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.

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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.

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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.

Check out the Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 144 that we recorded on 9-8-19 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 Link To Our YouTube Channel!

Bruin’s Offseason: All Quiet On The Eastern Front (2 of 2)

Bruins D

(Photo Credit: Matt Stone/ Boston Herald)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

In part 1 of this two part series, I discussed the open positions among the Bruin’s forward group, the options, and how those spots were likely to be filled. Now we are going to look at the Boston defense, which many believe is the strength of the team, based on the depth they possess on the back end from top to bottom, positions 1-8.

If we discussed this back in July, the conversation would not have been a very long one. Five of the starting six positions appeared to be relatively set with regulars from the 2018-19 team that lost in the Cup Finals. Chara, McAvoy, Krug, Carlo, and Grzelcyk would have been pretty much unanimous choices, with Connor Clifton and Kevan Miller the likely candidates to be battling it out for the last spot on the right side of the 3rd pair. Steven Kampfer signed a two-year extension worth $800,000 per season and would appear to be a lock for the 8th/Press Box spot. John Moore was the other guy in the mix, but will likely start the season on LTIR after playing through a broken humerus in the playoffs. There also would have been some calls for Vaakaneinen, Lauzon, and Zboril, the Providence defensemen that are on the cusp and next in line for a shot.

Fast forward about eight weeks and that conversation has become a lot more complicated and the starters on defense a lot less certain. The first problem (and the most serious) is obvious and has been a talking point since the regular season. Both Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo (the Bruin’s first and second pair right D-men) are restricted, free agents. As of today, neither has agreed to terms on an extension with the team. The second issue is that Kevan Miller is reportedly not skating yet after his knee injury and subsequent setback during the playoffs. Due to Miller’s tendency to get hurt every season, I don’t think many thought he would last all year unscathed. However, if he is unable to start the season the Bruin’s blue line depth will take yet another hit. If he can be ready for October, he could provide valuable insurance on the right side of the Boston defense.

Let’s take a look at the cast of characters that should make up the Bruin’s back end and the ones that may have to fill in for either injury or hold outs.

At the top of the list of any discussion regarding Boston’s defense is the 42-year-old Slovakian behemoth, Zdeno Chara. The captain signed a one-year deal with the team worth $2 million for 2019-20, but the Cap hit could rise to $3.75 million if he meets his performance bonuses. Chara is no longer the guy that could once log 26 minutes a night for 82 games against the Bruin’s toughest opposition, but he still can do it for shorter periods of time and has a key role on the team, both on and off the ice. I would love to see Boston cut down on Chara’s minutes even more than they have in recent years, and use him as a 3rd pair PK specialist. I think this would allow him to play at a higher level and save him for a playoff run. However, given the current makeup of the left side of the defense, I’m not sure that will be possible? With Moore injured, Chara is the only left defenseman that is capable of playing a defensive shutdown role.

That brings us to 21-year-old, Long Island-born Charlie McAvoy. In most circles, McAvoy is considered the next all-star D in what has been a long line of them in Boston. In any other offseason, we would be discussing the positive impact that he would be having on the team come October, but not this year. Right now, there is a hefty list of impact restricted free agents that have yet to agree to terms with their respective teams. Unfortunately, McAvoy, who averaged 22:10 TOI and totaled 7g/21a in only 54 games last season is one of the big names on the list. The point of this article is not to debate McAvoy’s salary, but it would probably be safe to assume he will get in the $6-7 million range easily. The rumor is that McAvoy turned down a 7-8 year deal in the $7.5 million range. If that is the case, I can only assume he wants to go the route that Auston Matthews did and sign a five-year deal that will make him an unrestricted free agent at the age of 26.

The next Bruin’s defenseman is a lightning rod among fans and media alike. There may not be another player on the team (well, maybe Tuukka) that inspires more debate and venom than Torey Krug. People are divided about how much he’s worth, how good he is offensively, how much of a liability he is in his own zone…even who is taller, he or Brad Marchand. No matter what your feelings on Krug (I am a fan personally), even his harshest critics have to admit he’s an offensive catalyst on both the power play and at even strength. He stretches the opposing defense like no other defenseman in the organization, whether it be by a long outlet pass or bringing the puck up the ice himself.

