Boston Bruins Offseason Outlook

( Photo Credit: Winslow Townson / AP Photo )

By: Joey Partridge | Follow Me On Twitter @joey_partridge

The Boston Bruins surely have an interesting offseason ahead of them. After losing to the Lightning in five games, you can tell that they were just merely outplayed. But what does this mean for the team going forward?

You have people calling to trade everybody and restart from the ground up, and the overreactions are through the roof. That’s the intensity of this fanbase for you, which is a good thing. Boston is a very passionate fanbase, and they care for this team.

People forget that the Bruins won the President’s Trophy and were the only team to reach the 100-point mark in the shortened regular season. They were firing on all cylinders heading into what would’ve been the normal postseason. The hiatus in the season due to COVID-19 came at a very unfortunate time for the Bruins. Even though we didn’t see the Bruins we are used to in the Toronto bubble, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the Bruins are still contenders, and they will be next year too.

( Photo Credit: Chris Christo / MediaNews Group / Boston Herald )

Let’s not kid ourselves either, though. The Bruins should make some offseason moves to bolster their roster and have a great run next year. Others seem to think that Boston will be active. “I think Boston’s going to be really interesting. I think they’ve decided they need more scoring, and I think they’re going to have some big decisions to make about what that’s going to mean for them. I think they’re definitely one of the teams to watch,” Elliotte Friedman said on SN960.

Everybody knows what the Bruins biggest problem has been over the past couple of years, and that’s secondary scoring. The Bruins goaltending duo of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak is one of, if not the, best in the league. The Bruins also have a great defense core mixed with veterans and young studs. Even if Torey Krug does leave this free agency period, their defense will still be great. The first line will give you what they have, but then after that is where the production falls off. I’d go as far as to say that after Jarome Iginla left, the Bruins have been itching to find David Krejci a second-line right-wing, and it hasn’t worked out so far.

The first line is most likely the best line in the whole entire league. The problem is that if other teams can shut them down, the Bruins odds of winning decrease dramatically. Tampa Bay did a great job of neutralizing Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak, and the outcome of the series shows what happens when teams are able to do that.

Saying there is a lack of secondary scoring doesn’t mean that the Bruins don’t have talent below the top line. David Krejci is one of the most underrated players in the league. However, he is a playmaker, and his wingers are typically the goal scorers. Look at the 2011 Bruins team that won the cup. Milan Lucic was on Krejci’s left, and Nathan Horton was on his right, and we all know how clutch Horton was.

Now let’s compare that to their current roster. Jake Debrusk is a great player, but even Bruce Cassidy has said it. He can be streaky. That doesn’t diminish his talent, but his goal-scoring was needed. Ondrej Kase is the same way. He was flying around out there, making good plays in the corner and competing, but he wasn’t scoring. You can even say the same for Anders Bjork on the third line. The effort is there, the production was not.

Don Sweeney sure has his hands full this offseason. He has four unrestricted free agents that he’ll have to decide whether to sign or let go. Those are Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, Joakim Nordstrom, and Kevan Miller. The three restricted free agents that most likely will return barring any trades or offer sheets are Jake Debrusk, Matt Grzelyck, and Karson Kuhlman. Sweeney has hinted at some moves this offseason. “We’re looking to make some changes in our group,” Sweeney said.

What exactly could these changes be? Who knows? We have seen Sweeney be aggressive like on draft day in 2015, but we have also seen him be more relaxed in the past couple of years. Does he take a run at a top free agent like Taylor Hall? Does he trade some of the young talent for a proven goal scorer? Only time will tell, but it gives the Bruins faithful something to be excited about.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 194 that we recorded below on 9-13-20! 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!

Predicting The Future Performance of the Bruins Veteran Core

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me on Twitter @LeonLifschutz

Introduction

In Part One of this series we took a look at aging curves. We also determined who makes up the Bruins’ core group of players. Today, in Part Two, we will use that information to take a look at the trajectory of the Bruins’ veteran core which we have identified as Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, and Tuukka Rask. This group is made up of a number of iconic players for this generation of Bruins’ fans. These players have been part of an incredibly successful run in Bruins’ history including winning the ultimate prize in 2011. Each have also enjoyed individual success and they have all received votes for post-season league awards during their careers. However, the youngest player in this group is now 32 years old. Three have contracts expiring now or after next season. Sports are fickle and playing careers do not have the longevity of other lines of work. As a reminder, here is a look at a typical aging curve over several metrics.

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So what can we expect for each individual player moving forward? And how might their future performance as a group effect the Bruins’ chances to win it all in the coming seasons? David Krejci sure believes the window is still open.

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With those words in mind, lets break it down and see if Krejci is correct.

Patrice Bergeron

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Contract Status: $6,875,000 AAV, 2021-22

What We Learned: Bergeron, as everyone knows, is impressive. He has continued to play at a high level into his mid-30s. However, Bergeron is showing some signs of slowing down. While his goal scoring has actually gone up a little due to a strong shooting percentages he has seen some dips in first assists, total points, and shot metrics. His 5v5 play has also started to dip the last couple of seasons though it is still on par with his data from his late 20s. His possession metrics are still elite but not the absurd numbers from his late 20s. Being a key cog on one of the best powerplays helps keeps the numbers up.

Outlook: While Bergeron is talented, he succeeds based on his hockey IQ and attention to detail, items that age more gracefully. The following illustrates this perfectly.

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He should continue being an effective player for at least a few more years with contributions on the scoresheet and in many other key facets of the game. He is also the heir apparent to Chara whenever the latter decides to retire or move on. Expect Bergeron’s totals to start slowly decreasing though as his shooting percentage regresses and he slows down a touch. 30 goals and 60 points is reasonable to expect the next couple of seasons if he can stay healthy. Health though needs to be considered as Bergeron has not played close to a complete season since 2016-17. It may also be wise to continue decreasing the heavier matchups and defensive expectations against other team’s top lines as has already been the trend the last couple of seasons.

David Krejci

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Contract Status: $7,250,000 AAV, 2020-21

What We Learned: Krejci’s steady decline has already begun. With the exception of goal scoring, his numbers are down across the board. If you exclude a 2018-19 resurgence as an outlier the picture is worse. His numbers are also propped up by strong performance on the powerplay which offsets declining 5v5 production. Krejci has seen declining possession metrics though he still comes out on the positive end of the goals for battle.

Outlook: Krejci is no doubt still a talented player who contributes to the team. The silky passer has also not had a true scoring winger on his flank for a couple of years now and has played a lot of minutes with the enigmatic Jake Debrusk. Krejci will likely continue his decline. His defensive responsibility and powerplay contributions though continue to provide value until the expiration of his contract next season. Beyond that, he is likely better suited for third line minutes and the Bruins will need to sign him on a shorter term contract with a lower cap hit or consider moving on.

Brad Marchand

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Contract Status: $6,125,000 AAV, 2024-25

What We Learned: Marchand hit a turning point in his career in his late 20s. When most players are leveling off or declining, Marchand decided to get serious and turn himself into a top liner instead of a middle-6 pest. His career turn was impressive and welcome by the team and fans. In the past few years, Marchand has shown some signs of leveling off and in some instances slowing down. In particular, Marchand’s goal totals have begun to tail off. However he has redefined himself again adding a little more play making to his repertoire. It certainly helps playing with David Pastrnak when it comes to assists. He has also dialed down the physical stuff a bit over the last couple of seasons.

Outlook: The youngest of the veteran core, Marchand’s numbers should be steady for a couple more years. However, expect his goal scoring production to decrease as his straight line attacking game ages. He should remain dynamic on the powerplay but at even strength start to wane. Marchand can still be counted on for top line minutes but expect his numbers to drop slightly into the 25 goal and 50 assist range in the near future. That still puts him near a point a game pace for the next couple of seasons. His production will likely continue to dip further before the end of his lengthy contract which doesn’t end until he is 37.

Zdeno Chara

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Contract Status: UFA

What We Learned: Chara once had a stretch of 11 straight seasons receiving Norris trophy votes. Those days are long behind him. Chara’s offensive production has continued to nosedive, not a surprise given his age. However his possession numbers tanked this past season after remaining above average in recent years.

Outlook: It’s doubtful that Chara’s production or play driving improve moving forward and this past season is likely best case scenario moving forward. Chara obviously brings more to the team than just statistics. Having said that, Big Z should likely be relegated to third pair minutes along with penalty kill and closing out game duties. The latter two he continues to do quite well. Asking more of that from Chara is too much and a detriment to a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.

Tuukka Rask

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Contract Status: $7,000,000 AAV, 2020-21

What We Learned: Rask hit his peak at 25. He then had a steady decline before bouncing back a little at 30. He saw decreases in overall play and consistency over that time. Rask’s numbers the past several years prior to this one are slightly above league average. However, at 32, Rask had his best season in years en route to a number of Vezina trophy votes.

Outlook: It would be irresponsible to consider this season for Rask anything but an outlier. Players rarely have a career renaissance in their 30s and expecting another run at the Vezina is unlikely. However it would be fair to expect Rask, in the final year of his contract, to continue playing a little above league average. With the Bruins tight defensive structure, and Rask’s ability to occasionally steal a game, his presence should continue affording the Bruins a chance to win night in and night out.

Conclusion

The Bruins key veterans have generally performed better than the typical aging curve would suggest. Their performances were good enough to make the Stanley Cup final in 2018-19 and win the President’s Trophy in an abbreviated 2019-20. Even with normal aging curves, we can expect them to still be strong performers and potentially lead the Bruins’ on another playoff run. Bergeron and Marchand should generally continue their strong play though they will likely start slowing down in certain facets of their games. Chara’s role has already been redefined in recent years and that trend needs to continue. Krejci’s role may need to change as well, though he is still a dependable middle-6 center. Rask should not be expected to duplicate his Vezina nominated season but is a reliable starter.

There is no question that the window is narrowing and our conclusion is that 2020-21 will be the final hurrah this group. Between decreasing performances and expiring contracts it is a strong possibility that Chara, Krejci, and Rask all move on to retirement or other teams in 2021. It would be poor asset management for Sweeney and company to expect the current level of performance from the three and extend them for term and money into the twilight of their careers. In a flat cap world, if any of them want to stay Bruins they will have to do so on team friendly contracts. Having said that, these players deserve the opportunity to give it one more run before the band gets broken up.

It is also apparent that to be a true cup contender in the coming year the Bruins will need more support for their veterans from their young core. Beyond next year, the young core will need to step up and take control of the franchise’s destiny. With that in mind, join us for Part Three when we examine the Bruins young core and forecast if they are up for the challenge.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 193 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!!

Predicting The Future Performance Of The Bruins’ Core Part One

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me on Twitter @LeonLifschutz

Introduction

Since the Bruins second round exit, fans have already turned their attention to next season. This past week, my BNG colleague Mike Cratty looked at what a homerun offseason could look like examining some possible options for the Bs in free agency and the trade market. Much has also been made of what could become of the Bruins core. Will Zdeno Chara retire? It looks like not. Will Torey Krug move on in free agency? Sounds like there is a good chance. What of the rest of the veteran core, now well into their 30s and with lots of regular season and playoff miles? Colleague Matt Barry believes there is still some time for this group. David Krejci, who earlier in the year bristled at the question of the group’s age, agrees sharing the following sentiment.

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NHL front offices are tasked with a number of things including predicting the future. They do so every time they make their rosters whether it be player acquisition or doling out contracts. It is not an exact science. Players are human after all. They get injured, have personal lives, don’t always fit in a system, and sometimes get unlucky. The one thing that happens to every player though – they get older. Getting older can be a good a thing. Moving into their early 20s players gain strength, experience, and better decision making (well, most of us do). But at some point in time, as all of us adult league heroes know, age catches up with you and things are just a little harder than they used to be.

