Dominic Tiano: Is It Time to Give Up on Jake DeBrusk?

TSP contributing editor Dominic Tiano brings an interesting perspective on the future of No. 74 on the Boston Bruins. Truth in lending- he wrote and submitted this yesterday before the win over the NY Rangers and Jake DeBrusk’s fifth goal of the season off the rush. This was also written before any of us saw DeBrusk’s honest and open response to the media about his struggles this season. So- take it all in context, but that doesn’t change the fact that the economics of hockey will eventually force the Bruins to make some hard decisions.- KL

I think if you were to ask that question, the majority of fans would say “yes, it’s time to move on from Jake DeBrusk.”

By nature, I am a very patient person and would likely wait until things get back to some sense of normalcy in the world, hopefully next season, before passing judgement. On the other hand, I trust General Manager Don Sweeney to make whatever decision he makes.

NESN analyst and former Bruins netminder Andrew Raycroft had an interesting thought on his MorningBru Podcast with fellow analyst Billy Jaffe. Raycroft suggested that for a single person, not having a wife or kids or a family to go home to and live under the NHL COVID Protocol rules might be having an effect on JDB74. It’s also something Jaffe has spoken about throughout the season.

There is some merit to that and I will admit it is something that has crossed my mind. But while I considered it, I thought to myself, well, it hasn’t affected Jakub Zboril, or Jeremy Lauzon or to a lessor extent, Jeremy Swayman.

I quickly reminded myself that not everyone handles adversity, or stress in the same manner and that it could have an adverse effect on DeBrusk. But is that on DeBrusk or is that on the team for not making sure the player is dealing with the circumstances as best he can? The truth is we don’t know. We have no idea what is going on behind the scenes.

There is a segment of Bruins followers that believe that the downfall began with the concussion DeBrusk suffered during the 2019 playoffs at the hands of Nazem Kadri. While the latter was suspended for the remainder of the series, DeBrusk never missed a game.

While one can never predict how concussions will impact a player, it did take some time for players like teammate Patrice Bergeron or Sidney Crosby. And of course, there are those like Marc Savard who had their careers ended. So, is there hesitancy that stems from that?

While those could have adverse effects on DeBrusk, one can not ignore the fact that DeBrusk is having trouble identifying what type of player he is. There is no denying his best season was the 2018-19 campaign in which he scored 27 goals. A majority of those goals, 66.7% came as a direct result of his net front presence whether by tip-ins or rebounds.

What we’ve witnessed since then is DeBrusk spending less time in that net front position and shooting more. He had an amazing shot percentage of 17.3% during his 27-goal campaign dropped to 11.8% last season and a measly 5.1% this season. He lost his net front position on the first powerplay unit to Nick Ritchie this year and also while he was playing with Ritchie and David Krejci.

I apologize in advance to the anti-analytics crowd but here it is anyway: Since his best season, DeBrusk is above average in forecheck pressure per 60 minutes and above average in dump in recoveries a year ago. What’s changed? He’s trying to be a zone entry guy – one who carries the play into the offensive zone – and it is not in his repertoire, at least not successfully. And rather then let those more capable of doing that do their jobs while he does what he does best and go to the net, he continues to try and at every turn and is being forced to the outside by defenders and attempts a low opportunity shot at the net.

For DeBrusk, the answer is simple: Get back to what makes you successful.

It’s been rumored that NHL GMs were calling Sweeney about DeBrusk prior to the trade deadline and that the Bruins refused to trade him. There are those that believe Sweeney is trying to save face because of the 2015 Draft. I can’t put any stock into the latter because the Bruins GM has shown he is not shy about moving on if it’s the right thing to do for the organization.

Where does that leave DeBrusk? Well, he’s signed for one more season with a cap hit of $3,675,000. If the Bruins are able to work out an extension with newly acquired Taylor Hall, then that leaves third line left wing. Then there is Ritchie who is a restricted free agent and requires a qualifying offer of $2 million for next season. That could push DeBrusk to where he is now, the fourth line.

Of course, DeBrusk can play the right side, but I think that has proven to be a failure for the most part. But most importantly, when his contract is up, DeBrusk is going to require a qualifying offer of $4,410,000.

The best everyone could hope for is that DeBrusk finds his game and quickly and maintains it through the playoffs or his trade value will diminish if it already hasn’t. Best case scenario is to go into next season and hope we live in a more normal world and that the world today really is having an effect on him.

Glad the decision isn’t mine to make.

Dominic Tiano: Don Sweeney- In the Running for NHL GM of the Year?

Dominic Tiano returns to the blog again with another post on the job Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney has done with the team in a season where he’s been embattled after some controversial non-moves before the start of the 2021 NHL campaign. Here’s Dom’s breakdown… -KL

Prior trades. Past free agent signings. Drafting history.

Those are some of the things Bruins fans concentrate on and call for Don Sweeney to be terminated let alone receive consideration for General Manager of the Year honours for the 2020-2021 season.

It began in the offseason, not just with fans, but some in the media. Sweeney made the decision to move on from veteran blue liners Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug. In fairness to Sweeney, he did offer Chara a contract but the latter decided to move on to the Washington Capitals. But for some fans, that didn’t matter. In their minds, Sweeney needed to do the impossible and get his long-time captain under contract.

The heat was really turned up a notch when the only free agent signing Sweeney brought in was Craig Smith and the decision was made to go with a younger blue line.

