Lauko Will Reportedly Miss A Couple Of Weeks

Garrett Pilon, Jakub Lauko

(Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19 

Jakub Lauko, the Bruins 2018 3rd Round pick (77th Overall), was super-excited about the prospect of playing before his native Czech crowd in the 2020 World Junior Championships. That excitement lasted all of one shift as Lauko was injured 53 seconds into the first game versus Russia. The CZE team held on for a 4-3 upset, but after the game, it was reported that Lauko had suffered an MCL injury and was done for the remainder of the tournament.

 

Details were lacking about the severity of the injury, and are still not crystal clear, but Lauko apparently underwent an MRI this morning. Lauko himself told Czech NHL,com hockey reporter Michael Langr , “it looks like I will miss a couple of weeks”. This is good news for Bruins fans and would indicate that the injury is a Grade 1 tear, which normally requires anywhere from a few days to a week and a half off before the player can return to hockey activities.

While it is a postive development if Lauko only misses a couple of weeks, it would be a bitter pill for him to swallow. He had been playing well in his first professional year for the Bruins AHL affiliate in Providence (4g/4a, 20 PIM’s, +4, in 18 games), but suffered an “upper-body injury” in a game against Utica on Decemeber 7th, and not played since. There was some question of whether or not he would be healthy enough to play for the Czech Republic, but he cleared last week.

Lauko’s injury would be a big loss for the Czech team. He was a returning member of the 2019 WJC team (1g/1a in 5 games) and was being counted on for scoring and leadership.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 159 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

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Potential Bruins Trade Target: Tyler Toffoli

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(Photo Credit: John Wilcox-Boston Herald)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

The season is more than a third over and the infamous “United States Thanksgiving” measuring stick has passed with Boston securely in a playoff spot. Despite the B’s great start, there is always room for improvement.

With that sentiment in mind, this is the first in a series of articles that will look at some possible trade targets for the Bruins as they “gear up” for what is (hopefully) another long playoff run. I just did an article about the logjam the Bruins have on defense, so while you can never say never, I am going to assume Boston will be looking at bolstering their forward depth. The most obvious need appears to be a 2nd line RW, but if the B’s found a 3rd-line center they really like, that would allow them to move the right-shot Coyle to the RW2 spot if they wanted.

The first target I want to examine is LA Kings right-wing, Tyler Toffoli. He has been linked to the Bruins for a while now, going back to last season’s trade deadline, before they opted for Marcus Johansson instead. His name has popped up again this week in connection with Boston. It’s easy to see why, as he is a right-shot RW, playing for a franchise that’s currently last in the West, and who will certainly be a “seller” before too long.

Toffoli was a 2nd-round pick (47th overall) in the 2010 Prospect Draft. The same draft where the B’s took Tyler Seguin 2nd overall. It’s a bit ironic in that they could have had Toffoli in the 2nd round twice, instead of selecting Jared Knight (32nd) and Ryan Spooner (45th), neither of whom are still in the NHL.

Toffoli played for the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL and put up 37-42-79 totals in 65 games in his draft year. The six-foot, 200-pound Scarborough native proved those totals were no fluke. He followed that up with seasons of 108 and 100 pts before making the jump to the King’s AHL affiliate, Manchester Monarchs, in 2012-13. After getting a 10 game NHL cameo that season, Toffoli established himself for the good the following year with a very respectable 12g/17a in 62 games with the Kings. He then chipped in 7g/7a in the playoffs, helping LA win their second Cup in three years.

Toffoli 2

(Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

The following season he would score 23 goals for LA and be producing like a legitimate Top 6 forward. In 2015-16 he really broke out, scoring 31 times at the ripe old age of 23. Unfortunately, over the next three seasons, Toffoli’s numbers would reflect the fortunes of an LA team that was slipping from its perch at the top of the NHL standings. He recorded 34, 47, and 34 points during those years. Not bad totals, but not what you would expect from a former 30 goal-scorer.

Despite the down years, Toffoli still remains an attractive trade target for a number of teams, including Boston. This is true for several reasons, not the least of which is that he has become a reliable three-zone player as he has matured. We all know that even if you are an elite scorer if you want to play for the Bruins, a strong 200-foot effort will be required by the coaching staff. That will not be an issue with Toffoli, who also has some other things going for him, besides his two-way game.

Even though the Kings are “rebuilding”, Toffoli has maintained above average advanced statistics this year. His Corsi, Fenwick, Shot, and Scoring Chance percentages at even strength are all in the mid-upper ’50s, despite grinding for a last-place club. On a stronger team like Boston, one would assume that he would at least continue to be good in those areas, and potentially improve.

While his 6-7-13 numbers in 30 games are not going to blow you away, 10 of his 13 points have come at even strength, and he would be tied for 7th on scoring for forwards in Boston. These numbers are more representative of a 3rd line player than a legitimate second-line player, but there are a couple of things to consider. First, the Kings are not a very good hockey club. Second, we heard the same thing about Johansson last year, who was also coming from a bad team and was one of the better playoff performers for the Bruins.

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(Photo Credit: Rogers/Sportsnet)

Toffoli is in the last year of a four-year deal worth $4.6m per season, and it is unclear at this point whether the Bruins would consider him a pure rental or try to re-sign him. Some fans have expressed some concern about continually trading for rentals, as opposed to players with the term (like Coyle last year). While I understand the concern, a player in the last year of his deal will demand a lower return. With the Bruins cloudy cap situation and the free agents they have, Boston may want a player they don’t have to worry about fitting under the cap for next season.

If you are looking for negatives in regards to Toffoli, there are a couple. Since his 31-58-69 numbers in the 2015-16 season, his totals have declined. He bounced back in 2017-18 but then regressed again last season. Some of that can be attributed to the team he is playing for, but it is definitely a red flag. The other “issue” is that Toffoli is not overly physical. He’s not small, and he doesn’t avoid the “dirty” areas, but he also doesn’t play an overly gritty game. In a little over six NHL seasons, he has less than 400 hits, which works out to roughly 60 hits a season. If a “heavy” style of play is your cup of tea, Toffoli is not going to be your guy.

While he has some warts (most players do), I believe Toffoli would be a good fit in Boston, even if he’s not the 30 goal scorer he once was. With LA being at the bottom of the standings and him being in the last year of his contract, it would seem that he would be available and not overly expensive. Personally, if the Bruins are interested, I would like to see them make a move around the first of the year and not wait until the trade deadline. It might cost a bit more, but in my opinion, it would be worth it to allow the players extra time to develop some chemistry.

That wraps up our look at Tyler Toffoli, Part two of the series will take a look at another right-wing, Columbus Blue Jacket, Josh Anderson.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 157 that we recorded on 12-8-19 below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

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The Bruins Have A Logjam On Defense

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(Photo Credit: Charles Krupa/AP)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

In the 2016-17 playoffs versus Ottawa, the Bruins were forced to use both rookies like Charlie McAvoy and career 8-9 defenseman like Joe Morrow in games because their defense had been decimated by injuries. The next year it was guys like Matt Grzelcyk and Nick Holden in the lineup vs Toronto and Tampa. I can only assume that as the Bruins were being eliminated in Game 5 of their series against the Bolts, GM Don Sweeney was vowing never again to have a depth problem in the playoffs.

