Bruins expected to get AHL reinforcements should NHL season resume

Bruins expected to get AHL reinforcements should NHL season resume

Things will be different for the NHL when the league does resume the 2019-20 season, and that extends to teams' rosters as well.

There will be no continuation of the AHL season if the NHL players get going again over the next couple of months, but there is expected to be an expanded NHL roster that would include extra players from the American League.

They will essentially serve as the “Black Aces” like during the NHL postseason while practicing with the team and potentially getting inserted into the lineup if/when injuries do strike.

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Providence Bruins head coach Jay Leach pointed toward young forwards like Jack Studnicka and Trent Frederic as players who would be in the mix for an expanded roster role in Boston, and it’s just as likely that guys like Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen would be included in that NHL-ready group as well.

For his part, the 21-year-old Studnicka has been working out and roller-blading in Michigan over the last couple of months and stands ready to contribute if his number is called.

Certainly, Studnicka could be a big factor as his 23 goals and 49 points in 60 games for the P-Bruins would attest in his first pro season. He’s got the skill to play center or wing if needed and he’s still building strength into his 6-foot frame.

“I’m going to be ready. I feel ready,” said Studnicka, who got his feet wet with two NHL games this season including an NHL debut in the Bell Centre against the Canadiens. “I haven’t heard much on the topic. You see the rumors about what the plan is and I would love for a scenario like that to play out. Hopefully the NHL comes back and I’m able to be a part of it. That’s something I’d definitely be looking forward to.

“Last year I went through the experience of [being a Black Ace] to see the competition live and it was unbelievable. This time around hopefully we come out on the other side. I feel like I’ve had a good season down in Providence and proved that I could help the organization win. Whether they decide if it’s as a Black Ace or playing [games], that’s for them to decide. I’m willing to do whatever they ask when the time comes.”

Clearly the 22-year-old Frederic could help as well with a sturdy 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame to go along with eight goals and 32 points in 59 games and a whopping 148 penalty minutes. Frederic didn’t hesitate to drop the gloves this season while leading the AHL in fighting majors, but it was toughness and physicality up front that would be of big-time use to the Black and Gold.

“I don’t think anybody has a clue because from what I understand, we won’t know the size of the group,” said Leach during a Monday Zoom conference call with reporters, when asked if he could identify which P-Bruins skaters would be with the Boston team if and when NHL play resumes. “This is just my best guess, but I think it’s the guys that we talk about.

“It’s [Jack] Studnicka, it’s [Trent] Frederic. If we’re talking five guys it would be Studnicka, Frederic, Zboril, Vaakanainen and [Steve] Kampfer. I think [Karson] Kuhlman would be in that mix too since he’d been in Boston before. It’s tough to nail down, but that’s who I’d be going with to start. Where does it end? It depends on what the limit is and what they’re going to need. I don’t think anybody can forecast that right now. I can tell you there are plenty of candidates.”

Clearly there will need to be a healthy number of substitute players as nobody knows for sure how many players could end up getting sidelined if a player were to test positive for COVID-19 once play resumes.

And some of Boston’s best and brightest prospects would be a good place to start when fortifying a Bruins roster for what’s expected to be a slew of unknowns over the next few months.

How important is getting the No. 3 seed for Bruins?

File photo

How important is getting the No. 3 seed for Bruins?

After losing the first two games of the round robin, the Bruins have only two places they can finish in the Eastern Conference's seeding: third or fourth.

So while Sunday's round-robin finale against the Capitals will mean more than one last chance to get into a rhythm before the playoffs. It will determine who they end up facing in the first round.

Trying to figure out whether the Bruins should aim for the No. 3 or No. 4 seed is a bit of a headache. After going through the scenarios and for sure getting that headache, it would very much be worth it to grab that No. 3 seed, assuming the current play-in series hold as is.

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If there are no comebacks in the five-gamers, the No. 1 seed would get the No. 12 Canadiens and the No. 2 seed would get the Blue Jackets. The No. 3 seed would get the Islanders and the No. 4 seed would get the Hurricanes.

A potential decisive Game 5 for the Penguins and Canadiens would be Saturday night, meaning that by the time the Bruins and Capitals play each other for third place Sunday, they'll know who awaits the loser (either Pittsburgh or Carolina). Furthermore, the Flyers and Lightning play for first place Saturday, so the 3 and 4 seed would be able to do some light projections as to whom they might get in the second round.

Neither Pittsburgh nor Carolina are desirable opponents, but let's say Pittsburgh comes back and wins. That would mean if the Bruins win and get the No. 3 seed, they get Carolina, and if they lose, they get Pittsburgh.

That's a yucky scenario either way. Pittsburgh, despite not being the toughest matchup for Boston, is a recent back-to-back Cup winner and will have just found life after coming from behind to win their series. Carolina is loaded on the back end, which would be difficult for a Boston team that is rail thin offensively. The Hurricanes can also score, as they were 11th in the NHL in goals per game this season and added up front at the trade deadline. With the way the Bruins are currently playing, that would be a very difficult series.

