Grading the Bruins’ Deadline Deals

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(Jen Fuller/Getty Images North America)

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

This year’s NHL Trade Deadline was one for the record books.  32 trades were executed before the February 24, 2020, 3pm deadline, which broke 2010’s record of 31.  The Bruins accounted for two of the 32 trades, both of which were with the same team.

General Manager Don Sweeney executed two separate trades with the Anaheim Ducks.  The first sent the Bruins’ 2020 first-round draft pick, David Backes, and prospect Axel Andersson for right-winger Ondrej Kase.  The second was a rare one-for-one deal, sending Danton Heinen to Anaheim for Nick Ritchie.  Both trades were executed with a specific need in mind, as well as looking toward future cap space.

It’s no secret that the Bruins have been desperately searching for a right-winger to cement next to David Krejci.  He hasn’t had a formidable, long-standing right-winger since Nathan Horton.  The Bruins have a plethora of wingers in their organization, but none have been able to hold the second-line reigns for long stretches.  They had been scouring the trade market and free agency pools for years, but their cap space kept holding them back from over-extending themselves.

David Backes signed on July 1, 2016, to a 5-year, $30M deal.  His cap hit accounted for $6M each year, which grew increasingly difficult to stomach as a Bruins fan.  The 35-year old centerman grew slower each year and couldn’t keep up with the current NHL pace.  He was a fantastic presence in the room, but that didn’t outweigh his cap hit.  On January 17, 2020, the Bruins made a surprising move.

The move relieved $2M of Backes’ deal from their cap space, and both sides came to an understanding that he would not play in the American Hockey League to stay healthy.  This is known as asset management, which most assumed meant the Bruins were shopping him to other teams.  Executives around the league knew the Bruins would need to sweeten the pot in any trade to rid themselves of the Backes’ deal.

The NHL witnessed the Toronto Maple Leafs pull off a similar trade, sending Patrick Marleau to the Carolina Hurricanes in June 2019 for a conditional first-round pick and a conditional sixth-round pick.  This set the trade market for risky NHL contracts that a team would want to shed.

The trade also creates cap space next off-season to sign Torey Krug.  Krug is on the last of his 4-year, $21M deal and has been a remarkable offensive weapon for the Bruins.  He is their power-play quarterback and has posted over 50 points in three of the last four years.  Torey is currently on pace to post a career-high 63 points this year.  He will cost at least $6M per on his next deal, and the Bruins finally have some money to give.

Ondrej Kase is a 24-year old right-shot winger who is under contract through 2021.  He carries a $2.6M cap hit and will be a restricted free-agent after 2021.  The Czech Republic native is familiar with David Pastrnak in their Olympic hockey days and will play alongside another fellow Czech in David Krejci.  The move felt like Sweeney wanted to accomplish two things: get Krejci a winger who can contribute now and get younger.

Kase has underachieved in his three and a half years in Anaheim.  He’s reached the 20-goal plateau once and has been a versatile weapon.  He can play in all facets of the game, from power-play to penalty kill.  He stands at 6’0 183 pounds and is exceptionally shifty.

The one knock on his resume is his injury history.   He was traded from Anaheim on the Injured Reserve List, and the Bruins are going to be cautious with his return.  The Bruins sit atop the NHL, five points ahead of the surging Tampa Bay Lightning, so they have the luxury of time to manage their assets.  Bruins fans would like to see Kase before the end of the season, which will likely happen.  

Don Sweeney can be given an A-minus for this trade.  He was able to accomplish two areas of need: create long-term cap space for impending free-agents and add a non-rental to his top-six forward group.  Kase’s performance and potential on the Bruins remain to be seen, so of course, the grade can change.

The second trade occurred on Deadline Day, which was a one-for-one sending Boston’s Danton Heinen to Anaheim for Nick Ritchie.  Ritchie is the younger brother of recent free-agent signing Brett Ritchie.  Nick was selected tenth overall in the 2014 draft out of the Ontario Hockey League.  He’s played five years on the Anaheim Ducks totaling 109 points in 287 games.  He is a large bottom-six forward at 6’2, 234 pounds, which brings toughness to the Bruins.

Many fans have voiced that the Bruins lack toughness, whether it be not standing up for one another or getting pushed around on the ice without a true enforcer.  Ritchie seems to fit that mold.  He doesn’t fight much, only two fighting majors in five years, but he does throw his body around and sticks up for his teammates.

Ritchie has 763 career hits and 79 already this year, which is on pace for 158 this year.  His brother Brett plays a similar game, but what separates Nick from Brett is the point total.  Nick has 19 points this year, which will rank eleventh on the Bruins (tied with Anders Bjork).  He also led the Ducks in plus/minus at plus three and carries a $1.5M cap hit for this and next season.  He will also be a restricted free-agent in 2021.

Though, Ritchie comes in with the most penalty minutes on the team.  He has amassed 78 penalty minutes this year, and none have been fighting majors.  The Bruins penalty kill is one of the best in the league, but he will have to eliminate the amount of time spent in the box when they face teams like the Washington Capitals.

Danton Heinen was sent to Anaheim in this deal, and it has been a bit of a mystery for most Bruins fans and NHL experts.  Heinen entered his rookie year, putting up 47 points, and his future was bright.  He hit a bit of a sophomore slump and seemed to focus more on his defense than his offense.  He was under-appreciated in Boston for the little things he did.

Heinen recently signed a 2-year, $5.6M deal this past off-season and will be a restricted free-agent again in 2021.  Sending Heinen saves the Bruins $1.3M in cap space, which will be helpful when Krug, Anders Bjork, Karson Kuhlman, Matt Grzelcyk, and Jake DeBrusk need new deals this upcoming off-season.

This particular trade will need to be re-evaluated in the playoffs and beyond.  Ritchie will likely replace Heinen on the third line next to Charlie Coyle and Bjork.  He has a knack for standing in front of the net and battling for loose pucks.  The move seems to be more forward-looking than for immediate help, but his size could be beneficial when the Bruins face-off against bigger teams like the Lightning and Capitals.  For now, this trade receives a C.

Averaging the two grades together, the Bruins received a solid B for their deadline trades.  They addressed a few areas of need in acquiring a top-six forward and a bulky bottom-six winger.  Sweeney has a tendency to acquire players the Bruins aren’t linked to, and it works out.  Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle come to mind in this regard.  Though, Sweeney has signed and traded for a few bruisers who haven’t worked out: David Backes, Brett Ritchie, and Zac Rinaldo.  Hopefully, Ritchie can break his enforcer track record, and Kase can perform up to his potential, which would raise Sweeney’s 2020 deadline day grade.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 167 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.

