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.
We’re back with a quick hitter on some of the current Bruins on the roster and where we see things as Oliver Ekman-Larsson rumors are picking up steam, Torey Krug appears to be moving on and big changes are on the horizon.
These may constitute unpopular opinions, but what the heck- today’s as good a day as any to shake the trees a bit!
Overrated: Brandon Carlo
OK- we’re not out to dump on the guy, but watching Bruins fans twist themselves into knots over discussions about him being involved in trade talks like he’s some kind of untouchable player is a bit much. He’s a good, solid defensive defenseman. But here’s the thing- can he run a PP? Nope. Not special. In fact, he’s comparable to former Bruin Kyle McLaren– a nice complementary piece, but not a driver you refuse to consider trade offers for. Our fear is that his/his agent’s ask on the next contract negotiation process will shift him from being a good value player to exceeding that current bargain rate/savings, and that’s a problem. By the way- 0 goals, 1 assist in 13 playoff games…sorry, but that’s not worth the wailing and gnashing of teeth we’re seeing on Twitter and elsewhere. Newsflash- Carlo is a good right-shot D with size/mobility and so when Don Sweeney calls teams to talk trade options, his name is going to come up. It doesn’t mean the B’s are shopping him, but it also does not mean the team refuses to consider moving him if the return is right. Besides, relax guys- reports are that the Boston GM has politely but firmly rebuffed the Carlo ask thus far- we don’t expect he’s going anywhere…for now.
Underrated: Jeremy Lauzon
Since the days when Adam McQuaid displaced 2003 1st-rounder Mark Stuart on the Boston roster because his cap hit (at the time) was significantly lower, the Bruins have done a nice job of finding bargain defenders who come in and round out the club’s blue line depth at a low rate, while working their way up in the lineup. Lauzon is the latest ‘D’ to step into the breach, as the 2015 2nd-rounder is a hard-nosed, tough-to-play against type who moves well and has made some skill plays against the backdrop of a modest offensive output. No, he’s not 6-5 like Carlo is, but at some point, if the latter prices himself out of feasibility for the B’s, Lauzon is a player who could come in and assume a similar defensive role. Granted- Carlo is a right-shot and Lauzon is a lefty, but we’ve seen him play on the right side in the past and he’s capable of doing it, even if many coaches prefer to build L-R defensive pairings. Lauzon’s pro production is comparable to that of Carlo, and he comes in at a fraction of the cost. You obviously want to keep both in the lineup, but that’s going to be up to the guy who’s making almost $3M now and will probably be looking for $4.5-5 on his next deal in 2021. Besides, if you’re not crazy about Lauzon being up to the task, don’t forget Connor Clifton, who doesn’t have Carlo’s pure size or shutdown ability, but can fly and plays with real jam. And…he’s a righty.
Overrated: Jake DeBrusk
Look, when he’s on his game and scoring, everyone loves DeBrusk- he plays with a speed and infectious energy that is easy to fall in love with. And there is no denying that he’s scored some pretty big goals for the B’s since he broke in as a full-time player in 2017-18. However, he’s proving to be a streaky scorer and the simple question we would pose to those who don’t agree that he’s overrated is: when he isn’t scoring, what exactly is he doing out there? It’s an old hockey coach’s saw that if a player’s scoring touch dries up, then the one-dimensional guys will be the first to take a seat and ride the pine if they don’t bring something else to the table. This is why players like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are so valuable (and are paid accordingly)- they make an important impact when they aren’t generating offense. Even the most ardent DeBrusk supporter would have a hard time denying that you have to look for him when he’s not scoring (unless they’re a little deluded, that is). So, JDB has got to find a way to expand his game and bring more value to the table when he’s not scoring goals off the rush…especially if he wants to get paid.
Underrated: Cameron Hughes
We think that the B’s are wasting the window of opportunity with Hughes by keeping him at center where there is a logjam and would be much better suited to trying him at wing, where he could use his speed and creativity to generate scoring at a bargain rate. Always smallish, slight and lacking in strength going back to his days with the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints and in the NCAA, the team knew it would be a longer process to get Hughes into the NHL, but he’s been pretty effective in the AHL thus far since turning pro out of the University of Wisconsin in 2018. Hughes isn’t a volume producer offensively, but he’s tallied some pretty unreal goals over the years, and it’s much easier to take a center and make him a wing versus the other way around. With another year on a deal that pays him under $800k, why not try him in the big lineup and see what happens?
