissed the B’s from the postseason a year ago) and an improving Toronto Maple Leafs franchise who will be an even tougher out (after taking Boston to seven games in the first round last year). It’s entirely possible that some of the consternation about what the team did at the deadline you might see out there from media and fans alike has to do with how potent the Atlantic Division is and that the perception is that Boston didn’t do enough. That’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes and no one ever said winning a championship is easy.

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What, us worry?

Chara4

Zdeno Chara (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

You mean to tell us that since two critical veterans went down with significant injuries, the Bruins are 3-0-2 with 8 points out of 10?

And that, dear readers, is why they play the games.

Given the Boston Bruins’ recent run of wins, welcome news despite not having two of the franchise’s faces out for at least 4 weeks or longer: captain Zdeno Chara and defacto captain Patrice Bergeron. The duo of future Hockey Hall of Famers are more than likely at the top of a short list of players that if you polled fans before the season, were the guys the team could least afford to lose for extended stretches of the 2018-19 campaign.

And yet, as the Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close, the B’s pulled out two close wins, a 2-1 OT contest against the underachieving Pittsburgh Penguins at home on Friday and then Saturday night’s 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, helping Boston secure the sixth-best record in the NHL to date. Of course, few would have guessed that the Jeff Skinner-led Buffalo Sabres would be sitting atop the league standings as November comes to a close, but that’s a story for another day.

In the meantime, let us focus on the Bruins and how they’ve put themselves in position to remain competitive despite suffering through some personnel setbacks that would cripple many teams in any league.

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