Dominic Tiano: The Dollars and Sense of the Boston Bruins Offseason

Guest post by Dominic Tiano

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 Karson Kuhlman?” (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 Joakim Nordstrom, 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 Charlie McAvoy 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 John Moore and his $2,750,00 cap hit as Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon 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 Nick Ritchie 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 Tuukka Rask. 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, Jaroslav Halak. 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, Trent Frederic centering the 4th line over Par Lindholm. Jack Studnicka 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.

Dominic Tiano: Torey Krug- the Wonder of You

Torey-Krug-1

Posted by Dominic Tiano

No, we’re not talking about the 1970 hit by Elvis Presley. We’re talking about Boston Bruins defenceman Torey Krug, otherwise known to hockey diehards as TK47.

Sports, like the rest of the world, is in a period like we’ve never seen before because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The NHL is facing question after question about how they are going to return to the days that saw record revenues for the league and record salaries for the players.

Luckily, the NHL and the Players Association have reached an agreement on a new CBA that will ensure financial stability for the next six years. Krug is set to become an unrestricted free agent once the Stanley Cup is awarded, and for him and others on expiring contracts, everyone is wondering what kind of deal he could get from the Bruins or the open market because of the flat cap negotiated by the league and the players.

There is a growing theme on social media, and that is: TK47 has taken team friendly deals in the past and now is the time to get paid.

Well, that is not entirely true, although it would appear that way.

TK47 signed his first NHL contract on March 25, 2012 for the maximum allowable under the CBA. Furthermore, he had the ability to attain over $2.3 million in performance bonuses over the three-year life of the contract. While it’s almost common practice nowadays with NCAA free agents, TK47 was one of the first to be allowed to “burn a year” off his deal.  That is the price the Bruins had to pay to get TK47 to put pen to paper, but it’s certainly not team friendly.

TK47 signed his second deal on October 5, 2014. At the time, the Bruins were having cap issues and Krug signed a one-year deal for $900,000 in base salary with a half-million dollar signing bonus for a cap hit of $1.4 million. But was it a team friendly deal or market value?

At that point TK47 had played in 82 games and recording 42 points. He was paid more then other defencemen that signed deals that summer such as: David Savard ($1.3 million, 105 GP, 25 pts), Sami Vatanen ($1.262 million, 56 GP, 23 pts), Mattias Ekholm ($1.037 million, 65 GP, 9 pts). The major difference between TK47 and these three is that Krug’s deal was for one year while theirs was for two, allowing Krug to reach a bigger payday one year prior to them.

The 2014 offseason saw Krug sign the fifth highest deal among defencemen in his age group of the over 25 defenders to sign deals.

Krug’s current deal was signed on June 30, 2016 and was a 4-year deal with an AAV of $5.25 million. Does that seem undervalued today? Sure. Was it when he signed and was it team friendly? You be the judge. As of today, Krug has appeared in 241 NHL games with 125 points.

That same summer, Hampus Lindholm (236 GP, 92 pts) signed for the same AAV, but for 6 years. Tyson Barrie (264 GP 153 pts) signed for the same 4 years at 250K more. Vatanen (194 GP, 98 pts) signed for 4 years as well at 400K less then Krug. Seth Jones (240 GP, 83 pts) signed for 6 years and a $5.4 AAV.

It would appear that Krug is paid on par with some of the other defenders when he signs his deals, and in most cases, his contract expires earlier allowing him for a bigger deal before the others. Can we really consider them team friendly deals that he has signed to date?

Sure, there are contracts out there that are bigger, but some of them are deemed mistakes. Hello P.K. Subban? Was Subban ever a $9 million a year defenceman? Sure. Is he one today? Probably not. But both NHL General Managers and yes, even agents, overlook those deals that are above market value.

So, what is TK47’s worth? Good question.

Is he worth more than Josh Morrisey, who signed for an AAV of $6.25 million in 2019? Yes. Is he worth more then the $8 million AAV given to Jacob Trouba or more then the $8 million per year Thomas Chabot receives after signing his deal a year ago? You could make an argument in both cases, but the difference is Krug will be on the wrong side of 30 in the first year of his next deal while those three are 25 and under.

According to CapFriendly, the Bruins have $16,359,409 in cap space for next season (barring any bonus overages still yet to be determined) and with Anders Bjork signing his new deal for three years have Jake DeBrusk, Zdeno Chara Matt Grzelcyk and Joakim Nordstrom [I don’t expect an extension here] remaining to be signed and a full roster.

Is $16 million enough to ink the four, including Krug? It certainly is.