The Bruins should hope two things happen: First, the Canadiens hold on to sink the Penguins. Then, Boston does the unthinkable and wins a hockey game when they play the Caps. Though there was plenty to like about the Islanders' roster at the stoppage (J.G. Pageau was a good pickup), having seen the Bruins' issues, the Islanders would be a far preferable matchup to getting Carolina.

Really, if the Bruins could get the No. 3 seed, the Islanders could be just the opponent for them in the first round as they get their act together. Like the Bruins, the Islanders are strong down the middle, but they're even worse on the wing than Boston. The Bruins' defense and Tuukka Rask would theoretically handle business against the NHL's 22nd ranked offense while the Bruins try to figure out which wings to assign to centers David Krejci and Charlie Coyle.

A lot can change in the meantime, but there's more to be gained from a win Sunday than learning that winning is indeed possible. The Bruins shouldn't want Carolina (or Pittsburgh). They should want the Islanders and that No. 3 seed.

Bruins' Torey Krug isn't changing his playing style despite unknown future

Bruins' Torey Krug isn't changing his playing style despite unknown future

There are certainly some guys around the NHL who can become preoccupied with their contracts when it comes to their free agent seasons.

Some like Loui Eriksson seem to take it to another level when there’s potential money on the line in a walk year before sinking down to a lower level of play the rest of the time, and others that can become overwhelmed by the unknown right in front of them.

Some can even change their games and play safer knowing an injury or high-risk/high-loss performances could end up hurting them at the negotiating table.

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Bruins defenseman Torey Krug is absolutely none of those things, however, and showed exactly why in Wednesday’s 3-2 round robin loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Scotiabank Arena in the Toronto bubble. Krug ended up with an assist while playing a team-high 22 minutes of ice time in the game against Tampa Bay, but it was a play toward the end of the first period that showed what the puck-moving defenseman is — and always will be — about.

Blake Coleman took a blindside shot at Brandon Carlo at the defensive blue line after the B’s defenseman got rid of the puck, and Krug too umbrage to his longtime ‘D’ partner getting targeted.  

Krug immediately made a straight line toward Coleman and dropped the gloves with the Lightning agitator acquired at the trade deadline. It was a brief bout that Krug joked on a Zoom call with NBC Sports Boston was more like “throwing pillows”, to be sure.

But the fisticuffs also showed Krug has no intentions of changing the fiery, competitive way he plays, or even worse playing it safe, even with just a few months left on his Bruins contract.

Maybe he stays with the Bruins after this season and maybe there’s just not enough salary cap space to match the big money he’d command on the free agent market, but Krug isn’t ever going to let his individual future get in the way of serving as an on-ice leader for the Bruins.

“To be honest, I never thought twice about [fighting Coleman]. I’ll block a shot with my face if I have to in order to win a Stanley Cup with this group,” said Krug, of the lessons in winning hockey passed on to him during his time in Boston from past B’s defensemen like Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk as well as current veteran leaders like captain Zdeno Chara. “I’m the type of guy that you get what you see. I’m going to give 110 percent, as much as I can. And the group knows it.

That’s why this group is special in the first place because we expect it out of each other regardless of everybody’s individual situation. Regardless of how long somebody has been in the league, we all have each other’s backs and we go to work for each other. We have our own individual contracts and we all do things our certain way, but at the end of it, we all bond and play for each other. That’s what makes a team successful.

One other thing: It seems pretty clear there aren’t going to be any Bruins contract extensions with Krug while the Stanley Cup Playoffs are ongoing.

He said his focus is on the task at hand in the postseason and he’ll think about his contract, his future and the status of his tenure with the Bruins when the current Stanley Cup run has come to either a happy or unfulfilled conclusion.

“I’m not even thinking about [free agency]. My focus right now is on helping the Boston Bruins win hockey games. I really, really enjoy being part of this group. I have lifetime friends on this team. I’m just trying to embrace the opportunity we have here,” said Krug during an exclusive Zoom call with NBC Sports Boston. “It’s unique in a sense that I get to do it in a bubble and we get to hang out every day and enjoy each other’s company. I’m just trying to embrace it. I’ll think about all that other stuff after the season.”

There is still some question about just how much COVID-19 and the significant economic aftershocks of it on the NHL are going to impact player contracts this offseason, and for a few more seasons beyond next one as well.

It may mean that Krug’s seven-year career might be over with the Bruins in the next few months because they simply can’t afford the $7-8 million per season he’ll command amidst the salary cap crunch.

But Krug’s selfless physicality served as the spark plug catalyst for Boston’s improved play in the tight round-robin loss to Tampa Bay, and he showed with his actions that he’s not about to change the feisty spirit to his game — regardless of what the future holds.