On Zdeno Chara signing with the Capitals

Zdeno Chara returns for his tenth season as the captain of the Boston Bruins (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

As 2020 came to a merciful end, (many) Boston Bruins fans were greeted with one more bit of unwelcome news this week as captain Zdeno Chara’s 14-season run with the team came to an end with news he accepted a one-year offer from the Washington Capitals at age 43.

It seems both unimaginable and inevitable that the greatest free agent signing in team history would end in a whimper the way it did with a sudden announcement that after months of little to no movement on the renewal of a contract that most supporters felt was sure to happen. Like former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield at the end of his major league career, it appeared as if the team and player had an unofficial deal to stay in Boston until both agreed that Chara’s playing days were over.

Clearly, that was not the case, as initial news brought anger and disbelief, especially when the base salary of $795,000 for the new season to exchange the black and gold for red, white and blue, came out. Chara’s deal calls for performance bonuses that would bring his total compensation to a $1.5 million AAV (per CapFriendly.com), but it was understandable that most fans would think it ridiculous that the Bruins weren’t willing to find the money to re-sign their captain, a player who had inked four separate contracts in Boston since he first came to town at age 29 in 2006.

However, as things are often the case with Hall of Fame-caliber players, and let’s be clear- four years after Chara calls it a career, whether in 2021 or later, he will be enshrined in Toronto- the truth of the matter is rarely black and white.

As the news has settled and more has come out on the negotiations that took place between Boston and Chara, both have said complimentary things and it appears that the following are both true:

  1. The Bruins wanted Chara back for a 15th season as captain, but with caveats.
  2. Chara was not willing to return to the team he cemented his legendary status with in a reduced role.

The purpose of this post is not to defend the organization for what did or didn’t happen to facilitate an icon’s departure, but to add context and provide food for thought to those fair-minded observers who are interested in what might have happened and why the team and player took positions they did. We weren’t there, so while we have been given some information based on sources familiar with the negotiations, this is merely one view on what might have happened.

It is fair to be disappointed that Chara and the team his greatest collective and individual accomplishments happened with couldn’t find a way to keep him until age 44 or when he finally calls it a stellar career. It is also fair to be okay with the realization that Chara is no longer the player he was and that his lack of mobility and inability to play in all situations like he once did means that the organization had to make a tough choice about answering the player’s questions about how he would be employed should he sign a fifth contract and third one-year extension since 2018.

The biggest challenge the Bruins face right now is with expectations for 2021. The team is coming off of a President’s Trophy as top regular season club in 2019-20 until COVID-19 forced the campaign’s pause in March. Prior to that, they took the St. Louis Blues to a seventh game of what would have been a second Stanley Cup championship team under Chara’s captaincy out of three trips to the final series. Given Torey Krug’s departure to those very Blues via free agency, fans have a right to be concerned about how the B’s power play and penalty kill special teams units will fare without two key anchors from a season ago.

From this view in the saddle, the issue so much isn’t Chara’s departure due to a fundamental disagreement between player and team over usage going forward and how to better manage the development other players in the organization, but more of a realization that without Chara and Krug, the Boston defense as a unit is almost certain to take steps backwards in 2021. In a few short months, we’ve gone from a team many thought might win a championship after the COVID pause resumed, to one that is on the outside looking in right now and in the immediate future.

Even if one or more of Matt Grzelcyk, Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, Jeremy Lauzon and even Jack Ahcan were all primed to step in and fill those roles vacated by Chara and Krug with much more certainty than what we’re currently dealing with, there would still be questions about their basic experience and ability to replicate the x-factor that such battle-tested veterans provided Boston over the last 5-7 years. That, in our view, is what is really at the heart of the negativity surrounding Chara’s departure. More than anything else, it’s a harbinger of darker times and a window that has essentially closed after the team watched other teams around the league get better while Boston’s biggest name addition in the offseason was complementary forward Craig Smith.