I don’t believe this is going to come down to dollars, but term and I have made no secret about it for several months. TK47 probably wants this to be his last contract and wants term at close to market value. At the same time, I would think the Bruins are not interested in a 7-year deal at which time Krug will be 36 going on 37 in the final year. You have to also believe that there is a GM out there that is willing to throw out a 7-year deal without thinking. We’ve seen it too many times in the NHL and they can’t save themselves from themselves.

Will the Bruins and Krug be able to find a middle ground? As mentioned earlier, this is a different world and there are new negotiating tactics both sides could use. One of those tactics is backloading deals. (we are all to familiar with front-loaded deals). Because of the limits placed on escrow in the new CBA, it benefits the player to be paid more in the latter years of his deal then at the beginning because they pay less in escrow – meaning more money in their pockets. And the Bruins could use that tactic to entice TK47.

There is a lot of speculating out there but the truth is only the Bruins and Krug know how this is going to end. The only thing we know for certain is that Krug is on a mission to win a Stanley Cup after two failed Final series appearances.

Torey Krug should do what he believes is best for he and his family and no ill-will should be held against him if he chooses to move on. He’s bled black and gold through 7 full seasons with the Bruins and he has earned the right to do what he thinks is best. We should be thankful we had the opportunity to watch him pull on the Bruins jersey and every last fan should wish him nothing but the best if he moves on (except against the Bruins of course).

If he chooses to stay, then viva Torey Krug!

Torey Krug 12-13 Playoffs Away Back

 

 

Bruins Playoff Roster Quick Hits: Defense

Grizzy draft

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.

Carlo

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.

Boston Bruins v New York Rangers - Game Four

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.

McAvoy2

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.

 

Dominic Tiano: How the new NHL CBA affects the Bruins

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

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

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

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

Minimum Salary

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

35+ Contracts

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

NTC/NMC Trades

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

Arbitration

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

Conditional Draft Picks

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

Free Agent Interviews

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

10% Salary Deferred

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

Front Loaded Deals

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

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

European Waivers

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

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

B’s sign Berglund to ELC

Berglund

The Boston Bruins have signed Swedish defenseman Victor Berglund to a three-year, two-way entry-level contract at an annual value of $818.3k in the NHL.

The news, which broke Monday evening on social media, means that the 7th round (195th overall) selection from the 2017 NHL Entry Draft is in the fold after spending the last two seasons playing in Sweden’s second pro league (Allsvenskan) with MoDo. He had signed with Lulea for the 20-21 season, which would have been a step up in the SHL, his country’s top pro league, but the signing means he will bring his talents over to North America.

We recently ranked Berglund 6th among Boston defense prospects in our 2020 pre-draft rankings, and 3 Amigo Reed Duthie posted this excellent analysis of what he brings to the table.

Here are a few additional notes and observations on a player who was a virtual unknown when the B’s drafted him late in Chicago three years ago, but has taken positive strides in his development since as a player former Bruin and current team European amateur scout PJ Axelsson had a major hand in.

What this means: Boston is putting the depth pieces in place for the upcoming 2020-21 hockey season. Berglund should be given every opportunity to spend his first full year in North America with the Providence Bruins of the AHL. He’s coming from a lower level of play in Sweden, however, so it’s not a given that he’ll be an AHL regular- we could see that he might see some time between Providence and Boston’s ECHL affiliate Atlanta Gladiators.  However, with his pro experience to date and sublime wheels and solid puck-moving ability, our money is on him being with Providence. After all- he played 4 regular season games a year ago with the Baby B’s to close out the 2019 regular season and didn’t look at all out of place there as an 19-year-old.

Don’t be surprised if: Berglund plays NHL games sooner rather than later. We don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but one thing that plays in the 20-year-old’s favor is that he’s a right-shot D, and the B’s don’t have many of those in their system right now, with the majority being left-shot types. For some, playing either the left or right side isn’t an issue, but that is not always the case. If the B’s run into some injury problems with their righties, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Berglund get a recall to see what he can do. His rookie NA year might be a tad early, but we never say never.

Realistically speaking: If he makes the NHL at some point, it may be more as a role player. What’s interesting is that he fit a specific Boston archetype for what they like on the back end: outstanding mobility, puck skills and vision/IQ in spades. He’s not very big- an average-sized 6-foot in height (if that), but if we’ve learned anything from this club in the past three decades, the B’s aren’t afraid to give smallish blue liners an opportunity- just as long as they can skate and think it, and Berglund certainly fits the bill.

With Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk currently entrenched on the Boston roster, they are proof that the team isn’t averse to having more than one smaller defender on the club- it all comes down to whether the player can execute within the system and produce.

We think Berglund has a shot at doing that- someday, someway.

 

Off the top of the head: Jakub Zboril

Jakub Zboril, D

6’/201

Boston’s 1st choice, 13th overall in 2015 NHL Entry Draft

Current Team: Providence Bruins (AHL)

Previous Team: Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

Strengths: Outstanding, NHL-caliber skater with speed, balance, agility; can get off the mark quickly, has a powerful glide and exhibits nifty foot work to change direction efficiently. Good puckhandler who can make the first pass and uses his feet and stick to break pucks out of his own end consistently. Hard shot- a missile that he can drive from the point through traffic on net. Enjoys the physical aspect of his position: engages with opposing puck carriers and will put his body through their hands to disrupt the rush. A willing hitter who opened eyes in his draft season for his embrace of physicality, and as he gains experience, is getting smarter and more effective in his ability to end plays along the walls.

Weaknesses: Vision/hockey instincts are pretty average; doesn’t always make the right reads/decisions and not an overly creative puck distributor. Play away from puck is a continued work in progress; still developing 360-degree awareness and d-zone coverages to prevent opponents from finding soft seams and exploiting time/space.

Overall analysis: Boston’s top pick five years ago has been slow to develop and might not ever get there (at least with the organization that drafted him), which makes him one of the more polarizing prospects in the system. Like others who have come before him and those who will surely follow, he is a victim more of expectations than out of a failure to perform. While his development has not been as rapid as other 2015 peers who were chosen after he was, Zboril has taken positive steps, even if he’s been unable to do more than play sparingly in just two NHL games with the B’s.

As part of a very strong draft class, Zboril was solidly in the second tier of defensemen available after Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski, all of whom were drafted in the first eight selections and have gone on to become established NHL players. Zboril’s junior teammate, Thomas Chabot, was drafted five spots later at 18th overall, and has emerged as a top tier player, which has added to the disappointment of a slow development process in Providence.

Luckily for the Bruins, Brandon Carlo is the defender from the 2015 draft who has been able to become a staple supporting cast member, and while Zboril doesn’t have Carlo’s size, he’s more of a 2-way threat and hybrid style player that it is hard to account for why things have not come together for him. The irony in the criticism Zboril gets on Internet message boards and Twitter is that at the time he was drafted, he was the one player of Boston’s three first-round selections at 13-15 who was the accepted commodity at his draft slot, while Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn were the players who raised the most controversy given where they were projected.

Five years later, it is obvious that Boston should have gotten more production out of those three selections, with only DeBrusk currently a full-time roster player, while others selected after 15 have gone on to become stars. Having said that, Zboril just turned 23 in February- he has time to establish himself as an NHL player with the B’s, even if time is running out. He just played out the third year of his entry-level contract, and should receive a qualifying offer. He’s been consistent in Providence- posting 19 points in each of his three AHL seasons. The offensive production that looked to translate from junior play probably isn’t going to be there, but he’s shown improvement as a defender since turning pro, and he can leverage that into a decent NHL role in the right situation.

Projection: The days of projecting the left-shot Zboril as a top-3 NHL D are long over, but barring some kind of miracle, he has the tools to be a solid 5/6/7 and role player at the top level. Granted, that’s not going to make many celebrate him given who Boston could’ve had at 13, but he still has it in him to establish himself in the NHL as a solid complementary/depth player who could enhance any defense with his mobility and skills.

His playing style and game reminds us of another heralded junior defenseman who put up points and was expected to be a 2-way NHL star. After being a top-10 pick in his first draft, Nick Boynton had to reinvent himself as more of a defense-first, supporting D, going on to play more than 600 NHL games and raising the Stanley Cup at the end of his career with the Chicago Blackhawks. We’re not saying Zboril is the next Boynton, but there are some similarities here, and at age 23, he’s far from washed up- Boynton was 22 when he finally cracked Boston’s lineup to stay. For a more modern example, Matt Grzelcyk was 23 when he became an NHL regular, but he did it after playing just one full season of pro in the AHL before making the jump to Boston to stay.

Right now- Zboril is at a personal and professional crossroads: can he finally make the cut in his fourth season, or will he go back down to the AHL, and essentially see the window close on a possible Bruins career? When you look at his physical gifts and playing style, there isn’t any clear explanation for why Zboril has failed to develop into an every day NHL player by now, but nevertheless, this is where we are.