In this three part series we will do our best Don Sweeney impressions to try and predict what the future might have in store for key Bruins’ players. In part one, we will examine what aging curves can tell us about player performance. We will also discuss who makes up the current core and who could make up the next wave. In part two, we will look at the veteran core, players who have been around since the Bruins last Stanley Cup and continue to drive the bus. In part three, we will look at the players that make up the young core, supplementing the veterans and who have the ability to influence both the present and future of the storied original six franchise. For both groups, we will examine each players current trends and make predictions about their outlook and expected performance for the upcoming seasons.

Examining Aging Curves

There has been a number of studies on how aging effects player performances. The first significant study came from Hawerchuck in 2013 and look at points per game. More recently, the folks at Hockey Graphs and Evolving Wild have been using a comprehensive WAR (wins above replacement) stat to examine year over year performance. For our purposes, we are going to lean heavily on the work of Eric Tulsky who looked at agings impact on year over year scoring rates, goal scoring versus playmaking, and possession numbers. The folks at Hockey Graphs also looked at goalie aging curves . At the risk of oversimplifying, goalies have similar trajectories to skaters. Here is a visual of aging curves on a number of different stats.

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So what are our key takeaways from all this great research and the nice visuals? First, NHL players peak around 24. They stay at their peaks until about 28. At that point they start to slowly decline with the trend becoming more significant into the early 30s. By the mid 30s, players typically fall off a cliff. The effect of age is most noticeable on goal scorers. Playmakers can hang on for a little bit longer. On the powerplay, players stay at their peak a little longer with strong performances, though not peak, in the early 30s before falling off a cliff in their mid 30s. Possession numbers, generally speaking, mimic point production. Defenders and goalies may be able to hang on a year or two longer but generally follow a similar curve.

For our purposes we will look at Bruins’ players offensive numbers and possession numbers. I’ve grouped points into all situations for a couple of reasons. First, the Bruins rely heavily on their power play. Second it made the visuals look a little cleaner I will be sure to point out any situations where the numbers have noise, for example in the case of David Krejci. For offensive production I’ve chosen goals, total points, first assists, and individual expected goals. First assists are more indicative of player performance than second assists, which can be pretty random. For possession, I’ve chosen Corsi (shot attempts) and expected goals percentage. All player stats were converted to per 60 minutes rate stats to avoid discrepancies due to injury or average time on ice. For the goalie position I’ve chosen goals saved above average (GSAA) and quality starts. All stats come from Natural StatTrick and Hockey Reference.

The Bruins Core Players

Our first task is to decide who makes up the Bruins’ core. There is some debate over how many players make up a core. For Pittsburgh it’s been just three players – Crosby, Malkin, and Letang. For other teams its been more like five to six players that management has tried to build their team around. St. Louis last year had close to ten regulars who were long term parts of their team and core. For our purposes we will count a player as a part of the core if we anticipate they can have a strong impact on team performance and they will be a long term member of the team. Being a long term member means they are under contract or under team control with little expectation of being traded.

The Veteran Core – With those parameters in mind, our older core is made up of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and Zdeno Chara. All five have been Bruins for more than a decade with three being draft picks and four never playing for another NHL franchise. Inclusion of Chara can be debated but with his recent comments its hard not to picture Big Z playing for the Bruins next year. He is still the captain and averaged over 20 minutes of ice time per game this past season. Torey Krug was considered for this list but he doesn’t have the longevity of the others on the list and there is a decent chance he leaves in free agency.

The Young Core – The young core was a little harder to determine but we ended up with David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Charlie Coyle, Jake Debrusk, and Brandon Carlo. David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy were easy choices. The two already lead the team in several statistical categories and are on team friendly long-term contracts. Charlie Coyle is the third player included on the list. Coyle is an all situations player trusted by the coaching staff to the point it’s not surprising to see him lead all Bruins’ forwards in ice time in some games. The 28 year old is also locked up long term team to a reasonable contract. The last two members of our young core are Brandon Carlo and Jake Debrusk. There was debate among my BNG colleagues over the inclusion of those two. However, they seem like two young players with the likelihood of staying power. Both are under team control for a number of years and already play in the top half of the lineup. It really seems like the Bruins coaching staff and management are hoping Carlo and Debrusk can keep growing and help the team in substantial ways.

Conclusion

We have examined aging curves and how they can help us in predicting player’s future performance. We have also decided who makes up our veteran core and our young core. With that in mind, please join us in part two when we examine how much tread is left on the veterans. We will follow that up with part three where we will try and forecast what the peak performance could be for the younger core of players. After our exploration of both groups we will do our best to draw some conclusions around how long this iteration of the Bruins’ has left in it’s Stanley Cup window.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 192 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

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

The Bruins Window- Is It Still Open A Crack?

( Photo Credit: Matthew J. Lee / The Boston Globe via Getty Images )

By: Matt Barry | Follow Me On Twitter @oobcards

And just like that, another Boston Bruins season ended with disappointment. On March 12, 2020, the Bruins were the best team in the NHL and looking to avenge a heartbreaking Game 7 loss at home to St. Louis to end the 2019 campaign. The mission was to win another Stanley Cup for their aging group of stars. They wanted one more Cup for Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Zdeno Chara. They had won in 2011, but a lot of players win one. Winning another would stamp their legacies in Bruins lore.  The drive was there to win.  

Then the pandemic happened….

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The league would go on a nearly five-month hiatus. Not a great layoff for older, creaky joints. The league set a restart date for August 1st.  But, the schedule and structure of the return did not favor the Bruins…at all. The league allowed the top four teams in each conference to fight for the number one seed. Some teams saw a great opportunity while the Bruins did not know the value of competing for a top seed with no home-ice advantage. Well, unless you are passionate about the last change. So the Bruins treated it like a preseason schedule and lost all three games. So now, the Bruins were the fourth seed after winning the President’s Trophy as the league’s best team in an abbreviated season.