That summer he signed left-handed defenseman John Moore to a five-year deal. During camp, he dealt blue-liner Adam McQuaid to the Rangers but acquired the less expensive former Bruin, Steve Kampfer, in the deal along with a draft pick. That gave them proven NHL players in: Chara, McAvoy, Krug, Carlo, Moore, Miller, Kampfer. They also had Matt Grzelcyk, who had played well in 2017-18 as a rookie, not to mention promising youngsters like Vaakaneinen, Lauzon, Zboril. At the time, I remember the B’s faithful asking where all these defensemen were going to play. Apparently, Sweeney knew what he was doing?

In 2018-19, because of injuries, Boston ended up using 12 different defensemen over the course of the regular season and playoffs. All of the guys I mentioned above, plus a pleasant surprise in the form of free-agent signee Connor Clifton. A 5th round draft pick of the Arizona Coyotes in 2013, Clifton was unable to come to a contract agreement with them after four years at Quinnipiac University. He ended up signing an AHL deal with Providence and performed well enough in 2017-18 to earn himself a two-year NHL deal. He ended up filling in admirably during the regular season after the usual myriad of injuries, playing 19 games. He played another 18 games in the playoffs as Boston went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

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(Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Before the 2019-20 season would even begin, the Bruins depth on defense would again be tested. John Moore needed offseason surgery after he played through an injured shoulder in the playoffs last year. Kevan Miller, who ended last season on the injured reserve, would start there to begin the season. Neither Moore nor Miller has played a single game for the Bruins this year, but it appears that both are finally getting healthy, and could push for playing time within the next few weeks (Moore is closer). On the surface, this would appear to be a good thing for the Bruins, but it will force Don Sweeney and his staff to make some decisions.

The first hurdle for Sweeney was that he and head coach Bruce Cassidy would have to decide what to do with Connor Clifton, who has been quickly approaching the point where he would no longer be waiver exempt. The obvious advantage to Clifton maintaining his exempt status is that he could be sent down to Providence without another team being able to claim him when he went through the waiver process. It was something that the B’s front office must have been thinking about long and hard because Clifton sat out two of the last five games in favor of Steven Kampfer before Sunday. Apparently, the staff came to some sort of conclusion, because Clifton played his 60th NHL game against Montreal, which will mark the end of his “exempt” status.

Most people who follow the team thing it’s a foregone conclusion that Clifton would not make it through waivers if the Bruins attempted to send him down at this point. Sweeney is not going to just give an asset like Clifton away, so the logical assumption is that he is here to stay with the big club.

Other relevant news that was announced Sunday was that John Moore had been loaned to Providence of the AHL for the purpose of a “conditioning stint”. Moore played that afternoon in Providence’s 4-0 win over the Charlotte Checkers, where he recorded an assist and was a “plus” two for the game.

Moore has since been recalled and placed back on LTIR, but the Bruins have said he may be ready to play Thursday. The maximum amount of active players allowed on an NHL roster at any one time is 23. With David Backes being activated off the IR for the game against Montreal, and Gaunce sent down, the Bruins are at 22 right now. With Clifton’s waiver status changed, Moore supposedly ready to play Thursday and Kevan Miller getting closer to full health, something is going to have to give. The Bruins can add Moore to the roster and I believe they will be ok as long as Miller is still on the LTIR.

In the short-term, I would not be surprised to see the Bruins waive Kampfer. I think his ability to sit out for long periods and still play well when called upon is valuable, but I believe he would pass through waivers unclaimed (unlike Clifton). The problem is even if the B’s carry 8 D/13 F, when/if Miller returns someone is going to have to get moved.

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(Photo Credit: The Associated Press)

It would appear that the two most likely candidates for a trade would be Moore or Miller. The Bruins have won so far this season without them, so it makes sense one of them would go. The two guys are apples and oranges in my opinion. Miller is the more physical of the two, and that’s definitely something the team could use more of. On the flip side, Moore is a big body and a very good skater, but not overly physical. One advantage he has is that he is comfortable playing either side, whereas Miller is strictly a right side guy.

It’s going to be an extremely difficult decision for the front office, but one that has to be made because of the emergence of players like Grzelcyk and Clifton. It’s a good problem to have and one that 30 other NHL teams likely would not mind having.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 155 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

 

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The Bruins Most Prolific Scorer: Phil Esposito

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(Photo Credit: Tony Triolo Sports Illustrated)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

This week I have been working on an article about where David Pastrnak’s and Brad Marchand’s seasons project in regards to the greatest Bruins seasons of all time. The problem was that as I was researching and writing the article, it started to become more about B’s legend Phil Esposito than about the aforementioned players. At that point, I figured it would probably be a good idea to just dedicate an article to Esposito himself, and here we are.

Esposito was born on February 20, 1942, in the city of Sault Ste. Marie in the Ontario Province of Canada. His younger brother Tony was born in 1943 and legend has it that Phil forced his baby brother to play goal so that he could practice his shooting. Whatever they did back then, it appears to have worked out pretty well, as both are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The elder Esposito was signed by the Chicago Blackhawks and was told to join the Sarnia Legionnaires. He was a high-scoring player even as a teen, putting up 47 goals and 61 assists in only 32 games for his Junior B team. The following season he moved up to play for the St Catherines Teepees in the OHA-Jr league (sort of a precursor to the modern-day OHL). The jump in the competition didn’t seem to slow him down, and he recorded 32 goals and 39 assists (71 points) for the Teepees in 49 games.

In today’s NHL, a scorer like Esposito would have probably gotten a long look for the big club, but things worked differently back then. Despite his scoring prowess, when Esposito turned pro, he was assigned to the St. Louis Braves of the EPHL/CPHL. These leagues were started by the NHL and fully controlled by them in an attempt to have more control over the development of players. At the time, other professional leagues like the AHL existed but did not have strong relationships with NHL teams they do now. His first season with the Braves Esposito had 36g/54a in 71 games but was not called up. The following year (1962-63), he produced 24g/54a in only 43 games and got the call-up. In 27 NHL games that year, at the age of 20, Esposito had 3g/2a. While not the most auspicious start, he showed enough to the Chicago brass to earn a spot in the NHL for good.

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(Photo Credit: The Hockey Writers)

He spent the next three seasons in Chicago, Espo put up some very good numbers. In 208 regular-season games in the Windy City, he had 71 goals and 98 assists, much of the time centering Bobby Hull. What a lot of fans today may not know is that despite these stats, Chicago did not see Esposito as a good “fit” for the team.  When the Blackhawks were eliminated in the 1966-67 semifinals by eventual Cup champion Toronto Maple Leafs, Esposito had zero points in the six playoff games that postseason. He shouldered much of the blame from fans (and apparently staff) after the loss to the Leafs. The NHL was expanding from six to twelve teams in June of 1967, and the “Original 6” teams were going to lose a significant amount of players. Despite his statistics, the Blackhawks still considered Esposito an unproven talent and had no plans to protect him. So, on May 15th, 1967 (immediately before the rosters were frozen for the expansion draft), they dealt him and young forwards Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield to the struggling Bruins franchise for veteran center Pit Martin (who they saw as Esposito’s replacement), 22 year-old defenseman Gilles Marotte, and minor league goalie Jack Norris.