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!!

Rask’s Unbeaten Home Streak Has Landed Him In Vezina Contention

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(NHL with AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

The Bruins’ latest winning streak came to an end Sunday afternoon in Detroit, though one streak remains intact for the Bruins’ starting netminder, Tuukka Rask.  Following the 4-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes Saturday afternoon, Rask extended his home regulation winning streak to 18 games.  Rask has not logged a regulation loss at the TD Garden since April 6, 2019, against the Tampa Bay Lightning.  The streak also breaks Gilles Gilbert’s 17-game winning streak to open a season, set back in 1973.

Rask is in the midst of an impressive year and is in contention for the NHL’s best goaltending trophy: the Vezina.  Considering goalies who have played more than 25 games this year, Tuukka leads the league with a 2.14 goals-against average and ranks second with a .929 save percentage behind Columbus’s Elvis Merzlikins.  He sports a 20-5-6 record with 67 goals against, which ranks sixth among NHL goalies.

The Bruins sit atop the NHL standings with 80 points, three points ahead of the surging Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals.  It’s no coincidence that Rask is among the top three goalies in contention for the Vezina, and his team is the best in the NHL.  He’s even made a case for the save of the season.

When it comes to the Vezina race, Rask has some stiff competition.  To open the year, Rask ranked behind Pekka Rinne, Frederik Andersen, and 2019 winner, Andrei Vasilevsky.  All three have been atop the goaltending ranks for the past few years.  Rask currently has the second-best chance to win the trophy behind Winnipeg Jets’ netminder, Connor Hellebuyck.

Hellebuyck is having a remarkable year in goal for Winnipeg.  He is leading the NHL with 1,306 saves and has been able to maintain a .920 save percentage.  To put this in perspective, his team has allowed 1,420 shots through the 46 games he’s played this year.  Rask has seen 942 shots and has saved 875.  Hellebuyck’s goals-against average sits at a high 2.67, which gives Rask has an opening to reclaim the trophy.

Rask etched his name in the Vezina trophy’s history books once before.  In the 2013-14 season, he ended the year with a 36-15-6 record and a league-leading .930 save percentage.  Tuukka also recorded a 2.04 goals-against average and seven shutouts.  He has consistently been a rock for the Bruins, including his performance in the playoffs.  This past playoff run, Rask was always the best player on the ice for the black and gold.  He led all goaltenders in the playoffs (who played past the opening round) with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage.

The Bruins have historically been a strong home team.  They rank first in the NHL with a 19-2-9 home record, and it’s no secret that Rask has been the main contributor to that success.  The Bruins are a few trade deadline pieces away from hoisting their seventh Stanley Cup.  They have the makeup, leadership, and experience to make another deep playoff run.  If Rask can continue his torrid pace at home, the Stanley Cup may be in a different set of hands at the TD Garden in June.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 165 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.

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 Latest Bruins Trade Buzz

( Photo Credit: NBC Sports Boston )

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

The NHL trade deadline is 20 days away, and the Bruins are the center of attention.  Pierre LeBrun, a senior NHL columnist for The Athletic, posted an article giving his perspective of plausible trades throughout the NHL.  He predicts Chris Kreider to the St. Louis Blues, Tyler Toffoli to the Calgary Flames, and Ducks’ Ondrej Kase to the Boston Bruins.  

The hypothetical deal would send Kase to Boston in exchange for a 2020 third-round pick and prospect Oskar Steen.  Steen is a former sixth-round draft choice in 2016 out of Karlstad, Sweden.  Oskar is currently playing on Boston’s American Hockey affiliate team, the Providence Bruins.  Steen’s scouting report has centered around his feisty play combined with a lethal shot.  He was able to show off that shot during a Bruins pre-season game in September 2019.

Bruins Coordinator of Player Development, Jamie Langenbrunner, has given his take on Steen’s abilities. “He should be a very effective player for us in Providence to start, and we’ll see how quickly he can translate that to be on the radar for [Bruce Cassidy] and the guys [in Boston].” He has 16 points in 47 games as he transitions from the bigger Swedish ice surface to the NHL-sized rinks.  European hockey leagues play on Olympic sized rinks (200×100), where the AHL and NHL play on 200×85 sized rinks.  Once Steen adapts to the smaller arena, he could be an effective piece for an NHL franchise.

Another Athletic NHL writer, Scott Wheeler, ranks NHL teams’ prospects pools each year and where each player ranks within each system.  He ranks Steen fourth-best in the Bruins’ prospect pool behind Jack Studnicka, John Beecher, and Urho Vaakananien.  “Steen has underperformed. We rarely see players his age have the kind of impact he had for Farjestad last year. He was consistently their most dangerous forward shift-to-shift.”  He goes on to say Steen is on his way to be a complementary piece on an NHL roster.

If you’ve watched more than three Bruins games this year, it’s clear the Bruins have a plethora of complementary players.  The Bruins are still searching for their top-six forward.  It would be a welcoming surprise if Steen could surpass the complementary piece trajectory and become a top-six winger.  Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney has been doing his due diligence throughout the year.  There have been reports that the Bruins have a “back-pocket deal in place for Los Angeles Kings winger Tyler Toffoli.  LeBrun has Toffoli heading to Calgary, so if LeBrun’s predictions hold true, the Bruins would need to look elsewhere.

The Anaheim Ducks have had an extremely trying season.  They fired their coach and bought out the second-best winger in Ducks history (Corey Perry) this past off-season.  NHL analysts predicted their youth would carry them into a playoff spot.  Unfortunately, the Ducks sit 27th in the league standings, second-to-last in the Western Conference.  Their team has been depleted with injuries and a lack of consistency.

They have a few bright spots, due to strategic drafting.  Rickard Rakell is in-line to be their number one forward and John Gibson has been a highly-regarded goalie throughout the league.  Kase was once seen as a key cog in the Ducks’ future plans, but with how their past few seasons have ended, their General Manager could be looking to shake things up.  The Bruins would prefer Rakell but would have to offer a better package.  Anaheim is more likely to part ways with Kase.

Ondrej Kase was the Ducks’ 205th overall draft choice in 2014.  He spent his early hockey career in the Czech Republic and two invitations to the World Junior U-20 Championships.  Both years, he played alongside Bruins leading goal-scorer David Pastrnak.  The 24-year old winger is a versatile player who is featured in all of the games’ situations.  He currently plays on right-wing on Anaheim’s second-line.  He is featured on their second powerplay unit and has logged 30 minutes penalty kill time-on-ice.  He’s even registered one short-handed goal for the Ducks.

