Bruins

Bruins place veteran David Backes on waivers for AHL assignment

Bruins place veteran David Backes on waivers for AHL assignment

The Bruins made a minor shockwave Wednesday when they placed Brett Ritchie on waivers in the wake of an embarrassing loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Now a much bigger move with more seismic shockwaves has arrived, as the Bruins have also placed David Backes on waivers for the purpose of sending him down to the AHL affiliate Providence Bruins for assignment.

It’s a move that’s been a possibility since the summer, as the 35-year-old Backes holds a $6 million cap hit and is nowhere close to the player the Bruins expected to get when they signed him to a free agent contract three years ago.

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Backes has not been present at the Bruins practice facility for the last couple of days and had a curiously-termed a maintenance day Thursday even though he's barely played over the last few weeks. 

Instead Backes has just one goal and three points in 16 games along with a minus-2 rating this season while averaging just 8:35 of ice time, and he’s understandably been a bit hesitant to play an overly physical game after he suffered another concussion earlier this season.

Bruce Cassidy referenced this along with Kevan Miller's injury to Kevan Miller as developments that have adversely impacted Boston’s ability to play the rugged, physical game that many expect the team to employ on a regular basis. 

“We’ve tried to change our roster – that’s [general manager Don Sweeney] and I both – we’ve had discussions on who we’ve drafted,” said Cassidy, explaining the team’s mindset at building their roster with a mix of skill and toughness. “You draft skill guys like [Anders] Bjork, [Danton] Heinen, [Jake] DeBrusk and you can put [Pastrnak] in that mix too because he’s that type of a skill player and that’s the direction we’ve tried to go while keeping – obviously [Zdeno] Chara is more than tough – the Kevan Millers of the world. [He] happens to be injured and that’s a tough one. Connor Clifton is a guy that gives us some bite sometimes [but] he’s injured.

“We’ve tried to keep certain guys in the lineup. Chris Wagner is a physical player, [David] Backes had some of that in him, but he gets concussions a little bit and now we’re talking about what level is he going to be able to go for his personal health? I think we’ve tried to balance it. But if it’s out there [that there was a lack of response], people have a right to say it.”

Backes had just seven goals and 20 points in 70 games last season for the Bruins, and was a healthy scratch in the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final against his former St. Louis Blues team last June.

The move will remove roughly $1 million of his overall $6 million cap hit from the Bruins books once Backes has been dropped to Providence, and that will free the B’s up to make any number of roster moves ahead of the NHL trade deadline next month.

It’s expected that Backes is going to clear through waivers without being claimed and there’s a very distinct possibility that he’ll be bought out of the final year of a contract that really didn’t work out for the Bruins since his arrival in Boston. 

NHL Power Rankings: Bruins, Lightning a clear top two

NHL Power Rankings: Bruins, Lightning a clear top two

It took nearly five months into the regular season for it to happen, but the Bruins and Lightning have separated from everybody else in the NHL.

The two Atlantic Division powerhouses are just one point apart in the division, but they are both more than five points ahead of everybody else in the league. That includes a Pittsburgh team that’s been hot recently and a Washington club that’s back to their deep, dangerous selves after taking a season off last year after celebrating their Stanley Cup title.

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The Lightning have won 11 games in a row and lost two regulation games since Christmas, and they are finally living up to the massive potential within their roster. And now they’ve added the speedy, gritty Blake Coleman in an impressive deal to make them even tougher to play against.

Through it all, the Bruins have managed to stay on top of Tampa Bay, and keep one step ahead of them. That’s just as impressive as the Lightning’s scorching hot run over the last two months.

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Bruins needs are no secret ahead of NHL trade deadline

Bruins needs are no secret ahead of NHL trade deadline

There are few secrets about the Bruins or the strengths and weaknesses that face them heading into the stretch run and Stanley Cup Playoffs that follow.

