Bruins

Haggerty: Do the Bruins' moves signal a Krug trade in the future?

Haggerty: Do the Bruins' moves signal a Krug trade in the future?

With the signing of free agent defenseman John Moore on July 1, don’t blame the Bruins if they begin suffering a case of déjà vu over the next few months.  

It was four seasons ago when the Bruins had a similar surplus of defensemen and some accompanying salary cap issues entering training camp. Everybody around the organization answered questions throughout the preseason about all of the quality NHL bodies they had on the back end, and what they were going to do with them.

As most Bruins fans will remember, training camp ended that fall with Peter Chiarelli infamously dealing top-4 defenseman and Stanley Cup champ Johnny Boychuk away to the New York Islanders for a couple of second round picks that eventually turned into Brandon Carlo and Brett Connolly.

The fact it involved No. 55 was a bit of a surprise at the time, but the writing was on the Black and Golden wall that one of the D-men was on his way out the door prior to the start of the season.

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Now the Bruins have a similar surplus of NHL-caliber defensemen with Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk and now Moore on the left side, and Charlie McAvoy, Carlo, Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller on the right side. Clearly something has to give for the B’s, and all signs point toward Krug being the very valuable trade chip for Boston.

Clearly it’s not that the Bruins are anxiously looking to jettison the diminutive, super-productive D-man, but instead Krug is the biggest valued asset that could bring Boston a goal-scoring forward suitable for second line duty.

The 26-year-old Krug is far and away their most marketable D-men in trade talks with a whopping 110 points over the last two seasons, and a key PP quarterback role on a Bruins power play that’s been dynamite in the last few years. Krug is an easy sell to a team in need of major power play upgrades, and in the all-around offensive game only elite D-men Victor Hedman, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and John Klingberg have more points than him over the last two seasons.

Much like Boychuk a handful of years ago, there will be some growing pains moving on from a quality player like Krug with his puck-moving and elite offensive ability. But then again Krug has also ended each of the last seasons with an injury that knocked him out of the postseason, and put into question his ability to remain healthy through the physical playoff pounding.  

So will the Bruins deal him with a couple of seasons to go left under contract in Boston with a cap hit slightly north of $5 million?

The smart money says “yes” and it may happen late in training camp a la Boychuk with Krug is coming off a fractured ankle. The undrafted D-man will need to show that he’s fully healthy and up to speed as he’s expected to be in training camp. Clearly the extra B’s bodies on the back end will be one of the big talking points of training camp this fall, and it would very interesting if it leads up to a hockey trade right at the tail end of preseason.

It’s also entirely possible, however, that the Bruins could carry all these D-men into the regular season given that they still have roughly $4 million in salary cap space, and a number of young forwards they’d like to try out on the second line. Perhaps Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen turns into an offensive force and negates the need for the Bruins to go out and get a heavy duty, scoring winger like Artemi Panarin, Jeff Skinner, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Wayne Simmonds.  

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Reading between the lines, Don Sweeney admitted as much when talking about teams with “surplus” at certain positions in good standing for trade discussions now that the free agency period has passed by the first day of July. There’s also the very realistic scenario that second-year D-man Charlie McAvoy is ready to be a top PP quarterback and point producer for the Bruins, and that young guys like McAvoy and Grzelcyk will be ready to take the next step.   

“We feel very comfortable with the group of guys we have [on the back end], and we’ll move forward with it. When the [trade] calls come as a result, that’s part of the business, and everybody understands that. It also allows some of our younger players to develop at the natural pace without necessarily putting them in situations they’re not ready to handle,” said Sweeney. “If they are, we’ve been adamant in that, in terms of consistently sending that message that, if they are, then we’ll move and do what we have to do.

“There are teams that maybe were trying to accomplish things [in free agency] that didn’t, now whether or not you have surpluses or…there’s certainly been discussions leading up to it that have indicated [trades will happen] in some point in time. When that is, whether that is training camp or the first part of the season, everybody is going to kind of look for surpluses or areas that other people have strength in that you don’t. It was leading up to it. Whether or not that actually happens, you just never know.”

One thing is certain right now with the Bruins: They have at least one too many D-men, and they don’t have enough bona fide goal-scorers that could diversify the very one-dimensional offense that we saw from Boston in the playoffs.

That could change with one hockey trade over the next several months, and the onus is now on Sweeney to find that deal and pull the trigger on a trade that would put the Bruins back on equal footing with the improving Maple Leafs and Lightning this spring.

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Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

There are a couple of inalienable facts about next year’s goaltending situation with the Boston Bruins.

The first is that the B’s have most definitely upgraded in that area with 33-year-old Jaroslav Halak as the backup to Tuukka Rask. Halak is a flat-out better goalie than Anton Khudobin, and should be a little more consistent than the Russian backup, who was admittedly excellent last season while racking up a 16-6-7 record as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

Halak, on the other hand, has won less than 18 games in a season only twice in his 10 full seasons at the NHL level, and has been a starter with the Canadiens, Blues, Capitals and Islanders with a career .916 save percentage over his NHL career. In case anybody hadn’t noticed that’s also been Tuukka Rask’s save percentage over the last three seasons for the Bruins.