Boston lost the opportunity for a second championship in three years when they dropped a six-game series to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, the dawn of Krug’s era as a PP staple in Boston, while Chara was still at the height of his two-way productivity as an all-situations stalwart. The B’s followed up that disappointment with a President’s Trophy in 2014, then lost in the second round of the playoffs to their hated rival Montreal Canadiens and subsequently missed the playoffs for two years before a renaissance largely sparked by Patrice Bergeron’s continued excellence, plus the emergence of Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak as offensive forces from 2017-20 brought the team back into contention. Charlie McAvoy is the heir apparent on defense as potentially the next top/franchise cornerstone defenseman in Boston.

And it is right for those who see the parallels between the B’s teams from 2013-14 and 2019-20 to point out that by allowing Chara to leave like this, things are setting up for another precipitous fall like the one we witnessed in 2015 and 2016.

Five years hence, the 2015 draft was a major missed opportunity. Though all three first-round picks are still in the fold and Jake DeBrusk has become a solid complementary scorer with the B’s, the chance to draft three driver-types didn’t happen, and has exacerbated the concerns surrounding the club’s current fortunes. We’ll not open that can of worms in the Chara piece at present, as the 2015 draft’s failings deserves its own treatment at some point soon, but the reality is- as the 2021 season dawns, the B’s have far more question marks on the left side of their defense corps than answers at present, and that is at the heart of the angst surrounding Chara’s exit.

Also at issue is the captain’s legacy and how things should have ended in Boston. One can certainly argue that he deserved better- a final curtain call in Boston and the ability to close out a two-plus decade career in the NHL that saw him endure as the league’s tallest player who evolved into a curious project into a dominant, Norris Trophy-winning, franchise icon who helped the Bruins organization to its first championship in nearly four decades, the first such accomplishment since Bobby Orr manned the Boston blue line. On several levels, it doesn’t make sense that the Bruins as a whole- whether you’re talking Cam Neely, Don Sweeney, Bruce Cassidy or even ownership as a collective brain trust, wouldn’t see the black clouds gathering on the horizon and know that they would take a major PR hit by not closing the deal to keep Chara in the fold.

At the same time, we have to admire the team’s courage for looking at the situation and deciding that simply offering him a new contract to maintain a status quo in Boston and turn 44 in the midst of the new season without addressing what has been a declining return on investment, was a bridge too far. Right or wrong, what is always lost on fans and media members, no matter how well sourced they may be, are the team dynamics of what goes on behind the scenes. They are not sitting in the meetings that take place when leaders lay out the depth chart and talk through the myriad scenarios of player usage combined with future financial constraints and contract negotiations. No one is privy to the discussions that talk about who the team is likely to lose when the NHL’s newest expansion club, the Seattle Kraken gets to leverage the changed rules to build a far more competitive roster than all of the other NHL’s expansion clubs in history. We all watched the Las Vegas Golden Knights create a blue print for in 2017, and the Bruins are trying to manage the challenge of not losing a driver-type of player to Seattle because they didn’t know what they had in order to make the right decision when it comes to whom they protect and those who get exposed in the impending expansion draft.

Sound like excuse making? Perhaps. But, ask yourselves this: If Chara returned and continued to log key minutes in the rotation and on the PK and another player further down the depth chart departed either to Seattle or other club only to blossom as a top performer there, many of those same people unhappy about Chara’s departure would also savage the Bruins organization for allowing an aging veteran to hang on for so long and hindering the development of others in the system or at least- camouflaging their potential and preventing the B’s from making an informed decision on who to protect.

Building a winning team is a never-ending master-level jigsaw puzzle. It isn’t just about acquiring talent and skill but supplementing those stars with the right kinds of players who can come together and embrace a team’s structure and organizational values. Some fans might scoff at this quaint notion of the herculean task managers face at all meaningful levels, but the reality is- that’s why they’re fans. They might build a successful Twitter following, but they’ll never be part of a high-level team, nor will they understand the constant challenges of juggling the many dynamics needed to build a winning, championship team. For them, it is more about pointing fingers and playing to a crowd of like-minded toadies and sycophants in a social media echo chamber than thoughtful analysis and a fair-minded approach to what is going on. Like barking, clapping seals, they speak in absolutes they know nothing about. And that’s fine- it’s the world we live in, but it is also completely fair to point this out and call out some of the mind-numbing nitwits who have the loudest voices on matters they haven’t earned a shred of credibility to comment on.

