Bruins

Bruce Cassidy on underachieving Bruins: "We have to reach our level if we expect to advance"

Bruce Cassidy on underachieving Bruins: "We have to reach our level if we expect to advance"

BOSTON – When the first round playoff series against the Maple Leafs is over with and the Boston have either advanced or started making tee times, one thing will remain true about the games played. It feels pretty clear at this point that many people, the fans, the media and perhaps some people in the B’s organization as well, vastly underestimated how difficult things would be against the Maple Leafs, and just how much that Toronto team has grown in a season.

One would have assumed that the Bruins would be the victorious team in a scoreless defensive battle that went into the third period before the first goal was scored. That assumption would have been wrong in Game 5 as Auston Matthews and Kasperi Kapanen scored third period goals to pace the Leafs to a tight, defense-heavy 2-1 win over the B’s at TD Garden.

The Bruins have now lost two of their three home games in this series and have been held to just one goal in two of those three defeats at TD Garden. It’s a far cry from the Leafs team that ranked 20th in the league in defense during the regular season averaging three goals allowed per game, and the B’s are learning that the hard way.

Clearly some credit is due to the Maple Leafs for the way they’re playing, but Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy also sounded like he’s pretty tired of watching his team fail to get to their highest level of play in this series.

“This is a whole new group, and they’ve got to find their way. That was the message [to the team]. There was a lack of urgency in our play [in Game 5]. At times it was there, but in general I don’t think this team has reached where it can get to in the playoffs in terms of team play,” said Cassidy. “We’ve had pockets of it and we’ve played well at times, with value for both of our wins. But we have to reach our level if we expect to advance.”

While it’s clear that the Bruins aren’t playing at their level best, it’s also about the Maple Leafs improving from last season. It’s almost as if adding a world class two-way center in John Tavares and a shutdown defenseman in Jake Muzzin have made the Maple Leafs significantly better than they were last spring.

“We obviously would like to see them generate more, but there’s not a lot of room out there. We’ve said it. I think Toronto has done a better job defensively on us. We have to fight our way through it, find different ways to crack at it, and I think we did out there,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I thought we got some goals [in Game 4] because we caught them in between on a pinch. We recovered a puck, got it to the top of the crease for the Marchand goal.

“Obviously, our power played helped, but we did get three even-strength goals, and I thought tonight we were having a tough time.”

So what are the Bruins to do if they want to change things in the series?

It starts with getting offense from Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak given the overwhelming success the Bruins have enjoyed when they get on the score sheet, and it continues with getting Jake DeBrusk going after he was a key offensive figure with five goals in last spring’s first round series. It sounds like the Bruins think part of the problem has been worrying too much about what Toronto is doing, and not putting enough into dictating terms in the series with their own play.

One would expect that’s going to change in Sunday’s Game 6 at Scotiabank Arena with the B’s backs against the proverbial wall.

“We’re all capable of so much more, especially collectively as a group. We have the ability to beat anyone in this league and play at the top consistently, and we showed that throughout the season,” said Torey Krug. “Now we reach this point where both teams are working hard. They’ve done a good job, but I think we just need to play up to our potential, focus on ourselves and make them adapt to us. Don’t worry too much about what they’re doing and instead focus on ourselves.”

If the Bruins carry through with all of their real talk following Game 5, there will be probably be a good result in Game 6 and an ensuing Game 7 at TD Garden next week. If they don’t then everybody will be left to wonder how this 107-point team from the regular season never quite made it to that level once they hit the Stanley Cup playoff circuit in April. 

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Boston Bruins Development Camp: Day 1 thoughts and observations

Boston Bruins Development Camp: Day 1 thoughts and observations

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Another summer means another gathering of Bruins prospects at the B’s practice facility where those recently drafted merge with past prospects and undrafted hopefuls to bring a little hockey back in late June. This time around Bruins fans won’t be seeing some of the top B’s prospects as center Jack Studnicka, winger Jakub Lauko and goalie Kyle Keyser won’t be on the ice at all over the next few days. Studnicka and Keyser both worked with the Black Aces during the B’s playoff run so they just finished up a couple of weeks ago, and Lauko was injured toward the end of his junior team’s run to the Memorial Cup Final.

So they’ll be participating without getting in any on-ice sessions. But otherwise it was a great start on Wednesday for the 31 players on the ice broken up into three work groups.

Here are some thoughts and impressions from the first day of Bruins Development Camp at Warrior Ice Arena on Wednesday morning:

*2019 first round pick John Beecher is massive and he’s super-fast on the ice. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame looks like it’s ready to add even more size and his big, ice-chopping strides really stand out when he’s doing any kind of drills on the ice. Certainly it remains to be seen how his skill is going to translate into offense beyond what he did as basically a fourth-line center on the US NTDP behind Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte and Trevor Zegras, but the tools are there for him to be a big, fast game-changer from the center position. It sounds like he’s going to be a top-6 center for the University of Michigan right off the bat next season, so Bruins fans paying attention to college hockey will be able to see pretty quickly how his raw talent is going to translate into points and production.

*It’s still difficult for me to figure out 2018 second-round pick Axel Andersson. The defenseman makes some nice plays like during one drill when he showed some wiggle through the middle of the ice and snapped one under the bar during one particular line rush. But he also fumbled away picks during those very same drills and doesn’t look like the smooth offensive player he was reputed to be when the Bruins drafted him last summer. He’s planning to play in Providence this coming season and that will be a better time to evaluate exactly what the Bruins have in Andersson. In the good news department it does seem like he’s gained 5-10 pounds from last season and filled out a bit, which will be a necessity to deal with the physicality coming his way in the AHL.

