Bruins

Talking Points: A promising start, but disappointing finish for Bruins

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Talking Points: A promising start, but disappointing finish for Bruins

GOLD STAR: David Backes scored two of Boston’s three goals during the game, and continues to be a strong offensive presence around the net while providing vital secondary scoring for the Bruins. Backes scored the game’s first goal off a nifty little Riley Nash backhanded pass from the end boards, and then he scored in the third period all alone in the slot after receiving a heady little pass from Danton Heinen off the side boards. Backes now has seven goals and 12 points in 13 games during the month of December, and has been playing the best hockey of his Bruins career at a time when they need his contributions. Backes had two goals and a plus-1 rating in 15:47 of ice time, and finished with five shots on net, a couple of hits and a takeaway while playing the second night of back-to-back games. Backes has finally been the guy that the Bruins envisioned in free agency, and that’s a very good thing. 

BLACK EYE: The Thursday night loss was a rough one for the Bruins bench after a pretty stupendous opening 20 minutes. Bruce Cassidy and his staff didn’t challenge Washington’s first goal where Brett Connolly was pretty clearly off-sides on the play, and then they did challenge the game-tying goal in the third period that was very clearly on-side after a cursory look at the video. Then Cassidy and Co. exacerbated that mistake by opting for Riley Nash in the shootout ahead of Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy, Ryan Spooner and any number of others. Nash missed the net by a wide margin as the third shooter after Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, and that was it for the Bruins on a less-than-banner night for Boston’s bench. 

TURNING POINT: The Bruins simply relaxed after a great opening period, and then didn’t have the energy or the legs on the second night of a back-to-back game to get it going again. Instead the Bruins bungled the coach’s challenge, saw a Torey Krug penalty where he was caught flat-footed turn into a power play goal for the Capitals, and then battled to a draw in the third period before getting into the extra session. Clearly it wasn’t a horrendous development as the Bruins still managed to battle their way to a point against a good team with their gas tank running on empty. But it was a steep drop-off for the Bruins after a very good opening 20 minutes. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Lars Eller is slowly joining Bruins Killer status with his accomplishments against the Black and Gold over the years, and that was the case again on Thursday night when they kick-started the Capitals with their first goal. It was also Washington’s first goal scored in over 170 minutes after struggling offensively for the last couple of games, and got the Capitals going with two points, a plus-1 in 18:36 of ice time to go along with five shots on net and three hits. Eller’s line really got it going in the final 40 minutes for the Capitals, and was a key factor in the shootout win over the Black and Gold.  

BY THE NUMBERS: 0 – the number of shifts in the 3-on-3 overtime for Torey Krug after he struggled with a few turnovers and a key penalty in the final 40 minutes of regulation for the Bruins. Krug is normally a regular staple of Boston’s attack in OT sessions. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “After the first, we kind of took our foot off the pedal and allowed them to get back into the game. We got a point and that’s good, but we’re not satisfied with that.” –Noel Acciari to reporters after the shootout loss to the Caps. 

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Bruins open home season with a day game against Ottawa

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Bruins open home season with a day game against Ottawa

The Bruins normally start the home portion of their schedule with a festive Opening Night celebration. But not this year.

This year, it'll be an Opening Day ceremony.

The Columbus Day matinee makes it a rare day opener for the B's. But they'll have had a normal Opening Night before that, and what a night it figures to be:

(The Caps say Banner 'Day' since they'll be raising their Stanley Cup championship flag, but since Oct. 3 is a Wednesday -- and since this is opening game of the entire NHL schedule -- the assumption is it'll be played at night.)

The NHL will release the full schedule tomorrow, but teams are being allowed to Tweet out the dates of their home openers. So, in addition to the season opener in Washington and the home opener against the Senators, we know two other game dates for the Bruins:

And tomorrow, we'll know the whole thing.

Haggerty: Stage getting set for an active Bruins offseason

Haggerty: Stage getting set for an active Bruins offseason

Given some of the contracts the Bruins have on their books, given their overabundance of young assets and given a couple of the holes that need filling on the NHL roster, it feels inevitable they're going to be active over the next few weeks.

First, there are a couple of key openings they'd like to fill on their NHL roster that they can’t simply plug in with their own young talent in the organization. Boston’s interest in free-agent winger Ilya Kovalchuk would fill one of those vacancies as a second line sniper-type that the Bruins could plug in with David Krejci and theoretically provide more balanced scoring up front than what the B's featured in their second-round defeat against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Clearly, the Bruins aren’t the only team interested in Kovalchuk, 35, who has suitors on the West Coast (the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks) among others when he becomes available to sign on July 1. Given his age and that he's been away from the NHL playing in Russia the past five years, Kovalchuk isn’t going to command much more than a one-to-two-year deal at $5 million to $6 million per season. That’s a doable price tag for an aging game-breaker who should score 25 goals and 60 points in his sleep.

Certainly, Kovalchuk seems a better bet than Rick Nash, 33, who disappointed after arriving at the trade deadline while also coping with a concussion that really messed up his time with the Black and Gold. It could come down to an either/or for the Bruins between giving Kovalchuk or Nash a similar contract to be the veteran, big-bodied scorer on the second line. That’s a must given the small stature, inexperience and highly skilled nature of the young players the B's overwhelmingly feature on their wing right now.

