BRIGHTON, Mass – In an unsurprising move given the strong character he’s shown since arriving in Boston, Matt Beleskey tweeted an assurance that he was going to work hard and regain his game after being sent to Providence.
Beleskey, 29, cleared waivers on Friday afternoon and was assigned to the Providence Bruins, where he'll presumably play in all situations and get plenty of ice time to rebuild his confidence and game while waiting for another chance in the NHL. There’s no guarantee when or if that next chance is going to come given the richness of the Bruins prospect pool at the forward position, but Beleskey said via social media that he was ready to put in the work.
Beleskey still has 2 1/2 years left on a contract that will pay him $3.8 million per season, but he’s hit a wall the past two seasons with just three goals and a minus-18 in his past 64 games for the Bruins. It’s a far cry from the hard-hitting, confident player that posted 15 goals, 37 points and 260 hits in his first season in Boston or the one who popped in 22 goals for the Anaheim Ducks heading into free agency.
Some have speculated that the blue-collar Beleskey isn’t a good fit for Bruce Cassidy’s speed and skill-based system. Others say that the hard-nosed winger hasn’t been the same since injuring his knee at the start of last season. Whatever the case, the hard-hitting, heavy part of his game has been missing the past couple of seasons and the Bruins hope that Beleskey can find it in the AHL.
“Matt [Beleskey] is very well liked in the room. So, no one likes to see a player get waived. The way we look at it as an organization is, he hadn’t played much, and I think the best way for him to get back to helping the Boston Bruins is to get playing,” said Cassidy. “So, he goes to Providence, finds his game, what he did well before previously – from my end, we just thought there were some players in the lineup that outperformed him, plain and simple.
“We are trying to reward the players that earned it on merit and not look so much at maybe contract status, et cetera. You know, within reason. I think some of the young guys have pushed him. We’ve seen it at different positions and that’s as simple as I can make it. Like I said, I like Matt. He’s very respectful of the coaching staff of what we are trying to do. We just felt we had better in the lineup. The team is going well. The decision was made.”
While it’s entirely possible that a stint in the AHL could be exactly what’s needed to light the fire in Beleskey’s game, the truth is that the demotion is an admission by the Bruins that the five-year, $19 million contract wasn’t a good one. Furthermore, it’s not very common for veteran NHL players to come back and regain their former high level once it gets urgent enough that they’re assigned to the minors.
The more likely scenario with Beleskey is that he spends the rest of the season in Providence, the Bruins get the $1.025 million in savings on the salary cap and the team strongly considers a buyout in the offseason. It’s all disappointing considering the signing of Beleskey was their reaction to letting Milan Lucic go in a trade three years ago. They were desperately looking for a big-hitting, intimidating power forward to take Lucic's place in a search that’s still ongoing to this day.