Things got off to a great start for the Bruins but then the injury bug began to decimate the Bruins blue line. In true Sweeney fashion, he remained calm and calculated in his decision making and he wasn’t going to let the injuries dictate is moves going forward.

He claimed Jarred Tinordi off the waiver wire from the Nashville Predators as a stop gap and Tinordi filled in well. 

The team started to get healthy heading towards trade deadline, or at the very least, Sweeney knew they were heading towards a healthy squad. So, heading towards trade deadline, Sweeney struck in what can only be considered as his best moves during his tenure leading the Bruins.

Sweeney struck a deal with the Buffalo Sabres to bring in Taylor Hall. It’s true that Hall controlled all options in the trade since he held a no movement clause. Sweeney can’t be credited for that. But what he can be credited for is the price he paid to acquire the 2010 NHL Entry Draft’s first overall selection and former league MVP.

Sweeney gave up Anders Bjork and a second-round pick in 2021 but the most impressive think about the deal isn’t that he gave up so little for Hall (with the Sabres retaining 50% of the contract) but he also got Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams to include Curtis Lazar in the deal. As much as Hall is credited with reviving David Krejci and the second line, Lazar is credited for a rejuvenated fourth line in which Coach Bruce Cassidy is not afraid of using in any situation. That confidence in them was lacking pre trade deadline.

But that isn’t all Sweeney was able to pull off. He also sent a third-round pick in 2022 to the Ottawa Senators for Mike Reilly. As we wrote about here on TSP, Mike Reilly has changed the complexion of the Bruins blueline. Don’t want to take our word for it? Jack Edwards said during the Bruins 6-2 victory over the Sabres on Saturday, “Mike Reilly has changed the composure of the Bruins defense.”

And the Bruins have done nothing but be the hottest team since then, going 10-2-1 to lock up a playoff spot for the fifth straight year.

Of course, you can’t base the GM of the Year Award just on trade deadline moves, and what happens during the playoffs doesn’t matter as it is a regular season award.

But as I said earlier, despite pressure in the media and from the fan base, Sweeney had a plan, remained calm and calculated when things weren’t going well, and then made his move. He could have easily swung a desperation trade when is blue line was hurting and he didn’t. And the decision to move on from Chara and Krug aren’t biting him in the rear for now.

I don’t get a vote for the award obviously. But if I did, I would tend to lean towards Minnesota GM Bill Guerin for the job he has done with the Wild.

But Sweeney would be in the conversation for me.

Taylor Hall- Back for the Attack

We’re quoting a 1987-released album by the metal band Dokken here, but the words work for Taylor Hall, whose trade to the Boston Bruins has revitalized his foundering hockey career, trending in the wrong direction since he won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP three years ago.

The first overall selection in 2010 was long believed to be Boston’s preferred player in that draft, having to go with OHL Tyler Seguin at No. 2 when Edmonton went with Hall. The former 2-time Memorial Cup champion with the Windsor Spitfires fit the B’s model with his speed and skill game, and having interviewed him before the draft 11 years ago, he didn’t even really try to hide the fact that he was hoping that the Oilers would go with Seguin and he would be a Bruin with the second pick.

Fast forward to 20201, and GM Don Sweeney pulled off a tremendous coup at the deadline- not only landing Hall for the star-crossed Anders Bjork and a second-round pick, but also getting two-way center Curtis Lazar from the cellar-dwelling Buffalo Sabres as well. Lazar reminds a lot of Daniel Paille, who was a key role player on Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup roster (also traded to Boston by Buffalo)- he’s fast, intelligent, plays with energy and has enough ability to chip in offensively, even if he’s not a front-line scoring forward. Scouting Post Amigo Dom Tiano posted a terrific piece on Sweeney’s other acquisition, defenseman Mike Reilly on this blog space well worth reading, so for Boston, it was arguably one of the most impactful trio of deadline pickups of all time. All three, spearheaded by Hall, have revitalized the Bruins at a critical time, and they have gone 8-2 since.

Hall, who had just 2 goals in 37 games with the Sabres, has found the back of the net 5 times in those 10 games and has 8 points, which translates to his best offensive season since he scored 39 goals and 93 points in 2018 with the New Jersey Devils, earning MVP honors. It isn’t all that surprising that Hall is scoring again- he’s on a better team and surrounded with veteran playmakers like David Krejci, who not only is taking full advantage of having an All-Star left wing on his line, but looks like he’s having fun again (and so is the beneficiary of his puck prowess and wizardry- the newest Bruins LW himself)

In Boston’s most recent win over No. 71’s former club from Western New York, and the score 3-2 B’s later in the third period with the upstart Sabres (they’ve been better in the weeks since the deadline ended) just one goal away from tying the score again, Krejci and Hall combined for a highlight reel goal off the rush, with Krejci toe-dragging the D (Henri Jokiharju) to create space for himself, then putting a puck over to his winger flying to the net and who had all of the yawning cage to fire it into, putting the game out of reach. Here’s the video thanks to Dafoomie on YouTube…

David Krejci sets up a Taylor Hall goal 4/29/21 – YouTube

With Boston struggling in March and April due to injuries, Hall by himself would have been a significant upgrade, but Lazar and Reilly together have made important contributions, with the team getting key injured players back gradually. This is an entirely different-looking team, and while they have not yet clinched a playoff berth, they are well on their way to closing it out.