Since Krug signed a four-year deal worth $21 million in 2016-17 ($5.25m per) he is 5th in the NHL for defensemen with 163 regular-season points in 221 games. To say he is a bargain on his current deal would be an understatement. The question people have now is not about this deal, it’s about his next one. How much money and term should the Bruins invest in a 29-year-old that many view as a one-dimensional player? That’s the $6-8 million question. I ask myself that same question, but Krug went a long way towards convincing me with his performance (both offensively and defensively) in last season’s playoffs. In my opinion, he was hands down the Bruin’s best blue-liner in the postseason, and his defense was above average on the whole. He’s a key player any year, but if Boston has holdouts, he will play an even bigger role.

The second potential holdout and another key player on the defense is Brandon Carlo. The soon to be 23-year-old had his best year as a pro last season, building on what fans saw in 2017-18. While his point totals didn’t necessarily reflect it, Carlo took a big leap forward. His TOI was up about 90 seconds per game (20:55), and his shots, hits, and plus/minus were all career highs for a season. Unfortunately for Carlo, while there is some potential there, he has shown very little in the way of offense since making the Bruins as a rookie three years ago. In the NHL, there are very few, if any, defensive-minded defensemen that get paid like their puck-moving brethren. If I had to compare him to a recent player and his contract, the closest I can come is probably the Avs Nikita Zadorov, who signed a one-year deal with Colorado in July for $3.2 million. Zadorov is roughly 18 months older than Carlo, but he plays a similar defensive style. He does produce offensively at a better clip with 62 points in 292 NHL games, versus 32 points in 230 games for Carlo. To be honest, I am not quite sure what the hold up is here? I expected this contract to be the far easier of the two Bruin RFA defensemen without deals, but that has not been the case.

Grizz Photo by Claus Andersen - Getty Images

(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

That brings us to the Bruins third pair, which will most likely be made up of two of these three: Matt Grzelcyk, Connor Clifton, or Kevan Miller (health permitting). For the sake of discussion, I am going to assume that Miller will not be able to start the season. If he can, to me he is the favorite for the RD position on the third pair, despite a strong showing by Clifton last season in his absence. Barring injury, I don’t see how Grzelcyk is not your starter on the left side. While his advanced stats were not as impressive in 2018-19 as they were in his rookie campaign, I would chalk that up to the fact that his playing time rose almost 2:30 minutes per game, he faced stiffer competition due to injuries, and his offensive zone starts were down nearly five percent. Despite those obstacles, Grelcyk finished the regular season a “plus nine” and up three points from the year before. In my opinion, he is the perfect puck-moving third pair in today’s NHL. While he does lack size, he has a good stick and sound positioning in the defensive zone. His contract ($1.4 million) is also a bargain by today’s standards. The question in a lot of people’s minds is whether or not Grizz can jump into a Top Four role with the team if they are forced to move Krug. I root for guys like Grzelcyk, but I’m not sure he’s up to that task? Despite the size similarities, he and Krug have different games. Grizz is the better skater and better defensively, but he lacks Krug’s cannon shot and end to end passing ability. I would prefer the Bruins keep number 48 right where he is, but Cap concerns may force their hands?

On the right side (assuming Miller can’t go), the likely candidate will be Connor Clifton. The 24-year-old New Jersey native played his college hockey at Quinnipiac College in the ECAC. He was a 5th round pick of the Arizona Coyotes in 2013 but was unable to come to an agreement with the Yotes after graduating and ended up signing a deal with the Providence Bruins in 2017. He played 54 games for the Baby B’s that year and impressed the front office enough to get a two-year NHL deal. He started 2018-19 in the AHL, but was called up in November and again in the Spring because of the plethora of injuries on the B’s back end. He endeared himself to the fan base by playing what Coach Bruce Cassidy called “Cliffy Hockey,” a blend of fearless physical play along with joining the rush that was exciting but at times stressful.  Stressful or not, Don Sweeney liked what he saw enough to sign Clifton to a three-year deal worth $1 million per season that begins next year when his current contract expires. Despite all that, I have to admit that I am not 100% sold on him. I am hoping that one of the three or four prospects I am about to discuss can steal one of those third pair spots, and Clifton becomes the 7th d-man eventually.

Last year when injuries ravaged the B’s defensive corps, three rookies other than Clifton also made their NHL debuts. Urho Vaakaneinen, Jeremy Lauzon, and Jakub Zboril all donned the Black and Gold for the first time to varying degrees of success. Zboril (2015) and Vaakaneinen (2017) are both former first-round picks that have pretty impressive draft pedigrees, but it was the lower-drafted Lauzon (52nd overall in 2015) that made the more lasting impression. The big, rangy left-handed product out of Rouyn-Noranda in the QMJHL is a good skater, but not quite as smooth as his Euro-counterparts. He’s a little more physical and played more of a “stay at home” game than I expected, given his production in Juniors. I’m sure that some of that was due to nerves and wanting to take care of his own end before joining the rush as a rookie. He had only one goal in his first 16 NHL games but looked increasingly comfortable as the games mounted. If McAvoy and Carlo do hold out, Lauzon would be my choice to step in, although management might prefer the more experienced Steven Kampfer, at least to start.