Which brings us to inalienable goaltending fact No. 2: Halak is going to push Rask like he hasn’t been challenged since truly taking over as the top goalie in Boston.

The last truly competitive situation with Rask between the B’s pipes was in 2011-12 in Tim Thomas’ last season with the Bruins when the Finnish goaltender was backing up a reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Rask had temporarily taken Thomas’ job away from him two years prior during the 2009-10 season when he was a rookie goalie, and that sparked the best season of Thomas’ NHL career where he led the Black and Gold to a Stanley Cup victory.

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Since then Rask has had “just another guys” like Chad Johnson, Niklas Svedberg, Jonas Gustavsson and Anton Khudobin backing him up, and none of those backups had the kind of juice to truly take Rask’s job away from him. The best Khudobin could do was start four straight games for the Bruins back in November of last season, and that turned out to be one of the turning points in a 112-point campaign where Rask was significantly motivated from that point onward.

Halak could legitimately get on a hot streak in the regular season and force the Bruins coaching staff to sit Rask for weeks, or even a month, at a time, and that’s something no backup has ever been able to do behind Boston’s Franchise Finn. That should be a good thing and that is something the B’s are already counting on to happen for next season.

“We’ve talked about internal competition. Maybe it puts Tuukka in a better mindset. There were nights when Tuukka [played] back-to-backs. That’s a lot of stress on the goaltender knowing… I think two years ago we didn’t have a win by our backup at Christmas time,” said Don Sweeney, on July 1 after signing Halak to a two-year contract. “I’m not sure you guys wrote about it, but I did, and I lost sleep about it.

“I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, [and] that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now going in every night. That is an area we aren’t going to be concerned about, hopefully. Obviously, it’s [about] the performance now.”

Now here’s the fork in the road where the inalienable Bruins goaltending facts and some good, old-fashioned speculation go their separate ways.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen, but the addition of Halak for multiple years also opens up the possibility of trading away Rask if the right deal comes across Sweeney’s desk. The $2.75 million per season that the Bruins are paying Halak is the going rate for a top-of-the-line goalie, but it now also means the B’s are paying just under $10 million per season over the next two years for their goaltending tandem. That’s a whopping 12.5 percent of the $79.5 million in salary cap space, which is much less than either of the teams in this spring’s Stanley Cup Final (Vegas paid $6.4 million for their goalies and Washington paid $7.6 million for the Braden Holtby/Philipp Grubauer combo) shelled out for their goaltending.

In fact, only Montreal is spending more money on goaltending than the Bruins this season thanks to the awful Carey Price contract, and – along with the Bruins -- only the Panthers, Canadiens and Avalanche are paying north of $9 million in cap space for their goalies next season. For a Bruins team that was just barely in the NHL’s top-10 in save percentage and where the goaltending wasn’t really a demonstrable strength in the playoffs, that feels like a lot.  

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Rask has a limited trade clause for this upcoming season where he can be traded to eight NHL teams, and that “can be traded to” list gets bumped up to 15 teams in the following season. The Bruins did everything possible last season to make sure that Rask was mentally and physically rested with the 54 appearances, which was right around the targeted 55-60 games the Bruins had him penciled in for at the start of last season.

But even after all that rest and being given the high maintenance treatment, Rask still responded with a shaky postseason that was the worst statistically of his career. The 2.88 goals against average and .903 save percentage were the worst playoff marks of his NHL career, and Rask was an absolute disaster in their Game 7 showdown with the Maple Leafs. If the Bruins hadn’t completely shut down Toronto in the first half of the third period where they didn’t allow a shot on net (and didn’t allow Rask to even be a factor in the balance of that game), they probably wouldn’t have even advanced beyond the first round prior to their second round smack-down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rask was better in the second round vs. Tampa and added to his career highlight reel when he angrily fired a broken skate blade at the boards, but there are still some of the very same, nagging questions about Boston’s top goalie when it comes to big games.   

So why not start to explore what Rask could yield in a hockey trade, and even pull the trigger if the price is right given that Halak is there as a proven starting goaltender? There has been plenty of talk about Torey Krug being on the move if the right trade comes up to fit Boston’s needs, and there’s no reason why Boston’s All-Star, $7 million a year goaltender shouldn’t be part of that roster improvement conversation as well.

Nobody is saying to ship Rask simply for the sake of doing it, and clearly the Bruins would need to find themselves a young goalie they could groom as the eventual No. 1 guy to go along with the older, declining Halak. But the signing of Halak officially opened the door for the Bruins to at least toy with the idea of moving Rask in a good hockey trade to a team desperate for goaltending help (Carolina, the Islanders and the Flyers immediately come to mind), and that might not be such a bad thing for the Black and Gold.  

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