The message would seem to be pretty clear to Matt Beleskey at this point: Show up to camp in the best shape of your career after a very disappointing season.
There was a knee injury in the middle of the season that didn’t help, but the 28-year-old left winger all in all had a down year for the Bruins where he managed just three goals and eight points and was a minus-10 in 49 games. The hard-nosed winger was scuffling even before he was hurt and that further cemented a lost season for a player Boston counts on to be a physical, gritty difference-maker.
Beleskey was in and out of the lineup as a healthy scratch down the stretch and managed to play just three of the six playoff games against the Ottawa Senators. That’s the same Stanley Cup playoff-setting where Beleskey had built a reputation as a big-game player in the past for the Anaheim Ducks but wasn’t able to do much for the Black and Gold this time around.
An up-front guy like Beleskey wasn’t going to avoid the subject and instead said it’s on him to be a better version of himself next season if he wants to remain a member of the Bruins.
“[This season] is not who I am. That’s not what I signed to do here. You know, this is going to be a big summer for me with sticking around here,” Beleskey said at Bruins break-up day last week. “I’m going to train here with all of the facilities and everything available to me. I think this will be a great summer here in Boston, and I’m looking forward to next season.
“We were fighting for a playoff spot and we needed to win games, so the coaching staff and team made the decisions that they thought were best, and I just came here to work hard and try to do what I do when I have my opportunity. I’ve said before, I made a commitment to this city, they made a commitment to me, and I owe a much better year than this year. I can guarantee it won’t happen again.”
Clearly, it was all a disappointing development in his second year in Boston after signing a five-year, $19 million contract. Beleskey alluded to it in his comments and the B’s coaching staff also pointed toward his conditioning and health as an area targeted for improvement headed into next season.
Too often Beleskey couldn’t get to his spot in time to execute the big hit and simply didn’t have the legs to finish plays offensively when he’d been able to in a solid, if unspectacular, first season in Boston.
“With Matty, there’s a challenge there, because he’s an accomplished player in terms of he’s scored goals in this league and we’ve made a commitment to him as a player. What we’re looking for from Matt is getting back to where he was in terms of a good, solid, physical guy that can chip in offensively. With his injury, he was always playing catch-up, and we’ve got to get him going from Day 1. So that’s the conversation [at the exit interview],” said Bruce Cassidy. “I’ll be perfectly honest, we sat down [and said] we need you to be at this level, conditioning-wise, health-wise, right out of the gate.
I think it will benefit him because when he’s able to get there, he’s a very effective player. I think obviously certain things limited him this year, so we’ve got to get him to that particular point. I think the rest will take care of itself going forward, and hopefully, we get positive results. That’s what we’re all after. We want the player to play well, play to the best of his ability and that’s the challenge in front of us.”
Trade whispers surrounded Beleskey at the trade deadline amid the disappointing campaign and there’s always the possibility Boston could leave his weighty contract exposed in the NHL expansion draft. But the sense at this address is that Beleskey, a prototypical Bruins player when he’s at his best, will get another chance in Boston next season and that he’ll respond to the challenge as a proud, competitive guy.
A return to form for Beleskey could also go a long way toward giving the B’s third line the facelift it desperately needed this season due to struggles, injuries and players that probably won’t be coming back next season.