Haggerty: Handicapping Bruins possible expansion draft losses
With the NHL expansion draft just a week away and protected lists set to be released next week ahead of the actual selection process, now is a good time to go over what might be at stake for the Bruins. All 30 teams are set to lose one player and the Bruins have all but confirmed they’ll be going the route of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender from the clutches of the Vegas Golden Knights.
The B’s were compelled to protect Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and David Backes because of their no-movement clauses. Also, youngsters Charlie McAvoy, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Frank Vatrano and Brandon Carlo were exempt from the draft due to their lack of service time in the pros. So with that in mind, here’s a look at the Bruins in danger of being lost when Vegas GM George McPhee starts making his selections at the NHL Awards Show:
Kevan Miller – Defenseman
Miller is most likely going to be protected by the Bruins given his strong performance down the stretch last season, his versatility playing up and down the lineup on the back-end and for his toughness and quiet leadership qualities. Miller exudes toughness on the ice, is one of the hardest hitters in the Bruins lineup and will willingly defend his teammates. Beyond that, we’re also talking about a player who's competent in the offensive zone (Miller had a career-high five goals and 18 points a season ago) for a stay-at-home D-man, and who showed how good he can be by averaging 25 minutes per game as one of the few blue-liners to stay healthy in Boston’s brief playoff run. He’s never going to look particularly smooth with his first pass and he’s injury-prone due to the rugged style he plays, but bottom pairing D-men that can survive as a top-four in a pinch are pretty valuable commodities. I’d expect he would be snatched up by Vegas if he’s left unprotected.
Will he stay or go?: My hunch is the Bruins use their third D-man spot to protect him and make this whole thing academic.
Adam McQuaid – Defenseman
What can be said of Kevan Miller can also be said of Adam McQuaid. The only difference being that McQuaid, 30, is one of the few remaining Bruins links to their 2011 Stanley Cup winning team left on the roster and is one of the longest-tenured members of the Black and Gold. McQuaid is fearless and intimidating and can still tangle with the biggest, strongest and toughest when it comes to dropping the gloves and defending his teammates. That attribute makes him very hard to play against and also a popular guy in the B’s dressing room. McQuaid had one of his best seasons in 2016-17 with two goals and 10 points in 77 games along with a plus-4 rating, but he also succumbed to injury again in the playoffs. He’s averaged 18-plus minutes of ice time per game the past three seasons and consistently played top-four minutes with Torey Krug last season. The 6-foot-4, 212-pounder doesn’t skate like Miller and has more limited offensive upside while being a similar, stay-at-home, right-shot defenseman, so it’s all but assured that McQuaid will be left exposed in the expansion draft.
Will he stay or go?: The chances are actually pretty good he’ll be selected by Vegas given coach Gerard Gallant’s preference for big, strong D’s willing to battle and given his toughness factor.
Colin Miller – Defenseman
Miller, 24, is the most interesting figure in this expansion draft for the Bruins. Miller is super-talented with skating, shooting and passing ability that should make him a top-tier puck-moving defenseman at the NHL level, and he’s shown flashes of it with the Bruins while posting a pair of similarly inconsistent seasons in Boston. The argument to protect Miller is sound given his offensive talent, given that defensemen can sometimes be late-bloomers who really discover their game after hitting 25 and given that he was a prominent player involved in the Milan Lucic deal with the Los Angeles Kings. If it’s strictly in terms of talent, then Miller should be protected along with Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug, and he’ll be back vying for a spot in the fall. The other side of the argument is that the Bruins already have Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy penciled in as right-shot, top-four D-men, and it’s difficult to see Miller unseating either moving forward. That means it’s going to be an uphill battle for Miller to get the chance to develop in Boston given the minutes, power-play time and patience that will be required for him. The hockey sense and decision-making just aren't there for Miller and there’s a real question as to whether that part of it is ever going to fully be there.