Where once the second line was a major sore spot, Hall’s arrival has given the Bruins two dangerous lines at 5v5 and the power play, while allowing the club’s impressive depth to generate mix-and-match 3rd and 4th lines who can skate with any team in the league. With Brandon Carlo close to returning to action, the B’s will have a balanced, rounded defensive corps that can play any style you want. And the goaltending cup overfloweth with abundance thanks to the presence of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. And then there is rookie revelation Jeremy Swayman, who has come into the NHL after being the top NCAA goalie a year ago and Hockey East MVP, and ripped off a bunch of wins in his young AHL career. Things are coming together nicely for the Bruins at all positions.

In getting back to Hall, however- it wasn’t an accident that he was the first overall pick 11 years ago. Although his pro career has left a lot to be desired in terms of winning accomplishments on his resume, when the Oilers made him their guy in Los Angeles over a decade ago, Hall at 18 had already won a pair of major junior championships, a gold medal at the U18 World Championship and a silver medal at the 2010 WJC, prevented from being gold thanks to the heroics of John Carlson and Jack Campbell (an star on the All-Good Guy Team who is a feel-good story in Toronto this year after finally finding his game). Hall was a winner, and that’s something many have forgotten about given the collective mediocrity of the NHL teams he’s been on since. Yes, Hall has been a part of several winning World Championship teams since he turned pro, but with just 14 total playoff games in his NHL career, he’s primed to add to that number and turn his spring legacy around.

Whatever rumors have dogged him over the years about being an unpopular teammate and player on his various teams, Hall at least looks like he’s having a ball in Boston. At the time of the trade 10 games ago, he was interviewed and spoke openly of how far his confidence had fallen. Now, that version of himself seems to be a distant memory, as he is using his speed and hands to attack the net and consistently beat defenders wide with speed. In short, he’s feeling it, and opponents of the Bruins can no longer be confident that they merely have to smother the team’s top line of Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak and rely on the Frankenstein’s monster of other combos to beat them. Now, with Hall-Krejci and right wing Craig Smith (one of Boston’s hottest point producers over the past month-plus), other clubs have to respect Boston’s top-2 lines and that will allow the Black and Gold 3rd line to exploit some favorable matchups without the pressure to be the difference if the No. 1 unit isn’t going.

Will this all result in a long-term relationship between Hall and the Bruins? It’s too early to speculate, but things appear to be trending that way. Hall has money- he’s probably tired of being a hockey nomad who will soon be 30 and has yet to make a meaningful contribution to his postseason legacy in the NHL. Just looking at his body language with the Bruins since the trade was made, and it is at least clear that Hall is having fun playing and scoring with his new team, and it has had a cascading effect on the entire roster, who are playing like a group who saw their GM show faith in them by adding key pieces to put them in real contention. Will some of the alleged personality quirks and potential friction down the road deter a lengthy extension between Boston and Hall? Time will tell, but for now- Hall is back for the attack, and he’s again looking like the dominant offensive force who was expected to help take the lowly Oilers into prominence, only he’s doing it for the team who wanted him all along.

The Bruins and their fans will take it.

B’s, Marchand top Devils in shootout to begin 2021 season

The Boston Bruins took a 3-2 shootout victory in Newark, NJ Thursday night to open the the 2021 regular season.

The B’s got goals from Brad Marchand and Nick Ritchie in regulation, along with some big saves from Tuukka Rask in regulation and OT, before Marchand scored a walk-off shootout goal on Devils top player and goalie Mackenzie Blackwood. Miles Wood and rookie defenseman Ty Smith scored for New Jersey.

Observations:

Marchand was the game’s first star with a goal and assist, plus the shootout winner. He accomplished this after offseason hernia surgery that originally put his opening night availability in doubt. If you want to know why he was named a permanent assistant captain, there you go. Although he’s on the wrong side of 30 now, he still shows off his explosive, dynamic offensive element and has multiple years of excellence left in him so long as he stays healthy. His goal happened when he went right to the net and fired home a David Krejci pass on the PP. Marchand then returned the favor to Ritchie with Wood in the box a second time, firing a cross-ice pass at the top of the crease that Ritchie was able to corral and elevate. He finished off the game by going straight at Blackwood and smoking a low laser right by him. Three cheers for 63.

The B’s got a nice lift from veteran defenseman Kevan Miller, who was playing his first NHL game for the Bruins since April of 2019. He impacted the game with some big hits, tenacious defense and a good veteran presence, paired up with Jakub Zboril on the third pairing. Miller’s long road back through multiple injuries and surgeries shows a dedication to hockey that is to be commended, and you couldn’t ask for a better opening night from him. Teammates respect and adore him, and “Killer” showed real leadership by example last night.

Rask wasn’t tested often, but had to be good when he was. He surrendered a couple of leads in the third period, but stood tall in the OT and shootout periods. When he plays like that, he gives the Bruins a chance to win each and every night.

Trent Frederic slotted into the lineup after Craig Smith was unable to go with a lower body injury he tweaked this week, and showed signs of why the B’s drafted him 29th overall in 2016. He played well with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner, bringing speed and physicality, not to mention a couple of solid scoring chances. He’s big, athletic and tough- a real good fit for the bottom-2 lines in Boston and based on last night’s performance, the coaches should figure out how to keep him in the lineup.

Zboril and Lauzon, as expected this season as full-time NHLers, did some good things and also showed that they’ll have some down times as well. They were solid, and neither performed poorly (though Lauzon was on the ice for both goals against), but the lack of experience showed in moments, and against a better, more skilled/dangerous team up front, there are going to be turnovers and blown coverages. However, for the first game in the post-Zdeno Chara era, they were fine. They’re going to make plays going forward, but they’re also going to have their hands full, too. It’s all a part of the learning process.

