Bruins Depth Players That Deserve Contract Extensions

( Photo Credit: Providence Bruins / Flickr )

By: Mark Allred | Follow Me On Twitter @BlackAndGold277

Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney certainly has his hands full when it comes to restricted and unrestricted free agents whenever the “official” National Hockey Leagues offseason happens. Boston’s future sustainability depends on whether or not contracts go well or not with potential re-signings of current NHLer’s like Anders Bjork (RFA Arbitration Eligible), Zdeno Chara (UFA), Jake DeBrusk (RFA), Matt Grzelcyk (RFA), Torey Krug (UFA), Kevan Miller (UFA), and Joakim Nordstrom (UFA).

To me, out of the players mentioned above, the priorities have to come down to Bjork, DeBrusk, Krug, and Grzelcyk to be extended for either short-term bridge or longer-term contracts. Regardless of work that has to be done at the NHL level to stay competitive and compliant with a potential flat salary cap at $81.5 for two to three seasons, it’s not going to be easy. With a rumored $18 million in cap space preparing for the upcoming 2020/21 campaign, I have a feeling the organization, along with some players, might have stalled talks leading up to 11th-hour panic decisions.

Not all offseason negotiations during the upcoming offseason are going to be hair pulling or check your blood pressure stressful moments. For example, take a look at the excellent CapFreindly.com website and scroll down to players coming off entry-level contract deals that could easily accept qualifying offers and one or two-year two-way extensions. Below are my thoughts of what players I’d like to see the Boston organization keep in the fold when it comes to development and having that “break glass” in case of emergency availability close by for another year or two.

Brendan Gaunce

( Photo Credit: Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images )

One of the Providence Bruins bright spots last season and his first with the NHL Bruins organization. Gaunce agreed to a one-year, two-way contract on July 1st, 2019, after spending four seasons in the Vancouver Canucks organization. Brendan was a solid middle-depth signing that brought a lot to the Providence Bruins line when talking about an aggressive style game and offensive capabilities.

Starting the 2019-20 AHL regular season with Providence on the right foot going 3-1-4 in his first five games, he hit a bit of a speed bump to his fast start on the back-to-back weekend trip north of the border. When the Rhode Island club traveled to Laval, Quebec, to play the affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens, Gaunce would suffer a severe head injury. Laval forward, Michael McCarron hit Brendan with a center ice blindsided hit, which led to the then 25-year-old concussed and gruesome facial lacerations.

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Gaunce, who’s an absolute warrior at 6′-2″ and 217-pounds, only needed 22 days to get healthy enough to return to the ice with extra facial protection, of course. Brendan got back in the lineup and immediately produced offensively like the injury never happened. His return to the AHL Bruins lineup, he contributed 1-1-2 numbers in a 4-1 road victory against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and would continue the year as a valued asset to Providence Head Coach Jay Leach up and down the roster.

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As a veteran forward in the developmental ranks, Brendan never went more than four games without a point, and in fact, his offensive production kicked it up a notch in the send half of the 2019-20 campaign. Starting with an assist on February 9th, 2020, in a 2-1 overtime loss to Sound Tigers, Brendan went the next ten games (27 Days) riding a career-high scoring streak where he posted 7-7-14 in that timeframe. With the cancelation of remaining games and Calder Cup Playoffs due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Gaunce finished the 2019-20 regular-season with 18-19-37 numbers in 52 games. Brendan was everything the Bruins expected as a minor-pro system addition and a go-to if an emergency recall was needed. In one game with Boston last season, he contributed an assist in his first NHL game since he was with Vancouver, where he appeared in three in the 2018-19 season.

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If I were the general manager of the NHL Bruins and if Gaunce would accept an extension to stay within the organization, he’d undoubtedly be a low-risk, high-reward signing. Either a one-year deal or a two-year stay, I can see Gaunce coming back and possibly having a better year than the previous shortened season. He has tremendous leadership skills, along with offensive ability. He could definitely be a candidate if retained for the next Providence Bruins captaincy if current team leader Paul Carey departs after next season.

Karson Kuhlman

( Photo Credit: Steve Babineau / NHLI via Getty Images )

A sneakingly good signing from the skillful eyes of the Boston Bruins scouting staff, Kuhlman’s addition has added a significant amount of speed and talent to the forward depth of this organization. The 5′-11″ 185-pound versatile forward has been a useful plug-and-play no matter where the soon to be 25-year-old has been asked to play. Karson is a tremendously hard worker and never gives up, which is a driving force the B’s should seriously consider bringing back for extended development.