Vaakaneinen and Zboril would appear to be the next ones in line, but like Lauzon, both are left-handed shots. Vaakaneinen, a 20-year-old Finn, did spend some time playing the right side for SaiPa in the Liiga (the top tier men’s league in Finland), which may give him an advantage. It’s easy to see why the B’s European scouts liked Vaakaneinen, as he combines good size (6’1″, 190 pounds) and excellent skating ability in one package. Early viewings suggest that right now “Vaak” is more comfortable playing a defensive game. I think that his ability to get up and down the ice will eventually lead to more offense in his game. I thought he looked pretty good in his debut, but unfortunately, a nasty elbow by the Ottawa Senators Mark Borowiecki in Vaakaneinen’s second game resulted in a concussion that sidelined him for months.

Zboril was the 14th overall pick in the now infamous 2015 draft for the Bruins, where they passed on players like Matt Barzal, Kyle Connor, and Thomas Chabot. The B’s were starved for defense prospects at the time, and Zboril was given a mid-first grade by most scouts, so I have no issue with the pick. I am a fan of Zboril’s but am a little perplexed by him. He is as smooth a skater as I have ever seen, making it seem effortless as he makes his way around the ice. He displayed some offensive ability for Saint John’s of the QMJHL, and I have also seen him show bit of a mean streak. When you add it all up, he should already be playing in the NHL. It appears that inconsistency is holding him back? This is a big year for Zboril, he’s on the last year of his ELC, and the Bruins have several other young defensemen vying for spots. If he doesn’t “put it together” this season, I could see him playing elsewhere going forward.

The two defensemen at the bottom of the Bruin prospect food chain (and this is not an insult in any way) came to the organization in completely different ways. Cooper Zech was an undrafted free agent that signed with Providence after an impressive freshman year at Ferris State. Axel Andersson was a 2nd round pick by Boston in the 2018 draft. He played a full season for Södertälje in the Allsvenskan (Sweden’s second-tier pro league) at age 18, which is impressive in its own way as well.

Despite not being drafted, the left-handed Zech (5’9”, 170 pounds) has been busy piling up the awards the last couple of years. In 2017-18 while playing for the Wenatchee Wild (BCHL), he was named First Team All-Star, Top Defenseman, and won a championship. Last year at Ferris State (WCHA) he took home Rookie of the Year honors and was again named First Team All-Star. He left Ferris State and signed with Providence, acquitting himself quite well in twelve regular-season games (0g/4a) and four playoff games (2g/0a). There will be the obvious size comparisons to Krug and Grzelcyk, and his game is similar. He’s a smallish puck mover and power play guy that will put up the points but needs some work defensively against pro-caliber players. The B’s have an excellent recent history with free agent NCAA defensemen (Miller, Krug, Clifton) and they are hoping Zech is the next diamond in the rough.

Last, but not least, we have 2018 second-round pick (57th overall), Axel Andersson. The Bruins didn’t have a first-round pick in that draft, and I remember saying, “Axel who?”, when the pick was announced, but since then, I have become a fan. Last year at the Bruins Development Camp he was one of the best players there when I saw him. He followed that up with a very good preseason, getting first pair minutes with Chara. The 6 foot, 180 pound native of Järna, Sweden is bigger than I thought, but still an excellent skater and puck mover. It appears those two skills have become prerequisites for nearly all of the Bruins recent draft picks on defense. The organization clearly believes that is the direction the NHL is headed.

There seems to be some question about where “AA” will be playing in 2019-20? He is eligible to suit up for Providence, but he was also drafted by Moncton (QMJHL) 30th overall in the 2019 CHL Import Draft. Recent news seems to indicate that he will play there and get big minutes for a good Junior team. The only way this may change is if McAvoy and Carlo hold out, which would likely open Top Four spots in Providence. I don’t think the Bruins can go wrong either way, as long as Andersson is getting the time on ice he needs to progress. The situation on the Bruins blueline is a fluid one at the moment, but if everyone is signed, I see the defense pairs like this to start the season:

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Grzelcyk-Miller/Clifton

Kampfer

That alignment would give the Bruins a puck-mover and a strong defensive presence on each pair, which I believe is the proper way to go. In the past few years, the Bruins have been bitten hard by the injury bug on the back end. If everyone is in camp, the team should be well-positioned to handle the inevitable injuries. If there are holdouts, the organization’s depth on defense could be tested right out of the gate.