Matt Grzelcyk showed that he is going to see a good amount of minutes each night, getting 1st crack on the B’s PP, and on the ice for both goals.

Blackwood was outstanding for the Devils. Had he been off his game, the B’s would have blown them out, as the Black and Gold had the territorial advantage and better scoring chances for most of regulation. The home team turned the tables in OT, but Blackwood made a superb save on the one key scoring chance Boston generated. He was a difference-maker.

Wood, a Nobles prep and Boston College product, was a contributor both good and bad, for the Devils. He was flying around the ice, driving the net, agitating, but also drew a couple of goalie interference calls that the Bruins made him pay for, scoring on both. He also forced a Kuraly turnover and scored off the rush, tying the game at 1-1 in the third period. The son of former NHLer Randy Wood, a NY Islanders and Buffalo Sabres supporting cast member (Yale University) during the late 80’s/early 90’s, he’s more rugged than his old man and is the type of player who would fit in well with the Bruins.

Bruins-Lightning Aftermath: The Better Team Won

Brad Marchand

As was the case in 2014, the President’s Trophy-winning Boston Bruins bowed out in the second round, this time to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The series ended with a 4 games to 1 victory by the ‘Bolts, who after stumbling in periods 1-2 of Game 1, turned around and carried play for pretty much the rest of the series.

The Lightning used a combination of superior speed, skill, toughness and disruption to prevent the Bruins from ever really mounting much of a serious challenge.

Boston could have won Game 2, but the goaltending from Jaroslav Halak was average, and after losing in OT given a major momentum swing with Brad Marchand’s late equalizer, the B’s were completely overmatched in sudden death and what could have been a 2-0 series advantage, swung decidedly into Tampa’s favor.

The Bruins were blown out in Games 3-4 and though they showed some real fight in Game 5, it wasn’t enough. As he had done for much of the series, defenseman Victor Hedman ended Boston’s season with an outside shot that got through Halak with Torey Krug battling in vain at the top of the crease.

Game over, season over. What next?

The loss of Tuukka Rask two games into the playoffs certainly didn’t help, but the B’s simply didn’t get enough from their entire roster against Tampa.

There were too many passengers- not enough big-game guys to make up for the ability for Tampa to get to the net and score a lot of goals on tips, deflections and redirections.

You can’t say enough about what Zdeno Chara has meant to the Bruins franchise, but he played too much and was exposed. Jon Cooper’s crew aggressively attacked him every time he had the puck and he simply couldn’t move quickly enough or get rid of pucks fast enough without costly turnovers. It’s tough to limit the captain and 1st ballot HHOFer’s minutes, but that needed to happen and didn’t.

The Boston defense as a whole was porous and simply not effective enough at both ends of the ice. With little offensive production and too many defensive miscues to overcome, the defensive corps wasn’t able to make enough plays in front of Halak.

As for Halak, he wasn’t good enough after a strong Game 1 performance. He gave his club a chance in Game 5, but Games 2-4 were average at best, and average doesn’t win championships. Without a strong defensive effort, it was going to be a long road to hoe for the veteran Slovak, and he needed to steal a couple of games to win the series. Didn’t happen, especially given a lack of offensive support.

Aside from Marchand, Boston’s offense was consistently inconsistent and there wasn’t enough scoring from the forwards. Ondrej Kase seemed to be around pucks for grade A scoring chances, but…no finish. Jake DeBrusk’s streakiness is an issue, because if he isn’t scoring, he isn’t doing much. David Pastrnak didn’t generate enough scoring given his talent. Patrice Bergeron was great defensively, but struggled to impose his will on the offensive side. David Krejci had a critical tying goal in Game 5, but was held off the scoring for a large swath of the series. Injuries impacted Boston’s depth up front and the team simply didn’t get enough from Nick Ritchie, Kase and others they counted on to be difference makers when it mattered.  And so on.

We could go on, and in the coming days, there will be more detail spent to looking at what went wrong and where to go from here. It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially given the way things ended in 2019, but there are positives to analyze as well. Don Sweeney and Company will take the time to assess and move forward. There is no other alternative given the circumstances.

Time to let the dust settle and see what happens next. More to follow…

Bruins move on with 2-1 win to close out series over Carolina

Halak

The Boston Bruins needed just two goals and a much better performance in net from Jaroslav Halak to close out the upstart Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday in Toronto, winning the first-round playoff series 4 games to 1.

Veteran core forwards David Krejci (who leads the B’s with 3 goals and 9 points) and Patrice Bergeron tallied second period power play goals, and the team weathered a back-and-forth third period including three minutes of 6-on-5 play to hold on and secure a bit of a rest for what is expected a second-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The game marked the return to action for David Pastrnak, who had several quality scoring chances but couldn’t finish (he did post helpers on both goals, however).

Halak wasn’t tested a ton, but after giving up the game’s first goal on a rising shot by defenseman Hayden Fleury, which hit the upper post near the crossbar then bounced into the back of the net and out, he settled in and was perfect the rest of the way.

At the other end, Petr Mrazek was outstanding, robbing Krejci with a mid-air paddle save, and also snagging a Torey Krug laser that would have given the Bruins three goals with the man advantage. His lone miscue was on the Bergeron goal, which the wily veteran scored from below the goal line by banking the puck off of Mrazek’s left skate and into the net.