Overrated: Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak
$9.25M invested in goaltending should give you more than the Bruins got in the 2020 playoffs.
We know that both can play, but with the way things went with Rask, can the team trust him to be there when they need him? And Halak, as valiant an effort as he gave, simply wasn’t good enough to make a difference against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
It’s a lot of coin to have tied up in goaltending, and the Bruins are right to expect a better ROI. This is why no one should be surprised that trade rumors are starting to pick up around Rask. You can be opposed to the idea of moving him, but given that he’s in the final year of his contract, plus a track record of leaving the team and/or not being available at times, there should not be any kind of shock that his name is coming up at this stage.
Underrated: Jeremy Swayman
Give him some time, and a longer-term solution for the Bruins might be in house.
It would be foolish and unrealistic to think he can come in and challenge for a spot in Boston right away, but his NHL debut may not be that far away and if we’ve learned anything about the NCAA’s top goaltender, he has a proven record of performance at every level thus far, and should make a quick transition to the AHL.
Boston probably needs a temporary bridge in net this year and maybe next if they end up moving on from Rask, but Swayman is a player who should be closely watched going forward, along with dark horse prospect Kyle Keyser.
The Boston Bruins season didn’t end as they or their fans had hoped it would when the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Bruins in 5 games in the second round of the NHL Playoffs. Since then, we’ve heard President Cam Neely and General Manager Don Sweeney talk about “change”. We’ve heard Zdeno Chara speak about wanting to return for the 2020-2021 season. And of course, there are the few words spoken from both sides of the Torey Krug situation.
Depending on where you look (and it’s more about the rosters that different cap sites use) the Bruins have around $15.5 million in cap space to use this offseason. That’s around the 10th most in the league so, there is an opportunity for some movement there.
The Bruins were charged with a performance bonus overage of $1,928,445 in which they can take the cap hit entirely during the 2020-2021 season or split it over 2 seasons. For this conversation we have chosen the latter.
Below you will see our roster comprised of players under contract, restricted free agents and players that will require waivers to be sent to the AHL or other leagues. Some of you will certainly ask “where is KarsonKuhlman?” (much to the chagrin of my fellow Amigos, he is absent). Well Kuhlman does not require waivers, that is until he plays 11 more NHL games, so it is likely he will begin the season in Providence (or elsewhere depending on which leagues will be paying).
Our roster also doesn’t include Chara, Krug or JoakimNordstrom, all unrestricted free agents. (We don’t believe Nordstrom will be offered a contract to return).
If both Chara and Krug return, it will almost certainly cost the Bruins over 50% of the cap space they have today. That will also mean that they would have to loan two bodies to other leagues to get down to the 23-man roster. That would leave the Bruins somewhere between $5 million and $8 million to sign RFA’s Jake DeBrusk, Jakub Zboril, Matt Grzelcyk and Zach Senyshyn. That’s certainly do-able, but leaves little to no room to improve on the forward group.
If only Chara were to return, that may paint a rosier picture as they would have in the $14 million range to sign the RFA’s and fill that green square next to CharlieMcAvoy as Chara’s days there should be over and to improve on the forward group.
It is imperative that the Bruins find a way to move out JohnMoore and his $2,750,00 cap hit as ConnorClifton and JeremyLauzon have shown they are ready to play bigger roles on the backend. Not to mention that it may be time to see if Zboril can play, even in a bottom pairing role. In the end, the extra $2.75 million can only help in improving the squad overall.
Then there is NickRitchie and his $1,498,925 cap hit and what to do if he is not able to break the lineup next season or has not taken the necessary steps to do so. The obvious answer would be to loan him to another league and save $1,125,000 of his cap hit. (This is an increase from last season because of the increase to the minimum league salary to $750,000. (Minimum league salary plus $375,000 is the new cap relief). This would put the Ritchie cap hit at $373,925 while costing the team $2 million in real dollars – his salary for 2020-2021.
