Bruins

Danton Heinen signing leaves Bruins with as many cap questions as answers

Danton Heinen signing leaves Bruins with as many cap questions as answers

The Bruins avoided arbitration by signing 24-year-old winger and restricted free agent Danton Heinen to a two-year, $5.6 million contract late on Tuesday night.

According to Cap Friendly, the Bruins now have approximately $8.1 million in salary cap space to sign fellow RFAs Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. The good news is that that the Bruins probably won’t need to clear more than a couple of million dollars in order to eventually ink both young defensemen, though it doesn’t appear that deals for either of them are imminent.

The bad news is that the Bruins are paying almost $3 million per season for a player in Heinen that’s coming off a down sophomore year with 11 goals and 34 points in 77 games, and was a downright ghost in the Stanley Cup playoff run with just two goals and eight points in 24 games. Sure, Heinen is a conscientious two-way player who can be trusted while he’s on the ice, but he also wasn’t much of an impact player in any regard last season.

His best stretch came playing right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand when David Pastrnak went down with his thumb injury, but even there Heinen faded once things settled down in a plum spot on the Perfection Line.

A different way of looking at Heinen is that he scored 11 goals and 33 points in the first 43 games of 2017-18 while skating with Riley Nash and David Backes, and then dropped to 16 goals and 48 points in his last 111 games over the past two seasons. Essentially his production has dropped the longer he’s been in the NHL, and it’s probably not going to start elevating again until he gets stronger and more determined in the battle areas of the ice.

Heinen could also use a major dose of confidence shooting the puck. Offensively it felt as if he was hesitant to shoot the puck this past season and had difficulty executing in the moments when he did get chances in the golden scoring areas.

Clearly the Bruins weren’t ready to cut bait on Heinen as a talented 24-year-old who could still improve over the next couple of seasons, and perhaps even return to the form that made him so effective when he first busted into the league. But maybe they should have been, given their salary cap situation with a trade pretty much a necessity now that he’s getting paid $2.8 million over the next couple of years to go along with some of Boston’s other salary cap complexities.

Perhaps the decision to walk away from RFA Brett Connolly a couple of years ago has changed Boston’s perspective on asset management for players in this situation. They essentially got nothing in exchange for a player they gave up two second-round picks for in trade, and then watched him post 22 goals and 46 points in 81 games for the Capitals last season.

A little more patience with Connolly could have paid dividends for the Black and Gold, and they are going to apply that hindsight theory with Heinen.

It will probably take somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million to sign both McAvoy and Carlo at some point ahead of the Dec. 1 deadline for players to sign contracts, or risk sitting out the entire NHL season.

McAvoy has missed 47 games with an assortment of injuries and medical issues over his first two seasons, was a mid-first round pick and averaged seven goals and 30 points over those first two NHL seasons.

The most comparable contracts for McAvoy would not be Aaron Ekblad and his eight-year, $60 million contract; instead it would be the six-year, $31.5 million deal for Hampus Lindholm, the six-year, $32.4 million contract for Sabres D-man Rasmus Ristolainen and the six-year, $34.8 million deal for Dallas Stars D-man Esa Lindell. If the Bruins are offering just shy of $6 million per year on a six-year deal and McAvoy’s camp is expecting $7.5 million per year on an eight-year deal, then they are understandably far apart in contract negotiations.

The 6-foot-5 Carlo had a strong third NHL season with two goals and 10 points in 72 games and was strong in the playoffs as a top-4 D-man averaging 21:31 of ice time during the first 24 Stanley Cup playoff games of his career. Carlo won’t, however, be getting the same kind of payday as McAvoy, and is looking at something more along the lines of $3-4 million per season on a shorter term deal for his second contract.

So what does all of this mean?

It means the Bruins need to move at least a couple of million dollars in salary. It doesn’t mean the Bruins have to jettison one of their best players — whether it’s Torey Krug or David Krejci, who would create roster voids that couldn’t be realistically filled by internal candidates. Instead a more likely scenario would be Kevan Miller ($2.5 million) or John Moore ($2.75 million) spending the first few months of the season on LTIR (long-term injured reserve) and then getting moved once they are healthy enough to play.

