Frank Vatrano

Bruins waive Matt Beleskey

Bruins waive Matt Beleskey

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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DeBrusk in, Spooner out, with a bigger decision looming

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DeBrusk in, Spooner out, with a bigger decision looming

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins will welcome Jake DeBrusk back into the lineup on Thursday night against the Arizona Coyotes and it appears that Ryan Spooner (lower body) might be headed toward another stint on the injured reserve. 

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Spooner has only been back a handful of games since tearing his groin, an injury that cost him more than a month of the season, when the center sustained a similar injury in the loss to the Nashville Predators on Monday night. 

DeBrusk was out the past three games with an upper-body injury and had two goals and five points in the previous five games before getting injured in the loss to the Edmonton Oilers.

Spooner has been ruled out Thursday night and might be headed for the IR depending on his prospects for playing this weekend. Don Sweeney and Bruce Cassidy were planning on having a roster discussion on Thursday afternoon. A quick IR stint for Spooner would save the Bruins from having to make a more permanent roster decision.

With DeBrusk coming back, underperforming wingers Frank Vatrano and Matt Beleskey would appear to be most at risk of losing their spot unless the Spooner injury can give them a little more time. At this point, however, it feels like the Bruins have cemented their opinions on the players that have been with them all season.

“It’s not about second chances necessarily. I think every player that’s here has been given an opportunity to play. Some more than others, I get that. But if this is our best lineup then it’s our best lineup, and we’ll have to make the appropriate decisions when we get there,” said Cassidy. “When we do [make the decision] we’ll have a discussion on what makes us the best team and how we want to approach that.”

Given the roster crunch, the Bruins have engaged in some level of trade talks involving Vatrano, and to a lesser extent Spooner and Beleskey, and could potentially get something back for players they might lose for nothing if placed on waivers en route to Providence. Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairings after an optional Thursday morning practice at Warrior Ice Arena with Tuukka Rask set for goaltending duties:

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

DeBrusk-Krejci-Bjork

Heinen-Nash-Backes

Schaller-Kuraly-Acciari

 
Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Grzelcyk-Miller

 
Rask 
 

Don't look now, but healthy B's looking like a damn good hockey team

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Don't look now, but healthy B's looking like a damn good hockey team

PHILADELPHIA – Don’t look now, but the Bruins are getting healthy and starting to rack up the wins.

Both David Krejci and Anders Bjork returned to the lineup for Saturday afternoon’s matinee against the Philadelphia Flyers, and helped push a stronger, deeper Bruins lineup to a 3-0 win over the Broad Street Bullies at Wells Fargo Center. The victory meant Boston has six wins in their last seven games for the Black and Gold, and continued to fortify their position in the Atlantic Division where they’re one point out of a playoff spot with four games in hand against the Montreal Canadiens.

“We’re defending well and keeping the puck out of our net. Some nights it’s good goaltending and others it’s stopping momentum. We’re scoring enough, but as we get healthy I think you’ll see us [score more in the three or four goals per game range]. The offense is coming. It was more 2-1 [scores] out West, and now you’re seeing us score a little more and hold leads even against good teams,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We’re a resilient group and we like the feeling of winning. That’s what is going on in the locker room. You hear a lot of that chatter on the bench…positive talk about what we need to do and talking about the details. That’s a good sign of our leadership.”

Clearly it’s not exactly where the Bruins want to be, but it’s a stunning turnaround from just two weeks ago when the Bruins were tied for 13th in the Eastern Conference and facing a very challenging schedule ahead. The Bruins managed to grind their way through those weeks thanks to some red-hot goaltending from Anton Khudobin and some very good performances from B’s youngsters, fill-ins from Providence and the few remaining healthy veterans.

Now they’re getting back to the original game plan where they can score enough to do offensive damage. Tuukka Rask seems to be back in a confident place after a few well-earned wins and the Bruins have a better lineup after going through November’s trials and tribulations. Wins in games over Tampa Bay and Philly are much closer to the blueprint that Bruce Cassidy drew up prior to the start of the season: Start strong early, build a lead, and then strangle your opponents with heavy pressure, smart defense, and reliable goaltending.

It's been a complicated formula for Cassidy, having to mix and match due to injuries. Then there has been the added pressure of teaching AHL players, integrating the youth, and even a goalie controversy to spice things up. But we can now say the Bruins look like an impressive hockey club that has every reason to believe they’ll be a playoff caliber group, and could surprise once they finally, believe it or not, actually have their opening night lineup for the first time this season.

Saturday was just the second time all-season David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and David Backes were in the lineup together for the B’s season, and Boston is now 2-0 while outscoring their opponents by a 9-3 margin in those games.   

“It was only a matter of time, and we knew that. Anytime you have a lot of young guys starting in the lineup you need to give them time to adapt earlier in the year. We might have played one game all year with our full lineup, and it makes a big difference when you’re missing guys like [David] Krejci, [Patrice] Bergeron and [David] Backes, and [Adam] McQuaid. It’s difficult with guys like that out of the lineup."

“But with everybody back and the young guys hitting their stride, we’re a pretty deep team. We know that we can compete every night, and we just want to keep building.”

With a healthier and increasingly successful lineup, difficult decisions arise for Bruins bench boss Bruce Cassidy. Both Frank Vatrano and Matt Beleskey were healthy scratches on Saturday, with Krejci and Anders Bjork back in the lineup. It's only a matter of time before Jake DeBrusk is also ready to return as well.

This is the type of situation a coach would much prefer. It could also lead to increased trade chatter for players like Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner, who scored his first goal vs. the Flyers. Matt Beleskey that has yet to really find his game this season, and the team may be inclined to cut ties with him. It would be a major, costly decision to target Beleskey as the player to subtract from the roster, but it wasn't hard to read between the lines when Cassidy deployed seven defensemen last week with Beleskey as a healthy scratch. 

It seems clear at this point that Danton Heinen has earned his spot in the big leagues, aside other players including Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk. 

Cassidy said he welcomes tough choices for the game-to-game lineup, but there will also be challenging decisions for Don Sweeney when the lineup becomes more and more healthy.

“It’s a good problem to have. I don’t like telling any player that they’re out of the lineup, especially if they’ve been helping us win. But that’s the business,” said Cassidy. “I think it makes you a better team when guys are pushing one another.”

It’s taken nearly two months of the regular season, but the Bruins are finally looking like the team many thought they’d be after last month's abomination.

 As it turns out, this Bruins hockey club has a shot to be pretty damned good. 

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