On Zdeno Chara signing with the Capitals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dominic Tiano: 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.

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…

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.

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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.

Happy Independence Day- Random hockey thoughts on July 4 (podcast)

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Hey, all-

Happy Independence Day aka Insurrection from the Crown Day!

It’s been a slow couple of weeks here with hockey news, so thought I’d throw up a podcast with some thoughts on prospects, free agency and the NHL draft lottery plus some other things about hockey.

It clocks in at around 45 minutes, so hope you’ll give it a listen.

Have a great holiday and we’ll be back with more content soon!

-KL

 

B’s sign Berglund to ELC

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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.

 

Don’t forget about…Karson Kuhlman

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Over the past decade, Boston Bruins have found success in the undrafted free agent department, especially with signing NCAA players. Whether we’re talking about Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Frank Vatrano (whose trade to Florida in 2018 netted the pick the B’s used to select Jakub Lauko), or even Austin Czarnik (now with Calgary), the B’s have identified passed-over college players who have gone on to reach the NHL.

A more recent example is former University of Minnesota-Duluth captain Karson Kuhlman, who led the Bulldogs to their first of two consecutive NCAA championships in 2018 and then signed with the B’s shortly thereafter. The 2018 NCAA tournament MVP didn’t dazzle anyone with his numbers, but was, as it turned out, the perfect fit for Boston.

It didn’t take Kuhlman long to see his first NHL action and by the spring of 2019, he was playing a supporting role in helping the B’s get to within one game of a Stanley Cup championship. In 19 regular and playoff games combined, the rookie netted four goals and eight points, not bad for a defensive forward in college whose best season consisted of just six goals and 22 points in 42 games during the 2016-17 campaign.

The Esko, MN native has always impressed with his speed, intelligent two-way game and hyper-competitivene style, going back to his USHL days with the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

After making such a surprising impact (at the very least in terms of timeline), Kuhlman made the 2019-20 Bruins roster out of camp, but fractured his tibia Oct. 19 in a game against Toronto. He missed the next two months and returned to the ice in late December, bouncing between the NHL and AHL with Providence until the NHL season was put on pause.

He still meets our criteria of a prospect, even though he’s seen 36 NHL regular season games in his first two pro seasons, so here’s a quick snapshot of Kuhlman and what B’s fans can expect going forward:

Strengths: Superb skater- explosive, agile and quick. He’s got excellent acceleration and is strong on his skates- able to roll off of checks and maintain his balance. Very good small-area burst. Hockey sense is very good- while not overly creative, he sees the ice and makes good decisions with and without the puck. Tremendous intangibles such as character and leadership packaged up in a relentless work ethic. He’s a superior forechecker who disrupts and creates turnovers with his speed and sheer tenacity- constantly hunts pucks. A winner- he won a USHL championship with Dubuque in 2013, took 2018 NCAA tournament MVP honors in leading UMD to a national title, then was part of Boston’s extended run to the SCF a year later. That kind of thing is not an accident. Can play center and wing- able to take key defensive faceoffs when needed and has a quick stick in the dot to win draws.

Weaknesses: Size is average, and he’s not a skill player by any means. A standout player for Cloquet High, he was not a point producer in the USHL or in college, so he’s not going to have the offensive ceiling to be a front line forward in the NHL.

Overall analysis/projection: The leg injury set Kuhlman back, and as his 1 goal and 6 points in 25 games this season can attest, he’s in a low-end depth role right now with Boston. At age 24, he’s old enough and mature- he can play up or down the lineup if needed, but with the B’s healthy when the NHL’s expected resumption happens in July-August, he’ll have a challenge ahead to work himself into the lineup on a regular basis.

Going forward, we can envision Kuhlman carving out more of a role for himself as a checker/grinder/Swiss Army knife player the Boston coaches trust in certain situations. He’s not going to go out and score 30 goals and 60 points, but in the B’s system, could develop into a regular role player because of his versatility, drive and jam.

The B’s haven’t just enjoyed success finding college free agents- they hit on former Swift Current/WHL captain Colby Cave, who suddenly and tragically passed away this spring while a member of the Edmonton organization, but the NCAA pipeline has been a productive one for Boston. Kuhlman should continue to contribute going forward, and the B’s continued the pattern by signing college defenders Jack Ahcan (St. Cloud State) and Nick Wolff (Kuhlman’s UMD teammate) this past March.

His only goal this season vs Vancouver an attempted pass that went in off  Troy Stecher

KBJR local feature by Alec Bochner during Kuhlman’s senior season at UMD

In-depth UMD profile on him from October 2017- check out his answer to the question at 7:20 about the one city he would pick up and move to- Kuhl-stradamus?

 

3 Amigos + 1 Podcast: The Beat Goes on With Bruins Network

ZZTop

We got the 3 Amigos together again, but full credit to Anthony Kwetkowski of Bruins Network who suggested a joint venture, so we’re proud to unveil our first edition of the 3 Amigos + 1 podcast…4 Amigos…whatever you feel comfortable calling it.

As for us, we’re calling it a good solid near 3 hours’ worth of talk about various subjects from what the NHL playoff format might look like, to Jack Studnicka, everyone’s most interesting B’s prospect and then we answered reader-submitted questions on a host of topics from more expansion draft stuff to Tuukka Rask extension to Torey Krug’s chances of re-signing to Ondrej Kase and what the lines might look like, plus more. It runs long, but it sure felt like about 40 minutes to us.

But don’t take our word for it- give it a listen here:

As always- thanks for listening and thanks to those who provided questions!

-KL, RD, DT & AK

Tomahawk