What The Bruins’ Lineup Could Look Like Next Season

(Photo Credit: Last Word On Hockey | lastwordonhockey.com)

By: Andrew Lindroth | Follow me on Twitter! @andrewlindrothh

While the Boston Bruins continue the quest for the Stanley Cup, this will also be the chance for head coach Bruce Cassidy to see who will fit in the lineup next season. Although the pandemic forced the NHL to have a five-month pause and the 2020 playoffs to be held in a bubble with no fans present, that will be no excuse for Cassidy to see which players stayed in game-shape and adapted to the adversity. With the Bruins currently down in their series against Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1, questions are already being answered about who will be ready for a full-time role in the lineup next season. First, let’s start with the obvious, which are the top-six forwards.

Top-Six

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

DeBrusk-Krejci-Kase

(Photo Credit: Sun Journal | sunjournal.com)

To no one’s surprise, the perfection line will be representing the Bruins top scoring line next season. The big question mark for the past few seasons has been finding Krejci a right-winger, and although Cassidy occasionally slots Pastrnak onto that line, it seems as if the Bruins may have found the answer with Ondrej Kase.

Kase wasn’t precisely overwhelming during his first few appearances with the Bruins before the regular season came to a screeching halt. With Kase also missing most of camp due to being “unfit to play,” it didn’t look very positive for the Czech winger. Through ten playoff games, he has been able to produce a career-high four points and has seemed to develop steady chemistry with DeBrusk and Krejci.

If Krejci’s’ line can continue being this productive throughout the playoffs and find opportunities to score against Tampa, they will give the Bruins’ the best chance possible at winning the Stanley Cup. If Kase can maintain being healthy throughout the season, expect to see him on Krejci’s’ wing all season long. Now let’s take a look at what will be looking different next season; the bottom-six forwards.

Bottom-Six

Bjork-Coyle-Studnicka

Fredric-Kuraly-Wagner

Lindholm/Ritchie/Kuhlman

(Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski | USA TODAY Sports)

The bottom-six core will change quite a bit, and knowing Cassidy’s coaching style, I could see many of these players mentioned above being slotted in and out of the lineup depending on who the Bruins play. It’s undeniable in the current series against Tampa that the Bruins lack secondary scoring, the very factor that gave the Bruins a push to the Stanley Cup Finals last year. At this moment, I do not see Nick Ritchie fitting in the lineup full-time, so I imagine he will be utilized when playing heavier teams, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he is dealt to another team before next season starts.

I predict Karson Kuhlman will come to terms with the Bruins this off-season but has not impressed enough to earn the trust of a full-time position in the lineup. The right-winger does have an impressive motor and wrist shot, so he is an excellent player to slot into any line when an injury occurs, and players like that do not grow on trees. He will be a quiet but essential depth piece. Par Lindholm is my final scratch listed, with one year left with the Bruins, he will also be looked at as a vital depth piece to slot in the lineup when facing faster teams.

For the 2020-2021 season, I imagine you’ll see Coyle with two young players who have a lot to prove, Bjork and Studnicka. Bjork recently re-signed with the Bruins on a three-year term with $1.6M a year, so there is no doubt the Bruins organization finds Bjork to be an essential piece to this club.

Studnicka led the Providence Bruins (AHL) in scoring this past season with 23 goals and 49 points, as well as leading the AHL with seven short-handed goals. Studnicka debuted with Coyle and Bjork during the Carolina Hurricanes playoff series. There is a lot of potential with that line if Bjork and Studnicka can create consistent chemistry with Coyle.

For the fourth-line, you will, of course, see Chris Wagner on the right-wing and Sean Kuraly at center, but I believe Trent Fredric will break into a full-time role. Although he is a natural center, the Bruins have placed him on the wing during his NHL appearances so far, so I see him playing on the left-wing. Joakim Nordstrom will become a UFA at the end of the post-season, and I do not predict the Bruins will re-sign him. Now, lets take a look at what the defensive pairs could look like next season.

Defensive Pairs

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Grzelcyk-Clifton

Lauzon/Moore/Zboril

(Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images| gettyimages.com)

As you may notice, these are the current defensive pairings playing in the 2020 playoffs, and although Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, and Matt Grzelcyk have contracts expiring soon, I believe all three players will re-sign with the Bruins. To save time, I wrote an article recently that has my predictions about who will and will not re-sign with the Bruins this off-season, and you can view that here.

Suppose Krug decides to test the free-agent market. In that case, I believe Grzelcyk will pair with Brandon Carlo, quarter-back the primary power-play unit, and have Jeremy Lauzon, John Moore, or Jakub Zboril slot in and out of the third defensive pairing with Connor Clifton. With now two strong post-season performances under his belt, I believe Clifton will be trusted with a full-time position on the third defensive pairing.

With young emerging talent such as; Lauzon, Clifton, Zboril, and Urho Vaakanainen, the Bruins may look to clear more cap space and trade Moore, a smart move in my opinion. The only other factor I see changing next season is what we started seeing in the current series against the Lightning. Chara will be playing less 5-on-5 minutes and may play occasional shifts on the third pairing, as we have recently seen. Now, last but not least, our goaltenders for next season.

Goaltending

Rask

Halak

(Photo Credit: NBC Sports | nbcsports.com)

Although Tuukka Rask decided to leave the Toronto bubble in the middle of the first-round against the Hurricanes, I do not believe that will reflect his decision to continue playing hockey for the 2020-2021 season, as he has one year left on his contract with the Bruins. I assume Rask will take this extra time to spend with his family and get hockey off his mind to come back, honor his final year with the Bruins and chase the Stanley Cup one more time with passion. I obviously cannot predict what he will do the following year his contract expires, but this will most likely be the most vital year of his career, especially with the Bruins’ aging core.

With Jaroslav Halak committing to the Bruins for one more year, you will once again see split goalie-duties throughout the season until the playoffs. The dominant goalie tandem of Rask and Halak will live on for one more season, one more chance at the Stanley Cup.

With Halak locked up for one more year, this also helps the continuous development of Daniel Vladar and incoming rookie Jeremy Swayman with the Providence Bruins (AHL). Vladar was excellent with Providence this past season and led the league in GAA (1.79) and save percentage (.936%).

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It will be exciting to see the 2020-2021 opening-day roster for the Bruins and which players perform well during camps and preseason. If my lineup predictions are anywhere near close enough, the Bruins could have a very stacked lineup next year. Still, the most significant factors needed for a deep playoff run rely on the younger players fighting for the bottom-six roles and Krejci’s’ line.

If players like; Bjork, Studnicka, Kuhlman, and Fredric perform well and potentially have a break-out season, that could help create momentum and confidence for the Bruins if the bottom-six forwards can contribute offense most games. Also, if DeBrusk and Kase can produce more consistently, then the Krejci line will flourish and finally solve the problem the Bruins have been facing for years with their second-line.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 191 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher!

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Bruins Cassidy Makes Questionable Changes, Officials Make Questionable Calls

(Photo Credit: NHL.com)

By: Jack Gotsell | Follow me on Twitter @jackgotsell

The Bruins made drastic changes heading into Game three of their second-round playoff tilt versus the Tampa Bay Lightning. The game did not go as planned for the black and gold, and the Bruins faithful were left questioning the changes made by Bruce Cassidy, the calls by referees, and the officials’ overall performance.

Cassidy’s biggest head-scratching change was taking defenseman Connor Clifton out of the lineup and replacing him with Jeremy Lauzon and John Moore. Clifton plays a risky and very physical style of hockey. In Game two of the series, Clifton brought a lot of energy to the lineup, mixing it up with one of the biggest players on Tampa, Patrick Maroon. However, Bruce Cassidy elected to go with more size in Lauzon and Moore, which failed to bring the same energy Clifton brought in Game two to Game three.

No Bruins defenseman looked good in the Game three loss, and every Bruins defender was on the ice for a goal in the 7-1 loss. Bruce Cassidy was disappointed by the response of the Boston Bruins; however, a lot of that blame falls on himself as he took a player that responds well to physical play and has playoff experience out of the lineup. Clifton’s physical presence in the lineup was missed dearly. Cassidy was wrong to take Clifton out due to his size and being ready and willing to take on even the largest of Tampa’s forwards.

Cassidy also played with the forwards, as well, and elected to go with seven defensemen and 11 forwards instead of the traditional 12. Kuraly was out with an injury and was not a part of Cassidy’s changes as he was unable to go. Par Lindholm came into the lineup, which was a good decision by Cassidy, and Anders Bjork came out. This is not where Cassidy blundered as Bjork has been almost invisible throughout the playoffs.

