Bruins

Haggerty: Bruins final roster could feature big forward group

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Haggerty: Bruins final roster could feature big forward group

BRIGHTON, Mass – When the Bruins convene for Media Day on Tuesday morning, the NHL roster should be finalized for the league’s 3 p.m. deadline, and the group should have a decidedly young look to it. There’s not only 21-year-old Brandon Carlo and 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy on the back end, but there should also be a couple of very young faces in key spots up front with Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk expected to make the final Boston roster.

It’s a good thing that Bruce Cassidy honed his teaching skills at the AHL level during his long stint coaching Providence, and is comfortable showing the patience and understanding needed to get the most out of young players in an unforgiving league. The Bruins coach clearly has a bead on that skill set where perhaps his predecessor did not with younger players chafing under the formerly rigid, conservative system in place.

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“They need to be comfortable, and not crapping their pants wondering what’s going on around them with 20,000 people in the building. What’s coach going to say? What’s my center iceman going to say that’s going to be a Hall of Famer?” said Cassidy, of his mantra for the younger B’s charges. “Whatever. They’ve got to play. They’ve got to be themselves and they’ve got to play. That’s the message that I think the coach has to find a way to get across. You’ve also got to bear in mind that there will be some butterflies for them.”

It looks like Cassidy is going to have to make that speech for a number of rookies and second-year players with Danton Heinen, Peter Cehlarik and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson all announced as late Monday afternoon cuts. That leaves the Bruins with 26 players in camp (15 forwards, nine defensemen and two goalies) and the need to cut at least three bodies from the current group before they ready to host the Nashville Predators on Thursday night.

So what will the Bruins do to pare down to at least the 23-player maximum for the NHL’s regular season roster?

The easiest choice seems to be on the back end where Rob O’Gara and Emil Johansson should be headed to Providence in the next couple of days. O’Gara has solid in camp, but he really struggled when paired with Brandon Carlo on the road in Philadelphia during last week’s preseason action. Couple that with Matt Grzelcyk getting nearly all the reps with Adam McQuaid while boasting a similar set of skills to the injured Torey Krug, and it would appear the pride of Charlestown is going to crack the roster at least until Krug is healthy.

It would appear, at least to start, that Postma will serve in the 7th defenseman role, and provide the Bruins with an experienced, offensively adept D-man option when they need to dip into their back reserves.

Cassidy and the Bruins already made their choice between the pipes after placing Malcolm Subban on waivers, and it will be the tested tandem of Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin to start the season. Given the way the Bruins schedule will roll out this season, it might be almost two weeks before the Bruins need their backup goaltender to enter the mix anyway.

The real challenge is up front where the Bruins will either go with 13 or 14 forwards to start the season after many of those players had strong training camp efforts. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner, David Backes, Matt Beleskey and Riley Nash are locks to make the NHL roster. It would appear that Anders Bjork has done enough to start the season at right wing alongside Bergeron and Marchand, and Jake DeBrusk will at least get the first look at left wing alongside Krejci and Pastrnak are skating with them for nearly all of camp.

It would have been better if DeBrusk could have shown a little more offensive finish in his chances with Krejci and Pastrnak during the preseason, but he does enough power forward-like things to help that line if he doesn’t start scoring immediately.

“I think I showed a lot of what I can do. There’s always room for improvement. It is just the preseason, but I showed some good qualities that I have. I do think there’s more [to my game] and that I can do better,” said DeBrusk. “The offense will come. Playing with two players like [Krejci and Pastrnak] or even I’m not, I’m looking to get on the board as early as possible and do anything I can to help the team. Growing up and going through my hockey career, I’ve always been a goal-scorer.”

That leaves three or four spots for a group that includes Sean Kuraly, Frank Vatrano, Noel Acciari, Tim Schaller and Austin Czarnik after Teddy Purcell was released from his camp tryout on Monday morning. Czarnik has been missing from practice for the last couple of days with an illness that seems to be lingering, so perhaps the diminutive center starts the season on the injured list. Truth be told, Czarnik probably deserves an NHL spot more than Vatrano does after the Springfield, Mass. native had a very average training camp, but the Bruins may not want to make the sharp-shooting winger available on the waiver wire.

Provided Czarnik is eligible to be placed on injured reserve to start the season, here is the likely roster that we’ll see the Bruins submit to the NHL on Tuesday afternoon with a very competitive group of 14 forwards:

 

Forwards (14): Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner, David Backes, Riley Nash, Matt Beleskey, Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk, Sean Kuraly, Frank Vatrano, Noel Acciari and Tim Schaller.

Defenseman (7): Zdeno Chara, Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller, Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Adam McQuaid and Paul Postma.

Goalies (2): Tuukka Rask, Anton Khudobin.

Injured reserve: Torey Krug, Austin Czarnik.    

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Morning Skate: Kovalchuk thinks there's still plenty left in the tank

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Morning Skate: Kovalchuk thinks there's still plenty left in the tank

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while heading into late July where nothing at all happens in the hockey world. 
 
-- Ilya Kovalchuk thinks he’s still got some prime NHL years ahead as he readies for his return with the Los Angeles Kings. Maybe so, but would he ever admit he thinks he’s lost a step and won’t be a game-breaker in his late 30s?

 -- Larry Brooks says history shows the Rangers have picked the wrong man for their enforcer role in Cody MacLeod. 
 
-- A couple of pieces memorializing retired NHL goalie Ray Emery, who tragically lost his life at age 35 in a drowning accident last weekend. He was one of the toughest goaltenders in the history of the NHL.  
 
-- Pro Hockey Talk asks what the right contract extension is going to be for Washington Capitals rabble-rouser Tom Wilson. 
 
-- A nearly 20-minute video of NHL players mic’d up during the Stanley Cup playoffs, which is always high entertainment. 
 
-- For something completely different: This teaser for Stranger Things season 3 shows it was inevitable they were going to the mall
 

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.

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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.  

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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.  

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