Bruins

Chara, Bergeron headline the Bruins group who'll skip China trip

Chara, Bergeron headline the Bruins group who'll skip China trip

BOLTON, Mass. – The Bruins will be sending a large contingent of their NHL roster over to China for a week-plus trip that will include a couple of preseason games against the Calgary Flames September 15 and 19. Still, there will be several notable absences from the traveling contingent.

The B's 41-year-old captain Zdeno Chara will stay behind in Boston along with Patrice Bergeron, Torey Krug, Anders Bjork and Noel Acciari, who will stay behind with the Bruins training staff to rehab injuries. Sean Kuraly and Danton Heinen will also remain in Boston after they manned the Bruins goodwill trip to China earlier this summer.  

Bergeron (groin surgery), Krug (fractured ankle), Bjork (shoulder surgery) and Acciari (sports hernia surgery) may not be ready to play preseason games at the beginning of the schedule, so it didn’t make sense for the Black and Gold to truck them all the way to China.

“Chara isn’t going...Noel Acciari...Torey Krug. [Bergeron, Acciari and Krug] are injury-related. We knew they’d be skating now and we’d assume they’ll all be ready, but if they’re not able to play games it’s a long way to go,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “I’m not saying they will or won’t be able to play games, but [that was the thinking] when we made this decision a month ago. Kuraly and Heinen won’t go simply because they went in July and to save on the wear and tear [of travel].

“But we’re bringing the three young centers [Jack Studnicka, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Trent Frederic] because we’d like to see them over there. That’s the reason we’re taking them; we think there’s going to be some internal competition for that third line center position. [Kuraly] and Chris Wagner will certainly be in that mix as well, so that’s the five guys that are regulars.”

As for Chara, the idea of traveling from a European time zone to East Coast time and then zipping over to China for the roughly 12-hour time difference wasn’t something he was particularly looking forward to at the start of an 82-game season. So the 6-foot-9 D-man will instead stick behind and lead the young crew expected to work under the watchful eye of assistant coach Joe Sacco while Cassidy, Jay Pandolfo and goaltending coach Bob Essensa all head to China with the rest of the team.

“I was asked early in May or June if I would like to go, and I said I wouldn’t mind it. But now it’s just kind of that I’m totally okay staying back. I’m not sad or upset about it,” said Chara, who seemed to pretty clearly prefer staying behind in Boston. “I’m kind of glad I’m staying back. I don’t have to deal with the travel and the different time zones. I’ve just come back from Europe, so I know the guys will be dealing with quite a few time differences when they go out there and then when they come back.

“I can always enjoy some more time being in Boston. There is plenty of time to [visit China] later on so I’m not worried about it.”

Given Chara’s clear preference, it does beg the question as to how such a globe-trotting trip is going to impact the Black and Gold early in the season. The good news is that two of the most important Bruins -- Bergeron and Chara -- will be skipping all of the festivities, but that isn’t going to save the rest of the team from potential early-season fatigue after returning home a couple of weeks before the October 3 season-opener in Washington.

The Bruins began a partnership with Beijing-based O.R.G. Packaging in 2015. They first hosted Chinese youth hockey players for clinics in Boston in 2016 and had a contingent, including David Pastrnak, travel to China that same year to conduct clinics there. Last year, Torey Krug joined Pastrnak and other Bruins past and present who held clinics in Beijing and Shanghai. 

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Jake DeBrusk's agent brushes off talk of hometown discount with Bruins

Jake DeBrusk's agent brushes off talk of hometown discount with Bruins

While the NHL offseason has been put off until the late fall based on the Return to Play timeline, it’s still coming for the NHL and for salary cap-strapped teams like the Boston Bruins.

The NHL is on the verge of approving a CBA extension with the NHLPA that’s going to push out a flat salary cap for at least two seasons, and it could end up being three seasons based on the expected economic and revenue downturn.

That means the NHL is going to have an $81.5 million salary cap ceiling for at least the next few years, and the Bruins won’t have a ton of space based on the $63.5 million already paid out for salaries for the 2020-21 NHL season.

