As the first round of the NHL playoffs shifts to Washington for Game 5, thought we would take a moment to look at the younger (ages 23 and under) Bruins prospects who had a chance to play in Boston this season, either in a more established role or limited action via call-up. Before we begin, here is the obligatory disclaimer- We’re just calling it as we see it. Understand- this is designed to provide observations and feedback- it is not intended to be the final word on anyone, good or not-as-good. Here’s the review, ranked in order of performance and impact.
Urho Vaakanainen, Oskar Steen and Jack Ahcan are not included in order to focus on the “big 5” instead.
1. Jeremy Swayman, G- No player did more to boost his stock within the organization and across the league the way the rookie goaltender did, appearing in 10 games near the end of the season and going 7-3 with an eye-popping 1.50 GAA and .945 save percentage with a pair of shutouts…in the NHL! Prior to that, he was off to a dominant start to his pro career with the Providence Bruins in the AHL going 8-1 in 9 games with a 1.89 GAA and .933 save percentage. He turned his Boston audition into a spot as Tuukka Rask’s backup in the playoffs, supplanting veteran Jaroslav Halak and essentially staking a claim to a spot on the 2021-22 Boston Bruins.
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 JakeDeBrusk.”
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 DonSweeney to make whatever decision he makes.
NESN analyst and former Bruins netminder AndrewRaycroft had an interesting thought on his MorningBru Podcast with fellow analyst BillyJaffe. 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 JakubZboril, or JeremyLauzon or to a lessor extent, JeremySwayman.
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 NazemKadri. 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 PatriceBergeron or SidneyCrosby. And of course, there are those like MarcSavard 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 NickRitchie this year and also while he was playing with Ritchie and DavidKrejci.
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 TaylorHall, 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.
Dominic Tiano follows up his Seattle Kraken mock expansion draft piece with something closer to home, by analyzing what trade deadline acquisition Mike Reilly has done for the Boston Bruins and the team’s defense. Reilly has been a revelation, the former Shattuck St. Mary’s and Minnesota Gopher standout proving that you don’t have to be a flashy, dynamic skater and puckhandler to be effective. Dom breaks it down further to show us all why Reilly is a perfect fit for the Bruins and why the team would do well to invest in him long-term going forward.- KL
As much as the arrivals of TaylorHall and CurtisLazar have changed the complexion of the Boston Bruins second line (and powerplay) and the fourth line respectively, so to has MikeReilly to the defence.
We all know by now how Coach BruceCassidy wants to employ his defenders. And perhaps, no National Hockey League coach knows better than Cassidy.
My fellow Amigos had this discussion just after the trade deadline acquisitions by the Bruins about Cassidy. As an offensive defenseman who could transition just as good as anyone, Cassidy would have been the perfect blueliner in today’s NHL. As one of the Amigos put it “Cassidy would be perfect in today’s game. He was 20 years ahead of his time.”
We also know that at different times this season, the Bruins blueline has been decimated by injuries. Now, only BrandonCarlo and JohnMoore are walking wounded, the latter finished for the season after surgery.
The most important thing to take notice of is that he wasn’t just a body to fill a hole and a need. More importantly, it allowed Cassidy and his coaching staff to do is slot everyone appropriately.
JeremyLauzon started the year off on the top pair with CharlieMcAvoy and just as soon as they were finally starting to build some chemistry, Lauzon went down with an injury. As much as I am a fan of Lauzon (and I know a lot of you are as well), he’s not a top pair defenseman. He’s a guy you can use to shut down the opposition on the bottom pair while providing excellent penalty killing minutes for you and when Carlo eventually returns, they will be a formidable pair on the PK.
Instead, McAvoy is now paired with MattGrzelcyk and the pair are analytics darlings together. The arrival of Reilly allows Cassidy to keep the two puck moving defenders together. There’s no need to break them up to get a puck mover on another pair.
JakubZboril, finding himself as a heathy scratch lately was paired with KevanMiller to start the season. We understand the plan and it was something we wrote about here on The Scouting Post in the preseason. Pair up a puck mover with a defensively responsible defender.
And while Zboril showed flashes of skill and ability, he lacked consistency not only from game-to-game, but many nights shift-to-shift. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I have been harping all season long that Zboril needs to really improve on getting his shots thru. To his credit, he acknowledged as much just two weeks ago. But when you have a blueline worst 1.98 attempted shots on goal per game and a second worst success rate of getting it on target at 41.8% all while getting the most offensive zone starts at 58.2% well, I hope you get the picture.
Reilly’s arrival not only allowed the other blueliners to slot in more appropriate positions, but allowed them to face competition that they are suited for. And that has also shown up statistically.
