The first wave of the NHL free agency frenzy is in the books, and the Bruins are preparing for next week’s development camp as nearly 30 of their best and brightest prospects prepare to show off.
The Bruins gave brisk goodbyes to old warriors in Dennis Seidenberg and Chris Kelly, brought in a heart-and-soul guy that the fans will adore in David Backes and did nothing to upgrade a defense that was the real problem last season.
There is still hope the Bruins will better their back end at some point this offseason, but the more likely scenario sees Don Sweeney making a move to improve the blue line at some point this season.
It’s a risky proposition given that they were saddled with John-Michael Liles as their big upgrade at the deadline last season and that there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to land a top tier rental once the season gets rolling.
There’s also a somewhat concerning belief among B’s front office-types that youngsters Brandon Carlo, Robbie O’Gara or Matt Grzelcyk aren’t going to be able to flash in training camp to earn themselves a legitimate top-six NHL job and make a positive impact on the Bruins next year.
In my experience, the NHL chews up and spits out young D-men, and you have a hard time winning with them. If anything there’s a better chance that Colin Miller is ready for a bigger role the next time around.
With that all in mind to contemplate, here is another summer edition of the Hagg Bag mailbag filled to the brim with real tweets to my Twitter account using the #HaggBag hashtag, emails to my email@example.com email account and messages to my CSN Facebook page.
Now, on to the Hagg Bag:
I wonder how Vesey would enjoy taking passes from Bergeron and going top shelf where grandma keeps the peanut butter
--Big Wally (@BostonWest80111 via twitter)
JH: I have no doubt that the Hobey Baker winner and former Harvard captain would greatly enjoy that. I also have a feeling he’d enjoy taking passes from either Jack Eichel or Auston Matthews, and going top shelf all the same for either the Buffalo Sabres or the Toronto Maple Leafs. It also feels like Vesey is going to open himself up to other overtures from other teams once it gets to Aug. 15 as well, so stay tuned to the conversation about him about a month from now.
Things could get very interesting for a player that by all accounts will be a top-6 winger next season, and perhaps more importantly will be playing on an entry level contract for the next few years. I still think Buffalo ends up being the choice when it’s all said and done.
Rask should be moved over Krejci. Krejci may be injury prone but still is a consistent 60-point scorer. Thoughts? #HaggBag
--Andrew Santanella (@ats860 via twitter)
JH: My thoughts are that the Bruins have one of the 10 best goaltenders in the game, and that they can’t afford to trade that asset given what they have in Khudobin, Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre. Then take a look at their centers, and the Bruins have Patrice Bergeron, Krejci, Backes, Spooner, Nash and Acciari just to start things off this season. That’s six centers for four spots, and four centers for the top three forward lines.
I know that the Bruins were talking about playing Backes on the right wing with Bergeron and Brad Marchand, but let’s be honest here. I think signing Backes greases the skids for the Bruins eventually moving Krejci once he shows that he’s fully recovered from the hip surgery this season and that he’ll bring back some much-needed D-man help for the Black and Gold.
The Bruins will probably have to take on a bad contract in the deal just as the Blues wanted the Bruins to take on Jori Lehtera’s contract at last spring’s trade deadline when the two teams had a Loui Eriksson-for-Kevin Shattenkirk swap worked out leading up to the deadline. The Lehtera contract, in essence, killed the Eriksson/Shattenkirk deal as my good buddy James Murphy first reported earlier this spring.
So I’d have to disagree, and say that I see the playmaking Krejci as the center that could be moving once the Bruins finally make their big D-man move this season. He could be a game-changing figure for a team that needs a frontline center, but he’s also already seen his best days as an NHL player at 30 years old with a lot of hockey miles logged over the past 10 years.
Defense aside, what about Subban, Hayes and a prospect to Nashville for James Neal?
--Dave Cook (@bassdad71 via Twitter)
JH: I don’t think that’s anything approaching a trade package that’s going to get a player like Neal in the first place, but I also don’t think that James Neal is the answer for the Bruins. Subban and Jimmy Hayes both have to play well next season in order to rebuild their value around the NHL, and that’s the first reaction to your tweet. But Neal also isn’t the answer for the Bruins. He’s skilled with a nasty streak, but he’s also a bit of an abrasive personality that wore out his welcome in Pittsburgh before getting moved to the Predators. But he also scored 31 goals last season for Nashville and that shouldn’t be discounted from a 28-year-old winger with good size.
All this being said the Bruins don’t necessarily need the most help at the left wing position at this point. Instead, the B’s need help at defenseman and they need that assistance immediately.
[What's] the reason why Bruins chose to pass on giving Jeremy Smith a legit shot this year. His numbers were incredible in PRO. #HaggBag
--Pete Olson (@PF_Olson via Twitter)
JH: He’s 27 years old and still has yet to actually play in a game in the NHL. For a Bruins team that’s looking for a steady veteran hand behind Tuukka Rask, that is problematic. Smith may get a chance to break into the NHL as a backup elsewhere and perhaps he’ll even be an NHL late bloomer as a guy such as Chad Johnson was as well. The better question is why the Bruins brought in Anton Khudobin on a two-year contract, and what that means for Malcolm Subban when he should be pushing for an NHL job.
Clearly, the Bruins were concerned about Subban’s readiness after the fractured larynx injury last season and the impact it could have on the youngster as he tries to push back into NHL readiness in training camp. Heaping the pressure of winning the backup job behind Tuukka Rask seemed like way too much to stack on, but now the Bruins have a proven NHL backup for the next couple of years in Khudobin after ultimately being unsatisfied with the work of Niklas Svedberg and Jonas Gustavsson over the past couple of seasons.