At the very least, he’s shown improvement in each of his three seasons, so he’s got a chance to make it in year four- he can absolutely skate, pass and shoot- if he can put it all together, the ability is there to be a player in the NHL.

 

SportsNet pre-draft clip of Zboril- “expected to go in the middle of the first round”- yes, that was the projection, and that’s where he went.

 

TSP friend Anthony Kwetkowski/Bruins Network is a believer in Zboril, and talked about him at length in arecent podcast at around the 1:07:45 mark. Here’s a video interview he did with him last season:

 

 

Off the top of the head: Jack Ahcan

Continuing the Bruins prospect series where we do quick break downs on players based on what we know about them through viewings and have read recently- not a comprehensive deep-dive but just enough information to get the conversation started.

Jack Ahcan, LD

Undrafted; Signed 2-year ELC; March 2020

Current team: TBD (Providence Bruins AHL- expected)

Previous team: St. Cloud State Huskies (NCHC)

Strengths: Outstanding skater; dynamic speed, small-area burst/first-steps, straight-line speed and superior edgework and agility. 4.5/5 out of 5 skater. Very good puck skills; can skate pucks out of danger on his own or hit any range of passes to kickstart the transition game into high gear. Good vision and hockey sense; can anticipate/read/react to help him defend or distribute pucks when he joins the rush or runs the PP. Activates at the right times. Good stick. Leader- was team captain as a senior and plays with pace and jam- a little engine that could type.

Weaknesses: Undersized; will have to be smart in how he plays the position/employs his stick- won’t be able to match up physically with most of the players he’ll find himself in 1-on-1 battles with. Shot is an area for improvement- release is quick/snaps off his stick and is accurate/low for net-front tips and deflections, but power/velocity is a work in progress.

Overall analysis: A coup for Boston- he probably should have been drafted at some point, so the Bruins did very well to sign him away from teams like Colorado. The Avalanche had an inside track due to his attendance of their development camp/previous relationship. Boston employed team effort approach, leveraging multiple connections in Minnesota (Player development director Jamie Langenbrunner) and their NCAA scouting staff (Scott Fitzgerald, Brett Harkins), a scout with junior coaching connections (Doug Leaverton) and players (Charlie McAvoy– WJC roommate and Tuukka Rask– same player agency) to land their target. Ahcan may not have size, but he brings all the attributes NHL teams desire in smaller players, regardless of position. He’s fast, skilled, smart and competitive- don’t be surprised if Ahcan is playing games in Boston at some point this season.

Projection: Smart signing that serves as a hedge as Torey Krug’s potential unrestricted free agency draws closer and the expansion draft looms a little further in the distance. The Bruins could lose a good, young D in the expansion draft, so bringing in a player like Ahcan helps to shore up the organizational depth to help guard against that. The inevitable comparisons to Krug, Matt Grzelcyk and other smallish D around the NHL is inevitable, but Ahcan’s all-around body of work (he was USHL defenseman of the year, was a member of the USA gold medal-winning 2017 World Jr. team, received numerous NCHC honors) and his skill set, along with work ethic and leadership intangibles, make him an impressive add given his status as a UDFA.

Watch for him to start out in Providence of the AHL, where he’ll get a chance to earn a significant slice of playing time and special teams play. As an NHL D, his ceiling could be as a solid 3/4 and PP contributor. He’ll have to overcome the stigma associated with being on the smaller side and being undrafted to boot- much like Krug has had to do (and let’s face it- some fans have never gotten on board with No. 47), but when you talk about the hackneyed word (at least in scouting parlance) upside, Ahcan has it.

Here’s a dated profile from his freshman season and also interviewed is then-SCSU (and USA WJC coach) Bob Motzko

 

Ask the Amigos: Quarantine Podcast 2020

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Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Dom, Reed and Kirk got together for a 3 Amigos reunion, making sure to practice social distancing in the process.

We’ve got more than 2 hours of (mostly) hockey talk, breaking down questions that readers submitted. A lot of it centers around uncertainty around David Krejci and Torey Krug going forward, Jack Studnicka’s promising early returns, and a look at how expansion might impact the NHL and Boston Bruins in 2021.

We recorded the audio before news of the Jack Ahcan signing broke, so we don’t have anything on the newest free agent signing for the B’s, but you can check out the quick-hitter we posted on him here yesterday on the blog.

So, let’s go- here’s the audio file. We’ve also posted it over at SoundCloud so that you can listen on the go…

SoundCloud download:

Report: St. Cloud D Jack Ahcan signs with B’s

Per award-winning NCAA beat writer Brad Schlossman/Grand Forks Herald (and retweeted by Elliotte Friedman), St. Cloud State Huskies senior defenseman Jack Ahcan is signing with the Boston Bruins after a superb college career. The signing is for a reportedly two years.