What might make more sense for the Bruins in terms of both real dollars and in cap hit is a buyout. But because the buyout window is not yet confirmed, the Bruins would have to make a premature decision on Ritchie.
Why might it make sense?
CapFriendly and its buyout calculator will explain. Because Ritchie is under 26 and only 1/3 of his remaining salary would have to be paid, the Bruins would only have to pay $666,667 in real money. Where it gets a little complicated is the cap hit, which would be spread out over two seasons. Next season, the Bruins would receive a credit of $167,742 and a cap hit of $333,333 in 2021-2022.
Effectively what this does is removes Ritchie’s cap hit for 2020-2021 and gives them a small credit to use towards the bonus overage incurred. In other words, $1,666,667 more cap flexibility next season for a cap hit of $333,333 in 2021-2022.
Then there is the situation surrounding TuukkaRask. Others have called it a dilemma. There are conversations among fans and media about retirement. There are many that believe the Bruins should trade him.
Certainly, any team would welcome $7 million in cap space, but in this case the Bruins would have to find another goaltender capable of carrying the load as the number one goaltender, and what is that going to cost? And if you trade him, what are you bringing back in salary and how much are you going to spend on a replacement netminder? Until Rask and the Bruins come to a decision, this is just all moot right now.
We’ve seen how performance bonuses can affect the cap. Let’s turn our attention to Rask’s partner, JaroslavHalak. The Bruins 1-B netminder is set to earn $1,750,000 in salary for next season with a $500,000 signing bonus for a cap hit of $2,250,000. Halak is scheduled to earn a performance bonus of $1,250,000 for playing in 10 games, a bonus he will surely attain barring a season ending injury early on. The Bruins should and probably will keep an eye on that as to not have a bonus overage for 2021-2022.
No one knows for sure whether Sweeney will turn to the free agent market or go the trade route, although he is talking to other teams. He could use both options and still infuse some youth from within, for instance, TrentFrederic centering the 4th line over ParLindholm. JackStudnicka also showed these playoffs that he’s about ready to make a push for a roster spot.
There is certainly room for maneuvering and this should prove to be Sweeney’s most active offseason since 2015.
Not much else to be said after the Boston Bruins dropped back-to-back games to the Tampa Bay Lightning to fall behind in the series 2 games to 1.
Jaroslav Halak wasn’t great in Game 2, and was downright brutal in Game 3, getting the hook after four goals allowed.
But he had a lot of help- the team could have won Game 2, but squandered the opportunity and then was listless, with no push in Game 3, especially when falling behind early.
Sure, the on-ice officials certainly didn’t help matters with a ticky-tack call that led to a power play goal head coach Bruce Cassidy called out after the game. Then there was the egregious interference by the linesman on Jeremy Lauzon at the defensive blue line which led to another goal.
The Bruins just couldn’t get out of first gear, and Dan Vladar’s NHL debut in relief of Halak looked more like Malcolm Subban’s first taste of big league action as the team did very little in front of him and the ‘Bolts’ goals kept piling up.
The Boston PK needs help- it is too passive and the goaltending hasn’t helped, but the series will be over quickly if the B’s don’t A. find a way to stay out of the box, and B. employ a more aggressive scheme to disrupt and prevent Tampa from setting up- their offensive shooters are killing it. And, this is a team that doesn’t have Steven Stamkos in the lineup, either.
Boston needs to find a way to slow down Tampa’s speed game through the neutral zone and must get a better performance from the defense, which has been far too loose and ineffective in the last several games, including the third period of Game 1.
It’s just a 2-1 deficit but given the way the last two games have gone, it seems like much worse of a situation for the B’s. It’s time to see what the team can do to respond. Perhaps putting sparkplug Karson Kuhlman into the lineup and bringing Connor Clifton will give them some needed juice.
Matt Grzelcyk was Boston’s third-round selection at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. (Kirk Luedeke photo)
We’re back with notes and thoughts on the defensemen on the Boston Bruins playoff roster.
