Hagg Bag: Setting the course for the Bruins offseason

Hagg Bag: Setting the course for the Bruins offseason

As the second-round series roll to a dramatic end and offseason moves start be made in earnest by NHL teams desperate for change next season, it’s time for the Bruins to evaluate, formulate and execute a plan for their offseason. They’ve already made one of the most important moves in locking down coach Bruce Cassidy after his impressive showing down the stretch. More changes will inevitably come next month at NHL Draft weekend and NHL Expansion Draft.

So, there are plenty of good questions about the where the Bruins are headed and what they’re going to be doing over the next couple months to get the puck moving forward. With that in mind, here’s an offseason edition of the HaggBag mailbag, as always with real tweets sent to my Twitter account, real emails sent to my email account and real messages sent to my CSN Facebook page.

Now onto the bag:

Hi Joe,

Great appreciation for your work all year on the Bruins and helping keep Hub Hockey fans informed on their favorite team!!!

It seems like the Bruins may be short a left shot defenseman next year with the probable subtraction of both Liles and Morrow.  I know Kevan Miller did play the left side at times during the year, but we may lose him in the expansion draft if the B's do not protect him.  I feel like the B's are caught in between a bit on their "D" core for next year on the left side.  The two main left shot "D" prospects Zboril and Lauzon are probably not ready for the NHL next year and even if one cracked the big club out of camp in September 2017, it's not fair to expect them to move into a Top 4 role right away.  (Note: Carlo and McAvoy may have spoiled us by hitting the ground running, but that is the exception and not the rule).  Grzelcyk and O'Gara seem to project more as bottom pair guys.  With only a 40-year-old Chara and Torey Krug with some injury history on the left side, do you think the Bruins look to find a bridge guy while buying time for Zboril or Lauzon to step in a couple of years down the road? 

Do the B's protect Kevan Miller instead of Colin Miller in the expansion draft since K. Miller can switch sides and really proved himself in the playoff series with Ottawa?  I would hate to lose Colin Miller for nothing by the way despite having Carlo and McAvoy locked in on the right side for the near future. 

Last year we learned how hard it was to trade for a Top-4 "D" so I think Cam Fowler would be a total pipe dream.

Thanks for your time Joe!!!

- Kevin - Holliston, MA

JH: Thanks, Kevin. I also have a great appreciation for all the Bruins fans out there that watch, listen and read my stuff. And even for the ones that don’t. Just not as much, clearly. Anyway, I think Cam Fowler is the “pie in the sky” scenario if everything went the Bruins way, but I think it’s doubtful he’s the one that moves for Anaheim given how good he was for them this season. But targeting a left-handed top-4 defenseman, capable of moving the puck, playing big minutes and forming a good pairing with Charlie McAvoy should be at the top of the B’s offseason priority list.

You certainly can’t pin any hopes on either Jeremy Lauzon or Jakub Zboril being ready to go at the start of next season, and ideally, you want somebody with some experience alongside McAvoy while once again rolling with Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo as your shutdown pair. Torey Krug will obviously feel like he’s up for the challenge coming off a strong season, but the bottom line is that the Bruins are a better team if he’s their third pairing/power-play maestro.

Dmitry Kulikov is a possibility on the free agent as a 26-year-old coming off a down season, and there was some Boston interest in him in the past when he was being shopped by the Florida Panthers a couple of years ago. But he was truly awful in Buffalo last season putting up a putrid minus-26 in just 47 games with the Sabres last season, and isn’t really top-of-the-line when it comes to moving the puck either.

Who knows? Perhaps the Bruins could get him on a one or two-year term in an effort to let him rehab his game and boost his value before catching a big contract somewhere a couple of years down the line. That would be ideal for Boston, but the likelihood is there will be somebody desperate enough for a top-4 D-man to overpay for Kulikov on a long term, good money deal even though he played like the Ghost of Tomas Kaberle last season.  

