Grzelcyk Ready to Go for Bruins

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(Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

By Carrie Salls | Find me on Twitter @nittgrl73

The 2018-2019 season did not end well for Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk. Grzelcyk himself may not remember much of what happened after a hit in game two of the Stanley Cup Finals that sent his head careening off the boards and forcing him to be helped off the ice, but Boston fans surely do.

After that fateful hit, Grezelcyk was placed in concussion protocol. He resumed practicing with the team after a couple of games, but most of that time was spent in a red non-contact jersey. He was finally cleared to return to action for game seven and actually scored the Bruins’ only goal in a heartbreaking loss.

Interviewed after game seven, a visibly shaken Grzelcyk broke down in front of reporters when describing how it felt to be sidelined for so much of the series. Minutes after the series ended, the pain of the loss was still very fresh in the minds of Grzelcyk and his teammates.

The good news is (yes, there is good news here), Grzelcyk is raring to go for the 2019-2020 campaign. And, with so many questions remaining about the make-up of the Bruins’ defensive corps leading into camp, the 25-year-old Charlestown native is one piece of the puzzle that is solidly in place. He recently said that he took some time off after the season to let himself fully recover from any lingering effects of the concussion he suffered, but he now feels good and ready to go.

Heading into the final year of a two-year deal signed in July 2018, Grzelcyk is in a great position to have a break-out season. With captain Zdeno Chara returning for at least one more season, but likely to see reduced minutes as he approaches his 43rd birthday in March, Grzelcyk is a prime candidate to share some, if not quite a bit, of that extra load. With injuries dominating the blue line throughout much of the season, he’s already shown that he is more than capable of stepping up when needed.

Of course, last season was a tough one for Grzelcyk himself from a physical standpoint. In addition to the concussion suffered in the final round of the playoffs, Grzelcyk missed a few weeks with an apparent arm injury suffered March 10 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Although the team and fans were relieved that tests revealed no broken bones or significant structural damage, the injury still kept Grzelcyk out of the lineup during a key stretch of the season.

Grzelcyk played 66 of 82 games in 2018-2019, but still managed to increase his points total to 18 points last season from 15 scored in his first season in Boston, in which he played in 61 games. Those numbers aren’t staggering, but considering that Grzelcyk played most of the season on the third pairing with a revolving door of defensive partners, they are solid. Also, he stepped up big in the playoffs, including a two-goal effort in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Bruins fans also know that statistics don’t tell the whole story. Grzelcyk is known for his ability to move the puck, and that trait can be invaluable. Even though he has suffered injuries, listed at 5′ 9″ and 174 pounds, Grzelcyk has shown that he does not shy away from puck battles or hits from larger players. If he can stay healthy, I expect Matt Grzelcyk to take advantage of every opportunity that comes his way in the upcoming season.

Bruins Fan Fest Begins August 16 in Maine

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(Photo Credit: NHL.com/Brian Fluharty)

By Carrie Salls | Find Me on Twitter @nittgrl73

Summer, and the National Hockey League offseason, is winding down as we enter mid-August. That means it won’t be long until Bruins players and coaches begin returning to Boston to get ready for camp and gear up for the 2019-2020 season. It also means it is time for the Bruins’ Third Annual Fan Fest Tour to hit the road to several locations throughout New England.

This year, Fan Fest will travel to seven locations, kicking off on Aug. 16 in Portland, Maine, and making stops through Aug. 25 in Manchester, N.H., Burlington, Vt., Leominster, Mass., Springfield, Mass., Hartford, Conn., and Providence, R.I. The full 2019 Fan Fest Tour schedule can be found at the end of this article.

According to the Bruins, one extra location was added to this year’s tour after Leominster, Mass.’s George Marchetti was selected as the winner of a children’s Spoked-B logo drawing contest. In addition to the honor of bringing the tour to his hometown, Marchetti won tickets to watch the Bruins play at TD Garden at one game in the upcoming season.

Each stop is scheduled to feature current Bruins, coaches, executives and NESN personalities. They will “play games and mingle with fans, sign autographs, take photos, participate in Q&A sessions and much more,” the team announced on July 23. Details on which specific players, coaches and television personalities will be scheduled to appear on the tour had not been released by the team as of Aug. 15.