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The Bruins will then have about $18 million in cap space to sign restricted free agents Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk and Anders Bjork as well as unrestricted free agents Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara. The Bruins aren’t expected to pay out abnormally extravagant numbers to Bjork, Grzelcyk or the 43-year-old Chara, but it’s going to be a little dicey when it comes to contracts for DeBrusk and Krug.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Krug was looking at something in the neighborhood of $8 million per season on a long-term deal — either with Boston or with another team looking for a power play quarterback and elite point producer on the back end. The 23-year-old DeBrusk, meanwhile, has averaged 20 goals per season in his three-year NHL career and had 19 goals and 35 points in 65 games when the NHL regular season went on pause this year.

DeBrusk has averaged 20 goals and 40 points per season with a high of 27 goals scored last year, and he’s essentially been a top-6 winger for his entire career in Boston. That had Edmonton Oilers radio analyst Bob Stauffer trumpeting him as “a $6 million a year player” when talking about DeBrusk’s future on an NBC Sports Boston Zoom call last week.

“I think Jake is a really good top-6 forward, top-6 winger. You guys saw him against the [Maple Leafs] and the Blues in the playoffs, he’s got a little bit of gamesmanship to him,” said Stauffer. “It’s interesting because he was such a late bloomer. The player I compared Jake to was Joffrey Lupul, who suddenly became a scoring star in junior hockey.

To me, I think Jake is a $5.5-6 million player. Maybe that money comes down a bit because of the cap. I think he’s a $6 million forward. He’s a guy that’s going to be capable of scoring 25-30 goals in a full season. That’s a $6 million forward to me.

One thing is for sure: If DeBrusk is a $6 million a year player and Krug is an $8 million a year player, then one of them is probably not going to be in Boston next season.

Interestingly enough, Stauffer had DeBrusk’s agent, Rick Valette from Octagon, on his Oilers Now radio show on Monday to talk about the future negotiations between DeBrusk and the Bruins. It didn’t sound like DeBrusk was going to be taking a hometown discount like some of the other B’s players have done in the recent past.  

“I don’t really consider that at this point. Will it play into it? Maybe,” said Valette, when asked about the internal salary structure for the Bruins that sees Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand all on pretty team-friendly deals under $7 million per season. “I would hope not. That’s not typically how I would approach that. The one thing I would add to Jake is that you want to look at his playoff performance and what he’s done in the playoffs in big games. The Toronto series from a couple of years ago, for example. He’s a big-game performer and he’s been a top-6 forward almost from the moment he stepped into the National Hockey League.

“Boston certainly has some internal things that they like to look at, but I’m going to try to not look at that. I guess that’s the way I would say it to you.”

A couple of forward peers from DeBrusk’s 2015 draft class, Brock Boeser (3 years, $17.625 million or $5.875 million AAV) and Travis Konecny (six years, $33 million or $5.5 million AAV), both now top $5 million per season on second contracts they signed this past year. Kyle Connor signed a seven-year, $50 million deal ($7.142 million AV) at the high end while Mat Barzal enters this offseason as an unsigned RFA as well. Both Boeser and Konecny had numbers similar to DeBrusk prior to signing those contracts, so DeBrusk knew what kind of payday awaited him if things were running along per usual.

Boeser is in a bit of a different class given his upside and production, but DeBrusk and Konecny would have been comparable players had DeBrusk surpassed 20 goals and 40 points with another month of games played (which he certainly would have done with 12 games left in the season).

Some of it may depend on how this postseason shakes down for DeBrusk. He was great two years ago with six goals and eight points in 12 playoff games, but last season had fewer goals (4) with 11 points in 24 playoff games during Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.

A great playoff performance for DeBrusk could give those postseason numbers a real boost prior to him cashing in on his second deal, or a playoff struggle could drop him back under $5 million per season given some of this past season’s inconsistencies.

Either way it’s expected DeBrusk could be able to command something in that $5 million AAV neighborhood after averaging 20 goals per season in a league where goal-scorers still get paid.

Watch Joe Haggerty's Zoom call with Bob Stauffer below or on NBC Sports Boston's YouTube page:

NHL playoffs continue to feel like they are very close to reality

NHL playoffs continue to feel like they are very close to reality

The NHL is getting close, everybody.

