Haggerty: Wheels begin to turn on Bruins' summer improvement plan

Haggerty: Wheels begin to turn on Bruins' summer improvement plan

With June upon us, now is the time for Don Sweeney and the Bruins to step up the efforts to improve a roster that still has some significant holes.

Sure, the B’s were good enough to make the playoffs, and even have a handy alibi of injuries as to why things went wrong for them in the first round against the Senators. Still, Bruins management and scouting staff were quick to recognize following the season that they need to ice a better, deeper group as they look to make another step forward.


“We have a lot of work to do as an organization, still. We want to become a deeper, more talented team from top to bottom,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney at his end-of-season press conference in April. “Taking one step forward, in my opinion, is not successful. It’s a good step, but we have work to do in a lot of areas that we want to continue to get better.”

A top-six left wing capable of scoring some goals, preferably with some size, is definitely a need alongside David Krejci. A top-four, left-shot defenseman suitable to potentially be paired with 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy is another big ticket item on Sweeney’s summer shopping list. Chances are the Bruins might just see what they have in Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk for the open winger spot when training camp opens. Perhaps being paired with established offensive performers David Krejci and David Pastrnak could open up some scoring space for one of those young forwards and mitigate the need to go searching for somebody such as Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog.

Let’s assume that a top-four, left-shot defenseman is the top priority outside the organization. Clearly, the re-signing of Pastrnak to a suitable second contract stands as the most important thing Sweeney will do between now and October. This should be the right offseason for Sweeney to get something done with Sami Vatanen, Matthew Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Tyson Barrie, to name just a few, potentially available on the trade market for the right price.    

With Vatanen, Dumba and Barrie all right-hand shots with McAvoy and Brandon Carlo locked in as top-four, righty D-men for the foreseeable future in Boston, Brodin seems like a clear person of interest for the Black and Gold.

One hockey source indicated to CSNNE there should be attention paid to the ongoing trade discussions between the Bruins and Wild for a couple of reasons. Those talks first started leading up to this past season’s trade deadline. The 23-year-old Brodin Is a left-shot D-man with cost certainty signed for four more years at $4.166 million and has been a top-four defenseman for the Wild since breaking into the league as a teenager. The 6-foot-1, 194-pound Brodin is coming off a career-high 25 points, while also averaging a career-low 19:34 of ice time, and has settled in as a solid, two-way D-man who's never going to dazzle anybody with his workmanlike skill set.

Brodin can move the puck skillfully enough, he can defend and he can play in any situation, but he’s never going to light it up with a 50-point season and will battle through his share of injuries: He’s only once played more than 71 regular-season games in five NHL seasons.

That’s exactly the kind of solid, steady, young veteran the Bruins could use alongside a budding, special talent in McAvoy. Brodin would fit in with Boston’s salary cap structure as well. On the Minnesota side, there are indications around the hockey world the Wild want to get back into the first round after shipping their first rounder (No. 23 overall) to the Coyotes in exchange for Martin Hanzal at the trade deadline.

The Bruins still have their first-round pick at the 18th spot and Sweeney made no mystery about his willingness to discuss dealing that pick when talking to reporters at last weekend’s NHL prospect combine.

“It’s an effort to try and improve our hockey club,” said Sweeney to reporters in Buffalo last weekend. “We have had a number of selections the last couple of years and we feel that they’ll all materialize into very good players for the Boston Bruins and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t explore what could improve our hockey club now in the shorter term.

“I owe it to our players and the organization to continue to do that. Whether or not it happens, I don’t know. Some people have looked at me sideways at times when holding three first-rounders [in 2015] and not being able to do something at that point in time. The right deal didn’t take place. I can’t say that it’s going to at this time as well, but it’s certainly an area I’ve looked at that if we can improve, then we would move it.”

The best way for the Wild to do that would be to dangle one of their defensemen while clearing off some cap space with big paydays coming this summer for Minnesota restricted free agents Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter. It will be interesting to see what a package centered on Boston’s first-round pick and restricted free agent Ryan Spooner could net for the Black and Gold as the B’s clearly would like to move the speedy, creative power-play specialist this summer. Part of the Bruins’ sell job to get center prospect Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson signed last spring was strong indications he’d be in the NHL this season. That would mean the writing is on the wall for Spooner, 25, a talented, inconsistent third-line center who might just need a change of scenery.

It’s no coincidence the Bruins have been one of the best PP teams in the NHL the past two seasons with Spooner working the half-wall on their top unit.  

Sources have indicated Spooner’s name has been discussed leading up to this month’s Vegas expansion draft and that “the interest is out there” for a center who averaged 12 goals and 44 points the past two seasons. That doesn’t mean he’ll absolutely be moved prior to the expansion draft, but it would appear that Spooner is one of the pieces in play for the Black and Gold as fortify their roster for next season.

Sweeney is going to have to eventually execute a good hockey trade or two if he truly wants the Bruins to rise to a different level in the next couple of seasons and it sounds as if the pieces are starting to move to try and make that happen this summer. 

Bruins vs. Lightning Talking Points: Chris Wagner bringing offense, energy for B's

Bruins vs. Lightning Talking Points: Chris Wagner bringing offense, energy for B's

GOLD STAR: The Bruins are going to continue to have trouble against the deeper teams in the league, and that means struggles against the second and third lines on quality hockey clubs.

That’s what happened against the Lightning on Wednesday afternoon with guys like Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn doing the damage for the Bolts. Johnson scored the game-winner with less than two minutes to go in the third period when he slammed home the rebound of a Yanni Gourde blast after the Lightning began tilting the ice in their favor toward the end of the game.

Johnson finished with a goal and two points, a plus-1 and four shot attempts in 12:53 of ice time for Tampa Bay while using his speed and creativity to manufacture offensive chances against different B’s lines.

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BLACK EYE: He was better in the first half of the game than the second half, but Zdeno Chara didn’t look all that good against the fast, skilled and deep Lightning group. He looked a step behind in the early going when the Bruins allowed a number of odd-man rushes leading up to the first goal, and then he and Charlie McAvoy both had a mental error on a too many men on the ice penalty that led to Tampa’s second goal.

Chara settled in as things went along and finished with an assist on a Chris Wagner goal that tied things up, so it wasn’t a total loss for the 43-year-old captain. But many are going to be looking at him to see how his skating legs respond to the long layoff from hockey over the last five months, and he had definite troubles in pockets of Wednesday’s game.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins got the ice tilted on them in the third period when the Lightning outshot the B’s by a 16-9 margin and really laid it on in the final few minutes of the game before notching the winning goal.

It was a Bruins turnover from Brandon Carlo in the final few minutes as they were breaking the puck out that developed into Tampa counter-attacking and putting heavy pressure on the Bruins defense. Ultimately, the Tampa attack broke in all alone for the Tyler Johnson rebound goal after an initial Yanni Gourde blast. Carlo was another player that didn’t have a particularly strong game in 16:43 of ice time and probably needs to step up his game a little bit with the real Stanley Cup Playoffs less than a week away.  

HONORABLE MENTION: The best Bruins player through the first two games of the round robin has been fourth line winger Chris Wagner. The B’s forward has scored goals in each of the first two games and potted the game-tying score in the second period when he whacked home the rebound of a Zdeno Chara point blast.

Wagner finished with two shots on net, four total shot attempts, a team-high six hits and a pair of blocked shots in just 10:55 of ice time. If some of the other Bruins forwards were playing with the same level of energy, spirit and relentlessness right now, the Bruins would be in much better shape than facing a possible No. 4 seed to start the four rounds of the postseason. Wagner is bringing it right now.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the top seed is no longer achievable for the Bruins after losing both of the first two round robin games in regulation, and now they’ll need to play for final placement in the Sunday game against Washington. A loss could pit them against the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I thought it was a good effort. I thought we took it to them [after a tough start] and had some pretty good looks, some chances and tied the game up. Obviously, you want to give yourself a better chance and go into overtime and find a way. Not the result that you want but definitely felt more like [a good effort] tonight.” –Patrice Bergeron, on a loss to Tampa that started to feel a lot more like a typical Bruins game after two sluggish losses in the Toronto bubble.

Bruins vs. Lightning Overreactions: Jake DeBrusk's struggles are concerning

Bruins vs. Lightning Overreactions: Jake DeBrusk's struggles are concerning

It's hard to find much to like about the Boston Bruins' performance through two NHL round robin games.