The blunder came from Cassidy’s decision to replace Bjork for a seventh defenseman and playing Zdeno Chara for 18 minutes and four seconds, which led the Bruins defense in time on ice, which was a big mistake. Chara has not had a good playoff by any stretch and has been the biggest liability on the back end for the Bruins.

People have clamored for Chara to stay in the lineup due to his penalty-killing ability; however, he was on the ice for all three of Tampa’s powerplay goals. If Cassidy was to cut down Chara’s minutes, that might be a reason to keep Chara in the lineup and play seven defensemen, but that’s not a good enough reason to keep Chara in the lineup after what we saw in Game three.

The decision to play 11 forwards backfired, as the lines rotated throughout the game, and their chemistry looked completely off. Instead of playing Chara and a seventh defenseman, the Bruins should have gone with Grzelcyk, Krug, and Lauzon on the left side and McAvoy, Carlo, and Clifton on the right side. This would have allowed for Studnicka to come into the lineup on the third line and keep chemistry intact.

Studnicka is a young forward, and his natural position is center. He hasn’t looked out of place this postseason, and the Bruins are in desperate need of secondary scoring now that it appears Bjork and Karson Kuhlman are unable to produce. Studnicka is not as tough on the puck as the previous two, but he has more skill. With Nick Ritchie and Charlie Coyle on the ice Studnicka should be able to find some space and make an impact at wing on the third line.

I will give Cassidy this praise though, he gave it back to the terrible officiating. After a soft call on Nick Ritchie and the linesman setting a pick, Cassidy had this to say, “The call on Ritchie happens a hundred times a game, and it’s not called. The second goal? I mean, c’mon. The linesman runs our guy out of the play.” We have seen first hand that sometimes calling out the officials can make a difference from Craig Berube, head coach of the St. Louis Blues, who last year made a comment about officials in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Bruins. His comments led to much more favorable calls the rest of the series. For the Bruins faithful, hopefully, the favor is returned.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 191 that we recorded below on 8-23-20! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher!

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Boston vs. Tampa Bay Second Round Series Preview

( Photo credit: Andre/Ringuette/Getty Images )

By: Leon Lifschutz | Follow me on Twitter @LeonLifschutz

The two best teams in the Eastern Conference will meeting in round 2. Tampa Bay slayed their 2019 demon by handling the Columbus Blue Jackets in 5 games. Meanwhile, Boston stayed the course by dispatching Carolina for the second year in row in just 5 games after a lackluster round-robin performance. This second round match-up between the two adversaries seemed destined even before the pandemic. Despite the prolonged journey, here we are. Odds makers have this one as a coin flip, not great news for partisan fans but hopefully a promise of a riveting series. Let’s get into the breakdown!

Top Story Lines

Playoff Krech – David Krejci has been a difference maker so far these playoffs. In this detailed piece on Krejci’s play, The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa discusses Krejci’s difference-making on the power-play, in stabilizing the second line, and defending leads late in games. Krejci’s facilitation skills have led to key performances from Jake Debrusk and Ondrej Kase. Both are key secondary scorers that will be needed for any prolonged playoff run. Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, and Charlie Coyle down the middle account for one of the strongest center groups in the league and make match-ups harder on opposing teams. Krejci’s play will need to continue against a deep and explosive Lightning team who are also deep down the middle with Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, and Yanni Gourde.

Even Strength Play – Both the Bruins and Lightning have struggled to convert on their even strength opportunities thus far in the restart. Despite Tampa’s immense talent, the line of Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, and Gourde (dubbed the “gnats line”) have thus far been the most efficient 5v5 unit. The Bruins top line, though it spent time without David Pastrnak, has continued to win the possession battles but has not been as dominant as usual or produced much on the score sheet. If either team’s top end talent gets back to their usual success rates, it could be what decides the series.

Steven Stamkos – The Lightning’s captain continues to be out indefinitely. While Tampa has proven capable of winning without him, they are so much stronger with him. His inclusion on their top line bumps Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson lower in the lineup, spots where they can feast on lesser competition. Most importantly, Stamkos gives a shot in the arm to the powerplay. This is an area where the Lightning have really struggled during the season and against Columbus. The franchise icon would be a difference maker if he were to return.

Lineups

Forwards

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Even in the absence of Steven Stamkos the Lightning ice a strong top 6. If he were to return it would make the Lightning that much more formidable. The Bruins can match the Lightning fairly well in the upper parts of the lineup but the “perfection line” will need to be a little more perfect at even strength this series. Hopefully, a healthy Pastrnak will aid in that effort. The Lightning’s bottom 6 can also be difference makers. They present a different challenge than the top 6 with a more north to south playing style. While both teams will likely be influenced by their top players, depth players could play a key role in this series.

Defense

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Both teams are deep on defense and defend well as a team. However, some of the Bruins defenders struggled in the opening round. The pair of Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo ended up on the wrong side of the ledger against the tenacious Hurricanes. Zdeno Chara has also struggled to get back up to speed. Charlie McAvoy has often carried the load posting team leading minute totals into the mid 20s along with strong underlying numbers. The Bruins will need some of their key defenders to improve against Tampa. While Tampa’s D can move the puck, they are also big and physical in their own zone. The Lightning have one of the more dynamic 3rd pairs in Kevin Shattenkirk and Mikhail Sergachev. Victor Hedman, one of the best, and Ryan McDonagh, make for a real tough 1-2 punch on the left side.

Goalies

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Jaroslav Halak was thrust into Game 3 after learning of his start just hours before. With Tuukka Rask at home tending to family issues this is Halak’s team. Halak originally made a name for himself in the playoffs and is not a stranger to a playoff run. The Slovakian netminder was composed in game 3, much needed given the jarring news of Rask’s departure. He had a wobbly game 4 but did enough to get the win after his team stormed back in the 3rd. And he had a solid game 5 making a few key stops to propel the Bruins the next round. According to Natural Stattrick, Halak carries a .912 save percentage into the next round and has saved 0.11 goals above average per 60 minutes. For a Bruins team that has a disciplined defensive mindset, a continuation of Halak’s steady play could be enough.

Andrei Vasilevskiy can truly steal games. The Russian netminder had a heavy workload this year and was good in the regular season though not to his usual elite numbers. He wasn’t heavily tested against the Jackets but was good enough when needed, posting a .924 save percentage. If either starter were to go down, Tampa has the marked advantage in the experienced Curtis McElhinney versus rookie Dan Vladar.

By the Numbers

Glossary of Terms

Statistics for 5v5 play

BOS RegularBOS PlayoffsTeamTB PlayoffsTB Regular
  Records  
708GP870
444W643
144L221
  Offense  
55.2561.1CF/6064.2356.98
30.9830.77SF/6030.8830.34
25.7628.87SCF/6026.429.05
2.312.23xGF/602.342.58
2.821.9GF/602.123.23
9.116.16SH%6.8710.66
  Defense  
53.9254.54CA/6046.952.53
29.2525.96SA/6026.2830.06
24.4824.94SCA/6020.1524.99
2.151.83xGA/601.842.24
2.152.33GA/601.892.46
92.6491.01SV%92.8391.82
  Overall  
50.6152.84CF%57.7952.03
51.4354.24SF%54.0250.23
51.2853.66SCF%56.7153.76
51.8354.85xGF%56.0353.5
56.70%44.83GF%52.9456.8
1.0170.972PDO0.9971.025
  Special Teams  
25.20%17.90%Power Play13.30%19.40%
84.30%85.70%Penalty Kill87.10%82.60%
Data courtesy of NaturalStatTrick

The numbers bear out what most people already know, that this is a close match up between two excellent teams. Tampa Bay’s numbers are better in the playoffs than Bostons’ but there are some important caveats to mention. The “playoff” numbers include the round-robin games which depress the Bs numbers a bit. The Lightning played 5 games against the more conservative Blue Jackets while the Bruins played the high octane Carolina Hurricanes.

One item to note is that both teams have under performed in shooting percentage at even strength thus far in the playoffs. Both teams have the talent to regularly outperform their expected goal totals but have not done so since returning to play. The Bruins succeeded against the Hurricanes by keeping them at bay defensively and capitalizing on the power play. Tampa Bay outlasted the stingy Blue Jackets on the back of strong defensive effort of their own along with some timely saves. The Lightning did dominate the Jackets in percentages which suggest the series shouldn’t have even been as tight as it was.

