BOSTON - The Bruins have been avoiding a permanent decision with their roster the past couple of weeks and were able to buy time after Ryan Spooner's continued groin issues sent him back on injured reserve. With Spooner back practicing this week, his return necessitated some hard choices.
The wheels are beginning to turn on those choices with the Bruins waiving left winger Matt Beleskey on Thursday. With no points this season and only three goals and a minus-18 rating in his past 64 games with the B's, it simply looks like the game has sped up on Beleskey while he's showed little of the occasional offense and momentum-shifting physicality he flashed with the Anaheim Ducks.
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NHL insider Darren Dreger, on the NBCSN broadcast of the Bruins-Red Wings game on Wednesday night, first reported the likely Beleskey move for the purpose of sending him down to the AHL, if he clears waivers, “to build his confidence.”
The Beleskey contract has turned into one of the biggest busts of the Don Sweeney Era. The left winger was signed as one of the top free-agent forwards three summers ago when he agreed to a five-year, $19 million deal and he hasn’t lived up it. Beleskey, 29, was pretty solid in his first season while putting up 15 goals and 37 points, but his hard-nosed, bruising style hasn’t been a good fit with Bruce Cassidy’s up-tempo, offensive style since he took over as coach.
Per league sources, the Bruins have been attempting to trade the underperforming Beleskey and/or Frank Vatrano, 23, the past few weeks with few takers for either one. Clearly, the contract is the issue with Beleskey. He’s still owed $3.8 million in each of the two seasons following this year and has been a healthy scratch for the past six consecutive games with zero points and a minus-8 in 14 games this season.
Quite simply, the Bruins have found forward lines they really like while winning nine of their past 11 games and Beleskey wasn't forcing his way into the Danton Heinen-Riley Nash-David Backes third line or the Noel Acciari-Sean Kuraly-Tim Schaller fourth line.
If he clears waivers, Beleskey could potentially get another shot with Boston simply based on Acciari’s history of accumulating injuries with his rugged, fearless style of play, but it would be a tough blow for the veteran NHL player to be sent to the minors. Given the wealth of young forward talent that the Bruins have in Providence, it would be tough to see Beleskey pushing his way past them.
It’s not a matter of effort or attitude. Those things haven’t been a problem with Beleskey at all, but it just feels like he’s no longer a good fit for the Bruins while it also being very apparent the B’s overpaid for him.
The expectation is that Beleskey will clear waivers and that would give the Bruins only $1.025 million in salary cap relief based on the current CBA, which doesn’t allow teams to summarily bury bad contracts in the AHL without some penalty. Similarly, Vatrano has just two goals in 19 games played along with a minus-3 rating and hasn’t consistently shown the goal-scoring flashes this season that he’s had in previous years.
There have been a couple of standout games thrown into the mix, unlike Beleskey, and it would appear that a change of scenery might be beneficial for him after falling behind Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen on the top-nine depth chart. Vatrano has been frustrated with the lack of ice time and power-play time and it’s believed that a trade from his hometown team wouldn’t be considered a bad thing from the player’s end of things.
The problem is that Vatrano’s value is down given his lack of production and teams are also wary of a player who'll require waivers to go down to the AHL. NHL general managers are a smart bunch, so why would they give up an asset for a player they might be able to snatch up on waivers at some point at zero cost other than taking on his entry-level contract.
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