The Blackhawks saw the three players they dealt to Boston as underachievers who would not be missed by the NHL club. The centerpiece to the trade in their mind was the promising young Marotte, who had been paired in Boston with defense partner Bobby Orr. They (and many others) thought at the time they had fleeced the Bruins and their new GM, Milt Schmidt. Of course, over the next eight-plus seasons, this would be proven to be the furthest thing from the truth, as the Bruins would establish themselves as one of the dominant NHL clubs of the early and mid-’70s.

The long term benefits notwithstanding, the trade also paid immediate dividends for both Boston and Esposito. In his first year with the Bruins, he was named Assistant Captain and had 35 goals and 49 assists in 74 games, good for second in the NHL. Former teammate Stan Makita was the only one who finished above him (with 87 points). More importantly to Boston fans, the Bruins made the playoffs for the first time since the 1958-59 season. While they were swept in the first round by the eventual Cup-champion Canadians, it would mark the start of a 29 year consecutive run of playoff seasons in Boston.

The following season would result in more milestones for both Esposito and the team. In 1968-69 Esposito would become the first NHL player to reach 100 points in a season in the league’s history. Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe would also reach the century mark that year, but Esposito would hit it first and lead the league with 126 points during the regular season (49g/77a). This season would also start to establish Esposito, Ken Hodge, and Wayne Cashman as one of the most feared lines of the early ’70s. Hodge finished 5th in the NHL in scoring with 90 points (45 goals) and Cashman added 31 points in just 51 games. These numbers were due in large part to Esposito’s skill and influence. The Bruins as a team also improved, sweeping a series against Toronto, including outscoring them 17-0 (10-0 and 7-0) in games one and two at home. The Bruins would lose to Montreal again, but this time in a hard-fought six-game series in the Semifinals. Montreal would go on to sweep the St. Louis Blues for yet another Cup. Not the ending the Bruins were hoping for, but things were certainly looking up.

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(Photo Credit: Boston Bruins Alumni)

The next season, Esposito would take a bit of a step back from a personal standpoint. In 1969-70, he “only” produced 43 goals and 56 assists for 99 points in 76 regular-season games. That would be good enough for second in the NHL, behind teammate Bobby Orr, who finished with 120 points (33g/87a). Despite the slight fall off for Espo, the Bruins as a team improved to the highest level. After tying Chicago for first overall with 99 points, the B’s faced the NY Rangers in the first round and defeated them in six games. Next up was the Blackhawks, and Esposito would get a measure of revenge on his old team with a four-game sweep. The Finals pitted Boston against the St. Louis Blues, who were there for the third straight year representing the West. The Bruins made short work of the Blues, sweeping them 4-0 and bringing the Cup back to Boston for the first time since 1941. Esposito finished the playoffs with 27 points (13g/14a) in fourteen games.

Over the next five seasons, Espo would help the B’s win a second Cup and from 1970-71 through 1974-75, he would score an absolutely unbelievable 326 goals and add 361 assists. His point total over those five years (687) was only seven less than Hall of Famer Cam Neely accumulated over his entire career. Production like that will more than likely never be equaled.

Unfortunately, things did not end smoothly for Esposito in Boston. During the 1975-76 season, coming off a 127 point campaign the year before, he reportedly became upset over the Bruins asking him to take a reduced role at the age of 33. After winning two Cups, two Hart Trophies, and five Art Ross trophies, Esposito left town the same way he arrived, via the trade. He was moved in November of 1975, along with defenseman Carol Vadnais for Jean Ratelle, Brad Park, and Joe Zanussi. He played in New York for five more seasons before retiring in 1981 at the age of 38. In New York, Esposito never attained the same level of success he had in Boston, but he still managed 404 points in 422 games while he played in the “Big Apple”.

espo ny

(Photo Credit: Denis Brodeur 1980 NHLI)

Three years later, in 1984, Esposito would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Three years after that, he would be involved in another remarkable ceremony, as the Bruins would retire Esposito’s famous number 7 jersey. The jersey was being worn at the time by a young player that would eventually become a B’s legend, Ray Bourque. Esposito had told Bourque he wanted him to keep wearing the number and assumed the proceedings would be strictly for “show”. Bourque surprised Espo and the team as well by removing the 7 jersey and revealing a number 77 jersey underneath that he would sport for the rest of his career in Boston, allowing Esposito’s jersey to be raised to the rafters.

After years of acrimony towards the Bruins because of the trade to New York, Bourque’s gesture went a long way towards healing the relationship between Esposito and the B’s. While the hard feelings may never completely go away, the jersey retirement was a fitting way for the Bruins organization to pay homage to it’s greatest goal scorer.

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Bruins Prospect Swayman Named Hockey East Defensive Player Of The Week

Jeremy-Swayman-1

(Photo Credit: Peter Buehner)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

University of Maine goaltender Jeremy Swayman was named the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week. This past weekend Swayman had two stellar performances, leading Maine to two wins. The junior from Anchorage, Alaska, and his fellow Black Bears faced off against Hockey East rival UNH twice at Alfond Arena in Orono.

Friday night Swayman stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced and led Maine to a 3-1 victory over the Wildcats. New Hampshire was coming off a big win over 2nd-ranked Massachusetts and they came out of the gate quickly, going on the PP at 5:20 of the first. Maine managed to kill the penalty off, but seven seconds after they were all square, Junior forward Kohei Sato put UNH up 1-0.

In the 2nd period, UNH outshot Maine 12-9, but Swayman stopped all 12 shots and the Black Bears were able to take the lead with two goals of their own. More of the same in the 3rd period with UNH putting 12 more on Swayman without denting the twine, and Maine getting one goal on nine shots to close it out. All-in-all, Swayman stopped 28 consecutive shots after giving up the only score on the 3rd shot of the game.

Saturday night figured to be a spirited contest with the Wildcats loaded for Bear (pun intended) after their loss the night before. Instead, Maine came out and had the better of the early play, aided by an early power play. Once UNH killed the penalty, they seemed to get their skating legs under them. They ripped off the next nine shots in a row (including a PP) with Swayman stopping them all.

Maine had the better of the play in the 2nd period, outshooting UNH 14-9, but the Wildcats had the only goal on the PP with Angus Crookshank tipping a Kalle Eriksson shot past Swayman about halfway through the session. The score after two periods was UNH 1-0, with Swayman stopping 19 out of 20 shots.

Just like the night before, Swayman would allow only the one goal. In the 3rd period, he blanked the Wildcats, stopping all ten shots he faced, keeping the Black Bears in the game. At the 17:23 mark, UNH took a roughing penalty and with less than a minute to go, Maine’s Tim Doherty evened the game at 1-1. In OT, Swayman stopped both UNH shots allowing teammate Ryan Smith to bury the game-winner at 2:11 of the extra period.