The Bruins special teams, much like it was against Carolina, could be the difference maker in this series. One of the leagues best units in the regular season, the Bs top unit started to heat up with the inclusion of David Krejci. With Krejci and a healthy Pastrnak, the unit could be lethal. As discussed, Stamkos’ absence really hurts the Lightning on the powerplay and the results have been average at best despite trotting out some strong talent on the man advantage. If the Bruins continue their current trajectory on special teams, it may propel the Black N’ Gold to another conference final.

Tactical Keys to the Series

The Lightning’s offensive zone movement is one of its keys to success. As a 5 man unit, they continuously flow throughout the zone creating new seams and openings to move the puck. A defenseman is just as likely to be low as a forward and the forwards frequently swing high to create an option. Here is an example of their Ozone motion. Note the forward bringing the puck high and the D-man, Sergachev rotating down and scoring.

The Bruins will need to be disciplined on this motion and not chase the Lightning players around the zone. They will need to pack the house and force Tampa to play on the outside. The Bruins layered defense will also have to be careful not to get stuck low in the zone, a problem they had at times against Carolina.

However, the Lightning have augmented their game a bit adding a new dimension to their attack. With the additions of Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, and Patrick Maroon to the bottom 6, Tampa can also play straight line hockey. That couldn’t be more apparent than in the following example of the “Gnats Line” at work.

The Bruins, similarly to their series against Carolina, will have to be aware of the pressure being put on them on the forecheck. This style of play will be especially apparent from Tampa’s 3rd and 4th lines. If the Bruins can get back on pucks and be patient on defense they should be able to weather the attack. Taking advantage of their opportunities the other way certainly would help too.

Prediction: This will be an incredibly close series. In the end, the Bruins special teams will make the difference. Bruins in 7 #LetsGooo

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 190 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!!

Bruins Post-Game Recap: ECQF vs Carolina Game 4: 8/17/20

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PHOTO CREDITS: (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj

Following a Game Three victory, the Boston Bruins enter Monday night’s Game Four with a chance to take a commanding 3-1 series lead in this Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchup. Charlie Coyle scored a goal and an assist while Sean Kuraly scored the eventual game-winning tally in Saturday’s contest.

Pre-Game Notes:

Arena: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Home: Carolina Hurricanes: (4-2-0)

Away: Boston Bruins (2-4-0)

Bruins’ Last Game: 3-1 win in Game 3

Bruins Gameday Lineup:

Bruins forward David Pastrnak remains out of the lineup while Anders Bjork will get the bid on the top line with Marchand and Bergeron.

First Period:

Today’s game started early with a penalty on the Carolina Hurricanes as Ryan Dzingel gets his stick up high on Connor Clifton and the Bruins head to the power-play less than two minutes in. Even with four shots on goal, the Bruins cannot capitalize on the chance and we return to five-on-five.

Just about three minutes afterward, Jack Studnicka is whistled down on a slashing minor on Brady Skjei and will go on the penalty-kill for the first time. This man-advantage is a huge opportunity for the Hurricanes as an early kill and a successful power-play for the game’s opening goal could give them massive momentum. With that said, the Bruins looked excellent shorthanded, killing off Studnicka’s penalty – allowing zero shots on Halak.

Nearly ten minutes into the game, Justin Williams recovers the puck at the top of the circle after a tough board battle by his teammates and takes a shot. The seeing-eye shot finds its way under the glove hand of Jaroslav Halak and Carolina takes a 1-0 lead on their first shot of the game.

Following the goal, the Canes put on a lot more pressure in Boston’s defensive zone. A lot of heavy forecheck and making plays around the perimeter of the zone. Justin Williams and Ryan Dzingel are playing well and forcing the Bruins to clear the puck out of the zone. Great work to control any breakout attempts.

At the TV timeout with approximately five minutes to go in the first period, the Bruins have not recorded a shot on goal in over twelve minutes. Carolina continues to shut down any breakout attempts and Boston continues to resort to dump-ins. However, the Hurricanes are also struggling to get great offensive opportunities as the shot counts remain 5-2 in favour of the Bruins.

One of Boston’s best chances comes with 4:50 to go as Charlie McAvoy airs a puck high into the air, landing perfectly for Chris Wagner who tries and a dangle and finds the puck to Par Lindholm. Lindholm nearly squeaks it five-hold past Reimer but is unable to, and the game stays at 1-0.

In the final minutes of the frame, the Canes find more shots towards the net, and with some crease battles in front of Halak, nearly bury a few of them but the 35-year-old netminder keeps them out.

The opening frame comes to an end there. A very neutral-zone heavy period for both teams, not many shots on goal. Carolina had a stronger period, but it was not a horrendous twenty minutes for Boston. Things to work on in the intermission, especially to hold off the Williams line, but again, not a terrible first period for the B’s.

Shots on Goal: BOS: 6 CAR: 7

Score: 1-0 Hurricanes – Goals: Williams (1) Assists: Trocheck (2), Gardiner (1)

Second Period:

In the beginning stages to the middle regulation period, the Hurricanes keep some of the momentum that they built from the first, getting pucks in Boston’s zone and preventing any chances coming back the other way. The Bruins’ fourth line has been the best trio for the Black and Gold thus far and is the line that gets a few chances on James Reimer in the second.

Boston gets another great scoring opportunity a few minutes later as Brad Marchand intercepts a pass on the backcheck and immediately rushes the puck down the ice, making a couple nice moves to set up a partial 2-on-1 with Patrice Bergeron. Marchand feeds the puck across the crease for a Bergeron tap-in, but the pass hops over Bergeron’s stick and the chance disappears.

Boston gets easily the best chance to score all game so far as Anders Bjork shows off his great stick-handling and puck control in the Hurricanes zone, dancing around everyone before feeding it to Jack Studnicka who slides it across the crease to David Krejci. Krejci rips a shot off the post and attempts to get a rebound that doesn’t go in as well. In the meantime, the Canes take a hooking minor and Boston heads to their second power-play.

The Bruins controlled the entire man-advantage with numerous chances by David Krejci. Solid puck movement but just cannot find the back of the net. Not long after the failed power-play, Jordan Martinook skates along the wing and snipes one glove low on Halak – the same spot as the first goal, extending Carolina’s lead to two past the halfway mark of the frame. Not a great night for Jaro tonight.

Dougie Hamilton takes a point shot late in the period that gets deflected high by Martinook that once again beats Halak, but the on-ice officials rule it a high-stick immediately and the goal is waived off. This game remains 2-0 for Carolina.

With 22 seconds left to tick on the scoreboard, Dougie Hamilton takes a penalty on Jack Studnicka and the Bruins go to their third power-play of the night with a chance to cut the lead in half. Boston does get a few really solid chances including a pair from Bergeron in his infamous bumper spot on the ice, but Reimer makes the pad save on each one. Boston will start the third period with 1:38 of power-play time.

Shots on Goal: BOS: 17 CAR: 17

Score: 2-0 Hurricanes – Goals: Martinook (2) Assists: Aho (8)

Third Period:

Starting a fresh period on a limited power-play is a difficult thing to do and that was evident for Boston. No real chances and we quickly return to 5-on-5 early in the final regulation period.

Boston again continues to struggle to not only get into the Hurricanes’ zone but generate any chances whatsoever to strike for the first time in this game. Brad Marchand nearly buried one in a net-front battle but Reimer makes the pad stop while flat on his stomach. Boston’s offence is pretty dry tonight and large credit to Carolina’s defence for that.

Finally, a simple play leads to a goal. Jake DeBrusk slowly brings the puck towards the zone, making a sudden move to flip the puck past Haydn Fleury who gets caught turning the wrong way. Reimer comes way out of his crease to try and poke the puck first, but DeBrusk moves around him and puts it in the open cage. Bruins cut the lead to 2-1.

Just about halfway through, the Hurricanes attempt a breakout allowing Charlie McAvoy to land a monstrous hit on Jordan Staal – flattening him on the ice. Stall looked dizzy getting up and went right down the tunnel. McAvoy has laid some big hits this series but this one is no question the biggest so far.

Not long after that, the fourth line of the Bruins on another hard forecheck finds Nordstrom behind the net, feeding it to a hungry Connor Clifton who blasts a bomb past Reimer and just like that – we are tied.

The momentum in this hockey game has done a complete 180 as Boston is dominating play, is faster on the puck, and is forcing Carolina to play on their heels. As a result, Brad Marchand finds himself on a breakaway. With some slick hands and poise, Marchand buries a five-hole goal past Reimer to give Boston the lead.

Boston, not done there, keeps the heavy pressure all over Carolina. The Bruins are first to every single puck battle and every line is keeping the Hurricanes guessing. The DeBrusk-Krejci-Kase line that has looked so good all series long generates a gorgeous scoring play. Krejci, along the boards, passes it to Kase in the high slot. Wasting no time, Kase directs it to DeBrusk back door who makes a nice move and beats Reimer. 4-2 Boston.

Bruins keep the pressure going but as Carolina pulls their goalie for the extra man with just about 1:30 to go, Teuvo Teravainen shoots a backhander that somehow beats Halak five-hole and makes this a one-goal game. Carolina scores on their first shot of the third period, 18th of the game. Hurricanes, however, fail to add another and the Bruins win 4-3. Boston leads the series 3-1.

Shots on Goal: BOS: 33 CAR: 19

Final Score: 4-3 Bruins – BOS takes 3-1 series lead

Max’s Three Stars:

1st Star: BOS F Jake DeBrusk – 2 Goals (GWG), 3 Shots, 16:07 TOI

2nd Star: BOS D Connor Clifton – 1 Goal, 1 Assist, 3 Hits

3rd Star: BOS F Ondrej Kase – 2 Assists, 2 Hits, 14:29 TOI

The Boston Bruins take a 3-1 series lead over the Hurricanes and will have a chance to close out the series Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. EST.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 190 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 Should The Bruins Start In Round One Back To Backs?

(Photo Credit: John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

By Leon Lifschutz  |  Follow me on Twitter @LeonLifschutz 

After the postponement of Game one between the Boston Bruins and the Carolina Hurricanes, the two teams will potentially play back to back nights twice in their first-round series. Games one and two will be played on consecutive days and if necessary, so will game five and six.

This presents a fascinating question for the coaching staff of both teams.  Should they play their starting goaltender in the back to back to games?  Let’s first take a look at some theory and analytics behind the decision.  We can then consider each coach’s thought process and compare the goaltending tandems for each team.  Finally, we can play armchair coach.

The Theory

Load management has become a topic in the sports world especially with pitch counts in baseball and limiting minutes and games for star players in the NBA.  While it hasn’t been as dominant a conversation in hockey overall, it certainly has seeped in with goaltenders.  Long gone are the days of Martin Brodeur starting almost every game.

In 2014 Eric Tlusky, one of the foremost hockey analytics writers, published an article analyzing how rested goalies performed versus those who were playing in back to back nights.  The study, looking at data from 2011-2013, found goalies played to .912 save percentage (sv%) when rested and only a .901 sv% when not rested.  This article shifted the thinking of coaches who stopped riding starters in those situations.  This regular season, rarely did a goalie play on consecutive nights.

However The Athletic’s analytics guru Dom Luszczyszyn took a look at the theory this past winter arguing coaches should rethink this approach.  In his study, using data from 2007 through 2019, he found a much more marginal difference than Tlusky, and in some cases, no difference, in rested versus unrested.  He also points out that the talent difference between each team’s goaltender is an important factor in evaluating which option will get you the best performance.

One other item to consider, the goalie is just one player on the ice, and their numbers are impacted by the team in front of them.  A rested team is more likely to perform than an unrested team.

The Thought Process

With all that in mind, what should Bruce Cassidy and Rod Brind’Amour consider as they decide how to deploy their goaltenders?  Both teams have very capable backup goaltenders making this an even more challenging decision.  Let’s first weigh the general pros of sticking with their starter as well as the pros of going with their backup.

Pros of sticking with your starter:

  • There is a lot to be said for rhythm and confidence in hockey and the starter should be able to ride both in the playoffs.
  • Putting a goalie into a pressure-packed situation who hasn’t seen game action in potentially up to two weeks may not be a recipe for success.
  • Tuukka Rask is a Vezina nominee and Petr Mrazek has shown an aptitude for getting hot.
  • Per Luszczyszyn, goalies do not as consistently perform worse in back to backs as originally believed.

Pros for going with your backup:

  • Both Boston and Carolina were in the habit of playing Jaroslav Halak and James Reimer instead of Rask or Mrazek during the regular season.
  • Mrazek did not play a single back to back.  In Rask’s one back to back this year he posted a .935 sv% in game one against Arizona but a .895 sv% in game 2 against lowly Detroit.
  • If your starter had a heavy workload, say an overtime period or five.
  • Per Luszczyszyn, over the length of his study, he does find a slight difference between rested and unrested even if the margin is smaller than Tulsky’s original work.

The Numbers

An important factor in making the decision is the difference between your two netminders.  Let’s take a look at each team’s tandems.

Boston Bruins

PlayerGPShots Against/60SV%GAAGSAA/60
Jaroslav Halak3129.620.9192.39-0.15
Tuukka Rask4129.70.9292.120.12

(GSAA/60 stands for goals saved above average per game)

The Bruins have a great tandem.  Colleague Liz Rizzo recently discussed the duo going into the restart concluding two is better than one.  Halak’s numbers are starter level on a number of teams.  However, Rask’s numbers exceed the difference noted in rest versus unrested, another metric demonstrating how impressive his season was.

Carolina Hurricanes

PlayerGPShots Against/60SV%GAAGSAA/60
Petr Mrazek4028.20.9052.69-0.05
James Reimer25310.9142.660.24
David Ayres120.920.84.18-2.23

First of all, remember David Ayres?  Yea, that was 2020, what a strange year.  Reimer actually has the better numbers of the two goalies.  He did so playing the second half of most back to backs and while facing a slightly higher workload.

The Decision

So, we have analyzed the theory, the thought process, and the numbers.  Let’s put ourselves in the coach’s hot seats.

Bruce Cassidy – Cassidy may want to consider playing Halak in game two.  It’s a weird year and Rask is still recovering from an injury that has limited his ice time in training camp and even in the bubble (as did an abundance of caution over a cough).  However, if a game six is necessary he should stick with his Vezina nominee Rask.

Rod Brind’Amour – The Canes coach has already deployed Reimer in a game against the Rangers, a back to back.  Though his team was already up 2-0 in the series he has shown he won’t hesitate to go that direction.  In his pre-series presser, he also noted that he expects the team will utilize both goalies much as they did in last year’s run to the conference finals.  Brind’Amour should stick with the game plan and play Reimer in all back to back situations.

Goaltending will be an important factor in this series and the coach’s deployment could swing the series.

Statistics courtesy of naturalstattrick.com 

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 189 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

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Boston vs. Carolina Series Preview

( Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports )

By Leon Lifschutz  |  Follow me on Twitter @LeonLifschutz 

The Boston Bruins dropped three straight in their round-robin matchups while the Carolina Hurricanes won three straight to easily sweep their play-in series versus the New York Rangers.  The ‘Canes will be anxious to avenge last year’s sweep at the hands of the Bs in the conference finals while Boston will be ready to show why they were this year’s best regular-season team.  Let’s get into the series preview!

Top 3 Storylines to Watch For

  1. “Real Games” – The Bruins never seemed to approach their round-robin games with a ton of urgency.  Head Coach Bruce Cassidy tinkered with the forward combos and made sure to work in their 7th defenseman much as one might expect from pre-season play.  Starting goalie Tuukka Rask stressed after the round-robin that the team was now ready to start playing “real games”.  Perhaps most telling, Brad Marchand has yet to lick anyone’s face or really get too engaged with opposing players.  Fans will be excited to see their beloved Bruins put the pedal down.  But will they be able to flip the switch against Carolina who has already played do-or-die games?
  2. The Bruins (lack of) Offense – The Bruins managed 4 goals in 3 games and were paced in goal scoring by 4th liner Chris Wagner.  The Bruins top line all shot 0% though they did have chances especially in game 3 against Washington.  Is the Bruins lack of production due to a lack of grit and desire, a streak of poor percentages, or a little bit of both?  And can they reverse the trends in time to win 4 out of 7?
  3. Carolina’s Injuries on DefenseCarolina is without the services of former Bruin Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce, two key players at the top of their lineup.  Hamilton in particular drives plays at high rates and compliments the ‘Canes quick attack approach.  Carolina does have depth on D but missing stars is always a cause for concern.  To some degree, attrition can be the storyline of the playoffs. The Bruins seem relatively healthy going into this first-round matchup, a favorable edge they hope to maintain.