In addition to the ever-popular player autograph and photo sessions, Fan Fest offers a variety of other Bruins-themed activities for attendees. The tour, which was first held in 2017, includes events and activities for children and adults.

“Fans will be able to participate in skills and drills on synthetic ice rinks, pose for photos in a mock Bruins locker room and have the opportunity to partake in NESN virtual reality experiences,” the team said.

For younger Bruins fans in attendance, Boston Bruins BFit will lead kid-friendly fitness activities at each city. Also, the Bruins Academy Zone will offer face painting, poster making and Bruins trivia for kids.

To help keep fans cool in the August heat while raising money for the Boston Bruins Foundation, Gifford’s Famous Ice Cream will be selling its Power Play Fudge ice cream at Fan Fest. Attendees can cool down with the sweet treat in exchange for a $1 donation to the foundation.

There is no cost for admission to any of the tour stops, although the team is encouraging attendees to pre-register to avoid delays in getting into the event. More information on attending Fan Fest and registration forms can be found at BostonBruins.com/FanFest.

The full schedule for the Third Annual Bruins Fan Fest, which is subject to change, is as follows:

Friday, August 16

Edward Payson Park, Catafalque Drive, Portland, Maine, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Saturday, August 17

Arms Park, 10 Arms St., Manchester, N.H., 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Sunday, August 18

Jeffords Hall Lot, 63 Carrigan Dr., Burlington, Vt., 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Thursday, August 22

Doyle Field, 100 Priest St., Leominster, Mass., noon to 4 p.m.

Friday, August 23

Forest Park, 200 Trafton Rd., Springfield, Mass., noon to 4 p.m.

Saturday, August 24

Connecticut State Capitol, 210 Capitol Ave., Hartford, Conn., noon to 4 p.m.

Sunday, August 25

Alex and Ani Center, 2 Kennedy Plaza, Providence, R.I., noon to 4 p.m.

Where Does Lindholm Fit in Bruins Lineup?

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals

(Image Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

By Carrie Salls | Find me on Twitter @nittgrl73

Not much has been said about Par Lindholm since the Bruins signed the 27-year-old Swedish forward to a two-year deal on July 1. Understandably, Bruins fans’ attention has been focused on whether, and how, the team can manage to sign restricted free agent defensemen Charlie McAvoy and/or Brandon Carlo to new contracts and less so on depth signings.

Lindholm, who can play both center and wing, was one of two unrestricted free agents signed by Boston general manager Don Sweeney when free agency began at the beginning of July. Fellow signee Brett Ritchie has been mentioned as a good candidate to fill a vacant bottom-six forward role, depending on how the Boston coaching staff elects to construct the lines. But, what about Lindholm’s potential role on the team?

Last season, Lindholm played 61 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, contributing 11 assists and one goal and a plus-five rating in that time. He also played in four games for the Winnipeg Jets. He had one assist in his brief stint in Winnipeg.

From 2007 through the 2017-2018 season, Lindholm played in Sweden. His time there included time with junior teams, international play and the Swedish Hockey League. Lindholm’s career high in points came in his last season in Europe, when he potted 18 goals and 29 assists for a combined 47 points for Skelleftee AIK.

After just one season playing hockey in North America, it is fair to say Lindholm is still trying to translate his success in Europe to the National Hockey League. The Bruins will be his third team in an NHL career that is just over one-year long.

The $825,000 contract he signed with Boston indicates that Lindholm and the Bruins recognize that he is still a work in progress. The cap-friendly deal and scoring potential make him a good investment for the Bruins, if they can find a role for him.

It’s no secret that the Bruins already have one of the best fourth lines in the NHL. Sean Kuraly and Joakim Nordstrom are virtual locks to see regular playing time on that line. Unfortunately for Lindholm, there is already a healthy slate of veterans lining up to take a crack at the third slot on the energy line.

Chris Wagner, who played much of the 2018-2019 season on the fourth line, is the odds-on-favorite to reclaim the spot he shared with Noel Acciari, who signed with the Florida Panthers in July. Sweeney has indicated that David Backes may also see playing time on the fourth line, and, depending on the make-up of the third line, Ritchie could be in the mix as well. These projections do not even take into account the prospects looking to impress in the preseason and stick with the big club.