What does seem to be playing out is this: the Bruins have put themselves at a disadvantage by selling off draft capital to remain competitive for playoff runs in recent years, but the time has come for them to start accruing picks and looking at building a better system. Prospects like Jack Studnicka and Mason Lohrei show significant promise as two of Boston’s most likely candidates to be drivers one day, but unlike many other teams around the league, Boston lacks the volume/depth of star power and pure skill/dynamic upside players in other systems who are on their way to the NHL in the next 3-5 years. The B’s have long done pretty well with savvy undrafted free agent signings to help bolster their draft misses and disappointments, but this puts tremendous pressure on the organization to find the rare players everyone else has not identified, and causes the GM to expend assets and capital on talent acquisition via trades and the bloated unrestricted free agent market.

Losing Chara to Washington stings, because he had so many amazing moments as a Bruin and was in many cases, the face of a franchise that had fallen on hard times when he was signed, and played a major role in a resurrection that ended with the Stanley Cup five years later and a near 10+ year run of sustained success. Just about everyone who rooted heart and soul for the Boston Bruins should be sad to see him go and appreciate what he did when he was here. But nothing, especially those lives spent in professional sports, lasts forever. Et tu, Tom Brady?

Those who are upset that Chara and the current core didn’t bring more championships to Boston have a point. Those who feel that Chara should have been treated a little differently so that he wouldn’t have felt the need to take his game elsewhere in the twilight of a tremendous career are also right. But so are those who understand that the business side of hockey sometimes means that you lose these battles and teams have to make highly unpalatable decisions because they truly feel that those are in the best interest of the club. No one has a crystal ball…sometimes, those tough decisions pay off and sometimes they don’t. But the Bruins felt that keeping the status quo for another year without addressing it with the captain was the wrong thing to do. Even if they had agreed to give him the role he was used to, would fans have demanded a change if he was unable to keep up, unable to make the plays needed for success at age 44? It’s easy to say that the team *should* have done what it took to keep him, but remember- Chara himself had a choice to stay and perform in the role that the team had for him. He chose a different path. It’s not just on the Bruins for that.

In the end, it may be precisely true that the Bruins take steps backwards in 2021. It seems a certainty in fact, that they will. But even if that happens, it does not stand as proof that the leadership lacks a plan or vision. Sweeney and his staff dug the club out of the malaise of 2015 and 2016 and built a squad that was three periods away from a championship just 1.5 years ago. History is never kind to those who are unable to close it out and attain ultimate victory, and those with an agenda to do so will almost certainly continue to overlook that or harp on the failures of the 2015 draft (without ever citing the multiple successes of 2014), but just because you feel strongly about something does not make it true.

We wish Zdeno Chara the best as he embarks on what could be one last hurrah with a new team. It’s a shame that he couldn’t finish his storied run in Boston, but like Ray Bourque before him, the show will go on.

Thanks for everything, Big Z- You were everything we thought you would be when you signed 14+ years ago…and then some.

Dominic Tiano: Can the Bruins Fit Mike Hoffman Under the Cap?

Dominic Tiano is on fire, and brings us another intriguing piece laying out a scenario in which the Boston Bruins could potentially work a 1-year contract with unrestricted free agent Mike Hoffman into their current cap crunch (while also making a Zdeno Chara extension work). No one does cap maneuvering like Dom does, so sit back and enjoy his latest. -KL

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us individually in one form or another. It has also affected the arts, entertainment and the sports world.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 9 months, there is no need for me to explain how the pandemic has affected the National Hockey League, your favorite team, or your favorite player so, we won’t go there.  

When it comes to unrestricted free agents in the NHL, maybe no one has been more negatively impacted then one Mike Hoffman. While the likes of Taylor Hall, Alex Pietrangelo and others signed contracts relatively quickly, Hoffman waited. It’s not that there weren’t offers on the table for him.

But why wait in a world with as many financial question marks as the NHL has? Were there only one-year offers being thrown his way? Was he adamant that any contract be a long-term deal? Not according to his agent Robert Hooper who made it clear they’d be willing to accept a one-year offer. (By the way, it must be noted that Hooper is also the agent for David Krejci.)

