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Bruins’ season almost here!
With the Bruins’ rookie training camp upon us, I figured it’s time to write some actual hockey content for you and provide some sort of season preview. Let’s start with a quick overview of the offseason before we jump into the regular season.
Additions: Kenny Agostino, Paul Postma
Departures: Colin Miller (Golden Knights via expansion draft), Dominic Moore (Leafs via free agency), Drew Stafford (Devils via free agency), Tyler Randall (Senators via free agency), Alex Grant (Wild via free agency), Joe Morrow (Canadiens via free agency), Jimmy Hayes (Devils via free agency), Zac Rinaldo (Arizona Coyotes), Chris Casto (Golden Knights via free agency), Jon-Michael Liles (unsigned).
Off the bat, the Bruins didn’t lose anyone of real substance in the offseason. There was a lot of people upset about losing Colin Miller via expansion draft but with the addition of Charlie McAvoy and potentially Jakub Zboril, Miller wasn’t going to see much playing time (again).
The Bruins added Paul Postma from the Winnipeg Jets, an offensive focused defensemen who should be able to give them some pop on the blue line. The issue with Postma is that his defensive game isn’t as strong as most would like. Kenny Agostino is a total under-the-radar signing for Boston. The AHL MVP has had a wonderful AHL career so far, including a 2016 MVP award for the Chicago Wolves where he put up 83 points. The success hasn’t been there for him in the NHL, but he hasn’t played more than 8 games in an NHL season. Agostino could be a big impact guy for the Bruins if he can bring half his AHL numbers to the NHL.
Unsigned (as of writing this): David Pastrnak.
The saga between the Bruins and David Pastrnak continues. Here are some bullet points to get you caught up:
The Bruins offered Pastrnak a 6 year, $36 million contract ($6M AAV).
Pastrnak’s camp turned it down.
The Bruins offered Pastrnak a 7 year, $42 million contract ($6M AAV).
The Pastrnak camp turned it down.
Agent JP Barry stated that they are looking to discuss an eight year maximum term deal.
That is where we sit. The Bruins and David Pastrnak sit in a contract negotiation as training camp opens in seven days.
So we’ve basically talked about the Bruins’ offseason in a mere 300-ish words. Nothing of substance really happened. No big “splash” like David Backes was last year, we’re still stuck waiting for David Pastrnak to ink his deal.
The Bruins are looking to ice a large number of rookies this season. Look at this group:
Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Sean Kurlay, Danton Heinen and Peter Cehlarik. These players are just a taste of those coming to the Bruins that could see some significant time with the big club. Looking at this list, you have to start asking yourself ‘which of these guys are actually going to make this team’ so I am going to give you my best guess:
I think coming out of camp you’re going to see these four on the Bruins roster with guys like Kurlay, Cehlarik and possible Zboril seeing time when players are injured. The biggest question is how efficient can these players be? Charlie McAvoy looked great in his limited time during the playoffs for the Bruins. He displayed above average vision, made crisp passes on the power play at the blue line and wasn’t afraid to deliver some hits. That’s nice in a small sample size, but the regular season is a grind.
Brandon Carlo came out of the gate last year looking like an absolute lion and finished the season more of a lamb (injury notwithstanding, of course). He hit the rookie wall and he hit it hard. There’s a good chance that every single one of these players hit that wall.
The last thing I want to touch on with these rookies is that…well…they’re rookies. Anders Bjork looked masterful in rookie camp in July but he was doing it against rookies. It’s different when he has to try and move around a five or six year veteran defenseman. There will be times when these guys make mistakes and some of those mistakes will be crucial ones. Remember that they’re rookies. Rookies make mistakes, it is how they learn the NHL game.
I think McAvoy and DeBrusk will see the most minutes from this group, barring injury. McAvoy is slated to take a top four role while DeBrusk could find himself playing alongside Krejci and Pastrnak.
Offensively a One-Trick Pony
What was the Bruins biggest struggle last season?
I’ll give you a moment.
Got your answer? Good. The answer is actually secondary scoring.
At the beginning of the season the Bruins iced a Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line and they were scoring in bunches. The problem was that no one else was contributing. David Backes was relatively ineffective with David Krejci and the turnstile of wingers on the other side (Vatrano/Beleskey/Spooner/Cehlarik) showed that there was no real stability after that mega first line. To combat this, the Bruins switched Pastrnak and Backes. It gave the Bruins two elite goal scoring options on two lines, but the issue resurfaced in the playoffs.