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He might be undersized and young, but he’s displayed a significant number of leadership qualities thus far in his young hockey career. Before coming to the Bruins as a free agent the Minnesota USA, native wore letters in three of his four seasons playing NCAA Division 1 hockey at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He might not light up the AHL or NHL scoreboard with point production consistency, but he adds a decent element of speed when inserted at either level. Most coaches will say that it’s not all about getting marks on the scoresheet on a nightly basis, but did that player do something that most didn’t notice to make an impact during the contest. Kuhlman’s uncanny skillset on the forecheck has been a valued asset no matter what level he’s played in.

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As many NHL Bruins fans have seen at the highest level in the world, Kuhlman has done pretty much everything Boston Head Coach Bruce Cassidy has asked of him. In his limited time with Boston, he’s appeared in 36 games contributing 4-7-11 numbers playing in 11 contests in 2018-19 and another 25 in 2019-20. Karson was never a massive point producer at any level of developmental hockey and in fact, his best pro season with Providence was in the 2018-19 campaign where he notched 12-18-30 totals in 58 games played along with an impressive +23 on the year.

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Kuhlman’s speed and upside are certainly worthy of a contract extension and believe Cassidy has high respect for his work ethic, which might have serious consideration keeping him in the fold. Replacements are going to be needed with future roster departures at the NHL level, so why not take a low-risk contract with Kuhlman? I’d say a $1.5 million two-year, two-way contract extension allows the Bruins accessibility to capture lightning in a bottle and promote quickly if Karson kicks up his offensive production at the AHL level.

Zach Senyshyn

( Photo Credit: ProvidenceBruins.com / @AHLBruins )

To many Bruins fans, the mention of Boston prospect Zach Senyshyn brings up trying times and a bit of a reach at the NHL Entry Draft table back in the summer of 2015. Regardless of what Zach has done in the B’s organization, he’s consistently being labeled as a “draft bust” and a huge mistake. There’s no doubt, better-talented players, and ones that have risen to the NHL sooner rather than later were passed over in the first round. This certainly wasn’t B’s General Manager Don Sweeney and scouting staff’s most beautiful moment, but what was done is done and have to move on.

I know I’m going to be in the minority here with my opinion, but I believe Senyshyn has provided an excellent service to the Bruins organization. He’s another player that hasn’t exactly blown anyone to the moon with the stats since leaving the 2015 Draft Podium at the, but his work ethic and aggressiveness to be better has been second to none. Providence Head Coach Jay Leach has used Zach up and down the B’s lineup to act like a sponge and learn all aspects of the game. His game with and without the puck attributes has been something both sides have been working on since his arrival to the AHL.

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Before turning pro, he spent three seasons with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds starting his Canadian Hockey League career as a fourth-liner in his rookie year tallying 26 goals on a deep Soo club, to follow up the next two years with the Greyhounds posting two 40 goal seasons (45 & 42) before turning pro in 2017-18. In his OHL career, all with the Hounds he posted 114-63-177 numbers and so far in his AHL career he’s contributed 33-33-66 numbers in 174 games.

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Senyshyn is currently in the last year of his entry-level contract, and his speed and offensive skillset continue to be a work-in-progress and believe he’ll be re-signed during the offseason. The tricky part of a deal with a player like Zach is if he’s in fact extended, he’ll have to go through the waiver process if he doesn’t make the NHL team out of training camp. I’m not sure how much the Bruins would want to invest when it comes to money and term for a younger player that one might not have a spot at the NHL level, and number two a player who most likely won’t survive the 24-hour waiver process he’d have to go through returning to the AHL.

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If Senyshyn’s re-signed and able to squeak through waivers much like the path that former Bruins prospect Peter Cehlarik did, I can see the Boston organization offering Zach a $1.8 million contract. I believe a two-year, two-way deal will be beneficial and, with the term, can see him securing an NHL roster spot by the end of a two-year extension. His speed and stride is something that you can’t just walk away from. Senyshyn’s ability to create space quickly away from opponents with or without the puck is something I’d certainly like to keep around. He could even be a solid third-line or even second winger in the future if everything works out, of course, but I commend the path that the Bruins have gone with the now 23-year-old 6′-1″ 196-pound forward.

Jakub Zboril

( Photo Credit: David Kirouac / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images )

Much like Senyshyn above, this wasn’t Boston’s finest hour when they went to the NHL Draft podium three times mid-first round in 2015. Zboril is another player that has absorbed the pro level of hockey with a seeming grain of salt and no rush mentality. Jakub has all the characters of being a lower pairing defenseman right now, but his path to the highest level in the world has taken a lot longer than most want to fathom.

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As a later developing pro, Zboril, by far, had his best season this year before the Covid-19 pandemic halted life as we know it. Call it a contract year scenario, but I noticed something special in the final year of his entry-level contract that brings me to this mention of the B’s bringing him back. More of a stay-at-home defenseman, Zboril does have some offensive capabilities as he ended his third season in Providence, tying an AHL career-high of 19 points he posted for three consecutive years.