Could we see the two Hooper clients skating side-by-side on TD Garden ice (or wherever they may be playing) for the 2021 NHL season? When free agency began, Hoffman was being linked to the Bruins by many in the hockey world. Over the last couple of days, those links to Boston have been resurrected. As they say “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

As free agency moved along, we saw the cap space the Bruins had begin to evaporate after signing Kevan Miller, Matt Grzelcyk, Craig Smith and Jake DeBrusk all while waiting on a decision by Captain and future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara and his plans.

The independent website CapFriendly currently shows the Bruins with $2,982,686 in cap space for the upcoming season. So how could the Bruins possibly fit a player of Hoffman’s caliber with the little wiggle room they have? It’s doable. And they could even fit Zdeno Chara in.

At the top of the list is what the Chara decides to do. You could almost bet that if Chara was to return, that he would eat up the majority of the cap space the Bruins have remaining. Would Chara be open to returning on a deal with a $1.5 million cap hit with performance bonuses? (I believe we’ll have an answer to the Chara questions before the holidays, if not sooner.)

Assume that he would. Would Hoffman agree to a one-year deal with a $5 million cap hit?

Under normal circumstances, the answer would be a resounding no. And I will be the first to admit that is a lowball offer for Hoffman. But we’ve seen in these uncertain times, players take less money on short term deals and wait out the ugly financial uncertainty that sits over the NHL’s head.

Many players took pay cuts. Braden Holtby, Justin Schultz, Tyson Barrie, Craig Smith, Tyler Toffoli, just to name a few. Not that they are on the same level as Hoffman but it’s the sign of the times. Under normal circumstances, most, if not all those players would have earned more.

What about term? Of the 278 non-entry level contracts signed since October 8, 2020: 167 were one-year deals (60%), 76 were two-year deals (27.3%), 21 were three-year deals (7.5%), 8 were 4 years deals (2.8%) and 6 were for 5 or more years (2.1%).

How does that compare to the 2019 free agency period beginning on July 1, 2019 through to October 1, 2019? There were 265 contracts through the free agency period, just 13 less than the current period. That breaks down as follows: 159 were 1-year deals (60%), 63 were 2-year deals (23.8%), 15 were 3-year deals (5.7%), 8 were 4-year deals (3.0%) and 20 were 5+ year deals (7.5%).

While 1-year contracts went unchanged percentage wise, there is a clear trend that suggests players and owners both moved away from long term deals in favor of 2-year deals, suggesting financial uncertainty plays a role.

Even if Chara and Hoffman did accept those terms, the Bruins would still be short roughly $3.5 million. Where could they possibly make that up?

In the short term, Long Term Injury Reserve could be an answer as they await the status of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Miller. That would at least buy them some time to get the cap in order.

But what about long term?

Since CapFriendly is the most trusted resource available when it comes to the NHL’s salary cap. Let’s continue by working off of their numbers.

Firstly, we need to add a defenceman in the form of Jakub Zboril if the Bruins are serious about giving him an opportunity. That reduces the cap space available to $2,257,686.

Secondly, we remove the Anton Blidh ($700,000) and Par Lindholm ($850,000) cap hits by sending them to Providence. That cap space now becomes $3,807,686 and a roster that resembles this:

Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak

DeBrusk – Krejci – Kase

Bjork – Coyle – Smith

McKegg/Ritchie – Kuraly – Wagner

Grzelcyk – McAvoy

Moore – Carlo

Lauzon – Miller

Zboril – Clifton

The most obvious answer if you ask Bruins fans in general would be to move Nick Ritchie and John Moore via trade. Combined, that would clear $4,248,925 in cap space but likely would require taking a salary back in return.

That brings us to Anders Bjork. Signed for three more seasons and a controllable $1.6 million cap hit, he would be more enticing to other teams since he would still be a restricted free agent when his deal expires and much easier to move without having to take salary back in the return.

That would leave a roster that would look like this:

Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak

Hoffman – Krejci – Kase

DeBrusk – Coyle – Smith

McKegg/Ritchie – Kuraly – Wagner

Grzelcyk – McAvoy

Moore – Carlo

Lauzon – Miller

Zboril – Clifton

That roster would leave the Bruins with $407,686 in cap space. So, how would you fit Chara in while still adding Hoffman?