Kase showcased his incredible speed during this play and slick hands.  He is a shifty 5’11 forward who could fit nicely in the Bruins system.  In his first year with the Ducks, Kase recorded 15 points in 53 games.  The following year, he ended with 38 points in 66 games, but the injury bug started to latch on.  He would miss a few games due to a concussion and illness.

In his third year with Anaheim, he was on pace for a 55 point-season when he tore his labrum in his shoulder and would miss the next six months.  Fast forward to the current season, he has stayed relatively healthy playing in 46 games amassing 21 points.  His 21 points would rank eighth on the Bruins, tying him with Danton Heinen.  If he continues on his current pace, he will end the season with 37 points.

The point total is low, but he is playing on a horrendous team, and a change of scenery has paid dividends for players.  Charlie Coyle had endured a few consecutively rough seasons in Minnesota before being traded to Boston.  He was an immediate impact in the Bruins deep playoff run and is on pace for the third-highest point total of his career (41).  Kase could benefit from the same situation.  Kase would also be under the Bruins cap control through next season.  He is half-way through his 3-year, $7.8M deal and will be a restricted free-agent in 2021.

Don Sweeney has been wary of sending high draft picks to teams for rentals.  Chris Kreider is atop the NHL’s most expensive trade asset at the deadline.  It is almost a foregone conclusion the New York Rangers will net a first-round draft selection and a prospect for the impending unrestricted free-agent.  Most teams will likely be scared off by the high ask.  Tyler Toffoli is a name to watch if you’re a Bruins faithful, but the Calgary flames have also expressed interest.  If the Bruins want to avoid a bidding war, Kase could be their best option.

If LeBrun’s asking price is a third-round pick and Steen, Sweeney could be enticed enough to take the chance.  Anaheim may counter with a second-round pick instead and in that case, which is still a fair deal to be made.  Kase is not a rental, and he could potentially stop the Bruins’ top-six winger merry-go-round.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 164 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.

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!!  

A Bruin Goalie On The Horizon

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( Photo Credit: The Portland Press Herald )

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

Starting in the mid-90’s and continuing through the early 2000s, the Bruins struggled to draft their next brick wall.  They drafted Andrew Raycroft but traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs after an impeccable rookie year.  Toronto sent Tuukka Rask to Boston and the Bruins paired him with Tim Thomas to eventually bring home their sixth Stanley Cup.

Tim Thomas eventually retired, handing the keys to Rask, who recently surpassed Tiny Thompson as the club’s most winningest goaltender.  Rask’s 33rd birthday will be celebrated in March and he has two years left on a 7-year deal.  The Bruins will more than likely re-sign Rask to make him a Bruin for life, but they’ll need to develop his successor now.  Thankfully, they already have a few goalies in the pipeline: Kyle Keyser, Daniel Vladar, and Jeremy Swayman.

Born in Anchorage, Alaska, Jeremy Swayman was the Bruins’ 111th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.  The Bruins drafted him from the United States Hockey League, where he was already committed to the University of Maine next fall.  Swayman ended his freshman year with a 15-12-3 record and a .960 save percentage.  He was awarded several awards throughout the season and recorded a season-high 50-save game against Quinnipiac.  He continued these heroic high-save performances in his sophomore year, recording 91 saves in a series with the University of Massachusetts Minutemen.

In his first two years with UMaine, it’s clear his team could rely on him for their defensive lapses.  Currently, his third year is no different.  His team ranks ninth in the Hockey East, only in front of Merrimack College and the winless University of Vermont Catamounts.

Swayman ranks first in saves throughout the entire National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) Division One hockey program with 822 saves in 25 games played.  He has 89 more saves than the second-highest goalie.  He averages 33 saves per game and still posts a .934 save percentage, which ranks sixth in Division One hockey. In fact, in all his years of playing junior or higher-level hockey, Swayman’s goals-against average has never been below .910.  He recently won the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week following a 73-save two-game split versus the fifth-ranked Boston College Eagles.

One word that best describes Swayman is consistent, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.  He has been nominated for the NCAA’s best player of the year: the Hobey Baker Award.  It has been awarded to only two goaltenders in its 38 years of existence: Robb Stauber and Ryan Miller.

Swayman has attended the Bruins Development Camp three times since he was drafted.  He has been sent back to the University of Maine all three times but was able to show off what opposing college hockey teams see each night.

It is not uncommon to send young goaltenders back to college for an extended period of time.  Their development is much more fluid than a skater and has even been a mystery to some teams in the past.  “There have been 95 goaltenders to make their NHL debut since the start of the 2008-09 season. Thirty-five (nearly 37 percent) of them were never drafted.”  Teams have invested more time, energy, and manpower in developing goaltenders.  Every NHL team has a goalie coach at almost every level, some of which are former players.  Bob Essensa, Dwayne Roloson, Bill Ranford, Mike Dunham, and Johan Hedberg are employed by the Bruins, Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders, and San Jose Sharks respectively as goalie coaches.

Development camps give coaches and Bruins management time to evaluate their prospects.  General Manager Don Sweeney has the final call on each player’s movement, and he’s sent Jeremy back to college each time thus far.  Don may send Jeremy to finish his college career with UMaine next year, which can only help his development.  He has stiff competition with the likes of Keyser and Vladar in the AHL. Still, if he continues his consistent play and reliability, it will be hard for Bruins management to overlook when he enters the Bruins development camp for the last time.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 163 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.

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!! 

Are The Bruins Showcasing A Defenseman?

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( Photo Credit: Paul Rutherford )

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

Another day, another Bruins trade rumor.  Elliotte Friedman is a seasoned hockey reporter for Canada’s Sportsnet and NHL insider.  He is known to have credible sources and news when it comes to NHL rumors.  Friedman is a weekly guest on the “Oilers NOW with Bob Stauffer” podcast, where he piqued Bruins fans’ interests with the latest story.  “Tyler Toffoli is a name that’s been out there a while.  Boston has expressed interest.  The price for Toffoli is a second-rounder and a prospect.”

It’s no secret the Bruins have been searching for years for their top-six forward to pair with David Krejci.  They have plenty of in-house options, but most haven’t been consistent enough for the opportunity.  Some have even had the misfortunate of untimely injuries (Anders Bjork and Karson Kuhlman).  When nothing in the system works, teams look for outside help.  Don Sweeney, current Bruins General Manager, has reportedly been on the phone since day one of the 2019 season.  He recently sent David Backes and Brett Ritchie down to the American Hockey Leauge for cap relief, which will help in a potential future trade.