Lineups

Forwards

Forwards

Lineup Card Taken from dailyfaceoff.com

(ed. note – it is Nick Ritchie on 3rd line for the Bruins, not Brett)

The Bruins have an edge at the top of the lineup but the Hurricanes top line of Aho-Svechnikov-Terevainen is sublimely talented and comes into this series on fire.  The addition of Vincent Trochek into the top-6 was a big deadline day add for the Canes.  Carolina has a formidable bottom-6 with playoff experience and plays the game exactly how Coach Rod Brind’Amour likes it to be played, fast, and heavy.  The Bruins finally have their full lineup at hand and seem to have settled on their line combos.  They are deep at center ice and have hopefully found some chemistry on the wings for Krejci and Coyle.

Defense

Defense

Lineup Card Taken from dailyfaceoff.com

Minus Hamilton and Pesce, the ‘Canes still have a good D core.  GM Don Waddel looks brilliant, adding Vatanen and Skjei at the deadline, quality fill-ins, especially now healthy Vatanen.  Gardiner and Fleury, while occasionally mistake-prone, can be a dynamic bottom pair.  With Hamilton and Pesce missing, the Bs should have the edge from the back end.  McAvoy and Krug have increasingly looked comfortable on offense through each game of the restart.  Chara, the league’s oldest player, still is working on getting his legs under him but is coming along, assist on Washington’s first goal aside.  Grzelcyk, Lauzon, and Clifton solidify strong depth from top to bottom for the Bs.

Goalies

Goalies

Lineup Card Taken from dailyfaceoff.com

As we will see in the next section, the Canes don’t quite see the results their numbers suggest.  The goaltending of Mrazek and Reimer is league average at best with 1A starter Mrazek being a streaky one and contributes to the issue.  However, both played extremely well in the play-in round.  Rask looks ready to go after two strong starts after missing action early on due to a mangled finger and cough.  If Rask plays his game and Mrazek and Reimer don’t continue standing on their heads, the Bs have the marked advantage between the pipes.

By the Numbers

Numbers final update

Stats and data courtesy of naturalstattrick.com

Carolina goes, goes, and goes some more.  They put up shot attempts, scoring chances, and expected goals.  That was equally true against the Rangers as it was in the regular season.  They have been Corsi darlings for several years with their high volume approach to offense.  With young talent blooming, they have finally started seeing positive results from this approach in the last couple of seasons.  The Bruins play a much more measured game and don’t trade chances like the ‘Canes do.  This will be a fascinating stylistic difference to watch for in seeing who can impose their style on the series.

The Bruins are the stronger of the two on special teams, though Carolina comes in the hotter of the two in this department.  One would expect the Bruins to snap out of their powerplay funk at some point though the team has not consistently produced chances they way they did in the regular season. Pastrnak, in particular, has not had his usual good looks at the net, and in turn, has tried to force passes through the seam instead of shooting.

Tactical Keys to the Series

Carolina is a team that relies on volume, as we saw in the numbers.  In order to do so, they constantly push the puck up ice.  This means quick outs from their own zone, pushing the puck ahead to the neutral zone, and little chips to space into the offensive zone for forwards to chase down.  It also means their defense getting engaged up the ice and putting lots of pucks to the net.  For an even more in-depth team and individual player explanation of this, I encourage you to check out the great work of Jack Han HERE, which is complemented by incomparable data from Cory Sznajder.  Both are must follow for the hockey nerd fan.  Below is an example of the Hurricanes mentality of getting the puck up to open space and get it back at all costs.

In doing some hot stove chatting at my most recent adult pick up game, Canes fan @BillKeryc hammered home these points.  In particular, he stressed the fact that all 5 on-ice Carolina players funnel the puck to the net at every opportunity.

So what are the keys for the Bruins?  For starters, they need to be aware the Hurricanes will constantly be trying to push them back on their heels. They need to respect that without giving Carolina’s offensive stars to much cushion to be creative.  Second, the Bs need to possess the puck.  The Bruins D will need to get back quickly on pucks to recover possession before the Hurricanes forwards force them into plays they don’t like.

That puts an emphasis on all 5 players on the ice supporting each other and creating simple outlets to advance the puck and maintain puck possession.  If the Bs can maintain possession and evade Carolina’s pressure, they will be able to neutralize Carolina’s desire to dictate play.  If they do get on their heels, which is bound to happen from time to time, the Bs will have to ensure they avoid crucial mistakes and defer to patient defending or simple outs when needed.  Expect Coach Cassidy to emphasize puck management even more than he already has in his round-robin pressers.

My Prediction:  Bruins in 7

#Letsgooo

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 188 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

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Is Jack Studnicka The Answer To The Bruins Search For Krejci’s Right Wing?

( Photo Credit Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers )

By: Jack Gotsell |Follow me on twitter @jackgotsell

Bruce Cassidy has a big decision to make when it comes to who will be playing on the right side of David Krejci this postseason for the Boston Bruins. With Ondreje Kase unable to get on the ice in the return to play phase of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, being deemed “unfit to play”, the Bruins will look to their young prospect and 2nd round pick in the 2017 entry draft Jack Studnicka to fill the void next to Krejci. If Studnicka plays well he will likely keep the role; and if not, Anders Bjork could likely get a look before we see Kase back next to Krejci.

Studnicka was drafted 53rd overall by the Bruins and has not disappointed. In his rookie season for the organization the 6’2” 21-year-old forward was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team. He led the Providence Bruins in scoring this season with 23 goals and 26 assists for 49 points in 60 games. He brings a promising finishing touch that the Bruins and General Manager Don Sweeney have been searching for to boost the top six.

Sweeney was confident he found that boost when the Bruins acquired Kase from the Anaheim Ducks on trade deadline day. The COVID break has left that question still unanswered as we enter the return to play phase. Kase is a shoot-first forward and much like Studnicka, he brings a tremendous amount of speed to his game. In Kase’s time in Anaheim he dealt with a lot of injuries and despite the time off the ice was able to tally a ton of shots. Unfortunately, he was unable to convert on many of those as he continued to struggle with his finish. Kase is in his fifth NHL season and when he’s healthy he shows some flashes of high-end talent. Nothing exemplifies that more than his last healthy season which came in 2017-2018 where he was able to find the back of the net 20 times.

Kase’s battle for the second line right wing will have to wait until he is able to get in the bubble. With that out of his control for now, Studnicka will look to fight for and hold the job. Studnicka only played two games with the big club this season and has never played in an NHL postseason. Being a natural center, he will have to adjust to the responsibilities of the wing while dealing with the pressure of his first postseason minutes. That’s not to say he never played wing; Jack played wing for the Canadian junior team in the 2019 World Junior Championship. In that tournament he tallied 1 goal, 3 assists, and 4 points in 5 games for the silver medalists.

Bruins teammate Patrice Bergeron has been impressed with Studnicka saying “he seems to be getting faster, which is scary.” Bergeron also mentioned that he looks a lot stronger than he did in camp at the beginning of the season and that he plays the game the right way. That’s quite a compliment coming from a future Hall of Famer like Bergeron. Studnicka will continue to look to that vetran leadership as he joins this hungry club in the postseason. 

Cassidy has said “It wouldn’t be automatic that I put Ondrej [Kase] in if the young kid was playing really well.” Cassidy has also made some comparisons between Bergeron and Studnicka referencing that he hopes that Studnicka is the next Patrice Bergeron. He’s noted that it would be great for everyone in the organization if he is and I have to agree. However, Cassidy has said all camp that Anders Bjork looks like one of the best players out there, so he is another guy seeking that job. If Studnicka slips up, Bjork could get that chance not only on the third line with Sean Kuraly and Charlie Coyle, but on the second line as well with Krejci. Clearly the Bruins have some faith in Bjork’s future as they just recently signed him to a 3-year extension. 

The unfamiliarity that Bruce Cassidy has with Kase really hurts him. He doesn’t know him as a player. He was only able to see him in 6 games before the season was put on pause. Cassidy is more familiar with Studnicka and Bjork and he is ready to see both of them lace up in this round-robin tournament. 