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Zboril is a player that is always learning something new no matter what level of developmental hockey. In a defensive-minded Jay Leach system, Jakub can adapt to the three defensive pairings no matter where slotted. His aggressive style and defensive prowess this season has gotten tremendous attention not only from me but other media members in Providence who also spend a great deal in the press box evaluating talent. Jakub isn’t a perfect defensive player and does have moments where I shake my head, but his ability to get back in the play and recover from a mistake is commendable. Accountability is at the highest of his game attributes and is not one to pass the blame when an error in judgment is made on or off the puck.

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If I was to give an extension to Jakub, I’d go another year or two with him with potential departures at the NHL level in the future. Zdeno Chara is always a candidate when talking about a roster spot if and when he retires. John Moore and his roster spot are still up for conversation and which young player can come in and cover for the declining blueliner. Or how about the upcoming Seattle Expansion draft, and if a current Bruins player on defense is appealing to the newest NHL franchise, who’s set to draft an initial lineup next summer? Zboril is a player that can easily slot into an NHL lineup with space availability, of course, and will be a backup plan for the foreseeable future if he’s retained. When it comes to a dollar value, I will look at the $1.5-$2 million range for Jakub’s extended services.

Also, keeping in mind any future negotiations with Zboril will also be heavily considered when thinking about his waiver priority. If retained for further services, he’d need to pass through waivers to be placed in Providence, and with the current situation ahead of him when it comes to NHL contracts, that’ll likely be the destination. Personally, I hope the B’s do whatever it takes to keep him around as an ace in the hole but would also hate to lose him and not seeing his full NHL potential.

Dan Vladar

( Photo Credit: NHL.com )

Probably the biggest re-signing for the Boston Bruins staff out of any mentioned above when it comes to middle depth sustainability in the crease. With one more year of NHL starter Tuukka Rask remaining in his contract and the recent extension to backup Jaroslav Halak, the NHL level is covered when it comes to netminding duties. This provides an adequate amount of time for further development of 2015 third-round selection Dan Vladar and recently signed to entry-level contract Jeremy Swayman out of his junior year at the University of Maine.

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Vladar, who’s in his last year of his ELC, really took a stranglehold in his development during the 2019-20 regular-season campaign. After a slow start to the soon to be 23-year-old Czech Republic native, he encountered an injury In the seasons first cross border roadie in Laval, Quebec which left him with a high ankle sprain. Dan’s season record began with the 0-1-1 record giving up six goals in three games, so there’s no real-time for an injury to happen, but in the end, it was, in fact, beneficial, to say the least.

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During Vladar’s recovery, which lasted a whole 45 days before he returned from his ankle sprain also was a student of the game during that duration when help from above came down lending professional advice. NHL Bruins Goaltending Coach Bob Essensa and assistant Mike Dunham took advantage of the young goaltenders “downtime” while rehabilitating for countless hours of video sessions breaking down his game while minimizing his crease movements. As a 6′-5″ 185-pound athletic netminder, Essensa and Dunham broke down his game with technology to teach the big Czech netminder a new way of manning the crease and using his size to his benefit.

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When Vladar returned to the ice after his lengthy injury, he absolutely put on a show blanking the 2018-19 Calder Cup Champion Charlotte Checkers 4-0 with 36 saves and first star honors. After Dan’s No-No on December 1st, 2019, at the Bojangles Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, he would go onto post a regular-season record of 14-7-1 with a stingy and league-leading 1.79 goals-against-average and .936 save percentage. He also ended the 2019-20 regular-season campaign with three shutouts.

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Before the coronavirus shut everything down, Vladar was on his way to having his best career year between the pipes. I know it’s a small sample size of his potential, but in my opinion, with the tutelage of Essensa and Dunham and how he came back strong and determined has me believe he will definitely be re-signed. With the stretch of games from the start of December to mid-March, Vladar was clearly the best goaltender in that duration and started turning heads when thinking about future NHL placement. Extending Vladar for two more years not only locks him up for another full AHL season and audition, but it also makes him a serious candidate when considering future options with Halak and Rask and expiring contracts.

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A two-year, two-way contract worth around $2 million is certainly not out of the realm for keeping a netminder like Vladar around. Also, keep in mind that my guess on what Vladar and others mentioned when talking about a contract is the dollar value and what the particular player will earn at the Level if lucky enough to spend time at the highest level in the world. When spending time in the AHL, obviously, that number goes down to a range of $70K to $150K depending on the two-way contract structure, and bonuses entailed.

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