Bruins

Haggerty: Bruins case for hanging onto (and paying) Ryan Spooner

Haggerty: Bruins case for hanging onto (and paying) Ryan Spooner

Don Sweeney hasn’t been part of an arbitration hearing since taking over as general manager of the Bruins a couple of years ago, but that may change at the end of this month. Ryan Spooner and the Bruins have an arbitration date set for July 26, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, and it looks like the 25-year-old third line center is going to get awarded something between $2.7 million and 3.5 million for next season before it’s all said and done. 

The 5-foot-10, 184-pounder has averaged 12 goals and 44 points in each of the last two full seasons for the Black and Gold, but was a healthy scratch for playoff games at the end of Boston’s first round series against the Ottawa Senators. He’s been dangled in trade talks since the season ended for the B’s, and the expectation is that Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson will be getting a crack at the third line center job at the NHL sooner rather than later. 

Who can also forget just exactly how non-committal that Sweeney was toward Spooner when asked his future with the Bruins back at the end of April?

“To be determined,” said Sweeney at the end-of-the-season press conference. “We’ll look at our roster and what our options are. [Spooner] has options as well as an RFA. We’ll have discussions with his representatives and see where there’s a fit.

“Ryan’s a talented player. He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

All of that makes it interesting to see what the Bruins are going to do in the aftermath of what could be a contentious arbitration hearing with a player in Spooner, who isn’t likely to forget any slights by the organization thrown toward his game during the process. That’s the difficulty with the arbitration process and the biggest reason why teams look to avoid it at all costs with their young restricted free agents eligible for arbitration. 

In a perfect world, the Bruins would likely take their chances with Spooner at a reasonable number for the next couple of years as a 25-year-old likely to either maintain, or improve upon his numbers from the last couple of seasons. It’s no coincidence that the B’s power play has been excellent (seventh in the NHL in each of the last two seasons) with Spooner working the half-wall on the first unit, and a salary cap figure somewhere in the $3 million range would be excellent if they can find a way to get Spooner a top-6 role. 

If all things were equal, one would almost expect the Bruins to try and move David Krejci once they’ve settled things with Spooner. There are some very interesting analytical arguments to be made that Spooner would be as good, or better, than Krejci as a second line center over the next couple of seasons as a player that’s six years younger than him. 

This past season Spooner and Krejci had close to identical production (2.19 points per 60 for Spooner vs. 2.20 for Krejci), and a perusal of the fancy stats show that Spooner appears to have elevated Krejci’s 5-vs-5 play last season in just about every category – from generating shot attempts, to suppressing opponents’ attempts, and also in terms of finding the back of opponents’ nets and keeping the puck out of the Bruins’ net – while Spooner was playing an unfamiliar, uncomfortable position as a left winger after playing his entire pro career at center. 

  TOI  GF60 (5v5)  GA60 (5v5)  GF% (5v5)  CF60 (5v5)  CA60 (5v5)  CF% (5v5) 
               
Krejci with Spooner: 325:58 2.7 2.01 57.7 61.65 49.6 55.4
               
Krejci without Spooner:  822:25 2.19 2.99 42.3 59.39 53.77 52.5

Interestingly enough, the highest paid player on the team in Krejci, at $7.25 million per season, also didn’t do much to elevate the play of those on his line. One would expect Krejci to make players on his wings better given his playmaking, his past performance as a player and a greater focus on the offensive end from the new Bruins coaching staff. Another deep dive on the fancy stats showed that Krejci’s most common wingers (David Backes and David Pastrnak) were significantly better without Krejci than with him. 

  TOI  GF60 (5v5)  GA60 (5v5)  GF% (5v5)  CF60 (5v5)  CA60 (5v5)  CF% (5v5) 
               
Backes with Krejci  524:13 2.4 2.98 44.7 62.04 49.67 55.5
               
Backes without Krecji  482:18 3.11 1.99 61 62.95 49.02 56.2

 

  TOI  GF60 (5v5)  GA60 (5v5)  GF% (5v5)  CF60 (5v5)  CA60 (5v5)  CF% (5v5) 
               
Pastrnak with Krejci    2.41 2.83 45.9 60.42 56.32 51.8 
               
Pastrnak without Krejci   3.36 2.05 62.1 71.98 46.9 60.5 

So what does all of this mean?

Well, it means the Bruins are stuck in a difficult place with an aging Krejci that’s clearly slowing down his playmaking pace despite scoring an impressive 23 goals last season. The 31-year-old Krejci has voiced zero desire to waive his no-movement clause and allow the Bruins to get out from under a weighty contract that still has years to go before it’s done. The Bruins might just be better off with Spooner, or one of their other young centers, as a No. 2 pivot behind Patrice Bergeron over the next few seasons, and there’s an argument to be made for holding onto the 25-year-old despite his five-on-five play inconsistency and the areas of his game (defense, face-offs) that are perpetual works in progress. 

Clearly Spooner's skating speed and his ability to generate offense are the kinds of traits the Bruins are looking for under Bruce Cassidy. They just need more of it during even-strength play, and they need it from him on a consistent basis. 

Don’t be surprised if Spooner more than doubles his salary in arbitration for this upcoming season, and winds up on Boston’s third line once again this season if Sweeney doesn’t get what he’s looking for with any deals involving the speedy, skilled center. 

Morning Skate: 'After Hours'? Injured Jagr is open

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Morning Skate: 'After Hours'? Injured Jagr is open

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while wondering if it shouldn’t be more of an issue that potential Red Sox manager Alex Cora was good buddies with Dustin Pedroia when the two played together in Boston.