Trade-wise the best thing to do is monitor places like Anaheim, Minnesota and Winnipeg where there’s an overabundance of defensemen that might become available, and then dangle a package based around Ryan Spooner, one of your D-man prospects (Zboril perhaps) and a draft pick to get one of the young NHL veterans in the mold of a Hampus Lindholm, Jonas Brodin or Calvin De Haan-type player. Or hope that a bottomed-out team like the Arizona Coyotes goes crazy and puts a player like Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the trade market for what would undoubtedly be a king’s ransom.

The bottom line is that it’s not going to be easy finding the top-four defenseman that’s eluded Don Sweeney on the trade market for the last two seasons, but things aren’t going to take a jump from Boston’s current position until they’re able to bring that player in.

Which teams says no to this... Spooner to LV for LV agreeing to take Beleskey in the draft. We get cap space + keep C Miller.

--Ron C. (@sportshuddle55)

JH: So, we get the Vegas Golden Knights to take the B’s bad contracts and underperforming young players while the Bruins get to keep the ones they actually value? I can see why this might make sense on HF Boards, but not in reality. Why on Earth would Vegas take on the contract for Beleskey with three years left at a price tag that he’s probably not going to be able to live up to? The reality is that Vegas is probably going to take one of Kevan Miller, Colin Miller and Adam McQuaid and there’s not much the Bruins can do about it at this point. Vegas certainly isn’t in the market of helping the Bruins out, and that’s what they would need to make all of this happen.

We need to get some scoring ...move Backes to 3rd line Center…we seriously need to get rid of Krejci....DeBrusk/JFK make the team next year

--Dean Goodman @Bostonbees

JH: So, we need scoring and we need to get rid of a guy that scored 23 goals last season in Krejci? I understand the frustration with Krejci as an inconsistent player that plays hard only when the mood strikes him. He is also on the wrong side of 30 and seems to be getting banged up more often after playing a lot of games in his career. There’s also the fact he’s Boston’s highest-paid player and that is definitely something that sticks in the craw of many Bruins fans. But the bottom line is that Krejci isn’t going to waive his no-movement clause to get moved and he’s still valuable to this team if he’s healthy and happy with the players on his wings. The wiser course of action is to simply find him a left wing that’s going to make him a happy and productive player, and then hope that he stays healthy and motivated for most of next season.

I’m not sold on David Backes moving to third-line center based on his slow-and-getting-slower skating speed and how out-of-place he looked in the few times he was dropped into the center position last season. Perhaps Jake DeBrusk and JFK do both make the Bruins roster next season, but if they do you’re talking about a lot of young players in important spots for a team that’s going to continue to go through some growing pains. I’d rather the Bruins trade for a veteran left winger to be with Krejci and give DeBrusk a chance to show whether he’s a top-6 guy or a third-line guy in the NHL following a good finish to his first AHL season in Providence.

Hi Joe,

I loved to see the development of Brandon Carlo. He is a big body, he has a great stick, but I thought he lacked a little toughness in terms of throwing his body around more often instead of always trying to play the puck or the stick. Is that something will come along after his first rookie season? I'm sure bruins fans would love to see more physically out of his game! Your thoughts?


-Wesley DaSilva

JH: Carlo was a 19-20-year-old in his first NHL season figuring everything out as he went along, so the rule of thumb is that he’s going to get better in just about EVERY area of his game. That goes for moving the puck and creating offensive for his teammates, and it also goes for using that 6-foot-5 frame to push guys around as he gets bigger and stronger.

I don’t think Carlo is ever going to be a real nasty Chris Pronger-type player in the D-zone, so there’s a little to how much snarl he’s ever going to play with even once he knows what he can get away with defending his net. But he’s got a solid frame that’s going to pack on more size and strength, and he’s shown a willingness to drop into battle even as a young kid just learning the ropes. Zdeno Chara is somebody that’s going to also encourage that kind of development in his game both with his words and by the example that he sets on the ice.

So, I think there will be more nastiness coming into his game and it will be an evolving thing. But he’s also growing into a premium top-four shutdown guy and his main goal is going to be keeping the puck out of his net, rather than hitting guys through the boards and into the third row at the Garden.  