Check out the Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 142 that we recorded on 8-25-19 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 Link To Our YouTube Channel!

Bruin’s Offseason: All Quiet On The Eastern Front (1 of 2)

(Photo Credit: AP / Nam Y. Huh)

By Joe Chrzanowski  |  Follow Me on Twitter @jchrz19

The start of free agency saw the Bruins come out of the gate quickly, signing or extending seven players. Forwards: Brendan Gaunce, Par Lindholm, Brett Ritchie, Ryan Fitzgerald…Defensemen: Connor Clifton and Josiah Didier…Goalie: Max Lagace. While none of these players were big-name signings, which was to be expected given the Bruin’s limited cap space and restricted free agents, it was an encouraging sign for the fans of the team.

Over the next three weeks, forward Peter Cehlarik signed a one year deal, forward Danton Heinen inked a two-year extension, and center prospect Pavel Shen signed his ELC. Since then, all has been quiet on Causeway Street, with very little being said about restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. This is not unusual for the Bruins. Since Sweeney was named GM, they like to keep everything internal and very little leaks out. The only comments on the subject came from Bruin’s President Cam Neely via Joe Haggerty two weeks ago.

That brings us to the present, and where the Bruins go from here. With the Backes’ contract still on the books, the team does not have the Cap space to acquire any more help at this juncture. So, what you see is what you get as training camp looms.

The only thing that appears certain at this point is that Tuukka Rask and Jaro Halak are the B’s two netminders. In this two-part series, we will take a look at the openings and question marks the Bruins have at forward and on defense heading into the 2019-20 regular season. Part One will deal with the forwards and Part Two the defense.

The Bruins return a Top 4 that was as good as any in the NHL. Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, and Krejci combined for 333 points. Jake DeBrusk had a “decent” sophomore season, and will likely be attached to Krejci’s left side, as he has been for the first two seasons of his career. His 27 goals in 2018-19 were more than acceptable, but it would be nice to see him up his assist and overall point totals, particularly as he was a staple on the PP most of the season.

The only real question mark in the Top 6 is who is going to play to the right of David Krejci. It seems that this has been an issue headed into every season since Nathan Horton left following the 2012-13 season. My first choice to fill one of the Top 6 right-wing positions would be Danton Heinen. I have been a proponent of putting Heinen with Bergeron and Marchand on a more permanent basis for a while now. He showed last season over a 16 game stretch when Pastrnak was injured that he can play and more importantly, produce, in that role, putting up 13 points during that span. This would allow the B’s to put Pastrnak on Krejci’s right-wing, giving him his first legit scoring threat there in years.

The Bottom 6 would appear to have four spots already locked up with Coyle, Kuraly, Wagner, and Nordstrom filling those positions unless something unforeseen happens. That leaves only two openings for a wide variety of candidates.

They include incumbents Karson Kuhlman, Petr Cehlarik, Zach Senyshyn, Ryan Fitzgerald, and Anders Bjork. Newcomers Par Lindholm, Brett Ritchie, Oskar Steen, and possibly Jack Studnicka (although the B’s have consistently maintained they want to keep him at center) round out the group. These players represent a wide variety of styles and experience levels and while all have question marks of one type or another, they give the Bruins the ability to go in a number of different directions.

Three of the contenders, Cehlarik, Lindholm and Ritchie are not waiver exempt, meaning the Bruins risk losing them if they don’t make the team out of camp. Every year this plays a factor around the league in who makes teams initially. Many times more talented players who are waiver exempt end up getting sent down to the AHL, at least to begin the season.

Bruins fans are well acquainted with Cehlarik. The 24-year-old former third-round pick has appeared in 37 NHL games over the last three seasons with mixed results. He has tended to start off quickly and then become less visible as his appearances mount. He’s a big body that uses his size for puck possession but is a below-average skater. The left-shot wing does have the flexibility to play both sides.

Lindholm was a point per game scorer for Skellefteå of the SHL, but it didn’t translate to the NHL with Toronto last season, where he had only 12 points in 61 games. He turns 28 in October and is primarily a center (51% in the dot with 400 attempts). His advanced stats were not great, but in his defense, he had only 30% offensive zone starts.