Last season, the Bruins blueline scored 32 goals and added 112 assists for 144 points in the 70-game shortened season. Prior to Reilly’s arrival, the Bruins blueline had scored 11 goals with 52 helpers in 39 games. That projects to 20 goals, 93 assists and 113 points over 70 games.
Since Reilly put on the Black and Gold jersey, the Bruins blueline has recorded 4 goals, 14 assists and 18 points in 8 games. Over a 70-game schedule, that projects to 35 goals, 122 assists and 157 points.
A place for everyone and everyone in their place!
Reilly is tied with Carlo for the fewest offensive zone starts with 45.7% of faceoffs beginning in the O-zone. Compare that to McAvoy who gets 54.3% of the O-zone starts. Yet Reilly only trails McAvoy in attempted shots per game with 3.75 compared to McAvoy’s 3.81.
But it’s not about quantity, but quality. No other defender, let me repeat that: No other defender reaches the level of Reilly when it comes to getting his shot on target. A whopping 70% of his attempted shots make it thru to the goalkeeper. It’s up to the forwards to create havoc in front of the opposition net to make those count. Grzelcyk trails Reilly in that department at 63.9%. If you’re wondering where McAvoy is at, he’s 5th at 48.2% (not including Ahcan, Vaakanainen or Moore).
Reilly has also been a big minute eating defenseman so that Lauzon isn’t playing 20 minutes a night (or whoever else while also giving Grzelcyk some relief.
Just to finish it off, Reilly leads the Bruins blueline in CF% at 59.1% and FF% at 59.9% and 4th in PDO at 100.3
If 8 games are any indication, Reilly is a must-sign for General Manager Don Sweeney this offseason.
Dominic Tiano continues to carry the TSP blog with his tremendous insight and knowledge. Here’s his latest in looking at potential additions to a Bruins group that is among the best in the NHL right now.– KL
With respect to the post’s titular question, our answer at TSP is: Absolutely. There isn’t a team in the National Hockey League that couldn’t use the 30-year-old left shooting defenseman on one of the best bargain contracts that carries a cap hit of just $3,750,000.
The Nashville defender signed his current deal on October 26, 2015. It was a six-year deal worth $22,500,000, meaning he has one more year left on the deal before he becomes and unrestricted free agent.
According to CapFriendly, as of this morning there are only 5 teams that have more cap space than the Bruins. Not one of those five teams are currently a playoff team and are all in different stages of a rebuild.
Cap-wise, the Bruins are in great shape and can literally fit Ekholm’s contract under the cap without having to move out any salary. But obviously, Nashville is going to want a young NHL player back in return, among other pieces.
But why would Nashville move on from Ekholm? There is something wrong with the Predators, and no one seems to know what that is. They currently sit seventh in the Central Division, just one point up on the lowly Detroit Red Wings and some sort of retooling is needed.
Nashville’s goaltending has been mediocre at best. They have a contract like Matt Duchene which is virtually unmovable, as is that of Ryan Johansen. Viktor Arvidsson is also on a great deal, but he is off to a very bad start this season.
Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis aren’t going anywhere and neither is Filip Forsberg. So, it makes sense that with his contract, Ekholm could bring in the best return. In fact, there could be a bidding war for his services like we haven’t seen in some time.
Several NHL Insiders are reporting Ekholm is on the market including ChrisJohnson,while PierreLeBrun is hinting at it. There are even reports from Ekholm’s native Sweden that the defender is available.
It’s reasonable to assume the Preds would want one of the Bruins young defencemen back in return. It’s almost certain the Preds are going to want a draft pick back in return, likely a first, as well as another prospect.
That young defender the Preds would likely ask for is Jeremy Lauzon. But sources tell me that GM DonSweeney does not want to move Lauzon and would consider protecting him in the expansion draft – although, if they acquire Ekholm they might have to re-think their strategy there. The prospect ask going the other way could be someone like JakubLauko.
But we know how negotiations work. Sweeney could offer a second if the Preds are intent on Lauzon and up the ante to a first if the Preds were to take JakubZboril instead for example.
Two things are a certainty if the Preds move on from Ekholm: 1) DavidPoile is going to be busy talking with the other 30 General Managers and 2) Sweeney will make a phone call to the 615 area code.
Sweeney has an advantage here over other GM’s. Along with the help of EvanGold, he has cap space to make the deal now, is not forced to move out cap space, doesn’t have to wait until closer to trade deadline to lower Ekholm’s cap hit and he has the assets to swing a deal.
