By: Matt Barry | Follow Me On Twitter @oobcards
And just like that, another Boston Bruins season ended with disappointment. On March 12, 2020, the Bruins were the best team in the NHL and looking to avenge a heartbreaking Game 7 loss at home to St. Louis to end the 2019 campaign. The mission was to win another Stanley Cup for their aging group of stars. They wanted one more Cup for Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Zdeno Chara. They had won in 2011, but a lot of players win one. Winning another would stamp their legacies in Bruins lore. The drive was there to win.
Then the pandemic happened….
Me, after the NHL cancels the rest of the season… pic.twitter.com/yuxuO0FGk5— Jillian Fisher (@FisherJillian) March 12, 2020
The league would go on a nearly five-month hiatus. Not a great layoff for older, creaky joints. The league set a restart date for August 1st. But, the schedule and structure of the return did not favor the Bruins…at all. The league allowed the top four teams in each conference to fight for the number one seed. Some teams saw a great opportunity while the Bruins did not know the value of competing for a top seed with no home-ice advantage. Well, unless you are passionate about the last change. So the Bruins treated it like a preseason schedule and lost all three games. So now, the Bruins were the fourth seed after winning the President’s Trophy as the league’s best team in an abbreviated season.
Many would say that this contributed to their earlier than expected exit from the playoffs, but somehow it feels more than that. During the hiatus, the Tampa Bay Lightning became the better team and it showed as it took just five games to defeat the defending Eastern Conference champions and the pre-pandemic top team in the league. The Bruins won game one, but that was their best effort in the series. Without their Vezina candidate goalie Tuukka Rask, who opted out after playing just the first two games against Carolina in round one, it became a daunting task to beat the Lightning with their backup goalie. It all caught up to them in a 7-1 loss in Game three. The team fought until the end, but the Lightning were faster, stronger, and more talented.
The Lightning will face the winner of the series between the Islanders and Flyers in the Eastern Conference Final. Tampa Bay advanced to the conference final for the second time in three seasons with a 3-2 2OT win against the Bruins in Game 5.https://t.co/WKIw3Vvn2X— NHL.com (@NHLdotcom) September 1, 2020
So, now what?
The core of veterans, who have carried this team for a decade, are nearing the end of their careers. Bergeron is 35-years-old, Krejci 34-years-old, and Chara will be 44-years of age next season. Even Brad Marchand is an aging veteran at 32. Then there’s Rask. He is an elite goalie, and the argument could be made that he is the best goalie in Bruin’s history. But, he opted out of the bubble, has one year left on his contract, and next season could begin in a bubble scenario again. He has also mentioned retirement thoughts in the past. Can he come back, and will his teammates be able to depend on him? Valid questions.
My thought is that Rask will not forgo $7 million in his last year of the deal. He will be the goalie next season. The backup, Jaroslav Halak, also has a year left and proved, for the most part, to be a capable option if Rask does not return. Any chance the Bruins have of being contenders again next season depending on the availability (and desire) of Tuukka Rask. There will not be an option out there to match his ability. Say what you will about him, but he is a tremendous netminder, who can steal you games.
Jaroslav Halak believes Tuukka Rask will be back with Bruins next season https://t.co/ycsYNfijJI— WEEI (@WEEI) September 4, 2020
Now comes the status of the captain, Zdeno Chara. I am such a Chara fan. He helped this franchise become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender when he signed with the Bruins in July of 2006. Since then, he has been the face of the franchise, a pillar of strength. Watching him go through the handshake line at the end of the Tampa Bay series was difficult because you wondered if that was his last handshake line. Will he come back? I would be open to bringing him back for a farewell tour season. A season in front of his beloved fans, hopefully. I usually despise when teams make sentimental moves with players. It is a business. Do what is best for the franchise. But Z is an exception. But I do have some stipulations. I would sign him back if he accepted being a 3rd pair defenseman and open to an occasional healthy scratch to preserve him. If he took another team-friendly deal ($2-2.5 million) and could be a strong penalty killer, then I would consider it. Other than that, it would be hard to give him top pair minutes for another season. My prediction is that he comes back for one more year.