The Bruins also recently called up Jeremy Lauzon from Providence.  The current Bruins defensemen are not hurt, so it’s reasonable to think Lauzon’s call up is to showcase his skills for a trade.  If Tyler Toffoli genuinely nets a second-round pick and a prospect, Lauzon could fit the mold.

Jeremy Lauzon, a left-handed shot defenseman, was the Bruins’ 52nd overall draft choice in 2015.  He was coming off of a career year as captain of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 50 points and a plus-40 in 46 games.  He was drafted for his size (6’1, 205 pounds), his physical presence, and offensive ability.  In his four years in the QMJHL, he finished with a plus-81 rating and 130 points in 200 career games.  He made his AHL pro debut in the 2017-18 Providence season.

In Providence, Lauzon had a tough time finding the same scoring touch he had in the QMJHL but was able to continue his defensive tenacity.  Through the first 15 games in his rookie season, he was among the top defenseman in plus/minus with a plus-8 rating.  Unfortunately, he sustained a concussion and missed the majority of that season.  He returned at the end of January 2018 and made a lasting impression on the Providence Bruins fans and writers.

He would only finish the year with seven points but looked to regain some of his confidence, which is immense for a young defenseman.  A year later, he would receive the call up to the Bruins for 16 total games, one of which he will remember forever.

Lauzon has the makings of a solid NHL defenseman because he is useful in all three zones.  He has the scoring ability but has been untapped up to this point.  He’s nearly doubled his first two seasons point total this year in Providence and still has a plus-rating.  The Bruins may be showcasing him to the Los Angeles Kings to help with their depleted blue-line.  The Kings have been heading toward a massive roster rebuild for over a year.  They’ll need to unload some of their aging stars (Jonathan Quick and Dustin Brown) and expiring contracts (Tyler Toffoli) to jump-start the rebuild.  A second-round pick and Lauzon could be great a complimentary piece for the Kings’ future plans.

Tyler Toffoli is a 27-year old right-winger for the Los Angeles Kings.  He has been with the Kings organization since the 2010 draft, where he was selected 47th overall.  He made his NHL debut in 2012, where he scored five points in 10 regular-season games and six points in 12 playoff games.  He was even part of Los Angeles’s 2014 Stanley Cup-winning season.  Toffoli has surpassed the 30-goal total once and currently has 27 points on an abysmal Kings team.  Bruins fans may remember Toffoli for his heroic game-winning goal in overtime in the 2017 season.

Toffoli has the resume to play alongside Krejci for the remainder of the year, but will that be his only time in a Bruin uniform?  Tyler is an unrestricted free agent after this season.  Rentals are a significant trade risk because their future is uncertain.  Sweeney and the Bruins may show Toffoli the benefits of playing in Boston, but players’ mindsets are always unknown.  He has the pedigree and the fantastic shot release to be a long-time contributor for Boston.  At 6’0, 197 pounds, Toffoli has Stanley Cup experience and currently plays on the top line of the Kings with Anze Kopitar and Alex Iaffalo.

Backes and Ritchie’s demotions to the AHL also fit a trade mold because the Bruins are trying to clear cap space for a potential player.  The Bruins started off the year with thousands of dollars in cap space, but have since been able to move money around for a current-day $1.3M in cap space.  If the Bruins wait to trade for Toffoli until the February deadline, his in-season cap hit would be much lower than it was at the beginning of the season.

The second-round pick is probably the hardest ingredient to send.  Sweeney has been very mindful and frugal with his draft picks.  He has been on record saying he wants a first-round pick in the upcoming draft. He won’t part ways with a high draft selection unless it nets him an unbelievable long-term player. He would have to be quite confident to send a draft pick that Toffoli will help his team get over the hump to a Stanley Cup win or that Toffoli would sign long-term.

It’s a risky business, but in this day and age, NHL teams need to give the talent to receive the talent.  It just so happens, the Kings have plenty of it and require a new direction.  Toffoli would be a beneficial addition to the Bruins, who are searching for the last few puzzle pieces for their seventh Stanley Cup.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 162 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.

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!! 

Karson Kuhlman’s Position On The Bruins

(Photo Credit: AP Photo / Winslow Townson)

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

When Don Sweeney took over as General Manager of the Boston Bruins, one item on his to-do list was to send his scouts to a relatively untapped market.  Historically, American college hockey took a backseat to leagues like Canada’s Ontario Hockey League, Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, and Sweden’s Elite Swedish League.  Draft-eligible players found themselves forgoing college hockey and playing in these leagues because that’s where the competition was.  Over the last seven or eight years, though, American college hockey has attracted more stars, and NHL teams have noticed.

Don Sweeney played at Harvard University from 1984-1988.  He is familiar with the talent in the college hockey system, which explains his vested interest.  Some of his recent draft picks have even come from Boston University, University of Denver, and the University of Wisconsin.  Moreover, he’s made sure his scouts are also looking for players who weren’t drafted in June and invite them to training camp.  One player in particular who fits this situation is Karson Kuhlman.

The Esko, Minnesota native played his college hockey 20 minutes northeast of his hometown at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.  Karson was awarded captain his senior year and posted a modest 80 points and an impressive plus-47 rating in 166 games for the Bulldogs.  He and his teammates won the franchise’s second National Championship in 2017-18.  Karson was named MVP of the Frozen Four and scored a goal and an assist in the title game.  Kuhlman’s style of play fits the Bruins style perfectly.  He is a smaller center, with great hands, a lethal shot, and the ability to lead on and off the ice.

Unfortunately, Kuhlman was not drafted during his eligibility year in 2014.  He was invited to two training camps by the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens.  Neither team saw enough to sign him.  Thankfully, his hometown roots made him a rememberable name to another Minnesota Native with Bruin ties.  Jamie Langenbrunner, former NHL right-winger, and current Bruins player development coach, knew Kuhlman before the NHL teams caught on.  Langenbrunner has long been impressed by Kuhlman’s “attention to detail. He’s a kid that plays a pro-style game in the way he positions himself, uses his body, gets pucks out on walls.

The Bruins invited Kuhlman to their 2017 development camp to see what Langenbrunner had advocated.  He left the Bruins without a deal, but they kept a keen eye on him.  Following his senior year, the Bruins signed Kuhlman to a 2-year, $1.5M contract, and he reported directly to Providence.  He would only play in three games, notching two assists for the baby Bruins.  The following year, he played through the end of January for the Bruins’ AHL farm team and received the call up to the Boston Bruins when one of their star players injured himself.

