By: Michael DiGiorgio | Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio
The Boston Bruins’ phones are generally ringing off the hook at each trade deadline. This year, they made two moves, with the same team, in two separate trades. The Bruins acquired Anaheim Ducks’ Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase for David Backes, Axel Andersson, a 2020 first-round pick, and Danton Heinen. General Manager, Don Sweeney, received tons of praise for these separate deals because it relieved some cap stresses and brought NHL-ready talent to a team that is in a “win-now” mode.
Ondrej Kase is a 24-year old right-winger who hasn’t tapped his full potential. His last meaningful game with the Bruins was on March 10, and he’s been a ghost since the NHL announced its Return To Play plan. The NHL’s Return To Play plan consists of four phases, with the second phase being one of the more important ones. Step 2 of Return To Play allowed players to practice in small-group sessions, without contact. NHL clubs were not permitted to require players to practice, making them voluntary. In the world of COVID, Kase opted not to skate.
The NHL’s training camp, beginning on July 10, was its third phase of the plan. These camps were to be held in the club’s respective cities and last about two and a half weeks. The Bruins had a near-perfect attendance during training camp. David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase were the regular absentees.
The Bruins went about their regular business during these two and a half weeks and did not give the media any info to work off of related to the two absentees. Recently, however, news broke as to why both players were held out. Kase and Pastrnak attended a practice unrelated to the NHL’s Return To Play plan a few days before Phase 3, which required them to quarantine for 14 days. Pastrnak joined the team on the charter to Toronto; however, Kase did not. He had to fly coach, which means he needs to quarantine for an additional four days before rejoining the Bruins.
The problem here is, he is new to the Bruins. Pastrnak has been with the Bruins for five years now and can integrate with his linemates with ease. Kase has played a whopping six games with the club and was coming off of a concussion that he suffered earlier this year. The Phase 2 training camp was the best thing that could have happened to Kase to allow time to get his skating legs back and chemistry flowing with his new teammates. The unregulated practice was harmless, but it costs him time with his team and, now, potentially his spot on the second line.
Anders Bjork and Jack Studnicka getting alternating RW looks on the top two lines throughout this scrimmage. Methinks Ondrej Kase is going to have a battle on his hand for second line RW spot when he finally starts practicing with the Bruins
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) July 24, 2020
Jack Studnicka is a promising young right-winger, who was drafted 53rd overall in the 2017 NHL draft. The pick was acquired from Edmonton in return for Peter Chiarelli, their former General Manager. Studnicka played two games with the Bruins this year, tallying an assist against Montreal on November 26, 2019.
Jack Studnicka with his first career point. A nice set-up for Danton Heinen.
Bruins lead, 8-1. pic.twitter.com/UEeawULemR
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) November 27, 2019
He has a nose for the net, averaging 1.4 points per game in the Ontario Hockey League in the 2018-19 season. Jack has been hyped as maybe the best prospect the Bruins have in the system, and he’s showing Head Coach, Bruce Cassidy, he can earn a spot in the starting lineup in Thursday’s exhibition game vs. Columbus.
As expected, Jack Studnicka is set to benefit from Ondrej Kase’s absence — with the young forward expected to skate next to Krejci on Thursday.
Cassidy: “Is Studnicka ready to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs? We don’t have the answer to that yet.”
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) July 29, 2020
One scenario that would be quite troubling for Kase is if Studnicka is given the right-wing spot for the beginning of the playoffs and plays well enough to stay in the lineup. Would Bruins fans be okay with spending a first-round draft selection on a player who watches the more playoffs than not from the ninth floor?
The above scenario would be a tough pill to swallow for Sweeney, but it’s unlikely it to happen. Kase will likely play the majority of the playoffs, but his current absence is troubling. His playoff performance could determine his future with the Bruins. If Kase plays from the beginning and plays stellar, he’ll probably be on the second line come next season. But if he doesn’t play well or at all, Sweeney could move him in the upcoming off-season.
The Bruins announced a contract extension for one impending restricted free agents last night.
#NHLBruins have agreed to terms with Anders Bjork on a three-year contract extension
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) July 29, 2020
The NHL announced next season will feature a flat salary cap, meaning the cap will neither increase nor decrease. The Bruins currently have $18M in cap space after the Bjork extension. They still need to sign Torey Krug, Jake DeBrusk, Zdeno Chara, and Matt Grzelcyk. There are some murmurs DeBrusk’s agent pegs him at $6M per year, and Krug has stated he is looking for a 6-year, $49M deal this off-season. If both players receive what they’re asking, the Bruins will have $4M left in cap space. Don Sweeney has not given a current Bruin their first figure at the negotiating table, and he’ll continue that trend. But what if Kase doesn’t have a fruitful playoff and the DeBrusk does?
The Bruins could be staring down another cap clearing trade this off-season. If the Bruins decide to trade Kase and his $2.6M cap hit, they would increase their current cap space number to $20.6M. Trading Kase wouldn’t mean that he is damaged goods, it’s just the timing of everything. He hasn’t practiced with the team, he hasn’t played a meaningful game in 4 months, and he had been coming off an injury in March. Some players need ample opportunity to get up to speed, especially on a new team. The playoffs are not the time to get back up to speed, hence why the NHL allowed a two and a half week training camp.
The Bruins would have to look for a trade partner who is in need of a top-nine forward. They could package Kase and another draft selection or higher-end prospect to get back into this year’s first-round. The Bruins have been stockpiling their prospect pool for a few years under Sweeney, and it would be challenging to watch newly-acquired Kase and another prospect leave for a draft selection we already possessed. But, the Bruins face more significant issues with their impending free agents that they’ll have to address, and freeing up cap space is the number one priority.
Another scenario is Kase plays unbelievable and DeBrusk is unwilling to sign a bridge deal that would pay him significantly less than his $6M per year ask. Maybe the Bruins look to trade DeBrusk’s rights to a team. This would allow the Bruins to get compensated for their player, sign Krug and Grzelcyk, and the receiving team would be able to sign DeBrusk before July 1.
Trading Kase seems to only happen if he doesn’t participate in the playoffs or play up to his potential. It would be more beneficial to the Bruins and management if their newly-acquired right-winger can step into a top-six role and have an immediate impact. Most Bruins fans want the latter scenario and hope both Kase and Studnicka can take a leap forward this playoff and beyond. But, if Kase is unable to keep pace, there could be some new unforeseen changes on the Bruins horizon.