Dominic Tiano is back with his assessment of how the Boston Bruins defense has played through one quarter of the 2021 NHL season. Enjoy!- KL
When ToreyKrug signed with the St Louis Blues and ZdenoChara ultimately decided to sign with the Washington Capitals, there was nothing but unanswered questions surrounding the Boston Bruins blue line for the 2020-21 National Hockey League season.
Who was going to replace Krug on the powerplay? Who is going to replace the offense from the blue line? Who was going to replace Chara on the penalty kill? Who was going to shut down the opposition’s top lines? Who was going to replace Chara’s leadership? It was question after question after question, and when you tried to answer them, fans didn’t like the answers.
We are officially at the quarter-way point of the season, so this is a good sample size to look at how the young defense has performed thus far.
The 2019-20 President’s Trophy winners dressed ten different defensemen and they combined for a total of 32 goals and 112 assists in the 70-game shortened season.
This season, the Bruins have dressed eight defensemen and only because of the injuries to MattGrzelcyk and have scored 3 goals and 21 assists. That projects to 12 goals and 84 assists for the season. Pro-rated over 70 games, that is 15 goals and 105 assists. The helpers are fine, but they are on pace to score half of what last year’s blue line did and despite the 10-2-2 start, it could be a problem moving forward.
Last season, the Bruins had the third best penalty kill with an 84.19% success rate Mostly on the backs of Chara and BrandonCarlo. To date this season, the Bruins rank second with an 88.0% success rate largely on the backs of Carlo and JeremyLauzon. They are backed up by CharlieMcAvoy and KevanMiller, with Lauzon and Miller picking up the Chara minutes.
At the other end of the ice is where the loss of Krug was thought to be most impactful, especially the powerplay. Coach BruceCassidy has tried different things including five forwards at times. A year ago, with Krug manning the point, the Bruins had the second best powerplay in the league converting on 25.22% of their opportunities. This season they rank eighth but are converting on 27.27% of their chances, an increase of 2.02%. But they need a blueliner that can take the reigns there and the injuries to Grzelcyk don’t help. As we saw last against the Islanders, using 5 forwards can cost you.
The loss of Chara on the blue line, and Krug for that matter, takes away some leadership on the back end, but you can’t underestimate the leadership of Miller, now the grey-beard on the team. He can keep his teammates calm and cool under pressure. Not to mention the young guys stepping into the role. Carlo has over 300 games under his belt and Grzelcyk and McAvoy around 200. They will be counted on to take up some of the leadership slack left by Chara’s departure.
Cassidy and his coaching staff have also adjusted the system employed now that he has a more mobile unit on the backend. First off, they’ve tried to employ a more traditional shut-down defender with a puck mover on each pair, something that has worked so far.
Secondly, when defending, the defense has the green light for both guys to activate below their own goal line with the centerman usually covering the net in front of TuukkaRask or JaroslavHalak. Third, they all have the green light to skate out of the zone. And finally, because of the young legs, they can all activate at the offensive blue line and pinch down deep, something the coaching staff keeps encouraging them to do.
Coming into the season we preached how young this defense was going to be and that there would be growing pains. The growing pains have been evident, but not consistently and it has yet to hurt the team but, there is a long way to go.
Here’s a look at the Bruins defense, our Grade, and what we’ve seen so far:
CHARLIE MCAVOY Grade: A
I will be the first to admit it: Charlie McAvoy should be an A+. But for me, to earn an A+ you need to excel in every area of the game and McAvoy is doing that in every situation except one and that is the power play, although that is through no fault of his own. Cassidy prefers a left shot defender up top on the first unit which is why, when Grzelcyk is healthy, he gets those opportunities first. Cassidy has also used five forwards (at times) in the absence of Grzelcyk instead of McAvoy with David Krejci (who happens to be a right shot) at the point.
In the absence of Krug, McAvoy has taken his game to another level offensively. He is on pace to set career highs in goals, assists and points – all in just a 56-game schedule. He leads the team in assists and points, shot attempts and shots on goal and he can drive the offense from the back end like few others can.
It’s not just about offense though. He’s trusted to defend, almost always going up against the opposition’s top players. He kills penalties, he’s physical, he’s a one-man breakout machine and he easily leads his fellow blue liners in blocked shots with 29.
McAvoy is a minute eating defender who does it with quality. He leads the blue line averaging 24:19 in time on ice – 4:34 more per game than the next closest, his partner Lauzon. He leads them by a wide margin in even strength time on ice, exactly 20 minutes and he averages 2:09 in powerplay time and 2:14 in penalty kill time per game.
McAvoy will get some serious consideration for the Norris Trophy this season. Well deserved consideration. His time as a true number one defenseman in the NHL has arrived.