Moving either one of those contracts would be enough to sign both McAvoy and Carlo, and leave Bruins general manager Don Sweeney with some cushion space entering the season. It won’t give the B’s much latitude to upgrade their team after minimal July 1 moves like signing Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie, but we’re also talking about a hockey club that made it all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last season.

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Lauzon making a strong case to stick around with the Bruins

Lauzon making a strong case to stick around with the Bruins

BOSTON – Jeremy Lauzon has been solid every time he’s been called up by the Bruins the past couple of seasons.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound defenseman is never going to be flashy, but he’s shown an ability to play strong, physical defense around the Boston net while shutting down plays and helping keep pucks out of the back of the net. 

Still, the 22-year-old has also known the past few years that he’s also been ticketed to go back to Providence based on the sheer numbers on the NHL roster in Boston, where there has been quality depth on the back end.

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But there was also a feeling that things might be a little different these days for Lauzon when he was called up ahead of the 3-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights at TD Garden. He scored a goal and threw out four hits while keeping the puck out of the back of the net in 15-plus minutes of ice time, providing the hard-to-play-against minutes that weren’t prevalent enough on Boston’s back end a few days prior in Pittsburgh.

He was sent back down to Providence on Wednesday along with Karson Kuhlman and Dan Vladar to stay sharp over the 10-day All-Star break and bye week, but there’s a feeling that Lauzon could be back once the Bruins resume play. 

If Kevan Miller isn’t ready to practice and potentially play when the B’s get going and John Moore remains the inconsistent player he’s been since the B's signed him as a free agent, it may be Lauzon’s turn to show what he can do at least until Connor Clifton is ready to return in the middle of the next month.

Certainly, he was happy with the way he played in Boston after showing what he could do through a solid 48 games in the AHL, where he posted a goal, 14 points and a plus-18 rating. That he was able to do it on the right side when he’s a natural left shot makes it a plus for his versatility and it's what the B’s are looking for right now.

“I felt comfortable. I knew my confidence was high from how I’ve played recently in Providence,” said Lauzon. “Even if it was [four games in five nights] for me, I came in and my body felt great. I had a good night’s sleep last night, so I was just ready to show what I can do.

“I feel way more comfortable on the ice. So, I’m just trying to bring the game I was playing down in Providence up here and I think I did a good job of that. I close hard and I’m physical, so obviously Brandon [Carlo] is a role model.”

The Bruins bottom pairing D-men have been a weak spot since Clifton went down with Matt Grzelcyk getting picked on a bit.  That was less of an issue against the Golden Knights for the first time in a while. In essence, Lauzon gave the B’s what they were looking for after they blew a couple of three-goal leads within the same week.

“I thought [Lauzon] played hard, competed all over the ice. We’ve seen that before, so we expected that. [He] scores a goal — obviously, in a one-goal game, that matters. And [he] did it in the right way, didn’t overthink it. Just got it, got off the wall, make sure you pound it hard so it gets by the first layer. If it gets blocked closer to the net, at least it’s not going to be a quick transition,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We’ve been trying to instill that attitude in some of our other guys and Brandon [Carlo] gets one later and gets it through, so hopefully [that part of our game] kind of snowballs.

“But all-in-all, [we] had good composure and didn’t seem fazed by anything. We’ll always go back and look at it, there will be some details that we’ll talk about, but I liked his game. I thought he brought what we needed.”

Cassidy mentioned after the game that Lauzon, Anton Blidh and Kuhlman were all players specifically recalled to push some of the veterans on the Bruins roster, and that’s exactly what the Lauzon did in his season debut. One would expect we’ll be seeing more of Lauzon based on the way he provided the Bruins exactly what they need right now.


 

NHL trade targets: 5 defensemen for Bruins to pursue before deadline

NHL trade targets: 5 defensemen for Bruins to pursue before deadline

The Boston Bruins have hit their bye week after a quality win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.

The break gives the B's some much-needed time to rest up and treat injuries, and it also provides management with an opportunity to analyze its roster and determine what kind of upgrades the team should make before the Feb. 24 trade deadline. Bolstering the depth on the blue line is an annual goal for contending teams at the deadline, and the Bruins should be no exception in 2020. Boston has one of the better blue lines in the NHL, but this group's depth is always tested in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Finding a veteran D-man to add to the roster would be a smart move for general manager Don Sweeney in the coming weeks.

