Bruins

Gabrielle showing some fourth-line swagger in camp

boston-bruins-jesse-gabrielle-91917.jpg

Gabrielle showing some fourth-line swagger in camp

BRIGHTON, Mass – Jesse Gabrielle didn’t hesitate when asked what his goal was in his first full NHL training camp.

The former fourth-round pick said he’s in camp to win an NHL job with the Bruins right off the bat, so clearly, Gabrielle, 20, doesn’t lack for the confidence he’ll need to do it. He showed a little of the reason behind that swagger on Monday night when he scored one of the three B’s goals in Boston’s 3-2 preseason-opening win over the Montreal Canadiens in Quebec City.

It was a big spot for Gabrielle, who was playing with Noel Acciari and Riley Nash in the kind of fourth line audition for NHL spots that hopefuls must flourish in during camp.

“They’re putting me in a really good spot to show that I can play at this level and hopefully earn a roster spot like I said. I’m just going to go out there and play hockey,” said Gabrielle. “People say I need to find the line and stuff, but [Brad Marchand] did too at this level. I just need to find where that line is and I think management is giving me good feedback on all that stuff.

“I know that I’m really good when I fore-check. When I’m the F1 and really just bearing down and getting in there and hitting people, getting to the net and scoring goals, I can only do that when I’m playing high energy and high pace. I just always want to be the first guy on the puck. [Coach Cassidy] likes guys that can skate, and that’s good for me because I can skate.”

It’s that offensive component combined with his energetic, agitating style that’s drawn comparisons to Marchand throughout his junior career and saw him total 75 goals for Prince George the past two seasons. It’s that same combination of attributes that could make him a dark-horse candidate for the fourth line if he can continue to make things happen each time he’s on the ice.  

From the sound of it, Cassidy is already leaning in a certain direction for his energy line based on last season. Tim Schaller, Riley Nash and Noel Acciari all played significant roles for the Bruins last season and it looks like Sean Kuraly is going to enjoy the inside track for the 13th forward spot based on his strong showing in the NHL postseason.

Gabrielle understands the high volume of quality forwards in camp and the serious competition for the fourth line after the established group really found their vibe late in the season. There’s a pretty good chance Gabrielle begins his pro career at Providence, where he can learn the nuances of being an energy forward at the pro level and figure out where “the line” is before he begins earning an NHL reputation.

He’s not letting that stop him from putting his best skate forward, though, and standing as another in a large group of talented, young forwards showing in camp that they’re close to ready for the prime-time action.

“I think the fourth line role is a good starter for me, and I just play with pace and energy…that’s all I can do,” said Gabrielle. “Camp has gone well. I’m showing that I can play at this level, and hopefully, they see it too. There are a lot of good players here and a lot of guys that can play in the NHL, but only a certain number of spots.

“You’ve just got to try and separate yourself, and show that you can do things that maybe other guys can’t really do. But at the same time, these guys are all my teammates and brothers. They’ll still be my teammates even if I don’t end up starting in Boston. Right now, I’m just focusing on putting my best foot forward.”

Gabrielle is doing that early in camp, but he knows he must keep the pedal pinned to the floor if he’s to become a surprise member of the NHL roster little more than a month from now. 

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

There are a couple of inalienable facts about next year’s goaltending situation with the Boston Bruins.

The first is that the B’s have most definitely upgraded in that area with 33-year-old Jaroslav Halak as the backup to Tuukka Rask. Halak is a flat-out better goalie than Anton Khudobin, and should be a little more consistent than the Russian backup, who was admittedly excellent last season while racking up a 16-6-7 record as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

Halak, on the other hand, has won less than 18 games in a season only twice in his 10 full seasons at the NHL level, and has been a starter with the Canadiens, Blues, Capitals and Islanders with a career .916 save percentage over his NHL career. In case anybody hadn’t noticed that’s also been Tuukka Rask’s save percentage over the last three seasons for the Bruins.

Which brings us to inalienable goaltending fact No. 2: Halak is going to push Rask like he hasn’t been challenged since truly taking over as the top goalie in Boston.

The last truly competitive situation with Rask between the B’s pipes was in 2011-12 in Tim Thomas’ last season with the Bruins when the Finnish goaltender was backing up a reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Rask had temporarily taken Thomas’ job away from him two years prior during the 2009-10 season when he was a rookie goalie, and that sparked the best season of Thomas’ NHL career where he led the Black and Gold to a Stanley Cup victory.