JEREMY LAUZON Grade: B
A lot of eyebrows were raised when it was suggested here, and the coaching staff gave Lauzon the duties of skating beside McAvoy. Has he disappointed anyone? Lauzon has been the steady defensive defenseman that can be relied upon and that in turn, gives McAvoy the opportunity to concentrate more on offense. He refuses to be outworked and leads his team in hits with 39.
He’s been winning the majority of his battles along the walls and in front of the net. Not only is he good at clearing his zone, he can make a good first pass as well and usually makes the right decisions. He’s become a staple in the penalty kill leading all Bruins blueliners in PK time on a PK that had an efficiency of 84.19% a season ago to 88.0% this season. The coaching staff is showing they are gaining more and more confidence in him and it is reflected in his average time on ice. Averaging 19:45 TOI, Lauzon trails only McAvoy at 24:19 in that department.
As we saw against the Washington Capitals on February 1, Lauzon does have some offensive abilities. Where the coaching staff used him mostly for defensive zone draws prior to that, they have been giving him more and more offensive starts lately, to the point where is starts are virtually even. Again, he trails only McAvoy in attempted shots on goal with 41 and shots on goal with 21 and Grzelcyk in percentage that get on goal with 51.2%.
MATT GRZELCYK Grade: B-
Playing in just one game in between two injuries has limited Grzelcyk to just six games on the season. Despite his size, we know what we get from him. Quick on his skates, retrieves pucks quickly and transitions even faster. Uses his positioning and his stick to defend well. His metrics across the board are very good and there is no denying that.
I know many people will question this grade but hear me out. Grzelcyk is suppose to be the guy to replace Krug on the point on the first powerplay unit. Six games just aren’t enough of a sample size to determine if he is that guy – yet. But if he is, then an A Grade is definitely on the horizon.
What we do know is Grzelcyk can sure pass and he can make smart plays. While he doesn’t posses the same kind of shot from the point that can beat a goaltender like Krug can, Grzelcyk shoots smartly. He likes to send pucks towards the goal and in just six games has directed 20 shots towards the net. A whopping 65% of those shots have reached the netminder. How good is that? Only one other defenceman is above 50% (Lauzon, 51.2%). Even McAvoy is firing at 46.4%.
That’s an important skill for a point man to have, especially since the Bruins appear to have found their permanent net front presence in Nick Ritchie. If Grzelcyk can come back and take the reigns and be effective on the powerplay, his grade can only go up.
BRANDON CARLO Grade: B
Carlo is quite simply one of the premier shut down defenders in the NHL. At 6’5” and over 210 pounds, he is a superb skater. Although he isn’t as physical as many fans want him to be, Carlo has some amazing strength that makes him a force in front of his goaltenders and a defender that the opposition doesn’t relish battling along the walls. He can go up against the oppositions best and paired with Lauzon on the penalty kill, form on of the better PK pairs in the NHL.
It’s noticeable that Carlo wants to be more involved in the offense and he has taken it upon himself to do just that. Carlo could very well surpass his career high of 19 points from a season ago, and do it in the shortened 56-game schedule.
Carlo has somewhat slowed that offensive down lately, largely due to the turnstile of partners he’s had, with little chance to get some chemistry going. He’s usually paired with Grzelcyk, but injuries have limited him to just 6 games. When the latter was out, it was with Clifton and then on what was a back-to-back situation, John Moore. And as mentioned, he is usually paired with Lauzon on the PK but also with Miller at times.
We fully expect that once Grzelcyk returns and Carlo gets a regular partner, that he will continue to push forward offensively.
JAKUB ZBORIL Grade: B-
Perhaps the growing pains are more evident in Zboril than any of the other d-men. And that is not a knock on him. He is the least experience of the group and the talent he possesses is clearly evident. But once in a while he might make you want to throw your remote through your 72” TV.
Again, they were expected to happen. But if you can set them aside for a moment and look at the good things, then we should be happy with what we are seeing. It’s true that Cassidy is somewhat sheltering him with the most offensive zone starts on the blue line at 63.4%, but the coach is also trying to get him accustomed to the NHL at the same time. When Lauzon was serving his 5 plus 10 with his fight in New York, Cassidy had no hesitation in throwing Zboril out there to kill a penalty. It’s in him, but it is evident the coach wants to take it slowly.
Cassidy is also willing to use Zboril on the powerplay and eventually, Zboril might just excel at it. He has an excellent shot from the point but he definitely needs to work on getting it through. He’s third among the blueliners with 36 attempted shots on goal, but is a team worst 36.1% getting it on the net, either missing the target or having it blocked. It’s not a matter of if, but when he gets better at that, good things will happen for him.