Carolina has a good team and the series certainly could have gone in a different direction- Boston wasn’t particularly sharp in Games 4 and 5, but the reality is- they were the league’s top regular season team, and sometimes, simply being better means that the Hockey Gods will give you the breaks. In Carolina’s case, they are trending in the right direction and with their mix of veteran and impressive young talent, they will be heard from again.

Zdeno Chara was better defensively than he had in the previous contest, but near the end of the game, got caught out on the ice for an extended shift and instead of making an easy clear, hesitated just enough for Carolina to force a turnover and maintain possession in the offensive zone. The decisions have to come quicker for the captain- he can no longer rely on his enormous reach and experience- opponents will coach their teams to forecheck relentlessly and close the gap instantly. Chara has to make faster decisions and the team would be better served managing his minutes. In defense of Big Z- he made a critical goal-line clear earlier in the game when a puck squirted behind Halak and could have easily been knocked home. Those are the kinds of plays the 43-year-old future Hall of Famer keeps making, and he bailed out his team big time.

Tampa is going to prove a tough opponent- Brayden Point is white hot and the Lightning have plenty of scoring punch, defensive prowess and depth, plus some hard, heavy playoff types like Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman.

On paper, Andrei Vasilevskiy holds a significant advantage over Halak, but the B’s are starting to get their lineup going at the right time. And if we’ve learned anything about Halak, he’s got a record of playing above his head at crunch time and against superior opponents. We haven’t seen close to his best, but against a higher seed, he’s capable of delivering more.

We’d like to see more Anders Bjork and less Joakim Nordstrom in the Boston lineup going forward, but for now, the top lines are producing offense and the B’s are getting production from depth players.

We’ll have more as we learn whether Tampa will be the opponent, as it will take major comebacks by Washington or Montreal (who beat Philly last night to make it a series), but for now, the B’s will watch and wait.

Stars of the series:

  1. David Krejci, C- Playoff Krejci is back- he torched the ‘Canes all series and his 9 points moved him into second place all-time in Bruins postseason scoring 112 points- just 49 behind Ray Bourque. Yep, he’s ahead of Boston icons like Esposito, Bucyk, Orr, Neely and Middleton. The guy just finds another gear when the games matter, and after a four-month rest to preserve his lighter-than-average frame, he looks primed for another memorable run.
  2. Charlie McAvoy, D- He’s turning into the top 2-way guy he was projected as, scoring at a .5 points-per-game clip and laying a thundering hit on Jordan Staal in Game 4 to set the tone for a Boston comeback. The B’s dealt Dougie Hamilton one year before drafting McAvoy, and after watching the two go head-to-head in the series- it isn’t close. Hamilton has plenty of skill, but no real push to speak of. McAvoy took his game up a notch- and that’s why he’s on the verge of becoming one of the NHL’s top blueliners.
  3. Brad Marchand, LW- The guy just finds ways to make plays at the highest pace and is a gamer. The Bruins need Marchand at his best, and he gave it a solid performance with room for improvement.

Barnburner: B’s steal 3-1 series lead

Krejci2

It wasn’t a textbook victory, but the Boston Bruins went on a 15-0 shots run in the 3rd period to overcome an 0-2 deficit and steal a 4-3 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on a night that goaltender Jaroslav Halak was not sharp and the team in front of him had trouble getting anything done around the net in the game’s first 40 minutes.

Here are some quick notes on what we saw and what the B’s will need to do to close out Rod Brind’Amour’s crew on Wednesday in Game 5.

  1. Boston won despite a poor performance in net from Halak. He gave up a leaky first goal to Justin Williams that beat him cleanly from the outside and without a screen. Jordan Martinook’s tally in the second period, wasn’t much better- a shot from the outside that an NHL goalie has to stop. The third goal, which happened on a 6-on-5 and admittedly when the Bruins were running around ineffectively, was the first shot of the final frame from Carolina again- was shaky and made the final 39 seconds a white-knuckle nail-biter. Simply put, Halak must be better going forward- that kind of a performance is usually a recipe for disaster, but the B’s pulled it out.
  2. Zdeno Chara is a first ballot Hall of Famer, but he’s playing too much- and it’s going to burn the B’s at some point. He simply doesn’t have the footspeed and range to do what we all marveled at when he was in his prime. He’s such a competitor that he’s not going to willingly limit his minutes, so the onus is on Bruce Cassidy and his staff to figure out how to manage his workload effectively. Easier said than done, but has to happen- he’s one of the weaker links in the defense chain, and that’s not a slight on the legacy he owns as one of the all-time greats- it’s just that his best years are well behind him.
  3. Cliffy hockey is back! A year after bursting onto the scene in the 2019 playoffs, Connor Clifton did it again as No. 75 jumped up from the point and hammered home the tying goal on a nice rip. He’s the perfect playoff depth defenseman, as he can wheel and plays a robust physical game with the ability to score in timely situations.
  4. Jake DeBrusk came through with two goals- the first to get the B’s off the schneid and then the eventual winner on a nice net drive. Streakiness is what we all have to live with, but there is no doubting that he’s one of the purest natural scorers on the team and when he gets it going, the 2015 first-rounder provides important secondary scoring for the team.
  5. You just knew that when Brad Marchand got in behind the Carolina defense, he was going to bury it and that he did, going against the grain to slide the puck through the five-hole to take the lead. Big-game play there.
  6. Charlie McAvoy’s hit on Jordan Staal showed us another important dimension of Boston’s future workhorse on the back end. We obviously all see the offensive upside McAvoy brings, but that kind of a tone-setting hit that forced the veteran to the locker room was not only clean, but made an immediate impact on the game and started the comeback. It’s like you tell younger players- don’t worry about scoring on every shift- just find a way to make a difference and finish with a net positive on your shifts at the end of the game. That hit was a big positive.
  7. David Krejci had it going last night, creating some quality scoring chances including a hit post on a nice feed from rookie Jack Studnicka in the second period. These two started to show some chemistry and an invigorated Krejci is a good sign for Boston, especially with David Pastrnak expected back for Game 5.
  8. Speaking of Studnicka- he’s the Joe Juneau ’92 of this year’s postseason run. He’s picking up steam and is sure to get more ice going forward after last night’s performance. 28 years ago, Juneau joined the B’s after the Albertville Olympics and No. 49 became an instant fan favorite for his dazzling offensive prowess. Studnicka plays a different style, but he’s generating a similar buzz as a player who looks like a veteran despite his youth.
  9. You have to hand it to Justin Williams– the final pick of the 2000 draft’s first round is Mr. Playoffs and continues to make big plays for his teams in the postseason. Last night’s first goal is indicative of his three Stanley Cup rings (1 with Carolina, 2 with the Kings)- he had a shooting lane and got the puck to the net. He shouldn’t have scored on that shot, but this is why kids should not pass on chances to shoot- Halak whiffed and boom- 1-0 just like that. Carolina needs more from its top youngsters, though- and missing Andrei Svechnikov doesn’t help matters.
  10. Deja vu all over again for James Reimer who played a heck of a game for 40 minutes and stymied the Bruins- just like another playoff game way back in 2013. However, when the B’s started that comeback, you just sensed Reimer was thinking about what happened at TD Garden seven years ago, and in less than 7 minutes, his 2-0 lead was a 2-4 deficit.