For the weekend, Swayman faced 63 shots altogether, allowing just the two goals, for an absolutely ridiculous .968 save percentage. This raised his percentage for the season to .946 through the first 12 games of the season. Because of Swayman’s stellar play early this year, the Black Bears have gotten off to a surprising 7-3-2 start, putting them near the top of the Hockey East standings. After carrying the team to a weekend sweep of one of their league rivals, it was no surprise that he was honored with the Defensive Player of the Week award, his first of the season.

By the time this is published, Maine will have lost to Northeastern 5-2 on Friday evening. A rough outing for Swayman, allowing five goals on twenty-two shots. By all accounts, he actually played well but was as they say, “hung out to dry” on multiple occasions. I have no doubt that Swayman will bounce back tonight when the two teams meet again at Matthews arena. The game will be televised on NESN Plus at 7pm. Bruins fans should do themselves a favor and check out a prospect that will hopefully form quite the tandem in Boston with Kyle Keyser a few years from now.

Check out our new Black N’ Gold Prospect Podcast episode 5 that we recorded on November 17th, 2019! Our BNG Prospects Pod can be found on the same RSS Feed as our original Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast, which can be found on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

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Can The Bruins Solve Their Secondary Scoring Issues?

Boston Bruins vs Calgary Flames

(Photo Credit: Matt Stone/Boston Herald)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

If you spend any time following Bruins fans on Twitter and other social media outlets (and I do), you might think the team had started out 2-6-1, instead of their actual record of 6-1-2. Losing two of the last three games to Tampa and Toronto in extra time was a little frustrating, but I thought the Bruins were the better team Saturday night against the Leafs and Andersen won the game for them. I’m not one of those “doom and gloom, the sky is falling” types to begin with, but even less so when the B’s have taken 14 out of a possible 18 points with Krejci missing most of the games.

That said, one of the things that was a problem early in the season last year was a lack of secondary scoring. Unfortunately, it has reared it’s ugly head again early this year. The Bruins have scored 26 goals as a team through nine games. The first line has accounted for 17 of those goals (Pasta has ten, Marchand five, and Bergeron two). The only two players not on the first line that have multiple goals this season are Danton Heinen and Brett Ritchie, the two guys that scored in the opening night win against Dallas.

As optimistic as I am, I don’t believe that relying on one line to score and having your goalies stand on their heads nightly is a sustainable model for success. You can get away with it during the regular season for a time, but eventually, it will catch up with you. It also tends to become even more of a problem in the playoffs. I’m not sure exactly why, but secondary scoring and more specifically the RW2 position seems to have been an issue since Jarome Iginla left.

So, what realistic moves can the B’s make to fix this issue? I’m here to tell you that it can be done “in-house” with three relatively painless moves. You want some additional good news? I’m going to tell you how the Bruins can do it without requiring you to pay for a subscription to our site.

Pasta Celly

(Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Move David Pastrnak Down

The first move in rebuilding the B’s sparse secondary scoring is to slide Pastrnak down to the second line. Before anyone starts wailing, yes, I am well aware of how good the Bruins first line is. And yes, after they move Pasta down with Krejci and DeBrusk, I will miss all the headlines about the Bruins having the best line in hockey, but it will be worth it. I won’t miss teams being able to largely shut down the Bruins offense in the playoffs by containing one line.

At the ripe old age of 23, Pastrnak has officially reached “carry a line” status in my opinion. After last night’s two-point effort, he has 17 points in the first nine games. This is the best start to a season by a Bruins player since Adam Oates in 1993-94. He’s going to produce no matter who he’s with, so if the Bruins can find a competent guy to replace him on the first line, they will definitely have at least two scoring lines. Which brings us to Step Two…

Bruins vs Hurricanes

(Photo Credit Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

Put Danton Heinen On The First Line

Danton Heinen only has two points so far this season. This is not indicative of his overall play. He’s been more assertive and he’s shooting more while still giving the Bruins a high level of defensive play. He showed last season that not only could he hang on the top line, but that he could contribute there as well. During the 16 game span, while Pastrnak was out of the lineup with a wrist injury, Heinen had one goal and twelve assists over that time. In addition, the first line’s advanced and defensive numbers were significantly better than when Pasta was there.

I am in no way suggesting that Heinen is a better or more explosive player than David Pastrnak. What I AM saying is that he brings a different dynamic to the line. When he’s there, he allows Marchand and Bergeron to take more chances and be more creative because they know he will get back and cover. When Pasta is on the first line, I believe he becomes the focus of his linemates. They both will pass up scoring opportunities to get him the puck. When Heinen is in that RW1 position, those two become a bit more selfish and shoot more. When you have two players of that caliber firing the puck more often, it’s not a bad thing. With Heinen and Pasta now in the Top Six, Charlie Coyle needs a buddy on the third line that can take advantage of his puck possession skills. Enter the third and final step of my diabolical master plan…

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(Photo Credit: Matt Stone/Boston Herald)

Call Anders Bjork Up From Providence

Tuesday night we got our first taste of Anders Bjork in the B’s lineup and I thought he acquitted himself quite well. In 13:17 TOI, he had four shots, one giveaway and takeaway, and one block. He was a minus one, but also created a nice scoring chance and hit the crossbar. He also showed that he could play a Bottom 6 checking role effectively. The biggest takeaway for me was that he didn’t look out of place. The speed and physicality of the NHL game was not an issue.

Bjork was an “emergency recall” when David Krejci was placed on IR and had to be sent back down to Providence. This was done so a roster player would not have to be sent down and clear waivers. Given that, it would appear that Krejci is close to returning. I expect Bjork’s stay in PRO to be brief. With Karson Kuhlman out for at least four weeks (and probably longer) with a broken tibia, Bjork will likely be recalled again as soon as Kuhlman is placed on IR.

The only “fly in the ointment” is that it appears the Bruins want to keep Bjork on the left side. In the past, he played a lot of right-wing, but he looks more comfortable on his natural side. There was also some speculation that his tendency to get hit in the middle of the ice was partly due to playing the off-wing. Playing the left side should allow Bjork to come out of the Boston end much easier. This doesn’t appear to be a huge issue because Ritchie has been playing better and Heinen is capable of playing on the right side.

When Krejci returns, my forward lineup would be:

Marchand – Bergeron – Heinen

DeBrusk – Krejci – Pastrnak

Bjork – Coyle – Ritchie

Nordstrom – Kuraly – Wagner

That should give Boston two legitimate scoring lines and a third line that can contribute some offense as well. You can still keep Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak together on the man advantage. The powerplay is a pretty large part of their production and would remain unaffected. The best part of my plan is that it doesn’t require any outside personnel moves. This means that if it doesn’t work, Cassidy can always reunite the first line.

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(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Hopefully, Bruce reads my article, adopts my foolproof plan and massive improvements in the Bruins secondary scoring follows. Once that happens, I may not be writing as much, as I would expect Boston to offer me a coaching job. Unrealistic? Of course, but let a man dream.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Prospect Podcast episode 002 that we recorded on 10-8-19 below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!

Krejci Injured In Bruins Win. Who Steps Up?