In his own zone, he’s good at retrieving pucks and transitioning, makes a good first pass, but more importantly, he can skate out of danger. He’s learning how strong NHL players are as compared to AHL players, but that to will come and some of the misfortunes he’s had will become less and less frequent.
KEVAN MILLER Grade: B-
When General Manager Don Sweeney inked Miller to his contract there was an uproar through Bruins Nation. Many eyebrows were raised and many questions were asked. Why sign Miller before Chara? Why sign a player that has not played in almost two years? And more importantly, why sign a player that is coming off of two major knee surgeries?
Well, 14 games into the season things have changed, and might I add, dramatically. In a poll I conducted on Twitter with over 500 hundred votes, Miller was the overwhelming choice by fans as the 7th Player Award winner to date with over 40% of the vote. (He was followed by Nick Ritchie with 28%)
However, it’s more than just being able to skate in 14 games when there was doubt (in the minds of fans) that he could not just play quality hockey, but play at all. Miller can play both sides of the ice with little difference when on his weak side. We’ve seen it a lot when paired with McAvoy on the second pair killing penalties. He’s physical and hits hard, trailing only Lauzon in hits with 30.
He’s a guy the coaches can depend on to defend a one goal lead in the last minute. He wins his battles along the walls and is hard to move. As we saw against the Rangers, down a man and the Rangers goaltender pulled for an extra attacker, Miller on his off side paired with Carlo, ate up a lot of the time remaining on the clock buy keeping the puck along the boards behind the goal line.
Despite Miller’s superb work on the PK and in key defensive situations, he and his usual partner in Zboril are getting some sheltered starts from Coach Cassidy, with over 61% of the pair’s zone starts being in the offensive zone.
CONNOR CLIFTON Grade: B-
Cliffy Hockey, what can we say? If there is one player in the NHL that plays much bigger than 5’11” and 175 pounds, it’s Clifton. While Lauzon leads the team in hits, it’s actually Clifton that leads the squad in hits per game with 3.3. He plays physical, he can defend and he can skate. He’s pretty underrated in some circles as a puck carrier, but he can move the puck. And he will stand up for a teammate.
Clifton doesn’t get much specialty team time on ice. The coaching staff use him primarily in 5 on 5 situations, but when one of the other d-men are in the box, they have no hesitation in using him on the PK.
It’s hard to imagine that on many teams he wouldn’t be a starter in the top six. For now, he is the 7th defenseman on this squad who will see time when someone goes down with an injury or is in need of a break.
With Clifton what you see is what you get: 100% effort on every shift, accountability and determination. You couldn’t ask for more from a player in his spot.
John Moore was left off the list because one game just isn’t enough to grade him on, even though he had a very good first game of the season against the Islanders.
We’ve sometimes repetitively said there would be growing pains with this young defence. And there has been on any given night one guy is not at his best. What we haven’t seen is those growing pains as a group. When one is struggling, the other five pick up the slack, and that is part of the reason they sit 10-2-2 one-quarter of the way through the 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.
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.
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:
The Bruins wanted Chara back for a 15th season as captain, but with caveats.
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 is back with a new piece on Boston Bruins prospect Mason Lohrei and how he represents a trend for NHL clubs who are investing more and more entry draft selections on second- and third-year eligible players. Dom has watched a lot of the criticisms of Boston’s selection of Lohrei center around the misconception that he’s older- and somehow inferior- to the 2002 and late 2001-born players who were eligible for the first time this past October. This is food for thought- if you learn something new in the piece and it changes your perspective, then we’ll consider it mission accomplished. If not, that’s okay too.- KL
Before I begin my deep dive, let me preface things with this: When the Boston Bruins selected Mason Lohrei in the second round with the 58th overall pick in the 2020 National Hockey League Draft, I readily admit, he wasn’t my first choice. However, he is now, a member of the Bruins organization and I wish him nothing but the best. There will be no comparing him to what could have been, no sulking, and no excuses. Just a simple eye test on what he is and might be when he is ready to turn pro after junior and college hockey at Ohio State University.
I’m surprised yet I shouldn’t be, by some of the comments being made on social media, especially now that Lohrei has gotten off to such a good start with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League. At the time of this article, Lohrei, a forward turned defenceman, has 5 goals and 10 assists in just 10 games.
But comments such as: “he’s an ‘overager’ so he’s just going up against younger players” or “he was picked in his second draft year so there must be something wrong”, or “how many players picked in their second drafts make it to the NHL?” and the one that really gets under my skin “comparing him to a CHL player” (I can say that because I cover the OHL exclusively), should be kept to one’s self unless you are prepared to provide some context and willing to accept some criticism.