Keys to victory in Game 5:

  1. Shoot often and from anywhere. Whether it’s Reimer or Petr Mrazek in net, the B’s cannot afford to let Carolina catch a glimmer of hope. Hammer pucks to the net, drive the lanes and be relentless…perimeter passing and looking for the perfect shot won’t get it done.
  2. Tighten up defensively- the Hurricanes will be looking to push and catch the Bruins D flat-footed, driving wide with speed and getting pucks to the net after Halak’s shaky play. This means the Boston forecheck will be critical in disrupting Carolina’s ability to generate speed through the neutral zone and that the Bruins D will have to gap up and not take chances will ill-timed steps or activate at the wrong times.
  3. The Pasta Factor- assuming No. 88 returns to the lineup, Boston might be well served funneling pucks to him especially on the man advantage. He excels in finding quiet ice much like HHOFer Mike Bossy did in his glory years with the Islanders. If Pastrnak can find soft seams in the offensive zone, he should be able to unleash his trademark shot to good effect, even if he’s not quite at 100 percent.
  4. Roll with the hot hand. Cassidy does a good job of sensing who is hot and who isn’t and getting matchups in their favor. With Boston back as home team for Game 5, this matchup game will be to the B’s advantage- leave nothing on the table and get after it.

TSP Podcast: 4 Amigos Boston Bruins Playoff Preview

Got the gang together this week to discuss the Boston Bruins, return to play and their chances in the 2020 NHL Playoffs.

Unfortunately, we had some glitches in the recording and some good stuff was lost- apologies for that, but you still get nearly an hour of solid hockey talk.

Plus, there’s a brief commentary at the end on the Anders Bjork 3-year extension at $1.6M AAV- which broke after we recorded. Once again, Don Sweeney’s cap maneuvering is serving as an example for the rest of the league to get in line with.

So, away we go with Dom, Reed, Anthony & Kirk- Welcome Back, NHL…

Bruins playoff roster quick hits: Forwards (Pt 1)

We’re back with another post about the Boston Bruins’ playoff roster. These are thoughts, observations and insights based on what’s out there, but much more to come as we have an exhibition game on the docket now late this month against Columbus before the B’s round robin schedule begins on August 2nd.

The B’s remain in camp on home practice ice through July 25, then travel to hub city Toronto for the next phase and (hopefully) resumption of NHL hockey.

Here’s a breakdown of the 1st nine forwards (in alphabetical order) and we’ll post up the others tomorrow. We appropriately lead with the most senior Bruin, Mssr. Bergeron…

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Patrice Bergeron- Former Bruin Chris Kelly liked to call the B’s longest-tenured player Mr. Everything, and nine years after first hearing him say it in a soundbite, it’s holding up better than ever. Though Bergeron will turn 35 next week, he’s on a similar career arc to another famous (and former) New England sports icon Tom Brady, in that his most productive years in the NHL have come after he turned 30. His 31 goals in 61 games this season marked the third consecutive year he hit the 30-goal mark, and 4th in five seasons dating back to 2016. Had it not been for the season pause, he would’ve easily beaten his single-season best of 32 goals.

What more can you say about Bergeron that hasn’t been covered already? Though not an elite scorer, he’s productive and has always had a knack for scoring big goals in big moments (Hey, Toronto- we see you!). His defensive play has known no peer for years, and it is only the biased voting of sportswriters who would rather elevate other players around the league to the Frank J. Selke Trophy rather than see Bergeron win his fifth or sixth awards. No disrespect to the recent winners, but they aren’t in Bergeron’s class when it comes to defensive play, but they put up enough offense to justify the voters feeling good enough about themselves to cast the vote. We won’t talk about some of the dishonest Montreal and Chicago reporters who purposefully left him off their ballots in 2013 so that Jonathan Toews would win in a razor-close vote. But, given Bergeron’s class, he wouldn’t dwell on that, so we’ll channel Idina Menzel here and…let it go.