A little higher on the degree of difficulty this offseason is the longstanding search for a front-line, left-shot defenseman who could fit into Boston’s top four. With Zdeno Chara turning 42 next season and Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk both undersized, puck-moving types, there’s a clear need for a bigger, stronger and younger do-everything D-man.

The Bruins have a longstanding interest in Carolina defenseman Noah Hanifin that goes back to their efforts to trade up for him in the first round of the 2015 draft. The Hurricanes are a team that appears likely to trade off some of their players amid a regime change. Hanifin won’t come cheap as the Canes will undoubtedly ask for left winger Jake DeBrusk in a hefty package, just as the Rangers similarly did in the Ryan McDonagh discussions last spring. Perhaps the two sides can settle on a package built around Danton Heinen or Anders Bjork instead, or perhaps the Bruins will have to look elsewhere, whether that means Oskar Klefbom or seeing what Jakub Zboril/Urho Vaakanainen/Jeremy Lauzon could bring to the table.

As it stands, the Bruins will have somewhere between $10.4 million to $14.4 million in cap space after signing Grzelcyk to a two-year, $2.8 million extension, depending on where the ceiling for 2018-19 ends up between the projected $78-82 million. They have 10 forwards, seven defensemen and one goaltender under contract and still need to make decisions on their third-line center and their backup goaltender, along with a second-line sniper. So, it would be smart cap management by the Bruins to move some salary in order to give themselves some breathing room ahead of July 1. That’s why the names David Krejci ($7.25 million cap hit) and David Backes ($6 million) have been whispered around the periphery of league-wide trade discussions.  

TSN Insider Darren Dreger told Buffalo WGR Sports Radio 550 last Friday that the Bruins are fielding calls about a potential Krejci trade. Dreger also added that the Bruins are "a little reluctant to” move their playmaking 32-year-old Czech center, but instead "would like" to deal away the 34-year-old Backes.    

What does it all sound like to this humble hockey writer?

It sounds like wishful thinking from a Bruins general manager who would love to move either of the two worst contracts - paying aging players with no-movement clauses - on their books. Of course, the Bruins would like to move Backes, who had a bad contract from the minute they signed him to a five-year deal. Backes has endured all kinds of injury and health issues the past couple of seasons, including a nasty concussion that ended his postseason. He has settled into a third-line role after never really building any offensive chemistry with Krejci.

Clearly, Backes is making too much money for a third-liner who has averaged 15 goals and 36 points in his first two seasons in Boston. It also wouldn’t be shocking if the hard-working, no-nonsense Backes would be amenable to moving somewhere where he might fit into a more prominent top-six role. Still, nobody is going to take on Backes unless A) the Bruins were willing to eat a great deal of his remaining $18 million or B) they were willing to take on a similarly unfavorable contract coming from another team.

All of this doesn’t even mention the fact Backes is one of the few Bruins forwards with size, strength, snarl and a willingness to go to the front of the net and jettisoning him would just be creating another hole to be filled on their roster.

“Hopefully he is going to be healthy. He went through... even he described it as a pretty difficult year," GM Don Sweeney said back in May at his end-of-season press conference. "I don’t know if a lot of players are going to play through some of the things David went through this year. It speaks to his character. It’s a big reason why we went out and got him, and to what he was going to offload at times from other players on our hockey club that we all speak about from a core standpoint, and the impact they make from a leadership standpoint. It’s a lot to lump on players individually to carry that burden, and I think David’s done a really good job of coming in and helping in that regard and spreading it around. From a pure production standpoint, a little bit is determined where he plays in the lineup.

“Nothing against Bruce, but he’s putting together the lineup and did a really good job this year. We played him on the power play. His offense comes in spurts probably more so than what he used to, from a volume standpoint. He’s also playing with younger players at times that’s he’s helping on and off the ice. I think we looked at David Backes as providing balance in our locker room, on the ice, not just from a pure production standpoint. Do I hope he becomes a 20 [goals] 50 [points] guy again? Yeah, I absolutely do. I don’t know, that’s up to him. He hasn’t the last two years, but at times, if he was healthy, he was trending in that way. But a little bit depends on the usage piece.”

Perhaps there is less reluctance to deal Krejci from a Bruins perspective, but it’s once again an aging player experiencing both more injuries and less production at this point in a very solid career. If the Bruins found a team willing to take either Krejci or Backes in a reasonable deal, and either was willing to waive their no-trade protection, then Boston would and should pull the trigger immediately, if not sooner.

Instead, this feels more like Boston trying to float a couple of names they’d like to trade before going through the pain of trading a younger, more valuable asset (Krug, perhaps?) to clear the cap space they’ll need to make all their desired offseason moves. All the pieces are in place for Sweeney and the Bruins to make a few splash-worthy moves this season, but let’s also hope B’s management doesn’t shake, rattle and roll too much of a roster that piled up 112 points last season while looking like they were onto something most of the year.  


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