On Zdeno Chara signing with the Capitals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overrated/Underrated

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.

Bruins-Lightning Aftermath: The Better Team Won

Brad Marchand

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

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

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

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

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

Game over, season over. What next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stars of the series:

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

TSP Podcast: 4 Amigos Boston Bruins Playoff Preview

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

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

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

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

Bruins playoff roster quick hits: Forwards (Pt 1)

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

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

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

Bergeron3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Dominic Tiano: How the new NHL CBA affects the Bruins

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

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

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

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

Minimum Salary

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

35+ Contracts

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

NTC/NMC Trades

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

Arbitration

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

Conditional Draft Picks

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

Free Agent Interviews

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

10% Salary Deferred

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

Front Loaded Deals

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

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

European Waivers

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

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

Friday Flashback: Bruins 2006 Draft

Here’s a comprehensive look at the 2006 Boston Bruins draft, which transformed the franchise in a single weekend of picks and one major trade. Other than 1979, there isn’t a more impactful single draft in team history, though 1980 was quite strong, along with 2014 more recently. Here you go- KL

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(Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Boston Bruins franchise was in disarray at the conclusion of the 2005-06 hockey season and faced a crucial crossroads leading up to the entry draft being in Vancouver that June.

A year that began with promise with the return of NHL hockey after a lockout cancelled the 2004-05 big league campaign descended into chaos and despair when a series of big-money free agent signings went bust (Alexei Zhamnov, Brian Leetch, Dave Scatchard) and franchise face Joe Thornton was traded to San Jose before December for the kind of return that ultimately sealed Mike O’Connell’s (Cohasset, Mass.) fate as Bruins GM. O’Connell’s departure opened the door for one-time Harvard hockey captain Peter Chiarelli’s ascension as the B’s new chief of management and operations, but as the assistant GM of the Ottawa Senators, the job of riding herd over Boston’s 2006 draft and early phases of free agency fell to O’Connell’s interim replacement, Jeff Gorton.

 Thanks to a win by the Columbus Blue Jackets on the final day of the 2005-06 regular season, the Bruins slid into the fifth overall draft position (not affected by the draft lottery, won by St. Louis).  Two points are what separated the B’s from Phil Kessel and someone else (Derick Brassard went one selection later at sixth overall). Kessel may no longer be with the Bruins, but his impact will likely be felt in the years to come, even if the jury is still out on the players received from Toronto and then Dallas last summer.

The B’s former chief amateur scout and current director of player personnel, Scott Bradley, called 2006 a “historic” draft year and critical moment for the rebuilding of the once proud franchise’s sagging fortunes. Little did Bradley know at the time that his words would prove to be prophetic, and that just five years later, the club would reverse direction from the road to ruin to Stanley Cup glory in the very city the draft occurred, defeating the Vancouver Canucks in an epic seven-game championship series.

Boston’s selections in the second and third rounds were instrumental in the 2011 Stanley Cup championship and run to the 2013 Stanley Cup final: Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand, while No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask’s history is inextricably linked to the 2006 draft as well. Although Lucic was traded five years ago, Marchand has ascended to NHL superstardom, as has Rask, who could be in line to collect the second Vezina Trophy of his career after a shortened 2019-20 season. Marchand and Rask helped lead the B’s to within one win of the 2019 Stanley Cup championship, though they fell short at home to the St. Louis Blues.

Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, Boston’s 2006 draft is still making a direct and indirect impact on the team’s fortunes.

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Friday Flashback: Patrice Bergeron in 2003

Saw an article on brood IX of cicadas, who went dormant in 2003 and will soon be coming out from underground in Virginia and the Carolinas to live for several months this summer before their progeny will go back down for the long siesta. That got me thinking- in the 17 years those bugs have been in hibernation, Patrice Bergeron has built a Hall of Fame resume with the Boston Bruins. Here’s another archived piece- written in November of 2003- Bergeron’s rookie NHL season, after he made the B’s roster as an 18-year-old and quickly showed signs of the greatness that was to follow. In the time the cicadas went into the earth, he’s become a pretty damn fine hockey player- the nonpareil of Bruins draft picks until David Pastrnak came along in 2014.- KL

“The Boston Bruins select, from the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, center Patrice Bergeron-Cleary.

