Bruins

Don't expect a fireworks show from this Bruins team around July 1

Don't expect a fireworks show from this Bruins team around July 1

The period around the NHL Draft and the July 1 opening of free agency is always a time for hockey fans to let their fantasies fly free.

It’s a time when a big-ticket free agent like Artemi Panarin seems like a possibility, or there’s a P.K. Subban-type available in a trade just right around the corner. It’s a time when hope always springs eternal for all 31 of the NHL fan bases, and sweeping, wholesale improvements still feel like a possibility.

Unfortunately, Bruins fans will need to face the reality that it doesn’t look like the Bruins have much of a realistic shot of making those big-time improvements to an NHL roster that came within one Game 7 of capturing the Stanley Cup earlier this month.

All one needs do is look at the TSN trade bait list, which annually is the “go to” for NHL players in the rumor mill leading up to the July 1 opening of NHL free agency. There isn’t a single Bruins player listed in the Top 40 of NHL players likely to be moved around the free agency period when trades come fast and furiously.

Torey Krug isn’t listed on there despite being in the last year of a reasonable contract with the Black and Gold, and David Krejci isn’t listed either despite reduced no-trade protection (he can soon be traded to half the teams in the NHL) in his contract come July 1. Certainly there’s no David Backes on the list as nobody is in the market for a 35-year-old power forward making $6 million who is coming off a seven-goal season, and being a healthy scratch in the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final against the Blues.

The Bruins would like to make improvements to a team with an aging core group that showed their age at times during the postseason, but there’s going to be a pretty extreme limit to what they can do based on the salary cap. There’s also a delicate balance where it’s clear the B’s don’t want to do too much to mess with the mojo of a team that was good enough to play in 106 regular season and playoff games this past season.

Then again, it’s also a team that benefitted from the Lightning, Capitals and Penguins all losing in the first round of the playoffs, and that’s not likely to happen again next season or any other time soon during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“We have everybody in the same room to talk about what’s the identity we’re trying to have as a hockey club, as an organization, and we’re going to stick to those. Now, there are some changes as the league continues to evolve. Does it work all the way from Game 1 of the regular season to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup? There’s a twisting along the road between those two points of time,” said Don Sweeney. “I think you have to have the balance. I think you have to have the depth in an organization and be able to match up in a bunch of different situations against a bunch of different teams to even give yourself a chance, so yes, we’ll have an identity.

“Bruce can speak to the tenets he wants his hockey players to play with, but you touched on a bunch of them. It’s hard to teach courage, it’s hard to teach speed, hockey sense piece is another area, so we’re trying to identify them, as every team is trying to identify those same things. We had a good team this year and it showed.”

The Bruins have roughly $12 million in salary cap space after signing Steven Kampfer to a two-year, $1.6 contract, and pretty much all of that is going to be used up to re-sign restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Danton Heinen.

Bruins President Cam Neely was forthright with his comments post-Cup run that the Bruins could use another top-six forward, and truthfully have needed one for the last couple of seasons while 34-year-old David Backes hasn’t worked out as that guy.

“What do we need moving forward or next year? Yeah, well, obviously I know it’s been talked about at length about another top-six forward, so we’ll see where that ends up,” said Neely. “I think our bottom six was pretty strong this year, so if we can strengthen in the immediate future our top six, you know, that’s something we’d like to try and do. We’ve talked about that for a couple years now.”

So how do they do that if they have no cap space, won’t trade Krejci or Krug and don’t have any way to remove Backes from their salary cap?

That would be pretty much impossible. As it is right now, they don’t have the money to pay the $5 million plus per season that Marcus Johansson is going to get in free agency and they don’t have the kind of cap space it’s going to take to trade for Jason Zucker, Phil Kessel, Chris Kreider, Nikolaj Ehlers or James Neal that might be available in trade talks over the next couple of weeks.

All of that could change if somebody approaches the Bruins with an offer they can’t refuse for Krug or really gives them good value for Krejci, but then the Bruins would suddenly have a hole for a 50-point scorer on defense or a No. 2 center when there isn’t a ready-made replacement in the organization. When you look at it from that perspective, making those big, sweeping deals does seem a bit rash with a Bruins team that’s built steadily upward over the last three seasons.

It also feels like the Bruins are stuck right now due to salary cap constraints, no-trade provisions and a farm system that doesn’t have any suitable replacements at the center position. So don’t expect major fireworks when NHL free agency hits on July 1 because it looks like the Bruins will be bringing back a hockey club that looks very similar to the one that left the Garden ice dejected after Game 7 just a couple of weeks ago. 

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Bruins encouraged by losing effort in Washington: 'That's the kind of hockey we want to play'

Bruins encouraged by losing effort in Washington: 'That's the kind of hockey we want to play'

WASHINGTON  – It might have been the Bruins' fourth loss in a row and, for the first time all season, the B's have lost three consecutive regulation games, but there were glimmers of hope in the 3-2 defeat at hands of the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena.