Any chance the Bruins send McAvoy and JFK to Providence to get more (albeit minor league, but still pro) playoff experience?

Bob Olson

JH: Unfortunately given the rules for call-ups between the NHL and AHL, once both players were called up to Boston late in the season they eliminated any chance of hopping back on with Providence for the AHL playoffs. It’s a real shame for both McAvoy and JFK, as each of them could have really used the additional games played and development at the pro level. But in McAvoy’s case, at least he was headed over to Europe, where he’s currently playing for Team USA at the World Championships, where his main job is convincing Team USA teammate Anders Bjork to sign with the Bruins when he returns from the tournament.

After seeing the Bruins fall to the Sens I'm not upset as I am hopeful. I'm hopeful for the first time in years because a new generation seems to be rising to the surface and making some overpaid vets expendable for trades.

You have to imagine room must be made on next season’s roster for Acciari, Kuraly, JFK and maybe Jake DeBrusk up front. On the back end, McAvoy has established he will be beside Chara next year. Colin Miller and Joe Morrow made cases to be a mobile third pairing. Kevan Miller looks a lot less like a guy you'd give away in the expansion draft and more like Johnny Boychuk 2.0. 

Torey Krug, David Krejci and Adam McQuaid (who we all love as a warrior) have in-house replacements and should go. Further into the season [Zdeno] Chara and [Tuukka] Rask should be weighed as possibilities to finish this in-house rebuild for what they could fetch in return.

For the Bruins the future is coming to and some in cases it's already here.

Allan in Swampscott

JH: I agree with you, Allan, that things are looking up for the Bruins for the first time in the few years. There should have been more encouragement than discouragement taken from this spring’s brief playoff run in Boston.

But I also think you are a bit overly optimistic in a few different spaces here. First off, as I said above, flooding the Bruins roster with too much youth is going to make this team take a step or two backward if it’s not done incrementally. I still see way too much inconsistency with Colin Miller and Joe Morrow to view them as a mobile third pairing no matter how they looked in the playoffs, and Kevan Miller is not Johnny Boychuk 2.0. Boychuk was a top-pair shutdown guy with Chara during his time with the Bruins and never averaged less than 20 minutes per game in his career with Boston. Miller gets exposed when he plays those kinds of minutes and is a perfect third-pairing D-man on this team.

That doesn’t even get into the fact that Boychuk was blessed with some skills offensively that Miller simply doesn’t have, even though he’s a damn hard worker, and he’s better than we give him credit for offensively. Also, I’m getting awfully tired of people thinking they can replace Torey Krug easily. The guy had 51 points last season, which ranked him fifth among all D-men in the NHL. Did you see the way Boston’s transition game would go into the tank vs. Ottawa for full periods at a time without Krug around? I’m sorry, but there’s no in-house replacement for Krug in this organization and there’s nobody to replace Tuukka Rask if you wanted to deal him in the middle of the season either.

This season’s disastrous backup goalie situation in the first half of the season really should have hammered it home for everybody. What we learned about Rask is he can only play 55-ish games a season if you want the best out of him, and that means making certain you have a backup goalie that can play well, and potentially play a lot behind him.

So, while I agree that youth is getting served and that the Bruins are pointed in the right direction exactly as you do, I’m not ready to go full Black-and-Gold-colored glasses yet with the way that I’m viewing everything. McAvoy and Carlo were pretty special talents to jump right into the NHL like they did this season, but to expect the rest of Boston’s prospects to do the same would be asking for trouble, in my humble opinion.

The two biggest items on Don Sweeney's checklist should be to find wingers who can score and a legit top pair left side defenseman to play with Charlie McAvoy.  It's obvious, or at least it should be, to everyone that Zdeno Chara is not that guy anymore. 

With that in mind, the guy I want is Cam Fowler.  He's only got one year left on his contract and while Anaheim has said they want to resign him, they also have roster/salary cap issues.  Yes the Bruins will have to sign him to an extension in the 6-7 years, $6-7M per year range but he's only 25 so to pay him for his 25-33 age range is exactly what you want to do.  I bet a package built around Torrey Krug and Ryan Spooner would get it done.  I like Krug, but he's a bit overpaid as he's probably not a true top 4 guy and if you have Fowler/Chara as your top two on the left side, you're not going to pay over $5M to Krug to play 3rd pair minutes.