With so many options in Boston, Lindholm will likely face his fair share of competition in camp if he hopes to show the front office that he is worth of regular playing time. He does bring a few valuable weapons to the fight, as he is a left-shot center who is known for his penalty killing and defensive prowess and success at the face-off dot.

Despite the stiff competition, Lindholm seems to relish the chance to contribute. Whether he has what it takes to stand out above the rest in the competition to replace Acciari and Marcus Johannson remains to be seen.

Senyshyn’s Future in Boston Unclear

NHL: Preseason-Washington Capitals at Boston Bruins

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By Carrie Salls | Find me on Twitter @nittgrl73

It feels like Zach Senyshyn has been in the Bruins organization forever. The last of three first-round picks made by the Bruins in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Senyshyn was also the last of the group to earn a call to show what he can do on the NHL level. Although, like Senyshyn, draft classmate Jakub Zboril has seen very little time with the big club, Zboril’s chance came a bit sooner than Senyshyn’s. The other 2015 first-rounder, Jake DeBrusk, is entering his third season in Boston.

As far as Senyshyn is concerned, his biggest chance to make a name for himself so far came at the end of the 2018-2019 season, after the Bruins had clinched a playoff spot and were looking for options to rest the team’s stars and keep them healthy for the postseason. His first NHL goal was scored in that brief stint, but even that milestone was an inauspicious one for the 22-year-old winger. Senyshyn scored an empty-netter in the waning minutes of a game against the Minnesota Wild.

Still, it was a goal, scored in the NHL with his parents on-hand. And, it should not be overshadowed by the fact that Senyshyn seemed to relish his opportunity to show the Bruins’ brass what he can do. He approached his brief time in the NHL with poise, not letting the moment or his nerves get the better of him, and had a few quality chances and made an impact when he was on the ice.

That being said, big questions remain as to whether Senyshyn is ready and able to break into the NHL roster for the beginning of the 2019-2020 season. As part of the seemingly constant debate on who should play on David Krejci’s right wing, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney did offer some hope earlier this summer that Senyshyn could be thrown into the mix.

Much of Senyshyn’s future in the Bruins organization will depend on what role the coaches and front office want him to fill. If he is relegated to the hard-minutes, grinder role that it seems Providence coach Jay Leach would like to see from the Ottawa native, that could make “Senny’s” road to the NHL a bit bumpier. The Bruins have stocked up on bottom-six players in the past couple of years, all while already boasting arguably the best fourth line in the league.

With Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner, Joakim Nordstrom, veteran David Backes and newcomer Brett Ritchie already providing Boston with hard-hitting options for those roles, and, perhaps most importantly to Senyshyn’s future, with several years of NHL experience already under their belts, it seems unlikely Senyshyn will break through that way unless an injury bug hits the team’s third and fourth lines.

How Sweeney sees Senyshyn potentially fitting into the search for a reliable second-line right ring, be it as a player that could slot into that position himself or a replacement for Danton Heinen or another player who would be moved there, remains to be seen. Senyshyn certainly has the speed to make an impact somewhere in the middle of the lineup, as well as the physical skill to make him an asset further down in the mix.

Although he is moving into the fifth season since being drafted by the Bruins, Senyshyn chose to return to the Ontario Hockey League for a couple of years after he was drafted and has actually only played two full seasons in Providence. In that time, he has racked up a total of 50 points. His points total fell slightly to 24 in the 2018-2019 season from 26 the year before, but he potted more goals this past season, with 14, compared to 12 the previous season.

Of course, a third season in Providence, at least to start the upcoming campaign, could only help Senyshyn’s development. However, he is coming into the final year of his entry-level contract. With restricted free agency looming, this season may be Senyshyn’s last chance, whether in camp or during a call-up, to prove that he deserves to stay in Boston for the long haul.

Will Bruins Sign McAvoy or Carlo Before Camp?

NHL: Dallas Stars at Boston Bruins

(Photo credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

By Carrie Salls | Follow Me on Twitter @nittgrl73

August is upon us. With only about a month remaining until the players and coaches begin returning to Boston and training camp gets underway for the 2019-2020 season, the Bruins still have not signed key restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy or Brandon Carlo to new contracts. In fact, it doesn’t appear that team president Cam Neely and general manager Don Sweeney have done much at all since making a few unrestricted free agent signings on July 1, at least nothing that has been reported.

The first mention from team management about the status of talks with Carlo and McAvoy was not a particularly promising one, as vice president Cam Neely seemed to indicate Thursday that there is a chance that one or both of the blue liners may not be with the team at the beginning of camp.

Potential bridge deals aside, it stands to reason that the Bruins do not currently have enough cap space available to sign both young defensemen. A few other teams have found buyers for players who, like Boston forward David Backes, have expensive contracts but whose contributions to their teams have diminished. However, it appears the window may be closing, if it hasn’t already, on finding a team willing to take some or all of Backes’ contract off the Bruins’ hands.

There are a few issues that likely make moving Backes challenging, to say the least. One is that he has a no movement clause, so the Bruins would either have to make a deal with a team to which Backes has previously agreed or ask him to waive the clause. Teams may also be asking for a high draft pick to accompany the aging winger. After losing a first-round draft pick in the Rick Nash trade, general manager Don Sweeney understandably seems to be reluctant to go that route again. Boston also is not in a position to swap one expensive contract for another, like the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames did in their recent Milan Lucic for James Neal trade.

If freeing up space from Backes’ contract is not an option, it makes sense that the team would turn to a trade to find the money to come to terms with both McAvoy and Carlo. Potential trade pieces could include Torey Krug or David Krejci, most notably. Back-up goaltender Jaroslav Halak could also provide some cap relief if dealt, albeit not as much as Krug or Krejci.

Certainly none of these options are ideal for the Bruins. That, coupled with the team’s decided defensive depth, may be why Neely seems somewhat resigned to the reality that Carlo and McAvoy could start the season as holdouts.

The team has the most leverage in negotiating with McAvoy, as other teams cannot “offer sheet” the 21-year-old first-pairing defenseman. However, if McAvoy is looking at the contracts signed this summer by other young defensemen and asking the Bruins for most or all of the available cap space, that leaves the door open for Carlo to sign a potential offer sheet from another team.

The summer has been slow league-wide, with several bigger-name restricted free agents still un-signed. Offer sheets have also been in very short supply. So, it may not be just the Bruins who are taking their time in shoring up their rosters for the upcoming season.

It may be safe to assume at this point that neither player is willing to accept a bridge deal, especially given the going rate for future stars like McAvoy and Carlo. The Bruins front office definitely finds itself in a difficult position. The coming weeks will tell if a solution can be found.

Salls: Ideal Bruins Lineup on Opening Night: Version One

Boston Bruins vs Winnipeg Jets

(Photo Credit: Christopher Evans, Boston Herald)

By Carrie Salls | Follow Me on Twitter @nittgrl73

First off, I’d like to give a shout out to fellow Black N Gold Hockey writer Mike Cratty, who started the ball rolling with his thoughts on what the Bruins’ opening day lineup should look like, as well as to the other members of the Black N Gold writing team who have since added their insights. Here are the links to all of their contributions. If you haven’t already, please give them a read.

Mike Cratty, Garrett Haydon, Max Mainville, Yanni Latzanakis, Tim A. Richardson.

Without further ado, I’m ready to throw my hat into the ring. Keep in mind, this is the lineup I think will give the team the best chance to beat the Dallas Stars on opening night, Oct. 3, based on the current players available and who I believe will be available once the season rolls around. A lot could and likely will change in the meantime. Enjoy.

First Line: Marchand – Bergeron – Heinen

For all the knocks on Danton Heinen’s lack of production in this sophomore season, Heinen proved in David Pastrnak’s absence during the 2018-2019 campaign that he, more than any other option coach Bruce Cassidy tried, can be a valuable asset lining up alongside Marchand and Bergeron. Heinen has the puck possession and defensive skills to hold up his end against other teams’ top lines. An added bonus is that Heinen himself recently acknowledged that he needs to work on pulling the trigger. If he can improve on the hesitation to shoot that seemed to especially plague him during the team’s playoff run, he will be a solid choice for the first line.

Second Line: DeBrusk – Krejci – Pastrnak

What to do with the second line? Not an easy fix for Cassidy and crew to be sure, but I think a little consistency can return this line to glory. Yes, the coaching staff tried moving Pastrnak to the second line a few times last season, with little to no success. However, the move rarely stuck for more than one or two games, sometimes even one or two periods. With a chance to build some chemistry with linemates Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci from the get-go, Pastrnak could very well bring a major scoring threat to a second line that has struggled to find its identity.

Third Line: Nordstrom – Coyle – Ritchie

Fourth Line: Bjork – Kuraly – Wagner

I myself almost cannot believe I am suggesting this, especially when it means breaking up arguably the best fourth line in the National Hockey League. However, the departure of Noel Acciari has changed the dynamic of that line a bit anyway. An argument certainly could be made to switch Anders Bjork and Joakim Nordstrom here, but I believe the team would be better served to use Bjork on a line with Sean Kuraly to start off the season. Bjork and Kuraly have played together in the past and may have a better comfort level than Bjork would with Coyle and Ritchie. This move is designed to help Bjork find his game, at least until he is far enough along in his comeback bid to warrant a promotion or until it appears he is not ready.

Extra Forwards: David Backes, Par Lindholm, Karson Kuhlman

Defense

Here is where it really starts to get tricky. Simply put, it doesn’t appear that the Bruins have enough available cap space to re-sign both Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, especially in the wake of the New York Rangers’ decision to give young defenseman Jacob Trouba a seven-year contract worth $8 million per year. As a result, consider these suggested defensive pairings to be written in pencil.

Chara – McAvoy

Of the two restricted-free-agent D-men the Bruins still need to sign, the team has more leverage to keep McAvoy in the Spoked B, and he is arguably the more attractive option between the two, even if the difference is negligible. Assuming McAvoy remains a Bruin this year, there is no real reason to stray from this normal pairing, keeping in mind that Chara’s minutes may be reduced.

Krug – Clifton

Since this projection involves the Bruins re-signing McAvoy, it is difficult to imagine how Brandon Carlo could also remain in the fold, barring a trade or the somewhat unlikely chance of one or both agreeing to sign a bridge deal. Connor Clifton filled in admirably in every defensive pairing he was placed in last season. In fact, he played so well that he stuck around after the blue-line contingency got healthier. Krug is likely the heir apparent to Chara’s slot, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pick up more playing time if the captain’s ice-time is cut back.

Grzelcyk – Kampfer

Few would argue that Matt Grzelcyk would be higher up in the lineup on a team that did not have the defensive depth the Bruins enjoy. Gryz played with a revolving door of partners in the past season, including Clifton, Steven Kampfer and John Moore, and didn’t seem to miss a beat. Kampfer works hard and is a true team player. He deserves a shot to start the year.

Extra Defense: Kevan Miller, Urho Vaakanainen

Goaltenders: Tuukka Rask, Jaroslav Halak

This was one of the best goaltender tandems in the National Hockey League last year and there is no reason to believe that would change. Halak may be one player who could garner some trade interest and open up some cap space, but it would most likely not be enough to keep both McAvoy and Carlo in Boston.

Bruins Captain Chara A Testament To Longevity

Boston Bruins v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Four

(Photo credit: NHLI via Getty Images)

By Carrie Salls | Find me on Twitter @nittgrl73

With the recent announcement that Pittsburgh Penguin Matt Cullen has retired, 42-year-old Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara became the oldest active player in the National Hockey League. Chara will be 43 by the time his one-year contract is up following the 2019-2020 season, but Bruins fans know Chara is far from the typical middle-aged man. A lot has changed, in the world and in professional hockey, during his lifetime.

When Chara was born on March 18, 1977, the Berlin Wall was still standing. In fact, what we know as Germany today was still divided into two separate countries, East Germany and West Germany. His place of birth is listed as Trenčín, Czechoslovakia. Chara’s native country was not split into Slovakia, the country he now calls home, and the Czech Republic until just a few months before his 16th birthday.

His background alone has earned Chara, who is also the tallest player in the NHL at 6’9″, a place in the National Hockey League record books. According to Wikipedia, he was just the second European captain to win the Stanley Cup, achieving that honor when the Bruins won it all in 2011, and the first Cup champion to be born in and hone his hockey skills in a country within the Iron Curtain.

Off the ice, Zdeno Chara is well-educated and has a wide array of interests. He speaks seven languages, including his native Slovak, has earned a financial planning diploma, is licensed to sell real estate in Massachusetts and attended a course offered by Harvard Business School in 2018 entitled “The Business of Entertainment, Media, and Sports.”