In reality, and I am trying to be polite here, what it shows is a lack of knowledge of the changing methodology NHL teams employ, differences and nuances in the demographics of the various junior leagues or even a lack of effort to obtain the knowledge to know what that really means. I hope to bring you some context and maybe, just maybe shed some light on things and you can change your opinion (or not).
Let me begin with the term that gets thrown around a lot these days: ‘overager’. Many fans think Lohrei is an older player in the USHL and should be piling up points because he has a significant advantage in terms of physical maturity and experience. The fact is, Lohrei is 19 years of age (turns 20 on January 17, 2021). Considering that 16 and 17-year old players are a minority in the USHL and teams are limited to just 4 twenty-year old players (2000 birth year) on the roster for the current season, Lohrei isn’t much older than the majority of players he faces every single night on the ice. The USHL does require each member club to keep a minimum of three 16- or 17-year-old players on every roster to ensure that there is a developmental path for the youngest players on the junior spectrum, but the majority of the average ages of each USHL club is 18+. Lohrei is on the higher side of that average this season, but it isn’t like he is a 2000 birth year competing against a league full of 2003 and 2004-born players. In fact, the 2001 and 2002 birth years comprise the bulk of USHL rosters this season.
The mistake some casual observers make is in asserting that the demographics between the CHL, which comprises the three major junior leagues in Canada, and the USHL plus other Tier 2 junior leagues like the North American (NAHL) and Canadian British Columbia (BCHL), Alberta (AJHL), Manitoba (MJHL), Ontario (OJHL) and Quebec (QJHL) and other regional T2 subset leagues are the same, when in fact, they are not. Because the NCAA track tends to develop players over a longer timeline, whereas CHL-drafted players must be signed within two years/before June 1 of the season they turn 20 (and one year to receive a bona fide offer), those Tier 2 feeder leagues tend to have older rosters on average than CHL clubs.
I ask you to replace the word overager with experience for some context. Lohrei was playing high school/prep hockey at Culver Military Academy until the age of 18, and is now in his second full season in the USHL. That compares to a 17 or mostly 18-year old players in the CHL, their first year of draft eligibility. Let’s take it a step further. In 2017, the Bruins selected a QMJHL rookie in the name of Cedric Pare (an 18-year-old in his draft year) with not even a full season of Major Junior experience. It wasn’t until Pare’s fourth season that he broke out with 37 goals and 51 assists in 64 contests. The Bruins didn’t sign Pare and he is now playing in the East Coast Hockey League without an NHL contract.
To be fair, Pare was a seventh-round pick, and as I mentioned, didn’t have a season worthy of being drafted until his fourth season. I suggest you ask yourself this question: If Pare had been skipped over in his first draft, would he have been selected in his second draft? And you could ask yourself the same question about any player selected in rounds two through seven. Obviously, the Bruins (and maybe others) saw something in his first year to think he was worthy of selection his second time around.
Because Lohrei was passed over in 2019 does not mean he should not have been selected in 2020. You might be surprised to find out that in fact, statistics show he should have been selected the second time around, and that second-year players being selected in the NHL draft is becoming more and more prevalent going back a decade.
I looked at the six NHL Drafts from 2010 to 2015 to measure NHL success. I didn’t use 2016 or later as a lot of those players are still at the developmental stage. To measure success, I used 100 NHL games or more as the benchmark and included all players, even goaltenders. I think you’ll be surprised by what you find.
In the chart below, you’ll see I’ve broken down each draft by round. In each round you will see the number of picks used to select first time draft eligible players and those picked in their second or third drafts as well as how many went on to play 100+ games in the NHL. At the bottom, you’ll see the total number of players selected as well as the total number that went on to play 100+ games in the NHL and the success rate by percentage. At the far right, you will notice the total picks by draft year and those that went on to play 100+ games in the NHL and the success rate by percentage.
The numbers are a bit skewed because only one player from 2010 to 2016, who was a draft re-entry, was selected in the first round when the Los Angeles Kings selected Tanner Pearson with the 30th pick in 2012. Still, only 76% of first round picks selected have played in 100 or more contests. Do I need to remind everybody that 3 of those first round picks not to play 100 games all belong to the Bruins? Malcolm Subban in 2012, Jakub Zboril and Zachary Senyshyn in 2015.
Beyond the first round however, statistically speaking, there is a greater chance for success at the NHL level if you are a draft re-entry player, and in some cases a drastically better chance. And there are a greater number of draft re-entry players approaching the 100-game plateau then first-time eligible players. But we had to draw the line somewhere.
That said, in the second round where Lohrei was selected, there have only been seven players selected that have re-entered the draft. Still, they’ve shown to have a 42.9% success rate as opposed to 38.4% of first timers. Although 177 first timers were selected in those 6 years, 61.6% did not have the success. So, I ask you, which gives you the better chance of finding a successful player?