The Bruins are an easy team to game plan against. Use your strongest line against Marchand-Bergeron-Enter Winger Here and make the others beat you. Again, this is something the Ottawa Senators told Boston to do and Boston had a very hard time doing it. It didn’t help that Craig Anderson stood on his head for the series either.
There are some positives to take away from last season that you hope goes forward. David Krejci had his best goalscoring season of his career last year (23). Patrice Bergeron scored 21 goals with a sports hernia that he suffered early in the season last year.
Boston will need their other wingers to step up and do their part. David Backes was a complete failure as a Boston Bruin last season. He had 17 goals and 38 points playing alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron at a 7.8% clip for the entire season at even strength. This is the second most a player spent with that combination. The only higher guy is David Pastrnak at 14%. Backes was also fifth among Bruins forwards in time on ice per game (TOI/G) at 17:07 and sixth among forwards at PP TOI/G at 2:08.
Backes isn’t the only one who will need to step up and provide some consistent play for the Bruins. Both Ryan Spooner and Matt Beleskey have produced terrible numbers during their Bruins tenure. Ryan Spooner was thought to be a Marc Savard-like player: wonderful along the wall on the power play and a serviceable third line center who could provide some puck moving skills and a bit of offense. Instead, Spooner found himself under the ire of both head coaches last year and scratched in the playoffs. If you asked a Bruins fan at the beginning of the offseason if Ryan Spooner would have been on this team, they would have told you no.
Matt Beleskey’s season was one he’d probably want to forget. Between injuries and healthy scratches, Beleskey only played in 49 games last season and put up the worst numbers of his career scoring just three goals and garnering eight points last season. Beleskey’s cap hit of $3.8M AAV for the next three seasons isn’t going to bankrupt the Bruins, but there are better ways to spend that money if Beleskey is going to put up another less-than-10-point season.
So where does the offense go from here?
I’m going to be an optimist for once and tell you that the Bruins offense is going to be much better under a full year of Bruce Cassidy than most think. I believe that Frank Vatrano is ready to make the jump from the 10 goal, 18 points guy to a 20 goal scorer alongside David Krejci. If you look at his scoring rate last season, he was a .22 goal per game guy. Average that out over a full season and you’re looking at 18 goals. Not bad for a second year player. That’s the type of secondary scoring the Bruins are craving right now.
Bruins fans are going to be very happy with what they see from Jake DeBrusk. It may take DeBrusk some time to get the NHL game down, but he’s a take-no-shit kind of player who came back from a devastating testicle injury in the WHL to put up 19 goals and 49 points in his first AHL season. He was also really good for the Providence Bruins in the playoffs with nine points in 17 games. He’s the kind of guy Bruins’ fans bust out the Jergens for.
My ideal lines:
Marchand – Bergeron – Backes
Vatrano – Krejci – Pastrnak
DeBrusk – Spooner – Bjork
Acciari – Nash – Schaller
Forsbacka-Karlsson is the 13th. (Possibly switched with Schaller)
Oh this defense. It will never be as bad as it was in 2015-2016. Kevan Miller proved us all wrong by playing average to above-average hockey. It shows that when a player is used in the correct situation, he can flourish. For one good step forward though, the Bruins defensive continues to take one step back.
The organization’s love to ice Adam McQuaid will continue to be a hindrance for anyone looking to get meaningful minutes. McQuaid was slotted in the a top four role for most of the season, paired with Torey Krug 21.2% of the time when at even strength. He also saw minimal time with Zdeno Chara (4.08%) which is terrifying to think because Chara was visibly a step slower at 39. He was seventh on the team and fourth among defensemen with over 18 minutes TOI/G. Thankfully he only had three second of PP TOI/G, but was third on the team in SH/TOI at 2:23.
The issue with McQuaid is that he is not a second pairing defenseman and to play him against some of the Eastern Conference second lines (that can consist of combinations like Kunitz-Malkin-Kessel or Atkinson-Dubinsky-Jenner) is scary.
McQuaid wasn’t the only issue last season. I mentioned earlier that Brandon Carlo hit a rookie wall around the All-Star Break and he hit it hard. Once a team has video of you, you become easy to gameplan for. As the conductor of the Carlo Hype Train™, I have no problem telling you that Carlo did not look great in the second half of that season.