David Pastrnak slipped on ice in the Boston streets and injured his thumb.  This created an empty roster spot, which Kuhlman was called to fill.  He joined the Bruins on their west coast road trip and lit the lamp in his second career NHL game.

He would play in nine more regular-season games and made the playoff roster.  He played through game one of the Columbus series and was eventually scratched for the veteran David Backes.  Kuhlman would watch the Bruins from the ninth floor until game six of the Stanley Cup finals.  Similar to his time in Minnesota, Kuhlman shined on the team’s biggest stage.

Both the Stanley Cup goal and the NCAA Championship goal featured Kuhlman’s lethal shot.  He has immense power and accuracy from most areas of the offensive zone, and both goals are evidence of that.  His willingness to shoot the puck in any spot of the offensive zone will pay dividends for his style of play in the long run.

The 24-year old was set to make a lasting impact on the Bruins second line at the beginning of the 2019 regular season.  He formed great chemistry with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci right off the bat.  The Bruins and its fanbase were hopeful they found the top-six winger they’d been longing for.  He was averaging nearly 13 minutes a game through the first eight games in October until he suffered an unfortunate injury.

It wouldn’t be until January 3, 2020, that Kuhlman would return to the ice.  He was sent to Providence for a conditioning stint to get his legs back and up to game speed.  Once again, Kuhlman didn’t skip a beat and notched three points in four games, one of which was an impressive score.

The Bruins finally called up Kuhlman on January 16, 2020, against the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he set up two Bruin goals.  Karson’s call up is also interesting timing.  The Bruins had just sent down Brett Ritchie and are still looking for the top-six winger that’s plagued them for years.  Kuhlman’s skill is undeniable, but is he the answer for Krejci’s wing?

That is still to be determined.  He has yet to play a full season as a top-six forward.  He certainly fits the mold of what the Bruins search for in players.  He’s versatile, leads by example, and plays on both ends of the ice.  He even throws his body around quite well for a sub-6-foot forward. Karson has already earned the trust of his coaches and the organization, which could yield significant benefits in the future.

Even if he doesn’t answer the Bruins hole on the second line, he would fit nicely with Danton Heinen and Charlie Coyle on the third line.  That line combination would be a high-speed, hard-hitting, skillful third unit to counter the league’s top counterparts.  Karson is a mainstay on this Bruins roster, and time will tell what line is best for him and the franchise.

Check out this weeks Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 163 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.

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 Bruins’ Silent Defender: Brandon Carlo

carlo-image

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

There’s a famous saying amongst NHL teams and scouts around regarding defenseman.  A defenseman’s ceiling is not known until they’ve played at least 250 NHL games.  Well, Boston’s Brandon Carlo recently eclipsed 278 games, and Carlo’s trajectory is clear to the organization and its fanbase.

The 6’5 Colorado Springs native began his path to the NHL in Canada’s Western Hockey League in 2012.  He spent three seasons in the WHL with the Tri-City Americans, progressing his game and points each year.  He was also featured on the American U-20 World Junior Championship teams in 2014 and 2015.  In 12 games at the World Junior Championships, he brought home a Bronze medal, scored five points, and an impressive plus-10 rating.

He even led the entire tournament pool of U-20 defenseman with two goals, winning the “U20 WJC Most Goals by Defenseman” award in 2015.  He is in great company for this award with the likes of Cale Makar, Thomas Chabot, and Zach Werenski.  Scouts predicted Carlo either be selected at the end of the first, early second round, and the Bruins were one of many teams interested.

The Bruins were fortunate enough to acquire four extra picks between the first two rounds in 2015.  Upon trading Johnny Boychuk, the Bruins found themselves with an additional pick in the second round, and with it, they selected Brandon Carlo.  His pre-draft scouting report was foreshadowing to what Bruins fans see night in and night out.  “Through maneuvering his way around the ice and making high-percentage, skilled decisions in all three zones, he is able to shut opposition offense down before it begins to take shape.”

He has become a steady, consistent shutdown defenseman that the team has lacked in the past few years.  There has been so much emphasis, energy, and draft choices spent on trying to find the league’s next Erik Karlsson. Teams should spend just as much time and energy on securing a player like Dennis Seidenberg.

Dennis Seidenberg came to the Bruins from Florida in a deadline trade in March 2010.  He was not known for his offensive prowess, but instead was a penalty kill specialist and a blocking shot animal.  Seidenberg amassed 1,417 blocked shots and averaged 20:44 minutes of ice time in 859 career NHL games.  This type of defenseman is needed to make a deep, unbeaten playoff run.

Brandon Carlo is following in the footsteps of Seidenberg, and for Bruins fans, that is a significant area of need.  The beginning of Carlo’s Bruins career would only require seven games in Providence before showing the Bruins he was ready for the big league.  In his first full year with the Bruins, Brandon played in all 82 games averaging 20 minutes on ice and finished with 16 points and a plus 9 rating.  He played alongside big man Zdeno Chara, and the two looked to have solidified an excellent working relationship.  Carlo was primed for his first NHL playoffs in 2017, but unfortunately, the game of hockey can be cruel.  In the last game of the regular season, Carlo suffered a concussion from an Alex Ovechkin brutal hit from behind.

The hit caused Carlo to miss the Bruins’ short playoff run.  The Bruins were eliminated heartbreakingly against the Ottawa Senators in the first round.  Their offseason began in April, and the Bruins were faced with an exciting offseason task.

The Vegas Golden Knights were the NHL’s newest expansion team in 2017, which created a new twist to the upcoming offseason.  The expansion rules required current teams to select 11 roster players for protection, while the rest of their roster was fair game.  However, NHL teams were allowed to exclude pro players who completed two or fewer years of the NHL from their list and the Knights.  These players for the Bruins included Charlie Mcavoy, Jake DeBrusk, and Brandon Carlo.  While this stopped the Knights from nabbing Carlo, it didn’t stop other teams from pursuing him.

The Colorado Avalanche were looking to unload their impending free-agent Matt Duchene in the same offseason.  They had a few calls, and one, in particular, piqued General Manager Joe Sakic’s interest.  Bruins General Manager, Don Sweeney, called Sakic inquiring the asking price for their second-line center.  Sakic expressed his interest in the Bruins budding blue-liner.

Don Sweeney was building a system and philosophy to develop and invest in players he drafted.  Thankfully, Sweeney stuck to his word and refused Sakic’s request.  Duchene would eventually be traded to the Ottawa Senators in a massive haul of prospects and draft picks.  Sakic tried a second time to pry Carlo from the Bruins, this time offering up their captain Gabriel Landeskog.