The Bruins rely on the NHL’s best line — the Perfection Line — superior special teams play, and the NHL’s top goaltending duo along with a strong defensemen group for their winning formula, and it’s proven plenty good enough during the regular season in recent years. The B’s currently sit at an NHL-best 86 points on the season and have a six-point lead on everybody else in the NHL aside from their hard-charging divisional rivals in Tampa Bay.

The Bruins have won nine of their last 10 games after a ragged stretch of play in December/January and have been rolling since the NHL All-Star break while understandably feeling good about their game right now.

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“We’re taking a lot more value in [the defensive] part of the game, and some of it is getting the balance in the lines so that they’re fresh, getting everyone involved,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think most of our minutes now you’ll see, our forwards are typically at the least amount is 10 minutes sometimes for the lower guys if they’re not killing too many penalties, so I think that helps everyone stay in the game as well.”

When the Bruins are going well as they are right now, they are getting balanced play from their roster. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case and it’s something that gets exposed when they play high-quality competition.

The weaknesses on the Bruins roster are equally clear and easy to diagnose because it’s been the same old thing for the last handful of years.

The Bruins have tried multiple times to acquire top-6 wingers who can produce offense, whether it’s been band-aid deadline solutions like Marcus Johansson and Drew Stafford, or a stab at an attempted long-term fix when they traded for Rangers power forward Rick Nash. They couldn’t predict the abrupt, concussion-influenced retirement from the NHL for Nash following a few months in Black and Gold, and so a top-6 winger continues to be Don Sweeney’s "white whale" on the Bruins roster.

Once the playoffs begin and the Bruins face deeper, bigger and stronger defensive groups, the prolific Perfection Line routinely goes through stretches where they are held in check by opponents. It’s a prominent factor when the Bruins lost to the Lightning in the second round two years ago, and one of the prime reasons the B’s fell in seven games to the St. Louis Blues last June in the Stanley Cup Final.

When it happens, the Bruins become almost completely reliant on their power play to provide offensive punch while the other forward lines haven’t been able to effectively fill the scoring void.

The only way that’s going to change is for the Bruins to bring in a top-6 forward who can play the role of game-breaker and finish off the offensive chances set up by linemates David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. The Bruins need another forward line that can put a scare in opponents offensively and they simply don’t have it consistently right now, just as they haven’t had it in the last handful of seasons.  

With names like Tyler Toffoli, Blake Coleman and Jason Zucker now off the trade deadline board, the Bruins are down to some of their top big-name trade choices in Chris Kreider, Kyle Palmieri and Josh Anderson.

Kreider would be the optimal choice because of his skating speed, consistency and the size and occasional mean streak that the Bruins could surely use among their top-6 group. But there are options out there provided Sweeney doesn’t get hung up waiting for Kreider to be made available to teams.

The other need for the Bruins at this point?

With Kevan Miller out for the entire season to this point with a fractured kneecap that sidelined him for last spring’s entire Stanley Cup Final run as well, the Bruins are a little light on the back end. The B’s could use a big, strong, hardnosed and physical defenseman capable of holding other teams accountable and doling out physical punishment in the D-zone.

The Bruins may have found an in-house solution in 22-year-old Jeremy Lauzon, who most recently served a two-game suspension for drilling Derek Stepan with a big, high hit against the side boards in a home win over the Coyotes. But that particular roster need is the reason they were linked to defenseman Brenden Dillon in trade rumors before he was eventually shipped from the San Jose Sharks to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday for a couple draft picks.

It’s also less than ideal to rely on a rookie like Lauzon as a rugged, grizzled enforcer on the back end when it comes to playoff time. That’s something else to consider when Don Sweeney goes shopping over the next five days ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline, a date that’s quickly becoming anticlimactic given all the trades getting consummated well ahead of time.

Sweeney knows the team’s greatest needs, he’s on the clock and the pressure is on the Bruins general manager to adequately address them ahead of next Monday’s deadline.