Here are five defensemen the Bruins should consider pursuing at the trade deadline (All salary information via Cap Friendly, advanced stats via Natural Stat Trick).

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Alec Martinez, Los Angeles Kings
2019-20 stats
: 32 GP, 1 G, 5 A, 43 SOG
Contract: $4 million salary cap hit, UFA after 2020-21

The Kings enter Wednesday tied for the second-worst record in the league, and they should be sellers ahead of the trade deadline. Martinez is one of their best trade chips. He's not going to contribute a ton offensively, but he's a steady presence in the defensive end who can play 20-plus minutes per night. The 32-year-old veteran has played in 64 career playoff games and owns two Stanley Cup rings with the Kings, so he'd bring loads of postseason experience to a contender.

Martinez is fairly versatile, too. He's a left-shot defenseman but has shown an impressive ability to be productive on the right side. Martinez also is not a rental. He's signed through next season at a reasonable cap hit, which helps make him an attractive target for a contending team that expects to compete for a Stanley Cup in the short term.

Brenden Dillon, San Jose Sharks
2019-20 stats
: 50 GP, 1 G, 10 A, 43 SOG
Contract: $3,270,000 cap hit, UFA after this season

Dillon, like Martinez, isn't going to light up the stat sheet with impressive offensive numbers, but he would add some physicality and snarl to the Bruins blue line at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. San Jose hasn't played particularly well this season, but Dillon is making a positive impact. The Sharks have a plus-38 edge in shot attempts, a plus-15 advantage in shots on goal and a plus-16 mark in scoring chances at 5-on-5 with Dillon on the ice.

The Sharks are 11 points out of a playoff spot (as of this writing), so it absolutely would be smart for them to trade some of their upcoming free agents. Dillon will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, so he's a rental trade target. If he can be had for merely a draft pick(s), it's definitely a move worth pursuing.

Sami Vatanen, New Jersey Devils
2019-20 stats: 44 GP, 5 G, 17 A, 91 SOG
Contract: $4,875,000 cap hit, UFA after this season

Vatanen is the type of defenseman you acquire for an offensive upgrade on the back end. He's a smooth skater, a good passer (especially in transition) and is able to roam the blue line on the power play. He's actually averaging 3:00 of power-play ice time per game for the Devils, and 10 (one goal, nine assists) of his 17 points have come with the man advantage.

The 28-year-old veteran is eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer, so he's also rental. Vatanen is a good offensive player and worth pursuing for the right deal. The ideal scenario for the Bruins, however, would be young defensemen Matt Grzelcyk or Jeremy Lauzon giving them scoring contributions from the blue line so the team can use its trade assets elsewhere.

Ron Hainsey, Ottawa Senators
2019-20 stats: 41 GP, 1 G, 7 A, 29 SOG
Contract: $3.5 million, UFA after this season

Hainsey would be a defensive depth upgrade for the Bruins. The 38-year-old veteran is not a top-four player at this stage of his career. He does, however, have plenty of postseason experience. Hainsey has taken part in 39 playoff games over the last three seasons, including a role on the Pittsburgh Penguins' Stanley Cup-winning roster in 2016-17. He's also a decent penalty killer and has played 3:14 of shorthanded ice time per game for Ottawa.

The Senators are still rebuilding and it makes no sense for them to keep a UFA like Hainsey when they could move him at the trade deadline for a draft pick or prospect. Hainsey isn't likely to come in and greatly improve a contending team's blue line, but you can't have enough defensive depth in April, May and June.

Erik Gustafsson, Chicago Blackhawks
2019-20 stats: 50 GP, 6 G, 18 A, 83 SOG
Contract: $1.2 million cap hit, UFA after this season

The Blackhawks are three points behind a wild card playoff berth and four points in back of a Central Division playoff berth, so it's not definite that they'll be sellers at the trade deadline. If they do decide to sell, Gustafsson should be an attractive target for teams that want to upgrade the offensive skill on their blue line.

Gustafsson has a small cap hit, so he wouldn't difficult to fit into a team's salary structure. His ability to generate offense and play on the power play also is valuable. His role would be someone who's deployed on many offensive zone faceoffs.

The Bruins, or any other contender, shouldn't overpay for Gustafsson. He's not a two-way player, and he's not worth a second-round draft pick, but a third-rounder (or lower) or a middle-tier prospect wouldn't be a bad price.

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