For now, it looks like Studnicka will be the guy on the second line when the Bruins play Columbus at 7PM. However, Cassidy confirmed earlier today Bjork and Karson Kuhlman will also see some time at second line right wing tonight. Unfortunately for Kase, he will be watching this one from home as he has still not been able to make the trip to Toronto. It remains to be seen how the lineup will look when the Bruins face the Flyers to open the round-robin tournament. If Studnicka is able to produce some secondary offence it will be an uphill climb for Kase to get back into the Bruins lineup. This is a good problem for Bruce Cassidy and the Boston Bruins to have.  

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 187 that we recorded below on 7-26-20! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher!

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!

NHL, NHLPA Ratify RTP; Bruins’ Playoff Schedule Released

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PHOTO CREDITS: (Yahoo Sports)

By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj

It’s official – hockey is coming back. Today, July 10th, 2020, the NHL and NHLPA officially ratified the Return-To-Play/CBA Extension following a 502-135 vote (nearly 79% in favor) that has taken place over the last couple days.

In addition to confirming the Return-To-Play plans, more details have emerged on the deadline for players to opt-out of the festivities. Players will have until 5 p.m. EST on Monday, July 13th to opt-out of the 2019-2020 summer training camp as well as the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs without a penalty. Players must do so in writing to keep records of who decided to participate and who opted-out.

It was largely expected that the results would be in favor of hockey returning to decide a 2020 Stanley Cup Champion, but we also heard the news today of the schedule for the games and for Bruins fans, when we will see the boys in Black and Gold back on the ice for their three Round Robin games.

As of right now, only the qualifying round exact schedule has been released as further details will be released as the play-in rounds and round-robin conclude. Below is the full, 10-day schedule for every one of the 24 teams participating:

The Boston Bruins will begin their road to the 2020 Stanley Cup on Sunday, August 2nd against the Philadelphia Flyers followed by the dangerous Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, August 5th, and finally the Washington Capitals on Saturday, August 8th. From there, the seeding will be formed for the remainder of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Re-seeding will take place after each round ends, meaning a 1st seed position has more value.

Toronto, Ontario and Edmonton, Alberta are the official hub cities. The National Hockey League confirmed that the Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals will be held in Edmonton. According to Sportsnet Stats on Twitter, this is the first time since 1925 that the entirety of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be held in Canada. The Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup over the Hamilton Tigers due to a player strike in that 1924-25 season.

Below are some of the key dates for the National Hockey League starting at Training Camp courtesy of NHL Public Relations:

July 13th – Training Camps Open

July 26th – Teams Travel to Hub City

July 28-30th – Exhibition Games

August 1st – Stanley Cup Qualifiers Begin

August 10th* – Phase 2 of NHL Draft Lottery

August 11th – 1st Round Begins

August 25th* – Second Round Begins

September 8th* – Conference Finals Begin

September 22nd* – Stanley Cup Final Begins

October 4th* – Last Possible Day of Final

October 9-10th* – 2020 NHL Entry Draft

*Tentative Date

For the latest on the NHL’s Return-To-Play as well as everything in the Boston Bruins organization, make sure to check back to blackngoldhockey.com and follow me on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj!

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 184 that we recorded below on 6-28-20! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher!

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!

Providence Bruins 2020/21 Roster Predictions – Part #1 The Forwards

( Photo Credit: Providence Bruins / Flickr )

By: Mark Allred | Follow Me On Twitter @BlackAndGold277

In part one of my American Hockey League Providence Bruins 2020/21 roster predictions, I’ll provide an opinion of what an upcoming regular season lineup could look like in a Head Coach Jay Leach system. I’m keeping in mind that the offseason has yet to be determined. Not knowing what’s to happen in free agency is a bit tricky, so please take my thoughts with a grain of salt and bare with me.

On paper, the potential roster of the National Hockey Leagues Boston Bruins top minor-pro affiliate is certainly intriguing throughout with recent youth additions and league advancement with player promotions. In the first article in this mini-series, I’d like to focus on the 12 forwards that I believe will provide the most offensive punch in the upcoming season whenever when the AHL gets back up and running.

Below are three scenarios of line combinations that I came up with as an idea of how things can fluctuate with promotions to the NHL and departures of last season’s roster. At the minor-pro levels of hockey, having backup plans is never more important when thinking of middle depth competitiveness and sustainability.

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Scenario #1 – What if Jack Studnicka Gets Promoted?

As someone who’s followed Jack Studnicka’s hockey career since being selected in the second round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, I do feel his time is coming quickly concerning advanced placement. I’m confident in the Bruins staff that if the NHL is a potential destination next season, he’ll be placed in a position to not only succeed but also continue to develop. He needs to be playing consistently, and if his role is a 13th or 14th forward, I think that role as a revolving forward would be a detriment to said development. Below is my lineup if Jack makes the Boston club out training camp for the upcoming season.

#24 Hughes – #7 Frederic – #20 Kuhlman

#13 Lauko – #29 Steen – #28 Carey

#16 Gaunce – #11 Asselin – #9 Senyshyn

#45 Koppanen – #27 Woods – Voyer

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There are two areas of the third line that I’d like to mention as potential departures. We don’t know if the Bruins and forward Brendan Gaunce are going to agree on another deal to place him back in the AHL when he could seek a better path for NHL work in free agency. The other is the idea of bringing back Zach Senyshyn, who I strongly agree they should but will be exposed to the waiver process if his services are needed in Providence if he doesn’t make the team out of camp.

If Gaunce and Senyshyn don’t make returns to the Providence lineup next season, this is where that backup plan comes into play. When talking about the right-wing position possibly vacated by the former 2015 first-round pick Senyshyn, I think of a player like Robert Lantosi who can fill that position seamlessly. The 5′-11″ 185-pound Lantosi is currently in the final year of his one-year AHL only contract and posted 11-20-31 numbers in 50 games in his first season of North American Pro Hockey.

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Now moving onto the Gaunce departure theory. If the 26-year-old chooses to leave for better pastures, I believe a solid replacement would be former Brown University forward and left shooting left-winger Tommy Marchin. The 6′-2″ 216-pound Michigan native played his first professional season since leaving the Ivy League has played with Providence a total of 12 games in two seasons posting 2-0-2 numbers. Marchin played his first full pro season this year with the Bruins “AA” minor-pro ECHL affiliate the Atlanta Gladiators. In 49 games for the Glads, he posted impressive 27-21-28 numbers and looks like he could fill the bottom six if a left-wing position is available. Marchin is currently on an expiring AHL only contract, but I mention him as a solid backup option if he’s retained.

Sticking with the third line in this scenario is the mention up the middle with Samuel Asselin. The 21-year-old left shooting center currently has one-year remaining on his AHL only contract. In 53 games with the ECHL Atlanta club, this season, the 5′-9″ 185-pound forward did very posting 26-26-52 numbers in his first year of professional hockey after leaving the QMJHL a year prior. Asselin will be a reliable option with the upshift if Studnicka finds a roster spot with Boston.

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Another thing to consider here and wanted to mention something before moving on, but the Karson Kuhlman contract negotiations should be interesting as an RFA this offseason. Obviously, an upshift would occur if he made the NHL roster or didn’t want to return to the Boston organization with the progressive bottleneck in Providence. I believe the Bruins are going to re-sign Karson to keep him in the fold, but is he legitimately going to stay with the limited path upward? Kuhlman has tremendous upside for a shifty, speedy forward, but (Hate Saying This!) he might have better NHL success elsewhere. Maybe even getting a deal worked out with Minnesota for a fourth-round draft pick from the Minnesota Wild to return him to the state he was born.

Scenario #2 – What If Studnicka Remains In Providence For Further Development?

As mentioned, I’m a massive fan of Studnicka and what he’s done thus far as a developing asset with the Bruins organization and hope he secures a roster spot in the NHL next season first and foremost. What if he doesn’t make the final cuts out of the NHL Bruins training camp whenever that may be and needs to be sent down to Providence to continue working on an already highly skilled set of attributes? Here’s what a potential AHL Bruins lineup could look like with a Captain Jack return to Rhode Island.

#13 Lauko – #23 Studnicka – #20 Kuhlman

#24 Hughes – #7 Frederic – #28 Carey

#16 Gaunce – #29 Steen – #9 Senyshyn

#45 Koppanen – #27 Woods – Voyer

To me, this is a solid lineup above and one that, in my opinion, has unfinished business. Due to the Covid-19 shutdown, the Providence team played well in the early parts of the season and really turned it up with a 12-game winning streak marching up the Atlantic and Eastern Conference. Who knows what would’ve come for this team in 2019-20 Providence club this year, but it was certainly fun to watch, and a long Calder Cup run was absolutely possible. The only change I’d make from the lineup obviously if Jack returns is the addition of a new Providence player that the AHL club signed earlier this spring.

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Voyer signed a two-year AHL only contract in April of 2020 and will be entering his first full season of minor-pro hockey after posting decent numbers in the QMJHL with the Sherbrooke Phoenix. The Sherbrooke, Quebec native posted 44-44-88 numbers in 63 games for the Phoenix franchise, which was a career-high. Sherbrooke is the second team Voyer has played for in his QMJHL career. The rugged 6′-2″ 192-pound right-winger started his Canadian Hockey League career with the Rimouski Oceanic, where he appeared in 158 games and contributed 22-35-57 numbers. His offensive production would almost double when he was moved to his hometown. Voyer Would play the past two seasons with the Sherbrooke club and posted 73-73-146 totals in 131 Phoenix games.

Forward Reesignments & Unfortunate Departures

Pavel Shen – A fast forward who just completed year one of his first season of North American hockey as the first Russian drafted out of the Boston organization since the selection of Alexander Khokhlachev in 2011. Shen had a decent AHL rookie season, but I believe he’d benefit from a full season in the ECHL with Atlanta next season. The 6′-1″ 183-pound forward has two more seasons remaining in his entry-level deal and continues to be a work in progress. He was demoted to the ECHL after being outplayed in the Providence forward rotation last season and believe he should at least start with the Gladiators for the upcoming 2020/21 campaign.

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Brett Ritchie – This is an interesting scenario with Brett’s future with the Boston Bruins organization. Ritchie is a hard worker and certainly wants to work hard to get back to the NHL. With that being said, I don’t see an option with both sides agreeing on more time in the minors for him. I can see either he gets moved for a late-round draft pick, or the Bruins flat out walk away from his future services or cap space he could be asking for if retained. His salary should go in every effort to re-sign NHL players like Torey Krug, Jake DeBrusk, and Matt Grzelcyk, to name a few. The potential $81.5 flat cap just has me see the Boston club moving on from him.

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Ryan Fitzgerald – This one is going to kill me moving forward because I believe Ryan is a dependable middle-depth professional, but the road has certainly been tough trying to get to the NHL. Fitzy is an unrestricted free agent during this offseason, and with four bottom-six forwards already at the NHL level contracted for another year, I find it hard to believe he’d come back to play in the AHL. Honestly, the kid has busted his ass but keeps getting overpassed for looks, and like I’ve said so many times, he might be better off leaving for better opportunities. Ryans had some bad luck with injuries throughout his entry-level contract and the one-year extension he signed last summer. I actually thought Fitzgerald would’ve been a perfect low cap hit promotion before the Mayor Chris Wagner signed long-term. Regardless of my opinion, if Fitzy does, in fact, leave the Bruins organization, I hope nothing but the best for him.

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Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 183 that we recorded below on 6-14-20! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher!

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

Bruins Depth Players That Deserve Contract Extensions

( Photo Credit: Providence Bruins / Flickr )

By: Mark Allred | Follow Me On Twitter @BlackAndGold277

Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney certainly has his hands full when it comes to restricted and unrestricted free agents whenever the “official” National Hockey Leagues offseason happens. Boston’s future sustainability depends on whether or not contracts go well or not with potential re-signings of current NHLer’s like Anders Bjork (RFA Arbitration Eligible), Zdeno Chara (UFA), Jake DeBrusk (RFA), Matt Grzelcyk (RFA), Torey Krug (UFA), Kevan Miller (UFA), and Joakim Nordstrom (UFA).

To me, out of the players mentioned above, the priorities have to come down to Bjork, DeBrusk, Krug, and Grzelcyk to be extended for either short-term bridge or longer-term contracts. Regardless of work that has to be done at the NHL level to stay competitive and compliant with a potential flat salary cap at $81.5 for two to three seasons, it’s not going to be easy. With a rumored $18 million in cap space preparing for the upcoming 2020/21 campaign, I have a feeling the organization, along with some players, might have stalled talks leading up to 11th-hour panic decisions.

Not all offseason negotiations during the upcoming offseason are going to be hair pulling or check your blood pressure stressful moments. For example, take a look at the excellent CapFreindly.com website and scroll down to players coming off entry-level contract deals that could easily accept qualifying offers and one or two-year two-way extensions. Below are my thoughts of what players I’d like to see the Boston organization keep in the fold when it comes to development and having that “break glass” in case of emergency availability close by for another year or two.

Brendan Gaunce

( Photo Credit: Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images )

One of the Providence Bruins bright spots last season and his first with the NHL Bruins organization. Gaunce agreed to a one-year, two-way contract on July 1st, 2019, after spending four seasons in the Vancouver Canucks organization. Brendan was a solid middle-depth signing that brought a lot to the Providence Bruins line when talking about an aggressive style game and offensive capabilities.

Starting the 2019-20 AHL regular season with Providence on the right foot going 3-1-4 in his first five games, he hit a bit of a speed bump to his fast start on the back-to-back weekend trip north of the border. When the Rhode Island club traveled to Laval, Quebec, to play the affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens, Gaunce would suffer a severe head injury. Laval forward, Michael McCarron hit Brendan with a center ice blindsided hit, which led to the then 25-year-old concussed and gruesome facial lacerations.

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Gaunce, who’s an absolute warrior at 6′-2″ and 217-pounds, only needed 22 days to get healthy enough to return to the ice with extra facial protection, of course. Brendan got back in the lineup and immediately produced offensively like the injury never happened. His return to the AHL Bruins lineup, he contributed 1-1-2 numbers in a 4-1 road victory against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and would continue the year as a valued asset to Providence Head Coach Jay Leach up and down the roster.

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As a veteran forward in the developmental ranks, Brendan never went more than four games without a point, and in fact, his offensive production kicked it up a notch in the send half of the 2019-20 campaign. Starting with an assist on February 9th, 2020, in a 2-1 overtime loss to Sound Tigers, Brendan went the next ten games (27 Days) riding a career-high scoring streak where he posted 7-7-14 in that timeframe. With the cancelation of remaining games and Calder Cup Playoffs due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Gaunce finished the 2019-20 regular-season with 18-19-37 numbers in 52 games. Brendan was everything the Bruins expected as a minor-pro system addition and a go-to if an emergency recall was needed. In one game with Boston last season, he contributed an assist in his first NHL game since he was with Vancouver, where he appeared in three in the 2018-19 season.

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If I were the general manager of the NHL Bruins and if Gaunce would accept an extension to stay within the organization, he’d undoubtedly be a low-risk, high-reward signing. Either a one-year deal or a two-year stay, I can see Gaunce coming back and possibly having a better year than the previous shortened season. He has tremendous leadership skills, along with offensive ability. He could definitely be a candidate if retained for the next Providence Bruins captaincy if current team leader Paul Carey departs after next season.

Karson Kuhlman

( Photo Credit: Steve Babineau / NHLI via Getty Images )

A sneakingly good signing from the skillful eyes of the Boston Bruins scouting staff, Kuhlman’s addition has added a significant amount of speed and talent to the forward depth of this organization. The 5′-11″ 185-pound versatile forward has been a useful plug-and-play no matter where the soon to be 25-year-old has been asked to play. Karson is a tremendously hard worker and never gives up, which is a driving force the B’s should seriously consider bringing back for extended development.

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He might be undersized and young, but he’s displayed a significant number of leadership qualities thus far in his young hockey career. Before coming to the Bruins as a free agent the Minnesota USA, native wore letters in three of his four seasons playing NCAA Division 1 hockey at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He might not light up the AHL or NHL scoreboard with point production consistency, but he adds a decent element of speed when inserted at either level. Most coaches will say that it’s not all about getting marks on the scoresheet on a nightly basis, but did that player do something that most didn’t notice to make an impact during the contest. Kuhlman’s uncanny skillset on the forecheck has been a valued asset no matter what level he’s played in.

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As many NHL Bruins fans have seen at the highest level in the world, Kuhlman has done pretty much everything Boston Head Coach Bruce Cassidy has asked of him. In his limited time with Boston, he’s appeared in 36 games contributing 4-7-11 numbers playing in 11 contests in 2018-19 and another 25 in 2019-20. Karson was never a massive point producer at any level of developmental hockey and in fact, his best pro season with Providence was in the 2018-19 campaign where he notched 12-18-30 totals in 58 games played along with an impressive +23 on the year.

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Kuhlman’s speed and upside are certainly worthy of a contract extension and believe Cassidy has high respect for his work ethic, which might have serious consideration keeping him in the fold. Replacements are going to be needed with future roster departures at the NHL level, so why not take a low-risk contract with Kuhlman? I’d say a $1.5 million two-year, two-way contract extension allows the Bruins accessibility to capture lightning in a bottle and promote quickly if Karson kicks up his offensive production at the AHL level.

Zach Senyshyn

( Photo Credit: ProvidenceBruins.com / @AHLBruins )

To many Bruins fans, the mention of Boston prospect Zach Senyshyn brings up trying times and a bit of a reach at the NHL Entry Draft table back in the summer of 2015. Regardless of what Zach has done in the B’s organization, he’s consistently being labeled as a “draft bust” and a huge mistake. There’s no doubt, better-talented players, and ones that have risen to the NHL sooner rather than later were passed over in the first round. This certainly wasn’t B’s General Manager Don Sweeney and scouting staff’s most beautiful moment, but what was done is done and have to move on.

I know I’m going to be in the minority here with my opinion, but I believe Senyshyn has provided an excellent service to the Bruins organization. He’s another player that hasn’t exactly blown anyone to the moon with the stats since leaving the 2015 Draft Podium at the, but his work ethic and aggressiveness to be better has been second to none. Providence Head Coach Jay Leach has used Zach up and down the B’s lineup to act like a sponge and learn all aspects of the game. His game with and without the puck attributes has been something both sides have been working on since his arrival to the AHL.

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Before turning pro, he spent three seasons with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds starting his Canadian Hockey League career as a fourth-liner in his rookie year tallying 26 goals on a deep Soo club, to follow up the next two years with the Greyhounds posting two 40 goal seasons (45 & 42) before turning pro in 2017-18. In his OHL career, all with the Hounds he posted 114-63-177 numbers and so far in his AHL career he’s contributed 33-33-66 numbers in 174 games.

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Senyshyn is currently in the last year of his entry-level contract, and his speed and offensive skillset continue to be a work-in-progress and believe he’ll be re-signed during the offseason. The tricky part of a deal with a player like Zach is if he’s in fact extended, he’ll have to go through the waiver process if he doesn’t make the NHL team out of training camp. I’m not sure how much the Bruins would want to invest when it comes to money and term for a younger player that one might not have a spot at the NHL level, and number two a player who most likely won’t survive the 24-hour waiver process he’d have to go through returning to the AHL.

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If Senyshyn’s re-signed and able to squeak through waivers much like the path that former Bruins prospect Peter Cehlarik did, I can see the Boston organization offering Zach a $1.8 million contract. I believe a two-year, two-way deal will be beneficial and, with the term, can see him securing an NHL roster spot by the end of a two-year extension. His speed and stride is something that you can’t just walk away from. Senyshyn’s ability to create space quickly away from opponents with or without the puck is something I’d certainly like to keep around. He could even be a solid third-line or even second winger in the future if everything works out, of course, but I commend the path that the Bruins have gone with the now 23-year-old 6′-1″ 196-pound forward.

Jakub Zboril

( Photo Credit: David Kirouac / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images )

Much like Senyshyn above, this wasn’t Boston’s finest hour when they went to the NHL Draft podium three times mid-first round in 2015. Zboril is another player that has absorbed the pro level of hockey with a seeming grain of salt and no rush mentality. Jakub has all the characters of being a lower pairing defenseman right now, but his path to the highest level in the world has taken a lot longer than most want to fathom.

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As a later developing pro, Zboril, by far, had his best season this year before the Covid-19 pandemic halted life as we know it. Call it a contract year scenario, but I noticed something special in the final year of his entry-level contract that brings me to this mention of the B’s bringing him back. More of a stay-at-home defenseman, Zboril does have some offensive capabilities as he ended his third season in Providence, tying an AHL career-high of 19 points he posted for three consecutive years.

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Zboril is a player that is always learning something new no matter what level of developmental hockey. In a defensive-minded Jay Leach system, Jakub can adapt to the three defensive pairings no matter where slotted. His aggressive style and defensive prowess this season has gotten tremendous attention not only from me but other media members in Providence who also spend a great deal in the press box evaluating talent. Jakub isn’t a perfect defensive player and does have moments where I shake my head, but his ability to get back in the play and recover from a mistake is commendable. Accountability is at the highest of his game attributes and is not one to pass the blame when an error in judgment is made on or off the puck.

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If I was to give an extension to Jakub, I’d go another year or two with him with potential departures at the NHL level in the future. Zdeno Chara is always a candidate when talking about a roster spot if and when he retires. John Moore and his roster spot are still up for conversation and which young player can come in and cover for the declining blueliner. Or how about the upcoming Seattle Expansion draft, and if a current Bruins player on defense is appealing to the newest NHL franchise, who’s set to draft an initial lineup next summer? Zboril is a player that can easily slot into an NHL lineup with space availability, of course, and will be a backup plan for the foreseeable future if he’s retained. When it comes to a dollar value, I will look at the $1.5-$2 million range for Jakub’s extended services.

Also, keeping in mind any future negotiations with Zboril will also be heavily considered when thinking about his waiver priority. If retained for further services, he’d need to pass through waivers to be placed in Providence, and with the current situation ahead of him when it comes to NHL contracts, that’ll likely be the destination. Personally, I hope the B’s do whatever it takes to keep him around as an ace in the hole but would also hate to lose him and not seeing his full NHL potential.

Dan Vladar

( Photo Credit: NHL.com )

Probably the biggest re-signing for the Boston Bruins staff out of any mentioned above when it comes to middle depth sustainability in the crease. With one more year of NHL starter Tuukka Rask remaining in his contract and the recent extension to backup Jaroslav Halak, the NHL level is covered when it comes to netminding duties. This provides an adequate amount of time for further development of 2015 third-round selection Dan Vladar and recently signed to entry-level contract Jeremy Swayman out of his junior year at the University of Maine.

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Vladar, who’s in his last year of his ELC, really took a stranglehold in his development during the 2019-20 regular-season campaign. After a slow start to the soon to be 23-year-old Czech Republic native, he encountered an injury In the seasons first cross border roadie in Laval, Quebec which left him with a high ankle sprain. Dan’s season record began with the 0-1-1 record giving up six goals in three games, so there’s no real-time for an injury to happen, but in the end, it was, in fact, beneficial, to say the least.

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During Vladar’s recovery, which lasted a whole 45 days before he returned from his ankle sprain also was a student of the game during that duration when help from above came down lending professional advice. NHL Bruins Goaltending Coach Bob Essensa and assistant Mike Dunham took advantage of the young goaltenders “downtime” while rehabilitating for countless hours of video sessions breaking down his game while minimizing his crease movements. As a 6′-5″ 185-pound athletic netminder, Essensa and Dunham broke down his game with technology to teach the big Czech netminder a new way of manning the crease and using his size to his benefit.

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When Vladar returned to the ice after his lengthy injury, he absolutely put on a show blanking the 2018-19 Calder Cup Champion Charlotte Checkers 4-0 with 36 saves and first star honors. After Dan’s No-No on December 1st, 2019, at the Bojangles Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, he would go onto post a regular-season record of 14-7-1 with a stingy and league-leading 1.79 goals-against-average and .936 save percentage. He also ended the 2019-20 regular-season campaign with three shutouts.

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Before the coronavirus shut everything down, Vladar was on his way to having his best career year between the pipes. I know it’s a small sample size of his potential, but in my opinion, with the tutelage of Essensa and Dunham and how he came back strong and determined has me believe he will definitely be re-signed. With the stretch of games from the start of December to mid-March, Vladar was clearly the best goaltender in that duration and started turning heads when thinking about future NHL placement. Extending Vladar for two more years not only locks him up for another full AHL season and audition, but it also makes him a serious candidate when considering future options with Halak and Rask and expiring contracts.

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A two-year, two-way contract worth around $2 million is certainly not out of the realm for keeping a netminder like Vladar around. Also, keep in mind that my guess on what Vladar and others mentioned when talking about a contract is the dollar value and what the particular player will earn at the Level if lucky enough to spend time at the highest level in the world. When spending time in the AHL, obviously, that number goes down to a range of $70K to $150K depending on the two-way contract structure, and bonuses entailed.

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