It’s likely that any Chara contract would come with some sort of performance bonus. Here’s the issue: Both Jaroslav Halak and Kevan Miller deals include performance bonuses with easily attainable numbers totalling $2 million. The Bruins could use the bonus overage and defer that to the 2021-22 season when David Backes’$1.5 million retained cap hit comes off the books. That’s just replacing Backes’ “dead money” with even more “dead money”. A Chara performance bonus just makes that even greater. And they’re already deferring $964,222 from the 2019-20 season.

No one really knows which direction Bruins cap genius Evan Gold will take. One thing I have faith in is that he will figure it all out. Back to the subject at hand.

Unless the Bruins plan on moving out one of their core players with big cap hits, the only viable solution to these eyes is moving Moore. And to move him without taking any salary back may just mean that you are going to have to move a prospect or a pick to entice a team. That’s where I look at a team like Detroit, who are rebuilding, stockpiling draft picks and prospects and have cap space. And Detroit only has two defencemen signed beyond this upcoming season, and just five if you’re counting prospects. Maybe you could package Bjork and Moore together to a team like Detroit. Bjork would certainly fit into what Steve Yzerman is trying to accomplish in Motown.

If the Bruins can make that happen then we have a roster that will look like this:

Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak

Hoffman – Krejci – Kase

DeBrusk – Coyle – Smith

McKegg/Ritchie – Kuraly – Wagner

Grzelcyk – McAvoy

Chara – Carlo

Lauzon – Miller

Zboril – Clifton

That would leave the Bruins with $1,657,686 in cap space and a 23-man roster. That space can be used to eat up performance bonuses, or be used at trade deadline or more likely to get Chara and Hoffman signed to deals they could likely get somewhere else. Especially Hoffman as $5 million is going to be on the light side. Then again, no other contender can afford much more than that.

The purpose here isn’t intended to suggest any or all of this is going to happen. Its intention is to suggest that there are options and that financially, the Bruins could make it work. There’s been plenty of negativity on social media about the handling of the cap when it comes to the Bruins, especially after GM Don Sweeney signed Miller to his contract.

Time after time after time we’ve seen NHL GM’s work themselves out of a cap issue. We’ve even seen Sweeney do it himself with Matt Beleskey and Backes. Hindsight is 20/20 but he was able to do what he needed to do to rid himself of those deals. Yes, of course, they came at a cost. At the same time, Sweeney recognized it was a misjudgement and did what was best for the Boston 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 drew first blood thanks to Halak

Halak

That’s the way (uh huh uh huh) Halak it (uh huh uh huh)

With apologies to 70’s disco icon Harry Casey aka KC (and his Sunshine Band), Jaroslav Halak was the difference in a 3-2 Boston Bruins victory in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series against the second-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning.

He shut out the ‘Bolts for nearly 50 minutes, putting up a especially impressive second period whitewash with the Bruins up by a pair of goals by Charlie Coyle (late in the 1st) and David Pastrnak, allowing the Black and Gold to go up by three on Brad Marchand’s early third period tally.

A pair of Victor Hedman goals, the first of which was certainly stoppable, weren’t enough for Tampa to complete a comeback, giving the B’s a crucial win to bolster their confidence.

Halak, thrust into the spotlight after Tuukka Rask left the team and Toronto bubble to attend to important family matters, is showing just how valuable he is by providing the Bruins with a 1a-caliber starting backup. With a lesser No. 2 on the roster, Rask’s sudden departure would have been a death sentence. Instead, Halak is reminding everyone of his first NHL playoff foray a decade ago, when he was integral in helping the Montreal Canadiens reach the conference final, upsetting the heavily-favored Washington Capitals that spring, the 2009-10 President’s Trophy-winning squad.

Halak won’t win many contests on style points, but he gets the job done. A throwback type netminder who is well below the NHL’s height average, Halak is a pure battler who uses his instincts to square up, set his feet and let pucks hit him. He might not operate with the cool, Ice Man-like demeanor of Rask, but he’s been lights-out since stepping into the starter’s crease in Game 3 of the B’s-Carolina series, winning 4 straight contests.

Halak is just the fourth goalie over age 35 to post four straight playoff dubs for the B’s, joining esteemed company in Gerry Cheevers, Eddie Johnston and Tim Thomas.