Practices are back underway and we’re getting input from multiple sources in attendance, plus our own analysis and even gut feelings about how things will play out when the round robin commences against Philadelphia on August 2.
We’ll continue with a look at the forwards tomorrow. -KL
Brandon Carlo- The first of three second-round picks in the 2015 draft is the most accomplished, having broken into the NHL at the tender age of 19 and now established as a proven defender with size, mobility and reach to keep opponents away from the prime scoring areas. The Colorado native keeps it simple, and he’ll never be a threat to the memory of Bobby Orr, but he’s highly effective and trusted in key defensive situations. He suffered a concussion just before the season got paused, so the B’s are getting Carlo when he’s healthy and clear-headed.
Help coming in the form of Brandon Carlo? Might be too much, too soon (Kirk Luedeke photo)
Zdeno Chara- Entering his 11th playoff season with the Bruins (he’s missed the dance just 3 times since he signed 14 years ago: 2007, 2015 and 2016), the captain is long in the tooth at age 43, but the time off just may have done wonders for his ageless machine. Always in tip-top shape, Chara is not dealing with the typical fatigue and body challenges that he faces as the league’s elder statesman. Now, the future Hall of Famer enters his 15th postseason, he’s rested and will likely have much more jump in his legs than we’re used to seeing each spring.
Even though he’s nowhere near the two-way defender he was in his prime and even 2013, when he established a career-best 15 postseason points at age 36, Chara’s experience, leadership and hardcore mindset make him an important asset for Boston’s blue line.
Connor Clifton- The 25-year old Arizona castoff who emerged a year ago in Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup final played in just 31 regular season games as he battled injuries, but he plays with speed, pace and bite. Although he’s under 6-foot in height, he’s always been a physical defender at every level, looking to level kill shots in open ice and playing like he was born with a chip on his shoulder. Because of his style and lack of natural size/thickness, he’s going to spend time on the IR, but Clifton provides superb depth for the B’s, and come playoff time, he elevates his game as his hypercompetitive drive kicks into high gear.
Matt Grzelcyk- Coming off a career-high 68 regular season games and 21 points, the Charlestown native and former Belmont Hill and BU star keeps getting better in the NHL. Always an elite skater, he’s gotten more adept at using his speed and smarts defensively, while building on his natural strength of moving pucks quickly out of his own end and being a big boon to the transition game. Grzelcyk has proven himself as a smaller D who provides a different dimension than Torey Krug does for the club, but the two have opened a lot of eyes around the league about the effectiveness they bring while not being carbon copies of one another. Grzelcyk’s success and emergence make him a potential expansion draft casualty a year from now, but after a solid 2019 postseason, he’s primed to have another big spring.
NEW YORK, NY – MAY 23: Torey Krug #47 of the Boston Bruins looks on against the New York Rangers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 23, 2013 in New York City. The Rangers won 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Torey Krug- He would’ve been one of the big free agent prizes on July 1st, but the Bruins still have No. 47 on the roster for one more run after he came up short (no pun intended) in two final series appearances as a rookie in 2013 and a year ago. A badger on skates, Krug was denied a fourth consecutive 50+ point season with the pause, but with 49 in 61 games is still one of the top offensive blue liners in pro hockey and a registered lethal weapon with the man advantage. He’s got a cannon of a shot and always has his head up, looking to thread pucks through traffic to teammates in prime scoring areas. It has become vogue to knock Krug’s defensive play, but that’s a lazy argument that does not take into account his experience or smart stick and genuine drive to prove the doubters wrong. True, he won’t match up 1-on-1 the way his D partner Carlo does, but the beauty of it is- he doesn’t have to.
There’s a lot of talk that Krug won’t be wearing a spoked B when the next season kicks off, but for now- he’s fully on board for one last hurrah if that’s what it will be. Those of us who have watched him flourish and grow after being the best college free agent signing of the decade eight years ago tend to believe that the B’s will find a way to bring him back into the fold, but if it is not to be, then Krug will be at his best for this playoffs.