Bottom line- Bergeron has gotten better with age, and when he’s healthy, he’s the glue that makes Boston’s top line go. He’s got over 130 playoff games worth of experience, has a genius-level hockey IQ and oh, did we mention that he’s fully rested and healthy? Sounds like a recipe for some good times.

Anders Bjork- “Maybe the best player,” as described by B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy after day 1 of practice this week, will be in position to deliver on the promise that has surrounded him since he turned pro three years ago. As a reward, he slotted into David Pastrnak’s spot on the right wing with Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Inexperience and injuries have prevented the former Notre Dame Fighting Irish star from demonstrating the offensive talent the B’s have always felt he possesses, and while he’s not likely to develop into a frontline NHL scorer, his speed and intelligence make him a threat to become a solid complementary piece, the kind you win with. The offensive numbers to date belie the ability Bjork has to potentially get hot and provide some key offense at crunch time- he was one of the most valuable, if unheralded, members of a high-flying U.S. NTDP team from the stacked 1996 birth year.

Anton Blidh- If 2014 was a bonanza of a draft year, then the Bruins wouldn’t mind a redo of 2013. Only Blidh and fringe prospect D Wiley Sherman remain from that class, and Blidh was a late pick projected to be a role player/grinder at the NHL level if he could get there. He’s played at least one game with Boston in every NHL season since 16-17, with the most coming in a 19-game span that year. He brings speed and energy with some jam, but there’s very little skill and beyond being a depth guy to use in a pinch, you’re not likely to see him as a long-term option for the B’s.

Paul Carey- The Massachusetts native and longtime pro journeyman after four years at Boston College is the Trent Whitfield of this playoff roster. A solid all-around pro, Carey is a classic NHL ‘tweener- effective AHL player who is good enough to play NHL games, but is missing that element to carve out a niche for himself in the show beyond one full year on the non-playoff New York Rangers in 2017-18. This is not a diss- he’s seen NHL stints with every organization he’s been a part of- he’s a veteran, character guy who boosts the culture and has the experience to be a Swiss Army knife-type when pressed into duty. Having said that, with the B’s as a legitimate contender, it would be an extreme scenario indeed to see Carey on game night.

Charlie Coyle- One of Don Sweeney’s more savvy acquisitions a year ago at the trade deadline, the East Weymouth product delivered some important playoff contributions in 2019, and was having the second-best offensive campaign of his career when the music stopped in March. At 28 and fully rested and healed, he’s in his prime to be the anchor of a hard-to-play-against third line and is at his best when employed up the middle. It’s hard to believe it’s been a full decade since the San Jose Sharks drafted him 28th overall, but he’s continued to grow and flourish as a heavy, complementary center who is versatile enough to play any role and excels in the possession game. The best is yet to come offensively from Mr. Coyle, whose 9 goals and 16 points in the 2019 playoffs put him well ahead of his regular season points-per-game average. He’s a crunch-time player and the B’s were smart to extend him and keep him home in Boston.

Jake DeBrusk- Although streaky like many young forwards, DeBrusk’s skill and IQ make him one of Boston’s few pure scorers, and when he gets hot, look out. He’s up for a new contract after this postseason run, but the Bruins might be the ultimate beneficiaries up his up-and-down scoring, as a breakthrough year for him would have driven up the price of his second contract. Having said that, DeBrusk plays with pace and high energy- he’s been nothing if consistent in his three NHL seasons in terms of point production, so you know he’s going to do something. If he can get going in the postseason, he could be a major wild card for Boston’s playoff hopes. He’s been kind of a forgotten man without meeting the higher expectations coming into 19-20, but that could change quickly if he turns a few speedy rushes into red lights early on.

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Trent Frederic was Boston’s 2nd choice, 29th overall, in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft

Trent Frederic- It’s not yet time for the second of two 1st-rounders in 2016 with the Bruins, but Frederic is close. He’s big, fast and has some skill, but will be more of a Charlie Coyle-lite as he works his way into more of an NHL role. For now, he’s here to soak up the experience and culture and benefit from being around the best Boston has to offer.

Ondrej Kase- Although not back on the ice yet, the most recent B’s acquisition is close to practicing with the team, and it will be interesting to see where and how he is employed after a very limited post-trade sample size before the pause. The 24-year-old posted just one assist in 6 games with the B’s, and while he didn’t play poorly, nor did he establish himself off the hop as a player ready to establish himself in the top-six. With his hands and offensive instincts there’s a lot to like, and with the benefit of the extended rest coming off an upper-body injury and a training camp to better acclimate himself and practice with the rest of the Boston team, we expect to see a different player come August.

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David Krejci- He’s an appropriate bookend to Bergeron on this post, because the two are the top active playoff scorers for the franchise (they both have 103 points but Krejci has played in four fewer game to Bergeron’s 136). He was well off his regular season pace of 73 points from a year ago when the season stopped, but if we’ve learned anything about the crafty Krejci over his long career with the B’s, it’s that he usually saves his best for the postseason.

Now 34, he is a part of an aging core that must maximize their chances at taking advantage of a current championship window, so the added rest and recuperation has been critical for Krejci and the rest of the Bruins who were the regular season’s best club, and now have a chance to go for the jugular with the unprecedented break in schedule that has allowed an older, veteran club to get the kind of recharge that will benefit them better than many of the other younger teams.