Many would say that this contributed to their earlier than expected exit from the playoffs, but somehow it feels more than that. During the hiatus, the Tampa Bay Lightning became the better team and it showed as it took just five games to defeat the defending Eastern Conference champions and the pre-pandemic top team in the league. The Bruins won game one, but that was their best effort in the series. Without their Vezina candidate goalie Tuukka Rask, who opted out after playing just the first two games against Carolina in round one, it became a daunting task to beat the Lightning with their backup goalie. It all caught up to them in a 7-1 loss in Game three.  The team fought until the end, but the Lightning were faster, stronger, and more talented.

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So, now what?

The core of veterans, who have carried this team for a decade, are nearing the end of their careers. Bergeron is 35-years-old, Krejci 34-years-old, and Chara will be 44-years of age next season. Even Brad Marchand is an aging veteran at 32. Then there’s Rask. He is an elite goalie, and the argument could be made that he is the best goalie in Bruin’s history. But, he opted out of the bubble, has one year left on his contract, and next season could begin in a bubble scenario again. He has also mentioned retirement thoughts in the past.  Can he come back, and will his teammates be able to depend on him? Valid questions.

My thought is that Rask will not forgo $7 million in his last year of the deal.  He will be the goalie next season. The backup, Jaroslav Halak, also has a year left and proved, for the most part, to be a capable option if Rask does not return.  Any chance the Bruins have of being contenders again next season depending on the availability (and desire) of Tuukka Rask. There will not be an option out there to match his ability. Say what you will about him, but he is a tremendous netminder, who can steal you games.

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Now comes the status of the captain, Zdeno Chara. I am such a Chara fan. He helped this franchise become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender when he signed with the Bruins in July of 2006. Since then, he has been the face of the franchise, a pillar of strength. Watching him go through the handshake line at the end of the Tampa Bay series was difficult because you wondered if that was his last handshake line. Will he come back? I would be open to bringing him back for a farewell tour season. A season in front of his beloved fans, hopefully. I usually despise when teams make sentimental moves with players. It is a business. Do what is best for the franchise.  But Z is an exception. But I do have some stipulations. I would sign him back if he accepted being a 3rd pair defenseman and open to an occasional healthy scratch to preserve him. If he took another team-friendly deal ($2-2.5 million) and could be a strong penalty killer, then I would consider it.  Other than that, it would be hard to give him top pair minutes for another season. My prediction is that he comes back for one more year.

Ok, Torey Krug. You’re next. Krug has been a good player and a tremendous power-play defenseman. He is undersized, but still plays the game with some sandpaper and is fearless against bigger opponents. He is an unrestricted free agent now, and the team has expressed an interest in retaining him. But there have also been rumblings that he is not necessarily willing to take a “hometown discount” such as David Pastrnak or Brad Marchand. His market value could be set at between $7 and $8 million per year. The Bruins have done a great job to this point of getting great value deals. I do not see them paying Krug top pairing money. His performance in the playoffs was not very good. He was on the ice for seven five-on-five opponent goals, the most on the team. He was pushed around by some more massive players on the Lightning and is 30 years old. At his size, the wear and tear has already begun to take its toll. 

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The Detroit Red Wings may be the wild card here. Krug is from Michigan, and the Red Wings are the worst team in hockey looking to improve their roster quickly. Krug would be a tremendous asset to them, especially on the power play. But again, a six or seven-year deal north of $7 million a year is a lot of investment on a small, 30-year-old defenseman. If the market has lowered since his playoff performance and his dollar amount becomes closer to $6 million a year, then the Bruins may get a warm and fuzzy feeling for him and sign him. That would be a big mistake. As the years go on, they will be dying to get out from under his contract. My guess is that Krug signs elsewhere, and the Bruins look to sign another defenseman with more size. The real ballsy move for them would have been to trade him after the 2019 season when his value was higher. But the team chose to take another run at the Cup with Krug.

The other question marks are restricted free agents Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk. DeBrusk has shown an ability to score goals, albeit in bunches at times.  He has also had some great playoff moments. The Bruins are thin beyond the top line on scoring wingers. Based on his stats, DeBrusk may be at the $4-$5 million range per year. He is still very young and has the promise to improve even more. But consistency is needed from him. I think the Bruins try to sign him to a similar deal that Charlie McAvoy received.  Grzelcyk is an excellent little player. He seems to make the right plays and is a terrific skater. He is a poor man’s Torey Krug, who might be able to play some power play and show more offensively. He is a Charlestown kid. Look for him to sign on with a Brandon Carlo type deal, I would assume. Maybe $3 million per year for 3-4 years.  

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dealThis is a crucial offseason, and Bruins fans are going to see what direction the team is going. Two glaring needs are scoring right-wing and a top-pair defenseman. Someone needs to play with Charlie McAvoy.  And someone needs to help David Krejci in the last year of his contract. The Bruins have about $15-16 million in cap space before the signings of DeBrusk and Grzelcyk. Let’s say those signings take $8-9 million. Now you have about $7 million to use to fill these needs. Those two needs could EACH take that amount. So Don Sweeney will need to be savvy in this move. A trade may be necessary to improve the roster. I am just not sure you can create enough space with the players who would be available. You might see them trade Ondrej Kase, who has not shown much scoring touch. Beyond that, there are not a lot of higher-priced players they would be willing to trade.  Could they make a deal with DeBrusk? That is an intriguing idea. Maybe they deal him and allocate that money to a more consistent player.

The more I think about it, I see the Bruins going with mostly the same roster for one more year minus Krug. I guess the x-factor could be 21-year-old Jack Studnicka, who showed flashes in the short time he played in the postseason. I would like to see Bruce Cassidy start next season with a hard look at Studnicka on the top line with Marchand and Bergeron and put Pastrnak with Krejci and DeBrusk. Then you could use some of the remaining money to sign a good, gritty third liner for Charlie Coyle’s line and an excellent defenseman to replace Krug and possibly Chara.