*It’s really too bad that Bruins fans won’t get a chance to watch Jack Studnicka and Jakub Lauko in this week’s development camp as they’re arguably the two most exciting forward prospects in the entire system. Studnicka is expected to push for a top-6 center gig at the NHL level in the next couple of seasons and Lauko excited everybody with his performance at Bruins training camp last season when he showed a package of skill, speed and tenacity that could be really effective at the NHL level. Instead both players will rest up, heal up and get ready for NHL training camp in the fall where both could begin their long journey toward locking down NHL jobs.

*Obviously 6-foot-6 Daniel Vladar looks big and imposing in his goalie equipment between the pipes as he has during his long tenure as a Bruins prospect. But Jeremy Swayman was impressive during the opening day of development camp after putting together a strong season at the University of Maine where he’s posted save percentages of .921 and .919 in his first two seasons for the Black Bears. He showed some tremendous athleticism during the drills on the opening day of the camp, and looked like the best goalie in the bunch while sharing time with a great story in incoming Merrimack goalie and Walpole native James Corcoran.

*One player that stood out on the first day of development camp from a free agent perspective was 19-year-old Matt Brown, a New Jersey native playing for Des Moines (30 goals and 57 points in 57 games) in the USHL. Brown is only 5-foot-9, 181-pounds, but his speed and hard, heavy shot were both head-turners during the drills as he looked powerful both skating and shooting, and should be an impact player for the UMass-Lowell hockey program he’ll be headed to starting next season.  

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Projecting contract offers for the Bruins' restricted free agents

Projecting contract offers for the Bruins' restricted free agents

Don Sweeney's biggest strength is re-signing his own players. He's not amazing in the draft, has handed out some horrid free-agent contracts and has been hit-or-miss in the trade market, but there might not be a better GM in the league at locking up his own guys. That alone is a primary reason as to why the Bruins remain an annual Cup contender.

Brad Marchand is entering the fourth year of an eight-year pact negotiated by Sweeney with an absolute steal of a $6.12 average annual value. David Pastrnak has four years left at $6.66 million a year on a contract also done by Sweeney. Those are two of the best contracts in the league. 

Now, it's time for Sweeney to work his magic again. Boston has three key restricted free agents in Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen. Though the values of the players vary, none are more important than McAvoy, Sweeney's best draft pick as Boston's GM. 

As we learned with Pastrnak, what a player deserves and what they eventually sign for can be very different. Here are some guestimations at what these RFAs could get, while always allowing for the possibility that Sweeney pulls off another miracle or two. 

(Note: Money is tight right now for the Bruins, who have a little over $12 million in cap space. This means that not only should we expect unrestricted free agents Marcus Johansson and Noel Acciari to depart, but a trade to shed salary is seemingly coming.) 

CHARLIE MCAVOY

McAvoy is the Bruins' best defenseman right now and figures to be for a long time. The Bruins' priority should be to sign him to as long a contract as possible (eight years is the max) so they won't have to give him yet another massive raise in a few years. 

That's what happened with the Canadiens and P.K. Subban. The Habs cheaped out and gave Subban a two-year bridge deal at the end of Subban's entry-level contract. One Norris later, they had to pay him $9 million and eventually traded a very good player because they'd mishandled the money with him. 

So what would it cost the Bruins to avoid such a scenario with McAvoy, who reportedly turned down the Bruins' first offer last summer? Evolving Hockey has a contract projection tool that factors in the market, production and the actual standing of the salary cap to determine hypothetical deals for free agents. It pegs McAvoy's next deal at $7.13 million a year over six years. 

That's not a bad deal for the Bruins, but if I'm them and know that I've got to dip into the $7 million range to get him on a longer deal, I'd try to go all the way in an effort to get him for eight years at $7.5 million per, which is the same contract as Florida's Aaron Ekblad. That way you've got his prime years, taking him up to unrestricted free agency at 29. 

The best-case scenario: Eight years at around $7.5 million AAV

The good-enough scenario: Six years at around $7 million AAV

The playing-with-fire scenario: Four years in the $6 million AAV range

BRANDON CARLO

With all due respect to Carlo, the steady shutdown defenseman isn't going to threaten for Norrises and huge contracts the way McAvoy is. That said, the Bruins saw when he finally played in the postseason just how valuable to the operation Carlo is. 

The Bruins won't need to sell out to keep Carlo around, as it's not like the money he'd make in UFA after a six-year deal would be enough to make him the flight risk McAvoy could become in such a scenario. So while you don't need to go eight, bumping up Carlo's AAV a bit to get him for five or six years would be a very good idea. Evolved Hockey projects a contract for him at $4.23 million annually for six years. If I'm the Bruins, I call up Carlo's camp and try to get that deal done ASAP. 

The best-case scenario: Six years at around $4.5 million AAV 

The unnecessary scenario: Eight years at around $5.5 million AAV 

The boring scenario: Four years at around $3.75 million AAV

DANTON HEINEN 

You've got to think both sides take the measured approach here and re-assess in a couple of years. Heinen is a good NHL player and a sure thing at wing beyond Boston's stars in Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk. He's not yet reached his ceiling, however, and if he has, he's in for just a decent career. 

That said, the Bruins should give him a two-year deal to see what's what. Is he the long-term answer on Patrice Bergeron's right or is he a two-way bottom-sixer best served at driving possession and special teams? There's value in both those things, but one is obviously worth a lot more. 

Evolving Hockey pegs Heinen at two years times $2.89 million. My guess was about two times $3 million, so anything around there is perfect. It won't break the bank but it will give you stability on the wing. 

The logical scenario: Two years at around $2.5-3 million AAV

The other scenarios: I'm not sure they exist

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