Jeremy Lauzon- One of two defenders drafted in 2015’s second round (Carlo), Lauzon is on the verge of stepping out and into a full-time NHL role going forward. He has been paired with Grzelcyk on the team’s second day of return to play camp, and he’s a good partner for the smaller, more fleet-of-foot veteran. Lauzon can skate and defend and embraces the physical side of things, though he’s not as mobile or skilled as Grzelcyk. He can move pucks effectively enough, but has enough jam to balance the pairing.
Lauzon isn’t going to put up a lot of points, but he’s a smart, capable player who is versatile enough to chip in with a timely goal or assist, but is more valuable as a hard-to-play against defender who led the 2015-16 Rouyn-Noranda Huskies to a .776 regular season winning percentage and captured the QMJHL championship and a Memorial Cup run. He’s a winner.
Charlie McAvoy- Okay, we’re just going to say it: McAvoy is Boston’s best defenseman. He might not be that guy fully completely (to coin a phrase from the Tragically Hip- RIP Gord Downie) but he’s getting there fast. Granted, the critics- and there are a few out there- will point to McAvoy’s lack of high-end production, low contribution to the PP and turnovers as reasons that he’s not a top NHL defender, but we disagree. At age 22, McAvoy is far from a finished product, and we have 100% confidence that he will develop into a franchise cornerstone in the not very distant future. He’s no Ray Bourque, but in the modern age of hockey, he’s a perfect fit as a top 2-way defender because he can motor, has excellent vision but most importantly- has the aggressive mindset to make plays at both ends of the rink. Yes, he’ll push the envelope at times and turn pucks over, but coaches would much rather tame a wild colt than try to paint stripes on a pussycat. McAvoy is a tiger and we think he’s the one x factor on this blue line who could emerge in dramatic fashion this spring.
He’s the one the Bruins are going to have to invest in when his contract is up and he’ll be worth it. The fun part will be in watching him get there, and we’ll all have to take the good with the bad. The good will far outweigh the negatives- we’re positive that’s true. He does so many of the things you just can’t teach, and when you watch the dynamic plays he makes out there that may not look like much at first glance, you realize the B’s have something special on their hands. Brilliant pick at 14th- he’s so much better than most thought he’d be and the best part of all is that he’s only getting better.
John Moore- It’s been a tough couple of seasons for the player the B’s signed at term (five years) and value ($2.75M cap hit) to perhaps mitigate future losses to expansion while rolling the dice on him hitting an extra gear as he entered his prime. So far, that plan has not come to fruition. The former 21st overall pick in 2009 is already with his fifth NHL team and is one of those players who typically gets traded a lot over the course of a pro career: he brings enough value to be wanted, but isn’t impactful enough to be a core guy who establishes himself in one location. He played his best hockey with the moribund New Jersey Devils before signing- a good player on a bad team. Since signing in Boston, Moore hasn’t been able to carve a niche for himself on the B’s blue line and had an injury-plagued 19-20 campaign. He’s good depth at this point, but with his cap hit and others at much lower cap figures like Clifton and Lauzon on the roster, Moore’s future with the B’s is uncertain.
Urho Vaakanainen- The first-round pick in 2017 didn’t have the greatest season in Providence, but will benefit from being around the team for the playoffs and practicing/being immersed in the culture. A mobile, defense-first player, he’s more of a high-floor type, and hopefully, he can overcome the setbacks of an elbow to the face by Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki in 2018-19, and a lackluster 2019-20 campaign to take steps forward in his third North American pro season. It will be interesting to compare his poise and presence at the practices with that of fellow rookie Jakub Zboril.
Jakub Zboril- Boston’s first selection in 2015 has been passed by Carlo and Lauzon, but we’re still holding out hope that he can make the Boston roster in 20-21. With his size and skill package, Zboril is coming off of his most consistent and successful AHL season with Providence. Being around the Bruins as a black ace and extra will set the conditions for him to finally take that next step, but if not, there is probably another team out there willing to give him a shot. Still, given Boston’s time, energy and patience invested, we’d like to see it work out with Zboril in the Black and Gold. He’s not the player they hoped for, but he can still be a serviceable depth guy.