NHL: New York Rangers at Boston Bruins

(Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

Stop me if you have heard this one before. David Krejci leaves the game in the first period with the ever-ambiguous Lower Body Injury (LBI). Unfortunately, this is not the story from the September 25th preseason game versus the Devils being looped for eternity like Phil Connors in Groundhog Day. It is the current bad news coming in the aftermath of the Bruins 4-2 matinee victory over the surprising Anaheim Ducks.

Krejci left the game with about four minutes to go in the first period and headed to the dressing room. He came back out for the second period and skated for about half a shift. He had a 2-on-1 with DeBrusk but then appeared to be laboring heading back up ice as the Bruins gave up a 3-on-1. That was it for Krejci, as he left the ice and didn’t return, leaving the Bruins a center short for the remainder of the game.

I went back and watched the first-period last night and it appeared to me that the injury occurred with a little less than eight minutes to go in the session. The Ducks were coming out of their end and DeBrusk got a piece of an outlet pass. The puck deflected in the air, Krejci reached up and gloved it down to himself. As he did and brought the puck over the blue line, Getzlaf gave him what looked like a pretty nasty short cross-check to his side/rib area.

I can’t help but wonder if this might be one of the reasons the Bruins seemed extremely annoyed with Getzlaf later in the game? I’m not a doctor and don’t play one on TV, but if I had to guess, it looked like it could have been a rib injury? Hopefully, it’s something relatively minor and Krejci is back soon. It seems like this might be the case based on comments from Bruce Cassidy on Tuesday afternoon?

One of the keys to the B’s success in the last couple of years is depth in the middle. Two years ago it was Bergeron, Krejci, Nash, and Kuraly. Last season, once they traded for Coyle, the team really began to roll. This year they start the season with the same group that went to the Finals. If Krejci is not ready to go on Thursday, or worse, if he’s out longer, what options do the Bruins have to replace him and maintain that strength at center?

If Krejci is only going to be out for a couple of games, the easiest thing for the Bruins to do would be simply to plug Par Lindholm into the lineup. He could go directly into Krejci’s spot on the 2nd line between DeBrusk and Kuhlman, leaving the other three lines intact. The other relatively “easy fix” would be to put Lindholm into the lineup, but slide Coyle up into the 2nd line center spot. That would (hopefully) allow the Bruins to generate offense from the 2nd line. Lindholm would likely center Heinen and Ritchie, creating a defensively sound Bottom Six until Krejci can return.

NHL Pre-Season: Chicago Blackhawks Vs Boston Bruins At TD Garden

(Photo Credit: Boston Globe via Getty Images)

If Krejci turns out to be more seriously hurt and out of the lineup for an extended period, the Bruins might decide they need to go in a different direction? While the first line is carrying the team right now, I don’t believe that’s a sustainable formula for winning over the long term. Depth and secondary scoring are the way to go in today’s NHL. With that in mind, I could see the Bruins reaching down to Providence for guys like Studnicka or Frederic.

I believe they would prefer to keep Studnicka in the AHL to learn how to play against pros for the majority of a season before calling him up. If Krejci were to be out for a long period of time, they might not have that luxury? Lindholm has more experience, but it appears that Studnicka has more upside and offers more on the offensive side of the puck than the Swedish veteran does. Through four games in Providence, Studnicka has yet to score his first goal, but he does have two assists and is a “plus” two, with six shots.

Jack-Studnicka

(Photo Credit: Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Frederic has NHL experience and would offer a different kind of option for the Bruins. He’s bigger and more physical than Studnicka. He could slot in with Heinen and Ritchie forming a pretty heavy group that Cassidy would likely give 4th line minutes to. After his stint with the big club last season, Frederic is probably more physically and mentally prepared than a rookie would be. The issue with him is that he appears to have gotten off to a bit of a slow start in Providence. I’m not sure how much this would factor into the front office’s decision-making process?

The last candidate on the Baby B’s is Brendan Gaunce. It’s not a name that will immediately spring to mind for most Bruins fans, but he might be the best choice. The former first-round pick looked really good in training camp. I thought he out-played Ritchie and Backes and had he been right-handed, likely would have made the team outright. He’s a big body (6’2″, 220 pounds) that can play a physical game, but moves well for his size. He also has 117 NHL games under his belt over the past four seasons, which gives him an edge over Studnicka and Fredric. Last year in Utica he had 16g/22a in 60 games, so he is not without offensive skills.

Is Gaunce the answer for Krejci if he’s out for a long period of time? Probably not, but he would be serviceable for a few games. Gaunce would actually be a much better replacement for Kuraly if he ever went down. I like him in a Bottom 6 role, but I don’t think he’s a Top 6 talent on a playoff team.

Best case scenario, Krejci’s injury is not serious, he misses little to no time, and this whole conversation is moot. If Krejci is out longer, the Bruins will have some trouble filling that spot, unless someone like Studnicka proves to be ahead of schedule. Not an ideal situation to be sure, but the Bruins dealt with injury successfully last season. It looks like they will have to do it again.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Prospect Podcast episode 002 that we recorded on 10-8-19 below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!

Joe Chrzanowski: Bold Predictions For The Bruins 2019-20 Season

Bruins Bold Predictons

(Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

We are only “Eddie Shore” days (two for our younger fans) away from the start of the 2019-20 NHL regular season, so it’s time to make some big predictions for the year to come. I will be sure to remind everyone on a daily basis if any of these things do happen…and deny I ever said any of the stuff I am wrong about.

Coyle

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Charlie Coyle Will Sign An Extension With the Bruins

When the Bruins first traded for Coyle, I was cautiously optimistic. He filled a definite need for the team, had another year on his deal, and I had soured on Ryan Donato as a prospect when it became apparent he did not know where his own end of the ice was. Even though Coyle was playing well after the deal, he wasn’t putting up a ton of points and Donato went on a little mini-tear for the Wild. It was probably best for my sanity that Coyle lit it up during the playoffs and centered the Bruins most consistent line with Heinen and Johansson. It’s funny, I don’t seem to be hearing as much about that deal from Minny fans? Odd?

I’m not sure if anybody is aware of this, but Charlie Coyle is a local kid that was born and raised in Weymouth (lol). He appears to be relishing playing for the home town team (unlike some others before him). Because of this local connection and Don Sweeney’s mystical GM powers, I see Coyle signing a team-friendly extension with the Bruins with a term of five or six years and an AAV of around $5.25-5.50 million. When Krejci’s deal is up, Coyle will transition into the 2C role, with Studnicka sliding into the 3C spot. Remember, you heard it here first.

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(Photo Credit: Matt Stone/Boston Herald)

Matt Grzelcyk Will Be McAvoy’s D Partner Before The Season Ends

I know that it’s only preseason, but to these eyes, Chara looks a bit slower than he was last year. This could be due to lingering injury or he could be just pacing himself, but he definitely looks like he lost another step. I watched him get burned on a couple of plays last week versus Philly because of his lack of foot speed. Before anyone’s head explodes, I am not saying that Chara does not still have a valuable place on the team. What I AM saying is that the team and the player would be best served if he slotted in on the third pair. This would likely give Z more favorable matchups against bigger and slower Bottom Six players, while at the same time preserving him for a much-needed role on the penalty kill.