Chara’s motivational and insightful Instagram posts have made him a social media favorite among fans. During the hockey season especially, Chara gives followers a glimpse into his family life and his training regiment and frequently tells stories of his experiences and lessons learned.

The captain’s intense training sessions and plant-based diet, similar to the one followed by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, are certainly two keys to his impressive longevity. Players of Chara’s size are becoming more and more rare as the NHL tide has turned toward smaller, faster, more-skilled players and away from the proverbial “goon” and power forward-types that were in ample supply earlier in his NHL career.

Of course, Chara recognizes that playing the game of hockey for as long as he has at the top professional level is not an easy feat. He acknowledged that fact with a rather tongue-in-cheek Instagram post soon after the news broke that he was now the oldest active player.

According to his player bio on bostonbruins.com, Chara was drafted by the New York Islanders with the 56th overall pick in the third round of the 1996 NHL Draft. He was later traded to the Ottawa Senators. He was signed as a free agent by the Bruins in 2006 and has served as the team’s captain ever since. Before breaking into the NHL, Chara played North American hockey with Prince George’s Western Hockey League team and with an Islanders American Hockey League affiliate in Kentucky.

Chara was awarded the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman in 2009. He has set plus/minus and hardest shot records along the way in his storied career and was named a first-team all star three times.

Even with all of the accolades, records and firsts Chara has racked up, he will likely always be best-remembered by Bruins teammates, coaches and fans for his leadership. This quality was on display throughout the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Fans will long remember Chara changing into his full uniform after missing the clinching game four of the Eastern Conference Finals with an injury to come out to participate in the handshake line and celebrate the Cup Finals berth with his teammates.

As special a show of leadership and sportsmanship that gesture was, it was outdone when Chara came to sit on the bench, reportedly against the advice of the team’s medical staff, after suffering a broken jaw during the fourth game of the Stanley Cup Finals. He later said he came out with no intention of playing, but as a show of support for his teammates. Incredibly, Chara did not miss a start in the series, wired jaw and all.

Chara is likely coming into one of, if not his final, season as a player in the National Hockey League. When he does hang up his skates for the final time, he will be closing the book on an amazing career that may well result in his number 33 being hoisted to the rafters.

Big Questions Remain On Defense For Bruins

zdeno_chara_charlie_mcavoy

(Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports)

By Carrie Salls | Find me on Twitter @nittgrl73

For all the talk of how the Boston Bruins are going to find the elusive second-line right wing and third-line center to shore up the front 12 going into the 2019-2020 season, the fact is that many more questions remain about just who will be defending the blue line when the season begins on Oct. 3 in Dallas.

Let’s start with what we know. Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, Connor Clifton and Steven Kampfer are the members of the defensive corps that saw regular playing time for the Bruins last season who are currently under contract and presumably healthy coming into camp in September. They are healthy, that is, if Chara and Grzelcyk have fully recovered from injuries and concussion symptoms, respectively, that forced them to miss some games in the final round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

To arrive at this point, the Bruins re-signed free agent Kampfer and awarded Clifton’s play with a three-year contract extension. The Bruins’ front office likely considers Clifton to be a key piece of the team’s future on defense, so he was locked up while so many other pieces of the puzzle were still jumbled. For his part, Kampfer proved himself to be a valuable asset to the team last year, playing the difficult-to-find role of the veteran presence who was willing to sit out for long periods with no complaints and play a reliable, solid game when called upon.

That brings us to the unknowns. The two biggest questions, of course, are the statuses of restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. The Bruins made qualifying offers to both of these players, and general manager Don Sweeney said he has been in talks with both young stars’ camps. However, despite rumblings that Carlo may be close to coming to terms with the team, no official word has come from the team as to how close the Bruins are to making a deal with either of these young defensemen.

The main roadblock the Bruins face in re-signing McAvoy and Carlo is the team’s extremely limited salary-cap picture. It looks like the possibility of Sweeney being able to dump some or all of David Backes’ $6 million salary is essentially non-existent. The fact that restricted free agent forward Danton Heinen has elected salary arbitration, with an answer on how much his contract will cost the Bruins not coming for at least a couple of weeks, complicates the matter even further.