The B’s didn’t execute a textbook gameplan on Sunday; they were in control and cruising but sagged in the last 10 minutes and opened the door for their opponent. They’ve got to tighten up defensively, and for the love of Pete- work on hitting an empty net!

But, in this case at least, their goalie was the difference- the x factor. Halak bent but didn’t break- and if not for him, Boston would not have had a strong lead to protect.

Not since the days of Andy Moog and Reggie Lemelin has the team enjoyed a one-two punch of veteran goalies who can deliver the wins at crunch time.

There’s room for improvement, but for now, Halak is getting it done. The rest of the team has an opportunity to follow suit, as we have yet to see the best hockey from this group, who were the NHL’s top team when the league got paused in March.

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.

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. 2)

Pastrnak

(Eyes on the prize: David Pastrnak is the present and future of the Boston Bruins franchise. Fans are truly fortunate to watch the electrifying trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak, and the healthy unit has something to prove.)

Back to close out the Boston Bruins 2020 NHL Playoff preview series with the back half of the B’s forwards listed alphabetically. We hope you have enjoyed the posts, and let us know if there is anything else you want to see. Stay tuned for some more thoughts and observations on the B’s roster from the Amigos- coming this weekend and early next week.

Sean Kuraly- Every year since the B’s broke their two-season playoff drought in 2017, the former Miami University captain has made postseason plays to earn him the “Clutch Kuraly” moniker, so 2020 should not be any different. Right now, he’s practicing on the third line at right wing, but he’s probably going to shift back down to the fourth line, where he has proven himself to be effective as a two-way forward with the size, speed and situational sense to make offensive plays at opportune moments. One of the assets acquired for Martin Jones in the summer of 2015, Kuraly is yet another example of the Bruins archetype of a mobile, versatile forward who elevates his game and production when pace of a contest picks up.

Kuraly

(Somehow, watching Sean Kuraly celebrate a big goal in the playoffs has become an annual spring tradition in Boston)

Karson Kuhlman- Another NCAA captain, Kuhlman won a championship as Frozen Four MVP for University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2018 and a year later, was nearly a part of an NHL championship. Like Kuraly, he’s clutch- his speed, pace/energy and intelligence all combine to make him a prime playoff performer, even if the Esko native doesn’t have a top-line skill set. The undrafted free agent is the quintessential Bruin, who interestingly enough, listed Boston as the one city in the USA he wanted to move to in an interview well before he signed with the B’s- it was meant to be. He emerged a year ago to earn a regular spot on the team’s playoff roster, and although it wasn’t all smooth sailing this past year, he provides options for Bruce Cassidy and the coaching staff as a sparkplug who can be an asset. Whether he’ll be able to break through the logjam up front with everyone currently healthy, rested and vying for a role on the established lines remains to be seen, but you know what you’ll get with Kuhlman.

Par Lindholm- Signed for depth and youthful NHL experience after splitting 2018-19 between Toronto and Winnipeg, Lindholm played 40 games for the B’s, posting a modest 3-3-6 stat line. He’s a capable player to round out the bottom of the roster and a solid plug-and-play option for the Boston coaches to use to exploit defensive matchups.

Brad_Marchand

Brad Marchand is the team’s top LW period. End of story. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Brad Marchand- Boston’s first 100-point scorer since Joe Thornton in 2003 had a chance to repeat the feat had he gone slightly more than a point-per-game over the final 11 before the pause, but will gladly exchange that lost opportunity for another shot at the Stanley Cup. We won’t sugarcoat it- he had some questionable plays against the Blues in the 2019 championship series, and that team’s supporters and everyone else rooting against the B’s had a field day with memes featuring a despondent Marchand as the visitors skated around the TD Garden ice with the Stanley Cup. 2020 is a new year and chance for Boston’s top left wing to get some redemption and erase the smug grins on the faces of his many detractors.

Although 32, Marchand can still fly and is the most skilled and creative forward on the Boston roster. With a pair of superstars on that line in Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, Marchand is lethal, and he’s lost none of the abrasiveness that has been his hallmark since the earliest days of minor hockey.