Boston Bruins v Calgary Flames

With those words from the team’s amateur scouting director Scott Bradley, the B’s made a relatively innocuous pick at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft in Nashville last June.

Little did anyone know, the Quebec City native, not even going to be 18 for another month, would soon be an immediate impact player from a draft class touted as one of the best in years. Little did anyone know, the quiet kid who was physically unimpressive and who carried a 28th-best ranking from NHL’s Central Scouting Service (CSS) among his North American peers was about to establish himself as the undisputed early steal of the entire  ’03 crop.

When the B’s passed on Zach Parise with the 16th overall pick, instead opting to send the selection to the San Jose Sharks and drop down five spots to 21, draft-savvy fans were incensed. Message boards  lit up with questions about the wisdom of passing on Parise, whose father J.P. was a former Bruin before the Minnesota North Stars grabbed him in the 1967 expansion draft. The younger Parise was coming off of an outstanding freshman season for the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux, and was highly-regarded for his tremendous character and tenacious skill game despite a lack of ideal size. It seemed that Parise would be the right prospect to pick up in the wake of the news that Jozef Stumpel had been dealt back to Los Angeles the night before, even though it looked like the Minnesota native would be a few years away from the NHL.

But the Bruins had other plans, and dealt the pick to San Jose, who promptly took another high scoring forward in Steve Bernier before New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello and his top scout David Conte swooped in with a trade and grabbed Parise 17th. Four selections later, the Bruins took defensive defenseman Mark Stuart out of Colorado College, one of Parise’s U.S. NTDP teammates.

No one saw it coming, but in passing up a chance to draft Parise and Ryan Getzlaf, who had been taken 19th overall by Anaheim, the Bruins had their sights set on another forward whom they believed was going to be a real difference-maker, and who wasn’t very far away from the NHL at all.

Make no mistake: it wasn’t too difficult a choice to make between Stuart, who was more a victim of the deep draft despite being a top player for USA Hockey for several years, and Bergeron, who had only one single season of major junior hockey under his belt, after playing AAA Midget and Bantam the two previous years in his native Quebec. The rumor is that the B’s had Bergeron rated in the first round, and were tempted to take him at 21st overall, but they knew that Stuart would not lost until the middle of the second round where their next pick was. So, the Bruins rolled the dice and took Stuart first, hoping that Bergeron would still be there when they picked again in the middle of the second round thanks to the compensatory pick they received Bill Guerin signing with Dallas  the summer before.

Bergeron was there when Boston’s turn came, and it ended up being a relatively unheralded selection at 45th overall.

As for the rest of us in the media, the pick was met with a collective, “So what?” After all, Bergeron was anything but a household name among a group of prospects that 90% of NHL fans wouldn’t know from Adam. In other words, we made our way down into the bowels of the arena to the media interview section not expecting a great deal from this latest draft pick. Would he even speak English? How long would he last at his first professional training camp?

Bergeron, who mentioned that he would drop the hyphenated Cleary from his surname, met the press with little fanfare as he answered the standard line of questioning. He quickly put to the rest the notion that he would have problems fielding questions in English, even with a thick French accent.

Are you happy with where you went today? “Very happy. It was the first time where I had to wait and it didn’t matter.”

What kind of a player are you? “I’m a playmaker. I like to set up the goals, but I also like to score them.”

Is there anything about your game you’d like to improve? “Definitely my skating, and I want to get stronger, too.”

And so on. Bergeron answered our questions and then was whisked away to complete his in-processing with the team. After the Bruins selected Masi Marjamaki at the bottom of round two, we all met with Bradley to discuss the day’s action. It was there that we began to get an inkling of how pleased he was that they had gotten Bergeron.

Bradley used terms such as “special player,” “great vision,” and “tremendous skill” to describe him. He talked about Bergeron’s outstanding performance in the playoffs, and how he had become Bathurst  coach Real Paiement’s go-to guy on offense after beginning the season as the Titan’s third-line center. Bradley also said that while the Bruins liked Parise, there were about five other players rated just as high who were still on the board. Dropping five slots guaranteed that they’d still get one of those five, while gathering an extra two selections to further bolster their prospect depth in a very good draft. It was a trade they felt they had to make.

