Bruins

Bruins can't make the mistake of falling in love with this Cup Final team

Bruins can't make the mistake of falling in love with this Cup Final team

BRIGHTON, Mass – It would be foolish for the Bruins to allow themselves to think that they’ve figured something out in their interesting run to the Stanley Cup Final this spring.

Certainly, it was an entertaining, inspiring ride for Bruins fans as the B's came within one 60-minute effort of ratcheting up their legacy if they could have captured that second Stanley Cup in a 10-year span. Had the Bruins escaped victoriously in Game 7 over the St. Louis Blues, one could have mentioned them in the same breath as the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins as teams of the decade.

Certainly, another Stanley Cup would have burnished the Hall of Fame resumes of Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, and taken Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask to different strata within the NHL hierarchy as well.

But they fell short with a dud of a Game 7 effort in the 4-1 loss and the Bruins need to make sure they don't let their appearance in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final go to their heads. That won’t be a problem for most of the players, of course.

“That’s what makes it sting even more is how close everybody was on this team,” said Jake DeBrusk. “We just lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It doesn’t get more sour than that. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

It was as much about the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins losing in the first round of the playoffs as it was about anything the Bruins did on their march to the Cup Final. They beat the Maple Leafs in seven games in a tough series to be sure, but they weren’t exactly facing the East’s iron with second- and third-round opponents in Columbus and Carolina.

It’s paramount that Bruins management doesn’t fall in love with this group of players just because of “the run.” Instead, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney should take heed of the way his forwards couldn’t fight through the big, brawny Blues defensemen corps and had little success getting to the loose pucks and rebounds left around the net by Jordan Binnington.

At this point, the Bruins should consider heavily the notion that the "Perfection Line" needs to be broken up with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak unable to get through the Blues defense while being stymied in the series. 
Sure, it sounds like Marchand and Bergeron were banged up and Pastrnak was fighting the mental battle with his confidence throughout the postseason.

Still, it’s also obvious that Marchand and Bergeron need a big power forward-type on their right wing who can fight his way to the net when No. 37 and No. 63 are subdued physically.

That should be the first order of business for the Bruins this offseason and it could go hand-in-hand with a couple of other things. One is the potential buyout of David Backes’ contract to open up a roster spot and clear out cap space for restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo as they’re due big raises this summer.

Another is a potential trade of defenseman Torey Krug, who is in the final season of a contract paying him just shy of $6 million for next season. Krug is coming off an excellent regular season and a tremendous playoff performance that would have had him in the discussion for the Conn Smythe Trophy had the B’s pulled off the Cup Final win. So, the value will be high for a player who's still in his 20’s (28), has been to a pair of Cup Finals and will be due a big raise of his own when his contract expires following next season.

Krug might just be the bait that could net the Bruins their desired top-six power forward, but they will need to think long and hard about trading a fierce competitor and ultra-competitive player.

There’s also the possibility that the Bruins could look to move David Krejci this summer. The playmaking center is coming off a strong 20-goal, 73-point regular season, but the 33-year-old was also a ghost in the Cup Final and faded badly in the postseason.

The Bruins could field some interest for Krejci at his peak value coming off a Cup Final and trading away his $7.25 million cap hit would go a long way toward solving some salary-cap complications.  

The bottom line for the Bruins: the worst thing they could do is stand pat and do nothing thinking the season was a success. Instead, they should see an aging core group with oncoming salary cap issues caused in part by their success drafting and developing. Still, it's a team that didn’t have enough to get over the hump when it mattered most.

It remains to be seen if this kind of situation will open up again for the Bruins anytime soon with the Lightning and Maple Leafs still talented and looming in their division every season. The B's need to make some changes if they want to be in the best position to take advantage if that golden playoff pathway opens up again in the near future.

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Could the Bruins have been players in the Lucic trade talks?

Could the Bruins have been players in the Lucic trade talks?

The Edmonton Oilers were finally able to move a difficult contract this weekend when they shipped Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for James Neal in a rare trade between Battle of Alberta rivals.

Calgary also received a conditional third-round pick in 2020 along with the Oilers retaining 12.5 percent of the remainder of Lucic’s contract, which will see him at a $5.25 million cap hit with the Flames for the next four seasons. The Oilers are rid of the Lucic contract, but they’re still on the hook for four years of Neal, 31, at $5.75 million after he, too, showed serious signs of decline last season with the Flames.

These are the kinds of “no real winner” trades that the Bruins would have to engage in if they wanted to move 35-year-old David Backes in the final years of his contract. Sure, the Backes contract has never been good value and it became something else last season when the power forward’s production dropped to just seven goals and 20 points in 70 games amid concussion issues on top of decreased production.

Lucic, 31, had similar numbers last season with six goals and 20 points in 79 games with the Oilers, and it’s been clear for a couple of seasons that his best days are behind him as one of the NHL’s premier power forwards. The argument could be made, though, that those heavy skating legs might have been energized a bit by a return to Boston and certainly his fighting, snarling game is a little more in line with what the B’s need to protect some of their younger players these days.

Could the Bruins have engineered a similar trade involving Backes with the Oilers to get Lucic back at $5.25 million with Edmonton retaining some salary thus saving the B's almost $1 million cap space the next couple of seasons?

Absolutely.

The question becomes whether it would have been worth it to take on a couple more years of Lucic when Backes is going to be finishing up his deal two seasons from now and becomes a prime buyout candidate at this time next year.