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Another tough ending to a promising season. But this may be the most exciting offseason in a long time. What the Bruins do this season could determine just how good this team will be over the next decade.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 192 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!!

What Happened To The Bruins In Toronto?

(Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

Last night was a heart-breaking loss on many different levels, and a result Bruins fans did not expect during the season. The Bruins were steamrolling its competition in the regular season, cruising to the top of the league’s standings. The President Trophy winners were the favorite to win the Stanley Cup, even after the NHL’s Return to Play announcement. Unfortunately, the Bruins never consistently showed the same regular-season tenacity and are heading home way too early.

Many fans will bash the NHL for its Return to Play schedule, where the Bruins had to play three more games to warrant the top seed in the East. Let’s be clear; unfortunately, the Bruins’ regular season point total did not result in the East’s top seed. However, the Bruins did not come close to showing the NHL that it deserved the number one seed in the Return to Play. Each team had the same starting position, and the Bruins controlled their own destiny. They did not play up to caliber for a number one seed.

The Bruins came out flat against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the exhibition. The team allowed two goals in 18 seconds and scored their lone goal in the second period. Bruins nation chalked it up as a slow start due to the pandemic and insisted the team would be fine during the round-robin. However, the Bruins never led in any of their round-robin games and only scored four combined goals. For reference, the Bruins scored 227 goals in the regular-season, which equates to 3.24 goals per game and ranked 9th in the entire league. At the end of the playoffs, the Bruins goals-per-game fell to 2.23.

The Bruins’ first playoff match-up was against a team they had playoff experience against in the Carolina Hurricanes. The Bruins swept the Hurricanes in last year’s playoffs, and nearly did this year. Tuukka Rask announced his departure after two games against the Hurricanes and the organization turned to Jaroslav Halak to lead the charge.

The Bruins beat Carolina in five games, but still didn’t look their full selves. There were plenty of flashes, and they strung together some great games, but they never put forth a complete 60-minute domination. The Tampa Bay Lightning awaited after beating the Blue Jackets in five games as well.

The Bruins won game one and took a 1-0 series lead on Tampa. The Bruins scored one goal each period, while Tampa made a late push, but it was too little too late for the Lightning. The Bruins looked a tad lost in game two and allowed Tampa’s offensive weapons to get behind their defense, leading to an overtime loss. Things went from bad to worse in game three and never turned around.

Game three was one of the worst showings the Bruins had in a playoff series in nearly 30 years. The Bruins allowed the Lightning to score seven goals to their one. The Bruin skaters left their goalies out to dry in this game and could not overcome adversity.

Each of the three pictures above shows how poorly the Bruins played in the most crucial moments. Tampa had at least one step ahead of the closest Bruin, and the Bruins allowed Tampa’s lethal weapons to have prime real estate in from their goal. This game (and the series) was not lost because Rask left the bubble. Tuukka may have given the team a better chance to win, but Halak and Vladar were placed in incredibly difficult positions and were left out to dry. The Bruins did not put forth a full 60-minute effort consistently and outright quit at times. They looked lost and overpowered against Tampa and could not overcome adversity, which is ironic because Tampa had the same issue last year against the Blue Jackets.

Bruins media and its organization have touted how closely matched these two teams are, but frankly, this series showed those claims are myths. Tampa Bay was by far the better, faster, and stronger team this series. Tampa’s large defensive players took every opportunity to shoot the puck at the point into a wave of blue and black and gold jerseys. Tampa Bay scored the majority of their goals either off of odd-man rushes or deflections. Jon Cooper and his team had a perfect game-plan to park big bodies out front of the Bruin goalies, like Pat Maroon, to set up screens and tip shots that come towards the net.

The Bruins were also undisciplined and gave Tampa countless opportunities to score on the power-play. The Lightning were 0 for 16, heading into game three of the series on the power-play. The Bruins decided to test that record, and the Lightning netted three power-play goals in game three. The Bruins ranked third in the regular-season on the penalty kill, killing 84.3% of their penalties. By the end of this playoffs, their percentage declined to 82.9%. The 1.4% change may not seem like a lot, but in-game power-play goals can change momentum instantly.

In the elimination game, the Bruins looked like their old selves; unfortunately, it was too little too late. Jaroslav Halak played unbelievably and gave his team a chance to win.

Tampa scored the series-ending goal in double overtime, sending the Bruins home. Zdeno Chara may have played his final game as a Bruins, and David Krejci explained what every Bruin fan has been fearing.

This Bruins team may have a different makeup next year. Torey Krug, Jake DeBrusk, Zdeno Chara, and a few more require contracts, and the Bruins have $15M in cap space. General Manager, Don Sweeney, has a long list of to-do items in the shortened off-season. Many difficult yet necessary decisions will be made. The “core” that Krejci mentions genuinely does have one to three years left. Thankfully, a few bright spots in this year’s playoff could be shaping the new core.

Head Coach, Bruce Cassidy, made a few lineup changes that did not pay dividends like inserting John Moore and playing 11 forwards. However, the changes that did work included Anders Bjork and Jack Studnicka, who both played alongside Charlie Coyle in game five.

Bjork and Studnicka looked like they belonged and took advantage of their opportunities. They looked comfortable with the speed and physicality of the game. Bjork landed four shots on goal and played 18:30 minutes, while Studnicka surpassed 17 minutes and one shot on goal. Coyle landed ten shots on goal and looked to be comfortable with his line-mates.

Patrice Bergeron doesn’t look like he’s slowing down at all and has continued to dominate the opposition. He will continue to center the first line come next season.

The “what if” questions will linger over these playoffs. What if the Bruins’ regular-season point total had landed them the top seed? What if the season had played through without the pandemic? Unfortunately, we have an answer to what occurred, and the Bruins did not play up to their potential. It was a disappointing showing from a team who showed they belonged in the Stanley Cup. Bruins fans will have to wait another year and hopefully one with the original core for another run.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 192 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!!

