Looking into Bruins’ crystal ball: Who stays? Who goes?
Looking into Bruins’ crystal ball: Who stays? Who goes?
So now that the ice chips have settled and the Bruins season is over, the natural question to ask is “What’s next for the Black and Gold?”
They will start with so-called “break-up day” on Tuesday with the players cleaning out and packing up their stuff at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton and shortly after scatter to the four corners of the hockey world. Players will reveal information about injuries and plans for the offseason and most will promise bigger and better things for next season in Boston while others will wonder if they’ll be drawing a paycheck from the same NHL locale next season.
With that in mind, there are a few things to look out for and some of the key figures facing questions as to their eventual fate on Causeway Street. B’s core players Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak aren’t going anywhere. Young up-and-comers Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson are now part of the immediate future in Boston.
Beyond that, here is a rundown of who’s likely to stay, who’s likely to go and everybody in between for the Bruins:
Cam Neely/Don Sweeney
Let’s start at the top. Both team president Neely and general manager Sweeney had their best years as a tandem running the team and Sweeney, in particular, showed that he’s learning on the job while continuing to do well in his areas of strength that include drafting and development. Neely’s major initiative was Warrior Ice Arena and it was a big success for the Bruins and a major upgrade over Ristuccia Arena as a state-of-the-art practice and training facility befitting an NHL organization. Sweeney showed he’s learning by making the correct call with this team and giving up next-to-nothing for rental winger Drew Stafford as a trade deadline addition. Stafford played well and filled a role that helped Boston get into the playoffs and the Bruins didn’t give up anything of value. Both Neely and Sweeney also clearly made the right call in firing Claude Julien in favor of Bruce Cassidy, the biggest single move that propelled the Bruins into the postseason for the first time in three years. It wasn’t perfect and the Bruins still have a ways to go, but there’s no question that the B’s finally took a step in the right direction this season for the first time in a few years.
Final verdict: Both stay.
If the decision on Cassidy is based on merit and results, then he should have already been named the full-time head coach of the Bruins. The former assistant immediately made a difference and gave a jolt to a stagnant group as the interim head coach and guided them to a strong 18-8-1 finish in their final 27 regular-season games that pushed them into the playoffs. He made tweaks offensively that bumped up their scoring and the Bruins still managed to play pretty solid defense. He continued to make adjustments in the postseason, including inserting Sean Kuraly and Matt Beleskey into a series that may have been enough to swing the balance toward them if they had a healthy team. The double-overtime win in Game 5 was proof that this team was still playing hard for Cassidy into the postseason and that he had the attention of everybody in the dressing room. Certainly a couple of too many men on the ice penalties and six delay of game penalties wasn’t ideal in the playoff series vs. Ottawa, but the Bruins also had nine players in their Game 6 lineup that had zero playoff experience entering the series. Everybody wanted to play the kids, but kids make mistakes, right? There’s a good chance the Bruins will interview other candidates, such as Providence College’s Nate Leaman, before giving the job to Cassidy, but he should be the full-time head coach next season when Don Sweeney has gone through the full process.
Final verdict: Cassidy has earned it and should stay.
The Bruins playmaking center is on the wrong side of 30 years old and limped his way through playing in three out of six playoff games before a knee-on-knee hit from Chris Wideman in Game 5 knocked him out for good. Krejci had an uneven regular season where he did match a career-high with 23 goals scored and forged pretty good chemistry with David Pastrnak once they were paired together following Cassidy’s promotion. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to elevate the games of any other wingers that the Bruins tried around him pretty much all season. Finding a left winger for him is one of the offseason’s biggest priorities. Krejci also had the usual lulls in his game while playing the full 82 games in the regular season and is starting to get slowed down more and more by nagging injuries after playing a lot the past 10 years. At this point, the Bruins would probably love to explore dealing Krejci largely because of his age and $7 million-plus cap hit, but he’s got a no-movement clause and has no inclination to waive it for a trade. So, Krejci isn’t going anywhere unless he wants to and that means the Bruins have to hope that an offseason without a surgery leaves him at his best next season at 31.
Final verdict: Krejci is staying because he wants to stay.
It certainly wasn’t all flowers, puppy dogs and rainbows as Bruins fans were questioning his toughness, reliability and competitive fire down the stretch in the regular season, but he answered that with a solid .920 save percentage in the six-game series against the Senators and closed the regular season 4-1-1 with a .971 save percentage to push the Bruins into the playoffs for the first time in three years. Sure, he wasn’t perfect and couldn’t shut down the Senators comeback in Game 2 and it looked like he was a little frazzled by Boston’s shaky penalty killing late in the series. But he played like a No. 1 goaltender, albeit a No. 1 goalie that needs a little more mental and physical rest than you would expect for a guy making $7 million a season. The bottom line is that he regained his franchise goalie cred, and by the way the Bruins don’t have anybody that could replace him if he was sent away from Boston. Bottom line is that he shut up plenty of his late-season critics including yours truly, so good for him.