Sweeney, again, held onto his shutdown defenseman.  Carlo entered his sophomore season on the Bruins’ third-pairing with Kevan Miller.  Zdeno Chara and Charlie Mcavoy were leading the charge on the blue-line, with Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug right behind them.  When McQuaid broke his leg early into the season, Carlo moved up to Krug’s left side.  Carlo and Krug struggled to find chemistry right away, and he was heading towards a sophomore slump.

Hockey is just as much a mental sport as it is a physical sport.  Defensemen need to read plays before as it develops and react in an instance.  They need to pick themselves up after a goal is allowed on their watch.  Carlo struggled during the 2018-19 regular season, so much so that he was on the wrong end of the game-day roster in February against Buffalo.  The message was sent loud and clear, and Carlo quickly found his groove.  In 1,000 minutes played on 5-on-5 ice time, he led the league in the least amount of goals-against with 1.42 per 60 minutes that season.  Yes, even during a down year.  He was full-steam ahead for the playoffs when once again, the injury bug arrived, and he missed another playoff run.

The third time is the charm, and he finally made his playoff debut in 2019.  He averaged 21:31 of ice time throughout the Stanley Cup run and even scored two goals.  The most impressive part of Carlo’s playoff run was his ability to shut down the offensive talent.  Chara was the guy to shut down the likes of Max Pacioretty, Steven Stamkos, and Henrik and Daniel Sedin in 2011.  Unfortunately, Chara isn’t getting any younger and needs to pass the shutdown torch.  Carlo stepped up in a big way.

According to Natural Stat Trick, Carlo played his most playoff minutes against Artemi Panarin, Auston Matthews, and Pierre-Luc Dubois.  All three are an incredible talent and poised to be household names for years to come.  When the three players were on the ice with Carlo in a 5-on-5 situation, the three fired a combined 104 shots on goal.  Without Carlo, the shot total increased to 114.  He also led the team in penalty killing minutes with 77:22 in the entire 2019 playoffs.  The next most PK minute total was Chara at 55:04.  Carlo also added a little flair to his penalty-killing abilities.

Unfortunately, adding a Stanley Cup to his resume will have to wait, but he grew into a phenomenal player over three months.  Carlo received a team-friendly contract of 2 years, $2.85M this past offseason, and will be a restricted free-agent again when it’s complete.  He will be a long-term staple on the blue-line and is an outstanding defensive defenseman, which is rarely talked about.  It’s now clear why Sweeney refused to trade the former second-round pick.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 162 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.

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!! 

Boston’s Latest Trade Buzz

NHL: Boston Bruins at Buffalo Sabres

( Photo Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports )

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

A Bruins regular season would not be complete without trade rumors. The Bruins are almost always rumored to be in on a specific player or shopping their own. Don Sweeney, current General Manager, is always doing his due diligence to improve his team, from sending scouts to NHL games to making phone calls to other General Managers. The latest buzz features two young Bruin names that their fans might be reluctant to give up.

The key takeaway in this tweet is the “Bruins aren’t necessarily shopping them.” Don Sweeney would not be fulfilling his job as General Manager if he didn’t field calls and negotiate deals.  Other teams’ General Managers are doing the same, which is why there’s chatter.  What are the Bruins giving up in these players and who would be worth receiving?

Anders Bjork was drafted 146th overall in the 2014 draft out of Notre Dame.  He had a fruitful career for the Irish, amassing 109 points in 115 games.  Bjork is a young 23-year old impending restricted free-agent who has had the misfortune of two straight seasons ending due to shoulder surgeries.  This season, the 6-foot, 190-pound left-winger is finally fully healthy and improving every game.  He’s largely played with Charlie Coyle as his center and recently been placed on David Krejci’s line. The Bruins have longed to find David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk’s wing partner and Bjork has the tools to be the answer.  

Danton Heinen is the second Bruin to be included in the rumors.  Heinen was drafted 116th overall in the same draft as Bjork (2014).  He played two years for the Denver Pioneers, eclipsing 93 points in 81 games before heading to Boston for eight games in the 2016-17 season.  The 24-year old’s versatility has been one of his many strengths in Boston.  He recently signed a 2-year, $5.6M deal in this past offseason.  He will become a restricted free agent in 2021.  He’s been asked to play with Bergeron, Krejci, and Coyle and has succeeded immensely.  Heinen has the defensive tenacity, vision, and nose for the net that is required of a top-nine winger.  He is a role player needed on a team to make it deep into the playoffs.

If the Bruins potentially have two long-time wingers in their possession, why would they be willing to trade them?  

NHL General Managers generally make trades based on three reasons: they’re looking to rebuild their roster, they’re looking to make a playoff push, or they’re looking to acquire talent for one of their impending free-agent stars. 

If Don Sweeney is fielding calls for Bjork and Heinen, it is more than likely to acquire an impending free-agent to fulfill his top-six winger issue.  Both young forwards have shown promise and have the talents to help lead a team deep into the playoffs.  The Bruins also control their rights for the next several years.  Giving up on players too early has bitten this organization before with the likes of Tyler Seguin.  So if Sweeney does pull the trigger, a well-established NHL scorer should be included in the return.  

The Bruins have brokered trades to acquire impending free-agents (rentals) before in Rick Nash, Marcus Johansson, and Jaromir Jagr.  None of the three were in Bruins’ uniforms the following season, which makes these trades tricky.  Rentals are a risk because they could hit the free-agency market the following year.  The NHL team loses not only the player they acquired but the player they traded away. 

The New York Rangers have two of the three aforementioned motives to strike a deal.  They are seven points behind the Florida Panthers for the final Wild Card spot.  They won the Artemi Panarin sweepstakes in last year’s offseason, handing him $81M for the next seven years.  They also netted the second overall pick, jumping from the sixth spot, in last year’s lottery.   On paper, their roster was primed to make a playoff push.  

The Rangers also have an impending unrestricted free-agent in Chris Kreider.  Kreider, who hails from Boxford, MA, was drafted 19th overall in the 2009 NHL Draft out of Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.  He went on to play three years at Boston College, tallying 92 points in 114 games.  The 6-foot-3, 217-pound left-winger has the speed that NHL GM’s salivate over.  He’s currently playing on the Rangers’ top line with 12 goals, which would rank fourth on the current Bruins roster.  He is playing out the last year of his four-year, $18.5M contract. 

Kreider is making $4.6M this year and will look to increase to at least $5M per year on his next deal.  Kreider is a big-bodied winger that would fit the Bruins mold well, especially if he had Krejci feeding him the puck each night.  However, the Bruins should be cautious and ensure Kreider plans to sign a long-term, cost-effective deal if he is traded to his native state.  