Of all the B’s forwards who can crack opposing defenses and goalies like an egg, Marchand is the one who could be the linchpin going forward. In seven games against the Blues, he scored just two goals and five points, while being held scoreless in three of those contests. He was capable of more, and we think we’ll see it this time around.

Joakim Nordstrom- The veteran defensive forward signed two years ago isn’t likely to get a contract extension, but he’s a solid plumber type who does his job without a lot of fanfare (or production). He’s a bottom-six guy, currently skating on the left side of the Phase III fourth line with Lindholm and Chris Wagner, but that lineup was missing Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase, so we’ll see Anders Bjork and Kuraly dropping down, which could impact Nordstrom’s role and ice time.

David_Pastrnak

David Pastrnak is the player the Boston Bruins have been waiting for. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

David Pastrnak- The B’s had a limited skate with the younger players on the roster Wednesday, but one veteran was with the black aces- a sight for sore eyes- No. 88, in his first practice action since the pause. One of those future Bruins taking notes on the leading scorer’s practice habits was Jack Studnicka.

“He’s (an unbelievable talent,” Studnicka said via remote call after the session. “Obviously his year kind of speaks for itself how he was able to contribute offensively on such a consistent basis.

“To see how he practices- he’s always moving full speed and finding ways to be creative and be better. It was definitely fun to share the ice with him.”

Pastrnak led the team in scoring with 95 points and became the first Bruins player to win the Henri “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the top goal scorer, an honor his 48 goals shared with future Hall of Famer Alexander Ovechkin. As an elite goal scorer, Pastrnak excels at finding space and quiet ice in the offensive zone and unleashes a shot with a hyper-quick release, deadly accuracy and a heaviness that belies his average size and frame.

In short, he’s a natural who has blossomed into one of the NHL’s true young super stars- and with his exuberance and genuine personality on and off the ice, Bruins fans are right to be salivating at the thought of what Pastrnak is going to do in the postseason.

Calgary Flames v Boston Bruins

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – FEBRUARY 25: Nick Ritchie #21 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the first period of the game against the Calgary Flames at TD Garden on February 25, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Nick Ritchie- Like Kase, Ritchie was acquired at the trade deadline from the Anaheim Ducks, and the big power forward has much to prove after being selected 15 spots ahead of Pastrnak and 106 spots ahead of the player the B’s traded for him- Danton Heinen (Anders Bjork went 136 spots after Ritchie, for the record…okay, we’ll stop now).

Ritchie is another heavy, possession forward who, when he’s moving his feet, is tough to contain and is an asset in tightly-contested spaces typical of playoff games. He’s also got some nasty- when he gets fired up, he can hit and fight with the best of them. Like Kase, he’s going to benefit from a training camp to get himself adjusted better to his new team and coaching staff.  The younger Ritchie admittedly put himself in position to receive the questions and criticism with an inconsistent work ethic and intensity level, so we’ll see how it all plays out for him in Boston- with his tools, he could turn things around in a hurry. If he doesn’t, there are plenty of options the B’s have to put into the lineup.

He’s had a slow start to his NHL career relative to his high draft position, and his regular season numbers aren’t anything to write home about. But the reality is this- if Ritchie had delivered on the immense potential he had in junior off the bat, the Ducks never would have made him available for trade to Boston. There is no doubt the organization is taking on some risk here, but in moving a player they had multiple versions of in Heinen, they have added another potential horse with some real reward who is young enough to blossom  with a better pool of talent around him.

Zach Senyshyn- We’re tabling any reference to the 2015 draft here and will just say that while his chances of breaking through to establish a spot on this roster right now and play meaningful playoff action is remote, the former Soo Greyhound is getting closer to staking a legitimate claim. For now, he’ll join the other young black aces in Boston and benefit from the opportunity to be around the veterans and absorb the culture and atmosphere of NHL playoffs. The size and skating gives him a chance to play up or down in the lineup- it’s just a hardcore group ahead of him on the depth chart. Sometimes, we forget that he’s just 23- still time to see him bear some fruit, even if the clock is admittedly ticking.