MORE BRUINS OFFSEASON

Since then Rask has had “just another guys” like Chad Johnson, Niklas Svedberg, Jonas Gustavsson and Anton Khudobin backing him up, and none of those backups had the kind of juice to truly take Rask’s job away from him. The best Khudobin could do was start four straight games for the Bruins back in November of last season, and that turned out to be one of the turning points in a 112-point campaign where Rask was significantly motivated from that point onward.

Halak could legitimately get on a hot streak in the regular season and force the Bruins coaching staff to sit Rask for weeks, or even a month, at a time, and that’s something no backup has ever been able to do behind Boston’s Franchise Finn. That should be a good thing and that is something the B’s are already counting on to happen for next season.

“We’ve talked about internal competition. Maybe it puts Tuukka in a better mindset. There were nights when Tuukka [played] back-to-backs. That’s a lot of stress on the goaltender knowing… I think two years ago we didn’t have a win by our backup at Christmas time,” said Don Sweeney, on July 1 after signing Halak to a two-year contract. “I’m not sure you guys wrote about it, but I did, and I lost sleep about it.

“I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, [and] that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now going in every night. That is an area we aren’t going to be concerned about, hopefully. Obviously, it’s [about] the performance now.”

Now here’s the fork in the road where the inalienable Bruins goaltending facts and some good, old-fashioned speculation go their separate ways.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen, but the addition of Halak for multiple years also opens up the possibility of trading away Rask if the right deal comes across Sweeney’s desk. The $2.75 million per season that the Bruins are paying Halak is the going rate for a top-of-the-line goalie, but it now also means the B’s are paying just under $10 million per season over the next two years for their goaltending tandem. That’s a whopping 12.5 percent of the $79.5 million in salary cap space, which is much less than either of the teams in this spring’s Stanley Cup Final (Vegas paid $6.4 million for their goalies and Washington paid $7.6 million for the Braden Holtby/Philipp Grubauer combo) shelled out for their goaltending.

In fact, only Montreal is spending more money on goaltending than the Bruins this season thanks to the awful Carey Price contract, and – along with the Bruins -- only the Panthers, Canadiens and Avalanche are paying north of $9 million in cap space for their goalies next season. For a Bruins team that was just barely in the NHL’s top-10 in save percentage and where the goaltending wasn’t really a demonstrable strength in the playoffs, that feels like a lot.  

MORE FROM JOE HAGGERTY

Rask has a limited trade clause for this upcoming season where he can be traded to eight NHL teams, and that “can be traded to” list gets bumped up to 15 teams in the following season. The Bruins did everything possible last season to make sure that Rask was mentally and physically rested with the 54 appearances, which was right around the targeted 55-60 games the Bruins had him penciled in for at the start of last season.

But even after all that rest and being given the high maintenance treatment, Rask still responded with a shaky postseason that was the worst statistically of his career. The 2.88 goals against average and .903 save percentage were the worst playoff marks of his NHL career, and Rask was an absolute disaster in their Game 7 showdown with the Maple Leafs. If the Bruins hadn’t completely shut down Toronto in the first half of the third period where they didn’t allow a shot on net (and didn’t allow Rask to even be a factor in the balance of that game), they probably wouldn’t have even advanced beyond the first round prior to their second round smack-down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rask was better in the second round vs. Tampa and added to his career highlight reel when he angrily fired a broken skate blade at the boards, but there are still some of the very same, nagging questions about Boston’s top goalie when it comes to big games.   

So why not start to explore what Rask could yield in a hockey trade, and even pull the trigger if the price is right given that Halak is there as a proven starting goaltender? There has been plenty of talk about Torey Krug being on the move if the right trade comes up to fit Boston’s needs, and there’s no reason why Boston’s All-Star, $7 million a year goaltender shouldn’t be part of that roster improvement conversation as well.

Nobody is saying to ship Rask simply for the sake of doing it, and clearly the Bruins would need to find themselves a young goalie they could groom as the eventual No. 1 guy to go along with the older, declining Halak. But the signing of Halak officially opened the door for the Bruins to at least toy with the idea of moving Rask in a good hockey trade to a team desperate for goaltending help (Carolina, the Islanders and the Flyers immediately come to mind), and that might not be such a bad thing for the Black and Gold.  

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE