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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Zdeno Chara joins Patrice Bergeron in admirable action this week while attending Boston protest

File photo

Zdeno Chara joins Patrice Bergeron in admirable action this week while attending Boston protest

The Boston Bruins leadership group has shown they are about more than simple lip service and social media posts when it comes to what’s been going on in this country over the last few weeks.

Patrice Bergeron made a $50,000 donation to a pair of worthy causes this week in the Boston branch of the NAACP and Centre Multiethnique de Quebec while releasing a lengthy, passionate statement through the Bruins.

B's captain Zdeno Chara was spotted in all his 6-foot-9 glory walking in Boston on Friday afternoon during one of the protests through the city streets while sporting a Bruins mask in the crowd.

None of this is a surprise as both the 43-year-old Chara and the 33-year-old Bergeron have fostered a welcoming, friendly environment in the Bruins dressing over the years. The Bruins veterans don’t even really use the word “rookie” because Chara has always believed that it creates unnecessary separation between younger and older teammates that shouldn’t exist in a team setting.

Bergeron is partially credited with helping pull a black teammate named Gemel Smith out of a mental funk that he was mired in during his time with the Bruins. Bergeron urged Smith to talk to somebody professionally when he sensed that something wasn’t quite right with his new teammate and it helped Smith turn things around personally and professionally when he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.

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Smith ended up playing just three games with the Bruins last season after being picked up on waivers, but even in that brief time Bergeron had managed to reach out and make a connection with the player that made a lasting impact. That’s exactly the kind of healthy, welcoming dressing room that’s made the Bruins a success over the years.

There isn’t a long history of black players with the Bruins in recent years as Smith, Jarome Iginla and Malcolm Subban are the only black NHLers to suit up with Boston over the last decade. So there haven't been a great deal of opportunities for Bergeron, Chara and the rest of the B’s leadership core to show just much they embrace the diversity and equal treatment for all that so many around the NHL are voicing in the days since George Floyd was horrifically killed by Minneapolis police officers.

But give full credit to both Bergeron and Chara for stepping up this week, representing the Bruins in a manner they would be proud of and showing that it’s about actions as much as -- if not more than -- words when it comes to promoting equal treatment for all, and a better tomorrow for people of all races and backgrounds.

Breaking down the winners and losers of NHL 24-team season return format

Breaking down the winners and losers of NHL 24-team season return format

The NHL has their 24-team postseason format and they’ve even drilled down on some of the specifics this week.

We still don’t know exactly when the Stanley Cup postseason can start or when NHL training camps would be going full speed ahead. Also, all of the matchups beyond the “qualifying round” are still very much in the air.

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Clearly there is still plenty we don’t know about the Stanley Cup Playoffs once the NHL presses the play button in the next few months.

But we do know enough about the proposed postseason to know who will benefit, and who will be getting the short end of the stick. So that’s enough to put together the always popular winners and losers list when it comes to the new NHL postseason format. 

Click here for the gallery.