Someone is going to have to step up and play the left-side with Charlie McAvoy on the first pair. Enter Charlestown’s own, Matt Grzelcyk. The two were paired together at Boston University when Grizz was a senior and McAvoy was a freshman. They were great together that season and have looked good as a tandem during a few preseason games. They would not be the biggest defense pair in the league, but they would definitely be one of the most nimble. I could see the opposing forecheck being shredded with 48 and 73 as a duo again. When this happens in December, you will want to buy me a Christmas present. I am letting you know now…I am not too proud to accept cash.

Heinen

(Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

Danton Heinen Will Have 60+ Points In 2019-20

Danton Heinen is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Boston Bruins. No matter how many different roles he fills, how many little things he does well, or how much the advanced stats point to his stellar play, the guy just can’t seem to get any respect from the average B’s fan. That is going to change this season in a big way, largely due to my daily letters and emails sent to Cassidy pleading with him to leave Heinen on one line for more than three consecutive shifts. While I am kidding (as far as you know), I am of the opinion that bouncing Heinen around from line to line is the primary reason for his lack of offensive consistency. As a rookie, he was somehow able to produce 47 points while playing with a variety of teammates. I suspect this was largely due to the veteran guys he was playing with (Nash, Schaller, Backes, etc.). This past season, Cassidy relied on Heinen to be the defensive conscience of several line combinations that included rookies Ryan Donato, Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson, and Trent Frederic. I believe this led to a much more defensive mindset from Heinen that greatly affected his scoring.

This year, if everyone stays relatively healthy, I expect Heinen to ride shotgun with Coyle for the majority of the season. I would have preferred Bjork play on the opposite wing, but it looks like it will be Backes, at least to start the season. If 42 can play the way he did in his last preseason game, it should help both Coyle and Heinen put up very solid numbers. The other thing I am banking on is that Heinen gets a little more time on the 2nd power-play unit this year than he did previously. This will give him about a ten-point boost, push him over the 60 point plateau, and allow Heinen to take over the title of the “best value contract in hockey” at a paltry $2.8 million per.

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(Photo Credit: CBS Sports)

Tuukka Rask Will Win the Vezina

Tuukka Rask is a lightning rod for Boston fans. People seem to either love him or hate him, and there does not appear to be a lot of middle ground. His regular-season stats last year (27 wins, 2.48 GAA, .912 Save %) were well below his career numbers, but in the playoffs Rask really shined. He played in 24 games, had a GAA of 2.02 and ridiculous Save % of .934. Boston fans have not seen those kinds of numbers since 2012-14 when Rask led the B’s to the Finals in 2013 and won the Vezina the following season in 2014.

The most impressive thing for me was his demeanor, which went well beyond the great numbers he put up. I have never seen Rask as calm as he was during the 2019 playoff run and it appears to have carried over into preseason. When he is playing like that, it has a soothing effect on the entire team. They play with more confidence and take more offensive chances knowing Tuukka has their backs. History is going to repeat itself this season with Rask taking home the Vezina the year after reaching the Finals and losing. The only difference is that the 2019-20 team will (fingers crossed) go much further than the 2013-14 squad did.

Steen

(Photo Courtesy of NHL.com)

Oskar Steen Will Outscore Every Bruins Draft Pick Since 2016 (Career)

This particular bold prediction will take some time to come to fruition, but what’re a few more seasons when I have had a man-crush on Oskar Steen since I first saw him doing the “rope drill” at Bruins Development Camp several years ago? I watched his career in the SHL with great interest and was very disappointed in his production during his first two seasons playing for Farjestads. He was not yet 20 years of age and playing on a good veteran team, so I should have expected a limited role to begin with I suppose. That changed in 2018-19, with Steen receiving a much larger role with the team. He took the opportunity and ran with it, finishing the season with 17g/20a and 49 PIM’s in 47 games. This was good for 10th in the SHL for scoring overall, but 1st for players 25 and under in the league.

After the SHL season ended, Steen signed his ELC with Boston in May and made plans to play in North America for the first time. Despite his relatively small stature (5’9″), Steen is a very solid 187 pounds. His low center of gravity, speed, and a bit of a nasty disposition should serve him well on the smaller ice surfaces. I believe he has the type of game that can translate even better in the NHL than it did in the SHL. Throughout the Prospects Challenge and the preseason games, he was easily one of the best players on the ice. If NHL roster spots were handed out based solely on merit, rather than age and waiver status, Steen would have been in Dallas on Thursday night. Given that he is new to the North American pro game, it should not hinder Steen’s development to play in Providence for a few months. I expect him to tear it up down there and make his NHL debut sometime after January 1st. He will be a regular in Boston next year at the latest, and you can take that to the bank.

Check out the Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 146 that we recorded on 9-22-19 below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!

 

The Culture Of The Boston Bruins

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(Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports Photo)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

Like every other sport, hockey is a game that requires skill and certain physical abilities in order to be successful. Hockey is also a sport that involves a lot of intangibles. Anyone who follows the game, whether you have ever laced them up or not, knows how highly leadership and perseverance are valued. There are whispers about guys being dealt because they “weren’t good in the room.” We all know the story of the 2013 Finals when Patrice Bergeron played through a veritable laundry list of injuries that included torn rib cartilage, a broken rib, a separated shoulder, and a punctured lung. Just a few months ago, Zdeno Chara broke his jaw in multiple places in Game Four of the Finals…and didn’t miss a single game.

Both of those players are revered around the league for their toughness and leadership abilities. Players that join the team from other organizations speak to the culture of the room. As John Moore so succinctly put it during an interview back in May, “For lack of a better way to put it there are no ****heads.” Bergeron and Chara’s acts of will no doubt inspire the other guys in the room to play through pain and for one another. The 2011 and 2019 teams were reputed to have two of the tightest-knit rooms in the NHL. As fascinating as it is to discuss those displays of pure willpower (and it is), I have been asking myself if perhaps these events inspire a more tangible benefit than a bunch of guys that get along? Does the culture in the B’s dressing room directly affect the product they are able to put on the ice?

Looking at the deals that Peter Chiarelli and Don Sweeney have negotiated over the last few years, I think the answer is yes. There appears to be a trend in Boston of players taking “less than fair market value” in order to stay with the team. Boston is a great city with good schools, medical facilities and lots to do, but let’s face it, NHL players making millions will be able to get that in most cities. Bruins players truly enjoy coming to work every day, and it’s reflected in the “fair deals” they sign with the team.

Chara Room

(Photo Credit: AP/Charles Krupa)

This trend first started before Don Sweeney was named GM, with the two de facto leaders in the room, Chara and Bergeron. In 2010, Chara was in the last year of the five- year, $37.5 million contract that marked his departure from Ottawa for Boston. He came to an agreement on a seven-year, $45.5 million extension in October of 2010 that would set the tone for the rest of the guys in the room for years to come. When comparing contracts signed in different years (and with different cap ceilings) the key is to look at the percentage of the cap the deal eats up. Chara’s contract accounted for 11.64% of the cap at the time.