*Jaromir Jagr suffers a lower-body injury and then goes on Hockey Night in Canada’s “After Hours” program to show once again how wonderful it is to be “The Jagr.”

*The Ottawa Senators get Erik Karlsson back this week, but now they’ve lost power forward Bobby Ryan for a month with a broken finger.

*The Montreal Canadiens are getting exposed for the very flawed team that they are during a brutal start to the 2017-18 season.

*Keep an eye out on the Los Angeles Kings now that they’ve suffered an injury with Jeff Carter and do appear to be in the running for the playoffs this season.

*New Jersey Devils fans help a singer belt out the national anthem after there might have been a case of forgetting the words.

*Doug Gilmour might not have always enjoyed the prying eyes while playing in Toronto, a case that gives you an idea what it’s like to be a pro hockey player in a market like Toronto where everybody knows your name.

*For something completely different: There’s no doubting that Aaron Judge has brought life and energy back to the Yankees and that’s something that’s very good for baseball.

 

Brutal loss shows Bruins reaching their limit for injuries

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Brutal loss shows Bruins reaching their limit for injuries

BOSTON – It feels like the Bruins might finally be hitting their critical mass with all of the injuries in the first few weeks of the season.

The B’s were down Tuukka Rask, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller and David Krejci as the new injuries Saturday night and clearly missed those players, along with the others currently out with injuries in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden. The Bruins had a three-goal lead in the second period and a two-goal lead in the third but frittered away both while allowing the hapless Sabres to outshoot them 21-6 in the third and overtime.

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Anton Khudobin battled his rebound control for most of the game while facing 42 shots on net but it was the absence of Miller and McQuaid in the D-zone that made it a little too easy for Buffalo to push Boston when it mattered late.

Torey Krug was on the ice for the last three of Buffalo’s goals and was out penalty killing late in the third period in a spot where he would never have been in if the B’s were healthy on the back end.

“That’s where the appreciation comes in for the Kevan Miller’s and the Adam McQuaid’s of the world. They’re not always flashy, but in those instances, they’re money. They get it done. And that’s why they are paid to get it done,” said Bruce Cassidy. “So yes, we miss them. But, last week we missed other players. So the guys that are out there, it’s up to them to get it done, right?

“It didn’t happen tonight, and hopefully we learned from it and can be hungrier the next time. There’s not much else to analyze that. That was it. Someone had to play in that situation. We pick guys who we figure would get the job done, and it didn’t work out for us. Next time, we’ll keep working at it.”

As part of the injury factor, there are also players that are banged-up and back in who are also clearly not back to full strength. Patrice Bergeron (lower body) and David Backes (diverticulitis) are both back from their early-season issues and Krug continues to play with a healing fractured jaw, but all three key players combined for just a single assist and three shots on net in a game that featured nine goals.

Krug was the most noticeable weak link in the loss as he was overwhelmed in the D-zone on the game-tying goal when an Evander Kane shot bounced on him on its way into the goal. Krug was down on his stomach after losing his balance while battling in front of the net. Krug then was out for an extended period in OT before bumping a Sabres player around the crease who fell into Khudobin just as Ryan O’Reilly was pushing the game-winning goal past him.

Krug spoke on Saturday morning about feeling like things were starting to come together for him but he finished a minus-3 against the Sabres with his big, bad teammates out with injuries. He's a startling minus-8 after the first two weeks of the season.

“Obviously we have to do a better job tonight. Two-goal lead in your own building, it’s got to be the hardest place for the opposing team to come in and overcome that. We’ve got to be better,” said Krug. “I thought I had an opportunity to win a battle in the corner on that loose puck. Just trying to swat away and all of a sudden it comes out the other side, and we just couldn’t overcome. That’s survival mode. “Especially when they were able to make changes like they were. We just got to stay calm, composed, and make sure we’re not getting beat one-on-one. We obviously managed it for a while, but we just couldn’t get the puck back.”

It was also clearly about Khudobin, who had a big chance to put the Bruins team on his back with Rask out with a concussion. The Russian netminder made 37 saves and at times looked energetic and ready to battle between the pipes but at other times couldn’t make the clean save that the Bruins needed in order to get a whistle and calm things down. In OT, Khudobin couldn’t make a clean glove save on a Rasmus Ristolainen tester from the high slot that would have allowed the Bruins to get some tired players off the ice in the 3-on-3 OT.

Instead, Krug, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were out on the ice for 2 minutes, 15 seconds and eventually got beaten on O’Reilly’s play that took the puck straight to the Boston net. Cassidy called it an “erratic” night for Khudobin when they needed calmer, more poised play from their goaltender and that was clearly a reflection of the Black and Gold missing Rask.

“[Khudobin] was erratic. He battles. We love that about him. He battled to the end. [He] certainly made his share of saves. We need to be better in front of him,” said Cassidy. “But there were times that, there were fires that needed to be put out [on plays] that shouldn’t have been necessary. But that happens sometimes.

“[There were instances] in the third period, plus overtime, where we needed to calm the game down. Whether it’s a face-off, even right before the overtime goal, we had opportunities to get possession out of that pile. They came out with it. And that’s what I said. They were hungrier than us. Late, they won more pucks. If we win that puck out of that pile, we might not be talking about losing. Maybe we get out of trouble and it goes our way. We’ll never know.”

Maybe things would have gone the Bruins way if they had more of their walking wounded back and contributing. Instead, it feels as if the B’s are being tested with new, damaging injuries with each passing day. A number of those had a direct impact on a brutal loss to the Sabres on Saturday night. One has to wonder if there are more of those coming until the Bruins can start stabilizing their medical situation.