Although small in stature, Ahcan (uh-SHAWN) plays a big game: he’s explosive and dynamic on his skates- able to play with a lot of pace and has real skill from the back end to move pucks, along with some jam for one who is around 5’8″. He’s highly capable on special teams and has a little bit of both Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk to his game. His style also reminds of Los Angeles Kings rookie Mikey Anderson. If you’re going to be an undersized D in pro hockey, then you need the kind of attributes he possesses.

Don Sweeney and company are doing this less than a week after signing fellow undrafted NCHC standout  6-5 hard-nosed D Nick Wolff– some thunder to Ahcan’s lightning. Oh yeah- and like Wolff- he wore the ‘C’

Scott Fitzgerald, who handles a lot of the NCAA work for the B’s, and amateur scout Doug Leaverton, who was Ahcan’s assistant coach with the USHL’s Cedar Rapids Rough Riders in 2015-16, are likely key behind the scenes players to getting this done. He previously attended Columbus, L.A. Kings and Colorado development camps, so there was undoubtedly some interest around the NHL for him. (Edit- Big assist to Charlie McAvoy as well, per Mick Hatten in TheRinkLive.com. McAvoy and Ahcan were teammates/roommates on the USA WJC gold medal-winning squad in 2017- McAvoy apparently was key in selling the St. Cloud d-man on choosing Boston over Denver.)

We’ll break some film down on him and give a more detailed analysis in a bit, but for now, this is one more sign that the B’s aren’t resting on their laurels and with NHL expansion looming/another draft a year-plus from now, it makes sense to hedge the bets and infuse the organization with some flexibility to offset what is sure to be a good player heading to Seattle. (We talk about that on the upcoming 3 Amigos podcast)

 

Best and Worst Bruins Draft Picks 1-30; 1963-2019

Thornton

I recently posted this to the Bruins sub-Reddit- and thought it deserved a place on my blog.

Took a swing at the Boston Bruins historical draft choices, analyzing the team’s selections since the NHL implemented a rudimentary draft system 56 years ago. Bear in mind that in the pre-1969 years, the draft was different- starting in 1963 thru 1978 it was called the amateur draft before changing to the NHL Entry Draft in 1979 when the teams were allowed to draft 18-year-olds. With fewer teams in the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s, selections outside of 10-20 were 2nd round or later, but for purpose of exercise, I’m going to look at picks 1-30 and call it like I see it.

I’m bucking convention by starting out with 1st overall and work up to 30- in a lot of cases, the early selections for the B’s have not been kind, but in full context- most of the time the team was picking 3-7, it came in the days before the current draft system. And because the B’s had made the playoffs from 1968-97, unless they owned bad teams’ 1st rounders, they rarely got a chance to pick inside the top-10 during that time frame.

1- Best: Joe Thornton, 1997: 1st ballot HHOFer- nuf ced; Trading him opened the door for Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard to join the B’s in 2006, but he’s been everything Jumbo Joe was projected to be as a teen titan with the Soo Greyhounds in 1997. He just turned 40 in July, which, given the shaggy, golden-locked kid who showed up in Boston 22 years ago at not quite 18, seems impossible to square with the grizzled graybeard who has been with the San Jose Sharks for nearly a decade and a half.

Worst: Barry Gibbs, 1966: Journeyman defenseman. He at least played in the NHL to the tune of 796 career games, most of them not with the Bruins. However, Gibbs leads the No. 1 overall bust hit parade not because of what he did, but because of the player who was selected right behind him at No. 2 in ’66 by the NY Rangers. Wait for it…Brad Park. Can you imagine Bobby Orr and Brad Park together on the Boston blue line? It actually happened for a handful of games right before Orr left for the Windy City, but had they been able to play together in their primes, we’re talking at least 2 more Stanley Cups in that era. Yikes. (H/T to Reddit user Timeless_Watch for pointing this out- I moved Kluzak down to HM)

HM: Gord Kluzak, 1982: Oh what could have been? What if…B’s had drafted Brian Bellows or Scott Stevens there instead of Kluzak? Kluzak had knee injuries in junior hockey days and then got blown up in his 2nd NHL season- without the technology to repair knees that we have today, it doomed him to being day-to-day for the rest of his career and an early retirement. He should have been a long-tenured NHL defenseman, but it didn’t happen for him, and unfortunately, he’s more of a footnote in Bruins lore, which is unfortunate.

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