Marc, Malden, MA

JH: So, let’s end this HaggBag full circle with where we started. Cam Fowler would be the ideal solution to Boston’s problems, but he’s also coming off arguably his best NHL season with 11 goals and 39 points, and his topping 27 minutes of ice time per game as Anaheim’s clear-cut No. 1 defenseman in the playoffs. Something tells me he might not be coming to Boston because he isn’t leaving the Ducks, and Bruins fans might need to recalibrate their trade market scopes a little bit. See you guys in a couple of weeks, and thanks for taking the Bruins ride with me again this season.


Donato misses Bruins practice for Harvard class commitment

Donato misses Bruins practice for Harvard class commitment

It might have caused a ripple when Ryan Donato wasn’t on the ice on Tuesday afternoon in St. Louis for Bruins practice on the day after his brilliant, three-point NHL debut for the Black and Gold. But the 21-year-old Donato was still back in the Boston area fulfilling some class requirements at Harvard University to help him close out the current semester properly, and not lose the credits that will keep him in line with fulfilling his junior year at Harvard University.

Believe it or not, the schoolwork is important to the newest member of the Boston Bruins and he intends to study and hit the books on his road trips, and also intends to take classes in the summertime to still graduate on time next season.

“I’m planning on finishing the semester academically. I want to finish the semester academically,” said Donato, after Monday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena prior to last night’s debut vs. Columbus. “Obviously it’s going to be something that’s difficult, but for me it was a dream to graduate from Harvard. I’m putting that off a little bit, but I need to be able to finish this semester in order to have that opportunity, and not put it off for another couple of years. I want to finish out the semester.”

Donato is also still living in the Harvard dorms while “moonlighting” as an NHL hockey player for the rest of the season, but that isn’t all so uncommon among some of the college players that leave school early. Charlie McAvoy was similarly living in the Boston University dorms last spring through Boston’s playoff run, and didn’t clear out of his college living situation until after the Black and Gold had been eliminated by the Ottawa Senators last April.

Missing practices on an NHL schedule is certainly a new one with, Donato, however, and takes the student-athlete concept to a whole new level for somebody that's already turned pro. One has to expect this was one of the things being discussed in full when the Donato family, Ryan's agent and the Bruins discussed his contract terms over the weekend before coming to an agreement.

Along with Donato, who is scheduled to fly into St. Louis and play against the Blues on Wednesday night, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk, Rick Nash and Torey Krug were all missing from the ice at Tuesday’s team practice ahead of a four game road trip against Western Conference opponents.


Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

File photo

Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while not really digging these forecasts of more snow.

*You know, if he weren’t making millions and millions of dollars I might actually feel bad for ol' Claude Julien up in Montreal busting out the “We’re not a very good team” soliloquy with the Habs. That team flat out stinks this season and these past few weeks it can’t be fun at all being the head coach of that dumpster fire.

*Darren Dreger says there is no rush for the Toronto Maple Leafs to bring back Auston Matthews before he’s ready to go, and that’s absolutely the case so close to the playoffs.

*Here are five Hart Trophy-caliber players that won’t get a sniff of the voting, but deserve some attention nonetheless. There are no Bruins players on the list if you’re wondering, but some pretty good ones in Johnny Gaudreau and Aleksander Barkov.

*The NHL general managers are weighing potential changes to the goalie-interference interpretation ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

*While it still looks a Swedish defenseman is going to be the No. 1 overall pick this June, there are some other players rocketing up the list.

*For something completely different: The definitive ranking of Girl Scout cookies from best-to-worst that we’ve all been waiting for.

*Song of the Week: Haven’t done one of these in a long, long time, but I like this Calvin Harris/Katy Perry/Pharrell Williams tune that I hadn’t heard until the past couple of days.