Ok, Torey Krug. You’re next. Krug has been a good player and a tremendous power-play defenseman. He is undersized, but still plays the game with some sandpaper and is fearless against bigger opponents. He is an unrestricted free agent now, and the team has expressed an interest in retaining him. But there have also been rumblings that he is not necessarily willing to take a “hometown discount” such as David Pastrnak or Brad Marchand. His market value could be set at between $7 and $8 million per year. The Bruins have done a great job to this point of getting great value deals. I do not see them paying Krug top pairing money. His performance in the playoffs was not very good. He was on the ice for seven five-on-five opponent goals, the most on the team. He was pushed around by some more massive players on the Lightning and is 30 years old. At his size, the wear and tear has already begun to take its toll.
“I believe I can still play this game and contribute to the team and I want to stay in Boston. I want to be a Boston Bruin. I want to continue to lead by example and share my experiences…that hasn’t changed. I’m committed. We’ll see what’s gonna happen next.” – Zdeno Chara pic.twitter.com/VZOIOx60Cn— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) September 3, 2020
The Detroit Red Wings may be the wild card here. Krug is from Michigan, and the Red Wings are the worst team in hockey looking to improve their roster quickly. Krug would be a tremendous asset to them, especially on the power play. But again, a six or seven-year deal north of $7 million a year is a lot of investment on a small, 30-year-old defenseman. If the market has lowered since his playoff performance and his dollar amount becomes closer to $6 million a year, then the Bruins may get a warm and fuzzy feeling for him and sign him. That would be a big mistake. As the years go on, they will be dying to get out from under his contract. My guess is that Krug signs elsewhere, and the Bruins look to sign another defenseman with more size. The real ballsy move for them would have been to trade him after the 2019 season when his value was higher. But the team chose to take another run at the Cup with Krug.
The other question marks are restricted free agents Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk. DeBrusk has shown an ability to score goals, albeit in bunches at times. He has also had some great playoff moments. The Bruins are thin beyond the top line on scoring wingers. Based on his stats, DeBrusk may be at the $4-$5 million range per year. He is still very young and has the promise to improve even more. But consistency is needed from him. I think the Bruins try to sign him to a similar deal that Charlie McAvoy received. Grzelcyk is an excellent little player. He seems to make the right plays and is a terrific skater. He is a poor man’s Torey Krug, who might be able to play some power play and show more offensively. He is a Charlestown kid. Look for him to sign on with a Brandon Carlo type deal, I would assume. Maybe $3 million per year for 3-4 years.
“Very proud of what we’ve done here in Boston over the years and being part of that core group. Guys have come and gone and I’ve managed to stay for 8 years…very happy that I was part of it. Hopefully it continues and I still am.” – Torey Krug on approaching free agency pic.twitter.com/RrFJAEsCSH— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) September 3, 2020
dealThis is a crucial offseason, and Bruins fans are going to see what direction the team is going. Two glaring needs are scoring right-wing and a top-pair defenseman. Someone needs to play with Charlie McAvoy. And someone needs to help David Krejci in the last year of his contract. The Bruins have about $15-16 million in cap space before the signings of DeBrusk and Grzelcyk. Let’s say those signings take $8-9 million. Now you have about $7 million to use to fill these needs. Those two needs could EACH take that amount. So Don Sweeney will need to be savvy in this move. A trade may be necessary to improve the roster. I am just not sure you can create enough space with the players who would be available. You might see them trade Ondrej Kase, who has not shown much scoring touch. Beyond that, there are not a lot of higher-priced players they would be willing to trade. Could they make a deal with DeBrusk? That is an intriguing idea. Maybe they deal him and allocate that money to a more consistent player.
The more I think about it, I see the Bruins going with mostly the same roster for one more year minus Krug. I guess the x-factor could be 21-year-old Jack Studnicka, who showed flashes in the short time he played in the postseason. I would like to see Bruce Cassidy start next season with a hard look at Studnicka on the top line with Marchand and Bergeron and put Pastrnak with Krejci and DeBrusk. Then you could use some of the remaining money to sign a good, gritty third liner for Charlie Coyle’s line and an excellent defenseman to replace Krug and possibly Chara.
Jake DeBrusk gave an honest assessment of his season Friday, while noting he believes any challenges he’s faced only will help build him into a better player. https://t.co/YrHpL3m5v9 pic.twitter.com/byQZoqFD7T— NESN (@NESN) September 5, 2020
Another tough ending to a promising season. But this may be the most exciting offseason in a long time. What the Bruins do this season could determine just how good this team will be over the next decade.