Jack Studnicka- A year ago, the 2017 second-rounder was a black ace on Boston’s deep run, and he’s back for more as he appears to be on the verge of making the lineup as a full-time NHLer soon. The steal of a late second-round selection led the AHL in shorthanded goals and his own Providence club in scoring. He’s never put up eye-popping offensive numbers, but doesn’t have to because he’s a top three-zone forward in the mold of Bergeron. He’s Boston’s best prospect in our view, and the team will make room for him soon as he has done very well in his young pro career to date. There’s a lot to like with Studnicka, and the Bruins know that what they have is special- no need to rush to failure, but when the time comes, he’ll likely seamlessly slot right in and look like a seasoned veteran from the get-go.

IMG_1906

Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Chris Wagner- Another local and the 2019 Seventh Player Award winner for the B’s after signing as an unrestricted free agent the summer before is more of a depth piece on this deep forward group, but he’s a proven grinder and NHL commodity who brings a junkyard dog mentality on every shift. Wagner may not be as talented as other forwards on the roster, but the coaches trust him to go out and grind, create space for himself, and use his nonstop motor and manic, relentless style to generate timely offense. We’ll admit it- we’ve always had a lot of time for Wagner going back to his days with the South Shore Kings, and while the advanced stats might not always break in his favor, he brings that positive x-factor to the Boston lineup and gives the team every ounce of his talent. He’s a worthy successor to the storied “lunch pail gang” legacy that the Bruins hang their (hard) hats on.

 

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.

NHL making its way back

Tuukka_Rask

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

We’re not a straight-NHL news blog, so we’re leaving the reporting of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s announcement of the league’s way ahead yesterday to others.

We can’t compete with the news sites/blogs who generate far more traffic than this blog does, but here’s the nuts and bolts as far as the Bruins are concerned based on what came out.

  1. They get a bye and will play the other three bye teams in the East (Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia) to determine first-round seeding. Games to be played while the play-in series are ongoing, meaning the bye teams get their needed tuneup.
  2.  Hockey will phase back slowly with training camps not opening up until beginning of July at the earliest, assuming all goes well with the reopening. There will be a brief exhibition contest window before the play-in and seeding games crank up.
  3.  The NHL is figuring out the hub city model where the games will be played. Boston isn’t one of ’em, so where the B’s will end up playing is TBD.
  4.  Because they are not one of the 7 non-playoff teams (Detroit, Ottawa, San Jose/Ottawa, New Jersey, Anaheim, Los Angeles and Buffalo) nor are they one of the 8 losing play-in teams (TBD in terms of lottery winning percentages) not to mention the fact that Anaheim owns Boston’s 1st-round pick as a result of the Ondrej Kases trade, the B’s have zero shot at winning the 2020 NHL draft lottery, which will take place on June 26. The B’s won’t be picking first until the end of the 2nd round at the earliest, barring any trades that happen between now and whenever the NHL actually has the draft, so there’s not much point in speculating about any of this if you’re a B’s fan.

Overall, it’s good that the NHL is putting the plan in place to get things going. It’s a separate debate altogether about whether you believe the plan is going to work and/or it is worth it to go through all of this to crown a 2020 Stanley Cup champion or not- no matter what the league came up with, you weren’t going to get 100% agreement and acceptance. We’d rather have hockey than not, so that’s where we’ll leave it.

On another note- the statistical awards were made official yesterday too: The Bruins won their third President’s Trophy (1990, 2014) in franchise history with 100 points to lead the NHL when everything shut down. David Pastrnak was named co-recipient of the Rocket Richard Trophy as NHL’s top goal scorer along with Alex Ovechkin (48).  He just missed out on becoming the first Bruins 50-goal man since Cam Neely in 1994. Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak took home the William Jennings Trophy, given to the goaltender(s) (25 games minium) with the fewest goals allowed, which used to be the Vezina Trophy criteria before the creation of the Jennings in 1982 as a necessity for the split of duties between two goalies and to allow for a subjective vote of one goaltender each year to receive top goalie honors. This is the third time a Bruins tandem has won the Jennings, joining Andy Moog-Reggie Lemelin (1990) and Tim Thomas-Manny Fernandez (2009). Rask and Chad Johnson just missed out on the Jennings to Jonathan Quick in 2014, but Rask did take home the Vezina hardware that year.

It’s a very superficial take on the news of the past 24 hours, but there it is.

 

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.