The Los Angeles Kings are a team that falls into the rebuilding category.  The Kings are last in the Western Conference with an aging roster.  The Kings have $21M tied up between three of their top-six forwards all over the age of 33.  They’ve been guilty of giving out poor contracts and have had a history of the injury bug.  A few bright spots on their roster have some NHL teams calling.  Tyler Toffoli is a 27-year old winger, who is also on the last year of his contract with Los Angeles.  He, too, will be looking for a pay increase as he sits third in scoring on the lowly Kings with 11 goals.  

 

The last scenario the Bruins could entertain is packaging a young forward to trade David Backes’s deplorable contract.  The Toronto Maple Leafs traded Patrick Marleau, who had a similar contract, to the Carolina Hurricanes for a seventh-round pick this last offseason.  The Leafs had to send a first-round pick in order to rid themselves of Marleau’s contract. 

The same will apply to Backes, but Sweeney could decide to dangle Heinen or Bjork, instead of his coveted first-round choice.  A package that includes Backes, Bjork or Heinen and another draft selection could send New Jersey Devil Miles Wood and a draft selection to Boston.  Miles is a 24-year old left-winger who is in the midst of a team-friendly $2.75M per year deal.  The Devils are second-to-last in the league in points and could also be looking for a new direction.  

General Managers wear many hats and one of them is to improve their team, even if they sit atop the standings.  The Bruins are first in their division and second in the Eastern Conference.  Their Stanley Cup window is dwindling because of their aging core of players.  Zdeno Chara is playing out his one-year deal, Patrice Bergeron has sat for a few games to keep him fresh for the playoffs, and David Krejci has one more year on his 6-year deal signed in 2014.  The time to bing a Stanley Cup back to Boston is now.  Heinen and Bjork were drafted to be a part of a long playoff run but if an NHL team calls and offers a deal that they can’t pass up, Sweeney may take the risk.  

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 161 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.

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!!

Who Is Bruins’ Defenseman, Cooper Zech?

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

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

NHL teams employ a variety of prospects. Team scouts are responsible for researching and assessing prospects throughout the world to determine a player’s draft position. Prospects who are highly scouted and considered the best of the best are selected at high draft positions. Others, however, endure more work in making an NHL roster because they are not drafted. These players are considered undrafted free agents (“UDFA”). Boston Bruins’ prospect Cooper Zech falls into this category.

The life of an undrafted free agent is predicated on calls from NHL teams looking to expand their rosters. A typical UDFA will play four years of college hockey or junior hockey in America or Canada. They’ll wait for tryout invitations after their eligible draft year(s) to show teams what they may have missed. A variety of reasons will affect a player’s draft position: progression of their development, strength, or size. The latter is the leading reason why most players go undrafted.

Most notable free agents who have been told they were too small for the NHL include Martin St. Louis, Adam Oates, Connor Sheary, and current Bruins player, Torey Krug. Oates and St. Louis have been inducted into the NHL’s Hall of Fame. St. Louis polished off his career with a Stanley Cup win in 2004, Sheary has two Stanley Cup rings with Pittsburgh, and Krug is eyeing a large payday next off-season. Cooper Zech’s initial pre-draft impression wasn’t any different. He had consistently been told his 5’9, 170-pound stature was too small for an NHL defenseman. Thankfully, that didn’t stop the left-handed shot defenseman from pursuing his dreams.

Cooper Zech started his unconventional road to the NHL with the North American Hockey League (NAHL). The NAHL is the only Tier II junior league sanctioned by USA Hockey, and acts as an alternative to the Tier I United States Hockey League (USHL). The USHL features young stars who have their sights set on an NHL roster and have been told by general managers they need more developmental time. These players are typically drafted, including current emerging star Bruins defenseman, Charlie McAvoy. Similar to the NHL draft, some players are not fortunate enough to play in the USHL, which creates an opportunity for the NAHL.

Zach Zech, Cooper’s older brother, played for the NAHL’s Odessa Jackalopes. With the help of his older brother, Cooper was given a try-out and the 17-year old Michigan native made his first junior hockey team in 2015.

Zech played two seasons in Odessa, notching 57 points. He left after 41 games in 2016-17 to play in the USHL with the Muskegon Lumberjacks for a 25-game stint. He moved on to a full season in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) with the Wenatchee Wild in the 2017-18 season. This particular season was huge for Zech’s development. He led all BCHL defenseman in points for the season (69 points) and playoffs (23 points). He was awarded BCHL’s Best Defensemen in 2018 and was an integral part of the Wild’s first BCHL championship.

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Following his admirable year with the Wild, Zech looked for an opportunity to sign with an NHL team. NHL teams hold development camps to evaluate their prospects before the season kicks off and allows teams to invite undrafted prospects for a tryout. Coaches and management evaluate what areas of the game each prospect needs to work on, and shares that with the player to help in their development process.

The Washington Capitals became the first NHL team to invite Zech to their development camp, months after his season in the BCHL ended. He attended the Capitals’ camp, where his skill was recognized. He took part in 3-on-3 tournaments and even signed some autographs.

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Unfortunately, like most UDFA’s who attend camps, he left Washington without a contract. He verbally committed to the Ferris State Bulldogs in the Western Conference Hockey Association (WCHA) for the 2018-19 season. He continued his torrid success at Ferris State, earning WCHA’s Rookie of the Year. He led all WCHA freshmen in points with 28 and became the first freshman to lead the Bulldogs in scoring since the 1987-88 season. His .78 points per game by a freshmen blue-liner led the entire nation.

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Zech’s remarkable pre-NHL journey did not go unnoticed. Following his season at Ferris State, the Boston Bruins offered him a two-year AHL contract. An AHL contract is a deal between the player and the AHL team, not the NHL club. The difference between Cooper and a player like Zach Senyshyn who’s on an NHL entry-level contract and can play in the AHL, meaning he’s not on an AHL contract. Therefore, if the Bruins ever want to call up Zech, they would have to sign him to an NHL deal.

Zech joined the Providence Bruins for 12 regular season and 4 playoff games in 2019. He racked up 6 points in these 16 games, two of which were scored in the playoffs. Most notably, Zech scored a game-tying goal, which was eerily similar to Krug’s goal against the Minnesota Wild in a comeback 5-4 OT victory on November 23, 2019. Zech has often been compared to Krug, not only for his size but for his offensive ability and power play prowess.