Sweeney said that he feels the team is likely finished signing unrestricted free agents after he added several depth pieces in early July. As a result, the focus turns to potential trade scenarios that may help the team clear up some additional cap space. However, the defensive outlook is further clouded by the fact that potential trade pieces could include Krug, whose point production and power play prowess make him a valuable target, as well as two Bruins D-men who have yet to be mentioned, Kevan Miller and John Moore.

Moore was signed to a five-year deal by the Bruins in the summer of 2018. He saw occasional runs of decent playing time throughout the 2018-2019 season but was often the odd man out when the full complement of defensemen was healthy. The problem is, Moore, soldiered through much of the playoffs with an upper-arm injury that required surgery when the season ended. As a result, he may not be healthy enough to return to game action until January, all but eliminating him as a trade candidate.

While Miller may be well ahead of Moore in rehabilitating a broken kneecap, nearly the entire 2018-2019 season was lost with one injury after another costing Miller significant playing time. Given his history of injuries, the trade market may not be all that deep for the gritty veteran.

Given all of the uncertainty brought on by injuries and contract issues, two prospects, in particular, could be called upon to provide defensive depth in the upcoming season: Jeremy Lauzon and Urho Vaakaneinen. Lauzon spent some time filling in for an injury-depleted defensive squad last season, appearing in 16 games, and played well. Meanwhile, the 20-year-old Vaakaneinen played just two games for the big club but appeared to have the potential to fight for a spot on the NHL team. Whether these two top defensive prospects will get more playing time in Boston or perhaps be traded to clear cap space remains to be seen.

With Chara, who will turn 43 this coming season, signing just a one-year extension in March and Grzelcyk and Krug facing free agency next summer, Bruins management will likely have tough decisions to make on the defensive front for the foreseeable future.

Bruins’ DeBrusk At Crossroads After Difficult Postseason

NHL: Florida Panthers at Boston Bruins

(Photo credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

By Carrie Salls | Follow me on Twitter @nittgrl73

There is no doubt that Jake DeBrusk is a Boston fan favorite, known just as much for his infectious off-ice personality as his puck-handling skills and scoring touch on the ice. Still, it was hard to ignore the fact that DeBrusk was a proverbial ghost in the last three rounds of the team’s 2019 playoff run.

Two issues arose in the first round of the playoffs that may well have contributed to DeBrusk’s noticeable decline in production, and both stemmed from the same incident. DeBrusk was the victim of a Nazem Kadri hit that shook the 22-year-old Bruins right wing and resulted in Kadri being suspended for the remainder of the Toronto/Boston series.

Although DeBrusk would return to game action in the series against the Maple Leafs, he later revealed that he had battled throughout the ensuing three rounds of the playoffs with concussion symptoms stemming from the Kadri hit. DeBrusk also said he was forced to delete the social media apps from his phone because he and his family were receiving death threats from Toronto fans who felt DeBrusk was not properly penalized for his role in the Kadri incident.

Even though it seems extenuating circumstances were at play, the fact remains that DeBrusk was quiet for the remainder of the postseason, contributing to the mediocre play of a much-maligned second line. Now, DeBrusk is heading into the final year of his contract, he will be a restricted free agent after the 2019-2020 season and needs to produce to maintain his spot on the second line and to convince the Bruins that he is worth a longer-term deal.

DeBrusk had a solid 2018-2019 regular season, scoring 27 goals in 68 games played. If he can continue to score goals at that pace, and it is quite possible that he would have potted 30 goals this past season if he had not missed 14 games, Bruins management should be happy enough with his output to offer him a new deal when his contract runs out next year.

That being said, DeBrusk contributed 42 points in the 2018-2019 regular season, one fewer than during the 2017-2018 campaign, which he finished with 16 goals and 27 assists. Although DeBrusk’s goal total increased from season to season, he had just 15 assists this past year, a decline of 12 from his rookie-year assist total.

Perhaps the decline in assists can be partially attributed to the fact that DeBrusk played on a line with veteran center David Krejci, who plays a pass-first game, and a revolving door of right wings. DeBrusk himself spent some time in the 2RW slot, although he struggled to produce playing his off wing.

It stands to reason that team president Cam Neely, general manager Don Sweeney and head coach Bruce Cassidy are going to expect DeBrusk’s, or any young player’s, overall production to increase each year. In DeBrusk’s case, that did not really happen in the 2018-2019 season.