Will he stay or go?: Chances are it will be one of the Millers or McQuaid taken by the Golden Knights, so there’s every chance it could be the talented 24-year-old and that it might come back to bite the B’s down the road.
Riley Nash – Center
Nash, 28, a former first-round pick, had a slow start this season but was very good for the Black and Gold down the stretch and into the playoffs. It was unfortunate his overtime penalty led to one of the OT playoff losses to Ottawa because he was extremely good over the final two months before finishing with seven goals and 17 points in 81 games. He showed versatility playing both the wing and center, he was able to move up-and-down the lineup when needed and he showed some clutch ability while scoring both goals in a massive must-win game vs. the Islanders that helped clinch a playoff spot. It would make a lot of sense for Vegas to snag Nash as a bottom-six forward given his experience, pedigree in the NHL and very inexpensive price tag. Nash might even be a dark horse to have earned a protected spot on the B’s roster if the Bruins decide they don’t want to protect Ryan Spooner or Matt Beleskey, who both would have some trade value rather than losing them for nothing in the expansion draft.
Will he stay or go?: My gut tells me that Nash will be back with the B’s next season whether he’s protected or unprotected, and that he’ll be a better player in Year 2 in Boston.
Jimmy Hayes – Right Wing
At this point, the Bruins would love for Vegas to take the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder off their hands. He’s been a giant disappointment as the hometown kid coming back to play in Boston. It tells you all you need to know about Hayes that he was scratched ostensibly for the all of April in important games and was a DNP-Coach’s Decision for the first round of the playoffs. Hayes, 27, finished with two goals and five points in nearly 60 games and was a minus player while showing inconsistent effort, an unwillingness to use his size and strength to their proper potential and nothing close to the ability he showed in Florida prior to arriving in Boston. Perhaps a change of address away from the pressures of playing in his hometown would be good for Hayes. That’s why the Bruins will hope they can trade him or have him selected in the expansion draft.
Will he stay or go?: I will have serious doubts about the Vegas scouting staff if they go anywhere near Hayes, but you know somebody else will take a chance on a 6-5 player that showed near-20 goal ability with the Panthers.
Ryan Spooner/Matt Beleskey – Forwards
I put these two players together because I expect both will be protected and both have trade value. Losing them for nothing would be poor asset management. The Bruins are actively shopping the speedy, playmaking Spooner, who has value as a third-line center capable of adding some real pop to a power play as he’s shown in Boston the past few seasons. At this point, the Bruins might be expecting too much in return for Spooner, but they’ll protect him until they find the right deal following the expansion draft. Beleskey could be left unprotected because the Bruins are on the hook for three more seasons at just under $4 million per season for a player who looked like a fourth-line left wing last season. But I would be willing to bet the B’s get a much better performance out of Beleskey next season coming off a tough year and they’d want to hang onto a guy who, when he’s right, plays like a Bruin should with toughness and physicality.
Will they stay or go?: Both will be protected.
Malcolm Subban – Goaltender
It’s expected the Golden Knights are going to tap Marc-Andre Fleury as their No. 1 goalie in the expansion draft, but perhaps they also take a flier on former first-round pick Subban, 23, as a backup prospect. Let’s be honest about Subban: He’s been an unmitigated disaster in the NHL. He’s allowed three goals in each of his two NHL appearances and been yanked from each of those games and he’s kind of flat-lined in his development in the AHL. His .917 save percentage was fine last season while splitting time with Zane McIntyre and it was Subban that got the call toward the end of the P-Bruins playoff run as McIntyre imploded in the Calder Cup semifinals. The 6-2, 200-pound Subban has given no indication he’s ever going to be a No. 1 NHL goalie and it’s been his inability to develop that’s caused Boston so many problems with its backup goalie situation behind Tuukka Rask. Who knows? Maybe a new beginning in Vegas could rekindle his stalled career.
Will he stay or go?: I don’t think he’ll be taken in the expansion draft, but I’m also not sure how much longer he’ll be in the B’s organization either.