Khudobin is also a guy Rask formed a very strong tandem with just a couple of years ago when the Bruins made it to the Cup Final in 2013, so perhaps they’re looking to regain that synergy while also finally finding a backup goalie that can push Rask just a little bit as well.
I don’t believe the Bruins think they could trade Rask and hand the starting gig to Khudobin after he couldn’t adequately establish himself as a starter in Carolina or Anaheim. But he does make for an ideal goalie partner with Rask and bonus points for the fact that Khudobin and Rask are the only goaltenders in the entire league with gold-plated cages in their goalie masks.
Did anyone do a welfare check on Clod after old Can't Score Kelly signed with the Sens?
--WTF (@FRCR265 via Twitter)
JH: As far as I know, Claude Julien is rested, tanned and relaxed at his summer cottage without much sleep lost over the loss of trusted veteran Chris Kelly. I’m sure he appreciates your concern for his well-being, however. As far as Kelly goes, the $900,000 contract for next season is a good price to see if the veteran can still play after a serious leg injury last season limited him to 11 games. It would have been a good price for the Bruins to potentially keep him in Boston, but the signing of Riley Nash really signaled that the B’s were going in a different direction while going younger at the same time on the fourth line. I think that’s the right play, especially when the B’s are bringing in a strong leadership presence like Backes that might take over ownership of the letter Kelly had on his Black and Gold sweater.
Trade proposal: Spooner and a pick/prospect for Dumba
Spooner was a 50-point center last year while playing on a third line that wasn't offering him much help, and with the acquisition of Backes, Spooner becomes a trade chip that the Bruins can afford to move. Dumba is obviously talented but the Wild have him as their third right-shot defenseman. They will also have a tough time protecting all their defenseman in the expansion draft. The Wild are in desperate need of centers. Spooner would provide a great insurance policy with their signing of Staal, who I am not convinced can get back to being a 60-70 point player.
These two teams appear to be good trade partners. What would it take to convince Minnesota to move Dumba? Or another right shot D for that matter?
JH: Hey John…I think this is the kind of thing the Bruins will have to consider, and I really believe that Ryan Spooner could truly blossom after getting away from Boston. But the Bruins may be looking to avoid moving Spooner because of salary cap reasons, and instead might be looking to move Krejci out for some defensemen help.
Matt Dumba or a Jacob Trouba-type player is the exact kind of “bridge defenseman” the Bruins are looking for to get them from Zdeno Chara to their next No. 1 D-man they’re hoping to draft and develop and it’s what they will acquire if everything goes right for Sweeney. But you have to ask yourself: how many times has everything gone right for Sweeney in anything he’s done with the Bruins over the last year on the job?
That’s a troubling question, and will make you come down quite a bit in your expectations for any D-man trades brewing over the next few months. Speaking of which…
Could Sweeney possibly do a worse job than he's done so far as GM? Cap issues coming next season (Pasta, Spoons) #HaggBag
--Michael Binder (@jtos14mb)
JH: I think Sweeney could definitely be doing an even worse job than he’s done over the past year, and that is really damning him with faint praise. First, you have to wonder how much of what’s happened over the last year is strictly Sweeney’s call, and how much is the GM simply carrying out the marching orders from Cam Neely or from the ownership group.
One positive for Sweeney: he’s built up the Bruins prospect portfolio, and it really does look like all of the picks from the first two rounds of last year’s draft could end up being NHL players. That’s something that could really boost the Bruins’ organizational depth, and give the Bruins the answers for feared salary cap complications in the near future.
I don’t think the Bruins are headed toward salary cap ruin with future contracts for David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner, but they could be if they overpay a player such s Shattenkirk to the tune of seven years and something in the neighborhood of $50 million. Overpaying in contract length for 32-year-old Backes doesn’t help and neither does handing four years and $10 million to Kevan Miller, but I’m not ready to vote Sweeney off the island quite yet. He can’t afford any more big mistakes in trades or free agency, though.
The move for the defenseman, when it happens, will ultimately decide whether Sweeney is getting better as a GM, or simply doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again.
As a diehard Bs fan, I've been personally agitated with what seems like an almost complete unwillingness to make meaningful changes to this team. It seems like the league is evolving and the Black and Gold are willingly being left behind. I would love to hear you weigh in on something that the talking heads in Boston have been debating: trading Rask. I'm personally in the ‘Rask is good, but not 7 mil per good’ camp.
I can't help but feel they could use him as a trade chip, and appropriate those financial resources elsewhere. Where do you stand on whether or not to trade Rask, and what do you think they could realistically get for a guy coming off of two very subpar seasons, regardless of the team in front of him? I'm tired to reading passive aggressive tweets from a certain condescending Boston sports writer that resists changes of any kind to the core of a team that is very obviously flawed, and considers anyone who would try to change this team’s makeup to be an idiot.
--Joe DeChristopher (via the CSN Facebook page)
JH: I think I’ve already answered the Rask question, but I’ll also add that it’s going to be impossible to get Rask to waive his no-movement clause after he just bought a nice house in Newton last season. So even if the Bruins get decent value in return, the chances of the Finnish netminder being onboard with a trade somewhere else aren’t very good.
I also just don’t see the Bruins as having enough quality goaltending in the cupboard to make up for Rask if he’s traded. I do agree that major changes need to be made to the current group, however, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see both Krejci and Zdeno Chara moved this season depending on how the season plays out, and how the Bruins are able to address their back end situation leading up to the NHL trade deadline.
Is it also a sad state of affairs that I can’t even decide which passive aggressive media member it is that you’re even talking about? Ah well, thanks for eloquently putting together your frustrations into a message for the mailbag. This is what we’re looking for each and every time we crack open the bag, so that’s all for this time around. We’ll chat again in a couple of weeks.