Next up was Patrice Bergeron. In July of 2013, after the Bruins made their second trip to the Finals, Bergeron signed an eight-year extension at $6.875 million per season that would make him a Bruin for life. This contract would take up 10.69% of the cap that year. Nearly seven million dollars and more than ten percent of the cap sounds like a lot until you look at deals for similar players. The closest comparison that year to Bergeron was the Anaheim Ducks captain, Ryan Getzlaf. The season before Getzlaf had 11g/46a (Bergeron had 22g/42a), which was a down year for him. Despite that, in March of 2013, he inked an eight-year deal for $8.25 million a season that accounted for 12.83% of the Ducks total cap space. A little more than a two percent difference doesn’t sound like a lot until think about the other 21-22 players on the team that are going to want a few more percentage points on all of their deals (because that’s what the team leaders did).

Another veteran that signed a long-term extension in 2014 was center, David Krejci. While his six-year, $43.5 million contract was for a slightly higher AAV ($7.25m) then Bergeron’s, it didn’t take effect until 2015-16. In the interim, the cap went up, and as a result, Krejci’s deal was actually a slightly lower percentage to the cap than Bergeron’s (10.51%). So, now it’s the 2016 offseason, Sweeney is the GM, and the Bruins have three of their key (and most influential) veterans locked up on long-term deals at very reasonable money. Whether it was intended to do this or not, the effect of having those three Cup-winning leaders locked up was to create an artificial ceiling. Combine that with the personalities of those guys and the culture in the room and what happened next should not have been much of a surprise in hindsight.

Boston Bruins vs Winnipeg Jets

(Photo Credit: Christopher Evans/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

Brad Marchand was in the last year of his four-year, $4.5 million per deal and B’s Nation was worried. Marchand was coming off career highs of 61 pts and 37 goals. There was talk of an $8m contract, not being able to afford the controversial wing, and potentially trading him, rather than losing him for nothing to free agency. This went on all summer, and all through camp, until the last week of September. At that time Sweeney and Marchand announced an eight-year deal for $49 million (8.39% of the cap) that would likely keep Bad Brad in Boston for the remainder of his career. He has done nothing but make that deal look like a bargain since. His point totals the last three seasons are: 85 pts (39 goals), 85 pts (34 goals), 100 pts (36 goals). Many believe Marchand’s contract to be the best value in the league.

Fast forward to the following summer. The Bruins returned to the playoffs under Bruce Cassidy, who replaced Claude Julien with 27 games left in the season. They were eliminated in the first round, but optimism reigns. The team has a new coach and an exciting young wing in David Pastrnak who produced 70 points, including 34 goals. The only thing more captivating than Pasta’s scoring ability was his gap-toothed smile and Bruins fans adored him. There was one problem. Pastrnak had his breakout season in the last year of his ELC. To most fans, this meant that he would command a big salary that would put a strain on the salary cap. I guess we should have known better by this point? After several months of angst and speculation, in September of 2017 Pastrnak signed a six-year deal for $40 million ($6.66m per year, 8.89%). In the two seasons after, he has 73 regular-season goals and 161 points. Another deal that has some fans referring to the Bruins GM as “Sweenius” for his team-friendly extensions.

It seems like every offseason, there are contracts that need to be negotiated, and this year was no exception. Three young regulars: Danton Heinen, Charlie McAvoy, and Brandon Carlo were all coming off their ELC’s and needed new deals. After the long postseason run, and loss in the Finals, fans were cranky and needed something to complain about. The dialogue was that there was no way Sweeney could sign his three restricted free-agents with David Backes’ deal still on the books, limiting him to roughly $12 million to work with. It would turn out that all the gnashing of teeth and stress were for nothing. The solution would come in the form of three “bridge” deals. Heinen signed first, two years, $2.8m per season. McAvoy was next and he came in at $4.9m for three years. That left only Carlo, who ended up at $2.85m for two years. A Top-9 forward and two Top-4 defensemen for less than $11 million. Who would have thought it possible?

The thing that makes all of this even more delicious is that the Bruins main division rival du jour, the Toronto Maple Leafs, had their own high-profile RFA to sign. Leaf wunderkind Mitch Marner was coming off three 60+ point ELC seasons, culminating in last season’s 94 point effort. He ended up signing a six-year deal for more than $65 million ($10.89m per, 13.37% of the cap), which was significantly more than any of his RFA peers. I am not saying that Toronto has “bad” guys in their dressing room, but the leaders on that team have not taken “team-friendly” deals, and you can see the trickle-down effect with a lot of their contracts.

It started with John Tavares. He signed in July 2018 to the tune of $77 million (7 years, $11m AAV, 13.84% of the cap). Then restricted free agent William Nylander held out until December, missing the first two months of the regular season. On the last day of eligibility to play in the 2018-19 season, Nylander inked a deal with the Leafs worth $45 million (6 years, $6.96m AAV, 12.93% of the cap). After those two contracts, can you really blame Matthews and Marner for wanting their piece of the pie? Matthews signed his extension in February of 2019. It was a five-year deal worth almost $58.2 million ($11.63m AAV, 14.63% of the cap) that will make him an unrestricted free agent at the ripe old age of 28.

Carlo and Krug

(Photo Credit: Stuart Cahill/Media News Group/Boston Herald)

Obviously, you have to take into account that the league has changed over the last few years, and also the ages of the players involved. Even taking those factors into consideration, the difference between the paths the two teams have taken is striking. Toronto’s top four forwards account for more than $40 million, or roughly half the cap. Boston has its top four forwards signed for a total of less than $27 million. Each one of the Leafs forwards has a percent-to-cap number of about four-to-five percentage points higher than the comparables in Boston.

I realize that there are a lot of numbers involved in what I have been talking about and that the salary cap can be a very confusing topic of discussion. That said, if I had to boil it all down to a single overriding idea for the reader to take away from this article, it would be that the culture in the Bruins dressing room has had a very tangible and measurable effect. In addition to being good in the room, Bruins veterans have been willing to take less money to enable Bruins management to keep the core of the team together. It started about five or six years ago and continued into this past offseason. Next year Don Sweeney will have roughly $24 million in cap space, and he will have to make decisions on players like Krug, Coyle, DeBrusk, and Grzelcyk. It will be extremely interesting to see if the unique culture in the Bruins dressing room influences these players to be reasonable in their salary demands so the band can stay together. Only time will tell.

Check out the Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 146 that we recorded on 9-22-19 below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!

 

Bruins 2019 Prospects Challenge Recap

Bruins rookie camp

( Photo Credit: Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald )

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

For the fifth year in a row, the Bruins sent a team to participate in the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo. This year’s edition split it right down the middle, finishing with a 1-1-1 record after three games versus prospects from the Penguins, Sabres and Devils organizations. I would like to say that it was a good opportunity for fans of the team to become more familiar with some of their prospects. Unfortunately, that was not the case, unless you were lucky enough to actually attend the Challenge in person.

That’s because the Bruins organization did not see fit to televise or stream any of the games. The Penguins and Sabres streamed the games locally, but most in the Boston area were unable to watch. Fortunately, the Devils broadcast the Monday game on YouTube, and it’s still available for your viewing pleasure. It would be great if the Bruins decided to remedy this situation going forward, but that’s a discussion for another day. On to the actual games.

