Haggerty: This time around, Bruins need to stay away from free agency

Haggerty: This time around, Bruins need to stay away from free agency

Cam Neely doesn't anticipate the Bruins being very busy during NHL free agency, and that should be a very good thing. 

"We'll see what transpires over the course of the offseason, but I don't envision [a busy free-agent period]," the Bruins' president responded when asked if general manager Don Sweeney would be busy when free agency begins on July 1. "We have to take a hard look at our roster and see if we can add. It doesn't necessarily have to be a veteran player. Maybe it's a younger player with some experience rather than a player with no NHL experience, but we do have some players in Providence at the pro level that we're looking to see as well. Are they ready to contribute at the NHL level?

"We've had an opportunity to see what we have coming up, and maybe it gives us an opportunity with those prospects to add somewhere else [via trade]. It's in a sense where we're getting a young [NHL] player but with some experience, we may have the assets to be able to do that."

It will be a prudent departure from the last two seasons, when the B's signed high-profile forwards Matt Beleskey and David Backes to five-year contracts for pretty good chunks of money. The two met team needs in the areas of size, strength and grit at the time of their signings, but Boston received mixed results from both.

Beleskey had a good first season, but -- due to his conditioning, and a knee injury -- he trailed off last year to the point where he was a healthy scratch for three of the Bruins' six playoff games.

Backes was pretty good in a top-6 role in his first season with the B's, and played some of his best hockey during the playoffs. But he also had nights during the regular season where he was a big, plodding winger who wasn't much of a factor physically or offensively, and, at age 32, it stands to reason there will be more, not less, of those kinds of games going forward. Clearly, Backes has excellent leadership characteristics and his toughness is something the Bruins badly needed, but the $6 million-a-year price tag feels like it's going to be problematic. 

"David had a hard time adjusting," said Neely. "He mentioned that at the end of the year that it was more of a challenge to come to a new city and a new team and get to know 22 to 24 other players. That took a while for him to get adjusted."

Overall, however, Neely defends the Backes signing.

"I feel like David is really built for the type of playoff hockey you have to have and play to go deep," Neely said. "I feel he's a great leader. He's helped the young kids a ton. If he can pick up a little bit of a step in his game, which he's going to work on in the offseason, I think that's going to be beneficial for him and us. But, I like his physicality. I like the fact that he'll stand front of the net and pay the price to be there. I think offensive-wise, we got kind of what we expected from him. Would we like a little more? Yeah. But, all the things that he brings, I thought that whole package was a welcome addition."

Both Backes and Beleskey, however, should serve as warnings to Neely and Sweeney as they attempt to strengthen an young, exciting team with a bright future ahead. The best weapons in Boston's quest to become "a deeper, more talented team" won't be found in free agency, where there are imperfect fits at premium prices. The Bruins should avoid being big players in free agency, whether it's a left winger for David Krejci or a top-4 defenseman on the left side.

Instead it sounds like the Bruins are leaning toward trades, and that's an encouraging development for a team that shouldn't overpay for anything right now. Both Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner are set to receive massive contracts as the best two free-agent D-men on the market, and names like Ron Hainsey, Dmitry Kulikov, Andrei Markov, Kris Russell and Michael Del Zotto shouldn't inspire the B's to go running for their checkbook.

Instead the Bruins should wait for things to settle down with the expansion draft and free agency, then utilize some of their treasure trove of prospects to swap for a left winger like Gabriel Landeskog or a left-side defenseman like Cam Fowler.

It looks like the Bruins are curbing the instinct to overpay in free agency as they did with Beleskey and Backes. That's another step in the right direction for a Black and Gold group that may be starting to get it. 

Krug steps up as Bruins stars go down

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Krug steps up as Bruins stars go down

The Bruins have managed to take three of a possible six points since Zdeno Chara went down in the third period of last week's comeback win over the Carolina Hurricanes, and they've done it completely without their top pairing since Charlie McAvoy has also been out all this time.

There are a number of factors behind the ability to withstand the injuries, of course, and the entire defense corps was stellar at both ends in the shutout win over Tampa Bay last weekend.


But it's Torey Krug who's really stepped up his game. He had three assists and 15 shots on net in those three games, and was immense in the win over the Lightning.

Krug has surpassed the 50-point plateau for the second straight season, a major accomplishment for a defenseman who prides himself on his puck-moving and power-play work.

"You know, he has [stepped up]," coach Bruce Cassidy said of Krug, adding: "Torey is always going to get his numbers, but he's really added to it 5-on-5 . . . [It] was comforting to see that [without Chara and McAvoy] we shut out one of the best teams [in the NHL], at home, that was rested. You've got to take something out of that. It was one of 82 [games], but that was a real positive for our guys."

For Krug, the challenge of stepping up and being a leader in the team's time of need is the kind of thing he takes pride in responding to with an elevated level of play.

"I'm in the business of winning hockey games and helping my team win," said Krug. "It falls on my shoulders to produce some offense from the back end. And [when] we're missing a couple of guys from the back end that do that push the pace, then you've got to step up and make some plays. When you play with a lot of great players then you'll get your points, and you just need to worry about the defensive zone first.

"We're confident in everybody in this room. A lot of people think that the guys on our back end can't get the job done, so for us to step up [is a good thing]."


The biggest sign of Krug's increased responsibility? He topped 26 minutes of ice time in two of the three games since Chara was injured. Only once before, when he was on the ice for 27-plus minutes against the Rangers in early November, has he played more than that.

The loss of Chara and McAvoy has forced Krug to go above and beyond his normal range of duties and he's stepped up and embraced it. That's what good players on good teams do, and it's something Krug has consistently done in the big moments since arriving in Boston five years ago.


Erik Karlsson and wife Melinda mourn death of their son

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Erik Karlsson and wife Melinda mourn death of their son

The Ottawa Senators announced Tuesday that team captain Erik Karlsson and his wife Melinda lost their son one month before his due date.


"The collective thoughts and prayers of the Ottawa Senators organization, the city of Ottawa and entire hockey community rest with Erik and Melinda Karlsson following the loss of their son.

We ask that you respect the family's wishes for privacy during the grieving process."

The couple announced via Instagram in November that they were expecting, and the CBC reports the baby was due in April.

Sens head coach Guy Boucher spoke about the tragedy after Ottawa's game vs the Panthers on Tuesday (1:36 mark in video below).

Karlsson, a rumored Bruins target before the trade deadline, received heartfelt condolences from the hockey world on Twitter:

Our thoughts too go out to Erik and Melinda during this incredibly difficult time.