These are just statistics and are no indication of success. Maybe it suggests a trend. More radically, maybe it suggests the NHL change the draft and allow 18-year-old players be selected in only the first round, maybe the second round.
But to me, it suggests that we as fans, are too quick to jump to conclusions. We do after all, have a fast-food mentality when it comes to our beloved Bruins. Everything has to be served up on a black and gold platter- hot, fresh and now. There is for lack of a better term, no patience. No patience to wait and see how a player who isn”t on a public list around where the Bruins were supposed to select him actually plays and develops.
As I said in the opening, Lohrei is a member of the Bruins organization. The only comparisons we should be making is to Mason Lohrei from a season ago and asking ourselves how far has he come in regards to his development? Shouldn’t we be asking what his strengths are and what areas does he need to improve on more than what other player who is one year younger the Bruins could have chosen instead?
There is a very small group out there that wants to see a player fail just so they can say “I told you so.” That’s sad, yet but true. I know because some people have actually come out and say it to me. While its just noise on the internet, it is a reflection of where some are as fans- the new class of self-appointed pundits who think they know far more than they actually do and find it more important to be validated on social media by other low-information people. Rather than educate themselves on the evolving nature of the NHL draft and how the changing CBA has caused teams do things differently than were done in the past when a hard salary cap did not exist, some are stuck relying on inaccurate perceptions about junior league demographics to justify their own disappointment that the player(s) of choice based on public lists that bear no resemblance to those generated by the NHL teams themselves, were not drafted by the B’s.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I will only cheer for a prospect in the organization and hope they find success. No harping on who could have been, as that ship has sailed. Time will tell on Lohrei, but given that his two-way game has taken positive strides in one of the top junior leagues in the world, things are setting up for him to be an impact player in the Big-10 conference and beyond when the time comes for him to turn pro.
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.
After a tough Game 5 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated the Boston Bruins from the 2020 NHL Playoffs thoughts immediately turned to what the roster would look like for the 2020-21 season. Many names have already been tossed about from outside the organization as fans look from their perspectives to who could improve the Bruins and push the team over the top to a Stanley Cup Championship.
With the attention on players coming from outside the Bruins organization, it should be equally of interest who could come from within the organization and have their breakout moments to improve this team.
The forward group will likely see the most potential turnover with Joakim Nordstrom unlikely to be back and questions surrounding the likes of where Nick Ritchie, Chris Wagner & Par Lindholm fit into next year’s lineup, if at all, and the RFA status of Jake DeBrusk.
Zachary Senyshyn – In the Tampa Bay series it became clear that the Bruins needed more size and physical presence in the offensive zone but that it can’t come at the sacrifice of speed. Enter Zach Senyshyn, the controversial 15th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft recorded back to back 40+ goal seasons in the OHL with the Soo Greyhounds but since arriving full time in Providence has made it a mission to become better in his 200-foot game. Although the offensive numbers haven’t jumped off the page in the AHL, Senyshyn combines a 6’3”/193lbs frame with incredible straight line speeds and the knowledge of how to use both. Able to blow by defenders around the outside, Senyshyn brings the willingness to drive straight to goal with the puck and create in the dirty areas. The Bruins could have a breakout, forceful player on their hands as his professional development has come along but could also have a bigger, more physical version of former Merlot-line favourite Dan Paille, either way Senyshyn has earned a long look.
Trent Frederic – A player who just screams Boston Bruin, following in the tradition of the likes of Wayne Cashman, Terry O’Reilly & Stan Jonathan, Frederic loves to mix it up physically but also brings excellent offensive instincts and the knowledge of how to use a 6’2”/203lbs frame to his advantage. The 29th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Frederic has garnered a lot of attention for posting 215 penalty minutes in his last 114 AHL games, becoming one of the more feared players in the American Hockey League. What has gone under the radar is the 57 points (22 goals) the hulking 2nd year pro has posted in the same time frame. Able to control the puck in a phone booth, Frederic’s size, whole ice game and cycle ability would appear to make him a perfect potential match for Charlie Coyle on a 3rd line that could become very hard to handle for bottom pairing defenders.
Jack Studnicka – He may well end up being the steal of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, selected 53rd overall and Jack Studnicka has come a long way in a very short time. The rookie pro suited up in 60 games for the Providence Bruins recording 23 goals & 26 assists for 49 points while turning heads in the process. Playing with a super-computer between his ears it isn’t hard to see why the Windsor native has drawn many comparisons to current Bruins legend and future Hockey Hall of Famer Patrice Bergeron. Studnicka brings a far advanced defensive game for his age and offensive acumen, and showed in his 5-game playoff cameo for the Bruins in 2020 that he clearly belongs in the National Hockey League. Likely to start his career on the right-wing, it won’t be long before Studnicka patrols the middle of the ice as a key player for the Bruins.