It’s quite possible that injuries, line changes, and the off-ice issues experienced during the Toronto series all combined to make this past season an exception to the norm for Jake DeBrusk. However, if he does not return to form in the upcoming season, the team will have a difficult decision to make regarding his future in Boston.

Potential Unrestricted Free Agents Worth A Look For Bruins

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Boston Bruins at St. Louis Blues

(Photo Credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports)

By Carrie Salls | Check me out on Twitter @nittgrl73

It’s certainly no secret that the Boston Bruins’ biggest hole to fill this offseason is second-line right wing. In fact, team president Cam Neely addressed that very issue himself recently.

Whether the right fit will come from a trade, free agency or a player already in the Bruins system remains to be seen. However, faced with difficult decisions regarding the future of free agents Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Marcus Johansson, and Danton Heinen, a solution may not be as readily available as management and fans would like.

In addition, questions still remained heading into the National Hockey League draft regarding the exact amount of cap space available to each team. Coupled with the fact that very lucrative contracts have already having been awarded to players like Kevin Hayes and an oft-injured Erik Karlsson, overspending looks to be a quickly developing trend.

As a result, it may behoove the Bruins to take a look at some potential unrestricted free agents that can boost the team’s forward depth without breaking the bank. While it would be great to see the front office figure out a way to keep key pieces such as McAvoy and Carlo and still sign a “bigger-name” forward to play alongside Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, there are a handful of players set to become free agents that could be diamonds in the rough.

Alex Chiasson

Chiasson played the 2018-2019 season with the Edmonton Oilers, a team that’s personal issues have been well-documented throughout a season during which former Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was fired from that same role in Edmonton. Chiasson, who will turn 29 on Oct. 1, put up 22 goals and 16 assists for the Oilers this season, possibly providing the shoot-first mentality that Neely said he’d like to see more of on Krejci’s wing. Chiasson is coming off a $650,000 2018-2019 contract.

Brett Connolly

OK, hear me out, Bruins fans. Yes, Connolly already played a somewhat average 25-point year for the Bruins during the 2015-2016 season, in addition to two assists in five games the season before, but a case can definitely be made for a second look at the 27-year-old forward. He is coming off a career year with the Washington Capitals, potting 22 goals and 24 assists with an impressive plus-13 rating.  Connolly’s most recent contract with the Caps featured a relatively low $1.5 million cap hit. Granted, with teams seemingly willing to pay bigger bucks for players of Connolly’s caliber and given the fact that he had a stellar year and won a Stanley Cup in 2018, it’s likely Connolly could be too expensive for the Bs. If not, he’s an intriguing option.

Wayne Simmonds

Simmonds’ name came up often as a potential fit for the Bruins before the 2019 trade deadline in February. Although Simmonds was instead dealt by the Philadelphia Flyers to the Nashville Predators, he still remains a possible candidate to fill a second-line right wing spot in Boston. Simmonds is a bit older than the other possible signings listed here, he’ll be 31 in August, and his cap hit last season was higher than the others at $3.975 million. Still, Simmonds is almost certainly not going to be a Predator when October rolls around. Talk of late has the Pittsburgh Penguins extremely interested in Simmonds. If he is still available on July 1, he could be a good short-term investment for Boston in an attempt to make another run at the Cup while the Bruins’ veteran core is still intact.

Riley Barber

Although admittedly a dark-horse contender, Barber has spent the past four seasons in the Washington Capitals organization, primarily with the team’s Hershey Bears American Hockey League affiliate. After scoring 30 goals and amassing a total of 60 points for Hershey in 2018-2019, the 25-year-old Barber made it known at the end of the season that he did not plan to re-sign with the Capitals after being called up for only two brief stints in the NHL in his professional career and only seeing playing time in one of those call-ups. Barber may be taking the lead of former Miami University teammate Austin Czarnik, who chose to sign with the Calgary Flames following the 2017-2018 season after seeing only sporadic playing time with the Bruins.

If NHL General Manager of the Year Don Sweeney follows the usual Bruins storyline of looking for solid value rather than overspending on a superstar, he could well have a few decent under-the-radar options when free agency rolls around.

Check out this week’s Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 132 below!