The Bruins marched out to a 1-0 lead after David Pastrnak’s first goal in five games and it would have been a two-goal lead early in the game if a silly offsides challenge that had nothing to do with the actual goal hadn’t overturned Patrice Bergeron’s power-play strike.

So, the Bruins had a better start than they have had recently, had a solid three periods of play while outshooting the Capitals 32-25 and played with more engagement, effort and urgency than they have shown in a couple of weeks. It was certainly encouraging that the Bruins are turning the corner back toward consistently good efforts rather than some of the forgettable, unfocused efforts of the past couple of weeks. Still, it was again a loss. 

“We’re all frustrated, but as a coach, you like how the 60 minutes transpired better than some of the other nights. We were in the game, right there and very easily could have won the game,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Two or three things probably changed that, but in terms of a 60-minute effort we’re getting a lot closer to where we want to be.”

The good news is that the Bruins leadership group sees light at the end of the tunnel with another big game against the Tampa Bay Lightning awaiting them 24 hours later. 

“I thought that’s the kind of hockey that [we] want to play and you want to get back to,” said Bergeron of a Bruins team that’s taken just one out of a possible eight points in their last four games. “There are still some things to rectify with us coming up short, but we’re trending in the right direction. But it’s a short turnaround with the game [against Tampa Bay].”

The Bruins are still sitting on a 10-point lead in the division over Buffalo and Montreal despite having dropped four in a row, so there’s clearly no panic or feeling like their backs are against the wall. On the contrary, that might be part of the lack of urgency that’s crept into the B’s game the past couple of weeks, but they showed Wednesday night that they still have a solid, consistent effort in them when the mood strikes them.

Perhaps the good, honest and hard-working losing effort against the Capitals can spin the Bruins back into a winning direction with a couple of road games in Florida staring them in the face.

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Bruins-Capitals Talking Points: Too much Oshie, not enough DeBrusk

Bruins-Capitals Talking Points: Too much Oshie, not enough DeBrusk

WASHINGTON - GOLD STAR: All T.J. Oshie did was score a couple of goals that powered the Capitals for all of their offense in the second period while setting Washington up to win the third. The first score was a power-play goal right in front of the net that tied things up and the second was a nifty individual move where he split defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Connor Clifton before dangling around Clifton and roofing a backhander for a beautiful goal. Oshie finished with two shots on net and four shot attempts overall in 20:31 of ice time to go along with a blocked shot. Still, it was all about the offense provided when the Capitals needed it as a bit of a one-man goal-scoring show on a night when Alex Ovechkin was pretty much held in check.

BLACK EYE: Jake DeBrusk at least had a positive play when he fed Patrice Bergeron for a first-period, power-play goal that would have given the Bruins a 2-0 lead. Instead, the goal was wiped off the board by an offsides challenge and DeBrusk was a negative player for the Black and Gold for the rest of the night. DeBrusk finished with no points, no shots on net and had three giveaways in 20:50 while finishing with a minus-1 rating. He certainly wasn’t alone with not bringing enough to the table for the B’s, but it was him fading into the background in a physical, gritty game against a quality opponent that conjured up memories of his issues in the playoffs last season.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins tied the score by grinding for a third-period goal from their fourth line, but then they gave up a go-ahead goal less than two minutes later. Then the B’s proceeded to get outshot 11-9 in the third period despite never leading at any point in the final 20 minutes and never really mounting enough pressure to potentially tie it to pus things to the extra session. It’s a massive letdown for the B’s to claw all the way back and then watch as it goes up in smoke in just a couple of minutes, but it was about Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson – two of Washington’s best players – stepping up and making the play when it needed to be made.

HONORABLE MENTION: David Pastrnak snapped his longest goal-scoring drought of the season at four games as he scored the first goal for the Bruins on a sizzling wrist shot. It was a nice transition play from Charlie McAvoy bombing down the left side before moving cross-ice to Pastrnak at the bottom of the face-off circle. Pastrnak snapped it off the crossbar and into the back of the net for his NHL-leading 26th goal and got Boston off to a good start for the first time in a while. Pastrnak finished with the goal, seven shot attempts, a hit and three takeaways in 21:16 while playing a strong, solid, Pastrnak-like game.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 – the number of consecutive losses for the Bruins. They have lost four in a row one other time this season, but it’s the first time they’ve lost three regulation games in a row.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just told him I'm happy for him and congrats. He looks like he's got a six-pack now, so I'm just happy for him. It was great to see him. It's been a while." –Brad Marchand, on what he said to former teammate Tim Thomas when he was on the ice for the ceremonial puck drop as a new inductee for the US Hockey Hall of Fame.

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