Also, Zdeno Chara is 40.
However, the Bruins now have more options at defense. Charlie McAvoy, in a limited sample size, showed us that he looks like he can play at the NHL level. Jakub Zboril has his head on straight, straightened out his attitude and looks like he’s going to be a big part of the Providence Bruins this year and could see time with the club if injuries occur. There’s also Tommy Cross (pride of BC, let’s go!), Rob O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk who are ready to contribute.
The Bruins may have shot themselves in the foot when they re-signed both Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid to contracts many of us scoffed at. Both men are quickly becoming the “seasoned veterans” of this Bruins defensive group but that doesn’t mean they both need to see ice time. Torey Krug, Charlie McAvoy and Paul Postma will provide an offensive pop for the Bruins while Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller, Zdeno Chara and even Adam McQuaid (when used in the correct role) can provide defensive stability and some fierceness.
Bruce Cassidy’s biggest problem is going to be how to manage all of these guys and give them ice time. Someone is going to have to ride the pine and I fear that Postma is going to be the odd-man out despite being able to fill a J.M. Liles type role with this team.
Let’s not forget that this Bruins team was 9th in the NHL and fourth in the Eastern Conference in Goals Against per Game (GA/G). They allowed 2.55 goals per game. That’s not too bad when you look at a team and think it’s just a ragtag group of nobodies and old dudes.
My ideal pairings:
Chara – McAvoy
Krug – Carlo
Postma – Miller
McQuaid 7th man.
Is Tuukka Rask elite?
Shut the fuck up about it. For more on how he’s elite, check out Episode 29 of The Optional Skate.
Here’s the deal. The Bruins are benefiting from having a guy like Tuukka Rask between the pipes for them. Last season Rask was 17th among goalies who played 35+ games in save percentage (SV%) at .915, sixth in Goals Against Average (GAA) at 2.23 and second in shutouts with 8. Overall, it was a good season for Tuukka Rask, especially when you put into context that all of his backup goaltenders were dreadful for most of the season.
Rask’s playoff numbers were good as well with a .920 SV% and a 2.24 GAA. He was right in line with what he did during the regular season…and that’s okay.
As Bruins fans, we’re spoiled. Tim Thomas’ incredible 2011 Stanley Cup run is both a blessing and a curse because it is something every goaltender will be measured up to. Tuukka Rask is #1 all time among all goaltenders with a .923 SV% and is first among active goaltenders with a 2.24 GAA.
I think Anton Khudobin is the backup for this season, but I want to talk more about the “kids” between the pipes. The Bruins have the luxury of two quality goaltenders in the AHL. Say what you will about Subban’s short NHL stints, his AHL numbers have been good. Not great, not elite, but good. Last season he played in 32 games and put up a 2.41 GAA and a .917 SV%. That is a serviceable number. Is it Zane McIntyre numbers? No, but Zane McIntyre played out of his tree last season.
McIntyre posted a 2.03 GAA and a .930 SV% for Providence and was an absolute stud. His NHL stint, much like Subban’s, also sucked.
For both these goalies, I believe their NHL “runs” were mere anomalies but shows the stability that Rask brings to the Bruins net. This is probably the last year for Anton and I believe Zane will be the backup and eventual starter in the future.
What Khudobin will need to do for this season is play better. His poor performance during the first half of the season made Tuukka Rask play an insane amount of consecutive games. Here are the number of games played per month for Khudobin:
That needs to be spread out if you don’t want a tired starting goalie at the end of the season. The zero January games is a travesty and the only injury news I can find is he was dealing with an illness on 3/28/17. Khudobin was so bad he was placed on waivers in January, which explains the zero games.
Khudobin doesn’t need to be anything special, he just needs to eat up games. An ideal number for Rask is 58-60 games played without an insane 20+ consecutive starts (I believe it was 21 at one point).
My Ideal Goalie Situation:
So in summation, the Boston Bruins still look like a team in transition. If they’re going to compete in what seems like a loaded Atlantic Division, they will need to find the answers to the questions being asked throughout this post. Do I think they’ll be a playoff team? Maybe.
I think they’re not as good as Tampa. I don’t know if they can solve Carey Price. I don’t know how big of a leap the Leafs are going to take.
They’re a bubble team, but if the kids pull through that bubble may not burst this year.