With the good fortune of being at the same hotel in Nashville as Bergeron was, we were able to connect for a later sit-down to capture more of his thoughts beyond the superficial post-selection media scrum.

Bergeron first apologized for his rough English skills. Nevertheless, he was surprisingly articulate for one so young. He talked about his love for hockey and the Quebec Nordiques growing up. He said that he had immense respect for Joe Sakic as a player and a person, but admitted that he admired Adam Foote for his tenacity and nastiness. He did not hesitate to comment on his dislike of the rival Montreal Canadiens. He was glad to be drafted to an Original Six team like the Bruins.

Bergeron also said that he realized that his skating needed work, and that because he had average height, he needed to get stronger if he was going to be able to make the eventual transition to pro hockey. To that end, he hired a personal trainer and power skating instructor immediately after his junior season ended, and had been working out ever since.

His favorite thing to do outside of hockey and training is watching movies, especially comedies. “Dumb and Dumber” is his all-time favorite, but he chuckled when he talked about the “crazy humor” of Will Ferrell’s streaking scene as Frank “the Tank” in National Lampoon’s “Old School.”

You couldn’t help but notice a quiet intensity, beyond his years. That’s not the same as thinking he would make the team and jump out to the early lead among rookie scorers, but I figured he might stick around for a few weeks and maybe even play in an exhibition game or two.

As it turns out, that projection was wildly off-base. And in a good way.

It is now November, and Bergeron hasn’t looked back since arriving to Bruins training camp and turning the place on its head. Martin Lapointe took the rookie under his wing from day 1, and has even opened his house up to Bergeron, where the rookie is spending his first year out of the province of Quebec away from his family and friends. From the moment he took the ice for his first rookie camp scrimmage until opening night, Bergeron has not looked out of place in the slightest.

The below-average skating? Not a problem. Bergeron may not be a blazing fast skater, but nor is he slow-footed or noticeably behind the play. He is in the middle of the action, and unless you’d read the scouting reports that he lacked acceleration and a quick initial burst, you’d never know that it was a shortcoming in his game.

The alleged lack of strength? Not a problem. Bergeron has freely given and taken hits, not playing a physical style, but not shying away from contact either. The money paid to Raymond Veilleux, who also trains Simon Gagne, has been worth it. Bergeron does not look out of place, and can more than hold his own down low and in the corners.

Bergeron may or may not keep up his scoring pace that saw him tally three goals and eight points in his first ten games before going scoreless in his last two, but for the NHL’s youngest player and a guy who wasn’t even on many pre-draft radars in June, he’s been the early surprise of the 2003 draft.

As for Boston, it looks like they hit one out of the park. Bergeron’s early success has galvanized the team, and has fans starting to get more interested in Bruins hockey because so many of the new faces on the club are young and not the old retreads the team was known for bringing in over the past several seasons.

No. 37 doesn’t look out of place at all. If anything, it looks like the team has done wonders for its future, and Bergeron is at the center of it all.

 

For perspective on how far he’s come since 2003, here’s the classic Patrice Bergeron rookie year Massachusetts license plates commercial with Andrew Raycroft compliments of NESN…”Great plates! I want them too.”

Reed Duthie: Off the top of the head- Oskar Steen

Reed Duthie is back with another deep-dive on a European Bruins prospect- this time, Oskar Steen, who just completed his first North American pro season. The Off the top of the head and Then & Now prospect series are exclusive to The Scouting Post and we hope you are enjoying the analysis of B’s futures. -KL

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In the 6th round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft the Boston Bruins used the 165th overall selection on an exciting talent from Karlstad, Sweden who had seen a breakout year jumping from Farjestad BK U20 in the SuperElit to Farjestad BK senior side in the SHL.

Immediately upon his selection Oskar Steen became one of the most intriguing prospects in the Bruins system.

As a 17-year old in the 2015-16 season, Steen was outstanding in the U20 circuit, collecting 8 goals & 24 assists for 32 points in 33 games finishing 2nd on his team, behind only August Gunnarsson who was playing his 19-year old season. Steen earned a callup to Farjestad BK in the SHL for a 17-game run where the diminutive but offensively gifted 17-year old would register 6 assists and even appear in five SHL playoff games.