This is Not the Bruins’ 2011 Veteran Core’s Last Hurrah

Photo Credit: John Locher/AP Photo

By: Lydia Murray | Follow Me on Twitter @lydia_murray12

It’s no secret that the Bruins’ veteran core is aging. They’re all in their thirties at this point, or in Zdeno Chara’s case, forties. That’s why, with the Bruins being pushed to the brink of elimination from the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning, many fans are saying this is probably we’ll see of this group intact. However, I truly don’t believe that will be the case. Here’s why

Chara, Rask Not Ready to Retire

The two players I see the most speculation about being done after this year are Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask. However, Chara has stated he’s not ready to be done yet, so I think he’ll play another year, although he might have a more reduced role. I know some people disagree with me and think he’s no longer a good player, but I think he is and he somehow still has some gas in the tank. I’d frankly be shocked if he retired after this season, despite being 43 years old. He’s making no indication that he’s ready to be done, and in fact it’s pretty clear he still loves playing and wants to keep going. The team has said as long as he wants to play, they’ll find a spot for him, so I’m pretty sure we’ll see him back for next season. 

As for Rask, he’s said multiple times he hasn’t even thought about retirement. He’s also said he’s looking forward to being able to negotiate a contract extension starting this summer. So, I’m not sure why that speculation is happening. You can check out more on my thoughts on his situation here. But basically just know that there is absolutely no reason to believe he’s retiring soon. His two leaves of absence were due to family emergencies so it’s wrong to make anything more out of them. He still loves the game and he’s still playing at an elite level. He clearly has a lot of gas left in the tank. So there’s absolutely no reason for him to retire soon.

Krejci, Marchand, Bergeron Still Going Strong

There are only three other players that are left from the 2011 team, and all three of them are still going incredibly strong. Bergeron and Krejci might be in their mid-thirties, but you’d never know it by watching them play. They playing as good as they did in the prime of their careers, and so it’s safe to say they both have a lot left to give. 

Krejci only has one year left on his deal, but I think he’ll re-sign with the Bruins for a few more seasons. He’s expressed interest in going to finish his career over in his home country of the Czech Republic. But, that’s a league he’ll be able to play in even if/when he declines and is no longer a great NHL player. I mean, Jaromir Jagr is still playing over in the country’s highest league, Czech Extraliga, at 48 years old. Granted, he’s part-owner of the team, but he’s still capable of playing in it even though he’s obviously not the elite player he used to be. So I’m pretty sure Krejci will be able to handle it regardless of how long he stays in North America. He’s 34 years old, but he certainly doesn’t look like it when he plays, so he’s got a while before he’s no longer an excellent player in the NHL.  

As for Bergeron, he has two years left on his deal, but he’ll surely keep playing longer than that. As long as his body holds up, I can honestly see him being like Chara. His passion for the game is obvious, and it’s clear that he has no intention of retiring anytime soon. He’s 35 years old, but he’s got a lot of gas left in the tank and barring any horrible injuries, I don’t think we have to worry about him retiring for several more years.

Marchand is the youngest player remaining from the core, and he’s not going anywhere for a really long time. Not only is the youngest and somehow still getting better at 32 years old, but he’s signed through the 2024-25 season. That’s at least five more years of Marchand, and at the rate he’s going, it’ll almost surely be longer than that. So luckily, we don’t have to worry about him leaving for a long time.

There’s a Least a Few More Runs Left in Most of This Group

In short, the Bruins have at least a few more playoff runs left in the majority of this group. Losing Chara in another year or so will sting, but at least they’ll have the rest of the 2011 core still intact. I can’t predict the future obviously, so I don’t know exactly how long they have left, but I’d be shocked if they don’t get several more runs out of this group. They’re all on the back halves of their careers, so it won’t be a ton more, but this is far from their last hurrah. It stings that they’ve likely wasted another year of these guys, but it’s certainly not time to call it quits on them for the future. But even with that in mind, obviously, let’s hope this year’s chance doesn’t end tonight.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 192 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’ Goaltender Tuukka Rask Shows No Signs of Being Ready to Retire

Photo Credit: Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

By: Lydia Murray | Follow Me on Twitter @lydia_murray12

I’ve been seeing quite a bit of speculation from Bruins fans lately that goaltender Tuukka Rask is ready to retire at the end of this season. However, I truly do not understand where that’s coming from. Any talk of it that has entered the rumor mill has been squashed by Rask himself, so, with all due respect to anybody who believes it, I’m really confused as to why it’s being talked about.

Rask’s March Remarks Have Since Been Clarified

The first time I really saw chatter about Rask retiring pick up was back in March when Matt Porter of the Boston Globe asked him after his future workload. Rask said, “I have one year left on my contract so we’ll see if I even play.” When asked if that was a real possibility as a follow-up question, he said “We’ll see. Always a possibility.” However, that’s an answer you’ll get from a lot of players if you ask a question like that. Why would they give a definitive answer when you never know what could happen between now and then? What if he got badly injured, or something else happened and he could no longer feasibly play, or if something happened that made him lose his love for the game? There’s a very slim chance of any of those things happening, but you never know.

Rask later clarified his comments and even echoed some of my above sentiments. While appearing The Greg Hill Show on WEEI, Rask was asked about those comments. Here’s the full quote, courtesy of this article by Logan Mullen of NESN.com: “Listen, I remember the interview if you can even call it an interview. This reporter asked me some questions right after practice when I was packing my bag, and all I said was my contract’s up (in 2021) so every option is on the table. I haven’t made any decisions on any direction yet, obviously we’re not even playing hockey right now, so that’ll be in the future. But it’s definitely not in my mind right now, just trying to take care of the family now and go back to hockey whenever that happens and then go from there. I’m sure we’re going to have good conversations with (Don Sweeney) after this season and go from there. But I’m only 34, so it’s not too old, might play another year or two and go from there. But I don’t want to promise anything either way because you never know what’s going to happen.” You can also check out the full interview with Greg Hill here.

Tuukka expanded on this even further back in May, and he said a lot, too much for me to include here, so check out most of his comments here, via Steve Conroy of the Boston Herald. Or, you can watch the video in the embedded tweet above for his full comments. But, at one point, he said “I haven’t thought about retirement at all.” So, he’s made it clear on several occasions now that he’s not planning on retiring anytime soon. But, for some reason, people still choose to believe those comments back in March. He would not have clarified them two times now and said both times he hadn’t even thought about retirement and that he was planning on playing beyond this contract if he at all felt that he may not.

His Leaves of Absence Don’t Prove Anything

I think part of the reason the Rask retirement speculation is ramping back up is that he’s opted out of the playoffs. But, with all due respect, it’s completely unfair of anybody to say that. He left the bubble because one of his daughters had a medical emergency and he wanted to be with her, per Greg Hill of WEEI. You can’t fault him for that because that’s what any good parent would do. It doesn’t matter that he’s a pro athlete; these players are human beings and family comes first for them, as it should. It’s not like he opted out just because he felt like it. He didn’t do it because he doesn’t love the game anymore. He did it in spite of that. 

People also bring up his leave back in November of 2018 as an example. But again, it’s not fair of people to use that against him. It was another family-related issue, and he was only gone for three days, after which he went on a tear. That should show people that he only stepped away because he had to, and it was what was best for both him in the team because he was struggling up until that point. Again, these players are human, and they have problems just like everyone else. They aren’t robots who are just here for our entertainment. They don’t owe use anything. We need to stop treating them like they do.

I truly don’t understand how people are taking leaves of absences for family reasons as a sign that he doesn’t love hockey anymore and is ready to retire. Family always comes first, no matter what. If he didn’t truly love the game, he would never have left his family behind to go to the bubble in the first place. He would’ve just stayed home with them. But he went. It’s clear that he still loves the game. There’s no way he retires unless something huge happens and he’s forced to. 

Potential Regular-Season Bubbles Likely Wouldn’t Affect Him Playing

Even if they are in bubbles to at least start the regular season, I think he’ll play. He seems to have told GM Don Sweeney that, as Sweeney said in his press conference right after it happened that he’d still be the same great goalie when he came back next year (see the embedded tweet for his full remarks). They know at this point that there’s a decent chance they’ll have to play in bubbles again, so he wouldn’t have given Sweeney any indication that he’s going to play next year if that wasn’t the case. He was willing to leave his family this time until an emergency happened, so I can’t see why it’d be much different. 

Another reason I don’t think another bubble situation will be an issue is that I have a feeling the players won’t agree to leave their families again. If they left them behind for the regular season, it’d be for far longer than it has been for the playoffs. Players are already struggling with it being for that long, so I can’t see any scenario in which they’re willing to do it for longer, especially since it’s just the regular season and not the playoffs. I think the NHL is working on a plan to make sure families can come too, or they can at least see them somehow. I’d be very surprised if they didn’t, as any player with a significant other and/or kids is going to push very hard for it. It’s not fair to ask them to leave again. I honestly don’t think they’d be willing to. You’d see a significant number of players opt-out and almost surely from every team, so at that point it wouldn’t really be fair to play.

Barring Exceptional and Unforseen Circumstances, Rask Will Be Back

So, in short, I don’t think Rask will be retiring after this season. There’s really no reason to believe he would. It’s not right to assume that he doesn’t love the game just because he prioritized his family and left the bubble because his daughter had a medical emergency. Outside of that, he’s only 34, has one year left on his deal, and hasn’t said or done anything that should lead people to believe he’s considering it. So I’m really not sure why there’s so much speculation that he will. I’d be shocked to see him retire after next season too. He still loves the game and is still playing it at an elite level, so why would he? It just makes no sense. 

Shocked would not be a strong enough word to describe how I’d feel if he did, barring any exceptional and unforeseen circumstances. In fact, I’m pretty confident saying that one of the young goalies will be ready to take over for him by the time that he’s ready to call it quits, and that’s at least a few years down the road. So don’t fret, Bruins fans. We’ll still have our number one goaltender for a while.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 192 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!!

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!

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!!

Way Too Early Prediction For Boston’s Goaltending Situation

(Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

Tuukka Rask decided to leave the Boston Bruins and the NHL bubble to take care of a family emergency. The Bruins Twitter folks heavily scrutinized him, but family always comes first, and this is no different.

More recently, Tuukka has gone on record with Boston sports radio station, WEEI, about what happened and how it led to his decision. Anyone who’s wanted Rask gone from the Bruins won’t accept any answer he gives to justify his departure, but frankly, he shouldn’t have to explain. Tuukka flew home, and the Bruins turned to their backup goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, to lead them through the remaining games.

Tuukka Rask has one year left on his 8-year, $56M deal he signed in 2013. The 33-year old is in contention this year for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the best goaltender each year, and was .02 points shy of tying his career-high save percentage of .931. Tuukka was one of the key reasons the Bruins were able to compete in game 7 of the Stanley Cup final last year. He’s been to the Cup final three times, twice as a starter, and has a Stanley Cup ring thanks to his predecessor, Tim Thomas.

Rask’s absence from the team isn’t his first, unfortunately. In November 2018, Rask took a leave of absence to attend to family priorities. There was speculation all over Boston’s airwaves, but the fan base never found out what happened and might never. The history of his absence could suggest Rask walks away from the game following these playoffs, and before his contract ends.

There have been plenty of NHL players who retire unexpectedly, and the NHL has rectified the terms of those contracts. Though the more likely scenario is he plays in the final year of his deal and then calls it quits.

The Bruins defeated the Carolina Hurricanes in five games, with Halak at the helm for three of these wins. Halak will be heavily relied on throughout the playoffs, especially now they’re facing the Tampa Bay Lightning. With their $7M per year goaltender at home and Halak leading the charge, what does this all mean for Boston’s goaltending moving forward?