This is why it’s become almost impossible to move Backes. It’s going to be very difficult to find a deal for another problem contract where the B’s aren’t inheriting more years indebted to the player coming back in a trade. Or it’s going to take a first-round pick sweetener for another team to accept the Backes contract along with Boston potentially picking up some of the money.

One of the few remaining players out there the Bruins could potentially swap bad contracts for is old friend Loui Eriksson with the Vancouver. It was Backes who the B’s signed when Eriksson walked in free agency, and the 34-year-old Swedish winger hasn’t come close to repeating his final Boston season while with the Canucks.

Eriksson had 11 goals and 29 points in 81 games for Vancouver last season and has been pretty consistent while averaging 10 goals and 25 points in his three underperforming seasons with the Canucks. Again, though, the Bruins would be taking on one additional season at the $6 million cap hit in 2021-22 if they were to do an even swap of Backes-for-Eriksson if both teams signed off on the one-for-one trade.

Even that doesn’t make sound business sense for the Black and Gold if they can just squeeze one more season of productivity out of Backes as a bottom-six winger willing to stand up for his teammates and show leadership.

What does all of this mean?

It means the Bruins aren’t going to find many, if any, realistic trade scenarios with Backes that are going to help their bottom line on the salary cap. They may just need to make the best out of one more season with No. 42 and then revisit things again next summer when there could be a few more options at their disposal.

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Young, promising Kyle Keyser prepares to enter Bruins goaltending picture

Young, promising Kyle Keyser prepares to enter Bruins goaltending picture

He might not have quite the cachet of Jack Studnicka or Jakub Lauko as an uber-prospect for the Bruins. Just by virtue of not being drafted or playing forward, young goaltender Kyle Keyser is more of a blip on the radar screen as another young B’s player headed into a key developmental year with the organization.

Keyser, like Studnicka and Lauko, didn’t take part in the on-ice portion of this summer’s development camp and only played in a single regular-season game for the Providence Bruins in the AHL at the end of this past season. That came after Keyser, 20, posted a .915 save percentage and 2.75 goals-against average in his final regular season with the Oshawa Generals and preceded a run for the young goalie as part of the Black Aces in this spring’s Stanley Cup playoff run.

“The playoff time in Oshawa was something truly awesome to experience,” said Keyser, who posted a sterling .925 save percentage in Oshawa’s 15-game run through the Memorial Cup playoffs. “Being with those guys in my first long playoff run and the camaraderie of being in a group playing for one another was something special. It was great to be around.”

It’s also something for Keyser to build on as he enters the first season of a three-year, entry-level contract signed with Boston back in Oct. 2017 after the 6-foot-2, 180-pound goalie from Coral Springs, Fla., took part in B’s development camp as a free-agent prospect.

Now is an exceedingly interesting time for the young puck-stopper as the Bruins boasted one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL last season in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Certainly, it was educational for Keyser to get an up-front seat to the way Rask performed while helping bring the B’s all the way to Game 7 of the Cup Final with a brilliant couple of months in the postseason.

It’s very likely that will be the same NHL tandem for Boston again this year with Rask and Halak signed for next year and Rask signed for another season at $7 million afterward.

“Being here at the end of the season and being around these guys at playoff time was incredible,” said Keyser, who has essentially been a Black Ace practice goalie with the Bruins in each of their last two postseasons. “Being at the Garden for every game and seeing the atmosphere gives you chills whether it was the first game or the last one.

“Watching Tuukka every single game, everybody saw the performance he put up in the playoffs. Just learning from every single minute with him and watching him as closely as possible, it was an incredible experience. It was probably one of the best goaltending performances that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, and maybe of all time. To witness that in person was something special. You don’t take that for granted.”

One thing not under debate: The role of “goalie of the future” in the Bruins organization is completely up for grabs headed into this season and Keyser will be in that mix.

Certainly, Keyser and Daniel Vladar, 21, will both be competing to be that guy in the AHL next season with free-agent signee Max Lagace around as the veteran mentor. The 6-5 Vladar, coming off a disappointing year where he posted an .898 save percentage in his first full AHL season, is entering the final year of his entry-level contract with the Black and Gold.

There’s also Jeremy Swayman further down the organizational depth chart while still in development as the No. 1 goalie for the University of Maine, but he’s years away from potentially pushing into the NHL picture.

All three will get a chance to show they might be worthy of being Rask’s backup in 2020-21 when Halak has presumably moved on, and the B’s are getting much closer to deciding on Tuukka’s future in Boston.

It’s going to be Keyser’s time to step up and push into the Bruins' organizational picture and show that there’s a potential young option for Boston should injuries, or something else, create an NHL goaltending opening. It’s doubtful there would be any kind of scenario, other than injury, that would create a goalie need in Boston this season, but one can’t rule anything out in the long-term future given Boston’s tight salary-cap situation.

It’s the exact kind of opportunity that Keyser is hoping to run with as he enters his first full pro season with the B’s organization.

“To get with the strength and conditioning guys and with the nutrition [staff] is great any time of year, but even more now in the summer when you’re trying to get stronger,” said Keyser. “You’re trying to get stronger and put yourself in the best position to succeed next year. I want to make sure I’m doing everything to make sure I’m fresh and ready to go when next season starts.”

It will be a gigantic, first impression-type season for Keyser next year. Getting through development camp last month was one of the hurdles in getting ready to seize the moment, but there’s a long way to go for Keyser and the rest of Boston’s young goalie crew.

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