The Bruins lost Sunday to the Philadelphia Flyers and again Wednesday to the Tampa Bay Lightning. As a result, the B's cannot finish any higher than third in the round robin standings, which means they won't be the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs despite winning the Presidents' Trophy in the regular season.

Outside of a few impressive individual performances, there are plenty of areas for concern involving this Bruins team. The Bruins' top line -- arguably the best trio in the league -- has one point in these two games. Patrice Bergeron earned an assist on Charlie McAvoy's second-period goal against Tampa Bay. His linemates Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have been held scoreless to this point. The second line has played even worse. David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk have generated almost nothing offensively. 

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Time is running out for the Bruins to analyze their play and make the needed corrections. Sunday's round robin finale versus the Washington Capitals is Boston's final game before the first round of the playoffs. 

Let's take a look at three instant overreactions from Bruins-Lightning and assess their merit (All advanced stats via Natural Stat Trick).

1. Jake DeBrusk's play is a concern
Verdict: Not an overreaction

The Bruins won't advance very far in the playoffs if their secondary scoring doesn't show up. One player who's relied on to provide this offensive production is DeBrusk, but he's been totally invisible through two round robin games. DeBrusk has zero goals and zero assists in two games, and after tallying two shots against the Flyers last weekend, he posted zero shots versus the Lightning.  The Bruins were out shot 11-4 during 5-on-5 action when DeBrusk was on the ice Wednesday.

DeBrusk scored a career-high 27 goals in 68 games last season, and he was unable to match that scoring rate this season with 19 goals in 65 games. The 23-year-old left winger scored only one goal in the last 14 games of the regular season, so his struggles in the Toronto bubble are not exactly new. DeBrusk is at his best when he's driving hard to the net and being aggressive, and we haven't seen enough of that in the round robin.

Let's not forget DeBrusk will be a restricted free agent in the offseason. He's playing for his first sizable contract, so he certainly doesn't need any more motivation to improve.

2. Bruins will have a really tough Round 1 opponent
Verdict: Not an overreaction

One of the consequences of the B's playing so poorly in the round robin is they will earn themselves a difficult first-round matchup. If the B's finish as the No. 4 seed, which is pretty likely at the moment, they would play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the Penguins are upset by the Montreal Canadiens in their qualifying round series, Boston would take on the Carolina Hurricanes in Round 1.

The Penguins would be the worst possible first-round opponent for the B's. Pittsburgh is loaded with veterans, many of whom were part of the team's back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 2016 and 2017. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are two of the best players of their generation, and they both have scored at better than a point-per-game pace in their playoff careers. The Hurricanes are a well-balanced team that ranked 11th in goals scored, eighth in power play percentage and fourth in penalty killing during the regular season. Carolina also is an elite puck possession team (fourth-best shot attempt percentage at 5-on-5) and gave up the third-fewest scoring chances at 5-on-5 in the regular season.

The Bruins' lack of results in the round robin has made their path back to the Stanley Cup Final a lot harder than it needed to be. It's a tough break for a team that won the Presidents' Trophy, but the B's knew the importance of the round robin and have still played terribly. 

3. Tuukka Rask will struggle to begin the playoffs
Verdict: Overreaction

Rask gave up a somewhat soft goal in the first period when the Lightning opened the scoring. The B's goaltender lost track of the puck and Lightning center Brayden Point was able to capitalize in front of the net. The Lightning scored again later in the first period on a double deflection that Rask didn't deserve much blame on. After that, Rask settled in and gave the Bruins a chance to get back into the game, and they responded by tying the score with goals from McAvoy and Chris Wagner.

Rask played his best in the third period with several important saves on quality Lightning scoring chances, including this one to deny Point.

Rask did give up the winning goal when Tyler Johnson pounced on a juicy rebound and scored to give the Lightning a 3-2 lead with 1:27 remaining. But overall, Boston's No. 1 netminder played well enough for fans to be optimistic that he'll be ready to perform at a high level when Round 1 of the playoffs begins. 

Wednesday's matchup was only Rask's second game since the season was paused in March. He was the league's best goaltender during the regular season and is the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. There's no reason to panic over his playoff readiness at this time.

Krug stands up for teammate, fights Lightning's Blake Coleman