Final verdict: Rask is a part of the Bruins core group and not going anywhere.
The 25-year-old center didn’t improve on his rookie numbers, and never embraced the attempt to turn him into a top-six winger this season when Claude Julien was the coach. He still finished with 11 goals and 39 points in 78 games and was a factor for the Bruins on the power play, but he struggled to make any kind of difference in 5-on-5 play down the stretch. The fact he was scratched for the final two playoff games after being totally ineffective was a bad sign, and the contract for JFK was the final nail in the coffin for Spooner with Boston. JFK was given assurances he’d be in the NHL before he signed, according to sources, and that means he’ll be the third-line center for the Bruins next season and Spooner will be playing somewhere else as a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer. He’ll either be traded or possibly left unprotected on the expansion draft list, but there’s virtually no chance he comes back after underachieving under Julien and Cassidy this season.
Final verdict: Spooner is a goner and one hopes he can realize his potential somewhere else.
The two goals and five points in 58 games for Jimmy Hayes should be grounds for a refund on his contract with the Bruins. The 6-foot-5 Dorchester native has been a disaster with the Bruins. He's been unproductive, underachieving and unable to live up to his size and strength potential as a power-forward type. He has zero value on the trade market and it’s highly doubtful that Las Vegas would be interested in him in the expansion draft either. At this point, Hayes looks like a candidate to be bought out of the final year of his contract, or be a player that’s simply left in the AHL next season rather than as a little-used reserve forward in Boston. Either way, he won’t be with the Bruins anymore and his stint in Boston will be looked at as an instance where playing in his hometown didn’t really work out for the player or for the team. It’s too bad because if Hayes played with a little more fire, a little more energy or a little more hockey smarts, he could have been a really interesting winger for the Black and Gold. Instead, he’s become something of a cautionary tale that will have to rebuild his career elsewhere.
Final verdict: Hayes won’t be back, and he’s in the mistake category for Neely/Sweeney.
The 28-year-old Beleskey had a pretty solid first season in Boston, but he had a lost year in his second full season with the Bruins. He finished with three goals and eight points in 49 games along with a minus-10, and never seemed to recover from a bad start followed by a knee injury that knocked him out for the middle portion of the season. At his best he’s not really a top-six winger and is much better served as a third- or fourth-line winger that’s overpaid based on his contract and he was pretty much never at his best last season. The bigger issue is that Beleskey wasn’t playing with the same hard-nosed snarl as we’ve all seen in the past. If he doesn’t have that, then he’s really not bringing enough to the table. It was a good sign that the Bruins went back to Beleskey in Game 6 once David Krejci had gone down, so perhaps there’s still a belief organizationally that he can again become a strong contributor after a healthy, productive offseason. Buying him out would be tough with three years remaining on his deal, so pursuing a trade this summer might be a possibility with Beleskey if the Bruins are willing to eat some money. Still, there’s just as good a chance he stays in Boston and they hope for a better Beleskey next season.
Final verdict: Beleskey is back, and he rebounds with a strong season next year.
He’ll be 41 years old next season and he definitely showed more signs of fatigue in a playoff series vs. Ottawa where he played a ton of minutes. The delay of game in Game 2 was absolutely a moment where Chara made a mental mistake after playing a ton with injuries destroying Boston’s depth on the back end. But all in all, Chara had a strong season and played well with Brandon Carlo as a shutdown pair that should only be better next season. Chara will also be a good mentor for Boston’s young defensemen corps with Charlie McAvoy in the NHL next season as a full-timer, and Jakob Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Robbie O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk all pushing their way into the NHL picture as well. His value as a leader of the young D-men and his ability to still play shutdown defense in the D-zone is still there. Next season he’ll only cost a price tag of $4 million in the final year of his contract. The key for next season will be lessening his minutes and responsibility, and finding a left-side defenseman that can be paired with McAvoy for big minutes while Chara and Carlo settle in as a second-pairing shutdown duo. Certainly his performance will fall off the table at some point, but he should be good enough to be a No. 3 or No. 4 defenseman next season in what could be his final year in Boston.
Final verdict: Chara will return and could even play another year or two in Boston if his performance doesn’t drop dramatically.