That brings us to the newly-signed Brett Ritchie. A big, physical scoring wing in his OHL days, who scored 41 for Niagara one year. The offensive side of his game has never manifested itself in the NHL, where he only has 33 career goals in 241 games. If I had to guess, I would say that the B’s see Ritchie as a cheap replacement for what Backes brings (on ice), if they can find a way to move 42.

bjork

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

The next group of guys: Bjork, Kuhlman, Senyshyn, Fitzgerald, Steen, and Studnicka contain my two favorites to get the remaining spots and also my “long shot” candidate. All of these guys are waiver exempt, so they will be susceptible to being “stashed” in Providence to start the season. For that reason, I am going to rule out both Fitzgerald and Studnicka. I would much rather see them playing big minutes in all situations with Providence than watching from the press box in Boston.

My favorite to take the first open spot in the Bruin’s forward lineup this season is Anders Bjork. The 23-year-old graduate of the University of Notre Dame already has 50 NHL games under his belt but has yet to have any tangible impact because of a variety of injuries. Shoulder surgeries have cut short Bjork’s seasons in consecutive years, but perhaps the third time is the charm? Bjork has an NHL-caliber shot, a quick release, excellent skating skills and is a good three-zone player. The only thing he needs to stick in my opinion is a bit of luck and some good health. As a rookie, Bjork put up 3g/6a in his first 16 games (playing with Marchand and Bergeron) before suffering a concussion after a collision with Toronto’s Matt Martin. The Bruin’s staff seems to really like Bjork, so he’s a possibility for Top Six duty again, but personally, I would start him on the third line at left-wing and see what happens.

The other player I see cracking the lineup in October is Minnesota-Duluth’s, Karson Kuhlman. Bruin’s fans are already familiar with him due to his strong play down the stretch and into the playoffs, where he compiled eight points in 19 games. Kuhlman is another player (like Bjork) that possesses plus speed and skating ability and a strong defensive game. I believe he would be a strong complement to Bjork and Coyle at right-wing on the third line. Bruce Cassidy could use a line like that in a variety of situations, including up against the top two lines of opposing teams. Combine that with the confidence he already has in the “fourth line” and it would provide him a great deal of flexibility when matching lines.

A player I’m sure the Bruin’s brass would love to see grab a spot is former first-round pick Zach Senyshyn. Bruin’s fans would likely be relieved as well if he became an NHL regular so they did not have to hear about the 2015 draft any longer. Senyshyn has the size/speed ratio needed to roam the right-wing on the third line. The only issue is that the scoring touch the 6’2″, 200 pound Ottawa product displayed in the OHL (114 goals in 195 games) has yet to manifest itself as a pro in the AHL. His supporters point to his deployment as a third liner and the desire to develop his three-zone game as reasons why he has not scored more. His critics say that a lack of consistency and hockey IQ’s are the culprits. I would love to see Boston start him off in a fourth-line role and let him play his way higher into the lineup. However, it may be a case of musical chairs, where there are too many bodies and not enough seats to go around?

My dark horse candidate for the third-line right-wing position is Swede Oskar Steen. He was a 6th Round Pick (165 overall) in the 2016 draft. He got off to a slow start in his first two seasons with Farjestäd of the SHL. In 2018-19, Steen was given a larger role and ran with it. He finished the season with 17 goals and 20 assists in 46 games. It was good for 10th in scoring in the SHL and he was the only player in the Top 10 under the age of 26 (20 at the time). He also finished with 49 PIM’s (18th) which is impressive for a guy of Steen’s small stature (5’9″, 187-pounds). I had the pleasure of watching him at several of the Bruin’s Development Camps, and in my opinion, he was easily the most skilled forward I saw. He’s quick, explosive, and strong on his skates. Given that skill set and his build, he will definitely garner some comparisons to Marchand. Obviously, he has a long way to go before he ever reaches that level.

Bruins development camp

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

I wouldn’t put money on it, but if someone twisted my arm and forced me to put in in writing, this is what my starting lineup would look like for Opening Night at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Thursday, October 3rd:

Marchand-Bergeron-Heinen

DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak

Bjork-Coyle-Kuhlman

Nordstrom-Kuraly-Wagner

Ritchie

There are definitely some question marks in the Bruin’s top nine, but there are also a number of candidates that could fill those holes. The options, competition, and differing styles of the players involved should make for an interesting Camp where roster spots will be on the line.

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