On the blueline, the Bruins may not wind up with an obvious opening but do have at least a trio of young players pushing to open one with all three players bringing different styles to the table.
Jakub Zboril – Having spent the last three seasons with the Providence Bruins, the former 13th overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft has had injuries derail a potential run with the NHL team on more than one occasion. Despite the potential for frustration, the physical rearguard has kept working, consistently improving his game over his three seasons in the AHL and by the time the 2019-20 season was put on hiatus Zboril was pushing for another opportunity in Boston. Fleet of foot with the ability to move the puck quickly and confidently from his own zone, the left-hand shot defender plays with a mean streak that would make you think he’d just stepped in the wasp’s nest. At 6’0”/200lbs, Zboril brings strength to the back end and would be more than able to move attackers from the front of the net which is what the Bruins came out of their series against Tampa Bay looking for more of. Zboril will also have a running start at the 2020-21 season beginning his year in the Czech Extraliga.
Urho Vaakanainen – Another defender who has seen opportunities to stick in Boston cast aside due to unfortunate injury, the 17th overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft is a tremendous skater who can get up and down the ice effortlessly while combining with a 6’1”/185lbs frame that allows Vaakanainen to win his share of board and net battles and excellent hockey IQ to see and read the game. While in Finland, Vaakanainen showed an appetite to consistently improve and moved from Blues to JYP to SaIPa to get the kind of ice time he felt he would need to be able to take those steps. Vaakanainen has now played 84 in Providence and an additional 5 in Boston and while his offensive output hasn’t taken a step forward the rest of his game has. An opportunity with the big club combined with some luck on the health side could see the left-hand shot Finnish rearguard become a trusted piece at even strength and the Bruins penalty kill and at just 21 years of age could be a Bruin for a long time to come.
Nick Wolff – As Kirk Luedeke has mentioned on the Amigos Podcast many times before, “Winners Win” and Nick Wolff is a bonafide winner. The towering 6’5”/230lbs left-hander has won 2 NCHC Championships and 2 NCAA National Championship while being a key piece of the on & off ice leadership for the UMD Bulldogs, including serving as the captain for the 2019-20 team. As mean and nasty as they come, Wolff won’t provide the fleet footed skating of a Zboril or Vaakanainen but will remind fans of a new age Adam McQuaid. Able to get by on his skating, uses his off the charts size and strength to make life miserable for opposing attackers and is able to clog both shooting and passing lanes with his massive frame. If the Bruins are just simply looking to get meaner and nastier in their own end, they may uncage a Wolff and let him loose on their opposition.
With Tuukka Rask & Jaroslav Halak both under contract there doesn’t appear to be any room for another goaltender to make his name on the 2020-21 Boston Bruins, however any crack in the window may provide the real opportunity for 1 talented keeper of the cage to make his mark in the NHL.
Daniel Vladar – Originally drafted in the 3rd round, 75th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Vladar has taken his time moving through the Bruins system but the 2019-20 season appeared to be the lightbulb moment for the 6’5”/185 netminder. Over the course of 25 games with the Providence Bruins, Vladar would post an incredible 1.73 GAA & .936 SV%. Thrust into a tough spot in the playoff series against the Lightning, the greater hockey world didn’t get a fair look at the potential Czech star and any injury to Rask or Halak that could allow Vladar an opportunity in the 2020-21 season could see Bruins fans potentially have a look into the future of the crease.
Every year there appears to be a surprise at training camp or at some point in the season when a player seems to find themselves and goes from dark-horse to stud. If the Bruins have a dark-horse in camp it very well could be a talented Slovakian.
Robert Lantosi – An older prospect at 24, Lantosi arrived with the Providence Bruins for the 2019-20 season where he really impressed posting 11 goals & 21 assists for 31 points over 50 games in his rookie season in North America and was rewarded by the Boston Bruins with an NHL contract (albeit 2-way) but with the potential he could see time on the RW for the NHL squad. Leaving Slovakia at 17 for the Vasteras program in Sweden before returning 5 years later and subsequently becoming a star for HK Nitra, Lantosi is well travelled and has blended natural talent with a responsibility to a three-zone game and a very mature outlook for a 24-year old. While he may never be an NHL superstar, Lantosi could provide offense in a bottom-6 role where his talents would make him a solid addition to a Bruins team that likes to roll 4 lines.