With Krejci, we could see a return to the player who twice led the club in scoring en route to a Stanley Cup win in 2011 and the close-but-no-cigar run in 2013.

 

 

Dominic Tiano: How the new NHL CBA affects the Bruins

Dominic Tiano is back with a helpful quick guide to the NHL’s recent extension of the CBA and how it impacts the Boston Bruins (specifically) and league writ large.- KL

The National Hockey League and the Players Association have agreed to a new six-year Collective Bargaining Agreement – a re-negotiation of the remaining 2 years plus 4 additional years. In the end, we have six years of labor peace moving forward.

First of all, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Head Donald Fehr deserve an endless amount of credit for this accomplishment. They’ve taken their time, and while not everyone is happy, they’ve gone about this in the right way – something we can’t say about other professional sports leagues. The NHL has experience in work stoppages – for other reasons – and the experience to come out of them. And when they do, they come out stronger than ever. And there is nothing to suggest it won’t happen again.

So, what changes affect the Boston Bruins in the immediate future? Here are some thoughts on what that’ll look like:

Minimum Salary

Beginning with the 2021-2022 season, the minimum salary rises from $700,000 to $750,000 and again in 2023-2024 to $775,000. With Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon’s new contracts taking effect next season, it’ll not affect them. The only player this will have an affect on is Kyle Keyser, who will get an automatic raise from his $733,000 in his final year.

35+ Contracts

They are a thing of the past. Under the old CBA, any player that signs a contract at the age of 35 has their cap hit remain if they choose to retire for any reason. This affects Zdeno Chara right away as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent. However, you can not sign a 35+ player to a two-year deal with a lower salary in the second year to lower the cap hit as it must be ascending in year two or beyond. It also comes into play with Jaroslav Halak who’s deal is a 35+ next season. David Krejci will fall under that in 2021 and Patrice Bergeron a year later.

NTC/NMC Trades

Under the old CBA a team acquiring a player with a no trade or no movement clause had the option to extend those clauses after acquiring a player. That is now gone and the clauses will automatically follow the player to his new team, regardless if he waived his clause for the trade.

Arbitration

There have been some tweaks to the arbitration process. Teams still have the walk-away rights they held under the old CBA. But under the new agreement, if a team exercises their walk-away rights, the player can choose to sign a one-year deal with the team at the offer the team submitted under arbitration. The player has 4 days to make his decision. Bruins eligible for salary arbitration this offseason are Anders Bjork, Matt Grzelcyk, Brett Ritchie, Karson Kuhlman, Brendan Gaunce and Wiley Sherman. After the 2020-2021 season, it comes into play for Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie, Anton Blidh and Brandon Carlo.

Conditional Draft Picks

While teams will still be able to trade conditional draft picks based on where they finish, conditional draft picks will be a thing of the past when it comes to players re-signing. In other words, you can no longer trade a conditional draft pick for a player on the condition he re-signs.

Free Agent Interviews

Under the old CBA, teams were allowed to negotiate with pending unrestricted free agents five days prior to free agency on July 1st. Remember Matt Beleskey and David Backes? Maybe the NHL has done the Bruins a favor by eliminating that period? It will certainly make free agent frenzy more of a frenzy when there are no pre-negotiations and it’s a free for all at noon on July 1st. This year, free agency will begin 7 days after the cup is awarded.

10% Salary Deferred

Players agreed to defer 10% of their salaries and signing bonuses to the 2023 to 2026 seasons and most of the questions I receive are centered around how it affects the cap. The short and easy answer is it doesn’t. By deferring 10% a year, the contract total remains the same, and hence, the AAV or cap hit remain the same. The only thing that is affected is the player’s share of hockey related revenues. So, no, the teams do not get a 10% break on the cap.

Front Loaded Deals

Ever since the salary cap came into effect, the NHL has tried closing a loophole exploited by general managers, and that is front loading deals – paying more in the first part of the deal and adding years at the end of the deal at a lower salary to lower the cap hit. The NHL has taken steps to reduce that and in the new CBA take it a step further. Under the old CBA, salaries could not drop more then 50% from it’s highest year to it’s lowest year. That is now at 35%. The Bruins typically stay away from such deals however, Brad Marchand’s contract would not be allowed under the new CBA. Marchand’s highest salary was $8 million (in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019) and his lowest is $4 million in 2024-2025. That is allowable with the 50% drop, but under the new CBA, the lowest salary would rise to $5.2 million. No big deal right now as those contracts will be grandfathered, but you have David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Carlo, and Bergeron (among others) coming due under this CBA, so some creative bookkeeping lies ahead for Don Sweeney and Evan Gold. Not to mention it has thrown another wrinkle into possible negotiations with unrestricted defenceman Torey Krug.

One thing of interest here is that because of the uncertainty surrounding revenue and recovery because of the COVID-19 pandemic is that player agents and players may be looking towards backloading deals instead of front loading. With a cap on escrow now, it will greatly affect agents/players thinking here.

European Waivers

Under the previous agreement, players who had played in just one game in Europe would require waivers to sign and play in the NHL once the season starts. That has changed and now the player is exempt from waivers as long as a) he signs before December 15th and b) the team still owns his rights. The Bruins have several players that fall into this including Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Alexander Khokhlachev and more.

I must confess, I am not a lawyer but I have studied the CBA extensively over the years. The new legal document is not yet complete and may take months before all the legal language is completed and the actual CBA becomes available. All information comes from the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the NHL and NHLPA and is my interpretation.