Bruins

Could injuries be the Bruins' saving salary cap grace this fall?

Could injuries be the Bruins' saving salary cap grace this fall?

It’s been assumed by most that the Bruins are going to need to make a salary cap relief-related trade once they’re able to sign restricted free agents, Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy, over the next month or so.

But that might not be the harsh reality based on Boston’s injury situation coming off last spring’s 24-game playoff run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Both Kevan Miller (broken knee cap) and John Moore (shoulder surgery) were banged up when the Bruins broke up in mid-June and headed for long summer rehabs, and there have been hints all along that David Backes is battling some kind of undisclosed injury this summer.

Both general manager Don Sweeney and Bruins President Cam Neely made mention of a Backes injury in their end-of-season press conferences and it’s been very quiet when it comes to the 35-year-old power forward this summer.

“Backes has got something [injury-wise] he’s following up on,” said Sweeney back at his post-free agency press conference on July 1. “Down the road there could be [surgery]. He’s just taking some time now to allow everything to calm down, making sure.

“Moore and Miller both had surgery, so again, those are ranges in terms of return to play. Everything is up to the individual protocol of the player and how long he has to go through rehab. Same thing for Zdeno [Chara] and his elbow. It’s all likelihood that they will be following the timelines, but you have to make sure. We thought that originally with Kevan as well. You know, there’s always nuances, and you have to prepare for every different scenario.”

There’s really been no update on Backes’ health since that mention of an injury after he was a healthy scratch for the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final against his former St. Louis Blues club. It’s no secret that Backes has suffered a series of concussions over the last couple of seasons, and a year ago his entire summer was about recovering from a head injury against Tampa Bay that ended his playoff season.  

Could it be that Backes has been experiencing some kind of post-concussion symptoms this summer, or perhaps there’s some other kind of potentially serious injury at play with an aging winger coming off his worst NHL season with seven goals and 20 points in 72 games?

The latter is more likely than the former given Sweeney’s reference to surgery back in July 1, but all things are possible with a player in his mid-30’s who’s logged a ton of hard miles on a body that’s played 928 NHL games.

Whatever the case, an injury would be the best-case scenario when it comes to Backes and the Bruins. The 35-year-old forward has slowed down considerably over the last few seasons, and his current $6 million cap hit doesn’t fit the production level he’s settled into with the Black and Gold. A move to long-term injured reserve for Backes would solve all of Boston’s salary cap issues with the B’s currently sitting at about $7 million in cap space.

Backes being moved to LTIR would bump that number up to $13 million in cap space, and that would give the Bruins enough space to sign both McAvoy and Carlo when those deals are eventually done. It would also undoubtedly lead to plenty of scrutiny from the NHL given Backes’ declining production level and unwieldy cap hit, which would be a convenient time for a player like him to come up with a chronic injury situation.

Add the cap hits for Miller ($2.5 million) and Moore as well ($2.75 million) and the Bruins could have in the neighborhood of $19 million in cap space at the start of the NHL season while waiting for both D-men to heal from their injuries. Some have mentioned that Miller, in particular, could be another salary cap boon for the Bruins if he were injured long term as well, but that’s just plain foolish given how much they missed his physicality, toughness and defensive intensity against a big, strong physical St. Louis team in the Cup Final.

It’s been interesting that the Bruins haven’t seemed very concerned about their salary cap situation this summer for a team that’s still got two unsigned players. Perhaps we now know why based on the trail of evidence that any combination of Backes, Miller and Moore could be shelved on long-term injured reserve to start this season.

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Joakim Nordstrom (foot) makes his on-ice camp debut for the Bruins

Joakim Nordstrom (foot) makes his on-ice camp debut for the Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins added some healthy bodies to their training camp group on Saturday as both Joakim Nordstrom and Trent Frederic (lower body) were added to the mix in Group A that practiced in the morning at Warrior Ice Arena.

Nordstrom fractured his foot at the end of the Stanley Cup Final and spent the entire summer rehabbing and healing from the injury, and sat out Friday’s on-ice opener before jumping on a day later. The return of Nordstrom and Frederic means that Patrice Bergeron (groin), Kevan Miller (fractured kneecap), John Moore (shoulder surgery) and Cameron Hughes (facial injury) remain off the ice with No. 37 closing in on a return as he skates on his own ahead of the main training camp groups.

The 27-year-old Nordstrom is coming off a strong season for the Black and Gold where he finished with seven goals and 12 points in 70 games, and used his versatility and gritty two-way game to help out in many spots along with a regular role on the penalty kill. He’s looking at another season with plenty of bottom-6 opportunities and Nordstrom is hoping to take advantage just as he did in a very effective first season in Boston.

“I felt good. It was fun to be back out there,” said Nordstrom. “It was step one for me today being back with the group. Hopefully I wake up tomorrow and I’m still feeling good. It was difficult not being able to work out and prepare as you want, but it is what it is. I came back [to Boston] fairly early to do whatever I needed to do to be ready.

“I felt pretty good throughout the season. Toward the end I had better production than earlier on, I played with the same players for a time there and I think confidence plays a role.”

Here are the line combos and D-pairings from the second day of Bruins training camp:

Group A

Bjork-Coyle-Ritchie

Marchand-Studnicka-Senyshyn

Carey-Shen-Pastrnak

Cehlarik-Steen-Koppanen/Lantosi

D-PAIRINGS

Krug-Kampfer

Zboril-Breen

Vaakanainen-Petrovic/Zech

GOALIES

Rask Keyser Vladar

Group B

DeBrusk-Krejci-Kuhlman

Blidh-Kuraly-Backes

Fitzgerald-Gaunce-Heinen

Lauko-Lindholm-Wagner

Nordstrom-Frederic-Asselin

D-PAIRINGS

Chara-Andersson

Grzelcyk-Didier

Lauzon-Clifton

Sherman

GOALIES

Halak Lagace

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David Backes plans on going 'balls to the wall' to hold on to NHL spot with Bruins

David Backes plans on going 'balls to the wall' to hold on to NHL spot with Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – David Backes enters into Bruins training camp this season with the highest level of uncertainty since he signed on with the Black and Gold more than three years ago.

The 35-year-old produced career lows with his seven goals and 20 points in 70 games and then was a healthy scratch for the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final against his old St. Louis Blues team after some good moments in Boston’s postseason run. There was speculation he could be bought out of the final two years of his contract this summer and certainly, the Bruins would have traded Backes and his contract if they could have made it work.

There were also questions about Backes’ health after the Bruins made mention of a nagging issue this summer that was never fully explained, and led to questions as to whether he’d even be healthy for camp.

Still, Backes was never asked to waive his limited no-trade protection and No. 42 is here at camp and on the ice banging bodies and working his way through drills. It’s exactly what the B’s power forward intends to do while facing some stiff competition at right wing with Brett Ritchie brought in to basically fill the same NHL job description.

“[The offseason workout program] was as intense as it’s ever been. I’m looking forward to going out there and playing hockey this year,” said Backes, who has skated on the right wing with Sean Kuraly and Anton Blidh in the first two days of camp. “I channeled some of [last season’s frustration], I festered some of it away and let it motivate me and I can focus some on what I can do as an athlete having a great summer so I can do what I do best, which is to play the game.

“I don’t worry about other decisions that I don’t get to make and that are out of my control. What’s in my control is each shift, each play and each moment. That’s what I’m going to focus on all year. That moment and that drill will be my focus, and decisions out of my control will be made. It’s balls to the wall starting with the first drill of practice and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got until they tell that I’m done playing. That’s the way I’ve always been.”

So, what might happen to Backes?

He certainly could wind up in the AHL with Providence if he’s caught in a numbers game in Boston and shows that he simply can’t keep up with the pace of the NHL game anymore. There were moments where that seemed to be the case last season, but Backes will get a chance to show he can still play and further fill his role late last season when he dropped the gloves a little more often to protect his teammates.

That’s essentially what Bruce Cassidy wants to see out of Backes in camp, and it may be enough to keep him up with Boston given his leadership, toughness and the wide respect he garners in the dressing room.

“We had a conversation over the summer, a little bit [about] how the year ended. I don’t think we wanted to do it two days after Game 7. I think we were all a little bit raw for obvious reasons. We talked a little bit about my decision,” said Cassidy. “I thought [Karson Kuhlman] added a little more pep to our game and a different element than David, right or wrong. We revisited a little bit of what he could do to stay in the lineup this year and what’s ahead.

“It’s hard to predict what’s ahead. [Par] Lindholm and Brett Ritchie, they’re going to compete. Ritchie happens to play the same position as Backes. We’ll see what kind of advances Kuhlman has made. So, the message to David was ‘there’s competition on that side of the ice, but if he gets back to the level we feel he can get to, then he’ll have a spot.’ How much ice he gets from there? That’s going to depend on the growth of some players and the chemistry involved.”

There’s a great deal of unknown with Backes at this point based on the new faces he’s competing with and based on exactly what he can show at 35 at this stage of his career. It’s certainly not his fault that he’s taking up a $6 million salary-cap hit on a team that’s scraping for space to sign Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.

What is up to Backes is his willingness to do whatever it takes to hold on to his NHL gig with a 6-foot-3, 215-pound body that’s starting to show signs of age and wear after nearly 1,000 games in an excellent career in St. Louis and Boston.

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