Five offseason predictions for the Bruins
A FEW TWEAKS
The Bruins' summer can’t officially begin until the team's braintrust is in place for offseason strategy meetings. That should be settled soon enough with assistant general manager Jim Benning moving on to run the Vancouver Canucks.
It wouldn’t be shocking if one or two members of the B’s organization make the move west with Benning (assistant coach Doug Houda makes the most sense if he is in the running for the head coaching job), but otherwise the Bruins should digging their heels in for a long, important summer of reflection, examination and improvement on exactly what went wrong this season.
“We fell short in the second round, which disappoints everybody so we want to reevaluate where we think we could improve upon, and look at that as opposed to major overhauls,” said Bruins team president CAM NEELY at the season-ending press conference earlier this week. “I think when we have the regular season we had, especially the stretch from March in to April, that wasn’t luck.
“We were a good team and we still feel we have a good team and maybe need a few tweaks.”
The word of the summer should be “tweaks” for the Black and Gold, but here are five predictions for the offseason as it winds toward the real commencement at the NHL draft next month.
JAROME IGINLA will sign a multi-year deal with another team. I have no inside info on this one, and it’s purely a gut instinct call. I didn’t buy whispers that Iginla and the Bruins had something already agreed upon at the end of the regular-season before the B’s – and Iginla for that matter – had the full picture of the player and team through the playoff experience.
Iginla appeared to really enjoy his time with the Bruins and the team has already expressed an interest in bringing him back, but it’s a very rigid set of terms that Boston can offer. Realistically they can only offer a one year deal full of bonus money similar to this season, and then essentially push off the bonus cushion penalties for another season.
Iginla should get a good multi-year offer from another team after scoring 30 goals for the Bruins, and showing everyone he’s still got plenty left in the tank on a good team. That could be too much for the 36-year-old to pass up provided it’s a contending team, and the Bruins shouldn’t radically alter their team to overextend for an aging star. I’m not sure the match will be there when free agency opens on July 1, but this is purely gut instinct guess-work on my part.
While there is plenty of speculation about Ryan Spooner on next year’s edition of the Bruins, I think ALEX KHOKHLACHEV might be the guy next season if he’s still with the Bruins organization. I’d expect that new Canucks GM Jim Benning is going to take a major run at Koko after he was one of the driving forces behind drafting him as Bruins assistant GM and certainly he’ll have to make it through the summer without ending up in the Pacific Division.
But Khokhlachev scored nine goals in 12 games during the playoff run for the Providence Bruins, and the 20-year-old Russian finished with 21 goals and 57 points in his first full pro season in North America. He’s got the kind of finish and tenacity around the net that the Bruins could have used more of in this season’s playoff run, and the young legs are always a plus for a Bruins team that’s in the middle of their prime as a group. Spooner and Justin Florek are certainly guys that could end up on Boston’s roster to start next season, along with perhaps Matt Fraser after his playoff heroics, but Khokhlachev is the one to look out for.
KELLY ON THE FOURTH LINE
CHRIS KELLY will be the fourth-line center for the Bruins at training camp. One can almost already see this happening as it’s clear Boston wants to make some changes on the fourth line that include Shawn Thornton departing via free agency, and Gregory Campbell perhaps slotting into a 13th forward spot.
Kelly has been supplanted by Carl Soderberg as the third-line center, and it makes a great deal of sense to add a third piece to Soderberg and Eriksson that’s both speedy and offensive-minded to make that line truly dangerous on offense. Daniel Paille would be an interesting in-house fit there if they go very young on the fourth line. Kelly is getting a little older (he’ll turn 34 in the middle of next season) and a little more injury-prone, but still has value for his defense, leadership and penalty killing. He would be an upgrade over Campbell as the fourth line center, and his steady veteran hand would allow the Bruins to explore some younger, faster options on the fourth line for next season.
MATT BARTKOWSKI will get traded. I had been told several times last season by team sources that the Bruins weren’t interested in dealing Bartkowski at the deadline, but I think that may change this summer. Bartkowski is a restricted free agent that’s due a raise and has proven he’s an NHL-caliber defenseman after putting together a pretty good regular season. The plus-22 rating and 19:32 of ice time in 64 games is pretty impressive in his first full season and he’s got the skating wheels and size to continue improving at the NHL level.
But he was really shaky at points in the postseason, took a slew of bad, ill-timed penalties and still doesn’t appear to entirely have the trust of the B’s coaching staff when push comes to shove. Now is the perfect time for the Bruins to package Bartkowski in a deal someplace else while his value as a talented young defenseman is definitely still intact.
BRAD MARCHAND won’t be traded. It was humorous to see pictures of Bruins forward Brad Marchand and many of his Bruins teammates drinking Stella Artois at a party, and playing beer pong, pop up following the end of the playoff run. It was even more humorous to see the reaction from knee-jerk, social-media warriors that assumed the mighty Bruins media machine was then going to run Marchand and his imbibing teammates right out of town.
Clearly, daring to crack a beer once their season had ended is an unforgivable sin, or maybe some have forgotten that we’re talking about fun-loving hockey players at the end of the day. This isn’t a Tyler Seguin situation with Marchand off the ice, and the fact the B’s agitator was with all of his teammates in the pictures is pretty telling. If Marchand did get traded it would be about the zero goals in his last 20 playoff games, the penalty calls he attracts like a whistle-magnet given his reputation with referees and the sometimes dubious choices he can sometimes still make on the ice.
Marchand is a fast, skilled player that’s forged great chemistry with Patrice Bergeron, and the Bruins aren’t about to give up on any of that unless the return was significant. He will score 25-30 goals in a healthy, average regular season, and do it without power play time while serving as one of the most dangerous penalty killers in the league. Those players don’t grow on trees and they’re certainly valued highly in Boston. The expert beer pong skills are just an added bonus.