The league is finalizing plans for Phases 3 and 4 of the Return to Play protocol, and then it will need a few days to be approved by a vote from the entire NHLPA membership, but the NHL and NHLPA have got everything in place to give the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs a shot this summer.

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NHL training camps have now been pushed ahead to a planned July 13 opening date with qualifying round games set to begin on Aug. 1, and a Stanley Cup winner planned for early October in the hub city of Edmonton. Games will be played in two hub cities, Edmonton and Toronto, in the first couple of rounds before the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final will be shipped out west to the hockey hotbed of Alberta.

UPDATE (Monday, July 6 at 6:30 p.m. ET): The NHL and NHLPA announced Monday a tentative agreement on a number of key issues, including a few notable dates involving the 2019-20 season.

--End of Update--

The level of safety guidelines and protocols is thoroughly amazing, all the way down to daily testing for hotel workers and bus drivers for the players, and there will be strict rules designed to keep the bubbles secure while ultimately protecting all of those involved with putting the games back on.

Meanwhile, the NHL released information on current COVID-19 positive rates with 23 players out of 369 testing positive since opting into the voluntary Phase 2 practices.

There have been 35 total players who have tested positive for COVID-19 out of roughly 600 NHL players across the world, which means NHL players are testing positive at a rate of roughly 5.8 percent with zero containment rules put into place outside of the rink. This is actually encouraging news considering that the NHL upped the number of players allowed together on the ice from six to 12 over the last couple of weeks, and there has been no demonstrable spike or spread aside from a handful of St. Louis Blues players and personnel who tested positive last week.

But the Return to Play plan certainly has some interesting features including:

• Families will not be allowed to be with NHL players until the conference finals and/or Stanley Cup Final in Edmonton, so NHL players could be away from their families for as long as five weeks during the qualifying rounds and first two rounds of the playoffs.

• Players with underlying health issues will be examined by doctors and could be restricted from playing if it’s deemed unsafe for them. This will be interesting for NHL players with Type 1 diabetes like Max Domi and Kaapo Kakko.

• Players who need to leave the bubble during play — for childbirth or family emergency for example — will need to be confined to isolation for four days and need four negative test results before potentially being able to rejoin their team.

• NHL players have until three days after the Return to Play is ratified to notify their teams they're opting out of participating in Phase 3 or 4, under the protocols tentatively agreed upon by the NHL and NHLPA. There will be no penalty for doing so.

• The number of people scheduled to be tested daily in the NHL bubble includes: any player/coach/staff member, officials, ice crew, security, hotel bartenders, food service staff, arena food and beverage workers, hotel housekeeping, hotel kitchen staff and player transportation. That will add up to thousands of tests per day.

• Organizational failures to adhere to the Return to Play protocols “could lead to significant financial penalties, and potentially the loss of draft picks” and could result in individual players being ineligible to play and removed from the secured bubble.

• For NHL purposes, the league is going away from the term "hub cities" and instead prefers the terminology Phase 4 Secure Zone, which makes it sound like something out of a science-fiction movie.

All of this is subject to being approved by a simple majority of the 700-plus members of the NHLPA, of course, and that isn’t a slam dunk. It’s likely to happen, but one suspects the final vote is going to be a close one. Even with it being conditional, it feels like the NHL has done this about as well as could be expected under the circumstances.

The biggest question now is whether the NHL is going to be able to pull all of this off.

There will be a requirement for upwards of close to 20,000 tests per day when there are 24 teams involved at the beginning of postseason play, and the testing will need to be rapid and universal throughout the 2-3 months that NHL teams will be playing. Already Major League Baseball is having issues with testing results getting backed up at the COVID-19 testing facility they are using, and it’s creating a situation where MLB teams are suspending practice until it gets resolved.

Could the same thing cause the NHL to come to a crashing halt?

Let’s hope not, because the Return to Play has been about as carefully considered as anything the NHL has ever done, and it really is beginning to feel like there’s going to be playoff hockey in August, September and October. There are still hurdles to be cleared to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs a safe, viable reality for everybody involved, but we’re saying there’s a chance.