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He entered the 2019 off-season looking to make an impression at the Bruins development camp and pre-season games. In his NHL debut preseason game against Philadelphia, Zech registered five shots on goal, a hit and a block in 17:35 minutes of ice time. He also appeared on the Bruins power-play unit. The Bruins cut Zech during their training camp, sending him down to Providence for the year to continue his development. He hasn’t skipped a beat this season, racking up 6 points in 17 games, while also receiving the recognition he’s deserved by the Bruins’ media.

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The Bruins will have to wait to figure out what they truly have in Cooper Zech and if it can translate to the NHL. He has been compared to players like Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk, mostly due to size but also for his elusive defense and power playability. He has a knack for the net and has only once in his storied career registered a negative plus/minus season. He’s been a bright spot on the Providence Bruins roster and his coaches have noticed. Jay Leach, current Providence Bruins Head Coach, praised Zech during a brief post-game interview with The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa. “His ability to make something out of nothing was there. And as always, his ability to compete and be the hockey player was always there.”

The Bruins have a plethora of defensemen vying for a spot on the roster. They also need to figure out how to financially include Krug in their future plans. Once next season hits and Zech is at the end of his AHL contract, it would not be surprising if the Bruins offer Cooper his first NHL-entry deal.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 158 that we recorded on 12-15-19 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! 

Report: Bruins Interested in Kovalchuk

( Photo Credit: David Kirouac/ Icon Sportswire )

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

Could the recent release of a former-NHL All-Star solve the Bruins top-six winger issue?

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At first glance, most Bruins fans want nothing to do with the 36-year-old aging winger. But, dig a little deeper and his services could be beneficial for the remainder of the year.

Kovalchuk is a former number one overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. The Atlanta Thrashers, now the Winnipeg Jets, selected the Russian forward with the intent he’d be their franchise player. Kovalchuk averaged 1.03 points in eight years with the Thrashers. He scored 41 goals in his third season with the Thrashers, which yielded him (along with Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla) the Maurice Richard Trophy (most goals in a season).

In his final contract year with the Thrashers, he was traded to the Devils in a massive deal. The Devils and Kovalchuk agreed to a record-breaking 15-year, $100 million deal. Unfortunately for New Jersey and its fans, he only played the first four years of the deal before leaving for the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia (KHL) to be closer to his family. When Kovalchuk left the NHL, his contract was terminated and he was placed on the voluntary retirement list. The Devils maintained his NHL rights until he turned 35, which was April 15, 2018.

The KHL is notorious for plucking Russian-born NHL stars to play in their homeland. Players like Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk have left the NHL to play in Russia’s top hockey league because they’re offered the highest salaries to represent their country in their native league. Kovalchuk continued his torrid 1.08 points per game pace in 5 years with the KHL, but the NHL itch to win a Stanley Cup was still present for Ilya.

When the news broke that Kovalchuk wanted to return to the NHL in 2018, the Bruins were considered a front-running destination. The Bruins were coming off an unsatisfying playoff run, getting steamrolled by the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 4-1 series loss. The Bruins’ Achilles heel all playoffs was their lack of scoring depth, so the interest in the former 50-goal scorer was warranted. Kovalchuk made it abundantly clear he wanted to sign with a Stanley Cup team on a longer-term deal. Don Sweeney (current Bruins General Manager) could not dish out the money and term that Kovalchuk sought. The Los Angeles Kings won the Kovalchuk sweepstakes days before the July 1 free agency period.

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The Kings won Lord’s Stanley Cup twice in the past 10 years, so they definitely had the championship pedigree. However, the Kings became too old and injury-prone over the last two years and couldn’t find their groove. They missed the playoffs last year, finishing 30th out of the 31 teams and recently fired their head coach. Kovalchuk’s cap hit of $6.25 million per year suddenly became too costly for a rebuilding franchise. The Kings cut Kovalchuk on December 9th, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent. He hasn’t played for the Kings since November 9th but is still vying for the Stanley Cup.

The Bruins, coincidentally, are still searching for a formidable top-six winger. They have tried numerous options such as Charlie Coyle, Brett Ritchie, and Anders Bjork. Coyle was acquired from the Minnesota Wild ahead of last year’s trade deadline to solidify their third-line center position. Bjork hasn’t been able to sustain a full year yet due to injuries and is still adapting to the NHL play. Brett Ritchie has 4 points in 19 games, which is nowhere close to a proper top six stat line. Kovalchuk’s current season stat line is similar to Ritchie’s, but he has the history of scoring and the numbers to back him. In nine seasons, he’s surpassed 30 goals in his 13-year career.

Kovalchuk and his agent have made it clear he is “OK” with signing a league-minimum deal of $700K. He would be an extremely low risk, high reward situation for the Bruins for even just the remainder of the year. His size (6’4 222-pounds) and prolific scoring would be beneficial to the Bruins offense, and especially to David Krejci. Krejci has been the most affected by the Bruins inability to find a top-six winger. He hasn’t had a capable set of wingers since Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton. The move could also allow Cassidy to shift Pastrnak down to Krejci, where he’s found success this season.

The Bruins would have to create cap space in order to make this move. Waiving Brett Ritchie would be the most logical move, which would create $1 million in cap space. Ritchie has not panned out in the Bruins plans as of late and could use some AHL time to find his game.

The other question is, how Kovalchuk would fit into the Bruins locker room? Team chemistry is key in any NHL locker room. Bruins fans are privy to this as they’ve seen the likes of Dougie Hamilton and Tyler Seguin traded due to lack of chemistry and other team-related issues. The hope is the Bruins have a strong enough locker room bond because of their leaders like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Krejci.

If the Bruins did sign Kovalchuk, their initial line combinations could be:

Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak

DeBrusk – Krejci – Kovalchuk

Bjork – Coyle – Heinen

Nordstrom – Kuraly – Backes

These lines create flexibility for Cassidy and line chemistry to develop. Kovalchuk would also immediately slot into a power-play role, where has always found success, even in LA.

The Bruins top need has been a capable top-six forward. Bruins management has been scouring NHL rosters for the void that has plagued them for the past few seasons and playoffs. They have done their due diligence, even as far as inquiring on Taylor Hall.

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It’s clear Sweeney does not want to take the Dave Dombrowski approach and sacrifice his prospects and payroll for a likely rental. Kovalchuk, though a short-term solution, presents a cost-effective quick fix and could pay dividends to come playoff time. The Bruins would not need to trade a budding young star in order to acquire Ilya. The Bruins should certainly kick the tires on Kovalchuk and identify what it would take to bring him to Boston for the remainder of the year.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 158 that we recorded on 12-16-19 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!