On Friday afternoon the Bruins took on the Penguins, and the good guys managed to come out on top, 4-3. The game did not start off very well for the Bruins, with the team falling behind 2-0 after goals by Sam Miletic and Pittsburgh first-round pick, Samuel Poulin. Boston bounced back on goals from draft picks Jakub Lauko, and Jack Studnicka and camp invite Scott Conway. The Pens tied it on a score by Nathan Legaré late in the second period. Anders Bjork came to the rescue for the Bruins, scoring the game-winner on the PP with just two seconds left in regulation. It was a good showing for Bjork, who had an assist to go along with his goal. Jack Studnicka also had a score and a helper.

The second game was Saturday evening against the host Buffalo Sabres. The final score was the same as Friday, 4-3, but the hometown boys came out on the short end, despite a great offensive effort by C/W Oskar Steen. Buffalo opened the scoring on a goal by Rasmus Asplund. Steen tied it midway through the second period on a feed from diminutive camp invite Dante Hannoun before the Sabres scored three goals in less than four minutes. Two of the goals came from center Matej Pekar, a fourth-round pick in 2018. The Bruins closed the gap in the third period on two power-play goals, from Steen and QMJHL free agent signing Samuel Asselin. They had a number of good chances to tie the game in the last minute or so with goalie Dan Vladar pulled for the extra attacker. Unfortunately, they were unable to get the equalizer by 2014 draftee Jonas Johansson.

The final game was a breakfast tilt with an unusual 9:30am start time Monday morning against the New Jersey Devils prospects, including first overall pick, Jack Hughes. The Bruins dropped this one in OT, but I felt they were the better team for the majority of the game, particularly at even strength. Both regulation goals by NJ were scored on the PP. The Devils tallied the first goal of the game while on a 5 on 3 PP. I would term the calls that led to the two-man advantage as “generous.” The score came by Nathan Bastian off a tic-tac-toe passing play that goalie Kyle Keyser had no chance at.

The Bruins tied the game with less than 30 seconds to go in the first period on a Dante Hannoun goal (assisted by first pair d-men Urho Vaakanainen and Axel Andersson). Scott Conway put the Bruins ahead 2-1 midway through the second period. That was it for the regulation scoring until 8 seconds remained in the contest. NJ was on the PP (thanks to another iffy penalty call) and had the goaltender pulled when former Merrimack forward Ludvig Larsson tied the game. Larsson scored again, ending it two minutes into the OT, even though Boston had the better of the play and chances.

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the play of Jack Hughes. It’s very early in his pro career, but I have to say, I wasn’t overly impressed. He’s a very good skater, extremely quick, but appeared to be forcing a lot of plays. He fanned on a wide-open chance that would have been the go-ahead goal in the third period. Then in the OT, he failed to make a pass on a great 2 on 1 opportunity. I have no doubt that Hughes is going to be a fantastic player in the league, but I can’t help but think he would have been better off playing in college for at least a year like older brother Quinn. He was overshadowed, at least in this one game, by forwards Jesper Boqvist (36th overall 2017) and Mikhail Maltsev (102nd in 2016) who both played extremely well.

As much fun as it is to watch hockey again, that’s not really the point of these prospect games. With Training Camp starting today, the idea was to get these kids some playing time before training camp and to allow the staff to see if they think any of them can make the jump to the NHL. In the case of the camp invites, the teams want to see if there are any players they should bring on board. I will be basing my observations primarily on the game against NJ. I watched the game Saturday night versus Buffalo as well, but the quality of the stream I found left a little to be desired.

There were no huge surprises, in my opinion, but a few players made good impressions. I’m going to preface everything that comes after this by reminding people that it was only a prospect tournament. Players that performed well aren’t necessarily going to be superstars, and ones that did poorly are not necessarily busts. My colleagues at Black N Gold Hockey are doing a fine job giving in-depth looks at these prospects. There is no need to rehash that, but let’s take a quick look at how some of those prospects acquitted themselves.

 

Forwards:

Most of the kids up front that impressed at the Challenge were the names you would expect. Studnicka (1g/2a in 3gp) and Steen (2g/1a in 3gp) each had three points to lead the team, while Bjork had two points (1g/1a in 2gp). Lauko only had one goal in three games, but played well and showed his speed. Bjork (in the little I saw of him) was moving well and looked strong, which was to be expected given the experience advantage he has over the other prospects. There were few unheralded kids that I thought played well also. Scott Conway and Tommy Marchin, who both have AHL deals in place with PRO for the 2019-20 season were solid. Conway, who played his college hockey at Providence had two goals in his two games. Marchin, a Brown University product was held off the scoresheet, but every time he had the puck, he seemed to make the smart play, even if it was a just a cross-corner dump-in.

The player that surprised me the most this past weekend was an undersized wing, Dante Hannoun. He played his junior hockey for Prince Albert in the generally rugged WHL, and it showed. Despite being only 5’6″, and 165 pounds, he was fearless, taking hits and delivering some to much larger opponents. Hannoun was very quick, displayed a strong base, and was able to protect the puck well. He collected a goal and an assist in his two games and did not look out of place. He has not officially signed a deal yet, but based on comments from Bruins management, it appears that he will be somewhere in the system (possibly Atlanta).

On the flip side, a couple of kids that didn’t really stand out, in my opinion, were Robert Lantosi and Pavel Shen. Lantosi is a 23-year-old right shot wing who averaged more than a point per game in the highest Slovakian league last year. Shen, the Bruins 7th Round pick in 2018 looked a step slow. He was significantly better in the WJC’s this year for Russia, playing against his peers. It could just be that both Lantosi and Shen need time to get acclimated to the smaller ice surfaces and style of play in North America

Defense:

The prospect that stood out on the back end was definitely Cooper Zech. He had two assists in three games, but it was his skating and “escapability” that impressed me the most. He is calm with the puck, makes good decisions, and on the rare occasion when he doesn’t, he’s able to skate his way out of trouble. I think he is going to have a great rookie year in PRO and I’m looking forward to catching as many games as possible. Next up was Urho Vaakaneinen. He started off slow but seemed to get progressively better. Monday was his best game by far. He was very efficient on the defensive side and led several rushes into the offensive zone as well. He’s not flashy, but he moves extremely well and is very efficient.

It’s going to be tough for him to crack the NHL roster, but I believe he’s definitely the first man up in case of injury. Another guy I was really looking forward to seeing was 2018 2nd rounder, Axel Andersson. He only played in Monday’s game and looked a little tentative. The skill is there, and you can see flashes, but I think he just needs to be a little more consistent, which should come in time. Wiley Sherman was decent, but not really noticeable one way or another (which is not always a bad thing for a defenseman). Unfortunately, none of the camp invites on the blue line did much. On the positive side, as long as the contracts get done, the Bruins appear to have plenty of depth on defense at both the NHL and AHL levels.

That’s going to put a wrap on the 2019 Prospects Challenge. There was some good and some bad, but we will get a much better idea about what some of these kids are capable of over the next week or so as they hit the ice with the big boys at Bruins Training Camp. I’m not sure I see any of the guys from the Challenge roster breaking camp with the NHL team, but only time will tell.

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