Beginning the 2016-17 season, Steen clearly showed the brass for Farjestad BK and the Bruins that they had something special, recording 11 points in just 8 games at the U20 level before spending the rest of the season in the senior ranks, skating in 47 games for Farjestad BK and another 4 for legendary Swedish side MoDo in Allsvenskan (where he played with future Bruins draft pick Victor Berglund) and appeared in all 7 playoff games for Farjestad BK. Steen would spend he 2017-18 devleoping in the SHL recording 4 goals and 2 assists for 6 points in 45 games for Farjestad BK and appeared in another 5 playoff games for the club but was able to strut his stuff at the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships recording 4 points across 7 games playing a key role as a #2 center in Sweden’s silver medal performance.

It was the 2018-19 season that would see Steen kick his game into another gear, leading Farjestad BK in points by a forward with 37 and finishing 2nd on the team to Joakim Nygard in goals with 17 across 46 games following it up with 7 points in 14 playoff games. That run was enough for the Bruins to transition the centerman to North America for the shortened 19-20 season but Steen would show signs of the type of player he can be, finishing his AHL rookie campaign with Providence scoring 7 goals and 16 assists for 23 point, good for 8th on a fairly loaded Providence roster, while showing his durability playing in 60 games (only Ryan Fitzgerald & Josiah Didier played in more, 61 each).

Assets:

Hockey IQ – An incredibly intelligent player, Steen has the ability to read the play well ahead of the pace and react quickly because of it. His advanced mind for the game has allowed him to successfully transition from the junior level to the senior level in his home country of Sweden and then transition again to the AHL all while still being an effective contributor in multiple facets.

Versatility – From using his tremendous intelligence for the game and from his developmental time with Farjestad BK, Steen has developed a very well-rounded game. A contributor for all 200-feet of the ice, Steen is a danger with and without the puck and can play in both power-play and short-handed situations and excel in any situation on the ice.

Speed – Excellent skater with quick acceleration, though his stride will begin somewhat short Steen quickly accelerates and lengthens his stride relying on his low center of gravity and powerful legs to drive him to full speed (think Sami Kapanen).

Vision/Distribution – Though not afraid to shoot the puck, as evidenced by his 17-goal outburst in his final SHL season, Steen is at his best with the puck on his stick locating his teammates with pinpoint passes to free them into open ice and scoring opportunities. Many of Steen’s scoring opportunities have come from defenders overplaying the pass and allowing him to use an ever-improving shot and release to find the back of the net.

Weaknesses:

Size – Not as big of a hindrance as it once was but standing 5’9’’ & 187 lbs, Steen is certainly not the biggest bear in the forest. Steen is able to use his bowling ball-like frame effectively, though he won’t go out of his way for contact he won’t avoid it either, relying on his strong balance, low center of gravity and smarts to win battles. Against larger defenders Steen can be simply outsized but is crafty enough to be able to beat them one-on-one.

Organizational Depth – If Steen were a natural winger his path to the Boston Bruins would be much clearer, however as a center he finds himself in a logjam behind the likes of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Charlie Coyle & Sean Kuraly at the NHL level with fellow Providence teammates Jack Studnicka & Trent Frederic knocking on the door and 2019 1st Round Pick John Beecher a little further away.

Future:

A steal of a 6th round pick, Don Sweeney and the Bruins staff (*cough* P.J. Axelsson *cough*) must be commended for finding such a talent late in the draft and for having a hand in quickly developing him into a player who could knock at the door of an NHL spot as early as the 2020-21 season. Steen profiles as a player who could contribute in the middle-6, and brings the type of versatility the Bruins like with a serious offensive flair. With the depth at center in the organization, it would likely benefit both Steen and the Bruins to transition to the wing. A natural right-hand shot, Steen has the intelligence and versatility to excel on either wing and would very quickly cut down his time to an opportunity with the Bruins.

He is a player to keep an eye on, a versatile and skilled  forward with jam who could be another late-round, homegrown talent that could contribute in multiple faces of the game moving forward as the Bruins look to develop their next core of talent.

Oskar Steen with a nice shorty in his final Swedish season before signing with the B’s