The most likely scenario Bruins fans can expect to see is Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak tend the Bruins net together one last time next year. Halak also has one more year on his 2-year, $5.5M deal, meaning the Bruins could have a brand new face in goal come the 2021 season. Halak is re-branding himself after an impressive 35-save performance against the Lightning last night. If he leads the Bruins past the Lightning, he may be playing in more games next season.

If both Halak and Rask are deemed goalies 1A and 1B next season, it wouldn’t be the the first time a team has two starting-caliber goaltenders. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the 2015-2016 Stanley Cup after riding their number one goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, to 35 wins during the regular season. Unfortunately, Fleury suffered a concussion on March 31 and didn’t make his playoff debut until game 6 of the second round. While he was recovering, rookie goaltender, Matt Murray, guarded the twine. The rookie only played in 13 games during the regular season and led his franchise to another Stanley Cup.

The following year, Matt Murray appeared in 49 games, while Fleury played in 38. Fleury was making $5.75M a year and played the “back-up role” to Murray. The Penguins decided it was better to have two starting goalies and not to trade Fleury after the previous playoff run.

The Bruins should follow the same methodology next season, especially if Halak continues to play superbly throughout the playoffs. If so, they’ll be keeping the best goalie tandem in the league (William Jennings winners this past season), and they’d almost certainly back atop the standings next season.

One scenario that cannot happen until the following season, but has occurred in the past, involves the league’s newest franchise. Before the 2017-2018 season kicked off, the Penguins made a decision that everyone saw coming. The Vegas Golden Knights became the league’s 31st NHL franchise and were allowed to draft players from the other 30 teams that were not protected. The Penguins made Fleury available, and he became the Knights’ first goaltender. Fleury led the team to the Stanley Cup finals, only to lose to Washington in five games.

The Seattle Kraken just announced its inaugural season begins in 2021-2022. The Kraken will undergo the same process the Knights did, and existing teams will have to submit their protected players, allowing Seattle to pluck any other player not protected. Rask’s contract ends after next season and the NHL has seen teams, sign-and-trade players, to Vegas in the past. If Rask decides not to walk away from the game and the Bruins want to move on, he may become Seattle’s first goaltender. This could happen even if the Bruins don’t sign-and-trade, and signed from free agency.

The Bruins are planning their future in goal as we speak. Last night during game 1 of the second round, the Bruins announced another in-house signing.

Daniel Vladar is Halak’s back-up during Return to Play. The first two years of the deal is a two-way contract (meaning his salary will depend on the league he’s in), while the third year is a one-way contract. The first two years suggest Vladar will likely split his time in the NHL and AHL. The third-year though, suggests he will have a spot on the Bruins roster if his progression goes according to plan.

This signing in no way suggests that Rask’s time is over next season, but it does hint that the Bruins are looking to the future for their goaltending situation. As mentioned before, Halak has another year on his deal, and the Bruins have a few more promising prospects in their pipeline, who will be vying for the starting position in a few short years.

One improbable scenario, but it could be fascinating, would be if the Bruins traded Rask in the upcoming offseason to clear $7M off the books. The Bruins would rid themselves of Rask’s contract, which is glaring right now, given his absence. This move would allow two scenarios.

The first scenario is Halak becomes the franchise’s next starting goaltender, and the Bruins rely on their system to back him up. History suggests this is unlikely given their past experiments: Hannu Toivonen, Niklas Svedberg, Zane McIntyre. That’s not to say the Vladar, Kyle Keyser, or Jeremy Swayman are anything like the previous three, but the Bruins will not award their players a spot until they’re absolutely ready.

The second, which again is more fantasy than anything, is making a free agent signing in Braden Holtby. Holtby’s time in Washington is over and has awarded him a Stanley Cup, and regarded as one of the best in the game. He had an unsuccessful run in Washington this year, and their goaltending pipeline suggests he will be looking for a new home next season.

Holtby won the Vezina in 2015-16 and is three years younger than Rask. He is coming off a 5-year, $30M deal with Washington, which has his cap hit lower than Rask’s current $7M. Holtby would seek a higher deal than the one he’s currently in, and it’d be surprising if Bruins fans wouldn’t pay him Rask’s contract. General Manager, Don Sweeney, will not sign a 30-year old goalie to a 7-year deal, but something in the range of 5-years, $35M may be in their wheelhouse.

The scenario mentioned above is far-fetched and may not be even a thought that Don Sweeney has entertained, but the Bruins would have the goalie who stonewalled them for years in its jersey, and he’s a proven winner.

Fantasy aside, the Bruins knew the day they’d have to decide on their goaltending would come. Bruins fans, and possibly its management, may have thought this day wouldn’t be until 2021, but it seems like that day may be approaching fast. Sweeney has shocked the NHL in the past with his decisions, and this scenario may not be any different.

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, Vladar Agree To Terms On Three-Year Extension

Photo: Steve Babineau / NHL via Getty Images

By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12

Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney announced on Sunday night that the team has agreed to terms with goaltender Dan Vladar on a three-year contract extension with an annual cap hit of $750,000. The deal is a two-way contract for the first two seasons, with the third being a one-way contract.

In 25 games with the Providence Bruins, Boston’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, this season, Vladar led the league in save percentage (.936) and goals-against average (GAA) with a 1.79 marker. On the year, the 23-year-old posted a 14-7-1 record, including three shutouts.

In 68 games with the P-Bruins over four seasons, the Prague, Czech Republic native holds a 33-26-3 record to go along with a 2.35 GAA and .916 save percentage. In 60 games with the Atlanta Gladiators, Boston’s East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) affiliate over three seasons, Vladar posted a .902 save percentage and a 2.95 GAA.

The Bruins selected Vladar with the 75th overall pick in the third round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. With the departure of Tuukka Rask from the NHL’s Return to Play due to a reported family emergency, Vladar is currently serving as backup to Boston netminder Jaroslav Halak.

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!!